Part 2 out of 7
Out flashed two of the arms, with a glancing motion,
with appalling force. They sliced into the close-packed
forward ranks of the armored men; cut out of them two great
Sickened, I saw fragments of man and horse fly. Another
arm javelined from its place like a flying snake, clicked at
the end of another, became a hundred-foot chain which
swirled like a flail through the huddling mass. Down upon
a knot of the soldiers with a straight-forward blow drove
a third arm, driving through them like a giant punch.
All that host which had driven us from the ruins threw
down sword, spear, and pike; fled shrieking. The horsemen
spurred their mounts, riding heedless over the footmen who
fled with them.
The Smiting Thing seemed to watch them go with--
Before they could cover a hundred yards it had disintegrated.
I heard the little wailing sounds--then behind
the fleeing men, close behind them, rose the angled pillar;
into place sprang the flexing arms, and again it took its
toll of them.
They scattered, running singly, by twos, in little groups,
for the sides of the valley. They were like rats scampering
in panic over the bottom of a great green bowl. And like a
monstrous cat the shape played with them--yes, PLAYED.
It melted once more--took new form. Where had been
pillar and flailing arms was now a tripod thirty feet high,
its legs alternate globe and cube and upon its apex a wide
and spinning ring of sparkling spheres. Out from the middle
of this ring stretched a tentacle--writhing, undulating like
a serpent of steel, four score yards at least in length.
At its end cube, globe and pyramid had mingled to form
a huge trident. With the three long prongs of this trident
the thing struck, swiftly, with fearful precision--JOYOUSLY
--tining those who fled, forking them, tossing them from
its points high in air.
It was, I think, that last touch of sheer horror, the playfulness
of the Smiting Thing, that sent my dry tongue to
the roof of my terror-parched mouth, and held open with
monstrous fascination eyes that struggled to close.
Ever the armored men fled from it, and ever was it
swifter than they, teetering at their heels on its tripod legs.
From half its length the darting snake streamed red rain.
I heard a sigh from Ruth; wrested my gaze from the
hollow; turned. She lay fainting in Drake's arms.
Beside the two the swathed woman stood, looking out
upon that slaughter, calm and still, shrouded with an unearthly
tranquillity--viewing it, it came to me, with eyes
impersonal, cold, indifferent as the untroubled stars which
look down upon hurricane and earthquake in this world
There was a rushing of many feet at our left; a wail
from Chiu-Ming. Were they maddened by fear, driven by
despair, determined to slay before they themselves were
slain? I do not know. But those who still lived of the
men from the tunnel mouth were charging us.
They clustered close, their shields held before them. They
had no bows, these men. They moved swiftly down upon
us in silence--swords and pikes gleaming.
The Smiting Thing rocked toward us, the metal tentacle
straining out like a rigid, racing serpent, flying to cut
between its weird mistress and those who menaced her.
I heard Chiu-Ming scream; saw him throw up his hands,
cover his eyes--run straight upon the pikes!
"Chiu-Ming!" I shouted. "Chiu-Ming! This way!"
I ran toward him. Before I had gone five paces Ventnor
flashed by me, revolver spitting. I saw a spear thrown. It
struck the Chinaman squarely in the breast. He tottered--
fell upon his knees.
Even as he dropped, the giant flail swept down upon
the soldiers. It swept through them like a scythe through
ripe grain. It threw them, broken and torn, far toward the
valley's sloping sides. It left only fragments that bore no
semblance to men.
Ventnor was at Chiu-Ming's head; I dropped beside him.
There was a crimson froth upon his lips.
"I thought that Shin-Je was about to slay us," he whispered.
"Fear blinded me."
His head dropped; his body quivered, lay still.
We arose, looked about us dazedly. At the side of the
crevice stood the woman, her gaze resting upon Drake, his
arms about Ruth, her head hidden on his breast.
The valley was empty--save for the huddled heaps that
High up on the mountain path a score of figures crept,
all that were left of those who but a little before had
streamed down to take us captive or to slay. High up in
the darkening heavens the lammergeiers, the winged scavengers
of the Himalayas, were gathering.
The woman lifted her hand, beckoned us once more.
Slowly we walked toward her, stood before her. The great
clear eyes searched us--but no more intently than our own
wondering eyes did her.
We looked upon a vision of loveliness such, I think,
as none has beheld since Trojan Helen was a maid. At
first all I could note were the eyes, clear as rain-washed
April skies, crystal clear as some secret spring sacred to
crescented Diana. Their wide gray irises were flecked with
golden amber and sapphire--flecks that shone like clusters
of little aureate and azure stars.
Then with a strange thrill of wonder I saw that these
tiny constellations were not in the irises alone; that they
clustered even within the pupils--deep within them, like
far-flung stars in the depths of velvety, midnight heavens.
Whence had come those cold fires that had flared from
them, I wondered--more menacing, far more menacing,
in their cold tranquillity than the hot flames of wrath?
These eyes were not perilous--no. Calm they were and
still--yet in them a shadow of interest flickered; a ghost
of friendliness smiled.
Above them were level, delicately penciled brows of
bronze. The lips were coral crimson and--asleep. Sweet
were those lips as ever master painter, dreaming his dream
of the very soul of woman's sweetness, saw in vision and
limned upon his canvas--and asleep, nor wistful for awakening.
A proud, straight nose; a broad low brow, and over it
the masses of the tendriling tresses--tawny, lustrous topaz,
cloudy, METALLIC. Like spun silk of ruddy copper; and misty
as the wisps of cloud that Soul'tze, Goddess of Sleep, sets in
the skies of dawn to catch the wandering dreams of lovers.
Down from the wondrous face melted the rounded
column of her throat to merge into exquisite curves of
shoulders and breasts, half revealed beneath the swathing veils.
But upon that face, within her eyes, kissing her red lips
and clothing her breasts, was something unearthly.
Something that came straight out of the still mysteries
of the star-filled spaces; out of the ordered, the untroubled,
the illimitable void.
A passionless spirit that watched over the human passion
in the scarlet mouth, in every slumbering, sculptured line
of her--guarding her against its awakening.
Twilight calm dropping down from the sun sleep to still
the restless mountain tarn. Ishtar dreamlessly asleep within
Something not of this world we know--and yet of it as
the winds of the Cosmos are to the summer breeze, the
ocean to the wave, the lightnings to the glowworm.
"She isn't--human," I heard Ventnor whispering at my
ear. "Look at her eyes; look at the skin of her--"
Her skin was white as milk of pearls; gossamer fine,
silken and creamy; translucent as though a soft brilliancy
dwelt within it. Beside it Ruth's fair skin was like some
sun-and-wind-roughened country lass's to Titania's.
She studied us as though she were seeing for the first
time beings of her own kind. She spoke--and her voice was
elfin distant, chimingly sweet like hidden little golden bells;
filled with that tranquil, far off spirit that was part of her
--as though indeed a tiny golden chime should ring out
from the silences, speak for them, find tongues for them.
The words were hesitating, halting as though the lips that
uttered them found speech strange--as strange as the clear
eyes found our images.
And the words were Persian--purest, most ancient Persian.
"I am Norhala," the golden voice chimed forth, whispered
down into silence. "I am Norhala."
She shook her head impatiently. A hand stole forth from
beneath her veils, slender, long-fingered with nails like rosy
pearls; above the wrist was coiled a golden dragon with
wicked little crimson eyes. The slender white hand touched
Ruth's head, turned it until the strange, flecked orbs
looked directly into the misty ones of blue.
Long they gazed--and deep. Then she who had named
herself Norhala thrust out a finger, touched the tear that
hung upon Ruth's curled lashes, regarded it wonderingly.
Something of recognition, of memory, seemed to awaken
"You are--troubled?" she asked with that halting effort.
Ruth shook her head.
"THEY--do not trouble you?"
She pointed to the huddled heaps strewing the hollow.
And then I saw whence the light which had streamed from
her great eyes came. For the little azure and golden stars
paled, trembled, then flashed out like galaxies of tiny,
clustered silver suns.
From that weird radiance Ruth shrank, affrighted.
"No--no," she gasped. "I weep for--HIM."
She pointed where Chiu-Ming lay, a brown blotch at
the edge of the shattered men.
"For--him?" There was puzzlement in the faint voice.
"For--that? But why?"
She looked at Chiu-Ming--and I knew that to her the
sight of the crumpled form carried no recognition of the
human, nothing of kin to her. There was a faint wonder
in her eyes, no longer light-filled, when at last she turned
back to us. Long she considered us.
