The city of Alvagard is the furthest north of the human outposts in the realm of Alfinheim, and as such it is a dangerous place. Sitting in the shadows of the mighty Icefinger Mountains and far from the King’s Justice, it is a haven for the outcasts and unwanted from not just Alfinheim but all of the northlands. It is a city that is dominated by numerous rival groups that hate and fear each other and jealously guard their spheres of influence. There are the arrogant, venal merchant classes, most of whom trade in ill-gotten gains that they would be unable to hawk in more civilized lands. They envy the long-established power and influence of Alvagard’s aristocracy, who in turn cast their covetous eyes on the wealth and connections that the merchants enjoy. While Alfinheim is a monarchy, its King is a distant figure who elicits little loyalty from his subjects, especially in this backwater outpost of the realm and many of them are all too eager to join the growing Republican movement, despite the fact that the penalty for harbouring such views, if found out, is death. But Alvagard is a city in which it is all too easy to hide from the eyes of the law, for its criminal guilds hold Alvagard’s murky underworld in their cruel and avaricious grip. Caught between these various power-hungry factions are the people of Alvagard, mostly poor and hopeless, they only continue to live in this forsaken city because they have nowhere else to go, and they are easy prey for the various sects, cults, and cabals. They cannot look to the ruler of Alvagard for salvation as the Viceroy is little more than the puppet of the nobility and his palace in the Capitol is more like an island, the bridge to which can only be crossed by those of an aristocratic background. Instead they must look to the City Watch, the enforcers of the King’s Justice in Alvagard. However, despite the fact that the guardsmen of the Watch are meant to be beyond reproach, in practice more than half appear to be in the pay of the criminal guilds.
Into this maelstrom of events walks Paul Arnor, newly promoted to Guard Captain of the City Watch and a man with many secrets of his own. The Lord Marshal of Alvagard tells him that it is his responsibility to ensure that the city is united and strong for the war that he feels sure is coming to the north. What the Lord Marshal does not mention is just what banner the city should be united under – that of the merchants, the Church, the Crown or the guilds? Arnor quickly becomes aware that the deprived of Alvagard, mostly huddled in the miserable slums of the Poor Quarter, are afraid of something but he is not aware what. Is it the guild of thieves that they fear, or something more mysterious? In the Holy Quarter the various Asatru temples stand united for once in their hatred of the new Phoenix Cult, which seems to be nothing more than a diversion for the rich and bored but perhaps may have something more sinister to it. There is open talk of rebellion in the Noble Quarter now that the royal family has lost much of its support. The newly formed Republican movement is gaining more followers, especially among the merchant classes who are increasingly dominating the Noble Quarter, and its once peaceful streets are now the setting for almost daily riots. In the Harbour Quarter disease is rife and there is talk of a supernatural plague carried in from overseas that threatens to overwhelm the entire city if unchecked. Lastly, in the Capitol itself there is a growing feeling that the man charged with the protection of all Alvagard, Arnor’s commander Lord Marshal Valten, is losing his grip and that under his leadership the city is destined for calamity.