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When the vampire Dickon and his human partner appear in the middle of the night frightened for their lives, Matthew offers them protection. they carry with them a small Egyptian statue of great value and many secrets. By morning, Matthew has woken from a mysterious trance to discover that Dickon's human friend has been brutally murdered, the vampire has gone missing, and their statue has been smashed to pieces. Matthew has also made a dangerous new enemy, one who possesses strength even Matthew may be no match for.
For the statue is no ordinary artifact, but one of six replicas. However, only one contains a gem in the center, a stone of unimaginable magical power that could spell the end of humanity if it ever fell into the wrong hands.
Matthew sets out on a heart-pounding journey to track down the remaining statues before his ancient foe finds them. Racing across the country, the vampire teams up with both the living and the undead, though not all are the allies they pretend to be. Using his wits, he must unearth the answers to a millennia-old mystery in order to prepare himself for a final showdown against the evil stalking him at every turn.
Acclaimed fantasy and science fiction author Fred Saberhagen takes readers along for a trek of unbelievable suspense, action, and pure page-turning entertainment.
--From the Cover.
Mr. Saberhagen has written a rattling good yarn. -- L. Sprague de Camp
Vampires with a difference! And the difference is Fred Saberhagen. His writing mesmerizes. -- Brian Lumley
The adventure began for Mr. Maule in the fading daylight of a long June evening in Chicago, with the racket made by a terrified vampire pounding on his door.
The intrusion caught Maule at an awkward time, snug in his high apartment, with his vision focused on a glowing screen, his attention deeply absorbed in the material he was trying to learn. Just the sheer noise was jarring, apart from whatever might be the reason for it. More than nine hundred feet above Michigan Avenue, the soothing quiet that Maule preferred was the rule rather than the exception.
Even through the thickness of hidden armor reinforcing the wooden panels of the door, Mr. Maule could tell that his caller, alternating blows of an inhumanly powerful fist with pushes on the doorchime button, was, like Mr. Maule himself, one of the blood-drinking nosferatu. The delicacy of Mr. Maule's own vampirish senses allowed him to hear the murmured pleading through the solid barrier, and he recognized the voice.
The sole other occupant of the interestingly decorated living room where Maule was sitting was a breathing youth, only a few weeks past his nineteenth birthday. Young Andy Keogh had no idea that vampires were real, and so far he was paying no attention to the racket. Lank hair of sandy color, parted in the middle, framed a blue-eyed, sharp-chinned face, at the moment vacuous with concentration. Wearing baggy jeans and a lurid T-shirt, Andy slumped in his chair, toes clenched in scruffy sandals, fingers poised like nervous claws above a keyboard. He seem oblivious to the discomforts of this position, which allowed him to see both the large monitor screen of a very late model desk-top Macintosh, and the even larger screen of a new television. At the moment both of these magic casements stood open on the enchanted seas of cyberspace, displaying complimentary images.
The youth's ears were blessed with nothing like the sensitivity of Mr. Matthew Maule's, a deficiency having nothing to do with the fact that one of Andy's lobes was pierced with a bright narrow ring, a mutilation that irritated Maule, though so far he had been too polite to mention it. So the young man could hardly have heard the voice out in the public corridor, pleading for sanctuary. But the pounding on the door and the repeated chime were loud enough to force their way into his consciousness, even half-entranced as he was.
"Someone's at the door, Uncle Matt." The words were uttered dreamily, and with no sense of urgency. A mighty spell was on the youth, but it was no doing of Mr. Maule's--not directly anyway. What gripped Andy was the self-induced enchantment of the creative artist, brought on by what the glowing screens were telling him--which was considerably more than they were telling Mr. Maule.
Annoyed at being interrupted in what he considered his important studies, the man addressed as Uncle Matt rose from his chair.
"Indeed, someone is. I shall return in a moment." Maule's deep voice measured out the English words with only a trace of middle-European accent. He noted as he got to his feet that the room was growing dim, the midsummer sun having at last fallen below the northwestern horizon, and he opened draperies and switched on a single lamp in passing as he moved lithely toward the door. He was sharp-featured, dark-haired, moderately tall, informally but elegantly dressed. A casual observer would probably have put his age at forty.
The room had an unusual number of bookshelves, but enough wall space had been reserved to display several examples of European Renaissance painting. There were also a crossed pair of wooden spears, vaguely resembling harpoons, as decoration.
On reaching the front door Maule made no move to open it, but instead pressed a switch nearby on the wall, and studied the image that sprang instantly to life in the adjoining screen.
