The Cloud Castle – Page 96


With the Shield of Balance at his disposal, Perilous Jack’s battle with the Beholder Lich is brief and spectacular.

The undead monster lashes toward him with an eyeball-tipped tendril, firing its most devastating weapon at the warrior – a Ray of Disintegration.

In a gesture of faith worthy of memorializing in a ballad, Jack does not dodge the terrible ray, but simply catches it upon his magic shield. The Shield of Balance absorbs the ferocious onslaught of the ray and reflects it back at the Beholder Lich. Jack has the satisfaction of watching the creature’s almost comical surprise as the ray strikes home. A series of magical explosions rip through the fabric of the Beholder’s body, bursting forth and as quickly collapsing into devastating vacuums, as if dozens of minute black holes had suddenly opened within its rotten flesh. A sparkle of light, a roar of vacuum, and an instant later the Beholder Lich is – gone. Not even dust remains to mark the doom of an ancient power.

Jack stands silently for a moment, panting with awe and horror. Only now, in the resounding silence of victory, does he clearly see what terrible consequences might have ensued if his gamble had failed.

He takes a deep breath, gathers the Emerald Orb, and flees the unwholesome chamber.

Back in the castle of the Cloud Giant, Jack skirts the fallen bodies of the Geists, determined to leave this place of putrescence and slaughter behind.


Perilous Jack whirls and cries out, nearly dropping the Orb. There is nothing living in the room, only the slain and shattered bodies of creatures now twice dead. And yet a voice – a spectral voice –


It comes from the body of a Geist. For all that it cannot be, yet there is no doubt. One of the Geists he has fought and slain, an undead creature now truly dead, never capable of speech in its life between lives, and certainly incapable of it now, speaks his name from across the chamber. Clutching the Orb tightly in his two hands – it never occurs to him to draw his blade again – Jack crosses the chamber, advancing on the Geist as timidly as if the body were his own body he saw lying there. As he draws nearer and more of the green light of the Orb falls upon it, the body stirs slightly and struggles to its feet, watching him come with dead white eyes. The creature’s skin is white as pure ash, unstained by the blood and fire of combat.

“Jack,” the Geist says with greater force, and now Jack is certain that the light of the Orb is giving it strength. Yet he cannot check himself; the Orb draws him closer. He draws near the dead man – and for the first time the weight of that phrase strikes him. It was a Geist when he fought and killed it, enjoying the work, sure of the rightness of it – but now he gazes into white eyes and a white face – and it is the face of a man, formed like his for the purpose of expressing passions like his, dead like he someday will be.

“Do you know why they did this to us?” the Geist asks, and although it seems it cannot stir a hand to gesture at the other dead men fallen in heaps around the room, Jack understands that he means them as well. The warrior shakes his head, his throat still too paralyzed by fear to speak.

“We know her name. We were her guard.”

Jack tenses, gazing deeper into the dead man’s eyes, as if he might read the answer to this riddle there. “Who?” he manages to rasp out. “Who did you serve as guardians?”

The thrusts and parries of a terrific battle of wills plays across the dead man’s face, and he rasps like a dying man, fighting his own throat to get the word out – “Sela-Ffionath.” His white eyes fix hungrily, yearningly upon the Orb, which blazes all the brighter, as if his gaze were fuel thrown upon its fire. “The Emerald Flame.”

The effort is too much for the dead man. He collapses backward, his head flops back, and Jack knows that his spirit has finally departed for whatever fate it was destined before evil magic bound it in an unclean body. Jack collapses too, giving in to a terrible strain he did not realize he was suffering. He closes the dead man’s white eyes and brushes his cheek, feeling no shudder of revulsion as he does – for this is not the body of a Geist, an undead monster. It is the body of a man, formed like his for the purpose of performing heroic deeds, of clinging ferociously to duty and loyalty in the teeth of Death itself.

Jack rises and lays the Orb aside. He assembles the bodies of the dead men and lays them out as if for burial, crossing their arms and closing their eyes, arranging the tatters of their clothing to cover the wounds he has inflicted on them. It is all he can do for now.

He examines the contents of the treasure chests but finds only Gold and gems. It occurs to him that the treasure may have belonged to the dead men. The thought of disturbing it seems impious; he leaves it all behind, and taking only the Orb, departs the hidden treasure chamber of the Giant.

Add the Emerald Orb to the Pouch of Ghrul. Since Jack now possesses both the Emerald Orb and the Lorikeet Ribbon, he can access the sealed shaft in the ceiling of the Spike Room and leave this level of the Castle.

Turn to 15.