The Moon Pool
Part 5 out of 7
Behind us for an instant there was a rushing as of a torrent; a
far-away, faint, agonized screaming--silence!
"No fear NOW from those who followed," whispered the green dwarf,
"Sainted St. Patrick!" O'Keefe gazed ruminatively at his automatic.
"An' he expected me to kill THAT with this. Well, as Fergus O'Connor
said when they sent him out to slaughter a wild bull with a potato
knife: 'Ye'll niver rayilize how I appreciate the confidence ye show
"What was it, Doc?" he asked.
"The dragon worm!" Rador said.
"It was Helvede Orm--the hell worm!" groaned Olaf.
"There you go again--" blazed Larry; but the green dwarf was hurrying
down the path and swiftly we followed, Larry muttering, Olaf mumbling,
The green dwarf was signalling us for caution. He pointed through a
break in a grove of fifty-foot cedar mosses--we were skirting the
glassy road! Scanning it we found no trace of Lugur and wondered
whether he too had seen the worm and had fled. Quickly we passed on;
drew away from the _coria_ path. The mosses began to thin; less and
less they grew, giving way to low clumps that barely offered us
shelter. Unexpectedly another screen of fern moss stretched before us.
Slowly Rador made his way through it and stood hesitating.
The scene in front of us was oddly weird and depressing; in some
indefinable way--dreadful. Why, I could not tell, but the impression
was plain; I shrank from it. Then, self-analyzing, I wondered whether
it could be the uncanny resemblance the heaps of curious mossy fungi
scattered about had to beast and bird--yes, and to man--that was the
cause of it. Our path ran between a few of them. To the left they were
thick. They were viridescent, almost metallic hued--verd-antique.
Curiously indeed were they like distorted images of dog and deerlike
forms, of birds--of DWARFS and here and there the simulacra of the
giant frogs! Spore cases, yellowish green, as large as mitres and much
resembling them in shape protruded from the heaps. My repulsion grew
into a distinct nausea.
Rador turned to us a face whiter far than that with which he had
looked upon the dragon worm.
"Now for your lives," he whispered, "tread softly here as I do--and
speak not at all!"
He stepped forward on tiptoe, slowly with utmost caution. We crept
after him; passed the heaps beside the path--and as I passed my skin
crept and I shrank and saw the others shrink too with that unnameable
loathing; nor did the green dwarf pause until he had reached the brow
of a small hillock a hundred yards beyond. And he was trembling.
"Now what are we up against?" grumbled O'Keefe.
The green dwarf stretched a hand; stiffened; gazed over to the left of
us beyond a lower hillock upon whose broad crest lay a file of the
moss shapes. They fringed it, their mitres having a grotesque
appearance of watching what lay below. The glistening road lay
there--and from it came a shout. A dozen of the _coria_ clustered,
filled with Lugur's men and in one of them Lugur himself, laughing
There was a rush of soldiers and up the low hillock raced a score of
them toward us.
"Run!" shouted Rador.
"Not much!" grunted Larry--and took swift aim at Lugur. The automatic
spat: Olaf's echoed. Both bullets went wild, for Lugur, still
laughing, threw himself into the protection of the body of his shell.
But following the shots, from the file of moss heaps on the crest,
came a series of muffled explosions. Under the pistol's concussions
the mitred caps had burst and instantly all about the running soldiers
grew a cloud of tiny, glistening white spores--like a little cloud of
puff-ball dust many times magnified. Through this cloud I glimpsed
their faces, stricken with agony.
Some turned to fly, but before they could take a second step stood
The spore cloud drifted and eddied about them; rained down on their
heads and half bare breasts, covered their garments--and swiftly they
began to change! Their features grew indistinct--merged! The
glistening white spores that covered them turned to a pale yellow,
grew greenish, spread and swelled, darkened. The eyes of one of the
soldiers glinted for a moment--and then were covered by the swift
Where but a few moments before had been men were only grotesque heaps,
swiftly melting, swiftly rounding into the the semblance of the mounds
that lay behind us--and already beginning to take on their gleam of
The Irishman was gripping my arm fiercely; the pain brought me back to
"Olaf's right," he gasped. "This IS hell! I'm sick." And he was,
frankly and without restraint. Lugur and his others awakened from
their nightmare; piled into the _coria_, wheeled, raced away.
"On!" said Rador thickly. "Two perils have we passed--the Silent Ones
watch over us!"
Soon we were again among the familiar and so unfamiliar moss giants.
I knew what I had seen and this time Larry could not call
me--superstitious. In the jungles of Borneo I had examined that other
swiftly developing fungus which wreaks the vengeance of some of the
hill tribes upon those who steal their women; gripping with its
microscopic hooks into the flesh; sending quick, tiny rootlets through
the skin down into the capillaries, sucking life and thriving and
never to be torn away until the living thing it clings to has been
sapped dry. Here was but another of the species in which the
development's rate was incredibly accelerated. Some of this I tried to
explain to O'Keefe as we sped along, reassuring him.
"But they turned to moss before our eyes!" he said.
Again I explained, patiently. But he seemed to derive no comfort at
all from my assurances that the phenomena were entirely natural and,
aside from their more terrifying aspect, of peculiar interest to the
"I know," was all he would say. "But suppose one of those things had
burst while we were going through--God!"
I was wondering how I could with comparative safety study the fungus
when Rador stopped; in front of us was again the road ribbon.
"Now is all danger passed," he said. "The way lies open and Lugur has
There was a flash from the road. It passed me like a little lariat of
light. It struck Larry squarely between the eyes, spread over his face
and drew itself within!
"Down!" cried Rador, and hurled me to the ground. My head struck
sharply; I felt myself grow faint; Olaf fell beside me; I saw the
green dwarf draw down the O'Keefe; he collapsed limply, face still,
eyes staring. A shout--and from the roadway poured a host of Lugur's
men; I could hear Lugur bellowing.
There came a rush of little feet; soft, fragrant draperies brushed my
face; dimly I watched Lakla bend over the Irishman.
She straightened--her arms swept out and the writhing vine, with its
tendrilled heads of ruby bloom, five flames of misty incandescence,
leaped into the faces of the soldiers now close upon us. It darted at
their throats, striking, coiling, and striking again; coiling and
uncoiling with incredible rapidity and flying from leverage points of
throats, of faces, of breasts like a spring endowed with
consciousness, volition and hatred--and those it struck stood rigid as
stone with faces masks of inhuman fear and anguish; and those still
Another rush of feet--and down upon Lugur's forces poured the
frog-men, their booming giant leading, thrusting with their lances,
tearing and rending with talons and fangs and spurs.
Against that onslaught the dwarfs could not stand. They raced for the
shells; I heard Lugur shouting, menacingly--and then Lakla's voice,
pealing like a golden bugle of wrath.
"Go, Lugur!" she cried. "Go--that you and Yolara and your Shining One
may die together! Death for you, Lugur--death for you all! Remember
There was a great noise within my head--no matter, Lakla was
here--Lakla here--but too late--Lugur had outplayed us; moss death nor
dragon worm had frightened him away--he had crept back to trap
us--Lakla had come too late--Larry was dead--Larry! But I had heard no
banshee wailing--and Larry had said he could not die without that
warning--no, Larry was not dead. So ran the turbulent current of my
A horny arm lifted me; two enormous, oddly gentle saucer eyes were
staring into mine; my head rolled; I caught a glimpse of the Golden
Girl kneeling beside the O'Keefe.
The noise in my head grew thunderous--was carrying me away on its
thunder--swept me into soft, blind darkness.
The Crimson Sea
I was in the heart of a rose pearl, swinging, swinging; no, I was in a
rosy dawn cloud, pendulous in space. Consciousness flooded me, in
reality I was in the arms of one of the man frogs, carrying me as
though I were a babe, and we were passing through some place suffused
with glow enough like heart of pearl or dawn cloud to justify my
Just ahead walked Lakla in earnest talk with Rador, and content enough
was I for a time to watch her. She had thrown off the metallic robes;
her thick braids of golden brown hair with their flame glints of
bronze were twined in a high coronal meshed in silken net of green;
little clustering curls escaped from it, clinging to the nape of the
proud white neck, shyly kissing it. From her shoulders fell a loose,
sleeveless garment of shimmering green belted with a high golden
girdle; skirt folds dropping barely below the knees.
She had cast aside her buskins, too, and the slender, high-arched feet
were sandalled. Between the buckled edges of her kirtle I caught
gleams of translucent ivory as exquisitely moulded, as delectably
rounded, as those revealed so naively beneath the hem.
Something was knocking at the doors of my consciousness--some tragic
thing. What was it? Larry! Where was Larry? I remembered; raised my
head abruptly; saw at my side another frog-man carrying O'Keefe, and
behind him, Olaf, step instinct with grief, following like some
faithful, wistful dog who has lost a loved master. Upon my movement
the monster bearing me halted, looked down inquiringly, uttered a
deep, booming note that held the quality of interrogation.
Lakla turned; the clear, golden eyes were sorrowful, the sweet mouth
drooping; but her loveliness, her gentleness, that undefinable
synthesis of all her tender self that seemed always to circle her with
an atmosphere of lucid normality, lulled my panic.
"Drink this," she commanded, holding a small vial to my lips.
Its contents were aromatic, unfamiliar but astonishingly effective,
for as soon as they passed my lips I felt a surge of strength;
consciousness was restored.
"Larry!" I cried. "Is he dead?"
Lakla shook her head; her eyes were troubled.
"No," she said; "but he is like one dead--and yet unlike--"
"Put me down," I demanded of my bearer.
He tightened his hold; round eyes upon the Golden Girl. She spoke--in
sonorous, reverberating monosyllables--and I was set upon my feet; I
leaped to the side of the Irishman. He lay limp, with a disquieting,
abnormal sequacity, as though every muscle were utterly flaccid; the
antithesis of the _rigor mortis_, thank God, but terrifyingly toward
the other end of its arc; a syncope I had never known. The flesh was
stone cold; the pulse barely perceptible, long intervalled; the
respiration undiscoverable; the pupils of the eyes were enormously
dilated; it was as though life had been drawn from every nerve.
"A light flashed from the road. It struck his face and seemed to sink
in," I said.
"I saw," answered Rador; "but what it was I know not; and I thought I
knew all the weapons of our rulers." He glanced at me curiously. "Some
talk there has been that the stranger who came with you, Double
Tongue, was making new death tools for Lugur," he ended.
