Part 4 out of 7
were half a score of them--girls and youths, women and men. The
Shining One poised itself, regarded them. They drew closer, and in the
eyes of each and in their faces was the bud of that awful
intermingling of emotions, of joy and sorrow, ecstasy and terror, that
I had seen in full blossom on Throckmartin's.
The Thing began again its murmurings--now infinitely caressing,
coaxing--like the song of a siren from some witched star! And the
bell-sounds rang out--compellingly, calling--calling--calling--
I saw Olaf lean far out of his place; saw, half-consciously, at
Lugur's signal, three of the dwarfs creep in and take places,
unnoticed, behind him.
Now the first of the figures rushed upon the dais--and paused. It was
the girl who had been brought before Yolara when the gnome named
Songar was driven into the nothingness! With all the quickness of
light a spiral of the Shining One stretched out and encircled her.
At its touch there was an infinitely dreadful shrinking and, it
seemed, a simultaneous hurling of herself into its radiance. As it
wrapped its swirls around her, permeated her--the crystal chorus
burst forth--tumultuously; through and through her the radiance
pulsed. Began then that infinitely dreadful, but infinitely glorious,
rhythm they called the dance of the Shining One. And as the girl
swirled within its sparkling mists another and another flew into its
embrace, until, at last, the dais was an incredible vision; a mad
star's Witches' Sabbath; an altar of white faces and bodies gleaming
through living flame; transfused with rapture insupportable and horror
that was hellish--and ever, radiant plumes and spirals expanding, the
core of the Shining One waxed--growing greater--as it consumed, as it
drew into and through itself the life-force of these lost ones!
So they spun, interlaced--and there began to pulse from them life,
vitality, as though the very essence of nature was filling us. Dimly I
recognized that what I was beholding was vampirism inconceivable! The
banked tiers chanted. The mighty sounds pealed forth!
It was a Saturnalia of demigods!
Then, whirling, bell-notes storming, the Shining One withdrew slowly
from the dais down the ramp, still embracing, still interwoven with
those who had thrown themselves into its spirals. They drifted with it
as though half-carried in dreadful dance; white faces sealed--forever--
into that semblance of those who held within linked God and devil--I
covered my eyes!
I heard a gasp from O'Keefe; opened my eyes and sought his; saw the
wildness vanish from them as he strained forward. Olaf had leaned far
out, and as he did so the dwarfs beside him caught him, and whether by
design or through his own swift, involuntary movement, thrust him half
into the Dweller's path. The Dweller paused in its gyrations--seemed
to watch him. The Norseman's face was crimson, his eyes blazing. He
threw himself back and, with one defiant shout, gripped one of the
dwarfs about the middle and sent him hurtling through the air,
straight at the radiant Thing! A whirling mass of legs and arms, the
dwarf flew--then in midflight stopped as though some gigantic
invisible hand had caught him, and--was dashed down upon the platform
not a yard from the Shining One!
Like a broken spider he moved--feebly--once, twice. From the Dweller
shot a shimmering tentacle--touched him--recoiled. Its crystal
tinklings changed into an angry chiming. From all about--jewelled
stalls and jet peak--came a sigh of incredulous horror.
Lugur leaped forward. On the instant Larry was over the low barrier
between the pillars, rushing to the Norseman's side. And even as they
ran there was another wild shout from Olaf, and he hurled himself out,
straight at the throat of the Dweller!
But before he could touch the Shining One, now motionless--and never
was the thing more horrible than then, with the purely human
suggestion of surprise plain in its poise--Larry had struck him
I tried to follow--and was held by Rador. He was trembling--but not
with fear. In his face was incredulous hope, inexplicable eagerness.
"Wait!" he said. "Wait!"
The Shining One stretched out a slow spiral, and as it did so I saw
the bravest thing man has ever witnessed. Instantly O'Keefe thrust
himself between it and Olaf, pistol out. The tentacle touched him, and
the dull blue of his robe flashed out into blinding, intense azure
light. From the automatic in his gloved hand came three quick bursts
of flame straight into the Thing. The Dweller drew back; the
Lugur paused, his hand darted up, and in it was one of the silver
_Keth_ cones. But before he could flash it upon the Norseman, Larry
had unlooped his robe, thrown its fold over Olaf, and, holding him
with one hand away from the Shining One, thrust with the other his
pistol into the dwarf's stomach. His lips moved, but I could not hear
what he said. But Lugur understood, for his hand dropped.
Now Yolara was there--all this had taken barely more than five
seconds. She thrust herself between the three men and the Dweller. She
spoke to it--and the wild buzzing died down; the gay crystal tinklings
burst forth again. The Thing murmured to her--began to whirl--faster,
faster--passed down the ivory pier, out upon the waters, bearing with
it, meshed in its light, the sacrifices--swept on ever more swiftly,
triumphantly and turning, turning, with its ghastly crew, vanished
through the Veil!
Abruptly the polychromatic path snapped out. The silver light poured
in upon us. From all the amphitheatre arose a clamour, a shouting.
Marakinoff, his eyes staring, was leaning out, listening. Unrestrained
now by Rador, I vaulted the wall and rushed forward. But not before I
had heard the green dwarf murmur:
"There is something stronger than the Shining One! Two things--yea--a
strong heart--and hate!"
Olaf, panting, eyes glazed, trembling, shrank beneath my hand.
"The devil that took my Helma!" I heard him whisper. "The Shining
"Both these men," Lugur was raging, "they shall dance with the Shining
one. And this one, too." He pointed at me malignantly.
"This man is mine," said the priestess, and her voice was menacing.
She rested her hand on Larry's shoulder. "He shall not dance. No--nor
his friend. I have told you I dare not for this one!" She pointed to
"Neither this man, nor this," said Larry, "shall be harmed. This is my
"Even so," she answered quietly, "my lord!"
I saw Marakinoff stare at O'Keefe with a new and curiously speculative
interest. Lugur's eyes grew hellish; he raised his arms as though to
strike her. Larry's pistol prodded him rudely enough.
"No rough stuff now, kid!" said O'Keefe in English. The red dwarf
quivered, turned--caught a robe from a priest standing by, and threw
it over himself. The _ladala_, shouting, gesticulating, fighting with
the soldiers, were jostling down from the tiers of jet.
"Come!" commanded Yolara--her eyes rested upon Larry. "Your heart is
great, indeed--my lord!" she murmured; and her voice was very sweet.
"This man comes with us, Yolara," said O'Keefe pointing to Olaf.
"Bring him," she said. "Bring him--only tell him to look no more upon
me as before!" she added fiercely.
Beside her the three of us passed along the stalls, where sat the
fair-haired, now silent, at gaze, as though in the grip of some great
doubt. Silently Olaf strode beside me. Rador had disappeared. Down the
stairway, through the hall of turquoise mist, over the rushing
sea-stream we went and stood beside the wall through which we had
entered. The white-robed ones had gone.
Yolara pressed; the portal opened. We stepped upon the car; she took
the lever; we raced through the faintly luminous corridor to the house
of the priestess.
And one thing now I knew sick at heart and soul the truth had come to
me--no more need to search for Throckmartin. Behind that Veil, in the
lair of the Dweller, dead-alive like those we had just seen swim in
its shining train was he, and Edith, Stanton and Thora and Olaf
The car came to rest; the portal opened; Yolara leaped out lightly,
beckoned and flitted up the corridor. She paused before an ebon
screen. At a touch it vanished, revealing an entrance to a small blue
chamber, glowing as though cut from the heart of some gigantic
sapphire; bare, save that in its centre, upon a low pedestal, stood a
great globe fashioned from milky rock-crystal; upon its surface were
faint tracings as of seas and continents, but, if so, either of some
other world or of this world in immemorial past, for in no way did
they resemble the mapped coastlines of our earth.
Poised upon the globe, rising from it out into space, locked in each
other's arms, lips to lips, were two figures, a woman and a man, so
exquisite, so lifelike, that for the moment I failed to realize that
they, too, were carved of the crystal. And before this shrine--for
nothing else could it be, I knew--three slender cones raised
themselves: one of purest white flame, one of opalescent water, and
the third of--moonlight! There was no mistaking them, the height of a
tall man each stood--but how water, flame and light were held so
evenly, so steadily in their spire-shapes, I could not tell.
Yolara bowed lowly--once, twice, thrice. She turned to O'Keefe, nor
by slightest look or gesture betrayed she knew others were there than
he. The blue eyes wide, searching, unfathomable, she drew close; put
white hands on his shoulders, looked down into his very soul.
"My lord," she murmured. "Now listen well for I, Yolara, give you
three things--myself, and the Shining One, and the power that is the
Shining One's--yea, and still a fourth thing that is all three--power
over all upon that world from whence you came! These, my lord, ye
shall have. I swear it"--she turned toward the altar--uplifted her
arms--"by Siya and by Siyana, and by the flame, by the water, and by
the light!" *1
*1 I have no space here even to outline the eschatology of this
people, nor to catalogue their pantheon. Siya and Siyana typified
worldly love. Their ritual was, however, singularly free from those
degrading elements usually found in love-cults. Priests and
priestesses of all cults dwelt in the immense seven-terraced
structure, of which the jet amphitheatre was the water side. The
symbol, icon, representation, of Siya and Siyana--the globe and the
up-striving figures--typified earthly love, feet bound to earth, but
eyes among the stars. Hell or heaven I never heard formulated, nor
their equivalents; unless that existence in the Shining One's domain
could serve for either. Over all this was Thanaroa, remote; unheeding,
but still maker and ruler of all--an absentee First Cause personified!
Thanaroa seemed to be the one article of belief in the creed of the
soldiers--Rador, with his reverence for the Ancient Ones, was an
exception. Whatever there was, indeed, of high, truly religious
impulse among the Murians, this far, High God had. I found this
exceedingly interesting, because it had long been my theory--to put
the matter in the shape of a geometrical formula--that the real
attractiveness of gods to man increases uniformly according to the
square of their distance--W. T. G.
Her eyes grew purple dark.
"Let none dare to take you from me! Nor ye go from me unbidden!" she
Then swiftly, still ignoring us, she threw her arms about O'Keefe,
pressed her white body to his breast, lips raised, eyes closed,
seeking his. O'Keefe's arms tightened around her, his head dropped
lips seeking, finding hers--passionately! From Olaf came a deep
indrawn breath that was almost a groan. But not in my heart could I
find blame for the Irishman!
