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The Flame-tipped Shadows







From: The Moon Pool

Marakinoff nodded his head solemnly as Olaf finished.

"Da!" he said. "That which comes from here took them both--the woman
and the child. Da! They came clasped within it and the stone shut upon
them. But why it left the child behind I do not understand."

"How do you know that?" I cried in amazement.

"Because I saw it," answered Marakinoff simply. "Not only did I see
it, but hardly had I time to make escape through the entrance before
it passed whirling and murmuring and its bell sounds all joyous. Da!
It was what you call the squeak close, that."

"Wait a moment," I said--stilling Larry with a gesture. "Do I
understand you to say that you were within this place?"

Marakinoff actually beamed upon me.

"Da, Dr. Goodwin," he said, "I went in when that which comes from it
went out!"

I gaped at him, stricken dumb; into Larry's bellicose attitude crept a
suggestion of grudging respect; Olaf, trembling, watched silently.

"Dr. Goodwin and my impetuous young friend, you," went on Marakinoff
after a moment's silence and I wondered vaguely why he did not include
Huldricksson in his address--"it is time that we have an
understanding. I have a proposal to make to you also. It is this; we
are what you call a bad boat, and all of us are in it. Da! We need all
hands, is it not so? Let us put together our knowledge and our brains
and resources--and even a poonch of a mule is a resource," he looked
wickedly at O'Keefe, "and pull our boat into quiet waters again. After
that--"

"All very well, Marakinoff," interjected Larry, "but I don't feel very
safe in any boat with somebody capable of shooting me through the
back."

Marakinoff waved a deprecatory hand.

"It was natural that," he said, "logical, da! Here is a very great
secret, perhaps many secrets to my country invaluable--" He paused,
shaken by some overpowering emotion; the veins in his forehead grew
congested, the cold eyes blazed and the guttural voice harshened.

"I do not apologize and I do not explain," rasped Marakinoff. "But I
will tell you, da! Here is my country sweating blood in an experiment
to liberate the world. And here are the other nations ringing us like
wolves and waiting to spring at our throats at the least sign of
weakness. And here are you, Lieutenant O'Keefe of the English wolves,
and you Dr. Goodwin of the Yankee pack--and here in this place may be
that will enable my country to win its war for the worker. What are
the lives of you two and this sailor to that? Less than the flies I
crush with my hand, less than midges in the sunbeam!"

He suddenly gripped himself.

"But that is not now the important thing," he resumed, almost coldly.
"Not that nor my shooting. Let us squarely the situation face. My
proposal is so: that we join interests, and what you call see it
through together; find our way through this place and those secrets
learn of which I have spoken, if we can. And when that is done we will
go our ways, to his own land each, to make use of them for our lands
as each of us may. On my part, I offer my knowledge--and it is very
valuable, Dr. Goodwin--and my training. You and Lieutenant O'Keefe do
the same, and this man Olaf, what he can of his strength, for I do not
think his usefulness lies in his brains, no."

"In effect, Goodwin," broke in Larry as I hesitated, "the professor's
proposition is this: he wants to know what's going on here but he
begins to realize it's no one man's job and besides we have the drop
on him. We're three to his one, and we have all his hardware and
cutlery. But also we can do better with him than without him--just as
he can do better with us than without us. It's an even break--for a
while. But once he gets that information he's looking for, then look
out. You and Olaf and I are the wolves and the flies and the midges
again--and the strafing will be about due. Nevertheless, with three to
one against him, if he can get away with it he deserves to. I'm for
taking him up, if you are."

There was almost a twinkle in Marakinoff's eyes.

"It is not just as I would have put it, perhaps," he said, "but in its
skeleton he has right. Nor will I turn my hand against you while we
are still in danger here. I pledge you my honor on this."

Larry laughed.

"All right, Professor," he grinned. "I believe you mean every word
you say. Nevertheless, I'll just keep the guns."

Marakinoff bowed, imperturbably.

"And now," he said, "I will tell you what I know. I found the secret
of the door mechanism even as you did, Dr. Goodwin. But by
carelessness, my condensers were broken. I was forced to wait while I
sent for others--and the waiting might be for months. I took certain
precautions, and on the first night of this full moon I hid myself
within the vault of Chau-ta-leur."

