History of the Forbidden Caves I
Date: Fri, December 03, 2004
Topic: Mysterious Places
Story Abstract: There is an important mountain located in the Crystalmists, in the intersection of the Sulhaut and Hellfurnace Mountains. Taking the LGG map, it is situated aprox 1 cm (0.4 inch) south of the last “s” of the written words “Crystalmists MountainS”. In this particular mountain there is a small complex of caves with an underground giant stairway leading to a deeper series of larger caves, ending in a colossal gate to a demiplane that shelters an ancient, cursed city of giants. This city was once ruled by a titan assigned by Thrym himself who wished to create a new giant capitol and kingdom for all giantish sub-races, but his project failed miserably. Worse, his envoy and his followers became corrupted by the demon lord Kostchtchie and engaged a civil war against the god’s loyalists, forcing Thrym to intervene directly and curse the city. The simpleton name “Forbidden Caves” was coined by the frost giant tribes that refer the local as taboo, refusing to share details of its history. After so many centuries the current clans know little more than rumors and half-truths, as even among them to speak of this place could invite disgrace and bad luck. Currently, the upper level of these caves is occupied by a band of renegade frost giants and ogres.
History of the Forbidden Caves
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Before addressing the story, a compilation of the main terms used:
Glossary of Terms and Characters:
- Thrym: God of the frost giants
- Annam: Chief god of the giantish pantheon
- The Vitkir: The alternative name of Boccob, according to the giants.
- Volva: Beory, in the frost giant lore.
- Sol: Another name for Pelor, in giantish legends.
- Hul: The name given by the frost giants to Nerull
- The City of Giants: Unnamed, would-be capitol of giantkind of all giants of the Flanaess, nevertheless the greatest frost giant city ever built.
- Voninheim: Palace where the king of the city reigned. Term originally used in Forgotten Realms Giantcraft, now adopted in this story as a small homage.
- Vafth: Former titan, servant and emissary of Thrym, sent to rule the throne of Voninheim and the City of Giants in His name.
- Kostchtchie: Demon lord of Ice; who desire the cursed souls that still wander the City of Giants.
- Trau'gh: Ghour Demon (from “Monsters of Faerun”) sent by Kostchtchie to the City of Giants, first as general of demonic troops then as agent/infiltrator that seeks to reenter the now-isolated site.
- Mephistopheles: Archdevil of Nine Hells who wish to assure Kostchtchie’s designs fails while stealing for himself the prizes that lie in the city.
- Glaciath: Ice Devil agent of Mephistopheles in the City of Giants, currently entrapped there.
- Nurhukrisurathear (Nuh-RHU-kris-u-rAH-te-ar; translation: Ugly Talk of the Deity, directly related to his former function of jailer, inquisitor and torturer of Thrym): Also shortened as just Nurhukris, this being is an ancient, gargantuan tarterian dragon (cf. Draconomicon) chosen by Thrym to guard the entrance gate to the demiplane where the City of Giants currently lies.
- Hjornar: Self-entitled frost giant Jarl that leads a group of renegade giants aiming to conquer the Forbidden Caves. Believed by his peers to be the earthly proxy of their god, he is called also “The Voice of Thrym”. The manifestation of magical powers and his prodigious strength is due to a willing possession to Trau’gh. Hjornar is the son of Griselda and brother of Nott, both whom are clerics of Thrym, and uses to travel in the back of Carcaroth (yes, a homage to Silmarillion), the largest winter wolf known and considered untamable by giantkind.
- Qogur: Ogre mage that accompanies and reluctantly supports Hjornar in his attempt to reclaim the caves.
The Frost giants have good reason to fear the caves they nicknamed as “forbidden”. The timeline of the events that made the local so avoided begins almost fifteen centuries ago, before the Suel Imperium and the Baklunish lands clash into the Twin Cataclysms. In that time, the humans (mostly Flan) were not so prevalent in the Flanaess and there were already well-settled frost, fire, stone and hill giant communities, as their more enlightened cloud and storm cousins. As the giants were one of the eldest races of Oerth, some of their gods refused to face the twilight of their hegemony already started. Among those, the proud and raging Thrym of the frost giants stood as one who stubbornly rejected this decline. Unhappy with the bickering feuds between his followers, the conflict against the stronger fire giants and the indifference/disdain of others, Thrym conceived a plan to return the former glory of his people, before their race didn’t stay divided. First, he asked permission to Annam, the chief god of the giant pantheon, so he could send an envoy with the mission to accomplish in the name of Thrym the rebuilding of the giantish hegemony. Annam consented, as long the frost giant god did not interfere directly, for he knew that a divine manifestation in Oerth could mean immediate retaliation, especially from Moradin (traditionally against the giants), Rao and Boccob (for fearing disturbances in the balance) and finally Io, as the supreme god of dragonkind could consider this act a provocation and then reply in a similar manner (though giants and dragons were not necessarily enemies, both saw each other with caution). Thrym accepted these restrictions and left to initiate the first steps to make real his dream of leadership. He didn’t see that Annam pondering with sadness as he considered the younger god’s wish impossible to fulfill while he knew his words would not show the utopia in the brash god’s mind.
