THE SLAYER OF SOULS
On the wall hung a map of Mongolia,
that indefinite region a million and a half square miles in area, vast
sections of which have never been explored.
Turkestan and China border it on the south, and Tibet almost touches it,
Even in the twelfth century, when the wild Mongols broke loose and nearly
overran the world, the Tibet infantry under Genghis, the Tchortcha horsemen
drafted out of Black China, and a great cloud of Mongol cavalry under the
Prince of the Vanguard commanding half a hundred Hezars, never penetrated
that grisly and unknown waste. The "Eight Towers of the Assassins"
guarded it--still guard it, possibly.
The vice-regent of Erlik, Prince of Darkness, dwelt within this unknown
land. And dwells there still, perhaps.
In front of this wall-map stood Tressa Norne.
Behind her, facing the map, four men were seated--three of them under thirty.
These three were volunteers in the service of the United States Government--men
of independent means, of position, who had volunteered for military duty
at the outbreak of the great war. However, they had been assigned
by the Government to a very different sort of duty no less exciting than
service on the fighting line, but far less conspicuous, for they had been
drafted into the United States Department of Justice.
The names of these three were Victor Cleves, a professor of ornithology
at Harvard University before the war; Alexander Selden, junior partner
in the banking firm of Milwyn, Selden, and Co., and James Benton, a New
The fourth man's name was John Recklow. He might have been over fifty,
or under. He was well-built, in a square, athletic way, clear-skinned
and ruddy, grey-eyed, quiet in voice and manner. His hair and moustache
had turned silvery. He had been employed by the Government for many
years. He seemed to be enormously interested in what Miss Norne was
Also he was the only man who interrupted her narrative to ask questions.
And his questions revealed a knowledge which was making the girl more sensitive
and uneasy every moment.
Finally, when she spoke of the Scarlet Desert, he asked if the Scarlet
Lake were there and if the Xin was still supposed to inhabit its vermilion
depths. And at that she turned and looked at him, her forefinger
still resting on the map.
"Where have you ever heard of the Scarlet Lake and the Xin" she asked as
Recklow said quietly that as a boy he had served under Gordon and Sir Robert.
"If, as a boy, you served under Chinese Gordon, you already know much of
what I have told you, Mr. Recklow. Is it not true?" she demanded
"That makes no difference," he replied with a smile. "It is all very
new to these three young gentlemen. And as for myself, I am checking
up what you say and comparing it with what I heard many, many years ago
when my comrade Barres and I were in Yian."
"Did you really know Sir Robert Hart?"
"Then why do you not explain to these gentlemen?"
"Dear child," he interrupted gently, "what did Chinese Gordon or Sir Robert
Hart, or even my comrade Barres, or I myself know about occult Asia in
comparison to what you know---a girl who has actually served the mysteries
of Erlik for four amazing year!"
She paled a trifle, come slowly across the room to where Recklow was seated,
laid a timid hand on his sleeve.
"Do you believe there are sorcerers in Asia?" she asked with that child-like
directness which her wonderful blue eyes corroborated.
Recklow remained silent.
"Because," she went on, "if, in your heart, you do not believe this to
be an accursed fact, then what I have to say will mean nothing to any of
Recklow touched his short, silvery moustache hesitating. Then:
"The worship of Erlik is devil worship," he said. "Also I am entirely
prepared to believe that there are, among the Yezidees, adepts who employ
scientific weapons against civilisation--who have probably obtained a rather
terrifying knowledge of psychic laws which they use scientifically, and
which to ordinary, God-fearing folk appear to be the black magic of sorcerers."
Cleves said: "The employment by the huns of poison gases and long-range
cannon is a parallel case. Before the war we could not believe in
the possibility of a cannon that threw shells a distance of seventy
The girl still addressed herself to Recklow: "Then you do not believe there
are real sorcerers in Asia, Mr. Recklow?"
"Not sorcerers with supernatural powers for evil. Only degenerate
human beings who, somehow, have managed to tap invisible psychic currents,
and have learned how to use terrific forces about which, so far,
we know practically nothing."
She spoke again in the same uneasy voice: "Then you do not believe that
either God or Satan is involved?"
