War of Fire and Ice

As Winter Turns
War Comes to Neradia

As the season turns, the weather takes a sudden chill turn, and the sky darkens as the grip of winter intensifies. Worry rises as regular channels of communication between nations cease like a candle suddenly snuffed. Slowly, throughout the lands claimed by the Ragesian Empire, rumors spread between isolated villages, traveling by foot and horse and word of mouth—rumors that Drakus Coaltongue, the immortal emperor whose armies conquered every land he set his gaze upon, has fallen in a distant land to the west. How the tyrant was defeated is unknown, but if it is true, everyone knows that a war is coming. The generals of Emperor Coaltongue will strike for control, oppressed peoples will rise up in rebellion, and dangers once held in check only by fear of the mighty warlord will bring doom to the world.

Those in power are preparing for the coming conflict, readying fervent armies and powerful weapons and subtle, deceptive plots, but two questions burn in their minds: who killed the seemingly-immortal Emperor Coaltongue; and what has become of the artifact that would let a man rule the world? Who has the Torch of the Burning Sky?

Gate Pass

Gate Pass lies in a mountain pass stretching many miles west to east, though it is seldom more than a mile wide north to south. Over the years, it has been controlled by both nations that border it — Ragesia and Shahalesti — until a few decades ago the natives drove out the Ragesians and negotiated their city as neutral ground. Because of this repeated history of occupation, the city is a fortress built in patchwork over many decades. High walls surround Gate Pass on all sides, and the city is divided into twenty-seven districts, each separated by a wall with a well-defended gate. A single main road stretches through the city — the Emelk Way — passing through each district and gate. Because of cramped space, nearly every building in the city is at least two stories, and in wealthier districts, skybridges connect clusters of buildings owned by rich merchants. Walking under a gate is generally seen as good luck in the city, and people view the arches created by skybridges as gateways. At the highest point of the city’s center is the Grand Square, where forty years ago the emperor of Ragesia erected a ninety-foot high statue of himself. When the city drove out the Ragesians they kept the statue as a trophy, and it is the victim of regular defacement.

The city is torn by the current events. Many practitioners of the arcane arts provide useful services to the community, helping defense and construction, and even presiding over religious services. However, when given the choice between being conquered and handing over their neighbors, most of Gate Pass is more interested in protecting the greater good, which as they see it means protecting themselves. Indeed, many in the city have grown to resent the city’s wizards for being the cause of their problems, to the point that the city council has decreed that magic-users should turn themselves over to the city guard, and no one is being allowed to leave the city unless on official business. Under orders from the city council, the city guard is to take any mage they find into custody, and deliver them to a temporary holding facility in a repurposed mansion in the city center. The major opponents of this are Gabal and his wizard’s school. Gabal and his red-robed students have publicly and angrily criticized the city for their cowardice, and have vowed to resist any attempt to remove them, be it by Ragesia or Gate Pass. Gabal was a hero in the original resistance against Ragesia forty years ago, and he insists that Ragesia intends to conquer Gate Pass for good. He has proclaimed Leska’s Inquisitors to be a ‘Scourge’ against all magic users, and such is his sway that the term has caught on among the common citizens. Most of the city believes (or at least claims to believe) that the Scourge is only intended to capture those responsible for killing the emperor, and that those who pose no threat to Ragesia will be left unharmed. Thus, many think Gabal is simply a troublemaker who wants a fight so he can relive the glory days of his youth. However, the city guard has so far chosen to let Gabal and his students do as they will, afraid of their power.

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Hunger of the Earth

Gramercy: 500xp apiece, the Coat of Eyes, crystal residuum(200gp), 50 gold coins apiece in payment from the merchant of Minoki.

Hunger, lord of seven hells
Wherein the single Serpent dwells,
With volumes drawn from pit to pit
Through fire and darkness infinite —
Hunger, sun of nether skies,
Thine ancient evil never dies,
For aye thy somber fulgors flame
On sunken worlds that have no name,
Man’s heart enthrones thee, still supreme,
Though the false sorcerers blaspheme.

Stepping carefully, Hours Len Braidpath, Driemz Darkblade, Ares, and Geth Corvine entered the fanged cave, muttering amongst themselves at the sudden inexcusable absence of Igby the Bard, whose attention had been diverted by a passing sparrow. The explorers’ steps were echoed by the faint droning chant that seemed to drift upon the night air. Ahead, red light could be seen, a light that upon investigation of the twisting passage proved to be a hall of eerie glyphs that scrawled across the walls as in constant uncertain movement.

