The Upper Approaches
Travel into and out of the valley is predominately managed via a pair of wide approaches, pathways worn into the slope over time by the travel of trade caravans and the soles of many, many boots. The Northwest Road is twenty feet wide at its narrowest, accommodating wide wagon traffic and even droves of livestock back and forth. The grade, while certainly not the steepest of the valley, still demands the strength of oxen over horses to pull the heaviest loads, and a rainfall can halt any passage until the ground dries. Heavy rains force those unwilling to wait to use the platforms at Modean Kurke, an added cost that can cut into the profits of large convoys.
The West Stair and the East Stair rise and fall to either side of the Northwest Road, a series of switchbacks cut into the cliffs of the valley to the surface above.
Tolls for any of the tracks into and out of the valley are a copper standard a head, whether man or beast. It is a modest toll that certainly adds up and supplements the patrols that guard both the approaches and the toll takers.
Five or six squads of city guard will be stationed across the face of the cliffs, stationed in free standing watch towers, cliff-side redoubts, or taking shelter in command tents at the top of the cliff.
The pathway then becomes the Clandenstone Road as it takes a direct route through the valley to the walls of Clandenstone. This road, perhaps more than any other aspect of the relationship between the city and the druids of the Sunless Grove, has the most animosity from either side built into it. The druids have ever demanded the road never be paved, and never be fashioned as anything that would be permanent. The city takes great pains to repair the road almost daily, using dense rock dust to patch ruts and holes. The expense in labor and coin is carried begrudgingly by the costers and the city. Several times frustrations have boiled close to warfare between the two factions.
The Modean Kurke is a collection of six buildings held by the Guild Of Carters. A large warehouse, stables, and rooming quarters spread out next to customer offices and the mechanism for a trio of platforms for use by wagons to ascend and descend the cliffs. Built at substantial costs and with a great deal of argument by the druids of the Sunless Order, this area is an expansion of mercantile interest backed by the trade costers, Clandenstone leadership, and at least two of the larger temples (Tymora and Shaundakul).
The Guild of Costers have pledged a rotating oversight of the buildings, allowing each coster their fair chance at managing the area and reaping a slightly higher percentage of the proceeds. In practice, it has not started well, with smaller costers having to contract out additional help, nullifying gains made and setting off squabbles among some of the companies.
Rates for using the elevators is five silvers per axle. A group of gnome teamsters operate the hoists, being careful with weights and encumbrances to avoid damage to the lifting mechanisms.
The Sunless Grove
While not truly sunless anymore, the name harkens back to when deep mists roiled like a humid ocean under the impenetrable canopy of the forest. Swaths of sunlight now march across the grove during the day, following the path of the Clandenstone Road. Off of the road, the shadows deepen immediately, and fogs and mists cover paths and deadfalls, making even walking treacherous for anyone unfamiliar with the terrain. Pits and sinkholes mark the landscape, making travel a deadly danger.
Travel is limited to the road back and forth between Clandenstone and the upper approaches of the Modean Kurke. The druids of the grove guarantee no one’s welfare off of the path. Monstrous creatures and races have made a home in the Sunless Grove knowing of its relative safety. As such, a peace has been maintained for the most part within the Grove itself for the better part of a decade. While there is certain to be confrontation among creatures, as far as the druids are concerned it is nothing out of the realm of nature and its enduring pathos.
The Order of the Sunless
The Order of the Sunless has stood sentinel over the Sunless Grove and the miles surrounding it for over two-hundred years. Founded by Capern the Solemn through his diplomacy with the myconid sovereign known as the Great Tower, the druidic order has provided a stern and often unforgiving guidance over the area. While members have come and gone through the years, the basic tenets of balancing the forces of good and evil, law and chaos, against one another to allow for the grand equilibrium has never changed.
There are currently four members of the Order of the Sunless, each involved with several intrigues both in the grove and outside of it, of varying importance and varying desire for success. Each member officially stays out of the business of all the others, though that does not preclude them from using spies or comrades to keep informed of plots and plans. At any moment at least one of the druids will be present in the grove, with only the rarest of circumstances bringing them to the grove all at once or keeping them from it as a group.
First among the concerns of the Order is keeping the influence of Clandenstone from increasing anywhere in the valley. Through the decades they have begrudged the road, the buildings of Modean Kurke, and the defensive wall that was built, and have so far done nothing to discourage trade and migration. Ninnimust Luck has argued continually that the balance that the order strives for includes the many citizens of the city and their myriad endeavors and goals. This hardly wears through the resolve of the others, especially Avelwashed Bindersticks, the longest tenured member of the Order and a fervent naturalist. Long debates have echoed across the Dappled Altar, with Ninnimust on one side pleading restraint, while the gnome threatens to tumble the entire city to its death by means of an earthquake.
The most powerful secret of the Order of the Sunless pertains to their longevity. Before the Great Tower passed, the eminent myconid sovereign puffed memory spores over the druids, imparting to them the means by which the Great Tower’s own body and essence could be used to add years to a creature’s life. The Order locked away this knowledge behind powerful mental magics. Only one member knows the secret at a time, and the magic compels them to create the tincture when necessary. Upon the death of the memory holder, the magic sends the memory into the mind of another member of the order. The nature of the magic does not allow this information to be removed or coerced from an order member. A residual effect is that the order is always looking for the rare few to join them and survive the passage rite that brings a druid into the order.
The Dappled Altar
Center of the worship and power of the Druids of The Sunless Grove, the Dappled Altar is a long thin shelf of basalt stone riddled with streaks and bubbles of jade and amethyst. Sunlight, which had never touched this altar when it was known as the Sunless Step, now dances along its surface as reflections of the sun against the mists of the grove and decorates the ceremony with the struggle of the day meeting what was once an eternal night.
The druids of the grove, pragmatic as they are to the endless and neutral forces of nature, simply renamed their altar reflecting its new place in the forest (having dropped dozens of feet with the rest of the valley floor) and its new place in their worship; ever changing, always evolving.
The area around the altar is consecrated to nature, earth, and life aspects, as well as to elemental neutrality.
The only other human presence in the Sunless Grove is the seven-sided dirt redoubt covering the shrine of Grumbar. There is no permanent occupation of the shrine, and the druids have shrugged their shoulders at the mound of earth and soil used by the devout followers of the Earthlord. Burials of the faithful happen here, and once a month the clergy gather and pour their worship into the very roots of the earth.
The Troll of The Grove
A troll named Fueowl has made this area his home. A magical attack so long ago he has forgotten the details removed his right arm and it never regenerated. After years of wandering, he found his way here and decided to live in the grove. He has lost his innate hostility toward the world and now spends his days grabbing for fish out of the cold stream near the mound of earth he sleeps in, and crafting an assortment of artworks by braiding the strands of filament hanging down from an enormous mushroom over his home. Along with the intricate weavings that hang from the trees, he has also fashioned the filament into hundreds of figures, statues, and useful objects that reflect his many years of life and the things he has seen.