Though the adventurers can see nothing, they can still hear quite a bit of commotion, mostly from above. The enraged tree has clearly been joined by several other creatures, stampeding through the ravine.
The adventurers are underground, beneath the forest, in a network of caves and tunnels surrounding the roots of the tree. They continue traveling, and after some ways feel a great rumble through the earth. It is abrasive, but short. As far as they can tell, the earth around them remains unchanged.
Traveling through the tunnels, they hear whispering and voices echoing through earth:
“What once brought light is now a blight.”
“With a shout the sun goes out”
“If the mountain falls, so will we all!”
The adventurers turn and see a long, straight path through the vines. The ceiling is covered with stalactites, and the ground glowing with a faint light green. Looking up, they notice the flapping fabric of a man’s cape—the same they saw earlier!
There’s a rumbling through the walls once again! As they feel it, the stalagmites above begin to move and come crashing down on the heads of the adventurers! The stalagmites are not stalagmites at all, but deadly Darkmantles, creatures of the deep that disguise themselves as earth and stone to attack unwary creatures that pass beneath them.
The adventurers quickly find that the depths beneath the earth are not safe at all! The darkmantles release a black smoke that blinds all those nearby to the point of near incapacitation, slowly eating away at the flesh of whoever they’re latche don to. Meanwhile, while fighting the dark mantles, the ground continues to rumble and two enormous worm-like beasts, resembling giant centipedes, burst through the tunnels walls, attacking the adventurers.
Narrowly escaping death, the adventurers are able to defeat both the dark mantles and the carrion crawlers. They make sure to assault the ceilings above them with flame as they continue down the tunnel, ensuring that nothing else will surprise them from above.
The monstrosities have all been defeated, and the corridor falls silent once again . . .for a moment. They hear the same whispering as before, coming from the end of the corridor, where the cloaked figure was.
At this point, Absolom stops, and turns towards his friends. He tells them that he fears he cannot continue on with them. Their adventures are leading them only further into the earth, and he fears for Fallreach after hearing Ronold’s words. He wishes them the best of luck, and says that he will find another way out of the tunnels, even if it means facing the beasts of the forest.
They say fond farewells, and Absolom turns back towards Fallreach and the surface, while Absolom and Oakson continue into the depths.
The corridor turns into a small chamber. Here the adventurers discover a man pressed up against the wall, eyes wide and a hand over his mouth. He has a blanket draped across his back, and is holding a pitchfork.
He says he is Rando Eladin, the lost farmer. Middle aged, but tall, slender, and exceedingly handsome, with a clear hint of elven blood flowing through his veins. Right now, however, he is cowering and full of fear. Conversing with Randor proves difficult. He opens with uncontrollable laughter, leading to deep guffaws that howl and ring throughout the cavern’s walls, echoing far and wide. Once the laughter subsides, it is replaced by tears, the the broken half-elf cries,
“I thought I was a goner. By Pelor, you’re the only faces I’ve seen for days. I haven’t had but a few mouthfuls of water to drink and some rotten fungus to eat since I got down here. You are a sight for sore eyes. I was farming late at night when I saw some wolves attacking my cattle. I went to chase them off when I saw that they weren’t like any wolves I had ever seen before. It was like there was a method to their movement. They were workin’ together. Like somethin’ was controlling them. Nonetheless, I went to chase ‘em off and before I knew it I was flat on my back. Couldn’t move. Just frozen there. A dark hand reached down and grabbed me by my neck and just dragged me along…towards the forest. The next thing I knew, I woke up in the midst of the stone trees, all alone. Completely lost in the darkness. I’ve been wandering around and fell in down here. You . . . you’ve saved me!
The farmer is unable to fight, but is in no shape to return to the surface. The adventurers have no choice but to travel with him, further through the vines and roots of the forest.
The next chamber holds a strange figure: A half-orc, named Thurgall. He was wandering through the lands when he came upon the cursed forest and was similarly assaulted by the strange enemy. Unlike the farmer, he was restrained within the tunnels. After being feed, he feels compelled to follow the adventurers. Maelokh in particular is troubled by the half-orc’s demeanor. He whispers a lot, and has a bad tendency to throw his voice into others’ minds.
The tunnel they are in continues downward at a sharp angle, and opens into a large room filled with a small body of water, perhaps 50 feet wide. The walls are covered with stalactites, though the ceiling is full of vines and roots. There is faint light coming within this chamber, appearing to come from the water itself, which is very dark, almost green—as is the rest of the chamber. This must be an underground reservoir feeding life into the forest. The water has been corrupted, and burns at the touch.
Another chamber reveals signs of recent activity. Black mud looks as if it’s been sprawled upon the ground, and there is a scorch mark on the nearby wall. On the far side of the room is a large animal in the shadows: A giant rat, wounded. It looks like its wounds have been healed…or attempted to be healed…but the cut in its side has oozing with a green bile—an infection spreading through its hind legs.
Continuing further into through the tunnels eventually leads the adventurers and the farmer to a larger chamber, with a man in long tattered robes of leaves and hide. His face and arms are covered in twisted scars and burns. His eyes are sunken and black. He sees the adventurers, opens his mouth . . . and says nothing. His black eyes stare straight at Oakson, at the emblem on his forehead, at his taff, and beyond . . .still, he is silent. Then, he lets out a deep, guttural moan . . . and strikes! The farmer, too, turns on the adventurers. He has been charmed all this time!
The battle is short, but vicious. The man clearly possess this power of a druid, but his abilities have turned him to darkness. He controls the power of the elements, and strikes the adventurers with many of the same spells and powers that Oakson himself has used upon enemies in the past. During their struggle, the tunnels around them begin to collapse, with the corrupted water pouring into the chamber, quickly flooding it, and cornering the fight further into the tunnels. Thurgall emotionlessly turns against the farmer, and between the three of them they are able to defeat the druid! In his final moments, however, the old man collapses to his feet and his eyes soften, as in a moment of clarity. He reaches a hand up towards the air and lets out one last, faint breath. Images begin to appear in mist:
A society of druids on an enormous mountain, living in peace and harmony with the land. There is one druid in particular, a middle-aged man, with a family. He is happy.
An eruption of green light overwhelms all that you can see. The forest that covered the mountains is on fire. Green flame. People are screaming. You see the man searching . . . looking . . . perhaps for his family. He is full of fear and panic and sadness and anger and confusion.
The ground is bare and black. The village from earlier, almost disappeared. Burnt to the ground. Black, dead, trees scrape the sky. The man from earlier, covered in burns, surrounded by corpses. He runs, and runs, and runs. Far down the mountain. He is just a husk of what he once was.
As the images disappear, the ground beneath them collapses as water bursts into the cavern, hurling the adventurers even deeper beneath the earth.