The Stone Doorway
Thyn’vlek lies in a small sub-grouping of caverns which is part of a much larger series of caves inhabited by the Drow. The main series of the caverns were originally formed by water running through limestone, resulting in spectacular natural formations. A number of these caves are still “live” and provide much of the water supply. However, over the years these caves have been enlarged by a variety of additional factors, such as cave-ins, fault lines, and construction work. The entire series of caverns, taken all together, form the kingdom of Chednavar.
Chednavar is mostly a narrow, linear kingdom which runs the entire length of the cavern series. Its ruling city, Verenzoraean, is located in the largest, deepest, and most centrally-located of these caverns. It is considered one of the wonders of the Underdark. Many of the natural formations have been preserved by command of the Crown, and many of the finer buildings have been arranged to complement them. In addition, the Drow have cultivated the art of growing rock crystals, and rock crystal gardens and parks are very popular. Various quartz formations are the most common, with Amethyst being particularly favored. However, precious gemstones such as emerald, sapphire, and ruby are also grown and can be seen in some of the royal areas. (Clear quartz, being stronger than glass, is particularly favored for windows.)
This is not to say that Verenzoraean would be a safe place for visitors (presuming any outsiders were ever permitted to see it.) Located in the deepest and most easily defensible cavern, there are few wars that find their way so far. There is no telling how deep any of the beautiful, pristine pools are: the crystal gardens are lovely, but many of the formations have been deliberately sharpened: there are unexpected, bottomless crevices which are not obvious until it is too late, and whose positions are known only to the inhabitants. Away from the glittering, royal courts there are the inevitable seedy areas, cheap taverns and lesser Houses for those Drow who haven’t done as well as their peers.
Spiralling outwards from the ruling city are clusters and strings of smaller, lesser caverns, and in these are located less-important cities and towns. Generally speaking, the farther away a town is from Verenzoraean, the more rural it is considered.
The town of Thyn’vlek
One of the furthest-flung of these rural Drow towns are the holdings of Thyn’vlek. It is considered a lesser town not only because of its great distance from the seat of power, but also because of its depth, a scant half-mile below the horrors of the Savage Lands (as the Drow call the surface world.) Because of its position so near to the surface, Thyn’vlek holds a much greater range of interests and activities than most of the deeper towns.
First, the military keeps a strong presence in the town. Thyn’vlek is not the closest town to the surface; that honour belongs to a series of military outposts and forts which dot the long winding slope to the Savage Lands. However, Thyn’vlek is the first town which is an actual town as opposed to a military holding. A fair portion of the economy depends upon the lucky soldiers on “shadow leave,” who come to drink, dance, and be merry in any of the taverns and brothels that ring the outer portions of the township. A small fort is maintained on the outskirts of the town and the military housed there is responsible for defense and keeping order.
Second, a portion of the economy is dependent on farming – yes, farming. Not for nothing is Thyn’vlek known as the “City of Light.” A number of the nearby caverns are so close to the surface that they actually brighten and darken according to the rising and setting of the sun. While no direct or navigable opening exists in these caves, there are still cracks in the ceiling, for example, which permit the entrance of light. Some of the very largest cracks allow genuine sunbeams at just the right time of day, or will even allow a bit of rainfall to strike the bottom of the cavern floors.
These lit caves permit the growth of plants, particularly the ones with natural access to water (and many others, without natural access, have been engineered for irrigation.) While there is not enough light for many things to grow, a great variety of shade-loving plants have been cultivated, particularly mosses, ferns, and especially fungus. The presence of indirect lighting allows for an enormous variety of funguses of all types. Mushrooms, however, are the staples of farming in this area, and hundreds of species are grown. Because many of these types of mushrooms will not grow in the total blackness present in most other areas of Chednevar, they are considered great delicacies and fetch very good prices.
Mushroom farming produces a variety of goods other than mere food. Mushroom spores (which can be paralytic, hallucinogenic, highly poisonous, and many other things which Drow find desireable) easily hold the value (and much of the status) of spices. The trading of spores is so prevelant that there are specific “spore routes,” and caravans of traders wend back and forth, trading in silks, spices, and spores. In addition to spores, several of the giant species of mushrooms provide the equivelant of wood (using their exterior layers) and of foam (using their interior layers.) The most desirable of these mushroom-based woods have tones of rich reds and browns, though grays are far more common. Mushroom-foam, when properly dried and prepared, lasts virtually forever, and is used in everything from loofas to pillows. (Lately, boots with mushroam-foam insoles have become particularly popular.)
The Temple and Pool of the Blue Lady
Third, the Church maintains a strong presence in Thyn’vlek – on the surface, such a presence is somewhat surprising, given Thyn’vlek’s far-flung, middle-of-nowhere location. However, the town is also situated near a holy site – the famous Pool of the Blue Lady.
