For many minutes we stood silent, in the shadowy chamber, listening, each absorbed in his own thoughts. The thunderous drumming was continuous; sometimes it faded into a background for clattering storms as of thousands of machine guns, thousands of riveters at work at once upon a thousand metal frameworks; sometimes it was nearly submerged beneath splitting crashes as of meeting meteors of hollow steel.
But always the drumming persisted, rhythmic, thunderous. Through it all Ruth slept, undisturbed, cheek pillowed in one rounded arm, the two great pyramids erect behind her, watchful; a globe at her feet, a globe at her head, the third sphere poised between her and us, and, like the pyramids — watchful.
What was happening out there — over the edge of the canyon, beyond the portal of the cliffs, behind the veils, in the Pit of the Metal Monster? What was the message of the roaring drums? What the rede of their clamorous runes?
Ventnor stepped by the sentinel globe, bent over the tranced girl. Sphere nor pointed pair stirred; only they watched him — like a palpable thing one felt their watchfulness. He listened to her heart, caught up a wrist, took note of her pulse of life. He drew a deep breath, stood upright, nodded reassuringly.
Abruptly Drake turned, walked out through the open portal, his strain and a very deep anxiety written plainly in deep lines that ran from nostrils to firm young mouth.
“Just went out to look for the pony,” he muttered when he returned. “It’s safe. I was afraid it had been stepped on. It’s getting dusk. There’s a big light down the canyon — over in the valley.”
Ventnor drew back past the globe; rejoined us.
The blue bower trembled under a gust of sound. Ruth stirred; her brows knitted; her hands clenched. The sphere that stood before her spun on its axis, swept up to the globe at her head, glided from it to the globe at her feet — as though whispering. Ruth moaned — her body bent upright, swayed rigidly. Her eyes opened; they stared through us as though upon some dreadful vision; and strangely was it as though she were seeing with another’s eyes, were reflecting another’s sufferings.
The globes at her feet and at her head swirled out, clustering against the third sphere — three weird shapes in silent consultation. On Ventnor’s face I saw pity — and a vast relief. With shocked amaze I realized that Ruth’s agony — for in agony she clearly was — was calling forth in him elation. He spoke — and I knew why.
“Norhala!” he whispered. “She is seeing with Norhala’s eyes — feeling what Norhala feels. It’s not going well with — That — out there. If we dared leave Ruth — could only, see —”
Ruth leaped to her feet; cried out — a golden bugling that might have been Norhala’s own wrathful trumpet notes. Instantly the two pyramids flamed open, became two gleaming stars that bathed her in violet radiance. Beneath their upper tips I saw the blasting ovals glitter — menacingly.
The girl glared at us — more brilliant grew the glittering ovals as though their lightnings trembled on their lips.
“Ruth!” called Ventnor softly.
A shadow softened the intolerable, hard brilliancy of the brown eyes. In them something struggled to arise, fighting its way to the surface like some drowning human thing.
It sank back — upon her face dropped a cloud of heartbreak, appalling woe; the despair of a soul that, having withdrawn all faith in its own kind to rest all faith, as it thought, on angels — sees that faith betrayed.
There stared upon us a stripped spirit, naked and hopeless and terrible.
Despairing, raging, she screamed once more. The central globe swam to her; it raised her upon its back; glided to the doorway. Upon it she stood poised like some youthful, anguished Victory — a Victory who faced and knew she faced destroying defeat; poised upon that enigmatic orb on bare slender feet, one sweet breast bare, hands upraised, virginally archaic, nothing about her of the Ruth we knew.
“Ruth!” cried Drake; despair as great as that upon her face was in his voice. He sprang before the globe that held her; barred its way.
For an instant the Thing paused — and in that instant the human soul of the girl rushed back.
“No!” she cried. “No!”
A weird call issued from the white lips — stumbling, uncertain, as though she who sent it forth herself wondered whence it sprang. Abruptly the angry stars closed. The three globes spun — doubting, puzzled! Again she called — now a tremulous, halting cadence. She was lifted; dropped gently to her feet.
For an instant the globes and pyramids whirled and danced before her — then sped away through the portal.
Ruth swayed, sobbing. Then as though drawn, she ran to the doorway, fled through it. As one we sprang after her. Rods ahead her white body flashed, speeding toward the Pit. Like fleet-footed Atalanta she fled — and far, far behind us was the blue bower, the misty barrier of the veils close, when Drake with a last desperate burst reached her side, gripped her. Down the two fell, rolling upon the smooth roadway. Silently she fought, biting, tearing at Drake, struggling to escape.
“Quick!” gasped Ventnor, stretching out to me an arm. “Cut off the sleeve. Quick!”
