The Conquest of the Moon Pool/Chapter 19
THE MEETING OF TITANS
IT IS not my intention, nor is it possible no matter how interesting to me, to set down ad seriatum the happenings of the next twelve hours. But a few will not be denied recital.
Lakla, shining-eyed, filled with extremely grateful news—
"The Three say again to have no fear of the Keth, nor for aught else of the weapons of light of Yolara," she said. "The Akka must face them, it is true—and would I could help my people," she sighed.
"But against us here, or the bridge or the abode, those things will be helpless. I have other tidings that I am afraid will please you little, Larry darlin'." She was half fearful. "The Silent Ones say that you must not go into battle yourself. You must stay here with me, and with Goodwin—for if—if—the Shining One does come, then must we both be here to meet it. And you might not be, you, know, Larry, if you fight," she said, looking shyly up at him from under the long lashes.
The O'Keefe's jaw dropped. "That's about the hardest yet," he answered slowly.
Olaf's fierce joy in the coming fray—
"The Norns spin close to the end of this web," he rumbled. "Ja! And the threads of Lugur and the Heks woman are between their fingers for the breaking! Thor will be with me, and I have fashioned me a hammer in glory of Thor." In his hand was an enormous mace of black metal, fully five feet long, crowned with a massive head. "I fashioned it at a forge of the frog-men from something I found here."
"But I go not from here," he said, "No, the gods tell me I shall not. I know that mine Helma is to be freed from death-in-life, and we go out together as we sailed together—to meet the yndllng! Ja!"
I pass to the twelve hours' closing.
At the end of the coria road where the giant fern-land met the edge of the cavern's ruby floor, hundreds of the Akka were stationed in ambush, armed with their spears tipped with the rotting death and their nail-studded, metal-headed clubs. These were to attack when the Murians debouched from the corials. We had little hope of doing more here than effect some attrition of Yolara's hosts, for at this place the captains of the Shining One could wield the Keth and their other uncanny weapons freely. We had learned, too, that every forge and artisan had been put to work to make an armor Von Hetzdorp had devised to withstand the natural battle equipment of the frog-people—and both Larry and I had a disquieting faith in the German's ingenuity.
At any rate the numbers against us would be lessened.
Next, under the direction of the frog-king, levies commanded by subsidiary chieftains had completed the rows of rough walls along the probable route of the Murians through the cavern. "These afforded the Akka a fair protection behind which they could hurl their darts and spears.
At the opening of the cavern the strong barricade we had planned stretched almost to the two ends of the crescent strand. Almost, I say, because there had not been time to build it entirely across the mouth.
And from edge to edge of the titanic bridge, from where it sprang outward at the shore of the Crimson Sea to a hundred feet away from this golden door of the abode, barrier after barrier was piled."
Behind the wall defending the mouth of the cavern waited other thousands of the Akka. At each end of the unfinished barricade they were mustered thickly, and at right and left of the crescent where their forests began, more legions were assembled to make way up to the ledge.
Rank upon rank they manned the bridge barriers. They swarmed over the pinnacles and in the hollows of the island's ragged outer lips. The domed castle was a hive of them, if I may mix metaphors—and the rocks and gardens that surrounded the abode glittered with them.
Upon their stick-at-itiveness, fearlessness, and the sheer weight of their numbers we had, perforce, to rest our hopes. It was primitive strategy, no doubt, but what else could we do? And at last, when all was finished, the handmaiden came to us, rather guiltily, bearing with her frog-woman armsful of metallic robes like that she had worn when she faced Yolara in the banquet hall.
"They are shields against the Keth," she explained.
"But, darlin', the Three have said that we need not fear the Keth here," objected Larry.
"I know," she said; "but I'd feel much better if you wore one, Larry," she ended defiantly.
"Far be it from me to give you any more worry than you've got," answered the O'Keefe, and he donned one. Rador and I—then Olaf, after a little hesitation—followed his example.
Upon Nak, the Frog King, she threw another, showing him how to cover his great eyes, and then, because the folds came hardly to his knees, she cut the hem from another, stitching it rapidly on with a long needle of curious iridescent metal. Of the robes left there were enough to cover three of his captains. And queer enough the four looked as they strode away, out upon the bridge to take their places at the head of their forces.
