A Voyage to Arcturus.
By David Lindsay
1 The Seance
2 In the Street
4 The Voice
5 The Night of Departure
8 The Lusion Plain
11 On Disscourn
13 The Wombflash Forest
15 Swaylone's Island
On a march evening, at eight o'clock, Backhouse, the medium - a fast
- rising star in the psychic world - was ushered into the study at
Prolands, the Hampstead residence of Montague Faull. The room was
illuminated only by the light of a blazing fire. The host, eying him
with indolent curiosity, got up, and the usual conventional greetings
were exchanged. Having indicated an easy chair before the fire to
his guest, the South American merchant sank back again into his own.
The electric light was switched on. Faull's prominent, clear - cut
features, metallic - looking skin, and general air of bored
impassiveness, did not seem greatly to impress the medium, who was
accustomed to regard men from a special angle. Backhouse, on the
contrary, was a novelty to the merchant. As he tranquilly studied
him through half closed lids and the smoke of a cigar, he wondered
how this little, thickset person with the pointed beard contrived to
remain so fresh and sane in appearance, in view of the morbid nature
of his occupation.
"Do you smoke?" drawled Faull, by way of starting the Conversation.
"No? Then will you take a drink?"
"Not at present, I thank you."
"Everything is satisfactory? The materialisation will take place?"
"I see no reason to doubt it."
"That's good, for I would not like my guests to be disappointed. I
have your check written out in my pocket."
"Afterward will do quite well."
"Nine o'clock was the time specified, I believe?"
"I fancy so."
The conversation continued to flag. Faull sprawled in his chair, and
"Would you care to hear what arrangements I have made?"
"I am unaware that any are necessary, beyond chairs for your guests."
"I mean the decoration of the seance room, the music, and so forth."
Backhouse stared at his host. "But this is not a theatrical
"That's correct. Perhaps I ought to explain.. .. There will be
ladies present, and ladies, you know, are aesthetically inclined."
"In that case I have no objection. I only hope they will enjoy the
performance to the end."
He spoke rather dryly.
"Well, that's all right, then," said Faull. Flicking his cigar into
the fire, he got up and helped himself to whisky.
"Will you come and see the room?"
"Thank you, no. I prefer to have nothing to do with it till the time
"Then let's go to see my sister, Mrs. Jameson, who is in the drawing
room. She sometimes does me the kindness to act as my hostess, as I
"I will be delighted," said Backhouse coldly.
They found the lady alone, sitting by the open pianoforte in a
pensive attitude. She had been playing Scriabin and was overcome.
The medium took in her small, tight, patrician features and porcelain
- like hands, and wondered how Faull came by such a sister. She
received him bravely, with just a shade of quiet emotion. He was
used to such receptions at the hands of the sex, and knew well how to
respond to them.
"What amazes me," she half whispered, after ten minutes of graceful,
hollow conversation, "is, if you must know it, not so much the
manifestation itself - though that will surely be wonderful - as your
assurance that it will take place. Tell me the grounds of your
"I dream with open eyes," he answered, looking around at the door,
"and others see my dreams. That is all."
"But that's beautiful," responded Mrs. Jameson. She smiled rather
absently, for the first guest had just entered.
It was Kent - Smith, the ex - magistrate, celebrated for his shrewd
judicial humour, which, however, he had the good sense not to attempt
to carry into private life. Although well on the wrong side of
seventy, his eyes were still disconcertingly bright. With the
selective skill of an old man, he immediately settled himself in the
most comfortable of many comfortable chairs.
"So we are to see wonders tonight?"
"Fresh material for your autobiography," remarked Faull.
"Ah, you should not have mentioned my unfortunate book. An old
public servant is merely amusing himself in his retirement, Mr.
Backhouse. You have no cause for alarm - I have studied in the
school of discretion."
"I am not alarmed. There can be no possible objection to your
publishing whatever you please."
"You are most kind," said the old man, with a cunning smile.
"Trent is not coming tonight," remarked Mrs. Jameson, throwing a
curious little glance at her brother.
"I never thought he would. It's not in his line."
"Mrs. Trent, you must understand," she went on, addressing the ex-
magistrate, "has placed us all under a debt of gratitude. She has
decorated the old lounge hall upstairs most beautifully, and has
secured the services of the sweetest little orchestra."
"But this is Roman magnificence."
"Backhouse thinks the spirits should be treated with more deference,"
"Surely, Mr. Backhouse - a poetic environment ..
"Pardon me. I am a simple man, and always prefer to reduce things to
elemental simplicity. I raise no opposition, but I express my
opinion. Nature is one thing, and art is another."
"And I am not sure that I don't agree with you," said the ex-
magistrate. "An occasion like this ought to be simple, to guard
against the possibility of deception - if you will forgive my
bluntness, Mr. Backhouse."
"We shall sit in full light," replied Backhouse, "and every
opportunity will be given to all to inspect the room. I shall also
ask you to submit me to a personal examination."
A rather embarrassed silence followed. It was broken by the arrival
of two more guests, who entered together. These were Prior, the
prosperous City coffee importer, and Lang, the stockjobber, well
known in his own circle as an amateur prestidigitator. Backhouse was
slightly acquainted with the latter. Prior, perfuming the room with
the faint odour of wine and tobacco smoke, tried to introduce an
atmosphere of joviality into the proceedings. Finding that no one
seconded his efforts, however, he shortly subsided and fell to
examining the water colours on the walls. Lang, tall, thin, and
growing bald, said little, but stared at Backhouse a good deal.
Coffee, liqueurs, and cigarettes were now brought in. Everyone
partook, except Lang and the medium. At the same moment, Professor
Halbert was announced. He was the eminent psychologist, the author
and lecturer on crime, insanity, genius, and so forth, considered in
their mental aspects. His presence at such a gathering somewhat
mystified the other guests, but all felt as if the object of their
meeting had immediately acquired additional solemnity. He was small,
meagre-looking, and mild in manner, but was probably the most
stubborn-brained of all that mixed company. Completely ignoring the
medium, he at once sat down beside Kent-Smith, with whom he began to
At a few minutes past the appointed hour Mrs. Trent entered,
unannounced. She was a woman of about twenty-eight. She had a
white, demure, saintlike face, smooth black hair, and lips so crimson
and full that they seemed to be bursting with blood. Her tall,
graceful body was most expensively attired. Kisses were exchanged
between her and Mrs. Jameson. She bowed to the rest of the assembly,
and stole a half glance and a smile at Faull. The latter gave her a
queer look, and Backhouse, who lost nothing, saw the concealed
barbarian in the complacent gleam of his eye. She refused the
refreshment that was offered her, and Faull proposed that, as
everyone had now arrived, they should adjourn to the lounge hall.
Mrs. Trent held up a slender palm. "Did you, or did you not, give me
carte blanche, Montague?"
"Of course I did," said Faull, laughing. "But what's the matter?"
"Perhaps I have been rather presumptuous. I don't know. I have
invited a couple of friends to join us. No, no one knows them.. ..
The two most extraordinary individuals you ever saw. And mediums, I
"It sounds very mysterious. Who are these conspirators?"
"At least tell us their names, you provoking girl," put in Mrs.
"One rejoices in the name of Maskull, and the other in that of
Nightspore. That's nearly all that I know about them, so don't
overwhelm me with, any more questions."
"But where did you pick them up? You must have picked them up
"But this is a cross - examination. Have I sinned again convention?
I swear I will tell you not another word about them. They will be
here directly, and then I will deliver them to your tender mercy."
"I don't know them," said Faull, "and nobody else seems to, but, of
course, we will all be very pleased to have them.... Shall we wait,
"I said nine, and it's past that now. It's quite possible they may
not turn up after all.... Anyway, don't wait."
"I would prefer to start at once," said Backhouse.
The lounge, a lofty room, forty feet long by twenty wide, had been
divided for the occasion into two equal parts by a heavy brocade
curtain drawn across the middle. The far end was thus concealed.
The nearer half had been converted into an auditorium by a crescent
of armchairs. There was no other furniture. A large fire was burning
halfway along the wall, between the chairbacks and the door. The
room was brilliantly lighted by electric bracket lamps. A sumptuous
carpet covered the floor.
Having settled his guests in their seats, Faull stepped up to the
curtain and flung it aside. A replica, or nearly so, of the Drury
Lane presentation of the temple scene in The Magic Flute was then
exposed to view: the gloomy, massive architecture of the interior,
the glowing sky above it in the background, and, silhouetted against
the latter, the gigantic seated statue of the Pharaoh. A
fantastically carved wooden couch lay before the pedestal of the
statue. Near the curtain, obliquely placed to the auditorium, was a
plain oak armchair, for the use of the medium.
Many of those present felt privately that the setting was quite
inappropriate to the occasion and savoured rather unpleasantly of
ostentation. Backhouse in particular seemed put out. The usual
compliments, however, were showered on Mrs. Trent as the deviser of
so remarkable a theatre. Faull invited his friends to step forward
and examine the apartment as minutely as they might desire. Prior
and Lang were the only ones to accept. The former wandered about
among the pasteboard scenery, whistling to himself and occasionally
tapping a part of it with his knuckles. Lang, who was in his
element, ignored the rest of his party and commenced a patient,
systematic search, on his own account, for secret apparatus. Faull
and Mrs. Trent stood in a corner of the temple, talking together in
low tones; while Mrs. Jameson, pretending to hold Backhouse in
conversation, watched them as only a deeply interested woman knows
how to watch.
Lang, to his own disgust, having failed to find anything of a
suspicious nature, the medium now requested that his own clothing
should be searched.
"All these precautions are quite needless and beside the matter in
hand, as you will immediately see for yourselves. My reputation
demands, however, that other people who are not present would not be
able to say afterward that trickery has been resorted to."
To Lang again fell the ungrateful task of investigating pockets and
sleeves. Within a few minutes he expressed himself satisfied that
nothing mechanical was in Backhouse's possession. The guests
reseated themselves. Faull ordered two more chairs to be brought for
Mrs. Trent's friends, who, however, had not yet arrived. He then
pressed an electric bell, and took his own seat.
The signal was for the hidden orchestra to begin playing. A murmur
of surprise passed through the audience as, without previous warning,
the beautiful and solemn strains of Mozart's "temple" music pulsated
through the air. The expectation of everyone was raised, while,
beneath her pallor and composure, it could be seen that Mrs. Trent
was deeply moved. It was evident that aesthetically she was by far
the most important person present. Faull watched her, with his face
sunk on his chest, sprawling as usual.
Backhouse stood up, with one hand on the back of his chair, and began
speaking. The music instantly sank to pianissimo, and remained so
for as long as he was on his legs.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness a materialisation.
That means you will see something appear in space that was not
previously there. At first it will appear as a vaporous form, but
finally it will be a solid body, which anyone present may feel and
handle - and, for example, shake hands with. For this body will be
in the human shape. It will be a real man or woman - which, I can't
say - but a man or woman without known antecedents. If, however, you
demand from me an explanation of the origin of this materialised form
- where it comes from, whence the atoms and molecules composing its
tissues are derived - I am unable to satisfy you. I am about to
produce the phenomenon; if anyone can explain it to me afterward, I
shall be very grateful.... That is all I have to say."
He resumed his seat, half turning his back on the assembly, and
paused for a moment before beginning his task.
It was precisely at this minute that the manservant opened the door
and announced in a subdued but distinct voice: "Mr. Maskull, Mr.
Everyone turned round. Faull rose to welcome the late arrivals.
Backhouse also stood up, and stared hard at them.
The two strangers remained standing by the door, which was closed
quietly behind them. They seemed to be waiting for the mild
sensation caused by their appearance to subside before advancing into
the room. Maskull was a kind of giant, but of broader and more
robust physique than most giants. He wore a full beard. His
features were thick and heavy, coarsely modelled, like those of a
wooden carving; but his eyes, small and black, sparkled with the
fires of intelligence and audacity. His hair was short, black, and
bristling. Nightspore was of middle height, but so tough - looking
that he appeared to be trained out of all human frailties and
susceptibilities. His hairless face seemed consumed by an intense
spiritual hunger, and his eyes were wild and distant. Both men were
dressed in tweeds.
Before any words were spoken, a loud and terrible crash of falling
masonry caused the assembled party to start up from their chairs in
consternation. It sounded as if the entire upper part of the
building had collapsed. Faull sprang to the door, and called to the
servant to say what was happening. The man had to be questioned
twice before he gathered what was required of him. He said he had
heard nothing. In obedience to his master's order, he went upstairs.
Nothing, however, was amiss there, neither had the maids heard
In the meantime Backhouse, who almost alone of those assembled had
preserved his sangfroid, went straight up to Nightspore, who stood
gnawing his nails.
"Perhaps you can explain it, sir?"
"It was supernatural," said Nightspore, in a harsh, muffled voice,
turning away from his questioner.
"I guessed so. It is a familiar phenomenon, but I have never heard
it so loud."
He then went among the guests, reassuring them. By degrees they
settled down, but it was observable that their former easy and good -
humoured interest in the proceedings was now changed to strained
watchfulness. Maskull and Nightspore took the places allotted to
them. Mrs. Trent kept stealing uneasy glances at them. Throughout
the entire incident, Mozart's hymn continued to be played. The
orchestra also had heard nothing.
Backhouse now entered on his task. It was one that began to be
familiar to him, and he had no anxiety about the result. It was not
possible to effect the materialisation by mere concentration of will,
or the exercise of any faculty; otherwise many people could have done
what he had engaged himself to do. His nature was phenomenal - the
dividing wall between himself and the spiritual world was broken in
many places. Through the gaps in his mind the inhabitants of the
invisible, when he summoned them, passed for a moment timidly and
awfully into the solid, coloured universe.... He could not say how it
was brought about.... The experience was a rough one for the body,
and many such struggles would lead to insanity and early death. That
is why Backhouse was stern and abrupt in his manner. The coarse,
clumsy suspicion of some of the witnesses, the frivolous aestheticism
of others, were equally obnoxious to his grim, bursting heart; but he
was obliged to live, and, to pay his way, must put up with these
He sat down facing the wooden couch. His eyes remained open but
seemed to look inward. His cheeks paled, and he became noticeably
thinner. The spectators almost forgot to breathe. The more
sensitive among them began to feel, or imagine, strange presences all
around them. Maskull's eyes glittered with anticipation, and his
brows went up and down, but Nightspore appeared bored.
After a long ten minutes the pedestal of the statue was seen to
become slightly blurred, as though an intervening mist were rising
from the ground. This slowly developed into a visible cloud, coiling
hither and thither, and constantly changing shape. The professor
half rose, and held his glasses with one hand further forward on the
bridge of his nose.
By slow stages the cloud acquired the dimensions and approximate
outline of an adult human body, although all was still vague and
blurred. It hovered lightly in the air, a foot or so above the
couch. Backhouse looked haggard and ghastly. Mrs Jameson quietly
fainted in her chair, but she was unnoticed, and presently revived.
The apparition now settled down upon the couch, and at the moment of
doing so seemed suddenly to grow dark. solid, and manlike. Many of
the guests were as pale as the medium himself, but Faull preserved
his stoical apathy, and glanced once or twice at Mrs. Trent. She was
staring straight at the couch, and was twisting a little lace
handkerchief through the different fingers of her hand. The music
went on playing.
The figure was by this time unmistakably that of a man lying down.
The face focused itself into distinctness. The body was draped in a
sort of shroud, but the features were those of a young man. One
smooth hand fell over, nearly touching the floor, white and
motionless. The weaker spirits of the company stared at the vision
in sick horror; the. rest were grave and perplexed. The seeming man
was dead, but somehow it did not appear like a death succeeding life,
but like a death preliminary to life. All felt that he might sit up
at any minute.
"Stop that music!" muttered Backhouse, tottering from his chair and
facing the party. Faull touched the bell. A few more bars sounded,
and then total silence ensued.
"Anyone who wants to may approach the couch," said Backhouse with
Lang at once advanced, and stared awestruck at the supernatural
"You are at liberty to touch," said the medium.
But Lang did not venture to, nor did any of the others, who one by
one stole up to the couch - until it came to Faull's turn. He looked
straight at Mrs. Trent, who seemed frightened and disgusted at the
spectacle before her, and then not only touched the apparition but
suddenly grasped the drooping hand in his own and gave it a powerful
squeeze. Mrs. Trent gave a low scream. The ghostly visitor opened
his eyes, looked at Faull strangely, and sat up on the couch. A
cryptic smile started playing over his mouth. Faull looked at his
hand; a feeling of intense pleasure passed through his body.
Maskull caught Mrs. Jameson in his arms; she was attacked by another
spell of faintness. Mrs. Trent ran forward, and led her out of the
room. Neither of them returned.
The phantom body now stood upright, looking about him, still with his
peculiar smile. Prior suddenly felt sick, and went out. The other
men more or less hung together, for the sake of human society, but
Nightspore paced up and down, like a man weary and impatient, while
Maskull attempted to interrogate the youth. The apparition watched
him with a baffling expression, but did not answer. Backhouse was
sitting apart, his face buried in his hands.
It was at this moment that the door was burst open violently, and a
stranger, unannounced, half leaped, half strode a few yards into the
room, and then stopped. None of Faull's friends had ever seen him
before. He was a thick, shortish man, with surprising muscular
development and a head far too large in proportion to his body. His
beardless yellow face indicated, as a first impression, a mixture of
sagacity, brutality, and humour.
"Aha-i, gentlemen!" he called out loudly. His voice was piercing,
and oddly disagreeable to the ear. "So we have a little visitor
Nightspore turned his back, but everyone else stared at the intruder
in astonishment. He took another few steps forward, which brought
him to the edge of the theatre.
"May I ask, sir, how I come to have the honour of being your host?"
asked Faull sullenly. He thought that the evening was not proceeding
as smoothly as he had anticipated.
The newcomer looked at him for a second, and then broke into a great,
roaring guffaw. He thumped Faull on the back playfully - but the
play was rather rough, for the victim was sent staggering against the
wall before he could recover his balance.
"Good evening, my host!"
"And good evening to you too, my lad!" he went on, addressing the
supernatural youth, who was now beginning to wander about the room,
in apparent unconsciousness of his surroundings. "I have seen
someone very like you before, I think."
There was no response.
The intruder thrust his head almost up to the phantom's face. "You
have no right here, as you know."
The shape looked back at him with a smile full of significance,
which, however, no one could understand.
"Be careful what you are doing," said Backhouse quickly.
"What's the matter, spirit usher?"
"I don't know who you are, but if you use physical violence toward
that, as you seem inclined to do, the consequences may prove very
"And without pleasure our evening would be spoiled, wouldn't it, my
little mercenary friend?"
Humour vanished from his face, like sunlight from a landscape,
leaving it hard and rocky. Before anyone realised what he was doing,
he encircled the soft, white neck of the materialised shape with his
hairy hands and, with a double turn, twisted it completely round. A
faint, unearthly shriek sounded, and the body fell in a heap to the
floor. Its face was uppermost. The guests were unutterably shocked
to observe that its expression had changed from the mysterious but
fascinating smile to a vulgar, sordid, bestial grin, which cast a
cold shadow of moral nastiness into every heart. The transformation
was accompanied by a sickening stench of the graveyard.
The features faded rapidly away, the body lost its consistence,
passing from the solid to the shadowy condition, and, before two
minutes had elapsed, the spirit - form had entirely disappeared.
The short stranger turned and confronted the party, with a long, loud
laugh, like nothing in nature.
The professor talked excitedly to Kent - Smith in low tones. Faull
beckoned Backhouse behind a wing of scenery, and handed him his check
without a word. The medium put it in his pocket, buttoned his coat,
and walked out of the room. Lang followed him, in order to get a
The stranger poked his face up into Maskull's.
"Well, giant, what do you think of it all? Wouldn't you like to see
the land where this sort of fruit grows wild?"
"What sort of fruit?"
"That specimen goblin."
Maskull waved him away with his huge hand. "Who are you, and how did
you come here?"
"Call up your friend. Perhaps he may recognise me." Nightspore had
moved a chair to the fire, and was watching the embers with a set,
"Let Krag come to me, if he wants me," he said, in his strange voice.
"You see, he does know me," uttered Krag, with a humorous look.
Walking over to Nightspore, he put a hand on the back of his chair.
"Still the same old gnawing hunger?"
"What is doing these days?" demanded Nightspore disdainfully, without
altering his attitude.
"Surtur has gone, and we are to follow him."
"How do you two come to know each other, and of whom are you
speaking?" asked Maskull, looking from one to the other in
"Krag has something for us. Let us go outside," replied Nightspore.
He got up, and glanced over his shoulder. Maskull, following the
direction of his eye, observed that the few remaining men were
watching their little group attentively.
IN THE STREET
The three men gathered in the street outside the house. The night
was slightly frosty, but particularly clear, with an east wind
blowing. The multitude of blazing stars caused the sky to appear
like a vast scroll of hieroglyphic symbols. Maskull felt oddly
excited; he had a sense that something extraordinary was about to
happen "What brought you to this house tonight, Krag, and what made
you do what you did? How are we understand that apparition?"
"That must have been Crystalman's expression on face," muttered
"We have discussed that, haven't we, Maskull? Maskull is anxious to
behold that rare fruit in its native wilds."
Maskull looked at Krag carefully, trying to analyse his own feelings
toward him. He was distinctly repelled by the man's personality, yet
side by side with this aversion a savage, living energy seemed to
spring up in his heart that in some strange fashion was attributable
"Why do you insist on this simile?" he asked.
"Because it is apropos. Nightspore's quite right. That was
Crystalman's face, and we are going to Crystalman's country."
"And where is this mysterious country?"
"That's a quaint name. But where is it?"
Krag grinned, showing his yellow teeth in the light of the street
"It is the residential suburb of Arcturus."
"What is he talking about, Nightspore? .. . Do you mean the star of
that name?" he went on, to Krag.
"Which you have in front of you at this very minute" said Krag,
pointing a thick finger toward the brightest star in the south-
eastern sky. "There you see Arcturus, and Tormance is its one
Maskull looked at the heavy, gleaning star, and again at Krag. Then
he pulled out a pipe, and began to fill it.
"You must have cultivated a new form of humour, Krag.
"I am glad if I can amuse you, Maskull, if only for a few days."
"I meant tor ask you - how do you know my name?"
"It would be odd if I didn't, seeing that I only came here on your
account. As a matter of fact, Nightspore and I are old friends."
Maskull paused with his suspended match. "You came here on my
"Surely. On your account and Nightspore's. We three are to be
Maskull now lit his pipe and puffed away coolly for a few moments.
"I'm sorry, Krag, but I must assume you are mad."
Krag threw his head back, and gave a scraping laugh. "Am I mad,
"Has Surtur gone to Tormance?" ejaculated Nightspore in a strangled
voice, fixing his eyes on Krag's face.
"Yes, and he requires that we follow him at once."
Maskull's heart began to beat strangely. It all sounded to him like
a dream conversation.
"And since how long, Krag, have I been required to do things by a
total stranger.... Besides, who is this individual?"
"Krag's chief," said Nightspore, turning his head away.
"The riddle is too elaborate for me. I give up."
"You are looking for mysteries," said Krag, "so naturally you are
finding them. Try and simplify your ideas, my friend. The affair is
plain and serious."
Maskull stared hard at him and smoked rapidly.
"Where have you come from now?" demanded Nightspore suddenly.
"From the old observatory at Starkness.... Have you heard of the
famous Starkness Observatory, Maskull?"
"No. Where is it?"
"On the north-east coast of Scotland. Curious discoveries are made
there from time to time."
"As, for example, how to make voyages to the stars. So this Surtur
turns out to be an astronomer. And you too, presumably?"
Krag grinned again. "How long will it take you to wind up your
affairs? When can you be ready to start?"
"You are too considerate," said Maskull, laughing outright. "I was
beginning to fear that I would be hauled away at once.. .. However, I
have neither wife, land, nor profession, so there's nothing to wait
for.... What is the itinerary?"
"You are a fortunate man. A bold, daring heart, and no
encumbrances." Krag's features became suddenly grave and rigid.
"Don't be a fool, and refuse a gift of luck. A gift declined is not
offered a second time."
"Krag," replied Maskull simply, returning his pipe to his pocket. "I
ask you to put yourself in my place. Even if were a man sick for
adventures, how could I listen seriously to such an insane
proposition as this? What do I know about you, or your past record?
You may be a practical joker, or you may have come out of a madhouse
- I know nothing about it. If you claim to be an exceptional man,
and want my cooperation, you must offer me exceptional proofs."
"And what proofs would you consider adequate, Maskull?"
As he spoke he gripped Maskull's arm. A sharp, chilling pain
immediately passed through the latter's body and at the same moment
his brain caught fire. A light burst in upon him like the rising of
the sun. He asked himself for the first time if this fantastic
conversation could by any chance refer to real things.
"Listen, Krag," he said slowly, while peculiar images and conceptions
started to travel in rich disorder through his mind. "You talk about
a certain journey. Well, if that journey were a possible one, and I
were given the chance of making it, I would be willing never to come
back. For twenty - four hours on that Arcturian planet, I would give
my life. That is my attitude toward that journey.... Now prove to me
that you're not talking nonsense. Produce your credentials."
Krag stared at him all the time he was speaking, his face gradually
resuming its jesting expression.
"Oh, you will get your twenty - four hours, and perhaps longer, but
not much longer. You're an audacious fellow, Maskull, but this trip
will prove a little strenuous, even for you.... And so, like the
unbelievers of old, you want a sign from heaven?"
Maskull frowned. "But the whole thing is ridiculous. Our brains are
overexcited by what took place in there. Let us go home, and sleep
Krag detained him with one hand, while groping in his breast pocket
with the other. He presently fished out what resembled a small
folding lens. The diameter of the glass did not exceed two inches.
"First take a peep at Arcturus through this, Maskull. It may serve
as a provisional sign. It's the best I can do, unfortunately. I am
not a travelling magician.. .. Be very careful not to drop it. It's
Maskull took the lens in his hand, struggled with it for a minute,
and then looked at Krag in amazement. The little object weighed at
least twenty pounds, though it was not much bigger than a crown
"What stuff can this be, Krag?"
"Look through it, my good friend. That's what I gave it to you for."
Maskull held it up with difficulty, directed it toward the gleaming
Arcturus, and snatched as long and as steady a glance at the star as
the muscles of his arm would permit. What he saw was this. The
star, which to the naked eye appeared as a single yellow point of
light, now became clearly split into two bright but minute suns, the
larger of which was still yellow, while its smaller companion was a
beautiful blue. But this was not all. Apparently circulating around
the yellow sun was a comparatively small and hardly distinguishable
satellite, which seemed to shine, not by its own, but by reflected
light.... Maskull lowered and raised his arm repeatedly. The same
spectacle revealed itself again and again, but he was able to see
nothing else. Then he passed back the lens to Krag, without a word,
and stood chewing his underlip.
"You take a glimpse too," scraped Krag, proffering the glass to
Nightspore turned his back and began to pace up an down. Krag
laughed sardonically, and returned the lens t his pocket. "Well,
Maskull, are you satisfied?"
"Arcturus, then, is a double sun. And is that third point the planet
"Our future home, Maskull."
Maskull continued to ponder. "You inquire if I a satisfied. I don't
know, Krag. It's miraculous, and that' all I can say about it....
But I'm satisfied of one thing There must be very wonderful
astronomers at Starkness and if you invite me to your observatory I
will surely come."
"I do invite you. We set off from there."
"And you, Nightspore?" demanded Maskull.
"The journey has to be made," answered his friend in indistinct
tones, "though I don't see what will come of it."
Krag shot a penetrating glance at him. "More remarkable adventures
than this would need to be arranged before we could excite
"Yet he is coming."
"But not con amore. He is coming merely to bear you company."
Maskull again sought the heavy, sombre star, gleaming in solitary
might, in the south-eastern heavens, and, as he gazed, his heart
swelled with grand and painful longings, for which, however, he was
unable to account to his own intellect. He felt that his destiny was
in some way bound up with this gigantic, far - distant sun. But
still he did not dare to admit to himself Krag's seriousness.
He heard his parting remarks in deep abstraction, and only after the
lapse of several minutes, when, alone with Nightspore, did he realise
that they referred to such mundane matters as travelling routes and
times of trains.
"Does Krag travel north with us, Nightspore? I didn't catch that."
"No. We go on first, and he joins us at Starkness on the evening of
the day after tomorrow."
Maskull remained thoughtful. "What am I to think of that man?"
"For your information," replied Nightspore wearily, "I have never
known him to lie."
A couple of days later, at two o'clock in the afternoon, Maskull and
Nightspore arrived at Starkness Observatory, having covered the seven
miles from Haillar Station on foot. The road, very wild and lonely,
ran for the greater part of the way near the edge of rather lofty
cliffs, within sight of the North Sea. The sun shone, but a brisk
cast wind was blowing and the air was salt and cold. The dark green
waves were flecked with white. Through
out the walk, they were accompanied by the plaintive, beautiful
crying of the gulls.
The observatory presented itself to their eyes as a self-contained
little community, without neighbours, and perched on the extreme end
of the land. There were three buildings: a small, stone - built
dwelling house, a low workshop, and, about two hundred yards farther
north, a square tower of granite masonry, seventy feet in height.
The house and the shop were separated by an open yard, littered with
waste. A single stone wall surrounded both, except on the side
facing the sea, where the house itself formed a continuation of the
cliff. No one appeared. The windows were all closed, and Maskull
could have sworn that the whole establishment was shut up and
He passed through the open gate, followed by Nightspore, and knocked
vigorously at the front door. The knocker was thick with dust and
had obviously not been used for a long time. He put his ear to the
door, but could hear no movements inside the house. He then tried
the handle; the door was looked.
They walked around the house, looking for another entrance, but there
was only the one door.
"This isn't promising," growled Maskull "There's no one here... ..
Now you try the shed, while I go over to that tower."
Nightspore, who had not spoken half a dozen words since leaving the
train, complied in silence, and started off across the yard. Maskull
passed out of the gate again. When he arrived at the foot of the
tower, which stood some way back from the cliff, he found the door
heavily padlocked. Gazing up, he saw six windows, one above the
other at equal distances, all on the cast face - that is, overlooking
the sea. Realising that no satisfaction was to be gained here, he
came away again, still more irritated than before. When' he rejoined
his friend, Nightspore reported that the workshop was also locked.
"Did we, or did we not, receive an invitation?" demanded Maskull
"The house is empty," replied Nightspore, biting his nails. "Better
break a window."
"I certainly don't mean to camp out till Krag condescends to come."
He picked up an old iron bolt from the yard and, retreating to a safe
distance, hurled it against a sash window on the ground floor. The
lower pane was completely shattered. Carefully avoiding the broken
glass, Maskull thrust his hand through the aperture and pushed back
the frame fastening. A minute later they had climbed through and
were standing inside the house.
The room, which was a kitchen, was in an indescribably filthy and
neglected condition. The furniture scarcely held together, broken
utensils and rubbish lay on the floor instead of on the dust heap,
everything was covered with a deep deposit of dust. The atmosphere
was so foul that Maskull judged that no fresh air had passed into the
room for several months. Insects were crawling on the walls.
They went into the other rooms on the lower floor - a scullery, a
barely furnished dining room, and a storing place for lumber. The
same dirt, mustiness, and neglect met their eyes. At least half a
year must have elapsed since these rooms were last touched, or even
"Does your faith in Krag still hold?" asked Maskull. "I confess mine
is at vanishing point. If this affair isn't one big practical joke,
it has every promise of being one. Krag never lived here in his
"Come upstairs first," said Nightspore.
The upstairs rooms proved to consist of a library and three bedrooms.
All the windows were tightly closed, and the air was insufferable.
The beds had been slept in, evidently a long time ago, and had never
been made since. The tumbled, discoloured bed linen actually
preserved the impressions of the sleepers. There was no doubt that
these impressions were ancient, for all sorts of floating dirt had
accumulated on the sheets and coverlets.
"Who could have slept here, do you think?" interrogated Maskull.
"The observatory staff?"
"More likely travellers like ourselves. They left suddenly."
Maskull flung the windows wide open in every room he came to, and
held his breath until he had done so. Two of the bedrooms faced the
sea; the third, the library, the upward - sloping moorland. This
library was now the only room left unvisited, and unless they
discovered signs of recent occupation here Maskull made up his mind
to regard the whole business as a gigantic hoax.
But the library, like all the other rooms, was foul with stale air
and dust - laden. Maskull, having flung the window up and down, fell
heavily into an armchair and looked disgustedly at his friend.
"Now what is your opinion of Krag?"
Nightspore sat on the edge of the table which stood before the
window. "He may still have left a message for us."
"What message? Why? Do you mean in this room? - I see no message."
Nightspore's eyes wandered about the room, finally seeming to linger
upon a glass - fronted wall cupboard, which contained a few old
bottles on one of the shelves and nothing else. Maskull glanced at
him and at the cupboard. Then, without a word, he got up to examine
There were four altogether, one of which was larger than the rest.
The smaller ones were about eight inches long. All were torpedo -
shaped, but had flattened bottoms, which enabled them to stand
upright. Two of the smaller ones were empty and unstoppered, the
others contained a colourless liquid, and possessed queer - looking,
nozzle - like stoppers that were connected by a thin metal rod with a
catch halfway down the side of the bottle. They were labelled, but
the labels were yellow with age and the writing was nearly
undecipherable. Maskull carried the filled bottles with him to the
table in front of the window, in order to get better light.
Nightspore moved away to make room for him.
He now made out on the larger bottle the words "Solar Back Rays"; and
on the other one, after some doubt, he thought that he could
distinguish something like "Arcturian Back Rays."
He looked up, to stare curiously at his friend. "Have you been here
"I guessed Krag would leave a message."
"Well, I don't know - it may be a message, but it means nothing to
us, or at all events to me. What are 'back rays'?"
"Light that goes back to its source," muttered Nightspore.
"And what kind of light would that be?"
Nightspore seemed unwilling to answer, but, finding Maskull's eyes
still fixed on him, he brought out: "Unless light pulled, as well as
pushed, how would flowers contrive to twist their heads around after
"I don't know. But the point is, what are these bottles for?"
While he was still talking, with his hand on the smaller bottle, the
other, which was lying on its side, accidentally rolled over in such
a manner that the metal caught against the table. He made a movement
to stop it, his hand was actually descending, when - the bottle
suddenly disappeared before his eyes. It had not rolled off the
table, but had really vanished - it was nowhere at all.
Maskull stared at the table. After a minute he raised his brows, and
turned to Nightspore with a smile. "The message grows more
Nightspore looked bored. "The valve became unfastened. The contents
have escaped through the open window toward the sun, carrying the
bottle with them. But the bottle will be burned up by the earth's
atmosphere, and the contents will dissipate, and will not reach the
Maskull listened attentively, and his smile faded. "Does anything
prevent us from experimenting with this other bottle?"
"Replace it in the cupboard," said Nightspore. "Arcturus is still
below the horizon, and you would succeed only in wrecking the house."
Maskull remained standing before the window, pensively gazing out at
the sunlit moors.
"Krag treats me like a child," he remarked presently. "And perhaps I
really am a child.... My cynicism must seem most amusing to Krag.
But why does he leave me to find out all this by myself - for I don't
include you, Nightspore.... But what time will Krag be here?"
"Not before dark, I expect," his friend replied.
It was by this time past three o'clock. Feeling hungry, for they had
eaten nothing since early morning, Maskull went downstairs to forage,
but without much hope of finding anything in the shape of food. In a
safe in the kitchen he discovered a bag of mouldy oatmeal, which was
untouchable, a quantity of quite good tea in an airtight caddy, and
an unopened can of ox tongue. Best of all, in the dining - room
cupboard he came across an uncorked bottle of first - class Scotch
whisky. He at once made preparations for a scratch meal.
A pump in the yard ran clear after a good deal of hard working at it,
and he washed out and filled the antique kettle. For firewood, one
of the kitchen chairs was broken up with a chopper. The light, dusty
wood made a good blaze in the grate, the kettle was boiled, and cups
were procured and washed. Ten minutes later the friends were dining
in the library.
Nightspore ate and drank little, but Maskull sat down with good
appetite. There being no milk, whisky took the place of it; the
nearly black tea was mixed with an equal quantity of the spirit. Of
this concoction Maskull drank cup after cup, and long after the
tongue had disappeared he was still imbibing.
Nightspore looked at him queerly. "Do you intend to finish the
bottle before Krag comes?"
"Krag won't want any, and one must do something. I feel restless."
"Let us take a look at the country."
The cup, which was on its way to Maskull's lips, remained poised in
the air. "Have you anything in view, Nightspore?"
"Let us walk out to the Gap of Sorgie."
"A showplace," answered Nightspore, biting his lip.
Maskull finished off the cup, and rose to his feet. "Walking is
better than soaking at any time, and especially on a day like
this.... How far is it?'
"Three or four miles each way."
"You probably mean something," said Maskull, "for I'm beginning to
regard you as a second Krag. But if so,
so much the better. I am growing nervous, and need incidents."
They left the house by the door, which they left ajar, and
immediately found themselves again on the moorland road that had
brought them from Haillar. This time they continued along it, past
Maskull, as they went by, regarded the erection with puzzled
interest. "What is that tower, Nightspore?"
"We sail from the platform on the top."
"Tonight?" - throwing him a quick look.
Maskull smiled, but his eyes were grave. "Then we are looking at the
gateway of Arcturus, and Krag is now travelling north to unlock it."
"You no longer think it impossible, I fancy," mumbled Nightspore.
After a mile or two, the road parted from the sea coast and swerved
sharply inland, across the hills. With Nightspore as guide, they
left it and took to the grass. A faint sheep path marked the way
along the cliff edge for some distance, but at the end of another
mile it vanished. The two men then had some rough walking up and
down hillsides and across deep gullies. The sun disappeared behind
the hills, and twilight imperceptibly came on. They soon reached a
spot where further progress appeared impossible. The buttress of a
mountain descended at a steep angle to the very edge of the cliff,
forming an impassable slope of slippery grass. Maskull halted,
stroked his beard, and wondered what the next step was to be.
"There's a little scrambling here," said Nightspore. "We are both
used to climbing, and there is not much in it."
He indicated a narrow ledge, winding along the face of the precipice
a few yards beneath where they were standing. It averaged from
fifteen to thirty inches in width. Without waiting for Maskull's
consent to the undertaking, he instantly swung himself down and
started walking along this ledge at a rapid pace. Maskull, seeing
that there was no help for it, followed him. The shelf did not
extend for above a quarter of a mile, but its passage was somewhat
unnerving; there was a sheer drop to the sea, four hundred feet
below. In a few places they had to sidle along without placing one
foot before another. The sound of the breakers came up to them in a
low, threatening roar.
Upon rounding a corner, the ledge broadened out into a fair - sized
platform of rock and came to a sudden end. A narrow inlet of the sea
separated them from the continuation of the cliffs beyond.
"As we can't get any further," said Maskull, "I presume this is your
Gap of Sorgie?"
"Yes," answered his friend, first dropping on his knees and then
lying at full length, face downward. He drew his head and shoulders
over the edge and began to stare straight down at the water.
"What is there interesting down there, Nightspore?"
Receiving no reply, however, he followed his friend's example, and
the next minute was looking for himself. Nothing was to be seen; the
gloom had deepened, and the sea was nearly invisible. But, while he
was ineffectually gazing, he heard what sounded like the beating of a
drum on the narrow strip of shore below. It was very faint, but
quite distinct. The beats were in four - four time, with the third
beat slightly accented. He now continued to hear the noise all the
time he was lying there. The beats were in no way drowned by the far
louder sound of the surf, but seemed somehow to belong to a different
When they were on their feet again, he questioned Nightspore. "We
came here solely to hear that?"
Nightspore cast one of his odd looks at him. "It's called locally
'The Drum Taps of Sorgie.' You will not hear that name again, but
perhaps you will hear the sound again."
"And if I do, what will it imply?" demanded Maskull in amazement.
"It bears its own message. Only try always to hear it more and more
distinctly.... Now it's growing dark, and we must get back."
Maskull pulled out his watch automatically, and looked at the time.
It was past six.. .. But he was thinking of Nightspore's words, and
not of the time.
Night had already fallen by the time they regained the tower. The
black sky was glorious with liquid stars. Arcturus was a little way
above the sea, directly opposite them, in the east. As they were
passing the base of the tower, Maskull observed with a sudden shock
that the gate was open. He caught hold of Nightspore's arm
violently. "Look! Krag is back."
"Yes, we must make haste to the house."
"And why not the tower? He's probably in there, since the gate is
open. I'm going up to look."
Nightspore grunted, but made no opposition.
All was pitch - black inside the gate. Maskull struck a match, and
the flickering light disclosed the lower end of a circular flight of
stone steps. "Are you coming up?" he asked.
"No, I'll wait here."
Maskull immediately began the ascent. Hardly had he mounted half a
dozen steps, however, before he was compelled to pause, to gain
breath. He seemed to be carrying upstairs not one Maskull, but
three. As he proceeded, the sensation of crushing weight, so far
from diminishing, grew worse and worse. It was nearly physically
impossible to go on; his lungs could not take in enough oxygen, while
his heart thumped like a ship's engine. Sweat coursed down his face.
At the twentieth step he completed the first revolution of the tower
and came face to face with the first window, which was set in a high
Realising that he could go no higher, he struck another match, and
climbed into the embrasure, in order that he might at all events see
something from the tower. The flame died, and he stared through the
window at the stars. Then, to his astonishment, he discovered that it
was not a window at all but a lens.. .. The sky was not a wide
expanse of space containing a multitude of stars, but a blurred
darkness, focused only in one part, where two very bright stars, like
small moons in size, appeared in close conjunction; and near them a
more minute planetary object, as brilliant as Venus and with an
observable disk. One of the suns shone with a glaring white light;
the other was a weird and awful blue. Their light, though almost
solar in intensity, did not illuminate the interior of the tower.
Maskull knew at once that the system of spheres at which he was
gazing was what is known to astronomy as the star Arcturus.. .. He
had seen the sight before, through Krag's glass, but then the scale
had been smaller, the colors of the twin suns had not appeared in
their naked reality.... These colors seemed to him most marvellous,
as if, in seeing them through earth eyes, he was not seeing them
correctly.... But it was at Tormance that he stared the longest and
the most earnestly. On that mysterious and terrible earth, countless
millions of miles distant, it had been promised him that he would set
foot, even though he might leave his bones there. The strange
creatures that he was to behold and touch were already living, at
this very moment.
A low, sighing whisper sounded in his ear, from not more than a yard
away. "Don't you understand, Maskull, that you are only an
instrument, to be used and then broken? Nightspore is asleep now,
but when he wakes you must die. You will go, but he will return."
Maskull hastily struck another match, with trembling fingers. No one
was in sight, and all was quiet as the tomb.
The voice did not sound again. After waiting a few minutes, he
redescended to the foot of the tower. On gaining the open air, his
sensation of weight was instantly removed, but he continued panting
and palpitating, like a man who has lifted a far too heavy load.
Nightspore's dark form came forward. "Was Krag there?"
"If he was. I didn't see him. But I heard someone speak."
"Was it Krag?"'
"It was not Krag - but a voice warned me against you."
"Yes, you will hear these voices too," said Nightspore enigmatically.
THE NIGHT OF DEPARTURE
When they returned to the house, the windows were all in darkness and
the door was ajar, just as they had left it; Krag presumably was not
there. Maskull went all over the house, striking matches in every
room - at the end of the examination he was ready to swear that the
man they were expecting had not even stuck his nose inside the
premises. Groping their way into the library, they sat down in the
total darkness to wait, for nothing else remained to be done.
Maskull lit his pipe, and began to drink the remainder of the whisky.
Through the open window sounded in their ears the trainlike grinding
of the sea at the foot of the cliffs.
"Krag must be in the tower after all," remarked Maskull, breaking the
"Yes, he is getting ready."
"I hope he doesn't expect us to join him there. It was beyond my
powers - but why, heaven knows. The stairs must have a magnetic pull
of some sort."
"It is Tormantic gravity," muttered Nightspore.
"I understand you - or, rather, I don't - but it doesn't matter."
He went on smoking in silence, occasionally taking a mouthful of the
neat liquor. "Who is Surtur?" he demanded abruptly.
"We others are gropers and bunglers, but he is a master."
Maskull digested this. "I fancy you are right, for though I know
nothing about him his mere name has an exciting effect on me.. .. Are
you personally acquainted with him?"
"I must be ... I forget ... " replied Nightspore in a choking voice.
Maskull looked up, surprised, but could make nothing out in the
blackness of the room.
"Do you know so many extraordinary men that you can forget some of
them? ... Perhaps you can tell me this. - , will we meet him, where
we are going?"
"You will meet death, Maskull.... Ask me no more questions - I can't
"Then let us go on waiting for Krag," said Maskull coldly.
Ten minutes later the front door slammed, and a light, quick footstep
was heard running up the stairs. Maskull got up, with a beating
Krag appeared on the threshold of the door, bearing in his hand a
feebly glimmering lantern. A hat was on his head, and he looked
stern and forbidding. After scrutinising the two friends for a
moment or so, he strode into the room and thrust the lantern on the
table. Its light hardly served to illuminate the walls.
"You have got here, then, Maskull?"
"So it seems - but I shan't thank you for your hospitality, for it
has been conspicuous by its absence."
Krag ignored the remark. "Are you ready to start?"
"By all means - when you are. It is not. so entertaining here."
Krag surveyed him critically. "I heard you stumbling about in the
tower. You couldn't get up, it seems."
"It looks like an obstacle, for Nightspore informs me that the start
takes place from the top."
"But your other doubts are all removed?"
"So far, Krag, that I now possess an open mind. I am quite willing
to see what you can do."
"Nothing more is asked.... But this tower business. You know that
until you are able to climb to the top you are unfit to stand the
gravitation of Tormance?"
"Then I repeat, it's an awkward obstacle, for I certainly can't get
Krag hunted about in his pockets, and at length produced a clasp
"Remove you coat, and roll up your shirt sleeve," he directed.
"Do you propose to make an incision with that?"
"Yes, and don't start difficulties, because the effect is certain,
but you can't possibly understand it beforehand."
"Still, a cut with a pocket-knife - " began Maskull, laughing.
"It will answer, Maskull," interrupted Nightspore.
"Then bare your arm too, you aristocrat of the universe," said Krag.
"Let us see what your blood is made of."
Krag pulled out the big blade of the knife, and made a careless and
almost savage slash at Maskull's upper arm. The wound was deep, and
blood flowed freely.
"Do I bind it up?" asked Maskull, scowling with pain.
Krag spat on the wound 'Pull your shirt down. it won't bleed any
He then turned his attention to Nightspore, who endured his operation
with grim indifference. Krag threw the knife on the floor.
An awful agony, emanating from the wound, started to run through
Maskull's body, and he began to doubt whether he would not have to
faint, but it subsided almost immediately, and then he felt nothing
but a gnawing ache in the injured arm, just strong enough to make
life one long discomfort.
"That's finished," said Krag. "Now you can follow me."
Picking up the lantern, he walked toward the door. The others
hastened after him, to take advantage of the light, and a moment
later their footsteps, clattering down the uncarpeted stairs,
resounded through the deserted house. Krag waited till they were
out, and then banged the front door after them with such violence
that the windows shook.
While they were walking swiftly across to the tower, Maskull caught
his arm. "I heard a voice up those stairs."
"What did it say?"
"That I am to go, but Nightspore is to return."
Krag smiled. "The journey is getting notorious," he remarked, after
a pause. "There must be ill - wishers about.... Well, do you want to
"I don't know what I want. But I thought the thing was curious
enough to be mentioned."
"It is not a bad thing to hear voices," said Krag, "but you mustn't
for a minute imagine that all is wise that comes to you out of the
When they had arrived at the open gateway of the tower, he
immediately set foot on the bottom step of the spiral staircase and
ran nimbly up, bearing the lantern. Maskull followed him with some
trepidation, in view of his previous painful experience on these
stairs, but when, after the first half - dozen steps, he discovered
that he was still breathing freely, his dread changed to relief and
astonishment, and he could have chattered like a girl.
At the lowest window Krag went straight ahead without stepping, but
Maskull clambered into the embrasure, in order to renew his
acquaintance with the miraculous spectacle of the Arcturian group.
The lens had lost its magic property. It had become a common sheet
of glass, through which the ordinary sky field appeared.
The climb continued, and at the second and third windows he again
mounted and stared out, but still the common sights presented
themselves. After that, he gave up and looked through no more
Krag and Nightspore meanwhile had gone on ahead with the light, so
that he had to complete the ascent in darkness. When he was near the
top, he saw yellow light shining through the crack of a half - opened
door. His companions were standing just inside a small room, shut
off from the staircase by rough wooden planking; it was rudely
furnished and contained nothing of astronomical interest. The
lantern was resting on a table.
Maskull walked in and looked around him with curiosity. "Are we at
"Except for the platform over our heads," replied Krag.
"Why didn't that lowest window magnify, as it did earlier in the
"Oh, you missed your opportunity," said Krag, grinning. "If you had
finished your climb then, you would have seen heart - expanding
sights. From the fifth window, for example, you would have seen
Tormance like a continent in relief; from the sixth you would have
seen it like a landscape.... But now there's no need."
"Why not - and what has need got to do with it?"
"Things are changed, my friend, since that wound of yours. For the
same reason that you have now been able to mount the stairs, there
was no necessity to stop and gape at illusions en route."
"Very well," said Maskull, not quite understanding what he meant.
"But is this Surtur's den?"
"He has spent time here."
"I wish you would describe this mysterious individual, Krag. We may
not get another chance."
"What I said about the windows also applies to Surtur. There's no
need to waste time over visualising him, because you are immediately
going on to the reality."
"Then let us go." He pressed his eyeballs wearily.
"Do we strip?" asked Nightspore.
"Naturally," answered Krag, and he began to tear off his clothes with
slow, uncouth movements.
"Why?" demanded Maskull, following, however, the example of the other
Krag thumped his vast chest, which was covered with thick hairs, like
an ape's. "Who knows what the Tormance fashions are like? We may
sprout limbs - I don't say we shall."
"A - ha!" exclaimed Maskull, pausing in the middle of his undressing.
Krag smote him on the back. "New pleasure organs possible, Maskull.
You like that?"
The three men stood as nature made them. Maskull's spirits rose
fast, as the moment of departure drew near.
"A farewell drink to success!" cried Krag, seizing a bottle and
breaking its head off between his fingers. There were no glasses,
but he poured the amber - coloured wine into some cracked cups.
Perceiving that the others drank, Maskull tossed off his cupful. It
was as if he had swallowed a draught of liquid electricity.... Krag
dropped onto the floor and rolled around on his back, kicking his
legs in the air. He tried to drag Maskull down on top of him, and a
little horseplay went on between the two. Nightspore took no part in
it, but walked to and fro, like a hungry caged animal.
Suddenly, from out - of - doors, there came a single prolonged,
piercing wail, such as a banshee might be imagined to utter. It
ceased abruptly, and was not repeated.
"What's that?" called out Maskull, disengaging himself impatiently
Krag rocked with laughter. "A Scottish spirit trying to reproduce
the bagpipes of its earth life - in honour of our departure."
Nightspore turned to Krag. "Maskull will sleep throughout the
"And you too, if you wish, my altruistic friend. I am pilot, and you
passengers can amuse yourselves as you please."
"Are we off at last?" asked Maskull.
"Yes, you are about to cross your Rubicon, Maskull. But what a
Rubicon! .. . Do you know that it takes light a hundred years or so
to arrive here from Arcturus? Yet we shall do it in nineteen hours."
"Then you assert that Surtur is already there?"
"Surtur is where he is. He is a great traveller."
"Won't I see him?"
Krag went up to him and looked him in the eyes. "Don't forget that
you have asked for it, and wanted it. Few people in Tormance will
know more about him than you do, but your memory will be your worst
He led the way up a short iron ladder, mounting through a trap to the
flat roof above. When they were up, he switched on a small electric
Maskull beheld with awe the torpedo of crystal that was to convey
them through the whole breadth of visible space. It was forty feet
long, eight wide, and eight high; the tank containing the Arcturian
back rays was in front, the car behind. The nose of the torpedo was
directed toward the south-eastern sky. The whole machine rested upon
a flat platform, raised about four feet above the level of the roof,
so as to encounter no obstruction on starting its flight.
Krag flashed the light on to the door of the car, to enable them to
enter. Before doing so, Maskull gazed sternly once again at the
gigantic, far - distant star, which was to be their sun from now
onward. He frowned, shivered slightly, and got in beside Nightspore.
Krag clambered past them onto his pilot's seat. He threw the
flashlight through the open door, which was then carefully closed,
fastened, and screwed up.
He pulled the starting lever. The torpedo glided gently from its
platform, and passed rather slowly away from the tower, seaward. Its
speed increased sensibly, though not excessively, until the
approximate limits of the earth's atmosphere were reached. Krag then
released the speed valve, and the car sped on its way with a velocity
more nearly approaching that of thought than of light.
Maskull had no opportunity of examining through the crystal walls the
rapidly changing panorama of the heavens. An extreme drowsiness
oppressed him. He opened his eyes violently a dozen times, but on
the thirteenth attempt he failed. From that time forward he slept
The bored, hungry expression never left Nightspore's face. The
alterations in the aspect of the sky seemed to possess not the least
interest for him.
Krag sat with his hand on the lever, watching with savage intentness
his phosphorescent charts and gauges.
IT WAS DENSE NIGHT when Maskull awoke from his profound sleep. A
wind was blowing against him, gentle but wall - like, such as he had
never experienced on earth. He remained sprawling on the ground, as
he was unable to lift his body because of its intense weight. A
numbing pain, which he could not identify with any region of his
frame, acted from now onward as a lower, sympathetic note to all his
other sensations. It gnawed away at him continuously; sometimes it
embittered and irritated him, at other times he forgot it.
He felt something hard on his forehead. Putting his hand up, he
discovered there a fleshy protuberance the size of a small plum,
having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom.
Then he also became aware of a large knob on each side of his neck,
an inch below the ear.
From the region of his heart, a tentacle had budded. It was as long
as his arm, but thin, like whipcord, and soft and flexible.
As soon as he thoroughly realised the significance of these new
organs, his heart began to pump. Whatever might, or might not, be
their use, they proved one thing that he was in a new world.
One part of the sky began to get lighter than the rest. Maskull
cried out to his companions, but received no response. This
frightened him. He went on shouting out, at irregular intervals -
equally alarmed at the silence and at the sound of his own voice.
Finally, as no answering hail came, he thought it wiser not to make
too much noise, and after that he lay quiet, waiting in cold blood
for what might happen.
In a short while he perceived dim shadows around him, but these were
not his friends.
