The Moon Pool, by Abraham Merritt

Chapter XIX

The Madness of Olaf

Yolara threw her white arms high. From the mountainous tiers came a mighty sigh; a rippling ran through them. And upon the moment, before Yolara’s arms fell, there issued, apparently from the air around us, a peal of sound that might have been the shouting of some playful god hurling great suns through the net of stars. It was like the deepest notes of all the organs in the world combined in one; summoning, majestic, cosmic!

It held within it the thunder of the spheres rolling through the infinite, the birth-song of suns made manifest in the womb of space; echoes of creation’s supernal chord! It shook the body like a pulse from the heart of the universe — pulsed — and died away.

On its death came a blaring as of all the trumpets of conquering hosts since the first Pharaoh led his swarms — triumphal, compelling! Alexander’s clamouring hosts, brazen-throated wolf-horns of Caesar’s legions, blare of trumpets of Genghis Khan and his golden horde, clangor of the locust levies of Tamerlane, bugles of Napoleon’s armies — war-shout of all earth’s conquerors! And it died!

Fast upon it, a throbbing, muffled tumult of harp sounds, mellownesses of myriads of wood horns, the subdued sweet shrilling of multitudes of flutes, Pandean pipings — inviting, carrying with them the calling of waterfalls in the hidden places, rushing brooks and murmuring forest winds — calling, calling, languorous, lulling, dripping into the brain like the very honeyed essence of sound.

And after them a silence in which the memory of the music seemed to beat, to beat ever more faintly, through every quivering nerve.

From me all fear, all apprehension, had fled. In their place was nothing but joyous anticipation, a supernal freedom from even the shadow of the shadow of care or sorrow; not now did anything matter — Olaf or his haunted, hate-filled eyes; Throckmartin or his fate — nothing of pain, nothing of agony, nothing of striving nor endeavour nor despair in that wide outer world that had turned suddenly to a troubled dream.

Once more the first great note pealed out! Once more it died and from the clustered spheres a kaleidoscopic blaze shot as though drawn from the majestic sound itself. The many-coloured rays darted across the white waters and sought the face of the irised Veil. As they touched, it sparkled, flamed, wavered, and shook with fountains of prismatic colour.

The light increased — and in its intensity the silver air darkened. Faded into shadow that white mosaic of flower-crowned faces set in the amphitheatre of jet, and vast shadows dropped upon the high-flung tiers and shrouded them. But on the skirts of the rays the fretted stalls in which we sat with the fair-haired ones blazed out, iridescent, like jewels.

I was sensible of an acceleration of every pulse; a wild stimulation of every nerve. I felt myself being lifted above the world — close to the threshold of the high gods — soon their essence and their power would stream out into me! I glanced at Larry. His eyes were — wild — with life!

I looked at Olaf — and in his face was none of this — only hate, and hate, and hate.

The peacock waves streamed out over the waters, cleaving the seeming darkness, a rainbow path of glory. And the Veil flashed as though all the rainbows that had ever shone were burning within it. Again the mighty sound pealed.

Into the centre of the Veil the light drew itself, grew into an intolerable brightness — and with a storm of tinklings, a tempest of crystalline notes, a tumult of tiny chimings, through it sped — the Shining One!

Straight down that radiant path, its high-flung plumes of feathery flame shimmering, its coruscating spirals whirling, its seven globes of seven colours shining above its glowing core, it raced toward us. The hurricane of bells of diamond glass were jubilant, joyous. I felt O’Keefe grip my arm; Yolara threw her white arms out in a welcoming gesture; I heard from the tier a sigh of rapture — and in it a poignant, wailing under-tone of agony!

Over the waters, down the light stream, to the end of the ivory pier, flew the Shining One. Through its crystal pizzicati drifted inarticulate murmurings — deadly sweet, stilling the heart and setting it leaping madly.

