"It would be better for you to defer the message if it be ill news until Tubain arrives, brother, for Glavour is enraged beyond measure at all of us. He threatens to sacrifice us at the next games and he may do so unless Tubain alters the decree. He has not loved us since Damis broke his arm a month ago."
"Nevertheless, I will deliver my message," replied Damis. "While it may not please him, it is essential that he get it before Tubain arrives."
"Good luck go with you, brother," replied the Nepthalim with a shrug of his shoulders. "The temper of the Viceroy of God is an uncertain quality at best. He is in his seraglio."
Damis saluted the messenger and made his way toward the inner portion of the palace where the women whom the lustful Viceroy had dragged into his harem were kept. He had no plausible excuse for passing the guards into this forbidden portion of the palace, but that was a matter which caused him small worry. There were few of the secrets of the palace which were not well known to Damis, who had at one time been major domo of the building. There were some well known to him, the existence of which was not even suspected by the majority of the Sons of God.
As he neared the seraglio, he turned off to his right and passed through a maze of little-used passages until he halted before what was apparently a blank wall. Casting a rapid glance around to ensure himself that there was no one in sight, he touched a hidden catch and a portion of the wall swung inward, opening a way before him. He entered a passage built in the thickness of the wall and lighted with radium bulbs. The door closed softly behind him. He removed his sandals lest even their quiet tread should betray him and on bare feet crept forward.
The passage bent and twisted as it followed the walls until Damis knew that he was in one of the walls of the seraglio. Praying that it would work noiselessly, he slid open a panel of stone and found himself looking through a semi-transparent hanging into the sacred precincts of the seraglio itself. Glavour stood facing him, his heavy face drawn up in a scowl of rage. Damis noted with satisfaction that one of the Viceroy's arms was supported by a silk scarf and that he made no attempt to use it. With a pale face, Havenner stood before his ruler.
"The word has been brought to me from a source which I trust as much as I do your own word, Havenner," Glavour was saying. "I tell you, I do not believe your story. If Damis and Turgan were dead, the Terrestrials would not see them alive again on Earth. Neither would they have weapons of which we know nothing. One of our observers admits that he saw a space ship land a few hours ago, coming from the direction of Mars. You failed in your mission, Havenner, and on you I pronounce the doom. I sentence you to the twilight of the gods."
"I appeal to Tubain from that sentence!" cried the equerry with dry lips.
"Your appeal shall be noted and laid before him at the proper time," replied the Viceroy savagely; "yet, by the time he arrives, it will be too late. Ho, Guards! Take him away."
Havenner turned as though to resist, but six of the huge Jovians answered the Viceroy's call. Two of them grasped him by the arms and started to lead him from the room.
"I appeal!" cried Havenner again. "I brought back the maiden whom I was sent to fetch, and for that reason I made no failure. To bring her was the principal item of my orders."
Glavour's face grew purple with rage.
"And who sent the message to Tubain which resulted in the orders which he sent me?" he demanded savagely. "It was sent by one of your henchmen and by your orders. You slew the sender before I could question him, but I know whose orders he obeyed. Take him away!"
The guards started to drag the luckless equerry from the presence of the Viceroy, but Havenner made a final appeal for his life.
"I will confess, Viceroy of God," he cried. "No message was sent to Tubain. I dared not send such a message lest such orders would be returned as I caused to be given to you. I coveted the maiden for myself and I took this means of getting her. I had a false message delivered to you which would prevent you from taking her before Tubain arrived. In reward for my services as spy on you, I planned to ask that she be given to me. I surrender all claims to her, Glavour. Spare my life and you may have her."
For a moment Glavour could not speak for rage.
"So you have been the spy who has reported my every doing and my every secret council to Tubain!" he gasped. "But for you, I would long ago have conquered Venus and Mercury and declared myself independent of the Jovian overlord. In time I might have even overthrown him, but every move was known to him before I made it. Not once, but a dozen times, would you go through the twilight were Tubain not at hand. Niton, it is my order that the twilight be as slow as our instruments will allow. Give him time to learn to suffer and to pray for the blessing of death at my hand. Take him away!"
The struggling Havenner was removed by the guards despite his efforts at resistance and his cries for mercy. Glavour stared after him for a moment and an evil gleam came into his eyes.
"Sonom!" he called sharply.
A guard entered the room and saluted.
"Sonom, bring me the Daughter of Man, Lura!" cried the Viceroy. "When you have brought her here, post guards at all doors and see that no one is admitted under any circumstances until Tubain himself arrives and demands admittance."