A pale, milky vapour over the ground began to succeed the black
night, while in the upper sky rosy tints appeared. On earth, one
would have said that day was breaking. The brightness went on
imperceptibly increasing for a very long time.
Maskull then discovered that he was lying on sand. The colour of the
sand was scarlet. The obscure shadows he had seen were bushes, with
black stems and purple leaves. So far, nothing else was visible.
The day surged up. It was too misty for direct sunshine, but before
long the brilliance of the light was already greater than that of the
midday sun on earth. The heat, too, was intense, but Maskull
welcomed it - it relieved his pain and diminished his sense of
crushing weight. The wind had dropped with the rising of the sun.
He now tried to get onto his feet, but succeeded only in kneeling.
He was unable to see far. The mists had no more than partially
dissolved, and all that he could distinguish was a narrow circle of
red sand dotted with ten or twenty bushes.
He felt a soft, cool touch on the back of his neck. He started
forward in nervous fright and, in doing so, tumbled over onto the
sand. Looking up over his shoulder quickly, he was astounded to see
a woman standing beside him.
She was clothed in a single flowing, pale green garment, rather
classically draped. According to earth standards she was not
beautiful, for, although her face was otherwise human, she was
endowed - or afflicted - with the additional disfiguring organs that
Maskull had discovered in himself. She also possessed the heart
tentacle. But when he sat up, and their eyes met and remained in
sympathetic contact, he seemed to see right into a soul that was the
home of love, warmth, kindness, tenderness, and intimacy. Such was
the noble familiarity of that gaze, that he thought he knew her.
After that, he recognised all the loveliness of her person. She was
tall and slight. All her movements were as graceful as music. Her
skin was not of a dead, opaque colour, like that of an earth beauty,
but was opalescent; its hue was continually changing, with every
thought and emotion, but none of these tints was vivid - all were
delicate, half - toned, and poetic. She had very long, loosely
plaited, flaxen hair. The new organs, as soon as Maskull had
familiarised himself with them, imparted something to her face that
was unique and striking. He could not quite define it to himself,
but subtlety and inwardness seemed added. The organs did not
contradict the love of her eyes or the angelic purity of her
features, but nevertheless sounded a deeper note - a note that saved
her from mere girlishness.
Her gaze was so friendly and unembarrassed that Maskull felt scarcely
any humiliation at sitting at her feet, naked and helpless. She
realised his plight, and put into his hands a garment that she had
been carrying over her arm. It was similar to the one she was
wearing, but of a darker, more masculine colour.
"Do you think you can put it on by yourself?"
He was distinctly conscious of these words, yet her voice had not
He forced himself up to his feet, and she helped him to master the
complications of the drapery.
"Poor man - how you are suffering!" she said, in the same inaudible
language. This time he discovered that the sense of what she said
was received by his brain through the organ on his forehead.
"Where am I? Is this Tormance?" he asked. As he spoke, he staggered.
She caught him, and helped him to sit down. "Yes. You are with
Then she regarded him with a smile, and began speaking aloud, in
English. Her voice somehow reminded him of an April day, it was so
fresh, nervous, and girlish. "I can now understand your language.
It was strange at first. in the future I'll speak to you with my
"This is extraordinary! What is this organ?" he asked, touching his
"It is named the 'breve.' By means of it we read one another's
thoughts. Still, speech is better, for then the heart can be read
He smiled. "They say that speech is given us to deceive others."
"One can deceive with thought, too. But I'm thinking of the best,
not the worst."
"Have you seen my friends?"
'She scrutinised him quietly, before answering. "Did you not come
"I came with two other men, in a machine. I must have lost
consciousness on arrival, and I haven't seen them since."
"That's very strange! No, I haven't seen them. They can't be here,
or we would have known it. My husband and I - "
"What is your name, and your husband's name?"
"Mine is Joiwind - my husband's is Panawe. We live a very long way
from here; still, it came to us both last night that you were lying
here insensible. We almost quarrelled about which of us should come
to you, but in the end I won." Here she laughed. "I won, because I
am the stronger - hearted of the two; he is the purer in perception."
"Thanks, Joiwind!" said Maskull simply.
The colors chased each other rapidly beneath her skin. "Oh, why do
you say that? What pleasure is greater than loving-kindness? I
rejoiced at the opportunity.... But now we must exchange blood."
"What is this?" he demanded, rather puzzled.
"It must be so. Your blood is far too thick and heavy for our world.
Until you have an infusion of mine, you will never get up."
Maskull flushed. "I feel like a complete ignoramus here.... Won't it
"If your blood pains you, I suppose it will pain me. But we will
share the pain."
"This is a new kind of hospitality to me," he muttered.
"Wouldn't you do the same for me?" asked Joiwind,
half smiling, half agitated.
"I can't answer for any of my actions in this world. I scarcely know
where I am.... Why, yes - of course I would, Joiwind."
While they were talking it had become full day. The mists had rolled
away from the ground, and only the upper atmosphere remained fog -
charged. The desert of scarlet sand stretched in all directions,
except one, where there was a sort of little oasis - some low hills,
clothed sparsely with little purple trees from base to summit. It
was about a quarter of a mile distant.
Joiwind had brought with her a small flint knife. Without any trace
of nervousness, she made a careful, deep incision on her upper arm.
"Really, this part of it is nothing," she said, laughing. "And if it
were - a sacrifice that is no sacrifice - what merit is there in
that? ... Come now - your arm!"
The blood was streaming down her arm. It was not red blood, but a
milky, opalescent fluid.
"Not that one!" said Maskull, shrinking. "I have already been cut
there." He submitted the other, and his blood poured forth.
Joiwind delicately and skilfully placed the mouths of the two wounds
together, and then kept her arm pressed tightly against Maskull's for
a long time. He felt a stream of pleasure entering his body through
the incision. His old lightness and vigour began to return to him.
After about five minutes a duel of kindness started between them; he
wanted to remove his arm, and she to continue. At last he had his
way, but it was none too soon - she stood there pale and dispirited.
She looked at him with a more serious expression than before, as if
strange depths had opened up before her eyes.
"What is your name?"
"Where have you come from, with this awful blood?"
"From a world called Earth.... The blood is clearly unsuitable for
this world, Joiwind, but after all, that was only to be expected. I
am sorry I let you have your way."
"Oh, don't say that! There was nothing else to be done. We must all
help one another. Yet, somehow - forgive me - I feel polluted."
"And well you may, for it's a fearful thing for a girl to accept in
her own veins the blood of a strange man from a strange planet. If I
had not been so dazed and weak I would never have allowed it."
"But I would have insisted. Are we not all brothers and sisters?
Why did you come here, Maskull?"
He was conscious of a slight degree of embarrassment. "Will you
think it foolish if I say I hardly know? - I came with those two men.
Perhaps I was attracted by curiosity, or perhaps it was the love of
"Perhaps," said Joiwind. "I wonder .. . These friends of yours must
be terrible men. Why did they come?"
"That I can tell you. They came to follow Surtur."
Her face grew troubled. "I don't understand it. One of them at
least must be a bad man, and yet if he is following Surtur - or
Shaping, as he is called here - he can't be really bad."
"What do you know of Surtur?" asked Maskull in astonishment.
Joiwind remained silent for a time, studying his face. His brain
moved restlessly, as though it were being probed from outside. "I
see.... and yet I don't see," she said at last. "It is very
difficult.... Your God is a dreadful Being - bodyless, unfriendly,
invisible. Here we don't worship a God like that. Tell me, has any
man set eyes on your God?"
"What does all this mean, Joiwind? Why speak of God?"
"I want to know."
"In ancient times, when the earth was young and grand, a few holy men
are reputed to have walked and spoken with God, but those days are
"Our world is still young," said Joiwind. "Shaping goes among us and
converses with us. He is real and active - a friend and lover.
Shaping made us, and he loves his work."
"Have you met him?" demanded Maskull, hardly believing his ears.
"No. I have done nothing to deserve it yet. Some day I may have an
opportunity to sacrifice myself, and then I may be rewarded by
meeting and talking with Shaping."
"I have certainly come to another world. But why do you say he is
the same as Surtur?"
"Yes, he is the same. We women call him Shaping, and so do most men,
but a few name him Surtur."
Maskull bit his nail. "Have you ever heard of Crystalman?"
"That is Shaping once again. You see, he has many names - which
shows how much he occupies our minds. Crystalman is a name of
"It's odd," said Maskull. "I came here with quite different ideas
Joiwind shook her hair. "In that grove of trees over there stands a
desert shrine of his. Let us go and pray there, and then we'll go on
our way to Poolingdred. That is my home. It's a long way off, and
we must get there before Blodsombre."
"Now, what is Blodsombre?"
"For about four hours in the middle of the day Branchspell's rays are
so hot that no one can endure them. We call it Blodsombre."
"Is Branchspell another name for Arcturus?"
Joiwind threw off her seriousness and laughed. "Naturally we don't
take our names from you, Maskull. I don't think our names are very
poetic, but they follow nature."
She took his arm affectionately, and directed their walk towards the
tree - covered hills. As they went along, the sun broke through the
upper mists and a terrible gust of scorching heat, like a blast from
a furnace, struck Maskull's head. He involuntarily looked up, but
lowered his eyes again like lightning. All that he saw in that
instant was a glaring ball of electric white, three times the
apparent diameter of the sun. For a few minutes he was quite blind.
"My God!" he exclaimed. "If it's like this in early morning you must
be right enough about Blodsombre." When he had somewhat recovered
himself he asked, "How long are the days here, Joiwind?"
Again he felt his brain being probed.
"At this time of the year, for every hour's daylight that you have in
summer, we have two."
"The heat is terrific - and yet somehow I don't feel so distressed by
it as I would have expected."
"I feel it more than usual. It's not difficult to account for it;
you have some of my blood, and I have some of yours."
"Yes, every time I realise that, I - Tell me, Joiwind, will my blood
alter, if I stay here long enough? - I mean, will it lose its redness
and thickness, and become pure and thin and light - coloured, like
"Why not? If you live as we live, you will assuredly grow like us."
"Do you mean food and drink?"
"We eat no food, and drink only water."
"And on that you manage to sustain life?"
"Well, Maskull, our water is good water," replied Joiwind, smiling.
As soon as he could see again he stared around at the landscape. The
enormous scarlet desert extended everywhere to the horizon, excepting
where it was broken by the oasis. It was roofed by a cloudless, deep
blue, almost violet, sky. The circle of the horizon was far larger
than on earth. On the skyline, at right angles to the direction in
which they were walking, appeared a chain of mountains, apparently
about forty miles' distant. One, which was higher than the rest, was
shaped like a cup. Maskull would have felt inclined to believe he
was travelling in dreamland, but for the intensity of the light,
which made everything vividly real.
Joiwind pointed to the cup - shaped mountain. "That's Poolingdred."
"You didn't come from there!" he exclaimed, quite startled.
"Yes, I did indeed. And that is where we have to go to now."
"With the single object of finding me?"
The colour mounted to his face. "Then you are the bravest and
noblest of all girls," he said quietly, after a pause. "Without
exception. Why, this is a journey for an athlete!"
She pressed his arm, while a score of unpaintable, delicate hues
stained her cheeks in rapid transition. "Please don't say any more
about it, Maskull. It makes me feel unpleasant."
"Very well. But can we possibly get there before midday?"
"Oh, yes. And you mustn't be frightened at the distance. We think
nothing of long distances here - we have so much to think about and
feel. Time goes all too quickly."
During their conversation they had drawn neat the base of the hills,
which sloped gently, and were not above fifty feet in height.
Maskull now began to see strange specimens of vegetable life. What
looked like a small patch of purple grass, above five feet square,
was moving across the sand in their direction. When it came near
enough he perceived that it was not grass; there were no blades, but
only purple roots. The roots were revolving, for each small plant in
the whole patch, like the spokes of a rimless wheel. They were
alternately plunged in the sand, and withdrawn from it, and by this
means the plant proceeded forward. Some uncanny, semi - intelligent
instinct was keeping all the plants together, moving at one pace, in
one direction, like a flock of migrating birds in flight.
Another remarkable plant was a large, feathery ball, resembling a
dandelion fruit, which they encountered sailing through the air.
Joiwind caught it with an exceedingly graceful movement of her arm,
and showed it to Maskull. It had roots and presumably lived in the
air and fed on the chemical constituents of the atmosphere. But what
was peculiar about it was its colour. It was an entirely new colour
- not a new shade or combination, but a new primary colour, as vivid
as blue, red, or yellow, but quite different. When he inquired, she
told him that it was known as "ulfire." Presently he met with a
second new colour. This she designated "jale." The sense impressions
caused in Maskull by these two additional primary colors can only be
vaguely hinted at by analogy. Just as blue is delicate and
mysterious, yellow clear and unsubtle, and red sanguine and
passionate, so he felt ulfire to be wild and painful, and jale
dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous.
The hills were composed of a rich, dark mould. Small trees, of weird
shapes, all differing from each other, but all purple - coloured,
covered the slopes and top. Maskull and Joiwind climbed up and
through. Some hard fruit, bright blue in colour, of the size of a
large apple, and shaped like an egg, was lying in profusion
underneath the trees.
"Is the fruit here poisonous, or why don't you eat it?" asked
She looked at him tranquilly. "We don't eat living things. The
thought is horrible to us."
"I have nothing to say against that, theoretically. But do you
really sustain your bodies on water?"
"Supposing you could find nothing else to live on, Maskull - would
you eat other men?"
"I would not."
"Neither will we eat plants and animals, which are our fellow
creatures. So nothing is left to us but water, and as one can really
live on anything, water does very well."
Maskull picked up one of the fruits and handled it curiously. As he
did so another of his newly acquired sense organs came into action.
He found that the fleshy knobs beneath his ears were in some novel
fashion acquainting him with the inward properties of the fruit. He
could not only see, feel, and smell it, but could detect its
intrinsic nature. This nature was hard, persistent and melancholy.
Joiwind answered the questions he had not asked.
"Those organs are called 'poigns.' Their use is to enable us to
understand and sympathise with all living creatures."
"What advantage do you derive from that, Joiwind?"
"The advantage of not being cruel and selfish, dear Maskull."
He threw the fruit away and flushed again.
Joiwind looked into his swarthy, bearded face without embarrassment
and slowly smiled. "Have I said too much? Have I been too familiar?
Do you know why you think so? It's because you are still impure. By
and by you will listen to all language without shame."
Before he realised what she was about to do, she threw her tentacle
round his neck, like another arm. He offered no resistance to its
cool pressure. The contact of her soft flesh with his own was so
moist and sensitive that it resembled another kind of kiss. He saw
who it was that embraced him - a pale, beautiful girl. Yet, oddly
enough, he experienced neither voluptuousness nor sexual pride. The
love expressed by the caress was rich, glowing, and personal, but
there was not the least trace of sex in it - and so he received it.
She removed her tentacle, placed her two arms on his shoulders and
penetrated with her eyes right into his very soul.
"Yes, I wish to be pure," he muttered. "Without that what can I ever
be but a weak, squirming devil?"
Joiwind released him. "This we call the 'magn,' " she said,
indicating her tentacle. "By means of it what we love already we
love more, and what we don't love at all we begin to love."
"A godlike organ!"
"It is the one we guard most jealously," said Joiwind.
The shade of the trees afforded a timely screen from the now almost
insufferable rays of Branchspell, which was climbing steadily upward
to the zenith. On descending the other side of the little hills,
Maskull looked anxiously for traces of Nightspore and Krag, but
without result. After staring about him for a few minutes he
shrugged his shoulders; but suspicions had already begun to gather in
A small, natural amphitheatre lay at their feet, completely circled
by the tree - clad heights. The centre was of red sand. In the very
middle shot up a tall, stately tree, with a black trunk and branches,
and transparent, crystal leaves. At the foot of this tree was a
natural, circular well, containing dark green water.
When they had reached the bottom, Joiwind took him straight over to
Maskull gazed at it intently. "Is this the shrine you talked about?"
"Yes. It is called Shaping's Well. The man or woman who wishes to
invoke Shaping must take up some of the gnawl water, and drink it."
"Pray for me," said Maskull. "Your unspotted prayer will carry more
"What do you wish for?"
"For purity," answered Maskull, in a troubled voice.
Joiwind made a cup of her hand, and drank a little of the water. She
held it up to Maskull's mouth. "You must drink too." He obeyed. She
then stood erect, closed her eyes, and, in a voice like the soft
murmurings of spring, prayed aloud.
"Shaping, my father, I am hoping you can hear me. A strange man has
come to us weighed down with heavy blood. He wishes to be pure. Let
him know the meaning of love, let him live for others. Don't spare
him pain, dear Shaping, but let him seek his own pain. Breathe into
him a noble soul."
Maskull listened with tears in his heart.
As Joiwind finished speaking, a blurred mist came over his eyes, and,
half buried in the scarlet sand, appeared a large circle of
dazzlingly white pillars. For some minutes they flickered to and fro
between distinctness and indistinctness, like an object being
focused. Then they faded out of sight again.
"Is that a sign from Shaping?" asked Maskull, in a low, awed tone.
"Perhaps it is. It is a time mirage."
"What can that be, Joiwind?"
"You see, dear Maskull, the temple does not yet exist but it will do
so, because it must. What you and I are now doing in simplicity,
wise men will do hereafter in full knowledge."
"It is right for man to pray," said Maskull. "Good and evil in the
world don't originate from nothing. God and Devil must exist. And
we should pray to the one, and fight the other."
"Yes, we must fight Krag."
"What name did you say?" asked Maskull in amazement.
"Krag - the author of evil and misery - whom you call Devil."
He immediately concealed his thoughts. To prevent Joiwind from
learning his relationship to this being, he made his mind a blank.
"Why do you hide your mind from me?" she demanded, looking at him
strangely and changing colour.
"In this bright, pure, radiant world, evil seems so remote, one can
scarcely grasp its meaning." But he lied.
Joiwind continued gazing at him, straight out of her clean soul.
"The world is good and pure, but many men are corrupt. Panawe, my
husband, has travelled, and he has told me things I would almost
rather have not heard. One person he met believed the universe to
be, from top to bottom, a conjurer's cave."
"I should like to meet your husband."
"Well, we are going home now."
Maskull was on the point of inquiring whether she had any children,
but was afraid of offending her, and checked himself.
She read the mental question. "What need is there? Is not the whole
world full of lovely children? Why should I want selfish
An extraordinary creature flew past, uttering a plaintive cry of five
distinct notes. It was not a bird, but had a balloon - shaped body,
paddled by five webbed feet. It disappeared among the trees.
Joiwind pointed to it, as it went by. "I love that beast, grotesque
as it is - perhaps all the more for its grotesqueness. But if I had
children of my own, would I still love it? Which is best - to love
two or three, or to love all?"
"Every woman can't be like you, Joiwind, but it is good to have a few
like you. Wouldn't it be as well," he went on, "since we've got to
walk through that sun - baked wilderness, to make turbans for our
heads out of some of those long leaves?"
She smiled rather pathetically. "You will think me foolish, but
every tearing off of a leaf would be a wound in my heart. We have
only to throw our robes over our heads."
"No doubt that will answer the same purpose, but tell me - weren't
these very robes once part of a living creature?"
"Oh, no - no, they are the webs of a certain animal, but they have
never been in themselves alive."
"You reduce life to extreme simplicity," remarked Maskull
meditatively, "but it is very beautiful."
Climbing back over the hills, they now without further ceremony began
their march across the desert.
They walked side by side. Joiwind directed their course straight
toward Poolingdred. From the position of the sun, Maskull judged
their way to lie due north. The sand was soft and powdery, very
tiring to his naked feet. The red glare dazed his eyes, and made him
semi - blind. He was hot, parched, and tormented with the craving to
drink; his undertone of pain emerged into full consciousness.
"I see my friends nowhere, and it is very queer."
"Yes, it is queer - if it is accidental," said Joiwind, with a
"Exactly!" agreed Maskull. "If they had met with a mishap, their
bodies would still be there. It begins to look like a piece of bad
work to me. They must have gone on, and left me.... Well, I am here,
and I must make the best of it, I will trouble no more about them."
"I don't wish to speak ill of anyone," said Joiwind, "but my instinct
tells me that you are better away from those men. They did not come
here for your sake, but for their own."
They walked on for a long time. Maskull was beginning to feel faint.
She twined her magn lovingly around his waist, and a strong current
of confidence and well - being instantly coursed through his veins.
"Thanks, Joiwind! But am I not weakening you?"
"Yes," she replied, with a quick, thrilling glance. "But not much -
and it gives me great happiness."
Presently they met a fantastic little creature, the size of a new -
born lamb, waltzing along on three legs. Each leg in turn moved to
the front, and so the little monstrosity proceeded by means of a
series of complete rotations. It was vividly coloured, as though it
had been dipped into pots of bright blue and yellow paint. It looked
up with small, shining eyes, as they passed.
Joiwind nodded and smiled to it. "That's a personal friend of mine,
Maskull. Whenever I come this way, I see it. It's always waltzing,
and always in a hurry, but it never seems to get anywhere."
"It seems to me that life is so self - sufficient here that there is
no need for anyone to get anywhere. What I don't quite understand is
how you manage to pass your days without ennui."
"That's a strange word. It means, does it not, craving for
"Something of the kind," said Maskull.
"That must be a disease brought on by rich food."
"But are you never dull?"
"How could we be? Our blood is quick and light and free, our flesh
is clean and unclogged, inside and out .... Before long I hope you
will understand what sort of question you have asked."
Farther on they encountered a strange phenomenon. In the heart of
the desert a fountain rose perpendicularly fifty feet into the air,
with a cool and pleasant hissing sound. It differed, however, from a
fountain in this respect - that the water of which it was composed
did not return to the ground but was absorbed by the atmosphere at
the summit. It was in fact a tall, graceful column of dark green
fluid, with a capital of coiling and twisting vapours.
When they came closer, Maskull perceived that this water column was
the continuation and termination of a flowing brook, which came down
from the direction of the mountains. The explanation of the
phenomenon was evidently that the water at this spot found chemical
affinities in the upper air, and consequently forsook the ground.
"Now let us drink," said Joiwind.
She threw herself unaffectedly at full length on the sand, face
downward, by the side of the brook, and Maskull was not long in
following her example. She refused to quench her thirst until she
had seen him drink. He found the water heavy, but bubbling with gas.
He drank copiously. It affected his palate in a new way - with the
purity and cleanness of water was combined the exhilaration of a
sparkling wine, raising his spirits - but somehow the intoxication
brought out his better nature, and not his lower.
"We call it gnawl water'," said Joiwind. "This is not quite pure, as
you can see by the colour. At Poolingdred it is crystal clear. But
we would be ungrateful if we complained. After this you'll find
we'll get along much better."
Maskull now began to realise his environment, as it were for the
first time. All his sense organs started to show him beauties and
wonders that he had not hitherto suspected. The uniform glaring
scarlet of the sands became separated into a score of clearly
distinguished shades of red. The sky was similarly split up into
different blues. The radiant heat of Branchspell he found to affect
every part of his body with unequal intensifies. His ears awakened;
the atmosphere was full of murmurs, the sands hummed, even the sun's
rays had a sound of their own - a kind of faint Aeolian harp.
Subtle, puzzling perfumes assailed his nostrils. His palate lingered
over the memory of the gnawl water. All the pores of his skin were
tickled and soothed by hitherto unperceived currents of air. His
poigns explored actively the inward nature of everything in his
immediate vicinity. His magn touched Joiwind, and drew from her
person a stream of love and joy. And lastly by means of his breve he
exchanged thoughts with her in silence. This mighty sense symphony
stirred him to the depths, and throughout the walk of that endless
morning he felt no more fatigue.
When it was drawing near to Blodsombre, they approached the sedgy
margin of a dark green lake, which lay underneath Poolingdred.
Panawe was sitting on a dark rock, waiting for them.
The husband got up to meet his wife and their guest. He was clothed
in white. He had a beardless face, with breve and poigns. His skin,
on face and body alike, was so white, fresh, and soft, that it
scarcely looked skin at all - it rather resembled a new kind of pure,
snowy flesh, extending right down to his bones. It had nothing in
common with the artificially whitened skin of an over-civilised
woman. Its whiteness and delicacy aroused no voluptuous thoughts; it
was obviously the manifestation of a cold and almost cruel chastity
of nature. His hair, which fell to the nape of his neck, also was
white; but again, from vigour, not decay. His eyes were black, quiet
and fathomless. He was still a young man, but so stern were his
features that he had the appearance of a lawgiver, and this in spite
of their great beauty and harmony.
His magn and Joiwind's intertwined for a single moment and Maskull
saw his face soften with love, while she looked exultant. She put
him in her husband's arms with gentle force, and stood back, gazing
and smiling. Maskull felt rather embarrassed at being embraced by a
man, but submitted to it; a sense of cool, pleasant languor passed
through him in the act.
"The stranger is red - blooded, then?"
He was startled by Panawe's speaking in English, and the voice too
was extraordinary. It was absolutely tranquil, but its tranquillity
seemed in a curious fashion to be an illusion, proceeding from a
rapidity of thoughts and feelings so great that their motion could
not be detected. How this could be, he did not know.
"How do you come to speak in a tongue you have never heard before?"
"Thought is a rich, complex thing. I can't say if I am really
speaking your tongue by instinct, or if you yourself are translating
my thoughts into your tongue as I utter them."
"Already you see that Panawe is wiser than I am," said Joiwind gaily.
"What is your name?" asked the husband.
"That name must have a meaning - but again, thought is a strange
thing. I connect that name with something - but with what?"
"Try to discover," said Joiwind.
"Has there been a man in your world who stole something from the
Maker of the, universe, in order to ennoble his fellow creatures?"
"There is such a myth, The hero's name was Prometheus."
"Well, you seem to be identified in my mind with that action - but
what it all means I can't say, Maskull."
"Accept it as a good omen, for Panawe never lies, and never speaks
"There must be some confusion. These are heights beyond me," said
Maskull calmly, but looking rather contemplative.
"Where do you come from?"
"From the planet of a distant sun, called Earth."
"I was tired of vulgarity," returned Maskull laconically. He
intentionally avoided mentioning his fellow voyagers, in order that
Krag's name should not come to light.
"That's an honourable motive," said Panawe. "And what's more, it may
be true, though you spoke it as a prevarication."
"As far as it goes, it's quite true," said Maskull, staring at him
with annoyance and surprise.
The swampy lake extended for about half a mile from where they were
standing to the lower buttresses of the mountain. Feathery purple
reeds showed themselves here and there through the shallows. The
water was dark green. Maskull did not see how they were going to
Joiwind caught his arm. "Perhaps you don't know that the lake will
Panawe walked onto the water; it was so heavy that it carried his
weight. Joiwind followed with Maskull. He instantly started to slip
about - nevertheless the motion was amusing, and he learned so fast,
by watching and imitating Panawe, that he was soon able to balance
himself without assistance. After that he found the sport excellent.
For the same reason that women excel in dancing, Joiwind's half falls
and recoveries were far more graceful and sure than those of either
of the men. Her slight, draped form - dipping, bending, rising,
swaying, twisting, upon the surface of the dark water - this was a
picture Maskull could not keep his eyes away from.
The lake grew deeper. The gnawl water became green - black. The
crags, gullies, and precipices of the shore could now be
distinguished in detail. A waterfall was visible, descending several
hundred feet. The surface of the lake grew disturbed - so much so
that Maskull had difficulty in keeping his balance. He therefore
threw himself down and started swimming on the face of the water.
Joiwind turned her head, and laughed so joyously that all her teeth
flashed in the sunlight.
They landed in a few more minutes on a promontory of black rock. The
water on Maskull's garment and body evaporated very quickly. He
gazed upward at the towering mountain, but at that moment some
strange movements on the part of Panawe attracted his attention. His
face was working convulsively, and he began to stagger about. Then
he put his hand to his mouth and took from it what looked like a
bright - coloured pebble. He looked at it carefully for some
seconds. Joiwind also looked, over his shoulder, with quickly
changing colors. After this inspection, Panawe let the object -
whatever it was - fall to the ground, and took no more interest in
"May I look?" asked Maskull; and, without waiting for permission, he
picked it up. It was a delicately beautiful egg - shaped crystal of
"Where did this come from?" he asked queerly.
Panawe turned away, but Joiwind answered for him. "It came out of my
"That's what I thought, but I couldn't believe it. But what is it?"
"I don't know that it has either name or use. It is merely an
overflowing of beauty."
Joiwind smiled. "If you were to regard nature as the husband, and
Panawe as the wife, Maskull, perhaps everything would be explained."
"On Earth," he said after a minute, "men like Panawe are called
artists, poets, and musicians. Beauty overflows into them too, and
out of them again. The only distinction is that their productions
are more human and intelligible."
"Nothing comes from it but vanity," said Panawe, and, taking the
crystal out of Maskull's hand, he threw it into the lake.
The precipice they now had to climb was several hundred feet in
height. Maskull was more anxious for Joiwind than for himself. She
was evidently tiring, but she refused all help, and was in fact still
the nimbler of the two. She made a mocking face at him. Panawe
seemed lost in quiet thoughts. The rock was sound, and did not
crumble under their weight. The heat of Branchspell, however, was by
this time almost killing, the radiance was shocking in its white
intensity, and Maskull's pain steadily grew worse.
When they got to the top, a plateau of dark rock appeared, bare of
vegetation, stretching in both directions as far as the eye could
see. It was of a nearly uniform width of five hundred yards, from
the edge of the cliffs to the lower slopes of the chain of hills
inland. The hills varied in height. The cup - shaped Poolingdred
was approximately a thousand feet above them. The upper part of it
was covered with a kind of glittering vegetation which he could not
Joiwind put her hand on Maskull's shoulder, and pointed upward.
"Here you have the highest peak in the whole land - that is, until
you come to the Ifdawn Marest."
On hearing that strange name, he experienced a momentary
unaccountable sensation of wild vigour and restlessness - but it
Without losing time, Panawe led the way up the mountainside. The
lower half was of bare rock, not difficult to climb. Halfway up,
however, it grew steeper, and they began to meet bushes and small
trees. The growth became thicker as they continued to ascend, and
when they neared the summit, tall forest trees appeared.
These bushes and trees had pale, glassy trunks and branches, but the
small twigs and the leaves were translucent and crystal. They cast
no shadows from above, but still the shade was cool. Both leaves and
branches were fantastically shaped. What surprised Maskull the most,
however, was the fact that, as far as he could see, scarcely any two
plants belonged to the same species.
"Won't you help Maskull out of his difficulty?" said Joiwind, pulling
her husband's arm.
He smiled. "If he'll forgive me for again trespassing in his brain.
But the difficulty is small. Life on a new planet, Maskull, is
necessarily energetic and lawless, and not sedate and imitative.
Nature is still fluid - not yet rigid - and matter is plastic. The
will forks and sports incessantly, and thus no two creatures are
"Well, I understand all that," replied Maskull, after listening
attentively. "But what I don't grasp is this - if living creatures
here sport so energetically, how does it come about that human beings
wear much the same shape as in my world?"
"I'll explain that too," said Panawe. "All creatures that resemble
Shaping must of necessity resemble one another."
"Then sporting is the blind will to become like Shaping?"
"It is most wonderful," said Maskull. "Then the brotherhood of man
is not a fable invented by idealists, but a solid fact."
Joiwind looked at him, and changed colour. Panawe relapsed into
Maskull became interested in a new phenomenon. The jale - coloured
blossoms of a crystal bush were emitting mental waves, which with his
breve he could clearly distinguish. They cried out silently, "To me
To me!" While he looked, a flying worm guided itself through the air
to one of these blossoms and began to suck its nectar. The floral
cry immediately ceased.
They now gained the crest of the mountain, and looked down beyond. A
lake occupied its crater - like cavity. A fringe of trees partly
intercepted the view, but Maskull was able to perceive that this
mountain lake was nearly circular and perhaps a quarter of a mile
across. Its shore stood a hundred feet below them.
Observing that his hosts did not propose to descend, he begged them
to wait for him, and scrambled down to the surface. When he got
there, he found the water perfectly motionless and of a colourless
transparency. He walked onto it, lay down at full length, and peered
into the depths. It was weirdly clear: he could see down for an
indefinite distance, without arriving at any bottom. Some dark,
shadowy objects, almost out of reach of his eyes, were moving about.
Then a sound, very faint and mysterious, seemed to come up through
the gnawl water from an immense depth. It was like the rhythm of a
drum. There were four beats of equal length, but the accent was on
the third. It went on for a considerable time, and then ceased.
The sound appeared to him. to belong to a different world from that
in which he was travelling. The latter was mystical, dreamlike, and
unbelievable - the drumming was like a very dim undertone of reality.
It resembled the ticking of a clock in a room full of voices, only
occasionally possible to be picked up by the ear.
He rejoined Panawe and Joiwind, but said nothing to them about his
experience. They all walked round the rim of the crater, and gazed
down on the opposite side. Precipices similar to those that had
overlooked the desert here formed the boundary of a vast moorland
plain, whose dimensions could not be measured by the eye. It was
solid land, yet he could not make out its prevailing colour. It was
as if made of transparent glass, but it did not glitter in the
sunlight. No objects in it could be distinguished, except a rolling
river in the far distance, and, farther off still, on the horizon, a
line of dark mountains, of strange shapes. Instead of being rounded,
conical, or hogbacked, these heights were carved by nature into the
semblance of castle battlements, but with extremely deep
The sky immediately above the mountains was of a vivid, intense blue.
It contrasted in a most marvellous way with the blue of the rest of
the heavens. It seemed more luminous and radiant, and was in fact
like the afterglow of a gorgeous blue sunset.
Maskull kept on looking. The more he gazed, the more restless and
noble became his feelings. "What is that light?"
Panawe was sterner than usual, while his wife clung to his arm. "It
is Alppain - our second sun," he replied. "Those hills are the
Ifdawn Marest.... Now let us get to our shelter."
"Is it imagination, or am I really being affected - tormented by that
"No, it's not imagination - it's real. How can it be otherwise when
two suns, of different natures, are drawing you at the same time?
Luckily you are not looking at Alppain itself. It's invisible here.
You would need to go at least as far as Ifdawn, to set eyes on it."
"Why do you say 'luckily'?"
"Because the agony caused by those opposing forces would perhaps be
more than you could bear.... But I don't know."
For the short distance that remained of their walk, Maskull was very
thoughtful and uneasy. He understood nothing. Whatever object his
eye chanced to rest on changed immediately into a puzzle. The
silence and stillness of the mountain peak seemed brooding,
mysterious, and waiting. Panawe gave him a friendly, anxious look,
and without further delay led the way down a little track, which
traversed the side of the mountain and terminated in the mouth of a
This cave was the home of Panawe and Joiwind. It was dark inside.
The host took a shell and, filling it with liquid from a well,
carelessly sprinkled the sandy floor of the interior. A greenish,
phosphorescent light gradually spread to the furthest limits of the
cavern, and continued to illuminate it for the whole time they were
there. There was no furniture. Some dried, fernlike leaves served
The moment she got in, Joiwind fell down in exhaustion. Her husband
tended her with calm concern. He bathed her face, put drink to her
lips, energised her with his magn, and finally laid her down to
sleep. At the sight of the noble woman thus suffering on his
account, Maskull was distressed.
Panawe, however, endeavoured to reassure him. "It's quite true this
has been a very long, hard double journey, but for the future it will
lighten all her other journeys for her.... Such is the nature of
"I can't conceive how I have walked so far in a morning," said
Maskull, "and she has been twice the distance."
"Love flows in her veins, instead of blood, and that's why she is so
"You know she gave me some of it?"
"Otherwise you couldn't even have started."
"I shall never forget that."
The languorous beat of the day outside, the bright mouth of the
cavern, the cool seclusion of the interior, with its pale green glow,
invited Maskull to sleep. But curiosity got the better of his
"Will it disturb her if we talk?"
"But how do you feel?"
"I require little sleep. In any case, it's more important that you
should hear something about your new life. It's not all as innocent
and idyllic as this. If you intend to go through, you ought to be
instructed about the dangers."
"Oh, I guessed as much. But how shall we arrange - shall I put
questions, or will you tell me what you think is most essential?"
Panawe motioned to Maskull to sit down on a pile of ferns, and at the
same time reclined himself, leaning on one arm, with outstretched
"I will tell some incidents of my life. You will begin to learn from
them what sort of place you have come to."
"I shall be grateful," said Maskull, preparing himself to listen.
Panawe paused for a moment or two, and then started his narrative in
tranquil, measured, yet sympathetic tones.
"My earliest recollection is of being taken, when three years old
(that's equivalent to fifteen of your years, but we develop more
slowly here), by my father and mother, to see Broodviol, the wisest
man in Tormance. He dwelt in the great Wombflash Forest. We walked
through trees for three days, sleeping at night. The trees grew
taller as we went along, until the tops were out of sight. The
trunks were of a dark red colour and the leaves were of pale ulfire.
My father kept stopping to think. If left uninterrupted, he would
remain for half a day in deep abstraction. My mother came out of
Poolingdred, and was of a different stamp. She was beautiful,
generous, and charming - but also active. She kept urging him on.
This led to many disputes between them, which made me miserable. On
the fourth day we passed through a part of the forest which bordered
on the Sinking Sea. This sea is full of pouches of water that will
not bear a man's weight, and as these light parts don't differ in
appearance from the rest, it is dangerous to cross. My father
pointed out a dim outline on the horizon, and told me it was
Swaylone's Island. Men sometimes go there, but none ever return. In
the evening of the same day we found Broodviol standing in a deep,
miry pit in the forest, surrounded on all sides by trees three
hundred feet high. He was a big gnarled, rugged, wrinkled, sturdy
old man. His age at that time was a hundred and twenty of our years,
or nearly six hundred of yours. His body was trilateral: he had
three legs, three arms, and six eyes, placed at equal distances all
around his head. This gave him an aspect of great watchfulness and
sagacity. He was standing in a sort of trance. I afterward heard
this saying of his: 'To lie is to sleep, to sit is to dream, to stand
is to think.' My father caught the infection, and fell into
meditation, but my mother roused them both thoroughly. Broodviol
scowled at her savagely, and demanded what she required. Then I too
learned for the first time the object of our journey. I was a
prodigy - that is to say, I was without sex. My parents were
troubled over this, and wished to consult the wisest of men.
"Old Broodviol smoothed his face, and said, 'This perhaps will not be
so difficult. I will explain the marvel. Every man and woman among
us is a walking murderer. If a male, he has struggled with and
killed the female who was born in the same body with him - if a
female, she has killed the male. But in this child the struggle is
"'How shall we end it?' asked my mother.
"'Let the child direct its will to the scene of the combat, and it
will be of whichever sex it pleases.'
"'You want, of course, to be a man, don't you?' said my mother to me
"'Then I shall be slaying your daughter, and that would be a crime.'
"Something in my tone attracted Broodviol's notice.
"'That was spoken, not selfishly, but magnanimously. Therefore the
male must have spoken it, and you need not trouble further. Before
you arrive home, the child will be a boy.'
"My father walked away out of sight. My mother bent very low before
Broodviol for about ten minutes, and he remained all that time
looking kindly at her.
"I heard that shortly afterward Alppain came into that land for a few
hours daily. Broodviol grew melancholy, and died.
"His prophecy came true - before we reached home, I knew the meaning
of shame. But I have often pondered over his words since, in later
years, when trying to understand my own nature; and I have come to
the conclusion that, wisest of men as he was, he still did not see
quite straight on this occasion. Between me and my twin sister,
enclosed in one body, there never was any struggle, but instinctive
reverence for life withheld both of us from fighting for existence.
Hers was the stronger temperament, and she sacrificed herself -
though not consciously - for me.
"As soon as I comprehended this, I made a vow never to eat or destroy
anything that contained life - and I have kept it ever since.
"While I was still hardly a grown man, my father died. My mother's
death followed immediately, and I hated the associations of the land.
I therefore made up my mind to travel into my mother's country,
where, as she had often told me, nature was most sacred and solitary.
"One hot morning I came to Shaping's Causeway. It is so called
either because Shaping once crossed it, or because of its stupendous
character. It is a natural embankment, twenty miles long, which
links the mountains bordering my homeland with the Ifdawn Marest.
The valley lies below at a depth varying from eight to ten thousand
feet - a terrible precipice on either side. The knife edge of the
ridge is generally not much over a foot wide. The causeway goes due
north and south. The valley on my right hand was plunged in shadow -
that on my left was sparkling with sunlight and dew. I walked
fearfully along this precarious path for some miles. Far to the east
the valley was closed by a lofty tableland, connecting the two chains
of mountains, but overtopping even the most towering pinnacles. This
is called the Sant Levels. I was never there, but I have heard two
curious facts concerning the inhabitants. The first is that they
have no women; the second, that though they are addicted to
travelling in other parts they never acquire habits of the peoples
with whom they reside.
"Presently I turned giddy, and lay at full length for a great while,
clutching the two edges of the path with both hands, and staring at
the ground I was lying on with wide - open eyes. When that passed I
felt like a different man and grew conceited and gay. About halfway
across I saw someone approaching me a long way off. This put fear
into my heart again, for I did not see how we could very well pass.
However, I went slowly on, and presently we drew near enough together
for me to recognise the walker. It was Slofork, the so - called
sorcerer. I had never met him before, but I knew him by his
peculiarities of person. He was of a bright gamboge colour and
possessed a very long, proboscis - like nose, which appeared to be a
useful organ, but did not add to his beauty, as I knew beauty. He
was dubbed 'sorcerer' from his wondrous skill in budding limbs and
organs. The tale is told that one evening he slowly sawed his leg
off with a blunt stone and then lay for two days in agony while his
new leg was sprouting. He was not reputed to be a consistently wise
man, but he had periodical flashes of penetration and audacity that
none could equal.
"We sat down and faced one another, about two yards apart.
"'Which of us walks over the other?' asked Slofork. His manner was
as calm as the day itself, but, to my young nature, terrible with
hidden terrors. I smiled at him, but did not wish for this
humiliation. We continued sitting thus, in a friendly way, for many
"What is greater than Pleasure?' he asked suddenly.
"I was at an age when one wishes to be thought equal to any
emergency, so, concealing my surprise, I applied myself to the
conversation, as if it were for that purpose we had met.
"'Pain,' I replied, 'for pain drives out pleasure.'
'What is greater than Pain?'
"I reflected. 'Love. Because we will accept our loved one's share
" 'But what is greater than Love?' he persisted.
"'And what is Nothing?'
"'That you must tell me.'
"'Tell you I will. This is Shaping's world. He that is a good child
here, knows pleasure, pain, and love, and gets his rewards. But
there's another world - not Shaping's and there all this is unknown,
and another order of things reigns. That world we call Nothing - but
it is not Nothing, but Something.'
"There was a pause.
"'I have heard,' said I, 'that you are good at growing and ungrowing
"'That's not enough for me. Every organ tells me the same story. I
want to hear different stories.'
"'Is it true, what men say, that your wisdom flows and ebbs in
"'Quite true,' replied Slofork. 'But those you had it from did not
add that they have always mistaken the flow for the ebb.'
"'My experience is,' said I sententiously, 'that wisdom is misery.'
"' Perhaps it is, young man, but you have never learned that, and
never will. For you the world will continue to wear a noble, awful
face. You will never rise above mysticism.... But be happy in your
"Before I realised what he was doing, he jumped tranquilly from the
path, down into the empty void. He crashed with ever - increasing
momentum toward the valley below. I screeched, flung myself down on
the ground, and shut my eyes.
"Often have I wondered which of my ill - considered, juvenile remarks
it was that caused this sudden resolution on his part to commit
suicide. Whichever it might be, since then I have made it a rigid
law never to speak for my own pleasure, but only to help others.
"I came eventually to the Marest. I threaded its mazes in terror for
four days. I was frightened of death, but still more terrified at the
possibility of losing my sacred attitude toward life. When I was
nearly through, and was beginning to congratulate myself, I stumbled
across the third extraordinary personage of my experience - the grim
Muremaker. It was under horrible circumstances. On an afternoon,
cloudy and stormy, I saw, suspended in the air without visible
support, a living man. He was hanging in an upright position in
front of a cliff - a yawning gulf, a thousand feet deep, lay beneath
his feet. I climbed as near as I could, and looked on. He saw me,
and made a wry grimace, like one who wishes to turn his humiliation
into humour. The spectacle so astounded me that I could not even
grasp what had happened.
"'I am Muremaker," he cried in a scraping voice which shocked my
ears. 'All my life I have sorbed others - now I am sorbed. Nuclamp
and I fell out over a woman. Now Nuclamp holds me up like this.
While the strength of his will lasts I shall remain suspended; but
when he gets tired - and it can't be long now - I drop into those
"Had it been another man, I would have tried to save him, but this
ogre - like being was too well known to me as one who passed his
whole existence in tormenting, murdering, and absorbing others, for
the sake of his own delight. I hurried away, and did not pause again
"In Poolingdred I met Joiwind. We walked and talked together for a
month, and by that time we found that we loved each other too well to
Panawe stopped speaking.
"That is a fascinating story," remarked Maskull. "Now I begin to
know my way around better. But one thing puzzles me."
"How it happens that men here are ignorant of tools and arts, and
have no civilisation, and yet contrive to be social in their habits
and wise in their thoughts."
"Do you imagine, then, that love and wisdom spring from tools? But I
see how it arises. In your world you have fewer sense organs, and to
make up for the deficiency you have been obliged to call in the
assistance of stones and metals. That's by no means a sign of
"No, I suppose not," said Maskull, "but I see I have a great deal to
They talked together a little longer, and then gradually fell asleep.
Joiwind opened her eyes, smiled, and slumbered again.
THE LUSION PLAIN
Maskull awoke before the others. He got up, stretched himself, and
walked out into the sunlight. Branchspell was already declining. He
climbed to the top of the crater edge and looked away toward Ifdawn.
The afterglow of Alppain had by now completely disappeared. The
mountains stood up wild and grand.
They impressed him like a simple musical theme, the notes of which
are widely separated in the scale; a spirit of rashness, daring, and
adventure seemed to call to him from them. It was at that moment
that the determination flashed into his heart to walk to the Marest
and explore its dangers.
He returned to the cavern to say good - by to his hosts.
Joiwind looked at him with her brave and honest eyes. "Is this
selfishness, Maskull?" she asked, "or are you drawn by something
stronger than yourself?"
"We must be reasonable," he answered, smiling. "I can't settle down
in Poolingdred before I have found out something about this
surprising new planet of yours. Remember what a long way I have
come.... But very likely I shall come back here."
"Will you make me a promise?"
Maskull hesitated. "Ask nothing difficult, for I hardly know my
"It is not hard, and I wish it. Promise this - never to raise your
hand against a living creature, either to strike, pluck, or eat,
without first recollecting its mother, who suffered for it."
"Perhaps I won't promise that," said Maskull slowly, "but I'll
undertake something more tangible. I will never lift my hand against
a living creature without first recollecting you, Joiwind."
She turned a little pale. "Now if Panawe knew that Panawe existed,
he might be jealous."
Panawe put his hand on her gently. "You would not talk like that in
Shaping's presence," he said.
"No. Forgive me! I'm not quite myself. Perhaps it is Maskull's .
blood in my veins.... Now let us bid him adieu. Let us pray that he
will do only honourable deeds, wherever he may be."
"I'll set Maskull on his way," said Panawe.
"There's no need," replied Maskull. "The way is plain."
"But talking shortens the road."
Maskull turned to go.
Joiwind pulled him around toward her softly. "You won't think badly
of other women on my account?"
"You are a blessed spirit," answered he.
She trod quietly to the inner extremity of the cave and stood there
thinking. Panawe and Maskull emerged into the open air.
Halfway down the cliff face a little spring was encountered. Its
water was colourless, transparent, but gaseous. As soon as Maskull
had satisfied his thirst he felt himself different. His surroundings
were so real to him in their vividness and colour, so unreal in their
phantom - like mystery, that he scrambled downhill like one in a
When they reached the plain he saw in front of them an interminable
forest of tall trees, the shapes of which were extraordinarily
foreign looking. The leaves were crystalline and, looking upward, it
was as if he were gazing through a roof of glass. The moment they
got underneath the trees the light rays of the sun continued to come
through - white, savage, and blazing - but they were gelded of heat.
Then it was not hard to imagine that they were wandering through
cool, bright elfin glades.
Through the forest, beginning at their very feet an avenue, perfectly
straight and not very wide, went forward as far as the eye could see.
Maskull wanted to talk to his travelling companion, but was somehow
unable to find words. Panawe glanced at him with an inscrutable
smile - stern, yet enchanting and half feminine. He then broke the
silence, but, strangely enough, Maskull could not make out whether he
was singing or speaking. From his lips issued a slow musical
recitative, exactly like a bewitching adagio from a low toned
stringed instrument - but there was a difference. Instead of the
repetition and variation of one or two short themes, as in music,
Panawe's theme was prolonged - it never came to an end, but rather
resembled a conversation in rhythm and melody. And, at the same
time, it was no recitative, for it was not declamatory. It was a
long, quiet stream of lovely emotion.
Maskull listened entranced, yet agitated. The song, if it might be
termed song, seemed to be always just on the point of becoming clear
and intelligible - not with the intelligibility of words, but in the
way one sympathises with another's moods and feelings; and Maskull
felt that something important was about to be uttered, which would
explain all that had gone before. But it was invariably postponed,
he never understood - and yet somehow he did understand.
Late in the afternoon they came to a clearing, and there Panawe
ceased his recitative. He slowed his pace and stopped, in the
fashion of a man who wishes to convey that he intends to go no
"What is the name of this country?" asked Maskull.
"It is the Lusion Plain."
"Was that music in the nature of a temptation - do you wish me not to
"Your work lies before you,. and not behind you.'
"What was it, then? What work do you allude to?"
"It must have seemed like something to you, Maskull."
"It seemed like Shaping music to me."
The instant he had absently uttered these words, Maskull wondered why
he had done so, as they now appeared meaningless to him.
Panawe, however, showed no surprise. "Shaping you will find
"Am I dreaming, or awake?"
"You are awake."
Maskull fell into deep thought. "So be it," he said, rousing
himself. "Now I will go on. But where must I sleep tonight?"
"You will reach a broad river. On that you can travel to the foot of
the Marest tomorrow; but tonight you had better sleep where the
forest and river meet."
"Adieu, then, Panawe! But do you wish to say anything more to me?"
"Only this, Maskull - wherever you go, help to make the world
beautiful, and not ugly."
"That's more than any of us can undertake. I am a simple man, and
have no ambitions in the way of beautifying life - But tell Joiwind I
will try to keep myself pure."
They parted rather coldly. Maskull stood erect where they had
stopped, and watched Panawe out of sight. He sighed more than once.
He became aware that something was about to happen. The air was
breathless. The late - afternoon sunshine, unobstructed, wrapped his
frame in voluptuous heat. A solitary cloud, immensely high, raced
through the sky overhead.
A single trumpet note sounded in the far distance from somewhere
behind him. It gave him an impression of being several miles away at
first; but then it slowly swelled, and came nearer and nearer at the
same time that it increased in volume. Still the same note sounded,
but now it was as if blown by a giant trumpeter immediately over his
head. Then it gradually diminished in force, and travelled away in
front of him. It ended very faintly and distantly.
He felt himself alone with Nature. A sacred stillness came over his
heart. Past and future were forgotten. The forest, the sun, the day
did not exist for him. He was unconscious of himself - he had no
thoughts and no feelings. Yet never had Life had such an altitude
A man stood, with crossed arms, right in his path. He was so clothed
that his limbs were exposed, while his body was covered. He was
young rather than old. Maskull observed that his countenance
possessed none of the special organs of Tormance, to which he had not
even yet become reconciled. He was smooth - faced. His whole person
seemed to radiate an excess of life, like the trembling of air on a
hot day. His eyes had such force that Maskull could not meet them.
He addressed Maskull by name, in an extraordinary voice. It had a
double tone. The primary one sounded far away; the second was an
undertone, like a sympathetic tanging string.
Maskull felt a rising joy, as he continued standing in the presence
of this individual. He believed that something good was happening to
him. He found it physically difficult to bring any words out. "Why
do you stop me?"
"Maskull, look well at me. Who am I?"
"I think you are Shaping."
"I am Surtur."
Maskull again attempted to meet his eyes, but felt as if he were
"You know that this is my world. Why do you think I have brought you
here? I wish you to serve me."
Maskull could no longer speak.
"Those who joke at my world," continued the vision, "those who make a
mock of its stern, eternal rhythm, its beauty and sublimity, which
are not skin - deep, but proceed from fathomless roots - they shall
"I do not mock it."
"Ask me your questions, and I will answer them."
"I have nothing."
"It is. necessary for you to serve me, Maskull. Do you not
understand? You are my servant and helper."
"I shall not fail."
"This is for my sake, and not for yours."
These last words had no sooner left Surtur's mouth than Maskull saw
him spring suddenly upward and outward. Looking up at the vault of
the sky, he saw the whole expanse of vision filled by Surtur's form -
not as a concrete man, but as a vast, concave cloud image, looking
down and frowning at him. Then the spectacle vanished, as a light
Maskull stood inactive, with a thumping heart. Now he again heard
the solitary trumpet note. The sound began this time faintly in the
far distance in front of him, travelled slowly toward him with
regularly increasing intensity, passed overhead at its loudest, and
then grew more and more quiet, wonderful, and solemn, as it fell away
in the rear, until the note was merged in the deathlike silence of
the forest. It appeared to Maskull like the closing of a marvellous
and important chapter.
Simultaneously with the fading away of the sound, the heavens seemed
to open up with the rapidity of lightning into a blue vault of
immeasurable height. He breathed a great breath, stretched all his
limbs, and looked around him with a slow smile.
After a while he resumed his journey. His brain was all dark and
confused, but one idea was already beginning to stand out from the
rest - huge, shapeless, and grand, like the growing image in the soul
of a creative artist: the staggering thought that he was a man of
The more he reflected upon all that had occurred since his arrival in
this new world - and even before leaving Earth - the clearer and more
indisputable it became, that he could not be here for his own
purposes, but must be here for an end. But what that end was, he
could not imagine.
Through the forest he saw Branchspell at last sinking in the west.
It looked a stupendous ball of red fire - now he could realise at his
ease what a sun it was! The avenue took an abrupt turn to the left
and began to descend steeply.
A wide, rolling river of clear and dark water was visible in front of
him, no great way off. It flowed from north to south. The forest
path led him straight to its banks. Maskull stood there, and
regarded the lapping, gurgling waters pensively. On the opposite
bank, the forest continued. Miles to the south, Poolingdred could
just be distinguished. On the northern skyline the Ifdawn Mountains
loomed up - high, wild, beautiful, and dangerous. They were not a
dozen miles away.
