Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/64

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and swung a weighty paw in Rald's direction. Instinctively, he dodged, well aware of the death in those curving claws. Sand slipped beneath his feet. He fell toward the adamantine ribs of the goddess. In a last desperate effort to maintain his balance he extended his left hand, which still held the torch Cene had thrown to him. The flaming brand was pressed forcibly against the side of the goddess of Ceipe.

The next minute none of the three could ever dearly describe. All they ever remembered was the ear-splitting, anguished wail emitted by Hess, a momentary view of flame-shot heavens, and the impact of a mighty concussion that hurled them prone on the sands.

Rald was tossed a distance of ten feet or more. His first confused impression, as he struggled against an almost overwhelming desire to lapse into unconsciousness, was that Throal was present and had struck him with magical powers. Fighting nausea, he managed to control his weakened limbs to the extent of rising to his knees. A few yards away Thwaine and Ating, unconscious, lay side by side. Of Hess there remained no trace, except for a small pile of gray ashes that were loosely scattered over the area of sand upon which she had been standing. Slowly the realization seeped into Rald's brain that Hess had been destroyed, was gone for ever into whatever limbo the daughters of Isis returned–perhaps because he had touched her side with the flames. For some inexplicable reason, according to some mysterious chemistry, the goddess who defied spear and sword was not immune to fire. He had annihilated, by accident, the incarnation of Bubaste!

During the short interval after the concussion there had been no sounds from the galleries above them; now the stunned silence was abruptly broken by wild cries pitched in many keys. Only one voice rose in anger; the other expressed only bewilderment. The throng could not understand the meaning of the fiery blast and the consequent disappearance of Hess. Screaming high above the many feminine voices were the harsh tones of the wizard, Throal, who alone comprehended the happenings in the arena.

"Down! Go down to the arena!" he shrieked. "Recapture the men and the woman! They shall pay–ho! How they shall pay! O spirit of Bubaste, O soul of Isis! Grant me the power to devise a fitting torture for these three!"

Rope ladders were swung over the lip of the pit, but for a time they were empty, for the warriors hesitated as they recalled the fates of the many unfortunates that had preceded them.

"Down!" commanded Throal. He was not a pleasant sight; his duck lips were curled back, revealing a set of fangs not unlike a miniature duplicate of the deceased goddess, and flecks of foam were visible at the corners of his mouth. "Down, fools! There is nothing there to harm you; my daughter is slain and unless I can again raise her body from the ashes the walls of Ceipe will go undefended!"

Several of the more hardy warriors swarmed down the trailing ropes. Emboldened by their example, others followed. Throal, a trifle ridiculous in his long robe, also descended.

Rald had regained his feet and Thwaine had stirred feebly. Ating was still unconscious.

The ex-thief found a fragment of his sword, merely the hilt and a few inches of the blade that had been covered by the sand. Taking the shortened steel in a hand that still ached from the force of