Although Thrym possessed more enthusiasm than a clear conception of how a new kingdom should be, he knew his followers would never obey someone who did not represent their ethnic group. However, the god conceived that if his envoy was a visibly superior giant and not a member of the subraces who fought among themselves, this envoy could be accepted. And for that reason Thrym chose Vafth, a chaotic evil Titan (who served him more due to common ideology than actual worship) who would fit well in a model of strength and respect through might, desired trait to command the giants. Vafth accepted the task enthusiastically and left for the Prime with the initial goal to unite the frost giant tribes of the Crystalmist Range under his command (and in the name of Thrym, who sent omens to his clerics). Then, the titan should create a city larger than any of the standard strongholds of their kind, large enough not only to shelter different tribes and clans but also convincing them that the glory of the past COULD be revived.
Unifying the frost giant clans and defeat the more reticent were tasks that lasted less than a decade, ending with Vafth choosing the place where his city would stand: an underground, well-defended, cold and dark site just as his home plane of Pandemonium (obs: Titans in D&D 3.5 can be of any chaotic alignment). In this place, under the supervision and architectonical knowledge of the titan, the frost giants began to build a city, which would be simply named as “City of Giants”, governed by a bleak but majestic palace as their sovereign, addressing by the name of Voninheim. Imponent also were the stone and ice dwellings built in this complex, sheltering frost giant clans in a far superior way than their communal longhouses and strongholds. Even though these buildings were far more numerous than the current number of giants, Vafth insisted on their construction so he could impress and quickly provide a lair for all who came and swore fealty to him. The titan’s trust in his leadership was such that he chose a point near the three great mountain ranges (Crystalmists. Hellfurnaces & Sulhaut), which harbored different giant tribes so it would ease their “pilgrimage” to the city.
None of Vafth’s subjects questioned this choice and the pride of their sovereign clouded his reasoning: it was rather easy to convince the frost giants, whose clerics already received a message from their god, not so with the others. The hill giants were too lazy and fearful of their bigger cousins to migrate, individual stone giants decided to go just for curiosity, not for a wish to serve, fire giant clans roared with laughter at the idea of sharing a city like brothers of the frost giants and expelled Vafth’s messenger. Other tribes had even more diverse reactions: the cloud giants considered an insult the offer to live underground, the storm giants reacted even stronger, for living with their lesser and evil kin was an absurd concept at best, and the few mountain giants encountered either ignored the offer or ate the envoys.
The arrival of so few “subjects” provoked incredulity in the haughty Vafth and reproval by Thrym. At the eyes of the god, the titan wasn’t doing enough the role he was assigned. His irritation and the frustration of Vafth opened way to rancor, a feeling that was later used by others. With the passage of time and the fact the City of Giants was still below the standards imagined for it just heightened the displeasure for both titan and god. Although magnificent buildings were erected, they were but the largest concentration of frost giants, along with a minority of others (especially ogres), all served by a small but not irrelevant portion of demons who served Thrym (especially Vrock and Goristro demons – check Manual of the Planes 3E for the latter) and were sent to Vafth to use them as special forces, if needed be. In that time, the Suel Imperium and the Baklunish Lands were not at war yet, but still were important enough to make this slight transport of fiendish troops unnoticed or irrelevant by the other gods. Other factions, however, were not so placid. An ice devil of name Glaciath, who went disguised and undiscovered by all, infiltrated in the city and reported regularly the progress of Vafth for his master, Mephistopheles. The Archdevil of the 8th Circle was intrigued by the news of a demonic infestation tied to a giant colony and decided to investigate, whether to find a personal profit or to keep in check his abyssal rivals.