The priestess opened eyes now all misty blue, thrust him back, stood
regarding him. O'Keefe, dead-white, raised a trembling hand to his
"And thus have I sealed my oath, O my lord!" she whispered. For the
first time she seemed to recognize our presence, stared at us a
moment, then through us, and turned to O'Keefe.
"Go, now!" she said. "Soon Rador shall come for you. Then--well,
after that let happen what will!"
She smiled once more at him--so sweetly; turned toward the figures
upon the great globe; sank upon her knees before them. Quietly we
crept away; still silent, made our way to the little pavilion. But as
we passed we heard a tumult from the green roadway; shouts of men, now
and then a woman's scream. Through a rift in the garden I glimpsed a
jostling crowd on one of the bridges: green dwarfs struggling with the
_ladala_--and all about droned a humming as of a giant hive disturbed!
Larry threw himself down upon one of the divans, covered his face with
his hands, dropped them to catch in Olaf's eyes troubled reproach,
looked at me.
"_I_ couldn't help it," he said, half defiantly--half-miserably.
"God, what a woman! I COULDN'T help it!"
"Larry," I asked. "Why didn't you tell her you didn't love
He gazed at me--the old twinkle back in his eye.
"Spoken like a scientist, Doc!" he exclaimed. "I suppose if a burning
angel struck you out of nowhere and threw itself about you, you would
most dignifiedly tell it you didn't want to be burned. For God's sake,
don't talk nonsense, Goodwin!" he ended, almost peevishly.
"Evil! Evil!" The Norseman's voice was deep, nearly a chant. "All
here is of evil: Trolldom and Helvede it is, Ja! And that she
_djaevelsk_ of beauty--what is she but harlot of that shining devil
they worship. I, Olaf Huldricksson, know what she meant when she held
out to you power over all the world, _Ja!_--as if the world had not
devils enough in it now!"
"What?" The cry came from both O'Keefe and myself at once.
Olaf made a gesture of caution, relapsed into sullen silence. There
were footsteps on the path, and into sight came Rador--but a Rador
changed. Gone was every vestige of his mockery; curiously solemn, he
saluted O'Keefe and Olaf with that salute which, before this, I had
seen given only to Yolara and to Lugur. There came a swift quickening
of the tumult--died away. He shrugged mighty shoulders.
"The _ladala_ are awake!" he said. "So much for what two brave men
can do!" He paused thoughtfully. "Bones and dust jostle not each other
for place against the grave wall!" he added oddly. "But if bones and
dust have revealed to them that they still--live--"
He stopped abruptly, eyes seeking the globe that bore and sent forth
*1 I find that I have neglected to explain the working of these
interesting mechanisms that were telephonic, dictaphonic, telegraphic
in one. I must assume that my readers are familiar with the receiving
apparatus of wireless telegraphy, which must be "tuned" by the
operator until its own vibratory quality is in exact harmony with the
vibrations--the extremely rapid impacts--of those short electric
wavelengths we call Hertzian, and which carry the wireless messages. I
must assume also that they are familiar with the elementary fact of
physics that the vibrations of light and sound are interchangeable.
The hearing-talking globes utilize both these principles, and with
consummate simplicity. The light with which they shone was produced by
an atomic "motor" within their base, similar to that which activated
the merely illuminating globes. The composition of the phonic spheres
gave their surfaces an acute sensitivity and resonance. In conjunction
with its energizing power, the metal set up what is called a "field of
force," which linked it with every particle of its kind no matter how
distant. When vibrations of speech impinged upon the resonant surface
its rhythmic light-vibrations were broken, just as a telephone
transmitter breaks an electric current. Simultaneously these
light-vibrations were changed into sound--on the surfaces of all
spheres tuned to that particular instrument. The "crawling" colours
which showed themselves at these times were literally the voice of the
speaker in its spectrum equivalent. While usually the sounds produced
required considerable familiarity with the apparatus to be understood
quickly, they could, on occasion, be made startlingly loud and
clear--as I was soon to realize--W. T. G.
"The _Afyo Maie_ has sent me to watch over you till she summons you,"
he announced clearly. "There is to be a--feast. You, _Larree_, you
Goodwin, are to come. I remain here with--Olaf."
"No harm to him!" broke in O'Keefe sharply. Rador touched his heart,
"By the Ancient Ones, and by my love for you, and by what you twain
did before the Shining One--I swear it!" he whispered.
Rador clapped palms; a soldier came round the path, in his grip a long
flat box of polished wood. The green dwarf took it, dismissed him,
threw open the lid.
"Here is your apparel for the feast, _Larree_," he said, pointing to
O'Keefe stared, reached down and drew out a white, shimmering, softly
metallic, long-sleeved tunic, a broad, silvery girdle, leg swathings
of the same argent material, and sandals that seemed to be cut out
from silver. He made a quick gesture of angry dissent.
"Nay, _Larree_!" muttered the dwarf. "Wear them--I counsel it--I pray
it--ask me not why," he went on swiftly, looking again at the globe.
O'Keefe, as I, was impressed by his earnestness. The dwarf made a
curiously expressive pleading gesture. O'Keefe abruptly took the
garments; passed into the room of the fountain.
"The Shining One dances not again?" I asked.
"No," he said. "No"--he hesitate--"it is the usual feast that follows
the sacrament! Lugur--and Double Tongue, who came with you, will be
there," he added slowly.
"Lugur--" I gasped in astonishment. "After what happened--he will be
"Perhaps because of what happened, Goodwin, my friend," he
answered--his eyes again full of malice; "and there will be
others--friends of Yolara--friends of Lugur--and perhaps
another"--his voice was almost inaudible--"one whom they have not
called--" He halted, half-fearfully, glancing at the globe; put finger
to lips and spread himself out upon one of the couches.
"Strike up the band"--came O'Keefe's voice--"here comes the hero!"
He strode into the room. I am bound to say that the admiration in
Rador's eyes was reflected in my own, and even, if involuntarily, in
"A son of Siyana!" whispered Rador.
He knelt, took from his girdle-pouch a silk-wrapped something, unwound
it--and, still kneeling, drew out a slender poniard of gleaming white
metal, hilted with the blue stones; he thrust it into O'Keefe's
girdle; then gave him again the rare salute.
"Come," he ordered and took us to the head of the pathway.
"Now," he said grimly, "let the Silent Ones show their power--if they
still have it!"
And with this strange benediction, be turned back.
"For God's sake, Larry," I urged as we approached the house of the
priestess, "you'll be careful!"
He nodded--but I saw with a little deadly pang of apprehension in my
heart a puzzled, lurking doubt within his eyes.
As we ascended the serpent steps Marakinoff appeared. He gave a signal
to our guards--and I wondered what influence the Russian had attained,
for promptly, without question, they drew aside. At me he smiled
"Have you found your friends yet?" he went on--and now I sensed
something deeply sinister in him. "No! It is too bad! Well, don't give
up hope." He turned to O'Keefe.
"Lieutenant, I would like to speak to you--alone!"
"I've no secrets from Goodwin," answered O'Keefe.
"So?" queried Marakinoff, suavely. He bent, whispered to Larry.
The Irishman started, eyed him with a certain shocked incredulity,
then turned to me.
"Just a minute, Doc!" he said, and I caught the suspicion of a wink.
They drew aside, out of ear-shot. The Russian talked rapidly. Larry
was all attention. Marakinoff's earnestness became intense; O'Keefe
interrupted--appeared to question. Marakinoff glanced at me and as his
gaze shifted from O'Keefe, I saw a flame of rage and horror blaze up
in the latter's eyes. At last the Irishman appeared to consider
gravely; nodded as though he had arrived at some decision, and
Marakinoff thrust his hand to him.
And only I could have noticed Larry's shrinking, his microscopic
hesitation before he took it, and his involuntary movement, as though
to shake off something unclean, when the clasp had ended.
Marakinoff, without another look at me, turned and went quickly
within. The guards took their places. I looked at Larry inquiringly.
"Don't ask a thing now, Doc!" he said tensely. "Wait till we get
home. But we've got to get damned busy and quick--I'll tell you that
The Tempting of Larry
We paused before thick curtains, through which came the faint murmur
of many voices. They parted; out came two--ushers, I suppose, they
were--in cuirasses and kilts that reminded me somewhat of
chain-mail--the first armour of any kind here that I had seen. They
held open the folds.
The chamber, on whose threshold we stood, was far larger than either
anteroom or hall of audience. Not less than three hundred feet long
and half that in depth, from end to end of it ran two huge
semi-circular tables, paralleling each other, divided by a wide aisle,
and heaped with flowers, with fruits, with viands unknown to me, and
glittering with crystal flagons, beakers, goblets of as many hues as
the blooms. On the gay-cushioned couches that flanked the tables,
lounging luxuriously, were scores of the fair-haired ruling class and
there rose a little buzz of admiration, oddly mixed with a
half-startled amaze, as their gaze fell upon O'Keefe in all his
silvery magnificence. Everywhere the light-giving globes sent their
The cuirassed dwarfs led us through the aisle. Within the arc of the
inner half--circle was another glittering board, an oval. But of those
seated there, facing us--I had eyes for only one--Yolara! She swayed
up to greet O'Keefe--and she was like one of those white lily maids,
whose beauty Hoang-Ku, the sage, says made the Gobi first a paradise,
and whose lusts later the burned-out desert that it is. She held out
hands to Larry, and on her face was passion--unashamed, unhiding.
She was Circe--but Circe conquered. Webs of filmiest white clung to
the rose-leaf body. Twisted through the corn-silk hair a threaded
circlet of pale sapphires shone; but they were pale beside Yolara's
eyes. O'Keefe bent, kissed her hands, something more than mere
admiration flaming from him. She saw--and, smiling, drew him down
It came to me that of all, only these two, Yolara and O'Keefe, were in
white--and I wondered; then with a tightening of nerves ceased to
wonder as there entered--Lugur! He was all in scarlet, and as he
strode forward a silence fell a tense, strained silence.
His gaze turned upon Yolara, rested upon O'Keefe, and instantly his
face grew--dreadful--there is no other word than that for it.
