List Of Contents | Contents of The Land of the Changing Sun
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triumphal arches had been thrown down. The fragments of statues
lay here and there, and the bodies of human beings filled the
basins of broken fountains.

"It is not the sun," explained Bernardino; "but the invention my
father spoke of. He is doing it to calm them."

Thorndyke made no answer. He stood as if transfixed, gazing at the
horizon. The rose-light had spread over a third of the sky when
gradually there appeared in its centre a bright circle of yellow
light. The yellow light faded, leaving a perfect picture of the
throne of the king; and as the now silent masses looked at the
picture, a curtain behind the throne parted and the king himself
appeared. He advanced and sat on the throne, and turned a calm
face towards his subjects.

"Wonderful!"ejaculated Bernardino, and her face was full of hope.
"See what he will do!"

"Where is the picture?" asked Thorndyke; "can it be seen by all
of--of the people?"

"Yes, by all Alpha, for it is on the sky."

Thorndyke said nothing further, for the king had stood up, and
with hands out-stretched was bowing. Above the circle of light,
as if cut out of the solid blackness, in flaming letters stood
the word,


And there was silence. Even the lips of the wounded men closed
as the king began to speak. The sound of his voice seemed as far
away as the stars, and to permeate all space:--

"All danger is over. Tidings from the west state that the sun is
setting. No harm has come to it. It will rise in the morning, and
the moon and stars will be out in a few hours. Let the dead be
removed, the wounded cared for, and everything be repaired. This
is my will."

That was all. The king bowed sedately and retired from the throne,
and the circle and pink glow faded from the black sky. The
stillness was unbroken for a moment, then glad murmurings were
heard in all directions.

"They are lighting the palace," cried the princess. "See, down
there is the arcade leading to the rotunda."

"I am glad it is over," said Thorndyke.

She grasped his arm and impulsively looked into his face.
"But your friend, we have forgotten him, and done nothing
to save him, and now it is too late."

"We could not help it; we had to think of our own safety."

"I shall send for Captain Tradmos and try to devise some other
plan," she said, as they descended the stairs.

"We should not be seen together," she added, as they approached
the throne-room; "besides, you ought to go to your chambers. No
one is allowed to be out when the dead is being removed."

"Where is the dead taken?"

"Over the wall, to be burned in the internal fires," she
concluded, as she was leaving him.

He found everything in order in his rooms and he lay down and
tried to sleep, but he was too much excited over the happenings of
the day. Hours must have passed when his attention was drawn to a
bright light shining on the wall of his room. He went to a window
and looked out on the court. The light came from the rising moon.

Below lay the ruins of fallen columns, capitals, cornices and
statues. Figures in black cloaks and cowls were removing the dead
from the debris. With a fluttering sound something swooped down
past his window to the ground. It looked like a great bird,
carrying the car of a flying-machine. Thorndyke watched its
circular descent to the earth, and shuddered with horror as the
black figures filled the car with bodies and the gruesome machine
spread its wings and rose slowly till it was clear of the domes
and pinnacles of the palace, and then flew away westward.

Other machines came, and, one after another, received their
ghastly burdens and departed. In a short time all the dead was
removed, and hundreds of workmen came from the palace and began
repairing the fallen masonry.

Thorndyke went back to his couch and tried to sleep, but in vain.
Slowly the hours of night passed, and as the purple of dawn rose
in the east he dressed himself and went up on the roof. The moon
had gone down and the stars were fading from the sky. The dark
earth below showed no signs of life; but as the purple light
softened into gray he saw that the streets of the city
were filled with silent expectant people, all watching the
eastern sky. And, as the gray light flushed into rose, and the
rose began to scintillate with gold, they began to stir, and a
hum of joyful voices was heard. The promised day had come.

Chapter XV.

The sun was, indeed, slowing up. The two men peered out at the

"It would be unlucky for us if it should not come so near
to the earth as it did on the other side," whispered Branasko.

"I can hardly feel any motion to the thing at all," replied the
American. "Look! for some reason it is not so dark below. I
can see the rocks. Surely we have already passed over the wall."

