Part One: Borea
Paths of Fate
They skirted the forest on foot, the Titan bears shambling along behind on all fours, their packs piled high so that there was no room for the men to ride. Only three of the animals went unburdened, and these were hardly bears for riding. A stranger party could scarce be imagined. Here were bronze Indians straight out of Earth's Old West, squat, powerful Eskimos from the Motherworld's perpetually frozen north, great white bears half as big again as those of the Arctic Circle, and a tall, ruggedly handsome, leather-clad white man whose open, short-sleeved jacket showed a broad, deep chest and arms that forewarned of massive strength.
To the oddly polyglot party that followed Hank Silberhutte, their Warlord seemed utterly enigmatic. He was a strange, strange man: the toast of the entire plateau and master of all its might, mate to Armandra the Priestess and father of her man-child, destroyer of Ithaqua's armies and crippler--however briefly--of Ithaqua himself. And yet he mingled with his minions like a common man and led them out upon peaceful pursuits as surely as he led them in battle. Yes, a strange man indeed, and Ithaqua must surely rue the day he brought him to Borea.
Silberhutte the Texan had been Warlord for three years now, since the time he deposed Northan in a savage fight to win Armandra. He had won her, and with her the total command of the plateau's army.That had been before the War of the Winds, when the plateau's might had prevailed over the bludgeoning assault of Ithaqua's tribes, when Ithaqua himself had been sorely wounded by this man from the Motherworld.
Mighty wrestler, fighter who could knock even a strong man senseless with a blow of his huge fist, weapons' master whose skill had quickly surpassed that of his instructors, telepath (though the plateau's simpler folk could not truly understand the concept) who could throw--had thrown--mental insults at Ithaqua, the Wind-Walker, and yet walk away unscathed: Silberhutte was all of these things. He was as gentle as his strength and size would allow; he instinctively understood the needs of his people; when lesser men approached him in awe, he greeted them as friends, equals; he respected the Elders and was guided by their counseling, and his fairness was already as much a legend as his great strength.
When he could by right have slain Northan, his hated, bullying Warlord predecessor--when nine-tenths of the plateau's peoples had wanted Northan dead--Hank Silberhutte had let him live, had given him his life. Later, when Northan turned traitor, siding with Ithaqua and his ice-priests to help them wage war against the plateau, Kota'na the Keeper of the Bears had taken that life, had taken Northan's head too; and even though he was wounded in the fighting, Kota'na would not give up his grisly trophy to any man but his Lord Silberhutte.
And it was Kota'na who came now at an easy lope through the long grass toward where Silberhutte stood, Kota'na whose proud Indian head was lifted high, eyes alert as those of any creature of the wild. He had scouted out the ground ahead, as two other braves even now scouted it to the rear; for though they were well clear of the territories of the Wind-Walker's tribes, still they were wary of skulking war parties. The Children of the Winds did not usually wander far afield when Ithaqua left them to go striding among the star-voids, but one could never be sure. That was why three of the bears were not in harness; they were fighters, white monsters whose loyalty to their master was matched only by their ferocity when confronted with their enemies. Now they were nervous, and Hank Silberhutte had noted their anxious snufflings and growlings.
He noted too Kota'na's uneasiness as the handsome brave approachedhim. The Indian kept glancing toward the dark green shadows of the forest, his eyes narrowing as they sought to penetrate the darker patches of shade. Borea had no "night" as such, only a permanent half-light, whereby shaded places were invariably very gloomy.
"What's bothering you, bear-brother?" Hank asked, his keen eyes searching the other's face.
"The same thing that bothers the bears, Lord Sil-ber-hut-te," the Indian answered. "Perhaps it is just that Ithaqua's time draws nearer, when he returns to Borea ... ," he shrugged. "Or perhaps something else. There is a stillness in the air, a hush over the forest."
"Huh!" the Texan grunted, half in agreement. "Well, here we camp, danger or none. The forest goes on for twenty miles or more yet, Kota'na, so if we're being shadowed, we won't lose our tail until we're beyond the woods. We'll keep five men awake at all times; that should be sufficient. Six hours' sleep, a meal, and then we press on as fast as we can go. Fifty miles beyond the forest belt we'll be back in the snows, and we'll find our sleighs where we left them. The going will be faster then. Fifty miles beyond that, across the hills, we'll sight the moons of Borea where they hang over the rim. Then--"
"Then, Lord, we will be almost within sight of the plateau!"
"Where a pretty squaw called Oontawa waits for her brave, eh?" the white giant laughed.
"Aye, Lord," Kota'na soberly answered, "and where the Woman of the Winds will doubtless loose great lightnings to greet the father of her child. Ah, but I am ready for the soft comforts of my lodge. If we were fighting, that would be one thing--but this dreary wandering ..." He paused and frowned, then: "Lord, there is a question I would ask."
"Ask away, bear-brother."
"Why do we leave the plateau to wander in the woods? Surely it is not simply to seek out strange spices, skins, and tusks? There are skins enough in the white wastes and more than enough food in and about the plateau."
"Just give me a moment, friend, and we'll talk," Silberhutte told him. He spoke briefly to the men about him, giving instructions, issuing orders. Then, while rough tents were quickly erected and a list for watch duties drawn up, he took Kota'na to one side.
"You're right, bear-brother, I don't come out under the skies of Borea just to hunt for pale wild honey and the ivory of mammoths. Listen and I'll tell you:
"In the Motherworld I was a free man and went wherever I wanted to go, whenever I wanted to go there. There are great roads in the Motherworld and greater cities, man-made plateaus that make Borea's plateau look like a pebble. Now listen: you've seen Armandra fly--the way she walks on the wind--a true child of her father? Well, in the Motherworld all men can fly. They soar through the skies inside huge mechanical birds, like the machine that lies broken on the white waste between the plateau and Ithaqua's totem temple. He snatched us out of the sky in that machine and brought us hers ..."
He paused, beginning to doubt Kota'na's perception. "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"I think so, Lord," the Indian gravely answered. "The Motherworld sounds a fine and wonderful place--but Borea is not the Motherworld."
"No, my friend, that's true--but it could be like the Motherworld one day. I'm willing to bet that hundreds of miles to the south there are warm seas and beautiful islands, maybe even a sun that we never see up here in the north. Yes, and I can't help wondering if Ithaqua is confined to this world's northernmost regions just as he is during his brief Earthly incursions. It's an interesting thought ...
"As to why I come out here, exploring the woods and the lands to the south: surely you must have seen me making lines on the fine skins I carry? They are maps, bear-brother, maps of all the places we visit. The lakes and forests and hills--all of them that we've seen are shown on my maps. One day I want to be able to go abroad in Borea just as I used to on Earth."
He slammed fist into palm, lending his words emphasis, then grinned and slapped the other's shoulder. "But come now, we've been on the move for well over ten hours. I, for one, am tired. Let's get some sleep, and then we'll be on our way again." He glanced at the gray sky to the north and his face quickly formed a frown. "The last thing I want is to be caught out in the open when Ithaqua comes walking down the winds to Borea again. No, for he surely has a score to settle with the People of the Plateau--especially with me!"
In no great hurry to find Elysia (Titus Crow had warned him that the going would not be easy, that no royal road existed into the place of the Elder Gods), Henri de Marigny allowed the time-clock to wander at will through the mighty spaces between the stars. In the case of the time-clock, however, "wander" did not mean to progress slowly and aimlessly from place to place, far from it. For de Marigny's incredible machine was linked to all times and places, and its velocity--if "velocity" could ever adequately describe the motion of the clock--was such that it simply defied all of the recognized laws of Earthly science as it cruised down the light-years.
And already de Marigny had faced dangers which only the master of such a weird vessel might ever be expected to face: dangers such as the immemorially evil Hounds of Tindalos!
Twice he had piloted the time-clock through time itself; once as an experiment in the handling of the clock, the second time out of sheer curiosity. On the first occasion, as he left the solar system behind, he had paused to reverse the clock's temporal progression to a degree sufficient to freeze the planets in their eternal swing around the sun, until the worlds of Sol had stood still in the night of space and the sun's flaring, searing breath had appeared as a still photograph in his vessel's scanners. The second time had been different.
Finding a vast cinder in space orbiting a dying orange sun, de Marigny had felt the urge to trace its history, had journeyed into the burned-out planet's past to its beginnings. He had watched it blossom from a young world with a bright atmosphere and dazzling oceans into a mature planet where races not unlike Man had grown up and built magnificent if alien cities ... and he had watched its decline, too. De Marigny had recognized the pattern well enough: the early wars, each greater (or more devastating) than the last, building to the final confrontation. And the science of these beings was much like the science of Man. They had vehicles on the land, in the air, and on the water, and they had weapons as awesome as any ever devised on Earth.
... Weapons which they used!
Sickened to find that another Manlike race had discovered the means of self-destruction--and that in this instance they had used it to burn their world to a useless crisp--de Marigny would havereturned at once to his own time and picked up his amazing voyage once more. But that was when he was called upon to face his first real threat since leaving Earth's dreamworld, and in so doing, he went astray from the known universe.
It was strange, really, and oddly paradoxical; for while Titus Crow had warned him about the Hounds of Tindalos, he had also stated that time's corridors were mainly free of their influence. Crow had believed that the Hounds were drawn to travelers in the fourth dimension much like moths to a flame (except that flames kill moths!) and that a man might unconsciously attract them by his presence alone. They would scent the id of a man as sharks might scent his blood, and it would send them into just such a frenzy.
Thus, as de Marigny flew his vessel forward along the timestream, he nervously recalled what Crow had told him of the Hounds--how time was their domain and that they hid in time's darkest "angles"--and in this way he may well have attracted them. Indeed he found himself subconsciously repeating lines remembered from the old days as he had seen them scribbled in a book of Crow's jottings, an acrostic poem written by an eccentric friend of Crow's who had "dreamed" all manner of weird things in conjunction with the Cthulhu Cycle Deities, or the "CCD," and similarly fabled beings of legendary times and places. It had gone like this:
Time's angles, mages tell, conceal a place Incredible, beyond the mundane mind: Night-shrouded and outside the seas of space, Dread Tindalos blows on the ageless wind. And where the black and corkscrew towers climb, Lost and athirst the ragged pack abides, Old as the aeons, trapped in tombs of time, Sailing the tortuous temporal tides ...
And even as he realized his error and tore his thoughts from their morbid ramblings--as mental warning bells clamored suddenly and jarringly in the back of his mind--de Marigny saw them in the clock's scanners ... the Hounds of Tindalos!
He saw them, and Crow's own description of the monstrous vampiric creatures came back to him word for word:
"They were like ragged shadows, Henri, distant tatters that flapped almost aimlessly in the void of time. But as they drew closer, their movements took on more purpose! I saw that they had shape and size and even something approaching solidarity, but that still there was nothing about them even remotely resembling what we know of life. They were Death itself--they were the Tind'losi Hounds--and once recognized, they can never be forgotten!"
He remembered, too, Crow's advice: not to attempt to run from them once they found you, neither that nor even to use the clock's weapon against them. "Any such attempt would be a waste of time. They can dodge the beam, avoid it, even outdistance it as easily as they outdistance the clock itself. The fourth dimension is their element, and they are the ultimate masters of time travel. Forward in time, backward--no matter your vessel's marvelous maneuverability or its incredible acceleration--once the Hounds have you, there is only one way to escape them: by reverting instantly to the three commonplace dimensions of space and matter ..."
