Part 9: Hall of Mists
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of a narrative epic titled "Tree Ghosts"
Year of the
Moonfall (1344 DR)
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.
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.
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. 
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. 
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  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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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 , 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. 
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Tree of Wailing Souls for
further discussion of the character of Lunargent and the roots of the
Keeper's skepticism. See Mintiper's
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.
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).
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- General references
to Mintiper Moonsilver are cited in the first column of Mintiper's
- The Grandfather
Tree is discussed in FR5: The Savage Frontier, pp. 17,
24, 25, 52, 53, 54, 55, 59, 63, The North: The Wilderness,
pp. 19, 22, 31-32, 54-55, 57, and Powers & Pantheons, pp.
- The Hall of Mists
and its occupants are discussed in FR5: The Savage Frontier,
pp. 54, 63, and The North: The Wilderness, p. 55.
- Serpentine stone
is discussed in Volo's Guide to All Things Magical, p. 49.
- The Iqua'Tel'Quessir
(creator races) are discussed in FR5: The Savage Frontier,
pp. 2-3, 59, REF5: Lords of Darkness, pp. 34, 80-81, The
North: The Wilderness, p. 7, Powers & Pantheons,
p. 2, and Cormanthyr: Empire of Elves, p. 21.
- Yuan-ti activities
in the depths of the Black Jungles are discussed in Powers &
Pantheons, p. 86.
- The Oghmanyte priest
Prespaerin Cadathlyn is mentioned in Faiths & Avatars, p.
- The bullywugs of
the Marsh of Chelimber are discussed in Monsters of Faerûn, p.25.
Ramenos, god of the bullywugs, is detailed in Monstrous Mythology,
- The account of
the Company of the Golden Sands is drawn from the description of the
Tomb of Hssthak detailed in Lords of Darkness, pp. 34-41, 80-81.
The World Serpent, a primordial god of the Creator Races from whom was
formed various reptilian deities, is discussed in Monstrous Mythology,
p. 100, and Powers & Pantheons, pp. 84-88.
- The Nether Scrolls
are discussed in FR5: The Savage Frontier, pp. 3, 60,
63; The North: The Wilderness, pp. 8, 62, 81, Netheril:
The Winds of Netheril, pp. 4-12, Netheril: Encyclopedia
Arcana, p. 8, and Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves,
- The fall of Ascalhorn
is chronicled in FR5: The Savage Frontier, pp. 4, 42,
The North: The Wilderness, pp. 8, 53, The North:
Cities, p. 49, and Hellgate Keep, pp. 5-8.
- The treasures found
within the Hall of Mists are detailed in FR: The Savage Frontier,
- The destination
and status of the gates found within the Hall of Mists are detailed
in FR5: The Savage Frontier, p. 63.
- Eltab, Lord of
the Hidden Layer is discussed or alluded to in FR6: Dream
of the Red Wizards, p. 17-18, Spellbound: Campaign Guide,
pp. 40, 127, Spellbound The Runes of Chaos, pp. 29-32,
Spellbound: Monstrous Compendium, p. 5, and Faiths
& Avatars, p. 126.
- Dagon is discussed
in Monster Manual II, p. 35
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