Hundreds of feet through must have been the fallen mass — within it who knows what chambers filled with mysteries? Yes, thousands of feet thick it must have been, for the debris of it splintered and lashed to the very edge of the ledge on which we crouched; heaped it with the dimming fragments of the bodies that had formed it.
We looked into a thousand vaults, a thousand spaces. There came another avalanche roaring — before us opened the crater of the cones.
Through the torn gap I saw them, clustering undisturbed about the base of that one slender, coroneted and star pointing spire, rising serene and unshaken from a hell of lightnings. But the shields that had rimmed the crater were gone.
Ventnor snatched the glasses from my hand, leveled and held them long to his eyes.
He thrust them back to me. “Look!”
Through the lenses the great hall leaped into full view apparently only a few yards away. It was a cauldron of chameleon flame. It seethed with the Hordes battling over the remaining walls and floor. But around the crystal base of the cones was an open zone into which none broke.
In that wide ring, girdling the shimmering fantasy like a circled sanctuary, were but three forms. One was the wondrous Disk of jeweled fires I have called the Metal Emperor; the second was the sullen fired cruciform of the Keeper.
The third was Norhala!
She stood at the side of that weird master of hers — or was it after all the servant? Between them and the Keeper’s planes gleamed the gigantic T-shaped tablet of countless rods which controlled the activities of the cones; that had controlled the shifting of the vanished shields; that manipulated too, perhaps, the energies of whatever similar but smaller cornute ganglia were scattered throughout the City and one of which we had beheld when the Emperor’s guards had blasted Ventnor.
Close was Norhala in the lenses — so close that almost, it seemed, I could reach out and touch her. The flaming hair streamed and billowed above her glorious head like a banner of molten floss of coppery gold; her face was a mask of wrath and despair; her great eyes blazed upon the Keeper; her exquisite body was bare, stripped of every shred of silken covering.
From streaming tresses to white feet an oval of pulsing, golden light nimbused her. Maiden Isis, virgin Astarte she stood there, held in the grip of the Disk — like a goddess betrayed and hopeless yet thirsting for vengeance.
For all their stillness, their immobility, it came to me that Emperor and Keeper were at grapple, locked in death grip; the realization was as definite as though, like Ruth, I thought with Norhala’s mind, saw with her eyes.
Clearly too it came to me that in this contest between the two was epitomized all the vast conflict that raged around them; that in it was fast ripening that fruit of destiny of which Ventnor had spoken, and that here in the Hall of the Cones would be settled — and soon — the fate not only of Disk and Cross, but it might be of humanity.
But with what unknown powers was that duel being fought? They cast no lightnings, they battled with no visible weapons. Only the great planes of the inverted cruciform Shape smoked and smoldered with their sullen flares of ochres and of scarlets; while over all the face of the Disk its cold and irised fires raced and shone, beating with a rhythm incredibly rapid; its core of incandescent ruby blazed, its sapphire ovals were cabochoned pools of living, lucent radiance.
There was a splitting roar that arose above all the clamor, deafening us even in the shelter of the silent veils. On each side of the crater whole masses of the City dropped away. Fleetingly I was aware of scores of smaller pits in which uprose lesser replicas of the Coned Mount, lesser reservoirs of the Monster’s force.
Neither the Emperor nor the Keeper moved, both seemingly indifferent to the catastrophe fast developing around them.
Now I strained forward to the very thinnest edge of the curtainings. For between the Disk and Cross began to form fine black mist. It was transparent. It seemed spun of minute translucent ebon corpuscles. It hung like a black shroud suspended by unseen hands. It shook and wavered now toward the Disk, now toward the Cross.
I sensed a keying up of force within the two; knew that each was striving to cast like a net that hanging mist upon the other.
Abruptly the Emperor flashed forth, blindingly. As though caught upon a blast, the black shroud flew toward the Keeper — enveloped it. And as the mist covered and clung I saw the sulphurous and crimson flares dim. They were snuffed out.
The Keeper fell!
Upon Norhala’s face flamed a wild triumph, banishing despair. The outstretched planes of the Cross swept up as though in torment. For an instant its fires flared and licked through the clinging blackness; it writhed half upright, threw itself forward, crashed down prostrate upon the enigmatic tablet which only its tentacles could manipulate.
From Norhala’s face the triumph fled. On its heels rushed stark, incredulous horror.
The Mount of Cones shuddered. From it came a single mighty throb of force — like a prodigious heart-beat. Under that pulse of power the Emperor staggered, spun — and spinning, swept Norhala from her feet, swung her close to its flashing rose.
A second throb pulsed from the cones, and mightier.
A spasm shook the Disk — a paroxysm.
Its fires faded; they flared out again, bathing the floating, unearthly figure of Norhala with their iridescences.
I saw her body writhe — as though it shared the agony of the Shape that held her. Her head twisted; the great eyes, pools of uncomprehending, unbelieving horror, stared into mine.
With a spasmodic, infinitely dreadful movement the Disk closed —
And closed upon her!
Norhala was gone — was shut within it. Crushed to the pent fires of its crystal heart.
I heard a sobbing, agonized choking — knew it was I who sobbed. Against me I felt Ruth’s body strike, bend in convulsive arc, drop inert.
The slender steeple of the cones drooped sending its faceted coronet shattering to the floor. The Mount melted. Beneath the flooding radiance sprawled Keeper and the great inert Globe that was the Goddess woman’s sepulcher.
