The Bowels - Jeff Collins
The Bowels are less a network of caverns than a jumble of warrens. The tunnels branch and converge, expanding to grand galleries and narrowing to passages barely wide enough for a halfling to pass through. One scholar has remarked—barely in jest—that a complete map of the Bowels could function as a symbol of insanity.
Throughout the caves, twisted bronze pipes adorned with weathered runes wind their way up through the bedrock from gleaming veins of thaumatite, channeling its magical energy to the Old City above to power its arcane devices. Though ancient, many show signs of recent repair, with patches of fresh metal contrasting with the patina. The thaumatite’s pallid glow also fuels the growth of many fungi unknown elsewhere; it is these that undergird the strange ecology in the tunnels.
And ecology the Bowels have, as well as society. Nearer the surface are bands of outcasts from the Old City, cults, thieves, and colonies of those who believe the thaumatite’s glow will cure their illnesses. Further in live creatures who rarely fit into surface life, such as goblins and gnolls. They constantly vie for the richer veins where more of their strange crops can be gathered, and the paucity of resources has made most groups hostile to strangers entering their territory. Residents of the Old City fear clans of these creatures disturbing the pipes, but the clans have little reason for such vandalism and fear retribution from hired topside adventurers.
Deeper below the surface and farther from the sun lay stranger things. Monsters, yes, but caves everywhere have aboleths and worse. As one plumbs deeper into the Bowels, strange white marks begin to appear on the walls. They could be pictograms from some unknown beings, but their construction is baffling. Rather than being scratched into the wall, the marks are veins of calcite, the surrounding rock having eroded in specific patterns to reveal it. All attempts to translate these etchings have failed, but many scholars insist that certain patterns prove that the markings are an unknown script.
Even more perplexing are the pipes. Nearer the surface, their origin is somewhat obscure, but they are clearly of ancient manufacture. The ones deeper down seem new. Completely without patina, the bronze still gleams and the runes are crisp. The few scholars who have studied them remain puzzled, but one proposal is especially troubling: the pipes are growing towards something.