"Now," she broke the silence, "now something stirs within
me that it seems has long been sleeping. It bids me
take you with me. Come!"
Abruptly she turned from us, glided to the crevice. We
looked at each other, seeking council, decision.
"Chiu-Ming," Drake spoke. "We can't leave him like
that. At least let's cover him from the vultures."
"Come." The woman had reached the mouth of the
"I'm afraid! Oh, Martin--I'm afraid." Ruth reached little
trembling hands to her tall brother.
"Come!" Norhala called again. There was an echo of
harshness, a clanging, peremptory and inexorable, in the
Ventnor shrugged his shoulders.
"Come, then," he said.
With one last look at the Chinese, the lammergeiers
already circling about him, we walked to the crevice.
Norhala waited, silent, brooding until we passed her; then
glided behind us.
Before we had gone ten paces I saw that the place was
no fissure. It was a tunnel, a passage hewn by human
hands, its walls covered with the writhing dragon lines, its
roof the mountain.
The swathed woman swept by us. Swiftly we followed
her. Far, far ahead was a wan gleaming. It quivered, a
faintly shimmering, ghostly curtain, a full mile away.
Now it was close; we passed through it and were out of
the tunnel. Before us stretched a narrow gorge, a sword
slash in the body of the towering giant under whose feet
the tunnel crept. High above was the ribbon of the sky.
The sides were dark, but it came to me that here were
no trees, no verdure of any kind. Its floor was strewn with
boulders, fantastically shaped, almost indistinguishable in
the fast closing dark.
Twin monoliths bulwarked the passage end; the gigantic
stones were leaning, crumbling. Fissures radiated from
the opening, like deep wrinkles in the rock, showing where
earth warping, range pressure, had long been working to
close this hewn way.
"Stop," Norhala's abrupt, golden note halted us; and
again through the clear eyes I saw the white starshine
"It may be well--" She spoke as though to herself. "It
may be well to close this way. It is not needed--"
Her voice rang out again, vibrant, strangely disquieting,
harmonious. Murmurous chanting it was at first, rhythmic
and low; ripples and flutings, tones and progressions utterly
unknown to me; unfamiliar, abrupt, and alien themes
that kept returning, droppings of crystal-clear jewels of
sound, golden tollings--and all ordered, mathematical,
GEOMETRIC, even as had been the gestures of the shapes;
Lilliputians of the ruins, Brobdignagian of the haunted
What was it? I had it--IT WAS THOSE GESTURES TRANSFORMED
There was a movement down by the tunnel mouth. It
grew more rapid, seemed to vibrate with her song. Within
the darkness there were little flashes; glimmerings of light
began to come and go--like little awakenings of eyes of
soft, jeweled flames, like giant gorgeous fireflies; flashes of
cloudy amber, gleam of rose, sparkles of diamonds and
of opals, of emeralds and of rubies--blinking, gleaming.
A shimmering mist drew down around them--a swift
and swirling mist. It thickened, was shot with slender
shuttled threads like cobweb, coruscating strands of light.
The shining threads grew thicker, pulsed, were spangled
with tiny vivid sparklings. They ran together, condensed--
and all this in an instant, in a tenth of the time it takes
me to write it.
From fiery mist and gemmed flashes came bolt upon
bolt of lightning. The cliff face leaped out, a cataract of
green flame. The fissures widened, the monoliths trembled,
In the wake of that dazzling brilliancy came utter blackness.
I opened my blinded eyes; slowly the flecks of green
fire cleared. A faint lambency still clung to the cliff. By it
I saw that the tunnel's mouth had vanished, had been
sealed--where it had gaped were only tons of shattered
Came a rushing past us as of great bodies; something
grazed my hand, something whose touch was like that of
warm metal--but metal throbbing with life. They rushed
by--and whispered down into silence.
"Come!" Norhala flitted ahead of us, a faintly luminous
shape in the darkness. Swiftly we followed. I found Ruth
beside me; felt her hand grip my wrist.
"Walter," she whispered, "Walter--she isn't human!"
"Nonsense," I muttered. "Nonsense, Ruth. What do you
think she is--a goddess, a spirit of the Himalayas? She's as
human as you or I."
"No." Even in the darkness I could sense the stubborn
shake of her curly head. "Not all human. Or how could she
have commanded those things? Or have summoned the
lightnings that blasted the tunnel's mouth? And her skin
and hair--they're too WONDERFUL, Walter.
"Why, she makes me look--look coarse. And the light
that hovers about her--why, it is by that light we are
making our way. And when she touched me--I--I glowed
"Human, yes--but there is something else in her--something
stronger than humanness, something that--makes it
sleep!" she added astonishingly.
The ground was level as a dancing floor. We followed
the enigmatic glow--emanation, it seemed to me--from
Norhala which was as a light for us to follow within the
darkness. The high ribbon of sky had vanished--seemed
to be overcast, for I could see no stars.
Within the darkness I began again to sense faint movement;
soft stirring all about us. I had the feeling that on
each side and behind us moved an invisible host.
"There's something moving all about us--going with us,"
Ruth echoed my thought.
"It's the wind," I said, and paused--for there was no
From the blackness before us came a succession of
curious, muffled clickings, like a smothered mitrailleuse.
The luminescence that clothed Norhala brightened, deepening
She pointed into the void ahead; then, as we started
forward, thrust out a hand to Ruth, held her back. Drake
and Ventnor drew close to them, questioningly, anxious.
But I stepped forward, out of the dim gleaming.
Before me were two cubes; one I judged in that uncertain
light to be six feet high, the other half its bulk.
From them a shaft of pale-blue phosphorescence pierced
the murk. They stood, the smaller pressed against the side
of the larger, for all the world like a pair of immense
nursery blocks, placed like steps by some giant child.
As my eyes swept over them, I saw that the shining
shaft was an unbroken span of cubes; not multi-arched
like the Lilliputian bridge of the dragon chamber, but
flat and running out over an abyss that gaped at my very
feet. All of a hundred feet they stretched; a slender, lustrous
girder crossing unguessed depths of gloom. From
far, far below came the faint whisper of rushing waters.
I faltered. For these were the blocks that had formed
the body of the monster of the hollow, its flailing arms.
The thing that had played so murderously with the armored men.
And now had shaped itself into this anchored, quiescent
"Do not fear." It was the woman speaking, softly, as
one would reassure a child. "Ascend. Cross. They obey
I stepped firmly upon the first block, climbed to the
second. The span stretched, sharp edged, smooth, only a
slender, shimmering line revealing where each great cube
held fast to the other.
I walked at first slowly, then with ever-increasing confidence,
for up from the surface streamed a guiding, a
holding force, that was like a host of little invisible hands,
steadying me, keeping firm my feet. I looked down; the
myriads of enigmatic eyes were staring, staring up at me
from deep within. They fascinated me; I felt my pace
slowing; a vertigo seized me. Resolutely I dragged my gaze
up and ahead; marched on.
From the depths came more clearly the sound of the
waters. Now there were but a few feet more of the bridge
before me. I reached its end, dropped my feet over, felt
them touch a smaller cube, and descended.
Over the span came Ventnor. He was leading his laden
pony. He had bandaged its eyes so that it could not look
upon the narrow way it was treading. And close behind, a
band resting reassuringly upon its flank, strode Drake,
swinging along carelessly. The little beast ambled along
serenely, sure-footed as all its mountain kind, and docile
to darkness and guidance.
Then, an arm about Ruth, floated Norhala. Now she
was beside us; dropped her arm from Ruth; glided past us.
On for a hundred yards or more we went, and then she
drew us a little toward the unseen canyon wall.
She stood before us, shielding us. One golden call she
I looked back into the darkness. Something like an
enormous, dimly shimmering rod was raising itself. Higher
it rose and higher. Now it stood, upright, a slender
towering pillar, a gigantic slim figure whose tip pointed a
full hundred feet in the air.
Then slowly it inclined itself toward us; drew closer,
closer to the ground; touched and lay there for an instant
inert. Abruptly it vanished.
But well I knew what I had seen. The span over which
we had passed had raised itself even as had the baby
bridge of the fortress; had lifted itself across the chasm
and dropping itself upon the hither verge had disintegrated
into its units; was following us.
A bridge of metal that could build itself--and break
itself. A thinking, conscious metal bridge! A metal bridge
with volition--with mind--that was following us.
