Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/43

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morning and evening stars, they crossed that dot of no man's land which is the magnetic north.

In the protected cabin cockpit of the Birmingham, with ear-tubes connecting them, Crayne called to Captain Ek and pointed below. But the old man's eyes gazed beyond.

"See!" he cried. "The Bowl! The Bowl!"

Far off against the stars, light shone. It was like the reflection of a fire, the glow from a volcano crater. And as if disturbed by some upheaval from earth's center, streamers of light puffed out and were blown in that gorgeous display that men call the northern lights. They pulsed over the bowl of night sky, and blew toward the Birmingham. Crayne felt his hair lifting his fur hood and his skin tingling as gossamers streamed toward the plane and circled it. Glancing at Murphy, he saw the boy's face weirdly illumined, and his eyes staring.

"If you see what I see, you're crazy," shouted Murphy, but although his lips were drawn from his strong white teeth, Murphy was not smiling. Commander Crayne was uneasy. It was enough that he saw those woman forms shaping from the mist, but when Murphy, matter-of-fact, hard-boiled youngster, saw them, Crayne could only marvel and control as best he might the flighty feeling of fear clutching him.

It was then that one of the mechanics reported water leaking from a cracked cylinder, and with a feeling of relief that he had an excuse other than his own apprehension, Crayne signaled to Murphy that they would land if possible to find fairly smooth grounding.

Murphy managed a smile instead of his grimace of tightly drawn lips, and the plane began to circle lower as Crayne made out a comparatively level stretch of frozen sea, but they were still traveling at top speed, and the wind that had harassed them was gone.

The Bowl of Light came nearer, uncomfortably nearer, a vast sea of pale flame which bubbled to the black rims of the depression and spurted what appeared to be like colored steam of many hues.

Crayne felt that he dared not attempt to fly over it with a leaking cylinder. Yet as Captain Ek realized they were lowering, he leaned near Crayne and bellowed in voice of rage, the first sign of temper be had shown on a voyage trying to the best-natured:

"Go on! Why do you halt now? See, they wait to welcome us, the Children of Light!"

Crayne howled the information about the cylinder, adding that he would later circle the Bowl, and finishing sternly: "I am commander, Captain Ek. Please remember."

The Birmingham circled lower until within five hundred yards, and Crayne saw that what appeared to be smooth ice was a crumpled, humped expanse, yet there was nothing to do but land cautiously. He nursed the big machine as best he could, felt her wheels bump, then heard an ominous