The Trail of Tears
By Eric L. Boyd
The Scourge of Pestilence (EL 15)
From 900 DR to 902 DR, Chondath was rent by civil war between its cities. In 902 DR, a battle on the Fields of Nun, which lie between the Nunwood and the northeastern tip of the Chondalwood, earned the conflict the moniker of the Rotting War. The rulers of the various cities, tired of the conflict and looking for a quick victory, ordered their spellcasters to release ancient plague magic dating back to the height of Jhaamdath. Necromantic magic poured over the battlefield, decimating all sides of the conflict. The survivors stumbled home to their respective cities only to find the gates barred by those they had sworn to protect. Although the cities were spared, the rural population fell victim to all manner of horrible plagues, leaving large swaths of Chondath unpopulated for the first time in centuries.
The one-way portal from Swords Creek in Mistledale leads to the center a long-abandoned ring of standing stones in the Fields of Nun, on a low hillock on the southern bank of the River Nun. Nearly five centuries after the Rotting War, the Fields of Nun still lie fallow, still avoided by the local populace as a dangerous and deadly region that often causes travelers to suddenly sicken and die. Nevertheless, the Trail of Tears wends its way south and west into the heart of this dangerous region. Anyone exiting the Swords Creek portal can see a trail of illusionary red tears leading out of the ring of standing stones into the plague-ridden battlefield.
Travelers along this link in the Trail of Tears are apt to encounter packs of slavering ghouls lead by ghasts, all of whom have the plague carrier template and are infected with cackle fever or red ache. The chance of infection is both cases is high, as a ghoul's willingness to bite its foes near the mouth and nose often spreads its fetid breath and the sharp claws of such undead can easily injure their foes, allowing red ache to spread easily into open wounds.
Eventually, the Trail of Tears leads to an ancient barrow mound, where hundreds of those slain during the Battle of the Fields of Nun were buried in a deep trench and covered with a pile of earth. No vegetation grows atop the barrow, which is a grim reminder of the deadly pestilence that still lingers within the soil. Once again, the next portal in the Trail of Tears opens at midnight only if one or more persons are present who have passed through the previous portal. This portal also lasts only seven rounds, and it opens somewhere along the sides of the barrow. (The exact location varies each time.) Passage through the one-way portal requires one to be infected with some sort of disease, such as red ache or devil chills (page 292 DMG). The portal leads the Tharch of Thazalhar in far-off Thay.
The appearance of the portal also heralds the arrival of its three guardians, a trio of erinyes with the plague carrier template who are infected with devil chills. The erinyes, named Alecto, Tisiphone, and Magaera, lead a small company of nine barbazu, who also bear the plague carrier template and are infected with devil chills (page 292 DMG). The sawed-toothed glaives of the barbazu are particularly dangerous, for the devils smear their blood over them prior to battle, allowing them to pass on their disease through strikes with their favored weapons, in addition to their claws.
The goal of this third battle along the Trail of Tears is to instruct the Foehammer's followers that war is just one of many ways that people die, and as such should not be feared. In the words of the Foehammer, which echo in the mind of anyone passing through the portal, "War should not be feared, but be seen as a natural force -- a human force -- the storm that civilization brings by its very existence. Pestilence and famine are the true scourges of civilization, for they too afflict all equally yet without the opportunity for valor." Should someone win their way through the portal and then return to do it again, replace the disease that infects the devils with filth fever, slimy doom, or the like.