The crater filled with the pallid luminescence. Faster and ever faster it poured down into the Pit. And from all the lesser craters of the smaller cones swept silent cataracts of the same pale radiance.
The City began to crumble — the Monster to fall.
Like pent-up waters rushing through a broken dam the gleaming deluge swept over the valley; gushing in steady torrents from the breaking mass. Over the valley fell a vast silence. The lightnings ceased. The Metal Hordes stood rigid, the shining flood lapping at their bases, rising swiftly ever higher.
Now from the sinking City swarmed multitudes of its weird luminaries.
Out they trooped, swirling from every rent and gap — orbs scarlet and sapphire, ruby orbs, orbs tuliped and irised — the jocund suns of the birth chamber and side by side with them hosts of the frozen, pale gilt, stiff rayed suns.
Thousands upon thousands they marched forth and poised themselves solemnly over all the Pit that now was a fast rising lake of yellow froth of sun flame.
They swept forth in squadrons, in companies, in regiments, those mysterious orbs. They floated over all the valley; they separated and swung motionless above it as though they were mysterious multiple souls of fire brooding over the dying shell that had held them.
Beneath, thrusting up from the lambent lake like grotesque towers of some drowned fantastic metropolis, the great Shapes stood, black against its glowing.
What had been the City — that which had been the bulk of the Monster — was now only a vast and shapeless hill from which streamed the silent torrents of that released, unknown force which, concentrate and bound, had been the cones.
As though it was the Monster’s shining life-blood it poured, raising ever higher in its swift flooding the level radiant lake.
Lower and lower sank the immense bulk; squattered and spread, ever lowering — about its helpless, patient crouching something ineffably piteous, something indescribably, COSMICALLY tragic.
Abruptly the watching orbs shook under a hail of sparkling atoms streaming down from the glittering sky; raining upon the lambent lake. So thick they fell that now the brooding luminaries were dim aureoles within them.
From the Pit came a blinding, insupportable brilliancy. From every rigid tower gleamed out jeweled fires; their clinging units opened into blazing star and disk and cross. The City was a hill of living gems over which flowed torrents of pale molten gold.
The Pit blazed.
There followed an appalling tensity; a prodigious gathering of force; a panic stirring concentration of energy. Thicker fell the clouds of sparkling atoms — higher rose the yellow flood.
Ventnor cried out. I could not hear him, but I read his purpose — and so did Drake. Up on his broad shoulders he swung Ruth as though she had been a child. Back through the throbbing veils we ran; passed out of them.
“Back!” shouted Ventnor. “Back as far as you can!”
On we raced; we reached the gateway of the cliffs; we dashed on and on — up the shining roadway toward the blue globe now a scant mile before us; ran sobbing, panting — ran, we knew, for our lives.
Out of the Pit came a sound — I cannot describe it!
An unutterably desolate, dreadful wail of despair, it shuddered past us like the groaning of a broken-hearted star — anguished and awesome.
It died. There rushed upon us a sea of that incredible loneliness, that longing for extinction that had assailed us in the haunted hollow where first we had seen Norhala. But its billows were resistless, invincible. Beneath them we fell; were torn by desire for swift death.
Dimly, through fainting eyes, I saw a dazzling brilliancy fill the sky; heard with dying ears a chaotic, blasting roar. A wave of air thicker than water caught us up, hurled us hundreds of yards forward. It dropped us; in its wake rushed another wave, withering, scorching.
It raced over us. Scorching though it was, within its heat was energizing, revivifying force; something that slew the deadly despair and fed the fading fires of life.
I staggered to my feet; looked back. The veils were gone. The precipice walled gateway they had curtained was filled with a Plutonic glare as though it opened into the incandescent heart of a volcano.
Ventnor clutched my shoulder, spun me around. He pointed to the sapphire house, started to run to it. Far ahead I saw Drake, the body of the girl clasped to his breast. The heat became blasting, insupportable; my lungs burned.
Over the sky above the canyon streaked a serpentine chain of lightnings. A sudden cyclonic gust swept the cleft, whirling us like leaves toward the Pit.
I threw myself upon my face, clutching at the smooth rock. A volley of thunder burst — but not the thunder of the Metal Monster or its Hordes; no, the bellowing of the levins of our own earth.
And the wind was cold; it bathed the burning skin; laved the fevered lungs.
Again the sky was split by the lightnings. And roaring down from it in solid sheets came the rain.
From the Pit arose a hissing as though within it raged Babylonian Tiamat, Mother of Chaos, serpent dweller in the void; Midgard-snake of the ancient Norse holding in her coils the world.
Buffeted by wind, beaten down by rain, clinging to each other like drowning men, Ventnor and I pushed on to the elfin globe. The light was dying fast. By it we saw Drake pass within the portal with his burden. The light became embers; it went out; blackness clasped us. Guided by the lightnings, we beat our way to the door; passed through it.
In the electric glare we saw Drake bending over Ruth. In it I saw a slide draw over the open portal through which shrieked the wind, streamed the rain.
As though its crystal panel was moved by unseen, gentle hands, the portal closed; the tempest shut out.
We dropped beside Ruth upon a pile of silken stuffs — awed, marveling, trembling with pity and — thanksgiving.
For we knew — each of us knew with an absolute definiteness as we crouched there among the racing, dancing black and silver shadows with which the lightnings filled the blue globe — that the Metal Monster was dead.
Slain by itself!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11