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Out of the fastness of the night steeped jungle, from nowhere and from everywhere, from the star-studded sky overhead and the foetid earth beneath, came a thin, sibilant, crackling sound, like the parting of a taut violin string. Swiftly it ran around the rim of the world, like a sharp sword slicing the night in twain. Then it withdrew into the unknown void that gave it birth. The jungle was silent. Too silent. . . .

Dick Markle dropped his pipe.

"There it is again," he whispered.

Lean, leathery-faced Dr. Burstone nodded his iron-gray head.

Bright flecks of light gleamed again in his dull, knowledge-weary eyes, eager lights, they were, as if the spirit of youth still burned in that old body.

"I heard it," he answered softly. "If you turn around, you'll see it."

Dick whirled. They were standing on top of the Pyramid of the Sun which formed part of a far-flung colony of the ancient Mayas that they had discovered hidden and long deserted in the jungle of northern South America.

They were no longer alone on the flat-topped structure. An upright oval of golden fire as tall as a man was glowing on the western edge of the parapet. It was not flame in the meaning of the word when it is associated with combustion, there was no suggestion of heat, the glow was not feeding on anything. It looked like a huge football standing on end and was about the same color. It apparently was electrical in nature, and slightly resembled ball lightning, except that no lightning ball ever known to man was a hundredth part as large as this.

DICK heard Burstone catch his breath. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw that the old ethnologist was trembling, yet Dick knew it was not from fear. The scientist did not know the meaning of that word.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"I don't know, lad," Burstone answered. "Don't move. Something is going to happen."

The golden bubble of flame glowed more vividly. Its flame came from innumerable coruscating points that were visible yet did not illuminate the soft tropic darkness. It glowed like yellow witch- fire, like golden phosphorescence.

As they watched, the pin-points of light swirled, glimmered, raced in weird circles, coalesced, took on a vague outline. It looked like a television receiver that was out of phase with the transmitter; racing across the reception screen was an incoherent ramification of swirling white dots.

The lambent dots of light moved into phase and almost disappeared, leaving only a thin bubble of golden light.

Within that bubble of flame was a girl.

The golden light played over her lithe body, shimmered from the metal ornaments that covered her breasts, flickered and danced from a light skirt that fell half-way to her knees, coalesced in the circle of metal that crossed her forehead, met in an arch at the top of her small head, played lovingly through the midnight hair that cascaded over her shoulders. In her right hand she held a slender rod. Markle gasped. That rod was ornamented with the design of the Feathered Serpent, potent symbol among the prehistoric Mayans.

Dick started to move forward, but he felt Burstone's hand tighten on his arm.

"Easy, Markle," the old scientist whispered, suppressed eagerness vibrating in his voice. "She is carrying the scepter of the Feathered Serpent. I think she is probably a priestess of Zipantoric."

"But what is it, a mirage?" the younger man questioned.

"I don't think so. I think that girl is alive, somewhere."

"How can she be alive? The Mayans mysteriously disappeared centuries ago."

"Perhaps, somewhere in this wilderness, a colony survived, and expanded their science to dizzy heights, outstripping, with their earlier start, the younger science of the Aryan races." Burstone's voice was alive with eagerness.

"Maybe," he continued, "we are seeing the transmission of images to any desired spot without the necessity of cumbersome receiving apparatus. It sounds impossible but who knows that it is impossible. Anything may be true. Watch. . ."

Imperiously, the girl in the golden bubble raised the rod. She had the haughty, regal bearing of a queen who was accustomed to commanding and having her commands obeyed.

If it was a mirage, a television projection, it was a remarkably realistic one. Dick could see the tiny ear-rings she wore in the lobes of her golden pink ears. He could see the deep black of her eyes, and the haughty look that was within them.

She raised the scepter, brought down the tip, so that it pointed at them. She could see them, she knew they were there!

Dick felt that the finger of fate was pointing at them. He had the feeling when her scepter pointed at him that he was being selected for some unguessed sacrifice to some unknown but potent deity. It had the appearance of a ritual, the selection of a victim.

The haughty look within her eyes confirmed this feeling.

He shook off Burstone's arm, stepped forward, his lithe six feet overshadowing the girl.

When he moved she seemed to become aware of his existence as an individual. The haughty look in her eyes faded, she looked at him as a girl may look at a man, and in her eyes was suddenly startled concern.

Dick's face was oddly pinched as he gazed at her. In his mind was turmoil, which coalesced in a nervous tension that was transmitted to his muscles. He did not will to act, he did not know where his muscles got their orders.

IGNORING Burstone's warning shout he leaped into that bubble of golden fire. A wave of sick agony shot through his body, the bubble collapsed, he held in his arms a writhing struggling girl.

She was real. He could feel her. What he had thought was a mirage was reality. The girl was alive, here. Burstone's flashlight cut a cone of radiance through the night; The girl cowered away from it. She was afraid of that flashlight.

"Release her, lad," Burstone whispered.

Dick let his arms drop. She slipped out of his grasp, drew herself erect, stood proud and haughty before them, only tiny muscular tremors showing that she was frightened. She flinched, but she faced the flashlight. Its rays poured over her golden brown body.