"What is it, Dickon? Who is that with you?" He kept his voice very low, knowing that at least one of those outside could hear it, even without the amplification afforded by the intercom.
Out in the hallway stood two figures, the one nearest to the door pausing with right fist upraised to pound again. Dickon's posture might have been described as menacing, but his face was anything but that. Dickon was a gray-haired vampire, of a little below average size for adult male humanity. Like Maule and the great majority of their kind, he showed no obvious grotesqueries of fangs or pallor. Closed-circuit video accurately displayed Dickon's Caucasian coloring, cheeks slightly red as if from healthy exercise. He could easily pass unnoticed in a Chicago crowd. In his left hand he gripped the neck of what appeared to be a simple cloth laundry bag. Below that effortless grip the fabric was bulging unevenly, straining with some substantial load.
Dickon's companion was shorter, thinner, and even less remarkable in appearance. His tousled hair was such a mousy gray as to suggest invisibility, and the hue of his skin was not much different. His contracted posture and the quick, darting movements of his eyes expressed deep, quiet fear. Both men were dressed in clothing so dull and drab as to almost defy description.
Dickon slowly lowered his raised fist. Gazing beseechingly up into the camera's eye above the door, he poured out anguished words in a language older than any form of English. "I pray you, Lord Tepes, allow me to come in. Let us both in!"
The response of the master of the house came in the same tongue, and it was icy. "No one in this dwelling answers to that name. You are assaulting the door of Mr. Matthew Maule."
"Mr. Maule, then. Please!" Dickon had switched to modern English, which he spoke with something of a mid-Atlantic accent, in tones that unintentionally suggested the late Boris Karloff. Recently paying more attention to television than had been his wont, Maule had become something of a closet fan of vintage Hollywood monster movies. He found it a seductive way of wasting time when he really ought to have been studying.
Dickon was babbling on. Something had upset him so badly that he was virtually incoherent. Knowing the elder vampire as he did, Maule was not particularly surprised; Boris Karloff could have terrified Dickon without half trying.
Now the vampire outside the door was saying: "My associate here is Mr. Tamarack, and he is every bit as harmless as he looks. We beg you! It is a matter of life and death."
Studying the video image of Mr. Tamarack, Maule felt ninety-nine per cent certain that Dickon's companion was no vampire. Considering the company that Tamarack was in, Maule would have been willing to wager he was not your ordinary breather either; but perhaps that was irrelevant. Certainly the fellow gave no impression of menace.
Still Maule hesitated, his long, pale, sharp-nailed fingers drumming briefly on the wall beside the screen. Dickon had never been invited into Maule's house, not into this one anyway, and in the case of a vampire the invitation once extended tended to become permanent. Maule would have preferred to keep the importunate one out on the doorstep while they talked, but he thought Dickon in his present mood would not stand for that. Driving him away would probably require a serious effort, and might create more of a problem than letting him in. Living nine hundred feet above the middle of a huge city had advantages, particularly when one could fly; but there were drawbacks to dwelling in any apartment, including the fact that invariably some neighbors were nearby.
Maule sighed, a habit that had outlasted by centuries his biological need to breathe. To the supplicants on his doorstep he declared: "Very well, then. But I warn you that the young man you will see here is a--distant relative of mine, and to be respected as such. He is perfectly mundane. You will both conduct yourselves accordingly."
"Of course, Mr. Maule, of course!" Dickon was almost slobbering in his gratitude.
Mr. Tamarack still said nothing. If his fear had been much relieved by being granted sanctuary, he gave no sign of it. Possibly he had not even understood the English words. Quietness and unobtrusiveness seemed to be Tamarack's game, as if he might be willing to disappear from the universe altogether if that were possible. Also he was now swaying on his feet, as if on his last legs, though whether his condition was due to drugs, illness, injury, or simple exhaustion was more than Maule cared to try to determine at the moment.
The door opened briefly and quickly closed again, all three men now inside. Dickon, enormously reassured just by having been allowed to cross the threshold, was already peering with curiosity from the small entry into the living room.
His whisper was almost inaudible, even to Maule. "What is he doing?"
Young Andy Keogh's face was still turned away from the men in the entryway, toward the two glowing screens. He was still totally absorbed in his craft, hands on the computer keyboard, and at a distance of fifteen feet or so he could not have heard the tiny whisper anyway. But Maule's response was just as quiet.
"Among other things, my relative is helping me prepare to establish a web site. He should be departing soon--probably within the hour. Then we will talk."
