Anauroch - Part Four: Ecology of the High Ice
In the north, the frozen plain known as the High Ice stretches farther than any man knows. Within this frigid wasteland, life is uncommon. The ice covers a number of ancient, well-preserved cities, however, rumors of which draw adventurers and explorers to the region on a continual basis. Most do not return.
I myself have only traveled through the High Ice once. It is not a place for casual visitors. At the time I chose to explore it, I was searching for the rare sisareya bloom - the only cure for an illness my second wife gained from drinking at a well poisoned by a heway snake.
Though I was unsuccessful in my quest - to my sorrow, the plant blooms only once every five years and grows only amid ice and snow - I did learn much about the region during my sojourn there.
Animals common to the High Ice are few. Travelers are most likely to encounter harmless, thick-furred icejacks, which resemble plump, slow moving hares. These creatures feed only on snowflowers, hardy plants that push their way up through the snow.
This vegetation seems susceptible to the tearing winds, or perhaps an icejack's nibbling weakens its grip in the snow. Whichever, the rounded, wiry shrubs are sometimes blown about like the tumbleweeds which roll in the Plain of Standing Stones. They nourish the icejacks, which in turn form the basis of the northern food chain, as they are extremely abundant.
A white-furred constrictor, called a snow snake, is another frequently encountered creature. It waits buried in powdery snow for its prey. Occasionally these snakes actually burrow into the depths of a snow bank, but usually they scurry along on top of it.
Small badgers, arctic foxes, caribou, a few bears, and other, small creatures make their homes here, feeding on either snowflowers, icejacks, or each other, as is their taste. Snow owls, great soarers (huge, white-feathered condors), and other predatory birds spiral overhead, watching for twitches and shadows that disturb the vast, pale expanse below.
Dragons of various types, including red, topaz, brass, blue, and others, lair near a peculiar phenomenon known as the Smokeholes, when traveling across the High Ice. Away from the tempering influence of these oases in the cold, it is rare to find any but white dragons. But that declaration is too hasty - crystal dragons are not unknown, either. Usually, if a white and a crystal dragon encounter one another, they fight - although the white dragon is nearly always perceived as the aggressor in such a battle.
The hill giants of the Plain of Standing Stones tell a tale about frost giants who came from the mysterious north to settle in the High Ice. The arrogant - or in other tellings - foolhardy frost giants encountered a number of crystal dragons in their new territory, and attempted to enslave them. The dragons slew the giants, and now no giant of any sort dares enter the area.
White dragons prefer to hunt outsiders, whether human or animal, as most of the native creatures are, by adaptation or design, resistant or immune to their breath weapons. I have seen, however, a dragon attack and kill a small remorhaz - and later, the same wyrm slew a group of yeti.
There is a powerful white dragon named Augaurath who dwells within the region. She is the undisputed lord over all dragons in the High Ice, and it is rumored that some of the other creatures in the area, such as yeti, winter wolves, and even some semi-intelligent remorhaz, worship her as a god.
No Bedine should ever be forced to endure the savage cold of the High Ice. It is such a change from the broiling heat of the Sword that it is hard to believe the two regions are so close. Creatures like ice toads make the too-frigid air of the High Ice even colder.
These beasts grow to be eight feet long and dwell in small groups in icy rifts throughout the High Ice. They feed on practically anything, and attack with their vicious bite.
Worst of all, though, they radiate a cold so intense it can kill a man, instantly - a cold so bitter it outchills even the harshest arctic wind. You are not daunted by monsters? The mere presence of these beasts has slain many desperate, unwary explorers as they searched a toad-inhabited rift for food.
Mostly, since explorers are themselves so rare a species in the High Ice, the toads feed on small mammals like icejacks and arctic foxes. They feast when an occasional caribou herd wanders across the southern edge of the region.
Ice toads are said to be intelligent, and to have their own language. As good a weapon as it is against yeti - another hazard common to the frozen wastes - fire is useless against ice toads. Heat draws ice toads, and drives them into a frenzy. A simple campfire is enough to launch a single monster into a fight to the death with whatever opponent might be handy. A larger fire could draw perhaps dozens of the creatures, all insane with rage.