De Marigny knew now how to do this and would ordinarily have managed the trick easily enough, but with the Tind'losi Hounds fluttering like torn, sentient kites about his hurtling vessel, their batlike voices chittering evilly and their nameless substance already beginning to eat through the clock's exterior shell to where his defenseless id crouched and shuddered ...
And so he made his second mistake--an all-too human error, a simple miscalculation--which instantly took him out of his own timestream, his own plane of existence, leaving him dizzy and breathless with the shock of it. For he had not regained the three-dimensional universe measured and governed by Earthly laws but had sidestepped into one which lay alongside, a parallel universe of marvels and mysteries. One moment (if such a cliche is acceptable in this case) the Hounds of Tindalos were clustered about the time-clock, and the next--
--They were gone, and where they had been, an undreamed-of vista opened to de Marigny's astounded eyes! This was in no way thevoid of interstellar space as he had come to know it, no. Instead he found himself racing through a tenuous, faintly glowing gray-green mist distantly rippled with banners of pearly and golden light that moved like Earth's aurora borealis, sprinkled here and there with the silver gleam of strange stars and the pastel glow of planets large and small.
And since his own senses were partly linked with those of his hybrid vessel, he also detected the eddies of an ether wind that caught at the clock to blow it ever faster on an oddly winding course between and around these alien spheres. A wind that keened in de Marigny's mind, conjuring visions of ice and snow and great white plains lying frozen fast beneath moons that bloated on a distant horizon. The moons of Borea ...
"Lord Sil-ber-hut-te! Hank! Wake up, Lord!" Kota'na's urgency, emphasized by his use of the Warlord's first name, brought Hank Silberhutte to his feet within his central tent. A moment later he stepped out into the open, shaking sleep from his mind, gazing skyward and following Kota'na's pointing finger. All eyes in the camp were turned to the sky, where something moved across the heavens with measured pace to fall down behind the horizon of forest treetops.
The Warlord had almost missed the thing, had witnessed its flight for two or three seconds only; but in that short time his heart, which he believed had almost stopped in the suspense of the moment, had started to beat again, and the short hairs at the back of his neck had lain down flat once more. Borea was no world in which to be out in the open when there were strange dark things at large in the sky!
But no, the aerial phenomenon had not been Ithaqua, not the Wind-Walker. If it were, then without a doubt Silberhutte's party had been doomed. It had certainly been a strange and alien thing, yes, and one that ought surely not to fly in any world. But it had not been the Lord of Snows.
"A clock!" Silberhutte gasped. "A great-grandfather clock! Now what in the--" And his voice suddenly tapered off as memory brought back to him snatches of a conversation which had taken place (how many years ago?) in the home of a London-based colleague during the Wilmarth Foundation's war on the CCD, the "Cthulhu Cycle Deities," in Great Britain. At that time, Silberhutte had not long been a member of the foundation, but his singular telepathic talent had long since apprised him of the presence of the CCD.
Titus Crow had been a prime British mover in that phase of the secret confrontation, and at the home of the learned leonine occultist Silberhutte had been shown just such a clock as had recently disappeared over the treetops. A weirdly hieroglyphed, oddly ticking monstrosity whose four hands had moved in sequences utterly removed from horological systems of Earthly origin. By far the most striking thing about that clock had been its shape--like a coffin a foot taller than a tall man--that and the fact that there seemed to be no access to the thing's innards, no way into its working parts. It was then that Titus Crow had told Silberhutte:
"I'm taking a chance that you'll perhaps think me a madman, my friend--certainly it will be a test of your credulity--but in any case I'll tell you what I think the clock really is. It is a gateway on all space and time, a vessel capable of journeying to the very corners of existence and beyond. That's my belief. One day I'll learn all there is to know about the thing. When I do ..." And Crow had paused to shrug and smile, adding: "But that is all in the future. At the moment I may rightly compare myself to an ape attempting to fathom the splitting of the atom!"
Yes, Crow had called the clock a gateway on all space and time, a bridge between worlds--between universes!
Silberhutte stared out across the forest roof where the clock had disappeared, and suddenly he was taut as a bowstring, incredible hope springing up in him, flaring bright where he had believed hope to have all but faded away. Could that thing in the sky--that coffin-shape so briefly glimpsed--could it possibly ... ?
"What is it, Lord?" Kota'na asked, his voice low, hushed. The Keeper of the Bears was worried He had never seen the Warlord stirred by such emotions before. Silberhutte's gaze burned--like agreat hound straining at the leash, he seemed to lean toward the forest--and his fists had tightened into huge knots which he held half-raised before him.
Again Kota'na spoke: "Was it some terrible toy of the Wind-Walker, Lord?"
"No, I don't think so." And the great white Warlord suddenly relaxed, took a deep breath, turned to grasp Kota'na's shoulders. "Bear-brother, I want you to come with me, you and two others and a bear. Quick as you can, choose the other men now. We get under way at once. The rest can break camp and head for home with all speed."
"But--where are we going, Lord?"
"Into the forest," Silberhutte answered at once. "Where else? If that flying thing is what I think it is--by God!--bear-brother, if only it is!" He gave a great cry and threw his arms wide.
"Yes, Lord?" prompted Kota'na. "What then?"
"Then?" and Silberhutte's eyes were deep as the spaces between stars. "Then, Kota'na, the Motherworld may not be as far away as I thought."
De Marigny set the clock down in a glade beside a pool. There was a curious absence of vegetation about that pool, and if he had been more observant, he might have noticed, as his vessel slowly descended and came to rest, a peculiar bluish withdrawal of something or things into the water. Before leaving the safety of the clock, he scanned the forest around him: no slightest thing moved, no birds called. That, too, might have warned him--did in fact caution him to a degree--but what could there possibly be to fear? He would only leave the clock for a few moments, and it would never be more than a pace or two away.
His reasons for coming down here, at a fair distance from the encampment of primitives he had viewed from on high, were threefold. One: he wanted the humanoid natives of this world to have time to think about what they had seen, to assimilate the fact that the clock had done them no harm, before taking a closer look at them or trying to contact them. Two: following what felt like a thousand attempts to leave this alien time dimension into which he had erroneously entered, he was feeling fatigued. All of his efforts to leave had failed miserably,highlighting his inadequate beginner's grasp of the clock's refinements; now he wanted to rest both mind and body before trying yet again. And three: the pool had looked inviting and refreshing, the glade peaceful and quiet, and the forest itself had seemed to offer green walls of protection, looking for all the world like the familiar forests of Earth.
Only now, stepping out through the clock's open frontal panel, did de Marigny become aware of the odd texture of the soil in the glade, its unnatunal feel, crumbly and lifeless. A dozen or so paces took him to the water's edge where he went down on one knee, failing to note as he did so that the glade seemed to grow quieter still. Not a ripple disturbed the surface of that pool, and yet it failed to mirror the man who kneeled at its rim He paused--his hand poised ready to dip, inches above the surface of water which carried an odd bluish tinge--and the quiet deepened tangibly Now he felt it: the tension in the air, the sensation of a trap ready to spring shut!
He threw himself back and away from the pool, sprawling in the crumbling soil, scrambling frantically away from water which was suddenly alive with awful activity. The surface frothed and parted and lumpish blue shapes slithered over de Marigny's booted feet, fastening to his legs through the thin material of his trousers. Half-lizard, half-leech, eight inches long and shaped like flatworms or bloated tadpoles, there were thousands of the blue-veined creatures.
The water boiled with them, these things whose appetites had stripped the glade of life. De Marigny tore them bloodily from lacerated limbs, kicked frantically back from the pool toward the clock where it stood behind him, gasped for air as shock and horror gripped him. The farther he struggled from the pool, the less certainly they slithered after him; but their lidless red eyes regarded him evilly and their razor mouths gaped hungrily. Finally he stripped the last of them from his legs, scrabbled upright, and turned to the clock--only to stumble into the arms of an apparition out of his wildest nightmares!
Wolf-headed and terrible the figure stood, arms encircling him, staring from wolf eyes into his own fear-taut features. Now he saw that the figure was human and only dressed in the trappings of an animal, and that others similarly adorned surrounded the clock and gazedimpassively at him. They were like Red Indians out of old Earth, and the eyes that stared from wolf heads were anything but friendly.
De Marigny mustered his strength to twist under and out of the bronze vise that held him and made a dive for the clock's open, greenly lit panel--only to be met in midair by the flat of a tomahawk that hurled him into a black pit of oblivion ... .
De Marigny's return to consciousness was slow and painful. His eyes felt full of ground glass behind closed and swollen lids. He barely stifled a cry of anguish when he tried to open them, then abandoned the attempt for the time being and concentrated instead on regaining a measure of orientation. This was far from easy for there was a roaring in his ears that came and went in regular pulses, bringing red-peaked waves of pain and surging nausea. As his mind began to clear, he tried to think, to remember where he was and what had happened, but even that small effort seemed to splash acid around inside his skull.
Very slowly the red burning died away, was replaced by an awareness of a sickly chill creeping into muscles and bones already cramped and stiff. He forced back the bile that rose suddenly in his throat and tried to lick parched lips, but his tongue met only sand, dry and tasteless. His teeth were full of the stuff; he gagged on it. Rolling his head weakly, dizzily to one side and freeing his mouth, he spat out grit and blood and what felt like a tooth, then fought to fill his lungs with air. One nostril was full of sand, the other sticky and warm with blood.
Anger surged up in de Marigny--at the stupidity of this dazed, slothful body which would not obey his commands--at his dull mind because it refused to answer his questions. Where the hell was he? What had happened to him? He seemed to be lying facedown in coarse-grained sand or loose soil--
Then, in a series of vivid mental pictures, memory flooded back. Scenes flashed before his mind's eye: of the glade in the forest and the pool of leech-things; of the barbaric, wolf-headed warriors standing in a ring about the time-clock.
If anything had happened to--
He gritted his teeth, lifted his head to shake it free of sand, then bit his lip and fought off the fresh waves of pain his actions brought.He blinked and was glad of the stinging tears that welled up to wash his eyes, even though he was blinded by the light that they admitted. It had a weak light, this strange world, true, but painful for all that and filled with a thousand bilious fireball flashes.
Nausea returned immediately, forcing him to close his eyes again. The scene he had so briefly gazed out upon--of a greenly shaded background above a sandy expanse--faded quickly from his tortured retinas, was replaced by a dull red throbbing that brought a groan of pain and despair from battered lips. Plainly he had suffered a brutal beating and kicking even after being knocked unconscious.
He wondered if there were something wrong with his limbs; while they gave him no great pain, still he could not move them. Could it be his attackers had crippled him? Again he tried to move and finally discovered the truth: his wrists were bound behind his back, and his feet were tied at the ankles. His neck, too, must be in a noose of some sort; he had felt it tighten when he shook his head. Grimly he considered his position. Having tired of their sport with his unconscious body, his tormentors had obviously staked him out--but for what purpose?
Then de Marigny thought again of the hideous pool-things and the way the slimy coloring of their internal juices had given the pool is unnatural bluish tinge, and suddenly he found himself wondering if--
He forced his eyes open again, slowly this time, to let them grow accustomed to the light, and gradually the scene before him took shape. He lay in something of a shallow depression with his chin buried in coarse sand, the soil of the silent forest glade. Beyond his immediate horizon was a more distant one of shaded greens, the forest wall at the far side of the pool. De Marigny shuddered, and not at all because of the cramped chill steadily creeping into his bones.
