Leaving Hommlett on the bright spring morning filled the travellers with confidence. They followed the rutted track out of the village and within twenty minutes march the side road marked on their map opened up. It was a bit narrower and less trodden than the main route, as to be expected but this did not dull their spirits.
Walking down the narrow path the trees now seemed to be closing in and the smell of the undergrowth started to build in their nostrils. It was a cloying scent and often they would catch the ripening, sweet, sickening stench of something dead in the undergrowth. Every now and then a large insect would swoop by causing one or more members of the group to wave their hands about to deflect whatever creature it was. Zenia turned and waved away a large dragon fly only to have a large thorn rip down the side of her leg and cut through her clothing. Small beads of blood appeared through the cut in her skin. She doused the pain with water from her canteen looked up and asked’ “How long now.”
“I don’t know,” answered Zelda, “but the path is getting narrower and slowing us down. We need to watch out, perhaps it’s further than we thought.”
“We need to get to the so-called moat house to find my things,” called out Quazmo from ahead.
“Yes, yes, we’re coming,” Aether called back.
Every so often as they continued down the overgrown path it appeared to be ending and opening out into a clearing but they moved forward only to find it was some kind of optical illusion caused by the shadows of the now withered and stunted plants. Trudging onwards members of the group started to notice a new smell, damp, swampish; the plants turning to reeds.
“This reminds me of the marsh near my home,” Korky says, “must be some water coming up.”
“Perhaps it’s the moat of moat house fame,” Zelda replies sarcastically. El turns and smiles at her. “Your stuff better be here gnome.”
“You are being paid, aren’t you?” Quazmo turns to Zelda, only to see her wide eyed. With a rustling and cracking of reeds three giant frogs break out into the pathway on the right-hand side. Just as the party react a further three emerge on the left.
Their mouths gaping and brown smooth skin glistening in the sun the take large bounds towards the startled party.
Groo wastes no time unslinging his great sword and swinging at the largest of the creatures, a slice appears in its side squirting out red and yellow ooze. El and Zenia team up together on one and Zelda thrashes her flail out at another. Aether backs off, twists her arms and a magic light flies forth and strikes an unwary frog.
A tongue lashes out and Korky gains a huge weal on his arm, he shouts out and backs off. Quazmo takes out two daggers, holds them in his fingertips by the blade and arrows them at the nearest amphibian. Aether looks on in puzzled amusement as they disappear into the reeds way past the frog. With a mighty second blow, Groo dispatches the frog and turns to look where he needs to be next.
El and Zenia find themselves fighting back to back, a giant frog either side. El thrusts forward with her long sword connecting and driving the frog down. Zenia swings but misses, her sword slicing through thin air, the frog lunges forward and she prepares to defend herself against the blow when the amphibian’s eye disappears in a glut of yellow ichor. Zenia looks around to see Aether smiling holding her slingshot.
The last frog down, the group assess the damages. Zenia puts her sword in the large frog’s guts and slices. Intestines and organs fall to the floor along with a purple stone.
“Hey look, this frog’s been swallowing gems,” she calls out.
“Everyone ok? Now you can help me find my daggers,” explains Quazmo trudging off into the reeds.
“Don’t sink in there, we’ll never find you,” Zelda calls after him.
The party set to cleaning their weapons and Quazmo emerges from the swamp half covered in mud carrying one of his daggers.
“I think I can see a building through the trees,” Korky announces, “let’s move out.”
They press on down the path and up ahead the shape of a small castles appears. On the track lies rubble and larger blocks, probably from the past battle. Breaking through the last bush of thorns the party are confronted by a grey stone edifice, across a rotting wooden draw bridge over a stagnant moat. There is a crumbled tower to their left, overgrown with ivy. The corner to their right is just a pile of blocks, crumbled. They can see that the upper works of the former moat house lie in ruins, a mixture of jutting, rotten timber and rubble, the top floors utterly destroyed.
“I guess we’re here,” comments El.