Is that a knife in my spine?
The War Council
Headmaster Simeon calls a gathering of a dozen or so prominent people from the town for a war council. They arrive one by one through the constant drizzle, and polite students greet them at the entrance to the Aurad Tower, drying off the visitors with a drying cantrip while simultaneously employing Arcana Detect Magic checks to provide a modicum of security. Guests are then escorted to a fifth floor lecture hall with a vast curving window that looks out across the harbor. Once everyone has arrived, Simeon appears and ushers everyone to an adjacent classroom that resembles an operating theater — a comfortable yet small area for discussion, surrounded by balconies where students would normally look down and watch an instructor demonstrate the intricacies of a particular spell. The room is well lit, and the Head of the War Department, the dark-haired dwarf Kiernan Stekart, places a short rod carved of veined black stone on the table in the center of the room. He assures them no one can endanger them here as long as they remain within 20 feet of the rod. He then steps to the side of the room, where stands a shield guardian (see the D&D 4E Monster Manual) constructed to look like a gnarled stone treant. Aside from the heroes, the war council is attended by Headmaster Simeon Gohanach, Head of the War Department Kiernan Stekart, Magistrate Lorb Vortberd, Lee Sidoneth, Commander Xavious Foebane, Laurabec Adelsburg, and Wayfarer representative Giorgio, plus Dassen ambassador Kiefer Numhaut, Sindaire ambassador Cranston Snord, and Ostalin ambassador Kazha Lonam, plus Katrina and perhaps Torrent and Haddin Ja-Laffa if they have made it this far with the heroes. When everyone is present, Simeon encourages them all to sit, while he remains standing to present an introduction. Simeon is casual, folksy, and dressed as though ready for manual labor, in a common vest and work pants — at least, his clothes would be common if not for the subtle runes embroidered into them with threads of precious metals. “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll pardon me if I’m brief. Our enemies are many, and we know their eyes are constantly watching. We don’t have much time for this meeting, so, even though I encourage each and every one of us to have our time to speak, I need to ask that we not get too bogged down in discussions of minutiae and other small things. “We have a great task ahead of us, and it is a task that we do not do simply to protect ourselves, but to save the lives of all our families, brother, and sisters. The new emperor of Ragesia, Leska, who proudly calls herself the Supreme Inquisitor, has set her armies to conquer all our nations. Everyone is in danger, from lowliest warrior to mightiest mage. I have vowed as my duty that I will fight against this Scourge from Ragesia, but I don’t know much about how to run a war. “What I do know, though, is that we all have knowledge and skills that will be valuable in this fight. I hope that you will trust me to lead this fight against tyranny, and I will trust you to give me your best wisdom and aid so that we may be victorious. “Our goal is to stop the Scourge, to drive back the armies of the Ragesian Empire, to dethrone Leska, and to ensure our families and homelands are safe. Now, I hope you all have some idea how to do that. My ears are open.”
Simeon sits and directs each of the visitors to speak in turn. Meanwhile, Kiernan Stekart, the quiet dwarf in charge of the new Department of War, remains vigilant, and will act quickly to put down any actual violence, although he expects tempers to flare and does not worry about simple yelling or even threats. From time to time Simeon will glance to him for an assessment, and Kiernan, keenly familiar with Lyceum’s resources, will curtly provide any information requested. Each of the visitors takes a minute or so to present his or her concerns and insights, going in the following order unless interrupted.
•Magistrate Lorb Vortberd is here to bring up a long list of grievances against the refugees, who he says are bringing chaos and crime to Seaquen. He is in favor of recruiting as many able-bodied refugees as possible to form a new, broader police force and get things under control in a hurry. In particular, he wants to systematically question every refugee, so that those who appear suspicious can be taken into custody. On the matter of alliances with other nations, he is very wary of any arrangement that forces Seaquen to answer to another power.
•Lee Sidoneth, charged with maintaining the security of Seaquen’s harbor, weighs in on naval affairs. At Simeon’s request, he explains that the north harbor is so crowded that they are sending refugee ships to the south harbor. There aren’t adequate docks for all the new ships, but Lee thinks it is probably best that most of them anchor in the harbor anyway, so they can move quickly in case of an attack. His advice is to wait and assess Seaquen’s strengths, rather than rush to action. As he sits down, he casts a sneering glance at the ambassador from Ostalin, saying, “Some war-mongers might disagree with me, but they are motivated by the flow of gold into their coffers, not the flow of refugees into the safety of our defensible city.”
