You awaken in the wee hours of the morning. As your eyes adjust to the dark room, you become aware of a faint, flickering orange glow through your shutters. You lay there for a time and become aware of the smell of smoke. Fully awake now, you realize something must be burning outside! Jumping to your feet you go to your door, opening it to the freezing air outside.
A building is burning a block to the southwest! A plume of smoke arises from a smoldering ruin. Standing in the middle of the street is a man in full armor, a tattered-looking cloak swaying in the chill breeze. His back is to you, his eyes turned towards a group of people coming down the street to the east and heading towards the Castle District. Four more men in armor matching the first are leading a line of six tieflings, shackled to each other.
What is going on?
“These six knaves broke into the Silver Star music store to rob it, but they did not count on the Order of the Rack patrolling the streets and were caught red-handed. When they realized they were surrounded, they set fire to the building, hoping that their unnatural resistance to fire would protect them and deter us. They were mistaken!”
A tiefling with bulging eyes and forked tongue lolling from his mouth makes eye contact with you. “But we did not do that! I am inno…” His plea is cut short by the crack of a whip cutting into his back. He cries out in pain. The armored man walking behind him grabs the collar of his newly torn shirt, wrenching him around. “Whether you get a trial or die in the street makes no difference to me, creature! Therefore I advise silence!”
The Hellknight who was addressing you turns back to you. “Return to your sleep, citizens. The villains have been apprehended. There is nothing more for innocent men to see tonight.” You cannot mistake the menace in his tone.
It is the darkest part of the night when you awake but are surprised to see your room seems illuminated nearly as bright as day. You smell smoke. You hear bells and shouting. Is your house on fire? Jumping to your feet, you run to your door. It feels cold. You throw it open. A squad of men are running down the street. A horse pulling a massive keg of water on wheels is being driven hard by a group of Dottari. A man in armor reminiscent of a flayed man and carrying a lantern is slowly walking down the sidewalk, seemingly peering in the houses. He approaches you. Down the street, you can make out the Thrashing Badger, engulfed in flame, the smoke spreading throughout the block.
What is going on?
The Hellknight stops when he notices you. You cannot see his face under his horrific helm; two dark pits regard you. “A cult of Rovagug is active in this neighborhood. They have set fire to this tavern to spread fear and sow chaos, as is pleasing to the Rough Beast. Fear not. We shall ferret out these demoniacs and bring them to justice. You are innocent. If you love our Queen, you should return to your bed and not interfere with me.” His hand moves slowly to the hilt of his long sword. “You do love our Queen, do you not?”
You think you hear something. Was that a woman screaming? No, it was too quiet. In the haze of half-sleep, you think it was probably just a dream. Your fitful sleep is disturbed again. Did you hear a knock at your door? This is no dream! Someone is pounding on your door!
Opening the door you see the halfling Dolly that you have met in the neighborhood before. She is in great distress, tears pouring from her eyes, her breath coming in billowing clouds of steam. “I’m sorry! I woke Hetamon. I thought you should know too. Some of those armored knights abducted Strea Vestori! And… and they killed poor Brutus!” She sobs. “I saw everything. They hanged Brutus from the Nursery gate! He’s dead! He’s dead!”
After some comforting, Dolly pleads with you to go with her to the gates of the neighborhood called Devil’s Nursery. As the two of you go out into the frigid early morning, she tells you her story, broken with intermittent sobs. “Manius and I had an argument. It was nothing, really, but I decided that I wanted to see Strea. I went to the Cloven Hoof Society and drank a little too much. She let me sleep in the common room. The only other one there was Brutus who was helping her fix something. I fell asleep. I don’t know how much later, but I awoke to someone kicking in the door! It must have been a long time because Strea and Brutus weren’t there and all the lamps were out. The door fell in! I was awake and scared so I hid under the bed. All these men I didn’t recognize ran into the common room along with one woman, wearing that hideous armor. They dragged Strea from her room and put a hood on her head and shackled her.”
You turn west at the Red Roof Market. “I heard shouting and then Brutus running. His hooves… they don’t sound like boots. Strea screamed. ‘No Brutus! Lay down on the floor! They’ll kill you!’ she said. His rage must’ve been upon him though. He’s so terribly strong, you know. I heard struggling. One of the men fell to the floor right next to me. I… I think Brutus tore his throat. He made this horrible rasp and there was so much blood! I lost sight of what was happening after that and there was so much noise. But it didn’t take long before it was quiet again. Someone took the man laying there by the ankles and pulled him out of the room.”
She leads you down a winding alley. “I laid there for a long time before I felt brave enough to move. It had gotten dark in the room and I remembered that the men had torches. I lit a lamp and the room was a mess of broken furniture. The door was on the floor and it was getting cold. I went out to find some help and when I got to the Devil’s Nursery gate, I saw… this.”
