War of the Burning Sky
Rumors of the Emperor’s unexpected death have spread like wildfire. Drakus Coaltongue was thought to be immortal and his sudden demise three and a half weeks ago has left the region in turmoil. During this time of uncertainty and anxiety, Ragesia is securing her borders in order to quell the rising fear. To her east lay Gate Pass, a city-state built within a craggy mountain pass. Situated between the orc-majority Empire of Ragesia and the Eladrin nation of Shahalesti, Gate Pass remains neutral. But that neutrality may soon be put to the test.
Many travelers to the free city have reported seeing a massing army preparing for war, while others scoff and say it is merely to secure the peace. Regardless, the New Years celebrations will likely be subdued this year. The Festival of Dreams, a Gate Pass tradition, is but three days away. The festival is typically marked by parades and music, but this year, it will undoubtedly be quiet. But one ceremony will not be missed. It is tradition to write a prayer or hope on a slip of paper and place it in an urn on a nearby bluff. On New Years Day, the High Priests select one urn and reveal the prayer, blessing that it might come to pass. In previous years, a plentiful harvest or a new love were wished for, but this year, all hearts and minds look to peace and safety.
As you go about your day, the city seems on edge, as if the citizens have taken a deep breath and are waiting to exhale. Most folk walk around with their heads down, murmuring to themselves. Even the jovial public houses have turned dour and depressing. In one of the lower-class neighborhoods near the West Gate, Viv Finner and her husband Trehan, proprietors of the Poison Apple Pub, are frightened. Everyone knew Trehan was a magus. They knew it as much from the twinkle in his eye and his perpetual smirk as they did from the fact that he could put a rowdy customer to sleep with a handful of dust. But no one seemed to mind. Most Gate Passers didn’t trust magi as a group, but just about everybody who knew Trehan Finner liked him.
With your hands cupping a warm mug of cider, you look up at Trehan and smile. He returns the smile and winks, carefully wiping down the bar with a stained rag. He leans in and mumbles something to you and your heart sinks.
“So, it’s true?” you ask, not wanting to believe the rumors.
“Aye, our councilmember told Viv this morning that Governor Hunt had approved the measure. You know what that means for the both of us, yes?”
With a look of dismay and disgust, you nod your head. Merrick Hunt, the recently appointed Governor of Gate Pass was a half-orc and had tried to maintain a warm relationship with Ragesia. Shortly after Coaltongue’s death, the magic-wielders in Gate Pass began to hear rumors of an unsavory nature. In order to maintain peace, Ragesia wanted to sequester all users of magic in one place. It was deemed a precautionary measure, but to those trained in the arcane arts, it was a preemptive strike. Now it seemed the council, and the Governor, were trying to appease the Ragesians, but at what cost? Surely they could see that this was folly?!
“The Scourge is upon us! What shall we do?” you ask, trying to hide the slight tremble in your hand by clenching your fist.
“The Inquisitors are not yet in the city, but once they are, may the gods help us. I’ve spoken with some of the others and we…” Trehan trails off as the door swings open and a hush falls over the Poison Apple.
Four men dressed in dark leather armor and winter cloaks step into the dim drinking room, surveying the crowd of onlookers. Their leader, a tall human, removes his gloves and steps up to the bar while the others take up positions behind him.
“Trehan, I would ask you to come willingly. We are not here to cause trouble, we are only carrying out our orders.”
“Aye, Kathor…orders.” Trehan shakes his head in disgust and turns to kiss his wife, who stands defiantly next to her husband.
You do not make eye contact with Kathor, but from the corner of your eye, you see he wears grey plate armor, worn from many battles and marked with symbols of honor. His eyes have a piercing darkness, like a judge laying sentence. A broken helm, cloven in the face, is strapped to his waist.
Viv bids her husband a quick return and takes his position behind the bar, scowling defiantly all the while.
Kathor takes Trehan by the arm, and leads him out into the cold winter air. He turns for a last glimpse of his wife his eyes meet yours. He mouths a word and is pulled firmly through the doorway.
One of the guards happens to notice the exchange and stares at you as you pretend to look away, nonchalantly. You look at Viv and she remains stoic, although her eyes are moist and her chin quivers. The guard steps outside, whispering to his fellows and reenters the pub, his hand on a hardwood baton strapped to his belt. He approaches you and Viv shoots you a quick glance. A heavy hand on your shoulder spins you around on your barstool and his fetid breath causes you to flinch.
“Perhaps you should come with us as well. ‘Tis but a few questions we have and before long you’ll be right back here.”