"That's so," returned the Alphian. "Come; we must be quick and
watch our opportunity to land. I can't imagine where the light
comes from unless it be from the people waiting for the arrival
of the sun." Every instant the speed was lessening. Overhead the
cables were beginning to creak and groan, and, now and then, the
great globe swung perilously near some tall stony peak, or passed
under a mighty stalactite. Slower and slower it got till, when
within a few feet of the ground, it stopped its onward motion and
only swung back and forth like a pendulum.

"Quick," whispered Branasko, "we must get down while it is
swinging, no time to lose--not an instant!" And as the sun moved
backward, with his hand on the doorsill, he leaped to the earth.
Johnston followed him. They were not a moment too soon, for about
fifty yards away they saw a body of sixty or seventy men with
lights in their hands hastening toward them.

"Just in time," exulted Branasko, and he quickly drew Johnston
into a little cave in the face of a cliff. Crouching behind a
great rock, they saw and heard the men as they approached.

Some of them walked around the sun, and two, evidently in
authority, entered the door. The others were placing ladders
against the side of the sphere, when suddenly there was a loud
clattering in the interior, a whirling of wheels under the
platform above, and the surface of the sun burst into light.

The two refugees were momentarily blinded. Branasko had the
presence of mind to quickly draw his companion down close to the
earth behind the rock. "They could see us in the light," he

There was a joyous clamoring of voices among the men, and they
withdrew several yards to look at the sun. This drew them nearer
the hiding-place of the two refugees.

"Only an accident," said a voice; "it won't happen again."

Then one of them went into the sun and the lights died out. In a
moment the sun began to move. Slowly and majestically it swept
over the rocky earth, followed by the crowd, till it reached a
great hole and sank into it.

"Gone into the tunnel," said the Alphian, as the crowd disappeared
behind the cliff.

"What are we to do now?" asked Johnston. "We certainly can't go
through with the sun."

"Wait till the next trip," grimly replied Branasko.

The rumbling noise from the big hole gradually died away, and the
two men left their hiding-place.

"What is that?" asked Johnston. He pointed to the west, where a
red light shone against the towering cliffs.

"It must be the internal fires," answered Branasko, with a
noticeable shudder. "Let's go nearer; I have heard that there is a
point near here where one can look down into the Lake of Flame."

"The Lake of Flame!" echoed the American, "What is that?"
"It is where all of the dead of Alpha is cast by the black
'vultures of death.'"

Johnston said nothing, for it was difficult to keep up with the
Alphian, who was bounding over rocks and dangerous fissures toward
the red glow in the distance.

At every step the atmosphere got warmer, and they detected a
slight gaseous odor in the air. Finally, after an arduous tramp of
an hour, they climbed up a steep hill and looked sharply down into
a vast bubbling lake of molten matter more than a thousand yards
below. Branasko noticed a stone weighing several tons evenly
balanced on the verge of the great gulf, and pushed it with both
his hands. It rocked, broke loose from its slender hold on the
cliff and bounded out into the red space. Down it went, lessen-
ing as it sank till it became a mere black speck and then

"That's where the dead go," said Branasko gloomily.

Just then the American, happening to glance up, saw something like
a huge black bird with outspread wings circling about in the red
light over the pit. Branasko saw it, too, and his face paled and a
tremolo was in his voice when he spoke.

"It is one of the 'vultures of death;' don't stir; we won't be
seen if we remain where we are!" The strange machine sank lower
over the lake of fire, till, as if buoyed up on the hot air, with
faintly quivering wings, it paused. A man opened a door of the
black car and carelessly threw out the bodies of a woman and a

The bodies whirled over and over and disappeared in the pit, and
the man closed the door. The machine then rose and gracefully
winged its flight to the east. In a moment others came with their
grim burdens, and still others, till the mouth of the pit was
dark with them.

"Something has happened," whispered Branasko, "some great
calamity, for surely so many people do not die in Alpha in a
single day."

For an hour they watched the coming and going of the vultures,
till, finally the last one hovered over the lake of fire. Suddenly
the machine swerved so near to Branasko and Johnston that they
shrank close to the earth to keep from being seen. Something was
evidently wrong with the machine, for there was a wild look of
desperation on the driver's face as he tugged excitedly at the
pilot-wheel. But all his efforts only caused the air-ship to dart
irregularly from side to side, and, now and then, to strike the
rocks of the pit's mouth, to shoot up suddenly, or to sink
dangerously down toward the fire.

"He is losing control of it," whispered Branasko,"he does not know
what to do. See, he is trying to lighten the load, by kicking out
the body."

