Gradually, the trail became an old, overgrown lane winding between dilapidated buildings choked in vines and brush. Ahead of the party, in the middle of the settlement, rose a steep hill, on which stood a stone tower with a partially collapsed roof and an adjoining cottage. A dirt road hugged the base of teh hill and wound its way between old stone houses, many of which were roofless ruins with interiors open to the weather. Other buildings appeared more or less intact. The whole place was eerily silent. A wooden sign was nailed to a post nearby. It read:
“DANGER! Plant Monsters and Zombies and WORSE! Turn back now!”
“Looks different to how I remember it,” said Tai Nee Dong, stopping to look.
“It could be rebuilt,” said Bonnie, slapping the monk on the back. “We just need to clear the monsters out.”
“Let’s find this Reidoth character,” said Fizbo. “We don’t need to be clearing out monsters, just ask the druid what we need to know.”
“I would like it if we could clear out anything that is stopping people settling back here,” said Tai Nee Dong. “It shouldn’t be too hard. Except for the dragon, maybe.”
“The.. what?” said Guinne. “My ears must be playing up, I thought you said dragon.”
“It’s only a young one,” said the monk. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”
“It’s still a dragon!” said Fizbo.
“All dragons are tough if they’re living on their own,” added Goldi.
“What colour dragon?” asked Igo.
“I hate green dragons,” said Igo. “They corrupt nature. I’m for taking it out.”
“Let’s get more information,” said Eric. “From what I’ve read, dragons like to have spies and allies.”
They continued into the town, finding there was a very light mist with a greenish tinge in the air, which tickled the throat. The first building they came to was a crumbled stone cottage with no roof and rampant weeds. As soon as they drew close, small creatures looking like twigs lashed together came swarming out towards them. They were easy to smash apart, but they were nasty, poking for eyes and slashing across exposed skin with their pointed stick like limbs.
“Twig blights,” said Igo. “They and their larger kin appear in natural areas wherever evil lurks. I fear evil has taken a foothold in this town.”
Several other buildings were infested with the creatures, and all were destroyed with minimal wounds taken by the heroes. They came to a a weathered signboard by the door of a large building which showed the faded image of a workhorse holding a flagon of ale. The building was sagging and neglected, but was more intact than most of the ruins they had passed so far.
“The Brown Horse,” said Tai Nee Dong. “The only tavern in town, and according to my father, produced a well regarded ale.”
They went in, and found grey zombies lurking inside. The zombies lurched to attack, but were put down as easily as the twig blights. When the zombies were hit, a cloud of ash erupted from the creature, and they trailed grey ash from the wounds. The party quickly learned to hold their breath when striking to avoid the choking cloud. After the battle the party threw the zombies corpses outside.
“It’s not too bad,” said Bonnie, looking around. “Mostly dry, we could stay here if we had to.”
“Let’s see what else is around, there might be better buildings,” said Eric.
They continued on and found a small house in better condition than any they had found up until now. The doors were reinforced with heavy iron bands, and thick shutters protected the windows.
“Someone lives here,” said Igo, looking at the ground. “And whoever it is can cover their tracks well.”
The door opened, revealing a wrinkled old man with a staff and a hawk on his arm.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” he grumbled. “You might as well come in. I’ve been getting reports of adventurers coming for a couple of hours now, so I suppose that is you.”
“Reports from who?” asked Bonnie, stepping into the house.
“Birds, beasts,” said the man, going over to stir a pot of stew which everyone agreed smelt wonderful.
“Are you Reidoth?” asked Fizbo.
“I am,” the druid said. “At your service. Now why are you here? Didn’t you read my sign?”
“We need to know where Cragmaw Castle is,” said Bonnie. “We were told that you could tell us.”
“And so I can,” answered the old druid. “Show me your map and I’ll mark it for you.”
“And is there anything we can help you with?” asked Tai Nee Dong. “Dragon problems maybe?”
“How do you know about the dragon?” said Reidoth, sharply. “Don’t be getting any foolish ideas. It may be a young dragon, but it could still wipe the floor with all of you.”
“I used to live here,” said Tai Nee Dong, firmly. “I’d like to see it returned to a place where folk are proud to live and work, to see it thrive.”
“So would I, but I suspect the task is beyond you. The risk is too great.”
“Maybe we could scout around, take care of some of the blights and zombies here. We’ve run into a few already.” said Goldi.
“We’re experienced adventurers, you know,” added Fizbo.
“Hmpf,” snorted Reidoth. “Look, poke around if you must. Be wary of giant spiders, and of some dragon cultists in a farmhouse, I’ll point it out. If you can deal with those we’ll talk about the dragon.”
To be continued…