“It is 1973, and the stately airships of the Great Powers hold benign sway over a peaceful world. The balance of power is maintained by the British Empire – a most equitable and just Empire, ruled by the beloved Kind Edward VIII. A new world order, with peace and prosperity for all under the law. Yet, moved by the politics of envy and perverse utopianism, not all of the Empire’s citizens support the marvelous equilibrium.”
“Flung from the North East Frontier of 1902 into this world of the future, Captain Oswald Bastable is forced to question his most cherished ideals, discovering to his horror that he has become a nomad of the time streams, eternally doomed to travel the wayward currents of a chaotic multiverse.”
“The first in the Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, The Warlord of the Air sees Bastable fall in with the anarchists of this imperial society and set in train a course of events more devastating than he could ever have imagined.”
The Temple at Teku Benga
I don’t know if you’ve ever been in North-East India (began Bastable) but if you have you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s the meeting place of worlds both old and immeasurably ancient. Where India, Nepaul, Tibet and Bhutan come together, about two hundred miles north of Darjiling and about a hundred west of Mt. Kinchunmaja, you’ll find Kumbalari: a state which claims to be older than Time. It’s what they call a “theocracy” — priest-ridden in the extreme, full of dark superstitions and darker myths and legends, where all gods and demons are honoured, doubtless to be on the safe side. The people are cruel, ignorant, dirty and proud — they look down their noses at all other races. They resent the British presence so close to their territory and over the past couple of hundred years we’ve had a spot or two of trouble with them, but never anything much. They won’t go far beyond their own borders, luckily, and their population is kept pretty low thanks to their own various barbaric practices. Sometimes, as on this occasion, a religious leader pops up who convinces them of the necessity of some kind of jehad against the British or British-protected peoples, tells them they’re impervious to our bullets and so forth, and we have to go and teach them a lesson. They are not regarded very seriously by the army, which is doubtless why I was put in charge of the expedition which, in 1902, set off for the Himalayas and Kumbalari.
It was the first time I had commanded so many men and I felt my responsibility very seriously. I had a squadron of a hundred and fifty sowars of the impressive Punjabi Lancers and two hundred fierce, loyal little sepoys of the 9th Ghoorka Infantry. I was intensely proud of my army and felt that if it had had to it could have conquered the whole of Bengal. I was, of course, the only white officer, but I was perfectly willing to admit that the native officers were men of much greater experience than myself and whenever possible I relied on their advice.
My orders were to make a show of strength and, if I could, to avoid a scrap. We just wanted to give the beggars an idea of what they would come up against if we started to take them seriously. Their latest leader — an old fanatic by the name of Sharan Kang — was their King, Archbishop and C-in-C all rolled into one. Sharan Kang had already burned one of our frontier stations and killed a couple of detachments of Native Police. We weren’t interested in vengeance, however, but in making sure it didn’t go any further.
We had some reasonably good maps and a couple of fairly trustworthy guides — distant kinsmen of the Ghoorkas — and we reckoned it would take us little more than two or three days to get to Teku Benga, which was Sharan Kang’s capital, high up in the mountains and reached by a series of narrow passes. Since we were on a diplomatic rather than a military mission, we showed great care in displaying a flag of truce as we crossed the borders into Kumbalari, whose bleak, snow-streaked mountains lowered down at us on all sides.
It was not long before we had our first glimpse of some Kumbalaris. They sat on shaggy ponies which were perched like goats on high mountain ledges: squat, yellow-skinned warriors all swathed in leather and sheepskin and painted iron, their slitted eyes gleaming with hatred and suspicion. If these were not the descendants of Attila the Hun, then they were the descendants of some even earlier warrior folk which had fought on these slopes and gorges a thousand or two thousand years before the Scourge of God had led his hordes East and West, to pillage three quarters of the known world. Like their ancestors, these were armed with bows, lances, sabres, but they also had a few carbines, probably of Russian origin.
Pretending to ignore these watching riders I led my soldiers up the valley. I had a moment’s surprise when a few shots rang out from above and echoed on and on through the peaks, but the guides assured me that these were merely signals to announce our arrival in Kumbalari.
It was slow going over the rocky ground and at times we had to dismount and lead our horses. As we climbed higher and higher the air grew much colder and we were glad when evening came and we could make camp, light warming fires and check our maps to see how much further we had to go.
