The Whorl

Game 5 - The Icelands
1,470 XP = Total: 4,970 XP

Apprentice, take dictation.

…because I'm busy operating the Lens, of course, don't be dense. Your pride is the biggest obstacle to your growth as a magical researcher. You can't afford to let your noble sentiments get in the way of the dirty and sometimes demeaning work necessary to get at the truth of things…

Don't interrupt me when I'm instructing you or I'll find a new apprentice.

Better.

You were just writing all of that down out of spite weren't you. Whatever. Where were we. Oh yes.

That mysterious Inquisitor certainly has an eye for talent. I would never have guessed such a disparate group of nobodies would complement each other so well and so effectively. I really didn't expect any of them to darken my doorstep what with all the other chaos going on in the city. It doesn't take someone of my resources to hear the rumors from the temples, of course. Well. Either the sun will go out or it won't. I'm far more interested in the unanticipated consequences of the various actions the gods are taking against that eventuality, most importantly the… things… crawling up through formerly-sealed passages to the Underworld. 

Nonetheless, Ballast and Laith showed up asking for my help and advice on locating one of the Temple-Laboratories of Ravana. How unexpectedly delightful! It seems these agents and their boss have a similarly pragmatic philosophy as I do, namely a desire to take advantage of the chaos under the assumption that the sun won't go out, because if it does none of our aspirations amount to much in any event. I couldn't help them much with their request, as I have never been able to outmaneuver the priests of Yama to find these legendary places, but I did give them the Chime of the Nischana to help them secure and recover any artifacts or equipment should they succeed…

Oh don't look at me like that. Some things are worth the risk. I'm sure they won't do anything too stupid with it.

Certainly, I'm ensuring that's the case by observing their progress through the Lens, don't be ridiculous.

Anyway, through watching their conversations it appears their disparate talents have been quite useful indeed. Between Vihaan's connections in the Grand Temple, and the criminal connections of Kalki, Rajeev Two Notes and “Nekumi”, they were able to narrow down at least one likely location. Hopefully with all the hubbub, the Temple will be too distracted with their evacuation plan to put resources into guarding ancient secrets.

Oh, hush, something interesting is happening in the Lens…

Hmmm… flooded tunnel, a flying carpet! How wonderful. I wonder where they got that…

Oh dear. I suppose that will teach them to plumb subterranean water without adequate scouting. If I'm not mistaken, that creature is classified as a "grell". Quite dangerous…

Oh, never mind. They seem to have dispatched…

Oh! Two "intellect devourers." I've never witnessed one using its ability to replace the brain of a person, maybe I'll get the chance!

Oh. Well, I suppose I shouldn't be too disappointed, their survival WILL theoretically be of far greater value than the momentary empirical interest in aberrant magical systems.

And now they're through, and it looks like they're finding a relatively safe place to rest after their exertions. I imagine nothing interesting will happen for at least six hours. I think I'll take a break and continue investigating the larger specimen in the dining room now. Please be a dear and clean up in here will you?

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Game 4 - The Patriarch
1,150 XP = Total: 3,500 - Level 4

Gah, Mistress still will not permit me to eat any eyes… delicious jelly, delectable twitching and screaming, wondrous eyes. She has given me a number of difficult orders over the past day. I am not to lie to her and I am not to hurt her feelings…

FEELINGS! How am I supposed to serve her effectively if I must constantly second guess her fragile emotional state? Bah. Mortals are weak and squishy and crunchable and delicious…

I'm getting sidetracked. Hmm. Well. It's not all bad. It seems like perhaps the world is going to end… at least the Temple of Yama thinks it's a real possibility. They haven't told anyone of course, but Mistress and her friends have noticed things, yes, and heard things from strange fungus creatures. 

All the Temple's high-judges went missing, recalling all their black-cloaked police. The military has stepped in to maintain order and priests of all stripes are out in the streets, mostly confused, not knowing why they're ordered to be there. Mistress and I were roped into a stupid errand for criminals deep below ground that proved most exciting after all. Lots of black tunnels, lots of disgusting distant prayer echoing through caverns, but we found where the Beheaded get some of their drugs from. Apparently a cavern full of fungus people… or at least it was full of fungus people. We saw slime-people instead. Slime people tried to trick us, eat the memories and identity of Mistress's awful brother, the one who mocks us and threatens us. Good riddance to him. Sadly it wasn't good riddance to him. Mistress and her companions killed the slime-mimic-monster, were almost killed by returning fungus people because Mistress killed one of their children. I knew I liked her… sometimes.

Sadly, brain-damaged brother convinced the fungus people not to kill us all. Told us that Yama was opening sealed ways, preparing for "evacuation" from the above-lands to the Underworld. Fungus people didn't know a lot of details, but it seems at least one god is expecting catastrophe… it will probably be really bad if the horror-filled Underworld is preferable. I can't wait to see what form it takes!

