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Face in the Abyss

Abraham Merritt

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Tags: Fiction » Fantasy Fiction

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Face in the Abyss by Abraham Merritt is a fantasy book, first published in a 1923 edition of American pulp magazine, Argosy All-Story Weekly. The story tells of the lost world of Yu-Atlanchi with it's strange array of creatures such as dinosaurs, frog-women, lizard-men, spider-men, and the deathless people. Mining engineer Nicholas Graydon and his colleagues are searching for lost treasure in South America when they happen upon a beautiful young woman. They learn that she is called Suarra, and that she is a servant of the Snake Mother of Yu-Atlanchi. The men arrive as civil war is breaking out in the lost world, with the followers of the Snake Mother warring with the followers of the evil Nimir who is currently imprisoned in a rock in an abyss. Whilst Graydon's companions are punished for their greed, Graydon is not, and the story follows his adventures as he joins with Suarra and the Snake Mother in their fight against Nimir.

As a writer Merritt influenced such luminaries as H. P. Lovecraft, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1999.

This book has 183 pages in the PDF version, 27 chapters, and was originally published in 1923.

Production notes: This edition of Face in the Abyss was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 28th June 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Gordale Scar' by James Ward.

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Excerpt from 'Face in the Abyss'

The white sands of the barren were wan in the first gleam of the dawn. A chill wind was blowing down from the heights. Graydon walked over to the three men, and drew their blankets aside. They were breathing normally, seemed to be deep in sleep, and the strange punctured wounds had closed. And yet—they looked like dead men, livid and wan as the pallid sands beneath the spreading dawn. He shivered again, but this time not from the touch of the chill wind.

He drew his automatic from Soames’ belt, satisfied himself that it was properly loaded and thrust it into his pocket. Then he emptied all their weapons. Whatever the peril they were to meet, he was convinced that it was one against which firearms would be useless. And he had no desire to be again at their mercy.

He went back to the fire, made coffee, threw together a breakfast and returned to the sleeping men. As he stood watching them, Soames groaned and sat up. He stared at Graydon blankly, then stumbled to his feet. His gaze roved round restlessly. He saw the golden panniers beside Suarra’s tent. His dull eyes glittered, and something of crafty exultance passed over his face.

“Come, Soames, and get some hot coffee in you,” Graydon touched his arm.

Soames turned with a snarl, his hand falling upon the butt of his automatic. Graydon stepped back, his fingers closing upon the gun in his pocket. But Soames made no further move toward him. He was looking again at the panniers, glinting in the rising sun. He stirred Starrett with his foot, and the big man staggered up, mumbling. The movement aroused Dancret.

Soames pointed to the golden hampers, then strode stiffly to the silken tent, useless pistol in hand, Starrett and Dancret at his heels. Graydon began to follow. He felt a light touch on his shoulder. Suarra stood beside him.

“Let them do as they will, Graydon,” she said. “They can harm no one—now. And none can help them.”

They watched silently as Soames ripped open the flap of the silken tent and passed within. He came out a moment later, and the three set to work pulling out the golden pegs. Soames rolled tent and pegs together and thrust them into one of the hampers. They plodded back to camp, Starrett and Dancret dragging the hampers behind them.

As they passed Graydon, he felt a wonder filled with vague terror. Something of humanness had been withdrawn from them, something inhuman had taken its place. They walked less like men than like automatons. They paid no heed to him or the girl. Their eyes were vacant except when they turned their heads to look at the golden burden. They reached the burros and fastened the hampers upon two of them.

“It is time to start, Graydon,” urged Suarra. “The Lord of Folly grows impatient.”

He stared at her, then laughed, thinking her jesting. She glanced toward the figure in motley.

“Why do you laugh?” she asked. “He stands there waiting for us—the Lord Tyddo, the Lord of Folly, of all the Lords the only one who has not abandoned Yu-Atlanchi. The Mother would not have let me take this journey without him.”

He looked at her more closely—this, surely, was mockery. But her eyes met his steadily, gravely.

“I bow to the wisdom of the Mother,” he said, grimly. “She could have chosen no fitter attendant. For all of us.”

She flushed; touched his hand.

“You are angry, Graydon. Why?”

He did not answer; she sighed, and moved slowly away.

He walked over to the three. They stood beside the embers of the fire, silent and motionless. He shivered—they were so much like dead men, listening for some dread command. He felt pity for them.

He filled a cup with coffee and put it in Soames’s hand. He did the same for Starrett and Dancret. Hesitantly, jerkily, they lifted the tins to their mouths, and gulped the hot liquid. He handed them food, and they wolfed it. But always their faces kept turning to the burros with their golden loads. Graydon could stand it no longer.

“Start!” he called to Suarra. “For God’s sake, start!”

He picked up the rifles of the others and put them in their hands. They took them, as mechanically as they had the coffee and the food.

Now Suarra’s enigmatic attendant took the lead, while between him and the girl plodded the burros.

“Come on, Soames,” he said. “Come, Starrett. It’s time to go, Dancret.”

Obediently, eyes fixed upon the yellow hampers, they swung upon the trail, marching side by side—gaunt man at left, giant in the center, little man at right. Like marionettes they marched. Graydon swung in behind them.

They crossed the white sands, and entered a trail winding through close growing, enormous trees. For an hour they passed along this trail. They emerged from it, abruptly, upon a broad platform of bare rock. Before them were the walls of a split mountain. Its precipices towered thousands of feet. Between them, was a narrow rift which widened as it reached upward. The platform was the threshold of this rift.

He whom Suarra had called the Lord of Folly crossed the threshold, behind him Suarra; and after her the stiffly marching three. Then over it went Graydon.

The way led downward. No trees, no vegetation of any kind, could he see—unless the ancient, gray and dry lichen that covered the path and whispered under their feet could be called vegetation. But it gave resistance, that lichen; made the descent easier. It covered the straight rock walls that arose on each side. The light that fell through the rim of the gorge, hundreds of feet overhead, was faint. But the gray lichen seemed to take it up and diffuse it. It was no darker than an early northern twilight; every object was plainly visible. Down they went and ever down; for half an hour; an hour. Always straight ahead the road stretched, never varying in the width and growing no darker.

The road angled. A breast of rock jutted abruptly out of the cliff, stretching from side to side like a barrier. The new path was darker than the old. He had an uneasy feeling that the rocks were closing high over his head; that what they were entering was a tunnel. The gray lichen dwindled rapidly on the walls and underfoot. And as they dwindled, so faded the light.

At last the gray lichen ceased to be. He moved through a half darkness in which barely could he see, save as shadows, those who went before. And now he was sure that the rocks had closed overhead, burying them. He fought against a choking oppression that came with the knowledge.

And yet—it was not so dark, after all. Strange, he thought, strange that there should be light at all in this covered way—and stranger still was that light. It seemed to be in the air—to be of the air. It came neither from walls nor roof. It seemed to filter in, creeping, along the tunnel from some source far ahead. A light that was as though it came from radiant atoms that shed their rays as they floated slowly by.

Thicker grew these luminous atoms whose radiance only, and not their bodies, could be perceived by the eye. Lighter and lighter grew the way.

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