Part 5 out of 7
from just beneath it--like eyes. And over all its height
the striated octagons clustered.
I felt myself lifted, floated upward. Drake's hand shot
out, clung to me as together we drifted up the living wall.
Opposite the latticed heart of the square-petaled rose our
flight was checked. There for an instant we hung. Then the
octagonal symbols stirred, unfolded like buds--
They were the nests of the Keeper's tentacles, and out
from them the whiplike tendrils uncoiled, shot out and
writhed toward us.
My skin flinched from their touch; my body, held in the
unseen grip, was motionless. Yet when they touched their
contact was not unpleasant. They were like flexible strands
of glass; their smooth tips questioned us, passing
through our hair, searching our faces, writhing over our
There was a pulse in the great clipped rose, a rhythmic
throbbing of vermilion fire that ran into it from the angled
veins, beat through the latticed nucleus and throbbed
back whence it had come. The huge, high square of scarlet
and yellow was liquid flame; the diamond organs beneath
it seemed to smoke, to send out swirls of orange red
Holding us so the Keeper studied us.
The rhythm of the square rose, became the rhythm of
my own mind. But here was none of the vast, serene and
elemental calm that Ruth had described as emanating from
the Metal Emperor. Powerful it was, without doubt, but
in it were undertones of rage, of impatience, overtones
of revolt, something incomplete and struggling. Within
the disharmonies I seemed to sense a fettered force striving
for freedom; energy battling against itself.
Greater grew the swarms of the tentacles winding
about us like slender strands of glass, covering our faces,
making breathing more and more difficult. There was a
coil of them around my throat and tightening--tightening.
I heard Drake gasping, laboring for breath. I could not
turn my head toward him, could not speak. Was this
then to be our end?
The strangling clutch relaxed, the mass of the tentacles
lessened. I was conscious of a surge of anger through
the cruciform Thing that held us.
Its sullen fires blazed. I was aware of another light
beating past us--beating down the Keeper's. The hosts of
tendrils drew back from me. I felt myself picked from
the unseen grasp, whirled in the air and drawn away.
Drake beside me, I hung now before the Shining Disk
--the Metal Emperor!
He it was who had plucked us from the Keeper--and
even as I swung I saw the Keeper's multitudinous,
serpentine arms surge out toward us angrily and then
sullenly, slowly, draw back into their nests.
And out of the Disk, clothing me, permeating me, came
an immense tranquillity, a muting of all human thought,
all human endeavor, an unthinkable, cosmic calm into
which all that was human of me seemed to be sinking,
drowning as in a fathomless abyss. I struggled against it,
desperately, striving in study of the Disk to erect a barrier
of preoccupation against the power pouring from it.
A dozen feet away from us the sapphire ovals centered
upon us their regard. They were limpid, pellucid as gems
whose giant replicas they seemed to be. The surface of the
Disk ringed about by the aureate zodiac in which the
nine ovals shone was a maze of geometric symbols traced
in the lines of living gem fires; infinitely complex those
patterns and infinitely beautiful; an infinite number of
symmetric forms in which I seemed to trace all the ordered
crystalline wonders of the snowflakes, the groupings of
all crystalline patternings, the soul of ordered
beauty that are the marvels of the Radiolaria, Nature's
own miraculous book of the soul of mathematical beauty.
The flashing, petaled heart was woven of living rainbows
of cold flame.
Silently we floated there while the Disk--LOOKED--at
And as though I had been not an actor but an observer,
the weird picture of it all came to me--two men swinging
like motes in mid air, on one side the flickering
scarlet and orange Cruciform shape, on the other side the
radiant Disk, behind the two manikins the pallid mount
of the bristling cones; and high above the wan circle of
There was a ringing about us--an elfin chiming, sweet
and crystalline. It came from the cones--and strangely
was it their vocal synthesis, their voice. Into the vast
circle of sky pierced a lance of green fire; swift in its
wake uprose others.
We slid gently down, stood swaying at the Disk's base.
The Keeper bent; angled. Again the planes above the supporting
square hovered over the tablet. The tendrils swept
down, pushed here and there, playing upon the rods some
unknown symphony of power.
Thicker pulsed the lances of the aurora; changed to
vast billowing curtains. The faceted wheel at the top of
the central spire of the cones swung upward; a light began
to stream from the cones themselves--no pillar now,
but a vast circle that shot whirling into the heavens like a
And like a noose it caught the aurora, snared it!
Into it the coruscating mists of mysterious flame
swirled; lost their colors, became a torrent of light flying
down through the ring as though through a funnel top.
Down poured the radiant corpuscles, bathing the cones.
They did not glow as they had beneath the flood from
the shields, and if they grew it was too slowly for me to
see; the shields were motionless. Now here, now there,
I saw the other rings whirl up--smaller mouths of lesser
cones hidden within the body of the Metal Monster, I
knew, sucking down this magnetic flux, these countless
ions gushing forth from the sun.
Then as when first we had seen the phenomenon in the
valley of the blue poppies, the ring vanished, hidden by a
fog of coruscations--as though the force streaming
through the rings became diffused after it had been
Crouching, forgetful of our juxtaposition to these two
unhuman, anomalous Things, we watched the play of the
tentacles upon the upthrust rods.
But if we forgot, we were not forgotten!
The Emperor slipped nearer; seemed to contemplate us
--quizzically, AMUSED; as a man would look down upon
some curious and interesting insect, a puppy, a kitten. I
sensed this amusement in the Disk's regard even as I
had sensed its soul of awful tranquillity; as we had sensed
the playful malice in the eye stars of the living corridor,
the curiosity in the column that had dropped us into
I felt a push--a push that was filled with a colossal,
Under it I went spinning away for yards--Drake
twirling close behind me. The force, whatever it was,
swept out from the Emperor, but in it was no slightest
hint of anger or of malice, no slightest shadow of the
Rather it was as though one would blow away a feather;
urge gently some little lesser thing away.
The Disk watched our whirlings--with a sparkling,
jeweled LAUGHTER in its pulsing radiance.
Again came the push--farther yet we spun. Suddenly
before us, across the pave, shone out a twinkling trail--
the wakened eyes of the cubes that formed it, marking
out a pathway for us to follow.
Immediately upon their gleaming forth I saw the Emperor
turn--his immense, oval, metallic back now black
against the radiance of the cones.
Up from the narrow gleaming path--a path opened I
knew by some command--lifted the hosts of tiny unseen
hands; the sentient currents of magnetic force that were
the fingers and arms of the Metal Hordes. They held us,
thrust us along, passed us forward. Faster and faster we
moved, speeding on the wake of the long-vanished metal
I turned my head--the cones were already far away.
Over the tablet of limpid violet phosphorescence still
hovered the planes of the Keeper; and still was the oval of
the Emperor black against the radiance.
But the twinkling, sparkling path between us and them
was gone--was fading out close behind us as we swept
Faster and faster grew our pace. The cylindrical wall
loomed close. A high oblong portal showed within it.
Into this we were carried. Before us stretched a corridor
precisely similar to that which, closing upon us, had
forced us completely out into the hall.
Unlike that passage, its floor lifted steeply--a smooth
and shining slide up which no man could climb. A shaft,
indeed, which thrust upward straight as an arrow at an
angle of at least thirty degrees and whose end or turning
we could not see. Up and up it cleared its way through
the City--through the Metal Monster--closed only by
the inability of the eye to pierce the faint luminosity
that thickened by distance became impenetrable.
For an instant we hovered upon its threshold. But the
impulse, the command, that had carried us thus far was
not to stop here. Into it and up it we were thrust, our
feet barely touching the glimmering surface; lifted by the
force that emanated from its floor, carried on by the force
that pressed out from the sides.
Up and up we went--scores of feet--hundreds--
"Goodwin!" Drake broke the silence; desperately he
was striving to keep his fear out of his voice. "Goodwin
--this isn't the way to get out. We're going up--farther
away all the time from the--the gates!"
"What can we do?" My anxiety was no less than his, but
my realization of our helplessness was complete.
"If we only knew how to talk to these Things," he
said. "If we could only have let the Disk know we wanted
to get out--damn it, Goodwin, it would have helped us."
Grotesque as the idea sounded, I felt that he spoke the
truth. The Emperor meant no harm to us; in fact in
speeding us away I was not at all sure that he had not
deliberately wished us well--there was that about the
Still up we sped along the shaft. I knew we must now be
above the level of the valley.
"We've got to get back to Ruth! Goodwin--NIGHT!
And what may have HAPPENED to her?"
