The Whorl

Game 1 - The Architect
+460 XP = 460 XP

(Written in cipher)

Report of Elenwe Two-Toes, Enlightened Knight of Videha

The expedition set out without a hitch. Professor Sanjaya Pandava leads our primary team while his two most advanced graduate students head the other teams. I am almost certain that all three of them have rudimentary magic enabling the exchange of messages, but I have thus far seen no evidence of regular collaboration across distance. 

The Professor briefed all three teams on his unusual theories on the origin of necrotic energies and his hypothesis that the particularly potent, stationary "hot spots" for that energy in the Thar Desert represented buried engines of the old pre-war Solar Empire that are damaged or otherwise bleeding corruption into the surrounding soil. The three teams were to split up to three different villages with the intention of gleaning local knowledge of these locations for further investigation and potential excavation. As you made clear to me, under no circumstances are Professor Pandava's scrolls to fall into hostile hands. His proprietary spell to ward against necrotic energy would be a boon to enemy militaries seeking to cross the desert against us. I took custody of his scrolls, which he relinquished readily and with no apparent suspicion.

The rest of the team seems competent enough. There's no cause for suspicion thus far for any of them. We set off for Broken Spring, an oasis-village of mystics devoted to Parvati. It is somewhat distant from the more traveled caravan routes, and Professor Pandava believed they would be a useful source of information about the energies of death in the desert. When we arrived, however, we discovered no signs of activity. The sharp-eyed among us noted corpses. 

Tavi Agarwal and Vin infiltrated the village while the rest of us prepared for trouble. The corpses animated and attacked. After a short exchange of violence, the five corpses and assorted animated severed limbs were rendered inanimate. Professor Pandava's contributions to the combat were minimal, mostly due to the insistence of multiple members of the team that he stay out of harm's way. While this was frustrating from the point of view of my own, particular mission it made tactical sense to preserve the only person capable of protecting us from necrotic energies. He did, however, note movement in the distance, which caused us to be alert to potential non-zombie dangers.

Sure enough, Sattvik detected subterranean motion and caused a localized earth tremor which resulted in the eruption from the ground of a… disturbingly large scarab beetle. It appeared in all ways to be an ordinary scarab beetle except for its unnatural size. It didn't attack, acting more like an ordinary insect, treating us warily, but clearly drawn to the zombie-corpses. Some experimentation by Sattvik and Panja showed that the creature seemed drawn to sources of necrotic energy. Professor Pandava cast a spell he claimed could detect such energies and made a beeline for the settlement's oasis pool where he indicated a source of necrotic energy was poisoning the water. Panja accepted the Professor's necrotic ward magic and went swimming, uncovering an unusual magic device that had clearly been planted there. This device was dangerous to touch and seemed capable of poisoning water sources. Sattvik used some of the budget of Charges to identify the device, discovering that it had been constructed specifically to curse water such that anyone drinking it would sicken and die and rise again as undead.

We secured the device, but it became clear that the enormous scarab was strongly attracted to it. The academics among us posited that the scarab was an example of a creature known to have been summoned by priests of Surya before and during the Godswar, and further guessed that this particular creature may, itself, have been alive that long ago. This excited the Professor, who wanted to determine a method to capture or keep the creature despite the obvious logistical difficulties of transporting a large, wild creature through the desert. Furthermore, the creature started glowing as it consumed necrotic energy. It seemed to be safely consuming it and transforming it into radiant energy. Needless to say, this excited the Professor, who took it as more evidence of his… unpopular theories.

Sattvik, Panja, and Xedris theorized that an ancient invocation to Surya might compel or otherwise manipulate the beast. Xedris advised strongly against invoking the Archfiend. Sattvik indicated he would not do so, but was comfortable enough transcribing such a prayer and handing it to others. Professor Pandava revealed he knew a number of old pre-war prayers, and decided to perform one.

