At the Earth's Core
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 2 out of 3
And now, as the two stood frozen in terror, I saw the author of
that fearsome sound creeping stealthily into view. It was a huge
tiger--such as hunted the great Bos through the jungles primeval
when the world was young. In contour and markings it was not unlike
the noblest of the Bengals of our own world, but as its dimensions
were exaggerated to colossal proportions so too were its colorings
exaggerated. Its vivid yellows fairly screamed aloud; its whites
were as eider down; its blacks glossy as the finest anthracite
coal, and its coat long and shaggy as a mountain goat. That it
is a beautiful animal there is no gainsaying, but if its size and
colors are magnified here within Pellucidar, so is the ferocity of
its disposition. It is not the occasional member of its species
that is a man hunter--all are man hunters; but they do not confine
their foraging to man alone, for there is no flesh or fish within
Pellucidar that they will not eat with relish in the constant efforts
which they make to furnish their huge carcasses with sufficient
sustenance to maintain their mighty thews.
Upon one side of the doomed pair the thag bellowed and advanced,
and upon the other tarag, the frightful, crept toward them with
gaping mouth and dripping fangs.
The man seized the spears, handing one of them to the woman. At
the sound of the roaring of the tiger the bull's bellowing became
a veritable frenzy of rageful noise. Never in my life had I heard
such an infernal din as the two brutes made, and to think it was
all lost upon the hideous reptiles for whom the show was staged!
The thag was charging now from one side, and the tarag from the
other. The two puny things standing between them seemed already
lost, but at the very moment that the beasts were upon them the man
grasped his companion by the arm and together they leaped to one
side, while the frenzied creatures came together like locomotives
There ensued a battle royal which for sustained and frightful
ferocity transcends the power of imagination or description. Time
and again the colossal bull tossed the enormous tiger high into the
air, but each time that the huge cat touched the ground he returned
to the encounter with apparently undiminished strength, and seemingly
For a while the man and woman busied themselves only with keeping
out of the way of the two creatures, but finally I saw them separate
and each creep stealthily toward one of the combatants. The tiger
was now upon the bull's broad back, clinging to the huge neck with
powerful fangs while its long, strong talons ripped the heavy hide
into shreds and ribbons.
For a moment the bull stood bellowing and quivering with pain and
rage, its cloven hoofs widespread, its tail lashing viciously from
side to side, and then, in a mad orgy of bucking it went careening
about the arena in frenzied attempt to unseat its rending rider.
It was with difficulty that the girl avoided the first mad rush of
the wounded animal.
All its efforts to rid itself of the tiger seemed futile, until
in desperation it threw itself upon the ground, rolling over and
over. A little of this so disconcerted the tiger, knocking its
breath from it I imagine, that it lost its hold and then, quick
as a cat, the great thag was up again and had buried those mighty
horns deep in the tarag's abdomen, pinning him to the floor of the
The great cat clawed at the shaggy head until eyes and ears were
gone, and naught but a few strips of ragged, bloody flesh remained
upon the skull. Yet through all the agony of that fearful punishment
the thag still stood motionless pinning down his adversary, and
then the man leaped in, seeing that the blind bull would be the
least formidable enemy, and ran his spear through the tarag's heart.
As the animal's fierce clawing ceased, the bull raised his gory,
sightless head, and with a horrid roar ran headlong across the
arena. With great leaps and bounds he came, straight toward the
arena wall directly beneath where we sat, and then accident carried
him, in one of his mighty springs, completely over the barrier into
the midst of the slaves and Sagoths just in front of us. Swinging
his bloody horns from side to side the beast cut a wide swath
before him straight upward toward our seats. Before him slaves
and gorilla-men fought in mad stampede to escape the menace of the
creature's death agonies, for such only could that frightful charge
Forgetful of us, our guards joined in the general rush for the
exits, many of which pierced the wall of the amphitheater behind
us. Perry, Ghak, and I became separated in the chaos which reigned
for a few moments after the beast cleared the wall of the arena,
each intent upon saving his own hide.
I ran to the right, passing several exits choked with the fear mad
mob that were battling to escape. One would have thought that an
entire herd of thags was loose behind them, rather than a single
blinded, dying beast; but such is the effect of panic upon a crowd.
Once out of the direct path of the animal, fear of it left me,
but another emotion as quickly gripped me--hope of escape that the
demoralized condition of the guards made possible for the instant.
I thought of Perry, but for the hope that I might better encompass
his release if myself free I should have put the thought of freedom
from me at once. As it was I hastened on toward the right searching
for an exit toward which no Sagoths were fleeing, and at last I
found it--a low, narrow aperture leading into a dark corridor.
Without thought of the possible consequence, I darted into the
shadows of the tunnel, feeling my way along through the gloom for
some distance. The noises of the amphitheater had grown fainter and
fainter until now all was as silent as the tomb about me. Faint
light filtered from above through occasional ventilating and lighting
tubes, but it was scarce sufficient to enable my human eyes to cope
with the darkness, and so I was forced to move with extreme care,
feeling my way along step by step with a hand upon the wall beside
Presently the light increased and a moment later, to my delight,
I came upon a flight of steps leading upward, at the top of which
the brilliant light of the noonday sun shone through an opening in
Cautiously I crept up the stairway to the tunnel's end, and peering
out saw the broad plain of Phutra before me. The numerous lofty,
granite towers which mark the several entrances to the subterranean
city were all in front of me--behind, the plain stretched level
and unbroken to the nearby foothills. I had come to the surface,
then, beyond the city, and my chances for escape seemed much
My first impulse was to await darkness before attempting to cross
the plain, so deeply implanted are habits of thought; but of a
sudden I recollected the perpetual noonday brilliance which envelopes
Pellucidar, and with a smile I stepped forth into the day-light.
Rank grass, waist high, grows upon the plain of Phutra--the gorgeous
flowering grass of the inner world, each particular blade of which
is tipped with a tiny, five-pointed blossom--brilliant little stars
of varying colors that twinkle in the green foliage to add still
another charm to the weird, yet lovely, land-scape.
But then the only aspect which attracted me was the distant hills
in which I hoped to find sanctuary, and so I hastened on, trampling
the myriad beauties beneath my hurrying feet. Perry says that the
force of gravity is less upon the surface of the inner world than
upon that of the outer. He explained it all to me once, but I
was never particularly brilliant in such matters and so most of it
has escaped me. As I recall it the difference is due in some part
to the counter-attraction of that portion of the earth's crust
directly opposite the spot upon the face of Pellucidar at which
one's calculations are being made. Be that as it may, it always
seemed to me that I moved with greater speed and agility within
Pellucidar than upon the outer surface--there was a certain airy
lightness of step that was most pleasing, and a feeling of bodily
detachment which I can only compare with that occasionally experienced
And as I crossed Phutra's flower-bespangled plain that time I
seemed almost to fly, though how much of the sensation was due to
Perry's suggestion and how much to actuality I am sure I do not know.
The more I thought of Perry the less pleasure I took in my new-found
freedom. There could be no liberty for me within Pellucidar unless
the old man shared it with me, and only the hope that I might find
some way to encompass his release kept me from turning back to
Just how I was to help Perry I could scarce imagine, but I hoped
that some fortuitous circumstance might solve the problem for me.
It was quite evident however that little less than a miracle could
aid me, for what could I accomplish in this strange world, naked
and unarmed? It was even doubtful that I could retrace my steps to
Phutra should I once pass beyond view of the plain, and even were
that possible, what aid could I bring to Perry no matter how far
The case looked more and more hopeless the longer I viewed it, yet
with a stubborn persistency I forged ahead toward the foothills.
Behind me no sign of pursuit developed, before me I saw no living
thing. It was as though I moved through a dead and forgotten world.
I have no idea, of course, how long it took me to reach the limit
of the plain, but at last I entered the foothills, following a pretty
little canyon upward toward the mountains. Beside me frolicked a
laughing brooklet, hurrying upon its noisy way down to the silent
sea. In its quieter pools I discovered many small fish, of four-or
five-pound weight I should imagine. In appearance, except as to
size and color, they were not unlike the whale of our own seas.
As I watched them playing about I discovered, not only that they
suckled their young, but that at intervals they rose to the surface
to breathe as well as to feed upon certain grasses and a strange,
scarlet lichen which grew upon the rocks just above the water line.
It was this last habit that gave me the opportunity I craved
to capture one of these herbivorous cetaceans--that is what Perry
calls them--and make as good a meal as one can on raw, warm-blooded
fish; but I had become rather used, by this time, to the eating of
food in its natural state, though I still balked on the eyes and
entrails, much to the amusement of Ghak, to whom I always passed
Crouching beside the brook, I waited until one of the diminutive
purple whales rose to nibble at the long grasses which overhung
the water, and then, like the beast of prey that man really is, I
sprang upon my victim, appeasing my hunger while he yet wriggled
Then I drank from the clear pool, and after washing my hands and face
continued my flight. Above the source of the brook I encountered
a rugged climb to the summit of a long ridge. Beyond was a steep
declivity to the shore of a placid, inland sea, upon the quiet
surface of which lay several beautiful islands.
The view was charming in the extreme, and as no man or beast was
to be seen that might threaten my new-found liberty, I slid over
the edge of the bluff, and half sliding, half falling, dropped into
the delightful valley, the very aspect of which seemed to offer a
haven of peace and security.
The gently sloping beach along which I walked was thickly strewn
with strangely shaped, colored shells; some empty, others still
housing as varied a multitude of mollusks as ever might have drawn
out their sluggish lives along the silent shores of the antediluvian
seas of the outer crust. As I walked I could not but compare myself
with the first man of that other world, so complete the solitude
which surrounded me, so primal and untouched the virgin wonders
and beauties of adolescent nature. I felt myself a second Adam
wending my lonely way through the childhood of a world, searching
for my Eve, and at the thought there rose before my mind's eye the
exquisite outlines of a perfect face surmounted by a loose pile of
wondrous, raven hair.
As I walked, my eyes were bent upon the beach so that it was not
until I had come quite upon it that I discovered that which shattered
all my beautiful dream of solitude and safety and peace and primal
overlordship. The thing was a hollowed log drawn upon the sands,
and in the bottom of it lay a crude paddle.
