"Sunless Citadel 3" - March 24th, 2001
The battered adventurers stood in a rough circle around the circular hole in the floor. A dim violet light shined from below, lighting the sickly looking white and gray vines that lined the walls of the shaft. In a larger chamber beyond the door, twenty-or-so goblin women, children, and elderly huddled together staring at these men and women from the surface. There was the low growling sound of goblin speech, as these freshly-made widows and orphans whispered and muttered to each other.
Oren spoke in a deep but quiet voice. "Yes, Vax, I hear them. The goblin children ask their mothers if they are to be killed…as their fathers were killed. The mothers comfort them with warm assurances, but they have a look of resignation in their eyes…they expect to meet their doom. I have no love for these goblinoids…but they remind me somewhat of the human mothers and children I grew up with in Greenmark."
Kerbach spit on a spot of drying goblin blood on his hand, and wiped it off on his torn tunic. "The weak fall to the blades of the strong. A Weaver once told me that this was the way of the world…a world shaped by gods. Who are we to rebel away from the way of the world?"
Gremag stared at the huddled masses, his white eyes, skin, and hair reflecting the violet light from below. "We fought the males of this beastly race in a fair and just manner. We treated them with more respect, in fact, than their lowly status would demand. We sullied ourselves with their stinking blood…while they did all they could to spill ours. We owe these remaining few no sympathy…no regrets. At best they deserve our mercy…and that is all.
Collin had been staring into the hole in the floor, as though he sought some clue as to what lay ahead of the group. At Gremag's words he looked up at the rest of the party and spoke. "We are injured…and we have expended much of our magic. We will rest here…and heal. We'll set up defenses, in case the goblin who betrayed us warns the Druid…and he sends forces to destroy us. We have a better chance of surviving a defense at the top of this hole while we heal, than facing the Druid now…in our current state. As for these goblin women and children…I care not what we do. We owe them nothing, but we are not the sort to kill women and children."
Kit spoke softly, but with a tone in her voice that made clear how firmly she held the opinion she would express. "The goblin women and children…even the old ones…to a certain degree they are now our responsibility. We have killed their men…their protection…in combat. To abandon them outright would be to condemn them to death…and they have done nothing to harm us. We will show them mercy. We will ensure they get to safety. They are unkempt, and smell, and eat things that many top-siders can not imagine eating. But they are thinking, feeling creatures. None of us can claim we have not seen humans that were unkempt, smelled, and ate things we can not imagine eating. We will treat them with mercy as we would humans in their condition."
Zeke ran a hand over his bald tattooed head. "But these are not humans…they are beasts. Their men tried to kill us…and to the victors go the spoils. I'm not sure we owe them anything. And as for smell…if you meant ME…that smell is ceremonial herbs and oils…I've told you that before."
Kit turned from the hole and walked to the door of the throne room. "If befriending and protecting this rabble is below any of you…then at least leave them alone. I will ensure that they don't slip us the end of a knife as we sleep. I will ensure that they have less reason to seek revenge against us later. I will learn what I can from them…to help us in our impending descent. Any that would help me…your help would be welcome."
The group stood their ground. None refused to help, but also none volunteered immediately. Kit shook her head. "Think about it. Oren, please interpret for me at least…perhaps we can find a goblin that speaks a language that I speak."
Oren nodded and began walking towards the door. "No, Vax. I think I should at least interpret for her." There was a pause, and then Oren answered angrily, "Vax…don't go there…don't go there, Vax. Don't say things like that right in front of her!" Oren walked sheepishly up to Kit, the color red creeping into the thick skin of his dwarven cheeks. "Sorry for what he said. He can be such a rude bastard around a pretty lady…."
Oren and Kit left the room, and walked into the crowd of goblins…Kit speaking and Oren interpreting in a language he only recently realized he could speak. Collin kicked the stick and wood form of the Twig Blight the party had defeated. "Its pretty clear to me that those seeds from the Apple the villagers planted weren't stolen by goblins in the night. Instead the seeds grew to samplings, pulled their own roots up out of the ground, and ran off into the night! How many of these twig creatures will we face below?"
Kerbach broke one of the Twig Blight's branches off and a sticky tree sap splashed across the floor. "What if the Druid Belak had a reason for distributing the Magic Apples above ground? What if the twig creatures didn't return here, but instead grew and reproduced in the forests around Greenmark? What if our presence here forces Belak's hand, and he orders an attack of these creatures on the city?"
Zeek rubbed a bit of the tree sap between his fingers, moved to touch it to his tongue, but appeared to think better of it. "Grasslander…you have brought up a curious bit of wisdom. For twelve years these Apples have been sold and their seeds planted by those greedy for health or for money. If the Twig Blights themselves can reproduce there could be thousands of these horrors poised for attack outside of Greenmark."