Marakinoff leaned forward from the centre of the table, near whose end
I sat, touched and whispered to him swiftly. With appalling effort the
red dwarf controlled himself; he saluted the priestess ironically, I
thought; took his place at the further end of the oval. And now I
noted that the figures between were the seven of that Council of which
the Shining One's priestess and Voice were the heads. The tension
relaxed, but did not pass--as though a storm-cloud should turn away,
but still lurk, threatening.
My gaze ran back. This end of the room was draped with the
exquisitely coloured, graceful curtains looped with gorgeous garlands.
Between curtains and table, where sat Larry and the nine, a circular
platform, perhaps ten yards in diameter, raised itself a few feet
above the floor, its gleaming surface half-covered with the luminous
petals, fragrant, delicate.
On each side below it, were low carven stools. The curtains parted
and softly entered girls bearing their flutes, their harps, the
curiously emotion-exciting, octaved drums. They sank into their
places. They touched their instruments; a faint, languorous measure
throbbed through the rosy air.
The stage was set! What was to be the play?
Now about the tables passed other dusky-haired maids, fair bosoms
bare, their scanty kirtles looped high, pouring out the wines for the
My eyes sought O'Keefe. Whatever it had been that Marakinoff had
said, clearly it now filled his mind--even to the exclusion of the
wondrous woman beside him. His eyes were stern, cold--and now and
then, as be turned them toward the Russian, filled with a curious
speculation. Yolara watched him, frowned, gave a low order to the Hebe
The girl disappeared, entered again with a ewer that seemed cut of
amber. The priestess poured from it into Larry's glass a clear liquid
that shook with tiny sparkles of light. She raised the glass to her
lips, handed it to him. Half-smiling, half-abstractedly, he took it,
touched his own lips where hers had kissed; drained it. A nod from
Yolara and the maid refilled his goblet.
At once there was a swift transformation in the Irishman. His
abstraction vanished; the sternness fled; his eyes sparkled. He leaned
caressingly toward Yolara; whispered. Her blue eyes flashed
triumphantly; her chiming laughter rang. She raised her own glass--but
within it was not that clear drink that filled Larry's! And again he
drained his own; and, lifting it, full once more, caught the baleful
eyes of Lugur, and held it toward him mockingly. Yolara swayed close--
alluring, tempting. He arose, face all reckless gaiety; rollicking
"A toast!" he cried in English, "to the Shining One--and may the hell
where it belongs soon claim it!"
He had used their own word for their god--all else had been in his own
tongue, and so, fortunately, they did not understand. But the contempt
in his action they did recognize--and a dead, a fearful silence fell
upon them all. Lugur's eyes blazed, little sparks of crimson in their
green. The priestess reached up, caught at O'Keefe. He seized the soft
hand; caressed it; his gaze grew far away, sombre.
"The Shining One." He spoke low. "An' now again I see the faces of
those who dance with it. It is the Fires of Mora--come, God alone
knows how--from Erin--to this place. The Fires of Mora!" He
contemplated the hushed folk before him; and then from his lips came
that weirdest, most haunting of the lyric legends of Erin--the Curse
"The fretted fires of Mora blew o'er him in the night;
He thrills no more to loving, nor weeps for past delight.
For when those flames have bitten, both grief and joy take flight--"
Again Yolara tried to draw him down beside her; and once more he
gripped her hand. His eyes grew fixed--he crooned:
"And through the sleeping silence his feet must track the tune,
When the world is barred and speckled with silver of the moon--"
He stood, swaying, for a moment, and then, laughing, let the priestess
have her way; drained again the glass.
And now my heart was cold, indeed--for what hope was there left with
Larry mad, wild drunk!
The silence was unbroken--elfin women and dwarfs glancing furtively at
each other. But now Yolara arose, face set, eyes flashing grey.
"Hear you, the Council, and you, Lugur--and all who are here!" she
cried. "Now I, the priestess of the Shining One, take, as is my right,
my mate. And this is he!" She pointed down upon Larry. He glanced up
"Can't quite make out what you say, Yolara," he muttered thickly.
"But say anything--you like--I love your voice!"
I turned sick with dread. Yolara's hand stole softly upon the
Irishman's curls caressingly.
"You know the law, Yolara." Lugur's voice was flat, deadly, "You may
not mate with other than your own kind. And this man is a stranger--a
barbarian--food for the Shining One!" Literally, he spat the phrase.
"No, not of our kind--Lugur--higher!" Yolara answered serenely. "Lo,
a son of Siya and of Siyana!"
"A lie!" roared the red dwarf. "A lie!"
"The Shining One revealed it to me!" said Yolara sweetly. "And if ye
believe not, Lugur--go ask of the Shining One if it be not truth!"
There was bitter, nameless menace in those last words--and whatever
their hidden message to Lugur, it was potent. He stood, choking, face
hell-shadowed--Marakinoff leaned out again, whispered. The red dwarf
bowed, now wholly ironically; resumed his place and his silence. And
again I wondered, icy-hearted, what was the power the Russian had so
to sway Lugur.
"What says the Council?" Yolara demanded, turning to them.
Only for a moment they consulted among themselves. Then the woman,
whose face was a ravaged shrine of beauty, spoke.
"The will of the priestess is the will of the Council!" she answered.
Defiance died from Yolara's face; she looked down at Larry tenderly.
He sat swaying, crooning.
"Bid the priests come," she commanded, then turned to the silent room.
"By the rites of Siya and Siyana, Yolara takes their son for her
mate!" And again her hand stole down possessingly, serpent soft, to
the drunken head of the O'Keefe.
The curtains parted widely. Through them filed, two by two, twelve
hooded figures clad in flowing robes of the green one sees in forest
vistas of opening buds of dawning spring. Of each pair one bore
clasped to breast a globe of that milky crystal in the sapphire
shrine-room; the other a harp, small, shaped somewhat like the ancient
clarsach of the Druids.
Two by two they stepped upon the raised platform, placed gently upon
it each their globe; and two by two crouched behind them. They formed
now a star of six points about the petalled dais, and, simultaneously,
they drew from their faces the covering cowls.
I half-rose--youths and maidens these of the fair-haired; and youths
and maids more beautiful than any of those I had yet seen--for upon
their faces was little of that disturbing mockery to which I have been
forced so often, because of the deep impression it made upon me, to
refer. The ashen-gold of the maiden priestesses' hair was wound about
their brows in shining coronals. The pale locks of the youths were
clustered within circlets of translucent, glimmering gems like
moonstones. And then, crystal globe alternately before and harp
alternately held by youth and maid, they began to sing.
What was that song, I do not know--nor ever shall. Archaic, ancient
beyond thought, it seemed--not with the ancientness of things that for
uncounted ages have been but wind-driven dust. Rather was it the
ancientness of the golden youth of the world, love lilts of earth
younglings, with light of new-born suns drenching them, chorals of
young stars mating in space; murmurings of April gods and goddesses. A
languor stole through me. The rosy lights upon the tripods began to
die away, and as they faded the milky globes gleamed forth brighter,
ever brighter. Yolara rose, stretched a hand to Larry, led him through
the sextuple groups, and stood face to face with him in the centre of
The rose-light died; all that immense chamber was black, save for the
circle of the glowing spheres. Within this their milky radiance grew
brighter--brighter. The song whispered away. A throbbing arpeggio
dripped from the harps, and as the notes pulsed out, up from the
globes, as though striving to follow, pulsed with them tips of
moon-fire cones, such as I had seen before Yolara's altar. Weirdly,
caressingly, compellingly the harp notes throbbed in repeated,
re-repeated theme, holding within itself the same archaic golden
quality I had noted in the singing. And over the moon flame pinnacles
Yolara lifted her arms; within her hands were clasped O'Keefe's. She
raised them above their two heads and slowly, slowly drew him with her
into a circling, graceful step, tendrillings delicate as the slow
spirallings of twilight mist upon some still stream.
As they swayed the rippling arpeggios grew louder, and suddenly the
slender pinnacles of moon fire bent, dipped, flowed to the floor,
crept in a shining ring around those two--and began to rise, a
gleaming, glimmering, enchanted barrier--rising, ever rising--hiding
With one swift movement Yolara unbound her circlet of pale sapphires,
shook loose the waves of her silken hair. It fell, a rippling,
wondrous cascade, veiling both her and O'Keefe to their girdles--and
now the shining coils of moon fire had crept to their knees--was
And ever despair grew deeper in my soul!
What was that! I started to my feet, and all around me in the
darkness I heard startled motion. From without came a blaring of
trumpets, the sound of running men, loud murmurings. The tumult drew
closer. I heard cries of "Lakla! Lakla!" Now it was at the very
threshold and within it, oddly, as though--punctuating--the clamour, a
deep-toned, almost abysmal, booming sound--thunderously bass and
Abruptly the harpings ceased; the moon fires shuddered, fell, and
began to sweep back into the crystal globes; Yolara's swaying form
grew rigid, every atom of it listening. She threw aside the veiling
cloud of hair, and in the gleam of the last retreating spirals her
face glared out like some old Greek mask of tragedy.
The sweet lips that even at their sweetest could never lose their
delicate cruelty, had no sweetness now. They were drawn into a
square--inhuman as that of the Medusa; in her eyes were the fires of
the pit, and her hair seemed to writhe like the serpent locks of that
Gorgon whose mouth she had borrowed; all her beauty was transformed
into a nameless thing--hideous, inhuman, blasting! If this was the
true soul of Yolara springing to her face, then, I thought, God help
us in very deed!
I wrested my gaze away to O'Keefe. All drunkenness gone, himself
again, he was staring down at her, and in his eyes were loathing and
horror unutterable. So they stood--and the light fled.
Only for a moment did the darkness hold. With lightning swiftness the
blackness that was the chamber's other wall vanished. Through a portal
open between grey screens, the silver sparkling radiance poured.
And through the portal marched, two by two, incredible, nightmare
figures--frog-men, giants, taller by nearly a yard than even tall
O'Keefe! Their enormous saucer eyes were irised by wide bands of
green-flecked red, in which the phosphorescence flickered. Their long
muzzles, lips half-open in monstrous grin, held rows of glistening,
slender, lancet sharp fangs. Over the glaring eyes arose a horny
helmet, a carapace of black and orange scales, studded with foot-long
They lined themselves like soldiers on each side of the wide table
aisle, and now I could see that their horny armour covered shoulders
and backs, ran across the chest in a knobbed cuirass, and at wrists
and heels jutted out into curved, murderous spurs. The webbed hands
and feet ended in yellow, spade-shaped claws.