Like the first mutterings of a thunderstorm, the first faint breaths
of cool wind, Maskull felt the stirrings of passion in his heart. In
spite of his bodily fatigue, he in wished to test his strength
against something. This craving he identified with the crags of the
Marest. They seemed to have the same magical attraction for his will
as the lodestone for iron. He kept biting his nails, as he turned
his eyes in that direction - wondering if it would not be possible to
conquer the heights that evening. But when he glanced back again at
Poolingdred, he remembered Joiwind and Panawe, and grew more
tranquil. He decided to make his bed at this spot, and to set off as
soon after daybreak as he should awake.
He drank at the river, washed himself, and lay down on the bank to
sleep. By this time, so far had his idea progressed, that he cared
nothing for the possible dangers of the night - he confided in his
Branchspell set, the day faded, night with its terrible weight came
on, and through it all Maskull slept. Long before midnight, however,
he was awakened by a crimson glow in the sky. He opened his eyes,
and wondered where he was. He felt heaviness and pain. The red glow
was a terrestrial phenomenon; it came from among the trees. He got
up and went toward the source of the light.
Away from the river, not a hundred feet off, he nearly stumbled
across the form of a sleeping woman. The object which emitted the
crimson rays was lying on the ground, several yards away from her.
It was like a small jewel, throwing off sparks of red light. He
barely threw a glance at that, however.
The woman was clothed in the large skin of an animal. She had big,
smooth, shapely limbs, rather muscular than fat. Her magn was not a
thin tentacle, but a third arm, terminating in a hand. Her face,
which was upturned, was wild, powerful, and exceedingly handsome.
But he saw with surprise that in place of a breve on her forehead,
she possessed another eye. All three were closed. The colour of her
skin in the crimson glow he could not distinguish.
He touched her gently with his hand. She awoke calmly and looked up
at him without stirring a muscle. All three eyes stared at him; but
the two lower ones were dull and vacant - mere carriers of vision.
The middle, upper one alone expressed her inner nature. Its haughty,
unflinching glare had yet something seductive and alluring in it.
Maskull felt a challenge in that look of lordly, feminine will, and
his manner instinctively stiffened.
She sat up.
"Can you speak my language?" he asked. "I wouldn't put such a
question, but others have been able to."
"Why should you imagine that I can't read your mind? Is it so
She spoke in a rich, lingering, musical voice, which delighted him to
"No, but you have no breve."
"Well, but haven't I a sorb, which is better?" And she pointed to the
eye on her brow.
"What is your name?"
"And where do you come from?"
These contemptuous replies began to irritate him, and yet the mere
sound of her voice was fascinating.
"I am going there tomorrow," he remarked.
She laughed, as if against her will, but made no comment.
"My name is Maskull," he went on. "I am a stranger - from another
"So I should judge, from your absurd appearance."
"Perhaps it would be as well to say at once," said Maskull bluntly,
"are we, or are we not, to be friends?"
She yawned and stretched her arms, without rising. "Why should we be
friends? If I thought you were a man, I might accept you as a
"You must look elsewhere for that."
"So be it, Maskull! Now go away, and leave me in peace."
She dropped her head again to the ground, but did not at on close her
"What are you doing here?" he interrogated.
"Oh, we Ifdawn folk occasionally come here to sleep, for there often
enough it is a night for us which has no next morning."
"Being such a terrible place, and seeing that I am a total stranger,
it would be merely courteous if you were to warn me what I have to
expect in the way of dangers."
"I am perfectly and utterly indifferent to what becomes of you,"
"Are you returning in the morning?" persisted Maskull.
"If I wish."
"Then we will go together."
She got up again on her elbow. "Instead of making plans for other
people, I would do a very necessary thing."
"Pray, tell me."
"Well, there's no reason why I should, but I will. I would try to
convert my women's organs into men's organs. It is a man's country."
"Speak more plainly."
"Oh, it's plain enough. If you attempt to pass through Ifdawn
without a sorb, you are simply committing suicide. And that magn too
is worse than useless."
"You probably know what you are talking about, Oceaxe. But what do
you advise me to do?"
She negligently pointed to the light-emitting stone lying on the
"There is the solution. If you hold that drude to your organs for a
good while, perhaps it will start the change, and perhaps nature will
do the rest during the night. I promise nothing."
Oceaxe now really turned her back on Maskull.
He considered for a few minutes, and then walked over and to where
the stone was lying, and took it in his hand. It was a pebble the
size of a hen's egg, radiant with crimson light, as though red-hot,
and throwing out a continuous shower of small, blood-red sparks.
Finally deciding that Oceaxe's advice was good, he applied the drude
first to his magn, and then to his breve. He experienced a
cauterising sensation - a feeling of healing pain.
Maskull's second day on Tormance dawned. Branchspell was already
above the horizon when he awoke. He was instantly aware that his
organs had changed during the night. His fleshy breve was altered
into an eyelike sorb; his magn had swelled and developed into a third
arm, springing from the breast. The arm gave him at once a sense of
greater physical security, but with the sorb he was obliged to
experiment, before he could grasp its function.
As he lay there in the white sunlight, opening and shutting each of
his three eyes in turn, he found that the two lower ones served his
understanding, the upper one his will. That is to say, with the
lower eyes he saw things in clear detail, but without personal
interest; with the sorb he saw nothing as self - existent -
everything appeared as an object of importance or non - importance to
his own needs.
Rather puzzled as to how this would turn out, he got up and looked
about him. He had slept out of sight of Oceaxe. He was anxious to
learn if she were still on the spot, but before going to ascertain he
made up his mind to bathe in the river.
It was a glorious morning. The hot white sun already began to glare,
but its heat was tempered by a strong wind, which whistled through
the trees. A host of fantastic clouds filled the sky. They looked
like animals, and were always changing shape. The ground, as well as
the leaves and branches of the forest trees, still held traces of
heavy dew or rain during the night. A poignantly sweet smell of
nature entered his nostrils. His pain was quiescent, and his spirits
Before he bathed, he viewed the mountains of the Ifdawn Marest. In
the morning sunlight they stood out pictorially. He guessed that
they were from five to six thousand feet high. The lofty, irregular,
castellated line seemed like the walls of a magic city. The cliffs
fronting him were composed of gaudy rocks - vermilion, emerald,
yellow, ulfire, and black. As he gazed at them, his heart began to
beat like a slow, heavy drum, and he thrilled all over -
indescribable hopes, aspirations, and emotions came over him. It was
more than the conquest of a new world which he felt - it was
He bathed and drank, and as he was reclothing himself, Oceaxe
strolled indolently up.
He could now perceive the colour of her skin - it was a vivid, yet
delicate mixture of carmine, white, and jale. The effect was
startlingly unearthly. With these new colors she looked like a
genuine representative of a strange planet. Her frame also had
something curious about it. The curves were womanly, the bones were
characteristically female - yet all seemed somehow to express a
daring, masculine underlying will. The commanding eye on her
forehead set the same puzzle in plainer language. Its bold,
domineering egotism was shot with undergleams of sex and softness.
She came to the river's edge and reviewed him from top to toe. "Now
you are built more like a man," she said, in her lovely, lingering
"You see, the experiment was successful," he answered, smiling gaily.
Oceaxe continued looking him over. "Did some woman give you that
"A woman did give it to me" - dropping his smile - "but I saw
nothing ridiculous in the gift at the time, and I don't now."
"I think I'd look better in it."
As she drawled the words, she began stripping off the skin, which
suited her form so well, and motioned to him to exchange garments.
He obeyed, rather shamefacedly, for he realised that the proposed
exchange was in fact more appropriate to his sex. He found the skin
a freer dress. Oceaxe in her drapery appeared more dangerously
feminine to him.
"I don't want you to receive gifts at all from other women," she
"Why not? What can I be to you?"
"I have been thinking about you during the night." Her voice was
retarded, scornful, viola - like. She sat down on the trunk of a
fallen tree, and looked away.
"In what way?"
She returned no answer to his question, but began to pull off pieces
of the bark.
"Last night you were so contemptuous."
"Last night is not today. Do you always walk through the world with
your head over your shoulder?"
It was now Maskull's turn to be silent.
"Still, if you have male instincts, as I suppose you have, you can't
go on resisting me forever."
"But this is preposterous" said Maskull, opening his eyes wide.
"Granted that you are a beautiful woman - we can't be quite so
Oceaxe sighed, and rose to her feet. "It doesn't matter. I can
"From that I gather that you intend to make the journey in my
society. I have no objection - in fact I shall be glad - but only on
condition that you drop this language."
"Yet you do think me beautiful?"
"Why shouldn't I think so, if it is the fact? I fail to see what
that has to do with my feelings. Bring it to an end, Oceaxe. You
will find plenty of men to admire - and love you."
At that she blazed up. "Does love pick and choose, you fool? Do you
imagine I am so hard put to it that I have to hunt for lovers? Is
not Crimtyphon waiting for me at this very moment?"
"Very well. I am sorry to have hurt your feelings. Now carry the
temptation no farther - for it is a temptation, where a lovely woman
is concerned. I am not my own master."
"I'm not proposing anything so very hateful, am I? Why do you
humiliate me so?"
Maskull put his hands behind his back. "I repeat, I am not my own
"Then who is your master?"
"Yesterday I saw Surtur, and from today I am serving him."
"Did you speak with him?" she asked curiously.
"Tell me what he said."
'No, I can't - I won't. But whatever he said, his beauty was more
tormenting than yours, Oceaxe, and that's why I can look at you in
"Did Surtur forbid you to be a man?"
Maskull frowned. "Is love such a manly sport, then? I should have
thought it effeminate."
"It doesn't matter. You won't always be so boyish. But don't try my
patience too far."
"Let us talk about something else - and, above all, let' us get on
She suddenly broke into a laugh, so rich, sweet, and enchanting, that
he grew half inflamed, and half wished to catch her body in his arms.
"Oh, Maskull, Maskull - what a fool you are!"
"In what way am I a fool?" he demanded, scowling not at her words,
but at his own weakness.
"Isn't the whole world the handiwork of innumerable pairs of lovers?
And yet you think yourself above all that. You try to fly away from
nature, but where will you find a hole to hide yourself in?"
"Besides beauty, I now credit you with a second quality:
"Read me well, and then it is natural law that you'll think twice and
three times before throwing me away.. .. And now, before we go, we
had better eat."
"Eat?" said Maskull thoughtfully.
"Don't you eat? Is food in the same category as love?"
"What food is it?"
"Fish from the river."
Maskull recollected his promise to Joiwind. At the same time, he
"Is there nothing milder?"
She pulled her mouth scornfully. "You came through Poolingdred,
didn't you? All the people there are the same. They think life is
to be looked at, and not lived. Now that you are visiting Ifdawn,
you will have to change your notions."
"Go catch your fish," he returned, pulling down his brows.
The broad, clear waters flowed past them with swelling undulations,
from the direction of the mountains. Oceaxe knelt down on the bank,
and peered into the depths. Presently her look became tense and
concentrated; she dipped her hand in and pulled out some sort of
little monster. It was more like a reptile than a fish, with its
scaly plates and teeth. She threw it on the ground, and it started
crawling about. Suddenly she darted all her will into her sorb. The
creature leaped into the air, and fell down dead.
She picked up a sharp - edged slate, and with it removed the scales
and entrails. During this operation, her hands and garment became
stained with the light scarlet blood.
"Find the drude, Maskull," she said, with a lazy smile. "You had it
He searched for it. It was hard to locate, for its rays had grown
dull and feeble in the sunlight, but at last he found it. Oceaxe
placed it in the interior of the monster, and left the body lying on
"While it's cooking, I'll wash some of this blood away, which
frightens you so much. Have you never seen blood before?"
Maskull gazed at her in perplexity. The old paradox came back - the
contrasting sexual characteristics in her person. Her bold,
masterful, masculine egotism of manner seemed quite incongruous with
the fascinating and disturbing femininity of her voice. A startling
idea flashed into his mind.
"In your country I'm told there is an act of will called 'absorbing.'
What is that?"
She held her red, dripping hands away from her draperies, and uttered
a delicious, clashing laugh. "You think I am half a man?"
"Answer my question."
"I'm a woman through and through, Maskull - to the marrowbone. But
that's not to say I have never absorbed males."
"And that means ..
"New strings for my harp, Maskull. A wider range of passions, a
stormier heart ..."
"For you, yes - But for them ... ?"
"I don't know. The victims don't describe their experiences.
Probably unhappiness of some sort - if they still know anything."
"This is a fearful business!" he exclaimed, regarding her gloomily.
"One would think Ifdawn a land of devils."
Oceaxe gave a beautiful sneer. as she took a step toward the river.
"Better men than you - better in every sense of the word - are
walking about with foreign wills inside them. You may be as moral as
you like, Maskull, but the fact remains, animals were made to be
eaten, and simple natures were made to be absorbed."
"And human rights count for nothing!"
She had bent over the river's edge, to wash her arms and hands, but
glanced up over her shoulder to answer his remark. "They do count.
But we only regard a m an as human for just as long as he's able to
hold his own with others."
The flesh was soon cooked, and they breakfasted in silence. Maskull
cast heavy, doubtful glances from time to time toward his companion.
Whether it was due to the strange quality of the food, or to his long
abstention, he did not know, but the meal tasted nauseous, and even
cannibalistic. He ate little, and the moment he got up he felt
"Let me bury this drude, where I can find it some other time," said
Oceaxe. "On the next occasion, though, I shall have no Maskull with
me, to shock.... Now we have to take to the river."
They stepped off the land onto the water. It flowed against them
with a sluggish current, but the opposition, instead of hindering
them, had the contrary effect - it caused them to exert themselves,
and they moved faster. They climbed the river in this way for
several miles. The exercise gradually improved the circulation of
Maskull's blood, and he began to look at things in a far more way.
The hot sunshine, the diminished wind, the cheerful marvellous cloud
scenery, the quiet, crystal forests-all was soothing and delightful.
They approached nearer and nearer to the gaily painted heights of
There was something enigmatic to him in those bright walls. He was
attracted by them, yet felt a sort of awe. They looked real, but at
the same time very supernatural. If one could see the portrait of a
ghost, painted with a hard, firm outline, in substantial colors, the
feelings produced by such a sight would be exactly similar to
Maskull's impressions as he studied the Ifdawn precipices.
He broke the long silence. "Those mountains have most extraordinary
shapes. All the lines are straight and perpendicular - no slopes or
She walked backward on the water, in order to face him. "That's
typical of Ifdawn. Nature is all hammer blows with us. Nothing soft
"I hear you, but I don't understand you."
"All over the Marest you'll find patches of ground plunging down or
rushing up. Trees grow fast. Women and men don't think twice before
acting. One may call Ifdawn a place of quick decisions."
Maskull was impressed. "A fresh, wild, primitive land."
"How is it where you come from?" asked Oceaxe.
"Oh, mine is a decrepit world, where nature takes a hundred years to
move a foot of solid land. Men and animals go about in flocks.
Originality is a lost habit."
"Are there women there?"
"As with you, and not very differently formed."
"Do they love?"
He laughed. "So much so that it has changed the dress, speech, and
thoughts of the whole sex."
"Probably they are more beautiful than 1?"
"No, I think not," said Maskull.
There was another rather long silence, as they travelled unsteadily
"What is your business in Ifdawn?" demanded Oceaxe suddenly.
He hesitated over his answer. "Can you grasp that it's possible to
have an aim right in front of one, so big that one can't see it as a
She stole a long, inquisitive look at him, "What sort of aim?"
"A moral aim."
"Are you proposing to set the world right?"
"I propose nothing - I am waiting."
"Don't wait too long, for time doesn't wait - especially in Ifdawn."
"Something will happen," said Maskull.
Oceaxe threw a subtle smile. "So you have no special destination in
"No, and if you'll permit me, I will come home with you."
"Singular man!" she said, with a short, thrilling laugh. "That's
what I have been offering all the time. Of course you will come home
with me. As for Crimtyphon .. ."
"You mentioned that name before. Who is he?"
"Oh! My lover, or, as you would say, my husband."
"This doesn't improve matters," said Maskull.
"It leaves them exactly where they were. We merely have to remove
"We are certainly misunderstanding each other," said Maskull, quite
startled. "Do you by any chance imagine that I am making a compact
"You will do nothing against your will. But you have promised to
come home with me."
"Tell me, how do you remove husbands in Ifdawn?"
"Either you or I must kill him."
He eyed her for a full minute. "Now we are passing from folly to
"Not at all," replied Oceaxe. "It is the too - sad truth. And when
you have seen Crimtyphon, you will realise it."
"I'm aware I am on a strange planet," said Maskull slowly, "where all
sorts of unheard of things may happen, and where the very laws of
morality may be different. Still as far as I am concerned, murder is
murder, and I'll have no more to do with a woman who wants to make
use of me, to get rid of her husband."
"You think me wicked?" demanded Oceaxe steadily.
"Then you had better leave me, Maskull - only - "
"You wish to be consistent, don't you? Leave all other mad and
wicked people as well. Then you'll find it easier to reform the
Maskull frowned, but said nothing.
"Well?" demanded Oceaxe, with a half smile.
"I'll come with you, and I'll see Crimtyphon - if only to warn him."
Oceaxe broke into a cascade of rich, feminine laughter, but whether
at the image conjured up by Maskull's last words, or from some other
cause, he did not know. The conversation dropped.
At a distance of a couple of miles from the now towering cliffs, the
river made a sharp, right - angled turn to the west, and was no
longer of use to them on their journey. Maskull stared up
"It's a stiff climb for a hot morning."
"Let's rest here a little," said she, indicating a smooth flat island
of black rock, standing up just out of the water in the middle of the
They accordingly went to it, and Maskull sat down. Oceaxe, however,
standing graceful and erect, turned her face toward the cliffs
opposite, and uttered a piercing and peculiar call.
"What is that for?" She did not answer. After waiting a minute, she
repeated the call. Maskull now saw a large bird detach itself from
the top of one of the precipices, and sail slowly down toward them.
It was followed by two others. The flight of these birds was
exceedingly slow and clumsy.
"What are they?" he asked.
She still returned no answer, but smiled rather peculiarly and sat
down beside him. Before many minutes he was able to distinguish the
shapes and colors of the flying monsters. They were not birds, but
creatures with long, snakelike bodies, and ten reptilian legs apiece,
terminating in fins which acted as wings. The bodies were of bright
blue, the legs and fins were yellow. They were flying, without
haste, but in a somewhat ominous fashion, straight toward them. He
could make out a long, thin spike projecting from each of the heads.
"They are shrowks," explained Oceaxe at last. "If you want to know
their intention, I'll tell you. To make a meal of us. First of all
their spikes will pierce us, and then their mouths, which are really
suckers, will drain us dry of blood - pretty thoroughly too; there
are no half measures with shrowks. They are toothless beasts, so
don't eat flesh."
"As you show such admirable sangfroid," said Maskull dryly, "I take
it there's no particular danger."
Nevertheless he instinctively tried to get on to his feet and failed.
A new form of paralysis was chaining him to the ground.
"Are you trying to get up?" asked Oceaxe smoothly.
"Well, yes, but those cursed reptiles seem to be nailing me down to
the rock with their wills. May I ask if you had any special object
in view in waking them up?"
"I assure you the danger is quite real, Maskull. Instead of talking
and asking questions, you had much better see what you can do with
"I seem to have no will, unfortunately."
Oceaxe was seized with a paroxysm of laughter, but it was still rich
and beautiful. "It's obvious you aren't a very heroic protector,
Maskull. It seems I must play the man, and you the woman. I expected
better things of your big body. Why, my husband would send those
creatures dancing all around the sky, by way of a joke, before
disposing of them. Now watch me.. Two of the three I'll kill; the
third we will ride home on. Which one shall we keep?"
The shrowks continued their slow, wobbling flight toward them. Their
bodies were of huge size. They produced in Maskull the same
sensation of loathing as insects did. He instinctively understood
that as they hunted with their wills, there was no necessity for them
to possess a swift motion.
"Choose which you please," he said shortly. "They are equally
objectionable to me."
"Then I'll choose the leader, as it is presumably the most energetic
animal. Watch now."
She stood upright, and her sorb suddenly blazed with fire. Maskull
felt something snap inside his brain. His limbs were free once more.
The two monsters in the rear staggered and darted head foremost
toward the earth, one after the other. He watched them crash on the
ground, and then lie motionless. The leader still came toward them,
but he fancied that its flight was altered in character; it was no
longer menacing, but tame and unwilling.
Oceaxe guided it with her will to the mainland shore opposite their
island rock. Its vast bulk lay there extended, awaiting her
pleasure. They immediately crossed the water.
Maskull viewed the shrowk at close quarters. It was about thirty
feet long. Its bright-coloured skin was shining, slippery, and
leathery; a mane of black hair covered its long neck. Its face was
awesome and unnatural, with its carnivorous eyes, frightful stiletto,
and blood - sucking cavity. There were true fins on its back and
"Have you a good seat?" asked Oceaxe, patting the creature's flank.
"As I have to steer, let me jump on first."
She pulled up her gown, then climbed up and sat astride the animal's
back, just behind the mane, which she clutched. Between her and the
fin there was just room for Maskull. He grasped the two flanks with
his outer hands; his third, new arm pressed against Oceaxe's back,
and for additional security he was compelled to encircle her waist
Directly he did so, he realised that he had been tricked, and that
this ride had been planned for one purpose only - to inflame his
The third arm possessed a function of its own, of which hitherto he
had been ignorant. It was a developed magn. But the stream of love
which was communicated to it was no longer pure and noble - it was
boiling, passionate, and torturing. He gritted his teeth, and kept
quiet, but Oceaxe had not plotted the adventure to remain unconscious
of his feelings. She looked around, with a golden, triumphant smile.
"The ride will last some time, so hold on well!" Her voice was soft
like a flute, but rather malicious.
Maskull grinned, and said nothing. He dared not remove his arm.
The shrowk straddled on to its legs. It jerked itself forward, and
rose slowly and uncouthly in the air. They began to paddle upward
toward the painted cliffs. The motion was swaying, rocking, and
sickening; the contact of the brute's slimy skin was disgusting. All
this, however, was merely, background to Maskull, as he sat there
with closed eyes, holding on to Oceaxe. In the front and centre of
his consciousness was the knowledge that he was gripping a fair
woman, and that her flesh was responding to his touch like a lovely
They climbed up and up. He opened his eyes, and ventured to look
around him. By this time they were already level with the top of the
outer rampart of precipices. There now came in sight a wild
archipelago of islands, with jagged outlines, emerging from a sea of
air. The islands were mountain summits; or, more accurately
speaking, the country was a high tableland, fissured everywhere by
narrow and apparently bottomless cracks. These cracks were in some
cases like canals, in others like lakes, in others merely holes in
the ground, closed in all round. The perpendicular sides of the
islands - that is, the upper, visible parts of the innumerable cliff
faces - were of bare rock, gaudily coloured; but the level surfaces
were a tangle of wild plant life. The taller trees alone were
distinguishable from the shrowk's back. They were of different
shapes, and did not look ancient; they were slender and swaying but
did not appear very graceful; they looked tough, wiry, and savage.
As Maskull continued to explore the landscape, he forgot Oceaxe and
his passion. Other strange feelings came to the front. The morning
was gay and bright. the sun scorched down, quickly changing clouds
sailed across the sky, the earth was vivid, wild, and lonely. Yet he
experienced no aesthetic sensations - he felt nothing but an intense
longing for action and possession. When he looked at anything, he
immediately wanted to deal with it. The atmosphere of the land
seemed not free, but sticky; attraction and repulsion were its
constituents. Apart from this wish to play a personal part in what
was going on around and beneath him, the scenery had no significance
So preoccupied was he, that his arm partly released its clasp. Oceaxe
turned around to gaze at him. Whether or not she was satisfied with
what she saw, she uttered a low laugh, like a peculiar chord.
"Cold again so quickly, Maskull?"
"What do you want?" he asked absently, still looking over the side.
"it's extraordinary how drawn I feel to all this."
"You wish to take a hand?"
"I wish to get down."
"Oh, we have a good way to go yet.... So you really feel different?"
"Different from what? What are you talking about?"' said Maskull,
still lost in abstraction.
Oceaxe laughed again. "it would be strange if we couldn't make a man
of you, for the material is excellent."
After that, she turned her back once more.
The air islands differed from water islands in another way. They
were not on a plane surface, but sloped upward, like a succession of
broken terraces, as the journey progressed. The shrowk had hitherto
been flying well above the ground; but now, when a new line of
towering cliffs confronted them, Oceaxe did not urge the beast
upward, but caused it to enter a narrow canyon, which intersected the
mountains like a channel. They were instantly plunged into deep
shade. The canal was not above thirty feet wide; the walls stretched
upward on both sides for many hundred feet. It was as cool as an ice
chamber. When Maskull attempted to plumb the chasm with his eyes, he
saw nothing but black obscurity.
"What is at the bottom?" he asked.
"Death for you, if you go to look for it."
"We know that. I mean, is there any kind of life down there?"
"Not that I have ever heard of," said Oceaxe, "but of course all
things are possible."
"I think very likely there is life," he returned thoughtfully.
Her ironical laugh sounded out of the gloom. "Shall we go down and
"You find that amusing?"
"No, not that. What I do find amusing is the big stranger with the
beard, who is so keenly interested in everything except himself."
Maskull then laughed too. "I happen to be the only thing in Tormance
which is not a novelty for me."
"Yes, but I am a novelty for you."
The channel went zigzagging its way through the belly of the
mountain, and all the time they were gradually rising.
"At least I have heard nothing like your voice before," said Maskull,
who, since he had no longer anything to look at, was at last ready
"What's the matter with my voice?"
"It's all that I can distinguish of you now; that's why I mentioned
"Isn't it clear - don't I speak distinctly?"
"Oh, it's clear enough, but - it's inappropriate."
"I won't explain further," said Maskull, "but whether you are
speaking or laughing, your voice is by far the loveliest and
strangest instrument I have ever listened to. And yet I repeat, it
"You mean that my nature doesn't correspond?"
He was just considering his reply, when their talk was abruptly
broken off by a huge and terrifying, but not very loud sound rising
up from the gulf directly underneath them. It was a low, grinding,
"The ground is rising under us!" cried Oceaxe.
"Shall we escape?"
She made no answer, but urged the shrowk's flight upward, at such a
steep gradient that they retained their seats with difficulty. The
floor of the canyon, upheaved by some mighty subterranean force,
could be heard, and almost felt, coming up after them, like a
gigantic landslip in the wrong direction. The cliffs cracked, and
fragments began to fall. A hundred awful noises filled the air,
growing louder and louder each second - splitting, hissing, cracking,
grinding, booming, exploding, roaring. When they had still fifty
feet or so to go, to reach the top, a sort of dark, indefinite sea of
broken rocks and soil appeared under their feet, ascending rapidly,
with irresistible might, accompanied by the most horrible noises.
The canal was filled up for two hundred yards, before and behind
them. Millions of tons of solid matter seemed to be raised. The
shrowk in its ascent was caught by the uplifted debris. Beast and
riders experienced in that moment all the horrors of an earthquake -
they were rolled violently over, and thrown among the rocks and dirt.
All was thunder, instability, motion, confusion.
Before they had time to realise their position, they were in the
sunlight. The upheaval still continued. In another minute or two
the valley floor had formed a new mountain, a hundred feet or more
higher than the old. Then its movement ceased suddenly. Every noise
stopped, as if by magic; not a rock moved. Oceaxe and Maskull picked
themselves up and examined themselves for cuts and bruises. The
shrowk lay on its side, panting violently, and sweating with fright.
"That was a nasty affair," said Maskull, flicking the dirt off his
Oceaxe staunched a cut on her chin with a corner of her robe.
"It might have been far worse.... I mean, it's bad enough to come up,
but it's death to go down, and that happens just as often."
"Whatever induces you to live in such a country?"
"I don't know, Maskull. Habit, I suppose. I have often thought of
moving out of it."
"A good deal must be forgiven you for having to spend your life in a
place like this, where one is obviously never safe from one minute to
"You will learn by degrees," she answered, smiling.
She looked hard at the monster, and it got heavily to its feet.
"Get on again, Maskull!" she directed, climbing back to her perch.
"We haven't too much time to waste."
He obeyed. They resumed their interrupted flight, this time over the
mountains, and in full sunlight. Maskull settled down again to his
thoughts. The peculiar atmosphere of the country continued to soak
into his brain. His will became so restless and uneasy that merely
to sit there in inactivity was a torture. He could scarcely endure
not to be doing something.
"How secretive you are, Maskull!" said Oceaxe quietly, without
turning her head.
"What secrets - what do you mean?"
"Oh, I know perfectly well what's passing inside you. Now I think it
wouldn't be amiss to ask you - is friendship still enough?"
"Oh, don't ask me anything," growled Maskull. "I've far too many
problems in my head already. I only wish I could answer some of
He stared stonily at the landscape. The beast was winging its way
toward a distant mountain, of singular shape. It was an enormous
natural quadrilateral pyramid, rising in great terraces and
terminating in a broad, flat top, on which what looked like green
snow still lingered.
"What mountain is that?" he asked.
"Disscourn. The highest point in Ifdawn."
"Are we going there?"
"Why should we go there? But if you were going on farther, it might
be worth your while to pay a visit to the top. It commands the whole
land as far as the Sinking Sea and Swaylone's Island - and beyond.
You can also see Alppain from it."
"That's a sight I mean to see before I have finished."
"Do you, Maskull?" She turned around and put her hand on his wrist.
"Stay with me, and one day we'll go to Disscourn together."
He grunted unintelligibly.
There were no signs of human existence in the country under their
feet. While Maskull was still grimly regarding it, a large tract of
forest not far ahead, bearing many trees and rocks, suddenly subsided
with an awful roar and crashed down into an invisible gulf. What was
solid land one minute became a clean - cut chasm the next. He jumped
violently up with the shock. "This is frightful."
Oceaxe remained unmoved.
"Why, life here must be absolutely impossible," he went on, when he
had somewhat recovered himself. "A man would need nerves of steel..
.. Is there no means at all of foreseeing a catastrophe like this?"
"Oh, I suppose we wouldn't be alive if there weren't," replied
Oceaxe, with composure. "We are more or less clever at it - but that
doesn't prevent our often getting caught."
"You had better teach me the signs."
"We'll have many things to go over together. And among them, I
expect, will be whether we are to stay in the land at all.... But
first let us get home."
"How far is it now?"
"It is right in front of you," said Oceaxe, pointing with her
forefinger. "You can see it."
He followed the direction of the finger and, after a few questions,
made out the spot she was indicating. It was a broad peninsula,
about two miles distant. Three of its sides rose sheer out of a lake
of air, the bottom of which was invisible; its fourth was a
bottleneck, joining it to the mainland. It was overgrown with bright
vegetation, distinct in the brilliant atmosphere. A single tall
tree, shooting up in the middle of the peninsula, dwarfed everything
else; it was wide and shady with sea - green leaves.
"I won der if Crimtyphon is there," remarked Oceaxe. "Can I see two
figures, or am I mistaken?"
"I also see something," said Maskull.
In twenty minutes they were directly above the peninsula, at a height
of about fifty feet. The shrowk slackened speed, and came to earth
on the mainland, exactly at the gateway of the isthmus. They both
descended - Maskull with aching thighs.
"What shall we do with the monster?" asked Oceaxe. Without waiting
for a suggestion, she patted its hideous face with her hand. "Fly
away home! I may want you some other time."
It gave a stupid grunt, elevated itself on its legs again, and, after
half running, half flying for a few yards, rose awkwardly into the
air, and paddled away in the same direction from which they had come.
They watched it out of sight, and then Oceaxe started to cross the
neck of land, followed by Maskull.
Branchspell's white rays beat down on them with pitiless force. The
sky had by degrees become cloudless, and the wind had dropped
entirely. The ground was a rich riot of vividly coloured ferns,
shrubs, and grasses. Through these could be seen here and there the
golden chalky soil - and occasionally a glittering, white metallic
boulder. Everything looked extraordinary and barbaric. Maskull was
at last walking in the weird Ifdawn Marest which had created such
strange feelings in him when seen from a distance.... And now he felt
no wonder or curiosity at all, but only desired to meet human beings
- so intense had grown his will. He longed to test his powers on his
fellow creatures, and nothing else seemed of the least importance to
On the peninsula all was coolness and delicate shade. It resembled a
large copse, about two acres in extent. In the heart of the tangle
of small trees and undergrowth was a partially cleared space -
perhaps the roots of the giant tree growing in the centre had killed
off the smaller fry all around it. By the side of the tree sparkled
a little, bubbling fountain, whose water was iron - red. The
precipices on all sides, overhung with thorns, flowers, and creepers,
invested the enclosure with an air of wild and charming seclusion - a
mythological mountain god might have dwelt here.
Maskull's restless eye left everything, to fall on the two men who
formed the centre of the picture.
One was reclining, in the ancient Grecian fashion of banqueters on a
tall couch of mosses, sprinkled with flowers; he rested on one arm,
and was eating a kind of plum, with calm enjoyment. A pile of these
plums lay on the couch beside him. The over - spreading branches of
the tree completely sheltered him from the sun. His small, boyish
form was clad in a rough skin, leaving his limbs naked. Maskull
could not tell from his face whether he were a young boy or a grown
man. The features were smooth, soft, and childish, their expression
was seraphically tranquil; but his violet upper eye was sinister and
adult. His skin was of the colour of yellow ivory. His long,
curling hair matched his sorb - it was violet. The second man was
standing erect before the other, a few feet away from him. He was
short and muscular, his face was broad, bearded, and rather
commonplace, but there was something terrible about his appearance.
The features were distorted by a deep - seated look of pain, despair,
Oceaxe, without pausing, strolled lightly and lazily up to the
outermost shadows of the tree, some distance from the couch.
"We have met with an uplift," she remarked carelessly, looking toward
He eyed her, but said nothing.
"How is your plant man getting on?" Her tone was artificial but
extremely beautiful. While waiting for an answer, she sat down on
the ground, her legs gracefully thrust under her body, and pulled
down the skirt of her robe. Maskull remained standing just behind
her, with crossed arms.
There was silence for a minute.
"Why don't you answer your mistress, Sature?" said the boy on the
couch, in a calm, treble voice.
The man addressed did not alter his expression, but replied in a
strangled tone, "I am getting on very well, Oceaxe. There are
already buds on my feet. Tomorrow I hope to take root."
Maskull felt a rising storm inside him. He was perfectly aware that
although these words were uttered by Sature, they were being dictated
by the boy.
"What he says is quite true," remarked the latter. "Tomorrow roots
will reach the ground, and in a few days they ought to be well
established. Then I shall set to work to convert his arms into
branches, and his fingers into leaves. It will take longer to
transform his head into a crown, but still I hope - in fact I can
almost promise that within a month you and I, Oceaxe, will be
plucking and enjoying fruit from this new and remarkable tree."
"I love these natural experiments," he concluded, putting out his
hand for another plum. "They thrill me."
"This must be a joke," said Maskull, taking a step forward.
The youth looked at him serenely. He made no reply, but Maskull felt
as if he were being thrust backward by an iron hand on his throat.
"The morning's work is now concluded, Sature. Come here again after
Blodsombre. After tonight you will remain here permanently, I
expect, so you had better set to work to clear a patch of ground for
your roots. Never forget - however fresh and charming these plants
appear to you now, in the future they will be your deadliest rivals
and enemies. Now you may go."
The man limped painfully away, across the isthmus, out of sight.
Maskull pushed his way forward, as if against a wall. "Are you
joking, or are you a devil?"
"I am Crimtyphon. I never joke. For that epithet of yours, I will
devise a new punishment for you."
The duel of wills commenced without ceremony. Oceaxe got up,
stretched her beautiful limbs, smiled, and prepared herself to
witness the struggle between her old lover and her new. Crimtyphon
smiled too; he reached out his hand for more fruit, but did not eat
it. Maskull's self - control broke down and he dashed at the boy,
choking with red fury - his beard wagged and his face was crimson.
When he realised with whom he had to deal, Crimtyphon left off
smiling, slipped off the couch, and threw a terrible and malignant
glare into his sorb. Maskull
staggered. He gathered together all the brute force of his will, and
by sheer weight continued his advance. The boy shrieked and ran
behind the couch, trying to get away.... His opposition suddenly
collapsed. Maskull stumbled forward, recovered himself, and then
vaulted clear over the high pile of mosses, to get at his antagonist.
He fell on top of him with all his bulk. Grasping his throat, he
pulled his little head completely around, so that the neck was
broken. Crimtyphon immediately died.
The corpse lay underneath the tree with its face upturned. Maskull
viewed it attentively, and as he did so an expression of awe and
wonder came into his own countenance. In the moment of death
Crimtyphon's face had undergone a startling and even shocking
alteration. Its personal character had wholly vanished, giving place
to a vulgar, grinning mask which expressed nothing.
He did not have to search his mind long, to remember where he had
seen the brother of that expression. It was identical with that on
the face of the apparition at the seance, after Krag had dealt with
Oceaxe sat down carelessly on the couch of mosses , and began eating
"You see, you had to kill him, Maskull," she said, in a rather
He came away from the corpse and regarded her - still red, and still
breathing hard. "It's no joking matter. You especially ought to
"Because he was your husband."
"You think I ought to show grief - when I feel none?"
"Don't pretend, woman!"
Oceaxe smiled. "From your manner one would think you were accusing
me of some crime."
Maskull literally snorted at her words. "What, you live with filth -
you live in the arms of a morbid monstrosity and then - "
"Oh, now I grasp it," she said, in a tone of perfect detachment.
"Well, Maskull," she proceeded, after a pause, "and who gave you the
right to rule my conduct? Am I not mistress of my own person?"
He looked at her with disgust, but said nothing. There was another
long interval of silence.
"'I never loved him," said Oceaxe at last, looking at the ground.
"That makes it all the worse."
"What does all this mean - what do you want?"
"Nothing from you - absolutely nothing - thank heaven!"
She gave a hard laugh. "You come here with your foreign
preconceptions and expect us all to bow down to them."
"Just because Crimtyphon's sports are strange to you, you murder him
- and you would like to murder me."
"Sports! That diabolical cruelty."
"Oh, you're sentimental!" said Oceaxe contemptuously. "Why do you
need to make such a fuss over that man? Life is life, all the world
over, and one form is as good as another. He was only to be made a
tree, like a million other trees. If they can endure the life, why
"And this is Ifdawn morality!"
Oceaxe began to grow angry. "It's you who have peculiar ideas. You
rave about the beauty of flowers and trees - you think them divine.
But when it's a question of taking on this divine, fresh, pure,
enchanting loveliness yourself, in your own person, it immediately
becomes a cruel and wicked degradation. Here we have a strange
riddle, in my opinion."
"Oceaxe, you're a beautiful, heartless wild beast - nothing more. If
you weren't a woman - "
"Well" - curling her lip - "let us hear what would happen if I
weren't a woman?"
Maskull bit his nails.
"It doesn't matter. I can't touch you - though there's certainly not
the difference of a hair between you and your boy - husband. For
this you may thank my 'foreign preconceptions.' .. . Farewell!"
He turned to go. Oceaxe's eyes slanted at him through their long
"Where are you off to, Maskull?"
"That's a matter of no importance, for wherever I go it must be a
change for the better. You walking whirlpools of crime!"
"Wait a minute. I only want to say this. Blodsombre is just
starting, and you had better stay here till the afternoon. We can
quickly put that body out of sight, and, as you seem to detest me so
much, the place is big enough - we needn't talk, or even see each
"I don't wish to breathe the same air."
"Singular man!" She was sitting erect and motionless, like a
beautiful statue. "And what of your wonderful interview with Surtur,
and all the undone things which you set out to do?"
"You aren't the one I shall speak to about that. But" - he eyed her
meditatively - "while I'm still here you can tell me this. What's
the meaning of the expression on that corpse's face?"
"Is that another crime, Maskull? All dead people look like that.
Ought they not to?"
"I once heard it called 'Crystalman's face.'"
"Why not? We are all daughters and sons of Crystalman. It is
doubtless the family resemblance."
"It has also been told me that Surtur and Crystalman are one and the
"You have wise and truthful acquaintances."
"Then how could it have been Surtur whom I saw?" said Maskull, more
to himself than to her. "That apparition was something quite
She dropped her mocking manner and, sliding imperceptibly toward him,
gently pulled his arm.
"You see - we have to talk. Sit down beside me, and ask me your
questions. I'm not excessively smart, but I'll
try to be of assistance."
Maskull permitted himself to be dragged down with soft violence. She
bent toward him, as if confidentially, and contrived that her sweet,
cool, feminine breath should fan his cheek.
"Aren't you here to alter the evil to the good, Maskull? Then what
does it matter who sent you?"
"What can you possibly know of good and evil?"
"Are you only instructing the initiated?"
"Who am I, to instruct anybody? However, you're quite right. I wish
to do what I can - not because I am qualified, but because I am
Oceaxe's voice dropped to a whisper. "You're a giant, both in body
and soul. What you want to do, you can do."
"Is that your honest opinion, or are you flattering me for your own
She sighed. "Don't you see how difficult you are making the
conversation? Let's talk about your work, not about ourselves."
Maskull suddenly noticed a strange blue light glowing in the northern
sky. It was from Alppain, but Alppain itself was behind the hills.
While he was observing it, a peculiar wave of self - denial, of a
disquieting nature, passed through him. He looked at Oceaxe, and it
struck him for the first time that he was being unnecessarily brutal
to her. He had forgotten that she was a woman, and defenceless.
"Won't you stay?" she asked all of a sudden, quite openly and
"Yes, I think I'll stay," he replied slowly. "And another thing,
Oceaxe - if I've misjudged your character, pray forgive me. I'm a
hasty, passionate man."
"There are enough easygoing men. Hard knocks are a good medicine for
vicious hearts. And you didn't misjudge my character, as far as you
went - only, every woman has more than one character. Don't you know
During the pause that followed, a snapping of twigs was heard, and
both looked around, startled. They saw a woman stepping slowly
across the neck that separated them from the mainland.
"Tydomin," muttered Oceaxe, in a vexed, frightened voice. She
immediately moved away from Maskull and stood up.
The newcomer was of middle height, very slight and graceful. She was
no longer quite young. Her face wore the composure of a woman who
knows her way about the world. It was intensely pale, and under its
quiescence there just was a glimpse of something strange and
dangerous. It was curiously alluring, though not exactly beautiful.
Her hair was clustering and boyish, reaching only to the neck. It
was of a strange indigo colour. She was quaintly attired in a tunic
and breeches, pieced together from the square, blue - green plates of
some reptile. Her small, ivory-white breasts were exposed. Her sorb
was black and sad - rather contemplative.
Without once glancing up at Oceaxe and Maskull, she quietly glided
straight toward Crimtyphon's corpse. When she arrived within a few
feet of it, she stopped and looked down, with arms folded.
Oceaxe drew Maskull a little away, and whispered, "It's Crimtyphon's
other wife, who lives under Disscourn. She's a most dangerous woman.
Be careful what you say. If she asks you to do anything, refuse it
"The poor soul looks harmless enough."'
"Yes, she does - but the poor soul is quite capable of swallowing up
Krag himself.... Now, play the man."
The murmur of their voices seemed to attract Tydomin's notice, for
she now slowly turned her eyes toward them.
"Who killed him?" she demanded.
Her voice was so soft, low, and refined, that Maskull hardly was able
to catch the words. The sounds, however, lingered in his ears, and
curiously enough seemed to grow stronger, instead of fainter.
Oceaxe whispered, "Don't say a word, leave it all to me." Then she
swung her body around to face Tydomin squarely, and said aloud, "I
Tydomin's words by this time were ringing in Maskull's head like an
actual physical sound. There was no question of being able to ignore
them; he had to make an open confession of his act, whatever the
consequences might be. Quietly taking Oceaxe by the shoulder and
putting her behind him, he said in a low, but Perfectly distinct
voice, "It was I that killed Crimtyphon."
Oceaxe looked both haughty and frightened. "Maskull says that so as
to shield me, as he thinks. I require no shield, Maskull. I killed
"I believe you, Oceaxe. You did murder him. Not with your own
strength, for you brought this man along for the purpose."
Maskull took a couple of steps toward Tydomin. "It's of little
consequence who killed him, for he's better dead than alive, in my
opinion. Still, I did it. Oceaxe had no hand in the affair."
Tydomin appeared not to hear him - she looked beyond him at Oceaxe
musingly. "When you murdered him, didn't it occur to you that I
would come here, to find out?"
"I never once thought of you," replied Oceaxe, with an angry laugh.
"Do you really imagine that I carry your image with me wherever I
"If someone were to murder your lover here, what would you do?"
"Lying hypocrite!" Oceaxe spat out. "You never were in love with
Crimtyphon. You always hated me, and now you think it an excellent
opportunity to make it good .. . now that Crimtyphon's gone.... For
we both know he would have made a footstool of you, if I had asked
him. He worshiped me, but he laughed at you. He thought you ugly."
Tydomin flashed a quick, gentle smile at Maskull. "Is it necessary
for you to listen to all this?"
Without question, and feeling it the right thing to do, he walked
away out of earshot.
Tydomin approached Oceaxe. "Perhaps because my beauty fades and I'm
no longer young, I needed him all the more."
Oceaxe gave a kind of snarl. "Well, he's dead, and that's the. end
of it. What are you going to do now,
The other woman smiled faintly and rather pathetically. "There's
nothing left to do, except mourn the dead. You won't grudge me that
"Do you want to stay here?" demanded Oceaxe suspiciously.
"Yes, Oceaxe dear, I wish to be alone."
"Then what is to become of us?"
"I thought that you and your lover - what is his name?"
"I thought that perhaps you two would go to Disscourn, and spend
Blodsombre at my home."
Oceaxe called out aloud to Maskull, "Will you come with me now to
"If you wish," returned Maskull.
"Go first, Oceaxe. I must question your friend about Crimtyphon's
death. I won't keep him."
"Why don't you question me, rather?" demanded Oceaxe, looking up
Tydomin gave the shadow of a smile. "We know each other too well."
"Play no tricks!" said Oceaxe, and she turned to go.
"Surely you must be dreaming," said Tydomin. "That's the way -
unless you want to walk over the cliffside."
The path Oceaxe had chosen led across the isthmus. The direction
which Tydomin proposed for her was over the edge of the precipice,
into empty space.
"Shaping! I must be mad," cried Oceaxe, with a laugh. And she
obediently followed the other's finger.
She walked straight on toward the edge of the abyss, twenty paces
away. Maskull pulled his beard around, and wondered what she was
doing. Tydomin remained standing with outstretched finger, watching
her. Without hesitation, without slackening her step once, Oceaxe
strolled on - and when she had reached the extreme end of the land
she still took one more step.
Maskull saw her limbs wrench as she stumbled over the edge. Her body
disappeared, and as it did so an awful shriek sounded.
Disillusionment had come to her an instant too late. He tore himself
out of his stupor, rushed to the edge of the cliff, threw himself on
the ground recklessly, and looked over.... Oceaxe had vanished.
He continued staring wildly down for several minutes, and then began
to sob. Tydomin came up to him, and he got to his feet.
The blood kept rushing to his face and leaving it again. It was some
time before he could speak at all. Then he brought out the words
with difficulty. "You shall pay for this, Tydomin. But first I want
to hear why you did it."
"Hadn't I cause?" she asked, standing with downcast eyes.
"Was it pure fiendishness?"
"It was for Crimtyphon's sake."
"She had nothing to do with that death. I told you so."
"You are loyal to her, and I'm loyal to him."
"Loyal? You've made a terrible blunder. She wasn't my mistress. I
killed Crimtyphon for quite another reason. She had absolutely no
part in it."
"Wasn't she your lover?" asked Tydomin slowly.
"You've made a terrible mistake," repeated Maskull. "I killed him
because he was a wild beast. She was as innocent of his death as you
Tydomin's face took on a hard look. "So you are guilty of two
There was a dreadful silence.
"Why couldn't you believe me?" asked Maskull, who was pale and
"Who gave you the right to kill him?" demanded Tydomin sternly.
He said nothing, and perhaps did not hear her question.
She sighed two or three times and began to stir restlessly. "Since
you murdered him, you must help me bury him."
"What's to be done? This is a most fearful crime."
"You art a most fearful man. Why did you come here, to do all this?
What are we to you?"
"Unfortunately you are right."
Another pause ensued.
"It's no use standing here," said Tydomin. "Nothing can be done. you
must come with me."
"Come with you? Where to?"
"To Disscourn. There's a burning lake on the far side of it. He
always wished to be cast there after death. We can do that after
Blodsombre - in the meantime we must take him home."
"You're a callous, heartless woman. Why should he be buried when
that poor girl must remain unburied?"
"You know that's out of the question," replied Tydomin quietly.
Maskull's eyes roamed about agitatedly, apparently seeing nothing.
"We must do something," she continued. "I shall go. you can't wish
to stay here alone?"
"No, I couldn't stay here - and why should I want to? You want me to
carry the corpse?"
"He can't carry himself, and you murdered him. Perhaps it will ease
your mind to carry it."
"Ease my mind?" said Maskull, rather stupidly.
"There's only one relief for remorse, and that's voluntary pain."
"And have you no remorse?" he asked, fixing her with a heavy eye.
"These crimes are yours, Maskull," she said in a low but incisive
They walked over to Crimtyphon's body, and Maskull hoisted it on to
his shoulders. It weighed heavier than he had thought. Tydomin did
not offer to assist him to adjust the ghastly burden.
She crossed the isthmus, followed by Maskull. Their path lay through
sunshine and shadow. Branchspell was blazing in a cloudless sky, the
heat was insufferable - streams of sweat coursed down his face, and
the corpse seemed to grow heavier and heavier. Tydomin always walked
in front of him. His eyes were fastened in an unseeing stare on her
white, womanish calves; he looked neither to right nor left. His
features grew sullen. At the end of ten minutes he suddenly allowed
his burden to slip off his shoulders on to the ground, where it lay
sprawled every which way. He called out to Tydomin.
She quickly looked around.
"Come here. It has just occurred to me" - he laughed - "why should I
be carrying this corpse - and why should I be following you at all?
What surprises me is, why this has never struck me before."
She at once came back to him. "I suppose you're tried, Maskull. Let
us sit down. Perhaps you have come a long way this morning?"
"Oh, it's not tiredness, but a sudden gleam of sense. Do you know of
any reason why I should be acting as your porter?" He laughed again,
but nevertheless sat down on the ground beside her.
Tydomin neither looked at him nor answered. Her head was half bent,
so as to face the northern sky, where the Alppain light was still
glowing. Maskull followed her gaze, and also watched the glow for a
moment or two in silence.
"Why don't you speak?" he asked at last.
"What does that light suggest to you, Maskull?"
"I'm not speaking of that light."
"Doesn't it suggest anything at all?"
"Perhaps it doesn't. What does it matter?"
Maskull grew sullen again. "Sacrifice of what? What do you mean?"
Hasn't it entered your head yet," said Tydomin, looking straight in
front of her, and speaking in her delicate, hard manner, "that this
adventure of yours will scarcely come to an end until you have made
some sort of sacrifice?"
He returned no answer, and she said nothing more. In a few minutes'
time Maskull got up of his own accord, and irreverently, and almost
angrily, threw Crimtyphon's corpse over his shoulder again.
"How far do we have to go?" he asked in a surly tone.
"An hour's walk."
"Still, this isn't the sacrifice I mean," said Tydomin quietly, as
she went on in front.
Almost immediately they reached more difficult ground. They had to
pass from peak to peak, as from island to island. In some cases they
were able to stride or jump across, but in others they had to make
use of rude bridges of fallen timber. It appeared to be a frequented
path. Underneath were the black, impenetrable abysses - on the
surface were the glaring sunshine, the gay, painted rocks, the
chaotic tangle of strange plants. There were countless reptiles and
insects. The latter were thicker built than those of Earth -
consequently still more disgusting, and some of them were of enormous
size. One monstrous insect, as large as a horse, stood right in the
centre of their path without budging. It was armour-plated, had jaws
like scimitars, and underneath its body was a forest of legs.
Tydomin gave one malignant look at it, and sent it crashing into the
'What have I to offer, except my life?" Maskull suddenly broke out.
"And what good is that? It won't bring that poor girl back into the
"Sacrifice is not for utility. It's a penalty which we pay."
"I know that."
"The point is whether you can go on enjoying life, after what has
She waited for Maskull to come even with her.
"Perhaps you imagine I'm not man enough - you imagine that because I
allowed poor Oceaxe to die for me - "
"She did die for you," said Tydomin, in a quiet, emphatic voice.
"That would be a second blunder of yours," returned Maskull, just as
firmly. "I was not in love with Oceaxe, and I'm not in love with
"Your life is not required."
"Then I don't understand what you want, or what you are speaking
"It's not for me to ask a sacrifice from you, Maskull. That would be
compliance on your part, but not sacrifice. You must wait until you
feel there's nothing else for you to do."
"It's all very mysterious."
The conversation was abruptly cut short by a prolonged and frightful
crashing, roaring sound, coming from a short distance ahead. It was
accompanied by a violent oscillation of the ground on which they
stood. They looked up, startled, just in time to witness the final
disappearance of a huge mass of forest land, not two hundred yards in
front of them. Several acres of trees. plants, rocks, and soil, with
all its teeming animal life, vanished before their eyes, like a magic
story. The new chasm was cut, as if by a knife. Beyond its farther
edge the Alppain glow burned blue just over the horizon.
"Now we shall have to make a detour," said Tydomin, halting.
Maskull caught hold of her with his third hand. "Listen to me, while
I try to describe what I'm feeling. When I saw that landslip,
everything I have heard about the last destruction of the world came
into my mind. It seemed to me as if I were actually witnessing it,
and that the world were really falling to pieces. Then, where the
land was, we now have this empty, awful gulf - that's to say,
nothing - and it seems to me as if our life will come to the same
condition, where there was something there will be nothing. But that
terrible blue glare on the opposite side is exactly like the eye of
fate. It accuses us, and demands what we have made of our life,
which is no more. At the same time, it is grand and joyful. The joy
consists in this - that it is in our power to give freely what will
later on be taken from us by force."
Tydomin watched him attentively. "Then your feeling is that your
life is worthless, and you make a present of it to the first one who
"No, it goes beyond that. I feel that the only thing worth living for
is to be so magnanimous that fate itself will be astonished at us.
Understand me. It isn't cynicism, or bitterness, or despair, but
heroism.... It's hard to explain."
"Now you shall hear what sacrifice I offer you, Maskull. It's a
heavy one, but that's what you seem to wish."
"That is so. In my present mood it can't be too heavy."
