The Master of Destruction (Synopsis and Fragment)

Clark Ashton Smith


I The Ruins on Eros

A party of scientists, exploring the asteroids, finds some ancient, fragmentary ruins on Eros, as well as on certain of the others, arguing, by their similarity of structure, that all these bodies were once part of a destroyed planet. On Eros, the substructure of a sort of temple is found; and beneath it, a series of crypts. In one of the vaults, is found the perfectly preserved mummy of a beautiful, woman-like creature. One of the explorers, Uther Margrave, notices on the bosom of this being a strange cylindrical amulet, which unscrews. Within, to his utter astonishment, is a piece of vellum or parchment, on which, in English, in his own hand, a strange message has been written!

II The Adytum

Doubting his own sanity, and fearing to reveal his discovery to the others, Margrave replaces the amulet in the bosom of the mummy without telling his companions that he has opened it. A day or two later, exploring the vaults alone, he stumbles on some sort of concealed spring which lifts a flag-stone giving entrance to some deeper crypt, or adytum. He descends into this, and, to his consternation, the flag-stone swings hack into place behind him, sealing him up in the unknown darkness. Then, as he starts to grope about, he undergoes an uncanny experience, in which he seems to float and fall slowly through immeasurable space, in a sort of aerial vortex. His fall ends without harm or accident, and he sees daylight above him again. He finds to his bewilderment that he is still in the same crypt, with the flag-stone lifted above him. Thinking that his comrades have found him, he emerges, and is confronted by several strange beings, more or less human, but fantastic of aspect, who address him in an unknown tongue. Led by them from the vaults, he discovers himself in a strange, beautiful world, having no likeness to the desolate, airless rock of the asteroid. Instead of shattered ruins, there is a perfect temple of unearthly architecture above the vaults.

III Motanzamor

Margrave is led to a stately palace by one of the beings, who is evidently a person of great importance. Here he is more than dumbfounded to meet, alive, the beautiful feminine creature whose mummy had been found in the vaults. He begins to suspect the truth — that he has been transported into the past, and is in the great world of which the asteroids are the fragments. While still in a state of dream-like wonderment, comprehending little about him, but learning a few words from his host, whose name is Motanzamor, he witnesses the entrance of a muffled figure, which assails Motanzamor, throwing off its drapery and revealing itself as a great bird-monster with metallic plumage. Motanzamor slays the creature with an electronic spear, and its metal plumage seems to blaze with lightning as it falls.

IV The Planet of the Past

Gradually, Margrave learns the facts of his situation from Motanzamor. He is on the planet Antanôk fifth in order from the sun, between Mars and Jupiter. Motanzamor is a combination of high-priest, wizard and supreme savant, holding leadership of the human race of this world; and the beautiful girl, Amba, his daughter, is the priestess of a sort of star-worship, the main religion of Antanôk. Motanzamor tells Margrave he had constructed beneath the local temple of this worship a sort of fourth-dimensional adytum, whose space would intersect remote aeons of the future beneath the mysterious catalytic action of darkness and certain impinging magnetic forces. He had closed the crypt as a preliminary experiment, and then had re-opened it, to see Margrave emerge. Margrave also learns that the world is in the throes of a great war between its human inhabitants and the metal-feathered bird-people, who have attained a high state of evolution and scientific knowledge. Shortly after, he sees and takes part in a fierce battle with these bird-creatures, who are beaten back.

V Amba

Margrave falls in love with Amba, who is devoted wholly to sidereal things, and has no conception of passion. While on the terrace of Motanzamor's palace one evening, as he is trying to explain love to her, some of the bird-monsters, the Arcroi, descend from the dark, moonless heavens and carry both Amba and Margrave away in their talons to the pinnacle-built city of Ocvar, capital of the Arcroi. Here they are confined in strange dungeons, with perches in lieu of beds, to await the will of Arfaka, emperor of the Arcroi. Other humans have been captured, among them certain savants. Arfaka has all the prisoners brought before him, and begins subjecting them one by one to hellish tortures, in an effort to wrest from them the scientific secrets of Motanzamor, who, among other things, is rumored to possess the power of atomic destruction. Frightful scenes ensue, but before the turn of Margrave and Amba to be tortured arrives, some of the others have broken down and promised to reveal the desired knowledge to Arfaka.

