The council, led by Ana of Dawn, Garet Regent, and Hujaar the White, have heard of something bad going down in the forest. Even the gnolls are spooked. So, they gather together the best, or the only, adventurers they can find to fix the problem.
Runebeak, a tengu monk of the Four Winds and Seeker of Wisdom; the two catfolk, Z’Harrin, beast master and guide to wayward travelers, and Cheddar, bard extraordinaire; Warlow, the great warrior, ready to do battle with his Earthbreaker; Aaron Kinninglsy, the noble half-orc Inquisitor; Davlannan the human drow-trained fighter; and the Carthican Fiend, who, despite the rumors, is not the scariest thing in the forest. At least, not anymore.
The group left the next morning, prepared as best as possible for a threat they knew little about. The road led them north through the Gray Hills, where they found signs of a bandit attack. When they saw tracks of people being dragged away towards the forest, they followed, intent on rescuing them, or at least bringing the brigands to justice. Along the way, they saw evidence that one of the bodies had been dumped in a deep, dark stream, though the other was still being dragged. The tracks (and a crow) led them into a ravine at the edge of the Nulwood.
While Runebeak, Cheddar, Warlow, and Davlannan set up camp as night fell, Z’Harrin, Aaron, and the Fiend traveled further through the ravine. They encountered Tala, one of the bandits who had been sent by their leader, Mercer, to see if they had been followed. The trio forced her to give up some of her weapons and information on the bandit camp, but let her go due to her injuries and cooperation. She asked them to spare Tartan, a friend of hers in the camp, if they came to blows, and left.
The adventurers reunited and moved onto the bandit camp. There, they found Mercer, Tartan, and four other bandits. While Warlow, Aaron, and Davlannan approached the camp from the front, the others attempted to sneak around through the trees and undergrowth, but were spotted. Mercer requested parley and attempted to pay off the group to let him and his comrades go. Z’Harrin and Aaron attacked him while he tried to negotiate with Cheddar, causing him and the others, save Tartan, to flee. Z’Harrin and the Carthican Fiend briefly chased Mercer, but, once the man cast off his armor, they realized that they couldn’t catch him. The Fiend used the blood Mercer had shed with his anatomy doll, but Mercer’s will proved too strong to be affected by the curse.
Cheddar and Aaron helped pull the bandit’s prisoner out of the pit. He introduced himself as Whistler while Cheddar split up the money that Mercer left. One of Whistler’s belongings, a case of potions, was offered to the group as thanks. Tartan offered what little knowledge he had on the “woodmen,” telling the group that they came from the Deadwood, and that they avoid the water when they can. Tartan and Whistler joined the group to camp for the night.
The following day, the group becomes concerned that Cheddar’s cleanliness could reveal their location. He winds up having to protect his clothes from Z’harrin’s dirt, mud, and leaves. While his prestidigitation keeps him clean, he eventually relents to his uncle’s attempts to make him more nature-like. The group finally makes it to the edge of the Deadwood, where plants look like they are uprooting themselves. Aaron responds to that fact by saying, “Ha, ha! Plant leaf.”
The Deadwood is dry, which makes it difficult to keep the path lit for Warlow and Dave, the only members of the group who cannot see in low light. Deeper into the Deadwood, the group discovers an oasis of green in almost a perfect circle. The green, on closer inspection, appears to be something like creeper vines. Everything underneath them is still dead. Z’Harrin finds the tracks of goblins leading into the oasis, along with the tracks of a party composed of humans and gnolls. No tracks lead back out.
Venturing into the oasis, the group finds a hastily set-up trapper camp that has been abandoned for a few days. Above it is a dead man being hung up by the vines. When Z’harrin attempts to investigate the corpse, it twitches. The vines come alive, animating trees, three dead goblins, two dead gnolls, and the man who Z’harrin had tried to investigate. After the group defeats the monsters, the vines appear to have died. The corpses appear to have been freshly killed, despite their having been dead for several days. There are brown pods growing in their wounds, both previously and presently inflicted. In order to prevent them from returning to life—a fear that some members of the group had—they set the whole thing on fire, making sure to use magic to keep the fire from spreading to the rest of the Deadwood.
