Part 6: Trail of Mists
by Eric L. Boyd
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.
Trail of Mists
nomes went in, ga nomes went out,
nomes went in, ga nomes went out,
nomes went in, ga nomes went out,
nomes went in, ga nomes went out,
drinking ditty entitled "Ga Nomes"
Have you ever wondered how gnomes start bar brawls? This inspired bit of doggerel is a favorite of drunken gnomes, particularly those who feel slighted or overlooked. The listed verses are believed to be the original work of the Lonely Harpist, although countless additional verses have been created by various gnomes to offend just about any audience. Mintiper Moonsilver is believed to have written this ditty during his fabled trek through the High Forest, as Heverseer Windfeather, proprietor of the Singing Sprite inn, claims to have heard its first performance in the Year of the Moonfall (1344 DR) in the taproom of the Seven-Stringed Harp tavern in the village of Secomber on a night that the Wood-Riders of Turlang came to town.
The Lonely Harpist may have written this little song as a way of thanking the Forgotten Folk for their assistance in speeding his passage through the High Forest. The reference to the "misty trail" in the last line of the chorus suggests what form such aid may have taken: The Trail of Mists is a little-known means of magical travel akin to a series gate  and believed to date back to the height of Netheril and Eaerlann.  Created by gnome illusionists  working in concert with Eaerlanni High Mages, the Trail of Mists served originally as a means of magical transport by which gnomes who had escaped enslavement by the Netherese could move about the northern and eastern High Forest without fear of being recaptured.  The Trail of Mists linked several score elven garrisons on the Eaerlanni-Netherese border with an elven fortress in the heart of Eaerlann since rebuilt as the Citadel of Mists.  From there the Trail of Mists led further south and west, enabling gnomes to safely flee far from their former masters. 
Gnomes still dwelling in the High Forest  must have guided Mintiper and his companions along at least part of the Trail of Mists during their southward trek, and the Lonely Harpist apparently developed an inkling of just how far-reaching this network of magical trails had become. The Trail of Mists does indeed seem to connect most gnome communities with each other and with major settlements of other races, functioning as a hidden trading network and speeding travel between far-flung gnome communities. 
The Trail of Mists must lead at least as far south as Amn, for one branch of the "misty trail" leads directly into the taproom of the Threshing Flail. A rough-and-tumble tavern in the Amnian town of Purskul, this favorite hangout for half-orc field hands is commonly known as the Thrashing Flail for its frequent tavern brawls. Rowdy, drunken gnomes apparently delight in "crashing" the Threshing Flail by way of the Trail of Mists and then singing their favorite drinking ditty to the crowd. If outmatched by the assembled porcine patrons in the inevitably ensuing brawl, the Trail of Mists provides a simple and safe means of egress by which to flee. 
 A series gate is a string of magical portals that connect two or more destinations through a series of intermediate locales. One example of such is the Lost Princess Road, which links the Purple Hills of Tethyr with such diverse locales as northeastern Amn, the mouth of the River Chionthar, the Bridge of Fallen Men, Silavenes festhall in Waterdeep, and the confluence of the River Delimbiyr and the Unicorn Run. Another series gate is used as a the slaving route between the drow city of Karsoluthiyl in the Underdark off the coast of Baldurs Gate and the drow outpost of Kyorlamshin in the depths of Undermountain. Many other examples of series gates may be found in Secrets of the Magister.
Although it serves much the same function as a series gate, the Trail of Mists is actually a series of fixed paths through the Border Ethereal. One can only step onto the Trail of Mists at certain fixed points across Faerûn, known as nexus points. A would-be "mistwalker" must know the precise location of the nexus point, as both magic and psionics have proven ineffective in pinpointing them, and move some part of his physical form through it. To access the Trail of Mists, the nexus point employed must also be wholly cloaked in some type of three-dimensional magical illusion, such as that created by a phantasmal force or improved phantasmal force spell. The exact nature of the illusion created is irrelevant, although most spellcasters create the illusion of some type of portal. Finally, a would-be mistwalker must be carrying a specific type of gemstone, and the exact type required varies from nexus point to nexus point.
Once on the Trail of Mists, a mistwalker can travel along one of the trails of thick mist linked to that nexus point until he reaches the next nexus point. All nexus points have at least one trail leading away through the Border Ethereal, and some have as many as a dozen alternatives. Upon reaching a nexus point, a mistwalker is instantly shifted back to the Prime Material Plane, and he must reenter the nexus point normally, subject to all the conditions listed above, to resume movement along the Trail of Mists.
