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Chapter 9

  • I have said that our study of the decadent sculptures brought about a chang_n our immediate objective. This, of course, had to do with the chisele_venues to the black inner world, of whose existence we had not known before,
  • but which we were now eager to find and traverse. From the evident scale o_he carvings we deduced that a steeply descending walk of about a mile throug_ither of the neighboring tunnels would bring us to the brink of the dizzy,
  • sunless cliffs about the great abyss; down whose sides paths, improved by th_ld Ones, led to the rocky shore of the hidden and nighted ocean. To behol_his fabulous gulf in stark reality was a lure which seemed impossible o_esistance once we knew of the thing - yet we realized we must begin the ques_t once if we expected to include it in our present trip.
  • It was now 8 P.M., and we did not have enough battery replacements to let ou_orches burn on forever. We had done so much studying and copying below th_lacial level that our battery supply had had at least five hours of nearl_ontinuous use, and despite the special dry cell formula, would obviously b_ood for only about four more - though by keeping one torch unused, except fo_specially interesting or difficult places, we might manage to eke out a saf_argin beyond that. It would not do to be without a light in these Cyclopea_atacombs, hence in order to make the abyss trip we must give up all furthe_ural deciphering. Of course we intended to revisit the place for days an_erhaps weeks of intensive study and photography - curiosity having long ag_ot the better of horror - but just now we must hasten.
  • Our supply of trail-blazing paper was far from unlimited, and we wer_eluctant to sacrifice spare notebooks or sketching paper to augment it, bu_e did let one large notebook go. If worse came to worst we could resort t_ock chipping - and of course it would be possible, even in case of reall_ost direction, to work up to full daylight by one channel or another i_ranted sufficient time for plentiful trial and error. So at last we set of_agerly in the indicated direction of the nearest tunnel.
  • According to the carvings from which we had made our map, the desired tunne_outh could not be much more than a quarter of a mile from where we stood; th_ntervening space showing solid-looking buildings quite likely to b_enetrable still at a sub-glacial level. The opening itself would be in th_asement - on the angle nearest the foothills - of a vast five-pointe_tructure of evidently public and perhaps ceremonial nature, which we tried t_dentify from our aerial survey of the ruins.
  • No such structure came to our minds as we recalled our flight, hence w_oncluded that its upper parts had been greatly damaged, or that it had bee_otally shattered in an ice rift we had noticed. In the latter case the tunne_ould probably turn out to be choked, so that we would have to try the nex_earest one - the one less than a mile to the north. The intervening rive_ourse prevented our trying any of the more southern tunnels on this trip; an_ndeed, if both of the neighboring ones were choked it was doubtful whethe_ur batteries would warrant an attempt on the next northerly one - about _ile beyond our second choice.
  • As we threaded our dim way through the labyrinth with the aid of map an_ompass - traversing rooms and corridors in every stage of ruin o_reservation, clambering up ramps, crossing upper floors and bridges an_lambering down again, encountering choked doorways and piles of debris,
  • hastening now and then along finely preserved and uncannily immaculat_tretches, taking false leads and retracing our way (in such cases removin_he blind paper trail we had left), and once in a while striking the bottom o_n open shaft through which daylight poured or trickled down - we wer_epeatedly tantalized by the sculptured walls along our route. Many must hav_old tales of immense historical importance, and only the prospect of late_isits reconciled us to the need of passing them by. As it was, we slowed dow_nce in a while and turned on our second torch. If we had had more films, w_ould certainly have paused briefly to photograph certain bas-reliefs, bu_ime-consuming hand-copying was clearly out of the question.
  • I come now once more to a place where the temptation to hesitate, or to hin_ather than state, is very strong. It is necessary, however, to reveal th_est in order to justify my course in discouraging further exploration. We ha_ormed our way very close to the computed site of the tunnel's mouth - havin_rossed a second-story bridge to what seemed plainly the tip of a pointe_all, and descended to a ruinous corridor especially rich in decadentl_laborate and apparently ritualistic sculptures of late workmanship - when,
  • shortly before 8:30 P.M., Danforth's keen young nostrils gave us the firs_int of something unusual. If we had had a dog with us, I suppose we woul_ave been warned before. At first we could not precisely say what was wron_ith the formerly crystal-pure air, but after a few seconds our memorie_eacted only too definitely. Let me try to state the thing without flinching.
  • There was an odor - and that odor was vaguely, subtly, and unmistakably aki_o what had nauseated us upon opening the insane grave of the horror poor Lak_ad dissected.
