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Title: The Moon Pool
Author: Merritt, Abraham, 1884-1943
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Moon Pool" ***

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The Moon Pool

A. MERRITT



Foreword

The publication of the following narrative of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin
has been authorized by the Executive Council of the International
Association of Science.

First:

To end officially what is beginning to be called the Throckmartin
Mystery and to kill the innuendo and scandalous suspicions which have
threatened to stain the reputations of Dr. David Throckmartin, his
youthful wife, and equally youthful associate Dr. Charles Stanton ever
since a tardy despatch from Melbourne, Australia, reported the
disappearance of the first from a ship sailing to that port, and the
subsequent reports of the disappearance of his wife and associate from
the camp of their expedition in the Caroline Islands.

Second:

Because the Executive Council have concluded that Dr. Goodwin's
experiences in his wholly heroic effort to save the three, and the
lessons and warnings within those experiences, are too important
to humanity as a whole to be hidden away in scientific papers
understandable only to the technically educated; or to be presented
through the newspaper press in the abridged and fragmentary form
which the space limitations of that vehicle make necessary.

For these reasons the Executive Council commissioned Mr. A. Merritt
to transcribe into form to be readily understood by the layman the
stenographic notes of Dr. Goodwin's own report to the Council,
supplemented by further oral reminiscences and comments by Dr.
Goodwin; this transcription, edited and censored by the Executive
Council of the Association, forms the contents of this book.

Himself a member of the Council, Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, Ph.D.,
F.R.G.S. etc., is without cavil the foremost of American botanists, an
observer of international reputation and the author of several epochal
treaties upon his chosen branch of science. His story, amazing in the
best sense of that word as it may be, is fully supported by proofs
brought forward by him and accepted by the organization of which I
have the honor to be president. What matter has been elided from
this popular presentation--because of the excessively menacing
potentialities it contains, which unrestricted dissemination might
develop--will be dealt with in purely scientific pamphlets of
carefully guarded circulation.

THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SCIENCE
  Per J. B. K., President



CONTENTS

       I  The Thing on the Moon Path
      II  "Dead!  All Dead!"
     III  The Moon Rock
      IV  The First Vanishings
       V  Into the Moon Pool
      VI  "The Shining Devil Took Them!"
     VII  Larry O'Keefe
    VIII  Olaf's Story
      IX  A Lost Page of Earth
       X  The Moon Pool
      XI  The Flame-Tipped Shadows
     XII  The End of the Journey
    XIII  Yolara, Priestess of the Shining One
     XIV  The Justice of Lora
      XV  The Angry, Whispering Globe
     XVI  Yolara of Muria vs. the O'Keefe
    XVII  The Leprechaun
   XVIII  The Amphitheatre of Jet
     XIX  The Madness of Olaf
      XX  The Tempting of Larry
     XXI  Larry's Defiance
    XXII  The Casting of the Shadow
   XXIII  Dragon Worm and Moss Death
    XXIV  The Crimson Sea
     XXV  The Three Silent Ones
    XXVI  The Wooing of Lakla
   XXVII  The Coming of Yolara
  XXVIII  In the Lair of the Dweller
    XXIX  The Shaping of the Shining One
     XXX  The Building of the Moon Pool
    XXXI  Larry and the Frog-Men
   XXXII  "Your Love; Your Lives; Your Souls!"
  XXXIII  The Meeting of Titans
   XXXIV  The Coming of the Shining One
    XXXV  "Larry--Farewell!"



CHAPTER I

The Thing on the Moon Path

For two months I had been on the d'Entrecasteaux Islands gathering
data for the concluding chapters of my book upon the flora of the
volcanic islands of the South Pacific. The day before I had reached
Port Moresby and had seen my specimens safely stored on board the
Southern Queen. As I sat on the upper deck I thought, with homesick
mind, of the long leagues between me and Melbourne, and the longer
ones between Melbourne and New York.

It was one of Papua's yellow mornings when she shows herself in her
sombrest, most baleful mood. The sky was smouldering ochre. Over the
island brooded a spirit sullen, alien, implacable, filled with the
threat of latent, malefic forces waiting to be unleashed. It seemed an
emanation out of the untamed, sinister heart of Papua herself--sinister
even when she smiles. And now and then, on the wind, came a breath from
virgin jungles, laden with unfamiliar odours, mysterious and menacing.

It is on such mornings that Papua whispers to you of her immemorial
ancientness and of her power. And, as every white man must, I fought
against her spell. While I struggled I saw a tall figure striding down
the pier; a Kapa-Kapa boy followed swinging a new valise. There was
something familiar about the tall man. As he reached the gangplank he
looked up straight into my eyes, stared for a moment, then waved his
hand.

And now I knew him.  It was Dr. David Throckmartin--"Throck" he was to
me always, one of my oldest friends and, as well, a mind of the first
water whose power and achievements were for me a constant inspiration
as they were, I know, for scores other.

Coincidentally with my recognition came a shock of surprise,
definitely--unpleasant. It was Throckmartin--but about him was
something disturbingly unlike the man I had known long so well and to
whom and to whose little party I had bidden farewell less than a month
before I myself had sailed for these seas. He had married only a few
weeks before, Edith, the daughter of Professor William Frazier,
younger by at least a decade than he but at one with him in his ideals
and as much in love, if it were possible, as Throckmartin. By virtue
of her father's training a wonderful assistant, by virtue of her own
sweet, sound heart a--I use the word in its olden sense--lover. With
his equally youthful associate Dr. Charles Stanton and a Swedish
woman, Thora Halversen, who had been Edith Throckmartin's nurse from
babyhood, they had set forth for the Nan-Matal, that extraordinary
group of island ruins clustered along the eastern shore of Ponape in
the Carolines.

I knew that he had planned to spend at least a year among these ruins,
not only of Ponape but of Lele--twin centres of a colossal riddle of
humanity, a weird flower of civilization that blossomed ages before
the seeds of Egypt were sown; of whose arts we know little enough and
of whose science nothing. He had carried with him unusually complete
equipment for the work he had expected to do and which, he hoped,
would be his monument.

What then had brought Throckmartin to Port Moresby, and what was that
change I had sensed in him?

Hurrying down to the lower deck I found him with the purser.  As I
spoke he turned, thrust out to me an eager hand--and then I saw what
was that difference that had so moved me. He knew, of course by my
silence and involuntary shrinking the shock my closer look had given
me. His eyes filled; he turned brusquely from the purser, hesitated--then
hurried off to his stateroom.

"'E looks rather queer--eh?" said the purser.  "Know 'im well, sir?
Seems to 'ave given you quite a start."

I made some reply and went slowly up to my chair.  There I sat,
composed my mind and tried to define what it was that had shaken me
so. Now it came to me. The old Throckmartin was on the eve of his
venture just turned forty, lithe, erect, muscular; his controlling
expression one of enthusiasm, of intellectual keenness, of--what shall
I say--expectant search. His always questioning brain had stamped its
vigor upon his face.

But the Throckmartin I had seen below was one who had borne some
scaring shock of mingled rapture and horror; some soul cataclysm that
in its climax had remoulded, deep from within, his face, setting on it
seal of wedded ecstasy and despair; as though indeed these two had
come to him hand in hand, taken possession of him and departing left
behind, ineradicably, their linked shadows!

Yes--it was that which appalled.  For how could rapture and horror,
Heaven and Hell mix, clasp hands--kiss?

Yet these were what in closest embrace lay on Throckmartin's face!

Deep in thought, subconsciously with relief, I watched the shore line
sink behind; welcomed the touch of the wind of the free seas. I had
hoped, and within the hope was an inexplicable shrinking that I would
meet Throckmartin at lunch. He did not come down, and I was sensible
of deliverance within my disappointment. All that afternoon I lounged
about uneasily but still he kept to his cabin--and within me was no
strength to summon him. Nor did he appear at dinner.

Dusk and night fell swiftly.  I was warm and went back to my
deck-chair. The Southern Queen was rolling to a disquieting swell and
I had the place to myself.

Over the heavens was a canopy of cloud, glowing faintly and testifying
to the moon riding behind it. There was much phosphorescence. Fitfully
before the ship and at her sides arose those stranger little swirls of
mist that swirl up from the Southern Ocean like breath of sea
monsters, whirl for an instant and disappear.

Suddenly the deck door opened and through it came Throckmartin.  He
paused uncertainly, looked up at the sky with a curiously eager,
intent gaze, hesitated, then closed the door behind him.

"Throck," I called.  "Come!  It's Goodwin."

He made his way to me.

"Throck," I said, wasting no time in preliminaries. "What's wrong?
Can I help you?"

I felt his body grow tense.

"I'm going to Melbourne, Goodwin," he answered.  "I need a few
things--need them urgently. And more men--white men--"

He stopped abruptly; rose from his chair, gazed intently toward the
north. I followed his gaze. Far, far away the moon had broken through
the clouds. Almost on the horizon, you could see the faint
luminescence of it upon the smooth sea. The distant patch of light
quivered and shook. The clouds thickened again and it was gone. The
ship raced on southward, swiftly.

Throckmartin dropped into his chair.  He lighted a cigarette with a
hand that trembled; then turned to me with abrupt resolution.

"Goodwin," he said.  "I do need help.  If ever man needed it, I do.
Goodwin--can you imagine yourself in another world, alien, unfamiliar,
a world of terror, whose unknown joy is its greatest terror of all;
you all alone there, a stranger! As such a man would need help, so I
need--"

He paused abruptly and arose; the cigarette dropped from his fingers.
The moon had again broken through the clouds, and this time much
nearer. Not a mile away was the patch of light that it threw upon the
waves. Back of it, to the rim of the sea was a lane of moonlight; a
gigantic gleaming serpent racing over the edge of the world straight
and surely toward the ship.

Throckmartin stiffened to it as a pointer does to a hidden covey.  To
me from him pulsed a thrill of horror--but horror tinged with an
unfamiliar, an infernal joy. It came to me and passed away--leaving me
trembling with its shock of bitter sweet.

He bent forward, all his soul in his eyes.  The moon path swept
closer, closer still. It was now less than half a mile away. From it
the ship fled--almost as though pursued. Down upon it, swift and
straight, a radiant torrent cleaving the waves, raced the moon stream.

"Good God!" breathed Throckmartin, and if ever the words were a prayer
and an invocation they were.

And then, for the first time--I saw--_it_!

The moon path stretched to the horizon and was bordered by darkness.
It was as though the clouds above had been parted to form a lane-drawn
aside like curtains or as the waters of the Red Sea were held back to
let the hosts of Israel through. On each side of the stream was the
black shadow cast by the folds of the high canopies And straight as a
road between the opaque walls gleamed, shimmered, and danced the
shining, racing, rapids of the moonlight.

Far, it seemed immeasurably far, along this stream of silver fire I
sensed, rather than saw, something coming. It drew first into sight as
a deeper glow within the light. On and on it swept toward us--an
opalescent mistiness that sped with the suggestion of some winged
creature in arrowed flight. Dimly there crept into my mind memory of
the Dyak legend of the winged messenger of Buddha--the Akla bird
whose feathers are woven of the moon rays, whose heart is a living
opal, whose wings in flight echo the crystal clear music of the white
stars--but whose beak is of frozen flame and shreds the souls of
unbelievers.

Closer it drew and now there came to me sweet, insistent
tinklings--like pizzicati on violins of glass; crystal clear; diamonds
melting into sounds!

Now the Thing was close to the end of the white path; close up to the
barrier of darkness still between the ship and the sparkling head of
the moon stream. Now it beat up against that barrier as a bird against
the bars of its cage. It whirled with shimmering plumes, with swirls
of lacy light, with spirals of living vapour. It held within it odd,
unfamiliar gleams as of shifting mother-of-pearl. Coruscations and
glittering atoms drifted through it as though it drew them from the
rays that bathed it.

Nearer and nearer it came, borne on the sparkling waves, and ever
thinner shrank the protecting wall of shadow between it and us. Within
the mistiness was a core, a nucleus of intenser light--veined,
opaline, effulgent, intensely alive. And above it, tangled in the
plumes and spirals that throbbed and whirled were seven glowing
lights.

Through all the incessant but strangely ordered movement of
the--_thing_--these lights held firm and steady. They were seven--like
seven little moons. One was of a pearly pink, one of a delicate
nacreous blue, one of lambent saffron, one of the emerald you see in
the shallow waters of tropic isles; a deathly white; a ghostly
amethyst; and one of the silver that is seen only when the flying fish
leap beneath the moon.

The tinkling music was louder still.  It pierced the ears with a
shower of tiny lances; it made the heart beat jubilantly--and checked
it dolorously. It closed the throat with a throb of rapture and
gripped it tight with the hand of infinite sorrow!

Came to me now a murmuring cry, stilling the crystal notes.  It was
articulate--but as though from something utterly foreign to this
world. The ear took the cry and translated with conscious labour into
the sounds of earth. And even as it compassed, the brain shrank from
it irresistibly, and simultaneously it seemed reached toward it with
irresistible eagerness.

Throckmartin strode toward the front of the deck, straight toward the
vision, now but a few yards away from the stern. His face had lost all
human semblance. Utter agony and utter ecstasy--there they were side
by side, not resisting each other; unholy inhuman companions blending
into a look that none of God's creatures should wear--and deep, deep
as his soul! A devil and a God dwelling harmoniously side by side! So
must Satan, newly fallen, still divine, seeing heaven and
contemplating hell, have appeared.

And then--swiftly the moon path faded!  The clouds swept over the sky
as though a hand had drawn them together. Up from the south came a
roaring squall. As the moon vanished what I had seen vanished with
it--blotted out as an image on a magic lantern; the tinkling ceased
abruptly--leaving a silence like that which follows an abrupt thunder
clap. There was nothing about us but silence and blackness!

Through me passed a trembling as one who has stood on the very verge
of the gulf wherein the men of the Louisades says lurks the fisher of
the souls of men, and has been plucked back by sheerest chance.

Throckmartin passed an arm around me.

"It is as I thought," he said.  In his voice was a new note; the calm
certainty that has swept aside a waiting terror of the unknown. "Now I
know! Come with me to my cabin, old friend. For now that you too have
seen I can tell you"--he hesitated--"what it was you saw," he ended.

As we passed through the door we met the ship's first officer.
Throckmartin composed his face into at least a semblance of normality.

"Going to have much of a storm?" he asked.

"Yes," said the mate.  "Probably all the way to Melbourne."

Throckmartin straightened as though with a new thought. He gripped the
officer's sleeve eagerly.

"You mean at least cloudy weather--for"--he hesitated--"for the next
three nights, say?"

"And for three more," replied the mate.

"Thank God!" cried Throckmartin, and I think I never heard such relief
and hope as was in his voice.

The sailor stood amazed.  "Thank God?" he repeated. "Thank--what d'ye
mean?"

But Throckmartin was moving onward to his cabin.  I started to follow.
The first officer stopped me.

"Your friend," he said, "is he ill?"

"The sea!" I answered hurriedly.  "He's not used to it.  I am going to
look after him."

Doubt and disbelief were plain in the seaman's eyes but I hurried on.
For I knew now that Throckmartin was ill indeed--but with a sickness
the ship's doctor nor any other could heal.



CHAPTER II

"Dead!  All Dead!"

He was sitting, face in hands, on the side of his berth as I entered.
He had taken off his coat.

"Throck," I cried.  "What was it?  What are you flying from, man?
Where is your wife--and Stanton?"

"Dead!" he replied monotonously.  "Dead!  All dead!" Then as I
recoiled from him--"All dead. Edith, Stanton, Thora--dead--or worse.
And Edith in the Moon Pool--with them--drawn by what you saw on the
moon path--that has put its brand upon me--and follows me!"

He ripped open his shirt.

"Look at this," he said.  Around his chest, above his heart, the skin
was white as pearl. This whiteness was sharply defined against the
healthy tint of the body. It circled him with an even cincture about
two inches wide.

"Burn it!" he said, and offered me his cigarette.  I drew back.  He
gestured--peremptorily. I pressed the glowing end of the cigarette
into the ribbon of white flesh. He did not flinch nor was there odour
of burning nor, as I drew the little cylinder away, any mark upon the
whiteness.

"Feel it!" he commanded again.  I placed my fingers upon the band.  It
was cold--like frozen marble.

He drew his shirt around him.

"Two things you have seen," he said.  "_It_--and its mark. Seeing,
you must believe my story. Goodwin, I tell you again that my wife is
dead--or worse--I do not know; the prey of--what you saw; so, too, is
Stanton; so Thora. How--"

Tears rolled down the seared face.

"Why did God let it conquer us?  Why did He let it take my Edith?" he
cried in utter bitterness. "Are there things stronger than God, do you
think, Walter?"

I hesitated.

"Are there?  Are there?" His wild eyes searched me.

"I do not know just how you define God," I managed at last through my
astonishment to make answer. "If you mean the will to know, working
through science--"

He waved me aside impatiently.

"Science," he said.  "What is our science against--that? Or against
the science of whatever devils that made it--or made the way for it to
enter this world of ours?"

With an effort he regained control.

"Goodwin," he said, "do you know at all of the ruins on the Carolines;
the cyclopean, megalithic cities and harbours of Ponape and Lele, of
Kusaie, of Ruk and Hogolu, and a score of other islets there?
Particularly, do you know of the Nan-Matal and the Metalanim?"

"Of the Metalanim I have heard and seen photographs," I said.  "They
call it, don't they, the Lost Venice of the Pacific?"

"Look at this map," said Throckmartin.  "That," he went on, "is
Christian's chart of Metalanim harbour and the Nan-Matal. Do you see
the rectangles marked Nan-Tauach?"

"Yes," I said.

"There," he said, "under those walls is the Moon Pool and the seven
gleaming lights that raise the Dweller in the Pool, and the altar and
shrine of the Dweller. And there in the Moon Pool with it lie Edith
and Stanton and Thora."

"The Dweller in the Moon Pool?" I repeated half-incredulously.

"The Thing you saw," said Throckmartin solemnly.

A solid sheet of rain swept the ports, and the Southern Queen began to
roll on the rising swells. Throckmartin drew another deep breath of
relief, and drawing aside a curtain peered out into the night. Its
blackness seemed to reassure him. At any rate, when he sat again he
was entirely calm.

"There are no more wonderful ruins in the world," he began almost
casually. "They take in some fifty islets and cover with their
intersecting canals and lagoons about twelve square miles. Who built
them? None knows. When were they built? Ages before the memory of
present man, that is sure. Ten thousand, twenty thousand, a hundred
thousand years ago--the last more likely.

"All these islets, Walter, are squared, and their shores are frowning
seawalls of gigantic basalt blocks hewn and put in place by the hands
of ancient man. Each inner water-front is faced with a terrace of
those basalt blocks which stand out six feet above the shallow canals
that meander between them. On the islets behind these walls are
time-shattered fortresses, palaces, terraces, pyramids; immense
courtyards strewn with ruins--and all so old that they seem to wither
the eyes of those who look on them.

"There has been a great subsidence.  You can stand out of Metalanim
harbour for three miles and look down upon the tops of similar
monolithic structures and walls twenty feet below you in the water.

"And all about, strung on their canals, are the bulwarked islets with
their enigmatic walls peering through the dense growths of
mangroves--dead, deserted for incalculable ages; shunned by those who
live near.

"You as a botanist are familiar with the evidence that a vast shadowy
continent existed in the Pacific--a continent that was not rent
asunder by volcanic forces as was that legendary one of Atlantis in
the Eastern Ocean.[1] My work in Java, in Papua, and in the Ladrones
had set my mind upon this Pacific lost land. Just as the Azores are
believed to be the last high peaks of Atlantis, so hints came to me
steadily that Ponape and Lele and their basalt bulwarked islets were
the last points of the slowly sunken western land clinging still to
the sunlight, and had been the last refuge and sacred places of the
rulers of that race which had lost their immemorial home under the
rising waters of the Pacific.

"I believed that under these ruins I might find the evidence
that I sought.

"My--my wife and I had talked before we were married of making this
our great work. After the honeymoon we prepared for the expedition.
Stanton was as enthusiastic as ourselves. We sailed, as you know, last
May for fulfilment of my dreams.

"At Ponape we selected, not without difficulty, workmen to help
us--diggers. I had to make extraordinary inducements before I could
get together my force. Their beliefs are gloomy, these Ponapeans. They
people their swamps, their forests, their mountains, and shores, with
malignant spirits--ani they call them. And they are afraid--bitterly
afraid of the isles of ruins and what they think the ruins hide. I do
not wonder--now!

"When they were told where they were to go, and how long we expected
to stay, they murmured. Those who, at last, were tempted made what I
thought then merely a superstitious proviso that they were to be
allowed to go away on the three nights of the full moon. Would to God
we had heeded them and gone too!"

"We passed into Metalanim harbour.  Off to our left--a mile away arose
a massive quadrangle. Its walls were all of forty feet high and
hundreds of feet on each side. As we drew by, our natives grew very
silent; watched it furtively, fearfully. I knew it for the ruins that
are called Nan-Tauach, the 'place of frowning walls.' And at the
silence of my men I recalled what Christian had written of this place;
of how he had come upon its 'ancient platforms and tetragonal
enclosures of stonework; its wonder of tortuous alleyways and
labyrinth of shallow canals; grim masses of stonework peering out from
behind verdant screens; cyclopean barricades,' and of how, when he had
turned 'into its ghostly shadows, straight-way the merriment of guides
was hushed and conversation died down to whispers.'"

He was silent for a little time.

"Of course I wanted to pitch our camp there," he went on again
quietly, "but I soon gave up that idea. The natives were
panic-stricken--threatened to turn back. 'No,' they said, 'too great
ani there. We go to any other place--but not there.'

"We finally picked for our base the islet called Uschen-Tau.  It was
close to the isle of desire, but far enough away from it to satisfy
our men. There was an excellent camping-place and a spring of fresh
water. We pitched our tents, and in a couple of days the work was in
full swing."


[1] For more detailed observations on these points refer to G. Volkens,
Uber die Karolinen Insel Yap, in Verhandlungen Gesellschaft Erdkunde
Berlin, xxvii (1901); J. S. Kubary, Ethnographische Beitrage zur
Kentniss des Karolinen Archipel (Leiden, 1889-1892); De Abrade
Historia del Conflicto de las Carolinas, etc. (Madrid, 1886).--W. T. G.



CHAPTER III

The Moon Rock

"I do not intend to tell you now," Throckmartin continued, "the
results of the next two weeks, nor of what we found. Later--if I am
allowed, I will lay all that before you. It is sufficient to say that
at the end of those two weeks I had found confirmation for many of my
theories.

"The place, for all its decay and desolation, had not infected us with
any touch of morbidity--that is not Edith, Stanton, or myself. But
Thora was very unhappy. She was a Swede, as you know, and in her blood
ran the beliefs and superstitions of the Northland--some of them so
strangely akin to those of this far southern land; beliefs of spirits
of mountain and forest and water werewolves and beings malign. From
the first she showed a curious sensitivity to what, I suppose, may be
called the 'influences' of the place. She said it 'smelled' of ghosts
and warlocks.

"I laughed at her then--

"Two weeks slipped by, and at their end the spokesman for our natives
came to us. The next night was the full of the moon, he said. He
reminded me of my promise. They would go back to their village in the
morning; they would return after the third night, when the moon had
begun to wane. They left us sundry charms for our 'protection,' and
solemnly cautioned us to keep as far away as possible from Nan-Tauach
during their absence. Half-exasperated, half-amused I watched them go.

"No work could be done without them, of course, so we decided to spend
the days of their absence junketing about the southern islets of the
group. We marked down several spots for subsequent exploration, and on
the morning of the third day set forth along the east face of the
breakwater for our camp on Uschen-Tau, planning to have everything in
readiness for the return of our men the next day.

"We landed just before dusk, tired and ready for our cots.
It was only a little after ten o'clock that Edith awakened me.

"'Listen!' she said.  'Lean over with your ear close to the ground!'

"I did so, and seemed to hear, far, far below, as though coming up
from great distances, a faint chanting. It gathered strength, died
down, ended; began, gathered volume, faded away into silence.

"'It's the waves rolling on rocks somewhere,' I said.  'We're probably
over some ledge of rock that carries the sound.'

"'It's the first time I've heard it,' replied my wife doubtfully.  We
listened again. Then through the dim rhythms, deep beneath us, another
sound came. It drifted across the lagoon that lay between us and
Nan-Tauach in little tinkling waves. It was music--of a sort; I won't
describe the strange effect it had upon me. You've felt it--"

"You mean on the deck?" I asked.  Throckmartin nodded.

"I went to the flap of the tent," he continued, "and peered out.
As I did so Stanton lifted his flap and walked out into the moonlight,
looking over to the other islet and listening. I called to him.

"'That's the queerest sound!' he said.  He listened again.
'Crystalline! Like little notes of translucent glass. Like the bells
of crystal on the sistrums of Isis at Dendarah Temple,' he added
half-dreamily. We gazed intently at the island. Suddenly, on the
sea-wall, moving slowly, rhythmically, we saw a little group of
lights. Stanton laughed.

"'The beggars!' he exclaimed.  'That's why they wanted to get away, is
it? Don't you see, Dave, it's some sort of a festival--rites of some
kind that they hold during the full moon! That's why they were so
eager to have us _keep_ away, too.'

"The explanation seemed good.  I felt a curious sense of relief,
although I had not been sensible of any oppression.

"'Let's slip over,' suggested Stanton--but I would not.

"'They're a difficult lot as it is,' I said.  'If we break into one of
their religious ceremonies they'll probably never forgive us. Let's
keep out of any family party where we haven't been invited.'

"'That's so,' agreed Stanton.

"The strange tinkling rose and fell, rose and fell--

"'There's something--something very unsettling about it,' said Edith
at last soberly. 'I wonder what they make those sounds with. They
frighten me half to death, and, at the same time, they make me feel as
though some enormous rapture were just around the corner.'

"'It's devilish uncanny!' broke in Stanton.

"And as he spoke the flap of Thora's tent was raised and out into the
moonlight strode the old Swede. She was the great Norse type--tall,
deep-breasted, moulded on the old Viking lines. Her sixty years had
slipped from her. She looked like some ancient priestess of Odin.

"She stood there, her eyes wide, brilliant, staring.  She thrust her
head forward toward Nan-Tauach, regarding the moving lights; she
listened. Suddenly she raised her arms and made a curious gesture to
the moon. It was--an archaic--movement; she seemed to drag it from
remote antiquity--yet in it was a strange suggestion of power, Twice
she repeated this gesture and--the tinklings died away! She turned to
us.

"'Go!' she said, and her voice seemed to come from far distances.  'Go
from here--and quickly! Go while you may. It has called--' She pointed
to the islet. 'It knows you are here. It waits!' she wailed. 'It
beckons--the--the--"

"She fell at Edith's feet, and over the lagoon came again the
tinklings, now with a quicker note of jubilance--almost of triumph.

"We watched beside her throughout the night.  The sounds from
Nan-Tauach continued until about an hour before moon-set. In the
morning Thora awoke, none the worse, apparently. She had had bad
dreams, she said. She could not remember what they were--except that
they had warned her of danger. She was oddly sullen, and throughout
the morning her gaze returned again and again half-fascinatedly,
half-wonderingly to the neighbouring isle.

"That afternoon the natives returned.  And that night on Nan-Tauach
the silence was unbroken nor were there lights nor sign of life.

"You will understand, Goodwin, how the occurrences I have related
would excite the scientific curiosity. We rejected immediately, of
course, any explanation admitting the supernatural.

"Our--symptoms let me call them--could all very easily be accounted
for. It is unquestionable that the vibrations created by certain
musical instruments have definite and sometimes extraordinary effect
upon the nervous system. We accepted this as the explanation of the
reactions we had experienced, hearing the unfamiliar sounds. Thora's
nervousness, her superstitious apprehensions, had wrought her up to a
condition of semi-somnambulistic hysteria. Science could readily
explain her part in the night's scene.

"We came to the conclusion that there must be a passage-way between
Ponape and Nan-Tauach known to the natives--and used by them during
their rites. We decided that on the next departure of our labourers we
would set forth immediately to Nan-Tauach. We would investigate during
the day, and at evening my wife and Thora would go back to camp,
leaving Stanton and me to spend the night on the island, observing
from some safe hiding-place what might occur.

"The moon waned; appeared crescent in the west; waxed slowly toward
the full. Before the men left us they literally prayed us to accompany
them. Their importunities only made us more eager to see what it was
that, we were now convinced, they wanted to conceal from us. At least
that was true of Stanton and myself. It was not true of Edith. She was
thoughtful, abstracted--reluctant.

"When the men were out of sight around the turn of the harbour, we
took our boat and made straight for Nan-Tauach. Soon its mighty
sea-wall towered above us. We passed through the water-gate with its
gigantic hewn prisms of basalt and landed beside a half-submerged
pier. In front of us stretched a series of giant steps leading into a
vast court strewn with fragments of fallen pillars. In the centre of
the court, beyond the shattered pillars, rose another terrace of
basalt blocks, concealing, I knew, still another enclosure.

"And now, Walter, for the better understanding of what
follows--and--and--" he hesitated. "Should you decide later to return
with me or, if I am taken, to--to--follow us--listen carefully to my
description of this place: Nan-Tauach is literally three rectangles.
The first rectangle is the sea-wall, built up of monoliths--hewn and
squared, twenty feet wide at the top. To get to the gateway in the
sea-wall you pass along the canal marked on the map between Nan-Tauach
and the islet named Tau. The entrance to the canal is bidden by dense
thickets of mangroves; once through these the way is clear. The steps
lead up from the landing of the sea-gate through the entrance to the
courtyard.

"This courtyard is surrounded by another basalt wall, rectangular,
following with mathematical exactness the march of the outer
barricades. The sea-wall is from thirty to forty feet high--originally
it must have been much higher, but there has been subsidence in parts.
The wall of the first enclosure is fifteen feet across the top and its
height varies from twenty to fifty feet--here, too, the gradual
sinking of the land has caused portions of it to fall.

"Within this courtyard is the second enclosure.  Its terrace, of the
same basalt as the outer walls, is about twenty feet high. Entrance is
gained to it by many breaches which time has made in its stonework.
This is the inner court, the heart of Nan-Tauach! There lies the great
central vault with which is associated the one name of living being
that has come to us out of the mists of the past. The natives say it
was the treasure-house of Chau-te-leur, a mighty king who reigned long
'before their fathers.' As Chan is the ancient Ponapean word both for
sun and king, the name means, without doubt, 'place of the sun king.'
It is a memory of a dynastic name of the race that ruled the Pacific
continent, now vanished--just as the rulers of ancient Crete took the
name of Minos and the rulers of Egypt the name of Pharaoh.

"And opposite this place of the sun king is the moon rock that hides
the Moon Pool.

"It was Stanton who discovered the moon rock.  We had been inspecting
the inner courtyard; Edith and Thora were getting together our lunch.
I came out of the vault of Chau-te-leur to find Stanton before a part
of the terrace studying it wonderingly.

"'What do you make of this?' he asked me as I came up. He pointed to
the wall. I followed his finger and saw a slab of stone about fifteen
feet high and ten wide. At first all I noticed was the exquisite
nicety with which its edges joined the blocks about it. Then I
realized that its colour was subtly different--tinged with grey and of
a smooth, peculiar--deadness.

"'Looks more like calcite than basalt,' I said.  I touched it and
withdrew my hand quickly for at the contact every nerve in my arm
tingled as though a shock of frozen electricity had passed through it.
It was not cold as we know cold. It was a chill force--the phrase I
have used--frozen electricity--describes it better than anything else.
Stanton looked at me oddly.

"'So you felt it too,' he said.  'I was wondering whether I was
developing hallucinations like Thora. Notice, by the way, that the
blocks beside it are quite warm beneath the sun.'

"We examined the slab eagerly.  Its edges were cut as though by an
engraver of jewels. They fitted against the neighbouring blocks in
almost a hair-line. Its base was slightly curved, and fitted as
closely as top and sides upon the huge stones on which it rested. And
then we noted that these stones had been hollowed to follow the line
of the grey stone's foot. There was a semicircular depression running
from one side of the slab to the other. It was as though the grey rock
stood in the centre of a shallow cup--revealing half, covering half.
Something about this hollow attracted me. I reached down and felt it.
Goodwin, although the balance of the stones that formed it, like all
the stones of the courtyard, were rough and age-worn--this was as
smooth, as even surfaced as though it had just left the hands of the
polisher.

"'It's a door!' exclaimed Stanton.  'It swings around in that little
cup. That's what makes the hollow so smooth.'

"'Maybe you're right,' I replied.  'But how the devil can we open it?'

"We went over the slab again--pressing upon its edges, thrusting
against its sides. During one of those efforts I happened to look
up--and cried out. A foot above and on each side of the corner of the
grey rock's lintel was a slight convexity, visible only from the angle
at which my gaze struck it.

"We carried with us a small scaling-ladder and up this I went.  The
bosses were apparently nothing more than chiseled curvatures in the
stone. I laid my hand on the one I was examining, and drew it back
sharply. In my palm, at the base of my thumb, I had felt the same
shock that I had in touching the slab below. I put my hand back. The
impression came from a spot not more than an inch wide. I went
carefully over the entire convexity, and six times more the chill ran
through my arm. There were seven circles an inch wide in the curved
place, each of which communicated the precise sensation I have
described. The convexity on the opposite side of the slab gave exactly
the same results. But no amount of touching or of pressing these spots
singly or in any combination gave the slightest promise of motion to
the slab itself.

"'And yet--they're what open it,' said Stanton positively.

"'Why do you say that?' I asked.

"'I--don't know,' he answered hesitatingly.  'But something tells me
so. Throck,' he went on half earnestly, half laughingly, 'the purely
scientific part of me is fighting the purely human part of me. The
scientific part is urging me to find some way to get that slab either
down or open. The human part is just as strongly urging me to do
nothing of the sort and get away while I can!'

"He laughed again--shamefacedly.

"'Which shall it be?' he asked--and I thought that in his tone the
human side of him was ascendant.

"'It will probably stay as it is--unless we blow it to bits,' I said.

"'I thought of that,' he answered, 'and I wouldn't dare,' he added
soberly enough. And even as I had spoken there came to me the same
feeling that he had expressed. It was as though something passed out
of the grey rock that struck my heart as a hand strikes an impious
lip. We turned away--uneasily, and faced Thora coming through a breach
on the terrace.

"'Miss Edith wants you quick,' she began--and stopped. Her eyes went
past me to the grey rock. Her body grew rigid; she took a few stiff
steps forward and then ran straight to it. She cast herself upon its
breast, hands and face pressed against it; we heard her scream as
though her very soul were being drawn from her--and watched her fall
at its foot. As we picked her up I saw steal from her face the look I
had observed when first we heard the crystal music of
Nan-Tauach--that unhuman mingling of opposites!"



CHAPTER IV

The First Vanishings

"We carried Thora back, down to where Edith was waiting. We told her
what had happened and what we had found. She listened gravely, and as
we finished Thora sighed and opened her eyes.

"'I would like to see the stone,' she said.  'Charles, you stay here
with Thora.' We passed through the outer court silently--and stood
before the rock. She touched it, drew back her hand as I had; thrust
it forward again resolutely and held it there. She seemed to be
listening. Then she turned to me.

"'David,' said my wife, and the wistfulness in her voice hurt
me--'David, would you be very, very disappointed if we went from
here--without trying to find out any more about it--would you?'

"Walter, I never wanted anything so much in my life as I wanted to
learn what that rock concealed. Nevertheless, I tried to master my
desire, and I answered--'Edith, not a bit if you want us to do it.'

"She read my struggle in my eyes.  She turned back toward the grey
rock. I saw a shiver pass through her. I felt a tinge of remorse and
pity!

"'Edith,' I exclaimed, 'we'll go!'

"She looked at me again.  'Science is a jealous mistress,' she quoted.
'No, after all it may be just fancy. At any rate, you can't run away.
No! But, Dave, I'm going to stay too!'

"And there was no changing her decision.  As we neared the others she
laid a hand on my arm.

"'Dave,' she said, 'if there should be something--well--inexplicable
tonight--something that seems--too dangerous--will you promise to go
back to our own islet tomorrow, if we can--and wait until the natives
return?'

"I promised eagerly--the desire to stay and see what came with the
night was like a fire within me.

"We picked a place about five hundred feet away from the steps leading
into the outer court.

"The spot we had selected was well hidden.  We could not be seen, and
yet we had a clear view of the stairs and the gateway. We settled down
just before dusk to wait for whatever might come. I was nearest the
giant steps; next me Edith; then Thora, and last Stanton.

"Night fell.  After a time the eastern sky began to lighten, and we
knew that the moon was rising; grew lighter still, and the orb peeped
over the sea; swam into full sight. I glanced at Edith and then at
Thora. My wife was intently listening. Thora sat, as she had since we
had placed ourselves, elbows on knees, her hands covering her face.

"And then from the moonlight flooding us there dripped down on me a
great drowsiness. Sleep seemed to seep from the rays and fall upon my
eyes, closing them--closing them inexorably. Edith's hand in mine
relaxed. Stanton's head fell upon his breast and his body swayed
drunkenly. I tried to rise--to fight against the profound desire for
slumber that pressed on me.

"And as I fought, Thora raised her head as though listening; and
turned toward the gateway. There was infinite despair in her face--and
expectancy. I tried again to rise--and a surge of sleep rushed over
me. Dimly, as I sank within it, I heard a crystalline chiming; raised
my lids once more with a supreme effort.

"Thora, bathed in light, was standing at the top of the stairs.

"Sleep took me for its very own--swept me into the heart of oblivion!

"Dawn was breaking when I wakened.  Recollection rushed back; I thrust
a panic-stricken hand out toward Edith; touched her and my heart gave
a great leap of thankfulness. She stirred, sat up, rubbing dazed eyes.
Stanton lay on his side, back toward us, head in arms.

"Edith looked at me laughingly.  'Heavens!  What sleep!' she said.
Memory came to her.

"'What happened?' she whispered.  'What made us sleep like that?'

"Stanton awoke.

"'What's the matter!' he exclaimed.  'You look as though you've been
seeing ghosts.'

"Edith caught my hands.

"'Where's Thora?' she cried.  Before I could answer she had run out
into the open, calling.

"'Thora was taken,' was all I could say to Stanton, 'together we went
to my wife, now standing beside the great stone steps, looking up
fearfully at the gateway into the terraces. There I told them what I
had seen before sleep had drowned me. And together then we ran up the
stairs, through the court and to the grey rock.

"The slab was closed as it had been the day before, nor was there
trace of its having opened. No trace? Even as I thought this Edith
dropped to her knees before it and reached toward something lying at
its foot. It was a little piece of gay silk. I knew it for part of the
kerchief Thora wore about her hair. She lifted the fragment. It had
been cut from the kerchief as though by a razor-edge; a few threads
ran from it--down toward the base of the slab; ran on to the base of
the grey rock and--under it!

"The grey rock was a door!  And it had opened and Thora had passed
through it!

"I think that for the next few minutes we all were a little insane.
We beat upon that portal with our hands, with stones and sticks. At
last reason came back to us.

"Goodwin, during the next two hours we tried every way in our power to
force entrance through the slab. The rock resisted our drills. We
tried explosions at the base with charges covered by rock. They made
not the slightest impression on the surface, expending their force, of
course, upon the slighter resistance of their coverings.

"Afternoon found us hopeless.  Night was coming on and we would have
to decide our course of action. I wanted to go to Ponape for help. But
Edith objected that this would take hours and after we had reached
there it would be impossible to persuade our men to return with us
that night, if at all. What then was left? Clearly only one of two
choices: to go back to our camp, wait for our men, and on their return
try to persuade them to go with us to Nan-Tauach. But this would mean
the abandonment of Thora for at least two days. We could not do it; it
would have been too cowardly.

"The other choice was to wait where we were for night to come; to wait
for the rock to open as it had the night before, and to make a sortie
through it for Thora before it could close again.

"Our path lay clear before us.  We had to spend that night on
Nan-Tauach!

"We had, of course, discussed the sleep phenomena very fully.  If our
theory that lights, sounds, and Thora's disappearance were linked with
secret religious rites of the natives, the logical inference was that
the slumber had been produced by them, perhaps by vapours--you know as
well as I, what extraordinary knowledge these Pacific peoples have of
such things. Or the sleep might have been simply a coincidence and
produced by emanations either gaseous or from plants, natural causes
which had happened to coincide in their effects with the other
manifestations. We made some rough and ready but effective
respirators.

"As dusk fell we looked over our weapons.  Edith was an excellent shot
with both rifle and pistol. We had decided that my wife was to remain
in the hiding-place. Stanton would take up a station on the far side
of the stairway and I would place myself opposite him on the side near
Edith. The place I picked out was less than two hundred feet from her,
and I could reassure myself now and then as to her safety as it looked
down upon the hollow wherein she crouched. From our respective
stations Stanton and I could command the gateway entrance. His
position gave him also a glimpse of the outer courtyard.

"A faint glow in the sky heralded the moon.  Stanton and I took our
places. The moon dawn increased rapidly; the disk swam up, and in a
moment it was shining in full radiance upon ruins and sea.

"As it rose there came a curious little sighing sound from the inner
terrace. Stanton straightened up and stared intently through the
gateway, rifle ready.

"'Stanton, what do you see?' I called cautiously.  He waved a
silencing hand. I turned my head to look at Edith. A shock ran through
me. She lay upon her side. Her face, grotesque with its nose and mouth
covered by the respirator, was turned full toward the moon. She was
again in deepest sleep!

"As I turned again to call to Stanton, my eyes swept the head of the
steps and stopped, fascinated. For the moonlight had thickened. It
seemed to be--curdled--there; and through it ran little gleams and
veins of shimmering white fire. A languor passed through me. It was
not the ineffable drowsiness of the preceding night. It was a sapping
of all will to move. I tried to cry out to Stanton. I had not even the
will to move my lips. Goodwin--I could not even move my eyes!

"Stanton was in the range of my fixed vision.  I watched him leap up
the steps and move toward the gateway. The curdled radiance seemed to
await him. He stepped into it--and was lost to my sight.

"For a dozen heart beats there was silence.  Then a rain of tinklings
that set the pulses racing with joy and at once checked them with tiny
fingers of ice--and ringing through them Stanton's voice from the
courtyard--a great cry--a scream--filled with ecstasy insupportable
and horror unimaginable! And once more there was silence. I strove to
burst the bonds that held me. I could not. Even my eyelids were fixed.
Within them my eyes, dry and aching, burned.

"Then Goodwin--I first saw the--inexplicable!  The crystalline music
swelled. Where I sat I could take in the gateway and its basalt
portals, rough and broken, rising to the top of the wall forty feet
above, shattered, ruined portals--unclimbable. From this gateway an
intenser light began to flow. It grew, it gushed, and out of it walked
Stanton.

"Stanton!  But--God!  What a vision!"

A deep tremor shook him.  I waited--waited.



CHAPTER V

Into the Moon Pool

"Goodwin," Throckmartin went on at last, "I can describe him only as a
thing of living light. He radiated light; was filled with light;
overflowed with it. A shining cloud whirled through and around him in
radiant swirls, shimmering tentacles, luminescent, coruscating
spirals.

"His face shone with a rapture too great to be borne by living man,
and was shadowed with insuperable misery. It was as though it had been
remoulded by the hand of God and the hand of Satan, working together
and in harmony. You have seen that seal upon my own. But you have
never seen it in the degree that Stanton bore it. The eyes were wide
open and fixed, as though upon some inward vision of hell and heaven!

"The light that filled and surrounded him had a nucleus, a
core--something shiftingly human shaped--that dissolved and changed,
gathered itself, whirled through and beyond him and back again. And as
its shining nucleus passed through him Stanton's whole body pulsed
radiance. As the luminescence moved, there moved above it, still and
serene always, seven tiny globes of seven colors, like seven little
moons.

"Then swiftly Stanton was lifted--levitated--up the unscalable wall
and to its top. The glow faded from the moonlight, the tinkling music
grew fainter. I tried again to move. The tears were running down now
from my rigid lids and they brought relief to my tortured eyes.

"I have said my gaze was fixed.  It was.  But from the side,
peripherally, it took in a part of the far wall of the outer
enclosure. Ages seemed to pass and a radiance stole along it. Soon
drifted into sight the figure that was Stanton. Far away he was--on
the gigantic wall. But still I could see the shining spirals whirling
jubilantly around and through him; felt rather than saw his tranced
face beneath the seven moons. A swirl of crystal notes, and he had
passed. And all the time, as though from some opened well of light,
the courtyard gleamed and sent out silver fires that dimmed the
moonrays, yet seemed strangely to be a part of them.

"At last the moon neared the horizon.  There came a louder burst of
sound; the second, and last, cry of Stanton, like an echo of his
first! Again the soft sighing from the inner terrace. Then--utter
silence!

"The light faded; the moon was setting and with a rush life and power
to move returned to me. I made a leap for the steps, rushed up them,
through the gateway and straight to the grey rock. It was closed--as I
knew it would be. But did I dream it or did I hear, echoing through it
as though from vast distances a triumphant shouting?

"I ran back to Edith.  At my touch she wakened; looked at me
wanderingly; raised herself on a hand.

"'Dave!' she said, 'I slept--after all.' She saw the despair on my
face and leaped to her feet. 'Dave!' she cried. 'What is it? Where's
Charles?'

"I lighted a fire before I spoke.  Then I told her.  And for the
balance of that night we sat before the flames, arms around each
other--like two frightened children."

Abruptly Throckmartin held his hands out to me appealingly.

"Walter, old friend!" he cried.  "Don't look at me as though I were
mad. It's truth, absolute truth. Wait--" I comforted him as well as I
could. After a little time he took up his story.

"Never," he said, "did man welcome the sun as we did that morning.  A
soon as it had risen we went back to the courtyard. The walls whereon
I had seen Stanton were black and silent. The terraces were as they
had been. The grey slab was in its place. In the shallow hollow at its
base was--nothing. Nothing--nothing was there anywhere on the islet
of Stanton--not a trace.

"What were we to do?  Precisely the same arguments that had kept us
there the night before held good now--and doubly good. We could not
abandon these two; could not go as long as there was the faintest hope
of finding them--and yet for love of each other how could we remain? I
loved my wife,--how much I never knew until that day; and she loved me
as deeply.

"'It takes only one each night,' she pleaded.  'Beloved, let it take
me.'

"I wept, Walter.  We both wept.

"'We will meet it together,' she said.  And it was thus at last that
we arranged it."

"That took great courage indeed, Throckmartin," I interrupted.  He
looked at me eagerly.

"You do believe then?" he exclaimed.

"I believe," I said.  He pressed my hand with a grip that nearly
crushed it.

"Now," he told me.  "I do not fear.  If I--fail, you will follow with
help?"

I promised.

"We talked it over carefully," he went on, "bringing to bear all our
power of analysis and habit of calm, scientific thought. We considered
minutely the time element in the phenomena. Although the deep chanting
began at the very moment of moonrise, fully five minutes had passed
between its full lifting and the strange sighing sound from the inner
terrace. I went back in memory over the happenings of the night
before. At least ten minutes had intervened between the first
heralding sigh and the intensification of the moonlight in the
courtyard. And this glow grew for at least ten minutes more before the
first burst of the crystal notes. Indeed, more than half an hour must
have elapsed, I calculated, between the moment the moon showed above
the horizon and the first delicate onslaught of the tinklings.

"'Edith!' I cried.  'I think I have it!  The grey rock opens five
minutes after upon the moonrise. But whoever or whatever it is that
comes through it must wait until the moon has risen higher, or else it
must come from a distance. The thing to do is not to wait for it, but
to surprise it before it passes out the door. We will go into the
inner court early. You will take your rifle and pistol and hide
yourself where you can command the opening--if the slab does open. The
instant it opens I will enter. It's our best chance, Edith. I think
it's our only one.'

"My wife demurred strongly.  She wanted to go with me. But I convinced
her that it was better for her to stand guard without, prepared to
help me if I were forced again into the open by what lay behind the
rock.

"At the half-hour before moonrise we went into the inner court.  I
took my place at the side of the grey rock. Edith crouched behind a
broken pillar twenty feet away; slipped her rifle-barrel over it so
that it would cover the opening.

"The minutes crept by.  The darkness lessened and through the breaches
of the terrace I watched the far sky softly lighten. With the first
pale flush the silence of the place intensified. It deepened; became
unbearably--expectant. The moon rose, showed the quarter, the half,
then swam up into full sight like a great bubble.

"Its rays fell upon the wall before me and suddenly upon the
convexities I have described seven little circles of light sprang out.
They gleamed, glimmered, grew brighter--shone. The gigantic slab
before me glowed with them, silver wavelets of phosphorescence pulsed
over its surface and then--it turned as though on a pivot, sighing
softly as it moved!

"With a word to Edith I flung myself through the opening. A tunnel
stretched before me. It glowed with the same faint silvery radiance.
Down it I raced. The passage turned abruptly, passed parallel to the
walls of the outer courtyard and then once more led downward.

"The passage ended.  Before me was a high vaulted arch. It seemed to
open into space; a space filled with lambent, coruscating,
many-coloured mist whose brightness grew even as I watched. I passed
through the arch and stopped in sheer awe!

"In front of me was a pool.  It was circular, perhaps twenty feet
wide. Around it ran a low, softly curved lip of glimmering silvery
stone. Its water was palest blue. The pool with its silvery rim was
like a great blue eye staring upward.

"Upon it streamed seven shafts of radiance.  They poured down upon the
blue eye like cylindrical torrents; they were like shining pillars of
light rising from a sapphire floor.

"One was the tender pink of the pearl; one of the aurora's green; a
third a deathly white; the fourth the blue in mother-of-pearl; a
shimmering column of pale amber; a beam of amethyst; a shaft of molten
silver. Such are the colours of the seven lights that stream upon the
Moon Pool. I drew closer, awestricken. The shafts did not illumine the
depths. They played upon the surface and seemed there to diffuse, to
melt into it. The Pool drank them?

"Through the water tiny gleams of phosphorescence began to dart,
sparkles and coruscations of pale incandescence. And far, far below I
sensed a movement, a shifting glow as of a radiant body slowly rising.

"I looked upward, following the radiant pillars to their source.  Far
above were seven shining globes, and it was from these that the rays
poured. Even as I watched their brightness grew. They were like seven
moons set high in some caverned heaven. Slowly their splendour
increased, and with it the splendour of the seven beams streaming from
them.

"I tore my gaze away and stared at the Pool.  It had grown milky,
opalescent. The rays gushing into it seemed to be filling it; it was
alive with sparklings, scintillations, glimmerings. And the
luminescence I had seen rising from its depths was larger, nearer!

"A swirl of mist floated up from its surface.  It drifted within the
embrace of the rosy beam and hung there for a moment. The beam seemed
to embrace it, sending through it little shining corpuscles, tiny rosy
spiralings. The mist absorbed the rays, was strengthened by them,
gained substance. Another swirl sprang into the amber shaft, clung and
fed there, moved swiftly toward the first and mingled with it. And now
other swirls arose, here and there, too fast to be counted; hung
poised in the embrace of the light streams; flashed and pulsed into
each other.

"Thicker and thicker still they arose until over the surface of the
Pool was a pulsating pillar of opalescent mist steadily growing
stronger; drawing within it life from the seven beams falling upon it;
drawing to it from below the darting, incandescent atoms of the Pool.
Into its centre was passing the luminescence rising from the far
depths. And the pillar glowed, throbbed--began to send out questing
swirls and tendrils--

"There forming before me was That which had walked with Stanton, which
had taken Thora--the thing I had come to find!

"My brain sprang into action.  My hand threw up the pistol and I fired
shot after shot into the shining core.

"As I fired, it swayed and shook; gathered again.  I slipped a second
clip into the automatic and another idea coming to me took careful aim
at one of the globes in the roof. From thence I knew came the force
that shaped this Dweller in the Pool--from the pouring rays came its
strength. If I could destroy them I could check its forming. I fired
again and again. If I hit the globes I did no damage. The little motes
in their beams danced with the motes in the mist, troubled. That was
all.

"But up from the Pool like little bells, like tiny bursting bubbles of
glass, swarmed the tinkling sounds--their pitch higher, all their
sweetness lost, angry.

"And out from the Inexplicable swept a shining spiral.

"It caught me above the heart; wrapped itself around me. There rushed
through me a mingled ecstasy and horror. Every atom of me quivered
with delight and shrank with despair. There was nothing loathsome in
it. But it was as though the icy soul of evil and the fiery soul of
good had stepped together within me. The pistol dropped from my hand.

"So I stood while the Pool gleamed and sparkled; the streams of light
grew more intense and the radiant Thing that held me gleamed and
strengthened. Its shining core had shape--but a shape that my eyes and
brain could not define. It was as though a being of another sphere
should assume what it might of human semblance, but was not able to
conceal that what human eyes saw was but a part of it. It was neither
man nor woman; it was unearthly and androgynous. Even as I found its
human semblance it changed. And still the mingled rapture and terror
held me. Only in a little corner of my brain dwelt something
untouched; something that held itself apart and watched. Was it the
soul? I have never believed--and yet--

"Over the head of the misty body there sprang suddenly out seven
little lights. Each was the colour of the beam beneath which it
rested. I knew now that the Dweller was--complete!

"I heard a scream.  It was Edith's voice.  It came to me that she had
heard the shots and followed me. I felt every faculty concentrate into
a mighty effort. I wrenched myself free from the gripping tentacle and
it swept back. I turned to catch Edith, and as I did so slipped--fell.

"The radiant shape above the Pool leaped swiftly--and straight into it
raced Edith, arms outstretched to shield me from it! God!

"She threw herself squarely within its splendour," he whispered.  "It
wrapped its shining self around her. The crystal tinklings burst forth
jubilantly. The light filled her, ran through and around her as it had
with Stanton; and dropped down upon her face--the look!

"But her rush had taken her to the very verge of the Moon Pool.  She
tottered; she fell--with the radiance still holding her, still
swirling and winding around and through her--into the Moon Pool! She
sank, and with her went--the Dweller!

"I dragged myself to the brink.  Far down was a shining, many-coloured
nebulous cloud descending; out of it peered Edith's face,
disappearing; her eyes stared up at me--and she vanished!

"'Edith!' I cried again.  'Edith, come back to me!'

"And then a darkness fell upon me.  I remember running back through
the shimmering corridors and out into the courtyard. Reason had left
me. When it returned I was far out at sea in our boat wholly estranged
from civilization. A day later I was picked up by the schooner in
which I came to Port Moresby.

"I have formed a plan; you must hear it, Goodwin--" He fell upon his
berth. I bent over him. Exhaustion and the relief of telling his story
had been too much for him. He slept like the dead.

All that night I watched over him.  When dawn broke I went to my room
to get a little sleep myself. But my slumber was haunted.

The next day the storm was unabated.  Throckmartin came to me at
lunch. He had regained much of his old alertness.

"Come to my cabin," he said.  There, he stripped his shirt from him.
"Something is happening," he said. "The mark is smaller." It was as he
said.

"I'm escaping," he whispered jubilantly, "Just let me get to Melbourne
safely, and then we'll see who'll win! For, Walter, I'm not at all
sure that Edith is dead--as we know death--nor that the others are.
There is something outside experience there--some great mystery."

And all that day he talked to me of his plans.

"There's a natural explanation, of course," he said.  "My theory is
that the moon rock is of some composition sensitive to the action of
moon rays; somewhat as the metal selenium is to sun rays. The little
circles over the top are, without doubt, its operating agency. When
the light strikes them they release the mechanism that opens the slab,
just as you can open doors with sun or electric light by an ingenious
arrangement of selenium-cells. Apparently it takes the strength of the
full moon both to do this and to summon the Dweller in the Pool. We
will first try a concentration of the rays of the waning moon upon
these circles to see whether that will open the rock. If it does we
will be able to investigate the Pool without interruption
from--from--what emanates.

"Look, here on the chart are their locations.  I have made this in
duplicate for you in the event--of something happening--to me. And if
I lose--you'll come after us, Goodwin, with help--won't you?"

And again I promised.

A little later he complained of increasing sleepiness.

"But it's just weariness," he said.  "Not at all like that other
drowsiness. It's an hour till moonrise still," he yawned at last.
"Wake me up a good fifteen minutes before."

He lay upon the berth.  I sat thinking.  I came to myself with a
guilty start. I had completely lost myself in my deep preoccupation.
What time was it? I looked at my watch and jumped to the port-hole. It
was full moonlight; the orb had been up for fully half an hour. I
strode over to Throckmartin and shook him by the shoulder.

"Up, quick, man!" I cried.  He rose sleepily.  His shirt fell open at
the neck and I looked, in amazement, at the white band around his
chest. Even under the electric light it shone softly, as though little
flecks of light were in it.

Throckmartin seemed only half-awake.  He looked down at his breast,
saw the glowing cincture, and smiled.

"Yes," he said drowsily, "it's coming--to take me back to Edith!
Well, I'm glad."

"Throckmartin!" I cried.  "Wake up!  Fight!"

"Fight!" he said.  "No use; come after us!"

He went to the port and sleepily drew aside the curtain. The moon
traced a broad path of light straight to the ship. Under its rays the
band around his chest gleamed brighter and brighter; shot forth little
rays; seemed to writhe.

The lights went out in the cabin; evidently also throughout the ship,
for I heard shoutings above.

Throckmartin still stood at the open port.  Over his shoulder I saw a
gleaming pillar racing along the moon path toward us. Through the
window cascaded a blinding radiance. It gathered Throckmartin to it,
clothed him in a robe of living opalescence. Light pulsed through and
from him. The cabin filled with murmurings--

A wave of weakness swept over me, buried me in blackness.  When
consciousness came back, the lights were again burning brightly.

But of Throckmartin there was no trace!



CHAPTER VI

"The Shining Devil Took Them!"

My colleagues of the Association, and you others who may read this my
narrative, for what I did and did not when full realization returned I
must offer here, briefly as I can, an explanation; a defense--if you
will.

My first act was to spring to the open port.  The coma had lasted
hours, for the moon was now low in the west! I ran to the door to
sound the alarm. It resisted under my frantic hands; would not open.
Something fell tinkling to the floor. It was the key and I remembered
then that Throckmartin had turned it before we began our vigil. With
memory a hope died that I had not known was in me, the hope that he
had escaped from the cabin, found refuge elsewhere on the ship.

And as I stooped, fumbling with shaking fingers for the key, a thought
came to me that drove again the blood from my heart, held me rigid. I
could sound no alarm on the Southern Queen for Throckmartin!

Conviction of my appalling helplessness was complete. The ensemble of
the vessel from captain to cabin boy was, to put it conservatively,
average. None, I knew, save Throckmartin and myself had seen the first
apparition of the Dweller. Had they witnessed the second? I did not
know, nor could I risk speaking, not knowing. And not seeing, how
could they believe? They would have thought me insane--or worse;
even, it might be, his murderer.

I snapped off the electrics; waited and listened; opened the door with
infinite caution and slipped, unseen, into my own stateroom. The hours
until the dawn were eternities of waking nightmare. Reason, resuming
sway at last, steadied me. Even had I spoken and been believed where
in these wastes after all the hours could we search for Throckmartin?
Certainly the captain would not turn back to Port Moresby. And even if
he did, of what use for me to set forth for the Nan-Matal without the
equipment which Throckmartin himself had decided was necessary if one
hoped to cope with the mystery that lurked there?

There was but one thing to do--follow his instructions; get the
paraphernalia in Melbourne or Sydney if it were possible; if not sail
to America as swiftly as might be, secure it there and as swiftly
return to Ponape. And this I determined to do.

Calmness came back to me after I had made this decision. And when I
went up on deck I knew that I had been right. They had not seen the
Dweller. They were still discussing the darkening of the ship, talking
of dynamos burned out, wires short circuited, a half dozen
explanations of the extinguishment. Not until noon was Throckmartin's
absence discovered. I told the captain that I had left him early in
the evening; that, indeed, I knew him but slightly, after all. It
occurred to none to doubt me, or to question me minutely. Why should
it have? His strangeness had been noted, commented upon; all who had
met him had thought him half mad. I did little to discourage the
impression. And so it came naturally that on the log it was entered
that he had fallen or leaped from the vessel some time during the
night.

A report to this effect was made when we entered Melbourne.  I slipped
quietly ashore and in the press of the war news Throckmartin's
supposed fate won only a few lines in the newspapers; my own presence
on the ship and in the city passed unnoticed.

I was fortunate in securing at Melbourne everything I needed except a
set of Becquerel ray condensers--but these were the very keystone of
my equipment. Pursuing my search to Sydney I was doubly fortunate in
finding a firm who were expecting these very articles in a consignment
due them from the States within a fortnight. I settled down in
strictest seclusion to await their arrival.

And now it will occur to you to ask why I did not cable, during this
period of waiting, to the Association; demand aid from it. Or why I
did not call upon members of the University staffs of either Melbourne
or Sydney for assistance. At the least, why I did not gather, as
Throckmartin had hoped to do, a little force of strong men to go with
me to the Nan-Matal.

