I think that both of us simultaneously
cried out in mixed awe, wonder, terror, and disbelief in our own sense
as we finally cleared the pass and saw what lay beyond. Of course,
we must have had some natural theory in the back of our heads to steady
our faculties for the moment. Probably we thought of such things
as the grotesquely weathered stones of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado,
or the fantastically symmetrical wind-carved rocks of the Arizona desert.
Perhaps we even half thought the sight a miage like that we had seen the
morning before on first approaching those mountains of madness. We
must have had some such normal notions to fall back upon as our eyes swept
that limitless, tempest-scarred plateau and grasped the almost endless
labyrinth of colossal, regular, and geometrically eurythmic stone masses
which reared their crumbled and pitted crests above a glacial sheet not
more than forty or fifty feet deep at its thickest, and in places obviously
effect of the monstrous sight was indescribable, for some fiendish violation
of known natural law seemed certain at the outset. Here, on a hellishly
ancient table-land fully twenty thousand feet high, and in a climate deadly
to habitation since a prehuman age not less than five hundred thousand
years ago, there stretched nearly to the vision's limit a tangle of orderly
stone which only the desperation of mental self-defense could possibly
attribute to any but a conscious and artificial cause. We had previously
dismissed, so far as serious thought was concerned, any theory that the
cubes and ramparts of the mountainsides were other than natural in origin.
How could they be otherwise, when man himself could scarcely have been
differentiated from the great apes at the time when this region succumbed
to the present unbroken reign of glacial death?
now the sway of reason seemed irrefutably shaken, for this Cyclopean maze
of squared, curved, and angled blocks had features which cut off all comfortable
refuge. It was, very clearly, the blasphemous city of the mirage
in stark, objective, and ineluctable reality. That damnable portent
had had a material basis after all--there had been some horizontal stratum
of ice dust in the upper air, and this shocking stone survival had projected
its image across the mountains according to the simple laws of reflection.
Of course, the phantom had been twisted and exaggerated, and had contained
things which the real source did not contain; yet not, as we saw that real
source, we thought it even more hideous and menacing than its distant image.
Only the incredible, unhuman massiveness of these vast stone towers and
ramparts had saved the frightful thing from utter annihilation in the hundreds
of thousands - perhaps millions - of years it had brooded there amidst
the blasts of a bleak upland.
Mundi - Roof of the World -" All sorts of fantastic phrases sprang
to our lips as we looked dizzily down at the unbelievable spectacle.
I thought again of the eldritch primal myths that had so persistently haunted
me since my first sight of this dead antarctic world - of the demonic plateau
of Leng, of the Mi-Go, or abominable Snow Men of the Himalayas, of the
Pnakotic Manuscripts with their pre-human implications, of the Cthulhu
cult, of the Necronomicon, and of the Hyperborean legends of formless
Tsathoggua and the worse than formless star spawn associated with that
boundless miles in every direction the thing stretched off with very little
thinning; indeed, as our eyes followed it to the right and left along the
base of the low, gradual foothills which separated it from the actual mountain
rim we decided that we could see no thinning at all except for the interruptions
at the left of the pass through which we had come. We had merely
struck, at random, a limited part of something of incalculable extent.
The foothills were more sparsely sprinkled with grotesque stone structures,
linking the terrible city to the already familiar cubes and ramparts which
evidently formed its mountain outposts. These latter, as well as
the queer cave mouths, were as thick on the inner as on the outer sides
of the mountains.
nameless stone labyrinth consisted, for the most part, of walls from ten
to one hundred and fifty feet in ice-clear height, and of a thickness varying
from five to ten feet. It was composed mostly of prodigious blacks
of dark primordial slate,
schist, and sandstone--blocks
in many cases as large as 4 X 6 X 8 feet--though in several places it seemed
to be carved out of a solid, uneven bed rock of pre-Cambrian slate.
The buildings were far from equal in size, there being innumerable honeycomb
arrangements of enormous extent as well as smaller separate structures.
The general shape of these things tended to be conical, pyramidal, or terraced;
though there were many perfect cylinders, perfect cubes, clusters of cubes,
and other rectangular forms, and a peculiar sprinkling of angled edifices
whose five-pointed ground plan roughly suggested modern fortifications.