A swirling mass of burning crimson lines covered the floor. The patterns slithered and shifted like a nest of vipers, and as they gazed upon this eldritch sight, they could hear strange whispers in the backs of their minds, voices cajoling, pleadings, warning… all manner of emotion intense and disconnected. It required a certain amount of concentration and self possession to sort through this psychic chaff, even to prevent it from overwhelming an overwrought brain, and Ares was unable to do so, for his religious mind was too vulnerable to the horrid implications of this place. For indeed, these glyphs represented all that remained of hundreds of people who had fallen victim to the insatiable Hunger that plagued this land, not even left with souls but mere echoes of an existence that was now nearly as if it had never been.

Further, the natural, unworked stone suddenly gave way to a chamber crudely hewn into regular dimensions. Here was another glyph, a swirling mass of burning crimson lines covered the floor. The patterns slithered and shifted like a nest of vipers, and as they gazed upon this eldritch sight, they could hear strange whispers in the backs of their minds, voices cajoling, pleadings, warning… all manner of emotion intense and disconnected. The red glyph guarded an alcove wherein lurked shadowy winged figures. The elf Driemz attempted to obscure the power of the glowing shapes with his powers of darkness, but as he stepped forward he was overcome by the crush of voices and he raised a weapon against his will and aimed at Geth Corvine! The fighter easily avoided the attack and Driemz soon came to his senses, but all were now convinced of some worthy treasure hiding beyond, so the fighter, the seeker and the sorcerer all leaped across the accursed space and found old worn statues of dragons with crystal shards embedded in their dorsal spines.
Finally, the four brave delvers came to what sounded like the source of the mad deep chanting, for the noise grew louder still. The tunnel opened into a wide cavern chamber whose walls were painted with pictures of eyes and savage acts of sacrifice. However, far more horrific than these images was the massive living eye embedded in the wall directly across the pit like, column filled room. A great golden orb set with twin pupils and a cold, alien gaze like a dragon that had lost its mind. The cavern floor beneath this monstrous apparition was a mottled patch of rough stone. Beneath the living idol, a foul orcish cleric lead a group of human and orc villagers in a dark rite. Glowing red sigils flowed across its gray skin—a match to the markings on the walls of the hall of living words.

Where the kneeling villagers’ clothes have been stripped off, all bear extra inhuman eyes embedded in their flesh. As the cultists moan and chant, each waves a curved, glittering blade chipped from volcanic glass.

A vicious battle ensued, ending with [[:geth]making a flying leap into the ichor bleeding baleful eye and burying his full blade within it, showering himself with gore. A narrow and sheer passage like a gullet was discovered within the stone socket of the baleful eye.

Clambering along the rough, narrow passage seemed unpleasantly akin to climbing down the throat of some great beast. The walls were studded with glowing crystal shards. The intruders were forced to walk single file, and in some places to squeeze through narrow gaps. The shaft twisted and turned, but always it descended—and the farther they went, the stranger it became. There was felt a terrible chill, although breath dis not freeze in the air. Whispers twisted —mad voices that faded as soon as the words were heard. The stone of walls and floor grew soft and spongy. This narrow twisting path was lit by pale lumps of glowing crystal. The floor became a strange thing, mottled and soft, sticky even, more flesh than stone. Then, as Geth stepped too closely, the treacherous floor suddenly gaped wide, a maw filled with crystalline teeth snapped at his legs! It was only after some brave leaping that the delvers came to a sudden opening of stone.

There, Torraash, Reeve of Blackroot awaited his foes, flanked by minions, holding the helpless form of Dorik the Mad as hostage, and guarded by a floating orb: one large eye over a gaping slavering maw, framed by tentacles each with its own blinking eye. A small beholder!

The battle was joined! The eyes of the beholder were as terrifying as legend had told, even this stunted specimen, for Geth and Driemz were driven to attack their friends and sent fleeing in terror, back across the crystalline maws in the corridor behind. The beholder slavered cruelly as it did its work, protected by the mighty iron fists of Torraash, who was protected by the Coat of Eyes. The brave explorers of an hour before became desperate fighters, praying for survival.
And then it was over. The wounded monk Dorik the Mad was revived, wild bearded and glassy eyed, he raved of prophecy and vision, but soon calmed under the stern administration of Ares’ clerical skills.

Emerging from the mountain of madness to face a lightening sky, the party wasted no time in heading south, avoiding the village and making their way by most direct route to Gate Pass. Unfortunately, an early frost and icy slowed their travel, and it was a long four weeks later, in the month of Winter’s Finding that the road weary group straggled into Gate Pass. The travelers felt lucky to be home, for tidings of war rode swift upon the wings of rumor.

...the story continues on the occasion of the Festival of Dreams a midwinter celebration that marks the beginning of the Free City’s independence.

