In a secluded section of a certain eastern state which must remain nameless,
one may leave the main highway and travel up a winding road around tortuou_ends and under huge scowling trees, into wooded country.
Upon a certain night—the date of which must remain vague—there came a man wh_aced and was not turned back by a series of psychological barriers along thi_oad which made it more impregnable than a steel wall. These barriers, whic_ad kept out a hundred years of curiosity-seekers until that certain night,
were forged by the scientific magic of a genius on a planet far beyond th_un… .
The man who boldly followed his headlights up the road was of middle age wit_alm, honest eyes and a firm mouth indicating bargains made in his name woul_e kept. He pushed on, feeling the subtle force of the psychological power_gainst him but resisting because he vaguely understood them.
He left his car presently and raised his hand to touch the hard outline of _mall book he carried in his breast pocket and with the gesture hi_etermination hardened. He set his jaw firmly, snapped on the flashlight h_ad taken from the dash of his convertible and moved on up the road.
His firm, brisk steps soon brought him to its end, a great iron gate, its loc_nd hinges rusted tight under the patient hand of Time. It was high and spike_nd too dangerous for climbing. But someone had smashed the lock with a heav_nstrument and had applied force until the rusted hinges gave and the gat_tood partially open. From the look of the metal, this could have been don_ecently—even in the past few minutes.
The man entered and found a flagstone pathway. He followed this for a tim_ith the aid of his flashlight. Then he stopped and raised the beam.
It revealed the outline of a great stone mansion, its myriad windows lik_lack, sightless eyes, its silent bulk telling of long solitude, it_ongueless voice whispering: _Go away, stranger. Only peril and misfortun_wait you here._
But I am not exactly a stranger, the man told himself, approaching the doo_nd half hoping to find the scowling panel locked.
But it was not locked. The ponderous knob turned under his hand. The pane_oved back silently. The man gripped his flashlight and stepped inside.
The knowledge that he was no longer alone came as a shock. It was brought t_im by the sound of labored breathing and he flashed the light abou_rantically trying to locate the source of the harsh sound. Then the brigh_ircle picked out a huddled form on the floor nearby. The man moved forwar_nstantly and went to his knees.
He was looking into an incredibly ancient face. The skin was so deeply line_s to hang in folds around the sunken eyes. The mouth was but a toothless ma_nd the body so shrunken as to seem incapable of clinging to life. The voic_as a harsh whisper.
"Thank God you have come. I am dying. The opening of the gate took all m_emaining strength."
"You have been waiting for me?"
"I have been waiting out the years—striving to keep life in my body until th_oment of destiny. I wanted to see _him_. I wanted to be there when the doo_o his resting place opens and he comes forth to right the terrible wrong_hat have been done our people."
The strength of the ancient one was ebbing fast. The words he spoke had bee_n effort. The kneeling man said, "I don't understand all this."
"That matters not. It is important only that you keep the bargain made lon_go with your sire, and that you are here. Someone must be with _him_ at th_wakening."
The newcomer again touched the book in his pocket. "I came because our wor_ad been given—"
The dying man picked feebly at his sleeve. "Please! You must go below! Th_reat clock has measured the years. Soon it tolls the moment. Soon _hundering on the Plains of Ofrid will herald the new age—the Fighting Age—an_ new day will dawn."
While the visitor held his frail shoulders, the dying man gasped and said,
"Hasten! Hurry to the vault below! Would that I could go with you, but that i_ot to be."
And then the visitor realized he was holding a corpse in his arms. He laid i_ently down and did as he had been directed to do.