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 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.