4: Crypt of the Black Hand
by Eric L. Boyd
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.
of the Black Hand
raced through the catacombs with the ghoul pack slavering at his heels.
Blood dripped from a score or more cuts, witness to the sharp teeth
and cruel claws of the flesh-eaters, and his stomach roiled against
the pervading stench of carrion. From up ahead he could hear the mad
howls of another ghoul pack racing to cut him off, leaving him no option
but to dash into the nearest side chamber and bar the door shut, hoping
against hope it was the one he sought.
eyes wild with fear, Lunargent looked about the room, noting the bones
of rotting corpses and streaks of blood across the floor and walls.
Once a safehold for the citizenry of Ascalhorn in times of attack, the
room had been transformed into a macabre playroom for the demons to
indulge themselves. From outside the door, a fiendish baying heralded
the arrival of the ghoul packs master, a fearsome glabrezu. With
desperate haste, Lunargent raced to the rear of the chamber and dove
into the tainted, brackish waters of the cistern. Lady Luck was kind
to him, for at the bottom of the fouled reservoir he found the slight
hand-shaped depression carved into the stone that he sought.
a sense of impending doom, Lunargent pressed his right hand against
the symbol of the Black Lord and then swam back up to the surface. The
half-elf found himself in a dark pool at the center of a chamber with
walls of basalt and a high, arching ceiling. The air was heavy with
smoke from a handful of guttering torches placed in sconces along the
walls, and his crazed fear quickly transformed into an awareness of
dreadful majesty. Directly above him loomed an immense obsidian hand
standing six feet high and hovering high above the room. The walls were
lined with a dozen obsidian sarcophagi, the lids of which were all carved
in the form of a human male clad in the vestments of the Lord of Darkness.
care not to disturb anything within the unholy crypt, Lunargent made
his way around the room, studying each sculpted figure in turn. At last
he found the one he sought, whose twisted visage mocked the noble features
of the long-dead High Mage of Silverymoon, Ederan Nharimlur. Shoving
aside the heavy lid, the half-elf lay down within its dank confines
and closed himself within for the space of three terrifying heartbeats.
what seemed an eternity, the coffin walls slowly melted away, and the
half-elf found himself standing in a narrow crevice at the base of the
western cliff face of the ancient igneous plug once known as Ascals
Horn. It was only a matter of time until the ghoul packs found his trail
again, but at least he was free of Hellgate Keep and had a brief head
of a narrative epic entitled "Hellstorm"
to Mintiper Moonsilver
of the Harp (1355 DR)
Moonsilver has long been recognized as the only man to have stormed
the ghoul-hold of Hellgate Keep and lived to tell the tale. The recent
fall of that centuries-old bastion of evil ensures that he will be the
only one ever to do so.  As mentioned in an earlier
annotation, the hero of the "Hellstorm" epic, Lunargent, is
simply a commonly employed alias for Moonsilver and those who have told
him of their adventures. In this narrative, at least, Mintipers
tale is definitely autobiographical. 
is little agreement among scholars as to exactly when Mintipers
famous raid on the fiend-held redoubt occurred, as some sages place
it before the half-elfs founding of the Moonlight Men, while other
chroniclers believe it happened it immediately following the Battle
of Turnstone Pass or several years later, during the five years he spent
with the druids of the Tall Trees after his return to the North. It
has been established, however, that Mintiper did not compose his "Hellstorm"
epic until the last year of his residence among the druids of Tall Trees.
The Journal of Ilygaard Stormhawk, Druid of the Tall Trees
Circle, which now lies in the Vault of Sages in Silverymoon, speaks
of Mintiper creating the narrative epic as a gift to his companion,
the slave girl Noura, in the early stages of her descent into madness
and death as a way of giving her hope that even the greatest of horrors
could be surmounted. 
passage from the "Hellstorm" narrative undoubtedly describes
the Crypt of the Black Hand, a vault said to lie within the depths of
Hellgate Keep and hold the bones and treasures of the Brotherhood of
the Black Hand. This cadre of Bane-worshipping wizards was founded in
Ascalhorn shortly after the fall of Myth Drannor. The Brotherhood was
driven into exile in the Year of the Cowl (765 DR) after the Ascalhi
authorities discovered the groups activities, only to resurface
in Silverymoon a year later where their spies were employed as builders
of the High Palace of Silverymoon. Most of the Black Hand wizards were
found an executed, although a few escaped with a number of priceless
magical artifacts, including High Mage Ederans staff of Silverymoon,
the chain mail glove of Taarnahm the Vigilant, and Tasmias
necklace. Those who did survive returned in secret to a safehold
in Ascalhorn, where the remaining Brothers became enmeshed in the rapidly
escalating conflicts and power plays between the wizards of that city.
