The Conquest of the Moon Pool/Chapter 3
THE MOON DOOR OPENS—AND SHUTS
WHEN I awakened the sun was streaming through the cabin port- hole. Outside a fresh voice lilted. I lay on my two chairs and listened. The song was one with the wholesome sun- shine and the breeze blowing stiffly and whipping the curtains. It was Larry O'Keefe at his matins.
I opened my door. O'Keefe stood outside laughing. Behind him the Tonga boys clustered, wide-toothed and adoring. Even the Cantonese mate had something on his face that served for a grin and Da Costa was beaming. I closed the door behind me.
"How's the patient?" asked O'Keefe.
He was answered by Huldricksson himself, who must have risen just as I left the cabin. The great Norseman had slipped on a pair of pajamas and, giant torso naked under the sun, he strode out upon us. We all of us looked at him a trifle anxiously. But Olaf's madness had left him. His face was still drawn and in his eyes was much sorrow, but the berserk rage had vanished. He stretched out a hand to us in turn.
"This is Dr. Goodwin, Olaf," said Da Costa. "An' this is Lieutenant O'Keefe of the English Navy."
Huldricksson bowed, with a touch of grace that revealed him not all rough seaman—and indeed, as I was later to find the Norwegian had been given gentle upbringing and a fair education before the wanderlust of his race had swept him into these far seas.
He addressed himself straight to me: "You said last night we follow?"
"It is where?" he asked again.
"We go first to Ponape and from there to Metalanim Harbor—to the Nan-Matal. You know the place?"
Huldricksson bowed, a white gleam as of ice showing in his blue eyes.
"It is there?" he asked.
"It is there that we must first search," I answered.
"Good!" said Olaf Huldricksson. "It is good!"
The Suwarna hove to and Da Costa and he dropped into the small boat. When they reached the Brunhilda's deck I saw Olaf take the wheel and the two fall into earnest talk. I beckoned to O'Keefe and we stretched ourselves out on the bow hatch under cover of the foresail. He lighted a cigarette, took a couple of leisurely puffs, and looked at me expectantly.
"Well," I asked, "and what do you think of it now?"
"Well," said O'Keefe, "suppose you tell me what you think, and then I'll proceed to point out your scientific errors." His eyes twinkled mischievously.
"I think," I said, "it is possible that some members of that race peopling the ancient continent which we know existed here in the Pacific and which was destroyed by a comparatively gradual subsidence, have survived. We know that many of these islands are honey-combed with caverns and vast subterranean spaces too great to be so called. These are literally underground lands, running in many cases far out beneath the ocean floor. It is possible that for some reason the survivors of this race of which I speak sought refuge in these abysmal spaces, one of whose entrances is on the Island where Throckmartin's party met its end.
"As for their persistence in these caverns, we know the lost people possessed a high science. This is indisputable. It may be that they had gone far in their mastery of certain universal forms of energy. They may have discovered the secret of that form of magnetic etheric vibration we call light. If so, they would have had no difficulty in maintaining life down there, and, indeed, shielded by earth's crust from the natural forces which always have surface man more or less at their mercy, they may have developed a civilization and extended a science immensely more advanced than ours. And unless they have also developed a complete indifference to conquest and an inflexible determination never to come forth from their world, they must always continue to be a potential menace to our world."
I paused. His keen face was now all eager attention.
"Have you ever heard of the Chamats?" I asked him. He shook his head.
"In Papua," I explained, "there is a widespread and immeasurably old tradition that 'imprisoned under the hills' is a race of giants who once ruled this region 'when it stretched from sun to sun' and 'before the moon god drew the waters over it'—I quote from the legend. Not only in Papua but in Borneo and Java and in fact throughout Malaysia you find this story. And, so the tradition runs, these people—the Chamats—will one day break through the hills and rule the world; 'make over the world' is the literal translation of the constant phrase in the tale. Does this convey anything to you, Larry?"
"Something," he nodded. "Go on."