This "prayer" was a ritual, and it resulted in the creature becoming something akin to the Professor's familiar. So. We now have a giant insect known to be a sacred symbol of the Archfiend (that can shoot beams of hot light and eats necrotic energy) accompanying us. I should take a moment to note that the Professor gave every indication of being befuddled at the incredible success of his ritual. This is fully in keeping with the persona he has presented for the last century.

Panja invoked the goddess Parvati to speed the healing of the oasis and we tracked the survivors of the village dawnward and anti-spinward into a region of the desert unmarked on our map. We eventually found them at the base of a monastery or other settlement carved into a cliff face. They were invoking the inhabitant, who eventually deigned to speak with their representative. We observed from a distance after making initial contact with them. After they consulted with the monastery inhabitant, they spoke with us. These survivors, the aforementioned mystics of Parvati, reported that a human male entered their village and partook of their hospitality before leaving the next morning. A day later, they started to fall ill, some of them succumbing and rising again. They were not equipped to combat the risen dead, and fled, seeking the advice of "the Oracle", hoping to gain information about the man who violated hospitality codes and brought death to a place dedicated to life.

We informed them that we had cleansed their village, and in return, their leader spent some time providing the information the Professor sought, as well as other useful notations on our map. She also conveyed what the Oracle told her, that in a deep ruin a "sleeping evil" has awakened once more, and through its agents, seeks to spread death wherever there is life. 

The Professor, ever-fixated on his own goals, wants to press on to Sarya where we're to rendezvous with the other two teams. I hope to learn more about this mysterious Oracle before we go, but the decision ultimately is not mine. 

I'll write more when I know more. Currently, Professor Pandava has been consistent in his self-portrayal as an obsessive academic with an unusually disparate set of talents. I have seen nothing actionable by the Knight-Provost at this time. I hope to send this entry, and subsequent ones, back to Videha with one of our agents once I reach Sarya.

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Game 2 - The Slave
+520 XP = 980 XP

The Journals of Xedris Thrannis Somabhakta
Entry 527, Decrypted and Translated

The last two days have been a wealth of information. Although I could spend decades here speaking with Vinyasa, the curse of his immortality begins to toll and I should not leave my companions without my guidance and talents for much longer. Sadly, I must depart the Archive and make all due haste to Sarya. Fortunately, the Archivist has promised some aid in that regard.

I suppose, for posterity, I should record some simple facts about the Archive and its wonders. The Parvati-worshiping mystics of Broken Spring led us here, a simple monastery carved into a sandstone cliff face, believing its keeper to be an "oracle." Based on this representation, Professor Sanjaya Pandava dismissed  the Archivist as a fortune-teller, focused as he was on the geographical information provided, and on his goals. Nevertheless, I, along with Panja and Saatvik, ascended via bucket-and-pulley to consult with her.

How to describe the Archivist… she is clearly non-human, although she is certainly humanoid. She is swathed entirely in layered black silks and veils, although occasionally the head of a small emerald-scaled serpent can be seen poking its head out of her layered clothing. The Archive is carved into a cliff face, its hall lined with niches containing immaculate statues of high-Elves in various poses and states. The hall leads to a grotto open to the sky via a light-well carved upward through the rock. There is a circular pool with some plant life growing in it, and dozens more statues in various positions. 

I won't belabor things. The statues are all living beings turned to stone by some art or quality of the Archivist. Each one of them is a high-elf who survived the Godswar nearly three thousand years ago. Each one of them chose not to join Surya in his prison, nor to join Aranyani in the Feywild, nor to give up their immortality. Each one, by so refusing, has been cursed by the gods to waste away in agony. Each one sought out the first Archivist who turned them to stone to preserve their knowledge against future need, and each one is occasionally returned to flesh to add to their knowledge before being frozen in stone once more.

