The Frost Potion – Page 12



Perilous Jack descends a long ladder built into the side of the RedShaft.

The noise from below – a steady thrumming that vibrates the rungs of the ladder, punctuated by seemingly random storms of crackling fury – increases as he climbs. The illumination is fitful; generally dark as pitch, with occasional shuddering brightness that corresponds to the crackling noises.

Finally, the RedShaft ends and he crawls out onto a FloatSteel platform.  A stutter of brilliant light erupts at the end of the platform, briefly blinding him. As the light dims and his eyes adjust, he sees that he is in a narrow chamber, taller than it is wide to judge by the echoes from below. A curious waist-high creature shares the platform with him.

The creature stands on six insectile legs that gleam with a dull metallic shine, as if they were of burnished brass. The body is shaped like a pyramid and seems to be composed of interlocking plates of metallic chitin colored a soft pink tone reminiscent of the curious metal-crystal alloy used by the Old Ones to build certain of their enigmatic structures. A pair of eyestalks emerges, tipped with faceted crystals that flicker at him in a manner suggesting an owlish blink. In all the creature looks and moves very like a crab. The tip of the pyramid-shell glows fiercely, and as Jack shifts his weight, the glow suddenly erupts in another blinding electric display. Jack heeds the creature’s warning and steps back.

The Luridan – for such the little glow-crab is called – skitters away and disappears over the lip of the FloatSteel platform, clinging to the underside of the blocks with tiny grasping claws. Jack advances to the edge of the platform and peers over.

By the movement of the echoes and the uprush of cool air, Jack is able to gather that he is in the upper third of a kind of narrow chimney built into the ceiling of a much vaster chamber below. Luridans of two types – the brass-legged variety he has already encountered, which he thinks of as ‘Pinks’, and a type with dull golden shells and hematite legs he thinks of as ‘Golds’ – scuttle about on the walls, the underside of the ledge on which he kneels, and the distant floor below the chimney. What dominates his sight, however, is a massive piece of machinery built into the floor of the chamber below, consisting of a blocky body and a huge multi-jointed boom, which terminates in a grasping claw.

The Pink that menaced Jack a moment before, or perhaps a second, identical one, clambers up over the edge, forcing him back. As it clings to the edge, another Pink climbs the opposite wall on its own errand. As they draw near, suddenly the tips of their pyramid-shells flare and a stroke of yellow lightning leaps between them. Seemingly unaffected by this spectacular display, both creatures go on their way, the one on the wall continuing up onto the ceiling, the other on the platform disappearing over the edge again.

Jack advances to the edge and peers over again, in time to witness a similar spectacle played out with two Golds, between whom a huge bolt of bluish electricity arcs. A third such display occurs a second later near the edge of a pit in the floor, leaving Jack’s vision sparkling with bright artifacts. This time, the display is apparently near enough to the machinery to trigger some kind of sensor. Even as the stroke of lightning leaps between the Pinks near the pit, the crane arm lashes forward with a high-pitched whirr of gears and snatches up one of the strange metallic creatures. The little creature kicks its spidery legs and spits sparks from its pyramidal head in angry protest, to no avail. A door opens on top of the machine, releasing the terrific heat and glare of the foundry’s maw, and the mechanical claw drops the flailing Pink inside, slamming the door shut.

Jack watches for several more minutes as the machine grinds and clanks, releasing puffs of steam and gouts of flame from exhaust pipes. Finally, the racket subsides to a steady repetitious banging, as of a smith rhythmically pounding steel, and with a musical clatter a hundred or so of the brass tokens Jack has collected throughout the Labyrinth pour from the intestines of the machine into a catch basin at floor level. The crane arm returns to its starting position and the machine subsides into an idle hum.

Jack backs away from the edge, rubbing at his face in frustration. He is certain that this way will not lead him out of the Labyrinth of Malkat, only deeper into endless tunnels and shafts containing nothing but more Luridans, more token-factories, and likely more Minotaurs come to empty the baskets of tokens. He returns to the previous chamber to try the dark shaft instead.

Turn to 18.