The respective commanders of the cavalry and the infantry were Risaldar Jenab Shah and Subadar J.K. Bisht, both of them veterans of many similar expeditions. But for all their experience they were inclined to be warier than usual of the Kumbalaris and Subadar Bisht advised me to put a double guard on the camp, which I did.
Subadar Bisht was worried by what he called “the smell on the wind”. He knew something about the Kumbalaris and when he spoke of them I saw a glint of what, in anyone but a Ghoorka’s eyes, I might have mistaken for fear. “These are a cunning and treacherous people, sir,” he told me as we ate together in my tent, with Jenab Shah, a silent giant, beside us. “They are the inheritors of an ancient evil — an evil which existed before the world was born. In our tongue Kumbalari is called the Kingdom of the Devil. Do not expect them to honour our white flag. They will respect it only while it suits them.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “But they’ll have respect for our numbers and our weapons, I dare say.”
“Perhaps.” Subadar Bisht looked dubious. “Unless Sharan Kang has convinced them that they are protected by his magic. He is known to draw much power from nameless gods and to have devils at his command.”
“Modern guns,” I pointed out, “usually prove superior to the most powerful devil, Subadar Bisht.”
The Ghoorka looked grave. “Usually, Captain Bastable. And then there is their cunning. They might try to split up our column with various tricks — so they can attack us independently, with more chance of success.”
I accepted this. “We’ll certainly be on guard against that sort of tactic,” I agreed. “But I do not think I fear their magic.”
Risaldar Jenab Shah spoke soberly in his deep, rumbling voice. “It is not so much what we fear,” he said, “but what they believe.” He smoothed his gleaming black beard. “I agree with the subadar. We must understand that we are dealing with crazy men — reckless fanatics who will not count the cost of their own lives.”
“The Kumbalaris hate us very much,” added Subadar Bisht. “They want to fight us. They have not attacked. This I find suspicious. Could it be, sir, that they are letting us enter a trap?”
“Possibly,” I replied. “But there again, Subadar Bisht, they may simply be afraid of us — afraid of the powers of the British Raj which will send others to punish them most severely if anything should happen to us.”
“If they are certain that punishment will not come — if Sharan Kang has convinced them thus — it will not help us.” Jenab Shah smiled grimly. “We shall be dead, Captain Bastable.”
“If we waited here,” Subadar Bisht suggested, “and let them approach us so that we could hear their words and watch their faces, it would be easier for us to know what to do next.”
I agreed with his logic. “Our supplies will last us an extra two days,” I said. “We will camp here for two days. If they do not come within that time, we will continue on to Teku Benga.”
Both officers were satisfied. We finished our meal and retired to our respective tents.
And so we waited.
On the first day we saw a few riders round the bend in the pass and we made ready to receive them. But they merely watched us for a couple of hours before vanishing. Tension had begun to increase markedly in the camp by the next night.
On the second day one of our scouts rode in to report that over a hundred Kumbalaris had assembled at the far end of the pass and were riding towards us. We assumed a defensive position and continued to wait. When they appeared they were riding slowly and through my field glasses I saw several elaborate horse-hair standards. Attached to one of these was a white flag. The standard-bearers rode on both sides of a red-and-gold litter slung between two ponies. Remembering Subadar Bisht’s words of caution, I gave the order for our cavalry to mount. There is hardly any sight more impressive than a hundred and fifty Punjabi Lancers with their lances at the salute. Risaldar Jenab Shah was by my side. I offered him my glasses. He stared through them for some moments. When he lowered them he was frowning. “Sharan Kang seems to be with them,” he said, “riding in that litter. Perhaps this is a genuine parley party. But why so many?”
“It could be a show of strength,” I said. “But he must have more than a hundred warriors.”
“It depends how many have died for religious purposes,” Jenab Shah said darkly. He turned in his saddle. “Here is Subadar Bisht. What do you make of this, Bisht?”
The Ghoorka officer said: “Sharan Kang would not ride at their head if they were about to charge. The Priest-Kings of Kumbalari do not fight with their warriors.” He spoke with some contempt. “But I warn you, sir, this could be a trick.”
Both the Punjabi sowars and the Ghoorka sepoys were plainly eager to come to grips with the Kumbalaris. “You had better remind your men that we are here to talk peace, if possible,” I said, “not to fight.”
“They will not fight,” Jenab Shah said confidently, “until they have orders to do so. Then they will fight.”