In the Year of Thorns (856 DR), the last wizards of the Black Hand fell
to the attacks of rival sorcerers and the burgeoning host of baatezu
that had infiltrated Ascalhorn. Of all the Brotherhoods places
of power, only the legendary Crypt of the Black Hand is thought to have
escaped discovery, although Lunargents tale suggests some means
of accessing the subterranean vault survived and remains known today.
Mintipers description, we can conclude that the symbol of Bane
is carved in the floor of a cistern in one of the lesser assemblies
beneath Ascalhorn, assuming it survived the destruction of Hellgate
Keep, and that, by placing ones right hand in it, can be employed
as a gate to the Crypt of the Black Hand, which lies elsewhere
within Ascals Horn. (No hint is given as to whether or not magical
passage in the reverse direction is also possible.) 
comparison of this account with one found in the Annals of the Helmstar
Company, a band of adventurers who plundered a temple of the Dark
Lord over a century ago, suggests that the Crypt is guarded by a holy
hand of Bane, a rare type of magical relic sometimes found guarding
the innermost altars of temples dedicated to the Black Lord. The means
by which Lunargent escaped its attentions is left unstated, although
perhaps his care to avoid disturbing anything contained within the Crypt
ensured his safety. 
Nharimlur was known as Catseye after he miscast a find familiar
spell in the Year of Portents Perilous (707 DR) and mixed his form with
that of a summoned feline, giving him a light gold fur covering his
skin and the green eyes of a cat. The inclusion of the High Mages
twisted representation amidst the Brotherhood is undoubtedly a mocking
jest alluding to their vindictive theft of his staff of Silverymoon
as well as a distinctive marker indicating which sarcophagus functions
as an exit gate from the Crypt. One wonders what horrors lurk
within the sarcophagi that Lunargent did not disturb. Perhaps they contain
the purloined treasures of Silverymoon? 
The fall of Hellgate Keep was the work of the Mistmaster of the Citadel
of Mists, the bard Cryshana Fireglen, and Spellviper, a priest of Mystra.
In the Year of the Gauntlet (1369 DR), the illusionist and the two Harpers
employed an artifact known as the Gatekeepers Crystal to
shatter the powerful wards that enveloped the ghoul-hold and bring about
the destruction of the former citadel-town.
ruins of Hellgate Keep now beckon to adventurers, despite the lingering
dangers and the efforts of those heeding Turlangs Calling to
seal them. The Crypt of the Black Hand can easily be inserted into
catacombs of Hellgate Keep as a safehold of questionable merit. The
DM is encouraged to integrate this setting into the Hellgate Keep
See Mintipers Chapbook #2: The Tree of Wailing Souls,
for further discussion of the character of Lunargent and the Keepers
general skepticism that Mintiper actually participated in all the great
adventures attributed to the Lonely Harpist.
Noura, daughter of the Bedine chieftain Khytor Moramu, died a slow,
quivering death as her madness advanced, and no one Mintiper could find
knew why or how to stop it. Nouras condition was the result of
a hitherto unknown disease that causes the tissues of the brain to gradually
rot. It is spread by a species of flower resembling a blood-red orchid
that is native to Pandemonium and the Abyss and that grows only amidst
carrion. Such flowers, known as carriorchids, emit a form of
pollen that reeks of decay, attracting chasme (fly-like demons), ghouls,
and other scavengers. When even the smallest amount of pollen from a
carriorchid is inhaled by a sentient species not native to the Lower
Planes, madness inevitably ensues over the course of several months
as the mind literally rots away. For reasons not well understood, sometimes
the pollen lies latent for years before symptoms manifest, while other
victims show signs of madness almost immediately. If left unconsecrated
(i.e. not blessed) after dying (whether because of the mindrot
sickness or some other factor), the corpses of humanoids suffering this
fate rise within twenty-four hours as ghasts, and the stench they exude
is laced with carriorchid pollen, making their noxious attack potentially
lethal if a saving throw vs. poison is failed.
