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Beauty and the Beasts

She was undoubtedly the most beautiful girl in Lankhmar, or all Nehwon, or any other world. So Fafhrd, the red-haired Northerner, and the Gray Mouser, that swarthy, cat-faced Southerner, were naturally following her.

Her name, most strangely, was Slenya Akkiba Magus, the most witching brunette in all the worlds, and also, most oddly, the most sorcerous blonde. They knew Slenya Akkiba Magus was her name because someone had called it out as she glided ahead of them up Pinchbeck Alley, which parallels Gold Street, and she hesitated for an instant in that drawing-together fashion one only does when one's name is unexpectedly called out, before gliding on without looking around.

They never saw who called. Perhaps someone on a roof. They looked into Sequin Court as they passed, but it was empty. So was Fools Gold Court.

Slenya was two inches taller than the Gray Mouser and ten shorter than Fafhrd—a nice height for a girl.

"She's mine," the Gray Mouser whispered with great authority.

"No, she's mine," Fafhrd murmured back with crushing casualness.

"We could split her," the Mouser hissed judiciously.

There was a zany logic to this suggestion for, quite amazingly, she was completely black on the right side and completely fair on the left side. You could see the dividing line down her back very distinctly. This was because of the extreme thinness of the dress of beige silk she was wearing. Her two colors split exactly at her buttocks.

On the fair side her hair was completely blonde. On the black side it was all brunette.

At this moment an ebony-black warrior appeared from nowhere and attacked Fafhrd with a brass scimitar.

Drawing his sword Graywand in a rush, Fafhrd parried at a square angle. The scimitar shattered, and the brazen fragments flew about. Fafhrd's wrist whipped Graywand in a circle and struck off his foe's head.

Meanwhile the Mouser was suddenly faced by an ivory-white warrior sprung from another nowhere and armed with a steel rapier, silver-plated. The Mouser whisked out Scalpel, laid a bind on the other's blade, and thrust him through the heart.

The two friends congratulated each other.

Then they looked around. Save for the corpses, Pinchbeck Alley was empty.

Slenya Akkiba Magus had disappeared.

The twain pondered this for five heartbeats and two inhalations. Then Fafhrd's frown vanished and his eyes widened.

"Mouser," he said. "The girl divided into the two villains! That explains all. They came from the same nowhere."

"The same somewhere, you mean," the Mouser quibbled. "A most exotic mode of reproduction, or fission rather."

"And one with a sex alternation," Fafhrd added. "Perhaps if we examined the corpses—"

They looked down to find Pinchbeck Alley emptier still. The two liches had vanished from the cobbles. Even the chopped-off head was gone from the foot of the wall against which it had rolled.

"An excellent way of disposing of bodies," Fafhrd said with approval. His ears had caught the tramp and brazen clank of the approaching watch.

"They might have lingered long enough for us to search their pouches and seams for jewels and precious metal," the Mouser demurred.

"But what was behind it all?" Fafhrd puzzled. "A black-and-white magician?"

"It's bootless to make bricks without straw," said the Mouser, cutting him short. "Let us hie to the Golden Lamphrey and there drink a health to the girl, who was surely a stunner."

"Agreed. And we will drink to her appropriately in blackest stout laced with the palest bubbly wine of Ilthmar."

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