"It conveys something to me," I said, "especially in the light of what Throckmartin heard and saw and what Huldricksson and I witnessed.
"It is possible that these survivors are experimenting with their science, and that what I call 'the Dweller' is one of their results. Or it may be that the phenomenon is something that they created long ago and control of which they may have lost. Or again it may be some unknown, energy that they found when they entered their subterranean realm and which they have learned to control or which controls them.
"This much is sure—the moon door, which is clearly operated by the action of moonlight upon some unknown element or combination in much the same way that the metal selenium functions under sun rays or the electric light, and the crystals through which the moon rays, pour down upon the pool their prismatic columns, are humanly made mechanisms.
"Set within, the ruins they would seem to argue for the ancientness of the work. But who can tell when moon door and moon lights were set in their places? Nevertheless, so long as they are humanly made, and so long as it is this flood of moonlight from which the Dweller draws its power of materialization, the Dweller itself, if not the product of the human mind is at least dependent upon the product of the human mind for its appearance."
My pride in this analysis was short lived.
"Wait a minute, Goodwin," said O'Keefe. "Do you mean to say you think that this thing is made of—well, of moonshine?"
"Moonlight," I replied, "is, of course, reflected sunlight. But the rays which pass back to earth after their impact on the moon's surface are profoundly changed. The spectroscope shows that they lose practically all the slower vibrations we call red and infra-red, while the extremely rapid vibrations we call the violet and ultra-violet are accelerated and altered. Many scientists hold that there is an unknown element in the moon—perhaps that which makes the gigantic luminous trails that radiate in all directions—from the lunar crater Tycho—whose energies are absorbed by and carried on the moon rays.
"At any rate, whether by the loss of the vibrations of the red or by the addition of this mysterious force, the light of the moon becomes something entirely different from mere modified sunlight—just as the addition or subtraction of one other chemical in a compound of several makes the product a substance with entirely different energies and potentialities.
"Now these rays are given perhaps still another mysterious activity by the transparent globes through which Throckmartin told me they passed in the Chamber of the Moon Pool and whose colors they take. The result is the necessary factor in the formation of the Dweller. There would be nothing scientifically improbable in such a process, Larry.
"We know the extraordinary effect of the Finsen rays, which are only the concentration of the chemical energies in the green and blue of the spectrum, upon malignant cell growths in the human body; and we know that the X-ray can dissolve the normal barrier of matter for us, making the solid transparent. We do not begin to know how to harness the potentialities of light. This hidden race may have learned; and learning, may have created forms with- powers undreamed by us."
"LISTEN, Doc," said Larry earnestly, "I'll take everything you say about this lost continent, the people who used to live on it, and their caverns, for granted. But by the sword of Brian Boru, you'll never get me to fall for the idea that a bunch of moonshine can handle a big woman such as you say Throckmartin's Thora was, nor a two-fisted man such as you say Throckmartin was. You'll never get me to believe that any bunch of concentrated moonshine could handle them and take them waltzing off along a moonbeam back to wherever it goes. No, Doc, not on your life."
"I've told you that what you call moonshine is an aggregate of vibrations with immense potential power, Larry," I answered, considerably irritated. "What we call matter is nothing but a collection of infinitely small particles of electricity—electrons; and the way the electrons are grouped makes of matter man or wood or metal or stone. Light is a magnetic vibration of the ether and is probably composed of similar particles of electricity but functioning in another way from the particles that make matter. Learn the secret of making light and you come close to learning the secret of matter.
"Why, if you could take all the energy out of the sunshine that in one minute covers one square foot of earth, you could blast all the earth to bits. And your wonderful radio is nothing but vibrations, yet it carries words around the world with almost the speed of light itself—"
"No," he interrupted. "You're wrong."
"All right O'Keefe," I answered, now very much irritated indeed. "What's your theory?" And I could not resist adding; "Fairies?"
