The Reign of Dregoth

Ambushing the Assassins
The Dead

Upon defeating Taxma, at least temporarily, the agents returned to the Shuja estates to lick their wounds and plan their next move. They knew they had to act fast if they wanted to hunt down AkuNu Dark Moon before Taxma got resurrected and warned the newly undead assassin they were coming.

Najaf knew they had a handful of hours, nearly all of which he would need to spend resting to recover his magical reserves. The rest of the group similarly rested and recovered, but not until they had contacted Jia asking her to set up a “meeting” with AkuNu in a particular dark alley. The plan would be that one of them would disguise as Jia to lure him in, then they would attack.

As Najaf slept, his father, Jahandar Shuja, and Safa Maarham watched over his sleeping body. Jahandar sought to understand better the transformation that was happening in his son, and he cast a number of esoteric arcane rituals to monitor such things.

Upon resting, they put their plan into motion. AkuNu approached the site, and some of the agents detected another, shadowy figure following in his trail. They lured him within reach and immediately attacked. The shadowy figure revealed itself as a Kuotagha, which despite its skills as stealthy assassination, was rapidly dispatched by the focused attacks from behind crates and boxes of the rest of the concealed agents. AkuNu, however, proved a harder nut to crack. His elven facade fell almost immediately to reveal the withered flesh and carious burning yellow eyes of a Mohrg. He called upon the tormented psyches of the New Moon Elves whose minds were ripped apart by Mon Adderath’s ritual. They manifested in a swirl of vengeful agony. As the combat progressed, many of the agents found themselves briefly overwhelmed by a mindless vengeful hate that caused them to lash out at their own allies, while AkuNu flew about the alley shredding into them with claws.

After a long and difficult battle, as AkuNu began to feel somewhat taxed, he opted to attempt to flee the battle (being an assassin, and preferring unfair fights). Dhaara called upon primal wind to drag him back, and Shahzadi pierced him through the thigh with a sword to keep him immobile, at least for the moment. That’s when he put up his hands and asked if, perhaps, they could negotiate a peaceful solution.

The agents, bloodied and battered, minds frazzled by surges of vengeful hatred, were not absolutely certain they could defeat this creature, and so began negotiations.

They learned that AkuNu felt a sense of blood-debt against House Shuja for their part in annihilating the Night Runners in Raam, but his sense was somewhat loose, as he had been an outcast from his tribe. He was willing to drop the blood debt if the Shuja children were willing to do the same. The agents asked him to help them track down and kill the remaining Kuotagha in the city, which he seemed willing to at least help them to do. He revealed that the Kuotagha they had killed was the one currently attached to Taxma. He indicated he could probably fairly easily kill the one attached to the Veiled Alliance, but the one attached to the Night Runners was unlikely, as he himself was not welcome among his own people, especially now that he had accepted undead servitude to Taxma. The last one, the one attached to the Mercantile Templar-spies, he was willing to help the agents locate and defeat.

Upon reaching this tentative arrangement, Shahzadi let slip that Jia had sold AkuNu out, which upset her, as she appeared in a flare of gray light. Nevertheless, Jia was able to dedicate the soul of the slain Kuotagha to her patron, which opened the door, as it were, to negotiating the return of Padme Shuja’s soul.

AkuNu departed cautiously, as did the agents, to lick their respective wounds.

Dhaara returned to her Uncle’s house where she took pains to hide all evidence that she had been engaged in caste-violating combat. The rest of them dropped by one of their safehouses. While Najaf took a bath, Shahzadi and Queri-Sed returned to the Shuja estates so that Shahzadi could discuss with her father the possibility of detecting Khayal, for fear that her betrothed might be one. Jahandar Shuja indicated that as a result of his study of Najaf, he could probably detect if someone was a Khayal if they were unconscious in his presence long enough for him to cast a ritual.

Najaf, after his bath, cast a Sending to Taxma, who was alive once more, to relate their arrangement with AkuNu, and try to smooth matters over with Dregoth’s apprentice. Taxma seemed somewhat put out, and asked Najaf to meet him once more in the Consecrated Sepulchre of Badna to discuss such terms.

XP: 3,000
Total: 99,607 – Level 18

Loot:
Shadowdancer’s Mask (lvl. 10)(5,000gp)
Shadowdancer’s Gloves (lvl. 11)(9,000gp)
Shadowdancer’s Boots (lvl. 12)(13,000gps)
Shadowdancer’s Cloak +2 (lvl. 9)(4,200gp)

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Confronting the Dead
The Blood Feud

The agents finally gave Shahzadi some time to rest while Dhaara returned to have a painful reunion with her parents. They seemed somewhat mollified by her explanation of why uncle Gaurav and his family was poisoned, but the relationship remains somewhat strained.

Afterwards, refreshed and ready, the agents put into motion their plans to track down this conspiracy that had attacked them and their allied houses. Najaf cast forth his sorcery to arrange a meeting with Eliphelet bin M’ke, a former associate who had been put on another task for Dregoth involving the Dynastic Merchant houses. Before that meeting, however, they went to the Ivory Palace to meet with Mon Adderath. They informed the High Templar about Jia, and while he was unfamiliar with the name, certain details nagged at his recognition. He informed them that a valued servant of the Dead Queen Sielba had, some years before, been granted the gift of becoming a Kaisharga by Dregoth himself as part of a loose alliance. Mon Adderath cast forth his own mind to communicate with the person he remembered, and sure enough, discovered she was operating in Raam under the name Jia. He summoned her and she arrived.

The agents discovered that her alliance came from a previous business arrangement with the Night Runners prior to their purge, and that she was ignorant of the fact that Padme Shuja was in any way particularly important to Dregoth or his agents. She was fairly blunt and straightforward and the agents found themselves quite able to believe that she hadn’t put a great deal of thought into the assassination. The result of these negotiations was that Jia would work to retrieve Padme’s soul from her dark patron, but would ask for at least one soul of equivalent “value”, two would certainly cement the Dead Queen’s assent. She also offered to throw in a “freebie” soul dedication on one of their enemies should they wish.

