Mintiper's Chapbook

Part 9: Hall of Mists

by Eric L. Boyd

Mintiper Mintiper Moonsilver is one of the legendary bards of the Forgotten Realms, and tales of his adventures have long been recounted around hearthfires across the North in musical, poetic, and narrative forms. Transcribed in Silverymoon's Vault of the Sages by the Keeper of the Vault, Mintiper's Chapbook is a compilation of the Lonely Harpist's ballads, poems, and tales. Selected pages of this chapbook have been annotated and passed into this chronicler's hands and shall be revealed here in a periodic column.

Hall of Mists

At long last, the fading light convinced Lunargent that he'd best begin his descent from the crown of the towering Grandfather Tree. Carefully making his way down the trunk, he found himself following a different route than he'd taken during his ascent through the forest of branches that both served as steps and impeded his progress.

After more than an hour of quiet progress, Lunargent noticed that the branches around him shook with slowly increasing frequency, like the ground beneath an approaching army's boots. Looking about for a defensible spot, he spied a dark hollow leading deep into the tree trunk. A strange, black, viscous sap smelling of decay seemed to ooze from the walls of the hollow, almost as if it were an ancient wound that would not heal. With more than a trace of trepidation, Lunargent stepped into the cleft. Almost instantly the air grew bitterly cold and an abiding sense of evil chilled his soul. Determined to hold his ground, he drew his swords and awaited whatever was climbing up to him.

Moments later, the head, antennae, and forelegs of a gigantic ant poked into the cleft. Reacting on instinct, the half-elf sliced into the neck of the man-sized insect with both his blades, severing the ant's head from its thorax. However, before he could even wipe his weapons clean, a second giant ant thrust its antennae into the hollow in turn. In the resultant blur of sword thrusts and mandible bites, Lunargent destroyed nearly a dozen formic monsters before their still-twitching corpses wholly blocked the entrance to the hollow.

The ensuing lull lasted barely a moment before the half-elf realized that the rest of the swarm had begun chewing its way through the bodies of the fallen ants. He stumbled backwards with terror, his footing giving way to nothingness. He found himself plunging down a slick-sided shaft dug through the heart of the ancient Grandfather Tree.

Lunargent's precipitous fall came to an abrupt halt atop a mound of leafy detritus overgrown with fungi. Blinded and gagging from the thick cloud of spores released by his impact, the half-elf rolled off onto the hard-packed earthen floor and searched for his swords, which had fallen from his grasp during his descent. However, the increasingly loud sounds of several score ants marching down the shaft prompted him to abandon his search after finding just one weapon and retreat into one of the many side tunnels leading off from the entrance cavern. Discretion proved the better part of valor a moment later when the column of giant ants streamed into the chamber and down one of the other, larger side tunnels. To his horror, Lunargent spied the limp bodies of his companions in the column, each borne from the mandibles of a quartet of ants.

The hours that followed were the seeds of nightmares for many years to come. Hoping his companions were not yet dead and might still be rescued, Lunargent found himself stumbling through a pitch-black labyrinth of dank, cramped tunnels and earthen chambers filled with rotting, fungi-ridden piles of vegetation. Time and time again small groups of warrior ants materialized out of thin air only to vanish as suddenly as they appeared. On those few occasions when his blades carved into one of the giant insects, its wounds seemed to magically repair themselves a moment later.

At last, on the brink of exhaustion, Lunargent was forced to flee a particularly large patrol of warrior ants by racing down a relatively level and wide tunnel. Abruptly, the tunnel ended in a small room of worked stone that served as the mist-filled vestibule of a great hall that reeked of ancient evils. No ants appeared before the half-elf, but the clacking of their mandibles to his rear suggested he had no option but to move forward. Had he been herded here all along?

Creeping into the mist-filled pillared hall, Lunargent wondered at the faded pictographs inscribed upon the walls and arched ceiling, and at the runes -- throbbing with untapped power -- that adorned the pillars and the floor. The dimly glimpsed images depicted reptilian bipeds venerating huge frog-like beings that emerged from swirling mists. Gold and platinum statuary portraying similar batrachian horrors peeked out from the small shrines visible down narrow corridors leading away from the main hall.

