Part 7 out of 7
when we had finished did she go to Drake. She clung
close to her brother and beside him as we set forth
down the roadway, through the rain, toward the ledge
between the cliffs where the veils had shimmered.
Hotter and hotter it grew as we advanced; the air
steamed like a Turkish bath. The mists clustered so thickly
that at last we groped forward step by step, holding
to each other.
"No use," gasped Ventnor. "We couldn't see. We'll have
to turn back."
"Burned out!" said Dick. "Didn't I tell you? The
whole valley was a volcano. And with that deluge falling
in it--why wouldn't there be a fog? It's why there IS a
fog. We'll have to wait until it clears."
We trudged back to the blue globe.
All that day the rain fell. Throughout the few remaining
hours of daylight we wandered over the house of Norhala,
examining its most interesting contents, or sat theorizing,
discussing all phases of the phenomena we had witnessed.
We told Ruth what had occurred after she had thrown
in her lot with Norhala; and of the enigmatic struggle
between the glorious Disk and the sullenly flaming Thing
I have called the Keeper.
We told her of the entombment of Norhala.
When she heard that she wept.
"She was sweet," she sobbed; "she was lovely. And she
was beautiful. Dearly she loved me. I KNOW she loved me.
Oh, I know that we and ours and that which was hers
could not share the world together. But it comes to
me that Earth would have been far less poisonous with
those that were Norhala's than it is with us and ours!"
Weeping, she passed through the curtainings, going we
knew to Norhala's chamber.
It was a strange thing indeed that she had said, I
thought, watching her go. That the garden of the world
would be far less poisonous blossoming with those Things
of wedded crystal and metal and magnetic fires than
fertile as now with us of flesh and blood and bone. To
me came appreciations of their harmonies, and mingled
with those perceptions were others of humanity--disharmonious,
incoordinate, ever struggling, ever striving to
There was a plaintive whinnying at the open door. A
long and hairy face, a pair of patient, inquiring eyes looked
in. It was a pony. For a moment it regarded us--and then
trotted trustfully through; ambled up to us; poked its
head against my side.
It had been ridden by one of the Persians whom Ruth
had killed, for under it, slipped from the girths, a saddle
dangled. And its owner must have been kind to it--we
knew that from its lack of fear for us. Driven by the
tempest of the night before, it had been led back by
instinct to the protection of man.
"Some luck!" breathed Drake.
He busied himself with the pony, stripping away the
hanging saddle, grooming it.
That night we slept well. Awakening, we found that
the storm had grown violent again; the wind roaring and
the rain falling in such volume that it was impossible to
make our way to the Pit. Twice, as a matter of fact, we
tried; but the smooth roadway was a torrent, and, drenched
even through our oils to the skin, we at last abandoned
the attempt. Ruth and Drake drifted away together among
the other chambers of the globe; they were absorbed in
themselves, and we did not thrust ourselves upon them. All
the day the torrents fell.
We sat down that night to what was well-nigh the
last of Ventnor's stores. Seemingly Ruth had forgotten
Norhala; at least, she spoke no more of her.
"Martin," she said, "can't we start back tomorrow? I
want to get away. I want to get back to our own world."
"As soon as the storm ceases, Ruth," he answered, "we
start. Little sister--I too want you to get back quickly."
The next morning the storm had gone. We awakened
soon after dawn into clear and brilliant light. We had a
silent and hurried breakfast. The saddlebags were packed
and strapped upon the pony. Within them were what we
could carry of souvenirs from Norhala's home--a suit of
lacquered armor, a pair of cloaks and sandals, the jeweled
combs. Ruth and Drake at the side of the pony, Ventnor
and I leading, we set forth toward the Pit.
"We'll probably have to come back, Walter," he said. "I
don't believe the place is passable."
I pointed--we were then just over the threshold of the
elfin globe. Where the veils had stretched between the
perpendicular pillars of the cliffs was now a wide and
The roadway which had run so smoothly through the
scarps was blocked by a thousand foot barrier. Over it,
beyond it, I could see through the crystalline clarity of the
air the opposing walls.
"We can climb it," Ventnor said. We passed on and
reached the base of the barrier. An avalanche had dropped
there; the barricade was the debris of the torn cliffs,
their dust, their pebbles, their boulders. We toiled up; we
reached the crest; we looked down upon the valley.
When first we had seen it we had gazed upon a sea of
radiance pierced with lanced forests, swept with gigantic
gonfalons of flame; we had seen it emptied of its fiery
mists--a vast slate covered with the chirography of a
mathematical god; we had seen it filled with the symboling
of the Metal Hordes and dominated by the colossal
integrate hieroglyph of the living City; we had seen it
as a radiant lake over which brooded weird suns; a lake
of yellow flame froth upon which a sparkling hail fell,
within which reared islanded towers and a drowning
mount running with cataracts of sun fires; here we had
watched a goddess woman, a being half of earth, half
of the unknown immured within a living tomb--a dying
tomb--of flaming mysteries; had seen a cross-shaped
metal Satan, a sullen flaming crystal Judas betray--itself.
Where we had peered into the unfathomable, had glimpsed
the infinite, had heard and had seen the inexplicable, now was--
The amethystine ring from which had been streamed
the circling veils was cracked and blackened; like a seam
of coal it had stretched around the Pit--a crown of
mourning. The veils were gone. The floor of the valley
was fissured and blackened; its patterns, its writings
burned away. As far as we could see stretched a sea of
slag--coal black, vitrified and dead.