The rude shock of awakening to what doubtless might prove some
new form of danger was still upon me when I heard a rattling of
loose stones from the direction of the bluff, and turning my eyes
in that direction I beheld the author of the disturbance, a great
copper-colored man, running rapidly toward me.
There was that in the haste with which he came which seemed quite
sufficiently menacing, so that I did not need the added evidence
of brandishing spear and scowling face to warn me that I was in no
safe position, but whither to flee was indeed a momentous question.
The speed of the fellow seemed to preclude the possibility of escaping
him upon the open beach. There was but a single alternative--the
rude skiff--and with a celerity which equaled his, I pushed the thing
into the sea and as it floated gave a final shove and clambered in
over the end.
A cry of rage rose from the owner of the primitive craft, and an
instant later his heavy, stone-tipped spear grazed my shoulder and
buried itself in the bow of the boat beyond. Then I grasped the
paddle, and with feverish haste urged the awkward, wobbly thing
out upon the surface of the sea.
A glance over my shoulder showed me that the copper-colored one
had plunged in after me and was swimming rapidly in pursuit. His
mighty strokes bade fair to close up the distance between us in
short order, for at best I could make but slow progress with my
unfamiliar craft, which nosed stubbornly in every direction but
that which I desired to follow, so that fully half my energy was
expended in turning its blunt prow back into the course.
I had covered some hundred yards from shore when it became evident
that my pursuer must grasp the stern of the skiff within the next
half-dozen strokes. In a frenzy of despair, I bent to the grandfather
of all paddles in a hopeless effort to escape, and still the copper
giant behind me gained and gained.
His hand was reaching upward for the stern when I saw a sleek,
sinuous body shoot from the depths below. The man saw it too, and
the look of terror that overspread his face assured me that I need
have no further concern as to him, for the fear of certain death
was in his look.
And then about him coiled the great, slimy folds of a hideous monster
of that prehistoric deep--a mighty serpent of the sea, with fanged
jaws, and darting forked tongue, with bulging eyes, and bony
protuberances upon head and snout that formed short, stout horns.
As I looked at that hopeless struggle my eyes met those of the
doomed man, and I could have sworn that in his I saw an expression
of hopeless appeal. But whether I did or not there swept through
me a sudden compassion for the fellow. He was indeed a brother-man,
and that he might have killed me with pleasure had he caught me
was forgotten in the extremity of his danger.
Unconsciously I had ceased paddling as the serpent rose to engage
my pursuer, so now the skiff still drifted close beside the two.
The monster seemed to be but playing with his victim before he
closed his awful jaws upon him and dragged him down to his dark
den beneath the surface to devour him. The huge, snakelike body
coiled and uncoiled about its prey. The hideous, gaping jaws
snapped in the victim's face. The forked tongue, lightning-like,
ran in and out upon the copper skin.
Nobly the giant battled for his life, beating with his stone hatchet
against the bony armor that covered that frightful carcass; but
for all the damage he inflicted he might as well have struck with
his open palm.
At last I could endure no longer to sit supinely by while a fellowman
was dragged down to a horrible death by that repulsive reptile.
Embedded in the prow of the skiff lay the spear that had been cast
after me by him whom I suddenly desired to save. With a wrench I
tore it loose, and standing upright in the wobbly log drove it with
all the strength of my two arms straight into the gaping jaws of
With a loud hiss the creature abandoned its prey to turn upon me,
but the spear, imbedded in its throat, prevented it from seizing
me though it came near to overturning the skiff in its mad efforts
to reach me.
THE MAHAR TEMPLE
The aborigine, apparently uninjured, climbed quickly into the skiff,
and seizing the spear with me helped to hold off the infuriated
creature. Blood from the wounded reptile was now crimsoning the
waters about us and soon from the weakening struggles it became
evident that I had inflicted a death wound upon it. Presently
its efforts to reach us ceased entirely, and with a few convulsive
movements it turned upon its back quite dead.
And then there came to me a sudden realization of the predicament
in which I had placed myself. I was entirely within the power of
the savage man whose skiff I had stolen. Still clinging to the
spear I looked into his face to find him scrutinizing me intently,
and there we stood for some several minutes, each clinging tenaciously
to the weapon the while we gazed in stupid wonderment at each other.
What was in his mind I do not know, but in my own was merely the
question as to how soon the fellow would recommence hostilities.
Presently he spoke to me, but in a tongue which I was unable to
translate. I shook my head in an effort to indicate my ignorance
of his language, at the same time addressing him in the bastard
tongue that the Sagoths use to converse with the human slaves of
To my delight he understood and answered me in the same jargon.
"What do you want of my spear?" he asked.
"Only to keep you from running it through me," I replied.
"I would not do that," he said, "for you have just saved my life,"
and with that he released his hold upon it and squatted down in
the bottom of the skiff.
"Who are you," he continued, "and from what country do you come?"
I too sat down, laying the spear between us, and tried to explain
how I came to Pellucidar, and wherefrom, but it was as impossible
for him to grasp or believe the strange tale I told him as I fear
it is for you upon the outer crust to believe in the existence
of the inner world. To him it seemed quite ridiculous to imagine
that there was another world far beneath his feet peopled by beings
similar to himself, and he laughed uproariously the more he thought
upon it. But it was ever thus. That which has never come within the
scope of our really pitifully meager world-experience cannot be--our
finite minds cannot grasp that which may not exist in accordance
with the conditions which obtain about us upon the outside of the
insignificant grain of dust which wends its tiny way among the
bowlders of the universe--the speck of moist dirt we so proudly
call the World.
So I gave it up and asked him about himself. He said he was a
Mezop, and that his name was Ja.
"Who are the Mezops?" I asked. "Where do they live?"
He looked at me in surprise.
"I might indeed believe that you were from another world," he said,
"for who of Pellucidar could be so ignorant! The Mezops live upon
the islands of the seas. In so far as I ever have heard no Mezop
lives elsewhere, and no others than Mezops dwell upon islands, but
of course it may be different in other far-distant lands. I do not
know. At any rate in this sea and those near by it is true that
only people of my race inhabit the islands.
"We are fishermen, though we be great hunters as well, often going
to the mainland in search of the game that is scarce upon all but
the larger islands. And we are warriors also," he added proudly.
"Even the Sagoths of the Mahars fear us. Once, when Pellucidar
was young, the Sagoths were wont to capture us for slaves as they
do the other men of Pellucidar, it is handed down from father to
son among us that this is so; but we fought so desperately and slew
so many Sagoths, and those of us that were captured killed so many
Mahars in their own cities that at last they learned that it were
better to leave us alone, and later came the time that the Mahars
became too indolent even to catch their own fish, except for
amusement, and then they needed us to supply their wants, and so a
truce was made between the races. Now they give us certain things
which we are unable to produce in return for the fish that we catch,
and the Mezops and the Mahars live in peace.
"The great ones even come to our islands. It is there, far from
the prying eyes of their own Sagoths, that they practice their
religious rites in the temples they have builded there with our
assistance. If you live among us you will doubtless see the manner
of their worship, which is strange indeed, and most unpleasant for
the poor slaves they bring to take part in it."
As Ja talked I had an excellent opportunity to inspect him more
closely. He was a huge fellow, standing I should say six feet six
or seven inches, well developed and of a coppery red not unlike that
of our own North American Indian, nor were his features dissimilar
to theirs. He had the aquiline nose found among many of the higher
tribes, the prominent cheek bones, and black hair and eyes, but his
mouth and lips were better molded. All in all, Ja was an impressive
and handsome creature, and he talked well too, even in the miserable
makeshift language we were compelled to use.
During our conversation Ja had taken the paddle and was propelling
the skiff with vigorous strokes toward a large island that lay some
half-mile from the mainland. The skill with which he handled his
crude and awkward craft elicited my deepest admiration, since it
had been so short a time before that I had made such pitiful work
As we touched the pretty, level beach Ja leaped out and I followed
him. Together we dragged the skiff far up into the bushes that
grew beyond the sand.
"We must hide our canoes," explained Ja, "for the Mezops of Luana
are always at war with us and would steal them if they found them,"
he nodded toward an island farther out at sea, and at so great a
distance that it seemed but a blur hanging in the distant sky. The
upward curve of the surface of Pellucidar was constantly revealing
the impossible to the surprised eyes of the outer-earthly. To see
land and water curving upward in the distance until it seemed to
stand on edge where it melted into the distant sky, and to feel
that seas and mountains hung suspended directly above one's head
required such a complete reversal of the perceptive and reasoning
faculties as almost to stupefy one.
No sooner had we hidden the canoe than Ja plunged into the jungle,
presently emerging into a narrow but well-defined trail which
wound hither and thither much after the manner of the highways of
all primitive folk, but there was one peculiarity about this Mezop
trail which I was later to find distinguished them from all other
trails that I ever have seen within or without the earth.
It would run on, plain and clear and well defined to end suddenly
in the midst of a tangle of matted jungle, then Ja would turn
directly back in his tracks for a little distance, spring into a
tree, climb through it to the other side, drop onto a fallen log,
leap over a low bush and alight once more upon a distinct trail
which he would follow back for a short distance only to turn directly
about and retrace his steps until after a mile or less this new
pathway ended as suddenly and mysteriously as the former section.
Then he would pass again across some media which would reveal no
spoor, to take up the broken thread of the trail beyond.
As the purpose of this remarkable avenue dawned upon me I could
not but admire the native shrewdness of the ancient progenitor of
the Mezops who hit upon this novel plan to throw his enemies from
his track and delay or thwart them in their attempts to follow him
to his deep-buried cities.
To you of the outer earth it might seem a slow and tortuous method
of traveling through the jungle, but were you of Pellucidar you
would realize that time is no factor where time does not exist.
So labyrinthine are the windings of these trails, so varied the
connecting links and the distances which one must retrace one's
steps from the paths' ends to find them that a Mezop often reaches
man's estate before he is familiar even with those which lead from
his own city to the sea.
In fact three-fourths of the education of the young male Mezop
consists in familiarizing himself with these jungle avenues, and
the status of an adult is largely determined by the number of trails
which he can follow upon his own island. The females never learn
them, since from birth to death they never leave the clearing
in which the village of their nativity is situated except they be
taken to mate by a male from another village, or captured in war
by the enemies of their tribe.