"Web site." Dickon echoed the words without inflection, without any suggestion that he understood them. It was as if the only web sites he had ever heard of were those occupied by spiders. Much the same would have been true of Mr. Maule, until quite recently. As for the silent Mr. Tamarack, if he had ever heard the phrase before, he gave no sign.
Young Andy barely looked up from his keyboard and his screens, as Dickon and his silent companion, the former still lugging the weighty laundry bag, were conducted past him through the living room, and on down the short hallway leading to the three bedrooms.
The chamber into which Maule led his visitors, switching on lights as he entered, was one of his spares, used now and then by breathing or unbreathing guests, neatly furnished but as bland and undistinguished as a hotel room. Once Mr. Tamarack found himself in a private and enclosed place, with two closed doors between him and the outer world, he slumped into a chair beside the bed. If he did not exactly fall asleep the instant he sat down, he did give the impression that mental oblivion might claim him at any moment.
Dickon had immediately gone to the window to make sure the drapes were closed as tight as possible; that anyone or anything who might come flying by out there could not see in.
Turning back to meet Maule's inquiring look, the gray-haired one sighed. Twice he began what must have been an explanation, and twice fell silent before he had really said anything at all.
On his third attempt he got out a wrenching cry: "My eternal gratitude, dear Mr. Maule! You in turn are welcome in any residence of mine, whenever you choose to honor me!"
"Try to calm yourself, Dickon." Maule was leaning with his back against the door, arms folded. "Just what is so frightful this time?" The last time had been a year and a half ago, when an encounter with a group of Christmas carolers, of all things, had brought on a serious panic attack, though not as bad as this one seemed to be.
"We are being hunted." said Dickon simply. "Stalked. Our lives have been attempted." With a minimal gesture he indicated that he meant Tamarack and himself.
"Hunted by whom? Not carolers again?"
The elder's cheeks grew redder at the suggestion. "No. I said I was sorry about that."
"So you did. Then what is it? Some breathing fan of vampire novels is ready to believe in you? You have been threatened with crucifixes, caught a whiff of garlic, heard enemies sharpening their wooden stakes? Bah! Surely in almost a thousand years you have learned ways to deal with that sort of thing?" Dickon was not only the most cowardly vampire Maule had ever met, but probably the oldest, though Maule suspected that a few even more ancient could be somewhere in the world.
Dickon looked pained. He assured his host that this time there was much more to the matter than overexcited fans of horror being carried away by their own enthusiasm.
The old one was trying to summon up his dignity. "Really, Mr. Maule, it is Mr. Tamarack's story, and I feel he should be the one to tell you."
Both men glanced at their silent companion, but he seemed to have fallen thoroughly out of touch, head nodding as he sank gradually deeper into his chair, giving way to what looked like a sleep of absolute exhaustion. The regular rise and fall of chest and shoulders showed that he was indeed a breather.
"Does he speak English?" Maule wondered aloud.
"Of course. And many other languages. He is a true adept."
"A true what?"
Dickon looked uncomfortable. He seemed unable to come up with an answer.
Maule was nodding. His voice and manner were sardonic. "I know the type who usually claim that title. Usually a true 'inept' would be more like it. Pining to belong to some ultimate inner circle of secret knowledge and ancient wisdom. Master of many languages, or so he claims, but at the moment nothing at all to say . . . so, it is up to you to tell me something about this terrifying threat."
Dickon swallowed. "An hour ago, Tamarack and I were in Old Town. Are you familiar--?"
"With Old Town? Of course. The neighborhood about a mile north of here. Go on."
The old one made a spasmodic gesture with both hands, elegantly conveying the idea of chaos. "There was--destruction, that barely missed us. Only by a miracle did we escape with our lives! I had to abandon my car."
Maule raised an eyebrow. "Car? You are no longer living in that recreational vehicle, like a turtle in its shell?" Last year Dickon had inhabited a kind of house on wheels, taking comfort from the fact that so long as he stayed inside his dwelling, other vampires, lacking an invitation to come in, would be unable to attack him. The brilliance of this arrangement was somewhat dimmed by the fact that, as far as Maule knew, the poor wretch had no real enemies, nosferatu or otherwise.
"No, I had to give that up. It was too--conspicuous. And the parking often impossible. And the license-"
"Yes, yes. Never mind. Tell me of this 'destruction' that has sent you fleeing. Exactly what was destroyed in Old Town?"
