The Treasure of Atlantis, by J. Allan Dunn, , at sacred-texts.com
For what seemed like hours, but what was in reality only a few minutes, Kiron and his companions traversed unused passages until they had reached the street. As they emerged from the palace, the earth shook violently, and a number of men were thrown to the ground. The sky was leaden where the great pall of the volcano shifted above the city, lit up by sudden flashes. The lake was covered with waves in which fish floated by the thousands, and steam hung above the surface like a low fog.
Here and there along the causeway sections of cornices had fallen. Apparently tremors, which had gone unnoticed in the low level of the temple during the intense fighting, had been occurring with greater frequency.
Kiron led them to the boats in which he had landed his men. As the band showed themselves on the main causeway, howls of rage greeted them. Behind them, they saw the first ranks of the infuriated populace, some of the guards, and a few of the bolder priests, who burst from the temple entrance like angry hornets.
The boats were boarded and pushed into the lake with less than a hundred feet to spare, but the pursuers poured into other vessels, and their oars lashed the water to a frenzied foam. Morse, Laidlaw, and the two Indians sought to discourage them with their rifles, but the odds were too great. And many of the pursuing craft, with two tiers of oars, were gradually overhauling
"We'll have to land on Sele," shouted Kiron. "We can fight them from the water stairs and have the temple to fall back to."
"We'll have to watch out or they'll flank us," said Morse, remembering the cove. "Are there any other landing places besides that one they used to capture us?" he asked Leola.
"There are none," she answered.
"Then Maya and Xolo can guard the cove with a dozen men and their guns. If only we had more rifles!"
The little group moved away quickly, following the Indians. There was little time for talk, barely time to range themselves upon the shallow steps of Sele, before the leading galley moved alongside, and the fight was on again.
Morse and Laidlaw checked the first attack, but ammunition was running low. Moreover, their opponents were now fully convinced that the volcanic eruption and earthquake were caused by the actions of the priestess and the outsiders, and they fought desperately. Soon, the lower steps were covered with dead and dying, but the attack did not waver. Step by step the little force retreated, fighting tenaciously. Behind shields set edge to edge, they wielded their swords, while those in the second line flung short javelins or thrust with long spears.
The defenders held the advantage of the steps which had been hewn from the rocky bed of the island. Yet, they were rolled back inevitably toward the temple. Three galleys had landed, and in the distance additional ships were leaving the city.
The guards, trained fighters that they were, fought like fiends. Their giant leader appeared invulnerable as he swung his ax with frightful and deadly dexterity, changing it to either hand as the occasion demanded and shouting wild cries to which his henchmen responded. Kiron attacked him and was beaten to his knees, recovering under the prompt covering of friendly shields.
At last the little band of defenders found themselves unable to retreat—they had been backed against the columns of the temple. Laidlaw and Morse were close
beside each other when they fired their last cartridges. Morse stooped to secure a spear, and, as he rose, the giant guardsman, cleaving a way through the wavering ranks, charged at him. His swift leap evaded Morse's spearthrust, and with a shout of triumph he leaped in, ax swinging high. Morse was off-balance, and there was no aid at hand. Laidlaw was throttling an assailant in his powerful hands, and the balance of Kiron's men were reeling in near-exhaustion. Before Morse could ready himself for a defense, something whistled past his ear. The giant guardsman, with a look of astonishment, dropped his ax and flung up both arms.
From his broad chest protruded the feathered shaft of an arrow. Others began to fly, two in a volley, straight to their marks. Morse secured the bronze battleax that had threatened him and turned to see Leola and her companion, Lycida, loosing arrow after arrow against their attackers. There were no bows to be used in retaliation. The weapon had become almost obsolete and was used only by the priestesses of Pasiphae as a sacred symbol.
Morse waved at Leola, and she called out encouragement. Laidlaw had found a sword and was swinging it around him with unquenchable fury, the great scientist lost in a berserk madness. Morse, ax in hand, fought to his side, and together they inspired a rally that drove back the attackers. As the fighting ceased, Maya and Xolo came up on the run, followed closely by the men who had been dispatched to guard the other landing. They reported that an earthquake had closed the cove, squeezing the rocks into a high dike. These reinforcements were welcome, particularly the weapons with the few remaining cartridges.
But it could only be the beginning of the end. Less than a dozen of the initial force remained on their feet. The survivors were wounded, bruised, almost too weary to lift their weapons. Twenty boats were on the lake, bringing certain death closer at every oar pull.
In the breathing space allotted by fate they greeted each other with grim smiles. The two priestesses stood close to the men they had chosen over their vows, and Laidlaw surveyed them with looks of kindly sympathy. The scientist looked like a Viking warrior,
with his hair and beard in a ruffled mane. Bare from the waist, his body was splotched with blood, and there was a nasty cut on one forearm. He had set a helmet on his head, and a gory sword was still clutched in one hand.
