The Plateau of the Endless – Page 73


Plateau (73a)

A celebratory cheer goes up among the indomitable Dwarves of the Eglantier Crest. 

Although some of their brothers are fallen and the IO is damaged, yet they have triumphed over terrible odds – and won plentiful treasure to boot. For it seems the treasure chamber in the lower levels was merely a storage closet, a convenient place to stash fresh booty until it could be properly presented to the Pyrohydra god. The real treasure is here, heaped against the back wall of the Great Hall, stuffed into the huge fireplaces, and half-burying the ancient throne of the Oakstump Dwarves who once ruled here.

There are coins and gems a-plenty, enough for every Dwarf of the Brotherhood to fill his pouch to bursting, and weapons of fine craftsmanship, armor gilded and bejeweled, rich decorations, tapestries, and housewares fit for noble salons, medallions and jewelry enough to placate the choosiest princess – and more – and more!

While Brother Wagbeard tends to the wounded, Jack and the Colonel rifle through the mounds of treasure offered by the Lizardmen to their god. Jack adds coins and gems to his pouch, as well as an assortment of potions and a rare Star Crystals. As he is tying off the strings of his pouch, Colonel Firebrand raises a great shout and hoists a huge sword aloft.

“I know the scent of this blade, lad! Come look!”

Jack joins the Colonel with some difficulty, for the Dwarf commander stands knee-deep in coin. The sword he holds is a huge two-handed affair, plain of appearance, with a helmeted Dwarf’s head for a pommel. The scabbard is finished in tooled leather, which is much decayed from the many many years of the blade’s life. Yet there is a distinct aura of power about the weapon; when Firebrand draws it from the crumbling scabbard, the blade flashes with sky-blue radiance.

Plateau (73b)

“Giantsbane,” Firebrand breathes. He sheathes the blade again. “It seems you are favored of the gods, my friend, for from pitiable captivity you have won the means to complete your quest. Take it.”

Jack accepts the huge blade reverently and bows his thanks to the Dwarf commander.

Across the hall, the Dwarves of the Eglantier Crest have gathered at the fallen body of the Pyrohydra and now heave at it with hands and ropes, straining to roll the huge body over. Jack moves to join the effort, but the cold hand of Brother Wagbeard on his shoulder stops him. He turns to meet the unwavering black gaze of the Shaman.

“Let them claim their prize. I have wisdom to offer you.” The Dwarf Shaman beckons Jack into the shadows near the wall, and the warrior follows, casting a single look over his shoulder. Colonel Firebrand stands watching, and at Jack’s glance inclines his head, gravely admonishing him to follow the Shaman.

Well away from the noise of the laboring Dwarves, Wagbeard gestures toward a fallen pile of masonry, indicating that Jack should sit. The Shaman draws a wooden tray from his pack and lays it on the stone, filling it with soft soil scraped up from the shattered floor. “You bear a mark upon you,” Wagbeard sighs. “Not only the mark of the Hidden Ones, but a mark of destiny as well. It shines forth from your brow like a burning sun.” Jack remembers the touch of the Iron Golem and brushes his forehead with a finger, as if to feel again the heat of that benediction.

“Let us read your fate,” Wagbeard says. He sits laboriously upon the stone and draws a slender wand from his belt, a wand of tapering, glittering stone, like a stalactite plucked from the roof of a cavern deep in the earth. He closes his eyes and uses the wand to gently stir the soil, tap and poke it, trace seemingly meaningless lines in the surface, all the while humming and chanting very quietly to himself. Gradually, under his seemingly purposeless ministrations, the soil in the tray begins to heave and raise itself. Wagbeard withdraws the wand and opens his eyes, although his steady droning chant does not cease. Particle by particle the grains of soil pile themselves in the center of the tray, forming a mountain. A chunk breaks away from the peak of the miniature mountain, leaving a broken profile. Suddenly Jack recognizes the shape – it resembles the profile of Crumbling Peak sketched in ink upon the Map of Sarkis.

Now the soil of the miniature mountain shudders, and a chip of ruby worms its way to the very tip of the broken peak, winking forth as if a dozen flickering candles had suddenly flashed their light through its facets. The effect is so reminiscent of the flames flung forth from the many throats of the newly defeated Pyrohydra that Jack no longer doubts. The divination is clear – the Pyrohydra he seeks dwells atop Crumbling Peak.

However, the soil is not finished speaking. The ruby chip subsides again into the soft pile, and now a new stone trusts forth – a small piece of crystal, winking with murky blue light. Jack grasps at meaning, and then comprehends – the Nightcrystal! The fleck of crystal is visible for an instant only, and then the miniature mountain suddenly collapses and gasps forth the last of its animation. It is a pile of dirt again. Wagbeard grunts and lifts the tray, tossing the soil aside. Tray and wand return to their places among his possessions, and the bent and gnarled Shaman thrusts himself aloft by means of his cane.

“The Gnomes of Earth have spoken. You understand your destination?”

“Crumbling Peak,” Jack says, rising. “The Pyrohydra I seek waits for me there.”

“And you understand your destiny?”

Jack closes his eyes, seeing again the Dreamfruit-nightmare of the Nightcrystal. When he opens his eyes again, he nods. “I am the Guardian of the Nightcrystal.”

Brother Wagbeard nods once, satisfied, and limps away. Jack realizes the interview is complete.

He gathers his possessions and returns to the center of the Great Hall, where the Brotherhood of the Eglantier Crest is just completing its work. The Dwarves have rolled the slain Hydra over on its back and cut the chest open, and as Jack enters the circle of light cast by their torches, a new radiance shines forth, lighting a greater circle. With shovels and pry bars gathered from a corner of the Great Hall, where the Lizardmen were building a new altar to their god, the Dwarves pry forth the blazing Hydra’s Furnace. Even from this distance, the heat of the huge organ – the size of a catapult stone, if not larger – scalds Jack’s eyeballs. The Dwarves laboring atop the monster’s body stream with sweat, their armor and shirts already removed. With a deft motion, they roll the huge organ down the slope of the body, and into a sling cut from the hide of the Pyrohydra, held below them by half a dozen Dwarves. They quickly wrap the Heart in Hydra skin, the only material capable of withstanding and containing its terrible heat, and the Dwarves hoist the wrapped prize aloft with a terrific shout.

Jack retreats into the fringe of shadow, heart aching as he realizes he cannot join this celebration. The Princess waits – has waited too long – and he must go. Colonel Firebrand catches his eye again, reads the conflict there, and gestures gently. Go, his hand says. The Dwarf commander lifts his axe in salute, and Jack raises Giantsbane in return. Unnoticed by the cheering Eglantier Dwarves, Jack slips deeper into the shadows and pads silently from the Great Hall, through the black doors, past the bodies of the fallen Lizardmen . . . and out into a night fallen too early.


Add 1000 Gold, 5 Diamonds, 5 Rubies, 5 Emeralds, 2 Potions of Healing, 2 Antidotes, a Potion of Haste, a Star Crystal, and the sword Giantsbane to the Pouch of Ghrul.


Add the following to Jack’s Journal: the Dwarf Shaman Brother Wagbeard has divined my future and claims that I have a great destiny. The Shard of the Nightcrystal appeared in his divination, and Wagbeard asserts – as did the ancient Guardian – that my destiny is bound with that artifact.


If you think Jack should go confront the Pyrohydra immediately, turn to 32.

If Jack has not already braved the Lake of Razor Eels, he can delay his quest to rescue the Princess and do so now. Turn to 20.

If he has not yet visited the Dwarves of Oakstump Hall, he may do so at 7.