The agents asked Jia about finding AkuNu Dark Moon, the Night Runner assassin that had worked with her on the assassination. She told them she could certainly call on him and lure him into a trap, but that he was now a Mohrg, a powerful undead. Najaf and Alekel had heard of such creatures, created in a lengthy ritual first developed by the long-lost King of Kalidnay, and one still favored by the Sorcerer-Monarchs in creating undead servants. In considering who in Raam would be capable of casting such a ritual, the list was fairly short, and included Dregoth, Najaf himself (possibly) and Dregoth’s apprentice Taxma.

The agents went on to their meeting with Eliphelet where they learned that in the aftermath of Dregoth’s conquest of Raam, the Sorcerer-Monarchs of five other cities took steps to lean on the Dynastic Merchant Houses based out of their respective cities to plant Templar-spies in their ranks. These Templar-merchants would then infiltrate Raam as a means to keep an eye on Dregoth and his movements. This was problematic, as it stepped all over the traditional neutrality of the Dynastic Merchant houses. Eliphelet and his own band of Dregoth’s agents had uncovered the five agents, each of which had their own power base and considerable wealth. Fortunately, one of these agents, Agar Stel, was slain via seemingly unrelated activity (namely the contract work Najaf and Company took from Ismail so long ago) but Eliphelet pulled strings with his former family, Dynastic Merchant house M’ke, to purchase Agar’s body from the Night Runners and raise him from the dead, learning much from their new prisoner.

Under the cover of the purge of the Night Runners, Eliphelet’s band took out two of the remaining four spies before the other two, Nerek of House Vordon and Darayavaush of House Shom, managed to escape. Eliphelet told them that his cell had uncovered information about the “black monks” who were helping the five spies stay in contact. They had theorized these were under-cover Yellow Monks, but it made more sense to conclude they were Kuotagha.

Having learned the names of the two who were presumably responsible for the attack on House Maarham, the agents went to the Consecrated Sepulchre of Badna to speak with Taxma. They asked him about why he had a Kuotagha working for him. He explained that one of his apprentices was an Offspring, and he’s fond of picking up dangerous tools when other people leave them lying around. He eventually was convinced to offer up this tool to Najaf etc. if it would smooth matters over. Najaf then broached the subject of AkuNu, and Taxma, amused at their dogged investigation, revealed that he was seeking to gather to his hand all manner of powerful weapons who seek to oppose his master Dregoth both to keep them in sight, and as a potential resource should Dregoth turn on him, or (so it was presumed, yet unspoken) the time would come to turn on Dregoth. Taxma informed the agents that Dregoth was important to him, but that as an ambitious individual, he has to think long-term.

The agents of Dregoth, perhaps a bit nonplussed, discussed the matter further. Taxma informed them that while he was willing to give up his Kuotagha to them, he was not willing to give up his Mohrg elf assassin. Najaf, in an unusual display of passion, informed Taxma that AkuNu had slain his mother, and his death was non-negotiable. Taxma shrugged, smiled, and summoned forth enslaved spirits of a half-dozen of Abalach-Re’s deceased consorts, a black shadow of terrible power, and a mighty construct assembled in a whirlwhind of shattered alabaster shards.

The combat proceeded. Taxma himself was rapidly driven from the field by Dhaara and Najaf, his body erupting into flame and vanishing. Taxma’s various minions, however, proved rather more difficult to defeat. Najaf and Alekel were both quite grievously wounded before Dhaara shattered the alabaster construct and drove the black wraith back to the Gray. Queri-Sed handily dispatched most of the ghostly consorts and softened up the remaining targets for Dhaara while Shahzadi kept to her usual role of protecting her allies. Alekel’s sorcerously enhanced words of encouragement kept them fighting, particularly Najaf who otherwise may well have fallen to death.

After the fight, they retreated back into the Ivory Palace. Najaf scried upon Taxma’s body, piercing the sorcerous illusion set up to fool any such scriers, and saw a disorienting scene that appeared to be the flat top of an obsidian tower. Instead of vista, however, the tower seemed to be hovering above the Ivory Palace itself. Najaf concluded that Taxma was in some sort of scrying chamber. His body was being chanted over by a blonde half-elf in black silk robes who shortly noticed Najaf’s scrying before Najaf’s ritual ended.

The agents considered this vision, and discussed taking the opportunity to hunt down and kill AkuNu before Taxma could sufficiently recover and return to Raam, and then present the matter as finished and perhaps negotiate a cease-fire.

XP: 4,444
Total: 96,607

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Regrouping
The Daughter

Alekel was led into a secure basement room in the fortified palace of House Maarham where he met with Safa. After a hesitant few moments seeking to ascertain that she was the genuine article, he informed her of the events of that evening, the assassination of Padme Shuja, the death of Salim and a Kuotagha, and the general chaos. She informed Alekel that she also had been involved in a battle as assassins sought to kill her father. The Khayal allied with House Maarham had stepped in to maintain the ruse of business as usual while her father remained in seclusion.

The two of them returned to House Shuja and, after a brief scuffle with the Shuja household guards, met with their fellow agents to compare information. As part of their discussions, they studied the statue of Badna they recovered from Salim, the one sculpted by Usuch-Si. As all other statues by this famed sculptor seemed to have some unusual quality, they rightly suspected that this statue may have something to do with the surprising supernatural effect that Salim’s invocations to his god created. They ascertained that the statue acted as a sort of psychic reservoir for “faith,” or at least the emotional and mental energy associated with that emotion… but it furthermore appeared that some other entity had subverted the statue. Enough hints were discovered to lead some of the Agents to belief that the hand of the long-dead Sorcerer Queen of Yaramuke, Sielba, was acting upon the statue.

Before they got far in their investigations, however, word came from the servants that an elf was at the door seeking to speak with Dhaara.

The elf, dressed as a ragged beggar, was none other than Alaa New Moon, the Night Runner who once worked the Garden of Benevolence and who had briefly been a prisoner of the agents. Apparently, notwithstanding her membership of the New Moon tribe, her mind had escaped Mon Adderath’s ritual. Why she would appear at the house where her Tribe-mates had recently assassinated the Matriarch was a bit of a puzzle, but one shortly explained. Alaa told Dhaara that during her captivity in the home of Dhaara’s uncle, she had been treated well and with respect. She was here to repay her perceived debt and informed Dhaara that even now her uncle Gaurav and his family were dying of a slow and terrible poison. Alaa provided a vial of the poison. Dhaara permitted the elf to depart and took the vial to Alekel who identified it as the extracted venom of the Zombie cactus, a particularly insidious poison that degraded the mental capacities of the victim until they became mindless killers.