Collin shook his head…rubbing his eyes until they were red. "….Or poised to attack farmsteads and small settlements. I worry for my family…and all those like them. They would be completely unprepared for such an attack…my brothers and sisters…my friends and neighbors…."
Gremag put a hand on Collin's shoulder. "What do you suggest, Bard?"
Collin looked around the group, making eye-contact with each of the party members. "Though my music entertains you…and sometimes drives you on in battle…it is only occasionally I land a lucky blow and bring down our enemies. If a large battle lies ahead, I am best suited to return to Greenmark…and warn the population there. I will spread the word through my fellow bards and entertainers to the out-lying areas of the threat these Twig Blights represent. I will return to you as soon as I can. I will return with supplies, food, wine, perhaps women…and I will write a song commemorating your rescue of the captives and victory over the evil Belak!"
Each party member wished Collin a safe journey home, and he departed…looking back only once, and with sadness in his eyes….
TO FIND THE DRUID...
Oren assisted Kit in speaking with the goblin widow, orphans, and elderly. One female goblin among them knew common, and made communications much quicker. The female begged Kit to help the remaining goblins make it to somewhere safe. Kit pledged her help, and the help of the party. Oren suggested to the party that they post the goblin children at the top of the hole that led to the lower tunnels. Kerbach was much opposed to this, and felt it was a suggestion without honor. Kerbach himself volunteered to make watch while the party rested and healed.
The party made its way down the strangely lit hole, climbing down on the sickly white vines. At the bottom they faced two dire rats and a large Ogre that seemed to enjoy hunting the Underdark. The Ogre, "Balsag the Hunter" put up quite a fight, at one point retreating into the deeper tunnels and setting an ambush. Kerbach finally brought the large creature down with a massive blow. Only after Balsag fell to the ground, and his helmet...mounted with elk antlers...fell off, did Zeek realize that this was NOT some strange "horned" species of Ogre.
The next room contained two skeletons and three twig-blights. The party quickly dispatched these foes with hardly any injuries, and it was time to move on....
Nodules of luminescent fungus on the ceiling and walls lit the next room. The stone walls were covered with bas-relief carvings…carvings of dragons raining fire down upon terrified humans, elves, dwarves, and other humanoids. Soil and compost covered half of the room's stone-flagged floor. As the party entered through one doorway, one of the two additional doors leading from the room opened. A large ugly humanoid creature…that looked a bit like a huge goblin stood framed in the doorway, a large scythe in his hands. Kerbach charged forward, and their weapons clashed. The bugbear swung his large blade, slipped on the compost on the floor and fell onto his side. Kerbach brought down his bastard sword, almost cleaving he creature in half.
The room the bugbear came from was hexagonal in shape, and had a variety of sickly white plants growing in the purplish fungus-light that filled the room.
The party gathered near the second door. Kit listened at he door and heard the sound of stone scraping on stone…or at least she thought that was the sound. She cracked open the door and peeked in. A robed skeleton was in the part of the room that she could see…and she pulled the door closed. They then heard a door open and close. Kerback charged into the room to confront the skeletons, but all too late he saw what the skeletons were tending to: A huge living stone worm that appeared to glow red, orange, and yellow as though it was almost molten with heat.
Kerbach was struck heavily by the worm in the shoulder, and his clothing burst into flames. Zeek yelled for Kerbach to retreat, but the battle hungry barbarian would not. Zeek toyed with the idea of closing the door behind Kerbach, and coming back later to clean up the mess…but in the end, decided to charge into the room. Zeek hoped to undercut the worm, and topple it forward onto its face. The went low, kicking viciously at the lower portions of the worm, and did manage to unbalance the stone worm. The creature fell forwards as Zeek's pants caught on fire. Kerbach stepped forward and drove his bastard sword through the worms crusty skin…slaying it. The skeletons were easily dispatched.
Following the the assumed path of the skeleton that had fled the room through the only other doorway out, the party traveled down a short hallway into a ruined library. As they entered the library, a whole crowd of twig blights entered the room from deep within the complex. The party used fire and weapons to counter the woody creatures…as more and more flooded forth to destroy them.
As the waves of twig blights were dwindling off, comments were made by both Kerbach and Kit regarding Vax…Oren's friend. Oren took exception to these comments and rushed Kit…and the fight was on! Kit used a Detect Magic spell to see if perhaps there was something more to Vax. Perhaps Vax was real but unseen, as opposed to being completely imaginary.
Low and behold, there was a glowing humanoid shape visible to only Kit in the room with the party. Gremage also cast a spell and was able to see the shape also. Clearly this was some powerful spirit or demon that was bound and serving a powerful sorcerer or spell-caster of some sort. What had the party gotten itself into?