"Then, if you are in earnest, resign your body to me. Now that
Crimtyphon's dead, I'm tired of being a woman."
"I fail to comprehend."
"Listen, then. I wish to start a new existence in your body. I wish
to be a male. I see it isn't worth while being a woman. I mean to
dedicate my own body to Crimtyphon. I shall tie his body and mine
together, and give them a common funeral in the burning lake. That's
the sacrifice I offer you. As I said, it's a hard one."
"So you do ask me to die. Though how you can make use of my body is
difficult to understand."
"No, I don't ask you to die. You will go on living."
"How is it possible without a body?"
Tydomin gazed at him earnestly. "There are many such beings, even in
your world. There you call them spirits, apparitions, phantoms.
They are in reality living wills, deprived of material bodies, always
longing to act and enjoy, but quite unable to do so. Are you noble-
minded enough to accept such a state, do you think?"
"If it's possible, I accept it," replied Maskull quietly. "Not in
spite of its heaviness, but because of it. But how is it possible?"
"Undoubtedly there are very many things possible in our world of
which you have no conception. Now let us wait till we get home. I
don't hold you to your word, for unless it's a free sacrifice I will
have nothing to do with it."
"I am not a man who speaks lightly. If you can perform this miracle,
you have my consent, once for all."
"Then we'll leave it like that for the present," said Tydomin sadly.
They proceeded on their way. Owing to the subsidence, Tydomin seemed
rather doubtful at first as to the right road, but by making a long
divergence they eventually got around to the other side of the newly
formed chasm. A little later on, in a narrow copse crowning a
miniature, insulated peak, they fell in with a man. He was resting
himself against a tree, and looked tired, overheated, and despondent.
He was young. His beardless expression bore an expression of unusual
sincerity, and in other respects he seemed a hardy, hardworking
youth, of an intellectual type. His hair was thick, short, and
flaxen. He possessed neither a sorb nor a third arm - so presumably
he was not a native of Ifdawn. His forehead, however, was disfigured
by what looked like a haphazard assortment of eyes, eight in number,
of different sizes and shapes. They went in pairs, and whenever two
were in use, it was indicated by a peculiar shining - the rest
remained dull, until their turn came. In addition to the upper eyes
he had the two lower ones, but they were vacant and lifeless. This
extraordinary battery of eyes, alternatively alive and dead, gave the
young man an appearance of almost alarming mental activity. He was
wearing nothing but a sort of skin kilt. Maskull seemed somehow to
recognise the face, though he had certainly never set eyes on it
Tydomin suggested to him to set down the corpse, and both sat down to
rest in the shade.
"Question him, Maskull," she said, rather carelessly, jerking her
head toward the stranger.
Maskull sighed and asked aloud, from his seat on the ground, "What's
your name, and where do you come from?"
The . man studied him for a few moments, first with one pair of eyes,
then with another, then with a third. He next turned his attention
to Tydomin, who occupied him a still longer time. He replied at
last, in a dry, manly, nervous voice. "I am Digrung. I have arrived
here from Matterplay." His colour kept changing, and Maskull suddenly
realised of whom he reminded him. It was of Joiwind.
"Perhaps you're going to Poolingdred, Digrung?" he inquired,
"As a matter of fact I am - if I can find my way out of this accursed
"Possibly you are acquainted with Joiwind there?"
"She's my sister. I'm on my way to see her now. Why, do you know
"I met her yesterday."
"What is your name, then?"
"I shall tell her I met you. This will be our first meeting for four
years. Is she well, and happy?"
"Both, as far as I could judge. You know Panawe?"
"Her husband - yes. But where do you come from? I've seen nothing
like you before."
"From another world. Where is Matterplay?"
"It's the first country one comes to beyond the Sinking Sea."
"What is it like there - how do you amuse yourselves? The same old
murders and sudden deaths?"
"Are you ill?" asked Digrung. "Who is this woman, why are you
following at her heels like a slave? She looks insane to me. What's
that corpse - why are you dragging it around the country with you?"
Tydomin smiled. "I've already heard it said about Matterplay, that
if one sows an answer there, a rich crop of questions immediately
springs up. But why do you make this unprovoked attack on me,
"I don't attack you, woman. but I know you. I see into you, and I
see insanity. That wouldn't matter, but I don't like to see a man of
intelligence like Maskull caught in your filthy meshes."
"I suppose even you clever Matterplay people sometimes misjudge
character. However, I don't mind. Your opinion's nothing to me,
Digrung. You'd better answer his questions, Maskull. Not for his
own sake - but your feminine friend is sure to be curious about your
having been seen carrying a dead man."
Maskull's underlip shot out. "Tell your sister nothing, Digrung.
Don't mention my name at all. I don't want her to know about this
meeting of ours."
"I don't wish it - isn't that enough?"
Digrung looked impassive.
"Thoughts and words," he said, "which don't correspond with the real
events of the world are considered most shameful in Matterplay."
"I'm not asking you to lie, only to keep silent."
"To hide the truth is a special branch of lying. I can't accede to
your wish. I must tell Joiwind everything, as far as I know it."
Maskull got up, and Tydomin followed his example.
She touched Digrung on the arm and gave him a strange look. "The
dead man is my husband, and Maskull murdered him. Now you'll
understand why he wishes you to hold your tongue."
"I guessed there was some foul play," said Digrung. "It doesn't
matter - I can't falsify facts. Joiwind must know."
"You refuse to consider her feelings?" said Maskull, turning pale.
"Feelings which flourish on illusions, and sicken and die on
realities, aren't worth considering. But Joiwind's are not of that
"If you decline to do what I ask, at least return home without seeing
her; your sister will get very little pleasure out of the meeting
when she hears your news."
"What are these strange relations between you?" demanded Digrung,
eying him with suddenly aroused suspicion.
Maskull stared back in a sort of bewilderment. "Good God! You don't
doubt your own sister. That pure angel!"
Tydomin caught hold of him delicately. "I don't know Joiwind, but,
whoever she is and whatever she's like, I know this - she's more
fortunate in her friend than in her brother. Now, if you really
value her happiness, Maskull, you will have to take some firm step or
"I mean to. Digrung, I shall stop your journey."
"If you intend a second murder, no doubt you are big enough."
Maskull turned around to Tydomin and laughed. "I seem to be leaving
a wake of corpses behind me on this journey."
"Why a corpse? There's no need to kill him."
"Thanks for that!" said Digrung dryly. "All the same, some crime is
about to burst. I feel it."
"What must I do, then?" asked Maskull.
"It is not my business, and to tell the truth I am not very
interested.... If I were in your place, Maskull, I would not hesitate
long. Don't you understand how to absorb these creatures, who set
their feeble, obstinate wills against yours?"
"That is a worse crime," said Maskull.
"Who knows? He will live, but he will tell no tales."
Digrung laughed, but changed colour. "I was right then. The monster
has sprung into the light of day."
Maskull laid a hand on his shoulder. "You have the choice, and we
are not joking. Do as I ask."
"You have fallen low, Maskull. But you are walking in a dream, and I
can't talk to you. As for you, woman - sin must be like a pleasant
bath to you.. .."
"There are strange ties between Maskull and myself; but you are a
passer-by, a foreigner. I care nothing for you."
"Nevertheless, I shall not be frightened out of my plans, which are
legitimate and right."
"Do as you please," said Tydomin. "If you come to grief, your
thoughts will hardly have corresponded with the real events of the
world, which is what you boast about. It is no affair of mine."
"I shall go on, and not back!" exclaimed Digrung, with angry
Tydomin threw a swift, evil smile at Maskull. "Bear witness that I
have tried to persuade this young man. Now you must come to a quick
decision in your own mind as to which is of the greatest importance,
Digrung's happiness or Joiwind's. Digrung won't allow you to
preserve them both."
"It won't take me long to decide. Digrung, I gave you a last chance
to change your mind."
"As long as it's in my power I shall go on, and warn my sister
against her criminal friends."
Maskull again clutched at him, but this time with violence.
Instructed in his actions by some new and horrible instinct, he
pressed the young man tightly to his body with all three arms. A
feeling of wild, sweet delight immediately passed through him. Then
for the first time he comprehended the triumphant joys of
"absorbing." It satisfied the hunger of the will, exactly as food
satisfies the hunger of the body. Digrung proved feeble - he made
little opposition. His personality passed slowly and evenly into
Maskull's. The latter became strong and gorged. The victim
gradually became paler and limper, until Maskull held a corpse in his
arms. He dropped the body, and stood trembling. He had committed
his second crime. He felt no immediate difference in his soul, but
Tydomin shed a sad smile on him, like winter sunshine. He half
expected her to speak, but she said nothing. Instead, she made a
sign to him to pick up Crimtyphon's corpse. As he obeyed, he
wondered why Digrung's dead face did not wear the frightful
"Why hasn't he altered?" he muttered to himself.
Tydomin heard him. She kicked Digrung lightly with her little foot.
"He isn't dead - that's why. The expression You mean is waiting for
"Then is that my real character?"
She laughed softly. "You came here to carve a strange world, and now
it appears you are carved yourself. Oh, there's no doubt about it,
Maskull. You needn't stand there gaping. You belong to Shaping,
like the rest of us. You are not a king, or a god."
"Since when have I belonged to him?"
"What does that matter? Perhaps since you first breathed the air of
Tormance, or perhaps since five minutes ago."
Without waiting for his response, she set off through the copse, and
strode on to the next island. Maskull followed, physically
distressed and looking very grave.
The journey continued for half an hour longer, without incident. The
character of the scenery slowly changed. The mountaintops became
loftier and more widely separated from one another. The gaps were
filled with rolling, white clouds, which bathed the shores of the
peaks like a mysterious sea. To pass from island to island was hard
work, the intervening spaces were so wide - Tydomin, however, knew
the way. The intense light, the violet-blue sky, the patches of
vivid landscape, emerging from the white vapour-ocean, made a
profound impression on Maskull's mind. The glow of Alppain was
hidden by the huge mass of Disscourn, which loomed up straight in
front of them.
The green snow on the top of the gigantic pyramid had by now
completely melted away. The black, gold, and crimson of its mighty
cliffs stood out with terrific brilliance. They were directly
beneath the bulk of the mountain, which was not a mile away. It did
not appear dangerous to climb, but he was unaware on which side of it
their destination lay.
It was split from top to bottom by numerous straight fissures. A few
pale-green waterfalls descended here and there, like narrow,
motionless threads. The face of the mountain was rugged and bare.
It was strewn with detached boulders, and great, jagged rocks
projected everywhere like iron teeth. Tydomin pointed to a small
black hole near the base, which might be a cave. "That is where I
"You live here alone?"
"It's an odd choice for a woman - and you are not unbeautiful,
"A woman's life is over at twenty-five," she replied, sighing. "And
I am far older than that. Ten years ago it would have been I who
lived yonder, and not Oceaxe. Then all this wouldn't have happened."
A quarter of an hour later they stood within the mouth of the cave.
It was ten feet high, and its interior was impenetrably black.
"Put down the body in the entrance, out of the sun," directed
Tydomin. He did so.
She cast a keenly scrutinising glance at him. "Does your resolution
still hold, Maskull?"
"Why shouldn't it hold? My brains are not feathers.'
"Follow me, then."
They both stepped into the cave. At that very moment a sickening
crash, like heavy thunder just over their heads, set Maskull's
weakened heart thumping violently. An avalanche of boulders, stones,
and dust, swept past the cave entrance from above. If their going in
had been delayed by a single minute, they would have been killed.
Tydomin did not even look up. She took his hand in hers, and started
walking with him into the darkness. The temperature became as cold
as ice. At the first bend the light from the outer world
disappeared, leaving them in absolute blackness. Maskull kept
stumbling over the uneven ground, but she kept tight hold of him, and
hurried him along.
The tunnel seemed of interminable length. Presently, however, the
atmosphere changed - or such was his impression. He was somehow led
to imagine that they had come to a larger chamber. Here Tydomin
stopped, and then forced him down with quiet pressure. His groping
hand encountered stone and, by feeling it all over, he discovered
that it was a sort of stone slab, or couch, raised a foot or eighteen
inches from the ground. She told him to lie down.
"Has the time come?" asked Maskull.
He lay there waiting in the darkness, ignorant of what was going to
happen. He felt her hand clasping his. without perceiving any
gradation, he lost all consciousness of his body; he was no longer
able to feel his limbs or internal organs. His mind remained active
and alert. Nothing particular appeared to be taking place.
Then the chamber began to grow light, like very early morning. He
could see nothing, but the retina of his eyes was affected. He
fancied that he heard music, but while he was listening for it, it
stopped. The light grew stronger, the air grew warmer; he heard the
confused sound of distant voices.
Suddenly Tydomin gave his hand a powerful squeeze. He heard someone
scream faintly, and then the light leaped up, and he saw everything
He was lying on a wooden couch, in a strangely decorated room,
lighted by electricity. His hand was being squeezed, not by Tydomin,
but by a man dressed in the garments of civilisation, with whose face
he was certainly familiar, but under what circumstances he could not
recall. Other people stood in the background - they too were vaguely
known to him. He sat up and began to smile, without any especial
reason; and then stood upright.
Everybody seemed to be watching him with anxiety and emotion - he
wondered why. Yet he felt that they were all acquaintances. Two in
particular he knew - the man at the farther end of the room, who
paced restlessly backward and forward, his face transfigured by
stern, holy grandeur; and that other big, bearded man - who was
himself. Yes - he was looking at his own double. But it was just as
if a crime-riddled man of middle age were suddenly confronted with
his own photograph as an earnest, idealistic youth.
His other self spoke to him. He heard the sounds, but did not
comprehend the sense. Then the door was abruptly flung open, and a
short, brutish - looking individual leaped in. He began to behave in
an extraordinary manner to everyone around him; and after that came
straight up to him - Maskull. He spoke some words, but they were
incomprehensible. A terrible expression came over the newcomer's
face, and he grasped his neck with a pair of hairy hands. Maskull
felt his bones bending and breaking, excruciating pains passed
through all the nerves of his body, and he experienced a sense of
impending death. He cried out, and sank helplessly on the floor, in
a heap. The chamber and the company vanished - the light went out.
Once more he found himself in the blackness of the cave. He was this
time lying on the ground, but Tydomin was still with him, holding his
hand. He was in horrible bodily agony, but this was only a setting
for the despairing anguish that filled his mind.
Tydomin addressed him in tones of gentle reproach. "Why are you back
so soon? I've not had time yet. You must return."
He caught hold of her, and pulled himself up to his feet. She gave a
low scream, as though in pain. "What does this mean - what are you
"Krag - " began Maskull, but the effort to produce his words choked
him, so that he was obliged to stop.
"Krag - what of Krag? Tell me quickly what has happened. Free my
He gripped her arm tighter.
"Yes, I've seen Krag. I'm awake."
"Oh! You are awake, awake."
"And you must die," said Maskull, in an awful voice.
"But why? What has happened? ...
"You must die, and I must kill you. Because I am awake, and for no
other reason. You blood-stained dancing mistress!"
Tydomin breathed hard for a little time. Then she seemed suddenly to
regain her self-possession.
"You won't offer me violence, surely, in this black cave?"
"No, the sun shall look on, for it is not a murder. But rest assured
that you must die - you must expiate your fearful crimes."
"You have already said so, and I see you have the power. You have
escaped me. It is very curious. Well, then, Maskull, let us come
outside. I am not afraid. But kill me courteously, for I have also
been courteous to you. I make no other supplication."
BY THE TIME that they regained the mouth of the cavern, Blodsombre
was at its height. In front of them the scenery sloped downward - a
long succession of mountain islands in a sea of clouds. Behind them
the bright, stupendous crags of Disscourn loomed up for a thousand
feet or more. Maskull's eyes were red, and his face looked stupid;
he was still holding the woman by the arm. She made no attempt to
speak, or to get away. She seemed perfectly gentle and composed.
After gazing at the country for along time in silence, he turned
toward her. "Whereabouts is the fiery lake you spoke of?"
"It lies on the other side of the mountain. But why do you ask?"
"It is just as well if we have some way to walk. I shall grow calmer,
and that's what I want. I wish you to understand that what is going
to happen is not a murder, but an execution."
"It will taste the same," said Tydomin.
"When I have gone out of this country, I don't wish to feel that I
have left a demon behind me, wandering at large. That would not be
fair to others. So we will go to the lake, which promises an easy
death for you."
She shrugged her shoulders. "We must wait till Blodsombre is over."
"Is this a time for luxurious feelings? However hot it is now, we
will both be cool by evening. We must start at
"Without doubt, you are the master, Maskull.... May I not carry
Maskull looked at her strangely.
"I grudge no man his funeral."
She painfully hoisted the body on her narrow shoulders, and they
stepped out into the sunlight. The heat struck them like a blow on
the head. Maskull moved aside, to allow her to precede him, but no
compassion entered his heart. He brooded over the wrongs the woman
had done him.
The way went along the south side of the great pyramid, near its
base. It was a rough road, clogged with boulders and crossed by
cracks and water gullies; they could see the water, but could not get
at it. There was no shade. Blisters formed on their skin, while all
the water in their blood seemed to dry up.
Maskull forgot his own tortures in his devil's delight at Tydomin's.
"Sing me a song!" he called out presently. "A characteristic one."
She turned her head and gave him a long, peculiar look; then, without
any sort of expostulation, started singing. Her voice was low and
weird. The song was so extraordinary that he had to rub his eyes to
ascertain whether he was awake or dreaming. The slow surprises of
the grotesque melody began to agitate him in a horrible fashion; the
words were pure nonsense - or else their significance was too deep
"Where, in the name of all unholy things, did you acquire that stuff,
Tydomin shed a sickly smile, while the corpse swayed about with
ghastly jerks over her left shoulder. She held it in position with
her two left arms. "It's a pity we could not have met as friends,
Maskull. I could have shown you a side of Tormance which now perhaps
you will never see. The wild, mad, side. But now it's too late, and
it doesn't matter."
They turned the angle of the mountain, and started to traverse the
"Which is the quickest way out of this miserable land?" asked
"It is easiest to go to Sant."
"Will we see it from anywhere?"
"Yes, though it is a long way off."
"Have you been there?"
"I am a woman, and interdicted."
"True. I have heard something of the sort."
"But don't ask me any more questions," said Tydomin, who was becoming
Maskull stopped at a little spring. He himself drank, and then made
a cup of his hand for the woman, so that she might not have to lay
down her burden. The gnawl water acted like magic - it seemed to
replenish all the cells of his body as though they had been thirsty
sponge pores, sucking up liquid. Tydomin recovered her self-
About three-quarters of an hour later they worked around the second
corner, and entered into full view of the north aspect of Disscourn.
A hundred yards lower down the slope on which they were walking, the
mountain ended abruptly in a chasm. The air above it was filled with
a sort of green haze, which trembled violently like the atmosphere
immediately over a furnace.
"The lake is underneath," said Tydomin.
Maskull looked curiously about him. Beyond the crater the country
sloped away in a continuous descent to the skyline. Behind them, a
narrow path channelled its way up through the rocks toward the
towering summit of the pyramid. Miles away, in the north-east
quarter, a long, flat - topped plateau raised its head far above all
the surrounding country. It was Sant - and there and then he made up
his mind that that should be his destination that day.
Tydomin meanwhile had walked straight to the gulf, and set down
Crimtyphon's body on the edge. In a minute or two, Maskull joined
her; arrived at the brink, he immediately flung himself at full
length on his chest, to see what could be seen of the lake of fire.
A gust of hot, asphyxiating air smote his face and set him coughing,
but he did not get up until he had stared his fill at the huge sea of
green, molten lava, tossing and swirling at no great distance below,
like a living will.
A faint sound of drumming came up. He listened intently, and as he
did so his heart quickened and the black cares rolled away from his
soul. All the world and its accidents seemed at that moment false,
and without meaning.. ..
He climbed abstractedly to his feet. Tydomin was talking to her dead
husband. She was peering into the hideous face of ivory, and
fondling his violet hair. When she perceived Maskull, she hastily
kissed the withered lips, and got up from her knees. Lifting the
corpse with all three arms, she staggered with it to the extreme edge
of the gulf and, after an instant's hesitation, allowed it to drop
into the lava. It disappeared immediately without sound; a metallic
splash came up. That was Crimtyphon's funeral.
"Now I am ready, Maskull."
He did not answer, but stared past her. Another figure was standing,
erect and mournful, not far behind her. It was Joiwind. Her face
was wan, and there was an accusing look in her eyes. Maskull knew
that it was a phantasm, and that the real Joiwind was miles away, at
"Turn around, Tydomin," he said oddly, "and tell me what you see
"I don't see anything," she answered, looking around.
"But I see Joiwind."
Just as he was speaking, the apparition vanished.
"Now I present you with your life, Tydomin. She wishes it."
The woman fingered her chin thoughtfully.
"I little expected I should ever be beholden for my life to one of my
own sex - but so be it. What really happened to you in my cavern?"
"I really saw Krag."
"Yes, some miracle must have taken place." She suddenly shivered.
"Come, let us leave this horrible spot. I shall never come here
"Yes," said Maskull, "it stinks of death and dying. But where are we
to go - what are we to do? Take me to Sant. I must get away from
this hellish land."
Tydomin remained standing, dull and hollow - eyed. Then she gave an
abrupt, bitter little laugh. "We make our journey together in
singular stages. Rather than be alone, I'll come with you - but you
know that if I set foot in Sant they will kill me."
"At least set me on the way. I wish to get there before night. Is it
"If you are willing to take risks with nature. And why should you
not take risks today? Your luck holds. But someday or other it
won't hold - your luck."
"Let us start," said Maskull. "The luck I've had so far is nothing
to brag about."
Blodsombre was over when they set off; it was early afternoon, but
the heat seemed more stifling than ever. They made no more pretence
at conversation; both were buried in their own painful thoughts. The
land fell away from Disscourn in all other directions, but toward
Sant there was a gentle, persistent rise. Its dark, distant plateau
continued to dominate the landscape, and after walking for an hour
they seemed none the nearer to it. The air was stale and stagnant.
By and by, an upright object, apparently the work of man, attracted
Maskull's notice. It was a slender tree stem, with the bark still
on, imbedded in the stony ground. From the upper end three branches
sprang out, pointing aloft at a sharp angle. They were stripped to
twigs and leaves and, getting closer, he saw that they had been
artificially fastened on, at equal distances from each other.
As he stared at the object, a strange, sudden flush of confident
vanity and self - sufficiency seemed to pass through him, but it was
so momentary that he could be sure of nothing.
"What may that be, Tydomin?"
"It is Hator's Trifork."
"And what is its purpose?"
"It's a guide to Sant."
"But who or what is Hator?"
"Hator was the founder of Sant - many thousands of years ago. He
laid down the principles they all live by, and that trifork is his
symbol. When I was a little child my father told me the legends, but
I've forgotten most of them."
Maskull regarded it attentively.
"Does it affect you in any way?"
"And why should it do that?" she said, dropping her lip scornfully.
"I am only a woman, and these are masculine
"A sort of gladness came over me," said Maskull, "but perhaps I am
They passed on. The scenery gradually changed in character. The
solid parts of the land grew more continuous, the fissures became
narrower and more infrequent. There were now no more subsidences or
upheavals. The peculiar nature of the Ifdawn Marest appeared to be
giving place to a different order of things.
Later on, they encountered a flock of pale blue jellies floating in
the air. They were miniature animals. Tydomin caught one in her
hand and began to eat it, just as one eats a luscious pear plucked
from a tree. Maskull, who had fasted since early morning, was not
slow in following her example. A sort of electric vigour at once
entered his limbs and body, his muscles regained their elasticity,
his heart began to beat with hard, slow, strong throbs.
"Food and body seem to agree well in this world," he remarked
She glanced toward him. "Perhaps the explanation is not in the food,
but in your body."
"I brought my body with me."
"You brought your soul with you, but that's altering fast, too."
In a copse they came across a short, wide tree, without leaves, but
possessing a multitude of thin, flexible branches, like the tentacles
of a cuttlefish. Some of these branches were moving rapidly. A
furry animal, somewhat resembling a wildcat, leaped about among them
in the most extraordinary way. But the next minute Maskull was
shocked to realise that the beast was not leaping at all, but was
being thrown from branch to branch by the volition of the tree,
exactly as an imprisoned mouse is thrown by a cat from paw to paw.
He watched the spectacle a while with morbid interest.
"That's a gruesome reversal of roles, Tydomin."
"One can see you're disgusted," she replied, stifling a yawn. "But
that is because you are a slave to words. If you called that plant
an animal, you would find its occupation perfectly natural and
pleasing. And why should you not call it an animal?"
"I am quite aware that, as long as I remain in the Ifdawn Marest, I
shall go on listening to this sort of language."
They trudged along for an hour or more without talking. The day
became overcast. A thin mist began to shroud the landscape, and the
sun changed into an immense ruddy disk which could be stared at
without flinching. A chill, damp wind blew against them. Presently
it grew still darker, the sun disappeared and, glancing first at his
companion and then at himself, Maskull noticed that their skin and
clothing were coated by a kind of green hoarfrost.
The land was now completely solid. About half a mile, in front of
them, against a background of dark fog, a moving forest of tall
waterspouts gyrated slowly and gracefully hither and thither. They
were green and self-luminous, and looked terrifying. Tydomin
explained that they were not waterspouts at all, but mobile columns
"Then they are dangerous?"
"So we think," she answered, watching them closely.
"Someone is wandering there who appears to have a different opinion."
Among the spouts, and entirely encompassed by them, a man was walking
with a slow, calm, composed gait, his back turned toward Maskull and
Tydomin. There was something unusual in his appearance - his form
looked extraordinarily distinct, solid, and real.
"If there's danger, he ought to be warned," said Maskull.
"He who is always anxious to teach will learn nothing," returned the
woman coolly. She restrained Maskull by a pressure of the arm, and
continued to watch.
The base of one of the columns touched the man. He remained
unharmed, but turned sharply around, as if for the first time made
aware of the proximity of these deadly waltzers. Then he raised
himself to his full height, and stretched both arms aloft above his
head, like a diver. He seemed to be addressing the columns.
While they looked on, the electric spouts discharged themselves, with
a series of loud explosions. The stranger stood alone, uninjured.
He dropped his arms. The next moment he caught sight of the two, and
stood still, waiting for them to come up. The pictorial clarity of
his person grew more and more noticeable as they approached; his body
seemed to be composed of some substance heavier and denser than solid
Tydomin looked perplexed.
"He must be a Sant man. I have seen no one quite like him before.
This is a day of days for me."
"He must be an individual of great importance," murmured Maskull.
They now came up to him. He was tall, strong, and bearded, and was
clothed in a shirt and breeches of skin. Since turning his back to
the wind, the green deposit on his face and limbs had changed to
streaming moisture, through which his natural colour was visible; it
was that of pale iron. There was no third arm. His face was harsh
and frowning, and a projecting chin pushed the beard forward. On his
forehead there were two flat membranes, like rudimentary eyes, but no
sorb. These membranes were expressionless, but in some strange way
seemed to add vigour to the stem. eyes underneath. When his glance
rested on Maskull, the latter felt as though his brain were being
thoroughly travelled through. The man was middle-aged.
His physical distinctness transcended nature. By contrast with him,
every object in the neighbourhood looked vague and blurred.
Tydomin's person suddenly appeared faint, sketch-like, without
significance, and Maskull realised that it was no better with
himself. A queer, quickening fire began running through his veins.
He turned to the woman. "If this man is going to Sant, I shall bear
him company. We can now part. No doubt you will think it high
"Let Tydomin come too."
The words were delivered in a rough, foreign tongue, but were as
intelligible to Maskull as if spoken in English.
"You who know my name, also know my sex," said Tydomin quietly. "It
is death for me to enter Sant."
"That is the old law. I am the bearer of the new law."
"Is it so - and will it be accepted?"
"The old skin is cracking, the new skin has been silently forming
underneath, the moment of sloughing has arrived."
The storm gathered. The green snow drove against them, as they stood
talking, and it grew intensely cold. None noticed it.
"What is your name?" asked Maskull, with a beating heart.
"My name, Maskull, is Spadevil. You, a voyager across the dark ocean
of space, shall be my first witness and follower. You, Tydomin, a
daughter of the despised sex, shall be my second."
"The new law? But what is it?"
"Until eye sees, of what use it is for ear to hear? .. .. Come, both
of you, to me!"
Tydomin went to him unhesitatingly. Spadevil pressed his hand on her
sorb and kept it there for a few minutes, while he closed his own
eyes. When he removed it, Maskull observed that the sorb was
transformed into twin membranes like Spadevil's own.
Tydomin looked dazed. She glanced quietly about for a little while,
apparently testing her new faculty. Then the tears started to her
eyes and, snatching up Spadevil's hand, she bent over and kissed it
hurriedly many times.
'My past has been bad," she said. "Numbers have received harm from
me, and none good. I have killed and worse. But now I can throw all
that away, and laugh. Nothing can now injure me. Oh, Maskull, you
and I have been fools together!"
"Don't you repent your crimes?" asked Maskull.
"Leave the past alone," said Spadevil. "it cannot be reshaped. The
future alone is ours. it starts fresh and clean from this very
minute. Why do you hesitate, Maskull? Are you afraid?"
"What is the name of, those organs, and what is their function?"
"They are probes, and they are the gates opening into a new world."
Maskull lingered no longer, but permitted Spadevil to cover his sorb.
While the iron hand was still pressing his forehead, the new law
quietly flowed into his consciousness, like a smooth-running stream
of clean water which had hitherto been dammed by his obstructive
will. The law was duty.
Maskull found that his new organs had no independent function of
their own, but only intensified and altered his other senses. When
he used his eyes, ears, or nostrils, the same objects presented
themselves to him, but his judgment concerning them was different.
Previously all external things had existed for him; now he existed
for them. According to whether they served his purpose or were in
harmony with his nature, or otherwise, they had been pleasant or
painful. Now these words "pleasure" and "pain" simply had no
The other two watched him, while he was making himself acquainted
with his new mental outlook. He smiled at them.
"You were quite right, Tydomin," he said, in a bold, cheerful voice.
"We have been fools. So near the light all the time, and we never
guessed it. Always buried in the past or future - systematically
ignoring the present - and now it turns out that apart from the
present we have no life at all."
"Thank Spadevil for it,,, she answered, more loudly than usual.
Maskull looked at the man's dark, concrete form. "Spadevil, now I
mean to follow you to the end. I can do nothing less."
The severe face showed no sign of gratification - not a muscle
"Watch that you don't lose your gift," he said gruffly.
Tydomin spoke. "You promised that I should enter Sant with you."
"Attach yourself to the truth, not to me. For I may die before you,
but the truth will accompany you to your death. However, now let us
journey together, all three of us."
The words had not left his mouth before he put his face against the
fine, driving snow, and pressed onward toward his destination. He
walked with a long stride; Tydomin was obliged to half run. in order
to keep up with him. The three travelled abreast; Spadevil in the
middle. The fog was so dense that it was impossible to see a hundred
yards ahead. The ground was covered by the green snow. The wind
blew in gusts from the Sant highlands. and was piercingly cold.
"Spadevil, are you a man. or more than a man?" asked Maskull.
"He that is not more than a man is nothing."
"Where have you now come from?"
"From brooding, Maskull. Out of no other mother can truth be born. I
have brooded, and rejected; and I have brooded again. Now, after
many months' absence from Sant, the truth at last shines forth for me
in its simple splendour, like an upturned diamond."
"I see its shining," said Maskull. "But how much does it owe to
"Knowledge has its seasons. The blossom was to Hator, the fruit is
to me. Hator also was a brooder - but now his followers do not
brood. In Sant all is icy selfishness, a living death. They hate
pleasure, and this hatred is the greatest pleasure to them."
"But in what way have they fallen off from Hator's doctrines?"
"For him, in his sullen purity of nature, all the world was a snare,
a limed twig. Knowing that pleasure was everywhere, a fierce,
mocking enemy, crouching and waiting at every corner of the road of
life, in order to kill with its sweet sting the naked grandeur of the
soul, he shielded himself behind pain. This also his followers do,
but they do not do it for the sake of the soul, but for the sake of
vanity and pride."
"What is the Trifork?"
"The stem, Maskull, is hatred of pleasure. The first fork is
disentanglement from the sweetness of the world. The second fork is
power over those who still writhe in the nets of illusion. The third
fork is the healthy glow of one who steps into ice-cold water."
"From what land did Hator come?"
"It is not said. He lived in Ifdawn for a while. There are many
legends told of him while there."
"We have a long way to go," said Tydomin. "Relate some of these
The snow had ceased, the day brightened, Branchspell reappeared like
a phantom sun, but bitter blasts of wind
still swept over the plain.
"In those days," said Spadevil, "there existed in Ifdawn a mountain
island separated by wide spaces from the land around it. A handsome
girl, who knew sorcery, caused a bridge to be constructed across
which men and women might pass to it. Having by a false tale drawn
Hator on to this rock, she pushed at the bridge with her foot until
it tumbled into the depths below. 'You and I, Hator, are now
together, and there is no means of separating. I wish to see how long
the famous frost man can withstand the breath, smiles and perfume of
a girl.' Hator said no word, either then or all that day. He stood
till sunset like a tree trunk, and thought of other things. Then the
girl grew passionate, and shook her curls. She rose from where she
was sitting she looked at him, and touched his arm; but he did not
see her. She looked at him, so that all the soul was in her eyes;
and then she fell down dead. Hator awoke from his thoughts, and saw
her lying, still warm, at his feet, a corpse. He passed to the
mainland; but how, it is not related."
Tydomin shuddered. "You too have met your wicked woman, Spadevil;
but your method is a nobler one."
"Don't pity other women," said Spadevil, "but love the right. Hator
also once conversed with Shaping."
"With the Maker of the World?" said Maskull thoughtfully.
"With the Maker of Pleasure. It is told how Shaping defended his
world, and tried to force Hator to acknowledge loveliness and joy.
But Hator, answering all his marvellous speeches in a few concise,
iron words, showed how this joy and beauty was but another name for
the bestiality of souls wallowing in luxury and sloth. Shaping
smiled, and said, 'How comes it that your wisdom is greater than that
of the Master of wisdom?' Hator said, 'My wisdom does not come from
you, nor from your world, but from that other world, which you,
Shaping, have vainly tried to imitate.' Shaping replied, 'What, then,
do you do in my world?' Hator said, 'I am here falsely, and therefore
I am subject to your false pleasures. But I wrap myself in pain -
not because it is good, but because I wish to keep myself as far from
you as possible. For pain is not yours, neither does it belong to
the other world, but it is the shadow cast by your false pleasures.'
Shaping then said, 'What is this faraway other world of which you say
"This is so - this is not so?" How happens it that you alone of all
my creatures have knowledge of it?' But Hator spat at his feet, and
said, 'You lie, Shaping. All have knowledge of it. You, with your
pretty toys, alone obscure it from our view.' Shaping asked, 'What,
then, am I?' Hator answered, 'You are the dreamer of impossible
dreams.' And then the story goes that Shaping departed, ill pleased
with what had been said."
"What other world did Hator refer to?" asked Maskull.
"One where grandeur reigns, Maskull, just as pleasure reigns here."
"Whether grandeur or pleasure, it makes no difference," said Maskull.
"The individual spirit that lives and wishes to live is mean and
"Guard you your pride!" returned Spadevil. "Do not make law for the
universe and for all time, but for yourself and for this small, false
life of yours."
"In what shape did death come to that hard, unconquerable man?" asked
"He lived to be old, but went upright and free-limbed to his last
hour. When he saw that death could not be staved off longer he
determined to destroy himself. He gathered his friends around him;
not from vanity, but that they might see to what lengths the human
soul can go in its perpetual warfare with the voluptuous body.
Standing erect, without support, he died by withholding his breath."
A silence followed, which lasted for perhaps an hour. Their minds
refused to acknowledge the icy winds, but the current of their
thoughts became frozen.
When Branchspell, however, shone out again, though with subdued
power, Maskull's curiosity rose once more. "Your fellow countrymen,
then, Spadevil, are sick with self - love?"
"The men of other countries," said Spadevil, "are the slaves of
pleasure and desire, knowing it. But the men of my country are the
slaves of pleasure and desire, not knowing it."
"And yet that proud pleasure, which rejoices in self-torture, has
something noble in it."
"He who studies himself at all is ignoble. Only by despising soul as
well as body can a man enter into true life."
"On what grounds do they reject women?"
"Inasmuch as a woman has ideal love, and cannot live for herself.
Love for another is pleasure for the loved one, and therefore
injurious to him."
"A forest of false ideas is waiting for your axe," said Maskull.
"But will they allow it?"
"Spadevil knows, Maskull," said Tydomin, "that be it today or be it
tomorrow, love can't be kept out of a land, even by the disciples of
"Beware of love - beware of emotion!" exclaimed Spadevil. "Love is
but pleasure once removed. Think not of pleasing others, but of
"Forgive me, Spadevil, if I am still feminine."
"Right has no sex. So long, Tydomin, as you remember that you are a
woman, so long you will not enter into divine apathy of soul."
"But where there are no women, there are no children," said Maskull.
"How came there to be all these. generations of Hator men?"
"Life breeds passion, passion breeds suffering, suffering breeds the
yearning for relief from suffering. Men throng to Sant from all
parts, in order to have the scars of their souls healed."
"In place of hatred of pleasure, which all can understand, what
simple formula do you offer?"
"Iron obedience to duty," answered Spadevil.
"And if they ask 'How far is this consistent with hatred of
pleasure?' what will your pronouncement be?"
"I do not answer them, but I answer you, Maskull, who ask the
question. Hatred is passion, and all passion springs from the dark
fires of self. Do not hate pleasure at all, but pass it by on one
side, calm and undisturbed."
"What is the criterion of pleasure? How can we always recognise it,
in order to avoid it?"
"Rigidly follow duty, and such questions will not arise."
Later in the afternoon, Tydomin timidly placed her fingers on
"Fearful doubts are in my mind," she said. "This expedition to Sant
may turn out badly. I have seen a vision of you, Spadevil, and myself
lying dead and covered in blood, but Maskull was not there."
"We may drop the torch, but it will not be extinguished, and others
will raise it."
"Show me a sign that you are not as other men - so that I may know
that our blood will not be wasted."
Spadevil regarded her sternly. "I am not a magician. I don't
persuade the senses, but the soul. Does your duty call you to Sant,
Tydomin? Then go there. Does it not call you to Sant? Then go no
farther. Is not this simple? What signs are necessary?"
"Did I not see you dispel those spouts of lightning? No common man
could have done that."
"Who knows what any man can do? This man can do one thing, that man
can do another. But what all men can do is their duty; and to open
their eyes to this, I must go to Sant, and if necessary lay down my
life. Will you not still accompany me?"
"Yes," said Tydomin, "I will follow you to the end. It is all the
more essential, because I keep on displeasing you with my remarks,
and that means I have not yet learned my lesson properly."
"Do not be humble, for humility is only self-judgment, and while we
are thinking of self, we must be neglecting some action we could be
planning or shaping in our mind."
Tydomin continued to be uneasy and preoccupied.
"Why was Maskull not in the picture?" she asked.
"You dwell on this foreboding because you imagine it is tragical.
There is nothing tragical in death, Tydomin, nor in life. There is
only right and wrong. What arises from right or wrong action does
not matter. We are not gods, constructing a world, but simple men
and women, doing our immediate duty. We may die in Sant - so you
have seen it; but the truth will go on living."
"Spadevil, why do you choose Sant to start your work in?" asked
Maskull. "These men with fixed ideas seem to me the least likely of
any to follow a new light."
"Where a bad tree thrives, a good tree will flourish. But where no
tree at all can be found, nothing will grow."
"I understand you," said Maskull. "Here perhaps we are going to
martyrdom, but elsewhere we should resemble men preaching to cattle."
Shortly before sunset they arrived at the extremity of the upland
plain, above which towered the black cliffs of the Sant Levels. A
dizzy, artificially constructed staircase, of more than a thousand
steps of varying depth, twisting and forking in order to conform to
the angles of the precipices, led to the world overhead. In the
place where they stood they were sheltered from the cutting winds.
Branchspell, radiantly shining at last, but on the point of sinking,
filled the cloudy sky with violent, lurid colors, some of the
combinations of which were new to Maskull. The circle of the horizon
was so gigantic, that had he been suddenly carried back to Earth, he
would by comparison have fancied himself to be moving beneath the
dome of some little, closed-in cathedral. He realised that he was on
a foreign planet. But he was not stirred or uplifted by the
knowledge; he was conscious only of moral ideas. Looking backward,
he saw the plain, which for several miles past had been without
vegetation, stretching back away to Disscourn. So regular had been
the ascent, and so great was the distance, that the huge pyramid
looked nothing more than a slight swelling on the. face of the earth.
Spadevil stopped, and gazed over the landscape in silence. In the
evening sunlight his form looked more dense, dark, and real than ever
before. His features were set hard in grimness.
He turned around to his companions. "What is the greatest wonder, in
all this wonderful scene?" he demanded.
"Acquaint us," said Maskull.
"All that you see is born from pleasure, and moves on, from pleasure
to pleasure. Nowhere is right to be found. It is Shaping's world."
"There is another wonder," said Tydomin, and she pointed her finger
toward the sky overhead.
A small cloud, so low down that it was perhaps not more than five
hundred feet above them, was sailing along in front of the dark wall
of cliff. It was in the exact shape of an open human hand, with
downward-pointing fingers. It was stained crimson by the sun; and
one or two tiny cloudlets beneath the fingers looked like falling
drops of blood.
"Who can doubt now that our death is close at hand?" said Tydomin.
"I have been close to death twice today. The first time I was ready,
but now I am more ready, for I shall die side by side with the man
who has given me my first happiness."
"Do not think of death, but of right persistence," replied Spadevil.
"I am not here to tremble before Shaping's portents; but to snatch
men from him."
He at once proceeded to lead the way up the staircase. Tydomin gazed
upward after him for a moment, with an odd, worshiping light in her
eyes. Then she followed him, the second of the party. Maskull
climbed last. He was travel stained, unkempt, and very tired; but
his soul was at peace. As they steadily ascended the almost
perpendicular stairs, the sun got higher in the sky. Its light dyed
their bodies a ruddy gold.
They gained the top. There they found rolling in front of them, as
far as the eye could see, a barren desert of white sand, broken here
and there by large, jagged masses of black rock. Tracts of the sand
were reddened by the sinking sun. The vast expanse of sky was filled
by evil-shaped clouds and wild colors. The freezing wind, flurrying
across the desert, drove the fine particles of sand painfully against
"Where now do you take us?" asked Maskull.
"He who guards the old wisdom of Sant must give up that wisdom to me,
that I may change it. What he says, others will say. I go to find
"And where will you seek him, in this bare country?"
Spadevil struck off toward the north unhesitatingly.
"It is not so far," he said. "It is his custom to be in that part
where Sant overhangs the Wombflash Forest. Perhaps he will be there,
but I cannot say."
Maskull glanced toward Tydomin. Her sunken cheeks, and the dark
circles beneath her eyes told of her extreme weariness.
"The woman is tired, Spadevil," he said.
She smiled, "It's but another step into the land of death. I can
manage it. Give me your arm, Maskull."
He put his arm around her waist, and supported her along that way.
"The sun is now sinking,,, said Maskull. "Will we get there before
"Fear nothing, Maskull and Tydomin; this pain is eating up the evil
in your nature. The road you are walking cannot remain unwalked. We
shall arrive before dark."
The sun then disappeared behind the far - distant ridges that formed
the western boundary of the Ifdawn Marest. The sky blazed up into
more vivid colors. The wind grew colder.
They passed some pools of colourless gnawl water, round the banks of
which were planted fruit trees. Maskull ate some of the fruit. It
was hard, bitter, and astringent; he could not get rid of the taste,
but he felt braced and invigorated by the downward-flowing juices.
No other trees or shrubs were to be seen anywhere. No animals
appeared, no birds or insects. It was a desolate land.
A mile or two passed, when they again approached the edge of the
plateau. Far down, beneath their feet, the great Wombflash Forest
began. But daylight had vanished there; Maskull's eyes rested only
on a vague darkness. He faintly heard what sounded like the distant
sighing of innumerable treetops.
In the rapidly darkening twilight, they came abruptly on a man. He
was standing in a pool, on one leg. A pile of boulders had hidden
him from their view. The water came as far up as his calf. A
trifork, similar to the one Maskull had seen on Disscourn, but
smaller, had been stuck in the mud close by his hand.
They stopped by the side of the pond, and waited. Immediately he
became aware of their presence, the man set down his other leg, and
waded out of the water toward them, picking up his trifork in doing
"This is not Maulger, but Catice," said Spadevil.
"Maugler is dead," said Catice, speaking the same tongue as Spadevil,
but with an even harsher accent, so that the tympanum of Maskull's
ear was affected painfully.
The latter saw before him a bowed, powerful individual, advanced in
years. He wore nothing but a scanty loincloth. His trunk was long
and heavy, but his legs were rather short. His face was beardless,
lemon-coloured, and anxious-looking. It was disfigured by a number
of longitudinal ruts, a quarter of an inch deep, the cavities of
which seemed clogged with ancient dirt. The hair of his head was
black and sparse. Instead of the twin membranous organs of Spadevil,
he possessed but one; and this was in the centre of his brow.
Spadevil's dark, solid person stood out from the rest like a reality
"Has the trifork passed to you?" he demanded.
"Yes. Why have you brought this woman to Sant?"
"I have brought another thing to Sant. I have brought the new faith."
Catice stood motionless, and looked troubled. "State it."
"Shall I speak with many words, or few words?"
"If you wish to say what is not, many words will not suffice. If you
wish to say what is, a few words will be enough."
"To hate pleasure brings pride with it. Pride is a pleasure. To
kill pleasure, we must attach ourselves to duty. While the mind is
planning right action, it has no time to think of pleasure."
"Is that the whole?" asked Catice.
"The truth is simple, even for the simplest man."
"Do you destroy Hator, and all his generations, with a single word?"
"I destroy nature, and set up law."
A long silence followed.
"My probe is double," said Spadevil. "Suffer me to double yours, and
you will see as I see."
"Come you here, you big man!" said Catice to Maskull. Maskull
advanced a step closer.
"Do you follow Spadevil in his new faith?"
"As far as death," exclaimed Maskull.
Catice picked up a flint. "With this stone I strike out one of your
two probes. When you have but one, you will see with me, and you
will recollect with Spadevil. Choose you then the superior faith,
and I shall obey your choice."
"Endure this little pain, Maskull, for the sake of future men," said
"The pain is nothing," replied Maskull, "but I fear the result."
"Permit me, although I am only a woman, to take his place, Catice,"
said Tydomin, stretching out her hand.
He struck at it violently with the flint, and gashed it from wrist to
thumb; the pale carmine blood spouted up. "What brings this kiss-
lover to Sant?" he said. "How does she presume to make the rules of
life for the sons of Hator?"
She bit her lip, and stepped back. "Well then, Maskull, accept! I
certainly should not have played false to Spadevil; but you hardly
"If he bids me, I must do it," said Maskull. "But who knows what
will come of it?"
Spadevil spoke. "Of all the descendants of Hator, Catice is the most
wholehearted and sincere. He will trample my truth underfoot,
thinking me a demon sent by Shaping, to destroy the work of this
land. But a seed will escape, and my blood and yours, Tydomin, will
wash it. Then men will know that my destroying evil is their
greatest good. But none here will live to see that."
Maskull now went quite close to Catice, and offered his head. Catice
raised his hand, and after holding the flint poised for a moment,
brought it down with adroitness and force upon the left-hand probe.
Maskull cried out with the pain. The blood streamed down, and the
function of the organ was destroyed.
There was a pause, while he walked to and fro, trying to staunch the
"What now do you feel, Maskull? What do you see?" inquired Tydomin
He stopped, and stared hard at her. "I now see straight," he said
"What does that mean?"
He continued to wipe the blood from his forehead. He looked
troubled. "Henceforward, as long as I live, I shall fight with my
nature, and refuse to feel pleasure. And I advise you to do the
Spadevil gazed at him sternly. "Do you renounce my teaching?"
Maskull, however, returned the gaze without dismay. Spadevil's
image-like clearness of form had departed for him; his frowning face
he knew to be the deceptive portico of a weak and confused intellect.
"It is false."
"Is it false to sacrifice oneself for another?" demanded Tydomin.
"I can't argue as yet," said Maskull. "At this moment the world with
its sweetness seems to me a sort of charnel house. I feel a loathing
for everything in it, including myself. I know no more."
"Is there no duty?" asked Spadevil, in a harsh tone.
"It appears to me but a cloak under which we share the pleasure of
Tydomin pulled at Spadevil's arm. "Maskull has betrayed you, as he
has so many others. Let us go."
He stood fast. "You have changed quickly, Maskull."
Maskull, without answering him, turned to Catice. "Why do men go on
living in this soft, shameful world, when they can kill themselves?"
"Pain is the native air of Surtur's children. To what other air do
you wish to escape?"
"Surtur's children? Is not Surtur Shaping?"
"It is the greatest of lies. It is Shaping's masterpiece."
"Answer, Maskull!" said Spadevil. "Do you repudiate right action?"
"Leave me alone. Go back! I am not thinking of you, and your ideas.
I wish you no harm."
The darkness came on fast. There was another prolonged silence.
Catice threw away the flint, and picked up his staff. "The woman
must return home," he said.
"She was persuaded here, and did not come freely. You, Spadevil,
must die-backslider as you are!"
Tydomin said quietly, "He has no power to enforce this. Are you
going to allow the truth to fall to the ground, Spadevil?"
"It will not perish by my death, but by my efforts to escape from
death. Catice, I accept your judgment."
Tydomin smiled. "For my part, I am too tired to walk farther today,
so I shall die with him."
Catice said to Maskull, "Prove your sincerity. Kill this man and his
mistress, according to the laws of Hator."
"I can't do that. I have travelled in friendship with them."
"You denied duty; and now you must do your duty," said Spadevil,
calmly stroking his beard. "Whatever law you accept, You must obey,
without turning to right or left. Your law commands that we must be
stoned; and it will soon be dark."
"Have you not even this amount of manhood?" exclaimed Tydomin.
Maskull moved heavily. "Be my witness, Catice, that the thing was
forced on me."
"Hator is looking on, and approving," replied Catice.
Maskull then went apart to the pile of boulders scattered by the side
of the pool. He glanced about him, and selected two large fragments
of rock. the heaviest that he thought he could carry. With these in
his arms, he staggered back.
He dropped them on the ground, and stood, recovering his breath.
When he could speak again, he said, "I have a bad heart for the
business. Is there no alternative? Sleep here tonight, Spadevil,
and in the morning go back to where you have come from. No one shall
Spadevil's ironic smile was lost in the gloom.
"Shall I brood again, Maskull, for still another year, and after that
come back to Sant with other truths? Come, waste no time, but choose
the heavier stone for me, for I am stronger than Tydomin."
Maskull lifted one of the rocks, and stepped out four full paces.
Spadevil confronted him, erect, and waited tranquilly.
The huge stone hurtled through the air. Its flight looked like a
dark shadow. It struck Spadevil full in the face, crushing his
features, and breaking his neck. He died instantaneously.
Tydomin looked away from the fallen man.
"Be very quick, Maskull, and don't let me keep him waiting."
He panted, and raised the second stone. She placed herself in front
of Spadevil's body, and stood there, unsmiling and cold.
The blow caught her between breast and chin, and she fell. Maskull
went to her, and, kneeling on the ground, half - raised her in his
arms. There she breathed out her last sighs.
After that, he laid her down again, and rested heavily on his hands,
while he peered into the dead face. The transition from its heroic,
spiritual expression to the vulgar and grinning mask of Crystalman
came like a flash; but he saw it.
He stood up in the darkness, and pulled Catice toward him.
"Is that the true likeness of Shaping?"
"It is Shaping stripped of illusion."
"How comes this horrible world to exist?"
Catice did not answer.
"Who is Surtur?"
"You will get nearer to him tomorrow; but not here."
"I am wading through too much blood," said Maskull. "Nothing good
can come of it."
"Do not fear change and destruction; but laughter and joy."
"Tell me, Catice. If I had elected to follow Spadevil, would you
really have accepted his faith?"
"He was a great-souled man," replied Catice. "I see that the pride
of our men is only another sprouting - out of pleasure. Tomorrow I
too shall leave Sant, to reflect on all this."
Maskull shuddered. "Then these two deaths were not a necessity, but
"His part was played and henceforward the woman would have dragged
down his ideas, with her soft love and loyalty. Regret nothing,
stranger, but go away at once out of the land."
"Tonight? Where shall I go?"
"To Wombflash, where you will meet the deepest minds. I will put you
on the way."
He linked his arm in Maskull's, and they walked away into the night.
For a mile or more they skirted the edge of the precipice. The wind
was searching, and drove grit into their faces. Through the rifts of
the clouds, stars, faint and brilliant, appeared. Maskull saw no
familiar constellations. He wondered if the sun of earth was
visible, and if so which one it was.
They came to the head of a rough staircase, leading down the
cliffside. It resembled the one by which he had come up; but this
descended to the Wombflash Forest.
"That is your path '," said Catice, "and I shall not come any
Maskull detained him. "Say just this, before we part company - why
does pleasure appear so shameful to us?"
"Because in feeling pleasure, we forget our home."
"And that is - "
"Muspel," answered Catice.
Having made this reply, he disengaged himself, and, turning his back,
disappeared into the darkness.
Maskull stumbled down the staircase as best he could. He was tired,
but contemptuous of his pains. His uninjured probe began to
discharge matter. He lowered himself from step to step during what
seemed an interminable time. The rustling and sighing of the trees
grew louder as he approached the bottom; the air became still and
He at last reached level ground. Still attempting to proceed, he
began to trip over roots, and to collide with tree trunks. After
this had happened a few times, he determined to go no farther that
night. He heaped together some dry leaves for a pillow, and
immediately flung himself down to sleep. Deep and heavy
unconsciousness seized him almost instantly.
THE WOMBFLASH FOREST
He awoke to his third day on Tormance. His limbs ached. He lay on
his side, looking stupidly at his surroundings. The forest was like
night, but that period of the night when the grey dawn is about to
break and objects begin to be guessed at, rather than seen. Two or
three amazing shadowy shapes, as broad as houses, loomed up out of
the twilight. He did not realise that they were trees, until he
turned over on his back and followed their course upward. Far
overhead, so high up that he dared not calculate the height, he saw
their tops glittering in the sunlight, against a tiny patch of blue
Clouds of mist, rolling over the floor of the forest, kept
interrupting his view. In their silent passage they were like
phantoms flitting among the trees. The leaves underneath him were
sodden, and heavy drops of moisture splashed onto his head from time
He continued lying there, trying to reconstruct the events of the
preceding day. His brain was lethargic and confused. Something
terrible had happened, but what it was he could not for a long time
recollect. Then suddenly there came before his eyes that ghastly
closing scene at dusk on the Sant plateau - Spadevil's crushed and
bloody features and Tydomin's dying sighs.. .. He shuddered
convulsively, and felt sick.
