The Plateau of the Endless – Page 38


Plateau (38)

Perilous Jack knows there is no time to spare. 

The trail of slaughter he has carved up the side of the mountain will inspire revenge. Those few Wolves and Ogres who survived the tempest of his steel – or who watched craven-bellied from the shadows as he did the bloody deed – will be singing their laments to their distant fellows. Even now, he can hear the bay of Wolves, and the echoes of an answering keen. If he is still upon the mountain come daylight, he will never descend.

As the Pyrohydra clambers to its perch atop Crumbling Peak, Jack draws the pouch of Magic Beans from his belt and hastily buries the shriveled things in the black earth near the foot of a TowaShroom. He draws his blade next and cuts carefully across his arm, drawing a line of blood, which he uses to water the thirsty Beans. This is all the magic required to awaken the shriveled things to life. As he leaps to the nearest TowaShroom, gaining a clear view of the emerging Pyrohydra, the soil covering the Magic Beans is already beginning to tremble.

Now from his pouch he draws the hard-won Frost Potion, and with a prayer of thanks to Malkat, applies it to his blade. The potion flares into life at the first contact with the steel, obscuring the blade in a blue-white blaze of bitter cold fire.

The act does not go unnoticed. The Pyrohydra, roused to hatred and fear by the presence of the enemy element, turns its many heads toward Jack and inhales through its several necks, stoking the great furnace that burns in the chest of its serpentine body. As Jack tenses to leap across the gap to the Pyrohydra’s perch, it suddenly unleashes a string of explosive fireballs, which detonate against the TowaShroom on which the warrior stands, nearly knocking him from his perch. The balls of flame streak in again and again, exploding around him, a few blazing from the darkness toward the center of his body – but each time a fireball draws near, Jack strikes with his enchanted blade, and the furious cold enveloping his steel quenches the mad-blazing flame.

In moments, the torrential outpouring of flame begins to subside as the Pyrohydra’s furnaces burn low – and now Jack leaps to the offense, brandishing his blue-white crackling blade at the snapping heads of the Hydra.

As he draws near the vast serpentine belly of the beast, Jack can feel the explosive heat pouring from the monster’s red scales, but the magic of the Frost Potion envelopes him in a cool shroud, soaking up the terrific heat so that he can draw near enough to strike. He spins and dances, doing battle with half a dozen fanged heads at once, and for every one he severs with the frost-keen edge of his blade, two more enter the fray. There will be no end to this evil equation, unless he can locate the immortal head – the one head of the Hydra which, when severed, will spell the final doom of the beast. The light of the Frost Potion is beginning to dim; the icy flames are losing some of their fury. He must strike soon – and hard.

And now through the twining tangle of necks, a new sight strikes him with all the force of a religious vision – in the twin hellish lights of monstrous fire and ice-cold flame, that most ancient of duels is being fought far over his head – the battle of Eagle and Serpent. The Giant Eagle, still saddled with the sad reminder of the fate of its mistress, dives and sweeps, lashing with razor beak and tearing talons at a solitary snapping head. Jack is suddenly certain beyond doubt that this head and no other is the one he seeks. Yet a forest of writhing serpent necks blocks his way.

Behind him, the earth trembles, and the answer to his dilemma rises up to greet him.


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