We took the second fork, mounting wide ramps that turned back and forth, rising to the very top of the arena. When we finally broke out of the dank, we emerged onto a grand terrace which ran along the top rim of the structure. Balustrades had once ringed his section as well, keeping the prestigious from falling into the galleries below. Nearly two thirds of this were broken, however. That which remained intact was choked with vines that rose from the depths of the arena, climbing from below to ring the lower reaches in great curtains of woody vines and small yellow flowers the color of rotted flesh.
There, somewhere was the source of the demonic plant. There in the base of the arena, where the blood of innocence was spilled, opened the portal to a place no more horrendous than the pits and pens we saw below.
We faced away from the center of the arena so I could not see the six who waited for us. Instead I could watch as the sun sank into the horizon and the sky grew red.
The spider silk bindings were ripped from us with brutish hands and we were split apart, The Green Lady pulled one way, and me the other. The pain that shot through me was beyond anything I had ever encountered yet I did not black out. The pain had to be endured, the voices whispered, until the vines parted and my bones snapped. For one instant the pulling ogres stalled, balanced between their strength and the integrity of my armor and the flesh beneath. Then, with the sound of rending meat, my right arm was ripped from my body just below the elbow. Viscous fluids shot across the stone below me as the blighted ogres staggered back. The ruin of my arm fell to the ground, blackened vines thrashing in the gore. I stood, mesmerized by my own rent flesh as the nearest ogre broke away the chair I had been tied to and slammed me onto one of the waiting thrones.
The vines that had connected The Green Lady and I finally stopped thrashing and melted into shadow, staining the weathered stone. My mind reeled with the shock and it dawned on me that the vines no longer held sway over me. That realization was a relief, but it did not assuage the loss of my right arm, so the victory celebration was short lived.
As I slumped in the chair, the questions forgotten and the quest broken, I considered how upset Kithri would be when she found out I had managed to destroy the right arm of her rare and irreplaceable armor. At least Bob had his, I justified. He would carry on in my stead. He had the fortitude where I was a scattered, indecisive corpse in waiting.
With the fading of the light, and the slowing of my mind, I was able to focus briefly on the others who sat around the top of the arena. They were tall, elegant folk, with high cheeks and pursed lips. Their raiment of vines hardly looked a bother, though my presence was as a smudge of offal on their upper lip.
These were elves, high born, immortal with or without the demonic flowers that bound them. No wonder they had lived through the long curse that swept this land. So, what was my role in this morality play, and how did The Green Lady come to be a part of this catastrophe? Elves generally loathed orcs, even those who were gods.
I reached over with my left hand and grabbed the leaking stump of my right, curious that I had not been overcome by the sheer pain of the wound. My hand came away black, not from blood, but from the vile sap from the vines that had been pulled out of my body. That didn’t comfort me either.
Human, a voice called into my head, and the elves turned their gaze upon me.
We know you, defiler. We know you, betrayer …destroyer …debaser …killer
Each called to me, accusing. Each loathed me. Betrayer? What had they been promised?
Our time is nigh, they spoke. Our long imprisonment comes to an end. How delicious that it is you who frees us after the betrayal.
They laughed in my head, those six. The Green Lady remained silent.
You are truly a fool to have come here. Your efforts will not go unrewarded. As you once bound us to this place, so we will see that the rest of this life will end in the bloody sands below. We deem you unworthy of our company, the first spoke, its malice a fist in my head.
I reeled, the throne I sat upon the only thing keeping me from falling to the ground. The ogres stood as sentinels, stoic and unmoving. I threw caution to the wind and rose shakily to my feet, unbalanced by my missing arm. The ogres did not interfere. I do not think they would move without a direct command of the six. I tried something foolish. I called upon the power of Semaunzilla (may she strongly consider a bit of regeneration for me and Kithri if we survive this). The thread was so tenuous as to be nearly a breath, so I sucked it in, a tickle of power that allowed me to reach the green sight. The ogres were devoid of spirit, their very essences sickly yellow threads tied to the six. These were their doppelgangers, their physical extensions that reached out to the world.
Something dawned on me, something I had witnessed from Blargle when I saw through the eyes of the six. They feared fire. I could just kiss Lilith when I saw her next. I reached inside my belt pouch with my left hand, on account of my right being destroyed and pulled out the small red glass ball she had given me from Wizard Tim’s room of toys. If this did what I think it did, I was formulating a plan.
Before we sacrifice you, fool, we will allow you one moment of entertainment. The ogres turned and moved to the ramps, heading down into the bowels of the arena. We will allow you to watch as we sacrifice the wizard to open the gate. Then we will pay the toll with your Green Lady.
A roar rose from the arena below and I staggered to the railing, looking down to find Blargle being cast into the sand from the left while a hydra charged in from the right.
Where was Liz? Had they already killed her? My heart sank as Blargle rose to her feet, fire already arching toward the hydra.