The peculiar moral outlook that had dictated these brutal murders had
departed from him during the night, and now he recognised what he had
done! During the whole of the previous day he seemed to have been
labouring under a series of heavy enchantments. First Oceaxe had
enslaved him, then Tydomin, then Spadevil, and lastly Catice. They
had forced him to murder and violate; he had guessed nothing, but had
imagined that he was travelling as a free and enlightened stranger.
What was this nightmare journey for - and would it continue, in the
same way? ...
The silence of the forest was so intense that he heard no sound
except the pumping of blood through his arteries.
Putting his hand to his face, he found that his remaining probe had
disappeared and that he was in possession of three eyes. The third
eye was on his forehead, where the old sorb had been. He could not
guess its use. He still had his third arm, but it was nerveless.
Now he puzzled his head for a long time, trying unsuccessfully to
recall that name which had been the last word spoken by Catice.
He got up, with the intention of resuming his journey. He had no
toilet to make, and no meal to prepare. The forest was tremendous.
The nearest tree appeared to him to have a circumference of at least
a hundred feet. Other dim boles looked equally large. But what gave
the scene its aspect of immensity was the vast spaces separating tree
from tree. It was like some gigantic, supernatural hall in a life
after death. The lowest branches were fifty yards or more from the
ground. There was no underbrush; the soil was carpeted only by the
dead, wet leaves. He looked all around him, to find his direction,
but the cliffs of Sant, which he had descended, were invisible -
every way was like every other way, he had no idea which quarter to
attack. He grew frightened, and muttered to himself. Craning his
neck back, he stared upward and tried to discover the points of the
compass from the direction of the sunlight, but it was impossible.
While he was standing there, anxious and hesitating, he heard the
drum taps. The rhythmical beats proceeded from some distance off.
The unseen drummer seemed to be marching through the forest, away
"Surtur!" he said, under his breath. The next moment he marvelled at
himself for uttering the name. That mysterious being had not been in
his thoughts, nor was there any ostensible connection between him and
He began to reflect - but in the meantime the sounds were travelling
away. Automatically he started walking in the same direction. The
drum beats had this peculiarity - though odd and mystical, there was
nothing awe-inspiring in them, but on the contrary they reminded him
of some place and some life with which he was perfectly familiar.
Once again they caused all his other sense impressions to appear
The sounds were intermittent. They would go on for a minute, or for
five minutes, and then cease for perhaps a quarter of an hour.
Maskull followed them as well as he could. He walked hard among the
huge, indistinct trees, in the attempt to come up with the origin of
the noise, but the same distance always seemed to separate them. The
forest from now onward descended. The gradient was mostly gentle -
about one foot in ten - but in some places it was much steeper, and
in other parts again it was practically level ground for quite long
stretches. There were great swampy marshes, through which Maskull
was obliged to splash. It was a matter of indifference to him how
wet he became - if only he could catch sight of that individual with
the drum. Mile after mile was covered, and still he was no nearer to
The gloom of the forest settled down upon his spirits. He felt
despondent, tired, and savage. He had not heard the drum beats for
some while, and was half inclined to discontinue the pursuit.
Passing around a great, columnar tree trunk, he almost stumbled
against a man who was standing on the farther side. He was leaning
against the trunk with one hand, in an attitude of repose. His other
hand was resting on a staff. Maskull stopped short and started at
He was nearly naked, and of gigantic build. He over-topped Maskull
by a head. His face and body were faintly phosphorescent. His eyes
- three in number - were pale green and luminous, shining like lamps.
His skin was hairless, but the hair of his head was piled up in
thick, black coils, and fastened like a woman's. His features were
absolutely tranquil, but a terrible, quiet energy seemed to lie just
underneath the surface.
Maskull addressed him. "Did the drumming come from you?"
The man shook his head.
"What is your name?"
He replied in a strange, strained, twisted voice. Maskull gathered
that the name he gave was "Dreamsinter."
"What is that drumming?"
"Surtur," said Dreamsinter.
"Is it advisable for me to follow it?"
"Perhaps he intends me to. He brought me here from Earth."
Dreamsinter caught hold of him, bent down, and peered into his face.
"Not you, but Nightspore."
This was the first time that Maskull had heard Nightspore's name
since his arrival on the planet. He was so astonished that he could
frame no more questions.
"Eat this," said Dreamsinter. "Then we will chase the sound
together." He picked something up from the ground and handed it to
Maskull. He could not see distinctly, but it felt like a hard, round
nut, of the size of a fist.
"I can't crack it."
Dreamsinter took it between his hands, and broke it into pieces.
Maskull then ate some of the pulpy interior, which was intensely
"What am I doing in Tormance, then?" he asked.
"You came to steal Muspel-fire, to give a deeper life to men - never
doubting if your soul could endure that burning."
Maskull could hardly decipher the strangled words.
"Muspel.. .. That's the name I've been trying to remember ever since
Dreamsinter suddenly turned his head sideways, and appeared to listen
for something. He motioned with his hand to Maskull to keep quiet.
"Is it the drumming?"
"Hush! They come."
He was looking toward the upper forest. The now familiar drum rhythm
was heard - this time accompanied by the tramp of marching feet.
Maskull saw, marching through the trees and heading toward them,
three men in single file separated from one another by only a yard or
so. They were travelling down hill at a swift pace, and looked
neither to left nor right. They were naked. Their figures were
shining against the black background of the forest with a pale,
supernatural light - green and ghostly. When they were abreast of
him, about twenty feet off, he perceived who they were. The first
man was himself - Maskull. The second was Krag. The third man was
Nightspore. Their faces were grim and set.
The source of the drumming was out of sight. The sound appeared to
come from some point in front of them. Maskull and Dreamsinter put
themselves in motion, to keep up with the swiftly moving marchers.
At the same time a low, faint music began.
Its rhythm stepped with the drum beats, but, unlike the latter, it
did not seem to proceed from any particular quarter of the forest.
It resembled the subjective music heard in dreams, which accompanies
the dreamer everywhere, as a sort of natural atmosphere, rendering
all his experiences emotional. it seemed to issue from an unearthly
orchestra, and was strongly troubled, pathetic and tragic. Maskull
marched, and listened; and as he listened, it grew louder and
stormier. But the pulse of the drum interpenetrated all the other
sounds, like the quiet beating of reality.
His emotion deepened. He could not have said if minutes or hours
were passing. The spectral procession marched on, a little way
ahead, on a path parallel with his own and Dreamsinter's. The music
pulsated violently. Krag lifted his arm, and displayed a long,
murderous-looking knife. He sprang forward and, raising it over the
phantom Maskull's back, stabbed him twice, leaving the knife in the
wound the second time. Maskull threw up his arms, and fell down
dead. Krag leaped into the forest and vanished from sight.
Nightspore marched on alone, stern and unmoved.
The music rose to crescendo. The whole dim, gigantic forest was
roaring with sound. The tones came from all sides, from above, from
the ground under their feet. It was so grandly passionate that
Maskull felt his soul loosening from its bodily envelope.
He continued to follow Nightspore. A strange brightness began to
glow in front of them. It was not daylight, but a radiance such as
he had never seen before, and such as he could not have imagined to
be possible. Nightspore moved straight toward it. Maskull felt his
chest bursting. The light flashed higher. The awful harmonies of
the music followed hard one upon another, like the waves of a wild,
magic ocean.. .. His body was incapable of enduring such shocks, and
all of a sudden he tumbled over in a faint that resembled death.
The morning slowly passed. Maskull made some convulsive movements,
and opened his eyes. He sat up, blinking. All was night-like and
silent in the forest. The strange light had gone, the music had
ceased, Dreamsinter had vanished. He fingered his beard, clotted
with Tydomin's blood, and fell into a deep muse.
"According to Panawe and Catice, this forest contains wise men.
Perhaps Dreamsinter was one. Perhaps that vision I have just seen
was a specimen of his wisdom. It looked almost like an answer to my
question.... I ought not to have asked about myself, but about
Surtur. Then I would have got a different answer. I might have
learned something ... I might have seen him."
He remained quiet and apathetic for a bit.
"But I couldn't face that awful glare," he proceeded. "It was
bursting my body. He warned me, too. And so Surtur does really
exist, and my journey stands for something. But why am I here, and
what can I do? Who is Surtur? Where is he to be found?"
Something wild came into his eyes.
"What did Dreamsinter mean by his 'Not you, but Nightspore'? Am I a
secondary character - is he regarded as important; and I as
unimportant? Where is Nightspore, and what is he doing? Am I to
wait for his time and pleasure - can I originate nothing?"
He continued sitting up, with straight-extended legs.
"I must make up my mind that this is a strange journey, and that the
strangest things will happen in it. It's no use making plans, for I
can't see two steps ahead - everything is unknown. But one thing's
evident: nothing but the wildest audacity will carry me through, and
I must sacrifice everything else to that. And therefore if Surtur
shows himself again, I shall go forward to meet him, even if it means
Through the black, quiet aisles of the forest the drum beats came
again. The sound was a long way off and very faint. It was like the
last mutterings of thunder after a heavy storm. Maskull listened,
without getting up. The drumming faded into silence, and did not
He smiled queerly, and said aloud, "Thanks, Surtur! I accept the
When he was about to get up, he found that the shrivelled skin that
had been his third arm was flapping disconcertingly with every
movement of his body. He made perforations in it all around, as
close to his chest as possible, with the fingernails of both hands;
then he carefully twisted it off. In that world of rapid growth and
ungrowth he judged that the stump would soon disappear. After that,
he rose and peered into the darkness.
The forest at that point sloped rather steeply and, without thinking
twice about it, he took the downhill direction, never doubting it
would bring him somewhere. As soon as he started walking, his temper
became gloomy and morose - he was shaken, tired, dirty, and languid
with hunger; moreover, he realised that the walk was not going to be
a short one. Be that as it may. he determined to sit down no more
until the whole dismal forest was at his back.
One after another the shadowy, houselike trees were observed,
avoided, and passed. Far overhead the little patch of glowing sky
was still always visible; otherwise he had no clue to the time of
day. He continued tramping sullenly down the slope for many damp,
slippery miles - in some places through bogs. When, presently, the
twilight seemed to thin, he guessed that the open world was not far
away. The forest grew more palpable and grey, and now he saw its
majesty better. The tree trunks were like round towers, and so wide
were the intervals that they resembled natural amphitheatres. He
could not make out the colour of the bark. Everything he saw amazed
him, but his admiration was of the growling, grudging kind. The
difference in light between the forest behind him and the forest
ahead became so marked that he could no longer doubt that he was on
the point of coming out.
Real light was in front of him; looking back, he found he had a
shadow. The trunks acquired a reddish tint. He quickened his pace.
As the minutes went by, the bright patch ahead grew luminous and
vivid; it had a tinge of blue. He also imagined that he heard the
sound of surf.
All that part of the forest toward which he was moving became rich
with colour. The boles of the trees were of a deep, dark red; their
leaves, high above his head, were ulfire-hued; the dead leaves on the
ground were of a colour he could not name. At the same time he
discovered the use of his third eye. By adding a third angle to his
sight, every object he looked at stood out in greater relief. The
world looked less flat - more realistic and significant. He had a
stronger attraction toward his surroundings; he seemed somehow to
lose his egotism, and to become free and thoughtful.
Now through the last trees he saw full daylight. Less than half a
mile separated him from the border of the forest, and, eager to
discover what lay beyond, he broke into a run. He heard the surf
louder. It was a peculiar hissing sound that could proceed only from
water, yet was unlike the sea. Almost immediately he came within
sight of an enormous horizon of dancing waves, which he knew must be
the Sinking Sea. He fell back into a quick walk, continuing to stare
hard. The wind that met him was hot, fresh and sweet
When he arrived at the final fringe of forest, which joined the wide
sands of the shore without any change of level, he leaned with his
back to a great tree and gazed his fill, motionless, at what lay in
front of him. The sands continued east and west in a straight line,
broken only here and there by a few creeks. They were of a brilliant
orange colour, but there were patches of violet. The forest appeared
to stand sentinel over the shore for its entire length. Everything
else was sea and sky - he had never seen so much water. The
semicircle of the skyline was so vast that he might have imagined
himself on a flat world, with a range of vision determined only by
the power of his eye. The sea was unlike any sea on Earth. It
resembled an immense liquid opal. On a body colour of rich,
magnificent emerald-green, flashes of red, yellow, and blue were
everywhere shooting up and vanishing. The wave motion was
extraordinary. Pinnacles of water were slowly formed until they
attained a height of perhaps ten or twenty feet, when they would
suddenly sink downward and outward, creating in their descent a
series of concentric rings for long distances around them. Quickly
moving currents, like rivers in the sea, could be seen, racing away
from land; they were of a darker green and bore no pinnacles. Where
the sea met the shore, the waves rushed over the sands far in, with
almost sinister rapidity - accompanied by a weird, hissing, spitting
sound, which was what Maskull had heard. The green tongues rolled in
About twenty miles distant, as he judged, directly opposite him, a
long, low island stood up from the sea, black and not distinguished
in outline. It was Swaylone's island. Maskull was less interested in
that than in the blue sunset that glowed behind its back. Alppain
had set, but the whole northern sky was plunged into the minor key by
its afterlight. Branchspell in the zenith was white and
overpowering, the day was cloudless and terrifically hot; but where
the blue sun had sunk, a sombre shadow seemed to overhang the world.
Maskull had a feeling of disintegration - just as if two chemically
distinct forces were simultaneously acting upon the cells of his
body. Since the afterglow of Alppain affected him like this, he
thought it more than likely that he would never be able to face that
sun itself, and go on living. Still, some modification might happen
to him that would make it possible.
The sea tempted him. He made up his mind to bathe, and at once
walked toward the shore. The instant he stepped outside the shadow
line of the forest trees, the blinding rays of the sun beat down on
him so savagely that for a few minutes he felt sick and his head
swam. He trod quickly across the sands. The orange-coloured parts
were nearly hot enough to roast food, he judged, but the violet parts
were like fire itself. He stepped on a patch in ignorance, and
immediately jumped high into the air with a startled yell.
The sea was voluptuously warm. It would not bear his weight, so he
determined to try swimming. First of all he stripped off his skin
garment, washed it thoroughly with sand and water, and laid it in the
sun to dry. Then he scrubbed himself as well as he could and washed
out his beard and hair. After that, he waded in a long way, until
the water reached his breast, and took to swimming - avoiding the
spouts as far as possible He found it no pastime. The water was
everywhere of unequal density. In some places he could swim, in
others he could barely save himself from drowning, in others again he
could not force himself beneath the surface at all. There were no
outward signs to show what the water ahead held in store for him.
The whole business was most dangerous.
He came out, feeling clean and invigorated. For a time he walked up
and down the sands, drying himself in the hot sunshine and looking
around him. He was a naked stranger in a huge, foreign, mystical
world, and whichever way he turned, unknown and threatening forces
were glaring at him. The gigantic, white, withering Branchspell, the
awful, body-changing Alppain, the beautiful, deadly, treacherous sea,
the dark and eerie Swaylone's Island, the spirit-crushing forest out
of which he had just escaped - to all these mighty powers,
surrounding him on every side, what resources had he, a feeble,
ignorant traveller to oppose, from a tiny planet on the other side of
space, to avoid being utterly destroyed? ... Then he smiled to
himself. "I've already been here two days, and still I survive. I
have luck - and with that one can balance the universe. But what is
luck - a verbal expression, or a thing?"
As he was putting on his skin, which was now dry, the answer came to
him, and this time he was grave. "Surtur brought me here, and Surtur
is watching over me. That is my 'luck.' .. . But what is Surtur in
this world? ... How is he able to protect me against the blind and
ungovernable forces of nature? Is he stronger than Nature? .. ."
Hungry as he was for food, he was hungrier still for human society,
for he wished to inquire about all these things. He asked himself
which way he should turn his steps. There were only two ways; along
the shore, either east or west. The nearest creek lay to the east,
cutting the sands about a mile away. He walked toward it.
The forest face was forbidding and enormously high. It was so
squarely turned to the sea that it looked as though it had been
planed by tools. Maskull strode along in the shade of the trees, but
kept his head constantly turned away from them, toward the sea -
there it was more cheerful. The creek, when he reached it, proved to
be broad and flat-banked. It was not a river, but an arm of the sea.
Its still, dark green water curved around a bend out of sight, into
the forest. The trees on both banks overhung the water, so that it
was completely in shadow.
He went as far as the bend, beyond which another short reach
appeared. A man was sitting on a narrow shelf of bank, with his feet
in the water. He was clothed in a coarse, rough hide, which left his
limbs bare. He was short, thick, and sturdy, with short legs and a
long, powerful arms, terminating in hands of an extraordinary size.
He was oldish. His face was plain, slablike, and expressionless; it
was full of wrinkles, and walnut-coloured. Both face and head were
bald, and his skin was tough and leathery. He seemed to be some sort
of peasant, or fisherman; there was no trace in his face of thought
for others, or delicacy of feeling. He possessed three eyes, of
different colors - jade-green, blue, and ulfire.
In front of him, riding on the water, moored to the bank, was an
elementary raft, consisting of the branches of trees, clumsily corded
Maskull addressed him. "Are you another of the wise men of the
The man answered him in a gruff, husky voice, looking up as he did
so. "I'm a fisherman. I know nothing about wisdom."
"What name do you go by?"
"Polecrab. What's yours?"
"Maskull. If you're a fisherman, you ought to have fish. I'm
Polecrab grunted, and paused a minute before answering.
"There's fish enough. My dinner is cooking in the sands now. It's
easy enough to get you some more."
Maskull found this a pleasant speech.
"But how long will it take?" he asked.
The man slid the palms of his hands together, producing a shrill,
screeching noise. He lifted his feet from the water, and clambered
onto the bank. In a minute or two a curious little beast came
crawling up to his feet, turning its face and eyes up affectionately,
like a dog. It was about two feet long, and somewhat resembled a
small seal, but had six legs, ending in strong claws.
"Arg, go fish!" said Polecrab hoarsely.
The animal immediately tumbled off the bank into the water. It swam
gracefully to the middle of the creek and made a pivotal dive beneath
the surface, where it remained a great while.
"Simple fishing," remarked Maskull. "But what's the raft for?"
"To go to sea with. The best fish are out at sea. These are
"That arg seems a highly intelligent creature."
Polecrab grunted again. "I've trained close on a hundred of them.
The bigheads learn best, but they're slow swimmers. The narrowheads
swim like eels, but can't be taught. Now I've started interbreeding
them - he's one of them."
"Do you live here alone?"
"No, I've got a wife and three boys. My wife's sleeping somewhere,
but where the lads are, Shaping knows."
Maskull began to feel very much at home with this unsophisticated
"The raft's all crazy," he remarked, staring at it. "If you go far
out in that, you've got more pluck than I have."
"I've been to Matterplay on it," said Polecrab.
The arg reappeared and started swimming to shore, but this time
clumsily, as if it were bearing a heavy weight under the surface.
When it landed at its master's feet, they saw that each set of claws
was clutching a fish - six in all. Polecrab took them from it. He
proceeded to cut off the heads and tails with a sharp-edged stone
which he picked up; these he threw to the arg, which devoured them
without any fuss.
Polecrab beckoned to Maskull to follow him and, carrying the fish,
walked toward the open shore, by the same way that he had come. When
they reached the sands, he sliced the fish, removed the entrails, and
digging a shallow hole in a patch of violet sand, placed the
remainder of the carcasses in it, and covered them over again. Then
he dug up his own dinner. Maskull's nostrils quivered at the savoury
smell, but he was not yet to dine.
Polecrab, turning to go with the cooked fish in his hands, said,
"These are mine, not yours. When yours are done, you can come back
and join me, supposing you want company."
"How soon will that be?"
"About twenty minutes," replied the fisherman, over his shoulder.
Maskull sheltered himself in the shadows of the forest, and waited.
When the time had approximately elapsed, he disinterred his meal,
scorching his fingers in the operation, although it was only the
surface of the sand which was so intensely hot. Then he returned to
In the warm, still air and cheerful shade of the inlet, they munched
in silence, looking from their food to the sluggish water, and back
again. With every mouthful Maskull felt his strength returning. He
finished before Polecrab, who ate like a man for whom time has no
value. When he had done, he stood up.
"Come and drink," he said, in his husky voice.
Maskull looked at him inquiringly.
The man led him a little way into the forest, and walked straight up
to a certain tree. At a convenient height in its trunk a hole had
been tapped and plugged. Polecrab removed the plug and put his mouth
to the aperture, sucking for quite a long time, like. a child at its
mother's breast. Maskull, watching him, imagined that he saw his
eyes growing brighter.
When his own turn came to drink, he found the juice of the tree
somewhat like coconut milk in flavour, but intoxicating. It was a
new sort of intoxication, however, for neither his will not his
emotions were excited, but only his intellect - and that only in a
certain way. His thoughts and images were not freed and loosened, but
on the contrary kept labouring and swelling painfully, until they
reached the full beauty of an aper¨u, which would then flame up in
his consciousness, burst, and vanish. After that, the whole process
started over again. But there was never a moment when he was not
perfectly cool, and master of his senses. When each had drunk twice,
Polecrab replugged the hole, and they returned to their bank.
"Is it Blodsombre yet?" asked Maskull, sprawling on the ground, well
Polecrab resumed his old upright sitting posture, with his feet in
the water. "Just beginning," was his hoarse response.
"Then I must stay here till it's over.... Shall we talk?"
"We can," said the other, without enthusiasm.
Maskull glanced at him through half-closed lids, wondering if he were
exactly what he seemed to be. In his eyes he thought he detected a
"Have you travelled much, Polecrab?"
"Not what you would call travelling."
"You tell me you've been to Matterplay - what kind of country is
"I don't know. I went there to pick up flints."
"What countries lie beyond it?"
"Threal comes next, as you go north. They say it's a land of
mystics... I don't know."
"So I'm told.... Still farther north there's Lichstorm."
"Now we're going far afield."
"There are mountains there - and altogether it must be a very
dangerous place, especially for a full-blooded man like you. Take
care of yourself."
"This is rather premature, Polecrab. How do you know I'm going
"As you've come from the south, I suppose you'll go north."
"Well, that's right enough," said Maskull, staring hard at him. "But
how do you know I've come from the south?"
"Well, then, perhaps you haven't - but there's a look of Ifdawn about
"What kind of look?"
"A tragical look," said Polecrab. He never even glanced at Maskull,
but was gazing at a fixed spot on the water with unblinking eyes.
"What lies beyond Lichstorm?" asked Maskull, after a minute or two.
"Barey, where you have two suns instead of one - but beyond that fact
I know nothing about it.... Then comes the ocean."
"And what's on the other side of the ocean?"
"That you must find out for yourself, for I doubt if anybody has ever
crossed it and come back."
Maskull was silent f or a little while.
"How is it that your people are so unadventurous? I seem to be the
only one travelling from curiosity."
"What do you mean by 'your people'?"
"True - you don't know that I don't belong to your planet at all.
I've come from another world, Polecrab."
"What to find?"
"I came here with Krag and Nightspore - to follow Surtur. I must have
fainted the moment I arrived. When I sat up, it was night and the
others had - vanished. Since then I've been travelling at random."
Polecrab scratched his nose. "You haven't found Surtur yet?"
"I've heard his drum taps frequently. In the forest this morning I
came quite close to him. Then two days ago, in the Lusion Plain, I
saw a vision - a being in man's shape, who called himself Surtur."
"Well, maybe it was Surtur."
"No, that's impossible," replied Maskull reflectively. "It was
Crystalman. And it isn't a question of my suspecting it - I know
"Because this is Crystalman's world, and Surtur's world is something
"That's queer, then," said Polecrab.
"Since I've come out of that forest," proceeded Maskull, talking half
to himself, "a change has come over me, and I see things differently.
Everything here looks much more solid and real in my eyes than in
other places so much so that I can't entertain the least doubt of its
existence. It not only looks real, it is real - and on that I would
stake my life.... But at the same time that it's real, it is false."
"Like a dream?"
"No - not at all like a dream, and that's just what I want to
explain. This world of yours - and perhaps of mine too, for that
matter - doesn't give me the slightest impression of a dream, or an
illusion, or anything of that sort. I know it's really here at this
moment, and it's exactly as we're seeing it, you and I. Yet it's
false. It's false in this sense, Polecrab. Side by side with it
another world exists, and that. other world is the true one, and this
one is all false and deceitful, to the very core. And so it occurs
to me that reality and falseness are two words for the same thing."
"Perhaps there is such another world," said Polecrab huskily. "But
did that vision also seem real and false to you?"
"Very real, but not false then, for then I didn't understand all
this. But just because it was real, it couldn't have been Surtur,
who has no connection with reality."
"Didn't those drum taps sound real to you?"
"I had to hear them with my ears, and so they sounded real to me.
Still, they were somehow different, and they certainly came from
Surtur. If I didn't hear them correctly, that was my fault and not
Polecrab growled a little. "If Surtur chooses to speak to you in
that fashion, it appears he's trying to say something."
"What else can I think? But, Polecrab, what's your opinion - is he
calling me to the life after death?"
The old man stirred uneasily. "I'm a fisherman," he said, after a
minute or two. "I live by killing, and so does everybody. This life
seems to me all wrong. So maybe life of any kind is wrong, and
Surtur's world is not life at all, but something else."
"Yes, but will death lead me to it, whatever it is?"
"Ask the dead," said Polecrab, "and not a living man."
Maskull continued. "In the forest I heard music and saw a light,
which could not have belonged to this world. They were too strong
for my senses, and I must have fainted for a long time. There was a
vision as well, in which I saw myself killed, while Nightspore walked
on toward the light, alone."
Polecrab uttered his grunt. "You have enough to think over."
A short silence ensued, which was broken by Maskull.
"So strong is my sense of the untruth of this present life, that it
may come to my putting an end to myself." The fisherman remained
quiet and immobile.
Maskull lay on his stomach, propped his face on his hands, and stared
at him. "What do you think, Polecrab? Is it possible for any man,
while in the body, to gain a closer view of that other world than I
"I am an ignorant man, stranger, so I can't say. Perhaps there are
many others like you who would gladly know."
"Where? I should like to meet them."
"Do you think you were made of one stuff, and the rest of mankind of
"I can't be so presumptuous. Possibly all men are reaching out
toward Muspel, in most cases without being aware of it."
"In the wrong direction," said Polecrab.
Maskull gave him a strange look. "How so?"
"I don't speak from my own wisdom," said Polecrab, "for I have none;
but I have just now recalled what Broodviol once told me, when I was
a young man, and he was an old one. He said that Crystalman tries to
turn all things into one, and that whichever way his shapes march, in
order to escape from him, they find themselves again face to face
with Crystalman, and are changed into new crystals. But that this
marching of shapes (which we call 'forking') springs from the
unconscious desire to find Surtur, but is in the opposite direction
to the right one. For Surtur's world does not lie on this side of
the one, which was the beginning of life, but on the other side; and
to get to it we must repass through the one. But this can only be by
renouncing our self-life, and reuniting ourselves to the whole of
Crystalman's world. And when this has been done, it is only the
first stage of the journey; though many good men imagine it to be the
whole journey.... As far as I can remember, that is what Broodviol
said, but perhaps, as I was then a young and ignorant man, I may have
left out words which would explain his meaning better."
Maskull, who had listened attentively to all this, remained
thoughtful at the end.
"It's plain enough," he said. "But what did he mean by our reuniting
ourselves to Crystalman's world? If it is false, are we to make
ourselves false as well?"
"I didn't ask him that question, and you are as well qualified to
answer it as I am."
"He must have meant that, as it is, we are each of us living in a
false, private world of our own, a world of dreams and appetites and
distorted perceptions. By embracing the great world we certainly
lose nothing in truth and reality."
Polecrab withdrew his feet from the water, stood up, yawned, and
stretched his limbs.
"I have told you all I know," he said in a surly voice. "Now let me
go to sleep."
Maskull kept his eyes fixed on him, but made no reply. The old man
let himself down stiffly on to the ground, and prepared to rest.
While he was still arranging his position to his liking, a footfall
sounded behind the two men, coming from the direction of the forest.
Maskull twisted his neck, and saw a woman approaching them. He at
once guessed that it was Polecrab's wife. He sat up, but the
fisherman did not stir. The woman came and stood in front of them,
looking down from what appeared a great height.
Her dress was similar to her husband's, but covered her limbs more.
She was young, tall, slender, and strikingly erect. Her skin was
lightly tanned, and she looked strong, but not at all peasantlike.
Refinement was stamped all over her. Her face had too much energy of
expression for a woman, and she was not beautiful. Her three great
eyes kept flashing and glowing. She had great masses of fine, yellow
hair, coiled up and fastened, but so carelessly that some of the
strands were flowing down her back.
When she spoke, it was in a rather weak voice, but full of lights and
shades, and somehow intense passionateness never seemed to be far
away from it.
"Forgiveness is asked for listening to your conversation," she said,
addressing Maskull. "I was resting behind the tree, and heard it
He got up slowly. "Are you Polecrab's wife?"
"She is my wife," said Polecrab, "and her name is Gleameil. Sit down
again, stranger - and you too, wife, since you are here."
They both obeyed. "I heard everything," repeated Gleameil. "But
what I did not hear was where you are going to, Maskull, after you
have left us."
"I know no more than you do."
"Listen, then. There's only one place for you to go to, and that is
Swaylone's Island. I will ferry you across myself before sunset."
"What shall I find there?"
"He may go, wife," put in the old man hoarsely, "but I won't allow
you to go. I will take him over myself."
"No, you have always put me off," said Gleameil, with some emotion.
"This time I mean to go. When Teargeld shines at night, and I sit on
the shore here, listening to Earthrid's music travelling faintly
across the sea, I am tortured - I can't endure it.... I have long
since made up my mind to go to the island, and see what this music
is. If it's bad, if it kills me - well."
"What have I to do with the man and his music, Gleameil?" demanded
"I think the music will answer all your questions better than
Polecrab has done - and possibly in a way that will surprise you."
"What kind of music can it be to travel all those miles across the
"A peculiar kind, so we are told. Not pleasant, but painful. And
the man that can play the instrument of Earthrid would be able to
conjure up the most astonishing forms, which are not phantasms, but
"That may be so," growled Polecrab. "But I have been to the island
by daylight, and what did I find there? Human bones, new and
ancient. Those are Earthrid's victims. And you, wife, shall not
"But will that music play tonight?" asked Maskull.
"Yes," replied Gleameil, gazing at him intently. "When Teargeld
rises, which is our moon."
"If Earthrid plays men to death, it appears to me that his own death
is due. In any case I should like to hear those sounds for myself.
But as for taking you with me, Gleameil - women die too easily in
Tormance. I have only just now washed myself clean of the death blood
of another woman."
Gleameil laughed, but said nothing.
"Now go to sleep," said Polecrab. "When the time comes, I will take
you across myself."
He lay down again, and closed his eyes. Maskull followed his
example; but Gleameil remained sitting erect, with her legs under
"Who was that other woman, Maskull?" she asked presently.
He did not answer, but pretended to sleep.
When he awoke, the day was not so bright, and he guessed it was late
afternoon. Polecrab and his wife were both on their feet, and
another meal of fish had been cooked and was waiting for him.
"Is it decided who is to go with me?" he asked, before sitting down.
"I go," said Gleameil.
"Do you agree, Polecrab?"
The fisherman growled a little in his throat and motioned to the
others to take their seats. He took a mouthful before answering.
"Something strong is attracting her, and I can't hold her back. I
don't think I shall see you again, wife, but the lads are now nearly
old enough to fend for themselves."
"Don't take dejected views," replied Gleameil sternly. She was not
eating. "I shall come back, and make amends to you. It's only for a
Maskull gazed from one to the other in perplexity. "Let me go alone.
I would be sorry if anything happened."
Gleameil shook her head.
"Don't regard this as a woman's caprice," she said. "Even if you
hadn't passed this way, I would have heard that music soon. I have a
hunger for it."
"Haven't you any such feeling, Polecrab?"
"No. A woman is a noble and sensitive creature, and there are
attractions in nature too subtle for males. Take her with you, since
she is set on it. Maybe she's right. Perhaps Earthrid's music will
answer your questions, and hers too."
"What are your questions, Gleameil?"
The woman shed a strange smile. "You may be sure that a question
which requires music for an answer can't be put into words."
"If you are not back by the morning," remarked her husband, "I will
know you are dead."
The meal was finished in a constrained silence. Polecrab wiped his
mouth, and produced a seashell from a kind of pocket.
"Will you say goodbye to the boys? Shall I call them?" She
considered a moment.
"Yes - yes, I must see them."
He put the shell to his mouth, and blew; a loud, mournful noise
passed through the air.
A few minutes later there was a sound of scurrying footsteps, and the
boys were seen emerging from the forest. Maskull looked with
curiosity at the first children he had seen on Tormance. The oldest
boy was carrying the youngest on his back, while the third trotted
some distance behind. The child was let down, and all the three
formed a semicircle in front of Maskull, standing staring up at him
with wide-open eyes. Polecrab looked on stolidly, but Gleameil
glanced away from them, with proudly raised head and a baffling
Maskull put the ages of the boys at about nine, seven, and five
years, respectively; but he was calculating according to Earth time.
The eldest was tall, slim, but strongly built. He, like his
brothers, was naked, and his skin from top to toe was ulfire-colored.
His facial muscles indicated a wild and daring nature, and his eyes
were like green fires. The second showed promise of being a broad,
powerful man. His head was large and heavy, and drooped. His face
and skin were reddish. His eyes were almost too sombre and
penetrating for a child's.
"That one," said Polecrab, pinching the boy's ear, "may perhaps grow
up to be a second Broodviol."
"Who was that?" demanded the boy, bending his head forward to hear
"A big, old man, of marvellous wisdom. He became wise by making up
his mind never to ask questions, but to find things out for himself."
"If I had not asked this question, I should not have known about
"That would not have mattered," replied the father.
The youngest child was paler and slighter than his brothers. His
face was mostly tranquil and expressionless, but it had this
peculiarity about it, that every few minutes, without any apparent
cause, it would wrinkle up and look perplexed. At these times his
eyes, which were of a tawny gold, seemed to contain secrets difficult
to associate with one of his age.
"He puzzles me," said Polecrab. "He has a soul like sap, and he's
interested in nothing. He may turn out to be the most remarkable of
Maskull took the child in one hand, and lifted him as high as his
head. He took a good look at him, and set him down again. The boy
never changed countenance.
"What do you make of him?" asked the fisherman.
"It's on the tip of my tongue to say, but it just escapes me. Let me
drink again, and then I shall have it."
"Go and drink, then."
Maskull strode over to the tree, drank, and returned. "In ages to
come," he said, speaking deliberately, "he will be a grand and awful
tradition. A seer possibly, or even a divinity. Watch over him
The eldest boy looked scornful. "I want to be none of those things.
I would like to be like that big fellow." And he pointed his finger
He laughed, and showed his white teeth through his beard. "Thanks
for the compliments old warrior!" he said.
"He's great and brawny" continued the boy, "and can hold his own with
other men. Can you hold me up with one arm, as you did that child?"
"That is being a man!" exclaimed the boy. "Enough!" said Polecrab
impatiently. "I called you lads here to say goodbye to your mother.
She is going away with this man. I think she may not return, but we
The second boy's face became suddenly inflamed. "Is she going of her
own choice?" he inquired.
"Yes," replied the father.
"Then she is bad." He brought the words out with such force and
emphasis that they sounded like the crack of a whip.
The old man cuffed him twice. "Is it your mother you are speaking
The boy stood his ground, without change of expression, but said
The youngest child spoke, for the first time. "My mother will not
come back, but she will die dancing."
Polecrab and his wife looked at one another.
"Where are you going to, Mother?" asked the eldest lad.
Gleameil bent down, and kissed him. "To the Island."
"Well then, if you don't come back by tomorrow morning, I will go and
look for you."
Maskull grew more and more uneasy in his mind. "This seems to me to
be a man's journey," he said. "I think it would be better for you
not to come, Gleameil."
"I am not to be dissuaded." she replied.
He stroked his beard in perplexity. "Is it time to start?"
"It wants four hours to sunset, and we shall need all that."
Maskull sighed. "I'll go to the mouth of the creek, and wait there
for you and the raft. You will wish to make your farewells,
He then clasped Polecrab by the hand. "Adieu, fisherman!"
"You have repaid me well for my answers," said the old man gruffly.
"But it's not your fault, and in Shaping's world the worst things
The eldest boy came close to Maskull, and frowned at him. "Farewell,
big man!" he said. "But guard my mother well, as well as you are
well able to, or I shall follow you, and kill you."
Maskull walked slowly along the creek bank till he came to the bend.
The glorious sunshine, and the sparkling, brilliant sea then met his
eyes again; and all melancholy was swept out of his mind. He
continued as far as the seashore, and issuing out of the shadows of
the forest, strolled on to the sands, and sat down in the full
sunlight. The radiance of Alppain had long since disappeared. He
drank in the hot, invigorating wind, listened to the hissing waves,
and stared over the coloured sea with its pinnacles and currents, at
"What music can that be, which tears a wife and mother away from all
she loves the most?" he meditated. "It sounds unholy. Will it tell
me what I want to know? Can it?"
In a little while he became aware of a movement behind him, and,
turning his head, he saw the raft floating along the creek, toward
the open sea. Polecrab was standing upright, propelling it with a
rude pole. He passed by Maskull, without looking at him. or making
any salutation, and proceeded out to sea.
While he was wondering at this strange behaviour, Gleameil and the
boys came in sight, walking along the bank of the inlet. The eldest-
born was holding her hand, and talking; and the other two were
behind. She was calm and smiling, but seemed abstracted.
"What is your husband doing with the raft?" asked Maskull.
"He's putting it in position and we shall wade out and join it," she
answered, in her low-toned voice.
"But how shall we make the island, without oars or sails?"
"Don't you see that current running away from land? See, he is
approaching it. That will take us straight there."
"But how can you get back?"
"There is a way; but we need not think of that today."
"Why shouldn't I come too?" demanded the eldest boy.
"Because the raft won't carry three. Maskull is a heavy man."
"It doesn't matter," said the boy. "I know where there is wood for
another raft. As soon as you have gone, I shall set to work."
Polecrab had by this time manoeuvred his flimsy craft to the position
he desired, within a few yards of the current, which at that point
made a sharp bend from the east. He shouted out some words to his
wife and Maskull. Gleameil kissed her children convulsively, and
broke down a little. The eldest boy bit his lip till it bled, and
tears glistened in his eyes; but the younger children stared wide-
eyed, and displayed no emotion.
Gleameil now walked into the sea, followed by Maskull. The water
covered first their ankles, then their knees, but when it came as
high as their waists, they were close on the raft. Polecrab let
himself down into the water, and assisted his wife to climb over the
side. When she was up, she bent down and kissed him. No words were
exchanged. Maskull scrambled up on to the front part of the raft.
The woman sat cross-legged in the stem, and seized the pole.
Polecrab shoved them off toward the current, while she worked her
pole until they had got within its power. The raft immediately began
to travel swiftly away from land, with a smooth, swaying motion.
The boys waved from the shore. Gleameil responded; but Maskull
turned his back squarely to land, and gazed ahead. Polecrab was
wading back to the shore.
For upward of an hour Maskull did not change his position by an inch.
No sound was heard but the splashing of the strange waves all around
them, and the streamlike gurgle of the current, which threaded its
way smoothly through the tossing, tumultuous sea. From their pathway
of safety, the beautiful dangers surrounding them were an
exhilarating experience. The air was fresh and clean, and the heat
from Branchspell, now low in the west, was at last endurable. The
riot of sea colors had long since banished all sadness and anxiety
from his heart. Yet he felt such a grudge against the woman for
selfishly forsaking those who should have been dear to her that he
could not bring himself to begin a conversation.
But when, over the now enlarged shape of the dark island, he caught
sight of a long chain of lofty, distant mountains, glowing salmon-
pink in the evening sunlight, he felt constrained to break the
silence by inquiring what they were.
"It is Lichstorm," said Gleameil.
Maskull asked no questions about it; but in turning to address her,
his eyes had rested on the rapidly receding Wombflash Forest, and he
continued to stare at that. They had travelled about eight miles,
and now he could better estimate the enormous height of the trees.
Overtopping them, far away, he saw Sant; and he fancied, but was not
quite sure, that he could distinguish Disscourn as well.
"Now that we are alone in a strange place," said Gleameil, averting
her head, and looking down over the side of the raft into the water,
"tell me what you thought of Polecrab."
Maskull paused before answering. "He seemed to me like a mountain
wrapped in cloud. You see the lower buttresses, and think that is
all. But then, high up, far above the clouds, you suddenly catch
sight of more mountain - and even then it is not the top."
"You read character well, and have great perception," remarked
Gleameil quietly. "Now say what I am."
"In place of a human heart, you have a wild harp, and that's all I
know about you."
"What was that you said to my husband about two worlds?"
"Yes, I heard. And I also am conscious of two worlds. My husband
and boys are real to me, and I love them fondly. But there is
another world for me, as there is for you, Maskull, and it makes my
real world appear all false and vulgar."
"Perhaps we are seeking the same thing. But can it be right to
satisfy our self-nature at the expense of other people?"
"No, it's not right. It is wrong, and base. But in that other world
these words have no meaning."
There was a silence.
"It's useless to discuss such topics," said Maskull. "The choice is
now out of our hands, and we must go where we are taken. What I
would rather speak about is what awaits us on the island."
"I am ignorant - except that we shall find Earthrid there."
"Who is Earthrid, and why is it called Swaylone's Island?"
"They say Earthrid came from Threal, but I know nothing else about
him. As for Swaylone, if you like I will tell you his legend."
"If you please," said Maskull.
"In a far-back age," began Gleameil, "when the seas were hot, and
clouds hung heavily over the earth, and life was rich with
transformations, Swaylone came to this island, on which men had never
before set foot, and began to play his music - the first music in
Tormance. Nightly, when the moon shone, people used to gather on
this shore behind us, and listen to the faint, sweet strains floating
from over the sea. One night, Shaping (whom you call Crystalman) was
passing this way in company with Krag. They listened a while to the
music, and Shaping said 'Have you heard more beautiful sounds? This
is my world and my music.' Krag stamped with his foot, and laughed.
'You must do better than that, if I am to admire it. Let us pass
over, and see this bungler at work.' Shaping consented, and they
passed over to the island. Swaylone was not able to see their
presence. Shaping stood behind him, and breathed thoughts into his
soul, so that his music became ten times lovelier, and people
listening on that shore went mad with sick delight. 'Can any strains
be nobler?' demanded Shaping. Krag grinned and said, 'You are
naturally effeminate. Now let me try.' Then he stood behind
Swaylone, and shot ugly discords fast into his head. His instrument
was so cracked, that never since has it played right. From that time
forth Swaylone could utter only distorted music; yet it called to
folk more than the other sort. Many men crossed over to the island
during his lifetime, to listen to the amazing tones, but none could
endure them; all died. After Swaylone's death, another musician took
up the tale; and so the light has passed down from torch to torch,
till now Earthrid bears it."
"An interesting legend," commented Maskull. "But who is Krag.?"
"They say that when the world was born, Krag was born with it - a
spirit compounded of those vestiges of Muspel which Shaping did not
know how to transform. Thereafter nothing has gone right with the
world, for he dogs Shaping's footsteps everywhere, and whatever the
latter does, he undoes. To love be joins death; to sex, shame; to
intellect, madness; to virtue, cruelty; and to fair exteriors, bloody
entrails. These are Krag's actions, so the lovers of the world call
him 'devil.' They don't understand, Maskull, that without him the
world would lose its beauty."
"Krag and beauty!" exclaimed he, with a cynical smile.
"Even so. That same beauty which you and I are now voyaging to
discover. That beauty for whose sake I am renouncing husband,
children, and happiness.... Did you imagine beauty to be pleasant?"
"That pleasant beauty is an insipid compound of Shaping. To see
beauty in its terrible purity, you must tear away the pleasure from
"Do you say I am going to seek beauty, Gleameil? Such an idea is far
from my mind."
She did not respond to his remark. After waiting for a few minutes,
to hear if she would speak again, he turned his back on her once
more. There was no more talk until they reached the island.
The air had grown chill and damp by the tirne they approached its
shores. Branchspell was on the point of touching the sea. The
Island appeared to be some three or four miles in length. There were
first of all broad sands, then low, dark cliffs, and behind these a
wilderness of insignificant, swelling hills, entirely devoid of
vegetation. The current bore them to within a hundred yards of the
coast, when it made a sharp angle, and proceeded to skirt the length
of the land.
Gleameil jumped overboard, and began swimming to shore. Maskull
followed her example, and the raft, abandoned, was rapidly borne away
by the current. They soon touched ground, and were able to wade the
rest of the way. By the time they reached dry land, the sun had set.
Gleameil made straight for the hills; and Maskull, after casting a
single glance at the low, dim outline of the Wombflash Forest,
followed her. The cliffs were soon scrambled up. Then the ascent
was gentle and easy, while the rich, dry, brown mould was good to
A little way off, on their left, something white was shining.
"You need not go to it," said the woman. "It can be nothing else
than one of those skeletons Polecrab talked about. And look - there
is another one over there!"
"This brings it home!" remarked Maskull, smiling.
"There is nothing comical in having died for beauty," said Gleameil,
bending her brows at him.
And when in the course of their walk he saw the innumerable human
bones, from gleaming white to dirty yellow, lying scattered about, as
if it were a naked graveyard among the hills, he agreed with her, and
fell into a sombre mood.
It was still light when they reached the highest point, and could set
eyes on the other side. The sea to the north of the island was in no
way different from that which they had crossed, but its lively colors
were fast becoming invisible.
"That is Matterplay," said the woman, pointing her finger toward some
low land on the horizon, which seemed to be even farther off than
"I wonder how Digrung passed over," meditated Maskull.
Not far away, in a hollow enclosed by a circle of little hills, they
saw a small, circular lake, not more than half a mile in diameter.
The sunset colors of the sky were reflected in its waters.
"That must be Irontick," remarked Gleameil.
"What is that?"
"I have heard that it's the instrument Earthrid plays on."
"We are getting close," responded he. "Let us go and investigate."
When they drew nearer, they observed that a man was reclining on the
farther side, in an attitude of sleep.
"If that's not the man himself, who can it be?" said Maskull. "Let's
get across the water, if it will bear us; it will save time."
He now assumed the lead, and took running strides down the slope
which bounded the lake on that side. Gleameil followed him with
greater dignity, keeping her eyes fixed on the recumbent man as if
fascinated. When Maskull reached the water's edge, he tried it with
one foot, to discover if it would carry his weight. Something
unusual in its appearance led him to have doubts. It was a tranquil,
dark, and beautifully reflecting sheet of water; it resembled a
mirror of liquid metal. Finding that it would bear him, and that
nothing happened, he placed his second foot on its surface.
Instantly he sustained a violent shock throughout his body, as from a
powerful electric current; and he was hurled in a tumbled heap back
on to the bank.
He picked himself up, brushed the dirt off his person, and started
walking around the lake. Gleameil joined him, and they completed the
half circuit together. They came to the man, and Maskull prodded him
with his foot. He woke up, and blinked at them.
His face was pale, weak, and vacant-looking, and had a disagreeable
expression. There were thin sprouts of black hair on his chin and
head. On his forehead, in place of a third eye, he possessed a
perfectly circular organ, with elaborate convolutions, like an ear.
He had an unpleasant smell. He appeared to be of young middle age.
"Wake up, man," said Maskull sharply, "and tell us if you are
"What time is it?" counterquestioned the man. "Does it want long to
Without appearing to care about an answer, he sat up, and turning
away from them, began to scoop up the loose soil with his hand, and
to eat it halfheartedly.
"Now, how can you eat that filth?" demanded Maskull, in disgust.
"Don't be angry, Maskull," said Gleameil, laying hold of his arm, and
flushing a little. "It is Earthrid - the man who is to help us."
"He has not said so."
"I am Earthrid," said the other, in his weak and muffled voice,
which, however, suddenly struck Maskull as being autocratic. "What
do you want here? Or rather, you had better get away as quickly as
you can, for it will be too late when Teargeld rises."
"You need not explain," exclaimed Maskull. "We know your reputation,
and we have come to hear your music. But what's that organ for on
Earthrid glared, and smiled, and glared again.
"That is for rhythm, which is what changes noise into music. Don't
stand and argue, but go away. It is no pleasure to me to people the
island with corpses. They corrupt the air, and do nothing else."
Darkness now crept swiftly on over the landscape.
"You are rather bigmouthed," said Maskull coolly. "But after we have
heard you play, perhaps I shall adventure a tune myself."
"You? Are you a musician. then? Do you even know what music is?"
A flame danced in Gleameil's eyes.
"Maskull thinks music reposes in the instrument," she said in her
intense way. "But it is in the soul of the Master."
"Yes," said Earthrid, "but that is not all. I will tell you what it
is. In Threal, where I was born and brought up, we learn the mystery
of the Three in nature. This world, which lies extended before us,
has three directions. Length is the line which shuts off what is,
from what is not. Breadth is the surface which shows us in what
manner one thing of what-is, lives with another thing. Depth is the
path which leads from what-is, to our own body. In music it is not
otherwise. Tone is existence, without which nothing at all can be.
Symmetry and Numbers are the manner in which tones exist, one with
another. Emotion is the movement of our soul toward the wonderful
world that is being created. Now, men when they make music are
accustomed to build beautiful tones, because of the delight they
cause. Therefore their music world is based on pleasure; its
symmetry is regular and charming, its emotion is sweet and lovely....
But my music is founded on painful tones; and thus its symmetry is
wild, and difficult to discover; its emotion is bitter and terrible."
"If I had not anticipated its being original, I would not have come
here," said Maskull. "Still, explain - why can't harsh tones have
simple symmetry of form? And why must they necessarily cause more
profound emotions in us who listen?"
"Pleasures may harmonise. Pains must clash; and in the order of
their clashing lies the symmetry. The emotions follow the music,
which is rough and earnest."
"You may call it music," remarked Maskull thoughtfully, "but to me it
bears a closer resemblance to actual life."
"If Shaping's plans had gone straight, life would have been like that
other sort of music. He who seeks can find traces of that intention
in the world of nature. But as it has turned out, real life
resembles my music and mine is the true music."
"Shall we see living shapes?"
"I don't know what my mood will be," returned Earthrid. "But when I
have finished, you shall adventure your tune, and produce whatever
shapes you please - unless, indeed, the tune is out of your own big
"The shocks you are preparing may kill us," said Gleameil, in a low,
taut voice, "but we shall die, seeing beauty."
Earthrid looked at her with a dignified expression.
"Neither you, nor any other person, can endure the thoughts which I
put into my music. Still, you must have it your own way. It needed
a woman to call it 'beauty.' But if this is beauty, what is
"That I can tell you, Master," replied Gleameil, smiling at him.
"Ugliness is old, stale life, while yours every night issues fresh
from the womb of nature."
Earthrid stared at her, without response. "Teargeld is rising," he
said at last. "And now you shall see - though not for long."
As the words left his mouth, the full moon peeped over the hills in
the dark eastern sky. They watched it in silence, and soon it was
wholly up. It was larger than the moon of Earth, and seemed nearer.
Its shadowy parts stood out in just as strong relief, but somehow it
did not give Maskull the impression of being a dead world.
Branchspell shone on the whole of it, but Alppain only on a part.
The broad crescent that reflected Branchspell's rays alone was white
and brilliant; but the part that was illuminated by both suns shone
with a greenish radiance that had almost solar power, and yet was
cold and cheerless. On gazing at that combined light, he felt the
same sense of disintegration that the afterglow of Alppain had always
caused in him; but now the feeling was not physical, but merely
aesthetic. The moon did not appear romantic to him, but disturbing
Earthrid rose, and stood quietly for a minute. In the bright
moonlight, his face seemed to have undergone a change. It lost its
loose, weak, disagreeable look, and acquired a sort of crafty
grandeur. He clapped his hands together meditatively two or three
times, and walked up and down. The others stood together, watching
Then he sat down by the side of the lake, and, leaning on his side,
placed his right hand, open palm downward, on the ground, at the same
time stretching out his right leg, so that the foot was in contact
with the water.
While Maskull was in the act of staring at him and at the lake, he
felt a stabbing sensation right through his heart, as though he had
been pierced by a rapier. He barely recovered himself from falling,
and as he did so he saw that a spout had formed on the water, and was
now subsiding again. The next moment he was knocked down by a
violent blow in the mouth, delivered by an invisible hand. He picked
himself up; and observed that a second spout had formed. No sooner
was he on his legs, than a hideous pain hammered away inside his
brain, as if caused by a malignant tumour. In his agony, he stumbled
and fell again; this time on the arm Krag had wounded. All his other
mishaps were for gotten in this one, which half stunned him. It
lasted only a moment, and then sudden relief came, and he found that
Earthrid's rough music had lost its power over him.
He saw him still stretched in the same position. Spouts were coming
thick and fast on the lake, which was full of lively motion. But
Gleameil was not on her legs. She was lying on the ground, in a
heap, without moving. Her attitude was ugly, and he guessed she was
dead. When he reached her, he discovered that she was dead. In what
state of mind she had died, he did not know, for her face wore the
vulgar Crystalman grin. The whole tragedy had not lasted five
He went over to Earthrid and dragged him forcibly away from his
"You have been as good as your word, musician," he said. "Gleameil
Earthrid tried to collect his scattered senses.
"I warned her," he replied, sitting up. "Did I not beg her to go
away? But she died very easily. She did not wait for the beauty she
spoke about. She heard nothing of the passion, nor even of the
rhythm. Neither have you."
Maskull looked down at him in indignation, but said nothing.
"You should not have interrupted me," went on Earthrid. "When I am
playing, nothing else is of importance. I might have lost the thread
of my ideas. Fortunately, I never forget. I shall start over again."
"If music is to continue, in the presence of the dead, I play next."
The man glanced up quickly.
"That can't be."
"It must be," said Maskull decisively. "I prefer playing to
listening. Another reason is that you will have every night, but I
have only tonight."
Earthrid clenched and unclenched his fist, and began to turn pale.
"With your recklessness, you are likely to kill us both. Irontick
belongs to me, and until you have learned how to play, you would only
break the instrument."
"Well, then, I will break it; but I am going to try."