There sighed from behind a soft, sustained wailing;
rapidly it neared us. A wanly glimmering shape drew by;
halted. It was like a rigid serpent cut from a gigantic
square bar of cold blue steel.
Its head was a pyramid, a tetrahedron; its length
vanished in the further darkness. The head raised itself,
the blocks that formed its neck separating into open
wedges like a Brobdignagian replica of those jointed, fantastic,
little painted reptiles the Japanese toy-makers cut
It seemed to regard us--mockingly. The pointed head
dropped--past us streamed the body. Upon it other
pyramids clustered--like the spikes that guarded the back
of the nightmare Brontosaurus. Its end came swiftly into
sight--its tail another pyramid twin to its head.
It FLIRTED by--gaily; vanished.
I had thought the span must disintegrate to follow--and
it did not need to! It could move as a COMPOSITE as well
as in UNITS. Move intelligently, consciously--as the Smiting
Thing had moved.
"Come!" Norhala's command checked my thoughts; we
fell in behind her. Looking up I caught the friendly sparkle
of a star; knew the cleft was widening.
The star points grew thicker. We stepped out into a
valley small as that hollow from which we had fled; ringed
like it with heaven-touching summits. I could see clearly.
The place was suffused with a soft radiance as though into
it the far, bright stars were pouring all their rays, filling it
as a cup with their pale flames.
It was luminous as the Alaskan valleys when on white
arctic nights they are lighted, the Athabascans believe, by
the gleaming spears of hunting gods. The walls of the
valley seemed to be drawn back into infinite distances.
The shimmering mists that had nimbused Norhala had
vanished--or merging into the wan gleaming had become
one with it.
I stared straight at her, striving to clarify in my own
clouded thought what it was that I had sensed as inhuman
--never of OUR world or its peoples. Yet this conviction
came not because of the light that had hovered about
her, nor of her summonings of the lightnings; nor even
of her control of those--things--which had smitten the
armored men and spanned for us the abyss.
All of that I was certain lay in the domain of the explicable,
could be resolved into normality once the basic
facts were gained.
Suddenly, I knew. Side by side with what we term the
human there dwelt within this woman an actual consciousness
foreign to earth, passionless, at least as we
know passion, ordered, mathematical--an emanation of
the eternal law which guides the circling stars.
This it was that had moved in the gestures which had
evoked the lightnings. This it was that had spoken in the
song which were those gestures transformed into sound.
This it was that something greater than my consciousness
knew and accepted.
Something which shared, no--that reigned, serene and
untroubled, upon the throne of her mind; something utterly
UNCOMPREHENDING, utterly unconscious OF, cosmically
blind TO all human emotion; that spread itself like a veil
over her own consciousness; that PLATED her thought--that
was a strange word--why had it come to me--something
that had set its mark upon her like--like--the gigantic
claw print on the poppied field, the little print of the
I caught at my mind, whirling I thought then in the grip
of fantasy; strove by taking minute note of her to bring
myself back to normal.
Her veils had slipped from her, baring her neck, her
arms, the right shoulder. Under the smooth throat a buckle
of dull gold held the sheer, diaphanous folds of the pale
amber silk which swathed the high and rounded breasts,
hiding no goddess curve of them.
A wide and golden girdle clasped the waist, covered the
rounded hips and thighs. The long, narrow, and high-arched
feet were shod with golden sandals, laced just below
the rounded knees with flat turquoise studded bands.
And shining through the amber folds, as glowing above
them, the miracle of her body.
The dream of master sculptor given life. A goddess of
earth's youth reborn in Himalayan wilds.
She raised her eyes; broke the long silence.
"Now being with you," she said dreamily, "there waken
within me old thoughts, old wisdom, old questioning--all
that I had forgotten and thought forgotten forever--"
The golden voice died--she who had spoken was gone
from us, like the fading out of a phantom; like the breaking
of a film.
A flicker shot over the skies, another and another. A
brilliant ray of intense green like that of a distant searchlight
swept to the zenith, hung for a moment and withdrew.
Up came pouring the lances and the streamers of
the aurora; faster and faster, banners and slender shining
spears of green and iridescent blues and smoky, glistening
The valley sprang into full view.
I felt Ventnor's grip upon my wrist. I followed his pointing
finger. Into the valley from the right ran a black spur
of rock, half a mile from us, fifty feet high.
Upon its crest stood--Norhala!
Her arms were lifted to the sparkling sky; her braids
were loosened--and as the fires of the aurora rose and
fell, raced and were still, the silken cloud of her tresses
swirled and eddied with them. Little clouds of coruscations
danced gaily like fireflies about and through it.
And all her bared body was outlined in living light,
glowed and throbbed with light--light filled her like a vessel,
she bathed in it. She thrust arms through the streaming,
flaming locks; held them out from her, prisoned. She
swayed slowly, rhythmically; like a faint, golden chiming
came the echo of her song.
Abruptly around her, half circling her on the black
spur, gleamed myriads of gem fires. Flares and flames of
pale emerald, steady glowing of flame rubies, glints and
lambencies of deepest sapphire, of wan sapphire, flickering
opalescences, irised glitterings. A moment they gleamed.
Then from them came bolt upon bolt of lightning--lightning
that darted upon the lovely shape swaying there;
lightnings that fell upon her, broke and dashed, cascading,
from her radiant body.
The lightnings bathed her--she bathed in them.
The skies were covered by a swift mist. The aurora was
The valley filled with a palely shimmering radiance
which dropped like veils upon it, hiding all within it. Hiding
within fold upon luminous fold--Norhala!
IN THE MIST
Mutely we faced each other, white and wan in the
The valley was very still; as silent as though sound had
been withdrawn from it. The shimmering radiance suffusing
it had thickened perceptibly; hovered over the valley
floor faintly sparkling mists; hid it.
Like a shroud was that silence. Beneath it my mind
struggled, its unease, its forebodings growing ever stronger.
Silently we repacked the saddlebags; girthed the pony;
silently we waited for Norhala's return.
Idly I had noted that the place on which we stood must
be raised above the level of the vale. Up toward us the
gathering mists had been steadily rising; still was their
wavering crest a half score feet below us.
Abruptly out of their dim nebulosity a faintly phosphorescent
square broke. It lifted, slowly; then swept, a
dully lustrous six-foot cube, up the slope and came to rest
almost at our feet. It dwelt there; contemplated us from
its myriads of deep-set, sparkling striations.
In its wake swam, one by one, six others--their tops
raising from the vapors like the first, watchfully; like
shimmering backs of sea monsters; like turrets of fantastic
angled submarines from phosphorescent seas. One by one
they skimmed swiftly over the ledge; and one by one they
nestled, edge to edge and alternately, against the cube
which had gone before.
In a crescent, they stretched before us. Back from them,
a pace, ten paces, twenty, we retreated.
They lay immobile--staring at us.
Cleaving the mists, silk of copper hair streaming wide,
unearthly eyes lambent, floated up behind them--Norhala.
For an instant she was hidden behind their bulk; suddenly
was upon them; drifted over them like some spirit of light;
stood before us.
Her veils were again about her; golden girdle, sandals
of gold and turquoise in their places. Pearl white her body
gleamed; no mark of lightning marred it.
She walked toward us, turned and faced the watching
cubes. She uttered no sound, but as at a signal the central
cube slid forward, halted before her. She rested a hand
upon its edge.
"Ride with me," she said to Ruth.
"Norhala." Ventnor took a step forward. "Norhala, we
must go with her. And this"--he pointed to the pony--
"must go with us."
"I meant--you--to come," the faraway voice chimed,
"but I had not thought of--that."
A moment she considered; then turned to the six waiting
cubes. Again as at a command four of the things
moved, swirled in toward each other with a weird precision,
with a monstrous martial mimicry; joined; stood before
us, a platform twelve feet square, six high.
"Mount," sighed Norhala.
Ventnor looked helplessly at the sheer front facing him.
"Mount." There was half-wondering impatience in her
She caught Ruth by the waist and with the same bewildering
swiftness with which she had vanished from us
when the aurora beckoned she stood, holding the girl,
upon the top of the single cube. It was as though the two
had been lifted, had been levitated with an incredible
"Mount," she murmured again, looking down upon us.
Slowly Ventnor began to bandage the pony's eyes. I
placed my hand upon the edge of the quadruple; sprang. A
myriad unseen hands caught me, raised me, set me instantaneously
on the upward surface.
