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Title: The Mouthpiece of Zitu
Author: J U Giesy
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0801071.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2008
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Title: The Mouthpiece of Zitu
Author: J U Giesy



PROLOGUE


Elsewhere, I have told the full details of my meeting and
acquaintanceship with that strangest of all men, Jason Croft. I am Dr.
George Murray, in charge of the Mental Hospital in a Western state. It
began when his housekeeper came to me one night, in great agitation, and
induced me to come with her to Croft's house. I found him in a state of
deep trance, and Mrs. Goss said he had been thus for a week.

My own private studies had been such as to give me some indication of
what Croft's condition might be, and a glance over the esoteric contents
of the bookshelves in his library confirmed my suspicions. It was a
long, difficult task but I managed to bring him out of what he
acknowledged to be a state of astral projection, that strange state,
little understood by Western people but well known to the East, wherein a
person's consciousness can separate itself from the physical body and
wander afield at will. I knew of it from my studies, but had never
encountered it before.

Croft told me that his "astral body" had been on a far world, Palos, a
planet in the system of the Dog Star, Sirius, and that he must return
there at once. He asked me to come and see him the next afternoon, when,
he promised, he would tell me the full story and show how I could assist
him in a most difficult situation. Realizing that he was in full control
of his faculties, I agreed and left him, assuring his frightened
housekeeper that all was well.

The next day, Croft told me of his life, his studies, his travels, his
meetings with adepts where he learned the technique of astral
projection--an art which we of the West unfortunately associate with
superstition and delusion. He had carried it much farther than any of his
teachers, for actually, there are no spatial limits to the extent one can
travel in the entire universe once this technique is mastered. He said
that, from childhood, he had felt himself drawn to Sirius.

There he found human beings and a civilization which was in some ways
very similar to various ancient civilizations here on Earth. In his
disembodied state, he became a watcher, and was drawn to the land of
Aphur, on Palos. Aphur was a small, autonomous kingdom within the
federation of states known as Tamarizia. Opposed to this federation was
another one known as Zollaria, and between the two an uneasy truce had
been in effect for many years, following a war wherein Zollaria's attempt
to conquer Tamarizia had been frustrated.

A crisis was emerging, and Jadgor, King of Aphur, hoped to avert it by a
closer alliance with the neighboring state of Cathur, through marrying
the daughter of Naia, daughter of Lakkon--a Prince of Aphur--to
Kyphallos, heir to the throne of Cathur. At first, this was little more
than pageantry to Jason Croft; but when he saw Lakkon's daughter, Naia,
who was to be sacrificed to the dissolute Kyphallos for the good of the
state, Croft realized why he had been drawn to Palos. This was the woman
who, it seemed, he had been destined to love.

He had found that he could understand the speech of Palos's peoples; he
wandered all over Palos, attended classes in the various schools and
learned the customs and conditions of Aphur and found an advanced
religion in the worship of Zitu here, under the rule of Zud, the High
Priest. He spied upon Cathur and learned that Kyphallos cared nothing for
Naia, but was in love with one Kalamita of Zollaria. For Kyphallos, this
marriage would be a means through which Aphur, situated in a key position
geographically, could be subverted and opened to invasion of all
Tamarizia. Jadgor and Lakkon suspected none of this.

But Croft could do nothing in his disembodied state. There was one hope
only, that of entering and taking over the body of a man who had just
died. In his travels, he found one young man, Jasor of Nodhur, healthy
but weak of spirit and slow of mind. Croft returned to his own body, as
he must do every now and then, and plunged into intense study of the
technique of possession of a body from which the spirit has departed. He
returned to find Jasor dying; the young man was hardly sick, but no
longer wanted to live.

It was a great struggle in that room where Jasor lay dying, attended only
by a priest of Zitu, one Abbu; but when Jasor died, Croft was able to
enter into and revive his body. It seemed to Abbu and the others that a
miracle had occurred, for they were certain that Jasor had died but a few
moments before.

He was not playing upon mere ignorance and superstition, Croft told me;
everything indicated that the events had occurred under true providence,
of which he was a willing instrument; and this is how the religious
leaders of Aphur accepted the situation. It was obvious that the Jasor
who had returned from death was a truly different person. Under these
circumstances, Jason Croft, as a Jasor who had been returned to life
touched by the finger of Zitu, was able to combine his knowledge of
Palosian civilization and Earth's science to introduce motors and other
technical inventions to Aphur. Jadgor accepted him gladly as one sent by
Zitu and co-operated with him in every way; and Croft won the friendship
of Jadgor's son, Robur, and the admiration of Lakkon and his daughter.
Croft established that, at times, he would seem to go to sleep for long
periods, communing with Zitu, wherein he learned matters of urgent
importance; and in his astral explorations, he learned of the plot
whereby Aphur would be gulled into war. More immediately important was
that Naia and her father would appear to have been lost in a shipwreck,
but actually, Naia would have been kidnapped and made the slave of an
ally of Kyphallos, who had never intended to marry her. Through the aid
of Zud and Abbu, Croft and Lakkon were prepared. Rifles and hand grenades
had been introduced to Aphur, and the ship on which Naia sailed was well
armed. The accident that had been planned was averted and the Aphurians
overcame the attack that followed.

But when this failed, Zollaria discarded all masks, and invaded Cathur;
Kyphallos, as long agreed, made but token resistance, opening the way to
Aphur. But Aphur was ready with the new weapons, which included crude
tanks, and the invading armies were virtually annihilated. Helmor,
Emperor of Zollaria, was forced to surrender; Kyphallos was tried for
treason and exiled to Zollaria where, learning that he counted for
nothing in Kalamita's eyes now that he was no longer useful, he committed
suicide.

All this, Jason Croft told me; and now, he said, he was ready to leave
Earth forever. The body of Jason Croft, here on Earth, would die;
henceforth he would live in the body of Jasor, who had been created a
Prince of Aphur and was legally qualified to marry the woman of his
heart. I was not surprised, therefore, to learn soon after that Jason
Croft had died. And that, I thought, was the end of this wonderful story
so far as I would ever know.

I learned my mistake when I went to examine a new patient one night, at
the State Hospital for the Insane. He was a physical wreck, but something
about him gave me the oddest sensation I had ever known in my life. I
sent the nurse away, hardly knowing why, and then the man spoke and asked
me if I didn't know him.

Jason Croft had returned to Earth.



Chapter One


"I didn't expect to come back when I left, Murray, and I don't wonder it
surprises you to find me speaking to you with the lips of this poor hunk
of flesh. Oh, this is an incipient wreck that I'm holding together simply
for my own use. It will suffice, even if it has a pair of lungs badly
engorged because of a very shaky heart. You laboratories will show the
kidneys infected, too. I had to take it, because I wanted to get down
here with you."

"With--me?" I faltered.

He smiled slightly. "Yes--you, of course. You were the only man on Earth
who knew my story. So when I needed certain information which I couldn't
gain save in the flesh, I knew you were the man to help me get it. But in
order to reach you, I had to limit my choice of Earthly bodies. That's
how I came to choose this thing at which you're looking.

"Murray, it's your job to keep me alive until I can gain what I came
for--to help me, if you will. Earth possesses knowledge I need on Palos
for my work--you can help me gain it just as well here as anywhere else.
I want you to prescribe a certain course of study as a part of my
treatment and discuss the things I'm after with me. Do you catch my
plan?"

Oh, yes, I caught it. I made an effort to rally my staggering senses.
"Just how is the Princess Naia?" I asked.

Croft nodded. He seemed to find acceptance of my part in my question.
"The Princess Naia is very much all right."

And then I remembered what he had told me before he went to Palos for
what I had thought a definite stay. "Or perhaps I should have asked for
Mrs. Croft--you said that you expected to be married immediately upon
your return to Palos."

Croft frowned. "What one expects and what one meets are not always one
and the same, friend Murray," he rejoined. "I returned to Palos after my
conversation with you, to encounter a situation of which I had never
thought."

"You mean that it interfered with your marriage to the princess?" I
exclaimed.

He made a grimace. "You remember Zud, the High Priest of Zitra, the
imperial city of which I told you--who sponsored me with Tamhys before
the Zollarian war. And you recall that I left the body of Jasor of Nodhur
in Zud's apartments in the pyramid of Zitar when I came back here for the
last time, and that Naia was quartered during my absence in the rooms set
apart for the Gayana--the Vestals of Ga the Virgin in the pyramid, too.
Murray, when I got back there, I found that Zud had proclaimed me the
Mouthpiece of Zitu himself."

"The Mouthpiece of Zitu!" I drew a chair close to the bed and sat down.

I cast back in my mind for what Croft had told me concerning the religion
of Tamarizia. Zitu was God in their belief. Ga was the woman--a virgin.
Azil was her son--known as the Giver of Life. And if Croft had been
proclaimed by the high priest of the central state of the empire, the
head of the clerical college, as the Mouthpiece of Zitu, it was just
about the same as naming him the representative of the Divinity in the
flesh. From what Croft had told me of his claiming while in Tamarizia to
do all that he did by the grace of Zitu--which was, of course, no more
than the truth in a sense--I could see how his very words might have laid
the foundation for the high priest's act.

Yet, Croft had said that he had induced the Tamarizians to adopt a
republican way of government rather than their system of allied
principalities, and had declared that when he went back he expected to be
elected president. "Rather changed your plans, I suppose," I said.

"Changed them?" he returned, with an almost whimsical expression.
"Murray, it almost wrecked them at the start--the most important part of
them, that is. Remember why I did what I did do really--that all I had
done up until that time was in order to win the woman who meant more to
me than anything else in life--and then picture if you can my mental
condition when I found myself trapped, as it were, by my own acts."

"Your own?" I queried.

He nodded. "Oh, certainly yes--my failing to take into account what a
terrible impression I had managed to make on the high priest. I--hang it
all, Murray--I knew so entirely what I was up to that I didn't give
proper consideration to the effect my words and acts must have on less
well-informed minds. I failed to put myself in the place of Zud, and
Magur, the head of the church in Aphur, whom I first enlisted in my aid
at Himyra.

"At that time, I couldn't have been more absolute if I had been the
Mouthpiece of Zitu indeed. Perhaps if I'd stayed there and rushed things
through, everything would have been all right. But, as you know, I
returned for a final visit to close up all matters pertaining to my
Earthly life before I snapped the astral cord which until then had kept
my original body alive. And there was where I made my mistake.

"As I've told you, I left my Palosian body in Zud's quarters, rather
magnificently placed. Zud saw to that. I suppose now he was turning the
elements of what he fancied the truth in his old brain. My form was
stretched out on a golden couch, covered with a sheet of orange-colored
silk, in the apartment set apart for my use. And I'd been planning, as
you know, many things I wanted to do. I'd drawn plans--designs for things
common enough on Earth, but never before dreamed of on Palos. And I left
the drawings I had made in that room in a golden chest. You remember I
told you gold was as plentiful on Palos as iron on Earth and used as
freely in the metal-working arts.

"Night and day a guard was kept in the chamber where I lay in what they
believed was my knowledge-gaining sleep. But--the guard was a priest. He
would do anything Zud said, of course.

"So you see I fell into the error of not considering old Zud's thoughts
or his interpretation of my claim that everything I did was by Zitu's
grace. I should have taken Zud more fully into the truth of the facts.

"The high priest had opened that golden box. He had examined my working
charts. He had dimly sensed them as designs for things I meant to
make--and his wonder knew no bounds. I am convinced the old man only
thought he was doing what was absolutely right, according to his lights."

"And Naia?" I asked. "How did she view your elevation to such a lofty
state?"

Croft gave me a glance. "I told you Zud messed everything up," he
replied. "But--it's a long story. Murray, this ramshackle carcass I've
seized won't last out a great many days. The weakling soul who once
possessed it broke it down by every sort of abuse, including drugs. But,
I've got to learn certain things before I can abandon its use.

"Suppose you send me up the latest works you have on internal medicine
and surgery and therapeutics, and drop in tonight. If you're willing to
sacrifice a few hours' sleep, I'll spin you the whole yarn."

"All right," I agreed as I rose. "I don't think I was ever more startled
in my life, but I'll send up the books, and I'll be right here after nine
myself."

"Right," he accepted. "My physicians wouldn't let me have tobacco, though
this body craves it. Bring some cigars when you come, and we'll have a
good long talk."



Before, however, I enter upon Croft's actual story, I think it better
perhaps to briefly describe, in some part at least, those details of the
Paosian world with which he had put me in touch on the occasion of our
former meeting.

And toward a fuller understanding of that world itself, I think it best
to take up the geography of that part of Palos Croft visited first.
Mainly that which has to do with the Tamarizian nation--a series of
allied principalities surrounding the shores of a vast inland sea, with
the exception of a central state--the seat of the imperial capital,
embracing the island of Hiranur, located in the sea itself, and the
kingdom of Nodhur to the west and south.

From the Central Sea a narrow strait led west toward an outer ocean
beyond the continent on which the several principalities found place. To
the north of this strait, known as the gateway, was Cathur, a mountainous
country and the seat of the national university at its capital city
Scira. East of Cathur was Mazhur, known at the time of Croft's arrival as
the lost state, since in a former war it had been wrested from the
original Tamarizian group by the Zollarians. *

[* East of Mazhur, and circling the Central Sea to the east, was Bithur,
and Milidhur joined Bithur on the south. West of Milidhur was Aphur,
completing the circle about the sea and terminating at the gateway on the
south. Nodhur lay south of Aphur, gaining an outlet to the Central Sea by
means of the River Na. This river had carried commercial craft driven by
sail and oar until Croft revolutionized transportation with
alcohol-driven motors.

North of Tamarizia lay Zollaria, inhabited by a far more warlike race.
Its government was a despotism organized on militaristic lines.
Controlling the gateway to the west, Tamarizia had remained the master,
even after the fall of Mazhur, still collecting toll from the Zollarian
craft on her rivers, despite the foothold gained by her foeman on the
northern coast.

East of Zollaria and Tamarizia in the hinterland of the continent lay
Mazzer, populated by an aboriginal people of a complexion distinctly
blue. Due to an ancient conquest many of these people were now
constituted as a working caste in Tamarizia.

Each of these states was governed by an hereditary king.]

And now a word as to the Tamarizians themselves. They were a white and
well-formed race. In their social structure women held an equal place
with men. They believed in the spirit and a future life and the
resurrection of the dead. In the sciences and arts they had made
considerable progress.

The clothing of the women consisted of a single garment, falling to the
knees or just below them, cinctured about the body, caught over one
shoulder by a metal or jeweled boss, and leaving the other shoulder and
arm exposed. To this was added sandals of leather, metal, or wood, held
to the foot by a toe-and-instep band and lacings running well up the
calves. Men of wealth and caste and soldiers and nobles, instead of these
sandals, generally wore metal casings, which amounted to a sandal and leg
piece jointed to allow the ankle full play and reaching nearly to the
knees.

The men of caste also wore a soft shirt or chemise beneath a metal
cuirass or an embroidered tunic, as the case might be. Save on formal
occasions, the serving classes, men and women, wore either a narrow
cincture about the loins, supporting a small phallary or apron, or went
nude about their tasks.

Agriculture was highly developed, and as a people they had advanced far
in architecture, painting, sculpture, and similar arts. They lavished
much time and expense in beautifying their houses--making of each a small
palace, if the owner were rich. The highways along which the sarpelca
caravans and the gnuppa-drawn carriages and chariots passed were models
of engineering.

[The gnuppa is a creature seemingly half deer and half horse. The
sarpelca is not unlike some weird Silurian lizard, twice the size of an
elephant, with a pointed tail, a scale-armored back, a long neck somewhat
resembling that of a camel, and the head of a marine serpent having a
series of fleshy tentacles about the mouth. They are driven by reins
affixed to these latter appendages, and stream across the Palosian
deserts bearing merchandise upon their enormous backs.]

All these things I knew from Croft's previous talks. He had told me he
could go to Palos as quickly as I could think of it myself, and here I
was anticipating a resumption that night of his story.

Meanwhile I sent him the books he had said he wanted, together with a box
of good cigars. And along about eight forty-five, when I had finished my
evening round of patients, I went up myself.

I lighted up a cigar and took a chair, tacitly preparing for a stay of
some considerable time, and then as Croft continued to smoke in an almost
meditative silence, I opened the matter myself.

"Even supposing that Zud did get at your plans, I hardly see why he
should have taken the step he did before your return."

Croft nodded. "It wasn't only the plans," he said. "You must recall Abbu,
the priest of the pyramid at Scira--the one who was present when I
entered Jasor's body and made it my own.

"I told you that to Abbu I had acknowledged that my spirit was not
Jasor's, but that what I was about to do was for Tamarizia's good,
thereby enlisting his aid in my undertakings. At the time I swore him to
secrecy, of course, and I honestly believe that up until the time I left
Jasor's body for the purpose of making a final trip to Earth, he was the
only man who knew that the spirit within it was not the same as the one
it had held at birth.

"Abbu, after the war with Zollaria, had been brought to Zitra and raised
to a higher rank, because of his part in first assisting me. Naturally
Zud was acquainted with all such facts, and one can hardly blame him for
wanting to know more in view of what I can well understand were the
tremendous changes I had brought about in Tamarizia's affairs."

I began to understand what must have happened. "He pumped Abbu?"

"Exactly." Croft smiled dryly again. "He absolved him from his oath and
learned all the facts with which Abbu was acquainted. You can easily
understand the rest. Jasor of Nodhur dies. His body comes back to life.
Its lips speak to Abbu, the priest. He hears that a new spirit inhabits
Jasor's body. Immediately after strange things--but things aimed wholly
for Tamarizia's good--begin to happen.

"Shall the dead live again, save by divine intervention? Shall undreamed
of things appear save by Zitu's grace? And if in addition the revivified
body shall fall into strange sleeps at times and upon waking seem
possessed of a supernatural knowledge, what more natural to the
priest--unendowed with a full understanding of what was taking place,
unaware that the things that excited his unlimited amazement were but
copies of things existing on another planet--than to consider that those
things he witnessed were the result of divine ordination and to regard
the individual who brought them about as the mouthpiece of his god in the
flesh? Oh, frankly, Murray, I don't blame that puzzled old man in the
least. As a matter of fact, I blame myself for not having foreseen the
effect of all that had happened on his brain."

Croft put out a hand and selected a fresh cigar. He set it alight and got
it to going nicely while, as it seemed to me, he marshaled his thoughts.
And then--all at once he began speaking again, and this is the story he
told.



Chapter Two


The Palosian day--or "sun"--is twenty-seven hours long. Dawn was on the
verge of breaking when Croft, having severed the astral link with his
Earthly body, opened Jasor of Nodhur's physical eyes in the room of the
Zitran pyramid. A slightly unsteady radiance of a yellow color filled the
room. It came from the blazing wicks in oil-filled sconces fixed about
the walls.

His glance fell upon one of the lay brothers of the priesthood, clad in a
brown robe, from which peeped his toe-splayed, naked feet. He sat on a
stool of molded copper, with down bent head. He appeared to be asleep.
But suddenly as though aroused by Croft's slight movement, he jerked to
attention and encountered the sleeper's eyes. Instantly he sprang erect,
approaching with a soft, quick shuffle and pausing by the golden bed.

"My lord--my lord!" he stammered in little more than a husky whisper, and
sank upon his knees. His back bent, his head inclined until its face was
hidden. His arms rose, and as Croft watched he made the sign of the
Tamarizian priesthood--a horizontal cross.

Croft lifted himself to a sitting posture on the couch, shoving the
coverings back. "Come! What's the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Since
you were placed to attend my awaking, why do you kneel?"

The man lifted his face--it was white, and his eyes were wide.

"Because," he said slowly, in almost timorous fashion, "all men bend the
knee to the Mouthpiece of Zitu--even Zud himself."

The whole thing burst on Croft just like that. "Get up," he said to the
priest.

"Yes, lord."

The brother rose.

"Give me my garments." Croft kicked the silken sheet completely off and
stood upon his feet.

"At once." The brother shuffled toward a chest in a corner of the
apartment, lifted the lid and produced a robe. Blue it was--the color of
the highest order of the priesthood--embroidered on the breast in stones
like drops of transparent gold. The brother brought it back, outspread
across his forearms, and Croft caught sight of the design--the wings of
Azil, flaring out from the stem of a cross, looped in its upper
segment--the cross ansata--the Palosian symbol of immortal life. Then the
brother once more sank to his knees, holding the garment toward him.

"What is the meaning of this?"

When he had called for his garments he had expected his leg casings of
gold, gem studded, his shirt of soft fiber, and his metal cuirass whereon
blazed Aphur's sign of the sun, his sword with its jewel-incrusted hilt
and belt, and his helmet with its orange plumes.

But the kneeling brother answered, "It is as Zud hath decreed."

Zud--Zud--Zud. It seemed to Croft that Zud had, all unknown to him, been
taking a very large part in his affairs. He took the robe from the
brother's extended arms and slipped it on, fastening the shoulder boss,
and seated himself while his companion laced a pair of blue-and-gold
leather sandals on his feet.

"Go now," he directed, once the latter task was completed. "Say to Zud
that with him I would have speech."

"I go. It was ordered that I report thy awakening, O Mouth--" the priest
began as he backed toward the door.

Croft cut him short almost sharply. He lifted an arm in a sudden pointing
gesture: "Go!"

The Mouthpiece of Zitu! Naia! He lifted his eyes toward the ceiling of
the room. Up there--high above him--in the quarters of the Gayana, the
vestals--where burned in the shrine of Ga the never-dying fire of
life--up there she was waiting for him to come back--waiting to become
his bride. What would be the effect of whatever it was Zud had done in
his absence, on the maid herself?

It behooved him to master his startled nerves and get himself into a
proper mind to dominate the coming interview with Zud. He relaxed the
tension of his body and waited to Zud to appear, as he presently did.

He came in, an old man with graying hair, clad in an azure blue robe with
the cross ansata embroidered in flame-colored jewels upon the breast. He
advanced directly toward Croft as the latter rose, and some three paces
before him sank slowly to his knees.

"Thou hast called, and thy servant appears, O Mouthpiece of Zitu," he
said slowly in a tone of what might be reverence. "Long were we in
recognizing the truth, yet was the fault not entirely our own, since only
to Abbu of Scira had you voiced it, and not since Azil himself descended
to teach the sons of mortals has such a thing occurred, nor in Zitu's
wisdom was thy coming revealed."

In a flash Croft began to understand. The mention of Abbu's name was
enough to give him the clue.

"Thou thinkest me the Mouthpiece of Zitu, then, indeed?"

"Aye, by Zitu! the one source of life and knowledge," Zud replied. "Did
not Abbu state that you told him thy spirit was not that of Jasor of
Nodhur, who was dead, yet whose body having died, became once more alive,
and hast thou not said that all you did was by Zitu's grace? Didst not
tell me that those things you commanded to be made for Tamarizia's good
were shown to you in your sleeps? Canst the spirit of a mortal enter and
leave the body at will--the spirit of one such as Jasor
was--and"--seemingly Zud was forgetful of all discretion in this
meeting--"have I not seen the paintings of the things you plan yet to
bring to Tamarizia in yonder casket?"

Croft considered swiftly. Sincerity rang in the man's tones, and more and
more, as he ran on, Croft understood.

"You opened the casket?" he demanded in a louder, an accusatory voice.
"You dared much, priest of Zitu. What things are to be will be in the
time of Zitu's choosing. It is a brave man dares to know all things in
advance."

Zud's expression changed. "My lord--my lord," he faltered, "I but sought
to learn the truth. I swear by Zitu that my heart was clean in what I had
done and--said."

There was an odd break in his utterance just before the final word. Croft
noted his manner of speaking, and caught up that last word: "Said? You
have said what, Zud?"

"That thou wert the Mouthpiece of Zitu--sent into the flesh for
Tamarizia's good."

"To whom have these things been spoken?"

"To all Tamarizia have I, as high priest, proclaimed it," said Zud.
"Zitra but waits your awakening that it may behold and proclaim you in
the body you have chosen as your servant, and give ear to your words."



Chapter Three


The thing was cut and dried. Even a public appearance was, it would seem,
arranged. The church of the nation had given him forth as a spirit
divinely sent as a teacher, gaining physical expression through the body
of Jasor of Nodhur. And--what was Croft to do? To disclaim--to compel Zud
to retract--would strike, as he knew, not only at his own powers of
future accomplishment, discredit him as it were, but would aim a blow at
the very foundation of the social structure.

For the political end of the matter he cared very little, to tell the
truth, but even the thought of Naia sent a quiver throughout his body. He
felt baffled, trapped, enraged. For a moment a wild impulse to seize the
kneeling man at his feet, lift him up and shake him, hurl against him a
scorching torrent of passion-urged words for his curious meddling,
assailed him. But he choked it and stood as one who considers.

"Enough. What things Zitu wills, those things shall be done. Yet have I a
body, as thou seest, that has lain unnourished full long. Rise, Zud of
Zitra. Command me food. I would eat while we talk."

"Even now it waits." Zud rose and went backward toward the door. He set
it open. As Croft seated himself once more on his couch there filed in a
group of brothers, the foremost bearing a short-legged table of molded
copper, the others dishes and flagons in their hands.

The dishes were of gold and silver. There were goblets of glass which the
Tamarizians made of magnificent quality and design. One of the latter was
placed before Croft and filled with a mild and blood-red wine. Their
service ended the lay brothers bent in genuflection and retired. Zud
remained standing in watchful silence until Croft bade him be seated, when
he drew up a stool and sat down.

While he ate Croft plunged into a series of questions concerning affairs
in the Tamarizian states.

"The reign of Tamhys will terminate in fourteen suns?"

"Aye."

"Thereafter we shall adopt the new government as it was decided, the
elections being held as in the choice of the former assemblies in each
kingdom--each decktaron to elect a representative, by whose vote shall be
the choice of the president?"

"Aye." Zud inclined his head. "So has it been proclaimed.

"What candidates have been selected?"

"Jadgor of Aphur, and Tammon, Tamhys's son."

Croft considered the names as he sipped his wine. Jadgor, he knew, had,
before the Zollarian war, had an eye on the Zitran throne--had hoped to
mount it, and strengthen the entire nation by a change of that policy of
pacifism which, by its continuation for something like fifty years, made
Tamarizia weak, despite the wonderful resources in wealth and men which
were hers. Of course, Croft had expected to enter the field himself, but
now he brushed the point aside.

"It is well." He gave his decision and set down his glass. "And the
governors of the states?"

Zud mentioned a list of names covering each former kingdom. "In Aphur
Robur, Jadgor's son alone. There is no other, because of his part with
you in all that has been done. In Cathur, Mutlos, a man of the people,
and Koryphon, Scythys's second son, who ascended the throne, as you know,
after Kyphallos fled and destroyed himself in Berla before Kalamita's
eyes. As your directions were understood before the time of your recent
sleeping, in Hiranur the president controls also the state affairs."

"Aye," Croft agreed. His heart had warmed at the announcement that Robur
stood for election in Aphur alone. Of all its people he had known, save
Naia only, he had come to love Robur best, had found him a true friend, a
man of broad and intelligent mind, under each and every test. He had even
discussed those periods when his body lay unconscious with the Aphurian
crown prince in so far as he could, and there had been a time when the
only confidante of his love for Naia had been Gaya, Robur's wife.

"And where is Robur?" he asked.

