The Cloud Castle – Page 49


As he was taught, Jack brushes his fingertips across the three red feathers embroidered in the Lorikeet Ribbon.

Suddenly his body is as buoyant as if he were floating in water. He eases himself cautiously off the platform and into the air, half-believing that at any moment the magic will abruptly cease and plunge him into the lava below. Yet the Ribbon functions flawlessly, and Jack quickly finds that he can swim through the air as easily as he would in water. Remembering Hana’s warning that the Ribbon only functions for a few moments at a time, Jack does not indulge his wish to joyously explore his new power, but instead floats to the Green Pipe and touches the surface of the Warp Portal.

He is immediately transported to another Green Pipe, which also projects from the ceiling of a chamber. He drifts down from the Green Pipe into the room – and is immediately caught in a crossfire of psionic assault. Five of the miserable spider-like Psi-Mechs, a mix of Reds and Blues, occupy this chamber, and they appear for all the world as if they had been awaiting his arrival. Jack is driven to his knees by the twin assault of despair and rage, and so powerful is the onslaught that he might never rise again – until suddenly the Psi-Mechs are struck from above by powerful taloned feet and knocked aside, ending the attack.

Free of the psionic waves, Jack drags himself to his feet and meets the eyes of his saviors. They are Giant Eagles – and as more and more leave their perches in the cramped ceiling of the chamber, Jack realizes that all the steeds of the Lorikeet Guard are present – save the solitary escapee he met during his battle with the Pyrohydra of Crumbling Peak. The Eagles examine him with their brilliant eyes, and Jack realizes that he had better pass their test – for even a warrior of his mettle could not withstand the iron beaks and talons of eleven enraged Giant Eagles.

However, the intelligent birds recognize him from his previous visits to the Flying Island of Windflower and know him for a friend of Princess Vasilisa and the Lorikeet Guard. Jack salutes the birds – but has no time to do more, for the Psi-Mechs are beginning to regroup. He dives into their midst with his blade flashing and begins hacking at the weaker joints and places where the sections of metallic carapace connect. The Giant Eagles join him with a will, tearing open those pieces he manages to sever. As he fights, he notes numerous fresh gouges and dents in the armor of the Psi-Mechs – evidently the Giant Eagles had their own designs to escape but were foiled by the unyielding armor.

When the last of the Psi-Mechs spills out its brain-and-slime entrails, Jack turns to the examination of the room. The Green Pipe is too narrow to admit the Giant Eagles, otherwise they might have escaped already. The only other way out of the chamber is through a broad opening at the end of the room, certainly large enough to admit the Eagles, but securely barred with a magical forcefield of crackling energy. Jack does not need to touch the barrier to know that if he did, he would be flung across the room. The Eagles eye the barrier – as they no doubt have been eyeing it for weeks – with a mixture of revulsion and fear plain to see in their glittering eyes.

Jack draws as near as he dares to the barrier and peers through the crackling curtain. Beyond, he can vaguely make out battlements and a starry sky. They are on the roof of the Castle, then. A red blur shifts beyond the screen, and for an instant a section of the screen clears, showing him that the curtain – and the mechanism that controls it – are guarded from the outside by a giant Lindworm.

The Lindworms are ancient creatures, believed by some to be the offspring of the Salamanders who inhabit elemental fire and the Dinosaurs of the First Aeon. They are ancestors to the Dragons, although they do not possess the terrible magic of that race.

Frustrated, Jack turns away and shakes his head at the Giant Eagles, who watch him intently.

“I am sorry, friends. I must get to the roof another way, and approach from the outside. I will have to go back inside and find my way to the upper levels somehow. I know your patience has been tried to the limit, but I must ask you to wait a little longer yet.”

The Eagles cannot speak his language, and yet he feels sure they have understood him. A few of them peck and claw petulantly at the dead Psi-Mechs, but the older Eagles merely click their ruthless beaks and stand aside, hustling the younger, impatient Eagles out of Jack’s way.

“I will return as soon as I am able,” the warrior promises, and leaps again into the Warp Portal, returning to the Hall of Lava.

Turn to 15.