The agents rushed about the city gathering vials of antidote. Mindful of the fact that their last interaction with Alaa New Moon had been a trap that resulted in the death of one of the employees of the “Iron Ring,” Shahzadi and Alekel infiltrated the home of Gaurav Kelas and saw him and his wife convulsing in the central courtyard with an emaciated waif of a girl dancing about them singing a hymn to Badna. The girl was none other than Whisper, the Badna cultist who Dhaara had convinced to trust her, and the means by which the agents had long ago infiltrated the now purged cult. The agents handily knocked the girl out. She made no attempt to fight them, and in fact seemed pleased to see them.

They administered the antidote to Gaurav, his wife, and their two teenaged sons while Safa fetched a Sadhu priest with healing skills and magic. It eventually came out that Gaurav had taken Whisper in as part of the larger project to look after poor Saddhu that he had instituted at Dhaara’s suggestion long ago so as to prevent them from being used by criminal elements. She had become one of the household servants. She sent the other three servants away on some ruse before poisoning the ritual food that the entire family ate as part of the sunset ritual service to the ancestors.

Shahzadi and Najaf took Whisper prisoner and returned to House Shuja where Najaf, exhausted and not wishing to risk the destabilization of his identity by consuming a second brain in one night, sought to get some sleep. Shahzadi watched over the prisoner with Queri-Sed while Dhaara, Safa and Alekel looked after Gaurav Kelas’ affairs, setting everything in order, ensuring the loyalty of the three servants who had returned, etc. Dhaara and Safa determined that Safa should fetch Khayal in service to her house to create suitable guises to look after the affairs of both House Shuja and the home of Gaurav Kelas (as well as their safehouse where their housekeeper Lia resided) so that the Agents could be freed to pursue vengeance.

One Khayal in the guise of a middle-caste performer went off to look after their safehouse. Another, in the guise of a young, freshly-shorn initiate of the Sadhu mysteries went to the Kelas house to look after its affairs. The third, in the guise of a young Shuja “cousin,” accompanied Safa to the Shuja household by the time dawn crested the horizon.

Shahzadi was not happy with the notion of letting a Khayal into their house. The psyche of Padme Shuja, trapped in her own Usuch-Si sculpture, was even less happy. They left the Khayal to wait for a bit, however, while Najaf sought to “interrogate” their prisoner. She seemed resistant to blandishment, strong and secure in her faith. He was in no way resistant to having her head sawn open and her brain eaten, however, although Najaf had assumed the form of Salim in order to question the girl, and Queri-Sed was in the room, and Queri-Sed attacked Najaf.

The short scuffle resulted in some harsh words about Queri-Sed’s apparent inability to comprehend that Najaf is a shapeshifter, treating all his guises at face value. Najaf consumed enough of the child’s brain, however, to understand that the poisoning was a personal matter. Whisper had felt personally betrayed by Dhaara and had seen her entire belief system devastated, her friends and allies slain, and so simply took matters into her own hands. Her goal was for Dhaara to come, see her dancing over the twitching bodies of her family, and to taint Dhaara’s Saddhu soul with her own death as Dhaara cut her down.

Upon finishing his “breakfast”, Najaf and Shazahdi spoke privately about the wisdom of letting a Khayal into their home. The discussion was cut short, however, by the arrival of their father, Jahander Shuja, and Aasif Maarham. The agents, Aasif, and Jahander retreated to a private room to compare notes.

It appeared that multiple factions had organized to hit multiple targets. The Night Runners, supported by Jia, attacked Padme Shuja. A force from the Veiled Alliance apparently attacked Jahander Shuja, but was fought off with the help of Aasif. A group of spies that had infiltrated a number of the Dynastic Merchant Houses and had, apparently, recently been uncovered by other agents of Dregoth attacked House Maarham.

There was some speculation. Some potential near-term goals were:

1) Find Eliphelet bin’M’ke to discover what they could about the group that had attacked Maarham
2) Find Taxma and discover what his apprentices were up to and why they were apparently allied with a Kuotagha
3) Find Nanda Shatri and determine if she was Veiled Alliance, or what she knew about her former Night Runner Assassin guest, who had apparently been one of the ones who had killed Padme Shuja
4) Find out what the dead Queen Sielba was up to, and whether Padme’s soul could be recovered from the “Soul Dedication” rite that Jia had apparently performed. They speculated that they may need to cash in Dhaara’s vouchers for one “favor” from Dregoth himself.

XP: 4,000
Total: 92,163

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Revenge
The Spice Market

The agents of Dregoth, having procured valuable information to sell to the King’s enemies in exchange for infiltration, sent a Sending to Salim to meet. They were asked to meet him at the abandoned estate on Ascetic’s Row above where the old Cult of Badna secret meeting place once was at sundown that evening.

Safa received a Sending which caused her to be concerned. She headed home to House Maarham to deal with that business permitting Najaf to conveniently assume her visage for the meeting with Salim. They made their way by stealth and guise to Ascetic’s Row where they let themselves in through the back door, into the overgrown grounds, and into the old abandoned villa. In the open central courtyard, between two gnarled mostly-dead date trees, seated cross-legged before both a glowing brazier and the statue of Badna by famed sculptor Usuch-Si, was Salim, former priest of Badna.

Shahzadi, summoning up reserves of subterfuge hitherto rarely seen, made a very believable pitch to Salim about how she was tired of her brother using the House as an arm of the Templarate, and that she no longer wants to do his bidding. She seeks to aid Salim and any other enemies of the King so that the Nawab houses can rise to prominence once more. She had Alekel report the detailed intelligence on Taxma and his apprentices, and made a hard pitch to be included in Salim’s shady dealings.

Salim seemed disconcerted. He mused aloud that he would assume this to be some attempt at infiltration had not his cult already been brutally slaughtered by another cell of Dregoth’s servants. He indicated that he did not know what Shahzadi, should she still be in the King’s employ, would stand to gain. He seemed even somewhat reluctant to admit that the enemies of the King, having been harassed, harried and destroyed, had decided the time had come to strike, even should it mean their deaths. Salim specifically referenced as those enemies the Night Runners, the Cult of Badna, and spies within the Dynastic Merchant Houses. Salim went on to say that high on this conspiracy’s “hit list” were houses Shuja and Maarham, who had been so instrumental in exposing the Cult of Badna and destroying the Night Runners’ power. He then made it perfectly clear that even now, while he spoke to them, assassins were attacking Houses Shuja and Maarham.