"In Zitra, lord. He and Lakkon and Jadgor desire speech with thee so soon
as thou shalt have waked."

A quiver of comprehension stirred in Croft's breast. He threw up his head
and stared the high priest in the eyes, and found them a trifle
uncertain, his whole expression more or less puzzled, even somewhat
abashed.

"What troubles you, Zud?"

And for a moment Zud made no answer; for a moment he seemed to study
Croft's face before he began in apologetic fashion. "What I have done I
have done for the best, as I now call Zitu to witness. Yet are there some
things I do not understand."

"You refer to the maiden Naia, who by your permission was taken into the
quarters of the Gayana?"

"Aye," Zud said scarcely above a whisper at length and inclined his head.

"To whom ere I slept, by consent of her father and Jadgor, I was
pledged?"

"Aye, lord. Jadgor and Lakkon also ask themselves--"

"Why the Mouthpiece of Zitu should seek a union in the flesh?"

Zud clasped his hands before him. He sat with eyes downcast. "Thou hast
spoken, lord," he said.

Croft held him with a level regard. "And what says Zud, the high priest?"

"That the ways of Zitu are beyond mortal understanding."

"Yes." Croft took him up sharply. "Zud, the high priest, endeavored to
understand--toward which end, though Abbu of Scira had sworn by Zitu to
keep silent, he induced him to talk."

"I--I--lord, I absolved him of the oath of silence," Zud faltered.

"And since when may even the high priest rescind that which Zitu has
recorded?"

A tremor shook the priest. A twitching seized his face. He shrank back
and sat staring, staring at the strange individual before him. One could
no longer doubt that he had been sincere in what he had done, at
least--what he had proclaimed of Croft, he himself believed.

"High priest of Zitu, in what words was your proclamation to Tamarizia
concerning him until now known as the Hupor Jasor made?"

Zud wet his lips and made answer. "It was said that Zitu had sent us a
teacher--one who should reveal to all men his will, through whom he
revealed his pleasure--one who was his mouthpiece indeed."

"And this you believed?"

"Aye, lord." Zud moved. He would have knelt had not Croft stayed him.

"_Hilka!_ Hold!"

"Aye, lord." Zud stood erect. His knees seemed knocking together and he
swayed. Something like pity stirred in Croft's breast. "Think you that as
Zitu's Mouthpiece I shall find it easy to take my place as heretofore in
the Himyran or Ladhra shops, where the instruments designed for
Tamarizia's use shall be brought forth? Do men work best with one such as
you would name me, or with another man, O Zud?"

"Lord, lord!" Zud bowed his head.

"Or think you that were I the Mouthpiece of Zitu, I would have pledged
myself to this maid save by his will? Yet today even Zud bends the knee
in my presence since his proclamation. Is this thing known to the Gayana
as well as to the priests?"

"Yes, it is known," Zud told him slowly.

"The maid is still there?"

"Yes."

"She has heard the truth?"

"Yes." Zud flung up his head. Croft's last word seemed to give him
courage. "She knows--the truth," he said. "She requested an audience
after she had heard, and I went to her. I told her those things Abbu
said."

"That my spirit was not Jasor's?"

"Yes."

"And what said she?" Croft forced himself to ask.

"She is a maiden of spirit," said Zud in the tone of one who palliates an
offense. "She is unused to restraint. She refuses to give credence to
Abbu's story or accept its truth save from your own lips."

Croft thrilled. Here was fidelity and trust--the absolute confidence
which should exist between true mates. "She remains with the Gayana?"

"Aye--until such time as you awaken."

"I will see her. Send one to guide me to her at once."

"Lord!" Zud's tone was aghast.

"Stop!" Croft cut short his incipient protest. "Would question my
demands?"

"But the Gayana--" Zud began a faltering explanation.

"May be entered by him who wears the wings of the Angel of Life as well
as the high priest."

For a long, breathless instant the glances of the two men met and
crossed, engaging the one with the other. And then Zud was beaten down.
He yielded.

"Permit that I show you," he said, "and lead the way."



Chapter Four


They passed from the room and along a corridor in which the oil sconces
had now been extinguished, faintly illuminated by the light of the new
day. Before a massive door Zud paused and set his hand to a slender cord.
His action was followed by the muffled clanging of a brazen gong. He slid
the door open and revealed the shadow-wrapped throat of a shaft, up which
a platform presently trembled into view. It was a primitive form of
elevator operated, as Croft knew, by a Mazzerian crew in the foundations
of the pyramid itself, lifting and lowering it on signal, by winding its
cable on and off a revolving drum.

With Zud, he stepped aboard. The platform mounted slowly up the shaft.
The high priest, with a hand on an inner cord, observed its progress, and
presently once more the gong far below clanged out. The platform stopped.

They stepped into a very short corridor between masonry walls of a cut
and polished stone not unlike marble, save that it held a strange,
translucent quality in its substance and was wholly white. The main
staircase of the pyramid mounted before them and ran on toward the top,
with its crowning Temple of Zitu, and just beyond it, at the far end of
the corridor, was a door. Silver it was, the most precious of Palosian
metals, tooled and carved into the design of a full-sized woman's figure,
in whose hand was the looped cross of immortal life.

Croft stood with tight-set lips and flaring nostrils as Zud put up a hand
and pressed against the left breast of the woman on the door.

There was a tiny click, and the door slid to one side, disappearing into
a socket in the wall and flooding the corridor with light. No gloomy
abode was that in which the vestals dwelt. High up on the pyramid, but
one flight beneath the crowning temple on the truncated apex, it caught
the first of Sirius's rays, and the last, through deep embrasures set
with slanting glass in the structure's walls. As the door slipped aside a
scene was presented to Croft's eyes, brilliant with light and life.

"Hold!" he said as Zud would have entered and stepped past him on one
side.

"Wait me below in your own apartments, man of Zitu. Consider meanwhile
those words we have spoken before you brought me here. Peace be with you,
priest of Zitu. Go!"

Then, as Zud turned to do his bidding and regained the platform in the
shaft, he stepped through the aperture of the door to the other side and
paused, a trifle abashed.

He had come at a stride to a region of youth and beauty. It surrounded
him on every side. Feminine forms in diaphanous fabrics were grouped
about the room. The chatter of their voices filled the place. Directly
before him a group of maidens already at work about an immense basket of
flowers, forming the garlands and sprays which at the noontide hour of
prayer they would fling at the feet of the statue of Tamarizia's god,
paused and stood staring as Croft appeared.

Their hair, unrestrained save for a metal filet or cincture, fell in
masses down their graceful backs. The flesh of their shoulders and arms
and sandalless feet, glowed warm and pinkly white. Their lips grew
parted, and their eyes, unaccustomed to masculine presence, save possibly
that of old Zud, grew wide.

So for a moment they stood staring until, as though her attention was
arrested by the postures and the direction of their glances, an older
woman appeared, coming directly toward where Croft stood, to pause before
him and bend in a genuflection, and inquire, "What does my lord of Zitu
seek?"

"Speech with the maiden Naia, priestess of Ga." Croft met her glance
directly.

"So be it," said the woman. "Come with me."

He followed--across a hugely pillared room where others of the vestals
sat on cushions or divans, engaged in simple tasks--toward a mighty
figure of a woman, carved from the strangely beautiful translucent stone
the Tamarizians used mainly in their sculpture--the figure of a woman
seated, brooding with a face of divinely maternal affection above the
form of a babe stretched prone across her knees.

And this, he thought, was Ga, to whom Naia of Aphur had prayed that she
might be spared the unclean ordeal of a marriage with Cathur's prince.
This was the madonna. This was the woman and--her child--before the shrine
of the fire eternal, watching it, guarding it, replenishing it against
extinction through the eons of ages within and from herself.

A sudden passionate desire to do her and the members of her sex some form
of honor seized him in an impulse which sent him without premeditation to
his knees, bending before her majestic presence, forming the sign of the
cross horizontal, beneath her brooding features; glancing up then, and
then only, to meet the eyes of his guide--and finding them less frigid,
in a subtle manner pleased.

But she made no comment as Croft rose slowly and once more followed her
lead toward the door of a room, which she unlatched and pushed aside.

Through the opening Croft's eyes leaped, to fall upon the figure of a
woman, her hair as golden as the sunshine falling in a rippling, silken
mass to the couch of wine-red wood on which she sat, her head bent above
a frame in which her tapering fingers were embroidering a pattern in
small, pierced jewels on a fabric of sheerest gauze.

All that in a flash. Then, as though attracted by the opening of the
door, the woman glanced up, lifting a pair of pansy-purple eyes.

"Naia!" Croft's lips framed the word rather than spoke it. He stepped
swiftly toward her through the door. It clicked shut behind him as the
vestal closed it.

Naia, of Aphur, rose. The last vestige of color seemed drained from her
face, leaving her eyes very dark in its pallor, their pupils stretched
wondrously wide. And then while Croft waited, she moved and sank down on
her slender, supple knees.

"Beloved!" Croft went one swift pace toward her. He stretched out his
hands. "Naia--mine own--arise."

She glanced up. A quiver shook the perfect curve of her mouth. "How
speaks the Mouthpiece of Zitu in a lover's guise?"

"Were I to answer your question, beloved, would any hear?"

She regarded him strangely. "No," she made answer slowly. "This is my own
apartment--set aside for my use for such time as I remain with the
Gayana. What things may be said within it shall remain unknown."

"Then--" In a single stride Croft approached her. He swept her into his
arms. "Hark ye, beloved," he said. "Hark ye--mark well my answer. The
Mouthpiece of Zitu is no supernatural being, but a man and a lover--thy
lover in very truth."

And on the word the supple body of the woman went tense inside his arms.
It struggled, it writhed. With an effort Naia tore herself free. Hot
words poured from her mouth as she choked and gasped for breath.

"Then--in the name of Zitu--what do you here--with that--that"--she
lifted a naked arm and pointed--"with the wings of Azil--the looped cross
of Ga--upon your breast?"

"Is not Zud a man--and wears he not the cross at least--and comes he not
among the Gayana at will?"

And as he paused she blazed out in a fashion of almost blazing contempt.
"A man, yes, is Zud--one in whom the flame of life burns low, who comes
thither only when the work of him he serves demands it. Zud speaks, when
he comes, naught but what to him seems truth."

"What _seems_ truth, aye," he rejoined, therefore quickly holding Naia's
eyes, from which flashed what seemed a purple fire, with his own. "Yet
what man shall know the mind of Zitu, save as by his own interpretation,
or be free from error in his words at times, even though years should
have taught him discretion in his tongue?"

Naia's lip curled. "At least," said she, "Zud makes no claim of being any
other than he is."

"Nor do I." Croft drew himself up. "Have I claimed ever to be aught save
a man who loved thee? Was it I or Zud who named me Mouthpiece of Zitu
while I slept, or by whose orders, when I asked for clothing, was given
me this priestly dress? Has Jasor of Nodhur ever in the past sought any
greater exaltation in rank or fame or power than that alone which would
bring him to your side?"

And now for the first time it seemed that the Princess Naia faltered.
Some of the tension went out of her graceful figure. Doubt crept into her
eyes. "You--you," she asked a broken question, "would have me believe the
Mouthpiece of Zitu, a--man?"

"Yes--as he is--a man who loves you as none ever loved you before." Croft
threw out his arms. "Seem I not a man to you, Naia of Aphur? Is a man any
less a man because he wears the garments of a priest?"

"Hold, in Zitu's name!" Abruptly a tremor, a shudder shook the slender,
half-veiled form he watched. "Man, though he be a priest, is sworn to
chastity in Zitu's sight. Yet you, whom Zud names the Mouthpiece of
Zitu--"

"Am sworn to love you, beloved," Croft cut her protest short.

"Love?" Terror woke in Naia's face. She drew back. "Would seek to compel
me with your newly acknowledged power? So long as Zud named you a spirit,
I was ready to bend before you. But now that you name yourself a man,
would seek to lead me into sin, even were I minded to give heed to your
plea?"

"Nay," said Croft in a softer voice. "Nay, Naia, love such as mine is no
sin, but the law of Zitu himself--the cause of all living--all life. Yet,
save you yield yourself to me of your own will, those things my spirit
cries for shall not be. And--can I not convince you that, despite the
words of Zud, which were ill advised, I am no more than him to whom you
gave your promise--than are you--free?"

He broke off and for the first time bowed his head. And as he stood there
a change came over the girl who watched. For the first time in her
knowledge of him Jasor of Nodhur bent his unflinching crest; for the
first time a hopeless something weakened the lines of his strongly
commanding face. She moved. Step by step she approached him where he
stood. In an almost timid fashion she lifted a bared arm and laid her
hand against his chest.

"But," she faltered, "Abbu said--"

"What?" Croft did not alter his position.

"Those things which sent my spirit down to the dark world of Zitemku,
ruler of the lost souls, in surprised dismay--that the spirit which dwelt
in Jasor of Nodhur's body was not his own, but another's--sent by Zitu to
possess it--when Jasor--died." The last was a quivering whisper, no more
than a sibilant breath.

"And if what Abbu said were truth?" Croft lifted his somber visage and
looked down into her darkly tragic eyes.

"If? Think you that, right or wrong in Zitu's sight, I myself could mate
with you were it the truth--couldst give myself to the embrace of a body
filled by another than that spirit Zitu breathed into it at birth; think
you my flesh would not shrink in very horror from the contact, my spirit
rebel, nor force my flesh to yield? And were Abbu's tale true, then, too,
were the high priest right. For how might such a thing transpire save by
the will of Zitu himself--how else the body of a man who had given up the
spirit return to life?"

"I have told you," said Croft, "that those things I did were done by
Zitu's grace. But I have not explained my full meaning. That I had
reserved for another time, and for your ears alone. Yet I swear now by
Zitu and Ga and Azil that I meant in my heart to tell you all things
before I claimed you as my wife--make all things plain."

"Then--" Once more Naia's figure stiffened. One hand crept up and lay
pressed in above her heart. "Abbu said truth--your spirit is not Jasor's,
but another's?"

"Yes," said Croft, dully refusing further evasion, "Abbu said the truth.
Yet not all the truth, and Zud overshot the mark in his interpretation."

"Zitu! Ga! Befriend me!"

All life went out of her glorious body. It sank down, seemed to shrink,
to bend and sway before him like a tempest-riven reed.

Croft caught it as it fell and lifted it in his arms--held it and bent
above it with sick despair in his heart. The sound of a muffled groan
escaped his lips. "Ga befriend her. Zitu befriend me. Azil have
compassion upon us both!" he cried before he laid her on the couch of
wine-red wood.

For a long moment after he had straightened, he stood gazing down upon
her. Naia of Aphur was his no longer. But--as Mouthpiece of Zitu--all men
must obey his mandates; there would be no exception; not even the high
priest himself, and--if he were to be cheated of the major object for
which he had labored, to attain which he had finally broken the last bond
between himself and Earth--then let all men beware. He turned away to go
in search of Zud.



Chapter Five


And, now, despite all these things, Croft's future course became to him
more clear.

Since the commanding part remained to him yet, it was his to command, not
to question or advise. He stalked across the sunlighted vastness of the
region of the Gayanas where the chatter of the maidens sank to silence as
he passed, bade the vestal who had taken him to Naia send some of the
women to attend her and passed through the silver door.

Stern of lip, utterly composed in outward seeming once more, giving no
outward sign of the tempest of black despair, which raged with him, he
made his way down three of the angling flights of the pyramid stairs and
flung back into its masonry sockets the high priest's door.

Never perhaps in the history of the nation had so unceremonious an
entrance of those chambers in the sacred structure been made. Yet Croft
had deliberately planned on the effect and a quiver of satisfaction
filled him, as Zud, seated at a table of the wine-red wood so much used
for furnishings in Tamarizia, refreshing himself with some cakes of
beaten grain and wine, and fruit, glanced up sharply with an expression
of surprised resentment and then started to his feet.

"Sit, man of Zitu," he directed bruskly, and watched the high priest
comply as he himself advanced and occupied a richly upholstered couch
close to where Zud sat. "It were well to consider the form of this
proclamation concerning the Mouthpiece of Zitu, I think."

Zud eyed him. Plainly the high priest was ill at ease. "I--give ear,
lord," he began, after a momentary pause. "What suggestions are there--"

"Suggestions? Think you that I shall offer suggestions, priest of Zitu?
Does Zitu suggest when he speaks?"

"Nay." Zud's expression grew troubled. "Hold not my words against me,
lord. I seek not thy displeasure. Yours is the speaking, mine it is
to--obey."

"That is well," said Croft in a milder voice. "Listen then, Zud. It is my
will that neither you, nor the brothers of the priesthood, nor any other
man in Tamarizia, bend the knee to me again. Render unto Zitu that
obeisance as heretofore--to Ga and Azil--not to me. Those things are of
the spirit, Zud, not of the flesh. In Tamarizia after fourteen days men
walk equal in Zitu's sight. Let thy word go forth to this effect."

A tremor shook the high priest's hand as he stretched it forth. "I hear
and obey, O lord. Yet was it to thy spirit the knee was bent, not to
Jasor of Nodhur's flesh."

"My spirit is what Zitu by his grace has made it," Croft returned. "What
I am lies between me and Zitu himself."

"Yet how then shall the Mouthpiece of Zitu be proclaimed?" Zud quavered.

"It is of that I would give you counsel," Croft replied. "Were I minded I
could forbid this proclamation altogether, Zud, and compel you to hang
your head, admitting that you had meddled to bring about those things
Zitu had not ordained. Think you he needs any man's assistance in working
out his plan? Yet because I have watched closely since I awakened, and
find your act inspired by no evil intent, but by lack of understanding,
because to discredit your words were to strike not only thee, but at the
very foundation itself of each man's belief, I am minded to let what you
have decreed take place.

"You shall proclaim me thus. Not as a spirit, but as a man, a teacher,
one to whom Zitu permits certain things to be known, one by whom the
welfare of the nation is considered, through whom shall be given to
Tamarizia's people much for their own good, through whom those things
Zitu permits for them shall be transmitted to them, and in so much Zitu's
mouthpiece still." Abruptly he broke off as a sudden conception seized
him. For a time he considered a startlingly daring plan before he spoke
again in a tone of musing. "Zud--Zud, if you only knew the truth."

"The truth, O lord! Have I not sought it all my life?"

Croft nodded. "Aye, priest of Zitu, I think you have. Wouldst hear the
truth of those things Abbu told you from my mouth?"

Zud leaned forward somewhat quickly. "Lord!" He faltered, "Lord!"

Croft told him the tale.

While he talked time dragged on, and by degrees Zud relaxed. His attitude
now became that of an amazed and eager attention. By degrees his
excitement increased, until he was gripping the arms of his chair and
leaning toward Croft, in a posture which seemed no more than physical
reflex of his mental determination to miss no single word.

"Thou--thou sayest a man may leave his body at will?" he stammered as
Croft paused.

"Yes, if he knows the method of controlling his spirit to affect his
object."

"May go to other places while his body remains where he leaves it--and
see and know, and return again?"

"Yes," he repeated again.

"It is hard to believe," said Zud.

"Would you like to have proof?"

"Proof?" Zud queried."

"Yes. Would you like to leave this body of yours, Zud of Zitra, under my
direction, learn I have spoken the truth?"

His words were followed by a widening of the high priest's eyes. "Thou
canst bring that about?"

"Yes, if you obey me wholly."

"My obedience is yours, O lord," he gasped.

"Then," said Croft, summoning all the powers of his trained will to his
aid, "fasten thy eyes on me, O man of Zitu, and fix thy mind on sleep,
for this leaving of the body begins indeed with a something approaching
sleep in its nature. Think therefore of sleep, O Zud--of sleep, of only
sleep!"

Fastening his gaze upon him in complete attention, until by degrees his
lids, at first wide, began to droop above his eyes, Zud obeyed.

"So then," Croft droned on as he noted the change, "your eyes are
closing, Zud, the lids grow heavy, sleep creeps now upon thee; sleep, a
deep sleep. Zud, thou art asleep, yet sleeping thou canst hear my voice.
Speak I not the truth?"

"Aye"--a muffled murmur from the high priest's mouth.

"And hearing me, Zud, even in your sleep you will render obedience to my
words. Hence, listen closely and obey. Do you know where Lakkon and
Jadgor and Robur lodge?"

"Aye," quavered the high priest.

"Then you shall go there, Zud, on my command. In the name of Zitu I
command you to leave your body--now."

For a moment he gave over speaking and waited while the form of the high
priest relaxed and sagged down in the chair of ruddy wood. Then abruptly
he resumed. "Have obeyed me, Zud?"

"Aye," no more than a whisper from the lips of the body in the chair.

"What do you see?" Croft demanded.

"A strange sight, indeed. My own form, as in a reflecting water-pool,
seated with downcast head, as wrapped in sleep."

"'Tis well," Croft spoke in answer and direction. "Await my company,
Zud." He threw himself prone upon the couch and freed his own astral
shell from Jasor's body by the effort of his will. An instant later he
floated midway between the floor and ceiling at Zud's side. Below them,
sat and reclined each body. There stood the table, still bearing food for
the material body midway between couch and chair. Croft turned to his
companion. And now all communication was on the astral plane, without
sound, yet by a none less evident diffusion of conscious vibration.

"Thou seest?" he queried with a smile.

"Aye," the answer came to him from Zud's wraith. "Aye, lord, I see, and
am filled with amazement."

"Thou seest but the first step as yet," Croft told him. "Come!"

There was an open embrasure in the pyramid wall. Through it Croft willed
himself, and seizing the thin arm of the weird form beside him, dragged
it along. They shot out and up through a sun-filled air--out and up and
up. The pyramid lay beneath them, the snow-white Temple of Zitu glinting
in dazzling fashion on its top. East, west, north and south Zitra lay
spread to their sight, with its houses, its palaces and hovels, the
ringing circumference of its mighty walls. Its harbor studded with sails
was all asparkle in the sunlight, and beyond that the bosom of the
central ocean rose and fell slowly like the breast of a woman asleep.

"Lord! Lord!" Croft sensed that the high priest gasped again in his
emotions at least.

"Behold!" Croft returned and swept an arm in the gesture of a circle.
"Priest of Zitu, behold! And, now, in which direction do the men I
mentioned lodge?"

"In the palace of Tamhys himself, as his guests," Zud replied, and
pointed with a spectral arm.

"Will thyself to their presence, even as you were in the flesh. Think
only that you desire immediate nearness to them. So shall you come upon
them, Zud."

"Aye, lord." Zud knit his astral brows as though in mental effort.

The sunlight vanished in a flash. With it went out the far-flung view of
the Tamarizian landscape--the city, the waves of the Central Sea.
Suddenly vast walls appeared on every hand--a tessellated floor inlaid in
white and gold and silver, stretched out beneath a roof of silver-inlaid
beams, supporting frames containing varicolored glass.

This was the interior court of the Zitran palace as Croft knew. It swept
past quickly. He had the impression of the balcony surrounding it on all
four sides in Tamarizian style, of the supporting arches, of the groups
of statuary between them, of the ascending stairways, and then they
vanished, too, and he found himself in a smaller apartment, its sliding
doorway covered by a scarlet curtain, its floor in part concealed by
gorgeous rugs, its windows draped with other scarlet tissues through
which the outer light shone redly--a room equipped with couches and
chairs and tables, adorned between the doors and windows with frescoes
and groups of sculpture done in the customary translucent stone, and
supported on pedestals of copper, silver and gold. So much he saw at a
glance before he fastened his attention on the figures of three men
grouped about a table in front of a scarlet-curtained window in the outer
end of the room.

These men he knew, had met and known and conversed with before in the
flesh. Jadgor, of Aphur, heavy set, dark of eyes and complexion,
grizzled of hair, his nose high and somewhat bent in the middle, his
whole appearance that of a man of driving purpose, sat there now clad in
leg-cases, shirt and metal cuirass, with Aphur's rayed sun on his
breast. And close beside him on the table reposed his helmet with its
nodding scarlet plumes.

Opposite him sat Lakkon, noble of Aphur and adviser to the king, heavy
set like his brother-in-law, strong of feature, with iron-gray poll,
dressed like to Jadgor in every essential detail, though in a fashion
less royal. By the end of the table stood Robur, Jadgor's son,
clean-limbed, strong-featured, with well-formed jaw and mouth, about
which lurked often a hint of humor, as Croft knew. In a fleeting glance
he recognized its absence now. The face of the crown prince was set into
almost stubborn lines, its cheeks a trifle flushed.

And even as Croft perceived the attitude and expression of the several
occupants of the apartment, Jadgor hit the table with one fist a
resounding crash, whose vibration eddied out and set Zud to drunkenly
rocking in their whorl close by Croft's side.

"By Zitu, and by Zitu!" He swore a double oath. "I like not this delay in
an understanding. Thrice in as many days have we visited the pyramid, and
Zud has said he sleeps. Much has he done for Tamarizia, as I shall last
deny, nor did he tell us to remain in Zitra at the last. Yet if Zud be
right, as he should, being high priest, my brother, Lakkon, finds himself
in difficult case."

Lakkon's visage darkened. "Yet was the pledge given of his seeking," he
broke out in querulous fashion. "Jadgor knows that Jasor, be he spirit,
as Zud saith, or man, sought it of me ere he entered the armored car to
lead into the conflict wherein Helmor, of Zollaria, was overthrown. And
Jadgor himself did sponsor my words wherein Naia, my daughter, was
promised him to wife."

"Aye," said Jadgor, frowning. "Yet shall a spirit mate with the flesh?
Continence is no less a vow of the priesthood than of the Gayana. Were a
spirit sent by Zitu to do his work, even though to that end he employs
the body of one whom Azil has recalled, is he to be considered as man or
priest?"

"Think you Zitu wouldst choose a rebellious spirit for his mouthpiece?"
Robur broke in with considerable heat. "Jadgor, my father, who are we to
judge?"

"Robur seems minded to attempt it," Jadgor rejoined with a sarcasm he
plainly did not wish to conceal.

"Aye." The color deepened in the crown prince's cheeks. "For by Jadgor's
command I labored beside this Jasor, of Nodhur, as he then was known, for
the better part of a cycle, toward the end of making Tamarizia safe
against what Helmor did intend, and in nothing did I find him other save
steadfast and just. Man he was in every seeming, save that his knowledge
surpassed the knowledge of all other men, and for these sleeps such as
holds him now. We became as brothers in our common purpose, whereby
Jadgor now bids fair to attend his ends."

Croft's heart warmed swiftly to Robur's defense, though it was no more
than from his knowledge of the crown prince he had felt he might expect.

And that Jadgor sensed the half-veiled rebuke, he saw at once, since the
Aphurian's frown but deepened before he spoke. "Man in seeming is he, I
admit, yet to Abbu he confessed that he was not Jasor but another. This
thing I do not understand, nor doth Zud. Yet were he an agent of Zitu,
then were the end of which you speak of Zitu's willing for Tamarizia's
good, which, as my son knows, lies nearest Jadgor's heart. Zud, as you
know also, I have questioned, and he holds that none save a mortal may
know a woman, save only by Zitu's will, as Azil was conceived of Ga.

"Then why question Zitu's will, as expressed by Zitu's Mouthpiece?" said
Robur quickly, and paused with a gasp.

"What mean you?" Jadgor half rose from his seat.