fate has been shared by at least a handful of others in the Upvale
region since the fall of Ascalhorn in the Year of the Curse (882 DR),
but only after her death in the Year of the Harp (1355 DR) did the
druids of Tall Trees finally determine the cause of her decline. Although
still quite rare, carriorchids grow wild in the Far Forest, one of
the many Abyssal horrors to taint that ancient forest, and mindrot
sickness has plagued many who dared walk beneath the forests
boughs. In addition, this disease is not unknown in the South, for
wizards in the employ of Shadow Thieves, using pollen gathered from
carriorchids of the Far Forest, have developed a lethal variety of
magical aromatic oil known as putressence that, if heated,
causes similar symptoms in those who inhale its vapors.
cure for mindrot is known, as spells such as cure disease,
heal, and neutralize poison have proven wholly ineffective,
and herbal remedies such as feverbalm and mothersleaf provide
no apparent benefit. However, sacred texts of the cult of Moander
suggest that the Darkbringers minions may have developed a more
powerful version of slow rot (as the 3rd level priest
spell detailed in the Tome of Magic) that affects animal flesh
as well as plants. Such a spell might stave off the any further progression
of this disease, but finding an appropriate scroll would require both
luck and a foray into one of the fallen cults ruined bastions.
Both the Crypt of the Black Hand and the cistern gate leading
to it survived the devastation wrought by the Gatekeepers Crystal.
The cistern gate is found within one of the lesser assemblies,
as mapped in the Hellgate Keep module. The Crypt of the Black
Hand lies encased in solid rock between the Lesser Assemblies and the
upper level of the Deep Garrisons, again as mapped in the Hellgate
Keep module. The Black Hand Gate is bi-directional,
with passage from the Crypt to the cistern triggered by a matching right
hand indentation carved into the center of the floor of the pool in
the Crypt. The gate is warded against the passage of creatures
native to the Lower Planes, and thus the Crypt has never been breached
by the demons of Hellgate Keep. The air within the Crypt of the Black
Hand is kept fresh by magical means, and the torches are lit by magical
flame that cannot be extinguished, except by a successful detect
The giant obsidian hand that guards the Crypt is indeed a holy hand
of Bane. It did not attack Mintiper because the half-elven bard
is not of good alignment, but is chaotic neutral in ethos, and because
Mintiper disturbed nothing but the exit gate. The holy hand
of Bane will attack anyone entering the Crypt of good alignment
as well as anyone who disturbs any of sarcophagi (except the one employed
by Mintiper) in any fashion, whether by physical, magical, or psionic
Ederans sculpted form is recognizable, even by those who have
never seen his visage, by the slitted irises of a cat and the faint
rendition of fur on his skin. These clues are only noticeable if someone
knows what to look for or if they spend at least an hour studying the
sculpted forms of the various sarcophagi looking for something distinctive.
The gate within the sarcophagi is activated as described above,
and only functions in one direction.
other sarcophagi contain the mummified forms of the wizards of the
Black Hand interred within. At the DMs option, the remains may
animate as specters, spellcasting mummies, or even liches if
disturbed. A secret compartment beneath each mummy contains the spell
librams and personal treasures of the dead wizard. Despite the Keepers
hopes, High Mage Ederans staff of Silverymoon, the chain
mail glove of Taarnahm the Vigilant, and Tasmias
necklace are not found within the Crypt, as they were confiscated
from the last surviving wizards of the Brotherhood by their slayers
and lie elsewhere within ghoul-hold. (Brief summaries of the powers
of two of the three are found in the module Hellgate Keep.)
However, the Crypt of the Black Hand does contain many unique magical
artifacts, including the Aunglor kiira, Jalusters
pipestaff, and three of the Scrolls Ardentym penned by
the Circle of Flames.