"Lift the pony to me," I called to Ventnor.
"Lift it?" he echoed, incredulously.
Drake's grin cut like a sunray through the nightmare
dread that shrouded my mind.
"Catch," he called; placed one hand beneath the beast's
belly, the other under its throat; his shoulders heaved--
and up shot the pony, laden as it was, landed softly upon
four wide-stretched legs beside me. The faces of the two
gaped up, ludicrous in their amazement.
"Follow," cried Norhala.
Ventnor leaped wildly for the top, Drake beside him;
in the flash of a humming-bird's wing they were gripping
me, swearing feebly. The unseen hold angled; struck upward;
clutched from ankle to thigh; held us fast--men
Away swept the block that bore Ruth and Norhala; I
saw Ruth crouching, head bent, her arms around the knees
of the woman. They slipped into the mists; vanished.
And after them, like a log in a racing current, we, too,
dipped beneath the faintly luminous vapors.
The cubes moved with an entire absence of vibration; so
smoothly and skimmingly, indeed, that had it not been for
the sudden wind that had risen when first we had stirred,
and that now beat steadily upon our faces, and the
cloudy walls streaming by, I would have thought ourselves
I saw the blurred form of Ventnor drift toward the forward
edge. He walked as though wading. I essayed to follow him;
my feet I could not lift; I could advance only by gliding
them as though skating.
Also the force, whatever it was, that held me seemed
to pass me on from unseen clutch to clutch; it was as
though up to my hips I moved through a closely woven
yet fluid mass of cobwebs. I had the fantastic idea that if
I so willed I could slip over the edge of the blocks, crawl
about their sides without falling--like a fly on the vertical
faces of a huge sugar loaf.
I drew beside Ventnor. He was staring ahead, striving,
I knew, to pierce the mists for some glimpse of Ruth.
He turned to me, his face drawn with anxiety, his eyes
"Can you see them, Walter?" His voice shook. "God--
why did I ever let her go like that? Why did I let her go
"They'll be close ahead, Martin." I spoke out of a conviction
I could not explain. "Whatever it is we're bound
for, wherever it is the woman's taking us, she means to
keep us together--for a time at least. I'm sure of it."
"She said--follow." It was Drake beside us. "How the
hell can we do anything else? We haven't any control over
this bird we're on. But she has. What she meant, Ventnor,
is that it would follow her."
"That's true"--new hope softened the haggard face--
"that's true--but is it? We're reckoning with creatures
that man's imagination never conceived--nor could conceive.
And with this--woman--human in shape, yes, but
human in thought--never. How then can we tell--"
He turned once more, all his consciousness concentrated
in his searching eyes.
Drake's rifle slipped from his hand.
He stooped to pick it up; then tugged with both hands.
The rifle lay immovable.
I bent and strove to aid him. For all the pair of us
could do, the rifle might have been a part of the gleaming
surface on which it rested. The tiny, deepset star points
"They're--laughing at us!" grunted Drake.
"Nonsense," I answered, and tried to check the involuntary
shuddering that shook me, as I saw it shake
him. "Nonsense. These blocks are great magnets--that's
what holds the rifle; what holds us, too."
"I don't mean the rifle," he said; "I mean those points
of lights--the eyes--"
There came from Ventnor a cry of almost anguished
relief. We straightened. Our head shot above the mists
like those of swimmers from water. Unnoticed, we had
been climbing out of them.
And a hundred yards ahead of us, cleaving them,
veiled in them almost to the shoulders, was Norhala,
red-gold tresses steaming; and close beside her were the
brown curls of Ruth. At her brother's cry she turned and
her arm flashed out of the veils with reassuring gesture.
A mile away was an opening in the valley's mountainous
wall; toward it we were speeding. It was no ragged
crevice, no nature split fissure; it gave the impression of a
"Look," whispered Drake.
Between us and the vast gateway, gleaming triangles
began to break through the vapors, like the cutting fins of
sharks, glints of round bodies like gigantic porpoises--
the vapors seethed with them. Quickly the fins and rolling
curves were all about us. They centered upon the portal,
streamed through--a horde of the metal things, leading
us, guarding us, playing about us.
And weird, unutterably weird was that spectacle--the
vast and silent vale with its still, smooth vapors like a
coverlet of cloud; the regal head of Norhala sweeping
over them; the dull glint and gleam of the metal paradoxes
flowing, in ordered motion, all about us; the titanic gateway,
glowing before us.
We were at its threshold; over it.
Upon that threshold the mists foamed like
breaking billows, then ceased abruptly to be. Keeping
exactly the distance I had noted when our gaze had
risen above the fog, glided the block that bore Ruth and
Norhala. In the strange light of the place into which we
had emerged--and whether that place was canyon, corridor,
or tunnel I could not then determine--it stood
One arm of Norhala held Ruth--and in her attitude I
sensed a shielding intent, guardianship--the first really
human impulse this shape of mystery and beauty had
In front of them swept score upon score of her familiars
--no longer dully lustrous, but shining as though
cut from blue and polished steel. They--marched--in
ordered rows, globes and cubes and pyramids; moving
sedately now as units.
I looked behind me; out of the spume boiling at the
portal, were pouring forth other scores of the Metal
Things, darting through like divers through a wave. And
as they drew into our wake and swam into the light,
their dim lustre vanished like a film; their surfaces grew
Whence came the light that set them gleaming? Our
pace had slackened--I looked about me. The walls of
the cleft or tunnel were perpendicular, smooth and shining
with a cold, metallic, greenish glow.
Between the walls, like rhythmic flashing of fire-flies,
pulsed soft and fugitive glimmerings that carried a sense
of the infinitely minute--of electrons, it came to me,
rather than atoms. Their irradiance was greenish, like
the walls; but I was certain that these corpuscles did not
come from them.
They blinked and faded like motes within a shifting
sunbeam; or, to use a more scientific comparison, like
colloids within the illuminated field of the ultramicroscope;
and like these latter it was as though the eyes took in
not the minute particles themselves but their movement
Save for these gleamings the light of the place, although
crepuscular, was crystalline clear. High above us
--five hundred, a thousand feet--the walls merged into
a haze of clouded beryl.
Rock certainly the cliffs were--but rock cut and planed,
smoothed and polished and PLATED!
Yes, that was it--plated. Plated with some metallic
substance that was itself a reservoir of luminosity and
from which, it came to me, pulsed the force that lighted
the winking ions. But who could have done such a thing?
For what purpose? How?
And the meticulousness, the perfection of these
smoothed cliffs struck over my nerves as no rasp could,
stirring a vague resentment, an irritated desire for human
inharmonies, human disorder.
Absorbed in my examination I had forgotten those
who must share with me my doubts and dangers. I felt
a grip on my arm.
"If we get close enough and I can get my feet loose
from this damned thing I'll jump," Drake said.
"What?" I gasped, blankly, startled out of my preoccupation.
I followed his pointing finger. We were rapidly closing
upon the other cube; it was now a scant twenty paces
ahead; it seemed to be stopping. Ventnor was leaning
forward, quivering with eagerness.
"Ruth!" he called. "Ruth--are you all right?"
Slowly she turned to us--my heart gave a great leap,
then seemed to stop. For her sweet face was touched with
that same unearthly tranquillity which was Norhala's; in
her brown eyes was a shadow of that passionless spirit
brooding in Norhala's own; her voice as she answered
held within it more than echo of Norhala's faint, far-off
"Yes," she sighed; "yes, Martin--have no fear for me--"
And turned from us, gazing forward once more with
the woman and as silent as she.
I glanced covertly at Ventnor, at Drake--had I imagined,
or had they too seen? Then I knew they had seen, for
Ventnor's face was white to the lips, and Drake's jaw was
set, his teeth clenched, his eyes blazing with anger.
"What's she doing to Ruth--you saw her face," he
gritted, half inarticulately.
"Ruth!" There was anguish in Ventnor's cry.
She did not turn again. It was as though she had not
The cubes were now not five yards apart. Drake gathered
himself; strained to loosen his feet from the shining
surface, making ready to leap when they should draw
close enough. His great chest swelled with his effort, the
muscles of his neck knotted, sweat steamed down his
"No use," he gasped, "no use, Goodwin. It's like
trying to lift yourself by your boot-straps--like a fly
stuck in molasses."
"Ruth," cried Ventnor once more.
