The Plateau of the Endless – Page 88


Plateau (88)

By now, word of the disturbance in the lower levels has spread among the Lizardmen. 

Now it is not only the huge guards they confront, but other races as well . . .

Among the newcomers are two races of DuskTalon Lizardmen, one with blue-gray scales and the other mustard yellow. They possess the height and build of a human warrior, with smooth oval heads and powerful long tails. Unlike the Giant Lizardmen, who wield their two-handed swords with more power than finesse, the DuskTalons ply sword and shield with all the skill, power, and grace of a trained knight, and Jack remembers the Colonel’s admonition not to underestimate his enemies.

Hard on the heels of the DuskTalons are three races of WhipTail Lizardmen. They are not bulky and muscular with square jaws, like those Lizardmen he has seen in the northern realms, but slender and willowy, with long supple necks, as he has heard several of the southern races described. Their arrows are thin and light, unsuited for piercing armor – but devastatingly effective when they strike home, as the WhipTail dip the tips of their arrows in powerful poison. In close combat, however, the small archers prove little challenge, as they are far more proficient with their bows than with the long knives that hang at their belts.

The battle rolls and tumbles through hall after hall, gaining riot and momentum as the Dwarves release more of their kin from the cells and more Lizardmen pour into the dungeons from above.

Suddenly an arrow sails from the midst of the fracas, hangs briefly in the air overhead, winking like a jewel in the torchlight, and falls, striking in the slender margin of flesh exposed by Jack’s breastplate between his collarbone and neck.

The WhipTails distill their poison from the WrackDance Flower, and it is foul indeed. Jack’s entire body goes rigid, his jaw clamps shut, and his limbs begin to jerk and spasm. The Dwarves, well-versed by now in the effects of the WhipTail Archers’ poison, rush forward and snatch him up, hoisting him in the air where he can suffer his convulsions away from the cruel stone floor.

“Find Brother Wagbeard!” bellows the Colonel, and the Dwarves bear him away from the combat, deeper into the dungeon.

Jack’s mind swims away and back, away and back, as if he were a cork bobbing upon a tide of pain. He catches glimpses as they travel of the stone ceiling, the torches on the wall, and the bars of the cells. A Darkwing Bat swoops near his face, screeching in bloodlust, but a Dwarven axe cuts its wail short. Blackness rises.

He emerges briefly to another image of horror – a goat like face, blasted of countenance, black and tumorous of skin, bearded with lank coils of whisker. He dimly recognizes the essential Dwarven structure to the face and recall that Dwarf Shamans are usually deformed creatures, nearer to the primal Chaos that gives them their powers. One of the Dwarf’s eyes is a huge milk-white orb, pearlescent and certainly blind – at least to ordinary sight – while the other blazes with nearly unbearable intensity. Around the Dwarf’s neck hang dozens of necklaces, some of beads, stones, and gems, others of bone, shards of pottery, bits of metal, objects that look like they might once have belonged to a machine, a chip of stone with a bit of broken rune engraved upon it, a tiny circular mirror, and others. This, he thinks through dull haze of agony, must be Brother Wagbeard.

The Dwarf Shaman mutters and chants and Jack smells the high sweet stink of incense, the earthy reek of a poultice. A crimson lightning bolt shears through his body from wounded shoulder to the twisted muscles of his feet; when he can see again, the Dwarf Shaman has the arrow in his hand. The Shaman lays a gnarled hand on his face. “This one,” he rasps, tapping on Jack’s forehead “– this one is too important to lose. He will reunite the Shards; draw the darkness back inside . . .”

“But the machine, the Hydra’s Furnace –” another Dwarf begins.

“Irrelevant now,” the Shaman hisses. “All is lost here. We are too few now to claim the Hydra’s Furnace. This one matters more. The Gods brought us here to save this one, so that he may complete his quest.”

The Shaman picks among his amulets and draws forth a cruel-looking shard of green stone, which glows with a faint, unhealthy light. He snaps the stone free from the chain on which it dangles and takes it delicately between his fingertips. With a snarl, he thrusts it into the arrow wound.

The pain is overwhelming. Jack screams, long and high, and lapses back into unconsciousness.


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