The Plateau of the Endless – Page 22


Plateau (22)

Perilous Jack’s journey to Blackrock Castle is relatively painless; the combined presence of the Dragon and the Dwarves serves to keep the wandering menaces away, even beyond the edges of their respective domains.

A pack of Wolves, a patrol of Goblins, an aimless gang of Ghouls – these are all the menace Jack encounters.

Soon he enters a forest of immensely tall and ancient cedars, whose deep shadows conceal the ruins of many roads and bridges, all constructed of a dull black stone. Although the fame of Blackrock Castle never reached his homeland, it is apparent that this forest was once the heart of a great kingdom ruled by the ancient castle. The wandering dead – primarily Wraiths and Specters – haunt the roads and other ruins, still anchored to a home that no longer exists. They are not inclined to violence, however, instead brooding over their private griefs. Jack passes through unmolested, into deeper darkness and silence, noting only that all the dead he encounters skulking through the shadows were once Dwarves. There are no humans among them, no Elves or other folk.

At last, he comes to the castle itself, and stops to stare in disbelief. Even half-ruined, the castle is immense. The forest has long since reclaimed the lawns and gardens, and even the moat is little more than a moist depression scarcely visible among the knuckled roots of the trees, but three of the towering walls still stand, nearly reaching the canopy of the trees themselves. Like the roads and bridges, the castle walls are all of black stone. The gatehouse gapes open, the doors having long since rotted away.

Perilous Jack enters the outer courtyard warily, sword drawn, straining to see in the deep shadow of the castle walls. Shapes flicker and dart in the darkness, not only along the edges of the walls but overhead as well; he guesses there must be FloatStone platforms above him. Even with his enchanted sight, he cannot make out the figures moving in the shadows. He draws his dagger as well and crouches low, scanning the darkness intently. A stir of movement above him – and now he is sure there are numerous platforms hovering overhead – draws his attention, and he tenses, preparing to fling the Dancing Dagger of Danzibar.

Suddenly, as his attention is engaged with the platform overhead, a huge shape rushes out of the blackness from his right side, charging across the hard packed soil at him with the hissing sound of a snake speeding through the grass. He turns just in time to receive the brunt of the impact on his chest. The huge shape knocks him to the ground, sending his weapons flying. He sees a thick, low-slung body, green scales, and suddenly the monster plants a huge foot on his chest, knocking him prone and pinning him in place.

In his periphery, he can see at least a dozen tall slender figures leap from the platform and advance on either side, hissing among themselves in a language he does not recognize. As he struggles to roll out from under the huge paw pinning him, a wide green face swims into view. It is a huge lizard, green of scale, with a wide triangular head and a sinuous forked tongue. A split-second before he meets the lizard’s eyes, he realizes what he faces, but it is already too late. The creature is a Green Saurian, a giant-sized and more primitive cousin to the deadly Basilisk. Like its relative, the Green Saurian’s gaze is magical, albeit non-fatal.

However, this is little consolation to Jack, as the magic of the Saurian’s gaze saps the strength from his limbs. He begins to stiffen as with cold, his body becomes hard and unresponsive, and as over a dozen Lizardmen armed with bows and poisoned arrows emerge from the darkness to cluster around his paralyzed body, he slips into unconsciousness . . .


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