Turning his head carefully to the left, he saw a stretched leather thong that reached out from his neck to where it was tied to a peg driven deep into the soil. He was similarly tied down to the right. Since he could not move his legs at the knees, they too must be tethered. He struggled briefly, uselessly, then slowly and methodically began cursing himself for a fool. To have been so utterly careless, so criminally stupid as to get himself into a mess like this. It was unthinkable!
Disgusted with himself and with his predicament, he neverthelessattempted to analyze his desperate mistake. He believed he knew how it had come about.
His adventures in Earth's dreamworld--the terrible threats and dangers he had faced and conquered there, until it had seemed he must be almost indestructible--had lulled him into a state of false security. How could he have come through so much only to fall prey in the end to the primitives of some nameless planet on the rim of reality?
What angered the Earthman more than anything else was the fact that he was wearing the cloak brought back by Titus Crow from Elysia, an antigravity device which allowed the wearer to soar aloft as effortlessly as any bird. He was sure that in the dreamworld his reactions would have been instinctive: to reach for and activate the buttons in his harness that would have lifted him instantly to safety. But here in this strange new world ... things had simply seemed to move too fast for him.
If only he might free one hand and reach the controls of his cloak, he had no doubt that--
Any further thoughts of escape were aborted, driven from his mind the instant that he caught sight of a pulsating, blue-veined leech-thing that suddenly came slithering over the rim of the hollow in which he lay. It saw him at once, tiny red eyes fixing upon him hungrily, jellyish body throbbing as the creature slid and slithered down the slight declivity toward his face.
Frozen in horror, de Marigny could only think: "My face--my eyes!" But even as the pulsating leech reared up in front of him, inches away, and even as a dozen or so more of the awful things appeared almost simultaneously over the lip of the hollow, still he could not avert his gaze. Hypnotized and immobilized by his unthinkable situation, by the fate about to descend upon him, de Marigny could only watch and wait for it to happen, and--
--The earth shuddered beneath him as a leather-booted foot came down on top of the menacing leech-thing in the moment that it made to strike for his face. Its juices splashed him as it was ground into the moistureless soil.
A second later and the silver blade of a wicked picklike weapon flashed down once, twice, and the thongs that tethered de Marigny'sneck were severed. He felt cold metal touch his wrists and his hands were free, his legs too. Another second and--amazing sight!--a snarling, coughing mountain of white fur, a bear almost eleven feet tall, shambled swiftly into view, stomping the now retreating leech-things and shaking the ground with its massive weight.
Then, before the astounded Earthman could even muster his thoughts to consider these miraculous developments, he was hauled gently but irresistibly to his feet. Left to stand on his own, weak and bloody as he was, de Marigny might well have fallen, but steely arms supported him and keenly intelligent eyes stared into his own first in concern, then in recognition.
He stared back--stared even harder--then gasped and shook his head in dizzy disbelief. Finally he managed to mumble: "Hank? Hank Silberhutte? I don't--"
"Neither do I, Henri," the Texan interrupted, "but I'm glad to see you anyway."
"The feeling," de Marigny wholeheartedly, bone wearily agreed, "is mutual, Hank, to say the very least!"
He gazed then at Silberhutte's brawny companions--two bronze-skinned Indians and an olive Eskimo--and at the monster bear which stamped and roared now at the edge of the pool. "But where in all the corners of space and time are we?"
Knowing that the newcomer to Borea was suffering from shock, Silberhutte carefully released him, nodding in satisfaction as de Marigny staggered a little but somehow managed to stay on his feet. "We're on Borea, Henri, one of the worlds of an alien universe. I've been here some time now, since Ithaqua brought me here. And you ... well, I saw your arrival. So Crow was right about that old clock of his, eh?" The effect of Silberhutte's words on the other man was immediate and electric.
"The clock?" de Marigny's jaw dropped and the color drained from his face. "The time-clock!" He whirled about, staggering wildly, his eyes frantically searching the glade for his fantastic machine.
In the sand he saw a deep indentation where the clock had stood; leading from it, twin tracks cut deep grooves in the gritty soil, terminating where they entered the abrupt shade of the forest. Beyond, a trail of crushed leaves and grasses led away into the undergrowth.Again de Marigny whirled, once more facing Silberhutte and his polyglot companions.
"No, no!" he cried, shaking his head in denial. "I've got to get the clock back. I--"
But finally he had exerted his already overtaxed body and mind beyond their limits. Bright lights flashed inside his head as, with unspoken protests still whispering on his lips, he reeled and toppled. Already unconscious, he was not to know how easily Silberhutte caught him up in massive arms to bear him out of the glade and away from the pool of the leech-things.
De Marigny dreamed of ice stars and planets, all frozen in galactic glaciers that flowed out of deepest infinities of lost dimensions. The Hounds of Tindalos chased him along corridors of ice between razor-sharp cliffs that reached blue-rimmed needles high overhead. Without warning an avalanche of huge, jagged ice splinters crashed down upon him, cracking the time-clock open like a nutshell and spilling him out onto the ice. The Hounds were on him at once, black rags of death whose lusting, ethereal feelers found and held him fast. He fought madly to escape them, but--
--He threw his arms wide and awakened with a cry of horror, only to find himself held down by Silberhutte's huge, strangely cold hands. The Texan held him until his body relaxed, only then allowing him to fall back into a deep warm bank of furs. De Marigny felt the furs move against him and saw that his head rested against a forepaw as big as a real pillow. The warmth he felt was the body heat of Silberhutte's vast bear! He instinctively drew away from the creature where it reclined beside him on the forest's floor.
"You were cold," Silberhutte explained from where he kneeled beside him. "Morda was the only one who could warm you. Kota'na has rubbed you with the body grease he uses. Morda won't harm you--he thinks you're the bear keeper's little brother!" The grinquickly faded from the Texan's face as he asked: "How do you feel now, Henri? The wolf-warriors gave you a pretty rough time."
"Wolf-warriors? Yes, they certainly did," the other slowly answered, "but I feel better now." He licked his lips and frowned at an unfamiliar but not unpleasant taste.
"Kota'na got a little soup down you and some of his tea," Silberhutte explained. "The tea is good; it would straighten out a corkscrew!"
"My head still feels a bit loose," de Marigny answered, "but apart from that ... I expect I'll live." He stood up unaided and the great bear's paw closed possessively around him. He carefully extricated himself as Kota'na approached and ordered the bear up onto its feet.
"Morda," Silberhutte informed, "is not normally very gentle with anyone. He's trained for the fight. It seems you've found a firm friend there, Henri."
Staring after the towering creature as Kota'na led it away, de Marigny answered, "I would hate to be his enemy!"
He took hold of the Texan's arm. "Hank, I have to get after the time-clock. It's my one way out of here. All explanations, everything I would like to know--questions you must surely be wanting to ask me--will have to wait. The time-clock is--"
"--All important, Henri?" Silberhutte finished it for him. "Yes, I know. To me, too. I'm as much a prisoner here on Borea as you are, and I've been here that much longer."
"Then I'll be on my way now, at once."
"Now? On your own?" Without malice Silberhutte laughed. "You don't seem to understand, Henri. There isn't any way you can get the clock back on your own. Even if you could, they'd be miles away by now."
"Do you think so? Dragging the time-clock behind them? Why, the thing must weigh a ton, Hank! They'd need to be superhuman."
"You didn't see their wolves, then?"
"I saw their wolf masks--but behind them they were only men."
"Oh, yes, the wolf-warriors are men, Henri. Ithaqua's people, the Children of the Wind. But I was talking about their wolves: creatures big as ponies--bred as mounts, as beasts of burden--and some bred to kill! We found the party's tracks, and there were wolves with them,big brutes, too. They'd easily pull that clock of yours. Yes, and there are other reasons why we can't simply go chasing after them. Ithaqua is due back on Borea at any time now, and when he returns we must all be safely back in the plateau."
"Hank," de Marigny, answered, "I accept all you say, though I don't understand half of it as vet, but ..." he paused. "Look, I've no time to explain, so I'll simply show you. You see, Titus Crow used the time-clock to journey to Elysia, and when he returned, he brought back something with him. He brought this." He opened his cloak wide.
"Your cloak? I don't see what--"
"Do you see now?" De Marigny touched the large studs that looked merely decorative where they were set in the leather of the cloak's harness. He rose slowly at first, then shot skyward through the branches of the surrounding trees.
Now it was Hank Silberhutte's turn to stare in amazement. He knew only too well that Ithaqua could walk on the wind, as could his daughter Armandra. But this was Henri-Laurent de Marigny. a common man of Mother Earth. And vet here he soared aloft on the wind as surely as any hawk!
"All right, Henri," the called out to the man who glided now above the treetops, performing intricate aerial maneuvers. "You've convinced me. Come on down."
De Marigny alighted a moment later to find Silberhutte standing on his own. His three companions kept well back, coming forward only when they were sure that the man in the cloak intended no more immediately foreseeable flights, and they now regarded him with something akin to awe. Morda stood behind them, padding from one gigantic hind foot to the other in seeming agitation. The bear, too, had witnessed de Marigny's flight.
"I'm convinced," Silberhutte repeated. "Convinced that you stand a slight chance ..." He reached out to touch the deceptively strong fabric of the cloak. "What kind of weight can this thing carry?"
"The weight of two men," de Marigny answered at once. "Its speed is reduced by extra weight, of course, but even so--" He paused, stared hard at Silberhutte, then said, "Whatever it is you're thinking, forget it, Hank. You've done enough already."
"I've done nothing, old friend. And listen: I've as much interest inthe time-clock as you yourself. What's more, I know something of Borea, and a whole lot more about the Children of the Winds. You'll stand a far better chance of getting the clock back with me along. Yes, and while we're on the trail of the clock, I guess we've a lot to talk about. We both have tales to tell."
For a moment, considering Silberhutte's suggestion, de Marigny made no answer. He looked into the eager, honest eyes of this white giant, a man tall as Titus Crow himself but broader yet. Without question Silberhutte must be formidably strong. And did not his companions treat him with the utmost respect, and they themselves men obviously well versed in the arts of combat?
Finally he said, "All right, Hank, and glad to have you along. But first we'll have to make you a seat or sling of some sort that we can suspend from the cloak's harness. There's just a bit too much of you for me to carry like a babe in arms for any great length of time."
An hour later, after a meal of smoked meat, bread, and wild honey washed down with richly spiced tea, the two were ready to take their departure. While they had eaten, Umchak the Eskimo had worked with leather barely mature, fashioning a seat which, attached to the cloak's harness, would hang immediately beneath de Marigny where he himself floated in the spread of the cloak's canopy.
First they tested the cloak's strength. In ascending, it was very slow, and descent was deceptive in that the "brakes" had to he applied that much sooner, but in level flight the loss of speed was not so great as de Marigny had feared. Maneuverability, however, was almost a total loss. Carrying two men, the contraption was simply too cumbersome to perform any but the most rudimentary routines of flight.
Eventually de Marigny was satisfied that he could handle the cloak adequately under the circumstances, and then they descended to say their farewells to the three who breathlessly waited below. De Marigny wrapped himself in a warm fur from Kota'na's pack while Silberhutte delivered his final instructions to his retainers. Moments later, as de Marigny hovered only a few feet above the forest's floor, Silberhutte again climbed into his own makeshift harness and they were off.
As they rose up through the forest, Kota'na called: "And if we getback to the plateau before you, Lord, how shall I tell the Woman of the Winds what you are about?"
"Tell your mistress what you know," Silberhutte shouted down.
"She may well be displeased. Lord, that I return without you."
"Then tell her that you keep only the bears, Kota'na--that the Lord Silberhutte is his own man. Now begone--and all speed to you, bear-brother ... ."