These beasts, which resemble nothing so much as huge worms, are probably among the most feared creatures in the High Ice. I myself encountered one once, as I journeyed across the ice with five ulugarr gnomes who were seeking the area known as the Smokeholes, where they had heard rare minerals might be found.
Long before we reached the Smokeholes, one of these terrible polar worms erupted from the snow in front of us and attacked. The beast we confronted was almost thirty feet long, although I have subsequently learned that they can grow to a length of almost fifty feet.
It immediately swallowed one of my companions whole, while the rest of us attempted to fight it. One of the gnomes attacked the beast from the rear, but the creature's back grows incredibly hot when aroused - hotter than At'ar herself, it seems - and the gnome's stout shef weapon melted as he struck the worm.
Though we managed to kill it eventually, our victory came at the cost of a further two gnomes' lives. I had foolish hopes that the remorhaz' first victim might yet live, having not been chewed or squeezed in the suddenness of the monster's attack. Sad, what unfamiliarity with a monster can lead one to believe. It was not to be. The swallowed gnome was of course instantly suffocated by the creature's unbelievable inner body temperature.
The leader of the gnomes, being somehow knowledgeable about such things, drained a liquid from the beast's body that he called thrym. He claimed that it was a useful substance in the making of heat-related magical items. Even among outlanders, I ask who would count foul magic worth such a cost?
In the aftermath of our battle, we had the bodies of the monster and our companions, and a great hole rimmed with refrozen ice. I left the gnomes to their death rituals, whatever those might be. I felt sure they would prefer to face their grief alone.
Curious, I backtracked instead down the slippery tunnel the creature had made or chewed or melted through the ice. Eventually, my fearsome trail lead to a series of passages, and then onto a central lair. Here I found the indigestible possessions of those intelligent beings the beast had eaten previous to our fateful encounter, and a number of eggs. I took one of the eggs, and soon afterward sold it to an adventurer who thought that he could raise the creature and train it to serve him. Ulugarr talab ghashim tariq. Outlanders seek strange paths.
I am told it is another of the great ironies of Anauroch that heat-loving beings like salamanders have a place in the High Ice.
As previously mentioned, there is a region in the High Ice known as the Smokeholes. These holes mark the exit points of hot, volcanic gases which escape upward through the ice sheet, producing great amounts of steam. The air around these vents is extremely hot, and the very earth surrounding them is warmer than the rest of the region.
Salamanders dwell within the Smokeholes and wait for other beings to tread close in a dangerous search for warmth. The salamanders attack whatever comes near, hoping to pull a victim into their holes. Dwarves and gnomes like the group with which I was traveling are forever mounting expeditions down into the holes following tales of great, rare ore veins.
It is said these veins decorate the Caverns of Burning Ice beneath the Smokeholes. So far as I can tell, these legends simply provide various salamanders with humanoid meat.
Salamanders wield magical weapons and keep fire snakes throughout their lairs as guardians. It has been told to me by a mysterious traveler that the salamanders guard the Smokeholes because some powerful entity commanded them to protect something buried in the caverns. What this treasure could be is a mystery to me...
These beings are very rare, existing in small numbers in and around the particular rift known as Llashloch, the Lake of Ice. It may be that they exist nowhere else. When I brought up these creatures in my brief conversations with the outlander wizard, El'Minster, he mumbled something about the race nearing extinction. Good riddance, I say - if it be true.
Snow cloakers, which have a subterranean counterpart in other parts of the Realms that I have also had the misfortune to encounter, glide over snow and ice and drop upon unsuspecting victims to devour them. When they are at rest, they are almost impossible to see. Even when they are gliding about, their sinuous movements are difficult to pick out of the snow-filled winds. They apparently are immune to the High Ice's harsh cold.
As life adapts to the burning sands of the Sword, so too does it adapt to the drifting, dune-like snows. One great danger of the High Ice is that most creatures that live there are hard to detect because of their coloration or their stealth in concealment. None is more difficult to perceive than the white pudding, a creature sometimes known among adventurers as the snowmound beast.
White puddings are huge masses of flesh, three to eight feet in diameter, that move by oozing their way across the snow. Never elsewhere have I seen such a thing with my own eyes (though there is said to be a similar creature in the Sword that has the appearance and consistency of sand).