Marakinoff! The Russian at work already in this storehouse of
devastating energies, fashioning the weapons for his plots! The
Apocalyptic vision swept back upon me--
"He is not dead." Lakla's voice was poignant. "He is not dead; and
the Three have wondrous healing. They can restore him if they
will--and they will, they WILL!" For a moment she was silent. "Now
their gods help Lugur and Yolara," she whispered; "for come what may,
whether the Silent Ones be strong or weak, if he dies, surely shall I
fall upon them and I will slay those two--yea, though I, too perish!"
"Yolara and Lugur shall both die." Olaf's eyes were burning. "But
Lugur is mine to slay."
That pity I had seen before in Lakla's eyes when she looked upon the
Norseman banished the white wrath from them. She turned, half
hurriedly, as though to escape his gaze.
"Walk with us," she said to me, "unless you are still weak."
I shook my head, gave a last look at O'Keefe; there was nothing I
could do; I stepped beside her. She thrust a white arm into mine
protectingly, the wonderfully moulded hand with its long, tapering
fingers catching about my wrist; my heart glowed toward her.
"Your medicine is potent, handmaiden," I answered. "And the touch of
your hand would give me strength enough, even had I not drunk it," I
added in Larry's best manner.
Her eyes danced, trouble flying.
"Now, that was well spoken for such a man of wisdom as Rador tells me
you are," she laughed; and a little pang shot through me. Could not a
lover of science present a compliment without it always seeming to be
as unusual as plucking a damask rose from a cabinet of fossils?
Mustering my philosophy, I smiled back at her. Again I noted that
broad, classic brow, with the little tendrils of shining bronze
caressing it, the tilted, delicate, nut-brown brows that gave a
curious touch of innocent _diablerie_ to the lovely face--flowerlike,
pure, high-bred, a touch of roguishness, subtly alluring, sparkling
over the maiden Madonnaness that lay ever like a delicate, luminous
suggestion beneath it; the long, black, curling lashes--the tender,
rounded, bare left breast--
"I have always liked you," she murmured naively, "since first I saw
you in that place where the Shining One goes forth into your world.
And I am glad you like my medicine as well as that you carry in the
black box that you left behind," she added swiftly.
"How know you of that, Lakla?" I gasped.
"Oft and oft I came to him there, and to you, while you lay sleeping.
How call you HIM?" She paused.
"Larry!" I said.
"Larry!" she repeated it excellently. "And you?"
"Goodwin," said Rador.
I bowed quite as though I were being introduced to some charming young
lady met in that old life now seemingly aeons removed.
"Yes--Goodwin." she said. "Oft and oft I came. Sometimes I thought
you saw me. And HE--did he not dream of me sometime--?" she asked
"He did." I said, "and watched for you." Then amazement grew vocal.
"But how came you?" I asked.
"By a strange road," she whispered, "to see that all was well with
HIM--and to look into his heart; for I feared Yolara and her beauty.
But I saw that she was not in his heart." A blush burned over her,
turning even the little bare breast rosy. "It is a strange road," she
went on hurriedly. "Many times have I followed it and watched the
Shining One bear back its prey to the blue pool; seen the woman HE
seeks"--she made a quick gesture toward Olaf--"and a babe cast from
her arms in the last pang of her mother love; seen another woman throw
herself into the Shining One's embrace to save a man she loved; and I
could not help!" Her voice grew deep, thrilled. "The friend, it comes
to me, who drew you here, Goodwin!"
She was silent, walking as one who sees visions and listens to voices
unheard by others, Rador made a warning gesture; I crowded back my
questions, glanced about me. We were passing over a smooth strand,
hard packed as some beach of long-thrust-back ocean. It was like
crushed garnets, each grain stained deep red, faintly sparkling. On
each side were distances, the floor stretching away into them bare of
vegetation--stretching on and on into infinitudes of rosy mist, even
as did the space above.
Flanking and behind us marched the giant batrachians, fivescore of
them at least, black scale and crimson scale lustrous and gleaming in
the rosaceous radiance; saucer eyes shining circles of phosphorescence
green, purple, red; spurs clicking as they crouched along with a gait
at once grotesque and formidable.
Ahead the mist deepened into a ruddier glow; through it a long, dark
line began to appear--the mouth I thought of the caverned space
through which we were going; it was just before us; over us--we stood
bathed in a flood of rubescence!
A sea stretched before us--a crimson sea, gleaming like that lost
lacquer of royal coral and the Flame Dragon's blood which Fu S'cze set
upon the bower he built for his stolen sun maiden--that going toward
it she might think it the sun itself rising over the summer seas.
Unmoved by wave or ripple, it was placid as some deep woodland pool
when night rushes up over the world.
It seemed molten--or as though some hand great enough to rock earth
had distilled here from conflagrations of autumn sunsets their flaming
A fish broke through, large as a shark, blunt-headed, flashing bronze,
ridged and mailed as though with serrate plates of armour. It leaped
high, shaking from it a sparkling spray of rubies; dropped and shot up
a geyser of fiery gems.
Across my line of vision, moving stately over the sea, floated a half
globe, luminous, diaphanous, its iridescence melting into turquoise,
thence to amethyst, to orange, to scarlet shot with rose, to
vermilion, a translucent green, thence back into the iridescence;
behind it four others, and the least of them ten feet in diameter, and
the largest no less than thirty. They drifted past like bubbles blown
from froth of rainbows by pipes in mouths of Titans' young. Then from
the base of one arose a tangle of shimmering strands, long, slender
whiplashes that played about and sank slowly again beneath the crimson
I gasped--for the fish had been a _ganoid_--that ancient, armoured
form that was perhaps the most intelligent of all life on our planet
during the Devonian era, but which for age upon age had vanished, save
for its fossils held in the embrace of the stone that once was their
soft bottom beds; and the half-globes were _Medusae_, jelly-fish--but
of a size, luminosity, and colour unheard of.
Now Lakla cupped her mouth with pink palms and sent a clarion note
ringing out. The ledge on which we stood continued a few hundred feet
before us, falling abruptly, though from no great height to the
Crimson Sea; at right and left it extended in a long semicircle.
Turning to the right whence she had sent her call, I saw rising a mile
or more away, veiled lightly by the haze, a rainbow, a gigantic
prismatic arch, flattened, I thought, by some quality of the strange
atmosphere. It sprang from the ruddy strand, leaped the crimson tide,
and dropped three miles away upon a precipitous, jagged upthrust of
rock frowning black from the lacquered depths.
And surmounting a higher ledge beyond this upthrust a huge dome of
dull gold, Cyclopean, striking eyes and mind with something unhumanly
alien, baffling; sending the mind groping, as though across the
deserts of space, from some far-flung star, should fall upon us linked
sounds, coherent certainly, meaningful surely, vaguely familiar--yet
never to be translated into any symbol or thought of our own
The sea of crimson lacquer, with its floating moons of luminous
colour--this bow of prismed stone leaping to the weird isle crowned by
the anomalous, aureate excrescence--the half human batrachians-the
elfland through which we had passed, with all its hidden wonders and
terrors--I felt the foundations of my cherished knowledge shaking.
Was this all a dream? Was this body of mine lying somewhere, fighting
a fevered death, and all these but images floating through the
breaking chambers of my brain? My knees shook; involuntarily I
Lakla turned, looked at me anxiously, slipped a soft arm behind me,
held me till the vertigo passed.
"Patience," she said. "The bearers come. Soon you shall rest."
I looked; down toward us from the bow's end were leaping swiftly
another score of the frog-men. Some bore litters, high, handled, not
"Asgard!" Olaf stood beside me, eyes burning, pointing to the arch.
"Bifrost Bridge, sharp as sword edge, over which souls go to Valhalla.
And SHE--she is a Valkyr--a sword maiden, _Ja!_"
I gripped the Norseman's hand. It was hot, and a pang of remorse shot
through me. If this place had so shaken me, how must it have shaken
Olaf? It was with relief that I watched him, at Lakla's gentle
command, drop into one of the litters and lie back, eyes closed, as
two of the monsters raised its yoke to their scaled shoulders. Nor was
it without further relief that I myself lay back on the soft velvety
cushions of another.
The cavalcade began to move. Lakla had ordered O'Keefe placed beside
her, and she sat, knees crossed Orient fashion, leaning over the pale
head on her lap, the white, tapering fingers straying fondly through
Presently I saw her reach up, slowly unwind the coronal of her
tresses, shake them loose, and let them fall like a veil over her and
Her head bent low; I heard a soft sobbing--I turned away my gaze, lorn
enough in my own heart, God knew!
The Three Silent Ones
The arch was closer--and in my awe I forgot for the moment Larry and
aught else. For this was no rainbow, no thing born of light and mist,
no Bifrost Bridge of myth--no! It was a flying arch of stone, stained
with flares of Tyrian purples, of royal scarlets, of blues dark as the
Gulf Stream's ribbon, sapphires soft as midday May skies, splashes of
chromes and greens--a palette of giantry, a bridge of wizardry; a
hundred, nay, a thousand, times greater than that of Utah which the
Navaho call Nonnegozche and worship, as well they may, as a god, and
which is itself a rainbow in eternal rock.
It sprang from the ledge and winged its prodigious length in one low
arc over the sea's crimson breast, as though in some ancient paroxysm
of earth it had been hurled molten, crystallizing into that stupendous
span and still flaming with the fires that had moulded it.
Closer we came and closer, while I watched spellbound; now we were at
its head, and the litter-bearers swept upon it. All of five hundred
feet wide it was, surface smooth as a city road, sides low walled,
curving inward as though in the jetting-out of its making the edges of
the plastic rock had curled.
On and on we sped; the high thrusting precipices upon which the
bridge's far end rested, frowned close; the enigmatic, dully shining
dome loomed ever greater. Now we had reached that end; were passing
over a smooth plaza whose level floor was enclosed, save for a rift in
front of us, by the fanged tops of the black cliff's.
From this rift stretched another span, half a mile long, perhaps,
widening at its centre into a broad platform, continuing straight to
two massive gates set within the face of the second cliff wall like
panels, and of the same dull gold as the dome rising high beyond. And
this smaller arch leaped a pit, an abyss, of which the outer
precipices were the rim holding back from the pit the red flood.
