It is Midsummer in the Gray Vale, beneath the mysterious Star Mounts at the southern edge of the ancient High Forest. The Gray Vale straddles the river Delimbiyr in the North, making it a prosperous region thanks to river traffic, merchant caravans, and other travelers looking for treasure amid the wreckage of lost kingdoms.
The area has grown into a trade center in the North in large part due to the success of Loudwater. This small town has an advantageous location at the confluence of the Delimbiyr and Grayflow rivers. Rich and arable farmland enables the community to thrive. Most merchants in the vicinity use the river to transport goods, making Loudwater an ideal nexus for nearly all commerce in this part of the world.
However, a recent change threatens to disrupt the prosperity of The Grey Vale. A sudden season has gripped the town as the temperature has dropped unexpectedly. Snow surrounds Loudwater in Midsummer, several months early and travel to and from the town is now blocked off by a raging storm that has seized the area.
Snows of these levels would not normally be seen until High Harvestide; locals worry that if this trend continues the crops will freeze and die, ruining the harvest and putting the entire area’s food supply at risk. Scouts report that it is not just Loudwater that has been struck by this mysterious chill, but the entire Gray Vale. As locals ponder the causes and ramifications of this sudden season, one thing is clear: the cold only seems to be spreading.
An Auspicious Meeting:
As a bitter wind blows through the town, villagers can be seen wrapped in furs and wearing their winter garments, hunched against the biting cold. The wooden sign of the Green Tankard Tavern squeaks on its hinges as the wind whips it back and forth. One figure, however, seems to be little effected by the harsh weather. A tall humanoid wearing well-worn leathers and furs with two curved blades at his waist strides through the square, passing villagers by in his wake. Beneath his heavy, lined hood a glimpse of his gruff face can be seen, eyes flashing briefly.
As the stranger approaches the tavern a gust of particularly harsh wind sweeps through the square and the wooden sign seems to whip more violently. Pulling open the heavy wooden door, a draft of warm air rushes out and a brief glimpse of a welcoming hearth can be seen. The well-lit common room offers a welcoming glow and comforting scene as the boisterous chatter of patrons fills the sizable hall. Travelers passing through town are granted a temporary respite here, taking advantage of an unfortunate situation to chat with the townsfolk or merely drowning their sorrows away with some local brew. The talk in the tavern, however, seems to almost exclusively concern the mysterious weather.
As the stranger looks around the lively tavern, a pair of locals in the corner catches his attention. A female Tiefling and male Half-Elf can be seen at a table near the hearth, speaking rapidly in hushed tones and gesticulating fervently. The pair seem to be having a squabble of some sort; as the situation escalates to shouts the townsfolk seem to pay them no heed. You get the impression this is a common occurrence in the tavern.
In fact, the only individuals who do seem to be distracted by the small commotion appear to be more… traveled than the tavern’s usual clientele. A figure wrapped in a black cloak, face obscured behind a heavy hood, can be seen in the corner sitting quietly, bereft of drink. Watching the pair intently, the figure moves rarely but deliberately, content to sink into the shadows beyond reach of the firelight.
Across the room, near a brazier where a pig spins slowly roasting on a spit, a gaunt and pale-skinned man sits in silence. Clad in a long, elegant black cloak that shimmers in the firelight he wears an amused expression as he strokes his lustrous black beard thoughtfully, watching the curious exchange with interest.
There is an abrupt lull in the once-boisterous tavern as the wild stranger crosses the threshold amidst a flurry of snow. Patrons turn to assess the newcomer, the crackling of the hearth continuing despite the entry. The silence is broken as the Tielfing slams her fist down on the table, standing up and bringing the argument to a fore. The townsfolk return to their rumors and speculation as the tavern door is slammed shut by a particularly large gust of wind.
In Defense of the Gray Vale:
As you head north out of town and through the rolling hills you notice the snows have not extended this far. You are struck by how beautiful the Gray Vale is in the late summer, although a pronounced chill in the air during what should be the hottest part of the day indicates that something is definitely amiss with the weather.
The dark eaves of the forest grow closer by the mile, with the Star Mounts looming overhead. While the first few hours of your journey pass uneventfully, as you travel through the Dire Wood the temperature drops steadily and a sharp wind carries with it the promise of winter, even though the leaves have not even begun their annual autumn change. With the wind come flakes of snow that begin to flurry around you. The storm’s intensity continues to rise minute by minute until quite suddenly you realize are caught in the middle of a full-on blizzard. You are surrounded by a sea of impenetrable white, as you are forced to shield yourself against the unrelenting winds. You soon realize that you cannot see more than a few feet in front of you, and have become hopelessly disoriented in the storm.