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Game 29 - The Whispered Word
3,800 XP = Total: 74,020 XP

Don't look at me like that, you know this is necessary. If you and your kind hadn't botched things so spectacularly when the Whorl first arrived at its destination you wouldn't need people… or, I suppose, now, entities… like me. There's a reason Parvati digitized all those elves for her Feywild, and there's certainly a reason why you grabbed up a third of them for your own private war down below. Sure, we may have been "cargo" at first, but you've been wise to recognize that without the Master Control, you need help. And here I am.

And admit it, letting them know all about it, about Planetfall, about the REAL reason for your war that killed so many of their kind, will only motivate them, and make them far superior tools for your needs. This knee-jerk secrecy you're programmed for is all well and good, but you need to make exceptions if you're going to avoid being overrun by boarders.

So, you've done your part… allowed our chosen agents to know secrets you'll kill anyone else over. You've slaked their thirst for knowledge and to understand the WHY of things. I've done my part and embedded a pair of eyes among them so we, and by extension the rest of your kind, can directly observe as they seek to stop Ratri in her misguided efforts to destroy the sun. I've even revealed a half-dozen secrets of my own to ensure they don't kill her… at least not until the job's done. So, let's stop glaring at me and see what we can see…

Ah, the Black Lake. One of only a handful of breaches into your realm. Fortunately it's flooded and toxic or who knows what might have crawled out of it over the past few thousand years. Well, it looks like our agents are experiencing the challenges of sub-aquatic adventure in a toxic, burning, flooded sinkhole for themselves. They're doing quite well. And yes, you can thank me for the crocodile-mounts. That goddess-subroutine is proving most useful. 

Oh, and here's our first challenge… what even IS that thing? Yes, it DOES rather resemble the sorts of things the illithids would spawn doesn't it. Makes you wonder where Ratri's hags found it, or what they created it from. Fortunately our agents have dispatched it, and its hag handler, with relative ease… hopefully they're not too-depleted because I think I see a showdown coming up…

Oh my. Well. This might tax even the eight of them. I suppose we'll see. Did you know that unassuming wizard-fellow is actually the Third Rakshasa? Let's watch and see if he'll need another rebirth imminently…

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Game 28 - The Desert
4,400 XP = Total: 70,220 XP

My Daughter,

My memories of you have already faded to a dull ache, a shadow and a ghost where you once lived in my mind and in my heart, and all that remains of you is a cold rage and desire for revenge. I am filled with a power I never imagined before as a baker in Heian. Then, my days were consumed with the challenges of creating enough bread for the community with limited and sometimes ad-hoc supplies. Now I have communed with a newly resurgent crocodile goddess, trading my memories for revenge, and crafted a sword from ironwood and crocodile teeth. I have cut down trolls who stood in my path, and met strange heroes from outside the swamp who seek to prevent the sun from being extinguished.

I always knew my desire to avenge you would likely result in my death. The crocodile goddess makes no promises. Her gifts make one stronger but do not necessarily make one strong enough. I don't think I truly appreciated how deadly a task I had set myself until I met the outsiders though. I had spent a week in prayer and meditation at Ammit's shrine with the old, blind priest creating my sword and then another few days poling my boat through increasingly impassable swamps when I received a magical communication in my mind from the shrine-keeper telling me of others seeking to slay the Queen of the Hags. I asked that they meet me at the Burning Obelisks and I spent a few days waiting. I don't know exactly what I expected but it was not the strange assemblage of people who eventually arrived.

They were clearly from more Civilized lands, wearing armor and clothing that no sane swamp-dweller would wear, but they made up for such hindrances with powerful magic, walking upon the surface of the swamp's water with ease, explaining, I suppose, how they caught up to me so quickly. I took some precautions to ensure this wasn't some hag trick. One of their number, Lankeshvar, seemed hesitant. His companions reassured me that his potential aversion to my protections was due to his own bloodline. He's apparently a descendant of a god, much like Isa, who I already knew. Whatever his birthright, he passed my test and I asked them why they cared to avenge my daughter. They were quite forthright in their response that while they considered what happened to my daughter to be abhorrent, their goals were to stop the Hag Queen's larger agenda, something that I knew nothing about, nor particularly cared. Still, it appeared we had common cause, and so I agreed that they might travel with me.

Their attention was, however, rapidly diverted to the Burning Obelisks themselves. They apparently knew something of the magic that powered them and they engaged in more magic to permit them to breathe water so they might submerge and investigate the artifacts. I didn't much care, and so I stayed above with Isa to keep watch. Some time passed with no apparent threat before I was suddenly overwhelmed by a blast of cold that incapacitated me immediately. I awoke, coughing swamp water from my lungs, with the outsider Saatvik by my side having healed me, to see the outsiders fighting with a trio of hags who had, apparently descended from above on magical wooden flying-staves. Two of the hags had already been disposed of by the time I was brought to consciousness, but my fury consumed me and I called out to the crocodile goddess and her children killed the remaining hag.