The mass of Kumbalari horsemen drew closer and paused a few hundred feet from our lines. The standard-bearers broke away and, escorting the litter, came up to where I sat my horse at the head of my men.
The red-and-gold litter was covered by curtains. I looked enquiringly at the impassive faces of the standard-bearers, but they said nothing. And then at last the curtain at the front was parted from within and I was suddenly confronting the High Priest himself. He wore elaborate robes of brocade stitched with dozens of tiny mirrors. On his head was a tall hat of painted leather inlaid with gold and ivory. And beneath the peak of the hat was his wizened old face. The face of a particularly malicious devil.
“Greetings, Sharan Kang,” I said. “We are here at the command of the great King-Emperor of Britain. We come to ask why you attack his houses and kill his servants when he has offered no hostility to you.”
One of the guides began to interpret, but Sharan Kang waved his hand impatiently. “Sharan Kang speaks English,” he said in a strange, high-pitched voice. “As he speaks all tongues. For all tongues come from the tongue of the Kumbalari, the First, the Most Ancient.”
I must admit I felt a shiver run through me as he spoke. I could almost believe that he was the powerful sorcerer they claimed him to be.
“Such an ancient people must therefore also be wise.” I tried to stare back into those cruel, intelligent eyes. “And a wise people would not anger the King-Emperor.”
“A wise people knows that it must protect itself against the wolf,” Sharan Kang said, a faint smile curving his lips. “And the British wolf is a singularly rapacious beast, Captain Bastable. It has eaten well in the lands of the south and the west, has it not? Soon it will turn its eyes towards Kumbalari.”
“What you mistake for a wolf is really a lion,” I said, trying not to show I was impressed by the fact that he had known my name. “A lion which brings peace, security, justice to those it chooses to protect. A lion which knows that Kumbalari does not need its protection.”
The conversation continued in these rather convoluted terms for some time before Sharan Kang grew visibly impatient and said suddenly:
“Why are so many soldiers come to our land?”
“Because you attacked our frontier station and killed our men,” I said.
“Because you put your ‘frontier station’ inside our boundaries.” Sharan Kang made a strange gesture in the air. “We are not a greedy people. We have no need to be. We do not hunger for land like the Westerners, for we know that land is not important when a man’s soul is capable of ranging the universe. You may come to Teku Benga, where all gods preside, and there I will tell you what you may say to this upstart barbarian lion who dignifies himself with grandiose titles.”
“You are willing to discuss a treaty?”
“Yes — in Teku Benga, if you come with no more than six of your men.” He gestured, let the curtain fall, and the litter was turned round. The riders began to move back up the valley.
“It is a trick, sir,” Bisht remarked at once. “He hopes that in separating you from us he will cut off our army’s head and thus make it easier to attack us.”
“You could be right, Subadar Bisht, but you know very well that such a trick would not work. The Ghoorkas are not afraid to fight.” I looked back at the sepoys. “Indeed, they seem more than ready to go into battle at this moment.”
“We care nothing for death, sir — the clean battle-death. But it is not the prospect of battle which disturbs me. In my bones I feel something worse may happen. I know the Kumbalaris. They are a deeply wicked people. I dare not think what may happen to you in Teku Benga, Captain Bastable.”
I laid an affectionate hand on my subadar’s shoulder. “I am honoured you should feel thus, Subadar Bisht. But it is my duty to go to Teku Benga. I have my orders. I must settle this matter peacefully if it is at all possible.”
“But if you do not return from Teku Benga within a day, sir, we shall advance towards the city. Then, if we are not given full evidence that you are alive and in good health, we shall attack Teku Benga.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that plan,” I agreed.
And so, with Risaldar Jenab Shah and five of his sowars, I rode next morning for Teku Benga and saw at last the walled mountain city into which no stranger had been admitted for a thousand years. Of course I was suspicious of Sharan Kang. Of course I wondered why, after a thousand years, he was willing to let foreigners defile the holy city with their presence. But what could I do? If he said he was willing to discuss a treaty, then I had to believe him.