"Drake, boy"--I dropped into his own colloquialism--
"we're up against it. We can't help it. And remember--
she's there in Norhala's home. I don't believe, I honestly
don't believe, Dick, that there's any danger as long as
she remains there. And Ventnor ties her fast."
"That's true," he said, more hopefully. "That's true--and
probably Norhala is with her by now."
"I don't doubt it," I said cheerfully. An idea came to
me--I half believed it myself. "And another thing. There's
not an action here that's purposeless. We're being driven
on by the command of that Thing we call the Metal Emperor.
It means us no harm. Maybe--maybe this IS the way out."
"Maybe so," he shook his head doubtfully. "But I'm not
sure. Maybe that long push was just to get us away from
THERE. And it strikes me that the impulse has begun to
weaken. We're not going anywhere near as fast as we
I had not realized it, but our speed was slackening. I
looked back--hundreds of feet behind us fell the slide.
An unpleasant chill went through me--should the magnetic
grip upon us relax, withdraw, nothing could stop
us from falling back along that incline to be broken like
eggs at its end; that our breaths would be snuffed out by
the terrific descent long before we reached that end was
"There are other passages opening up along this shaft,"
Drake said. "I'm not for trusting the Emperor too far--
he has other things on his metallic mind, you know.
The next one we get to, let's try to slip into--if we can."
I had noticed; there had been openings along the ascending
shaft; corridors running apparently transversely to its
Slower and slower became our pace. A hundred yards
above I glimpsed one of the apertures. Could we reach
it? Slower and slower we arose. Now the gap was but a
yard off--but we were motionless--were tottering!
Drake's arms wrapped round me. With a tremendous effort
he hurled me into the portal. I dropped at its edge,
writhed swiftly around, saw him slipping, slipping down--
thrust my hands out to him.
He caught them. There came a wrench that tortured my
arm sockets as though racked. But he held!
Slowly--I writhed back into the passage, dragging up
his almost dead weight. His head appeared, his shoulders;
there was a convulsion of the long body and he lay before me.
For a minute or two we lay, flat upon our backs resting.
I sat up. The passage was broad, silent; apparently as
endless as that from which we had just escaped.
Along it, above us, under us, the crystalline eyes were
dim. It showed no sign of movement--yet had it done so
there was nothing we could do save drop down the annihilating
slant. Drake arose.
"I'm hungry," he said, "and I'm thirsty. I move that we
eat and drink and approximately be merry."
He slung aside the haversack. From it we took food;
from the canteens we drank. We did not talk. Each knew
what the other was thinking; infrequently, and thank the
eternal law that some call God for that, come crises in
which speech seems not only petty but when against it the
mind rebels as a nauseous thing.
This was such a time. At last I drew myself to my feet.
"Let's be going," I said.
The corridor stretched straight before us; along it we
paced. How far we walked I do not know; mile upon mile,
it seemed. It broadened abruptly into a vast hall.
And this hall was filled with the Metal Hordes--was a
gigantic workshop of them. In every shape, in every form,
they seethed and toiled about it. Upon its floor were
heaps of shining ores, mounds of flashing gems, piles of
ingots, metallic and crystalline. High and low throughout
flamed the egg-shaped incandescences; floating furnaces
both great and small.
Before one of these forges, close to us, stood a Metal
Thing. Its body was a twelve-foot column of smaller cubes.
Upon the top was a hollow square formed of even lesser
blocks--blocks hardly larger than the Little Things themselves.
In the center of the open rectangle was another
shaft, its top a two-foot square plate formed of a single
From the sides of the hollow square sprang long arms
of spheres, each tipped by a tetrahedron. They moved
freely, slipping about upon their curved points of contact
and like a dozen little thinking hammers, the pyramid
points at their ends beat down upon as many thimble
shaped objects which they thrust alternately into the unwinking
brazier then laid upon the central block to shape.
A goblin workman the Thing seemed, standing there,
so intent upon and so busy with its forgings.
There were scores of these animate machines; they paid
no slightest heed to us as we slipped by them, clinging
as closely to the wall of the immense workshop as we
We passed a company of other Shapes which stood two
by two and close together, their tops wide spinning wheels
through which the tendrils of an opened globe fed translucent,
colorless ingots--the substance it seemed to me
of which Norhala's shadowy walls were made, the crystal
of which the bars that built out the base of the Cones
The ingots passed between the whirling faces; emerged
from them as slender, long cylinders; were seized as they
slipped down by a crouching block, whose place as it
glided away was instantly taken by another. In many
bewildering forms, intent upon unknown activities directed
toward unguessable ends, the composite, animate mechanisms
labored. And all the place was filled with a goblin
bustle, trollish racketings, ringing of gnomish anvils,
clanging of kobold forges--a clamorous cavern filled with
We came to the opening of another passage, a doorway
piercing the walls of the workshop. Its incline, though
steep, was not dangerous.
Into it we stepped; climbed onward it seemed interminably.
Far ahead of us at last appeared the outline of
its further entrance, silhouetted against and filled with a
brighter luminosity. We drew near; stopped cautiously at
its threshold, peering out.
Well it was that we had hesitated. Before us was open
space--an abyss in the body of the Metal Monster.
The corridor opened into it like a window. Thrusting
out our heads, we saw an unbroken wall both above and
below. Half a mile away was its opposite side. Over this
pit was a misty sky and not more than a thousand feet
above and black against the heavens was the lip of it--
the cornices of this chasm within the City.
Far, far beneath us we watched the Hordes throw themselves
across the abyss in webs of curving arches and
girder-straight bridges; gigantic we knew these spans must
be yet dwarfed to slender footways by distance. Over
them moved hurrying companies; from them came flashings,
glitterings--prismatic, sun golden; plutonic scarlets,
molten blues; javelins of colored light piercing upward
from unfolded cubes and globes and pyramids crossing
them or from busy bearers of the shining fruits of the
And as they passed the bridges swung up, coiled and
thrust themselves from sight through openings that closed
behind them. Ever, as they passed, close on their going
whipped out other spans so that always across that abyss
a sentient, shifting web was hung.
We drew back, stared into each other's white face. Panic
swept through me, in quick, alternate pulse of ice and
fire. For crushingly, no longer to be denied, came certainty
that we were lost within the mazes of this incredible City--
lost in the body of the Metal Monster which
that City was. There was a sick despair in my heart as
we turned and slowly made our way back along the sloping corridor.
A hundred yards, perhaps, we had gone in silence before
we stopped, gazing stupidly at an opening in the wall
beside us. The portal had not been there when we had
passed--of that I was certain.
"It's opened since we went by," whispered Drake.
We peered through it. The passage was narrow; its
pave led downward. For a moment we hesitated, the same
foreboding in both our minds. And yet--among the perils
that crowded in upon us what choice had we? There
could be no more danger there than here.
Both ways were--ALIVE, both obedient to impulses over
which we had no more control and no more way of predetermining
than mice in some complex, man-made trap.
Furthermore, this shaft also ran downward, and although
its pitch was less and it did not therefore drop as quickly
toward that level we sought and wherein lay the openings
of escape into the outer valley, it fell at right angles
to the corridor through which we had come.
We knew that to retrace our steps now would but take
us back to the forges and thence to the hall of the Cones
and the certain peril waiting for us there.
We stepped into this opened way. For a little distance
it ran straightly, then turned and sloped gently upward;
and a little distance more we climbed. Then suddenly, not
a hundred yards from us, gushed out a flood of soft
radiance, opalescent, filled with pearly glimmerings and
rosy shadows of light.
It was as though a door had opened into some world of
luminescence. From it the lambent torrent poured; billowed
down upon us. In its wake came music--if music
the mighty harmonies, the sonorous chords, the crystalline
themes and the linked chaplet of notes that were like
spiralings of tiny golden star bells could be named.
Toward source of light and sound we moved, nor could
we have halted nor withdrawn had we willed; the radiance
drew us to it as the sun the water drop, and irresistibly
the sweet, unearthly music called. Closer we came--it was
a narrow alcove from which sound and light poured--
into it we crept--and went no further.
We peered into a vast and columnless vault, a limitless
temple of light. High up in it, strewn manifold, danced
and shone soft orbs like tender suns. No pale gilt luminaries
of frozen rays were these. Effulgent, jubilant, they
flamed--orbs red as wine of rubies that Djinns of Al
Shiraz press from his enchanted vineyards of jewels; twin
orbs rosy white as breasts of pampered Babylonian maids;
orbs of pulsing opalescences and orbs of the murmuring
green of bursting buds of spring, crocused orbs and orbs
of royal coral; suns that throbbed with singing rays of
wedded rose and pearl and of sapphires and topazes
amorous; orbs born of cool virginal dawns and of imperial
sunsets and orbs that were the tuliped fruit of mating
rainbows of fire.