"Now," said the handmaiden, "there's nothing else we can do, save wait."
She led us out through her bower and up the little path that ran to the embrasure I have described in a previous chapter.
We watched, all of us—even Lakla, to whom the sight was at least partly familiar—a little awed.
Raising my glass, I saw the lines of the Akka furthest away leap into sudden activity. Spurred warrior after warrior leaped upon the barricade and over it. Flashes of intense green light, mingled with gleams like lightning strokes of concentrated moon rays, sprang from behind the wall—sprang and struck and burned upon the scales of the batracians,
"They come!" whispered Lakla. "They have won through! And they use the Keth upon my Akka!" Her hands clenched; her eyes blazed.
At the far ends of the crescent a terrific milling had begun. Here it was plain the Akka were holding. Faintly, for the distance was great, I could see fresh force upon force rush up and take the places of those who had fallen.
Over each of these ends, and along the whole line of the barricade a mist of dancing, diamonded atoms began to rise; sparkling, coruscating points of diamond dust that darted and danced.
What had once been Lakla's guardians dancing now in the nothingness!
"God, but it's hard to stay here like this!" groaned the O'Keefe; Olaf's teeth were bared, the lips drawn back in such a fighting grin as his ancestors berserk on their raven ships must have borne; Rador was livid with rage; the handmaiden's nostrils flaring wide, all her wrathful soul in her eyes.
SUDDENLY, while we looked, the rocky wall which the Akka had built at the cavern mouth—was not! It vanished, as though an unseen, unbelievably gigantic hand had with the lightning's speed swept it away. And with it vanished, too, long lines of the great amphibians close behind it. It was sorcery!
Down upon the ledge, dropping into the Crimson Sea, sending up geysers of ruby spray, dashing on the bridge, crushing the frog-men, fell a shower of stone, mingled with distorted shapes and fragments whose scales still flashed meteoric as they hurled from above.
"That which makes things fall upward," hissed Olaf. "That which I saw in the garden of Lugur!"
The fiendish agency of destruction which Von Hetzdorp had revealed to Larry; the force that cut off gravitation and sent all things within its range racing outward into space! My heart chilled—and now over the debris upon the ledge, striking with long sword and daggers, here and there a captain flashing the green ray, moving on in ordered squares, came the soldiers of the Shining One. Nearer and nearer the verge of the ledge they pushed Nak's warriors. Leaping upon the dwarfs, smiting them with spear and club, with teeth and spur, the Akka fought like devils. Quivering under the ray they leaped and dragged down and slew. Now there was but one long line at the very edge of the cliff.
And ever the clouds of dancing, diamonded atoms grew thicker over them all!
That last thin line of the Akka was going; yet they fought to the last, and none toppled over the lip without at least one of the armored Murians in his arms.
There, my gaze dropping to the foot of the cliffs, I grew tense with fascination of horror. Stretched along their length was a wide ribbon of beauty—a shimmering multitude of gleaming, pulsing, prismatic moons; glowing, glowing ever brighter, ever more wondrous—the gigantic Medusae globes feasting on dwarf and frog-men alike!
Larry was rigid, his eyes dazed; Lakla, arm around his neck, stood as though turned to stone. Across the waters, faintly, came a triumphant shouting from Lugur's and Yolara's men!
Was the ruddy light of the place lessening, growing paler, changing to a faint rose? I rubbed my eyes, thinking that the strain of watching had dimmed them. No, it was not that. There was an exclamation from Larry; something like hope relaxed the drawn muscles of his face. He pointed to the aureate dome wherein sat the Three—and then I saw!
Out of it, through the long transverse slit through which the Silent Ones kept their watch on cavern, bridge, and abyss, a torrent of the opalescent light was pouring. It cascaded like a waterfall, and as it flowed it spread, whirling out in columns and eddies, clouds and wisps of misty, curdled coruscations. It hung like a veil over all the island, filtering everywhere, driving back the crimson light as though possessed of impenetrable substance—and still it cast not the faintest shadowing upon our vision.
