The blighted came. For an instant I had an overwhelming fear that they would tear us to tiny, little bits of bleeding flesh, but a warmth flowed to me from The Green Lady and my panic subsided. There were a score of the blighted ogres, huge brutes with the strength of a dozen men. They did not speak, but pulled us down from the tower, handing us from one set of great hands to the next, all the way down the broken walls until we were held aloft on great shoulders. Then they ran into the broken city.
I was amazed at the size of this half submerged city. Great buildings taller than any I had ever imagined rose from brackish water, creating wide canyons of stone and steel. The architecture rivaled even the tales I have read about the nine and sixty kingdoms. And at some point, as the curse broke the land a great lake had risen up in this valley, flooding all into a miasmic maze of skeletal grandeur fallen to rot and decay. I would truly love to have seen this place in the youth of the world, before it fell, while it rose in the glory of the rising sun.
I was able to spot Scythen from time to time, flitting along the tops of buildings, using webs that I had not noticed, but that the pure people had obviously put in place for their scouting runs. They had been battling the blighted men for a long while, it seemed to me. But if Lilith had been at the broken well when the pure people had been raised as they claimed, how old did that make her? As I had nothing to do but watch the ruins flow past me, I let my mind wander to broken puzzle pieces.
There were six watchers in the arena, those who had succumbed to the demonic flowers and they had been waiting for seventy millennia for us to complete the circle. Why were there eight thrones? Where had the two who were missing gone? Had they never arrived? Had they been destroyed over the years? Had they promised to sit amongst their peers and abandoned them?
The voices whispered to me, less clearly after I destroyed one of the flowers. Their emotions were strong and their words muddled. They were the elders of this once great city, the best of them. They bemoaned the fall of their civilization and flashes of their opulence buzzed through my mind, memories spied from their fevered dreams. These were a haughty and proud people, arrogant and entitled. As we drew closer to the heart of this place, my understanding of them began to coalesce. These were not open hearted folk like the dwarves, nor happy go-lucky like the halflings. These were bigoted folk, condescending and petulant. No wonder the demonic vine had risen here. No wonder these people had fallen to the blight. The very heart of them had been black with decay before the first fall.
They knew who they were and did not shy from it. Their emotions, their memories taunted me, reviled me for my ignorance for my base existence. I was so far beneath them as to be an insect and my coming brought them no joy.
Even they knew this was the completion of a circle, the completion of a cycle, the completion of a curse. They had not anticipated one such as me. They wanted Kithri. They had The Green Lady, but why would she allow herself to be caught up in this?
The splashing was an annoyance which brought me back to my surroundings. We were slowing, drawing closer to the center of the blight. There were makeshift bridges that spanned deeper sections of water, and monstrous things that sought to bring down even the blighted ogres. Two fell on the journey back, but the rest ran on, trading us one to another as they tired. I had only travelled this fast once before, and that was when I had been imbued with the power of Kithri and I had run through the night to seek answers yet untold.
Twice more I saw Scythen but even he fell back near the end. In the heart of this great broken city rose the arena: the jewel of their domain. Here the buildings around the arena had been leveled, nothing above a head’s height rose out of the water within a bow shot. They kept a clear line of sight to this center piece of their ruin, denying enemies a way to attack without being seen. They knew their tactics. The ruins were their gauntlet, the lake their moat and the prize, the jewel of this rotted kingdom a flooded and barren arena where slaves once fought for the enjoyment of dilettantes and common folk alike. I loathed knowing this. I loathed the privilege and the sanctimony that flowed from the six.
That gave me pause. The nine and sixty had slavery. I had a moment of cognitive dissonance. Slavery was abhorrent and here was one of the ancient allies who partook of such an atrocity. I felt my stomach drop at the thought. More lies, more half-truths were becoming exposed the further I delved into this great mystery and the less I liked what I was learning.
We entered through a grand causeway, the water filled with broken stone and covered with wooden planks. Light poured through great open windows that lined the first level of the arena and we found ourselves carried through a gloaming light, the shadows filled with the restless bodies of blighted men, women and children. They were huddled in the darkest places, shying away from the light, as if its exposure caused them pain. Perhaps it was just that they abhorred themselves for the changes the blight had perpetrated upon them.
By the time we left the twisting passages and the raised dust of a uncounted years of decay, we entered a new passage that split. In one direction I could see a row of cages filled with monsters and people of various races, the fodder for the arena battles. There, in those cages somewhere, languished Liz and Blargle. I called to them, my voice echoing off the broken stones but I heard no answer.