5. ULAN DHOR
PRINCE KANDIVE the Golden spoke earnestly to his nephew Ulan Dhor. "It must be understood that the expansion of craft and the new lore will be shared between us."
Ulan Dhor, a slender young man, pale of skin, with the blackest of hair, eyes, and eyebrows, smiled ruefully. "But it is I who journey the forgotten water, I who must beat down the sea-demons with my oar."
Kandive leaned back into his cushions and tapped his nose with a ferrule of carved jade.
"And it is I who make the venture possible. Further, I am already an accomplished wizard; .the increment of lore will merely enhance my craft. You, not even a novice, will gain such knowledge as to rank you among the magicians of Ascolais. This is a far cry from your present ineffectual status. Seen in this light, my gain is small, yours is great."
Ulan Dhor grimaced. "True enough, though I dispute the word 'ineffectual'. I know Phandaal's Critique of the Chill, I am reckoned a master of the sword, ranked among the Eight Delaphasians as a ..."
"Pah!" sneered Kandive. "The vapid mannerisms of pale people, using up their lives. Mincing murder, extravagant debauchery, while Earth passes its last hours, and none of you have ventured a mile from Kaiin."
Ulan Dhor held his tongue, reflecting that Prince Kandive the Golden was not known to scorn the pleasures of wine, couch, or table; and that his farthest known sally from the domed palace had taken him to his carven barge on the River Scaum.
Kandive, appeased by Ulan Dhor's silence, brought forward an ivory box. "Thus and so. If we are agreed, I will invest you with knowledge."
Ulan Dhor nodded. "We are agreed."
Kandive said, "The mission will take you to the lost city Ampridatvir." He watched Ulan Dhor's face from sidelong eyes; Ulan Dhor maintained an even expression.
"I have never seen it," continued Kandive. "Porrina the Ninth lists it as the last of the Olek'hnit cities, situated on an island in the North Melantine." He opened the box. "This tale I found in an ancient bundle of scrolls—the testament of a poet who fled Ampridatvir after the death of Rogol Domedonfors, their last great leader, a magician of great force, mentioned forty-three times in the Cyclopedia ..."
Kandive brought forth a crackling scroll, and, whipping it open, read:
" 'Ampridatvir now is lost. My people have forsaken the doctrine of strength and discipline and concern themselves only with superstition and theology. Unending is the bicker: Is Pansiu the excellent principle and Cazdal depraved, or is Cazdal the virtuous god, and Pansiu the essential evil?
" "These questions are debated with fire and steel, and the memory sickens me; now I leave Ampridatvir to the decline which must surely come, and remove to the kind valley of Mel-Palusas, where I will end this firefly life of mine.
" 'I have known the Ampridatvir of old; I have seen the towers glowing with marvellous light, thrusting beams through the night to challenge the sun itself. Then Ampridatvir was beautiful—ah my heart pains when I think of the olden city. Semir vines cascaded from a thousand hanging gardens, water ran blue as vaul-stone in the three canals. Metal cars rolled the streets, metal hulls swarmed the air as thick as bees around a hive—for marvel of marvels, we had devised wefts of spitting fire to spurn the weighty power of Earth ... But even in my life I saw the leaching of spirit. A surfeit of honey cloys the tongue; a surfeit of wine addles the brain; so a surfeit of ease guts a man of strength. Light, warmth, food, water, were free to all men, and gained by a minimum of effort. So the people of Ampridatvir, released from toil, gave increasing attention to faddishness, perversity, and the occult.
" 'To the furthest reach of my memory, Rogol Domedonfors ruled the city. He knew lore of all ages, secrets of fire and light, gravity and counter-gravity, the knowledge of superphysic numeration, metathasm, corolopsis. In spite of his profundity, he was impractical in his rule, and blind to the softening of Ampridatvirian spirit. Such weakness and lethargy as he saw he ascribed to a lack of education, and in his last years he evolved a tremendous machine to release men from all labor, and thus permit full leisure for meditation and ascetic discipline.
" 'While Rogol Domedonfors completed his great work, the city dissolved into turbulence—the result of a freak religious hysteria.
" 'The rival sects of Pansiu and Cazdal had long existed, but few other than the priests heeded the dispute. Suddenly the cults became fashionable; the population flocked to worship one or the other of the deities. The priests, long-jealous rivals, were delighted with their new power, and exhorted the converts to a crusading zeal. Friction arose, emotion waxed, there was rioting and violence. And on one evil day a stone struck Rogol Domedonfors, toppled him from a balcony.
" 'Crippled and wasting but refusing to die, Rogol Domedonfors completed his underground mechanism, installed vestibules throughout the city, and then took to his death-bed. He issued one directive to his new machine, and when Ampridatvir awoke the next morning, the people found their city without power or light, the food factories quiet, the canals diverted.
" 'In terror they rushed to Rogol Domedonfors, who said: "I have long been blind to your decadence and eccentricities; now I despise you; you have been the death of me."
"'"But the city dies! The race perishes!" they cried.
"' "You must save yourselves," Rogol Domedonfors told them. "You have ignored the ancient wisdom, you have been too indolent to learn, you have sought easy complacence from religion, rather than facing manfully to the world. I have resolved to impose a bitter experience upon you, which I hope will be salutary."
" 'He called the rival priests of Pansiu and Cazdal, and handed to each a tablet of transparent metal.
" These tablets singly are useless; laid together a message may be read. He who reads the message will have the key to the ancient knowledge, and will wield the power I had planned for my own use. Now go, and I will die."
" 'The priests, glaring at each other, departed, called their followers, and so began a great war.
" 'The body of Rogol Domedonfors was never found, and some say his skeleton still lies in the passages below the city. The tablets are housed in the rival temples. By night there is murder, by day there is starvation in the streets. Many have fled to the mainland, and now I follow, leaving Ampridatvir, the last home of the race. I will build a wooden hut on the slope of Mount Liu and live out my days in the valley of Mel-Palusas.'"
Kandive twisted the scroll and replaced it in the box. "Your task," he told Ulan Dhor, "is to journey to Ampridatvir and recover the magic of Rogol Domedonfors."