For a moment it paused, poised itself, and then came whirling down the flower path to its priestess, slowly, ever more slowly. It hovered for a moment between the woman and the dwarf, as though contemplating them; turned to her with its storm of tinklings softened, its murmurings infinitely caressing. Bent toward it, Yolara seemed to gather within herself pulsing waves of power; she was terrifying; gloriously, maddeningly evil; and as gloriously, maddeningly heavenly! Aphrodite and the Virgin! Tanith of the Carthaginians and St. Bride of the Isles! A queen of hell and a princess of heaven — in one!

Only for a moment did that which we had called the Dweller and which these named the Shining One, pause. It swept up the ramp to the dais, rested there, slowly turning, plumes and spirals lacing and unlacing, throbbing, pulsing. Now its nucleus grew plainer, stronger — human in a fashion, and all inhuman; neither man nor woman; neither god nor devil; subtly partaking of all. Nor could I doubt that whatever it was, within that shining nucleus was something sentient; something that had will and energy, and in some awful, supernormal fashion — intelligence!

Another trumpeting — a sound of stones opening — a long, low wail of utter anguish — something moved shadowy in the river of light, and slowly at first, then ever more rapidly, shapes swam through it. There were half a score of them — girls and youths, women and men. The Shining One poised itself, regarded them. They drew closer, and in the eyes of each and in their faces was the bud of that awful intermingling of emotions, of joy and sorrow, ecstasy and terror, that I had seen in full blossom on Throckmartin’s.

The Thing began again its murmurings — now infinitely caressing, coaxing — like the song of a siren from some witched star! And the bell-sounds rang out — compellingly, calling — calling — calling —

I saw Olaf lean far out of his place; saw, half-consciously, at Lugur’s signal, three of the dwarfs creep in and take places, unnoticed, behind him.

Now the first of the figures rushed upon the dais — and paused. It was the girl who had been brought before Yolara when the gnome named Songar was driven into the nothingness! With all the quickness of light a spiral of the Shining One stretched out and encircled her.

At its touch there was an infinitely dreadful shrinking and, it seemed, a simultaneous hurling of herself into its radiance. As it wrapped its swirls around her, permeated her — the crystal chorus burst forth — tumultuously; through and through her the radiance pulsed. Began then that infinitely dreadful, but infinitely glorious, rhythm they called the dance of the Shining One. And as the girl swirled within its sparkling mists another and another flew into its embrace, until, at last, the dais was an incredible vision; a mad star’s Witches’ Sabbath; an altar of white faces and bodies gleaming through living flame; transfused with rapture insupportable and horror that was hellish — and ever, radiant plumes and spirals expanding, the core of the Shining One waxed — growing greater — as it consumed, as it drew into and through itself the life-force of these lost ones!

So they spun, interlaced — and there began to pulse from them life, vitality, as though the very essence of nature was filling us. Dimly I recognized that what I was beholding was vampirism inconceivable! The banked tiers chanted. The mighty sounds pealed forth!

It was a Saturnalia of demigods!

Then, whirling, bell-notes storming, the Shining One withdrew slowly from the dais down the ramp, still embracing, still interwoven with those who had thrown themselves into its spirals. They drifted with it as though half-carried in dreadful dance; white faces sealed — forever — into that semblance of those who held within linked God and devil — I covered my eyes!

I heard a gasp from O’Keefe; opened my eyes and sought his; saw the wildness vanish from them as he strained forward. Olaf had leaned far out, and as he did so the dwarfs beside him caught him, and whether by design or through his own swift, involuntary movement, thrust him half into the Dweller’s path. The Dweller paused in its gyrations — seemed to watch him. The Norseman’s face was crimson, his eyes blazing. He threw himself back and, with one defiant shout, gripped one of the dwarfs about the middle and sent him hurtling through the air, straight at the radiant Thing! A whirling mass of legs and arms, the dwarf flew — then in midflight stopped as though some gigantic invisible hand had caught him, and — was dashed down upon the platform not a yard from the Shining One!