And with that they were away, climbing above the treetops to circle once, twice, before setting a course that followed the way the wolf-warriors had taken.
At first they flew close to the treetops, descending occasionally to ensure that they still followed the course of the twin ruts in the forest floor that told of the clock's passing. But soon they were able to climb a little higher as the trees below thinned out and the trail became that much easier to follow. By then it was apparent that they followed a course which circled to the east, back toward the territories of Ithaqua's tribes, those lands bordering on the great white plain which lay south of the impregnable plateau.
The miles were quickly eaten up beneath them, and as they went, their elevation offered a view of great beauty and mystery. To the north the peaks of a low range showed white heads above belts of gray cloud, behind which the moons of Borea were hidden except for their uppermost rims. To the south the green forest extended unbroken until hidden by distance and a wall of mist that rose until it merged with the far gray sky. Flying over rivers and lakes, they told of the adventures each had known since last he saw the other.
De Marigny related the fantastic story of how he had gone to the assistance of Titus Crow and Tiania the girl-goddess in Earth's dreamworld; Silberhutte in turn told of all that had transpired since Ithaqua bore him away from Earth's icy northern mountains to Borea; and so they grew to know one another. They had been merely distant colleagues in the old days, meeting on no more than two or three occasions. That had been at a time when the ancient but increasingly imminent threat of the CCD had drawn so many fine men together, though there had been little enough time to spare for the founding of firm friendships.
And as time passed and they talked or rather, as they half-shoutedat each other, for they had to make themselves understood over the hum of the wind in their ears--so the terrain below changed. The trees thinned out until only the occasional pine stood up from the banks of coarse grass and weeds, and finally even the last of these lone trees faded away into the distance behind them.
By then they were heading in a mainly northerly direction, still following the twin ruts where they left their mark in grasses and soil below them, and de Marigny had noticed a degree of tension creeping into Silberhutte's voice, a tautness about him where he hung in his harness directly below the cloak and its flier.
When the big Texan stopped talking altogether and began to pay even more attention to the ground only ten to twelve feet beneath him, de Marigny was prompted to ask: "Is something wrong, Hank?"
"Yes," the Texan answered. "They must have joined forces with a second party along the way. There are more wolves now and about nine men. That will make things more difficult for us. Also we've been flying for at least two hours. Given that we're traveling at four or five times their speed, or very nearly so, and taking into account that the woods back there must have slowed the wolf-warriors down considerably, they can't be all that far ahead. See up front there, that narrow belt of shrubs at the foot of the hills? It's my bet that--"
He paused for a split second and froze in his harness, then cried: "Henri, get us up--get us out of here!"
Too late de Marigny saw what Silberhutte had seen: a pair of wolf-warriors rising from behind covering clumps of grass. Between them, shaking off loose grasses and twigs which had been strewn over it to give it camouflage, a great wolf suddenly sprang erect. Not even in his wildest dreams had de Marigny ever imagined the existence of such a beast!
With the eyes of a wolf, yellow and gleaming, and the same lolling tongue, the thing stood as tall as a pony but yet had the low-slungframe of a wolf. Indeed it was a wolf--but its head was the size of a horse's head!
The cloak was on a course which would take the fliers immediately over the heads of the ambushers. Seeing this, de Marigny began slowly to climb, banking to one side as the cloak strained to gain height. He heard Silberhutte yell some incoherent instruction or warning, and at the same time saw the stroboscopic flash and glitter of tomahawks already twirling through the air. He saw, too, the tensing of shaggy-furred muscles as the great lean monster on the ground prepared itself to spring.
One of the razor-honed tomahawks barely grazed de Marigny's ankle as it whistled harmlessly by. The other was inches lower, slicing something that twanged, sagged momentarily, and then snapped. De Marigny had only sufficient time to realize that both weapons had been aimed at him, not Silberhutte, before all balance was gone and the cloak began to yaw wildly. At the same time a massive snarling fury launched itself with all the force of steel-spring legs, clawing at Hank Silberhutte where he swung now in only half a harness, and in another moment the cloak and its passengers were dragged swiftly down out of the air.
Then--a kaleidoscope of action. De Marigny was privileged to witness Silberhutte's awesome speed and ferocity. He had been right about the Texan's great strength, but he would never have guessed that so large a man might be endowed with such lightning reflexes.
For even as he struck the ground with the wolf's great paws about his shoulders, Silberhutte had sunk his wicked picklike ax into the beast's shoulder, causing it to leap back away from him with a howl of pain. One of the two Indians, rushing upon them with a spear aimed at de Marigny's middle, found the shaft of his weapon trapped in a giant's fist, wrenched from his hands, driven hiltfirst into his naked belly so that he doubled over in agony. That blow itself, crushing the bronze heathen's organs, must certainly have crippled or even killed him. But to be doubly sure, as he bent forward and his screaming face came down, Silberhutte's leather-clad knee smashed upward to cut the scream short. Face bones, neck, and spine all broke in unison and the rag-thing that had been a man flopped awkwardly over onto its back.
Desperate as he was to get into the fight and go to the Texan's assistance,de Marigny was already fighting his own battle. In fact as he struggled to make the cloak manageable, he was actually obstructing his companion's action, for one leather strap still fastened Silberhutte to the cloak's harness. At last de Marigny regained control of the cloak and commenced a laborious ascent--only to be knocked sideways by a badly aimed swipe from the partly crippled leg of the now limping wolf. Then the thing was astride him, jaws slavering, terrible fangs bared as the fetid muzzle lowered toward his face.
Silberhutte's weapon was a steely blur as he cut himself free of the restraining harness. He bounded onto the wolf's back, hooked the fingers of his free hand into its nostrils, smashed down once with the spine of his terrible weapon. The needlepoint of that picklike tool drove through skull and into brain and the wolf collapsed atop de Marigny with a final, hideous death spasm.
"Get up into the air, Henri!" Silberhutte roared, leaping from the motionless carcass. "It's our one chance. You can try to help me later--but not if it means risking your own life. And don't worry, they won't kill me. They'll be wanting to keep me for Ithaqua. He has one hell of a score to settle with me! Now go on, man--fly!"
Fighting free of the dead wolf, de Marigny saw the Texan brandishing his bloody weapon--from which the second of the two redskins shrank back--saw him turn until he faced squarely in the direction of the scrubby bushes at the foot of the hills. Racing from that quarter and no more than two dozen or so flying paces away came a pair of wolves with riders on their backs and a third man clinging between them.
And de Marigny knew that Silberhutte was right. So far the wolf-warriors had not attempted to kill the plateau's Warlord out of hand; he would provide the Wind-Walker with a great deal of pleasure. Any ordinary death he might suffer at the hands of the Children of the Wind would only anger Ithaqua--but certainly they had tried to kill de Marigny! Well, he had no intention of dying just yet.
Now, with mere moments to spare, his fingers touched the control studs and the man in the cloak sprang aloft. Looking down, he was in time to see Silberhutte bowled over by the wolves, spread-eagled by the riders of those beasts as they fell on him in a concerted tangle of thrashing bodies and bore him to the ground ... .
For what must have been all of eighteen hours (he could only guess at the passage of time in this strange world where night appeared never to fall and the light was little better than that of an early, misty dawn), de Marigny followed the wolf-warrior party, flying above them and to their rear, well out of the range of their spears and tomahawks. Unlike the Indians of the Motherworld they did not carry bows; Silberhutte had explained that slender bows broke too easily when Ithaqua was close by, that the drastic fall in temperature his presence invariably occasioned made wood brittle as chalk. Also, in a world where both Armandra and her dread sire--aye, and certain of his ice-priests, too--controlled the winds so marvelously, light and slender missiles such as arrows could all too easily be turned back upon those who dispatched them!
In its entirety the party consisted of four wolves and seven Indians. Between two of the wolves the clock was secured to a travois affair of stout poles with several layers of tough hide stretched between them; Silberhutte was strapped facedown to the shaggy back of one of the other beasts. He had been unconscious for three-quarters of the time, knocked down by the flat of a tomahawk that had all but caved in his skull when the wolf-warriors overran him, and de Marigny had at first feared him dead. When at last he had seen the Texan move, then Silberhutte's aerial colleague had been both vastly relieved and delighted, particularly when the prisoner had turned his head on one side to gaze skyward, nodding his awareness when he saw the cloak belling out like a great kite on high.
De Marigny marveled at the strength of the wolf-warriors that they could go so long without resting. Four rode upon the backs of the wolves while the others half-ran, were half-dragged along beside the animals, their fists knotted in the shaggy hair of the huge beasts' flanks. Periodically they would take turns about riding, but even though they obviously relished this occasional respite, still they seemed singularly tireless. But while the stamina of the redskins was not in question, de Marigny himself was beginning to feel very tired, cold and hungry. Time and again he thought to bless Kota'na, whose fur he wore so gladly.
Twice he had let the party move well ahead before descending tosolid ground and giving himself a little exercise, rubbing the numbness from stiff limbs and shaking the weariness out of a head that still ached abominably. On both occasions he had caught up with the wolf-warrior party easily enough afterward, but now his fatigue was such that he began to despair. Surely they must rest soon, when he too might be able to snatch a little sleep?
But it was not until several more miles had been covered that the party made camp. Silberhutte was bundled down from the wolf's back and given food--the sight of which, whatever it was that the Texan was offered, made de Marigny's mouth water--following which the Warlord's hands were tied again and he was put into the close care of three guards. The other four Indians immediately settled down on the naked ground and went to sleep, as did the wolves.
De Marigny was amazed at the apparent invulnerability of these men to the cold (even in this more or less temperate zone the temperature was well down), until he remembered what Silberhutte had told him about the Wind-Walker's effect upon those who came too close to him: the permanent alterations his presence wrought in human tissues and body temperatures. This was why the Warlord's hands always seemed so cold while he himself suffered no discomfort in the most bitter conditions. As for de Marigny: he was growing colder by the minute. His one consoling thought was that however bad his plight might seem to be, Hank Silberhutte's was so much more desperate.
As soon as he was sure that the party was settled in for a few hours at least, de Marigny flew off to one flank and sought a place to hide, shelter, and rest. He found it some miles away in a small cave whose entrance was all but covered by scrub, and there he rested down, pulling Kota'na's fur close about him ...
When he awakened, de Marigny guessed that he had slept overlong. His limbs were stiff and he was colder than ever. Beating his arms across his chest to get the circulation going, he left his cave and came into the open. Then, with his fur wrapped about him to its best advantage, he took once more to the sky.
To the north the sky was overcast, bearing the merest threat of a storm. When de Marigny had arrived on Borea, he had flown highover the plateau, remembering it now as a grimly foreboding jut of gray rock standing massively up from a vast plain of snow. He knew that it could not be long before he flew back into that region, and that then indeed he would be hard put to survive in such low temperatures. Moreover Silberhutte had told him that was where the Children of the Wind were most densely concentrated, where they worshipped Ithaqua at his totem temple. If the Texan's captors got him that far, then there would be no further hope of rescuing him.
He returned to the now forsaken wolf-warrior campsite, passed over it without pause, and flew on, ever northward, scanning ahead and following the ruts made by the travois's runners. Flying as fast as he could, another twenty minutes saw him entering a region where the terrain began to climb. Up ahead he spied ragged-crested hills and knew that the going must now be that much rougher for the wolf-warriors.
As the hills rose up, their sides grew steeper, filled with gullies and crevasses. Great boulders stuck up here and there on the slopes, with loose shale collected about their bases. Many of the crevasses were deep with jagged sides, their floors deep-shadowed and boulder strewn. The hills were desolate and dangerous.