"Professor," he grinned, "if it's a fairy it's Irish and when it sees me it'll be so glad there'll be nothing to it. 'I was lost, strayed or stolen; Larry avick,' it'll say, 'an' I was so homesick for the old sod I was desp'rit,' it'll say, 'an' take me back quick before I do any more har-rm!' it'll tell me—an' that's the truth."
I forgot my chagrin in our laughter.
"But I'll tell you what I think," he said soberly. "Back at the first battle of the Marne, there were any number of Englishmen who thought they saw the old archers of Crecy and Agincourt, dead these half dozen centuries, twanging phantom bows and shooting down the enemy by the hundred. And you can find thousands of Frenchmen who saw Joan of Arc and Napoleon regularly. It's what the doctors call collective hallucination. Somebody sees something a little queer; his imagination gets to work hard because his nerves are pretty well strained anyway, he says to the next fellow: 'Don't you see it?' and the next fellow says, 'Sure I see it, too!' And there you are—bowmen of Mons, St. George on his white horse, Joan in armor, and all the rest of it."
"If you think that explains Throckmartin and myself, how do you explain Huldricksson, who never saw Throckmartin and didn't see me before the Thing came to the Brunhilda?" I asked with, I admit, some heat.
"Now don't get me wrong," replied Larry. "I believe you all saw something all right. But what I think you saw was some kind of gas. All this region is volcanic and islands and things are constantly poking up from the sea. It's probably gas; a volcanic emanation; something new to us and that drives you crazy—lots of kinds of gas do that.
"It hit the Throckmartin party on that island and they probably were all more or less delirious all the time; thought they saw things; talked it over and—collective hallucination. When they got it bad they most likely jumped overboard one by one. Huldricksson sails into a place where it is and it hits his wife. She grabs the child and jumps overboard. Maybe the moon rays make it luminous."
"But that doesn't explain the moon door and the phenomena of the lights in the Chamber of the Pool," I said at last.
"You haven't seen them, have you?" asked Larry. "And Throckmartin admitted he was pretty nearly crazy when he thought he did. Well!"
For a time I was silent.
"Larry," I said at last, "whether you are right or I am right, I must go to the Nan-Matal. Will you go with me, Larry?
"Goodwin," he replied, "I surely will. I'm as interested as you are. If I'm reported dead for a while, there's nobody to care. So that's all right. Only, old man, be reasonable. You've thought over this so long, you're going bugs, honestly you are."
And again, the gladness that I might have Larry O'Keefe with me, was so great that I forgot to be angry.
DA COSTA, who had come aboard unnoticed by either of us, now tapped me on the arm.
"Doctair Goodwin," he said, "can I see you in my cabin, sair?"
At last, then, he was going to speak. I followed him.
"Doctair," he said, when we had entered, "this is a veree strange thing that has happened to Olaf. Veree strange. An' the natives of Ponape, they have been very much excite' lately. An' none go near the Nan-Matal now, for they say the spirits have got great power and are angree because of that othair partee which they take.
"Of what they fear I know nothing, nothing!" Again that quick, furtive crossing of himself. "But this I have to tell you. There came to me from Ranaloa last month a man, a German, a doctair, like you. His name it was Von Hetzdorp. I take him to Ponape an' the natives there, they will not take him to the Nan-Matal, where he wish to go. So I take him. We leave in a boat, with much instrument carefully tied, up. I leave him there wit' the boat an' the food. He tell me to tell no one an' pay me not to. But you are a friend an' Olaf he depend much upon you an' so I tell you, sair."
"You know nothing more than this, Da Costa?" I asked. "You're sure?"
"Nothing! Nothing more!" he answered. But I was not so sure. Later I told O'Keefe.
The next morning we raised Ponape, without further incident, and before noon the Suwarna and the Brunhilda had dropped anchor in the harbor. Upon the excitement and manifest dread of the natives, when we sought among them for carriers and workmen to accompany us, I will not dwell. No payment we offered would induce a single one of them to go to the Nan-Matal. Nor would they say why.