Like a broken spider he moved — feebly — once, twice. From the Dweller shot a shimmering tentacle — touched him — recoiled. Its crystal tinklings changed into an angry chiming. From all about — jewelled stalls and jet peak — came a sigh of incredulous horror.

Lugur leaped forward. On the instant Larry was over the low barrier between the pillars, rushing to the Norseman’s side. And even as they ran there was another wild shout from Olaf, and he hurled himself out, straight at the throat of the Dweller!

But before he could touch the Shining One, now motionless — and never was the thing more horrible than then, with the purely human suggestion of surprise plain in its poise — Larry had struck him aside.

I tried to follow — and was held by Rador. He was trembling — but not with fear. In his face was incredulous hope, inexplicable eagerness.

“Wait!” he said. “Wait!”

The Shining One stretched out a slow spiral, and as it did so I saw the bravest thing man has ever witnessed. Instantly O’Keefe thrust himself between it and Olaf, pistol out. The tentacle touched him, and the dull blue of his robe flashed out into blinding, intense azure light. From the automatic in his gloved hand came three quick bursts of flame straight into the Thing. The Dweller drew back; the bell-sounds swelled.

Lugur paused, his hand darted up, and in it was one of the silver Keth cones. But before he could flash it upon the Norseman, Larry had unlooped his robe, thrown its fold over Olaf, and, holding him with one hand away from the Shining One, thrust with the other his pistol into the dwarf’s stomach. His lips moved, but I could not hear what he said. But Lugur understood, for his hand dropped.

Now Yolara was there — all this had taken barely more than five seconds. She thrust herself between the three men and the Dweller. She spoke to it — and the wild buzzing died down; the gay crystal tinklings burst forth again. The Thing murmured to her — began to whirl — faster, faster — passed down the ivory pier, out upon the waters, bearing with it, meshed in its light, the sacrifices — swept on ever more swiftly, triumphantly and turning, turning, with its ghastly crew, vanished through the Veil!

Abruptly the polychromatic path snapped out. The silver light poured in upon us. From all the amphitheatre arose a clamour, a shouting. Marakinoff, his eyes staring, was leaning out, listening. Unrestrained now by Rador, I vaulted the wall and rushed forward. But not before I had heard the green dwarf murmur:

“There is something stronger than the Shining One! Two things — yea — a strong heart — and hate!”

Olaf, panting, eyes glazed, trembling, shrank beneath my hand.

“The devil that took my Helma!” I heard him whisper. “The Shining Devil!”

“Both these men,” Lugur was raging, “they shall dance with the Shining one. And this one, too.” He pointed at me malignantly.

“This man is mine,” said the priestess, and her voice was menacing. She rested her hand on Larry’s shoulder. “He shall not dance. No — nor his friend. I have told you I dare not for this one!” She pointed to Olaf.

“Neither this man, nor this,” said Larry, “shall be harmed. This is my word, Yolara!”

“Even so,” she answered quietly, “my lord!”

I saw Marakinoff stare at O’Keefe with a new and curiously speculative interest. Lugur’s eyes grew hellish; he raised his arms as though to strike her. Larry’s pistol prodded him rudely enough.

“No rough stuff now, kid!” said O’Keefe in English. The red dwarf quivered, turned — caught a robe from a priest standing by, and threw it over himself. The ladala, shouting, gesticulating, fighting with the soldiers, were jostling down from the tiers of jet.

“Come!” commanded Yolara — her eyes rested upon Larry. “Your heart is great, indeed — my lord!” she murmured; and her voice was very sweet. “Come!”

“This man comes with us, Yolara,” said O’Keefe pointing to Olaf.

“Bring him,” she said. “Bring him — only tell him to look no more upon me as before!” she added fiercely.

Beside her the three of us passed along the stalls, where sat the fair-haired, now silent, at gaze, as though in the grip of some great doubt. Silently Olaf strode beside me. Rador had disappeared. Down the stairway, through the hall of turquoise mist, over the rushing sea-stream we went and stood beside the wall through which we had entered. The white-robed ones had gone.

