It seems like an eternity ago that I was the head of a Resistance cell in Ayodhya, never expecting that I would actually live to see the end of the Emperor's reign. When a team of spies from the neighboring Kingdom of Mithila brought cascading disillusion to those notions I did my utmost to protect the people of this city from the devastation the Emperor had brought against his own people hoping that, in the aftermath, I could help build a better, more equitable polity.
I knew rebuilding Ayodhya would be hard. But I admit I began to despair as factional gridlock persisted, even entrenched itself, during the last six months. Then, again on the heels of that very same team of former spies, sudden cascading change has rippled through this ancient city. Both times, that team was a catalyst if not a direct cause of vast societal flux. The first time, Emperor Rama was more rightly blamed, but the Mithilans rode the cresting wave of his sociopathic schemes doing what good they could. This time, it was the Emperor's supposed "heir", the Princess Draupadi, who was the most overt catalyst of change, but again, the Mithilans were not far from events as they happened, and indeed, this time, one of their number was in a position to force massive political re-alignment.
My agents had reported they were back in the city. It's an open secret that Tavi the Terrible is a "councilor" in name only, her name and reputation keeping a sprawling criminal organization in line. Her stand-in, Salvatore, was generally a solid guy, an ally these last six months, if not particularly creative. He had his focus, and was good in that arena, but he was not going to be the one to break the gridlock. Her arrival, though, and full-blown embrace of the "hero of the people" reputation her organization has assiduously built, made a sufficient enough splash that I started tracking their movements immediately, and was unsurprised to find they made the short list to see the newly-announced Princess. Even I hadn't yet met her. I sent an agent to invite them back to my office as soon as their meeting with the Princess was concluded.
And from that meeting, from my perspective at least, everything else fell into place like a complex lock. They dropped the bomb on me that the Princess was not, in truth, the Imperial ruler the Imperialist faction wanted. Instead, she sought to be the pivot upon which stagnant political alliances could reinvent themselves. She was offering an alliance with my Republicans, offering to disclaim the throne if she could be pivotal to the conversations that would bring about a new Ayodhyan government. I never imagined that our two factions would ever see eye-to-eye, but I suppose that's one downside to putting all your political ambitions behind the divine right to rule… your chosen Royal might have other plans. Heh.
The Mithilans also made it clear that they knew something about Draupadi, had some sort of leverage over her, so I could reasonably rely on her promises because they would be enforcing those promises. Considering who they are, and the sorts of things they're said to have done already, I had no trouble believing they had something on a Princess nobody knew existed three days before.
Things were looking to realign with our two factions pushing for multilateral council rule, supported by Tavi's "common people" faction. The tricky business would be working out the rivalry between the Pantheon Council and the Traditionalists. The Council, as invaders, couldn't step aside from power for fear that they'd be purged, violently, from the city. The Traditionalists, harboring the Priesthood of Surya, could not accommodate the priests of the pantheon that imprisoned their deity.
Enter Saatvik and a strange paladin of Ratri named Nyx. The newly ascendant churches of Ratri and Ravana were holding a Conclave to determine which faction to support. This was, according to my agents, a more fraught discussion than one might think. On the one hand, allying with the Pantheon Council would give legitimacy to their churches in the eyes of the other gods. On the other hand, they have always been a part of Ayodhyan society, and rely on the traditional culture of the city for their strength. Saatvik and Nyx appeared to reframe the debate away from "joining" the Pantheon Council to… well… taking it over, putting a local face to all worship. It's true that Ratri and Ravana's churches far outnumber the worshipers of all other gods (aside from Surya) combined, but then the same problem arose… how can Varuna's high priest Kalyan trust that, once in charge, the triumvirate churches of Surya, Ratri, and Ravana wouldn't just purge them?
Nyx was part of the answer. She's not Ayodhyan, she comes from some other secret Ratri cult, and has no vested interest in local politics. She could mediate the religious factions as a more neutral party. They just needed to bargain with Kalyan from a position of strength.
