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The Crumbling Stair was the remnant of a mansion named the House of Taeros[1] that was built in the Forlorn Hills in the days of Phalorm (the Realm of Three Crowns) and the kingdom of Delimbiyran in the 6th century DR.[2][3] It was a grand circular staircase of which only six steps remained above ground, held aloft by magic, after the mansion was destroyed in a wizard battle twenty-some years after it was built. The Stair continued below ground to what used to be the main floor of a grand hall and then to a set of partially collapsed cellars. The site was haunted by at least two phantoms of the past.[1][4]

LocationEdit

The House of Taeros was built on an arcing ridge in what was then known as the Dark Hills of Dardath,[5] part of the Realm of Three Crowns in the region known as Loravatha.[2] Geographically, it was in the heart of the hills, due west from Uluvin and east-northeast from the House of Stone on the edge of Ardeep Forest. The nearest road was the Iron Road that skirted the northern edge of the hills. To the south was the Delimbiyr Route and the River Delimbiyr.[6][7][8]

StructureEdit

Dragon275-Crumbling Stair-Barbara Barion

View of the above-ground portion of the ruin with overgrowth removed.

The Crumbling Stair was constructed of slabs of white marble that had veins of a green mineral running through it. Six of these slabs hovered above ground level and formed a circular staircase rising to nowhere.[4]

InteriorEdit

The Stair descended below ground a few steps before branching off to what used to be the central hall of the mansion, collapsed into rubble and overgrown with scrub vegetation. The Stair continued down one flight and ended in a long corridor with a few doors to individual cellar rooms. The walls and ceilings were decaying and unstable and had fallen down in some places, including the end of the hall, blocking off or burying a larger number of rooms.[4]

AtmosphereEdit

Many adventurers who managed to set foot in the cellars reported finding slime trails on various surfaces (ceilings, walls, and floors) and meeting apparitions in various forms. The most striking vision reported was of an elven female dressed in an elegant gown, wrapped in chains, and soundlessly screaming and begging for release. Also seen were an outstretched human hand holding a fist full of gems (either stationary or swarming above the open palm), and a human wearing a cowl, gesturing with sword, and seemingly trying to communicate movement in a direction.[4][9] As of the Year of Wild Magic, 1372 DR, there was a very real skeletal hand protruding from beneath a more recently collapsed section of the cellar.[9]

Dragon275-Crumbling Stair Top View-Barbara Barion

Diagram of the underground portion of the Stair showing the dead-end branch.

Opening one particular door in the cellar sometimes revealed a ghostly vision of a young, barefoot human woman, eyes closed, floating above the floor as if in meditation. Witnesses reported that the apparition opened its eyes, gave an ear-splitting scream, and then rushed toward them, only to dissipate when she reached the hall. Persons in the path of her rush to escape experienced a random barrage of effects akin to wild magic as she passed through them.[9]

DefensesEdit

For as long as anyone can remember, people making camp or passersby that got too close to the Crumbling Stair were often attacked by the ghostly figure of a knight, or his sword, or just his war helm. The glowing, flickering apparition was not a real ghost because its touch did no physical harm, just imparted feelings of extreme cold and utter exhaustion. However, there were reports of some deaths after an encounter with this phantom, perhaps due to fright or fleeing into the dark wilderness.[2]

As of 1372 DR, a will-o'-wisp was frequently seen floating around the Stair.[4] Visitors also discovered, usually to their dismay, that spells cast on the Stair or very nearby tended to go awry in unexpected and inexplicable ways. Volo speculated this was caused by the chaotic echos of the spell-battle that took place on this spot.[9]

HistoryEdit

The mansion that used to house the Crumbling Stair was built by a human sorceress named Ybrithe sometime in the 6th–century DR, before Phalorm became known as the Fallen Kingdom.[2] She named it the House of Taeros after her late husband Taeros Smaragdoun, a merchant that made his wealth trading with the dwarves of the North.[1] She established the House of Taeros as a school for young women that yearned to master the Art, and she tutored many girls in her home for more than twenty years. The mansion and much of the ridge it sat upon were destroyed when an unknown group of mages attacked at night, killing Ybrithe and most of her apprentices in a battle of powerful magics. It is unknown if the explosion that collapsed part of the ridge was a trap or a contingency of Ybrithe's death, but it killed the attackers and left behind only the portion of the building that became known as the Crumbling Stair.[4]

Bare of all but fell magic and roaming monsters
— Bold Axe of Beregost

Research by Elminster, the Sage of Shadowdale, determined with a fair degree of certainty that the screaming woman in the cellar was the student Jalastra Bluenthar, and the apparition replayed her last moments at the time of the attack on the school.[9] He also reported that another student, Analeithla by name, was likely the source of the other manifestations experienced by intruders over the years. She apparently had placed a piece of her own flesh into the pommel of a sword to form a magical link to the weapon, and when she died in the battle, her consciousness attached itself to the enchanted sword that was buried deep in the collapsed portion of the cellars.[4] Alone in the dark for years upon years, her sentience went quite mad and found her only entertainment in toying with any intruders to her tomb, leading them to as much misfortune as possible.[9]

The phantom that tormented folks above ground in the vicinity of the Crumbling Stair was unrelated to those that manifested below. It was either a remnant of one of the mages who attacked the school, or some other wizard of that era whose reach exceeded his grasp in magical experimentation. All persons touched by this spirit felt the bone-chilling cold and fatigue and were perhaps haunted by nightmares for a time,[2] but in some who were sensitive to such things, or had a latent power lurking in their psyche, there awakened an uncontrollable ability to see the past with vivid clarity when they encountered a place or a relic, or the stirring of a being long thought dead and buried.[1]

Rumors & LegendsEdit

Many strangely enchanted objects were removed from the cellars by various adventuring bands, such as walking sticks, small pieces of furniture, and clothing, leaving the accessible rooms nearly bare. Therefore, the rumor that there were more of these "student projects" to be found was almost certainly true. Typical features of these objects were the ability to glow with faerie fire or to levitate when commanded, but there were other, more unusual, functions as well.[9]

The most widespread legend was that the Crumbling Stair was haunted.[2] This was true in some sense, but the haunting was not by real ghosts.[1] The insane tricks played by Analeithla were attributed to everything from ghosts to giant slugs.[4] There was also scuttlebutt that a beholder of some sort had taken up residence in the cellars and begun digging for interesting treasure.[9]

The House of Taeros was said to be quite opulent, with garden ponds adorned with fountains and jewelfish, many turrets, and a grand hall bedecked with frozenfalls—an art form once practiced by the elves of Myth Drannor. A frozenfall was a waterfall sculpture made with various gems, cut cabochon or tumbled smooth, magically lit and suspended in midair. If true, these must have been shattered, scattered, and buried in the rubble of the building, possibly leaving thousands of these modest gemstones in the area.[1]

AppendixEdit

ReferencesEdit

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