Unquestioningly, I drew my knife, ripped the garment at the shoulder. He snatched the sleeve, knelt at Ruth’s head; rapidly he crumpled an end, thrust it roughly into her mouth; tied it fast, gagging her.
“Hold her!” he ordered Drake; and with a sob of relief sprang up. The girl’s eyes blazed at him, filled with hate.
“Cut that other sleeve,” he said; and when I had done so, he knelt again, pinned Ruth down with a knee at her throat, turned her over and knotted her hands behind her. She ceased struggling; gently now he drew up the curly head; swung her upon her back.
“Hold her feet.” He nodded to Drake, who caught the slender bare ankles in his hands.
She lay there, helpless, being unable to use her hands or feet.
“Too little Ruth, and too much Norhala,” said Ventnor, looking up at me. “If she’d only thought to cry out! She could have brought a regiment of those Things down to blast us. And would — if she HAD thought. You don’t think THAT is Ruth, do you?”
He pointed to the pallid face glaring at him, the eyes from which cold fires flamed.
“No, you don’t!” He caught Drake by the shoulder, sent him spinning a dozen feet away. “Damn it, Drake — don’t you understand!”
For suddenly Ruth’s eyes softened; she had turned them on Dick pitifully, appealingly — and he had loosed her ankles, had leaned forward as though to draw away the band that covered her lips.
“Your gun,” whispered Ventnor to me; before I had moved he had snatched the automatic from my holster; had covered Drake with it.
“Drake,” he said, “stand where you are. If you take another step toward this girl I’ll shoot you — by God, I will!”
Drake halted, shocked amazement in his face; I myself felt resentful, wondering at his outburst.
“But it’s hurting her,” he muttered, Ruth’s eyes, soft and pleading, still dwelt upon him.
“Hurting her!” exclaimed Ventnor. “Man — she’s my sister! I know what I’m doing. Can’t you see? Can’t you see how little of Ruth is in that body there — how little of the girl you love? How or why I don’t know — but that it is so I DO know. Drake — have you forgotten how Norhala beguiled Cherkis? I want my sister back. I’m helping her to get back. Now let be. I know what I’m doing. Look at her!”
We looked. In the face that glared up at Ventnor was nothing of Ruth — even as he had said. There was the same cold, awesome wrath that had rested upon Norhala’s as she watched Cherkis weep over the eating up of his city. Swiftly came a change — like the sudden smoothing out of the rushing waves of a hill-locked, wind-lashed lake.
The face was again Ruth’s face — and Ruth’s alone; the eyes were Ruth’s eyes — supplicating, adjuring.
“Ruth!” Ventnor cried. “While you can hear — am I not right?”
She nodded vigorously, sternly; she was lost, hidden once more.
“You see.” He turned to us grimly.
A shattering shaft of light flashed upon the veils; almost pierced them. An avalanche of sound passed high above us. Yet now I noted that where we stood the clamor was lessened, muffled. Of course, it came to me, it was the veils.
I wondered why — for whatever the quality of the radiant mists, their purpose certainly had to do with concentration of the magnetic flux. The deadening of the noise must be accidental, could have nothing to do with their actual use; for sound is an air vibration solely. No — it must be a secondary effect. The Metal Monster was as heedless of clamor as it was of heat or cold —
“We’ve got to see,” Ventnor broke the chain of thought. “We’ve got to get through and see what’s happening. Win or lose — we’ve got to KNOW.”
“Cut off your sleeve, as I did,” he motioned to Drake. “Tie her ankles. We’ll carry her.”
Quickly it was done. Ruth’s light body swinging between brother and lover, we moved forward into the mists; we crept cautiously through their dead silences.
Passed out and fell back into them from a searing chaos of light, chaotic tumult.
From the slackened grip of Ventnor and Drake the body of Ruth dropped while we three stood blinded, deafened, fighting for recovery. Ruth twisted, rolled toward the brink; Ventnor threw himself upon her, held her fast.
Dragging her, crawling on our knees, we crept forward; we stopped when the thinning of the mists permitted us to see through them yet still interposed a curtaining which, though tenuous, dimmed the intolerable brilliancy that filled the Pit, muffled its din to a degree we could bear.
I peered through them — and nerve and muscle were locked in the grip of a paralyzing awe. I felt then as one would feel set close to warring regiments of stars, made witness to the death-throes of a universe, or swept through space and held above the whirling coils of Andromeda’s nebula to watch its birth agonies of nascent suns.
These are no figures of speech, no hyperboles — speck as our whole planet would be in Andromeda’s vast loom, pinprick as was the Pit to the cyclone craters of our own sun, within the cliff-cupped walls of the valley was a tangible, struggling living force akin to that which dwells within the nebula and the star; a cosmic spirit transcending all dimensions and thrusting its confines out into the infinite; a sentient emanation of the infinite itself.