The builders had made constant and expert use of the principle of the arch,
and domes had probably existed in the city's heyday.
whole tangle was monstrously weathered, and the glacial surface from which
the towers projected was strewn with fallen blocks and immemorial debris.
Where the glaciation was transparent we could see the lower parts of the
gigantic piles, and we noticed the ice-preserved stone bridges which connected
the different towers at varying distances above the ground. On the
exposed walls we could detect the scarred places there other and higher
bridges of the same sort had existed. Closer inspection revealed
countless largish windows; some of which were closed with shutters of a
petrified materially originally wood, though most gaped open in a sinister
and menacing fashion. Many of the ruins, of course, were roofless,
and with uneven though wind-rounded upper edges; whilst others, of a more
sharply conical or pyramidal model or else protected by higher surrounding
structures, preserved intact outlines despite the omnipresent crumbling
and pitting. With the field glass we could barely make out what seemed
to be sculptural decorations in horizontal bands--decorations including
those curious groups of dots whose presence on the ancient soapstones now
assumed a vastly larger significance.
places the buildings were totally ruined and the ice sheet deeply riven
from various geologic causes. In other places the stonework was worn
down to the very level of the glaciation. One broad swath, extending
from the plateau's interior to a cleft in the foothills about a mile to
the left of the pass we had traversed, was wholly free from buildings.
It probably represented, we concluded, the course of some great river which
in Tertiary times--millions of years ago--had poured through the city and
into some prodigious subterranean abyss of the great barrier range.
Certainly this was above all a region of caves, gulfs, and underground
secrets beyond human penetration.
back on our sensations, and recalling our dazedness at viewing this monstrous
survival from aeons we had thought prehuman, I can only wonder that we
preserved the semblance of equilibrium, which we did. Of course,
we knew that some thing-- chronology, scientific theory, or our own consciousness--was
woefully awry; yet we kept enough poise to guide the plane, observe many
things quite minutely, and take a careful series of photographs which may
yet serve both us and the world in good stead. In my case, ingrained
scientific habit may have helped; for above all my bewilderment and sense
of menace there burned a dominant curiosity to fathom more of this age-old
secret--to know what sort of beings had built and lived in this incalculably
gigantic place, and what relation to the general world of its time or of
other times so unique a concentration of life could have had.
this place could be no ordinary city. It must have formed the primary
nucleus and center of some archaic and unbelievable chapter of earth's
history whose outward ramifications, recalled only dimly in the most obscure
and distorted myths, had vanished utterly amidst the chaos of terrene convulsions
long before any human race we know had shambled out of apedom. Here
sprawled a Palæeogæan megalopolis compared with which the fabled
Atlantis and Lemuria, Commoriom and Uzuldaroum, and Olathoe in the land
of Lomar are recent things of today - not even of yesterday; a megalopolis
ranking with such whispered prehuman blasphemies as Valusia, R'lyeh, Ib
in the land of Mnar, and the Nameless City of Arabia Deserta. As
we flew above the tangle of stark titan towers my imagination sometimes
escaped all bounds and roved aimlessly in realms of fantastic associations
- even weaving links betwixt this lost world and some of my own wildest
dreams concerning the mad horror at the camp.
plane's fuel tank, in the interest of greater lightness, had been only
partly filled; hence we now had to exert caution in our explorations.
Even so, however, we covered an enormous extent of ground--or, rather,
air--after swooping down to a level where the wind became virtually negligible.
There seemed to be no limit to the mountain range, or to the length of
the frightful stone city which bordered its inner foothills. Fifty
miles of flight in each direction showed no major change in the labyrinth
of rock and masonry that clawed up corpselike through the eternal ice.
There were, though, some highly absorbing diversifications; such as the
carvings on the canyon where that broad river had once pierced the foothills
and approached its sinking place in the great range. The headlands
at the stream's entrance had been boldly carved into Cyclopean pylons;
and something about the ridgy, barrel-shaped designs stirred up oddly vague,
hateful, and confusing semi-remembrances in both Danforth and me.
came upon several star-shaped open spaces, evidently public squares, and
noted various undulations in the terrain. Where a sharp hill rose,
it was generally hollowed out into some sort of rambling-stone edifices;
but there were at least two exceptions. Of these latter, one was
too badly weathered to disclose what had been on the jutting eminence,
while the other still bore a fantastic conical monument carved out of the
solid rock and roughly resembling such things as the well-known Snake Tomb
in the ancient valley of Petra.
inland from the mountains, we discovered that the city was not of infinite
width, even though its length along the foothills seemed endless.
