By Roger E. Moore
Each installment in this series provides more detail about a network of portals linking various parts of Faerûn and beyond in the Forgotten Realms campaign. These portals can take your party to new adventure for a night or as part of an ongoing campaign across Faerün.
Voices of the Lost
Part I: On Illefarn and Its Portals
Thousands of years have passed since the fall of the great elven kingdom of Illefarn which was located along the northern Sword Coast between the Western Heartlands and the North. Little is known today of this once-mighty realm, often called the Fallen Kingdom*. Learned ones generally believe that Illefarn at its height equaled the best that Myth Drannor would later offer. Now, farmsteads and fields dot the rolling countryside where Illefarn's forest realm once stood. The Misty Forest, Westwood, Ardeep Forest, and the like are remnants of the ancient coastal woodland that once stretched from the Kryptgarden Forest south to the Trollbark Forest. The populace of this elven nation was a broad mix of sun, moon, and wood elves, with many shield dwarves besides. The nation's core lay roughly between the mouths of the Dessarin and Delimbiyr rivers, more the former than the latter. Illefarn carried on an extensive trade, by land and sea, with other elven, dwarven, and human nations of its time.
Illefarn possessed numerous portals, but not to the extent that Myth Drannor later knew. This proved to be Illefarn's blessing, as it was not invaded (as was Myth Drannor) by extradimensional monstrosities who turned the vast number of interplanar portals to their own advantage. In addition, Illefarn's portals were nearly all teleportation devices joined to other places on Toril, not true gate spells leading to other worlds or planes. The natural world and its endless cycles were Illefarn's focus, and the elves believed the living world would go on forever. Still, Illefarn's elves understood that their kingdom, grand as it was, would eventually fall and be forgotten. Their weighty consideration of history, time, and divination magic revealed no other outcome. This news provoked a melancholy that influenced much of Illefarn's art and literature, even touching the architecture of Illefarn's dwarves, who carved somber visages on their statues. Militarism was never strong in philosophical Illefarn. Though its armies were excellent, Illefarn relied on diplomacy and astute political maneuvering (aided by divination spells) to keep peace with its neighbors.
One of the more esoteric uses of portals in Illefarn was for artistic purposes, particularly for what the elves called song paths. Great works of poetry were written so that they could be sung for hours at a time, and portal networks were created that would be activated as each singer walked over certain large, flat, enchanted stones set in the ground. The singer would be transported from place to place in rhythm with the song, the scenery in keeping with its message and tone. Minor portal systems, independent of each other, were created linking numerous spots in Illefarn's vast forest and the lands around it. Few song paths spread farther than this, and many were purposefully deactivated after a few decades of use. Those few portal systems reaching well beyond Illefarn were the province of the occasional mage, sage, or priest who investigated the larger world around.
Illefarn fell in an uncharacteristic fashion for any kingdom of Faerûn: slowly. Its people left the realm steadily and secretly, under pressure from barbaric human tribes, vast floods of marauding orcs and goblins, and the aggressive, power-mad wizards of Netheril. Most ruinous to its people, resources, and spirit were the five Crown Wars between other elven realms of the period. Neutral Illefarn remained out of the fighting until the last war, when its northern colony, Llewyr, was destroyed, and the kingdom itself suffered grave damage. Much territory that was once Illefarn's was occupied by another elven kingdom for a time. Bowing to the inevitable, however, Illefarn was already in the process of being systematically abandoned, province by province, city by city, and had been shrinking for many centuries. Its fatalistic rulers continually moved their remaining subjects into ever-smaller national boundaries to improve the nation's defensive situation and make the most of their vanishing resources.
Illefarn's situation was dire. The elves knew they could not reproduce quickly enough to replace their losses from a major war. Their beloved forest suffered from magically induced blight during several of the Crown Wars, and humans cut their trees for timber and firewood, while orcs and goblins burned the woodland just for the thrill of destruction. Nonetheless, the elves could certainly control how they left the stage of history. Not wishing their command of magic be used against them, the Illefarn elves undid the magic wards, barriers, and preservation spells on their cities and monuments as they left, letting nature and other races erode what the elves themselves could not bear to destroy. The portal systems were always among the first magical effects to be removed. Wood elves were the last major group to hold the kingdom against its attackers, which is why some historians believe the realm was largely populated by this subrace when they were once just a sizable minority in the kingdom's earlier years.
No grand, sudden battles signaled the kingdom's fall, though the realm was only a shadow of its former self after the Fifth Crown War and was entirely gone before Netheril collapsed. The remains of Illefarn's capital, the last great city of the realm, was taken over by barbarians less than a tenday after it was left empty, about 2,500 years ago. (The old capital is today the human metropolis of Waterdeep, though Waterdeep's origins are not widely known even to scholars.) Illefarn became legendary in large measure because its elves left so little written material or oral tradition behind, and because everything that was left behind was so effectively destroyed. Elven cities and manors were taken apart for building materials after being looted of the few valuables they possessed. Barbarians defaced carved words, burned artwork, and built crude castles from stones that were once the foundations of universities. Even some great works and relics that Illefarn's elves took with them as they left were often lost in later wars, disasters, or feuds that befell their scattered people. Today, a sage can struggle for decades to locate only one reliable source of information on the Fallen Kingdom.
A majority of Illefarn's sun and moon elves went by ship to Evermeet during the long Crown Wars, where they had a profound influence on that island's culture, religion, philosophy, and arts. Some elves even say that Illefarn founded all that Evermeet would later become. Some moon elves migrated to Evereska, where they had much the same effect. Most wood elves fled south during the height of the Fifth Crown War or west to the Moonshaes. The dwarves scattered, most heading north to found their own enclaves and join their brethren in battling the orc hordes that poured forth in an endless tide.
Some of Illefarn's wood elves courageously stayed on the mainland in the old forest, their descendants now populating the small woodlands that survived the coming of humans and orcs. Illefarn was sometimes used as the name of a modest wood elven realm in the Ardeep Forest after the abandonment of Illefarn's capital, but in 342 DR the last of its people departed for Evermeet following a series of orc attacks*. In the last Council of Illefarn, the leaders of the remaining wild elven tribes formally declared Illefarn was no more, though the abandonment of the capital, around -1100 DR, is generally taken by other historians (even elven ones) as the nation's true end.
Only three portal networks of Illefarn have survived to the present day. The least of them is described here. One of Illefarn's most famous song paths was not deactivated when the kingdom was abandoned. The elven noble in charge of disenchanting this song path could not bear to carry out his orders, and instead he simply took with him all available copies of the poetic work that activated the portal system so that no one but the elves would make use of the portals. He further separated all copies of the poem into smaller parts, so no whole version of it remained in existence, then scattered them across various elven libraries. This song path was called "Voices of the Lost" after the song that activated it, the song that the portal system was meant to showcase. It fell into disuse for millennia, completely forgotten* until now.
*Much confusion exists between scattered historical accounts of the ancient elven Illefarn (sometimes written as "Ilefarn") and a more recent political state called Illefarn, consisting of a dwarven enclave beneath Mt. Illefarn, in the hills north of the Laughing Hollow and Daggerford, and its assorted allies. The latter "Illefarn," also called the Fallen Kingdom, existed between 342 and 882 DR. In addition, the elven-dwarven-human kingdom of Phalorm (the Realm of Three Crowns), was also in this general region from 523 to 615 DR. Phalorm is often called the Fallen Kingdom in various histories, further confusing the issue.