We left the Burning Obelisks whose light had faded even further in the time we had been there and sought dry ground to camp. The golden-skinned elf performed three nested spells to create a campsite of such magical security that I was amazed. We settled in to recover from our wounds. Late in the night, we were awakened by those on watch to see a manifestation approaching. She was a beautiful woman clothed in utter darkness within which sparkled tiny lights like the lights of the skylands at night.

The outsiders called her "Ratri" and through their talk it became clear to me that she was the Mother of Hags, the Lady of Claws, Shurpanakha disguised in a fair form. I drew my sword and prepared to either slay her or die in the attempt, but I was persuaded to allow the outsiders to speak with her first.

I don't claim to have understood even a fraction of their conversation, but it became immediately clear that I was out of my depth. The outsiders asked the Hagmother why she had stolen vast energies from the Eternal Solar Empire and she told them to rejoice for she planned to "free" all of us "mortals" from our "prison." She referred to us as "cargo," a term the outsiders had clearly heard before, and indicated that our individual lives mean nothing to the gods, only our large-scale aggregate prosperity. Their purpose is to deliver us, alive and thriving, to some unstated destination, but that this purpose had been subverted. She told us of her desire to snuff out the sun, killing the whorl, to force something she called "planetfall."

The others seemed just as confused about this term as me, except for the wizard Lankeshvar, who reacted strongly, exhorting the Hagmother not to speak of this "planetfall," for it is apparently the one secret that the god of secrets will slay anyone who knows. He called her "grandmother" and entreated her not to doom us all with this deadly secret. Perhaps to support his entreaty in her eyes he… transformed, showing what I suspect was his true face, a cat-like countenance with strange, inverted hands. She clearly recognized him and demanded to know what her "son" wanted with her. It seemed to me, then, that his honorific of "grandmother" was not metaphorical but, perhaps, literal. He renewed his entreaty that she not doom us with the deadly secret of "planetfall" and that she please step aside from her goal of snuffing out the sun. She acquiesced to the former, although would not commit to the latter. Instead of telling us this secret she asked us a question instead. What were we taught of the reasons for the godswar?

Xedris gave a summary of the generally held knowledge about the sun god creating elves, sparking a war over their immortality, the sun god's greed for his father's power, the slaying of the king of the gods and the alliance against Surya that led to his own imprisonment. She then asked us why Surya created the elves in the first place? Was it truly just hubris? Or was there a reason. She implied that the gods warred for reasons entirely different than the ones we had been taught. All the gods want to preserve the prosperity of their "cargo" and deliver them to their destination. It became clear that the war was fought over a difference in opinion as to how best to accomplish this goal. She claimed that our current existence was a decaying status quo, stasis, and would ultimately result in the deaths of everyone. By forcing the death of the whorl, she would kill most of us, but those of us who would survive would ensure the thriving continuity of our kind.

It seemed the conversation was over, and so I decided it was time for me to slay her. That's when I learned another lesson… apparently, according to Saatvik, one's sworn enemy always appears, first, as an illusion or manifestation. She vanished leaving my desire for vengeance unfulfilled… for now.

My companions engaged in a heated debate about what the Hagmother had told them. Lankeshvar, who returned to his human semblance, claimed not to know any more about "planetfall" than the term itself, and the fact that apparently the god of the underworld will doom any who know it. Conversation turned to the metaphor of the whorl as a boat on a great river. Piecing together a theory from what they had heard, they surmised that perhaps in the eyes of the Hagmother the boat had sprung a leak, and the dock was broken. The gods could make the people on board swim ashore through monster-infested waters. Most would die, but some would live. Alternately, they could wait for the slow leak to sink the boat and kill everyone. It's a depressing thought. I must assume that the gods who so clearly oppose the Hagmother's plan have some alternate plan in mind that will preserve more of us than her mad agenda.

In order to attempt to ascertain this, the two clerics sought the advice of their gods. Saatvik saw no visions, but Xedris was… dramatically incapacitated by what he saw, frothing and babbling about the cold darkness, and vast terror, and whatnot, biting his tongue in a fit of madness. Saatvik cast a spell upon Xedris and Xedris fell unconscious. We were all disconcerted by this. The druid Panja stepped outside the magical protections of the campsite and withdrew a rib bone from a bag which summoned a terrifying creature, apparently a messenger of the goddess of death, who confirmed that the gods, for all their squabbles, were unified against the Hagmother's agenda, but that they could not act directly against her due to their own edict, or curse, placed on the Hagmother so long ago. Which means, of course, that it falls to we mere mortals to save the whorl from destruction.