She spoke. Markle, standing, beside her, saw her lips move and knew that he heard the words. At that moment it did not occur to him to think it strange that he knew what the words meant.

"Who dares to profane Zantha by touching her sacred body?"

"Mayan!" ejaculated Burstone. "She is speaking Mayan. I recognize elements of it."

"But the meaning of her words," Markle interrupted. "I know what her words mean—in English! When she speaks, I see mental pictures. . . and I know what she is saying. . ."

He turned to the girl. "How. . ."

"You have the answer," she replied. "I make you see pictures in your mind, and you know what I am saying. . ."

"Mental telepathy!" Burstone gasped. "Brought to perfection."

"Can you understand us?" he asked the girl.

"Certainly. You and your comrade have strong minds and I can easily grasp your thought impulses."

"Who are you?" Burstone continued. "I am Zantha, which means high priestess to. . ." She stopped, a glint of fear coming into her eyes. Burstone and Markle got a chaotic mental image of fright.

"Listen," she breathed. "Do you hear them?"

Dimly, vaguely, lost in the tropic night came a sobbing, rhythmic rumble. It was flung upward to the hot stars that throbbed through the hot darkness and flung by them back to earth. The two men listened. Like the beat of a gigantic heart, it pounded into their minds, rousing impulses buried deep under the culture of centuries. Each vaguely remembered things he had known in some long time as he listened to that sobbing murmur coming from afar through the jungle night. Thin ghosts rose to stalk through their minds, specter wraiths from the long ago when the impossible happened on earth, and men believed it.

"Drums!" said Markle softly.

No other word was spoken. Out of Burstone's and Markle's minds, over nerve paths anciently rutted, a tenseness crept to the muscles. Deep within their bodies chemical changes took place that they did not know about. Each tendon sent in an order for an extra supply of blood, each nerve cell gave the command to clear the decks for action.

Markle bent to the stone ledge, picked up a heavy hunting rifle he had laid there when they climbed the pyramid.

Burstone saw the movement but said nothing.

And now a new note came into the sobbing of the drums.

At first it had been questioning, complaining; now it was compelling. And it threatened. Definitely it threatened. All living things that moved upon the earth were included in the magnificent sweep of its threat. Subtly yet incisively it voiced a warning.

"They've changed," said Dick Markle.

"I hear it," Doctor Burstone answered.

Somewhere, off to the west where the Andes pushed up toward heaven, the drums were throbbing frenziedly. And now, nearer at hand, another drum took up the beat.

Thum, thum, thum. . . thum, thum, thum. . . . No written word will convey the meaning of the drums.

Zantha knew what they meant. There was no trace of fear-on her features when she spoke. Her chin was up. Haughtily, proudly, she faced the west. Somewhere, somehow, she had learned how to die.

"The Wardens are coming for us," she said.


"WHO are the Wardens?" Dick questioned. "Why are they coming for us?

What will they do?"

"Those whose duty it is to guard Zipantoric, they are coming. They come for you because I named you to be offered on the altar. They come for me because you have touched me, have profaned me. No one may touch the high priestess. . ."

"Zipantoric!" Burstone whistled. "The fire god of the Mayans! Somewhere near here his tomb must still exist, his worship preserved by this lost colony. What a find! Our names will go down in history!" The old ethnologist was wildly excited.

"What will they do to you?" Dick asked, his mind reverting to Zantha.

"I shall see Zipantoric," she answered, her voice a hard whisper in the night.

"Those who see Zipantoric never wish to see anyone else," Burstone interpolated. "She means she will be sacrificed."

"Not while I have a cartridge for this rifle," Markle grimly interrupted.

"Your little weapon will not stop the Wardens," she disdainfully replied. Markle could not grasp the meaning of the thought image that she used.

"I pity any Warden that gets in my sights," he answered. "Meanwhile let's start getting out of this country, while we can. Another drum is talking out there, now. If we can make the river, we'll have a chance."

As they scrambled down the pyramid, their way lighted by Burstone's multi-celled flashlight, they heard still another drum start its frenzied pounding. They moved rapidly. The drums drove them to haste. Deep within their minds long untouched nerve centers knew what the drums were hunting. For they are old, as old as the race; and fear is older.

Off beyond the rim of the world another drum was booming. The dull throbbing stalked like beasts of prey through the jungle darkness. Like the great carnivora, they were hunting in the night, hunting for something.

Burstone, moving rapidly in advance of Zantha and Markle, marveled at the effect that throbbing note had on a civilized mind. Wise was he in the history of the race. To ethnology he had devoted the study of a life time. The rumble of primitive drums awakened something in him that he scarcely knew existed.

Their camp was but a few hundred yards distant. When they reached it, they found it deserted. The native workers they had employed to help them in excavating the ruins of this lost city had fled into the jungle night.

The savage fears the darkness more than any other thing. His imagination peoples it with hobgoblins, evil spirits. He knows from bitter experience that the beasts of prey are there and he is afraid. Burstone knew this and he marveled at the magnitude of the fear that sent natives to hiding in the place they feared most.

One native alone remained. Pedro, their guide and interpreter, was sulking in the main tent, searching for something to steal before he left. Markle collared him.

"Where are the men, Pedro?"

"They 'fraid, and run off. . ."

