Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/66

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heard. It struck in the region of the heart, pierced the lean form and protruded several inches behind the wizard's shoulder blades. He did not fall at once, and his convulsive fury was horrible to see. Clutching at the handle of the spear in a vain effort to withdraw the shaft, he swayed on his feet while great drops of perspiration beaded his hairless face and brow. The lips curled like those of an enraged animal. Between the set teeth poured a stream of gibberish in some unknown language. The rise and fall of Throal's tones, interrupted as they were by his spasmodic breathing, was vaguely reminiscent of an incantation. At last, while all remained speechless with stupefaction, he fell as a tree of the forest falls–full-length and motionless after he struck the sands.

For once in his life Rald was incapable of swearing.

"Look!" he cried, as if all of them were not staring at the dead evil which they had once thought to be endowed with everlasting life and the essence of immortality in mind and body. "Look! He… it… changes!"

A curious transmutation was taking place. The smooth flesh of the head began to wither and crack as if subjected to intense heat; pieces of the skin became loose and curled like dry paper. In a few seconds the entire substance composing the head, excluding the skull itself, had fallen away in the form of dust. The ashes, curiously, resembled the remains of Hess. A fleshless skull, with empty eyesockets wherein the magnetic orbs of the wizard had once rested, stared into eternity from its position on the sand. The black robe had collapsed also. Its crumpled outlines suggested that the same change had taken place in the body members. Throal was a naked skeleton; whatever witchcraft had preserved his shape through the centuries had departed into the hellish depths from which he had extracted it. The only remaining proof of his existence was the yellow bones of the skeleton that had, only a short time before, supported the semblance of an active and living man.

"Throal is dead!" announced the queen. She strove for a stern tone, but a quaver crept into her voice. "We will have no more of goddess or wizardry in the kingdom of Ceipe!"

"How about men?" inquired Rald with a quiet satisfaction.

"The men will be cured of their drug habits. A year or two will perhaps bring them out of the stupor into which this evil wizard forced them. I knew it was not right to keep the men in slavery, but I could do nothing against Throal as long as his creature lived. For had we slain him, Hess would have destroyed us all. We are grateful to you for–"

"For nothing! Had you not cast me the torch, my friends and I would now be shapeless things with crushed bones. But I am thinking of the men, Cene. A 'year or two' is–a long time!"

"You forget yourself!" She could not misconstrue his meaning; there had been a faint suggestion of sarcasm in his voice. She became imperious. "I am Cene, queen of Ceipe, and–"

"Once a priestess of Bast," interposed Rald, gentle of tone and manner, "the goddess whose dust is now mingled with these common sands. Once dead, Cene, you too will become but coarse dust into which the careless footprints of a future generation will be unfeelingly imprinted; your beauty will be spoken of with a halting remembrance–or perhaps imparted to posterity in the form of a graven bust that could only retain a frozen likeness of yourself. You will be dead! And all