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The Eye of Hunger
In the Lands of the Orcs
They were a ragged group of wayward souls who had traveled for two weeks through high plateau of eastern Ragesia, seeking a an even more wayward character, a monk named Dorik, who had made pilgrimage to this desolate corner of the world, a place called Blackroot. They had gathered in Free City of Gate Pass, given diplomatic “Letters of Marque” and sent forth by one Sir Eadan of House Minoki, a merchant of that city who promised each the substantial sum of 50 gold coins for what was described as a simple escort service. The travelers had gotten to know each other somewhat well during their uneventful travel, but the logic of Sir Eadan’s selection remained inscrutable, for they were quite an eclectic group. Who can know the minds of merchants? But perhaps these talents would prove complimentary…. The party consisted of the warrior Geth Corvine, the mysterious archer Hours Len Braidpath, Igby the Bard, Ares the Cleric, and a sorcerer called Driemz Darkblade.
Their journey through the windswept steppe of central Ragesia had left their faces wind burned and their cloaks whipped ragged. Clouds scudded across the sky, forecasting winter, and the air was thin and cold. Blackroot was a village administered by the orc clans that swept out of the glacial north under the direction of the Emperor Coaltongue many decades ago. The travelers were glad they were carrying diplomatic traveling papers, but they remained nervous as to their efficacy. Orcs may indeed be the most slow witted of Moradin’s creations, but they are vicious when they think they’ve been fooled.

The sun was beginning to set when the settlement finally came into view. Like most villages in the high plateau, this small community would have few amenities. The steppe was vast, and far from authority. In these places the village reeve was responsible for administering justice in the local region, which made him a king in all but name.

Blackroot drew its name from the darkwood trees that thrived in the region, their gnarled limbs bent in fealty to the all powerful wind. The village sat in the windward shadow of a rocky outcrop. Orcs, humans, and half-orcs worked together in the fields, eking what they can out of the ground, and ranging far and wide with their flocks of goats. The villagers seemed like the Blackroot trees, permanently bent by an omnipresent force. None of them seem particularly pleased to see strangers. It seemed that many of the huts were unoccupied, judging by which chimneys were spitting pale smoke into the biting wind.

As they neared the main drag, a looming, muscular orc wearing a fur trimmed hat walked out to me the weary travelers. His skin was weathered, and streaks of gray could be seen in his stringy black hair. He bore no weapons and wore loose peasant clothing, but he carried himself with confidence and quiet strength. “Greetings,” said the tusked savage. “I am Toraash’Dorrm, Reeve of Blackroot. I don’t know what brings you here, but we’ve no inn, no tavern, and no time for strangers. I suggest you move on.”
Then the travelers spoke to the orc, showing him the rights of passage bestow by the papers they carried, and asking after their charge, Dorik the Monk. The Reeve of Blackroot inspected the papers, reading them carefully, then grunted something derogatory but vaguely respectful about Gate Pass and said, “Your time will come again, southerners, when Coaltongue finishes his business at Castle Korstull.” Then the savage official told them the visitors that Dorik had left town recently, but that they were welcome to visit his hut, and even sleep there, as long as they left by morninglight.”

Geth Corvine did not believe the orc’s words, and nodded to his friends.

At the hut, the party quickly took to investigating, for it was obvious that this was a household left in haste and perhaps under duress. Driemz found a pendant like a glass eye-ball and a fragment of verse.

When madness and night align
And innocent blood waters the dark tree
The noble soul must claim the Coat of Eyes
And bear this burden for the good of all.

“The Eye of Hunger!” said Ares. “I have read of this in book of Mithras and Danzig.
Hours Len Braidpath felt the vague vibrations of a disturbance in the natural world surge as the sun dropped below the horizon. He looked out the window and saw the gibbous moon arising behind the black upthrust of rock the shielded the town from the wind. “There!” said the fey creature.

Making their way up to this sinister rock, the party found a well worn but hidden pathway amongst the scree fields, coming finally to a cave flanked by Blackroot trees and guarded by two orcish farmers and two cowled miscreants hidden in the trees. Diplomacy quickly turned to war, and the visitors proved themselves a force to be reckoned with.

The cultists who had fallen were cultists indeed for their cowls hid strange disfigurations: boils on their faces and hands that looked like eyes. They wore Eyeball Pendants under their cloaks, and they bore strange daggers of black obsidian.

The cave yawned more darkly in the waning light of dusk. Enter, if you dare. A deep throbbing chant could hardly be heard, drifting on the air…

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Welcome to the War of the Burning Sky
The Adventures Begin

You are a ragged group of wayward souls who have travelled for two weeks through high plateau of eastern Ragesia, seeking a an even more wayward character, a monk named Dorik, who had made pilgrimage to this desolate corner of the world, a place called Blackroot. You were gathered Free City of Gate Pass, given diplomatic “Letters of Marque” and sent forth by one Sir Eadan of House Minoki, a merchant of that city who has promised you each the substantial sum of 50 gold coins for what was described as a simple escort service. You have gotten to know each other somewhat well during your uneventful travel, but the logic of Sir Eadan’s selection remains inscrutable, for you are quite an eclectic group. Who can know the minds of merchants? But perhaps your talents will prove complimentary.

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