They danced, these countless aureoles; they swung and
threaded in radiant choral patterns, in linked harmonies
of light. And as they danced their gay rays caressed and
bathed myriads of the Metal Folk open beneath them.
Under the rays the jewel fires of disk and star and cross
leaped and pulsed and danced to the same bright rhythm.
We sought the source of the music--a tremendous thing
of shimmering crystal pipes like some colossal organ. Out
of the radiance around it great flames gathered, shook
into sight with streamings and pennonings, in bannerets
and bandrols, leaped upon the crystal pipes, and merged
And as the pipes drank them the flames changed into
Throbbing bass viols of roaring vernal winds, diapasons
of waterfall and torrents--these had been flames of
emerald; flaming trumpetings of desire that had been
great streamers of scarlet--rose flames that had dissolved
into echoes of fulfillment; diamond burgeonings that
melted into silver symphonies like mist entangled Pleiades
transmuted into melodies; chameleon harmonies to which
the strange suns danced.
And now I saw--realizing with a clutch of indescribable
awe, with a sense of inexplicable profanation the
secret of this ensorcelled chamber.
Within every pulsing rose of irised fire that was the
heart of a disk, from every rubrous, clipped rose of a
cross, and from every rayed purple petaling of a star
there nestled a tiny disk, a tiny cross, a tiny star, luminous
and symboled even as those that cradled them.
The Metal Babes building like crystals from hearts of
radiance beneath the play of jocund orbs!
Incredible blossomings of crystal and of metal whose
lullabies and cradle songs were singing symphonies of
It was the birth chamber of the City!
The womb of the Metal Monster!
Abruptly the walls of the niche sparkled out, the glittering
eye points regarding us with a most disquieting suggestion
of sentinels who, slumbering, had been caught
unaware, and now awakening challenged us. Swiftly the
niche closed--so swiftly that barely had we time to spring
over its threshold into the corridor.
The corridor was awake--alive!
The power darted out; gripped us. Up it swept us and
on. Far away a square of light appeared, grew quickly
larger. Framed in it was the amethystine burning of
the great ring that girdled the encircling cliffs.
I turned my head--behind us the corridor was closing!
Now the opening was so close that through it I could
see the vast panorama of the valley. The wall behind us
touched us; pushed us on. We thrust ourselves against it,
despairingly. As well might flies have tried to press
back a moving mountain.
Resistingly, inexorably we were pressed forward. Now
we cowered within a yard-deep niche; now we trembled
upon a foot-wide ledge.
Shuddering, gasping, we glared down the sheer drop of
the City's wall. The smooth and glimmering scarp fell
thousands of feet straight to the valley floor. And there
were no merciful mists to hide what awaited us there;
no mists anywhere. In that brief, agonized glance every
detail of the Pit was disclosed with an abnormal clarity.
We tottered on the brink. The ledge melted.
Down, down we plunged, locked in each other's arms,
hurtling to the shattering death so far below!
Was it true that Time is within ourselves--that like
Space, its twin, it is only a self-created illusion of the
human mind? There are hours that flash by on hummingbird
wings; there are seconds that shuffle on shod in leaden
Was it true that when death faces us the consciousness
finds power through its will to live to conquer the illusion
--to prolong Time? That, recoiling from oblivion,
we can recreate in a fractional moment whole years gone
past, years yet to come--striving to lengthen our existence,
stretching out our apperception beyond the phantom
boundaries, overdrawing upon a Barmecide deposit of
minutes, staking fresh claims upon a mirage?
How else explain the seeming slowness with which we
were falling--the seeming leisureness with which the wall
drifted up past us?
And was this punishment--a sentence meted out for
profaning with our eyes a forbidden place; a penalty for
touching with our gaze the ark of the Metal Tribes--
their holy of holies--the budding place of the Metal
The valley was swinging--swinging in slow broad
curves; was oscillating dizzily.
Slowly the colossal wall slipped upward.
Realization swept me; left me amazed; only half believing.
This was no illusion. After that first swift plunge
our fall had been checked. We were swinging--not the
Deliberately, in wide arcs like pendulums, we were
swinging across the City's scarp; three feet out from it,
and as we swung, slowly sinking.
And now I saw the countless eyes of the watching wall
again were twinkling, regarding us with impish mockery.
It was the grip of the living wall that held us; that
rocked us from side to side as though giving greater
breadths of it chance to behold us; that was dropping us
gently, carefully, to the valley floor now a scant two
thousand feet below.
A storm of rage, of intensest resentment swept me; as
once before any gratitude I should have felt for escape
was submerged in the utter humiliation with which it
I shook my fists at the twinkling wall, strove to kick
and smite it like an angry child, cursed it--not childishly.
Dared it to hurl me down to death.
I felt Drake's hand touch mine.
"Steady," he said. "Steady, old boy. It's no use. Steady.
Hot with shame for my outburst, weak from its violence,
I obeyed. The valley floor was not more than a
thousand feet away. Thronging about where we must
at last touch, clustered and seething, was a multitude of
the Metal Things. They seemed to be looking up at us,
watching, waiting for us.
"Reception committee," grinned Drake.
I glanced away; over the valley. It was luminously clear;
yet the sky was overcast, no stars showing. The light was
no stronger than that of the moon at full, but it held a
quality unfamiliar to me. It cast no shadows; though soft,
it was piercing, revealing all it bathed with the distinctness
of bright sunshine. The illumination came, I
thought, from the encircling veils falling from the band
And, as I peered, out of the veils and far away sped a
violet spark. With meteor speed it flew toward us. Close
to the base of the vast facade it landed with a flashing
of blue incandescence. I knew it for one of the Flying
Things, the Mark Makers--one of the incredible messengers.
Close upon its fall came increase in the turmoil of the
crowding throng awaiting us. Came, too, an abrupt change
in our own motion. The long arcs lessened. We were
dropped more swiftly.
Far away in the direction from which the Flying Thing
had flown I sensed another movement; something coming
that carried with it subtle suggestion of unlikeness to all
the other incessant, linked movement over the pit. Closer
"Norhala!" gasped Drake.
Robed in her silken amber swathings, red-copper hair
streaming, woven with elfin sparklings, she was racing
toward the City like some lovely witch, riding upon the
back of a steed of huge cubes.
Nearer she raced. More direct became our fall. Now
we were dropping as though at the end of an unreeling
plummet cord; the floor of the valley was no more than
two hundred feet below.
"Norhala!" we shouted; and again and again--again
Before our cries could have reached her the cubes
swerved; came to a halt beneath us. Through the hundred
feet of space between I caught the brilliancy of the
weird constellations in Norhala's great eyes--saw with a
vague but no less dire foreboding that on her face dwelt
a terrifying, a blasting wrath.
As softly as though by the hand of a giant of cloud
we were lifted out from the wall, and were set with no
perceptible shock beside her on the back of the cubes.
"Norhala--" I stopped. For this was no Norhala whom
we had known. Gone was all calm, vanished every trace
of unearthly tranquillity. It was a Norhala awakened at
Yet in the still rage that filled her I sensed a force, an
intensity, more than human. Over the blazing eyes the
brows were knit in a rigid, golden bar; the delicate
nostrils were pinched; the sweet red mouth was white and
merciless. It was as though in its long sleep her human
self had gathered more than human strength, and that
now, awakened and unleashed, the violence of its rage
touched the vibrant zenith of that sphere of which her
quiet had been the nadir.
She was like an urn filled and flaming with the fires of
the Gods of wrath.
What was it that had awakened her--what in awakening
had changed the inpouring human consciousness into this
flood of fury? Foreboding gripped me.
"Norhala!" My voice was shaking. "Those we left--"
"They are gone!" The golden voice was octaves deeper,
vibrant, throbbing with that muffled, menacing note that
must have pulsed from the golden tambours that summoned
to battle Timur's fierce hordes. "They were--taken."
"Taken!" I gasped. "Taken by what--these?" I swept my
hands out toward the Metal Things milling around us.
"No! THESE are mine. These are they who obey me." The golden
voice now shrilled with her passion. "Taken by--men!"
Drake had read my face although he could not understand our words.
"Taken," I said. "Both Ruth and Ventnor. Taken by the
armored men--the men of Cherkis!"