Kerbach, Gremage, Kit, and Zeek tried to attack and damage Vax, but most efforts seemed to fail. The only ones that appeared to work involved magic. Eventually Vax fled deeper into the complex…as Kerbach and Oren wrestled on the floor.
The party, minus Kerbach and Oren, chased after Vax, running through hundreds of feet of tunnel. Eventually they came to two doors…and the tunnels ended. They had seen Vax go through one of the doors. They also went through this door and found what appeared to be the Druid's study. There were plants in various stages of growth, a desk with paperwork on it, and many books. A door led from this room, and appeared to go into the same space as the second unopened door in the hallway. The party, weakened by battle, headed back to check on Oren and Kerbach.
While all this was going on, Kerbach and Oren continued to struggle. Suddenly a shadow appeared above them…and they rolled away from each other. The shadow was Doomnoodle, with Oren's axe held high above his head. Kerbach and Oren struggled briefly over the axe, but eventually, Kerbach relented, and they stood at a distance from each other. The party returned, and they began planning how to tackle what they believed to be the final deepest room of the Sunless Citadel.
BELAK THE DRUID AND THE GULTHIAS TREE
It was decided that Kit and Wimble Doomnoodle would scout the final room ahead, with Wimble entering first, and Kit entering second. A minute or so after Wimble snuck in...Kit made her entry, quietly sneaking past 4 goblin workers tending to the sickly white-green plants. Kit used a spider climb scroll to take to the tall ceiling of the huge room, weaving her way between huge clumps of glowing fungus. From her vantage point, Kit could see that the room had many twig-blights patrolling it, and was dense with thick thorny brush. Kit passed up Wimble, who was sneaking his way around the cavernous edge of the room.
Kit crawled along he ceiling towards the back of the chamber, and a ruined castle and the black twisted Gulthias Tree came into view. Kit could see a robed man who appeared to be the Druid Belak, flanked by a warrior and a female. Could this be Sir Bradford and Sharwyn...two of the missing adventurers? Why were they simply standing with Belak...weren't they hostages?
Kit went to the very back of the chamber, crawled down to the floor, and snuck up to the Gulthias Tree at about the time she felt the other party members would be making their way through the brush of the chamber. She coated the trunk of the tree in flammable liquids, and snuck back to the rubble of the ruined castle to hide. Kit caught a glimpse of Wimble hiding in the rubble also.
The party, meanwhile, had received a warning message from Kit at the door to the chamber, and drew the 4 worker goblins to their doom. They made entry to the chamber, and found the location where Kit had left the floor and began crawling on the walls and ceiling. The party made their way slowly through the thorny brush, dispatching twig-blights as they came. They approached the ruined castle and prepared themselves for whatever might happen.
The party crested a pile of castle rubble and faced for themselves, Belak the Druid, Sir Bradford and Sharwyn, and towering behind them...the Gulthias Tree. The Druid began to speak, when Kerbach charged him with is bastard sword drawn. Belak pointed a wand that looked much like a small twig from a tree, and entangling grasping plants sprung from the ground...clutching at the party members. Kerbach was helf fast, but the others avoided being held by the undulating plant-life.
Oren moved to help Kerbach get free, but Kerbach yelled to him to attack the Druid. Zeek ran forward to attack, but suddenly Sir Bradford engaged him in battle. Sharwyn began shooting arrows into Kerbach. Belak's captives were helping him!
Kit lit the Gulthias tree on fire, as Sir Bradford hacked viciously at Zeek. Gremage was attempting to cast a spell that would turn the tide of battle, when Belak summoned a flaming rolling globe of fire that began chasing Gremage around the top of the castle rubble. Kerbach was seriously injured, and Sharwyn appeared ready to fire her last fatal arrow at him...but Gremage fired an arrow into her head...killing her. Sir Bradford was closing in on Zeek, who was busy delivering open-hand strikes to Belak, when Wimble Doomnoodle ran forward from his hiding place and stuck a dagger into Sir Bradford. Sir Bradford, in turn, delivered a devestating blow to Wimble, throwing him back onto the ground.
Zeek was able to deliver a stunning blow to Belak, and several party members delivered blows to the Druid...any one of which could have ended his life. Sir Bradford was killed shortly thereafter. Kit and Gremage examined the fire-blackened trunk of the now burnt "Gulthias Tree." Two humanoind shape and sized hollow spots were visible...and Kit surmised that perhaps the tree had "absorbed" the true Sir Bradford and Sharwyn...sprouting forth two recreations that served the will of Belak. A closer examination of the bodies of the two captives, revealed that instead of blood and tissue, the insides of their bodies appeared to be green and plantlike...filled with vines and pulp.
The party utterly destroyed the Gulthias Tree, cutting it down and burning even its stump. Books and paperwork belonging to Belak were found among his things. The following bits of information were learned from his writings:
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