From: The Fire People
The news that Mercer and Anina had been left in the Twilight Country
completely dumfounded Miela and me. "Something was wrong," Mercer had
said. And then they had insisted on staying there, and had sent the girls
back to tell me to come over.
We could make nothing of it, nor did the half hour of argument into which
we immediately plunged further enlighten us. That flaw in our plans which
had dawned on Mercer so suddenly and clearly certainly never occurred to
us, for all it was seemingly so obvious.
We were interrupted--having reached no conclusion whatever except that we
would go over that evening as Mercer had directed--by the arrival of the
police chief to see me. He was a little man, curiously thin and wizened
for a Mercutian, with wide pantaloons, a shirt, short jacket and little
triangular cocked hat. His face seemed pointed, like a ferret. His
movements were rapid, his roving glance peculiarly alert.
He bowed before me obsequiously. He would obey me to the letter, I could
see that at once from his manner; though, had I impressed him as being
like my predecessor, I did not doubt but that he would do as he pleased
I toyed with the little light-ray cylinder in my hand quite casually
through the brief interview, and I saw he was thoroughly impressed, for he
seemed unable to take his eyes from it.
"Where are your men just now?" I asked.
He raised his hands deprecatingly and poured out a flood of words to Miela
when my question was translated to him.
"He himself was sleeping," she said to me when he had paused for breath.
"His third watch was on patrol about the city. Then from the castle came
the king's guards, fleeing in haste. Those of the police they met they
told that evil men were in the castle with the light-ray, and all who
represented the city's authority would be killed."
"That was a lie," I interrupted. "There was no light-ray here then."
Miela nodded. "It was what Baar's men had told them to say, I think."
"And then what happened to the police?"
"Then they left their posts about the city. Some fled; others went back
and reported what they had heard."
"And it never occurred to any of them to come up here and try to stop the
disturbance? Curious policemen, these!"
"It is too deadly--the light-ray," said Miela. "They were afraid. And then
the alarm bell began ringing. They sent for Ano, here, to ask him what
they should do. And then you sent for him. He has his men at the police
building, in waiting. And he comes to you at the risk of his life, and now
asks your commands."
Thus did my chief of police explain satisfactorily to himself, and with
great protestations of loyalty to his trust, how it came about that he and
his men did nothing while their king was being murdered and another put in
Recriminations seemed useless. He stood bowing and scraping before me,
eager only to obey my slightest wish.
"Tell him, Miela, how Baar's men captured Lua. Have the city, thoroughly
searched--Baar's house particularly. Tell him I killed Baar's wife. Have
that slave woman sent home to me.
"Tell him to capture Baar and any of his known associates. If he does,
have him report to me at once. Say to him that I must have word of Lua--or
I'll have a new chief of police by to-morrow. For the rest, have his men
patrol the city as usual."
I spoke as sternly as I could, and the little man received my words with
voluble protestations of extreme activity on his part.
When he had bowed himself out I smiled at Miela hopelessly.
"This has got to be a mighty different government before we can ever hope
to accomplish anything against Tao." Tao was not worrying me for the
moment. Lua must be found, and I had no idea of relying entirely upon this
little chief of police to find her. And Mercer needed me, too, this very
I stood up wearily and put my arm about Miela's shoulders. Her little body
drooped against mine, her head resting on my shoulder. There was little
about us then, as we stood there dispirited and physically tired out, that
would have commended respect from our subjects.
"We must get some sleep, Miela," I said. "Things will look very
different to us then."
It must have been mid-afternoon when we awoke. Ano was at hand to report
that Baar and his men, and all the king's guards, must have fled the city.
Of Lua he had, so far, found no trace. Baar's slave woman was in the
castle, waiting our commands. The girl who had brought us Mercer's message
was also waiting to ask us when we wanted her and the other girls for the
trip back to the Twilight Country.
"Right away," I exclaimed. "I'm not going to take any chances with Mercer.
We'll start at once."
The girl flew away to get her friends and the platform, which had been
left in the garden of Miela's home. I planned to start openly from the
castle roof; there was now no need of maintaining secrecy.
The disappearance of Lua was alarming. Equally so was the possible danger
into which Mercer might have blundered. In Lua's case there did not seem
much I could do personally at that moment. Before starting I arranged with
the aged councilors to call a meeting the following morning of all
"Could we get Fuero to come, Miela?"
She shook her head positively. "His oath would forbid it."
"Well, tell the councilors to call also any of the city's prominent men.
I've got to get some good men with me. I can't do it all alone."