The Pool of the Blue Lady lies in one of the limestone caverns. The pool is shockingly blue, because of the phosporescence of the mosses and mushrooms which are present in the cave (which is not lit.) Its depth is unknown. The term “Blue Lady” refers not to a woman or goddess, but rather to a spider – specifically, the Blue Widow. Unlike its sister, the Purple Widow, Blue Widows are hardly ever seen. These tiny spiders (the largest of them only reaches about the size of a Drow thumbnail) are skilled hunters for their size, but exceedingly shy of large things. Living only in dark caves, they like to wait in niches or hollows, tempting small insects to them with the lovely blue light of their thoraxes. They are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity even for brief periods, and have the frustrating tendency to die within hours of being removed from their natural habitats – presuming, of course, that one is lucky enough to catch the shy spider in the first place. There is a theory that they are dependant in some fashion upon lit caves, for Blue Widows are never found in the deep places, but only within the immediate proximity of a lit cave.
The effects of the bite of the Blue Widow are not fully understood, even to the poison-loving Drow. However, there are certain afflictions for which the bite of the Blue Widow is the only known cure. It is rare for the hardy Drow to be laid low, at least of natural causes, but these few unlucky ones may make a pilgrimage to the Pool. The Church strictly controls all access to the cave, fearing to disturb the balance of nature in the area lest the Blue Widows come to harm. However, occasionally pilgrims are allowed to bathe in the sacred pool, where (if they are still) they are almost certain to be bitten, and thereby either cured or killed. The water from the pool is also said to have healing properties of its own, and on the relevant High Holy Day (which occurs every decade or so,) water is gathered for purposes of distribution to the sick. This water is considered so sacred that no further ceremony or blessing is needed upon it. It is legend that Lloth, herself, has been seen bathing in this pool. (This legend, however, is only one of many among the Drow, of Lloth, herself, having been seen doing this or that, and no one – not even the Church – knows which of these legends are true.)
For all their shyness in relation to large, living things, Blue Widows are extremely hostile to everything undead, regardless of size. Any undead creature wandering too near a Blue Widow nest is liable to be instantly swarmed, without provacation and without mercy, and bitten hundreds or thousands of times. Even a tiny, solitary and otherwise shy Blue Widow will launch itself at an undead that comes too close.
It is not known precisely how the venom of a Blue Widow disrupts the workings of the undead, but its effectiveness is beyond any doubt. A single Blue Widow bite is sufficient to bring down an undead creature ten thousand times its weight. Once bitten, an undead, no matter how determined or fierce, will fall over – and will not get up again. If left long enough, its body will turn to dust. An undead unfortunate enough to be swarmed will often self-incinerate, bursting into strange blue flames seconds after the swarm abruptly abandons it. Even the light produced by the bodies of the Blue Widows seem to be harmful to the undead, who will sometimes flee rather than look at one directly, or otherwise shield their eyes and cower. Finally, a Drow who dies while under the influence of a recent Blue Spider bite cannot be raised as an undead – ever – but it is correspondingly easier for a Cleric to intercede with the Gods on his behalf, and raise him to life again. (This protection is not permanent, and if the bite in question is several days old, the subject is again able to be raised as an undead in the usual manner.)
It is not common for a Drow to be allowed to bathe in the Pool. However, it is much more common for a Drow to make a pilgrimage to the Temple of the Blue Lady, make an offering to the Goddess Lloth, and receive a vial of Sacred Water. Tiny vials of sacred water are also used in protective amulets or charms. (Naturally, there is a flourishing black-market trade of “genuine sacred water,” which always seems to spring back up again no matter how the Church tries to crack down on it.) The Sacred Water is credited with some of the same feats of the Blue Widows themselves. It has been known to glow brilliantly while in the presence of the undead. It has been used to successfully cleanse undead bites, such as those given by a zombie or vampire, which are otherwise incurable. It has also been known to severely burn any undead who comes in contact with it. An undead drenched with a sufficient quantity of water (an enormous amount is required) will usually burst into the same sort of blue flames produced by a Blue Widow swarm.
The Pool of the Blue Lady is guarded by the Temple of the Blue Lady. The Temple resides in the cave that forms the opening to the cavern cluster in which the Pool is located. All the caverns in the cluster are considered to be sacred, though of course the cave with the Pool is the most sacred of all. The Temple uses these other caves to house members of the Order, for sacred rituals, and for other more mundane purposes, such as storage.
The town of Thyn’vlek is located in a small series of caverns. There are four main tunnel entrances which lead away from the town – one east, one north, one west, and one south. The southern tunnel leads to the Temple of the Blue Lady and the Pool beyond. The Northern tunnel leads to the Fort and the long sloping passage beyond eventually leads to the sunlit Savage Lands. The Eastern tunnel leads to the main series of lit caves and the mushroom-farming area, while the Western tunnel leads back to the more central places of Chednavar and eventually (if followed long enough) to the Crown City itself.
