Portals of the Frozen Wastes
By James Wyatt
An apparently featureless sheet of ice deep in a crevice of the Great Glacier holds the key to unlocking the secrets of uncounted millennia. So deep is the crevice that sunlight rarely finds its way to the bottom. In shadow, the ice looks black and forbidding, as if it might close the narrow gap at any time, grinding anything within as the Great Glacier has ground tons of boulders to dust. When the sun is directly overhead, however, its light reaches to the crevice floor and activates its magic. Black ice turns to brilliant blue, frigid air seems momentarily warmed, and inscriptions ancient beyond telling become just barely visible on the surface of the ice. A daylight spell (but no lesser light spell) cast in the bottom of the crevice has the same effect.
The inscriptions trace a large circle, 22 feet in diameter, on the smooth ice wall. They are written in characters no longer used by any of the languages of Faerûn: the lost script of the ancient Giant tongue. Comprehend languages is the easiest way to decipher it, but a successful Decipher Script check (DC 35) allows a character to get the gist of the text. It reads, "The city of Gharreil, seat of the Satrap of the Great Glacier, loyal servant of the Emperor of Jhothûn. May the qorrash smile upon it and nurture its mighty works, and continue to favor all of Jhothûn. Let no thieves or heretics enter this gate, for both suffer death in this city." This short inscription is ripe material for a legend lore spell or similar divination!
If a legend lore spell is cast in the chasm with Gharreil as its subject, the result is a short verse from an ancient lay: "In the mountains he [the hero of the ballad] wandered long, in the icy lands of the Ulutiuns, amid the ruins of Gharreil. He walked on stones laid by giants of old and marveled at towering statues of ice. Yet naught found he of their ancient capital, nor uncovered the secrets of their magic might, ere Canithraxus drove him thence with its breath of hoar and taunting led him to its lair."
The same spell cast with Jhothûn or the Emperor of Jhothûn as its subject reveals even less. The result is a passing comment in a tale of Iyraclea: "The Ice Queen built her palace in the Great Glacier after the fashion of lost Jhothûn and long sought its secrets, styling herself its new Empress."
The circular inscription radiates a strong aura of Transmutation magic, and characters arriving here via the portal in the High Ice emerge from the circle, but it is not in fact a portal itself. Rather, it is a physical gateway leading into the lost city of Gharreil. It is opened by placing a hand anywhere within the circle and speaking (in Giant) words found in the inscription, "May the qorrash smile upon it and nurture its mighty works," a formulaic expression from the time of Jhothûn. When the words are intoned, the ice within the circle rearranges itself to form an opening, and the ruins of Gharreil are revealed. Naturally, using passwall, dimension door, and similar spells can help PCs reach the other side. However, a barrier of force is in place as long as the gate is closed, so ethereal travel into the city is not possible.
A map of Gharreil is available in the Map-a-Week archive: download the map (JPG format). The city is built inside a sphere of force to protect it from the grinding glacier, but it is in ruins nevertheless thanks to the gradual decay of the structures within. The city died in stages, however, and clear signs show that its residents built a wall around a small core of the city, while abandoning the outer portions that had already fallen into ruin. Now, however, even the buildings of that inner core are hardly more intact than the rest. At the DM's discretion, it may yet be possible to discover ancient items of magic and mystery within the ruins, as well as hints toward the information presented in the fourth installment of this portal series.
The key location remaining in the city is area 12 on the map, where twelve translucent curtains of brilliant (but heatless) purple fire form a promenade leading from the amphitheater (area 11) to a portal leading to Jhothûn itself. When any creature steps between the easternmost pair of fiery curtains, the portal's magic activates, and a thirteenth curtain of fire springs up at the end of the path. Looking through the translucent curtain reveals not Gharreil, however, but Jhothûn: a magnificent palace of exquisite marble that towers over a flat, featureless plain of snow and ice. This portal's magic remains undiminished by the passing of eons since its construction, and it works flawlessly.
Like the other portals, this one has its guardian: Tosvin, a gelugon and a servant of the Ice Queen, Iyraclea. Tosvin discovered the portal by accident during his first days on the Material Plane in Iyraclea's service, and he swore an oath to protect it before fully understanding what he had found. He possesses a magic mirror (looted from the ruins of Gharreil, in fact) that allows him to use clairvoyance to keep watch on the chasm outside the city gate, and he checks it daily at noon and frequently at other times as well. Whenever he can, he teleports into the city to ensure that the portal is safe and undisturbed, but he cannot keep a constant guard due to the demands of Iyraclea's service.
Tosvin is by far the most intelligent of the three portal guardians, and he is the only one who fully understands what he is guarding. In fact, he is caught in the difficult situation of serving two masters. The Ice Queen, Iyraclea, has learned of ancient Jhothûn and is actively seeking its location, while Tosvin knows that the ruined city was once part of Jhothûn's empire and the portal leads there. However, he dares not break his oath to guard the portal by telling Iyraclea what he knows. His loyalty to the portal -- for he quite rightly believes it to be channeling an ancient and mighty intelligence beloved by Auril -- actually outweighs his fierce devotion to Iyraclea, and he would betray the Ice Queen before allowing her to blunder into Jhothûn's secrets.
Likewise, if he learns of the shades' interest in exploring the portal network (see Part 2), he becomes quite nervous. The fledgling Empire of Shade is an unknown threat to him, while he understands Iyraclea quite well. Further, if shades found the portal here, they would pose a threat both to the portal Tosvin is sworn to guard and to the Ice Queen, who wants it for herself -- a doubly dangerous situation for the gelugon with his divided loyalties.
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