I'm not entirely sure what manner of Monster the current Archivist (she says she's the Ninth) might be, but she has certainly found an excellent way to utilize whatever unnatural talents she possesses for the good of Civilization and the edification of future generations. I wouldn't have expected such dedication from a Druid, but perhaps I have misjudged them. Panja certainly treated her with elaborate respect, and they spent much of the first day we were here together discussing the secret lore of their order. I was more interested in Vinyasa.

To elaborate: the three of us inquired into the supposed "great evil" that had arisen once more, sending agents throughout the land poisoning springs with arcane artifacts imbued with necrotic energy. The Archivist indicated that the last time this sort of thing occurred it was the work of the Risen Son, and that she would thaw the one most able to tell us more about him. She selected one of her statues and re-animated him. After a moment of initial disorientation, he locked eyes with me and called me by my true family name. Clearly he saw some ancestor in my features. I pretended not to know what he spoke of and he shook off his confusion, but I decided then that I would seek private conversation with him if at all possible.

He told us that the Risen Son was a child during the Godswar, and when Surya fell he was just a teenager. He fled into the war-torn wastes that are now the Thar Desert refusing to give up his immortality and seeking a way to defy the gods. He found inspiration in Surya's example. Apparently during the war, Mahadeva would simply resurrect those of his faithful who would fall in battle, ensuring his army stayed ever-strong. Surya, seeking to emulate his father, attempted to imbue his fallen with esoteric fires and energies and successfully animated them once more, although they were souls trapped in dead flesh. The Risen Son, somewhere in the ruins of the ancient magical war machines of the Empire, discovered the arts whereby he could convert himself into a powerful undead, finding through this loophole a path to the immortality he sought to keep.

About a thousand years after the Godswar, the Risen Son led a cult of undead followers preaching the immortality of Surya through undeath. This cult dominated the Thar Desert, but was eventually suppressed and destroyed by a concerted military campaign led by the Kingdom of Mithila, and it hasn't been a known threat since.  I created an illusion of the strange shard we found in the spring, and Vinyasa indicated that it looked very much like the blade of one of the swords wielded by the Risen Son's most faithful knights, weapons that could instantly re-animate the bodies of those they slew into loyal undead servants. There is some evidence, therefore, that at least some elements of the old Cult are still around even if we have no direct evidence that the Risen Son himself is still a threat. 

While Panja and Saatvik returned to the expedition intended to head to Sarya to rendezvous with the other teams, I spent an additional day deep in study with Vinyasa. His knowledge of the arcane arts, while archaic, is dramatically more advanced than anything I've seen at the Wizard’s College of Mithila. He even gave me a spellbook in honor of his friendship with my ancestor who fought beside him in the war. I'll need to return someday to speak with him again, but he can only stay in flesh for so long before the gods' curse begins to fray at his life. The Archivist returned him to stone and arranged transport to Sarya via methods she has asked I not record.

I arrived in this desert caravansary and market-hub built into the ruins of an ancient city to hear of a disturbance. Asking around, it seems that Team Dvi ran into some difficulties. My own companions rescued one of their number from a line of slaves being sold by slavers who were, it turns out, Monsters known as "jackalweres", cursed and ensorcelled beasts who can take on the forms of men. They are remarkably resilient to weapons, but my companions managed to slay them anyway rescuing Sindoor. I'm resting in this tent, putting my thoughts to page, waiting for the ruckus to subside before I seek them out to learn the specifics. Perhaps I'll try this local delicacy of fermented camel's milk.

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Game 3 - The Spider
+1080 XP = 2060 XP

The Travel Journal of Aleeni Vas, Graduate Student, Bardic College of Lore

I shall be forever grateful to Professor Sanjaya Pandava and the rest of Team Eka for rescuing me from almost certain death at the hands of a hungry lamia. I can only attribute my bardic training in history, storytelling, and lore to my survival. The creature kept me alive only so long as I was an interesting conversationalist. 