"Nay--" Suddenly Robur faltered, he seemed disturbed, abashed. He lowered
his eyes. "Nay, my father, I spoke in haste. What says the maiden
herself? Did not my uncle speak with her the prior sun?"

"She holds to her promise as she has held since the beginning," Jadgor
replied. "She refuses to leave the Gayana until she has speech with the
sleeper himself."

"Nor will she leave ever, should Abbu's words and Zud's judgment prove
true," Lakkon said with a twitching face. "Virgin is she in all save the
love she has given to him she knew as Jasor. Failing its consummation,
she becomes Gayana herself."

"Nay, by Zitu!" Robur cried a savage protest. "My father and uncle, of
this thing there lies some explanation. He who I, too, knew as Jasor, won
not the full love of my cousin for any such sterile fate. Himself, he
told me that all he did was by Zitu's grace, and of _all_ that he did was
not this too a part?"

Then as Jadgor made no immediate answer, and Lakkon sat with troubled
countenance, Robur went on. "Wherefore, as said before, who are we to
judge the Hupor Jasor or the Mouthpiece of Zitu, be he what he may, ere
he awakes? Like to my cousin, Naia, I would ask him to speak for
himself."

Jadgor gave him a glance. "For that waking we have waited many suns."

"Yet, perhaps he wakes even now," Lakkon suggested quickly, his manner
that of a man who grasps at straws.

"Aye," said Jadgor, "perhaps. And--since we are met for the purpose,
rather than useless discussion, let us seek the pyramid at once." He
rose, a commanding figure in his glistening cuirass and moved toward the
curtained door.

"Back!" Croft commanded Zud. "Desire the return to thy body."

He suited his own act to the word, and an instant later opened his
physical eyes to find Zud sitting tensely erect, regarding him out of
staring, startled eyes.

He sat up. "You saw, O Zud?" he questioned. "You heard?"

"Aye," said Zud a trifle hoarsely. "This passes understanding."

"Only until understood," Croft told him. "Art any less yourself for
having left your flesh?"

Zud dropped his eyes. "Nay, not so," he said at last.

"And had you entered his body upon the couch, rather than that in the
chair?" Croft pressed him closely. "Think you, Zud, you would have been
any less yourself, and less Zud, the--priest of Zitu, and--a _man?_"

"Zitu!" Zud breathed sharply. Plainly he caught Croft's drift. "In such a
fashion then you have visited other places, even to the stars, and seen
strange things, and brought back what you deemed good?"

"Aye," said Croft with a smile. "In the spirit, Zud, you have seen your
body lie sleeping, even as in the flesh you have seen my body lie. Yet
are you Zud in the spirit or in the flesh, for with each man it is the
spirit commands the flesh, that acts, and the spirit, Zud of Zitra, is of
Zitu, breathed from his nostrils, into the flesh, to give the body life."

"Man then is a spirit?" Zud began slowly.

"Aye, Zud, priest of Zitu. There were no man else."

A rap fell on the door of the apartment. It slid back, revealing a lay
brother in bare feet and cord-belted robe. He advanced, bending before
Zud from the waist, his arms extended in the sign of the horizontal
cross.

"Jadgor of Aphur, and Lakkon, and Robur, son of Jadgor, await audience
with Zud of Zitra," he announced.

"Admit them." Zud glanced at Croft as the brother withdrew. "Thou art as
thou hast said, a teacher not only of all men, but of Zitu's priest. I
would speak with thee more of this."

For the second time the door slid back. Jadgor, Lakkon, and Robur filed
in.



Chapter Six


"Greeting, priest of Zitu," Jadgor began, catching sight of the other
occupant of the room, and paused briefly before he went on:

"_Hai,_ Hupor, so you are awake again at last."

"As Jadgor sees," said Croft without rising, while Lakkon stared and
Robur took a quick step forward, flushed deeply and checked his
instinctive motion, as one who hesitates in a decision.

Toward him Croft put out a hand, and as Robur caught it with a sudden
gesture, he smiled. "Zud tells me you stand without opposition in Aphur,
Rob," he resumed as he gripped the Tamarizian's fingers. "Of such things
I am glad."

"It was to inquire of you, we have intruded upon the priest of Zitra,"
Jadgor spoke again before Robur could do more than return Croft's grip.
"Concerning thee a proclamation has gone forth. Mouthpiece of Zitu, thou
art acclaimed. How then shall we salute thee in the future?" His tone was
haughty, harmonizing with the attitude of mind Croft had sensed in the
room in Tamhys's palace. But he paid it the tribute of small notice.

"Salute me," he said almost coldly, "as Zud has ordained."

"Thou art from Zitu then?" Jadgor lost a modicum of his aplomb. Man of
action, accustomed to command though he was, yet, like most of his
nation, he stood in awe of his nation's good--and Croft's answer gave him
pause.

"All men are of Zitu, Jadgor of Aphur," Croft replied, meaning in his
response to do the presidential candidate small good.

But as he paused: "Truth is being spoken," Robur cut quickly in. "All men
are of Zitu through Azil and Ga, until Zitu himself sends Zilla, with his
sucking lips to take his life away."

Once more Croft smiled into the eyes of his friend. "Then gentle
Gaya--she is happy at your popularity, Rob?" he inquired as Jadgor stood
and stared.

"She waits me at Himyra," Robur returned, inclining his head. "But--there
were reasons why I desired more to remain in Zitra until such time as
should find you awakened from your sleep."

"Oh, aye--such reasons as Jadgor's doubt, and Lakkon's questions
concerning Zud's proclamation." Croft yawned as he spoke. "But Robur
forgets not so quickly his friends."

"By Zitu! How say you?" Jadgor broke out in a roar. "Are you spirit or
man?"

"A man--in the way you mean it, O Jadgor--a man as thou art."

"Hai!" In a fashion Jadgor seemed surprised. "Then how the mouthpiece--"

Croft rose. His tone was that of a teacher to a child. "Jadgor of Aphur,"
he spoke with deliberation, each accent falling slowly, "the Mouthpiece
is that which speaks from knowledge to him who has less--hence is the
teacher a mouthpiece of knowledge to the student. Those things which are
difficult to one of little knowledge may appear but simple to the mind of
one who understands."

Color crept into Jadgor's dark face. "And, as Mouthpiece of Zitu, you
claim the greater knowledge for yourself? Perchance it were but a short
step in your belief between the greater knowledge and the greater power.
But--Tamarizia is not yet within the full grasp of your hand, and Aphur
still is Aphur, and with Nodhur and Milidhur, strong."

"My father!" Robur took a quick step in Jadgor's direction.

"Hold, Rob!" Croft lifted a restraining hand. He let an icy smile grow
slowly on his lips. "Aye, Milidhur and Nodhur and Aphur are strong.
Aphur's king, through me. Also, is Tamarizia yet an empire. Wherefore the
change of government is by Tamhys's decree. Let Jadgor beware lest success
and quick attainment of his wishes may turn his head."

"_Hai!_ You would threaten!"

"Hold!" commanded Zud, breaking in for the first time. "Jadgor of Himyra,
you forget yourself, and the obedience all men owe to Zitu--and the
victory granted Tamarizia by his grace. What is the strength of Aphur or
Nodhur or Milidhur, to his designs? And think you that any or all of
those states will follow you against the word of Zitu's priest?

"Thy words approach treason, Jadgor, should they come to Tamhys's ears.
As priest of Zitu I command you to yield obedience to the Mouthpiece of
Zitu--to aid, not oppose his intent."

Jadgor was heated beyond all cool judgment. He flung back his head.
"Mouthpiece of Zitu--or of Zitemku, the foul one--or man as he himself
alleges, Jadgor yields authority to no one!"

"Nor hesitated to offer his sister's child to a profligate prince, turned
traitor to his land in order to increase it," said Croft as the Aphurian
paused.

"The point is well taken," Jadgor returned, "since the maid was almost
asked by the Mouthpiece of Zitu himself as a price."

"No," Croft denied, "I asked but your consent and that of her father to
win her for my wife if I could."

"He speaks truth, my father," Robur said. "And--I myself know that Naia,
my cousin, loved Jasor of Nodhur."

"Jasor," Lakkon said, speaking for the first time. "But Naia herself has
told me that Abbu of Scira said--"

"That Jasor's spirit was drawn from his lips by Zilla," Jadgor
interrupted. "Do you think that Naia desires marriage with a body whose
spirit has fled?"

"No," said Croft. "Naia of Aphur is free from any claim of mine, save as
she herself desires when she learns the truth. I have seen her and told
her the truth as I meant to tell her, save that Abbu spoke to Zud in the
time of my sleep and Zud spoke to the maid without a full understanding
of all the truth embraced."

He told them of his origin on Earth, his coming to Palos, and Zud told of
his own spirit leaving his body under Croft's guidance. It was clear that
they were impressed and shaken, particularly by the similarity between
the names Jasor and Jason. Robur was the first to accept, but Lakkon and
Jadgor were plainly uncertain as yet.

He turned to Croft and Zud. "These things I confess I do not understand,
and in truth to me they pass all understanding. Man of Zitu, yet is it
clear to my mind that an understanding lies between this other and
yourself. Wherefore I must ponder the matter well, and seek to
determine whether the palace or the pyramid of Zitra shall rule Tamarizia
in the future. To thee for the present, Zud--peace. Be pleased to direct
that the maiden Naia be brought to an audience chamber for speech with
her father and her _king_."

"Jadgor's request is granted." Zud lifted a small hammer from the table
and struck against a metal gong.

The door slid back and a lay brother appeared. Zud spoke to him,
directing him to lead Jadgor and Lakkon to an apartment, and command
Naia's presence there.

"Peace to you, Zud," Jadgor said again as he turned away.

"And to thee peace," responded Zitu's priest.

"Rob," Croft arrested Aphur's prince as he moved to follow his father,
"are you party to this interview with your cousin?"

"No." Robur paused. "I return now to the palace."

Croft nodded. "Presently then. Come now. I would speak to you alone."

For all his controlled demeanor, Croft was none the less disturbed as,
leaving Zud, he led Jadgor's son to the room in which for two weeks his
body had lain entranced. But he said nothing of what was seething in his
brain as he took out the plans and carried them back to spread them out
before Robur's eyes on his couch.

One of them was for a dynamo, water-driven, and nothing else. There were
many streams in Tamarizia's mountains, and he had planned to harness
their power for the generation of electric force. This then he took up
first.

"Look, Rob," he began as he held it before his companion's eyes. "Can you
remember a night in Himyra when Jadgor named me Hupor, and I said the
scene would have been more brilliant were light obtained from many lamps
of glass inside which a luminous filament glowed?"

"Aye, I remember it well." Robur inclined his head. His face was serious
and he seemed ill at ease, as well as somewhat surprised that Croft had
turned to the plans rather than taking up a discussion of other things.

But Croft had a purpose in so doing; a hope that by showing Robur the
things he planned to accomplish, he might reach Jadgor's ear in a less
direct, though no less effective fashion, since doubtless Robur would
speak concerning them to the king. "This," he said when assured that the
prince recalled his former remark, "is a device to provide such light,
and many other things." For an hour thereafter he talked displaying plan
after plan, each one of which he explained, until at the end, Robur's
face was flushed with excitement, his eyes glowing in anticipation of
beholding undreamed of things.

"Jasor or Jason," he exclaimed at length. "Mouthpiece of Zitu must you be
indeed to devise such objects, to have knowledge of them--to draw their
designs."

"No, Robur--these things are not mine own. Of Zitu they are--by him
permitted for man's use--yet are they things known, and employed daily in
the life of men on that star from which I come."

"Earth," said Robur quickly. "These things are known on Earth, and the
motors, the rifles--"

"Yes," Croft nodded slightly. "And a thousand other things." He took up a
final plan. "Rob, what do you think of a device which can lift a man into
the air, as a bird rises on its wings?"

"Zitu! Would you fly, Jason of Earth!" Robur caught a slightly unsteady
breath.

"Aye." Croft spread out the parchment. He had drawn it in a moment of
daring impulse, and now he explained to Robur how it was driven by a
"motur"--the name he had given to his engines, modified to fit Tamarizian
speech, and the action of the planes.

"Jason, tell me the truth, in Zitu's name! Why came you from Earth to
Palos--what strange force led you to seek life with us?"

"The strongest force in all the sum of Zitu's forces, Robur--that force
which men call--love."

"Naia, by Zitu!" Robur sprang to his feet. "You have dared all for her?"

"All," said Croft. "Once have I saved Naia of Aphur from paying the score
of Jadgor's ambitions, nor will I permit it again. If the maiden comes to
me at all, Rob, it must be of her own choice--from her own wish, not as a
price."

Robur nodded. "_Hai,_ Jason!" he cried. "Now can I understand you, and
find you the man I have felt you in my heart." He approached Croft,
seized his hand and placed it on his shoulder, laid his own on that of
his companion in the posture of greeting used by Tamarizian friends. So
for a moment the two men stood eye to eye before Robur went on: "Thy love
is a true love--of the heart as well as of the body. Claim me thy friend
in this, O Jason--I and Gaya, the woman I won in similar fashion, though
I journeyed no farther than to Milidhur to find her. You have seen the
maid since your awakening. Tell me, said you to her so much?"

"Yes," Croft told him. "Save that she came to me willingly--herself she
was free."

"And what said Naia my cousin?"

"'Tis the matter of Jasor's body and Jason's spirit, that disturbs her,"
he explained. "Concerning that I meant to tell her, as only I could tell
it, so that she might understand. That would I have done at a time of my
own selecting before she became my wife, save that Abbu of Scira to whom
I confessed that my spirit was not Jasor's but one which meant to
Tamarizia only good--Abbu, whom I swore to silence in Zitu's name, was by
Zud absolved from his oath and spoke. And Zud gaining part of the truth
only, yet carried what he had learned to Naia's ears. Zud, startled by
what he had learned, named me to her a spirit sent by Zitu. Naia looks
upon herself as once deceived, well nigh betrayed."

"But," said Robur quickly, "when you told her of yourself--"

"Nay," Croft replied. "Naia of Aphur is not one to weep, nor ask for
explanations."

"So that she knows not as yet of this love that drew you from another
world to win her, even as with us a man might go from one kingdom to
another. Yet to me it seems that a maid might marvel at a love so great."

Croft's eyes lighted at the suggestion. "As I had hoped she would when I
told it in the way I meant to tell it, Rob. See you not that this title
proclaimed by Zud is something thrust upon me, rather than sought by
myself. For though I meant to be to Tamarizia a teacher in many things,
and in so far a mouthpiece in very truth, showing to her people those
things known to others, but drawn first from Zitu's mind as all things
created must be, yet had I no intent, or wish to greatly exalt myself. In
Himyra I sought the rank of Hupor merely because it raised me to her
caste. And Zud himself will tell you that in proclaiming me to the
people, I have forbidden him to name me other than a teacher--more than a
man like themselves."

"_Hai!_" said Robur. "You have done this, Jason! Did Jadgor know, it
would change his mind, I think. My father's attitude in this matter
grieves me. Let me be _your_ mouthpiece in this to bring understanding to
his mind."

Croft nodded. "Speak, Rob, if thereby we may turn Jadgor from what seems
to me a dream of personal power, back to that wish for the strength of
_all_ Tamarizia, which held place in his heart, when I knew him first."

Robur sighed. "Teacher you may well be called, Jason," he said in a tone
of accord with Croft's remarks. "Jadgor's name on every lip has been to
Jadgor's spirit like wine to a strong man's flesh--nor do I myself think
Zud has any wish to interfere with the affairs of state through
proclaiming you Mouthpiece of Zitu, even though my father appears to fear
some such thing himself. Wherefore I shall tell him of what you have
said, if I may. And of this other matter also I shall speak. In that Naia
has yielded you her mouth, has felt your arms about her, who are not of
her blood--to Jadgor's mind, there lies a disgrace."

Croft nodded again. "Yet would he have given her to Kyphallos, the master
of dancing girls, my friend."

"I know--I know," Robur replied. "But that would have been in marriage."

"There can be no marriage between Naia and myself until it is brought
about by her as well as my wish."

"Failing which she will become Gayana," Robur said.

"Which you do not like yourself," Croft responded. "Which, should it
happen would deprive me of all I have labored in sincere purpose to
gain--that which I think Zitu himself is inclined to permit--since he has
permitted also that I dwell in the spirit inside Jasor of Nodhur's
flesh."

"Aye, by Zitu, I see it!" Robur exclaimed. "Were it said to her, by one
to whom she would scarce fail to give ear--then--perhaps she would see it
too. Jason--Gaya, my wife, has before this had a hand in this affair of
your love. Could she prevail upon my cousin to listen--"

"Rob!" Croft rose and began a slow pacing of the floor. "At least," he
said, "she returns by Jadgor's command to Himyra. Let Gaya speak with
her, friend of my heart, to whom my heart is shown, and prevail upon her
to remain outside the pyramid until she has taken time to think. Myself,
I told her I could explain if the chance were mine. Rob, you and Gaya
your wife will do this?"

"Aye," Robur declared, rising also. "Be not cast down in your heart.
Inside fourteen suns I shall be governor in Aphur--and I shall see to it
that Jadgor understands much which now he does not understand--also, that
Naia does not go to the pyramid in Himyra. I shall speak with Magur
himself. Speak of this with Zud, Jason. Have him give tablets into my
hands to Magur from himself, advising against an immediate action. Then
once I am in the palace, Jason, my friend, we shall reopen the Himyra
shops, and set the melting furnaces flaring, and make many things for
Tamarizia's welfare--even to this machine which flies without moving its
wings."



But the events of the third day following Croft's awaking from what he
considered his final trip to Earth showed that Rob and Gaya would have no
easy time. For that was the day of the great festival, the colorful
ceremony during which he was proclaimed Mouthpiece of Zitu. He went over
the exact wording of the proclamation in advance with Zud, and while he
did not entirely like it, he could see the necessity. At the proper time
in the ceremony, Zud would say to the vast assembly:

"Men and women of Zitra and of all Tamarizia, give ear to Zud, through
whom it is given to announce to you one who comes among you as teacher,
endowed with a wisdom passing the knowledge of Zud or any other among
you, by Zitu's grace.

"Jason, as he is named, cometh to instruct the people on whom Zitu
smiles, as a sign that his pleasure shall remain while they are in
obedience to his laws.

"Mouthpiece of Zitu is Jason, and shall be so known while he shall remain
among us, and afterward, when the spirit within his body shall have been
withdrawn. Exalted is he by the knowledge which Zitu has seen fit to
instil into his mind. Worthy of honor is he from all true men. Yet is he
man as thou art, and to him shall no knee bend. Obedience and respect
alone are his due. I, Zud, the high priest, have said it. Let all men
regard the Mouthpiece of Zitu as his brother as well as his friend."

When the proclamation was made, Croft sought out Jadgor's eyes; the
king's glance was dark, and he caught a slight shake of the crown
prince's head. Lakkon also looked somber.

Then the Gayana approached the throne on which Croft was seated, each
maiden carrying a wreath from which she plucked a long-stemmed scarlet
flower and tossed it at him. Suddenly his eyes met the blue eyes of Naia
among them, but she did not toss her flower--she threw it, with her lips
curled in scorn. There was something concealed within the flower, and
when Croft picked it up, he found it to be a silver medallion, bearing a
raised figure of Azil, the Angel of Life, and surrounded by blood-red
stones, such as Tamarizian men gave to the women to whom they were
betrothed.

"Thy litter awaits thee." Zud's voice was in his ear. He saw that the
blue men of Mazzer had indeed brought a great silver palanquin into
position opposite the dais steps, and quickly he asked the high priest if
Naia had become Gayana. She had not, Zud assured him with comprehension.
But she had asked to be among them and now he realized why; for this
medallion she had hurled back at him was the one he had ordered made, and
given to her at the end of the Zollarian war. Like the maids of her
nation, she had worn it on her girdle as a sign that to one man, and one
alone, Azil had set his seal upon her. And today she had flung it from
her, against the wings of Azil himself, which Croft wore on his breast.

There was no mistaking the action. It was repudiation. Croft's lips
writhed into a strange smile. He recalled how the thing had pained when
it struck above his heart.



Chapter Seven


Jadgor was elected over Tammon by an overwhelming majority. Robur became
governor of Aphur as a matter of course. In Cathur, Mutlos gained the
lead largely because the populace still remembered the treason intended
by Kyphallos of Scythys's house, and refused to vote for the dead king's
younger son. This was the major result of the elections, so far as Croft
was concerned.

Before it was held, however, several things had occurred. Naia and her
father, Jadgor and his son, left Zitra the day of Jason's proclaiming, in
a motor-driven galley. Robur contrived an interview with Croft before he
left.

Croft in the meantime had seen Zud as soon as he returned to the pyramid,
and showed him the jeweled medallion, and narrated to him the manner in
which it had been returned. At the end he requested a letter to Magur
asking the Himyra priest to advise delay, provided Naia sought admission
to the vestal ranks.

The tablets of wax whereon Zud wrote his commands Croft gave to Robur,
and the two friends gripped hands.

"Jadgor had turned his face from you," Robur said. "Always has he been of
stubborn mind. But, by Zitu, once I am in Himyra's palace, there will be
a place for you, my friend, wherein we will work out your strange
designs!"

"Yes," Croft replied. "Your cousin goes with you, Rob?"

"Aye," Robur declared. "She yields to Jadgor's command, saying one may
forget herself no less in Himyra than in Zitra's pyramid. Yet in Himyra
is Gaya, to whom, I believe, my cousin will open her heart. At present
the maid is overwrought, and Jadgor's attitude toward you does not
strengthen your case."

"You spoke with him concerning those things we discussed three suns ago?"

"Aye, and to small avail." Robur frowned. "His stand is, you should have
told them to him, rather than to Zud, at first. You will remember how Zud
swayed Tamhys before the Zollarian war in your favor. Jadgor refused to
accept it other than that there is an understanding between the high
priest and yourself."

"Then must our works convince him since our words fail," said Croft.
"Robur, my friend, a safe and pleasant journey. May Kronhur, ruler of the
oceans, provide you a peaceful path to Himyra's gate. Make my salutations
to the gentle Gaya, whom I trust I may ere long greet. In her hands and
yours, Robur, is carried Jason's fate."



For four days thereafter he remained in constant company with Zud. Two
things occupied his time--the instruction of the high priest in the
mysteries of astral control, at first compelling the projections by his
own will. Later Zud gained a minor success for himself, a thing he
accomplished quickly because of his great desire to learn, and Croft took
up certain social reforms he had long had in mind.

A more general education was the first of these. At Scira in Cathur,
Tamarizia had maintained a national school. This, however, was for the
patronage of the rich. Among the masses little education was known.
Croft decided at once to alter this. To Zud he outlined a scheme for a
general system of schools. Assisted by the high priest, he drafted a
provisional alphabet, to which the hieroglyphic characters not unlike
those of the Mayan inscriptions in Central America lent itself with
little change. Already in Himyra he had constructed a form of printing
press for large-character work. Now he took up the subject of perfecting
and elaborating this to the wonder of Zud, whose enthusiastic
approbation he instantly gained. He thought the matter of the schools
might be easily arranged. The national school was under the patronage of
the church. Most of the priests were educated in it. Teachers could be
drawn from their ranks; and if the matter were carefully broached, both
Jason and Zud felt inclined to believe that the move would meet with
little opposition from Jadgor at first--especially if the suggestion
came from some such one as Mutlos, governor of Cathur, whom Zud would
see was properly approached by the faculty of the national school,
rather than by Zud or Croft.

Late on the afternoon of the fourth day, however, Croft went to his own
quarters, loosened his clothing, and laid himself down on the golden
couch. There had been time for Jadgor's galley to have reached Himyra, as
he knew--time for Naia to have gone either to her own home or the palace,
as Jadgor and her father had elected. Closing his eyes and fixing his
mind on the red-walled city of Aphur, he brought all his will to bear
upon his one desire, and projected his astral entity to the palace. He
willed himself toward it, entered it through the main gates between the
huge carved figures of the winged doglike creatures set up on either
side, their front legs supporting webbed membranes from body to paw. He
passed into a vast, red-paved court, where naked Mazzerian porters passed
to and fro with metal sprinkling tanks strapped to their shoulders, and
gnuppas, harnessed to flashing chariots, champed on their bits and pawed.

To Croft, it was all an old story. He had lived in it once. He fixed his
mind on gaining the presence of Gaya, Robur's wife, for he felt Naia
would seek the company and companionship of a woman rather than any one
else.

In this his judgment proved right, as he found when he reached the wing
of the palace in which he had formerly lived. Here, in the portion given
over to Robur and his wife, was a court containing a private bath, set in
the center, surrounded on all sides by growing shrubs and flowers, the
tessellated pavements about it dotted with chairs and couches of the
wine-red wood and silklike canopies to offer shade against the Palosian
sun.

On two of the red couches he found the women he had come in search of.
They reclined beneath a yellow awning supported by standards, with a low
table between them, holding small cakes, fruit conserves such as the
women of Tamarizia affected, and crystal glasses, scarcely larger than a
thimble, filled with an amber-colored wine.

Naia lay pale, her eyes shadowed by darkened circles beneath their lids,
her features weary. Her figure was draped in a robe of exquisite green,
across the upper part of which a strand of her fair hair made a sheen of
gold. Croft glanced at Gaya, and found her eyes fixed in an anxious
inspection of her companion's face.

Abruptly Naia's breast swelled sharply and she spoke: "I shall become
Gayana. There is nothing else."

"Nay! Nay, daughter of Lakkon--you are overwrought. Robur thinks not so,
nor Jadgor, his father. To Lakkon there is none other, since your mother
died, save yourself. Would you leave him to finish his life alone?"

Naia sat up upon the couch. "That was true," she returned in a tone gone
bitter, "until this trouble came upon me. Now Lakkon holds me disgraced."

"Nay," Gaya replied, "say not that in any way were you to blame, Naia,
fairest of Aphur's maids. For have you and I not spoken concerning your
love ere this, and did you not first to me confess it, when you stood
pledge to Cathur's heir, from whom this man of Zitu saved you?"

"Say you that he is a man--Gaya, my friend--or is the word but used as a
means of expression since you know not what to call him save as he
seems?"

"Nay, I mean man, child," Gaya returned. "Man he appears, and man he
claims to be, and man he is. You know Robur for his friend. Much to Robur
has he explained since he wakened from the last of his strange sleeps.
Yet is he such a man as never was seen on Palos before, and though of
mortal birth, as we are, yet was he not born on Palos, but of a woman on
Earth."

"Earth?" Naia's eyes widened swiftly.

"Aye--a different star from ours," Gaya replied.

"Robur told you this?"

"Aye. He swore it by Zitu himself."

"He told it to Robur--to your husband--to Jadgor's son! Why not to me?"

"To Robur he swore he had meant to tell you ere you became his mate,"
Gaya rejoined. "Save that Zud learned these things from Abbu of Scira and
spoke to you during his sleep, I feel assured he had done it at a proper
time."

She paused, and Naia turned her head. "Now I remember that he said to me
after he awakened, when he came to me in the quarters of the Gayana, that
he had somewhat to explain. What said he else?"

"Strange things--things to madden the heart of a woman, as it seems to
me," Gaya returned. "To Robur he swore that to Palos he came because of
you, because in you he knew the mate to whom his spirit cried out--that
he remained on Palos to save you from Cathur and win you for himself, and
to that end that he might claim you wholly, used Jasor's body when his
spirit was drawn from his flesh."

