The Cloud Castle – Page 33


As soon as Perilous Jack has the Skull of Fearlonn in his hands, Professor Monkfish claps his hands in delight.

“It’s going to fit perfectly, I can tell,” he crows.

Jack lifts the artifact and slips it over his head. He can feel the bone plates shifting as he pushes it down, changing shape to accommodate his head. As the Professor predicted, the Skull fits perfectly.

Minkle Monkfish vents a terrible moan, which for once the Professor seems not to notice, so enchanted is he by the appearance of Jack wearing the Skull.

“This is the important part,” he whispers, reaching out. “You have to put the visor down . . .”

And as the faceplate clicks shut, Jack sees through the eyes of the Skull . . . sees the truth, exactly as Monkfish promised. The hairless head, the tattered clothes, the dingy gray skin – these are not the signs of long travel and captivity. The flesh is hard, gray . . . cold. Demonic red light blazes in the Professor’s eyes, and his lips part to reveal ragged bony slivers where his teeth should be. Not a man, but an undead thing – a Lich . . .

The skull-face clamps over Jack’s own features, tight enough to suffocate, and he tries to struggle, but now cold seeps into his muscle and bone, sapping his strength and will. The Lich snarls and tears the Forearm of Count Fearlonn from Jack’s belt.

“Meddling little piece of meat!” the Lich screams. “I had the Vampire paralyzed, ready to drain, and you had to spoil my meal for me!” He licks the end of the spike with an unnaturally long, decaying tongue.

“Now you shall take his place,” he hisses. Jack rolls his eyes toward Minkle, but now he can see that the boy is past helping him, past being helped. Minkle opens his mouth to vent another of his mournful cries, revealing the torn stump of a tongue, rotting and unnaturally preserved. The boy is a Ghoul, an undead minion of the Lich, incapable of thought or speech.

Jack struggles to speak, to ask why, and the Lich seems to sense his desire. “Why Vampires? Is that what you struggle to ask, wretched meat? Should I satisfy myself upon weak meat like yourself? Should the lion dine upon ants? Ha!”

The Lich leans forward until his terrible visage fills Jack’s sight. “Do not struggle so, manling. You are privileged. Lord Fearlonn has built a magnificent palace of skulls upon the Ebon Plain in the bowels of Gixyax. When you are dead, you will go to serve him in his palace, and your mortal skull shall be added to his battlement. You shall spend your eternity as the slave of the greatest Lord of the Land of Death! Does this not please you?”

But Jack cannot answer. Indeed, he will never speak again, for this is . . .


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