The Reign of Dregoth

Champions
The Dead

No more than five minutes after Mon Adderath left the chambers of his former agents, Narl, the Mul avatar of the spirits of the Ziggurat arrived at the door. Upon being let in, his eyes began to glow, and he proclaimed his identity as the “Lion of Urik” and attacked them.

The Lion of Urik was a mighty foe, but the agents ultimately drove him from Narl’s body.

Moving quickly, Najaf, Alekel and Dhaara began a soul-dedication ritual. They recognized that when King Hamanu had infiltrated templars into the Ziggurat, they must have ritually sacrificed one of his champions as a poison pill, an infiltrated spirit working within the Ziggurat. Calling upon the knowledge of Dhaara’s fiery ancestor, as well as their own arcane sensibilities, they successfully pulled the spirit out of the Ziggurat, using Narl’s body as a focus, and cast it into the Elemental Chaos to be transformed in fire.

Templar Sumita ran up, concerned, and was informed about Hamanu’s attempt at assassination without all the details of Narl’s secrets. Mon Adderath emerged near her, much to her shock and surprise, and was similarly briefed.

It would appear that Mon Adderath’s presence in the Ziggurat triggered certain defenses, or at least moved up Hamanu’s timetable. After sending Sumita and Narl away, the agents conferred once more with Mon Adderath on the subject of their new allegiance. He indicated a tentative willingness to accept that, notwithstanding their betrayal, they do in fact hold a means by which Dregoth can achieve his ultimate goals… provided enough trust can be built between Mon Adderath and Oronis of Kurn to permit the plan to be enacted. Najaf agreed to broker a meeting on neutral ground, namely the Pristine Tower, between Oronis and one Second, and Mon Adderath with one Second.

Before that could be arranged, however, the matter of Tyr’s standoff with Urik needed to be resolved. Najaf brokered an agreement, sworn between Gosi Kokoros, Templar of Balic, with Mon Adderath wherein Mon Adderath, on behalf of Dregoth, promised to destroy Proctor Drelto, the undead force protecting New Antalus, in exchange for an army from Balic.

With that agreement solemnified, King Tithian permitted Dregoth’s undead to finally enter Tyr in order to safeguard the city from the army from Balic that was imported via the teleportation circle beneath the Golden Palace.

As Najaf collapsed from holding open a teleportation circle for so long, a representative from New Antalus, famed bard Michaelis Taliodoros, arrived at their suite. In conversation with Queri-Sed, Alekel, Shahzadi, and Dhaara, he learned of the deal with Balic, and the threat to his own city, and mused aloud as to how best to survive what was coming. Either way, he didn’t appear to hold it against them personally.

Later that evening, all the diplomatic luminaries met atop the ziggurat to watch the armies march. There was some discussion as to whom the Champion of the allied force would be should Hamanu sue for trial by champion. The Agents recommended themselves. Alekel, after all, is Tyrian with a vested interest in the city’s future, and the rest were Raamese. Templar Kokoros suggested adding a combatant from Balic to the mix, and to have a six-person team of champions to fight Urik’s six-person team.

A few days later, Hamanu sent formal representatives to negotiate just that. In formalities binding Hamanu, as well as Balic and Raam (and Tyr, but it was clear that Hamanu doesn’t consider Tithian a “real” king), the six-person squads of champions were agreed to. The terms were this:

Should Hamanu’s champions win, the armies of Tyr, Raam, and Balic would stand down, and Tithian would either abdicate his claims, or swear fealty as Templar to Hamanu, who would annex Tyr as part of his territory.

Should the allied champions win, Hamanu is to withdraw to Urik and shall not aggress Tyr, Raam, OR Balic for ten thousand years.

The Agents have three days to prepare to fight to the death for the future of Tyr.

XP: 23rd Level.

View
Factions of Tyr
The King

The agents went to a small dinner with King Tithian and the other ambassadors.

Nibenay sent Shan, “Priest of the Blood”, to represent their city. Najaf spoke at some length with him, inquiring into the nature of the Regent of Nibenay, one “Inanna, goddess of Blood.” He discovered that she was apparently an incredibly potent form of undead that Nibenay had created from one of his most loyal wives, filled with the power of millions of souls, who had been granted a shard of an ancient, long-dead goddess. This seemed a bit far-fetched, but Inanna HAD defeated Dregoth’s champion more than a year before…

Gulg sent Osanje, a warrior-noble of that city. Osanje was arrogant, dispensing insult to all and sundry. The agents realized that this was a part of Gulg warrior culture, to advertise one’s personal power and ability by insulting others until someone stronger proved it. Shahzadi challenged him, and they fought a close-fought “duel” with bare fist until Osanje eventually conceded defeat. From then on, he treated Shahzadi with all due respect, although he continued to dispense insult and arrogance to everyone else…

Draj sent Takli, a “Priest of the Two Moons.” Takli also had a religious motivation, as a priest / templar to Tektuktitlay. He relayed the theology of his distant city wherein the King’s propitiations and sacrifices allow for continued fertility across the entire world…

Balic sent Gosi Kokoros, an esteemed Templar to the Dictator Andropinis. Gosi brought his wife, and sundry retainers, apparently disdainful of the danger of walking into an active war. He was the only one the Ambassadors of Dregoth deemed interesting enough to engage in real business, discussing and negotiating what it would take for Balic to field an army in support of Tyr…

Also invited to dinner were two members of the local merchant class, Soren and Lita Cleon, cousins to Alekel. Alekel learned that while some of his family died or fled the city, the younger generations are banking on Tyr’s freedom, mostly out of mercantile opportunity. Since the more established merchant houses are being cautious, they’re stepping into the void. Their goal is to eventually become a dynastic merchant house with a King’s charter. The problem is, the other Kings and Queens won’t respect the charter of Tithian unless he actually manages to beat Hamanu.

King Tithian demonstrated political acumen in having a formal dinner with all these assorted individuals without excessive argument or violence breaking out. The duel between Osanje and Shahzadi took place after the meal, and at the same time, Najaf opted to pull Narl, the Mul, aside. Narl had been the winner of the 200-gladiator melee that consecrated the ziggurat, and Najaf felt that there was something… mystically interesting about the quiet now-vizier to Tithian.

In that conversation, Najaf learned that Narl is now the vessel through which all the souls of the ziggurat may experience brief lives. He spoke with three (or maybe four) different people, all somehow inhabiting Narl. How millions of souls decide who gets the body at any one time remains somewhat mysterious, but “Narl” indicated that Tithian “mediates” somehow in exchange for loyal service.