Yolara pressed; the portal opened. We stepped upon the car; she took the lever; we raced through the faintly luminous corridor to the house of the priestess.

And one thing now I knew sick at heart and soul the truth had come to me — no more need to search for Throckmartin. Behind that Veil, in the lair of the Dweller, dead-alive like those we had just seen swim in its shining train was he, and Edith, Stanton and Thora and Olaf Huldricksson’s wife!

The car came to rest; the portal opened; Yolara leaped out lightly, beckoned and flitted up the corridor. She paused before an ebon screen. At a touch it vanished, revealing an entrance to a small blue chamber, glowing as though cut from the heart of some gigantic sapphire; bare, save that in its centre, upon a low pedestal, stood a great globe fashioned from milky rock-crystal; upon its surface were faint tracings as of seas and continents, but, if so, either of some other world or of this world in immemorial past, for in no way did they resemble the mapped coastlines of our earth.

Poised upon the globe, rising from it out into space, locked in each other’s arms, lips to lips, were two figures, a woman and a man, so exquisite, so lifelike, that for the moment I failed to realize that they, too, were carved of the crystal. And before this shrine — for nothing else could it be, I knew — three slender cones raised themselves: one of purest white flame, one of opalescent water, and the third of — moonlight! There was no mistaking them, the height of a tall man each stood — but how water, flame and light were held so evenly, so steadily in their spire-shapes, I could not tell.

Yolara bowed lowly — once, twice, thrice. She turned to O’Keefe, nor by slightest look or gesture betrayed she knew others were there than he. The blue eyes wide, searching, unfathomable, she drew close; put white hands on his shoulders, looked down into his very soul.

“My lord,” she murmured. “Now listen well for I, Yolara, give you three things — myself, and the Shining One, and the power that is the Shining One’s — yea, and still a fourth thing that is all three — power over all upon that world from whence you came! These, my lord, ye shall have. I swear it”— she turned toward the altar — uplifted her arms —“by Siya and by Siyana, and by the flame, by the water, and by the light!” 1

1 I have no space here even to outline the eschatology of this people, nor to catalogue their pantheon. Siya and Siyana typified worldly love. Their ritual was, however, singularly free from those degrading elements usually found in love-cults. Priests and priestesses of all cults dwelt in the immense seven-terraced structure, of which the jet amphitheatre was the water side. The symbol, icon, representation, of Siya and Siyana — the globe and the up-striving figures — typified earthly love, feet bound to earth, but eyes among the stars. Hell or heaven I never heard formulated, nor their equivalents; unless that existence in the Shining One’s domain could serve for either. Over all this was Thanaroa, remote; unheeding, but still maker and ruler of all — an absentee First Cause personified! Thanaroa seemed to be the one article of belief in the creed of the soldiers — Rador, with his reverence for the Ancient Ones, was an exception. Whatever there was, indeed, of high, truly religious impulse among the Murians, this far, High God had. I found this exceedingly interesting, because it had long been my theory — to put the matter in the shape of a geometrical formula — that the real attractiveness of gods to man increases uniformly according to the square of their distance — W. T. G.

Her eyes grew purple dark.

“Let none dare to take you from me! Nor ye go from me unbidden!” she whispered fiercely.

Then swiftly, still ignoring us, she threw her arms about O’Keefe, pressed her white body to his breast, lips raised, eyes closed, seeking his. O’Keefe’s arms tightened around her, his head dropped lips seeking, finding hers — passionately! From Olaf came a deep indrawn breath that was almost a groan. But not in my heart could I find blame for the Irishman!

The priestess opened eyes now all misty blue, thrust him back, stood regarding him. O’Keefe, dead-white, raised a trembling hand to his face.

