JESTER'S SHADOWS OVER ISTIVIN
Istivin lies at the political and geographic heart of the March of Sterich. The nation’s capital since its founding nearly 800 years ago, Istivin is the hereditary seat of the House of Qualtaine, modest rulers largely content to enjoy the wealth of vast mining operations in the nearby Jotens and Crystalmist Mountains. Maintaining those mines often meant cutting through tribes of savage humanoids and giants, however, and these struggles brought turmoil to Sterich for eight centuries. With its soaring walls and sturdy keep, Istivin and its citizens weathered many brutal incursions over the years. Then, eighteen years ago, Istivin fell under attack from a wholly unanticipated opponent—Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders. An immense black hemisphere of eldritch energy appeared over Krelont Keep and much of the city’s central square, completely cutting off the government and constabulary housed within. Brave citizens were able to cross through the energy barrier, but none returned from its inky depths. Worse, the hemisphere expanded slowly, every day engulfing more of the city. At the same time, organized raids by giant-led savage humanoids surged into the lowlands of Sterich, hitting the nation’s border forts with devastating effect. Only the timely intervention of brave and powerful adventurers destroyed the giant threat, unveiling it as the work of [[ebony-skinned elves]] from below the Crystalmists. Descending into the depths of the earth, these adventurers penetrated the fabled Vault of the Drow and ultimately ventured to the Abyss itself to solve the mystery of the black hemisphere, which turned out to be the physical manifestation of an attempt by Lolth to draw Istivin—and eventually all of Oerth—into her hideous Demonweb. With Lolth’s machinations defeated, Krelont Keep and its inhabitants returned to Istivin unharmed. Ten years ago, mountain dwarves from the southwest sent warning to Istivin of a new giant and savage humanoid force gathering near the mountain headwaters of the Davish River. Soon thereafter, contact with the dwarfholds ceased altogether. Istivin moved against the threatening incursion but failed to anticipate the speed and ferocity with which the assault would come. The nation’s unprepared and undermanned border forts buckled under the fierce assault, and many of their surviving soldiers fled to the interior to defend the capital. Sterich’s western baronies fell quickly as the forces of the Giant King Galmoor marched for Istivin. Overmatched and unprepared, Earl Querchard ordered a complete evacuation. Less than a decade after Lolth’s black hemisphere, Istivin had fallen. Humbled, Earl Querchard fled to the city of Flen, in the neighboring kingdom of Keoland. Although now virtually independent, Sterich had been established as a Keolandish vassal state, and King Skotti felt some responsibility for its fall. He promoted Querchard to the title of marquis, and installed the ruler at the head of a vast army of reclamation that struck back against the giants eight years ago. When the blooded army hacked its way to Istivin, they discovered a completely abandoned capital, with no sign of King Galmoor or his savage host. The city’s ancient buildings remained almost wholly intact, unlike the other conquered settlements of Sterich. A puzzled Querchard resumed his position of rulership in Krelont Keep and set to the task of liberating the whole of the land. Within two years, all of Sterich had been reclaimed, but true peace never came. A shadow of dread and disquiet had fallen over Istivin. Tempers flared more easily, and deadly accidents occurred with regularity. Foul nightmares began to haunt the populace, and more and more of Istivin’s folk found themselves caged in the city’s asylums. Other citizens vanished altogether, including the marquis himself, gone now four years. The city that has twice recovered from giant and extraplanar invasions now seems to be under siege once more. What power assails it remains unknown, and the folk of Istivin despair that a new conquest is imminent. The influx of hexblades bodes ill for everyone as well.