To the first two questions I answer frankly--I did not dare. And this
reluctance, this inhibition, every man jealous of his scientific
reputation will understand. The story of Throckmartin, the happenings
I had myself witnessed, were incredible, abnormal, outside the facts
of all known science. I shrank from the inevitable disbelief, perhaps
ridicule--nay, perhaps even the graver suspicion that had caused me to
seal my lips while on the ship. Why I myself could only half believe!
How then could I hope to convince others?

And as for the third question--I could not take men into the range of
such a peril without first warning them of what they might encounter;
and if I did warn them--

It was checkmate!  If it also was cowardice--well, I have atoned for
it. But I do not hold it so; my conscience is clear.

That fortnight and the greater part of another passed before the ship
I awaited steamed into port. By that time, between my straining
anxiety to be after Throckmartin, the despairing thought that every
moment of delay might be vital to him and his, and my intensely eager
desire to know whether that shining, glorious horror on the moon path
did exist or had been hallucination, I was worn almost to the edge of
madness.

At last the condensers were in my hands.  It was more than a week
later, however, before I could secure passage back to Port Moresby and
it was another week still before I started north on the Suwarna, a
swift little sloop with a fifty-horsepower auxiliary, heading straight
for Ponape and the Nan-Matal.

We sighted the Brunhilda some five hundred miles south of the
Carolines. The wind had fallen soon after Papua had dropped astern.
The Suwarna's ability to make her twelve knots an hour without it had
made me very fully forgive her for not being as fragrant as the Javan
flower for which she was named. Da Costa, her captain, was a
garrulous Portuguese; his mate was a Canton man with all the marks of
long and able service on some pirate junk; his engineer was a
half-breed China-Malay who had picked up his knowledge of power
plants, Heaven alone knew where, and, I had reason to believe, had
transferred all his religious impulses to the American built deity of
mechanism he so faithfully served. The crew was made up of six huge,
chattering Tonga boys.

The Suwarna had cut through Finschafen Huon Gulf to the protection of
the Bismarcks. She had threaded the maze of the archipelago
tranquilly, and we were then rolling over the thousand-mile stretch of
open ocean with New Hanover far behind us and our boat's bow pointed
straight toward Nukuor of the Monte Verdes. After we had rounded
Nukuor we should, barring accident, reach Ponape in not more than
sixty hours.

It was late afternoon, and on the demure little breeze that marched
behind us came far-flung sighs of spice-trees and nutmeg flowers. The
slow prodigious swells of the Pacific lifted us in gentle, giant hands
and sent us as gently down the long, blue wave slopes to the next
broad, upward slope. There was a spell of peace over the ocean,
stilling even the Portuguese captain who stood dreamily at the wheel,
slowly swaying to the rhythmic lift and fall of the sloop.

There came a whining hail from the Tonga boy lookout draped lazily
over the bow.

"Sail he b'long port side!"

Da Costa straightened and gazed while I raised my glass. The vessel
was a scant mile away, and must have been visible long before the
sleepy watcher had seen her. She was a sloop about the size of the
Suwarna, without power. All sails set, even to a spinnaker she
carried, she was making the best of the little breeze. I tried to read
her name, but the vessel jibed sharply as though the hands of the man
at the wheel had suddenly dropped the helm--and then with equal
abruptness swung back to her course. The stern came in sight, and on
it I read Brunhilda.

I shifted my glasses to the man at wheel.  He was crouching down over
the spokes in a helpless, huddled sort of way, and even as I looked
the vessel veered again, abruptly as before. I saw the helmsman
straighten up and bring the wheel about with a vicious jerk.

He stood so for a moment, looking straight ahead, entirely oblivious
of us, and then seemed again to sink down within himself. It came to
me that his was the action of a man striving vainly against a
weariness unutterable. I swept the deck with my glasses. There was no
other sign of life. I turned to find the Portuguese staring intently
and with puzzled air at the sloop, now separated from us by a scant
half mile.

"Something veree wrong I think there, sair," he said in his curious
English. "The man on deck I know. He is captain and owner of the
Br-rwun'ild. His name Olaf Huldricksson, what you say--Norwegian. He
is eithair veree sick or veree tired--but I do not undweerstand where
is the crew and the starb'd boat is gone--"

He shouted an order to the engineer and as he did so the faint breeze
failed and the sails of the Brunhilda flapped down inert. We were now
nearly abreast and a scant hundred yards away. The engine of the
Suwarna died and the Tonga boys leaped to one of the boats.

"You Olaf Huldricksson!" shouted Da Costa.  "What's a matter wit'
you?"

The man at the wheel turned toward us.  He was a giant; his shoulders
enormous, thick chested, strength in every line of him, he towered
like a viking of old at the rudder bar of his shark ship.

I raised the glass again; his face sprang into the lens and never have
I seen a visage lined and marked as though by ages of unsleeping
misery as was that of Olaf Huldricksson!

The Tonga boys had the boat alongside and were waiting at the oars.
The little captain was dropping into it.

"Wait!" I cried.  I ran into my cabin, grasped my emergency medical
kit and climbed down the rope ladder. The Tonga boys bent to the oars.
We reached the side and Da Costa and I each seized a lanyard dangling
from the stays and swung ourselves on board. Da Costa approached
Huldricksson softly.

"What's the matter, Olaf?" he began--and then was silent, looking down
at the wheel. The hands of Huldricksson were lashed fast to the spokes
by thongs of thin, strong cord; they were swollen and black and the
thongs had bitten into the sinewy wrists till they were hidden in the
outraged flesh, cutting so deeply that blood fell, slow drop by drop,
at his feet! We sprang toward him, reaching out hands to his fetters
to loose them. Even as we touched them, Huldricksson aimed a vicious
kick at me and then another at Da Costa which sent the Portuguese
tumbling into the scuppers.

"Let be!" croaked Huldricksson; his voice was thick and lifeless as
though forced from a dead throat; his lips were cracked and dry and
his parched tongue was black. "Let be! Go! Let be!"

The Portuguese had picked himself up, whimpering with rage and knife
in hand, but as Huldricksson's voice reached him he stopped.
Amazement crept into his eyes and as he thrust the blade back into
his belt they softened with pity.

"Something veree wrong wit' Olaf," he murmured to me. "I think he
crazee!" And then Olaf Huldricksson began to curse us. He did not
speak--he howled from that hideously dry mouth his imprecations. And
all the time his red eyes roamed the seas and his hands, clenched and
rigid on the wheel, dropped blood.

"I go below," said Da Costa nervously.  "His wife, his daughter--" he
darted down the companionway and was gone.

Huldricksson, silent once more, had slumped down over the wheel.

Da Costa's head appeared at the top of the companion steps.

"There is nobody, nobody," he paused--then--"nobody--nowhere!" His
hands flew out in a gesture of hopeless incomprehension. "I do not
understan'."

Then Olaf Huldricksson opened his dry lips and as he spoke a chill ran
through me, checking my heart.

"The sparkling devil took them!" croaked Olaf Huldricksson, "the
sparkling devil took them! Took my Helma and my little Freda! The
sparkling devil came down from the moon and took them!"

He swayed; tears dripped down his cheeks.  Da Costa moved toward him
again and again Huldricksson watched him, alertly, wickedly, from his
bloodshot eyes.

I took a hypodermic from my case and filled it with morphine.  I drew
Da Costa to me.

"Get to the side of him," I whispered, "talk to him." He moved over
toward the wheel.

"Where is your Helma and Freda, Olaf?" he said.

Huldricksson turned his head toward him.  "The shining devil took
them," he croaked. "The moon devil that spark--"

A yell broke from him.  I had thrust the needle into his arm just
above one swollen wrist and had quickly shot the drug through. He
struggled to release himself and then began to rock drunkenly. The
morphine, taking him in his weakness, worked quickly. Soon over his
face a peace dropped. The pupils of the staring eyes contracted. Once,
twice, he swayed and then, his bleeding, prisoned hands held high and
still gripping the wheel, he crumpled to the deck.

With utmost difficulty we loosed the thongs, but at last it was done.
We rigged a little swing and the Tonga boys slung the great inert body
over the side into the dory. Soon we had Huldricksson in my bunk. Da
Costa sent half his crew over to the sloop in charge of the Cantonese.
They took in all sail, stripping Huldricksson's boat to the masts and
then with the Brunhilda nosing quietly along after us at the end of a
long hawser, one of the Tonga boys at her wheel, we resumed the way so
enigmatically interrupted.

I cleansed and bandaged the Norseman's lacerated wrists and sponged
the blackened, parched mouth with warm water and a mild antiseptic.

Suddenly I was aware of Da Costa's presence and turned. His unease was
manifest and held, it seemed to me, a queer, furtive anxiety.

"What you think of Olaf, sair?" he asked.  I shrugged my shoulders.
"You think he killed his woman and his babee?" He went on. "You think
he crazee and killed all?"

"Nonsense, Da Costa," I answered.  "You saw the boat was gone.  Most
probably his crew mutinied and to torture him tied him up the way you
saw. They did the same thing with Hilton of the Coral Lady; you'll
remember."

"No," he said.  "No.  The crew did not.  Nobody there on board when
Olaf was tied."

"What!" I cried, startled.  "What do you mean?"

"I mean," he said slowly, "that Olaf tie himself!"

"Wait!" he went on at my incredulous gesture of dissent. "Wait, I show
you." He had been standing with hands behind his back and now I saw
that he held in them the cut thongs that had bound Huldricksson. They
were blood-stained and each ended in a broad leather tip skilfully
spliced into the cord. "Look," he said, pointing to these leather
ends. I looked and saw in them deep indentations of teeth. I snatched
one of the thongs and opened the mouth of the unconscious man on the
bunk. Carefully I placed the leather within it and gently forced the
jaws shut on it. It was true. Those marks were where Olaf
Huldricksson's jaws had gripped.

"Wait!" Da Costa repeated, "I show you." He took other cords and
rested his hands on the supports of a chair back. Rapidly he twisted
one of the thongs around his left hand, drew a loose knot, shifted the
cord up toward his elbow. This left wrist and hand still free and with
them he twisted the other cord around the right wrist; drew a similar
knot. His hands were now in the exact position that Huldricksson's had
been on the Brunhilda but with cords and knots hanging loose. Then Da
Costa reached down his head, took a leather end in his teeth and with
a jerk drew the thong that noosed his left hand tight; similarly he
drew tight the second.

He strained at his fetters.  There before my eyes he had pinioned
himself so that without aid he could not release himself. And he was
exactly as Huldricksson had been!

"You will have to cut me loose, sair," he said.  "I cannot move them.
It is an old trick on these seas. Sometimes it is necessary that a man
stand at the wheel many hours without help, and he does this so that
if he sleep the wheel wake him, yes, sair."

I looked from him to the man on the bed.

"But why, sair," said Da Costa slowly, "did Olaf have to tie his
hands?"

I looked at him, uneasily.

"I don't know," I answered.  "Do you?"

He fidgeted, avoided my eyes, and then rapidly, almost surreptitiously
crossed himself.

"No," he replied.  "I know nothing.  Some things I have heard--but
they tell many tales on these seas."

He started for the door.  Before he reached it he turned. "But this I
do know," he half whispered, "I am damned glad there is no full moon
tonight." And passed out, leaving me staring after him in amazement.
What did the Portuguese know?

I bent over the sleeper.  On his face was no trace of that unholy
mingling of opposites the Dweller stamped upon its victims.

And yet--what was it the Norseman had said?

"The sparkling devil took them!"  Nay, he had been even more
explicit--"The sparkling devil that came down from the moon!"

Could it be that the Dweller had swept upon the Brunhilda, drawing
down the moon path Olaf Huldricksson's wife and babe even as it had
drawn Throckmartin?

As I sat thinking the cabin grew suddenly dark and from above came a
shouting and patter of feet. Down upon us swept one of the abrupt,
violent squalls that are met with in those latitudes. I lashed
Huldricksson fast in the berth and ran up on deck.

The long, peaceful swells had changed into angry, choppy waves from
the tops of which the spindrift streamed in long stinging lashes.

A half-hour passed; the squall died as quickly as it had arisen.  The
sea quieted. Over in the west, from beneath the tattered, flying edge
of the storm, dropped the red globe of the setting sun; dropped slowly
until it touched the sea rim.

I watched it--and rubbed my eyes and stared again.  For over its
flaming portal something huge and black moved, like a gigantic
beckoning finger!

Da Costa had seen it, too, and he turned the Suwarna straight toward
the descending orb and its strange shadow. As we approached we saw it
was a little mass of wreckage and that the beckoning finger was a wing
of canvas, sticking up and swaying with the motion of the waves. On
the highest point of the wreckage sat a tall figure calmly smoking a
cigarette.

We brought the Suwarna to, dropped a boat, and with myself as coxswain
pulled toward a wrecked hydroairplane. Its occupant took a long puff
at his cigarette, waved a cheerful hand, shouted a greeting. And just
as he did so a great wave raised itself up behind him, took the
wreckage, tossed it high in a swelter of foam, and passed on. When we
had steadied our boat, where wreck and man had been was--nothing.

There came a tug at the side--, two muscular brown hands gripped it
close to my left, and a sleek, black, wet head showed its top between
them. Two bright, blue eyes that held deep within them a laughing
deviltry looked into mine, and a long, lithe body drew itself gently
over the thwart and seated its dripping self at my feet.

"Much obliged," said this man from the sea.  "I knew somebody was sure
to come along when the O'Keefe banshee didn't show up."

"The what?" I asked in amazement.

"The O'Keefe banshee--I'm Larry O'Keefe.  It's a far way from Ireland,
but not too far for the O'Keefe banshee to travel if the O'Keefe was
going to click in."

I looked again at my astonishing rescue.  He seemed perfectly serious.

"Have you a cigarette?  Mine went out," he said with a grin, as he
reached a moist hand out for the little cylinder, took it, lighted it.

I saw a lean, intelligent face whose fighting jaw was softened by the
wistfulness of the clean-cut lips and the honesty that lay side by
side with the deviltry in the laughing blue eyes; nose of a
thoroughbred with the suspicion of a tilt; long, well-knit, slender
figure that I knew must have all the strength of fine steel; the
uniform of a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps of Britain's navy.

He laughed, stretched out a firm hand, and gripped mine.

"Thank you really ever so much, old man," he said.

I liked Larry O'Keefe from the beginning--but I did not dream as the
Tonga boys pulled us back to the Suwarna bow that liking was to be
forged into man's strong love for man by fires which souls such as his
and mine--and yours who read this--could never dream.

Larry!  Larry O'Keefe, where are you now with your leprechauns and
banshee, your heart of a child, your laughing blue eyes, and your
fearless soul? Shall I ever see you again, Larry O'Keefe, dear to me
as some best beloved younger brother? Larry!



CHAPTER VII

Larry O'Keefe

Pressing back the questions I longed to ask, I introduced myself.
Oddly enough, I found that he knew me, or rather my work. He had
bought, it appeared, my volume upon the peculiar vegetation whose
habitat is disintegrating lava rock and volcanic ash, that I had
entitled, somewhat loosely, I could now perceive, Flora of the
Craters. For he explained naively that he had picked it up, thinking
it an entirely different sort of a book, a novel in fact--something
like Meredith's Diana of the Crossways, which he liked greatly.

He had hardly finished this explanation when we touched the side of
the Suwarna, and I was forced to curb my curiosity until we reached
the deck.

"That thing you saw me sitting on," he said, after he had thanked the
bowing little skipper for his rescue, "was all that was left of one of
his Majesty's best little hydroairplanes after that cyclone threw it
off as excess baggage. And by the way, about where are we?"

Da Costa gave him our approximate position from the noon reckoning.

O'Keefe whistled.  "A good three hundred miles from where I left the
H.M.S. Dolphin about four hours ago," he said. "That squall I rode in
on was some whizzer!

"The Dolphin," he went on, calmly divesting himself of his soaked
uniform, "was on her way to Melbourne. I'd been yearning for a joy
ride and went up for an alleged scouting trip. Then that blow shot out
of nowhere, picked me up, and insisted that I go with it.

"About an hour ago I thought I saw a chance to zoom up and out of it,
I turned, and _blick_ went my right wing, and down I dropped."

"I don't know how we can notify your ship, Lieutenant O'Keefe," I
said. "We have no wireless."

"Doctair Goodwin," said Da Costa, "we could change our course,
sair--perhaps--"

"Thanks--but not a bit of it," broke in O'Keefe.  "Lord alone knows
where the Dolphin is now. Fancy she'll be nosing around looking for
me. Anyway, she's just as apt to run into you as you into her. Maybe
we'll strike something with a wireless, and I'll trouble you to put me
aboard." He hesitated. "Where are you bound, by the way?" he asked.

"For Ponape," I answered.

"No wireless there," mused O'Keefe.  "Beastly hole. Stopped a week ago
for fruit. Natives seemed scared to death at us--or something. What
are you going there for?"

Da Costa darted a furtive glance at me.  It troubled me.

O'Keefe noted my hesitation.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," he said.  "Maybe I oughn't to have asked
that?"

"It's no secret, Lieutenant," I replied.  "I'm about to undertake some
exploration work--a little digging among the ruins on the Nan-Matal."

I looked at the Portuguese sharply as I named the place. A pallor
crept beneath his skin and again he made swiftly the sign of the
cross, glancing as he did so fearfully to the north. I made up my mind
then to question him when opportunity came. He turned from his quick
scrutiny of the sea and addressed O'Keefe.

"There's nothing on board to fit you, Lieutenant."

"Oh, just give me a sheet to throw around me, Captain," said O'Keefe
and followed him. Darkness had fallen, and as the two disappeared into
Da Costa's cabin I softly opened the door of my own and listened.
Huldricksson was breathing deeply and regularly.

I drew my electric-flash, and shielding its rays from my face, looked
at him. His sleep was changing from the heavy stupor of the drug into
one that was at least on the borderland of the normal. The tongue had
lost its arid blackness and the mouth secretions had resumed action.
Satisfied as to his condition I returned to deck.

O'Keefe was there, looking like a spectre in the cotton sheet he had
wrapped about him. A deck table had been cleated down and one of the
Tonga boys was setting it for our dinner. Soon the very creditable
larder of the Suwarna dressed the board, and O'Keefe, Da Costa, and I
attacked it. The night had grown close and oppressive. Behind us the
forward light of the Brunhilda glided and the binnacle lamp threw up a
faint glow in which her black helmsman's face stood out mistily.
O'Keefe had looked curiously a number of times at our tow, but had
asked no questions.

"You're not the only passenger we picked up today," I told him.  "We
found the captain of that sloop, lashed to his wheel, nearly dead with
exhaustion, and his boat deserted by everyone except himself."

"What was the matter?" asked O'Keefe in astonishment.

"We don't know," I answered.  "He fought us, and I had to drug him
before we could get him loose from his lashings. He's sleeping down in
my berth now. His wife and little girl ought to have been on board,
the captain here says, but--they weren't."

"Wife and child gone!" exclaimed O'Keefe.

"From the condition of his mouth he must have been alone at the wheel
and without water at least two days and nights before we found him," I
replied. "And as for looking for anyone on these waters after such a
time--it's hopeless."

"That's true," said O'Keefe.  "But his wife and baby!  Poor, poor
devil!"

He was silent for a time, and then, at my solicitation, began to tell
us more of himself. He had been little more than twenty when he had
won his wings and entered the war. He had been seriously wounded at
Ypres during the third year of the struggle, and when he recovered the
war was over. Shortly after that his mother had died. Lonely and
restless, he had re-entered the Air Service, and had remained in it
ever since.

"And though the war's long over, I get homesick for the lark's land
with the German planes playing tunes on their machine guns and their
Archies tickling the soles of my feet," he sighed. "If you're in love,
love to the limit; and if you hate, why hate like the devil and if
it's a fight you're in, get where it's hottest and fight like hell--if
you don't life's not worth the living," sighed he.

I watched him as he talked, feeling my liking for him steadily
increasing. If I could but have a man like this beside me on the path
of unknown peril upon which I had set my feet I thought, wistfully. We
sat and smoked a bit, sipping the strong coffee the Portuguese made so
well.

Da Costa at last relieved the Cantonese at the wheel. O'Keefe and I
drew chairs up to the rail. The brighter stars shone out dimly through
a hazy sky; gleams of phosphorescence tipped the crests of the waves
and sparkled with an almost angry brilliance as the bow of the Suwarna
tossed them aside. O'Keefe pulled contentedly at a cigarette. The
glowing spark lighted the keen, boyish face and the blue eyes, now
black and brooding under the spell of the tropic night.

"Are you American or Irish, O'Keefe?" I asked suddenly.

"Why?" he laughed.

"Because," I answered, "from your name and your service I would
suppose you Irish--but your command of pure Americanese makes me
doubtful."

He grinned amiably.

"I'll tell you how that is," he said.  "My mother was an American--a
Grace, of Virginia. My father was the O'Keefe, of Coleraine. And these
two loved each other so well that the heart they gave me is half Irish
and half American. My father died when I was sixteen. I used to go to
the States with my mother every other year for a month or two. But
after my father died we used to go to Ireland every other year. And
there you are--I'm as much American as I am Irish.

"When I'm in love, or excited, or dreaming, or mad I have the brogue.
But for the everyday purpose of life I like the United States talk,
and I know Broadway as well as I do Binevenagh Lane, and the Sound as
well as St. Patrick's Channel; educated a bit at Eton, a bit at
Harvard; always too much money to have to make any; in love lots of
times, and never a heartache after that wasn't a pleasant one, and
never a real purpose in life until I took the king's shilling and
earned my wings; something over thirty--and that's me--Larry
O'Keefe."

"But it was the Irish O'Keefe who sat out there waiting for the
banshee," I laughed.

"It was that," he said somberly, and I heard the brogue creep over his
voice like velvet and his eyes grew brooding again. "There's never an
O'Keefe for these thousand years that has passed without his warning.
An' twice have I heard the banshee calling--once it was when my
younger brother died an' once when my father lay waiting to be carried
out on the ebb tide."

He mused a moment, then went on: "An' once I saw an Annir Choille, a
girl of the green people, flit like a shade of green fire through
Carntogher woods, an' once at Dunchraig I slept where the ashes of the
Dun of Cormac MacConcobar are mixed with those of Cormac an' Eilidh
the Fair, all burned in the nine flames that sprang from the harping
of Cravetheen, an' I heard the echo of his dead harpings--"

He paused again and then, softly, with that curiously sweet, high
voice that only the Irish seem to have, he sang:

    Woman of the white breasts, Eilidh;
    Woman of the gold-brown hair, and lips of the red, red rowan,
    Where is the swan that is whiter, with breast more soft,
    Or the wave on the sea that moves as thou movest, Eilidh.



CHAPTER VIII

Olaf's Story

There was a little silence.  I looked upon him with wonder. Clearly he
was in deepest earnest. I know the psychology of the Gael is a curious
one and that deep in all their hearts their ancient traditions and
beliefs have strong and living roots. And I was both amused and
touched.

Here was this soldier, who had faced war and its ugly realities
open-eyed and fearless, picking, indeed, the most dangerous branch of
service for his own, a modern if ever there was one, appreciative of
most unmystical Broadway, and yet soberly and earnestly attesting to
his belief in banshee, in shadowy people of the woods, and phantom
harpers! I wondered what he would think if he could see the Dweller
and then, with a pang, that perhaps his superstitions might make him
an easy prey.

He shook his head half impatiently and ran a hand over his eyes;
turned to me and grinned:

"Don't think I'm cracked, Professor," he said.  "I'm not. But it takes
me that way now and then. It's the Irish in me. And, believe it or
not, I'm telling you the truth."

I looked eastward where the moon, now nearly a week past the full, was
mounting.

"You can't make me see what you've seen, Lieutenant," I laughed.  "But
you can make me hear. I've always wondered what kind of a noise a
disembodied spirit could make without any vocal cords or breath or any
other earthly sound-producing mechanism. How does the banshee sound?"

O'Keefe looked at me seriously.

"All right," he said.  "I'll show you." From deep down in his throat
came first a low, weird sobbing that mounted steadily into a keening
whose mournfulness made my skin creep. And then his hand shot out and
gripped my shoulder, and I stiffened like stone in my chair--for from
behind us, like an echo, and then taking up the cry, swelled a wail
that seemed to hold within it a sublimation of the sorrows of
centuries! It gathered itself into one heartbroken, sobbing note and
died away! O'Keefe's grip loosened, and he rose swiftly to his feet.

"It's all right, Professor," he said.  "It's for me.  It found me--all
this way from Ireland."

Again the silence was rent by the cry.  But now I had located it.  It
came from my room, and it could mean only one thing--Huldricksson had
wakened.

"Forget your banshee!" I gasped, and made a jump for the cabin.

Out of the corner of my eye I noted a look of half-sheepish relief
flit over O'Keefe's face, and then he was beside me. Da Costa shouted
an order from the wheel, the Cantonese ran up and took it from his
hands and the little Portuguese pattered down toward us. My hand on
the door, ready to throw it open, I stopped. What if the Dweller were
within--what if we had been wrong and it was not dependent for its
power upon that full flood of moon ray which Throckmartin had thought
essential to draw it from the blue pool!

From within, the sobbing wail began once more to rise. O'Keefe pushed
me aside, threw open the door and crouched low within it. I saw an
automatic flash dully in his hand; saw it cover the cabin from side to
side, following the swift sweep of his eyes around it. Then he
straightened and his face, turned toward the berth, was filled with
wondering pity.

Through the window streamed a shaft of the moonlight. It fell upon
Huldricksson's staring eyes; in them great tears slowly gathered and
rolled down his cheeks; from his opened mouth came the woe-laden
wailing. I ran to the port and drew the curtains. Da Costa snapped the
lights.

The Norseman's dolorous crying stopped as abruptly as though cut.  His
gaze rolled toward us. And at one bound he broke through the leashes I
had buckled round him and faced us, his eyes glaring, his yellow hair
almost erect with the force of the rage visibly surging through him.
Da Costa shrunk behind me. O'Keefe, coolly watchful, took a quick step
that brought him in front of me.

"Where do you take me?" said Huldricksson, and his voice was like the
growl of a beast. "Where is my boat?"

I touched O'Keefe gently and stood before the giant.

"Listen, Olaf Huldricksson," I said.  "We take you to where the
sparkling devil took your Helma and your Freda. We follow the
sparkling devil that came down from the moon. Do you hear me?" I spoke
slowly, distinctly, striving to pierce the mists that I knew swirled
around the strained brain. And the words did pierce.

He thrust out a shaking hand.

"You say you follow?" he asked falteringly.  "You know where to
follow? Where it took my Helma and my little Freda?"

"Just that, Olaf Huldricksson," I answered.  "Just that!  I pledge you
my life that I know."

Da Costa stepped forward.  "He speaks true, Olaf.  You go faster on
the Suwarna than on the Br-rw-un'ilda, Olaf, yes."

The giant Norseman, still gripping my hand, looked at him.  "I know
you, Da Costa," he muttered. "You are all right. Ja! You are a fair
man. Where is the Brunhilda?"

"She follow be'ind on a big rope, Olaf," soothed the Portuguese.
"Soon you see her. But now lie down an' tell us, if you can, why you
tie yourself to your wheel an' what it is that happen, Olaf."

"If you'll tell us how the sparkling devil came it will help us all
when we get to where it is, Huldricksson," I said.

On O'Keefe's face there was an expression of well-nigh ludicrous doubt
and amazement. He glanced from one to the other. The giant shifted his
own tense look from me to the Irishman. A gleam of approval lighted in
his eyes. He loosed me, and gripped O'Keefe's arm. "Staerk!" he said.
"Ja--strong, and with a strong heart. A man--ja! He comes too--we
shall need him--ja!"

"I tell," he muttered, and seated himself on the side of the bunk.
"It was four nights ago. My Freda"--his voice shook--"Mine Yndling!
She loved the moonlight. I was at the wheel and my Freda and my Helma
they were behind me. The moon was behind us and the Brunhilda was like
a swanboat sailing down with the moonlight sending her, ja.

"I heard my Freda say: 'I see a nisse coming down the track of the
moon.' And I hear her mother laugh, low, like a mother does when her
Yndling dreams. I was happy--that night--with my Helma and my Freda,
and the Brunhilda sailing like a swan-boat, ja. I heard the child say,
'The nisse comes fast!' And then I heard a scream from my Helma, a
great scream--like a mare when her foal is torn from her. I spun
around fast, ja! I dropped the wheel and spun fast! I saw--" He
covered his eyes with his hands.

The Portuguese had crept close to me, and I heard him panting like a
frightened dog.

"I saw a white fire spring over the rail," whispered Olaf
Huldricksson. "It whirled round and round, and it shone like--like
stars in a whirlwind mist. There was a noise in my ears. It sounded
like bells--little bells, ja! Like the music you make when you run
your finger round goblets. It made me sick and dizzy--the hell noise.

"My Helma was--indeholde--what you say--in the middle of the white
fire. She turned her face to me and she turned it on the child, and my
Helma's face burned into my heart. Because it was full of fear, and it
was full of happiness--of glaede. I tell you that the fear in my
Helma's face made me ice here"--he beat his breast with clenched
hand--"but the happiness in it burned on me like fire. And I could
not move--I could not move.

"I said in here"--he touched his head--"I said, 'It is Loki come out
of Helvede. But he cannot take my Helma, for Christ lives and Loki has
no power to hurt my Helma or my Freda! Christ lives! Christ lives!' I
said. But the sparkling devil did not let my Helma go. It drew her to
the rail; half over it. I saw her eyes upon the child and a little she
broke away and reached to it. And my Freda jumped into her arms. And
the fire wrapped them both and they were gone! A little I saw them
whirling on the moon track behind the Brunhilda--and they were gone!

"The sparkling devil took them!  Loki was loosed, and he had power.  I
turned the Brunhilda, and I followed where my Helma and mine Yndling
had gone. My boys crept up and asked me to turn again. But I would
not. They dropped a boat and left me. I steered straight on the path.
I lashed my hands to the wheel that sleep might not loose them. I
steered on and on and on--

"Where was the God I prayed when my wife and child were taken?" cried
Olaf Huldricksson--and it was as though I heard Throckmartin asking
that same bitter question. "I have left Him as He left me, ja! I pray
now to Thor and to Odin, who can fetter Loki." He sank back, covering
again his eyes.

"Olaf," I said, "what you have called the sparkling devil has taken
ones dear to me. I, too, was following it when we found you. You shall
go with me to its home, and there we will try to take from it your
wife and your child and my friends as well. But now that you may be
strong for what is before us, you must sleep again."

Olaf Huldricksson looked upon me and in his eyes was that something
which souls must see in the eyes of Him the old Egyptians called the
Searcher of Hearts in the Judgment Hall of Osiris.

"You speak truth!" he said at last slowly.  "I will do what you say!"

He stretched out an arm at my bidding.  I gave him a second injection.
He lay back and soon he was sleeping. I turned toward Da Costa. His
face was livid and sweating, and he was trembling pitiably. O'Keefe
stirred.

"You did that mighty well, Dr. Goodwin," he said.  "So well that I
almost believed you myself."

"What did you think of his story, Mr. O'Keefe?" I asked.

His answer was almost painfully brief and colloquial.

"Nuts!" he said. I was a little shocked, I admit. "I think he's crazy,
Dr. Goodwin," he corrected himself, quickly. "What else could I
think?"

I turned to the little Portuguese without answering.

"There's no need for any anxiety tonight, Captain," I said. "Take my
word for it. You need some rest yourself. Shall I give you a sleeping
draft?"

"I do wish you would, Dr. Goodwin, sair," he answered gratefully.
"Tomorrow, when I feel bettair--I would have a talk with you."

I nodded.  He did know something then!  I mixed him an opiate of
considerable strength. He took it and went to his own cabin.

I locked the door behind him and then, sitting beside the sleeping
Norseman, I told O'Keefe my story from end to end. He asked few
questions as I spoke. But after I had finished he cross-examined me
rather minutely upon my recollections of the radiant phases upon each
appearance, checking these with Throckmartin's observations of the
same phenomena in the Chamber of the Moon Pool.

"And now what do you think of it all?" I asked.

He sat silent for a while, looking at Huldricksson.

"Not what you seem to think, Dr. Goodwin," he answered at last,
gravely. "Let me sleep over it. One thing of course is certain--you
and your friend Throckmartin and this man here saw--something. But--"
he was silent again and then continued with a kindness that I found
vaguely irritating--"but I've noticed that when a scientist gets
superstitious it--er--takes very hard!

"Here's a few things I can tell you now though," he went on while I
struggled to speak--"I pray in my heart that we'll meet neither the
Dolphin nor anything with wireless on board going up. Because, Dr.
Goodwin, I'd dearly love to take a crack at your Dweller.

"And another thing," said O'Keefe.  "After this--cut out the
trimmings, Doc, and call me plain Larry, for whether I think you're
crazy or whether I don't, you're there with the nerve, Professor, and
I'm for _you_.

"Good night!" said Larry and took himself out to the deck hammock he
had insisted upon having slung for him, refusing the captain's
importunities to use his own cabin.

And it was with extremely mixed emotions as to his compliment that I
watched him go. Superstitious. I, whose pride was my scientific
devotion to fact and fact alone! Superstitious--and this from a man
who believed in banshees and ghostly harpers and Irish wood nymphs and
no doubt in leprechauns and all their tribe!

Half laughing, half irritated, and wholly happy in even the part
promise of Larry O'Keefe's comradeship on my venture, I arranged a
couple of pillows, stretched myself out on two chairs and took up my
vigil beside Olaf Huldricksson.



CHAPTER IX

A Lost Page of Earth

When I awakened the sun was streaming through the cabin porthole.
Outside a fresh voice lilted. I lay on my two chairs and listened. The
song was one with the wholesome sunshine and the breeze blowing
stiffly and whipping the curtains. It was Larry O'Keefe at his matins:

  The little red lark is shaking his wings,
  Straight from the breast of his love he springs

Larry's voice soared.

  His wings and his feathers are sunrise red,
  He hails the sun and his golden head,
  Good morning, Doc, you are long abed.

This last was a most irreverent interpolation, I well knew. I opened
my door. O'Keefe stood outside laughing. The Suwarna, her engines
silent, was making fine headway under all sail, the Brunhilda skipping
in her wake cheerfully with half her canvas up.

The sea was crisping and dimpling under the wind.  Blue and white was
the world as far as the eye could reach. Schools of little silvery
green flying fish broke through the water rushing on each side of us;
flashed for an instant and were gone. Behind us gulls hovered and
dipped. The shadow of mystery had retreated far over the rim of this
wide awake and beautiful world and if, subconsciously, I knew that
somewhere it was brooding and waiting, for a little while at least I
was consciously free of its oppression.

"How's the patient?" asked O'Keefe.

He was answered by Huldricksson himself, who must have risen just as I
left the cabin. The Norseman had slipped on a pair of pajamas and,
giant torso naked under the sun, he strode out upon us. We all of us
looked at him a trifle anxiously. But Olaf's madness had left him. In
his eyes was much sorrow, but the berserk rage was gone.

He spoke straight to me: "You said last night we follow?"

I nodded.

"It is where?" he asked again.

"We go first to Ponape and from there to Metalanim Harbour--to the
Nan-Matal. You know the place?"

Huldricksson bowed--a white gleam as of ice showing in his blue eyes.

"It is there?" he asked.

"It is there that we must first search," I answered.

"Good!" said Olaf Huldricksson.  "It is good!"

He looked at Da Costa inquiringly and the little Portuguese, following
his thought, answered his unspoken question.

"We should be at Ponape tomorrow morning early, Olaf."

"Good!" repeated the Norseman.  He looked away, his eyes tear-filled.

A restraint fell upon us; the embarrassment all men experience when
they feel a great sympathy and a great pity, to neither of which they
quite know how to give expression. By silent consent we discussed at
breakfast only the most casual topics.

When the meal was over Huldricksson expressed a desire to go aboard
the Brunhilda.

The Suwarna hove to and Da Costa and he dropped into the small boat.
When they reached the Brunhilda's deck I saw Olaf take the wheel and
the two fall into earnest talk. I beckoned to O'Keefe and we stretched
ourselves out on the bow hatch under cover of the foresail. He lighted
a cigarette, took a couple of leisurely puffs, and looked at me
expectantly.

"Well?" I asked.

"Well," said O'Keefe, "suppose you tell me what you think--and then
I'll proceed to point out your scientific errors." His eyes twinkled
mischievously.

"Larry," I replied, somewhat severely, "you may not know that I have a
scientific reputation which, putting aside all modesty, I may say is
an enviable one. You used a word last night to which I must interpose
serious objection. You more than hinted that I hid--superstitions. Let
me inform you, Larry O'Keefe, that I am solely a seeker, observer,
analyst, and synthesist of facts. I am not"--and I tried to make my
tone as pointed as my words--"I am not a believer in phantoms or
spooks, leprechauns, banshees, or ghostly harpers."

O'Keefe leaned back and shouted with laughter.

"Forgive me, Goodwin," he gasped.  "But if you could have seen
yourself solemnly disclaiming the banshee"--another twinkle showed in
his eyes--"and then with all this sunshine and this wide-open
world"--he shrugged his shoulders--"it's hard to visualize anything
such as you and Huldricksson have described."

"I know how hard it is, Larry," I answered.  "And don't think I have
any idea that the phenomenon is supernatural in the sense
spiritualists and table turners have given that word. I do think it is
supernormal; energized by a force unknown to modern science--but that
doesn't mean I think it outside the radius of science."

"Tell me your theory, Goodwin," he said.  I hesitated--for not yet
had I been able to put into form to satisfy myself any explanation of
the Dweller.

"I think," I hazarded finally, "it is possible that some members of
that race peopling the ancient continent which we know existed here in
the Pacific, have survived. We know that many of these islands are
honeycombed with caverns and vast subterranean spaces, literally
underground lands running in some cases far out beneath the ocean
floor. It is possible that for some reason survivors of this race
sought refuge in the abysmal spaces, one of whose entrances is on the
islet where Throckmartin's party met its end.

"As for their persistence in these caverns--we know they possessed a
high science. They may have gone far in the mastery of certain
universal forms of energy--especially that we call light. They may
have developed a civilization and a science far more advanced than
ours. What I call the Dweller may be one of the results of this
science. Larry--it may well be that this lost race is planning to
emerge again upon earth's surface!"

"And is sending out your Dweller as a messenger, a scientific dove
from their Ark?" I chose to overlook the banter in his question.

"Did you ever hear of the Chamats?" I asked him.  He shook his head.

"In Papua," I explained, "there is a wide-spread and immeasurably old
tradition that 'imprisoned under the hills' is a race of giants who
once ruled this region 'when it stretched from sun to sun before the
moon god drew the waters over it'--I quote from the legend. Not only
in Papua but throughout Malaysia you find this story. And, so the
tradition runs, these people--the Chamats--will one day break through
the hills and rule the world; 'make over the world' is the literal
translation of the constant phrase in the tale. It was Herbert Spencer
who pointed out that there is a basis of fact in every myth and legend
of man. It is possible that these survivors I am discussing form
Spencer's fact basis for the Malaysian legend.[1]

"This much is sure--the moon door, which is clearly operated by the
action of moon rays upon some unknown element or combination and the
crystals through which the moon rays pour down upon the pool their
prismatic columns, are humanly made mechanisms. So long as they are
humanly made, and so long as it _is_ this flood of moonlight from which
the Dweller draws its power of materialization, the Dweller itself, if
not the product of the human mind, is at least dependent upon the
product of the human mind for its appearance."

"Wait a minute, Goodwin," interrupted O'Keefe.  "Do you mean to say
you think that this thing is made of--well--of moonshine?"

"Moonlight," I replied, "is, of course, reflected sunlight. But the
rays which pass back to earth after their impact on the moon's surface
are profoundly changed. The spectroscope shows that they lose
practically all the slower vibrations we call red and infra-red, while
the extremely rapid vibrations we call the violet and ultra-violet are
accelerated and altered. Many scientists hold that there is an unknown
element in the moon--perhaps that which makes the gigantic luminous
trails that radiate in all directions from the lunar crater
Tycho--whose energies are absorbed by and carried on the moon rays.

"At any rate, whether by the loss of the vibrations of the red or by
the addition of this mysterious force, the light of the moon becomes
something entirely different from mere modified sunlight--just as the
addition or subtraction of one other chemical in a compound of several
makes the product a substance with entirely different energies and
potentialities.

"Now these rays, Larry, are given perhaps still another mysterious
activity by the globes through which Throckmartin said they passed in
the Chamber of the Moon Pool. The result is the necessary factor in
the formation of the Dweller. There would be nothing scientifically
improbable in such a process. Kubalski, the great Russian physicist,
produced crystalline forms exhibiting every faculty that we call vital
by subjecting certain combinations of chemicals to the action of
highly concentrated rays of various colours. Something in light and
nothing else produced their pseudo-vitality. We do not begin to know
how to harness the potentialities of that magnetic vibration of the
ether we call light."

"Listen, Doc," said Larry earnestly, "I'll take everything you say
about this lost continent, the people who used to live on it, and
their caverns, for granted. But by the sword of Brian Boru, you'll
never get me to fall for the idea that a bunch of moonshine can handle
a big woman such as you say Throckmartin's Thora was, nor a two-fisted
man such as you say Throckmartin was, nor Huldricksson's wife--and
I'll bet she was one of those strapping big northern women too--you'll
never get me to believe that any bunch of concentrated moonshine could
handle them and take them waltzing off along a moonbeam back to
wherever it goes. No, Doc, not on your life, even Tennessee moonshine
couldn't do that--nix!"

"All right, O'Keefe," I answered, now very much irritated indeed.
"What's your theory?" And I could not resist adding: "Fairies?"

"Professor," he grinned, "if that Thing's a fairy it's Irish and when
it sees me it'll be so glad there'll be nothing to it. 'I was lost,
strayed, or stolen, Larry avick,' it'll say, 'an' I was so homesick
for the old sod I was desp'rit,' it'll say, an' 'take me back quick
before I do any more har-rm!' it'll tell me--an' that's the truth.

"Now don't get me wrong.  I believe you all saw something all right.
But what I think you saw was some kind of gas. All this region is
volcanic and islands and things are constantly poking up from the sea.
It's probably gas; a volcanic emanation; something new to us and that
drives you crazy--lots of kinds of gas do that. It hit the
Throckmartin party on that island and they probably were all more or
less delirious all the time; thought they saw things; talked it over
and--collective hallucination--just like the Angels of Mons and other
miracles of the war. Somebody sees something that looks like something
else. He points it out to the man next him. 'Do you see it?' asks he.
'Sure I see it,' says the other. And there you are--collective
hallucination.

"When your friends got it bad they most likely jumped overboard one by
one. Huldricksson sails into a place where it is and it hits his wife.
She grabs the child and jumps over. Maybe the moon rays make it
luminous! I've seen gas on the front under the moon that looked like a
thousand whirling dervish devils. Yes, and you could see the devil's
faces in it. And if it got into your lungs nothing could ever make you
think you hadn't seen real devils."

For a time I was silent.

"Larry," I said at last, "whether you are right or I am right, I must
go to the Nan-Matal. Will you go with me, Larry?"

"Goodwin," he replied, "I surely will.  I'm as interested as you are.
If we don't run across the Dolphin I'll stick. I'll leave word at
Ponape, to tell them where I am should they come along. If they report
me dead for a while there's nobody to care. So that's all right. Only
old man, be reasonable. You've thought over this so long, you're going
bug, honestly you are."

And again, the gladness that I might have Larry O'Keefe with me, was
so great that I forgot to be angry.


[1] William Beebe, the famous American naturalist and ornithologist,
recently fighting in France with America's air force, called attention
to this remarkable belief in an article printed not long ago in the
Atlantic Monthly. Still more significant was it that he noted a
persistent rumour that the breaking out of the buried race was
close.--W.J. B., Pres. I. A. of S.



CHAPTER X

The Moon Pool

Da Costa, who had come aboard unnoticed by either of us, now tapped me
on the arm.

"Doctair Goodwin," he said, "can I see you in my cabin, sair?"

At last, then, he was going to speak.  I followed him.

"Doctair," he said, when we had entered, "this is a veree strange
thing that has happened to Olaf. Veree strange. An' the natives of
Ponape, they have been very much excite' lately.

"Of what they fear I know nothing, nothing!" Again that quick, furtive
crossing of himself. "But this I have to tell you. There came to me
from Ranaloa last month a man, a Russian, a doctair, like you. His
name it was Marakinoff. I take him to Ponape an' the natives there
they will not take him to the Nan-Matal where he wish to go--no! So I
take him. We leave in a boat, wit' much instrument carefully tied up.
I leave him there wit' the boat an' the food. He tell me to tell no
one an' pay me not to. But you are a friend an' Olaf he depend much
upon you an' so I tell you, sair."

"You know nothing more than this, Da Costa?" I asked. "Nothing of
another expedition?"

"No," he shook his head vehemently.  "Nothing more."

"Hear the name Throckmartin while you were there?" I persisted.

"No," his eyes were steady as he answered but the pallor had crept
again into his face.

I was not so sure.  But if he knew more than he had told me why was he
afraid to speak? My anxiety deepened and later I sought relief from it
by repeating the conversation to O'Keefe.

"A Russian, eh," he said.  "Well, they can be damned nice, or
damned--otherwise. Considering what you did for me, I hope I can look
him over before the Dolphin shows up."

Next morning we raised Ponape, without further incident, and before
noon the Suwarna and the Brunhilda had dropped anchor in the harbour.
Upon the excitement and manifest dread of the natives, when we sought
among them for carriers and workmen to accompany us, I will not dwell.
It is enough to say that no payment we offered could induce a single
one of them to go to the Nan-Matal. Nor would they say why.

Finally it was agreed that the Brunhilda should be left in charge of a
half-breed Chinaman, whom both Da Costa and Huldricksson knew and
trusted. We piled her long-boat up with my instruments and food and
camping equipment. The Suwarna took us around to Metalanim Harbour,
and there, with the tops of ancient sea walls deep in the blue water
beneath us, and the ruins looming up out of the mangroves, a scant
mile from us, left us.

Then with Huldricksson manipulating our small sail, and Larry at the
rudder, we rounded the titanic wall that swept down into the depths,
and turned at last into the canal that Throckmartin, on his map, had
marked as that which, running between frowning Nan-Tauach and its
satellite islet, Tau, led straight to the gate of the place of ancient
mysteries.

And as we entered that channel we were enveloped by a silence; a
silence so intense, so--weighted that it seemed to have substance; an
alien silence that clung and stifled and still stood aloof from
us--the living. It was a stillness, such as might follow the long
tramping of millions into the grave; it was--paradoxical as it may
be--filled with the withdrawal of life.

Standing down in the chambered depths of the Great Pyramid I had known
something of such silence--but never such intensity as this. Larry
felt it and I saw him look at me askance. If Olaf, sitting in the bow,
felt it, too, he gave no sign; his blue eyes, with again the glint of
ice within them, watched the channel before us.

As we passed, there arose upon our left sheer walls of black basalt
blocks, cyclopean, towering fifty feet or more, broken here and there
by the sinking of their deep foundations.

In front of us the mangroves widened out and filled the canal.  On
our right the lesser walls of Tau, sombre blocks smoothed and squared
and set with a cold, mathematical nicety that filled me with vague
awe, slipped by. Through breaks I caught glimpses of dark ruins and of
great fallen stones that seemed to crouch and menace us, as we passed.
Somewhere there, hidden, were the seven globes that poured the moon
fire down upon the Moon Pool.

Now we were among the mangroves and, sail down, the three of us pushed
and pulled the boat through their tangled roots and branches. The
noise of our passing split the silence like a profanation, and from
the ancient bastions came murmurs--forbidding, strangely sinister. And
now we were through, floating on a little open space of shadow-filled
water. Before us lifted the gateway of Nan-Tauach, gigantic, broken,
incredibly old; shattered portals through which had passed men and
women of earth's dawn; old with a weight of years that pressed
leadenly upon the eyes that looked upon it, and yet was in some
curious indefinable way--menacingly defiant.

Beyond the gate, back from the portals, stretched a flight of enormous
basalt slabs, a giant's stairway indeed; and from each side of it
marched the high walls that were the Dweller's pathway. None of us
spoke as we grounded the boat and dragged it upon a half-submerged
pier. And when we did speak it was in whispers.

"What next?" asked Larry.

"I think we ought to take a look around," I replied in the same low
tones. "We'll climb the wall here and take a flash about. The whole
place ought to be plain as day from that height."

Huldricksson, his blue eyes alert, nodded.  With the greatest
difficulty we clambered up the broken blocks.

To the east and south of us, set like children's blocks in the midst
of the sapphire sea, lay dozens of islets, none of them covering more
than two square miles of surface; each of them a perfect square or
oblong within its protecting walls.

On none was there sign of life, save for a few great birds that
hovered here and there, and gulls dipping in the blue waves beyond.

We turned our gaze down upon the island on which we stood.  It was, I
estimated, about three-quarters of a mile square. The sea wall
enclosed it. It was really an enormous basalt-sided open cube, and
within it two other open cubes. The enclosure between the first and
second wall was stone paved, with here and there a broken pillar and
long stone benches. The hibiscus, the aloe tree, and a number of small
shrubs had found place, but seemed only to intensify its stark
loneliness.

"Wonder where the Russian can be?" asked Larry.

I shook my head.  There was no sign of life here.  Had Marakinoff
gone--or had the Dweller taken him, too? Whatever had happened, there
was no trace of him below us or on any of the islets within our range
of vision. We scrambled down the side of the gateway. Olaf looked at
me wistfully.

"We start the search now, Olaf," I said.  "And first, O'Keefe, let us
see whether the grey stone is really here. After that we will set up
camp, and while I unpack, you and Olaf search the island. It won't
take long."

Larry gave a look at his service automatic and grinned. "Lead on,
Macduff," he said. We made our way up the steps, through the outer
enclosures and into the central square, I confess to a fire of
scientific curiosity and eagerness tinged with a dread that O'Keefe's
analysis might be true. Would we find the moving slab and, if so,
would it be as Throckmartin had described? If so, then even Larry
would have to admit that here was something that theories of gases and
luminous emanations would not explain; and the first test of the whole
amazing story would be passed. But if not--And there before us, the
faintest tinge of grey setting it apart from its neighbouring blocks
of basalt, was the moon door!

There was no mistaking it.  This was, in very deed, the portal through
which Throckmartin had seen pass that gloriously dreadful apparition
he called the Dweller. At its base was the curious, seemingly polished
cup-like depression within which, my lost friend had told me, the
opening door swung.

What was that portal--more enigmatic than was ever sphinx?  And what
lay beyond it? What did that smooth stone, whose wan deadness
whispered of ages-old corridors of time opening out into alien,
unimaginable vistas, hide? It had cost the world of science
Throckmartin's great brain--as it had cost Throckmartin those he
loved. It had drawn me to it in search of Throckmartin--and its shadow
had fallen upon the soul of Olaf the Norseman; and upon what thousands
upon thousands more I wondered, since the brains that had conceived it
had vanished with their secret knowledge?

What lay beyond it?

I stretched out a shaking hand and touched the surface of the slab.  A
faint thrill passed through my hand and arm, oddly unfamiliar and as
oddly unpleasant; as of electric contact holding the very essence of
cold. O'Keefe, watching, imitated my action. As his fingers rested on
the stone his face filled with astonishment.

"It's the door?" he asked.  I nodded.  There was a low whistle from
him and he pointed up toward the top of the grey stone. I followed the
gesture and saw, above the moon door and on each side of it, two
gently curving bosses of rock, perhaps a foot in diameter.

"The moon door's keys," I said.

"It begins to look so," answered Larry.  "If we can find them," he
added.

"There's nothing we can do till moonrise," I replied.  "And we've none
too much time to prepare as it is. Come!"

A little later we were beside our boat.  We lightered it, set up the
tent, and as it was now but a short hour to sundown I bade them leave
me and make their search. They went off together, and I busied myself
with opening some of the paraphernalia I had brought with me.

First of all I took out the two Becquerel ray-condensers that I had
bought in Sydney. Their lenses would collect and intensify to the
fullest extent any light directed upon them. I had found them most
useful in making spectroscopic analysis of luminous vapours, and I
knew that at Yerkes Observatory splendid results had been obtained
from them in collecting the diffused radiance of the nebulae for the
same purpose.

If my theory of the grey slab's mechanism were correct, it was
practically certain that with the satellite only a few nights past the
full we could concentrate enough light on the bosses to open the rock.
And as the ray streams through the seven globes described by
Throckmartin would be too weak to energize the Pool, we could enter
the chamber free from any fear of encountering its tenant, make our
preliminary observations and go forth before the moon had dropped so
far that the concentration in the condensers would fall below that
necessary to keep the portal from closing.

I took out also a small spectroscope, and a few other instruments for
the analysis of certain light manifestations and the testing of metal
and liquid. Finally, I put aside my emergency medical kit.

I had hardly finished examining and adjusting these before O'Keefe and
Huldricksson returned. They reported signs of a camp at least ten days
old beside the northern wall of the outer court, but beyond that no
evidence of others beyond ourselves on Nan-Tauach.

We prepared supper, ate and talked a little, but for the most part
were silent. Even Larry's high spirits were not in evidence; half a
dozen times I saw him take out his automatic and look it over. He was
more thoughtful than I had ever seen him. Once he went into the tent,
rummaged about a bit and brought out another revolver which, he said,
he had got from Da Costa, and a half-dozen clips of cartridges. He
passed the gun over to Olaf.

At last a glow in the southeast heralded the rising moon. I picked up
my instruments and the medical kit; Larry and Olaf shouldered each a
short ladder that was part of my equipment, and, with our electric
flashes pointing the way, walked up the great stairs, through the
enclosures, and straight to the grey stone.

By this time the moon had risen and its clipped light shone full upon
the slab. I saw faint gleams pass over it as of fleeting
phosphorescence--but so faint were they that I could not be sure of
the truth of my observation.

We set the ladders in place.  Olaf I assigned to stand before the door
and watch for the first signs of its opening--if open it should. The
Becquerels were set within three-inch tripods, whose feet I had
equipped with vacuum rings to enable them to hold fast to the rock.

I scaled one ladder and fastened a condenser over the boss; descended;
sent Larry up to watch it, and, ascending the second ladder, rapidly
fixed the other in its place. Then, with O'Keefe watchful on his
perch, I on mine, and Olaf's eyes fixed upon the moon door, we began
our vigil. Suddenly there was an exclamation from Larry.

"Seven little lights are beginning to glow on this stone!" he cried.

But I had already seen those beneath my lens begin to gleam out with a
silvery lustre. Swiftly the rays within the condenser began to thicken
and increase, and as they did so the seven small circles waxed like
stars growing out of the dusk, and with a queer--curdled is the best
word I can find to define it--radiance entirely strange to me.

Beneath me I heard a faint, sighing murmur and then the voice of
Huldricksson:

"It opens--the stone turns--"

I began to climb down the ladder.  Again came Olaf's voice:

"The stone--it is open--" And then a shriek, a wail of blended anguish
and pity, of rage and despair--and the sound of swift footsteps racing
through the wall beneath me!

I dropped to the ground.  The moon door was wide open, and through it
I caught a glimpse of a corridor filled with a faint, pearly vaporous
light like earliest misty dawn. But of Olaf I could see--nothing! And
even as I stood, gaping, from behind me came the sharp crack of a
rifle; the glass of the condenser at Larry's side flew into fragments;
he dropped swiftly to the ground, the automatic in his hand flashed
once, twice, into the darkness.

And the moon door began to pivot slowly, slowly back into its place!

I rushed toward the turning stone with the wild idea of holding it
open. As I thrust my hands against it there came at my back a snarl
and an oath and Larry staggered under the impact of a body that had
flung itself straight at his throat. He reeled at the lip of the
shallow cup at the base of the slab, slipped upon its polished curve,
fell and rolled with that which had attacked him, kicking and
writhing, straight through the narrowing portal into the passage!

Forgetting all else, I sprang to his aid.  As I leaped I felt the
closing edge of the moon door graze my side. Then, as Larry raised a
fist, brought it down upon the temple of the man who had grappled with
him and rose from the twitching body unsteadily to his feet, I heard
shuddering past me a mournful whisper; spun about as though some
giant's hand had whirled me--

The end of the corridor no longer opened out into the moonlit square
of ruined Nan-Tauach. It was barred by a solid mass of glimmering
stone. The moon door had closed!

O'Keefe took a stumbling step toward the barrier behind us. There was
no mark of juncture with the shining walls; the slab fitted into the
sides as closely as a mosaic.

"It's shut all right," said Larry.  "But if there's a way in, there's
a way out. Anyway, Doc, we're right in the pew we've been heading
for--so why worry?" He grinned at me cheerfully. The man on the floor
groaned, and he dropped to his knees beside him.

"Marakinoff!" he cried.

At my exclamation he moved aside, turning the face so I could see it.
It was clearly Russian, and just as clearly its possessor was one of
unusual force and intellect.

The strong, massive brow with orbital ridge unusually developed, the
dominant, high-bridged nose, the straight lips with their more than
suggestion of latent cruelty, and the strong lines of the jaw beneath
a black, pointed beard all gave evidence that here was a personality
beyond the ordinary.

"Couldn't be anybody else," said Larry, breaking in on my thoughts.
"He must have been watching us over there from Chau-ta-leur's vault
all the time."

Swiftly he ran practised hands over his body; then stood erect,
holding out to me two wicked-looking magazine pistols and a knife. "He
got one of my bullets through his right forearm, too," he said. "Just
a flesh wound, but it made him drop his rifle. Some arsenal, our
little Russian scientist, what?"

I opened my medical kit.  The wound was a slight one, and Larry stood
looking on as I bandaged it.

"Got another one of those condensers?" he asked, suddenly.  "And do
you suppose Olaf will know enough to use it?"

"Larry," I answered, "Olaf's not outside!  He's in here somewhere!"

His jaw dropped.

"The hell you say!" he whispered.

"Didn't you hear him shriek when the stone opened?" I asked.

"I heard him yell, yes," he said.  "But I didn't know what was the
matter. And then this wildcat jumped me--" He paused and his eyes
widened. "Which way did he go?" he asked swiftly. I pointed down the
faintly glowing passage.

"There's only one way," I said.

"Watch that bird close," hissed O'Keefe, pointing to Marakinoff--and
pistol in hand stretched his long legs and raced away. I looked down
at the Russian. His eyes were open, and he reached out a hand to me. I
lifted him to his feet.

"I have heard," he said.  "We follow, quick.  If you will take my arm,
please, I am shaken yet, yes--" I gripped his shoulder without a word,
and the two of us set off down the corridor after O'Keefe. Marakinoff
was gasping, and his weight pressed upon me heavily, but he moved with
all the will and strength that were in him.

As we ran I took hasty note of the tunnel.  Its sides were smooth and
polished, and the light seemed to come not from their surfaces, but
from far within them--giving to the walls an illusive aspect of
distance and depth; rendering them in a peculiarly weird
way--spacious. The passage turned, twisted, ran down, turned again. It
came to me that the light that illumined the tunnel was given out by
tiny points deep within the stone, sprang from the points ripplingly
and spread upon their polished faces.

There was a cry from Larry far ahead.

"Olaf!"

I gripped Marakinoff's arm closer and we sped on.  Now we were coming
fast to the end of the passage. Before us was a high arch, and through
it I glimpsed a dim, shifting luminosity as of mist filled with
rainbows. We reached the portal and I looked into a chamber that might
have been transported from that enchanted palace of the Jinn King that
rises beyond the magic mountains of Kaf.

Before me stood O'Keefe and a dozen feet in front of him,
Huldricksson, with something clasped tightly in his arms. The
Norseman's feet were at the verge of a shining, silvery lip of stone
within whose oval lay a blue pool. And down upon this pool staring
upward like a gigantic eye, fell seven pillars of phantom light--one
of them amethyst, one of rose, another of white, a fourth of blue, and
three of emerald, of silver, and of amber. They fell each upon the
azure surface, and I knew that these were the seven streams of
radiance, within which the Dweller took shape--now but pale ghosts of
their brilliancy when the full energy of the moon stream raced through
them.

Huldricksson bent and placed on the shining silver lip of the Pool
that which he held--and I saw that it was the body of a child! He set
it there so gently, bent over the side and thrust a hand down into the
water. And as he did so he moaned and lurched against the little body
that lay before him. Instantly the form moved--and slipped over the
verge into the blue. Huldricksson threw his body over the stone, hands
clutching, arms thrust deep down--and from his lips issued a
long-drawn, heart-shrivelling wail of pain and of anguish that held in
it nothing human!

Close on its wake came a cry from Marakinoff.

"Catch him!" shouted the Russian.  "Drag him back! Quick!"

He leaped forward, but before he could half clear the distance,
O'Keefe had leaped too, had caught the Norseman by the shoulders and
toppled him backward, where he lay whimpering and sobbing. And as I
rushed behind Marakinoff I saw Larry lean over the lip of the Pool and
cover his eyes with a shaking hand; saw the Russian peer into it with
real pity in his cold eyes.