Because of the layout of the tunnel system, the city has grown in four pieces of approximately equal size and status. The first and second are the church and military zones, respectively; the third and fourth belong to farmers and merchants.
A small series of sub-caverns also rings the town, and in these smaller caverns there are many luxuries that are generally reserved for much larger cities. There is a minute Academy of Arcane Sciences, the Academy of the Blue Lady, whose student body is comprised almost exclusively of merchant and farmer’s daughters. There is an entire series of caves devoted completely to gardens of crystal. There are higher, better lit caves where small quantities of unusually surface-oriented crops can be grown; particularly grapes, as the Drow have a love of fine wines.
Water for the town comes from two sources: first is the water which is supplied from the underground hot springs, which is always very warm, and second is runoff from the snow-capped mountains far above, which is always bitterly cold. For this reason, every home and building in Thyn’vlek has indoor plumbing with hot-and-cold running water, a luxury nearly unheard of anywhere else.
The Night of the Long Fangs
Drow culture is not one that changes easily, but change has come at last to the Underdark in a series of events which has rocked the culture to its foundations.
The most recent of these, and one of the most important, is now infamously known as the Night of the Long Fangs. Far away in the ruling city of Verenzoraean, a newcomer has succeeded in doing what no other Drow has ever done, seizing the reins of power of both the Royal House and of the Church, which previously had co-existed and shared power together. Known as the Necromancer, she is indeed a practitioner of this darkest of all Arts. An immensely powerful Lich, she has moved swiftly to solidify her bases of power.
Her first Act was the assassination of anyone deemed to be a threat to her, followed, of course, by the victims being raised as undead, usually as minor liches (Drow, as members of the Elven race, are notoriously difficult to Turn to some of the more common forms of Vampirism.) After a series of notable Royal personages fell, her next victims were the Priestesses of the Temples of Lloth.
Thyn’vlek, whose temple was indeed a Temple of Lloth, did not escape the wrath of the Necromancer. Its entire priestesshood was slain in a single night – save one, the High Priestess Tocoril V’noss, who escaped by hiding in the Grotto of the Blue Lady. Across the entire Drow kingdom of Chednavar, the priestesshood of Lloth met the same fate. The only priestesses spared by the Necromancer were those whose powers were unremarkable, typically those who had recently graduated into the priestesshood. In Thyn’vlek, this meant that a priestesshood that had formerly boasted a hundred strong were reduced, in a single night, to the nine most recent graduates. Even more horrifying, the slain priestesses were then raised and began running the Temple as undead!
Lloth, however, was not long to be so treated in the city of Thyn’vlek.
The Night of the Blue Lady
The undead priestesses spent perhaps a fortnight in their activities to try and remake the Temple of the Blue Lady into the Temple of the Black Lady. Having survived several assassination attempts by the townspeople, things looked dark indeed.
However, the High Priestess, still hiding in the Grotto of the Blue Lady, was then given a dream, or perhaps it was a vision. The vision was of a tall Drow woman, very beautiful with long white hair, wearing lovely jewels and a long gown woven entirely of spiderwebs, calling her children to her.
When the priestess woke up, the Blue Widows were swarming, something that had never happened previously. There were broods and broods of these minute spiders who, glowing brightly, ran from the cave in an unstoppable wave.
One of the undead priestesses was quick enough to teleport away. The remainder was slaughtered where they stood. From the temple, the spiders overflowed into the town and covered it from end to end. The unfortunate Drow who had themselves been turned by the Priestesses met the same fate as the Priestesses themselves. Typically, the spiders avoided living things as much as possible, fleeing from such dangers as live Drow feet, but did not retreat.
For two days, every surface in town boasted scores of spiders. All trade ground to a halt; nothing could be cooked; all prisoners had to be freed; even running patrols became difficult. Many of the citizens took shelter in the lit caves, which the spiders shunned.
On the third day, however, the spiders retreated at last. Seemingly apropros of nothing, they turned back to the Temple of the Blue Lady, from there to the Grotto and Pool, never again to be seen in such numbers.
Thus far, the Necromancer has made no attempt to reclaim the Temple of the Blue Lady. Such reclamation would be difficult at best. Because of the structure of the caverns, the Grotto could not be collapsed, as it would certainly collapse the lit caves as well, thus gutting the spore trade and dealing a severe blow to the economy of the Underdark. Nor can Thyn’vlek be easily laid under seige, as the citizens have access to renewable sources of food, water, and everything they need to shrug off even the longest encampment.
Furthermore, Thyn’vlek is simply not large enough to pose a significant threat. The population of the town is low, and the caverns are physically too small to be able to shelter a force of any size. For now Thyn’vlek remains as independent as possible, given the circumstances.