They carried spears, ten feet, at least, in length, the heads of which
were pointed cones, glistening with that same covering, from whose
touch of swift decay I had so narrowly saved Rador.
They were grotesque, yes--more grotesque than anything I had ever seen
or dreamed, and they were--terrible!
And then, quietly, through their ranks came--a girl! Behind her,
enormous pouch at his throat swelling in and out menacingly, in one
paw a treelike, spike-studded mace, a frog-man, huger than any of the
others, guarding. But of him I caught but a fleeting, involuntary
impression--all my gaze was for her.
For it was she who had pointed out to us the way from the peril of the
Dweller's lair on Nan-Tauach. And as I looked at her, I marvelled that
ever could I have thought the priestess more beautiful. Into the eyes
of O'Keefe rushed joy and an utter abasement of shame.
And from all about came murmurs--edged with anger, half-incredulous,
tinged with fear:
She halted close beside me. From firm little chin to dainty buskined
feet she was swathed in the soft robes of dull, almost coppery hue.
The left arm was hidden, the right free and gloved. Wound tight about
it was one of the vines of the sculptured wall and of Lugur's circled
signet-ring. Thick, a vivid green, its five tendrils ran between her
fingers, stretching out five flowered heads that gleamed like blossoms
cut from gigantic, glowing rubies.
So she stood contemplating Yolara. Then drawn perhaps by my gaze, she
dropped her eyes upon me; golden, translucent, with tiny flecks of
amber in their aureate irises, the soul that looked through them was
as far removed from that flaming out of the priestess as zenith is
I noted the low, broad brow, the proud little nose, the tender mouth,
and the soft--sunlight--glow that seemed to transfuse the delicate
skin. And suddenly in the eyes dawned a smile--sweet, friendly, a
touch of roguishness, profoundly reassuring in its all humanness. I
felt my heart expand as though freed from fetters, a recrudescence of
confidence in the essential reality of things--as though in nightmare
the struggling consciousness should glimpse some familiar face and
know the terrors with which it strove were but dreams. And
involuntarily I smiled back at her.
She raised her head and looked again at Yolara, contempt and a certain
curiosity in her gaze; at O'Keefe--and through the softened eyes
drifted swiftly a shadow of sorrow, and on its fleeting wings deepest
interest, and hovering over that a naive approval as reassuringly
human as had been her smile.
She spoke, and her voice, deep-timbred, liquid gold as was Yolara's
all silver, was subtly the synthesis of all the golden glowing beauty
"The Silent Ones have sent me, O Yolara," she said. "And this is
their command to you--that you deliver to me to bring before them
three of the four strangers who have found their way here. For him
there who plots with Lugur"--she pointed at Marakinoff, and I saw
Yolara start--"they have no need. Into his heart the Silent Ones have
looked; and Lugur and you may keep him, Yolara!"
There was honeyed venom in the last words.
Yolara was herself now; only the edge of shrillness on her voice
revealed her wrath as she answered.
"And whence have the Silent Ones gained power to command, _choya_?"
This last, I knew, was a very vulgar word; I had heard Rador use it in
a moment of anger to one of the serving maids, and it meant,
approximately, "kitchen girl," "scullion." Beneath the insult and the
acid disdain, the blood rushed up under Lakla's ambered ivory skin.
"Yolara"--her voice was low--"of no use is it to question me. I am but
the messenger of the Silent Ones. And one thing only am I bidden to
ask you--do you deliver to me the three strangers?"
Lugur was on his feet; eagerness, sardonic delight, sinister
anticipation thrilling from him--and my same glance showed Marakinoff,
crouched, biting his finger-nails, glaring at the Golden Girl.
"No!" Yolara spat the word. "No! Now by Thanaroa and by the Shining
One, no!" Her eyes blazed, her nostrils were wide, in her fair throat
a little pulse beat angrily. "You, Lakla--take you my message to the
Silent Ones. Say to them that I keep this man"--she pointed to
Larry--"because he is mine. Say to them that I keep the yellow-haired
one and him"--she pointed to me--"because it pleases me.
"Tell them that upon their mouths I place my foot, so!"--she stamped
upon the dais viciously--"and that in their faces I spit!"--and her
action was hideously snakelike. "And say last to them, you handmaiden,
that if YOU they dare send to Yolara again, she will feed YOU to the
Shining One! Now--go!"
The handmaiden's face was white.
"Not unforeseen by the three was this, Yolara," she replied. "And did
you speak as you have spoken then was I bidden to say this to you."
Her voice deepened. "Three _tal_ have you to take counsel, Yolara. And
at the end of that time these things must you have determined--either
to do or not to do: first, send the strangers to the Silent Ones;
second, give up, you and Lugur and all of you, that dream you have of
conquest of the world without; and, third, forswear the Shining One!
And if you do not one and all these things, then are you done, your
cup of life broken, your wine of life spilled. Yea, Yolara, for you
and the Shining One, Lugur and the Nine and all those here and their
kind shall pass! This say the Silent Ones, 'Surely shall all of ye
pass and be as though never had ye been!'"
Now a gasp of rage and fear arose from all those around me--but the
priestess threw back her head and laughed loud and long. Into the
silver sweet chiming of her laughter clashed that of Lugur--and after
a little the nobles took it up, till the whole chamber echoed with
their mirth. O'Keefe, lips tightening, moved toward the Handmaiden,
and almost imperceptibly, but peremptorily, she waved him back.
"Those ARE great words--great words indeed, _choya_," shrilled Yolara
at last; and again Lakla winced beneath the word. "Lo, for _laya_ upon
_laya_, the Shining One has been freed from the Three; and for _laya_
upon _laya_ they have sat helpless, rotting. Now I ask you
again--whence comes their power to lay their will upon me, and whence
comes their strength to wrestle with the Shining One and the beloved
of the Shining One?"
And again she laughed--and again Lugur and all the fairhaired joined
in her laughter.
Into the eyes of Lakla I saw creep a doubt, a wavering; as though deep
within her the foundations of her own belief were none too firm.
She hesitated, turning upon O'Keefe gaze in which rested more than
suggestion of appeal! And Yolara saw, too, for she flushed with
triumph, stretched a finger toward the handmaiden.
"Look!" she cried. "Look! Why, even SHE does not believe!" Her voice
grew silk of silver--merciless, cruel. "Now am I minded to send
another answer to the Silent Ones. Yea! But not by YOU, Lakla; by
these"--she pointed to the frog-men, and, swift as light, her hand
darted into her bosom, bringing forth the little shining cone of
But before she could level it the Golden Girl had released that hidden
left arm and thrown over her face a fold of the metallic swathings.
Swifter than Yolara, she raised the arm that held the vine--and now I
knew this was no inert blossoming thing.
It was alive!
It writhed down her arm, and its five rubescent flower heads thrust
out toward the priestess--vibrating, quivering, held in leash only by
the light touch of the handmaiden at its very end.
From the swelling throat pouch of the monster behind her came a
succession of the reverberant boomings. The frogmen wheeled, raised
their lances, levelled them at the throng. Around the reaching ruby
flowers a faint red mist swiftly grew.
The silver cone dropped from Yolara's rigid fingers; her eyes grew
stark with horror; all her unearthly loveliness fled from her; she
stood pale-lipped. The Handmaiden dropped the protecting veil--and now
it was she who laughed.
"It would seem, then, Yolara, that there IS a thing of the Silent Ones
ye fear!" she said. "Well--the kiss of the _Yekta_ I promise you in
return for the embrace of your Shining One."
She looked at Larry, long, searchingly, and suddenly again with all
that effect of sunlight bursting into dark places, her smile shone
upon him. She nodded, half gaily; looked down upon me, the little
merry light dancing in her eyes; waved her hand to me.
She spoke to the giant frog-man. He wheeled behind her as she turned,
facing the priestess, club upraised, fangs glistening. His troop moved
not a jot, spears held high. Lakla began to pass slowly--almost, I
thought, tauntingly--and as she reached the portal Larry leaped from
"ALANNA!" he cried. "You'll not be leavin' me just when I've found
In his excitement he spoke in his own tongue, the velvet brogue
appealing. Lakla turned, contemplated O'Keefe, hesitant,
unquestionably longingly, irresistibly like a child making up her mind
whether she dared or dared not take a delectable something offered
"I go with you," said O'Keefe, this time in her own speech. "Come on,
Doc!" He reached out a hand to me.
But now Yolara spoke. Life and beauty had flowed back into her face,
and in the purple eyes all her hosts of devils were gathered.
"Do you forget what I promised you before Siya and Siyana? And do you
think that you can leave me--me--as though I were a _choya_--like
HER." She pointed to Lakla. Do you--"
"Now, listen, Yolara," Larry interrupted almost plaintively. "No
promise has passed from me to you--and why would you hold me?" He
passed unconsciously into English. "Be a good sport, Yolara," he
urged, "You HAVE got a very devil of a temper, you know, and so have
I; and we'd be really awfully uncomfortable together. And why don't
you get rid of that devilish pet of yours, and be good!"
She looked at him, puzzled, Marakinoff leaned over, translated to
Lugur. The red dwarf smiled maliciously, drew near the priestess;
whispered to her what was without doubt as near as he could come in
the Murian to Larry's own very colloquial phrases.
Yolara's lips writhed.
"Hear me, Lakla!" she cried. "Now would I not let you take this man
from me were I to dwell ten thousand _laya_ in the agony of the
_Yekta's_ kiss. This I swear to you--by Thanaroa, by my heart, and by
my strength--and may my strength wither, my heart rot in my breast,
and Thanaroa forget me if I do!"
"Listen, Yolara"--began O'Keefe again.
"Be silent, you!" It was almost a shriek. And her hand again sought
in her breast for the cone of rhythmic death.
Lugur touched her arm, whispered again, The glint of guile shone in
her eyes; she laughed softly, relaxed.
"The Silent Ones, Lakla, bade you say that they--allowed--me three
_tal_ to decide," she said suavely. "Go now in peace, Lakla, and say
that Yolara has heard, and that for the three _tal_ they--allow--her
she will take council." The handmaiden hesitated.