Enter Tavi, and another of her companions, a Yuan-Ti named Black Fang. Tavi and Black Fang, through a truly enormous act of large-scale generosity, effectively stole the invading Yuan-Ti army away from Kalyan and the Pantheonists. Thus far, the Yuan-Ti have been their muscle out of invader-solidarity, and indeed, local displeasure has kept that segregation alive. But they've been living in dilapidated slums, the wreckage of their own Titan of the Sea's attack. Tavi emptied the emergency supply storehouses maintained by her people to provide food, clean water, and shelter to the Yuan-Ti, along with the promise of jobs (albeit menial ones) to get them started on integrating into Ayodhyan society. Having been given a path to Civilization that their previous masters had thus far failed to provide, the Yuan-Ti abandoned the Pantheonists in droves.
But Kalyan still could not agree to step aside for Nyx, and ultimately for a new government, until something could be done about the Priesthood of Surya. That's where I came in.
The Mithilans wanted to talk to me about how best to approach Surya's high priest, Vishvamitra. I decided to turn it into something akin to political theater. In short order, the "councilors" for every faction except Kalyan were present, a tacit display of force intended to make it clear to Vishvamitra that there would be no return to the old system where his church had unfettered power and influence. I must say, the Princess Draupadi is a… charismatic force in person. I suspect she could have easily derailed my pageantry if she'd wished to, but she held to our bargain, and Vishvamitra was brow-beaten by Xedris Thrannis into accepting a compromise. Clearly neither he, nor Kalyan, could be in charge. We "councilors" stood united in the proposition that Ayodhya would not be a theocracy. Kalyan would step aside for Nyx if Vishvamitra would reorganize his own church into a civic institution concerned with preserving history and culture.
Surya is imprisoned. Like it or not, he is not a part of the pantheon. Pretending otherwise is to go back to the decadent past. But that's no reason why we cannot value our culture and heritage.
This is an argument that, in other circumstances, would have never worked. I know Vishvamitra. He's proud and full of himself. But with Princess Draupadi casting her tangible power and support behind us, with me and Tavi standing unified with the Princess, with the deal already worked out with Kalyan and power shifting in unpredictable ways, Vishvamitra capitulated, but not without a face-saving "price." He mentioned visions Surya had granted him about immortal elves still somehow living in the Whorl. His price was a conversation with one of these pre-godswar relics. I had a brief moment of panic. How could we pay this impossible price? But of course the Mithilans just nodded and agreed and seemed to know exactly what Vishvamitra was talking about… of course they did.
So they arranged the whole thing. I don't know a lot of details, but Vishvamitra got his long talk with a living pre-war elf… somehow… and our factions have broken the six-month-long logjam.
Kalyan has given up the idea of theocracy. He sits as representative of Varuna on a new Pantheon Council that represent only the temples and religions of the gods, a Council headed by Nyx, and focused on building their respective religions rather than civic leadership. The Princess, alongside old Krishna Vimana, various other nobles, Tavi's second-in-command, and myself are engaged in the tedious but productive work of building a civil society from the ground up. We're also going with a multi-lateral "council" structure although we're still debating between a "role"-based council, like Mithila's, or a political-faction based council like Trimurti's. We all agree that there will be no King, no Emperor.
There's still a lot of work ahead of us, but talks are finally progressing in a useful direction again. The Princess even made a speech on the steps of her father's palace. It's a credit to her charisma and pull that she got a crowd of thousands even after the mass-murdering stunt her father pulled in that very same public square. In her speech, she disclaimed her throne, publicly threw her support behind the work we're doing, and as her only "official suggestion," proposed that the golden paving tiles that killed so many people with arcane magic be pulled up, and that the public square of the city be paved in simple stone to symbolize the city's new direction. Damn she's good. She's told me privately that she plans to travel once things are stable enough here for her to leave. I'm actually going to miss her… whoever and whatever she really is.
I'm not entirely sure where the Mithilans have gone off to. Probably back to Videha, or who knows, maybe they plan on freeing Surya to rejoin the pantheon. I wouldn't put it past them. I'm sure I'll see them again if more dramatic social and political upheaval are necessary.