In the bitterly cold Mountains of Lir, near the mining town of Deepholm, the Watch has lost contact with one of its agents. In an effort to find out what has happened to him, four of his kinsmen and a Wizard of the Arcanum are sent north to investigate. After a four day journey by train, Tana, Kaboose and Moradin, lead by Kingsman Michael and Arcanist Eric arrive at Vesvor in order to take on more fuel to complete the last leg of the journey; a steep climb into the mountains and towards Deephelm.
In Vesvor they are waylaid by a mysterious dwarf who blackmails them into taking on a small task. Should they refuse, he will see to it that not a single ounce of coal is loaded onto their train. Realising that they have little choice, and not particularly willing to spend any more time than necessary in the freezing dwarven outpost, they agree.
He explains the situation to the party. Several days earlier, as the dwarves were digging, they opened up a fresh set of tunnels and were startled at what they found. Humid air, the smell of fresh plant matter, and dense layers of vines and moss covering every inch of the tunnel walls. Then, from the darkness, a barrage of chitinous spikes flew and struck down two of the mining party. The barbs were sharp enough to pierce the dwarves’ breastplate, killing them outright. The foreman ordered the dwarves back, and placed a constant guard on the fresh tunnel section in order to ensure that no other dwarves ventured there… and that nothing tried to get out.
The dwarf leads the party a mile below the surface, down towards those fresh tunnel sections. There they find several dwarves in full battle gear guarding the tunnel section, although it is obvious that they are not warriors. The deal is simple. Clear out the tunnel section and ensure it is safe, and only then will coal be loaded onto the train.
The Gulthias Tree
Reluctantly, the party set out. They too are shocked and puzzled by the presence of the plants so far underground, but before they can venture too far into the cave they are ambushed by vaguely humanoid creatures. From behind, a hail of spikes thuds into the back of the Wizard Eric, felling him instantly. As he slips into unconsciousness, the others do battle with creatures composed of vines and twigs, but which still prove to be formidable foes. Once their enemies are vanquished, the party restores Eric to health. Slightly paranoid now, he sends his familiar ahead to scout out the caves.
Kaboose chooses the left hand passage. Eric’s bat scouts ahead. In the cave beyond, they encounter what they believe to be a peaceful creature, a myconid. Tana, the druid, goes to investigate. She immediately realises something is wrong. The myconid attacks her and once again the party rush into the fray. They are successful, but as the fight ends the party are surprised to find they are not alone in the tunnels.
A day earlier, Dol’damnos of the Arcanum somehow sneaked past the dwarvish guards to perform his own examination of the caves. Having been seconded to the area for some time, his own curiosity got the better of him when he encountered the rumours spread by the guards. He joins the party as they venture forward into the final chamber.
On an island in the center of the final chamber, they find the Gulthias Tree, separated from them by a fifty foot expanse of murky water. Both Tana and Eric recall an ancient legend that told of “a vampire named Gulthias who worked terrible magic and raised up an abominable tower called Nightfang Spire. Gulthias was undone when a hero plunged a wooden stake through his heart, but as the vampire was destroyed, his blood infused the stake with a dreadful power. In time, tendrils of new growth sprouted from the wood, growing into a sampling infused with the vampire’s evil essence. It is said that a mad druid discovered the sampling, transplanting it into an underground grotto where it could grow. From this Gulthias Tree came the seeds from which the first blights were sown” (MM, 31). Of course, the party are aware that this could not possibly be the tree from the legend, more likely one of its descendants.
As the party set about destroying the tree, more blights rise up out of the water and attack them. Michael and Kaboose are almost killed, but in the end, through a skillful use of magic and martial prowess, the party succeeds. Kaboose is restored to health and with a mighty blow, cleaves the Gulthias Tree in twain. As he does so, the tangled mess of plant life that covers every inch of the tunnels and caves perishes, turning into dust.
They make their way back to the surface, and their reward. The mysterious dwarf smiles and tells them that he had begun loading the coal the second they stepped below the surface. He bids them a good journey, and they set off upon their way.
The party arrive in Deepholm after a well-deserved rest. It is dusk by the time they arrive, and the dwarves have already come up from their mines to relax. The party decides to join them, getting drunk with the dwarves and trying to illicit some information. They discover that the man they are looking for is most likely at the Temple of Heironeous which lies two hours north of Deepholm. Now that they think on it, the dwarves haven’t seen anyone from the temple in several days. They wonder if perhaps the bandits that have been active in the local area may have something to do with that. The dwarves seem embarrassed about this, knowing that they should have sent a party out, but were too preoccupied with fresh seams of precious ores that have just recently opened up in the mines. Avarice clearly rules in these parts.
In the morning, the party sets off. Sure enough, they encounter a group of bandits with two pet worgs and one pet half-ogre. After a pitched battle, they fight their way through and continue towards the temple…