Perilous Gateways

The Shadow Path: A Portal Network

By James Wyatt

The Labyrinth

In the upper and middle subterranean reaches beneath the Dessarin River, a literal maze of twisting passages connects the northern region of the Underdark with areas farther south. Despite the risk of becoming lost in its convoluted byways and the real danger posed by its inhabitants, the Labyrinth is frequently used by merchants from the duergar kingdom of Gracklstugh and the infamous drow city of Menzoberranzan to reach the city of Skullport and points beyond. No one would deny that bringing a caravan through the Labyrinth is a high-risk venture, but many merchants simply cannot resist the high payoff. For a lucky or resourceful few, the paths are made slightly easier by the use of portals within the Labyrinth.

The Labyrinth did not gain its current residents, the baphitaurs, until long after the construction of the shifting passageways and twisting caverns that give it its name. In fact, dwarves created the Labyrinth during the flourishing of their kingdom of Ammarindar, about -2200 DR. The dwarves who crafted it were evil to the core, however: They worshiped a demon lord and allied themselves with minotaurs and bull-headed demons. Several centuries later, long after the dwarf cult had abandoned the Labyrinth and the temples they hid within it, the baphitaurs arrived. Baphitaurs are castoff experiments of Netherese wizards who operate in another dwarf-built hall, the keep of Andalbruin, now known as the Dungeon of the Ruins. Apparently created by merging minotaurs, humans, and the same bull-headed demons who allied with the dwarves, the baphitaurs fled their creators at Andalbruin and eventually gravitated to the one place in Faerûn they could truly feel at home: the Labyrinth.

The shifting walls of the Labyrinth are designed with a single purpose: to channel intruders into ambush locations or deadly traps. Dozens of maze areas are within the approximately 400 square miles of the Labyrinth, and they are connected by numerous natural tunnels that, while twisted and disorienting, at least do not move. Once inside a maze area, an intruder has no choice but to move in the direction the builders desired -- despite the wealth of apparent choices presented. The passages shift both behind and ahead, always just out of sight -- either around a corner or beyond the 60-foot range afforded by most creatures' darkvision. The result amounts to an illusion of carefully picking one's way through a maze, while the reality is that the intruders are following a single, unchanging course toward whatever doom awaits them. Even such a powerful spell as find the path cannot foil the misdirection of the mazes, for there is no way out. A minotaur's or baphitaur's natural cunning makes it aware of the deceptive nature of the mazes, but it does not enable it to escape any more easily.

A portal from the wilderness near Ched Nasad leads to the middle of one of the long, unchanging tunnels between maze areas in the Labyrinth. This tunnel winds its way steeply downward and southward for about three miles before emptying into one of the Labyrinth's mazes. This maze is slightly different from others in the Labyrinth, however, for it does actually allow a choice of destinations. A creature within the maze trying to find its way out can actually do so: The turns that seem most likely to lead out of the maze steer the creature toward an exit tunnel directly opposite the entrance, allowing Underdark merchants to pass through. A mere quarter-mile beyond the maze, another portal leads to Oryndoll. This one is easy to find and requires no special keys to trigger. A baphitaur with natural cunning, however, can choose a path, seemingly counter-intuitive at almost every turn, almost directly toward the heart of the maze. There lies the Pit of Howling Grief, where Baphomet has been revered for over three thousand years.

The Pit of Howling Grief is an apparently bottomless rift in the ground. Incessant sounds of moaning and wailing -- whether tricks of subterranean winds or some more supernatural effect -- rise from the depths of the pit on a scalding-hot breeze. A single, large slab of light-devouring black rock hulks beside the chasm, serving as shrine and altar to the demon lord. Thousands of years ago, the degenerate dwarves who built the Labyrinth held their foulest rites and sacrifices at the edge of the pit, and now baphitaurs continue these loathsome practices.

For some reason yet to be discovered, the baphitaurs have grown increasingly active in recent years and have extended their reach in the Underdark ways around the Labyrinth. Their devotion to Baphomet, with the accompanying slaughter their lord desires, has also increased to a frenzied pitch.

Shadow Path