However, Mephistopheles wasn’t the first to check this site, as there were another hidden player who sought to use for his own ends the growing tension between Vafth and Thrym. Kostchtchie, Demon Lord of Ice; whose followers included renegade frost giants. This hateful being coveted Vafth’s work and felt both envy and anger for Thrym’s project. The great demon decided it would make a great victory if he managed to gain dominion over these giants and their city (or their utter destruction, if the first option failed). Kostchtchie knew demonic behavior much more accurately than Thrym and knew intimidated servitude (by god and titan) of that stationed demons could be overrun by discontentment if the conditions were right. These chaotic creatures would not rest easily as serfs of a “perfect giant city”. Kostchtchie’s first step used spies to infiltrate, contact and slowly persuade those demons to change allegiance and work for him. Bribes, coercion, blackmail or plain frustration assured this success. The next step began a series of “accidents” which invariably implicated a certain frost giant clan against another faction, forcing Vafth to concentrate his efforts to maintain this not-so-stable alliance while delaying even more the city’s progress. The demon lord knew the longer took the work of Vafth, greater would be the frustration of his god which, considering the haughtiness of the titan, would also imply in a less dedicated loyalty. These delays worked well, until Thrym considered his once privileged emissary now a neglectful vassal and a nuisance to his dream of giantish glory. After making clear to Vafth his disapproval, the new demonic serfs of Kostchtchie caught wind of his anger and used this resentment to slowly inspire doubts in the titan’s loyalty while exalted his pride and adulated his leadership and power. While playing with the ego of their “ruler” the same demons sent subtle messages and illusions to appear as omens, to indicate disapproval of their god towards Vafth (which was confirmed with divinations cast by these clerics as this was the truth). And so began the hushed questioning of the titan’s leadership. While this attitude wasn’t truly dangerous at that time, the fear of an open rebellion by Vafth made real this possibility. While the clerics were trying to discuss the meaning of these “omens”, the demonic fomenters began to relate disturbances of loyalty of his people. And in the times of greatest rage of the titan (generally, after being reproached by Thrym), the servants of Kostchtchie made sure to induce some ideas, subtly suggesting about what right Thrym had about HIS (Vafth) city? If the titan who organized, conquered and supervised every step in the creation of this underground complex, what demands the god could made? If the other giants did not recognize Vafth’s majesty, why he had to be judged by the envy and inferiority of others? Who was Thrym to judge from so far? And above all, now the very followers of his were conspiring to crash down all the work he has done and deny his just leadership?
All this effort was not in vain. First, Vafth gradually began to not revere openly Thrym and his absence was felt in the worship halls of the god. The clergy noted his lack of deference and Vafth took their comments as a maneuver to diminish his authority. From accusations grew punishments and then greater discontentment until frost giant’s blood first spilled. From the lofty vision of a new giant capitol, The City of Giants became the site of a civil war, torn between the clans loyal to Vafth and those who considered him unworthy (of Thrym’s attention and theirs). But it was the later actions of their ruler that assured his contingent of followers would be lessened. In the time of greatest need for allies, the demonic troops stationed in the city (who declared their “loyalty” to the titan and broke their “allegiance” to Thrym) told Vafth he hardly would be the victor without a clearly numeric advantage and “as vengeance to the giants who worshiped that arrogant, demanding god”, they offered to bolster the army with abyssal reinforcements. All he had to do was ask permission of their lord, Kostchtchie. Without other viable option, Vafth accepted an audience with the demon lord and the fiendish entity suggested a simple bargain: the titan and whoever else was loyal to him and was present in the time of the agreement would receive a greater contingent of Vrocks and Goristro demons, led by Trau’gh, his general and a mighty ghour demon (cf. Monsters of Faerun), all of them loyal to the giants of Vafth’s entourage. In exchange, this loyalty conferred in life must be paid to Kostchtchie in death (i.e. the dedication of their souls). Desiring victory at any cost, Vafth agreed to the terms and held all his subjects to the bargain. Although some refused (and died), in the end there was a general acceptance of this unholy pact, mostly composed by frost giants and ogres.
Helped then by these reinforcements, the fight pended for Vafth’s side, crowning with the retreat of the giantish clans loyal to Thrym and the death of those who remained behind. The fleeting tribes, who later received omens of the retribution of Thrym (later detailed), incorporated in their oral traditions an abiding fear of the mountain and the caves that gave access to the City of Giants, whose existence wasn’t mentioned thereafter for the younger generations. This taboo and the superstitious ways of the giants created the story of an ancient corruption and shame regarding giantkind in that place, occasionally the god revisiting his clerics and dreams, making allusions to the city in dreadful symbolism. After centuries of this, currently the site is simply named “The Forbidding Caves”, with just vague stories of an evil enemy of giants once treaded there and his mark made this place surely cursed. Even the less reverent giants were loath to speak or ask about it, for they believe it tends to attract ill luck and clan shunning, though currently there is a large group of frost giants who defied their traditions and are bent to explore every foot of these caves.
