The Cloud Castle – Page 28


Jack wastes no time fencing with the undead monster; he draws the Dancing Dagger of Danzibar and the Bone Spike and flings them both at the Beholder Lich.

A tentacle twitches, firing a Ray of Repulsion at the Dancing Dagger from the eyeball at its tip, and the Dagger sails away across the room to clatter uselessly against the wall. But the Beholder is not quite fast enough to knock the Bone Spike from the air at the same time, and the cruel weapon strikes home, burying itself deep in the rotting central eye of the monster. A fountain of stinking black ichor bursts from the eye, and the creature vents a terrible scream. The Bone Spike quivers and begins to move, digging itself deeper into the corrupted flesh of the monster.

Jack draws the Rune Sword and leaps to the attack, while the remaining eyestalks twist and turn, seeking him out. A Ray of Flame lances from an eyestalk, and Jack cannot move fast enough to avoid it altogether, suffering burns for his trouble. He lashes sideways, severing an eyestalk, only to blunder into a second ray, a shaft of unwholesome grey light that saps his strength and will and leaves him for the moment trembling in the corner of the room.

Ordinarily the Beholder would follow up such an attack with a vicious fusillade of destructive rays, or else attempt to dominate his will – already weakened by the Ray of Fear – but the creature does not pursue, instead shaking itself back and forth, moaning and trembling all over. Jack can see the end of the Bone Spike still protruding from the collapsed central eye; the unholy artifact wriggles and pulses, drinking the undead monster’s necromantic power . . .

Shaking off the effects of the Ray of Fear, Jack rises and recalls the Dancing Dagger to his hand. He flings the weapon forth again, and this time it meets only the feeblest resistance. The Dagger severs another eyestalk, and now, heartened by his progress, Jack attacks again. A Ray of Disintegration demolishes a section of the wall near his head, narrowly missing Jack’s right ear, but the warrior is undaunted. He dives into the monster with a cry of fury, chopping away at putrescent eyestalk and moldering flesh . . . and all the while the Bone Spike drinks and drinks . . .

Jack strikes a final, resounding blow against the Beholder Lich, slaying the weakened beast. The Bone Spike falls from the ruined eye, shattering on the steel floor, it’s magic now utterly spent.

Even as the hellish light of undeath fades from the glaucous eye of the Beholder, Jack gathers the Emerald Orb and flees the unwholesome chamber.

Remove the Bone Spike from the Pouch of Ghrul.

Back in the castle of the Cloud Giant, Jack skirts the fallen bodies of the Geists, determined to leave this place of putrescence and slaughter behind.


Perilous Jack whirls and cries out, nearly dropping the Orb. There is nothing living in the room, only the slain and shattered bodies of creatures now twice dead. And yet a voice – a spectral voice –


It comes from the body of a Geist. For all that it cannot be, yet there is no doubt. One of the Geists he has fought and slain, an undead creature now truly dead, never capable of speech in its life between lives, and certainly incapable of it now, speaks his name from across the chamber. Clutching the Orb tightly in his two hands – it never occurs to him to draw his blade again – Jack crosses the chamber, advancing on the Geist as timidly as if the body were his own body he saw lying there. As he draws nearer and more of the green light of the Orb falls upon it, the body stirs slightly and struggles to its feet, watching him come with dead white eyes. The creature’s skin is white as pure ash, unstained by the blood and fire of combat.

“Jack,” the Geist says with greater force, and now Jack is certain that the light of the Orb is giving it strength. Yet he cannot check himself; the Orb draws him closer. He draws near the dead man – and for the first time the weight of that phrase strikes him. It was a Geist when he fought and killed it, enjoying the work, sure of the rightness of it – but now he gazes into white eyes and a white face – and it is the face of a man, formed like his for the purpose of expressing passions like his, dead like he someday will be.

“Do you know why they did this to us?” the Geist asks, and although it seems it cannot stir a hand to gesture at the other dead men fallen in heaps around the room, Jack understands that he means them as well. The warrior shakes his head, his throat still too paralyzed by fear to speak.

“We know her name. We were her guard.”

Jack tenses, gazing deeper into the dead man’s eyes, as if he might read the answer to this riddle there. “Who?” he manages to rasp out. “Who did you serve as guardians?”

The thrusts and parries of a terrific battle of wills plays across the dead man’s face, and he rasps like a dying man, fighting his own throat to get the word out – “Sela-Ffionath.” His white eyes fix hungrily, yearningly upon the Orb, which blazes all the brighter, as if his gaze were fuel thrown upon its fire. “The Emerald Flame.”

The effort is too much for the dead man. He collapses backward, his head flops back, and Jack knows that his spirit has finally departed for whatever fate it was destined before evil magic bound it in an unclean body. Jack collapses too, giving in to a terrible strain he did not realize he was suffering. He closes the dead man’s white eyes and brushes his cheek, feeling no shudder of revulsion as he does – for this is not the body of a Geist, an undead monster. It is the body of a man, formed like his for the purpose of performing heroic deeds, of clinging ferociously to duty and loyalty in the teeth of Death itself.

Jack rises and lays the Orb aside. He assembles the bodies of the dead men and lays them out as if for burial, crossing their arms and closing their eyes, arranging the tatters of their clothing to cover the wounds he has inflicted on them. It is all he can do for now.

He examines the contents of the treasure chests but finds only Gold Coins and gems. It occurs to him that the treasure may have belonged to the dead men. The thought of disturbing it seems impious; he leaves it all behind, and taking only the Orb, departs the hidden treasure chamber of the Giant.

Add the Emerald Orb to the Pouch of Ghrul. Since Jack now possesses both the Emerald Orb and the Lorikeet Ribbon, he can access the sealed shaft in the ceiling of the Spike Room and leave this level of the Castle.

Turn to 15.