The Cloud Castle – Page 163


Jack slowly makes his way out of the castle until he finds himself among the TowaShrooms where he encountered Ghal-lul the Ogre Mage – only days ago? It feels like months.

A crowd of spectators await his arrival and set up a loud cheer as he emerges haggardly from the Green Pipe. Princess Vasilisa, Sela-Ffionath, and the Lorikeet Guard are among them, as are Phae, the Giant Eagles, and –

“Serra! Tom! Simon!” Jack leaps to embrace his friends. After many warm greetings, he steps back and grins at them. “Arrived just in time to do nothing, I see.”

His friends share a laugh. “We wanted you to get all the glory, Jack,” Red Tom explains. “Don’t worry, next time we’ll claim our share.”

Jack notes the earnest expression on Serra’s face, and he gathers the whole party around him to discuss their next steps. He tells the tale of the Nightcrystal, beginning with his first glimpse of the artifact during his Dreamfruit-induced journey to the Realm of the Nightcrystal. He talks of the collusion between Illithids and Beholders, and Sela-Ffionath, lately freed from the captivity of these monsters, fills in many details.

In the end, it is obvious; none of the heroes present can rest until the Shards of the Nightcrystal have been reassembled and the threat of Illithid, Beholder, and their allies has been neutralized. The fate of the entire world is at stake.

Serra asks, “What then is to be done about the Shard you’ve captured?”

Jack answers with a nod at Sela-Ffionath, “Doubtless the fiends will soon learn – or they may already know – that the Guardian has been freed and the Shard captured. We must get it to a place of safety.”

“Where is there such a place?” asks Princess Vasilisa.

“The Royal Palace of Saîd,” suggests Red Tom. “There is a labyrinth beneath the palace, a deadly bewildering network of tunnels and chambers filled with magical guardians of every kind, magical wards and traps, and in the Palace above, the whole of the Wizard Council. If they with their combined might cannot defend the Shard, nothing can.”

Jack says, “I mislike the notion of transporting the Shard thousands of miles to Saîd, with our enemies in pursuit – not to mention the sheer size and weight of the thing – even on the back of one of Captain Layla’s fine eagles.”

To Serra, he says, “Can you deliver it to Saîd by the Moon’s Path?”

“I doubt the Moon’s Path would consent to bear such a burden,” she replies with a shrug.

All eyes turn to Dark Simon. “That leaves you, Simon,” says the princess. “Will the Bridge of Shadows accept this burden?”

Simon turns, nodding. “It will. It has before.”

At their surprised looks, he continues, “The Cloak has known of the Nightcrystal for centuries. They even possessed it once long ago but lost it. It has traveled the Bridge of Shadows before. But I think, Serra, it would be best if you returned first by the Moon’s Path and warned the Royal Wizards that the Bridge of Shadows is about to land among them. I would like to at least introduce myself before being withered by their magic.”

Serra nods. “Very well. Tom and I will travel by the Moon’s Path to Saîd. Tom, I’ll need you along; you know more members of the Council than I do. Your Highness, I am sorry I cannot bear you to Windflower Palace.”

“Your errand is more important than getting me home,” Vasilisa says.

“And you, Jack?” Serra asks. “Will you accompany me to Saîd?”

The warrior shakes his head. “My mission is not complete. Princess Vasilisa is still in the castle of a Giant. I will not be turned to other pursuits until I have seen the Princess in the arms of her father the King in the throne room of Windflower Palace. I will accompany the Lorikeet Guard.”

“I too would see Windflower Palace again,” puts in Sela-Ffionath. “The Queen and I were friends of old, and I am sure I will find warm reception there.”

Layla shakes her head. “With Her Highness, Sela-Ffionath, and Jack, that makes fifteen, with only eleven eagles between us to serve as mounts. For all their size and strength, the eagles are light and cannot long bear the weight of two riders, and Phae cannot carry a rider.”

Does Jack have the Tin Whistle? If so, turn to 11.

If not, turn to 120.