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Title: The Footfalls Within
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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Title: The Footfalls Within
Author: Robert E. Howard



Solomon Kane gazed sombrely at the native woman who lay dead at his
feet. Little more than a girl she was, but her wasted limbs and
staring eyes showed that she had suffered much before death brought
her merciful relief. Kane noted the chain galls on her limbs, the deep
crisscrossed scars on her back, the mark of the yoke on her neck. His
cold eyes deepened strangely, showing chill glints and lights like
clouds passing across depths of ice.

"Even into this lonesome land they come," he muttered. "I had not
thought--"

He raised his head and gazed eastward. Black dots against the blue
wheeled and circled.

"The kites mark their trail," muttered the tall Englishman.
"Destruction goeth before them and death followeth after. Woe unto ye,
sons of iniquity, for the wrath of God is upon ye. The cords be loosed
on the iron necks of the hounds of hate and the bow of vengeance is
strung. Ye are proud-stomached and strong, and the people cry out
beneath your feet, but retribution cometh in the blackness of midnight
and the redness of dawn."  He shifted the belt that held his heavy
pistols and the keen dirk, instinctively touched the long rapier at
his hip, and went stealthily but swiftly eastward. A cruel anger
burned in his deep eyes like blue volcanic fires burning beneath
leagues of ice, and the hand that gripped his long, cat-headed stave
hardened into iron.

After some hours of steady striding, he came within hearing of the
slave train that wound its laborious way through the jungle. The
piteous cries of the slaves, the shouts and curses of the drivers,
and the cracking of the whips came plainly to his ears. Another hour
brought him even with them, and gliding along through the jungle
parallel to the trail taken by the slavers, he spied upon them safely.
Kane had fought Indians in Darien and had learned much of their
woodcraft.

More than a hundred natives, young men and women, staggered along the
trail, stark naked and made fast together by cruel yoke-like affairs
of wood. These yokes, rough and heavy, fitted over their necks and
linked them together, two by two. The yokes were in turn fettered
together, making one long chain. Of the drivers there were fifteen
Arabs and some seventy negro warriors, whose weapons and fantastic
apparel showed them to be of some eastern tribe--one of those tribes
subjugated and made Moslems and allies by the conquering Arabs.

Five Arabs walked ahead of the train with some thirty of their
warriors, and five brought up the rear with the rest of the negro
warriors. The rest marched beside the staggering slaves, urging them
along with shouts and curses and with long, cruel whips which brought
spurts of blood at almost every blow. These slavers were fools as well
as rogues, reflected Kane--not more than half of them would survive
the hardships of the trek to the coast.

He wondered at the presence of these raiders, for this country lay far
to the south of the districts which they usually frequented. But
avarice can drive men far, as the Englishman knew. He had dealt with
these gentry of old. Even as he watched, old scars burned in his
back-- scars made by Moslem whips in a Turkish galley. And deeper
still burned Kane's unquenchable hate.

The Puritan followed, shadowing his foes like a ghost, and as he stole
through the jungle, he racked his brain for a plan. How might he
prevail against that horde? All of the Arabs and many of their allies
were armed with guns--long, clumsy firelock affairs, it is true, but
guns just the same, enough to awe any tribe of natives who might
oppose them. Some carried in their wide girdles long, silver-chased
pistols of more effective pattern--flintlocks of Moorish and Turkish
make.

Kane followed like a brooding ghost and his rage and hatred ate into
his soul like a canker. Each crack of the whips was like a blow on his
own shoulders. The heat and cruelty of the tropics play queer tricks.
Ordinary passions become monstrous things; irritation runs to a
berserker rage; anger flames into unexpected madness and men kill in a
red mist of passion, and wonder, aghast, afterward. The fury Solomon
Kane felt would have been enough at any time and in any place to shake
a man to his foundation. Now it assumed monstrous proportions, so that
Kane shivered as if with a chill; iron claws scratched at his brain
and he saw the slaves and the slavers through a crimson mist. Yet he
might not have put his hate-born insanity into action had it not been
for a mishap.