After the end of the urban conflict, the city had a considerable growth of the demonic population. The troops summoned from the Abyss not just acted in the war, but also settled in Vafth’s city. That was a natural consequence of Kostchtchie’s plan, not only aimed the souls of the giants, but also to shape the place into an abyssal fortress. The city’s structure began to acquire a more supernatural and chaotic aspect, while the corrupted frost giants who stayed under Vafth’s leadership gradually grew used to their growing neighbors, all the while their monarch watched unmoved the scene in Voninheim. All that mattered to him was the restoration of his authority and then, retake the “glory” of his future “kingdom”.
However, all this disturbance of Kostchtchie didn’t pass unnoticed by the ice devil Glaciath, who understood the purpose of his enemies and magically informed Mephistopheles of the ongoing plan as the war raged. If the archdevil was already interested at the demonic meddling, the arrival of goristro and vrocks en masse made clear to him the goal of the demon lord. Noticing it was vital to prevent Kostchtchie’s gain of such powerful souls AND control of a Prime city, the archdevil decided for a more direct course of action. So he parted to Pandemonium, arriving at the palace of Thrym, asking for an audience. Though the god looked down and had much prejudice against the lawful devils, he tolerated the fiend’s presence for sheer curiosity. When Mephistopheles began to address the civil war, Thrym already knew of some facts, and judged Vafth’s actions as hubris for considering himself more important than the mission imparted. But until now, the war didn’t worry the god, because he correctly believed that his faithful far outnumbered any renegade clan the titan could unite; even Vafth’s awesome powers could not stand the full brunt of the loyalists. At this moment the archdevil revealed to Thrym the demonic manipulation he uncovered, showed some hints about a bargain of Vafth and Kostchtchie, the betrayal of the demon troops Thrym had allocated and the arrival of even more fiendish armies sent by the demon lord of ice in order to quash any loyal followers of the god.
These news took Thrym by surprise, greatly enraging him. Dismissing the now-happy archdevil, the god went to Annam, asking permission to the leader of the pantheon to go to the Prime Plane and destroy the titan and all his associates. But, as Annam had already ordered, Thrym couldn’t manifest or act directly on the city, a fact which frustrated the god of the frost giants to no end, even thinking to disobey the order and manifest there anyway. But his rage was countered by the older god, who reminded him there were certain laws which could not be broken. However, Annam conceded that a large presence of demons in the material plane in such scale, resulted by treachery of a follower, could be enough reason to interfere, but he must talk with others first. These “others” were the Greater Gods of Oerth, responsible for the most basic laws of non-intervention in the Prime. According to ancient giantlore, it’s said the crime committed in the Forbidden Caves was so great that Annam (and Thrym also, according to some skalds) met with entities named The Vitkir (“the wizard”), Volva (“nature spirit”), Sól (“The Sun”) and Hul (“Death”). In this gathering, the direct intervention of the frost giant god was dismissed, but the infestation of demons, considering the number of giants they arranged as future slaves was alarming. Even though the growing magical might of the Baklunish and the Suel Imperium were the greatest current concern, the last thing Oerth needed was an abyssal enclave between the two nations.
