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.