Making his way deeper into the unholy sanctuary, Lunargent found himself standing before twin passages approximately thirty feet apart, each enspelled with powerful ancient wards. The half-elf chose the less sinister path, following it forward despite the powerful runes that flared with fiery light in response to his passage and wracked his body with spell-wrought pain.

The shrine beyond was enshrouded with a thick, burning mist and dominated by a great serpentine stone statue of a wide-mouthed, six-eyed, salientian fiend. Between the statue and the intrepid half-elf lay a moat filled with frothing liquid from which rose the acidic mist that permeated the entire complex. Standing before each of the two entrances was a bipedal saurian statue carved from a single massive block of serpentine stone. The only exits appeared to be three ancient gates, each embedded in the widely extended jaws of a hideous reptilian monstrosity. Ancient offerings lay scattered across the floor in front of the half-elf, untouched for countless eons. Among them, Lunargent spied a hideous statue the size of his forearm carved from green marble in the shape of a mass of writhing snakes, a spherical black sapphire nearly a foot in diameter in whose depths danced sinister runes, an oaken staff filigreed with gold-flecked amber, and a bejeweled bronze chalice carved in the form of a slumbering winged lizard.

Of all the treasures that Lunargent spied, however, three sheets of pure gold inscribed with ancient runes of magic that caught his gaze. Overcome with wonder, the half-elf cautiously bent down to see if he had found the most precious of all treasures. A moment's study of the shimmering sigils confirmed what he had barely dared to hope, Lunargent held in his hand three pages of the legendary Nether Scrolls.

The half-elf's reverie ended a moment later as the twin guardian golems came alive, the fluid stone of their construction swirling with deep green eddies. Casting about for an exit, Lunargent hurled himself through the closest gate, trusting Lady Luck that whatever lay beyond could not be worse than the horrific fate he otherwise faced. The resultant cataclysm shattered the portal, its magical eddies hurling Lunargent elsewhere without his newfound treasure. Once again silence reigned in the Hall of Mists, but this time absent the Nether Scrolls.

Fragment of a narrative epic titled "Tree Ghosts"
Attributed to Mintiper Moonsilver
Year of the Moonfall (1344 DR)

Keeper's Annotations


In all the ancient tomes found within the Vault of the Sages, the presence of tunnels amidst the roots of the Grandfather Tree is alluded to only once. [1] In a slim, little-known folio titled Ghost Stories of the Great Forest, the unnamed narrator recounts a tale that appears to date back to the time before the Blue Bear tribe was driven from the sheltering embrace of the Grandfather Tree.

If that story, "The Ribbon of Red Fire," is to believed, a ghostly swarm of red ants swept through the northern reaches of the High Forest centuries ago, voraciously consuming all manner of flora and fauna in its path and growing in size and strength with every day that passed. Although the highway of destruction left in the monstrous swarm's wake was hardly an unbending road, over many months the ants' relentless march moved them inexorably westward. When at last the horde of gigantic ants reached the Grandfather Tree, the ancient forest giant was quickly enveloped in a writhing carpet of monstrous ants. But, just as quickly as the swarm arrived, the monstrous ants were gone, swallowed up into the belly of the great tree. The only evidence of swarm's fate was a gaping hole in the heart of the Grandfather Tree's trunk leading down into unplumbed depths. [2]

I find it very curious that both Mintiper, if indeed he is the author of Tree Ghosts, and the unnamed narrator of "The Ribbon of Red Fire" give apparently independent accounts in which a colony of gigantic ants lairs amidst the roots of the Grandfather Tree. While one might conclude that this apparent correlation lends a measure of credence to both tales, I am obligated to point out that it can also be interpreted as confirmation of my own suspicion, voiced previously, that the escapades attributed to Lunargent in this narrative epic are in fact the story of an unnamed Uthgardt barbarian adventurer, presumably of the Tree Ghost tribe. If in fact this is the case, then the protagonist's supposed confrontation with a swarm of gigantic ants may well have been an exaggeration based in part on the oral history of the Uthgardt. [3]

Be that as it may, the most disturbing aspect of this fragment of the Tree Ghosts epic is the supposed presence of an unholy temple filled with ancient relics [4] in the depths of the High Forest, apparently dating back untold eons to the time when the Creator Races ruled Faerûn. Circumstantial evidence that this shrine dates back to the Iqua'Tel'Quessir, as the Creator Races are known to the Fair Folk, comes in three forms.