"The devil! It's lucky you didn't get away. You can guide us to the river. Pedro, you savvy the drums. What say?"

Pedro squirmed, glanced nervously at the dark forest.

"No can tell."

"Cleanse the filth out of your ears and listen again. What say?"

"They talk of Zipantoric, master. They say. . . he comes. . ."

"How does he. . . Hey! Stop!"

But the guide had slipped around the corner of the tent They saw him once in the light from the still glowing fires, a bronze shadow against the dark green of the environing forest verdure. He slipped past the bole of a gigantic tree and the jungle night swallowed him.

"Pah! He is afraid. The ignorant children of the forest are always full of fear," Zantha spoke. She had remained in the background and Pedro had not seen her.

MARKLE turned to her. "Zantha," he spoke slowly, "perhaps you can tell us how we can evade these Wardens. If we can get out of this section we will be safe. Far to the northward there is a great country where we can find refuge. There we can gather many men, and return and sweep this wilderness, but how can we escape now?"

"No one has ever escaped the Wardens. No one ever will. They follow the trail like hunting dogs until their quarry is captured. We cannot evade them. . . . Are. . . are you full of fear, like a child of the forest?"

"I am not afraid. . . for myself. If you can read my mind, you know why I am afraid."

She placed one hand shyly on his arm. "Yes. . . . I know. . . . We will try, but I do not think we will succeed. We must go toward the rising sun, as rapidly as we can. It may be that they will not be able to follow swiftly in the darkness."

Burstone went into their tent, came out with a small medicine kit, a knapsack of food, a rifle, extra ammunition.

"Get another light, extra batteries, a light pack of food," he said to his young assistant. . . . "Let's get out of here while we have the opportunity. The natives in all probability have a sound basis for the fear they have shown. I think Zantha knows what she is talking about, too. But we'll come back, if we have to bring the marines. . ."

There was a grimness in the tone of the old ethnologist. He meant what he said. He had seen enough to know that fame awaited him here in this wilderness, but fame amounted to little in comparison with the keen scientific curiosity which Zantha had aroused. He knew that she belonged to the divergent, dominant group that had ruled the Mayans in ancient times. From the skeletons found in the burial places ethnologists knew that the Mayans were dark-skinned, round-headed, short, and sturdy, but rave evidence indicated that another people, a taller people, had ruled them, and this ruling class had puzzled ethnologists for years. . . .Unquestionably Zantha belonged to that class. She would have at her finger tips the culture of the lost people, could explain their dispersion. Perhaps she could explain that golden bubble in which she had been transported from that lost city of the west to the peak of the Pyramid of the Sun.

She was waiting beside him while Markle rummaged in the tent. He spoke to her.

"Zantha, how did you reach the top of the pyramid where we found you? What was the appearance of fire that surrounded you?"

"The knowledge of its operation is not mine. I was sent out from the tomb in accordance with the ritual, to designate who shall see his face, the Great One. I enter a small chamber there, and move as I will to move. When your son leaped into the bubble, the force was broken. I do not know how it operates. It had always been there, since the Great One came from the sky. . ."

"My son?" Burstone was puzzled.

"The young man, whom you call now Deeck and now Mar-kel. Is he not your son?"

"No," Burstone answered. "I wish he was, but I have no son."

"He obeys you."

"Yes. He is my assistant. We have been studying the Mayan ruins here."

"I do not understand. If he is not your son is he your slave?"

"He is neither. In our civilization there are no slaves, except economic ones. Here he is now, ready to go. Later, Zantha, I will explain to you. If there is a later," he added, turning an ear to the sky where the thum-thum-thum-thum of the drums reverberated.

TOWARD the east they went, Burstone leading the way and Markle bringing up the rear. There was only a vestige of a trail which they had cleared when they entered this section. The fast growing vegetation had already reclaimed it in places. Thorns snatched at them, creeping briars tore at their clothes, low limbs obstructed their way. Dick, bringing up the rear, knew those briars must be tearing Zantha's bare legs, but he never heard a whimper out of her.

A mile, two miles, they fought their way forward. The beat of the drums kept pace with them, urged them to greater haste.

They topped a small hill. Burstone's light caught an object on the ground. A man lay there.

"Pedro," said Burstone tersely, bending over the prone figure.

Zantha and Markle came up. Markle held a light while Burstone lifted the head of the native in his arms, A narrow livid burn was seered across his face, cut to the bone. It touched the right eye and the eye-ball was a charred mass, arched down across the nose, which showed as a gaping hole, lay bare the right cheek, so that the teeth and jawbones were visible, cut a nasty gash across the right shoulder and arm. Another burn showed in the lower chest and angled downward toward the stomach.

Pedro opened his left eye, and in that single orb was madness. He tried to squirm away into the darkness, but no strength was left in his body.

"Easy, Pedro," Burstone soothed.

"We are your friends. What happened?"

Broken, halting native dialect came gaspingly from the torn lips. His voice was whining, pleading. Markle could not understand the words but Burstone leaned closer.

"Gods with tongues of fire from the grave of the fire god," the ethnologist translated. "He says they chased him, and they touched him with their tongues, which burned like fire. He says he ran away from us because the drums talked of the fire god, saying that the voice of the fire god had whispered in the night, and that the men who serve the fire god were abroad, seeking, seeking, seeking. . ."