After about thirty miles the grotesque stone buildings began to thin out,
and in ten more miles we came to an unbroken waste virtually without signs
of sentient artifice. The course of the river beyond the city seemed
marked by a broad, depressed line, while the land assumed a somewhat greater
ruggedness, seeming to slope slightly upward as it receded in the mist-hazed
we had made no landing, yet to leave the plateau without an attempt at
entering some of the monstrous structures would have been inconceivable.
Accordingly, we decided to find a smooth place on the foothills near our
navigable pass, there grounding the plane and preparing to do some exploration
on foot. Though these gradual slopes were partly covered with a scattering
of ruins, low flying soon disclosed an ampler number of possible landing
places. Selecting that nearest to the pass, since our flight would
be across the great range and back to camp, we succeeded about 12:30 P.M.
in effecting a landing on a smooth, hard snow field wholly devoid of obstacles
and well adapted to a swift and favorable take-off later on.
not seem necessary to protect the plane with a snow banking for so brief
a time and in so comfortable an absence of high winds at this level; hence
we merely saw that the landing skis were safely lodged, and that the vital
parts of the mechanism were guarded against the cold. For our foot
journey we discarded the heaviest of our flying furs, and took with us
a small outfit consisting of pocket compass, hand camera, light provisions,
voluminous notebooks and paper, geologistís hammer and chisel, specimen
bags, coil of climbing rope, and powerful electric torches with extra batteries;
this equipment having been carried in the plane on the chance that we might
be able to effect a landing, take ground pictures, make drawings and topographical
sketches, and obtain rock specimens from some bare slope, outcropping,
or mountain cave. Fortunately we had a supply of extra paper to tear
up, place in a spare specimen bag, and use on the ancient principle of
hare and hounds for marking our course in any interior mazes we might be
able to penetrate. This had been brought in case we found some cave
system with air quiet enough to allow such a rapid and easy method in place
of the usual rock-chipping method of trail blazing.
cautiously downhill over the crusted snow toward the stupendous stone labyrinth
that loomed against the opalescent west, we felt almost as keen a sense
of imminent marvels as we had felt on approaching the unfathomed mountain
pass four hours previously. True, we had become visually familiar
with the incredible secret concealed by the barrier peaks; yet the prospect
of actually entering primordial walls reared by conscious beings perhaps
millions of years ago - before any known race of men could have existed
- was none the less awesome and potentially terrible in its implications
of cosmic abnormality. Though the thinness of the air at this prodigious
altitude made exertion somewhat more difficult than usual, both Danforth
and I found ourselves bearing up very well, and felt equal to almost any
task which might fall to our lot. It took only a few steps to bring
us to a shapeless ruin worn level with the snow, while ten or fifteen rods
farther on there was a huge, roofless rampart still complete in its gigantic
five-pointed outline and rising to an irregular height of ten or eleven
feet. For this latter we headed; and when at last we were actually
able to touch its weathered Cyclopean blocks, we felt that we had established
an unprecedented and almost blasphemous link with forgotten aeons normally
closed to our species.
rampart, shaped like a star and perhaps three hundred feet from point to
point, was built of Jurassic sandstone blocks of irregular size, averaging
6 x 8 feet in surface. There was a row of arched loopholes or windows
about four feet wide and five feet high, spaced quite symmetrically along
the points of the star and at its inner angles, and with the bottoms about
four feet from the glaciated surface. Looking through these, we could
see that the masonry was fully five feet thick, that there were no partitions
remaining within, and that there were traces of banded carvings or bas-reliefs
on the interior walls - facts we had indeed guessed before, when flying
low over this rampart and others like it. Though lower parts must
have originally existed, all traces of such things were now wholly obscured
by the deep layer of ice and snow at this point.
through one of the windows and vainly tried to decipher the nearly effaced
mural designs, but did not attempt to disturb the glaciated floor.
