The Slayer of Souls, by Robert W. Chambers

Chapter 15.

In the Firelight

In 1920 the whole spiritual world was trembling under the thunderous shock of the Red Surf pounding the frontiers of civilisation from pole to pole.

Up out of the hell-pit of Asia had boiled the molten flood, submerging Russia, dashing in giant waves over Germany and Austria, drenching Italy, France, England with its bloody spindrift.

And now the Red Rain was sprinkling the United States from coast to coast, and the mindless administration, scared out of its stupidity at last, began a frantic attempt to drain the country of the filthy flood and throw up barriers against the threatened deluge.

In every state and city Federal agents made wholesale arrests — too late!

A million minds had already been perverted and dominated by the terrible Sect of the Assassins. A million more were sickening under the awful psychic power of the Yezidee.

Thousands of the disciples of the Yezidee devil-worshipers had already been arrested and held for deportation — poor, wretched creatures whose minds were no longer their own, but had been stealthily surprised, seized and mastered by the Mongol adepts and filled with ferocious hatred against their fellow men.

Yet, of the Eight Yezidee Assassins only two now remained alive in America — Togrul, and Sanang, the Slayer of Souls.

Yarghouz was dead; Djamouk the Fox, Kahn of the Fifth Tower was dead; Yaddin-ed-din, Arrak the Sou–Sou, Gutchlug, Tiyang Kahn, all were dead. Six Towers had become dark and silent. From them the last evil thought, the last evil shape has sped; the last wicked prayer had been said to Erlik, Khagan of all Darkness.

But his emissary on earth, Prince Sanang, still lived. And at Sanang’s heels stole Togrul, Tougtchi to Sanang Noïane, the Slayer of Souls.

In the United States there had been a cessation of the active campaign of violence toward those in authority. Such unhappy dupes of the Yezidees as the I.W.W. and other radicals were, for the time, physically quiescent. Crude terrorism with its more brutal outrages against life and law ceased. But two million sullen eyes, in which all independent human thought had been extinguished, watched unblinking the wholesale arrests by the government — watched panic-stricken officials rushing hither and thither to execute the mandate of a miserable administration — watched and waited in dreadful silence.

In that period of ominous quiet which possessed the land, the little group of Secret Service men that surrounded the young girl who alone stood between a trembling civilisation and the threat of hell’s own chaos, became convinced that Sanang was preparing a final and terrible effort to utterly overwhelm the last vestige of civilisation in the United States.

What shape that plan would develop they could not guess.

John Recklow sent Benton to Chicago to watch that centre of infection for the appearance there of the Yezidee Togrul.

Selden went to Boston where a half-witted group of parlour-socialists at Cambridge were talking too loudly and loosely to please even the most tolerant at Harvard.

But neither Togrul nor Sanang had, so far, materialised in either city; and John Recklow prowled the purlieus of New York, haunting strange byways and obscure quarters where the dull embers of revolution always smouldered, watching for the Yezidee who was the deep-bedded, vital root of this psychic evil which menaced the minds of all mankind — Sanang, the Slayer of Souls.

Recklow’s lodgings were tucked away in Westover Court — three bedrooms, a parlour and a kitchenette. Tressa Cleves occupied one bedroom; her husband another; Recklow the third.

And in this tiny apartment, hidden away among a group of old buildings, the very existence of which was unknown to the millions who swarmed the streets of the greatest city in the world — here in Westover Court, a dozen paces from the roar of Broadway, was now living a young girl upon whose psychic power the only hope of the world now rested.

The afternoon had turned grey and bitter; ragged flakes still fell; a pallid twilight possessed the snowy city, through which lighted trains and taxis moved in the foggy gloom.

By three o’clock in the afternoon all shops were illuminated; the south windows of the Hotel Astor across the street spread a sickly light over the old buildings of Westover Court as John Recklow entered the tiled hallway, took the stairs to the left, and went directly to his apartment.

He unlocked the door and let himself in and stood a moment in the entry shaking the snow from his hat and overcoat.

The sitting-room lamp was unlighted but he could see a fire in the grate, and Tressa Cleves seated near, her eyes fixed on the glowing coals.

He bade her good evening in a low voice; she turned her charming head and nodded, and he drew a chair to the fender and stretched out his wet shoes to the warmth.

“Is Victor still out?” he inquired.

She said that her husband had not yet returned. Her eyes were on the fire, Recklow’s rested on her shadowy face.

“Benton got his man in Chicago,” he said. “It was not Togrul Kahn.”

