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.With a shuddering crash the drawbridge smashed onto the far side of the chasm, bouncing sharply upward before it came to rest again.At least two ogres tumbled off the sides-there may have been more, but Ariakas didn't see them.In any event, terrified howls added to the din as the unfortunate beasts tumbled thousands of feet to their deaths.But now the drawbridge was down and then, once more, that strangely musical howl rose from the dark shy;ness.The ogres thundered out of the tower in a stam shy;pede, bellowing their outrage and fury as the entire band rumbled toward the echoes of the dwarf's unearthly cry.Ariakas listened a moment, satisfaction growing within him.Even the ogres who had been pounding at his door rushed down the stairs to join in the stampede.The fools! He crowed to himself, allowing his pleasure to grow into a kind of elation.Quickly he pulled aside the tapestry and raced around the dizzying spirals toward the top level, his breath drawn in gasping pants by the time he reached the next landing.Struggling for air, he pounded higher, lumbering through the darkness of the secret stair.He passed another landing, and then another.A few steps above that landing Ariakas crashed headlong onto a solid grate of iron bars.The shock of the impact knocked him off his feet, sprawling to his back with a clatter of armor and sword.As the echoes of his fall rang through the darkness, he reached forward to confirm with his fingers what his intuition already told him: Someone had closed an iron grate, completely blocking further ascent up the secret stairway.Chapter 7Three Ways to DieClimbing to his feet, sword in hand, Ariakas pulled against the grate and found it securely locked.His senses tingled in alarm, and his eyes strained to penetrate the blackness.Had anyone heard his crash? He waited, but after a few seconds his immediate tension eased.The delay would prove fatal for whoever had blocked his path; certainly Ariakas himself would have wasted no time in slaying an enemy who so carelessly announced his presence.He descended to the first landing and found the catch for the secret door.If his memory were correct-and he knew it was-the room beyond the door was one of the upper tower levels.He remembered the circular cham shy;ber, with its rings of stone columns.Even in daylight there would be plenty of places to hide.At night, it could be full of ogres concealed so effectively that he wouldn't be able to see any one of them.Still, he had nowhere else to go if he wanted to con shy;tinue back to the lady's chamber.Slowly, as silently as possible, he pushed open the door.Peering cautiously outward, his eyes strained to penetrate the shadows of the large room.The moons had risen, providing the only illumination.The red light of Lunitari spilled through the eastern win shy;dows, and the pale wash of Solinari glowed to the north.The multitude of columns in the circular room again gave him the impression of towering tree trunks and a smooth forest floor.He felt keenly certain that there were ogres in the room.Why else bar the secret stair? For an unsettling moment he wrestled with a new thought-how did the ogres know about the secret stair? The lady had told him it was used only by Oberon himself.Could it be that none other than the great warlord awaited him within? Ariakas had no choice but to find out.Beyond the tower the sounds of ogre pursuit had gradually faded into the night.Ariakas deduced that the monsters had finally separated, since the noise of their raucous chase had soon expanded to resound from many of the nearby heights.There had been no bellowed crow of triumph, so it seemed that Ferros Windchisel had not been caught-yet.Ariakas found himself hoping that the dwarf would complete his escape, and not only because a longer chase would make for a more successful diver shy;sion.The courageous fellow deserved his freedom, the warrior told himself, surprised at the strength of his sen shy;timent.For long moments he held still, listening and looking.His eyes, already adapted to darkness, searched every shadow, every darkened archway between the pillars.Soon he saw the first ogre near the center of the room, waiting to the side of the main stairway.The hulking brute crouched in the darkness below the stairs, a long club or sword held across his knees, eyes staring fixedly upward.The second ogre identified itself by a dull cough that rattled from the darkness, not terribly far from the alcove of the secret stairway.The warrior shifted slightly, but he couldn't see any sign of the creature.Still, judging from the sound, he guessed it to be hiding behind a pillar three or four columns away from his own location.Ariakas continued his observations for many minutes.He saw no other ogres, nor was the telltale cough repeated-for all he knew the second ogre could have stealthily changed position since then.Yet, with the grate blocking the secret stair, he had no alternative but to advance into the room.He decided to do so with aggressive stealth.Keeping as quiet as possible, he pulled the door open just enough to allow him to emerge, and then stalked quickly to the place where he had heard the ogre cough.A shadow darker than the surrounding blackness rose before him, uttering a grunt of surprise.Ariakas stabbed, and the rude sound became a bellow of outrage as the ogre twisted away from the attack.A noise whooshed and the warrior ducked, shivering as a heavy club smashed into the column beside him.Ariakas thrust from his crouch and again felt the steel tip of his sword strike flesh.The ogre groaned, a deep and agonized sound, and the man pressed forward, dri shy;ving the sword home with all of his strength.With a strangled, gurgling moan, the monster slumped to the floor, kicking weakly, unable to rise.Another bellow jerked Ariakas's attention back to the main stairway.The ogre he had seen in the shadows was charging.Abandoning his wounded opponent, Ariakas raised his blade to meet this lumbering onslaught.Metal clanged sharply against his own sword, and the human staggered into a pillar, stunned by the force of the ogre's blow.The brute's weapon was a sword of immense proportions.The monster's blade whistled again, and the human rolled to the side, just beneath an explosion of sparks where sword smashed column [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]