Portals of the Frozen Wastes
By James Wyatt
The High Ice
Ice hangs in dense flows from the walls of a vast cavern below the High Ice. Frost-rimed stalagmites tower up from the cavern floor, and among them seven columns of lustrous pale blue hardly stand out. Many creatures have made their lairs in this mighty cavern over the course of millennia, from mysterious giants in ages long past to a very unusual young red dragon named Icindallix in more recent years. Now the dragon's offspring calls this place home, having killed and devoured its sire. This offspring, born of a mighty remorhaz of monstrous size, is known as the Red Worm.
Before recorded history began, a city stood in this cavern, its spires rising gently from the cavern floor like what were then young stalagmites. Its smooth crystalline walls morphed with the icy stone, forming one surface. It fell to an army led by Netherese arcanists, and the army utterly annihilated every trace of its structures -- not even ashes remained. Later Netherese inhabitants were mystified by seven smooth blue columns that seemed to grow like persistent weeds from the cavern floor, returning despite every attempt to erase their presence. Even now, long after Netheril fell and its scattered colonies were abandoned to the great desert, seven blue columns still stand as mute testament to the first inhabitants of this nameless cavern.
As in the Sea of Moving Ice, touching one of the seven blue pillars activates the portal they form. Seven walls of sparkling blue energy form between the pillars, each one wide enough for a single creature with a 5-foot face to pass through. (Creatures who do not possess a face as small as 5 feet are out of luck. They cannot pass through the portal.) Creatures using the portal emerge from a vertical wall of ice in the Great Glacier. As soon as one creature passes through the portal, the blue curtains of energy vanish and the portal cannot be activated again for 1 hour. If multiple creatures want to use the portal at the same time, they must enter at exactly the same moment. Each creature must succeed at a DC 10 Dexterity check or move too slowly to pass through with the group. No more than seven Small to Large creatures can possibly use the portal at once. More creatures of size Tiny or smaller can pass through, since two or more of them can use a single 5-foot section. Characters arriving at this portal from another destination arrive in the center of the seven columns.
Again, just like the portal in the Sea of Moving Ice, speaking the word "Jhothûn" while the portal is active causes it to shift destinations. The energy curtains become brilliant purple, and any creatures using the portal in this state are transported to Jhothûn instead. Unlike the western portal, no physical erosion has taken its toll on the pillars or their magic here. Quite to the contrary, the pillars and portal have actually returned from utter annihilation on multiple occasions -- for no known reason. However, time and the incredible magical energies unleashed on the region by the phaerimm have caused the portal's functioning to become unpredictable. Each time the portal is activated, roll on the Portal Malfunction table in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (Table 2-2). All creatures using the portal at a given time suffer the same malfunction, if any.
The portal under the High Ice seems to have chosen a guardian over the years just like the western portal has. Ancient legends speak of a madness that consumed the Netherese colony in this cavern, and more recent adventurer's tales suggest that Icindallix, the red dragon who laired here, was eccentric beyond her choice of habitat. It is possible that all this madness stems from the presence of the portal, which whispers in the dark to those it chooses to protect it. Now one inhabitant lives in the cavern, and that one is the portal's chosen protector: the half-remorhaz Red Worm.
The spawn of Icindallix is a gigantic remorhaz with streaks of vibrant red running the length of its icy-white body. Its head combines the insectoid features of a remorhaz with the frills and horns of a red dragon's face, and flame constantly dances around its drooling maw. To all appearances, it is nothing more than a ravenous, mindless beast -- but in truth, a significant glimmer of intelligence lurks behind its alien eyes. Certainly it is no genius, but it is capable of thought and reason, cunning and tactics. Unlike Thurghom in the Sea of Moving Ice, the Red Worm strongly suspects what it is guarding, though it gives little thought as to why it must guard.
Recently the Red Worm has lived up to the expectations placed upon it by successfully defending the portal from an expedition of explorers originating in the fledgling Empire of Shade. As the shades settle into their new home, they are directing much of their efforts toward locating ancient Netherese ruins and unearthing the treasures they so often hold. The shades know that a colony was located in this cavern, and the exploration party was disappointed to find no trace of it here, after so many other creatures have made their lairs here. They quickly discovered the portal, however, and even activated it before the Red Worm destroyed them all. In the course of this event, however, the Red Worm learned enough about the portal to gain some understanding of what it is and why the shades might be interested in it. Without knowing any more than that, it has become that much firmer in its resolve to defend the portal from any intruders, and it no longer leaves the cavern -- even to hunt.
The Red Worm cannot survive for long. For now, it compels other remorhazes to bring it food, and the region around the cavern literally swarms with the creatures, all of which hold great reverence for the Red Worm. However, the rulers of Shade are aware of the situation and will soon send a more powerful party to deal with the Red Worm and explore the portal network to the fullest. Their return will certainly spell the doom of the portal's latest guardian, and it may pave the way for the evil rulers of Shade to unlock the secrets of lost Jhothûn.