Daughter, I fled to this swamp years ago to escape my mother, your grandmother, and her increasingly mad plans for me. I made a life here learning how to bake bread from local swamp grains, contributing to the community.  When I left Heian to avenge your loss on the hags who had taken you I never imagined, not once, that an obscure crocodile goddess would embroil me in events such as this. But although I am now just a humble baker from a swamp town built on the ruins of a more glorious age, I will do everything in my power to rise to this occasion. Although I am in the company of men and women of vastly greater knowledge and power than me, I will seek to comport myself well in their company. And should I die, Isa will bear this letter back to the crumbling remains of the Eternal Solar Empire and will deliver it to my mother so she will know what became of me, and of the grand-daughter she never knew she had. Although I hate her, and cannot bear even to address this letter to her, she does not deserve to die in darkness unwarned.

Your mother,
"Etama"

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Game 3 - The Sea
1,100 XP = Total: 2,350 XP

Violet:

Hey there man, I've run into a little snag since my last report, but hey, don't worry, I've got this. No need to bother Tavi about it, situation is under control. Really. 

Here's the deal. So, like I said in my last report, I got an excellent hook-up in Trimurti, this gold dragonborn merchant who would sell his own grandmother for enough charges. Apparently he has some cushy sinecure running Lankha's customs, and everything was going just as swimmingly as I reported. Well, guy wasn't subtle enough, apparently, because word got out about what he was selling before he could finalize any of the trades and his warehouse got hit.

Now, before you burst a blood vessel, I assure you, I've got this handled. See, the people who hit the warehouse weren't conventional thieves, although boy do they look like your typical rag-tag group of ne'erdowells. No, see, they're really secret assets for some group here in the city that I haven't quite pinned down yet with an interest in keeping our wares out of the city. Pretty clever of whomever thought to use non-citizens, urchins, and random clerics to keep their streets clean. You can be sure those black-plate-mail-wearing goons from the Temple of Justice can be seen coming a mile away.

So my gold dragonborn contact got nabbed by the law, and I had to scramble to secure the goods, most of which I got back, so… we're still good, and I started exploring other options for distribution, but I needed to track down these mystery-guys before they hit my operation again. So I did what any self-respecting skulker would do, I spied on my own former ally until I saw the assassin he hired leave. I then followed the assassin around town for some extremely dangerous yet boring days while he set up his various options for his hit.

Sure enough, eventually a band of folks with the right demographics left the Silk district and headed up the mountain to the noble estates. The assassin made his move and took down the [[:vihaan-naraka | half-high elf] pretty brutally. Whoever my gold-scaled ally hired was GOOD, man; took hits and kept on coming, but he apparently seriously underestimated his quarry. For example, the half-drow lady is apparently some sort of warlock and blasted the guy something hard, while the male half-drow hit the guy with a rapier packing some serious mojo. The assassin seemed pretty surprised that the forged didn't go down even without its armor on, and that was pretty much that for the assassin, at least so I surmised, and I figured now was a good time to make my entrance. 

I chose a coppery dragonform face to present and jumped in just in time to finish off the assassin (who was honestly on his last legs). I did the "naive kensei" schtick and I thought I did pretty well. For instance, the halfling in the group admitted straight up that they were clandestine agents who only appear to be criminals. They were clearly on their way to a meeting with someone important up the hill, so I offered to take the assassin's body somewhere for them and meet them later rendezvous at an inn. Turns out they weren't stupid. They didn't trust me enough. Two of them came with me to dump the body off in some brothel where they have contacts while the other three went on to their meeting.

So, the assassin… he, uh, just MIGHT be one of Varuna's new folk, if you catch my drift. The corpse had some weird shit going on, and some of these agents figured it out too. I have no idea how the hell it got all the way down here so fast to make the sort of political connections it had… which means it's been here a lot longer than we've known these things existed. Just food for thought.

Anyway, long story short, the whole gang showed up at the tavern and pretty much immediately let me know that they weren't fooled by my disguise. And here I thought the kensei act was solid. Oh well. They also didn't seem too keen on a throw-down in a public place, so we parlayed. Turns out, they weren't entirely unreasonable. We worked out a compromise where I can sell our whole stock to a consortium of buyers that they will arrange for me. I have excellent reason to believe that at least one of them will be a reclusive arcane academic in the House of Silver, but hey, I don't really care who ends up with this stuff so long as it gets sold.

So, there, problem solved, sales and distribution arranged, profits for Tavi, and I don't have to get stabbed with a blade of pure anger.

Yours,
Carmine

PS: Oh, and shipping just got a bit harder (or a bit easier I guess). Turns out some big pirate-queen named "Ten Vipers" has consolidated control of the corsairs of the Dusk Sea and took out a big chunk of Lankha's navy. The Commander in charge is doing the "honorable suicide" thing they do over here and everything. So. Unless you want our shipments hit, you'll have to cut some deal with the pirates, or at least that's what I'd suggest.