After proceeding through the jungle for what must have been upward
of five miles we emerged suddenly into a large clearing in the
exact center of which stood as strange an appearing village as one
might well imagine.
Large trees had been chopped down fifteen or twenty feet above the
ground, and upon the tops of them spherical habitations of woven
twigs, mud covered, had been built. Each ball-like house was
surmounted by some manner of carven image, which Ja told me indicated
the identity of the owner.
Horizontal slits, six inches high and two or three feet wide, served
to admit light and ventilation. The entrances to the house were
through small apertures in the bases of the trees and thence upward
by rude ladders through the hollow trunks to the rooms above. The
houses varied in size from two to several rooms. The largest that
I entered was divided into two floors and eight apartments.
All about the village, between it and the jungle, lay beautifully
cultivated fields in which the Mezops raised such cereals, fruits,
and vegetables as they required. Women and children were working
in these gardens as we crossed toward the village. At sight of Ja
they saluted deferentially, but to me they paid not the slightest
attention. Among them and about the outer verge of the cultivated
area were many warriors. These too saluted Ja, by touching the
points of their spears to the ground directly before them.
Ja conducted me to a large house in the center of the village--the
house with eight rooms--and taking me up into it gave me food and
drink. There I met his mate, a comely girl with a nursing baby in
her arms. Ja told her of how I had saved his life, and she was
thereafter most kind and hospitable toward me, even permitting
me to hold and amuse the tiny bundle of humanity whom Ja told me
would one day rule the tribe, for Ja, it seemed, was the chief of
We had eaten and rested, and I had slept, much to Ja's amusement,
for it seemed that he seldom if ever did so, and then the red man
proposed that I accompany him to the temple of the Mahars which
lay not far from his village. "We are not supposed to visit it,"
he said; "but the great ones cannot hear and if we keep well out of
sight they need never know that we have been there. For my part I
hate them and always have, but the other chieftains of the island
think it best that we continue to maintain the amicable relations
which exist between the two races; otherwise I should like nothing
better than to lead my warriors amongst the hideous creatures and
exterminate them--Pellucidar would be a better place to live were
there none of them."
I wholly concurred in Ja's belief, but it seemed that it might be
a difficult matter to exterminate the dominant race of Pellucidar.
Thus conversing we followed the intricate trail toward the temple,
which we came upon in a small clearing surrounded by enormous trees
similar to those which must have flourished upon the outer crust
during the carboniferous age.
Here was a mighty temple of hewn rock built in the shape of a rough
oval with rounded roof in which were several large openings. No
doors or windows were visible in the sides of the structure, nor
was there need of any, except one entrance for the slaves, since,
as Ja explained, the Mahars flew to and from their place of ceremonial,
entering and leaving the building by means of the apertures in the
"But," added Ja, "there is an entrance near the base of which even
the Mahars know nothing. Come," and he led me across the clearing
and about the end to a pile of loose rock which lay against the
foot of the wall. Here he removed a couple of large bowlders,
revealing a small opening which led straight within the building,
or so it seemed, though as I entered after Ja I discovered myself
in a narrow place of extreme darkness.
"We are within the outer wall," said Ja. "It is hollow. Follow
The red man groped ahead a few paces and then began to ascend
a primitive ladder similar to that which leads from the ground to
the upper stories of his house. We ascended for some forty feet
when the interior of the space between the walls commenced to grow
lighter and presently we came opposite an opening in the inner
wall which gave us an unobstructed view of the entire interior of
The lower floor was an enormous tank of clear water in which numerous
hideous Mahars swam lazily up and down. Artificial islands of
granite rock dotted this artificial sea, and upon several of them
I saw men and women like myself.
"What are the human beings doing here?" I asked.
"Wait and you shall see," replied Ja. "They are to take a leading
part in the ceremonies which will follow the advent of the queen.
You may be thankful that you are not upon the same side of the wall
Scarcely had he spoken than we heard a great fluttering of wings above
and a moment later a long procession of the frightful reptiles of
Pellucidar winged slowly and majestically through the large central
opening in the roof and circled in stately manner about the temple.
There were several Mahars first, and then at least twenty awe-inspiring
pterodactyls--thipdars, they are called within Pellucidar. Behind
these came the queen, flanked by other thipdars as she had been
when she entered the amphitheater at Phutra.
Three times they wheeled about the interior of the oval chamber, to
settle finally upon the damp, cold bowlders that fringe the outer
edge of the pool. In the center of one side the largest rock was
reserved for the queen, and here she took her place surrounded by
her terrible guard.
All lay quiet for several minutes after settling to their places.
One might have imagined them in silent prayer. The poor slaves
upon the diminutive islands watched the horrid creatures with wide
eyes. The men, for the most part, stood erect and stately with
folded arms, awaiting their doom; but the women and children clung
to one another, hiding behind the males. They are a noble-looking
race, these cave men of Pellucidar, and if our progenitors were as
they, the human race of the outer crust has deteriorated rather than
improved with the march of the ages. All they lack is opportunity.
We have opportunity, and little else.
Now the queen moved. She raised her ugly head, looking about;
then very slowly she crawled to the edge of her throne and slid
noiselessly into the water. Up and down the long tank she swam,
turning at the ends as you have seen captive seals turn in their
tiny tanks, turning upon their backs and diving below the surface.
Nearer and nearer to the island she came until at last she remained
at rest before the largest, which was directly opposite her throne.
Raising her hideous head from the water she fixed her great, round
eyes upon the slaves. They were fat and sleek, for they had been
brought from a distant Mahar city where human beings are kept in
droves, and bred and fattened, as we breed and fatten beef cattle.
The queen fixed her gaze upon a plump young maiden. Her victim tried
to turn away, hiding her face in her hands and kneeling behind a
woman; but the reptile, with unblinking eyes, stared on with such
fixity that I could have sworn her vision penetrated the woman,
and the girl's arms to reach at last the very center of her brain.
Slowly the reptile's head commenced to move to and fro, but the
eyes never ceased to bore toward the frightened girl, and then the
victim responded. She turned wide, fear-haunted eyes toward the
Mahar queen, slowly she rose to her feet, and then as though dragged
by some unseen power she moved as one in a trance straight toward
the reptile, her glassy eyes fixed upon those of her captor. To
the water's edge she came, nor did she even pause, but stepped
into the shallows beside the little island. On she moved toward
the Mahar, who now slowly retreated as though leading her victim
on. The water rose to the girl's knees, and still she advanced,
chained by that clammy eye. Now the water was at her waist; now
her armpits. Her fellows upon the island looked on in horror,
helpless to avert her doom in which they saw a forecast of their
The Mahar sank now till only the long upper bill and eyes were
exposed above the surface of the water, and the girl had advanced
until the end of that repulsive beak was but an inch or two from
her face, her horror-filled eyes riveted upon those of the reptile.
Now the water passed above the girl's mouth and nose--her eyes
and forehead all that showed--yet still she walked on after the
retreating Mahar. The queen's head slowly disappeared beneath
the surface and after it went the eyes of her victim--only a slow
ripple widened toward the shores to mark where the two vanished.
For a time all was silence within the temple. The slaves were
motionless in terror. The Mahars watched the surface of the water
for the reappearance of their queen, and presently at one end of
the tank her head rose slowly into view. She was backing toward
the surface, her eyes fixed before her as they had been when she
dragged the helpless girl to her doom.
And then to my utter amazement I saw the forehead and eyes of the
maiden come slowly out of the depths, following the gaze of the
reptile just as when she had disappeared beneath the surface. On
and on came the girl until she stood in water that reached barely
to her knees, and though she had been beneath the surface sufficient
time to have drowned her thrice over there was no indication,
other than her dripping hair and glistening body, that she had been
submerged at all.
Again and again the queen led the girl into the depths and out
again, until the uncanny weirdness of the thing got on my nerves
so that I could have leaped into the tank to the child's rescue
had I not taken a firm hold of myself.
Once they were below much longer than usual, and when they came
to the surface I was horrified to see that one of the girl's arms
was gone--gnawed completely off at the shoulder--but the poor thing
gave no indication of realizing pain, only the horror in her set
eyes seemed intensified.
The next time they appeared the other arm was gone, and then
the breasts, and then a part of the face--it was awful. The poor
creatures on the islands awaiting their fate tried to cover their
eyes with their hands to hide the fearful sight, but now I saw that
they too were under the hypnotic spell of the reptiles, so that
they could only crouch in terror with their eyes fixed upon the
terrible thing that was transpiring before them.
Finally the queen was under much longer than ever before, and when
she rose she came alone and swam sleepily toward her bowlder. The
moment she mounted it seemed to be the signal for the other Mahars
to enter the tank, and then commenced, upon a larger scale, a
repetition of the uncanny performance through which the queen had
led her victim.
Only the women and children fell prey to the Mahars--they being the
weakest and most tender--and when they had satisfied their appetite
for human flesh, some of them devouring two and three of the slaves,
there were only a score of full-grown men left, and I thought that
for some reason these were to be spared, but such was far from the
case, for as the last Mahar crawled to her rock the queen's thipdars
darted into the air, circled the temple once and then, hissing like
steam engines, swooped down upon the remaining slaves.
There was no hypnotism here--just the plain, brutal ferocity of
the beast of prey, tearing, rending, and gulping its meat, but at
that it was less horrible than the uncanny method of the Mahars.
By the time the thipdars had disposed of the last of the slaves
the Mahars were all asleep upon their rocks, and a moment later
the great pterodactyls swung back to their posts beside the queen,
and themselves dropped into slumber.
"I thought the Mahars seldom, if ever, slept," I said to Ja.
"They do many things in this temple which they do not do elsewhere,"
he replied. "The Mahars of Phutra are not supposed to eat human
flesh, yet slaves are brought here by thousands and almost always
you will find Mahars on hand to consume them. I imagine that they
do not bring their Sagoths here, because they are ashamed of the
practice, which is supposed to obtain only among the least advanced
of their race; but I would wager my canoe against a broken paddle
that there is no Mahar but eats human flesh whenever she can get
"Why should they object to eating human flesh," I asked, "if it is
true that they look upon us as lower animals?"