First, the description of golems of fluid serpentine stone matches only one other account of which I am aware. The journals of Tsensyiir of Tashluta, titled A Cold-blooded Tale: Journey into the Pit of Vipers, include a discussion of an overgrown temple in the depths of the Black Jungle on the shore of the Lapal Sea. According to Tsensyiir's account, he stumbled across this ancient shrine while fleeing the dreaded serpent-men of the Tashalar. Having found refuge in the main sanctuary, Tsensyiir took the time to describe the ancient idols that surrounded the bloodstained central altar; his account matches the golems described by Lunargent exactly. While hardly indicative of any conclusion, the account does tie the debased yuan-ti to a region of the North they seem unlikely to have occupied since before the rise of Aryvandaar.

Second, the description of a frog-like fiend with six eyes matches only one other faith recorded in the encyclopedic compendium of faiths listed in Cults and Clerics: An Accounting of Religious Sects Since the Fall of Netheril, scribed by Loremaster Most Exalted Prespaerin Cadathlyn of the House of Many Tomes in upland Impiltur west of Songhal. According to the "Binder of Faerûn," the earliest known depictions of Ramenos -- the batrachian deity venerated by many bullywug tribes in the Marsh of Chelimber -- resemble a six-eyed lord of the slaadi. Again, this obscure reference ties the Hall of Mists to a modern-day faith practiced only by the debased descendants of the Creator Races.

Finally, I have recently acquired from a bookseller in Llorkh an account of the last adventure of the Company of the Golden Sands, a band of ill-fated tomb robbers that vanished in the depths of Anauroch in the Year of the Serpent (1359 DR). According to this anonymous account, titled Sands of Gold, the company chanced across a small band of lizardfolk who seemed distinctly out of place amidst the sandy wasteland of the Great Desert. Although sorely pressed by their reptilian foes, the company managed to defeat the lizardfolk and from them recover a map to a mysterious tomb buried beneath an unnamed desert oasis. In the corner of the map was a curious inscription in the arcane tongue of wyrms that referred to the runic slitherings inscribed on the Golden Skins of the World Serpent. The account then discusses the travails of the company ere it found the tomb, but includes no details to reveal its location more precisely than the western reaches of Anauroch. According to the journal, all members of the company but the author fell in the outer rooms of the tomb to the depredations of elven tomb guardians.

The interest of the lizardfolk in this ancient tomb, coupled with the presence of undead elven wardens, suggests that this crypt may well date back to the Iqua'Tel'Quessir and contain secrets the Fair Folk do not want discovered on any account. If true, then the aforementioned Golden Skins of the World Serpent might well be the name by which the lizardfolk refer to the missing Nether Scrolls. While reported sightings of the Nether Scrolls are commonplace in fireside tales, as are descriptions of ancient reptilian and batrachian ruins, both accounts describe apparent legacies of the Iqua'Tel'Quessir closely watched by the Fair Folk and in which the golden scrolls that served as the foundation of ancient Netheril's mastery of the Art might be found. The very similarity of these accounts lends the veneer of veracity to both tales. [5]

In any event, the fact that Lunargent managed to escape the Hall of Mists by destroying an ancient gate suggests that the golden scrolls of which he speaks contain extremely powerful arcane energies. If indeed they were several of the Nether Scrolls [6], which, according to legend, are supposed to be indestructible, then Lunargent's account might well be explained if the gate he attempted to use led to a plane of utter annihilation, such as the Negative Material Plane. The Nether Scrolls would certainly have been powerful enough to shatter the gate rather pass through it, but, like Lunargent, they too may have been hurled elsewhere on this plane. [7]