"Good God!" breathed Larry. "Look!"
The radiance was marching down the colossal bridge. It moved swiftly, In some unthinkable way intelligently. It swathed the Akka, and closer, ever closer it swept toward the approach upon which Yolara's men had now gained foothold.
From their ranks came flash after flash of the green ray, aimed at the abode! But as the light sped and struck the opalescence it was blotted out! The. shimmering mists seemed to enfold, to dissipate it—as, it came to me, the rays of an automobile headlight are checked by fog.
Lakla drew a deep breath.
"The Silent Ones forgive me for doubting them," she whispered; and again hope blossomed on her face even as it did on Larry's.
The frog-men were gaining. Clothed in the armor of that mist they pressed back from the bridge-head the invaders. There was another prodigious movement at the ends of the crescent, and racing up, pressing against the dwarfs, came other legions of Nak's warriors. And reenforcing those out on the prodigious arch, the frog-men stationed in the gardens below us poured back to the castle and out through the open Portal.
"They're licked!" shouted Larry. "They're—"
So quickly I could not follow the movement, his automatic leaped to his hand—spoke, once and again and again. Rador leaped to the head of the little path, sword in hand, Olaf, shouting and whirling his mace, followed. I strove to get my own gun quickly.
For up that path were running two score of Lugur's men, while from below Lugur's own voice roared.
"Quick! Slay not the handmaiden or her lover! Carry them down. Quick! But slay the others!"
The handmaiden raced toward Larry, stopped, whistled shrilly—again and again. Larry's pistol was empty, but as the dwarfs rushed upon him I dropped two of them with mine. It jammed—I could not use it; I sprang to his side. Rador was down, struggling in a heap of Lugur's men. Olaf, a Viking of old, was whirling his great hammer and striking, striking through armor, flesh, and bone.
Larry was down; Lakla flew to him. But the Norseman, now streaming blood from a dozen wounds, caught a glimpse of her coming, turned, thrust out a mighty hand, sent her reeling back. And then with his hammer cracked the skulls of those trying to drag the O'Keefe down the path.
A cry from Lakla—the dwarfs had seized her, had lifted her despite her struggle, were carrying her away. One I dropped with the butt of my useless pistol, and then went down myself under the rush of another.
Through the clamor I heard a booming of the Akka, closer, closer; then through it the bellow of Lugur. I made a mighty effort, swung a hand up, and sunk my fingers in the throat of the soldier striving to kill me. Writhing over him, my fingers touched a poniard; I thrust it deep, staggered to my feet.
The O'Keefe, shielding Lakla, was battling with a long sword against a half dozen of the soldiers. I started toward him, was struck, and under the impact hurled to the ground. Dizzily I raised myself—and leaning upon my elbow, stared and moved no more. For the dwarfs lay dead, and Larry, holding Lakla tightly, was staring even as I. And ranged at the head of the path were the Akka, whose booming advance in obedience to the handmaiden's call I had heard.
And at what we all stared was Olaf, crimson with his wounds, and Lugur, in blood-red armor, locked in each other's grip, struggling, smiting, tearing, kicking, and swaying about the little space before the embrasure. I crawled over toward the O'Keefe. He raised his pistol, dropped it.
"Can't hit him without hitting Olaf," he whispered. Lakla signaled the frog-men; they advanced toward the two. But Olaf saw them, broke the red dwarf's hold, sent Lugur reeling a dozen feet away.
"No!" shouted the Norseman, the ice of his pale-blue eyes glinting like frozen flames, blood streaming down his face and dripping from his hands. "No! Lugur is mine! None but me slays him! Ho, you Lugur—" And cursed him and Yolara and the Dweller madly, hideously.
They spurred Lugur. Mad now as the Norseman, the red dwarf sprang. Olaf struck a blow that would have killed an ordinary man, but Lugur only grunted, swept in and seized him about the waist; one mighty arm began to creep up toward Huldricksson's throat.