Ulan Dhor said thoughtfully, "It was a long time ago ... Thousands of years ..."
"Correct," said Kandive. "However, none of the histories of indices make further mention of Rogol Domedonfors, and herefore I believe that the wisdom of Rogol Domedonfors still remains to be found in ancient Ampridatvir."
Three weeks Ulan Dhor sailed the nerveless ocean. The sun rose bright as blood from the horizon and belled across the sky, and the water was calm, save for the ruffle of the breeze and the twin widening marks of Ulan Dhor's wake.
Then came the setting, the last sad glance across the world; then purple twilight and the night. The old stars spanned the sky and the wake behind Ulan Dhor shone ghastly white. Then did he watch for heavings of the surface, for he felt greatly alone on the dark face of the ocean.
Three weeks Ulan Dhor sailed the Melantine Gulf, to the north and west, and one morning he saw to the right the dark shadow of coastland and to the left the loom of an island, almost lost in the haze.
Close off his bow goated an ungainly barge, moving sluggishly under a square sail of plaited reeds.
Ulan Dhor laid a course so as to draw alongside, and saw on the barge two men in coarse green smocks trolling for fish. They had oat-yellow hair and blue eyes, and they wore expressions of stupefaction.
Ulan Dhor dropped his sail and laid hold of the barge. The fishermen neither moved nor spoke.
Ulan Dhor said, "You seem unfamiliar with the sight of man."
The older man broke into a nervous chant which Ulan Dhor understood to be an invocation against demons and frits.
Ulan Dhor laughed. "Why do you inveigh against me? I am a man like yourself."
The younger man said in a broad dialect: "We reason you to be a demon. First, there are none of our race with night-black hair and eyes. Second, the Word of Pansiu denies the existence of all other men. Therefore you can be no man, and must be a demon."
The older man said under his hand, "Hold your tongue; speak no word. He will curse the tones of your voice ..."
"You are wrong, I assure you," replied Ulan Dhor politely. "Have either of you ever seen a demon?"
"None but the Gauns."
"Do I resemble the Gauns?"
"Not at all," admitted the older man. His companion indicated Ulan Dhor's dull scarlet coat and green trousers. "He is evidently a Raider; note the color of his garb."
Ulan Dhor said, "No, I am neither Raider nor demon. I am merely a man ..."
"No men exist except the Greens—so says Pansiu."
Ulan Dhor threw back his head and laughed. "Earth is but wilderness and ruins, true enough, but many men yet walk abroad ... Tell me, is the city Ampridatvir to be found on that island ahead?"
The younger man nodded.
"And you live there?"
Again the young man assented.
Ulan Dhor said uncomfortably, "I understood that Ampridatvir was a deserted ruin—forlorn, desolate."
The young man asked with a shrewd expression, "And what do you seek at Ampridatvir?"
Ulan Dhor thought, I will mention the tablets and observe their reaction. It is well to learn if these tablets are known, and if so, how they are regarded. He said, "I have sailed three weeks to find Ampridatvir and investigate some legendary tablets."
"Ah," said the older man. “The tablets! He is a Raider, then. I see it clearly. Note his green trousers. A Raider for the Greens ..."
Ulan Dhor, expecting hostility as a result of this identification, was surprised to find a more pleasant expression on the faces of the men, as if now they had resolved a troublesome parodox. Very well, he thought, if that is how they will Have it, let it be.
The younger man wished total clarity. "Is that your claim then, dark man? Do you wear red as a Raider for the Greens?"
Ulan Dhor said cautiously, "My plans are not settled."
"But you wear red! That is the color the Raiders wear!"
Here is a peculiarly disrupted way of thinking, reflected Ulan Dhor. It is almost as if a rock blocked the stream of their thought and diverted the current in a splash and a spray. He said, "Where I come from, a man wears such colors as he chooses."
The older man said eagerly, "But you wear Green, so evidently you have chosen to raid for the Greens."
Ulan Dhor shrugged, sensing the block across a mental channel. "If you wish ... What others are there?"
"None, no other," replied the older man. "We are the Greens of Ampridatvir."
"Then—whom does a Raider raid?"
The younger man moved uneasily and pulled in his line.
"He raids a ruined temple to the demon Cazdal, for the lost tablet of Rogol Domedonfors."
"In that case," said Ulan Dhor, "I might become a Raider."
"For the Greens," said the old man, peering at him side-wise.
"Enough, enough," said the other. "The sun is past the zenith. We had best be homeward."
"Aye, aye," said the older man, with sudden energy. "The sun drops."
The younger man looked at Ulan Dhor. "If you propose to raid, you had best come with us."
Ulan Dhor passed a line to the barge, adding his fabric sail to the plaited reeds, and they turned their bows toward shore.
It was very beautiful, crossing the sunny afternoon swells toward the forested island, and as they rounded the eastern cape, Ampridatvir came into view.
A line of low buildings faced the harbor, and beyond rose such towers as Ulan Dhor had never imagined to exist—metal spires soaring past the central height of the island to glisten in the light of the setting sun. Such cities were legends of the past, dreams of the time when the Earth was young.
Ulan Dhor stared speculatively at the barge, at the coarse green cloaks of the fishermen. Were they peasants? Would he become a butt for ridicule, thus arriving at the glistening city? He turned uncomfortably back to the island, chewing his lips. According to Kandive, Ampridatvir would be toppled columns and rubble, like the Old Town above Kaiin ...
The sun dropped against the water, and now Ulan Dhor, with a sudden shock, noticed the crumble at the base of the towers; here was his expectation, as much desolation as Kandive had predicted. Strangely the fact gave Ampridatvir an added majesty, the dignity of a lost monument.
The wind had slackened, the progress of boat and barge was slow indeed. The fishermen betrayed anxiety, muttering to each other, adjusting their sail to draw its best, tightening their stays. But before they drifted inside the breakwater, purple twilight had dropped across the city, and the towers became tremendous black monoliths.
In near-darkness they tied to a landing of logs, among other barges, some painted green, others gray.
