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Dramatis Personae

Arlan d’Cannith: Mercenary artificer (male human)

Thyra Entarro: Adventuring sorceress (female human)

Yhani Eshenali: Priestess of the Undying Court and Wandering Blades second-in-command and medic (female elf)

Ganhakhad: Monastery elder (male kalashtar)

Ghazaan: Warrior, Wandering Blades (male hobgoblin)

Haund: Priest of the Blood of Vol (male human)

Havaktri: Psion, Wandering Blades (female kalashtar)

Harsk: Scout, Wandering Blades (male shifter)

Inharanath: Riedran lord (male Inspired)

Irinali: Emerald Claw necromancer (female elf)

Kharvin ir’Sarrin: Warlord and Emerald Claw operative (male human)

Len: Captain, Wandering Blades (female changeling)

Rinnean: Stealth expert, Wandering Blades (male elf)

Saeria Athlinnan: Emerald Claw bard (female half-elf)

Shaikatari: Assassin (female Empty Vessel)

Tarazanthan: Agent of the Lords of Dust (male rakshasa)

Prologue: A Lord of Dreams

The vast war camp lay across the land beneath the evening sky, arrayed in perfectly even rows ordered by company and battalion, as per the instructions of those who commanded it. Soldiers thronged between the countless tents as they went about their business, their uniforms neat and postures straight, for they were the warriors of a nation that prized efficiency and decorum from all who served it. Above their heads flapped the dark banners that marked that nation – Riedra, the monolithic, the unassailable, risen from the chaos of long ago wars under divine guidance to unite nearly all of Sarlona under one perfect rule.

Shaikatari didn’t spare the banners a glance as she walked beneath them, making her way towards the center of the great camp. Though her clothing was plain and functional and a hood concealed much of her face, still the common soldiers ducked out of her way when they saw her and gave sharp, respectful bows. She wasn’t one of the Inspired – not yet, at least – but still, Shaikatari was of the Chosen, one of the special families bred and trained from birth to host the ancient spirits who guided Riedra, and that birthright set her far above those among whom she now walked.

Everything in Riedra came back to hierarchy and order. The Inspired ruled absolutely, with the Chosen directly beneath them; changelings and humans filled out the ranks of the empire’s people, and other races might also serve in specific roles – all save for the arch-heretics, the kalashtar, who sought to undermine all the Inspired had created and deserved only death. Order and hierarchy, determined by birth, by bloodline, by fate. Without it, the priests taught, Sarlona would surely fall back into the chaos of the great wars, a new dark age from which there would be no awakening.

At last, Shaikatari arrived at the great tent that stood alone at the center of the camp. Two guards stood by its entrance with spears at the ready; the Chosen approached them and cast back her hood, shaking out her pale lavender hair as she did so. The guards nodded once, for she was expected, and one of them pulled the tent flap open and gestured for her to enter.

Inside was a great empty space that could hold all of the camp’s upper officers at need; for now it was empty save for a great wooden desk at one end, and the map of Sarlona that stood behind it – and the man who even now stood with his back to Shaikatari, regarding that map intently.

“Your Excellency,” Shaikatari said, striking the center of her chest with her fist in salute, “I have come as requested. I await your will.”

The man turned slowly to regard her, and the Chosen nearly gasped in spite of herself. It was said that it was impossible to tell the difference between one of the Chosen and one of the Inspired with a look – after all, they came from the same bloodlines, the only difference being that the Inspired hosted the il-atlas, the true rulers of Riedra, within them and the Chosen did not. How, after all, could mortal eyes detect the presence of an invisible spirit? And yet looking at this man – at Inharanath, Lord General of the Tenth Legion – Shaikatari knew that he was more than mortal. His fine robes, elegant aristocratic features and long, dark hair were impressive enough, of course, but not uncommon among the high families. But it was the air about him that singled him out, for there was a weight to him, a power and depth in his gaze that no human could match. This was what it meant to be Inspired.

“You have come,” Inharanath said, his voice even and perfectly controlled. “That is good. Your superiors have spoken well of you; they say that you are skilled, loyal, and prompt in the carrying out of your duties. I am pleased to see that this is, at least in part, true.”

“Thank you, Excellency,” Shaikatari said as the general seated himself behind his desk. “What is your command.”

“I have received disturbing reports, Shaikatari,” Inharanath said, lacing his fingers before him. “They come from among the barbarians of Khorvaire, from one of their… universities,” he laced the foreign word with distaste, “that speak of something that concerns me greatly. It seems that there is a weapon buried somewhere beneath our land, dating from an earlier age when darker powers ruled this world. An expedition will soon set out to seek this weapon, for what purpose I have been unable to determine. But reports indicate that there is to be a kalashtar among this group.”

He paused a moment, to let that sink it. Shaikatari drew a sharp breath at the thought. She didn’t understand everything about the kalashtar’s enmity with her people – there were still secrets that she, who was still young and had seldom hosted one of the il-atlas, was too junior to know – but she didn’t need to. They were anarchists, worshippers of strange powers who sought to undo all that the Inspired had accomplished out of jealousy and spite, and that was enough for Shaikatari. An assassin, after all, needed to understand how the enemy thought, but only insofar as it helped to slay them better.

“And so you fear that the kalashtar may deliver this weapon to Adar, to use against us,” she mused out loud. “I believe I understand.”

“It is a true possibility,” Inharanath said. “But whatever their plans, we have determined that this expedition must not be allowed to succeed. Or rather, to succeed only in part. We will take a small force, you and I, and investigate this matter. If the weapon is something that will benefit Riedra, we will take it. If not, we will destroy it, or bury it so deep that it may never be found until the very continents shift.” He smiled thinly, without warmth or mercy. “And in either case, the barbarians must not be allowed to report back to their masters what they found. Them, young assassin, you may kill, every one.”

///

Hello again, everyone, and welcome back to my attempts to write an ongoing, epic storyline in the Eberron setting for Dungeons and Dragons. This fic is the sequel to Game of the Ancients Part I: Khorvaire, and if you haven’t read that one I recommend giving it a look first, or else the events of this story won’t make much sense.

The Inspired are, quite possibly, my favorite villain group in the entire world of Eberron, and Riedra is a deeply unsettling example of the “Evil Empire” archetype. They only got a few cursory mentions in the first fic, and so far as the overall storyline I envision is concerned they’re ultimately a secondary antagonistic force, coming in behind the Lords of Dust and even the Emerald Claw for the position of big bad. Nonetheless, this particular story is primarily set in Sarlona and so they’ll get their chance to shine. I deliberately wanted to avoid writing from the perspective of one of the actual Inspired, to keep them more ominous and mysterious, so instead we see through the eyes of an Empty Vessel (or “Chosen”, as she thinks of herself). Shaikatari was created in part for this purpose, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of her throughout Part II.

The “barbarian” expedition mentioned are, of course, the main characters from Part I, who will remain protagonists for the rest of the series; we’ll get back to them next time. And of course, the Emerald Claw aren’t done with things yet either, and the Lords of Dust still have their plan hovering in the background. Needless to say, things are going to get very interesting when they all crash together. I hope you’ll join me for the ride, and wish me luck!

-MasterGhandalf


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