An involuntary thrill of admiration for the man went through me at the
manifest heroism of this leap in the dark. I could see it reflected in
Larry's face.

"I hid in the vault," continued Marakinoff, "and I saw that which
comes from here come out. I waited--long hours. At last, when the moon
was low, it returned--ecstatically--with a man, a native, in embrace
enfolded. It passed through the door, and soon then the moon became
low and the door closed.

"The next night more confidence was mine, yes. And after that which
comes had gone, I looked through its open door. I said, 'It will not
return for three hours. While it is away, why shall I not into its
home go through the door it has left open?' So I went--even to here. I
looked at the pillars of light and I tested the liquid of the Pool on
which they fell. That liquid, Dr. Goodwin, is not water, and it is not
any fluid known on earth." He handed me a small vial, its neck held in
a long thong.

"Take this," he said, "and see."

Wonderingly, I took the bottle; dipped it down into the Pool. The
liquid was extraordinarily light; seemed, in fact, to give the vial
buoyancy. I held it to the light. It was striated, streaked, as though
little living, pulsing veins ran through it. And its blueness, even in
the vial, held an intensity of luminousness.

"Radioactive," said Marakinoff. "Some liquid that is intensely
radioactive; but what it is I know not at all. Upon the living skin it
acts like radium raised to the nth power and with an element most
mysterious added. The solution with which I treated him," he pointed
to Huldricksson, "I had prepared before I came here, from certain
information I had. It is largely salts of radium and its base is
Loeb's formula for the neutralization of radium and X-ray burns.
Taking this man at once, before the degeneration had become really
active, I could negative it. But after two hours I could have done
nothing."

He paused a moment.

"Next I studied the nature of these luminous walls. I concluded that
whoever had made them, knew the secret of the Almighty's manufacture
of light from the ether itself! Colossal! Da! But the substance of
these blocks confines an atomic--how would you say--atomic
manipulation, a conscious arrangement of electrons, light-emitting and
perhaps indefinitely so. These blocks are lamps in which oil and wick
are electrons drawing light waves from ether itself! A Prometheus,
indeed, this discoverer! I looked at my watch and that little guardian
warned me that it was time to go. I went. That which comes forth
returned--this time empty-handed.

"And the next night I did the same thing. Engrossed in research, I
let the moments go by to the danger point, and scarcely was I replaced
within the vault when the shining thing raced over the walls, and in
its grip the woman and child.

"Then you came--and that is all. And now--what is it you know?"

Very briefly I went over my story. His eyes gleamed now and then, but
he did not interrupt me.

"A great secret! A colossal secret!" he muttered, when I had ended.
"We cannot leave it hidden."

"The first thing to do is to try the door," said Larry, matter of
fact.

"There is no use, my young friend," assured Marakinoff mildly.

"Nevertheless we'll try," said Larry. We retraced our way through the
winding tunnel to the end, but soon even O'Keefe saw that any idea of
moving the slab from within was hopeless. We returned to the Chamber
of the Pool. The pillars of light were fainter, and we knew that the
moon was sinking. On the world outside before long dawn would be
breaking. I began to feel thirst--and the blue semblance of water
within the silvery rim seemed to glint mockingly as my eyes rested on
it.

"Da!" it was Marakinoff, reading my thoughts uncannily. "Da! We will
be thirsty. And it will be very bad for him of us who loses control
and drinks of that, my friend. Da!"

Larry threw back his shoulders as though shaking a burden from them.

"This place would give an angel of joy the willies," he said. "I
suggest that we look around and find something that will take us
somewhere. You can bet the people that built it had more ways of
getting in than that once-a-month family entrance. Doc, you and Olaf
take the left wall; the professor and I will take the right."

He loosened one of his automatics with a suggestive movement.

"After you, Professor," he bowed, politely, to the Russian. We parted
and set forth.

The chamber widened out from the portal in what seemed to be the arc
of an immense circle. The shining walls held a perceptible curve, and
from this curvature I estimated that the roof was fully three hundred
feet above us.

