The giant door opened on a room the likes of which Gerald hadn’t thought existed. He had seen certain of the chambers of King Thainor, and while they were lavish beyond the dreams of a knight such as him, the room he found himself in put them all to shame. The room stretched away from him so far that he had to wonder that the Tower could contain it. He supposed he’d have to remind himself several times that he was in a wizard’s tower, and to not be surprised at the unexpected.
Opulence did not even begin to describe this room. There were furnishings of a type that he’d never seen before, intricate wall hangings, dozens of bookshelves going up to the ceiling, stuffed to capacity with tomes magical and mundane. Merely crossing the threshold into the tower was enough to make Gerald feel unwell, and he steeled himself against the influence of magic on the uninitiated. Braziers burned on tables, spreading heady incense into the room, and as he stalked the shelves looking for a path up he had to shake his head to clear it of the fumes.
As he walked, he heard a scuttling sound behind him. Now to the left. And now the right. His head swiveled, but he couldn’t find the source of this insectoid crawling. He would have put it down to nerves and the incense, but he was in a magical tower, and the ogre had warned of worse dangers inside. Try as he might, he could see nothing but the furnishings and the bookshelves. The scuttling continued to follow him, though, and he had the distinct sense of being watched.
As he turned a corner and saw a doorway, he felt something impact his back and bear him to the floor. Insane chittering and gnashing of fanged teeth sounded in his ear, and he felt two iron strong hands grip his arms, and two more grasp the sides of his head. The hands began twisting, the snarling and gnashing growing louder and more excited, and he tensed his neck muscles to fight the pull of those hands. Their grip adjusted, and he felt furry, clawed fingers on his face, but he could see nothing!
The tugging at his head became more insistent, and in a desperate gamble he turned with it as fast as he could, rolling over and throwing the creature off of him. He heard it hit a chair, saw the chair fall over, and heard again the snarling and the scuttling. For a moment, in the smoke of a brazier, he saw a shape pass and disappear. It was four armed, rail thin, and looked to be covered in coarse hair. That was as much as he could see in that small glimpse, but he knew now that he was not alone.
He could hear it, at least, and did his best to follow the scuttling in preparation for another attack. A cry resounded off to his left, and he got his shield in the way before the creature struck. The shield rang, and he felt a tugging on it as the thing tried to wrench it off his arm. Gerald tightened his grip, and the monster pulled and swung him around into a bookshelf. The knight grunted with the impact, being painfully reminded of the broken ribs Mogurk had given him, and regained his feet, swinging his sword in wild strokes to fend whatever this thing was off.
Another attack didn’t come, and he crept back toward the brazier, a plan developing in his mind. He jumped up on the table and hooked his armor shod foot around the dish of ash and incense, and waited. The scuttling sounded from behind him, and he turned as quick as thought and kicked the brazier toward the sound. Fire and ash and coals cut a path through the air and found the creature, and the thing collapsed to the floor screaming.
Gerald was pleased to discover that his plan had worked, less pleased with the vision the ash had delivered to him. This was the ugliest beast he had ever had the displeasure of laying eyes on. Man sized, it indeed had four arms, with long, clawed fingers. The whole of the monster was covered in a kind of patchy fur, and it snarled and spat through a collection of fangs that Gerald was surprised could fit in its head. It got on all sixes, screeched at him, and leapt towards him again.
This time he was ready for it, and swept his sword out in a measured stroke, separating the things head from its body. The bulk of the creature fell against him, and he cried in disgust and threw it off. It fell back in the coals, which were starting a merry little blaze on the rugs that covered the floor. Gerald stomped out the coals, not looking to have to bring the princess back through a burning library, and turned back towards the door he’d found.
It opened onto a flight of stairs, and he went up, being careful of his steps. At one point a stone shifted under his weight, he heard the grinding of gears, and managed to get his shield up in time to intercept a spear that thrust out from the wall. It pinned him to the opposite wall, puncturing his shield and coming within a hand’s breadth of his face. He grunted as the spear retracted, wrenching his shield from the tip. From that point he kept a close eye on his footing. He avoided several similar traps, and made it up to a landing.