That was true, and, as the machine made a sudden plunge toward the
cliff a few yards to the left of the refugees, the dead body,
which the driver had managed to move to the door with his feet,
fell out and lodged upon the edge of the cliff instead of falling
into the fiery depths. The machine bounded up a few yards and
paused, now apparently under the control of its driver. The man
looked down hesitatingly at the corpse for a moment and then
lowered the machine to the sloping rock near where the body lay.
He alighted and cautiously crept down the steep incline to the
body. He raised it in his arms and was about to cast it from him
when his foot slipped, and with a cry of horror he fell with his
burden over the cliff's edge into the red abyss.

Johnston uttered an exclamation of horror, but Branasko was
unmoved. After a moment he rose, and carefully scanning the space
overhead, he crawled on hands and knees toward the machine.
Johnston heard him chuckling to himself and uttering spasmodic
laughs, and he watched him closely as he reached the machine. For
several minutes he seemed to be inspecting it critically, both
inside and out; then he stood away from it, a bold, black
silhouette on a background of flame, and motioned the American to
come to him.

Johnston promptly, but not without many misgivings, obeyed his
signal. "What are you up to?" asked he, as the Alphian assisted
him to rise from his hands and knees.

Branasko touched the machine and smiled. His face was shining with

"The question of our returning to Alpha is settled," he said


"We can go in this."

"Can you manage it?"

"Easily; that fellow must have been drunk; the machine is in good
order, I think."

"When do you propose to start?" and the American eyed the funeral-
car dubiously.

"The night is before us; we could not get a better time." As he
spoke he entered the car and laid his hand on the wheel. Johnston,
obeying his nod, followed, shuddering as he remarked the traces of
blood on the floor.

"All right!" Branasko turned the wheel slowly, and the wings
outside began to flap, and the car mounted into the air like a
startled bird and flew out quickly over the pit.

Branasko bit his lip, and Johnston heard him stifle an exclamation
of impatience. As for the American, he was at once thrilled and
fascinated by the awful sight below; he could now see beneath the
overhanging mouth of the pit, and look far down into a boundless
lake of molten matter that seemed as restless as an ocean in a

Then the air became so hot he could hardly breathe. He looked at
the Alphian in alarm. The latter was whirling the wheel first one
way and then another with a startled look of fear in his eyes, and
then Johnston noticed that the walls of the pit were rising about
them, and the black canopy overhead rapidly receding.

They were sinking down into the fire.

Almost wild with terror, the American sprang toward the wheel, but
Branasko pushed him away roughly.

"Stand back," he ordered gruffly. "It is the heat; let me alone!"

The American sank into his seat. The heat became more and more
intense. Both men were purple in the face, and the perspiration
was rolling from their bodies in streams. Down sank the machine.

"I can't manage it," said Branasko hoarsely, "we'd as well give
Just then Johnston noticed the mouth of a cave behind Branasko.

"Look," he cried, "can't we get into it?"

Branasko looked over his shoulder, and, as he saw the cave, he
uttered a glad cry. He quickly turned the wheel and drew out a
lever at his right. The machine obeyed instantly; it swerved round
suddenly and dived into the cave. The cool air soon revived them,
and Branasko had little trouble in bringing the car to a resting-
place on the rocky floor of the cave. Before them hung
impenetrable darkness, behind a curtain of red light.

"We are in a pretty pickle now," said Johnston despondently, as
they alighted from the car.

"Nothing to do but to make the best of it," sighed Branasko.

"Perhaps this cave may lead out into some place of safety."

Johnston's eyes had become somewhat accustomed to the gloom, and
he began to peer into the darkness.

"I see a light," he exclaimed; "it cannot be a reflection from
the fire in the pit, for it is whiter."

The Alphian gazed at it steadily for a moment, then he said
decidedly: "We must go and see what it is." Without another word
he started toward the white, star-like spot, sliding his hand over
the rocky wall, and springing over a fissure in the floor.

Gradually the light grew brighter, till, as they suddenly rounded
a cliff, a grand sight burst upon their view. They found
themselves in a vast dome-shaped cavern, thousands of yards in
diameter and height. And almost in the centre of the floor, from a
red and purple mound of cooling lava, leapt a white stream of
molten matter from the floor to the dome. And in the black dome,

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