Dhaara had an internal conversation with her fiery ancestor and learned how he had founded their Saddhu family. Once he had been a mercenary captain from shattered Yaramuke, a cadre of former half-giant slave-soldiers of that city found freedom through its destruction and were the terror of caravans along the King’s Way. Recognizing that this lifestyle would ultimately result in their destruction, he made a powerful display of sacrifice, asceticism and piety in Raam. The very fear with which the populace held him turned to awe, and the Saddhu caste could not deny his ascension into their ranks. This, perhaps, explained his interest in his martially-inclined descendant.

Najaf spoke with ambassador Kokoros and learned that it might be possible to convince Balic to send an army if Dregoth or his people could… resolve a problem for the city. Apparently Balic was concerned about the new city-state of New Antalus that Abalach-Re had built on the ruins of old Kalidnay. While Balic was confident of its ability to crush New Antalus militarily, New Antalus has an ancient power that defends it, potent magic woven in the earth itself and manifested in Proctor Drelto, an ancient undead. If Dregoth or his people could… neutralize Proctor Drelto, Balic would be happy to send an army.

Najaf and the other ambassadors retreated to their rooms, and after extensive ritual magic to secure their privacy, discussed their options. Najaf decided to contact Mon Adderath, who immediately teleported to Tyr via Najaf’s templar connection to the King. In debriefing their superior, some aspect of their words or deeds drew his suspicion, and they ultimately admitted to having met, and possibly entered the service of, King Oronis of Kurn. They allayed Mon Adderath’s anger somewhat by presenting a very real possibility that their actions were also of benefit to Dregoth, in that they now had a potential means to permit him to achieve his original goal of living godhood.

Mon Adderath was skeptical, indicating that if there was any way to resurrect Dregoth from undeath, he would have done so. The agents indicated that they knew a way, but it would require Dregoth to trust Oronis, something Mon Adderath did not believe possible.

Troubled by this potential betrayal, but sufficiently intrigued by what they found within the ziggurat, Mon Adderath departed to visit the edifice for himself and ascertain whether his former agents were telling him the truth…

XP: Level 22

Change in Advancement System: Cards now only provide their die-rolling mechanic. Leveling up will result in achievement of significant story objectives as we move toward the end-game.

View
Kalak's Ziggurat
The Moon Ral

After a briefing on the political situation, including the names and political stances of the representatives of the various other cities, Templar Sumita engaged in some existential angst about her rapid rise from gutter-thief to Templar negotiating on behalf of a King. After being reassured, they all went to meet King Tithian of Tyr.

He sat on Kalak’s old throne in Kalak’s old throne room. Beside him, ostentatiously wearing the accoutrements of a slave, was his court wizard Sadira. Tithian welcomed the agents of Dregoth and the two parties engaged in some stilted conversation to feel out each others’ positions. It was mentioned that Tithian could easily become Templar to Dregoth, or for that matter any other King, including Hamanu, and the war would be over. He seemed strongly disinclined to do so. Eventually the reason came out.

Tithian considered Kalak’s disappearance to be a great gift. Tithian revealed that he, as High Templar to the former Sorcerer-King, knew rather more about Kalak’s mysterious fate than most people perhaps assumed. He believed that in that one act, of leaving not only the world, but this time itself, that Kalak had granted the people of Tyr a great boon… freedom. Tithian wasn’t referring to freedom for slaves, he had done that out of economic and military necessity. He meant freedom from the Dragon Sacrifice. The ancient pact between Dragon and Monarchs apparently only extends to those cities rules by parties to that pact. Tyr, as a free city, is outside the mandate of that bargain, and outside of the Dragon’s power to affect directly. So long as Tyr is ruled by someone who is not tied to the symbols and the power of one who has been transformed by the Pristine Tower, his people have effectively broken the shackles that bind them to this “prison of a world.”

It seemed clear that Tithian was feeling out the agents for their own knowledge of the Dragon’s purpose for Athas, and their own intent, or rather Dregoth’s intent.

Najaf, negotiating for the group, made it clear that Dregoth’s aid for Tyr was not contingent on Tithian becoming a templar again, and could certainly continue on the basis of foiling Hamanu. He also made clear his desire to research the interior of Kalak’s ziggurat. Tithian indicated that the ziggurat is tied to the power of the Kings, and that only those bearing symbols of a King’s authority may enter. He himself, no longer a Templar, could not, but the agents of Dregoth, as genuine instruments of that King’s will, could. He insisted that Sadira go along provided they could provide her sufficient temporary “agency” of their own King.

This, it turned out, was not a problem, as Sadira was secretly King Oronis of Kurn’s agent in Tyr, and had been inside the ziggurat, secretly, a number of times.

The agents and Sadira went to the ziggurat, finding a ruse to send Templar Sumita off on some errand. Once inside the ziggurat, they enacted further rituals to foil scrying and spying, and spoke openly of their shared service to Oronis, and discussed the complex geopolitical situation they found themselves in. Sadira led them deeper into the massive pile of brick. Each of the millions of bricks contained a trapped soul, and each of the chambers they passed through bore a different, exotic symbol. They reached the “foundation stone,” a single block of uncut, unformed obsidian.

The agents and Sadira put their respective vast skills and knowledge to bear on figuring out this stone, as well as the ziggurat themselves. They each contributed some knowledge to the whole.

The world, when scarred by violent, unnatural magic, such as powerful defiling, will form a “scab”, typically of obsidian. This is a magical and natural reaction to deeply unnatural acts. Far to the south is a vast plain of obsidian that stretches for uncountable thousands of miles. Entire forests were turned to black glass. Some immense cataclysm in the ancient past nearly destroyed the world, and the Great Obsidian Plain is the scab the world grew to contain that great wrong. Whatever it was, it was far beyond mere defiling magic, and this block of obsidian came from the heart of it. The oldest of legends and most hoary of ruins indicate that once the entire world was ruled by a malign, non-human race known only as the Enslavers, the race that the Dragon and his Champions arose in rebellion against. The runes on the ziggurat floor were reminiscent of old half-effaced symbols in their ancient ruins. It is guessed that in the immense past, the remnants of this race caused the Great Obsidian Plain in an effort to escape the war, to send the remainder of their race scattered backwards in time.

The upshot is: The ziggurat is an immense magical artifact channeling arcane energies into a matrix reminiscent of ancient Enslaver psionic methods, focusing on a block of obsidian infused with the energies of a place where time and space are weak. In short, Kalak spent centuries and the souls of millions to send himself somewhere distantly back in time, before the Dragon, before everything. He had well and truly escaped the prison of the world.

