The Moon Pool
Chapter 19: The Madness of Olaf
Yolara threw her white arms high. From the mountainous tiers came a mighty sigh; a rippling ran through them. And upon the moment, before Yolara’s arms fell, there issued, apparently from the air around us, a peal of sound that might have been the shouting of some playful god hurling great suns through the net of stars. It was like the deepest notes of all the organs in the world combined in one; summoning, majestic, cosmic!
It held within it the thunder of the spheres rolling through the infinite, the birth-song of suns made manifest in the womb of space; echoes of creation’s supernal chord! It shook the body like a pulse from the heart of the universe--pulsed--and died away.
On its death came a blaring as of all the trumpets of conquering hosts since the first Pharaoh led his swarms--triumphal, compelling! Alexander’s clamouring hosts, brazen-throated wolf-horns of Caesar’s legions, blare of trumpets of Genghis Khan and his golden horde, clangor of the locust levies of Tamerlane, bugles of Napoleon’s armies--war-shout of all earth’s conquerors! And it died!
Fast upon it, a throbbing, muffled tumult of harp sounds, mellownesses of myriads of wood horns, the subdued sweet shrilling of multitudes of flutes, Pandean pipings--inviting, carrying with them the calling of waterfalls in the hidden places, rushing brooks and murmuring forest winds--calling, calling, languorous, lulling, dripping into the brain like the very honeyed essence of sound.
And after them a silence in which the memory of the music seemed to beat, to beat ever more faintly, through every quivering nerve.
From me all fear, all apprehension, had fled. In their place was nothing but joyous anticipation, a supernal freedom from even the shadow of the shadow of care or sorrow; not now did anything matter--Olaf or his haunted, hate-filled eyes; Throckmartin or his fate--nothing of pain, nothing of agony, nothing of striving nor endeavour nor despair in that wide outer world that had turned suddenly to a troubled dream.
Once more the first great note pealed out! Once more it died and from the clustered spheres a kaleidoscopic blaze shot as though drawn from the majestic sound itself. The many-coloured rays darted across the white waters and sought the face of the irised Veil. As they touched, it sparkled, flamed, wavered, and shook with fountains of prismatic colour.
The light increased--and in its intensity the silver air darkened. Faded into shadow that white mosaic of flower-crowned faces set in the amphitheatre of jet, and vast shadows dropped upon the high-flung tiers and shrouded them. But on the skirts of the rays the fretted stalls in which we sat with the fair-haired ones blazed out, iridescent, like jewels.
I was sensible of an acceleration of every pulse; a wild stimulation of every nerve. I felt myself being lifted above the world--close to the threshold of the high gods--soon their essence and their power would stream out into me! I glanced at Larry. His eyes were--wild--with life!
I looked at Olaf--and in his face was none of this--only hate, and hate, and hate.
The peacock waves streamed out over the waters, cleaving the seeming darkness, a rainbow path of glory. And the Veil flashed as though all the rainbows that had ever shone were burning within it. Again the mighty sound pealed.
Into the centre of the Veil the light drew itself, grew into an intolerable brightness--and with a storm of tinklings, a tempest of crystalline notes, a tumult of tiny chimings, through it sped--the Shining One!
Straight down that radiant path, its high-flung plumes of feathery flame shimmering, its coruscating spirals whirling, its seven globes of seven colours shining above its glowing core, it raced toward us. The hurricane of bells of diamond glass were jubilant, joyous. I felt O’Keefe grip my arm; Yolara threw her white arms out in a welcoming gesture; I heard from the tier a sigh of rapture--and in it a poignant, wailing under-tone of agony!
Over the waters, down the light stream, to the end of the ivory pier, flew the Shining One. Through its crystal pizzicati drifted inarticulate murmurings--deadly sweet, stilling the heart and setting it leaping madly.
For a moment it paused, poised itself, and then came whirling down the flower path to its priestess, slowly, ever more slowly. It hovered for a moment between the woman and the dwarf, as though contemplating them; turned to her with its storm of tinklings softened, its murmurings infinitely caressing. Bent toward it, Yolara seemed to gather within herself pulsing waves of power; she was terrifying; gloriously, maddeningly evil; and as gloriously, maddeningly heavenly! Aphrodite and the Virgin! Tanith of the Carthaginians and St. Bride of the Isles! A queen of hell and a princess of heaven--in one!
Only for a moment did that which we had called the Dweller and which these named the Shining One, pause. It swept up the ramp to the dais, rested there, slowly turning, plumes and spirals lacing and unlacing, throbbing, pulsing. Now its nucleus grew plainer, stronger--human in a fashion, and all inhuman; neither man nor woman; neither god nor devil; subtly partaking of all. Nor could I doubt that whatever it was, within that shining nucleus was something sentient; something that had will and energy, and in some awful, supernormal fashion--intelligence!