Miela smiled at me quizzically as I said this: "You have forgotten our
women and their help, my husband?"
I had, in very truth, for the moment.
"We'll need them, too," I said. "Tell these girls who carry us to-night to
call all those who went with us to the mountains--a meeting to-morrow at
this time--here on the castle roof."
"To the Water City we must go," Miela said. "There Tao's men are very
strong, our girls report. And to-day there was a fight among the people,
and several were killed."
"But we must go armed, Miela, with more than one light-ray. I shall see
this Fuero to-morrow. After all, he's the key-note to the whole thing."
We started from the castle roof, Miela sitting with me this time on the
platform. Flying low, we passed over the maze of bayous, and in what
seemed an incredibly short time we were out over the sea. I had now no
idea what we might be called upon to do, or how long we would be gone, for
all my specific plans for the next day; so we started as well prepared as
The precious light-ray cylinder I held in my hand. We had a number of
blankets, enough food for us all for two days of careful rationing, a
knife or two, and a heavy, sharp-edged metal implement like an ax.
It seemed hardly more than half an hour before a great black cloud had
spread over the whole sky, and we ran into the worst storm I have ever
encountered. The wind came up suddenly, and we fought our way directly
into it. Lightning flashed about us, and then came the rain, slanting down
in great sheets.
We were still flying low. The mirror surface of the sea was now lashed
with waves, extraordinarily high, whose white tops blew away in long
streaks of scud. The girls fought sturdily against the wind and rain,
carrying us steadily up until after a while I could not see the water
We were in the storm perhaps an hour altogether. Then we passed up and
beyond it; and emerged again into that gray vacancy, with a waste of
storm-lashed water far beneath us.
The Twilight Country shore was still below the horizon, and it was a
considerable time before we sighted it. Miela and I sat quiet, wrapped in
a blanket, which, wet as it was, offered some protection against the
biting wind. The girls seemed exhausted from their long struggle against
the storm, and I was glad for them when we finally landed.
This was the place, they said, where Mercer and Anina had set Tao's men
free, and where the two were standing when the girls had left with the
platform. I looked about, and saw on the beach the pieces of cut cord with
which the men had been bound.
Of Mercer and Anina there was no sign. We waited until well after the time
of the evening meal, and still Mercer and Anina did not arrive. We
concluded, of course, that they had followed Tao's men up the trail for
some reason, and we expected it would be Anina who would come back to tell
us where Mercer was.
"Let us go up a little distance," Miela suggested finally. "They cannot
tell what the hour is. They may be near here now, coming back."
The girls were rested and warmed now, and we started off again with the
platform. We flew low over the treetops, following the trail as best we
could, but in the semi-darkness we could see very little from above. After
a time we gave it up and returned to the shore.
Again we waited, now very much alarmed. And then finally we decided to
return to the Great City for the night. Anina might have missed us some
way, we thought, and flown directly home. She might be there waiting for
us when we arrived. If not, we would return again with several hundred
girls, and with them scour the country carefully back as near the Lone
City as we dared go.
With our hearts heavy with apprehension we started back across the
channel. Lua, Mercer and Anina were separated from us. All had been
captured, perhaps, by our enemies! Things were, indeed, in a very bad way.
Without unusual incident we sighted the Light Country shore. Three girls
were winging their way swiftly toward us.
"They wish to speak with us, Alan," said Miela. "From the Great City they
seem to come. Perhaps it is Anina."
Our hopes were soon dispelled, for Anina was not one of them; they were
three of the girls we had directed to patrol the seacoast.
When they neared us Miela flew off the platform and joined them. They
circled about for a time, flying close together, then Miela left them and
returned to me, while they hovered overhead. Her face was clouded with
anxiety as she alighted beside me.
"They were near the Water City a short time ago. And they say the
light-ray is being used there. They saw it flashing up, and dared not go
The light-ray in the Water City! My heart sunk with dismay. The cylinder I
held in my hand I had thought the only one in use in all the Light
Country. With it I felt supreme. And now they had it also in the Water
One of the girls flung up her hand suddenly and called to Miela.
"See, Alan--a boat!"
I looked down to where Miela pointed. The sea was still rough from the
storm, but no longer lashed into fury. Coming toward us, close inshore and
from the direction of the Water City, I saw a boat speeding along over the
spent waves. And as I looked, a narrow beam of light, green, shading into
red, shot up from the boat and hung wavering in the air like a little
search-light striving to pierce the gray mist of the sky!
Next: The Theft Of The Light-ray
Previous: In The Twilight Country