The Cloud Castle – Page 68


Stepping gingerly between the splintered remains of the Bone Dragon, Jack comes to a steel grate set in the floor.

Two pairs of eyes stare up at him through the mesh.

“Are you human?” demands a gruff voice from the pit below.

“As far as I know,” Jack returns. He is surprised to note that the steel grate is not locked; however, when he moves to lift it, he understands its value for retaining prisoners – the grate is heavy! Even Jack’s heroic strength is barely equal to the task. The pit below is black and reeks of foul decay. Jack is moved to pity for the prisoners, forced to suffer such wretched conditions.

From his pouch he draws a length of knotted rope, which he attaches to the frame of the grate and lowers into the pit. In a moment, a stocky, muscular man emerges, bald and scowling ferociously. The man has the appearance of one who has suffered long captivity – his flesh is hard and gray, as if the darkness of his cell had drained him. He is dressed in badly stained and tattered traveling clothes, including a collection of belts and bandoliers adorned with various pockets, pouches, loops, and holsters – all empty. The man eyes Jack suspiciously and then turns to help his fellow captive up.

The other captive is a teenage boy, evidently the man’s son. He is likewise dressed for travel, albeit in much brighter and more fashionable clothes, more like a well-to-do city dweller’s outfit than his father’s adventuring garb. The boy seems to be in shock from his ordeal; his face is pale and immobile, his eyes vacant.

The older man draws himself up with as much dignity as a dirty, half-starved former captive can muster and bows carefully to Jack. “My name is Mackle Monkfish,” he states. “This is my son Minkle. Young Minkle is on leave from the University in Bayren’s Ford; he elected to join me in an, er, expedition of mine. I fear his presence proved too much of a distraction for me, otherwise I might have overcome the Vampire myself.”

“An expedition, you say?” Jack asks. The boy shifts uncomfortably, which Jack takes as evidence that he is embarrassed by his father. Certain of the loops and pouches on the elder Monkfish’s belt suddenly make sense. “You’re a vampire hunter?”

Monkfish shakes his head abruptly. “I am a Professor of Antiquities at the University. I do a fair amount of field research, yes, and this occasionally leads me into the odd crypt or tomb, yes, but I am certainly no hunter. These, ah – contrivances – you see upon my harness are meant to hold the tools of my trade; hammers, brushes, forceps, and the like.”

“I see,” says Jack, reserving his opinion.

“Ah!” cries Monkfish. “I see you’ve collected the Forearm of Count Fearlonn – from the Vampire’s chest, I presume? I fear my blow was poorly aimed, otherwise the Forearm might have killed the creature immediately. Well, keep it, then. Consider it a token of my gratitude. Now then,” he says briskly. “There is a companion piece that will interest you greatly. There should be a wooden chest …”

The boy utters a hollow, anguished cry. Monkfish waves him off impatiently.

“Don’t be a child, Minkle. The chest was taken from us by the Vampire’s minions, and I presume it is still to be found somewhere in the lair.”

Jack gestures back toward the center of the lair. “There is such a chest.”

“Excellent! Let us open it, then, and I will show you a few items I’ve collected which may be of interest to you; perhaps I can arrange a generous discount, in thanks for your aid.”

Add the Bone Spike to the Pouch of Ghrul.

If you think Perilous Jack should linger and see what Monkfish has to offer, turn to 45.

If you think he should return to the Giant’s Castle, turn to 84.