Another trumpeting--a sound of stones opening--a long, low wail of utter anguish--something moved shadowy in the river of light, and slowly at first, then ever more rapidly, shapes swam through it. There were half a score of them--girls and youths, women and men. The Shining One poised itself, regarded them. They drew closer, and in the eyes of each and in their faces was the bud of that awful intermingling of emotions, of joy and sorrow, ecstasy and terror, that I had seen in full blossom on Throckmartin’s.
The Thing began again its murmurings--now infinitely caressing, coaxing--like the song of a siren from some witched star! And the bell-sounds rang out--compellingly, calling--calling--calling--
I saw Olaf lean far out of his place; saw, half-consciously, at Lugur’s signal, three of the dwarfs creep in and take places, unnoticed, behind him.
Now the first of the figures rushed upon the dais--and paused. It was the girl who had been brought before Yolara when the gnome named Songar was driven into the nothingness! With all the quickness of light a spiral of the Shining One stretched out and encircled her.
At its touch there was an infinitely dreadful shrinking and, it seemed, a simultaneous hurling of herself into its radiance. As it wrapped its swirls around her, permeated her--the crystal chorus burst forth--tumultuously; through and through her the radiance pulsed. Began then that infinitely dreadful, but infinitely glorious, rhythm they called the dance of the Shining One. And as the girl swirled within its sparkling mists another and another flew into its embrace, until, at last, the dais was an incredible vision; a mad star’s Witches’ Sabbath; an altar of white faces and bodies gleaming through living flame; transfused with rapture insupportable and horror that was hellish--and ever, radiant plumes and spirals expanding, the core of the Shining One waxed--growing greater--as it consumed, as it drew into and through itself the life-force of these lost ones!
So they spun, interlaced--and there began to pulse from them life, vitality, as though the very essence of nature was filling us. Dimly I recognized that what I was beholding was vampirism inconceivable! The banked tiers chanted. The mighty sounds pealed forth!
It was a Saturnalia of demigods!
Then, whirling, bell-notes storming, the Shining One withdrew slowly from the dais down the ramp, still embracing, still interwoven with those who had thrown themselves into its spirals. They drifted with it as though half-carried in dreadful dance; white faces sealed--forever--into that semblance of those who held within linked God and devil--I covered my eyes!
I heard a gasp from O’Keefe; opened my eyes and sought his; saw the wildness vanish from them as he strained forward. Olaf had leaned far out, and as he did so the dwarfs beside him caught him, and whether by design or through his own swift, involuntary movement, thrust him half into the Dweller’s path. The Dweller paused in its gyrations--seemed to watch him. The Norseman’s face was crimson, his eyes blazing. He threw himself back and, with one defiant shout, gripped one of the dwarfs about the middle and sent him hurtling through the air, straight at the radiant Thing! A whirling mass of legs and arms, the dwarf flew--then in midflight stopped as though some gigantic invisible hand had caught him, and--was dashed down upon the platform not a yard from the Shining One!
Like a broken spider he moved--feebly--once, twice. From the Dweller shot a shimmering tentacle--touched him--recoiled. Its crystal tinklings changed into an angry chiming. From all about--jewelled stalls and jet peak--came a sigh of incredulous horror.
Lugur leaped forward. On the instant Larry was over the low barrier between the pillars, rushing to the Norseman’s side. And even as they ran there was another wild shout from Olaf, and he hurled himself out, straight at the throat of the Dweller!
But before he could touch the Shining One, now motionless--and never was the thing more horrible than then, with the purely human suggestion of surprise plain in its poise--Larry had struck him aside.
I tried to follow--and was held by Rador. He was trembling--but not with fear. In his face was incredulous hope, inexplicable eagerness.
“Wait!” he said. “Wait!”
The Shining One stretched out a slow spiral, and as it did so I saw the bravest thing man has ever witnessed. Instantly O’Keefe thrust himself between it and Olaf, pistol out. The tentacle touched him, and the dull blue of his robe flashed out into blinding, intense azure light. From the automatic in his gloved hand came three quick bursts of flame straight into the Thing. The Dweller drew back; the bell-sounds swelled.
Lugur paused, his hand darted up, and in it was one of the silver Keth cones. But before he could flash it upon the Norseman, Larry had unlooped his robe, thrown its fold over Olaf, and, holding him with one hand away from the Shining One, thrust with the other his pistol into the dwarf’s stomach. His lips moved, but I could not hear what he said. But Lugur understood, for his hand dropped.
