By Victoria Coltsbury
This study was commissioned by Inkram Majiid who had heard of the violent, elemental landscape of the Helmlands and sought to uncover if there could be a primordial force behind it. My own interest in this bleak land has roots in more archaeological, sorcerous facets and this may show through in where my research ultimately focused upon.
The Helmlands is a landscape that must be seen to be believed: sheer cliff-faces; empty deserts populated only by scarce, unsightly beings; an all consuming sea of sand that glows with a magical hue, most visible at night. But this land has a history and it has a future. Cursed in the eyes of many though it may be, The Helmlands is not merely a vision of the world's ending, no more so than the Plane of Fire could be seen to be. Like veins of precious metal jutting out from the chest of Toril, brought into our reach by mountain, fissure and chasm; like metal, so too is the Helmlands perhaps a gift that we thus far have simply not found a use for. While my expeditions could scarcely answer the mysteries of this place, this collection of knowledge may grant some insight to my fellow Scholars who may have otherwise dismissed this place as only a wasteland to be rejuvenated, a mistake to be remedied.
It is widely cited in historical texts that the Helmlands formed as a result of the Death of the Goddess of Magic, Mystra. During this period when all other deities were exiled into the mortal realm, the God Helm remained in command of all His divine power.
For reasons we can only grasp at, the Mystra of the time decided to confront Helm. Despite Her prowess, against the power of a fully realised God there could be no contest - but Helm did not merely cast Mystra aside, He annihilated her. Theologians have debated ever since over Helm's actions, but the Church of Mystra and its allies have never forgiven Helm nor His followers for what they saw as the Watcher's true face revealed as a Tyrant, where Helm's faithful maintain that mercy is not the Watcher's domain, Duty is.
Whether this is truth or myth, I cannot say, but there is a fel energy to this place that creates a twisted mockery of life out of nightmarish creatures and magic. For a scholar with an open mind there is no shortage of inspiration however: whatever sparked the birth of this calamitous wound in our world, there exists something there now that has survived Time. Perhaps the reason we have not been able to so much as curb the advance of the Helmlands is because it too has evolved over time, where we have remained convinced that it is the consequence of a singular event.
The sands are quick to consume whole structures, let alone the minute clues that could tell us the history of this land. However, for the intrepid traveller there remain sights and stories painting a picture of the passage of humans and other races in this land. Abandoned Zhentarim encampments, ancient runic obelisks and the lurking Ogre Magi grant precious windows into the significance of the events this land has been party to.
It has been commented on a few expeditions that for all the barren wastes of the Helmlands, the violence of the landscape at its fringes is enough to remind anyone of their fearful reputation. Hillsmarch was once among northern Cormyr's renowned forested countrysides, well-travelled by the Purple Dragons who manned Castle Crag - Cormyr's northernmost fortress, from where the Royal Forces famously sallied forth to meet the advancing Shadovar Armies descending upon the town of Flynn.
Castle Crag is now a ruin however, deep within the clutches of the advancing Helmlands, and their spread seems impossible to stop. Hillsmarch as a whole is cavitating and bleeding as life fails and earth turns to ash. The attempts of the druids to nourish and strengthen the flora against the encroaching tide is matched with angry mobs of unseelie fey battling against living spells and blights to protect their mushroom circles. All of it, however, seems faced with inevitability, for what is one tree or one fey band against a doom as sure as the Helmlands?
The rapidity of the spread of the Helmlands to engulf Hillsmarch is debatable, but deep within the molten veins opening up at its core one can see the telling glitter of Mythalite. This mineral, so infused with magical energy, could feasibly be accelerating matters. Already in the Helmlands there is evidence of crystals causing patterns in the Entropy, directing it. Apart from the Primordial, Mythalite is one of the most significant changes to the Northern Lands in recent memory and many abrupt changes in the region have been attributed to one or the other already.
Redwood lies between Hillsmarch and the Helmlands proper. By all logic, this should make it another wasteland in the making - but something remarkable has happened here. The forest has found itself twisting, the trees bending, moving, predatory and dangerous; Redwood has awakened under the fel energies of the Helmlands, and with it so has there been a shift in its inhabitants. Some of the most lethal predators in Cormyr lurk within its shade, together with all manner of aberrations finding something inviting about its unnatural atmosphere. Giantkin, living spells and whole bands of aberrations once thought to be little more than slave warriors for dark masters - such as the Umber Hulks. How they came to be here I can only guess, but here they gather in tribes and lay claim to a haven of their own.