We spoke and laughed and feasted at her table of rich delights for what now seems to be days. At the time I thought nothing of it, so deep was I under her spell. Her villa in the midst of desert ruins was spilling with water, light, life, and luxury. Her conversation was scintillating, and apparently not entirely lies. Nevertheless, I thought nothing of it when my companions Danica Free and Sthisik suddenly decided to become the Lady's slaves, taking on a golden collar and serving us. I should have realized that was the point where the Lady had killed them and replaced them with illusions.

It seems Sindoor escaped after all, albeit as a slave to the scavenging jackalweres that lurk at the edges of the Lady's generosity feeding off her scraps. The Professor and Team Eka rescued her in Sarya, and it was her words that caused them to return to the Lady's villa in search of me and the remaining members of Team Dvi. It seemed, at first, that they too would fall under the Lady's spell. The Professor, and Saatvik certainly gave a good impression of having done so, though Vinihata seemed a rude guest. Perhaps it was his role to keep the others from becoming too complacent, but in hindsight it seems he was more interested in preventing his companions from eating any of the food…

The food. I shouldn't think about it, I shouldn't dwell on it, but despite their every efforts to protect me from the knowledge, in my heart I know that I have eaten the flesh of my companions, Danica and Sthisik, and it makes my heart and body sick.

The druid Panja broke the spell, entering the villa courtyard like a desert wind, pointing an accusing finger at the Lady and demanding that she reveal herself. A sudden silence blanketed the banquet. As the Lady came under threat the only thing I could do was leap to her defense, enraged that such a kind, generous, lovely, and knowledgeable woman should be assaulted in her own home. It didn't take long, however, for the offenses of her guests to provoke her to sufficient anger to reveal herself… a beastly lion-creature with the upper torso of a woman. She nearly slew Vinihata, and her three jackalwere servants harassed Panja and Xedris, but ultimately the Professor and Team Eka slew her, ignoring her pleas to let her live for a boon. Only one jackalwere escaped into the desert. 

With the Lady dead, her illusions faded. The luxurious villa became dilapidated, its glories dimmed. The servants vanished. I had fainted. I was roused elsewhere in the courtyard, kept from looking as Team Eka built a bonfire and disposed of the remains of the feast table. Xedris, bless his soul, did his best to silence the indiscreet commentary of Sattvik on the subject of those remains. I shouldn't think about it. I should focus on the mission.

Tavi had found the lamia's chambers, and within them a golden sceptre and a golden crown, both set with a clear gem casting gentle light. Xedris determined that these were the control crown and control rod for a Titan of the Sun! During my ensorcelment the lamia had told tales of expeditions into the wastelands dawnward and spinward from her home, and the terrible rotting curse that had befallen all those who had penetrated the secrets to be found there. It seems the Professor's information was correct after all, the village of cultists that led us to the Lady's home did have useful information on former expeditions that may have found one of the Titans, and the Lady had procured their treasures before presumably eating them. 

I was filled in on the Professor's own discoveries, and added my meager notes to his map. We seem to be closing in on three possible locations of buried Titans, and have two priceless historical and magical artifacts related to them. So far, the Professor's expeditions have proven all his preliminary research valid. I can't wait to hear what successes Team Tri has had.

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Game 4 - The Secret Tryst
+1140 XP = 3200 XP

The Memory of Zz'tak'szin, Queen of the Viridian Hive of the Three Hives of the Kreen

Despite my long memories, and the memories of my mother and her mothers before her, I think I will never fully comprehend the strange blindness through which those not of the People live their lives. A small clutch of them came before me some days ago thanks to the well-meaning introductions of the druid of the land who walked among them who named himself Tan Viper. 

This druid did little of the talking, however. Their clutch-leader was a half-breed elf of the sun with darkness in his heart. He spoke of his hive-leader, a great scholar of the sun elves named Sanjaya Pandava, who sought knowledge of the ancient Titans of the Sun on behalf of the Kingdom of Mithila, and who had sent him, a loyal student and aide, to seek the long-memories of me and my mothers.

