Thankfully, I write this portion of my journal from the relative comfort of my lab’s desk. Let me start by saying that old, underground, decaying castles are not ideal places to take one’s rest. I awoke this morning more stiff than I have felt, well, ever. I was wishing I had not left my staff with Gloam. We have somewhat successfully healed the children, though I am not quite sure how. I imagine it was the destruction of the Gulthias tree that did it, but the magic involved is beyond my ken. But again I jump ahead.
Waking underground was an experience I would prefer to forget. Fortunately, the only thing that snuck up on us during the night was the damp. We were all of us chilled, with the only choice of getting up and hoping walking with a purpose would warm us. We were warmed more thoroughly by more skirmishes with goblins as we moved through the halls of the castle. They are filthy creatures, detritus was everywhere foul and rotting, and I cannot say I am regretful of the slaughter we visited upon them whether they were aware of us or not. We did eventually find the kobold’s lost dragon Kalkrix, which turned out to be a small white dragon. Evidently the goblins could not handle that which they had coveted, and the dragon had a fine, if slightly disheveled, chamber all to itself. While we debated at how to get the thing back to the kobolds, Dask simply ran in, grappled with it, and heroically ran it back. Yet another creature better off dead, in my book, but the children again trump everything. Yusdrayl of the kobolds was thankful, as was Meepo who regained some of his status, and she rewarded us with a heavy dragon key which fits the lock we found earlier. However, we were still not perceptively closer to finding Belak.
A return to the goblin area led us to a room with many female and young goblins in it. We threatened them, and they revealed the direction of Belak. I think we simply should have eliminated the despicable creatures and considered it a favor to the area, but we had more pressing concerns. Following their directions led us to something like a throne room. A chest contained a great deal of gold and some gems. However, no sign of Belak. The only place left to go was a shaft down through the floor of this throne room. The shaft was lined with vines, and again lit by a violet-colored glowing fungus. With no alternatives, we began to climb down.
After a minor skirmish at the bottom, we were attacked by a large bugbear carrying a greataxe and wearing a crown of antlers. We defeated it, and its pet rats, but that was again, only the beginning of our fights on this level. We found a crude passage to the underdark which we hastily backed away from, hoping that Belak would not retreat to such a place. More evidence that this castle was somehow dedicated to dragons or maybe simply a dragon, in the form of statues, carvings, and inscriptions. Also much to suggest that Belak has been doing some kind of experiments on plant life underground. I collected samples of some various plants to take back with me and see if anything can be learned from them. We did come across, and kill, a creature called a thoqqua. Fiery and hot in appearance, it was tunneling through some rock. When it was killed, it was split open to reveal some gems. The air at this level was very humid, heavy and even misty with fog in some places. It made seeing clearly quite difficult. Magda’s elven-heritage helped a good deal with finding our way. All the adventuring has paid off for us all I think. At some point we all realized we were much more confident in our abilities. The spells I have working on suddenly made sense to me. Evidently need helps as well. Eventually we came to a point which could have been very dangerous, and once again was my fault.
A large marble dragon statue was fronted with a circle of red-stone tiles on the floor, which bore an inscription. In my haste to learn something, anything about this place, I rushed forward to read the tiles. A shadow, the malevolent kind, came at us from behind the statue and immediately attacked Fox. It did not seem to wound him, precisely, but it sapped his strength severely. I sent a scorching ray at it as it fled, and I believe I may have wounded it. The tiles said, “Let the sorcerous power illuminate my mind.” Taking the cue from earlier in the castle, I read it aloud while standing in the circle, and a heatless fiery aura bathed over me. It seems to have temporarily boosted my confidence and looks. No one else was willing to try it, but I wonder now if it may have been useful more than that single time. Of course, that slight positive obscured the negative in that room, and I did not learn my lesson.
Not too long after that, we came to what must have been Belak’s personal study. Among the many documents, we did not find too much of use, but of course I erred in judgment. One of the tomes we did find was called “Treasures of the Fire Lords” in Draconic, and I failed to exercise caution when dealing with unknown materials, something that was drilled into me by Varick! None of his trapped scrolls or items did anything close to as much damage as the exploding book did when I opened it to read. I hurt myself a good deal, but not only that, Magda was also hurt, and Fox barely escaped with just a singed shirt. Thankfully Dask and Urky were not in the room when I opened the book. I endangered my friends, and endangered our efforts to help the children, all for an empty book! Finally we came to a large cavern, stretching high above us, and filled with brambles and thorny plants.