"Cherkis!" She had caught the word. "Yes--Cherkis!
And now he and all his men--and all his women--and
every living thing he rules shall pay. And fear not--you
two. For I, Norhala, will bring back my own.
"Woe, woe to you, Cherkis, and to all of yours! For
I, Norhala, am awake, and I, Norhala, remember. Woe
to you, Cherkis, woe--for now all ends for you!
"Not by the gods of my mother who turned their
strength against her do I promise this. I, Norhala, have
no need for them--I, Norhala, who have strength greater
than they. And would I could crush those gods as I
shall crush you, Cherkis--and every living thing of yours!
Yea--and every UNLIVING thing as well!"
Not halting now was Norhala's speech; it poured from
the ruthless lips--flamingly.
"We go," she cried. "And something of vengeance I
have saved for you--as is your right."
She tossed her arms high; stamped upon the back of
the Metal Thing that held us.
It quivered and sped away. Swiftly dwindled the City's
bulk; fast faded its glimmering watchful face.
Not toward the veils of light but out over the plain we
flew. Above us, crouching against the blast of our going,
streamed like a silken banner Norhala's hair, gemmed
with the witch lights.
We were far out now, the City far away. The cube
slowed. Norhala threw high her head. From the arched,
exquisite throat pealed a trumpet call--golden, summoning,
imperious. Thrice it rang forth--and all the surrounding
valley seemed to halt and listen.
Followed upon its ending, a chanting as goldenly
sonorous. Wild, peremptory, triumphant. It was like a
mustering shouting to adventurous stars, buglings to
buccaneering winds, cadenced beckonings to restless ranks of
viking waves, signaling to all the corsairs and picaroons
of the elemental.
A cosmic call to slay!
The gigantic block upon which we rode quivered; I
myself felt a thousand needle-pointed roving arrows prick
me, urging me on to some jubilant, reckless orgy of
Obeying that summoning there swirled to us cube and
globe and pyramid by the score--by the hundreds. They
swept into our wake and followed--lifting up behind us,
an ever-rising sea.
Higher and higher arose the metal wave--mounting,
ever mounting as other score upon score leaped upon
it, rushed up it and swelled its crest. And soon so great
it was that it shadowed us, hung over us.
The cubes we rode angled in their course; raced now
with ever-increasing speed toward the spangled curtains.
And still Norhala's golden chant lured; higher and even
higher reached the following wave. Now we were rising
upon a steep slope; now the amethystine, gleaming ring
was almost overheard.
Norhala's song ceased. One breathless, soundless moment
and we had pierced the veils. A globule of sapphire
shone afar, the elfin bubble of her home. We neared it.
Heart leaping, I saw three ponies, high and empty saddles
turquoise studded, lift their heads from their roadway
browsing. For a moment they stood, stiff with terror;
then whimpering raced away.
We were at Norhala's door; were lifted down; stood
close to its threshold. Slaves to a single thought, Drake
and I sprang to enter.
"Wait!" Norhala's white hands caught us. "There is
peril there--without me! Me you must--follow!"
Upon the exquisite face was no unshadowing of wrath,
no diminishing of rage, no weakening of dreadful
determination. The star-flecked eyes were not upon us;
they looked over and beyond--coldly, calculatingly.
"Not enough," I heard her whisper. "Not enough--
for that which I will do."
We turned, following her gaze. A hundred feet on high,
stretching nearly across the gorge, an incredible curtain
was flung. Over its folds was movement--arms of spinning
globes that thrust forth like paws and down upon
which leaped pyramid upon pyramid stiffening as they
clung like bristling spikes of hair; great bars of clicking
cubes that threw themselves from the shuttering--shook
and withdrew. The curtain was a ferment--shifting,
mercurial; it throbbed with desire, palpitated with eagerness.
"Not enough!" murmured Norhala.
Her lips parted; from them came another trumpeting--
tyrannic, arrogant and clangorous. Under it the curtaining
writhed--out from it spurted thin cascades of cubes. They
swarmed up into tall pillars that shook and swayed and
With blinding flash upon flash the sapphire incandescences
struck forth at their feet. A score of flaming
columned shapes leaped up and curved in meteor flight
over the tumultuous curtain. Streaming with violet fires
they shot back to the valley of the City.
"Hai!" shouted Norhala as they flew. "Hai!"
Up darted her arms; the starry galaxies of her eyes
danced madly, shot forth visible rays. The mighty curtain
of the Metal Things pulsed and throbbed; its units
interweaving--block and globe and pyramid of which it
was woven, each seeming to strain at leash.
"Come!" cried Norhala--and led the way through the
Close behind her we pressed. I stumbled, nearly fell,
over a brown-faced, leather-cuirassed body that lay half
over, legs barring the threshold.
Contemptuously Norhala stepped over it. We were within
that chamber of the pool. About it lay a fair dozen of
the armored men. Ruth's defense, I thought with a grim
delight, had been most excellent--those who had taken
her and Ventnor had not done so without paying full toll.
A violet flashing drew my eyes away. Close to the pool
wherein we had first seen the white miracle of Norhala's
body, two immense, purple fired stars blazed. Between
them, like a suppliant cast from black iron, was Yuruk.
Poised upon their nether tips the stars guarded him.
Head touching his knees, eyes hidden within his folded
arms, the black eunuch crouched.
There was an unearthly mercilessness in Norhala's voice.
The eunuch raised his head; slowly, fearfully.
"Goddess!" he whispered. "Goddess! Mercy!"
"I saved him," she turned to us, "for you to slay. He
it was who brought those who took the maid who was
mine and the helpless one she loved. Slay him."
Drake understood--his hand twitched down to his pistol,
drew it. He leveled the gun at the black eunuch. Yuruk
saw it--shrieked and cowered. Norhala laughed--sweetly,
"He dies before the stroke falls," she said. "He dies
doubly therefore--and that is well."
Drake slowly lowered the automatic; turned to me.
"I can't," he said. "I can't--do it--"
"Masters!" Upon his knees the eunuch writhed toward
us. "Masters--I meant no wrong. What I did was for love
of the Goddess. Years upon years I have served her. And
her mother before her.
"I thought if the maid and the blasted one were gone,
that you would follow. Then I would be alone with the
Goddess once more. Cherkis will not slay them--and
Cherkis will welcome you and give the maid and the
blasted one back to you for the arts that you can teach
"Mercy, Masters, I meant no harm--bid the Goddess be
The ebon pools of eyes were clarified of their ancient
shadows by his terror; age was wiped from them by fear,
even as it was wiped from his face. The wrinkles were
gone. Appallingly youthful, the face of Yuruk prayed to
"Why do you wait?" she asked us. "Time presses, and
even now we should be on the way. When so many are
so soon to die, why tarry over one? Slay him!"
"Norhala," I answered, "we cannot slay him so. When
we kill, we kill in fair fight--hand to hand. The maid
we both love has gone, taken with her brother. It will
not bring her back if we kill him through whom she was
taken. We would punish him--yes, but slay him we cannot.
And we would be after the maid and her brother quickly."
A moment she looked at us, perplexity shading the high
and steady anger.
"As you will," she said at last; then added, half sarcastically,
"Perhaps it is because I who am now awake
have slept so long that I cannot understand you. But
Yuruk has disobeyed ME. That of MINE which I committed
to his care he has given to the enemies of me and
those who were mine. It matters nothing to me what YOU
would do. Matters to me only what I will to do."
She pointed to the dead.
"Yuruk"--the golden voice was cold--"gather up these
carrion and pile them together."
The eunuch arose, stole out fearfully from between the
two stars. He slithered to body after body, dragging them
one after the other to the center of the chamber, lifting
them and forming of them a heap. One there was who was
not dead. His eyes opened as the eunuch seized him, the
blackened mouth opened.
"Water!" he begged. "Give me drink. I burn!"
I felt a thrill of pity; lifted my canteen and walked
"You of the beard," the merciless chime rang out, "he
shall have no water. But drink he shall have, and soon--
drink of fire!"
The soldier's fevered eyes rolled toward her, saw and
read aright the ruthlessness in the beautiful face.
"Sorceress!" he groaned. "Cursed spawn of Ahriman!"
He spat at her.
The black talons of Yuruk stretched around his throat
"Son of unclean dogs!" he whined. "You dare blaspheme
He snapped the soldier's neck as though it had been a
At the callous cruelty I stood for an instant petrified;
I heard Drake swear wildly, saw his pistol flash up.
Norhala struck down his arm.