Combat ensued. Salim summoned forth swarming motes of strange light that caused flesh to fester and rot. A Kuotagha also struck from the shadows wrapping Dhaara, and then Shahzadi, in ropes of slippery flesh and tendon. The agents were victorious, taking a few moments to catch their breath while Najaf rapidly cracked open the skull of the Kuotagha and feasted on his brain. Not wanting to take more time, they rushed through the streets of Raam, following Alekel’s unerring knowledge of the quickest way, only to arrive at House Shuja’s estate… too late. Mansabdars met the party at the doors, having arrived moments beforehand. In her study, Padme Shuja lay dead.

Investigation amongst the servants by Dhaara, as well as ritual magic to look into the past from Najaf revealed the following: Multiple spies and watchers in the surrounding blocks had been killed. Padme Shuja had been lured into her study by someone who appeared to be a well-known informant of hers. Four elves then burst into her study, shattering her warding ritual magic, and the informant dropped the disguise to reveal a female Kaisharga of terrible power. The battle was short and Padme was slain. The Kaisharga, whose voice Najaf recognized as belonging to the mysterious Jia, then did something strange and ritualistic to the body, muttering in the speech of lost Yaramuke. The Kaisharga then assumed Padme’s appearance and departed with the elves.

Further investigation revealed that Padme’s psyche had been trasferred at the moment of death to the alabaster bust of herself that she had commissioned from… Usuch-Si, there in her study. Shahzadi communed with the mind of her mother who promised to reveal the various secrets of the House to her heir, at least until she could be raised from the dead. Dhaara, Najaf, and Shahzadi then decided upon a ruse. Najaf would assume Padme’s form and run the house as her. The servants would be told to maintain the “ruse” that Padme was still dead, knowing full well that one or more of them would slip and reveal that she was, in fact, “still alive.” In this fashion they would hope to lure out the assassins or keep the House’s servants, retainers, and loyal underlings from revolting.

Alekel, meanwhile, had rushed to House Maarham to check on Safa and her family. Despite a heightened presence on the corners of Red Crescent mercenaries, things seemed quieter. He was let in where he met “Safa”, a woman who seemed… subtly different than the Safa Alekel knew. His careful insight into others, and some subtly laid verbal traps, revealed to him that she was, in fact, someone else wearing Safa’s face. She took him in to report his “urgent news” to her father Jai Maarham. Alekel similary felt that something was “off” about him. He decided to risk it, and openly called them on their ruses. They revealed that they were servants of House Maarham who were maintaining the ruse that the assassins had failed while the real Safa looked into resolving the problem elsewhere. Alekel asked to be brought to her, which the false Safa did.

XP: 3,500
Total: 88,163

Loot:
Shadowdancer’s Mask (lvl. 10)(5,000gp)
Shadowdancer’s Gloves (lvl. 11)(9,000gp)
Shadowdancer’s Boots (lvl. 12)(13,000gps)
Shadowdancer’s Cloak +2 (lvl. 9)(4,200gp)
Supremely Vicious Dagger +4 (lvl. 17)(65,000gp)

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Investigations and Meetings
The Templar

While Najaf, disguised as Shahzadi, along with Dhaara and Queri’Sed enjoyed House Tolon’s party, the real Shahzadi, along with Alekel and Safa, returned to the Consecrated Sepulchre to see what they could learn about the alabaster statues, and more specifically about this mysterious apprentice of Dregoth named Taxma. Safa discovered, indeed, that the statues of Abalach-Re’s deceased consorts contained a psychic imprint, an echo of the personality of the man buried there. She spent some time learning about Abalach-Re’s various consorts. As she went further back into the sepulchre, the imprints became fainter and fainter, as if their existence was transitory… all except for the oldest tomb, the consort around which the sepulchre was built, a man named Haram. Haram’s funerary statue not only contained an imprint of his personality, but appeared to have an intact imprint of his mind and consciousness. Safa spoke with him for a while and learned that Taxma had regularly spoken with him as well. Safa got the impression that Taxma sought to learn secrets of Abalach-Re from the only consort she seemed to genuinely love, but that Haram had thus far kept Taxma from learning what he wanted to know.

As the three agents discussed Taxma, and the hints that he was serving two masters, namely Dregoth and Abalach-Re, Taxma himself arrived. The moment was a bit awkward, but Alekel pushed them to leave, and Taxma did not impede them.

Back at the party, Queri’Sed consolidated her friendship with Shia Tolon, and eventually the three agents departed the party to meet up with the others, where they exchanged mutual intelligence. It was decided, after some discussion, that Shahzadi would, in fact, put in a personal appearance at her “sitting” with Usuch-Si to try to learn more from the mysterious sculptor, confronting him with her status as an Offspring. In order to facilitate a nebulous plan whereby Shahzadi tries to infiltrate renegade elements, though, they deemed it necessary to have Najaf elsewhere, and so Najaf decided to visit Taxma for some wizard-on-wizard chat.

Padme Shuja arranged for Aasif to come to dinner, after which Usuch-Si would arrive to take the measure of the betrothed. It became clear to Shahzadi that Usuch-Si had become aware that the person he met at the party wasn’t the real Shahzadi. Shahzadi, Dhaara and Queri’Sed got the sculptor alone while Alekel pumped Aasif for the most recent rumors in the ongoing situation between Tyr and Urik. Shahzadi opened up to Usuch-Si about being an Offspring, and made it clear that she knew that he knew more about them than most. Usuch-Si reported that his artist’s eye permitted him to notice small peculiarities of mannerism, body language, and muscle movement that bespoke Abalach-Re’s hand in the creation of a person, and in this way he could recognize Offspring. Shahzadi got the impression that Usuch-Si didn’t much care for Abalach-Re but served her anyway because no one could refuse her and survive. Usuch-Si speculated that seventeen Offspring survived Dregoth’s conquest, including one other of the Nawab caste. Usuch-Si implied that his artist’s eye could see other constructs of Abalach-Re, although he did not explicitly name the Kuotagha. They concluded their conversation and Usuch-Si went on his way.