Prudently, the tale ends with the suggestion that neither the Hall of Mists nor Lunargent holds the alleged set of Nether Scrolls he discovered, although one wonders how the omniscient narrator is so sure that this partial set of Nether Scrolls no longer lie beneath the ancient Grandfather Tree. In any event, either the destruction of one of the three gates or the alleged disappearance of the Nether Scrolls once contained within the Hall of Mists might account for the reported possibility that the Grandfather Tree recently allowed the Tree Ghost tribe to finally return to its traditional ancestor mound. [8]

Chronicler's Endnotes

[1] The roots of the Grandfather Tree are interwoven with a maze of gnome-sized tunnels hewn from the soil by a colony of giant ants. Bands of warrior ants patrol the tunnels, which are approximately four feet in diameter, roughly oval-shaped, and formed from hard-packed earth. Lichen adorns the tunnel walls, and rotting, fungi-ridden vegetation is piled high on most tunnel floors. Most tunnel junctions widen in into broad earthen chambers with low ceilings occupied by small groups of worker ants. The egg chamber lies within the northern end of the great chamber that leads to the Hall of Mists.

[2] The creation of the catacombs and the seeds of the Uthgardt's exile are rooted in the destruction of Ascalhorn in the Year of the Curse (882 DR) by a horde of summoned tanar'ri. Once ensconced in the citadel thereafter known as Hellgate Keep, the fiends quickly overran the forest settlements of the elven realm of Eaerlann and the upper halls of the dwarven realm of Ammarindar. Until the Harpers and their allies established powerful wards permeating the lands about the citadel in the Year of the Fell Firebreak (886 DR), the taint of the Abyss spread unchecked through out the once fair forests of the Upvale, creating in its wake horrific, twisted abominations of the native flora and fauna.

One such perversion of the natural order was created in the Year of the Giant's Oath (883 DR) when an eddy of magical chaos enmeshed a colony of red ants, causing them to quickly grow to gargantuan proportions. Barred from the now-miniscule tunnels of their formicary, the giant ants marched westward into the forest's depths in search of new home, leaving a trail of destruction behind. A trace of the tainted Abyssal seed that sparked the colony's transformation must have remained within the ants, for their march led them inexorably toward the Grandfather Tree and the portals to the Abyss that lay beneath. As described in the account unearthed by the Keeper, the giant ants swarmed over the Grandfather Tree before boring into its roots through an ancient abscess in the trunk.

As a result of their close proximity to the Hall of Mists and the lingering taint of the Abyss, the giant ants that lair beneath the Grandfather Tree today now have the ability to shift out of phase, not unlike phase spiders. Moreover, the queen and the warrior caste exhibit regeneration abilities not unlike the Everlasting Ones of the Trollmoors.

[3] Here the depth of the Keeper's continuing skepticism regarding the breadth of Mintiper's adventures ranges into the bizarre, undermining the quality of his scholarship and the strength of his theses. (See Mintiper's Chapbook #2: The Tree of Wailing Souls for further discussion of the character of Lunargent and the roots of the Keeper's skepticism. See Mintiper's Chapbook #8: Grandfather Tree for more details about the Keeper's misguided theory that the Tree Ghost epic recounts the adventures of an unnamed Uthgardt barbarian.) Nevertheless, in unearthing the "The Ribbon of Red Fire" and recognizing its relevance, the Keeper has indeed uncovered a historical record revealing the true origin of the giant ants encountered by Mintiper and his companions amidst the roots of the Grandfather Tree.