While walking along the Trail of Mists, a mistwalker can see objects in the Prime Material Plane as if through a thick mist. The Trail of Mists never seems to pass through physical objects on the Prime Material Plane or rise off the ground. The Trail of Mists simply reroutes itself (and anything on it) around any new physical impediments from the Prime Material Plane that are moved in its apparent path. It is not possible to move even one step backward along the Trail of Mists or step off it in any way, nor is it possible to interact in any way with the neighboring Border Ethereal. Likewise, creatures of the Ethereal Plane cannot interact with mistwalkers in any way, although both can see and hear each other if in close physical proximity. If two parties are moving in opposite directions along the same branch of the Trail of Mists, the branch automatically forks and then rejoins so that the two groups appear to pass each other at a distance of 20 feet or so. Mistwalkers can cover as many miles (relative to the Prime Material Plane) per hour as they have points of Intelligence, although it is possible to move more slowly if desired. Groups that wish to stay together cannot move faster than the slowest being among them, as it is not possible to carry or pull someone along the Trail of Mists.
 The first stages of the Trail of Mists were established circa -3150 DR, and the Forgotten Folk have expanded this network of ethereal paths in fits and starts through the present day.
 Eaerlanni elves taught promising candidates among the Forgotten Folk the art of wizardry, much as they had instructed the humans of Netheril in the Art centuries before. Most gnome apprentices demonstrated a natural affinity for spells of illusion and phantasm, and, coupled with their need to hide from the spells of the Netherese archwizards, the Forgotten Folk developed the tradition of specializing in the school of illusion and phantasm that continues through the present day.
 The Netherese enslaved the Forgotten Folk for centuries, despite a series of failed revolts, employing them as craftsmen and inventors. Small groups of gnomes regularly escaped captivity, but most were quickly discovered and killed by the Netherese.
The elves of Eaerlann began quietly assisting the small bands of gnome refugees who arrived on their borders circa -3520 DR, a mere dozen years after the discovery of the Nether Scrolls. The Forgotten Folk were initially housed in subterranean chambers dug beneath elven frontier garrisons, but, fearing the wrath of Netherese archwizards hunting their escaped slaves, the Eaerlanni began shepherding the Forgotten Folk through the High Forest towards the South, far from the sphere of influence of Netheril.
After many failed revolts, those Forgotten Folk who remained enslaved by the Netherese eventually won their freedom during the Silver Age of Netheril by refusing to work. Mind-controlling magic, while successful at keeping the gnomes in line, proved ineffectual at producing quality inventions, so the Netherese finally relented, thanks in part to the diplomatic efforts of Eaerlanns ambassadors, and all of Netherils gnome slaves were emancipated by 2387 DR.
 The Citadel of the Mists, a slim triangle of three towers jutting from two large buildings and an enclosed courtyard, is an isolated castle on the northern fringes of the High Forest. The tallest tower houses a pegasus aerie, well guarded by charmed air and fire elementals and only accessible via an exposed internal staircase that rises through a single large chamber.
The Citadel is home to the enigmatic Mistmaster (CN hm C19Leira/Ill26), a powerful, long-lived illusionist and lapsed priest of the Lady of the Mists, who may have once been the highest-ranking priest of the entire faith based in Milvarune. The Citadel is cloaked in an ancient wardmist that predates the castles construction by millennia. The Mistmaster has developed series of spells that allow him to trigger the awakening of the wardmist in the same way that a magic mouth spell is triggered, i.e. in almost all cases, by intrusions or specific intruder actions. In addition, the Mistmaster can cloak the entire Citadel in swirling mists at will. The former priest employs the Sarbossa Ring of Undarl, a unique magical device that enables him to shapechange (as the 9th level wizard spell) at will and may have other powers as well.
The Mistmasters household retainers and allies include Iltmul (LN hm Mon11Helm), an elite member of the Everwatch Knights, Cherissa Mintaeril (CG hf F9), who venerates the Luckmaiden and who gained great fame in the service of Cormyr, and Azure (NG hf W(I)12), an enigmatic wizard from Silverymoon. Each of the above-named allies and retainers bears a ward token, enabling them to move about the Citadel at will without triggering the wardmists defenses.
The Citadel is riddled with ancient dimension doors of elven construction, that is invisible spots that whisk someone entering them in certain ways to other invisible spots, elsewhere in the Citadel. Some of these linkages work in the upper floors of the three Citadel towers despite predating the construction of the present fortress, a conundrum that only the Mistmaster has unraveled. The dimension doors are in some way tied to the Trail of Mists, but it is not possible to access the ethereal network of paths by employing them.
Built in the Year of the Deep Moon (1294 DR) by agents of the Mistmaster, the Citadel of the Mists lies atop the foundations of an ancient elven fortress abandoned circa 4,300 DR at the end of the Seven Citadels War. The ancient cellars and passageways beneath the Citadel of the Mists were once one of five secret armories established by the gold elf cambions of House Dlardrageth circa 4,500 DR. The Dlardrageth armories, which may in turn have been built atop ruins of earlier fortresses dating back to the height of Aryvandaar, were storehouses of magical artifacts recovered from the ruins of the Vyshaantar Empire and defended by bound demon guardians. Gold elf agents of Siluvanede discovered four of the five Dlardrageth armories during the Seven Citadels War, including the one that now lies beneath the Citadel of the Mists, enabling the lesser houses of Siluvanede to wield the terrible legacies of the Vyshaantar Empire they found within the armories against their moon elven brethren in Eaerlann. (More information on the current status of House Dlardrageth can be found in Cloak & Dagger.)
