The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
The hidden way led downward with sudden dips and turns. Along the route they passed through two ancient doors, both several inches thick and encased in metal. They were opened only after Kiron had spoken through a tube and set in motion delicately balanced machinery that was controlled by the action of a diaphragm. Finally, they came to the end of the passage—to face a blank wall.
Silencing his companions, Kiron blew into a pipe that ran into the wall. For a minute nothing happened, and then a soft, muffled whistle penetrated back through the tube. Laidlaw and Morse exchanged glances as Kiron spoke swiftly into the tube and stepped back. The wall slid silently away, and they crowded into a room that was almost filled by the numbers of their party.
An old man, bowed nearly double, so that his straggling beard swept the floor, greeted them. The men of the king's party moved a step backward, involuntarily, awed to be in the presence of the astrologer who could read in the stars the secrets of their life and death.
The stargazer wore a black robe emblazoned with rayed disks worked in gold and silver. On his breast was the representation of the sun, centered by an opal that changed color at every laboring breath. His hands shook palsiedly. The wrinkled skin of his face held the unhealthy pallor of shadowed fungi. Only his two eyes lived, and they mated the opal of the ornament.
His first words halted the king's speech. "I expected you, Kiron," he said simply, in a deep voice that was astonishingly vibrant. "You and the strangers. The stars have told me." He pointed to a circular stone on which was engraved a mass of symbols.
"In the month of Pasiphae, in this generation, disaster shall come to Atlantis. Disaster from within and without. The appointed time is here. As the stars are born in flame and perish in dead ashes, so nations rise and fall as the gods have appointed.
"Still, the children of Atlantis will not perish in entirety. In an alien land, you"—he pointed a wavering finger at Kiron—"will survive with the priestess
you love. In the far days to come, your son's son shall once again rule the people of Minos. And you"—he fixed his lustrous eyes upon a fascinated Morse—"you, too shall breed those who will restore the ancient glory of Atlantis.
"Last night, I read the Stars. Soon you will travel beneath constellations I have never seen; yet ones I know well. You will tread a path laid out aeons before you drew your first breath. I have prophesized this to Ru and his priests, but because I have refused to twist the inexorable law that is written in the sky to their ambitions, I am discredited.
"What is your will?"
Kiron explained quickly, and the sage nodded.
"Rest in the best manner that you can until I call you," he said. "I go to read the symbols of the night. No one will suspect your presence here. Will you come with me, man of another land?" he asked Laidlaw. "My time is short, and yet I would exchange knowledge with you. The brain may die, but knowledge is incorruptible. When we return I will place you behind the calendar disk in a hollow that is unknown to Ru. The disk is pierced in its carving, and you can observe all that passes, and at the chosen moment enter the temple.
"The way is difficult, and the omens tell of hardship and death. Yet courage will take you to your end."
Laidlaw and the astrologer disappeared up a narrow, winding stair, and the party relaxed as far as cramped quarters would permit. There could be no thought of sleep in the anxiety of what was to come,: and presently Kiron arose.
"The way should be clear now," he said. "I will return to my quarters by the way that we entered, and then leave the palace in disguise. We can use the men who are at my villa. I think the tunnel to the outer world will be guarded, but there is an old exit at the northern end of the lake that was closed many years ago. Still, we may be able to open it—if we can get that far."
Morse tried to dissuade him, but the king was resolute.
"We must have more men," he said, and Morse reluctantly acknowledged this. Even with the advantage
given them by their firearms, they would be smothered quickly by the sheer weight of the numbers opposing them.
Kiron departed, and the moments dragged until Tele and Laidlaw returned.
"There are two hours left before daylight," said Laidlaw, "and the night is almost as bright as day with the reflection from the volcano. Unless I miss my guess, we're going to see an eruption within twenty-four hours. We counted four shocks while we were on the parapet, and the city is beginning to awaken. Ru has sent messengers out to keep the people informed."
"Damn him!" said Morse. "I won't miss the next time I get a shot at him. Did you see anything of Kiron?"
"We didn't see him, and we were careful not to expose ourselves," said Laidlaw, once Morse had explained the king's errand. "There are many boats on the lake. The priestesses from Sele have arrived, and we heard them chanting."