I was at a loss to imagine how such a city, rearing as it did out of the crags of the Himalayas, had been built. Its crazy spires and domes defied the very laws of gravity. Its crooked walls followed the line of the mountain slopes and many of the buildings looked as if they had been plucked up and perched delicately on slivers of rock which could scarcely support the weight of a man. Many of the roofs and walls were decorated with complicated carvings of infinitely delicate workmanship, set with jewels and precious metals, rare woods, jade and ivory. Finials curled in on themselves and curled again. Monstrous stone beasts glared down from a score of places on the walls. The whole city glittered in the cold light and it did, indeed, seem older than any architecture I had ever seen or read about. Yet, for all its richness and its age, Teku Benga struck me as being a rather seedy sort of place, as if it had known better days. Perhaps the Kumbalaris had not built it. Perhaps the race which had built it had mysteriously disappeared, as had happened elsewhere, and the Kumbalaris had merely occupied it.
“Ooof! The stench!” With his handkerchief, Risaldar Jenab Shah fastidiously wiped his nose. “They must keep their goats and sheep in their temples and palaces.”
Teku Benga had the smell of a farmyard which had not been too cleanly kept and the smell grew stronger as we entered the main gate under the eyes of the glowering guards. Our horses trod irregularly paved streets caked with dung and other refuse. No women were present in those streets. All we saw were a few male children and a number of warriors lounging, with apparent unconcern, by their ponies. We kept going, up the steeply sloping central street, lined with nothing but temples, towards a large square in what I judged to be the middle of the city. The temples themselves were impressively ugly, in a style which a scholar might have called decadent oriental baroque. Every inch of the buildings was decorated with representations of gods and demons from virtually every mythology in the East. There were mixtures of Hindu and Buddhist decoration, of Moslem and some Christian, of what I took to be Egyptian, Phoenician, Persian, even Greek, and some which were older still; but none of these combinations was at all pleasing to the eye. At least I now understood how it came to be called the Place Where All Gods Preside — though they presided, it seemed to me, in rather uneasy juxtaposition to each other.
“This is distinctly an unhealthy place,” said Jenab Shah. “I will be glad to leave it. I should not like to die here, Captain Bastable. I would fear what would happen to my soul.”
“I know what you mean. Let us hope Sharan Kang keeps his word.”
“I am not sure I heard him give his word, sir,” said the risaldar significantly as we reached the square and reined in our horses. We had arrived outside a huge, ornate building, much larger than the others, but in the same sickening mixture of styles. Domes, minarets, spiraling steeples, lattice walls, pagoda-like terraced roofs, carved pillars, serpent finials, fabulous monsters grinning or growling from every corner, tigers and elephants standing guard at every doorway. The building was predominantly coloured green and saffron, but there was red and blue and orange and gold and some of the roofs were overlaid with gold- or silver-leaf. It seemed the oldest temple of them all. Behind all this was the blue Himalayan sky in which grey and white clouds boiled. It was a sight unlike anything I had ever previously experienced. It filled me with a sense of deep foreboding as if I were in the presence of something not built by human hands at all.
Slowly, out of all the many doorways, saffron-robed priests began to emerge and stand stock still, watching us from the steps and galleries of the building which was Temple or Palace, or both, I could not decide.
These priests looked little different from the warriors we had seen earlier and they were certainly no cleaner. It occurred to me that if the Kumbalaris disdained land, then they disliked water even more. I remarked on this to Risaldar Jenab Shah, who flung back his great turbaned head and laughed heartily — an action which caused the priests to frown at us in hatred and disgust. These priests were not shaven-headed, like most priests who wore the saffron robe. These had long hair hanging down their faces in many greasy braids and some had moustaches or beards which were plaited in a similar fashion. They were a sinister, unsavoury lot. Not a few had belts or cummerbunds into which were stuck scabbarded swords.
We waited and they watched us. We returned their gaze, trying to appear much less concerned than we felt. Our horses moved uneasily under us and tossed their manes, snorting as if the stink of the city was too much, even for them.
Then at last, borne by four priests, the golden litter appeared from what must have been the main entrance of the temple. The curtains were parted and there sat Sharan Kang.
He was grinning.
“I am here, Sharan Kang,” I began, “to listen to anything you wish to tell me concerning your raids on our frontier stations and to discuss the terms of a treaty which will let us live together in peace.”
Sharan Kang’s grin did not falter, but I’m afraid my voice did a little as I stared into that wrinkled, evil face. I had never before felt convinced that I was in the presence of pure evil, but I did at that moment.
After a moment he spoke. “I hear your words and must consider them. Meanwhile you will be guests here —” he gestured behind him — “here at the Temple of the Future Buddha which is also my palace. The oldest of all these ancient buildings.”