Gasping like a breather, Dickon took in air to speak. "A whole building, our home and our place of work. Gone, ruined, within seconds after Tamarack and I were out the door."
"A building destroyed. Do you mean by fire?"
"Fire and destruction, certainly. And worse. Violence. Death."
Dickon hesitated. "Perhaps not death, but very nearly. It all happened in broad daylight, so I could not change form. Or even reach my car, it was parked too near . . . we came here in Tamarack's vehicle."
"You are gibbering. If you cannot control yourself, you will have to leave."
The threat had the desired calming effect. Relapsing into the ancient tongue, the elder asked: "Vlad Tepes, what do you know of the Great Work?"
Maule had to stop and think for a moment before he could fit the words into a sensible context. Then the answer seemed to shape itself more naturally in Latin. "Opus magnum? Are you asking me about alchemy?"
When Dickon nodded tensely, Maule went on: "I know about as much as I find useful: which is that the great majority of the practitioners are idiots." Suddenly a dark eyebrow went up, and he chuckled, reverting to modern English. "Don't tell me a gang of alchemists are after you? A posse of inepts. They've decided that powdered vampire is really the Philosopher's Stone?"
Dickon shuddered and closed his eyes. Now he was shaking his head sadly.
"You may think less of me, Lord--Mr. Maule, when I admit that I myself have lately become an active alchemist."
Maule gave a non-committal grunt. He could hardly find it possible to think less of Dickon and still think of him at all.
"But, lord, I swear to you that we, my two partners and my humble self, were on the very brink of success!" Dickon seemed to gather himself for a substantial effort, as if what he was about to divulge would not be easy. "You speak of the Philosopher's Stone. Dear Mr. Maule, I swear to you that the goal of every master of the art--yes, I mean the very Stone itself-- was practically within our grasp! If we had been allowed another few hours, perhaps, or even a few minutes . . ." He raised both arms, and let them shake. In his long, long life he had acquired a strange repertoire of gestures.
"So, who attacked you?"
The answer was so low that Maule could barely hear it. "I fear that our most deadly enemy is a god."
"Bah! One need not possess even a spark of divinity to start a fire." Now Maule felt truly though quietly angry. He shook his head. "There is but one God, Dickon, that anyone need fear. Were you never baptized?"
"Baptized, my lord? Oh, several times. Truthfully, more than several. Twice by total immersion." He rushed on. "No, my lord, I assure you it is no joke that brings us here, no mere religious quarrel . . . if I may use your telephone? My cell phone's back there in my automobile, and I must somehow reach Flamel to warn him. If it is not too late."
Suddenly Maule was more attentive. "Flamel? Just who is that?"
"Our third partner in the Great Work."
"I knew a man of that name, decades ago." Maule was shaking his head. In his experience, almost none of Dickon's alarms were ever to be taken seriously. "We shall see about the phone. What are you carrying in your bag?"
"Oh! Allow me to show you. I will have no secrets from you, lord, ah, Mr. Maule. And it will perhaps make explanation easier." On entering the room, Dickon had tossed his weighty cloth bag on the bed. Now he reached into it and began to remove its contents, item by item. There were about a dozen things in all, each individually swathed, some in paper, some in plastic sandwich bags, some in bubble-wrap held on with rubber bands.
"I hope you are not unpacking for a lengthy stay."
"Oh, no, Mr. Maule! Nothing like that, I assure you. Only a few objects that I managed to save . . . and some that were in Tamarack's car already."
Leaning against the door jamb, Maule watched, frowning, as bits and pieces of what looked like alchemical equipment made their appearance, a couple of small flasks, a metal clamp, little tubes of twisted glass. There were two books, one of them looking really ancient.
Now Dickon dumped out the last of the contents, all carelessly unwrapped, consisting of a few common items, spare men's shirts and underwear, aspirin and over-the-counter vitamins, a cheap safety razor. Giving the empty bag a shake he cast it aside, with an air of one who had revealed all his secrets.
All in all, Maule considered, it had been a strange speech, a strange performance, even coming from Dickon. For a few moments Maule stood frowning at the incomprehensible display scattered across the bed. At last, with a foreboding that he would soon regret his curiosity, he simply asked, politely: "May I?"
Lifting one at a time some of the more interesting objects in their little cocoons of bubble-wrap or crumpled newspaper, partially unwrapping a few of them in turn, Maule conducted an examination, probing with his mind as much as with his fingers.
One item in the trove was a panel of thin wood, approximately a foot square, painted in brilliant colors in a way that suggested a miniature door. The little door was skillfully decorated with what Maule, who was no expert in the field, took to be Egyptian hieroglyphics. There were also neatly, brightly painted images of small animals, predominantly beetles.