Markle was sick at his stomach, sick with the meaning of the words and sick with nausea at the sight of the gaping teeth visible through the torn lips.

"He says they are here, now, watching us. . . . He says. . ."

The head of the native dropped lower. He died.

Very gently Burstone laid the torn body back on the earth. His eyes stabbed questions at Zantha.

"The poor forest child was struck by a beam from the flame rod of a Chosen One. A Warden found him. They have no compassion, these Wardens," there was a tiny tremor in her voice. "So they will treat us, when they find us. . ."

"How does this heat rod work?"

"I do not know. The Wardens point it at anything they wish to destroy, a bright light comes out, and whatever it is pointed at, burns. . ."

"Will it operate from inside the golden bubble?"

"The Wardens are not permitted to venture into the bubble. That is reserved for Zantha, the high priestess."

"I'm glad to learn that," Markle interposed. "I have been afraid those things would start dropping down on us by the dozens."

"They will not come in that manner, but they will come."

As she spoke a soft glow spread over them. It came on so softly and so smoothly that they scarcely realized it was happening. Zantha's sharp whisper brought Burstone to his feet, and whirled Markle around to face their rear.

TALL, faintly bronzed, statuesque, a man faced them, holding a short rod from which flooded a blaze of soft light. He was naked except for a glittering belt that circled his waist, bands that enclosed his biceps, and a conical headpiece. The features were regular, and very calm. No hint or trace of passion showed on that face. Neither good nor evil was there. Only a vast calmness that seemed to look down upon the world from a great height, that saw, and understood, and was unmoved. He looked like an ancient god from out of the olden times, before whose eyes had passed unnumbered sacrifices, to whom had been offered incense and smoke from the burning of flesh upon the altars, who had known fear and worship down the long roll of the centuries, and who was unmoved by human suffering.

A Chosen One, a Warden of Zipantoric. . . .

From his weapon streamed soft light, but Markle knew that from that short rod could come a beam that would sear through a human body, he knew it, but. . . He slipped the safety catch and his rifle roared from his hip.

A tiny hole appeared in the throat of the Warden, a red stream filled down the bronze chest. . . .

He did not move, but over his face shot a look of shocked surprise. To a Chosen One had come a new thing. It reft his calmness as a mask is torn from a mummer, and the tortured face, for one wild second, was the face of Moraus. The bullet, piercing the throat, had shattered the spinal column. . . . He slumped to the earth.


MARKLE caught a flash of amazement from the mind of Zantha. She had not thought that this could happen. Before her eyes a Warden had died. What manner of men are these—Markle caught the thought—who can so easily destroy a Chosen One?

"Sweet Joseph!" he heard Burstone mutter.

Markle wanted that short rod from which the soft light flooded. The still fingers of the Warden gripped it. He loosened them, carried it to Zantha, and she showed him how it operated. A tiny button on the side controlled the beam. He pointed it toward the forest, experimented with the button. The soft glow narrowed to a tiny ray, almost faded from sight. The hole of a near-by tree showed a spot of light, then burst into flame.

They left them there, Pedro and the Chosen One, together in death, and went on.

The trail plunged down into a ravine, down which a small stream went. The terrain was rocky, tortuous, hard going. Burstone fought his way through. There was a world of endurance in that wiry old body.

One by one the drums stopped, faded, disappeared. There was silence in the jungle, broken by the whimper of the night wind in the trees, by the rare call of a bird or animal. There was too mud: silence in the jungle, especially behind them.

Intruding in that silence came the whistles.

Zantha's keen ears heard them first, and she stopped abruptly, Markle stumbled against her, saw that she was listening. He called to Burstone.

Beginning with a faint piping far behind them, they came creeping closer, like elfin voices from the fairy world. Distant, shrill, keen, malevolent, the whistled notes came.

"It is the madness," Zantha whispered. She caught the question in the minds of the two men.

"All that hear the whistles go mad," she explained. "They skip, they jump, their bodies twitch, their mind goes away from them, they become like children. . . . It hurts. . ."

"Nonsense!" Markle ejaculated. "How can whistles do that?"

"Certain sounds properly pitched can destroy matter," Burstone answered. "I am not familiar with the process, but I know it is a problem of frequency. The right frequency, impinging on a human, could destroy his mind, temporarily or permanently. I suspect that Zantha knows what she is talking about. Compared to the heat ray you have, the whistles would be child's play."

"What can we do?"

"Nothing," Zantha answered, and he caught the hopelessness in her mind.

"They will come upon us in the darkness, and we will dance. . ."

"They will dance," he snarled, "if I can find them with this rifle."

"Come on," Burstone ordered. "We may be able to outdistance them."

He plunged forward at a steady trot that was almost a run.

The booming of the drums had been the vainglorious chest-pounding of a braggart; the whistles incisively voiced a far more deadly menace. High, thin, trilling notes, they were, that started far up in the scale and went beyond hearing. Markle wondered how the Wardens protected themselves from the sound, and questioned Zantha, but she did not know.

NEARER they came, like a pack of whistling dogs hot on the trail of running game. At a spot where gigantic boulders formed a natural fort Markle stopped.

