A frenzy of crowds gather towards a massive arena standing at nearly 100 feet tall and many times that around. Two parallel lines of heavily armed guards stand about 10 feet apart, making a channel from the outside to an entrance for the chains of men shackled together.
Among those in fetters is an elven man, Imrath “Lich” Sylvine*, of average height with unkempt short reddish-brown hair and stubble on his face, who wears common clothes. As he enters the arena he is overtaken by the spectacle and scale of it all, as he always is. Inside, in a special below ground level, (much like a dug out), his group is brought and told to wait. They are about a dozen men, elves, dwarves, human, and half-orcs. The roar of blood-lust from the crowd is deafening in this pit, which acts as an echo chamber as well as a prep station for the gladiators.
These dozen men are facing a day unlike any other, for their master has ordered them that today they fight to win or fight to die. Death always has a strong presence in the arena, but those who fight well and still lose are usually rewarded with their life to fight (and earn honor and money for their master) another day. This time is different. Their master has accumulated a crushing debt and put it all on a single match. They are to face a dozen gladiators from an opposing school in group combat, the school of Orik Von Daven. They are well trained, well armed, and they fight dirty.
Finally their time to fight comes, they are armored and armed and sent into the arena. The Von Daven school marches out in cohesion, like a military unit. A knight in full plate mail carrying a spiked shield and a bastard sword with the holy symbol of St. Victus on his chest plate stands in the middle of the arena. When all the gladiators have taken their place he calls out to St. Victus to watch this display of strength and to bless the strong and see a quick death to the weak. The fight begins.
“Lich” takes the life of a few men, but receives a blow to the neck and falls…
In the crowded city streets in the middle of the slums a dwarven man walks among his people. His name is Demetrius and he is about four and a half feet tall with long dark brown hair and eyes and wears common clothes. All around him is poverty and misery. Guards routinely patrol the street, occasionally roughing up innocents and even carrying them off to jail for no reason. The injustice is too much, it brings him headaches and makes his heart beat hard. He tries to just get to his destination, his boss at the weapon shop sent him on a simple errand to get materials for the forge.
As he passes an ally he hears a whimper. He stops and heads towards the sound. Two young men belonging to the city guard have a young girl cornered. She is no more than 14 years old. He can tell by their body language and the look on her face that they do not have nice intentions toward her. He yells at them to leave her alone, but this only provokes an attack. He quickly blesses his blade with the magic of Titanus, his earthen god. The first guard falls quickly, but the second proves more skilled. He finally disarms the scoundrel and tells him to run away and tell other that his people will be rising up soon against them.
He walks the grateful young girl home and goes about his day.
It is night on the outskirts of the Fayril Forest. A gnomish woman makes her way along a path that no human could see, but elves and gnomes of this area follow frequently. She is around three feet tall with green hair longer in back tapering up to the front and spiky on top, with white-blue eyes and wearing red robes. She goes by the name Shai, though her real family name is unknown to her. She has never really known a home, except for the road. She usually just travels whichever way the wind blows, but these last few nights she has been following a vision, or an apparition, or something. A few nights ago a woman in tattered red robes appeared in the distance, beckoning her to follow. By the time she reached where the woman was she was gone. This has been happening each night, and she never gets close enough to the woman to see her face, which is always hidden under her hood.
A short while after she sets up camp a band of gypsies comes her way, traveling along the same road. They see her camp fire and stop. A gypsy woman invites her to join them for the night, there is food and entertainment. She gladly takes the food but tries to find a quiet place to sit. One of the gypsy children comes over and talks to her for a while.
“Lich” awakens with a flood of cold water being poured on his face. There is an intense burning coming from his neck and everything is spinning. The school medicus has bandaged him up and given him something to stop the bleeding. He tells “Lich” that they thought he was dead. They only realized he was alive while they were stripping him of his armor, like all the other dead bodies.
He looks around and sees the fallen corpses of his comrades. The medicus tells him that they lost the fight. The school was sold to Von Daven.
He grimaces at this news. Tradition has it that when a school is bought by another school that all “able” gladiators will be kept and added to the other school’s roster. He is not looking forward to fighting for Von Daven. The medicus says that Von Daven will be coming to speak to him now that he is awake, then he gets up and walks away, for there’s nothing more he can do for the elf.
Von Daven walks over and looks down at him, unconcerned about his health. “You should have died. You should have fallen with your school.” He taunts. “You will not receive the honor of fighting along side my men. No, I will have you sent to the excavation fields instead, where you can labor long and hard for the rest of your miserable life.”
“Lich” spits in the man’s face. Von Daven hits him back and walks away. Two guards arrive and shackle him up and bring him to the infirmary to recover before he is to be sold to the state.
Weeks later he is brought to the market place where an assessor for the state looks him over and pays the guards. He is then added to a chain gang of men standing in the street awaiting their deployment to the excavation fields where they will dig all day in search for mana stones with little food or water or mercy.
Demetrius awakens the next morning in his bed to the sound of heavy boot steps outside his door. He goes to peak out the window and his door is crashed in! Standing in the door way is a knight of St. Victus, clad in full plate with a bastard sword and a spiked shield. Behind him is at least 8 more men similarly armed to the teeth.
They look around the little one room shack and eyes stop on the shrine of Titanus.
“Looks like someone is practicing illegal magic. Do you deny attacking two guards yesterday?”
“No.” Demetrius responds.
“Then you are coming with us.”
They swarm over him and drag him, cuffed, into the streets and toward the court of the magistrate.
