That night we slept well. Awakening, we found that the storm had grown violent again; the wind roaring and the rain falling in such volume that it was impossible to make our way to the Pit. Twice, as a matter of fact, we tried; but the smooth roadway was a torrent, and, drenched even through our oils to the skin, we at last abandoned the attempt. Ruth and Drake drifted away together among the other chambers of the globe; they were absorbed in themselves, and we did not thrust ourselves upon them. All the day the torrents fell.
We sat down that night to what was well-nigh the last of Ventnor’s stores. Seemingly Ruth had forgotten Norhala; at least, she spoke no more of her.
“Martin,” she said, “can’t we start back tomorrow? I want to get away. I want to get back to our own world.”
“As soon as the storm ceases, Ruth,” he answered, “we start. Little sister — I too want you to get back quickly.”
The next morning the storm had gone. We awakened soon after dawn into clear and brilliant light. We had a silent and hurried breakfast. The saddlebags were packed and strapped upon the pony. Within them were what we could carry of souvenirs from Norhala’s home — a suit of lacquered armor, a pair of cloaks and sandals, the jeweled combs. Ruth and Drake at the side of the pony, Ventnor and I leading, we set forth toward the Pit.
“We’ll probably have to come back, Walter,” he said. “I don’t believe the place is passable.”
I pointed — we were then just over the threshold of the elfin globe. Where the veils had stretched between the perpendicular pillars of the cliffs was now a wide and ragged-edged opening.
The roadway which had run so smoothly through the scarps was blocked by a thousand foot barrier. Over it, beyond it, I could see through the crystalline clarity of the air the opposing walls.
“We can climb it,” Ventnor said. We passed on and reached the base of the barrier. An avalanche had dropped there; the barricade was the debris of the torn cliffs, their dust, their pebbles, their boulders. We toiled up; we reached the crest; we looked down upon the valley.
When first we had seen it we had gazed upon a sea of radiance pierced with lanced forests, swept with gigantic gonfalons of flame; we had seen it emptied of its fiery mists — a vast slate covered with the chirography of a mathematical god; we had seen it filled with the symboling of the Metal Hordes and dominated by the colossal integrate hieroglyph of the living City; we had seen it as a radiant lake over which brooded weird suns; a lake of yellow flame froth upon which a sparkling hail fell, within which reared islanded towers and a drowning mount running with cataracts of sun fires; here we had watched a goddess woman, a being half of earth, half of the unknown immured within a living tomb — a dying tomb — of flaming mysteries; had seen a cross-shaped metal Satan, a sullen flaming crystal Judas betray — itself.
Where we had peered into the unfathomable, had glimpsed the infinite, had heard and had seen the inexplicable, now was —
The amethystine ring from which had been streamed the circling veils was cracked and blackened; like a seam of coal it had stretched around the Pit — a crown of mourning. The veils were gone. The floor of the valley was fissured and blackened; its patterns, its writings burned away. As far as we could see stretched a sea of slag — coal black, vitrified and dead.
Here and there black hillocks sprawled; huge pillars arose, bent and twisted as though they had been jettings of lava cooled into rigidity before they could sink back or break. These shapes clustered most thickly around an immense calcified mound. They were what were left of the battling Hordes, and the mound was what had been the Metal Monster.
Somewhere there were the ashes of Norhala, sealed by fire in the urn of the Metal Emperor!
From side to side of the Pit, in broken beaches and waves and hummocks, in blackened, distorted tusks and warped towerings, reaching with hideous pathos in thousands of forms toward the charred mound, was only slag.
From rifts and hollows still filled with water little wreaths of steam drifted. In those futile wraiths of vapor was all that remained of the might of the Metal Monster.
Catastrophe I had expected, tragedy I knew we would find — but I had looked for nothing so filled with the abomination of desolation, so frightful as was this.
“Burned out!” muttered Drake. “Short-circuited and burned out! Like a dynamo — like an electric light!”
“Destiny!” said Ventnor. “Destiny! Not yet was the hour struck for man to relinquish his sovereignty over the world. Destiny!”
We began to pick our way down the heaped debris and out upon the plain. For all that day and part of another we searched for an opening out of the Pit.
Everywhere was the incredible calcification. The surfaces that had been the smooth metallic carapaces with the tiny eyes deep within them, crumbled beneath the lightest blow. Not long would it be until under wind and rain they dissolved into dust and mud.