We were rapidly approaching; now upon the platform; my bearers were
striding closely along the side; I leaned far out--a giddiness seized
me! I gazed down into depth upon vertiginous depth; an abyss
indeed--an abyss dropping to world's base like that in which the
Babylonians believed writhed Talaat, the serpent mother of Chaos; a
pit that struck down into earth's heart itself,
Now, what was that--distance upon unfathomable distance below? A
stupendous glowing like the green fire of life itself. What was it
like? I had it! It was like the corona of the sun in eclipse--that
burgeoning that makes of our luminary when moon veils it an incredible
blossoming of splendours in the black heavens.
And strangely, strangely, it was like the Dweller's beauty when with
its dazzling spirallings and writhings it raced amid its storm of
crystal bell sounds!
The abyss was behind us; we had paused at the golden portals; they
swung inward. A wide corridor filled with soft light was before us,
and on its threshold stood--bizarre, yellow gems gleaming, huge muzzle
wide in what was evidently meant for a smile of welcome--the woman
frog of the Moon Pool wall.
Lakla raised her head; swept back the silken tent of her hair and
gazed at me with eyes misty from weeping. The frog-woman crept to her
side; gazed down upon Larry; spoke--SPOKE--to the Golden Girl in a
swift stream of the sonorous, reverberant monosyllables; and Lakla
answered her in kind. The webbed digits swept over O'Keefe's face,
felt at his heart; she shook her head and moved ahead of us up the
Still borne in the litters we went on, winding, ascending until at
last they were set down in a great hall carpeted with soft fragrant
rushes and into which from high narrow slits streamed the crimson
light from without.
I jumped over to Larry, there had been no change in his condition;
still the terrifying limpness, the slow, infrequent pulsation. Rador
and Olaf--and the fever now seemed to be gone from him--came and stood
beside me, silent.
"I go to the Three," said Lakla. "Wait you here." She passed through
a curtaining; then as swiftly as she had gone she returned through the
hangings, tresses braided, a swathing of golden gauze about her.
"Rador," she said, "bear you Larry--for into your heart the Silent
Ones would look. And fear nothing," she added at the green dwarfs
disconcerted, almost fearful start.
Rador bowed, was thrust aside by Olaf.
"No," said the Norseman; "I will carry him."
He lifted Larry like a child against his broad breast. The dwarf
glanced quickly at Lakla; she nodded.
"Come!" she commanded, and held aside the folds.
Of that journey I have few memories. I only know that we went through
corridor upon corridor; successions of vast halls and chambers, some
carpeted with the rushes, others with rugs into which the feet sank as
into deep, soft meadows; spaces illumined by the rubrous light, and
spaces in which softer lights held sway.
We paused before a slab of the same crimson stone as that the green
dwarf had called the portal, and upon its polished surface weaved the
same unnameable symbols. The Golden Girl pressed upon its side; it
slipped softly back; a torrent of opalescence gushed out of the
opening--and as one in a dream I entered.
We were, I knew, just under the dome; but for the moment, caught in
the flood of radiance, I could see nothing. It was like being held
within a fire opal--so brilliant, so flashing, was it. I closed my
eyes, opened them; the lambency cascaded from the vast curves of the
globular walls; in front of me was a long, narrow opening in them,
through which, far away, I could see the end of the wizards' bridge
and the ledged mouth of the cavern through which we had come; against
the light from within beat the crimson light from without--and was
checked as though by a barrier.
I felt Lakla's touch; turned.
A hundred paces away was a dais, its rim raised a yard above the
floor. From the edge of this rim streamed upward a steady, coruscating
mist of the opalescence, veined even as was that of the Dweller's
shining core and shot with milky shadows like curdled moonlight; up it
stretched like a wall.
Over it, from it, down upon me, gazed three faces--two clearly male,
one a woman's. At the first I thought them statues, and then the eyes
of them gave the lie to me; for the eyes were alive, terribly, and if
I could admit the word--SUPERNATURALLY--alive.
They were thrice the size of the human eye and triangular, the apex of
the angle upward; black as jet, pupilless, filled with tiny, leaping
Over them were foreheads, not as ours--high and broad and visored;
their sides drawn forward into a vertical ridge, a prominence, an
upright wedge, somewhat like the visored heads of a few of the great
lizards--and the heads, long, narrowing at the back, were fully twice
the size of mankind's!
Upon the brows were caps--and with a fearful certainty I knew that
they were NOT caps--long, thick strands of gleaming yellow, feathered
scales thin as sequins! Sharp, curving noses like the beaks of the
giant condors; mouths thin, austere; long, powerful, pointed chins;
the--FLESH--of the faces white as the whitest marble; and wreathing
up to them, covering all their bodies, the shimmering, curdled, misty
fires of opalescence!
Olaf stood rigid; my own heart leaped wildly. What--what were these
I forced myself to look again--and from their gaze streamed a current
of reassurance, of good will--nay, of intense spiritual strength. I
saw that they were not fierce, not ruthless, not inhuman, despite
their strangeness; no, they were kindly; in some unmistakable way,
benign and sorrowful--so sorrowful! I straightened, gazed back at them
fearlessly. Olaf drew a deep breath, gazed steadily too, the hardness,
the despair wiped from his face.
Now Lakla drew closer to the dais; the three pairs of eyes searched
hers, the woman's with an ineffable tenderness; some message seemed to
pass between the Three and the Golden Girl. She bowed low, turned to
"Place Larry there," she said softly--"there at the feet of the Silent
She pointed into the radiant mist; Olaf started, hesitated, stared
from Lakla to the Three, searched for a moment their eyes--and
something like a smile drifted through them. He stepped forward,
lifted O'Keefe, set him squarely within the covering light. It
wavered, rolled upward, swirled about the body, steadied again--and
within it there was no sign of Larry!
Again the mist wavered, shook, and seemed to climb higher, hiding the
chins, the beaked noses, the brows of that incredible Trinity--but
before it ceased to climb, I thought the yellow feathered heads bent;
sensed a movement as though they lifted something.
The mist fell; the eyes gleamed out again, inscrutable.
And groping out of the radiance, pausing at the verge of the dais,
leaping down from it, came Larry, laughing, filled with life, blinking
as one who draws from darkness into sunshine. He saw Lakla, sprang to
her, gripped her in his arms.
"Lakla!" he cried. "Mavourneen!" She slipped from his embrace,
blushing, glancing at the Three shyly, half-fearfully. And again I saw
the tenderness creep into the inky, flame-shot orbs of the woman
being; and a tenderness in the others too--as though they regarded
some well-beloved child.
"You lay in the arms of Death, Larry," she said. "And the Silent Ones
drew you from him. Do homage to the Silent Ones, Larry, for they are
good and they are mighty!"
She turned his head with one of the long, white hands--and he looked
into the faces of the Three; looked long, was shaken even as had been
Olaf and myself; was swept by that same wave of power and of--of--what
can I call it?--HOLINESS that streamed from them.
Then for the first time I saw real awe mount into his face. Another
moment he stared--and dropped upon one knee and bowed his head before
them as would a worshipper before the shrine of his saint. And--I am
not ashamed to tell it--I joined him; and with us knelt Lakla and
Olaf and Rador.
The mist of fiery opal swirled up about the Three; hid them.
And with a long, deep, joyous sigh Lakla took Larry's hand, drew him
to his feet, and silently we followed them out of that hall of wonder.
But why, in going, did the thought come to me that from where the
Three sat throned they ever watched the cavern mouth that was the door
into their abode; and looked down ever into the unfathomable depth in
which glowed and pulsed that mystic flower, colossal, awesome, of
green flame that had seemed to me fire of life itself?
The Wooing of Lakla
I had slept soundly and dreamlessly; I wakened quietly in the great
chamber into which Rador had ushered O'Keefe and myself after that
culminating experience of crowded, nerve-racking hours--the facing of
Now, lying gazing upward at the high-vaulted ceiling, I heard Larry's
"They look like birds." Evidently he was thinking of the Three; a
silence--then: "Yes, they look like BIRDS--and they look, and it's
meaning no disrespect to them I am at all, they look like
LIZARDS"--and another silence--"they look like some sort of gods, and,
by the good sword-arm of Brian Boru, they look human, too! And it's
NONE of them they are either, so what--what the--what the sainted St.
Bridget are they?" Another short silence, and then in a tone of awed
and absolute conviction: "That's it, sure! That's what they are--it
all hangs in--they couldn't be anything else--"
He gave a whoop; a pillow shot over and caught me across the head.
"Wake up!" shouted Larry. "Wake up, ye seething caldron of fossilized
superstitions! Wake up, ye bogy-haunted man of scientific unwisdom!"
Under pillow and insults I bounced to my feet, filled for a moment
with quite real wrath; he lay back, roaring with laughter, and my
anger was swept away.
"Doc," he said, very seriously, after this, "I know who the Three
"Yes?" I queried, with studied sarcasm.
"Yes?" he mimicked. "Yes! Ye--ye" He paused under the menace of my
look, grinned. "Yes, I know," he continued. "They're of the Tuatha De,
the old ones, the great people of Ireland, THAT'S who they are!"
I knew, of course, of the Tuatha De Danann, the tribes of the god
Danu, the half-legendary, half-historical clan who found their home in
Erin some four thousand years before the Christian era, and who have
left so deep an impress upon the Celtic mind and its myths.
"Yes," said Larry again, "the Tuatha De--the Ancient Ones who had
spells that could compel Mananan, who is the spirit of all the seas,
an' Keithor, who is the god of all green living things, an' even
Hesus, the unseen god, whose pulse is the pulse of all the firmament;
yes, an' Orchil too, who sits within the earth an' weaves with the
shuttle of mystery and her three looms of birth an' life an'
death--even Orchil would weave as they commanded!"
He was silent--then:
"They are of them--the mighty ones--why else would I have bent my knee
to them as I would have to the spirit of my dead mother? Why else
would Lakla, whose gold-brown hair is the hair of Eilidh the Fair,
whose mouth is the sweet mouth of Deirdre, an' whose soul walked with
mine ages agone among the fragrant green myrtle of Erin, serve them?"
he whispered, eyes full of dream.
"Have you any idea how they got here?" I asked, not unreasonably.