Nor was its voice less unearthly. It used the shell of the earth valley for its trumpetings, its clangors — but as one hears in the murmurings of the fluted conch the great voice of ocean, its whispering and its roarings, so here in the clamorous shell of the Pit echoed the tremendous voices of that illimitable sea which laps the shores of the countless suns.
I looked upon a mighty whirlpool miles and miles wide. It whirled with surges whose racing crests were smiting incandescences; it was threaded with a spindrift of lightnings; it was trodden by dervish mists of molten flame thrust through with forests of lances of living light. It cast a cadent spray high to the heavens.
Over it the heavens glittered as though they were a shield held by fearful gods. Through the maelstrom staggered a mountainous bulk; a gleaming leviathan of pale blue metal caught in the swirling tide of some incredible volcano; a huge ark of metal breasting a deluge of flame.
And the drumming we heard as of hollow beaten metal worlds, the shouting tempests of cannonading stars, was the breaking of these incandescent crests, the falling of the lightning spindrift, the rhythmic impact of the lanced rays upon the glimmering mountain that reeled and trembled as they struck it.
The reeling mountain, the struggling leviathan, was — the City!
It was the mass of the Metal Monster itself, guarded by, stormed by, its own legions that though separate from it were still as much of it as were the cells that formed the skin of its walls, its carapace.
It was the Metal Monster tearing, rending, fighting for, battling against — itself.
Mile high as when I had first beheld it was the inexplicable body that held the great heart of the cones into which had been drawn the magnetic cataracts from our sun; that held too the smaller hearts of the lesser cones, the workshops, the birth chamber and manifold other mysteries unguessed and unseen. By a full fourth had its base been shrunken.
Ranged in double line along the side turned toward us were hundreds of dread forms — Shapes that in their intensity bore down upon, oppressed with a nightmare weight, the consciousness.
Rectangular, upon their outlines no spike of pyramid, no curve of globe showing, uncompromisingly ponderous, they upthrust. Upon the tops of the first rank were enormous masses, sledge shaped — like those metal fists that had battered down the walls of Cherkis’s city but to them as the human hand is to the paw of the dinosaur.
Conceive this — conceive these Shapes as animate and flexible; beating down with the prodigious mallets, smashing from side to side as though the tremendous pillars that held them were thousand jointed upright pistons; that as closely as I can present it in images of things we know is the picture of the Hammering Things.
Behind them stood a second row, high as they and as angular. From them extended scores of girdered arms. These were thickly studded with the flaming cruciform shapes, the opened cubes gleaming with their angry flares of reds and smoky yellows. From the tentacles of many swung immense shields like those which ringed the hall of the great cones.
And as the sledges beat, ever over their bent heads poured from the crosses a flood of crimson lightnings. Out of the concave depths of the shields whipped lashes of blinding flame. With ropes of fire they knouted the Things the sledges struck, the sullen crimson levins blasted.
Now I could see the Shapes that attacked. Grotesque; spined and tusked, spiked and antlered, wenned and breasted; as chimerically angled, cusped and cornute as though they were the superangled, supercornute gods of the cusped and angled gods of the Javanese, they strove against the sledge-headed and smiting, the multiarmed and blasting square towers.
High as them, as huge as they, incomparably fantastic, in dozens of shifting forms they battled.
More than a mile from the stumbling City stood ranged like sharpshooters a host of solid, bristling-legged towers. Upon their tops spun gigantic wheels. Out of the centers of these wheels shot the radiant lances, hosts of spears of intensest violet light. The radiance they volleyed was not continuous; it was broken, so that the javelin rays shot out in rhythmic flights, each flying fast upon the shafts of the others.
It was their impact that sent forth the thunderous drumming. They struck and splintered against the walls, dropping from them in great gouts of molten flame. It was as though before they broke they pierced the wall, the Monster’s side, bled fire.
With the crashing of broadsides of massed batteries the sledges smashed down upon the bristling attackers. Under the awful impact globes and pyramids were shattered into hundreds of fragments, rocket bursts of blue and azure and violet flame, flames rainbowed and irised.
The hammer ends split, flew apart, were scattered, were falling showers of sulphurous yellow and scarlet meteors. But ever other cubes swarmed out and repaired the broken smiting tips. And always where a tusked and cornute shape had been battered down, disintegrated, another arose as huge and as formidable pouring forth upon the squared tower its lightnings, tearing at it with colossal spiked and hooked claws, beating it with incredible spiked and globular fists that were like the clenched hands of some metal Atlas.
As the striving Shapes swayed and wrestled, gave way or thrust forward, staggered or fell, the bulk of the Monster stumbled and swayed, advanced and retreated — an unearthly motion wedded to an amorphous immensity that flooded the watching consciousness with a deathly nausea.