"’Ware, Olaf!" cried O'Keefe; but Olaf did not answer. He waited until the red dwarf's hand was close to his shoulder. And then, with an incredibly rapid movement—once before had I seen something like it in a wrestling match between Papuans—he had twisted Lugur around; twisted him so that Olaf's right arm lay across the tremendous breast; the left behind the neck. And Olaf's left leg held the Voice's armored thighs viselike against his right knee while over that knee lay the small of the red dwarf's back.
For a second or two the Norseman looked upon his enemy motionless in that paralyzing grip. And then, slowly, he began to break him!
Lakla gave a little cry; made a motion toward the two. But Larry drew her down against his breast, hiding her eyes; then fastened his own upon the pair, white-faced, stern.
Slowly, ever so slowly, proceeded Olaf. Twice Lugur moaned. At the end he screamed—horribly. There was a cracking sound, as of a stout stick snapped.
Huldricksson stooped, silently. He picked up the limp body of the Voice, not yet dead, for the eyes rolled, the Ups strove to speak. Lifted it, walked to the parapet, swung it twice over his head. And cast it down to the red waters!
THE Norseman turned toward us. There was now no madness in his eyes; only a great weariness. And there was peace on the once tortured face.
"Helma," he whispered, "I go a little before! Soon you will come to me—to me and the yndling—who will await you—Helma, mine liebe!"
Blood gushed from his mouth; he swayed, fell. And thus died Olaf Huldricksson, one of those upon whom the Dweller's blight had fallen, helping to save his fellow men from the Dweller's soul-destroying curse. Simple-hearted as a child, faithful, fearless, worthy of any of his conquering forefathers, and passing away even as they would have elected to go—and in their ancient faith. Wounds enough to have killed four lesser men he had got in that battle wherein, without him, Lugur's men could not have been held. And even now my marvelling how even his strength could have been great enough to do what he did with the red dwarf, is not dulled.
We looked down upon him; nor did Lakla, nor Larry, nor I try to hide our tears. And as we stood the Akka brought to us that other mighty fighter, Rador; but in him there was life, and we attended to hirn there as best we could.
Then Lakla spoke.
"We will bear him into the castle where we may give him greater care," she said. "For, lo! the hosts of Yolara have been beaten back; and on the bridge comes Nak with tidings."
We looked over the parapet. It was even as she had said. Neither on ledge nor bridge was there trace of living men of Muria. Only heaps of slain that lay every- where. And thick against the cavern mouth danced the flashing atoms of those the green ray had destroyed. About the dead, casting them down to the Crimson Sea and its elf-moon feasters, thronged the Akka.
"Over!" exclaimed Larry incredulously. "We live then, heart of mine!"
"The Silent Ones recall their veils," she said, pointing to the dome. Back through the slitted opening the radiance was streaming; withdrawing from sea and island; marching back over the bridge with that same ordered, intelligent motion. Behind it the red light pressed, like skirmishers right on the heels of a retreating army.
"And yet—" faltered Lakla, and was silent. We fell in behind the unconscious Rador, the dead Olaf, both in the arms of the batracians; and there was nothing whatever of jubilance in any of our three hearts.
"And yet—" repeated the handmaiden as we passed into her chamber, and doubtful were the eyes she turned upon the O'Keefe.
What was that sound beating into the chamber, faintly, so faintly? My heart gave a great throb and seemed to stop for an eternity. What was it—coming nearer, ever nearer? Now Lakla and O'Keefe heard it, stiffened, life ebbing from lips and cheeks.
Nearer, nearer—a music as of myriads of tiny crystal bells, tinkling, tinkling. A storm of pizzicato upon violins of glass! Nearer, nearer—not sweetly now, nor luring; no—raging, wrathful, sinister beyond words; sweeping on; nearer—
The Dweller! The Shining One!
We leaped to the narrow window; peered out, aghast. The bell notes swept through and about us, a hurricane. The crescent strand was once more a ferment. Back, back were the Akka being swept, as though by brooms, tottering on the edge of the ledge, falling into the waters. Swiftly they were finished; and where they had fought was an eddying throng of women and men, clothed in tatters, swaying, drifting, arms tossing—like marionettes of Satan.
The dead-alive! The slaves of the Dweller!
