The Trail of Tears
By Eric L. Boyd
Death Before Dishonor
The rolling hills region of Thazalhar, bounded by the River Thazarim and the River of the Dawn, is perhaps the most desolate region of Thay. Once home to bountiful farms and prosperous inhabitants, the region withered during the Battle of Thazalhar in 922 DR under the boots of sword-wielding soldiers, the spells of the Red Wizards, and havoc wreaked by summoned elementals. The Red Wizards defeated the army of the Mulhorandi god-kings during that battle, and Thay has remained independent of Mulhorand ever since. Yet the cost to Thazalhar was high, as for generations thereafter, nothing grew or could be grown amidst the blackened ruins.
Now, over four centuries later, Thazalhar is fertile again, yet it remains largely uninhabited. The wild and empty easternmost province of Thay is largely ignored, and it is a place to be endured by the wizards, soldiers, and slaves compelled to live there. Each spring thaw raises a crop of grisly relics -- old bones and rusted armaments -- from the earth. All too frequently, such legacies of battles past rise up as undead to plague the living.
The one-way portal from the unnamed barrow in the Fields of Nun exits atop a low hillock on the south bank of the River Thazarim, some 30 or so miles northeast of the river's outlet, where a Mulhorandi counter-invasion of Thay foundered in 976 DR. From there, the Trail of Tears wends its way south and east through the Tharch of Thazalhar. Anyone exiting the Fields of Nun portal can see a trail of illusionary red tears wending through the rolling hills.
The trail through Thazalhar avoids the few settlements of the region, but does not guarantee safe passage by any means. Companies of dread warriors led by Red Wizards and Thayan Knights are infrequent, but small bands of roving undead are not. When not battling or fleeing the inhabitants of Thazalhar, travelers are apt to spot ruined castles, overgrown barrows, and barren patches in which no living thing can grow.
The Trail of Tears ends at the foot of a low cliff carved by a now-buried stream of water. The cliff appears to have partially collapsed long ago, leaving a large hill of earth and stone at its base. A careful search of the hill (DC 15) reveals a crude tunnel leading into the ground. A successful Search check (DC 10) reveals that the tunnel is unstable, but safe enough at least for the moment. The tunnel appears large enough for a Medium-size creature to crawl through, measuring roughly 3 foot by 3 foot in diameter and some 50 feet in length. Evidence of numerous cave-ins is visible along its length, as are several human skeletons that appear to have been crawling down the tunnel when they were crushed by falling rock. None of the skeletons have any gear, suggesting they must have been animated undead, not living creatures, at the time of their passage.
The tunnel leads to the Darkcrypt, a long-forgotten memorial to Re, the Mulhorandi sun god, dating back to the Orcgate Wars. The memorial was built to mark the site where Re fell in battle to Gruumsh, but it quickly faded into obscurity under the benign neglect of the church of Horus-Re, Re's son and successor.
In 922 DR, the church of Horus-Re abandoned the memorial as the Red Wizards drove Mulhorand's armies back across the River of Dreams. Unwilling to concede defeat and seeking atonement for his failure to lead the empire's armies to victory, Ramathanhur, an incarnation of Anhur, swore to defend the site until his dying breath or until Mulhorand could reclaim its lost territory.
To aid that vow, a high-ranking priest of Horus-Re took such defensive measures as time permitted, casting a forbiddance spell (aligned to chaotic good, 16th-level caster) on the shrine as a whole and then causing part of the cliff face to collapse around the shrine, using magic to ensure that the shrine itself remained inviolate. Although he fully expected to return when Mulhorand reconquered Thazalhar, fate intervened on two accounts. First, the high priest and all who knew what he had done were slain in a skirmish as Mulhorand's armies withdrew in defeat, leaving the fate of Ramathanhur forever lost to history. Second, spoils taken from an early skirmish of the Battle of Thazalhar and hastily stashed within the memorial were left behind.
Among those items were several that had been looted from the body of a dead Red Wizard named Kethoth Uuthrakt of Delhumide. After Kethoth's former allies recovered his corpse, he was animated as a spectral mage by an allied priest of Kossuth. Kethoth fought alongside the Red Wizards until the Battle of Thazalhar was won, and then began a centuries-long quest to recover the items he had carried at the time of his death, slowly losing what remained of his sanity in the process. After centuries of frustration, Kethoth stumbled across a scroll of locate object shortly after the Time of Troubles (secretly placed where he would find it by an agent of Tempus). Using the directional clue provided by the scroll, Kethoth determined that his missing items lay within the Darkcrypt, but he himself was prevented from entering thanks to the lingering forbiddance spell. Undaunted, the spectral mage began animating skeletons (buried in great number across the rolling hills of Thazalhar) and directing them to tunnel into the buried memorial. Some were crushed as the tunnel collapsed, while others fell victim to the forbiddance effect or the sharp blade of Ramanthanhur.
Those who follow the Trail of Tears to its conclusion inevitably arrive in the Darkcrypt, briefly detailed below. The trail of red gems visible to those who have exited the previous portal in the chain ends at the end of the rubble-strewn tunnel from the surface, begging the question as to what those who follow the Trail of Tears should do next.
Unbeknownst to Kethoth or Ramanthanhur, the archway leading out of the outer memorial and into the forecourt is actually a portal, although it does not detect as magical and can only be employed by someone exiting the chamber. That person must bear a depiction of the holy symbol of Tempus in some form and have defended their beliefs (whatever they may be through actions, force of arms, or words) within the past hour. In other words, there is no actual need to delve further into Darkcrypt, only that a follower of Tempus uphold the Foehammer's instruction. Anyone who calls upon Tempus for aid hears the following words echo in their head, "Defend what you believe in, lest it be swept away, and remember the dead who fell fighting before them. Above all, disparage no foe and respect all, for valor blazes in all, regardless of age, gender, or race."
The setting simply provides one with the opportunity to act according one's own beliefs, whether they dictate an attack on Kethoth, an attack on Ramanthanhur, and/or exploring the Darkcrypt. One possibility is that a follower of Tempus might choose to slay Ramanthanhur in ritual combat. At the DM's option, this might have the effect of breaking the Mulhorandi pantheon's claim to Thazalhar and all of Thay, allowing Tempus to supplant Anhur as the reigning god of war in the land of the Red Wizards. Of course, such a shift might be short-lived if the character does not establish an abbey or some other such manifest symbol of the Foehammer's sovereignty at this site.
The fourth and last portal leads back to the Fields of the Dead, on the same hill where the Trail of Tears began. Anyone passing through this portal after having completed the Trail of Tears receives a boon from the Foehammer and hears the following echo in their head, "You have proved yourself worthy of my favor. You may ask of me one boon." That boon could be in the form of a long-lost weapon or suit of armor, a granting of forgiveness for some sin, or a boon to be exercised in a battle to come. A typical boon provides the effects of a one-time prayer spell to the recipient, only the area of effect increases to a 30 mile radius and the duration increases to a tenday. Such a boon is often enough to allow an army allied with the recipient to prevail against a much stronger foe.