"I haven't thought about that," he replied somewhat testily. "But at
once, me excellent man o' wisdom, a number occur to me. One of them is
that this little party of three might have stopped here on their way
to Ireland, an' for good reasons of their own decided to stay a while;
an' another is that they might have come here afterward, havin' got
wind of what those rats out there were contemplatin', and have stayed
on the job till the time was ripe to save Ireland from 'em; the rest
of the world, too, of course," he added magnanimously, "but Ireland in
particular. And do any of those reasons appeal to ye?"
I shook my head.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked wearily.
"I think," I said cautiously, "that we face an evolution of highly
intelligent beings from ancestral sources radically removed from those
through which mankind ascended. These half-human, highly developed
batrachians they call the _Akka_ prove that evolution in these
caverned spaces has certainly pursued one different path than on
earth. The Englishman, Wells, wrote an imaginative and very
entertaining book concerning an invasion of earth by Martians, and he
made his Martians enormously specialized cuttlefish. There was nothing
inherently improbable in Wells' choice. Man is the ruling animal of
earth today solely by reason of a series of accidents; under another
series spiders or ants, or even elephants, could have become the
"I think," I said, even more cautiously, "that the race to which the
Three belong never appeared on earth's surface; that their development
took place here, unhindered through aeons. And if this be true, the
structure of their brains, and therefore all their reactions, must be
different from ours. Hence their knowledge and command of energies
unfamiliar to us--and hence also the question whether they may not
have an entirely different sense of values, of justice--and that is
rather terrifying," I concluded.
Larry shook his head.
"That last sort of knocks your argument, Doc," he said. "They had
sense of justice enough to help ME out--and certainly they know
love--for I saw the way they looked at Lakla; and sorrow--for there
was no mistaking that in their faces.
"No," he went on. "I hold to my own idea. They're of the Old People.
The little leprechaun knew his way here, an' I'll bet it was they who
sent the word. An' if the O'Keefe banshee comes here--which save the
mark!--I'll bet she'll drop in on the Silent Ones for a social visit
before she an' her clan get busy. Well, it'll make her feel more at
home, the good old body. No, Doc, no," he concluded, "I'm right; it
all fits in too well to be wrong."
I made a last despairing attempt.
"Is there anything anywhere in Ireland that would indicate that the
Tuatha De ever looked like the Three?" I asked--and again I had
spoken most unfortunately.
"Is there?" he shouted. "Is there? By the kilt of Cormack
MacCormack, I'm glad ye reminded me. It was worryin' me a little
meself. There was Daghda, who could put on the head of a great boar
an' the body of a giant fish and cleave the waves an' tear to pieces
the birlins of any who came against Erin; an' there was Rinn--"
How many more of the metamorphoses of the Old People I might have
heard, I do not know, for the curtains parted and in walked Rador.
"You have rested well," he smiled, "I can see. The handmaiden bade me
call you. You are to eat with her in her garden."
Down long corridors we trod and out upon a gardened terrace as
beautiful as any of those of Yolara's city; bowered, blossoming,
fragrant, set high upon the cliffs beside the domed castle. A table,
as of milky jade, was spread at one corner, but the Golden Girl was
not there. A little path ran on and up, hemmed in by the mass of
verdure. I looked at it longingly; Rador saw the glance, interpreted
it, and led me up the stepped sharp slope into a rock embrasure.
Here I was above the foliage, and everywhere the view was clear.
Below me stretched the incredible bridge, with the frog people
hurrying back and forth upon it. A pinnacle at my side hid the abyss.
My eyes followed the cavern ledge. Above it the rock rose bare, but at
the ends of the semicircular strand a luxuriant vegetation began,
stretching from the crimson shores back into far distances. Of browns
and reds and yellows, like an autumn forest, was the foliage, with
here and there patches of dark-green, as of conifers. Five miles or
more, on each side, the forests swept, and then were lost to sight in
I turned and faced an immensity of crimson waters, unbroken, a true
sea, if ever there was one. A breeze blew--the first real wind I had
encountered in the hidden places; under it the surface, that had been
as molten lacquer, rippled and dimpled. Little waves broke with a
spray of rose-pearls and rubies. The giant Medusae drifted--stately,
luminous kaleidoscopic elfin moons.
Far down, peeping around a jutting tower of the cliff, I saw dipping
with the motion of the waves a floating garden. The flowers, too, were
luminous--indeed sparkling--gleaming brilliants of scarlet and
vermilions lighter than the flood on which they lay, mauves and odd
shades of reddish-blue. They gleamed and shone like a little lake of
Rador broke in upon my musings.
"Lakla comes! Let us go down."
It was a shy Lakla who came slowly around the end of the path and,
blushing furiously, held her hands out to Larry. And the Irishman took
them, placed them over his heart, kissed them with a tenderness that
had been lacking in the half-mocking, half-fierce caresses he had
given the priestess. She blushed deeper, holding out the tapering
fingers--then pressed them to her own heart.
"I like the touch of your lips, Larry," she whispered. "They warm me
here"--she pressed her heart again--"and they send little sparkles of
light through me." Her brows tilted perplexedly, accenting the nuance
of diablerie, delicate and fascinating, that they cast upon the flower
"Do you?" whispered the O'Keefe fervently. "Do you, Lakla?" He bent
toward her. She caught the amused glance of Rador; drew herself aside
"Rador," she said, "is it not time that you and the strong one, Olaf,
were setting forth?"
"Truly it is, handmaiden," he answered respectfully enough--yet with a
current of laughter under his words. "But as you know the strong one,
Olaf, wished to see his friends here before we were gone--and he comes
even now," he added, glancing down the pathway, along which came
striding the Norseman.
As he faced us I saw that a transformation had been wrought in him.
Gone was the pitiful seeking, and gone too the just as pitiful hope.
The set face softened as he looked at the Golden Girl and bowed low to
her. He thrust a hand to O'Keefe and to me.
"There is to be battle," he said. "I go with Rador to call the armies
of these frog people. As for me--Lakla has spoken. There is no hope
for--for mine Helma in life, but there is hope that we destroy the
Shining Devil and give _mine_ Helma peace. And with that I am well
content, _ja!_ Well content!" He gripped our hands again. "We will
fight!" he muttered. "_Ja!_ And I will have vengeance!" The sternness
returned; and with a salute Rador and he were gone.
Two great tears rolled from the golden eyes of Lakla.
"Not even the Silent Ones can heal those the Shining One has taken,"
she said. "He asked me--and it was better that I tell him. It is part
of the Three's--PUNISHMENT--but of that you will soon learn," she went
on hurriedly. "Ask me no questions now of the Silent Ones. I thought
it better for Olaf to go with Rador, to busy himself, to give his mind
other than sorrow upon which to feed."
Up the path came five of the frog-women, bearing platters and ewers.
Their bracelets and anklets of jewels were tinkling; their middles
covered with short kirtles of woven cloth studded with the sparkling
And here let me say that if I have given the impression that the
_Akka_ are simply magnified frogs, I regret it. Frog-like they are,
and hence my phrase for them--but as unlike the frog, as we know it,
as man is unlike the chimpanzee. Springing, I hazard, from the
stegocephalia, the ancestor of the frogs, these batrachians followed a
different line of evolution and acquired the upright position just as
man did his from the four-footed folk.
The great staring eyes, the shape of the muzzle were frog-like, but
the highly developed brain had set upon the head and shape of it vital
differences. The forehead, for instance, was not low, flat, and
retreating--its frontal arch was well defined. The head was, in a
sense, shapely, and with the females the great horny carapace that
stood over it like a fantastic helmet was much modified, as were the
spurs that were so formidable in the male; colouration was different
also. The torso was upright; the legs a little bent, giving them their
crouching gait--but I wander from my subject. *1
*1 The _Akka_ are viviparous. The female produces progeny at
five-year intervals, never more than two at a time. They are
monogamous, like certain of our own _Ranidae_. Pending my monograph
upon what little I had time to learn of their interesting habits and
customs, the curious will find instruction and entertainment in
Brandes and Schvenichen's _Brutpfleige der Schwanzlosen Bat rachier_,
p. 395; and Lilian V. Sampson's _Unusual Modes of Breeding among
Anura_, Amer. Nat. xxxiv., 1900.--W. T. G.
They set their burdens down. Larry looked at them with interest.
"You surely have those things well trained, Lakla," he said.
"Things!" The handmaiden arose, eyes flashing with indignation. "You
call my _Akka_ things!"
"Well," said Larry, a bit taken aback, "what do you call them?"
"My _Akka_ are a PEOPLE," she retorted. "As much a people as your race
or mine. They are good and loyal, and they have speech and arts, and
they slay not, save for food or to protect themselves. And I think
them beautiful, Larry, BEAUTIFUL!" She stamped her foot. "And you call
Beautiful! These? Yet, after all, they were, in their grotesque
fashion. And to Lakla, surrounded by them, from babyhood, they were
not strange, at all. Why shouldn't she think them beautiful? The same
thought must have struck O'Keefe, for he flushed guiltily.
"I think them beautiful, too, Lakla," he said remorsefully. "It's my
not knowing your tongue too well that traps me. TRULY, I think them
beautiful--I'd tell them so, if I knew their talk."
Lakla dimpled, laughed--spoke to the attendants in that strange speech
that was unquestionably a language; they bridled, looked at O'Keefe
with fantastic coquetry, cracked and boomed softly among themselves.
"They say they like YOU better than the men of Muria," laughed Lakla.
"Did I ever think I'd be swapping compliments with lady frogs!" he
murmured to me. "Buck up, Larry--keep your eyes on the captive Irish
princess!" he muttered to himself.
"Rador goes to meet one of the _ladala_ who is slipping through with
news," said the Golden Girl as we addressed ourselves to the food.
"Then, with Nak, he and Olaf go to muster the _Akka_--for there will
be battle, and we must prepare. Nak," she added, "is he who went
before me when you were dancing with Yolara, Larry." She stole a
swift, mischievous glance at him. "He is headman of all the _Akka_."
"Just what forces can we muster against them when they come, darlin'?"
"Darlin'?"--the Golden Girl had caught the caress of the word--"what's
"It's a little word that means Lakla," he answered. "It does--that
is, when I say it; when you say it, then it means Larry."
"I like that word," mused Lakla.
"You can even say Larry darlin'!" suggested O'Keefe.
"Larry darlin'!" said Lakla. "When they come we shall have first of
all my _Akka_--"
"Can they fight, _mavourneen_?" interrupted Larry.