Now Yolara was there--all this had taken barely more than five seconds. She thrust herself between the three men and the Dweller. She spoke to it--and the wild buzzing died down; the gay crystal tinklings burst forth again. The Thing murmured to her--began to whirl--faster, faster--passed down the ivory pier, out upon the waters, bearing with it, meshed in its light, the sacrifices--swept on ever more swiftly, triumphantly and turning, turning, with its ghastly crew, vanished through the Veil!
Abruptly the polychromatic path snapped out. The silver light poured in upon us. From all the amphitheatre arose a clamour, a shouting. Marakinoff, his eyes staring, was leaning out, listening. Unrestrained now by Rador, I vaulted the wall and rushed forward. But not before I had heard the green dwarf murmur:
“There is something stronger than the Shining One! Two things--yea--a strong heart--and hate!”
Olaf, panting, eyes glazed, trembling, shrank beneath my hand.
“The devil that took my Helma!” I heard him whisper. “The Shining Devil!”
“Both these men,” Lugur was raging, “they shall dance with the Shining one. And this one, too.” He pointed at me malignantly.
“This man is mine,” said the priestess, and her voice was menacing. She rested her hand on Larry’s shoulder. “He shall not dance. No--nor his friend. I have told you I dare not for this one!” She pointed to Olaf.
“Neither this man, nor this,” said Larry, “shall be harmed. This is my word, Yolara!”
“Even so,” she answered quietly, “my lord!”
I saw Marakinoff stare at O’Keefe with a new and curiously speculative interest. Lugur’s eyes grew hellish; he raised his arms as though to strike her. Larry’s pistol prodded him rudely enough.
“No rough stuff now, kid!” said O’Keefe in English. The red dwarf quivered, turned--caught a robe from a priest standing by, and threw it over himself. The ladala, shouting, gesticulating, fighting with the soldiers, were jostling down from the tiers of jet.
“Come!” commanded Yolara--her eyes rested upon Larry. “Your heart is great, indeed--my lord!” she murmured; and her voice was very sweet. “Come!”
“This man comes with us, Yolara,” said O’Keefe pointing to Olaf.
“Bring him,” she said. “Bring him--only tell him to look no more upon me as before!” she added fiercely.
Beside her the three of us passed along the stalls, where sat the fair-haired, now silent, at gaze, as though in the grip of some great doubt. Silently Olaf strode beside me. Rador had disappeared. Down the stairway, through the hall of turquoise mist, over the rushing sea-stream we went and stood beside the wall through which we had entered. The white-robed ones had gone.
Yolara pressed; the portal opened. We stepped upon the car; she took the lever; we raced through the faintly luminous corridor to the house of the priestess.
And one thing now I knew sick at heart and soul the truth had come to me--no more need to search for Throckmartin. Behind that Veil, in the lair of the Dweller, dead-alive like those we had just seen swim in its shining train was he, and Edith, Stanton and Thora and Olaf Huldricksson’s wife!
The car came to rest; the portal opened; Yolara leaped out lightly, beckoned and flitted up the corridor. She paused before an ebon screen. At a touch it vanished, revealing an entrance to a small blue chamber, glowing as though cut from the heart of some gigantic sapphire; bare, save that in its centre, upon a low pedestal, stood a great globe fashioned from milky rock-crystal; upon its surface were faint tracings as of seas and continents, but, if so, either of some other world or of this world in immemorial past, for in no way did they resemble the mapped coastlines of our earth.
Poised upon the globe, rising from it out into space, locked in each other’s arms, lips to lips, were two figures, a woman and a man, so exquisite, so lifelike, that for the moment I failed to realize that they, too, were carved of the crystal. And before this shrine--for nothing else could it be, I knew--three slender cones raised themselves: one of purest white flame, one of opalescent water, and the third of--moonlight! There was no mistaking them, the height of a tall man each stood--but how water, flame and light were held so evenly, so steadily in their spire-shapes, I could not tell.
Yolara bowed lowly--once, twice, thrice. She turned to O’Keefe, nor by slightest look or gesture betrayed she knew others were there than he. The blue eyes wide, searching, unfathomable, she drew close; put white hands on his shoulders, looked down into his very soul.
“My lord,” she murmured. “Now listen well for I, Yolara, give you three things--myself, and the Shining One, and the power that is the Shining One’s--yea, and still a fourth thing that is all three--power over all upon that world from whence you came! These, my lord, ye shall have. I swear it”--she turned toward the altar--uplifted her arms--”by Siya and by Siyana, and by the flame, by the water, and by the light!”
Her eyes grew purple dark.
“Let none dare to take you from me! Nor ye go from me unbidden!” she whispered fiercely.