"The Silent Ones have said it," she answered at last. "Stay you here,
strangers"---the long lashes drooped as her eyes met O'Keefe's and a
hint of blush was in her cheeks--"stay you here, strangers, till then.
But, Yolara, see you on that heart and strength you have sworn by that
they come to no harm--else that which you have invoked shall come upon
you swiftly indeed--and that I promise you," she added.
Their eyes met, clashed, burned into each other--black flame from
Abaddon and golden flame from Paradise.
"Remember!" said Lakla, and passed through the portal. The gigantic
frog-man boomed a thunderous note of command, his grotesque guards
turned and slowly followed their mistress; and last of all passed out
the monster with the mace.
A clamour arose from all the chambers; stilled in an instant by a
motion of Yolara's hand. She stood silent, regarding O'Keefe with
something other now than blind wrath; something half regretful, half
beseeching. But the Irishman's control was gone.
"Yolara,"--his voice shook with rage, and he threw caution to the
wind--"now hear ME. I go where I will and when I will. Here shall we
stay until the time she named is come. And then we follow her, whether
you will or not. And if any should have thought to stop us--tell them
of that flame that shattered the vase," he added grimly.
The wistfulness died out of her eyes, leaving them cold. But no answer
made she to him.
"What Lakla has said, the Council must consider, and at once." The
priestess was facing the nobles. "Now, friends of mine, and friends of
Lugur, must all feud, all rancour, between us end." She glanced
swiftly at Lugur. "The _ladala_ are stirring, and the Silent Ones
threaten. Yet fear not--for are we not strong under the Shining One?
And now--leave us."
Her hand dropped to the table, and she gave, evidently, a signal, for
in marched a dozen or more of the green dwarfs.
"Take these two to their place," she commanded, pointing to us.
The green dwarfs clustered about us. Without another look at the
priestess O'Keefe marched beside me, between them, from the chamber.
And it was not until we had reached the pillared entrance that Larry
"I hate to talk like that to a woman, Doc," he said, "and a pretty
woman, at that. But first she played me with a marked deck, and then
not only pinched all the chips, but drew a gun on me. What the
hell! she nearly had me--MARRIED--to her. I don't know what the stuff
was she gave me; but, take it from me, if I had the recipe for that
brew I could sell it for a thousand dollars a jolt at Forty-second and
"One jigger of it, and you forget there is a trouble in the world;
three of them, and you forget there is a world. No excuse for it, Doc;
and I don't care what you say or what Lakla may say--it wasn't my
fault, and I don't hold it up against myself for a damn."
"I must admit that I'm a bit uneasy about her threats," I said,
ignoring all this. He stopped abruptly.
"What're you afraid of?"
"Mostly," I answered dryly, "I have no desire to dance with the
"Listen to me, Goodwin," He took up his walk impatiently. "I've all
the love and admiration for you in the world; but this place has got
your nerve. Hereafter one Larry O'Keefe, of Ireland and the little old
U. S. A., leads this party. Nix on the tremolo stop, nix on the
superstition! I'm the works. Get me?"
"Yes, I get you!" I exclaimed testily enough. "But to use your own
phrase, kindly can the repeated references to superstition."
"Why should I?" He was almost wrathful. "You scientific people build
up whole philosophies on the basis of things you never saw, and you
scoff at people who believe in other things that you think THEY never
saw and that don't come under what you label scientific. You talk
about paradoxes--why, your scientist, who thinks he is the most
skeptical, the most materialistic aggregation of atoms ever gathered
at the exact mathematical centre of Missouri, has more blind faith
than a dervish, and more credulity, more superstition, than a
cross-eyed smoke beating it past a country graveyard in the dark of
"Larry!" I cried, dazed.
"Olaf's no better," he said. "But I can make allowances for him.
He's a sailor. No, sir. What this expedition needs is a man without
superstition. And remember this. The leprechaun promised that I'd have
full warning before anything happened. And if we do have to go out,
we'll see that banshee bunch clean up before we do, and pass in a
blaze of glory. And don't forget it. Hereafter--I'm--in--charge!"
By this time we were before our pavilion; and neither of us in a very
amiable mood I'm afraid. Rador was awaiting us with a score of his
"Let none pass in here without authority--and let none pass out unless
I accompany them," he ordered bruskly. "Summon one of the swiftest of
the _coria_ and have it wait in readiness," he added, as though by
But when we had entered and the screens were drawn together his manner
changed; all eagerness he questioned us. Briefly we told him of the
happenings at the feast, of Lakla's dramatic interruption, and of what
"Three _tal_," he said musingly; "three _tal_ the Silent Ones have
allowed--and Yolara agreed." He sank back, silent and thoughtful. *1
*1 A _tal_ in Muria is the equivalent of thirty hours of earth surface
time.--W. T. G.
_"Ja!" It was Olaf. "_Ja!_ I told you the Shining Devil's mistress
was all evil. _Ja!_ Now I begin again that tale I started when he
came"--he glanced toward the preoccupied Rador. "And tell him not what
I say should he ask. For I trust none here in Trolldom, save the
_Jomfrau_--the White Virgin!
"After the oldster was _adsprede_"--Olaf once more used that
expressive Norwegian word for the dissolving of Songar--"I knew that
it was a time for cunning. I said to myself, 'If they think I have no
ears to hear, they will speak; and it may be I will find a way to save
my Helma and Dr. Goodwin's friends, too.' _Ja_, and they did speak.
"The red _Trolde_ asked the Russian how came it he was a worshipper of
Thanaroa." I could not resist a swift glance of triumph toward
O'Keefe. "And the Russian," rumbled Olaf, "said that all his people
worshipped Thanaroa and had fought against the other nations that
"And then we had come to Lugur's palace. They put me in rooms, and
there came to me men who rubbed and oiled me and loosened my muscles.
The next day I wrestled with a great dwarf they called Valdor. He was
a mighty man, and long we struggled, and at last I broke his back. And
Lugur was pleased, so that I sat with him at feast and with the
Russian, too. And again, not knowing that I understood them, they
"The Russian had gone fast and far. They talked of Lugur as emperor
of all Europe, and Marakinoff under him. They spoke of the green light
that shook life from the oldster; and Lugur said that the secret of it
had been the Ancient Ones' and that the Council had not too much of
it. But the Russian said that among his race were many wise men who
could make more once they had studied it.
"And the next day I wrestled with a great dwarf named Tahola, mightier
far than Valdor. Him I threw after a long, long time, and his back
also I broke. Again Lugur was pleased. And again we sat at table, he
and the Russian and I. This time they spoke of something these
_Trolde_ have which opens up a _Svaelc_--abysses into which all in its
range drops up into the sky!"
"What!" I exclaimed.
"I know about them," said Larry. "Wait!"
"Lugur had drunk much," went on Olaf. "He was boastful. The Russian
pressed him to show this thing. After a while the red one went out and
came back with a little golden box. He and the Russian went into the
garden. I followed them. There was a _lille Hoj_--a mound--of stones
in that garden on which grew flowers and trees.
"Lugur pressed upon the box, and a spark no bigger than a sand grain
leaped out and fell beside the stones. Lugur pressed again, and a blue
light shot from the box and lighted on the spark. The spark that had
been no bigger than a grain of sand grew and grew as the blue struck
it. And then there was a sighing, a wind blew--and the stones and the
flowers and the trees were not. They were _forsvinde_--vanished!
"Then Lugur, who had been laughing, grew quickly sober; for he thrust
the Russian back--far back. And soon down into the garden came
tumbling the stones and the trees, but broken and shattered, and
falling as though from a great height. And Lugur said that of THIS
something they had much, for its making was a secret handed down by
their own forefathers and not by the Ancient Ones.
"They feared to use it, he said, for a spark thrice as large as that
he had used would have sent all that garden falling upward and might
have opened a way to the outside before--he said just this--'BEFORE
WE ARE READY TO GO OUT INTO IT!'
"The Russian questioned much, but Lugur sent for more drink and grew
merrier and threatened him, and the Russian was silent through fear.
Thereafter I listened when I could, and little more I learned, but
that little enough. _Ja!_ Lugur is hot for conquest; so Yolara and so
the Council. They tire of it here and the Silent Ones make their minds
not too easy, no, even though they jeer at them! And this they plan--
to rule our world with their Shining Devil."
The Norseman was silent for a moment; then voice deep, trembling--
"Trolldom is awake; Helvede crouches at Earth Gate whining to be
loosed into a world already devil ridden! And we are but three!"
I felt the blood drive out of my heart. But Larry's was the fighting
face of the O'Keefes of a thousand years. Rador glanced at him, arose,
stepped through the curtains; returned swiftly with the Irishman's
"Put it on," he said, bruskly; again fell back into his silence and
whatever O'Keefe had been about to say was submerged in his wild and
joyful whoop. He ripped from him glittering tunic and leg swathings.
"Richard is himself again!" he shouted; and each garment as he donned
it, fanned his old devil-may-care confidence to a higher flame. The
last scrap of it on, he drew himself up before us.
"Bow down, ye divils!" he cried. "Bang your heads on the floor and do
homage to Larry the First, Emperor of Great Britain, Autocrat of all
Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, and adjacent waters and
islands! Kneel, ye scuts, kneel."
"Larry," I cried, "are you going crazy?"
"Not a bit of it," he said. "I'm that and more if Comrade Marakinoff
is on the level. Whoop! Bring forth the royal jewels an' put a whole
new bunch of golden strings in Tara's harp an' down with the Sassenach
He did a wild jig.
"Lord how good the old togs feel," he grinned. "The touch of 'em has
gone to my head. But it's straight stuff I'm telling you about my
"Not that it's not serious enough at that. A lot that Olaf's told us
I've surmised from hints dropped by Yolara. But I got the full key to
it from the Red himself when he stopped me just before--before"--he
reddened--"well, just before I acquired that brand-new brand of souse.
"Maybe he had a hint--maybe he just surmised that I knew a lot more
than I did. And he thought Yolara and I were going to be loving little
turtle doves. Also he figured that Yolara had a lot more influence
with the Unholy Fireworks than Lugur. Also that being a woman she
could be more easily handled. All this being so, what was the logical
thing for himself to do? Sure, you get me, Steve! Throw down Lugur and
make an alliance with me! So HE calmly offered to ditch the red dwarf
if I would deliver Yolara. My reward from Russia was to be said
emperorship! Can you beat it? Good Lord!"