Najaf and Sadira spent the next 24 hours studying the ziggurat. They, and the other agents, discussed a number of ways it could be used. It could, for instance, be used for its intended purpose again, provided they could find another sacrifice of 199 gladiators in the arena at the base of the ziggurat, the blood sacrifice of which, as part of an immense rite, can power the device. They speculated that, if given an opportunity to pursue his original goal of becoming a god in a time where the Dragon wasn’t there to oppose him, perhaps Dregoth could be convinced to permit himself to be resurrected, and more importantly, leave the world behind and no longer oppose Oronis. They also discussed Tyr’s current problems, and ways they might motivate either Andropinis of Balic or the Regent of Nibenay to send an army, using the enticement of the ziggurat. They also discussed ways of changing the ziggurat’s function, altering the world in different ways. Dhaara floated the idea of dedicated all of the millions of trapped souls to the Elemental Fire, freeing them from a fate in the Gray, and maybe even buying the services of an army from the City of Brass against Hamanu.

Dhaara, using religious rites from Raam, summoned up a few of the millions of souls on their way out. They returned to the palace to sleep and contemplate the many earth-shattering possibilities before them.

XP: 4,000
Total: 187,000

View
Trek to Tyr
The Priest
  • Najaf learned from Mon Adderath why Dregoth had been killed in the first place… he had been aspiring to use an (unnamed) artifact, along with the Pristine Tower, to become a god, a divine being capable of bypassing the Black, and therefore challenging the Dragon for cosmic supremacy. The other monarchs killed him because they feared such a confrontation between Dregoth and the Dragon would destroy them all. In the course of the conversation, Najaf learned a lot about what motivates Mon Adderath for future use.
  • There was much discussion about Dhaara’s would-be fiance, who clearly sees her as something of a prophet and divine emissary. Dhaara put off making a decision.
  • They prepared to depart for Tyr. Queri’Sed educated them on an ancient Thri-Kreen proverb that resulted in them drugging her into a stupor for the duration of their travels.
  • Najaf summoned a Cloud Ray, which they rode for the many days and nights across the wastes.
  • They opted to investigate the Dragon’s Bowl, an immense sinkhole within 10 miles of Urik, but which had a dark and mysterious reputation.
  • They met the druid who guards the Dragon’s Bowl, a female Mul named Kel, named in Old Tyrian. She and Alekel had a brief linguistic chat.
  • She expressed interest in Najaf’s strange new magic. While she still clearly considered arcane magic to be “unnatural” she did not disapprove of any such magic that created new life rather than destroying it. She permitted them all to partake of her oasis before moving on. Najaf convinced her to let an emissary of Oronis visit at some later date.
  • The flew wide of the armies encamped to the NE of Tyr.
  • They arrived at Tyr and judged the social and economic climate, and found it… precarious
  • They met Narl, King Tithian’s “High Templar of the Household”
  • They met (again) Sumita, the street-thief they hired to be a smuggler, who by virtue of location, became Dregoth’s Templar and emissary to King Tithian. She debriefed them all on the various factions and politics of this city-under-siege.
  • Narl arrived to tell them that the King would See Them Now…

XP: 4,000
Total: 183,000

View
A Garden Party
The Merchant
  • The Agents returned to Raam and managed to report the death of Taxma to Mon Adderath without getting in trouble, or revealing that they were now double-agents working against Dregoth.
  • They learned from their families how things were going with the Children of the Dragon
  • They brought Safa into their double-agency. They warned their respective families to start making plans to flee the city if things should go awry
  • They met with Usuch-Si to discuss their new agenda. They learned that King Tithian of Tyr’s Court Wizard was a life-mage, trained in Kurn, and therefore a secret ally for when they go to Tyr on Dregoth’s behalf… but she may need to try to assassinate them to keep that connection secret… no offense. They got permission to bring Safa in, and to ultimately send her to Kurn, as well as permission to evacuate their families to Kurn if necessary.
  • Queri-Sed told her “husband” that he needed to go on an epic overland quest to fertilize her eggs in a secret paradise-city guarded by an insect-god. She pretty much told him exactly how to get to Kurn.
  • Everyone else became worried about Queri-Sed’s ability to keep a secret, and discovered that her “husband” Dej’kak’s departure had alerted the curiosity of Kalyani Shom
  • Queri’Sed enlisted the aid of Shia Tolon to throw an immense party in the Garden of Benevolence in honor of the unveiling of the statue Queri’Sed had commissioned from Usuch-Si. Everyone was encouraged to bring a date.
    • Alekel brought Sita, the Sitar player he had met at the Jeweled Scarab, making her husband all defensive and jealous
    • Safa brought her eldest brother
    • Najaf brought Fatima Hassan, one of the Offspring, and scion of the Hassan nawab house.
    • Shahzadi brought her husband Aasif
    • Dhaara brought the young Saddhu her family was trying to set her up with, a scrawny young half-giant named Shah Khan.
  • All parties worked to make the party a rousing success, and Alekel started a new fad for Thri-kreen music. Mon Adderath even made an appearance.

XP: 4,000
Total: 179,000

View
The Garden City
The Serpent

Having partaken of the rituals of hospitality, the agents of Dregoth settled in for a conversation with the strange party of clearly potent individuals encamped about the Pristine Tower. Information was traded back and forth in a cagey manner, and in this fashion, knowledge was gained.

They learned from Kiran of Nibenay that the Tower theoretically made anything possible. 124,000 odd years ago, twelve humans met at the tower at the behest of the Dragon where they underwent the transformations that made them immortal and powerful enough to fight their ancient war. These individuals became the Kings and Queens who persist to today. They learned that these Champions of the Dragon have, in the intervening millenia, developed four ideologies.

First is the ideology of the status quo. These Monarchs continue to husband the guttering civilization of the world as a resource for the Dragon’s inscrutable goals, participating in the Dragon Sacrifice, and ensuring that nothing significantly changes. King Hamanu of Urik is chief among such Kings, but others include the Oba of Gulg, the King of Draj, the Dictator of Balic, and the King of Eldaarich (a city none of the agents had ever heard of).

Second is the ideology of flight. These are the monarchs who have tired of doing the duty set for them by the Dragon and who seek to flee the prison that is Athas, to find new worlds, new places where they can rule without being constantly under the Dragon’s thumb. Kalidnay was the first to succeed in this manner five centuries ago, but recently others have discovered their own methods, including Nibenay, Abalach-Re, and in his own fashion, Kalak of Tyr.

Third is the ideology of death. Dregoth of Raam and Sielba, formerly of Yaramuke, being the only two monarchs to achieve undeath, have decided not to husband the guttering life of the world, but rather to extinguish it, eventually ruling over the corpse of Athas and the corpses of all its citizens. These two have ceased the Dragon Sacrifice so as not to rid their future empire of souls to rule, and also to call the Dragon’s bluff, as the act of violently punishing such an errant city would simply play into the hands of this philosophy. This philosophy believes its success is inevitable, and so Dregoth plays games of proxy-war with Hamanu and others with the cold assurance that no matter who wins any war upon the field of battle, Dregoth wins in the end.

