Spiders are fast. I never realized how fast until I began chasing one through the swamp. It jumped from tree to tree, carrying Kithri in three legs while making speed on the other four. I lost sight of the beast almost immediately, but Kithri, now that was another matter. She stood out in my mind like a beacon of white in a world of green tinted hues.
I couldn’t follow the beast in a straight line, so I went from shallow water to dry land as frequently as possible. Twice I had to nearly swim, which was difficult while trying to keep my pack dry.
The spider had not tried to kill me, and had not killed Kithri. It had captured Kithri and taken her away, referencing The Green Lady. Perhaps she was heading someplace The Green Lady resided. All I could do was do my best.
The first three hours came and went and I had to stop and rest. Sleep was an enemy now. I grabbed a bit of shut eye and woke a few hours later groggy and worse perhaps than if I’d managed somehow to stay awake. I searched for Liz and found her again, thanks be to Semaunzilla (may she help me sort out this pantheon mess). Kithri was still on the move heading into the large blank area in Bob’s map. Liz was not moving at the moment, but she was not doing as well as she had been previously. My next actions would be critical to the quest in all likelihood but there really was no option in my mind. I noted on my map approximately where Kithri had stopped and pushed on toward where Liz was being held. If Kithri moved beyond the range of my green sight, then I would head to the spot on the map and look to pick up her trail. I just had to rely on the fact she was a deity to keep her safe. I mean, I don’t recall The Green Lady being a blood thirsty sort, so perhaps the spider was really just taking Kithri for a visit. Whatever lies we tell ourselves to keep moving, eh?
Before I started off again, I decided that Liz’s physical state had deteriorated enough that I wanted to try healing her from a distance like I’d done the spider. Of course, I was within walking distance of the spider. I couldn’t even see Liz. I strained to flow the green toward her but realized fairly quickly that her condition hadn’t changed. Still I thought it was worth a try. I ate a bit to regain my strength and contemplated the spider’s words. She said Liz had been captured by the blighted men. While I could speculate on what that meant, I knew that it wouldn’t matter until I was confronting them.
I pushed myself over the next few hours making better than expected progress. I was moving toward Liz at an oblique angle which improved my position quite a bit. Made me consider where Liz had gone, and where the blighted men had captured her. I ate a few mouthfuls and drank more water before dozing for a bit, then was up and moving again with nearly no sense of relief. They were on the move when I looked, but Liz did not appear to be any worse for the wear this time.
By my next rest I had gained quite a bit of ground, which was lifting my spirits. I wasn’t close enough to see those who had my friends captured yet. I pushed harder, covering more distance when the ground was dry, which, thankfully, was occurring more and more in this portion of the swamp.
The lack of sleep did indeed catch up to me part way through the day. I was stumbling around, nearly incoherent when I realized I was dangerously close to one of those giant man-eating plants this swamp is home to. The moving vines had nearly lulled me into a coma before I staggered backward, out of its grasp. Nearly being eaten by the verge was a problem, so I searched around for a place to sleep.
Surprisingly the ground here rose even higher and I found myself in a small ruin. It looked like perhaps it had been a large inn at some point, gauging by the layout of the stone structures that remained. All the wood had rotted away years ago and the thing was home to mice, voles, spiders and snakes. All of the normal variety, or so it seemed to me. I made my way into a more intact room with three walls and a partial ceiling and curled up to sleep. The mice were not a bother. I liked the furry little things in any case. Their scampering and squeaking lulled me to sleep, or rather didn’t prevent my exhausted mind from losing grip on reality. When I woke I found I had been unmolested. While the mice had gone about their lives, they had not been confronted by any of the predators in the area.
I splashed a bit of water over my neck, scrubbed my face and drained the first of two water skins, replacing the empty in my pack for filling later. Then I broke off a good size hung of cheese and nibbled on it while I studied the maps Bob had given me. I made notations of where the deep water was, the dry lands, and these ruins. He’d do a better job of filling in the details, but I did note a few highlights. You see, Liz had not moved in the time I slept. I believe they had reached their destinations and I wanted to be of sound mind and body when I assaulted the place.
I left a crust of bread and a chunk of cheese for the mice, packed up and left the ruined inn. Two hours distance was my best calculation. Two hours nearly due east at this point, going deeper into the heart of the blighted swamp. Blighted men, blighted swamp. No coincidence there.
There were creatures in the region around me. Wild things that did not like strangers. As I’d never really utilized the green sight before, I had no clear way of knowing for sure, but I anticipated I saw orcs and goblins, some form of undead and more ruins. I was surprised that the ruins showed up on my green vision as various shades of red and black, as if their very presence pained the earth.
But in the depths of that was Liz, my friend and my heart. Time to stride into the teeth of Hades and free her (and hopefully Blargle) before turning to find Kithri once more.
I climbed a hillock following the remnants of an ancient road and stopped at a ruined way-tower. When it had been whole and sound, it would have stood nearly three rods high. While a portion of it had collapsed, exposing the stairs upward, I found if I was careful, I could climb nearly half way up on the exposed stones and get a better vantage point. I clambered over broken stones, using the clinging vines to maintain my balance as I reached the pinnacle it had to offer. Before me a great ruin spread east and north, the bones of ancient stone buildings rising in a sea of brackish water.
Somewhere in the heart of that was the glowing pulse of Liz’s heart. I sat on the edge of the broken tower and watched the area below me, realizing what a watery maze this place was, and how difficult it would be to explore.
I wished for a bit more height and studied the ruined stairs a small leap from my present position. I considered the risk and leapt across, dislodging a few stones, but otherwise finding solid support. I climbed to the top of the tower, through the remains of a wooden trap door, stepping over the rusted iron bands that lay across the top most steps. Once I reached the landing, I stopped dead in my tracks.
The top of the tower was not unoccupied after all.