"Your chance has passed," she said, "and not for THAT
shall you slay him."
And now Yuruk had cast that body upon the others;
the pile was complete.
"Mount!" commanded Norhala, and pointed. He cast
himself at her feet, writhing, moaning, imploring. She
looked at one of the great Shapes; something of command
passed from her, something it understood plainly.
The star slipped forward--there was an almost imperceptible
movement of its side points. The twitching form
of the black seemed to leap up from the floor, to throw
itself like a bag upon the mound of the dead.
Norhala threw up her hands. Out of the violet ovals
beneath the upper tips of the Things spurted streams of
blue flame. They fell upon Yuruk and splashed over him
upon the heap of the slain. In the mound was a dreadful
movement, a contortion; the bodies stiffened, seemed to
try to rise, to push away--dead nerves and muscles responding
to the blasting energy passing through them.
Out from the stars rained bolt upon bolt. In the chamber
was the sound of thunder, crackling like broken glass.
The bodies flamed, crumbled. There was a little smoke--
nauseous, feebly protesting, beaten out by the consuming
fires almost before it could rise.
Where had been the heap of slain capped by the black
eunuch there was but a little whirling cloud of sad gray
dust. Caught by a passing draft, it eddied, slipped over
the floor, vanished through the doorway. Motionless stood
the blasting stars, contemplating us. Motionless stood
Norhala, her wrath no whit abated by the ghastly sacrifice.
And paralyzed by what we had beheld, motionless stood we.
"Listen," she said. "You two who love the maid. What
you have seen is nothing to that which you SHALL see--a
wisp of mist to the storm cloud."
"Norhala"--I found speech--"can you tell us when it
was that the maid was captured?"
Perhaps there was still time to overtake the abductors
before Ruth was thrust into the worse peril waiting where
she was being carried. Crossed this thought another--
puzzling, baffling. The cliffs Yuruk had pointed out to me
as those through which the hidden way passed were, I had
estimated then, at least twenty miles away. And how long
was the pass, the tunnel, through them? And then how
far this place of the armored men? It had been past dawn
when Drake had frightened the black eunuch with his
pistol. It was not yet dawn now. How could Yuruk have
made his way to the Persians so swiftly--how could they
so swiftly have returned?
Amazingly she answered the spoken question and the unspoken.
"They came long before dusk," she said. "By the night
before Yuruk had won to Ruszark, the city of Cherkis;
and long before dawn they were on their way hither. This
the black dog I slew told me."
"But Yuruk was with us here at dawn yesterday," I gasped.
"A night has passed since then," she said, "and another
night is almost gone."
Stunned, I considered this. If this were true--and not
for an instant did I doubt her--then not for a few hours
had we lain there at the foot of the living wall in the Hall
of the Cones--but for the balance of that day and that
night, and another day and part of still another night.
"What does she say?" Drake stared anxiously into my
whitened face. I told him.
"Yes." Norhala spoke again. "The dusk before the last
dusk that has passed I returned to my house. The maid
was there and sorrowing. She told me you had gone into
the valley, prayed me to help you and to bring you back. I
comforted her, and something of--the peace--I gave her;
but not all, for she fought against it. A little we played
together, and I left her sleeping. I sought you and found
you also sleeping. I knew no harm would come to you, and
I went my ways--and forgot you. Then I came here again
--and found Yuruk and these the maid had slain."
The great eyes flashed.
"Now do I honor the maid for the battle that she did,"
she said, "though how she slew so many strong men I do
not know. My heart goes out to her. And therefore when
I bring her back she shall no more be plaything to
Norhala, but sister. And with you it shall be as she wills.
And woe to those who have taken her!"
She paused, listening. From without came a rising storm
of thin wailings, insistent and eager.
"But I have an older vengeance than this to take," the
golden voice tolled somberly. "Long have I forgotten--
and shame I feel that I had forgot. So long have I forgotten
all hatreds, all lusts, all cruelty--among--these--"
She thrust a hand forth toward the hidden valley. "Forgot
--dwelling in the great harmonies. Save for you and what
has befallen I would never have stirred from them, I think.
But now awakened, I take that vengeance. After it is
done"--she paused--"after it is over I shall go back
again. For this awakening has in it nothing of the ordered
joy I love--it is a fierce and slaying fire. I shall go back--"
The shadow of her far dreaming flitted over, softened
the angry brilliancy of her eyes.
"Listen, you two!" The shadow of dream fled. "Those
that I am about to slay are evil--evil are they all, men and
women. Long have they been so--yea, for cycles of suns.
And their children grow like them--or if they be gentle
and with love for peace they are slain or die of heartbreak.
All this my mother told me long ago. So no more
children shall be born from them either to suffer or to
Again she paused, nor did we interrupt her musing.
"My father ruled Ruszark," she said at last. "Rustum
he was named, of the seed of Rustum the Hero even as
was my mother. They were gentle and good, and it was
their ancestors who built Ruszark when, fleeing from the
might of Iskander, they were sealed in the hidden valley
by the falling mountain.
"Then there sprang from one of the families of the
nobles--Cherkis. Evil, evil was he, and as he grew he
lusted for rule. On a night of terror he fell upon those who
loved my father and slew; and barely had my father time
to fly from the city with my mother, still but a bride,
and a handful of those loyal to him.
"They found by chance the way to this place, hiding in
the cleft which is its portal. They came, and they were
taken by--Those who are now my people. Then my mother,
who was very beautiful, was lifted before him who
rules here and she found favor in his sight and he had
built for her this house, which now is mine.
"And in time I was born--but not in this house. Nay--
in a secret place of light where, too, are born my people."
She was silent. I shot a glance at Drake. The secret
place of light--was it not that vast vault of mystery, of
dancing orbs and flames transmuted into music into which
we had peered and for which sacrilege, I had thought, had
been thrust from the City? And did in this lie the explanation
of her strangeness? Had she there sucked in
with her mother's milk the enigmatic life of the Metal
Hordes, been transformed into half human changeling, become
true kin to them? What else could explain--
"My mother showed me Ruszark," her voice, taking up
once more her tale, checked my thoughts. "Once when I
was little she and my father bore me through the forest
and through the hidden way. I looked upon Ruszark--a
great city it is and populous, and a caldron of cruelty and
"Not like me were my father and mother. They longed
for their kind and sought ever for means to regain their
place among them. There came a time when my father,
driven by his longing, ventured forth to Ruszark, seeking
friends to help him regain that place--for these who obey
me obeyed not him as they obey me; nor would he have
marched them--as I shall--upon Ruszark if they had
"Cherkis caught him. And Cherkis waited, knowing well
that my mother would follow. For Cherkis knew not where
to seek her, nor where they had lain hid, for between his
city and here the mountains are great, unscalable, and
the way through them is cunningly hidden; by chance
alone did my mother's mother and those who fled with her
discover it: And though they tortured him, my father
would not tell. And after a while forthwith those who still
remained of hers stole out with my mother to find him.
They left me here with Yuruk. And Cherkis caught my
The proud breasts heaved, the eyes shot forth visible
"My father was flayed alive and crucified," she said.
"His skin they nailed to the City's gates. And when
Cherkis had had his will with my mother he threw her
to his soldiers for their sport.
"All of those who went with them he tortured and slew
--and he and his laughed at their torment. But one there
was who escaped and told me--me who was little more
than a budding maid. He called on me to bring vengeance
--and he died. A year passed--and I am not like my
mother and my father--and I forgot--dwelling here in the
great tranquillities, barred from and having no thought
for men and their way.
"AIE, AIE!" she cried; "woe to me that I could forget!
But now I shall take my vengeance--I, Norhala, will
stamp them flat--Cherkis and his city of Ruszark and
everything it holds! I, Norhala, and my servants shall
stamp them into the rock of their valley so that none shall
know that they have been! And would that I could meet
their gods with all their powers that I might break them,
too, and stamp them into the rock under the feet of my
She threw out white arms.
Why had Yuruk lied to me? I wondered as I watched her.
The Disk had not slain her mother. Of course! He had
lied to play upon our terrors; had lied to frighten us away.
The wailings were rising in a sustained crescendo. One
of the slaying stars slipped over the chamber floor, folded
its points and glided out the door.
"Come!" commanded Norhala, and led the way. The second
star closed, followed us. We stepped over the threshold.
For one astounded, breathless moment we paused. In
front of us reared a monster--a colossal, headless Sphinx.
Like forelegs and paws, a ridge of pointed cubes, and
globes thrust against each side of the canyon walls.