They swayed and tossed, and then, like water racing through an opened dam, they swept upon the bridge-head. On and on they pushed like the bore of a mighty tide. The frog-men strove against them, clubbing, spearing, tearing them. But even those worst smitten seemed not to fall. On they pushed, driving forward, irresistible—a battering ram of flesh and bone.
They clove the masses of the Akka, pressing them to the sides of the bridge and over. Nor did the fact that every huge amphibian that fell carried in his horny arms one of them, seem to lessen their numbers. Back and back they forced those of Nak's warriors who still found footing on the span. Through the open Portal they forced them, for there was no room for the frog-men to stand against that implacable tide.
Then those of the Akka who were left turned their backs and ran. We heard the clang of the golden wings of the gateway, and none too soon to keep out the first of the Dweller's dreadful hordes.
Now upon the cavern ledge and over the whole length of the bridge there were none but the dead-alive, men and women, black-polled ladala, sloe-eyed Malays, slant-eyed Chinese, men of every race that sailed the seas—milling, turning, swaying, like leaves caught In a sluggish current.
The bell notes became sharper, more insistent. At the cavern mouth a radiance began to grow—a gleaming from which the atoms of diamond dust seemed to try to fly. And now occurred what to me was the ghastliest incident—save one, which I have yet to relate—of all this incredible scene. As the radiance grew and the crystal notes rang nearer, every head of that hideous multitude turned stiffly, slowly toward the right, looking toward the far bridge end; their eyes fixed and glaring; every face an inhuman mask of rapture and of horror!
A movement shook them, as though at some command. Those in the center, began to stream back, faster and ever faster, leaving motionless deep ranks on each side. Back they flowed until from golden doors to cavern mouth a wide lane stretched, walled on each side by the dead-alive.
The far radiance grew brighter still; it gathered itself at the end of the gruesome, lane; it was shot with sparklings and with pulsings of polychromatic light. The crystal storm grew intolerable, piercing the ears with countless tiny lances; brighter still the radiance—
From the cavern swirled the Shining one!
THE Dweller paused, seemed to scan the island of the Silent Ones half doubtfully; then slowly, stately, it drifted out upon the bridge. My hand was gripped in a bitter clasp; I saw Larry was holding it. Closer drew the Shining One; behind it glided Yolara at the head of a company of her dwarfs, and at her side was the hag of the council whose face was the withered shattered echo of her own.
Slower grew the Dweller's pace as it drew nearer. Did I sense in it a doubt, an uncertainty? The crystal-tongued, unseen choristers that accompanied it subtly seemed to reflect the doubt; their notes were not sure, no longer insistent; rather was there in them an undertone of hesitancy, of warning! Yet on came the Shining One until it stood plain beneath us, searching with those eyes that thrust from and withdrew into unknown spheres, the golden gateway, the cliff face, the castle's rounded bulk—and more intently than any of these, the dome wherein sat the Three.
Behind it each face of the dead-alive turned toward it, and those beside it throbbed and gleamed with its luminescence.
Yolara crept close, just beyond the reach of its spirals. Rosy shone her flesh through her gossamer veils, blue as pale sapphires were her eyes, and in the radiance of the Shining One the coronal of corn-silk tresses sparkled. Once more, even in our deadly peril, I realized how beautiful was the priestess. She raised her face, looking straight toward where we watched, as though her glance had been summoned by our gaze. She murmured—and the head of the Dweller bent toward her, its seven globes steady in their shining mists, as though listening. It listened, drew itself erect once more, resumed its doubtful scrutiny. Yolara's face darkened; she turned abruptly, spoke to a captain of her guards. A dwarf raced back between the palisades of dead-alive.
Now the priestess cried out, her voice ringing like a silver clarion.
"Ye are done, ye Three! The Shining One stands at your door, demanding entrance. Your beasts are slain and your power is gone. Who are ye, says the Shining One, to deny it entrance to the place of its birth?" There was biting mockery in this last. "Now will ye open your doors and let us pass, or must we open them for ye?" She paused. No answer came from those upon whom she was calling.