"No," he replied smilingly, "and you must not so believe."
"Nor the--the destruction of human souls." she persisted; "you do not believe
it is being accomplished to-day?"
"Not in the slightest, dear young lady," he said cheerfully.
"Do you not believe that to have been instructed in such unlawful knowledge
is damning? Do you not believe that ability to employ unknown forces
is forbidden of God, and that to disobey His law means death to the soul?"
"That it is the price one pays to Satan for occult power over people's
minds?" she insisted.
"Hypnotic suggestion is not one of the cardinal sins," explained Recklow,
still smiling--"unless wickedly employed. The Yezidee priesthood
is a band of so-called sorcerers only because of their wicked employment
of whatever hypnotic and psychic knowledge they may have obtained.
"There was nothing intrinsically wicked in the huns' discovery of phosgene.
But the use they made of it made devils out of them. My ability to
manufacture phosgene gas is no crime. But if I manufacture it
and use it to poison innocent
human beings, then, in that sense, I am, perhaps, a sort of modern sorcerer."
Tressa Norne turned paler:
"I had better tell you that I have used--forbidden knowledge--which the
Yezidees taught me in the temple of Erlik."
"Used it how?" demanded Cleves.
"To--to earn a living. . . . And once or twice to defend myself."
There was the slightest scepticism in Recklow's bland smile. "You
did quite right, Miss Norne."
She had become very white now. She stood beside Recklow, her back
toward the suspended map, and looked in a scared sort of way from one to
the other of the men seated before her, turning finally to Cleves, and
coming toward him.
"I--I once killed a man," she said with a catch in her breath.
Cleves reddened with astonishment. "Why did you do that?" he asked.
"He was already on his way to kill me in bed."
"You were perfectly right," remarked Recklow coolly.
"I don't know . . . I was in bed. . . . And then, on the edge on sleep,
I felt his mind groping to get hold of mine--feeling about in the darkness
to get hold of my brain and seize it and paralyse it."
All colour had left her face. Cleves gripped the arm of his chair
and watched her intently.
"I--I had only a moment's mental freedom," she went on in a ghost of a
voice. "I was just able to rouse myself, fight off those murderous
brain-fingers--let loose a clear mental ray. . . . And the, O god!
I saw him in his room with his Kalmuck knife--saw him already on his way
to murder me--Gutchlug Khan, the Yezidee--looking about in his bedroom
for a shroud. . . . And when--when he reached for the bed to draw forth
a fine, white sheet for the shroud without which no Yezidee dares journey
deathward--then--then I became frightened. . . . And I killed him--I slew
him there in his hotel bedroom on the floor above mine!"
Selden moistened his lip: "That Oriental, Gutchlug, died from heart-failure
in a San Francisco hotel," he said. "I was there at the time."
"He died by the fangs of a little yellow snake," whispered the girl.
"There was no snake in his room," retorted Cleves.
"And not wound on his body," added Selden. "I attended the autopsy."
She said, faintly: "There was no snake, and not wound, as you say. . .
. Yet Gutchlug died of both there in his bedroom. . . . And before he died
he heard his soul bidding him farewell; and he saw the death-adder coiled
in the sheet he clutched--saw the thing strike him again and again--saw
and felt the tiny wounds on his left hand; felt the fangs pricking deep,
deep into the veins; died of it there within the minute--died of the swiftest
poison known. And yet---?"
She turned her dead-white face to Cleves--"And yet there was no snake there!
. . . And never had been. . . . And so I--I ask you, gentlemen, if
souls do not die when minds learn to fight death with death--and
deal it so swiftly, so silently,
while one's body lies, unstirring on a bed--in a locked room on the floor
She swayed a little, put out one hand rather blindly.
Recklow rose and passed a muscular arm around her; Cleves, beside her,
held her left hand, crushed it, without intention, until she opened her
eyes with a cry of pain.
"Are you all right?" asked Recklow bluntly.
"Yes." She turned and looked at Cleves and he caressed her bruised
hand as though dazed.