Meanwhile, back in the Sepulchre, Najaf met with Taxma in person and had a private conversation. Despite his status as a high-ranking Templar, Najaf attempted to approach the apprentice to Dregoth with some degree of civility and humility, which appeared to be the proper approach. Taxma indicated he valued etiquette and a sense of honor, and they entered into a tentative arrangement. Najaf would continue with his plans to betray Taxma and his apprentices to the enemies of Dregoth so as to effectively infiltrate them, and in exchange Taxma wouldn’t be genuinely aggrieved and seek Najaf’s destruction… although Taxma did want assurances that he would eventually be permitted to wreak his wrath upon the culprits, because to do otherwise would make him look… vulnerable to attack. Taxma sought assurances that he could take this opportunity to “swap out” his current crop of apprentices with ones he… didn’t like as much. In exchange for this, Taxma asked Najaf to look into a tale he had heard about how Usuch-Si had survived Dregoth’s purges… namely by presenting to the rampaging undead monarch a single, small alabaster statue, quenching Dregoth’s ire and ensuring his life. Najaf agreed so long as Taxma would share his conclusion. Taxma grudgingly agreed. Najaf, it turned out, had already made those inquiries and used his magic to reproduce the image of the statue that Mon Adderath had shown to him. Taxma told Najaf many things about what the statue might represent, but the true significance of that information remained obscure, and Taxma indicated that they were great secrets beyond the scope of their current agreement.

The agents rendezvoused and once more shared what they had learned. Although Usuch-Si did not appear to be a threat to Dregoth’s interest, he was clearly a man of great knowledge, and remained quite an enigma. They seemed set to begin the next stage of their plan, namely contacting Salim and convincing him that Shahzadi sought to join a rebellion against the King.

XP: 3,666
Total: 84,663

Level 17

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Groundwork
The Thief

The agents of Dregoth moved stealthily through the filthy streets of the Low District, the fiery glow of the burning tenement they set afire to cover their activities receding behind them, along with the screams of those poor people still trapped inside. They turned into a gloomy alley and suddenly noticed a still, shrouded figure standing in their path. The figure made not the slightest move.

They came up short, afraid that one of the Kuotagha had found them, but rather than immediately attack, they spoke to the figure. To their surprise, a female voice responded, seeming to come from any number of places in the dark alley as if the speaker could throw her voice or move unseen and unheard. She informed them that her name was Jia, and she had heard that they were looking for her.

They spoke to Jia and learned that she required any and all criminal group in Raam who wished to deal in the illegal trade of corpses to pay her a cut. In exchange, she provided a somewhat unique service… she could make corpses much more difficult to raise from the dead, thus ensuring their continued viability as products in the marketplace. Najaf improvised under the cover of their “Iron Ring” smuggling organization the notion that they might soon be importing many corpses from foreign battlefields and wanted to make sure they didn’t step on her toes. She appeared from a bloom of gray light, which Safa and Najaf recognized as a plane-shift from the Gray, which caused them no small consternation. As the discussion continued, it occurred to Najaf to inquire into whether she might sell the LACK of her services over a given family or group. She indicated that she could do so, but that it would cost them.

The agents reached a tentative agreement with the mysterious Jia and went on their way.

They slept in a different safe-house, once more keeping watch on Najaf. Apparently the ritual helped, as he showed no sign of a restless or predatory sleep.

The next day dawned and the agents discussed how to pursue their goal of hunting down the Kuotagha. Their previous discussions had led them to believe that the Yellow Monastery might know something, and that they could cash in the debt the monastery owed them in exchange for information. They donned their “Iron Ring” guises once more and visited the Grandmaster.

In response to their query about the Kuotagha, the Grandmaster revealed much more than the agents expected. It would seem that the Kuotagha were once Yellow Monks who had become impatient with the slow pace and discipline required to master the arts of the Way and who accepted Abalach-Re’s invitation to take a “shortcut.” Her arts certainly granted them significant control over their physical forms, but at the expense of their will. They were effectively volitionless servants of the Grand Vizier’s desires. They could think and reason and were quite cunning, but they had no ambition other than to serve their maker. The Grandmaster indicated that any Kuotagha remaining in Raam a year after Abalach-Re’s exile would ordinarily have lapsed into an apathy. He speculated that they had found one or more individuals they could reasonably assume were speaking with Abalach-Re’s voice, namely the Offspring.

Shahzadi became astounded at the notion that her blood gave her the ability to command these deadly assassins. The agents discussed the possibility of who or how many Offspring even knew about the fact that the Kuotagha would tend to obey them if given reason to believe they were acting on behalf of their distant mother. They had reason to presume that Salim most definitely knew, as they recalled that he had a Kuotagha bodyguard. They continued to suppose that Salim remained their best lead. The question was, how to find him or draw him out now that the Cult of Badna had been broken.

Najaf, Shahzadi and Queri-Sed went to the Ivory Palace to explore the possibility of finding a project of Dregoth’s that could be permissibly sabotaged to establish their subversive credibility. They met with a Templar in the bowels of the palace who was supposedly in charge of some aspects of Dregoth’s espionage. This Templar revealed himself as Khalid Hanafi, Najaf and Shahzadi’s maternal grandfather, who had willingly permitted himself to be transformed into a Kaisharga to preserve his House during Dregoth’s conquest. Khalid informed the siblings that Dregoth had an apprentice, a wizard named Taxma. Taxma had a handful of apprentices of his own, which were moving through the city engaged in espionage on behalf of their master to establish a power base in case Dregoth should betray Taxma. Khalid indicated that Dregoth had taken Taxma as an apprentice as a matter of bargain and obligation, and so didn’t care a whit if Taxma’s activities were subverted or compromised. The agents could bargain both the knowledge of Dregoth’s apprentice, and a potential strike against his own organization with any subversive element they wished, and there would be no repercussions from Dregoth.

