The Face in the Abyss, novelette/Chapter 5

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
 

CHAPTER V.
THE THING THAT FLED.

THEY had traveled over the savanna for perhaps an hour when Suarra abruptly turned to the left, entering the forest that covered the flanks of a great mountain. Soon the trees closed in on them. Graydon could see no trail, yet the girl went on surely, without pause. He knew there must be signs to guide her since her course took them now to one side, now to another; once he was certain that they had almost circled. Yes, trail there must be—unless Suarra was purposely trying to confuse them to prevent them from return. He could see nothing around him but the immense tree trunks, while the thick roof of leaves shut out all sight of the sun and so hid this means of discovering direction.

Another hour went by and the way began to climb, the shade to grow denser. Deeper it became and deeper until the girl was but a flitting shadow. Blue robe he could hardly see at all, but yellow robe stood out sharply, his bird suggestion suddenly accentuated—as though he had been a monstrous yellow parrot.

Once or twice Graydon had glanced at the three men behind him. The darkness was making them more and more uneasy. They walked close together, eyes and ears obviously strained to catch first faint stir rings of ambush. And now, as the green gloom grew denser still, Soames strode forward and curtly ordered him to join Dancre and Sterrett. For an instant he hesitated; read murder in the New Englander’s eyes; realized the futility of resistance and dropped back. Soames pressed forward until he was close behind blue cowl and yellow. They did not turn their heads nor did the girl.

Dancre motioned him in between himself and Sterrett, grinning wickedly.

“Soames has changed his plan,” he whispered. “If there is trouble he shoot the old devils—quick. He keep the girl to make trade wit’ her people. He keep you to make trade wit’ the girl. Eh?”

Graydon did not answer. He had already realized what the maneuver meant. But a wave of jubilation swept over him. When the Frenchman had pressed close to him he had felt an automatic in his side pocket. If an attack did come, he thought, he would leap upon Dancre, snatch the pistol and gain for himself at least a fighting chance. He kept as close to him as he dared without arousing suspicion.

Darker grew the woods until the figures in front of him were only a moving blue. Then swiftly the gloom began to lighten. It came to him that they had been passing through some ravine, some gorge whose unseen walls had been pressing in upon them and that had now begun to retreat.

A few minutes longer and he knew he was right. Ahead of them loomed a prodigious doorway, a cleft whose sides readied up for thousands of feet. Beyond was a flood of sunshine, dazzling. Suarra stopped at the rocky threshold with a gesture of warning; peered through; beckoned them on.

Blinking, Graydon walked through the portal. Behind and on each side towered the mountain. He looked out over a broad grass covered plain strewn with huge, isolated rocks rising from the green like menhirs of the Druids. There were no trees. The plain was dish shaped; an enormous oval as symmetrical as though it had been molded by the thumb of Cyclopean potter. Straight across it, five miles or more away, the forests began again. They clothed the base of another gigantic mountain whose walls arose perpendicularly a mile at least in air. The smooth scarps described, he saw, an arc of a tremendous circle—as round as Fujiyama’s sacred cone, but hundreds of times its girth.

Rushed back on Graydon the picture of that hidden circular valley with its wheeling, moon bathed colossi and uprushing city of djinns into which last night he had dreamed the purple eyes of the Snake Mother had drawn him! Had it after all been no dream, but true vision? Were these rounded precipices the outer shell of that incredible place?

Suarra’s story—true?

Shaken, he glanced toward her. She stood a dozen paces away, hand on the white llama’s neck and gazing intently over the plain. There was anxiety in her gaze—but there was none in the attitude of those two strange servitors of hers. As silent, as unconcerned, as detached as ever, they seemed to await the girl’s next move.

And now Graydon noted that they were on a wide ledge that bordered this vast oval bowl. This shelf was a full hundred feet higher than the bottom of the valley whose sides sloped up to it like the sides of a saucer. And, again carrying out that suggestion of huge dish, the ledge jutted out like a rim. He guessed that there was a concavity under his feet, and that if one should fall over the side it would be well nigh impossible to climb back because of that overhang. The surface was about twelve feet wide, and more like road care fully leveled by human hands than work of nature. Its nearer boundary was a tree covered wall of rock; unscalable. On one side the curving bowl of the valley with its weird monoliths and the circular scarp of the mysterious mountain; on the other the wooded cliffs.

There was a stirring in the undergrowth where the trees ended their abrupt descent. A goat like animal dipped out of the covert and paused, head high, nostrils testing the air.

