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The City of the Summer Stars
Posted on Fri, November 07, 2008 by Dongul
rasgon writes "On a little-known pocket domain in the Demiplane of Dread with great implications for the history of Oerth, including the disappearance of a certain ruler of Knurl and the origin of the Rhennee.

The City of the Summer Stars (Pocket Domain)

On the Demiplane of Dread known to some as Ravenloft, in Darkon’s Forest of Shadows, one can sometimes come across tribes of bronze-skinned humans, garishly decorated in cruel tattoos of demons and beasts and wearing ghostly white robes. Their villages, though sturdily built, have a habit of vanishing and reappearing mysteriously - they have been sighted in other forests, too, and even in the wastes of Cavitius on occasion, and always it is the same hooded figures, the same tiny population. They are particularly interested in trading or forcefully taking magical lore of any sort, arcane or divine. They also have a keen interest in the Vistani, who for their part are eager to avoid them.

Sometimes they can seem to be helpful. They will sponsor the research of spell casters when it suits their purpose. At times they trade fairly, and pay good prices for those with unique magics to offer. They can be vicious, too, killing and torturing to get what they want. Unfortunately for them, they suffer a variation of the same curse that afflicts Darkon, and they cannot research new magics on their own. They rely on outsider wizards for what they desire more than anything else.

They seem to be living and breathing creatures of flesh, most of the time, though some have witnessed times when they seem to have faded away; during those periods, which may be linked to the cycle of the moon, they are mere phantoms.

On another world, thousands of years in the past, they were a people known as the Ur-Flannae, or the Necromancers of Trask, though they specialized in other schools of magic as well. They lived along the upper Flanmi and Trask Rivers on a world that some called Oerth (but which they named after the earth-goddess, Beory). They worshipped fiends, mainly, and evil dragons who ruled as tyrants. Tiamat was popular as well, and all feared the scarlet reaper, Nerull. The warlocks and sorcerers of the Ur-Flannae craved power, wherever they could find it, no matter how depraved their means of getting it.

In a nearby forest that would one day be known as the Adri after a later race of conquerors was a civilization of gray elves. Their culture was very old even among a race as long-lived as theirs was, and their magic and lore encompassed the wisdom of many planes of existence. Their library compared favorably to any on a hundred worlds. The Necromancers of Trask wanted the power the library represented, and they wanted it very badly.

There came a time when they gathered in a great army of their fellow humans, summoning fiends and terrible spells that no mortal should know, chanting words of power that none can cast without damning their souls for all eternity. They made war upon the elves, and it was far from clear who would emerge victorious.

Darnakurian, prince of the gray elves, turned in his desperation to dark powers from other planes who whispered to him the secrets necessary to craft the sword Hunger, an artifact of great and terrible power. With the aid of his tutor, the sage Eleandereth, he forged the thing, and so sealed both his doom and the doom of his entire people.

Empowered as it was by the Dark Powers, Hunger possessed Darnakurian utterly, and once he finished slaughtering the Ur-Flannae he turned on his own people, murdering even his mother, the Queen. Many thousands of elves died on that day before they managed to seal Darnakurian and his sword with a spell that would stop time. The great city of the gray elves, the City of the Summer Stars, vanished, leaving only the tower in which Darnakurian still clutches Hunger in his hands. The tainted glade remains as cold as the deepest winter thanks to the unholy power of the sword. Gray elves dedicate their entire lives to guarding the glade, making sure that Hunger is never unleashed again.

In truth, the City of the Summer Stars now lies in the Demiplane of Dread, where the same Dark Powers who inspired the creation of the sword claimed the entire city in which it was made. Only Darnakurian they could not claim, because of the spell of time cast by his fellow elves at the cost of their own lives.