"Can they fight! My _Akka_!" Again her eyes flashed. "They will
fight to the last of them--with the spears that give the swift
rotting, covered, as they are, with the jelly of those _Saddu_
there--" She pointed through a rift in the foliage across which, on
the surface of the sea, was floating one of the moon globes--and now I
know why Rador had warned Larry against a plunge there. "With spears
and clubs and with teeth and nails and spurs--they are a strong and
brave people, Larry--darlin', and though they hurl the _Keth_ at them,
it is slow to work upon them, and they slay even while they are
passing into the nothingness!"
"And have we none of the _Keth_?" he asked.
"No"--she shook her head--"none of their weapons have we here,
although it was--it was the Ancient Ones who shaped them."
"But the Three are of the Ancient Ones?" I cried. "Surely they can
"No," she said slowly. "No--there is something you must know--and
soon; and then the Silent Ones say you will understand. You,
especially, Goodwin, who worship wisdom."
"Then," said Larry, "we have the _Akka_; and we have the four men of
us, and among us three guns and about a hundred cartridges--an'--an'
the power of the Three--but what about the Shining One, Fireworks--"
"I do not know." Again the indecision that had been in her eyes when
Yolara had launched her defiance crept back. "The Shining One is
strong--and he has his--slaves!"
"Well, we'd better get busy good and quick!" the O'Keefe's voice rang.
But Lakla, for some reason of her own, would pursue the matter no
further. The trouble fled from her eyes--they danced.
"Larry darlin'?" she murmured. "I like the touch of your lips--"
"You do?" he whispered, all thought flying of anything but the
beautiful, provocative face so close to his. "Then, _acushla_, you're
goin' to get acquainted with 'em! Turn your head, Doc!" he said.
And I turned it. There was quite a long silence, broken by an
interested, soft outburst of gentle boomings from the serving
frog-maids. I stole a glance behind me. Lakla's head lay on the
Irishman's shoulder, the golden eyes misty sunpools of love and
adoration; and the O'Keefe, a new look of power and strength upon his
clear-cut features, was gazing down into them with that look which
rises only from the heart touched for the first time with that true,
all-powerful love, which is the pulse of the universe itself, the real
music of the spheres of which Plato dreamed, the love that is stronger
than death itself, immortal as the high gods and the true soul of all
that mystery we call life.
Then Lakla raised her hands, pressed down Larry's head, kissed him
between the eyes, drew herself with a trembling little laugh from his
"The future Mrs. Larry O'Keefe, Goodwin," said Larry to me a little
I took their hands--and Lakla kissed me!
She turned to the booming--smiling--frog-maids; gave them some
command, for they filed away down the path. Suddenly I felt, well, a
"If you don't mind," I said, "I think I'll go up the path there again
and look about."
But they were so engrossed with each other that they did not even hear
me--so I walked away, up to the embrasure where Rador had taken me.
The movement of the batrachians over the bridge had ceased. Dimly at
the far end I could see the cluster of the garrison. My thoughts flew
back to Lakla and to Larry.
What was to be the end?
If we won, if we were able to pass from this place, could she live in
our world? A product of these caverns with their atmosphere and light
that seemed in some subtle way to be both food and drink--how would
she react to the unfamiliar foods and air and light of outer earth?
Further, here so far as I was able to discover, there were no
malignant bacilli--what immunity could Lakla have then to those
microscopic evils without, which only long ages of sickness and death
have bought for us a modicum of protection? I began to be oppressed.
Surely they bad been long enough by themselves. I went down the path.
I heard Larry.
"It's a green land, _mavourneen_. And the sea rocks and dimples
around it--blue as the heavens, green as the isle itself, and foam
horses toss their white manes, and the great clean winds blow over it,
and the sun shines down on it like your eyes, _acushla_--"
"And are you a king of Ireland, Larry darlin'?" Thus Lakla--
At last we turned to go--and around the corner of the path I caught
another glimpse of what I have called the lake of jewels. I pointed to
"Those are lovely flowers, Lakla," I said. "I have never seen
anything like them in the place from whence we come."
She followed my pointing finger--laughed.
"Come," she said, "let me show you them."
She ran down an intersecting way, we following; came out of it upon a
little ledge close to the brink, three feet or more I suppose about
it. The Golden Girl's voice rang out in a high-pitched, tremulous,
The lake of jewels stirred as though a breeze had passed over it;
stirred, shook, and then began to move swiftly, a shimmering torrent
of shining flowers down upon us! She called again, the movement became
more rapid; the gem blooms streamed closer--closer, wavering,
shifting, winding--at our very feet. Above them hovered a little
radiant mist. The Golden Girl leaned over; called softly, and up from
the sparkling mass shot a green vine whose heads were five flowers of
flaming ruby--shot up, flew into her hand and coiled about the white
arm, its quintette of lambent blossoms--regarding us!
It was the thing Lakla had called the _Yekta_; that with which she had
threatened the priestess; the thing that carried the dreadful
death--and the Golden Girl was handling it like a rose!
Larry swore--I looked at the thing more closely. It was a hydroid, a
development of that strange animal-vegetable that, sometimes almost
microscopic, waves in the sea depths like a cluster of flowers
paralyzing its prey with the mysterious force that dwells in its
*1 The _Yekta_ of the Crimson Sea, are as extraordinary developments
of hydroid forms as the giant _Medusae_, of which, of course, they are
not too remote cousins. The closest resemblances to them in outer
water forms are among the _Gymnoblastic Hydroids_, notably _Clavetella
prolifera_, a most interesting ambulatory form of six tentacles.
Almost every bather in Southern waters, Northern too, knows the pain
that contact with certain "jelly fish" produces. The _Yekta's_
development was prodigious and, to us, monstrous. It secretes in its
five heads an almost incredibly swiftly acting poison which I suspect,
for I had no chance to verify the theory, destroys the entire nervous
system to the accompaniment of truly infernal agony; carrying at the
same time the illusion that the torment stretches through infinities
of time. Both ether and nitrous oxide gas produce in the majority this
sensation of time extension, without of course the pain symptom. What
Lakla called the _Yekta_ kiss is I imagine about as close to the
orthodox idea of Hell as can be conceived. The secret of her control
over them I had no opportunity of learning in the rush of events that
followed. Knowledge of the appalling effects of their touch came, she
told me, from those few "who had been kissed so lightly" that they
recovered. Certainly nothing, not even the Shining One, was dreaded by
the Murians as these were--W. T. G.
"Put it down, Lakla," the distress in O'Keefe's voice was deep. Lakla
laughed mischievously, caught the real fear for her in his eyes;
opened her hand, gave another faint call--and back it flew to its
"Why, it wouldn't hurt me, Larry!" she expostulated. "They know me!"
"Put it down!" he repeated hoarsely.
She sighed, gave another sweet, prolonged call. The lake of
gems--rubies and amethysts, mauves and scarlet-tinged blues--wavered
and shook even as it had before--and swept swiftly back to that place
whence she had drawn them!
Then, with Larry and Lakla walking ahead, white arm about his brown
neck; the O'Keefe still expostulating, the handmaiden laughing
merrily, we passed through her bower to the domed castle.
Glancing through a cleft I caught sight again of the far end of the
bridge; noted among the clustered figures of its garrison of the
frog-men a movement, a flashing of green fire like marshlights on
spear tips; wondered idly what it was, and then, other thoughts
crowding in, followed along, head bent, behind the pair who had found
in what was Olaf's hell, their true paradise.
The Coming of Yolara
"Never was there such a girl!" Thus Larry, dreamily, leaning head in
hand on one of the wide divans of the chamber where Lakla had left us,
pleading service to the Silent Ones.
"An', by the faith and the honour of the O'Keefes, an' by my dead
mother's soul may God do with me as I do by her!" he whispered
He relapsed into open-eyed dreaming.
I walked about the room, examining it--the first opportunity I had
gained to inspect carefully any of the rooms in the abode of the
Three. It was octagonal, carpeted with the thick rugs that seemed
almost as though woven of soft mineral wool, faintly shimmering,
palest blue. I paced its diagonal; it was fifty yards; the ceiling was
arched, and either of pale rose metal or metallic covering; it
collected the light from the high, slitted windows, and shed it,
diffused, through the room.
Around the octagon ran a low gallery not two feet from the floor,
balustraded with slender pillars, close set; broken at opposite
curtained entrances over which hung thick, dull-gold curtainings
giving the same suggestion of metallic or mineral substance as the
rugs. Set within each of the eight sides, above the balcony, were
colossal slabs of lapis lazuli, inset with graceful but unplaceable
designs in scarlet and sapphire blue.
There was the great divan on which mused Larry; two smaller ones, half
a dozen low seats and chairs carved apparently of ivory and of dull
Most curious were tripods, strong, pikelike legs of golden metal four
feet high, holding small circles of the lapis with intaglios of one
curious symbol somewhat resembling the ideographs of the Chinese.
There was no dust--nowhere in these caverned spaces had I found this
constant companion of ours in the world overhead. My eyes caught a
sparkle from a corner. Pursuing it I found upon one of the low seats a
flat, clear crystal oval, remarkably like a lens. I took it and
stepped up on the balcony. Standing on tiptoe I found I commanded from
the bottom of a window slit a view of the bridge approach. Scanning it
I could see no trace of the garrison there, nor of the green spear
flashes. I placed the crystal to my eyes--and with a disconcerting
abruptness the cavern mouth leaped before me, apparently not a hundred
feet away; decidedly the crystal was a very excellent lens--but where
were the guards?
I peered closely. Nothing! But now against the aperture I saw a
score or more of tiny, dancing sparks. An optical illusion, I thought,
and turned the crystal in another direction. There were no sparklings
there. I turned it back again--and there they were. And what were
they like? Realization came to me--they were like the little, dancing,
radiant atoms that had played for a time about the emptiness where had
stood Sorgar of the Lower Waters before he bad been shaken into the
nothingness! And that green light I had noticed--the _Keth_!
A cry on my lips, I turned to Larry--and the cry died as the heavy
curtainings at the entrance on my right undulated, parted as though a
body had slipped through, shook and parted again and again--with the
dreadful passing of unseen things!
"Larry!" I cried. "Here! Quick!"
He leaped to his feet, gazed about wildly--and disappeared!