Between them for two hundred feet on high stretched the
And this was a shifting, weaving mass of the Metal
Things; they formed into gigantic cuirasses, giant bucklers,
corselets of living mail. From them as they moved--nay,
from all the monster--came the wailings. Like a headless
Sphinx it crouched--and as we stood it surged forward
as though it sprang a step to greet us.
"HAI!" shouted Norhala, battle buglings ringing through
the golden voice. "HAI! my companies!"
Out from the summit of the breast shot a tremendous
trunk of cubes and spinning globes. And like a trunk it
nuzzled us, caught us up, swept us to the crest. An instant
I tottered dizzily; was held; stood beside Norhala upon
a little, level twinkling eyed platform; upon her other side
Now through the monster I felt a throbbing, an eager
and impatient pulse. I turned my head. Still like some
huge and grotesque beast the back of the clustered Things
ran for half a mile at least behind, tapering to a dragon
tail that coiled and twisted another full mile toward the
Pit. And from this back uprose and fell immense spiked
and fan-shaped ruffs, thickets of spikes, whipping knouts
of bristling tentacles, fanged crests. They thrust and
waved, whipped and fell constantly; and constantly the
great tail lashed and snapped, fantastic, long and living.
"HAI!" shouted Norhala once more. From her lifted
throat came again the golden chanting--but now a
relentless, ruthless song of slaughter.
Up reared the monstrous bulk. Into it ran the dragon
tail. Into it poured the fanged and bristling back.
Up, up we were thrust--three hundred feet, four hundred,
five hundred. Over the blue globe of Norhala's house
bent a gigantic leg. Spiderlike out from each side of the
monster thrust half a score of others.
Overhead the dawn began to break. Through it with
ever increasing speed we moved, straight to the line of
the cliffs behind which lay the city of the armored men--
and Ruth and Ventnor.
Smoothly moved the colossal shape; on it we rode as
easily as though cradled. It did not glide--it strode.
The columned legs raised themselves, bending from a
thousand joints. The pedestals of the feet, huge and
massive as foundations for sixteen-inch guns, fell with
machinelike precision, stamping gigantically.
Under their tread the trees of the forest snapped, were
crushed like reeds beneath the pads of a mastodon. From
far below came the sound of their crashing. The thick
forest checked the progress of the Shape less than tall
grass would that of a man.
Behind us our trail was marked by deep, black pits in
the forest's green, clean cut and great as the Mark upon
the poppied valley. They were the footprints of the Thing
that carried us.
The wind streamed and whistled. A flock of the willow
warblers arose, sworled about us with manifold beating of
little frightened wings. Norhala's face softened, her eyes
"Go--foolish little ones," she cried, and waved her
arms. They flew away, scolding.
A lammergeier swooped down on wide funereal wings;
it peered at us; darted away toward the cliffs.
"There will be no carrion there for you, black eater of
the dead, when I am through," I heard Norhala whisper,
eyes again somber.
Steadily grew the dawn light; from Norhala's lips came
again the chanting. And now that paean, the reckless pulse
of the monster we rode, began to creep through my own
veins. Into Drake's too, I knew, for his head was held
high and his eyes were clear and bright as hers who sang.
The jubilant pulse streamed through the hands that held
us, throbbed through us. The pulse of the Thing--sang!
Closer and closer grew the cliffs. Down and crashing
down fell the trees, the noise of their fall accompanying
the battle chant of the Valkyr beside me like wild harp
chords of storm-lashed surf. Up to the precipices the forest
rolled, unbroken. Now the cliffs loomed overhead. The
dawn had passed. It was full day.
Cutting up through the towering granite scarps was a
rift. In it the black shadows clustered thickly. Straight
toward that cleft we sped. As we drew near, the crest of
the Shape began swiftly to lower. Down we sank and down
--a hundred feet, two hundred; now we were two score
yards above the tree tops.
Out shot a neck, a tremendous serpent body. Crested
it was with pyramids; crested with them, too, was its
immense head. Thickly the head bristled with them, poised
motionless upon spinning globes as huge as they. For
hundreds of feet that incredible neck stretched ahead of
us and for twice as far behind a monstrous, lizard-shaped
We rode now upon a serpent, a glittering blue metal
dragon, spiked and knobbed and scaled. It was the weird
steed of Norhala flattening, thrusting out to pierce the
And still as when it had reared on high beat through it
the wild, triumphant, questing pulse. Still rang out
The trees parted and fell upon each side of us as though
we were some monster of the sea and they the waves we
The rift enclosed us. Lower we dropped; were not more
than fifty feet above its floor. The Thing upon which we
rode was a torrent roaring through it.
A deeper blackness enclosed us--a tunneling.
Through that we flowed. Out of it we darted into a
widening filled with wan light drifting down through a
pinnacle fanged mouth miles on high. Again the cleft
shrunk. A thousand feet ahead was a crack, a narrowing
of the cleft so small that hardly could a man pass through
Abruptly the metal dragon halted.
Norhala's chanting changed; became again the arrogant
clarioning. And close below us the huge neck split. It came
to me then that it was as though Norhala were the overspirit
of this chimera--as though it caught and understood and
obeyed each quick thought of hers.
As though, indeed, she was a PART of it--as IT was in
reality a part of that infinitely greater Thing, crouching
there in its lair of the Pit--the Metal Monster that had
lent this living part of itself to her for a steed, a champion.
Little time had I to consider such matters.
Up thrust the Shape before us. Into it raced and spun
Things angled, Things curved and Things squared. It
gathered itself into a Titanic pillar out of which, instantly,
thrust scores of arms.
Over them great globes raced; after these flew other
scores of huge pyramids, none less than ten feet in height,
the mass of them twenty and thirty. The manifold arms
grew rigid. Quiet for a moment, a Titanic metal Briareous,
Then at the tips of the arms the globes began to spin
--faster, faster. Upon them I saw the hosts of the pyramids
open--as one into a host of stars. The cleft leaped
out in a flood of violet light.
Now for another instant the stars which had been motionless,
poised upon the whirling spheres, joined in their
mad spinning. Cyclopean pin wheels they turned; again
as one they ceased. More brilliant now was their light,
dazzling; as though in their whirling they had gathered
Under me I felt the split Thing quiver with eagerness.
From the stars came a hurricane of lightning! A cataract
of electric flame poured into the crack, splashed and
guttered down the granite walls. We were blinded by it;
were deafened with thunders.
The face of the precipice smoked and split; was whirled
away in clouds of dust.
The crack widened--widened as a gulley in a sand bank
does when a swift stream rushes through it. Lightnings
these were--and more than lightnings; lightnings keyed
up to an invincible annihilating weapon that could rend
and split and crumble to atoms the living granite.
Steadily the cleft expanded. As its walls melted away
the Blasting Thing advanced, spurting into it the flaming
torrents. Behind it we crept. The dust of the shattered
rocks swirled up toward us like angry ghosts--before they
reached us they were blown away as though by strong
winds streaming from beneath us.
On we went, blinded, deafened. Interminably, it seemed,
poured forth the hurricane of blue fire; interminably the
There came a louder clamor--volcanic, chaotic, dulling
the thunders. The sides of the cleft quivered, bent outward.
They split; crashed down. Bright daylight poured in
upon us, a flood of light toward which the billows of dust
rushed as though seeking escape; out it poured like the
smoke of ten thousand cannon.
And the Blasting Thing shook--as though with laughter!
The stars closed. Back into the Shape ran globe and
pyramid. It slid toward us--joined the body from which
it had broken away. Through all the mass ran a wave of
jubilation, a pulse of mirth--a colossal, metallic--SILENT--
roar of laughter.
We glided forward--out of the cleft. I felt a shifting movement.
Up and up we were thrust. Dazed I looked behind me.
In the face of a sky climbing wall of rock, smoked a wide
chasm. Out of it the billowing clouds of dust still streamed,
pursuing, threatening us. The whole granite barrier seemed
to quiver with agony. Higher we rose and higher.
"Look," whispered Drake, and whirled me around.
Less than five miles away was Ruszark, the City of
Cherkis. And it was like some ancient city come into life
out of long dead centuries. A page restored from once
conquering Persia's crumbled book. A city of the Chosroes
transported by Jinns into our own time.
Built around and upon a low mount, it stood within a
valley but little larger than the Pit. The plain was level, as
though once it had been the floor of some primeval lake;
the hill of the City was its only elevation.
Beyond, I caught the glinting of a narrow stream,
meandering. The valley was ringed with precipitous cliffs
falling sheer to its floor.