Our orientation flights had indicated that many buildings in the city proper
were less ice-choked, and that we might perhaps find wholly clear interiors
leading down to the true ground level if we entered those structures still
roofed at the top. Before we left the rampart we photographed it
carefully, and studied its mortar-less Cyclopean masonry with complete
bewilderment. We wished that Pabodie were present, for his engineering
knowledge might have helped us guess how such titanic blocks could have
been handled in that unbelievably remote age when the city and its outskirts
were built up.
half-mile walk downhill to the actual city, with the upper wind shrieking
vainly and savagely through the skyward peaks in the background, was something
of which the smallest details will always remain engraved on my mind.
Only in fantastic nightmares could any human beings but Danforth and me
conceive such optical effects. Between us and the churning vapors
of the west lay that monstrous tangle of dark stone towers, its outre and
incredible forms impressing us afresh at every new angle of vision. It
was a mirage in solid stone, and were it not for the photographs, I would
still doubt that such a thing could be. The general type of masonry
was identical with that of the rampart we had examined; but the extravagant
shapes which this masonry took in its urban manifestations were past all
the pictures illustrate only one or two phases of its endless variety,
preternatural massiveness, and utterly alien exoticism. There were
geometrical forms for which an Euclid would scarcely find a name - cones
of all degrees of irregularity and truncation, terraces of every sort of
provocative disproportion, shafts with odd bulbous enlargements, broken
columns in curious groups, and five-pointed or five-ridged arrangements
of mad grotesqueness. As we drew nearer we could see beneath certain
transparent parts of the ice sheet, and detect some of the tubular stone
bridges that connected the crazily sprinkled structures at various heights.
Of orderly streets there seemed to be none, the only broad open swath being
a mile to the left, where the ancient river had doubtless flowed through
the town into the mountains.
field glasses showed the external, horizontal bands of nearly effaced sculptures
and dot groups to be very prevalent, and we could half imagine what the
city must once have looked like - even though most of the roofs and tower
tops had necessarily perished. As a whole, it had been a complex
tangle of twisted lanes and alleys, all of them deep canyons, and some
little better than tunnels because of the overhanging masonry or overarching
bridges. Now, outspread below us, it loomed like a dream fantasy
against a westward mist through whose northern end the low, reddish antarctic
sun of early afternoon was struggling to shine; and when, for a moment,
that sun encountered a denser obstruction and plunged the scene into temporary
shadow, the effect was subtly menacing in a way I can never hope to depict.
Even the faint howling and piping of the unfelt wind in the great mountain
passes behind us took on a wilder note of purposeful malignity. The
last stage of our descent to the town was unusually steep and abrupt, and
a rock outcropping at the edge where the grade changed led us to think
that an artificial terrace had once existed there. Under the glaciation,
we believed, there must be a flight of steps or its equivalent.
at last we plunged into the town itself, clambering over fallen masonry
and shrinking from the oppressive nearness and dwarfing height of omnipresent
crumbling and pitted walls, our sensations again became such that I marvel
at the amount of self-control we retained. Danforth was frankly jumpy,
and began making some offensively irrelevant speculations about the horror
at the camp--which I resented all the more because I could not help sharing
certain conclusions forced upon us by many features of this morbid survival
from nightmare antiquity. The specualtions working on his imagination,
too; for in one place--where a debris-littered alley turned a sharp corner--he
insisted that he saw faint traces of ground markings which he did not like;
whilst elsewhere he stopped to listen to a subtle, imaginary sound from
some undefined point--a muffled musical piping, he said, not unlike that
of the wind in the mountain caves, yet somehow disturbingly different.
The ceaseless five-pointedness of the surrounding architecture and of the
few distinguishable mural arabesques had a dimly sinister suggestiveness
we could not escape, and gave up a touch of terrible subconscious certainly
concerning the primal entities which had reared and dwelt in this unhallowed
our scientific and adventurous souls were not wholly dead, and we mechanically
carried out our program of chipping specimens from all the different rock
types represented in the masonry. We wished a rather full set in
order to draw better conclusions regarding the age of the place.
Nothing in the great outer walls seemed to date from later than the Jurassic
and Comanchian periods, nor was any piece of stone in the entire place
of a greater recency than the Pliocene Age. In stark certainty, we
were wandering amidst a death which had reigned at least five hundred thousand
years, and in all probability even longer.
proceeded through this maze of stone-shadowed twilight we stopped at all
available apertures to study interiors and investigate entrance possibilities.