He went off into a perfect storm of laughter. But not to me in the
light of what Russia has done and has proved herself capable, did this
thing seem at all absurd; rather in it I sensed the dawn of
"And yet," he was quiet enough now, "I'm a bit scared. They've got the
_Keth_ ray and those gravity-destroying bombs--"
"Gravity-destroying bombs!" I gasped.
"Sure," he said. "The little fairy that sent the trees and stones
kiting up from Lugur's garden. Marakinoff licked his lips over them.
They cut off gravity, just about as the shadow screens cut off
light--and consequently whatever's in their range goes shooting just
naturally up to the moon--
"They get my goat, why deny it?" went on Larry. "With them and the
_Keth_ and gentle invisible soldiers walking around assassinating at
will--well, the worst Bolsheviki are only puling babes, eh, Doc?
"I don't mind the Shining One," said O'Keefe, "one splash of a
downtown New York high-pressure fire hose would do for it! But the
others--are the goods! Believe me!"
But for once O'Keefe's confidence found no echo within me. Not
lightly, as he, did I hold that dread mystery, the Dweller--and a
vision passed before me, a vision of an Apocalypse undreamed by the
A vision of the Shining One swirling into our world, a monstrous,
glorious flaming pillar of incarnate, eternal Evil--of peoples
passing through its radiant embrace into that hideous, unearthly
life-in-death which I had seen enfold the sacrifices--of armies
trembling into dancing atoms of diamond dust beneath the green ray's
rhythmic death--of cities rushing out into space upon the wings of
that other demoniac force which Olaf had watched at work--of a haunted
world through which the assassins of the Dweller's court stole
invisible, carrying with them every passion of hell--of the rallying
to the Thing of every sinister soul and of the weak and the
unbalanced, mystics and carnivores of humanity alike; for well I knew
that, once loosed, not any nation could hold this devil-god for long
and that swiftly its blight would spread!
And then a world that was all colossal reek of cruelty and terror; a
welter of lusts, of hatreds and of torment; a chaos of horror in which
the Dweller waxing ever stronger, the ghastly hordes of those it had
consumed growing ever greater, wreaked its inhuman will!
At the last a ruined planet, a cosmic plague, spinning through the
shuddering heavens; its verdant plains, its murmuring forests, its
meadows and its mountains manned only by a countless crew of soulless,
mindless dead-alive, their shells illumined with the Dweller's
infernal glory--and flaming over this vampirized earth like a flare
from some hell far, infinitely far, beyond the reach of man's farthest
flung imagining--the Dweller!
Rador jumped to his feet; walked to the whispering globe. He bent over
its base; did something with its mechanism; beckoned to us. The globe
swam rapidly, faster than ever I had seen it before. A low humming
arose, changed into a murmur, and then from it I heard Lugur's voice
"It is to be war then?"
There was a chorus of assent--from the Council, I thought.
"I will take the tall one named--_Larree_." It was the priestess's
voice. "After the three _tal_, you may have him, Lugur, to do with as
"No!" it was Lugur's voice again, but with a rasp of anger. "All must
"He shall die," again Yolara. "But I would that first he see Lakla
pass--and that she know what is to happen to him."
"No!" I started--for this was Marakinoff. "Now is no time, Yolara,
for one's own desires. This is my counsel. At the end of the three
_tal_ Lakla will come for our answer. Your men will be in ambush and
they will slay her and her escort quickly with the _Keth_. But not
till that is done must the three be slain--and then quickly. With
Lakla dead we shall go forth to the Silent Ones--and I promise you
that I will find the way to destroy them!"
"It is well!" It was Lugur.
"It IS well, Yolara." It was a woman's voice, and I knew it for that
old one of ravaged beauty. "Cast from your mind whatever is in it for
this stranger--either of love or hatred. In this the Council is with
Lugur and the man of wisdom."
There was a silence. Then came the priestess's voice, sullen
"It is well!"
"Let the three be taken now by Rador to the temple and given to the
High Priest Sator"--thus Lugur--"until what we have planned comes to
Rador gripped the base of the globe; abruptly it ceased its spinning.
He turned to us as though to speak and even as he did so its bell note
sounded peremptorily and on it the colour films began to creep at
their accustomed pace.
"I hear," the green dwarf whispered. "They shall be taken there at
once." The globe grew silent. He stepped toward us.
"You have heard," he turned to us.
"Not on your life, Rador," said Larry. "Nothing doing!" And then in
the Murian's own tongue. "We follow Lakla, Rador. And YOU lead the
way." He thrust the pistol close to the green dwarf's side.
Rador did not move.
"Of what use, _Larree_?" he said, quietly. "Me you can slay--but in
the end you will be taken. Life is not held so dear in Muria that my
men out there or those others who can come quickly will let you
by--even though you slay many. And in the end they will overpower
There was a trace of irresolution in O'Keefe's face.
"And," added Rador, "if I let you go I dance with the Shining One--or
O'Keefe's pistol hand dropped.
"You're a good sport, Rador, and far be it from me to get you in bad,"
he said. "Take us to the temple--when we get there--well, your
responsibility ends, doesn't it?"
The green dwarf nodded; on his face a curious expression--was it
relief? Or was it emotion higher than this?
He turned curtly.
"Follow," he said. We passed out of that gay little pavilion that had
come to be home to us even in this alien place. The guards stood at
"You, Sattoya, stand by the globe," he ordered one of them. "Should
the _Afyo Maie_ ask, say that I am on my way with the strangers even
as she has commanded."
We passed through the lines to the _corial_ standing like a great
shell at the end of the runway leading into the green road.
"Wait you here," he said curtly to the driver. The green dwarf
ascended to his seat, sought the lever and we swept on--on and out
upon the glistening obsidian.
Then Rador faced us and laughed.
"_Larree_," he cried, "I love you for that spirit of yours! And did
you think that Rador would carry to the temple prison a man who would
take the chances of torment upon his own shoulders to save him? Or
you, Goodwin, who saved him from the rotting death? For what did I
take the _corial_ or lift the veil of silence that I might hear what
He swept the _corial_ to the left, away from the temple approach.
"I am done with Lugur and with Yolara and the Shining One!" cried
Rador. "My hand is for you three and for Lakla and those to whom she
The shell leaped forward; seemed to fly.
The Casting of the Shadow
Now we were racing down toward that last span whose ancientness had
set it apart from all the other soaring arches. The shell's speed
slackened; we approached warily.
"We pass there?" asked O'Keefe.
The green dwarf nodded, pointing to the right where the bridge ended
in a broad platform held high upon two gigantic piers, between which
ran a spur from the glistening road. Platform and bridge were swarming
with men-at-arms; they crowded the parapets, looking down upon us
curiously but with no evidence of hostility. Rador drew a deep breath
"We don't have to break our way through, then?" There was
disappointment in the Irishman's voice.
"No use, _Larree_!" Smiling, Rador stopped the _corial_ just beneath
the arch and beside one of the piers. "Now, listen well. They have had
no warning, hence does Yolara still think us on the way to the temple.
This is the gateway of the Portal--and the gateway is closed by the
Shadow. Once I commanded here and I know its laws. This must I do--by
craft persuade Serku, the keeper of the gateway, to lift the Shadow;
or raise it myself. And that will be hard and it may well be that in
the struggle life will be stripped of us all. Yet is it better to die
fighting than to dance with the Shining One!"
He swept the shell around the pier. Opened a wide plaza paved with
the volcanic glass, but black as that down which we had sped from the
chamber of the Moon Pool. It shone like a mirrored lakelet of jet; on
each side of it arose what at first glance seemed towering bulwarks of
the same ebon obsidian; at second, revealed themselves as structures
hewn and set in place by men; polished faces pierced by dozens of
high, narrow windows.
Down each facade a stairway fell, broken by small landings on which a
door opened; they dropped to a broad ledge of greyish stone edging the
lip of this midnight pool and upon it also fell two wide flights from
either side of the bridge platform. Along all four stairways the
guards were ranged; and here and there against the ledge stood the
shells--in a curiously comforting resemblance to parked motors in our
The sombre walls bulked high; curved and ended in two obelisked
pillars from which, like a tremendous curtain, stretched a barrier of
that tenebrous gloom which, though weightless as shadow itself, I now
knew to be as impenetrable as the veil between life and death. In this
murk, unlike all others I had seen, I sensed movement, a quivering, a
tremor constant and rhythmic; not to be seen, yet caught by some
subtle sense; as though through it beat a swift pulse of--black
The green dwarf turned the _corial_ slowly to the edge at the right;
crept cautiously on toward where, not more than a hundred feet from
the barrier, a low, wide entrance opened in the fort. Guarding its
threshold stood two guards, armed with broadswords, double-handed,
terminating in a wide lunette mouthed with murderous fangs. These they
raised in salute and through the portal strode a dwarf huge as Rador,
dressed as he and carrying only the poniard that was the badge of
office of Muria's captainry.
The green dwarf swept the shell expertly against the ledge; leaped
"Greeting, Serku!" he answered. "I was but looking for the _coria_ of
"Lakla!" exclaimed Serku. "Why, the handmaiden passed with her _Akka_
nigh a _va_ ago!"
"Passed!" The astonishment of the green dwarf was so real that half
was I myself deceived. "You let her PASS?"
"Certainly I let her pass--" But under the green dwarf's stern gaze
the truculence of the guardian faded. "Why should I not?" he asked,
"Because Yolara commanded otherwise," answered Rador, coldly.
"There came no command to me." Little beads of sweat stood out on
"Serku," interrupted the green dwarf swiftly, "truly is my heart wrung
for you. This is a matter of Yolara and of Lugur and the Council; yes,
even of the Shining One! And the message was sent--and the fate,
mayhap, of all Muria rested upon your obedience and the return of
Lakla with these strangers to the Council. Now truly is my heart
wrung, for there are few I would less like to see dance with the
Shining One than you, Serku," he ended, softly.
Livid now was the gateway's guardian, his great frame shaking.
"Come with me and speak to Yolara," he pleaded. "There came no
"Wait, Serku!" There was a thrill as of inspiration in Rador's voice.
