War of the Burning Sky
Gate Pass lies in a rocky mountain pass running east to west between Ragesia and Shahalesti. Sheer cliffs mark its northern and southern borders, and fortifications built over centuries have made the city highly defensible, making it difficult to be annexed by either nation that surrounds it. These same fortifications, likewise, make it equally difficult for anyone to leave without going through any of the numerous gates that give the city its name.
Though the city’s borders to north and south are tightly limited — less than a mile wide at the widest point — the mountain pass is nearly twenty miles long, giving the city a lot of room to grow eastward and westward. The older districts of the city lie in the centre of the pass, with different eras of development sprawling out gradually in both directions. Additionally, various small farms and ranches dot the mountains around the city proper, though these people are generally hostile to foreigners and relatively well-armed. Gate Pass has only been conquered once, and its citizens managed to drive out the invaders and regain their freedom, so many of the farmers and ranchers view themselves as the first line of defence for their city.
Traditions and Culture
The city’s architecture tends to multi-story buildings with bridges between roofs, creating thousands of “gateways” along roads and alleys. Even in poorer districts, buildings are usually at least two stories tall. Many merchants, made wealthy from the traffic that passes through the city, own vast ranges of adjacent buildings, all of them connected with high bridges. An expression of the city — “a coin for every gate” — both refers to the wealth of the city, and serves as a warning to visitors to avoid poorer areas where buildings lie unconnected.
A broad, twenty-foot wide thoroughfare called the Emelk Way runs the length of the city, interrupted only by the district walls every half mile or so. The city’s natural landscape rises in the centre to a broad hill called Summer’s Bluff. In addition to being home to dozens of gated estates for the city’s politicians and rich merchants, Summer’s Bluff is the site of the city’s grand square, where various annual holidays are celebrated. The grand square can easily hold several thousand people, and it is dotted with dozens of small groves, statues, and ornamental gate arches, with staircases people can climb to get a better view. In the centre of the grand square is a high stone dais, its surface carved in a massive relief that depicts several local legends.
The rest of the city consists of various districts of skilled workers, common housing, warehouses and businesses, and slums. Each district has representation in the city government. By city ordinance, every fourth district must contain a park at least a quarter mile to a side, though entrance to these typically requires payment of a few coppers.
The city grew outward from its central districts, with a new district and new outer wall springing up every decade or so. Because of this, it is possible to see the changing styles of construction and defence over the centuries of the city’s existence, like reading the rings of a tree. In older districts, built before the development of the city’s underground sewer system, countless reservoirs and aqueducts rise above the rooftops, designed to catch rainwater and direct sewage to dumps outside the city. The current sewers flow into an underground river before being swept into endless, uncharted caves.
In the past few decades, clerics have blessed the gates of new districts in expensive rituals, and a tradition has developed for respected citizens to be buried in the sanctified ground near the gate of their district. Most graveyards, however, lie outside the city, either fenced in atop hills, or in gated crypts.
Gate Pass has the distinction of being the only city to successfully drive out occupation by the Ragesian Empire. Forty years ago, Emperor Coaltongue defeated the city’s army, set up a military government, and erected a 90-foot-tall statue of himself in the grand square on Summer’s Bluff before moving on to his next conquest. For two years, citizens waged an insurgency against the occupying army, until finally Coaltongue decided the city wasn’t worth the loss of men.
Shahalesti and Ragesia, once allies, were approaching open war, and Coaltongue declared that he would withdraw from Gate Pass if the Lord of Shahalesti agreed to leave the city as a neutral buffer between their two nations. The elves agreed, the city celebrated its victory, and profit from trade between the two nations began to flow.
The city still sports numerous indications of the occupation, and many citizens purchase busts or paintings of the aged emperor, as if both to mock the Ragesians for their failure and to respect Coaltongue’s wisdom in deciding to leave their city alone. Even the emperor’s statue remains; it is decorated and painted gaudily on various holidays.
Because of his name, Drakus Coaltongue is often associated with a myth that is native to Gate Pass and Ragesia, that of the Dragon and the Eagle. A series of myths tell of an ancient time when the lands that are now Ragesia and its neighbors were the domain of four elemental spirits — the Tidereaver Kraken, the Worldshaper Worm, the Flamebringer Dragon, and the Stormchaser Eagle, and these four beings are common motifs in the art and architecture of Gate Pass (as well as in Ragesia).