Some were above our reach, whilst others led only into ice-choked ruins
as unroofed and barren as the rampart on the hill. One, though spacious
and inviting, opened on a seemingly bottomless abyss without visible means
of descent. Now and then we had a chance to study the petrified wood
of a surviving shutter, and were impressed by the fabulous antiquity implied
in the still discernible grain. These things had come from Mesozoic
gymnosperms and conifers - especially Cretaceous cycads - and from fan
palms and early angiosperms of plainly Tertiary date. Nothing definitely
later than the Pliocene could be discovered. In the placing of these
shutters - whose edges showed the former presence of queer and long-vanished
hinges - usage seemed to be varied - some being on the outer and some on
the inner side of the deep embrasures. They seemed to have become
wedged in place, thus surviving the rusting of their former and probably
metallic fixtures and fastenings.
a time we came across a row of windows - in the bulges of a colossal five-edged
cone of undamaged apex - which led into a vast, well-preserved room with
stone flooring; but these were too high in the room to permit descent without
a rope. We had a rope with us, but did not wish to bother with this
twenty-foot drop unless obliged to-especially in this thin plateau air
where great demands were made upon the heart action. This enormous
room was probably a hall or concourse of some sort, and our electric torches
showed bold, distinct, and potentially startling sculptures arranged round
the walls in broad, horizontal bands separated by equally broad strips
of conventional arabesques. We took careful note of this spot, planning
to enter here unless a more easily gained interior were encountered.
though, we did encounter exactly the opening we wished; an archway about
six feet wide and ten feet high, marking the former end of an aerial bridge
which had spanned an alley about five feet above the present level of glaciation.
These archways, of course, were flush with upper-story floors, and in this
case one of the floors still existed. The building thus accessible
was a series of rectangular terraces on our left facing westward.
That across the alley, where the other archway yawned, was a decrepit cylinder
with no windows and with a curious bulge about ten feet above the aperture.
It was totally dark inside, and the archway seemed to open on a well of
debris made the entrance to the vast left-hand building doubly easy, yet
for a moment we hesitated before taking advantage of the long-wished chance.
For though we had penetrated into this tangle of archaic mystery, it required
fresh resolution to carry us actually inside a complete and surviving building
of a fabulous elder world whose nature was becoming more and more hideously
plain to us. In the end, however, we made the plunge, and scrambled
up over the rubble into the gaping embrasure. The floor beyond was
of great slate slabs, and seemed to form the outlet of a long, high corridor
with sculptured walls.
the many inner archways which led off from it, and realizing the probable
complexity of the nest of apartments within, we decided that we must begin
our system of hare-and-hound trail blazing. Hitherto our compasses,
together with frequent glimpses of the vast mountain range between the
towers in our rear, had been enough to prevent our losing our way; but
from now on, the artificial substitute would be necessary. Accordingly
we reduced our extra paper to shreds of suitable size, placed these in
a bag to be carried by Danforth, and prepared to use them as economically
as safety would allow. This method would probably gain us immunity from
straying, since there did not appear to be any strong air currents inside
the primordial masonry. If such should develop, or if our paper supply
should give out, we could of course fall back on the more secure though
more tedious and retarding method of rock chipping.
how extensive a territory we had opened up, it was impossible to guess
without a trial. The close and frequent connection of the different
buildings made it likely that we might cross from one to another on bridges
underneath the ice, except where impeded by local collapses and geologic
rifts, for very little glaciation seemed to have entered the massive constructions.
Almost all the areas of transparent ice had revealed the submerged windows
as tightly shuttered, as if the town had been left in that uniform state
until the glacial sheet came to crystallize the lower part for all succeeding
time. Indeed, one gained a curious impression that this place had
been deliberately closed and deserted in some dim, bygone aeon, rather
than overwhelmed by any sudden calamity or even gradual decay. Had
the coming of the ice been foreseen, and had a nameless population left
en masse to seek a less doomed abode? The precise physiographic conditions
attending the formation of the ice sheet at this point would have to wait
for later solution. It had not, very plainly, been a grinding drive.
Perhaps the pressure of accumulated snows had been responsible, and perhaps
some flood from the river, or from the bursting of some ancient glacial
dam in the great range, had helped to create the special state now observable.
Imagination could conceive almost anything in connection with this place.
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