"It is not because they consider us their equals that they are
supposed to look with abhorrence upon those who eat our flesh,"
replied Ja; "it is merely that we are warm-blooded animals. They
would not think of eating the meat of a thag, which we consider
such a delicacy, any more than I would think of eating a snake. As
a matter of fact it is difficult to explain just why this sentiment
should exist among them."
"I wonder if they left a single victim," I remarked, leaning far
out of the opening in the rocky wall to inspect the temple better.
Directly below me the water lapped the very side of the wall,
there being a break in the bowlders at this point as there was at
several other places about the side of the temple.
My hands were resting upon a small piece of granite which formed
a part of the wall, and all my weight upon it proved too much for
it. It slipped and I lunged forward. There was nothing to save
myself and I plunged headforemost into the water below.
Fortunately the tank was deep at this point, and I suffered no
injury from the fall, but as I was rising to the surface my mind
filled with the horrors of my position as I thought of the terrible
doom which awaited me the moment the eyes of the reptiles fell upon
the creature that had disturbed their slumber.
As long as I could I remained beneath the surface, swimming rapidly
in the direction of the islands that I might prolong my life to
the utmost. At last I was forced to rise for air, and as I cast
a terrified glance in the direction of the Mahars and the thipdars
I was almost stunned to see that not a single one remained upon
the rocks where I had last seen them, nor as I searched the temple
with my eyes could I discern any within it.
For a moment I was puzzled to account for the thing, until I realized
that the reptiles, being deaf, could not have been disturbed by
the noise my body made when it hit the water, and that as there is
no such thing as time within Pellucidar there was no telling how
long I had been beneath the surface. It was a difficult thing to
attempt to figure out by earthly standards--this matter of elapsed
time--but when I set myself to it I began to realize that I might
have been submerged a second or a month or not at all. You have
no conception of the strange contradictions and impossibilities
which arise when all methods of measuring time, as we know them
upon earth, are non-existent.
I was about to congratulate myself upon the miracle which had saved
me for the moment, when the memory of the hypnotic powers of the
Mahars filled me with apprehension lest they be practicing their
uncanny art upon me to the end that I merely imagined that I was
alone in the temple. At the thought cold sweat broke out upon me
from every pore, and as I crawled from the water onto one of the
tiny islands I was trembling like a leaf--you cannot imagine the
awful horror which even the simple thought of the repulsive Mahars
of Pellucidar induces in the human mind, and to feel that you are
in their power--that they are crawling, slimy, and abhorrent, to
drag you down beneath the waters and devour you! It is frightful.
But they did not come, and at last I came to the conclusion that
I was indeed alone within the temple. How long I should be alone
was the next question to assail me as I swam frantically about once
more in search of a means to escape.
Several times I called to Ja, but he must have left after I tumbled
into the tank, for I received no response to my cries. Doubtless
he had felt as certain of my doom when he saw me topple from our
hiding place as I had, and lest he too should be discovered, had
hastened from the temple and back to his village.
I knew that there must be some entrance to the building beside the
doorways in the roof, for it did not seem reasonable to believe
that the thousands of slaves which were brought here to feed the
Mahars the human flesh they craved would all be carried through
the air, and so I continued my search until at last it was rewarded
by the discovery of several loose granite blocks in the masonry at
one end of the temple.
A little effort proved sufficient to dislodge enough of these stones
to permit me to crawl through into the clearing, and a moment later
I had scurried across the intervening space to the dense jungle
Here I sank panting and trembling upon the matted grasses beneath
the giant trees, for I felt that I had escaped from the grinning
fangs of death out of the depths of my own grave. Whatever dangers
lay hidden in this island jungle, there could be none so fearsome
as those which I had just escaped. I knew that I could meet death
bravely enough if it but came in the form of some familiar beast
or man--anything other than the hideous and uncanny Mahars.
THE FACE OF DEATH
I must have fallen asleep from exhaustion. When I awoke I was very
hungry, and after busying myself searching for fruit for a while,
I set off through the jungle to find the beach. I knew that the
island was not so large but that I could easily find the sea if I
did but move in a straight line, but there came the difficulty as
there was no way in which I could direct my course and hold it,
the sun, of course, being always directly above my head, and the
trees so thickly set that I could see no distant object which might
serve to guide me in a straight line.
As it was I must have walked for a great distance since I ate four
times and slept twice before I reached the sea, but at last I did
so, and my pleasure at the sight of it was greatly enhanced by the
chance discovery of a hidden canoe among the bushes through which
I had stumbled just prior to coming upon the beach.
I can tell you that it did not take me long to pull that awkward craft
down to the water and shove it far out from shore. My experience
with Ja had taught me that if I were to steal another canoe I must
be quick about it and get far beyond the owner's reach as soon as
I must have come out upon the opposite side of the island from that
at which Ja and I had entered it, for the mainland was nowhere in
sight. For a long time I paddled around the shore, though well
out, before I saw the mainland in the distance. At the sight of
it I lost no time in directing my course toward it, for I had long
since made up my mind to return to Phutra and give myself up that
I might be once more with Perry and Ghak the Hairy One.
I felt that I was a fool ever to have attempted to escape alone,
especially in view of the fact that our plans were already well
formulated to make a break for freedom together. Of course I
realized that the chances of the success of our proposed venture
were slim indeed, but I knew that I never could enjoy freedom
without Perry so long as the old man lived, and I had learned that
the probability that I might find him was less than slight.
Had Perry been dead, I should gladly have pitted my strength and
wit against the savage and primordial world in which I found myself.
I could have lived in seclusion within some rocky cave until I
had found the means to outfit myself with the crude weapons of the
Stone Age, and then set out in search of her whose image had now
become the constant companion of my waking hours, and the central
and beloved figure of my dreams.
But, to the best of my knowledge, Perry still lived and it was my
duty and wish to be again with him, that we might share the dangers
and vicissitudes of the strange world we had discovered. And Ghak,
too; the great, shaggy man had found a place in the hearts of us
both, for he was indeed every inch a man and king. Uncouth, perhaps,
and brutal, too, if judged too harshly by the standards of effete
twentieth-century civilization, but withal noble, dignified,
chivalrous, and loveable.
Chance carried me to the very beach upon which I had discovered
Ja's canoe, and a short time later I was scrambling up the steep
bank to retrace my steps from the plain of Phutra. But my troubles
came when I entered the canyon beyond the summit, for here I found
that several of them centered at the point where I crossed the
divide, and which one I had traversed to reach the pass I could
not for the life of me remember.
It was all a matter of chance and so I set off down that which
seemed the easiest going, and in this I made the same mistake that
many of us do in selecting the path along which we shall follow out
the course of our lives, and again learned that it is not always
best to follow the line of least resistance.
By the time I had eaten eight meals and slept twice I was convinced
that I was upon the wrong trail, for between Phutra and the inland
sea I had not slept at all, and had eaten but once. To retrace
my steps to the summit of the divide and explore another canyon
seemed the only solution of my problem, but a sudden widening and
levelness of the canyon just before me seemed to suggest that it was
about to open into a level country, and with the lure of discovery
strong upon me I decided to proceed but a short distance farther
before I turned back.
The next turn of the canyon brought me to its mouth, and before
me I saw a narrow plain leading down to an ocean. At my right the
side of the canyon continued to the water's edge, the valley lying
to my left, and the foot of it running gradually into the sea,
where it formed a broad level beach.
Clumps of strange trees dotted the landscape here and there almost
to the water, and rank grass and ferns grew between. From the
nature of the vegetation I was convinced that the land between the
ocean and the foothills was swampy, though directly before me it
seemed dry enough all the way to the sandy strip along which the
restless waters advanced and retreated.
Curiosity prompted me to walk down to the beach, for the scene
was very beautiful. As I passed along beside the deep and tangled
vegetation of the swamp I thought that I saw a movement of the
ferns at my left, but though I stopped a moment to look it was not
repeated, and if anything lay hid there my eyes could not penetrate
the dense foliage to discern it.
Presently I stood upon the beach looking out over the wide and
lonely sea across whose forbidding bosom no human being had yet
ventured, to discover what strange and mysterious lands lay beyond,
or what its invisible islands held of riches, wonders, or adventure.
What savage faces, what fierce and formidable beasts were this very
instant watching the lapping of the waves upon its farther shore!
How far did it extend? Perry had told me that the seas of Pellucidar
were small in comparison with those of the outer crust, but even
so this great ocean might stretch its broad expanse for thousands
of miles. For countless ages it had rolled up and down its countless
miles of shore, and yet today it remained all unknown beyond the
tiny strip that was visible from its beaches.
The fascination of speculation was strong upon me. It was as
though I had been carried back to the birth time of our own outer
world to look upon its lands and seas ages before man had traversed
either. Here was a new world, all untouched. It called to me to
explore it. I was dreaming of the excitement and adventure which
lay before us could Perry and I but escape the Mahars, when something,
a slight noise I imagine, drew my attention behind me.
As I turned, romance, adventure, and discovery in the abstract took
wing before the terrible embodiment of all three in concrete form
that I beheld advancing upon me.
A huge, slimy amphibian it was, with toad-like body and the mighty
jaws of an alligator. Its immense carcass must have weighed tons,
and yet it moved swiftly and silently toward me. Upon one hand
was the bluff that ran from the canyon to the sea, on the other the
fearsome swamp from which the creature had sneaked upon me, behind
lay the mighty untracked sea, and before me in the center of the
narrow way that led to safety stood this huge mountain of terrible
and menacing flesh.
A single glance at the thing was sufficient to assure me that I
was facing one of those long-extinct, prehistoric creatures whose
fossilized remains are found within the outer crust as far back
as the Triassic formation, a gigantic labyrinthodon. And there I
was, unarmed, and, with the exception of a loin cloth, as naked as
I had come into the world. I could imagine how my first ancestor
felt that distant, prehistoric morn that he encountered for the first
time the terrifying progenitor of the thing that had me cornered
now beside the restless, mysterious sea.
Unquestionably he had escaped, or I should not have been within
Pellucidar or elsewhere, and I wished at that moment that he had
handed down to me with the various attributes that I presumed I
have inherited from him, the specific application of the instinct
of self-preservation which saved him from the fate which loomed so
close before me today.
To seek escape in the swamp or in the ocean would have been similar
to jumping into a den of lions to escape one upon the outside.