Ulan Dhor jumped up to the dock. "A moment," said the younger fisherman, eyeing Ulan Dhor's red coat. "It would be unwise to dress thus, even at night." He rummaged through a box and brought forth a green cape, ragged and smelling of fish. "Wear this, and hold the hood over your black hair ..."
Ulan Dhor obeyed with a private grimace of distaste. He asked, "Where may I sup and bed tonight? Are there inns or hostels in Ampridatvir?"
The younger man said without enthusiasm, "You may pass the night at my hall."
The fishermen slung the day's catch over their shoulders, climbed to the dock, and peered anxiously through the rubble.
"You are ill at ease," observed Ulan Dhor.
"Aye," said the younger man. "At night the Gauns roam the streets."
"What are the Gauns?"
'There are many varieties of demons," Ulan Dhor said lightly. "What be these?"
"They are like horrible men. They have great long arms that clutch and rend ..."
"Ho!" muttered Ulan Dhor, feeling for his sword hilt. "Why do you permit them abroad?"
"We cannot harm them. They are fierce and strong— but fortunately not too agile. With luck and watchfulness .. ."
Ulan Dhor now searched the rubble with an expression as careful as the fishermen's. These people were familiar with the dangers of the place; he would obey their counsel until he knew better.
They threaded the first tumble of ruins, entered a canyon shadowed from the afterglow by the pinnacles to either side, brimming with gloom.
Deadness! thought Ulan Dhor. The place was under the pall of dusty death. Where were the active millions of long ago Ampridatvir? Dead dust, their moisture mingled in the ocean, beside that of every other man and woman who had lived on Earth.
Ulan Dhor and the two fishermen moved down the avenue, pygmy figures wandering a dream-city, and Ulan Dhor looked coldly from side to side ... Prince Kandive the Golden had spoken truth. Ampridatvir was the very definition of antiquity. The windows gaped black, concrete had cracked, balconies hung crazily, terraces were mounded with dust. Debris filled the streets—blocks of stone from fallen columns, crushed and battered metal.
But Ampridatvir still moved with a weird unending life where the builders had used ageless substance, eternal energies. Strips of a dark glistening material flowed like water at each side of the street—slowly at the edges, rapidly at the center.
The fishermen matter-of-factly stepped on this strip, and Ulan Dhor gingerly followed them to the swift center. "I see roads flowing like rivers in Ampridatvir," he said. "You call me demon; truly I think the glove is on the other hand."
"It is no magic," said the younger man shortly. "It is the way of Ampridatvir."
At regular intervals along the street stood stone vestibules about ten feet high that had the appearance of sheltering ramps leading below the street.
"What lies below?" inquired Ulan Dhor.
The fishermen shrugged. "The doors are tight. No man has ever gone through. Legend says it was the last work of Rogol Domedonfors."
Ulan Dhor withheld further questions, observing a growing nervousness in the fishermen. Infected by their apprehension he kept his hand at his sword.
"None live in this part of Ampridatvir," said the old fisherman in a hoarse whisper. "It is ancient beyond imagining, ridden with ghosts."
The streets broke into a central square, the towers fell away before them. The sliding strip coasted to a stop, like water flowing into a pool. Here glowed the first artificial light Ulan Dhor had seen—a bright globe hung on a looping metal stanchion.
In this light Ulan Dhor saw a youth in a gray cloak hurrying across the square ... A movement among the ruins; the fishermen gasped, crouched. A corpse-pale creature sprang out into the light. Its arms hung knotted and long; dirty fur covered its legs. Great eyes glared from a peaked, fungus-white skull; two fangs hung over the undershot mouth. It leapt upon the wretch in the gray robe and tucked him under his arm; then, turning, gave Ulan Dhor and the fishermen a look of baleful triumph. And now they saw that the victim was a woman ...
Ulan Dhor drew his sword. "No, no!" whispered the older man. "The Gaun will go its way!"
"But the woman it has taken! We can save her!"
"The Gaun has seized no one." The old man clutched at his shoulder.
"Are you blind, man?" cried Ulan Dhor.
"There are none in Ampridatvir but the Greens," said the younger man. "Stay by us."
Ulan Dhor hesitated. Was the woman in gray, then, a ghost? If so, why did not the fishermen say as much? ...
The Gaun, with insolent leisure, stalked toward a long edifice of dark tumbled arches.
Ulan Dhor ran across the white square of ancient Ampridatvir.
The monster twisted to face him and flung out a great knotted arm, as long as a man was tall, ending in a white-furred clump of fingers. Ulan Dhor hewed a tremendous blow with his sword; the Gaun's forearm dangled by a shred of flesh and bone-splinter.
Jumping back to avoid the spray of blood, Ulan Dhor ducked the grasp of the other arm as it swung past. He hacked again, another great blow, and the second forearm dangled loosely. He sprang close, plunged his blade at the creature's eye and struck up into the beast's skull-case.
The creature died in a series of wild capers, maniac throes that took it dancing around the square.
Ulan Dhor, panting, fighting nausea, looked down to the wide-eyed woman. She was rising weakly to her feet. He reached an arm to steady her, noticing that she was slim and young, with blonde hair hanging loosely to the level of her jaw. She had a pleasant, pretty face, thought Ulan Dhor—candid, clear-eyed, innocent.
She appeared not to notice him, but stood half-turned away, wrapping herself in her gray cloak. Ulan Dhor began to fear that the shock had affected her mind. He moved forward and peered into her face.
"Are you well? Did the beast harm you?"
Surprise came over her face, almost as if Ulan Dhor were another Gaun. Her gaze brushed his green cloak, quickly moved back to his face, his black hair. "Who ... are you?" she whispered. "A stranger," said Ulan Dhor, "and much puzzled by the ways of Ampridatvir." He looked around for the fishermen; they were nowhere in sight.
"A stranger?" the girl asked. "But Cazdal's Tract tells us that the Gauns have destroyed all men but the Grays of Ampridatvir."
"Cazdal is as incorrect as Pansiu," remarked Ulan Dhor. 'There are still many men in the world."
"I must believe," said the girl. "You speak, you exist— so much is clear."
Ulan Dhor noticed that she kept her eyes averted from the green cloak. It stank of fish; without further ado he cast it aside.