"Take Zantha and go on," he said to Burstone. "I'll give them something to think about for a while, and when they're thinking, I'll catch up with you."

He had forgotten that Zantha could read his thoughts.

"No, Deeck," she said, slipped her hand through his arm. "If you stay, I stay too. . ."

"Beat it while you've got a chance. I can hold them hack for a time."

"You mean to die here, that we may have a chance to live," she answered.

Markle groaned. "Burstone, take her with you it you have to drag her. Hurry up. Those infernal screeches are just around the corner and I can already feel them working on me."

The old scientist leaned against a boulder. His breath was coming in great gasping pants.

"No, Dick," he answered. "I. . . I stay here. I can't go on anyhow. This old body. . . has carried me too far now. . . . I'll play Horatius. . . . You take Zantha. . . and go. . . with my blessing. . . ."

The ravine which they had traversed was hideous with a shrill cacophony of sound. From ahead of them, in the direction which tbey must go, came a shrill blast.

"I guess none of us will go," said Markle, lifting his rifle and peering vainly into the night for a target.

He moved away a few paces, laid his flashlight on a rock so that it would illuminate the trail they had just traversed, flipped the button, and skipped quickly away.

Its broad white beam caught three bronzed figures. Markle's rifle roared once, twice. One man slumped, the second fell and then crawled to the protection of a rock, the third skipped quickly away.

The screeching whistles stopped. A tiny beam of light came fingering over the rock where the flashlight lay, touched it, and the light burst into molten metal. Darkness came down and in the darkness the raucous whistles screamed angrily.

Closer they came, and closer. And shriller. There was a trace of wild, unearthly music in them, the piping that our forebears heard in the notes of the Goat-God. Something of Orpheus was there, whose magic lyre charmed wild beasts and moved trees to dance. They blended into sonorous cadence, moved up the scale, went out of hearing.

Zantha crouched against Markle. He could feel her body tremble. In his brain a wild echo of those shrill sounds beat, and beat, and heat. His fingers were moving, jerking. He lifted his rifle, threw aimless slug after aimless slug into the night.

Back into hearing came the notes, back down the scale. And a soft golden light came, illumining the rocky shelter wherein they crouched.

Markle could see Burstone still leaning against the boulder where he had taken up his position. Lines were etched deep in the face of the ethnologist. As Markle watched he saw him drop his rifle, saw his fingers flex, his arms jerk. Burstone started shuffling his feet.

In Markle's brain a trip-hammer beat. It found an echo in his muscles. Each time the hammer fell his muscles jerked. His arms, his legs would not obey his will. He found himself shuffling an aimless two-step.

He saw the bronze figures close in, felt his arms tied behind him, saw Zantha and Burstone taken. The whistles stopped, the trip-hammer subsided in his brain, strength flowed back to his body.

"That way," said a bronze figure pointing. With guards ahead and guards behind, they started back over the weary trail down which they had fled.

DAWN was in the sky when they reached the City of Zipantoric. It nestled in a depression well below the level of the hills surrounding it.

In the mists of the morning they could glimpse a huge ball surrounded by smaller structures. In reply to Markle's question Zantha indicated that this was the Tomb of Zipantoric.

They were taken to a small room, cut in solid stone, their bonds were removed, and food was given them.

"Breakfast is served," said Burstone grimly. "Let it be said of us that the condemned men ate a hearty breakfast."

"We will have no other," said Zantha quietly. "Tonight is the night of sacrifice. We shall see Zipantoric."

They finished breakfast. Markle found a crumpled package of cigarettes in his clothing.

"How do they manage this execution?" he asked, blowing blue smoke toward the ceiling. The hand that held the cigarette trembled.

Zantha was seated on a stone ledge that ran around the building.

They will take us. . . inside the temple," she answered. Her voice was a gray echo in the dawn. "We shall see Zipantoric. Then they will bring us out of the temple and tie us to the posts of sacrifice on the ledge around the temple. Fire will leap from the temple peak and we will be destroyed."

"It sounds simple," Burstone commented. "What is the nature of this fire that will destroy us?"

"It is like lightning," she replied. "The high priest, from inside the temple, sets it free."

A further explanation she could not give. She did not know. Sometime in the past there had been a mighty science among the Mayans, but ages had shrouded it, and this lost remnant of a people could not reproduce it. In answer to Burstone's question she told them how tradition handed down from the long past time said that Zipantoric came out of the sky, accompanied by other fire gods, who left him there and returned to the sky in their balls of fire, with instructions to this people that they were to ward him forever. The fire gods from the sky had given this colony of Mayans much knowledge and wonderful weapons, had taught them how to operate the golden bubble, the rod that burned, the whistles. They were the Chosen Ones, the Wardens, and their duty was to destroy all strangers who came near. They had been faithful to their trust for many centuries, how many she could not estimate. That was the legend. From what murky source it sprang Burstone could not understand.

"Why do they want to destroy you?" Markle interrupted. "You are one of them, you are their priestess."

"Because I have been touched, have been profaned. They will name a new priestess now."

Markle looked at her. "I'm sorry I touched you. I didn't know. . ."

She came to him. "Do not be sorry, Deeek. . . . Somehow, inside of me, I am a little glad. . ."