At last setting the panel gently down, Maule picked up the next piece, a package the size of a thin man's forearm. His frown deepening, Maule held it in his hand longer than any of the others. Inside clear plastic was what appeared to be quite a simple small statue, carved or molded in whitish material that felt like plaster, of no particular artistic merit. The slender figure, whether animal or human was hard to tell, was very slightly chipped in a couple of places. It stood on two small feet on a narrow plaster base. The arms, or forelimbs, swathed in concealing drapery, hung straight at the sides. The face unpleasantly combined a pug nose with a long jaw and a suggestion of large teeth.
Maule weighed the statue thoughtfully in his hand; it did not seem quite heavy enough for solid plaster. He noted that Dickon was now watching him with a faint smirk of satisfaction, as if to say: Yes, that is it. I felt confident that you would pick out the most important thing.
Something about the object curiously jogged Maule's memory--surely at some point in more than a half-millennium of life he had encountered another relic very much like this one. And not in any museum, either, but in some more memorable environment, amid circumstances that ought to have made the encounter hard to forget. But where had it been, and when?
Finally he challenged Dickon, pushing the thing at him: "Just what is this?"
Dickon put both hands behind his back, as if he feared Maule had some ulterior motive in thrusting the grotesque artifact upon him. His answer came reluctantly. "A very old statue, lord."
"I can see that."
The other writhed as with internal discomfort. "I have--have been given reason to believe that it will be of enormous value to us in completing the Great Work. As to just how . . ." He shrugged.
"As to just how, you wish to keep that secret."
"No, lord!" There had been no threat in the words, but Dickon could not keep from cringing. "I meant what I said, to have no secrets from you. We do not yet know the secret!"
"Very well." Maule shrugged, and tossed the package back on the bed. "Where did you get it?"
"That is a long story, Mr. Maule, and very complicated. Lord Tepes, in even discussing this with you I am trusting you with the heart, the key, of our secret of success. Tamarack says we only need--"
"Yes, it is always the same story with the inepts. Always just one more secret ingredient, one slight improvement in the mystic incantation, one delicate adjustment in our laboratory techniques, and our success is guaranteed. When we have the Philospher's Stone we shall be able to know all things and do all things. Lead will be turned into gold, and our own evil hearts into . . ."
Maule let his words trail off. A memory had stirred, one he could almost grasp--but not quite.
Except for the two items he had examined carefully, the things in Dickon's collection were all completely innocent of occult power, as far as Maule could tell. The painted door and the little statue were special cases, artifacts of such formidable antiquity, both thousands of years old. As usual, extreme age in itself lent a tinge of the supernatural to human handiwork. But Maule doubted that a real magician would consider any of this stuff worth fighting and killing for.
Instinctively dusting off his fingers, though they had had but little contact with anything but modern wrappings, Maule asked: "So, what we have is this: there was a fire in Old Town, that destroyed a building, and also prevented your moving your parked car? And the two of you fled the scene, because you think some kind of god is chasing you?"
A measure of Dickon's recent fear returned to his ruddy face. "I fear it may be so. At least someone armed with truly godlike powers."
"And you have come to me for protection."
"Dear Mr. Maule, we both know of many individuals, humans as well as--as certain others-- who would be perfectly ready to persecute me. For one unjust reason or another. But who, on the other hand, would never dream of--of--"
"Of even irritating me. Yes, I take your point. It will be a brave caroler or alchemist--or would-be god--who tries to set fire to my apartment."
Dickon managed a smile. "And, because I am sure we are confronted by a being far mightier than any ordinary human, I would much prefer that you rather than I should attempt such, ah, negotiations as may become necessary." Basking in his present feeling of relative safety as in grateful warmth, Dickon seemed inclined to become secretive again.
"I am honored by your confidence," said Maule drily. Faintly from the living room there sounded a rapid-fire burst of keyboard clicks--young Andy had emerged from another period of deliberation, and was issuing commands to his machines.
Inwardly Maule had now relaxed almost completely. But he thought that, just to be on the safe side, when his young instructor in the arcane arts of software and the internet shortly took his leave, he, Maule, would ride with him in the elevator down to the garage, there to see him safely into a cab and on his way back to his own apartment. Andy's parents lived in the suburbs, while the young man shared student quarters on a crowded city street, within walking distance of Thomas More University. Though his family was indeed well off, he owned no car. He had come here today by cab, at Maule's invitation and expense.