“Meat!” exclaimed Sterrett. His rifle cracked. The beast sank to the path, twitched and lay still. Suarra leaped from the llama’s side and faced the giant, eyes blazing wrath and behind that anger, or so it seemed to Graydon, fear.

“Fool!” she cried, and stamped her foot. “You fool! Get back to the cleft. Quick! All of you.”

She ran to the llama; caught it by the bridle; drove it, the burros and the four men back to the shelter of the ravine mouth.

“You—” she spoke to Soames, “if you desire to reach that gold for which you thirst, see that this man uses no more that death weapon of his while we are on this path. Nor any of you. Now stay here—and be quiet until I bid you come forth.”

She did not wait for reply. She ran to the cleft’s opening and Graydon followed. She paused there, scanning the distant for est edge. And once more—and with great er force than ever before—the tranquillity, the inhuman immobility, the indifference of those two enigmatic servitors assailed him.

They had not moved from the path. Suarra took a step toward them, and half held out helpless, beseeching hands. They made no movement—and with a little helpless sigh she dropped her hands and resumed her scrutiny of the plain.

There flickered through Graydon a thought, a vague realization. In these two cloaked and hooded figures dwelt—power. He had not been wrong in recognizing them as the Two Lords of the luminous temple. But the power they owned would not be spent to save him or the three from any consequences of their own acts, would not be interposed between any peril that they themselves should invite.

Yes, that was it! There had been some vow—some bargain—even as Suarra had said. She had promised to save him, Graydon—if she could. She had promised the others treasure and freedom—if they could win them. Very well—the hooded pair would not interfere. But neither would they help. They were judges, watching a game. They had given Suarra permission to play that game—but left the playing of it rigidly up to her.

That nevertheless they would protect her he also believed. And with that conviction a great burden lifted from his mind. Her anxiety now he understood. It was not for herself, but for—him!

“Suarra,” he whispered. She did not turn her head, but she quivered at his voice.

“Go back,” she said. “Those for whom I watch have sharp eyes. Stay with the others—”

Suddenly he could have sworn that he heard the whirling beat of great wings over her head. He saw—nothing. Yet she lifted her arms in an oddly summoning gesture, spoke in words whose sounds were strange to him, all alien liquid labials and soft sibilants. Once more he heard the wing beats and then not far away but faint, so faint, a note of the elfin horn!

She dropped her arms, motioned him back to the others. From the dimness of the cleft he watched her. Slow minutes passed. Again he heard the horn note, the faint whirring as of swiftly beating pinions above her. And again could see nothing!

But as though she had received some message Suarra turned, the anxiety, the trouble gone from her face. She beckoned.

“Come out,” she said. “None has heard. We can be on our way. But remember what I have said. Not a second time may you escape.”

She marched on with the llama. When she reached the animal that had fallen to Sterrett’s aim she paused.

“Take that,” she ordered. “Throw it back among the trees as far as you can from this path.”

“Hell, Soames,” cried Sterrett. “Don’t fall for that. It’s good meat. I’ll slip it in on one of the burros.”

But Soames was staring at the girl.

“Afraid something ’ll track us by it?” he asked. She nodded. Some of the cynic evil fled from the New Englander’s face.

“She’s right,” he spoke curtly to Sterrett. “Pick it up and throw it away. And do as she says. I think she’s goin’ to play square with us. No more shootin’, d’you hear?”

Sterrett picked up the little animal and hurled it viciously among the trees.

The caravan set forth along the rimlike way. Noon came and in another ravine that opened upon the strange road they snatched from saddle bags a hasty lunch. They did not waste time in unpacking the burros. There was a little brook singing in the pass and from it they refilled their canteens, then watered the animals. This time Suarra did not join them, sitting aloof with blue cowl and yellow.

By mid-afternoon they were nearing the northern end of the bowl. All through the day the circular mountain across the plain had unrolled its vast arc of cliff. And through the day Suarra’s watch of its for est clothed base had never slackened. A wind had arisen, sweeping toward them from those wooded slopes, bending the tall heads of the grass so far below them.

Suddenly, deep within that wind, Graydon heard a faint, far off clamor, an eerie hissing, shrill and avid, as of some onrushing army of snakes. The girl heard it too, for she halted and stood tense, face turned toward the sounds. They came again—and louder. And now her face whitened, but her voice when she spoke was steady.

