Read CHAPTER XIX - The Voice of the Mountain of Two Thousand Miles Below , free online book, by Charles Willard Diffin, on ReadCentral.com.

In a strange new world surrounded by a group of kneeling figures of whom one, who called himself Gor, had spoken in Rawson’s own tongue, Dean Rawson stood silent. It was all too overwhelming. He could not bring words together to formulate a reply. He only stood and stared with wondering eyes at the exquisite beauty of the world about him, a world flooded with a golden light, faintly tinged with green. Then he looked above him to see the source of that light and found the sun.

Not the sun that he had known, but a flaming ball nevertheless. Straight above it hung, in the center of the heavens, a gleaming disk of pale-green gold, magnificently brilliant. He saw it through lids half closed against its glare. Then his gaze swept back down the blue vault of the heavens, back to a world of impossible beauty.

Directly ahead was a land of desolation, radiant in its barrenness. For every rock, every foot of ground, was made of crystal. Nearby hills were visions of loveliness where the colors of a million rainbows quivered and flashed. Veins of metal showed the rich blues and greens of peacock coloring. Others were scarlet, topaz, green, and all of them took the strange sunlight that flooded them and threw it back in blendings radiant and delicate.

The little hills began a short distance off, two low ranges running directly away. One on either side, they made brilliant walls for the flat valley between, whose foreground was barren rock of rose and white. But beyond the glistening barren stretch were green fields of luxuriant vegetation and in the distance, nestled in the green were clustered masses that might have been a city of men. Still farther on, a single mountain peak, white beyond belief, reared its graceful sweeping sides to a shining apex against the heavens of clear blue.

Slowly Rawson turned. A hundred yards away, at his left, there was water, a sea whose smooth rollers might have been undulating liquid emeralds that broke to infinite flashing gems upon the shore. He swung sharply to the right and found the same expanse of water, perhaps the same distance away.

Then he turned toward the shell, which had been behind him and the shaft from which it had emerged, and into which the air was driving with a ceaseless rushing sound. Now, looking beyond them, he found the same ocean; he was standing on a blunt point of rock projecting into the sea. The rest of this world was one vast expanse of water.

Suddenly Rawson knew that it was unlike any ocean of earth. Instead of finishing on a sharply-cut horizon, that sea of emerald green reached out and still out, and up! It did not fall away. It curved upward, until it lost itself in the distance and merged with the blue of the sky. It was the same on all sides.

He swung slowly back to face the land that perhaps was only an island. The kneeling ones had raised their bowed heads. They were regarding him from shining, expectant eyes. Only the girl kept her face averted. Rawson spoke to none of them; the exclamations that his amazement and dismay wrung from his lips were meant for himself.

“It’s concave! It curves upward! I’m on the inside of the world! And that sun is the center! But what holds us here? What keeps us from falling?” He passed one hand heavily across his eyes. The excitement of the moment had lifted him above the weariness of muscle and mind. Now fatigue claimed him.

“Sleep,” he said dully. “I’ve got to sleep. I’ve got to. I’m all in.”

Gor was beside him in an instant. “Whatever you wish is yours,” he promised.

Rawson was to remember little of that journey toward the habitations of this people. Gor had spoken at times along the way: “... the Land of the Central Sun.... The People of the Light, peaceful and happy in our little world....”

Rawson had roused himself to ask: “Who it at the head of it? Who is the king, the ruler?”

And the tall man beside him had answered humbly: “Always since the beginning one named Gor has led. My father, and those who came before him; now it is I. And when I have gone, my little son will take the name of Gor.”

He had glanced toward the girl and his voice had dropped into the soft, liquid syllables of their own tongue. She had smiled back at Gor, though her eyes persistently refused to meet those of Rawson.

Again Gor spoke in words that Rawson could understand.

“I think at times,” he said, “it is my daughter Loah, my little Loah-San who really rules. I, knowing not who you were, did not approve of this expedition, but Loah insisted. She had seen you, and ” A glance from the girl cut him short.

The words lingered in Rawson’s mind when he awoke. The horrible experience of the past days were no longer predominant. Even his own world seemed of a dim and distant past.

He awoke refreshed. He was in a new world and, for the moment, he asked nothing except to explore its mystery. He bathed under a fountain in an adjoining room, and grinned broadly as he wrapped the folds of the long golden loin cloth about him.

“As well be dead as out of style,” he quoted. “And now to find Gor and Loah, and see what the devil all this is about a talking mountain and a buried race that speaks first-rate American.”

Gor was waiting for him in a room whose translucent walls admitted a subdued glow from outside. There was food on a table, strange fruits, and a clear scarlet liquid in a crystal glass. Rawson ate ravenously, then followed Gor.