"Wait in this room," he cautioned his two unexpected visitors. At the same time he was wondering if he might be under some kind of curse that denied him the peace required for study and contemplation.
Closing the bedroom door on the pair of refugees, Maule followed the short hallway back to the dusky living room where two glass screens and one floor lamp were glowing. Beyond the open drapes, the lights of the city had now come fully alive, a million sparks making a thousand patterns across square miles of darkness, clear out to the murky Chicago horizon. The blurry line between earth and sunset sky was notched by only one or two other towers of comparable height to this one.
Maule paused to briefly admire the dark and splendid view, familiar as it was. Then he turned back to business. He would just sit down and review with Andy the material they had covered in this evening's session. Maule noted as he resumed his seat that both screens were showing the same image. He sat back in his chair and started to relax, thinking this one was a strange image indeed . . .
. . . yes, strange images indeed, to form the contents of a dream. Someone, a young man, was running through an unfamiliar city, and he, Maule, the dreamer, was unexpectedly drifting away among these visions. They glowed sharper and brighter than anything encountered by a vampire in his customary daytime trance.
Maule wondered, without being able to generate any urgency about the question, just what was going on. This was diametrically the wrong time of day for Vlad Tepes, Prince Drakulya of Wallachia, to be going into trance. This was nightfall rather than dawn, the timing twelve hours out of phase . . .
A violent crashing noise, as of a human body falling to the floor, seemed to reach Maule from a great distance, but it could not break him free of this--this unprecedented, almost indescribable, state in which he found himself. And somewhere men were shouting . . .
Yes, certainly he was dreaming. What was happening to him now could not, could not, be any part of waking life. Not even for a vampire.
In his dream he was a different person altogether.
The body that he now inhabited was male, but otherwise totally unfamiliar, and so young as to be not quite fully grown. Looking down at himself, he saw a network of wiry muscles working swiftly under a brownish skin, clad in nothing but a kind of whitish kilt. Certainly this body was not nosferatu, for it gasped for breath, in urgent need of oxygen. He gasped because he was running, racing at a frantic speed, bruising his shoeless feet on the hot stones of streets and alleys, under a cloudless sky.
The city around him had an ancient look, with beasts of burden moving in the streets, and the time was late afternoon. Or possibly, despite the heat, just early morning--in any case the sun was very low in a flawless sky. Breathing was all the harder, because he was carrying a hard, egg-sized lump of something in his mouth, holding it there because it was absolutely necessary to keep his hands free for climbing, vaulting, the walls and fences that sometimes threatened to box him in. This strange oral burden hampered his desperate need for air. It jarred and scraped against his teeth, it burnt his tongue and the inside of his cheeks, and yet there was some overwhelming reason why he must not spit it out.
The air that seared his panting lungs was very hot and dry. The memory of what it had felt like to be terribly afraid, back in the years of the vampire's own breathing boyhood, was suddenly keen and clear.
Here loomed another wall, threateningly high, blocking his way, and he leaped for his life, clawing desperately with both hands to get a grip on the wall's top. Shooting a quick glance over his shoulder as he straddled the barrier, he saw, as his borrowed self had both feared and expected, that a small group of brown-skinned men ran behind him in fanatical pursuit. They too were clad scantily in white, and they waved an assortment of edged weapons and uttered savage outcries.
The pursuers vanished from the climber's view as he dropped into a courtyard on the wall's far side. In three directions loomed darkly magnificent doorways, each presenting an unknown choice. He immediately chose one of these--on what basis Maule could not have said-- and darted into its shelter.
Three or four steps into shadow and he had to pause, to let his eyes recover from the glaring sun. The hard, mysterious burden in his mouth still interfered with his breathing, yet he dared not spit it out. His gasping filled his lungs with strong smells, bitter and ominous, of decay and chemicals.
In a moment his eyes had begun adapting to the change, enough to let him see where he was going. A long room, low and narrow, stretched before him, and he went running through it toward a brilliant blur of sunlight at the far end. But somewhere near the halfway point he came to an abrupt stop. Now he had noticed that a single shelf of dark stone was built into the walls on either side of him, at about shoulder height.
And each of these two shelves held three little white statues, lined up in a straight row. The plaster of which they were formed still glistened wet, fresh from some kind of molding process, so it seemed evident they had been set out in this shaded place to dry. The pale and slender figures were practically identical, no more than about a foot high, and each looked very much like the statue Maule had just seen and handled in waking life.