  • Of course the revelation was not as clearly cut at the time as it sounds now.
  • There were several conceivable explanations, and we did a good deal o_ndecisive whispering. Most important of all, we did not retreat withou_urther investigation; for having come this far, we were loath to be balked b_nything short of certain disaster. Anyway, what we must have suspected wa_ltogether too wild to believe. Such things did not happen in any norma_orld. It was probably sheer irrational instinct which made us dim our singl_orch - tempted no longer by the decadent and sinister sculptures that leere_enacingly from the oppressive walls - and which softened our progress to _autious tiptoeing and crawling over the increasingly littered floor and heap_f debris.
  • Danforth's eyes as well as nose proved better than mine, for it was likewis_e who first noticed the queer aspect of the debris after we had passed man_alf-choked arches leading to chambers and corridors on the ground level. I_id not look quite as it ought after countless thousands of years o_esertion, and when we cautiously turned on more light we saw that a kind o_wath seemed to have been lately tracked through it. The irregular nature o_he litter precluded any definite marks, but in the smoother places there wer_uggestions of the dragging of heavy objects. Once we thought there was a hin_f parallel tracks as if of runners. This was what made us pause again.
  • It was during that pause that we caught - simultaneously this time - the othe_dor ahead. Paradoxically, it was both a less frightful and more frightfu_dor - less frightful intrinsically, but infinitely appalling in this plac_nder the known circumstances - unless, of course, Gedney - for the odor wa_he plain and familiar one of common petrol - every-day gasoline.
  • Our motivation after that is something I will leave to psychologists. We kne_ow that some terrible extension of the camp horrors must have crawled int_his nighted burial place of the aeons, hence could not doubt any longer th_xistence of nameless conditions - present or at least recent just ahead. Ye_n the end we did let sheer burning curiosity-or anxiety-or autohypnotism - o_ague thoughts of responsibility toward Gedney - or what not - drive us on.
  • Danforth whispered again of the print he thought he had seen at the alle_urning in the ruins above; and of the faint musical piping - potentially o_remendous significance in the light of Lake's dissection report, despite it_lose resemblance to the cave-mouth echoes of the windy peaks - which h_hought he had shortly afterward half heard from unknown depths below. I, i_y turn, whispered of how the camp was left - of what had disappeared, and o_ow the madness of a lone survivor might have conceived the inconceivable - _ild trip across the monstrous mountains and a descent into the unknown,
  • primal masonry - But we could not convince each other, or even ourselves, o_nything definite. We had turned off all light as we stood still, and vaguel_oticed that a trace of deeply filtered upper day kept the blackness fro_eing absolute. Having automatically begun to move ahead, we guided ourselve_y occasional flashes from our torch. The disturbed debris formed a_mpression we could not shake off, and the smell of gasoline grew stronger.
  • More and more ruin met our eyes and hampered our feet, until very soon we sa_hat the forward way was about to cease. We had been all too correct in ou_essimistic guess about that rift glimpsed from the air. Our tunnel quest wa_ blind one, and we were not even going to be able to reach the basement ou_f which the abyssward aperture opened.
  • The torch, flashing over the grotesquely carved walls of the blocked corrido_n which we stood, showed several doorways in various states of obstruction;
  • and from one of them the gasoline odor-quite submerging that other hint o_dor - came with especial distinctness. As we looked more steadily, we sa_hat beyond a doubt there had been a slight and recent clearing away of debri_rom that particular opening. Whatever the lurking horror might be, w_elieved the direct avenue toward it was now plainly manifest. I do not thin_nyone will wonder that we waited an appreciable time before making an_urther motion.
  • And yet, when we did venture inside that black arch, our first impression wa_ne of anticlimax. For amidst the littered expanse of that sculptured Crypt -
  • a perfect cube with sides of about twenty feet - there remained no recen_bject of instantly discernible size; so that we looked instinctively, thoug_n vain, for a farther doorway. In another moment, however, Danforth's shar_ision had descried a place where the floor debris had been disturbed; and w_urned on both torches full strength. Though what we saw in that light wa_ctually simple and trifling, I am none the less reluctant to tell of i_ecause of what it implied. It was a rough leveling of the debris, upon whic_everal small objects lay carelessly scattered, and at one corner of which _onsiderable amount of gasoline must have been spilled lately enough to leav_ strong odor even at this extreme superplateau altitude. In other words, i_ould not be other than a sort of camp - a camp made by questing beings who,
  • like us, had been turned back by the unexpectedly choked way to the abyss.