Then he saw the wolf-warriors. They were ahead of him and higher, their attention fixed upon the problem of getting the time-clock up onto the final ridge. All of them were there, engaged in the same task, and as yet they had not seen him. He alighted, crouched down behind a boulder, and took a longer, closer look at their problem.
Normally they would find little difficulty in scaling these heights--indeed, beyond this final rise they would begin to descend, and it would be that much easier--but they had reckoned without the weight of de Marigny's clock. The thing was incredibly heavy. Once when Titus Crow was studying the weird hieroglyphs on its four-handed dial, it had taken four strong men to move it for him.
Right now three wolves were crouched at the top of the ridge. They were roped to the travois, straining to haul it up after them. Strapped to its frame in folds of hide lay the clock, refusing to budge up the rocky incline. Below, levering away at the stubborn device, five of the Indians cursed and shouted and fought to maintain their balanceon the difficult surface. A sixth wolf-warrior goaded on the wolves at the top of the ridge, thumping their sides with his naked fists. The seventh and last, the leader of the party, sat on the back of the fourth wolf immediately behind Hank Silberhutte. He sat there level with the travois but on a firmer piece of ground, shouting instructions at the men who labored to do his bidding. Silberhutte, apparently bored by the whole thing, sat Silently, his hands tied behind him.
De Marigny saw his chance: a heaven-sent opportunity to fly at the back of the leader of the party and unseat him, then to pick up Silberhutte as best he could and carry him over the ridge to safety. And perhaps if Silberhutte had known that de Marigny was close and that he had a plan in mind, then all might have gone according to that plan. He did not know, however, and the Warlord had his own ideas.
Uppermost in Silberhutte's mind was a determination to make as much trouble for his captors as he possibly could, if only to slow them down until de Marigny could catch up. As a last resort he knew he could call on his woman, Armandra, the Priestess of the Plateau, but not until no other option remained. Armanda was not immortal--a tomahawk or spear could kill her just as easily as they could any other mortal--and quite apart from purely physical dangers, Ithaqua himself was due back on Borea at any time. Thus the Texan kept his mind locked tight, telepathically blank, and prayed that Kota'na and the others would not get back to the plateau before he had somehow managed to escape. If they did, and if Armandra took the notion into her head that he was in trouble, then nothing on Borea would prevent her from coming out after him.
Just as de Marigny was about to make his move, the big Texan half-turned where he sat, drove his elbow viciously into his captor's belly, and toppled him for the wolf's back. Then, somehow, he got to his feet, balanced for a moment on the beast's shoulders, launched himself headlong at the five redskins where they levered at the travois and its burden.
A second later saw complete tumult, with Indians flying everywhere, the three wolves on top of the ridge scrabbling frantically to maintain their positions as suddenly they were obliged to take the full weight of the clock, the leader of the party yelling and screamingwhere he had fallen to the stony slope, and Silberhutte himself, completely off-balance, hands still tied behind him, slipping and sliding diagonally down the steep incline away from the havoc he had created.
To add to the confusion, with a snapping of thongs and a rending of hide, the clock suddenly broke free. It toppled over and stood for a moment on its head, then crashed down and outward, end over end, in a series of leaps and bounds back the way it had come. Fearing that it would dislodge his sheltering boulder which would then crush him, de Marigny immediately ascended out of the clock's path. This in turn made him visible to the frantic wolf-warriors.
They saw him--and at once the air rang with their savage cries of fury and outrage. He got the impression that they half-blamed him for their present problems.
Quickly rising higher still, de Marigny took in the scene below at a glance. The clock had finally come to rest face-up where its base had jammed against a huge boulder. Already three of the Indians were scrambling down the slope after it. Two more were picking their way toward a wide crevasse. But where was Silberhutte?
De Marigny's heart almost leaped into his mouth when he saw his friend's predicament. For the Texan was stretched out full-length on the perilous slope, facedown and motionless, his head and shoulders already hanging over the lip of the crevasse--and that crevasse yawned at least a hundred feet deep! The toes of the Texan's boots were dug into loose shale which threatened at every moment to slide him headfirst into space, and there was nothing he could do--no move he could make--without precipitating his own death.
De Marigny glanced longingly once more at the time-clock, glared at the Indians picking their way down to it, then turned his attention back to Silberhutte. The shale was beginning to slip ... .
Suddenly the Texan felt the whole surface moving beneath him. He held his breath, gazed straight down into the abyss, willed himself to remain perfectly still where he had fallen, and offered up a silent prayer to those lucky stars which had ever guided and protected him. The movement beneath him subsided, but not before he had moved out another inch or two over the lip of the crevasse.
He could hear the wolf-warriors cautiously approaching him fromthe rear but dared not turn his head and to look back. If they took him a second time, then in all likelihood he'd end up in Ithaqua's clutches anyway. The pit was greatly preferable to that ... but the fire of life burned bright in Hank Silberhutte, and it was not a spark easily extinguished.
Now he could feel fingers fumbling at his booted feet, could hear the hoarse breathing of the heathens where they crouched fearfully behind him, precariously perched on the shale. Then--impossible, miraculous sound--he heard a cry from close at hand:
"Hang on, Hank! Just another second!"
De Marigny? De Marigny! ...
Yet even as hope surged up in the Texan, in the same moment he felt the shale move again, and this time there was no stopping it. He slid forward, heard the frenzied shrieks of the redmen as they also began to slide, cursed his useless hands that were bound behind him, finally plummeted into air filled with falling shale fragments.
Only at that very last second did the Warlord close his eyes--for no man likes to see death hurtling upon him--but in the next moment he opened them again as his chin sank into fur and jarred against solid flesh beneath.
Slimly muscular legs wrapped about his waist like a vise, as almost in his ear, that same triumphant voice shouted: "Got you, Hank!"
And de Marigny did indeed have him! The Texan's descent, barely begun, was checked as the cloak took the strain and hovered back away from the sheer face. And not a moment too soon.
Whirling, screaming bronze figures shot past in a thrashing of arms and legs. Then, slow but sure the cloak bore the two Earthmen up, up into air dark with the pent-up fury of the storm, bitterly cold air that already seemed to carry a faint tang of ozone. A single tomahawk whirled harmlessly by as they sailed up and over the top of the ridge.
Before them lay a valley and beyond that a low mountain range. Already feeling the strain on his legs where they gripped the Texan's waist, de Marigny picked an open area in the valley and headed for it. It shouldn't take too long to fashion some sort of sling or seat for the extra passenger, then they would get on their way again.
For somehow de Marigny knew that time was now of the essence, that any attempt to retrieve the clock must for the moment beaborted, that hideous danger loomed above Borea's lowering sky, and only the plateau could offer any certain refuge. With one supporting arm about Silberhutte's neck he used his free hand to manipulate the studs that controlled the cloak's flight, urging as much speed as possible from that garment of the Elder Gods as it dropped down like a great bird into the valley ... .
The Coming of Ithaqua
Armandra, the Priestess of the Plateau, stood high above the white waste and stared down from the plateau with troubled eyes. She saw, tiny with distance, Ithaqua's pyramid throne and the circle of totems that ringed it. Her great green eyes surveyed Borea's bleakest region, the snow plain which not so very long ago had been a battleground in the War of the Winds, but her mind was elsewhere.
In her present mood she was not fit company, and so she had sent her handmaiden, Oontawa, away. Even Tracy, the Warlord's sister, with all her assurances that her brother would come to no harm, had not been able to comfort her; neither Tracy nor her man, James Graywing Franklin, the modern Indian come from the Motherworld with Hank Silberhutte and his party. For the Woman of the Winds was filled with premonition, and the golden medallion she wore at her throat seemed to grow more chill against her milky skin with each passing moment--which was a strange sensation for a woman to whom even the most frigid temperatures made for no slightest measure of discomfort.
The trouble was that Hank Silberhutte was away from the plateau; that and the fact that Ithaqua, Armandra's alien father, was due to return shortly to this wintry world. Aye, and knowing that the Wind-Walker must soon come, still the plateau's Warlord saw fit to keep his mind closed to her. Anger flared momentarily in Armandra's breast, and the small gusts of wind that came into this lofty aerie to play with the fringes of her fur jacket stood off, grew still, as the merest tinge of carmine flecked her great eyes.
But what use to be angry about the Warlord, this man from the Motherworld who ruled her heart as surely as she ruled the plateau? What use even to love him, when all he could think of in Ithaqua's absence was to be out and exploring the woods and lands beyond the mountains? A fine father for their child, this man, whose willful nature was already apparent in his offspring.
Then she softened. Ah, but the boy would have Hank's strength, too, and perhaps something of his mother's powers. Not too much of the last, Armandra secretly hoped, for powers such as these must eventually bring him into conflict with his monstrous grandsire, that hellish Old One who even now walked the winds between the worlds as he returned to Borea from undreamed-of wanderings.
She stood on a natural balcony of rock high on the plateau's face. Behind her a smoothly hewn corridor ran around the inside of the plateau's rocky perimeter. In the one direction it led to the mazy, multilevel tunnels, caves, dwellings, and stairways of the plateau's honeycombed interior, in the other to her own and the Warlord's private and luxurious chambers. Armandra stared out between thick bars which alone separated her from a vertiginous drop to the foot of the plateau. The bars were set wide apart, allowing the winds free entry, which was as well for they loved her and were her subjects.
Yet now, with a raised finger, she instantly hushed their humming and wailing to cock her head on one side in an attitude of listening.
Still she cautioned the winds in their play, clenching her fist tight about the medallion where she wore it, searching in its sensitive alloys for those dread vibrations which were ever precursory of Ithaqua's coming. And again ... nothing. But in her heart Armandra knew that he must return very soon, and that before then the Warlord must be back in her arms.
And where was the Warlord? He had not opened his mind to her since finding the newcomer from the Motherworld staked out by the leech pool in the forest. Armandra frowned when she thought of that newcomer--of him, and of the strange vehicle which had brought him to Borea. In the Warlord's mind when he spoke to her, she had detected a hidden interest in that strange device, that "time-clock" ...
Armandra was no fool. She knew well enough that if one man could use such a machine to enter Borea, then that another might surely use it to leave this World of the Winds if he so desired. "A gateway between all the worlds of space and time"--that was how her man had described de Marigny's machine: "A vehicle of the Elder Gods."
And again she frowned ...
She wondered who this stranger was, this Henri-Laurent de Marigny, of whom it seemed the Warlord had knowledge in the Motherworld. And did all men of Earth have such long, strange-sounding names? Suspicion and panic rose up in Armandra like a tide. What if he had come to Borea to take Hank away in his flying machine? What if they were already gone, away from Borea and out into the ether currents that wash between the worlds?
She trembled where she stood. No--she could not believe that--it wasn't so. But then where was he? Again she sent her thoughts out across the bleak white waste, threatening thoughts which she well knew she could never action:
"You--Warlord--father of my child. Do you not know my pain? Are you so heartless that my concern for you, which wounds me, means nothing? Explain yourself, husband, or I swear I'll send a wind to blow you off Borea forever!"
"Eh? What's this?" the answer came back immediately, like joyous laughter in Armandra's mind. "Do you greet me with lightnings, Armandra?"
"I greet you with--with may entire self, great fool! Oh, Hank--where have you been? What have you been doing, and why has your mind been closed to me for so longs Yes, and where are you now--and how long before you return?"