While they were there, the three inquired of Mon Adderath into the mysterious sculptor, Usuch-Si, and why he was still alive. Mon Adderath admitted that he didn’t exactly know. As Dregoth and Mon Adderath had swept through the Ivory Palace, killing Kuotagha and other loyalists to Abalach-Re, they found the sculptor, alone in one of the Grand Vizier’s posh salons. He prostrated himself and presented an alabaster sculpture to Dregoth. Something about this piece of art caused the undead sorcerer-King to spare the sculptor’s life, and Usuch-Si has continued to live and work in Raam ever since. Mon Adderath showed a replica of the sculpture to them… a strange, fantastical winged insect-like creature, evocative of certain blood-drinking moths, but… more exotic, like no creature in nature. Najaf considered some theories, but nothing firm was decided on.

The three rendezvoused with Safa and Dhaara at the Jeweled Scarab. They decided to confront Usuch-Si under the cover of commissioning a work of art for Shahzadi’s forthcoming nuptuals. Shahzadi still feared entering the presence of an individual known to have an interest in the Offspring. Najaf offered to utilize his new powers of shapeshifting to become Shahzadi, whereupon he, Dhaara, and Queri-Sed would attend a party thrown by the daughter of House Tolon where the famed sculptor would be.

They put this plan into motion. Najaf as his sister made a convincing show of it, and spoke privately with the sculptor, who appeared, at some point, to realize that thing weren’t as they seemed. He agreed to meet with Shahzadi and Aasif at a later date so as to better sculpt them “accurately.” Queri-Sed, meanwhile, made friends with the young dray female Shia Tolon.

XP: 3,600
Total: 80,997

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Najaf's Evolution
The Saddhu

The agents convened to discuss their new mission, as well as how they might finally take care of Najaf’s psychic parasite such that they wouldn’t need to continue to keep constant watch over him. They discussed inquiring of Mon Adderath why Dregoth permitted the Sepulchre of Badna to remain undisturbed, they discussed telling Mon Adderath about Najaf’s brain parasite and seeking aid, they discussed trolling all the subversive groups in Raam in hopes that they might pursue both goals at once by rooting out Kuotagha AND finding a likely meal for Najaf’s craving for cerebral matter.

Ultimately it was Najaf’s desire specifically for the brain of an arcane spellcaster coupled with the vagaries of noble politics that determined their prey.

Naif Walid was a young man, a scion of the disgraced House Walid whose patriarch had fled to Nibenay with most of the House’s wealth during Dregoth’s conquest. He had been courting Shahzadi since she was sixteen, a fact to which she was mostly willfully ignorant. He saw marrying her as his chance to seize control of House Shuja and build it into something more than his own ailing House and, according to Shahzadi’s mother who she consulted on the matter of targeted assassination, had been attempting to hire the Night Runners to kill Aasif Maarham, the rival for Shahzadi’s affections, shortly before the Night Runners were driven out of Raam. Padme Shuja was thrilled that Shahzadi was taking an interest in House business, and gladly gave her daughter this information.

Meanwhile, Alekel learned about a new underworld figure who was so effective at sowing terror that her name was only barely whispered even despite Alekel’s exceptional skill at ferreting out such information. “Jia”, as she was called, was systematically consolidating the illegal corpse trade in Raam. Since Templars to Dregoth will buy corpses with few questions asked, a thriving murder and corpse-theft industry was growing. Groups who didn’t pay Jia a cut, however, ended up… very messily dead. Alekel filed this away for later consideration as a potential target for Najaf’s abhorrent hungers.

Safa’s own knowledge of psionic matters led her to believe that letting Najaf’s transformation progress unguided and essentially random would lead to his insanity. She informed him of a specialized ritual she could perform that would permit others who know Najaf to bolster his will and consolidate his hold on sanity while his brain-consumption caused his transformation. Najaf, for his part, prepared one of their flophouses as a ritual location.

The entire group then orchestrated a snatch-and-grab on poor Naif Walid. They used their contacts in high society to determine his patterns and habits, followed him from stealth, ambushed him in an optimal location through guile and Dhaara’s firm fist to his head, bound him in magic, all in the guise of sinister elves.

Once in their prepared ritual chamber, they sealed the place via multiple rituals and prepared to participate in Safa’s mind-binding ritual. Najaf sat in the middle with his prey while the other five submitted to Safa’s psionic power and concentrated on those aspects of Najaf they most admired or desired to see in him. Once all were melded, Najaf cracked open the young noble’s head and consumed his brain.

At that point, they all found themselves in a psychic landscape torn with psychic schisms and the rampant manifestations of imminent madness. A powerful figure of Najaf, draped in writhing chains, had those chains wrapped around another figure of Najaf who was rapidly shape-shifting in an attempt to escape them. A third Najaf, resembling himself, appeared near the other two. Those skilled in interpreting such magical dreamscapes realized that the chain-user was Najaf’s human, domineering ego, the part of him that resists change and transformation, that needs to control all outcomes. The one wrapped in chains was Najaf’s shifting Id, his impulses, the part of him that spoke at the parasite’s prompting and seeks absolute fluidity and chaos. The third was the psychic construct of Najaf as bolstered and idealized by his five companions, and this third one was the one who fought the others at his companions’ sides.

The fight was long, ravening psychic constructs poured through rifts, Najaf’s controlling ego wrapped Dhaara in chains while the shifting id split into copies and otherwise distracted the combatants. Eventually, however, the six of them defeated these alternate visions of what Najaf might become and the ritual was complete.

They awoke in the ritual room. Najaf felt… different, no longer human. He could now change his physical shape, and could remember bits and glimpses of Naif Walid’s life as if he himself were Naif. The others, with splitting headaches, rested for a bit before Queri-sed feasted on Naif’s body, Alekel doused what was left in acid, and they burned the entire flophouse to the ground.

XP: 3,666
Total: 77,397

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Kuotagha
The Date Palm

The agents continued to relax at House Shuja’s rural estates. Alekel purchased the young slave girl with whom he “bonded” earlier and bought her freedom. Shahzadi and Aasif had a couple private conversations which seemed to go well. Dhaara drank and sparred with Aasif while Safa enjoyed Jahandar Shuja’s genteel if somewhat aloof conversation.

It came out that the Shuja Patriarch has lived a somewhat austere and private life in semi-seclusion at the rural manor house for some decades. His chief hobby appeared to be the collecting of books. His library was significant. His ever-suspicious children noted some interesting peculiarities in the construction of the manor house, and particularly the library, that indicated a significant “crawl-space” which may well be full of secrets. A private confrontation with their father resulted in the revelation that he is a dabbler in the arcane arts, specifically the sorts of arts that Abalach-Re used to create his daughter Shahzadi. He and Najaf, subsequently, had a number of highly technical conversations about the breeding of new, magically-created species and the alteration of existing biological specimens.