So they came to an agreement: Thrym could not manifest in the material plane but this restriction would be lifted if the site where the City of Giants stood would no longer be in that place. Volva accepted this suggestion, happy to leave this corrupted area out of her Oerth, and Sól also consented to this solution. Annam, with the help of the Vitkir and Volva, would create a temporary demiplane which would encompass the entire cave which sheltered the city (the superficial caves, which harbored an outpost, would be left alone), which would stand for enough time for Thrym take his revenge. However, The Vitkir noted that even if this god destroyed Vafth and all the renegade giants, their souls would go to Kostchtchie anyway. He had another solution: through his magic, it could be possible to Thrym avenge himself against his betrayers and the entire demonic horde (who would have a lesson to not interfere so openly in the Prime in the next time). A powerful transmutation, whose effect would vary according to the victim, could forever imprison the souls which Kostchtchie coveted while teaching a bit of humility to these demons. As he listened to The Vitkirs’ suggestion, the once silent Hul, grew angry and declared he would not stand for this, for all life must eventually feel the extinction of his blade. So this eternal incarceration would not be suffered. Annam then let the impatient Thrym speak, for he proposed a reasonable solution: the god of the frost giants would descend to the newly formed demiplane, and bringing down his axe ensorcelled with the magic of the Vitkir, he would make his ex-followers and demons suffer, but they wouldn’t die. The titan Vafth would perish, but only to return as an undead, for punishment and a way to prevent his soul go to the Abyss. His torment of undeath would be the lynchpin responsible for the existence of the demiplane itself and the incarceration of its denizens. If and when Vafth would be destroyed, all the cursed souls would be allowed to suffer final death. It was a sound plan. Hul considered its conditions and consented, given the not-so unlikely possibility of Vafth sooner or later face destruction by third parties. However, The Vitkir and Sól imagined Thrym wouldn’t let this liberation happen so easily, and wondered what trickery the god would do to maintain the existence of this curse as long as possible.
With no more objections, the City of Giants and the entire cave that sheltered it were removed from the Prime Plane without notice from giants and demons alike, now unsuspecting dwellers of a tiny demiplane. Its only entrance and exit was an invisible gate that stood just after and below the outpost that guarded the most external caves of the mountain. Those few outside the city at that moment entered and left the gateway without notice. Then Thrym emerged, looking as an ordinary frost giant, outside the gate. He let all the surprised guards of the outpost see him and sound the alarm, so all of them would chase him into the city. At the moment he and his chasers entered the portal and the god was sure none of the outpost’s guards were left behind, he fully manifested his powers and sealed the gate with a massive wall of ice, impervious to any physical blow. Confident no one would cross the closed exit (note that the lack of connection of the demiplane with the Astral Plane excluded the use of plane shift, gate, teleport or summoning of creatures), Thrym branded his axe, empowered for the occasion by The Vitkir’s magic. In fact, no one truly died in this city by the blows of the god. The giants who were struck had their bodies crystallized until turning themselves into ice statues (a gelid version for flesh to stone) while the demons received a harsher penalty: their minds were reduced to an animal level (feeblemind) and their bodies were changed permanently to a fiendish version of a creature that vaguely reminded their true forms, a mockery fitting for their actions.
It took little time to the denizens of the city to perceive the invader was no common giant, even less when Thrym confronted masses of giants and demons unscathed, wreaking terror with his axe. Ogres and frost giants began to change to ice statues, Vrocks began to change to mindless fiendish hook horrors, and the brutish Goristro demons gave way to equally savage fiendish minotaurs. Many tried to escape, batter down the wall of ice, run through the now dead-end tunnels to the underdark, summon reinforcements or teleport away. All such attempts failed and Thrym hunted merciless those who tried to evade his punishment. Further, the god made each polymorphed demon have a great aversion to the newly-formed ice statues, to ensure the life-force of those imprisoned (and their souls) would not leave their shells so easily. Also, Thrym instilled a non-aggressive isolationism between the “hook horrors” and “minotaurs” to avoid bloodshed (and death) among themselves. He dubbed this cursed condition “as a prison of flesh and ice, meant to be eternal as their crimes and no easily undone”. Plus, the nature of the demiplane shared an ageless trait similar to the Astral Plane: no one who stayed in this place would age, starve or suffer thirst (though these privations and lost time would be applied retroactively at the moment the dweller stepped out the demiplane, assuming he escaped). All those who sold their allegiance to Kostchtchie were destined to remain the rest of their enduring lives under a cursed shape, with no memory or supernatural power, at the same time depriving the demon lord an important contingent of servants and souls. In the end, the former city was but a habitat of feral beasts and a large statuary of ice. The last standing victim was Vafth himself, who watched his forces being decimated and recognized the giant who devastated his city, his dream. Too proud to flee but at the same time imagining his incoming fate, Vafth waited unmoved in his throne while the furious god stormed into Voninheim, toppling down palace walls and destroying carelessly the fine architecture the titan labored so much to build. When Thrym arrived at the throne hall, the god glared at Vafth and noted surprised that the weapons and armor of the titan lay scattered in the floor and still his former vassal gazed defiantly him:
"I wouldn’t imagine you would fall so much with envy at the point to manifest here just to destroy all I created, a dream you never had the leadership or competence to achieve without me. I won’t leave my rightful throne. Do what you will, godling. I fear not your wrath.”