The City of the Summer Stars is deep in the center of the pocket domain, surrounded by scattered villages of Ur-Flannae. The two peoples remain at war; the Ur-Flannae still lust for the secrets of the city. They have turned away from any gods they may have worshiped on their old world, and all of their clerics now are fiend-worshippers or Ur-Priests, though they retain something of the druidic culture they once knew, now corrupted and twisted to wicked ends. The elves captured by the Mists were transformed into undead creatures known as wyrds, with fleshless faces and hands grasping orbs of red and green flame. The humans remain humans, for the most part, although when they fight the things that once were elves they take the forms of ghosts.

The ruler of the City of the Summer Stars, and the de facto darklord of the pocket domain, is none another than Eleandereth, or the wyrd that was made from him. When he first entered this plane, his dominant emotion was anguish and regret at his pupil’s corruption and the horrors he shared responsibility for. Over the centuries this has been replaced with blind greed for the power that Hunger represents. He has become convinced that the problem was not the sword, but Darnakurian’s weakness. He believes that the war with the Ur-Flannae will never end until he retrieves the artifact from the world he lost long ago. His primary goal now is to reopen the gate to Oerth and retrieve the artifact, probably imperiling both worlds. And for this, he needs someone with the power to manipulate time as the wizards of his people once could, before Darkon’s amnesia robbed them of some of their power. And he needs someone with the power to freely travel the Mists. The rest will take care of itself; the Mists crave the artifact as much as he does, he is sure. The inspiration for their creation came from this world, and it is Hunger which must have been the reason that the City of the Summer Stars was claimed.

What he needs, he has decided, is a dukkar of the Manusa tasque.

Once, centuries ago, he found one. The birth of something as rare as a dukkar to a tasque that has no children required much manipulation on his part, including a temporary alliance with the lich who ruled Darkon (who he knows as Darcalas; this event may have happened before Azalin actually claimed his throne, and may after all have been only false history). For two generations, the Vistani managed to identify a dukkar shortly after its birth and kill it before it could do harm. On the third generation, a dukkar was born to the same family, and this time the would-be killers died before they could complete their bloody task. The infant ended up, through complicated machinations, adopted by Vistani of the Manusa, and he seemed an ordinary enough child. They named him Attla. By the time his power - which mirrored that of the Manusa themselves - and malevolence was clear, it was too late; he had gathered together a group of followers, outcasts from a variety of tribes, and both Darcalas and Eleandereth - and, seemingly, the Mists themselves - were intent on using him to fulfill their frustrated dreams. He would fetch the doomsday artifact for Eleandereth to use against his enemies, and Darcalas would escape to the world of Oerth, back into the Adri Forest from which the Mists had once claimed him, either in the future or the past.

What they promised the dukkar is no longer remembered, but it must not have been enough, for he would ultimately turn on them. Bands of Vistani desperately sought to hunt him down and kill him before he brought ruin into the world; they pursued Attla and his band of outlaws deep into the Forest of Shadows, deep into the Mists which opened tantalizingly into a glade cold enough to freeze the soul. Attla walked through, his followers close behind him; other Vistani pursued him as well, a great crowd from many tribes determined to stop the dukkar, the abomination. Attla made it to the tower, he and his followers battling the guardian elves, who were disoriented due to the mists suddenly intruding on their land. Yet when he was about to touch the sword, shatter the spell, and secure the bridge that would pull the last portion of the City of the Summer Stars into the Demiplane of Dread - the bridge that Darcalas intended to cross back into the world he no longer knew - he hesitated. Betrayal still festered within him, but this time it was the Dark Powers - whose grasp on his heart, in this world, was just a fraction weaker - that he betrayed. Or perhaps he did their will, keeping Darcalas sealed within the demiplane and keeping the elves and Ur-Flannae in their eternal equilibrium. Who is to say? Attla turned away, and used his powers to banish the Mists, trapping himself and a sizable amount of other Vistani on one plane while his erstwhile employers remained on the other.

The hunting Vistani, not comprehending their new situation, attacked Attla, and in the melee he was killed. As he died, he cursed his murderers, swearing that they would never find safety as long as they touched the earth.