After the defeat of Siluvanede, the Fair Folk of Eaerlann discovered the subterranean armory that now lies beneath the Citadel of Mists. Eaerlanni archmages wrapped the armory in magical wards, so as to imprison those evils that remained within the armorys deepest chambers. The armory lay untouched for centuries, until its empty upper chambers were given over to the Forgotten Folk circa 3150 DR to serve as a clearing station for the Trail of Mists.
Circa 1700 DR, the gnomes were forced to erect additional wards around the ancient armory and abruptly ceased using it as a central way station of the Trail of Mists. One or more of the bound demons that had long guarded the legacies of the Vyshaantar Empire had managed to escape the former armorys lower catacombs, and only the desperate action of a small band of forest gnome and moon elven adventurers managed to keep the unbound demons from escaping the upper catacombs as well.
Today, the upper catacombs of the Citadel of the Mists are still defended by all manner of illusions, traps, and magical and monstrous guardians laid by the gnomes, and they are home to one or more partially freed demons as well. The tunnels and chambers contain well over three dozen nexus points through which it is still possible to directly access almost every nexus point found in the northern High Forest as well as those that lie amidst the ruins of ancient elven garrisons along the eastern edge of the Far Forest.
 Most gnomes who escaped enslavement by the Netherese made their way to southern lands, far beyond Netherils sphere of influence. Travel through the North was facilitated by the Trail of Mists, which, in those days, extended as far south as the waterway now known as the River Chionthar and as far east as the mountain range now known as the Stormhorns.
 Over two dozen communities of forest gnomes remain within the northern and eastern reaches of the High Forest, all in close proximity to at least one nexus point of the Trail of Mists. Most such villages have between 100 and 300 inhabitants, and the total population of forest gnomes in the High Forest barely exceeds 5,000.
 Today the Trail of Mists crisscrosses much of the northern High Forest and links with gnome communities, the ruins of older gnome settlements, and various cities of other races scattered across western and northern Faerûn. It has been extended time and time again by gnome illusionists, the most famous of whom was undoubtedly Fitzmilliyun Sparkledrim, the legendary creator of the Castle of Illusion ere the fall of Ascalhorn.
In addition to those that lie within the depths of the High Forest, one or more nexus points of the Trail of Mists lie within the ruins of Dolblunde (north and east of Waterdeep), the ruins of Hellgate Keep (dating back to the days of Ascalhorn), and the ruins of Myth Glaurach (detailed in Mintipers Chapbook #4: Myth Glaurach), as well as amidst the Castle of Illusion, the Trollbark Forest, the Forgotten Forest, and the Trielta Hills. Another nexus is said to lie amidst the long-lost Shinglefell Gnome Burrow, but the exact location of Fitzmilliyuns birthplace has been lost even to the Forgotten Folk, suggesting that at least one branch of the Trail of Mists is no longer connected with the rest of the network of paths.
Gnome settlements that encompass or lie near a nexus point of the Trail of Mists include Anga Vled (west of Elturel), Beldenshyn (along the Winding Water), Elbencort (east of Riatavin), Forharn (in the White Peaks north of the Ride), the Friendly Arm (an inn on the trade road from Baldurs Gate to Beregost), Hardbuckler (near the Trielta Hills), Skultan (east of Daerlun), Stormpemhauder (in the depths of the Spiderhaunt Woods), Tempuss Tears (at the crossroads of the Skuldask Road and Thundars Ride), and countless other out-of-the-way locales known only to the Forgotten Folk. Cities such as Baldurs Gate, Elturel, Elversult, Evereska, Mithral Hall, Neverwinter, Scardale, Silverymoon, Sundabar, Suzail, Thentia, and Waterdeep, also contain one or more nexus points of the Trail of Mists.
 The Threshing Flail has one additional attraction for gnomes largely unknown outside their communities in the Trielta Hills. A lingering wild magic effect from the Time of Troubles centered on the taverns taproom renders full-blooded gnomes who shed blood in its confines immune to the curse of lycanthropy until the next full moon. The Trielta Hills have seen numerous incursions by weremoles since the Time of Troubles, a plague attributed to Urdlen, the Crawler Below. As such, gnome warriors from the Trielta Hills routinely visit the Threshing Flail, and inciting a tavern brawl is simply a fun way of ensuring a little blood is spilled.
Trail of Mists
to the Forgotten Realms
main news page for more articles and news about the
Forgotten Realms game setting or check out the Forgotten Realms message
boards for a lively discussion of all aspects of the Forgotten Realms setting.