The Plateau of the Endless – Page 29

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Plateau (29a)

While Brother Wagbeard and the Brotherhood of the Eglantier Crest mop up the remaining pockets of resistance in the outer courtyard, Perilous Jack, Colonel Firebrand, and the IO approach the huge black doors to the Great Hall. 

The Lizardmen have shut and locked from within, perhaps in response to the news of the outbreak. Jack takes this as an encouraging sign – perhaps the Lizardmen sealed their god inside because they knew they would not have enough men to protect it while they fought the escaping prisoners. Jack and the Colonel exchange a nod and brace themselves. The Colonel signals to his men, and then to the operator of the IO.

The Qliphothic Engine advances, charging her guns. Just as the IO is about to burst the doors with her weapons, a massive explosion rocks the castle as the doors fly open from within, releasing a tremendous gout of flame. A second fireball comes sailing at them from the blackness within the Great Hall. Jack and the Colonel leap to either side and the fireball explodes against the carapace of the IO, knocking it off its spidery legs and sending it skidding on its side across the flagstone floor. For an instant Jack’s heart sinks, as he is certain their machine – their principal advantage over the Pyrohydra and his troops – is destroyed, but the IO shakes off the blow and surges forward. The Colonel raises his axe and bellows furiously, charging into the Great Hall with Jack and the Eglantier Crest at his heels.

They charge into a scene from nightmare. It is clear that their earlier hopes – that the escape in the dungeons would draw off the bulk of the Pyrohydra’s defenders – were unfounded. The Great Hall positively teems with Lizardmen of all seven races, well braced to fend off an attack on their god. In the center of all, perched upon a high platform, waits the Pyrohydra.  Five twining necks with the girth of old oaks coil and flex, bearing snarling dragon-like heads. Gouts of flame erupt from every throat, and even halfway across the Hall Jack can feel the terrific heat of the flames, the volcanic breath of the Hydra’s Furnace.

Plateau (29b)

Jack leaps to a platform, where he swiftly engages with a DuskTalon Swordsman. The IO plows through a knot of DuskTalons and begins to scale the rough wall of the Great Hall, gaining height in order to rain its attack upon the Pyrohydra. Jack can only pray that the machine’s weaponry is equal to the task. If the IO cannot slay the beast, then Jack will have to use his Frost Potion – saving his life and that of his new friends, but dooming his quest to certain failure.

The IO leaps from the wall onto a high platform from which it can command the whole Great Hall. While the Pyrohydra is busy slinging fireballs at the Dwarves, the machine reconfigures its guns, drawing the lightning generators inside the belly carapace and extending a stubby cannon. The weapon powers up and the IO unleashes a terrific blast of frost and ice, which catches the Pyrohydra unaware. The blast is so ferocious that one of the Hydra’s heads succumbs immediately, flopping lifeless to the stone platform on which the beast sits, steaming with the incredible chill. The remaining throats scream in rage and fury and turn as one to attack the IO.

Jack and Colonel Firebrand are upon the beast before it can draw breath. They chop and stab madly, uncaring that their weapons will do little harm to the fire-monster – but their attack nevertheless serves its purpose. The Pyrohydra, distracted by their assault, turns two heads away from the IO. Jack and the Colonel leap away again, narrowly dodging the inevitable fireballs. The IO gets in another blast of cold, slaying a second head.

Now the fury of the Pyrohydra knows no bounds. Jack and the Colonel exchange a look, communicating the truth both recognize – no further efforts on their part will distract the monster now. The Pyrohydra unleashes its fiery rage on the IO with all three of its remaining throats, pounding the machine with enough explosive bolts to knock it from its perch. The Qliphothic Engine twists as it falls, landing on a lower platform rather than suffering the more damaging consequences of falling to the distant floor, but the operator inside is clearly stunned, for the IO makes no move to attack for a moment after the fall. Meanwhile the Pyrohydra leaps from its perch, moving with surprising fluidity for so large and ungainly-looking a monster, and pounces upon the prone machine.

However, the operator of the IO has recovered his faculties, and the machine writhes in the Pyrohydra’s grasp, sinking its iron claws into the monster’s body and scouring the broad chest with agonizing cold. The monster tries to bite the machine, only to shatter teeth upon the iron carapace. The IO breathes again, badly wounding the third of the Pyrohydra’s five heads – and at the desperate scream of the monster, a number of the Lizardmen engaged in battle with the Dwarves of the Eglantier Crest suddenly break away and flee, their resolve broken by the wounding of the god they believed invincible.

Perilous Jack and Colonel Firebrand take this as their cue to try their luck again with the Hydra. They leap to a high platform and fall onto the beast’s broad back, chopping with their blades at the unions of neck and torso. Weakened by the damage inflicted by the IO, the Hydra’s flesh yields more easily now. Colonel Firebrand chops away the wounded head with his great axe, and Jack blinds another with a daring stab of his blade. From the corner of his eye, Jack can see more Lizardmen fleeing the fight as it becomes clearer that their god is dying. The IO succeeds in releasing one final blast of super cooled air, damaging one of the two remaining heads, before the tree-trunk legs of the monster rip a section of carapace away and fling the machine off the platform, to crash onto the stone floor below.

Now Jack and the Colonel renew the fury of their attacks, joined by a number of Eglantier Dwarves, who clamber all over the beast as if it was a ship heaving in a storm-wracked sea. In moments, the remaining two heads succumb to axe and sword, and the Dwarves fling them away in bloody triumph, to rain in pieces down on the demoralized stragglers of the Lizardman army. The reign of the Pyrohydra of Blackrock Castle is over!

 

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