The watch on Najaf as he slept continued. During Dhaara’s and Safa’s shift, the hungry entity in Najaf’s subconscious awoke and seemed fixated on Safa. It communicated hunger for psychically-active brains and indicated that Safa specifically could provide a “substitute” for an actual brain in the form of psionic energy. Safa, clearly flustered, indicated that her powers were more or less limited to setting things on fire. The entity lapsed back into unconsciousness. The rest were alerted, and they discussed the possibility that the thing could be fed psychically without all the mess with brains, although Najaf did point out that the thing would still grow.

The thing didn’t arise again for the rest of their stay. Many conversations were had and decadent delights experienced.

Upon returning to Raam, Alekel set up Lia, his newly freed slave, as a housekeeper for one of their safe-houses. Safa went to take care of some family business. Shahzadi and Queri-Sed checked in on their stable of gladiators while Najaf made arrangements to meet with Ismail for their research.

The entire group gathered at the Psiumarkh where Ismail indicated he normally doesn’t work with an audience, but recognized the necessity. Many hours passed where most of the agents were bored as Ismail poked and psychically prodded Najaf. At the end of the day, he expressed the following professional opinion:

The “monster” inside Najaf’s head is actually just Najaf. There isn’t a separate “personality” in there so much as Najaf’s supernaturally-influenced subconscious occasionally coming out. Whatever “seed” was planted in Najaf’s head doesn’t have its own mind or its own agenda, it’s more a psychic construct designed to slowly convert a host into a new type of creature. There have been tweaks to Najaf’s personality to optimize the conversion process, but Najaf doesn’t need to worry about an alien mind taking over.

Ismail suggested three options:

1) Let the process complete. Feed Najaf enough brains or psychic energy to bring the process to a conclusion. This would likely be a process that would occur over time. He would ultimately become something inhuman, but would retain his essential personality.

2) Najaf could become undead. Since the psychic template needs a living mind and living body to convert, it would effectively “freeze” Najaf at his current personality.

3) Ismail could perform a ritual on Najaf and a victim/host to effectively emulate the method Ismail himself uses. A seed of Najaf’s mind would be planted in the victim while the original Najaf would be killed. His mind and personality would blossom in the victim making a new Najaf but without the construct currently converting him. Ismail would, for his efforts, take a psychic imprint of the original Najaf / parasite for study.

The agents left and discussed the matter and seemed to settle, at least temporarily, on option 1. Before they could really finalize their decision, however, they received a summons from Mon Adderath who had their next assignment.

Abalach-Re had a secret police, a magically augmented and psychically brainwashed group of assassins known as the Kuotagha. Dregoth and Mon Adderath themselves slaughtered over twenty of them in the taking of the Ivory Palace a year ago, but a number of them escaped and are still at large in the city fostering insurrection. They were involved in the various cells of the underground Cult of Badna. One of these Kuotagha apparently rescued Salim from death at the hands of another group of agents who had been tasked with taking down the Cult. The agents questioned the sole surviving agent of the Badna group who informed them that the two Kuotagha who managed to kill the rest of his team-mates before they themselves were finally destroyed were capable of clearly unnatural physical acts, limbs that could stretch and move in horrible ways, etc. The agents recalled a strange, still, creepy bodyguard with Salim, and surmised that this was one such Kuotagha.

Mon Adderath guessed that there probably were no more than six or so in the city. The agents were tasked with finding them and destroying them, optimally one at a time, as they’re fairly potent.

The agents brainstormed for a bit. They knew that Salim had survived the other group’s purge, and they discussed trying to rely on Shahzadi’s connection with Salim as fellow Offspring to set up a meeting and try to get to the Kuotagha through him. They also speculated that the famed scuptor Usuch-Si might have some knowledge. He remains somewhat of a mystery, but his interest in the Offspring is clear.

They decided to visit the Consecrated Mausoleum of Badna (now simply the Consecrated Mausoleum), the burial crypt on the palace grounds where Abalach-Re had once interred all of her consorts. These tombs, at least recently, were all graced with alabaster statues wrought by Usuch-Si and the agents thought they might learn something from his art.

The Mausoleum was intact and unspoiled, except for the removal and destruction of all images of Badna. For some reason, Dregoth had opted not to desecrate the tombs of Abalach-Re’s former lovers. They learned some interesting things by investigating the thousand and a half niches that were occupied by stone coffins. They learned that Usuch-Si has appeared to be his current age (that of an elderly man) for at least a hundred years, and has been sculpting Abalach-Re’s consorts for that long. They learned that his method involves extreme concentration and a certain asceticism, working without food or sleep for up to a week to finish a given piece. They learned that Abalach-Re’s official consorts lasted anywhere from decades in the job to mere days. They learned that the mausoleum was first constructed and the first consort was buried there as part of the creation of the cult of Badna some unknown number of centuries ago.

They returned to their safehouse to consider what they learned and plan their next moves.

XP: 3,400
Total: 73,731

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Personal Endeavors
The Bride Price

In the wake of the gladiatorial proposal, the agents returned to the Jeweled Scarab to prepare various personal agendas, while being careful to keep an eye on Najaf. Dhaara visited her uncle where she continued to work toward reconciliation with her family and her caste. Her uncle indicated there was a half-giant Saddhu family interested in possibly marrying their son to her, provided she demonstrated… suitability. She promised to meet with the young man, and was told that her estranged parents might even be convinced to attend such an event.

Alekel and a disguised Najaf moved among the refugees from Tyr. Tyr has been suffering the anarchy of a mysteriously vanished King and the Templars’ loss of all magical powers. Slave revolts and violence have been reported, but what really started the flow of refugees was the news that King Hamanu of Urik was marching his armies on Tyr. Legends speak of the last city conquered by Hamanu, the hapless Yaramuke, and the devastation that accompanied it, and so those who could afford to do so took up with any caravan that would have them. Najaf took the opportunity to recruit more skilled individuals for their nascent smuggling group the Iron Ring while Alekel spread some money around the less fortunate and learned news that his family was actually making it through the chaos in Tyr relatively well. This news reminded them that they had sent a smuggler named Sumita off to Tyr some few weeks previously. Najaf arranged to contact her magically where her job suddenly changed from smuggler to official diplomatic representative of Dregoth to “King Tithian”, apparently a former Templar attempting to unify the chaotic city to defend against Hamanu.