•Commander Xavious Foebane, an aged dwarf and respected retired commander from Dassen, wants Seaquen to forge alliances with any and every nation that is willing to take a stand against Ragesia. He has a diverse array of ideas to take advantage of Seaquen’s substantial magical resources, such as lending mages to military units of numerous nations. This both helps those armies outwit the Ragesians and provides some protection against betrayal. He has identified various military objectives which would best be handled by a small band of highly mobile experts, saving large armies for holding back enemy armies. The most important mission of all these, in Xavious’s mind, is locating the Torch of the Burning Sky, and he believes that Leska has already begun searching for it, which is why she has spread her armies so widely. He already has in mind a group that he trusts to accomplish the mission; he served with them in Dassen, and with the support of some of Lyceum’s mages they would be able to easily go anywhere and do anything to retrieve this most valuable weapon of war. Unfortunately, these elite warriors serve Dassen’s King Steppengard, and Seaquen would have to convince Steppengard to lend them.
•Laurabec Adelsburg, the eagle-riding holy warrior, speaks for longer than anyone else, and during her speech Magistrate Vortberd slowly grows more irritable. Laurabec is less concerned with broad military matters and more worried that the thousands of people who have come to Seaquen with a desire to make a difference in the war might manage only to tear the city apart. It is clear that Ragesia is partially to blame, she says, citing the rise of the White Wyrms. However, just as many problems are the result of inadequate food, water, and shelter; bitter religious and cultural differences; a perception that Seaquen and Lyceum view the refugees as outsiders and pawns, rather than vital allies; and the clear fact that more than a few people are here just looking for an opportunity to profit from the war. Laurabec speaks unofficially on behalf of the refugees, and she requests that someone pay more heed to the local affairs, since it will take weeks anyway before any military actions can be coordinated. She starts to go into specifics, but Magistrate Vortberd interrupts her. Vortberd thinks Laurabec is coddling potential hostiles, and is confident stricter laws are needed that will get things under control. The refugees, he points out, have come to Seaquen, after all, and should follow Seaquen’s rules. Simeon is more willing to listen to Vortberd, whom he trusts from experience, saying he does not want to devote Lyceum’s students to helping refugees when they could be training for war.
•Giorgio, the flamboyant Wayfarer, walks slowly around the table, thumping his staff on the floor with every stride, and he simmers with unbridled enthusiasm. He presents the Wayfarers’ knowledge about the dangers of teleportation, and says that they are working to find a solution. In hushed tones, he hints at what amazing mobility the Wayfarers could provide them if the Cirque were willing to violate its long-standing neutrality. Then, with a smile, he says that the guildmistress, Sheena Larkins, is willing to do just that, if Lyceum can prove it has a real chance to win. Before sitting, Giorgio produces a ticket for each person present, with the following bombastic speech: “These are for a performance in one week of The Spectacular Trial of Toteth Topec, which you’ve no doubt heard will be premiering at the Wayfarers’ Theater in a few days. Though there will be other performances before the night of your tickets, the ageless beauty that is Guildmistress Larkins wants to be certain we have everything perfect before we show it to you, the city’s most respected citizens, and those dignitaries visiting from similarly respected nations. Think of the symbol it will be, for all of you to attend a show together. I dare say it may be wholly disastrous to morale if even one of you fails to attend!”
•Katrina arrived with the heroes, and now she presents them as the greatest resource available to the war effort. She extols their victory over a Ragesian Inquisitor and reminds everyone that they are already a thorn in the Empire’s side, so much so that the Inquisitors sent not one but two children of hell to track them down. She explains that she too has faced an Inquisitor and defeated him, and that her brother Rantle, whom she spoke to recently via a Sending ritual, is a vital member of the resistance in Gate Pass. After this, she lets the heroes speak for themselves, although she is not above expressing amazement at their “heroic deeds” and occasionally prompting them for details about what they have faced and what they suspect the Ragesians may have wanted with the case. Kiernan advises that they not discuss the case with so many people around, and if the heroes have not already shown it to the Headmaster, Simeon assures them that he wants look at it after the meeting, before the group leaves.
•Dassen Ambassador Keifer Numhaut. This tall, blond human says that King Steppengard is displeased that Seaquen’s rallying call has brought so many refugees through his lands, making his kingdom a target for Ragesia. While Dassen is not above lending its support if there is a legitimate reason, for now the King believes it wiser to make a pact of neutrality with Leska, and leave Seaquen to its own fate. Simeon says he will talk to the ambassador at length, and show him information that he believes makes it clear Ragesia will accept no neutrality.
•Sindaire Ambassador Cranston Snord, an aged gnome, says that his nation’s people want to resist Ragesia, but the politicians cannot pledge their support to Seaquen and risk drawing Leska’s ire. He suggests that if Seaquen could defeat Ragesia in a notable battle, it might be enough to make a difference. As for the Torch of the Burning Sky, Cranston says that he is sure he knows where it is; it’s just impossible to reach. “The evening that the Old Dragon, Coaltongue, was slain,” he says, “a storm of fire opened up in the heavens over his castle, a place called Korstull, a canyon in a broad field. Now everything there is dead, burned by months of fire that rains from the sky. Sometimes the dead wander forth from the storm. I don’t know how anyone could survive that and find the Torch, nor do I know why anyone would expect to.”