The musician jumped to his feet and confronted him. "Do you intend to
take it from me by violence?"
"Keep calm! You will have the same choice that you offered us. I
shall give you time to go away somewhere,"
"How will that serve me, if you spoil my lake? You don't understand
what You are doing."
"Go, or stay!" responded Maskull. "I give you till the water gets
smooth again. After that, I begin playing."
Earthrid kept swallowing. He glanced at the lake and back to
"Do you swear it?"
"How long that will take, you know better than I; but till then you
Earthrid cast him a look of malice, hesitated for an instant, and
then moved away, and started to climb the nearest hill. Halfway up
he glanced over his shoulder apprehensively, as if to see what was
happening. in another minute or so, he had disappeared over the
crest, travelling in the direction of the shore that faced
Later, when the water was once more tranquil. Maskull sat down by
its edge, in imitation of Earthrid's attitude. He knew neither how
to set about producing his music, nor what would come of it. But
audacious projects entered his brain and he willed to create physical
shapes - and, above all, one shape, that of Surtur.
Before putting his foot to the water, he turned things over a little
in his mind.
He said, "What themes are in common music, shapes are in this music.
The composer does not find his theme by picking out single notes; but
the whole theme flashes into his mind by inspiration. So it must be
with shapes. When I start playing, if I am worth anything, the
undivided ideas will pass from my unconscious mind to this lake, and
then, reflected back in the dimensions of reality, I shall be for the
first time made acquainted with them. So it must be."
The instant his foot touched the water, he felt his thoughts flowing
from him. He did not know what they were, but the mere act of
flowing created a sensation of joyful mastery. With this was
curiosity to learn what they would prove to be. Spouts formed on the
lake in increasing numbers, but he experienced no pain. His
thoughts, which he knew to be music, did not issue from him in a
steady, unbroken stream, but in great, rough gushes, succeeding
intervals of quiescence. When these gushes came, the whole lake
broke out in an eruption of spouts.
He realised that the ideas passing from him did not arise in his
intellect, but had their source in the fathomless depths of his will.
He could not decide what character they should have, but he was able
to force them out, or retard them, by the exercise of his volition.
At first nothing changed around him. Then the moon grew dimmer, and
a strange, new radiance began to illuminate the landscape. It
increased so imperceptibly that it was some time before he recognised
it as the Muspel-light which he had seen in the Wombflash Forest. He
could not give it a colour, or a name, but it filled him with a sort
of stern and sacred awe. He called up the resources of his powerful
will. The spouts thickened like a forest, and many of them were
twenty feet high. Teargeld looked faint and pale; the radiance
became intense; but it cast no shadows. The wind got up, but where
Maskull was sitting, it was calm. Shortly afterward it began to
shriek and whistle, like a full gale. He saw no shapes, and
redoubled his efforts.
His ideas were now rushing out onto the lake so furiously that his
whole soul was possessed by exhilaration and defiance. But still he
did not know their nature. A huge spout shot up. and at the same
moment the hills began to crack and break. Great masses of loose
soil were erupted from their bowels, and in the next period of
quietness, he saw that the landscape had altered. Still the
mysterious light intensified. The moon disappeared entirely. The
noise of the unseen tempest was terrifying, but Maskull played
heroically on, trying to urge out ideas which would take shape. The
hillsides were cleft with chasms. The water escaping from the tops
of the spouts, swamped the land; but where he was, it was dry.
The radiance grew terrible. It was everywhere, but Maskull fancied
that it was far brighter in one particular quarter. He thought that
it was becoming localised, preparatory to contracting into a solid
form. He strained and strained....
Immediately afterward the bottom of the lake subsided. Its waters
fell through, and his instrument was broken.
The Muspel-light vanished. The moon shone out again, but Maskull
could not see it. After that unearthly shining, he seemed to himself
to be in total blackness. The screaming wind ceased; there was a
dead silence. His thoughts finished flowing toward the lake, and his
foot no longer touched water, but hung in space.
He was too stunned by the suddenness of the change to either think or
feel. While he was still lying dazed, a vast explosion occurred in
the newly opened depths beneath the lakebed. The water in its
descent had met fire. Maskull was lifted bodily in the air, many
yards high, and came down heavily. He lost consciousness....
When he came to his senses again, he saw everything. Teargeld was
gleaming brilliantly. He was lying by the side. of the old lake, but
it was now a crater, to the bottom of which his eyes could not
penetrate. The hills encircling it were torn, as if by heavy
gunfire. A few thunderclouds were floating in the air at no great
height, from which branched lightning descended to the earth
incessantly, accompanied by alarming and singular crashes.
He got on his legs, and tested his actions. Finding that he was
uninjured, he first of all viewed the crater at closer quarters, and
then started to walk painfully toward the northern shore.
When he had attained the crest above the lake, the landscape sloped
gently down for two miles to the sea. Everywhere he passed through
traces of his rough work. The country was carved into scarps,
grooves, channels, and craters. He arrived at the line of low cliffs
overlooking the beach, and found that these also were partly broken
down by landslips. He got down onto the sand and stood looking over
the moonlit, agitated sea, wondering how he could contrive to escape
from this island of failure.
Then he saw Earthrid's body, lying quite close to him. It was on its
back. Both legs had been violently torn off and he could not see
them anywhere. Earthrid's teeth were buried in the flesh of his
right forearm, indicating that the man had died in unreasoning
physical agony. The skin gleamed green in the moonlight, but it was
stained by darker discolourations, which were wounds. The sand about
him was dyed by the pool of blood which had long since filtered
Maskull left the corpse in dismay, and walked a long way along the
sweet-smelling shore. Sitting down on a rock, he waited for
At midnight, when Teargeld was in the south, throwing his shadow
straight toward the sea and making everything nearly as bright as
day, he saw a great tree floating in the water, not far out. It was
thirty feet out of the water, upright, and alive, and its roots must
have been enormously deep and wide. It was drifting along the coast,
through the heavy seas. Maskull eyed it incuriously for a few
minutes. Then it dawned on him that it might be a good thing to
investigate its nature. Without stopping to weigh the danger, he
immediately swam out, caught hold of the lowest branch, and swung
He looked aloft and saw that the main stem was thick to the very top,
terminating in a knob that somewhat resembled a human head. He made
his way toward this knob, through the multitude of boughs, which were
covered with tough, slippery, marine leaves, like seaweed. Arriving
at the crown, he found that it actually was a sort of head. for there
were membranes like rudimentary eyes all the way around it, denoting
some form of low intelligence.
At that moment the tree touched bottom, though some way from the
shore, and began to bump heavily. To steady himself, Maskull put his
hand out, and, in doing so, accidentally covered some of the
membranes. The tree sheered off the land, as if by an act of will.
When it was steady again, Maskull removed his hand; they at once
drifted back to shore. He thought a bit, and then started
experimenting with the eyelike membranes. It was as he had guessed -
these eyes were stimulated by the light of the moon, and whichever
way the light came from, the tree would travel.
A rather defiant smile crossed Maskull's face as it struck him that
it might be possible to navigate this huge plant-animal as far as
Matterplay. He lost no time in putting the conception into
execution. Tearing off some of the long, tough leaves, he bound up
all the membranes except the ones that faced the north. The tree
instantly left the island, and definitely put out to sea. It
travelled due north. It was not moving at more than a mile an hour,
however, while Matterplay was possibly forty miles distant.
The great spout waves fell against the trunk with mighty thuds; the
breaking seas hissed through the lower branches - Maskull rested high
and dry, but was more than a little apprehensive about their slow
rate of progress. Presently he sighted a current racing along toward
the north-west, and that put another idea into his head. He began to
juggle with the membranes again, and before long had succeeded in
piloting his tree into the fast-running stream. As soon as they were
fairly in its rapids. he blinded the crown entirely, and
thenceforward the current acted in the double capacity of road and
Maskull made himself secure among the branches and slept for the
remainder of the night.
When his eyes opened again, the island was out of sight. Teargeld
was setting in the western sea. The sky in the east was bright with
the colours of the approaching day. The air was cool and fresh; the
light over the sea was beautiful, gleaming, and mysterious. Land -
probably Matterplay - lay ahead, a long, dark line of low cliffs,
perhaps a mile away. The current no longer ran toward the shore, but
began to skirt the coast without drawing any closer to it. As soon
as Maskull realised the fact, he manoeuvred the tree out of its
channel and started drifting it inshore. The eastern sky blazed up
suddenly with violent dyes, and the outer rim of Branchspell lifted
itself above the sea. The moon had already sunk.
The shore loomed nearer and nearer. In physical character it was
like Swaylone's Island - the same wide sands, small cliffs, and
rounded, insignificant hills inland, without vegetation. In the
early-morning sunlight, however, it looked romantic. Maskull,
hollow-eyed and morose, cared nothing for all that, but the moment
the tree grounded, clambered swiftly down through the branches and
dropped into the sea. By the time he had swam ashore, the white,
stupendous sun was high above the horizon.
He walked along the sands toward the east for a considerable
distance, without having any special intention in his mind. He
thought he would go on until he came to some creek or valley, and
then turn up it. The sun's rays were cheering, and began to relieve
him of his oppressive night weight. After strolling along the beach
for about a mile, he was stopped by a broad stream that flowed into
the sea out of a kind of natural gateway in the line of cliffs. Its
water was of a beautiful, limpid green, all filled with bubbles. So
ice-cold, aerated, and enticing did it look that he flung himself
face downward on the ground and took a prolonged draught. When he
got up again his eyes started to play pranks - they became
alternately blurted and clear.... It may have been pure imagination,
but he fancied that Digrung was moving inside him.
He followed the bank of the stream through the gap in the cliffs, and
then for the first time saw the real Matterplay. A valley appeared,
like a jewel enveloped by naked rock. All the hill country was bare
and lifeless, but this valley lying in the heart of it was extremely
fertile; he had never seen such fertility. It wound up among the
hills, and all that he was looking at was its broad lower end. The
floor of the valley was about half a mile wide; the stream that ran
down its middle was nearly a hundred feet across, but was exceedingly
shallow - in most places not more than a few inches deep. The sides
of the valley were about seventy feet high, but very sloping; they
were clothed from top to bottom with little, bright-leaved trees -
not of varied tints of one colour, like Earth trees, but of widely
diverse colours, most of which were brilliant and positive.
The floor itself was like a magician's garden. Densely interwoven
trees, shrubs, and parasitical climbers fought everywhere for
possession of it. The forms were strange and grotesque, and each one
seemed different; the colours of leaf, flower, sexual organs, and
stem were equally peculiar - all the different combinations of the
five primary colours of Tormance seemed to be represented, and the
result, for Maskull was a sort of eye chaos. So rank was the
vegetation that he could not fight his way through it; he was obliged
to take to the riverbed. The contact of the water created an odd
tingling sensation throughout his body, like a mild electric shock.
There were no birds, but a few extraordinary - looking winged
reptiles of small size kept crossing the valley from hill to hill.
Swarms of flying insects clustered around him, threatening mischief,
but in the end it turned out that his blood was disagreeable to them.
for he was not bitten once. Repulsive crawling creatures resembling
centipedes, scorpions, snakes, and so forth were in myriads on the
banks of the stream, but they also made no attempt to use their
weapons on his bare legs and feet, as he passed through them into the
water.... Presently however, he was confronted in midstream by a
hideous monster, of the size of a pony, but resembling in shape - if
it resembled anything - a sea crustacean; and then he came to a halt.
They stared at one another, the beast with wicked eyes, Maskull with
cool and wary ones. While he was staring, a singular thing happened
His eyes blurred again. But when in a minute or two this blurring
passed away and he saw clearly once more, his vision had changed in
character. He was looking right through the animal's body and could
distinguish all its interior parts. The outer crust, however, and
all the hard tissues were misty and semi-transparent; through them a
luminous network of blood-red veins and arteries stood out in
startling distinctness. The hard parts faded away to nothingness,
and the blood system alone was left. Not even the fleshy ducts
remained. The naked blood alone was visible, flowing this way and
that like a fiery, liquid skeleton, in the shape of the monster.
Then this blood began to change too. Instead of a continuous liquid
stream, Maskull perceived that it was composed of a million
individual points. The red colour had been an illusion caused by the
rapid motion of the points; he now saw clearly that they resembled
minute suns in their scintillating brightness. They seemed like a
double drift of stars, streaming through space. One drift was
travelling toward a fixed point in the centre, while the other was
moving away from it. He recognised the former as the veins of the
beast, the latter as the arteries, and the fixed point as the heart.
While he was still looking, lost in amazement, the starry network
went out suddenly like an extinguished flame. Where the crustacean
had stood, there was nothing. Yet through this "nothing' he could
not see the landscape. Something was standing there that intercepted
the light, though it possessed neither shape, colour, nor substance.
And now the object, which could no longer be perceived by vision,
began to be felt by emotion. A delightful, springlike sense of
rising sap, of quickening pulses of love, adventure, mystery, beauty,
femininity - took possession of his being, and, strangely enough, he
identified it with the monster. Why that invisible brute should
cause him to feel young, sexual, and audacious, he did not ask
himself, for he was fully occupied with the effect. But it was as if
flesh, bones, and blood had been discarded, and he were face to face
with naked Life itself, which slowly passed into his own body.
The sensations died away. there was a brief interval, and then the
streaming, starlike skeleton rose up again out of space. It changed
to the red-blood system. The hard parts of the body reappeared, with
more and more distinctness, and at the same time the network of blood
grew fainter. Presently the interior parts were entirely concealed
by the crust - the creature stood opposite Maskull in its old
formidable ugliness, hard, painted, and concrete.
Disliking something about him, the crustacean turned aside and
stumbled awkwardly away on its six legs, with laborious and repulsive
movements, toward the other bank of the stream.
Maskull's apathy left him after this adventure. He became uneasy and
thoughtful. He imagined that he was beginning to see things through
Digrung's eyes, and that there were strange troubles immediately
ahead. The next time his eyes started to blur, he fought it down
with his will, and nothing happened.
The valley ascended with many windings toward the hills. It narrowed
considerably, and the wooded slopes on either side grew steeper and
higher. The stream shrunk to about twenty feet across, but it was
deeper - it was alive with motion, music, and bubbles. The electric
sensations caused by its water became more pronounced, almost
disagreeably so; but there was nowhere else to walk. With its
deafening confusion of sounds from the multitude of living creatures,
the little valley resembled a vast conversation hall of Nature. The
life was still more prolific than before; every square foot of space
was a tangle of struggling wills, both animal and vegetable. For a
naturalist it would have been paradise, for no two shapes were alike,
and all were fantastic, with individual character.
It looked as if life forms were being coined so fast by Nature that
there was not physical room for all. Nevertheless it was not as on
Earth, where a hundred seeds are scattered in order that one may be
sown. Here the young forms seemed to survive, while, to find
accommodation for them, the old ones perished; everywhere he looked
they were withering and dying, without any ostensible cause - they
were simply being killed by new life.
Other creatures sported so wildly, in front of his very eyes, that
they became of different "kingdoms" altogether. For example, a fruit
was lying on the ground, of the size and shape of a lemon, but with a
tougher skin. He picked it up, intending to eat the contained pulp;
but inside it was a fully formed young tree, just on the point of
bursting its shell. Maskull threw it away upstream. It floated back
toward him; by the time he was even with it, its downward motion had
stopped and it was swimming against the current. He fished it out
and discovered that it had sprouted six rudimentary legs.
Maskull sang no paeans of praise in honour of the gloriously
overcrowded valley. On the contrary, he felt deeply cynical and
depressed. He thought that the unseen power - whether it was called
Nature, Life, Will, or God - that was so frantic to rush forward and
occupy this small, vulgar, contemptible world, could not possess very
high aims and was not worth much. How this sordid struggle for an
hour or two of physical existence could ever be regarded as a deeply
earnest and important business was beyond his comprehension The
atmosphere choked him, he longed for air and space. Thrusting his
way through to the side of the ravine, he began to climb the
overhanging cliff, swinging his way up from tree to tree.
When he arrived at the top, Branchspell beat down on him with such
brutal, white intensity that he saw that there was no staying there.
He looked around, to ascertain what part of the country he had come
to. He had travelled about ten miles from the sea, as the crow
flies. The bare, undulating wolds sloped straight down toward it;
the water glittered in the distance; and on the horizon he was just
able to make out Swaylone's Island. Looking north, the land
continued sloping upward as far as he could see. Over the crest -
that is to say, some miles away - a line of black, fantastic-shaped
rocks of quite another character showed themselves; this was probably
Threal. Behind these again, against the sky, perhaps fifty or even a
hundred miles off, were the peaks of Lichstorm, most of them covered
with greenish snow that glittered in the sunlight.
They were stupendously high and of weird contours. Most of them were
conical to the top, but from the top, great masses of mountain
balanced themselves at what looked like impossible angles -
overhanging without apparent support. A land like that promised
something new, he thought: extraordinary inhabitants. The idea took
shape in his mind to go there, and to travel as swiftly as possible,
it might even be feasible to get there before sunset . It was less
the mountains themselves that attracted him than the country which
lay beyond - the prospect of setting eyes on the blue sun, which he
judged to be the wonder of wonders in Tormance.
The direct route was over the hills, but that was out of the
question, because of the killing heat and the absence of shade. He
guessed, however, that the valley would not take him far out of his
way, and decided to keep to that for the time being, much as he hated
and feared it. Into the hotbed of life, therefore, he once more
Once down, he continued to follow the windings of the valley for
several miles through sunlight and shadow. The path became
increasingly difficult. The cliffs closed in on either side until
they were less than a hundred yards apart, while the bed of the
ravine was blocked by boulders, great and small, so that the little
stream, which was now diminished to the proportions of a brook, had
to come down where and how it could. The forms of life grew
stranger. Pure plants and pure animals disappeared by degrees, and
their place was filled by singular creatures that seemed to partake
of both characters. They had limbs, faces, will, and intelligence,
but they remained for the greater part of their time rooted in the
ground by preference, and they fed only on soil and air. Maskull saw
no sexual organs and failed to understand how the young came into
Then he witnessed an astonishing sight. A large and fully developed
plant-animal appeared suddenly in front of him, out of empty space.
He could not believe his eyes, but stared at the creature for a long
time in amazement. It went on calmly moving and burrowing before
him, as thought it had been there all its life. Giving up the
puzzle, Maskull resumed his striding from rock to rock up the gorge,
and then, quietly and without warning, the same phenomenon occurred
again. No longer could he doubt than he was seeing miracles - that
Nature was precipitating its shapes into the world without making use
of the medium of parentage.. .. No solution of the problem presented
The brook too had altered in character. A trembling radiance came up
from its green water, like some imprisoned force escaping into the
air. He had not walked in it for some time; now he did so, to test
its quality. He felt new life entering his body, from his feet
upward; it resembled a slowly moving cordial, rather than mere heat.
The sensation was quite new in his experience, yet he knew by
instinct what it was. The energy emitted by the brook was ascending
his body neither as friend nor foe but simply because it happened to
be the direct road to its objective elsewhere. But, although it had
no hostile intentions, it was likely to prove a rough traveller - he
was clearly conscious that its passage through his body threatened to
bring about some physical transformation, unless he could do
something to prevent it. Leaping quickly out of the water, he leaned
against a rock, tightened his muscles, and braced himself against the
impending charge. At that very moment the blurring again attacked
his sight, and, while he was guarding against that, his forehead
sprouted out into a galaxy of new eyes. He put his hand up and
counted six, in addition to his old ones.
The danger was past and Maskull laughed, congratulating himself on
having got off so easily. Then he wondered what the new organs were
for - whether they were a good or a bad thing. He had not taken a
dozen steps up the ravine before he found out. Just as he was in the
act of jumping down from the top of a boulder, his vision altered and
he came to an automatic standstill. He was perceiving two worlds
simultaneously. With his own eyes he saw the gorge as before, with
its rocks, brook, plant - animals, sunshine, and shadows. But with
his acquired eyes he saw differently. All the details of the valley
were visible, but the light seemed turned down, and everything
appeared faint, hard, and uncoloured. The sun was obscured by masses
of cloud which filled the whole sky. This vapour was in violent and
almost living motion. It was thick in extension, but thin in
texture; some parts, however, were far denser than others, as the
particles were crushed together or swept apart by the motion. The
green sparks from the brook, when closely watched, could be
distinguished individually, each one wavering up toward the clouds,
but the moment they got within them a fearful struggle seemed to
begin. The spark endeavoured to escape through to the upper air,
while the clouds concentrated around it whichever way it darted,
trying to create so dense a prison that further movement would be
impossible. As far as Maskull could detect, most of the sparks
succeeded eventually in finding their way out after frantic efforts;
but one that he was looking at was caught, and what happened was
this. A complete ring of cloud surrounded it, and, in spite of its
furious leaps and flashes in all directions - as if it were a live,
savage creature caught in a net - nowhere could it find an opening,
but it dragged the enveloping cloud stuff with it, wherever it went.
The vapours continued to thicken around it, until they resembled the
black, heavy, compressed sky masses seen before a bad thunderstorm.
Then the green spark, which was still visible in the interior, ceased
its efforts, and remained for a time quite quiescent. The cloud
shape went on consolidating itself, and became nearly spherical; as
it grew heavier and stiller, it started slowly to descend toward the
valley floor. When it was directly opposite Maskull, with its lower
end only a few feet off the ground, its motion stopped altogether and
there was a complete pause for at least two minutes. Suddenly, like
a stab of forked lightning, the great cloud shot together, became
small, indented, and coloured, and as a plant-animal started walking
around on legs and rooting up the ground in search of food. The
concluding stage of the phenomenon he witnessed with his normal
eyesight. It showed him the creature's appearing miraculously out of
Maskull was shaken. His cynicism dropped from him and gave place to
curiosity and awe. "That was exactly like the birth of a thought,"
he said to himself, "but who was the thinker? Some great Living Mind
is at work in this spot. He has intelligence, for all his shapes are
different, and he has character, for all belong to the same general
type.. .. If I'm not wrong, and if it's the force called Shaping or
Crystalman, I've seen enough to make me want to find out something
more about him.... It would be ridiculous to go on to other riddles
before I have solved these."
A voice called out to him from behind, and, turning around, he saw a
human figure hastening toward him from some distance down the ravine.
It looked more like a man than a woman. He was rather tall, but
nimble, and was clothed in a dark, frocklike garment that reached
from the neck to below the knees. Around his head was rolled a
turban. Maskull waited for him, and when he was nearer went a little
way to meet him.
Then he experienced another surprise, for this person, although
clearly a human being, was neither man nor woman, nor anything
between the two, but was unmistakably of a third positive sex, which
was remarkable to behold and difficult to understand. In order to
translate into words the sexual impression produced in Maskull's mind
by the stranger's physical aspect, it is necessary to coin a new
pronoun, for none in earthly use would be applicable. Instead of
"he," "she," or "it," therefore "ae" will be used.
He found himself incapable of grasping at first why the bodily
peculiarities of this being should strike him as springing from sex,
and not from race, and yet there was no doubt about the fact itself.
Body, face, and eyes were absolutely neither male nor female, but
something quite different. Just as one can distinguish a man from a
woman at the first glance by some indefinable difference of
expression and atmospheres altogether apart from the contour of the
figure, so the stranger was separated in appearance from both. As
with men and women, the whole person expressed a latent sensuality,
which. gave body and face alike their peculiar character.... Maskull
decided that it was love - but what love - love for whom? it was
neither the shame-carrying passion of a male, nor the deep-rooted
instinct of a female to obey her destiny. It was as real and
irresistible as these, but quite different.
As he continued staring into those strange, archaic eyes, he had an
intuitive feeling that aer lover was no other than Shaping himself.
it came to him that the design of this love was not the continuance
of the race but the immortality on earth of the individual. No
children were produced by the act; the lover aerself was the eternal
child. Further, ae sought like a man, but received like a woman.
All these things were dimly and confusedly expressed by this
extraordinary being, who seemed to have dropped out of another age,
when creation was different.
Of all the weird personalities Maskull had so far met in Tormance,
this one struck him as. infinitely the most foreign - that is, the
farthest removed from him in spiritual structure. If they were to
live together for a hundred years, they could never be companions.
Maskull pulled himself out of his trancelike meditations and, viewing
the newcomer in greater detail, tried with his understanding to
account for the marvellous things told him by his intuitions. Ae
possessed broad shoulders and big bones, and was without female
breasts, and so far ae resembled a man. But the bones were so flat
and angular that aer flesh presented something of the character of a
crystal, having plane surfaces in place of curves. The body looked
as if it had not been ground down by the sea of ages into smooth and
rounded regularity but had sprung together in angles and facets as
the result of a single, sudden idea. The face too was broken and
irregular. With his racial prejudices, Maskull found little beauty
in it, yet beauty there was, though neither of a masculine nor of a
feminine type, for it had the three essentials of beauty: character,
intelligence, and repose. The skin was copper-coloured and strangely
luminous, as if lighted from within. The face was beardless, but the
hair of the head was as long as a woman's, and, dressed in a single
plait, fell down behind as far as the ankles. Ae possessed only two
eyes. That part of the turban which went across the forehead
protruded so far in front that it evidently concealed some organ.
Maskull found it impossible to compute aer age. The frame appeared
active, vigorous, and healthy, the skin was clear and glowing; the
eyes were powerful and alert - ae might well be in early youth.
Nevertheless, the longer Maskull gazed, the more an impression of
unbelievable ancientness came upon him - aer real youth seemed as far
away as the view observed through a reversed telescope.
At last he addressed the stranger, though it was just as if he were
conversing with a dream. "To what sex do you belong?" he asked.
The, voice in which the reply came was neither manly nor womanly, but
was oddly suggestive of a mystical forest horn, heard from a great
"Nowadays there are men and women, but in the olden times the world
was peopled by 'phaens.' I think I am the only survivor of all those
beings who were then passing through Faceny's mind."
"Who is now miscalled Shaping or Crystalman. The superficial names
invented by a race of superficial creatures."
"What's your own name?"
"Leehallfae. And yours is Maskull. I read in your mind that you have
just come through some wonderful adventures. You seem to possess
extraordinary luck. If it lasts long enough, perhaps I can make use
"Do you think that my luck exists for your benefit? ... But never
mind that now. It is your sex that interests me. How do you satisfy
Leehallfae pointed to the concealed organ on aer brow. "With that I
gather life from the streams that flow in all the hundred Matterplay
valleys. The streams spring direct from Faceny. My whole life has
been spent trying to find Faceny himself. I've hunted so long that
if I were to state the number of years you would believe I lied."
Maskull looked at the phaen slowly. "In Ifdawn I met someone else
from Matterplay - a young man called Digrung. I absorbed him."
"You can't be telling me this out of vanity."
"It was a fearful crime. What will come of it?
Leehallfae gave a curious, wrinkled smile. "In Matterplay he will
stir inside you, for he smells the air. Already you have his
eyes.... I knew him.... Take care of yourself, or something more
startling may happen. Keep out of the water."
"This seems. to me a terrible valley, in which anything may happen."
"Don't torment yourself about Digrung. The valleys belong by right
to the phaens - the men here are interlopers. It is a good work to
Maskull continued thoughtful. "I say no more, but I see I will have
to be cautious. What did you mean about my helping you with my
"Your luck is fast weakening, but it may still be strong enough to
serve me. Together we will search for Threal."
"Search for Threal - why, is it so hard to find?"
"I have told you that my whole life has been spent in the quest."
"You said Faceny, Leehallfae."
The phaen gazed at him with queer, ancient eyes, and smiled again.
"This stream, Maskull, like every other life stream in Matterplay,
has its source in Faceny. But as all these streams issue out from
Threal, it is in Threal that we must look for Faceny."
"But what's to prevent your finding Threal? Surely it's a well-known
"It lies underground. Its communications with the upper world are
few, and where they are, no one that I have ever spoken to knows. I
have scoured the valleys and the hills. I have been to the very gates
of Lichstorm. I am old, so that your aged men would appear newborn
infants beside me, but I am as far from Threal as when I was a green
youth, dwelling among a throng of fellow phaens."
"Then, if my luck is good, yours is very bad.... But when you have
found Faceny, what do you gain?"
Leehallfae looked at him in silence. The smile faded from aer face,
and its place was taken by such a look of unearthly pain and sorrow
that Maskull had no need to press his question. Ae was consumed by
the grief and yearning of a lover eternally separated from the loved
one, the scents and traces of whose person were always present. This
passion stamped her features at that moment with a wild, stern,
spiritual beauty, far transcending any beauty of woman or man.
But the expression vanished suddenly, and then the abrupt contrast
showed Maskull the real Leehallfae. Aer sensuality was solitary, but
vulgar - it was like the heroism of a lonely nature, pursuing animal
aims with untiring persistence.
He looked at the phaen askance, and drummed his fingers against his
thigh. "Well, we will go together. We may find something, and in
any case I shan't be sorry to converse with such a singular
individual as yourself."
"But I should warn you, Maskull. You and I are of different
creations. A phaen's body contains the whole of life, a man's body
contains only the half of life - the other half is in woman. Faceny
may be too strong a draught for your body to endure.... Do you not
"I am dull with my different feelings. I must take what precautions
I can, and chance the rest." He bent down, and, taking hold of the
phaen's thin and ragged robe, tore off a broad strip, which he
proceeded to swathe in folds around his forehead. "I'm not forgetting
your advice, Leehallfae. I would not like to start the walk as
Maskull and finish it as Digrung."
The phaen gave a twisted grin, and they began to move upstream. The
road was difficult. They had to stride from boulder to boulder, and
found it warm work. Occasionally a worse obstacle presented itself,
which they could surmount only by climbing. There was no more
conversation for a long time. Maskull, as far as possible, adopted
his companion's counsel to avoid the water, but here and there he was
forced to set foot in it. The second or third time he did so, he
felt a sudden agony in his arm, where it had been wounded by Krag.
His eyes grew joyful; his fears vanished; and he began deliberately
to tread the stream.
Leehallfae stroked aer chin and watched him with screwed-up eyes,
trying to comprehend what had happened. "Is your luck speaking to
you, Maskull, or what is the matter?"
"Listen. You are a being of antique experience, and ought to know,
if anyone does. What is Muspel?"
The phaen's face was blank. "I don't know the name."
"It is another world of some sort."
"That cannot be. There is only this one world - Faceny's."
Maskull came up to aer, linked arms, and began to talk. "I'm glad I
fell in with you, Leehallfae, for this valley and everything
connected with it need a lot of explaining. For example, in this
spot there are hardly any organic forms left - why have they all
disappeared? You call this brook a 'life stream,' yet the nearer its
source we get, the less life it produces. A mile or two lower down
we had those spontaneous plant-animals appearing out of nowhere,
while right down by the sea, plants and animals were tumbling over
one another. Now, if all this is connected in some mysterious way or
other with your Faceny, it seems to me he must have a most
paradoxical nature. His essence doesn't start creating shapes until
it has become thoroughly weakened and watered.... But perhaps both of
us are talking nonsense."
Leehallfae shook aer head. "Everything hangs together. The stream
is life, and it is throwing off sparks of life all the time. When
these sparks are caught and imprisoned by matter, they become living
shapes. The nearer the stream is to its source, the more terrible
and vigorous is its life. You'll see for yourself when we reach the
head of the valley that there are no living shapes there at all.
That means that there is no kind of matter touch enough to capture
and hold the terrible sparks that are to be found there. Lower down
the stream, most of the sparks are vigorous enough to escape to the
upper air, but some are. held when they are a little way up, and
these burst suddenly into shapes. I myself am of this nature. Lower
down still, toward the sea, the stream has lost a great part of its
vital power and the sparks are lazy and sluggish. They spread out,
rather than rise into the air. There is hardly any kind of matter,
however delicate, that is incapable of capturing these feeble sparks,
and they are captured in multitudes - that accounts for the
innumerable living shapes you see there. But not only that - the
sparks are passed from one body to another by way of generation, and
can never hope to cease being so until they are worn out by decay.
Lowest of all, you have the Sinking Sea itself. There the degenerate
and enfeebled life of the Matterplay streams has for its body the
whole sea. So weak is it's power that it can't succeed in creating
any shapes at all but you can see its ceaseless, futile attempts to
do so, in those spouts."
"So the slow development of men and women is due to the feebleness of
the life germ in their case?"
"Exactly. It can't attain all its desires at once. And now you can
see how immeasurably superior are the phaens, who spring
spontaneously from the more electric and vigorous sparks."
"But where does the matter come from that imprisons these sparks?"
"When life dies, it becomes matter. Matter itself dies, but its
place is constantly taken by new matter."
"But if life comes from Faceny, how can it die at all?"
"Life is the thoughts of Faceny, and once these thoughts have left
his brain they are nothing - mere dying embers."
"This is a cheerless philosophy," said Maskull. "But who is Faceny
himself, then, and why does he think at all?"
Leehallfae gave another wrinkled smile. "That I'll explain too.
Faceny is of this nature. He faces Nothingness in all directions.
He has no back and no sides, but is all face; and this face is his
shape. It must necessarily be so, for nothing else can exist between
him and Nothingness. His face is all eyes, for he eternally
contemplates Nothingness. He draws his inspirations from it; in no
other way could he feel himself. For the same reason, phaens and
even men love to be in empty places and vast solitudes, for each one
is a little Faceny."
"That rings true," said Maskull.
"Thoughts flow perpetually from Faceny's face backward. Since his
face is on all sides, however, they flow into his interior. A
draught of thought thus continuously flows from Nothingness to the
inside of Faceny, which is the world. The thoughts become shapes,
and people the world. This outer world, therefore, which is lying
all around us, is not outside at all, as it happens, but inside. The
visible universe is like a gigantic stomach, and the real outside of
the world we shall never see."
Maskull pondered deeply for a while.
"Leehallfae, I fail to see what you personally have to hope for,
since you are nothing more than a discarded, dying thought."
"Have you never loved a woman?" asked the phaen, regarding him
"Perhaps I have."
"When you loved, did you have no high moments?"
"That's asking the same question in other words."
"In those moments you were approaching Faceny. If you could have
drawn nearer still, would you not have done so?"
"I would, regardless of the consequences."
"Even if you personally had nothing to hope for?"
"But I would have that to hope for."
Leehallfae walked on in silence.
"A man is the half of Life," ae broke out suddenly. "A woman is the
other half of life, but a phaen is the whole of life. Moreover, when
life becomes split into halves, something else has dropped out of it
- something that belongs only to the whole. Between your love and
mine there is no comparison. If even your sluggish blood is drawn to
Faceny, without stopping to ask what will come of it, how do you
suppose it is with me?"
"I don't question the genuineness of your passion," replied Maskull,
"but it's a pity you can't see your way to carry it forward into the
Leehallfae gave a distorted grin, expressing heaven knows what
emotion. "Men think what they like, but phaens are so made that they
can see the world only as it really is."
That ended the conversation.
The sun was high in the sky, and they appeared to be approaching the
head of the ravine. Its walls had still further closed in and,
except at those moments when Branchspell was directly behind them,
they strode along all the time in deep shade; but still it was
disagreeably hot and relaxing. All life had ceased. A beautiful,
fantastic spectacle was presented by the cliff faces, the rocky
ground, and the boulders that choked the entire width of the gorge.
They were a snow-white crystalline limestone, heavily scored by veins
of bright, gleaming blue. The rivulet was no longer green, but a
clear, transparent crystal. Its noise was musical, and altogether it
looked most romantic and charming, but Leehallfae seemed to find
something else in it - aer features grew more and more set and
About half an hour after all the other life forms had vanished,
another plant-animal was precipitated out of space, in front of their
eyes. It was as tall as Maskull himself, and had a brilliant and
vigorous appearance, as befitted a creature just out of Nature's
mint. It started to walk about; but hardly had it done so when it
burst silently asunder. Nothing remained of it - the whole body
disappeared instantaneously into the same invisible mist from which
it had sprung.
"That bears out what you said," commented Maskull, turning rather
"Yes," answered Leehallfae, "we have now come to the region of
"Then, since you're right in this, I must believe all that you've
been telling me."
As he uttered the words, they were just turning a bend of the ravine.
There now loomed up straight ahead a perpendicular cliff about three
hundred feet in height, composed of white, marbled rock. It was the
head of the valley, and beyond it they could not proceed.
"In return for my wisdom," said the phaen, "you will now lend me your
They walked up to the base of the cliff, and Maskull looked at it
reflectively. It was possible to climb it, but the ascent would be
difficult. The now tiny brook issued from a hole in the rock only a
few feet up. Apart from its musical running, not a sound was to be
beard. The floor of the gorge was in shadow, but about halfway up
the precipice the sun was shining.
"What do you want me to do?" demanded Maskull. "Everything is now in
your hands, and I have no suggestions to make. Now it's your luck
that must help us.
Maskull continued gazing up a little while longer. "We had better
wait till the afternoon, Leehallfae. I'll probably have to climb to
the top, but it's too hot at present - and besides, I'm tired. I'll
snatch a few hours' sleep. After that, we'll see."
Leehallfae seemed annoyed, but raised no opposition.
Maskull did not awaken till long after Blodsombre. Leehallfae was
standing by his side, looking down at him. It was doubtful whether
ae had slept at all.
"What time is it?" Maskull asked, rubbing his eyes and sitting up.
"The day is passing," was the vague reply.
Maskull got on to his feet, and gazed up at the cliff. "Now I'm
going to climb that. No need for both of us to risk our necks, so
you wait here, and if I find anything on top I'll call you."
Ale phaen glanced at him strangely. "There's nothing up there except
a bare hillside. I've been there often. Have you anything special
"Heights often bring me inspiration. Sit down, and wait."
Refreshed by his sleep, Maskull immediately attacked the face of the
cliff, and took the first twenty feet at a single rush. Then it grew
precipitous, and the ascent demanded greater circumspection and
intelligence. There were few hand- or footholds: he had to reflect
before every step. On the other hand, it was sound rock, and he was
no novice at the sport. Branchspell glared full on the wall, so that
it half blinded him with its glittering whiteness.
After many doubts and pauses he drew near the top. He was hot,
sweating copiously, and rather dizzy. To reach a ledge he caught
hold of two projecting rocks, one with each hand, at the same time
scrambling upward, his legs between the rocks. The left-hand rock,
which was the larger of the two, became dislodged by his weight, and,
flying like a huge, dark shadow past his head, crashed down with a
terrifying sound to the foot of the precipice, followed by an
avalanche of smaller stones. Maskull steadied himself as well as he
could, but it was some moments before he dared to look down behind
At first he could not distinguish Leehallfae. Then he caught sight
of legs and hindquarters a few feet up the cliff from the bottom. He
perceived that the phaen had aer head in a cavity and was
scrutinising something, and waited for aer to reappear.
Ae emerged, looked up to Maskull, and called out in aer hornlike
voice, "The entrance is here!"
"I'm coming down!" roared Maskull. "Wait for me!"
He descended swiftly - without taking too much care, for he thought
he recognised his "luck" in this discovery - and within twenty
minutes was standing beside the phaen.
"The rock you dislodged struck this other rock just above the spring.
It tore it out of its bed. See - now there's room for us to get in!"
"Don't get excited!" said Maskull. "It's a remarkable accident, but
we have plenty of time. Let me look."
He peered into the hole, which was large enough to admit a big man
without stooping. Contrasted with the daylight outside it was dark,
yet a peculiar glow pervaded the place, and he could see well enough.
A rock tunnel went straight forward into the bowels of the hill, out
of sight. The valley brook did not flow along the floor of this
tunnel, as he had expected, but came up as a spring just inside the
"Well Leehallfae, not much need to deliberate, eh? Still, observe
that your stream parts company with us here."
As he turned around for an answer he noticed that his companion was
trembling from head to foot.
"Why, what's the matter?"
Leehallfae pressed a hand to aer heart. "The stream leaves us, but
what makes the stream what it is continues with us. Faceny is
"But surely you don't expect to see him in person? Why are you
"Perhaps it will be too much for me after all."
"Why? How is it affecting you?"
The phaen took him by the shoulder and held him at arm's length,
endeavouring to study him with aer unsteady eyes. "Faceny's thoughts
are obscure. I am his lover, you are a lover of women, yet he grants
to you what he denies to me."
"What does he grant to me?"
"To see him, and go on living. I shall die. But it's immaterial.
Tomorrow both of us will be dead."
Maskull impatiently shook himself free. "Your sensations may be
reliable in your own case, but how do you know I shall die?"
"Life is flaming up inside you," replied Leehallfae, shaking aer
head. "But after it has reached its climax - perhaps tonight - it
will sink rapidly and you'll die tomorrow. As for me, if I enter
Threal I shan't come out again. A smell of death is being wafted to
me out of this hole."
"You talk like a frightened man. I smell nothing."
"I am not frightened," said Leehallfae quietly - ae had been
gradually recovering aer tranquillity - "but when one has lived as
long as I have, it is a serious matter to die. Every year one puts
out new roots."
"Decide what you're going to do," said Maskull with a touch of
contempt, "for I'm going in at once."
The phaen gave an odd, meditative stare down the ravine, and after
that walked into the cavern without another word. Maskull,
scratching his head, followed close at aer heels.
The moment they stepped across the bubbling spring, the atmosphere
altered. Without becoming stale or unpleasant, it grew cold, clear
and refined, and somehow suggested austere and tomblike thoughts.
The daylight disappeared at the first bend in the tunnel. After
that, Maskull could not say where the light came from. The air
itself must have been luminous, for though it was as light as full
moon on Earth, neither he nor Leehallfae cast a shadow. Another
peculiarity of the light was that both the walls of the tunnel and
their own bodies appeared colourless. Everything was black and
white, like a lunar landscape. This intensified the solemn, funereal
feelings created by the atmosphere.
After they had proceeded for about ten minutes, the tunnel began to
widen out. The roof was high above their heads, and six men could
have walked side by side. Leehallfae was visibly weakening. Ae
dragged aerself along slowly and painfully, with sunken head.
Maskull caught hold of aer. "You can't go on like that. Better let
me take you back."
The phaen smiled, and staggered. "I'm dying."
"Don't talk like that. It's only a passing indisposition. Let me
take you back to the daylight."
"No, help me forward. I wish to see Faceny."
"The sick must have their way," said Maskull. Lifting aer bodily in
his arms, he walked quickly along for another hundred yards or so.
They then emerged from the tunnel and faced a world the parallel of
which he had
never set eyes upon before.
"Set me down!" directed Leehallfae feebly. "Here I'll die."
Maskull obeyed, and laid aer down at full length on the rocky ground.
The phaen raised aerself with difficulty on one arm, and stared with
fast-glazing eyes at the mystic landscape.
Maskull looked too, and what he saw was a vast, undulating plain,
lighted as if by the moon - but there was of course no moon, and
there were no shadows. He made out running streams in the distance.
Beside them were trees of a peculiar kind; they were rooted in the
ground, but the branches also were aerial roots, and there were no
leaves. No other plants could be seen. The soil was soft, porous
rock, resembling pumice. Beyond a mile or two in any direction the
light merged into obscurity. At their back a great rocky wall
extended on either hand; but it was not square like a wall, but full
of bays and promontories like an indented line of sea cliffs. The
roof of this huge underworld was out of sight. Here and there a
mighty shaft of naked rock, fantastically weathered, towered aloft
into the gloom, doubtless serving to support the roof. There were no
colours - every detail of the landscape was black, white, or grey.
The scene appeared so still, so solemn and religious, that all his
feelings quieted down to absolute tranquillity.
Leehallfae fell back suddenly. Maskull dropped on his knees, and
helplessly watched the last flickerings of aer spirit, going out like
a candle in foul air. Death came.... He closed the eyes. The awful
grin of Crystalman immediately fastened upon the phaen's dead
While Maskull was still kneeling, he became conscious of someone
standing beside him. He looked up quickly and saw a man, but did not
at once rise.
"Another phaen dead," said the newcomer in a grave, toneless, and
Maskull got up.
The man was short and thickset but emaciated. His forehead was not
disfigured by any organs. He was middle-aged. The features were
energetic and rather coarse - yet it seemed to Maskull as though a
pure, hard life had done something toward refining them. His
sanguine eyes carried a twisted, puzzled look; some unanswerable
problem was apparently in the forefront of his brain. His face was
hairless; the hair of his head was short and manly; his brow was
wide. He was clothed in a black, sleeveless robe, and bore a long
staff in his hand. There was an air of cleanness and austerity about
the whole man that was attractive.
He went on speaking dispassionately to Maskull, and, while doing so,
kept passing his hand reflectively over his cheeks and chin. "They
all find their way here to die. They come from Matterplay. There
they live to an incredible age. Partly on that account, and partly
because of their spontaneous origin, they regard themselves as the
favoured children of Faceny. But when they come here to find him,
they die at once."
"I think this one is the last of the race. But whom do I speak to?"
"I am Corpang. Who are you, where do you come from, and what are you
"My name is Maskull. My home is on the other side of the universe.
As for what I am doing here - I accompanied Leehallfae, that phaen,
"But a man doesn't accompany a phaen out of friendship. What do you
want in Threal?"
"Then this is Threal?"
Maskull remained silent.
Corpang studied his face with rough, curious eyes. "Are you
ignorant, or merely reticent, Maskull?"
"I came here to ask questions, and not to answer them."
The stillness of the place was almost oppressive. Not a breeze
stirred, and not a sound came through the air. Their voices had been
lowered, as though they were in a cathedral.
"Then do you want my society, or not?" asked Corpang.
"Yes, if you can fit in with my mood, which is - not to talk about
"But you must at least tell me where you want to go to."
"I want to see what is to be seen here, and then go on to Lichstorm."
"I can guide you through, if that's all you want. Come, let us
"First let's do our duty and bury the dead, if possible."
"Turn around," directed Corpang.
Maskull looked around quickly. Leehallfae's body had disappeared.
"What does this mean - what has happened?"
"The body has returned to whence it came. There was nowhere here for
it to be, so it has vanished. No burial will be required."
"Was the phaen an illusion, then?"
"In no sense."
"Well, explain quickly, then, what has taken place. I seem to be
"There's nothing unintelligible in it, if you'll only listen calmly.
The phaen belonged, body and soul, to the outside, visible world - to
Faceny. This underworld is not Faceny's world, but Thire's, and
Faceny's creatures cannot breathe its atmosphere. As this applies
not only to whole bodies, but even to the last particles of bodies,
the phaen has dissolved into Nothingness."
"But don't you and I belong to the outside world too?"
"We belong to all three worlds."
"What three worlds - what do you mean?"
"There are three worlds," said Corpang composedly. "The first is
Faceny's, the second is Amfuse's, the third is Thire's. From him
Threal gets it name."
"But this is mere nomenclature. In what sense are there three
Corpang passed his hand over his forehead. "All this we can discuss
as we go along. It's a torment to me to be standing still."
Maskull stared again at the spot where Leehallfae's body had lain,
quite bewildered at the extraordinary disappearance. He could
scarcely tear himself away from the place, so mysterious was it. Not
until Corpang called to him a second time did he make up his mind to
They set off from the rock wall straight across the airlit plain,
directing their course toward the nearest trees. The subdued light,
the absence of shadows, the massive shafts, springing grey-white out
of the jetlike ground, the fantastic trees, the absence of a sky, the
deathly silence, the knowledge that he was underground - the
combination of all these things predisposed Maskull's mind to
mysticism, and he prepared himself with some anxiety to hear
Corpang's explanation of the land and its wonders. He already began
to grasp that the reality of the outside world and the reality of
this world were two quite different things.
"In what sense are there three worlds?" he demanded, repeating his
Corpang smote the end of his staff on the ground. "First of all,
Maskull, what is your motive for asking? If it's mere intellectual
curiosity, tell me, for we mustn't play with awful matters."
"No, it isn't that," said Maskull slowly. "I'm not a student. My
journey is no holiday tour."
"Isn't there blood on your soul?" asked Corpang, eying him intently.
The blood rose steadily to Maskull's face, but in that light it
caused it to appear black.
"Unfortunately there is, and not a little."
The other's face was all wrinkles, but he made no comment.
"And so you see," went on Maskull, with a short laugh, "I'm in the
very best condition for receiving your instruction."
Corpang still paused. "Underneath your crimes I see a man," he said,
after a few minutes. "On that account, and because we are commanded
to help one another, I won't leave you at present, though I little
thought to be walking with a murderer.... Now to your question....
Whatever a man sees with his eyes, Maskull, he sees in three ways -
length, breadth, depth. Length is existence, breadth is relation,
depth is feeling."
"Something of the sort was told me by Earthrid, the musician, who
came from Threal."
"I don't know him. What else did he tell you?"
"He went on to apply it to music. Continue, and pardon the
"These three states of perception are the three worlds. Existence is
Faceny's world, relation is Amfuse's world, feeling is Thire's
"Can't we come down to hard facts?" said Maskull, frowning. "I
understand no more than I did before what you mean by three worlds."
"There are no harder facts than the ones I am giving you. The first
world is visible, tangible Nature. It was created by Faceny out of
nothingness, and therefore we call it Existence."
"That I understand."
"The second world is Love - by which I don't mean lust. Without
love, every individual would be entirely self-centred and unable
deliberately to act on others. Without love, there would be no
sympathy - not even hatred, anger, or revenge would be possible.
These are all imperfect and distorted forms of pure love.
Interpenetrating Faceny's world of Nature, therefore, we have
Amfuse's world of Love, or Relation."
"What grounds have you for assuming that this so-called second world
is not contained in the first?"
"They are contradictory. A natural man lives for himself; a lover
lives for others."
"It may be so. It's rather mystical. But go on - who is Thire?"
"Length and breadth together without depth give flatness. Life and
love without feeling produce shallow, superficial natures. Feeling
is the need of men to stretch out toward their creator."
"You mean prayer and worship?"
"I mean intimacy with Thire. This feeling is not to be found in
either the first or second world, therefore it is a third world.
Just as depth is the line between object and subject, feeling is the
line between Thire and man."
"But what is Thire himself?"
"Thire is the afterworld."
"I still don't understand," said Maskull. "Do you believe in three
separate gods, or are these merely three ways of regarding one God?"
"There are three gods, for they are mutually antagonistic. Yet they
are somehow united."
Maskull reflected a while. "How have you arrived at these
"None other are possible in Threal, Maskull."
"Why in Threal - what is there peculiar here?"
"I will show you presently."
They walked on for above a mile in silence, while Maskull digested
what had been said. When they came to the first trees, which grew
along the banks of a small stream of transparent water, Corpang
"That bandage around your forehead has long been
unnecessary," he remarked.
Maskull removed it. He found that the line of his brow was smooth
and uninterrupted, as it had never yet been since his arrival in
"How has this come about - and how did you know it?"
"They were Faceny's organs. They have vanished, just as the phaen's
Maskull kept rubbing his forehead. "I feel more human without them.
But why isn't the rest of my body affected?"
"Because its living will contains the element of Thire."
"Why are we stopping here?"
Corpang broke off the tip of one of the aerial roots of a tree, and
proffered it to him. "Eat this, Maskull."
"For food, or something else?"
"Food for body and soul."
Maskull bit into the root. It was white and hard; its white sap was
bleeding. It had no taste, but after eating it, he experienced a
change of perception. The landscape, without alteration of light or
outline, became several degrees more stern and sacred. When he
looked at Corpang he was impressed by his aspect of Gothic awfulness,
but the perplexed expression was still in his eyes.
"Do you spend all your time here, Corpang?"
"Occasionally I go above, but not often."
"What fastens you to this gloomy world?"
"The search for Thire."
"Then it's still a search?"
"Let us walk on."
As they resumed their journey across the dim, gradually rising plain,
the conversation became even more earnest in character than before.
"Although I was not born here," proceeded Corpang, "I've lived here
for twenty-five years, and during all that time I have been drawing
nearer to Thire, as I hope. But there is this peculiarity about it -
the first stages are richer in fruit and more promising than the
later ones. The longer a man seeks Thire, the more he seems to
absent himself. In the beginning he is felt and known, sometimes as
a shape, sometimes as a voice, sometimes an overpowering emotion.
Later on all is dry, dark, and harsh in the soul. Then you would
think that Thire was a million miles off."
"How do you explain that?"
"When everything is darkest, he may be nearest, Maskull."
"But this is troubling you?"
"My days are spent in torture."
"You still persist, though? This day darkness can't be the ultimate
"My questions will be answered."
A silence ensued.
"What do you propose to show me?" asked Maskull.
"The land is about to grow wilder. I am taking you to the Three
Figures, which were carved and erected by an earlier race of men.
There, we will pray."
"And what then?"
"If you are truehearted, you will see things you will not easily
They had been walking slightly uphill in a sort of trough between two
parallel, gently sloping downs. The trough now deepened, while the
hills on either side grew steeper. They were in an ascending valley
and, as it curved this way and that, the landscape was shut off from
view. They came to a little spring, bubbling up from the ground. It
formed a trickling brook, which was unlike all other brooks in that
it was flowing up the valley instead of down. Before long it was
joined by other miniature rivulets, so that in the end it became a
fair-sized stream. Maskull kept looking at it, and puckering his
"Nature has other laws here, it seems?"
"Nothing can exist here that is not a compound of the three worlds."
"Yet the water is flowing somewhere."
"I can't explain it, but there are three wills in it."
"Is there no such thing as pure Thire-matter?"
"Thire cannot exist without Amfuse, and Amfuse cannot exist without
Maskull thought this over for some minutes. "That must be so," he
said at last. "Without life there can be no love, and without love
there can be no religious feeling."
In the half light of the land, the tops of the hills containing the
valley presently attained such a height that they could not be seen.
The sides were steep and craggy, while the bed of the valley grew
narrower at every step. Not a living organism was visible. All was
unnatural and sepulchral.
Maskull said, "I feel as if I were dead, and walking in another
"I still do not know what you are doing here," answered Corpang.
"Why should I go on making a mystery of it? I came to find Surtur."
"That name I've heard - but under what circumstances?"
Corpang walked along, his eyes fixed on the ground, obviously
troubled. "Who is Surtur?"
Maskull shook his head, and said nothing.
The valley shortly afterward narrowed, so that the two men, touching
fingertips in the middle, could have placed their free hands on the
rock walls on either side. It threatened to terminate in a cul-de-
sac, but just when the road seemed least promising, and they were
shut in by cliffs on all sides, a hitherto unperceived bend brought
them suddenly into the open. They emerged through a mere crack in
the line of precipices.
A sort of huge natural corridor was running along at right angles to
the way they had come; both ends faded into obscurity after a few
hundred yards. Right down the centre of this corridor ran a chasm
with perpendicular sides; its width varied from thirty to a hundred
feet, but its bottom could not be seen. On both sides of the chasm,
facing one another, were platforms of rock, twenty feet or so in
width; they too proceeded in both directions out of sight. Maskull
and Corpang emerged onto one of these platforms. The shelf opposite
was a few feet higher than that on which they stood. The platforms
were backed by a double line of lofty and unclimbable cliffs, whose
tops were invisible.