"This _corial_ is of the swiftest--Lakla's are of the slowest. With
Lakla scarce a _va_ ahead we can reach her before she enters the
Portal. Lift you the Shadow--we will bring her back, and this will I
do for you, Serku."
Doubt tempered Serku's panic.
"Why not go alone, Rador, leaving the strangers here with me?" he
asked--and I thought not unreasonably.
"Nay, then." The green dwarf was brusk. "Lakla will not return unless
I carry to her these men as evidence of our good faith. Come--we will
speak to Yolara and she shall judge you--" He started away--but Serku
caught his arm.
"No, Rador, no!" he whispered, again panic-stricken. "Go you--as you
will. But bring her back! Speed, Rador!" He sprang toward the
entrance. "I lift the Shadow--"
Into the green dwarf's poise crept a curious, almost a listening,
alertness. He leaped to Serku's side.
"I go with you," I heard. "Some little I can tell you--" They were
"Fine work!" muttered Larry. "Nominated for a citizen of Ireland when
we get out of this, one Rador of--"
The Shadow trembled--shuddered into nothingness; the obelisked
outposts that had held it framed a ribbon of roadway, high banked with
verdure, vanishing in green distances.
And then from the portal sped a shriek, a death cry! It cut through
the silence of the ebon pit like a whimpering arrow. Before it had
died, down the stairways came pouring the guards. Those at the
threshold raised their swords and peered within. Abruptly Rador was
between them. One dropped his hilt and gripped him--the green dwarf's
poniard flashed and was buried in his throat. Down upon Rador's head
swept the second blade. A flame leaped from O'Keefe's hand and the
sword seemed to fling itself from its wielder's grasp--another flash
and the soldier crumpled. Rador threw himself into the shell, darted
to the high seat--and straight between the pillars of the Shadow we
There came a crackling, a darkness of vast wings flinging down upon
us. The _corial's_ flight was checked as by a giant's hand. The shell
swerved sickeningly; there was an oddly metallic splintering; it
quivered; shot ahead. Dizzily I picked myself up and looked behind.
The Shadow had fallen--but too late, a bare instant too late. And
shrinking as we fled from it, still it seemed to strain like some
fettered Afrit from Eblis, throbbing with wrath, seeking with every
malign power it possessed to break its bonds and pursue. Not until
long after were we to know that it had been the dying hand of Serku,
groping out of oblivion, that had cast it after us as a fowler upon an
"Snappy work, Rador!" It was Larry speaking. "But they cut the end
off your bus all right!"
A full quarter of the hindward whorl was gone, sliced off cleanly.
Rador noted it with anxious eyes.
"That is bad," he said, "but not too bad perhaps. All depends upon
how closely Lugur and his men can follow us."
He raised a hand to O'Keefe in salute.
"But to you, _Larree_, I owe my life--not even the _Keth_ could have
been as swift to save me as that death flame of yours--friend!"
The Irishman waved an airy hand.
"Serku"--the green dwarf drew from his girdle the bloodstained
poniard--"Serku I was forced to slay. Even as he raised the Shadow the
globe gave the alarm. Lugur follows with twice ten times ten of his
best--" He hesitated. "Though we have escaped the Shadow it has taken
toll of our swiftness. May we reach the Portal before it closes upon
Lakla--but if we do not--" He paused again. "Well--I know a way--but
it is not one I am gay to follow--no!"
He snapped open the aperture that held the ball flaming within the
dark crystal; peered at it anxiously. I crept to the torn end of the
_corial_. The edges were crumbling, disintegrated. They powdered in my
fingers like dust. Mystified still, I crept back where Larry, sheer
happiness pouring from him, was whistling softly and polishing up his
automatic. His gaze fell upon Olaf's grim, sad face and softened.
"Buck up, Olaf!" he said. "We've got a good fighting chance. Once we
link up with Lakla and her crowd I'm betting that we get your
wife--never doubt it! The baby--" he hesitated awkwardly. The
Norseman's eyes filled; he stretched a hand to the O'Keefe.
"The _Yndling_--she is of the _de Dode_," he half whispered, "of the
blessed dead. For her I have no fear and for her vengeance will be
given me. _Ja!_ But my Helma--she is of the dead-alive--like those we
saw whirling like leaves in the light of the Shining Devil--and I
would that she too were of _de Dode_--and at rest. I do not know how
to fight the Shining Devil--no!"
His bitter despair welled up in his voice.
"Olaf," Larry's voice was gentle. "We'll come out on top--I know it.
Remember one thing. All this stuff that seems so strange and--and,
well, sort of supernatural, is just a lot of tricks we're not hep to
as yet. Why, Olaf, suppose you took a Fijian when the war was on and
set him suddenly down in London with autos rushing past, sirens
blowing, Archies popping, a dozen enemy planes dropping bombs, and the
searchlights shooting all over the sky--wouldn't he think he was among
thirty-third degree devils in some exclusive circle of hell? Sure he
would! And yet everything he saw would be natural--just as natural as
all this is, once we get the answer to it. Not that we're Fijians, of
course, but the principle is the same."
The Norseman considered this; nodded gravely.
"_Ja!_" he answered at last. "And at least we can fight. That is why
I have turned to Thor of the battles, _Ja!_ And ONE have I hope in for
mine Helma--the white maiden. Since I have turned to the old gods it
has been made clear to me that I shall slay Lugur and that the _Heks_,
the evil witch Yolara, shall also die. But I would talk with the white
"All right," said Larry, "but just don't be afraid of what you don't
understand. There's another thing"--he hesitated, nervously--"there's
another thing that may startle you a bit when we meet up with
"Like the frog-woman we saw on the wall?" asked Olaf.
"Yes," went on Larry, rapidly. "It's this way--I figure that the
frogs grow rather large where she lives, and they're a bit different
too. Well, Lakla's got a lot of 'em trained. Carry spears and clubs
and all that junk--just like trained seals or monkeys or so on in the
circus. Probably a custom of the place. Nothing queer about that,
Olaf. Why people have all kinds of pets--armadillos and snakes and
rabbits, kangaroos and elephants and tigers."
Remembering how the frog-woman had stuck in Larry's mind from the
outset, I wondered whether all this was not more to convince himself
"Why, I remember a nice girl in Paris who had four pet pythons--" he
But I listened no more, for now I was sure of my surmise. The road had
begun to thrust itself through high-flung, sharply pinnacled masses
and rounded outcroppings of rock on which clung patches of the amber
The trees had utterly vanished, and studding the moss-carpeted plains
were only clumps of a willowy shrub from which hung, like grapes,
clusters of white waxen blooms. The light too had changed; gone were
the dancing, sparkling atoms and the silver had faded to a soft,
almost ashen greyness. Ahead of us marched a rampart of coppery cliffs
rising, like all these mountainous walls we had seen, into the
immensities of haze. Something long drifting in my subconsciousness
turned to startled realization. The speed of the shell was slackening!
The aperture containing the ionizing mechanism was still open; I
glanced within, The whirling ball of fire was not dimmed, but its
coruscations, instead of pouring down through the cylinder, swirled
and eddied and shot back as though trying to re-enter their source.
Rador nodded grimly.
"The Shadow takes its toll," he said.
We topped a rise--Larry gripped my arm.
"Look!" he cried, and pointed. Far, far behind us, so far that the
road was but a glistening thread, a score of shining points came
"Lugur and his men," said Rador.
"Can't you step on her?" asked Larry.
"Step on her?" repeated the green dwarf, puzzled.
"Give her more speed; push her," explained O'Keefe.
Rador looked about him. The coppery ramparts were close, not more
than three or four miles distant; in front of us the plain lifted in a
long rolling swell, and up this the _corial_ essayed to go--with a
terrifying lessening of speed. Faintly behind us came shootings, and
we knew that Lugur drew close. Nor anywhere was there sign of Lakla
nor her frogmen.
Now we were half-way to the crest; the shell barely crawled and from
beneath it came a faint hissing; it quivered, and I knew that its base
was no longer held above the glassy surface but rested on it.
"One last chance!" exclaimed Rador. He pressed upon the control lever
and wrenched it from its socket. Instantly the sparkling ball
expanded, whirling with prodigious rapidity and sending a cascade of
coruscations into the cylinder. The shell rose; leaped through the
air; the dark crystal split into fragments; the fiery ball dulled;
died--but upon the impetus of that last thrust we reached the crest.
Poised there for a moment, I caught a glimpse of the road dropping
down the side of an enormous moss-covered, bowl-shaped valley whose
sharply curved sides ended abruptly at the base of the towering
Then down the steep, powerless to guide or to check the shell, we
plunged in a meteor rush straight for the annihilating adamantine
breasts of the cliffs!
Now the quick thinking of Larry's air training came to our aid. As
the rampart reared close he threw himself upon Rador; hurled him and
himself against the side of the flying whorl. Under the shock the
finely balanced machine swerved from its course. It struck the soft,
low bank of the road, shot high in air, bounded on through the thick
carpeting, whirled like a dervish and fell upon its side. Shot from
it, we rolled for yards, but the moss saved broken bones or serious
"Quick!" cried the green dwarf. He seized an arm, dragged me to my
feet, began running to the cliff base not a hundred feet away. Beside
us raced O'Keefe and Olaf. At our left was the black road. It stopped
abruptly--was cut off by a slab of polished crimson stone a hundred
feet high, and as wide, set within the coppery face of the barrier. On
each side of it stood pillars, cut from the living rock and immense,
almost, as those which held the rainbow veil of the Dweller. Across
its face weaved unnameable carvings--but I had no time for more than a
glance. The green dwarf gripped my arm again.
"Quick!" he cried again. "The handmaiden has passed!"
At the right of the Portal ran a low wall of shattered rock. Over this
we raced like rabbits. Hidden behind it was a narrow path. Crouching,
Rador in the lead, we sped along it; three hundred, four hundred yards
we raced--and the path ended in a _cul de sac_! To our ears was borne
a louder shouting.
The first of the pursuing shells had swept over the lip of the great
bowl, poised for a moment as we had and then began a cautious descent.
Within it, scanning the slopes, I saw Lugur.
"A little closer and I'll get him!" whispered Larry viciously. He
raised his pistol.