Enraged with such insolence, Thrym almost killed the titan outright. However, before striking the final blow, the god declared: “You wasted the honor I gave and call dream the ravings of a madman who offers his own spirit to an abyssal lord. As if this wasn’t enough, you dragged my followers to an equally insane war and corrupted your closest allies. You will not have the privilege of death. From now on, you will be a shadow of your pride and will rule from a throne of nothingness, in chains of delusions of grandeur broken only briefly to wake in frustration. So be it, “King Vafth”. Your empty realm awaits!”
When Thrym finish, Vafth felt a great feeling of emptiness grow inside him and began to lose all his feelings, not even noting the blackening of his body and the disappearance of his features. When it ended, no more stood the haughty titan, but a gigantic undead, whose shadows solidified and composed the tissue of his cursed body. His great personal power now was but a source of negative energy. Vafth became a nightwalker (cf. MM I D&D 3E – under “nightshade”). Sat in his throne, he stayed unmoved after the god’s proclamation. According to Thrym, Vafth would spend the eternity lost in visions of glory, only to be occasionally awakened with flashes of what truly happened, which would bring great anguish before forgetting and retreating back to his “dreams”. But he would never step out of his throne in Voninheim, except to defend itself against those who dared to disturb the cursed king.
Although Thrym punished harshly all the involved, he could not avoid the feeling of frustration, equalizing the ruins of the City of Giants to his failed dream of a giant renaissance. The civil war and his vengeance devastated whole city blocks, annihilated (in a certain way) all its inhabitants and even proud Voninheim now just looked little better than a wrecked fortification. Wishing no more to endure this sight, the god temporarily breached the wall of ice in the gate entrance and without a last look, left and sealed again the portal, supposedly forever. For him, the city and his imprisoned denizens would be no more than a sour memory to be forgotten and rotten by time. However, the leave of Thrym didn’t mean the end of city’s story. According to the compact made with Hul, it would come the time that cursed giants and even the polymorphed demons would die. For that, during the creation of the demiplane and the retribution of Thrym, a condition was forged to satisfy the inflexible greater god of death. Annam and The Vitkir determined the vital link of the demiplane would be the continued existence of the now-undead Vafth.
If the nightwalker was destroyed, the demiplane and all dwellers would soon follow the same end. The ice wall and the statues would shatter, destroying the bodies of those imprisoned giants and liberating their souls to leave through the opened gate to the Prime (and then to the Abyss). The polymorphed demons would revert to their natural forms, but in such abrupt and painful pace that their bodies would be torn and bleed to death. The demiplane itself would begin to become unstable with increasing rifts on its structure giving way to void. In less than half an hour, after a series of earthquakes and greater planar breaches, it would collapse on itself and everything still inside would be lost forever, beyond a wish or miracle, save for direct divine intervention. Of course, for all these things to happen, the great wall of ice erected by Thrym must be destroyed and an external party would need to brave the territory, facing waves of fiendish hook horrors and minotaurs until arrive in Voninheim and confront Vafth. In all, an extremely unlikely possibility to the god of frost giants, who considered himself smart enough to bargain such terms with Hul. The future would reveal his mistake.
During the trajectory of the god in the demiplane there were two important characters who escaped the fate that befell the city. Trau’gh, general of Kostchtchie, commanded the demonic troops for Vafth in the giant conflict. At this moment he was in the Abyss, organizing the next wave of fiends. When he returned to the Prime he met Thrym’s wall and didn’t make it through. But he recognized the divine work and returned to his home plane and report to his lord. Kostchtchie was furious with the loss of souls and invested resources when he learned that the city and its denizens he coveted so much were now out of reach. However, he dared not to break Thrym’s seal, for the message of the god was clear: no one should pass. Still, the demon lord swore he would someday claim the souls that rightfully belonged to him and the entire city as well. Although Trau’gh admitted there was nothing he could do, his master promised he one day would march over the city and conquer it. The second character was Glaciath, the ice devil who spied the city and sent the relevant information to Mephistopheles. Glaciath was ordered by his master to stay and observe what Thrym would do after the archdevil revealed the demonic taint. However, the gelugon could never imagine that meant an irate god appearing in the city itself, devastating its buildings and denizens. While watching the attack, the ice devil discovered horrified that his teleportation ability wasn’t working. Glaciath imagined Thrym would pursue him sooner or later, no matter if he was devil or demon. Making quick use of fallen debris to hide under and using some polymorph magic he possessed (which helped in his spying), this strategy saved him from detection of the god. However, when he emerged two hours later, the city was in utter ruin, and the cave was already sealed by Thrym’s magic. After contacting Mephistopheles to inform what happened, he received the answer: “Show your craftiness returning to my palace bringing the most valuable treasures. Bring as many giant ice statues as you can and a sure reward will follow”. That message didn’t stimulate the gelugon, as it basically meant in short terms: “You are on your own. If you escape, your progress will be recognized”.