Slowly we advanced.
The city was almost square, guarded by double walls of
hewn stone. The first raised itself a hundred feet on high,
turreted and parapeted and pierced with gates. Perhaps a
quarter of a mile behind it the second fortification thrust
The city itself I estimated covered about ten square
miles. It ran upward in broad terraces. It was very fair,
decked with blossoming gardens and green groves. Among
the clustering granite houses, red and yellow roofed, thrust
skyward tall spires and towers. Upon the mount's top was
a broad, flat plaza on which were great buildings, marble
white and golden roofed; temples I thought, or
palaces, or both.
Running to the city out of the grain fields and steads
that surrounded it, were scores of little figures, rat-like.
Here and there among them I glimpsed horsemen, arms
and armor glittering. All were racing to the gates and the
shelter of the battlements.
Nearer we drew. From the walls came now a faint
sound of gongs, of drums, of shrill, flutelike pipings. Upon
them I could see hosts gathering; hosts of swarming little
figures whose bodies glistened, from above whom came
gleamings--the light striking upon their helms, their spear
and javelin tips.
"Ruszark!" breathed Norhala, eyes wide, red lips cruelly
smiling. "Lo--I am before your gates. Lo--I am here--
and was there ever joy like this!"
The constellations in her eyes blazed. Beautiful, beautiful
was Norhala--as Isis punishing Typhon for the murder of
Osiris; as avenging Diana; shining from her something of
the spirit of all wrathful Goddesses.
The flaming hair whirled and snapped. From all her
sweet body came white-hot furious force, a withering
perfume of destruction. She pressed against me, and I
trembled at the contact.
Lawless, wild imaginings ran through me. Life, human
life, dwindled. The City seemed but a thing of toys.
On--let us crush it! On--on!
Again the monster shook beneath us. Faster we moved.
Louder grew the clangor of the drums, the gongs, the
pipes. Nearer came the walls; and ever more crowded with
the swarming human ants that manned them.
We were close upon the heels of the last fleeing stragglers.
The Thing slackened in its stride; waited patiently
until they were close to the gates. Before they could reach
them I heard the brazen clanging of their valves. Those
shut out beat frenziedly upon them; dragged themselves
close to the base of the battlements, cowered there or crept
along them seeking some hole in which to hide.
With a slow lowering of its height the Thing advanced.
Now its form was that of a spindle a full mile in length on
whose bulging center we three stood.
A hundred feet from the outer wall we halted. We
looked down upon it not more than fifty feet above its
broad top. Hundreds of the soldiers were crouching behind
the parapets, companies of archers with great bows
poised, arrows at their cheeks, scores of leather jerkined
men with stands of javelins at their right hands, spearsmen
and men with long, thonged slings.
Set at intervals were squat, powerful engines of wood
and metal beside which were heaps of huge, rounded
boulders. Catapults I knew them to be and around each
swarmed a knot of soldiers, fixing the great stones in place,
drawing back the thick ropes that, loosened, would hurl
forth the projectiles. From each side came other men,
dragging more of these balisters; assembling a battery
against the prodigious, gleaming monster that menaced
Between outer wall and inner battlements galloped
squadrons of mounted men. Upon this inner wall the
soldiers clustered as thickly as on the outer, preparing as
actively for its defense.
The city seethed. Up from it arose a humming, a
buzzing, as of some immense angry hive.
Involuntarily I visualized the spectacle we must present
to those who looked upon us--this huge incredible Shape
of metal alive with quicksilver shifting. This--as it must
have seemed to them--hellish mechanism of war captained
by a sorceress and two familiars in form of men. There
came to me dreadful visions of such a monster looking
down upon the peace-reared battlements of New York--
the panic rush of thousands away from it.
There was a blaring of trumpets. Up on the parapet
leaped a man clad all in gleaming red armor. From head
to feet the close linked scales covered him. Within a hood
shaped somewhat like the tight-fitting head coverings of
the Crusaders a pallid, cruel face looked out upon us; in
the fierce black eyes was no trace of fear.
Evil as Norhala had said these people of Ruszark were,
wicked and cruel--they were no cowards, no!
The red armored man threw up a hand.
"Who are you?" he shouted. "Who are you three, you
three who come driving down upon Ruszark through the
rocks? We have no quarrel with you?"
"I seek a man and a maid," cried Norhala. "A maid
and a sick man your thieves took from me. Bring him
"Seek elsewhere for them then," he answered. "They
are not here. Turn now and seek elsewhere. Go quickly,
lest I loose our might upon you and you go never."
Mockingly rang her laughter--and under its lash the
black eyes grew fiercer, the cruelty on the white
"Little man whose words are so big! Fly who thunders!
What are you called, little man?"
Her raillery bit deep--but its menace passed unheeded
in the rage it called forth.
"I am Kulun," shouted the man in scarlet armor. "Kulun,
the son of Cherkis the Mighty, and captain of his hosts.
Kulun--who will cast your skin under my mares in stall
for them to trample and thrust your red flayed body upon
a pole in the grain fields to frighten away the crows! Does
that answer you?"
Her laughter ceased; her eyes dwelt upon him--filled
with an infernal joy.
"The son of Cherkis!" I heard her murmur. "He has a son--"
There was a sneer on the cruel face; clearly he thought
her awed. Quick was his disillusionment.
"Listen, Kulun," she cried. "I am Norhala--daughter
of another Norhala and of Rustum, whom Cherkis tortured
and slew. Now go, you lying spawn of unclean
toads--go and tell your father that I, Norhala, am at his
gates. And bring back with you the maid and the man.
Go, I say!"
There was stark amazement on Kulun's face; and fear
now enough. He dropped from the parapet among his men.
There came one loud trumpet blast.
Out from the battlements poured a storm of arrows, a
cloud of javelins. The squat catapults leaped forward.
From them came a hail of boulders. Before that onrushing
tempest of death I flinched.
I heard Norhala's golden laughter and before they
could reach us arrow and javelin and boulder were
checked as though myriads of hands reached out from
the Thing under us and caught them. Down they dropped.
Forth from the great spindle shot a gigantic arm, hammer
tipped with cubes. It struck the wall close to where
the scarlet armored Kulun had vanished.
Under its blow the stones crumbled. With the fragments
fell the soldiers; were buried beneath them.
A hundred feet in width a breach gaped in the battlements.
Out shot the arm again; hooked its hammer tip over
the parapet, tore away a stretch of the breastwork as
though it had been cardboard. Beside the breach an expanse
of the broad flat top lay open like a wide platform.
The arm withdrew, and out from the whole length of
the spindle thrust other arms, hammer tipped, held high
From all the length of the wall arose panic outcry.
Abruptly the storm of arrows ended; the catapults were
still. Again the trumpets sounded; the crying ceased.
Down fell a silence, terrified, stifling.
Kulun stepped forth again, both hands held high. Gone
was his arrogance.
"A parley," he shouted. "A parley, Norhala. If we give
you the maid and man, will you go?"
"Go get them," she answered. "And take with you this
my command to Cherkis--that HE return with the two!"
For an instant Kulun hesitated. Up thrust the dreadful
arms, poised themselves to strike.
"It shall be so," he shouted. "I carry your command."
He leaped back, his red mail flashed toward a turret
that held, I supposed, a stairway. He was lost to sight. In
silence we waited.
On the further side of the city I glimpsed movement.
Little troops of mounted men, pony drawn wains, knots
of running figures were fleeing from the city through the
Norhala saw them too. With that incomprehensible, instant
obedience to her unspoken thought a mass of the
Metal Things separated from us; whirled up into a dozen
of those obelisked forms I had seen march from the cat
eyes of the City of the Pit.
In but a breath, it seemed, their columns were far off,
herding back the fugitives.
They did not touch them, did not offer to harm--only,
grotesquely, like dogs heading off and corraling frightened
sheep, they circled and darted. Rushing back came those
From the watching terraces and walls arose shrill cries
of terror, a wailing. Far away the obelisks met, pirouetted,
melted into one thick column. Towering, motionless as we,
it stood, guarding the further gates.
There was a stir upon the wall, a flashing of spears, of
drawn blades. Two litters closed with curtainings, surrounded
by triple rows of swordsmen fully armored,
carrying small shields and led by Kulun were being
borne to the torn battlement.
Their bearers stopped well within the platform and
gently lowered their burdens. The leader of those around
the second litter drew aside its covering, spoke.
Out stepped Ruth and after her--Ventnor!