Unceasingly the hail of radiant lances poured from the spinning wheels, falling upon Towered Shapes and City’s wall alike. There arose a prodigious wailing, an unearthly thin screaming. About the bases of the defenders flashed blinding bursts of incandescence — like those which had heralded the flight of the Flying Thing dropping before Norhala’s house.
Unlike them they held no dazzling sapphire brilliancies; they were ochreous, suffused with raging vermilion. Nevertheless they were factors of that same inexplicable action — for from thousands of gushing lights leaped thousands of gigantic square pillars; unimaginable projectiles hurled from the flaming mouths of earth-hidden, titanic mortars.
They soared high, swerved and swooped upon the lance-throwers. Beneath their onslaught those chimerae tottered, I saw living projectiles and living target fuse where they met — melt and weld in jets of lightnings.
But not all. There were those that tore great gaps in the horned giants — wounds that instantly were healed with globes and pyramids seething out from the Cyclopean trunk. Ever the incredible projectiles flashed and flew as though from some inexhaustible store; ever uprose that prodigious barrage against the smiting rays.
Now to check them soared from the ranks of the besiegers clouds of countless horned dragons, immense cylinders of clustered cubes studded with the clinging tetrahedrons. They struck the cubed projectiles head on; aimed themselves to meet them.
Bristling dragon and hurtling pillar stuck and fused or burst with intolerable blazing. They fell — cube and sphere and pyramid — some half opened, some fully, in a rain of disks, of stars, huge flaming crosses; a storm of unimaginable pyrotechnics.
Now I became conscious that within the City — within the body of the Metal Monster — there raged a strife colossal as this without. From it came a vast volcanic roaring. Up from its top shot tortured flames, cascades and fountains of frenzied Things that looped and struggled, writhed over its edge, hurled themselves back; battling chimerae which against the glittering heavens traced luminous symbols of agony.
Shrilled a stronger wailing. Up from behind the ray hurling Towers shot hosts of globes. Thousands of palely azure, metal moons they soared; warrior moons charging in meteor rush and streaming with fluttering battle pennons of violet flame. High they flew; they curved over the mile high back of the Monster; they dropped upon it.
Arose to meet them immense columns of the cubes; battered against the spheres; swept them over and down into the depths. Hundreds fell, broken — but thousands held their place. I saw them twine about the pillars — writhing columns of interlaced cubes and globes straining like monstrous serpents while all along their coils the open disks and crosses smote with the scimitars of their lightnings.
In the wall of the City appeared a shining crack; from top to bottom it ran; it widened into a rift from which a flood of radiance gushed. Out of this rift poured a thousand-foot-high torrent of horned globes.
Only for an instant they flowed. The rift closed upon them, catching those still emerging in a colossal vise. It CRUNCHED them. Plain through the turmoil came a dreadful — bursting roar.
Down from the closing jaws of the vise dripped a stream of fragments that flashed and flickered — and died. And now in the wall was no trace of the breach.
A hurricane of radiant lances swept it. Under them a mile wide section of the living scarp split away; dropped like an avalanche. Its fall revealed great spaces, huge vaults and chambers filled with warring lightnings — out from them came roaring, bellowing thunders. Swiftly from each side of the gap a metal curtaining of the cubes joined. Again the wall was whole.
I turned my stunned gaze from the City — swept over the valley. Everywhere, in towers, in writhing coils, in whipping flails, in waves that smote and crashed, in countless forms and combinations the Metal Hordes battled. Here were pillars against which metal billows rushed and were broken; there were metal comets that crashed high above the mad turmoil.
From streaming silent veil to veil — north and south, east and west the Monster slew itself beneath its racing, flaming banners, the tempests of its lightnings.
The tortured hulk of the City lurched; it swept toward us. Before it blotted out from our eyes the Pit I saw that the crystal spans upon the river of jade were gone; that the wondrous jeweled ribbons of its banks were broken.
Closer came the reeling City.
I fumbled for my lenses, focussed them upon it. Now I saw that where the radiant lances struck they — killed the blocks blackened under them, became lustreless; the sparkling of the tiny eyes — went out; the metal carapaces crumbled.
Closer to the City — came the Monster; shuddering I lowered the glasses that it might not seem so near.
Down dropped the bristling Shapes that wrestled with the squared Towers. They rose again in a single monstrous wave that rushed to overwhelm them. Before they could strike the City swept closer; had hidden them from me.
Again I raised the glasses. They brought the metal scarp not fifty feet away — within it the hosts of tiny eyes glittered, no longer mocking nor malicious, but insane.
Nearer drew the Monster — nearer.
A thousand feet away it checked its movement, seemed to draw itself together. Then like the roar of a falling world that whole side facing us slid down to the valley’s floor.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11