Behind his face hid lies. Few of my people are capable of comprehending true deceit, but I am not among them. I saw his disloyalty to this Pandava. I saw that he had loyalties elsewhere yet kept them hidden. Nevertheless, the nearest Titan is little more than twisted wreckage buried in sand, and so I gave him what he wanted, yet I sent my warriors to watch their departure carefully for clues to their intentions.

No sooner did they believe themselves beyond my sight then their leader and two confederates, the demon-born warlock and the self-important showman, stabbed Tan Viper with vicious weapons, slaying him near-instantly. Given that moment in which to attempt to defend himself, their fifth companion, a young human with eyes of the Land, was not taken so swiftly by surprise. It seems, though, that their leader, who named himself Raj Sinhala, stabbed him with a blade of the night and left him to bleed with a message for Pandava revealing his treachery and his loyalty to the accursed Solar Empire.

Once the betrayers left, at my direction, my warriors retrieved the wounded human, Arjuna Tenarrows, tended him as best they could, and brought him to the place of human trading, the ruined city of Sarya, to see if this Pandava or others of his hive would return. This plan was successful. Pandava and more of his hive came to Sarya, discovered Arjuna's fate, healed him through the unusual intermediation of a Great Scarab, and were invited to speak with me.

The news of Raj's betrayal struck Pandava hard, or so I deem from our eventual meeting. Their journey was not without incident. They were ambushed by ankhegs and were thoughtful enough to gift me with a jar of ankheg honey upon arriving at my Hive. Pandava and his six companions spoke with me. They had among them another druid of the Land, an earth-elf named Panja, who spoke most eloquently. Pandava himself seemed listless until I and the other sun-elf in their number, Xedris, drew him out on the subject of why he sought the Titans. He became animated about restoring the culture, civilization, and art of the pre-war Eternal Solar Empire, this time free of the corruption of Surya. I saw the truth in his words which offset my suspicions upon seeing the chains of the Betrayer wrapped about his spirit. It would seem his companions were ignorant of the chains, however, for when I offered them the boon of my long memories and insight, the devotee of the River Goddess asked about Pandava, and I told him this his hive leader was a warlock tied to the Archfiend. This seemed to be new information for him and his companions, but Pandava made no effort to deny it.

I showed them a memory of the fall of a Titan in the last days of the War and spoke to them about the dangers of repeating history. We shall see how many of my words remain in the short, foggy memories of their people. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of our meeting, I deem these members of Pandava's hive to be more trustworthy than the previous clutch. I wish them fortune in cleansing the sour clutch from their midst.

 

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Game 5 - The Blood Feud
+1440 XP = 4640 XP

Transcript of the Report of Elenwe Two-Toes, Enlightened Knight of the Royal University of Mithila, as received by the Provost-Elect of the Bardic College of Lore, Parts 5 and 6

After departing the Viridian Hive, we elected to pursue the traitorous graduate student Raj Sinhala. It was clear he was an agent of Ayodhya, and we considered the harm he might do if left unchecked to be more immediate than the concerns raised by the other sites.

Professor Pandava continued in his deep depression, although in this state many of his masks and veils were dropped. He admitted to being a warlock of the Archfiend, but claimed that such studies pre-dated his departure from the Eternal Solar Empire and his admittance to the University. He claimed not to know anything about the traitorous warlock Cinder. The primary focus of his despondence and rage, however, was Raj. I know how close the two of them were in recent years.

We made a stealthy approach to the site of the buried Titan of the Sun provided to us, as well as to Raj, by the Hive-Queen. Panja and Tavi engaged in stealthy reconnoitering while Xedris provided aerial intel with his familiar. We discovered a work camp of about a hundred people just beginning to excavate the site. It became fairly clear that Ayodhya had an expeditionary force on standby awaiting a signal from the traitor to move on the site. I was reminded of how strongly Raj pushed to be assigned to that particular prospective site, and it's geographical proximity to Ayodhya would now seem to be the evident reason.