Then I stared down myself into the Moon Pool, and there, sinking, was
a little maid whose dead face and fixed, terror-filled eyes looked
straight into mine; and ever sinking slowly, slowly--vanished! And I
knew that this was Olaf's Freda, his beloved yndling!

But where was the mother, and where had Olaf found his babe?

The Russian was first to speak.

"You have nitroglycerin there, yes?" he asked, pointing toward my
medical kit that I had gripped unconsciously and carried with me
during the mad rush down the passage. I nodded and drew it out.

"Hypodermic," he ordered next, curtly; took the syringe, filled it
accurately with its one one-hundredth of a grain dosage, and leaned
over Huldricksson. He rolled up the sailor's sleeves half-way to the
shoulder. The arms were white with somewhat of that weird
semitranslucence that I had seen on Throckmartin's breast where a
tendril of the Dweller had touched him; and his hands were of the same
whiteness--like a baroque pearl. Above the line of white, Marakinoff
thrust the needle.

"He will need all his heart can do," he said to me.

Then he reached down into a belt about his waist and drew from it a
small, flat flask of what seemed to be lead. He opened it and let a
few drops of its contents fall on each arm of the Norwegian. The
liquid sparkled and instantly began to spread over the skin much as
oil or gasoline dropped on water does--only far more rapidly. And as
it spread it drew a sparkling film over the marbled flesh and little
wisps of vapour rose from it. The Norseman's mighty chest heaved with
agony. His hands clenched. The Russian gave a grunt of satisfaction at
this, dropped a little more of the liquid, and then, watching closely,
grunted again and leaned back. Huldricksson's laboured breathing
ceased, his head dropped upon Larry's knee, and from his arms and
hands the whiteness swiftly withdrew.

Marakinoff arose and contemplated us--almost benevolently.

"He will all right be in five minutes," he said.  "I know.  I do it to
pay for that shot of mine, and also because we will need him. Yes." He
turned to Larry. "You have a poonch like a mule kick, my young
friend," he said. "Some time you pay me for that, too, eh?" He smiled;
and the quality of the grimace was not exactly reassuring. Larry
looked him over quizzically.

"You're Marakinoff, of course," he said.  The Russian nodded,
betraying no surprise at the recognition.

"And you?" he asked.

"Lieutenant O'Keefe of the Royal Flying Corps," replied Larry,
saluting. "And this gentleman is Dr. Walter T. Goodwin."

Marakinoff's face brightened.

"The American botanist?" he queried.  I nodded.

"Ah," cried Marakinoff eagerly, "but this is fortunate. Long I have
desired to meet you. Your work, for an American, is most excellent;
surprising. But you are wrong in your theory of the development of the
Angiospermae from Cycadeoidea dacotensis. Da--all wrong--"

I was interrupting him with considerable heat, for my conclusions from
the fossil Cycadeoidea I knew to be my greatest triumph, when Larry
broke in upon me rudely.

"Say," he spluttered, "am I crazy or are you?  What in damnation kind
of a place and time is this to start an argument like that?

"Angiospermae, is it?" exclaimed Larry.  "HELL!"

Marakinoff again regarded him with that irritating air of benevolence.

"You have not the scientific mind, young friend," he said. "The
poonch, yes! But so has the mule. You must learn that only the fact is
important--not you, not me, not this"--he pointed to Huldricksson--"or
its sorrows. Only the fact, whatever it is, is real, yes. But"--he
turned to me--"another time--"

Huldricksson interrupted him.  The big seaman had risen stiffly to his
feet and stood with Larry's arm supporting him. He stretched out his
hands to me.

"I saw her," he whispered.  "I saw mine Freda when the stone swung.
She lay there--just at my feet. I picked her up and I saw that mine
Freda was dead. But I hoped--and I thought maybe mine Helma was
somewhere here, too, So I ran with mine yndling--here--" His voice
broke. "I thought maybe she was _not_ dead," he went on. "And I saw
that"--he pointed to the Moon Pool--"and I thought I would bathe her
face and she might live again. And when I dipped my hands within--the
life left them, and cold, deadly cold, ran up through them into my
heart. And mine Freda--she fell--" he covered his eyes, and dropping
his head on O'Keefe's shoulder, stood, racked by sobs that seemed to
tear at his very soul.



CHAPTER XI

The Flame-Tipped Shadows

Marakinoff nodded his head solemnly as Olaf finished.

"Da!" he said.  "That which comes from here took them both--the woman
and the child. Da! They came clasped within it and the stone shut upon
them. But why it left the child behind I do not understand."

"How do you know that?" I cried in amazement.

"Because I saw it," answered Marakinoff simply.  "Not only did I see
it, but hardly had I time to make escape through the entrance before
it passed whirling and murmuring and its bell sounds all joyous. Da!
It was what you call the squeak close, that."

"Wait a moment," I said--stilling Larry with a gesture. "Do I
understand you to say that you were within this place?"

Marakinoff actually beamed upon me.

"Da, Dr. Goodwin," he said, "I went in when that which comes from it
went out!"

I gaped at him, stricken dumb; into Larry's bellicose attitude crept a
suggestion of grudging respect; Olaf, trembling, watched silently.

"Dr.  Goodwin and my impetuous young friend, you," went on Marakinoff
after a moment's silence and I wondered vaguely why he did not include
Huldricksson in his address--"it is time that we have an
understanding. I have a proposal to make to you also. It is this; we
are what you call a bad boat, and all of us are in it. Da! We need all
hands, is it not so? Let us put together our knowledge and our brains
and resources--and even a poonch of a mule is a resource," he looked
wickedly at O'Keefe, "and pull our boat into quiet waters again. After
that--"

"All very well, Marakinoff," interjected Larry, "but I don't feel very
safe in any boat with somebody capable of shooting me through the
back."

Marakinoff waved a deprecatory hand.

"It was natural that," he said, "logical, da!  Here is a very great
secret, perhaps many secrets to my country invaluable--" He paused,
shaken by some overpowering emotion; the veins in his forehead grew
congested, the cold eyes blazed and the guttural voice harshened.

"I do not apologize and I do not explain," rasped Marakinoff.  "But I
will tell you, da! Here is my country sweating blood in an experiment
to liberate the world. And here are the other nations ringing us like
wolves and waiting to spring at our throats at the least sign of
weakness. And here are you, Lieutenant O'Keefe of the English wolves,
and you Dr. Goodwin of the Yankee pack--and here in this place may be
that will enable my country to win its war for the worker. What are
the lives of you two and this sailor to that? Less than the flies I
crush with my hand, less than midges in the sunbeam!"

He suddenly gripped himself.

"But that is not now the important thing," he resumed, almost coldly.
"Not that nor my shooting. Let us squarely the situation face. My
proposal is so: that we join interests, and what you call see it
through together; find our way through this place and those secrets
learn of which I have spoken, if we can. And when that is done we will
go our ways, to his own land each, to make use of them for our lands
as each of us may. On my part, I offer my knowledge--and it is very
valuable, Dr. Goodwin--and my training. You and Lieutenant O'Keefe do
the same, and this man Olaf, what he can of his strength, for I do not
think his usefulness lies in his brains, no."

"In effect, Goodwin," broke in Larry as I hesitated, "the professor's
proposition is this: he wants to know what's going on here but he
begins to realize it's no one man's job and besides we have the drop
on him. We're three to his one, and we have all his hardware and
cutlery. But also we can do better with him than without him--just as
he can do better with us than without us. It's an even break--for a
while. But once he gets that information he's looking for, then look
out. You and Olaf and I are the wolves and the flies and the midges
again--and the strafing will be about due. Nevertheless, with three to
one against him, if he can get away with it he deserves to. I'm for
taking him up, if you are."

There was almost a twinkle in Marakinoff's eyes.

"It is not just as I would have put it, perhaps," he said, "but in its
skeleton he has right. Nor will I turn my hand against you while we
are still in danger here. I pledge you my honor on this."

Larry laughed.

"All right, Professor," he grinned.  "I believe you mean every word
you say. Nevertheless, I'll just keep the guns."

Marakinoff bowed, imperturbably.

"And now," he said, "I will tell you what I know.  I found the secret
of the door mechanism even as you did, Dr. Goodwin. But by
carelessness, my condensers were broken. I was forced to wait while I
sent for others--and the waiting might be for months. I took certain
precautions, and on the first night of this full moon I hid myself
within the vault of Chau-ta-leur."

An involuntary thrill of admiration for the man went through me at the
manifest heroism of this leap in the dark. I could see it reflected in
Larry's face.

"I hid in the vault," continued Marakinoff, "and I saw that which
comes from here come out. I waited--long hours. At last, when the moon
was low, it returned--ecstatically--with a man, a native, in embrace
enfolded. It passed through the door, and soon then the moon became
low and the door closed.

"The next night more confidence was mine, yes.  And after that which
comes had gone, I looked through its open door. I said, 'It will not
return for three hours. While it is away, why shall I not into its
home go through the door it has left open?' So I went--even to here. I
looked at the pillars of light and I tested the liquid of the Pool on
which they fell. That liquid, Dr. Goodwin, is not water, and it is not
any fluid known on earth." He handed me a small vial, its neck held in
a long thong.

"Take this," he said, "and see."

Wonderingly, I took the bottle; dipped it down into the Pool.  The
liquid was extraordinarily light; seemed, in fact, to give the vial
buoyancy. I held it to the light. It was striated, streaked, as though
little living, pulsing veins ran through it. And its blueness, even in
the vial, held an intensity of luminousness.

"Radioactive," said Marakinoff.  "Some liquid that is intensely
radioactive; but what it is I know not at all. Upon the living skin it
acts like radium raised to the nth power and with an element most
mysterious added. The solution with which I treated him," he pointed
to Huldricksson, "I had prepared before I came here, from certain
information I had. It is largely salts of radium and its base is
Loeb's formula for the neutralization of radium and X-ray burns.
Taking this man at once, before the degeneration had become really
active, I could negative it. But after two hours I could have done
nothing."

He paused a moment.

"Next I studied the nature of these luminous walls.  I concluded that
whoever had made them, knew the secret of the Almighty's manufacture
of light from the ether itself! Colossal! Da! But the substance of
these blocks confines an atomic--how would you say--atomic
manipulation, a conscious arrangement of electrons, light-emitting and
perhaps indefinitely so. These blocks are lamps in which oil and wick
are electrons drawing light waves from ether itself! A Prometheus,
indeed, this discoverer! I looked at my watch and that little guardian
warned me that it was time to go. I went. That which comes forth
returned--this time empty-handed.

"And the next night I did the same thing.  Engrossed in research, I
let the moments go by to the danger point, and scarcely was I replaced
within the vault when the shining thing raced over the walls, and in
its grip the woman and child.

"Then you came--and that is all.  And now--what is it you know?"

Very briefly I went over my story.  His eyes gleamed now and then, but
he did not interrupt me.

"A great secret!  A colossal secret!" he muttered, when I had ended.
"We cannot leave it hidden."

"The first thing to do is to try the door," said Larry, matter of
fact.

"There is no use, my young friend," assured Marakinoff mildly.

"Nevertheless we'll try," said Larry.  We retraced our way through the
winding tunnel to the end, but soon even O'Keefe saw that any idea of
moving the slab from within was hopeless. We returned to the Chamber
of the Pool. The pillars of light were fainter, and we knew that the
moon was sinking. On the world outside before long dawn would be
breaking. I began to feel thirst--and the blue semblance of water
within the silvery rim seemed to glint mockingly as my eyes rested on
it.

"Da!" it was Marakinoff, reading my thoughts uncannily. "Da!  We will
be thirsty. And it will be very bad for him of us who loses control
and drinks of that, my friend. Da!"

Larry threw back his shoulders as though shaking a burden from them.

"This place would give an angel of joy the willies," he said.  "I
suggest that we look around and find something that will take us
somewhere. You can bet the people that built it had more ways of
getting in than that once-a-month family entrance. Doc, you and Olaf
take the left wall; the professor and I will take the right."

He loosened one of his automatics with a suggestive movement.

"After you, Professor," he bowed, politely, to the Russian. We parted
and set forth.

The chamber widened out from the portal in what seemed to be the arc
of an immense circle. The shining walls held a perceptible curve, and
from this curvature I estimated that the roof was fully three hundred
feet above us.

The floor was of smooth, mosaic-fitted blocks of a faintly yellow
tinge. They were not light-emitting like the blocks that formed the
walls. The radiance from these latter, I noted, had the peculiar
quality of _thickening_ a few yards from its source, and it was this
that produced the effect of misty, veiled distances. As we walked, the
seven columns of rays streaming down from the crystalline globes high
above us waned steadily; the glow within the chamber lost its
prismatic shimmer and became an even grey tone somewhat like moonlight
in a thin cloud.

Now before us, out from the wall, jutted a low terrace.  It was all of
a pearly rose-coloured stone, slender, graceful pillars of the same
hue. The face of the terrace was about ten feet high, and all over it
ran a bas-relief of what looked like short-trailing vines, surmounted
by five stalks, on the tip of each of which was a flower.

We passed along the terrace.  It turned in an abrupt curve. I heard a
hail, and there, fifty feet away, at the curving end of a wall
identical with that where we stood, were Larry and Marakinoff.
Obviously the left side of the chamber was a duplicate of that we had
explored. We joined. In front of us the columned barriers ran back a
hundred feet, forming an alcove. The end of this alcove was another
wall of the same rose stone, but upon it the design of vines was much
heavier.

We took a step forward--there was a gasp of awe from the Norseman, a
guttural exclamation from Marakinoff. For on, or rather within, the
wall before us, a great oval began to glow, waxed almost to a flame
and then shone steadily out as though from behind it a light was
streaming through the stone itself!

And within the roseate oval two flame-tipped shadows appeared, stood
for a moment, and then seemed to float out upon its surface. The
shadows wavered; the tips of flame that nimbused them with flickering
points of vermilion pulsed outward, drew back, darted forth again, and
once more withdrew themselves--and as they did so the shadows
thickened--and suddenly there before us stood two figures!

One was a girl--a girl whose great eyes were golden as the fabled
lilies of Kwan-Yung that were born of the kiss of the sun upon the
amber goddess the demons of Lao-Tz'e carved for him; whose softly
curved lips were red as the royal coral, and whose golden-brown hair
reached to her knees!

And the second was a gigantic frog--A _woman_ frog, head helmeted with
carapace of shell around which a fillet of brilliant yellow jewels
shone; enormous round eyes of blue circled with a broad iris of green;
monstrous body of banded orange and white girdled with strand upon
strand of the flashing yellow gems; six feet high if an inch, and with
one webbed paw of its short, powerfully muscled forelegs resting upon
the white shoulder of the golden-eyed girl!

Moments must have passed as we stood in stark amazement, gazing at
that incredible apparition. The two figures, although as real as any
of those who stood beside me, unphantomlike as it is possible to be,
had a distinct suggestion of--projection.

They were there before us--golden-eyed girl and grotesque
frog-woman--complete in every line and curve; and still it was as
though their bodies passed back through distances; as though, to try
to express the wellnigh inexpressible, the two shapes we were looking
upon were the end of an infinite number stretching in fine linked
chain far away, of which the eyes saw only the nearest, while in the
brain some faculty higher than sight recognized and registered the
unseen others.

The gigantic eyes of the frog-woman took us all in--unwinkingly.
Little glints of phosphorescence shone out within the metallic green
of the outer iris ring. She stood upright, her great legs bowed; the
monstrous slit of a mouth slightly open, revealing a row of white
teeth sharp and pointed as lancets; the paw resting on the girl's
shoulder, half covering its silken surface, and from its five webbed
digits long yellow claws of polished horn glistened against the
delicate texture of the flesh.

But if the frog-woman regarded us all, not so did the maiden of the
rosy wall. Her eyes were fastened upon Larry, drinking him in with
extraordinary intentness. She was tall, far over the average of women,
almost as tall, indeed, as O'Keefe himself; not more than twenty years
old, if that, I thought. Abruptly she leaned forward, the golden eyes
softened and grew tender; the red lips moved as though she were
speaking.

Larry took a quick step, and his face was that of one who after
countless births comes at last upon the twin soul lost to him for
ages. The frog-woman turned her eyes upon the girl; her huge lips
moved, and I knew that she was talking! The girl held out a warning
hand to O'Keefe, and then raised it, resting each finger upon one of
the five flowers of the carved vine close beside her. Once, twice,
three times, she pressed upon the flower centres, and I noted that her
hand was curiously long and slender, the digits like those wonderful
tapering ones the painters we call the primitive gave to their
Virgins.

Three times she pressed the flowers, and then looked intently at Larry
once more. A slow, sweet smile curved the crimson lips. She stretched
both hands out toward him again eagerly; a burning blush rose swiftly
over white breasts and flowerlike face.

Like the clicking out of a cinematograph, the pulsing oval faded and
golden-eyed girl and frog-woman were gone!

And thus it was that Lakla, the handmaiden of the Silent Ones, and
Larry O'Keefe first looked into each other's hearts!

Larry stood rapt, gazing at the stone.

"Eilidh," I heard him whisper; "Eilidh of the lips like the red, red
rowan and the golden-brown hair!"

"Clearly of the Ranadae," said Marakinoff, "a development of the
fossil Labyrinthodonts: you saw her teeth, da?"

"Ranadae, yes," I answered.  "But from the Stegocephalia; of the order
Ecaudata--"

Never such a complete indignation as was in O'Keefe's voice as he
interrupted.

"What do you mean--fossils and Stego whatever it is?" he asked.  "She
was a girl, a wonder girl--a real girl, and Irish, or I'm not an
O'Keefe!"

"We were talking about the frog-woman, Larry," I said, conciliatingly.

His eyes were wild as he regarded us.

"Say," he said, "if you two had been in the Garden of Eden when Eve
took the apple, you wouldn't have had time to give her a look for
counting the scales on the snake!"

He strode swiftly over to the wall.  We followed.  Larry paused,
stretched his hand up to the flowers on which the tapering fingers of
the golden-eyed girl had rested.

"It was here she put up her hand," he murmured.  He pressed
caressingly the carved calyxes, once, twice, a third time even as she
had--and silently and softly the wall began to split; on each side a
great stone pivoted slowly, and before us a portal stood, opening into
a narrow corridor glowing with the same rosy lustre that had gleamed
around the flame-tipped shadows!

"Have your gun ready, Olaf!" said Larry.  "We follow Golden Eyes," he
said to me.

"Follow?" I echoed stupidly.

"Follow!" he said.  "She came to show us the way!  Follow? I'd follow
her through a thousand hells!"

And with Olaf at one end, O'Keefe at the other, both of them with
automatics in hand, and Marakinoff and I between them, we stepped over
the threshold.

At our right, a few feet away, the passage ended abruptly in a square
of polished stone, from which came faint rose radiance. The roof of
the place was less than two feet over O'Keefe's head.

A yard at left of us lifted a four-foot high, gently curved barricade,
stretching from wall to wall--and beyond it was blackness; an utter
and appalling blackness that seemed to gather itself from infinite
depths. The rose-glow in which we stood was cut off by the blackness
as though it had substance; it shimmered out to meet it, and was
checked as though by a blow; indeed, so strong was the suggestion of
sinister, straining force within the rayless opacity that I shrank
back, and Marakinoff with me. Not so O'Keefe. Olaf beside him, he
strode to the wall and peered over. He beckoned us.

"Flash your pocket-light down there," he said to me, pointing into the
thick darkness below us. The little electric circle quivered down as
though afraid, and came to rest upon a surface that resembled nothing
so much as clear, black ice. I ran the light across--here and there.
The floor of the corridor was of a substance so smooth, so polished,
that no man could have walked upon it; it sloped downward at a slowly
increasing angle.

"We'd have to have non-skid chains and brakes on our feet to tackle
that," mused Larry. Abstractedly be ran his hands over the edge on
which he was leaning. Suddenly they hesitated and then gripped
tightly.

"That's a queer one!" he exclaimed.  His right palm was resting upon a
rounded protuberance, on the side of which were three small circular
indentations.

"A queer one--" he repeated--and pressed his fingers upon the circles.

There was a sharp click; the slabs that had opened to let us through
swung swiftly together; a curiously rapid vibration thrilled through
us, a wind arose and passed over our heads--a wind that grew and grew
until it became a whistling shriek, then a roar and then a mighty
humming, to which every atom in our bodies pulsed in rhythm painful
almost to disintegration!

The rosy wall dwindled in a flash to a point of light and disappeared!

Wrapped in the clinging, impenetrable blackness we were racing,
dropping, hurling at a frightful speed--where?

And ever that awful humming of the rushing wind and the lightning
cleaving of the tangible dark--so, it came to me oddly, must the newly
released soul race through the sheer blackness of outer space up to
that Throne of Justice, where God sits high above all suns!

I felt Marakinoff creep close to me; gripped my nerve and flashed my
pocket-light; saw Larry standing, peering, peering ahead, and
Huldricksson, one strong arm around his shoulders, bracing him. And
then the speed began to slacken.

Millions of miles, it seemed, below the sound of the unearthly
hurricane I heard Larry's voice, thin and ghostlike, beneath its
clamour.

"Got it!" shrilled the voice.  "Got it!  Don't worry!"

The wind died down to the roar, passed back into the whistling shriek
and diminished to a steady whisper. In the comparative quiet O'Keefe's
tones now came in normal volume.

"Some little shoot-the-chutes, what?" he shouted.  "Say--if they had
this at Coney Island or the Crystal Palace! Press all the way in these
holes and she goes top-high. Diminish pressure--diminish speed. The
curve of this--dashboard--here sends the wind shooting up over our
heads--like a windshield. What's behind you?"

I flashed the light back.  The mechanism on which we were ended in
another wall exactly similar to that over which O'Keefe crouched.

"Well, we can't fall out, anyway," he laughed.  "Wish to hell I knew
where the brakes were! Look out!"

We dropped dizzily down an abrupt, seemingly endless slope; fell--fell
as into an abyss--then shot abruptly out of the blackness into a
throbbing green radiance. O'Keefe's fingers must have pressed down
upon the controls, for we leaped forward almost with the speed of
light. I caught a glimpse of luminous immensities on the verge of
which we flew; of depths inconceivable, and flitting through the
incredible spaces--gigantic shadows as of the wings of Israfel, which
are so wide, say the Arabs, the world can cower under them like a
nestling--and then--again the living blackness!

"What was that?" This from Larry, with the nearest approach to awe
that he had yet shown.

"Trolldom!" croaked the voice of Olaf.

"Chert!"  This from Marakinoff.  "What a space!"

"Have you considered, Dr. Goodwin," he went on after a pause, "a
curious thing? We know, or, at least, is it not that nine out of ten
astronomers believe, that the moon was hurled out of this same region
we now call the Pacific when the earth was yet like molasses; almost
molten, I should say. And is it not curious that that which comes from
the Moon Chamber needs the moon-rays to bring it forth; is it not? And
is it not significant again that the stone depends upon the moon for
operating? Da! And last--such a space in mother earth as we just
glimpsed, how else could it have been torn but by some gigantic
birth--like that of the moon? Da! I do not put forward these as
statements of fact--no! But as suggestions--"

I started; there was so much that this might explain--an unknown
element that responded to the moon-rays in opening the moon door; the
blue Pool with its weird radioactivity, and the force within it that
reacted to the same light stream--

It was not inconceivable that a film had drawn over the world wound, a
film of earth-flesh which drew itself over that colossal abyss after
our planet had borne its satellite--that world womb did not close
when her shining child sprang forth--it was possible; and all that we
know of earth depth is four miles of her eight thousand.

What is there at the heart of earth?  What of that radiant unknown
element upon the moon mount Tycho? What of that element unknown to us
as part of earth which is seen only in the corona of the sun at
eclipse that we call coronium? Yet the earth is child of the sun as
the moon is earth's daughter. And what of that other unknown element
we find glowing green in the far-flung nebulae--green as that we had
just passed through--and that we call nebulium? Yet the sun is child
of the nebulae as the earth is child of the sun and the moon is child
of the earth.

And what miracles are there in coronium and nebulium which, as the
child of nebula and sun, we inherit? Yes--and in Tycho's enigma which
came from earth heart?

We were flashing down to earth heart!  And what miracles were hidden
there?



CHAPTER XII

The End of the Journey

"Say Doc!" It was Larry's voice flung back at me.  "I was thinking
about that frog. I think it was her pet. Damn me if I see any
difference between a frog and a snake, and one of the nicest women I
ever knew had two pet pythons that followed her around like kittens.
Not such a devilish lot of choice between a frog and a snake--except
on the side of the frog? What? Anyway, any pet that girl wants is
hers, I don't care if it's a leaping twelve-toed lobster or a
whale-bodied scorpion. Get me?"

By which I knew that our remarks upon the frog woman were still
bothering O'Keefe.

"He thinks of foolish nothings like the foolish sailor!" grunted
Marakinoff, acid contempt in his words. "What are their women
to--this?" He swept out a hand and as though at a signal the car
poised itself for an instant, then dipped, literally dipped down into
sheer space; skimmed forward in what was clearly curved flight, rose
as upon a sweeping upgrade and then began swiftly to slacken its
fearful speed.

Far ahead a point of light showed; grew steadily; we were within
it--and softly all movement ceased. How acute had been the strain of
our journey I did not realize until I tried to stand--and sank back,
leg-muscles too shaky to bear my weight. The car rested in a slit in
the centre of a smooth walled chamber perhaps twenty feet square. The
wall facing us was pierced by a low doorway through which we could see
a flight of steps leading downward.

The light streamed through a small opening, the base of which was
twice a tall man's height from the floor. A curving flight of broad,
low steps led up to it. And now it came to my steadying brain that
there was something puzzling, peculiar, strangely unfamiliar about
this light. It was silvery, shaded faintly with a delicate blue and
flushed lightly with a nacreous rose; but a rose that differed from
that of the terraces of the Pool Chamber as the rose within the opal
differs from that within the pearl. In it were tiny, gleaming points
like the motes in a sunbeam, but sparkling white like the dust of
diamonds, and with a quality of vibrant vitality; they were as though
they were alive. The light cast no shadows!

A little breeze came through the oval and played about us. It was
laden with what seemed the mingled breath of spice flowers and pines.
It was curiously vivifying, and in it the diamonded atoms of light
shook and danced.

I stepped out of the car, the Russian following, and began to ascend
the curved steps toward the opening, at the top of which O'Keefe and
Olaf already stood. As they looked out I saw both their faces
change--Olaf's with awe, O'Keefe's with incredulous amaze. I hurried
to their side.

At first all that I could see was space--a space filled with the same
coruscating effulgence that pulsed about me. I glanced upward, obeying
that instinctive impulse of earth folk that bids them seek within the
sky for sources of light. There was no sky--at least no sky such as we
know--all was a sparkling nebulosity rising into infinite distances as
the azure above the day-world seems to fill all the heavens--through
it ran pulsing waves and flashing javelin rays that were like shining
shadows of the aurora; echoes, octaves lower, of those brilliant
arpeggios and chords that play about the poles. My eyes fell beneath
its splendour; I stared outward.

Miles away, gigantic luminous cliffs sprang sheer from the limits of a
lake whose waters were of milky opalescence. It was from these cliffs
that the spangled radiance came, shimmering out from all their
lustrous surfaces. To left and to right, as far as the eye could see,
they stretched--and they vanished in the auroral nebulosity on high!

"Look at that!" exclaimed Larry.  I followed his pointing finger.  On
the face of the shining wall, stretched between two colossal columns,
hung an incredible veil; prismatic, gleaming with all the colours of
the spectrum. It was like a web of rainbows woven by the fingers of
the daughters of the Jinn. In front of it and a little at each side
was a semi-circular pier, or, better, a plaza of what appeared to be
glistening, pale-yellow ivory. At each end of its half-circle
clustered a few low-walled, rose-stone structures, each of them
surmounted by a number of high, slender pinnacles.

We looked at each other, I think, a bit helplessly--and back again
through the opening. We were standing, as I have said, at its base.
The wall in which it was set was at least ten feet thick, and so, of
course, all that we could see of that which was without were the
distances that revealed themselves above the outer ledge of the oval.

"Let's take a look at what's under us," said Larry.

He crept out upon the ledge and peered down, the rest of us following.
A hundred yards beneath us stretched gardens that must have been like
those of many-columned Iram, which the ancient Addite King had built
for his pleasure ages before the deluge, and which Allah, so the Arab
legend tells, took and hid from man, within the Sahara, beyond all
hope of finding--jealous because they were more beautiful than his in
paradise. Within them flowers and groves of laced, fernlike trees,
pillared pavilions nestled.

The trunks of the trees were of emerald, of vermilion, and of
azure-blue, and the blossoms, whose fragrance was borne to us, shone
like jewels. The graceful pillars were tinted delicately. I noted that
the pavilions were double--in a way, two-storied--and that they were
oddly splotched with circles, with squares, and with oblongs
of--opacity; noted too that over many this opacity stretched like a
roof; yet it did not seem material; rather was it--impenetrable
shadow!

Down through this city of gardens ran a broad shining green
thoroughfare, glistening like glass and spanned at regular intervals
with graceful, arched bridges. The road flashed to a wide square,
where rose, from a base of that same silvery stone that formed the lip
of the Moon Pool, a titanic structure of seven terraces; and along it
flitted objects that bore a curious resemblance to the shell of the
Nautilus. Within them were--human figures! And upon tree-bordered
promenades on each side walked others!

Far to the right we caught the glint of another emerald-paved road.

And between the two the gardens grew sweetly down to the hither side
of that opalescent water across which were the radiant cliffs and the
curtain of mystery.

Thus it was that we first saw the city of the Dweller; blessed and
accursed as no place on earth, or under or above earth has ever
been--or, that force willing which some call God, ever again shall be!

"Chert!" whispered Marakinoff.  "Incredible!"

"Trolldom!" gasped Olaf Huldricksson.  "It is Trolldom!"

"Listen, Olaf!" said Larry.  "Cut out that Trolldom stuff! There's no
Trolldom, or fairies, outside Ireland. Get that! And this isn't
Ireland. And, buck up, Professor!" This to Marakinoff. "What you see
down there are people--_just plain people_. And wherever there's people
is where I live. Get me?

"There's no way in but in--and no way out but out," said O'Keefe.
"And there's the stairway. Eggs are eggs no matter how they're
cooked--and people are just people, fellow travellers, no matter what
dish they are in," he concluded. "Come on!"

With the three of us close behind him, he marched toward the entrance.



CHAPTER XIII

Yolara, Priestess of the Shining One

"You'd better have this handy, Doc." O'Keefe paused at the head of the
stairway and handed me one of the automatics he had taken from
Marakinoff.

"Shall I not have one also?" rather anxiously asked the latter.

"When you need it you'll get it," answered O'Keefe.  "I'll tell you
frankly, though, Professor, that you'll have to show me before I trust
you with a gun. You shoot too straight--from cover."

The flash of anger in the Russian's eyes turned to a cold
consideration.

"You say always just what is in your mind, Lieutenant O'Keefe," he
mused. "Da--that I shall remember!" Later I was to recall this odd
observation--and Marakinoff was to remember indeed.

In single file, O'Keefe at the head and Olaf bringing up the rear, we
passed through the portal. Before us dropped a circular shaft, into
which the light from the chamber of the oval streamed liquidly; set in
its sides the steps spiralled, and down them we went, cautiously. The
stairway ended in a circular well; silent--with no trace of exit! The
rounded stones joined each other evenly--hermetically. Carved on one
of the slabs was one of the five flowered vines. I pressed my fingers
upon the calyxes, even as Larry had within the Moon Chamber.

A crack--horizontal, four feet wide--appeared on the wall; widened,
and as the sinking slab that made it dropped to the level of our eyes,
we looked through a hundred-feet-long rift in the living rock! The
stone fell steadily--and we saw that it was a Cyclopean wedge set
within the slit of the passageway. It reached the level of our feet
and stopped. At the far end of this tunnel, whose floor was the
polished rock that had, a moment before, fitted hermetically into its
roof, was a low, narrow triangular opening through which light
streamed.

"Nowhere to go but out!" grinned Larry.  "And I'll bet Golden Eyes is
waiting for us with a taxi!" He stepped forward. We followed,
slipping, sliding along the glassy surface; and I, for one, had a
lively apprehension of what our fate would be should that enormous
mass rise before we had emerged! We reached the end; crept out of the
narrow triangle that was its exit.

We stood upon a wide ledge carpeted with a thick yellow moss.  I
looked behind--and clutched O'Keefe's arm. The door through which we
had come had vanished! There was only a precipice of pale rock, on
whose surfaces great patches of the amber moss hung; around whose base
our ledge ran, and whose summits, if summits it had, were hidden, like
the luminous cliffs, in the radiance above us.

"Nowhere to go but ahead--and Golden Eyes hasn't kept her date!"
laughed O'Keefe--but somewhat grimly.

We walked a few yards along the ledge and, rounding a corner, faced
the end of one of the slender bridges. From this vantage point the
oddly shaped vehicles were plain, and we could see they were, indeed,
like the shell of the Nautilus and elfinly beautiful. Their drivers
sat high upon the forward whorl. Their bodies were piled high with
cushions, upon which lay women half-swathed in gay silken webs. From
the pavilioned gardens smaller channels of glistening green ran into
the broad way, much as automobile runways do on earth; and in and out
of them flashed the fairy shells.

There came a shout from one.  Its occupants had glimpsed us. They
pointed; others stopped and stared; one shell turned and sped up a
runway--and quickly over the other side of the bridge came a score of
men. They were dwarfed--none of them more than five feet high,
prodigiously broad of shoulder, clearly enormously powerful.

"Trolde!" muttered Olaf, stepping beside O'Keefe, pistol swinging free
in his hand.

But at the middle of the bridge the leader stopped, waved back his
men, and came toward us alone, palms outstretched in the immemorial,
universal gesture of truce. He paused, scanning us with manifest
wonder; we returned the scrutiny with interest. The dwarf's face was
as white as Olaf's--far whiter than those of the other three of us;
the features clean-cut and noble, almost classical; the wide set eyes
of a curious greenish grey and the black hair curling over his head
like that on some old Greek statue.

Dwarfed though he was, there was no suggestion of deformity about him.
The gigantic shoulders were covered with a loose green tunic that
looked like fine linen. It was caught in at the waist by a broad
girdle studded with what seemed to be amazonites. In it was thrust a
long curved poniard resembling the Malaysian kris. His legs were
swathed in the same green cloth as the upper garment. His feet were
sandalled.

My gaze returned to his face, and in it I found something subtly
disturbing; an expression of half-malicious gaiety that underlay the
wholly prepossessing features like a vague threat; a mocking deviltry
that hinted at entire callousness to suffering or sorrow; something of
the spirit that was vaguely alien and disquieting.

He spoke--and, to my surprise, enough of the words were familiar to
enable me clearly to catch the meaning of the whole. They were
Polynesian, the Polynesian of the Samoans which is its most ancient
form, but in some indefinable way--archaic. Later I was to know that
the tongue bore the same relation to the Polynesian of today as does
_not_ that of Chaucer, but of the Venerable Bede, to modern English.
Nor was this to be so astonishing, when with the knowledge came the
certainty that it was from it the language we call Polynesian sprang.

"From whence do you come, strangers--and how found you your way here?"
said the green dwarf.

I waved my hand toward the cliff behind us.  His eyes narrowed
incredulously; he glanced at its drop, upon which even a mountain goat
could not have made its way, and laughed.

"We came through the rock," I answered his thought. "And we come in
peace," I added.

"And may peace walk with you," he said half-derisively--"if the
Shining One wills it!"

He considered us again.

"Show me, strangers, where you came through the rock," he commanded.
We led the way to where we had emerged from the well of the stairway.

"It was here," I said, tapping the cliff.

"But I see no opening," he said suavely.

"It closed behind us," I answered; and then, for the first time,
realized how incredible the explanation sounded. The derisive gleam
passed through his eyes again. But he drew his poniard and gravely
sounded the rock.

"You give a strange turn to our speech," he said.  "It sounds
strangely, indeed--as strange as your answers." He looked at us
quizzically. "I wonder where you learned it! Well, all that you can
explain to the Afyo Maie." His head bowed and his arms swept out in a
wide salaam. "Be pleased to come with me!" he ended abruptly.

"In peace?" I asked.

"In peace," he replied--then slowly--"with me at least."

"Oh, come on, Doc!" cried Larry.  "As long as we're here let's see the
sights. Allons mon vieux!" he called gaily to the green dwarf. The
latter, understanding the spirit, if not the words, looked at O'Keefe
with a twinkle of approval; turned then to the great Norseman and
scanned him with admiration; reached out and squeezed one of the
immense biceps.

"Lugur will welcome you, at least," he murmured as though to himself.
He stood aside and waved a hand courteously, inviting us to pass. We
crossed. At the base of the span one of the elfin shells was waiting.

Beyond, scores had gathered, their occupants evidently discussing us
in much excitement. The green dwarf waved us to the piles of cushions
and then threw himself beside us. The vehicle started off smoothly,
the now silent throng making way, and swept down the green roadway at
a terrific pace and wholly without vibration, toward the
seven-terraced tower.

As we flew along I tried to discover the source of the power, but I
could not--then. There was no sign of mechanism, but that the shell
responded to some form of energy was certain--the driver grasping a
small lever which seemed to control not only our speed, but our
direction.

We turned abruptly and swept up a runway through one of the gardens,
and stopped softly before a pillared pavilion. I saw now that these
were much larger than I had thought. The structure to which we had
been carried covered, I estimated, fully an acre. Oblong, with its
slender, vari-coloured columns spaced regularly, its walls were like
the sliding screens of the Japanese--shoji.

The green dwarf hurried us up a flight of broad steps flanked by great
carved serpents, winged and scaled. He stamped twice upon mosaicked
stones between two of the pillars, and a screen rolled aside,
revealing an immense hall scattered about with low divans on which
lolled a dozen or more of the dwarfish men, dressed identically as he.

They sauntered up to us leisurely; the surprised interest in their
faces tempered by the same inhumanly gay malice that seemed to be
characteristic of all these people we had as yet seen.

"The Afyo Maie awaits them, Rador," said one.

The green dwarf nodded, beckoned us, and led the way through the great
hall and into a smaller chamber whose far side was covered with the
opacity I had noted from the aerie of the cliff. I examined
the--blackness--with lively interest.

It had neither substance nor texture; it was not matter--and yet it
suggested solidity; an entire cessation, a complete absorption of
light; an ebon veil at once immaterial and palpable. I stretched,
involuntarily, my hand out toward it, and felt it quickly drawn back.

"Do you seek your end so soon?" whispered Rador.  "But I forget--you
do not know," he added. "On your life touch not the blackness, ever.
It--"

He stopped, for abruptly in the density a portal appeared; swinging
out of the shadow like a picture thrown by a lantern upon a screen.
Through it was revealed a chamber filled with a soft rosy glow. Rising
from cushioned couches, a woman and a man regarded us, half leaning
over a long, low table of what seemed polished jet, laden with flowers
and unfamiliar fruits.

About the room--that part of it, at least, that I could see--were a
few oddly shaped chairs of the same substance. On high, silvery
tripods three immense globes stood, and it was from them that the rose
glow emanated. At the side of the woman was a smaller globe whose
roseate gleam was tempered by quivering waves of blue.

"Enter Rador with the strangers!" a clear, sweet voice called.

Rador bowed deeply and stood aside, motioning us to pass.  We entered,
the green dwarf behind us, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the
doorway fade as abruptly as it had appeared and again the dense shadow
fill its place.

"Come closer, strangers.  Be not afraid!" commanded the bell-toned
voice.

We approached.

The woman, sober scientist that I am, made the breath catch in my
throat. Never had I seen a woman so beautiful as was Yolara of the
Dweller's city--and none of so perilous a beauty. Her hair was of the
colour of the young tassels of the corn and coiled in a regal crown
above her broad, white brows; her wide eyes were of grey that could
change to a cornflower blue and in anger deepen to purple; grey or
blue, they had little laughing devils within them, but when the storm
of anger darkened them--they were not laughing, no! The silken webs
that half covered, half revealed her did not hide the ivory whiteness
of her flesh nor the sweet curve of shoulders and breasts. But for all
her amazing beauty, she was--sinister! There was cruelty about the
curving mouth, and in the music of her voice--not conscious cruelty,
but the more terrifying, careless cruelty of nature itself.

The girl of the rose wall had been beautiful, yes!  But her beauty was
human, understandable. You could imagine her with a babe in her
arms--but you could not so imagine this woman. About her loveliness
hovered something unearthly. A sweet feminine echo of the Dweller was
Yolara, the Dweller's priestess--and as gloriously, terrifyingly evil!



CHAPTER XIV

The Justice of Lora

As I looked at her the man arose and made his way round the table
toward us. For the first time my eyes took in Lugur. A few inches
taller than the green dwarf, he was far broader, more filled with the
suggestion of appalling strength.

The tremendous shoulders were four feet wide if an inch, tapering down
to mighty thewed thighs. The muscles of his chest stood out beneath
his tunic of red. Around his forehead shone a chaplet of bright-blue
stones, sparkling among the thick curls of his silver-ash hair.

Upon his face pride and ambition were written large--and power still
larger. All the mockery, the malice, the hint of callous indifference
that I had noted in the other dwarfish men were there, too--but
intensified, touched with the satanic.

The woman spoke again.

"Who are you strangers, and how came you here?"  She turned to Rador.
"Or is it that they do not understand our tongue?"

"One understands and speaks it--but very badly, O Yolara," answered
the green dwarf.

"Speak, then, that one of you," she commanded.

But it was Marakinoff who found his voice first, and I marvelled at
the fluency, so much greater than mine, with which he spoke.

"We came for different purposes.  I to seek knowledge of a kind;
he"--pointing to me "of another. This man"--he looked at Olaf--"to
find a wife and child."

The grey-blue eyes had been regarding O'Keefe steadily and with
plainly increasing interest.

"And why did _you_ come?" she asked him.  "Nay--I would have him speak
for himself, if he can," she stilled Marakinoff peremptorily.

When Larry spoke it was haltingly, in the tongue that was strange to
him, searching for the proper words.

"I came to help these men--and because something I could not then
understand called me, O lady, whose eyes are like forest pools at
dawn," he answered; and even in the unfamiliar words there was a touch
of the Irish brogue, and little merry lights danced in the eyes Larry
had so apostrophized.

"I could find fault with your speech, but none with its burden," she
said. "What forest pools are I know not, and the dawn has not shone
upon the people of Lora these many sais of laya.[1] But I sense what you
mean!"

The eyes deepened to blue as she regarded him.  She smiled.

"Are there many like you in the world from which you come?" she asked
softly. "Well, we soon shall--"

Lugur interrupted her almost rudely and glowering.

"Best we should know how they came hence," he growled.

She darted a quick look at him, and again the little devils danced in
her wondrous eyes.


[Unquestionably there is a subtle difference between time as we know it
and time in this subterranean land--its progress there being slower.
This, however, is only in accord with the well-known doctrine of
relativity, which predicates both space and time as necessary
inventions of the human mind to orient itself to the conditions under
which it finds itself. I tried often to measure this difference, but
could never do so to my entire satisfaction. The closest I can come to
it is to say that an hour of our time is the equivalent of an hour and
five-eighths in Muria. For further information upon this matter of
relativity the reader may consult any of the numerous books upon the
subject.--W. T. G.]


"Yes, that is true," she said.  "How came you here?"

Again it was Marakinoff who answered--slowly, considering every word.

"In the world above," he said, "there are ruins of cities not built by
any of those who now dwell there. To us these places called, and we
sought for knowledge of the wise ones who made them. We found a
passageway. The way led us downward to a door in yonder cliff, and
through it we came here."

"Then have you found what you sought?" spoke she.  "For we are of
those who built the cities. But this gateway in the rock--where is
it?"

"After we passed, it closed upon us; nor could we after find trace of
it," answered Marakinoff.

The incredulity that had shown upon the face of the green dwarf fell
upon theirs; on Lugur's it was clouded with furious anger.

He turned to Rador.

"I could find no opening, lord," said the green dwarf quickly.

And there was so fierce a fire in the eyes of Lugur as he swung back
upon us that O'Keefe's hand slipped stealthily down toward his pistol.

"Best it is to speak truth to Yolara, priestess of the Shining One,
and to Lugur, the Voice," he cried menacingly.

"It is the truth," I interposed.  "We came down the passage.  At its
end was a carved vine, a vine of five flowers"--the fire died from the
red dwarf's eyes, and I could have sworn to a swift pallor. "I rested
a hand upon these flowers, and a door opened. But when we had gone
through it and turned, behind us was nothing but unbroken cliff. The
door had vanished."

I had taken my cue from Marakinoff.  If he had eliminated the episode
of car and Moon Pool, he had good reason, I had no doubt; and I would
be as cautious. And deep within me something cautioned me to say
nothing of my quest; to stifle all thought of Throckmartin--something
that warned, peremptorily, finally, as though it were a message from
Throckmartin himself!

"A vine with five flowers!" exclaimed the red dwarf.  "Was it like
this, say?"

He thrust forward a long arm.  Upon the thumb of the hand was an
immense ring, set with a dull-blue stone. Graven on the face of the
jewel was the symbol of the rosy walls of the Moon Chamber that had
opened to us their two portals. But cut over the vine were seven
circles, one about each of the flowers and two larger ones covering,
intersecting them.

"This is the same," I said; "but these were not there"--I indicated
the circles.

The woman drew a deep breath and looked deep into Lugur's eyes.

"The sign of the Silent Ones!" he half whispered.

It was the woman who first recovered herself.

"The strangers are weary, Lugur," she said.  "When they are rested
they shall show where the rocks opened."

I sensed a subtle change in their attitude toward us; a new
intentness; a doubt plainly tinged with apprehension. What was it they
feared? Why had the symbol of the vine wrought the change? And who or
what were the Silent Ones?

Yolara's eyes turned to Olaf, hardened, and grew cold grey.
Subconsciously I had noticed that from the first the Norseman had been
absorbed in his regard of the pair; had, indeed, never taken his gaze
from them; had noticed, too, the priestess dart swift glances toward
him.

He returned her scrutiny fearlessly, a touch of contempt in the clear
eyes--like a child watching a snake which he did not dread, but whose
danger be well knew.

Under that look Yolara stirred impatiently, sensing, I know, its
meaning.

"Why do you look at me so?" she cried.

An expression of bewilderment passed over Olaf's face.

"I do not understand," he said in English.

I caught a quickly repressed gleam in O'Keefe's eyes.  He knew, as I
knew, that Olaf must have understood. But did Marakinoff?

Apparently he did not.  But why was Olaf feigning ignorance?

"This man is a sailor from what we call the North," thus Larry
haltingly. "He is crazed, I think. He tells a strange tale of a
something of cold fire that took his wife and babe. We found him
wandering where we were. And because he is strong we brought him with
us. That is all, O lady, whose voice is sweeter than the honey of the
wild bees!"

"A shape of cold fire?" she repeated.

"A shape of cold fire that whirled beneath the moon, with the sound of
little bells," answered Larry, watching her intently.

She looked at Lugur and laughed.

"Then he, too, is fortunate," she said.  "For he has come to the place
of his something of cold fire--and tell him that he shall join his
wife and child, in time; that I promise him."

Upon the Norseman's face there was no hint of comprehension, and at
that moment I formed an entirely new opinion of Olaf's intelligence;
for certainly it must have been a prodigious effort of the will,
indeed, that enabled him, understanding, to control himself.

"What does she say?" he asked.

Larry repeated.

"Good!" said Olaf.  "Good!"

He looked at Yolara with well-assumed gratitude.  Lugur, who had been
scanning his bulk, drew close. He felt the giant muscles which
Huldricksson accommodatingly flexed for him.

"But he shall meet Valdor and Tahola before he sees those kin of his,"
he laughed mockingly. "And if he bests them--for reward--his wife and
babe!"

A shudder, quickly repressed, shook the seaman's frame. The woman bent
her supremely beautiful head.

"These two," she said, pointing to the Russian and to me, "seem to be
men of learning. They may be useful. As for this man,"--she smiled at
Larry--"I would have him explain to me some things." She hesitated.
"What 'hon-ey of 'e wild bees-s' is." Larry had spoken the words in
English, and she was trying to repeat them. "As for this man, the
sailor, do as you please with him, Lugur; always remembering that I
have given my word that he shall join that wife and babe of his!" She
laughed sweetly, sinisterly. "And now--take them, Rador--give them
food and drink and let them rest till we shall call them again."

She stretched out a hand toward O'Keefe.  The Irishman bowed low over
it, raised it softly to his lips. There was a vicious hiss from Lugur;
but Yolara regarded Larry with eyes now all tender blue.

"You please me," she whispered.

And the face of Lugur grew darker.

We turned to go.  The rosy, azure-shot globe at her side suddenly
dulled. From it came a faint bell sound as of chimes far away. She
bent over it. It vibrated, and then its surface ran with little waves
of dull colour; from it came a whispering so low that I could not
distinguish the words--if words they were.

She spoke to the red dwarf.

"They have brought the three who blasphemed the Shining One," she said
slowly. "Now it is in my mind to show these strangers the justice of
Lora. What say you, Lugur?"

The red dwarf nodded, his eyes sparkling with a malicious
anticipation.

The woman spoke again to the globe.  "Bring them here!"

And again it ran swiftly with its film of colours, darkened, and shone
rosy once more. From without there came a rustle of many feet upon the
rugs. Yolara pressed a slender hand upon the base of the pedestal of
the globe beside her. Abruptly the light faded from all, and on the
same instant the four walls of blackness vanished, revealing on two
sides the lovely, unfamiliar garden through the guarding rows of
pillars; at our backs soft draperies hid what lay beyond; before us,
flanked by flowered screens, was the corridor through which we had
entered, crowded now by the green dwarfs of the great hall.

The dwarfs advanced.  Each, I now noted, had the same clustering black
hair of Rador. They separated, and from them stepped three figures--a
youth of not more than twenty, short, but with the great shoulders of
all the males we had seen of this race; a girl of seventeen, I judged,
white-faced, a head taller than the boy, her long, black hair
dishevelled; and behind these two a stunted, gnarled shape whose head
was sunk deep between the enormous shoulders, whose white beard fell
like that of some ancient gnome down to his waist, and whose eyes were
a white flame of hate. The girl cast herself weeping at the feet of
the priestess; the youth regarded her curiously.

"You are Songar of the Lower Waters?" murmured Yolara almost
caressingly. "And this is your daughter and her lover?"

The gnome nodded, the flame in his eyes leaping higher.

"It has come to me that you three have dared blaspheme the Shining
One, its priestess, and its Voice," went on Yolara smoothly. "Also
that you have called out to the three Silent Ones. Is it true?"

"Your spies have spoken--and have you not already judged us?" The
voice of the old dwarf was bitter.

A flicker shot through the eyes of Yolara, again cold grey. The girl
reached a trembling hand out to the hem of the priestess's veils.

"Tell us why you did these things, Songar," she said.  "Why you did
them, knowing full well what your--reward--would be."

The dwarf stiffened; he raised his withered arms, and his eyes blazed.

"Because evil are your thoughts and evil are your deeds," he cried.
"Yours and your lover's, there"--he levelled a finger at Lugur.
"Because of the Shining One you have made evil, too, and the greater
wickedness you contemplate--you and he with the Shining One. But I
tell you that your measure of iniquity is full; the tale of your sin
near ended! Yea--the Silent Ones have been patient, but soon they will
speak." He pointed at us. "A sign are _they_--a warning--harlot!" He
spat the word.

In Yolara's eyes, grown black, the devils leaped unrestrained.

"Is it even so, Songar?" her voice caressed.  "Now ask the Silent Ones
to help you! They sit afar--but surely they will hear you." The sweet
voice was mocking. "As for these two, they shall pray to the Shining
One for forgiveness--and surely the Shining One will take them to its
bosom! As for you--you have lived long enough, Songar! Pray to the
Silent Ones, Songar, and pass out into the nothingness--you!"

She dipped down into her bosom and drew forth something that resembled
a small cone of tarnished silver. She levelled it, a covering clicked
from its base, and out of it darted a slender ray of intense green
light.

It struck the old dwarf squarely over the heart, and spread swift as
light itself, covering him with a gleaming, pale film. She clenched
her hand upon the cone, and the ray disappeared. She thrust the cone
back into her breast and leaned forward expectantly; so Lugur and so
the other dwarfs. From the girl came a low wail of anguish; the boy
dropped upon his knees, covering his face.

For the moment the white beard stood rigid; then the robe that had
covered him seemed to melt away, revealing all the knotted, monstrous
body. And in that body a vibration began, increasing to incredible
rapidity. It wavered before us like a reflection in a still pond
stirred by a sudden wind. It grew and grew--to a rhythm whose rapidity
was intolerable to watch and that still chained the eyes.

The figure grew indistinct, misty.  Tiny sparks in infinite numbers
leaped from it--like, I thought, the radiant shower of particles
hurled out by radium when seen under the microscope. Mistier still it
grew--there trembled before us for a moment a faintly luminous shadow
which held, here and there, tiny sparkling atoms like those that
pulsed in the light about us! The glowing shadow vanished, the
sparkling atoms were still for a moment--and shot away, joining those
dancing others.

Where the gnomelike form had been but a few seconds before--there was
nothing!

O'Keefe drew a long breath, and I was sensible of a prickling along my
scalp.

Yolara leaned toward us.

"You have seen," she said.  Her eyes lingered tigerishly upon Olaf's
pallid face. "Heed!" she whispered. She turned to the men in green,
who were laughing softly among themselves.

"Take these two, and go!" she commanded.

"The justice of Lora," said the red dwarf.  "The justice of Lora and
the Shining One under Thanaroa!"

Upon the utterance of the last word I saw Marakinoff start violently.
The hand at his side made a swift, surreptitious gesture, so fleeting
that I hardly caught it. The red dwarf stared at the Russian, and
there was amazement upon his face.

Swiftly as Marakinoff, he returned it.

"Yolara," the red dwarf spoke, "it would please me to take this man of
wisdom to my own place for a time. The giant I would have, too."

The woman awoke from her brooding; nodded.

"As you will, Lugur," she said.

And as, shaken to the core, we passed out into the garden into the
full throbbing of the light, I wondered if all the tiny sparkling
diamond points that shook about us had once been men like Songar of
the Lower Waters--and felt my very soul grow sick!


[1] Later I was to find that Murian reckoning rested upon the
extraordinary increased luminosity of the cliffs at the time of full
moon on earth--this action, to my mind, being linked either with the
effect of the light streaming globes upon the Moon Pool, whose source
was in the shining cliffs, or else upon some mysterious affinity of
their radiant element with the flood of moonlight on earth--the
latter, most probably, because even when the moon must have been
clouded above, it made no difference in the phenomenon. Thirteen of
these shinings forth constituted a laya, one of them a lat. Ten was
sa; ten times ten times ten a said, or thousand; ten times a thousand
was a sais. A sais of laya was then literally ten thousand years. What
we would call an hour was by them called a va. The whole time system
was, of course, a mingling of time as it had been known to their
remote, surface-dwelling ancestors, and the peculiar determining
factors in the vast cavern.



CHAPTER XV

The Angry, Whispering Globe

Our way led along a winding path between banked masses of softly
radiant blooms, groups of feathery ferns whose plumes were starred
with fragrant white and blue flowerets, slender creepers swinging from
the branches of the strangely trunked trees, bearing along their
threads orchid-like blossoms both delicately frail and gorgeously
flamboyant.

The path we trod was an exquisite mosaic--pastel greens and pinks upon
a soft grey base, garlands of nimbused forms like the flaming rose of
the Rosicrucians held in the mouths of the flying serpents. A smaller
pavilion arose before us, single-storied, front wide open.

Upon its threshold Rador paused, bowed deeply, and motioned us within.
The chamber we entered was large, closed on two sides by screens of
grey; at the back gay, concealing curtains. The low table of blue
stone, dressed with fine white cloths, stretched at one side flanked
by the cushioned divans.

At the left was a high tripod bearing one of the rosy globes we had
seen in the house of Yolara; at the head of the table a smaller globe
similar to the whispering one. Rador pressed upon its base, and two
other screens slid into place across the entrance, shutting in the
room.

He clapped his hands; the curtains parted, and two girls came through
them. Tall and willow lithe, their bluish-black hair falling in
ringlets just below their white shoulders, their clear eyes of
forget-me-not blue, and skins of extraordinary fineness and
purity--they were singularly attractive. Each was clad in an extremely
scanty bodice of silken blue, girdled above a kirtle that came barely
to their very pretty knees.

"Food and drink," ordered Rador.

They dropped back through the curtains.

"Do you like them?" he asked us.

"Some chickens!" said Larry.  "They delight the heart," he translated
for Rador.

The green dwarf's next remark made me gasp.

"They are yours," he said.

Before I could question him further upon this extraordinary statement
the pair re-entered, bearing a great platter on which were small
loaves, strange fruits, and three immense flagons of rock crystal--two
filled with a slightly sparkling yellow liquid and the third with a
purplish drink. I became acutely sensible that it had been hours since
I had either eaten or drunk. The yellow flagons were set before Larry
and me, the purple at Rador's hand.

The girls, at his signal, again withdrew.  I raised my glass to my
lips and took a deep draft. The taste was unfamiliar but delightful.

Almost at once my fatigue disappeared.  I realized a clarity of mind,
an interesting exhilaration and sense of irresponsibility, of freedom
from care, that were oddly enjoyable. Larry became immediately his old
gay self.

The green dwarf regarded us whimsically, sipping from his great flagon
of rock crystal.

"Much do I desire to know of that world you came from," he said at
last--"through the rocks," he added, slyly.

"And much do we desire to know of this world of yours, O Rador," I
answered.

Should I ask him of the Dweller; seek from him a clue to Throckmartin?
Again, clearly as a spoken command, came the warning to forbear, to
wait. And once more I obeyed.

"Let us learn, then, from each other." The dwarf was laughing.  "And
first--are all above like you--drawn out"--he made an expressive
gesture--"and are there many of you?"

"There are--" I hesitated, and at last spoke the Polynesian that means
tens upon tens multiplied indefinitely--"there are as many as the
drops of water in the lake we saw from the ledge where you found us,"
I continued; "many as the leaves on the trees without. And they are
all like us--varyingly."

He considered skeptically, I could see, my remark upon our numbers.

"In Muria," he said at last, "the men are like me or like Lugur.  Our
women are as you see them--like Yolara or those two who served you."
He hesitated. "And there is a third; but only one."

Larry leaned forward eagerly.

"Brown-haired with glints of ruddy bronze, golden-eyed, and lovely as
a dream, with long, slender, beautiful hands?" he cried.

"Where saw you _her_?" interrupted the dwarf, starting to his feet.

"Saw her?" Larry recovered himself.  "Nay, Rador, perhaps, I only
dreamed that there was such a woman."

"See to it, then, that you tell not your dream to Yolara," said the
dwarf grimly. "For her I meant and her you have pictured is Lakla, the
hand-maiden to the Silent Ones, and neither Yolara nor Lugur, nay, nor
the Shining One, love her overmuch, stranger."

"Does she dwell here?" Larry's face was alight.

The dwarf hesitated, glanced about him anxiously.

"Nay," he answered, "ask me no more of her." He was silent for a
space. "And what do you who are as leaves or drops of water do in that
world of yours?" he said, plainly bent on turning the subject.

"Keep off the golden-eyed girl, Larry," I interjected.  "Wait till we
find out why she's tabu."

"Love and battle, strive and accomplish and die; or fail and die,"
answered Larry--to Rador--giving me a quick nod of acquiescence to my
warning in English.

"In that at least your world and mine differ little," said the dwarf.

"How great is this world of yours, Rador?" I spoke.

He considered me gravely.

"How great indeed I do not know," he said frankly at last. "The land
where we dwell with the Shining One stretches along the white waters
for--" He used a phrase of which I could make nothing. "Beyond this
city of the Shining One and on the hither shores of the white waters
dwell the mayia ladala--the common ones." He took a deep draft from
his flagon. "There are, first, the fair-haired ones, the children of
the ancient rulers," he continued. "There are, second, we the
soldiers; and last, the mayia ladala, who dig and till and weave and
toil and give our rulers and us their daughters, and dance with the
Shining One!" he added.

"Who rules?" I asked.

"The fair-haired, under the Council of Nine, who are under Yolara, the
Priestess and Lugur, the Voice," he answered, "who are in turn beneath
the Shining One!" There was a ring of bitter satire in the last.

"And those three who were judged?"--this from Larry.

"They were of the mayia ladala," he replied, "like those two I gave
you. But they grow restless. They do not like to dance with the
Shining One--the blasphemers!" He raised his voice in a sudden great
shout of mocking laughter.

In his words I caught a fleeting picture of the race--an ancient,
luxurious, close-bred oligarchy clustered about some mysterious deity;
a soldier class that supported them; and underneath all the toiling,
oppressed hordes.