VI The Desert of Aagan

These persons do not profit by their perfidy. After learning all that he can, Arfaka breaks his promise to release them—or, rather, keeps it in a manner characterized by sardonic cruelty. They, together with all the other human prisoners, are conveyed to a dreadful desert beyond the mountain-builded towers of Ocvar, and are there abandoned, to be hunted down by Arcroi fledglings, out for their first taste of blood, like young hawks. There ensues a nightmare chase, in which all the prisoners except Margrave and Amba are overtaken by their cruel pursuers and dragged down. During their struggles to survive and escape from Aagan, Amba learns to love Margrave. After terrific adventures, including the skirting of a valley filled with deadly volcanic gases and the putrefying carcasses of giant monsters, they are found by Motanzamor, who had located them with a televisual apparatus and had sent forth a sort of aircraft into Aagan.

VII The Sacrifice of Amba

Though attacked en route by wandering detachments of the Arcroi, the air-vessel reaches the capital of Motanzamor in safety. However, with the secrets they have learned, Arfaka and his bird-people continue their war against mankind with heavy losses to the latter. In her belief that this may avail, Amba sacrifices herself on the star-altar after bidding farewell to Margrave, but without confessing her purpose to him. She is buried in a vault beneath the altar; and on her bosom is an amulet containing a lesson in English which Margrave had once written for her.

VIII The Destruction of Antanôk

The war continues, with terrific reverses for humanity, which is outnumbered by the Arcroi. Rather than let Antanôk fall under the control of the bird-people, Motanzamor resolves to destroy the planet, by starting in various places foci of disruption, which will rend it into many fragments and hurl them afar into space. He warns Margrave of this, and tells him to re-enter the fourth-dimensional adytum, which will take him back to the future from which he came. Margrave obeys, after witnessing the cataclysmic beginning of the annihilation of Antanôk, with mountains flying off into space. His forward movement in time ceases when light is admitted to the crypt by his comrades, who have been toiling for many hours to penetrate the sealed vault in which they suspect that he has been imprisoned through accident.

The Master Of Destruction



Three years ago, in 2196, the results of the Holdane Expedition to the asteroids were published in some length in an official pamphlet by the Society for Interplanetary Research; and a much fuller account, with many photographic plates, in two volumes, is soon to be issued by the same authoritative body of savants. The whole world is now familiar with the geological and archeological discoveries made by the Expedition, and the strange fossils, ruins and artifacts found on Eros and Pallas and also on some of the smaller asteroids.

However, the singular adventures which befell Uther Margrave, one of the members of the party, were not mentioned at all in the pamphlet; and the larger work, to be printed next year, will similarly exclude them. Even in this age of cosmic marvels, when time and space are both revealing the presence of heretofore-undetected laws, the tale would be looked upon by many as lacking the confirmation of science; and even most of Margrave's companions are prone to regard it as a sort of dream, possibly induced by the inhalation of some rare gas during his confinement in the sealed adytum.

With Margrave's permission, I am giving his narrative an unofficial presentment. He has declined to write the story himself, but has confided all the details to me, so that my task is hardly more than one of transcription. Whether the story is taken for possible truth or plain extravagance, will, I am sure, matter little if at all to Margrave.

I might add that I have seen the amulet of Estra, and the faded writing in Margrave's hand on the little scroll which it contains. Also, I have seen certain fossils, found by the party at a time subsequent to Margrave's experience, which tally in an odd fashion with his account of those avian creatures, the Arcroi. Moreover, I have been shown photographs of ruins on Pallas (to be published in the forthcoming monograph) which correspond with his description of the mountain-builded towers of Ocvar. By those who have read the official pamphlet, it will be remembered that Pallas was not visited by the Holdane Expedition till after the completion of the research on ^Eros^ [Pallas, where Holdane's experience occurred]. Such corroboration will be regarded as mere coincidence by the skeptical; but will doubtless have its value for the open-minded.

I The Ruins on Eros

end of fragment

^xxx^ xxx was added by Smith.
[xxx] xxx was deleted by Smith.

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Printed on: February 22, 2019