"It's a good way to go out," he grinned. "I've always thought I'd like to be in one good, smashing fight. And we've had it. Ey! Here they come!"
The lovers embraced for a final time. The flotilla was less than a hundred yards away, and shouts of vengeance carried from them. The three galleys that had first pursued them floated idly, covered with dead and dying, a monument to the bravery of the hunted. But less than twenty remained able to give battle to an enemy numbering more than a thousand.
A frightful roar came from the volcano. The cloud pall shook and scattered as flame shot up. The crate . r lip became a molten mass that slowly moved down the steep slopes, erasing the snow. The island quivered, shook. Behind them temple columns toppled and crashed down. The water stairs were split in two, the edges grinding and working hungrily against each other. A great wave suddenly slapped at the land and sent its scalding spray among them. The men in the boats ceased to row. A second lava overflow spilled from the crater in time with a second shock.
Leola clutched at Morse's arm.
"Look!" she cried, pointing to the northern shore. The wall of the lake was opening! The mountain dissolved before their eyes, a great wedge splitting below the water line. Clouds of fine ash began to fall, covering the lake with scum and the land with fine powder that choked them., The boats were now rowing frantically for the farther shore.
"They'll never make it," said Laidlaw. "The current will grip them. They'll go over that Niagara—listen to the sound of it. The lake's emptying! Damn these ashes; my mouth's full of them!"
They climbed the shattered steps and entered the half-ruined temple. Leola led them to an inner chamber where they found food and drink. And somehow they ate by the light of a pair of torches. The temple lights had been destroyed, and the sifting ashes turned
the day to a choking twilight. The volcanic dust became unbearable, and they descended into the temple crypts, where flashlight rays exposed rows of skeletons in niches hollowed from the rock.
Laidlaw examined the latter.
"Lava," he said. "The whole island's built out of it. These tunnels are of volcanic formation. I'm afraid that we and Atlantis are going to go out together."
Morse took Leola in his arms. "Are you afraid?" he asked.
"Afraid? Of what? No matter where the path leads, we go down it together."
"I believe we'll get clear," said Kiron optimistically. "Do you remember Tele's prediction? That with courage we would win through? I have faith in that last Oracle of his. He was generally too correct to be popular."
Encouraged by Kiron, they fought the hours in silence. No ashes reached them, but the air grew foul and hot. Twice earth tremors of lessening violence loosened ancient skeletons upon them. Gradually the temperature increased until they could endure it no longer.
"Lava rising in the old channels," announced Laidlaw. "But the shocks seem to have ended. Suppose we take a look."
The world on which they gazed was new to them. The wan rays of the setting sun shone tired and old upon a gray landscape. The volcanic ash had ceased to fall, but everywhere there was a fine dust—uprooted trees, damaged buildings, all powdered to the same dreary shade. The water stairs—what was left of them—ended in a sheer drop to what had been the lake. The water had fallen thirty feet, and the turbid current swirled slowly toward the gap in the mountains through which it still poured with the noise of a distant cataract. There was not a boat to be seen.
The city of Dor stood upon cliffs. Many of its buildings had fallen, and its palace and temple were on fire. Little remained that had escaped nature's hand of destruction. Nor was there any sign of human survival. The volcano vomited its pall of smoke, black above,
blood-red below, and the slow lava stream had almost reached the line of trees. Everything was dull with the gray film that floated in patches upon the dying lake. Here was the abomination of desolation.
"Not a cheerful outlook," said Morse. "But it is an outlook!"
"There are no boats," said Kiron.
"There are trees," Morse answered. "We can build a raft."
Three months later there was talk across the table in Morse's dining room.
"I think I'll go back to Atlantis," said Laidlaw. Kiron made a face. "Haven't you had enough of destruction?" he asked.
Laidlaw smiled. "I don't think you four have been married long enough for me to coax away the grooms, but I want to finish my researches, and with Kiron's permission I'm going to form a company."
"A company for what?" asked Kiron. "And why with my permission?"
"Because you should have the first claim on it. The lake bottom off the temple water stairs ought to be high and dry by now. There's a fortune lying there in gold and jewels to be picked up."
"Getting a mercenary streak, Laidlaw?" laughed Morse.
"Money is always useful, if only to leave to godchildren," answered the scientist. "I'll use most of it for archeological researches, with the exception of the possible legacies just mentioned. Want to come with me, Kiron?"
The late king of Atlantis shook his head.
"We haven't started on what you call our honeymoon yet. Better come with us, Laidlaw. We are going to spend it in Crete."
"A lot of company you'd be to me, or I to you," said the scientist. "I prefer Atlantis. How about you, Morse? Think of the treasure-trove we can uncover."
"I think," said Morse, as his hand closed over that of Leola's, "that as far as I'm concerned, I have the treasure of Atlantis."