"And is that all?" asked Larry.

"No," he answered.  "There is the Sea of Crimson where--"

Without warning the globe beside us sent out a vicious note, Rador
turned toward it, his face paling. Its surface crawled with
whisperings--angry, peremptory!

"I hear!" he croaked, gripping the table.  "I obey!"

He turned to us a face devoid for once of its malice.

"Ask me no more questions, strangers," he said.  "And now, if you are
done, I will show you where you may sleep and bathe."

He arose abruptly.  We followed him through the hangings, passed
through a corridor and into another smaller chamber, roofless, the
sides walled with screens of dark grey. Two cushioned couches were
there and a curtained door leading into an open, outer enclosure in
which a fountain played within a wide pool.

"Your bath," said Rador.  He dropped the curtain and came back into
the room. He touched a carved flower at one side. There was a tiny
sighing from overhead and instantly across the top spread a veil of
blackness, impenetrable to light but certainly not to air, for through
it pulsed little breaths of the garden fragrances. The room filled
with a cool twilight, refreshing, sleep-inducing. The green dwarf
pointed to the couches.

"Sleep!" he said.  "Sleep and fear nothing.  My men are on guard
outside." He came closer to us, the old mocking gaiety sparkling in
his eyes.

"But I spoke too quickly," he whispered.  "Whether it is because the
Afyo Maie fears their tongues--or--" he laughed at Larry. "The maids
are _not_ yours!" Still laughing he vanished through the curtains of the
room of the fountain before I could ask him the meaning of his curious
gift, its withdrawal, and his most enigmatic closing remarks.

"Back in the great old days of Ireland," thus Larry breaking into my
thoughts raptly, the brogue thick, "there was Cairill mac
Cairill--Cairill Swiftspear. An' Cairill wronged Keevan of Emhain
Abhlach, of the blood of Angus of the great people when he was
sleeping in the likeness of a pale reed. Then Keevan put this penance
on Cairill--that for a year Cairill should wear his body in Emhain
Abhlach, which is the Land of Faery and for that year Keevan should
wear the body of Cairill. And it was done.

"In that year Cairill met Emar of the Birds that are one white, one
red, and one black--and they loved, and from that love sprang Ailill
their son. And when Ailill was born he took a reed flute and first he
played slumber on Cairill, and then he played old age so that Cairill
grew white and withered; then Ailill played again and Cairill became a
shadow--then a shadow of a shadow--then a breath; and the breath went
out upon the wind!" He shivered. "Like the old gnome," he whispered,
"that they called Songar of the Lower Waters!"

He shook his head as though he cast a dream from him. Then, all
alert--

"But that was in Iceland ages agone.  And there's nothing like that
here, Doc!" He laughed. "It doesn't scare me one little bit, old boy.
The pretty devil lady's got the wrong slant. When you've had a pal
standing beside you one moment--full of life, and joy, and power, and
potentialities, telling what he's going to do to make the world hum
when he gets through the slaughter, just running over with zip and pep
of life, Doc--and the next instant, right in the middle of a laugh--a
piece of damned shell takes off half his head and with it joy and
power and all the rest of it"--his face twitched--"well, old man, in
the face of _that_ mystery a disappearing act such as the devil lady
treated us to doesn't make much of a dent. Not on me. But by the
brogans of Brian Boru--if we could have had some of that stuff to turn
on during the war--oh, boy!"

He was silent, evidently contemplating the idea with vast pleasure.
And as for me, at that moment my last doubt of Larry O'Keefe vanished,
I saw that he did believe, really believed, in his banshees, his
leprechauns and all the old dreams of the Gael--but only within the
limits of Ireland.

In one drawer of his mind was packed all his superstition, his
mysticism, and what of weakness it might carry. But face him with any
peril or problem and the drawer closed instantaneously leaving a mind
that was utterly fearless, incredulous, and ingenious; swept clean of
all cobwebs by as fine a skeptic broom as ever brushed a brain.

"Some stuff!" Deepest admiration was in his voice.  "If we'd only had
it when the war was on--imagine half a dozen of us scooting over the
enemy batteries and the gunners underneath all at once beginning to
shake themselves to pieces! Wow!" His tone was rapturous.

"It's easy enough to explain, Larry," I said.  "The effect, that
is--for what the green ray is made of I don't know, of course. But
what it does, clearly, is stimulate atomic vibration to such a pitch
that the cohesion between the particles of matter is broken and the
body flies to bits--just as a fly-wheel does when its speed gets so
great that the particles of which _it_ is made can't hold together."

"Shake themselves to pieces is right, then!" he exclaimed.

"Absolutely right," I nodded.  "Everything in Nature vibrates.  And
all matter--whether man or beast or stone or metal or vegetable--is
made up of vibrating molecules, which are made up of vibrating atoms
which are made up of truly infinitely small particles of electricity
called electrons, and electrons, the base of all matter, are
themselves perhaps only a vibration of the mysterious ether.

"If a magnifying glass of sufficient size and strength could be placed
over us we could see ourselves as sieves--our space lattice, as it is
called. And all that is necessary to break down the lattice, to shake
us into nothingness, is some agent that will set our atoms vibrating
at such a rate that at last they escape the unseen cords and fly off.

"The green ray of Yolara is such an agent.  It set up in the dwarf
that incredibly rapid rhythm that you saw and--shook him not to
atoms--but to electrons!"

"They had a gun on the West Front--a seventy-five," said O'Keefe,
"that broke the eardrums of everybody who fired it, no matter what
protection they used. It looked like all the other seventy-fives--but
there was something about its sound that did it. They had to recast
it."

"It's practically the same thing," I replied.  "By some freak its
vibratory qualities had that effect. The deep whistle of the sunken
Lusitania would, for instance, make the Singer Building shake to its
foundations; while the Olympic did not affect the Singer at all but
made the Woolworth shiver all through. In each case they stimulated
the atomic vibration of the particular building--"

I paused, aware all at once of an intense drowsiness. O'Keefe,
yawning, reached down to unfasten his puttees.

"Lord, I'm sleepy!" he exclaimed.  "Can't understand it--what you
say--most--interesting--Lord!" he yawned again; straightened. "What
made Reddy take such a shine to the Russian?" he asked.

"Thanaroa," I answered, fighting to keep my eyes open.

"What?"

"When Lugur spoke that name I saw Marakinoff signal him.  Thanaroa is,
I suspect, the original form of the name of Tangaroa, the greatest god
of the Polynesians. There's a secret cult to him in the islands.
Marakinoff may belong to it--he knows it anyway. Lugur recognized the
signal and despite his surprise answered it."

"So he gave him the high sign, eh?" mused Larry.  "How could they both
know it?"

"The cult is a very ancient one.  Undoubtedly it had its origin in the
dim beginnings before these people migrated here," I replied. "It's a
link--one--of the few links between up there and the lost past--"

"Trouble then," mumbled Larry.  "Hell brewing!  I smell it--Say, Doc,
is this sleepiness natural? Wonder where my--gas mask--is--" he
added, half incoherently.

But I myself was struggling desperately against the drugged slumber
pressing down upon me.

"Lakla!" I heard O'Keefe murmur.  "Lakla of the golden eyes--no
Eilidh--the Fair!" He made an immense effort, half raised himself,
grinned faintly.

"Thought this was paradise when I first saw it, Doc," he sighed.  "But
I know now, if it is, No-Man's Land was the greatest place on earth
for a honeymoon. They--they've got us, Doc--" He sank back. "Good
luck, old boy, wherever you're going." His hand waved feebly.
"Glad--knew--you. Hope--see--you--'gain--"

His voice trailed into silence.  Fighting, fighting with every fibre
of brain and nerve against the sleep, I felt myself being steadily
overcome. Yet before oblivion rushed down upon me I seemed to see upon
the grey-screened wall nearest the Irishman an oval of rosy light
begin to glow; watched, as my falling lids inexorably fell, a
flame-tipped shadow waver on it; thicken; condense--and there looking
down upon Larry, her eyes great golden stars in which intensest
curiosity and shy tenderness struggled, sweet mouth half smiling, was
the girl of the Moon Pool's Chamber, the girl whom the green dwarf had
named--Lakla: the vision Larry had invoked before that sleep which I
could no longer deny had claimed him--

Closer she came--closer---the eyes were over us.

Then oblivion indeed!



CHAPTER XVI

Yolara of Muria vs. the O'Keefe

I awakened with all the familiar, homely sensation of a shade having
been pulled up in a darkened room. I thrilled with a wonderful sense
of deep rest and restored resiliency. The ebon shadow had vanished
from above and down into the room was pouring the silvery light. From
the fountain pool came a mighty splashing and shouts of laughter. I
jumped and drew the curtain. O'Keefe and Rador were swimming a wild
race; the dwarf like an otter, out-distancing and playing around the
Irishman at will.

Had that overpowering sleep--and now I confess that my struggle
against it had been largely inspired by fear that it was the abnormal
slumber which Throckmartin had described as having heralded the
approach of the Dweller before it had carried away Thora and
Stanton--had that sleep been after all nothing but natural reaction of
tired nerves and brains?

And that last vision of the golden-eyed girl bending over Larry?  Had
that also been a delusion of an overstressed mind? Well, it might have
been, I could not tell. At any rate, I decided, I would speak about it
to O'Keefe once we were alone again--and then giving myself up to the
urge of buoyant well-being I shouted like a boy, stripped and joined
the two in the pool. The water was warm and I felt the unwonted
tingling of life in every vein increase; something from it seemed to
pulse through the skin, carrying a clean vigorous vitality that toned
every fibre. Tiring at last, we swam to the edge and drew ourselves
out. The green dwarf quickly clothed himself and Larry rather
carefully donned his uniform.

"The Afyo Maie has summoned us, Doc," he said.  "We're to--well--I
suppose you'd call it breakfast with her. After that, Rador tells me,
we're to have a session with the Council of Nine. I suppose Yolara is
as curious as any lady of--the upper world, as you might put it--and
just naturally can't wait," he added.

He gave himself a last shake, patted the automatic hidden under his
left arm, whistled cheerfully.

"After you, my dear Alphonse," he said to Rador, with a low bow.  The
dwarf laughed, bent in an absurd imitation of Larry's mocking courtesy
and started ahead of us to the house of the priestess. When he had
gone a little way on the orchid-walled path I whispered to O'Keefe:

"Larry, when you were falling off to sleep--did you think you saw
anything?"

"See anything!" he grinned.  "Doc, sleep hit me like a Hun shell.  I
thought they were pulling the gas on us. I--I had some intention of
bidding you tender farewells," he continued, half sheepishly. "I think
I did start 'em, didn't I?"

I nodded.

"But wait a minute--" he hesitated.  "I had a queer sort of dream--"

"'What was it?" I asked eagerly,

"Well," he answered slowly, "I suppose it was because I'd been
thinking of--Golden Eyes. Anyway, I thought she came through the wall
and leaned over me--yes, and put one of those long white hands of hers
on my head--I couldn't raise my lids--but in some queer way I could
see her. Then it got real dreamish. Why do you ask?"

Rador turned back toward us,

"Later," I answered, "Not now.  When we're alone."

But through me went a little glow of reassurance.  Whatever the maze
through which we were moving; whatever of menacing evil lurking
there--the Golden Girl was clearly watching over us; watching with
whatever unknown powers she could muster.

We passed the pillared entrance; went through a long bowered corridor
and stopped before a door that seemed to be sliced from a monolith of
pale jade--high, narrow, set in a wall of opal.

Rador stamped twice and the same supernally sweet, silver bell tones
of--yesterday, I must call it, although in that place of eternal day
the term is meaningless--bade us enter. The door slipped aside. The
chamber was small, the opal walls screening it on three sides, the
black opacity covering it, the fourth side opening out into a
delicious little walled garden--a mass of the fragrant, luminous
blooms and delicately colored fruit. Facing it was a small table of
reddish wood and from the omnipresent cushions heaped around it arose
to greet us--Yolara.

Larry drew in his breath with an involuntary gasp of admiration and
bowed low. My own admiration was as frank--and the priestess was well
pleased with our homage.

She was swathed in the filmy, half-revelant webs, now of palest blue.
The corn-silk hair was caught within a wide-meshed golden net in which
sparkled tiny brilliants, like blended sapphires and diamonds. Her own
azure eyes sparkled as brightly as they, and I noted again in their
clear depths the half-eager approval as they rested upon O'Keefe's
lithe, well-knit figure and his keen, clean-cut face. The high-arched,
slender feet rested upon soft sandals whose gauzy withes laced the
exquisitely formed leg to just below the dimpled knee.

"Some giddy wonder!" exclaimed Larry, looking at me and placing a hand
over his heart. "Put her on a New York roof and she'd empty Broadway.
Take the cue from me, Doc."

He turned to Yolara, whose face was somewhat puzzled.

"I said, O lady whose shining hair is a web for hearts, that in our
world your beauty would dazzle the sight of men as would a little
woman sun!" he said, in the florid imagery to which the tongue lends
itself so well.

A flush stole up through the translucent skin.  The blue eyes softened
and she waved us toward the cushions. Black-haired maids stole in,
placing before us the fruits, the little loaves and a steaming drink
somewhat the colour and odor of chocolate. I was conscious of
outrageous hunger.

"What are you named, strangers?" she asked.

"This man is named Goodwin," said O'Keefe.  "As for me, call me
Larry."

"Nothing like getting acquainted quick," he said to me--but kept his
eyes upon Yolara as though he were voicing another honeyed phrase. And
so she took it, for: "You must teach me your tongue," she murmured.

"Then shall I have two words where now I have one to tell you of your
loveliness," he answered.

"And also that'll take time," he spoke to me.  "Essential occupation
out of which we can't be drafted to make these fun-loving folk any
Roman holiday. Get me!"

"Larree," mused Yolara.  "I like the sound.  It is sweet--" and indeed
it was as she spoke it.

"And what is your land named, Larree?" she continued. "And Goodwin's?"
She caught the sound perfectly.

"My land, O lady of loveliness, is two--Ireland and America; his but
one--America."

She repeated the two names--slowly, over and over.  We seized the
opportunity to attack the food; halting half guiltily as she spoke
again.

"Oh, but you are hungry!" she cried.  "Eat then." She leaned her chin
upon her hands and regarded us, whole fountains of questions brimming
up in her eyes.

"How is it, Larree, that you have two countries and Goodwin but one?"
she asked, at last unable to keep silent longer.

"I was born in Ireland; he in America.  But I have dwelt long in his
land and my heart loves each," he said.

She nodded, understandingly.

"Are all the men of Ireland like you, Larree?  As all the men here are
like Lugur or Rador? I like to look at you," she went on, with naive
frankness. "I am tired of men like Lugur and Rador. But they are
strong," she added, swiftly. "Lugur can hold up ten in his two arms
and raise six with but one hand."

We could not understand her numerals and she raised white fingers to
illustrate.

"That is little, O lady, to the men of Ireland," replied O'Keefe.
"Lo, I have seen one of my race hold up ten times ten of our--what
call you that swift thing in which Rador brought us here?"

"Corial," said she.

"Hold up ten times twenty of our corials with but two fingers--and
these corials of ours--"

"Coria," said she.

"And these coria of ours are each greater in weight than ten of yours.
Yes, and I have seen another with but one blow of his hand raise hell!

"And so I have," he murmured to me.  "And both at Forty-second and
Fifth Avenue, N. Y.--U. S. A."

Yolara considered all this with manifest doubt.

"Hell?" she inquired at last.  "I know not the word."

"Well," answered O'Keefe.  "Say Muria then.  In many ways they are, I
gather, O heart's delight, one and the same."

Now the doubt in the blue eyes was strong indeed.  She shook her head.

"None of our men can do _that_!" she answered, at length. "Nor do I
think you could, Larree."

"Oh, no," said Larry easily.  "I never tried to be that strong.  I
fly," he added, casually.

The priestess rose to her feet, gazing at him with startled eyes.

"Fly!" she repeated incredulously.  "Like a _Zitia_?  A bird?"

Larry nodded--and then seeing the dawning command in her eyes, went on
hastily.

"Not with my own wings, Yolara.  In a--a corial that moves
through--what's the word for air, Doc--well, through this--" He made a
wide gesture up toward the nebulous haze above us. He took a pencil
and on a white cloth made a hasty sketch of an airplane. "In a--a
corial like this--" She regarded the sketch gravely, thrust a hand
down into her girdle and brought forth a keen-bladed poniard; cut
Larry's markings out and placed the fragment carefully aside.

"That I can understand," she said.

"Remarkably intelligent young woman," muttered O'Keefe.  "Hope I'm not
giving anything away--but she had me."

"But what are your women like, Larree?  Are they like me?  And how
many have loved you?" she whispered.

"In all Ireland and America there is none like you, Yolara," he
answered. "And take that any way you please," he muttered in English.
She took it, it was evident, as it most pleased her.

"Do you have goddesses?" she asked.

"Every woman in Ireland and America, is a goddess"; thus Larry.

"Now that I do not believe." There was both anger and mockery in her
eyes. "I know women, Larree--and if that were so there would be no
peace for men."

"There isn't!" replied he.  The anger died out and she laughed,
sweetly, understandingly.

"And which goddess do you worship, Larree?"

"You!" said Larry O'Keefe boldly.

"Larry!  Larry!" I whispered.  "Be careful.  It's high explosive."

But the priestess was laughing--little trills of sweet bell notes; and
pleasure was in each note.

"You are indeed bold, Larree," she said, "to offer me your worship.
Yet am I pleased by your boldness. Still--Lugur is strong; and you are
not of those who--what did you say--have tried. And your wings are
not here--Larree!"

Again her laughter rang out.  The Irishman flushed; it was _touché_
for Yolara!

"Fear not for me with Lugur," he said, grimly.  "Rather fear for him!"

The laughter died; she looked at him searchingly; a little enigmatic
smile about her mouth--so sweet and so cruel.

"Well--we shall see," she murmured.  "You say you battle in your
world. With what?"

"Oh, with this and with that," answered Larry, airily. "We manage--"

"Have you the Keth--I mean that with which I sent Songar into the
nothingness?" she asked swiftly.

"See what she's driving at?" O'Keefe spoke to me, swiftly. "Well I do!
But here's where the O'Keefe lands.

"I said," he turned to her, "O voice of silver fire, that your spirit
is high even as your beauty--and searches out men's souls as does your
loveliness their hearts. And now listen, Yolara, for what I speak is
truth"--into his eyes came the far-away gaze; into his voice the Irish
softness--"Lo, in my land of Ireland, this many of your life's length
agone--see"--he raised his ten fingers, clenched and unclenched them
times twenty--"the mighty men of my race, the Taitha-da-Dainn, could
send men out into the nothingness even as do you with the Keth. And
this they did by their harpings, and by words spoken--words of power,
O Yolara, that have their power still--and by pipings and by slaying
sounds.

"There was Cravetheen who played swift flames from his harp, flying
flames that ate those they were sent against. And there was Dalua, of
Hy Brasil, whose pipes played away from man and beast and all living
things their shadows--and at last played them to shadows too, so that
wherever Dalua went his shadows that had been men and beast followed
like a storm of little rustling leaves; yea, and Bel the Harper, who
could make women's hearts run like wax and men's hearts flame to ashes
and whose harpings could shatter strong cliffs and bow great trees to
the sod--"

His eyes were bright, dream-filled; she shrank a little from him,
faint pallor under the perfect skin.

"I say to you, Yolara, that these things were and are--in Ireland."
His voice rang strong. "And I have seen men as many as those that are
in your great chamber this many times over"--he clenched his hands
once more, perhaps a dozen times--"blasted into nothingness before
your Keth could even have touched them. Yea--and rocks as mighty as
those through which we came lifted up and shattered before the lids
could fall over your blue eyes. And this is truth, Yolara--all truth!
Stay--have you that little cone of the Keth with which you destroyed
Songar?"

She nodded, gazing at him, fascinated, fear and puzzlement contending.

"Then use it." He took a vase of crystal from the table, placed it on
the threshold that led into the garden. "Use it on this--and I will
show you."

"I will use it upon one of the ladala--" she began eagerly.

The exaltation dropped from him; there was a touch of horror in the
eyes he turned to her; her own dropped before it.

"It shall be as you say," she said hurriedly.  She drew the shining
cone from her breast; levelled it at the vase. The green ray leaped
forth, spread over the crystal, but before its action could even be
begun, a flash of light shot from O'Keefe's hand, his automatic spat
and the trembling vase flew into fragments. As quickly as he had drawn
it, he thrust the pistol back into place and stood there empty handed,
looking at her sternly. From the anteroom came shouting, a rush of
feet.

Yolara's face was white, her eyes strained--but her voice was unshaken
as she called to the clamouring guards:

"It is nothing--go to your places!"

But when the sound of their return had ceased she stared tensely at
the Irishman--then looked again at the shattered vase.

"It is true!" she cried, "but see, the Keth is--alive!"

I followed her pointing finger.  Each broken bit of the crystal was
vibrating, shaking its particles out into space. Broken it the bullet
of Larry's had--but not released it from the grip of the
disintegrating force. The priestess's face was triumphant.

"But what matters it, O shining urn of beauty--what matters it to the
vase that is broken what happens to its fragments?" asked Larry,
gravely--and pointedly.

The triumph died from her face and for a space she was silent;
brooding.

"Next," whispered O'Keefe to me.  "Lots of surprises in the little
box; keep your eye on the opening and see what comes out."

We had not long to wait.  There was a sparkle of anger about Yolara,
something too of injured pride. She clapped her hands; whispered to
the maid who answered her summons, and then sat back regarding us,
maliciously.

"You have answered me as to your strength--but you have not proved it;
but the Keth you have answered. Now answer this!" she said.

She pointed out into the garden.  I saw a flowering branch bend and
snap as though a hand had broken it--but no hand was there! Saw then
another and another bend and break, a little tree sway and fall--and
closer and closer to us came the trail of snapping boughs while down
into the garden poured the silvery light revealing--nothing! Now a
great ewer beside a pillar rose swiftly in air and hurled itself
crashing at my feet. Cushions close to us swirled about as though in
the vortex of a whirlwind.

And unseen hands held my arms in a mighty clutch fast to my sides,
another gripped my throat and I felt a needle-sharp poniard point
pierce my shirt, touch the skin just over my heart!

"Larry!" I cried, despairingly.  I twisted my head; saw that he too
was caught in this grip of the invisible. But his face was calm, even
amused.

"Keep cool, Doc!" he said.  "Remember--she wants to learn the
language!"

Now from Yolara burst chime upon chime of mocking laughter.  She gave
a command--the hands loosened, the poniard withdrew from my heart;
suddenly as I had been caught I was free--and unpleasantly weak and
shaky.

"Have you _that_ in Ireland, Larree!" cried the priestess--and once
more trembled with laughter.

"A good play, Yolara." His voice was as calm as his face. "But they
did that in Ireland even before Dalua piped away his first man's
shadow. And in Goodwin's land they make ships--coria that go on
water--so you can pass by them and see only sea and sky; and those
water coria are each of them many times greater than this whole palace
of yours."

But the priestess laughed on.

"It did get me a little," whispered Larry.  "That wasn't quite up to
my mark. But God! If we could find that trick out and take it back
with us!"

"Not so, Larree!" Yolara gasped, through her laughter. "Not so!
Goodwin's cry betrayed you!"

Her good humour had entirely returned; she was like a mischievous
child pleased over some successful trick; and like a child she
cried--"I'll show you!"--signalled again; whispered to the maid who,
quickly returning, laid before her a long metal case. Yolara took from
her girdle something that looked like a small pencil, pressed it and
shot a thin stream of light for all the world like an electric flash,
upon its hasp. The lid flew open. Out of it she drew three flat, oval
crystals, faint rose in hue. She handed one to O'Keefe and one to me.

"Look!" she commanded, placing the third before her own eyes.  I
peered through the stone and instantly there leaped into sight, out of
thin air--six grinning dwarfs! Each was covered from top of head to
soles of feet in a web so tenuous that through it their bodies were
plain. The gauzy stuff seemed to vibrate--its strands to run together
like quick-silver. I snatched the crystal from my eyes and--the
chamber was empty! Put it back--and there were the grinning six!

Yolara gave another sign and they disappeared, even from the crystals.

"It is what they wear, Larree," explained Yolara, graciously.  "It is
something that came to us from--the Ancient Ones. But we have so
few"--she sighed.

"Such treasures must be two-edged swords, Yolara," commented O'Keefe.
"For how know you that one within them creeps not to you with hand
eager to strike?"

"There is no danger," she said indifferently.  "I am the keeper of
them."

She mused for a space, then abruptly:

"And now no more.  You two are to appear before the Council at a
certain time--but fear nothing. You, Goodwin, go with Rador about our
city and increase your wisdom. But you, Larree, await me here in my
garden--" she smiled at him, provocatively--maliciously, too. "For
shall not one who has resisted a world of goddesses be given all
chance to worship when at last he finds his own?"

She laughed--whole-heartedly and was gone.  And at that moment I liked
Yolara better than ever I had before and--alas--better than ever I
was to in the future.

I noted Rador standing outside the open jade door and started to go,
but O'Keefe caught me by the arm.

"Wait a minute," he urged.  "About Golden Eyes--you were going to tell
me something--it's been on my mind all through that little sparring
match."

I told him of the vision that had passed through my closing lids.  He
listened gravely and then laughed.

"Hell of a lot of privacy in this place!" he grinned.  "Ladies who can
walk through walls and others with regular invisible cloaks to let 'em
flit wherever they please. Oh, well, don't let it get on your nerves,
Doc. Remember--everything's natural! That robe stuff is just
camouflage of course. But Lord, if we could only get a piece of it!"

"The material simply admits all light-vibrations, or perhaps curves
them, just as the opacities cut them off," I answered. "A man under
the X-ray is partly invisible; this makes him wholly so. He doesn't
register, as the people of the motion-picture profession say."

"Camouflage," repeated Larry.  "And as for the Shining One--Say!" he
snorted. "I'd like to set the O'Keefe banshee up against it. I'll bet
that old resourceful Irish body would give it the first three bites
and a strangle hold and wallop it before it knew it had 'em. Oh! Wow!
Boy Howdy!"

I heard him still chuckling gleefully over this vision as I passed
along the opal wall with the green dwarf.

A shell was awaiting us.  I paused before entering it to examine the
polished surface of runway and great road. It was obsidian--volcanic
glass of pale emerald, unflawed, translucent, with no sign of block or
juncture. I examined the shell.

"What makes it go?" I asked Rador.  At a word from him the driver
touched a concealed spring and an aperture appeared beneath the
control-lever, of which I have spoken in a preceding chapter. Within
was a small cube of black crystal, through whose sides I saw, dimly, a
rapidly revolving, glowing ball, not more than two inches in diameter.
Beneath the cube was a curiously shaped, slender cylinder winding down
into the lower body of the Nautilus whorl.

"Watch!" said Rador.  He motioned me into the vehicle and took a place
beside me. The driver touched the lever; a stream of coruscations flew
from the ball down into the cylinder. The shell started smoothly, and
as the tiny torrent of shining particles increased it gathered speed.

"The corial does not touch the road," explained Rador. "It is lifted
so far"--he held his forefinger and thumb less than a sixteenth of an
inch apart--"above it."

And perhaps here is the best place to explain the activation of the
shells or coria. The force utilized was atomic energy. Passing from
the whirling ball the ions darted through the cylinder to two bands of
a peculiar metal affixed to the base of the vehicles somewhat like
skids of a sled. Impinging upon these they produced a partial negation
of gravity, lifting the shell slightly, and at the same time creating
a powerful repulsive force or thrust that could be directed backward,
forward, or sidewise at the will of the driver. The creation of this
energy and the mechanism of its utilization were, briefly, as follows:


[Dr. Goodwin's lucid and exceedingly comprehensive description of this
extraordinary mechanism has been deleted by the Executive Council of
the International Association of Science as too dangerously suggestive
to scientists of the Central European Powers with which we were so
recently at war. It is allowable, however, to state that his
observations are in the possession of experts in this country, who
are, unfortunately, hampered in their research not only by the
scarcity of the radioactive elements that we know, but also by the
lack of the element or elements unknown to us that entered into the
formation of the fiery ball within the cube of black crystal.
Nevertheless, as the principle is so clear, it is believed that these
difficulties will ultimately be overcome.--J. B. K., President, I. A.
of S.]


The wide, glistening road was gay with the coria.  They darted in and
out of the gardens; within them the fair-haired, extraordinarily
beautiful women on their cushions were like princesses of Elfland,
caught in gorgeous fairy webs, resting within the hearts of flowers.
In some shells were flaxen-haired dwarfish men of Lugur's type;
sometimes black-polled brother officers of Rador; often raven-tressed
girls, plainly hand-maidens of the women; and now and then beauties of
the lower folk went by with one of the blond dwarfs.

We swept around the turn that made of the jewel-like roadway an
enormous horseshoe and, speedily, upon our right the cliffs through
which we had come in our journey from the Moon Pool began to march
forward beneath their mantles of moss. They formed a gigantic
abutment, a titanic salient. It had been from the very front of this
salient's invading angle that we had emerged; on each side of it the
precipices, faintly glowing, drew back and vanished into distance.

The slender, graceful bridges under which we skimmed ended at openings
in the upflung, far walls of verdure. Each had its little garrison of
soldiers. Through some of the openings a rivulet of the green obsidian
river passed. These were roadways to the farther country, to the land
of the ladala, Rador told me; adding that none of the lesser folk
could cross into the pavilioned city unless summoned or with pass.

We turned the bend of the road and flew down that farther emerald
ribbon we had seen from the great oval. Before us rose the shining
cliffs and the lake. A half-mile, perhaps, from these the last of the
bridges flung itself. It was more massive and about it hovered a
spirit of ancientness lacking in the other spans; also its garrison
was larger and at its base the tangent way was guarded by two massive
structures, somewhat like blockhouses, between which it ran. Something
about it aroused in me an intense curiosity.

"Where does that road lead, Rador?" I asked.

"To the one place above all of which I may not tell you, Goodwin," he
answered. And again I wondered.

We skimmed slowly out upon the great pier.  Far to the left was the
prismatic, rainbow curtain between the Cyclopean pillars. On the white
waters graceful shells--lacustrian replicas of the Elf chariots--swam,
but none was near that distant web of wonder.

"Rador--what is that?" I asked.

"It is the Veil of the Shining One!" he answered slowly.

Was the Shining One that which we named the Dweller?

"What is the Shining One?" I cried, eagerly.  Again he was silent.
Nor did he speak until we had turned on our homeward way.

And lively as my interest, my scientific curiosity, were--I was
conscious suddenly of acute depression. Beautiful, wondrously
beautiful this place was--and yet in its wonder dwelt a keen edge of
menace, of unease--of inexplicable, inhuman woe; as though in a secret
garden of God a soul should sense upon it the gaze of some lurking
spirit of evil which some way, somehow, had crept into the sanctuary
and only bided its time to spring.



CHAPTER XVII

The Leprechaun

The shell carried us straight back to the house of Yolara. Larry was
awaiting me. We stood again before the tenebrous wall where first we
had faced the priestess and the Voice. And as we stood, again the
portal appeared with all its disconcerting, magical abruptness.

But now the scene was changed.  Around the jet table were grouped a
number of figures--Lugur, Yolara beside him; seven others--all of them
fair-haired and all men save one who sat at the left of the
priestess--an old, old woman, how old I could not tell, her face
bearing traces of beauty that must once have been as great as Yolara's
own, but now ravaged, in some way awesome; through its ruins the
fearful, malicious gaiety shining out like a spirit of joy held within
a corpse!

Began then our examination, for such it was.  And as it progressed I
was more and more struck by the change in the O'Keefe. All flippancy
was gone, rarely did his sense of humour reveal itself in any of his
answers. He was like a cautious swordsman, fencing, guarding, studying
his opponent; or rather, like a chess-player who keeps sensing some
far-reaching purpose in the game: alert, contained, watchful. Always
he stressed the power of our surface races, their multitudes, their
solidarity.

Their questions were myriad.  What were our occupations? Our system of
government? How great were the waters? The land? Intensely interested
were they in the World War, querying minutely into its causes, its
effects. In our weapons their interest was avid. And they were
exceedingly minute in their examination of us as to the ruins which
had excited our curiosity; their position and surroundings--and if
others than ourselves might be expected to find and pass through their
entrance!

At this I shot a glance at Lugur.  He did not seem unduly interested.
I wondered if the Russian had told him as yet of the girl of the rosy
wall of the Moon Pool Chamber and the real reasons for our search.
Then I answered as briefly as possible--omitting all reference to
these things. The red dwarf watched me with unmistakable
amusement--and I knew Marakinoff had told him. But clearly Lugur had
kept his information even from Yolara; and as clearly she had spoken
to none of that episode when O'Keefe's automatic had shattered the
Keth-smitten vase. Again I felt that sense of deep bewilderment--of
helpless search for clue to all the tangle.

For two hours we were questioned and then the priestess called Rador
and let us go.

Larry was sombre as we returned.  He walked about the room uneasily.

"Hell's brewing here all right," he said at last, stopping before me.
"I can't make out just the particular brand--that's all that bothers
me. We're going to have a stiff fight, that's sure. What I want to do
quick is to find the Golden Girl, Doc. Haven't seen her on the wall
lately, have you?" he queried, hopefully fantastic.

"Laugh if you want to," he went on.  "But she's our best bet.  It's
going to be a race between her and the O'Keefe banshee--but I put my
money on her. I had a queer experience while I was in that garden,
after you'd left." His voice grew solemn. "Did you ever see a
leprechaun, Doc?" I shook my head again, as solemnly. "He's a little
man in green," said Larry. "Oh, about as high as your knee. I saw one
once--in Carntogher Woods. And as I sat there, half asleep, in
Yolara's garden, the living spit of him stepped out from one of those
bushes, twirling a little shillalah.

"'It's a tight box ye're gettin' in, Larry avick,' said he, 'but don't
ye be downhearted, lad.'

"'I'm carrying on,' said I, 'but you're a long way from Ireland,' I
said, or thought I did.

"'Ye've a lot o' friends there,' he answered.  'An' where the heart
rests the feet are swift to follow. Not that I'm sayin' I'd like to
live here, Larry,' said he.

"'I know where my heart is now,' I told him.  'It rests on a girl with
golden eyes and the hair and swan-white breast of Eilidh the Fair--but
me feet don't seem to get me to her,' I said."

The brogue thickened.

"An' the little man in green nodded his head an' whirled his
shillalah.

"'It's what I came to tell ye,' says he.  'Don't ye fall for the
Bhean-Nimher, the serpent woman wit' the blue eyes; she's a daughter
of Ivor, lad--an' don't ye do nothin' to make the brown-haired coleen
ashamed o' ye, Larry O'Keefe. I knew yer great, great grandfather an'
his before him, aroon,' says he, 'an' wan o' the O'Keefe failin's is
to think their hearts big enough to hold all the wimmen o' the world.
A heart's built to hold only wan permanently, Larry,' he says, 'an'
I'm warnin' ye a nice girl don't like to move into a place all
cluttered up wid another's washin' an' mendin' an' cookin' an' other
things pertainin' to general wife work. Not that I think the blue-eyed
wan is keen for mendin' an' cookin'!' says he.

"'You don't have to be comin' all this way to tell me that,' I answer.

"'Well, I'm just a tellin' you,' he says.  'Ye've got some rough
knocks comin', Larry. In fact, ye're in for a devil of a time. But,
remember that ye're the O'Keefe,' says he. 'An' while the bhoys are
all wid ye, avick, ye've got to be on the job yourself.'

"'I hope,' I tell him, 'that the O'Keefe banshee can find her way here
in time--that is, if it's necessary, which I hope it won't be.'

"'Don't ye worry about that,' says he.  'Not that she's keen on
leavin' the ould sod, Larry. The good ould soul's in quite a state o'
mind about ye, aroon. I don't mind tellin' ye, lad, that she's
mobilizing all the clan an' if she _has_ to come for ye, avick, they'll
be wid her an' they'll sweep this joint clean before ye go. What
they'll do to it'll make the Big Wind look like a summer breeze on
Lough Lene! An' that's about all, Larry. We thought a voice from the
Green Isle would cheer ye. Don't fergit that ye're the O'Keefe an' I
say it again--all the bhoys are wid ye. But we want t' kape bein'
proud o' ye, lad!'

"An' I looked again and there was only a bush waving."

There wasn't a smile in my heart--or if there was it was a very tender
one.

"I'm going to bed," he said abruptly.  "Keep an eye on the wall, Doc!"

Between the seven sleeps that followed, Larry and I saw but little of
each other. Yolara sought him more and more. Thrice we were called
before the Council; once we were at a great feast, whose splendours
and surprises I can never forget. Largely I was in the company of
Rador. Together we two passed the green barriers into the
dwelling-place of the ladala.

They seemed provided with everything needful for life. But everywhere
was an oppressiveness, a gathering together of hate, that was
spiritual rather than material--as tangible as the latter and far, far
more menacing!

"They do not like to dance with the Shining One," was Rador's constant
and only reply to my efforts to find the cause.

Once I had concrete evidence of the mood.  Glancing behind me, I saw a
white, vengeful face peer from behind a tree-trunk, a hand lift, a
shining dart speed from it straight toward Rador's back. Instinctively
I thrust him aside. He turned upon me angrily. I pointed to where the
little missile lay, still quivering, on the ground. He gripped my
hand.

"That, some day I will repay!" he said.  I looked again at the thing.
At its end was a tiny cone covered with a glistening, gelatinous
substance.

Rador pulled from a tree beside us a fruit somewhat like an apple.

"Look!" he said.  He dropped it upon the dart--and at once, before my
eyes, in less than ten seconds, the fruit had rotted away!

"That's what would have happened to Rador but for you, friend!" he
said.

Come now between this and the prelude to the latter half of the drama
whose history this narrative is--only scattering and necessarily
fragmentary observations.

First--the nature of the ebon opacities, blocking out the spaces
between the pavilion-pillars or covering their tops like roofs, These
were magnetic fields, light absorbers, negativing the vibrations of
radiance; literally screens of electric force which formed as
impervious a barrier to light as would have screens of steel.

They instantaneously made night appear in a place where no night was.
But they interposed no obstacle to air or to sound. They were
extremely simple in their inception--no more miraculous than is glass,
which, inversely, admits the vibrations of light, but shuts out those
coarser ones we call air--and, partly, those others which produce upon
our auditory nerves the effects we call sound.

Briefly their mechanism was this:


[For the same reason that Dr. Goodwin's exposition of the mechanism
of the atomic engines was deleted, his description of the
light-destroying screens has been deleted by the Executive
Council.--J. B. F., President, I. A. of S.]


There were two favoured classes of the ladala--the soldiers and the
dream-makers. The dream-makers were the most astonishing social
phenomena, I think, of all. Denied by their circumscribed environment
the wider experiences of us of the outer world, the Murians had
perfected an amazing system of escape through the imagination.

They were, too, intensely musical.  Their favourite instruments were
double flutes; immensely complex pipe-organs; harps, great and small.
They had another remarkable instrument made up of a double octave of
small drums which gave forth percussions remarkably disturbing to the
emotional centres.

It was this love of music that gave rise to one of the few truly
humorous incidents of our caverned life. Larry came to me--it was just
after our fourth sleep, I remember.

"Come on to a concert," he said.

We skimmed off to one of the bridge garrisons.  Rador called the
two-score guards to attention; and then, to my utter stupefaction, the
whole company, O'Keefe leading them, roared out the anthem, "God Save
the King." They sang--in a closer approach to the English than might
have been expected scores of miles below England's level. "Send him
victorious! Happy and glorious!" they bellowed.

He quivered with suppressed mirth at my paralysis of surprise.

"Taught 'em that for Marakinoff's benefit!" he gasped. "Wait till that
Red hears it. He'll blow up.

"Just wait until you hear Yolara lisp a pretty little thing I taught
her," said Larry as we set back for what we now called home. There was
an impish twinkle in his eyes.

And I did hear.  For it was not many minutes later that the priestess
condescended to command me to come to her with O'Keefe.

"Show Goodwin how much you have learned of our speech, O lady of the
lips of honeyed flame!" murmured Larry.

She hesitated; smiled at him, and then from that perfect mouth, out of
the exquisite throat, in the voice that was like the chiming of little
silver bells, she trilled a melody familiar to me indeed:

    "She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
      A bee-yu-tiful sight to see--"

And so on to the bitter end.

"She thinks it's a love-song," said Larry when we had left. "It's only
part of a repertoire I'm teaching her. Honestly, Doc, it's the only
way I can keep my mind clear when I'm with her," he went on earnestly.
"She's a devil-ess from hell--but a wonder. Whenever I find myself
going I get her to sing that, or Take Back Your Gold! or some other
ancient lay, and I'm back again--pronto--with the right perspective!
POP goes all the mystery! 'Hell!' I say, 'she's only a woman!'"



CHAPTER XVIII

The Amphitheatre of Jet

For hours the black-haired folk had been streaming across the bridges,
flowing along the promenade by scores and by hundreds, drifting down
toward the gigantic seven-terraced temple whose interior I had never
as yet seen, and from whose towering exterior, indeed, I had always
been kept far enough away--unobtrusively, but none the less decisively--to
prevent any real observation. The structure, I had estimated,
nevertheless, could not reach less than a thousand feet above its
silvery base, and the diameter of its circular foundation was about
the same.

I wondered what was bringing the _ladala_ into Lora, and where they
were vanishing. All of them were flower-crowned with the luminous,
lovely blooms--old and young, slender, mocking-eyed girls, dwarfed
youths, mothers with their babes, gnomed oldsters--on they poured,
silent for the most part and sullen--a sullenness that held acid
bitterness even as their subtle, half-sinister, half-gay malice seemed
tempered into little keen-edged flames, oddly, menacingly defiant.

There were many of the green-clad soldiers along the way, and the
garrison of the only bridge span I could see had certainly been
doubled.

Wondering still, I turned from my point of observation and made my way
back to our pavilion, hoping that Larry, who had been with Yolara for
the past two hours, had returned. Hardly had I reached it before Rador
came hurrying up, in his manner a curious exultance mingled with what
in anyone else I would have called a decided nervousness.

"Come!" he commanded before I could speak.  "The Council has made
decision--and _Larree_ is awaiting you."

"What has been decided?" I panted as we sped along the mosaic path
that led to the house of Yolara. "And why is Larry awaiting me?"

And at his answer I felt my heart pause in its beat and through me
race a wave of mingled panic and eagerness.

"The Shining One dances!" had answered the green dwarf. "And you are
to worship!"

What was this dancing of the Shining One, of which so often he had
spoken?

Whatever my forebodings, Larry evidently had none.

"Great stuff!" he cried, when we had met in the great antechamber now
empty of the dwarfs. "Hope it will be worth seeing--have to be
something damned good, though, to catch me, after what I've seen of
shows at the front," he added.

And remembering, with a little shock of apprehension, that he had no
knowledge of the Dweller beyond my poor description of it--for there
are no words actually to describe what that miracle of interwoven
glory and horror was--I wondered what Larry O'Keefe would say and do
when he did behold it!

Rador began to show impatience.

"Come!" he urged.  "There is much to be done--and the time grows
short!"

He led us to a tiny fountain room in whose miniature pool the white
waters were concentrated, pearl-like and opalescent in their circling
rim.

"Bathe!" he commanded; and set the example by stripping himself and
plunging within. Only a minute or two did the green dwarf allow us,
and he checked us as we were about to don our clothing.

Then, to my intense embarrassment, without warning, two of the
black-haired girls entered, bearing robes of a peculiar dull-blue hue.
At our manifest discomfort Rador's laughter roared out. He took the
garments from the pair, motioned them to leave us, and, still
laughing, threw one around me. Its texture was soft, but decidedly
metallic--like some blue metal spun to the fineness of a spider's
thread. The garment buckled tightly at the throat, was girdled at the
waist, and, below this cincture, fell to the floor, its folds being
held together by a half-dozen looped cords; from the shoulders a hood
resembling a monk's cowl.

Rador cast this over my head; it completely covered my face, but was
of so transparent a texture that I could see, though somewhat mistily,
through it. Finally he handed us both a pair of long gloves of the
same material and high stockings, the feet of which were
gloved--five-toed.

And again his laughter rang out at our manifest surprise.

"The priestess of the Shining One does not altogether trust the
Shining One's Voice," he said at last. "And these are to guard against
any sudden--errors. And fear not, Goodwin," he went on kindly. "Not
for the Shining One itself would Yolara see harm come to _Larree_
here--nor, because of him, to you. But I would not stake much on the
great white one. And for him I am sorry, for him I do like well."

"Is he to be with us?" asked Larry eagerly.

"He is to be where we go," replied the dwarf soberly.

Grimly Larry reached down and drew from his uniform his automatic.  He
popped a fresh clip into the pocket fold of his girdle. The pistol he
slung high up beneath his arm-pit.

The green dwarf looked at the weapon curiously.  O'Keefe tapped it.

"This," said Larry, "slays quicker than the _Keth_--I take it so no
harm shall come to the blue-eyed one whose name is Olaf. If I should
raise it--be you not in its way, Rador!" he added significantly.

The dwarf nodded again, his eyes sparkling.  He thrust a hand out to
both of us.

"A change comes," he said.  "What it is I know not, nor how it will
fall. But this remember--Rador is more friend to you than you yet can
know. And now let us go!" he ended abruptly.

He led us, not through the entrance, but into a sloping passage ending
in a blind wall; touched a symbol graven there, and it opened,
precisely as had the rosy barrier of the Moon Pool Chamber. And, just
as there, but far smaller, was a passage end, a low curved wall facing
a shaft not black as had been that abode of living darkness, but
faintly luminescent. Rador leaned over the wall. The mechanism clicked
and started; the door swung shut; the sides of the car slipped into
place, and we swept swiftly down the passage; overhead the wind
whistled. In a few moments the moving platform began to slow down. It
stopped in a closed chamber no larger than itself.

Rador drew his poniard and struck twice upon the wall with its hilt.
Immediately a panel moved away, revealing a space filled with faint,
misty blue radiance. And at each side of the open portal stood four of
the dwarfish men, grey-headed, old, clad in flowing garments of white,
each pointing toward us a short silver rod.

Rador drew from his girdle a ring and held it out to the first dwarf.
He examined it, handed it to the one beside him, and not until each
had inspected the ring did they lower their curious weapons;
containers of that terrific energy they called the _Keth_, I thought;
and later was to know that I had been right.

We stepped out; the doors closed behind us.  The place was weird
enough. Its pave was a greenish-blue stone resembling lapis lazuli. On
each side were high pedestals holding carved figures of the same
material. There were perhaps a score of these, but in the mistiness I
could not make out their outlines. A droning, rushing roar beat upon
our ears; filled the whole cavern.

"I smell the sea," said Larry suddenly.

The roaring became deep-toned, clamorous, and close in front of us a
rift opened. Twenty feet in width, it cut the cavern floor and
vanished into the blue mist on each side. The cleft was spanned by one
solid slab of rock not more than two yards wide. It had neither
railing nor other protection.

The four leading priests marched out upon it one by one, and we
followed. In the middle of the span they knelt. Ten feet beneath us
was a torrent of blue sea-water racing with prodigious speed between
polished walls. It gave the impression of vast depth. It roared as it
sped by, and far to the right was a low arch through which it
disappeared. It was so swift that its surface shone like polished blue
steel, and from it came the blessed, _our worldly_, familiar ocean
breath that strengthened my soul amazingly and made me realize how
earth-sick I was.

Whence came the stream, I marvelled, forgetting for the moment, as we
passed on again, all else. Were we closer to the surface of earth than
I had thought, or was this some mighty flood falling through an
opening in sea floor, Heaven alone knew how many miles above us,
losing itself in deeper abysses beyond these? How near and how far
this was from the truth I was to learn--and never did truth come to
man in more dreadful guise!

The roaring fell away, the blue haze lessened.  In front of us
stretched a wide flight of steps, huge as those which had led us into
the courtyard of Nan-Tauach through the ruined sea-gate. We scaled it;
it narrowed; from above light poured through a still narrower opening.
Side by side Larry and I passed out of it.

We had emerged upon an enormous platform of what seemed to be
glistening ivory. It stretched before us for a hundred yards or more
and then shelved gently into the white waters. Opposite--not a mile
away--was that prodigious web of woven rainbows Rador had called the
Veil of the Shining One. There it shone in all its unearthly grandeur,
on each side of the Cyclopean pillars, as though a mountain should
stretch up arms raising between them a fairy banner of auroral
glories. Beneath it was the curved, scimitar sweep of the pier with
its clustered, gleaming temples.

Before that brief, fascinated glance was done, there dropped upon my
soul a sensation as of brooding weight intolerable; a spiritual
oppression as though some vastness was falling, pressing, stifling me,
I turned--and Larry caught me as I reeled.

"Steady!  Steady, old man!" he whispered.

At first all that my staggering consciousness could realize was an
immensity, an immeasurable uprearing that brought with it the same
throat-gripping vertigo as comes from gazing downward from some great
height--then a blur of white faces--intolerable shinings of hundreds
upon thousands of eyes. Huge, incredibly huge, a colossal amphitheatre
of jet, a stupendous semi-circle, held within its mighty arc the ivory
platform on which I stood.

It reared itself almost perpendicularly hundreds of feet up into the
sparkling heavens, and thrust down on each side its ebon
bulwarks--like monstrous paws. Now, the giddiness from its sheer
greatness passing, I saw that it was indeed an amphitheatre sloping
slightly backward tier after tier, and that the white blur of faces
against its blackness, the gleaming of countless eyes were those of
myriads of the people who sat silent, flower-garlanded, their gaze
focused upon the rainbow curtain and sweeping over me like a
torrent--tangible, appalling!

Five hundred feet beyond, the smooth, high retaining wall of the
amphitheatre raised itself--above it the first terrace of the seats,
and above this, dividing the tiers for another half a thousand feet
upward, set within them like a panel, was a dead-black surface in
which shone faintly with a bluish radiance a gigantic disk; above it
and around it a cluster of innumerable smaller ones.

On each side of me, bordering the platform, were scores of small
pillared alcoves, a low wall stretching across their fronts; delicate,
fretted grills shielding them, save where in each lattice an opening
stared--it came to me that they were like those stalls in ancient
Gothic cathedrals wherein for centuries had kneeled paladins and
people of my own race on earth's fair face. And within these alcoves
were gathered, score upon score, the elfin beauties, the dwarfish men
of the fair-haired folk. At my right, a few feet from the opening
through which we had come, a passageway led back between the fretted
stalls. Half-way between us and the massive base of the amphitheatre a
dais rose. Up the platform to it a wide ramp ascended; and on ramp and
dais and along the centre of the gleaming platform down to where it
kissed the white waters, a broad ribbon of the radiant flowers lay
like a fairy carpet.

On one side of this dais, meshed in a silken web that hid no line or
curve of her sweet body, white flesh gleaming through its folds, stood
Yolara; and opposite her, crowned with a circlet of flashing blue
stones, his mighty body stark bare, was Lugur!

O'Keefe drew a long breath; Rador touched my arm and, still dazed, I
let myself be drawn into the aisle and through a corridor that ran
behind the alcoves. At the back of one of these the green dwarf
paused, opened a door, and motioned us within.

Entering, I found that we were exactly opposite where the ramp ran up
to the dais--and that Yolara was not more than fifty feet away. She
glanced at O'Keefe and smiled. Her eyes were ablaze with little
dancing points of light; her body seemed to palpitate, the rounded
delicate muscles beneath the translucent skin to run with joyful
little eager waves!

Larry whistled softly.

"There's Marakinoff!" he said.

I looked where he pointed.  Opposite us sat the Russian, clothed as we
were, leaning forward, his eyes eager behind his glasses; but if he
saw us he gave no sign.

"And there's Olaf!" said O'Keefe.

Beneath the carved stall in which sat the Russian was an aperture and
within it was Huldricksson. Unprotected by pillars or by grills,
opening clear upon the platform, near him stretched the trail of
flowers up to the great dais which Lugur and Yolara the priestess
guarded. He sat alone, and my heart went out to him.

O'Keefe's face softened.

"Bring him here," he said to Rador.

The green dwarf was looking at the Norseman, too, a shade of pity upon
his mocking face. He shook his head.

"Wait!" he said.  "You can do nothing now--and it may be there will be
no need to do anything," he added; but I could feel that there was
little of conviction in his words.



CHAPTER XIX

The Madness of Olaf

Yolara threw her white arms high.  From the mountainous tiers came a
mighty sigh; a rippling ran through them. And upon the moment, before
Yolara's arms fell, there issued, apparently from the air around us, a
peal of sound that might have been the shouting of some playful god
hurling great suns through the net of stars. It was like the deepest
notes of all the organs in the world combined in one; summoning,
majestic, cosmic!

It held within it the thunder of the spheres rolling through the
infinite, the birth-song of suns made manifest in the womb of space;
echoes of creation's supernal chord! It shook the body like a pulse
from the heart of the universe--pulsed--and died away.

On its death came a blaring as of all the trumpets of conquering hosts
since the first Pharaoh led his swarms--triumphal, compelling!
Alexander's clamouring hosts, brazen-throated wolf-horns of Caesar's
legions, blare of trumpets of Genghis Khan and his golden horde,
clangor of the locust levies of Tamerlane, bugles of Napoleon's
armies--war-shout of all earth's conquerors! And it died!

Fast upon it, a throbbing, muffled tumult of harp sounds, mellownesses
of myriads of wood horns, the subdued sweet shrilling of multitudes of
flutes, Pandean pipings--inviting, carrying with them the calling of
waterfalls in the hidden places, rushing brooks and murmuring forest
winds--calling, calling, languorous, lulling, dripping into the brain
like the very honeyed essence of sound.

And after them a silence in which the memory of the music seemed to
beat, to beat ever more faintly, through every quivering nerve.

From me all fear, all apprehension, had fled.  In their place was
nothing but joyous anticipation, a supernal freedom from even the
shadow of the shadow of care or sorrow; not now did anything
matter--Olaf or his haunted, hate-filled eyes; Throckmartin or his
fate--nothing of pain, nothing of agony, nothing of striving nor
endeavour nor despair in that wide outer world that had turned
suddenly to a troubled dream.

Once more the first great note pealed out!  Once more it died and from
the clustered spheres a kaleidoscopic blaze shot as though drawn from
the majestic sound itself. The many-coloured rays darted across the
white waters and sought the face of the irised Veil. As they touched,
it sparkled, flamed, wavered, and shook with fountains of prismatic
colour.

The light increased--and in its intensity the silver air darkened.
Faded into shadow that white mosaic of flower-crowned faces set in the
amphitheatre of jet, and vast shadows dropped upon the high-flung
tiers and shrouded them. But on the skirts of the rays the fretted
stalls in which we sat with the fair-haired ones blazed out,
iridescent, like jewels.

I was sensible of an acceleration of every pulse; a wild stimulation
of every nerve. I felt myself being lifted above the world--close to
the threshold of the high gods--soon their essence and their power
would stream out into me! I glanced at Larry. His eyes were--wild--with
life!

I looked at Olaf--and in his face was none of this--only hate, and
hate, and hate.

The peacock waves streamed out over the waters, cleaving the seeming
darkness, a rainbow path of glory. And the Veil flashed as though all
the rainbows that had ever shone were burning within it. Again the
mighty sound pealed.

Into the centre of the Veil the light drew itself, grew into an
intolerable brightness--and with a storm of tinklings, a tempest of
crystalline notes, a tumult of tiny chimings, through it sped--the
Shining One!

Straight down that radiant path, its high-flung plumes of feathery
flame shimmering, its coruscating spirals whirling, its seven globes
of seven colours shining above its glowing core, it raced toward us.
The hurricane of bells of diamond glass were jubilant, joyous. I felt
O'Keefe grip my arm; Yolara threw her white arms out in a welcoming
gesture; I heard from the tier a sigh of rapture--and in it a
poignant, wailing under-tone of agony!

Over the waters, down the light stream, to the end of the ivory pier,
flew the Shining One. Through its crystal _pizzicati_ drifted
inarticulate murmurings--deadly sweet, stilling the heart and setting
it leaping madly.

For a moment it paused, poised itself, and then came whirling down the
flower path to its priestess, slowly, ever more slowly. It hovered for
a moment between the woman and the dwarf, as though contemplating
them; turned to her with its storm of tinklings softened, its
murmurings infinitely caressing. Bent toward it, Yolara seemed to
gather within herself pulsing waves of power; she was terrifying;
gloriously, maddeningly evil; and as gloriously, maddeningly heavenly!
Aphrodite and the Virgin! Tanith of the Carthaginians and St. Bride of
the Isles! A queen of hell and a princess of heaven--in one!

Only for a moment did that which we had called the Dweller and which
these named the Shining One, pause. It swept up the ramp to the dais,
rested there, slowly turning, plumes and spirals lacing and unlacing,
throbbing, pulsing. Now its nucleus grew plainer, stronger--human in a
fashion, and all inhuman; neither man nor woman; neither god nor
devil; subtly partaking of all. Nor could I doubt that whatever it
was, within that shining nucleus was something sentient; something
that had will and energy, and in some awful, supernormal
fashion--intelligence!

Another trumpeting--a sound of stones opening--a long, low wail of
utter anguish--something moved shadowy in the river of light, and
slowly at first, then ever more rapidly, shapes swam through it. There
were half a score of them--girls and youths, women and men. The
Shining One poised itself, regarded them. They drew closer, and in the
eyes of each and in their faces was the bud of that awful
intermingling of emotions, of joy and sorrow, ecstasy and terror, that
I had seen in full blossom on Throckmartin's.

The Thing began again its murmurings--now infinitely caressing,
coaxing--like the song of a siren from some witched star! And the
bell-sounds rang out--compellingly, calling--calling--calling--

I saw Olaf lean far out of his place; saw, half-consciously, at
Lugur's signal, three of the dwarfs creep in and take places,
unnoticed, behind him.

Now the first of the figures rushed upon the dais--and paused.  It was
the girl who had been brought before Yolara when the gnome named
Songar was driven into the nothingness! With all the quickness of
light a spiral of the Shining One stretched out and encircled her.

At its touch there was an infinitely dreadful shrinking and, it
seemed, a simultaneous hurling of herself into its radiance. As it
wrapped its swirls around her, permeated her--the crystal chorus
burst forth--tumultuously; through and through her the radiance
pulsed. Began then that infinitely dreadful, but infinitely glorious,
rhythm they called the dance of the Shining One. And as the girl
swirled within its sparkling mists another and another flew into its
embrace, until, at last, the dais was an incredible vision; a mad
star's Witches' Sabbath; an altar of white faces and bodies gleaming
through living flame; transfused with rapture insupportable and horror
that was hellish--and ever, radiant plumes and spirals expanding, the
core of the Shining One waxed--growing greater--as it consumed, as it
drew into and through itself the life-force of these lost ones!

So they spun, interlaced--and there began to pulse from them life,
vitality, as though the very essence of nature was filling us. Dimly I
recognized that what I was beholding was vampirism inconceivable! The
banked tiers chanted. The mighty sounds pealed forth!

It was a Saturnalia of demigods!

Then, whirling, bell-notes storming, the Shining One withdrew slowly
from the dais down the ramp, still embracing, still interwoven with
those who had thrown themselves into its spirals. They drifted with it
as though half-carried in dreadful dance; white faces sealed--forever--into
that semblance of those who held within linked God and devil--I
covered my eyes!

I heard a gasp from O'Keefe; opened my eyes and sought his; saw the
wildness vanish from them as he strained forward. Olaf had leaned far
out, and as he did so the dwarfs beside him caught him, and whether by
design or through his own swift, involuntary movement, thrust him half
into the Dweller's path. The Dweller paused in its gyrations--seemed
to watch him. The Norseman's face was crimson, his eyes blazing. He
threw himself back and, with one defiant shout, gripped one of the
dwarfs about the middle and sent him hurtling through the air,
straight at the radiant Thing! A whirling mass of legs and arms, the
dwarf flew--then in midflight stopped as though some gigantic
invisible hand had caught him, and--was dashed down upon the platform
not a yard from the Shining One!

Like a broken spider he moved--feebly--once, twice. From the Dweller
shot a shimmering tentacle--touched him--recoiled. Its crystal
tinklings changed into an angry chiming. From all about--jewelled
stalls and jet peak--came a sigh of incredulous horror.

Lugur leaped forward.  On the instant Larry was over the low barrier
between the pillars, rushing to the Norseman's side. And even as they
ran there was another wild shout from Olaf, and he hurled himself out,
straight at the throat of the Dweller!

But before he could touch the Shining One, now motionless--and never
was the thing more horrible than then, with the purely human
suggestion of surprise plain in its poise--Larry had struck him
aside.

I tried to follow--and was held by Rador.  He was trembling--but not
with fear. In his face was incredulous hope, inexplicable eagerness.

"Wait!" he said.  "Wait!"