Curious onlookers are not surprised, for countless numbers of innocents are rounded up everyday. In this corrupt city charges are always heavier than the crime, if a crime was even committed. There is a heavy demand for slavery and the state tried to subsidize this by artificially increasing the supply. Demetrius is one of the unfortunate victims of this. His charages will be “illegal magic”, which of course he doesn’t practice. Only arcane magic practiced by non-member of Arcanus, the channelers guild, is illegal. Demetrius is a cleric and casts priestly magic, but the charge “illegal magic” has becomes a convenient excuse in the new holy wars. The major religions work diligently supporting Arcanus and the empire and are rewarded with leniency with such charges, which are always used again practitioners of the minor religions. This is how the major religions stay in power and stop the competition.
He is brought into a large building decorated with pillars. Inside in a grand hall he is brought before a magistrate, one of the chanelers of Arcanus. The magistrate looks him over and tells Demetrius that he will not be publicly executed. He tells him that the empire is merciful and that his life will be spared. He happily begins to turn and walk away when the magistrate continues. “You are sentenced to the excavation fields to toil for the rest of your life.”
He is taken in cuffs by the guards and brought to the market where he is added to the long line of a dozen men, all part of a chain gang, waiting to leave for the fields…
Shai finally gets a few minutes alone, they way she likes it. Then from a caravan across from where she is sitting an old woman steps out. She wears flowing robes over a dress and has long curly gray hair. Her right eye has a milky white film over it, covering it completely. She steps down to the ground and walks toward Shai.
“Good evening child. You must be the stranger we took in.”
“I was told I was welcome.”
“Oh yes, you are. "
Shai feels a bit uncomfortable by the old woman’s one-eyed stare.
“Do you follow the woman in red?” The old gypsy asks.
“How do you know that? Do you know her? Who is she?”
“Her name is Sufi. She is a traveler, like us.”
“What does she want?”
“To help others.”
Suddenly they ear yelling from the other side of the camp and the sound of clanging metal. Someone yells “Bandits!” Shai takes off for the safety of the forest and the old woman yells out to her, “Remember, follow the woman in red!”
Before she can make it out of camp three men descend upon her. They quickly overpower her and she receives a few blows to the head with a sap, but manages to not fall. She summons up a fire beetle which clams down on the leg of one of the men and another of the three trips over it. The last man chases her into the woods where she loses him…
After crossing the vast stretches of the white wastes, taking at least a week as far as they can tell, “Lich” and Demetrius head into the Fayril Forest (which is not considered territory belonging to the empire). They and the other slaves are escorted by about a dozen guards and a channeler, a younger looking man with a full beard and a tattoo of green fire on his arms. He directs them toward a clearing about 200 yards in diameter.
After a few days of forced labor digging for mana stones still nothing has been found. The channeler seems certain that they will find something, and they are instructed to dig faster. The slaves are shackled to a partner to prevent them from running away. Each day they are joined to a different partner.
Today “Lich” and Demetrius find themselves shackled together. They dig for many hours with little water and food. They get brief moments to talk to each other while the guard watching them walks away to talk or get some water. They both agree they need to escape…
Around noon a band of carriages and cages on wheels pull into the camp. The cages are filled with about a dozen gypsy men. There is a meeting between the channeler and one of the slave traders. They talk for a while and then gold is exchanged. The gypsy men are taken out and given shovels and told to start digging. The slave traders drive off.
A few hours later, while digging, Demetrius feels a rush, sort of like a surge of Earthly magic, coming from the ground. He begins to dig quicker and hits a rock. It is not a mana stone, in their characteristic black, but rather a plain looking white rock. He attempts to hide it in his clothes but a guard sees him and takes it. The channeler sees the rock and calls over to the guard to bring it to him. After briefly examining the two overhear him say, “This might be what we are looking for.” He then disappears into the caravan with the rock for many hours.
The channeler comes out hours later and calls for two guards to escort him. They take off in the caravan, and to Demetrius and “Lich” it looks like they are in a hurry…
Shai awakens from the hiding spot she found and heads back to the gypsy camp to see what has become of her hosts and her equipment. When she arrives she finds no none there. She quickly gathers her belongings and is about to leave when she sees the body of the old gypsy woman. She goes over and says a prayer for her.
When she looks up she sees the woman in red beckoning her to follow once again. Shai eagerly gets up and begins to follow the woman in red.
Late that night she arrives at a scene. A carriage sits in the woods, two guards sit atop, slumped over, their bodies riddled with arrows from all angles. She slowly approaches and discovers the body of a young bearded man in robes. He has multiple stab wounds and a few arrows sticking out of his body. Peaking in through the rear window of the caravan she sees a piece of red cloth, the same shade that the woman in red wears, sticking out from under the bed. She enters the caravan and looks under the bed. There she discovers a secret compartment. Inside it is a plain looking white stone, the size of a man’s fist. She takes the stone and steps out of the caravan.
Shortly after they lay down to rest for the night, their bodies exhausted from days of grueling work Demetrius and “Lich” hear the sound of a flurry of arrows.
The ten or so remaining guards are surprised attacked by an unknown number of elves. Demetrius and “Lich” see the time is right for them to get out of there. They get up and head for the safety of the woods, going in the direction they saw the carriage take.
An hour later they come across the channeler’s caravan. They see a small gnomish woman with green hair step out of the caravan. There is some discussion and at first she disappears into the woods. They check the caravan for the stone and “Lich” finds the empty secret compartment. They yell out to the gnome and she answers. They claim to be here in peace. She sees that they are shackled. They explain their situation and at first just claim to be looking for gold, but after the three of them set up camp together they admit that they are in search of the white stone.
Shai reluctantly admits that she “knows where the stone is” and if they can find out what it is and earn her trust she might share this knowledge with them.
After the discussion can go no longer they all go to sleep, with no set plan for the morning.