“Danger is abroad,” she said. “Deadly danger for you. It may pass and—it may not. Until we know what to expect you must hide. Take your animals and tether them in the underbrush there.” She pointed to the mountainside which here was broken enough for cover. “The four of you take trees and hide behind them. Tie the mouths of your animals that they may make no noise.”

“So?” snarled Soames. “So here’s the trap, is it? All right, sister, you know what I told you. We’ll go into the trees, but—you go with us where we can keep our hands on you.”

“I will go with you,” she answered indifferently. “If those who come have not been summoned by the noise of that fool’s death weapon”—she pointed at Sterrett—“you can be saved. If they have been summoned by it—none can save you.”

Soames glared at her, then turned abruptly.

“Danc’,” he ordered, “Sterrett—get the burros in. And Graydon—you’ll stay with the burros and see they make no noise. We’ll be right close—with the guns—and we’ll have the girl—don’t forget that.”

Again the wind shrilled with the hissing.

“Be quick,” cried Suarra.

Swiftly they hid themselves. When trees and underbrush had closed in upon them it flashed on Graydon, crouching behind the burros, that he had not seen the two cloaked familiars of Suarra join the hurried retreat and seek the shelter of the woods. He was at the edge of the path and cautiously he parted the bushes; peered through.

The two were not upon the rim!

Simultaneously, the same thought had come to Dancre. His voice came from a near-by bole.

“Soames—where those two old devils wit’ the girl go?”

“Where’d they go?” Soames repeated blankly. “Why, they came in with us, of course.”

“I did not see them,” persisted Dancre. “I t’ink not, Soames. If they did—then where are they?”

“You see those two fellows out on the path, Graydon,?” called Soames, anxiety in his tones.

“No,” answered Graydon curtly.

Soames cursed wickedly.

“So that’s the game, eh?” he grunted. “It’s a trap! And they’ve cut out and run to bring ’em here!”

He dropped into the Aymara and spoke to Suarra.

“You know where those men of yours are?” he asked menacingly.

Graydon heard her laugh and knew that she was close beside the New Englander with Dancre and Sterrett flanking her.

“They come and go as they will,” she answered serenely.

“They’ll come and go as I will,” he snarled. “Gall them.”

“I call them,” again Suarra laughed. “Why, they do not my bidding. Nay—I must do theirs—”

“Don’t do that, Soames!” Dancre’s cry was sharp, and Graydon knew that Soames must have made some threatening movement. “If they’re gone, you cannot bring them back. We have the girl. Stop, I say!”

Graydon jumped to his feet. Bullets or no bullets, he would fight for her. As he poised to leap a sudden gust of wind tore at the trees. It brought with it a burst of the weird hissing, closer, strident, in it a devilish undertone that filled him with unfamiliar nightmarish terror.

Instantly came Suarra’s voice.

“Down! Down—Graydon!”

Then Dancre’s, quivering Graydon knew, with the same fear that had gripped him.

“Down! Soames won’t hurt her. For God’s sake, hide yourself, Graydon, till we know what’s coming!”

Graydon turned; looked out over the plain before he sank again behind the burros. And at that moment, from the forests which at this point of the narrowing bowl were not more than half a mile away, he saw dart out a streak of vivid scarlet. It hurled itself into the grass and scuttled with incredible speed straight toward one of the monoliths that stood, black and sheer a good three quarters of the distance across the dish shaped valley and its top fifty feet or more above the green. From Graydon’s own height he could see the scarlet thing’s swift rush through the grasses. As he sank down it came to him that whatever it was, it must be of an amazing length to be visible so plainly at that distance. And what was it? It ran like some gigantic insect!

He parted the bushes, peered out again. The scarlet thing had reached the monolith’s base. And as he watched, it raised itself against the rock and swarmed up its side to the top. At the edge it paused, seemed to raise its head cautiously and scan the forest from which it had come.

The air was clear, and against the black background of the stone, the vividly colored body stood out. Graydon traced six long, slender legs by which it clung to the rocky surface. There was something about the body that was monstrous, strangely revolting. In its listening, reconnoitering attitude and the shape of its head was something more monstrous still, since it carried with it a vague, incredible suggestion of humanness.

Suddenly the scarlet shape slipped down the rock breast and raced with that same amazing speed through the grasses toward where Graydon watched. An instant later there burst out of the forest what at first glance he took for a pack of immense hunting dogs—then realized that whatever they might be, dogs they certainly were not. They came forward in great leaps that reminded him of the motion of kangaroos. And as they leaped they glittered in the sun with flashes of green and blue as though armored in mail made of emeralds and sapphires.