Without options, Glaciath tried to breach the wall of Thrym, without success. In his attempts, occasionally the devil stopped to explore the city and its treasures, or to fend attacks from the fiendish hook horrors and minotaurs. While the gelugon first destroyed his attackers, he decided to evade latter incursions from these former demons, for letting them exist in such a pathetic form was much more satisfying than mere killing. The only place he hesitated was Voninheim, guarded now by an undead Vafth. The power of a nightwalker alone was intimidating enough to dismiss any looting, so Glaciath concentrated his efforts to find a way out to the Prime or the Astral Plane. With luck, he could then slowly and quietly withdraw the ice statues and all the accumulated treasure he found in his explorations and finally arrive at Mephistar, the palace of his master. The ice devil had a long time for planning, studying the city and all possible escape routes, but his attempts only met failure and frustration. After more than a thousand years, well after the Twin Cataclysms and the crowning of the first Aerdy Overking, the gelugon still endured in his prison, almost insane with his captivity. It was after this lengthy period that hope returned for the desperate devil. The wall of Thrym began to crack in a small area and then sublimated. From this breach emerged a group of mortals. This event happened by Nerull’s hand. Although Thrym imagined he could avoid the harvest of the Reaper by isolating the Demiplane and locking the giant’s souls in their frozen shells, that was an illusion that wasn’t meant to last forever. When Nerull finally turned his gaze to this hidden demiplane, reminding him the agreement made over a thousand years ago, the god saw the treachery of Thrym. So he took steps to ensure the destruction of the ice wall erected, leaving the City of Giants open to incursions.
In 420 CY, a group of powerful and evil adventurers from Sterich was exploring the Hellfurnace range when the party’s cleric, a devout flan cleric of Nerull,, began to receive dreams about an enormously rich city, sealed in ice and stone near and below the Sulhault and the Crystalmists and not too far from their area. This human also received the vision of gigantic ice statues, each one holding a soul that rightly belonged to the Reaper, yet they stood away from his grasp. Those statues, the omen proclaimed, should be destroyed. The cleric understood the divine message and managed to convince the party to search for this underground city. Without finding opposition, the group faced Thrym’s seal of ice and tried to open a hole through force of arms, without success. However, Nerull knew the frost giant god could not erect an impenetrable barrier in the prime without expending more divine power the greater powers would be willing to allow and the Reaper studied the seal enough to deduce that although the wall was too powerful to be routinely dispelled and impervious to physical damage, its weak spot was exposal to very hot fires (in game terms, consider the seal like a wall of force that could be breached by disintegrate spells – which the described party lacked – or 100+ points of fire damage; that’s why neither the frost giants nor the ice devil managed to breach the wall). The cleric later received this information when praying for guidance and acting in concert with the party’s sorcerer (wizard if you don’t use D&D3e), the access to the demiplane was finally liberated.
While passing through the seal, the party had already deduced the site was formerly inhabited by giants, as they had passed before an abandoned outpost and descended a large step stairway to the lower levels until arriving at the wall. However, after passing through the utterly dark breach (the gate itself to the demiplane) they were awed with the extension of the hidden cave that sheltered an even more impressive ruined city of huge proportions. The conditions of the city were indeed marking, for it looked like a tornado leveled down the buildings, none suspecting it was the wrath of an angry god. After some encounters with fiendish hook horrors and minotaurs, the party found the first statues of frost giants and ogres, all composed of ice, untouched by time. That was reason enough for the cleric begin his unholy task and destroy each one.