The Shining One stretched out a slow spiral, and as it did so I saw
the bravest thing man has ever witnessed. Instantly O'Keefe thrust
himself between it and Olaf, pistol out. The tentacle touched him, and
the dull blue of his robe flashed out into blinding, intense azure
light. From the automatic in his gloved hand came three quick bursts
of flame straight into the Thing. The Dweller drew back; the
bell-sounds swelled.

Lugur paused, his hand darted up, and in it was one of the silver
_Keth_ cones. But before he could flash it upon the Norseman, Larry
had unlooped his robe, thrown its fold over Olaf, and, holding him
with one hand away from the Shining One, thrust with the other his
pistol into the dwarf's stomach. His lips moved, but I could not hear
what he said. But Lugur understood, for his hand dropped.

Now Yolara was there--all this had taken barely more than five
seconds. She thrust herself between the three men and the Dweller. She
spoke to it--and the wild buzzing died down; the gay crystal tinklings
burst forth again. The Thing murmured to her--began to whirl--faster,
faster--passed down the ivory pier, out upon the waters, bearing with
it, meshed in its light, the sacrifices--swept on ever more swiftly,
triumphantly and turning, turning, with its ghastly crew, vanished
through the Veil!

Abruptly the polychromatic path snapped out.  The silver light poured
in upon us. From all the amphitheatre arose a clamour, a shouting.
Marakinoff, his eyes staring, was leaning out, listening. Unrestrained
now by Rador, I vaulted the wall and rushed forward. But not before I
had heard the green dwarf murmur:

"There is something stronger than the Shining One!  Two things--yea--a
strong heart--and hate!"

Olaf, panting, eyes glazed, trembling, shrank beneath my hand.

"The devil that took my Helma!" I heard him whisper. "The Shining
Devil!"

"Both these men," Lugur was raging, "they shall dance with the Shining
one. And this one, too." He pointed at me malignantly.

"This man is mine," said the priestess, and her voice was menacing.
She rested her hand on Larry's shoulder. "He shall not dance. No--nor
his friend. I have told you I dare not for this one!" She pointed to
Olaf.

"Neither this man, nor this," said Larry, "shall be harmed. This is my
word, Yolara!"

"Even so," she answered quietly, "my lord!"

I saw Marakinoff stare at O'Keefe with a new and curiously speculative
interest. Lugur's eyes grew hellish; he raised his arms as though to
strike her. Larry's pistol prodded him rudely enough.

"No rough stuff now, kid!" said O'Keefe in English.  The red dwarf
quivered, turned--caught a robe from a priest standing by, and threw
it over himself. The _ladala_, shouting, gesticulating, fighting with
the soldiers, were jostling down from the tiers of jet.

"Come!" commanded Yolara--her eyes rested upon Larry.  "Your heart is
great, indeed--my lord!" she murmured; and her voice was very sweet.
"Come!"

"This man comes with us, Yolara," said O'Keefe pointing to Olaf.

"Bring him," she said.  "Bring him--only tell him to look no more upon
me as before!" she added fiercely.

Beside her the three of us passed along the stalls, where sat the
fair-haired, now silent, at gaze, as though in the grip of some great
doubt. Silently Olaf strode beside me. Rador had disappeared. Down the
stairway, through the hall of turquoise mist, over the rushing
sea-stream we went and stood beside the wall through which we had
entered. The white-robed ones had gone.

Yolara pressed; the portal opened.  We stepped upon the car; she took
the lever; we raced through the faintly luminous corridor to the house
of the priestess.

And one thing now I knew sick at heart and soul the truth had come to
me--no more need to search for Throckmartin. Behind that Veil, in the
lair of the Dweller, dead-alive like those we had just seen swim in
its shining train was he, and Edith, Stanton and Thora and Olaf
Huldricksson's wife!

The car came to rest; the portal opened; Yolara leaped out lightly,
beckoned and flitted up the corridor. She paused before an ebon
screen. At a touch it vanished, revealing an entrance to a small blue
chamber, glowing as though cut from the heart of some gigantic
sapphire; bare, save that in its centre, upon a low pedestal, stood a
great globe fashioned from milky rock-crystal; upon its surface were
faint tracings as of seas and continents, but, if so, either of some
other world or of this world in immemorial past, for in no way did
they resemble the mapped coastlines of our earth.

Poised upon the globe, rising from it out into space, locked in each
other's arms, lips to lips, were two figures, a woman and a man, so
exquisite, so lifelike, that for the moment I failed to realize that
they, too, were carved of the crystal. And before this shrine--for
nothing else could it be, I knew--three slender cones raised
themselves: one of purest white flame, one of opalescent water, and
the third of--moonlight! There was no mistaking them, the height of a
tall man each stood--but how water, flame and light were held so
evenly, so steadily in their spire-shapes, I could not tell.

Yolara bowed lowly--once, twice, thrice.  She turned to O'Keefe, nor
by slightest look or gesture betrayed she knew others were there than
he. The blue eyes wide, searching, unfathomable, she drew close; put
white hands on his shoulders, looked down into his very soul.

"My lord," she murmured.  "Now listen well for I, Yolara, give you
three things--myself, and the Shining One, and the power that is the
Shining One's--yea, and still a fourth thing that is all three--power
over all upon that world from whence you came! These, my lord, ye
shall have. I swear it"--she turned toward the altar--uplifted her
arms--"by Siya and by Siyana, and by the flame, by the water, and by
the light!"[1]

Her eyes grew purple dark.

"Let none dare to take you from me!  Nor ye go from me unbidden!" she
whispered fiercely.

Then swiftly, still ignoring us, she threw her arms about O'Keefe,
pressed her white body to his breast, lips raised, eyes closed,
seeking his. O'Keefe's arms tightened around her, his head dropped
lips seeking, finding hers--passionately! From Olaf came a deep
indrawn breath that was almost a groan. But not in my heart could I
find blame for the Irishman!

The priestess opened eyes now all misty blue, thrust him back, stood
regarding him. O'Keefe, dead-white, raised a trembling hand to his
face.

"And thus have I sealed my oath, O my lord!" she whispered.  For the
first time she seemed to recognize our presence, stared at us a
moment, then through us, and turned to O'Keefe.

"Go, now!" she said.  "Soon Rador shall come for you. Then--well,
after that let happen what will!"


She smiled once more at him--so sweetly; turned toward the figures
upon the great globe; sank upon her knees before them. Quietly we
crept away; still silent, made our way to the little pavilion. But as
we passed we heard a tumult from the green roadway; shouts of men, now
and then a woman's scream. Through a rift in the garden I glimpsed a
jostling crowd on one of the bridges: green dwarfs struggling with the
_ladala_--and all about droned a humming as of a giant hive disturbed!

Larry threw himself down upon one of the divans, covered his face with
his hands, dropped them to catch in Olaf's eyes troubled reproach,
looked at me.

"_I_ couldn't help it," he said, half defiantly--half-miserably.
"God, what a woman! I _couldn't_ help it!"

"Larry," I asked.  "Why didn't you tell her you didn't love
her--then?"

He gazed at me--the old twinkle back in his eye.

"Spoken like a scientist, Doc!" he exclaimed.  "I suppose if a burning
angel struck you out of nowhere and threw itself about you, you would
most dignifiedly tell it you didn't want to be burned. For God's sake,
don't talk nonsense, Goodwin!" he ended, almost peevishly.

"Evil!  Evil!" The Norseman's voice was deep, nearly a chant.  "All
here is of evil: Trolldom and Helvede it is, Ja! And that she
_djaevelsk_ of beauty--what is she but harlot of that shining devil
they worship. I, Olaf Huldricksson, know what she meant when she held
out to you power over all the world, _Ja!_--as if the world had not
devils enough in it now!"

"What?" The cry came from both O'Keefe and myself at once.

Olaf made a gesture of caution, relapsed into sullen silence.  There
were footsteps on the path, and into sight came Rador--but a Rador
changed. Gone was every vestige of his mockery; curiously solemn, he
saluted O'Keefe and Olaf with that salute which, before this, I had
seen given only to Yolara and to Lugur. There came a swift quickening
of the tumult--died away. He shrugged mighty shoulders.

"The _ladala_ are awake!" he said.  "So much for what two brave men
can do!" He paused thoughtfully. "Bones and dust jostle not each other
for place against the grave wall!" he added oddly. "But if bones and
dust have revealed to them that they still--live--"

He stopped abruptly, eyes seeking the globe that bore and sent forth
speech.[2]

"The _Afyo Maie_ has sent me to watch over you till she summons you,"
he announced clearly. "There is to be a--feast. You, _Larree_, you
Goodwin, are to come. I remain here with--Olaf."

"No harm to him!" broke in O'Keefe sharply.  Rador touched his heart,
his eyes.

"By the Ancient Ones, and by my love for you, and by what you twain
did before the Shining One--I swear it!" he whispered.

Rador clapped palms; a soldier came round the path, in his grip a long
flat box of polished wood. The green dwarf took it, dismissed him,
threw open the lid.

"Here is your apparel for the feast, _Larree_," he said, pointing to
the contents.

O'Keefe stared, reached down and drew out a white, shimmering, softly
metallic, long-sleeved tunic, a broad, silvery girdle, leg swathings
of the same argent material, and sandals that seemed to be cut out
from silver. He made a quick gesture of angry dissent.

"Nay, _Larree_!" muttered the dwarf.  "Wear them--I counsel it--I pray
it--ask me not why," he went on swiftly, looking again at the globe.

O'Keefe, as I, was impressed by his earnestness.  The dwarf made a
curiously expressive pleading gesture. O'Keefe abruptly took the
garments; passed into the room of the fountain.

"The Shining One dances not again?" I asked.

"No," he said.  "No"--he hesitate--"it is the usual feast that follows
the sacrament! Lugur--and Double Tongue, who came with you, will be
there," he added slowly.

"Lugur--" I gasped in astonishment.  "After what happened--he will be
there?"

"Perhaps because of what happened, Goodwin, my friend," he
answered--his eyes again full of malice; "and there will be
others--friends of Yolara--friends of Lugur--and perhaps
another"--his voice was almost inaudible--"one whom they have not
called--" He halted, half-fearfully, glancing at the globe; put finger
to lips and spread himself out upon one of the couches.

"Strike up the band"--came O'Keefe's voice--"here comes the hero!"

He strode into the room.  I am bound to say that the admiration in
Rador's eyes was reflected in my own, and even, if involuntarily, in
Olaf's.

"A son of Siyana!" whispered Rador.

He knelt, took from his girdle-pouch a silk-wrapped something, unwound
it--and, still kneeling, drew out a slender poniard of gleaming white
metal, hilted with the blue stones; he thrust it into O'Keefe's
girdle; then gave him again the rare salute.

"Come," he ordered and took us to the head of the pathway.

"Now," he said grimly, "let the Silent Ones show their power--if they
still have it!"

And with this strange benediction, he turned back.

"For God's sake, Larry," I urged as we approached the house of the
priestess, "you'll be careful!"

He nodded--but I saw with a little deadly pang of apprehension in my
heart a puzzled, lurking doubt within his eyes.

As we ascended the serpent steps Marakinoff appeared. He gave a signal
to our guards--and I wondered what influence the Russian had attained,
for promptly, without question, they drew aside. At me he smiled
amiably.

"Have you found your friends yet?" he went on--and now I sensed
something deeply sinister in him. "No! It is too bad! Well, don't give
up hope." He turned to O'Keefe.

"Lieutenant, I would like to speak to you--alone!"

"I've no secrets from Goodwin," answered O'Keefe.

"So?" queried Marakinoff, suavely.  He bent, whispered to Larry.

The Irishman started, eyed him with a certain shocked incredulity,
then turned to me.

"Just a minute, Doc!" he said, and I caught the suspicion of a wink.
They drew aside, out of ear-shot. The Russian talked rapidly. Larry
was all attention. Marakinoff's earnestness became intense; O'Keefe
interrupted--appeared to question. Marakinoff glanced at me and as his
gaze shifted from O'Keefe, I saw a flame of rage and horror blaze up
in the latter's eyes. At last the Irishman appeared to consider
gravely; nodded as though he had arrived at some decision, and
Marakinoff thrust his hand to him.

And only I could have noticed Larry's shrinking, his microscopic
hesitation before he took it, and his involuntary movement, as though
to shake off something unclean, when the clasp had ended.

Marakinoff, without another look at me, turned and went quickly
within. The guards took their places. I looked at Larry inquiringly.

"Don't ask a thing now, Doc!" he said tensely.  "Wait till we get
home. But we've got to get damned busy and quick--I'll tell you that
now--"


[1] I have no space here even to outline the eschatology of this
people, nor to catalogue their pantheon. Siya and Siyana typified
worldly love. Their ritual was, however, singularly free from those
degrading elements usually found in love-cults. Priests and
priestesses of all cults dwelt in the immense seven-terraced
structure, of which the jet amphitheatre was the water side. The
symbol, icon, representation, of Siya and Siyana--the globe and the
up-striving figures--typified earthly love, feet bound to earth, but
eyes among the stars. Hell or heaven I never heard formulated, nor
their equivalents; unless that existence in the Shining One's domain
could serve for either. Over all this was Thanaroa, remote; unheeding,
but still maker and ruler of all--an absentee First Cause personified!
Thanaroa seemed to be the one article of belief in the creed of the
soldiers--Rador, with his reverence for the Ancient Ones, was an
exception. Whatever there was, indeed, of high, truly religious
impulse among the Murians, this far, High God had. I found this
exceedingly interesting, because it had long been my theory--to put
the matter in the shape of a geometrical formula--that the real
attractiveness of gods to man increases uniformly according to the
square of their distance--W. T. G.

[2] I find that I have neglected to explain the working of these
interesting mechanisms that were telephonic, dictaphonic, telegraphic
in one. I must assume that my readers are familiar with the receiving
apparatus of wireless telegraphy, which must be "tuned" by the
operator until its own vibratory quality is in exact harmony with the
vibrations--the extremely rapid impacts--of those short electric
wavelengths we call Hertzian, and which carry the wireless messages. I
must assume also that they are familiar with the elementary fact of
physics that the vibrations of light and sound are interchangeable.
The hearing-talking globes utilize both these principles, and with
consummate simplicity. The light with which they shone was produced by
an atomic "motor" within their base, similar to that which activated
the merely illuminating globes. The composition of the phonic spheres
gave their surfaces an acute sensitivity and resonance. In conjunction
with its energizing power, the metal set up what is called a "field of
force," which linked it with every particle of its kind no matter how
distant. When vibrations of speech impinged upon the resonant surface
its rhythmic light-vibrations were broken, just as a telephone
transmitter breaks an electric current. Simultaneously these
light-vibrations were changed into sound--on the surfaces of all
spheres tuned to that particular instrument. The "crawling" colours
which showed themselves at these times were literally the voice of the
speaker in its spectrum equivalent. While usually the sounds produced
required considerable familiarity with the apparatus to be understood
quickly, they could, on occasion, be made startlingly loud and
clear--as I was soon to realize--W. T. G.



CHAPTER XX

The Tempting of Larry

We paused before thick curtains, through which came the faint murmur
of many voices. They parted; out came two--ushers, I suppose, they
were--in cuirasses and kilts that reminded me somewhat of
chain-mail--the first armour of any kind here that I had seen. They
held open the folds.

The chamber, on whose threshold we stood, was far larger than either
anteroom or hall of audience. Not less than three hundred feet long
and half that in depth, from end to end of it ran two huge
semi-circular tables, paralleling each other, divided by a wide aisle,
and heaped with flowers, with fruits, with viands unknown to me, and
glittering with crystal flagons, beakers, goblets of as many hues as
the blooms. On the gay-cushioned couches that flanked the tables,
lounging luxuriously, were scores of the fair-haired ruling class and
there rose a little buzz of admiration, oddly mixed with a
half-startled amaze, as their gaze fell upon O'Keefe in all his
silvery magnificence. Everywhere the light-giving globes sent their
roseate radiance.

The cuirassed dwarfs led us through the aisle.  Within the arc of the
inner half--circle was another glittering board, an oval. But of those
seated there, facing us--I had eyes for only one--Yolara! She swayed
up to greet O'Keefe--and she was like one of those white lily maids,
whose beauty Hoang-Ku, the sage, says made the Gobi first a paradise,
and whose lusts later the burned-out desert that it is. She held out
hands to Larry, and on her face was passion--unashamed, unhiding.

She was Circe--but Circe conquered.  Webs of filmiest white clung to
the rose-leaf body. Twisted through the corn-silk hair a threaded
circlet of pale sapphires shone; but they were pale beside Yolara's
eyes. O'Keefe bent, kissed her hands, something more than mere
admiration flaming from him. She saw--and, smiling, drew him down
beside her.

It came to me that of all, only these two, Yolara and O'Keefe, were in
white--and I wondered; then with a tightening of nerves ceased to
wonder as there entered--Lugur! He was all in scarlet, and as he
strode forward a silence fell a tense, strained silence.

His gaze turned upon Yolara, rested upon O'Keefe, and instantly his
face grew--dreadful--there is no other word than that for it.
Marakinoff leaned forward from the centre of the table, near whose end
I sat, touched and whispered to him swiftly. With appalling effort the
red dwarf controlled himself; he saluted the priestess ironically, I
thought; took his place at the further end of the oval. And now I
noted that the figures between were the seven of that Council of which
the Shining One's priestess and Voice were the heads. The tension
relaxed, but did not pass--as though a storm-cloud should turn away,
but still lurk, threatening.

My gaze ran back.  This end of the room was draped with the
exquisitely coloured, graceful curtains looped with gorgeous garlands.
Between curtains and table, where sat Larry and the nine, a circular
platform, perhaps ten yards in diameter, raised itself a few feet
above the floor, its gleaming surface half-covered with the luminous
petals, fragrant, delicate.

On each side below it, were low carven stools.  The curtains parted
and softly entered girls bearing their flutes, their harps, the
curiously emotion-exciting, octaved drums. They sank into their
places. They touched their instruments; a faint, languorous measure
throbbed through the rosy air.

The stage was set!  What was to be the play?

Now about the tables passed other dusky-haired maids, fair bosoms
bare, their scanty kirtles looped high, pouring out the wines for the
feasters.

My eyes sought O'Keefe.  Whatever it had been that Marakinoff had
said, clearly it now filled his mind--even to the exclusion of the
wondrous woman beside him. His eyes were stern, cold--and now and
then, as he turned them toward the Russian, filled with a curious
speculation. Yolara watched him, frowned, gave a low order to the Hebe
behind her.

The girl disappeared, entered again with a ewer that seemed cut of
amber. The priestess poured from it into Larry's glass a clear liquid
that shook with tiny sparkles of light. She raised the glass to her
lips, handed it to him. Half-smiling, half-abstractedly, he took it,
touched his own lips where hers had kissed; drained it. A nod from
Yolara and the maid refilled his goblet.

At once there was a swift transformation in the Irishman. His
abstraction vanished; the sternness fled; his eyes sparkled. He leaned
caressingly toward Yolara; whispered. Her blue eyes flashed
triumphantly; her chiming laughter rang. She raised her own glass--but
within it was not that clear drink that filled Larry's! And again he
drained his own; and, lifting it, full once more, caught the baleful
eyes of Lugur, and held it toward him mockingly. Yolara swayed
close--alluring, tempting. He arose, face all reckless gaiety; rollicking
deviltry.

"A toast!" he cried in English, "to the Shining One--and may the hell
where it belongs soon claim it!"

He had used their own word for their god--all else had been in his own
tongue, and so, fortunately, they did not understand. But the contempt
in his action they did recognize--and a dead, a fearful silence fell
upon them all. Lugur's eyes blazed, little sparks of crimson in their
green. The priestess reached up, caught at O'Keefe. He seized the soft
hand; caressed it; his gaze grew far away, sombre.

"The Shining One." He spoke low.  "An' now again I see the faces of
those who dance with it. It is the Fires of Mora--come, God alone
knows how--from Erin--to this place. The Fires of Mora!" He
contemplated the hushed folk before him; and then from his lips came
that weirdest, most haunting of the lyric legends of Erin--the Curse
of Mora:

    "The fretted fires of Mora blew o'er him in the night;
    He thrills no more to loving, nor weeps for past delight.
    For when those flames have bitten, both grief and joy take flight--"

Again Yolara tried to draw him down beside her; and once more he
gripped her hand. His eyes grew fixed--he crooned:

    "And through the sleeping silence his feet must track the tune,
    When the world is barred and speckled with silver of the moon--"

He stood, swaying, for a moment, and then, laughing, let the priestess
have her way; drained again the glass.

And now my heart was cold, indeed--for what hope was there left with
Larry mad, wild drunk!

The silence was unbroken--elfin women and dwarfs glancing furtively at
each other. But now Yolara arose, face set, eyes flashing grey.

"Hear you, the Council, and you, Lugur--and all who are here!" she
cried. "Now I, the priestess of the Shining One, take, as is my right,
my mate. And this is he!" She pointed down upon Larry. He glanced up
at her.

"Can't quite make out what you say, Yolara," he muttered thickly.
"But say anything--you like--I love your voice!"

I turned sick with dread.  Yolara's hand stole softly upon the
Irishman's curls caressingly.

"You know the law, Yolara." Lugur's voice was flat, deadly, "You may
not mate with other than your own kind. And this man is a stranger--a
barbarian--food for the Shining One!" Literally, he spat the phrase.

"No, not of our kind--Lugur--higher!" Yolara answered serenely.  "Lo,
a son of Siya and of Siyana!"

"A lie!" roared the red dwarf.  "A lie!"

"The Shining One revealed it to me!" said Yolara sweetly. "And if ye
believe not, Lugur--go ask of the Shining One if it be not truth!"

There was bitter, nameless menace in those last words--and whatever
their hidden message to Lugur, it was potent. He stood, choking, face
hell-shadowed--Marakinoff leaned out again, whispered. The red dwarf
bowed, now wholly ironically; resumed his place and his silence. And
again I wondered, icy-hearted, what was the power the Russian had so
to sway Lugur.

"What says the Council?" Yolara demanded, turning to them.

Only for a moment they consulted among themselves. Then the woman,
whose face was a ravaged shrine of beauty, spoke.

"The will of the priestess is the will of the Council!" she answered.

Defiance died from Yolara's face; she looked down at Larry tenderly.
He sat swaying, crooning.

"Bid the priests come," she commanded, then turned to the silent room.
"By the rites of Siya and Siyana, Yolara takes their son for her
mate!" And again her hand stole down possessingly, serpent soft, to
the drunken head of the O'Keefe.

The curtains parted widely.  Through them filed, two by two, twelve
hooded figures clad in flowing robes of the green one sees in forest
vistas of opening buds of dawning spring. Of each pair one bore
clasped to breast a globe of that milky crystal in the sapphire
shrine-room; the other a harp, small, shaped somewhat like the ancient
clarsach of the Druids.

Two by two they stepped upon the raised platform, placed gently upon
it each their globe; and two by two crouched behind them. They formed
now a star of six points about the petalled dais, and, simultaneously,
they drew from their faces the covering cowls.

I half-rose--youths and maidens these of the fair-haired; and youths
and maids more beautiful than any of those I had yet seen--for upon
their faces was little of that disturbing mockery to which I have been
forced so often, because of the deep impression it made upon me, to
refer. The ashen-gold of the maiden priestesses' hair was wound about
their brows in shining coronals. The pale locks of the youths were
clustered within circlets of translucent, glimmering gems like
moonstones. And then, crystal globe alternately before and harp
alternately held by youth and maid, they began to sing.

What was that song, I do not know--nor ever shall. Archaic, ancient
beyond thought, it seemed--not with the ancientness of things that for
uncounted ages have been but wind-driven dust. Rather was it the
ancientness of the golden youth of the world, love lilts of earth
younglings, with light of new-born suns drenching them, chorals of
young stars mating in space; murmurings of April gods and goddesses. A
languor stole through me. The rosy lights upon the tripods began to
die away, and as they faded the milky globes gleamed forth brighter,
ever brighter. Yolara rose, stretched a hand to Larry, led him through
the sextuple groups, and stood face to face with him in the centre of
their circle.

The rose-light died; all that immense chamber was black, save for the
circle of the glowing spheres. Within this their milky radiance grew
brighter--brighter. The song whispered away. A throbbing arpeggio
dripped from the harps, and as the notes pulsed out, up from the
globes, as though striving to follow, pulsed with them tips of
moon-fire cones, such as I had seen before Yolara's altar. Weirdly,
caressingly, compellingly the harp notes throbbed in repeated,
re-repeated theme, holding within itself the same archaic golden
quality I had noted in the singing. And over the moon flame pinnacles
rose higher!

Yolara lifted her arms; within her hands were clasped O'Keefe's.  She
raised them above their two heads and slowly, slowly drew him with her
into a circling, graceful step, tendrillings delicate as the slow
spirallings of twilight mist upon some still stream.

As they swayed the rippling arpeggios grew louder, and suddenly the
slender pinnacles of moon fire bent, dipped, flowed to the floor,
crept in a shining ring around those two--and began to rise, a
gleaming, glimmering, enchanted barrier--rising, ever rising--hiding
them!

With one swift movement Yolara unbound her circlet of pale sapphires,
shook loose the waves of her silken hair. It fell, a rippling,
wondrous cascade, veiling both her and O'Keefe to their girdles--and
now the shining coils of moon fire had crept to their knees--was
circling higher--higher.

And ever despair grew deeper in my soul!

What was that!  I started to my feet, and all around me in the
darkness I heard startled motion. From without came a blaring of
trumpets, the sound of running men, loud murmurings. The tumult drew
closer. I heard cries of "Lakla! Lakla!" Now it was at the very
threshold and within it, oddly, as though--punctuating--the clamour, a
deep-toned, almost abysmal, booming sound--thunderously bass and
reverberant.

Abruptly the harpings ceased; the moon fires shuddered, fell, and
began to sweep back into the crystal globes; Yolara's swaying form
grew rigid, every atom of it listening. She threw aside the veiling
cloud of hair, and in the gleam of the last retreating spirals her
face glared out like some old Greek mask of tragedy.

The sweet lips that even at their sweetest could never lose their
delicate cruelty, had no sweetness now. They were drawn into a
square--inhuman as that of the Medusa; in her eyes were the fires of
the pit, and her hair seemed to writhe like the serpent locks of that
Gorgon whose mouth she had borrowed; all her beauty was transformed
into a nameless thing--hideous, inhuman, blasting! If this was the
true soul of Yolara springing to her face, then, I thought, God help
us in very deed!

I wrested my gaze away to O'Keefe.  All drunkenness gone, himself
again, he was staring down at her, and in his eyes were loathing and
horror unutterable. So they stood--and the light fled.

Only for a moment did the darkness hold.  With lightning swiftness the
blackness that was the chamber's other wall vanished. Through a portal
open between grey screens, the silver sparkling radiance poured.

And through the portal marched, two by two, incredible, nightmare
figures--frog-men, giants, taller by nearly a yard than even tall
O'Keefe! Their enormous saucer eyes were irised by wide bands of
green-flecked red, in which the phosphorescence flickered. Their long
muzzles, lips half-open in monstrous grin, held rows of glistening,
slender, lancet sharp fangs. Over the glaring eyes arose a horny
helmet, a carapace of black and orange scales, studded with foot-long
lance-headed horns.

They lined themselves like soldiers on each side of the wide table
aisle, and now I could see that their horny armour covered shoulders
and backs, ran across the chest in a knobbed cuirass, and at wrists
and heels jutted out into curved, murderous spurs. The webbed hands
and feet ended in yellow, spade-shaped claws.

They carried spears, ten feet, at least, in length, the heads of which
were pointed cones, glistening with that same covering, from whose
touch of swift decay I had so narrowly saved Rador.

They were grotesque, yes--more grotesque than anything I had ever seen
or dreamed, and they were--terrible!

And then, quietly, through their ranks came--a girl!  Behind her,
enormous pouch at his throat swelling in and out menacingly, in one
paw a treelike, spike-studded mace, a frog-man, huger than any of the
others, guarding. But of him I caught but a fleeting, involuntary
impression--all my gaze was for her.

For it was she who had pointed out to us the way from the peril of the
Dweller's lair on Nan-Tauach. And as I looked at her, I marvelled that
ever could I have thought the priestess more beautiful. Into the eyes
of O'Keefe rushed joy and an utter abasement of shame.

And from all about came murmurs--edged with anger, half-incredulous,
tinged with fear:

"Lakla!"

"Lakla!"

"The handmaiden!"

She halted close beside me.  From firm little chin to dainty buskined
feet she was swathed in the soft robes of dull, almost coppery hue.
The left arm was hidden, the right free and gloved. Wound tight about
it was one of the vines of the sculptured wall and of Lugur's circled
signet-ring. Thick, a vivid green, its five tendrils ran between her
fingers, stretching out five flowered heads that gleamed like blossoms
cut from gigantic, glowing rubies.

So she stood contemplating Yolara.  Then drawn perhaps by my gaze, she
dropped her eyes upon me; golden, translucent, with tiny flecks of
amber in their aureate irises, the soul that looked through them was
as far removed from that flaming out of the priestess as zenith is
above nadir.

I noted the low, broad brow, the proud little nose, the tender mouth,
and the soft--sunlight--glow that seemed to transfuse the delicate
skin. And suddenly in the eyes dawned a smile--sweet, friendly, a
touch of roguishness, profoundly reassuring in its all humanness. I
felt my heart expand as though freed from fetters, a recrudescence of
confidence in the essential reality of things--as though in nightmare
the struggling consciousness should glimpse some familiar face and
know the terrors with which it strove were but dreams. And
involuntarily I smiled back at her.

She raised her head and looked again at Yolara, contempt and a certain
curiosity in her gaze; at O'Keefe--and through the softened eyes
drifted swiftly a shadow of sorrow, and on its fleeting wings deepest
interest, and hovering over that a naive approval as reassuringly
human as had been her smile.

She spoke, and her voice, deep-timbred, liquid gold as was Yolara's
all silver, was subtly the synthesis of all the golden glowing beauty
of her.

"The Silent Ones have sent me, O Yolara," she said.  "And this is
their command to you--that you deliver to me to bring before them
three of the four strangers who have found their way here. For him
there who plots with Lugur"--she pointed at Marakinoff, and I saw
Yolara start--"they have no need. Into his heart the Silent Ones have
looked; and Lugur and you may keep him, Yolara!"

There was honeyed venom in the last words.

Yolara was herself now; only the edge of shrillness on her voice
revealed her wrath as she answered.

"And whence have the Silent Ones gained power to command, _choya_?"

This last, I knew, was a very vulgar word; I had heard Rador use it in
a moment of anger to one of the serving maids, and it meant,
approximately, "kitchen girl," "scullion." Beneath the insult and the
acid disdain, the blood rushed up under Lakla's ambered ivory skin.

"Yolara"--her voice was low--"of no use is it to question me. I am but
the messenger of the Silent Ones. And one thing only am I bidden to
ask you--do you deliver to me the three strangers?"

Lugur was on his feet; eagerness, sardonic delight, sinister
anticipation thrilling from him--and my same glance showed Marakinoff,
crouched, biting his finger-nails, glaring at the Golden Girl.

"No!" Yolara spat the word.  "No!  Now by Thanaroa and by the Shining
One, no!" Her eyes blazed, her nostrils were wide, in her fair throat
a little pulse beat angrily. "You, Lakla--take you my message to the
Silent Ones. Say to them that I keep this man"--she pointed to
Larry--"because he is mine. Say to them that I keep the yellow-haired
one and him"--she pointed to me--"because it pleases me.

"Tell them that upon their mouths I place my foot, so!"--she stamped
upon the dais viciously--"and that in their faces I spit!"--and her
action was hideously snakelike. "And say last to them, you handmaiden,
that if _you_ they dare send to Yolara again, she will feed _you_ to
the Shining One! Now--go!"

The handmaiden's face was white.

"Not unforeseen by the three was this, Yolara," she replied.  "And did
you speak as you have spoken then was I bidden to say this to you."
Her voice deepened. "Three _tal_ have you to take counsel, Yolara. And
at the end of that time these things must you have determined--either
to do or not to do: first, send the strangers to the Silent Ones;
second, give up, you and Lugur and all of you, that dream you have of
conquest of the world without; and, third, forswear the Shining One!
And if you do not one and all these things, then are you done, your
cup of life broken, your wine of life spilled. Yea, Yolara, for you
and the Shining One, Lugur and the Nine and all those here and their
kind shall pass! This say the Silent Ones, 'Surely shall all of ye
pass and be as though never had ye been!'"

Now a gasp of rage and fear arose from all those around me--but the
priestess threw back her head and laughed loud and long. Into the
silver sweet chiming of her laughter clashed that of Lugur--and after
a little the nobles took it up, till the whole chamber echoed with
their mirth. O'Keefe, lips tightening, moved toward the Handmaiden,
and almost imperceptibly, but peremptorily, she waved him back.

"Those _are_ great words--great words indeed, _choya_," shrilled Yolara
at last; and again Lakla winced beneath the word. "Lo, for _laya_ upon
_laya_, the Shining One has been freed from the Three; and for _laya_
upon _laya_ they have sat helpless, rotting. Now I ask you
again--whence comes their power to lay their will upon me, and whence
comes their strength to wrestle with the Shining One and the beloved
of the Shining One?"

And again she laughed--and again Lugur and all the fairhaired joined
in her laughter.

Into the eyes of Lakla I saw creep a doubt, a wavering; as though deep
within her the foundations of her own belief were none too firm.

She hesitated, turning upon O'Keefe gaze in which rested more than
suggestion of appeal! And Yolara saw, too, for she flushed with
triumph, stretched a finger toward the handmaiden.

"Look!" she cried.  "Look!  Why, even _she_ does not believe!" Her
voice grew silk of silver--merciless, cruel. "Now am I minded to send
another answer to the Silent Ones. Yea! But not by _you_, Lakla; by
these"--she pointed to the frog-men, and, swift as light, her hand
darted into her bosom, bringing forth the little shining cone of
death.

But before she could level it the Golden Girl had released that hidden
left arm and thrown over her face a fold of the metallic swathings.
Swifter than Yolara, she raised the arm that held the vine--and now I
knew this was no inert blossoming thing.

It was alive!

It writhed down her arm, and its five rubescent flower heads thrust
out toward the priestess--vibrating, quivering, held in leash only by
the light touch of the handmaiden at its very end.

From the swelling throat pouch of the monster behind her came a
succession of the reverberant boomings. The frogmen wheeled, raised
their lances, levelled them at the throng. Around the reaching ruby
flowers a faint red mist swiftly grew.

The silver cone dropped from Yolara's rigid fingers; her eyes grew
stark with horror; all her unearthly loveliness fled from her; she
stood pale-lipped. The Handmaiden dropped the protecting veil--and now
it was she who laughed.

"It would seem, then, Yolara, that there _is_ a thing of the Silent Ones
ye fear!" she said. "Well--the kiss of the _Yekta_ I promise you in
return for the embrace of your Shining One."

She looked at Larry, long, searchingly, and suddenly again with all
that effect of sunlight bursting into dark places, her smile shone
upon him. She nodded, half gaily; looked down upon me, the little
merry light dancing in her eyes; waved her hand to me.

She spoke to the giant frog-man.  He wheeled behind her as she turned,
facing the priestess, club upraised, fangs glistening. His troop moved
not a jot, spears held high. Lakla began to pass slowly--almost, I
thought, tauntingly--and as she reached the portal Larry leaped from
the dais.

"_Alanna_!" he cried.  "You'll not be leavin' me just when I've found
you!"

In his excitement he spoke in his own tongue, the velvet brogue
appealing. Lakla turned, contemplated O'Keefe, hesitant,
unquestionably longingly, irresistibly like a child making up her mind
whether she dared or dared not take a delectable something offered
her.

"I go with you," said O'Keefe, this time in her own speech.  "Come on,
Doc!" He reached out a hand to me.

But now Yolara spoke.  Life and beauty had flowed back into her face,
and in the purple eyes all her hosts of devils were gathered.

"Do you forget what I promised you before Siya and Siyana?  And do you
think that you can leave me--me--as though I were a _choya_--like
_her_." She pointed to Lakla. "Do you--"

"Now, listen, Yolara," Larry interrupted almost plaintively.  "No
promise has passed from me to you--and why would you hold me?" He
passed unconsciously into English. "Be a good sport, Yolara," he
urged, "You _have_ got a very devil of a temper, you know, and so have
I; and we'd be really awfully uncomfortable together. And why don't
you get rid of that devilish pet of yours, and be good!"

She looked at him, puzzled, Marakinoff leaned over, translated to
Lugur. The red dwarf smiled maliciously, drew near the priestess;
whispered to her what was without doubt as near as he could come in
the Murian to Larry's own very colloquial phrases.

Yolara's lips writhed.

"Hear me, Lakla!" she cried.  "Now would I not let you take this man
from me were I to dwell ten thousand _laya_ in the agony of the
_Yekta's_ kiss. This I swear to you--by Thanaroa, by my heart, and by
my strength--and may my strength wither, my heart rot in my breast,
and Thanaroa forget me if I do!"

"Listen, Yolara"--began O'Keefe again.

"Be silent, you!" It was almost a shriek.  And her hand again sought
in her breast for the cone of rhythmic death.

Lugur touched her arm, whispered again, The glint of guile shone in
her eyes; she laughed softly, relaxed.

"The Silent Ones, Lakla, bade you say that they--allowed--me three
_tal_ to decide," she said suavely. "Go now in peace, Lakla, and say
that Yolara has heard, and that for the three _tal_ they--allow--her
she will take council." The handmaiden hesitated.

"The Silent Ones have said it," she answered at last.  "Stay you here,
strangers"---the long lashes drooped as her eyes met O'Keefe's and a
hint of blush was in her cheeks--"stay you here, strangers, till then.
But, Yolara, see you on that heart and strength you have sworn by that
they come to no harm--else that which you have invoked shall come upon
you swiftly indeed--and that I promise you," she added.

Their eyes met, clashed, burned into each other--black flame from
Abaddon and golden flame from Paradise.

"Remember!" said Lakla, and passed through the portal. The gigantic
frog-man boomed a thunderous note of command, his grotesque guards
turned and slowly followed their mistress; and last of all passed out
the monster with the mace.



CHAPTER XXI

Larry's Defiance

A clamour arose from all the chambers; stilled in an instant by a
motion of Yolara's hand. She stood silent, regarding O'Keefe with
something other now than blind wrath; something half regretful, half
beseeching. But the Irishman's control was gone.

"Yolara,"--his voice shook with rage, and he threw caution to the
wind--"now hear _me_. I go where I will and when I will. Here shall we
stay until the time she named is come. And then we follow her, whether
you will or not. And if any should have thought to stop us--tell them
of that flame that shattered the vase," he added grimly.

The wistfulness died out of her eyes, leaving them cold. But no answer
made she to him.

"What Lakla has said, the Council must consider, and at once." The
priestess was facing the nobles. "Now, friends of mine, and friends of
Lugur, must all feud, all rancour, between us end." She glanced
swiftly at Lugur. "The _ladala_ are stirring, and the Silent Ones
threaten. Yet fear not--for are we not strong under the Shining One?
And now--leave us."

Her hand dropped to the table, and she gave, evidently, a signal, for
in marched a dozen or more of the green dwarfs.

"Take these two to their place," she commanded, pointing to us.

The green dwarfs clustered about us.  Without another look at the
priestess O'Keefe marched beside me, between them, from the chamber.
And it was not until we had reached the pillared entrance that Larry
spoke.

"I hate to talk like that to a woman, Doc," he said, "and a pretty
woman, at that. But first she played me with a marked deck, and then
not only pinched all the chips, but drew a gun on me. What the
hell! she nearly had me--_married_--to her. I don't know what the stuff
was she gave me; but, take it from me, if I had the recipe for that
brew I could sell it for a thousand dollars a jolt at Forty-second and
Broadway.

"One jigger of it, and you forget there is a trouble in the world;
three of them, and you forget there is a world. No excuse for it, Doc;
and I don't care what you say or what Lakla may say--it wasn't my
fault, and I don't hold it up against myself for a damn."

"I must admit that I'm a bit uneasy about her threats," I said,
ignoring all this. He stopped abruptly.

"What're you afraid of?"

"Mostly," I answered dryly, "I have no desire to dance with the
Shining One!"

"Listen to me, Goodwin," He took up his walk impatiently.  "I've all
the love and admiration for you in the world; but this place has got
your nerve. Hereafter one Larry O'Keefe, of Ireland and the little old
U. S. A., leads this party. Nix on the tremolo stop, nix on the
superstition! I'm the works. Get me?"

"Yes, I get you!" I exclaimed testily enough.  "But to use your own
phrase, kindly can the repeated references to superstition."

"Why should I?" He was almost wrathful.  "You scientific people build
up whole philosophies on the basis of things you never saw, and you
scoff at people who believe in other things that you think _they_ never
saw and that don't come under what you label scientific. You talk
about paradoxes--why, your scientist, who thinks he is the most
skeptical, the most materialistic aggregation of atoms ever gathered
at the exact mathematical centre of Missouri, has more blind faith
than a dervish, and more credulity, more superstition, than a
cross-eyed smoke beating it past a country graveyard in the dark of
the moon!"

"Larry!" I cried, dazed.

"Olaf's no better," he said.  "But I can make allowances for him.
He's a sailor. No, sir. What this expedition needs is a man without
superstition. And remember this. The leprechaun promised that I'd have
full warning before anything happened. And if we do have to go out,
we'll see that banshee bunch clean up before we do, and pass in a
blaze of glory. And don't forget it. Hereafter--I'm--in--charge!"

By this time we were before our pavilion; and neither of us in a very
amiable mood I'm afraid. Rador was awaiting us with a score of his
men.

"Let none pass in here without authority--and let none pass out unless
I accompany them," he ordered bruskly. "Summon one of the swiftest of
the _coria_ and have it wait in readiness," he added, as though by
afterthought.

But when we had entered and the screens were drawn together his manner
changed; all eagerness he questioned us. Briefly we told him of the
happenings at the feast, of Lakla's dramatic interruption, and of what
had followed.

"Three _tal_," he said musingly; "three _tal_ the Silent Ones have
allowed--and Yolara agreed." He sank back, silent and thoughtful.[1]

"_Ja!_"  It was Olaf. "_Ja!_  I told you the Shining Devil's mistress
was all evil. _Ja!_ Now I begin again that tale I started when he
came"--he glanced toward the preoccupied Rador. "And tell him not what
I say should he ask. For I trust none here in Trolldom, save the
_Jomfrau_--the White Virgin!

"After the oldster was _adsprede_"--Olaf once more used that
expressive Norwegian word for the dissolving of Songar--"I knew that
it was a time for cunning. I said to myself, 'If they think I have no
ears to hear, they will speak; and it may be I will find a way to save
my Helma and Dr. Goodwin's friends, too.' _Ja_, and they did speak.

"The red _Trolde_ asked the Russian how came it he was a worshipper of
Thanaroa." I could not resist a swift glance of triumph toward
O'Keefe. "And the Russian," rumbled Olaf, "said that all his people
worshipped Thanaroa and had fought against the other nations that
denied him.

"And then we had come to Lugur's palace.  They put me in rooms, and
there came to me men who rubbed and oiled me and loosened my muscles.
The next day I wrestled with a great dwarf they called Valdor. He was
a mighty man, and long we struggled, and at last I broke his back. And
Lugur was pleased, so that I sat with him at feast and with the
Russian, too. And again, not knowing that I understood them, they
talked.

"The Russian had gone fast and far.  They talked of Lugur as emperor
of all Europe, and Marakinoff under him. They spoke of the green light
that shook life from the oldster; and Lugur said that the secret of it
had been the Ancient Ones' and that the Council had not too much of
it. But the Russian said that among his race were many wise men who
could make more once they had studied it.

"And the next day I wrestled with a great dwarf named Tahola, mightier
far than Valdor. Him I threw after a long, long time, and his back
also I broke. Again Lugur was pleased. And again we sat at table, he
and the Russian and I. This time they spoke of something these
_Trolde_ have which opens up a _Svaelc_--abysses into which all in its
range drops up into the sky!"

"What!" I exclaimed.

"I know about them," said Larry.  "Wait!"

"Lugur had drunk much," went on Olaf.  "He was boastful.  The Russian
pressed him to show this thing. After a while the red one went out and
came back with a little golden box. He and the Russian went into the
garden. I followed them. There was a _lille Hoj_--a mound--of stones
in that garden on which grew flowers and trees.

"Lugur pressed upon the box, and a spark no bigger than a sand grain
leaped out and fell beside the stones. Lugur pressed again, and a blue
light shot from the box and lighted on the spark. The spark that had
been no bigger than a grain of sand grew and grew as the blue struck
it. And then there was a sighing, a wind blew--and the stones and the
flowers and the trees were not. They were _forsvinde_--vanished!

"Then Lugur, who had been laughing, grew quickly sober; for he thrust
the Russian back--far back. And soon down into the garden came
tumbling the stones and the trees, but broken and shattered, and
falling as though from a great height. And Lugur said that of _this_
something they had much, for its making was a secret handed down by
their own forefathers and not by the Ancient Ones.

"They feared to use it, he said, for a spark thrice as large as that
he had used would have sent all that garden falling upward and might
have opened a way to the outside before--he said just this--'_before
we are ready to go out into it!_'

"The Russian questioned much, but Lugur sent for more drink and grew
merrier and threatened him, and the Russian was silent through fear.
Thereafter I listened when I could, and little more I learned, but
that little enough. _Ja!_ Lugur is hot for conquest; so Yolara and so
the Council. They tire of it here and the Silent Ones make their minds
not too easy, no, even though they jeer at them! And this they plan--to
rule our world with their Shining Devil."

The Norseman was silent for a moment; then voice deep, trembling--

"Trolldom is awake; Helvede crouches at Earth Gate whining to be
loosed into a world already devil ridden! And we are but three!"

I felt the blood drive out of my heart.  But Larry's was the fighting
face of the O'Keefes of a thousand years. Rador glanced at him, arose,
stepped through the curtains; returned swiftly with the Irishman's
uniform.

"Put it on," he said, bruskly; again fell back into his silence and
whatever O'Keefe had been about to say was submerged in his wild and
joyful whoop. He ripped from him glittering tunic and leg swathings.

"Richard is himself again!" he shouted; and each garment as he donned
it, fanned his old devil-may-care confidence to a higher flame. The
last scrap of it on, he drew himself up before us.

"Bow down, ye divils!" he cried.  "Bang your heads on the floor and do
homage to Larry the First, Emperor of Great Britain, Autocrat of all
Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, and adjacent waters and
islands! Kneel, ye scuts, kneel."

"Larry," I cried, "are you going crazy?"

"Not a bit of it," he said.  "I'm that and more if Comrade Marakinoff
is on the level. Whoop! Bring forth the royal jewels an' put a whole
new bunch of golden strings in Tara's harp an' down with the Sassenach
forever! Whoop!"

He did a wild jig.

"Lord how good the old togs feel," he grinned.  "The touch of 'em has
gone to my head. But it's straight stuff I'm telling you about my
empire."

He sobered.

"Not that it's not serious enough at that.  A lot that Olaf's told us
I've surmised from hints dropped by Yolara. But I got the full key to
it from the Red himself when he stopped me just before--before"--he
reddened--"well, just before I acquired that brand-new brand of souse.

"Maybe he had a hint--maybe he just surmised that I knew a lot more
than I did. And he thought Yolara and I were going to be loving little
turtle doves. Also he figured that Yolara had a lot more influence
with the Unholy Fireworks than Lugur. Also that being a woman she
could be more easily handled. All this being so, what was the logical
thing for himself to do? Sure, you get me, Steve! Throw down Lugur and
make an alliance with me! So _he_ calmly offered to ditch the red dwarf
if I would deliver Yolara. My reward from Russia was to be said
emperorship! Can you beat it? Good Lord!"

He went off into a perfect storm of laughter.  But not to me in the
light of what Russia has done and has proved herself capable, did this
thing seem at all absurd; rather in it I sensed the dawn of
catastrophe colossal.

"And yet," he was quiet enough now, "I'm a bit scared. They've got the
_Keth_ ray and those gravity-destroying bombs--"

"Gravity-destroying bombs!" I gasped.

"Sure," he said.  "The little fairy that sent the trees and stones
kiting up from Lugur's garden. Marakinoff licked his lips over them.
They cut off gravity, just about as the shadow screens cut off
light--and consequently whatever's in their range goes shooting just
naturally up to the moon--

"They get my goat, why deny it?" went on Larry.  "With them and the
_Keth_ and gentle invisible soldiers walking around assassinating at
will--well, the worst Bolsheviki are only puling babes, eh, Doc?

"I don't mind the Shining One," said O'Keefe, "one splash of a
downtown New York high-pressure fire hose would do for it! But the
others--are the goods! Believe me!"

But for once O'Keefe's confidence found no echo within me. Not
lightly, as he, did I hold that dread mystery, the Dweller--and a
vision passed before me, a vision of an Apocalypse undreamed by the
Evangelist.

A vision of the Shining One swirling into our world, a monstrous,
glorious flaming pillar of incarnate, eternal Evil--of peoples
passing through its radiant embrace into that hideous, unearthly
life-in-death which I had seen enfold the sacrifices--of armies
trembling into dancing atoms of diamond dust beneath the green ray's
rhythmic death--of cities rushing out into space upon the wings of
that other demoniac force which Olaf had watched at work--of a haunted
world through which the assassins of the Dweller's court stole
invisible, carrying with them every passion of hell--of the rallying
to the Thing of every sinister soul and of the weak and the
unbalanced, mystics and carnivores of humanity alike; for well I knew
that, once loosed, not any nation could hold this devil-god for long
and that swiftly its blight would spread!

And then a world that was all colossal reek of cruelty and terror; a
welter of lusts, of hatreds and of torment; a chaos of horror in which
the Dweller waxing ever stronger, the ghastly hordes of those it had
consumed growing ever greater, wreaked its inhuman will!

At the last a ruined planet, a cosmic plague, spinning through the
shuddering heavens; its verdant plains, its murmuring forests, its
meadows and its mountains manned only by a countless crew of soulless,
mindless dead-alive, their shells illumined with the Dweller's
infernal glory--and flaming over this vampirized earth like a flare
from some hell far, infinitely far, beyond the reach of man's farthest
flung imagining--the Dweller!

Rador jumped to his feet; walked to the whispering globe. He bent over
its base; did something with its mechanism; beckoned to us. The globe
swam rapidly, faster than ever I had seen it before. A low humming
arose, changed into a murmur, and then from it I heard Lugur's voice
clearly.

"It is to be war then?"

There was a chorus of assent--from the Council, I thought.

"I will take the tall one named--_Larree_." It was the priestess's
voice. "After the three _tal_, you may have him, Lugur, to do with as
you will."

"No!" it was Lugur's voice again, but with a rasp of anger. "All must
die."

"He shall die," again Yolara.  "But I would that first he see Lakla
pass--and that she know what is to happen to him."

"No!" I started--for this was Marakinoff.  "Now is no time, Yolara,
for one's own desires. This is my counsel. At the end of the three
_tal_ Lakla will come for our answer. Your men will be in ambush and
they will slay her and her escort quickly with the _Keth_. But not
till that is done must the three be slain--and then quickly. With
Lakla dead we shall go forth to the Silent Ones--and I promise you
that I will find the way to destroy them!"

"It is well!" It was Lugur.

"It _is_ well, Yolara." It was a woman's voice, and I knew it for that
old one of ravaged beauty. "Cast from your mind whatever is in it for
this stranger--either of love or hatred. In this the Council is with
Lugur and the man of wisdom."

There was a silence.  Then came the priestess's voice, sullen
but--beaten.

"It is well!"

"Let the three be taken now by Rador to the temple and given to the
High Priest Sator"--thus Lugur--"until what we have planned comes to
pass."

Rador gripped the base of the globe; abruptly it ceased its spinning.
He turned to us as though to speak and even as he did so its bell note
sounded peremptorily and on it the colour films began to creep at
their accustomed pace.

"I hear," the green dwarf whispered.  "They shall be taken there at
once." The globe grew silent. He stepped toward us.

"You have heard," he turned to us.

"Not on your life, Rador," said Larry.  "Nothing doing!" And then in
the Murian's own tongue. "We follow Lakla, Rador. And _you_ lead the
way." He thrust the pistol close to the green dwarf's side.

Rador did not move.

"Of what use, _Larree_?" he said, quietly.  "Me you can slay--but in
the end you will be taken. Life is not held so dear in Muria that my
men out there or those others who can come quickly will let you
by--even though you slay many. And in the end they will overpower
you."

There was a trace of irresolution in O'Keefe's face.

"And," added Rador, "if I let you go I dance with the Shining One--or
worse!"

O'Keefe's pistol hand dropped.

"You're a good sport, Rador, and far be it from me to get you in bad,"
he said. "Take us to the temple--when we get there--well, your
responsibility ends, doesn't it?"

The green dwarf nodded; on his face a curious expression--was it
relief? Or was it emotion higher than this?

He turned curtly.

"Follow," he said.  We passed out of that gay little pavilion that had
come to be home to us even in this alien place. The guards stood at
attention.

"You, Sattoya, stand by the globe," he ordered one of them.  "Should
the _Afyo Maie_ ask, say that I am on my way with the strangers even
as she has commanded."

We passed through the lines to the _corial_ standing like a great
shell at the end of the runway leading into the green road.

"Wait you here," he said curtly to the driver.  The green dwarf
ascended to his seat, sought the lever and we swept on--on and out
upon the glistening obsidian.

Then Rador faced us and laughed.

"_Larree_," he cried, "I love you for that spirit of yours! And did
you think that Rador would carry to the temple prison a man who would
take the chances of torment upon his own shoulders to save him? Or
you, Goodwin, who saved him from the rotting death? For what did I
take the _corial_ or lift the veil of silence that I might hear what
threatened you--"

He swept the _corial_ to the left, away from the temple approach.

"I am done with Lugur and with Yolara and the Shining One!" cried
Rador. "My hand is for you three and for Lakla and those to whom she
is handmaiden!"

The shell leaped forward; seemed to fly.


[1] A _tal_ in Muria is the equivalent of thirty hours of earth surface
time.--W. T. G.



CHAPTER XXII

The Casting of the Shadow

Now we were racing down toward that last span whose ancientness had
set it apart from all the other soaring arches. The shell's speed
slackened; we approached warily.

"We pass there?" asked O'Keefe.

The green dwarf nodded, pointing to the right where the bridge ended
in a broad platform held high upon two gigantic piers, between which
ran a spur from the glistening road. Platform and bridge were swarming
with men-at-arms; they crowded the parapets, looking down upon us
curiously but with no evidence of hostility. Rador drew a deep breath
of relief.

"We don't have to break our way through, then?" There was
disappointment in the Irishman's voice.

"No use, _Larree_!" Smiling, Rador stopped the _corial_ just beneath
the arch and beside one of the piers. "Now, listen well. They have had
no warning, hence does Yolara still think us on the way to the temple.
This is the gateway of the Portal--and the gateway is closed by the
Shadow. Once I commanded here and I know its laws. This must I do--by
craft persuade Serku, the keeper of the gateway, to lift the Shadow;
or raise it myself. And that will be hard and it may well be that in
the struggle life will be stripped of us all. Yet is it better to die
fighting than to dance with the Shining One!"

He swept the shell around the pier.  Opened a wide plaza paved with
the volcanic glass, but black as that down which we had sped from the
chamber of the Moon Pool. It shone like a mirrored lakelet of jet; on
each side of it arose what at first glance seemed towering bulwarks of
the same ebon obsidian; at second, revealed themselves as structures
hewn and set in place by men; polished faces pierced by dozens of
high, narrow windows.

Down each facade a stairway fell, broken by small landings on which a
door opened; they dropped to a broad ledge of greyish stone edging the
lip of this midnight pool and upon it also fell two wide flights from
either side of the bridge platform. Along all four stairways the
guards were ranged; and here and there against the ledge stood the
shells--in a curiously comforting resemblance to parked motors in our
own world.

The sombre walls bulked high; curved and ended in two obelisked
pillars from which, like a tremendous curtain, stretched a barrier of
that tenebrous gloom which, though weightless as shadow itself, I now
knew to be as impenetrable as the veil between life and death. In this
murk, unlike all others I had seen, I sensed movement, a quivering, a
tremor constant and rhythmic; not to be seen, yet caught by some
subtle sense; as though through it beat a swift pulse of--black
light.

The green dwarf turned the _corial_ slowly to the edge at the right;
crept cautiously on toward where, not more than a hundred feet from
the barrier, a low, wide entrance opened in the fort. Guarding its
threshold stood two guards, armed with broadswords, double-handed,
terminating in a wide lunette mouthed with murderous fangs. These they
raised in salute and through the portal strode a dwarf huge as Rador,
dressed as he and carrying only the poniard that was the badge of
office of Muria's captainry.

The green dwarf swept the shell expertly against the ledge; leaped
out.

"Greeting, Serku!" he answered.  "I was but looking for the _coria_ of
Lakla."

"Lakla!" exclaimed Serku.  "Why, the handmaiden passed with her _Akka_
nigh a _va_ ago!"

"Passed!" The astonishment of the green dwarf was so real that half
was I myself deceived. "You let her _pass_?"

"Certainly I let her pass--" But under the green dwarf's stern gaze
the truculence of the guardian faded. "Why should I not?" he asked,
apprehensively.

"Because Yolara commanded otherwise," answered Rador, coldly.

"There came no command to me."  Little beads of sweat stood out on
Serku's forehead.

"Serku," interrupted the green dwarf swiftly, "truly is my heart wrung
for you. This is a matter of Yolara and of Lugur and the Council; yes,
even of the Shining One! And the message was sent--and the fate,
mayhap, of all Muria rested upon your obedience and the return of
Lakla with these strangers to the Council. Now truly is my heart
wrung, for there are few I would less like to see dance with the
Shining One than you, Serku," he ended, softly.

Livid now was the gateway's guardian, his great frame shaking.

"Come with me and speak to Yolara," he pleaded.  "There came no
message--tell her--"

"Wait, Serku!" There was a thrill as of inspiration in Rador's voice.
"This _corial_ is of the swiftest--Lakla's are of the slowest. With
Lakla scarce a _va_ ahead we can reach her before she enters the
Portal. Lift you the Shadow--we will bring her back, and this will I
do for you, Serku."

Doubt tempered Serku's panic.

"Why not go alone, Rador, leaving the strangers here with me?" he
asked--and I thought not unreasonably.

"Nay, then." The green dwarf was brusk.  "Lakla will not return unless
I carry to her these men as evidence of our good faith. Come--we will
speak to Yolara and she shall judge you--" He started away--but Serku
caught his arm.

"No, Rador, no!" he whispered, again panic-stricken.  "Go you--as you
will. But bring her back! Speed, Rador!" He sprang toward the
entrance. "I lift the Shadow--"

Into the green dwarf's poise crept a curious, almost a listening,
alertness. He leaped to Serku's side.

"I go with you," I heard.  "Some little I can tell you--" They were
gone.

"Fine work!" muttered Larry.  "Nominated for a citizen of Ireland when
we get out of this, one Rador of--"

The Shadow trembled--shuddered into nothingness; the obelisked
outposts that had held it framed a ribbon of roadway, high banked with
verdure, vanishing in green distances.

And then from the portal sped a shriek, a death cry!  It cut through
the silence of the ebon pit like a whimpering arrow. Before it had
died, down the stairways came pouring the guards. Those at the
threshold raised their swords and peered within. Abruptly Rador was
between them. One dropped his hilt and gripped him--the green dwarf's
poniard flashed and was buried in his throat. Down upon Rador's head
swept the second blade. A flame leaped from O'Keefe's hand and the
sword seemed to fling itself from its wielder's grasp--another flash
and the soldier crumpled. Rador threw himself into the shell, darted
to the high seat--and straight between the pillars of the Shadow we
flew!

There came a crackling, a darkness of vast wings flinging down upon
us. The _corial's_ flight was checked as by a giant's hand. The shell
swerved sickeningly; there was an oddly metallic splintering; it
quivered; shot ahead. Dizzily I picked myself up and looked behind.

The Shadow had fallen--but too late, a bare instant too late.  And
shrinking as we fled from it, still it seemed to strain like some
fettered Afrit from Eblis, throbbing with wrath, seeking with every
malign power it possessed to break its bonds and pursue. Not until
long after were we to know that it had been the dying hand of Serku,
groping out of oblivion, that had cast it after us as a fowler upon an
escaping bird.

"Snappy work, Rador!" It was Larry speaking.  "But they cut the end
off your bus all right!"

A full quarter of the hindward whorl was gone, sliced off cleanly.
Rador noted it with anxious eyes.

"That is bad," he said, "but not too bad perhaps.  All depends upon
how closely Lugur and his men can follow us."

He raised a hand to O'Keefe in salute.

"But to you, _Larree_, I owe my life--not even the _Keth_ could have
been as swift to save me as that death flame of yours--friend!"

The Irishman waved an airy hand.