"Tell me," she said to Cleves--"you who know--know more about my mind than
anybody living---?" a painful colour surged into her face--but she went
on steadily, forcing herself to meet his gaze: "tell me, Mr. Cleves--do
you still believe that nothing can really destroy my soul? And that
it shall yet win through to safety?"
He said: "Your soul is in God's keeping, and always shall be. . . . And
if the Yezidees have made you believe otherwise, they lie."
Recklow added in a slow, perplexed way: "I have no personal knowledge of
psychic power. I am not psychic, not susceptible. But if you
actually possess such ability, Miss Norne, and if you have employed such
knowledge to defend your life, then you have done absolutely right."
"No guilt touches you," added Selden with an involuntary shiver, "if by
hypnosis or psychic ability you really did put an end to that would-be
Selden said: "If Gutchlug died by the fangs of a yellow death-adder which
existed only in his own mind, and if you actually had anything to do with
it you acted purely in self-defence."
"You did your full duty," added Benton--"but--good God!--is seems incredible
that such power can actually be available in the world!"
Recklow spoke again in his pleasant, undisturbed voice: "Go back to the
map, Miss Norne, and tell us a little more about this rather terrifying
thing which you believe menaces the civilised world with destruction."
Tressa Norne laid her slim finger on the map. Her voice had become
steady. She said:
"The devil-worship, of which one of the modern developments is Bolshevism,
and another the terrorism of the hun, began in Asia long before Christ's
advent: At least so it is taught us in the temple of Erlik.
"It has always existed, its aim always has been the annihilation of good
and the elevation of evil; the subjection of right by might, and the worldwide
triumph of wrong.
"Perhaps it is as old as the first battle between God and Satan.
I have wondered about it, sometimes. There in the dusk of the temple
when the Eight Assassins came--the eight Sheiks-el-Djebel, all in white--chanting
the Takase of Sabbah--always that dirge when they came and spread their
eight white shrouds on the temple steps---?"
Her voice caught; she waited to recover her composure. Then went
"The ambition of Genghis was to conquer the world by force of arms.
It was merely of physical subjection that he dreamed. But the Slayer
"Who?" asked Recklow sharply.
"The Slayer of Souls--Erlik's vice-regent on earth--Hassan Sabbah.
The Old Man of the Mountain. It is of him I am speaking," exclaimed
Tressa Norne--with quiet resolution. "Genghis sought only physical
conquest of man; the Yezidee's ambition is more awful, for he is attempting
to surprise and seize the very minds of men!"
There was a dead silence. Tressa looked palely upon the four.
"The Yezidees--who you tell me are not sorcerers--are using power--which
you tell me is not magic--accursed by God--to waylay, capture, enslave,
and destroy the minds and souls of mankind.
"It may be that what they employ is hypnotic ability and psychic power
and can be, some day, explained on a scientific basis when we learn more
about the occult laws which govern these phenomena.
"But could anything render the threat less awful? For there have
existed for centuries--perhaps always--a sect of Satanists determined upon
the destruction of everything that is pure and holy and good on earth;
and they are resolved to substitute for righteousness the dreadful reign
"In the beginning there were comparatively few of these human demons
Gradually, through the eras, they have increased. In the twelfth
century there were fifty thousand of the Sect of Assassins.
"Beside the castle of the Slayer of Souls on Mount Alamout---?" she laid
her finger on the map--"eight other towers were erected for the Eight Chief
Assassins, called Sheiks-el-Djebel.
"In the temple we were taught where these eight towers stood." She
picked up a pencil, and on eight blank spaces of unexplored and unmapped
Mongolia she made eight crosses. Then she turned to the men behind
"It was taught to us in the temple that from these eight foci of infection
the disease of evil had been spreading throughout the world; from these
eight towers have gone forth every year the emissaries of evil--perverted
missionaries--to spread the poisonous propaganda, to teach it, to tamper
stealthily with the minds of men, dominate them, pervert them, instruct
them in the creed of the Assassin of Souls.
"All over the world are people, already contaminated, whose minds are already
enslaved and poisoned, and who are infecting the still healthy brains of
others--stealthily possessing themselves of the minds of mankind--teaching
them evil, inviting them to mock the precepts of Christ.