The guard hesitated.
"Your Excellency," he faltered, "the orders from Tubain were--"
"False rumors given out by the traitor, Havenner, who has now gone to the twilight of the gods," interrupted the Viceroy. "By the crown of Tubain, do I need to repeat my orders? I am Viceroy of the Earth and am supreme until Tubain revokes my rank. Obey my orders!"
The guard saluted and withdrew. Glavour licked his thick lips in anticipation and strode restlessly back and forth across the room. Inside the hangings, Damis' face hardened and he drew his dagger from under his robe. The door opened and Sonom returned, dragging Lura after him. The face of the Earth-girl was pale and drawn, yet, when she saw Glavour, her head rose in an expression of defiance. Sonom saluted the Viceroy and left the room, the massive door clanging shut behind him. Glavour stared at the girl with an evil leer on his heavy countenance.
"I have learned, Daughter of Man," he said slowly, "of how you seduced one of my servants from his duty to me and caused him to forge an order from the great Tubain in order that he might keep you for his own pleasure. For a time the stratagem succeeded, but now my eyes are open. When I first looked upon your face and form I swore to myself that you should be the solace of my leisure hours. Now the time is come. I was minded once to honor you as Hortan once honored a Terrestrial and let you amuse yourself by sitting on a throne, but your treachery has changed my intention. Not even as an accepted concubine shall you rank, but only as a slave to be used as a toy and tossed to one of my guards when I am tired of you. Come hither!"
Lura made no move to obey the order, and Glavour with an oath stepped toward her, his one good arm outstretched in a grasping gesture. Lura did not move until his hand almost closed on her arm and then she sprang back. Her hand sought the bosom of her robe and the Viceroy recoiled as a glittering dagger flashed in the air.
"Back, Jovian!" cried Lura in ringing tones. "Think you that the daughter of a king of men is to be a toy for your base Jovian passions? The point of this dagger is poisoned so that one touch through your skin will mean death. One step nearer and I will strike!"
The Viceroy hesitated for a moment and then drew from his robe a short thick tube. Lura correctly interpreted the gesture.
"Raise that tube and I will bury the blade in my own body!" she cried. "I know that you have the power to clasp me in your arms, but it will be a corpse which you clasp."
She lowered the knife until the point rested against the skin of her throat. The slightest pressure would cause it to penetrate her skin and bring about her almost instant death. Glavour watched her like a cat, the tube ready in his hand. With a grim laugh he threw the tube from him and walked a few steps away. Lura lowered the knife. As she did so, Glavour turned with a movement so swift that the eye could hardly follow it. His eyes caught Lura's and she straightened back her head, powerless against his will, caught as she was, momentarily off her guard.
"Throw down your knife," said Glavour's voice slowly. Lura struggled to raise the weapon against herself, but she could not. Slowly her fingers relaxed and the weapon clattered on the floor. Still holding her eyes with his own, Glavour stepped forward until his huge splayed foot rested on the weapon. He averted his gaze and swiftly picked it up. Lura gave a scream of horror and strove to fly, but the heavy door was barred against her. Glavour placed the weapon in a cabinet on the wall which he locked and then turned to her, an expression of triumph on his face.
"It is useless, Daughter of Man, to struggle against the will of the Sons of God," he said mockingly. "What we desire is ours. Come to me."
Lura's face showed an expression of loathing as she looked at the huge misshapen monstrosity before her. The Viceroy forgot the momentary satisfaction of his triumph in his rage at her attitude. With a growl of anger he grasped at her. Lura avoided his rush and ran along the side of the room, Glavour in pursuit. He cornered her at last and she stopped with her back to the tapestry with which the room was hung. Glowering in his triumph, Glavour approached and reached out his hand to seize her. His huge paw descended, but before it touched her shoulder a hand with fingers of steel reached through the hangings and grasped his wrist.
When Sonom had dragged Lura into the room, Damis inserted the point of his dagger into the tapestry and started to cut a slit through which he could enter the room. The keen-edged knife cut for a few inches readily enough and then stopped. Damis withdrew the blade and examined the stuff before him. An expression of dismay crossed his face, for the material was crisscrossed with stellanium wires, set six inches apart. Each juncture was braised together and the whole made a web through which he could not force his way. Cautiously he exerted his strength. The keen blade hewed through the first of the stellanium strands, but Damis held his breath as the wire parted. It seemed impossible that the ting of parting metal which sounded like a thunderclap in his ears would not be heard by the Viceroy. He knew that there must be an entrance into the room through the hangings and he made his way cautiously forward, testing the draperies from time to time with his knife.
