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Ironfang Keep
Brian R. James

For generations untold, a shadowy basalt fortress has loomed over the mouth of the White River along the eastern shore of the Moonsea. Long reputed to be the home of practitioners of dark power, the structure is also held responsible for centuries of abductions and strange abominations unleashed to roam the countryside. Whether any of these rumors are true remains unknown as no credible accounts of the keep’s mysterious inhabitants exist.

Sentinel of Lost Helligheim

Scholars today know little of the keep’s founding though draconic legends do speak of mighty fortress of similar description around the close of the Dawn Ages, about twenty-five thousand years before man and elf raised the Standing Stone.

In that distant time, a terrible war spanning a thousand years had been raging between the mighty giant and dragon civilizations. Throughout the long war, the merciless dragon armies led by terrible Garyx had driven a wedge through the heart of Ostoria, leaving the fire giant realm of Helligheim terribly weakened and isolated. Centuries earlier, the fire giants had constructed twelve mighty fortresses across the breadth of Helligheim’s southern frontier along the shore of the Dragons’ Sea. Though impressive fortifications of earth and magic, one by one the citadels were overrun and shattered by the Dragon King’s armies. By the time the merciful King-Killer star appeared in the heavens to drive the wyrms into madness, only one remote keep remained standing.

Helligheim endured for another century or two but the Colossal Kingdom has been shattered and soon the defeated jotunbrud began retreating further into the remote wilds of the north. Sealed and protected by powerful runecasters, the lone basalt sentinel stood silently for several millennia, abandoned and forgotten.

The Keep

Seemingly hewn from the cliff face upon which it rests, the imposing edifice thrusts upwards from the bedrock of the White River, which surrounds the structure on all sides, save the east where the river cascades into the Moonsea in the scream of a deadly falls. Crafted in the likeness of two opposing fangs or massive pincers, the Keep’s great pinnacle reaches upward over 100 feet to snatch at the sky. A second spire stretches outward perpendicular from the cliff face like a claw to loom over the raging falls below. The keep’s strange, eerie look is further heightened by the fact that it has no windows or battlements, only a single massive iron doorway at ground level. The fortress is seemingly impervious to all divinations and teleportation effects, and in the days since the Avatar Crisis has been surrounded by a defensive ring of wild and dead magic zones.

Ages after its construction, human settlers would name the imposing fortification Ironfang Keep due to the rich deposits of iron to be found in the surrounding Giantspike Mountains. None of these deposits have been mined, however, since no one dares go near the place—let alone set up a permanent mining settlement in its very shadow.

Last Days of Grong-Haap

Ironfang Keep was again occupied in -981 DR when Haask, a monstrous greathorn minotaur (Monster Manual IV), declared himself priest-king and claimed the basalt fortress as the capitol of his burgeoning new kingdom, Grong-Haap. Over the next six-hundred years Grong-Haap slowly expanded to cover the modern-day wastes of Thar, the eastern Moonsea, and northern highlands of the Vast. With only an occasional clash with the elves of Cormanthyr or the orcs of Vastar, the minotaur kingdom enjoyed a level of civilization not common among their kind. Then in the late winter months of the Year of Craven Words (-350 DR), a goblinoid horde one-hundred-thousand strong marched against Grong-Haap from the Tortured Lands in the icy north.

Issuing an utterance in a tongue not spoken on Toril since the Days of Thunder, Haask summoned forth an elder manifestation of absolute evil and sick malevolence. Hargut of the Gray Pestilence surveyed the battlefield before turning his undying gaze upon the priest-king. Speaking a powerful recitation of command, Haask then ordered the Gray Pestilence to scatter the invaders and defend the keep. Tens of thousands died that day before the walls of Ironfang Keep, their flesh fed into Hargut’s voracious maw and their souls consigned to an eternity in the Barrens of Doom and Despair.

By dusk the battle was all but won and Haask returned triumphantly to the keep to feast and rest. Inside, the priest-king was stunned to discover two grim looking humans sitting nonchalantly upon his giant-crafted throne. Before Haask could react, a third assassin appeared behind the priest-king, driving a simple iron blade through his back and into his heart. As his life energy pumped into the enchanted dagger, Haask’s form began to shift revealing his true nature as a batrachi-doppelganger. The mysterious trio later exited the keep heading upriver toward the Glacier of the White Wyrm and beyond. Grong-Haap soon collapsed, and for a time Ironfang Keep again fell out of memory.