"Of such lost minds are the degraded brains of the Germans--the pastors
and philosophers who teach that might is right.
"Of such crippled minds are the Bolsheviki, poisoned long, long ago by
close contact with Asia which, before that, had infected and enslaved the
minds of the ruling classes with ferocious philosophy.
"Of such minds are all anarchists of every shade and stripe--all terrorists,
all disciples of violence,--and murderously envious, the slothful slinking
brotherhood which prowls though the world taking every opportunity to set
it afire; those mentally dulled by reason of excesses; those weak intellects
become unsound through futile gabble,--parlour socialists, amateur revolutionists,
theoretical incapables excited by discussion fit only for healthy minds."
She left the map and came over to where the four men were seated terribly
intent upon her every word.
"In the temple of Erlik, where my girlhood was passed after the murder
of my parents, I learned what I am repeating to you," she said.
"I learned this, also, that the Eight Towers still exist--still stand to-day,--at
least theoretically--and that from the Eight Towers pours forth across
the world a stream of poison.
"I was told that, to every country, eight Yezidees were allotted--eight
sorcerers--or adepts in scientific psychology if you prefer it--whose mission
is to teach the gospel of hell and gradually but surely to win the minds
of men to the service of the Slayer of Souls.
"That is what was taught us in the temple. We were educated in the
development of occult powers--for it seems all human beings possess this
psychic power latent within them--only few, even when instructed, acquire
any ability to control and use this force. . . .
"I-I learned--rapidly. I even thought, sometimes, that the Yezidees
were beginning to be a little afraid of me,--even the Hassani priests.
. . . And the Sheiks-el-Djebel, spreading their shrouds on the temple steps,
looked at me with unquiet eyes, where I stood like a corpse amid the incense
She passed her fingers over her eyelids, then framed her face between both
hands for a moment's thought lost in tragic retrospection.
"Kai!" she whispered dreamily as though to herself--"what Erlik awoke within
my body that was asleep, God knows, but it was as though a twin comrade
arose within me and looked out through my eyes upon a world which never
before had been visible."
Utter silence reigned in the room: Cleves's breathing seemed almost painful
to him so intently was he listening and watching this girl; Benton's hands
whitened with his grip on the chair-arms; Selden, tense,
absorbed, kept his keen gaze
of a business man fastened on her face. Recklow slowly caressed the
cold bowl of his pipe with both thumbs.
Tressa Norne's strange and remote eyes subtly altered, and she lifted her
head and looked calmly at the men before her.
"I think that there is nothing more for me to add," she said. "The
Red Spectre of Anarchy, called Bolshevism at present, threatens our country.
Our Government is now awake to this menace and the Secret Service is moving
"Great damage already had been done to the minds of many people in this
Republic; poison has spread; is spreading. The Eight Towers still
stand. The Eight Assassins are in America.
"But these eight Assassins know me to be their enemy. . . . They will surely
attempt to kill me. . . . I don't believe I can avoid--death--very long.
. . . But I want to serve my country and--and mankind."
"They'll have to get me first," said Cleves, bluntly. "I shall not permit
you out of my sight."
Recklow said in a musing voice: "And these eight gentlemen, who are very
likely to hurt us, also, are the first people we ought to hunt."
"To get them," added Selden, "we ought to choke the stream at its source."
"To find out who they are is what is going to worry us," added Benton.
Cleves had stood holding a chair for Tressa Norne. Finally she noticed
it and seated herself as though tired.
"Is Sanang one of these eight?" he asked her. The girl turned and
looked up at him, and he saw the flush mounting in her face.
"Sometimes," she said steadily, "I have almost believed he was Erlik's
own vice-regent on earth--the Slayer of Souls himself."
Benton and Selden had gone. Recklow left a little later. Cleves
accompanied him out to the landing.
"Are you going to keep Miss Norne here with you for the present?" inquired
the older man.
"Yes. I dare not let her out of my sight, Recklow. What else
can I do?"
"I don't know. Is she prepared for the consequences?"
"I can get a housekeeper."
"That only makes it look worse."