Nor did ever dogs give tongue as they did. They hissed as they ran, shrilly, stridently, the devilish undertones accentuated—a monstrous, ear piercing sibilation that drowned all other sounds and struck across the nerves with fingers of unfamiliar primeval terror.

The scarlet thing darted to right, to left, frantically; then crouched at the base of another monolith, motionless.

And now, out of the forest, burst another shape. Like the questing creatures, this glittered too but with sparkles of black as though its body was cased in polished jet. Its bulk was that of a giant draft horse, but its neck was long and reptilian. At the base of that neck, astride it, he saw plainly the figure of—a man!

A dozen leaps and it was close behind the glittering pack, now nosing and circling between the first monolith and the woods.

“The Xinli,” came Suarra’s voice from above him.

The Xinli? It was the name she had given the beasts of the bracelet that held in their paws the disk of the Snake Mother!

The dinosaurs!

His own burro lay close beside him. With trembling hand he reached into a saddle-bag and drew out his field glasses. He focused them upon the pack. They swam mistily in the lenses, then sharpened into clear outline. Directly in his line of vision, in the center of the lens, was one of the creatures that had come to gaze, that stood rigidly, its side toward him, pointing like a hunting dog. The excellent glasses brought it so closely to him that he could stretch out a hand it seemed, and touch it.

And it was—a dinosaur!

Dwarfed to the size of a Great Dane dog, still there was no mistaking its breed—one of those leaping, upright walking monstrous lizards that millions of years ago had ruled earth and without whose extinction, so science taught, man never have arisen ages later to take possession of this planet. Graydon could see its blunt and spade shaped tail which, with its powerful, pillarlike hind legs, made the tripod upon which it squatted. Its body was nearly erect. It had two forelegs or arms, absurdly short, but muscled as powerfully as those upon which it sat. It held these half curved as though about to clutch. And at their ends were—no paws; no—but broad hands, each ending in four merciless talons, of which one thrust outward like a huge thumb and each of them armed with chisel-like claws, whose edges, he knew, were sharp as scimitars.

What he had taken for mail of sapphire and emerald were the scales of this dwarfed dinosaur. They overlapped one another like the scales upon an armadillo and it was from their burnished blue and green surfaces and edges that the sun rays struck out the jewel glints.

The creature turned its head upon its short, bull-like neck; it seemed to stare straight at Graydon. He glimpsed little fiery red eyes set in a sloping, bony arch of narrow forehead. Its muzzle was shaped like that of a crocodile, but smaller; truncated. Its jaws were closely studded with long, white and pointed fangs. The jaws slavered.

In a split second of time the mind of Graydon took in these details. Then beside the pointing dinosaur leaped the beast of the rider. Swiftly his eyes took it in—true dinosaur this one, too, but ebon scaled, longer tailed, the hind legs more slender and its neck a cylindrical rod five times thicker than the central coil of the giant boa. His eyes flashed from it to the rider.

Instantly Graydon knew him for a man of Suarra’s own race—whatever that might be. There was the same ivory whiteness of skin, the same more than classic regularity of feature. The face, like hers, was beautiful, but on it was stamped an inhuman pride and a relentless, indifferent cruelty—equally as inhuman. He wore a close fitting suit of green that clung to him like a glove. His hair was a shining golden that gleamed in the sun with almost the brilliancy of the hunting dinosaurs’ scales. He sat upon a light saddle fastened to the neck of his incredible steed just where the shoulders met it. There were heavy reins that ran to the mouth of the snake-slender, snake-long head of the jetty 1 dinosaur.

Graydon’s glasses dropped from a nerveless hand. What manner of people were these who hunted with dinosaurs for dogs and a dinosaur for steed!

His eyes fell to the base of the monolith where had crouched the scarlet thing. It was no longer there. He caught a gleam of Crimson in the high grass not a thousand feet from him where he watched. Cautiously the thing was creeping on and on toward the rim. He wondered whether those spider legs could climb it, carry it over the outjutting of the ledge? He shuddered. A deeper dread grew. Could the dinosaur pack scramble or leap over that edge in pursuit? If so—

There came a shrieking clamor like a thousand fumaroles out of which hissed the hate of hell. The pack had found the scent and were leaping down in a glittering green and blue wave.

As they raced the scarlet thing itself leaped up out of the grasses not a hundred yards away.

And Graydon glared at it with a numbing, sick horror at his heart. He heard behind him an incredulous oath from Soames; heard Dancre groan with, he knew, the same horror that held him.