They were sullen and panicky, and I think the most disconcerting thing of all in their attitude, was the open relief they showed when they learned that a British warship might steam in, seeking O'Keefe. It indicated that their fear was deep-rooted and real, indeed.
We piled the longboat up with my instruments and food and camping equipment. The Suwarna took us around to Metalanim Harbor, and there,, with the tops of ancient sea walls deep in the blue water' beneath us, and the ruins looming up out of the mangroves, a scant mile from us, left us.
Da Costa's anxiety and uneasiness were almost pitiful. There were tears in the eyes of the little Portuguese when he bade us farewell, invoking, all the saints to stand by and protect us; and the sorrow in his face and the fervor of his parting grip were eloquent of his conviction that never again would he behold us.
Then, with Huldricksson manipulating our small sail and Larry at the rudder, we rounded the titanic wall that swept down into the depths, passed monoliths, standing like gigantic sentinels upon its shattered verge. We turned at last into the canal that Throckmartin, on his map, had marked as the passage which led straight to that place of ancient mysteries where the moon door is portal of that dread chamber wherein the Dweller made itself manifest.
And, as we entered, that channel we were enveloped, by a silence; a silence so intense, so weighted, that it seemed to have substance; an alien silence that clung and stifled and still stood aloof from us, the living.
Standing down in the chambered depths of the Great Pyramid I had known something of such silence, but never such intensity as this. Larry felt it and I saw him look at me askance. If Olaf, sitting In the bow, felt it, too, he gave no sign. His blue eyes, with again the glint of ice within them watched the channel before us.
As we passed, there arose upon our left sheer walls of black basalt blocks, cyclopean, towering fifty feet or more, broken here and there by the sinking of their deep foundations. And only where they had so broken, had the hand of time been able to crumble them. From these dark ramparts the silence seemed to ooze, and my skin crept as though from hidden places in them scores of eyes, ages dead, peered out at us, like ghosts of a lost Atlantis.
In front of us the mangroves widened out and filled the canal. On our right the lesser walls of Tau, somber blocks smoothed and squared and set with a cold, mathematical nicety, that filled me with vague awe, slipped by. Through breaks I caught glimpses of dark ruins and of great fallen stones that seemed to crouch and menace us as we passed. Somewhere there, hidden, were the seven globes that poured the moon fire down upon the Moon Pool.
Now we were among the mangroves and, sail down, the three of us pushed and pulled the boat through their tangled roots and branches. The noise of our passing split the silence, like a profanation, and from the ancient bastions came murmurs—forbidding, strangely sinister. And now we were, through, floating on a little open space of shadow-filled water. Before us lifted the gateway of Nan-Tanach, gigantic, broken, incredibly old. Shattered portals through which had passed men and women of earth's dawn; old with a weight of years that pressed leadenly upon the eyes that looked upon it, and yet in some curious, indefinable way—menacingly defiant.
Beyond the gate, back, from the portals, stretched a flight of enormous basalt slabs, a giant's stairway indeed; and from each side of it marched the high walls that were the Dweller's pathway. None of us spoke as we grounded the boat and dragged it up upon a half-submerged pier.
"What next?" whispered Larry, at last.
"I think we ought to take a look around," I replied In the same low tones. "We'll climb the wall here and take a flash about. The whole place ought to be plain as day from that height."
Huldricksson, his blue eyes now alert, nodded. With the greatest of difficulty we clambered up the broken blocks, the giant Norseman at times lifting me like a child, and stood at last upon the broad top. From this vantage-point, not only the whole of Nan-Tanach, but all of the Nan-Matal lay at our feet.
TO THE east and south of us, set like children's blocks in the midst of the sapphire sea, were dozens of islets, none of them covering more than two square miles of surface; each of them a perfect square or oblong within its protecting walls. Behind these walls were grouped ruins—houses, temples, palaces, all the varying abodes of men. On none was there sign of life, save for a few great birds that, hovered here and there and gulls dipping in the blue waves beyond.
