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.The hollow thumps of his efforts echoed throughout the chamber.Several of the other boys shrieked and cried out.Cerril opened his mouth to yell a warning, but incredible pain filled his head.He lost control over his legs and fell to the ground, landing on his knees.Something moved, twisted with horrible pain inside his head, then his vision blurred and went out of focus.The pain felt like a rat eating through his head.Paralysis held Cerril.He couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't scream out in pain.A terrifying sucking sound echoed within his head.He gazed at the fear-filled faces of the boys on the other side of the room.All efforts he made to cry out to them to help him failed.Pain wracked through his head again.Something broke with a liquid crunch.There was a brief moment of relief as the pressure inside his skull faded.Then cold horror filled him as he spotted the snake-like thing that lashed the air two feet in front of his face.The snake-like thing was as thick as a broom handle and dark purple.Blood clung to it but was absorbed almost at once.Somehow the figure had thrown the snake-thing through bis head.Coiling on itself, the snake-like thing came back at Cerril's face.Three hooked claws clacked together at the thing's end.Still paralyzed, unable to defend himself, Cerril watched in terror as the clawed appendage bit into his face.Unable to fight back, he felt himself pulled around, falling into a helpless pile of loose limbs on his side.He stared up in revulsion, realizing that the purple snake-thing was the dead man's tongue, expelled over those sharp, bright teeth.The thick purple tongue lashed out again, leeching onto Cerril's face.Despite the lethargic numbness overlying his need to escape, the boy felt the tongue suckling at his cheek, feeding on the blood that welled into the wounds ithad caused.Cerril couldn't move to defend himself, couldn't even scream.The tongue pulled free after a moment and slid under his chin, the dark purple flesh hard and cold against his skin.Then the tongue bit deep, sinking into the fevered blood that hammered against his throat.Even as the renewed assault of pain hit him, darkness quick and feathery as a raven's wing swooped down and blotted out Cerril's senses.CHAPTER EIGHTThe wind howled along the mountainside, coming in from the east in great swirling gusts that hammered Haarn and whipped his hair.A chill hung in the air, but warm layers mixed in with it, letting the druid know the storm wasn't going to be an easy one, and that it was almost upon them now.He climbed with steady grace, managing the thinnest of grips with practiced fingers and toes.Straining, he forced his body up the sheer side of the mountain.Pausing to regain his breath for a moment, he gazed down at Druz Talimsir.The woman climbed the rope he'd set for her, but he still moved upward with more alacrity than she did.Her hair hung in sweaty clumps around her shoulders.Stubborn, Haarn told himself as he watched her, and proud.Both of those were good traits, if exercised with proper restraint.His mother would have been pleased with her spirit, but Haarn knew his father would have faulted Druz for her self-aggrandizement.Druz gazed up at him in defiance."You're not waiting on me."Haarn nodded and turned back to his attack on the mountainside, knowing the wolf pack waited for them.He could smell the stink of them, and he'd heard them growling amongthemselves, stoking up their courage to attack him and the woman.They were hungry, and a storm was blowing in.Wherever they holed up to wait out the storm, the wolves wanted to do it on full stomachs.He reached up and caught another hold, shifting his head a little to avoid the mud that slapped under his left eye."Are they still there?" Druz asked."Yes."Haarn estimated that less than three feet remained to the top."What makes you so sure?" "I can hear them."She was silent for a moment then said, "Then they can hear us." "Yes."They'll be waiting." They already are," he said.The rope slid against the rough stone fronting the mountainside as Druz pushed up.They think they can kill us," Druz said."Yes," Haarn replied.He pulled the other end of the rope she'd climbed up to him.As she'd climbed, he'd held onto the other end, managing a rope loop, and took it up higher to find a new place to tie on.Small trees and brush spotted the mountainside's edge.Haarn chose a thick-boled fir tree and tied the rope fast.Below, Druz swapped ends of the rope again and began climbing the final ten-foot stretch.Breathing out, knowing that their climb up the mountain had given Broadfoot plenty of time to come up the other side and provided a distraction for the wolves, Haarn pulled himself up onto the ledge.The bear traveled faster than Druz could have.The wolf pack remained hidden in the shadows of the brush crowning the mountaintop.Despite their silence, Haarn smelled them even over the howling winds.Their anticipation and hunger colored their odor.Druz threw an arm over the top of the ledge and beganhauling herself up.Wariness tightened her features as she glanced around the promontory.Haarn kept his voice soft and low."They're biding their time."He opened his senses to the forest world around him, searching for Broadfoot.Ah, he thought, there you are.The bear's scent threaded the air and Haarn didn't think the wolves had noticed it or considered its presence important.Druz started to draw her sword."No," Haarn said when he heard the rasp of steel against leather.He turned to face her.She cut her eyes toward his, her sword half out of its sheath."If they rush us there's no place to go.""No, there isn't," Haarn said, stepping forward."We know that already, and so do they."He walked beyond the shelter of the trees and out into one of the clearings atop the mountain where the rocky strata had proven impossible to dislodge.Standing in the center of the huge rock shelf half-buried in loam, trees, and brush, the druid spoke a few words of a prayer then inscribed a series of arcane characters in the air before him.The characters glowed an eerie blue for a moment then dissipated as if torn apart by the winds.Haarn felt the power of the spell invade his mind, opening corners of understanding to him that he could never quite remember afterward.The spell was an old one to him, but it had never quite become too familiar.A quiet filled his thoughts, then it was invaded by an angry series of throaty growls."What are you doing?" Druz asked.Haarn ignored her.If his spell was going to work, he had to stay focused.He concentrated on the growling noise, knowing that it came from the wolves.As his enhanced senses sharpened, he recognized that there were eleven distinct voices among the pack.Three of them were male.What is man doing? a soft voice asked.Watch, a strong male voice answered.Wait.When will we eat? My cubs are hungry.Soon.We all eat soon.Rush now, we may have to chase their bodies to bottom of mountain.Druz Talimsir stepped up beside Haarn [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]