The Cloud Castle – Page 98


True to her word, Sela-Ffionath leads the way, parting the sheet of lava with her magic as they fly.

Beyond, the lava pool spills over the edge, disappearing into a blur of shadow and red light below. Jack sees a dark shape flit through the air far below, and suddenly realizes that he is seeing the Hall of Lava from above.

A moment later they have crossed the gap and alighted upon a partition of steel bricks. Below them is the chamber of the Shard – and there in the center is the Shard itself. Jack draws in his breath – although it has been weeks since his Dreamfruit-vision in the Realm of the Nightcrystal, the horror of what he witnessed there is suddenly real again. The strange distortions of reality in the Realm of the Nightcrystal, the gruesome and terrifying battles between the Beholders and Illithids on one side, Cosmic Horrors and mighty Dragons on the other, the shattering of the Nightcrystal itself – all these nightmarish visions replay before his eyes in vivid detail. The Shard of the Nightcrystal throbs with dark welcome, like a vicious animal feigning joy at the sight of its prey.

From the tip of the Shard streams a vortex of dark energy, which twists and turns itself to regard Jack, as if it were a malevolent eye piercing into his hidden intentions. About the Shard stand three monsters, sunk into deep magical concentration – a pair of Illithids flanking the evil stone, and hovering overhead, a Beholder. Between the three, they maintain a constant, triangular flow of energy around and through the Shard of the Nightcrystal.

The work, as the Elven sorceress promised, is easy. Jack leaps from his perch, flinging the Dancing Dagger of Danzibar into the central eye of the Beholder as he does. He lands among the Illithids and guts them both with two quick sweeps of his sword. The Beholder, central eye blinded by the magic Dagger and still too bewildered by its rude awakening from magical meditation, flails uselessly with its tentacles. A single ray escapes toward Jack, which Sela-Ffionath deflects with a magical ray of her own. Jack leaps again and plunges his blade deep into the huge brain of the floating Eye Tyrant. The Beholder tumbles to earth, dead.

The vortex of energy generated by the Shard of the Nightcrystal collapses and the huge gem goes dark. Jack lands alongside the evil stone and regards it distrustfully.

“It is safe for the time being,” says Sela-Ffionath. “Let us continue and rescue the Princess and the Eagles. When the Eagles are free, the Shard can be borne away from this place and hidden. Do not linger, Jack! To the Princess!”

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