This open space in the tower was smaller than the ground floor, and was covered in thick strands that looked almost like ropes. They were everywhere, and bore a striking resemblance to cobwebs. As he crossed the room to the other door, thinking on this, he heard a low hissing from behind him.
Turning, he gasped as a spider the size of a man jumped at him from the ceiling. His sword dropped from his hand as he stretched out his arms to stop the thing from impaling him on fangs almost as long as his forearms. He grabbed the fangs as the beast bore him to the ground, using all his strength to keep them from impaling him to the stone floor. The thing’s eight eyes flashed with hate, and it bore down on him as fluids dripped from its mandibles. The poisons ate holes in the cloth of his heraldry, and in disgust he marshaled his strength and tossed the thing bodily off of him.
It rolled across the floor and got back to its feet, circling him with caution. He kept his shield between them, and managed to find his sword with his feet. He looked at the spider, and it looked between him and the sword, almost as if it was intelligent enough to make a plan. Their eyes met, human and arachnid, and Gerald made the first move.
He dropped low and grabbed up his sword as the spider scuttled across the floor towards him, hissing the whole way. He was borne to the ground again under the things assault, but managed to get his sword in between them. He stabbed out and caught the spider in its underbelly. It screeched as ichor splashed on the stone, and backed away as fast as it had come. The spider lived on what prey its master fed it, and none of those feedings had a sting such as this.
Gerald regained his footing and began circling, while the spider began to look uncertain. It was used to easy meals, and this was a fight it was not prepared for. The knight lashed out before it could act, and lopped off two of its legs. The monster screamed again and tried to back away, but Gerald pressed his advantage. Hacking with his sword, he cut the giant arachnid to quivering pieces.
Breathing hard, Gerald took a moment to recover himself. His chest hurt, as did his shield arm. It had been wrenched, bashed, and speared, and he was surprised that it wasn’t broken. He stretched it out, and as feeling began to return to it he took stock of his surroundings.
Gerald had never regretted an action that quickly before or since in his life.
The room was covered in cobwebs, but what he hadn’t noticed before were the bundles. Some were the size of men, others the size of cows, and still others were the size of the little folk. Or, and he shuddered at the thought, the size of children. At that moment Gerald resolved that whatever evil sorcerer or demon ruled this tower, if he met it he would make it pay for this.
Swallowing his gorge, he moved to the next door, and followed the stairs up. These went on for so long that he had to stop and rest while climbing them, and wondered that he wasn’t at the top of the Tower yet. It hadn’t seemed that high from the outside, but then again magic does do strange and unnatural things.
There were more traps along this flight, but he crept along with an eye to the steps, and didn’t trip any of them. As he climbed, he began to hear a sound, and this sound pulled at his heart so he felt tears forming in his eyes. It was the sound of a woman weeping.
The weeping seemed inconsolable, as if the woman had been trapped here for so long she had lost hope of rescue. Thinking back on what Dyzohr and Mugork had told him, Gerald reckoned that to be the case. If she could see out of the windows down to the entrance where Mugork had stood guard, she had probably seen many would be rescuers smashed to a pulp. And, if smell could penetrate the magical barriers set up around this place, had scented the vile smoke of the ogre’s cook fires.
Not wanting to dwell too long on the fate of his predecessors, he continued up the stairs. The weeping grew louder, and he began to think that this woman might be mad with grief. He wondered how long she had been up here, and what the wizard who ruled this Tower had done with her. The possibilities set off a great rage in his breast, but he mastered himself so that he might make it to the top and be ready for what awaited him.
The final landing was empty, and he thanked Enkil that this was the case. He hoped his luck would hold out until he had gotten the princess out of the tower, at least. The door before him was of plain wood, and he strode across the landing and grasped the handle. To his surprise, it swung outward onto the landing with ease, the hinges not even making a squeak of protest.
As the door opened his eyes went wide, he felt heat on his face, and raised his shield while throwing himself to the side. The great gout of dragon fire made his shield glow white, and as he watched in horror the metal began melting from his arm. With a cry he slipped the leather handles from his arm before it could melt his gauntlet to his skin.
He had been expecting this, after all. There was supposed to be a dragon at the top of this tower. He took his sword in both hands, steadied himself with a breath, and ran through the door, screaming, “Show yourself, monster!”