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Game 27 - The Daughter
3,960 XP = Total: 65,820 XP - Level 10

Great Menhit, Lady of the Hunt, Spotted One, Queen of Cats, Grandmother,

I give to you my thanks, and the thanks of my traveling companions, for your divine power which runs through my veins. I know that this power is mine by birth, and that my thanks makes no difference to its efficacy, but I was taught to always honor my ancestors, especially when one of them is a goddess. So. Thanks.

I have a quiet moment this night as we rest and recover from our wounds. The Little Brothers came at us tonight, and they were more powerful and terrible than the usual ones I encounter from time to time in the swamp. Their blood was living poison that burned at the touch. Their opening gambit was to slash their own arms and spray us all with their toxic juices. Tonight was the closest I've felt to death in a long time.

You've met the others, or at least they participated in my evening rites. For soft travelers from Civilization they held up rather better than I expected. Their combination of magical talents has made traversing the swamp much easier than anticipated. Still, despite these conveniences, I feel like time is working against us. The three women that entered Heian with them turned out to be hags in disguise. One stole Vinihata's seed while another stole a magical bag from the wizard containing a hag's eye collected from some gnolls. These travelers slew two of the three hags, a violation of the unspoken truce between the hags of the swamp and the people of Heian. I know that Fang will do what he can to protect his people, but they won't stand a chance should the Children of Night choose to make a concerted effort against them.

And so. Here I am, a huntress, grand-daughter of the goddess of the hunt, acting as swamp-guide for outsiders who seek the Lady of Claws herself. It seems like a long-shot, but we've already fought off the first, best strike the hags could throw at us. The problem is, hags are crafty. I fear that the next assault won't be overwhelming force at the hands of the Little Brothers but will be something worse, something we won't see or hear coming.

Lend me your keen eyes and acute nose, O goddess. Let me keep these outsiders safe, at least until we've neutralized the threat to Heian. For all that I affect a demeanor of not caring what happens to them, existence would be made that much more bleak if they were all killed. May your gifts help me find Etama, the baker-woman my companions saw in a vision, and may that vision lead us onward to ultimate victory.

Your Grandaughter,

Isa

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Game 2 - The Merchant
830 XP = Total 1,250 XP - Level 3

To My Dear Friend, Whose Name I Will Take the Honor of Leaving Off This Correspondence:

I wish to engage your fine services. It would appear that I have been outmaneuvered by a previously unknown if minor faction of players. 

You may be aware that I have been engaged in some particularly profitable import activities of late. Contacts from dawnward arranged a shipment of nearly-priceless Ayodhyan artifacts including an unusual number of, shall we say, ensorcelled objects that would raise eyebrows in the wrong circles but would definitely fetch truly astounding prices from the right buyers. Things were going swimmingly until the anonymous warehouse I had been using was hit, and after I had been at such pains to pay off the Shrouded not to interfere!

My contacts in the 8-9-3 were practically gloating at the windfall. It seems the scoundrels in question killed my security forces but made off with only one crate, and not even the most valuable one at that, leaving the 8-9-3 to descend like carrion crows. The mysterious assailants allowed two of the security force to survive, although their reports conflicted somewhat. I immediately mobilized my extensive information-gathering organization to track down these villains with all due haste.

My sources were able to identify the names and identities of the two Citizens among them. Vihaan Naraka is a half-elf who has been moping around the Grand Temple of Yama for some time. Ballast is a Cleric of Brahma who spent some time in the navy. There was no obvious reason for either to even know each other let along work with one another. Their associates in crime appeared to be a pair of half-drow: a male and a female. My surviving security forces swore there was at least one halfling in the party that hit the warehouse, but I don't recall seeing one when we caught up to them.

My spies found the four mentioned above hauling a cart through the Silk district. Some of my personal guards, along with the broker of the stolen goods, accosted them. I insisted in no uncertain terms that they return my stolen goods to me. Ballast, who appeared to be the leader, made some quite outrageous statements that flew in the face of all concepts of property ownership, but at least she never came out and directly accused me of importing illegal goods. That honor goes to Vihaan, whose slanderous tongue I would very much like presented to me on a small velvet cushion.

Ultimately, however, they appeared to see reason. As they began to turn over the stolen goods, however, my associate Carmine suggested that I present them a counteroffer, an idea I acted on. After briefly checking the crate to ensure it didn't contain the most valuable items, I offered to let them keep it if they provided the name of whomever hired them to hit my operation. Clearly a rag-tag group of nobodies like this were hired, probably for a pittance, and it was far more valuable to me to know who my true enemy was.

Ballast engaged in a largely-fanciful but engaging tale of how they met their contact, clearly trying to drum up the sense of mystery and intrigue (and therefore, presumably, their own reputations and value as operatives). Ultimately, though, she surprised me by naming Tomasa, a person Carmine had actually heard of. I half-expected them to make up some spurious name in hopes of deceiving me. This Tomasa is apparently a tiefling operative of the Kingdom of Mithila who has been something of a thorn in the side of Carmine's organization. It makes sense that a tiefling would engage local help, as she can hardly show her face here.

