At the heart of what is now the Coldwood, a great and majestic elven city once stood. Crafted from living woods, marble, silver, and even ice, the City of the Summer Stars was home to perhaps 2,000 gray elves. They were introverted, studious, mystical people, and they sought no dominion outside their homelands. The spells and lore known to them are virtually beyond comprehension in the Flanaess now. By a wave of her hand, Queen Sharafere could make winds ripple through all the endless miles of the great forest, and summon unicorns, treants, and the beasts and birds of the forest to her glittering palace.
The demise of this race is a dreadful tragedy that few alive today know of. Those who know the tale do not speak of it. Mordenkainen, Philidor, Gywdiesin, Calendryen of the Vesve, Immonara, and the Silverbow Sages of the Lendore Isles are among that rare few, and perhaps one or two other mortals.
The City of the Summer Stars received emissaries from the Ur-Flannae. Those necromancers and wizards spoke honeyed words, but Sharafere saw the lust for magical power in their hearts and sent them away. In their rage and desire to possess the magic of the elves, the Ur-Flannae brought their own magic to assault the city. Fire and acid rained down from the skies. Fiends stalked the forests. Bulettes, xorn, and other monsters erupted from the very earth to strike at the foundations of the city.
Sharafere knew the city could hold against this assault, but the forest around was screaming its agony at the defoliation and slaughter which covered thousands of square miles. The undead and monsters of the invaders seemed countless in number; the elves slew thousands and still the Ur-Flannae mounted wave after wave of attack.
Sharafere’s eldest son, Darnakurian, could take no more. A peerless enchanter, he called on many sources of power, even across the planes. From corners of the void dark voices came to him, seducing him with the promise of supreme power–power which could destroy the Ur-Flannae and save the city and the forest. Darnakurian grew gaunt and sleepless, barely ceasing his work to memorize more spells he needed in his race against time. Finally, he crafted the appalling sword the elves named Hunger. Marching to the throne room, he presented it in triumph to his mother as the instrument by which the elves could triumph and banish their evil foes.
Sharafere was appalled. The weapon’s evil was apparent to her, hidden beneath the waves of magical power which emanated from it. She ordered him to destroy the malign sword, at which Darnakurian was aghast. Driven half-mad with bitter anger at what was happening to the forest and frustration at the thought that his endless work was valueless in his mother’s eyes, he raised the sword and slew her in the Palace of the Heavens. Looking down at her body, the enormity of his crime came over him and the elf-prince was plunged into madness, his mind broken. He fled into the forest and came upon a conclave of necromancers. Then his doom came upon him in earnest.
Darnakurian slew thousands in a matter of hours. The circle of destruction his sword emanated cut a great swathe of horrific deaths before him as he charged the Ur-Flannae and drove them in terror from the forest. Finally, the elf-prince took himself back to the city. So weak was he by now that the sword controlled him utterly, and it drove him to slay his own people in the hundreds. Every gray elf alive in the City of Summer Stars either fled never to return, or perished in that single day.
At the heart of the Coldwood, the old City of the Summer Stars has simply disappeared. The magic of the elves has faded, and the city with it. Some say that its ruins can be found within the Fading Grounds, but the portal to it within the Coldwood is unknown. All of the city is gone from Oerth–save Darnakurian’s own keep. The elves named this Bitterness, a word with a more intense double meaning than in the Common tongue. It refers both to the dreadful tragedy of the prince, and also to the intensely bitter chill which gives the Coldwood its name. The Coldwood generally has temperatures below zero, but within five miles of Bitterness the temperature is virtually unbearable, all vegetation is frozen into stark, leafless forms–killed by the black permafrost which covers everything here. Spells such as control temperature 10′ radius and magical items such as boots of the north are powerless to negate this bitter chill or to protect characters from its effects.
No living man has ever entered Bitterness. Within it, Darnakurian’s form is still alive–in some sense. A powerful temporal stasis spell, crafted by the last of the great gray elf wizards before they fled the city, imprisons him inside. He still holds Hunger on his lap as he sits frozen, staring out blindly into the great marbled hall of his home.
No living man (or other sentient creature) is going to get anywhere near Bitterness if the guardians who prowl the margins of the Coldwood have their way. These gray elves are known as the Sentinels. There are 20 of them around the Coldwood, each a fighter/mage of great power (20+ levels split between their two classes). They have special magical defenses, with base 80% magic resistance and complete immunity to illusions and disabling spells such as hold, charm, domination and the like. They possess formidable magical items, with many holding rings of human control to keep potential intruders at bay. Some of these Sentinels are gray elves from the old city itself, which brings them close to the limit of their years. When a Sentinel grows old, and the time comes for him to pass from the world, another takes his place, usually sent by the Silverbow Sages of Lendore.
The Sentinels warn intruders not to enter the Coldwood, telling them of the dangers. Monsters such as remorhaz and white puddings prowl the intensely cold
permafrost area. Elementals, golems formed of ice as hard as steel, and many still more dangerous magical guardians stalk the wood. Great necrophidii (4-10 HD) are the most numerous. The Sentinels invariably know when anyone approaches within a mile of the Coldwood, and they can teleport instantly to any point on its margins to ward off such folk. Great owls spy the margins and talk to the Sentinels, but the frozen spider’s webs around the Coldwood are also said to be a magical detection system alerting them to visitors.
The Sentinels do not speak of themselves, nor exactly what the Coldwood contains. They say simply that great evil and danger lurk within, and that the magical stasis containing that evil must not be disturbed. They will not permit entry. Their own enchantments make it impossible for any to enter the wood by planar travel, teleporting and other magical means. If need be, the Sentinels will fight to prevent any entering. They prefer to use disabling spells such as charm, domination, hold, wall of force and their magical rings, but if there is no alternative, they will not hesitate to use lethal attacks by spell, device, or weapon. If a Sentinel is seriously endangered, he will flee using his teleport ability. However, in a short time other Sentinels will arrive to join the fray.
Credits: Carl Sargent, Copyright (R) 1995 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved