The Moon Pool
Chapter 13: Yolara, Priestess of the Shining One
“You’d better have this handy, Doc.” O’Keefe paused at the head of the stairway and handed me one of the automatics he had taken from Marakinoff.
“Shall I not have one also?” rather anxiously asked the latter.
“When you need it you’ll get it,” answered O’Keefe. “I’ll tell you frankly, though, Professor, that you’ll have to show me before I trust you with a gun. You shoot too straight--from cover.”
The flash of anger in the Russian’s eyes turned to a cold consideration.
“You say always just what is in your mind, Lieutenant O’Keefe,” he mused. “Da--that I shall remember!” Later I was to recall this odd observation--and Marakinoff was to remember indeed.
In single file, O’Keefe at the head and Olaf bringing up the rear, we passed through the portal. Before us dropped a circular shaft, into which the light from the chamber of the oval streamed liquidly; set in its sides the steps spiralled, and down them we went, cautiously. The stairway ended in a circular well; silent--with no trace of exit! The rounded stones joined each other evenly--hermetically. Carved on one of the slabs was one of the five flowered vines. I pressed my fingers upon the calyxes, even as Larry had within the Moon Chamber.
A crack--horizontal, four feet wide--appeared on the wall; widened, and as the sinking slab that made it dropped to the level of our eyes, we looked through a hundred-feet-long rift in the living rock! The stone fell steadily--and we saw that it was a Cyclopean wedge set within the slit of the passageway. It reached the level of our feet and stopped. At the far end of this tunnel, whose floor was the polished rock that had, a moment before, fitted hermetically into its roof, was a low, narrow triangular opening through which light streamed.
“Nowhere to go but out!” grinned Larry. “And I’ll bet Golden Eyes is waiting for us with a taxi!” He stepped forward. We followed, slipping, sliding along the glassy surface; and I, for one, had a lively apprehension of what our fate would be should that enormous mass rise before we had emerged! We reached the end; crept out of the narrow triangle that was its exit.
We stood upon a wide ledge carpeted with a thick yellow moss. I looked behind--and clutched O’Keefe’s arm. The door through which we had come had vanished! There was only a precipice of pale rock, on whose surfaces great patches of the amber moss hung; around whose base our ledge ran, and whose summits, if summits it had, were hidden, like the luminous cliffs, in the radiance above us.
“Nowhere to go but ahead--and Golden Eyes hasn’t kept her date!” laughed O’Keefe--but somewhat grimly.
We walked a few yards along the ledge and, rounding a corner, faced the end of one of the slender bridges. From this vantage point the oddly shaped vehicles were plain, and we could see they were, indeed, like the shell of the Nautilus and elfinly beautiful. Their drivers sat high upon the forward whorl. Their bodies were piled high with cushions, upon which lay women half-swathed in gay silken webs. From the pavilioned gardens smaller channels of glistening green ran into the broad way, much as automobile runways do on earth; and in and out of them flashed the fairy shells.
There came a shout from one. Its occupants had glimpsed us. They pointed; others stopped and stared; one shell turned and sped up a runway--and quickly over the other side of the bridge came a score of men. They were dwarfed--none of them more than five feet high, prodigiously broad of shoulder, clearly enormously powerful.
“Trolde!” muttered Olaf, stepping beside O’Keefe, pistol swinging free in his hand.
But at the middle of the bridge the leader stopped, waved back his men, and came toward us alone, palms outstretched in the immemorial, universal gesture of truce. He paused, scanning us with manifest wonder; we returned the scrutiny with interest. The dwarf’s face was as white as Olaf’s--far whiter than those of the other three of us; the features clean-cut and noble, almost classical; the wide set eyes of a curious greenish grey and the black hair curling over his head like that on some old Greek statue.
Dwarfed though he was, there was no suggestion of deformity about him. The gigantic shoulders were covered with a loose green tunic that looked like fine linen. It was caught in at the waist by a broad girdle studded with what seemed to be amazonites. In it was thrust a long curved poniard resembling the Malaysian kris. His legs were swathed in the same green cloth as the upper garment. His feet were sandalled.
My gaze returned to his face, and in it I found something subtly disturbing; an expression of half-malicious gaiety that underlay the wholly prepossessing features like a vague threat; a mocking deviltry that hinted at entire callousness to suffering or sorrow; something of the spirit that was vaguely alien and disquieting.
He spoke--and, to my surprise, enough of the words were familiar to enable me clearly to catch the meaning of the whole. They were Polynesian, the Polynesian of the Samoans which is its most ancient form, but in some indefinable way--archaic. Later I was to know that the tongue bore the same relation to the Polynesian of today as does not that of Chaucer, but of the Venerable Bede, to modern English. Nor was this to be so astonishing, when with the knowledge came the certainty that it was from it the language we call Polynesian sprang.
“From whence do you come, strangers--and how found you your way here?” said the green dwarf.
I waved my hand toward the cliff behind us. His eyes narrowed incredulously; he glanced at its drop, upon which even a mountain goat could not have made its way, and laughed.
“We came through the rock,” I answered his thought. “And we come in peace,” I added.
“And may peace walk with you,” he said half-derisively--”if the Shining One wills it!”
He considered us again.
“Show me, strangers, where you came through the rock,” he commanded. We led the way to where we had emerged from the well of the stairway.
“It was here,” I said, tapping the cliff.
“But I see no opening,” he said suavely.
“It closed behind us,” I answered; and then, for the first time, realized how incredible the explanation sounded. The derisive gleam passed through his eyes again. But he drew his poniard and gravely sounded the rock.
“You give a strange turn to our speech,” he said. “It sounds strangely, indeed--as strange as your answers.” He looked at us quizzically. “I wonder where you learned it! Well, all that you can explain to the Afyo Maie.” His head bowed and his arms swept out in a wide salaam. “Be pleased to come with me!” he ended abruptly.
“In peace?” I asked.
“In peace,” he replied--then slowly--”with me at least.”