As though it had been a signal the block darted forward,
resuming the distance it had formerly maintained
The vanguard of the Metal Things began to race.
With an incredible speed they fled into, were lost in an
instant within, the luminous distances.
The cube that bore the woman and girl accelerated;
flew faster and faster onward. And as swiftly our own
followed it. The lustrous walls flowed by, dizzily.
We had swept over toward the right wall of the cleft
and were gliding over a broad ledge. This ledge was,
I judged, all of a hundred feet in width. From it the
floor of the place was dropping rapidly.
The opposite precipices were slowly drawing closer.
After us flowed the flanking host.
Steadily our ledge arose and the floor of the canyon
dropped. Now we were twenty feet above it, now thirty.
And the character of the cliffs was changing. Veins of
quartz shone under the metallic plating like cut crystal,
like cloudy opals; here was a splash of vermilion, there a
patch of amber; bands of pallid ochre stained it.
My gaze was caught by a line of inky blackness in the
exact center of the falling floor. So black was it that at
first glance I took it for a vein of jetty lignite.
It widened. It was a crack, a fissure. Now it was a yard
in width, now three, and blackness seemed to well up
from within it, blackness that was the very essence of the
depths. Steadily the ebon rift expanded; spread suddenly
wide open in two sharp-edged, flying wedges--
Earth had dropped away. At our side a gulf had opened,
an abyss, striking down depth upon depth; profound;
We were human atoms, riding upon a steed of sorcery
and racing along a split rampart of infinite space.
I looked behind--scores of the cubes were darting from
the metal host trailing us; in a long column of twos they
flashed by, raced ahead. Far in front of us a gloom began
to grow; deepened until we were rushing into blackest
Through the murk stabbed a long lance of pale blue
phosphorescence. It unrolled like a ribbon of wan flame,
flicked like a serpent's tongue--held steady. I felt the
Thing beneath us leap forward; its velocity grew
prodigious; the wind beat upon us with hurricane force.
I shielded my eyes with my hands and peered through
the chinks of my fingers. Ranged directly in our path was
a barricade of the cubes and upon them we were racing
like a flying battering-ram. Involuntarily I closed my eyes
against the annihilating impact that seemed inevitable.
The Thing on which we rode lifted.
We were soaring at a long angle straight to the top of
the barrier; were upon it, and still with that awful speed
unchecked were hurtling through the blackness over the
shaft of phosphorescence, the ribbon of pale light that I
had watched pierce it and knew now was but another
span of the cubes that but a little before had fled past us.
Beneath the span, on each side of it, I sensed illimitable
We were over; rushing along in darkness. There began a
mighty tumult, a vast crashing and roaring. The clangor
waxed, beat about us with tremendous strokes of sound.
Far away was a dim glowing, as of rising sun through
heavy mists of dawn. The mists faded--miles away gleamed
what at first glimpse seemed indeed to be the rising sun; a
gigantic orb, whose lower limb just touched, was sharply,
horizontally cut by the blackness, as though at its base
that blackness was frozen.
The sun? Reason returned to me; told me this globe
could not be that.
What was it then? Ra-Harmachis, of the Egyptians,
stripped of his wings, exiled and growing old in the
corridors of the Dead? Or that mocking luminary, the
cold phantom of the God of light and warmth which the
old Norsemen believed was set in their frozen hell to
torment the damned?
I thrust aside the fantasies, impatiently. But sun or no
sun, light streamed from this orb, light in multicolored,
lanced rays, banishing the blackness through which we
had been flying.
Closer we came and closer; lighter it grew about us, and
by the growing light I saw that still beside us ran the
abyss. And even louder, more thunderous, became the
At the foot of the radiant disk I glimpsed a luminous
pool. Into it, out of the depths, protruded a tremendous
rectangular tongue, gleaming like gray steel.
On the tongue an inky shape appeared; it lifted itself
from the abyss, rushed upon the disk and took form.
Like a gigantic spider it was, squat and horned. For
an instant it was silhouetted against the smiling sphere,
poised itself--and vanished through it.
Now, not far ahead, silhouetted as had been the spider
shape, blackened into sight a cube and on it Ruth and
Norhala. It seemed to hover, to wait.
"It's a door," Drake's shout beat thinly in my ears
against the hurricane of sound.
What I thought had been an orb was indeed a gateway,
a portal; and it was gigantic.
The light streamed through it, the flaming colors, the
lightning glare, the drifting shadows were all beyond it.
The suggestion of sphere had been an illusion, born of the
darkness in which we were moving and in its own
And I saw that the steel tongue was a ramp, a slide,
dropping down into the gulf.
Norhala raised her hands high above her head. Up
from the darkness flew an incredible shape--like a monstrous,
armored flat-backed crab; angled spikes protruded
from it; its huge body was spangled with darting, greenish
It swept beneath us and by. On its back were multitudinous
breasts from which issued blinding flashes--
sapphire blue, emerald green, sun yellow. It hung poised
as had that other nightmare shape, standing out jet black
and colossal, rearing upon columnar legs, whose outlines
were those of alternate enormous angled arrow-points and
lunettes. Swiftly its form shifted; an instant it hovered,
Now I saw spinning spheres and darting cubes and
pyramids click into new positions. The front and side
legs lengthened, the back legs shortened, fitting themselves
plainly to what must be a varying angle of descent
And it was no chimera, no kraken of the abyss. It
was a car made of the Metal Things. I caught again the
flashes and thought that they were jewels or heaps of
shining ores carried by the conscious machine.
It vanished. In its place hung poised the cube that
bore the enigmatic woman and Ruth. Then they were
gone and we stood where but an instant before they
We were high above an ocean of living light--a sea of
incandescent splendors that stretched mile upon uncounted
mile away and whose incredible waves streamed thousands
of feet in air, flew in gigantic banners, in tremendous
streamers, in coruscating clouds of varicolored
flame--as though torn by the talons of a mighty wind.
My dazzled sight cleared, glare and blaze and searing
incandescence took form, became ordered. Within the
sea of light I glimpsed shapes cyclopean, unnameable.
They moved slowly, with an awesome deliberateness.
They shone darkly within the flame-woven depths. From
them came the volleys of the lightnings.
Score upon score of them there were--huge and enigmatic.
Their flaming levins threaded the shimmering veils,
patterned them, as though they were the flying robes of the
very spirit of fire.
And the tumult was as ten thousand Thors, smiting with
hammers against the enemies of Odin. As a forge upon
whose shouting anvils was being shaped a new world.
A new world? A metal world!
The thought spun through my mazed brain, was gone--
and not until long after did I remember it. For suddenly
all that clamor died; the lightnings ceased; all the flitting
radiances paled and the sea of flaming splendors grew
thin as moving mists. The storming shapes dulled with
them, seemed to darken into the murk.
Through the fast-waning light and far, far away--
miles it seemed on high and many, many miles in length
--a broad band of fluorescent amethyst shone. From it
dropped curtains, shimmering, nebulous as the marching
folds of the aurora; they poured, cascaded, from the
Huge and purple-black against their opalescence bulked
what at first I thought a mountain, so like was it to one
of those fantastic buttes of our desert Southwest when
their castellated tops are silhouetted against the setting
sun; knew instantly that this was but subconscious striving
to translate into terms of reality the incredible.
It was a City!
A city full five thousand feet high and crowned with
countless spires and turrets, titanic arches, stupendous
domes! It was as though the man-made cliffs of lower
New York were raised scores of times their height,
stretched a score of times their length. And weirdly
enough it did suggest those same towering masses of
masonry when one sees them blacken against the twilight
The pit darkened as though night were filtering down
into it; the vast, purple-shadowed walls of the city
sparkled out with countless lights. From the crowning
arches and turrets leaped broad filaments of flame, flashing,
Was it my straining eyes, the play of the light and
shadow--or were those high-flung excrescences shifting,
changing shape? An icy hand stretched out of the unknown,
stilled my heart. For they were shifting--arches
and domes, turrets and spires; were melting, reappearing
in ferment; like the lightning-threaded, rolling edges of
I wrenched my gaze away; saw that our platform had
come to rest upon a broad and silvery ledge close to the
curving frame of the portal and not a yard from where
upon her block stood Norhala, her arm clasped about the
rigid form of Ruth. I heard a sigh from Ventnor, an
exclamation from Drake.
Before one of us could cry out to Ruth, the cube glided
to the edge of the shelf, dipped out of sight.
That upon which we rode trembled and sped after it.
