War of the Burning Sky
For years, wealthy noble families throughout the region, especially in Sindaire, suffered under Emperor Coaltongue’s rule. In the summer of the last year, Lord Pietr Gorquith organized this disapproval into an outright rebellion. The rebellious nobles were smart enough to realize, however, that Coaltongue’s military might surpassed anything they could field, so instead of warring outright, they fought with subterfuge and politics. Shipments were delayed or rerouted from military garrisons to disgruntled peasants, threats were made to Coaltongue’s supporters, and pledges were made to stand together when the time came; soon even the Exarch – the national leader installed by Coaltongue’s orders – feared that he could no longer tell whom he could trust.
The Old Dragon’s foes assumed his only strength was in martial warfare, but in truth he was also cunning: he decreed that every noble family would offer up a son or daughter to serve in the armies of Ragesia’s heartland, far from the safety of Sindaire. The loyal noble families readily complied, whereas many among the rebellion hesitated or balked. Confident he had weeded out enough of his opponents, the emperor ordered his garrisons to arrest the rebels. Some tried to fight, and they fled in force to the highly defensible Castle Korstull in the badlands of central Sindaire, which had itself once served as a Ragesian fortress when Coaltongue first attacked Sindaire sixty years ago, before the nation pledged fealty to Ragesia.
On a morning in late fall, Emperor Coaltongue called together his loyal First Army and mustered the ten thousand men and their many beasts of war on a broad field outside the Ragesian capital. With him he had brought the son of one of the Sindairese rebels, shackled and held fast in the clawed grip of two skull-masked inquisitors. Holding aloft the Torch of the Burning Sky, the emperor roared to his men that they would put down this challenge to their authority, this insult to their invincible might. The tip of the Torch began to flicker with fire, and then, with a strike that caved in the skull of the rebel son, the flames flared to blinding brilliance. The sky roared, and an inferno descended upon the army, engulfing them and carrying them through the burning sky to the gates of Castle Korstull.
Emperor Coaltongue dined that evening in the castle’s throne room.
That night, however, as the emperor slept soundly with the satisfaction of his victory, a trio of assassins struck. Avoiding or striking down every guard, defeating every magical and mundane defense that protected Coaltongue, the assassins managed to reach the emperor’s bedchambers, located behind the throne room. Vile poison struck down Darius, one of his inquisitor bodyguards, but not before Darius sounded an alarm. The assassins slew the emperor before he woke, and then, bearing the emperor’s body and the Torch, they battled their way to within sight of the open sky and activated the Torch, teleporting away.
But somehow the assassins sabotaged the Torch’s power: when they vanished, they left behind a rift in the fabric of reality, crossing the Astral Plane, the Plane of Elemental Fire and the Negative Energy Plane. Within moments the castle and miles around it were engulfed in flames, and all those slain by the blaze were infused with necromantic energy, soon to rise as undead. Only Darius survived, protected by the wards on Coaltongue’s throne room, but the assassins’ poison seared his mind as the rift incinerated his comrades, and he lay in a nightmare-wracked fever for days. Now he survives in the emperor’s chambers, barely aware of who he is, or that he alone holds the secret to the Torch’s fate.
Now, the firestorm created by the rift drifts for miles in every direction, raining liquid flame upon the land, turning anything it slays into undead. In the months since Coaltongue’s defeat, many have tried to reach the heart of the firestorm, where a burning pillar ascends into the heavens, but until the heroes from Seaquen undertook the quest for the Torch, none had emerged.
Meanwhile, within the castle, a strange heirarchy had emerged. Though most of the undead retained only the faintest sliver of a mind, they still obeyed the commands of those creatures whose spirits were strong enough to survive their deaths. After the disaster struck, the castle was commanded by Inquisitor Griiat, once one of Coaltongue’s bodyguards. Since his death he had learned to draw divine magic from the power of the planar rift, and viewed it as his maker, almost his god, which he called the Dark Pyre. Griiat was cursed, however, to remain in the castle until he was released from his duty, which he failed when he allowed the emperor to die, and so without the intervention of those from the outside, the spectral inquisitor and all his undead minions would have remained in the castle for eternity.
Griiat was destroyed during the heroes’ exploration of Castle Korstull.