Yes--vanished from my sight like the snuffed flame of a candle or as
though something moving with the speed of light itself had snatched
Then from the divan came the sounds of struggle, the hissing of
straining breaths, the noise of Larry cursing. I leaped over the
balustrade, drawing my own pistol--was caught in a pair of mighty
arms, my elbows crushed to my sides, drawn down until my face pressed
close to a broad, hairy breast--and through that obstacle--formless,
shadowless, transparent as air itself--I could still see the battle on
Now there were two sharp reports; the struggle abruptly ceased. From
a point not a foot over the great couch, as though oozing from the air
itself, blood began to drop, faster and ever faster, pouring out of
And out of that same air, now a dozen feet away, leaped the face of
Larry--bodyless, poised six feet above the floor, blazing with
rage--floating weirdly, uncannily to a hideous degree, in vacancy.
His hands flashed out--armless; they wavered, appearing,
disappearing--swiftly tearing something from him. Then there, feet
hidden, stiff on legs that vanished at the ankles, striking out into
vision with all the dizzy abruptness with which he had been stricken
from sight was the O'Keefe, a smoking pistol in hand.
And ever that red stream trickled out of vacancy and spread over the
couch, dripping to the floor.
I made a mighty movement to escape; was held more firmly--and then
close to the face of Larry, flashing out with that terrifying
instantaneousness even as had his, was the head of Yolara, as
devilishly mocking as I had ever seen it, the cruelty shining through
it like delicate white flames from hell--and beautiful!
"Stir not! Strike not--until I command!" She flung the words beyond
her, addressed to the invisible ones who had accompanied her; whose
presences I sensed filling the chamber. The floating, beautiful head,
crowned high with corn-silk hair, darted toward the Irishman. He took
a swift step backward. The eyes of the priestess deepened toward
purple; sparkled with malice.
"So," she said. "So, _Larree_--you thought you could go from me so
easily!" She laughed softly. "In my hidden hand I hold the _Keth_
cone," she murmured. "Before you can raise the death tube I can smite
you--and will. And consider, _Larree_, if the handmaiden, the _choya_
comes, I can vanish--so"--the mocking head disappeared, burst forth
again--"and slay her with the _Keth_--or bid my people seize her and
bear her to the Shining One!"
Tiny beads of sweat stood out on O'Keefe's forehead, and I knew he was
thinking not of himself, but of Lakla.
"What do you want with me, Yolara?" he asked hoarsely.
"Nay," came the mocking voice. "Not Yolara to you, _Larree_--call me
by those sweet names you taught me--Honey of the Wild Bee-e-s, Net of
Hearts--" Again her laughter tinkled.
"What do you want with me?" his voice was strained, the lips rigid.
"Ah, you are afraid, _Larree_." There was diabolic jubilation in the
words. "What should I want but that you return with me? Why else did I
creep through the lair of the dragon worm and pass the path of perils
but to ask you that? And the _choya_ guards you not well." Again she
laughed. "We came to the cavern's end and, there were her _Akka_. And
the _Akka_ can see us--as shadows. But it was my desire to surprise
you with my coming, Larree," the voice was silken. "And I feared that
they would hasten to be first to bring you that message to delight in
your joy. And so, _Larree_, I loosed the _Keth_ upon them--and gave
them peace and rest within the nothingness. And the portal below was
open--almost in welcome!"
Once more the malignant, silver pealing of her laughter.
"What do you want with me?" There was wrath in his eyes, and plainly
he strove for control.
"Want!" the silver voice hissed, grew calm. "Do not Siya and Siyana
grieve that the rite I pledged them is but half done--and do they not
desire it finished? And am I not beautiful? More beautiful than your
The fiendishness died from the eyes; they grew blue, wondrous; the
veil of invisibility slipped down from the neck, the shoulders, half
revealing the gleaming breasts. And weird, weird beyond all telling
was that exquisite head and bust floating there in air--and beautiful,
sinisterly beautiful beyond all telling, too. So even might Lilith,
the serpent woman, have shown herself tempting Adam!
"And perhaps," she said, "perhaps I want you because I hate you;
perhaps because I love you--or perhaps for Lugur or perhaps for the
"And if I go with you?" He said it quietly.
"Then shall I spare the handmaiden--and--who knows?--take back my
armies that even now gather at the portal and let the Silent Ones rot
in peace in their abode--from which they had no power to keep me," she
"You will swear that, Yolara; swear to go without harming the
handmaiden?" he asked eagerly. The little devils danced in her eyes. I
wrenched my face from the smothering contact.
"Don't trust her, Larry!" I cried--and again the grip choked me.
"Is that devil in front of you or behind you, old man?" he asked
quietly, eyes never leaving the priestess. "If he's in front I'll take
a chance and wing him--and then you scoot and warn Lakla."
But I could not answer; nor, remembering Yolara's threat, would I, had
I been able.
"Decide quickly!" There was cold threat in her voice.
The curtains toward which O'Keefe had slowly, step by step, drawn
close, opened. They framed the handmaiden! The face of Yolara changed
to that gorgon mask that had transformed it once before at sight of
the Golden Girl. In her blind rage she forgot to cast the occulting
veil. Her hand darted like a snake out of the folds; poising itself
with the little silver cone aimed at Lakla.
But before it was wholly poised, before the priestess could loose its
force, the handmaiden was upon her. Swift as the lithe white wolf
hound she leaped, and one slender hand gripped Yolara's throat, the
other the wrist that lifted the quivering death; white limbs wrapped
about the hidden ones, I saw the golden head bend, the hand that held
the _Keth_ swept up with a vicious jerk; saw Lakla's teeth sink into
the wrist--the blood spurt forth and heard the priestess shriek. The
cone fell, bounded toward me; with all my strength I wrenched free the
hand that held my pistol, thrust it against the pressing breast and
The clasp upon me relaxed; a red rain stained me; at my feet a little
pillar of blood jetted; a hand thrust itself from nothingness,
clawed--and was still.
Now Yolara was down, Lakla meshed in her writhings and fighting like
some wild mother whose babes are serpent menaced. Over the two of
them, astride, stood the O'Keefe, a pike from one of the high tripods
in his hand--thrusting, parrying, beating on every side as with a
broadsword against poniard-clutching hands that thrust themselves out
of vacancy striving to strike him; stepping here and there, always
covering, protecting Lakla with his own body even as a caveman of old
who does battle with his mate for their lives.
The sword-club struck--and on the floor lay the half body of a dwarf,
writhing with vanishments and reappearings of legs and arms. Beside
him was the shattered tripod from which Larry had wrenched his weapon.
I flung myself upon it, dashed it down to break loose one of the
remaining supports, struck in midfall one of the unseen even as his
dagger darted toward me! The seat splintered, leaving in my clutch a
golden bar. I jumped to Larry's side, guarding his back, whirling it
like a staff; felt it crunch once--twice--through unseen bone and
At the door was a booming. Into the chamber rushed a dozen of the
frog-men. While some guarded the entrances, others leaped straight to
us, and forming a circle about us began to strike with talons and
spurs at unseen things that screamed and sought to escape. Now here
and there about the blue rugs great stains of blood appeared; heads of
dwarfs, torn arms and gashed bodies, half occulted, half revealed. And
at last the priestess lay silent, vanquished, white body gleaming with
that uncanny--fragmentariness--from her torn robes. Then O'Keefe
reached down, drew Lakla from her. Shakily, Yolara rose to her feet.
The handmaiden, face still blazing with wrath, stepped before her;
with difficulty she steadied her voice.
"Yolara," she said, "you have defied the Silent Ones, you have
desecrated their abode, you came to slay these men who are the guests
of the Silent Ones and me, who am their handmaiden--why did you do
"I came for him!" gasped the priestess; she pointed to O'Keefe.
"Why?" asked Lakla.
"Because he is pledged to me," replied Yolara, all the devils that
were hers in her face. "Because he wooed me! Because he is mine!"
"That is a lie!" The handmaiden's voice shook with rage. "It is a lie!
But here and now he shall choose, Yolara. And if you he choose, you
and he shall go forth from here unmolested--for Yolara, it is his
happiness that I most desire, and if you are that happiness--you shall
go together. And now, Larry, choose!"
Swiftly she stepped beside the priestess; swiftly wrenched the last
shreds of the hiding robes from her.
There they stood--Yolara with but the filmiest net of gauze about her
wonderful body; gleaming flesh shining through it; serpent woman---and
wonderful, too, beyond the dreams even of Phidias--and hell-fire
glowing from the purple eyes.
And Lakla, like a girl of the Vikings, like one of those warrior maids
who stood and fought for dun and babes at the side of those old heroes
of Larry's own green isle; translucent ivory lambent through the rents
of her torn draperies, and in the wide, golden eyes flaming wrath,
indeed--not the diabolic flames of the priestess but the righteous
wrath of some soul that looking out of paradise sees vile wrong in the
"Lakla," the O'Keefe's voice was subdued, hurt, "there IS no choice.
I love you and only you--and have from the moment I saw you. It's not
easy--this. God, Goodwin, I feel like an utter cad," he flashed at me.
"There is no choice, Lakla," he ended, eyes steady upon hers.
The priestess's face grew deadlier still.
"What will you do with me?" she asked.
"Keep you," I said, "as hostage."
O'Keefe was silent; the Golden Girl shook her head.
"Well would I like to," her face grew dreaming; "but the Silent Ones
say--NO; they bid me let you go, Yolara--"
"The Silent Ones," the priestess laughed. "YOU, Lakla! You fear,
perhaps, to let me tarry here too close!"
Storm gathered again in the handmaiden's eyes; she forced it back.
"No," she answered, "the Silent Ones so command--and for their own
purposes. Yet do I think, Yolara, that you will have little time to
feed your wickedness--tell that to Lugur--and to your Shining One!"
she added slowly.
Mockery and disbelief rode high in the priestess's pose. "Am I to
return alone--like this?" she asked.
"Nay, Yolara, nay; you shall be accompanied," said Lakla; "and by
those who will guard--and WATCH--you well. They are here even now."
The hangings parted, and into the chamber came Olaf and Rador.
The priestess met the fierce hatred and contempt in the eyes of the
Norseman--and for the first time lost her bravado.
"Let not HIM go with me," she gasped--her eyes searched the floor
"He goes with you," said Lakla, and threw about Yolara a swathing that
covered the exquisite, alluring body. "And you shall pass through the
Portal, not skulk along the path of the worm!"
She bent to Rador, whispered to him; he nodded; she had told him, I
supposed, the secret of its opening.