Those agents of Dregoth who were counting realized that only one of these ancient champions who had gathered at the Pristine Tower long ago remained unaccounted for, but they were at a loss as to whom that might be. Kiran went on to discuss the last philosophy, that of renewal. One of these ancient champions, filled with grief over the damage wrought upon the world by their ancient war, sought a way to heal Athas. After millenia of study, he returned to the Pristine Tower where he underwent a second transformation. This King works in secret, developing the means to reinvigorate the atrophied connections between the world and the Elemental chaos, so that life might spring anew. This King is well aware of the fragility of his position. He works through spies and agents, keeping tabs especially on Dregoth and his city. This King already possessed dossiers on the agents, and this King’s own agent, Usuch-Si the sculptor, was inferred in the discussion. It was on this King’s behalf that Kiran’s own father was currently engaged in his own trials within the Tower, and it was on this King’s behalf that Kiran and her companions sought to sway the agents of Dregoth into becoming double agents.

They retired to a tent and linked their minds and discussed the matter. Inside her own mind and soul, Dhaara asked her ancestor to burn out the seed of death that Dregoth had planted inside her so long ago as the boon he had promised her. So pleased was he that she chose the path of ritual purity, that he did so without expending the gift he had proferred. Queri-Sed also felt that the prophecy of her people aligned perfectly with the ideology of rebirth as espoused by Kiran, and knew that she would need to remove Dregoth’s boon in order to give birth to her clutch. Najaf, to the surprise of some, expressed a well-reasoned defense of taking Kiran up on her offer, although did bring up some cautions, namely that being caught by Dregoth after such a betrayal would undoubtedly result in the destruction of House Shuja. Alekel expressed strong support for joining Kiran’s cause, and Shahzadi, while indifferent to matters of ideology and philosophy, was hardly going to betray the rest or act counter to their interests.

Having decided to betray their King and their employer, they once more sought out Kiran to discuss how, exactly, this would work out. They told her of Taxma, the apprentice to Dregoth who had sent them. Kiran informed them that she and her companions would not permit one who followed the philosophy of death to enter the Pristine Tower and bolster Dregoth’s faction. It was eventually decided that the Agents formerly of Dregoth would report to Taxma as planned and lure him to the Tower where everyone present would dispose of him. Kiran’s companion Sa’sha indicated that she had awakened the somewhat alien spirits of the land near the tower, and that un-anchored spirits tended to get… consumed… meaning return from death was much more difficult.

Najaf reported to Taxma, and Taxma eventually arrived. He looked dramatically different than he had when he sent the agents off on their mission. In the interim, he had finally completed a complex, year-long ritual to convert himself to one of the more powerful forms of undead. His eyes were pits of blackness, and his flesh hung dead on his frame. It was not altogether unexpected that he brought a number of large, physical undead with him, as well as a host of dozens of enslaved spirits. The fight was brief but savage and arcane power from Taxma, Najaf, and Kiran wracked the battlefield. Taxma himself seemed vaguely disgusted, and perhaps even a little bored. He seemed utterly unconcerned at the prospect of dying.

He was eventually struck down, however, and Najaf leapt upon him and began consuming the necrotic, fetid cranial matter that had once been a living brain. Najaf choked it down, gaining extensive memories and insights into Taxma, the fact that he had actually met Kiran and her companions once before in far off New Antalus, and the details of the ritual he had performed. This led Najaf to believe that Taxma may, in fact, return someday, but that it was unlikely to be immediately, or even particularly soon.

Having sealed their new allegiance in this manner, Kiran informed them that their new patron was King Oronis of Kurn, a city far to the north of Draj. She told them that the Kurn that Draj trades with is a waning shell of its former self, mostly because the King had relocated it to a mountain valley that had once been a battlefield in the ancient war. Defiling magic had blasted this valley in a manner much akin to the land surrounding Giustenal, smoking pits of bubbling black necrotic tar, not only the absence of life, but the anathema of life. Over the millenia, the King had practiced his new rejuvenation arts and had succeeded in turning the valley into a paradise, a garden, an exemplar and symbol of his philosophy, and proof that it was possible. Kiran then had Sa’sha take them there.

Sa’sha utilized some primal form of teleportation, and they all arrived on a ledge on a cliff face in the cold of high altitude. Snow could be seen on the mountain tops. Below, a lush valley spread out, green with crops, orchards, and wild-growth. Docile animals were kept in pens, flowers bloomed in profusion. This was like the most lavishly tended city-garden of a wealthy noble, but on an immense scale. In the center of the valley was a city with no wall, rather a sprawling collection of building arranged in harmony with the flow of the rivers and the lay of the land.

As they descended, the tactically-minded realized that the city was not quite a defenseless as it seemed, but still must rely heavily on both secrecy and the presence of a single mountain pass to enter. The arcane-minded could still feel the ancient ache of the land beneath their feet, but the thrum of living magic bolstered everything around them. Sa’sha casually mentioned that there was no slavery in New Kurn, a prospect that caused much confusion in the caste-minded Raamese.

They found themselves in a garden in the heart of the city even more ridiculously lavish than the rest of the valley. Here they met King Oronis. He appeared as a simple man of middle-years, dressed for gardening, but with opalescent eyes. He greeted them with courtesy and without particular arrogance, and conversed with them, answering their questions. He explained that he could teach a new way of doing arcane magic, a method that didn’t siphon life from the land, but rather reached beneath the land to the Elemental Chaos beneath, drawing power directly from the wellspring of all energy and life. In so doing, his magic actually renewed atrophied channels of power, strengthening the connection between the Land and the Elements. His magic actively renewed the land and could not defile. He could teach this magic to anyone schooled in the arcane. The problem, he explained, was that it was effectively starting over. Wizards would be learning everything anew, and developing their power anew, and the temptation to revert to old methodologies at need was often too strong.

Oronis had a platter of fresh fruit brought. He muttered a complex spell over it, and asked the Agents to eat. As they did so, they felt the boon granted to them by Dregoth, the ability to summon the energies of death into them at need, draining away. Once more they were untainted by death.

King Oronis answered Najaf’s questions which was aimed at the odds of eventual success, namely how someone who encouraged life could hope to succeed against those who could use death and defilement indiscriminately. King Oronis answered that those skilled enough in his form of magic, as well as potent Druids and others connected to the land, had methods to prevent defiling. This not only removes a tool from the enemy, but also potentially could throw them off their guard and make them weak. Finally, amidst various other questions, the question was asked about what to do about Dregoth.

