At first glance, it is tempting to refer to House Iselsi as a former Dynastic House, as it was shattered over four centuries ago following a failed attempt at disposing of the Empress and has never been allowed to regain its footing. It has no satrapies, no seat on the Deliberative and few obvious allies among the other Houses.
All of this ignominy has been due to one indiscretion. In RY 303, several House Iselsi spies conspired to assassinate the Empress. The attempt obviously failed, and the would-be assassins were tortured to death, but the rest of the House was placed under a dark shadow of suspicion for its ignorance of the conspiracy and for not moving to stop it. Every few decades or so, the Empress would execute another Iselsi on charges of spying and give one of the House’s satrapies to another Great House. The House accepted its lot stoically, but its situation did not improve. On the contrary, after nearly three centuries of this, the Empress formally struck the House from the Imperial ledgers entirely, making sure that, among other things, the House lost its lands and would no longer get seats in the Deliberative.
The transformation that has taken place in the House over the intervening 450 years has left it unrecognizable. There was a time when House Iselsi was a burgeoning naval power with a veritable army of spies in the All-Seeing Eye. What little of the House remains in the public eye is nothing but a shadow its past glory.
Many of the Iselsi line were Immaculate martial artists and had long been supporters of the Immaculate Order, so it was not a stretch for the House’s elders to seek sanctuary in the Palace Sublime once the last of its familial lands had been stripped away.
Sanctuary was granted, and the House’s freefall seemed to slow, at least a bit. With a core household in the enormous, ancient Palace Sublime, the House at least had a safe place to live.
Safety, however, does not appear to be enough to save the Iselsi. Most observers give the House another few decades before the remains of the Iselsi no longer have enough substance to hold together.
MASTER OF THE HOUSE
House Iselsi is so splintered that it cannot be said to have any real guiding hand directing its operations. The nucleus of the House’s elders resides in the Palace Sublime, but those who really perform the House’s work are wanderers, offi cials and spies with any name but Iselsi. Most of those have made their way to the Threshold since the Empress’s disappearance. All households descended from the Iselsi line manage their own affairs. From time to time, elder Exalts in the Palace Sublime offer advice to their younger relatives located elsewhere, but these words have little weight and cannot be considered anything beyond suggestions.
In the Realm, there is only House Iselsi: sad, failing, lost. There were once three major households, but they’ve all grouped together behind the Iselsi name for numbers and safety.
In the Threshold, there is the Enuma household in Cherak and the Saraban operating out of Kirighast, but neither of those names would be associated with Iselsi. Both of these have become obsessive about preserving the purity of their blood and do not, under any circumstances, breed with mortals. While their numbers have shrunk, their Exaltation rate has gone up as their blood has grown more potent with the power of the Dragons.
Throughout most of its history, all Iselsi households were aspected toward Water. Since the shaming of the House, and the catch-as-catch-can betrothals that followed, the House has lost its purity of aspect. Now, many of the younger generation are Exalt ing toward Air and Wood, a phenomenon that would embarrass the House if it could sink any further. This dilution actually helps House Iselsi strategically, though, by allowing its members to pass as members of other Houses.
On the face of it, House Iselsi is a dying institution. It controls neither legions nor satrapies. It cannot openly run any business ventures. It has survived to whatever degree it has by associating itself with various para-religious organizations associated with the Immaculate Order. This is barely enough to support the House at the poverty level, but it works when combined with a few smalltime spying and discrete smuggling operations.
Most of the jade once controlled by House Iselsi was long ago transferred to the House’s “cover families” in Cherak and Kirighast.
Both families receive a small “diplomatic stipend” from the Realm, but they have a range of shipping and mercantile interests that bring them most of their money. The House also has spies throughout the Threshold. Those spies are perfectly happy to sell information they collect, but they’re just as happy to use the information they gather to further the House’s business interests.
GOALS AND ALLIANCES
The members of House Iselsi would like nothing more than to unify at this point. They have no power and too little standing to marry even into patrician families. Since the expected pardon of the House is unlikely ever to come now that the Empress has disappeared, there is increasingly less hope of ever regaining the standing of a full Dynastic House. The question now is how to safely get the last remaining desirable members of the House from the Palace Sublime to the Threshold without anyone catching on. With House Mnemon accruing power within the Immaculate Order on a seemingly daily basis, even the Mouth of Peace will soon have a hard time either preventing the Palace Sublime from being moved to the Imperial City or ensuring the safety of the remaining members of House Iselsi.