Armandra sent a host of mental questions surging out to him, demanding to know everything. And then, before he could put his own thoughts in order, she continued with yet more questions: "And where is the newcomer's 'time-clock' now? Do the wolf-warriors have it still? I hope so, for only one person has ever had the power to walk on the wind in Borea. I am that person, and I am jealous of my power."
"Oh?" the Warlord's thoughts finally found their way through hertelepathic barrage. "Is that so, wife? And what of your father's kite-men? --and what, of Ithaqua himself?"
"The kites are crude," she answered, "and could not fly without my father's breath in their sails. As for the Wind-Walker: I was talking about people, human beings. Would you call Ithaqua a human being?"
"No," Silberhutte agreed, "never that--he's totally inhuman. But in any case you're mistaken, Armandra. For you see, Henri also walks on the wind; and this flying cloak which bears him up is no clumsy kite!" And he opened up his mind to let the Priestess of the plateau see through his eyes where he soared along, high over the white waste, seated on a huge knot of leather at the end of hastily plaited thongs that were fastened to de Marigny's harness where he flew the cloak above him.
"Do you see, Armandra? You're not the only one who can fly. De Marigny flies, too. Yes, and so do I!" Without malice, with love, Silberhutte's thoughts laughed in Armandra's mind.
For a moment she was dumbfounded by the vision his mind had opened for her. It was not the time-clock she had seen, but some other device--a flying cloak. First a flying coffin, now a flying cloak! And how many more surprises did this man from the Motherworld, this de Marigny, have in store? Armandra stood high in the plateau's wall and searched the horizon minutely for the peculiar flying shape which she knew must soon come into view, for the visitor in his flying cloak, who now bore her own man safely back to her.
"As for your other questions," the Warlord continued, "I'll try to answer them now. I went off with Henri--the two of us flying the cloak--to track down the wolf-warriors and get the time-clock back. Well, things went wrong and they caught me. Henri rescued me, saved my life. As to why I closed my mind to you: as long as there was any danger or the chance of danger I wouldn't let you see what was happening. I didn't want you leaving the plateau for my sake at a time when Ithaqua's return is imminent. And--"
"Ithaqua!" she cut him off, her own thoroughly alarmed thoughts turning his aside. "Oh, no--NO!" And high on her rock-cut balcony she clutched at the medallion cradled in the hollow of her neck where it had begun to vibrate in sympathy with the Wind-Walker's approach.
"What is it, Armandra?" the Warlord anxiously questioned, half-knowing the answer even before she dared express it in thought. "Is he--?"
"Yes, Hank," she cried, her thoughts awash with waves of fear--fear for her man out above the white waste, flying over Ithaqua's own territory at this very moment--"he's coming back! Oh, Hank, hurry! My father comes, striding down the winds to Borea even now!"
Now she could actually see the fliers, a double dot in the sky over Ithaqua's temple, growing larger by the second. Silberhutte had closed his mind to her yet again--perhaps to urge more speed from the man who flew the cloak, more likely to isolate himself from Armandra's mind should her dread father appear on the scene too soon, when the Warlord's thoughts would probably be the last he would ever think--and so the Priestess of the Plateau scanned the far, misted horizon for a larger, darker shape.
Then her eyes detected a movement on the plain southwest of the plateau: the shape of a snow-ship sent out earlier to patrol the far western edge of the white waste and keep a lookout for Silberhutte's party as that band returned. Since the warriors who manned the ship would not return empty-handed, Armandra knew that Kota'na and the rest of her husband's chosen men must be aboard.
She shuddered. So now there would be two targets for Ithaqua when he came: the snow-ship and the flying cloak. Wasting no more time in useless fretting, ignoring the now insistent throbbing and humming of the medallion about her neck, Armandra closed her eyes and lifted up her bare arms until they were horizontal, pointing with her index fingers out over the white waste.
Slowly, eerily, her long red hair floated up over her head, drifting lazily, weightlessly above her. Her face became suffused with a carmine tinge that brightened steadily as it burned out from beneath closed lids. The bones of her skull began to show through her flesh like an X-ray picture, and twin carmine stars blazed where her great eyes had been. Now she herself drifted up from the rocky floor, long-legged, straight-backed, regal as a masterpiece of some fantastic macabre sculptor, her hair and head ablaze with an inner light.
A moment later, coming suddenly upon her from the corridor at her rear, an Eskimo watch keeper from the roof of the plateau stoppeddead in his tracks at the fearful sight of his sovereign in the act of commanding the winds. Seeing that Armandra was already aware of all that transpired, without daring to disturb her in any way, he bowed himself out backward and hurried back the way he had come.
His skin crawled with the sensation of unseen energies, powers of air and space that concentrated now about Armandra, held as yet in check by her, ready to leap in obedience of her slightest command ...
"Henri, we're in big trouble," Silberhutte shouted up to the man who flew above him. De Marigny barely heard the others words before they were snatched away by squalling winds which seemed to howl now from every corner of the sky He held the cloak on course as steadily as lie could and glanced down to see the Texan twisting this way and that where he hung suspended, scanning the sky and shaking his whipping hair out of his eyes.
"Is it Ithaqua?" de Marigny shouted back.
"Yes, and any time now. Look at the sky--there, to the east!"
De Marigny looked as bidden--and saw a fantastic, freakish thing. The sky itself seemed a crawl with sentient, deliberate motion.
The clouds, white and gray and a mixture of both--heavy nimbostratus and wispy cumulus alike, from all strata of Borea's atmosphere--were being drawn, sucked toward some central point. It seemed to de Marigny that he gazed upon a huge whirlpool in the sky, a cauldron of boiling clouds. More strongly yet the winds howled and rushed, threatening now to drag the cloak and its passengers, too, toward that portentous and awe-inspiring aerial phenomenon.
In a matter of seconds the sky became still darker and angry, until it was as if a deep and dreadful twilight had fallen over Borea. Now the clouds jostled and careened above, blue-black and laced with brightly flickering traceries of electrical fire; while eastward, at the center of the tumult, there seemed to be a great, continuous explosion taking place in the upper atmosphere. The clouds boiled down and outward from that point, like an inverted ocean hurled back by the emergence of a volcano of the upper air, except that where the cone should be, only an area of clear sky now showed.
The clear patch rapidly enlarged as, suddenly, the clouds took flight. They raced away from that spot, writhing and roaring theirterror with thunder voices across Borea's tortured heavens, hastening one another with lashes of lightning. And finally de Marigny and his passenger saw why the clouds fled in such chaotic panic ...
For now he came, striding down from vaults of space as a giant descends an invisible stairway, falling out of the sky on great webbed feet, glaring down on the white waste through huge carmine stars that burned as the fires of hell themselves in his darkly demonic head.
Ithaqua the Wind-Walker was back on Borea!
"Henri, can you get us out of here?" Silberhutte's shout fought the shrieking wind, reaching up to the man who piloted the cloak.
"I can get closer to the ground," de Marigny yelled back. "Try to stay close to whatever cover there is. But there's no way we can make more headway. Perhaps he won't see us."
"Not much hope of that. He doesn't miss a thing. But look over there--the snow-ship. That'll be Kota'na and the rest of my men." The Warlord paused to let the shrieking of the wind die down a little, then continued: "That ought to give Ithaqua a tiny problem: which target to pick off first!" Unwittingly he had echoed Armandra's own thoughts.
Now the Old One's temple stood to the rear, and as the cloak dropped toward the white waste, so snow and ice crystals came up in stinging flurries to greet it. The temperature had dropped alarmingly, and de Marigny was sure that he must already be suffering from exposure. He could barely feel his fingers where they worked at the control studs, and his beard, hair, and eyebrows were rimed with frost.
With only three or four miles to go now to the plateau, still that looming refuge of rock seemed a thousand light-years away. De Marigny's exhaustion was reaching a critical stage, and he could barely keep his eyes open in the blast of ice crystals that rushed and eddied over the surface of the white waste. Occasionally, through breaks in the flurries, he would catch a glimpse of a great wedge-shaped shipthat sailed on three massive skis across the icy surface half a mile to his left, but it was becoming too much of an effort to do anything other than control the cloak as it was rocked and buffeted by gust after gust of frigid air, snow, and diamond-hard particles of ice.
Then Ithaqua's shadow fell over them as they flew, and looking up, de Marigny was spurred to greater effort as he stared into the gigantic face of that living doom called the Wind-Walker. What did the old Eskimo legends of Earth say? That to gaze into Ithaqua's eyes was to be damned forever? Well then, de Marigny knew he was damned, and moreover that the threatened doom would not be too long in coming.
Hideously anthropomorphic, the Old One stood in a sky from which all clouds were totally fled now. He stood there, impossibly still, on a half-mile-high pedestal of thin air, peering down through eyes which had narrowed to the merest carmine slits.
"My God," de Marigny thought to himself. "He's seen us!"
But no, three-quarters obscured by snow flurries as they flew low over the surface, the Wind-Walker had not seen them ... yet. But he had seen the snow-ship and knew it to be of the plateau. The flaring, bottomless pits which were his eyes opened up wide, and his monstrous black blot of a head rocked back in an attitude of crazed laughter. His whole body shook with silent, lunatic glee--but in the next moment he was still and cold once more.
Slowly the vastly bloated figure reached a taloned hand into the sky where clouds were already forming, materializing even as he moved. His hand reached into the new-formed cloud bank, withdrew holding a huge ball of ice! Lower the Wind-Walker stepped, down an invisible staircase of frozen air, and his eyes glared more hellishly yet as his arm went back, almost leisurely, in preparation for a throw.
"Get us up, Henri," Silberhutte yelled. "Up, man, where he can see us!"
But de Marigny had already anticipated the other's scheme, had indeed undertaken a rapid ascent on his own initiative; and up above the flurries rode the cloak, up into the view of Ithaqua where he stood poised in midair, a gigantic statue of black ice imbued with monstrous life. And the ploy--however dangerous, however reckless--worked, at least for the time being.
With the plateau no more than a mile distant, making what speed they could against the rushing wind and howling snow devils, the snowship and cloak with its two passengers battled their way across the white waste beneath the gaze of the Wind-Walker. And the carmine orbs of his eyes went from ship to cloak as he paused in alien approximation of consternation.
Lower still he stepped, glowing eyes huge and flecked now with sparks of gold, down toward the plain beneath. The snow-ship he finally dismissed with one last searching glance; the cloak--ah!--that was where his real interest was centered.
Ithaqua could hardly credit his good fortune. Unless he was mistaken, the flying device that fled across the snow beneath his burning gaze bore two of his worst enemies, enemies of all the Great Old Ones. Men of Earth, one brought here in great error by himself and the other ... now that was most interesting. Could it be that yet a third male human being--the most hated of all human beings--could it be that he, too, was on Borea? For how else could this earthbound worm beneath, the pilot of the flying cloak, have reached Borea other than in the time-clock of Titus Crow, nemesis of the CCD?
Well then, if Titus Crow were close at hand, there was danger--even for Ithaqua of the Snows, great danger--in the shape of the weapon that Kthanid the Elder God had built into the time-clock, whose ray was as a rapier against the flesh of the CCD. Even now Crow might be rushing to the rescue of the two who rode the cloak. Ithaqua's eyes became carmine slits once more as he thought of Crow. His hand closed into a giant's fist, crushing the ice ball he carried into blue shards that flew in all directions like an aerial bomb burst.
