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The Meeting Of Titans







From: The Moon Pool

It is not my intention, nor is it possible no matter how interesting
to me, to set down ad seriatim the happenings of the next twelve
hours. But a few will not be denied recital.

O'Keefe regained cheerfulness.

"After all, Doc," he said to me, "it's a beautiful scrap we're going
to have. At the worst the worst is no more than the leprechaun warned
about. I would have told the Taitha De about the banshee raid he
promised me; but I was a bit taken off my feet at the time. The old
girl an' all the clan'll be along, said the little green man, an' I
bet the Three will be damned glad of it, take it from me."

Lakla, shining-eyed and half fearful too:

"I have other tidings that I am afraid will please you little,
Larry--darlin'. The Silent Ones say that you must not go into battle
yourself. You must stay here with me, and with Goodwin--for
if--if--the Shining One does come, then must we be here to meet it.
And you might not be, you know, Larry, if you fight," she said,
looking shyly up at him from under the long lashes.

The O'Keefe's jaw dropped.

"That's about the hardest yet," he answered slowly. "Still--I see
their point; the lamb corralled for the altar has no right to stray
out among the lions," he added grimly. "Don't worry, sweet," he told
her. "As long as I've sat in the game I'll stick to the rules."

Olaf took fierce joy in the coming fray. "The Norns spin close to the
end of this web," he rumbled. "Ja! And the threads of Lugur and the
Heks woman are between their fingers for the breaking! Thor will be
with me, and I have fashioned me a hammer in glory of Thor." In his
hand was an enormous mace of black metal, fully five feet long,
crowned with a massive head.

I pass to the twelve hours' closing.

At the end of the coria road where the giant fernland met the edge
of the cavern's ruby floor, hundreds of the Akka were stationed in
ambush, armed with their spears tipped with the rotting death and
their nail-studded, metal-headed clubs. These were to attack when the
Murians debauched from the corials. We had little hope of doing more
here than effect some attrition of Yolara's hosts, for at this place
the captains of the Shining One could wield the Keth and their other
uncanny weapons freely. We had learned, too, that every forge and
artisan had been put to work to make an armour Marakinoff had devised
to withstand the natural battle equipment of the frog-people--and both
Larry and I had a disquieting faith in the Russian's ingenuity.

At any rate the numbers against us would be lessened.

Next, under the direction of the frog-king, levies commanded by
subsidiary chieftains had completed rows of rough walls along the
probable route of the Murians through the cavern. These afforded the
Akka a fair protection behind which they could hurl their darts and
spears--curiously enough they had never developed the bow as a weapon.

At the opening of the cavern a strong barricade stretched almost to
the two ends of the crescent strand; almost, I say, because there had
not been time to build it entirely across the mouth.

And from edge to edge of the titanic bridge, from where it sprang
outward at the shore of the Crimson Sea to a hundred feet away from
the golden door of the abode, barrier after barrier was piled.

Behind the wall defending the mouth of the cavern, waited other
thousands of the Akka. At each end of the unfinished barricade they
were mustered thickly, and at right and left of the crescent where
their forest began, more legions were assembled to make way up to the
ledge as opportunity offered.

Rank upon rank they manned the bridge barriers; they swarmed over the
pinnacles and in the hollows of the island's ragged outer lip; the
domed castle was a hive of them, if I may mix my metaphors--and the
rocks and gardens that surrounded the abode glittered with them.

"Now," said the handmaiden, "there's nothing else we can do--save
wait."

She led us out through her bower and up the little path that ran to
the embrasure.

Through the quiet came a sound, a sighing, a half-mournful whispering
that beat about us and fled away.

"They come!" cried Lakla, the light of battle in her eyes. Larry drew
her to him, raised her in his arms, kissed her.

"A woman!" acclaimed the O'Keefe. "A real woman--and mine!"

With the cry of the Portal there was movement among the Akka, the
glint of moving spears, flash of metal-tipped clubs, rattle of horny
spurs, rumblings of battle-cries.

And we waited--waited it seemed interminably, gaze fastened upon the
low wall across the cavern mouth. Suddenly I remembered the crystal
through which I had peered when the hidden assassins had crept upon
us. Mentioning it to Lakla, she gave a little cry of vexation, a
command to her attendant; and not long that faithful if unusual lady
had returned with a tray of the glasses. Raising mine, I saw the lines
furthest away leap into sudden activity. Spurred warrior after warrior
leaped upon the barricade and over it. Flashes of intense, green
light, mingled with gleams like lightning strokes of concentrated moon
rays, sprang from behind the wall--sprang and struck and burned upon
the scales of the batrachians.