He squeezed her hand.


DEATH comes on swift relentless feet to those who know the hour when he will strike. Night soon tossed its dark shroud over the last colony of the Mayans. Markle, looking at Burstone, knew that this day had aged the old scientist. The lines on his face were deeply etched.

In their cell the three waited. And three guards came. Haughty and poised was their bearing, calm, aloof, immobile their faces. Soft golden light blazed from the rods they carried in their hands. Their fingers were ready on the buttons that would turn that soft glow into a searing beam.

Markle closed his mind. He forced himself to be Terrified—he did not need much forcing—to cringe. Over his thoughts he put a rigid embargo. Burstone and Zantha did likewise.

Out from their cell the Wardens led them, one guard in front and two behind. Burstone followed the first guard, then Zantha, then Markle.

They reached the open and saw a vast circle of people surrounding the temple. Every head in that throng was turned toward that huge ball, which was beginning to glow with a faintly luminous light.

A lane was clear through the crowd. Down that lane the first guard marched. A muffled drum started throbbing. Its slow measured beat wailed a dirge for the dying.

Zantha walked erect, her head held high. Courage that girl had. Her steps never faltered, her glance never strayed aside.

She would see Zipantoric. She would go to her god, but she would not go as a slave goes, cringing and fearful.

Over the crowd that hemmed in the huge luminous ball a heavy tenseness hung. They were waiting. . . waiting. . .

The guards led on, up the steps of stone that led to the temple. Markle saw the metal posts set around the ledge well above the crowd. A semicircle below each of them was here. Elsewhere the Mayans crowded, but upon these semicircles they did not crowd.

At the top of the steps a somber figure met them. Wearing a mask, garbed in metal bright with ornament, holding the scepter of the Feathered Serpent aloft in his right hand, thin, emaciated, age-weary, the high priest of Zipantoric stood.

Up the stone steps the high priest led them, the guard following, and into the door of the temple. Markle took one look at that door and suppressed an exclamation. It was built of massive metal swung on a strange hinge and it opened and locked from the inside. It opened into a small ante-chamber, which was as Zantha had said. He got ready.

The two guards had just stepped inside the opening when he whirled, his left fist driving out with all the strength in his hardened tendons. It caught one guard squarely in the stomach, and sank in through soft flesh. Breath whistled out of the lungs of the guard and a pained surprise leaped into his eyes. Never before had one revolted when he was to see Zipantoric. That the condemned walk to their doom erect was so firmly rooted in tradition that their hands had not even been bound. Zantha had foretold this.

Without pausing in his stride, Markle crossed with his right. It thudded home on the jaw of the second guard, who dropped his weapon, slipped, and fell headlong down the steps outside. The first guard had doubled up like a jack-knife, the bronze of his face tinged with green.

It had taken only a second.

Markle needed only one glance to know that he had nothing to fear from the guards behind him for a few minutes. He whirled to help Burstone but he saw that elderly ethnologist was doing a very neat job of throttling the first guard. Zantha had appropriated his heat ray and was holding it trained on the high priest.

It took them less than a minute to kick the two guards and the high priest down the steps and swing shut that massive door.

SURPRISE had gained them a temporary advantage. As the figure of the high priest came rolling down the steps an angry roar burst from the crowd, and as Markle swung shut the door, men were dashing up the steps. A glance at the door told him that it would withstand the charge of an army, and the heavy walls of the temple promised protection from the whistles.

A second door almost as heavy as the first closed the small anteroom. They closed and locked it, and found themselves in a large chamber. Hanging on pegs around the wall were what looked like clumsy diving equipment, and a circular stairway led up to whatever was above.

"Zipantoric rests above," said Zantha. "I have never been in that room. Only the high priest may enter, and those who are to die. . ."

"We'll go up," said Burstone grimly.

He went up. Markle saw him stick his head through the opening, saw him pause, heard an exclamation, and he disappeared into the room above.

Markle and Zantha followed. They found Burstone standing in the center of a large room, a puzzled, dazed expression on his lined face.

In front of him was what looked like a large switchboard, with meters, rheostats, switches, and all the paraphernalia necessary to control a heavy electric current.

"It looks like the switchboard of a power house!" Markle gasped.

"Men, this isn't possible," Burstone muttered, half to himself. "Do you see what I see or am I crazy?"

"Something is wrong somewhere. Here in this room is electrical equipment that unquestionably has been devised by a very advanced science. The Mayan peoples never reached this stage of development."

"The people as a whole did not, but this colony evidently did," Burstone answered. "Man, what a find! The equipment in this room will advance electrical knowledge a hundred years." Burstone had forgotten that he was a man; he only remembered that he was a scientist.

"Yes," Markle replied drily. "If the news ever gets back home. There are a thousand maniacs surrounding this temple who would like nothing better than to cut our throats. . ."

To Zantha their words meant nothing. When they spoke of electricity she got a mental image of lightning flashing down from heaven. She had no idea that this mighty force could be controlled, bent to the will of man. But she held this room in superstitious awe. Tradition told her what reposed in that oblong container off to one side, and it was this coffin-like receptacle rising on two columns a few feet above the floor, that riveted her attention. When Markle approached it she would have called him back, and when he insisted, she moved to his side. He slipped an arm around her, found she was trembling.