King Oronis indicated that, in his mind, the angle to pursue is Mon Adderath. Mon Adderath was split from Dregoth’s psyche by the long-ago process of transformation wrought by the Pristine Tower. They are, essentially, two halves of the same soul. More than a hundred millenia of separation, however, makes them effectively different people, but they still share a fate. It was Mon Adderath who performed the rite to return Dregoth to corporeal undeath, and it is Dregoth’s continued existenc that permits Mon Adderath to continue to exist. They also, however, embody very different aspects of the psyche. Dregoth is cunning, intelligent, but quite mad and power-hungry. Mon Adderath appears to have an actual, genuine concern for his subjects and the people under Dregoth’s rule. Oronis indicated that long ago, in the great war, Dregoth was actually a very popular general of his men, a tactician and sorcerer of great skill. Much of that charisma and genuine concern for his people remains in Mon Adderath.

Oronis opined that while Mon Adderath would never act against Dregoth, he could be convinced to act in Dregoth’s best interests even if that would mean going against Dregoth’s wishes. The trick is to convince Mon Adderath that the best course of action would be to resurrect Dregoth from the dead. Oronis theorized that a proper resurrection might give Dregoth a new perspective, and even if he did not become a follower of the rebirth philosophy, he may choose to diverge from the philosophy of death.

In answer to the query into how the Agents could hope to fool their former master, Oronis indicated that it wouldn’t be easy, but neither would it be as hard as they seemed to think. Dregoth has the utter arrogance that only a King, millenia old, with absolute conviction that he will eventually rule everything can have. If seven unified Kings and Queens couldn’t kill him for long, why would he consider one of his templars and his friends to be a threat? Oronis indicated that they would have all the support he could provide via Usuch-Si, as well as Raam’s Veiled Alliance in their endeavors, whatever they might be. He suggested a patient, careful approach.

Having given them much to think about, King Oronis left them to wander the garden and converse.

XP: Advance to Level 21
Total: 175,000

View
The Pristine Tower
The Defiler

And so the Agents of Dregoth prepared to depart Raam on an extended trek through some of the most dangerous parts of Athas to find the mysterious Pristine Tower for Taxma.

First, Shahzadi had tea with Fatima Hassan. As the only other Offspring among the nobility, and also the eldest daughter of her own house, both ladies confirmed their mutual interest in keeping their bastard parentage a secret, and even had a few bonding moments.

Once all was prepared, the five agents left Safa behind to look after their ongoing affairs in Raam (particularly regarding the shadowy Children of the Dragon) and Najaf called to mind the runic pattern of the teleportation circle Taxma had given him. They appeared in a flare of runic light in an otherwise pitch-black underground building of some sort deep beneath the ruins of Giustenal. In the fading light of arcane runes, Alekel recognized the cyclopean architecture as something similar to an ancient underground ruin he had explored in the Ringing Mountains in his youth, ruins built by a mysterious species who clearly had innate levitation ability and with strange ideas of proper perspective and proportion in their architecture. These ruins clearly predated those of the city-state far above.

They struck a sun-rod only to hear a ghostly moan as a Raaig materialized nearby. The thing radiated power, but seemed placated by Najaf’s symbol of office, and the “mark of Dregoth” upon the rest of them. Their claims to be merely “passing through” and not there to raid the “treasures of Giustenal” further placated the potent undead which faded once more into immateriality.

A voice then spoke in their minds. It identified itself as “Primik the Mover”, a psychic construct of some sort capable of transporting them throughout the complex. They asked to be taken to the main gates of the ruined city above, and the entity obliged.

They found themselves standing at the main south gates of the ruined city, half sunk in the blowing silt. To the south were great bubbling rents in the earth filled with noxious tar, the effluvia of defiling magic so mighty that the earth shuddered and cracked. Alekel and Dhaara recognized that it would be unwise to get too close to the tar rents, as they had mystically entrapped many maddened spirits. The group skirted the danger of the defiled plains, and with the aid of Najaf’s magic permitting them to move unnaturally fast by skirting the edges of the Black, they sped south across the wastes, using a single solitary distant mountain peak as a guide.

Soon, Dhaara’s sense of the wild warned her of a silt scirocco arising from the east, and on the storm’s leading edge were swarms of bloodflies. Alekel invoked a ritual to ward against vermin while Queri-Sed cavorted through the storm snapping up delicious flies that couldn’t burrow into her hard carapace to lay their larvae.

As they skirted around the solitary peak that had been their landmark, they were suddenly attacked! Out of a burrow in the earth erupted one of the most terrifying predators of the wastes, a Nightmare Beast! Those knowledgeable about the natural world realized that these rare but terrifying predators are not actually natural creatures, but rather strangely warped and mutated predators of other varieties. This one was apparently a twisted Braxat. It lashed out with black lightning, rippling with the energies of death, trying to drop the group into unconsciousness to feed on their fears and terrors. The five concentrated their efforts, and while Najaf’s magic was instrumental in preventing the most terrifying capabilities of the beast from badly injuring his companions, Dhaara knew just where to strike the unnatural beast to do the most damage. The creature was dispatched, exploding in a noxious blast of defiling goo that despoiled the land for yards all around.

As they caught their breath, a weird little man crawled from the burrow the Beast had emerged from. He professed confusion and put on airs of having been a captive of some sort. He was just a little… off… however, and Najaf detected a cold, alien intelligence behind the befuddled demeanor. The man invited them to visit his “family” in the solitary mountain, but the agents opted to decline, suspecting that he was not even remotely human. Najaf let slip that he was also an alien shapeshifting construct of some sort and the strange man’s eyes widened in apparent recognition. He withdrew his invitation and scuttled away.

They continued to travel unnaturally fast, skirting the edges of planar travel, when the arcane-inclined among them perceived a strange barrier, or border ahead. They dropped out of the ritual and saw nothing but sand dunes as far as they could see. They recognized that they were approaching the location of the Pristine Tower, and theorized based on Taxma’s description that the Tower’s environs had some sort of twisted magical effects. They debated whether it would be wise to travel near it using ritual magic. They ultimately decided to travel under less potent magic, opting for Alekel’s simpler Traveler’s Chant. This was, apparently, enough to pierce the boundary between layered realities.

They found themselves no longer surrounded by sand dunes, but instead confronting a forbidding forest of black, thorny, dead-seeming trees. There was something odd about the forest. There was no sign of any living thing, no underbrush or plant life at all aside from the thorny petrified trees. Dhaara threw a rock at one to no effect. Queri-sed gave her a small live rodent from one of her many pockets. Dhaara threw the rodent at a tree. Upon being scratched by one of the thorns, the creature violently mutated into an awful mockery of nature before expiring under it’s own uncontrollable changes. Apparently, this forest is why so many creatures in this part of Athas are twisted, obviously unnatural beasts.

The agents began to cautiously move through the forest, careful not to touch the thorns or the trees. Soon, however, rustling and howling could be heard, and they were set upon by a horde of twisted mutations, no two alike! The creatures, although individually weak, were adept and throwing and pulling the hapless agents into thorns. Dhaara especially felt the brunt of near-mutation as her body and soul fought to retain integrity. Queri-Sed got to shine, slaughtering dozens with shards of thrown chatkchas. Soon the rest of the horde retreated and they continued through the trees.