"Ye do not answer," she cried again, "yet know we that ye hear! The Shining One offers, these terms: Send forth your handmaiden and that lying stranger she stole; send them forth to us—and perhaps ye may live. But if ye send them not forth, then shall ye, too, die—and soon!"
An odd paralysis had gripped us, but it was not fear. None of fear did I feel—at least none for myself—and searching the eyes of Lakla and Larry, I saw no trace of it in either. Rather was it an inhibition. Something that stilled all desire to speak, as though a hand had been laid over my mouth. We waited, silent, even as did Yolara. And still there was no answer from the Three.
The priestess laughed.
"It is ended!" she cried. "If you will not open, needs must we open for you!"
Over the bridge was marching a long double file of the dwarfs. They bore a smoothed and handled tree-trunk whose head was knobbed with a huge ball of metal. Past the priestess, past the Shining One, they carried it; fifty of them to each side of the ram; and behind them stepped—Von Hetzdorp!
Larry awoke to life.
"Now, thank God," he rasped, "I can get the Heinie, anyway!"
He drew his pistol, took careful aim. Even as he pressed the trigger there rang through the abode a tremendous clanging. The ram was battering at the gates. O'Keefe's bullet went wild. The German must have heard the shot; perhaps the missile was closer than we knew. He made a swift leap behind the guards, was lost to sight.
Once more the thunderous clanging rang through the castle.
Lakla drew herself erect; down upon her dropped the listening aloofness.
"It is time, O love of mine." She turned to O'Keefe. "The Silent Ones say that the way of fear is closed, but the way of love is open. They call upon us to redeem our promise!"
For a hundred heart-beats they clung to each other, breast to breast and lip to lip. Below, the clangor was increasing, the great trunk swinging harder and faster upon the metal gates. Now Lakla gently loosed the arms of the O'Keefe, and for another instant those two looked deep into each other's souls. The handmaiden smiled tremulously.
"I would it might have been otherwise, Larry darlin'," she whispered. "But at least—we pass together, dearest of mine!"
She leaped to the window.
"Yolara!" the golden voice rang out sweetly. The clanging ceased. "Draw back your men. We open the Portal and come forth to you and the Shining One—Larry and I."
The, priestess's silver chimes of laughter rang but, cruel, mocking.
"Come, then, and quickly," she jeered. "For surely both the Shining One and I have long yearned for you!" Her malice-laden laughter chimed high once more. "Keep, us not lonely long!" the priestess mocked.
LARRY drew a deep breath, stretched both hands out to me.
"It's good-by, I guess, Doc." His voice was strained, "Good-by and good luck, old boy. If you get out, and you will, let the old Dolphin know I'm gone. And carry on, pal—and always remember the O'Keefe loved you like a brother."
I squeezed his hands desperately. Then out of my balance-shaking woe a strange comfort was born.
"Maybe it's not good-by, Larry!" I cried. "The banshee has not cried!"
A flash of hope passed over his face; the old reckless grin shone forth.
"It's so!" he said. "By the Lord, it's so!"
Then Lakla bent toward me, and for the second time—kissed me.
"Come!" she said to Larry. Hand in hand they moved away, into the corridor that led to the door outside of which waited the Shining One and its beautiful priestess.
And unseen by them, wrapped as they were within their love and sacrifice, I crept softly behind. For I had determined that if enter the Dweller's embrace they must, they should not go alone. There was no one to mourn for me—and it had come clearly to my mind that without them I did not care to live. Nothing of this had. I spoken—for well I knew that they would have forbidden it.
They paused before the Golden Portals; the handmaiden pressed its opening lever; theleaves rolled back.
Heads high, proudly, serenely, they passed through and out upon the hither span. I followed.
On each side of us stood the Dweller's slaves, faces turned rigidly toward their master. A hundred feet away the Shining One pulsed and spiraled in its evilly glorious lambency of sparkling plumes.
Unhesitating, always with that same high serenity, Lakla and the O'Keefe, hands clasped like little children, drew closer to that wondrous shape of nebulous flame. I could not see their faces, but I saw awe fall upon those of the watching dwarfs, and into the burning eyes of Yolara crept a doubt.
