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Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/15

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opposite wall where he had been placed after being bound by the guards. His hands were tied behind his back, even as Rald's, in a most uncomfortable manner. Now the wizard squirmed, moving into a more upright position, and from the folds on either side of his black robes, from the spaces below his armpits, appeared two tiny, white-furred arms. The extraordinary appendages were only a foot and a half in length and terminated in small, child-like hands with short nails and pinkish palms. Except for the white hirsute growth they might have been the paws of a monkey. With nimble digits they began to pick on Karlk's bonds.

Rald swore fiercely in amazed horror. It was one of the few times in his life he was to feel the numbing cold of stark fear in his veins.

"There are many things about myself," explained the magician, placidly, "that no plan has ever known. By force of circumstance, you are now perceiving one of my—ah—inhuman qualities. I do not like to revert frequently to these characteristics; the task becomes a strain on even my abnormal mentality. But you must agree mat the situation demands a drastic remedy."

Nonplussed, Rald watched the unhuman fingers pluck apart the cords until Karlk's hands were freed. Once their task was completed they disappeared swiftly into the black garments and the Magician's more natural fingers loosened the ropes about his ankles.

"I fear," he said, standing somberly before the thief, "I shall have to leave you here for the while. You obviously do not approve of the methods to which I have been restricted. Thrall must die—yes, and Thrine also! That the death of the reigning royalty was necessary to my project I knew from the beginning; no member of the Ebon Dynasty would voluntarily surrender the throne while there was breath in his or her body. Neither kingdoms nor dynasties are founded without the spilling of blood. So they die. Later, I will return—so that you and I may talk. Meanwhile you will observe the Necklace and contemplate the power it can bequeath you."

With a swish of silken robes the Thing that was known as Karlk vanished through the doorway, leaving a stillness broken only by the slight hissing of the torches and the heavy breathing of a semi-stupefied thief beneath the double throne.

Rald did not meditate long. His thoughts were already too jumbled to reach any definite decision. A single, blank glance was all the famous Necklace received; the knowledge of the Lady Thrine's peril submerged all thoughts of Thrall, the kingdom of Forthe, or the fabulous jewels. Diamonds, after all, were only stones, and Thrine was flesh and blood; therefore, far more perishable.

It took him fully ten minutes to hoist his tightly bound figure upright by clutching at the tapestries with benumbed fingers and digging his heels into the tiny crevices of the stone floor. Only an able-bodied man at the height of physical fitness could have accomplished the feat. At last he stood, panting and perspiring, beneath one of the hissing torches. Taking a deep breath, he flung his bowed head up and backward. The abrupt motion caused him to lose his hard-won balance, and he fell full-length and somewhat painfully back to the pavement. But the torch, knocked from its niche, fell also, and landed with a shower of sparks that singed off an eyelash before the thief could twist his head. Luckily, it did not go out. Rald murmured an almost forgotten prayer.

A short while later he cast the cords from his ankles and chafed a pair of