It was the beginning of summer when Otto the Thief arrived in Wall. As is custom, he made his arrival known to the local Thieve's Guild. Of course, operating in a city without consent from the locals would have been a death sentence otherwise. He paid his dues, and went to where the local footpads and gutter snipes assured him he could find an expedition Beyond the Wall. A tavern known as the Hole.
He found self described adventurers aplenty, but none who had actually gone Beyond the Wall. None except for two. Otto found them arguing very animatedly with each other, One was a female halfling standing on a stool , shaking a piece of cheese, almost like a weapon at her tormentor. He was an elf. Tall and lank, as is their kind, with blond hair and new scar still healing on his cheek.
They became quiet when Otto approached. "Were they up for an expedition?", Otto asked. "Yes" was the reply. They had been rotting in this awful heat, running low on gold and the good graces of the Hole's management with their constant bickering. They were Miss Adventure and Gildrid the Elf.
The next morning was hot. The iron fittings on the great gates were hot to the touch. The Wall itself simmered in the heat. No wind blew Beyond the Wall. The grass of the hills surrounding the Old Road were yellowing and dry. The travelled slowly, trying to save their horses if need arose for a quick getaway. They sweated in their armor. They had nearly finished all their water when they reached the dryad Newly's tree.
Otto and Gildrid rested in the tree's shade, while Miss Adventure sought out Newly. "Newly", she called. "Newly, you have a new friend". The little dryad appeared, looking little more than a child.
"A new friend?" she asked. When Miss Adventure gestured towards Otto, Newly made a face like she ate something bad. "I don't like the looks of him. Are you sure he's my friend?"
The dryad melted into the tree, almost disappearing except now her face was knot in
the tree's bark.
"Newly, have any more bad men been around?" the halfling asked, referring to their last meeting, which had involved flight from some bandits.
"No" was her reply. But a party of goblins had passed nearby on their way towards Wall. They hadn't returned.
"Ask her if she knows about any treasure around", Gildrid said.
"Shut up, dufus, I do the talking around here!" Miss Adventure yelled back. She turned and gave her brightest smile. "Newly, from atop your glorious tree, can you see any places? Any places that might be of interest to us. Temples? Graveyards?"
The dryad brightened. "Oh yes!" she seemed exited when she thought she was helping. "To the north, there are standing stones. Does mean anything?"
"Perfect" Miss Adventure said as she picked up her pack. "Newly, is there any way we can pay you back for the help you've given us.?"
Before she could answer Gildrid spoke up. " I have some gold..."
Miss Adventure rolled her eyes. "Gold? Really? What's a dryad gonna do with gold, dummy? Gawd, you're elf. You're supposed to know this stuff."
"Actually," Newly spoke up. "The monsters. The ones that killed the men who destroyed my forest. They took something. Seeds. I need them to replant my trees. They're magic. The monsters went north long ago, but maybe you can still find them."
"Done." Miss Adventure said. They had mounted their weary horses and were headed north along the road. Soon, the sun was beating down again. Otto was listing in his saddle, and Gildrid was trying to get the last drops of water from his water skin. Tilting back the skin, he looked up and saw a lone buzzard circling above. That's when the horses stopped and an awful smell reached them. "Is that you?" Gildrid looked towards Miss Adventure waving hand in front of his face. He got a smile from Otto and a scowl form the halfling.
They were in a low defile between hills. Turning to pinpoint the smell Otto was the first to spot four figures cresting a hill, headed straight for them. Whoever they were, they weren't in a hurry. The shambled down the hill with a strange gait.
The party gathered their horses and tied them to a stake hastily pounded into the ground. They realized the stench was coming from the strangers. That, and a horde of flies that followed them.
Gildrid drew his bow. "I may not know much about dryads, but I know zombies when I see them..."