Closer they drew to the Dweller, and closer, I following them step by step. The Shining One's whirling lessened: its tinklings were faint, almost stilled. It seemed to watch them apprehensively. A silence fell upon us all, thick silence, brooding, ominous, palpable. Now the pair were face to face with the child of the Three—so near that with one of its misty tentacles it could have enfolded them.
And the Shining One drew back!
Yes, drew back—and back with it stepped Yolara, the doubt in her eyes deepening. Onward paced the handmaiden and the O'Keefe. Step by step, as they advanced, the Dweller withdrew; its bell notes chiming out, puzzled, questioning—half fearful!
And back it drew, and back until it had reached the very center of that platform over the abyss in whose depths pulsed the green fires of earth heart. And there Yolara gripped herself; the hell that laughed within her soul leaped out of her eyes; a cry, a shriek of rage, tore then from her lips.
As at a signal, the Shining One flamed high; its spirals and eddying mists swirled madly, the pulsing core of it blazed radiance.
A score of coruscating tentacles swept straight upon the pair who stood intrepid, unresisting, awaiting its embrace. And upon me, lurking behind them.
Through me swept a mighty exaltation. It was the end, then—and I was to meet it with them.
Something drew us back, back with an incredible swiftness, and yet as gently as a summer breeze a bit of thistledown! Drew us back from those darting misty arms even as they were a hairbreadth from us! I heard the Dweller's bell notes burst out ragingly; I heard Yolara scream.
What was that?
Between the three of us and them was a ring of curdled moon flames, swirling about the Shining One! and its priestess, pressing in upon them, enfolding them!
And within it I glimpsed the faces of the Three—implacable, sorrowful, filled with a supernal power!
SPARKS and flashes of white flame darted from the ring, penetrated the radiant swathings of the Dweller, striking through its pulsing nucleus, piercing its seven crowning orbs.
Now the Shining One's radiance began to lessen, the seven orbs to dull. The tiny sparkling filaments that ran from them down into the Dweller's body snapped, vanished! Through the battling nebulosities Yolara's face swam forth—horror-filled, distorted, inhuman!
The ranks of the dead-alive quivered, moved, writhed, as though each felt the torment of the Thing that had enslaved them. The radiance that the Three wielded grew more intense, thicker, seemed to expand. Within it, suddenly, were scores of flaming triangles—scores of eyes like those of the Silent Ones!
And the Shining One's seven little moons of amber, of silver, of blue and amethyst and green, of rose and white, split, shattered, were gone! Abruptly the tortured crystal chimings ceased.
And dulled, all its soul-shaking beauty dead, blotched, and shadowed squalidly, its gleaming plumes tarnished, its dancing spirals stripped from it, that which had been the Shining One wrapped itself about Yolara. Wrapped and drew her into itself; writhed, swayed, and hurled itself over the edge of the bridge— down, down into the green fires of the unfathomable abyss—with its priestess still enfolded in its coils!
From the soldiers who, rigid as stone, had watched that terror, came crazed screams of panic fear. They turned and ran, racing frantically over the bridge toward the cavern mouth.
The serried ranks of the dead-alive trembled, shook. Then from their faces fled the horror of wedded ecstasy and anguish. Peace, utter peace, followed eventually in its wake.
And as fields of wheat are bent and fall beneath the wind, they fell. No longer dead-alive, now all of the blessed dead, freed from their dreadful slavery!
Abruptly from the sparkling mists the cloud of eyes were gone. Faintly revealed in them were only the heads of the Silent Ones. And they drew before us; were before us! No flames now in their ebon eyes—for the flickering fires were quenched in great tears, streaming down the marble white faces. They bent toward us, over us; their radiance enfolded us. My eyes darkened. I could not see. I felt a tender hand upon my head—and panic and frozen dread and nightmare web that held me fled.
I was happy!
Then they, too, were gone.
Far away was a great shouting. Over the body-strewn crescent strand came pouring regiments of the Akka; out of the cavern mouth up on the bridge marched companies of the ladala.
Upon Larry's breast the handmaiden was sobbing—sobbing out her heart. But this time it was with the joy of one who is swept up from the very threshold of hell into paradise.