Her glance went to his red coat. "A Raider .. ."
"No, no, no!" exclaimed Ulan Dhor. "In truth, I find this talk of color tiresome. I am Ulan Dhor of Kaiin, nephew to Prince Kandive the Golden, and my mission is to seek the tablets of Rogol Domedonfors."
The girl smiled wanly. "Thus do the Raiders, and thus they dress in red, and then every man's hand is turned against them, for when they are in red, who knows whether they be Grays or ..."
She appeared confused, as if this facet to the question had not occurred to her. "Ghosts? Demons? There are strange manifestations in Ampridatvir."
"Beyond argument," agreed Ulan Dhor. He glanced across, the square. "If you wish, I will guard you to your home; and perhaps there will be a corner where I may sleep tonight."
She said, "I owe you my life, and I will help you as best I can. But I dare not take you to my hall," Her eyes drifted down his body as far as his green trousers and veered away. "There would be confusion and unending explanations..."
Ulan Dhor said obliquely, "You have a mate, then?"
She glanced at him swiftly—a strange coquetry, strange flirtation there in the shadows of ancient Ampridatvir, the girl in the coarse gray cloak, her head tilted sideways and the yellow hair falling clear to her shoulder; Ulan Dhor elegant, darkly aquiline, in full command of his soul.
"No," she said. "There have been none, so far." A slight sound disturbed her; she jerked, looked fearfully across the square.
"There may be more Gauns. I can take you to a safe place; then tomorrow we will talk ..."
She led him through an arched portico into one of the towers, up to a mezzanine floor. "You'll be safe here till morning." She squeezed his arm. "I'll bring you food, if you'll wait for me ..."
Her gaze fell with the strange half-averted wavering of the eyes to his red coat, just brushed his green trousers. "And I'll bring you a cloak." She departed. Ulan Dhor saw her flit down the stair and out of the tower like a wraith. She was gone.
He settled himself on the floor. It was a soft elastic substance, warm to the touch ... A strange city, thought Ulan Dhor, a strange people, reacting to unguessed compulsions. Or were they ghosts, in truth?
He fell into a series of spasmodic dozes, and awoke at last to find the wan pink of the latter-day dawn seeping through the arched portico.
He rose to his feet, rubbed his face, and, after a moment's hesitation, descended from the mezzanine to the floor of the tower and walked out into the street. A child in a gray smock saw his red coat, flicked his eyes away from the green trousers, screamed in terror, and ran across the square.
Ulan Dhor retreated into the shadows with a curse. He had expected desolation. Hostility he could have countered or fled, but this bewildered fright left him helpless.
A shape appeared at the entrance—the girl. She peered through the shadows; her face was drawn, anxious. Ulan Dhor appeared. She smiled suddenly and her face changed.
"I brought your breakfast," she said, "also a decent garment."
She lay bread and smoked fish before him, and poured warm herb tea from an earthenware jar.
As he ate he watched her, and she watched him. There was a tension in their relations; she felt incompletely secure, and he could sense the pressures on her mind.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"I am Ulan Dhor. And you?"
"Elai... Is that all?"
"Do I need more? It is sufficient, is it not?"
She seated herself cross-legged before him.
"Tell me about the land from which you come."
Ulan Dhor said, "Ascolais now is mostly a great forest, where few care to venture. I live in Kaiin, a very old city, perhaps as old as Ampridatvir, but we have no such towers and floating roads. We live in the old-time palaces of marble and wood, even the poorest and most menial. Indeed, some beautiful manses fall to ruins for lack of tenants."
"And what is your color?" she asked in a tentative voice.
Ulan Dhor said impatiently, "Such nonsense. We wear all colors; no one thinks one way or the other about it ... Why do you worry about color so? For instance, why do you wear gray and not green?"
Her gaze wavered and broke from his; she clenched her hands restlessly. "Green? That is the color of the demon Pansiu. No one in Ampridatvir wears green."
"Certainly people wear green," said Ulan Dhor. "I met two fishermen yesterday at sea wearing green, and they guided me into the city."
She shook her head, smiling sadly. "You are mistaken."
Ulan Dhor sat back. He said presently. "A child saw me this morning and ran off screaming."
"Because of your red cloak," said Elai. "When a man wishes to win honor for himself, he dons a red coat and sets forth across the city to the ancient deserted temple of Pansiu, to seek the lost half of Rogol Domedonfors' tablet. Legend says that when the Grays recover the lost tablet, then will their power be strong once more."
"If the temple is deserted," asked Ulan Dhor dryly, "why has not some man taken the tablet?"
She shrugged and looked vaguely into space. "We believe that it is guarded by ghosts ... At any rate, sometimes a man in red is found raiding Cazdal's temple also, whereupon he is killed. A man in red is therefore everybody's enemy, and every hand is turned against him."
Ulan Dhor rose to his feet and wrapped himself in the gray robe the girl had brought.
"What are your plans?" she asked, rising quickly.
"I wish to look upon the tablets of Rogol Domedonfors, both in Cazdal's Temple and in Pansiu's."
She shook her head. "Impossible. Cazdal's Temple is forbidden to all but the venerable priests, and Pansiu's Temple is guarded by ghosts."
Ulan Dhor grinned. "If you'll show me where the temples are situated…"
She said, "I'll go with you ... But you must remain wrapped in the cloak, or it will go badly for both of us."
They stepped out into the sunlight. The square was dotted with slow-moving groups of men and women. Some wore green, others wore gray, and Ulan Dhor saw that there was no intercourse between the two. Greens paused by little green-painted booths selling fish, leather, fruit, meal, pottery, baskets. Grays bought from identical shops which were painted gray. He saw two groups of children, one in green rags, the other in gray, playing ten feet apart, acknowledging each other by not so much as a glance. A ball of tied rags rolled from the Gray children into the scuffling group of Greens. A Gray child ran over, picked up the ball from under the feet of a Green child, and neither took the slightest notice of the other.
"Strange," muttered Ulan Dhor. "Strange."
"What's strange?" inquired Elai. "I see nothing strange ..."