The stream, which had accompanied them through the gap, went straight
forward, but, instead of descending the wall of the chasm as a
waterfall, it crossed from side to side like a liquid bridge. It
then disappeared through a cleft in the cliffs on the opposite side.
To Maskull's mind, however, even more wonderful than this unnatural
phenomenon was the absence of shadows, which was more noticeable here
than on the open plain. It made the place look like a hall of
Corpang, without delay, led the way along the shelf to the left.
When they had walked about a mile, the gulf widened to two hundred
feet. Three large rocks loomed up on the ledge opposite; they
resembled three upright giants, standing motionless side by side on
the extreme edge of the chasm. Corpang and Maskull drew nearer, and
then Maskull saw that they were statues. Each was about thirty feet
high, and the workmanship was of the rudest. They represented naked
men, but the limbs and trunks had been barely chipped into shape -
the faces alone had had care bestowed on them, and even these faces
were merely generalised. It was obviously the work of primitive
artists. The statues stood erect with knees closed and arms hanging
straight down their sides. All three were exactly alike.
As soon as they were directly opposite, Corpang halted.
"Is this a representation of your three Beings?" asked Maskull, awed
by the spectacle in spite of his constitutional audacity.
"Ask no questions, but kneel," replied Corpang. He dropped onto his
own knees, but Maskull remained standing.
Corpang covered his eyes with one hand, and prayed silently. After a
few minutes the light sensibly faded. Then Maskull knelt as well,
but he continued looking.
It grew darker and darker, until all was like the blackest night.
Sight and sound no longer existed; he was alone with his own spirit.
Then one of the three Colossi came slowly into sight again. But it
had ceased to be a statue - it was a living person. Out of the
blackness of space a gigantic head and chest emerged, illuminated by
a mystic, rosy glow, like a mountain peak bathed by the rising sun.
As the light grew stronger Maskull saw that the flesh was translucent
and that the glow came from within. The limbs of the apparition were
wreathed in mist.
Before long the features of the face stood out distinctly. It was
that of a beardless youth of twenty years. It possessed the beauty
of a girl and the daring force of a man; it bore a mocking, cryptic
smile. Maskull felt the fresh, mysterious thrill of mingled pain and
rapture of one who awakes from a deep sleep in midwinter and sees the
gleaming, dark, delicate colours of the half-dawn. The vision
smiled, kept still, and looked beyond him. He began to shudder, with
delight - and many emotions. As he gazed, his poetic sensibility
acquired such a nervous and indefinable character that he could
endure it no more; he burst into tears.
When he looked up again the image had nearly disappeared, and in a
few moments more he was plunged back into total darkness.
Shortly afterward a second statue reappeared. It too was
transfigured into a living form, but Maskull was unable to see the
details of its face and body, because of the brightness of the light
that radiated from them. This light, which started as pale gold,
ended as flaming golden fire. It illumined the whole underground
landscape. The rock ledges, the cliffs, himself and Corpang on their
knees, the two unlighted statues - all appeared as if in sunlight,
and the shadows were black and strongly defined. The light carried
heat with it, but a singular heat. Maskull was unaware of any rise
in temperature, but he felt his heart melting to womanish softness.
His male arrogance and egotism faded imperceptibly away; his
personality seemed to disappear. What was left behind was not
freedom of spirit or lightheartedness, but a passionate and nearly
savage mental state of pity and distress. He felt a tormenting
desire to serve. All this came from the heat of the statue, and was
without an object. He glanced anxiously around him, and fastened his
eyes on Corpang. He put a hand on his shoulder and aroused him from
"You must know what I am feeling, Corpang."
Corpang smiled sweetly, but said nothing.
"I care nothing for my Own affairs any more. How can I help you?"
"So much the better for you, Maskull, if you respond so quickly to
the invisible worlds."
As soon as he had spoken, the figure began to vanish, and the light
to die away from the landscape. Maskull's emotion slowly subsided,
but it was not until he was once more in complete darkness that he
became master of himself again. Then he felt ashamed of his boyish
exhibition of enthusiasm, and thought ruefully that there must be
something wanting in his character. He got up onto his feet.
The very moment that he arose, a man's voice sounded, not a yard from
his ear. It was hardly raised above a whisper, but he could
distinguish that it was not Corpang's. As he listened he was unable
to prevent himself from physically trembling.
"Maskull, you are to die," said the unseen speaker.
"Who is speaking?"
"You have only a few hours of life left. Don't trifle the time
Maskull could bring nothing out.
"You have despised life," went on the low-toned voice. "Do you
really imagine that this mighty world has no meaning, and that life
is a joke?"
"What must I do?"
"Repent your murders, commit no fresh ones, pay honour to ... "
The voice died away. Maskull waited in silence for it to speak
again. All remained still, however, and the speaker appeared to have
taken his departure. Supernatural horror seized him; he fell into a
sort of catalepsy.
At that moment he saw one of the statues fading away, from a pale,
white glow to darkness. He had not previously seen it shining.
In a few more minutes the normal light of the land returned. Corpang
got up, and shook him out of his trance.
Maskull looked around, but saw no third person. "Whose statue was
the last?" he demanded.
"Did you hear me speaking?"
"I heard your voice, but no one else's."
"I've just had my death foretold, so I suppose I have not long to
live. Leehallfae prophesied the same thing."
Corpang shook his head. "What value do you set on life?" he asked.
"Very little. But it's a fearful thing all the same."
"Your death is?"
"No, but this warning."
They stopped talking. A profound silence reigned. Neither of the
two men seemed to know what to do next, or where to go. Then both of
them heard the sound of drumming. It was slow, emphatic, and
impressive, a long way off and not loud, but against the background
of quietness, very marked. It appeared to come from some point out
of sight, to the left of where they were standing, but on the same
rock shelf. Maskull's heart beat quickly.
"What can that sound be?" asked Corpang, peering into the obscurity.
"It is Surtur."
"Once again, who is Surtur?"
Maskull clutched his arm and pressed him to silence. A strange
radiance was in the air, in the direction of the drumming. It
increased in intensity and gradually occupied the whole scene.
Things were no longer seen by Thire's light, but by this new light.
It cast no shadows.
Corpang's nostrils swelled, and he held himself more proudly. "What
fire is that?"
"It is Muspel-light."
They both glanced instinctively at the three statues. In the strange
glow they had undergone a change. The face of each figure was
clothed in the sordid and horrible Crystalman mask.
Corpang cried out and put his hand over his eyes. "What can this
mean?" he asked a minute later.
"It must mean that life is wrong, and the creator of life too,
whether he is one person or three."
Corpang looked again, like a man trying to accustom himself to a
shocking sight. "Dare we believe this?"
"You must," replied Maskull. "You have always served the highest,
and you must continue to do so. It has simply turned out that Thire
is not the highest."
Corpang's face became swollen with a kind of coarse anger. "Life is
clearly false - I have been seeking Thire for a lifetime, and now I
find - this."
"You have nothing to reproach yourself with. Crystalman has had
eternity to practice his cunning in, so it's no wonder if a man can't
see straight, even with the best intentions. What have you decided
"The drumming seems to be moving away. Will. you follow it,
"But where will it take us?"
"Perhaps out of Threal altogether."
"It sounds to me more real than reality," said Corpang. "Tell me,
who is Surtur?"
"Surtur's world, or Muspel, we are told, is the original of which
this world is a distorted copy. Crystalman is life, but Surtur is
other than life."
"How do you know this?"
"It has sprung together somehow - from inspiration, from experience,
from conversation with the wise men of your planet. Every hour it
grows truer for me and takes a more definite shape."
Corpang stood up squarely, facing the three Figures with a harsh,
energetic countenance, stamped all over with resolution. "I believe
you, Maskull. No better proof is required than that. Thire is not
the highest; he is even in a certain sense the lowest. Nothing but
the thoroughly false and base could stoop to such deceits.... I am
coming with you - but don't play the traitor. These signs may be for
you, and not for me at all, and if you leave me-"
"I make no promises. I don't ask you to come with me. If you prefer
to stay in your little world, or if you have any doubts about it, you
had better not come."
"Don't talk like that. I shall never forget your service to me ...
Let us make haste, or we shall lose the sound."
Corpang started off more eagerly than Maskull. They walked fast in
the direction of the drumming. For upward of two miles the path went
along the ledge without any change of level. The mysterious radiance
gradually departed, and was replaced by the normal light of Threal.
The rhythmical beats continued, but a very long way ahead - neither
was able to diminish the distance.
"What kind of man are you?" Corpang suddenly broke out.
"In what respect?"
"How do you come to be on such terms with the Invisible? How is it
that I've never had this experience before I met you, in spite of my
never-ending prayers and mortifications? In what way are you
superior to me?"
"To hear voices perhaps can't be made a profession," replied Maskull.
"I have a simple and unoccupied mind - that may be why I sometimes
hear things that up to the present you have not been able to."
Corpang darkened, and kept silent; and then Maskull saw through to
The ledge presently began to rise. They were high above the platform
on the opposite side of the gulf. The road then curved sharply to
the right, and they passed over the abyss and the other ledge as by a
bridge, coming out upon the top of the opposite cliffs. A new line
of precipices immediately confronted them. They followed the
drumming along the base of these heights, but as they were passing
the mouth of a large cave the sound came from its recesses, and they
turned their steps inward.
"This leads to the outer world," remarked Corpang. "I've
occasionally been there by this passage."
"Then that's where it is taking us, no doubt. I confess I shan't be
sorry to see sunlight once more."
"Can you find time to think of sunlight?" asked Corpang with a rough
"I love the sun, and perhaps I'm rather lacking in the spirit of a
"Yet, for all that, you may get there before me."
"Don't be bitter," said Maskull. "I'll tell you another thing.
Muspel can't be willed, for the simple reason that Muspel does not
concern the will. To will is a property of this world."
"Then what is your journey for?"
"It's one thing to walk to a destination, and to linger over the
walk, and quite another to run there at top speed."
"Perhaps I'm not so easily deceived as you think," said Corpang with
The light persisted in the cave. The path narrowed and became a
steep ascent. Then the angle became one of forty-five degrees, and
the had to climb. The tunnel grew so confined that Maskull was
reminded of the confined dreams of his childhood.
Not long afterward, daylight appeared. They hastened to complete the
last stage. Maskull rushed out first into the world of colours and,
all dirty and bleeding from numerous scratches, stood blinking on a
hillside, bathed in the brilliant late-afternoon sunshine. Corpang
followed closely at his heels, He was obliged to shield his eyes with
his hands for a few minutes, so unaccustomed was he to Branchspell's
"The drum beats have stopped!" he exclaimed suddenly.
"You can't expect music all the time," answered Maskull dryly. "We
mustn't be luxurious."
"But now we have no guide. We're no better off than before."
"Well, Tormance is a big place. But I have an infallible rule,
Corpang. As I come from the south, I always go due north."
"That will take us to Lichstorm."
Maskull gazed at the fantastically piled rocks all around them. "I
saw these rocks from Matterplay. The mountains look as far off now
as they did them, and there's not much of the day left. How far is
Lichstorm from here?"
Corpang looked away to the distant range. "I don't know, but unless
a miracle happens we shan't get there tonight."
"I have a feeling," said Maskull, "that we shall not only get there
tonight, but that tonight will be the most important in my life."
And he sat down passively to rest.
While Maskull sat, Corpang walked restlessly to and fro, swinging his
arms. He had lost his staff. His face was inflamed with suppressed
impatience, which accentuated its natural coarseness. At last he
stopped short in front of Maskull and looked down at him. "What do
you intend to do?"
Maskull glanced up and idly waved his hand toward the distant
mountains. "Since we can't walk, we must wait."
"I don't know ... How's this, though? Those peaks have changed
colour, from red to green."
"Yes, the lich wind is travelling this way."
"The lich wind?"
"It's the atmosphere of Lichstorm. It always clings to the
mountains, but when the wind blows from the north it comes as far as
"It's a sort of fog, then?"
"A peculiar sort, for they say it excites the sexual passions."
"So we are to have lovemaking," said Maskull, laughing.
"Perhaps you won't find it so joyous," replied Corpang a little
"But tell me - these peaks, how do they preserve their balance?"
Corpang gazed at the distant, overhanging summits, which were fast
fading into obscurity.
"Passion keeps them from falling."
Maskull laughed again; he was feeling a strange disturbance of
spirit. "What, the love of rock for rock?"
"It is comical, but true."
"We'll take a closer peep at them presently. Beyond the mountains is
Barey, is it not?"
"And then the Ocean. But what is the name of that Ocean?"
"That is told only to those who die beside it."
"Is the secret so precious, Corpang?"
Branchspell was nearing the horizon in the west; there were more than
two hours of daylight remaining. The air all around them became
murky. It was a thin mist, neither damp nor cold. The Lichstorm
Range now appeared only as a blur on the sky. The air was electric
and tingling, and was exciting in its effect. Maskull felt a sort of
emotional inflammation, as though a very slight external cause would
serve to overturn his self-control. Corpang stood silent with a
mouth like iron.
Maskull kept looking toward a high pile of rocks in the vicinity.
"That seems to me a good watchtower. Perhaps we shall see something
from the top."
Without waiting for his companion's opinion, he began to scramble up
the tor, and in a few minutes was standing on the summit. Corpang
From their viewpoint they saw the whole countryside sloping down to
the sea, which appeared as a mere flash of far-off, glittering water.
Leaving all that, however, Maskull's eyes immediately fastened
themselves on a small, boat-shaped object, about two miles away,
which was travelling rapidly toward them, suspended only a few feet
in the air.
"What do you make of that?" he asked in a tone of astonishment.
Corpang shook his head and said nothing.
Within two minutes the flying object, whatever it was, had diminished
the distance between them by one half. It resembled a boat more and
more, but its flight was erratic, rather than smooth; its nose was
continually jerking upward and downward, and from side to side.
Maskull now made out a man sitting in the stern, and what looked like
a large dead animal lying amidships. As the aerial craft drew
nearer, he observed a thick, blue haze underneath it, and a similar
haze behind, but the front, facing them, was clear.
"Here must be what we are waiting for, Corpang. But what on earth
He stroked his beard contemplatively, and then, fearing that they had
not been seen, stepped onto the highest rock, bellowed loudly, and
made wild motions with his arm. The flying-boat, which was only a
few hundred yards distant, slightly altered its course, now heading
toward them in a way that left no doubt that the steersman had
detected their presence.
The boat slackened speed until it was travelling no faster than a
walking man, but the irregularity of its movements continued. It was
shaped rather queerly. About twenty feet long, its straight sides
tapered off from a flat bow, four feet broad, to a sharp-angled
stern. The flat bottom was not above ten feet from the ground. It
was undecked, and carried only one living occupant; the other object
they had distinguished was really the carcass of an animal, of about
the size of a large sheep. The blue haze trailing behind the boat
appeared to emanate from the glittering point of a short upright pole
fastened in the stem. When the craft was within a few feet of them,
and they were looking down at it in wonder from above, the man
removed this pole and covered the brightly shining tip with a cap.
The forward motion then ceased altogether, and the boat began to
drift hither and thither, but still it remained suspended in the air,
while the haze underneath persisted. Finally the broad side came
gently up against the pile of rocks on which they were standing. The
steersman jumped ashore and immediately clambered up to meet them.
Maskull offered him a hand, but he refused it disdainfully. He was a
young man, of middle height. He wore a close-fitting fur garment.
His limbs were quite ordinary, but his trunk was disproportionately
long, and he had the biggest and deepest chest that Maskull had ever
seen in a man. His hairless face was sharp, pointed, and ugly, with
protruding teeth, and a spiteful, grinning expression. His eyes and
brows sloped upward. On his forehead was an organ which looked as
though it had been mutilated - it was a mere disagreeable stump of
flesh. His hair was short and thin. Maskull could not name the
colour of his skin, but it seemed to stand in the same relation to
jale as green to red.
Once up, the stranger stood for a minute or two, scrutinising the two
companions through half-closed lids, all the time smiling insolently.
Maskull was all eagerness to exchange words, but did not care to be
the first to speak. Corpang stood moodily, a little in the
"What men are you?" demanded the aerial navigator at last. His voice
was extremely loud, and possessed a most unpleasant timbre. It
sounded to Maskull like a large volume of air trying to force its way
through a narrow orifice.
"I am Maskull; my friend is Corpang. He comes from Threal, but where
I come from, don't ask."
"I am Haunte, from Sarclash."
"Where may that be?"
"Half an hour ago I could have shown it to you, but now it has got
too murky. It is a mountain in Lichstorm."
"Are you returning there now?"
"And how long will it take to get there in that boat?"
"Two - three hours."
"Will it accommodate us too?"
"What, are you for Lichstorm as well? What can you want there?"
"To see the sights," responded Maskull with twinkling eyes. "But
first of all, to dine. I can't remember having eaten all day. You
seem to have been hunting to some purpose, so we won't lack for
Haunte eyed him quizzically. "You certainly don't lack impudence.
However, I'm a man of that sort myself, and it is the sort I prefer.
Your friend, now, would probably rather starve than ask a meal of a
stranger. He looks to me just like a bewildered toad dragged up out
of a dark hole."
Maskull took Corpang's arm, and constrained him to silence.
"Where have you been hunting, Haunte?"
"Matterplay. I had the worst luck - I speared one wold horse, and
there it lies."
"What is Lichstorm like?"
"There are men there, and there are women there, but there are no
men-women, as with you."
"What do you call men-women?"
"Persons of mixed sex, like yourself. In Lichstorm the sexes are
"I have always regarded myself as a man."
'Very likely you have; but the test is, do you hate and fear women?"
"Why, do you?"
Haunte grinned and showed his teeth. "Things are different in
Lichstorm.. .. So you want to see the sights?
"I confess I am curious to see your women, for example, after what
"Then I'll introduce you to Sullenbode."
He paused a moment after making this remark, and then suddenly
uttered a great, bass laugh, so that his chest shook.
"Let us share the joke," said Maskull.
"Oh, you'll understand it later."
"If you play pranks with me, I won't stand on ceremony with you."
Haunte laughed again. "I won't be the one to play pranks.
Sullenbode will be deeply obliged to me. If I don't visit her myself
as often as she would like, I'm always glad to serve her in other
ways.... Well, you shall have your boat ride."
Maskull rubbed his nose doubtfully. "If the sexes hate one another
in your land, is it because passion is weaker, or stronger?"
"In other parts of the world there is soft passion, but in Lichstorm
there is hard passion."
"But what do you call hard passion?"
"Where men are called to women by pain, and not pleasure."
"I intend to understand, before I've finished."
"Yes," answered Haunte, with a taunting look, "it would be a pity to
let the chance slip, since you're going to Lichstorm."
It was now Corpang's turn to take Maskull by the arm. "This journey
will end badly."
"Your goal was Muspel a short while ago; now it is women."
"Let me alone," said Maskull. "Give luck a slack rein. What brought
this boat here?"
"What is this talk about Muspel?" demanded Haunte.
Corpang caught his shoulder roughly, and stared straight into his
eyes. "What do you know?"
"Not much, but something, perhaps. Ask me at supper. Now it is high
time to start. Navigating the mountains by night isn't child's play,
let me tell you."
"I shall not forget," said Corpang.
Maskull gazed down at the boat. "Are we to get in?"
"Gently, my friend. It's only canework and skin."
"First of all, you might enlighten me as to how you have contrived to
dispense with the laws of gravitation."
Haunte smiled sarcastically. "A secret in your ear, Maskull. All
laws are female. A true male is an outlaw - outside the law."
"I don't understand."
"The great body of the earth is continually giving out female
particles, and the male parts of rocks and living bodies are equally
continually trying to reach them. That's gravitation."
"Then how do you manage with your boat?"
"My two male stones do the work. The one underneath the boat
prevents it from falling to the ground; the one in the stem shuts it
off from solid objects in the rear. The only part of the boat
attracted by any part of the earth is the bow, for that's the only
part the light of the male stones does not fall on. So in that
direction the boat travels."
"And what are these wondrous male stones?"
"They really are male stones. There is nothing female in them; they
are showering out male sparks all the time. These sparks devour all
the female particles rising from the earth. No female particles are
left over to attract the male parts of the boat, and so they are not
in the least attracted in that direction."
Maskull ruminated for a minute.
"With your hunting, and boatbuilding, and science, you seem a very
handy, skilful fellow, Haunte.... But the sun's sinking, and we'd
"Get down first, then, and shift that carcass farther forward. Then
you and your gloomy friend can sit amidships."
Maskull immediately climbed down, and dropped himself into the boat;
but then he received a surprise. The moment he stood on the frail
bottom, still clinging to the rock, not only did his weight entirely
disappear, as though he were floating in some heavy medium, like salt
water, but the rock he held onto drew him, as by a mild current of
electricity, and he was able to withdraw his hands only with
After the first moment's shock, he quietly accepted the new order of
things, and set about shifting the carcass. Since there was no
weight in the boat this was effected without any great labour.
Corpang then descended. The astonishing physical change had no power
to disturb his settled composure, which was founded on moral ideas.
Haunte came last; grasping the staff which held the upper male stone,
he proceeded to erect it, after removing the cap. Maskull then
obtained his first near view of the mysterious light, which, by
counteracting the forces of Nature, acted indirectly not only as
elevator but as motive force. In the last ruddy gleams of the great
sun, its rays were obscured, and it looked little more impressive
than an extremely brilliant, scintillating blue-white jewel, but its
power could be gauged by the visible, coloured mist that it threw out
for many yards around.
The steering was effected by means of a shutter attached by a cord to
the top of the staff, which could be so manipulated that any segment
of the male stone's rays, or all the rays, or none at all, could be
shut off at will. No sooner was the staff raised than the aerial
vessel quietly detached itself from the rock to which it had been
drawn, and passed slowly forward in the direction of the mountains.
Branchspell sank below the horizon. The gathering mist blotted out
everything outside a radius of a few miles. The air grew cool and
Soon the rock masses ceased on the, great, rising plain. Haunte
withdrew the shutter entirely, and the boat gathered full speed.
"You say that navigation among the mountains is difficult at night,"
exclaimed Maskull. "I would have thought it impossible."
Haunte grunted. "You will have to take risks, and think yourself
fortunate if you come off with nothing worse than a cracked skull.
But one thing I can tell you - if you go on disturbing me with your
chitchat we shan't get as far as the mountains."
Thereafter Maskull was silent.
The twilight deepened; the murk grew denser. There was little to
look at, but much to feel. The motion of the boat, which was due to
the never-ending struggle between the male stones and the force of
gravitation, resembled in an exaggerated fashion the violent tossing
of a small craft on a choppy sea. The two passengers became unhappy.
Haunte, from his seat in the stern, gazed at them sardonically with
one eye. The darkness now came on rapidly.
About ninety minutes after the commencement of the voyage they
arrived at the foothills of Lichstorm. They began to mount. There
was no daylight left to see by. Beneath them, however, on both sides
of them and in the rear, the landscape was lighted up for a
considerable distance by the now vivid blue rays of the twin male
stones. Ahead, where these rays did not shine, Haunte was guided by
the self-luminous nature of the rocks, grass, and trees. These were
faintly phosphorescent; the vegetation shone out more strongly than
The moon was not shining and there were no stars; Maskull therefore
inferred that the upper atmosphere was dense with mist. Once or
twice, from his sensations of choking, he thought that they were
entering a fogbank, but it was a strange kind of fog, for it had the
effect of doubling the intensity of every light in front of them.
Whenever this happened, nightmare feelings attacked him; he
experienced transitory, unreasoning fright and horror.
Now they passed high above the valley that separated the foothills
from the mountains themselves. The boat began an ascent of many
thousands of feet and, as the cliffs were near, Haunte had to
manoeuvre carefully with the rear light in order to keep clear of
them. Maskull watched the delicacy of his movements, not without
admiration. A long time went by. It grew much colder; the air was
damp and drafty. The fog began to deposit something like snow on
their persons. Maskull kept sweating with terror, not because of the
danger they were in, but because of the cloud banks that continued to
They cleared the first line of precipices. Still mounting, but this
time with a forward motion, as could be seen by the vapours
illuminated by the male stones through which they passed, they were
soon altogether out of sight of solid ground. Suddenly and quite
unexpectedly the moon broke through. In the upper atmosphere thick
masses of fog were seen crawling hither and thither, broken in many
places by thin rifts of sky, through one of which Teargeld was
shining. Below them, to their left, a gigantic peak, glittering with
green ice, showed itself for a few seconds, and was then swallowed up
again. All the rest of the world was hidden by the mist. The moon
went in again. Maskull had seen quite enough to make him long for
the aerial voyage to end.
The light from the male stones presently illuminated the face of a
new cliff. It was grand, rugged, and perpendicular. Upward,
downward, and on both sides, it faded imperceptibly into the night.
After coasting it a little way, they observed a shelf of rock jutting
out. It was square, measuring about a dozen feet each way. Green
snow covered it to a depth of some inches. Immediately behind it was
a dark slit in the rock, which promised to be the mouth of a cave.
Haunte skilfully landed the boat on this platform. Standing up, he
raised the staff bearing the keel light and lowered the other; then
removed both male stones, which he continued to hold in his hand.
His face was thrown into strong relief by the vivid, sparkling blue-
white rays. It looked rather surly.
"Do we get out?" inquired Maskull.
"Yes. I live here."
"Thanks for the successful end of a dangerous journey."
"Yes, it has been touch-and-go."
Corpang jumped onto the platform. He was smiling coarsely. "There
has been no danger, for our destinies lie elsewhere. You are merely
a ferryman, Haunte."
"Is that so?" returned Haunte, with a most unpleasant laugh. "I
thought I was carrying men, not gods."
"Where are we?' asked Maskull. As he spoke, he got out, but Haunte
remained standing a minute in the boat.
"This is Sarclash - the second highest mountain in the land."
"Which is the highest, then?"
"Adage. Between Sarclash and Adage there is a long ridge - very
difficult in places. About halfway along the ridge, at the lowest
point, lies the top of the Mornstab Pass, which goes through to
Barey. Now you know the lay of the land."
"Does the woman Sullenbode live near here?"
"Near enough." Haunte grinned.
He leaped out of the boat and, pushing past the others without
ceremony, walked straight into the cave.
Maskull followed, with Corpang at his heels. A few stone steps led
to a doorway, curtained by the skin of some large beast. Their host
pushed his way in, never offering to hold the skin aside for them.
Maskull made no comment, but grabbed it with his fist and tugged it
away from its fastenings to the ground. Haunte looked at the skin,
and then stared hard at Maskull with his disagreeable smile, but
neither said anything.
The place in which they found themselves was a large oblong cavern,
with walls, floor, and ceiling of natural rock. There were two
doorways: that by which they had entered, and another of smaller size
directly opposite. The cave was cold and cheerless; a damp draft
passed from door to door. Many skins of wild animals lay scattered
on the ground. A number of lumps of sun-dried flesh were hanging on
a string along the wall, and a few bulging liquor skins reposed in a
corner. There were tusks, horns, and bones everywhere. Resting
against the wall were two short hunting spears, having beautiful
Haunte set down the two male stones on the ground, near the farther
door; their light illuminated the whole cave. He then walked over to
the meat and, snatching a large piece, began to gnaw it ravenously.
"Are we invited to the feast?" asked Maskull.
Haunte pointed to the hanging flesh and to the liquor skins, but did
not pause in his chewing.
"Where's a cup?" inquired Maskull, lifting one of the skins.
Haunte indicated a clay goblet lying on the floor. Maskull picked it
up, undid the neck of the skin, and, resting it under his arm, filled
the cup. Tasting the liquor, he discovered it to be raw spirit. He
tossed off the draught, and then felt much better.
The second cupful he proffered to Corpang. The latter took a single
sip, swallowed it, and then passed the cup back without a word. He
refused to drink again, as long as they were in the cave. Maskull
finished the cup, and began to throw off care.
Going to the meat line, he took down a large double handful, and sat
down on a pile of skins to eat at his ease. The flesh was tough and
coarse, but he had never tasted anything sweeter. He could not
understand the flavour, which was not surprising in a world of
strange animals. The meal proceeded in silence. Corpang ate
sparingly, standing up, and afterward lay down on a bundle of furs.
His bold eyes watched all the movements of the other two. Haunte had
not drunk as yet.
At last Maskull concluded his meal. He emptied another cup, sighed
pleasantly, and prepared to talk.
"Now explain further about your women, Haunte."
Haunte fetched another skin of liquor and a second cup. He tore off
the string with his teeth, and poured out and drank cup after cup in
quick succession. Then he sat down, crossed his legs, and turned to
"So they are objectionable?"
"They are deadly."
"Deadly? In what way can they possibly be deadly?"
"You will learn. I was watching you in the boat, Maskull. You had
some bad feelings, eh?"
"I don't conceal it. There were times when I felt as if I were
struggling with a nightmare. What caused it?"
"The female atmosphere of Lichstorm. Sexual passion."
"I had no passion."
"That was passion - the first stage. Nature tickles your people into
marriage, but it tortures us. Wait till you get outside. You'll
have a return of those sensations - only ten times worse. The drink
you've had will see to that.... How do you suppose it will all end?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't be asking you questions."
Haunte laughed loudly. "Sullenbode."
"You mean it will end in my seeking Sullenbode?"
"But what will come of it, Maskull? What will she give you? Sweet,
fainting, white-armed, feminine voluptuousness?"
Maskull coolly drank another cup. "And why should she give all that
to a passerby?"
"Well, as a matter of fact, she hasn't it to give. No, what she will
give you, and what you'll accept from her, because you can't help it,
is - anguish, insanity, possibly death."
"You may be talking sense, but it sounds like raving to me. Why
should I accept insanity and death?"
"Because your passion will force you to."
"What about yourself?" Maskull asked, biting his nails.
"Oh, I have my male stones. I am immune."
"Is that all that prevents you from being like other men?"
"Yes, but don't attempt any tricks, Maskull."
Maskull went on drinking steadily, and said nothing for a time. "So
men and women here are hostile to each other, and love is unknown?"
he proceeded at last.
"That magic word.... Shall I tell you what love is, Maskull? Love
between male and female is impossible. When Maskull loves a woman,
it is Maskull's female ancestors who are loving her. But here in
this land the men are pure males. They have drawn nothing from the
"Where do the male stones come from?"
"Oh, they are not freaks. There must be whole beds of the stuff
somewhere. It is all that prevents the world from being a pure
female world. It would be one big mass of heavy sweetness, without
"Yet this same sweetness is torturing to men?"
"The life of an absolute male is fierce. An excess of life is
dangerous to the body. How can it be anything else than torturing?"
Corpang now sat up suddenly, and addressed Haunte. "I remind you of
your promise to tell about Muspel."
Haunte regarded him with a malevolent smile. "Ha! The underground
man has come to life."
"Yes, tell us," put in Maskull carelessly.
Haunte drank, and laughed a little. "Well, the tale's short, and
hardly worth telling, but since you're interested.... A stranger came
here five years ago, inquiring after Muspel-light. His name was
Lodd. He came from the east. He came up to me one bright morning in
summer, outside this very cave. If you ask me to describe him - I
can't imagine a second man like him. He looked so proud, noble,
superior, that I felt my own blood to be dirty by comparison. You
can guess I don't have this feeling for everyone. Now that I am
recalling him, he was not so much superior as different. I was so
impressed that I rose and talked to him standing. He inquired the
direction of the mountain Adage. He went on to say, 'They say
Muspel-light is sometimes seen there. What do you know of such a
thing?' I told him the truth - that I knew nothing about it, and then
he went on, 'Well, I am going to Adage. And tell those who come
after me on the same errand that they had better do the same thing.'
That was the whole conversation. He started on his way, and I've
never seen him or heard of him since."
"So you didn't have the curiosity to follow him?"
"No, because the moment he had turned his back all my interest in the
man somehow seemed to vanish."
"Probably because he was useless to you."
Corpang glanced at Maskull. "Our road is marked out for us."
"So it would appear," said Maskull indifferently.
The talk flagged for a time. Maskull felt the silence oppressive,
and grew restless.
"What do you call the colour of your skin, Haunte, as I saw it in
daylight? It struck me as strange."
"Dolm," said Haunte.
"A compound of ulfire and blue," explained Corpang.
"Now I know. These colours are puzzling for a stranger."
"What colours have you in your world?" asked Corpang.
"Only three primary ones, but here you seem to have five, though how
it comes about I can't imagine."
"There are two sets of three primary colours here," said Corpang,
"but as one of the colours - blue - is identical in both sets,
altogether there are five primary colours."
"Why two sets?"
"Produced by the two suns. Branchspell produces blue, yellow, and
red; Alppain, ulfire, blue, and jale."
"It's remarkable that explanation has never occurred to me before."
"So here you have another illustration of the necessary trinity of
nature. Blue is existence. It is darkness seen through light; a
contrasting of existence and nothingness. Yellow is relation. In
yellow light we see the relation of objects in the clearest way. Red
is feeling. When we see red, we are thrown back on our personal
feelings.... As regards the Alppain colours, blue stands in the
middle and is therefore not existence, but relation. Ulfire is
existence; so it must be a different sort of existence."
Haunte yawned. "There are marvellous philosophers in your
Maskull got up and looked about him.
"Where does that other door lead to?"
"Better explore," said Haunte.
Maskull took him at his word, and strolled across the cave, flinging
the curtain aside and disappearing into the night. Haunte rose
abruptly and hurried after him.
Corpang too got to his feet. He went over to the untouched spirit
skins, untied the necks, and allowed the contents to gush out on to
the floor. Next he took the hunting spears, and snapped off the
points between his hands. Before he had time to resume his seat,
Haunte and Maskull reappeared. The host's quick, shifty eyes at once
took in what had happened. He smiled, and turned pale.
"You haven't been idle, friend."
Corpang fixed Haunte with his bold, heavy gaze. "I thought it well
to draw your teeth."
Maskull burst out laughing. "The toad's come into the light to some
purpose, Haunte. Who would have expected it?"
Haunte, after staring hard at Corpang for two or three minutes,
suddenly uttered a strange cry, like an evil spirit, and flung
himself upon him. The two men began to wrestle like wildcats. They
were as often on the floor as on their legs, and Maskull could not
see who was getting the better of it. He made no attempt to separate
them. A thought came into his head and, snatching up the two male
stones, he ran with them, laughing, through the upper doorway, into
the open night air.
The door overlooked an abyss on another face of the mountain. A
narrow ledge, sprinkled with green snow, wound along the cliff to the
right; it was the only available path. He pitched the pebbles over
the edge of the chasm. Although hard and heavy in his hand, they
sank more like feathers than stones, and left a long trail of vapour
behind. While Maskull was still watching them disappear, Haunte came
rushing out of the cavern, followed by Corpang. He gripped Maskull's
"What in Krag's name have you done?"
"Overboard they have gone," replied Maskull, renewing his laughter.
"You accursed madman!"
Haunte's luminous colour came and went, just as though his internal
light were breathing. Then he grew suddenly calm, by a supreme
exertion of his will.
"You know this kills me?"
"Haven't you been doing your best this last hour to make me ripe for
Sullenbode? Well then, cheer up, and join the pleasure party!"
"You say it as a joke, but it is the miserable truth."
Haunte's jeering malevolence had completely vanished. He looked a
sick man - yet somehow his face had become nobler.
"I would be very sorry for you, Haunte, if it did not entail my being
also very sorry for myself. We are now all three together on the
same errand - which doesn't appear to have struck you yet."
"But why this errand at all?" asked Corpang quietly. "Can't you men
exercise self-control till you have arrived out of danger?"
Haunte fixed him with wild eyes. "No. The phantoms come trooping in
on me already."
He sat down moodily, but the next minute was up again.
"And I cannot wait.... the game is started."
Soon afterward, by silent consent, they began to walk the ledge,
Haunte in front. It was narrow, ascending, and slippery, so that
extreme caution was demanded. The way was lighted by the self-
luminous snow and rocks.
When they had covered about half a mile, Maskull, who went second of
the party, staggered, caught the cliff, and finally sat down.
"The drink works. My old sensations are returning, but worse."
Haunte turned back. "Then you are a doomed man."
Maskull, though fully conscious of his companions and situation,
imagined that he was being oppressed by a black, shapeless,
supernatural being, who was trying to clasp him. He was filled with
horror, trembled violently, yet could not move a limb. Sweat tumbled
off his face in great drops. The waking nightmare lasted a long
time, but during that space it kept coming and going. At one moment
the vision seemed on the point of departing; the next it almost took
shape - which he knew would be his death. Suddenly it vanished
altogether - he was free. A fresh spring breeze fanned his face; he
heard the slow, solitary singing of a sweet bird; and it seemed to
him as if a poem had shot together in his soul. Such flashing,
heartbreaking joy he had never experienced before in all his life!
Almost immediately that too vanished.
Sitting up, he passed his hand across his eyes and swayed quietly,
like one who has been visited by an angel.
"Your colour changed to white," said Corpang. "What happened?"
"I passed through torture to love," replied Maskull simply.
He stood up. Haunte gazed at him sombrely. "Will you not describe
Maskull answered slowly and thoughtfully. "When I was in Matterplay,
I saw heavy clouds discharge themselves and change to coloured,
living animals. In the same way, my black, chaotic pangs just now
seemed to consolidate themselves and spring together as a new sort of
joy. The joy would not have been possible without the preliminary
nightmare. It is not accidental; Nature intends it so. The truth
has just flashed through my brain.... You men of Lichstorm don't go
far enough. You stop at the pangs, Without realising that they are
"If this is true, you are a great pioneer," muttered Haunte.
"How does this sensation differ from common love?" interrogated
"This was all that love is, multiplied by wildness."
Corpang fingered his chin awhile. "The Lichstorm men, however, will
never reach this stage, for they are too masculine."
Haunte turned pale. "Why should we alone suffer?"
"Nature is freakish and cruel, and doesn't act according to
justice.... Follow us, Haunte, and escape from it all."
"I'll see," muttered Haunte. "Perhaps I will."
"Have we far to go, to Sullenbode?" inquired Maskull.
"No, her home's under the hanging cap of Sarclash."
"What is to happen tonight?" Maskull spoke to himself, but Haunte
"Don't expect anything pleasant, in spite of what has just occurred.
She is not a woman, but a mass of pure sex. Your passion will draw
her out into human shape, but only for a moment. If the change were
permanent, you would have endowed her with a soul."
"Perhaps the change might be made permanent."
"To do that, it is not enough to desire her; she must desire you as
well. But why should she desire you?"
"Nothing turns out as one expects," said Maskull, shaking his head.
"We had better get on again."
They resumed the journey. The ledge still rose, but, on turning a
corner of the cliff, Haunte quitted it and began to climb a steep
gully, which mounted directly to the upper heights. Here they were
compelled to use both hands and feet. Maskull thought all the while
of nothing but the overwhelming sweetness he had just experienced.
The flat ground on top was dry and springy. There was no more snow,
and bright plants appeared. Haunte turned sharply to the left.
"This must be under the cap," said Maskull.
"It is; and within five minutes you will see Sullenbode."
When he spoke his words, Maskull's lips surprised him by their tender
sensitiveness. Their action against each other sent thrills
throughout his body.
The grass shone dimly. A huge tree, with glowing branches, came into
sight. It bore a multitude of red fruit, like hanging lanterns, but
no leaves. Underneath this tree Sullenbode was sitting. Her
beautiful light - a mingling of jale and white - gleamed softly
through the darkness. She sat erect, on crossed legs, asleep. She
was clothed in a singular skin garment, which started as a cloak
thrown over one shoulder, and ended as loose breeches terminating
above the knees. Her forearms were lightly folded, and in one hand
she held a half-eaten fruit.
Maskull stood over her and looked down, deeply interested. He
thought he had never seen anything half so feminine. Her flesh was
almost melting in its softness. So undeveloped were the facial
organs that they looked scarcely human; only the lips were full,
pouting, and expressive. In their richness, these lips seemed like a
splash of vivid will on a background of slumbering protoplasm. Her
hair was undressed. Its colour could not be distinguished. It was
long and tangled, and had been tucked into her garment behind, for
Corpang looked calm and sullen, but both the others were visibly
agitated. Maskull's heart was hammering away under his chest.
Haunte pulled him, and said, "My head feels as if it were being torn
from my shoulders."
"What can that mean?"
"Yet there's a horrible joy in it," added Haunte, with a sickly
He put his hand on the woman's shoulder. She awoke softly, glanced
up at them, smiled, and then resumed eating her fruit. Maskull did
not imagine that she had intelligence enough to speak. Haunte
suddenly dropped on his knees, and kissed her lips.
She did not repulse him. During the continuance of the kiss, Maskull
noticed with a shock that her face was altering. The features
emerged from their indistinctness and became human, and almost
powerful. The smile faded, a scowl took its place. She thrust
Haunte away, rose to her feet, and stared beneath bent brows at the
three men, each one in turn. Maskull came last; his face she studied
for quite a long time, but nothing indicated what she thought.
Meanwhile Haunte again approached her, staggering and grinning. She
suffered him quietly; but the instant lips met lips the second time,
he fell backward with a startled cry, as though he had come in
contact with an electric wire. The back of his head struck the
ground, and he lay there motionless.
Corpang sprang forward to his assistance. But, when he saw what had
happened, he left him where he was.
"Maskull, come here quickly!"
The light was perceptibly fading from Haunte's skin, as Maskull bent
over. The man was dead. His face was unrecognisable. The head had
been split from the top downward into two halves, streaming with
strange-coloured blood, as though it had received a terrible blow
from an axe.
"This couldn't be from the fall," said Maskull.
"No, Sullenbode did it."
Maskull turned quickly to look at the woman. She had resumed her
former attitude on the ground. The momentary intelligence had
vanished from her face, and she was again smiling.
Sullenbode's naked skin glowed softly through the darkness, but the
clothed part of her person was invisible. Maskull watched her
senseless, smiling face, and shivered. Strange feelings ran through
Corpang spoke out of the night. "She looks like an evil spirit
filled with deadliness."
"It was like deliberately kissing lightning."
"Haunte was insane with passion."
"So am I," said Maskull quietly. "My body seems full of rocks, all
grinding against one another."
"This is what I was afraid of."
"It appears I shall have to kiss her too."
Corpang pulled his arm. "Have you lost all manliness?"
But Maskull impatiently shook himself free. He plucked nervously at
his beard, and stared at Sullenbode. His lips kept twitching. After
this had gone on for a few minutes, he stepped forward, bent over the
woman, and lifted her bodily in his arms. Setting her upright
against the rugged tree trunk, he kissed her.
A cold, knifelike shock passed down his frame. He thought that it
was death, and lost consciousness.
When his sense returned, Sullenbode was holding him by the shoulder
with one hand at arm's length, searching his face with gloomy eyes.
At first he failed to recognise her; it was not the woman he had
kissed, but another. Then he gradually realised that her face was
identical with that which Haunte's action had called into existence.
A great calmness came upon him; his bad sensations had disappeared.
Sullenbode was transformed into a living soul. Her skin was firm,
her features were strong, her eyes gleamed with the consciousness of
power. She was tall and slight, but slow in all her gestures and
movements. Her face was not beautiful. It was long, and palely
lighted, while the mouth crossed the lower half like a gash of fire.
The lips were as voluptuous as before. Her brows were heavy. There
was nothing vulgar in her - she looked the kingliest of all women.
She appeared not more than twenty-five.
Growing tired, apparently, of his scrutiny, she pushed him a little
way and allowed her arm to drop, at the same time curving her mouth
into a long, bowlike smile. "Whom have I to thank for this gift of
Her voice was rich, slow, and odd. Maskull felt himself in a dream.
"My name is Maskull."
She motioned to him to come a step nearer. "Listen, Maskull. Man
after man has drawn me into the world, but they could not keep me
there, for I did not wish it. But now you have drawn me into it for
all time, for good or evil."
Maskull stretched a hand toward the now invisible corpse, and said
quietly, "What have you to say about him?"
"Who was it?"
"So that was Haunte. The news will travel far and wide. He was a
"It's a horrible affair. I can't think that you killed him
"We women are endowed with terrible power, but it is our only
protection. We do not want these visits; we loathe them."
"I might have died, too."
"You came together?"
"There were three of us. Corpang still stands over there."
"I see a faintly glimmering form. What do you want of me, Corpang?"
"Then go away, and leave me with Maskull."
"No need, Corpang. I am coming with you."
"This is not that pleasure, then?" demanded the low, earnest voice,
out of the darkness.
"No, that pleasure has not returned."
Sullenbode gripped his arm hard. "What pleasure are you speaking
"A presentiment of love, which I felt not long ago."
"But what do you feel now?"
"Calm and free."
Sullenbode's face seemed like a pallid mask, hiding a slow, swelling
sea of elemental passions. "I do not know how it will end, Maskull,
but we will still keep together a little. Where are you going?"
"To Adage," said Corpang, stepping forward.
"We are following the steps of Lodd, who went there years ago, to
"It's the light of another world."
"The quest is grand. But cannot women see that light?"
"On one condition," said Corpang. "They must forget their sex.
Womanhood and love belong to life, while Muspel is above life."
"I give you all other men," said Sullenbode. "Maskull is mine."
"No. I am not here to help Maskull to a lover but to remind him of
the existence of nobler things."
"You are a good man. But you two alone will never strike the road to
"Are you acquainted with it?"
Again the woman gripped Maskull's arm. "What is love - which Corpang
Maskull looked at her attentively. Sullenbode went on, "Love is that
which is perfectly willing to disappear and become nothing, for the
sake of the beloved."
Corpang wrinkled his forehead. "A magnanimous female lover is new in
Maskull put him aside with his hand, and said to Sullenbode, "Are you
contemplating a sacrifice?"
She gazed at her feet, and smiled. "'What does it matter what my
thoughts are? Tell me, are you starting at once, or do you mean to
rest first? It's a rough road to Adage."
"What's in your mind?" demanded Maskull.
"I will guide you a little. When we reach the ridge between Sarclash
and Adage, perhaps I shall turn back."
"Then if the moon shines perhaps you will arrive before daybreak, but
if it is dark it's hardly likely."
"That's not what I meant. What will become of you after we have
"I shall return somewhere - perhaps here."
Maskull went close up to her, in order to study her face better.
"Shall you sink back into - the old state?"
"No, Maskull, thank heaven."
"Then how will you live?"
Sullenbode calmly removed the hand which he had placed on her arm.
There was a sort of swirling flame in her eyes. "And who said I
would go on living?"
Maskull blinked at her in bewilderment. A few moments passed before
he spoke again. "You women are a sacrificing lot. You know I can't
leave you like this."
Their eyes met. Neither withdrew them, and neither felt embarrassed.
"You will always be the most generous of men, Maskull. Now let us
go.... Corpang is a single-minded personage, and the least we others
- who aren't so single-minded - can do is to help him to his
destination. We mustn't inquire whether the destination of single-
minded men is as a rule worth arriving at."
"If it is good for Maskull, it will be good for me."
"Well, no vessel can hold more than its appointed measure."
Corpang gave a wry smile. "During your long sleep you appear to have
picked up wisdom."
"Yes, Corpang, I have met many men, and explored many minds."
As they moved off, Maskull remembered Haunte.
"Can we not bury that poor fellow?"
"By this time tomorrow we shall need burial ourselves. But I do not
"We have no tools, so you must have your way. You killed him, but I
am the real murderer. I stole his protecting light."
"Surely that death is balanced by the life you have given me." They
left the spot in the direction opposite to that by which the three
men had arrived. After a few steps, they came to green snow again.
At the same time the flat ground ended, and they started to traverse
a steep, pathless mountain slope. The snow and rocks glimmered,
their own bodies shone; otherwise everything was dark. The mists
swirled around them, but Maskull had no more nightmares. The breeze
was cold, pure, and steady. They walked in file, Sullenbode leading;
her movements were slow and fascinating. Corpang came last. His
stern eyes saw nothing ahead but an alluring girl and a half-
For a long time they continued crossing the rough and rocky slope,
maintaining a slightly upward course. The angle was so steep that a
false step would have been fatal. The high ground was on their
right. After a while, the hillside on the left hand changed to level
ground, and they seemed to have joined another spur of the mountain.
The ascending slope on the right hand persisted for a few hundred
yards more. Then Sullenbode bore sharply to the left, and they found
level ground all around them.
"We are on the ridge," announced the woman, halting.
The others came up to her, and at the same instant the moon burst
through the clouds, illuminating the whole scene.
Maskull uttered a cry. The wild, noble, lonely beauty of the view
was quite unexpected. Teargeld was high in the sky to their left,
shining down on them from behind. Straight in front, like an
enormously wide, smoothly descending road, lay the great ridge which
went on to Adage, though Adage itself was out of sight. It was never
less than two hundred yards wide. It was covered with green snow, in
some places entirely, but in other places the naked rocks showed
through like black teeth. From where they stood they were unable to
see the sides of the ridge, or what lay underneath. On the right
hand, which was north, the landscape was blurred and indistinct.
There were no peaks there; it was the distant, low-lying land of
Barey. But on the left hand appeared a whole forest of mighty
pinnacles, near and far, as far as the eye could see in moonlight.
All glittered green, and all possessed the extraordinary hanging caps
that characterised the Lichstorm range. These caps were of fantastic
shapes, and each one was different. The valley directly opposite
them was filled with rolling mist.
Sarclash was a mighty mountain mass in the shape of a horseshoe. Its
two ends pointed west, and were separated from each other by a mile
or more of empty space. The northern end became the ridge on which
they stood. The southern end was the long line of cliffs on that
part of the mountain where Haunte's cave was situated. The
connecting curve was the steep slope they had just traversed. One
peak of Sarclash was invisible.
In the south-west many mountains raised their heads. In addition, a
few summits, which must have been of extraordinary height, appeared
over the south side of the horseshoe.
Maskull turned round to put a question to Sullenbode, but when he saw
her for the first time in moonlight the words he had framed died on
his lips. The gashlike mouth no longer dominated her other features,
and the face, pale as ivory and most femininely shaped, suddenly
became almost beautiful. The lips were a long, womanish curve of
rose-red. Her hair was a dark maroon. Maskull was greatly
disturbed; he thought that she resembled a spirit, rather than a
"What puzzles you?" she asked, smiling.
"Nothing. But I would like to see you by sunlight."
"Perhaps you never will."
"Your life must be most solitary."
She explored his features with her black, slow-gleaming eyes. "Why
do you fear to speak your feelings, Maskull?"
"Things seem to open up before me like a sunrise, but what it means I
Sullenbode laughed outright. "It assuredly does not mean the
approach of night."
Corpang, who had been staring steadily along the ridge, here abruptly
broke in. "The road is plain now, Maskull. If you wish it, I'll go
"No, we'll go on together. Sullenbode will accompany us."
"A little way," said the woman, "but not to Adage, to pit my strength
against unseen powers. That light is not for me. I know how to
renounce love, but I will never be a traitor to it."
"Who knows what we shall find on Adage, or what will happen? Corpang
is as ignorant as myself."
Corpang looked him full in the face. "Maskull, you are quite well
aware that you never dare approach that awful fire in the society of
a beautiful woman."
Maskull gave an uneasy laugh. "What Corpang doesn't tell you,
Sullenbode, is that I am far better acquainted with Muspel-light than
he, and that, but for a chance meeting with me, he would still be
saying his prayers in Threal."
"Still, what he says must be true," she replied, looking from one to
"And so I am not to be allowed to -"
"So long as I am with you, I shall urge you onward, and not backward,
"We need not quarrel yet," he remarked, with a forced smile. "No
doubt things will straighten themselves out."
Sullenbode began kicking the snow about with her foot. "I picked up
another piece of wisdom in my sleep, Corpang."
"Tell it to me, then."
"Men who live by laws and rules are parasites. Others shed their
strength to bring these laws out of nothing into the light of day,
but the law-abiders live at their ease - they have conquered nothing
"It is given to some to discover, and to others to preserve and
perfect. You cannot condemn me for wishing Maskull well."
"No, but a child cannot lead a thunderstorm."
They started walking again along the centre of the ridge. All three
were abreast, Sullenbode in the middle.
The road descended by an easy gradient, and was for a long distance
comparatively smooth. The freezing point seemed higher than on
Earth, for the few inches of snow through which they trudged felt
almost warm to their naked feet. Maskull's soles were by now like
tough hides. The moonlit snow was green and dazzling. Their
slanting, abbreviated shadows were sharply defined, and red-black in
colour. Maskull, who walked on Sullenbode's right hand, looked
constantly to the left, toward the galaxy of glorious distant peaks.
"You cannot belong to this world," said the woman. "Men of your
stamp are not to be looked for here."
"No, I have come here from Earth."
"Is that larger than our world?"
"Smaller, I think. Small, and overcrowded with men and women. With
all those people, confusion would result but for orderly laws, and
therefore the laws are of iron. As adventure would be impossible
without encroaching on these laws, there is no longer any spirit of
adventure among the Earthmen. Everything is safe, vulgar, and
"Do men hate women there, and women men?"
"No, the meeting of the sexes is sweet, though shameful. So poignant
is the sweetness that the accompanying shame is ignored, with open
eyes. There is no hatred, or only among a few eccentric persons."
"That shame surely must be the rudiment of our Lichstorm passion.
But now say - why did you come here?"
"To meet with new experiences, perhaps. The old ones no longer
"How long have you been in this world?"
"This is the end of my fourth day."
"Then tell me what you have seen and done during those four days.
You cannot have been inactive."
"Great misfortunes have happened to me."
He proceeded briefly to relate everything that had taken place from
the moment of his first awakening in the scarlet desert. Sullenbode
listened, with half-closed eyes, nodding her head from time to time.
only twice did she interrupt him. After his description of Tydomin's
death, she said, speaking in a low voice - "None of us women ought by
right of nature to fall short of Tydomin in sacrifice. For that one
act of hers, I almost love her, although she brought evil to your
door." Again, speaking of Gleameil, she remarked, "That grand-souled
girl I admire the most of all. She listened to her inner voice, and
to nothing else besides. Which of us others is strong enough for
When his tale was quite over, Sullenbode said, "Does it not strike
you, Maskull, that these women you have met have been far nobler than
"I recognise that. We men often sacrifice ourselves, but only for a
substantial cause. For you women almost any cause will serve. You
love the sacrifice for its own sake, and that is because you are
Turning her head a little, she threw him a smile so proud, yet so
sweet, that he was struck into silence.
They tramped on quietly for some distance, and then he said, "Now you
understand the sort of man I am. Much brutality, more weakness,
scant pity for anyone - Oh, it has been a bloody journey!"