Before you stands the rusty gate of Devil’s Nursery. A rope is tied around a lamp post and thrown over the arch of the gate, suspending a motionless tiefling by the neck. His hooves hang three feet above the street as he slowly sways to and fro. His face is obscured by a bloody gray beard but two short horns are clearly visible atop his head. You see ten tieflings standing silently around the body. At your approach, they turn towards you, the lamp light causing their eyes to reflect red.
Hetamon Haace, the tiefling tailor, nods to you. Addressing the others he says in a hoarse whisper: “Help me cut him down. We will take him to my house to sit a vigil and bury him in the morning. The sun is setting on us, brothers, and I fear we’ll face a dark night indeed.”
“You’ve looked long enough! Let me see!” You’re startled awake by the sound of young women squabbling over something. That isn’t out of place in the dormitory that you remember you’re sleeping in. Looking to the end of the hall, you see a lamp and three girls huddled around the window, the drapes pulled back. “It’s MY spyglass, after all!” says the young noblewoman, Druvalia Jarvis. She is one of the few humans attending the school, no doubt in keeping with her family’s liberal reputation.
The half-elven girl who relinquished the spyglass, Asmodea, looks over and notices you’re awake. “Hey, come here! Something is burning in the Greens! Come look!” Asmodea, you recall, grew up singing in the Infernal Chorus in the Church of Asmodeus and hopes to be an opera singer one day. She does have a beautiful singing voice.
Druvalia gasps. “Oh… oh my! That is a lot of smoke. See how it blots out the starlight? I think that’s the Victocora Estate! Asmodeus, stay your wrath! Lady Victocora is so kind! I hope she’s safe!”
Looking out the window, you see across the neighborhood of Villegre. From the high vantage point of the tower which houses your dormitory and with the aid of Druvalia’s spyglass, you can clearly see the walls of the Greens. A orange-yellow glow is visible at the north end of the enclave and a massive plume of smoke rises into the otherwise clear, starry Abadius sky.
The third girl, another half-elf named Lorceli, moves to the window. The young woman excels at dance and is normally lithe on her feet, but not tonight. In her excitement, she knocks over a pitcher, which falls to the floor with a crash. Druvalia, lets out a cry of surprise. Asmodea hisses: “Quiet you dunce!”
Momentarily, the room is flooded by light and Mialari Docur, headmistress of the school is at the door, holding a lantern. It’s always struck you as odd, how utterly silently the doors in the school seem to open. The elven woman glides into the room with nearly supernatural grace. “What are you doing, my young friends? You should be asleep.”
Mistress Docur’s lilac eyes scan the street. Below, a brigade of Dottari drive a horse pulling a massive cask on wheels towards the Greens. “A fire you say? And in the Greens no less. I have just heard word that fires have broken out in Jarvis End and Yolubilis Harbor as well. This seems a shocking coincidence. My young friends, your parents have entrusted me with your safety, therefore you are to remain here tonight. No one is permitted to leave. I am going to cancel classes for this week. I want you to go home to your families in the morning. We will resume classes next week. Now please try to sleep. You are safe with me. I am sure everything will be fine.” With that Mialari Docur exits the room, closing the door behind her. You are left alone with the other girls. However, it doesn’t seem that anyone will be sleeping tonight.
You return to your home in Old Town. It’s a venerable but well-maintained old house that your parents have always taken great pride in. You reach to the door and find it unlocked. Not unlocked exactly, the door latch seems to in fact be broken and the wood of the door split. Fear grips your heart and your stomach tightens as you push open the door.
Inside, you see an absolute mess. Your mother’s artwork has been taken off of the walls and piled up on the floors. The bookcase is empty! Your parent’s books are nowhere to be seen! The fireplace looks like it was left to burn out. Your mother would never abide that. Your father’s large chair in front of the fireplace has been cut open, its stuffing pulled out. The whole house is ominously silent. You run to your parent’s room, calling for them. There is no answer. Their bed has been disassembled. All of the drawers pulled out and up ended. Your room is the same. Your hope chest has been broken open and emptied. You stagger backwards into the hall. What is happening? All of a sudden you feel the presence of someone else in the house.
You look towards the door. A paunchy middle-aged man stands there. He has a crooked nose above a bushy moustache. He wears the uniform of a Dottari and has a club in one hand and a pair of shackles in the other. You don’t know whether to run or not. You notice that your father’s long sword is still above the mantel. You consider running to grab it. The man slowly crosses his arms over his chest, regarding you. You stare back at him, not sure what to do.
After what feels like an eternity, he clears his throat and speaks. “How old are you, young lady?”
“You are the same age as my own daughter.” He shakes his head, returning his club and shackles to his belt. “I cannot do this. It is too much.” He almost chokes. “Asmodeus take me, it is too much. Listen to me: when I came by to find you, you were not here. Do you understand? Keep a low profile. Don’t give anyone a reason to come back here.” He turns to leave and then pauses. He looks over his shoulder and almost whispers: “Do not wait for your parents to return, young lady. I am sorry.” With that he puts his head out the door and looks to see if anyone is watching before quickly letting himself out. You are left alone with the ruins of your young life. What are you supposed to do now?