"Do not go near that box, Deeck," she begged.

"Why not?"

"Zipantoric is there. He will destroy you. . ."

"He can be no worse than what we have already seen," he answered, moving forward. She went with him.

Markle glanced at the contents and recoiled. His exclamation called Burstone.

He steeled himself to look again.

UTTERLY nude, bathed in a soft liquid light of the deepest imaginable shade of blue, was Zipantoric. A small body, like that of a child, covered with sparse silver hair and a very wrinkled skin. Weak, spindly legs, rising to a small torso, and out of that, a huge chest, so large that it made the head seem less out of proportion. For that cranium was massive. It looked as if it could contain all the knowledge in all the libraries of the earth and still have room left over for more. Two wrinkled lids marked the closed eyes. The nose was large and straight, the mouth a mere slit. The features were composed in the even calm of death.

"It looks like a dwarf," Markle breathed.

"So it does," Burstone answered. "Like a member of the dwarf races that folk tales say long ago inhabited the earth. But that is not possible, either, for those legends can be traced back to their source. . . . And besides, that chest is out of proportion. It looks as if it had been evolved through centuries spent in high altitudes, in a thin atmosphere, where oxygen is not plentiful."

"It is Zipantoric," Zantha said. "Now we shall die..."

Long centuries of tradition told her that those who saw the face of the fire god would die. Markle tried to reassure her, but the fear had been born in her, and reason would not eradicate it.

"We shall die, Deeck," she said calmly. "But I am not afraid."

"Good girl! We aren't dead yet, and before we check out, some of those lads outside are going to be mighty unhappy. They'll have to starve us out. If we could only control that discharge to the posts set around the ledge outside, they would be plenty uncomfortable. Say!—That's an idea. How do they work that?"

"The high priest, he who wears the jewel of the Great One, remains in here, and causes the lightning to strike. I do not know how it is done, but the lightnings obey none other than he. Once another priest tried to usurp the power and attempted to set off the lightning, but the fire consumed him, instead of striking outside the temple. . ."

"An electrical trap," Burstone mused. "If you know the combination, it works; if you don't know the combination, it works anyhow. Dick, take a look out of those openings around the wall and see what our friends outside are doing."

Markle did not puzzle over the fact that the openings were closed by several inches of transparent material that resembled glass. They did not remind him of portholes; he had too many other things to think about.

Torches were moving through the vast crowd outside. The people were shifting to and fro; men were running around the ledge of the temple. He recognized the high priest issuing orders. It looked like a disorganized mass of ants, but these were fighting ants, with stings. It was only a question of time, he knew. Perhaps the wise thing to do was to go down and face the crowd. Death would come quicker that way.

A HUM came from inside the room and he whirled. Burstone was standing in front of the mighty switchboard, moving levers and punching buttons.

"You're risking your life!" Markle shouted, leaping to the side of the scientist.

"Probably there is no danger," Burstone answered. "We know it for a fact that this controls the discharge. I have tried several switches and nothing has happened, except lights have flashed. There are two more switches. . ."

Burstone turned, held out his hand. "Dick. . . I wish you a lot of luck. . . . I have seen much of living. It does not matter if I see no more. . ."

Markle, not understanding, took the outstretched hand. Burstone wrung it, gave him a violent shove.

As he stumbled backward Markle saw the old ethnologist reach up and grasp the switches. His muscles tensed, the poles came down. . .

A jagged streak of yellow flame rent the air, a living spear that clove Burstone's body from head to toe. There came the gruesome odor of burning flesh. His body jerked, sagged downward, his hands forever clenched around the handles of the switches. . .

In the silence that followed when the discharge died out there intruded the soft hushed tinkling of a silver bell. . .


MARKLE disengaged the hands, gently laid the old body on the floor. A man had died. . .in the thin hope that others might live. . .

There was an ache in Markle's throat, a gulping ache. A choking cord was tied around his heart, and a mist was before his eyes. . . . During the five years that had elapsed since he had left college Burstone had been a father to him. . . . Now he was dead.

Zantha stood beside him, sorrow showing on her face. That kindly old man, who had never shown fear and never complained, was gone. She had known it would happen, but she had thought it would include her. She could not understand.

Markle was stunned. He did not see the Warden come up the winding stairway, did not know that the heat ray was aimed at him until the brutal command came to turn around and lift his hands.

There wasn't a chance. The ray would sear before he could move. And others were coming up the steps.

It did not matter. The end was written, but it did not seem to matter.

They had seen Zipantoric. Now the lightning would rend them. Dust would blow from the ledge of the temple, and it would be the dust of their bodies, but it did not matter. . .

Zantha stood beside him, straight as an arrow, poised, her head erect. . .

Her beautiful body would be seared by a flash of screaming pain.

Die here, under the heat rays. Die fighting. Death was inevitable. Their only choice was in the manner of dying.

He tensed his muscles, prepared to leap at the throat of the Warden.

His muscles wouldn't work, they wouldn't obey his orders. Something was happening to the laces of the Wardens. They weren't looking at him; they were looking over and beyond him . . . In their faces was so vast a fear that it was incomprehensible. . . .