Then his hand opened and reached down; taloned doom that closed on the fleeing pair as an eagle falls to its prey. Utterly impotent to avoid its approach, Silberhutte and de Marigny watched the descent of that vast demon claw, that hand open and reaching to snatch them out of the icy air, to crush them into raw red pulp. And knowing that this must be the end, still the Texan thought to open his mind and send one last blast of telepathic hate in Ithaqua's direction:
"Do your worst, Hell-Thing--for it's what I would do to you given half a chance!"
A great black shadow blotted out the sky as Ithaqua's hand came down upon them, fingers closing. Then--
From nowhere, at the last moment, a whirling snow devil enveloped the cloak, thrust it furiously toward the plateau's now looming rock face. The Wind-Walker's hand closed on thin air, and astounded and enraged, he hurled his arms wide to the skies and screamed silent threats at his minion elementals one of which, obviously in error, had whisked his enemies from his grasp. Again he reached for the pair, more in anger than eagerness this time, but once more they were rushed from his frustrated, bloating fingers by--by traitor winds!
The first time might have been a mistake, however stupid a mistake, but not the second. Not twice. Not after his warning. No, this was outside interference. This was ... Armandra!
Armandra, the Woman of the Winds, Ithaqua's wayward daughter who would not accompany him on his enforced interstellar wanderings. Armandra, the Priestess of the Plateau, who had stepped out through the wide bars of her high balcony to command the winds in defiance of her alien father. And now she too spoke to him with her mind, using that telepathic power she shared with Hank Silberhutte alone, defying Ithaqua as she had ever defied him from where she stood white and wondrous on a pedestal of air in front of the plateau, her arms flung wide to the white waste:
"See, monstrous father mine, how even the small winds turn against you! And you would have me walk beside you on the great winds that roar between the worlds? No, I will stay here on Borea and command the little winds and lightnings when you are away, for while the elementals of air and space and the storm fear you, they have only love for me. Aye, and I for them; but I loathe their master as surely as they do, as surely as I am his daughter!"
And now, together with the snow-ship, the men who flew the cloak were also forgotten as Ithaqua gazed at Armandra. She was within easy reach, facing him squarely, her own eyes as carmine in their starry intensity as were his, and she stood away from the plateau's face by at least a hundred feet. One fast grab with bloated, greedy fist ... she would be his!
Flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood. If he could only take her--carry her away from Borea and show her the wonder of distant worlds, the great ice planets on the rims of star systems whose suns were mere dying embers--then she would know the glory and the power that were his, and perhaps she would want to share them with him. Aye, and there was her child, too, a man-child. A grandson for Ithaqua, who in his turn would walk the winds between the worlds and work for the release of Great Cthulhu.
While these thoughts and others flashed through the mind of the Great Old One, both snow-ship and cloak slipped in through the gates of one of the plateau's keeps. The ship slowed to a halt as ice anchors were thrown out; men and bears hastily disembarked and were hustled by eager helpers into the plateau's familiar maze of tunnels and caves. The men in the cloak alighted, and they, too, took shelter in the mouth of a major tunnel. From there, heart in mouth, Silberhutte gazed up at the aerial confrontation taking place above.
He gazed--cried out!--as Ithaqua's hand swept forward and his fingers began to close on Armandra ... then cried out again, this time in exultation as the Wind-Walker drew back empty-handed, throwing up taloned hands before eyes which were suddenly fearful and flinching. Like a scalded dog the Snow-Thing stood off from the plateau, and Silberhutte felt the acid blast of telepathic loathing and fear that radiated from him.
Briefly the Warlord felt these things, momentarily, and something more. Bright in his mind's eye he saw a symbol--one which was now almost as painful to him as it was to Ithaqua and all others of the CCD--the symbol of a five-pointed star ablaze with searing flames!
"Tracy!" the Texan shouted his joy as Armandra slipped back in through the bars of her aerie to safety ... "Tracy, you're a wonder!"
For he knew that somewhere on the plateau's face, even now his sister leaned out over the white waste and held up one of the starstones of ancient Mnar to ward off the Wind-Walker, and he knew also that for the moment Ithaqua was impotent to harm any of those he held dear.
"It was Tracy, Henri," he cried, turning to de Marigny. "Tracy, with one of her blessed--one of her damned--star-stones. Thanks to Tracy, and to Armandra, we've all come through it!"
De Marigny managed a weak nod of understanding, but he was too far gone to find the strength to smile. His eyes were glazed slits; he was covered with rime and frostbitten from head to toe; his legs, which he could hardly feel, would not hold up straight, and so he leaned against the tunnel's wall. Silberhutte saw his dangerous condition at a glance, picked him up, and ran with him into the tunnel toward the light of distant flambeaux. As he ran, he called for assistance, for the plateau's best physicians ...
... And well away from the plateau where the power of the starstones could not touch him, Ithaqua silently raged and blustered and bloated up more gigantic yet as he called forth the fiendish elementals of the Great Storm, the malevolence of interstellar spirits, the wrath and fury of thunder and lightning to hurl against the plateau.
But the plateau, impervious as ever, paid not the slightest heed.
Slowly but surely de Marigny recovered from his sustained ordeal of privation. In the Motherworld he might well have died, but here on Borea, where temperatures outside the plateau could fluctuate wildly--especially under the influence of Ithaqua or certain of his ice-priests--medicine in the fields of frostbite, exposure, hypothermia, and allied ailments was far advanced. For even in an environment where the great majority of members of the various levels of "society" were immune to all but the extreme lower levels of temperature, still the inhabitants of the plateau were human beings. Layers of human skin will crack; frigid air will shred the delicate webs of agonized human lungs, and human blood itself will freeze without a great deal of persuasion. In the plateau, as anywhere else, Necessity had been the Mother of Invention--especially of the medicines of snow and ice ...
So the Earthman recovered, and within twenty days Earth time he was mobile again and already exploring the plateau's mazy interiornetwork of caverns and tunnels on all their many levels. He found his way to the gymnasiums, arenas, and great meeting halls; to the cavern lakes of the lower regions where the Eskimo fishermen cast their nets by the light of flaring flambeaux; to the stables, storehouses, and trading centers; eventually to the roof itself, where guardsmen kept vigilant watch over the white waste and the movements of Ithaqua's acolytes and worshipers at the totem temple.
Of Ithaqua: de Marigny was told that when the wolf-warrior party with the stolen time-clock finally arrived at the Wind-Walker's temple and dragged their prize to the foot of his ice-pyramid throne, he had shown little real or immediate interest in de Marigny's space-time vehicle. He had continued to spend the greater part of his time glowering at the distant plateau from under half-lowered lids, the carmine of his eyes as smokily pensive as lava bubbling in the throat of a massively threatening but momentarily passive volcano.
Gradually, however, as the time grew closer to his departure, when once more he must forsake Borea to go out on his endless wanderings between the dimensional spheres, Ithaqua's interest in the time-clock increased. Often he would pause in his scowling where he crouched atop his pile of heterogeneous artifacts from the Motherworld frozen into a pyramid of steel-hard ice, pause to lift up the time-clock in a massive fist and stare at it with eyes that flared murkily.
At other times he would assume the size and proportions of a man and call his ice-priests to him to converse with them (by whichever means he used), for they understood the ways of men better than he, and obviously he hatched some plot against the men of the plateau--particularly the Warlord and the newcomer from the Motherworld. Often, too, he would take a woman of one of his tribes in icy hand and stride off with her on the wings of the wind into unknown regions to the east. Those women he took did not go willingly for they were common women and not worth sparing once Ithaqua had done with them, and always he returned alone. In Armandra's own words: "Insatiable as Space and almost old as Time, my father is as lustful--and bestial--as ever he was!"
When de Marigny was nearly mended, he was given an audience with Armandra in her own sumptuous apartments. There she questioned him minutely in all aspects of his adventures with Titus Crow,adventures of which Hank Silberhutte had already apprised her but which she seemed to find both thrilling and enthralling when retold by de Marigny. And right from the start it was perfectly obvious to the Woman of the Winds that never before had she met a man like this one. Even in the Motherworld he had been something of an anachronism--the perfect gentleman in a world where morals and all standards of common courtesy were continually falling, even in the highest strata of society--but here on Borea his like was unknown.
For while he treated her like the queen she was and behaved as the very gentlest of gentlemen in her presence, and while she quickly warmed to him who had saved the life of her beloved Warlord, still she sensed that he would be equally gallant with any lady of quality. Nor did it require much effort on the handsome Earthman's part to convince her that his presence on Borea was purely accidental, that he had not deliberately sought out Hank Silberhutte to perform some fantastic interplanetary, hyperdimensional rescue! He was on his way to Elysia, home of the Elder Gods, and only the tides of fate had washed him up on Borea's chilly strand.
As for the esteem in which he held her, which amounted to something very much akin to awe, de Marigny hardly needed to fake it. He was after all of French descent, and she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. As gorgeous in her beauty as Titus Crow's own Tiania, Armandra was a young but fully mature, indeed a regal person, and it was more her great beauty that held de Marigny's appreciative attention than the fantastic powers he knew she commanded.
Shortly after his audience with the Priestess of the Plateau, because the Warlord thought it would be good therapy for his rapidly recuperating body, de Marigny found himself given over into the none-too-gentle hands of the plateau's weapon masters. And Silberhutte had been right. For as time passed, the newcomer became so engrossed in his studies that he soon mastered all the elementary techniques of the plateau's weaponry and went on to develop a flair and panache quite unique in one previously unaccustomed to such arts.
Therapeutically then, his daily sessions in the gymnasiums and arenas worked wonders for the stranded Earthman, but his main reasonfor giving himself up so completely to his tutors was not the perfecting of physical efficiency or the mastery of murderous weapons of war. He did it to keep his mind off the fact that he was marooned here on Borea, lost on an alien world in a strange parallel dimension. For Elysia seemed farther than ever from his grasp, and the wonders Titus Crow had so graphically described were fading in his mind's eye with each passing hour.
De Marigny's living quarters on the perimeter wall of the plateau where they overlooked the white waste through a number of small windows cut deep and square through solid rock, were spacious, sumptuous, and warm. They were heated by the same oil fires that kept the plateau's precipitous face free from the layers of ice which must otherwise soon close up all entries and exits alike and deprive the great hive of its air and water supplies. The mineral oil came from a great black lake in the bowels of the place, a lake which had fed itself immemorially from some source far below ground. Along with the fresh-water lakes that teemed with blind cavernicolous fish and the well-stocked animal pens of the lower levels, the lake of oil assured the plateau its complete independence.
All in all, then, de Marigny's lot might be considered extremely comfortable, and it would not have been an at all unpleasant or even tedious existence on Borea ... but for the fact that he could see, through binoculars loaned him by the Warlord, the time-clock where it nestled in a glittering of white rime at the foot of Ithaqua's pyramid altar.
The time-clock--his gateway to the stars, his magic carpet between worlds--so close and yet so far away.
He had his flying cloak, of course, and had demonstrated its gravity-defying skills before a thrilled audience of chieftains and Elders--its remarkable maneuverabiliy in the cold air high above the plateau--but whenever he strayed out marginally over the white waste, he would feel the tentative tug of sinister winds. Then Ithaqua would stir atop his icy pyramid and stretch himself with the indolent but watchful attitude of a deceptively lazy cat.
Armandra had warned de Marigny about that, and when on the last occasion she herself had to send friendly winds to release him from the blustery clutches of one of her father's lesser elementals ofthe air, then she reluctantly but firmly denied him any further use of the cloak. And so he removed that garment of so many adventures, folded it, and laid it safely away in his rooms.