The sea and swamp both were doubtless alive with these mighty,
carnivorous amphibians, and if not, the individual that menaced me
would pursue me into either the sea or the swamp with equal facility.
There seemed nothing to do but stand supinely and await my end.
I thought of Perry--how he would wonder what had become of me. I
thought of my friends of the outer world, and of how they all
would go on living their lives in total ignorance of the strange
and terrible fate that had overtaken me, or unguessing the weird
surroundings which had witnessed the last frightful agony of
my extinction. And with these thoughts came a realization of how
unimportant to the life and happiness of the world is the existence
of any one of us. We may be snuffed out without an instant's
warning, and for a brief day our friends speak of us with subdued
voices. The following morning, while the first worm is busily
engaged in testing the construction of our coffin, they are teeing
up for the first hole to suffer more acute sorrow over a sliced ball
than they did over our, to us, untimely demise. The labyrinthodon
was coming more slowly now. He seemed to realize that escape for
me was impossible, and I could have sworn that his huge, fanged
jaws grinned in pleasurable appreciation of my predicament, or was
it in anticipation of the juicy morsel which would so soon be pulp
between those formidable teeth?
He was about fifty feet from me when I heard a voice calling to
me from the direction of the bluff at my left. I looked and could
have shouted in delight at the sight that met my eyes, for there
stood Ja, waving frantically to me, and urging me to run for it to
the cliff's base.
I had no idea that I should escape the monster that had marked
me for his breakfast, but at least I should not die alone. Human
eyes would watch me end. It was cold comfort I presume, but yet
I derived some slight peace of mind from the contemplation of it.
To run seemed ridiculous, especially toward that steep and unscalable
cliff, and yet I did so, and as I ran I saw Ja, agile as a monkey,
crawl down the precipitous face of the rocks, clinging to small
projections, and the tough creepers that had found root-hold here
The labyrinthodon evidently thought that Ja was coming to double
his portion of human flesh, so he was in no haste to pursue me to
the cliff and frighten away this other tidbit. Instead he merely
trotted along behind me.
As I approached the foot of the cliff I saw what Ja intended doing,
but I doubted if the thing would prove successful. He had come
down to within twenty feet of the bottom, and there, clinging with
one hand to a small ledge, and with his feet resting, precariously
upon tiny bushes that grew from the solid face of the rock, he
lowered the point of his long spear until it hung some six feet
above the ground.
To clamber up that slim shaft without dragging Ja down and
precipitating both to the same doom from which the copper-colored
one was attempting to save me seemed utterly impossible, and as I
came near the spear I told Ja so, and that I could not risk him to
try to save myself.
But he insisted that he knew what he was doing and was in no danger
"The danger is still yours," he called, "for unless you move much
more rapidly than you are now, the sithic will be upon you and drag
you back before ever you are halfway up the spear--he can rear up
and reach you with ease anywhere below where I stand."
Well, Ja should know his own business, I thought, and so I grasped
the spear and clambered up toward the red man as rapidly as I
could--being so far removed from my simian ancestors as I am. I
imagine the slow-witted sithic, as Ja called him, suddenly realized
our intentions and that he was quite likely to lose all his meal
instead of having it doubled as he had hoped.
When he saw me clambering up that spear he let out a hiss that
fairly shook the ground, and came charging after me at a terrific
rate. I had reached the top of the spear by this time, or almost;
another six inches would give me a hold on Ja's hand, when I felt
a sudden wrench from below and glancing fearfully downward saw the
mighty jaws of the monster close on the sharp point of the weapon.
I made a frantic effort to reach Ja's hand, the sithic gave a
tremendous tug that came near to jerking Ja from his frail hold on
the surface of the rock, the spear slipped from his fingers, and
still clinging to it I plunged feet foremost toward my executioner.
At the instant that he felt the spear come away from Ja's hand
the creature must have opened his huge jaws to catch me, for when
I came down, still clinging to the butt end of the weapon, the point
yet rested in his mouth and the result was that the sharpened end
transfixed his lower jaw.
With the pain he snapped his mouth closed. I fell upon his snout,
lost my hold upon the spear, rolled the length of his face and
head, across his short neck onto his broad back and from there to
Scarce had I touched the earth than I was upon my feet, dashing
madly for the path by which I had entered this horrible valley. A
glance over my shoulder showed me the sithic engaged in pawing at
the spear stuck through his lower jaw, and so busily engaged did
he remain in this occupation that I had gained the safety of the
cliff top before he was ready to take up the pursuit. When he did
not discover me in sight within the valley he dashed, hissing into
the rank vegetation of the swamp and that was the last I saw of
I hastened to the cliff edge above Ja and helped him to a secure
footing. He would not listen to any thanks for his attempt to save
me, which had come so near miscarrying.
"I had given you up for lost when you tumbled into the Mahar temple,"
he said, "for not even I could save you from their clutches, and
you may imagine my surprise when on seeing a canoe dragged up upon
the beach of the mainland I discovered your own footprints in the
sand beside it.
"I immediately set out in search of you, knowing as I did that you
must be entirely unarmed and defenseless against the many dangers
which lurk upon the mainland both in the form of savage beasts and
reptiles, and men as well. I had no difficulty in tracking you to
this point. It is well that I arrived when I did."
"But why did you do it?" I asked, puzzled at this show of friendship
on the part of a man of another world and a different race and
"You saved my life," he replied; "from that moment it became my
duty to protect and befriend you. I would have been no true Mezop
had I evaded my plain duty; but it was a pleasure in this instance
for I like you. I wish that you would come and live with me. You
shall become a member of my tribe. Among us there is the best of
hunting and fishing, and you shall have, to choose a mate from,
the most beautiful girls of Pellucidar. Will you come?"
I told him about Perry then, and Dian the Beautiful, and how my duty
was to them first. Afterward I should return and visit him--if I
could ever find his island.
"Oh, that is easy, my friend," he said. "You need merely to come
to the foot of the highest peak of the Mountains of the Clouds.
There you will find a river which flows into the Lural Az. Directly
opposite the mouth of the river you will see three large islands
far out, so far that they are barely discernible, the one to the
extreme left as you face them from the mouth of the river is Anoroc,
where I rule the tribe of Anoroc."
"But how am I to find the Mountains of the Clouds?" I asked. "Men
say that they are visible from half Pellucidar," he replied.
"How large is Pellucidar?" I asked, wondering what sort of theory
these primitive men had concerning the form and substance of their
"The Mahars say it is round, like the inside of a tola shell," he
answered, "but that is ridiculous, since, were it true, we should
fall back were we to travel far in any direction, and all the waters
of Pellucidar would run to one spot and drown us. No, Pellucidar
is quite flat and extends no man knows how far in all directions.
At the edges, so my ancestors have reported and handed down to me,
is a great wall that prevents the earth and waters from escaping
over into the burning sea whereon Pellucidar floats; but I never
have been so far from Anoroc as to have seen this wall with my
own eyes. However, it is quite reasonable to believe that this is
true, whereas there is no reason at all in the foolish belief of
the Mahars. According to them Pellucidarians who live upon the
opposite side walk always with their heads pointed downward!" and
Ja laughed uproariously at the very thought.
It was plain to see that the human folk of this inner world had
not advanced far in learning, and the thought that the ugly Mahars
had so outstripped them was a very pathetic one indeed. I wondered
how many ages it would take to lift these people out of their
ignorance even were it given to Perry and me to attempt it. Possibly
we would be killed for our pains as were those men of the outer
world who dared challenge the dense ignorance and superstitions
of the earth's younger days. But it was worth the effort if the
opportunity ever presented itself.
And then it occurred to me that here was an opportunity--that I
might make a small beginning upon Ja, who was my friend, and thus
note the effect of my teaching upon a Pellucidarian.
"Ja," I said, "what would you say were I to tell you that in so
far as the Mahars' theory of the shape of Pellucidar is concerned
it is correct?"
"I would say," he replied, "that either you are a fool, or took me
"But, Ja," I insisted, "if their theory is incorrect how do you
account for the fact that I was able to pass through the earth from
the outer crust to Pellucidar. If your theory is correct all is a
sea of flame beneath us, where in no peoples could exist, and yet
I come from a great world that is covered with human beings, and
beasts, and birds, and fishes in mighty oceans."
"You live upon the under side of Pellucidar, and walk always with
your head pointed downward?" he scoffed. "And were I to believe
that, my friend, I should indeed be mad."
I attempted to explain the force of gravity to him, and by the means
of the dropped fruit to illustrate how impossible it would be for
a body to fall off the earth under any circumstances. He listened
so intently that I thought I had made an impression, and started
the train of thought that would lead him to a partial understanding
of the truth. But I was mistaken.
"Your own illustration," he said finally, "proves the falsity
of your theory." He dropped a fruit from his hand to the ground.
"See," he said, "without support even this tiny fruit falls until
it strikes something that stops it. If Pellucidar were not supported
upon the flaming sea it too would fall as the fruit falls--you have
proven it yourself!" He had me, that time--you could see it in his
It seemed a hopeless job and I gave it up, temporarily at least, for
when I contemplated the necessity explanation of our solar system
and the universe I realized how futile it would be to attempt to
picture to Ja or any other Pellucidarian the sun, the moon, the
planets, and the countless stars. Those born within the inner
world could no more conceive of such things than can we of the
outer crust reduce to factors appreciable to our finite minds such
terms as space and eternity.
"Well, Ja," I laughed, "whether we be walking with our feet up or
down, here we are, and the question of greatest importance is not
so much where we came from as where we are going now. For my part
I wish that you could guide me to Phutra where I may give myself
up to the Mahars once more that my friends and I may work out the
plan of escape which the Sagoths interrupted when they gathered us
together and drove us to the arena to witness the punishment of the
slaves who killed the guardsman. I wish now that I had not left
the arena for by this time my friends and I might have made good
our escape, whereas this delay may mean the wrecking of all our
plans, which depended for their consummation upon the continued
sleep of the three Mahars who lay in the pit beneath the building
in which we were confined."
"You would return to captivity?" cried Ja.
"My friends are there," I replied, "the only friends I have in Pellucidar,
except yourself. What else may I do under the circumstances?"