General references to Mintiper Moonsilver are cited in the first column
of "Mintipers Chapbook."
of the Black Hand
Mintipers successful storming of Hellgate Keep is noted in Dragon
#187, p. 50, and Code of the Harpers, pp. 65-68.
The various titles of the dead god Bane, including the Black Lord
and Lord of Darkness, are given in Faiths & Avatars, p.
The Battle of Turnstone Pass unfolded in the Year of the Boot (1343
DR) according to The North: Cities, p. 50. According
to Dragon #187, p. 50, and Code of the Harpers, pp.
65-68, Mintiper then headed south through the High Forest (a trip
which would have taken at least several months), joined the Wood-Riders
of Turlang for a while (perhaps a season), took to thievery along
the southern Sword Coast (where he lived long enough to gather a reputation,
perhaps a few years), joined a pirate ship based in the Nelanther
(for perhaps a few months), lived for a time in Myratma guiding adventurers
into Shoonach (for perhaps a couple of years), became a mercenary
(for perhaps a few months), journeyed through the Fallen Lands up
to Tall Trees (a trip that probably took a few months), and then lived
among the druids of Tall Trees for five years. This works out to over
eleven years, so the Year of the Harp (1355 DR) seems an appropriate
date for both Nouras death and the creation of the "Hellstorm"
narrative epic. It also falls just a few years before the Year of
Shadows (1358 DR), through which the above-mentioned accounts of Mintiper
are most probably current.
The fall of Hellgate Keep in the Year of the Gauntlet (1369 DR) is
chronicled in The Wilderness: The North, pp. 11-12,
Volos Guide to All Things Magical, pp. 106-108, and Hellgate
Keep, pp. 7-8.
Mintipers five year long residence among the druids of Tall
Trees in the company of Noura and the slave girls history and
descent into madness and death at the end of that period are discussed
in Dragon #187, p. 50, and Code of the Harpers, pp.
Feverbalm, known to temporarily cure insanity, and mothersleaf,
known to cure disease, are discussed in FR5 The Savage
Frontier, p. 60.
The Brothers of the Black Hand and the items they purloined from Silverymoon
are discussed in The North: Cities, p. 48, and Hellgate
Keep, p. 8, 16.
High holy hands of Bane are detailed in FA1 Halls
of the High King, p. 49, and Encyclopedia Magica: Volume
2, p. 562.
Ederan Nharimlurs history and appearance is discussed in The
North: Cities, p. 48, Hellgate Keep, p. 8, 16, and
(indirectly by reference to Ecamane Truesilver) in both Cormanthyr:
Empire of Elves, pp. 41-42, and Fall of Myth of Drannor,
p. 8. The various staves of Silverymoon are discussed in Seven
Sisters, pp. 111-112, and Dragon Annual #1, pp. 54-60.
Kiira are detailed in Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves,
pp. 152-153, and mention is made of House Aunglor having a kiira
therein. House Aunglor, including Clan Archmage Ecaeris Aunglor, is
discussed in Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, pp. 47, 78,
86, 99, 102, 105, 117, 120, and Fall of Myth Drannor, pp. 6,
41. The fact that Lady Ecaeris Aunglor was a student of Windsong Tower
is noted in Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, p. 158. The
fact that the wizards of Windsong Tower began spiriting magical items
to safety in Ascalhorn is noted in Fall of Myth Drannor, p.
19. It follows that the Brotherhood of the Black Hand acquired Aunglor
kiira following its arrival in Ascalhorn.
Jaluster was an Ascalhi wizard who was torn apart by fiends during
the fall of Ascalhorn as he tried to save that city from their domination.
He is said to have destroyed three liches and at least five tanarri
that day ere he died. Although his orizon was spirited to safety
by the bard Maerstar, the archmages pipestaff was apparently
lost years before to the Brotherhood of the Black Hand. See Pages
from the Mages, p. 63.
The Scrolls Ardentym consist of 38 sheets of vellum and are
detailed in Fall of Myth Drannor, pp. 55-58. The fact that
some were moved from Myth Drannor to Ascalhorn beginning in the Year
of the Ominous Oracle (694 DR) is noted in Fall of Myth Drannor,
pp. 18-19. It follows that the Brotherhood of the Black Hand acquired
some or all of the Scrolls Ardentym following their arrival
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