[4] The treasures found within the Hall of Mists do not all date back to the Days of Thunder and the Iqua'Tel'Quessir. Many were plundered by the ants during their excavations underneath the burial rings that encircle the Grandfather Tree and then carried into the Hall of Mists by some strange compulsion. The treasures that Lunargent describes include Writhing Asps of Sss'thasine'ss (with powers not unlike a staff of curing), the Orb of Starunes (a crystal ball which projects its contents -- equivalent to a book of vile darkness --into the mind of the scryer), and the Stave of Turlang (a sacred relic of the Tree Ghost tribe carved from a broken branch of the great treant with powers akin to the druid spell changestaff, but able to create a treant capable of animating additional trees as treants).

[5] Note that the Keeper has no qualms about drawing a conclusion from two examples in this instance, yet previously he seemed quite skeptical of any implied truthfulness suggested by the apparent similarity between Lunargent's account of the giant ants beneath the Grandfather Tree and the tale entitled "The Ribbon of Red Fire."

[6] Mintiper did indeed discover three of the Nether Scrolls, although whether they remain within the Hall of Mists or were hurled elsewhere by the magical eddies unleashed during the destruction of the third gate remains unknown. This set was part of the complete collection lost during Netheril's Mythallar Era.

It is unclear how the three scrolls made their way into the Hall of Mists after they were stolen from the Netherese, just as it is unclear how two other scrolls made their way into the Tomb of Hsssthak beneath the sands of Anauroch, when Hsssthak was presumably entombed before the rise of Netheril. Perhaps the thief deliberately scattered the stolen set of Nether Scrolls amidst various ruins of the Iqua'Tel'Quessir? If so, was the motivation to hide them from the Netherese or to encourage the Netherese to seek out places of power dating back to the Creator Races? If the former is the case, then the plot was a success, although the motivation remains obscure. If the latter, then the perpetrator's efforts seem to have gone at least partially for naught.

The three scrolls include one of the Magicus Creare detailing, among other things, the creation of magical scepters, one of the Major Creare (Creation Scrolls) detailing, among other things, the art of creating various forms of golems, one of the Planus Mechanicus detailing, among other things, the art of creating gates to other planes.

[7] The two gates that lie to either side of the central statue in the Hall of Mists lead to different planes of the Abyss. The left portal transports those passing through to the 248th level of the Abyss, a plane ruled by the demon lord Eltab, Lord of the Hidden Layer, who recently escaped imprisonment at the hand of the Red Wizards of Thay. The right portal transports gatewalkers to the 571st layer of the Abyss, a vast, dark ocean ruled by Dagon, Demon Lord of the Depths.

As the Keeper correctly surmises, the third gate facing the central statue once led to the Negative Material Plane, although Mintiper's attempt to pass through it with the Nether Scrolls in hand undoubtedly saved his life and definitely destroyed the gate. Today, all that remains of this once-deadly portal is a wisp of obsidian smoke that emanates from the fiendish gatemouth, chilling the bones of anyone who passes through it.

[8] As noted in Mintiper's Chapbook #8: Grandfather Tree, the Grandfather Tree drove the Blue Bear tribe away in the Year of the Burning Tree (890 DR) and welcomed back its descendants -- now the Tree Ghost tribe -- in the Year of the Banner (1368 DR). Both actions were directly tied to developments regarding the Hall of Mists. In the former case, the Grandfather Tree's action was precipitated by the tunneling activities of the giant ant colony. Seven years after the arrival of the "Ribbon of Red Fire," worker ants broke into the Hall of Mists, opening its ancient halls to the outside world for the first time in millennia. In the latter case, the arakhor (a type of entity of which the Grandfather Tree is the last known example, as discussed in Mintiper's Chapbook #8: Grandfather Tree) was responding to the closing of the gate to the Negative Material Plane. Once Mintiper destroyed the gate, the risks to the ancient tree warden diminished considerably, and the Grandfather Tree felt more comfortable with its traditional defenders in attendance rather than exiled for their own safety. This is not to say that the twin portals to the Abyss found in the Hall of Mists do not pose significant risks to the Grandfather Tree by their continued existence. Simply, the threat posed by the Negative Material Plane to the arakhor's lifeblood far exceeded the damage a demon or two might inflict after wandering through the gate.



Hall of Mists

Mintiper's Chapbook