In the aftermath, Dave finds a journal discussing the travails of the dead trappers. A conversation with the Fiend reveals that he doesn’t know what to do with gold, so he gives his whole load—360 gold—to Cheddar. Cheddar feels bad and draws a picture of the Fiend on it, determined to take the Fiend shopping in Carthica.
The group make camp for the night. Z’harrin teaches Cheddar how to hunt, but the attempt is not very successful. Then Aaron teaches Cheddar how to “clean” rabbits for food. Cheddar disagrees with calling the process “cleaning.” Aaron and he agree on “dismembering” instead.
Z’harrin leaves the camp and returns with a mountain lion companion whom he names Katja. Cheddar takes first watch with Z’harrin, a sign of their growing relationship, but he falls asleep midway through his watch. Z’harrin wakes him by scaring him after tying his tail to a tree. Cheddar throws a mud ball at Z’harrin, and he replies by retaliating with a mud ball of his own. They play until it’s time for second watch.
In the center of the Deadwood, the group finds a massive green crystal. The crystal is magic and flecks of it are embedded in the nearby trees. It’s not long before the trees come to life and attack. Once the creatures are destroyed, Aaron and the Fiend discover an image of an eye in the crystal. Aaron takes a relief of the eye, then the group smashes the crystal to bits and throws its pieces in the water.
Z’harrin and the Fiend go follow a set of tree men tracks leading up a hill. They decide it’s best to join the rest of the group before going up the hill. Night begins to fall as the group is reunited and begin making their way up the slope, with rain suddenly falling in sheets. When the group makes magical light to better see their path, other lights shine in the distance, going out when the adventurers extinguish their own. The will-o-wisps guide them to a massive outcropping of stone, down a crack that led into the depths beneath the forest. With no more lights to guide them and no tracks to follow, Sampa asks a bat to guide them to the animate plants. It obliges, leading them down, down the twisting passages and over an underground river, until they see light ahead of them. Z’Harrin scouts ahead while the rest of the group prepares to charge at the first sign of danger, but find something surprising.
Lit by crystals bearing the sigil of the eye like the one from the surface and full of growth unseen in the Deadwood above, the cavern hid a ruin, covered in vines and moss. When the vines were pulled away from the pedestals and walls, images of an eight-limbed god covered in a cloak that covered countless eyes. Aaron recognized it as Tezeran, Patron of Fate, and realized they were in the long-lost garrison of the Order of the Lidless Eye, an extinct sect from generations ago. But fresh footprints in the lush loam called his knowledge into question, and the group followed them down to the crumbling basement.
The tension was palpable as they crossed the broken pillars, mindful of the drop to the natural cavern below, but the path led to nothing but a sheer wall. After some inspection, they discovered a niche that seemed to serve as a mechanism for continuing. After some trial and error, Aaron retrieved a crystal shard from the surface and, after shaping it perfectly to fit, the wall slid up, revealing a secret laboratory. Several of the woodmen, including one larger and composed of more crystal than the others, stood around a silver circle in the floor, where Willow, the dryad of the Nulwood, sat trapped. But they weren’t alone. Two dwarves, the source of the tracks the group had been following, sat as well, with the older of the two barking orders to the woodmen when the wall revealed them. He spat curses and drew his warhammers while his younger companion backed away down a hidden tunnel.
Sampa attacked first, and the battle was joined. Runebeak challenged the largest of the woodmen, while Z’Harrin and Cheddar attacked the remaining dwarf. The woodmen had numbers, but the adventurers had cunning and luck on their side. When it looked to be a total rout, the woodmen turned on the dwarf and struck him down before asking for peace. After it dropped its staff and a knotted mess of fruits and nuts, Runebeak accepted.
It introduced itself as Versillas, and in broken common, told the group that the dwarves had been responsible for the creation of the woodmen, and had been ordering them to attack the hunters in the forest. Willow, unable to leave the circle, corroborated his story. To further prove his intentions, Versillas released her from the iron bindings in the floor. Once she stepped out, the circle, shaped in the image of an open eye, slid across the worn stones to a single metal bar set in the floor. Sampa was finally reunited with his teacher, and, with Versillas’ promise to cease all hostility against the hunters that relied on the bounty of the Nulwood, the group was free to leave the caverns.