Outside were houses, whose timbered frames of jet-black contrasted startlingly with the quartz walls they enclosed. The street was thronged with people who drew back to let them pass, and who dropped to their knees in humble worship. Like Gor, the men wore only the loin cloth, but for this gala day, that simple apparel added a note of flashing color. The long cloths wrapped about their hips, and brought up and about the waist where the ends hung free, were brilliant with countless variations of crimson and blue and gold. The same rainbow hues were found in the loose folded cloths that draped themselves like short skirts from the women’s waists. Here and there, in the sea of white bodies and scintillant jeweled breast-plates, was one with an additional flash of color, where brilliant silken scarves had been thrown about the shoulders of the younger girls.

“From all the land,” said Gor, “they have come to do you honor.”

Hardly more than a village, this cluster of strangely beautiful shelters for the People of the Light. Beyond, Rawson saw the country, pastures where animals, weird and strange, were cropping the grass so vividly green; fields of growing things; little crystal houses like fanciful, glistening toys that had miraculously grown to greater size. The dwellings were sprinkled far into the distance across the landscape. Beyond them was the base of the mountain, magnificent and glorious in its crystal purity of white, and the striations, vertical and diagonal, that flashed brilliantly with black jet and peacock green.

Rawson knew them for mineral intrusions, and knew that the mountain was only one crystalline mass of all the quartz formation that made of the world’s inner core a gigantic geode, gleaming in eternal brilliance under the glow of the central sun. And still, in it all, Dean Rawson had seen a lack without which perfection could not be complete.

“Where is Loah?” he asked of Gor. “I thought I had hoped....”

Something in Gor’s face told Rawson that his companion was troubled. “She refused to come,” he said. “But the wish of one of the great ones from the Land of the Sun is a command.” He shouted an order before Rawson could put in a protest. A man darted away.

“Always happy, my little Loah-San,” said Gor. His eyes held a puzzled look. “Always until now. And now she weeps and will not say why. Come, we will walk more slowly. There were questions you wished to ask. I will answer them as we walk.”

“Questions?” exclaimed Rawson. “A thousand of them.”

And now for the first time since, at the top of a barren peak, in the dark of the desert night, his wild journey had begun, he found answers, definite and precise, to the puzzles he had been unable to solve.

Their speech their language how was it they could talk with him? He fired the questions out with furious eagerness, and Gor replied.

As to their speech the Holy Mountain itself would explain. And yes, truly, this was the center of the world, or the sun above them was. The central sun did not attract, but instead repelled all matter from it all things but one, the sun-stone, of which Gor would speak later.

Rawson pounced upon that and demanded corroboration.

“All the power of earth tends to draw every object to its center, yet we’re here on an inner surface. We’re walking actually head down. And our bodies, every stone, every particle of matter, ought by well-known laws to fall into that flaming center. But we don’t! That proves your point proves a counter gravitation. Then there must be a neutral zone. A place where this upward thrust is exactly equalled by gravity’s downward pull.

“The zone of fire,” said Gor. “You passed through it. Did you not see?”

“Saw it and felt it!” Rawson’s mind leaped immediately to the next question.

“And we must have come through it at, surely, a thousand miles an hour. What drove us? That shell must have gone in from here. I can understand its falling one way, but not two. We should have come to rest in that very spot and we’d have lasted about half a second if we had.”

“Oro and Grah,” said Gor. “Oro, the sun-stone, and Grah, the stone-that-loves-the-dark. But they are not stones, neither are they metal. We find them deep in the ground, clinging to the caves. A fine powder, both of them.”

“Still I don’t get it,” said Rawson. “You drive that shell in from here, and then you drive it back again.”

“That, too, I will explain later. It is simple; even the Dwellers in the Dark those whom you call the mole-men have Oro and Grah to serve them.”

Gor launched into a long account of their tribal legends, of that time in the long ago when an angry sun god had driven his children inside the earth; of how Gor, and the son of Gor, and his son’s sons tried always to return.

Rawson was listening only subconsciously. They were circling the white mountain, ascending its lower slope. Now he could see beyond it as far as the land extended, and he was startled to find this distance so short. They were on an island, ten miles or so in length, and beyond it was the sea; he must ask Gor about that.

“It is all that is left,” said Gor, when Rawson interrupted his narrative. “Once the land was great and the sea small this also in the long ago but always it has risen. The air we breathe and the water in the sea come from the central sun. The air rushes out, as you know; the water has no place to retreat.”

Again he took up his tale, but Rawson’s eyes were following the upward curve of that sea. They, seemed to be in the bottom of a great bowl; he was trying to estimate, trying to gage distance.

“... and so, after many generations had lived and died, they found the Pathway to the Light,” Gor was saying. “It is our name for the shaft through which you came. This was thousands of your years ago, when he who was then Gor, and the bravest of the tribe, descended. Even then they were workers in metal and they knew of Oro and Grah. They were our fathers, the first People of the Light.”

Rawson had a question ready on his tongue, but Gor’s words suggested another. “That shaft,” he said, “the Pathway to the Light do you mean it extends clear up to the mole-men’s world? Why don’t they come down?”