We turned our gaze down upon the island on which we stood. It was, I estimated, about three-quarters of a mile square. The sea wall enclosed it like the sides of a gigantic box. It was really an enormous basalt-sided open cube, and within it two other open cubes. The enclosure between the first and second wall was stone paved, with here and there a broken pillar and long stone benches.
The hibiscus, the aloe-tree and a number of small shrubs had found place, but seemed only to intensify its stark loneliness. It came to me that this had been the assembling place of those who, thousands upon thousands of years ago, had gathered within this citadel of mystery. Beyond the wall that was its farther boundary was a second enclosure, littered with broken pillars, fragments of stone and numerous small structures; and the second enclosure's limit was the third wall, a terrace not more than twenty feet high. Within it was what had been without doubt the heart of Nan-Tanach—an open space three hundred feet square; at each of its corners a temple.
Directly before us, black and staring like an eyeless socket, was the entrance to the "treasure-house of Chau-ta-Leur" the sun king. The blocks that had formed its doors lay shattered beside it. And opposite it should be, if Throckmartin's story had not been a dream, the gray slab he had named the moon door,
"Wonder where the German fellow can be?" asked Larry.
I shook my head. There was no sign of life here. Had Von Hetzdorp gone, or had the Dweller taken him, too? Whatever had happened, there was no trace of him below us or on any of the islets within our range of vision. We scrambled down the side of the gateway. Olaf looked at me wistfully.
"We start the search now, Olaf," I said. "And first, O'Keefe, let us see whether the gray stone is really here. After that we will set up camp, and while I unpack, you and Olaf search the island. It won't take long."
Larry gave a look at his service automatic and grinned. We made our way up the steps, through the outer enclosures and into the central square. I confess to a fire of scientific curiosity and eagerness tinged with a dread that O'Keefe's analysis might be true. Would we find the moving slab and, if so, would it be as Throckmartin had described? If so, then even Larry would have to admit that here was something that theories of gases and luminous emanations would not explain; and the first test of the whole amazing story would be passed. But if not—
And there before us, the faintest tinge of gray setting it apart from its neighboring blocks of basalt, was the moon door!
There was no mistaking it. This was, in very deed, the portal through which Dr. Throckmartin had seen pass that gloriously dreadful apparition he called the Dweller; through it the Dweller had borne in an embrace of living light first Thora, Mrs. Throckmartin's maid, and then Dr. Stanton, his youthful colleague. And through it at last had gone Throckmartin, down the shining tunnel beyond, whose luminous lure led to that enchanted chamber into which streamed the seven moon torrents that drew the Dweller from the wondrous pool that was its lair.
Across its threshold had raced Edith Throckmartin, my lost friend's young bride, fearlessly flying down that haunted passage to aid her husband in his fruitless fight against the Thing—and out of it he himself had rushed, a merciful darkness shrouding consciousness and sight, after he had watched her sink, slowly sink, down through the blue waters of the moon pool, wrapped in the Dweller's coruscating folds, to—what?
And then there seemed to drift out through the stone to face me that inexplicable being of swirling, spiraling plumes and Jets of sparkling opalescence, of crystal sweet chimings, of murmuring sighings that Throckmartin had told me stamped upon the faces of its prey wedded anguish and rapture, terror and ecstasy commingled, joy of heaven and agony of hell, the seal of God and devil monstrously mated. The Thing that my own eyes had seen clasp Throckmartin in our cabin of the Southern Queen and draw him swiftly down the moon path.
What was that portal, more enigmatic than was ever sphinx? And what lay beyond it? What did that smooth stone, whose wan deadness whispered of ages old corridors of time opening out into alien, unimaginable vistas, hide? It had cost the world of science Throckmartin's great brain, as it had cost Throckmartin those he loved. It had drawn me to it in search of Throckmartin, and its shadow had fallen upon the soul of Olaf the Norseman; and upon what thousands upon thousands more, I wondered, since the brains that had conceived it had vanished?