When Lura laid her dagger against her breast and threatened to end her life, it took all of Damis' self-control to keep from crying out and striving to force his way into the room by sheer strength. He knew the toughness of stellanium well enough to realize the impossibility of even his enormous strength tearing apart a webbing of it. The certainty that Glavour would not push matters far enough to rob himself of his prey aided him to restrain his ardor and to pursue his systematic search.
He came at last to a corner where his knife met with no resistance as it made its way through the silken stuff on the walls. Swiftly he cut a slit through which he could rush. As he parted the material, Lura rushed past him and stood with her back to the wall to await the oncoming Viceroy. Damis raised his hand and stood ready. As Glavour's huge paw descended on Lura's shoulder Damis' hand shot out. Still holding the wrist of the Viceroy in a grip of steel, he emerged from his hiding place, tearing off the black wig and beard which disguised him.
"Damis!" cried Lura in wonder and delight as she saw him.
Glavour stared with unbelieving eyes for a moment and then a hoarse cry of alarm burst from his lips. Desperately he strove to release his wrist from the Nepthalim's grip, but to no avail. He disengaged his crippled arm from the scarf which supported it and groped under his robe for a weapon. Lura cried out in warning, but Damis had anticipated such a move. With a quick effort he whirled about and drew the Viceroy's arm over his shoulder. He bent forward and exerted his full strength. The huge bulk of Glavour rose in the air and pitched forward over Damis' shoulder. There was a crash as he landed on the marble floor. Quick as a cat, Damis sprang on him and pinioned down his arms.
"Take his weapons, Lura!" he cried.
Lura bent over the prostrate form of the Jovian to take from his belt the tubes which he habitually carried there. As she stooped, Glavour raised one of his huge feet and struck her with all the force of his mighty thighs behind the blow. With a cry of pain, Lura flew halfway across the room. Damis leaped to her assistance, forgetting for a moment the potentialities for destruction which the Viceroy bore on his person. A sudden sound made him whirl about. He bent over Lura and picked her from the floor. With her in his arms he leaped to one side just as a flash of violet light stabbed through the air. It missed them by inches. He dropped Lura on a rug and turned to face Glavour.
On the Jovian's face was an expression of fiendish triumph. In his hand was a short black tube which he aimed with deliberate slowness at the crouching Nepthalim. Damis shifted his gaze from the Viceroy's eyes and concentrated it on the muscles of his wrist. Glavour's grip tightened and Damis leaped to one side as the violet light again stabbed the air. With an oath, Glavour swung the deadly ray in an arc trying to reach the Nepthalim, but Damis moved like a cat. Once, as the ray almost touched him, he sprang high in the air and let it sweep by under him. With each movement he came nearer to the Viceroy. Slowly the violet began to lose its intensity of color. Glavour dropped it and reached for a second tube. Before he could draw one, Damis was on him.
The Deluge Few of the Sons of God and none of the Nepthalim, save Damis, could match the brute strength of the Viceroy. As Damis rushed, Glavour sidestepped and caught the Nepthalim's arm in a bone-crushing grasp. Damis made no effort to break the grip, but with his free hand he gripped the wrist of Glavour's crippled arm. With a quick effort he twisted it and the Viceroy gave a shriek of pain as the newly knit bone gave way and his arm fell, dangling and useless. Damis caught his sound arm in a powerful grip and twisted slowly on his wrist. Gradually Glavour's fingers relaxed and Damis' arm was free. His hands shot up and gripped Glavour about the throat just in time to shut off the cry for help which was forming on his thick lips. The two giants strove silently for mastery in the struggle which meant life for the victor and death for the vanquished. The expression in Damis' eyes was one of confident mastery, but the face of the Jovian showed something that was strangely akin to fear. Even when he was whole, Glavour had found that his strength was no match for the power that lay in Damis' graceful limbs. With one of the Viceroy's arms useless, the issue was a foregone conclusion.
Glavour's face gradually grew purple and his eyes started out of their sockets. His tongue protruded horribly from his opened jaws. He grew weaker until it was only Damis' grip which kept him from falling to the ground. Then Damis broke his silence and spoke slowly and distinctly into the dying Viceroy's ears.
"I was loyal to you, Glavour," he said, "despite your brutality and sensuality which sickened me, until you strove to add to your already crowded seraglio the maiden whom I had chosen. As a Nepthalim, you thought I had no right which you need respect and I would tamely submit to whatever you chose to do. You forgot that in my veins run the best blood of Earth and the proudest blood of Jupiter. Hortan was a Mildash of Jupiter, a rank to which you could never aspire. I restricted your efforts and proved to you a thing which I long have known, that, man to man, I am your superior.
