The End of the Journey
"SAY DOC!" It was Larry's voice flung back at me. "I was thinking about that frog. I think it was her pet. Damn me if I see any difference between a frog and a snake, and one of the nicest women I ever knew had two pet pythons that followed her around like kittens. Not such a devilish lot of choice between a frog and a snake - except on the side of the frog? What? Anyway, any pet that girl wants is hers, I don't care if it's a leaping twelve-toed lobster or a whalebodied scorpion. Get me?"
By which I knew that our remarks upon the frog woman were still bothering O'Keefe.
"He thinks of foolish nothings like the foolish sailor!" grunted Marakinoff, acid contempt in his words. "What are their women to - this?" He swept out a hand and as though at a signal the car poised itself for an instant, then dipped, literally dipped down into sheer space; skimmed forward in what was clearly curved flight, rose as upon a sweeping upgrade and then began swiftly to slacken its fearful speed.
Far ahead a point of light showed; grew steadily; we were within it - and softly all movement ceased. How acute had been the strain of our journey I did not realize until I tried to stand - and sank back, leg-muscles too shaky to bear my weight. The car rested in a slit in the centre of a smooth walled chamber perhaps twenty feet square. The wall facing us was pierced by a low doorway through which we could see a flight of steps leading downward.
The light streamed through a small opening, the base of which was twice a tall man's height from the floor. A curving flight of broad, low steps led up to it. And now it came to my steadying brain that there was something puzzling, peculiar, strangely unfamiliar about this light. It was silvery, shaded faintly with a delicate blue and flushed lightly with a nacreous rose; but a rose that differed from that of the terraces of the Pool Chamber as the rose within the opal differs from that within the pearl. In it were tiny, gleaming points like the motes in a sunbeam, but sparkling white like the dust of diamonds, and with a quality of vibrant vitality; they were as though they were alive. The light cast no shadows!
A little breeze came through the oval and played about us. It was laden with what seemed the mingled breath of spice flowers and pines. It was curiously vivifying, and in it the diamonded atoms of light shook and danced.
I stepped out of the car, the Russian following, and began to ascend the curved steps toward the opening, at the top of which O'Keefe and Olaf already stood. As they looked out I saw both their faces change - Olaf's with awe, O'Keefe's with incredulous amaze. I hurried to their side.
At first all that I could see was space - a space filled with the same coruscating effulgence that pulsed about me. I glanced upward, obeying that instinctive impulse of earth folk that bids them seek within the sky for sources of light. There was no sky - at least no sky such as we know - all was a sparkling nebulosity rising into infinite distances as the azure above the day-world seems to fill all the heavens - through it ran pulsing waves and flashing javelin rays that were like shining shadows of the aurora; echoes, octaves lower, of those brilliant arpeggios and chords that play about the poles. My eyes fell beneath its splendour; I stared outward.
Miles away, gigantic luminous cliffs sprang sheer from the limits of a lake whose waters were of milky opalescence. It was from these cliffs that the spangled radiance came, shimmering out from all their lustrous surfaces. To left and to right, as far as the eye could see, they stretched - and they vanished in the auroral nebulosity on high!
"Look at that!" exclaimed Larry. I followed his pointing finger. On the face of the shining wall, stretched between two colossal columns, hung an incredible veil; prismatic, gleaming with all the colours of the spectrum. It was like a web of rainbows woven by the fingers of the daughters of the Jinn. In front of it and a little at each side was a semi-circular pier, or, better, a plaza of what appeared to be glistening, pale-yellow ivory. At each end of its half-circle clustered a few low-walled, rose-stone structures, each of them surmounted by a number of high, slender pinnacles.
We looked at each other, I think, a bit helplessly - and back again through the opening. We were standing, as I have said, at its base. The wall in which it was set was at least ten feet thick, and so, of course, all that we could see of that which was without were the distances that revealed themselves above the outer ledge of the oval.
"Let's take a look at what's under us," said Larry.
He crept out upon the ledge and peered down, the rest of us following. A hundred yards beneath us stretched gardens that must have been like those of many-columned Iram, which the ancient Addite King had built for his pleasure ages before the deluge, and which Allah, so the Arab legend tells, took and hid from man, within the Sahara, beyond all hope of finding - jealous because they were more beautiful than his in paradise. Within them flowers and groves of laced, fernlike trees, pillared pavilions nestled.
The trunks of the trees were of emerald, of vermilion, and of azure-blue, and the blossoms, whose fragrance was borne to us, shone like jewels. The graceful pillars were tinted delicately. I noted that the pavilions were double - in a way, two-storied - and that they were oddly splotched with circles, with squares, and with oblongs of - opacity; noted too that over many this opacity stretched like a roof; yet it did not seem material; rather was it - impenetrable shadow!
Down through this city of gardens ran a broad shining green thoroughfare, glistening like glass and spanned at regular intervals with graceful, arched bridges. The road flashed to a wide square, where rose, from a base of that same silvery stone that formed the lip of the Moon Pool, a titanic structure of seven terraces; and along it flitted objects that bore a curious resemblance to the shell of the Nautilus. Within them were - human figures! And upon tree-bordered promenades on each side walked others!
Far to the right we caught the glint of another emeraldpaved road.
And between the two the gardens grew sweetly down to the hither side of that opalescent water across which were the radiant cliffs and the curtain of mystery.
Thus it was that we first saw the city of the Dweller; blessed and accursed as no place on earth, or under or above earth has ever been - or, that force willing which some call God, ever again shall be!
"Chert!" whispered Marakinoff. "Incredible!"
"Trolldom!" gasped Olaf Huldricksson. "It is Trolldom!"
"Listen, Olaf!" said Larry. "Cut out that Trolldom stuff! There's no Trolldom, or fairies, outside Ireland. Get that! And this isn't Ireland. And, buck up, Professor!" This to Marakinoff. "What you see down there are people - JUST PLAIN PEOPLE. And wherever there's people is where I live. Get me?
"There's no way in but in - and no way out but out," said O'Keefe. "And there's the stairway. Eggs are eggs no matter how they're cooked - and people are just people, fellow travellers, no matter what dish they are in," he concluded. "Come on!"
With the three of us close behind him, he marched toward the entrance.