"Serku"--the green dwarf drew from his girdle the bloodstained
poniard--"Serku I was forced to slay. Even as he raised the Shadow the
globe gave the alarm. Lugur follows with twice ten times ten of his
best--" He hesitated. "Though we have escaped the Shadow it has taken
toll of our swiftness. May we reach the Portal before it closes upon
Lakla--but if we do not--" He paused again. "Well--I know a way--but
it is not one I am gay to follow--no!"

He snapped open the aperture that held the ball flaming within the
dark crystal; peered at it anxiously. I crept to the torn end of the
_corial_. The edges were crumbling, disintegrated. They powdered in my
fingers like dust. Mystified still, I crept back where Larry, sheer
happiness pouring from him, was whistling softly and polishing up his
automatic. His gaze fell upon Olaf's grim, sad face and softened.

"Buck up, Olaf!" he said.  "We've got a good fighting chance.  Once we
link up with Lakla and her crowd I'm betting that we get your
wife--never doubt it! The baby--" he hesitated awkwardly. The
Norseman's eyes filled; he stretched a hand to the O'Keefe.

"The _Yndling_--she is of the _de Dode_," he half whispered, "of the
blessed dead. For her I have no fear and for her vengeance will be
given me. _Ja!_ But my Helma--she is of the dead-alive--like those we
saw whirling like leaves in the light of the Shining Devil--and I
would that she too were of _de Dode_--and at rest. I do not know how
to fight the Shining Devil--no!"

His bitter despair welled up in his voice.

"Olaf," Larry's voice was gentle.  "We'll come out on top--I know it.
Remember one thing. All this stuff that seems so strange and--and,
well, sort of supernatural, is just a lot of tricks we're not hep to
as yet. Why, Olaf, suppose you took a Fijian when the war was on and
set him suddenly down in London with autos rushing past, sirens
blowing, Archies popping, a dozen enemy planes dropping bombs, and the
searchlights shooting all over the sky--wouldn't he think he was among
thirty-third degree devils in some exclusive circle of hell? Sure he
would! And yet everything he saw would be natural--just as natural as
all this is, once we get the answer to it. Not that we're Fijians, of
course, but the principle is the same."

The Norseman considered this; nodded gravely.

"_Ja!_" he answered at last.  "And at least we can fight.  That is why
I have turned to Thor of the battles, _Ja!_ And _one_ have I hope in for
mine Helma--the white maiden. Since I have turned to the old gods it
has been made clear to me that I shall slay Lugur and that the _Heks_,
the evil witch Yolara, shall also die. But I would talk with the white
maiden."

"All right," said Larry, "but just don't be afraid of what you don't
understand. There's another thing"--he hesitated, nervously--"there's
another thing that may startle you a bit when we meet up with
Lakla--her--er--frogs!"

"Like the frog-woman we saw on the wall?" asked Olaf.

"Yes," went on Larry, rapidly.  "It's this way--I figure that the
frogs grow rather large where she lives, and they're a bit different
too. Well, Lakla's got a lot of 'em trained. Carry spears and clubs
and all that junk--just like trained seals or monkeys or so on in the
circus. Probably a custom of the place. Nothing queer about that,
Olaf. Why people have all kinds of pets--armadillos and snakes and
rabbits, kangaroos and elephants and tigers."

Remembering how the frog-woman had stuck in Larry's mind from the
outset, I wondered whether all this was not more to convince himself
than Olaf.

"Why, I remember a nice girl in Paris who had four pet pythons--" he
went on.

But I listened no more, for now I was sure of my surmise. The road had
begun to thrust itself through high-flung, sharply pinnacled masses
and rounded outcroppings of rock on which clung patches of the amber
moss.

The trees had utterly vanished, and studding the moss-carpeted plains
were only clumps of a willowy shrub from which hung, like grapes,
clusters of white waxen blooms. The light too had changed; gone were
the dancing, sparkling atoms and the silver had faded to a soft,
almost ashen greyness. Ahead of us marched a rampart of coppery cliffs
rising, like all these mountainous walls we had seen, into the
immensities of haze. Something long drifting in my subconsciousness
turned to startled realization. The speed of the shell was slackening!
The aperture containing the ionizing mechanism was still open; I
glanced within, The whirling ball of fire was not dimmed, but its
coruscations, instead of pouring down through the cylinder, swirled
and eddied and shot back as though trying to re-enter their source.
Rador nodded grimly.

"The Shadow takes its toll," he said.

We topped a rise--Larry gripped my arm.

"Look!" he cried, and pointed.  Far, far behind us, so far that the
road was but a glistening thread, a score of shining points came
speeding.

"Lugur and his men," said Rador.

"Can't you step on her?" asked Larry.

"Step on her?" repeated the green dwarf, puzzled.

"Give her more speed; push her," explained O'Keefe.

Rador looked about him.  The coppery ramparts were close, not more
than three or four miles distant; in front of us the plain lifted in a
long rolling swell, and up this the _corial_ essayed to go--with a
terrifying lessening of speed. Faintly behind us came shootings, and
we knew that Lugur drew close. Nor anywhere was there sign of Lakla
nor her frogmen.

Now we were half-way to the crest; the shell barely crawled and from
beneath it came a faint hissing; it quivered, and I knew that its base
was no longer held above the glassy surface but rested on it.

"One last chance!" exclaimed Rador.  He pressed upon the control lever
and wrenched it from its socket. Instantly the sparkling ball
expanded, whirling with prodigious rapidity and sending a cascade of
coruscations into the cylinder. The shell rose; leaped through the
air; the dark crystal split into fragments; the fiery ball dulled;
died--but upon the impetus of that last thrust we reached the crest.
Poised there for a moment, I caught a glimpse of the road dropping
down the side of an enormous moss-covered, bowl-shaped valley whose
sharply curved sides ended abruptly at the base of the towering
barrier.

Then down the steep, powerless to guide or to check the shell, we
plunged in a meteor rush straight for the annihilating adamantine
breasts of the cliffs!

Now the quick thinking of Larry's air training came to our aid.  As
the rampart reared close he threw himself upon Rador; hurled him and
himself against the side of the flying whorl. Under the shock the
finely balanced machine swerved from its course. It struck the soft,
low bank of the road, shot high in air, bounded on through the thick
carpeting, whirled like a dervish and fell upon its side. Shot from
it, we rolled for yards, but the moss saved broken bones or serious
bruise.

"Quick!" cried the green dwarf.  He seized an arm, dragged me to my
feet, began running to the cliff base not a hundred feet away. Beside
us raced O'Keefe and Olaf. At our left was the black road. It stopped
abruptly--was cut off by a slab of polished crimson stone a hundred
feet high, and as wide, set within the coppery face of the barrier. On
each side of it stood pillars, cut from the living rock and immense,
almost, as those which held the rainbow veil of the Dweller. Across
its face weaved unnameable carvings--but I had no time for more than a
glance. The green dwarf gripped my arm again.

"Quick!" he cried again.  "The handmaiden has passed!"

At the right of the Portal ran a low wall of shattered rock. Over this
we raced like rabbits. Hidden behind it was a narrow path. Crouching,
Rador in the lead, we sped along it; three hundred, four hundred yards
we raced--and the path ended in a _cul de sac_! To our ears was borne
a louder shouting.

The first of the pursuing shells had swept over the lip of the great
bowl, poised for a moment as we had and then began a cautious descent.
Within it, scanning the slopes, I saw Lugur.

"A little closer and I'll get him!" whispered Larry viciously.  He
raised his pistol.

His hand was caught in a mighty grip; Rador, eyes blazing, stood
beside him.

"No!" rasped the green dwarf.  He heaved a shoulder against one of the
boulders that formed the pocket. It rocked aside, revealing a slit.

"In!" ordered he, straining against the weight of the stone. O'Keefe
slipped through. Olaf at his back, I following. With a lightning leap
the dwarf was beside me, the huge rock missing him by a hair breadth
as it swung into place!

We were in Cimmerian darkness.  I felt for my pocket-flash and
recalled with distress that I had left it behind with my medicine kit
when we fled from the gardens. But Rador seemed to need no light.

"Grip hands!" he ordered.  We crept, single file, holding to each
other like children, through the black. At last the green dwarf
paused.

"Await me here," he whispered.  "Do not move.  And for your lives--be
silent!"

And he was gone.



CHAPTER XXIII

Dragon Worm and Moss Death

For a small eternity--to me at least--we waited.  Then as silent as
ever the green dwarf returned. "It is well," he said, some of the
strain gone from his voice. "Grip hands again, and follow."

"Wait a bit, Rador," this was Larry.  "Does Lugur know this side
entrance? If he does, why not let Olaf and me go back to the opening
and pick them off as they come in? We could hold the lot--and in the
meantime you and Goodwin could go after Lakla for help."

"Lugur knows the secret of the Portal--if he dare use it," answered
the captain, with a curious indirection. "And now that they have
challenged the Silent Ones I think he _will_ dare. Also, he will find
our tracks--and it may be that he knows this hidden way."

"Well, for God's sake!" O'Keefe's appalled bewilderment was almost
ludicrous. "If _he_ knows all that, and _you_ knew all that, why
didn't you let me click him when I had the chance?"

"_Larree_," the green dwarf was oddly humble.  "It seemed good to me,
too--at first. And then I heard a command, heard it clearly, to stop
you--that Lugur die not now, lest a greater vengeance fail!"

"Command?  From whom?" The Irishman's voice distilled out of the
blackness the very essence of bewilderment.

"I thought," Rador was whispering--"I thought it came from the Silent
Ones!"

"Superstition!" groaned O'Keefe in utter exasperation. "Always
superstition! What can you do against it!

"Never mind, Rador." His sense of humour came to his aid.  "It's too
late now, anyway. Where do we go from here, old dear?" he laughed.

"We tread the path of one I am not fain to meet," answered Rador.
"But if meet we must, point the death tubes at the pale shield he
bears upon his throat and send the flame into the flower of cold fire
that is its centre--nor look into his eyes!"

Again Larry gasped, and I with him.

"It's getting too deep for me, Doc," he muttered dejectedly.  "Can you
make head or tail of it?"

"No," I answered, shortly enough, "but Rador fears something and
that's his description of it."

"Sure," he replied, "only it's a code I don't understand." I could
feel his grin. "All right for the flower of cold fire, Rador, and I
won't look into his eyes," he went on cheerfully. "But hadn't we
better be moving?"

"Come!" said the soldier; again hand in hand we went blindly on.

O'Keefe was muttering to himself.

"Flower of cold fire!  Don't look into his eyes!  Some joint!
Damned superstition." Then he chuckled and carolled, softly:

    "Oh, mama, pin a cold rose on me;
    Two young frog-men are in love with me;
    Shut my eyes so I can't see."

"Sh!" Rador was warning; he began whispering.  "For half a _va_ we go
along a way of death. From its peril we pass into another against
whose dangers I can guard you. But in part this is in view of the
roadway and it may be that Lugur will see us. If so, we must fight as
best we can. If we pass these two roads safely, then is the way to the
Crimson Sea clear, nor need we fear Lugur nor any. And there is
another thing--that Lugur does not know--when he opens the Portal the
Silent Ones will hear and Lakla and the _Akka_ will be swift to greet
its opener."

"Rador," I asked, "how know _you_ all this?"

"The handmaiden is my own sister's child," he answered quietly.

O'Keefe drew a long breath.

"Uncle," he remarked casually in English, "meet the man who's going to
be your nephew!"

And thereafter he never addressed the green dwarf except by the
avuncular title, which Rador, humorously enough, apparently conceived
to be one of respectful endearment.

For me a light broke.  Plain now was the reason for his foreknowledge
of Lakla's appearance at the feast where Larry had so narrowly escaped
Yolara's spells; plain the determining factor that had cast his lot
with ours, and my confidence, despite his discourse of mysterious
perils, experienced a remarkable quickening.

Speculation as to the marked differences in pigmentation and
appearance of niece and uncle was dissipated by my consciousness that
we were now moving in a dim half-light. We were in a fairly wide
tunnel. Not far ahead the gleam filtered, pale yellow like sunlight
sifting through the leaves of autumn poplars. And as we drove closer
to its source I saw that it did indeed pass through a leafy screen
hanging over the passage end. This Rador drew aside cautiously,
beckoned us and we stepped through.

It appeared to be a tunnel cut through soft green mould. Its base was
a flat strip of pathway a yard wide from which the walls curved out in
perfect cylindrical form, smoothed and evened with utmost nicety.
Thirty feet wide they were at their widest, then drew toward each
other with no break in their symmetry; they did not close. Above was,
roughly, a ten-foot rift, ragged edged, through which poured light
like that in the heart of pale amber, a buttercup light shot through
with curiously evanescent bronze shadows.

"Quick!" commanded Rador, uneasily, and set off at a sharp pace.

Now, my eyes accustomed to the strange light, I saw that the tunnel's
walls were of moss. In them I could trace fringe leaf and curly leaf,
pressings of enormous bladder caps (Physcomitrium), immense splashes
of what seemed to be the scarlet-crested Cladonia, traceries of huge
moss veils, crushings of teeth (peristome) gigantic; spore cases brown
and white, saffron and ivory, hot vermilions and cerulean blues,
pressed into an astounding mosaic by some titanic force.

"Hurry!" It was Rador calling.  I had lagged behind.

He quickened the pace to a half-run; we were climbing; panting.  The
amber light grew stronger; the rift above us wider. The tunnel curved;
on the left a narrow cleft appeared. The green dwarf leaped toward it,
thrust us within, pushed us ahead of him up a steep rocky
fissure--well-nigh, indeed, a chimney. Up and up this we scrambled
until my lungs were bursting and I thought I could climb no more. The
crevice ended; we crawled out and sank, even Rador, upon a little
leaf-carpeted clearing circled by lacy tree ferns.

Gasping, legs aching, we lay prone, relaxed, drawing back strength and
breath. Rador was first to rise. Thrice he bent low as in homage,
then--

"Give thanks to the Silent Ones--for their power has been over us!" he
exclaimed.

Dimly I wondered what he meant.  Something about the fern leaf at
which I had been staring aroused me. I leaped to my feet and ran to
its base. This was no fern, no! It was fern _moss_! The largest of its
species I had ever found in tropic jungles had not been more than two
inches high, and this was--twenty feet! The scientific fire I had
experienced in the tunnel returned uncontrollable. I parted the
fronds, gazed out--

My outlook commanded a vista of miles--and that vista! A _Fata
Morgana_ of plantdom! A land of flowered sorcery!

Forests of tree-high mosses spangled over with blooms of every
conceivable shape and colour; cataracts and clusters, avalanches and
nets of blossoms in pastels, in dulled metallics, in gorgeous
flamboyant hues; some of them phosphorescent and shining like living
jewels; some sparkling as though with dust of opals, of sapphires, of
rubies and topazes and emeralds; thickets of convolvuli like the
trumpets of the seven archangels of Mara, king of illusion, which are
shaped from the bows of splendours arching his highest heaven!

And moss veils like banners of a marching host of Titans; pennons and
bannerets of the sunset; gonfalons of the Jinn; webs of faery;
oriflammes of elfland!

Springing up through that polychromatic flood myriads of
pedicles--slender and straight as spears, or soaring in spirals, or
curving with undulations gracile as the white serpents of Tanit in
ancient Carthaginian groves--and all surmounted by a fantasy of spore
cases in shapes of minaret and turret, domes and spires and cones,
caps of Phrygia and bishops' mitres, shapes grotesque and
unnameable--shapes delicate and lovely!

They hung high poised, nodding and swaying--like goblins hovering over
_Titania's_ court; cacophony of Cathay accenting the _Flower Maiden_
music of "Parsifal"; _bizarrerie_ of the angled, fantastic beings that
people the Javan pantheon watching a bacchanal of houris in Mohammed's
paradise!

Down upon it all poured the amber light; dimmed in the distances by
huge, drifting darkenings lurid as the flying mantles of the
hurricane.

And through the light, like showers of jewels, myriads of birds,
darting, dipping, soaring, and still other myriads of gigantic,
shimmering butterflies.

A sound came to us, reaching out like the first faint susurrus of the
incoming tide; sighing, sighing, growing stronger--now its mournful
whispering quivered all about us, shook us--then passing like a
Presence, died away in far distances.

"The Portal!" said Rador.  "Lugur has entered!"

He, too, parted the fronds and peered back along our path.  Peering
with him we saw the barrier through which we had come stretching
verdure-covered walls for miles three or more away. Like a mole burrow
in a garden stretched the trail of the tunnel; here and there we could
look down within the rift at its top; far off in it I thought I saw
the glint of spears.

"They come!" whispered Rador.  "Quick!  We must not meet them here!"

And then--

"Holy St. Brigid!" gasped Larry.

From the rift in the tunnel's continuation, nigh a mile beyond the
cleft through which we had fled, lifted a crown of horns--of
tentacles--erect, alert, of mottled gold and crimson; lifted
higher--and from a monstrous scarlet head beneath them blazed two
enormous, obloid eyes, their depths wells of purplish phosphorescence;
higher still--noseless, earless, chinless; a livid, worm mouth from
which a slender scarlet tongue leaped like playing flames! Slowly it
rose--its mighty neck cuirassed with gold and scarlet scales from
whose polished surfaces the amber light glinted like flakes of fire;
and under this neck shimmered something like a palely luminous silvery
shield, guarding it. The head of horror mounted--and in the shield's
centre, full ten feet across, glowing, flickering, shining
out--coldly, was a rose of white flame, a "flower of cold fire" even
as Rador had said.

Now swiftly the Thing upreared, standing like a scaled tower a hundred
feet above the rift, its eyes scanning that movement I had seen along
the course of its lair. There was a hissing; the crown of horns fell,
whipped and writhed like the tentacles of an octopus; the towering
length dropped back.

"Quick!" gasped Rador and through the fern moss, along the path and
down the other side of the steep we raced.

Behind us for an instant there was a rushing as of a torrent; a
far-away, faint, agonized screaming--silence!

"No fear _now_ from those who followed," whispered the green dwarf,
pausing.

"Sainted St. Patrick!" O'Keefe gazed ruminatively at his automatic.
"An' he expected me to kill _that_ with this. Well, as Fergus O'Connor
said when they sent him out to slaughter a wild bull with a potato
knife: 'Ye'll niver rayilize how I appreciate the confidence ye show
in me!'

"What was it, Doc?" he asked.

"The dragon worm!" Rador said.

"It was Helvede Orm--the hell worm!" groaned Olaf.

"There you go again--" blazed Larry; but the green dwarf was hurrying
down the path and swiftly we followed, Larry muttering, Olaf mumbling,
behind me.

The green dwarf was signalling us for caution.  He pointed through a
break in a grove of fifty-foot cedar mosses--we were skirting the
glassy road! Scanning it we found no trace of Lugur and wondered
whether he too had seen the worm and had fled. Quickly we passed on;
drew away from the _coria_ path. The mosses began to thin; less and
less they grew, giving way to low clumps that barely offered us
shelter. Unexpectedly another screen of fern moss stretched before us.
Slowly Rador made his way through it and stood hesitating.

The scene in front of us was oddly weird and depressing; in some
indefinable way--dreadful. Why, I could not tell, but the impression
was plain; I shrank from it. Then, self-analyzing, I wondered whether
it could be the uncanny resemblance the heaps of curious mossy fungi
scattered about had to beast and bird--yes, and to man--that was the
cause of it. Our path ran between a few of them. To the left they were
thick. They were viridescent, almost metallic hued--verd-antique.
Curiously indeed were they like distorted images of dog and deerlike
forms, of birds--of _dwarfs_ and here and there the simulacra of the
giant frogs! Spore cases, yellowish green, as large as mitres and much
resembling them in shape protruded from the heaps. My repulsion grew
into a distinct nausea.

Rador turned to us a face whiter far than that with which he had
looked upon the dragon worm.

"Now for your lives," he whispered, "tread softly here as I do--and
speak not at all!"

He stepped forward on tiptoe, slowly with utmost caution. We crept
after him; passed the heaps beside the path--and as I passed my skin
crept and I shrank and saw the others shrink too with that unnameable
loathing; nor did the green dwarf pause until he had reached the brow
of a small hillock a hundred yards beyond. And he was trembling.

"Now what are we up against?" grumbled O'Keefe.

The green dwarf stretched a hand; stiffened; gazed over to the left of
us beyond a lower hillock upon whose broad crest lay a file of the
moss shapes. They fringed it, their mitres having a grotesque
appearance of watching what lay below. The glistening road lay
there--and from it came a shout. A dozen of the _coria_ clustered,
filled with Lugur's men and in one of them Lugur himself, laughing
wickedly!

There was a rush of soldiers and up the low hillock raced a score of
them toward us.

"Run!" shouted Rador.

"Not much!" grunted Larry--and took swift aim at Lugur. The automatic
spat: Olaf's echoed. Both bullets went wild, for Lugur, still
laughing, threw himself into the protection of the body of his shell.
But following the shots, from the file of moss heaps on the crest,
came a series of muffled explosions. Under the pistol's concussions
the mitred caps had burst and instantly all about the running soldiers
grew a cloud of tiny, glistening white spores--like a little cloud of
puff-ball dust many times magnified. Through this cloud I glimpsed
their faces, stricken with agony.

Some turned to fly, but before they could take a second step stood
rigid.

The spore cloud drifted and eddied about them; rained down on their
heads and half bare breasts, covered their garments--and swiftly they
began to change! Their features grew indistinct--merged! The
glistening white spores that covered them turned to a pale yellow,
grew greenish, spread and swelled, darkened. The eyes of one of the
soldiers glinted for a moment--and then were covered by the swift
growth!

Where but a few moments before had been men were only grotesque heaps,
swiftly melting, swiftly rounding into the semblance of the mounds
that lay behind us--and already beginning to take on their gleam of
ancient viridescence!

The Irishman was gripping my arm fiercely; the pain brought me back to
my senses.

"Olaf's right," he gasped.  "This _is_ hell!  I'm sick." And he was,
frankly and without restraint. Lugur and his others awakened from
their nightmare; piled into the _coria_, wheeled, raced away.

"On!" said Rador thickly. "Two perils have we passed--the Silent Ones
watch over us!"

Soon we were again among the familiar and so unfamiliar moss giants.
I knew what I had seen and this time Larry could not call
me--superstitious. In the jungles of Borneo I had examined that other
swiftly developing fungus which wreaks the vengeance of some of the
hill tribes upon those who steal their women; gripping with its
microscopic hooks into the flesh; sending quick, tiny rootlets through
the skin down into the capillaries, sucking life and thriving and
never to be torn away until the living thing it clings to has been
sapped dry. Here was but another of the species in which the
development's rate was incredibly accelerated. Some of this I tried to
explain to O'Keefe as we sped along, reassuring him.

"But they turned to moss before our eyes!" he said.

Again I explained, patiently.  But he seemed to derive no comfort at
all from my assurances that the phenomena were entirely natural and,
aside from their more terrifying aspect, of peculiar interest to the
botanist.

"I know," was all he would say.  "But suppose one of those things had
burst while we were going through--God!"

I was wondering how I could with comparative safety study the fungus
when Rador stopped; in front of us was again the road ribbon.

"Now is all danger passed," he said.  "The way lies open and Lugur has
fled--"

There was a flash from the road.  It passed me like a little lariat of
light. It struck Larry squarely between the eyes, spread over his face
and drew itself within!

"Down!" cried Rador, and hurled me to the ground.  My head struck
sharply; I felt myself grow faint; Olaf fell beside me; I saw the
green dwarf draw down the O'Keefe; he collapsed limply, face still,
eyes staring. A shout--and from the roadway poured a host of Lugur's
men; I could hear Lugur bellowing.

There came a rush of little feet; soft, fragrant draperies brushed my
face; dimly I watched Lakla bend over the Irishman.

She straightened--her arms swept out and the writhing vine, with its
tendrilled heads of ruby bloom, five flames of misty incandescence,
leaped into the faces of the soldiers now close upon us. It darted at
their throats, striking, coiling, and striking again; coiling and
uncoiling with incredible rapidity and flying from leverage points of
throats, of faces, of breasts like a spring endowed with
consciousness, volition and hatred--and those it struck stood rigid as
stone with faces masks of inhuman fear and anguish; and those still
unstricken fled.

Another rush of feet--and down upon Lugur's forces poured the
frog-men, their booming giant leading, thrusting with their lances,
tearing and rending with talons and fangs and spurs.

Against that onslaught the dwarfs could not stand.  They raced for the
shells; I heard Lugur shouting, menacingly--and then Lakla's voice,
pealing like a golden bugle of wrath.

"Go, Lugur!" she cried.  "Go--that you and Yolara and your Shining One
may die together! Death for you, Lugur--death for you all! Remember
Lugur--death!"

There was a great noise within my head--no matter, Lakla was
here--Lakla here--but too late--Lugur had outplayed us; moss death nor
dragon worm had frightened him away--he had crept back to trap
us--Lakla had come too late--Larry was dead--Larry! But I had heard no
banshee wailing--and Larry had said he could not die without that
warning--no, Larry was not dead. So ran the turbulent current of my
mind.

A horny arm lifted me; two enormous, oddly gentle saucer eyes were
staring into mine; my head rolled; I caught a glimpse of the Golden
Girl kneeling beside the O'Keefe.

The noise in my head grew thunderous--was carrying me away on its
thunder--swept me into soft, blind darkness.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Crimson Sea

I was in the heart of a rose pearl, swinging, swinging; no, I was in a
rosy dawn cloud, pendulous in space. Consciousness flooded me, in
reality I was in the arms of one of the man frogs, carrying me as
though I were a babe, and we were passing through some place suffused
with glow enough like heart of pearl or dawn cloud to justify my
awakening vagaries.

Just ahead walked Lakla in earnest talk with Rador, and content enough
was I for a time to watch her. She had thrown off the metallic robes;
her thick braids of golden brown hair with their flame glints of
bronze were twined in a high coronal meshed in silken net of green;
little clustering curls escaped from it, clinging to the nape of the
proud white neck, shyly kissing it. From her shoulders fell a loose,
sleeveless garment of shimmering green belted with a high golden
girdle; skirt folds dropping barely below the knees.

She had cast aside her buskins, too, and the slender, high-arched feet
were sandalled. Between the buckled edges of her kirtle I caught
gleams of translucent ivory as exquisitely moulded, as delectably
rounded, as those revealed so naively beneath the hem.

Something was knocking at the doors of my consciousness--some tragic
thing. What was it? Larry! Where was Larry? I remembered; raised my
head abruptly; saw at my side another frog-man carrying O'Keefe, and
behind him, Olaf, step instinct with grief, following like some
faithful, wistful dog who has lost a loved master. Upon my movement
the monster bearing me halted, looked down inquiringly, uttered a
deep, booming note that held the quality of interrogation.

Lakla turned; the clear, golden eyes were sorrowful, the sweet mouth
drooping; but her loveliness, her gentleness, that undefinable
synthesis of all her tender self that seemed always to circle her with
an atmosphere of lucid normality, lulled my panic.

"Drink this," she commanded, holding a small vial to my lips.

Its contents were aromatic, unfamiliar but astonishingly effective,
for as soon as they passed my lips I felt a surge of strength;
consciousness was restored.

"Larry!" I cried.  "Is he dead?"

Lakla shook her head; her eyes were troubled.

"No," she said; "but he is like one dead--and yet unlike--"

"Put me down," I demanded of my bearer.

He tightened his hold; round eyes upon the Golden Girl. She spoke--in
sonorous, reverberating monosyllables--and I was set upon my feet; I
leaped to the side of the Irishman. He lay limp, with a disquieting,
abnormal sequacity, as though every muscle were utterly flaccid; the
antithesis of the _rigor mortis_, thank God, but terrifyingly toward
the other end of its arc; a syncope I had never known. The flesh was
stone cold; the pulse barely perceptible, long intervalled; the
respiration undiscoverable; the pupils of the eyes were enormously
dilated; it was as though life had been drawn from every nerve.

"A light flashed from the road.  It struck his face and seemed to sink
in," I said.

"I saw," answered Rador; "but what it was I know not; and I thought I
knew all the weapons of our rulers." He glanced at me curiously. "Some
talk there has been that the stranger who came with you, Double
Tongue, was making new death tools for Lugur," he ended.

Marakinoff!  The Russian at work already in this storehouse of
devastating energies, fashioning the weapons for his plots! The
Apocalyptic vision swept back upon me--

"He is not dead." Lakla's voice was poignant.  "He is not dead; and
the Three have wondrous healing. They can restore him if they
will--and they will, they _will_!" For a moment she was silent. "Now
their gods help Lugur and Yolara," she whispered; "for come what may,
whether the Silent Ones be strong or weak, if he dies, surely shall I
fall upon them and I will slay those two--yea, though I, too perish!"

"Yolara and Lugur shall both die." Olaf's eyes were burning.  "But
Lugur is mine to slay."

That pity I had seen before in Lakla's eyes when she looked upon the
Norseman banished the white wrath from them. She turned, half
hurriedly, as though to escape his gaze.

"Walk with us," she said to me, "unless you are still weak."

I shook my head, gave a last look at O'Keefe; there was nothing I
could do; I stepped beside her. She thrust a white arm into mine
protectingly, the wonderfully moulded hand with its long, tapering
fingers catching about my wrist; my heart glowed toward her.

"Your medicine is potent, handmaiden," I answered.  "And the touch of
your hand would give me strength enough, even had I not drunk it," I
added in Larry's best manner.

Her eyes danced, trouble flying.

"Now, that was well spoken for such a man of wisdom as Rador tells me
you are," she laughed; and a little pang shot through me. Could not a
lover of science present a compliment without it always seeming to be
as unusual as plucking a damask rose from a cabinet of fossils?

Mustering my philosophy, I smiled back at her.  Again I noted that
broad, classic brow, with the little tendrils of shining bronze
caressing it, the tilted, delicate, nut-brown brows that gave a
curious touch of innocent _diablerie_ to the lovely face--flowerlike,
pure, high-bred, a touch of roguishness, subtly alluring, sparkling
over the maiden Madonnaness that lay ever like a delicate, luminous
suggestion beneath it; the long, black, curling lashes--the tender,
rounded, bare left breast--

"I have always liked you," she murmured naively, "since first I saw
you in that place where the Shining One goes forth into your world.
And I am glad you like my medicine as well as that you carry in the
black box that you left behind," she added swiftly.

"How know you of that, Lakla?" I gasped.

"Oft and oft I came to him there, and to you, while you lay sleeping.
How call you _him_?" She paused.

"Larry!" I said.

"Larry!" she repeated it excellently.  "And you?"

"Goodwin," said Rador.

I bowed quite as though I were being introduced to some charming young
lady met in that old life now seemingly aeons removed.

"Yes--Goodwin." she said.  "Oft and oft I came.  Sometimes I thought
you saw me. And _he_--did he not dream of me sometime--?" she asked
wistfully.

"He did." I said, "and watched for you." Then amazement grew vocal.
"But how came you?" I asked.

"By a strange road," she whispered, "to see that all was well with
_him_--and to look into his heart; for I feared Yolara and her beauty.
But I saw that she was not in his heart." A blush burned over her,
turning even the little bare breast rosy. "It is a strange road," she
went on hurriedly. "Many times have I followed it and watched the
Shining One bear back its prey to the blue pool; seen the woman _he_
seeks"--she made a quick gesture toward Olaf--"and a babe cast from
her arms in the last pang of her mother love; seen another woman throw
herself into the Shining One's embrace to save a man she loved; and I
could not help!" Her voice grew deep, thrilled. "The friend, it comes
to me, who drew you here, Goodwin!"

She was silent, walking as one who sees visions and listens to voices
unheard by others, Rador made a warning gesture; I crowded back my
questions, glanced about me. We were passing over a smooth strand,
hard packed as some beach of long-thrust-back ocean. It was like
crushed garnets, each grain stained deep red, faintly sparkling. On
each side were distances, the floor stretching away into them bare of
vegetation--stretching on and on into infinitudes of rosy mist, even
as did the space above.

Flanking and behind us marched the giant batrachians, fivescore of
them at least, black scale and crimson scale lustrous and gleaming in
the rosaceous radiance; saucer eyes shining circles of phosphorescence
green, purple, red; spurs clicking as they crouched along with a gait
at once grotesque and formidable.

Ahead the mist deepened into a ruddier glow; through it a long, dark
line began to appear--the mouth I thought of the caverned space
through which we were going; it was just before us; over us--we stood
bathed in a flood of rubescence!

A sea stretched before us--a crimson sea, gleaming like that lost
lacquer of royal coral and the Flame Dragon's blood which Fu S'cze set
upon the bower he built for his stolen sun maiden--that going toward
it she might think it the sun itself rising over the summer seas.
Unmoved by wave or ripple, it was placid as some deep woodland pool
when night rushes up over the world.

It seemed molten--or as though some hand great enough to rock earth
had distilled here from conflagrations of autumn sunsets their flaming
essences.

A fish broke through, large as a shark, blunt-headed, flashing bronze,
ridged and mailed as though with serrate plates of armour. It leaped
high, shaking from it a sparkling spray of rubies; dropped and shot up
a geyser of fiery gems.

Across my line of vision, moving stately over the sea, floated a half
globe, luminous, diaphanous, its iridescence melting into turquoise,
thence to amethyst, to orange, to scarlet shot with rose, to
vermilion, a translucent green, thence back into the iridescence;
behind it four others, and the least of them ten feet in diameter, and
the largest no less than thirty. They drifted past like bubbles blown
from froth of rainbows by pipes in mouths of Titans' young. Then from
the base of one arose a tangle of shimmering strands, long, slender
whiplashes that played about and sank slowly again beneath the crimson
surface.

I gasped--for the fish had been a _ganoid_--that ancient, armoured
form that was perhaps the most intelligent of all life on our planet
during the Devonian era, but which for age upon age had vanished, save
for its fossils held in the embrace of the stone that once was their
soft bottom beds; and the half-globes were _Medusae_, jelly-fish--but
of a size, luminosity, and colour unheard of.

Now Lakla cupped her mouth with pink palms and sent a clarion note
ringing out. The ledge on which we stood continued a few hundred feet
before us, falling abruptly, though from no great height to the
Crimson Sea; at right and left it extended in a long semicircle.
Turning to the right whence she had sent her call, I saw rising a mile
or more away, veiled lightly by the haze, a rainbow, a gigantic
prismatic arch, flattened, I thought, by some quality of the strange
atmosphere. It sprang from the ruddy strand, leaped the crimson tide,
and dropped three miles away upon a precipitous, jagged upthrust of
rock frowning black from the lacquered depths.

And surmounting a higher ledge beyond this upthrust a huge dome of
dull gold, Cyclopean, striking eyes and mind with something unhumanly
alien, baffling; sending the mind groping, as though across the
deserts of space, from some far-flung star, should fall upon us linked
sounds, coherent certainly, meaningful surely, vaguely familiar--yet
never to be translated into any symbol or thought of our own
particular planet.

The sea of crimson lacquer, with its floating moons of luminous
colour--this bow of prismed stone leaping to the weird isle crowned by
the anomalous, aureate excrescence--the half human batrachians-the
elfland through which we had passed, with all its hidden wonders and
terrors--I felt the foundations of my cherished knowledge shaking.
Was this all a dream? Was this body of mine lying somewhere, fighting
a fevered death, and all these but images floating through the
breaking chambers of my brain? My knees shook; involuntarily I
groaned.

Lakla turned, looked at me anxiously, slipped a soft arm behind me,
held me till the vertigo passed.

"Patience," she said.  "The bearers come.  Soon you shall rest."

I looked; down toward us from the bow's end were leaping swiftly
another score of the frog-men. Some bore litters, high, handled, not
unlike palanquins--

"Asgard!" Olaf stood beside me, eyes burning, pointing to the arch.
"Bifrost Bridge, sharp as sword edge, over which souls go to Valhalla.
And _she_--she is a Valkyr--a sword maiden, _Ja!_"

I gripped the Norseman's hand.  It was hot, and a pang of remorse shot
through me. If this place had so shaken me, how must it have shaken
Olaf? It was with relief that I watched him, at Lakla's gentle
command, drop into one of the litters and lie back, eyes closed, as
two of the monsters raised its yoke to their scaled shoulders. Nor was
it without further relief that I myself lay back on the soft velvety
cushions of another.

The cavalcade began to move.  Lakla had ordered O'Keefe placed beside
her, and she sat, knees crossed Orient fashion, leaning over the pale
head on her lap, the white, tapering fingers straying fondly through
his hair.

Presently I saw her reach up, slowly unwind the coronal of her
tresses, shake them loose, and let them fall like a veil over her and
him.

Her head bent low; I heard a soft sobbing--I turned away my gaze, lorn
enough in my own heart, God knew!



CHAPTER XXV

The Three Silent Ones

The arch was closer--and in my awe I forgot for the moment Larry and
aught else. For this was no rainbow, no thing born of light and mist,
no Bifrost Bridge of myth--no! It was a flying arch of stone, stained
with flares of Tyrian purples, of royal scarlets, of blues dark as the
Gulf Stream's ribbon, sapphires soft as midday May skies, splashes of
chromes and greens--a palette of giantry, a bridge of wizardry; a
hundred, nay, a thousand, times greater than that of Utah which the
Navaho call Nonnegozche and worship, as well they may, as a god, and
which is itself a rainbow in eternal rock.

It sprang from the ledge and winged its prodigious length in one low
arc over the sea's crimson breast, as though in some ancient paroxysm
of earth it had been hurled molten, crystallizing into that stupendous
span and still flaming with the fires that had moulded it.

Closer we came and closer, while I watched spellbound; now we were at
its head, and the litter-bearers swept upon it. All of five hundred
feet wide it was, surface smooth as a city road, sides low walled,
curving inward as though in the jetting-out of its making the edges of
the plastic rock had curled.

On and on we sped; the high thrusting precipices upon which the
bridge's far end rested, frowned close; the enigmatic, dully shining
dome loomed ever greater. Now we had reached that end; were passing
over a smooth plaza whose level floor was enclosed, save for a rift in
front of us, by the fanged tops of the black cliffs.

From this rift stretched another span, half a mile long, perhaps,
widening at its centre into a broad platform, continuing straight to
two massive gates set within the face of the second cliff wall like
panels, and of the same dull gold as the dome rising high beyond. And
this smaller arch leaped a pit, an abyss, of which the outer
precipices were the rim holding back from the pit the red flood.

We were rapidly approaching; now upon the platform; my bearers were
striding closely along the side; I leaned far out--a giddiness seized
me! I gazed down into depth upon vertiginous depth; an abyss
indeed--an abyss dropping to world's base like that in which the
Babylonians believed writhed Talaat, the serpent mother of Chaos; a
pit that struck down into earth's heart itself.

Now, what was that--distance upon unfathomable distance below?  A
stupendous glowing like the green fire of life itself. What was it
like? I had it! It was like the corona of the sun in eclipse--that
burgeoning that makes of our luminary when moon veils it an incredible
blossoming of splendours in the black heavens.

And strangely, strangely, it was like the Dweller's beauty when with
its dazzling spirallings and writhings it raced amid its storm of
crystal bell sounds!

The abyss was behind us; we had paused at the golden portals; they
swung inward. A wide corridor filled with soft light was before us,
and on its threshold stood--bizarre, yellow gems gleaming, huge muzzle
wide in what was evidently meant for a smile of welcome--the woman
frog of the Moon Pool wall.

Lakla raised her head; swept back the silken tent of her hair and
gazed at me with eyes misty from weeping. The frog-woman crept to her
side; gazed down upon Larry; spoke--_spoke_--to the Golden Girl in a
swift stream of the sonorous, reverberant monosyllables; and Lakla
answered her in kind. The webbed digits swept over O'Keefe's face,
felt at his heart; she shook her head and moved ahead of us up the
passage.

Still borne in the litters we went on, winding, ascending until at
last they were set down in a great hall carpeted with soft fragrant
rushes and into which from high narrow slits streamed the crimson
light from without.

I jumped over to Larry, there had been no change in his condition;
still the terrifying limpness, the slow, infrequent pulsation. Rador
and Olaf--and the fever now seemed to be gone from him--came and stood
beside me, silent.

"I go to the Three," said Lakla.  "Wait you here."  She passed through
a curtaining; then as swiftly as she had gone she returned through the
hangings, tresses braided, a swathing of golden gauze about her.

"Rador," she said, "bear you Larry--for into your heart the Silent
Ones would look. And fear nothing," she added at the green dwarf's
disconcerted, almost fearful start.

Rador bowed, was thrust aside by Olaf.

"No," said the Norseman; "I will carry him."

He lifted Larry like a child against his broad breast.  The dwarf
glanced quickly at Lakla; she nodded.

"Come!" she commanded, and held aside the folds.

Of that journey I have few memories.  I only know that we went through
corridor upon corridor; successions of vast halls and chambers, some
carpeted with the rushes, others with rugs into which the feet sank as
into deep, soft meadows; spaces illumined by the rubrous light, and
spaces in which softer lights held sway.

We paused before a slab of the same crimson stone as that the green
dwarf had called the portal, and upon its polished surface weaved the
same unnameable symbols. The Golden Girl pressed upon its side; it
slipped softly back; a torrent of opalescence gushed out of the
opening--and as one in a dream I entered.

We were, I knew, just under the dome; but for the moment, caught in
the flood of radiance, I could see nothing. It was like being held
within a fire opal--so brilliant, so flashing, was it. I closed my
eyes, opened them; the lambency cascaded from the vast curves of the
globular walls; in front of me was a long, narrow opening in them,
through which, far away, I could see the end of the wizards' bridge
and the ledged mouth of the cavern through which we had come; against
the light from within beat the crimson light from without--and was
checked as though by a barrier.

I felt Lakla's touch; turned.

A hundred paces away was a dais, its rim raised a yard above the
floor. From the edge of this rim streamed upward a steady, coruscating
mist of the opalescence, veined even as was that of the Dweller's
shining core and shot with milky shadows like curdled moonlight; up it
stretched like a wall.

Over it, from it, down upon me, gazed three faces--two clearly male,
one a woman's. At the first I thought them statues, and then the eyes
of them gave the lie to me; for the eyes were alive, terribly, and if
I could admit the word--_supernaturally_--alive.

They were thrice the size of the human eye and triangular, the apex of
the angle upward; black as jet, pupilless, filled with tiny, leaping
red flames.

Over them were foreheads, not as ours--high and broad and visored;
their sides drawn forward into a vertical ridge, a prominence, an
upright wedge, somewhat like the visored heads of a few of the great
lizards--and the heads, long, narrowing at the back, were fully twice
the size of mankind's!

Upon the brows were caps--and with a fearful certainty I knew that
they were _not_ caps--long, thick strands of gleaming yellow, feathered
scales thin as sequins! Sharp, curving noses like the beaks of the
giant condors; mouths thin, austere; long, powerful, pointed chins;
the--_flesh_--of the faces white as the whitest marble; and wreathing
up to them, covering all their bodies, the shimmering, curdled, misty
fires of opalescence!

Olaf stood rigid; my own heart leaped wildly.  What--what were these
beings?

I forced myself to look again--and from their gaze streamed a current
of reassurance, of good will--nay, of intense spiritual strength. I
saw that they were not fierce, not ruthless, not inhuman, despite
their strangeness; no, they were kindly; in some unmistakable way,
benign and sorrowful--so sorrowful! I straightened, gazed back at them
fearlessly. Olaf drew a deep breath, gazed steadily too, the hardness,
the despair wiped from his face.

Now Lakla drew closer to the dais; the three pairs of eyes searched
hers, the woman's with an ineffable tenderness; some message seemed to
pass between the Three and the Golden Girl. She bowed low, turned to
the Norseman.

"Place Larry there," she said softly--"there at the feet of the Silent
Ones."

She pointed into the radiant mist; Olaf started, hesitated, stared
from Lakla to the Three, searched for a moment their eyes--and
something like a smile drifted through them. He stepped forward,
lifted O'Keefe, set him squarely within the covering light. It
wavered, rolled upward, swirled about the body, steadied again--and
within it there was no sign of Larry!

Again the mist wavered, shook, and seemed to climb higher, hiding the
chins, the beaked noses, the brows of that incredible Trinity--but
before it ceased to climb, I thought the yellow feathered heads bent;
sensed a movement as though they lifted something.

The mist fell; the eyes gleamed out again, inscrutable.

And groping out of the radiance, pausing at the verge of the dais,
leaping down from it, came Larry, laughing, filled with life, blinking
as one who draws from darkness into sunshine. He saw Lakla, sprang to
her, gripped her in his arms.

"Lakla!" he cried. "Mavourneen!"  She slipped from his embrace,
blushing, glancing at the Three shyly, half-fearfully. And again I saw
the tenderness creep into the inky, flame-shot orbs of the woman
being; and a tenderness in the others too--as though they regarded
some well-beloved child.

"You lay in the arms of Death, Larry," she said.  "And the Silent Ones
drew you from him. Do homage to the Silent Ones, Larry, for they are
good and they are mighty!"

She turned his head with one of the long, white hands--and he looked
into the faces of the Three; looked long, was shaken even as had been
Olaf and myself; was swept by that same wave of power and of--of--what
can I call it?--_holiness_ that streamed from them.

Then for the first time I saw real awe mount into his face. Another
moment he stared--and dropped upon one knee and bowed his head before
them as would a worshipper before the shrine of his saint. And--I am
not ashamed to tell it--I joined him; and with us knelt Lakla and
Olaf and Rador.

The mist of fiery opal swirled up about the Three; hid them.

And with a long, deep, joyous sigh Lakla took Larry's hand, drew him
to his feet, and silently we followed them out of that hall of wonder.

But why, in going, did the thought come to me that from where the
Three sat throned they ever watched the cavern mouth that was the door
into their abode; and looked down ever into the unfathomable depth in
which glowed and pulsed that mystic flower, colossal, awesome, of
green flame that had seemed to me fire of life itself?



CHAPTER XXVI

The Wooing of Lakla

I had slept soundly and dreamlessly; I wakened quietly in the great
chamber into which Rador had ushered O'Keefe and myself after that
culminating experience of crowded, nerve-racking hours--the facing of
the Three.

Now, lying gazing upward at the high-vaulted ceiling, I heard Larry's
voice:

"They look like birds." Evidently he was thinking of the Three; a
silence--then: "Yes, they look like _birds_--and they look, and it's
meaning no disrespect to them I am at all, they look like
_lizards_"--and another silence--"they look like some sort of gods, and,
by the good sword-arm of Brian Boru, they look human, too! And it's
_none_ of them they are either, so what--what the--what the sainted St.
Bridget are they?" Another short silence, and then in a tone of awed
and absolute conviction: "That's it, sure! That's what they are--it
all hangs in--they couldn't be anything else--"

He gave a whoop; a pillow shot over and caught me across the head.

"Wake up!" shouted Larry.  "Wake up, ye seething caldron of fossilized
superstitions! Wake up, ye bogy-haunted man of scientific unwisdom!"

Under pillow and insults I bounced to my feet, filled for a moment
with quite real wrath; he lay back, roaring with laughter, and my
anger was swept away.

"Doc," he said, very seriously, after this, "I know who the Three
are!"

"Yes?" I queried, with studied sarcasm.

"Yes?" he mimicked.  "Yes!  Ye--ye" He paused under the menace of my
look, grinned. "Yes, I know," he continued. "They're of the Tuatha De,
the old ones, the great people of Ireland, _that's_ who they are!"

I knew, of course, of the Tuatha De Danann, the tribes of the god
Danu, the half-legendary, half-historical clan who found their home in
Erin some four thousand years before the Christian era, and who have
left so deep an impress upon the Celtic mind and its myths.

"Yes," said Larry again, "the Tuatha De--the Ancient Ones who had
spells that could compel Mananan, who is the spirit of all the seas,
an' Keithor, who is the god of all green living things, an' even
Hesus, the unseen god, whose pulse is the pulse of all the firmament;
yes, an' Orchil too, who sits within the earth an' weaves with the
shuttle of mystery and her three looms of birth an' life an'
death--even Orchil would weave as they commanded!"

He was silent--then:

"They are of them--the mighty ones--why else would I have bent my knee
to them as I would have to the spirit of my dead mother? Why else
would Lakla, whose gold-brown hair is the hair of Eilidh the Fair,
whose mouth is the sweet mouth of Deirdre, an' whose soul walked with
mine ages agone among the fragrant green myrtle of Erin, serve them?"
he whispered, eyes full of dream.

"Have you any idea how they got here?" I asked, not unreasonably.

"I haven't thought about that," he replied somewhat testily.  "But at
once, me excellent man o' wisdom, a number occur to me. One of them is
that this little party of three might have stopped here on their way
to Ireland, an' for good reasons of their own decided to stay a while;
an' another is that they might have come here afterward, havin' got
wind of what those rats out there were contemplatin', and have stayed
on the job till the time was ripe to save Ireland from 'em; the rest
of the world, too, of course," he added magnanimously, "but Ireland in
particular. And do any of those reasons appeal to ye?"

I shook my head.

"Well, what do you think?" he asked wearily.

"I think," I said cautiously, "that we face an evolution of highly
intelligent beings from ancestral sources radically removed from those
through which mankind ascended. These half-human, highly developed
batrachians they call the _Akka_ prove that evolution in these
caverned spaces has certainly pursued one different path than on
earth. The Englishman, Wells, wrote an imaginative and very
entertaining book concerning an invasion of earth by Martians, and he
made his Martians enormously specialized cuttlefish. There was nothing
inherently improbable in Wells' choice. Man is the ruling animal of
earth today solely by reason of a series of accidents; under another
series spiders or ants, or even elephants, could have become the
dominant race.

"I think," I said, even more cautiously, "that the race to which the
Three belong never appeared on earth's surface; that their development
took place here, unhindered through aeons. And if this be true, the
structure of their brains, and therefore all their reactions, must be
different from ours. Hence their knowledge and command of energies
unfamiliar to us--and hence also the question whether they may not
have an entirely different sense of values, of justice--and that is
rather terrifying," I concluded.

Larry shook his head.

"That last sort of knocks your argument, Doc," he said. "They had
sense of justice enough to help _me_ out--and certainly they know
love--for I saw the way they looked at Lakla; and sorrow--for there
was no mistaking that in their faces.

"No," he went on.  "I hold to my own idea.  They're of the Old People.
The little leprechaun knew his way here, an' I'll bet it was they who
sent the word. An' if the O'Keefe banshee comes here--which save the
mark!--I'll bet she'll drop in on the Silent Ones for a social visit
before she an' her clan get busy. Well, it'll make her feel more at
home, the good old body. No, Doc, no," he concluded, "I'm right; it
all fits in too well to be wrong."

I made a last despairing attempt.

"Is there anything anywhere in Ireland that would indicate that the
Tuatha De ever looked like the Three?" I asked--and again I had
spoken most unfortunately.

"Is there?" he shouted.  "Is there?  By the kilt of Cormack
MacCormack, I'm glad ye reminded me. It was worryin' me a little
meself. There was Daghda, who could put on the head of a great boar
an' the body of a giant fish and cleave the waves an' tear to pieces
the birlins of any who came against Erin; an' there was Rinn--"

How many more of the metamorphoses of the Old People I might have
heard, I do not know, for the curtains parted and in walked Rador.

"You have rested well," he smiled, "I can see.  The handmaiden bade me
call you. You are to eat with her in her garden."

Down long corridors we trod and out upon a gardened terrace as
beautiful as any of those of Yolara's city; bowered, blossoming,
fragrant, set high upon the cliffs beside the domed castle. A table,
as of milky jade, was spread at one corner, but the Golden Girl was
not there. A little path ran on and up, hemmed in by the mass of
verdure. I looked at it longingly; Rador saw the glance, interpreted
it, and led me up the stepped sharp slope into a rock embrasure.

Here I was above the foliage, and everywhere the view was clear.
Below me stretched the incredible bridge, with the frog people
hurrying back and forth upon it. A pinnacle at my side hid the abyss.
My eyes followed the cavern ledge. Above it the rock rose bare, but at
the ends of the semicircular strand a luxuriant vegetation began,
stretching from the crimson shores back into far distances. Of browns
and reds and yellows, like an autumn forest, was the foliage, with
here and there patches of dark-green, as of conifers. Five miles or
more, on each side, the forests swept, and then were lost to sight in
the haze.

I turned and faced an immensity of crimson waters, unbroken, a true
sea, if ever there was one. A breeze blew--the first real wind I had
encountered in the hidden places; under it the surface, that had been
as molten lacquer, rippled and dimpled. Little waves broke with a
spray of rose-pearls and rubies. The giant Medusae drifted--stately,
luminous kaleidoscopic elfin moons.

Far down, peeping around a jutting tower of the cliff, I saw dipping
with the motion of the waves a floating garden. The flowers, too, were
luminous--indeed sparkling--gleaming brilliants of scarlet and
vermilions lighter than the flood on which they lay, mauves and odd
shades of reddish-blue. They gleamed and shone like a little lake of
jewels.

Rador broke in upon my musings.

"Lakla comes!  Let us go down."

It was a shy Lakla who came slowly around the end of the path and,
blushing furiously, held her hands out to Larry. And the Irishman took
them, placed them over his heart, kissed them with a tenderness that
had been lacking in the half-mocking, half-fierce caresses he had
given the priestess. She blushed deeper, holding out the tapering
fingers--then pressed them to her own heart.

"I like the touch of your lips, Larry," she whispered. "They warm me
here"--she pressed her heart again--"and they send little sparkles of
light through me." Her brows tilted perplexedly, accenting the nuance
of diablerie, delicate and fascinating, that they cast upon the flower
face.

"Do you?" whispered the O'Keefe fervently.  "Do you, Lakla?" He bent
toward her. She caught the amused glance of Rador; drew herself aside
half-haughtily.

"Rador," she said, "is it not time that you and the strong one, Olaf,
were setting forth?"

"Truly it is, handmaiden," he answered respectfully enough--yet with a
current of laughter under his words. "But as you know the strong one,
Olaf, wished to see his friends here before we were gone--and he comes
even now," he added, glancing down the pathway, along which came
striding the Norseman.

As he faced us I saw that a transformation had been wrought in him.
Gone was the pitiful seeking, and gone too the just as pitiful hope.
The set face softened as he looked at the Golden Girl and bowed low to
her. He thrust a hand to O'Keefe and to me.

"There is to be battle," he said.  "I go with Rador to call the armies
of these frog people. As for me--Lakla has spoken. There is no hope
for--for mine Helma in life, but there is hope that we destroy the
Shining Devil and give _mine_ Helma peace. And with that I am well
content, _ja!_ Well content!" He gripped our hands again. "We will
fight!" he muttered. "_Ja!_ And I will have vengeance!" The sternness
returned; and with a salute Rador and he were gone.

Two great tears rolled from the golden eyes of Lakla.

"Not even the Silent Ones can heal those the Shining One has taken,"
she said. "He asked me--and it was better that I tell him. It is part
of the Three's--_punishment_--but of that you will soon learn," she went
on hurriedly. "Ask me no questions now of the Silent Ones. I thought
it better for Olaf to go with Rador, to busy himself, to give his mind
other than sorrow upon which to feed."

Up the path came five of the frog-women, bearing platters and ewers.
Their bracelets and anklets of jewels were tinkling; their middles
covered with short kirtles of woven cloth studded with the sparkling
ornaments.

And here let me say that if I have given the impression that the
_Akka_ are simply magnified frogs, I regret it. Frog-like they are,
and hence my phrase for them--but as unlike the frog, as we know it,
as man is unlike the chimpanzee. Springing, I hazard, from the
stegocephalia, the ancestor of the frogs, these batrachians followed a
different line of evolution and acquired the upright position just as
man did his from the four-footed folk.

The great staring eyes, the shape of the muzzle were frog-like, but
the highly developed brain had set upon the head and shape of it vital
differences. The forehead, for instance, was not low, flat, and
retreating--its frontal arch was well defined. The head was, in a
sense, shapely, and with the females the great horny carapace that
stood over it like a fantastic helmet was much modified, as were the
spurs that were so formidable in the male; colouration was different
also. The torso was upright; the legs a little bent, giving them their
crouching gait--but I wander from my subject.[1]

They set their burdens down.  Larry looked at them with interest.

"You surely have those things well trained, Lakla," he said.

"Things!"  The handmaiden arose, eyes flashing with indignation.  "You
call my _Akka_ things!"

"Well," said Larry, a bit taken aback, "what do you call them?"

"My _Akka_ are a _people_," she retorted.  "As much a people as your race
or mine. They are good and loyal, and they have speech and arts, and
they slay not, save for food or to protect themselves. And I think
them beautiful, Larry, _beautiful_!" She stamped her foot. "And you call
them--_things_!"

Beautiful!  These?  Yet, after all, they were, in their grotesque
fashion. And to Lakla, surrounded by them, from babyhood, they were
not strange, at all. Why shouldn't she think them beautiful? The same
thought must have struck O'Keefe, for he flushed guiltily.

"I think them beautiful, too, Lakla," he said remorsefully. "It's my
not knowing your tongue too well that traps me. _Truly_, I think them
beautiful--I'd tell them so, if I knew their talk."

Lakla dimpled, laughed--spoke to the attendants in that strange speech
that was unquestionably a language; they bridled, looked at O'Keefe
with fantastic coquetry, cracked and boomed softly among themselves.

"They say they like _you_ better than the men of Muria," laughed Lakla.

"Did I ever think I'd be swapping compliments with lady frogs!" he
murmured to me. "Buck up, Larry--keep your eyes on the captive Irish
princess!" he muttered to himself.

"Rador goes to meet one of the _ladala_ who is slipping through with
news," said the Golden Girl as we addressed ourselves to the food.
"Then, with Nak, he and Olaf go to muster the _Akka_--for there will
be battle, and we must prepare. Nak," she added, "is he who went
before me when you were dancing with Yolara, Larry." She stole a
swift, mischievous glance at him. "He is headman of all the _Akka_."

"Just what forces can we muster against them when they come, darlin'?"
said Larry.

"Darlin'?"--the Golden Girl had caught the caress of the word--"what's
that?"

"It's a little word that means Lakla," he answered.  "It does--that
is, when I say it; when you say it, then it means Larry."

"I like that word," mused Lakla.

"You can even say Larry darlin'!" suggested O'Keefe.

"Larry darlin'!" said Lakla.  "When they come we shall have first of
all my _Akka_--"

"Can they fight, _mavourneen_?" interrupted Larry.

"Can they fight!  My _Akka_!" Again her eyes flashed.  "They will
fight to the last of them--with the spears that give the swift
rotting, covered, as they are, with the jelly of those _Saddu_
there--" She pointed through a rift in the foliage across which, on
the surface of the sea, was floating one of the moon globes--and now I
know why Rador had warned Larry against a plunge there. "With spears
and clubs and with teeth and nails and spurs--they are a strong and
brave people, Larry--darlin', and though they hurl the _Keth_ at them,
it is slow to work upon them, and they slay even while they are
passing into the nothingness!"

"And have we none of the _Keth_?" he asked.

"No"--she shook her head--"none of their weapons have we here,
although it was--it was the Ancient Ones who shaped them."

"But the Three are of the Ancient Ones?" I cried.  "Surely they can
tell--"

"No," she said slowly.  "No--there is something you must know--and
soon; and then the Silent Ones say you will understand. You,
especially, Goodwin, who worship wisdom."

"Then," said Larry, "we have the _Akka_; and we have the four men of
us, and among us three guns and about a hundred cartridges--an'--an'
the power of the Three--but what about the Shining One, Fireworks--"

"I do not know." Again the indecision that had been in her eyes when
Yolara had launched her defiance crept back. "The Shining One is
strong--and he has his--slaves!"

"Well, we'd better get busy good and quick!" the O'Keefe's voice rang.
But Lakla, for some reason of her own, would pursue the matter no
further. The trouble fled from her eyes--they danced.

"Larry darlin'?" she murmured.  "I like the touch of your lips--"

"You do?" he whispered, all thought flying of anything but the
beautiful, provocative face so close to his. "Then, _acushla_, you're
goin' to get acquainted with 'em! Turn your head, Doc!" he said.

And I turned it.  There was quite a long silence, broken by an
interested, soft outburst of gentle boomings from the serving
frog-maids. I stole a glance behind me. Lakla's head lay on the
Irishman's shoulder, the golden eyes misty sunpools of love and
adoration; and the O'Keefe, a new look of power and strength upon his
clear-cut features, was gazing down into them with that look which
rises only from the heart touched for the first time with that true,
all-powerful love, which is the pulse of the universe itself, the real
music of the spheres of which Plato dreamed, the love that is stronger
than death itself, immortal as the high gods and the true soul of all
that mystery we call life.

Then Lakla raised her hands, pressed down Larry's head, kissed him
between the eyes, drew herself with a trembling little laugh from his
embrace.

"The future Mrs. Larry O'Keefe, Goodwin," said Larry to me a little
unsteadily.

I took their hands--and Lakla kissed me!

She turned to the booming--smiling--frog-maids; gave them some
command, for they filed away down the path. Suddenly I felt, well, a
little superfluous.