They emerged from the forest to see a gently sloping bowl-like valley, and the most eye and mind boggling thing they had ever seen.

In the center of the valley was an impossible tower. A thin white needle erupting from the ground, disappearing into the silty haze far above. It looked like a painter had, upon finishing his landscape, painted a straight white slash through the center of it. There was no way that it was a natural construction. Where it contacted the ground, smokes and fumes billowed forth. Their eyes could not make sense of the thing’s scale. After a few moments, they noticed a small camp near, but not too near, the base of the impossible edifice. Three individuals were there, watching the agents. One of them, a halfling dressed in fairly ordinary traveler’s wear, teleported nearer so as to greet the agents. At that point, each of them noticed something odd about the others:

Shahzadi’s eyes appeared to glow a strange silver to all who looked upon her

Dhaara seemed wreathed in ghostly flame with endless faces of half-giant ancestors peering out

Queri-Sed radiated a soft golden glow with half-seen gossamer wings as befitting a queen of the Kreen

Najaf was a confusing blur of half-seen identities, hard to focus on. Furthermore, there was an odd gray aura surrounding him.

Alekel gave off a heat-haze like a mirage and seemed covered in half-seen scars.

They noticed that the approaching halfling appeared almost insubstantial as he greeted them in perfectly fluent Common. He invited them using the formal language of travelers met upon the road to share salt and bread at their camp thus invoking ancient hospitality codes. The agents opted to accept and went down to meet the others.

In the camp was a man and a woman. The man was dressed as a hard-bitten warrior, with Balican coloration and features, and appeared to have a strange black aura. The woman appeared utterly normal, and so paradoxically aroused the most suspicion.

The woman greeted them, shared out salt and bread, and in accordance with hospitality codes, introduced herself and her companions. She was Kiran of Nibenay. Her bodyguard was Aetolos Botisaris of Balic. The halfling was Banowir. An immense earth elemental erupted from the ground and transformed into a woman exuding the smell of fresh turned earth with loamy eyes. She was introduced as Sa’sha Derek. Another, smaller earth elemental emerged from the ground and remained in that form. He was introduced as Kard Hin.

Kiran of Nibenay spoke to them in a manner making it clear she knew they worked for Dregoth. She referenced the “seed of death” festering in their souls, and warned Queri-Sed and Shahzadi that they would never bear viable children so long as it was there. Considering Shahzadi’s concerns at the beginning of the journey centered on the suspicion that she might be pregnant following her marriage nights, and Queri-Sed’s intention of fulfilling her personal prophecy through a brood of children, this news was somewhat shocking. Kiran invited them to sit, indicating that while she and her companions were there to guard the tower, she hoped to sway the agents through conversation and revealed truths rather than the application of violence…

XP: 3,400
Total: 138,823

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Children of the Dragon

The agents went about investigating Isra’s shadowy organization. Through their own disparate methods, they discovered that the “Children of the Dragon” are cultists who seem able to channel the power of the Black itself in their strange, stygian magic. As a result, they don’t defile, and have access to a source of arcane magic relatively unknown in the world. They’re a relatively recent phenomenon, having arisen in the last two hundred years or so. They tend to infiltrate the city-states, influencing the lowest classes. One famous cultist, Amitabha, founded the Bhikaraya Sabha, or Beggar’s Guild, in Nibenay a hundred years ago, and that organization has influenced the underworld of that notoriously intrigue-riddled city ever since. Similar groups have taken root in Balic and Tyr, and even Urik is rumored to have a few.

They apparently have an ideology of service to the Dragon, a quasi-mythical, thoroughly feared figure to which each city-state sacrifices a percentage of their population annually. They typically see the Sorcerer-Kings and Queens as loyal servants of the Dragon, and work to secure the rule of the monarchs from behind the scenes. Things in Raam, however, were apparently quite different, as Dregoth has decided to call the Dragon’s bluff, refusing the Dragon Sacrifice that year. This refusal, and the appearance and infiltration of the Children seemed to coincide.

The agents seems somewhat confused about the Children’s approach. Isra seemed well aware that Najaf, Shahzadi, and Safa were agents of the King, yet rather openly solicited the alliance of their families, and practically advertised the Children’s agenda. After consulting with Mon Adderath, the agents concluded that the Children were playing a long game, playing relatively straight with Dregoth, and openly letting him and his agents know that they were watching. After consultation with Padme Shuja and Jai Maarham, the two houses decided to tentatively accept the offer of alliance while simultaneously seeking counter-infiltration of the Children’s lower ranks.

Most of this time, Dhaara was alone in the Jeweled Scarab. The experience of psychic combat inside Najaf’s mind once more disturbed her, and she needed time to herself to cleanse and meditate. Lanaya, the Saddhu proprietress of the establishment, came to her private room and told her that her great-great-great-great-grandfather wished to speak with her. Confused about this, Dhaara accompanied the Saddhu into the depths of the establishment to a room of white marble. In the center was a shallow pool full of fire, burning without smoke or fuel. Lanaya calmly walked into it and Dhaara followed…

She found herself on the elemental plane of fire, in a great city of brass. Ships plied the magma sea while the cinder-filled sky radiated uniform heat. Only Lanaya’s touch upon Dhaara prevented her instant incineration. They went into a mansion where bronze-skinned people of many races served and met the master of the house, the aforementioned ancestor. Many of Dhaara’s ancestors chose to be dedicated to Earth or Water, but this one had chosen Fire, and had done rather well for himself. He indicated that he had watched Dhaara perform Shahzadi’s wedding through the ritual fire, and was very proud of her. He saw great potential, and told her that she had his blessing, and that she could call upon his boon at any time. Lanaya returned Dhaara to the world, where she took a bath and thought about these events.

Eventually, they all rendezvoused at the Jeweled Scarab. Alekel did some impromptu performance which wowed the jaded crowd. Shahzadi ran into Fatima Hassan, the scion of her house, and fellow Offspring. They shared some veiled conversation about Abalach-Re’s appearance at the wedding, and agreed to meet for tea sometime.

The agents, having wrapped up their outstanding business, went to the Sepulchre where Taxma made his home. Taxma told them a bit more about Isra and the Children of the Dragon. Apparently he had once traveled with a fairly high-ranking member of the cult named Sorcha, who remained in New Antalus far to the south. Isra was a psychic copy of Sorcha stored in the body of an obsidian golem, capable of self-polymorph. This said to Taxma that the Children were wary of Raam, to send such an expendable agent rather than a real practitioner. He did indicate some of the rather outlandish resources Isra could bring to bear if suitably angered, however.