One of the slaves, a slim young girl, suddenly faltered and slipped to
the earth, dragging her yoke-mate with her. A tall, hook-nosed Arab
yelled savagely and lashed her viciously. Her yoke-mate staggered
partly up, but the girl remained prone, writhing weakly beneath the
lash but evidently unable to rise. She whimpered pitifully between her
parched lips, and other slavers came about her, their whips descending
on her quivering flesh in slashes of red agony.

A half hour of rest and a little water would have revived her, but the
Arabs had no time to spare. Solomon, biting his arm until his teeth
met in the flesh as he fought for control, thanked God that the
lashing had ceased and steeled himself for the swift flash of the
dagger that would put the child beyond torment. But the Arabs were in
a mood for sport. Since the girl would fetch them no profit on the
market block, they would utilize her for their pleasure--and their
humour was such as to turn men's blood to icy water.

A shout from the first whipper brought the rest crowding around, their
bearded faces split in grins of delighted anticipation, while their
savage allies edged nearer, their eyes gleaming. The wretched slaves
realized their masters' intentions and a chorus of pitiful cries rose
from them.

Kane, sick with horror, realized, too, that the girl's was to be no
easy death. He knew what the tall Moslem intended to do, as he stooped
over her with a keen dagger such as the Arabs used for skinning game.
Madness overcame the Englishman. He valued his own life little; he had
risked it without thought for the sake of a pagan child or a small
animal. Yet he would not have premeditatedly thrown away his one hope
of succouring the wretches in the train. But he acted without
conscious thought. A pistol was smoking in his hand and the tall
butcher was down in the dust of the trail with his brains oozing out,
before Kane realized what he had done.

He was almost as astonished as the Arabs, who stood frozen for a
moment and then burst into a medley of yells. Several threw up their
clumsy firelocks and sent their heavy balls crashing through the
trees, and the rest, thinking no doubt that they were ambushed, led a
reckless charge into the jungle. The bold suddenness of that move was
Kane's undoing. Had they hesitated a moment longer he might have faded
away unobserved, but as it was he saw no choice but to meet them
openly and sell his life as highly as he could.

And indeed it was with a certain ferocious fascination that he faced
his howling attackers. They halted in sudden amazement as the tall,
grim Englishman stepped from behind his tree, and in that instant one
of them died with a bullet from Kane's remaining pistol in his heart.
Then with yells of savage rage they flung themselves on their lone
defier.

Solomon Kane placed his back against a huge tree and his long rapier
played a shining wheel about him. An Arab and three of his equally
fiercer allies were hacking at him with their heavy curved blades
while the rest milled about, snarling like wolves, as they sought to
drive in blade or ball without maiming one of their own number.

The flickering rapier parried the whistling scimitars and the Arab
died on its point, which seemed to hesitate in his heart only an
instant before it pierced the brain of a sword-wielding warrior.
Another attacker dropped his sword and leaped in to grapple at close
quarters. He was disembowelled by the dirk in Kane's left hand, and
the others gave back in sudden fear. A heavy ball smashed against the
tree close to Kane's head and he tensed himself to spring and die in
the thick of them. Then their sheikh lashed them on with his long
whip, and Kane heard him shouting fiercely for his warriors to take
the infidel alive. Kane answered the command with a sudden cast of his
dirk, which hummed so close to the sheikh's head that it slit his
turban and sank deep in the shoulder of one behind him.

The sheikh drew his silver-chased pistols, threatening his own men
with death if they did not take this fierce opponent, and they charged
in again desperately. One of the warriors ran full upon Kane's sword
and an Arab behind the fellow, with ruthless craft, thrust the
screaming wretch suddenly forward on the weapon, driving it hilt-deep
in his writhing body, fouling the blade. Before Kane could wrench it
clear, with a yell of triumph the pack rushed in on him and bore him
down by sheer weight of numbers. As they grappled him from all sides,
the Puritan wished in vain for the dirk he had thrown away. But even
so, his taking was none too easy.

Blood spattered and faces caved in beneath his iron-hard fists that
splintered teeth and shattered bone. A warrior reeled away disabled
from a vicious drive of knee to groin. Even when they had him
stretched out and piled man-weight on him, until he could no longer
strike with fists or foot, his long lean fingers sank fiercely through
a matted beard to lock about a corded throat in a grip that took the
power of three strong men to break and left the victim gasping and
green-faced.

