The Plateau of the Endless – Page 79


Plateau (79)

The heat and the roar of the flames grow until they are real . . . Perilous Jack finds himself upon a FloatStone platform directly above a roaring sheet of flame. 

A massive fireball sails overhead, exploding against the towering wall of the castle, and nearly dislodging Jack from his perch. Through the smoke, he can see powerful Lizardmen slaughtering the Dwarves of Clan Oakstump; he watches as a beastman stabs a Dwarf through the leg and then flings him into the flames below, laughing at the agonizing death his foe will suffer. Arrows dipped in poison hiss past his head (and he knows, with the illogical omniscience of the dreamworld, that the poison is distilled from the juice of the WrackDance Flower, and that if he is wounded his body will spasm and dance, his limbs will twist themselves around and around until tendon and muscle tear, and still he will dance upon the mutilated stumps of his legs . . . .) All around echo screams, explosions, the roar of flames, the hiss of the Pyrohydra . . . and the mist and smoke clear a little, and now Jack can see the face of the Ghost again, no longer the blank stretched white mask of undeath, but the face of a Dwarf woman, the ashes and soot on her face streaked with tears, blood running from her mouth. Her body jerks once, twice, and suddenly collapses, revealing a Lizardman behind her . . . he licks his sword clean and bellows triumphantly . . .

. . . Suddenly the vision fades and Jack is back in the corridor beneath the earth, outside the door of the treasure room. The Ghost is gone, her message imparted. Gasping and enervated from the aftereffects of the phantom shift, Jack stumbles half-blind into the unguarded room.

As Colonel Firebrand hinted, the room is filled nearly to the ceiling with treasure – piles of coins and gems, arms and armor, rich housewares and tapestries, bottles of potion and oil, fine wines and rare liquors, tools and machinery of war. The equipment taken from the prisoners – Dwarven axes and breastplates for the most part, as well as a huge flame-red axe, which can only belong to Colonel Firebrand – lies at the top of the heap.

Among the Dwarven goods, Jack finds his own equipment and pouch, which he dons hastily, hearing the sound of combat drawing nearer. The taste of smoke is still thick in his mouth, an echo of the phantom shift that serves to muddle his head and churn his belly. He leaves the rest of the treasure behind, suddenly nauseated by the thought of even touching it.

Outside the treasure room, he glances back only once – and catches the eye of the Colonel. The Dwarf seems to read his intention immediately, and although his face sours slightly, there is resignation and understanding in his eyes as well. Jack gives him a sorrowful salute and turns away, leaving the Colonel to his battle.

His days of whispered conversation with the Colonel pay off – he is able to navigate the labyrinthine dungeons with little difficulty, encountering few guards along the way. Soon he is climbing the winding stair up from the dungeons . . . toward the courtyard and the Pyrohydra of Blackrock Castle . . .


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