The village of Redwood itself is covered in hungry vines and thorns, human life ripped violently out of its homes - and perhaps in another ten years, there will not even be two stones sat atop each other. There is some evidence that the citizens of Redwood were constructing or tampering with a stone obelisk not long before their demise.
The author would like to make special mention of the lethality of this forest. Wild Magic, a seemingly unending horde of aberrations and its winding paths make one think that it is not just the trees, but the forest itself that has grown to relish the taste of murder.
If Redwood Forest is lethal, the ancient ruins floating above it are only more so. A true marvel to behold, however, for the lore held within its floating islands is priceless - and complex. There are dozens of inscriptions, texts and notes in all manner of languages. Though the floating chain of islands is abandoned, harpies and wyverns frequently roost in some of them and care should be taken lest you disturb a Great Wyvern's eggs.
My initial investigations suggest there is a direct link between these ruins and the Netherese ruins below Arabel. They both reference a figure called "Shephesahpha", celebrating him here and denouncing him there. But these Floating Ruins appear to be so much more than "merely" a Netherese artifact; it appears they once housed powerful wizards in their own right. Unfortunately these too seem to be succumbing to the advance of the Helmlands' Entropy, breaking apart over time. I suspect powerful magics must have maintained them once, to be in as good condition as they even now are.
Perhaps the most characteristic trait of the Helmlands is the disturbance it creates in the Weave of Magic, destabilizing it. Commonly referred to as "Wild Magic", the effect is such that casting a spell can have unintended consequences. More than that, the same is true of potions, of magical items, of wands - divine or arcane in nature. An attempt to go invisible when the tide turns in battle could instead see you Combusting yourself, or a potion of Cure Light Wounds could turn into a Shield spell. It would appear that the only commonality is that the resulting effect will be proportional to the attempted spell - so a fifth circle spell would be liable to turn into a Cloud Kill, but a fourth circle spell wouldn't.
As with the Helmlands themselves, this is seen as yet another sign of calamity - and indeed, it is a terrible thing to see spread farther and wider. Cormyr has always prided itself on its War Wizards and its arcane colleges, but something like this threatens to negate this critical component of the nation's defences. However, much like the Helmlands themselves, we have always viewed it in a negative light: that the weave is damaged. One only needs to walk through the Helmlands, to see the sight of earth rising up through the air of its own will, to consider that there may be a different reason: only ancient Netheril ever truly mastered the art of Flying Cities, of turning mountains upside down to house their settlements - and that using excesses of magic not seen today. That this happens spontaneously in the Helmlands, even if on a smaller scale, suggests that magic might be in excess in this place as well.
We have in the past decade sought to capitalise on Mythalite, a wondrous material enriched with magical energies that when used as a reagent, results in a spell of greater magnitude than the trigger spell. Similar redirections of magic exist in the Helmlands, but they are uncontrollable by us, unreliable.
If the Goddess of Magic herself died in this place, and her death has caused such violent upheaval in the landscape, it is reasonable to expect that some part of her remained behind, or still remains behind. Perhaps the answer to the Helmlands is not in growing trees and fighting monsters, but in finding a means to channel its excess energies to a useful purpose.
The Helmlands are a place of great mystery and greater power. For all this time however, I can find no evidence of any person or collective having found a way to make productive use of its properties; only the aberrations, thriving in an environment where magical protections against their more alien powers lends them an advantage - and that I would scarcely call tapping into the Entropy of the Helmlands. However, there are a few other areas that are of doubtless importance in the area:
- The Floating Ruins may not remain Floating forever. Efforts must be made to record and catalogue what knowledge can be gained from them. There is a huge trove of Netherese craft and lore here and elsewhere around Arabel, and if we are to continue the renaissance brought upon by the discovery of Mythalite, we must continue to push the limits of our knowledge.
- Mysterious obelisks have been seen in the Helmlands, in Redwood and in the Stonelands. These structures are not of temporary construction, having withstood terrible calamities already. What purpose do they serve? Are there more of them to be found?
- Cormyr faces a nemesis in Shade, and though we are not at war now, it may only be a matter of time before another conflict erupts. Shade is heavily reliant on magics, in keeping with the traditions of the ancient Netherese. Should we be able to even disrupt some of their spells with effective use of Helmlands Entropy, it could make them think twice about attempting to encroach upon Cormyr's lands.
These are but a few areas the author found to be of especial interest in the expeditions undertaken. The Helmlands, truly, require someone able to think outside the box, outside our understanding of magic and disaster. They require someone who can look at the carnage left by a lightning strike, and think to grab a stick to make use of the fire.