Before I could depart with my crate, however, a wretched Inquisitor of Yama showed up with Temple guards. She had apparently overheard more than enough to justify "inviting" me to the Grand Temple to speak with the Judge on the subject of my business dealings. This is going to get very expensive very soon, and I am very annoyed.

Carmine assures me he'll take care of Tomasa. I need you to investigate her patsies further and, if necessary, ensure they're not able or willing to provide testimony in my court case should things come to that.

You have, of course, my eternal thanks (and quite generous monthly payments).

Yours,

Tamoki of the House of Gold

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Game 26 - The Priest
3,420 XP - Total: 61,860 XP

From the Journal of Lankeshvar

It should, I imagine, come as no surprise that the self-described Adventurers I am now traveling with are more complex than the common imagination makes them. You taught me long ago, father, that people contain hidden dimensions, secret complexities, that others cannot or will not see. My own studies have certainly borne that out. But it bears constant reminding, if for no other reason than to fight against the constant and natural urge to oversimplify, to construct compelling narratives that smooth over inconvenient inconsistencies. The old Solar Emperor certainly understood that. He was a master of narrative control. People like their heroes to be simple, to conform to the classic heroic trajectory. My current traveling companions are not as simple as their burgeoning legends would make them out to be.

Oh, they have certainly been involved in events that most would find unbelievable. I read a theory, once, that certain people come to the attention of the gods in ways that become… self-fulfilling, that through their actions, they attract divine attention, which thrusts them into ever greater actions until they become, on some level, more than ordinary mortals. Is this why the old Emperor took a personal interest in them when to all other eyes they were little more than expedition guards in the desert? Is this why Sita gave them audience in the Shadowfell? Is this why Brahma appeared to them, or Sarasvati and Soma invested two of them with divine power during their fight with the Risen Son? It would seem not. Surely the sequence of events in which they were embroiled necessitated such attentions. Everything logically follows from that which came before, yet, now, when faced with the full aggregate tale, it seems far-fetched. Is this how History gets written? Taking fantastic truths and cheapening them with "realistic" lies? I wonder if their legends, in a thousand years, will be more or less glorious than the real events?

But I find myself navel-gazing on paper once more. The journey spinward through the lands of the Empire was largely uneventful. I passed the time by discussing events with my companions, learning their take on the legendary things they have done, getting the tale from the source. There's probably at least one book in it, should I decide to write on the subject. I was particularly interested in their brushes with the divine, and how those encounters may have changed them. 

I find my companions are a complex mix of interpersonal camaraderie and strife. They run the spectrum from pious to pragmatic, altruistic to self-interested. It is clear they have fallen into patterns of behavior with one another than is both contentious and comfortable. I was concerned, at first, that the apparent strife within the group would make us prey for the dangers of the road, but my fears were alleviated watching them in action.

As we crossed the hills toward the great swamp we discovered ourselves being stalked by a pack of gnolls. Keen eyes (or, more accurately, keen noses) and the magic of the druid Panja allowed us to slip our pursuers. There was some debate as to whether these gnolls found us by happenstance or were seeking us specifically. It would seem that they encountered gnolls before when pursuing the Risen Son in the Thar Desert and invoked an illusion of the night hag, the visage of Ratri, the supposed creator of their species as part of their battle. Since she is now our presumed goal, the presence of gnolls seemed a bit much for coincidence, but we determined to press on, and if in fact these gnolls were insistent on finding us specifically we would shortly know it.

The next day we knew it indeed. We had entered the swamp, traveling along something only charitably called a "road", when we once again became aware of a gnoll pack stalking us. We determined to stand our ground and draw the creatures out. Their leader approached, festooned in all manner of macabre trophies and bearing a pocked and scarred countenance even more horrific than his companions. He spoke to my companions in recognition. Indeed, it appeared he was the sole survivor of that long-ago desert encounter, and he seemed to think that the illusion they used to terrify him back then was a divine visitation. He rejected his old service to the undead and embraced the cult of Shurpanakha, lady of claws. Although he seemed grateful to my companions' role in his conversion, he also seemed hungry, and gnolls don't really understand concepts like gratitude. He attacked, wielding obvious supernatural power channelled through a grisly flail. 

My companions operated like a veteran unit. I fear I was of little use to them, although I did manage a few fire cantrips. I had prepared mostly utilitarian magic trusting in the combat abilities of the others, which proved a reasonable tactic. 