Aside to Morse, he said: "Tele has cast his lot with us. By giving us sanctuary he will be linked to us the moment we show ourselves from behind the calendar stone. He is a rare mixture of shrewdness and more than a smattering of real science. I hope we can take him back with us. I like him. You haven't brought anything along to eat, have you?"
"Not I," Morse answered. "Didn't you satisfy yourself at the feast?"
"My mouth was filled with words when it should have been full of meat," said Laidlaw wryly.
"I'm afraid you'll be long hungry before our next meal. We've got to be moving."
They filed down a slanting corridor to find themselves in a circular chamber closed by a great circle of stone slitted with deep carving on its unexposed side. The flashlight showed a bronze pipe that was fitted with a mouthpiece leading to a box-like affair above the stone.
"Tele's private megaphone by which he spouts his oracles," guessed Laidlaw. He switched off his flashlight at the astrologer's directive.
They crowded around the openings that looked into
the Hall of Sacrifice. The darkness harbored them, and they waited, fingering their weapons nervously.
Suddenly, lights appeared in the inner chamber. The hall was revealed in all its vastness, a forbidding place carved from solid rock. Frescoes of frightening sacrificial rites decorated the walls. Directly in line with the calendar stone was an altar, a high platform built of massive blocks on which rested a golden flower, its petals closed upon its center. Above it loomed the savage figure of the deity, cross-legged, clad in a loin cloth, a mighty idol with the head of a bull. Its eyes glowed crimson, and one hand held a torch that spouted a flame of natural gas. The other held a golden goblet. Steps led up to the altar, and on either side stood two thrones of marble.
A murmur of voices reached the ears of the hidden people. Before them Ru and his attendants entered the chamber and prostrated themselves before the altar. They were clad in ceremonial vestments that fairly coruscated with gems and polished metal.
Morse's finger itched on the trigger of his pistol. Only the knowledge that a shot would destroy all chances of saving Leola restrained him.
A priest advanced to a pillar that was hewn in rough semblance of a human figure with bowed shoulders that supported the roof of the chamber. He pressed a center spot in the carved figure. Slowly the petals of the flower lifted and fell back until they formed the rays of the sun about a transparent center of crystal through which shone a ruddy glow. Another man worked a lever from behind one of the thrones. A grating noise could be heard; Ru and the priests stepped rapidly aside as a portion of floor opened before them, and the chamber was filled with the glare and heat of a roaring furnace, Tongues of fierce flame increased the temperature perceptibly before the opening closed again.
"The Spot of Sacrifice," whispered Laidlaw. "Connected by a shaft with the volcano itself, I think. At dawn, the sun shines through a crack that penetrates the roof and faces the east. The gem is the finger of Minos which stirs his emblem, the sun flower, to life. With its opening the shaft is uncovered, and the victim is hot into the incandescent lava.
"Of course the sunbeam is a theatrical trick. The devilish invention works mechanically. But the finger of Minos is a vital part of the ritual that ties it to the supernatural. And Tele declares it will not pierce the slit today, though there is no eclipse due. He thinks the smoke from the volcano will veil the sun, and he's probably right. It should put a hitch in Ru's ceremonial."
"I hope so," said Morse anxiously. "I'm afraid something may have happened to Kiron. He's got to be here before daylight to do us any good or to avoid discovery."
Ru and his followers, satisfied that the hellish machinery was in working order, departed. The lights still burned in the Hall of Sacrifice, and from beyond the walls the silent watchers could hear the faint sound of chanting.
After a time, a column of guards filed in and fixed ropes to keep back the populace who were never allowed too close to the "divine" mysteries. When this was completed, some of the men took up stations by the main entrance, and the crowd swarmed in. Their murmur of conversation was subdued in the presence of the god and the nature of the circumstance.
Finally, Ru and his train made their entrance. In another part of the chamber, a door opened, and the sound of chanting became clear and loud. The priestesses of Pasiphae, their white and silver vestments changed for robes of somber purple that was almost a black marched toward the altar. In their midst Leola and Lycida walked with heads erect.