“Who was it?”

“Only a Swami fakir who’d been preaching sedition to the little group of greasy Bengalese from Seattle . . . I’ve heard from Selden, too.”

She nodded listlessly and lifted her eyes.

“Neither Sanang nor Togrul has appeared in Boston,” he said. “I think they’re here in New York.”

The girl said nothing.

After a silence:

“Are you worried about your husband?” he asked abruptly.

“I am always uneasy when he is absent,” she said quietly.

“Of course . . . But I don’t suppose he knows that.”

“I suppose not.”

Recklow leaned over, took a coal in the tongs and lighted a cigar. Leaning back in his armchair, he said in a musing voice:

“No, I suppose your husband does not realise that you are so deeply concerned over his welfare.”

The girl remained silent.

“I suppose,” said Recklow softly, “he doesn’t dream you are in love with him.”

Tressa Cleves did not stir a muscle. After a long silence she said in her even voice:

“Do you think I am in love with my husband, Mr. Recklow?”

“I think you fell in love with him the first evening you met him.”

“I did.”

Neither of them spoke again for some minutes. Recklow’s cigar went wrong; he rose and found another and returned to the fire, but did not light it.

“It’s a rotten day, isn’t it?” he said with a shiver, and dumped a scuttle of coal on the fire.

They watched the blue flames playing over the grate.

Tressa said: “I could no more help falling in love with him than I could stop my heart beating . . . But I did not dream that anybody knew.”

“Don’t you think he ought to know?”

“Why? He is not in love with me.”

“Are you sure, Mrs. Cleves?”

“Yes. He is wonderfully sweet and kind. But he could not fall in love with a girl who has been what I have been.”

Recklow smiled. “What have you been, Tressa Norne?”

“You know.”

“A temple girl in Yian?”

“And at the Lake of the Ghosts,” she said in a low voice.

“What of it?”

“I can not tell you, Mr. Recklow . . . Only that I lost my soul in the Yezidee Temple —”

“That is untrue!”

“I wish it were untrue . . . My husband tells me that nothing can really harm the soul. I try to believe him . . . But Erlik lives. And when my soul at last shall escape my body, it shall not escape the Slayer of Souls.”

“That is monstrously untrue —”

“No. I tell you that Prince Sanang slew my soul. And my soul’s ghost belongs to Erlik. How can any man fall in love with such a girl?”

“Why do you say that Sanang slew your soul?” asked Recklow, peering at her averted face through the reddening firelight.

She lay still in her chair for a moment, then turned suddenly to him:

“He did slay it! He came to the Lake of the Ghosts as my lover; he meant to have done it there; but I would not have him — would not listen, nor suffer his touch! — I mocked at him and his passion. I laughed at his Tchortchas. They were afraid of me! —”

She half rose from her chair, grasped the arm, then seated herself again, her eyes ablaze with the memory of wrongs.

“How dare I show my dear lord that I am in love with him when Sanang’s soul caught my soul out of my body one day — surprised my soul while my body lay asleep in the Yezidee Temple! — and bore it in his arms to the very gates of hell!”

“Good God,” whispered Recklow, “what do you mean? Such things can’t happen.”

“Why not? They do happen. I was caught unawares . . . It was one golden afternoon, and Yulun and Sansa and I were eating oranges by the fountain of the inner shrine. And I lay down by the pool and made the effort — you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Very well. My soul left my body asleep and I went out over the tops of the flowers — idly, without aim or intent — as the winds blow in summer . . . It was in the Wood of the White Moth that I saw Sanang’s soul flash downward like a streak of fire and wrap my soul in flame! . . . And, in a flash, we were at the gates of hell before I could free myself from his embrace . . . Then, by the Temple pool, among the oranges, I cried out in my sleep; and my terrified body sat up sobbing and trembling in Yulun’s arms. But the Slayer of Souls had slain mine in the Wood of the White Moth — slain it as he caught me in his flaming arms . . . And now you know why such a woman as I dare not bend to kiss the dust from my dear lord’s feet — Aie-a! Aie-a! I who have lost my girl’s soul to him who slew it in the Wood of the White Moth!”

She sat rocking in her chair in the red firelight, her hands framing her lovely face, her eyes staring straight ahead as though they saw opening before them through the sombre shadows of that room all the dread magic of the East where the dancing flame of Sanang’s blazing soul lighted their path to hell through the enchanted forest.

Recklow had grown pale, but his voice was steady.

“I see no reason,” he said, “why your husband should not love you.”