"Even then you might have won back my loyalty had I not learned how my father and my mother came to their death. It has always been given out that they went to Jupiter on a summons from Tubain, but I know the truth. They died under the knife of a cowardly assassin, under your knife, Glavour. Then it was that I swore that it would be my hand that would strike you down. When you raised your hand against me, you were Viceroy of the Earth and your power was secure, for the conspiracy against you had no hope of success. What is the situation now? You are beleaguered in your palace, holding only the ground your few feeble weapons cover. Even this ground you hold only on the sufferance of the Earthmen. Listen to what I say, for I wish your last moments to be bitter ones. On the hill east of the city sit two weapons of a type and a power unknown to both Earth and Jupiter. They are the deadly black ray weapons of Mars. Ah, you tremble! You have good cause. One of them is trained on this palace while the other searches the heavens, ready to blast into powder the fleet of Tubain when it appears. And who, think you, brought this about, Glavour? It was I, Damis, the Nepthalim, the 'half-breed bastard' whom you despised. My only regret is that I cannot send you to the twilight of the gods as you sent that other arch-traitor, Havenner. Are your last moments pleasant, Glavour? I am increasing the pressure slowly so that you will have time to think, to think of the Earthmen you have given to sacrifice and torture, to think of your ruler, Hortan, dying under your knife, to think of the doom which is about to overcome your race. Think, Glavour, for your time for thought is short."
As he finished, Damis thrust back on the Viceroy's chin with a sudden effort. There was a dull crack as Glavour's neck broke and Damis gently lowered the inert bulk to the floor. He felt a touch on his arm as he straightened up. He whirled like a cat and Lura shrank back with a frightened gesture. Damis opened his arms and in an instant the Earth-girl was folded in them.
"Is my father safe?" was her first question.
"Safer by far than we are," exclaimed Damis with a sudden pang of anxiety. He glanced at the time-recording device on the wall. Three-quarters of an hour had passed since he had first entered the Viceregal palace. If the estimates of Tubain's arrival which he had heard were correct, the Jovian fleet should be almost most overhead. "Come," he cried to Lura, "we have no time to lose if we escape before the palace and all in it are destroyed. Where did Havenner land his ship?"
"In the yard west of the palace," she replied.
"Pray that it is still there," said Damis. "We can reach it through the path by which I entered this room. Come quickly."
With Lura at his heels, he passed through the rent in the tapestry and entered the secret passage through the walls. The way twisted and turned interminably, but finally he paused before a door. Before opening it he slid back a panel which opened a peep-hole and looked out.
"The ship is there," he whispered in a voice of relief. "There is only one guard over it that I can see. Why didn't I think to bring Glavour's weapons? I'll have to try to catch him by surprise. When I open the door, run straight for the space ship as though you were trying to escape from me. Don't try to dodge the guard, keep right on for the ship. As soon as I overpower the guard, get in the ship and hold your hand on the starting lever. When I get on board, throw in the power at a low rate. We don't want to rise rapidly enough to get out of easy control. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Damis," she whispered.
He watched until a sudden shout drew the attention of the sentry momentarily away from the ship he was guarding. A confused sound of cheering came from the palace and the sentry looked toward the western heavens. A moment of gazing and he raised his voice in a raucous shout of joy. Instantly Damis swung open the door.
Lura sped out like a frightened deer with Damis in close pursuit. The attention of the sentry was fixed on some distant object in the sky and he did not see the oncoming pair until Lura was only a few yards from him. The sound of her footsteps attracted his attention and he glanced down at her. An expression of surprise came over his heavy features and he reached for a weapon. His gesture was never finished, for Damis' fist caught him under the ear and he dropped in his tracks. Damis looked in the direction in which the sentry had been staring and a cry broke from his lips.
"The fleet of Tubain!" he cried.
A thousand yards in the air and a scant five miles to the west was a clump of half a dozen Jovian space flyers. Massed behind them were a hundred more. They were approaching with tremendous velocity.
Damis gave a mighty bound and leaped through the airlock of the ship. Hardly had he cleared the door than Lura pulled down the starting lever. The ship flew up from the ground. Hardly had it left its ways than a momentary flash came from the hill east of the palace. The air grew black around them and a cold as of interstellar space penetrated their very bones. In an instant the ship had flashed up into the sun above the zone of influence of the Martian weapon. The shouting from the palace was suddenly stilled. Damis looked down, but nothing could be seen save a pall of intense blackness over the ground where the building stood.