Did the Dweller lurk behind it in wait for us? When we found its open-sesame would we find within truths of our world's youth to which the riches of Ali Baba's cave were but dross? Was there that within which would force science to recast its hard won theories of humanity, of its evolution, of its painful progress from, brute to what we call man? Or would we loose upon the world some nameless, blasting evil, some survival of our planet's night- mare hours, some supernormal, inhuman thing spawned by unthinkable travail in a hidden cavern of mother earth?
A barrier of unknown stone—fifteen feet high and ten feet wide; and yet it might bar the way to a lost paradise or hold back a hell undreamed by even cruelest brains! What lay beyond it?
SWIFTLY the thoughts raced through my mind as I stood staring at the gray slab and then through me passed a wave of weakness. And not until then did I realize the intense, subconscious anxiety that had possessed me.
I stretched out a shaking hand and touched the surface of the slab. A faint thrill passed through my hand and arm, oddly unfamiliar and as oddly pleasant; as of electric contact holding the very essence of cold. O'Keefe, watching, imitated my action. As his fingers rested on the stone his face filled with astonishment. In Huldricksson's eyes was mingled hope and despair. I beckoned him; he laid a hand on the slab and swiftly withdrew it. But I saw the despair die from his face, leaving only eagerness, a sudden hope.
"It is the door!" he said. I nodded. There was a low whistle of astonishment from O'Keefe and he pointed up toward the top of the gray stone. I followed the gesture and saw, above the moon door and on each side of it, two gently curving bosses of rock, perhaps a foot in diameter.
"The moon door's keys," I said.
"It begins to look so," answered Larry. "If we can find them," he added.
"There's nothing we can do till moonrise," I replied. "And we've none too much time to prepare as it is. Come!"
But stark lonely as was that place, I felt, as we passed out, as though eyes were upon me, watching with an intensity of malevolence, a bitter hatred. Olaf must have felt it, too, for I saw him glance sharply around and his face hardened. I said nothing, however, nor did he; and a little later we were beside our boat. We lightered it, set up the tent, and as it was now but a short hour to sundown I told them to leave me and make their search. They went off together, and I busied myself with opening some of the paraphernalia I had brought with me.
First of all I took out two Becquerel ray-condensers that I had bought in New York. Their lenses would collect and intensify to the fullest extent any light directed upon them. I had found them most useful in making spectroscopic analysis of luminous vapors, and I knew that at Yerkes Observatory splendid results had been obtained from them in collecting the diffused radiance of the nebulae for the same purpose.
It was my theory that the mechanism operating the moon door responded only to the force of the full light of the moon shining through the seven little circles which Throckmartin had discovered set within each of the bosses above it; just as the Dweller could materialize only under the same full-moon force shining through the varicolored lights. Obviously the time, then, of the door's opening and the phenomenon's materialization must coincide.
With the moon only a few days' past Its full, it was practically certain that by setting the Becquerel condensers above the bosses I could concentrate enough light upon the circles to set the opening mechanism in motion. And as the ray stream from the waning moon was insufficient to energize the pool, we could enter the chamber free from any fear of encountering its tenant, make our preliminary observations and go forth before the satellite had dropped so far that the concentration in the condensers would fall below that necessary to keep the slab from closing.
I took out also a small spectroscope, easily carried, and a few other small instruments for the analysis of certain light manifestations and the testing of metal and liquid. Finally, I put aside my emergency medical kit.
I had hardly finished examining and adjusting these before O'Keefe and Huldricksson returned. They reported signs of a camp at least ten days old beside the northern wall of the outer court, but beyond that no evidence of others beyond ourselves on Nan-Tanach. Moonrise would not occur until nine-thirty, and until then there was no use of attacking the moon door.
We prepared supper, ate and talked a little, but for the most part were silent. Even Larry's high spirits were not in evidence; half a dozen times I saw him take out his automatic and look it over. He was more thoughtful than I had ever seen him. Once he went into the tent, rummaged about a bit and brought out another revolver which, he said, he had got from Da Costa, and a half-dozen clips of cartridges. He passed the gun to Olaf.
