Page:Weird Tales volume 28 number 02.djvu/79

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she was suspicious and resentful. While they argued, a dragon, prehistoric survival of a forgotten age, killed their horses, and the adventurers took refuge on a rocky crag, whence they sighted a plain beyond the forest and a city in the plain.

Conan killed the dragon with a spear dipped in the juice of a poisonous fruit, and they made their way to the city. They found it apparently deserted—a weird place, built all under one roof, without open streets, the halls and chambers illuminated by the means of burning jewels in the ceilings, and all the floors composed of red stone that smoldered like flame.

While exploring it, they became temporarily separated, and Valeria was amazed to see a dark-skinned man of repulsive appearance slinking with evident fear and caution along a hallway. She followed him, on a gallery above the hall, and presently saw him again, lying on the floor with his throat cut. Another man similar to the first appeared, who was overwhelmed with fright at the sight of the corpse. As he turned to flee, a hideous apparition appeared wearing a luminous skull whose effect was hypnotic upon the onlooker. Valeria cut the thing down, disclosing it as a man wearing the enchanted skull of an ancient wizard.

The man she had rescued told her he was called Techotl, and the name of the city was Xuchotl. He told her his people, the Tecuhltli, dwelt in the western part of the city, and another clan, their enemies, the Xotalancas, dwelt in the eastern part. He was urging her to follow him to Tecuhltli when four Xotalancas rushed in upon them.

The story continues:

She killed the first who came within reach before he could strike a blow, her long straight blade splitting his skull even as his own sword lifted for a stroke. She side-stepped a thrust, even as she parried a slash. Her eyes danced and her lips smiled without mercy. Again she was Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, and the hum of her steel was like a bridal song in her ears.

Her sword darted past a blade that sought to parry, and sheathed six inches of its point in a leather-guarded midriff. The man gasped agonizedly and went to his knees, but his tall mate lunged in, in ferocious silence, raining blow on blow so furiously that Valeria had no opportunity to counter. She stepped back coolly, parrying the strokes and watching for her chance to thrust home. He could not long keep up that flailing whirlwind. His arm would tire, his wind would fail; he would weaken, falter, and then her blade would slide smoothly into his heart. A sidelong glance showed her Techotl kneeling on the breast of his antagonist and striving to break the other's hold on his wrist and to drive home a dagger.

Sweat beaded the forehead of the man facing her, and his eyes were like burning coals. Smite as he would, he could not break past nor beat down her guard. His breath came in gusty gulps, his blows began to fall erratically. She stepped back to draw him out—and felt her thighs locked in an iron grip. She had forgotten the wounded man on the floor.

Crouching on his knees, he held her with both arms locked about her legs, and his mate croaked in triumph and began working his way around to come at her from the left side. Valeria wrenched and tore savagely, but in vain. She could free herself of this clinging menace with a downward flick of her sword, but in that instant the curved blade of the tall warrior would crash through her skull. The wounded man began to worry at her bare thigh with his teeth like a wild beast.

She reached down with her left hand and gripped his long hair, forcing his