“And thus have I sealed my oath, O my lord!” she whispered. For the first time she seemed to recognize our presence, stared at us a moment, then through us, and turned to O’Keefe.

“Go, now!” she said. “Soon Rador shall come for you. Then — well, after that let happen what will!”

She smiled once more at him — so sweetly; turned toward the figures upon the great globe; sank upon her knees before them. Quietly we crept away; still silent, made our way to the little pavilion. But as we passed we heard a tumult from the green roadway; shouts of men, now and then a woman’s scream. Through a rift in the garden I glimpsed a jostling crowd on one of the bridges: green dwarfs struggling with the ladala — and all about droned a humming as of a giant hive disturbed!

Larry threw himself down upon one of the divans, covered his face with his hands, dropped them to catch in Olaf’s eyes troubled reproach, looked at me.

I couldn’t help it,” he said, half defiantly — half-miserably. “God, what a woman! I COULDN’T help it!”

“Larry,” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell her you didn’t love her — then?”

He gazed at me — the old twinkle back in his eye.

“Spoken like a scientist, Doc!” he exclaimed. “I suppose if a burning angel struck you out of nowhere and threw itself about you, you would most dignifiedly tell it you didn’t want to be burned. For God’s sake, don’t talk nonsense, Goodwin!” he ended, almost peevishly.

“Evil! Evil!” The Norseman’s voice was deep, nearly a chant. “All here is of evil: Trolldom and Helvede it is, Ja! And that she djaevelsk of beauty — what is she but harlot of that shining devil they worship. I, Olaf Huldricksson, know what she meant when she held out to you power over all the world, Ja! — as if the world had not devils enough in it now!”

“What?” The cry came from both O’Keefe and myself at once.

Olaf made a gesture of caution, relapsed into sullen silence. There were footsteps on the path, and into sight came Rador — but a Rador changed. Gone was every vestige of his mockery; curiously solemn, he saluted O’Keefe and Olaf with that salute which, before this, I had seen given only to Yolara and to Lugur. There came a swift quickening of the tumult — died away. He shrugged mighty shoulders.

“The ladala are awake!” he said. “So much for what two brave men can do!” He paused thoughtfully. “Bones and dust jostle not each other for place against the grave wall!” he added oddly. “But if bones and dust have revealed to them that they still — live —”

He stopped abruptly, eyes seeking the globe that bore and sent forth speech. 1

1 I find that I have neglected to explain the working of these interesting mechanisms that were telephonic, dictaphonic, telegraphic in one. I must assume that my readers are familiar with the receiving apparatus of wireless telegraphy, which must be “tuned” by the operator until its own vibratory quality is in exact harmony with the vibrations — the extremely rapid impacts — of those short electric wavelengths we call Hertzian, and which carry the wireless messages. I must assume also that they are familiar with the elementary fact of physics that the vibrations of light and sound are interchangeable. The hearing-talking globes utilize both these principles, and with consummate simplicity. The light with which they shone was produced by an atomic “motor” within their base, similar to that which activated the merely illuminating globes. The composition of the phonic spheres gave their surfaces an acute sensitivity and resonance. In conjunction with its energizing power, the metal set up what is called a “field of force,” which linked it with every particle of its kind no matter how distant. When vibrations of speech impinged upon the resonant surface its rhythmic light-vibrations were broken, just as a telephone transmitter breaks an electric current. Simultaneously these light-vibrations were changed into sound — on the surfaces of all spheres tuned to that particular instrument. The “crawling” colours which showed themselves at these times were literally the voice of the speaker in its spectrum equivalent. While usually the sounds produced required considerable familiarity with the apparatus to be understood quickly, they could, on occasion, be made startlingly loud and clear — as I was soon to realize — W. T. G.

“The Afyo Maie has sent me to watch over you till she summons you,” he announced clearly. “There is to be a — feast. You, Larree, you Goodwin, are to come. I remain here with — Olaf.”

“No harm to him!” broke in O’Keefe sharply. Rador touched his heart, his eyes.