Further reconaissance showed that about 75% of the force were slaves, being thrown bodily at excavating the necrotic sands to ill-effect on their health. The other 25% were assorted scholars, soldiers, and slave-drivers under the command of the traitorous Raj. Most of our party except for me and the Professor engaged in a "snatch and grab" attempt on two of the soldiers when they departed to forage. Unfortunately, this attempt resulted in an alerted camp. The Professor and I attempted to join the fight, but it was over before we arrived. 

Half the soldiery, along with the "famed adventurer" Shah Khan, attacked our smaller group. Fortunately, our druid used the terrain tactically to slow the charge and Vinihata incapacitated Shah Khan, stripping him of his various weapons and armor. We rendezvoused together and opted for a frontal assault on the remaining camp before they could organize. We left the incapacitated Shah Khan tied to a camel while we made our assault, which was perhaps not the wisest move. We also discovered that the soldiery all had brands on their left hands showing an obscure sigil of the House of Dasaratha… personal soldiers of Emperor Rama I

As we arrived at the camp, the slaves were all being herded out to the necrotic ruins of the mostly-buried Titan while everyone else was hidden inside tents. More soldiers emerged and distracted us while the warlock, Cinder, began slaughtering slaves in the distant ruins. It was at first unclear why until Raj himself burst from one of the tents wrapped in shadowy chains with eyes burning like coals. It was clear he was possessed by some infernal power. He ranted at Professor Pandava, seeming to connect him to the Emperor by ties of blood. As we engaged Raj in combat, it became evident that Cinder's distant slaughter was empowering Raj somehow, but Vinihata put himself at considerable personal risk to shred the ritual bindings in the rug upon which Raj stood. Although Raj lashed about himself with shadowy chains that appeared to cause significant mental trauma to all they struck, we eventually were able to put him down.

By the time Professor Pandava was able to grant us immunity to the necrotic energies so we could enter the dig site, Cinder was long gone. About half the slaves were slaughtered. We recovered the other half. They all had intricate collars entwined with mystic sigils. Xedris and Saatvik determined that these collars tied the slaves' life energies to the demon bound inside Raj. As they died they empowered him. Xedris collected all the collars for study. As you are aware, I was tasked, alongside the freed goblin druid prisoner named Tinpot, to deliver these unfortunate here to Videha. I trust suitable authorities are questioning them for any relevant or valuable information on the Empire.

In the aftermath of the battle, the Professor admitted that his distant ancestor was the brother to Rama I. He, like most scholars, seemed dubious at Rama's claims to immortality, but could not provide a satisfactory theory as to how the ruse is maintained. The Professor was most surprised to learn from the captured scholars that Rama I is apparently trying to build a Titan of the Sun from scratch, but that his thaumaturgists lack the knowledge to reconstruct a Titan's heart, the power-source and engine that runs the thing. This was the purpose of the expedition and the betrayal. They wanted to take advantage of Professor Pandava's obsessive research in order to steal a Titan's heart. 

The Professor, as well as the remaining members of Team Eka, have established themselves at the site of the Titan. He requests that the University send support staff and manpower to aid in its excavation. 

You sent me on this expedition partly because of suspicions about Professor Pandava. Those suspicions seemed well-founded. Nevertheless, despite learning that he's a minor warlock of the Archfiend, and that he's a part of the royal family of Ayodhya, nothing the Professor has said and done contradicts his insistence that he is an exile from the Eternal Solar Empire, dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of uncovering the pre-war Empire's culture and art. The ranting of the traitorous Raj even seemed to confirm that Emperor's desire that the Professor "return to the fold," something the Professor was clearly unwilling to do.

Although these revelations canno help but impact Professor Pandava's reputation, he has yet to demonstrate that he is a spy or an enemy of the state. The academic value of his find cannot be underestimated. I recommend that the College, and the greater University, provide him the funding and manpower he requests, especially considering the site's proximity to Ayodhya.

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