Next moment it was too late to retreat, for our narrowing passage turned and we found ourselves in a wondrous place. I call it wondrous because of it we could see neither the beginning nor the end, nor the roof, nor aught else save the rock on which we walked, and the side or wall that our hands touched. Nor was this because of darkness, since although it was not illuminated like the upper caverns, light of a sort was present. It was a very strange light, consisting of brilliant and intermittent flashes, or globes of blue and lambent flame which seemed to leap from nowhere into nowhere, or sometimes to hang poised in mid air.
“How odd they are,” said the voice of Bastin behind me. “They remind me of those blue sparks which jump up from the wires of the tramways in London on a dark night. You know, don’t you, Bickley? I mean when the conductor pulls round that long stick with an iron wheel on the top of it.”
“Nobody but you could have thought of such a comparison, Bastin,” answered Bickley. “Still, multiplied a thousandfold they are not unlike.”
Nor indeed were they, except that each blue flash was as big as the full moon and in one place or another they were so continuous that one could have read a letter by their light. Also the effect of them was ghastly and most unnatural, terrifying, too, since even their brilliance could not reveal the extent of that gigantic hollow in the bowels of the world wherein they leapt to and fro like lightnings, or hung like huge, uncanny lanterns.
“The air in this place must be charged with some form of electricity, but the odd thing is that it does not seem to harm us,” said Bickley in a matter-of-fact fashion as though he were determined not to be astonished.
“To me it looks more like marsh fires or St. Elmo lights, though how these can be where there is no vapour, I do not know,” I answered.
As I spoke a particularly large ball of flame fell from above. It resembled a shooting star or a meteor more than anything else that I had ever seen, and made me wonder whether we were not perhaps standing beneath some inky, unseen sky.
Next moment I forgot such speculations, for in its blue light, which made him terrible and ghastly, I perceived Oro standing in front of us clad in a long cloak.
“Dear me!” said Bastin, “he looks just like the devil, doesn’t he, and now I come to think of it, this isn’t at all a bad imitation of hell.”
“How do you know it is an imitation?” asked Bickley.
“Because whatever might be the case with you, Bickley, if it were, the Lady Yva and I should not be here.”
Even then I could not help smiling at this repartee, but the argument went no further for Oro held up his hand and Yva bent the knee in greeting to him.
“So you have come, all of you,” he said. “I thought that perhaps there were one or two who would not find courage to ride the flying stone. I am glad that it is not so, since otherwise he who had shown himself a coward should have had no share in the rule of that new world which is to be. Therefore I chose yonder road that it might test you.”