As the blizzard begins to subside, you find yourselves in a small valley nestled between the frost tinged hills and snow drift that piles around the base of the glimmering slopes. You hear the crunch of snow as small humanoid forms leap up from the hills on all sides. Their blunt faces are arrayed with icicles and their eyes smolder a deep blue. One of the creatures that bears a small wand sneers and points at you, spewing an incomprehensible command to its blue-tinged brethren.
Further down the small valley the hills rise up on either side, their sheer faces pressing inwards as the path is obscured in their shadow. Despite the enclosed nature, you feel a strong, bitter wind blowing through the small passage, nearly knocking you off your feet.
The farther you travel, the stronger the wind grows. Chilling you to the bone and forcing you to hunch against its cruel bite. After travelling for a time, the pinprick of light the end of the valley that begins to grow. As you reach the end of the crevasse you see that it terminates in a sheer cliff with the forest floor spreading out before you for leagues. Thousands of feet below the trees of the Dire Wood create an ocean of green and blue.
The Star Mounts:
This ancient range of mountains marks the southern boundary of the High Forest and takes its name from the queer lights that shine from its heights. Legends claim that these mysterious mountains are home to magical creatures. Perhaps the most unusual story is that in the upper reaches, great crystal towers grow out of the rock. It is uncertain just who or what lives inside these towers (if they even exist), because clouds blanket the peaks year round and few have the courage to ascend the heights.
The earliest recorded names for these mountains have been attributed to the elves of Earlann, who named them for the stars in the northern heavens. Bard’s Hill, Mount Vision and Hunterhorn today only possess the rough translation of their elven names, but Far Peak, Mount Journey and Shadowpeak are still sometimes known by their original names, respectively Y’tellarian (The Far Star), Y’landrothiel (Traveller’s Star) and N’landroshien (Darkness in Light). It is said by some that these names hint at some mystery which lies within the range.
Looming above you, the peak of the Star Mounts glisten in the sun. You see a ledge leading left up into the mountains, about ten feet wide with with the mountainside on the left and a sheer drop on the right. The cold winds buffers you against the cliff-wall, but you find little respite there.
Eventually the ledge begins to widen, the wind blows fiercely here and the snow swirls in a way that obscures your vision. Just barely in the distance, you can make out the strange circle of blue ice standing stones. The circle sits on a thick glacial overhang covered with snow and pocked with boulders. The peak of Crone’s Finger, a jagged mountain that towers above the Star Mounts looms above you, obscuring the overhang in shadow.
Near the far edge of the overhang, next to what appears to be a horn made of solid ice, glimmering in the failing light. The glacial outcropping points directly to what appears to be another mountain peak in the distance, however, as harsh winds blow, the clouds surrounding the base are disperesed, revealing the peak to be an elemental mote. The Icemote hangings in the air against the shoulders of the Star Mounts, glistening with crystalline towers. While the mote appears to merely be a a particularly jagged mountain top at first glance, upon closer inspection the dozens of towers make it seem like a spectacular city crafted from the the ice itself.
Icemote and the Crystalline Towers:
The Lost City of Frore, nestled in the peaks of the Star Mounts on the peak of N’landroshien (Darkness in Light). Crafted by the Eladrin at the convergence of powerful magical leylines, the city was lost to the Feywild many years ago. The city has reemerged since The Spellplague, it’s latent magical power attracting unwanted visitors.
As the horn sounds the standing stones begin to glow, runes emerging on their surface. At the center of the stones a point of light widens into a tumultuous portal. Looking through you see ornately hewn walls of ice in what appears to be an antechamber.
You are acutely aware of the continued echo of the tremendous horn, as it ringing accross the mountain peaks you hear a slow rumble as the slumber of the pristine peaks above is abruptly broken. As rocks are hurled from the mountain above, you now see cause of the numerous boulders strewn across the outcropping. It almost seems if the mountain, awakened from its long and peaceful slumber, is angered by your intrusion.
As you emerge from the portal, you are surrounded by an identical circle of standing stones. You see shining gates towering before you, seemingly crafted from the mountain itself. An array of ice-statues dot the small outcropping surrounding the gates as well as the standing stones themselves.