"The port motor, Lura!" cried Damis. The Jovian fleet was approaching so rapidly that a collision with the nearest flyer seemed inevitable. There was a roar from the air as Lura threw in the port blast with its maximum power. Damis was hurled against the side of the ship.
From the hill where the Martian weapons had been placed came a second flash of light and a beam of jetty blackness shot through the air. An edge of it brushed the ship for an instant and Lura stiffened. A terrible cold bit through the flyer and the side where the Martian ray had touched crumpled into powder. The ship sped on, and the friction of the air and the bright rays of the sun dissipated the extreme cold. Through the terrific storm which was raging, the black ray stabbed again and again. Back and forth it played and ship after ship of the Jovians was momentarily caught in the beam. When the beam passed on there was nothing left of the ship save a cloud of dust which the terrific wind dissipated in all directions.
Damis glanced at the Earth below him. It seemed to be flying past the ship at a velocity which he could hardly comprehend. He made his way against the pressure of the movement to the control levers and strove to check the speed. As the Earth ceased to revolve beneath them, the wind rose to a terrible force.
"What has happened, Damis?" shrieked Lura in his ear.
"I don't know," he shouted in reply. "I am trying to keep away from the neighborhood of the palace for a while until the Jovian fleet is destroyed. Toness and your father might not be able to tell us from one of Tubain's ships and they might turn the ray on us."
He bent over the control levers of the ship, but they refused to obey his touch. The stern motor still roared with enough force to keep them three thousand feet above the ground, but none of the side motors responded to the controls. The ship was helpless and was tossed about, a plaything of the terrific wind which howled through the heavens. Damis watched the ground below them.
"Look, Lura!" he cried.
They swept over the site of the palace. The black ray was no longer playing on it, but the whole palace glistened like crystal.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Frost!" he shouted. "The Martian weapon did its work well. Everything in that palace is frozen. In the name of Tubain!"
The Jovian ejaculation had burst from his lips, unbidden, at the sight which met his gaze. Racing over the land was a solid wall of water, hundreds of feet high and moving with enormous speed. On toward the palace it swept. Below they could see the Earthmen on the hill striving to fly, but there was no place of safety. The oncoming wall of water was higher by a hundred feet than the top of the hill and it was the highest bit of land for many miles.
Nearer and nearer came the water until with a roar and a crash which they could plainly hear in the crippled space ship, it swept over the hill and the palace, burying them under a hundred feet of brine.
"Father!" cried Lura in anguish.
Damis made his way across the ship and folded her in his arms.
"He was chosen as one of the lives needed to buy the freedom of the Earth," he murmured to her. "It is hard, for I loved him as a father; but it was the end which he would have chosen. He died at the head of his followers battling for freedom."
"What happened, Damis?" asked Lura an hour later as she looked down on the seething tumult of water under them.
"As nearly as I can figure out, the Jovian fleet approached the palace from the west at a low elevation. In order to destroy them, we could not use the Martian weapon normal to the Earth's surface as they commanded us, but were forced to use it tangentially. The enormous counter reaction to the stream of force of almost incredible intensity which was shot at Tubain's flyers, had to be absorbed in some way. The weapon could not take it up as it was anchored to the center of gravity of the earth. As a result, the force was translated into one of increased rotation. The Earth must be spinning on its axis at fully twice its former rate. Both the air and the water had too much inertia to follow the accelerated motion of the land, so the wind blew a gale and the oceans left their beds and swept over the land. Everything must have been swept to destruction before this flood."
"And all our labor and sacrifice has been useless," cried Lura. "We have freed a world at the cost of the lives of its inhabitants."
"The world is not lost, sweetheart," he cried as he clasped her to him. "The floods will not have overwhelmed the mountains and some men and animals will have escaped. The waters will subside in a few weeks as they take up the new rotation of the Earth. By His will, we are spared for the labor of building a new world. As soon as the land again appears above the waters, we will land and assemble those who have been spared. The fleet of Jupiter has been destroyed and we need fear no fresh attack for ages, perhaps never. Unhampered, we will build a new world and try to avoid the mistakes of the old one.
"Look, Damis!" exclaimed Lura in a hushed tone.
From the spray and mist below them leaped a living bridge of colored light. Above the sun it arced its way into the heavens in the direction in which they knew Mars lay.
"It is His promise," whispered Damis reverently, "that henceforth the planets will live in peace and amity and that nevermore will the Jovians be allowed to invade us."