There came a sickening sense of falling; we lurched
against each other; for the first time the pony whinnied,
fearfully. Then with awful speed we were flying down a
wide, a glistening, a steeply angled ramp into the Pit,
straight toward the half-hidden, soaring escarpments
Far ahead raced the Thing on which stood woman and
maid. Their hair streamed behind them, mingled, silken
web of brown and shining veil of red-gold; little clouds
of sparkling corpuscles threaded them, like flitting swarms
of fire-flies; their bodies were nimbused with tiny, flickering
tongues of lavender flame.
About us, above us, began again to rumble the countless
drums of the thunder.
It was as though we were on a meteor hurtling
through space. The split air shrieked and shrilled, a
keening barrier against the avalanche of the thunder.
The blast bent us far back on thighs held rigid by the
The pony spread its legs, dropped its head; through
the hurricane roaring its screaming pierced thinly, that
agonizing, terrible lamentation which is of the horse and
the horse alone when the limit of its endurance is
Ventnor crouched lower and lower, eyes shielded behind
arms folded over his brows, straining for a glimpse
of Ruth; Drake crouched beside him, bracing him, supporting
him against the tempest.
Our line of flight became less abrupt, but the speed
increased, the wind-pressure became almost insupportable.
I twisted, dropped upon my right arm, thrust my
head against my shoulder, stared backward. When first I
had looked upon the place I had sensed its immensity;
now I began to realize how vast it must really be--for
already the gateway through which we had come glimmered
far away on high, shrunk to a hoop of incandescent
brass and dwindling fast.
Nor was it a cavern; I saw the stars, traced with deep
relief the familiar Northern constellations. Pit it might
be, but whatever terror, whatever ordeals were before us,
we would not have to face them buried deep within
earth. There was a curious comfort to me in the thought.
Suddenly stars and sky were blotted out.
We had plunged beneath the surface of the radiant sea.
Lying in the position in which I was, I was sensible of
a diminution of the cyclonic force; the blast streamed
up and over the front of the cube. To me drifted only the
wailings of our flight and the whimpering terror of the
I turned my head cautiously. Upon the very edge of
the flying blocks squatted Drake and Ventnor, grotesquely
frog-like. I crawled toward them--crawled, literally, like
a caterpillar; for wherever my body touched the surface
of the cubes the attracting force held it, allowed a creeping
movement only, surface sliding upon surface--and
weirdly enough like a human measuring-worm I looped
myself over to them,
As my bare palms clung to the Things I realized
with finality that whatever their activation, their life,
they WERE metal.
There was no mistaking now the testimony of touch.
Metal they were, with a hint upon contact of highly
polished platinum, or at the least of a metal as finely
grained as it.
Also they had temperature, a curiously pleasant warmth
--the surfaces were, I judged, around ninety-five degrees
Fahrenheit. I looked deep down into the little sparkling
points that were, I knew, organs of sight; they were like
the points of contact of innumerable intersecting crystal
planes. They held strangest paradoxical suggestion of being
close to the surface and still infinite distances away.
And they were like--what was it they were like?--it
came to me with a distinct shock.
They were like the galaxies of little aureate and sapphire
stars in the clear gray heavens of Norhala's eyes.
I crept beside Drake, struck him with my head.
"Can't move," I shouted. "Can't lift my hands. Stuck
fast--like a fly--just as you said."
"Drag 'em over your knees," he cried, bending to me.
"It slides 'em out of the attraction."
Acting as he had suggested I found to my astonishment
I could slip my hands free; I caught his belt, tried to lift
myself by it.
"No use, Doc." The old grin lightened for a moment
his tense young face. "You'll have to keep praying till
the power's turned off. Nothing here you can slide your
I nodded, waddling close to his side; then sank back on
my haunches to relieve the strain upon my aching leg-muscles.
"Can you see them ahead, Walter--Ruth and the
woman?" Ventnor turned his anxious eyes toward me.
I peered into the glimmering murk; shook my head.
I could see nothing. It was indeed, as though the clustered
cubes sped within a bubble of the now wanly glistening
vapors; or rather as though in our passage--as a projectile
does in air--we piled before us a thick wave of the mists
which streaming along each side, closing in behind, obscured
all that lay around.
Yet I had, persistently, the feeling that beyond these
shroudings was vast and ordered movement; marchings
and counter-marchings of hosts greater even than those
Golden Hordes of Genghis which ages agone had washed
about the outer bases of the very peaks that hid this
place. Came, too, flitting shadowings of huge shapes, unnameable,
moving swiftly beside our way; gleamings that thrust themselves
through the veils like wheeling javelins of flame.
And always, always, everywhere that constant movement,
rhythmic, terrifying--like myriads of feet of
creatures of an unseen, stranger world marking time just
outside the threshold of our own. Preparing, DRILLING
there in some wide vestibule of space between the known
and the unknown, alert and menacing--poised for the
signal which would send them pouring over it.
Once again I seemed to stand upon the brink of an abyss
of incredible revelation, striving helplessly, struggling for
realization--and so struggling became aware that our
speed was swiftly slackening, the roaring blast dying down,
the veils before us thinning.
They cleared away. I saw Drake and Ventnor
straighten up; raised myself to my own aching knees.
We were at one end of a vortex, a funneling within the
radiant vapors; a funnel whose further end a mile ahead
broadened out into a huge circle, its mistily outlined
edges impinging upon the towering scarp of the--city.
It was as though before us lay, upon its side, a cone of
crystalline clear air against whose curved sides some
radiant medium heavier than air, lighter than water,
The top arc of its prostrate base reached a thousand
feet or more up the precipitous wall; above it all was
hidden in sparkling nebulosities that were like still clouds
of greenly glimmering fire-flies. Back from the curving
sides of this cone, above it and below it, the pressing
luminosities stretched into, it seemed, infinite distances.
Through them, suddenly, thousands of bright beams
began to dart, to dance, weaving and interweaving, shooting
hither and yon--like myriads of great searchlights
in a phosphorescent sea fog, like countless lances of the
aurora thrusting through its own iridescent veils! And
in the play of these beams was something appallingly
ordered, appallingly rhythmic.
It was--how can I describe it?--PURPOSEFUL; purposeful
as the geometric shiftings of the Little Things of the
ruins, of the summoning song of Norhala, of the Protean
changes of the Smiting Shape and the Following Thing;
and like all of these it was as laden with that baffling
certainty of hidden meanings, of messages that the brain
recognized as such yet knew it never could read.
The rays seemed to spring upward from the earth. Now
they were like countless lances of light borne by marching
armies of Titans; now they crossed and angled and
flew as though they were clouds of javelins hurled by
battling swarms of the Genii of Light. And now they
stood upright while through them, thrusting them aside,
bending them, passed vast, vague shapes like mountains
forming and dissolving; like darkening monsters of some
world of light pushing through thick forests of slender,
high-reaching trees of cold flame; shifting shadows of
monstrous chimerae slipping through jungles of bamboo
with trunks of diamond fire; phantasmal leviathans swimming
through brakes of giant reeds of radiance rising
from the sparking ooze of a sea of star shine.
Whence came the force, the mechanism that produced
this cone of clarity, this NOT searchlight, but unlight in the
midst of light? Not from behind, that was certain--for
turning I saw that behind us the mist was as thick. I
turned again--it came to me, why I knew not, yet with
an absolute certainty, that the energy, the force emanated
from the distant wall itself.
The funnel, the cone, did not expand from where we
were standing, now motionless.
It began at the wall and focused upon us.
Within the great circle the surface of the wall was
smooth, utterly blank; upon it was no trace of those flitting
lights we had seen before we had plunged down toward the
radiant sea. It shone with a pale blue phosphorescence. It
was featureless, smooth, a blind cliff of polished, blue
metal--and that was all.
"Ruth!" groaned Ventnor. "Where is she?"
Aghast at my mental withdrawal from him, angry at
myself for my callousness, awkwardly I tried to crawl over
to him, to touch him, comfort him as well as I might.
And then, as though his cry had been a signal, the
great cone began to move. Slowly the circled base slipped
down the shimmering facades; down, steadily down; I realized
that we had paused at the edge of some steep declivity,
for the bottom of the cone was now at a decided
angle while the upper edge of the circle had dropped a full
two hundred feet below the place where it had rested--
and still it fell.