The monster feeds on all kinds of animal and plant matter, as well as absorbing ice and snow. White puddings secrete some sort of acid which eats through clothing and flesh with alarming speed.
Noise in great quantity and at great volume is said to ward these creatures off. Of course, these same sounds may attract predators of a different kind! The reverse is also true. Sometimes a white pudding - usually a small specimen; perhaps they are less sensitive - follows the baying, howling, or growling exchanges of other beasts, such as a pack of white wolves or a bear, and devours what they leave behind.
Legends told round the cookfires of hardy explorers and the sentry fires of bundled trekking parties picture a huge white pudding, hundreds of feet across, that never moves. This awesome - and in my mind, likely mythical - beast said to exist in the far north simply waits for prey to come to it.
Equally as intelligent as the dread ice toads are winter wolves, the toads' chief predator. Immune to ice toads. cold emanations, these lithe creatures have no problem in slaying their prey.
Huge, beautifully white animals, much more impressive than the skulking jackals of the hot desert, a pack of winter wolves can nevertheless be extremely deadly. They breathe frost as a white dragon can.
These beasts always travel against the wind, so that their prey is unable to scent them. Watchful travelers in the snow country therefore always note the direction the wind is blowing. Upwind is where the wolves are. Winter wolves have no need to practice tactics like surprise or ambush. Their speed, strength, and power are sufficient to defeat any foe or bring down any game.
Their packs are well organized. Unlike his cousin wolves in many other parts of the Realms, a winter wolf pack leader is usually the smartest animal, rather than merely the largest or strongest member of the pack.
It has been said that if a human were to offer a pack leader something it would value, that human could gain the service of the wolf pack. I am suspicious of such a nebulous promise; it smacks of braggarts and wishes. What a human explorer could offer a winter wolf of the High Ice is something I would love to know.
Though fierce hunters in their own right, yeti are perhaps best known in the High Ice as the primary food source of the remorhaz. These well-adapted apes are intelligent and crafty, cunningly burying themselves in snow banks and holding motionless to ambush their prey. Remorhaz, however, have some way to detect them while they are hidden, unmoving and invisible to the naked eye. The great polar worms attack the hapless yeti from underneath.
Yeti have been seen using weapons they have stripped from intelligent victims, but they make no tools or weapons themselves. It is said that one should never look directly into their eyes, for the icy blue orbs of a yeti can paralyze a man with fear.
They live in small packs of extended families. Like some Bedine tribes, these families consider every other living being, including other yeti, as enemies. Unlike my tribesmen, yeti also consider everything else beyond their family members in the light of possible foodstuffs. Yeti risk an attack only if they believe they can successfully kill their chosen prey.they are not foolish.
The fur of a yeti has some sort of heat-absorbing property. Because of this, they are dangerously cold to the touch (heat from your body is pulled from you when you touch one), and they can withstand great amounts of damage from fire. However, I have found in my own travels that a simple torch swung about will ward off numerous yeti. If you can manage to slay one of these creatures, skin it and take its pelt. It can save you from the death-bringing cold.
Denizens of the Lost Cities
No discussion of the creatures of the High Ice can be complete without mentioning the Lost Cities: Ascore, Hlaungadath, Spellgard, and Oreme in the Frozen Sea, and Anarath, Bhaulaea, and still others under the ice itself.
These places are, in general, filled with magic and death. Any sort of creature may be found within their boundaries, even those not necessarily native to ice and snow, sand and stone. Many monstrous inhabitants are leftover remnants of a forgotten age, preserved by magic or their ability to adapt.
As is the case in the ruined cities in the Sword, the most common sort of monster in the Lost Cities is undead. These restless spirits of ancient times still guard the Lost Cities from intruders. Magical creatures beyond a Bedine's worst nightmare, such as lamia, hags, dragons, medusae, beholders, even other planar beings, are also frequently encountered, either living among the ruins or exploring, for these foul abominations were, in their heyday, places of powerful magic.
- A Great Man's Journeys
- Part One: The Lands of Anauroch
- Part Two: Ecology of the Sword
- Part Three: Ecology of the Plain of Standing Stones
- Part Four: Ecology of the High Ice
- Part Five: The Underdark of Anauroch
- Part Six: Legends and Rumors