Some goblins and bush-creatures lurked amongst the plants, but we dealt with them and moved farther on, feeling that this must be where we would finally find Belak and the solution to the children’s illness. We found Belak, but we were not prepared for the enormous, sickly looking apple tree that emerged in a clearing. Unnaturally growing underground, the tree had the white apples hanging from it, and black, twisted branches. Belak stood under it, as if waiting for us, with two other figures, a man and a woman, both dead in the eye and with skin like bark. We confronted Belak and asked him to come back with us peacefully, to help the children. If we were not sure of his motives before, he made them clear with what he told us. The two figures with him were formerly Sharwin and Sir Braeford, of the Oakhurst party. Belak gave them to the tree, he called it the Gulthias tree, and it transformed them in death somehow. He urged us to surrender to him and offer ourselves to the tree as they were! I tried to bargain with him in order to find some way to save the children, but Magda showed us a side of herself that I doubt any have seen before. In exchange for helping the children, Magda offered Belak his life. She was deadly serious. I was proud of her for her stand for the children and surprised in the same moment. Surely that could not be our happy Magda? It was just as well she did, because the walking remains of Sharwin and Sir Braeford advanced upon us, and it was clear Belak had no intention of helping us.
He cast an Entangle spell at us, which trapped both Magda and Dask. I immediately cast my last spell, Magic Missile, at the tree itself, thinking that to damage it might break some hold Belak had on Sharwin and Sir Braeford, but I was counterspelled by Sharwin. I had worked on that with Varick, but it was a shock to have my spell suddenly dissolve before me. Fox was free and rushed towards Belak with his rapier out. Magda managed to turn and destroy both Sharwin and Sir Braeford, which shook Belak a good deal I think. Out of spells, I took our torch and circled around, still trying to get near the tree itself. Urky and Fox both went after Belak, but he eventually charmed both of them. Magda summoned a celestial badger to attack Belak, even as Dask struggled to break free of Belak’s entanglement. I stumbled in close enough to the tree to light it afire. Urky, confused, attacked me, and I fled before him. Soon the tree was completely ablaze, the cavern was filling with smoke, and some magic seemed to be weakening. Bush-creatures appeared out of nowhere and Belak fled for the door. Magda turned the tables by casting entangle on him. He was slowed enough that the tree-creatures caught him, and they seemed none too pleased. Belak’s death broke the hold he had on both Fox and Urky, thankfully, since Urky was bearing down on me. With this evil tree destroyed, we searched for the tree that might bear the red apples, but without success. We returned to Yusdrayl, the kobold leader, and asked her about a tree with red apples that heal. She told us that the black tree we destroyed was, in fact, the source of both the white apples and the red apples.
It is hard to describe how I felt at that moment, knowing that I was responsible for destroying the very thing we had been looking for. That the red apples would not be growing until winter, and the children were worsening by the hour, was unimportant. I had destroyed a source of great healing and hope for our village. No more would there be miraculous cures through the apples’ power. Because of me. We despaired of finding anything else that might help the children, and with Belak dead it was impossible to find out the specific magical properties of what had been the Gulthias tree. We decided that investigating the keyed dragon door was our last hope for stumbling into something that would help.
Immediately inside the dragon door was a chamber with globes, one of which glowed and gave off horrific debilitating noises when we approached it. Dask crushed it with the greataxe we claimed from the bugbear, and we moved on. Another chamber held a riddle in the form of a coiled dragon statue that spoke these words to us. “We come at night without being fetched, we disappear by day without being stolen.” The answer is clearly stars, and with that word uttered, a secret door opened to us. Through the door was a chamber containing statues in the form of elven warriors, and a green light trickled into the room through an arch at the far end. The arch was blocked by a large spiked pit. I do not think I could have jumped it, but Dask was able to, only to be immediately pushed back into the pit by a Quasit. We attacked the Quasit at range, and Dask climbed out of the pit to dispatch it finally. The other side of the room was some sort of burial chamber, with an enormous dragon-shaped sarcophagus in the middle. We decided to leave it alone. Nothing indicated it would contain anything to help us, and disturbing it might be more harmful than helpful. We left the way we came, and sealed the dragon door behind.
Urky left us to continue on his way, and on his journey promised to stop by Oakhurst for us in order to carry the news of what befell their party. We climbed out of the gorge; I retrieved Gloam and we plodded back to Armbard’s Pass in heavy silence. I cannot speak for the others, but I do think our thoughts all centered on our failure to find some way to help the children. The proven evil of Belak was dead, yes, but this was only a small victory compared to saving children of the village, and particularly Daisy Telox. Imagine how surprised we were at returning to a hearty and joyous welcome!
It seems that just a pair of hours before our arrival, the children unexpectedly recovered! I suspect that the simple destruction of the Gulthias tree was enough to reverse the magic hold the apples had on them. In that case, I was lucky in my actions, but not much more justified.
Fox again proved invaluable today, finding hidden traps, treasure and any manner of odd things, not to mention that he actually seems to have some ability with that rapier. Dask showed his bravery with the dragon, and countless other times standing toe-to-toe with goblins and their ilk. Magda was essential with her healing, and ability to turn many of the creatures infesting that place. Even Urky’s healing spells and combat abilities have helped greatly. I fear it was only I who did not contribute to this mission, even hurt the task by stumbling into danger multiple times, and I am thankful we ended up returning to well children. It could easily have been otherwise, and my fault at that. All I can do is hope to learn from the experience and do better in the future.