The Cloud Castle – Page 29


Through the Iron Door, Jack enters a large chamber with iron plates for a floor and a bewildering tangle of iron pipes covering every wall.

However, the room itself is not half so astonishing as what it contains. Standing in neat rows are nine huge Warmechs, bristling with menace. Jack braces for an attack, only belatedly realizing that the faces of the machines are dark, and their limbs are covered with spider webs.

Jack draws nearer, moving stealthily for fear of waking the Warmechs. Deeper in the chamber, he notices a small pile of books near the foot of a war machine. They look as if they had been dropped by someone in a hurry. Jack bends to leaf through the open book. It appears to be but one volume of a series detailing the entire – unbelievably long! – history of the Cloud Castle. Jack is anxious to be off rescuing the princess, so at first, he merely skims a page here and there. But then, as more details emerge, he begins to read in earnest. In moments, he is immersed, eyebrows climbing higher upon his face as the terrible meaning of what he is reading sinks in.

If the book is to be believed, the Cloud Castle was built not by Giants but by the Old Ones, aliens who visited Malkat in prehistoric times, bringing with them technology far beyond anything seen then – or since! The castle is powered by a gigantic Hellfire Engine, the same type of engine that flung their starships across the gulfs of the starry void. But the term “castle” is a misnomer. Jack stands inside a device built for a single purpose – to conquer and destroy! It is not a castle, it is a weapon, and a factory to build weapons.

He has seen evidence elsewhere in his journey through these steel halls: the Tornado Shafts and Inferno Shafts that summon and bind Elementals, and the Pipes that assemble Psi-Mechs and Fire Skeletons. In this room, he has seen another facet of the factory’s capabilities. Each of the Warmechs in the room is powered by a smaller version of the same Hellfire Engine that powers the castle. They are autonomous killing machines, designed with incredibly powerful energy weapons intended to destroy not just single enemies, but entire civilizations. The descriptions of the Warmechs’ capabilities makes it clear to Jack that the contents of this room alone could – in the hands of a villain – conquer all of Malkat. Not just conquer; the residue left by the usage of their Hellfire Cannons could scour much of the life from the world and poison any survivors.

The castle must be shut down! Jack moves to snatch the next book in the pile, but suddenly freezes at the sound of a click-whirr from the nearest Warmech. Holding his breath, he slowly raises his eyes. The face plate of the Warmech displays the faintest blossom of light. Jack sidles carefully to one side and holds very still. After a moment, the faceplate goes dark again.

Leaving the books on the floor, Jack leaves as quietly as he can and carefully locks the door behind him. Only after several minutes have passed in silence does he mop the sweat from his brow and exhale a long-held breath. He vows to himself that if he cannot shut down or destroy the castle, at the very least he can drop the Iron Key into the nearest ocean.

If Jack has the Silver Key, he may enter the Silver Door. Turn to 3.

If Jack has the Brass Key, he may enter the Brass Door. Turn to 55.

If Jack has already explored all three rooms, he should return to the Hall of Lava. Turn to 15.