"Zitu! Now you have touched on the part of the matter I may not tolerate
or understand. Granting that he says truth--that a spirit may enter the
body of another and possess it, and cause it to live and breathe, and
move as its own--can a maid consider a lover in such guise, surrendering
to his embrace?"

"Yet consider," said Gaya softly, "try to measure if you can, my
princess, a love so vast that it draws its mate across the space between
the stars. Consider that after he entered Jasor's form it changed--that
even Sinon declared he no longer resembled Jasor greatly. Seems it not to
you that Jason's spirit has altered the elements that were Jasor's until
they are as his own?"

"Jason?" Naia faltered.

"Aye. That was his name on Earth. Also says he that it is the spirit
within us which dwells in and makes us of the flesh. He says, and Zud
supports him in saying that to the spirit the flesh is no more than to
man is a house--a something he inhabits, makes use of, and finally lays
aside."

"Stop!" Naia stayed her. "Why--why were these things not said to me
before--before--" She broke off, clasped her hands and crushed them
together, struck them down against her sides. "Nay--it might have been,"
she went on, more to herself than to Gaya, "had I given the chance. He
came to me, and I berated him with words. I was filled with pain, my
spirit was blinded with horror and despair. I thought only that I had
been led to my own undoing--I knew not the truth.

"Gaya, I am like one fallen into a pit from which there is no escape. Him
I knew as Jasor--I loved with a glory of the spirit and a madness of the
flesh. Save only Zitu, beyond him there was for me no god!"

Once more she paused. "Canst wonder, then," she went on after a moment,
"with what gladness I gave him my pledge; with what joy in my thoughts of
the future I wore upon my girdle the badge of Azil he placed within my
hands as a sign that I was his--that badge which, on the day of his
proclaiming Mouthpiece of Zitu, I placed in a spray of flowers and hurled
against his breast!"

"Naia! You did that--did he--understand?"

Naia nodded slightly. "I think so. He--from the dais he carried the
flowers I flung against him to his litter in his hand. Oh, Gaya--my soul
died within me at that sight--would Zitu--the rest of me had died. I am
alone, Gaya--alone. Alone, alone--the word tunes my every breath. Jadgor
opposes my seeking the Gayana. My father looks on his name as through me
disgraced. And I am tired, Gaya--tired--so very tired. And there is no
rest. If only Zilla would hear me when I call him--"

"Aye, you are tired, poor child." Gaya rose, crossed to the other couch,
and took the girl's golden head inside her arms. "Come, talk no more at
present. I shall call Bela, my own maid, who shall attend you. You shall
bathe, and afterward she shall anoint your flesh with sweet-smelling
oils, and you will sleep and awaken refreshed. She has a soothing touch
beyond any I have ever found. She shall wait upon you." She reached out
to the table and struck a small metal gong.

"Refreshed," said Naia slowly. Once more her eyes were fastened on the
sun-kissed water. "Aye, I shall bathe, gentle Gaya. I shall find rest in
your pool."

She rose slowly. Her eyes were wide; her face was very white. Turning,
she walked to the edge of the sunken basin. For a moment she stood there
in the attitude of one who listens.

Her lips moved. "Zilla," she whispered and smiled.

And then her voice raised, rang out sharply: "Zilla, I hear thy answer!"

Her arms lifted, stretched upward. She plunged face downward into the
pool and sank without a struggle into its transparent depths.

And now began one of the most amazing parts of Croft's whole tale.

He saw Naia sink. He knew the meaning of her words, her act. And he was
powerless, impotent, to do anything save watch what went on before his
eyes.

Not so Gaya, however. Nor did Robur's wife lose her head. Gaya flung her
own form into the pool in a cleanly executed dive. Bela followed her
mistress a moment later, her blue figure cutting the liquid surface with
hardly a splash. Both women were entirely at home in the water, and by
the time Gaya had reached and seized Naia, who began instantly to
struggle, Bela was at her side.

The fight below the surface was brief. Croft saw Naia open her mouth. Her
bosom expanded as though she gasped. And then she relaxed, and Robur's
wife and the Mazzerian maid bore her quickly upward, supporting her head
between them, and swimming with her toward a submerged flight of steps by
which the pool was customarily entered. Reaching it, they lifted the limp
body in its trailing robe, which clung to trunk and rounded limb more
like a shroud of vegetation, a crinkled kelp born of the water itself,
than a garment, and staggered with it from the pool to lay it on the
pavement of the court.

"Quickly!" Gaya cried as she knelt beside it. "Seek out Jadgor's
physician and command his presence." She seized Naia's form and rolled
her upon her face. Placing her hands on either side of the body close to
where the ribs joined the spine, she threw her weight forward on extended
arms, held so for the space of a long breath, and lifted herself once
more upon her own flexed thighs.

It was a form of artificial respiration she was practising, and Croft
uttered a prayer for her success in his heart. And then--he forgot
temporarily her continued efforts in the wonder of something else.

Naia of Aphur was about to die. Croft knew it as certainly as he had ever
known anything in his life. Because he saw her soul come forth as he had
seen Zud's astral body after he had bidden it leave its fleshy habitation
on the day he awakened from his sleep. Slowly, as Gaya lifted herself and
sat back, it emerged from the figure on the ground. And as wonderful as
was the form of Naia, so wonderful was its astral counterpart.

Toward the lovely floating shape he compelled his own astral form until
he floated with it face to face. "Naia--Naia--thou other part of me," he
thought rather than cried out to her. "Naia--my beloved--hold. Return
again to thy body. Go back."

And he knew that she received the potent vibration his own soul gave out.
For slowly the head of the floating figure, the dream shape which swung
and glowed like an iridescent mist in the sunlight, turned its head
toward him--seemed to regard him strangely with wide open, startled eyes.

"Naia!" He sent his appeal to her again. "Naia, it is that Jason whom you
knew as Jasor who commands that you return again to your flesh. In Zitu's
name, beloved."

"Jason!" Croft felt the thought impinge against him.

"Jason, who loves you--who claims you--who shall claim you yet."

"What do you here?"

"You know of my sleeps. In them my spirit leaves the body. It visits many
places. Now sleeps my body in the Zitran pyramid, yet is my spirit
present to watch over you and guard you. It was not Zilla called you into
the pool, but your own troubled spirit, beloved. Go back into your
body--in the name of the love you confessed to Gaya. Go back."

"But--why--am I not myself?"

"Yes, you are yourself always," he returned. "Yet this is the real you
which speaks to the real me, beloved. Look beneath you, and tell me what
you see."

For a moment nothing was said... as the form beside him turned down its
eyes. And then a startled response: "Gaya--she bends and works beside a
form--to--to which I seem in some way connected. It--Zitu! Azil! It is
the form of one like myself!"

"It is your own form, Naia, the body in which all your life you have
dwelt--the beautiful habitation of your spirit--which you cast into the
pool in an effort to gain rest."

"But--I--I--" The diaphanous soul form began once more to tremble.

"You are you--even as I am I," said Croft. "That body over which Gaya
works is but the servant which has done your bidding, which, save you
obey me, you condemn to death. Return to it before it is too late. I,
Jason, who have met you midway between the body Azil gave you and Zilla's
domain, command it. Between you and Zilla himself I stand as a barrier.
Return to the form below you and give it breath."

"How--how shall I return?"

"Wish it," said Croft. "Wish it as I desire to hold it in my arms and
claim its love and yours."

"I--I shall return."

Croft thrilled at the victory he had won. "Yet hold!" He stayed her as
slowly she began to sink closer to the form beneath them. "Again shall
you leave it if I call you--leave it as now--to meet me as now you meet
me, and return. Now go, beloved. See with what a frenzy of hopeful
endeavor Gaya works."

From beside him that figure as fair as the play of sunlight through the
prism of a fine mist vanished.

Into his ears there stabbed the cry of a physical voice, upraised in
triumph. It was Gaya speaking. "She lives! Thanks be to Zitu, she lives!"

She bent and lifted the body, which rewarded her efforts with a gasping
breath, and laid it on one of the red wood couches, caught up one of the
tiny glasses of wine from the table, and forced its contents into Naia's
mouth.

Naia gasped. Her throat contracted sharply. She swallowed. Some of the
waxen pallor went out of her throat and cheeks. Bela appeared running, with
the physician behind her. He hurried to the couch and dropped his fingers
to the patient's pulse.

And now came Robur across the court toward the group beneath the yellow
awning. He reached it and slipped his arm about Gaya's shaking shoulders,
placing himself at her side.

"She--she cried on Zilla and cast herself into the pool," she half spoke,
half sobbed. "Beloved, she--she was dead to all seeming--but--I cried on
Zitu, and worked above her, and now--she lives."

The physician bowed. "The Princess Gaya has in truth done a most
admirable piece of work."

Naia's lips moved. "Jason," she whispered, "I--I have obeyed."

"Hai!" Robur started. "What said she?"

"She dreams, doubtless," the physician made answer.

Naia opened her eyes. They stared up blankly at the yellow canopy
overhead.

Gaya bent above her.

"Gaya!" she cried. "Oh, Gaya, I--I dreamt that I--had died. I--"

And suddenly she broke--broke utterly--and clung fast to the form of the
woman beside her, shaken by a storm of sobs.

From the blended group Robur turned to Bela and the physician. "This is
forgotten as though it had not been, man of healing," his voice came
thickly. "By you and by Bela, it is as if it were not. I myself shall see
that it reaches Lakkon's ears." He reached into a purse at his belt and
extracted some pieces of silver, extending them to the doctor. "Your fee.
What needs she else?"

"Rest--quiet for perhaps a sun, no more." The physician accepted his
payment with a second bow of respect.

"See to it." Robur turned to Bela. "Go--and return with women to bear her
to her apartment without delay."

Then, as Bela ran once more from the court, he approached Naia and his
wife.

"Peace, Naia, my cousin," he said gently, yet with a narrowing of the
eyes. "Know you not that Robur is friend to you and--Jason?" He paused
for the barest space before the final word. "You say that you dreamed, my
cousin," Robur went on. "Praise be to Zitu, it was but a dream. Yet"--and
now he watched her very closely--"in waking you spoke Jason's name."

"He--he sent me back," Naia of Aphur faltered. "In--in my dream I met
him, and he showed me my body, with Gaya working beside it, and compelled
me to return. It--was all--very strange."

"Zitu!" Robur started. "A--strange dream indeed, my cousin," he said. To
Croft it appeared that without fully understanding, his friend half
suspected the truth.

Bela and three other Mazzerian women now reappeared. They lifted the
couch upon which Naia was lying, and bore it from the court into the
palace and to a sumptuous apartment on the second floor. A copper couch,
studded with amber jewels, stood ready to receive the patient. Plainly,
it was a room designed for women, since in the center of the floor was one
of the mirrorlike pools of shallow water, close to which stood a pedestal
of silver, bearing the figure of Azil with extended wings.

By a strange chance, as Naia was borne in, one of the Mazzerians struck
against the beautifully carved figure. It tottered, swayed drunkenly on
its standard, and fell into the pool.

Naia cried out at the sight, and covered her eyes.

Robur sprang forward and lifted the statue, setting it back on its base.
"Fear not!" he exclaimed. "It is wholly uninjured and a good augury, my
cousin. Life fell into the pool, and life comes forth unmarred."

Naia's eyes met his. "You are quick to read signs, my cousin.
Perchance--you are right."



Robur had indeed seen to the heart of the episode, for when he and Gaya
left the apartment he reminded her of how Jason's spirit had been there
when this happened. And when he met Lakkon and told him of the entire
episode, adding that Magur would not agree to Naia's becoming Gayana, the
love that the elder man bore his daughter drove out all other feelings.
They were reconciled and Robur and Gaya greeted Naia's assurance that it
would be well with her now. Jason would find a way...



Chapter Eight


Followed now for Croft the weirdest wooing mortal ever dreamed, a sort of
astral courtship, wherein what might perhaps be best described as the
sublimated essence of Naia's being--that astral shell containing her
conscious spirit--met and communed with his.

To the man this period became a strange source of encouragement mixed
with intervals of an ineffable delight. And the fact that to Naia
herself, the hours so spent seemed as dreams rather than a thing of
actual occurrence, disturbed him not in the least. He was content to let
the truth develop in her soul by degrees, until it should at last be
known _as_ truth.

On the night following her arrival home, he visited her first, purposely
choosing a late hour, since he wished her to be asleep and preferred to
have his own action unknown just then, in the Zitran pyramid.

And as he hoped, when he stole into her apartments, making ingress
through an open window, he found her indeed asleep. And then he let the
cry of his spirit steal forth.

"Naia! It is Jason calling. Naia, my beloved--appear!"

"Jason--I hear!"

Like a wraith of dreams, it seemed that she stood before him--a form, a
figure pure as a blade of silver, emitting a faint auric play of blue and
gold.

"Beloved." Croft stretched forth a dim hand.

It floated toward him.

"Come," he said again, and caught her hand in his, and led her out through
the window, where he had entered, under the moons and the stars.

Out, out he led her. They were free as the winds on which it seemed they
rode. Like a sheet of molten silver the pool in the garden lay beneath
them. About them and beyond them spread the wide panorama of the wooded
mountains, marked here and there by the bone-white windings of the road.
Beneath them swam the wide expanse of the desert. Far off to the east and
south, in a ruddy glow, the fire urns of Himyra flared.

Croft turned his face to that of the shape beside him, and found it the
face of a sleeper who sees visions, and knew that though the soul of Naia
obeyed him, it was still asleep. "Art afraid?"

"Nay, Jason, I am not afraid."

"Thy father--would see him?"

"Aye." Naia smiled.

"Behold then!" said Croft, and willed himself toward Himyra, still
keeping his companion's hand.

The city glowed beneath them, its fire urns burning up and down the Na in
double ranks. The palace was white before them. Then--Lakkon lay stretched
in slumber on a couch.

"My father!" Naia left Croft's side and seemed to hover all blue and
white and gold above him, until as though subconsciously he felt her
presence, Lakkon's lips moved and he muttered: "Naia," in his sleep.

"Come," said Croft again, and led her back, since he did not deem it well
to risk too long a first excursion.

"Return now to your body as before," he directed when they stood beside
it. "Yet remember this when you wake."

"You--are--really Jason?"

"Aye."

"And--your body?"

"Lies in the Zitran pyramid as yours lies here before you. Return into
yours, beloved, and I return to mine."

"Aye," she assented. "I return, but--_I shall remember--the
moonlight--Himyra--my father--and you."

She ceased and suddenly Croft found himself alone. Yet Croft was
satisfied if not content, and he felt assured as he willed himself back
to Zitra that when she waked in the morning she would recall this first
experience as a vivid dream at least.

Indeed as the days went by his major trouble was to curb his own
impatience in setting her astral consciousness awake, in refraining from
an attempt to progress too fast. Hence, as a sort of brake to his own
desire to return too frequently to her, he took up the instruction of
Zud, initiating the amazed old man more and more into the mysteries of
what he, in his own experience, had proved to be the truth.

Once more, however, he visited Naia, before the elections were held,
choosing an afternoon when Zud was engaged in temple duties. And that day
they wandered far over valley and hill, flitting above wooded slopes,
loitering sometimes in sun-filled hollows, where flowers of tropic
brilliance nodded in the grasses or flaunted their beauty from swaying
trailing vines. And from there to the higher places, up, up, hand in
hand, to where the eternal snows lay gripped in the clutches of dark
peaks and crags.

"It--was here I sent for snows to chill the wines for the banquet to
Kyphallos, the time he came from Cathur, by Jadgor's plan," she said.

"That Kyphallos to whom Jadgor would have wed you?"

She nodded. "Except that I was saved from marriage to a profligate and
traitor by"--she paused and appeared to hesitate and went on in a way
less certain--"by Jasor of Nodhur."

"Jasor of Nodhur has gone to Zitu," Croft corrected quickly. "You were
saved from that fate by me, after Jasor's body became the servant of my
spirit, as is your body the servant of your spirit, and changed it to my
purpose, made it mine, because your spirit had called me to you as today
I called you to me."

"Yet I knew you not then as Jason, but as Jasor," Naia faltered. "How
then could I call your spirit?"

"Nay," said Croft, "you knew me not, yet felt you never in those days a
yearning for someone you had as yet seen never--felt you not yourself
already to answer that someone's call, as a woman ripened must answer to
her lover?"

"Aye," said his companion slowly. "Ga the eternal spoke to me more than
once in such fashion, yet none came to sound the call I should answer
until Jasor of Nodhur appeared. Were it your spirit in Jasor's body, you
know how the call was answered afterward."

"Am I not like him?"

"Aye," she confessed. "And when I am with you, it seems that you are
he--that you call me to you in spirit, even as he called in the flesh.
Yet when I return to the body beside which even now Maia stands watch,
all is confusion when I wake."

"Were you to remember then that in or out of the flesh, it is the spirit
calls to the spirit, it were perchance more plain."

"Love then is of the spirit only?" She looked into his eyes.

"Yes." Croft nodded. "Love is of the spirit--passion alone of the flesh.
Know you not then that it was love called me to you from the Earth?"

"Earth?" she repeated. "Aye--Gaya told me somewhat concerning that."

"Come then," said Croft, determining of sudden impulse on a demonstration
and seized her by the hand.

Up, up he carried her across the void. The landscape dwindled swiftly
away beneath them. Its details faded, became but a sun-smeared blur until
Palos whirled on its mighty ball, bedded in a mass of woolly cloud. Up,
up. Croft glanced at his companion and found her face wide-eyed. Up, up,
as she floated beside him, her slender shape in the void of darkness
beyond the atmosphere of Palos beginning to flash and glow with its
contained fire. For Croft had willed himself to that one of the moons on
which he had first come down from his daring journey from the Earth. And
now it swung above them. Together they swam toward it, and came to it
finding its barren and lifeless crags and plains aglare in the light of
Sirius, partly steeped in impenetrable gloom. Across the lighted region
Croft led Naia swiftly. They passed from the light.

"Look!" he cried, and pointed to the void of the eternal heavens beyond
them, where sparkled the pin-points of a million worlds. "Behold, Palos!"
He directed her vision to where the planet rolled, its clouds now turned
into what seemed golden fire. "We stand now on one of the moons that
light your world at night, beloved. We gaze at your world from its moon,
as from Earth we gaze at a star--as we gaze at Earth as a star from here.
By the will of the spirit have we come. By the spirit's will shall we
return."

And on his words it was as though Palos rose to meet them, and once more
they were back on the crags beside the snows.

"Zitu, may this be permitted?"

"Much," said Croft in answer, "may be permitted to the spirit which seeks
truth and dares."

And after that they wandered on, finding a good-sized stream leaping down
the side of the mountain not far from Naia's home. Croft seized upon its
presence with acclaim. A glance had told him that here was power he could
harness to perfect his scheme for generating artificial light, and he
sought to explain it to his companion, outlining how by the construction
of a series of giant penstocks he would divert the plunging water against
wheels to use its force in turning other wheels.

She listened closely and suddenly she laughed. "Now are you as Jasor!"
she exclaimed. "It was so he talked concerning his devices before the
Zollarian war against which he planned."

"Always have I been as I am now," Jason told her. "Even as Naia of Aphur
has always been the same."

"Always?"

"Aye, always, and ever will be," he answered, "until Jason and Naia shall
be one."

She quivered. Her astral body glowed. Its fires leaped and flamed before
him, white and purple and gold. "Come," he said again, "come," and led
her south along the western mountains, exploring them, pointing out their
beauties as they passed along.

It was thus he found an outcropping barrier of coal. He spied it and sank
upon it, and bent to assure himself that he was not mistaken, and
straightened with a radiant face. He pointed to his find and explained to
Naia that here was fuel.

"Zitu!" she cried in wondering half comprehension. "Would Jason burn a
stone!"

"Nay," he said, and made plain the nature of the substance they
discussed.

At the end she nodded. "I am convinced," she said. "Him I knew as Jasor
was Jason indeed. Your words, your plans are the same. Thanks be to Ga
and Azil, I am happy. You, Jason, are he whom I--"

"Love," Croft supplied as once more she faltered.

"Aye, love." For the second time her astral figure glowed with its auric
fires. "With you I am happy--free thus and alone, with a strange new
happiness--such as I have never known. Canst not hold me thus beside you?
Must I return again to the prison of the body? Canst not claim me now,
and keep me wholly thine own?"

"No--not yet," Croft stammered, shaken as never before by her words and
taking alarm at the mood which was upon her. "Yet, some time I shall
claim you mine before all men. Come now, for the present we must return."



Chapter Nine


The end of the month following the election found Croft beginning to
carry out his material plans. Robur coming to Zitra for the inauguration
of Jadgor, bringing Gaya and Naia with him--the latter at Lakkon's
request--found time to insist that Jason return to Himyra at once, and
institute the work they had before discussed.

Nor to tell the truth was Croft in any way loath. Indeed work was what he
craved. Then, too, he was thrilled by the thought of contriving a
material meeting with Naia, even more than by anything else. That thought
it was which set him to work on the development of electric power first.

Before that, however, he took Zud and journeyed to Scira in a galley,
driven by a motor, rather than the oars which had formerly projected from
its waist. And at Scira he interviewed Kryphu, the head of the
university, regarding the establishment of schools. It was arranged that
he should induce Mutlos to take the matter up with Jadgor, and Croft and
the high priest sailed south to the mouth of the Na and up its yellow
flood.

Then once more Himyra's forges flared as they had flared for the greater
part of that strange year before. Robur, democratic despite his royal
birth, went with Croft to the shops. In them was posted a notice printed
from Jason's original alphabetic blocks, announcing that past the command
of the Mouthpiece of Zitu there was no further word. In all things
pertaining to the development of the things he had planned Croft found
himself supreme. He directed and designed, while at the same time he
cultivated the friendship of his superintending captains and their men.

One of his first steps was to set about developing the vein of coal he
had discovered. He organized a band of miners and a motor transport
train. It was a strange sight when the latter for the first time rolled
forth. Robur and he went with it, and saw to the starting of the work.
Save for his faith in Jason the new governor of Aphur would have doubted.
Laughing, Croft gave him and the staring bands of miners and captains a
demonstration, and allayed their doubts. On the second day, after the
strippers were uncovering the vein and others of the men were erecting
cabins to house the workers, Robur and he drove back.

Copper wire and rubber, or a substitute, were what he next required. The
first was easily gained. For generations the Tamarizians had worked in
metal; Croft set hundreds of the workers to the task of making wire. The
second requirement was far less readily gained. But he did not despair.
Aphur's climate was tropical in the main. He learned of a tree which
exuded a milk-like sap, in the forests south along the Na. Thither he and
Robur went straightway in a motor-driven galley, and the thing was done
in theory at least, depending for its practical working out on the
efforts of an army of local natives, whom the two set to gathering sap.

Back again in Himyra, save at night, Croft gave himself little rest. And
even at night Robur and he discussed their plans, unless the governor was
called by his duties somewhere else. Occasionally when this happened,
Croft talked with Gaya instead.

Gaya questioned him frankly concerning the episode of Naia's attempted
suicide in the pool. "Robur swore by Zitu, he believed you present, in
the same guise in which you have told me, you move when your body
sleeps."

"Yes, Robur was right," Croft told her and described what had occurred.

The princess nodded. "Now that Lakkon remains with Jadgor at Zitra, the
maid grows lonely," she declared. "She has asked me to visit her. May I
speak with her concerning those things if she mentioned to me her
dreams?"

Croft smiled. On Palos, or on Earth woman he thought was the same. He
nodded assent, but added a caution. "Yet speak not of it save as of a
dream. For the growth of the soul must be as the growth of a flower,
which the light of truth expands."



His wire being made, his rubber gathered, Croft turned next to the
harnessing of the mountain stream. He chose copper for his penstocks
instead of wood, furnishing specifications to the molders for the
sections of the pipe and designing the model of the turbines to be
mounted in the pits.

In all things Robur rendered him such assistance as he could, while he
never ceased to marvel at the very things he planned. "Mouthpiece of Zitu
you are indeed!" he exclaimed again and again, with flashing eyes as some
new detail was unfolded to his mind. "Let Jadgor be president at his
leisure. Thou and I, my Jason, shall take Tamarizia yet and make it a new
world."

And with such a lieutenant Croft found his work advance. Wire was being
made in miles, rubber was being delivered in enormous chunks from the
commercial galleys down the Na, loaded onto trucks along the quays, drawn
by the doglike creatures harnessed to them through the merchandise
tunnels beneath the streets and stored in the huge warehouses against
future use. Indeed all Himyra, all Aphur hummed at the end of the month,
and the founders were beginning to turn out the sections of the giant
penstock pipes.

Thereupon Croft collected another train of motors and, organizing a party
of road-builders and masons, made his way into the hills to select the
site of his power station on the mountain stream.

At the camp he established beside the mountain torrent he lost no time.
Long since he had cast aside Zud's choice of temple dress, for the metal
leg-cases, the short-skirted tunic of a military captain, falling
halfway down the thighs, and belted at the waist--a costume affording
the utmost freedom of movement while he directed the beginning of each
task. And so soon as he was satisfied that his subordinates understood
the exact scope of their duties, he returned to set about the actual
construction of the dynamo that, water driven, should light Himyra with a
myriad of glowing lamps.

But that night, after he had received Robur's report of progress, and
they had talked over the dynamo plans, he sought his own apartment and
stretched himself upon his couch. And then he went seeking the two women
who in all his life he had known the best, because he thought that it
would be on this first night, with Gaya, that Naia would unburden
herself.

Failing to find them in the palace, he sought and found them in the
garden, seated on a carved bench of stone, inside the vine-grown walls of
the pool. Naia's eyes were fixed upon its surface, silvered by the light
of Palos's moons. Very wide and dark they seemed beneath the shadow of
her hair. Her lips moved.

"Whether these be dreams, induced by those things of which you told me,
or whether too much thinking has tired my mind until it makes of vain
imaginings the seeming of other thought, I know not," she said in a
musing voice. "Yet even as you said, he had told my cousin Robur that he
left his body, so has it seemed to me that I left my flesh, when he
called me to him--that hand in hand we wandered forth together, to
Himyra--over the mountains, and once that we leaped all space, as he says
his spirit leaped from Earth to Palos and stood upon the larger of the
moons up yonder, whose light sparkles here on the pool."

"Zitu!" Gaya's tones were a trifle unsteady--filled with a certain awe,
as Croft waited her answer. "But--Naia, may not dreams embody truth?"

"If dreams they be, I think it may be so," her companion rejoined. "For
on that time we went to Himyra as it seemed, I saw my father asleep, and
he whispered my name, and the next time he came to me he spoke to me
about it, said that he saw me standing beside him and had called me.

"And,"--abruptly her soft voice took on the speaking semblance of a
child--"Gaya--the night was the same--on which I had my dream. And again
on an afternoon when it seemed he called me, and we wandered over hill
and valley, where flowers bloomed, and up to the everlasting snows. And
when I woke, Maia and Mitlos stood beside me, in tears and terror,
thinking my spirit flown. Gaya--how explain such things as these?"

"I may not tell you," Gaya faltered. "In these days since Zitu's
Mouthpiece came among us, Aphur and all Tamarizia have witnessed wondrous
sights, have dreamed of undreamed truths."