She laid her hand on his arm. "I, for one, would not have it less
"Nothing good can be said of my crimes."
"To me you seem like a lonely giant, searching for you know not
what.... The grandest that life holds.... You at least have no cause
to look up to women."
"Thanks, Sullenbode!" he responded, with a troubled smile.
"When Maskull passes, let people watch. Everyone is thrown out of
your road. You go on, looking neither to right nor left."
"Take care that you are not thrown as well," said Corpang gravely.
"Maskull shall do with me whatever he pleases, old skull! And for
whatever he does, I will thank him... . In place of a heart you have
a bag of loose dust. Someone has described love to you. You have
had it described to you. You have heard that it is a small, fearful,
selfish joy. It is not that - it is wild, and scornful, and sportive,
and bloody.... How should you know."
"Selfishness has far too many disguises."
"If a woman wills to give up all, what can there be selfish in that?"
"Only do not deceive yourself. Act decisively, or fate will be too
swift for you both."
Sullenbode studied him through her lashes. "Do you mean death - his
death as well as mine?"
"You go too far, Corpang," said Maskull, turning a shade darker. "I
don't accept you as the arbiter of our fortunes."
"If honest counsel is disagreeable to you, let me go on ahead."
The woman detained him with her slow, light fingers. "I wish you to
stay with us."
"I think you may know what you are talking about. I don't wish to
bring harm to Maskull. Presently I'll leave you."
"That will be best," said Corpang.
Maskull looked angry. "I shall decide - Sullenbode, whether you go
on, or back, I stay with you. My mind is made up."
An expression of joyousness overspread her face, in spite of her
efforts to conceal it. "Why do you scowl at me, Maskull?"
He returned no answer, but continued walking onward with puckered
brows. After a dozen paces or so, he halted abruptly. "Wait,
The others came to a standstill. Corpang looked puzzled, but the
woman smiled. Maskull, without a word, bent over and kissed her
lips. Then he relinquished her body, and turned around to Corpang.
"How do you, in your great wisdom, interpret that kiss?"
"It requires no great wisdom to interpret kisses, Maskull."
"Hereafter, never dare to come between us. Sullenbode belongs to
"Then I say no more; but you are a fated man."
From that time forward he spoke not another word to either of the
A heavy gleam appeared in the woman's eyes. "Now things are changed,
Maskull. Where are you taking me?"
"The man I love must complete his journey. I won't have it otherwise.
You shall not stand lower than Corpang."
"Where you go, I will go."
"And I - as long as your love endures, I will accompany you even to
"Do you doubt its lasting?"
"I wish not to.... Now I will tell you what I refused to tell you
before. The term of your love is the term of my life. When you love
me no longer, I must die."
"And why?" asked Maskull slowly.
"Yes, that's the responsibility you incurred when you kissed me for
the first time. I never meant to tell you."
"Do you mean that if I had gone on alone, you would have died?"
"I have no other life but what you give me."
He gazed at her mournfully, without attempting to reply, and then
slowly placed his arms around her body. During this embrace he
turned very pale, but Sullenbode grew as white as chalk.
A few minutes later the journey toward Adage was resumed.
They had been walking for two hours. Teargeld was higher in the sky
and nearer the south. They had descended many hundred feet, and the
character of the ridge began to alter for the worse. The thin snow
disappeared, and gave way to moist, boggy ground. It was all little
grassy hillocks and marshes. They began to slip about and become
draggled with mud. Conversation ceased; Sullenbode led the way, and
the men followed in her tracks. The southern half of the landscape
grew grander. The greenish light of the brilliant moon, shining on
the multitude of snow-green peaks, caused it to appear like a
spectral world. Their nearest neighbour towered high above them on
the other side of the valley, due south, some five miles distant. It
was a slender, inaccessible, dizzy spire of black rock, the angles of
which were too steep to retain snow. A great upward - curving horn
of rock sprang out from its topmost pinnacle. For a long time it
constituted their clues landmark.
The whole ridge gradually became saturated with moisture. The
surface soil was spongy, and rested on impermeable rock; it breathed
in the damp mists by night, and breathed them out again by day, under
Branchspell's rays. The walking grew first unpleasant, then
difficult, and finally dangerous. None of the party could
distinguish firm ground from bog. Sullenbode sank up to her waist in
a pit of slime; Maskull rescued her, but after this incident took the
lead himself. Corpang was the next to meet with trouble. Exploring
a new path for himself, he tumbled into liquid mud up to his
shoulders, and narrowly escaped a filthy death. After Maskull had
got him out, at great personal risk, they proceeded once more; but
now the scramble changed from bad to worse. Each step had to be
thoroughly tested before weight was put upon it, and even so the test
frequently failed. All of them went in so often, that in the end
they no longer resembled human beings, but walking pillars plastered
from top to toe with black filth. The hardest work fell to Maskull.
He not only had the exhausting task of beating the way, but was
continually called upon to help his companions out of their
difficulties. Without him they could not have got through.
After a peculiarly evil patch, they paused to recruit their strength.
Corpang's breathing was difficult, Sullenbode was quiet, listless,
Maskull gazed at them doubtfully. "Does this continue?" he inquired.
"No. I think," replied the woman, "we can't be far from the Mornstab
Pass. After that we shall begin to climb again, and then the road
will improve perhaps."
"Can you have been here before?"
"Once I have been to the Pass, but it was not so bad then."
"You are tired out, Sullenbode."
"What of it?" she replied, smiling faintly. "When one has a terrible
lover, one must pay the price."
"We cannot get there tonight, so let us stop at the first shelter we
"I leave it to you."
He paced up and down, while the others sat. "Do you regret
anything?" he demanded suddenly.
"No, Maskull, nothing. I regret nothing."
"Your feelings are unchanged?"
"Love can't go back - it can only go on."
"Yes, eternally on. It is so."
"No, I don't mean that. There is a climax, but when the climax has
been reached, love if it still wants to ascend must turn to
"That's a dreadful creed," he said in a low voice, turning pale
beneath his coating of mud.
"Perhaps my nature is discordant.... I am tired. I don't know what I
In a few minutes they were on their feet again, and the journey
recommenced. Within half an hour they had reached the Mornstab Pass.
The ground here was drier; the broken land to the north served to
drain off the moisture of the soil. Sullenbode led them to the
northern edge of the ridge, to show them the nature of the country.
The pass was nothing but a gigantic landslip on both sides of the
ridge, where it was the lowest above the underlying land. A series
of huge broken terraces of earth and rock descended toward Barey.
They were overgrown with stunted vegetation. It was quite possible
to get down to the lowlands that way, but rather difficult. On
either side of the landslip, to cast and west, the ridge came down in
a long line of sheer, terrific cliffs. A low haze concealed Barey
from view. Complete stillness was in the air, broken only by the
distant thundering of an invisible waterfall.
Maskull and Sullenbode sat down on a boulder, facing the open
country. The moon was directly behind them, high up. It was almost
as light as an Earth day.
"Tonight is like life," said Sullenbode.
"So lovely above and around us, so foul underfoot."
Maskull sighed. "Poor girl, you are unhappy."
"And you - are you happy?"
He thought a while, and then replied - "No. No, I'm not happy. Love
is not happiness."
"What is it, Maskull?"
"Restlessness - unshed tears - thoughts too grand for our soul to
"Yes," said Sullenbode.
After a time she asked, "Why were we created, just to live for a few
years and then disappear?"
"We are told that we shall live again."
"Perhaps in Muspel," he added thoughtfully.
'What kind of life will that be?"
"Surely we shall meet again. Love is too wonderful and mysterious a
thing to remain uncompleted."
She gave a slight shiver, and turned away from him. "This dream is
untrue. Love is completed here."
"How can that be, when sooner or later it is brutally interrupted by
"It is completed by anguish.. .. Oh, why must it always be enjoyment
for us? Can't we suffer - can't we go on suffering, forever and
ever? Maskull, until love crushes our spirit, finally and without
remedy, we don't begin to feel ourselves."
Maskull gazed at her with a troubled expression. "Can the memory of
love be worth more than its presence. and reality?"
"You don't understand. Those pangs are more precious than all the
rest beside." She caught at him. "Oh, if you could only see inside
my mind, Maskull! You would see strange things.... I can't explain.
It is all confused, even to myself.... This love is quite different
from what I thought."
He sighed again. "Love is a strong drink. Perhaps it is too strong
for human beings. And I think that it overtures our reason in
They remained sitting side by side, staring straight before them with
"It doesn't matter," said Sullenbode at last, with a smile, getting
up. "Soon it will be ended, one way or another. Come, let us be
Maskull too got up.
"Where's Corpang?" he asked listlessly.
They both looked across the ridge in the direction of Adage. At the
point where they stood it was nearly a mile wide. It sloped
perceptibly toward the southern edge, giving all the earth the
appearance of a heavy list. Toward the west the ground continued
level for a thousand yards, but then a high, sloping, grassy hill
went right across the ridge from side to side, like a vast billow on
the verge of breaking. It shut out all further view beyond. The
whole crest of this hill, from one end to the other, was crowned by a
long row of enormous stone posts, shining brightly in the moonlight
against a background of dark sky. There were about thirty in all,
and they were placed at such regular intervals that there was little
doubt that they had been set there by human hands. Some were
perpendicular, but others dipped so much that an aspect of extreme
antiquity was given to the entire colonnade. Corpang was seen
climbing the hill, not far from the top.
"He wishes to arrive," said Maskull, watching the energetic ascent
with a rather cynical smile.
"The heavens won't open for Corpang," returned Sullenbode. "He need
not be in such a hurry.... What do these pillars seem like to you?"
"They might be the entrance to some mighty temple. Who can have
planted them there?"
She did not answer. They watched Corpang gain the summit of the
hill, and disappear through the line of posts.
Maskull turned again to Sullenbode. "Now we two are alone in a
She regarded him steadily. "Our last night on this earth must be a
grand one. I am ready to go on."
"I don't think you are fit to go on. It will be better to go down
the pass a little, and find shelter."
She half smiled. "We won't study our poor bodies tonight. I mean you
to go to Adage, Maskull."
"Then at all events let us rest first, for it must be a long,
terrible climb, and who knows what hardships we shall meet?"
She walked a step or two forward, half turned, and held out her hand
to him. "Come, Maskull!"
When they had covered half the distance that separated them from the
foot of the hill, Maskull heard the drum taps. They came from behind
the hill, and were loud, sharp, almost explosive. He glanced at
Sullenbode, but she appeared to hear nothing. A minute later the
whole sky behind and above the long chain of stone posts on the crest
of the hill began to be illuminated by a strange radiance. The
moonlight in that quarter faded; the posts stood out black on a
background of fire. It was the light of Muspel. As the moments
passed, it grew more and more vivid, peculiar, and awful. It was of
no colour, and resembled nothing - it was supernatural and
indescribable. Maskull's spirit swelled. He stood fast, with
expanded nostrils and terrible eyes.
Sullenbode touched him lightly.
"What do you see, Maskull?"
"I see nothing."
The light shot up, until Maskull scarcely knew where he stood. It
burned with a fiercer and stranger glare than ever before. He forgot
the existence of Sullenbode. The drum beats grew deafeningly loud.
Each beat was like a rip of startling thunder, crashing through the
sky and making the air tremble. Presently the crashes coalesced, and
one continuous roar of thunder rocked the world. But the rhythm
persisted - the four beats, with the third accented, still came
pulsing through the atmosphere, only now against a background of
thunder, and not of silence.
Maskull's heart beat wildly. His body was like a prison. He longed
to throw it off, to spring up and become incorporated with the
sublime universe which was beginning to unveil itself.
Sullenbode suddenly enfolded him in her arms, and kissed him -
passionately, again and again. He made no response; he was unaware
of what she was doing. She unclasped him and, with bent head and
streaming eyes, went noiselessly away. She started to go back toward
the Mornstab Pass.
A few minutes afterward the radiance began to fade. The thunder died
down. The moonlight reappeared, the stone posts and the hillside
were again bright. In a short time the supernatural light had
entirely vanished, but the drum taps still sounded faintly, a muffled
rhythm, from behind the hill. Maskull started violently, and stared
around him like a suddenly awakened sleeper.
He saw Sullenbode walking slowly away from him, a few hundred yards
off. At that sight, death entered his heart. He ran after her,
calling out.... She did not look around. When he had lessened the
distance between them by a half, he saw her suddenly stumble and
fall. She did not get up again, but lay motionless where she fell.
He flew toward her, and bent over her body. His worst fears were
realised. Life had departed.
Beneath its coating of mud, her face bore the vulgar, ghastly
Crystalman grin, but Maskull saw nothing of it. She had never
appeared so beautiful to him as at that moment.
He remained beside her for a long time, on his knees. He wept - but,
between his fits of weeping, he raised his head from time to time,
and listened to the distant drum beats.
An hour passed - two hours. TeargeId was now in the south-west.
Maskull lifted Sullenbode's dead body on to his shoulders, and
started to walk toward the Pass. He cared no more for Muspel. He
intended to look for water in which to wash the corpse of his
beloved, and earth in which to bury her.
When he had reached the boulder overlooking the landslip, on which
they had sat together, he lowered his burden, and, placing the dead
girl on the stone, seated himself beside her for a time, gazing over
After that, he commenced his descent of the Mornstab Pass.
The day had already dawned, but it was not yet sunrise when Maskull
awoke from his miserable sleep. He sat up and yawned feebly. The
air was cool and sweet. Far away down the landslip a bird was
singing; the song consisted of only two notes, but it was so
plaintive and heartbreaking that he scarcely knew how to endure it.
The eastern sky was a delicate green, crossed by a long, thin band of
chocolate-coloured cloud near the horizon. The atmosphere was blue -
tinted, mysterious, and hazy. Neither Sarclash nor Adage was
The saddle of the Pass was five hundred feet above him; he had
descended that distance overnight. The landslip continued downward,
like a huge flying staircase, to the upper slopes of Barey, which lay
perhaps fifteen hundred feet beneath. The surface of the Pass was
rough, and the angle was excessively steep, though not precipitous.
It was above a mile across. On each side of it, east and west, the
dark walls of the ridge descended sheer. At the point where the pass
sprang outward they were two thousand feet from top to bottom, but as
the ridge went upward, on the one hand toward Adage, on the other
toward Sarclash, they attained almost unbelievable heights. Despite
the great breadth and solidity of the pass, Maskull felt as though he
were suspended in midair.
The patch of broken, rich, brown soil observable not far away marked
Sullenbode's grave. He had interred her by the light of the moon,
with a long, flat stone for a spade. A little lower down, the white
steam of a hot spring was curling about in the twilight. From where
he sat he was unable to see the pool into which the spring ultimately
flowed, but it was in that pool that he had last night washed first
of all the dead girl's body, and then his own.
He got up, yawned again, stretched himself, and looked around him
dully. For a long time he eyed the grave. The half-darkness changed
by imperceptible degrees to full day; the sun was about to appear.
The sky was nearly cloudless. The whole wonderful extent of the
mighty ridge behind him began to emerge from the morning mist .. .
there was a part of Sarclash, and the ice-green crest of gigantic
Adage itself, which he could only take in by throwing his head right
He gazed at everything in weary apathy, like a lost soul. All his
desires were gone forever; he wished to go nowhere, and to do
nothing. He thought he would go to Barey.
He went to the warm pool, to wash the sleep out of his eyes. Sitting
beside it, watching the bubbles, was Krag.
Maskull thought that he was dreaming. The man was clothed in a skin
shirt and breeches. His face was stem, yellow, and ugly. He eyed
Maskull without smiling or getting up.
"Where in the devil's name have you come from, Krag?"
"The great point is, I am here."
"Not far away."
"It seems a hundred years since I saw you. Why did you two leave me
in such a damnable fashion?"
"You were strong enough to get through alone."
"So it turned out, but how were you to know? .... Anyway, you've
timed it well. It seems I am to die today."
Krag scowled. "You will die this morning."
"If I am to, I shall. But where have you heard it from?"
"You are ripe for it. You have run through the gamut. What else is
there to live for?"
"Nothing," said Maskull, uttering a short laugh. "I am quite ready.
I have failed in everything. I only wondered how you knew.... So now
you've come to rejoin me. Where are we going?"
"And what about Nightspore?"
Krag jumped to his feet with clumsy agility. "We won't wait for him.
"He'll be there as soon as we shall."
"At our destination.... Come! The sun's rising."
As they started clambering down the pass side by side, Branchspell,
huge and white, leaped fiercely into the sky. All the delicacy of
the dawn vanished, and another vulgar day began. They passed some
trees and plants, the leaves of which were all curled up, as if in
Maskull pointed them out to his companion.
"How is it the sunshine doesn't open them?"
"Branchspell is a second night to them. Their day is Alppain."
"How long will it be before that sun rises?"
"Some time yet."
"Shall I live to see it, do you think"'
"Do you want to?"
"At one time I did, but now I'm indifferent."
"Keep in that humour, and you'll do well. Once for all, there's
nothing worth seeing on Tormance."
After a few minutes Maskull said, "Why did we come here, then?"
"To follow Surtur."
"True. But where is he?"
"Closer at hand than you think, perhaps."
"Do you know that he is regarded as a god here, Krag? ... There is
supernatural fire, too, which I have been led to believe is somehow
connected with him.... ? Why do you keep up the mystery? Who and what
"Don't disturb yourself about that. You will never know."
"Do you know?"
"I know," snarled Krag.
"The devil here is called Krag," went on Maskull, peering into his
"As long as pleasure is worshiped, Krag will always be the devil."
"Here we are, talking face to face, two men together.... What am I to
believe of you?"
"Believe your senses. The real devil is Crystalman."
They continued descending the landslip. The sun's rays had grown
insufferably hot. In front of them, down below in the far distance,
Maskull saw water and land intermingled. It appeared that they were
travelling toward a lake district.
"What have you and Nightspore been doing during the last four days,
Krag? What happened to the torpedo?"
"You're just about on the same mental level as a man who sees a
brand-new palace, and asks what has become of the scaffolding."
"What palace have you been building, then?"
"We have not been idle," said Krag. "While you have been murdering
and lovemaking, we have had our work."
"And how have you been made acquainted with my actions?"
"Oh, you're an open book. Now you've got a mortal heart wound on
account of a woman you knew for six hours."
Maskull turned pale. "Sneer away, Krag! If you lived with a woman
for six hundred years and saw her die, that would never touch your
leather heart. You haven't even the feelings of an insect."
"Behold the child defending its toys!" said Krag, grinning faintly.
Maskull stopped short. "What do you want with me, and why did you
bring me here?"
"It's no use stopping, even for the sake of theatrical effect," said
Krag, pulling him into motion again. "The distance has got to be
covered, however often we pull up."
When he touched him, Maskull felt a terrible shooting pain through
"I can't go on regarding you as a man, Krag. You're something more
than a man - whether good or evil, I can't say."
Krag looked yellow and formidable. He did not reply to Maskull's
remark, but after a pause said, "So you've been trying to find Surtur
on your own account, during the intervals between killing and
"What was that drumming?" demanded Maskull.
"You needn't look so important. We know you had your ear to the
keyhole. But you could join the assembly, the music was not playing
for you, my friend."
Maskull smiled rather bitterly. "At all events, I listen through no
more keyholes. I have finished with life. I belong to nobody and
nothing any more, from this time forward."
"Brave Words, brave words! We shall see. Perhaps Crystalman will
make one more attempt on you. There is still time for one more."
"Now I don't understand you."
"You think you are thoroughly disillusioned, don't you? Well, that
may prove to be the last and strongest illusion of all."
The conversation ceased. They reached the foot of the landslip an
hour later. Branchspell was steadily mounting the cloudless sky. It
was approaching Sarclash, and it was an open question whether or not
it would clear its peak. The heat was sweltering. The long,
massive, saucer-shaped ridge behind them, with its terrific
precipices, was glowing with bright morning colours. Adage, towering
up many thousands of feet higher still, guarded the end of it like a
lonely Colossus. In front of them, starting from where they stood,
was a cool and enchanting wilderness of little lakes and forests.
The water of the lakes was dark green; the forests were asleep,
waiting for the rising of Alppain.
"Are we now in Barey?" asked Maskull.
"Yes - and there is one of the natives."
There was an ugly glint in his eye as he spoke the words, but Maskull
did not see it.
A man was leaning in the shade against one of the first trees,
apparently waiting for them to come up. He was small, dark, and
beardless, and was still in early manhood. He was clothed in a dark
blue, loosely flowing robe, and wore a broad-brimmed slouch hat. His
face, which was not disfigured by any special organs, was pale,
earnest, and grave, yet somehow remarkably pleasing.
Before a word was spoken, he warmly grasped Maskull's hand, but even
while he was in the act of doing so he threw a queer frown at Krag.
The latter responded with a scowling grin.
When he opened his mouth to speak, his voice was a vibrating
baritone, but it was at the same time strangely womanish in its
modulations and variety of tone.
"I've been waiting for you here since sunrise," he said. "Welcome to
Barey, Maskull! Let's hope you'll forget your sorrows here, you
Maskull stared at him, not without friendliness. "What made you
expect me, and how do you know my name?"
The stranger smiled, which made his face very handsome. "I'm
Gangnet. I know most things."
"Haven't you a greeting for me too - Gangnet?" asked Krag, thrusting
his forbidding features almost into the other's face.
"I know you,. Krag. There are few places where you are welcome."
"And I know you, Gangnet - you man-woman.... Well, we are here
together, and you must make what you can of it. We are going down to
The smile faded from Gangnet's face. "I can't drive you away, Krag -
but I can make you the unwelcome third."
Krag threw back his head, and gave a loud, grating laugh. "That
bargain suits me all right. As long as I have the substance, you may
have the shadow, and much good may it do you."
"Now that it's all arranged so satisfactorily," said Maskull, with a
hard smile, "permit me to say that I don't desire any society at all
at present.... You take too much for granted, Krag. You have played
the false friend once already.... I presume I'm a free agent?"
"To be a free man, one must have a universe of one's own," said Krag,
with a jeering look. "What do you say, Gangnet - is this a free
"Freedom from pain and ugliness should be every man's privilege,"
returned Gangnet tranquilly. "Maskull is quite within his rights,
and if you'll engage to leave him I'll do the same."
"Maskull can change face as often as he likes, but he won't get rid
of me so easily. Be easy on that point, Maskull."
"It doesn't matter," muttered Maskull. "Let everyone join in the
procession. In a few hours I shall finally be free, anyhow, if what
they say is true."
"I'll lead the way," said Gangnet. "You don't know this country, of
course, Maskull. When we get to the flat lands some miles farther
down, we shall be able to travel by water, but at present we must
walk, I fear."
"Yes, you fear - you fear!" broke out Krag, in a highpitched,
scraping voice. "You eternal loller!"
Maskull kept looking from one to the other in amazement. There
seemed to be a determined hostility between the two, which indicated
an intimate previous acquaintance.
They set off through a wood, keeping close to its border, so that for
a mile or more they were within sight of the long, narrow lake that
flowed beside it. The trees were low and thin; their dolm-coloured
leaves were all folded. There was no underbrush - they walked on
clean, brown earth, A distant waterfall sounded. They were in shade,
but the air was pleasantly warm. There were no insects to irritate
them. The bright lake outside looked cool and poetic.
Gangnet pressed Maskull's arm affectionately. "If the bringing of
you from your world had fallen to me, Maskull, it is here I would
have brought you, and not to the scarlet desert. Then you would have
escaped the dark spots, and Tormance would have appeared beautiful to
"And what then, Gangnet? The dark spots would have existed all the
"You could have seen them afterward. It makes all the difference
whether one sees darkness through the light, or brightness through
"A clear eye is the best. Tormance is an ugly world, and I greatly
prefer to know it as it really is."
"The devil made it ugly, not Crystalman. These are Crystalman's
thoughts, which you see around you. He is nothing but Beauty and
Pleasantness. Even Krag won't have the effrontery to deny that."
"It's very nice here," said Krag, looking around him malignantly.
"One only wants a cushion and half a dozen houris to complete it."
Maskull disengaged himself from Gangnet. "Last night, when I was
struggling through the mud in the ghastly moonlight - then I thought
the world beautiful .
"Poor Sullenbode!" said Gangnet sighing.
"What! You knew her?"
"I know her through you. By mourning for a noble woman, you show
your own nobility. I think all women are noble."
"There may be millions of noble women, but there's only one
"If Sullenbode can exist," said Gangnet, "the world cannot be a bad
"Change the subject.... The world's hard and cruel, and I am thankful
to be leaving it."
"On one point, though, you both agree," said Krag, smiling evilly.
"Pleasure is good, and the cessation of pleasure is bad."
Gangnet glanced at him coldly. "We know your peculiar theories,
Krag. You are very fond of them, but they are unworkable. The world
could not go on being, without pleasure."
"So Gangnet thinks!" jeered Krag.
They came to the end of the wood, and found themselves overlooking a
little cliff. At the foot of it, about fifty feet below, a fresh
series of lakes and forests commenced. Barey appeared to be one big
mountain slope, built by nature into terraces. The lake along whose
border they had been travelling was not banked at the end, but
overflowed to the lower level in half a dozen beautiful, threadlike
falls, white and throwing off spray. The cliff was not
perpendicular, and the men found it easy to negotiate.
At the base they entered another wood. Here it was much denser, and
they had nothing but trees all around them. A clear brook rippled
through the heart of it; they followed its bank.
"It has occurred to me," said Maskull, addressing Gangnet, "that
Alppain may be my death. Is that so?"
"These trees don't fear Alppain, so why should you? Alppain is a
wonderful, life-bringing sun."
"The reason I ask is - I've seen its afterglow, and it produced such
violent sensations that a very little more would have proved too
"Because the forces were evenly balanced. When you see Alppain
itself, it will reign supreme, and there will be no more struggling
of wills inside you."
"And that, I may tell you beforehand, Maskull," said Krag, grinning,
"is Crystalman's trump card."
"How do you mean?"
"You'll see. You'll renounce the world so eagerly that you'll want
to stay in the world merely to enjoy your sensations."
Gangnet smiled. "Krag, you see, is hard to please. You must neither
enjoy, nor renounce. What are you to do?"
Maskull turned toward Krag. "It's very odd, but I don't understand
your creed even yet. Are you recommending suicide?"
Krag seemed to grow sallower and more repulsive every minute. "What,
because they have left off stroking you?" he exclaimed, laughing and
showing his discoloured teeth.
"Whoever you are, and whatever you want," said Maskull, "you seem
very certain of yourself."
"Yes, you would like me to blush and stammer like a booby, wouldn't
you! That would be an excellent way of destroying lies."
Gangnet glanced toward the foot of one of the trees. He stooped and
picked up two or three objects that resembled eggs.
"To eat?" asked Maskull, accepting the offered gift.
"Yes, eat them; you must be hungry. I want none myself, and one
mustn't insult Krag by offering him a pleasure - especially such a
Maskull knocked the ends off two of the eggs, and swallowed the
liquid contents. They tasted rather alcoholic. Krag snatched the
remaining, egg out of his hand and flung it against a tree trunk,
where it broke and stuck, a splash of slime.
"I don't wait to be asked, Gangnet.... Say, is there a filthier sight
than a smashed pleasure?"
Gangnet did not reply, but took Maskull's arm.
After they had alternately walked through forests and descended
cliffs and slopes for upward of two hours, the landscape altered. A
steep mountainside commenced and continued for at least a couple of
miles, during which space the land must have dropped nearly four
thousand feet, at a practically uniform gradient. Maskull had seen
nothing like this immense slide of country anywhere. The hill slope
carried an enormous forest on its back. This forest, however, was
different from those they had hitherto passed through. The leaves of
the trees were curled in sleep, but the boughs were so close and
numerous that, but for the fact that they were translucent, the rays
of the sun would have been completely intercepted. As it was, the
whole forest was flooded with light, and this light, being tinged
with the colour of the branches, was a soft and lovely rose. So gay,
feminine, and dawnlike was the illumination, that Maskull's spirits
immediately started to rise, although he did not wish it.
He checked himself, sighed, and grew pensive.
"What a place for languishing eyes and necks of ivory, Maskull!"
rasped Krag mockingly. "Why isn't Sullenbode here?"
Maskull gripped him roughly and flung him against the nearest tree.
Krag recovered himself, and burst into a roaring laugh, seeming not a
"Still what I said - was it true or untrue?"
Maskull gazed at him sternly. "You seem to regard yourself as a
necessary evil. I'm under no obligation to go on with you any
farther. I think we had better part."
Krag turned to Gangnet with an air of grotesque mock earnestness.
"What do you say - do we part when Maskull pleases, or when I
"Keep your temper, Maskull," said Gangnet, showing Krag his back. "I
know the man better than you do. Now that he has fastened onto you
there's only one way of making him lose his hold, by ignoring him.
Despise him - say nothing to him, don't answer his questions. If you
refuse to recognise his existence, he is as good as not here."
"I'm beginning to be tired of it all," said Maskull. "It seems as if
I shall add one more to my murders, before I have finished."
"I smell murder in the air," exclaimed Krag, pretending to sniff.
"Do as I say, Maskull. To bandy words with him is to throw oil on
"I'll say no more to anyone.... When do we get out of this accursed
"It's some way yet, but when we're once out we can take to the water,
and you will be able to rest, and think."
"And brood comfortably over your sufferings," added Krag.
None of the three men said anything more until they emerged into the
open day. The slope of the forest was so steep that they were forced
to run, rather than walk, and this would have prevented any
conversation, even if they had otherwise felt inclined toward it. In
less than half an hour they were through. A flat, open landscape lay
stretched in front of them as far as they could see.
Three parts of this country consisted of smooth water. It was a
succession of large, low-shored lakes, divided by narrow strips of
tree-covered land. The lake immediately before them had its small
end to the forest. It was there about a third of a mile wide. The
water at the sides and end was shallow, and choked with dolm-colored
rushes; but in the middle, beginning a few yards from the shore,
there was a perceptible current away from them. In view of this
current, it was difficult to decide whether it was a lake or a river.
Some little floating islands were in the shallows.
"Is it here that we take to the water?" inquired Maskull.
'Yes, here," answered Gangnet.
"One of those islands will serve. It only needs to move it into the
Maskull frowned. "Where will it carry us to?"
"Come, get on, get on!" said Krag, laughing uncouthly. "The
morning's wearing away, and you have to die before noon. We are
going to the Ocean."
"If you are omniscient, Krag, what is my death to be?"
"Gangnet will murder you."
"You lie!" said Gangnet. "I wish Maskull nothing but good."
"At all events, he will be the cause of your death. But what does it
matter? The great point is you are quitting this futile world....
Well, Gangnet, I see you're as slack as ever. I suppose I must do the
He jumped into the lake and began to run through the shallow water,
splashing it about. When he came to the nearest island, the water
was up to his thighs. The island was lozenge-shaped, and about
fifteen feet from end to end. It was composed of a sort of light
brown peat; there was no form of living vegetation on its surface.
Krag went behind it, and started shoving it toward the current,
apparently without having unduly to exert himself. When it was
within the influence of the stream the others waded out to him, and
all three climbed on.
The voyage began. The current was not travelling at more than two
miles an hour. The sun glared down on their heads mercilessly, and
there was no shade or prospect of shade. Maskull sat down near the
edge, and periodically splashed water over his head. Gangnet sat on
his haunches next to him. Krag paced up and down with short, quick
steps, like an animal in a cage. The lake widened out more and more,
and the width of the stream increased in proportion, until they
seemed to themselves to be floating on the bosom of some broad,
Krag suddenly bent over and snatched off Gangnet's hat, crushing it
together in his hairy fist and throwing it far out into the stream.
"Why should you disguise yourself like a woman?" he asked with a
harsh guffaw - "Show Maskull Your face. Perhaps he has seen it
Gangnet did remind Maskull of someone, but he could not say of whom.
His dark hair curled down to his neck, his brow was wide, lofty, and
noble, and there was an air of serious sweetness about the whole man
that was strangely appealing to the feelings.
"Let Maskull judge," he said with proud composure, "whether I have
anything to be ashamed of."
"There can be nothing but magnificent thoughts in that head,"
muttered Maskull, staring hard at him.
"A capital valuation. Gangnet is the king of poets. But what
happens when poets try to carry through practical enterprises?"
"What enterprises?" asked Maskull, in astonishment.
"What have you got on hand, Gangnet? Tell Maskull."
"There are two forms of practical activity," replied Gangnet calmly.
"One may either build up, or destroy."
"No, there's a third species. One may steal - and not even know one
is stealing. One may take the purse and leave the money."
Maskull raised his eyebrows. "Where have you two met before?"
"I'm paying Gangnet a visit today, Maskull but once upon a time
Gangnet paid me a visit."
"In my home - whatever that is. Gangnet is a common thief."
"You are speaking in riddles, and I don't understand you. I don't
know either of you, but it's clear that if Gangnet is a poet, you're
a buffoon. Must you go on talking? I want to be quiet."
Krag laughed, but said no more. Presently he lay down at full
length, with his face to the sun, and in a few minutes was fast
asleep, and snoring disagreeably. Maskull kept glancing over at his
yellow, repulsive face with strong disfavour.
Two hours passed. The land on either side was more than a mile
distant. In front of them there was no land at all. Behind them,
the Lichstorm Mountains were blotted out from view by a haze that had
gathered together. The sky ahead, just above the horizon, began to
be of a strange colour. It was an intense jale-blue. The whole
northern atmosphere was stained with ulfire.
Maskull's mind grew disturbed. "Alppain is rising, Gangnet."
Gangnet smiled wistfully. "It begins to trouble you?"
"It is so solemn - tragical, almost - yet it recalls me to Earth.
Life was no longer important - but this is important."
"Daylight is night to this other daylight. Within half an hour you
will be like a man who has stepped from a dark forest into the open
day. Then you will ask yourself how you could have been blind."
The two men went on watching the blue sunrise. The entire sky in the
north, halfway up to the zenith, was streaked with extraordinary
colours, among which jale and dolm predominated. Just as the
principal character of an ordinary dawn is mystery, the outstanding
character of this dawn was wildness. It did not baffle the
understanding, but the heart. Maskull felt no inarticulate craving
to seize and perpetuate the sunrise, and make it his own. Instead of
that, it agitated and tormented him, like the opening bars of a
When he looked back to the south, Branchspell's day had lost its
glare, and he could gaze at the immense white sun without flinching.
He instinctively turned to the north again, as one turns from
darkness to light.
"If those were Crystalman's thoughts that you showed me before,
Gangnet, these must be his feelings. I mean it literally. What I am
feeling now, he must have felt before me."
"He is all feeling, Maskull - don't you understand that?"
Maskull was feeding greedily on the spectacle before him; he did not
reply. His face was set like a rock, but his eyes were dim with the
beginning of tears. The sky blazed deeper and deeper; it was obvious
that Alppain was about to lift itself above the sea. The island had
by this time floated past the mouth of the estuary. On three sides
they were surrounded by water. The haze crept up behind them and
shut out all sight of land. Krag was still sleeping - an ugly,
Maskull looked over the side at the flowing water. It had lost its
dark green colour, and was now of a perfect crystal transparency.
"Are we already on the Ocean, Gangnet?"
"Then nothing remains except my death."
"Don't think of death, but life."
"It's growing brighter - at the same time, more sombre, Krag seems to
be fading away. - .."
"There is Alppain!" said Gangnet, touching his arm.
The deep, glowing disk of the blue sun peeped above the sea. Maskull
was struck to silence. He was hardly so much looking, as feeling.
His emotions were unutterable. His soul seemed too strong for his
body. The great blue orb rose rapidly out of the water, like an
awful eye watching him.... it shot above the sea with a bound, and
Alppain's day commenced.
"What do you feel?" Gangnet still held his arm.
"I have set myself against the Infinite," muttered Maskull.
Suddenly his chaos of passions sprang together, and a wonderful idea
swept through his whole being, accompanied by the intensest joy.
"Why, Gangnet - I am nothing."
"No, you are nothing."
The mist closed in all around them. Nothing was visible except the
two suns, and a few feet of sea. The shadows of the three men cast
by Alppain were not black, but were composed of white daylight.
"Then nothing can hurt me," said Maskull with a peculiar smile.
Gangnet smiled too. "How could it?"
"I have lost my will; I feel as if some foul tumour had been scraped
away, leaving me clean and free."
"Do you now understand life, Maskull?"
Gangnet's face was transfigured with an extraordinary spiritual
beauty; he looked as if he had descended from heaven.
"I understand nothing, except that I have no self any more. But this
"Is Gangnet expatiating on his famous blue sun?" said a jeering voice
above them. Looking up, they saw that Krag had got to his feet.
They both rose. At the same moment the gathering mist began to
obscure Alppain's disk, changing it from blue to a vivid jale.
"What do you want with us, Krag?" asked Maskull with simple
Krag looked at him strangely for a few seconds. The water lapped
"Don't you comprehend, Maskull, that your death has arrived?"
Maskull made no response. Krag rested an arm lightly on his
shoulder, and suddenly he felt sick and faint. He sank to the
ground, near the edge of the island raft. His heart was thumping
heavily and queerly; its beating reminded him of the drum taps. He
gazed languidly at the rippling water, and it seemed to him as if he
could see right through it ... away, away down ... to a strange
The water disappeared. The two suns were extinguished. The island
was transformed into a cloud, and Maskull - alone on it - was
floating through the atmosphere.. .. Down below, it was all fire -
the fire of Muspel. The light mounted higher and higher, until it
filled the whole world....
He floated toward an immense perpendicular cliff of black rock,
without top or bottom. Halfway up it Krag, suspended in midair, was
dealing terrific blows at a blood - red spot with a huge hammer. The
rhythmical, clanging sounds were hideous.
Presently Maskull made out that these sounds were the familiar drum
beats. "What are you doing, Krag?" he asked.
Krag suspended his work, and turned around.
"Beating on Your heart, Maskull," was his grinning response.
The cliff and Krag vanished. Maskull saw Gangnet struggling in the
air - but it was not Gangnet - it was Crystalman. He seemed to be
trying to escape from the Muspel-fire, which kept surrounding and
licking him, whichever way he turned. He was screaming.... The fire
caught him. He shrieked horribly. Maskull caught one glimpse of a
vulgar, slobbering face - and then that too disappeared.
He opened his eyes. The floating island was still faintly
illuminated by Alppain. Krag was standing by his side, but Gangnet
was no longer there.
"What is this Ocean called?" asked Maskull, bringing out the words
Maskull nodded, and kept quiet for some time. He rested his face on
his arm. "Where's Nightspore?" he asked suddenly.
Krag bent over him with a grave expression. "You are Nightspore."
The dying man closed his eyes, and smiled.
Opening them again, a few moments later, with an effort, he murmured,
"Who are you?"
Krag maintained a gloomy silence.
Shortly afterward a frightful pang passed through Maskull's heart,
and he died immediately.
Krag turned his head around. "The night is really past at last,
Nightspore.... The day is here."
Nightspore gazed long and earnestly at Maskull's body. "Why was all
"Ask Crystalman," replied Krag sternly. "His world is no joke. He
has a strong clutch - but I have a stronger... Maskull was his, but
Nightspore is mine."
The fog thickened so that the two suns wholly disappeared, and all
grew as black as night. Nightspore could no longer see his
companion. The water lapped gently against the side of the island
"You say the night is past," said Nightspore. "But the night is
still here. Am I dead, or alive?"
"You are still in Crystalman's world, but you belong to it no more.
We are approaching Muspel."
Nightspore felt a strong, silent throbbing of the air - a rhythmical
pulsation, in four-four time. "There is the drumming," he exclaimed.
"Do you understand it, or have you forgotten?"
"I half understand it, but I'm all confused."
"It's evident Crystalman has dug his claws into you pretty deeply,"
said Krag. "The sound comes from Muspel, but the rhythm is caused by
its travelling through Crystalman's atmosphere. His nature is rhythm
as he loves to call it - or dull, deadly repetition, as I name it."
"I remember," said Nightspore, biting his nails in the dark.
The throbbing became audible; it now sounded like a distant drum. A
small patch of strange light in the far distance, straight ahead of
them, began faintly to illuminate the floating island and the glassy
sea around it.
"Do all men escape from that ghastly world, or only I, and a few like
me?" asked Nightspore.
"If all escaped, I shouldn't sweat, my friend... There's hard work,
and anguish, and the risk of total death, waiting for us yonder."
Nightspore's heart sank. "Have I not yet finished, then?"
"If you wish it. You have got through. But will you wish it?"
The drumming grew loud and painful. The light resolved itself into a
tiny oblong of mysterious brightness in a huge wall of night. Krag's
grim and rocklike features were revealed.
"I can't face rebirth," said Nightspore. "The horror of death is
nothing to it."
"You will choose."
"I can do nothing. Crystalman is too powerful. I barely escaped with
- my own soul."
"You are still stupid with Earth fumes, and see nothing straight,"
Nightspore made no reply, but seemed to be trying to recall
something. The water around them was so still, colourless, and
transparent, that they scarcely seemed to be borne up by liquid
matter at all. Maskull's corpse had disappeared.
The drumming was now like the clanging of iron. The oblong patch of
light grew much bigger; it burned, fierce and wild. The darkness
above, below, and on either side of it, began to shape itself into
the semblance of a huge, black wall, without bounds.
"Is that really a wall we are coming to?"
"You will soon find out. What you see is Muspel, and that light is
the gate you have to enter."
Nightspore's heart beat wildly.
"Shall I remember?" he muttered.
"Yes. you'll remember."
"Accompany me, Krag, or I shall be lost."
"There is nothing for me to do in there. I shall wait outside for
"You are returning to the struggle?" demanded Nightspore, gnawing his
"I dare not."
The thunderous clangor of the rhythmical beats struck on his head
like actual blows. The light glared so vividly that he was no longer
able to look at it. It had the startling irregularity of continuous
lightning, but it possessed this further peculiarity - that it seemed
somehow to give out not actual light, but emotion, seen as light.
They continued to approach the wall of darkness, straight toward the
door. The glasslike water flowed right against it, its surface
reaching up almost to the threshold.
They could not speak any more; the noise was too deafening.
In a few minutes they were before the gateway. Nightspore turned his
back and hid his eyes in his two hands, but even then he was blinded
by the light. So passionate were his feelings that his body seemed
to enlarge itself. At every frightful beat of sound, he quivered
The entrance was doorless. Krag jumped onto the rocky platform and
pulled Nightspore after him.
Once through the gateway, the light vanished. The rhythmical sound-
blows totally ceased. Nightspore dropped his hands.... All was dark
and quiet as an opened tomb. But the air was filled with grim,
burning passion, which was to light and sound what light itself is to
Nightspore pressed his hand to his heart. "I don't know if I can
endure it," he said, looking toward Krag. He felt his person far
more vividly and distinctly than if he had been able to see him.
"Go in, and lose no time, Nightspore.... Time here is more precious
than on earth. We can't squander the minutes. There are terrible
and tragic affairs to attend to, which won't wait for us... Go in at
once. Stop for nothing."
"Where shall I go to?" muttered Nightspore. "I have forgotten
"Enter, enter! There is only one way. You can't mistake it."
"Why do you bid me go in, if I am to come out again?"
"To have your wounds healed."
Almost before the words had left his mouth, Krag sprang back on to
the island raft. Nightspore involuntarily started after him, but at
once recovered himself and remained standing where he was. Krag was
completely invisible; everything outside was black night.
The moment he had gone, a feeling shot up in Nightspore's heart like
a thousand trumpets.
Straight in front of him, almost at his feet, was the lower end of a
steep, narrow, circular flight of stone steps. There was no other
He put his foot on the bottom stair, at the same time peering aloft.
He saw nothing, yet as he proceeded upward every inch of the way was
perceptible to his inner feelings. The staircase was cold, dismal,
and deserted, but it seemed to him, in his exaltation of soul, like a
ladder to heaven.
After he had mounted a dozen steps or so, he paused to take breath.
Each step was increasingly difficult to ascend; he felt as though he
were carrying a heavy man on his shoulders. It struck a familiar
chord in his mind. He went on and, ten stairs higher up, came to a
window set in a high embrasure.
On to this he clambered, and looked through. The window was of a
sort of glass, but he could see nothing. Coming to him, however,
from the world outside, a disturbance of the atmosphere struck his
senses, causing his blood to run cold. At one moment it resembled a
low, mocking, vulgar laugh, travelling from the ends of the earth; at
the next it was like a rhythmical vibration of the air - the silent,
continuous throbbing of some mighty engine. The two sensations were
identical, yet different. They seemed to be related in the same
manner as soul and body. After feeling them for a long time,
Nightspore got down from the embrasure, and continued his ascent,
having meanwhile grown very serious.
The climbing became still more laborious, and he was forced to stop
at every third or fourth step, to rest his muscles and regain breath.
When he had mounted another twenty stairs in this way, he came to a
second window. Again he saw nothing. The laughing disturbance of
the air, too, had ceased; but the atmospheric throb was now twice as
distinct as before, and its rhythm had become double. There were two
separate pulses; one was in the time of a march, the other in the
time of a waltz. The first was bitter and petrifying to feel, but
the second was gay, enervating, and horrible.
Nightspore spent little time at that window, for he felt that he was
on the eve of a great discovery, and that something far more
important awaited him higher up. He proceeded aloft. The ascent
grew more and more exhausting, so much so that he had frequently to
sit down, utterly crushed by his own dead weight. Still, he got to
the third window.
He climbed into the embrasure. His feelings translated themselves
into vision, and he saw a sight that caused him to turn pale. A
gigantic, self-luminous sphere was hanging in the sky, occupying
nearly the whole of it. This sphere was composed entirely of two
kinds of active beings. There were a myriad of tiny green
corpuscles, varying in size from the very small to the almost
indiscernible. They were not green, but he somehow saw them so.
They were all striving in one direction - toward himself, toward
Muspel, but were too feeble and miniature to make any headway. Their
action produced the marching rhythm he had previously felt, but this
rhythm was not intrinsic in the corpuscles themselves, but was a
consequence of the obstruction they met with. And, surrounding these
atoms of life and light, were far larger whirls of white light that
gyrated hither and thither, carrying the green corpuscles with them
wherever they desired. Their whirling motion was accompanied by the
waltzing rhythm. It seemed to Nightspore that the green atoms were
not only being danced about against their will but were suffering
excruciating shame and degradation in consequence. The larger ones
were steadier than the extremely small, a few were even almost
stationary, and one was advancing in the direction it wished to go.
He turned his back to the window, buried his face in his hands, and
searched in the dim recesses of his memory for an explanation of what
he had just seen. Nothing came straight, but horror and wrath began
to take possession of him.
On his way upward to the next window, invisible fingers seemed to him
to be squeezing his heart and twisting it about here and there; but
he never dreamed of turning back. His mood was so grim that he did
not once permit himself to pause. Such was his physical distress by
the time that he had clambered into the recess, that for several
minutes he could see nothing at all - the world seemed to be spinning
round him rapidly.
When at last he looked, he saw the same sphere as before, but now all
was changed on it. It was a world of rocks, minerals, water, plants,
animals, and men. He saw the whole world at one view, yet everything
was so magnified that he could distinguish the smallest details of
life. In the interior of every individual, of every aggregate of
individuals, of every chemical atom, he clearly perceived the
presence of the green corpuscles. But, according to the degree of
dignity of the life form, they were fragmentary or comparatively
large. In the crystal, for example, the green, imprisoned life was
so minute as to be scarcely visible; in some men it was hardly
bigger; but in other men and women it was twenty or a hundred times
greater. But, great or small, it played an important part in every
individual. It appeared as if the whirls of white light, which were
the individuals, and plainly showed themselves beneath the enveloping
bodies, were delighted with existence and wished only to enjoy it,
but the green corpuscles were in a condition of eternal discontent,
yet, blind and not knowing which way to turn for liberation, kept
changing form, as though breaking a new path, by way of experiment.
Whenever the old grotesque became metamorphosed into the new
grotesque, it was in every case the direct work of the green atoms,
trying to escape toward Muspel, but encountering immediate
opposition. These subdivided sparks of living, fiery spirit were
hopelessly imprisoned in a ghastly mush of soft pleasure. They were
being effeminated and corrupted - that is to say, absorbed in the
foul, sickly enveloping forms.
Nightspore felt a sickening shame in his soul as he looked on at that
spectacle. His exaltation had long since vanished. He bit his
nails, and understood why Krag was waiting for him below.
He mounted slowly to the fifth window. The pressure of air against
him was as strong as a full gale, divested of violence and
irregularity, so that he was not for an instant suffered to relax his
efforts. Nevertheless, not a breath stirred.
Looking through the window, he was startled by a new sight. The
sphere was still there, but between it and the Muspel-world in which
he was standing he perceived a dim, vast shadow, without any
distinguishable shape, but somehow throwing out a scent of disgusting
sweetness. Nightspore knew that it was Crystalman. A flood of
fierce light - but it was not light, but passion - was streaming all
the time from Muspel to the Shadow, and through it. When, however,
it emerged on the other side, which was the sphere, the light was
altered in character. It became split, as by a prism, into the two
forms of life which he had previously seen - the green corpuscles and
the whirls. What had been fiery spirit but a moment ago was now a
disgusting mass of crawling, wriggling individuals, each whirl of
pleasure-seeking will having, as nucleus, a fragmentary spark of
living green fire. Nightspore recollected the back rays of
Starkness, and it flashed across him with the certainty of truth that
the green sparks were the back rays, and the whirls the forward rays,
of Muspel. The former were trying desperately to return to their
place of origin, but were overpowered by the brute force of the
latter, which wished only to remain where they were. The individual
whirls were jostling and fighting with, and even devouring, each
other. This created pain, but, whatever pain they felt, it was
always pleasure that they sought. Sometimes the green sparks were
strong enough for a moment to move a little way in the direction of
Muspel; the whirls would then accept the movement, not only without
demur, but with pride and pleasure, as if it were their own handiwork
- but they never saw beyond the Shadow, they thought that they were
travelling toward it. The instant the direct movement wearied them,
as contrary to their whirling nature, they fell again to killing,
dancing, and loving.
Nightspore had a foreknowledge that the sixth window would prove to
be the last. Nothing would have kept him from ascending to it, for
he guessed that the nature of Crystalman himself would there become
manifest. Every step upward was like a bloody life-and-death
struggle. The stairs nailed him to the ground; the air pressure
caused blood to gush from his nose and ears; his head clanged like an
iron bell. When he had fought his way up a dozen steps, he found
himself suddenly at the top; the staircase terminated in a small,
bare chamber of cold stone, possessing a single window. On the other
side of the apartment another short flight of stairs mounted through
a trap, apparently to the roof of the building. Before ascending
these stairs, Nightspore hastened to the window and stared out.
The shadow form of Crystalman had drawn much closer to him, and
filled the whole sky, but it was not a shadow of darkness, but a
bright shadow. It had neither shape, nor colour, yet it in some way
suggested the delicate tints of early morning. It was so nebulous
that the sphere could be clearly distinguished through it; in
extension, however, it was thick. The sweet smell emanating from it
was strong, loathsome, and terrible; it seemed to spring from a sort
of loose, mocking slime inexpressibly vulgar and ignorant.
The spirit stream from Muspel flashed with complexity and variety.
It was not below individuality, but above it. It was not the One, or
the Many, but something else far beyond either. It approached
Crystalman, and entered his body - if that bright mist could be
called a body. It passed right through him, and the passage caused
him the most exquisite pleasure. The Muspel-stream was Crystalman's
food. The stream emerged from the other side on to the sphere, in a
double condition. Part of it reappeared intrinsically unaltered, but
shivered into a million fragments. These were the green corpuscles.
In passing through Crystalman they had escaped absorption by reason
of their extreme minuteness. The other part of the stream had not
escaped. Its fire had been abstracted, its cement was withdrawn,
and, after being fouled and softened by the horrible sweetness of the
host, it broke into individuals, which were the whirls of living
Nightspore shuddered. He comprehended at last how the whole world of
will was doomed to eternal anguish in order that one Being might feel
Presently he set foot on the final flight leading to the roof; for he
remembered vaguely that now only that remained.
Halfway up, he fainted - but when he recovered consciousness he
persisted as though nothing had happened to him. As soon as his head
was above the trap, breathing the free air, he had the same physical
sensation as a man stepping out of water. He pulled his body up, and
stood expectantly on the stone-floored roof, looking round for his
first glimpse of Muspel.
There was nothing.
He was standing upon the top of a tower, measuring not above fifteen
feet each way. Darkness was all around him. He sat down on the
stone parapet, with a sinking heart; a heavy foreboding possessed
Suddenly, without seeing or hearing anything, he had the distinct
impression that the darkness around him, on all four sides, was
grinning.... As soon as that happened, he understood that he was
wholly surrounded by Crystalman's world, and that Muspel consisted of
himself and the stone tower on which he was sitting..
Fire flashed in his heart.... Millions upon millions of grotesque,
vulgar, ridiculous, sweetened individuals - once Spirit - were
calling out from their degradation and agony for salvation from
Muspel.... To answer that cry there was only himself ... and Krag
waiting below ... and Surtur - But where was Surtur?
The truth forced itself on him in all its cold, brutal reality.
Muspel was no all-powerful Universe, tolerating from pure
indifference the existence side by side with it of another false
world, which had no right to be. Muspel was fighting for its life -
against all that is most shameful and frightful - against sin
masquerading as eternal beauty, against baseness masquerading as
Nature, against the Devil masquerading as God....
Now he understood everything. The moral combat was no mock one, no
Valhalla, where warriors are cut to pieces by day and feast by night;
but a grim death struggle in which what is worse than death - namely,
spiritual death - inevitably awaited the vanquished of Muspel.... By
what means could he hold back from this horrible war!
During those moments of anguish, all thoughts of Self - the
corruption of his life on Earth - were scorched out of Nightspore's
soul, perhaps not for the first time.
After sitting a long time, he prepared to descend. Without warning,
a strange, wailing cry swept over the face of the world. Starting in
awful mystery, it ended with such a note of low and sordid mockery
that he could not doubt for a moment whence it originated. It was
the voice of Crystalman.
Krag was waiting for him on the island raft. He threw a stern glance
"Have you seen everything?"
"The struggle is hopeless," muttered Nightspore.
"Did I not say I am the stronger?"
"You may be the stronger, but he is the mightier."
"I am the stronger and the mightier. Crystalman's Empire is but a
shadow on the face of Muspel. But nothing will be done without the
bloodiest blows.... What do you mean to do?"
Nightspore looked at him strangely. "Are you not Surtur, Krag?"
"Yes," said Nightspore in a slow voice, without surprise. "But what
is your name on Earth?"
"It is pain."
"That, too, I must have known."
He was silent for a few minutes; then he stepped quietly onto the
raft. Krag pushed off, and they proceeded into the darkness.