He thought for a moment in silence. Then he shook his head
"It is what a brave man and a good friend should do," he said; "yet
it seems most foolish, for the Mahars will most certainly condemn
you to death for running away, and so you will be accomplishing
nothing for your friends by returning. Never in all my life have
I heard of a prisoner returning to the Mahars of his own free will.
There are but few who escape them, though some do, and these would
rather die than be recaptured."
"I see no other way, Ja," I said, "though I can assure you that
I would rather go to Sheol after Perry than to Phutra. However,
Perry is much too pious to make the probability at all great that
I should ever be called upon to rescue him from the former locality."
Ja asked me what Sheol was, and when I explained, as best I could,
he said, "You are speaking of Molop Az, the flaming sea upon which
Pellucidar floats. All the dead who are buried in the ground go
there. Piece by piece they are carried down to Molop Az by the
little demons who dwell there. We know this because when graves
are opened we find that the bodies have been partially or entirely
borne off. That is why we of Anoroc place our dead in high trees
where the birds may find them and bear them bit by bit to the Dead
World above the Land of Awful Shadow. If we kill an enemy we place
his body in the ground that it may go to Molop Az."
As we talked we had been walking up the canyon down which I had come
to the great ocean and the sithic. Ja did his best to dissuade me
from returning to Phutra, but when he saw that I was determined to
do so, he consented to guide me to a point from which I could see
the plain where lay the city. To my surprise the distance was but
short from the beach where I had again met Ja. It was evident that
I had spent much time following the windings of a tortuous canon,
while just beyond the ridge lay the city of Phutra near to which
I must have come several times.
As we topped the ridge and saw the granite gate towers dotting the
flowered plain at our feet Ja made a final effort to persuade me
to abandon my mad purpose and return with him to Anoroc, but I was
firm in my resolve, and at last he bid me good-bye, assured in his
own mind that he was looking upon me for the last time.
I was sorry to part with Ja, for I had come to like him very much
indeed. With his hidden city upon the island of Anoroc as a base,
and his savage warriors as escort Perry and I could have accomplished
much in the line of exploration, and I hoped that were we successful
in our effort to escape we might return to Anoroc later.
There was, however, one great thing to be accomplished first--at
least it was the great thing to me--the finding of Dian the Beautiful.
I wanted to make amends for the affront I had put upon her in my
ignorance, and I wanted to--well, I wanted to see her again, and
to be with her.
Down the hillside I made my way into the gorgeous field of flowers,
and then across the rolling land toward the shadowless columns
that guard the ways to buried Phutra. At a quarter-mile from the
nearest entrance I was discovered by the Sagoth guard, and in an
instant four of the gorilla-men were dashing toward me.
Though they brandished their long spears and yelled like wild Comanches
I paid not the slightest attention to them, walking quietly toward
them as though unaware of their existence. My manner had the effect
upon them that I had hoped, and as we came quite near together
they ceased their savage shouting. It was evident that they had
expected me to turn and flee at sight of them, thus presenting that
which they most enjoyed, a moving human target at which to cast
"What do you here?" shouted one, and then as he recognized me,
"Ho! It is the slave who claims to be from another world--he who
escaped when the thag ran amuck within the amphitheater. But why
do you return, having once made good your escape?"
"I did not 'escape'," I replied. "I but ran away to avoid the thag,
as did others, and coming into a long passage I became confused
and lost my way in the foothills beyond Phutra. Only now have I
found my way back."
"And you come of your free will back to Phutra!" exclaimed one of
"Where else might I go?" I asked. "I am a stranger within Pellucidar
and know no other where than Phutra. Why should I not desire to
be in Phutra? Am I not well fed and well treated? Am I not happy?
What better lot could man desire?"
The Sagoths scratched their heads. This was a new one on them,
and so being stupid brutes they took me to their masters whom they
felt would be better fitted to solve the riddle of my return, for
riddle they still considered it.
I had spoken to the Sagoths as I had for the purpose of throwing
them off the scent of my purposed attempt at escape. If they
thought that I was so satisfied with my lot within Phutra that
I would voluntarily return when I had once had so excellent an
opportunity to escape, they would never for an instant imagine that
I could be occupied in arranging another escape immediately upon
my return to the city.
So they led me before a slimy Mahar who clung to a slimy rock within
the large room that was the thing's office. With cold, reptilian
eyes the creature seemed to bore through the thin veneer of my
deceit and read my inmost thoughts. It heeded the story which the
Sagoths told of my return to Phutra, watching the gorilla-men's
lips and fingers during the recital. Then it questioned me through
one of the Sagoths.
"You say that you returned to Phutra of your own free will, because
you think yourself better off here than elsewhere--do you not know
that you may be the next chosen to give up your life in the interests
of the wonderful scientific investigations that our learned ones
are continually occupied with?"
I hadn't heard of anything of that nature, but I thought best not
to admit it.
"I could be in no more danger here," I said, "than naked and unarmed
in the savage jungles or upon the lonely plains of Pellucidar. I
was fortunate, I think, to return to Phutra at all. As it was I
barely escaped death within the jaws of a huge sithic. No, I am
sure that I am safer in the hands of intelligent creatures such
as rule Phutra. At least such would be the case in my own world,
where human beings like myself rule supreme. There the higher races
of man extend protection and hospitality to the stranger within
their gates, and being a stranger here I naturally assumed that a
like courtesy would be accorded me."
The Mahar looked at me in silence for some time after I ceased
speaking and the Sagoth had translated my words to his master. The
creature seemed deep in thought. Presently he communicated some
message to the Sagoth. The latter turned, and motioning me to follow
him, left the presence of the reptile. Behind and on either side
of me marched the balance of the guard.
"What are they going to do with me?" I asked the fellow at my right.
"You are to appear before the learned ones who will question you
regarding this strange world from which you say you come."
After a moment's silence he turned to me again.
"Do you happen to know," he asked, "what the Mahars do to slaves
who lie to them?"
"No," I replied, "nor does it interest me, as I have no intention
of lying to the Mahars."
"Then be careful that you don't repeat the impossible tale you
told Sol-to-to just now--another world, indeed, where human beings
rule!" he concluded in fine scorn.
"But it is the truth," I insisted. "From where else then did I
come? I am not of Pellucidar. Anyone with half an eye could see
"It is your misfortune then," he remarked dryly, "that you may not
be judged by one with but half an eye."
"What will they do with me," I asked, "if they do not have a mind
to believe me?"
"You may be sentenced to the arena, or go to the pits to be used
in research work by the learned ones," he replied.
"And what will they do with me there?" I persisted.
"No one knows except the Mahars and those who go to the pits with
them, but as the latter never return, their knowledge does them
but little good. It is said that the learned ones cut up their
subjects while they are yet alive, thus learning many useful things.
However I should not imagine that it would prove very useful to
him who was being cut up; but of course this is all but conjecture.
The chances are that ere long you will know much more about it than
I," and he grinned as he spoke. The Sagoths have a well-developed
sense of humor.
"And suppose it is the arena," I continued; "what then?"
"You saw the two who met the tarag and the thag the time that you
escaped?" he said.
"Your end in the arena would be similar to what was intended for
them," he explained, "though of course the same kinds of animals
might not be employed."
"It is sure death in either event?" I asked.
"What becomes of those who go below with the learned ones I do not
know, nor does any other," he replied; "but those who go to the
arena may come out alive and thus regain their liberty, as did the
two whom you saw."
"They gained their liberty? And how?"
"It is the custom of the Mahars to liberate those who remain alive
within the arena after the beasts depart or are killed. Thus it
has happened that several mighty warriors from far distant lands,
whom we have captured on our slave raids, have battled the brutes
turned in upon them and slain them, thereby winning their freedom.
In the instance which you witnessed the beasts killed each other,
but the result was the same--the man and woman were liberated,
furnished with weapons, and started on their homeward journey.
Upon the left shoulder of each a mark was burned--the mark of the
Mahars--which will forever protect these two from slaving parties."
"There is a slender chance for me then if I be sent to the arena,
and none at all if the learned ones drag me to the pits?"
"You are quite right," he replied; "but do not felicitate yourself
too quickly should you be sent to the arena, for there is scarce
one in a thousand who comes out alive."
To my surprise they returned me to the same building in which
I had been confined with Perry and Ghak before my escape. At the
doorway I was turned over to the guards there.
"He will doubtless be called before the investigators shortly,"
said he who had brought me back," so have him in readiness."
The guards in whose hands I now found myself, upon hearing that I
had returned of my own volition to Phutra evidently felt that it
would be safe to give me liberty within the building as had been
the custom before I had escaped, and so I was told to return to
whatever duty had been mine formerly.
My first act was to hunt up Perry; whom I found poring as usual
over the great tomes that he was supposed to be merely dusting and
rearranging upon new shelves.
As I entered the room he glanced up and nodded pleasantly to me,
only to resume his work as though I had never been away at all.
I was both astonished and hurt at his indifference. And to think
that I was risking death to return to him purely from a sense of
duty and affection!
"Why, Perry!" I exclaimed, "haven't you a word for me after my long
"Long absence!" he repeated in evident astonishment. "What do you
"Are you crazy, Perry? Do you mean to say that you have not missed
me since that time we were separated by the charging thag within
"'That time'," he repeated. "Why man, I have but just returned
from the arena! You reached here almost as soon as I. Had you
been much later I should indeed have been worried, and as it is I
had intended asking you about how you escaped the beast as soon as
I had completed the translation of this most interesting passage."
"Perry, you ARE mad," I exclaimed. "Why, the Lord only knows how
long I have been away. I have been to other lands, discovered
a new race of humans within Pellucidar, seen the Mahars at their
worship in their hidden temple, and barely escaped with my life
from them and from a great labyrinthodon that I met afterward,
following my long and tedious wanderings across an unknown world.
I must have been away for months, Perry, and now you barely look up
from your work when I return and insist that we have been separated
but a moment. Is that any way to treat a friend? I'm surprised
at you, Perry, and if I'd thought for a moment that you cared no
more for me than this I should not have returned to chance death
at the hands of the Mahars for your sake."
The old man looked at me for a long time before he spoke. There
was a puzzled expression upon his wrinkled face, and a look of hurt
sorrow in his eyes.
"David, my boy," he said, "how could you for a moment doubt my love
for you? There is something strange here that I cannot understand.