  • Let me be plain. The scattered objects were, so far as substance wa_oncerned, all from Lake's camp; and consisted of tin cans as queerly opene_s those we had seen at that ravaged place, many spent matches, thre_llustrated books more or less curiously smudged, an empty ink bottle with it_ictorial and instructional carton, a broken fountain pen, some oddly snippe_ragments of fur and tent cloth, a used electric battery with circular o_irections, a folder that came with our type of tent heater, and a sprinklin_f crumpled papers. It was all bad enough but when we smoothed out the paper_nd looked at what was on them, we felt we had come to the worst. We had foun_ertain inexplicably blotted papers at the camp which might have prepared us,
  • yet the effect of the sight down there in the prehuman vaults of a nightmar_ity was almost too much to bear.
  • A mad Gedney might have made the groups of dots in imitation of those found o_he greenish soapstones, just as the dots on those insane five-pointed grav_ounds might have been made; and he might conceivably have prepared rough,
  • hasty sketches - varying in their accuracy or lack of it - which outlined th_eighboring parts of the city and traced the way from a circularly represente_lace outside our previous route - a place we identified as a grea_ylindrical tower in the carvings and as a vast circular gulf glimpsed in ou_erial survey - to the present five-pointed structure and the tunnel mout_herein.
  • He might, I repeat, have prepared such sketches; for those before us wer_uite obviously compiled, as our own had been, from late sculptures somewher_n the glacial labyrinth, though not from the ones which we had seen and used.
  • But what the art-blind bungler could never have done was to execute thos_ketches in a strange and assured technique perhaps superior, despite hast_nd carelessness, to any of the decadent carvings from which they were taken -
  • the characteristic and unmistakable technique of the Old Ones themselves i_he dead city's heyday.
  • There are those who will say Danforth and I were utterly mad not to flee fo_ur lives after that; since our conclusions were now - notwithstanding thei_ildness - completely fixed, and of a nature I need not even mention to thos_ho have read my account as far as this. Perhaps we were mad - for have I no_aid those horrible peaks were mountains of madness? But I think I can detec_omething of the same spirit - albeit in a less extreme form - in the men wh_talk deadly beasts through African jungles to photograph them or study thei_abits. Half paralyzed with terror though we were, there was nevertheles_anned within us a blazing flame of awe and curiosity which triumphed in th_nd.
  • Of course we did not mean to face that - or those - which we knew had bee_here, but we felt that they must be gone by now. They would by this time hav_ound the other neighboring entrance to the abyss, and have passed within, t_hatever night-black fragments of the past might await them in the ultimat_ulf - the ultimate gulf they had never seen. Or if that entrance, too, wa_locked, they would have gone on to the north seeking another. They were, w_emembered, partly independent of light.
  • Looking back to that moment, I can scarcely recall just what precise form ou_ew emotions took - just what change of immediate objective it was that s_harpened our sense of expectancy. We certainly did not mean to face what w_eared - yet I will not deny that we may have had a lurking, unconscious wis_o spy certain things from some hidden vantage point. Probably we had no_iven up our zeal to glimpse the abyss itself, though there was interposed _ew goal in the form of that great circular place shown on the crumple_ketches we had found. We had at once recognized it as a monstrous cylindrica_ower figuring in the very earliest carvings, but appearing only as _rodigious round aperture from above. Something about the impressiveness o_ts rendering, even in these hasty diagrams, made us think that its subglacia_evels must still form a feature of peculiar importance. Perhaps it embodie_rchitectural marvels as yet unencountered by us. It was certainly o_ncredible age according to the sculptures in which it figured - being indee_mong the first things built in the city. Its carvings, if preserved, coul_ot but be highly significant. Moreover, it might form a good present lin_ith the upper world - a shorter route than the one we were so carefull_lazing, and probably that by which those others had descended.
  • At any rate, the thing we did was to study the terrible sketches \- whic_uite perfectly confirmed our own - and start back over the indicated cours_o the circular place; the course which our nameless predecessors must hav_raversed twice before us. The other neighboring gate to the abyss would li_eyond that. I need not speak of our journey - during which we continued t_eave an economical trail of paper - for it was precisely the same in kind a_hat by which we had reached the cul-de-sac; except that it tended to adher_ore closely to the ground level and even descend to basement corridors. Ever_ow and then we could trace certain disturbing marks in the debris or litte_nderfoot; and after we had passed outside the radius of the gasoline scent,
  • we were again faintly conscious - spasmodically - of that more hideous an_ore persistent scent. After the way had branched from our former course, w_ometimes gave the rays of our single torch a furtive sweep along the walls;
  • noting in almost every case the well-nigh omnipresent sculptures, which indee_eem to have formed a main aesthetic outlet for the Old Ones.
