The City of Grass
The next morning, Glig and Mahani packed up their blankets, the extra clothes, the tarp, the leftover food, their waterskins, and what little else they owned.
They had no weapons. They had no protection. Mahani’s dagger, the Impervious Robe, the Amulet of “Luck”, and even Glig’s fork had all been lost to the kobold scrapmaster. However, thanks to Chael, two items did survive: The Summoner’s Glove, and, as Mahani had discovered, the Key to the Apocalypse Vault, which the scrapmaster had added to his keyring for safekeeping before Chael had stolen it.
And so, with all their worldly possessions in a single cloth knapsack, Glig and Mahani set off across the prairies, chewing breakfast off the mutton and honeycomb wreaths around their necks as they pushed through the grass.
The grass was so tall that the only thing to look at while they walked was the sky. The eerie, still, blue sky of Materia. At least the clouds were the same color here, thought Glig. But they walked, winding their way along pre-trodden pathways and narrow shepherd roads, through rustling, natural halls of wild rye, sedge, and bluestem, until they worked their way to the hilltops again, where the drier, windswept soil only let the grass grow as high as their waists, and they could get their bearings.
Mahani sat down on an odd shaped grass-covered lump, and took a drink from her waterskin. “See, I couldn’t be a nomad,” she panted, “Too much, you know, walking around.”
“Breep,” agreed Glig, inspecting the soles of his feet.
Manhani took another mouthful, then pointed down the hill.“Mmmf,” she said.
“Breep,” asked Glig, not looking up from his foot.
“Mmmf,” she articulated again.
She swallowed. “That’s it. Mithren City.”
Glig shielded his eyes from the sun and squinted at the lumpy, misshapen hillscape below them. Slowly, then all at once, he realized those misshapen hills were actually ruins. The remains of an ancient city, grown over with thick sod, its columns, rooftops, and mighty arches now shaggy with prairie grasses.
“Breep,” gasped Glig.
Mahani laughed, reached down to the lump she was sitting on and peeled off some turf. A giant stone eye stared out at them, centipedes scattering across its unblinking pupil. “The bigger they are, you know?”
Glig jumped back a step as Mahani laughed again. He looked around the hill, his own eyes widening now. They were standing on the head of a fallen statue, once a hundred feet high, now a hundred feet long, toppled, draped across what were once the city walls.
Mahani got up, and put her waterskin away. “Come on, we’re almost there now.”
They walked down the meadowy slope of the statue’s chest, down into the heart of the City of Grass. Hawks nested in a lilac covered aqueduct. A herd of wild, spotted horses raced through what were once streets, leaping over what were once war chariots.
“Breep?” asked Glig, trying to take it all in.
“Not an invasion,” replied Mahani, eating some mutton, “Civil war. Story goes that the reservoir got poisoned. Everyone went mad. A year long battle. Winner gets to be king of a ruined city with poisoned water and no people in it. The end.”
She took a bite of salted honey comb. “Oh, and during the battle the reservoir cracked and the poisoned water ran into the lake.” She chewed, smiling, shaking her head. “And that’s why they call it Poison Lake. Even though it’s been safe to drink for a few hundred years now.” She licked honey off her thumb, “Interesting, right?”
“Breep,” said Glig, trying to keep up to her.
“Almost there,” said Mahani, stopping a moment, “See those towers? The vault door should be right between them.”
Five towers. The five fingers of an ancient stone hand, once the central landmark of the city. Each one just a crumbling stump sticking out from the landscape, sodded over, most of their masonry now underneath yards and yards of soil. Between them, in what was once the hands palm, grew a thick meadow of thorny plants and wildflowers.
“Ugh. Damsel Clove. This stuff is awful. Let’s go around and see if we can find someplace it thins out a bit.”
As they stomped through the high grass around the perimeter, passing slowly under each of the towers, looking for a break in the thicket, Glig watched the ring of keys jingling on Mahani’s belt, the late-afternoon sun catching the sapphire on the Key to the Apocalypse Vault. What was there? What strange treasures lay beyond the ancient door? What caused Sal, the summoner, to set out on this quest that ended her life, that ended the life of his three cousins, and left him stranded here? He was completing her quest for her, based purely on a lack of options, on the Mahani’s hunch that the Vault could be used to send him home. He thought about that final moment when he was eating dinner, bringing potatoes to his mouth. When he blinked and found his dining room replaced with badlands, his family replaced by charging giants. He thought about how if he hadn’t taken that single step to the side, how maybe he would be dead, and Sal would be alive, walking though this grass-carpeted city instead of him. How she would be using the key, entering the vault, and using it to —
“Breep?” asked Glig.
“What?” Mahani asked, “Oh, I don’t know. Probably what I told you before. Trying to tap into the powers of hell or something. I didn’t think anybody even knew what the Vault did, honestly. But it seems like Chael does at least. Actually, Chael mentioned the Vault was powered by godstones. Those are really valuable. Maybe Sal just wanted to steal them. Who knows. You shouldn’t be thinking about her at all. She was…” Mahani peered into the thicket, “She was the worst. Huh. Now that’s weird.”
“Breep?” asked Glig, catching up to look. A path. Perfectly cleared, literally burned straight through the hedge of thorny plants. And less than fifty feet in, a stone door, set in the middle of the field. The door to the Apocalypse Vault.
And it was already open.
“Okay, I think I was wrong about Sal,” said Mahani, “She wasn’t on her way here when she died.”
“She was on her way home.”