"Look," said Ulan Dhor, "by that pillar. Do you see that man in the green cloak?"
She glanced at him in puzzlement. "There is no man there."
'"There is a man there," said Ulan Dhor. "Look again."
She laughed. "You are joking ... or can you see ghosts?"
Ulan Dhor shook his head in defeat. "You are the victims of some powerful magic."
She led him to one of the flowing roadways; as they were carried through the city he noticed a boat-shaped hull built of bright metal with four wheels and a transparent-domed compartment.
He pointed. "What is that?"
"It is a magic car. When a certain lever is pressed the wizardry of the older times gives it great speed. Rash young men ride them along the streets ... See there," and she pointed to a somewhat similar hull toppled into the basin of a long, dry fountain. "That is another one of the ancient wonders—a craft with the power to fly through the air. There are many of them scattered through the city—on the towers, on high terraces, and sometimes, like this one, fallen into the streets."
"And no one flies them?" asked Ulan Dhor curiously.
"We are all afraid."
Ulan Dhor thought, what a marvel to own one of these air-cars! He stepped off the flowing road.
"Where are you going?" asked Elai anxiously, coming after him.
"I wish to examine one of these air-cars."
"Be careful, Ulan Dhor. They are said to be dangerous ..."
Ulan Dhor peered through the transparent dome, saw a cushioned seat, a series of little levers inscribed with characters strange to him and a large knurled ball mounted on a metal rod.
He said to the girl, "Those are evidently the guides to the mechanism ... How does one enter such a car?"
She said doubtfully, "This button will perhaps release the dome." She pressed a knob; the dome snapped back, releasing a puff of stagnant air.
"Now," said Ulan Dhor, "I will experiment." He reached within, turned down a switch. Nothing happened.
"Be careful, Ulan Dhor!" breathed the girl. "Beware of magic!"
Ulan Dhor twisted a knob. The car quivered. He touched another lever. The boat made a curious whining sound, jerked. The dome began to settle. Ulan Dhor snatched back his arm. The dome snapped into place over a fold of his gray cloak. The boat jerked again, made a sudden movement, and Ulan Dhor was dragged willy-nilly after.
Elai cried out, seized his ankles. Cursing, Ulan Dhor dropped out of his cloak, watched while the air-boat took a wild uncontrolled curvet, crashed against the side of a tower. It fell with another clang of colliding metal and stone.
"Next time," said Ulan Dhor, "I will.. ."
He became aware of a strange pressure in the air. He turned. Elai was staring at him, hand against her mouth, eyes screwed up as if she were repressing a scream.
Ulan Dhor glanced around the streets. The slowly moving people, Grays and Greens, had vanished. The streets were empty.
"Elai," said Ulan Dhor, "why do you look at me like that?"
"The red, in daylight—and the color of Pansiu on your legs—it is our death, our death!"
"By no means," said Ulan Dhor cheerfully. "Not while I wear my sword and ..."
A stone, coming from nowhere, crashed into the ground at his feet. He looked right and left for his assailant, nostrils flaring in anger.
In vain. The doorways, the arcades, the porticos were bare and empty.
Another stone, large as his fist, struck him between the shoulder-blades. He sprang around and saw only the crumble facade of ancient Ampridatvir, the empty street, the glistening gliding strip.
A stone hissed six inches from Elai's head, and at the same instant another struck his thigh.
Ulan Dhor recognized defeat. He could not fight stones with his sword. "We had better retreat ..." He ducked a great paving block that would have split his skull.
"Back to the strip," the girl said in a dull and helpless voice. "We can take refuge across the square." A stone, looping idly down, struck her cheek; she cried in pain and fell to her knees.
Ulan Dhor snarled like an animal and sought men to kill. But no living person, man, woman, or child, was visible, though the stones continued to hurtle at his head.
He stooped, picked up Elai and ran to the swift central flow of the strip.
The rain of stones presently halted. The girl opened her eyes, winced, and shut them again. "Everything whirls," she whispered. "I have gone mad. Almost I might think—"
Ulan Dhor thought to recognize the tower where he had spent the night. He stepped off the strip and approached the portico. He was wrong; a crystal plane barred him the tower. As he hesitated, it melted at a spot directly in front of him and formed a doorway. Ulan Dhor stared wonderingly. Further magic of the ancient builders ...
It was impersonal magic, and harmless. Ulan Dhor stepped through. The doorway dwindled, fused, and became clear crystal behind him.
The hall was bare and cold, though the walls were rich with colored metals and gorgeous enamel. A mural decorated one wall—men and women in flowing clothes were depicted tending flowers in gardens curiously bright and sunny, playing airy games, dancing.
Very beautiful, thought Ulan Dhor, but no place to defend himself against attack. Passageways to either side were echoing and empty; ahead was a small chamber with a floor of glimmering floss, which seemed to radiate light. He stepped within. His feet rose from the floor; he floated, lighter than thistle-down. Elai no longer weighed in his arms. He gave an involuntary hoarse call, struggled to return to his feet to ground, without success.
He floated upward like a leaf wafted in the wind. Ulan Dhor prepared himself for the sickening plunge when the magic quieted. But the floors fell past, and the ground level became ever more distant. A marvellous spell, thought Ulan Dhor grimly, thus to rob a man of his footing; how soon would the force relax and dash them to their deaths?
"Reach out," said Elai faintly. "Take hold of the bar."
He leaned far over, seized the railing, drew them to a landing, and, disbelieving his own safety, stepped into an apartment of several rooms. Crumbled heaps of dust were all that remained of the furniture.
He lay Elai on the soft floor; she raised her hand to her face and smiled wanly. "Ooh—it hurts."
Ulan Dhor watched with a strange sense of weakness and lassitude.
Elai said, "I don't know what we will do now. There is no longer a home for me; so shall we starve, for no one will give us food."
Ulan Dhor laughed sourly. "We will never lack for food—not while the keeper of a Green booth can not see a man in a gray cloak ... But there are other things more important—the tablets of Rogol Domedonfors— and they seem completely inaccessible."
She said earnestly, "You would be killed. The men in red must fight everyone—as you saw today. And even if you reached the Temple of Pansiu, there are pitfalls, traps, poison stakes, and the ghosts on guard."