The floor was of smooth, mosaic-fitted blocks of a faintly yellow
tinge. They were not light-emitting like the blocks that formed the
walls. The radiance from these latter, I noted, had the peculiar
quality of thickening a few yards from its source, and it was this
that produced the effect of misty, veiled distances. As we walked, the
seven columns of rays streaming down from the crystalline globes high
above us waned steadily; the glow within the chamber lost its
prismatic shimmer and became an even grey tone somewhat like moonlight
in a thin cloud.

Now before us, out from the wall, jutted a low terrace. It was all of
a pearly rose-coloured stone, slender, graceful pillars of the same
hue. The face of the terrace was about ten feet high, and all over it
ran a bas-relief of what looked like short-trailing vines, surmounted
by five stalks, on the tip of each of which was a flower.

We passed along the terrace. It turned in an abrupt curve. I heard a
hail, and there, fifty feet away, at the curving end of a wall
identical with that where we stood, were Larry and Marakinoff.
Obviously the left side of the chamber was a duplicate of that we had
explored. We joined. In front of us the columned barriers ran back a
hundred feet, forming an alcove. The end of this alcove was another
wall of the same rose stone, but upon it the design of vines was much
heavier.

We took a step forward--there was a gasp of awe from the Norseman, a
guttural exclamation from Marakinoff. For on, or rather within, the
wall before us, a great oval began to glow, waxed almost to a flame
and then shone steadily out as though from behind it a light was
streaming through the stone itself!

And within the roseate oval two flame-tipped shadows appeared, stood
for a moment, and then seemed to float out upon its surface. The
shadows wavered; the tips of flame that nimbused them with flickering
points of vermilion pulsed outward, drew back, darted forth again, and
once more withdrew themselves--and as they did so the shadows
thickened--and suddenly there before us stood two figures!

One was a girl--a girl whose great eyes were golden as the fabled
lilies of Kwan-Yung that were born of the kiss of the sun upon the
amber goddess the demons of Lao-Tz'e carved for him; whose softly
curved lips were red as the royal coral, and whose golden-brown hair
reached to her knees!

And the second was a gigantic frog--A woman frog, head helmeted with
carapace of shell around which a fillet of brilliant yellow jewels
shone; enormous round eyes of blue circled with a broad iris of green;
monstrous body of banded orange and white girdled with strand upon
strand of the flashing yellow gems; six feet high if an inch, and with
one webbed paw of its short, powerfully muscled forelegs resting upon
the white shoulder of the golden-eyed girl!

Moments must have passed as we stood in stark amazement, gazing at
that incredible apparition. The two figures, although as real as any
of those who stood beside me, unphantomlike as it is possible to be,
had a distinct suggestion of--projection.

They were there before us--golden-eyed girl and grotesque
frog-woman--complete in every line and curve; and still it was as
though their bodies passed back through distances; as though, to try
to express the wellnigh inexpressible, the two shapes we were looking
upon were the end of an infinite number stretching in fine linked
chain far away, of which the eyes saw only the nearest, while in the
brain some faculty higher than sight recognized and registered the
unseen others.

The gigantic eyes of the frog-woman took us all in--unwinkingly.
Little glints of phosphorescence shone out within the metallic green
of the outer iris ring. She stood upright, her great legs bowed; the
monstrous slit of a mouth slightly open, revealing a row of white
teeth sharp and pointed as lancets; the paw resting on the girl's
shoulder, half covering its silken surface, and from its five webbed
digits long yellow claws of polished horn glistened against the
delicate texture of the flesh.

But if the frog-woman regarded us all, not so did the maiden of the
rosy wall. Her eyes were fastened upon Larry, drinking him in with
extraordinary intentness. She was tall, far over the average of women,
almost as tall, indeed, as O'Keefe himself; not more than twenty years
old, if that, I thought. Abruptly she leaned forward, the golden eyes
softened and grew tender; the red lips moved as though she were
speaking.