This entire scene, from the breach in the wall to the combat with the cursed demons, was observed by Glaciath. The devil, no matter how exultant was to see his way to freedom, was curious to know how mere mortals managed to punch a hole at a divine barrier. The curiosity gave way to fear when he saw the human cleric destroy the first statues. His first instinct was to flee as soon as possible to avoid another coming of Thrym. Then Glaciath remembered Mephistopheles’ order to return with as many treasures and - more importantly - ice statues as possible. So, stopping at a cautious distance and in disguise (for he feared the unknown power of these intruders), the ice devil appeared as a stone giant and greeted them peacefully, feigning to be a servant ordered by the god Thrym to keep the statues unharmed, to ensure the punishment those giants deserved for their sins. The cleric prepared to attack the “stone giant”, declaring it was his quest liberate the encased souls in order for them feel the Reaper’s scythe. But disguised Glaciath held out his hand, asked for peace and answered only with lies:
“I would like as much as you to have an ending to this imprisonment. I am in this damned city for too long and can’t die and return to the rock while Thrym’s magic forces me to keep my task as caretaker. If you continue to intervene, I will be forced to act and while I admit I can be defeated by determined ones like you, I would be revived hours later to continue my work, no matter how ruined it will be. This is my duty and my curse. Before you attack me, I would like to show a way to satisfy your god while liberating me from this infernal task. If you are willing to listen and cooperate, I will not only share all the information accumulated in a very long time, but also will freely give the portion of the city’s treasure I managed to scrape in all these centuries. No material good would be more valuable than my freedom.”
After some reticence, the evil party believed in the great lie of Glaciath (spread with grains of truth) and desired to know more about the local history. The disguised devil told them about Vafth (describing him as a frost giant, not a titan) , his fall and demonic corruption and the following vengeance of Thrym, while omitting the references about himself, Mephistopheles and the gods’ agreement (the gelugon wasn’t aware of that) . He also omitted about the nightwalker, just stating Vafth was now an unliving giant in Voninheim.
The party was cautious but believed the lies of Glaciath and didn’t found enough reason to attack, even accepting the invitation of shelter in a city area surrounded by ice statues (where the hook horrors and minotaurs would not want to get near, according to their transmutation curse). The cleric was extremely curious about the local history and could not find any incoherence in the tales of the “caretaker”. When he asked how the “stone giant” would be free of his duty and at the same time fulfill the right of Nerull, Glaciath lied again, pointing that his task stood as long as Vafth the ruler of the City of Giants. If that giant king was destroyed, his obligation would end by failure, for the demise of the major sinner would make the “guardianship” of all his followers pointless. Vafth was powerful enough to fend for himself and the ice statues were much more liable to break, so when the duty of caretaking was assigned, Thrym allocated the “stone giant” to the statuary and said his task “was as important as the one who stood in the throne suffered”. He was not then obliged to defend Vafth and if the king was defeated, the importance of his task would vanish as well and he would be released, letting the party freely destroy without opposition as many statues as they wanted. Plus, the group would be free to sack Voninheim, an area forbidden to the “stone giant” to avoid any attempt to escape his task by parlaying with (or dying at the hands of) Vafth. And the palatial treasures, Glaciath assured, were far richer than the baubles he found in the ruined city.
The last part of the story spiced the party’s greed, making easier to accept the whole lie and arrange a truce with Glaciath. The fiend feared the mortal’s power and wanted to dispose of them as quickly as possible, in order to leave the demiplane with some treasure and ice statues. Then he would announce his triumph to Mephistopheles and arrange for future expeditions to the City in order to slowly and quietly sack all the souls and material valuables, denying permanently the prize to Kostchtchie. Glaciath wasn’t sure if the nightwalker would be able to kill the mortals, so he planned to watch the ongoing battle (as the undead would be too occupied with his opponents to notice him) and interfere as needed. But, though the devil was incredibly talented as a spy and bluffer, he had no idea how close to the truth his tale was. The destruction of the nightwalker would mean the doom of the City and any of its remaining citizens and treasures as well, so the great lie told was an unwittingly dangerous game.
The mortals then entered Voninheim, passing through the crumbling passages that barely stood Thrym’s rage. Arriving at the throne room, they met the nightwalker Vafth, still in his throne in deep contemplation. While surprised by the figure, they attacked in an effort to defeat the cursed king. But none of them was powerful enough to accomplish this feat, and with grave wounds the party decided to retreat. When they almost left the throne room, the mortals were ambushed by Glaciath, in his true diabolic form. Using his cold-based spells in a quick move, the devil managed to kill all of them. With the only significant opposition to his freedom eliminated, the devil left Voninheim exultant and began to plan his triumphant return to Mephistar in Cania carrying a little proof of victory to his lord. He laughed also for being responsible to foil Kostchtchie’s claim when the ice statues arrived at the Nine Hells. However, once again fate would intervene.
Continue to part II: History of the Forbidden Caves