"Mouthpiece of Zitu," Naia repeated, turning to face her companion. "I
like not the name. Jason, he calls himself to me in my dreams, and as
Jason I prefer to think of him--as Jason, a man, and--and--my lover. Ah,
Gaya, should I blush for such a thought?"

"Nay--thou art a woman, ripe for loving," Gaya reassured her quickly.
"And to women, be they fit, I think that Ga herself sends dreams."

"Dreams!" Abruptly Naia clenched a fist and struck the tapered outline of
her thigh. "Dreams--aye, dreams they must be, Gaya--for to me he came no
more again. Only when I thought not of his coming did it happen, and
since, when I have called him, sought once more to sleep and find him, it
is vain. Yet if I be shameless, let me speak the same. Greater happiness
have I never known since I tore the seal of Azil from my girdle, than
when in my sleep he called me to him, and I answered and saw him standing
before me in my chamber, fair as Azil himself, with his form shot through
by the soft light of the moon. Or, when I slept and Maia fanned me, and
he came and led me into the outer world, where we wandered in far places,
he and I alone."

"You saw him while he was in the mountains?" Gaya asked.

"Yes--what am I saying? Gaya, I forget myself, even as that day I forgot
myself and bade him to my father's house." Suddenly she broke off to
throw her arms about Gaya's neck and bury her face, gone white in the
silver moonlight, against her breast.

"And--" The arms of the older woman crept about her.

"He replied he would enter it when Lakkon was within it," Naia told her
in a smothered voiced.

"As he would were he careful of your honor." Gaya held her close. "Child,
when my visit is ended, you must return with me to Himyra, nor longer
spend your time in dreams and thoughts."

"But--" Naia sat up abruptly. "Would he not think I sought his presence,
were I to accompany you to the palace?"

"Are you not Robur's cousin?" Gaya answered. "Can he expect you to remain
forever in your father's house?"



Chapter Ten


That Zitran, too, ran past. During it word came from Zitra that Jadgor
had approved and recommended for acceptance by the national assembly that
scheme for a chain of schools among the masses, Mutlos of Cathur had
introduced. Thereupon Croft and Jadgor selected several expert metal
molders and set them to work at making type, and Jason choosing some of
the skilled workmen whom he had trained to exact methods in making the
motors, months before, directed them now in the building of a rather
simple set of presses in which the type should be used.

Also looking to the future he commanded others of the motor mechanics to
begin the construction of a half dozen engines of a somewhat different
design. Questioned by Robur as to his purpose, he explained that these
were destined to furnish the lifting power for the first Tamarizian
airplanes.

"Zitu! Zitu!" exclaimed the governor of Aphur, flashing his perfect
teeth. "I doubt you not, Jason, but my wonder does not cease. Recall you
the morning when you drove the first motor through the streets of Himyra
and well nigh frightened the civic guards to death?" He smiled, and Jason
laughed. And then he sobered.

"Yes," he replied. "And I recall also how the same morning, Chythron,
Lakkon's driver, lost control of the gnuppas and they bolted, and I spoke
with Naia, thy fair cousin, first."

Robur nodded. "Fear not," he admonished. "Though the maid repel you
because of a lack of understanding, yet shall she come to you at length."

"Aye, once more shall I place Azil's sign upon Naia of Aphur's girdle."

Yet to all outward seeming he appeared immersed in his work, and even as
the dynamo and the turbines took shape, he sent men into the vast plain
that stretched between Himyra and the mountains of Aphur, to a spot of
his own selection, and bade them build there a huge shed to house his
airplane fleet. Still others he set on the fashioning of ribs for the
wings of the planes themselves, to building the fuselage bodies out of
sheets of copper, and after a consultation with the local caste of
weavers, he picked out a fabric for the wings.

And with all his ceaseless activities he still found time in a whimsical
mood to inaugurate among his workmen a series of recreation and games. He
introduced a sort of competitive spirit in the various shops, organizing
from the members of each a separate club and matching them one against
the other in their sports. And of all the games on which he might have
picked, Jason Croft, Mouthpiece of Zitu, chose baseball! The balls were
fashioned from well-tanned gnuppa hide, about a rubber core, with a
covering of string. The bats were of tough resilient wood, which the new
devotees of the pastime swung with might and main.

Then for the first time on Palos were heard the crack of the batsman
lining out a clean drive, and the cry of the umpire, Croft himself at
first: "Ball four--take a free pass! Strike--one!"

Croft found he enjoyed the matches between teams immensely, while Robur
entered with almost animal spirits into the rivalry of the games, and
nearly pestered the life out of Jason, trying to master the intricacies
and comprehend the causal principles involved in curves, in and
outshoots, drops and breaks, after he had seen them first. Indeed Jason
had more than one laugh after he discovered Robur in the bathing court of
the palace one morning, hurling a ball against a backstop he had
arranged, and trying to learn to throw it around a corner, as he somewhat
naively explained.

But if Robur did not accomplish his purpose, several of the pitchers
eventually did to some extent, and Robur got a laugh of his own, when one
of them whom he had secretly had Jason coach in the copper foundry team,
was produced. The batter who happened to be up swung sharply at what
looked like a slow and easy delivery, and Aphur's governor chuckled for
days because the fellow very nearly broke his neck when his bat failed to
find the ball where he thought it was.

Croft's main satisfaction, however, in the success of the innovation lay
in the fact that from rivalry in the game it was but a step to rivalry
between the various corps of laborers in the shops. He took that step and
introduced a system of bonuses and holidays for increased production or
extra-efficient work. And because the Tamarizians were a pleasure-loving
people, the plan was a success from the first. Working three shifts, as
he had before the Zollarian war, Croft found his plans progress. Five
weeks--the length of a Zitran--after his return from the mountains, found
his turbines finished, the dynamo ready to be transported and assembled in
its appointed place.

That place was ready to receive it as Croft knew from several trips he had
taken to it, in one of his swiftest motors. A stone powerhouse had been
erected, the penstocks were in place. Diverting gates were prepared to
turn the stream into them at the proper moment, and send it roaring
through the turbines in the pits. Telling Robur to send men into the
mountains to cut poles, and giving him a model of insulators to be made
of glass, Jason loaded the sections of his dynamo upon his fleet of
transports and set forth again on his journey to the hills.

Thereafter for two weeks he toiled and sweated, thankful at least for the
fact that in Tamarizia labor was plentiful, and regulated by government
control in regard to wages, carefully estimated on a living scale, so
that the dissatisfaction and continual strikes of Earth were unknown. The
condition enabled him to command what workmen needed, and rest assured of
a steady advance in the projects he undertook.

More than once in that long, hot fourteen suns, Robur drove out to
inspect the progress made and marvel, and report the insulators being
turned out in satisfactory shape, and the poles coming down from the
hills on creaking motor trucks. Croft gave him drawings to guide him in
setting up a line of power poles across the desert from Himyra toward the
mountains, and at night, when his weary workmen were sleeping, plunged
into the task of devising Tamarizia's first electric lights. At first he
confined his plans to small-sized arcs, intending to give public
demonstration before he went on with the attempt to devise incandescents
for inside use.

Coal was coming down from the vein he had discovered by now in quantity
sufficient to use in the copper smelters, and he decided to gain his
carbons, from this, converted into coke. After several nights of
intensive working, he pushed aside his finished plans and drew a long
breath of relief. The thing was done.

From Robur he learned that Gaya had returned to the palace, bringing Naia
with her for an indefinite stay. That, indeed, was in accordance with his
plans. For so soon as he had realized that Gaya meant to throw the girl
and himself into a closer association, he had purposely meant to be
absent from Himyra himself when the woman he loved arrived.

Deep as were his own emotions, strong as was his own impulse to indulge a
desire for Naia's closer presence, yet in all he did at that time he
followed a deliberately mapped-out course for the accomplishment of his
purpose.

She had sought him that day in the mountains, as a sort of test--a means
of convincing herself if her visioning were false or real. She had
admitted that, even despite her former reluctance to consider a possible
mundane love between Croft in his present body and herself, he had
appealed to her that day in his physical form and strength. And she had
complained that he had not kept the promise given by his astral form to
hers, to return to her so again; had confessed that she had sought for a
renewal of those two former meetings, had tried to repeat her "dreams."

Jason Croft, erecting his dynamo, harnessing it to his turbines with
heavy beltings of gnuppa hide, felt that the very desire he had wakened
in Naia's soul, would do its work better while it remained unsatisfied,
would gain in strength as the days passed into weeks, would receive an
added poignancy when she arrived at Himyra and found him gone again to
the hills, engaged without any seeming distraction attributable to
herself, on his work.

On the fourteenth day Robur came up from Himyra at Croft's request. Jason
met him as he descended from his motor and led him into the newly
constructed powerhouse. There, on a masonry and copper base, insulated by
a heavy plate of glass, stood what was as yet Tamarizia's most wonderful
device. Bolted and belted to the driving-gear of the turbine it stood,
waiting but the driving force of the waters through a penstock to wake it
to life.

Croft's eyes blazed with something of excitement as he gestured toward
it. "Behold, Rob," he said, "with this shall we harness the lightnings
and bid them do our will. With this shall we light the streets of Himyra
and the fire urns along the Na, and the palace, the houses of all men in
Himyra first, in all Aphur at the last. With this shall we ere we are
done, drive the wheels in many shops, which now are turned by men and
beasts in treadmills or upon the windlass bars. So shall it come at last
that by the mere pressure of a hand upon a lever those wheels shall move.
These things I promise you, Rob--behold." He waved a hand to a captain
standing by the door of the house. And he in turn signaled to a workman
not far off. And he, who had been waiting, lifted a trumpet to his lips
and blew a blast. It was the sign on which Croft had agreed for the men
high up on the mountain to open a penstock gate.

Yet for a moment there was nothing to mark the effect, until a whisper,
rising to a roar, the huge pipe filled and discharged its plunging
contents against the waiting wheel. Then, as the wheel turned and the
belt of gnuppa hide revolved, there crept through the new rock house a
strange and droning hum. Louder and louder it rose, as faster and faster
the shining armature which Croft and Robur watched spun round. Faster and
faster, louder and louder--blue sparks began to shine and quiver under
the copper brushes. And suddenly, with a blinding scintillation, a
hissing crash, a giant spark leaped the gap between the terminals of two
wires Croft had arranged to test the ascending charge.

"Zitu!" Above the crackling discharge the captain in the door cried out:
"Fly--we are undone, man of Zitu--fly!" He staggered back and paused and
stood staring, vaguely reassured at the smile of triumph on Croft's face.

"Fear not," Jason told him quickly, as he struck up a lever, released the
tension of the belt, and caused the first dynamo on Palos to sink from a
dizzy whirling toward rest. "This moment speaks success for all our toil
of weeks. Go tell the men on the pipes to close the gates."

Robur's face, too, was pale, well nigh as that of the captain's, though
he had held his place. His lips were close pressed, however, and his
nostrils slightly pinched. Then, as Croft so easily chained the fiery
breathing of the monster he had produced, his eyes began to flash.

"By Zitu, and by Zitu!" he swore. "Jason, you have indeed harnessed his
own lightning, as you have said. For a moment I feared that his wrath
were excited by your daring, and he had sent a bolt of his fire to
destroy us, with the house." He broke off with an almost shamefaced
laugh.

"Yet now it gentles like a wild gnuppa under its master's hand," he went
on again as the dynamo stopped and naught remained save the dwindling
rush of the waters through the waste pipes from the turbine beneath their
feet. "Zitu, my friend, but all men shall marvel yet as I do now at this!
What plan you next?"

"Light!" said Croft. "Light, first, and after that to make use in all the
ways I mentioned of this force--to turn the wheels in the shops, to run
the presses I have made to print from type and so supply the schools
Jadgor has favored with the means of broadening men's minds--to print for
them and their children, and so to spread the truth."

"Thou wilt build a city here to do these things?"

"No," Jason told him. "This power shall flow from here to Himyra, Rob,
across the line of poles your men are building, along the wires."

"Zitu!" The governor of Aphur stared.

Croft smiled. "Tomorrow," he went on, "I return to Himyra to arrange for
the making of lights, and a demonstration of their working when the time
is ripe." And suddenly his whole face lighted at an inward thought.
"Naia--Rob. Tell me of her."

"Thou wilt see her," said Robur--"of course." It was as though he read
Croft's thought. "And could you see her now as each sun I see her,
perchance you would feel as do I, that she will be glad of your coming
now at last. Like one without purpose she moves, Jason. There is the look
of one who waits for one who comes not in her eyes."

Croft nodded. "Today I place a guard and send the workmen back to Himyra.
Tomorrow I shall come."



Chapter Eleven


Naia! He was now to meet her again in the flesh. The thought held Croft
as he drove toward Himyra the next day. He was to meet her, as at Zitra,
not as in the mountains beside the stream he had harnessed to his and
Tamarizia's purpose, but in Robur's palace, where, like himself, she was
a guest--under conditions where the conventions of social life, not so
far unlike those of Earth, would compel a certain courtesy in their
association at least.

Toward that meeting he went more like an ardent lover than anything
else. He dressed in a costume he had ordered made when he returned from
Zitra first, unlike old Zud's robes, and of his own designing--a costume
of golden leg-cases studded with sapphire-hued stones--an under-vest of
gossamer tissue--a short skirt of a heavier material, white in color,
with a silken sheen, and a cuirass of gold and silver, with the wings of
Azil and the cross ansata, inlaid on the breast-plate in more of the
sapphire-like gems. Of gold and silver was his helmet topped with a crest
of azure plumes. Robur came in upon him, having barely returned from the
shops, as he put it on.

"Zitu!" he exclaimed. "Jason, thou art a sight--"

"A sight, yes--" Croft laughed. "Rob--there are times when your tongue
reminds me of speech on Earth. Were I there at this moment, they would
name me a _sight_ indeed."

A smile twitched Robur's lip as he caught the unaccustomed meaning. "And
at times I find a strange application of meaning in thy words, Jason," he
replied. "It is so in the manner of speech you use concerning the games
of baseball when the contest waxes warm. 'Tear its hide off! Lay on that
pill! Lean on it! Lean on it!'--the word 'charley-horse' which you
sometimes employ, and the naming of an arm a 'wing.' None the less thou
art a sight to gladden a maiden's eye, my friend, and even now a maid and
a matron await thee beside the bathing pool. So--get thee gone! Thou art
beautiful enough."

With another laugh Croft took him at his word, descending to the court
where the swimming pool sparkled in the late afternoon sunlight, where on
couches beneath a shimmering awning, Gaya and Naia reclined.

"Hai, Jason!" Robur's wife exclaimed, extending a hand as she saw him.
"Welcome, thou tamer of the lightning, as my lord has said thou art. Wilt
pardon a matron's indolence, or should I greet thee on my feet?"

"Nay." Croft took her hand and bent above it. "I like thee less in the
formal mood. Retain the charm of thy ease." Then deliberately he turned
his eyes and met those of Naia. "Greeting to thee, maid of Aphur."

"And to thee, Mouthpiece of Zitu."

Croft noted the slight tensing of the lines about her mouth as he sat
down. "As to the harnessing of Zitu's fire, 'tis no more than a following
out of Zitu's law when understood," he turned to Gaya to explain. "The
generation of 'elektricity,' as it is called, is no more in this case
than the changing of one force into another, a transfer of energy from--"

"Ah, Ga, I am a woman, unversed in such matters!" Gaya exclaimed with a
dancing in her eyes. "I fear I am too old to learn. Naia is of a younger
generation, her mind of softer substance. Grave thy meaning on its tablet
with the stylus of thy tongue. I would see Robur before the evening meal.
It were time he had returned."

"Aye," said Croft, smiling and rising to assist her to her feet. "Even
now he is within the palace. We spoke before I came forth."

He watched while she hurried importantly away, then turned to where
Lakkon's daughter still reclined, and resumed his seat. "You have heard
from Zitra?"

"Aye," she said. "Lakkon, my father, and Jadgor are blessed by Zitu with
good health. My cousin's wife informs me Jadgor has given sanction to thy
plans for schools."

"My plans? Was not the matter presented by Mutlos of Cathur?"

"Aye." The pansy-purple eyes grew somewhat narrow. "Mutlos--a man of the
people, who writes not his own name upon the tablets, suggests that the
people be taught to read the character heretofore known to few save the
nobles and the priests. And Koryphu of Scira joins hands with Mutlos to
support the project. Thus inside a few Zitrans after a thousand cycles in
Tamarizia--" The ivory shoulder above her left breast twitched in
something like a shrug. "Thus, on its face, the thing appears. Also,
Robur last night came with a marvelous tale of your latest success.
Zitu--one succeeds where another only dreams."

"Success," said Croft, looking directly at her, "consists very largely,
Princess Naia, in refusing to be denied."

For a moment she endured his steady contemplation, and then her lids
drooped. "And you succeed? You refuse to be--denied?"

"Yes, by Zitu! I refuse to question the possibility of aught which Zitu
permits or ordains."

And suddenly Naia of Aphur threw up her head in an almost haughty
gesture. "As were fitting, being Mouthpiece of Zitu," she made answer,
"speak further. Tell me of your plans."

Croft blazoned forth. "Himyra shall see sights such as she has never
witnessed. I shall make lights. Already for them the plans are drawn.
Lamps they shall be of glass and metal, which, when the new force shall
pass through them, shall glow yet without emitting any smoke or flame.
These first I shall show at a public celebration, in small numbers. Later
they shall flare from one end of Aphur to the other. Yet before I present
them to the people, I shall have completed another device which shall be
for a part of the celebration--a machine which like the motors across the
desert, shall fly through the air."

It was then for the first time that Naia interrupted. And not as an
interruption, but in their nature her words were surprising in a way.
Gradually as Croft described the airplane he meant to build, her whole
expression had changed, had grown wide-eyed.

"Thou wouldst be as a bird in thy daring, and the birds I have often
yearned to follow! I myself would delight to fly with these thy wings."

"Thou?" The spontaneous flare of daring her words mirrored forth, woke a
quick admiration. But--the following consideration of her being exposed
to the perils of the undertaking roused something like consternation in
him.

"Nay," she said, "if it fills you with such displeasure, forget my
overquick speech. There shall be new light in Himyra, and Zitu's
Mouthpiece shall ride above all men's heads, on the wings of his
devising, that they may behold him and wonder at his wisdom. What else?"

Mentally, Croft winced at the subtle turn of her words. But, aside from
an inward emotion, he gave no sign that he noted the personal bias of her
rejoinder.

"In the afternoon there will be a ball game," he said. "Robur and I will
select the teams."

"Base-ball?" Suddenly Naia laughed. "Robur tells me 'tis a game you
brought with you from--Earth."

Abruptly Croft became aware of the scrutiny of her eyes, for the space of
a heartbeat, then they were again inspecting her girdle's fringe.

"Yes," he answered, sensing that once more she was groping for some sign
in his words or manner. "Have you witnessed a game?"

Naia nodded, without looking up. "Robur insisted, after he had contrived
to throw a ball through my chamber window and drop it into the mirror
pool with a most surprising splash, to say nothing of waking me with the
water in my face."

Croft smiled. He suspected Rob had been continuing his experiments with
the intricacies of curves.

"Since then," Naia went on, "I have been seeking to aid him in the
mornings with something he desires to learn. It seems that he declares a
ball may be thrown so that it changes its direction in the air, and I
confess that, watching one of the team pitchers whom he pointed out at a
game, it appeared that it was done. We have risen and worked for several
mornings together, but, besides breaking two windows and some flower
urns, we have little to show for our pains. Gaya declares he will destroy
the palace unless you teach him the trick on your return."

"I shall join you in the morning," said Jason, laughing, as her red lips
smiled.

"Then," said she, "shall I let you take the ball when he throws it. I
confess it burns my hands. As to this new light--what does it burn, since
it neither smokes nor flames?"

"A substance," said Croft, "made from koal." And now as he spoke he
watched his companion in turn. And suddenly he met her eyes in a glance
that thrilled--a glance that spoke of recollection.

"Koal--the strange, black stone you have set men to digging in the region
to the west? Jason--how knew you where to find what, before your coming,
in all Aphur was unknown?"

"I came upon its locality on a day when my body lay sleeping and my
spirit wandered as you have heard that it does. Some might say Zitu
showed it to me--in a dream."

Naia of Aphur went pale. "A dream, say you--a dream?"

Croft nodded. "Yes. Did you not speak to me yourself of one such, in
which you had learned of my intent concerning the use of water to bring
new light to Himyra? Said you not as much the afternoon of that sun on
which you and Hupor came upon me by the stream?"

"Oh, aye--oh, aye, indeed." Naia's tone was listless, weary. "Yet am I
not Mouthpiece of Zitu. Who am I to dream?"

"No, Mouthpiece of Zitu are you not called," he said. "Nor is there any
Mouthpiece of Zitu, save through the soul of man. Yet are you daughter of
Ga, and a woman, through whom man's soul must pass before man be man
indeed. Thou art the door between man and Zitu, and in so much nearer
than man to him."

Then for a moment he paused and sat with a fear beginning to stir within
him lest he had dared too much. Her lips moved without sound. But Croft,
reading their motion, knew that they framed two of his own words: "The
door."

"Yes--the door--above which Azil spreads his wings," Croft repeated
softly.

Her eyes turned toward him. The introspective light was gone from their
blue depths. They blazed with a purple fire. "Enough!" she panted as she
faced him. "Friend thou art of my cousin, and friend art thou to his
wife. Mouthpiece of Zitu art thou to my nation, and as such I yield you
my respect. Yet speak not any more to me such words as these, and let us
have understanding. Daughter of Ga am I, and a woman as thou knowest, but
one for whom not--any more does Azil spread his wings."

She paused and stood before him, staring wide-eyed into his eyes, until
abruptly she lifted a hand and struck herself sharply on the breast and
turned from him, crossing the court to disappear from sight.

Beside the pool Croft remained more than a little disturbed by the
feeling that he had risked too much. Nor was his mood lightened by the
fact that Naia failed to appear at the evening meal, and the questioning
expression in Gaya's glance, which she turned upon him from time to time.

And because of that he sought her out, safe once again in the
undertaking, since should he call her to him in the astral body now, she
might well think that she dreamed once more--a dream inspired by his
presence in Robur's house.

He willed himself to her. Naia knelt, a slender white shape in the dusk
of her apartment, before the figure of Azil, beside the mirror pool.
Croft bent his head while she prayed:

"Oh, Azil, who carry life from Zitu to all the daughters of Ga, by his
command--thou whose sign I have torn from my girdle and flung at the feet
of him who gave it, have pity upon me. For truly am I a daughter of Ga.
And though thy sign I hurled against him, even against the symbol of thy
widespread wings, yet was my action prompted by an agony of spirit,
rather than by any wish or intent to show disrespect to thee. And were I
wrong, set me aright.

"Spread over me again thy shadow wings--have pity, Azil; Zitu, have a
pity; have pity, Ga, and teach me a new strength."

She rose. Her arms lifted. For a moment she stood so before the carved
figure. Then her lips moved. "Jason," they faltered. Her breath caught in
a sob. She turned and threw herself upon her couch.

"Beloved!" Croft let the cry of his thrilling soul steal forth. "Beloved
you have called me. Beloved, I am here."

Naia of Aphur stiffened in every soft line and curve. She lifted her head
as one who listens. She lifted her slender body on her rounded arms. Then
slowly she sat up. "Jason," she whispered again at last.

"Beloved--come forth!"

The form of Naia swayed. It bent. Slowly it sagged down and lay relaxed
upon the couch. And between it and Croft where he waited, there appeared
the diaphanous, swaying, scintillating outline of her astral shape.

"Jason!" And now for the third time she cried it gladly with her
quivering, flaming lips. "Jason--Azil!" She stretched out yearning hands.
"Thou hast come to me again."

"Yes," said Croft, opening his own embrace and drawing her inside its
circle. "Yes, I have come--to tell you your prayer is answered--to tell
you that of all laws of Zitu, the greatest of all is love. Wherefore for
Azil himself I speak when I say, as I have said before, that for me--for
me, and for me alone, you guard the shrine of life--that some day, once
more I shall place upon thy girdle that sign that in Zitra you flung
against my breast."

"Thou hast it?" The contained fire of her substance glowed.

"Yes." Croft smiled. "And some day the fleshly hands of Jason shall pin
it fast."

"I was mad, mad!" his companion panted. "Much thinking, the shock of
learning thee other than I had thought, had made my heart sick, my mind
unsettled. Ah, Jason, Jason--one time in Lakkon's palace we stood thus
together in the body, and I--I yielded you--my mouth."

"As once more you yield it." Croft lowered his lips to the strange,
lambent outline of hers beneath them. He kissed her in a strange kiss
such as he had never dreamed of--a thing all inexpressible softness,
seeming to hold in its contact a something that tingled like fire.

Croft tore away his mouth. Naia's hands clung to him. Her eyes were
uplifted. "Go--go!" she panted. "Send me back to my body. Yet wait not so
long to come to me again."

"In the morning I shall see you with Robur," said Croft as he released
her. For now he felt assured that she was very, very close to conscious
understanding.



Chapter Twelve


And that she stood very near indeed to the threshold of understanding,
the weeks that followed their third astral meeting showed.

It showed in a changed demeanor of their meeting the next day. Croft
waked with the sound of her voice in his ears, and lay for an instant
startled in the half world between waking and slumber before he realized
that it drifted from the bathing court of the palace.

Instantly he sprang up, recalling her words of the day before concerning
Robur's daily practice at throwing curves with a baseball. He glanced
out.

As he reached the window Robur threw the ball, and the princess ran to
retrieve it. As he came forth five minutes later, she flung the ball with
a truly feminine overhead gesture to where her cousin stood. "Zitu, my
cousin!" she teased with a flash of milk-white teeth between the twin
crimson portals of her mouth. "You throw wider of the mark, and still
more wide. To me it seems that you lack that which you speak of in
Jason's words as 'control.' Thy ambition to be a pit-cher stands in sorry
case."

And then she caught sigh of Jason himself and broke off, while across her
lovely face there stole a flush as soft as the dawning Sirian light. She
turned toward him and held out a tapering hand. "Hai, Jason! It is
morning--and--I see you again."

"And I thee," said Croft as he touched her fingers--"fairer, more
beautiful and altogether lovelier than the dawn itself. Thy voice awaked
me and told me I was late for our play with the ball."

But his blood was singing, his pulses pounding. For her words had been
but a paraphrase of that promise he had spoken to the soul of her he had
held the past night in his arms. And more than any others she might have
spoken, they told him that at last, as a waking woman, she began to
understand.

Yet he gave no further sign, and Naia herself seemed contented with that
one brief interchange. "Aye, teach him, instruct him, and thou canst. He
is willing, but he accomplishes little with a vast amount of work to
himself and my feet and hands."

And Jason laughed with a wonderful exultation coursing through him as he
took the ball from Robur, who had approached.

Thereafter for a half-hour he instructed, and Naia retrieved the
Aphurian's wild heaves and pitches, until by degrees Robur gained the
partial mastery of a simple inward curve; and Naia, her face dewed with a
fine moisture from her part of the practice, protested against any more
that morning, declaring instead for a bath, and moving toward the pool,
loosening her garment on the shoulder as she walked.