Larry took a quick step, and his face was that of one who after
countless births comes at last upon the twin soul lost to him for
ages. The frog-woman turned her eyes upon the girl; her huge lips
moved, and I knew that she was talking! The girl held out a warning
hand to O'Keefe, and then raised it, resting each finger upon one of
the five flowers of the carved vine close beside her. Once, twice,
three times, she pressed upon the flower centres, and I noted that her
hand was curiously long and slender, the digits like those wonderful
tapering ones the painters we call the primitive gave to their
Virgins.

Three times she pressed the flowers, and then looked intently at Larry
once more. A slow, sweet smile curved the crimson lips. She stretched
both hands out toward him again eagerly; a burning blush rose swiftly
over white breasts and flowerlike face.

Like the clicking out of a cinematograph, the pulsing oval faded and
golden-eyed girl and frog-woman were gone!

And thus it was that Lakla, the handmaiden of the Silent Ones, and
Larry O'Keefe first looked into each other's hearts!

Larry stood rapt, gazing at the stone.

"Eilidh," I heard him whisper; "Eilidh of the lips like the red, red
rowan and the golden-brown hair!"

"Clearly of the Ranadae," said Marakinoff, "a development of the
fossil Labyrinthodonts: you saw her teeth, da?"

"Ranadae, yes," I answered. "But from the Stegocephalia; of the order
Ecaudata--"

Never such a complete indignation as was in O'Keefe's voice as he
interrupted.

"What do you mean--fossils and Stego whatever it is?" he asked. "She
was a girl, a wonder girl--a real girl, and Irish, or I'm not an
O'Keefe!"

"We were talking about the frog-woman, Larry," I said, conciliatingly.

His eyes were wild as he regarded us.

"Say," he said, "if you two had been in the Garden of Eden when Eve
took the apple, you wouldn't have had time to give her a look for
counting the scales on the snake!"

He strode swiftly over to the wall. We followed. Larry paused,
stretched his hand up to the flowers on which the tapering fingers of
the golden-eyed girl had rested.

"It was here she put up her hand," he murmured. He pressed
caressingly the carved calyxes, once, twice, a third time even as she
had--and silently and softly the wall began to split; on each side a
great stone pivoted slowly, and before us a portal stood, opening into
a narrow corridor glowing with the same rosy lustre that had gleamed
around the flame-tipped shadows!

"Have your gun ready, Olaf!" said Larry. "We follow Golden Eyes," he
said to me.

"Follow?" I echoed stupidly.

"Follow!" he said. "She came to show us the way! Follow? I'd follow
her through a thousand hells!"

And with Olaf at one end, O'Keefe at the other, both of them with
automatics in hand, and Marakinoff and I between them, we stepped over
the threshold.

At our right, a few feet away, the passage ended abruptly in a square
of polished stone, from which came faint rose radiance. The roof of
the place was less than two feet over O'Keefe's head.

A yard at left of us lifted a four-foot high, gently curved barricade,
stretching from wall to wall--and beyond it was blackness; an utter
and appalling blackness that seemed to gather itself from infinite
depths. The rose-glow in which we stood was cut off by the blackness
as though it had substance; it shimmered out to meet it, and was
checked as though by a blow; indeed, so strong was the suggestion of
sinister, straining force within the rayless opacity that I shrank
back, and Marakinoff with me. Not so O'Keefe. Olaf beside him, he
strode to the wall and peered over. He beckoned us.

"Flash your pocket-light down there," he said to me, pointing into the
thick darkness below us. The little electric circle quivered down as
though afraid, and came to rest upon a surface that resembled nothing
so much as clear, black ice. I ran the light across--here and there.
The floor of the corridor was of a substance so smooth, so polished,
that no man could have walked upon it; it sloped downward at a slowly
increasing angle.

"We'd have to have non-skid chains and brakes on our feet to tackle
that," mused Larry. Abstractedly be ran his hands over the edge on
which he was leaning. Suddenly they hesitated and then gripped
tightly.

"That's a queer one!" he exclaimed. His right palm was resting upon a
rounded protuberance, on the side of which were three small circular
indentations.

"A queer one--" he repeated--and pressed his fingers upon the circles.

There was a sharp click; the slabs that had opened to let us through
swung swiftly together; a curiously rapid vibration thrilled through
us, a wind arose and passed over our heads--a wind that grew and grew
until it became a whistling shriek, then a roar and then a mighty
humming, to which every atom in our bodies pulsed in rhythm painful
almost to disintegration!