At last, panting from the terrific struggle, they had him bound hand
and foot and the sheikh, thrusting his pistols back into his silken
sash, came striding to stand and look down at his captive. Kane glared
up at the tall, lean frame, at the hawk-like face with its black-
curled beard and arrogant brown eyes.

"I am the sheikh Hassim ben Said," said the Arab. "Who are you?"

"My name is Solomon Kane," growled the puritan in the sheikh's own
language. "I am an Englishman, you heathen jackal."

The dark eyes of the Arab flickered with interest.

"Suleiman Kahani," said he, giving the Arabesque equivalent of the
English name. "I have heard of you--you have fought the Turks betimes
and the Barbary corsairs have licked their wounds because of you."
Kane deigned no reply. Hassim shrugged his shoulders.

"You will bring a fine price," said he. "Mayhap I will take you to
Stamboul, where there are Shas who would desire such a man among their
slaves. And I mind me now of one Kemal Bey, a man of ships, who wears
a deep scar across his face of your making and who curses the name of
Englishman. He will pay me a high price for you. And behold, oh Frank,
I do you the honour of appointing you a separate guard. You shall not
walk in the yoke-chain but free save for your hands."

Kane made no answer, and at a sign from the sheikh, he was hauled to
his feet and his bonds loosened except for his hands, which they left
bound firmly behind him. A stout cord was looped about his neck and
the other end of this was given into the hand of a huge warrior who
bore in his free hand a great curved scimitar.

"And now what think ye of my favour to you, Frank?" queried the
sheikh.

"I am thinking," answered Kane in a slow, deep voice of menace, "that
I would trade my soul's salvation to face you and your sword, alone
and unarmed, and to tear the heart from your breast with my naked
fingers."

Such was the concentrated hate in his deep resounding voice, and such
primal, unconquerable fury blazed from his terrible eyes, that the
hardened and fearless chieftain blanched and involuntarily recoiled as
if from a maddened beast.

Then Hassim recovered his poise and with a short word to his
followers, strode to the head of the cavalcade. Kane noted with
thankfulness that the respite occasioned by his capture had given the
girl who had fallen a chance to rest and revive. The skinning knife
had not had time to more than touch her; she was able to reel along.
Night was not far away. Soon the slavers would be forced to halt and
camp.

The Englishman perforce took up the trek, his guard remaining a few
paces behind with a huge blade ever ready. Kane also noted with a
touch of grim vanity, that three more warriors marched close behind,
muskets ready and matches burning. They had tasted his prowess and
they were taking no chances. His weapons had been recovered and Hassim
had promptly appropriated all except the cat-headed ju-ju staff. This
had been contemptuously cast aside by him and taken up by one of the
savage warriors.

The Englishman was presently aware that a lean, grey-bearded Arab was
walking along at his side. This Arab seemed desirous of speaking but
strangely timid, and the source of his timidity seemed, curiously
enough, the ju-ju stave which he had taken from the man who had picked
it up, and which he now turned uncertainly in his hands.

"I am Yussef the Hadji," said this Arab suddenly. "I have naught
against you. I had no hand in attacking you and would be your friend
if you would let me. Tell me, Frank, whence comes this staff and how
comes it into your hands?"

Kane's first inclination was to consign his questioner to the infernal
regions, but a certain sincerity of manner in the old man made him
change his mind and he answered: "It was given me by my blood-
brother--a magician of the Slave Coast, named N'Longa."

The old Arab nodded and muttered in his beard and presently sent a
warrior running forward to bid Hassim return. The tall sheikh
presently came striding back along the slow-moving column, with a
clank and jingle of daggers and sabres, with Kane's dirk and pistols
thrust into his wide sash.

"Look, Hassim." The old Arab thrust forward the stave. "You cast it
away without knowing what you did!"

"And what of it?" growled the sheikh. "I see naught but a
staff--sharp-pointed and with the head of a cat on the other end--a
staff with strange infidel carvings upon it."