"If you don't mind," I said, "I think I'll go up the path there again
and look about."

But they were so engrossed with each other that they did not even hear
me--so I walked away, up to the embrasure where Rador had taken me.
The movement of the batrachians over the bridge had ceased. Dimly at
the far end I could see the cluster of the garrison. My thoughts flew
back to Lakla and to Larry.

What was to be the end?

If we won, if we were able to pass from this place, could she live in
our world? A product of these caverns with their atmosphere and light
that seemed in some subtle way to be both food and drink--how would
she react to the unfamiliar foods and air and light of outer earth?
Further, here so far as I was able to discover, there were no
malignant bacilli--what immunity could Lakla have then to those
microscopic evils without, which only long ages of sickness and death
have bought for us a modicum of protection? I began to be oppressed.
Surely they had been long enough by themselves. I went down the path.

I heard Larry.

"It's a green land, _mavourneen_.  And the sea rocks and dimples
around it--blue as the heavens, green as the isle itself, and foam
horses toss their white manes, and the great clean winds blow over it,
and the sun shines down on it like your eyes, _acushla_--"

"And are you a king of Ireland, Larry darlin'?" Thus Lakla--

But enough!

At last we turned to go--and around the corner of the path I caught
another glimpse of what I have called the lake of jewels. I pointed to
it.

"Those are lovely flowers, Lakla," I said.  "I have never seen
anything like them in the place from whence we come."

She followed my pointing finger--laughed.

"Come," she said, "let me show you them."

She ran down an intersecting way, we following; came out of it upon a
little ledge close to the brink, three feet or more I suppose about
it. The Golden Girl's voice rang out in a high-pitched, tremulous,
throbbing call.

The lake of jewels stirred as though a breeze had passed over it;
stirred, shook, and then began to move swiftly, a shimmering torrent
of shining flowers down upon us! She called again, the movement became
more rapid; the gem blooms streamed closer--closer, wavering,
shifting, winding--at our very feet. Above them hovered a little
radiant mist. The Golden Girl leaned over; called softly, and up from
the sparkling mass shot a green vine whose heads were five flowers of
flaming ruby--shot up, flew into her hand and coiled about the white
arm, its quintette of lambent blossoms--regarding us!

It was the thing Lakla had called the _Yekta_; that with which she had
threatened the priestess; the thing that carried the dreadful
death--and the Golden Girl was handling it like a rose!

Larry swore--I looked at the thing more closely.  It was a hydroid, a
development of that strange animal-vegetable that, sometimes almost
microscopic, waves in the sea depths like a cluster of flowers
paralyzing its prey with the mysterious force that dwells in its
blossom heads![2]

"Put it down, Lakla," the distress in O'Keefe's voice was deep.  Lakla
laughed mischievously, caught the real fear for her in his eyes;
opened her hand, gave another faint call--and back it flew to its
fellows.

"Why, it wouldn't hurt me, Larry!" she expostulated. "They know me!"

"Put it down!" he repeated hoarsely.

She sighed, gave another sweet, prolonged call.  The lake of
gems--rubies and amethysts, mauves and scarlet-tinged blues--wavered
and shook even as it had before--and swept swiftly back to that place
whence she had drawn them!

Then, with Larry and Lakla walking ahead, white arm about his brown
neck; the O'Keefe still expostulating, the handmaiden laughing
merrily, we passed through her bower to the domed castle.

Glancing through a cleft I caught sight again of the far end of the
bridge; noted among the clustered figures of its garrison of the
frog-men a movement, a flashing of green fire like marshlights on
spear tips; wondered idly what it was, and then, other thoughts
crowding in, followed along, head bent, behind the pair who had found
in what was Olaf's hell, their true paradise.


[1] The _Akka_ are viviparous.  The female produces progeny at
five-year intervals, never more than two at a time. They are
monogamous, like certain of our own _Ranidae_. Pending my monograph
upon what little I had time to learn of their interesting habits and
customs, the curious will find instruction and entertainment in
Brandes and Schvenichen's _Brutpfleige der Schwanzlosen Bat rachier_,
p. 395; and Lilian V. Sampson's _Unusual Modes of Breeding among
Anura_, Amer. Nat. xxxiv., 1900.--W. T. G.

[2] The _Yekta_ of the Crimson Sea, are as extraordinary developments
of hydroid forms as the giant _Medusae_, of which, of course, they are
not too remote cousins. The closest resemblances to them in outer
water forms are among the _Gymnoblastic Hydroids_, notably _Clavetella
prolifera_, a most interesting ambulatory form of six tentacles.
Almost every bather in Southern waters, Northern too, knows the pain
that contact with certain "jelly fish" produces. The _Yekta's_
development was prodigious and, to us, monstrous. It secretes in its
five heads an almost incredibly swiftly acting poison which I suspect,
for I had no chance to verify the theory, destroys the entire nervous
system to the accompaniment of truly infernal agony; carrying at the
same time the illusion that the torment stretches through infinities
of time. Both ether and nitrous oxide gas produce in the majority this
sensation of time extension, without of course the pain symptom. What
Lakla called the _Yekta_ kiss is I imagine about as close to the
orthodox idea of Hell as can be conceived. The secret of her control
over them I had no opportunity of learning in the rush of events that
followed. Knowledge of the appalling effects of their touch came, she
told me, from those few "who had been kissed so lightly" that they
recovered. Certainly nothing, not even the Shining One, was dreaded by
the Murians as these were--W. T. G.



CHAPTER XXVII

The Coming of Yolara

"Never was there such a girl!" Thus Larry, dreamily, leaning head in
hand on one of the wide divans of the chamber where Lakla had left us,
pleading service to the Silent Ones.

"An', by the faith and the honour of the O'Keefes, an' by my dead
mother's soul may God do with me as I do by her!" he whispered
fervently.

He relapsed into open-eyed dreaming.

I walked about the room, examining it--the first opportunity I had
gained to inspect carefully any of the rooms in the abode of the
Three. It was octagonal, carpeted with the thick rugs that seemed
almost as though woven of soft mineral wool, faintly shimmering,
palest blue. I paced its diagonal; it was fifty yards; the ceiling was
arched, and either of pale rose metal or metallic covering; it
collected the light from the high, slitted windows, and shed it,
diffused, through the room.

Around the octagon ran a low gallery not two feet from the floor,
balustraded with slender pillars, close set; broken at opposite
curtained entrances over which hung thick, dull-gold curtainings
giving the same suggestion of metallic or mineral substance as the
rugs. Set within each of the eight sides, above the balcony, were
colossal slabs of lapis lazuli, inset with graceful but unplaceable
designs in scarlet and sapphire blue.

There was the great divan on which mused Larry; two smaller ones, half
a dozen low seats and chairs carved apparently of ivory and of dull
soft gold.

Most curious were tripods, strong, pikelike legs of golden metal four
feet high, holding small circles of the lapis with intaglios of one
curious symbol somewhat resembling the ideographs of the Chinese.

There was no dust--nowhere in these caverned spaces had I found this
constant companion of ours in the world overhead. My eyes caught a
sparkle from a corner. Pursuing it I found upon one of the low seats a
flat, clear crystal oval, remarkably like a lens. I took it and
stepped up on the balcony. Standing on tiptoe I found I commanded from
the bottom of a window slit a view of the bridge approach. Scanning it
I could see no trace of the garrison there, nor of the green spear
flashes. I placed the crystal to my eyes--and with a disconcerting
abruptness the cavern mouth leaped before me, apparently not a hundred
feet away; decidedly the crystal was a very excellent lens--but where
were the guards?

I peered closely.  Nothing!  But now against the aperture I saw a
score or more of tiny, dancing sparks. An optical illusion, I thought,
and turned the crystal in another direction. There were no sparklings
there. I turned it back again--and there they were. And what were
they like? Realization came to me--they were like the little, dancing,
radiant atoms that had played for a time about the emptiness where had
stood Sorgar of the Lower Waters before he had been shaken into the
nothingness! And that green light I had noticed--the _Keth_!

A cry on my lips, I turned to Larry--and the cry died as the heavy
curtainings at the entrance on my right undulated, parted as though a
body had slipped through, shook and parted again and again--with the
dreadful passing of unseen things!

"Larry!" I cried.  "Here!  Quick!"

He leaped to his feet, gazed about wildly--and disappeared!
Yes--vanished from my sight like the snuffed flame of a candle or as
though something moving with the speed of light itself had snatched
him away!

Then from the divan came the sounds of struggle, the hissing of
straining breaths, the noise of Larry cursing. I leaped over the
balustrade, drawing my own pistol--was caught in a pair of mighty
arms, my elbows crushed to my sides, drawn down until my face pressed
close to a broad, hairy breast--and through that obstacle--formless,
shadowless, transparent as air itself--I could still see the battle on
the divan!

Now there were two sharp reports; the struggle abruptly ceased.  From
a point not a foot over the great couch, as though oozing from the air
itself, blood began to drop, faster and ever faster, pouring out of
nothingness.

And out of that same air, now a dozen feet away, leaped the face of
Larry--bodyless, poised six feet above the floor, blazing with
rage--floating weirdly, uncannily to a hideous degree, in vacancy.

His hands flashed out--armless; they wavered, appearing,
disappearing--swiftly tearing something from him. Then there, feet
hidden, stiff on legs that vanished at the ankles, striking out into
vision with all the dizzy abruptness with which he had been stricken
from sight was the O'Keefe, a smoking pistol in hand.

And ever that red stream trickled out of vacancy and spread over the
couch, dripping to the floor.

I made a mighty movement to escape; was held more firmly--and then
close to the face of Larry, flashing out with that terrifying
instantaneousness even as had his, was the head of Yolara, as
devilishly mocking as I had ever seen it, the cruelty shining through
it like delicate white flames from hell--and beautiful!

"Stir not!  Strike not--until I command!" She flung the words beyond
her, addressed to the invisible ones who had accompanied her; whose
presences I sensed filling the chamber. The floating, beautiful head,
crowned high with corn-silk hair, darted toward the Irishman. He took
a swift step backward. The eyes of the priestess deepened toward
purple; sparkled with malice.

"So," she said.  "So, _Larree_--you thought you could go from me so
easily!" She laughed softly. "In my hidden hand I hold the _Keth_
cone," she murmured. "Before you can raise the death tube I can smite
you--and will. And consider, _Larree_, if the handmaiden, the _choya_
comes, I can vanish--so"--the mocking head disappeared, burst forth
again--"and slay her with the _Keth_--or bid my people seize her and
bear her to the Shining One!"

Tiny beads of sweat stood out on O'Keefe's forehead, and I knew he was
thinking not of himself, but of Lakla.

"What do you want with me, Yolara?" he asked hoarsely.

"Nay," came the mocking voice.  "Not Yolara to you, _Larree_--call me
by those sweet names you taught me--Honey of the Wild Bee-e-s, Net of
Hearts--" Again her laughter tinkled.

"What do you want with me?" his voice was strained, the lips rigid.

"Ah, you are afraid, _Larree_." There was diabolic jubilation in the
words. "What should I want but that you return with me? Why else did I
creep through the lair of the dragon worm and pass the path of perils
but to ask you that? And the _choya_ guards you not well." Again she
laughed. "We came to the cavern's end and, there were her _Akka_. And
the _Akka_ can see us--as shadows. But it was my desire to surprise
you with my coming, Larree," the voice was silken. "And I feared that
they would hasten to be first to bring you that message to delight in
your joy. And so, _Larree_, I loosed the _Keth_ upon them--and gave
them peace and rest within the nothingness. And the portal below was
open--almost in welcome!"

Once more the malignant, silver pealing of her laughter.

"What do you want with me?" There was wrath in his eyes, and plainly
he strove for control.

"Want!" the silver voice hissed, grew calm.  "Do not Siya and Siyana
grieve that the rite I pledged them is but half done--and do they not
desire it finished? And am I not beautiful? More beautiful than your
_choya_?"

The fiendishness died from the eyes; they grew blue, wondrous; the
veil of invisibility slipped down from the neck, the shoulders, half
revealing the gleaming breasts. And weird, weird beyond all telling
was that exquisite head and bust floating there in air--and beautiful,
sinisterly beautiful beyond all telling, too. So even might Lilith,
the serpent woman, have shown herself tempting Adam!

"And perhaps," she said, "perhaps I want you because I hate you;
perhaps because I love you--or perhaps for Lugur or perhaps for the
Shining One."

"And if I go with you?" He said it quietly.

"Then shall I spare the handmaiden--and--who knows?--take back my
armies that even now gather at the portal and let the Silent Ones rot
in peace in their abode--from which they had no power to keep me," she
added venomously.

"You will swear that, Yolara; swear to go without harming the
handmaiden?" he asked eagerly. The little devils danced in her eyes. I
wrenched my face from the smothering contact.

"Don't trust her, Larry!" I cried--and again the grip choked me.

"Is that devil in front of you or behind you, old man?" he asked
quietly, eyes never leaving the priestess. "If he's in front I'll take
a chance and wing him--and then you scoot and warn Lakla."

But I could not answer; nor, remembering Yolara's threat, would I, had
I been able.

"Decide quickly!" There was cold threat in her voice.

The curtains toward which O'Keefe had slowly, step by step, drawn
close, opened. They framed the handmaiden! The face of Yolara changed
to that gorgon mask that had transformed it once before at sight of
the Golden Girl. In her blind rage she forgot to cast the occulting
veil. Her hand darted like a snake out of the folds; poising itself
with the little silver cone aimed at Lakla.

But before it was wholly poised, before the priestess could loose its
force, the handmaiden was upon her. Swift as the lithe white wolf
hound she leaped, and one slender hand gripped Yolara's throat, the
other the wrist that lifted the quivering death; white limbs wrapped
about the hidden ones, I saw the golden head bend, the hand that held
the _Keth_ swept up with a vicious jerk; saw Lakla's teeth sink into
the wrist--the blood spurt forth and heard the priestess shriek. The
cone fell, bounded toward me; with all my strength I wrenched free the
hand that held my pistol, thrust it against the pressing breast and
fired.

The clasp upon me relaxed; a red rain stained me; at my feet a little
pillar of blood jetted; a hand thrust itself from nothingness,
clawed--and was still.

Now Yolara was down, Lakla meshed in her writhings and fighting like
some wild mother whose babes are serpent menaced. Over the two of
them, astride, stood the O'Keefe, a pike from one of the high tripods
in his hand--thrusting, parrying, beating on every side as with a
broadsword against poniard-clutching hands that thrust themselves out
of vacancy striving to strike him; stepping here and there, always
covering, protecting Lakla with his own body even as a caveman of old
who does battle with his mate for their lives.

The sword-club struck--and on the floor lay the half body of a dwarf,
writhing with vanishments and reappearings of legs and arms. Beside
him was the shattered tripod from which Larry had wrenched his weapon.
I flung myself upon it, dashed it down to break loose one of the
remaining supports, struck in midfall one of the unseen even as his
dagger darted toward me! The seat splintered, leaving in my clutch a
golden bar. I jumped to Larry's side, guarding his back, whirling it
like a staff; felt it crunch once--twice--through unseen bone and
muscle.

At the door was a booming.  Into the chamber rushed a dozen of the
frog-men. While some guarded the entrances, others leaped straight to
us, and forming a circle about us began to strike with talons and
spurs at unseen things that screamed and sought to escape. Now here
and there about the blue rugs great stains of blood appeared; heads of
dwarfs, torn arms and gashed bodies, half occulted, half revealed. And
at last the priestess lay silent, vanquished, white body gleaming with
that uncanny--fragmentariness--from her torn robes. Then O'Keefe
reached down, drew Lakla from her. Shakily, Yolara rose to her feet.
The handmaiden, face still blazing with wrath, stepped before her;
with difficulty she steadied her voice.

"Yolara," she said, "you have defied the Silent Ones, you have
desecrated their abode, you came to slay these men who are the guests
of the Silent Ones and me, who am their handmaiden--why did you do
these things?"

"I came for him!" gasped the priestess; she pointed to O'Keefe.

"Why?" asked Lakla.

"Because he is pledged to me," replied Yolara, all the devils that
were hers in her face. "Because he wooed me! Because he is mine!"

"That is a lie!" The handmaiden's voice shook with rage. "It is a lie!
But here and now he shall choose, Yolara. And if you he choose, you
and he shall go forth from here unmolested--for Yolara, it is his
happiness that I most desire, and if you are that happiness--you shall
go together. And now, Larry, choose!"

Swiftly she stepped beside the priestess; swiftly wrenched the last
shreds of the hiding robes from her.

There they stood--Yolara with but the filmiest net of gauze about her
wonderful body; gleaming flesh shining through it; serpent woman---and
wonderful, too, beyond the dreams even of Phidias--and hell-fire
glowing from the purple eyes.

And Lakla, like a girl of the Vikings, like one of those warrior maids
who stood and fought for dun and babes at the side of those old heroes
of Larry's own green isle; translucent ivory lambent through the rents
of her torn draperies, and in the wide, golden eyes flaming wrath,
indeed--not the diabolic flames of the priestess but the righteous
wrath of some soul that looking out of paradise sees vile wrong in the
doing.

"Lakla," the O'Keefe's voice was subdued, hurt, "there _is_ no choice.
I love you and only you--and have from the moment I saw you. It's not
easy--this. God, Goodwin, I feel like an utter cad," he flashed at me.
"There is no choice, Lakla," he ended, eyes steady upon hers.

The priestess's face grew deadlier still.

"What will you do with me?" she asked.

"Keep you," I said, "as hostage."

O'Keefe was silent; the Golden Girl shook her head.

"Well would I like to," her face grew dreaming; "but the Silent Ones
say--_no_; they bid me let you go, Yolara--"

"The Silent Ones," the priestess laughed. "_You_, Lakla! You fear,
perhaps, to let me tarry here too close!"

Storm gathered again in the handmaiden's eyes; she forced it back.

"No," she answered, "the Silent Ones so command--and for their own
purposes. Yet do I think, Yolara, that you will have little time to
feed your wickedness--tell that to Lugur--and to your Shining One!"
she added slowly.

Mockery and disbelief rode high in the priestess's pose. "Am I to
return alone--like this?" she asked.

"Nay, Yolara, nay; you shall be accompanied," said Lakla; "and by
those who will guard--and _watch_--you well. They are here even now."

The hangings parted, and into the chamber came Olaf and Rador.

The priestess met the fierce hatred and contempt in the eyes of the
Norseman--and for the first time lost her bravado.

"Let not _him_ go with me," she gasped--her eyes searched the floor
frantically.

"He goes with you," said Lakla, and threw about Yolara a swathing that
covered the exquisite, alluring body. "And you shall pass through the
Portal, not skulk along the path of the worm!"

She bent to Rador, whispered to him; he nodded; she had told him, I
supposed, the secret of its opening.

"Come," he said, and with the ice-eyed giant behind her, Yolara, head
bent, passed out of those hangings through which, but a little before,
unseen, triumph in her grasp, she had slipped.

Then Lakla came to the unhappy O'Keefe, rested her hands on his
shoulders, looked deep into his eyes.

"_Did_ you woo her, even as she said?" she asked.

The Irishman flushed miserably.

"I did not," he said.  "I was pleasant to her, of course, because I
thought it would bring me quicker to you, darlin'."

She looked at him doubtfully; then--

"I think you must have been _very_--pleasant!" was all she said--and
leaning, kissed him forgivingly straight on the lips. An extremely
direct maiden was Lakla, with a truly sovereign contempt for anything
she might consider non-essentials; and at this moment I decided she
was wiser even than I had thought her.

He stumbled, feet vanishing; reached down and picked up something that
in the grasping turned his hand to air.

"One of the invisible cloaks," he said to me.  "There must be quite a
lot of them about--I guess Yolara brought her full staff of murderers.
They're a bit shopworn, probably--but we're considerably better off
with 'em in our hands than in hers. And they may come in handy--who
knows?"

There was a choking rattle at my feet; half the head of a dwarf raised
out of vacancy; beat twice upon the floor in death throes; fell back.
Lakla shivered; gave a command. The frog-men moved about; peering here
and there; lifting unseen folds revealing in stark rigidity torn form
after form of the priestess's men.

Lakla had been right--her _Akka_ were thorough fighters!

She called, and to her came the frog-woman who was her attendant.  To
her the handmaiden spoke, pointing to the batrachians who stood, paws
and forearms melted beneath the robes they had gathered. She took them
and passed out--more grotesque than ever, shattering into streaks of
vacancies, reappearing with flickers of shining scale and yellow gems
as the tattered pennants of invisibility fluttered about her.

The frog-men reached down, swung each a dead dwarf in his arms, and
filed, booming triumphantly away.

And then I remembered the cone of the _Keth_ which had slipped from
Yolara's hand; knew it had been that for which her wild eyes searched.
But look as closely as we might, search in every nook and corner as we
did, we could not find it. Had the dying hand of one of her men
clutched it and had it been borne away with them? With the thought
Larry and I raced after the scaled warriors, searched every body they
carried. It was not there. Perhaps the priestess had found it,
retrieved it swiftly without our seeing.

Whatever was true--the cone was gone.  And what a weapon that one
little holder of the shaking death would have been for us!



CHAPTER XXVIII

In the Lair of the Dweller

It is with marked hesitation that I begin this chapter, because in it
I must deal with an experience so contrary to every known law of
physics as to seem impossible. Until this time, barring, of course,
the mystery of the Dweller, I had encountered nothing that was not
susceptible of naturalistic explanation; nothing, in a word, outside
the domain of science itself; nothing that I would have felt hesitancy
in reciting to my colleagues of the International Association of
Science. Amazing, unfamiliar--_advanced_--as many of the phenomena were,
still they lay well within the limits of what we have mapped as the
possible; in regions, it is true, still virgin to the mind of man, but
toward which that mind is steadily advancing.

But this--well, I confess that I have a theory that is naturalistic;
but so abstruse, so difficult to make clear within the short confines
of the space I have to give it, so dependent upon conceptions that
even the highest-trained scientific brains find difficult to grasp,
that I despair.

I can only say that the thing occurred; that it took place in
precisely the manner I am about to narrate, and that I experienced it.

Yet, in justice to myself, I must open up some paths of preliminary
approach toward the heart of the perplexity. And the first path is the
realization that our world _whatever_ it is, is certainly _not_ the
world as we see it! Regarding this I shall refer to a discourse upon
"Gravitation and the Principle of Relativity," by the distinguished
English physicist, Dr. A. S. Eddington, which I had the pleasure of
hearing him deliver before the Royal Institution.[1]

I realize, of course, that it is not true logic to argue--"The world
is not as we think it is--therefore everything we think impossible is
possible in it." Even if it _be_ different, it is governed by _law_. The
truly impossible is that which is outside law, and as nothing _can_ be
outside law, the impossible _cannot_ exist.

The crux of the matter then becomes our determination whether what we
think is impossible may or may not be possible under laws still beyond
our knowledge.

I hope that you will pardon me for this somewhat academic digression,
but I felt it was necessary, and it has, at least, put me more at
ease. And now to resume.

We had watched, Larry and I, the frog-men throw the bodies of Yolara's
assassins into the crimson waters. As vultures swoop down upon the
dying, there came sailing swiftly to where the dead men floated,
dozens of the luminous globes. Their slender, varicoloured tentacles
whipped out; the giant iridescent bubbles _climbed_ over the cadavers.
And as they touched them there was the swift dissolution, the melting
away into putrescence of flesh and bone that I had witnessed when the
dart touched fruit that time I had saved Rador--and upon this the
Medusae gorged; pulsing lambently; their wondrous colours shifting,
changing, glowing stronger; elfin moons now indeed, but satellites
whose glimmering beauty was fed by death; alembics of enchantment
whose glorious hues were sucked from horror.

Sick, I turned away--O'Keefe as pale as I; passed back into the
corridor that had opened on the ledge from which we had watched; met
Lakla hurrying toward us. Before she could speak there throbbed
faintly about us a vast sighing. It grew into a murmur, a whispering,
shook us--then passing like a presence, died away in far distance.

"The Portal has opened," said the handmaiden.  A fainter sighing, like
an echo of the other, mourned about us. "Yolara is gone," she said,
"the Portal is closed. Now must we hasten--for the Three have
commanded that you, Goodwin, and Larry and I tread that strange road
of which I have spoken, and which Olaf may not take lest his heart
break--and we must return ere he and Rador cross the bridge."

Her hand sought Larry's.

"Come!" said Lakla, and we walked on; down and down through hall after
hall, flight upon flight of stairways. Deep, deep indeed, we must be
beneath the domed castle--Lakla paused before a curved, smooth breast
of the crimson stone rounding gently into the passage. She pressed its
side; it revolved; we entered; it closed behind us.

The room, the--hollow--in which we stood was faceted like a diamond;
and like a cut brilliant its sides glistened--though dully. Its shape
was a deep oval, and our path dropped down to a circular polished
base, roughly two yards in diameter. Glancing behind me I saw that in
the closing of the entrance there had been left no trace of it save
the steps that led from where that entrance had been--and as I looked
these steps _turned_, leaving us isolated upon the circle, only the
faceted walls about us--and in each of the gleaming faces the three of
us reflected--dimly. It was as though we were within a diamond egg
whose graven angles had been turned _inward_.

But the oval was not perfect; at my right a screen cut it--a screen
that gleamed with fugitive, fleeting luminescences--stretching from
the side of our standing place up to the tip of the chamber; slightly
convex and crisscrossed by millions of fine lines like those upon a
spectroscopic plate, but with this difference--that within each line I
sensed the presence of multitudes of finer lines, dwindling into
infinitude, ultramicroscopic, traced by some instrument compared to
whose delicacy our finest tool would be as a crowbar to the needle of
a micrometer.

A foot or two from it stood something like the standee of a compass,
bearing, like it a cradled dial under whose crystal ran concentric
rings of prisoned, lambent vapours, faintly blue. From the edge of the
dial jutted a little shelf of crystal, a keyboard, in which were cut
eight small cups.

Within these cups the handmaiden placed her tapering fingers.  She
gazed down upon the disk; pressed a digit--and the screen behind us
slipped noiselessly into another angle.

"Put your arm around my waist, Larry, darlin', and stand close," she
murmured. "You, Goodwin, place your arm over my shoulder."

Wondering, I did as she bade; she pressed other fingers upon the
shelf's indentations--three of the rings of vapour spun into intense
light, raced around each other; from the screen behind us grew a
radiance that held within itself all spectrums--not only those seen,
but those _unseen_ by man's eyes. It waxed brilliant and ever more
brilliant, all suffusing, passing through me as day streams through a
window pane!

The enclosing facets burst into a blaze of coruscations, and in each
sparkling panel I saw our images, shaken and torn like pennants in a
whirlwind. I turned to look--was stopped by the handmaiden's swift
command: "Turn not--on your life!"

The radiance behind me grew; was a rushing tempest of light in which I
was but the shadow of a shadow. I heard, but not with my ears--nay with
_mind_ itself--a vast roaring; an _ordered_ tumult of sound that came
hurling from the outposts of space; approaching--rushing--hurricane
out of the heart of the cosmos--closer, closer. It wrapped itself
about us with unearthly mighty arms.

And brilliant, ever more brilliant, streamed the radiance through us.

The faceted walls dimmed; in front of me they melted, diaphanously,
like a gelatinous wall in a blast of flame; through their vanishing,
under the torrent of driving light, the unthinkable, impalpable
tornado, I began to move, slowly--then ever more swiftly!

Still the roaring grew; the radiance streamed--ever faster we went.
Cutting down through the length, the _extension_ of me, dropped a wall
of rock, foreshortened, clenched close; I caught a glimpse of the
elfin gardens; they whirled, contracted, into a thin--slice--of colour
that was a part of me; another wall of rock shrinking into a thin
wedge through which I flew, and that at once took its place within me
like a card slipped beside those others!

Flashing around me, and from Lakla and O'Keefe, were nimbuses of
flickering scarlet flames. And always the steady hurling
forward--appallingly mechanical.

Another barrier of rock--a gleam of white waters incorporating
themselves into my--_drawing out_--even as were the flowered moss lands,
the slicing, rocky walls--still another rampart of cliff, dwindling
instantly into the vertical plane of those others. Our flight checked;
we seemed to hover within, then to sway onward--slowly, cautiously.

A mist danced ahead of me--a mist that grew steadily thinner.  We
stopped, wavered--the mist cleared.

I looked out into translucent, green distances; shot with swift
prismatic gleamings; waves and pulsings of luminosity like midday sun
glow through green, tropic waters: dancing, scintillating veils of
sparkling atoms that flew, hither and yon, through depths of nebulous
splendour!

And Lakla and Larry and I were, I saw, like shadow shapes upon a
smooth breast of stone twenty feet or more above the surface of this
place--a surface spangled with tiny white blossoms gleaming wanly
through creeping veils of phosphorescence like smoke of moon fire. We
were shadows--and yet we had substance; we were incorporated with, a
part of, the rock--and yet we were living flesh and blood; we
stretched--nor will I qualify this--we _stretched_ through mile upon
mile of space that weirdly enough gave at one and the same time an
absolute certainty of immense horizontal lengths and a vertical
concentration that contained nothing of length, nothing of space
whatever; we stood _there_ upon the face of the stone--and still we
were _here_ within the faceted oval before the screen of radiance!

"Steady!" It was Lakla's voice--and not beside me _there_, but at my ear
close before the screen. "Steady, Goodwin! And--see!"

The sparkling haze cleared.  Enormous reaches stretched before me.
Shimmering up through them, and as though growing in some medium
thicker than air, was mass upon mass of verdure--fruiting trees and
trees laden with pale blossoms, arbours and bowers of pallid blooms,
like that sea fruit of oblivion--grapes of Lethe--that cling to the
tide-swept walls of the caverns of the Hebrides.

Through them, beyond them, around and about them, drifted and eddied a
horde--great as that with which Tamerlane swept down upon Rome, vast
as the myriads which Genghis Khan rolled upon the califs--men and
women and children--clothed in tatters, half nude and wholly naked;
slant-eyed Chinese, sloe-eyed Malays, islanders black and brown and
yellow, fierce-faced warriors of the Solomons with grizzled locks
fantastically bedizened; Papuans, feline Javans, Dyaks of hill and
shore; hook-nosed Phoenicians, Romans, straight-browed Greeks, and
Vikings centuries _beyond_ their lives: scores of the black-haired
Murians; white faces of our own Westerners--men and women and
children--drifting, eddying--each stamped with that mingled horror and
rapture, eyes filled with ecstasy and terror entwined, marked by God
and devil in embrace--the seal of the Shining One--the dead-alive; the
lost ones!

The loot of the Dweller!

Soul-sick, I gazed.  They lifted to us visages of dread; they swept
down toward us, glaring upward--a bank against which other and still
other waves of faces rolled, were checked, paused; until as far as I
could see, like billows piled upon an ever-growing barrier, they
stretched beneath us--staring--staring!

Now there was a movement--far, far away; a concentrating of the
lambency; the dead-alive swayed, oscillated, separated--forming a long
lane against whose outskirts they crowded with avid, hungry
insistence.

First only a luminous cloud, then a whirling pillar of splendours
through the lane came--the Shining One. As it passed, the dead-alive
swirled in its wake like leaves behind a whirlwind, eddying, twisting;
and as the Dweller raced by them, brushing them with its spirallings
and tentacles, they shone forth with unearthly, awesome
gleamings--like vessels of alabaster in which wicks flare suddenly.
And when it had passed they closed behind it, staring up at us once
more.

The Dweller paused beneath us.

Out of the drifting ruck swam the body of Throckmartin! Throckmartin,
my friend, to find whom I had gone to the pallid moon door; my friend
whose call I had so laggardly followed. On his face was the Dweller's
dreadful stamp; the lips were bloodless; the eyes were wide, lucent,
something like pale, phosphorescence gleaming within them--and
soulless.

He stared straight up at me, unwinking, unrecognizing. Pressing
against his side was a woman, young and gentle, and lovely--lovely
even through the mask that lay upon her face. And her wide eyes, like
Throckmartin's, glowed with the lurking, unholy fires. She pressed
against him closely; though the hordes kept up the faint churning,
these two kept ever together, as though bound by unseen fetters.

And I knew the girl for Edith, his wife, who in vain effort to save
him had cast herself into the Dweller's embrace!

"Throckmartin!" I cried.  "Throckmartin!  I'm here!"

Did he hear?  I know now, of course, he could not.

But then I waited--hope striving to break through the nightmare hands
that gripped my heart.

Their wide eyes never left me.  There was another movement about them,
others pushed past them; they drifted back, swaying, eddying--and
still staring were lost in the awful throng.

Vainly I strained my gaze to find them again, to force some sign of
recognition, some awakening of the clean life we know. But they were
gone. Try as I would I could not see them--nor Stanton and the
northern woman named Thora who had been the first of that tragic party
to be taken by the Dweller.

"Throckmartin!" I cried again, despairingly.  My tears blinded me.

I felt Lakla's light touch.

"Steady," she commanded, pitifully.  "Steady, Goodwin. You cannot help
them--now! Steady and--watch!"

Below us the Shining One had paused--spiralling, swirling, vibrant
with all its transcendent, devilish beauty; had paused and was
contemplating us. Now I could see clearly that nucleus, that core shot
through with flashing veins of radiance, that ever-shifting shape of
glory through the shroudings of shimmering, misty plumes, throbbing
lacy opalescences, vaporous spirallings of prismatic phantom fires.
Steady over it hung the seven little moons of amethyst, of saffron, of
emerald and azure and silver, of rose of life and moon white. They
poised themselves like a diadem--calm, serene, immobile--and down
from them into the Dweller, piercing plumes and swirls and spirals,
ran countless tiny strands, radiations, finer than the finest spun
thread of spider's web, gleaming filaments through which seemed to
run--_power_--from the seven globes; like--yes, that was it--miniatures
of the seven torrents of moon flame that poured through the
septichromatic, high crystals in the Moon Pool's chamber roof.

Swam out of the coruscating haze the--face!

Both of man and of woman it was--like some ancient, androgynous deity
of Etruscan fanes long dust, and yet neither woman nor man; human and
unhuman, seraphic and sinister, benign and malefic--and still no more
of these four than is flame, which is beautiful whether it warms or
devours, or wind whether it feathers the trees or shatters them, or
the wave which is wondrous whether it caresses or kills.

Subtly, undefinably it was of our world and of one not ours.  Its
lineaments flowed from another sphere, took fleeting familiar
form--and as swiftly withdrew whence they had come; something
amorphous, unearthly--as of unknown unheeding, unseen gods rushing
through the depths of star-hung space; and still of our own earth,
with the very soul of earth peering out from it, caught within it--and
in some--unholy--way debased.

It had eyes--eyes that were now only shadows darkening within its
luminosity like veils falling, and falling, _opening_ windows into the
unknowable; deepening into softly glowing blue pools, blue as the Moon
Pool itself; then flashing out, and this only when the--face--bore its
most human resemblance, into twin stars large almost as the crown of
little moons; and with that same baffling suggestion of peep-holes
into a world untrodden, alien, perilous to man!

"Steady!" came Lakla's voice, her body leaned against mine.

I gripped myself, my brain steadied, I looked again.  And I saw that
of body, at least body as we know it, the Shining One had
none--nothing but the throbbing, pulsing core streaked with lightning
veins of rainbows; and around this, never still, sheathing it, the
swirling, glorious veilings of its hell and heaven born radiance.

So the Dweller stood--and gazed.

Then up toward us swept a reaching, questing spiral!

Under my hand Lakla's shoulder quivered; dead-alive and their master
vanished--I danced, flickered, _within_ the rock; felt a swift sense of
shrinking, of withdrawal; slice upon slice the carded walls of stone,
of silvery waters, of elfin gardens slipped from me as cards are
withdrawn from a pack, one by one--slipped, wheeled, flattened, and
lengthened out as I passed through them and they passed from me.

Gasping, shaken, weak, I stood within the faceted oval chamber; arm
still about the handmaiden's white shoulder; Larry's hand still
clutching her girdle.

The roaring, impalpable gale from the cosmos was retreating to the
outposts of space--was still; the intense, streaming, flooding
radiance lessened--died.

"Now have you beheld," said Lakla, "and well you trod the road.  And
now shall you hear, even as the Silent Ones have commanded, what the
Shining One is--and how it came to be."

The steps flashed back; the doorway into the chamber opened.

Larry as silent as I--we followed her through it.


[1] Reprinted in full in _Nature_, in which those sufficiently interested
may peruse it.--W. T. G.



CHAPTER XXIX

The Shaping of the Shining One

We reached what I knew to be Lakla's own boudoir, if I may so call it.
Smaller than any of the other chambers of the domed castle in which we
had been, its intimacy was revealed not only by its faint fragrance
but by its high mirrors of polished silver and various oddly wrought
articles of the feminine toilet that lay here and there; things I
afterward knew to be the work of the artisans of the _Akka_--and no
mean metal workers were they. One of the window slits dropped almost
to the floor, and at its base was a wide, comfortably cushioned seat
commanding a view of the bridge and of the cavern ledge. To this the
handmaiden beckoned us; sank upon it, drew Larry down beside her and
motioned me to sit close to him.

"Now this," she said, "is what the Silent Ones have commanded me to
tell you two: To you Larry, that knowing you may weigh all things in
your mind and answer as your spirit bids you a question that the Three
will ask--and what that is I know not," she murmured, "and I, they
say, must answer, too--and it--frightens me!"

The great golden eyes widened; darkened with dread; she sighed, shook
her head impatiently.

"Not like us, and never like us," she spoke low, wonderingly, "the
Silent Ones say were they. Nor were those from which they sprang like
those from which we have come. Ancient, ancient beyond thought are the
_Taithu_, the race of the Silent Ones. Far, far below this place where
now we sit, close to earth heart itself were they born; and there they
dwelt for time upon time, _laya_ upon _laya_ upon _laya_--with others,
not like them, some of which have vanished time upon time agone,
others that still dwell--below--in their--cradle.

"It is hard"--she hesitated--"hard to tell this--that slips through my
mind--because I know so little that even as the Three told it to me it
passed from me for lack of place to stand upon," she went on,
quaintly. "Something there was of time when earth and sun were but
cold mists in the--the heavens--something of these mists drawing
together, whirling, whirling, faster and faster--drawing as they
whirled more and more of the mists--growing larger, growing
warm--forming at last into the globes they are, with others spinning
around the sun--something of regions within this globe where vast fire
was prisoned and bursting forth tore and rent the young orb--of one
such bursting forth that sent what you call moon flying out to company
us and left behind those spaces whence we now dwell--and of--of life
particles that here and there below grew into the race of the Silent
Ones, and those others--but not the _Akka_ which, like you, they say
came from above--and all this I do not understand--do you, Goodwin?"
she appealed to me.

I nodded--for what she had related so fragmentarily was in reality an
excellent approach to the Chamberlain-Moulton theory of a coalescing
nebula contracting into the sun and its planets.

Astonishing was the recognition of this theory.  Even more so was the
reference to the life particles, the idea of Arrhenius, the great
Swede, of life starting on earth through the dropping of minute, life
_spores_, propelled through space by the driving power of light and,
encountering favourable environment here, developing through the vast
ages into man and every other living thing we know.[1]

Nor was it incredible that in the ancient nebula that was the matrix
of our solar system similar, or rather _dissimilar_, particles in all
but the subtle essence we call life, might have become entangled and,
resisting every cataclysm as they had resisted the absolute zero of
outer space, found in these caverned spaces their proper environment
to develop into the race of the Silent Ones and--only _they_ could
tell what else!

"They say," the handmaiden's voice was surer, "they say that in
their--cradle--near earth's heart they grew; grew untroubled by the
turmoil and disorder which flayed the surface of this globe. And they
say it was a place of light and that strength came to them from earth
heart--strength greater than you and those from which you sprang ever
derived from sun.

"At last, ancient, ancient beyond all thought, they say again, was
this time--they began to know, to--to--realize--themselves. And
wisdom came ever more swiftly. Up from their cradle, because they did
not wish to dwell longer with those--others--they came and found this
place.

"When all the face of earth was covered with waters in which lived
only tiny, hungry things that knew naught save hunger and its
satisfaction, _they_ had attained wisdom that enabled them to make paths
such as we have just travelled and to look out upon those waters! And
_laya_ upon _laya_ thereafter, time upon time, they went upon the
paths and watched the flood recede; saw great bare flats of steaming
ooze appear on which crawled and splashed larger things which had
grown from the tiny hungry ones; watched the flats rise higher and
higher and green life begin to clothe them; saw mountains uplift and
vanish.

"Ever the green life waxed and the things which crept and crawled grew
greater and took ever different forms; until at last came a time when
the steaming mists lightened and the things which had begun as little
more than tiny hungry mouths were huge and monstrous, so huge that the
tallest of my _Akka_ would not have reached the knee of the smallest
of them.

"But in none of these, in _none_, was there--realization--of
themselves, say the Three; naught but hunger driving, always driving
them to still its crying.

"So for time upon time the race of the Silent Ones took the paths no
more, placing aside the half-thought that they had of making their way
to earth face even as they had made their way from beside earth heart.
They turned wholly to the seeking of wisdom--and after other time on
time they attained that which killed even the faintest shadow of the
half-thought. For they crept far within the mysteries of life and
death, they mastered the illusion of space, they lifted the veils of
creation and of its twin destruction, and they stripped the covering
from the flaming jewel of truth--but when they had crept within those
mysteries they bid me tell _you_, Goodwin, they found ever other
mysteries veiling the way; and after they had uncovered the jewel of
truth they found it to be a gem of infinite facets and therefore not
wholly to be read before eternity's unthinkable end!

"And for this they were glad--because now throughout eternity might
they and theirs pursue knowledge over ways illimitable.

"They conquered light--light that sprang at their bidding from the
nothingness that gives birth to all things and in which lie all things
that are, have been and shall be; light that streamed through their
bodies cleansing them of all dross; light that was food and drink;
light that carried their vision afar or bore to them images out of
space opening many windows through which they gazed down upon life on
thousands upon thousands of the rushing worlds; light that was the
flame of life itself and in which they bathed, ever renewing their
own. They set radiant lamps within the stones, and of black light they
wove the sheltering shadows and the shadows that slay.

"Arose from this people those Three--the Silent Ones. They led them
all in wisdom so that in the Three grew--pride. And the Three built
them this place in which we sit and set the Portal in its place and
withdrew from their kind to go alone into the mysteries and to map
alone the facets of Truth Jewel.

"Then there came the ancestors of the--_Akka_; not as they are now,
and glowing but faintly within them the spark of--self-realization.
And the _Taithu_ seeing this spark did not slay them. But they took
the ancient, long untrodden paths and looked forth once more upon
earth face. Now on the land were vast forests and a chaos of green
life. On the shores things scaled and fanged, fought and devoured each
other, and in the green life moved bodies great and small that slew
and ran from those that would slay.

"They searched for the passage through which the _Akka_ had come and
closed it. Then the Three took them and brought them here; and taught
them and blew upon the spark until it burned ever stronger and in time
they became much as they are now--my _Akka_.

"The Three took counsel after this and said--'We have strengthened
life in these until it has become articulate; shall we not _create_
life?'" Again she hesitated, her eyes rapt, dreaming. "The Three are
speaking," she murmured. "They have my tongue--"

And certainly, with an ease and rapidity as though she were but a
voice through which minds far more facile, more powerful poured their
thoughts, she spoke.

"Yea," the golden voice was vibrant.  "We said that what we would
create should be of the spirit of life itself, speaking to us with the
tongues of the far-flung stars, of the winds, of the waters, and of
all upon and within these. Upon that universal matrix of matter, that
mother of all things that you name the ether, we laboured. Think not
that her wondrous fertility is limited by what ye see on earth or what
has been on earth from its beginning. Infinite, infinite are the forms
the mother bears and countless are the energies that are part of her.

"By our wisdom we had fashioned many windows out of our abode and
through them we stared into the faces of myriads of worlds, and upon
them all were the children of ether even as the worlds themselves were
her children.

"Watching we learned, and learning we formed that ye term the Dweller,
which those without name--the Shining One. Within the Universal Mother
we shaped it, to be a voice to tell us her secrets, a lamp to go
before us lighting the mysteries. Out of the ether we fashioned it,
giving it the soul of light that still ye know not nor perhaps ever
may know, and with the essence of life that ye saw blossoming deep in
the abyss and that is the pulse of earth heart we filled it. And we
wrought with pain and with love, with yearning and with scorching
pride and from our travail came the Shining One--our child!

"There is an energy beyond and above ether, a purposeful, sentient
force that laps like an ocean the furthest-flung star, that transfuses
all that ether bears, that sees and speaks and feels in us and in you,
that is incorporate in beast and bird and reptile, in tree and grass
and all living things, that sleeps in rock and stone, that finds
sparkling tongue in jewel and star and in all dwellers within the
firmament. And this ye call consciousness!

"We crowned the Shining One with the seven orbs of light which are the
channels between it and the sentience we sought to make articulate,
the portals through which flow its currents and so flowing, become
choate, vocal, self-realizant within our child.

"But as we shaped, there passed some of the essence of our pride; in
giving will we had given power, perforce, to exercise that will for
good or for evil, to speak or to be silent, to tell us what we wished
of that which poured into it through the seven orbs or to withhold
that knowledge itself; and in forging it from the immortal energies we
had endowed it with their indifference; open to all consciousness it
held within it the pole of utter joy and the pole of utter woe with
all the arc that lies between; all the ecstasies of the countless
worlds and suns and all their sorrows; all that ye symbolize as gods
and all ye symbolize as devils--not negativing each other, for there
is no such thing as negation, but holding them together, balancing
them, encompassing them, pole upon pole!"

So _this_ was the explanation of the entwined emotions of joy and terror
that had changed so appallingly Throckmartin's face and the faces of
all the Dweller's slaves!

The handmaiden's eyes grew bright, alert, again; the brooding passed
from her face; the golden voice that had been so deep found its own
familiar pitch.

"I listened while the Three spoke to you," she said.  "Now the shaping
of the Shining One had been a long, long travail and time had flown
over the outer world _laya_ upon _laya_. For a space the Shining One
was content to dwell here; to be fed with the foods of light: to open
the eyes of the Three to mystery upon mystery and to read for them
facet after facet of the gem of truth. Yet as the tides of
consciousness flowed through it they left behind shadowings and echoes
of their burdens; and the Shining One grew stronger, always stronger
of _itself within itself_. Its will strengthened and now not always was
it the will of the Three; and the pride that was woven in the making
of it waxed, while the love for them that its creators had set within
it waned.

"Not ignorant were the _Taithu_ of the work of the Three. First there
were a few, then more and more who coveted the Shining One and who
would have had the Three share with them the knowledge it drew in for
them. But the Silent Ones in their pride, would not.

"There came a time when its will was now _all_ its own, and it rebelled,
turning its gaze to the wider spaces beyond the Portal, offering
itself to the many there who would serve it; tiring of the Three,
their control and their abode.

"Now the Shining One has its limitations, even as we.  Over water it
can pass, through air and through fire; but pass it cannot, through
rock or metal. So it sent a message--how I know not--to the _Taithu_
who desired it, whispering to them the secret of the Portal. And when
the time was ripe they opened the Portal and the Shining One passed
through it to them; nor would it return to the Three though they
commanded, and when they would have forced it they found that it had
hived and hidden a knowledge that they could not overcome.

"Yet by their arts the Three could have shattered the seven shining
orbs; but they would not because--they loved, it!

"Those to whom it had gone built for it that place I have shown you,
and they bowed to it and drew wisdom from it. And ever they turned
more and more from the ways in which the _Taithu_ had walked--for it
seemed that which came to the Shining One through the seven orbs had
less and less of good and more and more of the power you call evil.
Knowledge it gave and understanding, yes; but not that which, clear
and serene, lights the paths of right wisdom; rather were they flares
pointing the dark roads that lead to--to the ultimate evil!

"Not all of the race of the Three followed the counsel of the Shining
One. There were many, many, who would have none of it nor of its
power. So were the _Taithu_ split; and to this place where there had
been none, came hatred, fear and suspicion. Those who pursued the
ancient ways went to the Three and pleaded with them to destroy their
work--and they would not, for still they loved it.

"Stronger grew the Dweller and less and less did it lay before its
worshippers--for now so they had become--the fruits of its knowledge;
and it grew--restless--turning its gaze upon earth face even as it had
turned it from the Three. It whispered to the _Taithu_ to take again
the paths and look out upon the world. Lo! above them was a great
fertile land on which dwelt an unfamiliar race, skilled in arts,
seeking and finding wisdom--mankind! Mighty builders were they; vast
were their cities and huge their temples of stone.

"They called their lands Muria and they worshipped a god Thanaroa whom
they imagined to be the maker of all things, dwelling far away. They
worshipped as closer gods, not indifferent but to be prayed to and to
be propitiated, the moon and the sun. Two kings they had, each with
his council and his court. One was high priest to the moon and the
other high priest to the sun.

"The mass of this people were black-haired, but the sun king and his
nobles were ruddy with hair like mine; and the moon king and his
followers were like Yolara--or Lugur. And this, the Three say,
Goodwin, came about because for time upon time the law had been that
whenever a ruddy-haired or ashen-tressed child was born of the
black-haired it became dedicated at once to either sun god or moon
god, later wedding and bearing children only to their own kind. Until
at last from the black-haired came no more of the light-locked ones,
but the ruddy ones, being stronger, still arose from them."


[1] Professor Svante August Arrhenius, in his _Worlds in the Making_--the
conception that life is universally diffused, constantly emitted
from all habitable worlds in the form of spores which traverse space
for years and ages, the majority being ultimately destroyed by the
heat of some blazing star, but some few finding a resting-place on
globes which have reached the habitable stage.--W. T. G.



CHAPTER XXX

The Building of the Moon Pool

She paused, running her long fingers through her own bronze-flecked
ringlets. Selective breeding this, with a vengeance, I thought; an
ancient experiment in heredity which of course would in time result in
the stamping out of the tendency to depart from type that lies in all
organisms; resulting, obviously, at last, in three fixed forms of
black-haired, ruddy-haired, and silver-haired--but this, with a shock
of realization it came to me, was also an accurate description of the
dark-polled _ladala_, their fair-haired rulers and of the golden-brown
tressed Lakla!

How--questions began to stream through my mind; silenced by the
handmaiden's voice.

"Above, far, far above the abode of the Shining One," she said, "was
their greatest temple, holding the shrines both of sun and moon. All
about it were other temples hidden behind mighty walls, each enclosing
its own space and squared and ruled and standing within a shallow
lake; the sacred city, the city of the gods of this land--"

"It is the Nan-Matal that she is describing," I thought.

"Out upon all this looked the _Taithu_ who were now but the servants
of the Shining One as it had been the messenger of the Three," she
went on. "When they returned the Shining One spoke to them, promising
them dominion over all that they had seen, yea, _under it_ dominion of
all earth itself and later perhaps of other earths!

"In the Shining One had grown craft, cunning; knowledge to gain that
which it desired. Therefore it told its _Taithu_--and mayhap told
them truth--that not yet was it time for _them_ to go forth; that slowly
must they pass into that outer world, for they had sprung from heart
of earth and even it lacked power to swirl unaided into and through
the above. Then it counselled them, instructing them what to do. They
hollowed the chamber wherein first I saw you, cutting their way to it
that path down which from it you sped.

"It revealed to them that the force that is within moon flame is kin
to the force that is within it, for the chamber of its birth was the
chamber too of moon birth and into it went the subtle essence and
powers that flow in that earth child: and it taught them how to make
that which fills what you call the Moon Pool whose opening is close
behind its Veil hanging upon the gleaming cliffs.

"When this was done it taught them how to make and how to place the
seven lights through which moon flame streams into Moon Pool--the
seven lights that are kin to its own seven orbs even as its fires are
kin to moon fires--and which would open for it a path that it could
tread. And all this the _Taithu_ did, working so secretly that neither
those of their race whose faces were set against the Shining One nor
the busy men above know aught of it.

"When it was done they moved up the path, clustering within the Moon
Pool Chamber. Moon flame streamed through the seven globes, poured
down upon the pool; they saw mists arise, embrace, and become one with
the moon flame--and then up through Moon Pool, shaping itself within
the mists of light, whirling, radiant--the Shining One!

"Almost free, almost loosed upon the world it coveted!

"Again it counselled them, and they pierced the passage whose portal
you found first; set the fires within its stones, and revealing
themselves to the moon king and his priests spake to them even as the
Shining One had instructed.

"Now was the moon king filled with fear when he looked upon the
_Taithu_, shrouded with protecting mists of light in Moon Pool
Chamber, and heard their words. Yet, being crafty, he thought of the
power that would be his if he heeded and how quickly the strength of
the sun king would dwindle. So he and his made a pact with the Shining
One's messengers.

"When next the moon was round and poured its flames down upon Moon
Pool, the _Taithu_ gathered there again, watched the child of the
Three take shape within the pillars, speed away--and out! They heard a
mighty shouting, a tumult of terror, of awe and of worship; a silence;
a vast sighing--and they waited, wrapped in their mists of light, for
they feared to follow nor were they near the paths that would have
enabled them to look without.

"Another tumult--and back came the Shining One, murmuring with joy,
pulsing, triumphant, and clasped within its vapours a man and woman,
ruddy-haired, golden-eyed, in whose faces rapture and horror lay side
by side--gloriously, hideously. And still holding them it danced above
the Moon Pool and--sank!

"Now must I be brief. _Lat_ after _lat_ the Shining One went forth,
returning with its sacrifices. And stronger after each it grew--and
gayer and more cruel. Ever when it passed with its prey toward the
pool, the _Taithu_ who watched felt a swift, strong intoxication, a
drunkenness of spirit, streaming from it to them. And the Shining One
forgot what it had promised them of dominion--and in this new evil
delight they too forgot.

"The outer land was torn with hatred and open strife. The moon king
and his kind, through the guidance of the evil _Taithu_ and the favour
of the Shining One, had become powerful and the sun king and his were
darkened. And the moon priests preached that the child of the Three
was the moon god itself come to dwell with them.

"Now vast tides arose and when they withdrew they took with them great
portions of this country. And the land itself began to sink. Then said
the moon king that the moon had called to ocean to destroy because
wroth that another than he was worshipped. The people believed and
there was slaughter. When it was over there was no more a sun king nor
any of the ruddy-haired folk; slain were they, slain down to the babe
at breast.

"But still the tides swept higher; still dwindled the land!

"As it shrank multitudes of the fleeing people were led through Moon
Pool Chamber and carried here. They were what now are called the
_ladala_, and they were given place and set to work; and they thrived.
Came many of the fair-haired; and they were given dwellings. They sat
beside the evil _Taithu_; they became drunk even as they with the
dancing of the Shining One; they learned--not all; only a little part
but little enough--of their arts. And ever the Shining One danced more
gaily out there within the black amphitheatre; grew ever stronger--and
ever the hordes of its slaves behind the Veil increased.

"Nor did the _Taithu_ who clung to the old ways check this--they
could not. By the sinking of the land above, their own spaces were
imperilled. All of their strength and all of their wisdom it took to
keep this land from perishing; nor had they help from those others mad
for the poison of the Shining One; and they had no time to deal with
them nor the earth race with whom they had foregathered.

"At last came a slow, vast flood.  It rolled even to the bases of the
walled islets of the city of the gods--and within these now were all
that were left of my people on earth face.

"I am of those people," she paused, looking at me proudly, "one of the
daughters of the sun king whose seed is still alive in the _ladala_!"

As Larry opened his mouth to speak she waved a silencing hand.

"This tide did not recede," she went on.  "And after a time the
remnant, the moon king leading them, joined those who had already fled
below. The rocks became still, the quakings ceased, and now those
Ancient Ones who had been labouring could take breath. And anger grew
within them as they looked upon the work of their evil kin. Again they
sought the Three--and the Three now knew what they had done and their
pride was humbled. They would not slay the Shining One themselves, for
still they loved it; but they instructed these others how to undo
their work; how also they might destroy the evil _Taithu_ were it
necessary.

"Armed with the wisdom of the Three they went forth--but now the
Shining One was strong indeed. They could not slay it!

"Nay, it knew and was prepared; they could not even pass beyond its
Veil nor seal its abode. Ah, strong, strong, mighty of will, full of
craft and cunning had the Shining One become. So they turned upon
their kind who had gone astray and made them perish, to the last. The
Shining One came not to the aid of its servants--though they called;
for within its will was the thought that they were of no further use
to it; that it would rest awhile and dance with them--who had so
little of the power and wisdom of its _Taithu_ and therefore no reins
upon it. And while this was happening black-haired and fair-haired ran
and hid and were but shaking vessels of terror.

"The Ancient Ones took counsel.  This was their decision; that they
would go from the gardens before the Silver Waters--leaving, since
they could not kill it, the Shining One with its worshippers. They
sealed the mouth of the passage that leads to the Moon Pool Chamber
and they changed the face of the cliff so that none might tell where
it had been. But the passage itself they left open--having
foreknowledge I think, of a thing that was to come to pass in the far
future--perhaps it was your journey here, my Larry and Goodwin--verily
I think so. And they destroyed all the ways save that which
we three trod to the Dweller's abode.

"For the last time they went to the Three--to pass sentence upon them.
This was the doom--that here they should remain, alone, among the
_Akka_, served by them, until that time dawned when they would have
will to destroy the evil they had created--and even now--loved; nor
might they seek death, nor follow their judges until this had come to
pass. This was the doom they put upon the Three for the wickedness
that had sprung from their pride, and they strengthened it with their
arts that it might not be broken.

"Then they passed--to a far land they had chosen where the Shining One
could not go, beyond the Black Precipices of Doul, a green land--"

"Ireland!" interrupted Larry, with conviction, "I knew it."

"Since then time upon time had passed," she went on, unheeding.  "The
people called this place Muria after their sunken land and soon they
forgot where had been the passage the _Taithu_ had sealed. The moon
king became the Voice of the Dweller and always with the Voice is a
woman of the moon king's kin who is its priestess.

"And many have been the journeys upward of the Shining One, through
the Moon Pool--returning with still others in its coils.

"And now again has it grown restless, longing for the wider spaces.
It has spoken to Yolara and to Lugur even as it did to the dead
_Taithu_, promising them dominion. And it has grown stronger, drawing
to itself power to go far on the moon stream where it will. Thus was
it able to seize your friend, Goodwin, and Olaf's wife and babe--and
many more. Yolara and Lugur plan to open way to earth face; to depart
with their court and under the Shining One grasp the world!

"And this is the tale the Silent Ones bade me tell you--and it is
done."

Breathlessly I had listened to the stupendous epic of a long-lost
world. Now I found speech to voice the question ever with me, the
thing that lay as close to my heart as did the welfare of Larry,
indeed the whole object of my quest--the fate of Throckmartin and
those who had passed with him into the Dweller's lair; yes, and of
Olaf's wife, too.

"Lakla," I said, "the friend who drew me here and those he loved who
went before him--can we not save them?"

"The Three say no, Goodwin." There was again in her eyes the pity with
which she had looked upon Olaf. "The Shining One--_feeds_--upon the
flame of life itself, setting in its place its own fires and its own
will. Its slaves are only shells through which it gleams. Death, say
the Three, is the best that can come to them; yet will that be a boon
great indeed."

"But they have souls, _mavourneen_," Larry said to her. "And they're
alive still--in a way. Anyhow, their souls have not gone from them."

I caught a hope from his words--sceptic though I am--holding that the
existence of soul has never been proved by dependable laboratory
methods--for they recalled to me that when I had seen Throckmartin,
Edith had been close beside him.

"It was days after his wife was taken, that the Dweller seized
Throckmartin," I cried. "How, if their wills, their life, were indeed
gone, how did they find each other mid all that horde? How did they
come together in the Dweller's lair?"

"I do not know," she answered, slowly.  "You say they loved--and it is
true that love is stronger even than death!"

"One thing I _don't_ understand"--this was Larry again--"is why a girl
like you keeps coming out of the black-haired crowd; so frequently and
one might say, so regularly, Lakla. Aren't there ever any red-headed
boys--and if they are what becomes of them?"

"That, Larry, I cannot answer," she said, very frankly. "There was a
pact of some kind; how made or by whom I know not. But for long the
Murians feared the return of the _Taithu_ and greatly they feared the
Three. Even the Shining One feared those who had created it--for a
time; and not even now is it eager to face them--_that_ I know. Nor are
Yolara and Lugur so _sure_. It may be that the Three commanded it: but
how or why I know not. I only know that it is true--for here am I and
from where else would I have come?"

"From Ireland," said Larry O'Keefe, promptly.  "And that's where
you're going. For 'tis no place for a girl like you to have been
brought up--Lakla; what with people like frogs, and a half-god three
quarters devil, and red oceans, an' the only Irish things yourself and
the Silent Ones up there, bless their hearts. It's no place for ye,
and by the soul of St. Patrick, it's out of it soon ye'll be gettin'!"

Larry!  Larry!  If it had but been true--and I could see Lakla and you
beside me now!