And perhaps this is only false history. This happened centuries before the coming of Azalin, and the best minds, free from the Dark Powers’ grasp on their minds, believe that Darkon did not even exist in those days. Even Barovia had not yet been created. The entire story of the dukkar Attla might be only a fabrication intended to increase the frustrations of Azalin and Eleandereth.

Yet the following is known for sure:

On the world of Oerth, in the Adri Forest, thousands of years before the present day, the City of Summer Stars vanished after a war between the gray elves and the human Necromancers of Trask. The only structure remaining is a single tower in the center of the supernatural blight known as the Coldwood. The gray elves guard the Coldwood fiercely against those who would awaken the evils imprisoned within. The lost city, they claim, now exists on some otherworldly “fading land,” though none have found the gate.

On the world of Oerth, in the 150th Common Year, a group of gypsies were first sighted at the edge of the Adri Forest. They claimed to have come from another world, and they were bewildered by the strange flora and fauna of Oerth. Although they traditionally traveled the land in wagons, on this world most took to the rivers and lakes instead. Those who retained their ancestral way of life were called Attloi, traitors.

And on the world of Oerth, in the 391st Common Year, the Lord of Knurl, the self-proclaimed “Wizard-King” Firan Zal’honan – better known as Azal’Lan – vanished in the depths of the Adri Forest.

And in the Demiplane of Dread there is a pocket domain in which a city of gray elves, now corrupted by undeath, hatred, and greed, who fight an endless war with human spell casters. Outsiders see the humans more often, seeking out magical lore, sponsoring mages, kidnapping victims and setting them aflame within wicker effigies when they no longer have need of them. But the spirits of the elves, with their orbs of eldritch fire, can be seen from time to time as far away as Azalin’s court, or ambushing bands of Vistani. The pocket domain itself is most commonly found within the Forest of Shadows, which occupies a place in relation to the city of Necropolis equivalent to that which the Adri Forest holds in relation to the city of Knurl. It can be found anywhere within Darkon, however, and on rare occasions it has been spotted in Cavitius and even Barovia. There is good reason to suspect it might have touched Barovia in the year 542 of that land’s calendar, when the lich Azalin first set foot on demiplanar soil.

Notes:

The canonical history of the City of the Summer Stars is as I've shown it here, taken from Ivid the Undying by Carl Sargent, a Greyhawk supplement that was released on the internet only due to the line being canceled in the early '90s. There's a very good PDF version floating around. I invented the figure of Eleandereth, because it makes Darnakurian himself - the most logical darklord, the one the plane of Ravenloft would desire as the darklord - a wild card in all this. If he were finally freed (and Eleandereth would rather leave him imprisoned, taking only his sword), how would he react? Would he be content to destroy his ancient enemies, or would he destroy the entire pocket domain? Could he actually wrest his mind free of Hunger's grasp long enough to destroy it?

The date the City of the Summer Stars was lost to the world is disputed, but doesn't much matter for these purposes.

The date and location the Rhennee gypsy-folk first appeared on Oerth is from Greyhawk: The Adventure Begins, by Roger E. Moore.

The name "Attloi" comes originally from the novel Saga of Old City by Gary Gygax, page 115: "Those dogs in the wagons claim to be Rhennee too, but they are Attloi - half-breed nothings, vagabonds, liars, and chicken stealers!" They were also mentioned in the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, page 7: "...their rare, land-dwelling cousins, whom they derogatively refer to as the Attloi." The dukkar Attla and his curse are inventions of mine.

The undead horror known as the wyrd originated in the Elves of Alfheim Gazetteer for Basic D&D, and was updated to 2nd edition in the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix. To my knowledge, they haven't appeared in 3e. They're immaterial creatures clad in dark, hooded robes, with skeletal faces and glowing witchfire spheres in their hands. They're always made from the corpses of elves. I decided to use them because the domain of Sithicus already has banshees, but wyrds are something new and different in Ravenloft.
"
 
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