The older man shook it at him in excitement: "This staff is older than
the world! It holds mighty magic! I have read of it in the old iron-
bound books and Mohammed--on whom peace!--himself hath spoken of it by
allegory and parable! See the cat-head upon it? It is the head of a
goddess of ancient Egypt! Ages ago, before Mohammed taught, before
Jerusalem was, the priests of Bast bore this rod before the bowing,
chanting worshippers! With it Musa did wonders before Pharaoh and when
the Yahudi fled from Egypt they bore it with them. And for centuries
it was the sceptre of Israel and Judah and with it Sulieman ben Daoud
drove forth the conjurers and magicians and prisoned the efreets and
the evil genii! Look! Again in the hands of a Sulieman we find the
ancient rod!"

Old Yussef had worked himself into a pitch of almost fanatic fervour
but Hassim merely shrugged his shoulders.

"It did not save the Jews from bondage nor this Sulieman from our
captivity," said he. "I value it not as much as I esteem the long thin
blade with which he loosed the souls of three of my best swordsmen."

Yussef shook his head. "Your mockery will bring you to no good end,
Hassim. Some day you will meet a power that will not divide before
your sword or fall to your bullets. I will keep the staff, and I warn
you--abuse not the Frank. He has borne the holy and terrible staff of
Sulieman and Musa and the Pharaohs, and who knows what magic he has
drawn there from? For it is older than the world and has known the
terrible hands of strange pre-Adamite priests in the silent cities
beneath the seas, and has drawn from an Elder World mystery and magic
unguessed by humankind. There were strange kings and stranger priests
when the dawns were young, and evil was, even in their day. And with
this staff they fought the evil which was ancient when their strange
world was young, so many millions of years ago that a man would
shudder to count them."  Hassim answered impatiently and strode away
with old Yussef following him persistently and chattering away in a
querulous tone. Kane shrugged his mighty shoulders. With what he knew
of the strange powers of that strange staff, he was not one to
question the old man's assertions, fantastic as they seemed.

This much he knew--that it was made of a wood that existed nowhere on
earth today. It needed but the proof of sight and touch to realize
that its material had grown in some world apart. The exquisite
workmanship of the head, of a pre-pyramidal age, and the
hieroglyphics, symbols of a language that was forgotten when Rome was
young--these, Kane sensed, were additions as modern to the antiquity
of the staff itself as would be English words carved on the stone
monoliths of Stonehenge.

As for the cat-head--looking at it sometimes Kane had a peculiar
feeling of alteration; a faint sensing that once the pommel of the
staff was carved with a different design. The dust-ancient Egyptian
who had carved the head of Bast had merely altered the original
figure, and what that figure had been, Kane had never tried to guess.
A close scrutiny of the staff always aroused a disquieting and almost
dizzy suggestion of abysses of eons, unprovocative to further
speculation.

The day wore on. The sun beat down mercilessly, then screened itself
in the great trees as it slanted toward the horizon. The slaves
suffered fiercely for water and a continual whimpering rose from their
ranks as they staggered blindly on. Some fell and half-crawled, and
were half-dragged by their reeling yoke-mates. When all were buckling
from exhaustion, the sun dipped, night rushed on, and a halt was
called. Camp was pitched, guards thrown out. The slaves were fed
scantily and given enough water to keep life in them--but only just
enough. Their fetters were not loosened, but they were allowed to
sprawl about as they might. Their fearful thirst and hunger having
been somewhat eased, they bore the discomforts of their shackles with
characteristic stoicism.

Kane was fed without his hands being untied, and he was given all the
water he wished. The patient eyes of the slaves watched him drink,
silently, and he was sorely ashamed to guzzle what others suffered
for; he ceased before his thirst was fully quenched. A wide clearing
had been selected, on all sides of which rose gigantic trees. After
the Arabs had eaten and while the black Moslems were still cooking
their food, old Yussef came to Kane and began to talk about the staff
again. Kane answered his questions with admirable patience,
considering the hatred he bore the whole race to which the Hadji
belonged, and during the conversation, Hassim came striding up and
looked down in contempt. Hassim, Kane ruminated, was the very symbol
of militant Islam--bold, reckless, materialistic, sparing nothing,
fearing nothing, as sure of his own destiny and as contemptuous of the
rights of others as the most powerful Western king. "Are you
maundering about that stick again?" he gibed. "Hadji, you grow
childish in your old age."  Yussef's beard quivered in anger. He shook
the staff at his sheikh like a threat of evil.