Upon their corpses, however, we found traces of a strange magic. The leader had about his neck a shriveled eyeball on a leather thong radiating some combination of Divination and Evocation magic. The others all had small chunks of iron fashioned into the form of fangs that evinced similar enchantment. Xedris determined that the eyeball was enchanted by a different caster than the fangs, but all drew from a similar (if unknown) source. As he and Saatvik prepared to cast identification magic, however, all enchantment left the fangs, leaving only the eyeball, which was apparently an arcane link of some sort to the caster, perhaps even that very caster's own eye. Xedris experimented with placing the eye in their bag of holding, determining that it loses its magic when placed outside the physical world, regaining it once returned to materiality. We opted to leave it in the bag indefinitely.

We camped to recover from our combat and a thick fog arose as darkness fell. Panja determined this to be part of the natural weather cycle, although he did speculate that the fog seemed thicker than it should. He engaged the aid of local wildlife to provide additional warning, and Xedris cast a combination of very useful traveling spells to ward our campsite from discovery and intrusion. Our rest passed without incident.

The fog refused to burn off entirely the next day, however. Panja made it clear that the clinging mists were not natural. We pressed on. Shortly we encountered three women pulling a small cart. There was a hobgoblin named Sheggen, a human named Osah, and a halfling named Criella. They were suitably cautious of travelers but seemed innocent enough. They were hauling a cargo of locally-produced liquor for trade with the Empire. We took their cargo off their hands in exchange for steel tools and trade goods. This didn't benefit us unduly except it provided us with new traveling companions with local knowledge. No longer obligated to travel in the direction from which we came, they accompanied us back in the direction of Heian, the ruined city that acts as something of a center for civilization in the area.

The entire time, the fog never fully lifted. In our traveling conversations we learned some fascinating information of local color, such as the fact that the inhabitants of the swamp have, apparently, preserved the local names and aspected symbology for the various gods, and apparently use an ancient, long-divergent form of the common tongue as their ritual language. Saatvik in particular seemed fascinated by the idea that the gods as he knows them might be worshiped under different names elsewhere… but even more so, that they might actually BE different in some respects to those people who worship that aspect. The idea that there might really be a "Iesa, goddess of secrets" who may differ in concrete ways from "Sarasvati, goddess of learning" was of great interest to him, understandably so.

That evening, we camped in the company of our three new companions. Xedris once more laid down his defenses as the fog thickened. Panja's animal friends called the alarm in the middle of our rest, and Xedris' familiar reported ghostly shapes in the mist that seemed unable to penetrate the camp's defenses. On edge, we passed the time listening to our local companions tell us of these "mist-walkers" who are said to steal children to convert into more mist-walkers. So high is the rate of mortality or disappearance among children in the swamp that a child is not given a true name until they are twelve years of age, an age at which the mist-walkers appear to lose interest. It was at this point that, I think, the true difficulties of life here were made apparent to those of us more used to the comforts of Civilization

There's not much more to tell of our journey to Heian. We arrived at the sinking city and were introduced to Fang, an old priest of Iesa who is rather hard of hearing. He did an excellent job of settling us into guest quarters for traveling merchants and has invited us to their great hall, which is apparently a community center of some sort. I'm taking the time to set these words to paper while my companions rest and take some food and water. I look forward to investigating the architecture of this place, but even more so, of learning the nuances of the local religious beliefs. If we are to find Shurpanakha, I suspect we will need to learn all we can of the local Powers.

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Game 1 - The Architect (Group 2)
420 XP = Total: 420 XP - Level 2

Kyodai Crimson Fang:

As you know, I've been cultivating a business relationship with Rajeev Two Notes, a bard from Trimurti. He's ostensibly seeking to join the Bardic College of Valor but I have my doubts. Most of his energies appear to be focused on making friends among the underclasses of Lankha, myself included. 

It seems I'm not his only friend. He and a band of others, including known associates of The Beheaded and The Shrouded, have been poking around asking questions about the Slate Maritime Supply warehouse. You and I both know that the Slate brothers have some powerful new patrons looking to use their warehouse to store valuable shipments that have somehow managed to avoid the attention of customs. Rajeev and his friends seem to have figured out that elements within the House of Gold and the House of Copper are involved with this foreign agent Carmine, and I saw no reason not to provide what information I could. Have no fear, I made it very clear to Rajeev that if he and his crew were going to be hitting the warehouse that the 8-9-3 needed our cut. 

Well, it seems they just hit the warehouse. He gave me a heads-up ahead of time, although it seems like maybe they're not hitting the place for simple thievery. Rajeev implied that the authorities were soon going to become involved. They skulked around the warehouse for a bit, quite effectively I'd have to say, although that Forged they have with them for muscle does loom a bit much. I don't think they drew any particular attention to themselves, and if I hadn't been given the heads-up, I probably wouldn't have noticed them either. They went straight for the Slate Brothers' smuggling tunnel. I obviously didn't follow them inside, but only a few minutes later a Dragonborn from the House of Copper emerged, looking wounded and a bit frantic. I actually think she might have been Verdigris, but it was hard to tell in the dark. I'm writing this to you while I wait to see if Rajeev and his companions ever emerge. If it looks like they're carting out goods, I'll be sure to make the 8-9-3's interests clear.