There came a gasp of relief from Ventnor, a sigh from
Drake while, from my own heart, a weight rolled. Not ten
yards ahead of us and still deep within the luminosity
had appeared the regal head of Norhala, the lovely head
of Ruth. The two rose out of the glow like swimmers
floating from the depths. Now they were clear before us,
and now we could see the surface of the cube on which
But neither turned to us; each stared straightly, motionless
along the axis of the sinking cone, the woman's left
arm holding Ruth close to her side.
Drake's hand caught my shoulder in a grip that hurt--
nor did he need to point toward that which had wrung the
exclamation from him. The funnel had broken from its
slow falling; it had made one swift, startling drop and
had come to rest. Its recumbent side was now flattened into
a triangular plane, widening from the narrow tip in which
we stood to all of five hundred feet where its base rested
against the blue wall, and falling at a full thirty-degree
The misty-edged circle had become an oval, a flattened
ellipse another five hundred feet high and three times that
in length. And in its exact center, shining forth as though
it opened into a place of pale azure incandescence was
another rectangular Cyclopean portal.
On each side of it, in the apparently solid face of the
gleaming, metallic cliffs, a slit was opening.
They began as thin lines a hundred yards in height
through which the intense light seemed to hiss; quickly they
opened--widening like monstrous cat pupils until at last,
their widening ceasing, they glared forth, the blue incandescence
gushing from them like molten steel from an
Deep within them I sensed a movement. Scores of towering
shapes swam within and glided out of them, each reflecting
the vivid light as though they themselves were incandescent.
Around their crests spun wide and flaming coronets.
They rushed forth, wheeling, whirling, driven like leaves
in a whirlwind. Out they swirled from the cat's eyes of the
glimmering wall, these dervish obelisks crowded with spinning
fires. They vanished in the mists. Instantly with their
going, the eyes contracted; were but slits; were gone. And
before us within the oval was only the waiting portal.
The leading block leaped forward. As abruptly, those
that bore us followed. Again under that strain of projectile
flight we clutched each other; the pony screamed in terror.
The metal cliff rushed to meet us like a thunder cloud of
steel; the portal raced upon us--a square mouth of cold
And into it we swept; were devoured by it.
Light in blinding, intolerable flood beat about us, blackening
the sight with agony. We pressed, the three of us,
against the side of the pony, burying our faces in its
shaggy coat, striving to hide our eyes from the radiance
which, strain closely as we might, seemed to pierce through
the body of the little beast, through our own heads, searing
"WITCH! GIVE BACK
How long we were within that glare I do not know; it
seemed unending hours; it was of course only minutes--
seconds, perhaps. Then I was sensible of a permeating
shadow, a darkness gentle and healing.
I raised my head and opened my eyes. We were moving
tranquilly, with a curious suggestion of homing leisureliness,
through a soft, blue shimmering darkness. It was as though
we were drifting within some high borderland of light; a
region in which that rapid vibration we call the violet was
mingled with a still more rapid vibration whose quick pulsing
was felt by the brain but ever fled ere that brain
could register it in terms of color. And there seemed to be
a film over my sight; dazzlement from the unearthly blaze,
I thought, shaking my head impatiently.
My eyes focused upon an object a little more than a foot
away; my neck grew rigid, my scalp prickled while I stared,
unbelieving. And that at which I stared was--a skeleton
hand. Every bone a grayish black, sharply silhouetted, clean
as some master surgeon's specimen, it was extended as
though clutching at--clutching at--what was that toward
which it was reaching?
Again the icy prickling over scalp and skin--for its
talons stretched out to grasp a steed that Death himself
might have ridden, a rack whose bare skull hung drooping
upon bent vertebrae.
I raised my hands to my face to shut out the ghostly
sight--and swiftly the clutching bony hand moved toward
me--was before my eyes--touched me.
The cry that sheer horror wrested from me was strangled
by realization. And so acute was my relief, so reassuring
was it to have in the midst of these mysteries some sane,
understandable thing occur that I laughed aloud.
For the skeleton hand was my own. The mournful
ghastly mount of death was--our pony. And when I
looked again I knew what I would see--and see them I
did--two tall skeletons, skulls resting on their bony arms,
leaning against the frame of the beast.
While ahead of us, floating poised upon the surface of
the glistening cube, were two women skeletons--Ruth and
Weird enough was the sight. Dureresque, grimly awful
as materialization of a scene of the Dance Macabre--and
For here was something which was well within the
range of human knowledge. It was the light about us that
did it; a vibration that even as I conjectured, was within
the only partly explored region of the ultraviolet and the
comparatively unexplored region above it.
Yet there were differences, for there was none of that
misty halo around the bones, the flesh which the X-rays
cannot render wholly invisible. The skeletons stood out
clean cut, with no trace of fleshly vestments.
I crept over, spoke to the two.
"Don't look up yet," I said. "Don't open your eyes. We're
going through a queer light. It has an X-ray quality. You're
going to see me as a skeleton--"
"What?" shouted Drake. Disobeying my warning he
straightened, glared at me. And disquieting as the spectacle
had been before, fully understanding it as I did, I
could not restrain my shudder at the utter weirdness of
that skull which was his head thrusting itself toward me.
The skeleton that was Ventnor turned to me; was arrested
by the sight of the flitting pair ahead. I saw the
fleshless jaws clamp, then opened to speak.
Abruptly, upon the skeletons in front the flesh dropped
back. Girl and woman stood there once again robed in
So swift was that transition from the grisly unreal to the
normal that even to my unsuperstitious mind it smacked
of necromancy. The next instant the three of us stood
looking at each other, clothed once more in the flesh, and
the pony no longer the steed of death, but our shaggy,
patient little companion.
The light had changed; the high violet had gone from
it, and it was shot with yellow gleamings like fugitive
sunbeams. We were passing through a wide corridor that
seemed to be unending. The yellow light grew stronger.
"That light wasn't exactly the Roentgen variety," Drake
interrupted my absorption in our surroundings. "And I
hope to God it's as different as it seemed. If it's not we
may be up against a lot of trouble."
"More trouble than we're in?" I asked, a trifle satirically.
"X-ray burns," he answered, "and no way to treat them
in this place--if we live to want treatment," he ended
"I don't think we were subjected to their action long
enough--" I began, and was silent.
The corridor had opened without warning into a place
for whose immensity I have no images that are adequate.
It was a chamber that was vaster than ten score
of the Great Halls of Karnac in one; great as that fabled
hall in dread Amenti where Osiris sits throned between
the Searcher of Hearts and the Eater of Souls, judging the
jostling hosts of the newly dead.
Temple it was in its immensity, and its solemn vastness
--but unlike any temple ever raised by human toil. In no
ruin of earth's youth giants' work now crumbling under the
weight of time had I ever sensed a shadow of the strangeness
with which this was instinct. No--nor in the shattered
fanes that once had held the gods of old Egypt, nor in
the pillared shrines of Ancient Greece, nor Imperial Rome,
nor mosque, basilica nor cathedral.
All these had been dedicated to gods which, whether
created by humanity as science believes, or creators of
humanity as their worshippers believed, still held in them
that essence we term human.
The spirit, the force, that filled this place had in it
nothing, NOTHING of the human.
No place? Yes, there was one--Stonehenge. Within that
monolithic circle I had felt a something akin to this, as
inhuman; a brooding spirit stony, stark, unyielding--as
though not men but a people of stone had raised the great
This was a sanctuary built by a people of metal!
It was filled with a soft yellow glow like pale sunshine.
Up from its floor arose hundreds of tremendous, square
pillars down whose polished sides the crocus light seemed
Far, far as the gaze could reach, the columns marched,
oppressively ordered, appallingly mathematical. From
their massiveness distilled a sense of power, mysterious,
mechanical yet--living; something priestly, hierophantic--
as though they were guardians of a shrine.
Now I saw whence came the light suffusing this place.
High up among the pillars floated scores of orbs that shone
like pale gilt frozen suns. Great and small, through all the
upper levels these strange luminaries gleamed, fixed and
motionless, hanging unsupported in space. Out from their
shining spherical surfaces darted rays of the same pale gold,
rigid, unshifting, with the same suggestion of frozen stillness.