I know that I am not mad, and I am equally sure that you are not;
but how in the world are we to account for the strange hallucinations
that each of us seems to harbor relative to the passage of time
since last we saw each other. You are positive that months have
gone by, while to me it seems equally certain that not more than
an hour ago I sat beside you in the amphitheater. Can it be that
both of us are right and at the same time both are wrong? First
tell me what time is, and then maybe I can solve our problem. Do
you catch my meaning?"
I didn't and said so.
"Yes," continued the old man, "we are both right. To me, bent over
my book here, there has been no lapse of time. I have done little
or nothing to waste my energies and so have required neither food
nor sleep, but you, on the contrary, have walked and fought and
wasted strength and tissue which must needs be rebuilt by nutriment
and food, and so, having eaten and slept many times since last you
saw me you naturally measure the lapse of time largely by these acts.
As a matter of fact, David, I am rapidly coming to the conviction
that there is no such thing as time--surely there can be no time
here within Pellucidar, where there are no means for measuring
or recording time. Why, the Mahars themselves take no account of
such a thing as time. I find here in all their literary works but
a single tense, the present. There seems to be neither past nor
future with them. Of course it is impossible for our outer-earthly
minds to grasp such a condition, but our recent experiences seem
to demonstrate its existence."
It was too big a subject for me, and I said so, but Perry seemed to
enjoy nothing better than speculating upon it, and after listening
with interest to my account of the adventures through which I had
passed he returned once more to the subject, which he was enlarging
upon with considerable fluency when he was interrupted by the
entrance of a Sagoth.
"Come!" commanded the intruder, beckoning to me. "The investigators
would speak with you."
"Good-bye, Perry!" I said, clasping the old man's hand. "There may
be nothing but the present and no such thing as time, but I feel
that I am about to take a trip into the hereafter from which I shall
never return. If you and Ghak should manage to escape I want you
to promise me that you will find Dian the Beautiful and tell her
that with my last words I asked her forgiveness for the unintentional
affront I put upon her, and that my one wish was to be spared long
enough to right the wrong that I had done her."
Tears came to Perry's eyes.
"I cannot believe but that you will return, David," he said. "It
would be awful to think of living out the balance of my life without
you among these hateful and repulsive creatures. If you are taken
away I shall never escape, for I feel that I am as well off here as
I should be anywhere within this buried world. Good-bye, my boy,
good-bye!" and then his old voice faltered and broke, and as he
hid his face in his hands the Sagoth guardsman grasped me roughly
by the shoulder and hustled me from the chamber.
FOUR DEAD MAHARS
A moment later I was standing before a dozen Mahars--the social
investigators of Phutra. They asked me many questions, through a
Sagoth interpreter. I answered them all truthfully. They seemed
particularly interested in my account of the outer earth and the
strange vehicle which had brought Perry and me to Pellucidar. I
thought that I had convinced them, and after they had sat in silence
for a long time following my examination, I expected to be ordered
returned to my quarters.
During this apparent silence they were debating through the medium
of strange, unspoken language the merits of my tale. At last the
head of the tribunal communicated the result of their conference
to the officer in charge of the Sagoth guard.
"Come," he said to me, "you are sentenced to the experimental pits
for having dared to insult the intelligence of the mighty ones with
the ridiculous tale you have had the temerity to unfold to them."
"Do you mean that they do not believe me?" I asked, totally
"Believe you!" he laughed. "Do you mean to say that you expected
any one to believe so impossible a lie?"
It was hopeless, and so I walked in silence beside my guard down
through the dark corridors and runways toward my awful doom. At
a low level we came upon a number of lighted chambers in which we
saw many Mahars engaged in various occupations. To one of these
chambers my guard escorted me, and before leaving they chained me
to a side wall. There were other humans similarly chained. Upon
a long table lay a victim even as I was ushered into the room.
Several Mahars stood about the poor creature holding him down so
that he could not move. Another, grasping a sharp knife with her
three-toed fore foot, was laying open the victim's chest and abdomen.
No anesthetic had been administered and the shrieks and groans of
the tortured man were terrible to hear. This, indeed, was vivisection
with a vengeance. Cold sweat broke out upon me as I realized that
soon my turn would come. And to think that where there was no such
thing as time I might easily imagine that my suffering was enduring
for months before death finally released me!
The Mahars had paid not the slightest attention to me as I had been
brought into the room. So deeply immersed were they in their work
that I am sure they did not even know that the Sagoths had entered
with me. The door was close by. Would that I could reach it! But
those heavy chains precluded any such possibility. I looked about
for some means of escape from my bonds. Upon the floor between
me and the Mahars lay a tiny surgical instrument which one of them
must have dropped. It looked not unlike a button-hook, but was
much smaller, and its point was sharpened. A hundred times in my
boyhood days had I picked locks with a buttonhook. Could I but
reach that little bit of polished steel I might yet effect at least
a temporary escape.
Crawling to the limit of my chain, I found that by reaching one
hand as far out as I could my fingers still fell an inch short of
the coveted instrument. It was tantalizing! Stretch every fiber
of my being as I would, I could not quite make it.
At last I turned about and extended one foot toward the object.
My heart came to my throat! I could just touch the thing! But
suppose that in my effort to drag it toward me I should accidentally
shove it still farther away and thus entirely out of reach! Cold
sweat broke out upon me from every pore. Slowly and cautiously I
made the effort. My toes dropped upon the cold metal. Gradually
I worked it toward me until I felt that it was within reach of my
hand and a moment later I had turned about and the precious thing
was in my grasp.
Assiduously I fell to work upon the Mahar lock that held my chain.
It was pitifully simple. A child might have picked it, and a moment
later I was free. The Mahars were now evidently completing their
work at the table. One already turned away and was examining other
victims, evidently with the intention of selecting the next subject.
Those at the table had their backs toward me. But for the creature
walking toward us I might have escaped that moment. Slowly the
thing approached me, when its attention was attracted by a huge
slave chained a few yards to my right. Here the reptile stopped
and commenced to go over the poor devil carefully, and as it did
so its back turned toward me for an instant, and in that instant I
gave two mighty leaps that carried me out of the chamber into the
corridor beyond, down which I raced with all the speed I could
Where I was, or whither I was going, I knew not. My only thought
was to place as much distance as possible between me and that
frightful chamber of torture.
Presently I reduced my speed to a brisk walk, and later realizing
the danger of running into some new predicament, were I not careful,
I moved still more slowly and cautiously. After a time I came to
a passage that seemed in some mysterious way familiar to me, and
presently, chancing to glance within a chamber which led from the
corridor I saw three Mahars curled up in slumber upon a bed of
skins. I could have shouted aloud in joy and relief. It was the
same corridor and the same Mahars that I had intended to have lead
so important a role in our escape from Phutra. Providence had
indeed been kind to me, for the reptiles still slept.
My one great danger now lay in returning to the upper levels in
search of Perry and Ghak, but there was nothing else to be done,
and so I hastened upward. When I came to the frequented portions
of the building, I found a large burden of skins in a corner and
these I lifted to my head, carrying them in such a way that ends
and corners fell down about my shoulders completely hiding my face.
Thus disguised I found Perry and Ghak together in the chamber where
we had been wont to eat and sleep.
Both were glad to see me, it was needless to say, though of course
they had known nothing of the fate that had been meted out to me by
my judges. It was decided that no time should now be lost before
attempting to put our plan of escape to the test, as I could not hope
to remain hidden from the Sagoths long, nor could I forever carry
that bale of skins about upon my head without arousing suspicion.
However it seemed likely that it would carry me once more safely
through the crowded passages and chambers of the upper levels,
and so I set out with Perry and Ghak--the stench of the illy cured
pelts fairly choking me.
Together we repaired to the first tier of corridors beneath the
main floor of the buildings, and here Perry and Ghak halted to await
me. The buildings are cut out of the solid limestone formation.
There is nothing at all remarkable about their architecture. The
rooms are sometimes rectangular, sometimes circular, and again
oval in shape. The corridors which connect them are narrow and
not always straight. The chambers are lighted by diffused sunlight
reflected through tubes similar to those by which the avenues are
lighted. The lower the tiers of chambers, the darker. Most of the
corridors are entirely unlighted. The Mahars can see quite well
Down to the main floor we encountered many Mahars, Sagoths, and
slaves; but no attention was paid to us as we had become a part of
the domestic life of the building. There was but a single entrance
leading from the place into the avenue and this was well guarded
by Sagoths--this doorway alone were we forbidden to pass. It is
true that we were not supposed to enter the deeper corridors and
apartments except on special occasions when we were instructed to
do so; but as we were considered a lower order without intelligence
there was little reason to fear that we could accomplish any harm
by so doing, and so we were not hindered as we entered the corridor
which led below.
Wrapped in a skin I carried three swords, and the two bows, and
the arrows which Perry and I had fashioned. As many slaves bore
skin-wrapped burdens to and fro my load attracted no comment. Where
I left Ghak and Perry there were no other creatures in sight, and
so I withdrew one sword from the package, and leaving the balance
of the weapons with Perry, started on alone toward the lower levels.
Having come to the apartment in which the three Mahars slept
I entered silently on tiptoe, forgetting that the creatures were
without the sense of hearing. With a quick thrust through the heart
I disposed of the first but my second thrust was not so fortunate,
so that before I could kill the next of my victims it had hurled
itself against the third, who sprang quickly up, facing me with
wide-distended jaws. But fighting is not the occupation which the
race of Mahars loves, and when the thing saw that I already had
dispatched two of its companions, and that my sword was red with
their blood, it made a dash to escape me. But I was too quick for
it, and so, half hopping, half flying, it scurried down another
corridor with me close upon its heels.
Its escape meant the utter ruin of our plan, and in all probability
my instant death. This thought lent wings to my feet; but even at
my best I could do no more than hold my own with the leaping thing
Of a sudden it turned into an apartment on the right of the corridor,
and an instant later as I rushed in I found myself facing two of
the Mahars. The one who had been there when we entered had been
occupied with a number of metal vessels, into which had been put
powders and liquids as I judged from the array of flasks standing
about upon the bench where it had been working. In an instant I
realized what I had stumbled upon. It was the very room for the
finding of which Perry had given me minute directions. It was the
buried chamber in which was hidden the Great Secret of the race
of Mahars. And on the bench beside the flasks lay the skin-bound
book which held the only copy of the thing I was to have sought,
after dispatching the three Mahars in their sleep.