"Come," he said, and with the ice-eyed giant behind her, Yolara, head
bent, passed out of those hangings through which, but a little before,
unseen, triumph in her grasp, she had slipped.
Then Lakla came to the unhappy O'Keefe, rested her hands on his
shoulders, looked deep into his eyes.
"DID you woo her, even as she said?" she asked.
The Irishman flushed miserably.
"I did not," he said. "I was pleasant to her, of course, because I
thought it would bring me quicker to you, darlin'."
She looked at him doubtfully; then--
"I think you must have been VERY--pleasant!" was all she said--and
leaning, kissed him forgivingly straight on the lips. An extremely
direct maiden was Lakla, with a truly sovereign contempt for anything
she might consider non-essentials; and at this moment I decided she
was wiser even than I had thought her.
He stumbled, feet vanishing; reached down and picked up something that
in the grasping turned his hand to air.
"One of the invisible cloaks," he said to me. "There must be quite a
lot of them about--I guess Yolara brought her full staff of murderers.
They're a bit shopworn, probably--but we're considerably better off
with 'em in our hands than in hers. And they may come in handy--who
There was a choking rattle at my feet; half the head of a dwarf raised
out of vacancy; beat twice upon the floor in death throes; fell back.
Lakla shivered; gave a command. The frog-men moved about; peering here
and there; lifting unseen folds revealing in stark rigidity torn form
after form of the priestess's men.
Lakla had been right--her _Akka_ were thorough fighters!
She called, and to her came the frog-woman who was her attendant. To
her the handmaiden spoke, pointing to the batrachians who stood, paws
and forearms melted beneath the robes they had gathered. She took them
and passed out--more grotesque than ever, shattering into streaks of
vacancies, reappearing with flickers of shining scale and yellow gems
as the tattered pennants of invisibility fluttered about her.
The frog-men reached down, swung each a dead dwarf in his arms, and
filed, booming triumphantly away.
And then I remembered the cone of the _Keth_ which had slipped from
Yolara's hand; knew it had been that for which her wild eyes searched.
But look as closely as we might, search in every nook and corner as we
did, we could not find it. Had the dying hand of one of her men
clutched it and had it been borne away with them? With the thought
Larry and I raced after the scaled warriors, searched every body they
carried. It was not there. Perhaps the priestess had found it,
retrieved it swiftly without our seeing.
Whatever was true--the cone was gone. And what a weapon that one
little holder of the shaking death would have been for us!
In the Lair of the Dweller
It is with marked hesitation that I begin this chapter, because in it
I must deal with an experience so contrary to every known law of
physics as to seem impossible. Until this time, barring, of course,
the mystery of the Dweller, I had encountered nothing that was not
susceptible of naturalistic explanation; nothing, in a word, outside
the domain of science itself; nothing that I would have felt hesitancy
in reciting to my colleagues of the International Association of
Science. Amazing, unfamiliar--ADVANCED--as many of the phenomena were,
still they lay well within the limits of what we have mapped as the
possible; in regions, it is true, still virgin to the mind of man, but
toward which that mind is steadily advancing.
But this--well, I confess that I have a theory that is naturalistic;
but so abstruse, so difficult to make clear within the short confines
of the space I have to give it, so dependent upon conceptions that
even the highest-trained scientific brains find difficult to grasp,
that I despair.
I can only say that the thing occurred; that it took place in
precisely the manner I am about to narrate, and that I experienced it.
Yet, in justice to myself, I must open up some paths of preliminary
approach toward the heart of the perplexity. And the first path is the
realization that our world WHATEVER it is, is certainly NOT the world
as we see it! Regarding this I shall refer to a discourse upon
"Gravitation and the Principle of Relativity," by the distinguished
English physicist, Dr. A. S. Eddington, which I had the pleasure of
hearing him deliver before the Royal Institution. *1
*1 Reprinted in full in _Nature_, in which those sufficiently interested
may peruse it.--W. T. G.
I realize, of course, that it is not true logic to argue--"The world
is not as we think it is--therefore everything we think impossible is
possible in it." Even if it BE different, it is governed by LAW. The
truly impossible is that which is outside law, and as nothing CAN be
outside law, the impossible CANNOT exist.
The crux of the matter then becomes our determination whether what we
think is impossible may or may not be possible under laws still beyond
I hope that you will pardon me for this somewhat academic digression,
but I felt it was necessary, and it has, at least, put me more at
ease. And now to resume.
We had watched, Larry and I, the frog-men throw the bodies of Yolara's
assassins into the crimson waters. As vultures swoop down upon the
dying, there came sailing swiftly to where the dead men floated,
dozens of the luminous globes. Their slender, varicoloured tentacles
whipped out; the giant iridescent bubbles CLIMBED over the cadavers.
And as they touched them there was the swift dissolution, the melting
away into putrescence of flesh and bone that I had witnessed when the
dart touched fruit that time I had saved Rador--and upon this the
Medusae gorged; pulsing lambently; their wondrous colours shifting,
changing, glowing stronger; elfin moons now indeed, but satellites
whose glimmering beauty was fed by death; alembics of enchantment
whose glorious hues were sucked from horror.
Sick, I turned away--O'Keefe as pale as I; passed back into the
corridor that had opened on the ledge from which we had watched; met
Lakla hurrying toward us. Before she could speak there throbbed
faintly about us a vast sighing. It grew into a murmur, a whispering,
shook us--then passing like a presence, died away in far distance.
"The Portal has opened," said the handmaiden. A fainter sighing, like
an echo of the other, mourned about us. "Yolara is gone," she said,
"the Portal is closed. Now must we hasten--for the Three have
commanded that you, Goodwin, and Larry and I tread that strange road
of which I have spoken, and which Olaf may not take lest his heart
break--and we must return ere he and Rador cross the bridge."
Her hand sought Larry's.
"Come!" said Lakla, and we walked on; down and down through hall after
hall, flight upon flight of stairways. Deep, deep indeed, we must be
beneath the domed castle--Lakla paused before a curved, smooth breast
of the crimson stone rounding gently into the passage. She pressed its
side; it revolved; we entered; it closed behind us.
The room, the--hollow--in which we stood was faceted like a diamond;
and like a cut brilliant its sides glistened--though dully. Its shape
was a deep oval, and our path dropped down to a circular polished
base, roughly two yards in diameter. Glancing behind me I saw that in
the closing of the entrance there had been left no trace of it save
the steps that led from where that entrance had been--and as I looked
these steps TURNED, leaving us isolated upon the circle, only the
faceted walls about us--and in each of the gleaming faces the three of
us reflected--dimly. It was as though we were within a diamond egg
whose graven angles bad been turned INWARD.
But the oval was not perfect; at my right a screen cut it--a screen
that gleamed with fugitive, fleeting luminescences--stretching from
the side of our standing place up to the tip of the chamber; slightly
convex and crisscrossed by millions of fine lines like those upon a
spectroscopic plate, but with this difference--that within each line I
sensed the presence of multitudes of finer lines, dwindling into
infinitude, ultramicroscopic, traced by some instrument compared to
whose delicacy our finest tool would be as a crowbar to the needle of
A foot or two from it stood something like the standee of a compass,
bearing, like it a cradled dial under whose crystal ran concentric
rings of prisoned, lambent vapours, faintly blue. From the edge of the
dial jutted a little shelf of crystal, a keyboard, in which were cut
eight small cups.
Within these cups the handmaiden placed her tapering fingers. She
gazed down upon the disk; pressed a digit--and the screen behind us
slipped noiselessly into another angle.
"Put your arm around my waist, Larry, darlin', and stand close," she
murmured. "You, Goodwin, place your arm over my shoulder."
Wondering, I did as she bade; she pressed other fingers upon the
shelf's indentations--three of the rings of vapour spun into intense
light, raced around each other; from the screen behind us grew a
radiance that held within itself all spectrums--not only those seen,
but those UNSEEN by man's eyes. It waxed brilliant and ever more
brilliant, all suffusing, passing through me as day streams through a
The enclosing facets burst into a blaze of coruscations, and in each
sparkling panel I saw our images, shaken and torn like pennants in a
whirlwind. I turned to look--was stopped by the handmaiden's swift
command: "Turn not--on your life!"
The radiance behind me grew; was a rushing tempest of light in which I
was but the shadow of a shadow. I heard, but not with my ears--nay
with MIND itself--a vast roaring; an ORDERED tumult of sound that came
hurling from the outposts of space; approaching--rushing--hurricane
out of the heart of the cosmos--closer, closer. It wrapped itself
about us with unearthly mighty arms.
And brilliant, ever more brilliant, streamed the radiance through us.
The faceted walls dimmed; in front of me they melted, diaphanously,
like a gelatinous wall in a blast of flame; through their vanishing,
under the torrent of driving light, the unthinkable, impalpable
tornado, I began to move, slowly--then ever more swiftly!
Still the roaring grew; the radiance streamed--ever faster we went.
Cutting down through the length, the EXTENSION of me, dropped a wall
of rock, foreshortened, clenched close; I caught a glimpse of the
elfin gardens; they whirled, contracted, into a thin--slice--of colour
that was a part of me; another wall of rock shrinking into a thin
wedge through which I flew, and that at once took its place within me
like a card slipped beside those others!
Flashing around me, and from Lakla and O'Keefe, were nimbuses of
flickering scarlet flames. And always the steady hurling
Another barrier of rock--a gleam of white waters incorporating
themselves into my--DRAWING OUT--even as were the flowered moss lands,
the slicing, rocky walls--still another rampart of cliff, dwindling
instantly into the vertical plane of those others. Our flight checked;
we seemed to hover within, then to sway onward--slowly, cautiously.
A mist danced ahead of me--a mist that grew steadily thinner. We
stopped, wavered--the mist cleared.
I looked out into translucent, green distances; shot with swift
prismatic gleamings; waves and pulsings of luminosity like midday sun
glow through green, tropic waters: dancing, scintillating veils of
sparkling atoms that flew, hither and yon, through depths of nebulous
And Lakla and Larry and I were, I saw, like shadow shapes upon a
smooth breast of stone twenty feet or more above the surface of this
place--a surface spangled with tiny white blossoms gleaming wanly
through creeping veils of phosphorescence like smoke of moon fire. We
were shadows--and yet we had substance; we were incorporated with, a
part of, the rock--and yet we were living flesh and blood; we
stretched--nor will I qualify this--we STRETCHED through mile upon
mile of space that weirdly enough gave at one and the same time an
absolute certainty of immense horizontal lengths and a vertical
concentration that contained nothing of length, nothing of space
whatever; we stood THERE upon the face of the stone--and still we were
HERE within the faceted oval before the screen of radiance!