"Ghosts? Nonsense. They are men, exactly like the Grays, except that they wear green. Your brain refuses to see men in green ... I have heard of such things, such obstructions of the mind ..."
She said in a injured tone, "No other Grays see them. Perhaps it is you who suffers the hallucinations."
"Perhaps," agreed Ulan Dhor with a wry grin. They sat for a space in the dusty stillness of the old tower, then Ulan Dhor sat forward, clasped his knees, frowning. Lethargy was the precursor of defeat. "We must consider this Temple of Pansiu."
"We shall be killed," she said simply.
Ulan Dhor, already in better spirits, said, "You should practice optimism ... Where can I find another air-car?
She stared at him. "Surely you are a madman!"
Ulan Dhor rose to his feet. "Where may one be found?"
She shook her head. "You are resolved on death, one way or another." She rose also. "We will ascend the Shaft of No-weight to the tower's highest level."
Without hesitation she stepped into the void, and Ulan Dhor gingerly followed. To the dizziest height they floated, and the walls of the shaft converged to a point far below. At the topmost landing they pulled themselves to solidity, stepped out on a terrace high up in the clean winds. Higher than the central mountains they stood, and the streets of Ampridatvir were gray threads far below. The harbor was a basin, and the sea spread away into the haze at the horizon.
Three air-cars rested on the terrace, and the metal was as bright, the glass as clear, the enamel as vivid as if the cars had just dropped from the sky.
They went to the nearest; Ulan Dhor pressed the entry button, and the dome slid back with a thin dry hiss of friction.
The interior was like that of the other car—a long cushioned seat, a globe mounted on a rod, a number of switches. The cloth of the seat crackled with age as Ulan Dhor prodded it with his hand, and the trapped air smelt very stale. He stepped inside, and Elai followed. "I will accompany you; death by falling is faster than starvation, and less painful than the rocks ..."
"I hope we will neither fall nor starve," replied Ulan Dhor. Cautiously he touched the switches, ready to throw them back at any dangerous manifestation.
The dome snapped over their heads; relays thousands of years old meshed, cams twisted, shafts plunged home. The air-car jerked, lofted up into the red and dark blue sky. Ulan Dhor grasped the globe, found how to turn the boat, how to twist the nose up or down. This was pure joy, intoxication—wonderful mastery of the air! It was easier than he had imagined. It was easier than walking. He tried all the handles and switches, found how to hover, drop, brake. He found the speed handle and pushed it far over, and the wind sang past the air-boat. Far over the sea they flew, until the island was blue loom at the rim of the world. Low and high—skimming the wave-crests, plunging through the magenta wisps of the upper clouds.
Elai sat relaxed, calm, exalted. She had changed; she seemed closer to Ulan Dhor than to Ampridatvir; some subtle tie had been cut. "Let's go on," she said. "On and on and on—across the world, past the forests ..."
Ulan Dhor glanced at her sideways. She was very beautiful now—cleaner, finer, stronger than the women he had known in Kaiin. He said regretfully, "Then we would starve indeed—for neither of us has the craft to survive in the wilderness. And I am bound to seek the tablets . .."
She sighed. "Very well. We will be killed. What does it matter? All Earth dies ..."
Evening came, and they returned to Ampridatvir. "There," said Elai, "there is the Temple of Cazdal and there the Temple of Pansiu."
Ulan Dhor dropped the boat low over the Temple of Pansiu. "Where is the entrance?"
"Through the arch—and every place holds a different danger."
"But we fly," Ulan Dhor reminded her.
He lowered the boat ten feet above the ground and slid it through the arch.
Guided by a dim light ahead, Ulan Dhor manoeuvered the boat down the dark passage, through another arch; and they were in the nave.
The podium where the tablet sat was like the citadel of a walled city. The first obstacle was a wide pit, backed by a glassy wall. Then there was a moat of sulfur-colored liquid, and beyond, in an open space, five men kept a torpid watch. Undetected, Ulan Dhor moved the boat through the upper shadows and halted directly over the podium.
"Ready now," he muttered, and grounded the boat. The glistening tablet was almost within reach. He raised the dome; Elai leaned out, seized the tablet. The five guards gave an anguished roar, rushed forward.
"Back!" cried Ulan Dhor. He warded off a flying spear with his sword. She drew back with the tablet, Ulan Dhor slammed the dome. The guards leapt on the ship, clawing at the smooth metal, beating at it with their fists. The ship rose high; one by one they lost their grip, fell screaming to the floor.
Back through the arch, down the back passageway, through the entrance and out into the dark sky. Behind them a great horn set up a crazy clangor.
Ulan Dhor examined his prize—an oval sheet of transparent substance bearing a dozen lines of meaningless marks.
"We have won!" said Elai raptly. "You are the Lord of Ampridatvir!"
"Half yet remains," said Ulan Dhor. "There is still the tablet in the Temple of Cazdal."
"But—it is madness! Already you have—"
"One is useless without the other."
Her wild arguments subsided only as they hovered over the arch into Cazdal's Temple.
As the boat glided through the dark gap it struck a thread which dropped a great load of stones from a chute. The first of these, striking the sloping side of the air-car, buffeted it away. Ulan Dhor cursed. The guards would be alert and watchful.
He drifted along at the very top of the passage, hidden in the murk. Presently two guards, bearing torches and careful of their steps, came to investigate the sound.
They passed directly below the boat, and Ulan Dhor hastened forward, through the arch into the nave. As in the Temple of Pansiu, the tablet gleamed in the middle of a fortress.
The guards were wide awake, nervously watching the opening.
"Boldness, now!" said Ulan Dhor. He sent the boat darting across the walls and pits and seething moat, settled beside the podium, snapped the dome back, sprang out. He seized the tablet as the guards came roaring forward, spears extended. The foremost flung his spear; Ulan Dhor struck it down and tossed the tablet into the boat.
