1 Deepwinter 459 (New Year’s Day)
“Trehann Finner, owner of the Poison Apple Pub, has been taken into temporary custody under the protection of the city guard, until such time that he can be questioned by representatives of the Ragesian Empire, and found innocent of hostile collusion. The Poison Apple Pub is hereby closed until further notice.”
Charmalina’s lips moved as she sounded out the words. Some of them were strange, but the meaning was clear.
The pub was closed.
The pretty swordswoman behind her let loose with a vile invective, and the halfling clearly heard the word “Ragesian” buried in there somewhere. A murmur ran through the group as they gathered close. Only her brother seemed relatively unaffected by the revelation, focusing instead on the shadowed street as it stretched either direction into the night. Charm grinned and rolled her eyes. He was always on edge.
Heedless of his diminuative companion’s amusement, Elessar Heartsblood, devoted champion of Holy Thaeos and sworn knight of the Sacred Blade, squinted slightly at the scrawled message pinned to the pub’s main entryway. A glance to either side showed that steps had been taken to secure the property, the doors and windows boarded shut. There were no obvious signs of life in or about the tavern. Straigtening up, he tossed a curious glance at his brother-in-faith, Joshua. The young cleric stood quietly in the party’s midst, towering head-and-shoulders above most of his erstwhile teammates.
Elessar cleared his throat. “Are you sure this is the place?”
Joshua nodded. “There’s a door in the alley,” he said, his clear baritone echoing slightly between the buildings. Setting action to words, the massive cleric turned quickly to one side and led the group across slush-coated cobbles to a narrow passage along the east side of the pub. A sputtering lantern suspended from a building across the street did little to dispel the deep shadows of the cramped alleyway, but the priest had no difficulty locating the narrow entrance. With a single glance around him, verifying that his motley assortment of would-be insurgents had managed to remove themselves completely from the road, Joshua rapped on the door a couple of times with his heavy boot. A moment passed, and the door finally opened.
The pale-haired young woman they’d been sent to meet took a moment to study the group before opening the door wide, motioning for them to enter. The tavern within was a little dingy and very rustic. Chairs and tables had been stacked against the wall and covered with sheets. A tiny lamp struggled to light the corners of the room from atop a single, centrally-located wooden table. A small keg of ale was situated alongside it, surrounded by a half-dozen mugs. A similar number of chairs were arrayed nearby. The woman moved to the table and started pouring drinks. Somehow, even this simple movement spoke of endless determination. Bits of sea-green plating were visible beneath her cloak, and a wicked-looking battleaxe was strapped across her back.
“There are more of you than I was anticipating,” she offered. Her voice carried a pleasant lilt more commonly heard in the hills of distant Sindaire.
Joshua grunted, glancing at the irrepressible young halfling who was already eying the cask of ale. “More than I was anticipating,” he echoed, but offered no further explanation for the cryptic comment. The woman smiled and nodded, motioning toward the table.
“I’m Tempest,” she added, taking a seat. “Please, have a drink. Just because we’re about to go to war doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the new year.”
Gathered about a table at the Poison Apple Pub, located in a poorer district of Gate Pass about a mile from the city’s western wall, Joshua, Jasmine, Elessar, Derek, Basil, Arlyn, Charm and Torrent discuss the fate of their city, and how they might forstall it or even turn back the Ragesian tide. Torrent explains that a number of fools on the city council are pushing to allow Ragesian inquisitors, agents of the dreaded Scourge that threatens to destroy every mage and cleric who fails to prove loyal to the empire, to bring their witch-hunt into the ciy. The Resistance, with whom most of those assembled are loosely affiliated, considers any cooperation with Ragesia just a huge step toward further subjugation. But Ragesia’s armies are sizeable, and Gate Pass cannot hope to hold them back for long.
The wizards’ academy of Lyceum, due south in the distant port city of Seaquen, has announced its intention to resist the Ragesian Scourge, calling for those who would fight to flock to its banners. The Resistance wishes to seize the opportunity to establish an alliance with the mages, hoping to bring the forces of Seaquen and Lyceum itself to the aid of its disant cousin to the north. Torrent asks that the party undertake this mission, after they retrieve some vital Ragesian intelligence from an agent expecting to meet his contact less than an hour hence.
Just as the party reaches a consensus regarding their approach, an ambush occurs. Arlyn and Jasmine note the presence of someone traversing the upper story just moments before the front door disintegrates into splinters beneath the weight of an enemy battering ram. Ragesian thugs make their way into the room, demanding the heroes’ surrender. The first of them falls beneath the wooden table itself as Joshua brings it crashing down onto his head. Jasmine, Elessar and the halflings make their way quickly toward the stairs, as Basil slides over to the far side of the door, plunging his rapier expertly into the back of one of the attackers as he steps through the wreckage.
In the stairwell, Elessar is brought up short by the appearance of yet another pair of Ragesians. As he closes with the first of them, Jasmine leaps nimbly atop the narrow bannister and drops between the two assailants, shoving one of them deftly in the paladin’s direction with a well-placed kick. The other proves less cooperative, and the two of them are soon grappling in the stairwell. Joshua, meanwhile, slips through the ruins of the front door and out into the street to confront their leader, a swordsman standing idly by on the far side of the road.
Just then, an explosion shatters the night. Fiery timbers sail from the upper story as it is suddenly reduced to kindling. Combatants in the tavern below find themselves dodging trails of fiery oil streaming down from above. They finish their battles quickly, recognizing the need for a hasty retreat from the failing premises.
The Ragesian captain orders his remaining thugs to retreat, apparently unwilling to suffer any further losses, and disappears into the night.