•Ostalin Ambassador Kazha Lonam, a slender half-elf with sharpened black fingernails and voluminous robes that probably conceal weapons, is sourly sarcastic. Her nation is only interested in lending its aid if it will profit them, but she presents their desires as generous. She says, with a self-important air: “The inestimable Khagan Onamdammin, generous monarch of Ostalin, deeply regrets that his neighbors might be endangered by the Ragesian armies, but is willing to lend his elite, fierce armies if his neighbors are reasonable. Ragesia intends to conquer your entire nation. Would it not be reasonable to trade us one third of your land, so that you may keep the rest from the greedy, cruel Ragesians?” The Shahalesti Envoy In the midst of people’s discussions, the door to the classroom swings open. A human mage takes two steps in before being hurled back out of the room. The thrum of a telekinetic thrust shakes the room. Everyone turns to see that Kiernan was responsible for knocking the interloper back, his hands raised from recent spellcasting. Simeon looks at Kiernan and says, “That was Johund you just attacked!” Kiernan shrugs. “He should have announced himself properly,” he replies. When the shaken but still frantic Johund is brought into the room, he exclaims that a small group of visitors has just flown over the walls, and they’re heading up right now. There are seven, he says, and they carry the flag of Shahalesti, a revelation which raises another infuriated uproar in the room. Simeon calls for everyone to calm down, saying diplomats should meet their guests politely, but that at the same time everyone should be ready for a fight. He then stands and leads everyone into the adjacent lecture hall just as the Shahalesti envoy enters on the far side. All the Shahalesti are dressed in silver armor and blue cloaks, and stand tall and bright with straight blond hair and straight swords at their hips. Their leader is a fantastically beautiful eladrin woman whose eyes shine like the sun on the bluest sea. Two eladrin men stand close to her like bodyguards, and one in the center holds a flag ceremoniously, while the rest of the fey warriors watch warily. The Shahaletsi leader sees the group pouring out of the classroom and says, “I would have waited. I didn’t intend to frighten you.” If none of the heroes take charge of the situation, Simeon does and asks who she is; the woman introduces herself as Shalosha, daughter of the Shining Lord Shaaladel of Shahalesti. She has come to offer an alliance with Seaquen against Ragesia. Neither the Shahalesti nor any of the members of the war council will initiate a battle, but if the heroes do, Shalosha and her allies start on the defensive. Simeon and Kiernan quickly subdue the heroes, not wanting overeager warriors to start an international incident.
The Shahalesti Offer:
When the shock of the dramatic entrance wears off, Shalosa requests the floor, which Simeon grants, and she proceeds to speak. While reciting her memorized speech, she hesitates occasionally; clearly uncomfortable with a few elements of the plan her father has laid out. She is not willing to defy her father, however, and stands by his commands. “I come with an offer of safety and salvation for your city, and those who shelter here. As you know, Shahalesti is the shining jewel of civilization, and now the armies of Ragesia attack us. For every loss we suffer, the progress of all nations suffers. We are the only power strong enough to drive back the fires of Ragesia, but even in the face of our greatness, victory is not assured. “My father, Lord Shaaladel, knows that some of the nations whose ambassadors stand in this very hall would wish to see Shahalesti fall, for they don’t realize that in so doing they wish their own doom. Even the most trustworthy here can admit that it is difficult to have faith in the leaders of other nations when the most they can do is send a few diplomats to the banner of Seaquen. “Shahalesti sends a fleet. Seventeen of our ships sail now to this peninsula, surrounding it from all directions to protect it from hostilities. By this we show our devotion to the fight, and — so my father believes — we prove that it is our nation who should lead that fight. “We invite you to join with us in the war against Ragesia. Many potential allies have found their way to your city, and so we have come here to meet them. However, we will not risk betrayal on any scale, nor would it be wise for you to risk it. So we ask that you hand over control of Seaquen to the Shahalesti fleet, so that we may begin checking the purity of your allies’ spirit. Admiral Telshanth will serve as provisional governor of Seaquen—”
Hearing this, the Dassen ambassador shouts that his nation will not simply hand over territory upon request, and within moments, the other ambassadors begin to clamor as well. The Shahalesti offer, it seems, has not gone over well. Simeon calms the group down and then says that he can certainly recognize a threat, and that, if Shahalesti truly wants an alliance, they can learn to share like everyone else — he won’t be a part of handing Seaquen or its people over to anyone. Shalosha is unsurprised, but as she breaks from the script she has prepared she shows genuine concern. She says that Telshanth has his orders, that the fleet will remain, and that Shahalesti will prevent travel by sea into or out of Seaquen. She consents to speak to her father and seek a compromise, but she says that such a thing cannot be accomplished quickly. At that, the ambassadors demand that the eladrin leave. To salvage what progress he can, Simeon agrees, asking Shalosha and her retinue to go.