The Cloud Castle – Page 150


Perilous Jack draws the Silver Key from his pouch and, bracing himself carefully against the powerful wind created by the fan, inserts the Key into the slot.

Instantly the fan begins to slow. In moments it has stopped entirely, and now through the spaces between the blades, Jack can see that the Green Pipe continues down, deeper into the foundation of the steel castle. A ladder is installed in the side of the Green Pipe – and the stench of death and decay wafts up from whatever hidden chamber is concealed below.

Steadying his stomach against the smell, Jack wriggles through the fan blades and begins his climb down the shaft. The darkness, far from deepening as he moves down the shaft, begins to lighten in dancing fits. Gradually he realizes that there must be flame below – indeed, oppressive heat wafts from the hidden chamber as he draws near, and the stench increases.

In moments he is through the Green Pipe. He dangles for an instant from the final rung of the ladder, reassuring himself that there is solid footing below, and releases his grip, dropping to the surface of a steel platform.

Instantly a figure rushes him from the flame-flickering shadow. Jack instinctively lashes out with his blade, feeling the steel bite into flesh that is far too yielding to be human – and yet the shape looming before him, backlit by dancing flames, is distinctly humanoid. As his blade slices through the soft flesh, releasing yet more terrible stink, he realizes the truth – it is an undead creature he has slain. He kicks at the body, sending it tumbling off the platform on which they stand and evidently into the flames that light the chamber, for now the stink of burning, rotten flesh singes his nostrils.

Now that the undead creature no longer obscures his sight, he can see the dimensions of the chamber. The room is tiny; walls, floor, and ceiling are of steel blocks, and the only platform is the one on which he stands. Below him he sees the floor of the chamber and more undead.

As they vent wrathful groans and bare the rotted stumps of their fangs, Jack is at last able to identify his assailants – they are Ghouls, foul undead creatures who possess no other desire than to feast on living flesh of any kind. Unlike Zombies, who merely kill out of habit, Ghouls strive to consume the flesh of those they slay – and they possess enough dim spark of intellect to hunt in packs, with something resembling tactics.

However, these Ghouls are laboring under a considerable disadvantage, for the floor of the chamber is quite small, and is bordered on two sides by deep pits in which crackle hot red flames, anathema to undead of every kind. A simple fall into either pit would suffice to destroy any of these creatures, and so it will be no great task for Jack to defeat them all.

He leaps from the platform with a will, diving into the Ghouls with blade flashing and boots kicking. Two Ghouls plunge to their deaths in the flames; the other three swiftly succumb to his blade.

Turn to 23.