That first day Croft started work on the ovens to produce his coke. With
Robur he talked over all his plans. He drove out to the site of his
hangars and inspected the rising sheds. He returned to the shops of the
carpenter caste, and set in motion the work of assembling the airplane
wings. He inspected the body, found fault and made corrections, looked
into the motor plant, and ordered the captains there to speed up their
work. He drove to the glass plant from there, and gave orders for the
making of his arc-lamp bodies. He seemed inspired with a ceaseless
energy, which finally drove Robur into comment.

"Zitu--Jason, my friend, where is the need for such haste?"

"None, Rob, save that the fire of life burns high within me, and my
spirit seeks action, not rest."

And, as so often, Robur seemed in a measure to catch his thought. "Is she
not beautiful as a shaft of Zitu's own light?" he inquired, and looked
into Jason's eyes. "Gaya is beautiful, too, and I love her, yet I think
thy belief that she is the other half of thy soul is true. For Mouthpiece
of Zitu are ye, and wiser than all other men of Palos, and Naia of Aphur,
my cousin, is divine."

"Thou hast said it. Her beauty drives me as the whip against the gnuppa's
flank. It quickens my endeavor, forces me to fresh effort--" Croft began,
and broke off as a captain, followed by a servant from the palace,
appeared in the door of the room wherein they stood.

"Hai, Robur!" the captain exclaimed, advancing with uplifted hand. "Here
is one who seeks thee, as he says it, by command."

"Speak," said Robur, turning to the other--one of a number of Mazzerian
runners who as messengers were kept always at hand.

The blue man saluted in formal fashion. "One from Zitra awaits thee at
the palace. Even now others seek you from place to place."

"Go. Say that I come." Robur dismissed him and turned to Croft. A pucker
of thought lay between his eyes. "This may be from my father. I know not
the nature of his message, but--my friend, accompany me in this."



In the huge, red-paved court they left the motor and, passing between the
portal guards, made their way swiftly, side by side, to the audience-hall
where once Croft had seen Kyphallos of Cathur received by Jadgor, Aphur's
king. A man with the circle and cross on his breast--Jadgor's
emissary--was waiting there for their coming now. As the two appeared, he
rose.

"Greeting to Robur, governor of Aphur and son of Jadgor, who sends me to
him," he began, producing a ring that Croft himself had often seen on
Jadgor's finger and pressed it into Robur's hand.

Robur glanced at it and nodded. "Say on," he replied.

"On Bithur, Mazzer makes war."

"Zitu!" Robur started and turned his eyes to Croft.

Croft nodded. "Let us sit down and hear the rest of it," he advised.

Robur waved his father's emissary to a seat and found one of his own.
"And now thy story, and quickly," he urged, while Croft found a place by
his side.

"As thou knowest who led an army into Bithur when Zollaria made war," the
Zitran resumed, "there was promised to Mazzer, for her help of the
children of Zitemku to the north--whom Zilla take to himself--certain of
the expected spoils. And as thou knowest, in all that was contemplated,
both Zollaria and Mazzer failed. Yet was Mazzer promised a free highway
down Bithur's principal river to the Central Sea. Mazzer, encouraged
thereto as thy father thinks by Zollaria perchance, now presses this
demand. Bithur, being not as Aphur and Nodhur and even Milidhur, supplied
with the new weapons they used against Helmor's armies, is weak. Already
have there been clashes between the blue men, better armed than ever
before, and the men of Bithur along the border.

"Towns have been burned--fields laid waste--women carried into the
forests, and men and children slain. Wherefore Jadgor commands you this.
Send to Bithur the armored moturs, and a thousand men with the new weapon
that shoots metal and fire with the death-dealing bolts of metal they
discharge. For since all Tamarizia is one nation, it is fitting and just
that the weak should cry for aid in their need to the strong, and that
the strong should hear. Jadgor, who sits on Hiranur's throne as head of
Tamarizia, has spoken. Let Robur of Aphur give ear to his words and
obey."

"Aphur hears." Robur inclined his head. "Say to Hiranur that Aphur obeys.
The moturs, the men, and the weapons go to Bithur at once. Man of Zitra,
you will refresh yourself ere your return."

"Nay." Already the other was on his feet. "This matter gives no rest. I
return so soon as Aphur's obedience is assured. Zitu speed the fulfilment
of your promise." As Croft and Robur rose he bowed and left the room.

Robur turned toward Croft. "Revenge," he said. "A war of revenge, my
friend. Zollaria, cheated of her foul designs, would harass Bithur's
borders. Hai!" His eyes flashed. "So be it. We shirk not what Zitu sends.
Jason, go with me. Help me to send what is needed forth."

"Yes," Croft nodded, and for the rest of that long day the driver of
energy within him found full vent. Runners were despatched to notify the
captains of the civic guard, and a sufficient number of the veterans of
Croft's riflemen in the Zollarian war. Cases of cartridges were loaded
into the motor galleys along the quays. Six of the armored motors Croft
had designed and used against Helmor's legions went roaring through the
streets and snorted their ungainly way aboard the waiting ships. What
Aphur had been called upon to furnish, she set about providing without
delay.

That night, Croft willed himself to the palace at Zitra and listened to
Jadgor's plans. Lakkon urged that they consult the Mouthpiece of Zitu;
but Jadgor's comment that Zitu need not teach them their lessons twice,
even through his Mouthpiece, struck Croft as sound. Jadgor was a good
general; he knew the art of war, and despite his regret at the personal
animus Jadgor seemed to bear against him, Croft was glad that the
all-important lessons were being learned. He did not want all Palos to be
dependent upon him; he did not want to be a god-ruler.



Chapter Thirteen


In the weeks that followed, many things transpired. The line of poles
stretched its length from the power station to Himyra, and men were
stringing wires. Croft made coke, ground it into powder, mixed it with a
cohesive substance, and molded it into carbon cores, to serve his growing
arcs. Also, he began experimenting in the construction of batteries, both
moist and dry cells. He succeeded with the former from the first. And for
these experiments he demanded of Robur, and obtained, the use of an
unused room in the palace, where he often worked at night.

Chemistry, an exact science, was unknown on Palos, but through
consultations with the local caste of physicians Croft managed to collect
a certain number of crudely refined salts which they commonly used as
drugs. The room where Croft delved into the simpler mysteries of nature
became an apartment of wonder to Robur, who came to it first himself, and
later brought Gaya and Naia.

And on the night of their first coming, Croft explained the laws of
chemical affinity as best he could to the three, comparing the force that
drew the ions together with love, and caught a comprehending flash from
Naia's blue eyes.

Thereafter she came as she willed when he worked, and watched while he
struggled with his far from satisfactory equipment, and asked a hundred
questions, until he suggested that she assist him, whereupon she accepted
with a readiness that filled him with surprise. Night after night
thereafter she donned a coarse smock and labored at his side, finding a
new world open before her with the wide-eyed interest of a child;
beholding for the first time the deliberate manipulation of the hidden
forces of nature, beginning at length to understand man's right and power
to use them to his advantage, direct them and command, to look upon them
not as some supernatural manifestation, but as a wholly natural thing.

Meanwhile in the motur shops, Croft's by now expert force were assembling
the first two airplanes. And in the same place, since he could work there
as well as anywhere else, and supervise their work at the same time, he
and Robur spent a part of each day constructing a resistance coil and a
temporary switch on a slab of the marble white stone so much in evidence
on Palos, against the day when the new light should be shown to Himyra
first.

At the end of two weeks, however, he moved the now finished wings and
bodies in which the moturs had been installed to the hangars and
installed a force of men with them there to complete the work. Meanwhile
at night he kept up his search for a satisfactory dry cell, telling Naia
that the success of the flying machine depended upon it; so that when at
last he succeeded, and she felt the current tingle through her fingers
for the first time, she cried out in delight.

And in those two weeks, as Gaya had planned, as Croft had known must
happen, constant association and education had its effect. As they played
ball in the mornings, and bathed, and worked, and sought for strange, new
results such as the woman had never dreamed in all her existence, they
drew closer and closer together in their aims, their every interest,
their understanding, than they had ever been. In his own way and by his
own methods, Croft was rapidly raising the woman, whom as a woman he
worshiped, toward his own mental place. Thus in the end she came to a
realization that those things which had once seemed as much a miracle to
her as to any of her people, might very well be manifestation of natural
law within the grasp of man.

His dry cells perfected, the success of his engine ignition
assured--several arcs nearing the finished stage of their construction,
Croft had a new thought. He decided that after his demonstration of the
airplanes at Himyra, he might wish to exhibit them at Zitra, and altered
his plans somewhat as a result, and equipped each plane with a set of
buoyant pontoons, thereby converting them to the type of flying fish more
nearly than anything else. He explained his reason for this to Naia, with
whom he was now talking everything over fully, and she smiled.

"On the water they will run as well as through the air," she said, when
he had finished. "Jason--you must teach me to fly as well as everything
else."

"I like not the thought. There is danger in this flying."

"Danger?" Naia of Aphur arched her brows. "Think you I have any fear?"

"No," he hastened to assure her. "It is Jason who for thee would be
afraid."

For an instant she colored and then went a trifle pale. "And what of Naia
of Aphur, think you, when Jason dares this danger, my friend?"

"It is a matter of knowledge," Croft said quickly, thrilled by her hinted
meaning. "I have driven them before."

"On Earth?"

"Yes, on Earth, where they use them also in the battles of their wars."

"Hai!" cried Naia sharply. "To rise and wheel and fight--to struggle like
great birds in the air. This Earth of which you speak must be a wonderful
place."

"Yes," said Croft, as he went on and told her many things, describing
among others the aviator's dress.

"And what will Jason wear on Palos?"

Croft laughed. "I had not given it any attention. I must consider the
matter. Perhaps a garment fashioned out of gnuppa hide."

Naia nodded. Suddenly her scarlet lips were smiling. "In my mind I see as
in a painting these leather-clad men of Earth. Leave the matter of your
apparel to Naia, and you will, O Jason," she replied.

And Croft assented, filled with both pleasure and surprise.

Then came a night to Aphur very much like that before the first motur was
finished--a night when a very few hours would see the first pair of
airplanes done. Under the flare of oil slushes burning about him, he
looked into the face of the captain in charge of the hangar crew and
found his bronzed skin pale.

"Thou wilt dare it, Mouthpiece of Zitu?" the fellow said in a tone of
awed deference, meeting Croft's glance. "Thou wilt attempt in this device
to mount the air? Brave men have there been in Tamarizia, aye and brave
women, yet none like to thee before."

"Nonsense!" said Jason, and laughed.

Satisfied at length that everything was ready, he threw himself on a
pallet, from which he rose at dawn. To his rousing cry came the captain
and his men. The doors of the hangar were opened, and the first airplane
on which Sirius had ever shown was trundled out, rolling on wheels
affixed to the bottoms of each pontoon.

And even as it appeared, a motur flashed from the blurring shadow of
Himyra's red walls and dashed toward it along the road. It was Robur
coming to witness his friend's latest venture, not alone.

At first Croft noted the fact with wonder, and then with a leaping heart.
Naia was with him. He caught a deep breath, and his own eyes flashed as
the motur approached; he went toward it, and Robur sprang out.

"Hail, Jason, Tamarizia's first man-bird!" he exclaimed, glancing from
Croft to the huge machine.

"Bird-man, not man-bird, Rob," said Croft, giving Naia a hand to assist
her from the motur, and becoming aware that she carried a package across
her knees.

"Thy garment," she explained, extending it to him. "Go into the cote
where you house your bird and put it on."

"My thanks for it, and your presence," Croft accepted and helped her from
the car. "Hai, Rob--don't fool with the engine, will you, while I don my
new attire?" He turned away and disappeared through the hangar doors.

And there he opened the bundle with unsteady hands and lifted what it
contained. Trousers, or rather breeches, they seemed of leather as soft
as the finest Earthly ooze grain--a tunic--a helmet--leg-cases fashioned
to strap on. And Naia of Aphur had designed them, had planned them,
directed their making, had brought them to him this morning. Croft's hand
actually fumbled the buckles as he put them on. Yet in the end the thing
was done, and he stepped forth clothed from toe to head in russet brown,
save for the front of the helmet, through which shone his face.

"Zitu!" cried Rob, and Naia's eyes were shining as he advanced toward
them followed by the hangar's crew, and mounted into his seat.

Over the fuselage edge he looked down directly into their blue depths.
And suddenly they lost their glint of pleasure, grew dark and a trifle
strained in the white oval of her face. "Take places!"

The hangar crew ran to the stations Croft had already assigned.

"Ready!" Two of the men laid hold of the propeller and sent it around.

With a roar the engine caught on. A cloud of back-driven dust veiled
the men who steadied the huge plane against the drag of the motur holding
it, checking it as it strained and quivered like a hound against the
leash.

"Let go!"

The men fell back. The plane quivered, moved slowly in advance. Out
across that same desert where once Jason had driven the first motur in a
mad, reckless dash to save Naia of Aphur's life, he now shot forward in
the first quickening dash of Aphur's first airplane. Forward--faster and
faster--faster and faster--then up. Obedient to his shifting of the
controls, the huge machine tilted, seemed to rear on its haunches,
lifting its nose, its wheels, rising, rising--free of the ground at
last--free and rising, higher and higher, up! up!

Up, up! A spear-point of the rising sun caught it and set it aglisten as
it rose. Up, up, smaller and smaller to them who watched it from beside
the hangar. Then, as they watched, it turned. It turned and flew back
above them, five hundred feet in the air. It began to spiral, ever rising
higher above the ground. And suddenly, though Croft did not know it at
the time, and Robur, lost in amazement, did not sense it, Naia of Aphur
ran swiftly to the motur, and, carrying something crushed to her bosom,
from there to the doors of the hanger, and disappeared.

Over the fuselage Croft looked down. The hangar was a little shed beneath
him. The cluster of watchers were a group of ants. A vast elation filled
his breast. Once more his efforts were crowned with complete success.
With no more than some minor changes, he felt that his mastery of the
Palosian atmosphere was assured. He altered the inclination of his vanes
and began sliding swiftly down, gliding gracefully back to a rolling stop
at the end.

"My friend!" cried Robur, running up. He caught Jason's hand as Croft
climbed out, and stood clinging to it.

And though an hour before Croft would have been well satisfied with such
recognition, he became aware now of hunger for something else. Naia--it
was her praise, her congratulations, he wished. He turned his head,
seeking her presence, and found it, and gasped.

For Naia of Aphur had changed since he left. No more was she a glowing
girl in her fluttering garments; instead, she stood before him, habited
like himself, in a smaller suit of brown, which clung to her graceful
limbs and supple torso like a loosely fitted skin. Gone even were the
masses of her golden hair, veiled under a helmet of brown.

But as he met them, her blue eyes were the same. And they were fired with
a light of excited anticipation. "Again!" she cried. "Again--and this
time I shall go with you, Jason--I would fly!"

"Naia! My cousin!" Robur started forward a pace in instinctive protest.

"Nay." She wheeled upon him, stamping a small foot incased in the soft,
brown leather. "Nay, Robur, I shall be the first woman in all Tamarizia
to fly." She stretched out slender, appealing arms. "Jason--is there not
place between your wings for me?"

"Yes." There was something, almost a veiled suggestion of wider meaning
in her words, and Croft caught it as he gave her his hand. "Come," he
said, as Robur fell back, and caught her under the arms, lifting her
lightly up, until her foot gained a supporting hold and she climbed to
her place in the pit of the fuselage.

And then, settling himself once more in position, Croft cried to his men,
and once more the engine roared.

Once more the plane advanced, jolting, tipping a little, swaying to the
slight irregularities of the ground it ran ahead. Croft moved a lever.
The obedient monster answered. The desert fell away beneath. Up, up,
Jason of Earth and Naia of Aphur, daughter of Ga, and child of Palos,
swam toward a brightening sky of pink and gold. Up and up. Once more he
stole a sidelong glance at his companion's face. It was lifted, tilted a
little back--its blue eyes closed.

"Naia!" Croft spoke to her above the motur's roar.

She lifted her lids, met his somewhat anxious regard, and smiled. And
from him she let her gaze wander over the whole vast panorama of desert
and mountain and the central ocean, blue and green and black and gold,
with a froth on the nearer waves like a fringe of white to their shadowed
flanks as it caught the light, and Himyra--the red city beginning to glow
as Sirius shot his shafts against its ruddy walls, and like a dull chain,
supporting the red jewel of the city on the breast of Aphur, the yellow
Na, outlined as far as the eye could reach by a band of shimmering green.

And suddenly her breast lifted, her lips parted, and she began to
sing--to sing as she had once cried to Croft that the birds she envied
sang as they rose against the morning--gladly--clearly--freely as a bird
itself might sing.

So sang Naia of Aphur, between Himyra and the sun.

After that Croft taught her how to fly. Having once yielded, he could not
well again refuse.

But the promise to teach her she exacted that same morning after they had
returned to the palace. Robur ran off to tell Gaya concerning the success
of the trial flight, and Naia dared Croft to bathe.

"You will surely teach me to fly?" she said almost as soon as they
floated side-by-side.

"No. This morning I yielded because of your great desire to be the first
woman of Palos to take to the air. In that I was not altogether wise.
Again I would not dare."

"Yet and you yielded to my desire in the matter of this morning, your
excuse should be the same in yielding to me again no less. Ah,
Jason"--her hand crept out and lay upon his arm--"now  I know the
feeling of a bird when it rises and sings from pure joy, for the first
time in my life, and the knowledge thrills me. I would know it again,
because--" She broke off with a little, gasping breath.

"Because of what?" Croft turned his head and looked into her eyes.

"Because," said she very slowly, "it is to me as though I was no longer
mortal--as though I had in some way left the body--cast off all the weight
of the flesh."

"Naia! Thou knowest?"

"Aye--since the last time you called me to you. Come and I shall show
you, Jason." She turned and dived.

Croft followed. Down, down, he followed her gleaming form through the
clear water. And then lost, buried deep in its liquid embrace, screened
from all observation by the play of the sun upon its surface, she turned
still closer to him, and for the first time since old Zud's blunder had
brought misunderstanding she offered him her scarlet mouth.

From that kiss man and woman came up gasping almost as to a new birth.
"Ah, Acquor, Acquor," Naia panted, "thou has caught thy little fish at
last."

"Fear not, little fish," said Croft in a voice which quivered, "I shall
not eat you, but--this time I shall surely hold you fast."

"And you will teach me to fly?" There was witchery in Naia's words and in
her smile.

"Yes," said Croft in open surrender. "And Zitu pity me if aught befall
thee."

"Nay, I will be careful," Naia sobered. "And--and--"

"And what--is there something more, beloved?" Croft questioned softly.

"Nay." She lowered her eyes. "I must go fasten my girdle about me lest we
be late for the morning's meal." She swam toward the sunken steps.

And suddenly Croft knew. In one swift stroke he overtook her. "Beloved,
beloved," he whispered to her, "on the day the new light comes to Himyra
I shall once more fasten thy girdle with Azil's seal."

"The new light--" The fires in her blue eyes quickened. "Aye, Jason, I
would wear it in the new light," she said as, side-by-side, they
clambered from the pool.

Half an hour later, Croft met Gaya, and she stopped him. "Wise man, and
one of great wisdom, are you, Jason, as Robur, my husband, tells me,
saying, accompanied by Naia, you have conquered the air." She put out her
hand.

Croft took it. He bent toward her. "Hark you, Gaya, my sweet friend," he
said, speaking softly. "The air is nothing. I have conquered something
else."

"What mean you?" Gaya questioned.

"That Naia of Aphur, on the day the new light comes, will wear my seal,"
Croft told her.

"Zitu," she exclaimed, smiling, "you have spoken, then, at last. Wise man
I have confessed you, yet to me you have seemed most blind in this as
most men are with women. Glad though am I for you both. But now she was
in my chamber, and radiant as Ga. She declared you would teach her to
fly, and easily deceived as I was, I thought it that."



Chapter Fourteen


It was now over five weeks since the relief expedition had sailed to
Bithur from Himyra, and no word had come from Zitra since. Croft willed
himself to the scene, and soon learned why nothing had been heard. The
expedition had met with disaster; Mazzer had loosed her whole horde upon
Jadgor's forces, and the Mazzerians had been armed by Zollaria and led by
Zollaria's men. Croft listened in to a conference between a slightly
wounded and greatly chastened Jadgor and Medai of Bithur. Jadgor was now
willing to turn to the Mouthpiece of Zitu for suggestions and aid--but
more than that, this setback had restored his former first loyalty to
Tamarizia.

Learning what supplies Jadgor would ask for, Croft immediately set about
to install a crash program so that much would be ready before Jadgor's
messengers arrived with their requests. Work proceeded at a dizzying
pace.

Meanwhile, the day of the great carnival came--the carnival whose high
point would be the bringing of light to Himyra. Although to Croft's mind
a minor event at this moment, he demonstrated the plane, to the cheers of
the watchers. Then came the first public baseball game on Palos, once to
which all the watchers responded enthusiastically, as the team from the
foundry clashed with the team from the airplane shop, ending with a
three-to-one victory for the Founders. This brought the festivities to an
intermission, since not until dusk would the lights be turned on.

Blue men of Mazzer with torches began moving about the vast circuit of
the arena, lighting hundreds of oil flares. Blue girls with skins of
tabur hide on their naked backs and shoulders, and metal cups in their
hands, began threading the tiers of seats selling a mild, light wine.
Venders of fruits and conserves for the women, and baked meats and
wheaten cakes plied an active trade. In the rear of Robur's box was
spread a table, and a meal was served. And before its beginning Magur,
high priest of Aphur, arrived. To him Croft and Naia rose side-by-side
and bowed. Naia looked into her companion's face and flushed from throat to
eyes. Magur's coming meant she was to pledge herself to Croft before all
the assembled men and women of Aphur, once the new light came on.

And in such fashion was it done. Two heralds with silver trumpets
appeared in scarlet livery, the color of Robur's house. From the front of
Robur's box they blew a blast.

And on that signal the arena attendants began running to and fro
extinguishing all lights. Over the arena night came down as one by one
the oil flares died.

Croft gave a final glance to the woman at his side--to her face, her
form, to her dress of purple and gold. He had asked her to put it on. It
was the garment she had worn on the first formal occasion in which he
had ever seen her take part. And its colors were the same as the auric
colors of that astral form of hers which he had seen. Taking her hand he
led her quite to the front of the box. There on either side had been
placed one of Tamarizia's first two arcs. And in the back of the box was
the controlling switch. And miles away in the mountains men were waiting
for the signal of a flare on Himyra's walls to release the power. Already
one had gone to see that the flare was lit. And a captain was without to
carry word when it shone forth.

Now suddenly he appeared.

Croft closed the switch.

A click--a hiss--the crackling ignition of incandescent carbon--a rising
glow in the darkness--then--light--clear, radiant light!

Light that flared up and wavered and steadied and shone on Naia of Aphur,
sheathed in purple and gold.

A babble of sound, a cheer of acclaim.

The trumpets of the heralds rang out.

Jason stepped forward and took his place close by Naia's side.

Magur, the high priest, arose, robed in his vestments of azure,
accompanied by two temple boys. Each bore a silver goblet on a tray of
the same metal that sparkled under the light.

Magur lifted a silver stave crowned with the cross ansata. "Who cries to
Magur?" his voice rang out.

"A maid who would pledge herself and her life to the man of her choosing,
O Prince of Zitu," Robur replied.

"The man is present?"

"Aye, he stands beside her," Robur declared.

"Who sponsors this woman?"

"I, Robur of Aphur, her cousin--child of the sister of her who gave her
life."

"Come then in the name of Zitu," Magur said, and advanced to face the
arena, back of Naia and Croft.

"Naia of Aphur--thou woman, and being woman, sister of Ga, and hence
priestess of that shrine of life which is eternal, the guardian of the
fire of life which is eternal--is it thine intent to pledge thyself to
this man, who stands now at thy side?"

"Aye," said Naia of Aphur clearly.

"And thou, Jason, known as the Mouthpiece of Zitu, whom Zitu has inspired
with his wisdom, even as no other man, do thou accept this pledge, and
with it the woman herself, to make her in the fulness of time thy bride,
to cherish her and cause her to live as a glory to the name of woman, to
whom all men may justly give respect?"

"Aye, so I pledge, by Zitu, and Azil, Giver of Life," said Jason.

"Then take this, maid of Aphur." Magur drew from his robe a looped silver
cross and placed it in her hands. "Hold it and guard it, look upon it as
a symbol of that life eternal that you shall be kept eternal, and which,
taken from the hands of Azil the angel, shall be transmuted within thee
into the life of men."

Turning, he took the goblets from their bearers and poured wine from one
to the other and back. One he extended to Naia and one to Croft.

"Drink," he said. "Let these symbolize thy two bodies, the life of which
shall be united from this time in purpose. Drink and may Zitu bless thee
in that union which comes into existence by his intent."

Jason raised his goblet. "I drink of thee deeply."

Naia set her goblet to her lips. "And I of thee."

Then, and then only, Croft took that medallion of silver ringed with red
stones, which Zitra had burned against his breast. And lifting the golden
girdle which cinctured Naia's body above the hips, he pinned it once more
upon it, so that it flashed like a scarlet eye, beneath the newborn
light.

Magur lifted his stave. "Azil's seal has he set upon her. Let it speak to
all men's sight."

"Hail! Hail! Mouthpiece of Zitu. Hail! Hail! Hail! Naia, maid of Aphur!"
From the vast arena a roar of acknowledgment and approbation tore its way
upward in the night.

So as it seemed ended Himyra's greatest holiday; so for Croft and Naia
began a new phase of life. Yet though she had never seemed nearer, dearer
to him, the Mouthpiece of Zitu was vaguely disturbed as they rode back to
the palace through the still pleasure-making crowds. Everything seemed
very peaceful, very auspicious. But he could not rid his mind of the
picture which had troubled him for a week--the picture of a burning
village--of blue men leaping in savage exultation of a beaten army's
rout.

Hence it was with no pleasure that an hour after their return from the
arena, while yet the city flared and rang with the carnival life of the
people, a palace guard brought word to him from Robur, asking his
presence at once.

Nor when he had followed to the audience chamber of the palace was he
surprised to meet a man with drawn face, and eyes a trifle haggard--a man
wearing Bithur's green-and-silver circle, who rose now and saluted him
with flat palm forward, and burst into hurried, excited speech.

"Mouthpiece of Zitu, Bithur is sore assailed--her armies beaten, the aid
Aphur sent her largely destroyed. In the name of Bithur and of Tamarizia,
Jadgor, president of the nation, now at Atla, sends me to you and to
Robur of Aphur, his son, to speak what is in his heart."



Chapter Fifteen


Jason went to Bithur. Naia remained behind. In the week before the
celebration of their former betrothal they had so planned. Now, with the
red-and-silver seal of Azil once more glowing in her girdle, Naia did not
object.

Seven days later he entered Bithra, the capital of Bithur, and left it
inside an hour, heading east along the Bith between banks where a tropic
vegetation came down to the water's edge, and the mighty flood of waters
swept in a turgid current between banks of trees.

Morning brought him close to Atla, as the pilot taken on at Bithra
declared. Also it brought attack of a sort. From the banks as they
advanced the galley was suddenly greeted by a flight of slithering
shafts. Most of them, thanks to the range, fell into the water, but one
or two reached the deck. Croft, who lined a company of riflemen he had
hastily mobilized and brought with him on either side of the galley,
replied with a crashing volley as the galley advanced. So after that,
meeting flights of arrows with bullets, he progressed, reaching a bend
from which the gates in the city wall spanned the river's flood and
flinging the flag of Aphur into view before the sentries on the walls.