The scarlet thing swayed upon two long and slender legs, its head a full fifteen feet above the ground. High on these stilts of legs was its body, almost round and no larger them a child’s. From its shoulders waved four arms, as long and as slender as the legs, eight feet or more in length. They were human arms—but human arms that had been stretched like rubber to thrice their normal length. The hands—or claws—were gleaming white. Body, arms, and legs were covered with a glistening, scarlet silken down.

The head was a human head!

A man’s head and a man’s face, brown skinned, hawk nosed, the forehead broad and intelligent, the eyes inordinately large, unwinking and filled with soul destroying terror.

A man spider!

A man who by some infernal art had been remodeled into the mechanical semblance of the spinning Arachnidæ, without the stamp of his essential human origin having been wiped away in the process!

Only for a moment the man-spider stood thus revealed. The pack was rushing down upon it like a cloud of dragons. It screamed, one shrill, high pitched, note that wailed like the voice of ultimate agony above the hissing clamor of the pack. It hurled itself, a thunderbolt of scarlet fear, straight toward the rim.

Beneath him, Graydon heard the sounds Of frantic scrambling and a scratching. Two hands a full foot long, pallidly shining, shot over the rim of the ledge, gripping it with long fingers that were like blunt needles of bone, horn covered. They clutched and shot forward, behind them a length of spindling scarlet-downed arm.

It was the man-spider, drawing himself over—and the wave of dinosaurs was now almost at the spot from which it had hurled itself at the ledge!

The spell of terror upon Graydon broke.

“A gun,” he gasped. “For God’s sake, Soames, throw me a gun!”

Against his will, his gaze swept back to those weird, clutching hands. He thought he saw a rod dart out of the air and touch them—the long blue rod he had last seen carried by Suarra’s hooded attendant in blue.

Whether he saw it, whether he did not, the needle-fingered claws opened convulsively; released their hold; slid off.

Glittering pack and ebon dinosaur steed alike were hidden from him by the overhang of the shelflike road. But up from that hidden slope came a fiendish, triumphant screaming. An instant later and out into the range of his sight bounded the great black dinosaur, its golden haired rider shouting; behind it leaped the jewel scaled horde. They crossed the plain like a thunder cloud pursued by emerald and sapphire lightnings. They passed into the forest and were gone.

“That danger is over,” he heard Suarra say coolly. “Come. We must go on more quickly now.”

She stepped out of the tree shadows and came tranquilly to him. Soames and Dancre and Sterrett, white faced and shaking, huddled close behind her. Graydon arose; managed to muster something of his old reckless air. She smiled at him, that half shy approval of him again in her eyes.

“It was just a weaver,” she said gently. “We have many such. He tried to escape—or maybe Lantlu opened the door that he might try to escape, so he could hunt him. Lantlu loves to hunt with the Xinli. Or it may be that his weaving went wrong and this was his punishment. At any rate, it is fortunate that he did not gain this road, since if he had, the Xinli and Lantlu would surely have followed. And then—”

She did not end the sentence, but the shrug of her shoulders was eloquent.

“Just a weaver!” Soames broke in, hoarsely. “What do you mean? God in heaven, it had a man’s head!

“It was a man!” gasped Dancre.

“No,” she paid no heed to him, speaking still to Graydon. “No—it was no man. At least no man as you are. Long, long ago, it is true, his ancestors were men like you. But not he. He was just—a weaver.”

She stepped out upon the path. And Graydon, following, saw waiting there, as quietly, as silently, as tranquilly as though they had not stirred since first he and his companions had fled—the blue cowled and yellow cowled familiars of Suarra. Immobile, they waited while she led forth the white llama. And as she passed Graydon she whispered to him.

“The weaver had no soul. Yu-Atlanchi fashioned him as he was. But remember him—Graydon—when you come to our journey’s end!”

She took her place at the head of the little caravan. Blue cowl and yellow paced behind her. Soames touched Graydon,, woke him from the stark amaze into which; those last words of hers had thrown him.

“Take your old place,” said Soames. “We’ll follow. Later—we want to talk to you, Graydon. Maybe you can get your guns back—if you’re reasonable.”

Suarra turned.

“Hurry,” she urged; “the sun sinks and we must go quickly. Before to-morrow’s noon you shall see your garden of jewels and the living gold streaming for you to do with it—or the gold to do with you—as you yourselves shall will it.”

They set forth along the rimmed trail.

