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.
Rather than dwell on the frustrating tension and sense of helplessness, you hunt. It has always been a release for you. The smell of the woods and earth, the quiet stalk and the wonderful meal afterwards, all serve to reinvigorate you. Since that chance meeting while on a hunt last year, the two of you have been inseparable. You’ve certainly had your share of disagreements, but you have grown to respect and understand one another, starkly different though you may be. And those differences have served to make you greater than the sum of your parts.
This cold morning, you began a stalk before dawn. The scat and tracks are fresh and easy to follow. Within an hour, a dark-coated deer is spotted by the keen-sighted Aramar and after an all-too-short hunt, the deer is down and bled. Torgar hums as he pulls the warm hide from the meat, deftly separating it with a honed blade. Aramar preferred to hang the carcass to skin it, but Torgar would have nothing of it. In a semi-squat, he works close to the ground.
Aramar could hear the wagon approaching and warns the dwarf to stay down. The pair watch in interest as the four men approach, clothed all in black.
“Bounty hunters!” blurts Torgar, ducking lower. He was familiar with this particular group, having seen them around Gate Pass.
“There’s someone in the wagon, a prisoner!” mutters Aramar, “He’s unconscious and bound. Perhaps we should let them pass…”
“Aye, let them pass…”whispers Torgar.
Much to their dismay, the wagon is stopped in the copse of trees, not thirty feet from them. One of the men picks up the prisoner and dumps them unceremoniously into a small snow bank. The other men laugh as the prisoner groans and begins to stir.
“Quickly, let us return to the homefires before we freeze! Boreus and his lot will find her here.” Chuckles one of the men.
“But what if she freezes to death out here?”
“I don’t think that matters much to Boreus!” the men burst out in laughter.
“The cruel dogs!” hisses Aramar, the frosty breath boiling from his mouth.
One of the men glances over towards their hiding place and Torgar stiffens, fearful that they have been spotted!