But they were upon him; he would be impaled if he sought to climb within the boat. He sprang forward, hewed off the shaft of one spear, chopped at one man's shoulder on the back-sweep, seized the shaft of the third spear, and pulled the man into range of his sword point. The third guard fell back, shouting for help. Ulan Dhor turned, leapt into the boat. The guard rushed forward, Ulan Dhor whirled and met him with the point of his sword in his cheek. Spouting blood and wailing hysterically, the guard fell back. Ulan Dhor threw the lift lever; the boat rose high and moved toward the opening.
And presently the alarm horn at Cazdal's Temple was adding its harsh yell to the sound from across the city.
The boat drifted slowly through the sky.
"Look!" said Elai, grasping his arm. By torchlight men and women crowded and milled in the streets— Greens and Grays, panicked by the message of the horns.
Elai gasped. "Ulan Dhor! I see! I see! The men in Green! It is possible ... Have they always been ..."
"The brain-spell has broken," said Ulan Dhor, "and not only for you. Below they see each other, too ..."
For the first time in memory, Greens and Grays looked at each other. Their faces twisted, contorted. In the flicker of torches Ulan Dhor saw them drawing back in revulsion from each other, and heard the tumult of their cries: "Demon! ... Demon! ... Gray ghost! ... Vile Green Demon!.. "
Thousands of obsessed torch-bearers sidled past each other, glowering, reviling each other, screaming in hate and fear. They were all mad, he thought—tangled, constricted of brain ...
As by a secret signal, the crowd seethed into battle, and the hateful yells curdled Ulan Dhor's blood. Elai turned sobbing away. Terrible work was done, on men, women, children—no matter who the victim, if he wore the opposite color.
A louder snarling arose at the edge of the mob—a joyful sound, and a dozen shambling Gauns appeared, towering above the Greens and Grays. They rended, tore, ripped, and insane hate melted before fear. Greens and Grays separated, and ran to their homes, and the Guans roamed the streets alone.
Ulan Dhor tore his glance away and held his forehead. "Was this my doing? ... Was this a deed of mine?"
"Sooner or later it would have happened," said Elai dully. "Unless Earth waned and died first..."
Ulan Dhor picked up the two tablets. "And here is what I sought to attain—the tablets of Rogol Domedonfors. They pulled me a thousand leagues across the Melantine; I have them in my hands now, and they are like worthless shards of glass ..."
The boat floated high, and Ampridatvir became a setting of pale crystals in the starlight. In the luminescence of the instrument panel, Ulan Dhor fitted the two tablets together. The marks merged, became characters, and the characters bore the words of the ancient magician:
"Faithless children—Rogol Domedonfors dies, and so lives forever in the Ampridatvir he has loved and served! When intelligence and good will restore order to the city; or when blood and steel teaches the folly of bridled credulity and passion, and all but the toughest dead:—then shall these tablets be read. And I say to him who reads it, go to the Tower of Fate with the yellow dome, ascend to the topmost floor, show red to the left eye of Rogol Domedonfors, yellow to the right eye, and then blue to both; do this, I say, and share the power of Rogol Domedonfors."
Ulan Dhor asked, "Where is the Tower of Fate?"
Elai shook her head. "There is Rodeil's Tower, and the Red Tower the Tower of the Screaming Ghost, and the Tower of Trumpets and the Bird's Tower and the Tower of Guans—but I know of no Tower of Fate."
"Which tower has a yellow dome?"
"I don't know."
"We will search in the morning."
"In the morning," she said leaning against him drowsily.
"The morning ..." said Ulan Dhor, fondling her yellow hair.
When the old red sun rose, they drifted back over the city and found the people of Ampridatvir awake before them, intent on murder.
The fighting and the killing was not so wild as the night before. It was a craftier slaughter. Stealthy groups of men waylaid stragglers, or broke into houses to strangle women and children.
Ulan Dhor muttered, "Soon there will be none left in Ampridatvir upon whom to work Rogol Domedonfors' power." He turned to Elai. "Have you no father, no mother, for whom you fear?"
She shook her head. "I have lived my life with a dull and tyrannical uncle."
Ulan Dhor turned away. He saw a yellow dome; no other was visible: The Tower of Fate.
"There." He pointed, turned down the nose of the air-car.
Parking on a high level, they entered the dusty corridors, found an anti-gravity shaft, and rose to the top-most floor. Here they found a small chamber, decorated with vivid murals. The scene was a court of ancient Ampridatvir. Men and women in colored silks conversed and banqueted and, in the central plaque, paid homage to a patriarchal ruler with a rugged chin, burning eyes, and a white beard. He was clad in a purple and black gown and sat on a carved chair.
"Rogol Domedonfors!" murmured Elai, and the room held its breath, grew still. They felt the stir their living breath made in the long-quiet air, and the depicted eyes stared deep into their brains ...
Ulan Dhor said, " 'Red to the left eye, yellow to the right; then blue to both.' Well—there are blue tiles in the hall, and I wear a red coat."
They found blue and yellow tiles, and Ulan Dhor cut a strip from the hem of his tunic.
Red to the left eye, yellow to the right. Blue to both. A click, a screech, a whirring like a hundred bee-hives.
The wall opened on a flight of steps. Ulan Dhor entered, and, with Elai breathing hard at his back, mounted the steps.
They came out in a flood of daylight, under the dome itself. In the center on a pedestral sat a glistening round-topped cylinder, black and vitreous.
The whirring rose to a shrill whine. The cylinder quivered, softened, became barely transparent, slumped a trifle. In the center hung a pulpy white mass—a brain?
The cylinder was alive.
It sprouted pseudopods which poised wavering in the air. Ulan Dhor and Elai watched frozen, close together. One black finger shaped itself to an eye, another formed a mouth. The eye inspected them carefully.
The mouth said cheerfully, "Greetings across time, greetings. So you have come at last to rouse old Rogol Domedonfors from his dreams? I have dreamed long and well— but it seems for an unconscionable period. How long? Twenty years? Fifty years? Let me look."
The eye swung to a tube on the wall, a quarter full of gray powder.
The mouth gave a cry of wonder. "The energy has nearly dissipated! How long have I slept? With a half-life of 1,200 years—over five thousand years!" The eye swung back to Ulan Dhor and Elai. "Who are you then? Where are my bickering subjects, the adherents of Pansiu and Cazdal? Did they kill themselves then, so long ago?"
