During the early part of his reign, Tortaalik is portrayed mostly positively by Paarfi: although the Emperor was manipulated by Garland into banning Adron from court, with the help of Wellborn, Tortaalik discovered Garland's ploy and sent Garland to Redface with an apology.
When Khaavren and his companions were arrested after negotiating the Treaty of the Pepperfields, they were brought back to Dragaera City and imprisoned. It is only through the guile of Pel, and the intervention of G'aereth and Jenicor e'Terics that the companions are given the chance to testify "under the Orb" in an attempt to prove their innocence. Tortaalik allowed his corrupt Warlord, Lytra, to conduct the examination of Khaavren; and Lytra attempted to limit her questions to the supposed murder of Shaltre, to avoid exposing the circumstances of her own involvement with Seodra.
Tortaalik eventually ordered the expansion of the inquiry, however, and thus learned of Seodra's treachery, Lytra's plotting, and the treaty itself. The Emperor acted decisively, ordering the arrest of Seodra, pardoning Lytra because she had acted nobly during the investigation, and freeing Khaavren and his companions with compliments on their excellent service to the Empire.
Some five hundred and thirty-two years later, Tortaalik's character had changed somewhat, and the Phoenix had begun to fall into decadence and over-indulgent vanity.
Sometime between The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After, Tortaalik mismanaged the White Goblet affair, which had forced him to banish his sister. As a result, he grew melancholy and withdrawn, and began to focus on recreation instead of ruling. Wellborn, the Imperial Discreet who had so ably assisted Tortaalik, retired, and Jurabin became Prime Minister, largely taking over the day-to-day management of the Empire's affairs.
Paarfi revealed much information about Tortaalik; his mode of dress (seven to eleven changes of clothing per day), the painting of his fingers, ears, and forehead; his unbending palace routine. Once Greycat's conspiracy started to result in the deaths of his advisors, one-by-one, Tortaalik wisely promoted Khaavren to be Captain of the Guard and summoned Sethra Lavode to assist in the investigation. However, Tortaalik had let the crisis reach too difficult of a level, with the droughts, war in the East, rebellions, and disagreements between the Great Houses on the portions of the Imperial Allotment.
Caught up once again in palace intrigue, partly the result of the arrival of Aliera and the consort's machinations, Tortaalik eventually came into direct conflict with Adron e'Kieron. Sethra conceived a compromise that would avert war: she proposed that Tortaalik step down, Adron renounce his position as Dragon Heir, and a new Dragon Emperor be chosen. Sethra did not believe Tortaalik would agree to this plan, but she thought he should be given a chance to step down gracefully before he was forcibly removed.
Upon learning of this proposal, Tortaalik seethed with rage, ordered Sethra and Aliera from his presence, and made plans to crush Adron for his insolence. The Lavodes were of a mind to join with Adron, but after Sethra informed them that Adron might use Elder Sorcery against the orb, they resolved to fight for Tortaalik without any further reservation.
The battle that followed, with Adron's Breath of Fire Battalion and his powerful Elder Sorcery on one side, against the Imperial Army, Khaavren and his companions, Nyleth and the Wizard corps, and the Lavodes on the other, culminated in Tortaalik's death at the hands of Mario and the explosion of amorphia that devoured Dragaera City and ushered in the interregnum.
Tortaalik's soul rests in the Paths of the Dead, awaiting a time when the Gods may recall him to serve the Empire in some form or other. Paarfi mentions that Noima bore Tortaalik a child, but it is not known if the child survived the disaster.
It is mentioned by Vlad Taltos that Zerika the Fourth retrieved the Orb from the "shade of the dead emperor". Presumably this was Tortaalik, although this encounter is not described by Paarfi in The Paths of the Dead.