And it grew increasingly obvious that Drake’s theory of the destruction was correct. The Monster had been one prodigious magnet — or, rather, a prodigious dynamo. By magnetism, by electricity, it had lived and had been activated.
Whatever the force of which the cones were built and that I have likened to energy-made material, it was certainly akin to electromagnetic energies.
When, in the cataclysm, that force was diffused there had been created a magnetic field of incredible intensity; had been concentrated an electric charge of inconceivable magnitude.
Discharging, it had blasted the Monster — short-circuited it, and burned it out.
But what was it that had led up to the cataclysm? What was it that had turned the Metal Monster upon itself? What disharmony had crept into that supernal order to set in motion the machinery of disintegration?
We could only conjecture. The cruciform Shape I have named the Keeper was the agent of destruction — of that there could be no doubt. In the enigmatic organism which while many still was one and which, retaining its integrity as a whole could dissociate manifold parts yet still as a whole maintain an unseen contact and direction over them through miles of space, the Keeper had its place, its work, its duties.
So too had that wondrous Disk whose visible and concentrate power, whose manifest leadership, had made us name it emperor.
And had not Norhala called the Disk — Ruler?
What were the responsibilities of these twain to the mass of the organism of which they were such important units? What were the laws they administered, the laws they must obey?
Something certainly of that mysterious law which Maeterlinck has called the spirit of the Hive — and something infinitely greater, like that which governs the swarming sun bees of Hercules’ clustered orbs.
Had there evolved within the Keeper of the Cones — guardian and engineer as it seemed to have been — ambition?
Had there risen within it a determination to wrest power from the Disk, to take its place as Ruler?
How else explain that conflict I had sensed when the Emperor had plucked Drake and me from the Keeper’s grip that night following the orgy of the feeding?
How else explain that duel in the shattered Hall of the Cones whose end had been the signal for the final cataclysm?
How else explain the alinement of the cubes behind the Keeper against the globes and pyramids remaining loyal to the will of the Disk?
We discussed this, Ventnor and I.
“This world,” he mused, “is a place of struggle. Air and sea and land and all things that dwell within and on them must battle for life. Earth not Mars is the planet of war. I have a theory”— he hesitated —“that the magnetic currents which are the nerve force of this globe of ours were what fed the Metal Things.
“Within those currents is the spirit of earth. And always they have been supercharged with strife, with hatreds, warfare. Were these drawn in by the Things as they fed? Did it happen that the Keeper became — TUNED— to them? That it absorbed and responded to them, growing even more sensitive to these forces — until it reflected humanity?”
“Who knows, Goodwin — who can tell?”
Enigma, unless the explanations I have hazarded be accepted, must remain that monstrous suicide. Enigma, save for inconclusive theories, must remain the question of the Monster’s origin.
If answers there were, they were lost forever in the slag we trod.
It was afternoon of the second day that we found a rift in the blasted wall of the valley. We decided to try it. We had not dared to take the road by which Norhala had led us into the City.
The giant slide was broken and climbable. But even if we could have passed safely through the tunnel of the abyss there still was left the chasm over which we could have thrown no bridge. And if we could have bridged it still at that road’s end was the cliff whose shaft Norhala had sealed with her lightnings.
So we entered the rift.
Of our wanderings thereafter I need not write. From the rift we emerged into a maze of the valleys, and after
a month in that wilderness, living upon what game we could shoot, we found a road that led us into Gyantse.
In another six weeks we were home in America.
My story is finished.
There in the Trans–Himalayan wilderness is the blue globe that was the weird home of the lightning witch — and looking back I feel now she could not have been all woman.
There is the vast pit with its coronet of fantastic peaks; its symboled, calcined floor and the crumbling body of the inexplicable, the incredible Thing which, alive, was the shadow of extinction, annihilation, hovering to hurl itself upon humanity. That shadow is gone; that pall withdrawn.
But to me — to each of us four who saw those phenomena — their lesson remains, ineradicable; giving a new strength and purpose to us, teaching us a new humility.
For in that vast crucible of life of which we are so small a part, what other Shapes may even now be rising to submerge us?
In that vast reservoir of force that is the mystery-filled infinite through which we roll, what other shadows may be speeding upon us?
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53