CHAPTER XXXI

Larry and the Frog-Men

Long had been her tale in the telling, and too long, perhaps, have I
been in the repeating--but not every day are the mists rolled away to
reveal undreamed secrets of earth-youth. And I have set it down here,
adding nothing, taking nothing from it; translating liberally, it is
true, but constantly striving, while putting it into idea-forms and
phraseology to be readily understood by my readers, to keep accurately
to the spirit. And this, I must repeat, I have done throughout my
narrative, wherever it has been necessary to record conversation with
the Murians.

Rising, I found I was painfully stiff--as muscle-bound as though I had
actually trudged many miles. Larry, imitating me, gave an involuntary
groan.

"Faith, _mavourneen_," he said to Lakla, relapsing unconsciously into
English, "your roads would never wear out shoe-leather, but they've
got their kick, just the same!"

She understood our plight, if not his words; gave a soft little cry of
mingled pity and self-reproach; forced us back upon the cushions.

"Oh, but I'm sorry!" mourned Lakla, leaning over us.  "I had
forgotten--for those new to it the way is a weary one, indeed--"

She ran to the doorway, whistled a clear high note down the passage.
Through the hangings came two of the frog-men. She spoke to them
rapidly. They crouched toward us, what certainly was meant for an
amiable grin wrinkling the grotesque muzzles, baring the glistening
rows of needle-teeth. And while I watched them with the fascination
that they never lost for me, the monsters calmly swung one arm around
our knees, lifted us up like babies--and as calmly started to walk
away with us!

"Put me down!  Put me down, I say!" The O'Keefe's voice was both
outraged and angry; squinting around I saw him struggling violently to
get to his feet. The _Akka_ only held him tighter, booming
comfortingly, peering down into his flushed face inquiringly.

"But, Larry--darlin'!"--Lakla's tones were--well, maternally
surprised--"you're stiff and sore, and Kra can carry you quite
easily."

"I _won't_ be carried!" sputtered the O'Keefe.  "Damn it, Goodwin, there
are such things as the unities even here, an' for a lieutenant of the
Royal Air Force to be picked up an' carted around like a--like a
bundle of rags--it's not discipline! Put me down, ye _omadhaun_, or
I'll poke ye in the snout!" he shouted to his bearer--who only boomed
gently, and stared at the handmaiden, plainly for further
instructions.

"But, Larry--dear!"--Lakla was plainly distressed--"it will _hurt_ you
to walk; and I don't _want_ you to hurt, Larry--darlin'!"

"Holy shade of St. Patrick!" moaned Larry; again he made a mighty
effort to tear himself from the frog-man's grip; gave up with a groan.
"Listen, _alanna_!" he said plaintively. "When we get to Ireland, you
and I, we won't have anybody to pick us up and carry us about every
time we get a bit tired. And it's getting me in bad habits you are!"

"Oh, _yes_, we will, Larry!" cried the handmaiden, "because many, oh,
many, of my _Akka_ will go with us!"

"Will you tell this--BOOB!--to put me down!" gritted the now
thoroughly aroused O'Keefe. I couldn't help laughing; he glared at me.

"Bo-oo-ob?" exclaimed Lakla.

"Yes, boo-oo-ob!" said O'Keefe, "an' I have no desire to explain the
word in my present position, light of my soul!"

The handmaiden sighed, plainly dejected.  But she spoke again to the
_Akka_, who gently lowered the O'Keefe to the floor.

"I don't understand," she said hopelessly, "if you want to walk, why,
of course, you shall, Larry." She turned to me.

"Do you?" she asked.

"I do not," I said firmly.

"Well, then," murmured Lakla, "go you, Larry and Goodwin, with Kra and
Gulk, and let them minister to you. After, sleep a little--for not
soon will Rador and Olaf return. And let me feel your lips before you
go, Larry--darlin'!" She covered his eyes caressingly with her soft
little palms; pushed him away.

"Now go," said Lakla, "and rest!"

Unashamed I lay back against the horny chest of Gulk; and with a smile
noticed that Larry, even if he had rebelled at being carried, did not
disdain the support of Kra's shining, black-scaled arm which, slipping
around his waist, half-lifted him along.

They parted a hanging and dropped us softly down beside a little pool,
sparkling with the clear water that had heretofore been brought us in
the wide basins. Then they began to undress us. And at this point the
O'Keefe gave up.

"Whatever they're going to do we can't stop 'em, Doc!" he moaned.
"Anyway, I feel as though I've been pulled through a knot-hole, and I
don't care--I don't care--as the song says."

When we were stripped we were lowered gently into the water.  But not
long did the _Akka_ let us splash about the shallow basin. They lifted
us out, and from jars began deftly to anoint and rub us with aromatic
unguents.

I think that in all the medley of grotesque, of tragic, of baffling,
strange and perilous experiences in that underground world none was
more bizarre than this--valeting. I began to laugh, Larry joined me,
and then Kra and Gulk joined in our merriment with deep batrachian
cachinnations and gruntings. Then, having finished apparelling us and
still chuckling, the two touched our arms and led us out, into a room
whose circular sides were ringed with soft divans. Still smiling, I
sank at once into sleep.

How long I slumbered I do not know.  A low and thunderous booming
coming through the deep window slit, reverberated through the room and
awakened me. Larry yawned; arose briskly.

"Sounds as though the bass drums of every jazz band in New York were
serenading us!" he observed. Simultaneously we sprang to the window;
peered through.

We were a little above the level of the bridge, and its full length
was plain before us. Thousands upon thousands of the _Akka_ were
crowding upon it, and far away other hordes filled like a glittering
thicket both sides of the cavern ledge's crescent strand. On black
scale and orange scale the crimson light fell, picking them off in
little flickering points.

Upon the platform from which sprang the smaller span over the abyss
were Lakla, Olaf, and Rador; the handmaiden clearly acting as
interpreter between them and the giant she had called Nak, the Frog
King.

"Come on!" shouted Larry.

Out of the open portal we ran; over the World Heart Bridge--and
straight into the group.

"Oh!" cried Lakla, "I didn't want you to wake up so soon,
Larry--darlin'!"

"See here, _mavourneen_!" Indignation thrilled in the Irishman's
voice. "I'm not going to be done up with baby-ribbons and laid away in
a cradle for safe-keeping while a fight is on; don't think it. Why
didn't you call me?"

"You needed rest!" There was indomitable determination in the
handmaiden's tones, the eternal maternal shining defiant from her
eyes. "You were tired and you hurt! You shouldn't have got up!"

"Needed the rest!" groaned Larry.  "Look here, Lakla, what do you
think I am?"

"You're all I have," said that maiden firmly, "and I'm going to take
care of you, Larry--darlin'! Don't you ever think anything else."

"Well, pulse of my heart, considering my delicate health and general
fragility, would it hurt me, do you think, to be told what's going
on?" he asked.

"Not at all, Larry!" answered the handmaiden serenely. "Yolara went
through the Portal. She was very, _very_ angry--"

"She was all the devil's woman that she is!" rumbled Olaf.

"Rador met the messenger," went on the Golden Girl calmly.  "The
_ladala_ are ready to rise when Lugur and Yolara lead their hosts
against us. They will strike at those left behind. And in the meantime
we shall have disposed my _Akka_ to meet Yolara's men. And on that
disposal we must all take counsel, you, Larry, and Rador, Olaf and
Goodwin and Nak, the ruler of the _Akka_."

"Did the messenger give any idea when Yolara expects to make her
little call?" asked Larry.

"Yes," she answered.  "They prepare, and we may expect them in--" She
gave the equivalent of about thirty-six hours of our time.

"But, Lakla," I said, the doubt that I had long been holding finding
voice, "should the Shining One come--with its slaves--are the Three
strong enough to cope with it?"

There was troubled doubt in her own eyes.

"I do not know," she said at last, frankly.  "You have heard their
story. What they promise is that they will help. I do not know--any
more than do you, Goodwin!"

I looked up at the dome beneath which I knew the dread Trinity stared
forth; even down upon us. And despite the awe, the assurance, I had
felt when I stood before them I, too, doubted.

"Well," said Larry, "you and I, uncle," he turned to Rador, "and Olaf
here had better decide just what part of the battle we'll lead--"

"Lead!" the handmaiden was appalled. "_You_ lead, Larry? Why you are
to stay with Goodwin and with me--up there, there we can watch."

"Heart's beloved," O'Keefe was stern indeed.  "A thousand times I've
looked Death straight in the face, peered into his eyes. Yes, and with
ten thousand feet of space under me an' bursting shells tickling the
ribs of the boat I was in. An' d'ye think I'll sit now on the
grandstand an' watch while a game like this is being pulled? Ye don't
know your future husband, soul of my delight!"

And so we started toward the golden opening, squads of the frog-men
following us soldierly and disappearing about the huge structure. Nor
did we stop until we came to the handmaiden's boudoir. There we seated
ourselves.

"Now," said Larry, "two things I want to know.  First--how many can
Yolara muster against us; second, how many of these _Akka_ have we to
meet them?"

Rador gave our equivalent for eighty thousand men as the force Yolara
could muster without stripping her city. Against this force, it
appeared, we could count, roughly, upon two hundred thousand of the
_Akka_.

"And they're some fighters!" exclaimed Larry.  "Hell, with odds like
that what're you worrying about? It's over before it's begun."

"But, _Larree_," objected Rador to this, "you forget that the nobles
will have the _Keth_--and other things; also that the soldiers have
fought against the _Akka_ before and will be shielded very well from
their spears and clubs--and that their blades and javelins can bite
through the scales of Nak's warriors. They have many things--"

"Uncle," interjected O'Keefe, "one thing they have is your nerve.
Why, we're more than two to one. And take it from me--"

Without warning dropped the tragedy!



CHAPTER XXXII

"Your Love; Your Lives; Your Souls!"

Lakla had taken no part in the talk since we had reached her bower.
She had seated herself close to the O'Keefe. Glancing at her I had
seen steal over her face that brooding, listening look that was hers
whenever in that mysterious communion with the Three. It vanished;
swiftly she arose; interrupted the Irishman without ceremony.

"Larry darlin'," said the handmaiden.  "The Silent Ones summon us!"

"When do we go?" I asked; Larry's face grew bright with interest.

"The time is now," she said--and hesitated.  "Larry dear, put your
arms about me," she faltered, "for there is something cold that
catches at my heart--and I am afraid."

At his exclamation she gathered herself together; gave a shaky little
laugh.

"It's because I love you so that fear has power to plague me," she
told him.

Without another word he bent and kissed her; in silence we passed on,
his arm still about her girdled waist, golden head and black close
together. Soon we stood before the crimson slab that was the door to
the sanctuary of the Silent Ones. She poised uncertainly before it;
then with a defiant arching of the proud little head that sent all the
bronze-flecked curls flying, she pressed. It slipped aside and once
more the opalescence gushed out, flooding all about us.

Dazzled as before, I followed through the lambent cascades pouring
from the high, carved walls; paused, and my eyes clearing, looked
up--straight into the faces of the Three. The angled orbs centred upon
the handmaiden; softened as I had seen them do when first we had faced
them. She smiled up; seemed to listen.

"Come closer," she commanded, "close to the feet of the Silent Ones."

We moved, pausing at the very base of the dais.  The sparkling mists
thinned; the great heads bent slightly over us; through the veils I
caught a glimpse of huge columnar necks, enormous shoulders covered
with draperies as of pale-blue fire.

I came back to attention with a start, for Lakla was answering a
question only heard by her, and, answering it aloud, I perceived for
our benefit; for whatever was the mode of communication between those
whose handmaiden she was, and her, it was clearly independent of
speech.

"He has been told," she said, "even as you commanded."

Did I see a shadow of pain flit across the flickering eyes? Wondering,
I glanced at Lakla's face and there was a dawn of foreboding and
bewilderment. For a little she held her listening attitude; then the
gaze of the Three left her; focused upon the O'Keefe.

"Thus speak the Silent Ones--through Lakla, their handmaiden," the
golden voice was like low trumpet notes. "At the threshold of doom is
that world of yours above. Yea, even the doom, Goodwin, that ye
dreamed and the shadow of which, looking into your mind they see, say
the Three. For not upon earth and never upon earth can man find means
to destroy the Shining One."

She listened again--and the foreboding deepened to an amazed fear.

"They say, the Silent Ones," she went on, "that they know not whether
even they have power to destroy. Energies we know nothing of entered
into its shaping and are part of it; and still other energies it has
gathered to itself"--she paused; a shadow of puzzlement crept into her
voice "and other energies still, forces that ye _do_ know and symbolize
by certain names--hatred and pride and lust and many others which are
forces real as that hidden in the _Keth_; and among them--fear, which
weakens all those others--" Again she paused.

"But within it is nothing of that greatest of all, that which can make
powerless all the evil others, that which we call--love," she ended
softly.

"I'd like to be the one to put a little more _fear_ in the beast,"
whispered Larry to me, grimly in our own English. The three weird
heads bent, ever so slightly--and I gasped, and Larry grew a little
white as Lakla nodded--

"They say, Larry," she said, "that there you touch one side of the
heart of the matter--for it is through the way of fear the Silent Ones
hope to strike at the very life of the Shining One!"

The visage Larry turned to me was eloquent of wonder; and mine
reflected it--for what _really_ were this Three to whom our minds were
but open pages, so easily read? Not long could we conjecture; Lakla
broke the little silence.

"This, they say, is what is to happen.  First will come upon us Lugur
and Yolara with all their host. Because of fear the Shining One will
lurk behind within its lair; for despite all, the Dweller _does_ dread
the Three, and only them. With this host the Voice and the priestess
will strive to conquer. And if they do, then will they be strong
enough, too, to destroy us all. For if they take the abode they banish
from the Dweller all fear and sound the end of the Three.

"Then will the Shining One be all free indeed; free to go out into the
world, free to do there as it wills!

"But if they do not conquer--and the Shining One comes not to their
aid, abandoning them even as it abandoned its own _Taithu_--then will
the Three be loosed from a part of their doom, and they will go
through the Portal, seek the Shining One beyond the Veil, and,
piercing it through fear's opening, destroy it."

"That's quite clear," murmured the O'Keefe in my ear. "Weaken the
morale--then smash. I've seen it happen a dozen times in Europe. While
they've got their nerve there's not a thing you can do; get their
nerve--and not a thing can they do. And yet in both cases they're the
same men."

Lakla had been listening again.  She turned, thrust out hands to
Larry, a wild hope in her eyes--and yet a hope half shamed.

"They say," she cried, "that they give us choice.  Remembering that
your world doom hangs in the balance, we have choice--choice to stay
and help fight Yolara's armies--and they say they look not lightly on
that help. Or choice to go--and if so be you choose the latter, then
will they show another way that leads into your world!"

A flush had crept over the O'Keefe's face as she was speaking.  He
took her hands and looked long into the golden eyes; glancing up I saw
the Trinity were watching them intently--imperturbably.

"What do you say, _mavourneen_?" asked Larry gently.  The handmaiden
hung her head; trembled.

"Your words shall be mine, O one I love," she whispered. "So going or
staying, I am beside you."

"And you, Goodwin?" he turned to me.  I shrugged my shoulders--after
all I had no one to care.

"It's up to you, Larry," I remarked, deliberately choosing his own
phraseology.

The O'Keefe straightened, squared his shoulders, gazed straight into
the flame-flickering eyes.

"We stick!" he said briefly.

Shamefacedly I recall now that at the time I thought this
colloquialism not only irreverent, but in somewhat bad taste. I am
glad to say I was alone in that bit of weakness. The face that Lakla
turned to Larry was radiant with love, and although the shamed hope
had vanished from the sweet eyes, they were shining with adoring
pride. And the marble visages of the Three softened, and the little
flames died down.

"Wait," said Lakla, "there is one other thing they say we must answer
before they will hold us to that promise--wait--"

She listened, and then her face grew white--white as those of the
Three themselves; the glorious eyes widened, stark terror filling
them; the whole lithe body of her shook like a reed in the wind.

"Not that!" she cried out to the Three.  "Oh, not that!  Not
Larry--let me go even as you will--but not him!" She threw up frantic
hands to the woman-being of the Trinity. "Let _me_ bear it alone," she
wailed. "Alone--mother! Mother!"

The Three bent their heads toward her, their faces pitiful, and from
the eyes of the woman One rolled--tears! Larry leaped to Lakla's side.

_"Mavourneen!"_ he cried.  "Sweetheart, what have they said to you?"

He glared up at the Silent Ones, his hand twitching toward the
high-hung pistol holster.

The handmaiden swung to him; threw white arms around his neck; held
her head upon his heart until her sobbing ceased.

"This they--say--the Silent Ones," she gasped and then all the courage
of her came back. "O heart of mine!" she whispered to Larry, gazing
deep into his eyes, his anxious face cupped between her white palms.
"This they say--that should the Shining One come to succour Yolara and
Lugur, should it conquer its fear--and--do this--then is there but one
way left to destroy it--and to save your world."

She swayed; he gripped her tightly.

"But one way--you and I must go--together--into its embrace!  Yea, we
must pass within it--loving each other, loving the world, realizing to
the full all that we sacrifice and sacrificing all, our love, our
lives, perhaps even that you call soul, O loved one; must give
ourselves _all_ to the Shining One--gladly, freely, our love for each
other flaming high within us--that this curse shall pass away! For if
we do this, pledge the Three, then shall that power of love we carry
into it weaken for a time all that evil which the Shining One has
become--and in that time the Three can strike and slay!"

The blood rushed from my heart; scientist that I am, essentially, my
reason rejected any such solution as this of the activities of the
Dweller. Was it not, the thought flashed, a propitiation by the Three
out of their own weakness--and as it flashed I looked up to see their
eyes, full of sorrow, on mine--and knew they read the thought. Then
into the whirling vortex of my mind came steadying reflections--of
history changed by the power of hate, of passion, of ambition, and
most of all, by love. Was there not actual dynamic energy in these
things--was there not a Son of Man who hung upon a cross on Calvary?

"Dear love o' mine," said the O'Keefe quietly, "is it in your heart to
say _yes_ to this?"

"Larry," she spoke low, "what is in your heart is in mine; but I did
so want to go with you, to live with you--to--to bear you children,
Larry--and to see the sun."

My eyes were wet; dimly through them I saw his gaze on me.

"If the world _is_ at stake," he whispered, "why of course there's only
one thing to do. God knows I never was afraid when I was fighting up
there--and many a better man than me has gone West with shell and
bullet for the same idea; but these things aren't shell and
bullet--but I hadn't Lakla then--and it's the damned _doubt_ I have
behind it all."

He turned to the Three--and did I in their poise sense a rigidity, an
anxiety that sat upon them as alienly as would divinity upon men?

"Tell me this, Silent Ones," he cried.  "If we do this, Lakla and I,
is it _sure_ you are that you can slay the--Thing, and save my world? Is
it _sure_ you are?"

For the first and the last time, I heard the voice of the Silent Ones.
It was the man-being at the right who spoke.

"We are sure," the tones rolled out like deepest organ notes, shaking,
vibrating, assailing the ears as strangely as their appearance struck
the eyes. Another moment the O'Keefe stared at them. Once more he
squared his shoulders; lifted Lakla's chin and smiled into her eyes.

"We stick!" he said again, nodding to the Three.

Over the visages of the Trinity fell benignity that was--awesome; the
tiny flames in the jet orbs vanished, leaving them wells in which
brimmed serenity, hope--an extraordinary joyfulness. The woman sat
upright, tender gaze fixed upon the man and girl. Her great shoulders
raised as though she had lifted her arms and had drawn to her those
others. The three faces pressed together for a fleeting moment; raised
again. The woman bent forward--and as she did so, Lakla and Larry, as
though drawn by some outer force, were swept upon the dais.

Out from the sparkling mist stretched two hands, enormously long,
six-fingered, thumbless, a faint tracery of golden scales upon their
white backs, utterly unhuman and still in some strange way beautiful,
radiating power and--all womanly!

They stretched forth; they touched the bent heads of Lakla and the
O'Keefe; caressed them, drew them together, softly stroked
them--lovingly, with more than a touch of benediction. And withdrew!

The sparkling mists rolled up once more, hiding the Silent Ones.  As
silently as once before we had gone we passed out of the place of
light, beyond the crimson stone, back to the handmaiden's chamber.

Only once on our way did Larry speak.

"Cheer up, darlin'," he said to her, "it's a long way yet before the
finish. An' are you thinking that Lugur and Yolara are going to pull
this thing off? Are you?"

The handmaiden only looked at him, eyes love and sorrow filled.

"They are!" said Larry.  "They are!  Like HELL they are!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

The Meeting of Titans

It is not my intention, nor is it possible no matter how interesting
to me, to set down _ad seriatim_ the happenings of the next twelve
hours. But a few will not be denied recital.

O'Keefe regained cheerfulness.

"After all, Doc," he said to me, "it's a beautiful scrap we're going
to have. At the worst the worst is no more than the leprechaun warned
about. I would have told the Taitha De about the banshee raid he
promised me; but I was a bit taken off my feet at the time. The old
girl an' all the clan'll be along, said the little green man, an' I
bet the Three will be damned glad of it, take it from me."

Lakla, shining-eyed and half fearful too:

"I have other tidings that I am afraid will please you little,
Larry--darlin'. The Silent Ones say that you must not go into battle
yourself. You must stay here with me, and with Goodwin--for
if--if--the Shining One does come, then must we be here to meet it.
And you might not be, you know, Larry, if you fight," she said,
looking shyly up at him from under the long lashes.

The O'Keefe's jaw dropped.

"That's about the hardest yet," he answered slowly.  "Still--I see
their point; the lamb corralled for the altar has no right to stray
out among the lions," he added grimly. "Don't worry, sweet," he told
her. "As long as I've sat in the game I'll stick to the rules."

Olaf took fierce joy in the coming fray. "The Norns spin close to the
end of this web," he rumbled. "_Ja!_ And the threads of Lugur and the
Heks woman are between their fingers for the breaking! Thor will be
with me, and I have fashioned me a hammer in glory of Thor." In his
hand was an enormous mace of black metal, fully five feet long,
crowned with a massive head.

I pass to the twelve hours' closing.

At the end of the _coria_ road where the giant fernland met the edge
of the cavern's ruby floor, hundreds of the _Akka_ were stationed in
ambush, armed with their spears tipped with the rotting death and
their nail-studded, metal-headed clubs. These were to attack when the
Murians debauched from the _corials_. We had little hope of doing more
here than effect some attrition of Yolara's hosts, for at this place
the captains of the Shining One could wield the _Keth_ and their other
uncanny weapons freely. We had learned, too, that every forge and
artisan had been put to work to make an armour Marakinoff had devised
to withstand the natural battle equipment of the frog-people--and both
Larry and I had a disquieting faith in the Russian's ingenuity.

At any rate the numbers against us would be lessened.

Next, under the direction of the frog-king, levies commanded by
subsidiary chieftains had completed rows of rough walls along the
probable route of the Murians through the cavern. These afforded the
_Akka_ a fair protection behind which they could hurl their darts and
spears--curiously enough they had never developed the bow as a weapon.

At the opening of the cavern a strong barricade stretched almost to
the two ends of the crescent strand; almost, I say, because there had
not been time to build it entirely across the mouth.

And from edge to edge of the titanic bridge, from where it sprang
outward at the shore of the Crimson Sea to a hundred feet away from
the golden door of the abode, barrier after barrier was piled.

Behind the wall defending the mouth of the cavern, waited other
thousands of the _Akka_. At each end of the unfinished barricade they
were mustered thickly, and at right and left of the crescent where
their forest began, more legions were assembled to make way up to the
ledge as opportunity offered.

Rank upon rank they manned the bridge barriers; they swarmed over the
pinnacles and in the hollows of the island's ragged outer lip; the
domed castle was a hive of them, if I may mix my metaphors--and the
rocks and gardens that surrounded the abode glittered with them.

"Now," said the handmaiden, "there's nothing else we can do--save
wait."

She led us out through her bower and up the little path that ran to
the embrasure.

Through the quiet came a sound, a sighing, a half-mournful whispering
that beat about us and fled away.

"They come!" cried Lakla, the light of battle in her eyes. Larry drew
her to him, raised her in his arms, kissed her.

"A woman!" acclaimed the O'Keefe.  "A real woman--and mine!"

With the cry of the Portal there was movement among the _Akka_, the
glint of moving spears, flash of metal-tipped clubs, rattle of horny
spurs, rumblings of battle-cries.

And we waited--waited it seemed interminably, gaze fastened upon the
low wall across the cavern mouth. Suddenly I remembered the crystal
through which I had peered when the hidden assassins had crept upon
us. Mentioning it to Lakla, she gave a little cry of vexation, a
command to her attendant; and not long that faithful if unusual lady
had returned with a tray of the glasses. Raising mine, I saw the lines
furthest away leap into sudden activity. Spurred warrior after warrior
leaped upon the barricade and over it. Flashes of intense, green
light, mingled with gleams like lightning strokes of concentrated moon
rays, sprang from behind the wall--sprang and struck and burned upon
the scales of the batrachians.

"They come!" whispered Lakla.

At the far ends of the crescent a terrific milling had begun. Here it
was plain the _Akka_ were holding. Faintly, for the distance was
great, I could see fresh force upon force rush up and take the places
of those who had fallen.

Over each of these ends, and along the whole line of the barricade a
mist of dancing, diamonded atoms began to rise; sparking, coruscating
points of diamond dust that darted and danced.

What had once been Lakla's guardians--dancing now in the nothingness!

"God, but it's hard to stay here like this!" groaned the O'Keefe;
Olaf's teeth were bared, the lips drawn back in such a fighting grin
as his ancestors berserk on their raven ships must have borne; Rador
was livid with rage; the handmaiden's nostrils flaring wide, all her
wrathful soul in her eyes.

Suddenly, while we looked, the rocky wall which the _Akka_ had built
at the cavern mouth--was not! It vanished, as though an unseen,
unbelievably gigantic hand had with the lightning's speed swept it
away. And with it vanished, too, long lines of the great amphibians
close behind it.

Then down upon the ledge, dropping into the Crimson Sea, sending up
geysers of ruby spray, dashing on the bridge, crushing the frog-men,
fell a shower of stone, mingled with distorted shapes and fragments
whose scales still flashed meteoric as they hurled from above.

"That which makes things fall upward," hissed Olaf. "That which I saw
in the garden of Lugur!"

The fiendish agency of destruction which Marakinoff had revealed to
Larry; the force that cut off gravitation and sent all things within
its range racing outward into space!

And now over the debris upon the ledge, striking with long sword and
daggers, here and there a captain flashing the green ray, moving on in
ordered squares, came the soldiers of the Shining One. Nearer and
nearer the verge of the ledge they pushed Nak's warriors. Leaping upon
the dwarfs, smiting them with spear and club, with teeth and spur, the
_Akka_ fought like devils. Quivering under the ray, they leaped and
dragged down and slew.

Now there was but one long line of the frog-men at the very edge of
the cliff.

And ever the clouds of dancing, diamonded atoms grew thicker over them
all!

That last thin line of the _Akka_ was going; yet they fought to the
last, and none toppled over the lip without at least one of the
armoured Murians in his arms.

My gaze dropped to the foot of the cliffs.  Stretched along their
length was a wide ribbon of beauty--a shimmering multitude of
gleaming, pulsing, prismatic moons; glowing, glowing ever brighter,
ever more wondrous--the gigantic Medusae globes feasting on dwarf and
frog-man alike!

Across the waters, faintly, came a triumphant shouting from Lugur's
and Yolara's men!

Was the ruddy light of the place lessening, growing paler, changing to
a faint rose? There was an exclamation from Larry; something like hope
relaxed the drawn muscles of his face. He pointed to the aureate dome
wherein sat the Three--and then I saw!

Out of it, through the long transverse slit through which the Silent
Ones kept their watch on cavern, bridge, and abyss, a torrent of the
opalescent light was pouring. It cascaded like a waterfall, and as it
flowed it spread whirling out, in columns and eddies, clouds and wisps
of misty, curdled coruscations. It hung like a veil over all the
islands, filtering everywhere, driving back the crimson light as
though possessed of impenetrable substance--and still it cast not the
faintest shadowing upon our vision.

"Good God!" breathed Larry.  "Look!"

The radiance was marching--_marching_--down the colossal bridge. It
moved swiftly, in some unthinkable way _intelligently_. It swathed the
_Akka_, and closer, ever closer it swept toward the approach upon
which Yolara's men had now gained foothold.

From their ranks came flash after flash of the green ray--aimed at
the abode! But as the light sped and struck the opalescence it was
blotted out! The shimmering mists seemed to enfold, to dissipate it.

Lakla drew a deep breath.

"The Silent Ones forgive me for doubting them," she whispered; and
again hope blossomed on her face even as it did on Larry's.

The frog-men were gaining.  Clothed in the armour of that mist, they
pressed back from the bridge-head the invaders. There was another
prodigious movement at the ends of the crescent, and racing up,
pressing against the dwarfs, came other legions of Nak's warriors. And
re-enforcing those out on the prodigious arch, the frog-men stationed
in the gardens below us poured back to the castle and out through the
open Portal.

"They're licked!" shouted Larry.  "They're--"

So quickly I could not follow the movement his automatic leaped to his
hand--spoke, once and again and again. Rador leaped to the head of the
little path, sword in hand; Olaf, shouting and whirling his mace,
followed. I strove to get my own gun quickly.

For up that path were running twoscore of Lugur's men, while from
below Lugur's own voice roared.

"Quick!  Slay not the handmaiden or her lover!  Carry them down.
Quick! But slay the others!"

The handmaiden raced toward Larry, stopped, whistled shrilly--again
and again. Larry's pistol was empty, but as the dwarfs rushed upon him
I dropped two of them with mine. It jammed--I could not use it; I
sprang to his side. Rador was down, struggling in a heap of Lugur's
men. Olaf, a Viking of old, was whirling his great hammer, and
striking, striking through armour, flesh, and bone.

Larry was down, Lakla flew to him.  But the Norseman, now streaming
blood from a dozen wounds, caught a glimpse of her coming, turned,
thrust out a mighty hand, sent her reeling back, and then with his
hammer cracked the skulls of those trying to drag the O'Keefe down the
path.

A cry from Lakla--the dwarfs had seized her, had lifted her despite
her struggles, were carrying her away. One I dropped with the butt of
my useless pistol, and then went down myself under the rush of
another.

Through the clamour I heard a booming of the _Akka_, closer, closer;
then through it the bellow of Lugur. I made a mighty effort, swung a
hand up, and sunk my fingers in the throat of the soldier striving to
kill me. Writhing over him, my fingers touched a poniard; I thrust it
deep, staggered to my feet.

The O'Keefe, shielding Lakla, was battling with a long sword against a
half dozen of the soldiers. I started toward him, was struck, and
under the impact hurled to the ground. Dizzily I raised myself--and
leaning upon my elbow, stared and moved no more. For the dwarfs lay
dead, and Larry, holding Lakla tightly, was staring even as I, and
ranged at the head of the path were the _Akka_, whose booming advance
in obedience to the handmaiden's call I had heard.

And at what we all stared was Olaf, crimson with his wounds, and
Lugur, in blood-red armour, locked in each other's grip, struggling,
smiting, tearing, kicking, and swaying about the little space before
the embrasure. I crawled over toward the O'Keefe. He raised his
pistol, dropped it.

"Can't hit him without hitting Olaf," he whispered.  Lakla signalled
the frog-men; they advanced toward the two--but Olaf saw them, broke
the red dwarf's hold, sent Lugur reeling a dozen feet away.

"No!" shouted the Norseman, the ice of his pale-blue eyes glinting
like frozen flames, blood streaming down his face and dripping from
his hands. "No! Lugur is mine! None but me slays him! Ho, you Lugur--"
and cursed him and Yolara and the Dweller hideously--I cannot set
those curses down here.

They spurred Lugur.  Mad now as the Norseman, the red dwarf sprang.
Olaf struck a blow that would have killed an ordinary man, but Lugur
only grunted, swept in, and seized him about the waist; one mighty arm
began to creep up toward Huldricksson's throat.

"'Ware, Olaf!" cried O'Keefe; but Olaf did not answer. He waited until
the red dwarf's hand was close to his shoulder; and then, with an
incredibly rapid movement--once before had I seen something like it
in a wrestling match between Papuans--he had twisted Lugur around;
twisted him so that Olaf's right arm lay across the tremendous breast,
the left behind the neck, and Olaf's left leg held the Voice's
armoured thighs viselike against his right knee while over that knee
lay the small of the red dwarf's back.

For a second or two the Norseman looked down upon his enemy,
motionless in that paralyzing grip. And then--slowly--he began to
break him!

Lakla gave a little cry; made a motion toward the two. But Larry drew
her head down against his breast, hiding her eyes; then fastened his
own upon the pair, white-faced, stern.

Slowly, ever so slowly, proceeded Olaf.  Twice Lugur moaned.  At the
end he screamed--horribly. There was a cracking sound, as of a stout
stick snapped.

Huldricksson stooped, silently.  He picked up the limp body of the
Voice, not yet dead, for the eyes rolled, the lips strove to speak;
lifted it, walked to the parapet, swung it twice over his head, and
cast it down to the red waters!



CHAPTER XXXIV

The Coming of the Shining One

The Norseman turned toward us.  There was now no madness in his eyes;
only a great weariness. And there was peace on the once tortured face.

"Helma," he whispered, "I go a little before!  Soon you will come to
me--to me and the Yndling who will await you--Helma, _meine liebe!_"

Blood gushed from his mouth; he swayed, fell.  And thus died Olaf
Huldricksson.

We looked down upon him; nor did Lakla, nor Larry, nor I try to hide
our tears. And as we stood the _Akka_ brought to us that other mighty
fighter, Rador; but in him there was life, and we attended to him
there as best we could.

Then Lakla spoke.

"We will bear him into the castle where we may give him greater care,"
she said. "For, lo! the hosts of Yolara have been beaten back; and on
the bridge comes Nak with tidings."

We looked over the parapet.  It was even as she had said. Neither on
ledge nor bridge was there trace of living men of Muria--only heaps of
slain that lay everywhere--and thick against the cavern mouth still
danced the flashing atoms of those the green ray had destroyed.

"Over!" exclaimed Larry incredulously.  "We live then--heart of
mine!"

"The Silent Ones recall their veils," she said, pointing to the dome.
Back through the slitted opening the radiance was streaming;
withdrawing from sea and island; marching back over the bridge with
that same ordered, intelligent motion. Behind it the red light
pressed, like skirmishers on the heels of a retreating army.

"And yet--" faltered the handmaiden as we passed into her chamber, and
doubtful were the eyes she turned upon the O'Keefe.

"I don't believe," he said, "there's a kick left in them--"

What was that sound beating into the chamber faintly, so faintly?  My
heart gave a great throb and seemed to stop for an eternity. What was
it--coming nearer, ever nearer? Now Lakla and O'Keefe heard it, life
ebbing from lips and cheeks.

Nearer, nearer--a music as of myriads of tiny crystal bells, tinkling,
tinkling--a storm of pizzicati upon violins of glass! Nearer,
nearer--not sweetly now, nor luring; no--raging, wrathful, sinister
beyond words; sweeping on; nearer--

The Dweller!  The Shining One!

We leaped to the narrow window; peered out, aghast.  The bell notes
swept through and about us, a hurricane. The crescent strand was once
more a ferment. Back, back were the _Akka_ being swept, as though by
brooms, tottering on the edge of the ledge, falling into the waters.
Swiftly they were finished; and where they had fought was an eddying
throng clothed in tatters or naked, swaying, drifting, arms
tossing--like marionettes of Satan.

The dead-alive!  The slaves of the Dweller!

They swayed and tossed, and then, like water racing through an opened
dam, they swept upon the bridge-head. On and on they pushed, like the
bore of a mighty tide. The frog-men strove against them, clubbing,
spearing, tearing them. But even those worst smitten seemed not to
fall. On they pushed, driving forward, irresistible--a battering ram
of flesh and bone. They clove the masses of the _Akka_, pressing them
to the sides of the bridge and over. Through the open gates they
forced them--for there was no room for the frog-men to stand against
that implacable tide.

Then those of the _Akka_ who were left turned their backs and ran.  We
heard the clang of the golden wings of the portal, and none too soon
to keep out the first of the Dweller's dreadful hordes.

Now upon the cavern ledge and over the whole length of the bridge
there were none but the dead-alive, men and women, black-polled
_ladala_, sloe-eyed Malays, slant-eyed Chinese, men of every race that
sailed the seas--milling, turning, swaying, like leaves caught in a
sluggish current.

The bell notes became sharper, more insistent.  At the cavern mouth a
radiance began to grow--a gleaming from which the atoms of diamond
dust seemed to try to flee. As the radiance grew and the crystal notes
rang nearer, every head of that hideous multitude turned stiffly,
slowly toward the right, looking toward the far bridge end; their eyes
fixed and glaring; every face an inhuman mask of rapture and of
horror!

A movement shook them.  Those in the centre began to stream back,
faster and ever faster, leaving motionless deep ranks on each side.
Back they flowed until from golden doors to cavern mouth a wide lane
stretched, walled on each side by the dead-alive.

The far radiance became brighter; it gathered itself at the end of the
dreadful lane; it was shot with sparklings and with pulsings of
polychromatic light. The crystal storm was intolerable, piercing the
ears with countless tiny lances; brighter still the radiance.

From the cavern swirled the Shining One!

The Dweller paused, seemed to scan the island of the Silent Ones half
doubtfully; then slowly, stately, it drifted out upon the bridge.
Closer it drew; behind it glided Yolara at the head of a company of
her dwarfs, and at her side was the hag of the Council whose face was
the withered, shattered echo of her own.

Slower grew the Dweller's pace as it drew nearer.  Did I sense in it a
doubt, an uncertainty? The crystal-tongued, unseen choristers that
accompanied it subtly seemed to reflect the doubt; their notes were
not sure, no longer insistent; rather was there in them an undertone
of hesitancy, of warning! Yet on came the Shining One until it stood
plain beneath us, searching with those eyes that thrust from and
withdrew into unknown spheres, the golden gateway, the cliff face, the
castle's rounded bulk--and more intently than any of these, the dome
wherein sat the Three.

Behind it each face of the dead-alive turned toward it, and those
beside it throbbed and gleamed with its luminescence.

Yolara crept close, just beyond the reach of its spirals. She
murmured--and the Dweller bent toward her, its seven globes steady in
their shining mists, as though listening. It drew erect once more,
resumed its doubtful scrutiny. Yolara's face darkened; she turned
abruptly, spoke to a captain of her guards. A dwarf raced back between
the palisades of dead-alive.

Now the priestess cried out, her voice ringing like a silver clarion.

"Ye are done, ye Three!  The Shining One stands at your door,
demanding entrance. Your beasts are slain and your power is gone. Who
are ye, says the Shining One, to deny it entrance to the place of its
birth?"

"Ye do not answer," she cried again, "yet know we that ye hear!  The
Shining One offers these terms: Send forth your handmaiden and that
lying stranger she stole; send them forth to us--and perhaps ye may
live. But if ye send them not forth, then shall ye too die--and soon!"

We waited, silent, even as did Yolara--and again there was no answer
from the Three.

The priestess laughed; the blue eyes flashed.

"It is ended!" she cried.  "If you will not open, needs must we open
for you!"

Over the bridge was marching a long double file of the dwarfs.  They
bore a smoothed and handled tree-trunk whose head was knobbed with a
huge ball of metal. Past the priestess, past the Shining One, they
carried it; fifty of them to each side of the ram; and behind them
stepped--Marakinoff!

Larry awoke to life.

"Now, thank God," he rasped, "I can get that devil, anyway!"

He drew his pistol, took careful aim.  Even as he pressed the trigger
there rang through the abode a tremendous clanging. The ram was
battering at the gates. O'Keefe's bullet went wild. The Russian must
have heard the shot; perhaps the missile was closer than we knew. He
made a swift leap behind the guards; was lost to sight.

Once more the thunderous clanging rang through the castle.

Lakla drew herself erect; down upon her dropped the listening
aloofness. Gravely she bowed her head.

"It is time, O love of mine." She turned to O'Keefe.  "The Silent Ones
say that the way of fear is closed, but the way of love is open. They
call upon us to redeem our promise!"

For a hundred heart-beats they clung to each other, breast to breast
and lip to lip. Below, the clangour was increasing, the great trunk
swinging harder and faster upon the metal gates. Now Lakla gently
loosed the arms of the O'Keefe, and for another instant those two
looked into each other's souls. The handmaiden smiled tremulously.

"I would it might have been otherwise, Larry darlin'," she whispered.
"But at least--we pass together, dearest of mine!"

She leaped to the window.

"Yolara!" the golden voice rang out sweetly.  The clanging ceased.
"Draw back your men. We open the Portal and come forth to you and the
Shining One--Larry and I."

The priestess's silver chimes of laughter rang out, cruel, mocking.

"Come, then, quickly," she jeered.  "For surely both the Shining One
and I yearn for you!" Her malice-laden laughter chimed high once more.
"Keep us not lonely long!" the priestess mocked.

Larry drew a deep breath, stretched both hands out to me.

"It's good-by, I guess, Doc." His voice was strained. "Good-by and
good luck, old boy. If you get out, and you _will_, let the old
_Dolphin_ know I'm gone. And carry on, pal--and always remember the
O'Keefe loved you like a brother."

I squeezed his hands desperately.  Then out of my balanceshaking woe a
strange comfort was born.

"Maybe it's not good-by, Larry!" I cried.  "The banshee has not
cried!"

A flash of hope passed over his face; the old reckless grin shone
forth.

"It's so!" he said.  "By the Lord, it's so!"

Then Lakla bent toward me, and for the second time--kissed me.

"Come!" she said to Larry.  Hand in hand they moved away, into the
corridor that led to the door outside of which waited the Shining One
and its priestess.

And unseen by them, wrapped as they were within their love and
sacrifice, I crept softly behind. For I had determined that if enter
the Dweller's embrace they must, they should not go alone.

They paused before the Golden Portals; the handmaiden pressed its
opening lever; the massive leaves rolled back.

Heads high, proudly, serenely, they passed through and out upon the
hither span. I followed.

On each side of us stood the Dweller's slaves, faces turned rigidly
toward their master. A hundred feet away the Shining One pulsed and
spiralled in its evilly glorious lambency of sparkling plumes.

Unhesitating, always with that same high serenity, Lakla and the
O'Keefe, hands clasped like little children, drew closer to that
wondrous shape. I could not see their faces, but I saw awe fall upon
those of the watching dwarfs, and into the burning eyes of Yolara
crept a doubt. Closer they drew to the Dweller, and closer, I
following them step by step. The Shining One's whirling lessened; its
tinklings were faint, almost stilled. It seemed to watch them
apprehensively. A silence fell upon us all, a thick silence, brooding,
ominous, palpable. Now the pair were face to face with the child of
the Three--so near that with one of its misty tentacles it could have
enfolded them.

And the Shining One drew back!

Yes, drew back--and back with it stepped Yolara, the doubt in her eyes
deepening. Onward paced the handmaiden and the O'Keefe--and step by
step, as they advanced, the Dweller withdrew; its bell notes chiming
out, puzzled questioning--half fearful!

And back it drew, and back until it had reached the very centre of
that platform over the abyss in whose depths pulsed the green fires of
earth heart. And there Yolara gripped herself; the hell that seethed
within her soul leaped out of her eyes, a cry, a shriek of rage, tore
from her lips.

As at a signal, the Shining One flamed high; its spirals and eddying
mists swirled madly, the pulsing core of it blazed radiance. A score
of coruscating tentacles swept straight upon the pair who stood
intrepid, unresisting, awaiting its embrace. And upon me, lurking
behind them.

Through me swept a mighty exaltation.  It was the end then--and I was
to meet it with them.

Something drew us back, back with an incredible swiftness, and yet as
gently as a summer breeze sweeps a bit of thistle-down! Drew us back
from those darting misty arms even as they were a hair-breadth from
us! I heard the Dweller's bell notes burst out ragingly! I heard
Yolara scream.

What was that?

Between the three of us and them was a ring of curdled moon flames,
swirling about the Shining One and its priestess, pressing in upon
them, enfolding them!

And within it I glimpsed the faces of the Three--implacable,
sorrowful, filled with a supernal power!

Sparks and flashes of white flame darted from the ring, penetrating
the radiant swathings of the Dweller, striking through its pulsing
nucleus, piercing its seven crowning orbs.

Now the Shining One's radiance began to dim, the seven orbs to dull;
the tiny sparkling filaments that ran from them down into the
Dweller's body snapped, vanished! Through the battling nebulosities
Yolara's face swam forth--horror-filled, distorted, inhuman!

The ranks of the dead-alive quivered, moved, writhed, as though each
felt the torment of the Thing that had enslaved them. The radiance
that the Three wielded grew more intense, thicker, seemed to expand.
Within it, suddenly, were scores of flaming triangles--scores of eyes
like those of the Silent Ones!

And the Shining One's seven little moons of amber, of silver, of blue
and amethyst and green, of rose and white, split, shattered, were
gone! Abruptly the tortured crystal chimings ceased.

Dulled, all its soul-shaking beauty dead, blotched and shadowed
squalidly, its gleaming plumes tarnished, its dancing spirals stripped
from it, that which had been the Shining One wrapped itself about
Yolara--wrapped and drew her into itself; writhed, swayed, and hurled
itself over the edge of the bridge--down, down into the green fires of
the unfathomable abyss--with its priestess still enfolded in its
coils!

From the dwarfs who had watched that terror came screams of panic
fear. They turned and ran, racing frantically over the bridge toward
the cavern mouth.

The serried ranks of the dead-alive trembled, shook.  Then from their
faces tied the horror of wedded ecstasy and anguish. Peace, utter
peace, followed in its wake.

And as fields of wheat are bent and fall beneath the wind, they fell.
No longer dead-alive, now all of the blessed dead, freed from their
dreadful slavery!

Abruptly from the sparkling mists the cloud of eyes was gone.  Faintly
revealed in them were only the heads of the Silent Ones. And they drew
before us; were before us! No flames now in their ebon eyes--for the
flickering fires were quenched in great tears, streaming down the
marble white faces. They bent toward us, over us; their radiance
enfolded us. My eyes darkened. I could not see. I felt a tender hand
upon my head--and panic and frozen dread and nightmare web that held
me fled.

Then they, too, were gone.

Upon Larry's breast the handmaiden was sobbing--sobbing out her
heart--but this time with the joy of one who is swept up from the
very threshold of hell into paradise.



CHAPTER XXXV

"Larry--Farewell!"

"My heart, Larry--" It was the handmaiden's murmur. "My heart feels
like a bird that is flying from a nest of sorrow."

We were pacing down the length of the bridge, guards of the _Akka_
beside us, others following with those companies of _ladala_ that had
rushed to aid us; in front of us the bandaged Rador swung gently
within a litter; beside him, in another, lay Nak, the frog-king--much
less of him than there had been before the battle began, but living.

Hours had passed since the terror I have just related.  My first task
had been to search for Throckmartin and his wife among the fallen
multitudes strewn thick as autumn leaves along the flying arch of
stone, over the cavern ledge, and back, back as far as the eye could
reach.

At last, Lakla and Larry helping, we found them.  They lay close to
the bridge-end, not parted--locked tight in each other's arms, pallid
face to face, her hair streaming over his breast! As though when that
unearthly life the Dweller had set within them passed away, their own
had come back for one fleeting instant--and they had known each other,
and clasped before kindly death had taken them.

"Love is stronger than all things." The handmaiden was weeping softly.
"Love never left them. Love was stronger than the Shining One. And
when its evil fled, love went with them--wherever souls go."

Of Stanton and Thora there was no trace; nor, after our discovery of
those other two, did I care to look more. They were dead--and they
were free.

We buried Throckmartin and Edith beside Olaf in Lakla's bower.  But
before the body of my old friend was placed within the grave I gave it
a careful and sorrowful examination. The skin was firm and smooth, but
cold; not the cold of death, but with a chill that set my touching
fingers tingling unpleasantly. The body was bloodless; the course of
veins and arteries marked by faintly indented white furrows, as though
their walls had long collapsed. Lips, mouth, even the tongue, was
paper white. There was no sign of dissolution as we know it; no shadow
or stain upon the marble surface. Whatever the force that, streaming
from the Dweller or impregnating its lair, had energized the
dead-alive, it was barrier against putrescence of any kind; that at
least was certain.

But it was not barrier against the poison of the Medusae, for, our sad
task done, and looking down upon the waters, I saw the pale forms of
the Dweller's hordes dissolving, vanishing into the shifting glories
of the gigantic moons sailing down upon them from every quarter of the
Sea of Crimson.

While the frog-men, those late levies from the farthest forests, were
clearing bridge and ledge of cavern of the litter of the dead, we
listened to a leader of the _ladala_. They had risen, even as the
messenger had promised Rador. Fierce had been the struggle in the
gardened city by the silver waters with those Lugur and Yolara had
left behind to garrison it. Deadly had been the slaughter of the
fair-haired, reaping the harvest of hatred they had been sowing so
long. Not without a pang of regret did I think of the beautiful, gaily
malicious elfin women destroyed--evil though they may have been.

The ancient city of Lara was a charnel.  Of all the rulers not
twoscore had escaped, and these into regions of peril which to
describe as sanctuary would be mockery. Nor had the _ladala_ fared so
well. Of all the men and women, for women as well as men had taken
their part in the swift war, not more than a tenth remained alive.

And the dancing motes of light in the silver air were thick,
thick--they whispered.

They told us of the Shining One rushing through the Veil, cometlike,
its hosts streaming behind it, raging with it, in ranks that seemed
interminable!

Of the massacre of the priests and priestesses in the Cyclopean
temple; of the flashing forth of the summoning lights by unseen
hands--followed by the tearing of the rainbow curtain, by colossal
shatterings of the radiant cliffs; the vanishing behind their debris
of all trace of entrance to the haunted place wherein the hordes of
the Shining One had slaved--the sealing of the lair!

Then, when the tempest of hate had ended in seething Lara, how,
thrilled with victory, armed with the weapons of those they had slain,
they had lifted the Shadow, passed through the Portal, met and
slaughtered the fleeing remnants of Yolara's men--only to find the
tempest stilled here, too.

But of Marakinoff they had seen nothing!  Had the Russian escaped, I
wondered, or was he lying out there among the dead?

But now the _ladala_ were calling upon Lakla to come with them, to
govern them.

"I don't want to, Larry darlin'," she told him.  "I want to go out
with you to Ireland. But for a time--I think the Three would have us
remain and set that place in order."

The O'Keefe was bothered about something else than the government of
Muria.

"If they've killed off all the priests, who's to marry us, heart of
mine?" he worried. "None of those Siya and Siyana rites, no matter
what," he added hastily.

"Marry!" cried the handmaiden incredulously.  "Marry us? Why, Larry
dear, we _are_ married!"

The O'Keefe's astonishment was complete; his jaw dropped; collapse
seemed imminent.

"We are?" he gasped.  "When?" he stammered fatuously.

"Why, when the Mother drew us together before her; when she put her
hands on our heads after we had made the promise! Didn't you
understand that?" asked the handmaiden wonderingly.

He looked at her, into the purity of the clear golden eyes, into the
purity of the soul that gazed out of them; all his own great love
transfiguring his keen face.

"An' is that enough for you, _mavourneen_?" he whispered humbly.

"Enough?" The handmaiden's puzzlement was complete, profound.
"Enough? Larry darlin', what _more_ could we ask?"

He drew a deep breath, clasped her close.

"Kiss the bride, Doc!" cried the O'Keefe.  And for the third and,
soul's sorrow! the last time, Lakla dimpling and blushing, I thrilled
to the touch of her soft, sweet lips.

Quickly were our preparations for departure made.  Rador, conscious,
his immense vitality conquering fast his wounds, was to be borne ahead
of us. And when all was done, Lakla, Larry, and I made our way up to
the scarlet stone that was the doorway to the chamber of the Three. We
knew, of course, that they had gone, following, no doubt, those whose
eyes I had seen in the curdled mists, and who, coming to the aid of
the Three at last from whatever mysterious place that was their home,
had thrown their strength with them against the Shining One. Nor were
we wrong. When the great slab rolled away, no torrents of opalescence
came rushing out upon us. The vast dome was dim, tenantless; its
curved walls that had cascaded Light shone now but faintly; the dais
was empty; its wall of moon-flame radiance gone.

A little time we stood, heads bent, reverent, our hearts filled with
gratitude and love--yes, and with pity for that strange trinity so
alien to us and yet so near; children even as we, though so unlike us,
of our same Mother Earth.

And what I wondered had been the secret of that promise they had wrung
from their handmaiden and from Larry. And whence, if what the Three
had said had been all true--whence had come their power to avert the
sacrifice at the very verge of its consummation?

"Love is stronger than all things!" had said Lakla.

Was it that they had needed, must have, the force which dwells within
love, within willing sacrifice, to strengthen their own power and to
enable them to destroy the evil, glorious Thing so long shielded by
their own love? Did the thought of sacrifice, the will toward
abnegation, have to be as strong as the eternals, unshaken by faintest
thrill of hope, before the Three could make of it their key to unlock
the Dweller's guard and strike through at its life?

Here was a mystery--a mystery indeed!  Lakla softly closed the crimson
stone. The mystery of the red dwarf's appearance was explained when we
discovered a half-dozen of the water _coria_ moored in a small cove
not far from where the _Sekta_ flashed their heads of living bloom.
The dwarfs had borne the shallops with them, and from somewhere beyond
the cavern ledge had launched them unperceived; stealing up to the
farther side of the island and risking all in one bold stroke. Well,
Lugur, no matter what he held of wickedness, held also high courage.

The cavern was paved with the dead-alive, the _Akka_ carrying them out
by the hundreds, casting them into the waters. Through the lane down
which the Dweller had passed we went as quickly as we could, coming at
last to the space where the _coria_ waited. And not long after we
swung past where the shadow had hung and hovered over the shining
depths of the Midnight Pool.

Upon Lakla's insistence we passed on to the palace of Lugur, not to
Yolara's--I do not know why, but go there then she would not. And
within one of its columned rooms, maidens of the black-haired folks,
the wistfulness, the fear, all gone from their sparkling eyes, served
us.

There came to me a huge desire to see the destruction they had told us
of the Dweller's lair; to observe for myself whether it was not
possible to make a way of entrance and to study its mysteries.

I spoke of this, and to my surprise both the handmaiden and the
O'Keefe showed an almost embarrassed haste to acquiesce in my hesitant
suggestion.

"Sure," cried Larry, "there's lots of time before night!"

He caught himself sheepishly; cast a glance at Lakla.

"I keep forgettin' there's no night here," he mumbled.

"What did you say, Larry?" asked she.

"I said I wish we were sitting in our home in Ireland, watching the
sun go down," he whispered to her. Vaguely I wondered why she blushed.

But now I must hasten.  We went to the temple, and here at least the
ghastly litter of the dead had been cleaned away. We passed through
the blue-caverned space, crossed the narrow arch that spanned the
rushing sea stream, and, ascending, stood again upon the ivoried pave
at the foot of the frowning, towering amphitheatre of jet.

Across the Silver Waters there was sign of neither Web of Rainbows nor
colossal pillars nor the templed lips that I had seen curving out
beneath the Veil when the Shining One had swirled out to greet its
priestess and its voice and to dance with the sacrifices. There was
but a broken and rent mass of the radiant cliffs against whose base
the lake lapped.

Long I looked--and turned away saddened.  Knowing even as I did what
the irised curtain had hidden, still it was as though some thing of
supernal beauty and wonder had been swept away, never to be replaced;
a glamour gone for ever; a work of the high gods destroyed.

"Let's go back," said Larry abruptly.

I dropped a little behind them to examine a bit of carving--and,
after all, they did not want me. I watched them pacing slowly ahead,
his arm around her, black hair close to bronze-gold ringlets. Then I
followed. Half were they over the bridge when through the roar of the
imprisoned stream I heard my name called softly.

"Goodwin!  Dr. Goodwin!"

Amazed, I turned.  From behind the pedestal of a carved group
slunk--Marakinoff! My premonition had been right. Some way he had
escaped, slipped through to here. He held his hands high, came forward
cautiously.

"I am finished," he whispered--"Done!  I don't care what _they'll_ do
to me." He nodded toward the handmaiden and Larry, now at the end of
the bridge and passing on, oblivious of all save each other. He drew
closer. His eyes were sunken, burning, mad; his face etched with deep
lines, as though a graver's tool had cut down through it. I took a
step backward.

A grin, like the grimace of a fiend, blasted the Russian's visage.
He threw himself upon me, his hands clenching at my throat!

"Larry!" I yelled--and as I spun around under the shock of his
onslaught, saw the two turn, stand paralyzed, then race toward me.

"But _you'll_ carry nothing out of here!" shrieked Marakinoff.  "No!"

My foot, darting out behind me, touched vacancy.  The roaring of the
racing stream deafened me. I felt its mists about me; threw myself
forward.

I was falling--falling--with the Russian's hand strangling me. I
struck water, sank; the hands that gripped my throat relaxed for a
moment their clutch. I strove to writhe loose; felt that I was being
hurled with dreadful speed on--full realization came--on the breast of
that racing torrent dropping from some far ocean cleft and
rushing--where? A little time, a few breathless instants, I struggled
with the devil who clutched me--inflexibly, indomitably.

Then a shrieking as of all the pent winds of the universe in my
ears--blackness!

Consciousness returned slowly, agonizedly.

"Larry!" I groaned.  "Lakla!"

A brilliant light was glowing through my closed lids.  It hurt.  I
opened my eyes, closed them with swords and needles of dazzling pain
shooting through them. Again I opened them cautiously. It was the sun!

I staggered to my feet.  Behind me was a shattered wall of basalt
monoliths, hewn and squared. Before me was the Pacific, smooth and
blue and smiling.

And not far away, cast up on the strand even as I had been,
was--Marakinoff!

He lay there, broken and dead indeed.  Yet all the waters through
which we had passed--not even the waters of death themselves--could
wash from his face the grin of triumph. With the last of my strength I
dragged the body from the strand and pushed it out into the waves. A
little billow ran up, coiled about it, and carried it away, ducking
and bending. Another seized it, and another, playing with it. It
floated from my sight--that which had been Marakinoff, with all his
schemes to turn our fair world into an undreamed-of-hell.

My strength began to come back to me.  I found a thicket and slept;
slept it must have been for many hours, for when I again awakened the
dawn was rosing the east. I will not tell my sufferings. Suffice it to
say that I found a spring and some fruit, and just before dusk had
recovered enough to writhe up to the top of the wall and discover
where I was.

The place was one of the farther islets of the Nan-Matal. To the north
I caught the shadows of the ruins of Nan-Tauach, where was the moon
door, black against the sky. Where was the moon door--which, someway,
somehow, I must reach, and quickly.

At dawn of the next day I got together driftwood and bound it together
in shape of a rough raft with fallen creepers. Then, with a makeshift
paddle, I set forth for Nan-Tauach. Slowly, painfully, I crept up to
it. It was late afternoon before I grounded my shaky craft on the
little beach between the ruined sea-gates and, creeping up the giant
steps, made my way to the inner enclosure.

And at its opening I stopped, and the tears ran streaming down my
cheeks while I wept aloud with sorrow and with disappointment and with
weariness.

For the great wall in which had been set the pale slab whose threshold
we had crossed to the land of the Shining One lay shattered and
broken. The monoliths were heaped about; the wall had fallen, and
about them shone a film of water, half covering them.

There was no moon door!

Dazed and weeping, I drew closer, climbed upon their outlying
fragments. I looked out only upon the sea. There had been a great
subsidence, an earth shock, perhaps, tilting downward all that
side--the echo, little doubt, of that cataclysm which had blasted the
Dweller's lair!

The little squared islet called Tau, in which were hidden the seven
globes, had entirely disappeared. Upon the waters there was no trace
of it.

The moon door was gone; the passage to the Moon Pool was closed to
me--its chamber covered by the sea!

There was no road to Larry--nor to Lakla!

And there, for me, the world ended.



  Transcriber's note: I have made the following changes to the text:

  PAGE  LINE  ORIGINAL         CHANGED TO
     3    14  sinster          sinister
    17    11  Nam-Tauach       Nan-Tauach
    22    20  on on            on
    69    39  'Didn't          "Didn't
    75    21  'But             "But
    90    36  "Trolde!"        _"Trolde!"_
    91    35  'We              "We
    96    11  shown            shone
    96    14  smiled           smiled.
   105    11  drank            drunk
   106    24  acomplish        accomplish
   109    23  'Shake           "Shake
   111    18  overtstressed    overstressed
   116    11  increduously     incredulously
   120    30  Yolar            Yolara
   128    12  spirtual         spiritual
   150    13  cushoned         cushioned
   172    29  semed            seemed
   204    34  there?"'         there?"
   208    25  "Its             "It's
   231     8  meal             metal
   239     6  suling           sulting
   248    28  finshed          finished
   280    29  much             must





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