“By the Ancient Ones, and by my love for you, and by what you twain did before the Shining One — I swear it!” he whispered.

Rador clapped palms; a soldier came round the path, in his grip a long flat box of polished wood. The green dwarf took it, dismissed him, threw open the lid.

“Here is your apparel for the feast, Larree,” he said, pointing to the contents.

O’Keefe stared, reached down and drew out a white, shimmering, softly metallic, long-sleeved tunic, a broad, silvery girdle, leg swathings of the same argent material, and sandals that seemed to be cut out from silver. He made a quick gesture of angry dissent.

“Nay, Larree!” muttered the dwarf. “Wear them — I counsel it — I pray it — ask me not why,” he went on swiftly, looking again at the globe.

O’Keefe, as I, was impressed by his earnestness. The dwarf made a curiously expressive pleading gesture. O’Keefe abruptly took the garments; passed into the room of the fountain.

“The Shining One dances not again?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “No”— he hesitate —“it is the usual feast that follows the sacrament! Lugur — and Double Tongue, who came with you, will be there,” he added slowly.

“Lugur —” I gasped in astonishment. “After what happened — he will be there?”

“Perhaps because of what happened, Goodwin, my friend,” he answered — his eyes again full of malice; “and there will be others — friends of Yolara — friends of Lugur — and perhaps another”— his voice was almost inaudible —“one whom they have not called —” He halted, half-fearfully, glancing at the globe; put finger to lips and spread himself out upon one of the couches.

“Strike up the band”— came O’Keefe’s voice —“here comes the hero!”

He strode into the room. I am bound to say that the admiration in Rador’s eyes was reflected in my own, and even, if involuntarily, in Olaf’s.

“A son of Siyana!” whispered Rador.

He knelt, took from his girdle-pouch a silk-wrapped something, unwound it — and, still kneeling, drew out a slender poniard of gleaming white metal, hilted with the blue stones; he thrust it into O’Keefe’s girdle; then gave him again the rare salute.

“Come,” he ordered and took us to the head of the pathway.

“Now,” he said grimly, “let the Silent Ones show their power — if they still have it!”

And with this strange benediction, be turned back.

“For God’s sake, Larry,” I urged as we approached the house of the priestess, “you’ll be careful!”

He nodded — but I saw with a little deadly pang of apprehension in my heart a puzzled, lurking doubt within his eyes.

As we ascended the serpent steps Marakinoff appeared. He gave a signal to our guards — and I wondered what influence the Russian had attained, for promptly, without question, they drew aside. At me he smiled amiably.

“Have you found your friends yet?” he went on — and now I sensed something deeply sinister in him. “No! It is too bad! Well, don’t give up hope.” He turned to O’Keefe.

“Lieutenant, I would like to speak to you — alone!”

“I’ve no secrets from Goodwin,” answered O’Keefe.

“So?” queried Marakinoff, suavely. He bent, whispered to Larry.

The Irishman started, eyed him with a certain shocked incredulity, then turned to me.

“Just a minute, Doc!” he said, and I caught the suspicion of a wink. They drew aside, out of ear-shot. The Russian talked rapidly. Larry was all attention. Marakinoff’s earnestness became intense; O’Keefe interrupted — appeared to question. Marakinoff glanced at me and as his gaze shifted from O’Keefe, I saw a flame of rage and horror blaze up in the latter’s eyes. At last the Irishman appeared to consider gravely; nodded as though he had arrived at some decision, and Marakinoff thrust his hand to him.

And only I could have noticed Larry’s shrinking, his microscopic hesitation before he took it, and his involuntary movement, as though to shake off something unclean, when the clasp had ended.

Marakinoff, without another look at me, turned and went quickly within. The guards took their places. I looked at Larry inquiringly.

“Don’t ask a thing now, Doc!” he said tensely. “Wait till we get home. But we’ve got to get damned busy and quick — I’ll tell you that now —”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09