"They look like big Christmas-tree stars," muttered
"They're lights," I answered. "Of course they are. They're
not matter--not metal, I mean--"
"There's something about them like St. Elmo's fire, witch
lights--condensations of atmospheric electricity," Ventnor's
voice was calm; now that it was plain we were nearing
the heart of this mystery in which we were enmeshed
he had clearly taken fresh grip, was again his observant,
We watched, once more silent; and indeed we had spoken
little since we had begun that ride whose end we sensed
close. In the unfolding of enigmatic happening after happening
the mind had deserted speech and crouched listening at
every door of sight and hearing to gather some clue to causes,
some thread of understanding.
Slowly now we were gliding through the forest of pillars;
so effortless, so smooth our flight that we seemed to be
standing still, the tremendous columns flitting past us, turning
and wheeling around us, dizzyingly. My head swam
with the mirage motion, I closed my eyes.
"Look," Drake was shaking me. "Look. What do you
make of that?"
Half a mile ahead the pillars stopped at the edge of a
shimmering, quivering curtain of green luminescence.
High, high up past the pale gilt suns its smooth folds ran,
into the golden amber mist that canopied the columns.
In its sparkling was more than a hint of the dancing
corpuscles of the aurora; it was, indeed, as though woven
of the auroral rays. And all about it played shifting,
tremulous shadows formed by the merging of the golden light
with the curtain's emerald gleaming.
Up to its base swept the cube that bore Ruth and Norhala
--and stopped. From it leaped the woman, and drew
Ruth down beside her, then turned and gestured toward
That upon which we rode drew close. I felt it quiver
beneath me; felt on the instant, the magnetic grip drop
from me, angle downward and leave me free. Shakily I
arose from aching knees, and saw Ventnor flash down and
run, rifle in hand, toward his sister.
Drake bent for his gun. I moved unsteadily toward the
side of the clustered cubes. There came a curious pushing
motion driving me to the edge. Sliding over upon me came
Drake and the pony--
The cube tilted, gently, playfully--and with the slightest
of jars the three of us stood beside it on the floor, we
two men gaping at it in renewed wonder, and the little
beast stretching its legs, lifting its feet and whinnying with
Then abruptly the four blocks that had been our steed
broke from each other; that which had been the woman's
glided to them.
The four clicked into place behind it and darted from
"Ruth!" Ventnor's voice was vibrant with his fear.
"Ruth! What is wrong with you? What has she done to
We ran to his side. He stood clutching her hands, searching
her eyes. They were wide, unseeing, dream filled. Upon
her face the calm and stillness, which were mirrored
reflections of Norhala's unearthly tranquillity, had deepened.
"Brother." The sweet voice seemed far away, drifting
out of untroubled space, an echo of Norhala's golden chimings
--"Brother, there is nothing wrong with me. Indeed
--all is--well with me--brother."
He dropped the listless palms, faced the woman, tall
figure tense, drawn with mingled rage and anguish.
"What have you done to her?" he whispered in Norhala's
Her serene gaze took him in, undisturbed by his anger
save for the faintest shadow of wonder, of perplexity.
"Done?" she repeated, slowly. "I have stilled all that was
troubled within her--have lifted her above sorrow. I have
given her the peace--as I will give it to you if--"
"You'll give me nothing," he interrupted fiercely; then,
his passion breaking through all restraint--"Yes, you
damned witch--you'll give me back my sister!"
In his rage he had spoken English; she could not, of
course, have understood the words, but their anger and
hatred she did understand. Her serenity quivered, broke.
The strange stars within her eyes began to glitter forth as
they had when she had summoned the Smiting Thing. Unheeding,
Ventnor thrust out a hand, caught her roughly by one bare,
"Give her back to me, I say!" he cried. "Give her back
The woman's eyes grew--awful. Out of the distended
pupils the strange stars blazed; upon her face was
something of the goddess outraged. I felt the shadow of
"No! No--Norhala! No, Martin!" the veils of inhuman
calm shrouding Ruth were torn; swiftly the girl we knew
looked out from them. She threw herself between the two,
"Ventnor!" Drake caught his arms, held them tight;
"that's not the way to save her!"
Ventnor stood between us, quivering, half sobbing.
Never until then had I realized how great, how absorbing
was that love of his for Ruth. And the woman
saw it, too, even though dimly; envisioned it humanly.
For, under the shock of human passion, that which I
thought then as utterly unknown to her as her cold
serenity was to us, the sleeping soul--I use the popular
word for those emotional complexes that are peculiar to
Wrath fled from her knitted brows; her eyes dropping to
the girl, lost their dreadfulness; softened. She turned them
upon Ventnor, they brooded upon him; within their depths
a half-troubled interest, a questioning.
A smile dawned upon the exquisite face, humanizing it,
transfiguring it, touching with tenderness the sweet and
sleeping mouth--as a hovering dream the lips of the
And on the face of Ruth, as upon a mirror, I watched
that same slow, understanding tenderness reflected!
"Come," said Norhala, and led the way through the
sparkling curtains. As she passed, an arm around Ruth's
neck, I saw the marks of Ventnor's fingers upon her white
shoulder, staining its purity, marring it like a blasphemy.
For an instant I hung behind, watching their figures
grow misty within the shining shadows; then followed
hastily. Entering the mists I was conscious of a pleasant
tingling, an acceleration of the pulse, an increase of that
sense of well-being which, I grew suddenly aware, had
since the beginning of our strange journey minimized the
nervous attrition of constant contact with the abnormal.
Striving to classify, to reduce to order, my sensations
I drew close to the others, overtaking them in a dozen
paces. A dozen paces more and we stepped out of the
We stood at the edge of a well whose walls were of
that same green vaporous iridescence through which we
had just come, but finer grained, compact; as though here
the corpuscles of which they were woven were far closer
spun. Thousands of feet above us the mighty cylinder uprose,
and in the lessened circle that was its mouth I
glimpsed the bright stars; and knew by this it opened into
the free air.
All of half a mile in diameter was this shaft, and ringed
regularly along its height by wide amethystine bands--
like rings of a hollow piston. They were, in color, replicas
of that I had glimpsed before our descent into this place
and against whose gleaming cataracts the outlines of the
incredible city had lowered. And they were in motion,
spinning smoothly, and swiftly.
Only one swift glance I gave them, my eyes held by a
most extraordinary--edifice--altar--machine--I could not
find the word for it--then.
Its base was a scant hundred yards from where we had
paused and concentric with the sides of the pit. It stood
upon a thick circular pedestal of what appeared to be
cloudy rock crystal supported by hundreds of thick rods
of the same material.
Up from it lifted the structure, a thing of glistening
cones and spinning golden disks; fantastic yet disquietingly
symmetrical; bizarre as an angled headdress worn by a
mountainous Javanese god--yet coldly, painfully mathematical.
In every direction the cones pointed, seemingly
interwoven of strands of metal and of light.
What was their color? It came to me--that of the
mysterious element which stains the sun's corona, that
diadem seen only when our day star is in eclipse; the
unknown element which science has named coronium,
which never yet has been found on earth and that may be
electricity in its one material form; electricity that is
ponderable; force whose vibrations are keyed down to
mass; power transmuted into substance.
Thousands upon thousands the cones bristled, pyramiding
to the base of one tremendous spire that tapered up almost
to the top of the shaft itself.
In their grouping the mind caught infinite calculations
carried into infinity; an apotheosis of geometry compassing
the rhythms of unknown spatial dimensions; concentration
of the equations of the star hordes.
The mathematics of the Cosmos.
From the left of the crystalline base swept an enormous
sphere. It was twice the height of a tall man, and it
was a paler blue than any of these Things I had seen,
almost, indeed, an azure; different, too, in other subtle,
Behind it glided a pair of the pyramidal shapes, their
pointed tips higher by a yard or more than the top of
the sphere. They paused--regarding us. Out from the
opposite arc of the crystal pedestal moved six other globes,
somewhat smaller than the first and of a deep purplish
They separated, lining up on each side of the leader
now standing a little in advance of the twin tetrahedrons,
rigid and motionless as watching guards.
There they stood--that enigmatic row, intent, studying
us beneath their god or altar or machine of cones and
disks within their cylinder walled with light.
And at that moment there crystallized within my consciousness
the sublimation of all the strangenesses of
all that had gone before, a panic loneliness as though I
had wandered into an alien world--a world as unfamiliar
to humanity, as unfamiliar with it as our own would seem
to a thinking, mobile crystal adrift among men.
Norhala raised her white arms in salutation; from her
throat came a lilting theme of her weirdly ordered, golden
chanting. Was it speech, I wondered; and if so--prayer
or entreaty or command?
The great sphere quivered and undulated. Swifter than