Shadowdancer: Ascent From Darkness
The frigid wind blows across the northern landscape; snow piles up as the beginning of the winter in now in session. Miles beneath this northern harshland of the Spine of the World, lies a 6 mile elliptical shaped cavern with the ceiling rising nine hundred feet at its tallest. Beautiful carved stalagmites and stalactites are covered in many hues of faerie fire. A cavern beaming with activity, dark beauty and magic. And a place of the deepest darkest horrors and nightmares.
Deepearth. The Realms Below. The Night Below. The Lightless Lands. These and many more names are given to the vast, lawless world that lies beneath the surface world. To those who live beneath the rays of the fiery orb, it is a land of Horror and nightmares. Twisting labyrinthine passages filled with a dreadful silence broken only by the screams of fierce predators. Eerie caverns with darkness reaching higher than sight allows, or smaller than a man. Whatever you call it, it is a perilous wilderland of dark caverns, crevices, and labyrinthine passages. No surface dweller has ever seen all its depths and corners, nor encountered the countless unknown beings that lurk within it's lightlessness.
Despite being such a desolate and dangerous place, it is teeming with life, even holding vast cities that rival some of those on the surface. Races who carve a life from the living stone, or claw their way to the top of the predators through guile and strength. Illithids, Beholders, Svirfneblin, Duergar, and a plethora of other races call the Underdark their home with the most well known subterranean race, the Drow.
The stuff of legend and the name used to strike fear into unruly children, the drow rule the subterranean realms with an evil smile and a barbed whip; seeking to quench their unholy desires and grasping for power within their stronghold, the dark elves of the Underdark are cruel, ambitious creatures that seek power and advancement. Following the path of Lloth, the drow descended deep into the earth millennium ago, forced from the light they loved. Black heart, the drow live in an environment which mirrors their malicious souls. Far beneath the earth, away from the cruel sun, they reign as supreme masters of the perilous caverns of the Underdark. They are a mysterious, almost unknowable race. They are beautiful beyond description; their warriors move with preternatural speed and grace; their minds are labyrinths full of subtle and deadly twists.
They struggle for power can manifest in many ways. Priestesses vie for Lloth's favor through the performance of brutal rites and devious plots. They willingly climb over the bodies of their sisters and mothers on their path to the coveted title of Matron and more power. Warriors constantly test each other, and slay each other- for little more than jealousy or potential threat. Wealthy drow strive to have the finest mansions and the most elaborate parties. Artisans and merchans work to be known for the quality of their crafts and the power of their customers. For to drow, station is everything.
The Spider Queen Lloth, their capricious and malevolent deity, encourages this kind of behavior, believing that it leads to the ultimate strengthening of the drow race. However, drow are not totally rabid, mindless killers, but highly intelligent beings. They are driven to gain power, but they also appreciate the subtle and clever twists that aid the acquisition of this power. A successful coup, a devious plot, a cunning revenge, a darkly amusing prank- these are things the drow value as surfacers might appreciate a painting.
Those who find their way into the regions around The City of Dark Waters find themselves in rock hewn tunnels, some of dwarf design some by Drow design. Tunnels branch from the eastern side of the cavern winding for miles a labyrinth of mazes and dead ends for those who do not know the way. Very few ever find their way to the city unless allowed or by sheer chance. This region of the underdark is ripe with resources and left alone by surface dwellers and most underdark races alike.
This is Lith My'athar.
This stronghold is far from vulnerable. Surrounded by an ever growing fortification of adamantite mithril and other magically enchanted materials this city is virtually indestructible from any conventional warfare methods known to the world of Faerun. The walls of the ever expanding cavern are littered with enchanted devices that keep out would be destructive spells from penetrating from outside the city. As one finally does approach the city gates, along the largest tunnel and main route to and from the city, finds them guarded by several drow warriors ready and prepared. The enforced stone gates span the height and width of the tunnel. Guards maintain constant watch via scrying crystals placed in the surrounding rock. These gates cannot be opened from the outside, by force or magic, thus the first line of defense for the city.