Whispers and Legends

In is rumored that in the years following the fall of Netheril, an archwizard of that land came to Ironfang to claim the keep as his own. Legend claims he actually penetrated the keep, but was later found wandering across the wild lands of Thar. He was completely mad, and all he could mutter was the word “green”.

Orc folklore from the period tells a similarly disturbing tale. Every decade or so entire tribes of the great Vastar Empire would go missing; the few witnesses describing shadowy abductors appearing totally without warning to capture unsuspecting clansmen in the night.

The gray tuskers were not the only peoples to go missing in the region. For generations, elves, ogres, giants, and even dragons would go missing under mysterious circumstances. Whispers began to surface that the Ironfang Keep was now inhabited by vile “beast experimenters”. Rumors that were seemingly confirmed when strange hybrid monstrosities would occasionally be spotted in the vicinity of the keep.

Sanctum of the Eviscerated

Suspected by some for decades, the present inhabitants of Ironfang Keep are priests of a beast cult whose members venerate obscure elder powers and experiment on creatures whom they abduct from the nearby mountains. The disturbed cultists believe in a dogma in which one can achieve physical perfection only through the use of grafts (Fiend Folio), a grisy ritual in which the cult member willingly allows a monstrous limb or other flesh to be magically attached to their bodies.

With grim purpose these surgeries are performed in the bowels of Ironfang Keep in a chamber known as the Sanctum of the Eviscerated. But grafts are not the only bizarre rite performed in these halls. The adjoining chambers collectively known as the Managerie, contain the cells of the many beasts captured by the beast cult. Over the centuries several hundred ghastly aberrations have been released into the wild, the result of bizarre breeding or other failed experimentation. The goat-like ibixians (Monster Manual III), first seen in the Year of the Shambling Ice (703 DR), is just one creature of hundreds to have been born of this cult.

Prisoner of the Keep

The true power within Ironfang Keep comes not from the beast cult but from the entity trapped within that they worship without question, Haask, Voice of Hargut. Imprisoned in the keep for nearly seven centuries, Haask did not perish that day long ago on the field outside Ironfang Keep. The dark three—a shadowy assassin, the brooding necromancer, and the dour warlord—presented an offer to the dying priest-king, vowing to spare his life in exchange for his undying fealty and command of the Gray Pestilence. His life blood trickling away and not fully appreciating the ramifications of his decision, Haask readily agreed. The three then dragged Haask outside the keep to lay prone before Hargut the Grey Pestilence. Producing a gem-encrusted scepter from lost Imaskar, the necromancer pointed the artifact first at Hargut then to Haask while speaking three arcane syllables. Great was roar of the Gray Pestilence as he was forcibly dragged down toward the fallen doppelganger. When at last they met, the two became one, and Haask, Voice of Hargut was reborn. The purpose of the union is yet unclear as the three humans quickly imprisoned the abomination beneath Ironfang Keep and never returned.

Adventurers penetrating the keep today risk freeing the Lost God, an event which is sure to ignite fear across the length and breadth of Faerûn. If released, Haask will quickly seek out and receive the protection of both Malar and Ghaunadaur (Faiths and Pantheons), then turn his malevolent thoughts to the conquest of the Moonsea and destruction of the Church of Bane and its followers. Already struggling under the tyrannical rule of Zhentil Keep, the cities of the Moonsea are ill prepared for the bloody conflict which would surely follow.

Haask, Voice of Hargut

Hargut was an antediluvian horror from the Far Realm that manifested on the Toril as a colossal worm-like creature with a giant-sized mouth filled with layer upon layer of razor sharp teeth. Hargut’s skin is sickly green and semi-transparent with red sores visible beneath the surface. Haask, once an elder doppelganger, is now a symbiont (Fiend Folio) fused to the outer flesh of the undying Hargut. Through their symbiotic relationship the former priest-king grants a degree of lucidity and intelligence to the otherwise mindless Hargut. It is unclear if the two would survive if they were separated for a period of time, if possible at all.

About the Author

A software engineer by day and Forgotten Realms aficionado by night, Brian R. James is the author of the recently released Grand History of the Realms. Brian lives in Montana with his high school sweetheart Toni and their four children, Jesse, Cameron, Eleanor, and Bridget. In his spare time he enjoys playing a shadowknight in Everquest 2 and cheering for the Denver Broncos.

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