"Your mockery little befits your rank, Hassim," he snapped. "We are in
the heart of a dark and demon-haunted land, to which long ago were
banished the devils from Arabia, if this staff, which any but a fool
can tell is no rod of any world we know, has existed down to our day,
who knows what other things, tangible or intangible, may have existed
through the ages? This very trail we follow--know you how old it is?
Men followed it before the Seljuk came out of the East or the Roman
came out of the West. Over this very trail, legends say, the great
Sulieman came when he drove the demons westward out of Asia and
prisoned them in strange prisons. And will you say--"

A wild shout interrupted him. Out of the shadows of the jungle a
warrior came flying as if from the hounds of Doom. With arms flinging
wildly, eyes rolling to display the whites, and mouth wide open so
that all his gleaming teeth were visible, he made an image of stark
terror not soon forgotten. The Moslem horde leaped up, snatching their
weapons, and Hassim swore:

"That's Ali, whom I sent to scout for meat--perchance a lion--"

But no lion followed the man who fell at Hassim's feet, mouthing
gibberish and pointing wildly back at the black jungle whence the
nerve-strung watchers expected some brain-shattering horror to burst.
"He says he found a strange mausoleum back in the jungle," said Hassim
with a scowl, "but he cannot tell what frightened him. He only knows a
great horror overwhelmed him and sent him flying. Ali, you are a fool
and a rogue."

He kicked the grovelling savage viciously, but the other Arabs drew
about him in some uncertainty. The panic was spreading among the
native warriors.

"They will bolt in spite of us," muttered a bearded Arab, uneasily
watching the native allies who, milled together, jabbered excitedly
and flung fearsome glances over the shoulders. "Hassim, 'twere better
to march on a few miles. This is an evil place after all, and though
'tis likely the fool, Ali, was frighted by his own shadow--still--"

"Still," jeered the sheikh, "you will all feel better when we have
left it behind. Good enough; to still your fears I will move camp--but
first I will have a look at this thing. Lash up the slaves we'll swing
into the jungle and pass by this mausoleum; perhaps some great king
lies there. No one will be afraid if we all go in a body with guns."

So the weary slaves were whipped into wakefulness and stumbled along
beneath the whips again. The native allies went silently and
nervously, reluctantly obeying Hassim's implacable will but huddling
close to the Arabs. The moon had risen, huge, red and sullen, and the
jungle was bathed in a sinister silver glow that etched the brooding
trees in black shadow. The trembling Ali pointed out the way, somewhat
reassured by his savage master's presence. And so they passed through
the jungle until they came to a strange clearing among the giant trees
--strange because nothing grew there. The trees ringed it in a
disquieting symmetrical manner, and no lichen or moss grew on the
earth, which seemed to have been blasted and blighted in a strange
fashion. And in the midst of the glade stood the mausoleum.

A great brooding mass of stone it was, pregnant with ancient evil.
Dead with the dead of a hundred centuries it seemed, yet Kane was
aware that the air pulsed about it, as with the slow, unhuman
breathing of some gigantic, invisible monster.

The Arab's native allies drew back muttering, assailed by the evil
atmosphere of the place; the slaves stood in a patient, silent group
beneath the trees. The Arabs went forward to the frowning black mass,
and Yussef, taking Kane's cord from his guard, led the Englishman with
him like a surly mastiff, as if for protection against the unknown.

"Some mighty sultan doubtless lies here," said Hassim, tapping the
stone with his scabbard.

"Whence come these stones?" muttered Yussef uneasily. "They are of
dark and forbidding aspect. Why should a great sultan lie in state so
far from any habitation of man? If there were ruins of an old city
hereabouts it would be different--"

He bent to examine the heavy metal door with its huge lock, curiously
sealed and fused. He shook his head forebodingly as he made out the
ancient Hebraic characters carved on the door.

"I can not read them," he quavered, "and belike it is well for me I
can not. What ancient kings sealed up is not good for men to disturb.
Hassim, let us hence. This place is pregnant with evil for the sons of
men."