“I tell you my girl’s soul belonged to Sanang — was part of his, for an instant.”

“It is burned pure of dross.”

“It is burned.”

Recklow remained silent. Tressa lay deep in her armchair, twisting her white fingers.

“What make him so late?” she said . . . “I sent my soul out twice to look for him, and could not find him.”

“Send it out again,” said Recklow, fearfully.

For ten minutes the girl lay as though asleep, then her eyes unclosed and she said drowsily: “I can not find him.”

“Did — did you learn anything while — while you were — away?” asked Recklow cautiously.

“Nothing. There is a thick darkness out there — I mean a darkness gathering over the whole land. It is like a black fog. When the damned pray to Erlik there is a darkness that gathers like a brown mist —”

Her voice ceased; her hands tightened on the arms of her chair.

“That is what Sanang is doing!” she said in a breathless voice.

“What?” demanded Recklow.

“Praying! That is what he is doing! A million perverted minds which he has seized and obsessed are being concentrated on blasphemous prayers to Erlik! Sanang is directing them. Do you understand the terrible power of a million minds all willing, in unison, the destruction of good and the triumph of evil? A million human minds! More! For that is what he is doing. That is the thick darkness that is gathering over the entire Western world. It is the terrific materialisation of evil power from evil minds, all focussed upon the single thought that evil must triumph and good die!”

She sat, gripping the arms of her chair, pale, rigid, terrible alert, dreadfully enlightened, now, concentrating the awful and new menace threatening the sanity of mankind.

She said in her steady, emotionless voice: “When the Yezidee Sorcerers desire to overwhelm a nomad people — some yort perhaps that has resisted the Sheiks of the Eight Towers, then the Slayer of Souls rides with his Black Banners to the Namaz–Ga or Place of Prayer.

“Two marble bridges lead to it. There are fourteen hundred mosques there. Then comes the Eight, each with his shroud, chanting the prayers for those dead in hell. And there the Yezidees pray blasphemously, all their minds in ferocious unison . . . And I have seen a little yort full of Broad Faces with their slanting eyes and sparse beards, sicken and die, and turn black in the sun as though the plague had breathed on them. And I have seen the Long Noses and bushy beards of walled towns wither and perish in the blast and blight form the Namaz–Ga where the Slayer of Souls sat his saddle and prayed to Erlik, and half a million Yezidees prayed in blasphemous unison.”

Recklow’s head rested on his left hand. The other, unconsciously, had crept toward his pistol — the weapon which had become so useless in this awful struggle between this girl and the loosened forces of hell.

“Is that what you think Sanang is about?” he asked heavily.

“Yes. I know it. He has seized the minds of a million men in America. Every anarchist is to-day concentrating in one evil and supreme mental effort, under Sanang’s direction, to will the triumph of evil and the doom of civilisation . . . I wish my husband would come home.”

“Tressa?”

She turned her pallid face in the firelight: “If Sanang has appointed a Place of Prayer,” she said, “he himself will pray on that spot. That will be the Namaz–Ga for the last two Yezidee Sorcerers still alive in the Western world.”

“That’s what I wished to ask you,” said Recklow softly. “Will you try once more, Tressa?”

“Yes. I will send out my soul again to look for the Namaz–Ga.”

She lay back in her armchair and closed her eyes.

“Only,” she added, as though to herself, “I wish my dear lord were safe in this room beside me . . . May God’s warriors be his escort. And surely they are well armed, and can prevail over demons. Aie-a! I wish my lord would come home out of the darkness . . . Mr. Recklow?”

“Yes, Tressa.”

“I thought I heard him on the stairs.”

“Not yet.”

“Aie-a!” she sighed and closed her eyes again.

She lay like one dead. There was no sound in the room save the soft purr of the fire.

Suddenly from the sleeping girl a frightened voice burst: “Yulun! Yulun! Where is that yellow maid of the Baroulass? . . . What is she doing? That sleek young thing belongs to Togrul Kahn? Yulun! I am afraid of her! Tell Sansa to watch that she does not stir from the Lake of the Ghosts! . . . Warn that young Baroulass Sorceress that if she stirs I slay her. And know how to do it in spite of Sanang and all the prayers from the Namaz–Ga! Yulun! Sansa! Watch her, follow her, hearts of flame! My soul is ransom for yours! Tokhta!”

The girl’s eyes unclosed. Presently she stirred slightly, passing one hand across her forehead, turned her head toward Recklow.

“I could not discover the Namaz–Ga,” she said wearily. “I wish my husband would return.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:29