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I am looking for a short story that appeared in Weird Tales at some point: a stranger in the distant future shows two men visions of a city on the moon, which one of the men is supposed to sacrifice himself for, but he refuses and that’s what leads to the fall of the city many years ago.

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    Weird Tales has run (haltingly) for nearly a hundred years. Was it an older serial or something more recent? Was it in colour or black and white? Did the story seem to pre- or post-date man's travel to the real moon
    – Valorum
    Aug 19, 2018 at 9:54

1 Answer 1

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Lost Paradise by C. L. Moore, one of the "Northwest Smith" stories. First appeared in Weird Tales, July 1936.

Interplanetary rogue Northwest Smith and his side-kick Yarol are in New York, and see an old man robbed. The man is of a mysterious lost race that resides in Mongolia. The race is rumored to have a secret. Yarol recovers the box stolen from the man. But for reward Yarol demands to know the secret.

The man sighs and shows them by hypnosis. He sends their minds back in time tens of thousands of years. It seems that back then the Moon was habitable and the lost race dwelt there in a lovely city. But the Moon was only habitable by virtue of an awful godlike being who demanded human sacrifice. The sacrifice had to be willing, the god could not devour the soul of the sacrifice if there was any resistance. If a sacrifice resisted, the god would withdraw his power, the atmosphere of the Moon would vanish, and everybody on the Moon would die.

The old man tells Northwest Smith and Yarol that they must die because they know the secret. Their minds are back in time, ensconced inside the body of a sacrifice. The god will eat their souls and they will die.

Others in this predicament are so entranced by the beauty of the city on the Moon that they willingly allow themselves to be sacrificed. But Northwest Smith is a self-centered bastard. He fights the god mentally, resisting for all he is worth.

The god cannot eat his soul, the covenant has been broken, the atmosphere of the Moon vanishes, and everybody dies except for the tiny colony on Earth in Mongolia.

Northwest and Yarol wake up in the present time, alive. The old man is horrified that he is responsible for his nation dying, since he sent Northwest and Yarol back in time. He tries to kill them but Northwest drills him with his trusty heat-raygun and runs away.

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