"Martin!" I could not keep back the cry; heard mingled
with it Drake's own cry to Ruth. Ventnor raised his hand
in greeting; I thought he smiled.
The cubes on which we stood shot forward; stopped
within fifty feet of them. Instantly the guard of swordsmen
raised their blades, held them over the pair as
though waiting the signal to strike.
And now I saw that Ruth was not clad as she had
been when we had left her. She stood in scanty kirtle that
came scarcely to her knees, her shoulders were bare, her
curly brown hair unbound and tangled. Her face was set
with wrath hardly less than that which beat from Norhala.
On Ventnor's forehead was a blood red scar, a line that
ran from temple to temple like a brand.
The curtains of the first litter quivered; behind them
someone spoke. That in which Ruth and Ventnor had ridden
was drawn swiftly away. The knot of swordsmen drew
Into their places sprang and knelt a dozen archers. They
ringed in the two, bows drawn taut, arrows in place and
pointing straight to their hearts.
Out of the litter rolled a giant of a man. Seven feet he
must have been in height; over the huge shoulders, the
barreled chest and the bloated abdomen hung a purple
cloak glittering with gems; through the thick and grizzled
hair passed a flashing circlet of jewels.
The scarlet armored Kulun beside him, swordsmen
guarding them, he walked to the verge of the torn gap
in the wall. He peered down it, glancing imperturbably at
the upraised, hammer-banded arms still threatening; examined
again the breach. Then still with Kulun he strode
over to the very edge of the broken battlement and
stood, head thrust a little forward, studying us in silence.
"Cherkis!" whispered Norhala--the whisper was a hymn
to Nemesis. I felt her body quiver from head to foot.
A wave of hatred, a hot desire to kill, passed through
me as I scanned the face staring at us. It was a great
gross mask of evil, of cold cruelty and callous lusts.
Unwinking, icily malignant, black slits of eyes glared at us
between pouches that held them half closed. Heavy jowls
hung pendulous, dragging down the corners of the thick
lipped, brutal mouth into a deep graven, unchanging sneer.
As he gazed at Norhala a flicker of lust shot like a
licking tongue through his eyes.
Yet from him pulsed power; sinister, instinct with evil,
concentrate with cruelty--but power indomitable. Such
was Cherkis, descendant perhaps of that Xerxes the Conqueror
who three millenniums gone ruled most of the known world.
It was Norhala who broke the silence.
"Tcherak! Greeting--Cherkis!" There was merciless
mirth in the buglings of her voice. "Lo, I did but knock
so gently at your gates and you hastened to welcome me.
Greetings--gross swine, spittle of the toads, fat slug
beneath my sandals."
He passed the insults by, unmoved--although I heard a
murmuring go up from those near and Kulun's hard eyes blazed.
"We will bargain, Norhala," he answered calmly; the
voice was deep, filled with sinister strength.
"Bargain?" she laughed. "What have you with which
to bargain, Cherkis? Does the rat bargain with the tigress?
And you, toad, have nothing."
He shook his head.
"I have these," he waved a hand toward Ruth and her
brother. "Me you may slay--and mayhap many of mine.
But before you can move my archers will feather their
She considered him, no longer mocking.
"Two of mine you slew long since, Cherkis," she said,
slowly. "Therefore it is I am here."
"I know," he nodded heavily. "Yet now that is neither
here nor there, Norhala. It was long since, and I have
learned much during the years. I would have killed you
too, Norhala, could I have found you. But now I would
not do as then--quite differently would I do, Norhala;
for I have learned much. I am sorry that those that you
loved died as they did. I am in truth sorry!"
There was a curious lurking sardonicism in the words,
an undertone of mockery. Was what he really meant that
in those years he had learned to inflict greater agonies,
more exquisite tortures? If so, Norhala apparently did not
sense that interpretation. Indeed, she seemed to be interested,
her wrath abating.
"No," the hoarse voice rumbled dispassionately. "None
of that is important--now. YOU would have this man and
girl. I hold them. They die if you stir a hand's breadth
toward me. If they die, I prevail against you--for I have
cheated you of what you desire. I win, Norhala, even
though you slay me. That is all that is now important."
There was doubt upon Norhala's face and I caught a
quick gleam of contemptuous triumph glint through the
depths of the evil eyes.
"Empty will be your victory over me, Norhala," he said;
"What is your bargain?" she spoke hesitatingly; with a
sinking of my heart I heard the doubt tremble in her
"If you will go without further knocking upon my
gates"--there was a satiric grimness in the phrase--"go
when you have been given them, and pledge yourself
never to return--you shall have them. If you will not,
then they die."
"But what security, what hostages, do you ask?" Her
eyes were troubled. "I cannot swear by your gods, Cherkis,
for they are not my gods--in truth I, Norhala, have no
gods. Why should I not say yes and take the two, then
fall upon you and destroy--as you would do in my place,
"Norhala," he answered, "I ask nothing but your word.
Do I not know those who bore you and the line from
which they sprung? Was not always the word they gave
kept till death--unbroken, inviolable? No need for vows to
gods between you and me. Your word is holier than they
--O glorious daughter of kings, princess royal!"
The great voice was harshly caressing; not obsequious, but
as though he gave her as an equal her rightful honor. Her
face softened; she considered him from eyes far less hostile.
A wholesome respect for this gross tyrant's mentality
came to me; it did not temper, it heightened, the hatred I
felt for him. But now I recognized the subtlety of his
attack; realized that unerringly he had taken the only
means by which he could have gained a hearing; have
temporized. Could he win her with his guile?
"Is it not true?" There was a leonine purring in the question.
"It IS true!" she answered proudly. "Though why YOU
should dwell upon this, Cherkis, whose word is steadfast
as the running stream and whose promises are as
lasting as its bubbles--why YOU should dwell on this I
do not know."
"I have changed greatly, Princess, in the years since
my great wickedness; I have learned much. He who speaks
to you now is not he you were taught--and taught justly
"You may speak truth! Certainly you are not as I have
pictured you." It was as though she were more than half
convinced. "In this at least you do speak truth--that IF
I promise I will go and molest you no more."
"Why go at all, Princess?" Quietly he asked the amazing
question--then drew himself to his full height, threw wide
"Princess?" the great voice rumbled forth. "Nay--
Queen! Why leave us again--Norhala the Queen? Are
we not of your people? Am I not of your kin? Join
your power with ours. What that war engine you ride
may be, how built, I know not. But this I do know--that
with our strengths joined we two can go forth from where
I have dwelt so long, go forth into the forgotten world,
eat its cities and rule.
"You shall teach our people to make these engines,
Norhala, and we will make many of them. Queen
Norhala--you shall wed my son Kulun, he who stands
beside me. And while I live you shall rule with me, rule
equally. And when I die you and Kulun shall rule.
"Thus shall our two royal lines be made one, the old
feud wiped out, the long score be settled. Queen--wherever
it is you dwell it comes to me that you have few men.
Queen--you need men, many men and strong to follow
you, men to gather the harvests of your power, men to
bring to you the fruit of your smallest wish--young men
and vigorous to amuse you.
"Let the past be forgotten--I too have wrongs to forget,
O Queen. Come to us, Great One, with your power
and your beauty. Teach us. Lead us. Return, and throned
above your people rule the world!"
He ceased. Over the battlements, over the city, dropped
a vast expectant silence--as though the city knew its fate
was hanging upon the balance.
"No! No!" It was Ruth crying. "Do not trust him,
Norhala! It's a trap! He shamed me--he tortured--"
Cherkis half turned; before he swung about I saw a
hell shadow darken his face. Ventnor's hand thrust out,
covered Ruth's mouth, choking her crying.
"Your son"--Norhala spoke swiftly; and back flashed
the cruel face of Cherkis, devouring her with his eyes.
"Your son--and Queenship here--and Empire of the
World." Her voice was rapt, thrilled. "All this you offer?
"This and more!" The huge bulk of his body quivered
with eagerness. "If it be your wish, O Queen, I, Cherkis,
will step down from the throne for you and sit beneath
your right hand, eager to do your bidding."
A moment she studied him.
"Norhala," I whispered, "do not do this thing. He thinks
to gain your secrets."
"Let my bridegroom stand forth that I may look
upon him," called Norhala.
Visibly Cherkis relaxed, as though a strain had been
withdrawn. Between him and his crimson-clad son
flashed a glance; it was as though a triumphant devil sped
from them into each other's eyes.
I saw Ruth shrink into Ventnor's arms. Up from the
wall rose a jubilant shouting, was caught by the inner
battlements, passed on to the crowded terraces.