The plain was silent, deserted. From the far forests came no sound. Graydon, as he walked, strove to fit together in his mind all that swift tragedy he had just beheld and what the girl had told him. A weaver she had called the scarlet thing—and soulless and no man. Once more she had warned him of the power of that hidden, mysterious Yu-Atlanchi. What was it she had told him once before of that power? That it slew souls—or changed them!

A weaver? A man-spider who was soulless but whose ancestors ages ago had been men like himself—so she had said. Did she mean that in that place she called Yu-Atlanchi dwelt those who could reshape not only that unseen dweller in our bodies that we name the soul, but change at will the house of the soul?

A weaver? A spider-man whose arms and legs were slender and long and spider like—whose hands were like horn-covered needles of bone—whose body was like the round ball of a spider!

And she had said that the scarlet thing might have offended Lantlu by its weaving. Lantlu? The rider of the jetty dinosaur, of course.

A weaver! A picture flashed in his brain, clean cut as though his eyes beheld it. A picture of the scarlet thing in a great web, moving over it with his long and slender legs, clicking his needled hands, a human brain in a superspider’s body, weaving, weaving—the very clothing that Suarra herself wore.

A vast hall of giant webs, each with its weaver—man headed, man faced, spider bodied!

Was that true picturing? Suddenly he was sure of it. Nor was it impossible. He knew that Roux, that great French scientist, had taken the eggs of frogs and by manipulating them had produced giant frogs and dwarfs, frogs with two heads and one body, frogs with one head and eight legs, three headed frogs with legs like centipedes.

And other monsters still he had molded from the very stuff of life—monstrous things that were like nothing this earth had ever seen, nightmare things that he had been forced to slay—and quickly.

If Roux had done all this—and he had done it, Graydon knew—then was it not possible for greater scientists to take men and women and by similar means breed—such creatures as the scarlet thing? A man-spider?

Nature herself had given the French scientist the hint upon which his experiments had been based. Nature herself produced from time to time such abnormalities—human monsters marked outwardly and inwardly with the stigmata of the beast, the fish—even of the insect.

In man’s long ascent from the speck of primeval jelly on the shallow shores of the first seas, he had worn myriad shapes. And as he moved higher from one shape to another his cousins kept them, becoming during the ages the fish he caught to-day, the horses he rode, the apes he brought from the jungles to amuse him in his cages. Even the spiders that spun in his gardens, the scorpion that scuttled from the tread of his feet, were abysmally distant blood brothers of his, sprung from the ancient Trilobite that in its turn had sprung from forms through which what was to be at last man himself had come.

Yes, had not all life on earth a common origin? Divergent now and myriad formed—man and beast, fish and serpent, lizard and bird, ant and bee and spider—all had once been in those little specks of jelly adrift in the shallow littorals of seas of an earth still warm and pulsating with the first throbs of life. Protalbion, he remembered Gregory of Edinburgh had named it—the first stuff of life from which all life was to emerge.

Could the germs of all those shapes that he had worn in his progress to humanity be dormant in man? Waiting for some master hand of science to awaken them, and having awakened, blend them with the shape of man?

Yes! Nature had produced such monstrosities, and unless these shapes had lain dormant and been capable of awakening, even Nature could not have accomplished it. For even Nature cannot build something out of nothing. Roux had studied that work of hers, dipped down into the crucible of birth and molded there his monsters from these dormant forms, even as had Nature.

Might it not be then that in Yu-Atlanchi dwelt those who knew so well the secrets of evolution that in the laboratories of birth they could create men and women things of any shape desired?

A loom is but a dead machine on which fingers work more or less clumsily. The spider is both machine and living artisan, spinning, weaving, more surely, more exquisitely than could any dead mechanism worked by man. Who had approached the delicacy, the beauty, of the spider’s web?

Suddenly Graydon seemed to look into a whole new world of appalling grotesquerie—soulless spider men and spider women spread out over great webs and weaving with needled fingers wondrous fabrics; gigantic soulless ant men and ant women digging, burrowing, mazes of subterranean passages, conduits, cloaca for those who had wrought them into being; strange soulless amphibian folk busy about that lake that in his vision had circled up to him before he glimpsed the djinn city.

Phantasmagoria of humanity twinned with Nature’s perfect machines while still plastic in the egg!

Came to him remembrance of Suarra’s warning of what might await him at journey’s end. Had she meant to prepare him for change like this?

Shuddering, he thrust away that nightmare vision!