The gates swung open. The galley ran through. The gates were closed
again. The galley tied to a quay below the brown palace Croft had visited
in his astral presence, he marched off with his men. A procession was
debouching from the palace gate. It came toward him quickly. He
recognized Jadgor and Medai in the van. He halted his company and waited.
The others came on. Five paces before him they halted.

"Hai! Mouthpiece of Zitu," Jadgor greeted him. "Thy coming is welcome.
What word from Aphur and my son?"

"Aphur sends men and weapons to Bithur," Jason responded. "As for Robur,
son of Jadgor, he remains in Himyra to speed the departure for Bithur of
all that may be required."

"It is well," said Jadgor. "Return with us to the palace where all things
may be explained. Medai of Bithur greets you in Bithur's name."

Medai bowed deeply. The guards behind him and Jadgor turned. Followed by
Croft's company they retraced their steps until the palace was gained.

And there in the room, Croft, Medai and Jadgor sat down. The latter eyed
his former adviser and friend. "You are looking wondrous well," he said."

"Yes," Croft again inclined his head. "Thanks largely to Robur, Jadgor's
son. But more of that later, Jadgor. Inform me how matters stand."

Jadgor shrugged. "It would appear to go not so well with the things in my
hands as with your plans. From the first was the extent of this matter
with Mazzer misjudged; and in addition there is a fault in these motors
of yours, when not controlled by the builder's mind. Wherefore they
failed when most needed at times, and were by sheer force of numbers
overborne. As a result the blue flood of Mazzer laps even now against
Atla's walls on all sides."

"Yet breaks against them," said Jason.

"Aye as yet," Jadgor replied.

"And shall break utterly," Croft went on. "Of this defect in the motors
already I have learned, in the same way in which I have learned other
things in the past, as Jadgor knows. Wherefore his messenger came not to
Himyra as a surprise, and for seven suns before his coming, Robur,
Jadgor's son and I prepared." He broke off and watched the Aphurian
closely.

But Jadgor merely nodded as he responded: "Say on."

"Among those things which have been completed since my return to Himyra,"
Croft resumed, "is one which flies in the air. Riding upon it a man may
cast down such bombs as were used at the taking of Niera in the Zollarian
war."

And now Jadgor started and narrowed his eyes, and Medai half rising from
his seat exclaimed: "Zitu! Is this the truth?"

"Yes," said Croft. "One came with me aboard the galley. Between decks are
the bombs. Today shall it be set up and tomorrow shall these blue men
meet with a surprise. Also have I brought devices to make the performance
of the motors more assured. From the ground and from the air shall we
smite the Mazzerians at once."

"Hai!" Medai roared. "Jadgor--to fly above them and rain death on their
heads. Never was such a thing heard of. You believe?"

"Aye." Jadgor of Tamarizia rose. "Zitu's Mouthpiece is a man who speaks
not in idle fashion, O Medai. He speaks true words. One does well to give
credence to his speaking." His hand snapped back and drew his short sword
from its scabbard. He presented it hilt forward. "Man whom Zitu has sent
to Tamarizia's strengthening, to thee I yield."

"No." Croft waved the sword aside. "Mouthpiece of Zitu have I been
called, in that at times I have been given the power to direct or to
advise. In Jadgor's heart and mine must Tamarizia find first place
always. Let Jadgor wear the sword."

Jadgor sent the blade back into the sheath with a rasping clash. "You and
I together for Tamarizia then," he said with abrupt decision, and thrust
out his palm. "Accept Jadgor's hand at least."

The two men gripped and the Aphurian resumed: "Speak, Mouthpiece of Zitu,
what do you advise?"

"What men have you at your disposal?"

Jadgor and Medai explained, and Croft decided upon a tour of the walls.
The trio set forth. And as they went Jadgor explained further that three
times within the past ten days had the Mazzerians attacked them.

Indeed, Croft gained evidence of that when the top of the wall was
reached. It came to him first as an almost insufferable stench. Jadgor
noted the twitching of his nostrils.

"Aye, by Zitu! they stink to the skies, these dead litter of an unclean
birth. The trenches about Atla's defenses are filled with their corpses.
By the thousands have we slain them, yet by the tens of thousands have
their following spawn arrived. Their souls have we hurled to Zitemku and
their bodies to the ditch." He swept his arm toward the outer parapet in
a wide arc. "Behold!"

Croft looked out of an embrasure and down. An arrow rattled against the
stones beside him, and he drew back. But the one glance had been enough.
He began to think it would be no mean undertaking to defeat the men of an
army who fought like that.

"Back!" he said. "Back to my galley, Jadgor! Let us put together the
flying device I have brought. Tomorrow we shall give them new death from
the skies."

And for the rest of that day Croft sweated and worked, assembling the
airplane on Atla's broadest street, which, like Himyra's faced the
river--a splendid concourse, above a terrace, offering him a spot for
starting, two hundred feet in width. What of the armored motors remained
he had also driven up, and under their metal bodies he installed his
batteries, wiring them to the ignition system--explaining to their
drivers, how should the former supply of power be thrown out of service,
this auxiliary source might be employed.

Toward evening, however, he altered his plans. The more unseen the
destruction which came upon them, the greater on superstitious minds the
effect might be. And as he knew from his association with the Mazzerian
serving-caste in the nation he had adopted, the Mazzerians were
superstitious to a degree.

About twilight he loaded the plane with a good supply of bombs. Ascending
from the broad thoroughfare, and returning to it, outlined as it would be
by the fire urns, which, as at Himyra, marked the banks of the Bith along
the quays, would be no more than child's play. As a result, he decided to
make his first bombing expedition beyond the walls so soon as night came
down. This decision he reached after a conference with Jadgor, who
announced that for a great distance before the walls the Mazzerian camps
were nightly marked by the flares of many fires.

Jadgor, Medai, the major captains of their armies, and many of the
citizens of Atla stood to witness Croft's start. Wearing his flying-suit,
Jason climbed aboard. Then at his instruction two soldiers seized the
blades of the propeller and turned the engine round. They let go and
scampered well out of the way as it roared. The plane quivered, moved. It
darted forward along the perfect pavement, tilted and took to the air. In
a moment it soared high above the walls.

As far as he could see before him, and to either side, the night was
dotted with fires. In a wide semicircle they blinked and winked and
flared. They outlined the main position of the Mazzerian army.

Then the walls were passed, and with the breath of a clean night in his
nostrils, the roar of the engine in his ears, he swept toward the line of
fires.

Far, far out he swung. It was his intention to circuit the back areas of
the Mazzerian line--to come upon them not from in front, but from the
rear--to make his coming appear that of some huge, undreamed monster of
superstitious seeming, to traverse their main body from one end to the
other, dropping bombs which, under the conditions, he felt could hardly
fail of a telling effect.

Far, far out he swam on the new wings he had built for himself--and for
Naia. Naia? He smiled. In Himyra she was perhaps flying by day even as he
was flying now--flying as he had taught her to fly in body and soul. He
passed the first line of the Mazzerian bivouac and darted above a wood
and came above a great savanna--a tree-dotted plain, where the camp-fires
were flashing again.

Then, and then only, for the first time he reached down and took up a
bomb, and sailing high above that plain where the camp-fires looked like
a myriad of fireflies far beneath him, he let it fall.

A flash, a ruddy, great mushroom of golden, raying light--a splash of
rending destruction in the night. The explosion came up to him long after
he saw it, on the lagging vibrations of sound. Again and again he hurled
a second and third as he swam from left to right.

Faint, far away, oddly detached, he thought he heard a distant shouting,
though it was hard to be sure above the motor's roar. But the light of
other fires showed him the silhouette of many figures running, of arms
uplifted, as though those who swarmed like a hill of angry ants driven
into panic were pointing into the air. Where that cluster of pointing
forms seemed thickest he soared on swift, sure wings and let go another
bomb. It fell beyond his vision. It burst. The blur of bodies into which
it descended was no more.

A sputter, a cough from the motor. The engine was missing. Apprehension
touched him with a breath-arresting recognition of the fact. And hardly
had he taken it into account when the motor missed again. And having
coughed for the second time, it died.

He was falling--falling! The bombs! Oddly enough he thought of them
rather than of being dashed to death. He reached down and found the
remaining four he had brought. He hurled them over the side of the
fuselage, tossing them wide. Then he began a frantic effort to once more
start the engine--in vain.

Below him four ruddy flashes told him the bombs had struck. In a rushing
whirlwind the air of night was driving past the plane. Doomed as it
seemed, still the will to live, to struggle, to overcome danger and death
itself remained within him. He began an effort to straighten out the
plane's course, to catch and use to his own advantage that wind that was
whistling past him now.

So in the end he did straighten out at last and slid swiftly, where
before he had eddied and whirled.

"Zitu!" he breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. Then--the fire-dotted plain
was very close. And the airplane was shooting down toward it, even though
no longer falling, and there was little chance to choose a course. With a
crash the pontoons beneath it struck through the top of a tree, and the
whole machine swerved. In mid air it staggered, checked, lunged ahead
again like a restive living creature, tipped, slid off sidewise, and
crashed down on a crumpling wing.

Unable to maintain himself in his shaken condition, Croft gave vent to an
inarticulate cry of anguish. The entire bulk of Palos seemed to rise and
hit him, as catapulted from the fuselage by the ruinous landing, he
struck and lay in a dark and senseless huddle on the ground.



Chapter Sixteen


Hours afterward, as it seemed, Croft opened his eyes, and blinked at a
flare of light and closed his lids again, while he sought to collect his
shaken senses.

He remembered by degrees.

The plane had fallen. There was nothing after that. But he had fallen
upon a night-wrapped plain, studded with the fires of a camp. Now,
instead of stars above him, there was what looked like the bellied top of
a tent. Slowly he spread the fringes of his lashes and sought to verify
the impression he had gained.

He was correct. He lay in a tent, seemingly of skins joined to form the
sloping top and walls. The interior was lighted dimly by a couple of
flaring torches. But the light was sufficient to show Croft piles of
military gear, rugs of native skin, on one of the latter of which he
seemed to be lying, and some crude stools scattered about.

He lay with head half turned as he had been thrown down, and now he
became aware of other life in the tent as his senses more fully returned.
There was a sound of voices. He opened his eyes widely and stared about.
And inwardly at least he gasped.

This was the headquarters of the army he had sought to bomb, past any
doubt. Blue men--a dozen, a score were clustered about a huge chair to
one side, in which another blue man sat. And yet--in the latter Croft
detected something familiar in a flash, and immediately after he
understood. He had heard it alleged that certain Zollarian captains had
stained their bodies and shaved their heads and dyed the remaining scalp
lock of their light hair to match the Mazzerian red.

And--and--this was Bandhor of Zollaria--brother of Kalamita--that tawny
female magnet with which the northern nation had sought to bind the
profligate Prince of Cathur to her cause. This was Bandhor, his massive
body stained blue in its every ungainly line, seated upon this chair
before which the other blue men stood. And inspecting the latter more
closely, Croft decided that most of them were men of Zollaria tinted and
shaved and dyed like Bandhor himself.

Here then was proof of Zollaria's hand in the Mazzerian invasion. Croft's
head was splitting, but he sought to focus his attention on what was
being said.

"Sayest thou that this man fell out of the skies?" Bandhor roared.

"Aye," said one of the captains, whom Jason felt positive was a Zollarian
for all his naked blue strength. "Aye, Bandhor, he fell from a device
like to a pair of wings. Before that had strange weapons fallen upon my
men from the skies in a rain of death. Then suddenly came this man."

"Tamarizian devil," Bandhor swore with savage force. "This newest method
of their fighting would seem to be like their last, when they struck
Zollaria's army with a blast of fire. Go see if still he breathes."

Two of the men turned and approached Croft. They bent above him. He
stared straight into their faces.

"Aye, Bandhor of Zollaria," reported one. "He has opened his eyes."

"Bring him here."

Croft rose. Without waiting the touch of a captor's hand he staggered up
and faced Bandhor's chair. "Stand back," he hissed to the men beside him.
"I would walk alone." He took a step forward, swaying; whereupon the
others seized him and hurried him to Bandhor's place."

"Spawn of Tamarizia," Bandhor began, "what is thy name?"

"Thou hast said it, Bandhor."

"Came you from Atla?"

"Yes."

"How many men inside her wall can Jadgor and Medai claim?"

"Enough," said Croft. "Enough blue-dyed men of Zollaria to pile other
thousands of your naked dupes before them. There are not men enough in
all Mazzer to scale at Zollaria's command Atla of Bithur's walls."

"Hai! By Bel of Zollaria thy fall has not broken thy tongue at least!"
Bandhor exclaimed. "But thy manmade wings are broken, and thy insolent
spirit may be broken also. Hai--bring a brazier and a spear head. Since
this Tamarizian fights with fire we shall give him a taste of it himself,
and learn perchance what within Atla transpires."

"Hold!" Suddenly the wall of the tent behind Bandhor's chair swept back,
revealing a small private tent beyond it, and a tawny woman appeared.

White she was in the murky light as a ray of moonlight in the
dusk--white, and splendidly formed in every supple line of sensuous body
and limb. Jeweled cups covered her breasts, and a scarf of shimmering
tissue was twisted about her sinuous loins and fell half down her thighs.
With the grace of a stalking panther she advanced, accompanied by another
blue-stained Zollarian captain, and took her stand beside her brother. In
the flare of the torches she gleamed among those blue-tinted bodies like
a silver wand.

"Bethink you my brother," she continued as Croft recognized her as
Kalamita, "would destroy or even mar the weapon in your hand?"

"Hai, by Bel," began Bandhor.

"Aye," his sister went on. "Where are Bandhor's eyes? Know you not that
before you stand the Mouthpiece of Zitu of whom Tamarizia boasts--him to
whom Zollaria must mark the score of her defeat, the loss of Mazhur?
Rather than for gaining information can Bandhor not think of a better way
in which such a one may be used?"

"Hai--you mean a ransom, Kalamita my sister?"

"Aye. Much should Tamarizia be asked in payment for her Mouthpiece of
Zitu, who tumbles from the skies."

And suddenly she smiled as she broke off her flippant taunt--smiled and
looked steadily into Croft's staring eyes.

"By Bel!" once more Bandhor roared. "The words of Kalamita are of wisdom.
Go--Mamai. Take portions of the device from which he fell. See they are
carried to Atla. Say that this man fell among us with them. Demand a
parley, at which terms for his return shall be named."

"Aye, Bandhor!" One of the captains saluted and left the tent.

Inwardly Croft writhed. Here was a pretty pickle, indeed, since by his
blunder he had become to Tamarizia a weakness rather than a
strength--since because of it, Tamarizia would seem to be confronted with
the choice of leaving him to fate or paying Mazzer's and Zollaria's
price. And--he had caught all the meaning in the tawny depths of the
Zillarian courtesan's eyes. That price would indeed be large.

And now she bent and whispered into Bandhor's ear and he nodded. "Bind
him," he said, and pointed to Croft. "Lift him and bear him into my
sister's tent. Place a guard about us when it is finished. That is all,
my captains. We wait for word from Atla. Go!"

To resist were useless. Croft did not try. He stood passively while his
hands and feet were trussed. Then he was lifted and borne beyond the
flapping door through which she had entered, and laid on a pallet of
skins beside a copper couch.

The woman followed, remaining standing until his bearers had left, then
approached and reclined on the couch from whence she could watch his
eyes.

"Mouthpiece of Zitu," she began after a moment of contemplation,
"Mouthpiece of Zitu, who tumbles from the skies."

Croft made no answer, and suddenly she left the couch and knelt beside
him. "You are a handsome man, Mouthpiece of Zitu. Am I not beautiful
myself?"

"Yes," said Croft, since in a purely physical way she was no less than a
creature to drive most men mad, and he knew that she knew it, and because
of the knowledge, left none of her charms concealed.

"And"--she bent above him, closer, until her reddened mouth seemed about
to touch him, until her breath played softly against his cheek--"wisdom
and beauty may accomplish much together, Mouthpiece of Zitu, think you
not?"

"What mean you, Kalamita of Zollaria, you magnet of the flesh?"

She laughed--laughed with a note of exultation in the sound. "Why think
you Kalamita saved you from the fire?"

"Said she not the reason in words?"

The woman frowned. "Think you Jadgor of Tamarizia will pay the price for
you that Mazzer will ask?"

Croft knew that his heart leaped. He had been afraid--afraid--yet now he
recalled Jadgor as he knew him--Jadgor who had bowed his haughty crest on
the day just passed for Tamarizia, but never for himself. Turning the
thought in his brain he forgot to answer.

"You know he will not." Almost Kalamita hissed. "And if not, is death
preferable to life, power--love? Would prefer to lie in the ground, wise
man of Tamarizia, or in Kalamita's arms? Wouldst prefer to give of your
strength to Zollaria and her, or to the worms?

"Behold, we are alone. I can unbind you, and--Kalamita's couch is--wide."

"Aye, too wide, by Zitu!" suddenly Croft roared. "The need was too patent
in its making to have foreseen the fact that width would be required.
Sister of Bandhor, beautiful as the dream of soul in the realms of
Zitemku you may be, but--Jason of Tamarizia barters not the welfare of
his nation!"

"So!" Kalamita rose and stood above him. "So, then, we know your name at
last. Hark ye, Jason--for Kalamita's favor prouder heads than thine have
bended down in the dust. Nor is her favor a thing to be lightly brushed
aside. Wherefore and Jadgor pays not the price we ask, then the
Mouthpiece of Zitu dies."

A space of time dragged past and Croft had not replied.

Suddenly Kalamita was again beside him. "Or, perhaps," she said in a
softer fashion, "it is because of that maid of Aphur, of whom one has
told me--that Jason turns aside. If so, forget her--and remember only
that Kalamita also is a woman."

"Nay--by Zitu, and Azil and Ga!"

"By Bel." Once more Kalamita rose. A tremor shook her tightened figure
and quivered in her tones. "By Bel, who delights in slaughter, you shall
die by torture. Tested by fire shall you be, and staked out for the
insects to devour. The carrion birds of Mazzer shall pluck out your
beauty-blinded eyes. The beasts of the forest shall tear thy entrails
from thee for thy words to me." She turned and went swiftly toward the
flaplike door and flung it open. "Bandhor, O Bandhor!" she cried.

Her blue-stained brother appeared. They conferred together. Bandhor
turned away.

But only for a moment longer were Croft and the woman alone. Then came
Mazzerian soldiers, and lifting the trussed figure, bore it swiftly into
the night through Bandhor's tent and to another, smaller, unlighted as to
its interior, with naught for a floor save the grass-grown ground. And
there they flung him down.

But Jason smiled. He stretched out his limbs so far as his bonds would
let him and breathed a sigh of relief.

And after a long time, as it seemed to his troubled senses, all his
planning focused on Zud and Naia--dwindled down to those two words. Lying
here, bound, practically doomed to die, he could yet communicate with
them in the astral state. And swiftly as the thing was always
accomplished when he so desired it, he was bending over the high priest's
body, asleep in the Zitran pyramid.

"Zud," his spirit was calling. "The Mouthpiece of Zitu commands you. Come
forth."

And Zud appeared. "Aye, Jason of Zitu," he quavered. "Zud is here."

"List ye, priest of Zitu," Croft replied, and told him what had occurred.
"Wherefore give ear further to my words. Go to Lakkon, and bid him, in
Zitu's name, to send to Jadgor at Atla, advising him to hold out and seek
for delay until the aid from Himyra arrives. Let it be said to him that
Zollaria inspires all things which Mazzer requires. Let him know that
through the power of the spirit which is mine, I shall inspire Naia of
Aphur to cause Robur, his son, to come swiftly to Atla in person, to
direct the use of the weapons that together with myself he understands,
and that through you and Naia of Aphur, I shall keep him informed of all
that transpires while yet my body survives."

"And thou--thou?" Zud faltered in distraught fashion, clasping his
shadowy hands.

"I? I know not," said Jason. "My fortune is in Zitu's hands. To you I
give this mission. Say that you understand."

"Zud hears, and Zud obeys."

Croft left him. His work was finished. He sought Himyra and Robur's
palace, and Naia--his other self. And this part of his plan he felt would
be the hardest, since in order to make her comprehend fully he must tell
a painful truth--must confess that through his own daring was Jason at
last undone--that his body lay prisoner to Mazzer, condemned if what he
meant to attempt were accomplished, to what seemed inevitable death.

And suddenly, as he gained her chamber, Croft had the odd sensation that
he stood before a tomb. He moved swiftly toward her couch. In the dusk
her form lay stretched upon it. But--it was motionless, with no stirring
of the coverlet stretched above it, no evidence of breath. Pale as a
lovely image it lay before him, in the semblance of what might be death.

Fear, sheer, stark fear gripped Croft and held him through the span of a
startled instant. And then he knew the truth. Because as he stood there
it seemed to him that Naia of Aphur was calling--not from the form on the
couch, but from somewhere else. "Jason--Jason--O Jason, my beloved!" that
subtle cry rang out.

And it drew him. It compelled him. It made of his astral substance no
more than a straw swept up and off and about in an eddy of compelling
force. It was more like that ceaseless urge which had drawn him from the
Dog Star always while yet he dwelt on Earth.

It carried Croft out of the palace and across the Central Sea. It swept
him across Bithur, with its plains and night-wrapped woods. It drew him
above the camp of the Mazzerian army, and inside that tent where his body
lay stretched out upon the ground.

And then Croft understood--that Naia had accomplished for herself, what
heretofore had been by him induced. She had come to find him.

Then very softly, "Beloved," he let steal forth the soul call.

She heard. She lifted her head from where it had lain upon his breast.
She turned its wide eyes toward him, and saw him and rose swiftly toward
him, and into his embrace.

"Jason--I came to Atla, and could not find you. And I sought you--sought
you. What is the meaning of this?"

"The plane fell. I told you always there was danger," he explained
briefly. "I was taken prisoner by the Zollarian masters of the men of
Mazzer. I am held to ransom for a price."

"Zitu!" Naia panted. "And what else?"

"I went in the spirit to converse with Zud, and send him on a mission to
thy father. Through him I shall send word to Jadgor that the price must
be refused."

"Refused?" Naia drew back slightly. "But Jason--thy body--which I found
lying--here?"

"Belongs to thee, while yet it survives," Croft answered slowly, and went
on before she could find a reply. "Then went I to Himyra, and finding
your form stretched on its couch, seemed to hear you calling, and
returned to find you here. Listen, Naia, my beloved, you must find Robur
and speak to him for me. To Jadgor you must send him, explaining what has
befallen, telling him from me as the one Lakkon sent will tell him, that
when Robur shall arrive to take charge of the motors and the riflemen of
Aphur, they must strike, strike, strike until Bithur shall be freed. Also
to Robur you must say he shall call on Nodhur and Milidhur to arm so
quickly as they may, and send their men to reenforce and support Aphur.
So shall Tamarizia vanquish Mazzer and once more defeat those things
Zollaria plans."

"And--you ask me--to do this?" Naia faltered.

"Aye--for Tamarizia I ask it," Croft replied.

"But--you--you?" She glance toward the tight-bound body.

Croft sought to stay her questions. "Look not there, beloved. I am here."

"But--unless this price of Mazzer you mentioned--be paid?" She would not
be refused.

Croft drew her to him. His position was perhaps rather more peculiar than
that of any living man. The answer to what she had asked was death, and
he knew it. Once he had snapped the astral cord that bound him to a body,
but only after control of another had been gained. And that second body,
the one he had made his own on Palos when he forsook Earth because of the
woman whose vital substance now glowed and paled against him, was the one
which lay bound beside them on the ground. There was no other--the loss
of it meant to him what the loss of physical life must mean to all
men--nothing else. "If the price is not paid, it is easy enough to snap
the cord that binds my life within it, at the proper time," he said at
length.

"And," said Naia in a tone of horror, "you would ask me in taking your
message to Robur, in sending him to Jadgor, to consign our love to
death?"

"The price," said Croft in justification, "is very great. Much will
Mazzer ask--more than by Tamarizia can be paid for one man's life."

Swiftly the auric fires leaped up in Naia's slender figure. "Is there no
escape?"

"I know not," Croft made answer. "It is as Zitu wills. These Zollarians
with the men of Mazzer have stained themselves blue. Yet whom have I to
stain my body, were the stain within my grasp, or shave my hair and dye
it red in time to make the venture? This tent is under guard, and will
be, and the hands of my body are bound."

Naia considered. "And the price Mazzer will ask," she spoke slowly after
a time, "is large?"

"Aye, as large, I fear, as though the Zollarian war had been lost by
Tamarizia and Mazhur not regained."

"And if not paid--your body--dies--and mine."

"Thine?" Croft tightened the grip of his arms upon her. "What mean you,
maid of Aphur, by such words?"

"Aphur means what Aphur says," she returned. "Think you that when life
has left your body, Naia of Aphur, too, shall not lie dead? Did you not
swear to me by Zitu and Azil to return and claim me? And if that promise
remains unfulfilled, think you that Naia of Aphur will live?"

"Yet," Croft stammered, "if the welfare of Tamarizia demands the failure
of that promise--if not with honor can I return to Himyra in the body. If
your words, beloved, make doubly hard my purpose, when you shall have
left me and returned to carry my message to your cousin--"

"By Zitu--and by Zitu," Naia fired into desperate protest, "it shall not
be. Azil, Giver of Life! Shall these foul spawn of Zitemku keep you from
me? Nay, as I am a daughter of Ga, with your seal upon me, now Ga speaks
to me!

"Hark you, Jason, whom I love more than my own soul. This tent is guarded
as you have said, and a price is laid on Tamarizia for your returning.
Yet am I not a woman whom you have wakened for nothing, and my love is
not in vain. What price for a man who is dead?"

"By Zitu!" Croft caught her meaning. His glance turned toward the body on
the ground beside their feet.

And Naia nodded. "Aye--Gaya told me in speaking of those things you told
to Robur and to Zud, and now I know for myself that when the spirit is
without it, the body lies as dead. Wherefore were it possible for you to
remain as now you are for a space sufficient to deceive these men of
Mazzer into thinking that injured in your fall you perchance had
died--think you they would keep your body under guard or even near them,
lest it foul the air even like those rotting corpses which tainted it
with horror as I passed this night by Atla's walls?"

"No by Zitu--they would cast it forth in some other place," Croft answered
quickly. "Naia--Ga--priestess of life, you have said it. Together we
shall beat them yet."

"Aye, we shall beat them. Listen further," Naia said. "For a few suns you
shall appear to be alive, yet faint and not recovered from injury. To
Himyra shall I return and carry your message to Rob. When seven suns
beginning with the next are passed, then must you seem to die. Thus shall
they carry you forth. But the seven days shall be to gain time for what
you direct to be done. Hai, I am not daughter of Ga for nothing.
Beloved--give me your mouth. I must be gone."

Life! Life and this woman! There was a chance. Her wits had found it
where his had milled around. Croft took her once more closely into his
arms.

"Seek not to leave your body for one moment between now and the end of
the seventh sun," she cautioned, "lest one should note it and so at the
proper time entertain a doubt of your real death."

"No," he gave his promise. "I shall be merely as one who from one sun to
another fails."