"Steady!" It was Lakla's voice--and not beside me THERE, but at my ear
close before the screen. "Steady, Goodwin! And--see!"
The sparkling haze cleared. Enormous reaches stretched before me.
Shimmering up through them, and as though growing in some medium
thicker than air, was mass upon mass of verdure--fruiting trees and
trees laden with pale blossoms, arbours and bowers of pallid blooms,
like that sea fruit of oblivion--grapes of Lethe--that cling to the
tide-swept walls of the caverns of the Hebrides.
Through them, beyond them, around and about them, drifted and eddied a
horde--great as that with which Tamerlane swept down upon Rome, vast
as the myriads which Genghis Khan rolled upon the califs--men and
women and children--clothed in tatters, half nude and wholly naked;
slant-eyed Chinese, sloe-eyed Malays, islanders black and brown and
yellow, fierce-faced warriors of the Solomons with grizzled locks
fantastically bedizened; Papuans, feline Javans, Dyaks of hill and
shore; hook-nosed Phoenicians, Romans, straight-browed Greeks, and
Vikings centuries BEYOND their lives: scores of the black-haired
Murians; white faces of our own Westerners--men and women and children
--drifting, eddying--each stamped with that mingled horror and
rapture, eyes filled with ecstasy and terror entwined, marked by God
and devil in embrace--the seal of the Shining One--the dead-alive; the
The loot of the Dweller!
Soul-sick, I gazed. They lifted to us visages of dread; they swept
down toward us, glaring upward--a bank against which other and still
other waves of faces rolled, were checked, paused; until as far as I
could see, like billows piled upon an ever-growing barrier, they
stretched beneath us--staring--staring!
Now there was a movement--far, far away; a concentrating of the
lambency; the dead-alive swayed, oscillated, separated--forming a long
lane against whose outskirts they crowded with avid, hungry
First only a luminous cloud, then a whirling pillar of splendours
through the lane came--the Shining One. As it passed, the dead-alive
swirled in its wake like leaves behind a whirlwind, eddying, twisting;
and as the Dweller raced by them, brushing them with its spirallings
and tentacles, they shone forth with unearthly, awesome
gleamings--like vessels of alabaster in which wicks flare suddenly.
And when it had passed they closed behind it, staring up at us once
The Dweller paused beneath us.
Out of the drifting ruck swam the body of Throckmartin! Throckmartin,
my friend, to find whom I had gone to the pallid moon door; my friend
whose call I had so laggardly followed. On his face was the Dweller's
dreadful stamp; the lips were bloodless; the eyes were wide, lucent,
something like pale, phosphorescence gleaming within them--and
He stared straight up at me, unwinking, unrecognizing. Pressing
against his side was a woman, young and gentle, and lovely--lovely
even through the mask that lay upon her face. And her wide eyes, like
Throckmartin's, glowed with the lurking, unholy fires. She pressed
against him closely; though the hordes kept up the faint churning,
these two kept ever together, as though bound by unseen fetters.
And I knew the girl for Edith, his wife, who in vain effort to save
him had cast herself into the Dweller's embrace!
"Throckmartin!" I cried. "Throckmartin! I'm here!"
Did he hear? I know now, of course, he could not.
But then I waited--hope striving to break through the nightmare hands
that gripped my heart.
Their wide eyes never left me. There was another movement about them,
others pushed past them; they drifted back, swaying, eddying--and
still staring were lost in the awful throng.
Vainly I strained my gaze to find them again, to force some sign of
recognition, some awakening of the clean life we know. But they were
gone. Try as I would I could not see them--nor Stanton and the
northern woman named Thora who had been the first of that tragic party
to be taken by the Dweller.
"Throckmartin!" I cried again, despairingly. My tears blinded me.
I felt Lakla's light touch.
"Steady," she commanded, pitifully. "Steady, Goodwin. You cannot help
them--now! Steady and--watch!"
Below us the Shining One had paused--spiralling, swirling, vibrant
with all its transcendent, devilish beauty; had paused and was
contemplating us. Now I could see clearly that nucleus, that core shot
through with flashing veins of radiance, that ever-shifting shape of
glory through the shroudings of shimmering, misty plumes, throbbing
lacy opalescences, vaporous spirallings of prismatic phantom fires.
Steady over it hung the seven little moons of amethyst, of saffron, of
emerald and azure and silver, of rose of life and moon white. They
poised themselves like a diadem--calm, serene, immobile--and down
from them into the Dweller, piercing plumes and swirls and spirals,
ran countless tiny strands, radiations, finer than the finest spun
thread of spider's web, gleaming filaments through which seemed to
run--POWER--from the seven globes; like--yes, that was it--miniatures
of the seven torrents of moon flame that poured through the
septichromatic, high crystals in the Moon Pool's chamber roof.
Swam out of the coruscating haze the--face!
Both of man and of woman it was--like some ancient, androgynous deity
of Etruscan fanes long dust, and yet neither woman nor man; human and
unhuman, seraphic and sinister, benign and malefic--and still no more
of these four than is flame, which is beautiful whether it warms or
devours, or wind whether it feathers the trees or shatters them, or
the wave which is wondrous whether it caresses or kills.
Subtly, undefinably it was of our world and of one not ours. Its
lineaments flowed from another sphere, took fleeting familiar
form--and as swiftly withdrew whence they had come; something
amorphous, unearthly--as of unknown unheeding, unseen gods rushing
through the depths of star-hung space; and still of our own earth,
with the very soul of earth peering out from it, caught within it--and
in some--unholy--way debased.
It had eyes--eyes that were now only shadows darkening within its
luminosity like veils falling, and falling, OPENING windows into the
unknowable; deepening into softly glowing blue pools, blue as the Moon
Pool itself; then flashing out, and this only when the--face--bore its
most human resemblance, into twin stars large almost as the crown of
little moons; and with that same baffling suggestion of peep-holes
into a world untrodden, alien, perilous to man!
"Steady!" came Lakla's voice, her body leaned against mine.
I gripped myself, my brain steadied, I looked again. And I saw that
of body, at least body as we know it, the Shining One had
none--nothing but the throbbing, pulsing core streaked with lightning
veins of rainbows; and around this, never still, sheathing it, the
swirling, glorious veilings of its hell and heaven born radiance.
So the Dweller stood--and gazed.
Then up toward us swept a reaching, questing spiral!
Under my hand Lakla's shoulder quivered; Dead-Alive and their master
vanished--I danced, flickered, WITHIN the rock; felt a swift sense of
shrinking, of withdrawal; slice upon slice the carded walls of stone,
of silvery waters, of elfin gardens slipped from me as cards are
withdrawn from a pack, one by one--slipped, wheeled, flattened, and
lengthened out as I passed through them and they passed from me.
Gasping, shaken, weak, I stood within the faceted oval chamber; arm
still about the handmaiden's white shoulder; Larry's hand still
clutching her girdle.
The roaring, impalpable gale from the cosmos was retreating to the
outposts of space--was still; the intense, streaming, flooding
"Now have you beheld," said Lakla, "and well you trod the road. And
now shall you hear, even as the Silent Ones have commanded, what the
Shining One is--and how it came to be."
The steps flashed back; the doorway into the chamber opened.
Larry as silent as I--we followed her through it.
The Shaping of the Shining One
We reached what I knew to be Lakla's own boudoir, if I may so call it.
Smaller than any of the other chambers of the domed castle in which we
had been, its intimacy was revealed not only by its faint fragrance
but by its high mirrors of polished silver and various oddly wrought
articles of the feminine toilet that lay here and there; things I
afterward knew to be the work of the artisans of the _Akka_--and no
mean metal workers were they. One of the window slits dropped almost
to the floor, and at its base was a wide, comfortably cushioned seat
commanding a view of the bridge and of the cavern ledge. To this the
handmaiden beckoned us; sank upon it, drew Larry down beside her and
motioned me to sit close to him.
"Now this," she said, "is what the Silent Ones have commanded me to
tell you two: To you Larry, that knowing you may weigh all things in
your mind and answer as your spirit bids you a question that the Three
will ask--and what that is I know not," she murmured, "and I, they
say, must answer, too--and it--frightens me!"
The great golden eyes widened; darkened with dread; she sighed, shook
her head impatiently.
"Not like us, and never like us," she spoke low, wonderingly, "the
Silent Ones say were they. Nor were those from which they sprang like
those from which we have come. Ancient, ancient beyond thought are the
_Taithu_, the race of the Silent Ones. Far, far below this place where
now we sit, close to earth heart itself were they born; and there they
dwelt for time upon time, _laya_ upon _laya_ upon _laya_--with others,
not like them, some of which have vanished time upon time agone,
others that still dwell--below--in their--cradle.
"It is hard"--she hesitated--"hard to tell this--that slips through my
mind--because I know so little that even as the Three told it to me it
passed from me for lack of place to stand upon," she went on,
quaintly. "Something there was of time when earth and sun were but
cold mists in the--the heavens--something of these mists drawing
together, whirling, whirling, faster and faster--drawing as they
whirled more and more of the mists--growing larger, growing
warm--forming at last into the globes they are, with others spinning
around the sun--something of regions within this globe where vast fire
was prisoned and bursting forth tore and rent the young orb--of one
such bursting forth that sent what you call moon flying out to company
us and left behind those spaces whence we now dwell--and of--of life
particles that here and there below grew into the race of the Silent
Ones, and those others--but not the _Akka_ which, like you, they say
came from above--and all this I do not understand--do you, Goodwin?"
she appealed to me.
I nodded--for what she had related so fragmentarily was in reality an
excellent approach to the Chamberlain-Moulton theory of a coalescing
nebula contracting into the sun and its planets.
Astonishing was the recognition of this theory. Even more so was the
reference to the life particles, the idea of Arrhenius, the great
Swede, of life starting on earth through the dropping of minute, life
SPORES, propelled through space by the driving power of light and,
encountering favourable environment here, developing through the vast
ages into man and every other living thing we know. *1
*1 Professor Svante August Arrhenius, in his _Worlds in the Making_--
the conception that life is universally diffused, constantly emitted
from all habitable worlds in the form of spores which traverse space
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