The rosy wall dwindled in a flash to a point of light and disappeared!

Wrapped in the clinging, impenetrable blackness we were racing,
dropping, hurling at a frightful speed--where?

And ever that awful humming of the rushing wind and the lightning
cleaving of the tangible dark--so, it came to me oddly, must the newly
released soul race through the sheer blackness of outer space up to
that Throne of Justice, where God sits high above all suns!

I felt Marakinoff creep close to me; gripped my nerve and flashed my
pocket-light; saw Larry standing, peering, peering ahead, and
Huldricksson, one strong arm around his shoulders, bracing him. And
then the speed began to slacken.

Millions of miles, it seemed, below the sound of the unearthly
hurricane I heard Larry's voice, thin and ghostlike, beneath its
clamour.

"Got it!" shrilled the voice. "Got it! Don't worry!"

The wind died down to the roar, passed back into the whistling shriek
and diminished to a steady whisper. In the comparative quiet O'Keefe's
tones now came in normal volume.

"Some little shoot-the-chutes, what?" he shouted. "Say--if they had
this at Coney Island or the Crystal Palace! Press all the way in these
holes and she goes top-high. Diminish pressure--diminish speed. The
curve of this--dashboard--here sends the wind shooting up over our
heads--like a windshield. What's behind you?"

I flashed the light back. The mechanism on which we were ended in
another wall exactly similar to that over which O'Keefe crouched.

"Well, we can't fall out, anyway," he laughed. "Wish to hell I knew
where the brakes were! Look out!"

We dropped dizzily down an abrupt, seemingly endless slope; fell--fell
as into an abyss--then shot abruptly out of the blackness into a
throbbing green radiance. O'Keefe's fingers must have pressed down
upon the controls, for we leaped forward almost with the speed of
light. I caught a glimpse of luminous immensities on the verge of
which we flew; of depths inconceivable, and flitting through the
incredible spaces--gigantic shadows as of the wings of Israfel, which
are so wide, say the Arabs, the world can cower under them like a
nestling--and then--again the living blackness!

"What was that?" This from Larry, with the nearest approach to awe
that he had yet shown.

"Trolldom!" croaked the voice of Olaf.

"Chert!" This from Marakinoff. "What a space!"

"Have you considered, Dr. Goodwin," he went on after a pause, "a
curious thing? We know, or, at least, is it not that nine out of ten
astronomers believe, that the moon was hurled out of this same region
we now call the Pacific when the earth was yet like molasses; almost
molten, I should say. And is it not curious that that which comes from
the Moon Chamber needs the moon-rays to bring it forth; is it not? And
is it not significant again that the stone depends upon the moon for
operating? Da! And last--such a space in mother earth as we just
glimpsed, how else could it have been torn but by some gigantic
birth--like that of the moon? Da! I do not put forward these as
statements of fact--no! But as suggestions--"

I started; there was so much that this might explain--an unknown
element that responded to the moon-rays in opening the moon door; the
blue Pool with its weird radioactivity, and the force within it that
reacted to the same light stream--

It was not inconceivable that a film had drawn over the world wound, a
film of earth-flesh which drew itself over that colossal abyss after
our planet had borne its satellite--that world womb did not close
when her shining child sprang forth--it was possible; and all that we
know of earth depth is four miles of her eight thousand.

What is there at the heart of earth? What of that radiant unknown
element upon the moon mount Tycho? What of that element unknown to us
as part of earth which is seen only in the corona of the sun at
eclipse that we call coronium? Yet the earth is child of the sun as
the moon is earth's daughter. And what of that other unknown element
we find glowing green in the far-flung nebulae--green as that we had
just passed through--and that we call nebulium? Yet the sun is child
of the nebulae as the earth is child of the sun and the moon is child
of the earth.

And what miracles are there in coronium and nebulium which, as the
child of nebula and sun, we inherit? Yes--and in Tycho's enigma which
came from earth heart?

We were flashing down to earth heart! And what miracles were hidden
there?





Next: The End Of The Journey

Previous: The Moon Pool



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