Centers above the higher centers of Markle's mind sent alarmed sensations through his brain cells. He could feel it, something, something, he knew not what... was here, was behind him. His whirling movement was instinctive; it did not rise to the level of his conscious mind. A gasping cry choked in his throat.

Blinking the sleep of ages out of his deep-set eyes, sitting up in the casket where he had reposed so long, was he whom the Mayans called Zipantoric. With each passing second life was flooding through him more vigorously. He shook his head as a sleeper does when he awakens.

Out of the corner of his eyes Markle saw the Wardens drop to the floor. To them a god had risen. Zantha went to her knees, her eyes wide with awed dread. She pleaded with Markle to kneel, but he shook his head. In the back of his mind he had the answer to Zipantoric, yet it was an answer he could scarcely believe. . .

Zipantoris lifted himself out of the casket, moved mincingly over to the massive switchboard, stared at the body of Burstone, carefully studied the meters.

The back of the creature was turned. With one leap Markle could land astride that body, could throttle the being. It was an avenue of escape, yet it was one that he did not choose to take.

There was a tiny sound from the stairway. Markle turned his head and saw a Warden there, in the act of aiming the heat gun. The Mayan had seen the prostrate bodies of his comrades on the floor and he had not recognized the spindly-legged creature standing in front of the switchboard.

"Watch it!" Markle screamed.

Zipantoric whirled like a cat and a black spot leaped into existence on the panel where the ray struck.

MARKLE got the impression of a tremendous wave of mental force. A look of stunned surprise came over the face of the Mayan. His grip on the gun relaxed, he slid awkwardly out of sight. Zipantoric minced over and peered down the opening. Then he stepped to a port and for a long time his gaze roved over the howling multitude outside.

He turned back to the room, and Markle felt those gleaming, hypnotic eyes fasten on him. He was being commanded, ordered, to think back over the recent past. He found his mind running over all that had happened since the golden bubble had appeared on the Pyramid of the Sun. He could feel his past experiences draining out, draining into the mind of the creature facing him.

There was a grim ghost of a smile on the leathery face of Zipantoric. He turned to Zantha, and Markle knew that he was probing her mind. When he finished with her, she stood up, moved to Markle, stood trembling beside him.

For a long time he questioned the Mayans. Not a word was spoken, not a sound uttered.

Markle knew that the fate of all of them was hanging in the balance. He did not know whether or not he was afraid. His mind was still numb from the shock of Burstone's death and the ordinary emotions were not registering.

Zipantoric came back, looked from Zantha to him. Something heavy pressed on Markle's mind. He was being weighed, all of them were being weighed.

The weight lifted from his mind. Zipantoric had reached a decision.

The Mayans rose from the floor when Zipantoric turned to them. Like zombies, like the living dead, they rose and filed down the steps and out of the room forever.

Zipantoric pulled switches, depressed buttons, on the switchboard. A relay clicked, there was a scream and a throb of current. Markle felt like he weighed a ton and his knees started to buckle. Zantha was clinging to him. Even Zipantoric was holding to a projection on the control panel.

Intuitively Markle knew what he would see when he staggered to the port and looked out, yet he could scarcely believe his eyes. The city was gone, had vanished.

Far below them, bathed in thin moonglow, was the immense globe of the earth. Points of light showed here and there. Thin white clouds passed between them and the dark expanse below.

Markle faced Zipantoric.

"What—" he began.

Zipantoric smiled.

"No, my son," came the answer into his mind. "You are not ready to know all about me. My home is out there in space and I am going home. Long centuries ago I was left here by enemies and a race of earth-people set as guards over me. I slept away the long years until your comrade pulled the switches that set me free. . . Now I am going . . . home. . . Your race is not ready for the knowledge that I have. It must come slowly, through centuries of evolution. . ."

"But what. . . about us?"

Zipantoric continued smiling.

"THUS the story almost ends. It needs only two newspaper clippings to supply any necessary further information.

New York City, Aug. 21.-U.P.A.

The earth narrowly missed a collision with a tremendous meteor last night, if the radio reports from three ships in the southern Caribbean are to be credited. Each states that about 10 o'clock last night a tremendously large ball of fire came flaming up from the south. It dropped from sight a few miles inland and it was first thought to have struck the earth there, but a few minutes later it was again seen in the air rapidly gaining speed and rising. Within a short time it was nothing but a tiny point of light in the sky and it soon vanished entirely.

Astronomers are at a loss to exploit the strange behavior of this meteor and are inclined to doubt the veracity of the reports. News from the mainland, however, indicates that the phenomenon was observed there. Searching parties are setting out to investigate the spot where it was reported to have touched the earth.

New York City, Aug. 26.—Via cable from South America.

D. F. Markle, assistant to Dr. E. F. Burstone, ethnologist, who was engaged in excavating Mayan ruins in the vicinity of Cortec, was found near here today by an expedition searching for traces of the giant meteor reported to have fallen in this on Aug. 21. He reports that Dr. Burstone was killed by an attack of hostile Indians from which he and his companion, a young Indian maiden, barely managed to escape with their lives. They were on the verge of exhaustion. Without weapons they had fought their way through two hundred miles of jungle separating the place where they were found from the ruin: they had been excavating. They were rushed on board ship and are now on their way to this country.