Ysabel

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Game 25 - The Great River
4,140 XP = Total: 58,440 XP

To: Sitara Devi, Councilor of Ayodhya
From: Vorm Longeye
Re: After Action Report

It's still strange to call you by your real name instead of "Onyx" … just as strange as it is to hear my name on your lips. I had become used to "Topaz." Just for the record, I still think keeping our old code-names is a good idea. Things haven't stabilized enough to risk our families and friends, but if you say it's important to send a message of confidence, then I'll do so… albeit grudgingly.

We're nearly at the two month mark since the attack on our city that has resulted in our current, messy situation. We've thrown our lot in with the occupiers who attacked us, which is not a popular move in some circles, but again, I trust you. You say this is the best path to creating new, more egalitarian government and I have no reason to doubt you. Still…

Current death estimates are at nearly 50,000 citizens. Between the Emperor's ritual and the violence in the streets we have been quite literally decimated. The would-be Varunan conquerers, with their Titan of the Sea and creepy army of vaguely snakey soldiers clearly expected to conquer us by force and set themselves up as a new divine ruling class devoted to the sea rather than the sun. A big blue dragon put paid to that plan, and now the Varunan priest Kalyan is our "interim governor" while he desperately tries to avoid being assassinated (although, according to some, he's already been assassinated at least three times. The guy seems to have multiple lives).

You don't need me to tell you all this, of course. You're his new right-hand woman, rooting out Suryan loyalist insurgents, devil-summoners, saboteurs and assassins in the name of "Civilization."

I tell you this because, while I still trust you and follow you, the others in the cell are having second thoughts. It's all well and good to push for a new Council-style government, but we need to make the "interim" part of Kalyan's title a reality sooner rather than later. We need an Ayodhyan in charge of Ayodhya or this whole city is going to go up in flames. Now, my goddess may get a thrill out of that, but I'd rather not get stabbed in the back.

And that is my long-winded way of approaching the subject of this report: The week-long nightmare that has been the visit from the "Regal Swan", a ridiculous boat-temple to Sarasvati that sailed on up to our city without a by-your-leave seeking to spread "cultural understanding" to Ayodhya. Of all the paternalistic bullshit I've seen living under a literally immortal emperor, this takes the cake. All that "art" and "dance" and "music" and "culture" and hedonistic, naive decadence floating on a fragile, intricate machine has been occupying my nightmares for the whole week it was here. How many assassination and sabotage attempts did we foil? Way too many, that's how many.

Don't get me wrong, the whole thing was a marvel, but who sends a floating art museum into a simmering would-be war zone? Their high priestess should have her head examined.

Fortunately not all Sarasvati priests are so clueless. Saatvik shared my nightmares that whole week, I suspect. He and his team did marvels helping out the boat's chief paladin, Kai, along with me and the other security forces you sent. Having Vin there, publicly, probably deterred more attempts than anything. The guy has become a legend, appearing wherever he's not expected to capture or kill insurgents, preaching the ways of his twin goddesses. He's public enemy number one among some of the older noble families. I know there's been at least six assassination attempts on his life in the last month alone. I didn't expect the druid to be much use, but he rooted out at least one infiltrator and seemed to have a knack for finding the parts of the boat least-attended-to which also happened to be the places enemies tended to gravitate to. Even that head-in-the-clouds wizard of theirs got bloodied up a bit, foiling an attack by Twilight himself, or at least an agent of his. That one ended comically (although that's probably the most I need to see of one of Varuna's pet sea monsters). Even Tavi the Terrible proved useful. Her stories of their exploits against the Risen Son gave even the hardcore Suryan loyalists something to think about. Better to be an occupied city than one converted to undead.

The festival is over, the boat survived the various attempts to destroy it or discredit the message it was trying to send of cultural openness and sharing. It's hard to convince a formerly insular and xenophobic society that the rest of the world has anything to offer, but I must grudgingly admit that it did seem to make a difference.

More importantly, all the attempts we foiled netted us some useful prisoners. Hopefully we can finally start taking down the Royal Assassins that have been making life nearly not-life for so many of us.

Oh, as for that other thing, I have three of our most trusted agents ready to start moving around the city disguised as Vinihata, Tavi, etc. to keep up the illusion they're still around. Apparently they're off spinward into the hinterlands on some mission for Videha. Vinihata especially is too good a deterrent to allow to lapse in their absence, so I've done my best to keep their journey a secret. Whatever they're looking for out there, I wish them luck. I don't expect they'll come back. They're not Ayodhyan, after all. They have no reason to care, really, what happens to us so long as our troubles don't spill over into their Kingdom. Still, I gotta give it to them, they put a lot more effort into helping us than I would have expected. So. Good luck to them.

Bah. I've rambled on for too long. Reports are supposed to be concise. I'm a war-cleric not a writer.

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