Cleves reddened. "Well, do you want to find her in some hotel or
apartment with her throat cut?"
"No," replied Recklow, gently, "I do not."
"Then what else is there to do but keep her here in my own apartment and
never let her out of my sight until we can find and lock up the eight gentlemen
who are undoubtedly bent on murdering her?"
"Isn't there some woman in the Service who could help out? I could
"I tell you I can't trust Tressa Norne to anybody except myself," insisted
Cleves. "I got her into this; I am responsible if she is murdered;
I dare not entrust her safety to anybody else. And, Recklow, it's
a ghastly responsibility for a man to induce a young girl to face death,
even in the service of her country."
"If she remains her alone with you she'll face social destruction," remarked
Cleves was silent for a moment, then he burst out: "Well, what am I to
do? What is there left for me to do except to watch over her and
see her through this devilish business? What other way have I to
protect her, Recklow?"
"You could offer her the protection of your name." suggested the other,
"What? You mean--marry her?"
"Well, nobody else would be inclined to, Cleves, if it ever becomes known
she has lived here quite alone with you."
Cleves stared at the elder man.
"This is nonsense," he said in a harsh voice. "That young girl doesn't
want to marry anybody. Neither do I. She doesn't wish to have
her throat cut, that's all. And I'm determined she shan't."
"There are stealthier assassins, Cleves,--the slayers of reputations.
It goes badly with their victim. It does indeed."
"Well, hang it, what do you think I ought to do?"
"I think you ought to marry her if you're going to keep her here."
"Suppose she doesn't mind the unconventionality of it?"
"All woman mind. No woman, at heart, is unconventional, Cleves."
"She--she seems to agree with me that she ought to stay here. . . . Besides,
she has no money, no relatives, no friends in America---?"
"All the more tragic. If you really believe it to be your duty to
keep her here where you can look after her bodily safety, then the other
obligation is still heavier. And there may come a day when Miss Norne
will wish that you had been less conscientious concerning the safety of
her pretty throat. . . . For the knife of the Yezidee is swifter and less
cruel than the tongue that slays with a smile. . . . And this young girl
has many years to live, after this business of Bolshevism is dead and forgotten
in our Republic."
"You think I might dare try to find a room somewhere else for her and let
her take her chances? Do you?"
"It's your affair."
"I know--hang it! I know it's my affair. I've unintentionally
made it so. But can't you tell me what I ought to do?"
"What would you do?"
"Don't ask me," returned Recklow, sharply. "If you're not man enough
to come to a decision you may turn her over to me."
Cleves flushed brightly. "Do you think you are old enough to take
my job and avoid scandal?"
Recklow's cold eyes rested on him: "If you like," he said, "I'll assume
your various kinds of personal responsibility toward Miss Norne."
Cleves's visage burned. "I'll shoulder my own burdens," he retorted.
"Sure. I knew you would." And Recklow smiled and held out his
hand. Cleves took it without cordiality. Standing so, Recklow,
still smiling, said: "What a rotten deal that child has had--is having.
Her father and mother were fine people. Did you ever hear of Dr.
"She mentioned him once."
"They were up-State people of most excellent antecedents and no money.
"Dr. Norne was our Vice-Consul at Yarkand in the province of Sin Kiang.
All he had was his salary, and he lost that and his post when the administration
changed. Then he went into the spice trade.
"Some Jew syndicate here sent him up the Yarkand River to see what could
be done about jade and gold concessions. He was on that business
when the tragedy happened. The Kalmucks and Khirghiz were responsible,
under Yezidee instigation. And there you are:--and here is his child,
Cleves--back, by some miracle, from that flowering hell called Yian, believing
in her heart that she really lost her soul there in the temple. And
now, here in her own native land, she is exposed to actual and hourly danger
of assassination. . . . Poor kid! . . . Did you ever hear of a rottener
Their hands had remained clasped while Recklow was speaking. He spoke
again, clearly, amiably:
"To lay down one's life for a friend is fine. I'm not sure that it's
finer to offer one's honour in behalf of a girl whose honour is at stake."
After a moment Cleves's grip tightened.
"All right," he said.
Recklow went downstairs.