"They come!" whispered Lakla.

At the far ends of the crescent a terrific milling had begun. Here it
was plain the Akka were holding. Faintly, for the distance was
great, I could see fresh force upon force rush up and take the places
of those who had fallen.

Over each of these ends, and along the whole line of the barricade a
mist of dancing, diamonded atoms began to rise; sparking, coruscating
points of diamond dust that darted and danced.

What had once been Lakla's guardians--dancing now in the nothingness!

"God, but it's hard to stay here like this!" groaned the O'Keefe;
Olaf's teeth were bared, the lips drawn back in such a fighting grin
as his ancestors berserk on their raven ships must have borne; Rador
was livid with rage; the handmaiden's nostrils flaring wide, all her
wrathful soul in her eyes.

Suddenly, while we looked, the rocky wall which the Akka had built
at the cavern mouth--was not! It vanished, as though an unseen,
unbelievably gigantic hand had with the lightning's speed swept it
away. And with it vanished, too, long lines of the great amphibians
close behind it.

Then down upon the ledge, dropping into the Crimson Sea, sending up
geysers of ruby spray, dashing on the bridge, crushing the frog-men,
fell a shower of stone, mingled with distorted shapes and fragments
whose scales still flashed meteoric as they hurled from above.

"That which makes things fall upward," hissed Olaf. "That which I saw
in the garden of Lugur!"

The fiendish agency of destruction which Marakinoff had revealed to
Larry; the force that cut off gravitation and sent all things within
its range racing outward into space!

And now over the debris upon the ledge, striking with long sword and
daggers, here and there a captain flashing the green ray, moving on in
ordered squares, came the soldiers of the Shining One. Nearer and
nearer the verge of the ledge they pushed Nak's warriors. Leaping upon
the dwarfs, smiting them with spear and club, with teeth and spur, the
Akka fought like devils. Quivering under the ray, they leaped and
dragged down and slew.

Now there was but one long line of the frog-men at the very edge of
the cliff.

And ever the clouds of dancing, diamonded atoms grew thicker over them
all!

That last thin line of the Akka was going; yet they fought to the
last, and none toppled over the lip without at least one of the
armoured Murians in his arms.

My gaze dropped to the foot of the cliffs. Stretched along their
length was a wide ribbon of beauty--a shimmering multitude of
gleaming, pulsing, prismatic moons; glowing, glowing ever brighter,
ever more wondrous--the gigantic Medusae globes feasting on dwarf and
frog-man alike!

Across the waters, faintly, came a triumphant shouting from Lugur's
and Yolara's men!

Was the ruddy light of the place lessening, growing paler, changing to
a faint rose? There was an exclamation from Larry; something like hope
relaxed the drawn muscles of his face. He pointed to the aureate dome
wherein sat the Three--and then I saw!

Out of it, through the long transverse slit through which the Silent
Ones kept their watch on cavern, bridge, and abyss, a torrent of the
opalescent light was pouring. It cascaded like a waterfall, and as it
flowed it spread whirling out, in columns and eddies, clouds and wisps
of misty, curdled coruscations. It hung like a veil over all the
islands, filtering everywhere, driving back the crimson light as
though possessed of impenetrable substance--and still it cast not the
faintest shadowing upon our vision.

"Good God!" breathed Larry. "Look!"

The radiance was marching--marching--down the colossal bridge. It
moved swiftly, in some unthinkable way intelligently. It swathed the
Akka, and closer, ever closer it swept toward the approach upon
which Yolara's men had now gained foothold.

From their ranks came flash after flash of the green ray--aimed at
the abode! But as the light sped and struck the opalescence it was
blotted out! The shimmering mists seemed to enfold, to dissipate it.

Lakla drew a deep breath.

"The Silent Ones forgive me for doubting them," she whispered; and
again hope blossomed on her face even as it did on Larry's.

The frog-men were gaining. Clothed in the armour of that mist, they
pressed back from the bridge-head the invaders. There was another
prodigious movement at the ends of the crescent, and racing up,
pressing against the dwarfs, came other legions of Nak's warriors. And
re-enforcing those out on the prodigious arch, the frog-men stationed
in the gardens below us poured back to the castle and out through the
open Portal.

