The Cloud Castle – Page 23


Now that the Ghouls are slain, Perilous Jack has greater leisure to investigate the chamber that he has unlocked with the Silver Key.

Overhead a small alcove opens from the ceiling; leaping up to investigate, Jack discovers a pair of steel chests containing a small treasure of Gold Coins and gems, which he adds to his pouch.

In the side of the furthest flame pit, he finds a second alcove. Although accessing this alcove requires considerable athleticism to avoid falling into the flames, Jack is up to the task and receives more Gold Coins and gems for his trouble.

Finally, just under the shelf on which he stood when he entered – not a platform after all, but a projection from the wall – Jack discovers a third tiny alcove. This proves the hardest of the three to reach, for the shelf projects over the flame pit, creating a natural barrier to the alcove. With some ingenuity, Jack figures out how to swing himself over the lip of the shelf and essentially fling himself into the alcove. Here he discovers another pair of steel treasure chests – and a curiously carven human skull.

That the Carved Skull is authentic he has no doubt – he has seen plenty of its kind before – but the entire surface of the Skull is carved with strange symbols, which seem more and more familiar as he studies them. Suddenly a pair of words leap forth from the strange writing – Fostor M’Bathia – and in a rush, he remembers the scrolls he read at the beginning of this strange journey, written by the Master Cleric of Tifar’et, Fostor M’Bathia – the Guardian of the Nightcrystal.

Even as he realizes the truth, the Skull moves in his hand.

The jawbones open. “Jaacckk,” the Skull breathes, and Jack nearly drops it into the flames. “Jaaccck, do you . . . hear me?” The voice is breathless and piping, like the voice of a very old man.

“I hear you,” the warrior says, although he must admit to himself that he had rather not.

“Jaacckk, they are not . . . what they . . . seem. Forgive them . . . Jack. They did not . . . choose . . . their . . . forms. Learn their . . . names, Jack, and you may . . . restore them to their . . . humanity.”

“Restore whom, Master Cleric?” Jack asks. “Restore whom?”

The silence is lengthy, and Jack fears he has heard the final words of Master Cleric M’Bathia – but then a long, rattling wheeze issues from the skull’s bony jaws, and with a profound chill Jack hears these words: “the Guardians . . . of . . . the . . . Shards.”

The jaw of the Skull closes, and some quality of life and light that once suffused it winks out. Jack is certain now that the Skull has fallen forever silent. Reverently, he places the Skull in his pouch, intending to give it a proper burial when he is again on solid earth.

Out of thoroughness if nothing else, he checks the treasure chests behind the perch of the Carved Skull and finds more Gold Coins and gems – but nothing else.

Heavy of heart and pensive, Jack returns to the ground floor of the Castle.

Add 900 Gold, 300 Silver, 6 Rubies, 2 Emeralds, and the Carved Skull to the Pouch of Ghrul.

Add the following to Jack’s Journal: I have found the skull of the cleric Fostor M’Bathia. He spoke of the ‘Guardians of the Shards’ and says that if I learn their names, I may restore them to their humanity. This may be the key to stopping the darkness!

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