But Hassim gave him no heed. "He who lies within is no son of Islam,"
said he, " and why should we not despoil him of the gems and riches
that undoubtedly were laid to rest with him? Let us break open this
door."

Some of the Arabs shook their heads doubtfully but Hassim's word was
law. Calling to him a huge warrior who bore a heavy hammer, he ordered
him to break open the door.

As the man swung up his sledge, Kane gave a sharp exclamation. Was he
mad? The apparent antiquity of this brooding mass of stone was proof
that it had stood undisturbed for thousands of years. Yet he could
have sworn that he heard the sounds of footfalls within! Back and
forth they padded, as if something paced the narrow confines of that
grisly prison in a never-ending monotony of movement.

A cold hand touched the spine of Solomon Kane. Whether the sounds
registered on his conscious ear or on some un-sounded deep of soul or
sub-feeling, he could not tell, but he knew that somewhere within his
consciousness there reechoed the tramp of monstrous feet from within
that ghastly mausoleum.

"Stop!" he exclaimed. "Hassim, I may be mad, but I hear the tread of
some fiend within that pile of stone."  Hassim raised his hand and
checked the hovering hammer. He listened intently, and the others
strained their ears in a silence that had suddenly become tense.

"I hear nothing," grunted a bearded giant.

"Nor I," came a quick chorus. "The Frank is mad!"

"Hear ye anything, Yussef?" asked Hassim sardonically.

The old Hadji shifted nervously. His face was uneasy.

"No. Hassim, no, yet--"

Kane decided he must be mad. Yet in his heart he knew he was never
saner, and he knew somehow that this occult keenness of the deeper
senses that set him apart from the Arabs came from long association
with the ju-ju staff that old Yussef now held in his shaking hands.

Hassim laughed harshly and made a gesture to the warrior. The hammer
fell with a crash that re-echoed deafeningly and shivered off through
the black jungle in a strangely altered cachinnation. Again--again--
and again the hammer fell, driven with all the power of rippling
muscles and mighty body. And between the blows Kane still heard that
lumbering tread, and he who had never known fear as men know it, felt
the cold hand of terror clutching at his heart. This fear was apart
from earthly or mortal fear, as the sound of the footfalls was apart
from mortal tread. Kane's fright was like a cold wind blowing on him
from outer realms of unguessed Darkness, bearing him the evil and
decay of an outlived epoch and an unutterably ancient period. Kane was
not sure whether he heard those footfalls or by some dim instinct
sensed them. But he was sure of their reality. They were not the tramp
of man or beast; but inside that black, hideously ancient mausoleum
some nameless thing moved with soul-shaking and elephantine tread.

The powerful warrior heaved and panted with the difficulty of his
task. But at last, beneath the heavy blows the ancient lock shattered;
the hinges snapped; the door burst inward. And Yussef screamed.

From that black gaping entrance no tiger-fanged beast or demon of
solid flesh and blood leaped forth. But a fearful stench flowed out in
billowing, almost tangible waves and in one brain-shattering, ravening
rush, whereby the gaping door seemed to gush blood, the Horror was
upon them. It enveloped Hassim, and the fearless chieftain, hewing
vainly at the almost intangible terror, screamed with sudden,
unaccustomed fright as his lashing scimitar whistled only through stuff
as yielding and unharmable as air, and he felt himself lapped by coils
of death and destruction.

Yussef shrieked like a lost soul, dropped the ju-ju stave and joined
his fellows who streamed out into the jungle in mad flight, preceded
by their howling allies. Only the slaves fled not, but stood shackled
to their doom, wailing their terror. As in a nightmare of delirium
Kane saw Hassim swaying like a reed in the wind, lapped about by a
gigantic pulsing red Thing that had neither shape nor earthly
substance. Then, as the crack of splintering bones came to him, and
the sheikh's body buckled like a straw beneath a stamping hoof, the
Englishman burst his bonds with one volcanic effort and caught up the
ju-ju stave.

Hassim was down, crushed and dead, sprawled like a broken toy with
shattered limbs awry, and the red pulsing Thing was lurching toward
Kane like a thick cloud of blood in the air, that continually changed
its shape and form, and yet somehow trod lumberingly as if on
monstrous legs!

