Page:Avon Fantasy Reader 10.djvu/51

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the Nymphs of Light from their abiding place, the crimson steam from the Bowl shot to the stars and broke from a ruddy cloud into those woman forms that floated above, and they began their dance on the very brim of the crater.

Crayne reached Murphy's side, and clutched his arm. The boy's face was illumined by lurid light, his strong teeth flashing as he laughed joyously in the presence of that dreadful radiance.

"Maybe I'm dreamin'," he shouted "but I ain't the only one asleep. They come right in that cockpit, I tell you. Boy, oh boy! They had me outa that door before I knew it. An' now I'm here, I'm goin' over the top!"

"But, Bud, don't be a fool. They're not real. It's a trick of the eyes. It's electric-charged air and too much nonsense from Captain Ek."

"I don't care a damn what it is, an' women don't git my goat, but I'm goin' t' have a chunk o' wealth an' a swim in Bimini. An' nobody's goin' t' stop me now!"

Crayne clutched at Murphy, whose fists shot out, but the older, taller man swung his long arms from behind and pinioned Murphy's arms. Then began a struggle of desperation on the slope of the outer rim, and above danced the Children of Light, nearer and nearer, their song of joy changing to one of sorrow. Crayne was aware of Grief filling the world, aware that the curse of Babel was gone in that center of earth and that he understood their song of mourning over dissent among men.

As if the Light disclosed the workings of human minds to their eyes, the Nymphs sang of Love, pleading with these two humans to aspire to the spirit instead of lusting for wealth that would mock and betray.

Crayne realized a flash of shame as they read his own longing to possess such wealth, yet it was still controlled. His one desire was to save this boy from death, and Murphy was dragging him nearer and nearer that topmost brim. He realized the Children of Light kept at a distance. The visitation and wooing of the night was changed to aloofness as they darted to and fro, sweeping their gossamer drapes in maddening and dazzling glitter so close that it webbed the two struggling men like a gladiator's net, and in those veils they were helpless. Then came a rustling as of gigantic wings unfolding, and locked in each other's arms, powerless to move hand or foot, Crayne and Murphy stared at the swirling maelstrom of the Bowl and saw an arch curve upward, springing like a rainbow, and sweeping her gleaming robes about her came the royal figure they had seen on the silver path after their arrival.

A voice came, piercing and silverclear. It touched understanding, and without words they knew their punishment decreed. It was as if She commanded, "Give them the desire of the eyes, my Maidens."

Crayne felt the scream in his own throat but heard no sound as the Bowl brim crumbled beneath his feet and he fell with Murphy into an abyss of such terrific Light that sight was gone. He felt the lave and spray and caress of Light, piercing, dissolving flesh. They sank as in the sea and came