At last a glow in the southeast heralded the rising moon. I picked up my instruments and the medical kit; Larry and Olaf shouldered each a short ladder that was part of my equipment. With our electric flashes pointing the way, we walked up the great stairs, through the enclosures, and straight to the gray stone.
By this time the moon had risen and its clipped light shone full upon the slab. I saw faint gleams pass over it as of fleeting phosphorescence, but so faint were they that I could not be sure of the truth of my observation. The base of the gray stone bisected a curious cuplike depression whose perfectly rounded sides were as smooth as though they had been polished by a jeweler. This half cup was, at its deepest, two and a half feet, and its lip joined the basalt pavement four feet from the barrier of the great slab.
WE SET the ladders in place. Olaf I assigned to stand, before the door and watch for the first signs of its opening—if open it should—and the big sailor accepted the post eagerly, thinking, I suppose, that it would bring him nearer the loved ones he now was sure were within. The Becquerals were set within three-inch tripods, whose feet I had equipped with vacuum rings to enable them to hold fast to the rock.
I scaled one ladder and fastened a condenser over the boss; descended; sent Larry up to watch it, and, ascending the second ladder, rapidly fixed the other in its place. Then, with O'Keefe watchful on his perch, I on mine and Olaf's eyes fixed upon the moon door, we began our vigil. Suddenly there was an exclamation from Larry.
"Seven little lights are beginning to glow on this stone, Goodwin!" he cried.
But I had already seen those beneath my lens begin to gleam out with a silvery luster! Swiftly the rays within the condenser began to thicken and increase, and as they did so the seven small circles waxed like stars growing out of the dusk, and with a queer—curdled is the best word I can find to define it—luster entirely strange to me.
I placed a finger upon one of them and received a shock such as I had felt on touching the moon floors only greatly intensified. Clearly a current of some kind was set up within the substance when the moonlight fell upon it. And now the lights were glowing steadily. Beneath me I heard a faint, sighing murmur and then the voice of Huldricksson:
"It opens—the stone turns—"
I began to climb down the ladder. Again came Olaf's voice:
"The stone—it is open—" And then a shriek that came from the very core of his heart; a wail of blended anguish and pity, of rage and despair—and the sound of swift footsteps racing through the wall beneath me!
I dropped to the ground. The moon door was wide open, and through it I caught a glimpse of a corridor filled with a faint, pearly vaporous light like earliest misty dawn. But of Olaf I could see nothing! And even as I stood, gaping, from behind me came the sharp crack of a rifle. I saw the glass of the condenser at Larry's side flash and fly into fragments; saw him drop swiftly to the ground and the automatic in his hand flash once, twice, into the darkness.
Saw, too, the moon door begin to pivot slowly, slowly back into its place!
I rushed toward the turning stone with the wild idea of holding it open. As I thrust my hands against it there came at my back a snarl and an oath and Larry staggered under the impact of a body that had flung itself straight at his throat. He reeled at the lip of the shallow cup at the base of the slab, slipped upon its polished curve, fell and rolled with that which had attacked him, kicking and writhing, straight through the narrowing portal into the mistily luminous passage!
Forgetting all else, I sprang with a cry to his aid. And as I leaped I felt the closing edge of the moon door graze, my side. And then, as Larry raised a fist, brought it down upon the temple of the man who had grappled with him and rose from the twitching body unsteadily to his feet, I heard shuddering past me a mournful whisper; spun about as though some giant hand had whirled me—and stood so, rigid, appalled!
For the end of the corridor no longer opened out into the moonlit square of ruined Nan-Tanach. It was barred by a solid mass of glimmering stone. The moon door had closed!
And where was Olaf Huldricksson? And who was the man at our feet who brought this calamity down upon us? And what were we to do, prisoned, and my bewildered brain told me, hopelessly prisoned, without food, in the very lair of the Dweller itself?