"They're licked!" shouted Larry. "They're--"

So quickly I could not follow the movement his automatic leaped to his
hand--spoke, once and again and again. Rador leaped to the head of the
little path, sword in hand; Olaf, shouting and whirling his mace,
followed. I strove to get my own gun quickly.

For up that path were running twoscore of Lugur's men, while from
below Lugur's own voice roared.

"Quick! Slay not the handmaiden or her lover! Carry them down.
Quick! But slay the others!"

The handmaiden raced toward Larry, stopped, whistled shrilly--again
and again. Larry's pistol was empty, but as the dwarfs rushed upon him
I dropped two of them with mine. It jammed--I could not use it; I
sprang to his side. Rador was down, struggling in a heap of Lugur's
men. Olaf, a Viking of old, was whirling his great hammer, and
striking, striking through armour, flesh, and bone.

Larry was down, Lakla flew to him. But the Norseman, now streaming
blood from a dozen wounds, caught a glimpse of her coming, turned,
thrust out a mighty hand, sent her reeling back, and then with his
hammer cracked the skulls of those trying to drag the O'Keefe down the
path.

A cry from Lakla--the dwarfs had seized her, had lifted her despite
her struggles, were carrying her away. One I dropped with the butt of
my useless pistol, and then went down myself under the rush of
another.

Through the clamour I heard a booming of the Akka, closer, closer;
then through it the bellow of Lugur. I made a mighty effort, swung a
hand up, and sunk my fingers in the throat of the soldier striving to
kill me. Writhing over him, my fingers touched a poniard; I thrust it
deep, staggered to my feet.

The O'Keefe, shielding Lakla, was battling with a long sword against a
half dozen of the soldiers. I started toward him, was struck, and
under the impact hurled to the ground. Dizzily I raised myself--and
leaning upon my elbow, stared and moved no more. For the dwarfs lay
dead, and Larry, holding Lakla tightly, was staring even as I, and
ranged at the head of the path were the Akka, whose booming advance
in obedience to the handmaiden's call I had heard.

And at what we all stared was Olaf, crimson with his wounds, and
Lugur, in blood-red armour, locked in each other's grip, struggling,
smiting, tearing, kicking, and swaying about the little space before
the embrasure. I crawled over toward the O'Keefe. He raised his
pistol, dropped it.

"Can't hit him without hitting Olaf," he whispered. Lakla signalled
the frog-men; they advanced toward the two--but Olaf saw them, broke
the red dwarf's hold, sent Lugur reeling a dozen feet away.

"No!" shouted the Norseman, the ice of his pale-blue eyes glinting
like frozen flames, blood streaming down his face and dripping from
his hands. "No! Lugur is mine! None but me slays him! Ho, you Lugur--"
and cursed him and Yolara and the Dweller hideously--I cannot set
those curses down here.

They spurred Lugur. Mad now as the Norseman, the red dwarf sprang.
Olaf struck a blow that would have killed an ordinary man, but Lugur
only grunted, swept in, and seized him about the waist; one mighty arm
began to creep up toward Huldricksson's throat.

"'Ware, Olaf!" cried O'Keefe; but Olaf did not answer. He waited until
the red dwarf's hand was close to his shoulder; and then, with an
incredibly rapid movement--once before had I seen something like it
in a wrestling match between Papuans--he had twisted Lugur around;
twisted him so that Olaf's right arm lay across the tremendous breast,
the left behind the neck, and Olaf's left leg held the Voice's
armoured thighs viselike against his right knee while over that knee
lay the small of the red dwarf's back.

For a second or two the Norseman looked down upon his enemy,
motionless in that paralyzing grip. And then--slowly--he began to
break him!

Lakla gave a little cry; made a motion toward the two. But Larry drew
her head down against his breast, hiding her eyes; then fastened his
own upon the pair, white-faced, stern.

Slowly, ever so slowly, proceeded Olaf. Twice Lugur moaned. At the
end he screamed--horribly. There was a cracking sound, as of a stout
stick snapped.

Huldricksson stooped, silently. He picked up the limp body of the
Voice, not yet dead, for the eyes rolled, the lips strove to speak;
lifted it, walked to the parapet, swung it twice over his head, and
cast it down to the red waters!





Next: The Coming Of The Shining One

Previous: Your Love Your Lives Your Souls!



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