The series of alliances that would evolve into the Circle of Eight began simply, over a meal of venison and Celenese Nectarwine in a posh inn near the shores of the Wild Coast. At that table, nearly thirty years ago, Mordenkainen debated with his young apprentice, Bigby, the merits of taking an active hand in maintaining the celestial balance of power. Thereafter, the two struck upon a plan to gather a group of like-minded individuals that would act to hinder advances by those who would dominate the Flanaess; that their expected exploits would impart upon the mages no small amount of lost magical lore only served to hasten the alliance.
There are those on both sides of the eternal struggle between good and evil who would see one side topple the other; to make their philosophy, their dominion, absolute. In this respect, there is little difference between the Hierarchs of the Horned Society or the Council of the Nine in Wintershiven. Both would change the world to suit their own agenda, and would thus upset the scales of balance that preserves this world and the multiverse.
Evil has its champions in the courts of decadent Aerdy. So too does Good field its forces in the form of the Knights of the Hart, or the all too meddling priests of St. Cuthbert. Ever does one side strive against the other, changing faces and names, but never purposes. What has given me a reason to fear of late, however, is that there are too few to preserve the equilibrium of everything; to keep one power from upsetting all. The world need not be, nor cannot be swallowed by the Abyss or drawn into the Heavens. In so doing, its destruction is assured. Oerth is Oerth, a place for all and any, and there are but few who can act to assure that it remains so. I resolve to be one of them.
Excerpted from the Codex of Mordenkainen, Sunsebb, 551 CY
Within months, Mordenkainen had brought the renowned warrior Robilar to his cause, as well as the cleric Riggby, and his zealous assistant, Yrag. From the shores of the Nyr Dyv, Mordenkainen recruited the righteous Tenser, who in turn introduced the dim-witted though well-meaning Serten to the assembly. Finally, the young woodsman, Otis, rounded out the group.
They called themselves the Citadel of Eight, taking the name from Mordenkainen's renowned Obsidian Citadel, in the Yatil Mountains. In the years that followed, their adventures focused on Greyhawk and the Selintan valley, and the crags of the Cairn Hills and depths of the Suss Forest were opened to their prying vision.
In the years of their companionship, both Robilar and Yrag were ennobled by Greyhawk, and Riggby was promoted speedily within the church of Boccob in Verbobonc. Tenser, Bigby, and Mordenkainen likewise advanced in their own wizardly ways, gaining arcane knowledge and power.
For a group that so decisively defeated its enemies, there remained several problems. Robilar never quite bought into Mordenkainen's philosophy, and he and Tenser often bickered over matters of morality. Serten, though seen as useful, was never truly respected and Otis, tired of underground excursions and forays into urban territories, left the group, decrying his friends as cave-delvers and treasure seekers blind to the real problems of the world.
Over the years, the Citadel played home to such luminaries as Prince Melf Brightflame, of the Olvenfolk, the half-orc Quij, Felnorith, Robilar's brother Terik, and even, at one point, the Quasi- Deity Murlynd, in disguise.
Nearly a decade after the Citadel's formation, Otis' critical words took on an air of prophecy. In 569 CY, when the first arrow flew at Emridy Meadows, the Citadel was noticeably absent. Whether investigating magical secrets far to the west or unearthing lost passages in Urnst's Maure Castle, these self-absorbed celebrities were too preoccupied to influence one of the century's most critical battles. All were absent save Serten, who fought valiantly at the side of Prince Thrommel against the hordes of evil. When Serten fell, none of his friends stood at his side. Though most attended his ostentatious funeral service in Verbobonc, a crucial rift had been torn in the organization. The Citadel was crumbling.
Tenser blamed Mordenkainen for the death of his friend and retired inward to his castle. Terik and Yrag vanished, some said to the anonymity of the Bandit Kingdoms. Even the loyal Bigby left the side of his one-time master and returned to Oldridge, where he adventured for a time with a band of boyhood friends. Mordenkainen, the man who had brought the Citadel together, simply shrugged and returned, with cold eyes, to his studies.
In examining the brittle pages of the Tome of the Black Heart, I have lost the innocence that accompanies ignorance. The threat to Oerth is worse than I had ever, ever imagined. Evil long thought bound out of mind awaits impatiently at the borders of the multiverse, reaching out to us still. I write of the Dark One, of course. The Biophage. He whom the ancients texts call: Tharizdun. His eventual return is as certain today as it was when all acted in opposition to his sendings and the chaos and destruction they engendered before the Age of Glory. His is the power of evil united, a force to which it seems there can be no equal. I had thought, in my own optimistic way, that I could change the nature of Oerth's struggle from without. My pawns worked against both sides, making small gains and checking the onward march of larger, more significant pieces. The error was in the approach. To truly block the return of He who would devour all that is, it has become necessary to introduce a new player, one who can act from the side of darkness itself to consume it from within. With the gift of a single sword, an inevitable series of events has been initiated. There can be no atonement for the action I have now taken. I pray to the Archimage that I have seen true.
Excerpted from the Codex of Mordenkainen, Coldeven, 570 CY
The chaos surrounding the return to power of the demigod, Iuz, in CY 570 prompted Mordenkainen to consider a new paradigm. Though the Old One worked to check the growing power of the Horned Society and kept Furyondy's eyes on its northern borders, Mordenkainen knew well that the situation would not last. The dissolution of the Citadel left Mordenkainen without a tool to shape events as he would and though he hardly admitted it to himself, he longed to return to a life of adventure.
The Citadel's primary failure, he surmised, had been its inclusive philosophy. As its founding concept had been arcane, he had been foolish to assume that men like Robilar or Riggby would rally to his cause without subtly working against it for reasons personal, spiritual or political. Men of intellect and sorcerous skill, whose primary interests were more than material, would replace them. Thus was born the Circle of Eight.
Over the next year, Mordenkainen invited some of the most prominent magi in the Flanaess to join him. By the first month of 571 CY, he had gathered eight mages to his cause, among them Bigby, Otto, Rary, Nystul, Drawmij, and the affable Bucknard. The Circle in those early days worked to check the power of influential beings in Eastern Oerik. When they could not directly intervene, they acted as patrons for Agents of the Eight, as in the sacking of Iggwilv's former haunt at the Tsojcanth Caverns. Whether or not those agents always knew who set them upon their quests is a matter of some debate.
Privately, members of the Circle investigated the coming of the Frostmaiden near Blackmoor, and even the manifold layers of the infernal Abyss itself. More importantly, through their own adventurers and the exploits of those related to them, the Circle began to formulate what soon would become one of the most impressive networks of informers and agents the Flanaess has ever known.