A little nervously we dismounted. The four priests picked up Sharan Kang’s litter and bore it back inside. We followed. The interior was heavy with incense and poorly lighted by sputtering bowls of flaming oil suspended from chains fixed to the ceiling. There were no representations of the Buddha here, however, and I supposed that this was because the “Future Buddha” had not yet been born. We followed the litter through a system of corridors, so complicated as to seem like a maze, until we reached a smallish chamber in which food had been laid on a low table surrounded by cushions. Here the litter was lowered and the attendant priests retired, apparently leaving us alone with Sharan Kang. He gestured for us to seat ourselves on the cushions, which we did.
“You must eat and drink,” intoned Sharan Kang, “and then we shall all feel more like talking.”
After washing our hands in the silver bowls of warm water and drying them on the silken towels, we reached, rather reluctantly, towards the food. Sharan Kang helped himself to the same dishes and began to eat heartily, which was something of a relief to us. When we tasted the food we were glad that it did not seem poisoned, for it was delicious.
I complimented the High Priest sincerely on his hospitality and he accepted this graciously enough. He was beginning to seem a much less sinister figure. In fact I was almost beginning to like him.
“It is unusual,” I said, “to have a temple which is also a palace — and with such a strange name, too.”
“The High Priests of Kumbalari,” said Sharan Kang smiling, “are also gods, so they must live in a temple. And since the Future Buddha is not yet here to take up residence, what better place than this temple?”
“They must have been waiting a long time for him to come. How old is this building?”
“Some parts of it are little more than fifteen hundred to two thousand years old. Other parts are perhaps three to five thousand years old. The earliest parts are much, much older than that.”
I did not believe him, of course, but accepted what he said as a typical oriental exaggeration. “And have the Kumbalaris lived here all that time?” I asked politely.
“They have lived here a long, long time. Before that there were — other beings…”
A look almost of fear came into his eyes and he smiled quickly. “Is the food to your taste?”
“It is very rich,” I said. I felt an emotion of fondness for him, as I might have felt as a child to a kindly uncle. I looked at the others. And that was when I became suspicious, for all had stupid, vacant grins on their faces. And I was feeling drowsy! I shook my head, trying to clear it. I got unsteadily to my feet. I shook Risaldar Jenab Shah’s shoulder. “Are you all right, risaldar?”
He looked up at me and laughed, then nodded sagely as if I had made some particularly wise pronouncement.
Now I understood why I had felt so well-disposed towards the cunning old High Priest.
“You have drugged us, Sharan Kang! Why? You think any concessions we make in this state will be honoured when we realize what has been done to us? Or do you plan to mesmerize us — make us give orders to our men which will lead them into a trap?”
Sharan Kang’s eyes were hard. “Sit down, captain. I have not drugged you. I ate the food you ate. Am I drugged?”
“Possibly…” I staggered and had to force my legs to support me. The room had begun to spin. “If you are used to the drug and we are not. What is it? Opium?”
Sharan Kang laughed. “Opium! Opium! Why should it be, Captain Bastable? If you are feeling sleepy it is only because you have eaten so much of the rich food of Kumbalari. You have been living on the simpler diet of a soldier. Why not sleep for a while and…?”
My mouth was dry and my eyes were watering. Sharan Kang, murmuring softly, seemed to sway before me like a cobra about to strike. Cursing him I unbuttoned my holster and drew out my revolver.
Instantly a dozen of the priests appeared, their curved swords at the ready. I tried to aim at Sharan Kang.
“Come closer and he dies,” I said thickly.
I was not sure that they understood the words, but they gathered my meaning.
“Sharan Kang.” My own voice seemed to come from a great distance away. “My men will march on Teku Benga tomorrow. If I do not appear before them, alive and well, they will attack your city and they will destroy it and all who live in it.”
Sharan Kang only smiled. “Of course you will be alive and well, captain. Moreover you will see things in an improved perspective, I am sure.”
“My God! You’ll not mesmerize me! I’m an English officer — not one of your ignorant followers!”
“Please rest, captain. In the morning…”
From the corner of my eye I caught a movement. Two more priests were rushing me from behind. I turned and fired. One went down. The other closed with me, trying to wrench the gun from my grasp. I fired it and blew a great hole in him. With a cry he released my wrist and fell writhing to the ground. Now the Punjabis were beside me, their own pistols drawn, doing their best to support each other, for all were as badly drugged as was I. Jenab Shah said with difficulty: “We must try to reach fresh air, captain. It might help. And if we can get to our horses, we may escape…”
“You’ll be fools to leave this room,” said Sharan Kang evenly. “Even we do not know every part of the maze which is the Temple of the Future Buddha. Some say that sections of it do not even exist in our own time…”
“Be silent!” I ordered, covering him again with my pistol. “I’ll not listen further to your lies.”
