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 Faerûn.
Voices of the Lost
Part III: The Portal Stones of "Voices of the Lost"
Only a part of the circular "Voices of the Lost" portal network now functions. The first portal stone was broken up centuries ago by human settlers who used it to build the first streets in what became Waterdeep. A few of the quarried marble blocks in spots around the city still have elven runes on them, but few are legible. The next six portal stones are operational and are described below. They begin at Daggerford and reach up into the Nethers, following the course the Delimbiyr took many centuries past. The last portal stone, now near the Lizard Marsh on the coast, no longer sends its user on to the now-destroyed final stone, so the user is stranded in rather hostile terrain.
1. The Lucky Lady Tavern, Daggerford
The portal stone here is now part of the floor in the Lucky Lady Tavern, once a two-story warehouse built on a flat stretch of exposed bedrock near the river. The tavern is a popular stop for the thousands of merchants, drovers, caravan guards, soldiers, adventurers, and other travelers who pass through Daggerford annually along the Trade Way. Most are heading for Waterdeep and points north from Baldur's Gate and other city-states of the Western Heartlands, or going in the reverse direction.
The circular marble portal stone was discovered early in Daggerford's existence, but few thought much of it. Ancient ruins are not uncommon here, some from Illefarn but many from later states and kingdoms, great and small. Most ruins are seen as worthless except for whatever good the recovered stone is used for. The dirty portal stone was cleaned when the tavern was set up, and its somewhat polished surface now dully shines in front of the main fireplace in the huge taproom. Nightly entertainment, if such exists, usually takes place on the marble stone. As the round slab does not radiate magic, no one thinks much of it. Only a few of its original runes can be read. Occasionally an elf will see the runes, realize that they are from Illefarn, and become saddened at the realm's passing (perhaps drinking more as a result). Very few beings can translate Seldruin into any present-day tongue, but the old Hamarfae lettering is still seen as timeless and graceful.
This portal stone symbolized the unnamed elven kingdom's late life, where the wanderer first encountered its people. The river is broad and shallow here, appearing slow and quiet, just as the elves themselves were increasingly scattered over the world and the fictional kingdom of the poem in decline. The poem, "Voices of the Lost," need be recited only for about 15 minutes before the portal is activated, and the user sent on to the next portal stone. Here, as with later portal stones, anyone standing on the marble disk with the singer will also be sent through the teleportation system. Everyone is free to leave a portal stone at any point, but portal travel is one-way only.
2. The Delimbiyr - Hark Confluence
The second existing portal stone lies on a hilltop adjacent to the confluence of the Delimbiyr and Hark Rivers, immediately north of the High Moor. From this position, the raging rapids of the Delimbiyr leading down to the confluence, itself a violent spectacle, can be clearly seen and heard. The portal stone is partially buried by dirt and much overgrown, but it deposits its users safely atop the debris. The rapids of the Delimbiyr symbolized the chaos of the Crown Wars, and the confluence with the Hark tells of the coming of humans in large numbers, particularly in Netheril, and their conflicts with the elves. Also visible from this point, the High Moor is of course a stark reminder of the terrible cost of the Crown Wars, as an entire elven kingdom existed here before it was destroyed by magic at the end of the Third Crown War.
The hilltop is visible from any number of halfling- and human-owned farms in the area, settlers from Secomber to the northwest. Some local celebrations are held on the hilltop, and anyone appearing over the portal stone has a low but significant chance of interrupting the ceremonies. As everyone here is well armed because of the frequency of monsters wandering in from the High Moor, the arrival of the portal user might be taken poorly by surprised farmers. Guards will be put up after the first appearance of anyone on the portal stone. If the initial visitors were hostile, future visitors will be peppered with arrows before they can get out a word. "Voices of the Lost" must be recited for 30 minutes here before the portal activates again.
3. The Shining Falls, Graypeak Mountains
The grandeur of the Shining Falls, representative of the fictional elven kingdom at its height, will surely impress any user of the portal network. The portal stone here is actually on a rocky, shrub-covered island in the middle of the top of the horseshoe falls, near the drop-off. The view from here is stupendous, and the roar and spray from the Delimbiyr engulf any visitor on the rock. An unmatched view of Delimbiyr Vale lies in one direction, and the great cliffs and trees of the Graypeaks lie in the other. There does not appear to be any way to leave the island, and food here is scarce unless one is a fisher.
The visitor will have other problems, however. A respectable force of Zhents and Zhent-backed bandits is present, primarily below the falls but with several patrols and camps above the falls, with clear views of the island in the middle. About 280 human soldiers are here, including clerics, wizards, mages, and so on. Sixty orcs are also present for heavy labor and other tasks. The largest camp of Zhents is well hidden in a series of caves behind the bottom of the falls, once a royal dwarven tomb complex.