His hand was caught in a mighty grip; Rador, eyes blazing, stood
"No!" rasped the green dwarf. He heaved a shoulder against one of the
boulders that formed the pocket. It rocked aside, revealing a slit.
"In!" ordered he, straining against the weight of the stone. O'Keefe
slipped through. Olaf at his back, I following. With a lightning leap
the dwarf was beside me, the huge rock missing him by a hair breadth
as it swung into place!
We were in Cimmerian darkness. I felt for my pocket-flash and
recalled with distress that I had left it behind with my medicine kit
when we fled from the gardens. But Rador seemed to need no light.
"Grip hands!" he ordered. We crept, single file, holding to each
other like children, through the black. At last the green dwarf
"Await me here," he whispered. "Do not move. And for your lives--be
And he was gone.
Dragon Worm and Moss Death
For a small eternity--to me at least--we waited. Then as silent as
ever the green dwarf returned. "It is well," he said, some of the
strain gone from his voice. "Grip hands again, and follow."
"Wait a bit, Rador," this was Larry. "Does Lugur know this side
entrance? If he does, why not let Olaf and me go back to the opening
and pick them off as they come in? We could hold the lot--and in the
meantime you and Goodwin could go after Lakla for help."
"Lugur knows the secret of the Portal--if he dare use it," answered
the captain, with a curious indirection. "And now that they have
challenged the Silent Ones I think he WILL dare. Also, he will find
our tracks--and it may be that he knows this hidden way."
"Well, for God's sake!" O'Keefe's appalled bewilderment was almost
ludicrous. "If HE knows all that, and YOU knew all that, why didn't
you let me click him when I had the chance?"
"_Larree_," the green dwarf was oddly humble. "It seemed good to me,
too--at first. And then I heard a command, heard it clearly, to stop
you--that Lugur die not now, lest a greater vengeance fail!"
"Command? From whom?" The Irishman's voice distilled out of the
blackness the very essence of bewilderment.
"I thought," Rador was whispering--"I thought it came from the Silent
"Superstition!" groaned O'Keefe in utter exasperation. "Always
superstition! What can you do against it!
"Never mind, Rador." His sense of humour came to his aid. "It's too
late now, anyway. Where do we go from here, old dear?" he laughed.
"We tread the path of one I am not fain to meet," answered Rador.
"But if meet we must, point the death tubes at the pale shield he
bears upon his throat and send the flame into the flower of cold fire
that is its centre--nor look into his eyes!"
Again Larry gasped, and I with him.
"It's getting too deep for me, Doc," he muttered dejectedly. "Can you
make head or tail of it?"
"No," I answered, shortly enough, "but Rador fears something and
that's his description of it."
"Sure," he replied, "only it's a code I don't understand." I could
feel his grin. "All right for the flower of cold fire, Rador, and I
won't look into his eyes," he went on cheerfully. "But hadn't we
better be moving?"
"Come!" said the soldier; again hand in hand we went blindly on.
O'Keefe was muttering to himself.
"Flower of cold fire! Don't look into his eyes! Some joint!
Damned superstition." Then he chuckled and carolled, softly:
"Oh, mama, pin a cold rose on me;
Two young frog-men are in love with me;
Shut my eyes so I can't see."
"Sh!" Rador was warning; he began whispering. "For half a _va_ we go
along a way of death. From its peril we pass into another against
whose dangers I can guard you. But in part this is in view of the
roadway and it may be that Lugur will see us. If so, we must fight as
best we can. If we pass these two roads safely, then is the way to the
Crimson Sea clear, nor need we fear Lugur nor any. And there is
another thing--that Lugur does not know--when he opens the Portal the
Silent Ones will hear and Lakla and the _Akka_ will be swift to greet
"Rador," I asked, "how know YOU all this?"
"The handmaiden is my own sister's child," he answered quietly.
O'Keefe drew a long breath.
"Uncle," he remarked casually in English, "meet the man who's going to
be your nephew!"
And thereafter he never addressed the green dwarf except by the
avuncular title, which Rador, humorously enough, apparently conceived
to be one of respectful endearment.
For me a light broke. Plain now was the reason for his foreknowledge
of Lakla's appearance at the feast where Larry had so narrowly escaped
Yolara's spells; plain the determining factor that had cast his lot
with ours, and my confidence, despite his discourse of mysterious
perils, experienced a remarkable quickening.
Speculation as to the marked differences in pigmentation and
appearance of niece and uncle was dissipated by my consciousness that
we were now moving in a dim half-light. We were in a fairly wide
tunnel. Not far ahead the gleam filtered, pale yellow like sunlight
sifting through the leaves of autumn poplars. And as we drove closer
to its source I saw that it did indeed pass through a leafy screen
hanging over the passage end. This Rador drew aside cautiously,
beckoned us and we stepped through.
It appeared to be a tunnel cut through soft green mould. Its base was
a flat strip of pathway a yard wide from which the walls curved out in
perfect cylindrical form, smoothed and evened with utmost nicety.
Thirty feet wide they were at their widest, then drew toward each
other with no break in their symmetry; they did not close. Above was,
roughly, a ten-foot rift, ragged edged, through which poured light
like that in the heart of pale amber, a buttercup light shot through
with curiously evanescent bronze shadows.
"Quick!" commanded Rador, uneasily, and set off at a sharp pace.
Now, my eyes accustomed to the strange light, I saw that the tunnel's
walls were of moss. In them I could trace fringe leaf and curly leaf,
pressings of enormous bladder caps (Physcomitrium), immense splashes
of what seemed to be the scarlet-crested Cladonia, traceries of huge
moss veils, crushings of teeth (peristome) gigantic; spore cases brown
and white, saffron and ivory, hot vermilions and cerulean blues,
pressed into an astounding mosaic by some titanic force.
"Hurry!" It was Rador calling. I had lagged behind.
He quickened the pace to a half-run; we were climbing; panting. The
amber light grew stronger; the rift above us wider. The tunnel curved;
on the left a narrow cleft appeared. The green dwarf leaped toward it,
thrust us within, pushed us ahead of him up a steep rocky
fissure--well-nigh, indeed, a chimney. Up and up this we scrambled
until my lungs were bursting and I thought I could climb no more. The
crevice ended; we crawled out and sank, even Rador, upon a little
leaf-carpeted clearing circled by lacy tree ferns.
Gasping, legs aching, we lay prone, relaxed, drawing back strength and
breath. Rador was first to rise. Thrice he bent low as in homage,
"Give thanks to the Silent Ones--for their power has been over us!" he
Dimly I wondered what he meant. Something about the fern leaf at
which I had been staring aroused me. I leaped to my feet and ran to
its base. This was no fern, no! It was fern MOSS! The largest of its
species I had ever found in tropic jungles had not been more than two
inches high, and this was--twenty feet! The scientific fire I had
experienced in the tunnel returned uncontrollable. I parted the
fronds, gazed out--
My outlook commanded a vista of miles--and that vista! A _Fata
Morgana_ of plantdom! A land of flowered sorcery!
Forests of tree-high mosses spangled over with blooms of every
conceivable shape and colour; cataracts and clusters, avalanches and
nets of blossoms in pastels, in dulled metallics, in gorgeous
flamboyant hues; some of them phosphorescent and shining like living
jewels; some sparkling as though with dust of opals, of sapphires, of
rubies and topazes and emeralds; thickets of convolvuli like the
trumpets of the seven archangels of Mara, king of illusion, which are
shaped from the bows of splendours arching his highest heaven!
And moss veils like banners of a marching host of Titans; pennons and
bannerets of the sunset; gonfalons of the Jinn; webs of faery;
oriflammes of elfland!
Springing up through that polychromatic flood myriads of
pedicles--slender and straight as spears, or soaring in spirals, or
curving with undulations gracile as the white serpents of Tanit in
ancient Carthaginian groves--and all surmounted by a fantasy of spore
cases in shapes of minaret and turret, domes and spires and cones,
caps of Phrygia and bishops' mitres, shapes grotesque and
unnameable--shapes delicate and lovely!
They hung high poised, nodding and swaying--like goblins hovering over
_Titania's_ court; cacophony of Cathay accenting the _Flower Maiden_
music of "Parsifal"; _bizarrerie_ of the angled, fantastic beings that
people the Javan pantheon watching a bacchanal of houris in Mohammed's
Down upon it all poured the amber light; dimmed in the distances by
huge, drifting darkenings lurid as the flying mantles of the
And through the light, like showers of jewels, myriads of birds,
darting, dipping, soaring, and still other myriads of gigantic,
A sound came to us, reaching out like the first faint susurrus of the
incoming tide; sighing, sighing, growing stronger--now its mournful
whispering quivered all about us, shook us--then passing like a
Presence, died away in far distances.
"The Portal!" said Rador. "Lugur has entered!"
He, too, parted the fronds and peered back along our path. Peering
with him we saw the barrier through which we had come stretching
verdure-covered walls for miles three or more away. Like a mole burrow
in a garden stretched the trail of the tunnel; here and there we could
look down within the rift at its top; far off in it I thought I saw
the glint of spears.
"They come!" whispered Rador. "Quick! We must not meet them here!"
"Holy St. Brigid!" gasped Larry.
From the rift in the tunnel's continuation, nigh a mile beyond the
cleft through which we had fled, lifted a crown of horns--of
tentacles--erect, alert, of mottled gold and crimson; lifted
higher--and from a monstrous scarlet head beneath them blazed two
enormous, obloid eyes, their depths wells of purplish phosphorescence;
higher still--noseless, earless, chinless; a livid, worm mouth from
which a slender scarlet tongue leaped like playing flames! Slowly it
rose--its mighty neck cuirassed with gold and scarlet scales from
whose polished surfaces the amber light glinted like flakes of fire;
and under this neck shimmered something like a palely luminous silvery
shield, guarding it. The head of horror mounted--and in the shield's
centre, full ten feet across, glowing, flickering, shining
out--coldly, was a rose of white flame, a "flower of cold fire" even
as Rador had said.
Now swiftly the Thing upreared, standing like a scaled tower a hundred
feet above the rift, its eyes scanning that movement I had seen along
the course of its lair. There was a hissing; the crown of horns fell,
whipped and writhed like the tentacles of an octopus; the towering
length dropped back.
"Quick!" gasped Rador and through the fern moss, along the path and
down the other side of the steep we raced.