Naia lifted her lips. And as once before in similar fashion, she yielded
them to him. For an instant it was as though their two beings blended,
intermingled, and then she had torn herself from him, divinely glowing.
"Zitu keep you, beloved," she whispered, and vanished from before his
eyes.



For the succeeding seven days Croft endured--simply endured
discomfort--the trussing up of his arms and feet at night in none too
gently fashion, the scant irregularity of poorly furnished meals, the
absence of aught save trampled grass to sleep upon, renewed attempts on
the part of Bandhor to force from him some intimation of Tamarizia's
plans, and the haughty, venomous hate that glared out of Kalamita's tawny
eyes.

But on the seventh day, as he lay brooding in his tent, close by the huge
skin headquarters tent of Bandhor, which reminded him more of some Tatar
chieftain's domicile than anything else, the door of his own tent was
drawn slightly to one side and a face appeared to send his heart leaping
into his breast.

Maia, Naia's own maid, was looking shrewdly into his starting eyes. And
as lost in a maze he lay staring at her, filled with a vast wonder at her
presence here in the heart of the Mazzerian camp, yet afraid to
speak--torn between a desire to learn the meaning of her presence and a
fear lest any sign of recognition should destroy whatever purpose that
presence might portent, she flung the flap entirely back and darted
inside.

"Thou canor of Tamarizia!" she cried in the voice of a termagent--a
shrew--and struck him with her right hand a smart blow. "Thou foul
offspring of Zitu fallen to the ground--thou devil who sent fire against
my people, whose own people have cast him off, die--like the canor thou
art!" And all the time she was shrieking she continued to buffet him with
blows, striking him with her bare hand, kicking him with her feet. "Die,
thou pale-faced fiend, whom Bel--greater than thy Zitu struck down and
hurled among us--die--die now!"

But Croft, under the storm of her words, her buffetings, made no movement
of resistance, lay limp and unresisting on the grass. Because even as she
struck him, as her one hand rose and fell above him, her other drew from
the narrow apron about her blue loins a little looped silver cross, and
showed it to him briefly and thrust it back, and between the anathema of
her lips they moved in almost soundless speaking. "Hupor--give ear to my
berating of thee closely. I come from one who loves thee greatly--to show
you the cross."

The cross ansata--the looped symbol of life--the little sign Zud had
placed in Naia's hands at their betrothal--the sign of immortal life
which came to men through women--Naia of Aphur was sending it by this
servant of hers, who loved her, to him! He closed his eyes and nodded
slightly in understanding as Maia continued to rave.

"Die--thou canor--die as Bandhor has decreed thou must, since Jadgor has
refused thy ransom! Die now--thou Tamarizian dog!"

She had told him to listen closely to her vituperations. Jadgor had done
as he advised, and Bandhor's captive had lost value. Wherefore he kept
his eyes closed, and seemingly died.

Footsteps! Croft's guard burst through the door. He seized Maia and flung
her to one side and stooped above the body with a face of terror. And
then he straightened and turned upon her. "By Bel, you have killed him!"
he stammered. "He has been ailing ever since he fell among us. Fool that
I was to listen to your plea to view him. May Bel send you our
commander's rage."

"That rage," Maia said, panting as it seemed from her exertions and
emotions, "seeing that he is of value no longer, should not be so
intense."

"Come!" The guard seized her by an arm and led her toward Bandhor's tent.

Croft went along, trailing the man and woman's steps. And once inside the
huge shelter of skins, the guard saluted sharply and hurled Maia before
the Zollarian noble, so that she sprawled her length on the ground.

"Behold, O Bandhor"--he made his report in a gruff bluster designed to
cover his own face as well as he could--"this woman who made her way by
stealth into Jason of Tamarizia's tent and struck him so that he died!"

"Hai!" Bandhor half rose, and sank back and narrowed his eyes. He
regarded Maia, who groveled before him, her body caught and held, half
raised, on stretching arms, her head lifted, gazing in to his startled
face with watchful eyes.

"How are you called?" he inquired.

"Maia," stammered the woman. "Child am I of a father and mother who have
lived among his people. All my life have I served them until Bel sent
Bandhor and my father's people to bring liberation. Then I slipped away
and made my way to thy army, with which I have stayed the past sun.
Wherefore, hearing that Bandhor had condemned this one to death, I
desired to see him and, seeing him, rage overcame me, and I threw myself
upon him. Mercy, O Bandhor, mighty commander of my people, for this which
I have done."

"Hai!" said Bandhor again, his lids contracting still further. "After
all, it is a small matter, though my sister will be annoyed. She had
planned a more lingering death for this insolent man. Yet to death was he
condemned, and it is finished. Say you that from the bondage of his
people you have come?"

"Aye, from Atla, lord."

"Atla! Now, by Bel!" Bandhor roared. "And what inside the penned-up city
do these white spawn plan?"

"They speak of resistance," Maia made answer, "as Bandhor knows. But
perchance he knows not that many men from Aphur have arrived, armed with
the chariots they call moturs, which run by fire, and breathe it forth as
death, and with the sticks that throw death unseen with noise and smoke,
unlike the flight of an arrow or spear. Ten thousand have reached Bithra,
and are advancing to the relief of Atla even now. More are said to be
journeying from Aphur across the Central Sea, and yet others from Nodhur
and Milidhur are to come."

"Hai!" For the third time Bandhor said it with a heavy frown. "This is of
importance. For the information your words contain, I give you
pardon--were those other of thy father's children in Tamarizia as
loyal--much might be wrought of ill among them were their caste of
servants to rise and kill and burn. Go!" He turned to the guard, whose
face had lightened. "Take men and bear forth this body, and cast it
beyond the camp. Or hold! I will view him myself." For the third time his
eyelids narrowed, and he rose.

Followed by Maia and the guard, he entered Croft's tent and bent over the
body on the ground. "Aye--his spirit has left him," he said as he
straightened from the inspection and swung about on his heel.

"Mighty Bandhor," Maya stayed him. "I may remain for a time in the camp?"

Bandhor eyed her. "Oh, aye," he said in careless fashion. "You are a
comely girl of your people. You should have small trouble in finding some
man to take you to his tent."

He turned away, and a moment later a brazen trumpet began sounding a
summoning blast. As Croft learned, this was a signal to Bandhor's
captains and advisers to assemble for a council with their chief.

Maia stole out with the arm of the guard about her, walking coyly at his
side. Quite plainly the fellow was inclined to take Bandhor's suggestion
about her to himself. Croft watched them vanish, and remained beside his
own body, still huddled on the grass.

And in the end he followed it--followed his own body when it was borne
outside the limits of the encampment and cast into a thicket of bushes,
where its disposition was watched by Maia, who accompanied the now openly
amorous guard and lingered beside the thicket with him after the other
soldiers had cast down their burden and gone.

"Let us remove its clothing," she suggested. "To waste it were a loss."

The guard assented.

Five minutes later, more than a little aghast, Croft found his material
tenement stretched stark upon the ground. Maia and her lover were moving
off. In her arms the girl bore his suit of soft, brown leather.

In a way now Croft became more and more disturbed. Vague fancies filled
his mind. Still--she had shown him the tiny cross from the apron about
her waist, and she had told him to die, as Naia had advised he should.
After all, she might have some definite reason beyond his present
knowledge for divesting his body of clothes. And he could do nothing
until nightfall. That being the case, and the night being several hours
removed, there was nothing to do but wait. Dead it might be in seeming,
yet Croft knew that lying thus in the open his body needed protection. In
the middle of the thicket he settled down beside it. It was rather odd,
he found himself thinking, to be sitting there keeping an invisible watch
of his own form.

Now and then, as the afternoon passed, he stole a glance at the camp.
There was bustle there, a moving and shifting of men. It came to him that
Bandhor, after his council, was preparing for another attack of Atla,
urged thereto by Maia's report concerning the approaching reinforcements
of weapons and men.

Night came at last. Purposely Croft waited until late before making his
venture at escape. And while he waited, there stole into the thicket a
dim shape, which approached his body and sank beside it on the ground.

It was Maia. More than a little surprised, Croft watched her. She carried
a bundle. She undid it. She moved higher beside his body and raised his
head, supporting it on her thighs. Then swiftly she began to shave it,
turning it to reach the back, and working rapidly on the sides. That
done, while comprehension flashed into Croft's mind, and with it renewed
confidence in this girl, as he recalled his words to Naia concerning some
such thing as this, she took a small box from her bundle and began
rubbing the scalp lock she had left upon his poll with a substance it
contained. After that she lifted a flask and removed a stopper. Working
rapidly, she began smearing the body with some dark fluid, spreading it
thinly upon the skin, rubbing it to as even a coating as she might with
rapid hands. And as she worked Croft's body lost its ivory whiteness and
became a dark-hued thing like her own. At the end she took a small cloth
from the articles she had brought with her and twisted it deftly about
his loins.

And as she finished and straightened herself from her labors, Croft,
sensing it time for his reviving, opened the eyes of the body over which
she had worked and spoke.

"Hai," said Maia, without any particular evidence of consternation. "It
is even so she said it would happen when I had finished. She said that
when I had shaved you, lord, and reddened your hair, and stained your
body, and put the loin-cloth upon it, you would reappear."

"She?" Croft questioned her quickly. "You mean Naia of Aphur, Maia?"

"Aye. Who else, Hupor Jason?" She rose and picked up her bundle. "Naia,
my mistress. These are your garments. Come, Hupor, till I lead you to
her. She lies near."



Chapter Seventeen


She lies near! "You mean?"

"That she lies hid some distance beyond the camp of thy enemies, Hupor.
Come."

"But--"

Almost with impatience Maia interrupted. "Seven suns from now she waked
from her slumber, Hupor, in a most strange mood. For the Hupor Robur she
sent me, and for long they spoke together, and after that she spoke with
me again. Bidding me place her in the garment she wears when she dares to
rise in the air, she took me with her to the great house where the thing
she rides is kept, and compelled me to enter it with her, so that my
spirit turned as weak as water when, with a great roaring, we leaped into
space."

"Zitu--you and she flew to Bithur?"

"Aye, Hupor--partly in the air like a bird, and partly on the water like
a boat--which, praise to Zitu, was calm, and with wonderful speed."

"But fuel--what is burned in the motor?" Jason questioned.

Maia shrugged. "Her lips, not mine, should tell you how, like a bird to
its mate, she came to seek thee, Hupor," she admonished. "Yet--were not
the great galleys already seeking to reach Bithur with men and weapons by
the Hupor's orders? And though he swore by Zitu and Azil she should not
undertake this madness, he did not refuse to his cousin that which would
spell her death. On the waves we rode beside the galleys when the thing
that makes the motor turn was required."

"My God!" Croft spoke not as a man of Tamarizia, but of Earth.

"On the night of the sun before this we came down in an open place in the
forest," Maia explained further. "There the great wings we rode on lie
hid. And some distance farther in this direction she awaits thee, Hupor.
Come."

"Aye," said Croft, and caught a great, a wondrous breath of realization.
"Aye, come." He started out of the thicket at a pace that made Maia gasp.

"Walk not so quickly, Hupor, and permit that I walk at thy side. Seen we
may be of many, and though thou are stained to the seeming of a man of
Mazzer, yet were it best that you seem also not as one in haste, but as a
man who strolls through the camp with a woman at his side."

"Aye." Croft nodded in understanding and slackened his stride.
"Aye--Maia--yet lead me to her as quickly as you can."

Their course led them after a time into the depths of the gloomy forest,
where the moons were blotted out or their light filtered in streaming
tatters through the trees. And there Croft spoke again to his companion.

"I failed to understand when you put it into the mind of the guard to
make way with my clothes."

Maia made a clicking sound suggestive of an almost impish amusement as
she answered. "But--since I was to paint your body, Hupor, it was easier
for me to bring the pigments wrapped inside them, when I slipped away
from him after he had drunk wine into which I had dropped a substance to
induce heavy slumber I had brought with me inside my girdle band. Indeed,
we three appear now no more than as other children of Mazzer. My
mistress, when we come upon her, will seem no other than myself."

"You mean you have stained her?"

"Aye, lord, from the roots of her golden hair to her graceful heels. For
two suns, as I have told you, has it been needful for her to lie in the
open while I made my way to the camp and performed my mission, and had
any come upon her--"

She turned aside and swept back a screen of branches. She plunged through
and came into a break in the forest close to the banks of a tiny stream
across a little glade. And there she pursed her lips and sent quivering
through the moonlight what seemed a nightbird's call.

It was answered. Maia repeated, and paused, and whistled again. Then
touching Croft on the arm, she urged him forth from the shadow until he
stood revealed in the rays of the Palosian moons.

And from the shadows beyond him another shape appeared. Croft saw, and
advanced to meet it, and found it Naia, veiled as she stood before him
from head to waist in the heavy cloud of her auburn-tinted hair.

And then she lay against him--her hands were clinging to him, her arms
were holding him fast.

"Jason, beloved," she panted, "you are safe--uninjured, alive!"

"Yes--thanks to you, beloved, and to Maia," Croft replied, and kissed
her.

"Thou"--Naia of Aphur flung up her head and turned to the girl of
Mazzer--"thou who this night have brought me more than life or anything
besides--thou shall never leave me--thou shall remain always with me--and
with him. My children you shall cradle in your arms--and if love comes to
you as to me and offspring, I swear it--to me they shall be as mine."

"My mistress," Maia faltered, bending her head before Naia.

"Nay--you are my sister," said Naia, smiling and took her by the hand.
"Yet--I am forgetting. Not yet are we free from danger. Thrice today have
men roamed through the forest while I hid me beneath the leaves. But thy
huge bird waits to bear us high above them. Come, beloved, come."

For an hour after that, his arm about her, they hurried on. And then once
more the moonlight filled all the bowl of a tree-ringed opening in the
forest, and struck dull gleams from the copper body of the waiting
airplane. Huge, impotent, in seeming, it squatted there, waiting their
touch to wake it; its interlacing struts and trusses making a
spider-webbed pattern in shadow on the ground.

Naia drew her ruddy tresses about her as they stepped into the forest
meadow.

"Put on your flying garment now, beloved," she prompted, "while Maia and
I find ours and put them on."

Five minutes later Croft lifted both women to their seats. Then as Naia
took her place at the control, he seized the blades of the propeller and
sent the engine round.

The plane swung with them like some monster bat beneath the skies. It
turned. It rushed off under Naia's guiding, its vanes all silvered now
like the top of the forest in the moonlight, bearing its burden of
renewed life and love.

Far, far away on the plain where Croft had lain captive, still winked the
light of fires. They came closer, closer, as the airplane ate through the
trackless distance--were beneath it--were left behind.

Around, in a monster circle--a descending spiral. Once more around. Again
and again in a vast, wide turning, sinking lower and lower down. The
lights on the Bith were closer. Closer the fire urns burned. Below was
the wide-flung reach of the street along the river, and straight above it
the airplane swung. The hum of the motor died, and the night wind sang in
a sinking whisper past it. It slipped down a long hill of air and sped
along the ground.

And as it stopped, as Croft lifted Naia from her seat, from the entrance
of Atla's palace there dashed a chariot drawn by gnuppas, their plumes
tossing, bearing down on the plane with flying feet. Straight as though
driven in a race, it approached and paused, with the gnuppas on their
haunches. Robur of Aphur flung aside its silklike curtains and sprung
down.

"By Zitu--and by Zitu, my friend--my brother--and thou, Naia, my cousin,
thou chosen of all Zitu's children!" he cried, all poise or thought of
dignity vanishing as he caught them in his arms.

They entered the carriage and reclined upon the padded cushions, the
princess commanding Maia to take a place at her side. They were driven to
the palace, and there Croft was led to a room. And there attendants
labored until the last of the blue pigment vanished, and his skin merged
from beneath it a most surprising pink from the necessary force they
used. As for the ruddy scalp lock, he had it shaved off as the simplest
way of settling the matter regarding his hair. He was glowing, both
literally and with the thoughts induced by the manner of his escape and
return, when Robur appeared.

Bidding the servants fetch his customary garments, leg-cases, tunic,
helmet, and metal cuirass, he dismissed them and proceeded to clothe
himself.

"Hai!" Robur eyed him. "As once before I remarked, thou art 'a sight.'
And a sight thou art for more than the eyes of a maid, Jason, my friend.
In Zitu's name, what chanced to the airplane that thy plans went wrong?
In Atla there was well-nigh a panic when you failed of your return."

Croft explained, and Robur nodded.

"Aye, it was the same with the motors when they 'stalled,' and they knew
not how to start them. And as you have explained to me, there is small
time to work upon a motor in the air. My father, however, swore it was a
judgment of Zitu against him for his stand of the past few Zitrans toward
thee. Then came Zud and Lakkon with your message, and word that fresh men
and weapons were assured to lighten his cares."

"And the dynamo, Rob?"

"Lies on a galley even now beside the quays," Robur replied. "What of it,
Jason? You have a plan?"

"Yes." Croft nodded as he laid a hand on his sword. "A plan to show that
its wires as well as light, may build a cordon about Atla's walls, to
touch which shall mean death. Then let Mazzer's Zollarian-commanded horde
attack."

"Aye--say you so." Robur gained his feet. "Two thousand riflemen are with
me. Four times their number come from Bithra, and should arrive tomorrow.
Nodhur and Milidhur will send us others. Also, there are the
motors--twelve, all numbered--and the remaining airplanes, with men who
know how to fly them to some extent. Aye, let Mazzer and her Zollarian
leaders attack. But if you are ready, come. I was sent to bid you to a
feast."

"A feast?" Croft eyed him sharply.

And Robur smiled. "Aye, Naia of Aphur acts hostess tonight to her lord."

Yet even so, Croft did not understand as he followed his friend to a
small apartment where a table was spread, and found Medai of Bithur,
Jadgor, Lakkon, Zud, and Naia, already reclining on the couches ranged
about the board. Nor did he consider greatly, after he had gripped the
hand of each man present and looked into old Zud's eyes with a glance of
mutual understanding, and taken the place at Naia's side she indicated by
a gesture of her hand.

She was in white--all save the golden fabric of her girdle where against
the glistening background the seal of Azil blazed. Save only for that
spot of color, white as the robe of a vestal, her garment showed. White
even were the sandals and leg-cases on her feet and tapering calves--of
white leather as thin and soft as kid. White, too, were the stately
plumes above her hair, once more a shimmer of gold. And her lips were
scarlet as a poppy, and her eyes twin lakes of pansy purple, and softly
pink, as the plush of innocence itself, her warm skin glowed.

Wherefore Croft was content to put by all consideration to eat; to drink
of the wine before him with his lips, of Naia with his eyes; listen to
the congratulations of the others stretched about the tables, while the
harps of musicians hidden somewhere out of sight were softly played.

Nor did he dream that anything beyond the celebration of their safe
return was toward, until old Zud, rising, signaled them to rise.

So that, all uncomprehending, he obeyed and rose, and giving Naia his
hand, assisted her to her feet, and stood in silence waiting for the
priest to speak; becoming aware as he did so that the others had also
risen and were standing with their eyes on Naia and himself.

"Children of Zitu, I give ye to one another. May he send his blessings
upon you, as I his priest give mine."

So spake Zud of Zitra, High Priest of all Tamarizia, than whose words was
no higher priestly voice.

And Naia, reaching down, unpinned the seal of Azil, and placed the
gleaming jewel in his palm.

"O Jason, Jason," she stayed his halting question, "think you not that in
our case custom may be set aside? See you not that so I compelled Zud to
promise--before I flew above Atla's walls to find you--that if we
returned together, it should be so--tonight?"

And then Croft comprehended all the sweetness of her planning. And drew
her into his arms and held her--held her until it seemed that all else
faded away and there was naught in the world save their two selves.

"My bride," he said, "my--bride."



Chapter Eighteen


This is the story told me by the lips of the sorry wreck on the bed, the
spirit that looked out of its eyes--Croft's spirit, as I have every
reason to believe, since he so frankly admitted what he had done, and
because every detail of the narrative itself showed complete familiarity
with the events embraced in the story Croft in his own Earthly body had
told me before.

"And that's all--or practically all--Murray," he said at last with a sigh
and laid his cigar aside. "I've done a lot of things since then, and
Tamarizia bids fair to develop into a very up-to-date nation. Only I
needed information concerning a lot of things in regard to which I was
lacking. It was to gain this information I reversed my first experiment
in changing bodies. Will you help me to what I need?"

"I'll help you, of course," I told him, "but what about the Mazzerian
invasion?"

He gave me a glance, and the light in his eye was quietly amused.

"Lord, man, I was forgetting. To me it seemed that the moment in which I
knew Naia mine was the logical ending.

"Rob and I went to work the next day. We put about a thousand riflemen on
the walls. And then we went outside and set up a lot of posts about
twenty feet from the base of the walls. Ugh!--it was nasty work--with all
those rotting corpses under foot. But we got them up while the riflemen
kept the blue men back out of arrow range, and then we hitched one end of
our wire to an armed motor and pulled it about the walls. In the
meantime, however, we had to repulse an attack. On the second day Bandhor
sent about ten thousand Mazzerians against our defenses, and we rolled
them back considerably less in numbers than when they started, though I
must say they fought like devils, and for a while it was pretty warm
work.

"We had quite a time getting the wire strung, too, because they used to
slip in and cut it down as night, so that finally, while I was rigging up
a motor to run the dynamo and generate the current I meant to charge the
wire, we gave it up. Then, when the motor was properly harnessed, we took
a couple of cars and ran halfway around the walls each way between
daylight and dark, and hooked the two ends up. And that night, you can
take my word for it, the Mazzerians found trouble when they came up to
undo our work. All you had to do was to stand on top of the wall and
watch the flashes when those blue men hit the wire. Robur thought it was
about the best piece of work I had accomplished yet.

"By that time, however, the eight thousand from Bithra had come up, and
we began to get ready to stage our own attack. Murray, the present war
was just started when I went to Palos first. But at the time I defeated
Helmor, of Zollaria, these tanks I've been reading about in the papers
the past few days hadn't been thought of, let alone used, on Earth.
That's one instance in which Tamarizia beat this more advanced planet."

"It was a man of Earth who did it," I pointed out.

"Well--possibly, yes." Croft laughed.

"We sortied from Atla, with the motors in advance. Under a screen of
rifle fire from the walls, we moved them out of the gates and placed them
back of the wire, and filled them with men and grenades. And I picked two
men Naia had trained in flying better than I could have done it myself.
My wife is a born aviatrix--nothing less. She'll do things with a plane I
daren't attempt, and she'd licked two of the hangar crowd into mighty
decent shape. I took them, and we used three planes and about a ton of
bombs. Naia wanted to go along, but I wouldn't let her, but I know she
went up on the walls with Lakkon and watched.

"Rob led the motor squadron and I the planes. We gave Bandhor's army
everything at once. Jadgor had charge of the foot forces. And when
everything was ready the sortie began.

"The motors advanced straight over the wire in which the power was turned
off. I took my planes over the walls from the concourse along the Bith,
and hit the blue army first with a shower of bombs. I honestly think the
sight of the planes themselves shook them as much as anything else.

"And, of course, Robur made contact with his armored cars before they had
steadied themselves. They fought--oh, yes, they fought, but they were
beaten from the first. They tried to stall the motors and overturn them
as they had when Jadgor used them against their army first. But this time
they didn't stall, or not for long at a time--and what of the enemy
weren't shot by the men inside them either ran away or were crushed. One
did get stuck in the timber, and was in a pretty bad way until Robur
himself got to it and drove the Mazzerians about it off. On the whole,
however, they did splendidly, and tore some awful gaps in Bandhor's line.

"The infantry, coming up to the attack behind them, finished the work.
Inside thirty minutes there wasn't any real army before us so much as the
fragments of an army fighting where they fought at all, in small,
disorganized bands. Thousands ran away in bodies. Hundreds hid in the
woods. The riflemen mopped them up in drives. In a surprisingly short
time Rob broke clear through the line with three of the motors, and got
out of the fringe of forest between Atla and that great plain where
Bandhor had his tent. And as luck would have it, he was just in time.
Bandhor was about the leave. Rob"--the eyes of the man on the bed
twinkled--"suggested in a somewhat urgent fashion that he remain--and his
sister with him. I mustn't forget Kalamita at the last. He stuck both of
them into one of the motors under guard and sent them straight back
inside Atla's walls, and after that, what with the planes above them and
the two remaining motors--Rob's own and the other--the Mazzerian army met
a warm reception when it streamed out of the forest upon that plain. The
end came right there. Mazzer's organized force broke up. It quit cold and
ran. For a week we were hazing them in small bands out of Bithur, but
they never stiffened up enough to offer a real fight again."

"And what about Bandhor and his sister?" I inquired.

Croft smiled. "I have every reason to think they were surprised to find
me alive. I know Bandhor swore when we met the first time, and Kalamita
turned a bit whiter than I had ever seen her before. We held them,
Murray. Zollaria found out two could play at the same ransom game. Only
Zollaria paid--a million sesterons, which, you may appreciate, is
equivalent to about a million pounds. I hardly think she'll care to try
conclusions with Tamarizia very soon again."

"And since then you've gone on introducing innovations, I suppose?" I
said.

He nodded. "Yes. Naia and I went to Lakkon's mountain house. He gave it
to us for our own. There were a lot of associations about it, and I was
glad to accept it for a dwelling. As I told you, Tamarizia bids fair to
come up to date. We're printing papers in Himyra and Zitra now,
my friend. We've established a system of free schools. Now I'm
after more rapid means of communications mainly--we've a sort of
telephone--short-distance lines which I want to improve, and I want to
establish telegraph and wireless. Astral communication may do between
harmonized minds, but it's too much to expect to educate a people into
anything like that.

"Also, I want to improve the medical caste. Oh, I've done a lot, but I
want to do a million things yet. So I talked it over with Naia, and we
decided that I should come back--reverse the experiment. We've been back
in the astral condition, of course, more than once. I've brought her with
me--shown her Earth. She understands--and she's waiting for my success in
this matter even now, up there in the mountains where I told her I loved
her first. And see here--it may be that some attendant will tell you I'm
pretty sound asleep almost any night. If I take the notion I'm apt to
slip up to tell her how things are going along. So--if that happens,
don't let it fuss you--though, with your understanding, I don't suppose
it would. Anyway, I'll promise you now to give you warning when the work
I came back for is done."

"And you're happy?" I questioned.

"Happy?" He gave me a strange glance. "Man the word's inadequate."

I helped him. Of course I helped him. I did everything within my power to
furnish him with the information he required. A month went by, and two,
and nearly every night of that time we spent at least an hour in
confidential talk.

And then, one night, he caught me by the hand and looked into my eyes and
gripped my fingers hard. "I'm going, Murray," he said, smiling. "I've got
what I came for, I fancy--so don't be surprised. And see here--Naia knows
all about you. I've told her, and when I speak to her first in the flesh
on Palos, I'm going to tell her how much you've contributed to the
success of this undertaking. And if ever you give us a thought, you can
feel that there's a woman up here on another star whose heart holds a
warm spot for you--the one man on Earth who knows our story--big
enough--broad enough to refuse to balk at the truth."

I returned his gripping pressure, more than a little affected by his
words. "Naia of Aphur is as real to me as I am myself," I replied. "And
hang it, man--I--I wish I was up there with you. I'd like to be your
physician."

"Man," he said, "Man, I could love you for that," and wrung my hand
again.


It was midnight when the night superintendent called and told me No. 27
had died.



THE END



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