Kane felt the cold fingers of fear claw at his brain, but he braced
himself, and lifting the ancient staff, struck with all his power into
the centre of the Horror. And he felt an unnameable, immaterial
substance meet and give way before the falling staff. Then he was
almost strangled by the nauseous burst of unholy stench that flooded
the air, and somewhere down the dim vistas of his soul's consciousness
re-echoed unbearably a hideous formless cataclysm that he knew was the
death-screaming of the monster. For it was down and dying at his feet,
its crimson paling in slow surges like the rise and receding of red
waves on some foul coast. And as it paled, the soundless screaming
dwindled away into cosmic distances as though it faded into some
sphere apart and aloof beyond human ken.

Kane, dazed and incredulous, looked down on a shapeless, colourless,
all but invisible mass at his feet which he knew was the corpse of the
Horror, dashed back into the black realms from whence it had come, by
a single blow of the staff of Solomon. Aye, the same staff, Kane knew,
that in the hands of a mighty King and magician had ages ago driven
the monster into that strange prison, to bide until ignorant hands
loosed it again upon the world.

The old tales were true then, and King Solomon had in truth driven the
demons westward and sealed them in strange places. Why had he let them
live? Was human magic too weak in those dim days to more than subdue
the devils? Kane shrugged his shoulders in wonderment. He knew nothing
of magic, yet he had slain where that other Solomon had but
imprisoned.

And Solomon Kane shuddered, for he had looked on Life that was not
Life as he knew it, and had dealt and witnessed Death that was not
Death as he knew it. Again the realization swept over him, as it had
in the dust-haunted halls of Atlantean Negari, as it had in the
abhorrent Hills of the Dead, as it had in Akaana--that human life was
but one of a myriad forms of existence, that worlds existed within
worlds, and that there was more than one plane of existence. The
planet men call the earth spun on through the untold ages, Kane
realized, and as it spun it spawned Life, and living things which
wriggled about it as maggots are spawned in rot and corruption. Man
was the dominant maggot now; why should he in his pride suppose that
he and his adjuncts were the first maggots--or the last to rule a
planet quick with unguessed life. He shook his head, gazing in new
wonder at the ancient gift of N'Longa, seeing in it at last not merely
a tool of black magic, but a sword of good and light against the
powers of inhuman evil forever. And he was shaken with a strange
reverence for it that was almost fear. Then he bent to the Thing at
his feet, shuddering to feel its strange mass slip through his fingers
like wisps of heavy fog. He thrust the staff beneath it and somehow
lifted and levered the mass back into the mausoleum and shut the door.

Then he stood gazing down at the strangely mutilated body of Hassim,
noting how it was smeared with foul slime and how it had already begun
to decompose. He shuddered again, and suddenly a low timid voice
aroused him from his sombre cogitations. The captives knelt beneath
the trees and watched with great patient eyes. With a start he shook
off his strange mood. He took from the mouldering corpse his own
pistols, dirk and rapier, making shift to wipe off the clinging
foulness that was already flecking the steel with rust. He also took
up a quantity of powder and shot dropped by the Arabs in their frantic
flight. He knew they would return no more. They might die in their
flight, or they might gain through the interminable leagues of jungle
to the coast; but they would not turn back to dare the terror of that
grisly glade.

Kane came to the wretched slaves and after some difficulty released
them. "Take up these weapons which the warriors dropped in their
haste," said he, "and get you home. This is an evil place. Get ye back
to your villages and when the next Arabs come, die in the ruins of
your huts rather than be slaves."

Then they would have knelt and kissed his feet. but he, in much
confusion, forbade them roughly. Then as they made preparations to go,
one said to him: "Master, what of thee? Wilt thou not return with us?
Thou shalt be our king!"

But Kane shook his head.

"I go eastward," said he. And so the tribespeople bowed to him and
turned back on the long trail to their own homeland. And Kane
shouldered the staff that had been the rod of the Pharaohs and of
Moses and of Solomon and of nameless Atlantean kings behind them, and
turned his face eastward, halting only for a single backward glance at
the great mausoleum that other Solomon had built with strange arts so
long ago, and which now loomed dark and forever silent against the
stars.



THE END



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