The Cloud Castle – Page 111


A moment later Perilous Jack has crossed the gap and alighted upon a partition of steel bricks.

Below him is the chamber of the Shard – and there in the center is the Shard itself. Jack draws in his breath – although it has been weeks since his Dreamfruit-vision in the Realm of the Nightcrystal, the horror of what he witnessed there is suddenly real again. The strange distortions of reality in the Realm of the Nightcrystal, the gruesome and terrifying battles between the Beholders and Illithids on one side, Cosmic Horrors and mighty Dragons on the other, the shattering of the Nightcrystal itself – all these nightmarish visions replay before his eyes in vivid detail. The Shard of the Nightcrystal throbs with dark welcome, like a vicious animal feigning joy at the sight of its prey.

From the tip of the Shard streams a vortex of dark energy, which twists and turns itself to regard Jack, as if it were a malevolent eye piercing into his hidden intentions. About the Shard stand three monsters, sunk into deep magical concentration – a pair of Illithids flanking the evil stone, and hovering overhead, a Beholder. Between the three, they maintain a constant, triangular flow of energy around and through the Shard of the Nightcrystal.

The monsters are so deep in concentration upon their task that slaying them will be easy work. Jack tests his weapons and is relieved to learn he can draw them now. He leaps from his perch, flinging the Dancing Dagger of Danzibar into the central eye of the Beholder as he does. He lands among the Illithids and guts them both with two quick sweeps of his sword. The Beholder, central eye blinded by the magic dagger and still too bewildered by its rude awakening from magical meditation, flails uselessly with its tentacles. A single ray escapes toward Jack, which the lingering power of the Flake of the Eld-Star absorbs. Jack leaps again and plunges his blade deep into the huge brain of the floating Eye Tyrant. The Beholder tumbles to earth, dead.

The vortex of energy generated by the Shard of the Nightcrystal collapses and the huge gem goes dark. Jack lands alongside the evil stone and regards it distrustfully. Yet for all the malice of the stone, it seems to be dormant. It is too large for the Pouch of Ghrul; doubtless it will require one of the Eagles ridden by Vasilisa’s Lorikeet Guard to transport it from the castle. His priorities seem clear, then: the Princess, the Eagles, and then: the Giant.

Turn to 136.