Taxma revealed the errand he wished them to embark upon. To the south of the ruins of Giustenal, at the borders of a part of Athas renowned for the most savage and unnatural beasts and dangers, there is a place called the Pristine Tower. This place has some connection to the Sorcerer Kings and Queens, and each of them has a “key”, a psychic construct or concept. Taxma has the “keys” from both Abalach-Re and Dregoth, and seeks to find out the significance of the Tower, but although he knows the general geographic location, it is apparently proof against all manner of scrying and long-distance information gathering. He speculates it resides in an otherworldly pocket, much akin to the Land Within the Wind. He charged the agents with physically traveling to the Pristine Tower, and upon verifying its relative safety, contacting him via Planar Sending. Taxma produced a thigh bone, ritually inscribed with lead and arcane powders. He indicated this was the focus that would permit him to teleport to their location regardless of interference. Upon being asked, he confirmed it was, in fact, his own thigh-bone, ritually removed (he got better). He gave them a somewhat crude map and wished them luck.

XP: 3,600
Total: 135,423

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A Favored Daughter
The Serpent

The seventh day of Shahzadi’s wedding arrived. The rituals were over, the consummation had occurred, and all was revelry. Again, honored representatives from throughout the city arrived bearing gifts. Shia Tolon taught Queri’Sed how to “dance” while Alekel gave a star performance for the crowd. Suddenly, a hush came over the attendees as Mon Adderath, high templar to Dregoth, made his entrance. Nawab nobility bowed, technically paying more deference than caste-requirements dictated. Mon Adderath came to the newly married couple and, with a great show of courtesy, congratulated them on their union and gave his well-wishes for many years to come. He then parked himself in an out-of-the-way corner so as not to unduly disrupt the rest of the party. He chatted a bit of Usuch-si, and Alekel spent some time ensuring that the High Templar was not overtly avoided.

Just as the party began to tentatively swing back up, a mysterious but lovely woman arrived dressed as minor nobility. Shahzadi recognized her immediately as Nanda Shatri, the Offspring and supposed Untouchable from the ghost city. She looked much better without crematory ash all over her, but it wasn’t her cleaned-up appearance that drew Shahzadi’s immediate notice. There was something… regal… about her posture and Shahzadi thought she caught a glimpse of a silver radiance from her eyes before blinking. The newcomer greeted Shahzadi and complimented her on the wedding, but it rapidly became clear that Abalach-Re, former Sorcerer-Queen of Raam, was somehow possessing the young woman.

“Nanda Shatri” made a beeline for Mon Adderath, and the two had a tense conversation, overheard by Alekel. Mon Adderath was offended at her presence, and indicated that, although hostilities had ceased, there was a certain expectation of distance between the parties. She made vague references to shared minions, but otherwise seemed to take some glee in taunting the High Templar. She enjoyed the party, making no particular effort to hide her mannerisms, but not advertising her identity.

Eventually, once Shahzadi escaped the receiving line, she had a private conversation over by the dessert table with her real mother. Abalach-Re confided in Shahzadi that of all her Offspring, just a handful were what she considered masterpieces, and that of all of those, Shahzadi was her favorite. She confided that Shahzadi was the one who reminded her the most of her own youth as a gladiator-slave long before her rise to power. She told Shahzadi that there were “other worlds” and other options and that if service to Dregoth became too onerous she could come to New Antalus. She departed the party after a strangely tender expression of pride in her daughter’s burgeoning maturity.

Needless to say, Shahzadi glossed over much of this conversation when relaying it to her brother and the others. Mon Adderath eventually left and the party went well into the night. While Safa and Aasif kept an eye on a drunken Padme Shuja, the rest of the agents slipped away via teleportation to the Ivory Palace to report to Mon Adderath both the conversation that Abalach-Re had with Shahzadi, and also the proposition given to Padme by the shadowy and mysterious Isra. Mon Adderath was in a surprisingly garrulous mood, and the conversation spanned eons. He spoke of an ancient empire spanning hundreds of worlds ruled by abominable creatures who enslaved all who stood before them. He spoke of the wars and uprisings that began on Athas and spread from world to world, led by the Dragon and his Champions. Many things of ancient significance, but very little import to the current world were discussed, along with the fact that Abalach-Re and Nibenay had recently concluded a powerful ritual to join Kalidnay… elsewhere. Kalak had also completed his Ziggurat and… vanished. He made it clear that Dregoth’s plan was to simply wait out everything, wait for the guttering flame of life to finally die on Athas, and rule over a world of the dead, a world abandoned by his fellow Champions.

The agents departed the somewhat maudlin High Templar to get some sleep. The next morning, Najaf gathered them all for another ritual to help him extinguish the competing voices in his head. Safa performed the ritual, and the rest allowed their psyches to enter into Najaf’s mind. There, they fought the psychic fragments of the six individuals whose brains Najaf had consumed over the past few months. The first, a mysterious elf eaten when he was still transforming. The second was Naif Walid, the young noble sorcerer he ate as part of the last such ritual to complete his transformation. The third was Salim, the former Offspring and high priest of Badna. The fourth was Whisper, the young girl and acolyte of Badna who had poisoned Dhaara’s family. The fifth was one of the Kuotagha. The sixth and most recent was Nerek, templar to Hamanu. In the psyche-scape of Najaf’s mind, they destroyed and suppressed all except for Naif Walid and the mysterious elf before the ritual concluded. Queri’Sed took the opportunity to attack and destroy other aspects of Najaf’s mind and personality to unknown effect.

The ritual concluded. Shahzadi met with her mother who asked her daughter to look into Isra’s organization and maybe get some advance concessions before committing House Shuja’s resources to mysterious strangers. Dhaara fled to the Jeweled Scarab to recover from the trauma of combat in Najaf’s mind against figures from her past. Najaf, feeling calm and refreshed, prepared for the coming of Taxma to inform them of how they could repay the inconvenience of having killed him…

XP: 3,800
Total: 131,823

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Shahzadi's Wedding
The Bride Price

The agents of Dregoth prepared to take the young Khayal, Safa’s sibling, into the desert seeking the Khayal elder who, theoretically, could help her recover from the experiments to which she was subjected. Safa took part in the recovery of her “father” Jai Maarham from whatever arcane safe location he had been hidden, bringing him up to speed on events while Najaf communicated new intelligence on the strange beggars to his mother.