  • About 9:30 P.M., while traversing a long, vaulted corridor whose increasingl_laciated floor seemed somewhat below the ground level and whose roof gre_ower as we advanced, we began to see strong daylight ahead and were able t_urn off our torch. It appeared that we were coming to the vast circula_lace, and that our distance from the upper air could not be very great. Th_orridor ended in an arch surprisingly low for these megalithic ruins, but w_ould see much through it even before we emerged. Beyond there stretched _rodigious round space - fully two hundred feet in diameter - strewn wit_ebris and containing many choked archways corresponding to the one we wer_bout to cross. The walls were - in available spaces - boldly sculptured int_ spiral band of heroic proportions; and displayed, despite the destructiv_eathering caused by the openness of the spot, an artistic splendor far beyon_nything we had encountered before. The littered floor was quite heavil_laciated, and we fancied that the true bottom lay at a considerably lowe_epth.
  • But the salient object of the place was the titanic stone ramp which, eludin_he archways by a sharp turn outward into the open floor, wound spirally u_he stupendous cylindrical wall like an inside counterpart of those onc_limbing outside the monstrous towers or ziggurats of antique Babylon. Onl_he rapidity of our flight, and the perspective which confounded the descen_ith the tower's inner wall, had prevented our noticing this feature from th_ir, and thus caused us to seek another avenue to the subglacial level.
  • Pabodie might have been able to tell what sort of engineering held it i_lace, but Danforth and I could merely admire and marvel. We could see might_tone corbels and pillars here and there, but what we saw seemed inadequate t_he function performed. The thing was excellently preserved up to the presen_op of the tower - a highly remarkable circumstance in view of its exposure -
  • and its shelter had done much to protect the bizarre and disturbing cosmi_culptures on the walls.
  • As we stepped out into the awesome half daylight of this monstrous cylinde_ottom - fifty million years old, and without doubt the most primally ancien_tructure ever to meet our eyes - we saw that the ramp-traversed side_tretched dizzily up to a height of fully sixty feet. This, we recalled fro_ur aerial survey, meant an outside glaciation of some forty feet; since th_awning gulf we had seen from the plane had been at the top of a_pproximately twenty-foot mound of crumbled masonry, somewhat sheltered fo_hree-fourths of its circumference by the massive curving walls of a line o_igher ruins. According to the sculptures, the original tower had stood in th_enter of an immense circular plaza, and had been perhaps five hundred or si_undred feet high, with tiers of horizontal disks near the top, and a row o_eedlelike spires along the upper rim. Most of the masonry had obviousl_oppled outward rather than inward - a fortunate happening, since otherwis_he ramp might have been shattered and the whole interior choked. As it was,
  • the ramp showed sad battering; whilst the choking was such that all th_rchways at the bottom seemed to have been recently cleared.
  • It took us only a moment to conclude that this was indeed the route by whic_hose others had descended, and that this would be the logical route for ou_wn ascent despite the long trail of paper we had left elsewhere. The tower'_outh was no farther from the foothills and our waiting plane than was th_reat terraced building we had entered, and any further subglacial exploratio_e might make on this trip would lie in this general region. Oddly, we wer_till thinking about possible later trips - even after all we had seen an_uessed. Then, as we picked our way cautiously over the debris of the grea_loor, there came a sight which for the time excluded all other matters.
  • It was the neatly huddled array of three sledges in that farther angle of th_amp's lower and outward-projecting course which had hitherto been screene_rom our view. There they were - the three sledges missing from Lake's camp -
  • shaken by a hard usage which must have included forcible dragging along grea_eaches of snowless masonry and debris, as well as much hand portage ove_tterly unnavigable places. They were carefully and intelligently packed an_trapped, and contained things memorably familiar enough: the gasoline stove,
  • fuel cans, instrument cases, provision tins, tarpaulins obviously bulging wit_ooks, and some bulging with less obvious contents - everything derived fro_ake's equipment.
  • Alfer what we had found in that other room, we were in a measure prepared fo_his encounter. The really great shock came when we stepped over and undid on_arpaulin whose outlines had peculiarly disquieted us. It seems that others a_ell as Lake had been interested in collecting typical specimens; for ther_ere two here, both stiffly frozen, perfectly preserved, patched with adhesiv_laster where some wounds around the neck had occurred, and wrapped with car_o prevent further damage. They were the bodies of young Gedney and th_issing dog.