From that time forward, seeing the way de Marigny gradually retired within himself, the plateau's Warlord despaired for his newfound friend and cursed his own inability to assist him; and while previously he had only tentatively broached to Armandra the subject of the possibility of the eventual rescue or recovery of the time-clock, now Silberhutte gave her little respite but determinedly brought the matter up at every opportunity until she was heartily sick of it. Such was his apparent obsession that while Armandra now trusted de Marigny completely, she found herself doubting the Warlord's own motives.
Could it be that her man's ever-increasing concern for de Marigny and his Elysian quest was nothing more than a front hiding a desire to desert her and leave Borea forever? There seemed to be only one sure way to discover the truth of the matter: to assist in the clock's recovery and see what next happened. And if the Warlord did indeed desert her? Well then, if that were what he wanted, he would be free to go, but Armandra was unwilling to dwell too long upon the possibility of that ever happening.
Was he not the father of her child--and did she not know his very mind, his every thought? Ruefully she had to admit that recently she did not know his mind, for more than ever before he kept his thoughts closed to her. This could well be for her own good; he might not want her sharing his worries; but on the other hand was it not at least feasible that he secretly harbored a desire to be rid of her and Borea forever?
And always the problem returned to the same stumbling block--the question of the Warlord's loyalty, his love for her--so that in the end Armandra resigned herself to the one possible course of action. If the time should ever arrive when she could assist de Marigny in the recovery of his time-clock, then she would do so, and in so doing, she would give the man she called husband, Hank Silberhutte, every opportunity to leave her.
Having made her decision and considered its possible conclusions, she then turned her thoughts to certain inner nightmares--to dwell upon the vast spaces between the stars and the even greater voids betweendimensions--and having done so, she shuddered. Long and long had her father tried to tempt her away to walk with him on the winds that continually blow between the worlds ... and wasn't she his daughter? If Hank Silberhutte had not come to Borea when he did, then by now she might--
But thoughts of Silberhutte, her man from the Motherworld, and of their man-child, stilled her fears at once. No, it could never happen, she was sure of the Warlord's love; so sure that at the first opportunity she would put him to the ultimate test. Then she would see what she would see, for only then could her faith in him--her great love for him--earn its reward ... .
De Marigny was asleep and dreaming wonderful dreams of Elysia, of Earth's dreamworld, and of all the strange and marvelous planets out on the very rim of existence, so that he all but cried out in anger when Hank Silberhutte shook him unceremoniously awake.
"Henri, wake up, there's something you should see. This may be our chance to get the clock back!"
Hearing the Warlord's words, the dull edge was driven instantly from de Marigny's mind. He got up and quickly followed Silberhutte to one of the square windows overlooking the white waste. Even without binoculars he could see a lot of unaccustomed activity about the Snow-Thing's distant altar. Ithaqua's peoples were there in their thousands, forming a dark oval blot on the white of the frozen earth.
Taking up his glasses and focusing them on the distant scene, de Marigny asked: "Why has he mustered them? Is there to be an attack on the plateau?"
The Warlord shook his head. "No, not that. He lost three-quarters of his army the last time he tried it--yes, and he learned a terrible lesson in the bargain. They've gathered to witness his departure, to be instructed in the arts of their master--and to be reminded of the penalties for any sort of treason or action of defiance of his laws.When last the Wind-Walker was away raping and murdering some poor girl of the tribes, three of his wolf-warriors--probably relatives of the girl--tried to defect to the plateau. It's not the first time; we've gained several useful citizens that way even in the time I've been here. On this occasion, however, they ..." He paused and shrugged. "This time they were caught and taken back alive. Before he goes, Ithaqua will deal with them."
"He'll kill them?" de Marigny asked.
The Warlord nodded. "It won't be pleasant to watch, and that's not why I awakened you. My reason for doing so is simple: once Ithaqua leaves Borea, we may be able to recover the time-clock. And the sooner we get moving the better. Armandra says she'll help us--in fact she seems to have turned completely about-face on the thing. She wouldn't even talk of it at one time--now she says she'll do all she can to help you get the clock back."
"But that's marv--," de Marigny began, but the Warlord cut him off with:
"Look there. What's happening now?"
Again training his binoculars on the totem temple, de Marigny answered, "The ice-priests are bringing forward three captives through the ranks outside the circle of totems. The three are struggling like madmen, but their hands are bound. The rest of the crowd seems cowed, unmoving, heads bowed. Those inside the circle are prostrated. None but the priests move, and they leap and twirl like dervishes. The first of the three captives is pushed forward right to the foot of the ice pyramid."
"Henri, you don't have to watch," Silberhutte warned.
"I know quite a lot about Ithaqua already, Hank. If I'm to know him fully, then I may as well see him at his worst. Whatever is to happen will happen regardless of my witnessing it."
Watching the distant scene, de Marigny grew still as Ithaqua reached down to lift up the first of his victims. The man, an Indian by his looks and dress, had stopped struggling and now held himself stiffly erect as Ithaqua's massive fist drew him effortlessly into the air. Without preamble the Wind-Walker held the man up above his monstrous head, turning his glowing eyes upward to stare at him for a moment. Then those eyes blazed wide open and their fires flickered withan almost visible heat. The taloned hand opened suddenly and the Indian fell, a doll spinning briefly in the air before plummeting with a splash of carmine sparks into one of Ithaqua's eyes!
Slowly the grotesque figure atop the ice throne resumed his original position, then reached down again to take up the second wolf-warrior. Not so brave this man. He kicked with his legs and struggled violently. Ithaqua held him on high, made as if to drop him--then caught him--casually used thumb and forefinger of his free hand to pluck off one of the man's kicking, offending legs!
Sickened, de Marigny looked away, then held to his resolve and found the scene once more. Ithaqua was now in the act of tossing a limbless, headless torso into the crowd within the circle of totems. And it was now the turn of the third and final offender.
Grabbed up in massive fist, the man seemed to have fainted; his body hung slack from the Wind-Walker's fingers. Almost indifferent, Ithaqua threw him aloft in a high arc. De Marigny expected to see the body plummet to earth--but no, not yet. Ithaqua's fiendish elementals of the air had him, boosting him higher still, spinning him like a top until his limbs formed a cross, then buffeting him at dizzy speeds, north, south, east, and west above the white waste. Finally he zoomed skyward, a marionette jerked up on invisible wires, to be thrown down at high velocity into the scattering crowd.
And indeed the crowd was scattering for who could trust in the Wind-Walker's mood at a time like this? He had been amusing himself but now ... now the game was over.
Or was it?
He cast about, turning his huge head from side to side, and at last his eyes came to rest on the time-clock where it lay at the foot of the pyramid. De Marigny gasped as the clock was snatched up--gasped again as Ithaqua threw back his black blot of a head and rocked with the convulsions of crazed laughter. Dumb, no audible sound escaped the monster, but in the next moment he turned his face to look square upon the plateau--square, de Marigny thought, at the window where he and Silberhutte stood--and hell itself flared in the carmine fires of his eyes.
Then, time-clock firmly clenched in hand, he leaped aloft to stride up terraces of air, grew large as, still rising, he raced for the plateau,his shadow an acre of darkness on the white waste. Almost directly overhead he came to an impossible halt, stared down for a moment, and held up the clock like a toy--no, like a trophy!--in his great hand, his whole body shaking with massive glee. Then he was gone, out of sight over the roof of the plateau and up into higher reaches of the chill atmosphere ... .
... Gone from sight, yes, and gone with him the time-clock, de Marigny's one hope of ever escaping from Borea and passing on into Elysia. For the first time the man from the Motherworld was truly stranded, and there seemed to be absolutely nothing he could do about it.
Less than four hours later Hank Silberhutte found de Marigny on the plateau's roof. Approaching him, the Warlord felt satisfaction at his friend's robust if somewhat dejected appearance. Silently he appraised and approved limbs and muscles that had benefited greatly from long hours spent in the gymnasiums and arenas. Nor was de Marigny too heavily wrapped as he leaned across the battlements and stared morosely out over the white waste. He had started to grow accustomed to the bitter temperatures discovered whenever he left his apartment on the plateau's warm perimeter.
"Henri, you look miserable."
Turning, de Marigny nodded a welcome and his agreement. "Yes, and I feel it." His tone was wry. "Should I be happy?"
"I think you'll be happy enough shortly."
There was a look about the Warlord that the other could not quite fathom, as if he harbored some pleasurable secret. Suddenly hope stirred in de Marigny and he asked: "Hank, what is it? What's happened?"
The other shrugged. "Oh, nothing much--except we still have a chance ..."
"A chance--for what? How do you mean, 'a chance'?"
"Ithaqua's gone, that much you know--but he didn't take the clock with him after all!"
De Marigny grasped the Warlord's arms. "You mean it's still here, on Borea?"
Silberhutte shook his head. "Not on Borea, no, but on one ofBorea's moons. He visited both moons before he went off on his wanderings--and when he left them, the clock stayed behind. Look--"
He pointed to the distant horizon, where two vast moons showed their dimly glowing rims, permanently suspended beyond the hills as if painted there by some cosmic artist. "That's where your time-clock is, Henri, in the moons of Borea. Which one--Numinos or Dromos--I don't know. One or the other, only time will tell."
De Marigny shook his head, frowning, failing to understand. "But if the clock is on one of Borea's moons, we're separated from it by at least twenty thousand miles of interplanetary space! A chance, you said, but what sort of chance is that? And how can you be sure that the clock is there in the first place?"
The Warlord held up a hand and said: "Calm down, friend, and I'll explain.
"First off, Armandra kept track of her father telepathically when he left. She knows that when he finished his business on the moons, he no longer had the clock with him. Indeed she believes that he deliberately let her see that he'd left the clock behind. Possibly he thinks he might trap her into leaving Borea--but I won't let that happen."
"Do you mean to say that Armandra could walk between the worlds like Ithaqua?"
"If she wanted to yes. That's always been her father's chief desire: to have her walking with him on the winds that blow between the worlds. If ever he managed to trap her out there"--with a toss of his head he indicated the alien star-spaces above and beyond--"he'd never let her go again, would kill her first.
"Then how," de Marigny patiently pressed, "are we ever to get the clock back? I don't see what--"
"Henri," the other cut him off "what would you say if I offered you the chance to take part in the greatest adventure of a lifetime? Yes, and a chance to get your clock back in the bargain? Dangers there'll be certainly, and your life itself may well be at risk throughout. but what an adventure--to fly out to the moons of Borea!"
"Fly to the moons of--" de Marigny's jaw dropped. "Hank, are you feeling well? How in the name of all that's weird could I possibly fly out to the moons of Borea? Through space? An airless void? I don't see--"
"This is Borea, Henri," Silberhutte reminded, again cutting him off. "It's not the Motherworld, not Earth. Things are often as different here as they are in Earth's dreamworld--or so I gather from what you've told me. We're in an alien dimension, man, and things are possible which would be totally unthinkable on Earth. You want to know how you get to the moons of Borea? As I said, you fly there--in your cloak!"
"My flying cloak? But--"
"No buts, Henri. This is how it will happen:
"Armandra will call up the biggest tornado you could possibly imagine--a fantastic twister, a great funnel of whirling wind twenty thousand miles long--and we'll fly down its eye like a bullet down the barrel of a rifle!"
"A tornado?" de Marigny's imagination spun as dizzily as the wonder Silberhutte described. "Fly down the eye of a vast tornado? And did you say 'we'?"
"We--yes--of course! Did you really think I'd let you go adventuring in the moons of Borea on your own?" And the Warlord laughed and slapped his thigh. "Now come on, we've one or two things to attend to."