Peace reigns. The sun of Midsummer drowses over the Mushroom Kingdom.
Beneath the sun, nothing stirs but a lone warrior, returning to his home after a long adventure. He is Perilous Jack, and he is about to receive an unusual guest . . .
Outside the half-ruined castle that was once his father’s, Perilous Jack spies a strange sight – a Fairy Dragon swooping and gamboling through the air. The Fairy Dragons are generally innocuous creatures, most no larger than a dog, and are mischievous pranksters, shape shifters, illusionists, and telepaths. What such a creature would be doing near his home is a puzzle, particularly given the unique nature of the castle’s guardians, which the little Dragon must surely smell. The Dragon disappears inside the castle, and Jack rushes to investigate, as much to save the little creature as to assuage his own curiosity.
Inside, the Manticores Festeguul and Grestia, who Jack employs to guard his castle and treasure, watch indulgently as the cat-like little Dragon plays and rolls about in Jack’s hard-earned coins and gems.
“Festeguul! Grestia!” Jack cries. “Do you let all intruders play with the gold?”
The Manticores grin at him with their iron teeth and Festeguul shrugs. “She seems to know who you are. She showed us your picture as soon as she came in.” Suddenly the Dragon lifts her head from the treasure and notices Jack.
She flutters across the room on her gossamer wings and circles Jack, examining him carefully. She opens her mouth, and suddenly a mass of bubbles pour forth, each bearing an image suspended in its iridescent matrix – a young girl in a rich gown, a fearsome Fire Giant, a castle, a great plateau rising from a land of stone. Jack is initially confused by this tangle of images, until he realizes that the face of the little girl is familiar. He waves his hands at the mass of bubbles swarming about his head.
“Stop, stop! Go back to the little girl!” The Fairy Dragon complies, reproducing her bubble-image of the girl.
“Vasilisa?” Jack asks, examining the image of the girl. It has been two years since he rescued the girl and her friends from the underwater realm of Mawb ad Gerr Guode, a sea-troll king of surpassing evil (see Perilous Jack and the Underground Sea). The little Fairy Dragon bobs her head excitedly and releases another stream of bubbles. Jack sees a cloud – no, a Flying Island, one of the legendary islands of cloudstone that fly high over the surface of the earth driven by the winds, and upon the cloud a great palace, Vasilisa in the throne room with a rich gown and a golden tiara on her head. “A Princess?” he asks, and the Fairy Dragon bobs her head again. Jack shakes his head in amazement – when he left Vasilisa last she was an ordinary, if adventurous girl. And now – a Princess!
Now before the warrior’s astonished eyes the Fairy Dragon releases more and more bubbles, telling her story from the beginning. Jack sees a dozen warrior-women garbed in brilliantly colored armor, beautiful as tropical birds, riding Giant Eagles with equally colorful plumage. He recognizes these warriors from stories told in the taverns – they are the Lorikeet Guard, a famed group of warriors who patrol the skies. Among them, the Dragon shows Princess Vasilisa, likewise riding a Giant Eagle. So the Lorikeet Guard have sworn themselves to Vasilisa, he thinks. Astonishing the changes that two years have wrought! He suddenly wishes very much to see the girl again, to hear the wondrous tale of how she became a Princess.
Next, the Fairy Dragon shows him an endless land of stone and dust, lava and ash. The Stone Lands, he thinks grimly, and his hand unconsciously strays toward his sword-hilt. The Giants make their home on the Stone Lands, and the Goblins have their mountain there. Ghouls and Trolls haunt the ruins of the Emerald Dynasty’s cities, and when night falls, the ghosts of a thousand ancient cultures stalk the plains. Next are images of a huge plateau rising among the broken stone pillars and arches. This can be no other than the Plateau of the Endless, he realizes. The Plateau was once the center of the Emerald Dynasty of the Old Ones, an ancient race of titans who ruled Malkat in a distant aeon. It is a legend-haunted place, unarguably one of the most dangerous places in Malkat, home to monsters unseen in the Mushroom Kingdom for an age.
Finally, the Fairy Dragon shows him a castle upon a cloud flying far above the Plateau of the Endless, and on the roof of the castle, surrounded by terrible Wyverns, a Fire Giant, glaring malevolently from the bubble as if he can see Jack. The images fade into another view of Princess Vasilisa, and the Fairy Dragon sighs mournfully.
So it is clear – a Fire Giant has abducted the Princess and her fabled Lorikeet Guard, although neither Jack nor the little Fairy Dragon knows why. As for the location of the castle, Jack knows only that it can be found somewhere above the Plateau of the Endless in the Stone Lands. Jack stops to consider. There are very few ways to attain the dizzy heights of the Cloud Kingdom, where the ancient, magical Giants have their castles. A few heroes have accomplished the feat by bargaining with Dragons or binding Air Elementals. A few have even used the wishes granted by Genies. But for most, the easiest route – though it is by no means easy – is to obtain Magic Beans, with which to grow a Beanstalk. Perilous Jack is delighted! Here is an adventure worthy of a hero of his stature.
Jack strokes the Fairy Dragon’s head. “Give me this night to rest from my travels, and in the morning I will make for the Stone Lands, there to rescue Princess Vasilisa from the Fire Giant.” The Fairy Dragon wiggles and chirrups in delight and flies in exuberant loops. She coughs up another flurry of bubbles, filled with images of her returning to the Princess’s flying palace to deliver the news. The Fairy Dragon swoops out the door – and an instant later, returns. She hovers before Jack, trembling as if with considerable effort, and suddenly coughs up a final bubble, much larger than the others. Inside is a thin star-shaped crystal, glowing with power: a Flake of the Eld-Star. Once Jack has accepted her gift, the Fairy Dragon departs, and Perilous Jack retires, visions of adventure dancing in his dreams.
Add the following to the Journal: Princess Vasilisa and the Lorikeet Guard have been captured! They are held prisoner in the cloud castle of a Fire Giant, somewhere above the Plateau of the Endless. I will need to obtain Magic Beans to get to the Cloud Castle.