When the great Shalteian empire collapsed, the region of Aria splintered between squabbling warlords and great houses vying for power and control over vast stretches fertile plain, lushly forested mountains laden heavy with a bounty of minerals and resources, and the great ports of the former Shalteian Merchant Admiralty. in the 200 years hence, small kingdoms rose and fell, but few could challenge the might of Lugard, Mrissa, and Laegen Mar.
Embroiled in a war of three kingdoms, peace was a scarce luxury until King Stephon of House Candon of Lugard, fortitudinous and wise, forged an alliance with the Marian King Adianous by marrying his younger sister, the compassionate Princess Dalia. Mrissa, unable to match the might of its united neighbors, largely ceased hostilities. Under this truce and the rule of King Stephon and Queen Dalia, for the first time in generations, an age of peace settled upon Aria, allowing trade to spread, arts and culture to flourish, and prosperity to enrich all those within this land.
Such is well known in the royal histories, and this new generation reaps the benefits, grown of these seeds of peace. However, dark clouds have appeared on the horizon. It has been neigh fifty years since there was last war between the three powers, but how much longer will it last? What will our heroes do, cast adrift on the storms of politics, intrigue, and the ever present historic ghost of war?
* * *
After setting aside their differences to survive a snow storm in the mountains, Gillam, an adventurous Lugardian guardsman, Erol, a reserved Mrissan guide, and Phaedra, a distrustful Marian scoundrel, found new employment with the lord of the city of Aaren, in WEstern Lugard.
When the town was attacked midway through their investigation, the trio took down the ring leader, only for his body to violently explode into flame when subdued. Meanwhile, a suspicious priest disappeared during the confusion, and it became clear that a minor Aarenian noble was somehow involved, though he, too had disappeared. Intrigued and worried by these events, the trio felt compelled to continue their investigation after realizing that there was more to the murder than had first appeared.
Through contacts, they found a character in an old tale whose fiery demise resembled their burning man. With this lead, they set out to find more information on this author, whom their learned contact suspected to be an Al’Qeri, a nomadic amphibious race whose rocky relations with settled terrestrials are only matched by their rarity.
The trio set out for the Great Marian capital port city of Trikala, but the journey was far from uneventful. A sudden flood destroyed their ship, and left them trudging through the wilderness, fighting for survival. Far from being rescued, when they reached civilization, they were drugged and captured by a slaver gang. After escaping and conducting a daring nighttime raid on the slavers to retrieve their effects, they finally reached the glorious city of Trikala, just in time for a week-long midsummer festival.
The Trio entered the city intent on finding information about the Al’Qeri, but they unknowingly stumbled into a three-way power struggle between the local criminal cartels, their backers in the assembly of nobles, and the royal family, especially the crown prince, Doukas. After surviving an assassination attempt and joining forces with their would-be assassin, the trio did manage to find a martial band of Al’Qeri, who had infiltrated the city on a mission of revenge and retrieval. Things got even more complicated when it turned out, after semi-accidentally killing ‘The Alpha’, a nobleman and leader of the Wolves, a powerful cartel, that both the Al’Qeri’s target, and the PC’s shadowy benefactor who had tipped them off to the assassin in the first place, was none other than prince Doukas himself.
With riots in the streets and gang wars raging in the alleys, the festivities were prematurely cancelled, with only a private, and heavily secured, banquet in the palace to end the week. With their new allies’ help, the Trio infiltrated the palace and posed as servants. They rescued a friend, secured an escape route, and all looked to be going smoothly until they came face to face with Doukas and his advisers alone in the royal apartments.
After some tense negotiations, Doukas convinced the trio to let him go, in exchange for an IOU, and the return of the Al’Qeri’s sacred plant. He also revealed his not-quite-so-evil-and-indeed-arguably-noble motivations for the massacre he had already set into motion. While the the party fled the city with the help of their Al’Qeri allies, a mob broke into the palace grounds and lynched a large segment of the city nobility, before Doukas, champion of the common people, calmed their wrath and consolidated power under the Royal family, effectively succeeding his father in the process. Vowing to break the power of the cartels (many of which were left without noble support), end slavery, fight corruption, and restore the Maritime glory of the United Marian League.