There was no exit from the room other than the doorway in which
I now stood facing the two frightful reptiles. Cornered, I knew
that they would fight like demons, and they were well equipped to
fight if fight they must. Together they launched themselves upon
me, and though I ran one of them through the heart on the instant,
the other fastened its gleaming fangs about my sword arm above the
elbow, and then with her sharp talons commenced to rake me about
the body, evidently intent upon disemboweling me. I saw that it
was useless to hope that I might release my arm from that powerful,
viselike grip which seemed to be severing my arm from my body.
The pain I suffered was intense, but it only served to spur me to
greater efforts to overcome my antagonist.
Back and forth across the floor we struggled--the Mahar dealing me
terrific, cutting blows with her fore feet, while I attempted to
protect my body with my left hand, at the same time watching for
an opportunity to transfer my blade from my now useless sword hand
to its rapidly weakening mate. At last I was successful, and with
what seemed to me my last ounce of strength I ran the blade through
the ugly body of my foe.
Soundless, as it had fought, it died, and though weak from pain
and loss of blood, it was with an emotion of triumphant pride that
I stepped across its convulsively stiffening corpse to snatch up
the most potent secret of a world. A single glance assured me it
was the very thing that Perry had described to me.
And as I grasped it did I think of what it meant to the human race
of Pellucidar--did there flash through my mind the thought that
countless generations of my own kind yet unborn would have reason
to worship me for the thing that I had accomplished for them? I
did not. I thought of a beautiful oval face, gazing out of limpid
eyes, through a waving mass of jet-black hair. I thought of red, red
lips, God-made for kissing. And of a sudden, apropos of nothing,
standing there alone in the secret chamber of the Mahars of
Pellucidar, I realized that I loved Dian the Beautiful.
For an instant I stood there thinking of her, and then, with a
sigh, I tucked the book in the thong that supported my loin cloth,
and turned to leave the apartment. At the bottom of the corridor
which leads aloft from the lower chambers I whistled in accordance
with the prearranged signal which was to announce to Perry and Ghak
that I had been successful. A moment later they stood beside me,
and to my surprise I saw that Hooja the Sly One accompanied them.
"He joined us," explained Perry, "and would not be denied. The
fellow is a fox. He scents escape, and rather than be thwarted of
our chance now I told him that I would bring him to you, and let
you decide whether he might accompany us."
I had no love for Hooja, and no confidence in him. I was sure
that if he thought it would profit him he would betray us; but I
saw no way out of it now, and the fact that I had killed four Mahars
instead of only the three I had expected to, made it possible to
include the fellow in our scheme of escape.
"Very well," I said, "you may come with us, Hooja; but at the first
intimation of treachery I shall run my sword through you. Do you
He said that he did.
Some time later we had removed the skins from the four Mahars, and
so succeeded in crawling inside of them ourselves that there seemed
an excellent chance for us to pass unnoticed from Phutra. It was
not an easy thing to fasten the hides together where we had split
them along the belly to remove them from their carcasses, but by
remaining out until the others had all been sewed in with my help,
and then leaving an aperture in the breast of Perry's skin through
which he could pass his hands to sew me up, we were enabled
to accomplish our design to really much better purpose than I had
hoped. We managed to keep the heads erect by passing our swords
up through the necks, and by the same means were enabled to move
them about in a life-like manner. We had our greatest difficulty
with the webbed feet, but even that problem was finally solved,
so that when we moved about we did so quite naturally. Tiny holes
punctured in the baggy throats into which our heads were thrust
permitted us to see well enough to guide our progress.
Thus we started up toward the main floor of the building. Ghak
headed the strange procession, then came Perry, followed by Hooja,
while I brought up the rear, after admonishing Hooja that I had
so arranged my sword that I could thrust it through the head of my
disguise into his vitals were he to show any indication of faltering.
As the noise of hurrying feet warned me that we were entering the
busy corridors of the main level, my heart came up into my mouth.
It is with no sense of shame that I admit that I was frightened--never
before in my life, nor since, did I experience any such agony of
soulsearing fear and suspense as enveloped me. If it be possible
to sweat blood, I sweat it then.
Slowly, after the manner of locomotion habitual to the Mahars, when
they are not using their wings, we crept through throngs of busy
slaves, Sagoths, and Mahars. After what seemed an eternity we
reached the outer door which leads into the main avenue of Phutra.
Many Sagoths loitered near the opening. They glanced at Ghak as
he padded between them. Then Perry passed, and then Hooja. Now it
was my turn, and then in a sudden fit of freezing terror I realized
that the warm blood from my wounded arm was trickling down through
the dead foot of the Mahar skin I wore and leaving its tell-tale
mark upon the pavement, for I saw a Sagoth call a companion's
attention to it.
The guard stepped before me and pointing to my bleeding foot spoke
to me in the sign language which these two races employ as a means
of communication. Even had I known what he was saying I could not
have replied with the dead thing that covered me. I once had seen
a great Mahar freeze a presumptuous Sagoth with a look. It seemed
my only hope, and so I tried it. Stopping in my tracks I moved my
sword so that it made the dead head appear to turn inquiring eyes
upon the gorilla-man. For a long moment I stood perfectly still,
eyeing the fellow with those dead eyes. Then I lowered the head
and started slowly on. For a moment all hung in the balance, but
before I touched him the guard stepped to one side, and I passed
on out into the avenue.
On we went up the broad street, but now we were safe for the very
numbers of our enemies that surrounded us on all sides. Fortunately,
there was a great concourse of Mahars repairing to the shallow lake
which lies a mile or more from the city. They go there to indulge
their amphibian proclivities in diving for small fish, and enjoying
the cool depths of the water. It is a fresh-water lake, shallow,
and free from the larger reptiles which make the use of the great
seas of Pellucidar impossible for any but their own kind.
In the thick of the crowd we passed up the steps and out onto the
plain. For some distance Ghak remained with the stream that was
traveling toward the lake, but finally, at the bottom of a little
gully he halted, and there we remained until all had passed and
we were alone. Then, still in our disguises, we set off directly
away from Phutra.
The heat of the vertical rays of the sun was fast making our
horrible prisons unbearable, so that after passing a low divide,
and entering a sheltering forest, we finally discarded the Mahar
skins that had brought us thus far in safety.
I shall not weary you with the details of that bitter and galling
flight. How we traveled at a dogged run until we dropped in our
tracks. How we were beset by strange and terrible beasts. How
we barely escaped the cruel fangs of lions and tigers the size of
which would dwarf into pitiful insignificance the greatest felines
of the outer world.
On and on we raced, our one thought to put as much distance between
ourselves and Phutra as possible. Ghak was leading us to his own
land--the land of Sari. No sign of pursuit had developed, and
yet we were sure that somewhere behind us relentless Sagoths were
dogging our tracks. Ghak said they never failed to hunt down their
quarry until they had captured it or themselves been turned back
by a superior force.
Our only hope, he said, lay in reaching his tribe which was quite
strong enough in their mountain fastness to beat off any number of
At last, after what seemed months, and may, I now realize, have
been years, we came in sight of the dun escarpment which buttressed
the foothills of Sari. At almost the same instant, Hooja, who
looked ever quite as much behind as before, announced that he could
see a body of men far behind us topping a low ridge in our wake.
It was the long-expected pursuit.
I asked Ghak if we could make Sari in time to escape them.
"We may," he replied; "but you will find that the Sagoths can move
with incredible swiftness, and as they are almost tireless they
are doubtless much fresher than we. Then--" he paused, glancing
I knew what he meant. The old man was exhausted. For much of the
period of our flight either Ghak or I had half supported him on the
march. With such a handicap, less fleet pursuers than the Sagoths
might easily overtake us before we could scale the rugged heights
which confronted us.
"You and Hooja go on ahead," I said. "Perry and I will make it
if we are able. We cannot travel as rapidly as you two, and there
is no reason why all should be lost because of that. It can't be
helped--we have simply to face it."
"I will not desert a companion," was Ghak's simple reply. I hadn't
known that this great, hairy, primeval man had any such nobility
of character stowed away inside him. I had always liked him, but
now to my liking was added honor and respect. Yes, and love.
But still I urged him to go on ahead, insisting that if he could
reach his people he might be able to bring out a sufficient force
to drive off the Sagoths and rescue Perry and myself.
No, he wouldn't leave us, and that was all there was to it, but
he suggested that Hooja might hurry on and warn the Sarians of the
king's danger. It didn't require much urging to start Hooja--the
naked idea was enough to send him leaping on ahead of us into the
foothills which we now had reached.
Perry realized that he was jeopardizing Ghak's life and mine and the
old fellow fairly begged us to go on without him, although I knew
that he was suffering a perfect anguish of terror at the thought
of falling into the hands of the Sagoths. Ghak finally solved the
problem, in part, by lifting Perry in his powerful arms and carrying
him. While the act cut down Ghak's speed he still could travel
faster thus than when half supporting the stumbling old man.
THE SLY ONE
The Sagoths were gaining on us rapidly, for once they had sighted
us they had greatly increased their speed. On and on we stumbled
up the narrow canyon that Ghak had chosen to approach the heights
of Sari. On either side rose precipitous cliffs of gorgeous,
parti-colored rock, while beneath our feet a thick mountain grass
formed a soft and noiseless carpet. Since we had entered the
canyon we had had no glimpse of our pursuers, and I was commencing
to hope that they had lost our trail and that we would reach the
now rapidly nearing cliffs in time to scale them before we should
Ahead we neither saw nor heard any sign which might betoken the
success of Hooja's mission. By now he should have reached the
outposts of the Sarians, and we should at least hear the savage
cries of the tribesmen as they swarmed to arms in answer to their
king's appeal for succor. In another moment the frowning cliffs
ahead should be black with primeval warriors. But nothing of the
kind happened--as a matter of fact the Sly One had betrayed us.
At the moment that we expected to see Sarian spearmen charging to
our relief at Hooja's back, the craven traitor was sneaking around
the outskirts of the nearest Sarian village, that he might come up
from the other side when it was too late to save us, claiming that
he had become lost among the mountains.
Back to Full Books