Four of the priests received the victims, as the priestesses took up a station to the right of the altar, standing opposite to the attendants of Ru. There was a long pause.
In the hidden cavity behind the calendar stone, Morse and Laidlaw could hear the beating of their hearts as they prayed for Kiron's coming. They counted a double company of guards within the Hall of Sacrifice, and another detachment entered in company with Rana, who passed by Leola with a look of triumph. She seated herself majestically on one of the thrones, while the other—the throne of Kiron—
The priests of Minos began a sacred song to the sun. Ru stood in an expectant attitude, glancing above him to the cut in the roof through which the sunbeam would fall. The four priests bound the feet of the victims, and Leola was left standing on the Spot of Sacrifice.
At Tele's bidding, the little company grouped to one side behind the calendar stone. The astrologer readied himself to touch the mechanism that would swing the stone on a pivot, watching Morse intently. Morse, in turn, watched every move of the priests for the first suggestion of a movement that would cause the flower to open.
But Ru cast anxious looks at the slot above him. The lights had been lowered to make the appearance of the sunbeam more effective, but nothing happened. Twice the priests repeated the final phrases of their chant:
No finger of light appeared. The people shifted uneasily, and a deep voice sounded:
It was the voice of the Oracle. For a moment even Ru was startled. Morse could see the frightened eyes of the guards as Tele's impressive voice boomed through his megaphone. He had confided the secret of the sunbeam's non-appearance. The earthquake had loosened courses from the roof, but, with characteristic mystery, reserved this knowledge until it became necessary to use every second of delay.
Ru grew furious, aware that his own tricks were being used against him. He faced the people knowing that he must act without delay.
"By Re and Minos," he cried, "the Oracle speaks falsely. The sun is veiled by the smoke from the volcano.
[paragraph continues] But its power can pierce the cloud. Look! The sun flower opens!"
A priest had moved silently to the pillar and touched the hidden stud. The rays began to lift. A second priest advanced toward the lever that would precipitate Leola into the shaft as the heart of the flower was disclosed.
The calendar stone revolved on its edge, and Morse, Laidlaw, and their band swept into the temple. Laidlaw fired at the priest, who dodged unhurt behind Rana's throne as soon as he caught sight of them. Morse caught Leola to his side, while Rana, maddened by rage and jealousy, leaped at her sister with an upraised knife. From behind the throne Ru cried out to stop her, but the queen gave him not so much as a look. At that moment a portion of the floor rolled back, and a great tongue of flame shot almost to the temple roof. Rana shrieked, dropped her weapon, and covered her face with her hands, seared and blinded with the leaping flames. She tottered and fell forward with a hideous shriek into the shaft of death.
The temple became a bedlam. The guards fell back momentarily, then attacked the band with fury, pressing them back toward the calendar stone. Suddenly, Kiron appeared behind them with a body of fifty men, and the guards fell back before these new reinforcements. The king moved forward swiftly and pulled Lycida from the arms of a pair of Ru's henchmen who had sought to push her into the flames.
For a moment, there was a lull in the fighting, and then Ru's strong voice called out. He urged the multitude to avenge their queen and the profanation of the temple, and the spectators, who had been silent spectators to the fierce battle, looked at each other dumbly. Ru's urging was renewed, and then with a thunderous roar the mob surged forward. Morse had time to set Leola behind the stone, and then joined Laidlaw and the two Indians in a fusillade at their attackers. But the wave could not be stopped; the numbers were too great.
Tele was down, gasping his life away with a great wound in his breast. And Kiron himself was hard pressed until Laidlaw, noticing the king's peril, shot two of his closest adversaries. Ru, his passion kindled by the overpowering rush of the multitude, forgot his
danger in the impending victory. He moved from his sanctuary behind the throne, shrieking his hate. And for just a moment he was revealed to Morse.
The American steadied himself and his aim was true. A crimson star blazed on the forehead of the high priest, and he screamed, spun wildly, and plunged headlong into the fiery pit.
In the next minute the band was behind the great stone, and Kiron fumbled for the hidden spring. He found it, and the ponderous mass shut out the furious attackers.