* * *
Erol, Gillam, Phaedra, along with Wendika, the assassin-turned-teacher, and Lingen, the errant minstrel, spent the rest of the summer as guests of the Al’Qeri. They located a grandson of the author they had searched for, and he, through meditative magics endemic to the Al’Qeri race, mentored Erol in the mystic arts while attempting to summon forth the ancestral memories of his grandfather. Phaedra studied the dueling arts with her new teacher, and Gillam became a local hero in the Marian village nearby, single-handedly apprehending a gang of horse-thieves, and was granted a steed as a reward for his efforts.
However, as often happens, tensions became strained after some Al’Qeri Herb-Gatherers were captured by an angry mob. The mob was reacting to the disappearance of a pair of village children, and, believing that the Al’Qeri had kidnapped them, they held the herbalists as hostages. The Al’Qeri, for their part, had no knowledge of the children’s whereabouts and begged for the intercession of our heroic Trio. Together, the party tracked the children’s trail into the forest, but became concerned when they found a scene of play gone awry, with large unknown animal tracks criss-crossing the clearing before heading north. They followed the tracks to a cave. An old bandit hideout, the cave was inhabited by a gaggle of large lizards, the largest as big as Gillam’s horse. After a desperate battle, the beast lay dead and twitching. The party solemnly gathered up the children’s remains, and returned t the village. The mob was heartbroken but grateful, and released the Al’Qeri hostages.
On their return, they were summoned to the Al’Qeri male’s chamber. He had succeeded in summoning forth his grandfather’s memories, but what his grandfather had to say was both fascinating and deeply troubling. He claimed that long ago, the Al’Qeri had been terrestrial, and relatively normal, and had maintained a great empire across the sea. However, that empire had been destroyed, and the inhabitants all but exterminated in a demonic invasion masterminded by Fear, a general of the Wight, that damned god who had been vanquished in the second war of heaven. Praying to the gods for deliverance, the survivors were saved, but at a high price. They were changed to superficially resemble their demon exterminators, so that they could pass through the demonic ranks and escape, were given aquatic affinity so as aid their escape by sea, and were given long memory so as to never forget. The story of the burning man was both an allegory and history. The man in the story was taken to be the first indication of the coming invasion, a sign the ancient Al’Qeri had disregarded, and, divided and squabbling amongst themselves, had paid dearly for.
* * *
Bearing this dire warning, Our heroes returned to Aaren, negotiating passage on a passing trade vessel. Mahala, a most unusually extroverted and martially-gifted Al’Qeri deciding to accompany them, much to her father’s dismay. Their warning was received with skepticism. After all, the tale was but one report, and thousands of years old. Besides, there had been no mentions of demonic invasions led by servants of the Wight, in all the hundreds of years of records from historians and empires past.
Perrol, the lord’s adviser and resident scholar tempered their skepticism. He pointed out that within his circles there is ample evidence for a massive purge of material records for a span of years some six hundred seventy years prior. One of the few surviving texts from that period was a fragment of the order to purge the information, it stipulated that records be burned, and for noone to speak of, on pain of death, the events of the previous decade. This was to be done, “For the hope that our children be shielded by a veil of ignorance.” The Al’Qeri mentioned that the invasion had come from within, as countrymen turned on each other in panic, and changing into demons themselves. Perhaps, Perrol reasoned, the purge was meant to erase the knowledge of such an event from memory. After all, one cannot be afraid of what one doesn’t know exist.
The Lord of Aaren and his other cabinet remained skeptical, but rewarded our heroes for their efforts, and bid them rest and take respite from their three months away from home.
* * *
Having heard rumors of a sighting of the missing Aarenian Noble from the Sallen murder investigation in the Northern indistrual city of Kohlen, emissaries were sent to secure the cooperation of the local authorities and locate the man. Unfortunately, old rivalries between the ruling families of Aaren and Kohlen meant that the delegation was rebuffed quite thoroughly, and returned empty-handed. And so a scheme was hatched to have the Trio infiltrate Kohlen, posing as merchants, and investigate the affair. While the Trio made it into the city without much difficulty, the plan began to go off the rails almost immediately.
The city was under martial law. Trade upheavals caused by the political instability downriver in Trikala had stymied exports, leading to a sharp fall in resource demands, and a falling out between a large population of poor miners, and the mine owners, who were refusing to pay them for work that didn’t need doing. when the miners’ leader came up dead, a riot broke out, resulting in, among other things, the entire mining quarter being blockaded, cut off from the outside world.