The appearance of anyone on the island above the falls causes instant consternation among the Zhents, who until this point were able to keep their operations here secret. They mean to attack peoples farther to the north, particularly Sundabar, but the mess at Hellgate Keep is blocking their plans. The Zhents are heavily armed and will attack without mercy, aiming to kill intruders unless they can be captured, questioned, and then killed. The Zhents will be extremely interested to find out about the portal stone, which they found (partly covered with dirt) but have ignored as worthless.
If the portal users are at all good with maps, they will quickly note that their progress upriver is taking them in the direction of Hellgate Keep. The PCs may, of course, elect to leave the portal stone at this point rather than risk going onward, assuming they survive the Zhent attack. "Voices of the Lost" must be recited for a full hour before the portal activates again. (The wanderer has a long conversation with the wise coronal of the elven kingdom and his court.)
4. Abandoned Elven River Port, Eastern High Forest
Originally, this portal stone rested on the west bank of the upper Delimbiyr River, with the northernmost Graypeak Mountains to the east and the High Forest to the west. The Delimbiyr is a young, fresh, roaring torrent in this place, representing the elven kingdom of the poem in its early days. However, this portal is also in the territory of the ancient kingdom of Eaerlann, and the Eaerlann elves had established an extensive river port just a mile downstream of this spot. Just to be nice about it, the Eaerlann enchanted the woods around the portal stone to reduce the level of noise so that the portal users would not be interrupted in their appreciation of "Voices of the Lost." (The poem was popular in Eaerlann, too.)
Then Eaerlann and Illefarn both fell. The dock complex south of the portal stone was abandoned. Presently, aside from wild elven patrols from the High Forest, few dangerous creatures exist in this immediate area, if one does not count the griffins. At any time during the day, 2d4 griffins are visible in the sky as tiny dots. Though they prefer deer meat, they are not choosy and will attack anything that looks inviting. The wood elves know enough to avoid showing themselves on the west bank in daylight, as the griffins have superb vision. The PCs on the portal stone cannot help it, as the poem must be recited for 30 minutes before the portal activates.
5. The Talons, Nether Mountains
The fifth portal stone is high in the Nether Mountains in what is now a desolate, rock-strewn area that was actually quite beautiful once. It rests about 600 feet from a broad brook that was once much closer to the portal stone. The brook is one of the headwaters of the Delimbiyr, representing the poem's kingdom at its founding. Oddly, the portal stone here is quite clean and in excellent shape. Only 30 minutes of poetry reading are sufficient to activate the portal.
The portal user is some miles north of Hellgate Keep, but is in the immediate vicinity of a former inhabitant of that pit of evil. A single baatezu of low power but clever nature makes its lair in a shallow cave very close to the portal stone. The DM can decide what sort of devil this creature is, but it should be more than a match for the PCs, and capable (by innate powers or magic devices) of going invisible and changing shape into human form. The devil realized the portal stone was unusual long ago, after it had been chased out of Hellgate Keep by assorted other monsters and set up shop here. It regularly cleans the stone and attempts to decipher the Hamarfae script (the script of Seldruin) around the edges, but without success. Before the PCs appeared, the devil discovered that the stone was becoming increasingly magical (as the portal was being activated), and it took whatever precautions the DM decides are necessary to defend itself. It cannot be surprised. The devil has a minor treasure hoard here including a few magic items that it uses in its defense as well as to kill or maim intruders. It is possible that the devil (in disguise) will want to accompany the PCs through the portal system for a few more steps before attacking them.
6. Lizard Marsh, Sword Coast
The final operational portal stone in this system was on the shoreline of the Sword Coast by the Delimbiyr's mouth, symbolizing the elven kingdom's fall and disappearance into the pages of history (the sea). Rather, the portal stone used to be on the coast, but the coastline has moved inward over the last few thousand years. The portal stone is now covered with mud to a depth of 50 feet, but it still deposits its users on the semisolid ground above it -- which is to say, the bottom of the sea. The user finds that he or she is now 25 feet below water and must swim to the surface to get air, then swim about 150 feet to the shore. Weather conditions are at the DM's discretion.
Swimming ashore is particularly problematic, as the mouth of the Delimbiyr is not only farther inland but is now the Lizard Marsh. A large tribe of hostile lizard folk and their pet giant lizards lives in this particular area, and they regard humans as a welcome alternative food source, more flavorful than fish and probably more nourishing. Plus, human captives scream, and fish do not, which is a big point in favor of eating humans when one can catch them.
In ancient times, reading more poetry over this portal stone would have sent the user back to the original portal stone in Illefarn's capital. Alas, as the capital portal stone has been destroyed to make cobblestones in Waterdeep, the portal user is trapped here and (assuming the hazards of Lizard Marsh are negotiated) must walk back to Daggerford or catch a ride. Note that the devil, if it accompanies the PCs, is not greatly inconvenienced by being submerged in water.