ILLUSTRIOUS DYNASTS OF THE HOUSE
The disgrace of House Iselsi is such that it cannot be considered to have any members who might be called “illustrious.” More often than not, those in the Iselsi lineage have changed their names to shed the infamy that follows the Iselsi name. Those fi gures who play key roles in the Iselsi’s situation now are mortal as often as Exalted.
Though not Exalted, Whitemane Vocal is a patrician and the governor of the town of Spider’s Crossing. He was placed in his position only shortly before the Empress disappeared. Vocal is the son of one of the Iselsi elders living in the Palace Sublime, and he is entirely devoted to House Iselsi. He fi ts in at Spider’s Crossing by assuming an accent, and he gathers what information he can for his family, although he has to be careful, lest he imperil his position.
Perhaps the most promising of the recently Exalted Iselsi, Moonrise is a ship’s captain, the daughter of a union between her mother, an Iselsi, and her father, a Peleps naval offi cer whom her mother seduced one night while he was drunk. The Iselsi ruse requires a great deal of running between Cherak, Kirighast and the Realm, and Moonrise is one of the most knowledgeable captains in the Inland Sea.
Unknown to all but a few, her ship has a pair of copper handles attached to the bottom of the hull. When she gets a good wind in her sails, Moonrise activates her anima, dives overboard and holds onto the handles as the ship pulls her through the churning sea.
That’s one of the ways she has learned the topography of the bottom of the Inland Sea. She has also used this trick a time or two to avoid Imperial inspectors with whom she did not want to speak.
Although the family’s situation is not great, particularly since the Empress’s disappearance, House Iselsi hasn’t been dismantled nearly as severely as outsiders have been led to believe.
Before the assassination attempt, House Iselsi had been one of the Empress’s favorites, in part because it provided her with the timeliest and most accurate information on what was going on in the Realm and in the Threshold alike. After the poorly planned attempt on her life by a coalition of rash young Dragon-Bloods from the House, there was little the Empress could do to save face but to make the House suffer long and slowly. Doing so made an object lesson of the House, for one thing. It also gave the Empress the opportunity to make some improvements to her intelligence-gathering abilities. All of those who were allegedly executed were high-ranking members of the All-Seeing Eye. Instead of being killed, as everyone believed, they were given new identities and shipped to distant places (some as far away as the Threshold) where they continued to serve as the Empress’s eyes and ears. Some members of House Iselsi, those the Empress was fond of, were given new identities and then made magistrates or archons.
This became a game for the Empress. She would strip House Iselsi of its rights and privileges on one hand and give members of the House enormous stipends or tracts of land in the Threshold on the other.
Many members of the House were just moved and made sleeper agents living in distant locales, just waiting for word from the Empress to collect information or destroy the enemies of the Scarlet Throne.
Key members of the House in the Palace Sublime are aware of the real situation, if not sure what to do, but they’ve carefully kept the truth from younger members of the House whose discretion they’re not certain of.
While the Empress was still ruling, the plan was to engineer some great act of redemption for the House and bring large portions of the family back into the light. With the disappearance of the one woman needed to make that happen, hope for the future of the House is much bleaker. Only the Empress, her Sidereal advisors and a few of her trusted magistrates knew the truth, and the plan for House Iselsi’s triumphant return is lost with her.
The other Houses, unfortunately, might not be so kindly disposed to the remnants of House Iselsi. All that keeps them from taking action against the House now is their concern that Iselsi spies—and assassins—could be hidden near them and ready to strike the moment they take hostile action against the House.
Luckily, House Iselsi has a solid presence in the Threshold, particularly in the satrapies that once belonged to them.
While they might have given up obvious and powerful positions, they still possess many key roles. Now, they just hold them under different identities. Many garrison commanders, ambassadors, monks and the like once wore the name Iselsi and still feel a bond of fealty to their family.
The House’s challenge now is to decide whether to attempt some last redemptive effort on its own or to give up the last trappings of being a Dynastic House and move to the Threshold, where those who blazed the trail have established a new household under another name.
At this point, more of House Iselsi has gone underground than remains in plain sight. Those who remain as visible symbols of the tragedy that has befallen House Iselsi are the less clever or trustworthy members of the House, and the tragic end of House Iselsi might be theirs to act out once the rest of the family has relocated to the Threshold.