Here and there black hillocks sprawled; huge pillars
arose, bent and twisted as though they had been jettings
of lava cooled into rigidity before they could sink back
or break. These shapes clustered most thickly around an
immense calcified mound. They were what were left of
the battling Hordes, and the mound was what had been
the Metal Monster.
Somewhere there were the ashes of Norhala, sealed by
fire in the urn of the Metal Emperor!
From side to side of the Pit, in broken beaches and
waves and hummocks, in blackened, distorted tusks
and warped towerings, reaching with hideous pathos in
thousands of forms toward the charred mound, was only
From rifts and hollows still filled with water little
wreaths of steam drifted. In those futile wraiths of vapor
was all that remained of the might of the Metal Monster.
Catastrophe I had expected, tragedy I knew we would
find--but I had looked for nothing so filled with the
abomination of desolation, so frightful as was this.
"Burned out!" muttered Drake. "Short-circuited and
burned out! Like a dynamo--like an electric light!"
"Destiny!" said Ventnor. "Destiny! Not yet was the
hour struck for man to relinquish his sovereignty over
the world. Destiny!"
We began to pick our way down the heaped debris
and out upon the plain. For all that day and part of
another we searched for an opening out of the Pit.
Everywhere was the incredible calcification. The surfaces
that had been the smooth metallic carapaces with
the tiny eyes deep within them, crumbled beneath the
lightest blow. Not long would it be until under wind and
rain they dissolved into dust and mud.
And it grew increasingly obvious that Drake's theory of
the destruction was correct. The Monster had been one
prodigious magnet--or, rather, a prodigious dynamo. By
magnetism, by electricity, it had lived and had been
Whatever the force of which the cones were built and
that I have likened to energy-made material, it was
certainly akin to electromagnetic energies.
When, in the cataclysm, that force was diffused there
had been created a magnetic field of incredible intensity;
had been concentrated an electric charge of inconceivable
Discharging, it had blasted the Monster--short-circuited
it, and burned it out.
But what was it that had led up to the cataclysm? What
was it that had turned the Metal Monster upon itself?
What disharmony had crept into that supernal order to
set in motion the machinery of disintegration?
We could only conjecture. The cruciform Shape I have
named the Keeper was the agent of destruction--of that
there could be no doubt. In the enigmatic organism which
while many still was one and which, retaining its integrity
as a whole could dissociate manifold parts yet
still as a whole maintain an unseen contact and direction
over them through miles of space, the Keeper had its
place, its work, its duties.
So too had that wondrous Disk whose visible and concentrate
power, whose manifest leadership, had made us name it emperor.
And had not Norhala called the Disk--Ruler?
What were the responsibilities of these twain to the
mass of the organism of which they were such important
units? What were the laws they administered, the laws
they must obey?
Something certainly of that mysterious law which Maeterlinck
has called the spirit of the Hive--and something
infinitely greater, like that which governs the swarming
sun bees of Hercules' clustered orbs.
Had there evolved within the Keeper of the Cones--
guardian and engineer as it seemed to have been--ambition?
Had there risen within it a determination to wrest power
from the Disk, to take its place as Ruler?
How else explain that conflict I had sensed when the
Emperor had plucked Drake and me from the Keeper's
grip that night following the orgy of the feeding?
How else explain that duel in the shattered Hall of the
Cones whose end had been the signal for the final cataclysm?
How else explain the alinement of the cubes behind
the Keeper against the globes and pyramids remaining
loyal to the will of the Disk?
We discussed this, Ventnor and I.
"This world," he mused, "is a place of struggle. Air
and sea and land and all things that dwell within and
on them must battle for life. Earth not Mars is the
planet of war. I have a theory"--he hesitated--"that the
magnetic currents which are the nerve force of this globe
of ours were what fed the Metal Things.
"Within those currents is the spirit of earth. And always
they have been supercharged with strife, with hatreds,
warfare. Were these drawn in by the Things as
they fed? Did it happen that the Keeper became--TUNED
--to them? That it absorbed and responded to them,
growing even more sensitive to these forces--until it
"Who knows, Goodwin--who can tell?"
Enigma, unless the explanations I have hazarded be
accepted, must remain that monstrous suicide. Enigma,
save for inconclusive theories, must remain the question
of the Monster's origin.
If answers there were, they were lost forever in the slag
It was afternoon of the second day that we found a
rift in the blasted wall of the valley. We decided to try
it. We had not dared to take the road by which Norhala
had led us into the City.
The giant slide was broken and climbable. But even if
we could have passed safely through the tunnel of the
abyss there still was left the chasm over which we could
have thrown no bridge. And if we could have bridged it
still at that road's end was the cliff whose shaft Norhala
had sealed with her lightnings.
So we entered the rift.
Of our wanderings thereafter I need not write. From
the rift we emerged into a maze of the valleys, and after
a month in that wilderness, living upon what game we
could shoot, we found a road that led us into Gyantse.
In another six weeks we were home in America.
My story is finished.
There in the Trans-Himalayan wilderness is the blue globe
that was the weird home of the lightning witch--and looking
back I feel now she could not have been all woman.
There is the vast pit with its coronet of fantastic peaks;
its symboled, calcined floor and the crumbling body of the
inexplicable, the incredible Thing which, alive, was the
shadow of extinction, annihilation, hovering to hurl itself
upon humanity. That shadow is gone; that pall withdrawn.
But to me--to each of us four who saw those phenomena--
their lesson remains, ineradicable; giving a new strength
and purpose to us, teaching us a new humility.
For in that vast crucible of life of which we are so
small a part, what other Shapes may even now be rising
to submerge us?
In that vast reservoir of force that is the mystery-filled
infinite through which we roll, what other shadows may
be speeding upon us?