The Cloud Castle – Page 63


Past the Piranha Plant Pipes, Jack turns his attention to the wall in front of him.

As the Lorikeet woman promised, there is a small opening near the ceiling, which would be entirely invisible were it not for the Crimson Slime perched on the very top of the wall. The presence of the Slime will make the leap difficult, but Jack trusts that with the aid of the Seven League Boots he can do it. He leaps, bouncing from the wall to the edge of the Green Pipe nearest the small opening. Clinging by the fingertips of one hand to the edge of the Green Pipe, he sweeps the Crimson Slime away with a single stroke of his sword and leaps to the relative safety of the wall. Now perched on the same precarious wall lately vacated by the Crimson Slime, Jack can see the challenge awaiting him – and a perilous one indeed!

The arrangement of the next chamber is diabolical to say the least. Beyond the wall on which he perches the floor is open except for a few slender pillars of steel blocks. The pit reveals much of the machinery of the castle – and the fate of any who misstep in this chamber. Below, the machinery whirls and shifts, restless as a sea, and any who find themselves tangled in those uncaring steel teeth will not live long enough to rue the mistake.

As if the precarious footing and the deadly pit were not enough to satisfy the sadistic whims of the room’s designer, there is the matter of the two Green Pipes which project into the room, one from the wall, the other from the ceiling near the far corner. Both Green Pipes ooze with molten lava, evidently part of the circulatory system of this machine castle, and the one projecting from the wall seems to serve the secondary function of burning off waste gasses, as there is an intermittent jet of flame billowing from its mouth.

Where a small section of floor exists in the corner of the room, the lava has puddled, creating an obstacle every bit as deadly as the pit. And there, precariously perched on a slender column in the center of the lava pool, streamers of lava dripping down on either side of her, stands Layla, Captain of the Lorikeet Guard. Her peril does not end at the floor – for circling watchfully overhead are her guardians.

Now the warning of Faiza attaches itself to a distant memory in Jack’s mind – for once he heard a traveler’s tale of a winged creature like unto a Cockatrice in shape, but with the power to set a man ablaze with the merest touch of its beak. Jack dismissed the tale as folly – but looking at the flame-red feathers and brass beak and talons of these beasts, he begins to doubt his certainty. And Faiza’s warning – she saw a Dragon Man ignite into flames – Jack shakes his head in wonder.

“Perilisk,” he whispers, naming the creatures in his own honor.

A plan leaps full-formed into his mind – but he will need perfect timing to make it work. He draws the Dancing Dagger of Danzibar, and as the first of the Perilisks wings for him, he leaps into the air with a wild whoop, flinging the Dagger into the center of the pack.

He lands, as he had hoped, neatly astride the first Perilisk. The bird-like creature, hardly substantial enough to support a rider, sinks immediately under his weight, while the Dancing Dagger thrusts and slashes in deadly dance with a pair of Perilisks, who do their utmost to snatch the pestiferous little thing from the air with their beaks. Meanwhile the remaining Perilisks, seeing Jack so near to beak and talon, dive at him – and Jack throws his weight to the side, causing his unwilling mount to flip over.

The Perilisk, outraged at its mistreatment, misinterprets the dive of its fellows and shrieks at them in fury, just as Jack releases his hold and lands – barely! – on the first steel pillar. Four of the Perilisks plunge past, wrapped in an inextricable tangle of flopping wings and snapping beaks, two of them ablaze with the fire magic of their fellows. They collide as one with the steel wall, and stunned, slip together into the whirling machinery.

A terrific screeching roar emerges from below as gears are hopelessly tangled by the introduction of the Perilisk’s bodies, and bits and pieces of machinery explode upward from the pit, showering Jack’s shield as he raises it overhead for protection. Seconds later two more Perilisk corpses plunge into the pit on the other side of Jack’s pillar, slain by the Dancing Dagger. More mechanical outrage ensues, while Jack calmly regains his weapon and casts a glance around. There are no more Perilisks to fight.

Turn to 36.