They went forth into the wastes under Dhaara’s guidance, avoiding various dangers, and arriving eventually at the shattered foundations of an ancient, long ruined tower. But as they approached, heat haze arose, wind whipped up, and they found themselves under a different-colored sky, where the sun was a bit more yellow than normal, and the scrub brush and cacti were greener… and the tower was whole and un-ruined. The learned among them realized that they had stumbled upon a pocket of the Land Within the Wind, a strange realm, mostly shattered long ago, that lies alongside the world they knew. They entered the tower and found an elderly elf dressed all in gray. Upon seeing the troubled young Khayal, however, all pretense was dropped and he shifted into a middle-aged, muscular human male. He led them up into the top of the tower, where he asked Safa, Najaf, and Alekel to aid him in a ritual to stabilize the young victim. After completing the ritual, he sat and talked with Najaf and Safa and revealed that he, too, was one of the original constructs back in “The Great War.” He had fled into the Land Within the Wind many millennia ago, spending most of the intervening time in an alternate state that he did not elaborate upon only to be returned to the world three hundred years or so ago by a party of adventurers. He revealed that Najaf could expect immortality, or at least immunity from aging as a result of his conversion process, and they shared notes on purging unnecessary psyches consumed so as to maintain sanity.

Everyone returned to Raam where the last few days of planning for Shahzadi’s wedding were in full swing. Padme Shuja was directing the horde of servants and contractors in setting up the pavilions, arranging the catering, making sure everything would go off fine. She put Alekel in charge of seven days worth of entertainment. In addition to the displays of martial prowess, the jugglers, and the musicians he hired an itinerant band of actors known as the New Antalus Theatre Troupe to perform on the evening of the fifth night of the wedding week. Dhaara had a long talk with Queri-Sed wherein it was made clear that the thri-kreen was not to engage in combat unless Shahzadi herself did, mostly to fend off concerns that Queri-Sed would attack and kill people inappropriately as a result of entertainment or some other stimulus. Dhaara spent most of those days preparing and memorizing ritual specifics, engaging Alekel’s memory for performance and a psychic connection to help prompt her should she stumble.

Alekel was also roped into a private conversation with Aasif Maarham wherein he delicately revealed that Shahzadi was still a virgin, and seeking Aasif’s understanding and care on the subject. This sensitive conversation was almost immediately crashed by Dhaara, upon whom Aasif had a crush, and Queri-Sed who wished to inquire into Aasif’s sexual prowess. This resulted in a bit of a comedy wherein Aasif had to placate the thri-kreen with promises of his sexual potency, while also expressing his desire to sow some pre-wedding wild oats with Dhaara, who turned him down.

This all led Najaf suggesting that perhaps he could hire a professional to educate Shahzadi prior to the wedding, or perhaps engage Alekel’s services, notions that mortified her. Safa, realizing her secret as a Khayal was well and truly out, at least to the group, offered to simply become Aasif or some other male and teach Shahzadi that way, a notion Shahzadi was also not so keen on. Long simmering tensions between Alekel and Najaf rose to the surface bringing out a rare display of Najaf’s ire, but such disagreements were set aside until later. Alekel and Dhaara stayed at the Shuja estates to work on their obligations while the others, alongside Shahzadi’s stable of gladiators, hit the sleazier parts of town engaging in drunken bachelorette party behavior, starting fights, and ultimately having to bribe the undead city guards over the corpses they (mostly Queri-Sed) left in their wake.

The morning of the wedding arrived. Padme Shuja had called in some sort of favor, and the GrandMaster of the Yellow Monastery, along with a number of mid-level monks, were on hand to provide security. Representatives of pretty much every nawab house made their first-day appearances. It was a who’s who of nobles, including another Offspring, and representatives of the new Dray houses. Various dynastic merchant houses sent representatives as well, including Liese Stel, who did an excellent job of pretending not to know the representatives of the Psiumarkh who had been invited, including Ismail. Eliphelet bin M’ke made a brief appearance to congratulate Shahzadi before leaving again, in deference to ritual purity taboos.

All were carefully watching the guests to discover who would be the messenger for the mysterious new cult of beggars. It turned out to be fairly easy to discern as representatives from foreign nobility arrived. Along with a savage-looking noble from Draj, and the official diplomatic envoy from New Antalus, was a delegation from Balic. One of the women in the delegation was a blonde human in an elaborately expensive black silk sari with silver thread. Najaf almost immediately recognized that she was the human spitting image of the mysterious half-elf he had scried upon who had resurrected Taxma. His arcane sight was momentarily confused, as she appeared more like an enchanted item than a person.

This mysterious woman, naming herself Isra, made it clear that she knew secrets about Shahzadi’s Offspring origins that could ruin House Shuja if revealed. This forced a polite confrontation with Padme and Najaf, where Isra laid out her intentions: The nobility of Raam had fallen far, according to Isra, dirtying their hands with beggars, spy networks, thieves guilds and the like. Under Abalach-Re’s near-anarchy, such power-bases were necessary, but the nawab houses ended up more like competing criminal bosses than political forces. Isra suggested that House Shuja enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement wherein Isra and her organization takes over the beggar-network in exchange for helping House Shuja elevate itself into the hall of political power. Both partners would gather information from their respective arenas and pool that information for mutual benefit.

As Padme considered, Najaf asked some pointed questions about the cultic nature of Isra’s organization. She made it clear that she and her people, in some fashion, serve “The Dragon,” an entity that Dregoth was not only defying, but setting himself up in opposition to. She suggested in no uncertain terms that the time may eventually come when Najaf would have to choose whether or not to betray a second Sorcerer-monarch. In the meantime, Isra indicated she had nothing but House Shuja’s health and advancement in mind.

Six days of the seven-day wedding proceeded without difficulty. Despite the multiple opportunities for various conflicting interests and parties to cause a scene, despite the presence of individuals who might or might not be enemies, nobody disturbed the proceedings. Dhaara comported herself marvelously as the officiant, relying on her uncle, Alekel, and some subtle pointers from Najaf to make sure the ceremonies went off without a hitch. The processional on the fifth evening saw various commoners join the dancing and merriment, followed by a private and excellent performance from the New Antalus Theater Troupe.

During those days, Najaf sought out Taxma to ask him about the mysterious Isra. Taxma told Najaf of a mysterious sorceress he once traveled with named Sorcha who could draw her power directly from the Black. He told Najaf that these somewhat rare practitioners seemed able to do what they did through some connection to “The Dragon” but that religious devotion didn’t seem particularly necessary. He revealed that Sorcha had, at some point, had her mind copied into an obsidian golem with the intrinsic enchantment for self-polymorphing, and that this is who Isra likely was. Najaf returned to the wedding with even more to think about.

The evening of the sixth night was the final fire-ceremony where the formal bonding of two souls into one marriage was finalized. The ancestors smiled upon Shahzadi and Aasif as they retired for formally consummate their marriage. Looking at each other through the eyes of their ancestors, secrets could not easily be kept. The two spoke for some time before eventually working their way up to the act itself.

The morning of the seventh day dawned, a day set aside for feasting and celebration of the union of these two souls. If any trouble was to mar the wedding, this would be the last day for it…

XP: 3,666
Total: 128,023

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