"No," said Ulan Dhor with a sick grin. "They are still fighting in the streets."
The eye-tentacle extended swiftly, thrust through a window, and looked down over the city. The central jelly twitched, became suffused with an orange glow. The voice spoke again, and it held a terrible harshness. Ulan Dhor's neck tingled and he felt Elai's hand clenching deep into his arm.
"Five thousand years!" cried the voice. "Five thousand years and the wretches still quarrel? Time has taught them no wisdom? Then stronger agencies must be used. Rogol Domedonfors will show them wisdom. Behold!"
A vast sound came from below, a hundred sharp reports. Ulan Dhor and Elai hastened to the window and looked down. A mind-filling sight occupied the streets.
The ten-foot vestibules leading below the city had snapped open. From each of these licked a great tentacle of black transparent jelly like the substance of the fluid roads.
The tentacles reached into the air, sprouted a hundred branches which pursued the madly fleeing Ampridatvians, caught them, stripped away their robes of gray and green, then whipping them high through the air, dropped them into the great central square. In the chill morning air the populace of Ampridatvir stood mingled naked together and no man could distinguish Green from Gray.
"Rogol Domedonfors has great long arms now," cried a vast voice, "strong as the moon, all-seeing as the air."
The voice came from everywhere, nowhere.
"I'm Rogol Domedonfors, the last ruler of Ampridatvir. And to this state have you descended? Dwellers in hovels, eaters of filth? Watch—in a moment I repair the neglect of five thousand years!"
The tentacles sprouted a thousand appendages—hard horny cutters, nozzles that spouted blue flame, tremendous scoops, and each appendage sprouted an eye-stalk. These ranged the city, and wherever there was crumbling or mark of age the tentacles dug, tore, blasted, burnt; then spewed new materials into place and when they passed new and gleaming structure remained behind.
Many-armed tentacles gathered the litter of ages; when loaded they snapped high through the air, a monstrous catapult, flinging the rubbish far out over the sea. And wherever was gray paint or green paint a tentacle ground off the color, sprayed new various pigments.
Down every street ran the tremendous root-things and offshoots plunged into every tower, every dwelling, every park and square—demolishing, stripping, building, clearing, repairing. Ampridatvir was gripped and permeated by Rogol Domedonfors as a tree's roots clench the ground.
In a time measured by breaths, a new Ampridatvir had replaced the ruins, a gleaming, glistening city— proud, intrepid, challenging the red sun.
Ulan Dhor and Elai had watched in a half-conscious, uncomprehending daze. Was it possibly reality; was there such a being which could demolish a city and build it anew while a man watched?
Arms of black jelly darted over the hills of the island, threaded the caves where the Gauns lay gorged and torpid. It seized, snatched them through the air, and dangled them above the huddled Ampridatvians—a hundred Gauns on a hundred tentacles, horrible fruits on a weird tree.
"Look!" boomed a voice, boastful and wild. "These whom you have feared! See how Rogol Domedonfors deals with these!
The tentacles flicked, and a hundred Gauns hurtled —sprawling, wheeling shapes—high over Ampridatvir; and they fell far out in the sea.
"The creature is mad," whispered Ulan Dhor to Elai. "The long dreaming has addled its brain."
"Behold the new Ampridatvir!" boomed the mighty voice. "See it for the first and last time. For now you die! You have proved unworthy of the past—unworthy to worship the new god Rogol Domedonfors. There are two here beside me who shall found the new race—"
Ulan Dhor started in alarm. What? He to live in Ampridatvir under the thumb of the mad super-being?
And perhaps he would never be so close to the brain again.
With a single motion he drew his sword and hurled it point-first into the translucent cylinder of jelly—transfixed the brain, skewered it on the shaft of steel.
The most awful sound yet heard on Earth shattered the air. Men and women went mad in the square.
Rogol Domedonfors' city-girding tentacles beat up and down in frantic agony, as an injured insect lashes his legs. The gorgeous towers toppled, the Ampridatvians fled shrieking through cataclysm.
Ulan Dhor and Elai ran for the terrace where they had left the air-car. Behind they heard a hoarse whisper —a broken voice.
"I—am not—dead—yet! If all else, if all dreams are broken—I will kill you two . .."
They tumbled into the air-car. Ulan Dhor threw it into the air. By a terrible effort a tentacle stopped its mad thrashing and jerked up to intercept them. Ulan Dhor swerved, plunged off through the sky. The tentacle darted to cut them off.
Ulan Dhor pressed hard down on the speed lever, and air whined and sang behind the craft. And directly behind came the wavering black arm of the dying god, straining to touch the fleeting midge that had so hurt it.
"More! More!" prayed Ulan Dhor to the air-car.
"Go higher," whispered the girl. "Higher—faster—"
Ulan Dhor tilted the nose; up on a slant flashed the car, and the straining arm followed behind—a tremendous member stretching rigid through the sky, a black rainbow footed in distant Ampridatvir.
Rogol Domedonfors died. The arm snapped into a wisp of smoke and slowly sank toward the sea.
Ulan Dhor held his boat at full speed until the island disappeared across the horizon. He slowed, sighed, relaxed.
Elai suddenly flung herself against his shoulder and burst into hysteria.
"Quiet, girl, quiet," admonished Ulan Dhor. "We are safe; we are forever done of the cursed city."
She quieted; presently: "Where do we go now?"
Ulan Dhor's eyes roved about the air-car with doubt and calculation. "There will be no magic for Kandive. However, I will have a great tale to tell him, and he may be satisfied ... He will surely want the air-car. But I will contrive, I will contrive ..."
She whispered, "Cannot we fly to the east, and fly and fly and fly, till we find where the sun rises, and perhaps a quiet meadow where there are fruit trees ..."
Ulan Dhor looked to the south and thought of Kaiin with its quiet nights and wine-colored days, the wide palace where he made his home, and the couch from which he could look out over Sanreale Bay, the ancient olive trees, the harlequinade festival-times.
He said, "Elai, you will like Kaiin."