We began to back away from Sharan Kang and his remaining priests, our revolvers at the ready as we looked around for the entrance through which we had come. But all entrances were alike. At last we chose one and staggered through it, finding ourselves in almost total blackness.
As we blundered about, seeking a door which would lead us outside, I wondered again at the reasons for Sharan Kang’s drugging us. I shall never know what his exact plans were, however.
Suddenly one of our men gave a yell and fired into the darkness. At first I saw nothing but a blank wall. Then two or three priests came running at us from thin air, apparently unarmed — but impervious to the man’s bullets.
“Stop firing!” I rasped, convinced that this was an optical illusion. “Follow me!” I stumbled down a flight of steps, pushed through an awning, found myself in another chamber laid out with food — but not the same chamber in which we had eaten. I hesitated. Was I already in the grip of a drugged dream? I crossed the room, knocking over a small stool as I passed the table, and dashed back a series of silk curtains until I discovered an exit. With my men behind me I passed through the archway striking my shoulders painfully as I weaved from side to side of the corridor. Another flight of steps. Another chamber almost exactly like the first, laid out with food. Another exit and still another flight of steps leading downward. A passage.
I don’t know for how long this useless stumbling about went on, but it felt like an eternity. We were completely lost and our only consolation was that our enemies seemed to have given up their pursuit. We were deep in an unlit part of the Temple of the Future Buddha. There was no smell of incense here — only cold, stale air. Everything I touched was cold; carved from rock and studded with raw jewels and metal, every inch of the walls seemed covered in gargoyles. Sometimes my fingers would trace part of a carving and then recoil in horror at the vision which was conjured up.
The drug was still in us, but the strenuous exercise had dismissed part of its effect. My head was beginning to clear when at last I paused, panting, and tried to review our position.
“I think we are in an unused part of the temple,” I said, “and a long way below the level of the street, judging by all those steps we went down. I wonder why they haven’t followed us. If we wait here for a little while and then try to make our way back undetected, we stand a chance of reaching our men and warning them of Sharan Kang’s treachery. Any other ideas, risaldar?”
There was silence.
I peered into the darkness. “Risaldar?”
I reached into my pocket and took out a box of matches. I lit one.
All I saw were the horrid carvings — infinitely more disgusting than those in the upper parts of the building. They seemed both inhuman and unbelievably ancient. I could understand now why we had not been followed. I dropped the match with a gasp. Where were my men?
I risked calling out. “Risaldar? Jenab Shah?”
I shuddered, beginning to believe in everything I had been told about Sharan Kang’s power. I found myself stumbling forward, trying to run, falling on the stone and picking myself up, running again, insane with terror, until, completely exhausted, I fell to the deathly cold floor of the Temple of the Future Buddha.
I might have passed out for a short while, but the next thing I remember was a peculiar noise — unmistakably the sound of distant, tinkling laughter. Sharan Kang? No.
I reached out, trying to touch the walls. I found only empty space on both sides of me. I had left the corridor, I supposed, and entered a chamber. I shivered. Again that peculiar, tinkling laughter.
And then I saw a tiny light ahead of me. I got up and began to move towards it, but it must have been a very long way away, for it grew no larger.
Then the light began to move towards me!
And as it came closer, the sound of the unearthly laughter grew louder until I was forced to holster my pistol and cover my ears. The light intensified. I squeezed my eyes shut in pain. The ground beneath my feet began to sway. An earthquake?
I risked opening my eyes for a moment and through the blinding white light got an impression of more inhuman carvings, or strange, complicated things which might have been machines built by the ancient Hindu gods.
And then the floor seemed to give way beneath me and I was plunging downwards, was caught by a whirlwind and hurled upward, was tossed head over heels, dashed from side to side, hurled downward again, until my senses left me altogether, save for that sensation of bitter, bitter cold.
Then I felt nothing, not even the cold. I became convinced that I was dead, slain by a force which had lurked below the temple since the beginnings of Time and which even Sharan Kang, Master Sorcerer of Teku Benga, had been afraid to face.
Then I ceased to think at all.