Enter the first gate. before you lays a large open plain of mushroom fields and rothe herds- Eastmyr. The 18th house, House Tirin stands alone among the flat plain, a single spiral reaching to the top of the cavern. The marked out road leads twords the powerful gated drawbridge. The mighty Niar'haanin d' Renor Vlos flowing south, cuts the cavern nearly in half. This precious flow provides the city with fresh water, a booming fishing industry and a strong navy. Rich fungi farms, beds of moss and giant mushrooms tended to by slaves along the shores and great herds of deep rothe keep the city well fed. Known for its great arial and seafaring navies, the deep waters allow smaller ships from nearby cities to bring forth exotic trades and wealth. Currently in service are thirteen seafaring vessels, 2 arial vessels and, one sea based outpost in Skullport. The naval yard run by House Dlaen' Del'Amatar sits on the shore of Niar'haanin d' Renor Vlos and its tributary, Ryrrl.
Again magic defenses protect the main part of the city, monitored by elder students of the priestess academy. This magically controlled bridge can also be dropped completely should the enemy manage to reach it. Crossing the bridge, passing through both gates, you find yourselves in the market district. This area is the most varied and tolerant district and the industrial part of the city; located here, a permanent trade fair that attracts merchants and buyers from across the Underdark. During business hours this part of the city can be as busy as any metropolis on the surface. Someones are always coming and going. Trainee wizards, clerics and warriors are paid to patrol the Bazaar, providing a firm, yet unobtrusive law-enforcement. Several permanent enchantments and buffers suppress sounds, vibrations and noises in the 6 mile wide cavern. Hundreds of shops made of buildings or stalls line the numerous dark alleys. Almost anything can be purchased here: slaves, weapons, armor, poisons, enchanted items, and provisions for journeys through the Underdark or to the surface. Even death can be purchased, at a price.
After hours and the occasional brave visitor will enjoy Darkwalk, the city's most famous tavern, inn and bathhouse; ran and owned by members of treea dal Har'oloth assassin's guild. Guilds are also fairly common within this part of the city and they function in and out of the Underdark. These guilds are given free reign to govern themselves as they chose so long as they do not openly side with one house against another house.
Directly in the center is the city's pride and joy (if there can be such thing as joy in the Underdark)- the Academy. The spiraling twisting school of the Arcane Arts- Sorcere; the ziggurat structured warrior school- Melee-Magthere and the largest, spider shaped- Arach-Tilinith, the school for turning females into priestess of the Lady of Chaos. Between the three schools is located a large dome-shaped black marble building; the city's largest and most elaborate temple dedicated to Lloth. Atop of the spider is the city's clock. A twenty foot Firmanent Stone, it is an alchemically based stalagmite that relates time according to the position of the sun or moon on the surface magically. Within the temple itself, in a small secluded room is the council chambers. Beneath the temple, and known only to the ruling house is the Red Sister's base- a group the best skilled assassin.
Hidden and tucked away to the west is Exarz, the city's slums. Houseless rogues, non-drow, and the low class dwell in apartments, hovels, or worse. Here, a small band of a heretic rebel church of followers of the Masked Lord make their base. South? Raethlaine. You find small mansions and large homes of the wealthy non-nobles and higher classed merchants. Not swallowed in squaller, these homes make even rich surfacers feel self conscious. Hidden among its ranks is the 15th house, House Helvighym, the secret heretic rebel base for followers of the Dark Maiden. The oldest original house of the cavern, it was established shortly after the Dark Descent.
Deciding to head north? Ah the best for last. Even from the farthest point, the raised plateau can be seen- the Brozen, where the thirteen noble houses stand boldly overlooking the city. These house compounds are carved from the carvern, stalactites and stalagmites. Walled and enchanted mithril adamantine alloys have been installed in each to ward off would be enemies. First House Mae'Vir, the largest carved stalagmite of the cavern, stands in front of the bridge across the river's tributary as a statement to the city of its power.
The social order is maintained by a ruling council, consisting of a member from the top five houses (Mae'Vir, Kilanatlar, Ischarri, Haelra, Vharzyym) and top three guilds. At the head of this council sits My'rune Mae'Vir, the unofficial ruler of the city. The first house boasts of over 2000 foot soldiers and its own personal drow navy. Their ships are fitted with crystals that are enchanted with directional levitation spell so as to allow them to fly through the air. Second House Kilanatlar is known for its skilled rogues, salves, dyes and poisons. Third House Ischarri, ruled by Matron Maelra, is a fairly new house dynasty compared to the others specializing in the crafting of powerful magic weapons and armors. Founded by Matron Moriana, Fourth House Haelra often produces the cities magical trinkets such as wands and exotic scrolls and tomes. Fifth House Vharzyym is known to be the most eccentric of the ruling houses. Most of the noble children are gifted in druidic magics and are known for the repitor of creatures from every corner of the world.