Safa Maarham went to a high-society party hosted by Deliss Hanafi where she inquired into House Shuja, hoping to feel out the opinion of the nobility on the would-be marriage alliance between her brother and Shahzadi. She learned that House Shuja’s reputation was not a good one, generally presumed to be on its last legs. It was generally assumed that this prospective marriage between Aasif Maarham and Shahzadi was a clever ploy by Jai Maarham to absorb and destroy house Shuja for his own enrichment and benefit.

Shahzadi and Queri’Sed went to the gladiatorial arena where they purchased some promising middle-tier gladiator-slaves and publicly freed them, thus establishing a “stable” of free gladiators working under Shahzadi’s patronage. Later contributions by Najaf brought the number of gladiators to seven. There was one male thri-kreen, a hard-bitten elf who would wear only the color brown, a mul, and four humans. Shahzadi threw some money around to rent them accomodations and Queri’Sed put some effort into ensuring that they bonded as a “clutch” and worked out amongst themselves who their leader would be.

After these activities, Najaf proposed to his fellow agents that they all accompany him to meet with Ismail. Najaf had decided it was time to get an expert opinion on the psychic parasite in his mind. Ismail was, clearly, fascinated by what Najaf had to tell him. After some negotiation with the flagrantly amoral Telepath, they reached an arrangement they both felt they could trust, and they parted promising to arrange a lengthy session of investigation in Ismail’s laboratory.

The agents then set about a weekend retreat to House Shuja’s rural estate, accepting the invitation of Jahandar Shuja for Shahzadi and her would-be husband to spend some time together. They all arrived and were welcomed with all due accord and respect by the reclusive patriarch of House Shuja. As they went to their own rooms to freshen up, Najaf had a moment alone with a slave girl. The next thing he knew, he had her backed against a wall, terrified, as Queri’Sed entered, breaking the spell. It was clear that the parasite was still hungry, and willing to take Najaf over even while he was conscious if left alone with anyone the parasite judged vulnerable. This caused a bit of a stir, and resulted in the first communication with the parasite who informed Shahzadi and Queri’Sed that it was hungry, and if fed, would lapse once more into quiescence. A conversation ensued about whether animal brains were sufficient, and it was determined they were not.

Meanwhile, Dhaara, Safa, and Alekel had polite conversation with Jahandar Shuja. They all rendezvoused in time for Aasif Maarham’s arrival. After some polite chit-chat, most everyone excused themselves to a nearby room to give Shahzadi and her would-be husband some time alone…

XP: 3,333
Total: 70,331 – Level 16

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A Marriage Proposal
The Date Palm

Their mission a success, the agents of Dregoth had some time to pursue their personal interests. Shahzadi reported to Lord Urdun-Mor her desire to enter the arena once more with her usual partners Queri’Sed and Alekel.

Her brother, meanwhile, hatched a plot to further Shahzadi’s courtship with Aasif Maarham. He worked with Safa to convince Aasif and her father to permit such a daring plan, and got all the remaining agents except his sister to covertly agree to set up an arena match where Shahzadi, Queri’Sed and Alekel would fight four “mystery fighters” in a non-lethal match. The mystery of the other gladiators and the fame of what happened in Shahzadi’s previous well-attended match, would draw many people to the stands. The plan was to aid Aasif, as the “masked gladiator”, to defeat Shahzadi whereupon he would propose marriage from a position of strength… or, if Shahzadi and her two compatriots were too strong, to yield as part of that proposal. Either way, the proposal would come at the hands one one who had stood against her in the arena, hopefully winning her respect.

The bout began and the two sides were fairly evenly matched. Shahzadi began to wonder, however, when Alekel helped one of their “foes”, who was really Safa, recover from a near-fatal wound. Her suspicions were increased when she detected one of her other foes, really Dhaara, quietly whispering a quick reminder of something to Queri’Sed. Nevertheless, the zealousness of the thri-kreen warrior made it rapidly clear to Aasif Maarham that he should resolve the fight, yield, and reveal himself along with his proposal before Queri’Sed, whose comprehension of the ruse was fragile at best, did any permanent harm to him, his sister, or his soon-to-be brother-in-law.

Shahzadi seemed somewhat less-than-thrilled at this method of marriage proposal, but her response was interpreted by the crowd as an acceptance, and the bout was generally deemed to be a rousing success.

Prompted by this, Shahzadi contacted her father to request a quiet weekend in the country with her intended beau along with her brother and other compatriots.

Meanwhile, however, concern arose that Najaf had once more expended large amounts of magical energy, and that was theorized to be a catalyst for whatever psychic parasite lived in his mind. They bound him with ritual and physical restraints and watched over his sleep as he recovered from the fight. During his rest, he began attempting to covertly escape his bonds, and it became clear that he was not entirely in his right mind. Encouragingly, however, he was unable to escape, and recalled nothing of it when he woke the next morning.

As they prepared for their weekend in the country, Alekel moved about the city inquiring with his many contacts about recent news. The sporadic killings that had attracted his attention previously, wherein the victims heads were crushed, were still going on. Since Najaf was clearly in their care, suspicion that this was a means by which he was sating unnatural hungers were diminished, but new questions arose as to who was committing these murders, and whether it was anything he should bother to investigate. Of more personal interest, however, Alekel discovered that numbers of new refugees from Tyr were entering Raam. Alekel learned that nearly a year ago, shortly after Dregoth’s conquest of Raam, King Kalak of Tyr finished his immense folly, a ziggurat of ridiculous proportions that he had spent hundreds of years and hundreds of thousands of lives to construct. The King vanished shortly thereafter, his templars lost their power, and Tyr’s massive numbers of slaves revolted. Tyr has been an anarchic blood-soaked battlefield ever since. Only now, however have refugees made it as far as Raam, perhaps because King Hamanu of Urik is marching an army of his own to conquer the divided and weakened city-state. Alekel inquired into his family and discovered they were apparently still operating, and still retained enough of their personal wealth to help refugees flee the toppling city.

XP: 3,666
Total: 66,998

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