“To them the way is lost; the Pathway is closed above the zone of fire. That other Gor did that. And those who remained the mole-men have forgotten. They could break their way through if they knew they are master-workers with fire but for them the Pathway ends, and below is the great heat. But we know of a way around the closed place, the hidden way to the great Lake of Fire.”

“They could break their way through if they knew!” repeated Rawson softly. For an instant he stood silent and unbreathing; he was remembering the ugly eyes in a priest’s hideous face. The eyes were watching him as the White Ones took him away.

He forced his thoughts to come back to the earlier question. “What,” he asked, “is the diameter, the distance across the inside world? How far is it from here to your sun? How many miles?”

“Miles?” questioned Gor. “We know the word, for the Mountain has told us, but the length of a mile we could not know. This I can say: there were wise men in the past when our own world was larger. They worked magic with little marks on paper. It is said that they knew that if one came here from our sun and kept on as far again through the solid rock, he would reach the outside the land, of the true sun, from which our forefathers came.”

Rawson nodded his head, while his eyes followed that sweeping green bowl of the sea. “Not far off,” he said abstractedly. “Two thousand miles radius and the earth itself not a solid ball, but a big globular shell two thousand miles thick. I could rig up a level, I suppose; work out an approximation of the curvature.”

From the smooth winding path which they had followed there sounded behind them hurrying footsteps; a moment later Loah stood beside him.

Her eyes gave unmistakable corroboration of what Gor had said of that torrent of tears, but she looked at Dean bravely, while every show of emotion was erased from her face. “You sent for me,” she said.

And Rawson, though now he knew he could speak to her and be understood, found himself at a loss for words.

“We wanted you with us, Gor and I,” he began, then paused. She was so different from the girl whose smiling eyes had welcomed him. The change had come when he spoke those first words on his arrival, and now she was so coldly impersonal.

“I wanted to thank you. You saved my life; you were so brave, so....” Again he hesitated; he wanted to tell her how dear, how utterly lovely, she had seemed.

“It was nothing; it has pleased me to do it,” she said quietly, then walked on ahead while the others followed. But Rawson knew that that slim body was tense with repressed emotion. He had not realized how he had looked forward to seeing again that welcoming light in her eyes. He was still puzzling over the change as they entered a natural cave in the mountainside.

A winding passage showed between sheer walls of snow white, where giant crystals had parted along their planes of cleavage. Then the passage grew dark, but he could see that ahead of them it opened to form a wider space. There were lights on the walls of the room, lights like the one that Loah had carried. And on the floor were rows of tables where men were busy at work, writing endlessly on long scrolls of parchment.

“The Wise Ones,” Gor was saying. “Servants of the Holy Mountain.” Yet even then men knelt at Rawson’s coming as had the other more humble people. They then returned to their tables, and in that crystal mountain was only the sound of their scratching pens and the faint sigh of a breeze that blew in through a hidden passage to furnish ventilation.

Yet there were some at those tables whose pens did not move; they seemed to be waiting expectantly. One of them spoke. “The time is near,” he said. “Are the Servants prepared?”

And the waiting ones answered: “We are prepared.”

Rawson glanced sharply about. “What hocus-pocus is this?” he was asking himself. Still the silence persisted. He looked at the waiting men, motionless, their heads bent, their hands ready above the parchment scrolls. He saw again the white walls, the single broad band of some glittering metal that made a continuous black stripe around walls and ceiling and floor.

“What kind of ore is that?” he was asking himself silently. “It’s metallic; it runs right through the mountain. I wonder ”

His idle thoughts were never finished. A ripping crash like the crackle of lightning in the vaulted room! Then a voice the mountain itself was speaking speaking in words whose familiar accent brought a sob into his throat.

“Station K-twenty-two-A,” said the voice of the mountain, “the super-power station of the Radio-news Service at Los Angeles, California.”

“It’s tuned in!” gasped Rawson. “Tuned in on the big L. A. station! A gigantic crystal detector! Those heavy laminations of imbedded metal furnish the inductance.” Then his incoherent words ended the mountain was speaking.

“Radiopress dispatch: The invasion of the mole-men has not been checked. Army Air Force fought a terrific engagement about midnight, last night, and met defeat. Over one hundred fighting planes were brought down in flames. Even the new battle-plane type, the latest dreadnoughts of the air, succumbed.

“Heavy loss of life, although civilian population of three towns had been evacuated before the mole-men destroyed them. Gordon Smith is reported killed. Smith was associated with Dean Rawson in the Tonah Basin where the mole-men first appeared. With Colonel Culver of the California National Guard, Smith was returning from Washington in an Army dreadnought which crashed back of the enemy’s lines.”

Rawson’s tanned face had gone white; he knew the others were looking at him curiously, all but the men at the tables whose pens were flying furiously across the waiting scrolls. Before him the face of Loah, suddenly wide-eyed and troubled, swam dizzily. He could scarcely see it he was seeing other sights of another world.

“They’re out,” he half whispered. “The red devils are out and Smithy Smithy’s gone!”