Gods of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 3 out of 5
with a number of entrances to dimly lighted passageways.
Toward one of these our captors led us, and after a short walk
halted before a steel cage which lay at the bottom of a shaft rising
above us as far as one could see.
The cage proved to be one of the common types of elevator cars that
I had seen in other parts of Barsoom. They are operated by means
of enormous magnets which are suspended at the top of the shaft. By
an electrical device the volume of magnetism generated is regulated
and the speed of the car varied.
In long stretches they move at a sickening speed, especially on
the upward trip, since the small force of gravity inherent to Mars
results in very little opposition to the powerful force above.
Scarcely had the door of the car closed behind us than we were
slowing up to stop at the landing above, so rapid was our ascent
of the long shaft.
When we emerged from the little building which houses the upper
terminus of the elevator, we found ourselves in the midst of
a veritable fairyland of beauty. The combined languages of Earth
men hold no words to convey to the mind the gorgeous beauties of
One may speak of scarlet sward and ivory-stemmed trees decked
with brilliant purple blooms; of winding walks paved with crushed
rubies, with emerald, with turquoise, even with diamonds themselves;
of a magnificent temple of burnished gold, hand-wrought with marvellous
designs; but where are the words to describe the glorious colours
that are unknown to earthly eyes? where the mind or the imagination
that can grasp the gorgeous scintillations of unheard-of rays as
they emanate from the thousand nameless jewels of Barsoom?
Even my eyes, for long years accustomed to the barbaric splendours
of a Martian Jeddak's court, were amazed at the glory of the scene.
Phaidor's eyes were wide in amazement.
"The Temple of Issus," she whispered, half to herself.
Xodar watched us with his grim smile, partly of amusement and partly
The gardens swarmed with brilliantly trapped black men and women.
Among them moved red and white females serving their every want.
The places of the outer world and the temples of the therns had
been robbed of their princesses and goddesses that the blacks might
have their slaves.
Through this scene we moved toward the temple. At the main
entrance we were halted by a cordon of armed guards. Xodar spoke
a few words to an officer who came forward to question us. Together
they entered the temple, where they remained for some time.
When they returned it was to announce that Issus desired to look
upon the daughter of Matai Shang, and the strange creature from
another world who had been a Prince of Helium.
Slowly we moved through endless corridors of unthinkable beauty;
through magnificent apartments, and noble halls. At length we were
halted in a spacious chamber in the centre of the temple. One of
the officers who had accompanied us advanced to a large door in
the further end of the chamber. Here he must have made some sort
of signal for immediately the door opened and another richly trapped
We were then led up to the door, where we were directed to get down
on our hands and knees with our backs toward the room we were to
enter. The doors were swung open and after being cautioned not to
turn our heads under penalty of instant death we were commanded to
back into the presence of Issus.
Never have I been in so humiliating a position in my life, and only
my love for Dejah Thoris and the hope which still clung to me that
I might again see her kept me from rising to face the goddess of
the First Born and go down to my death like a gentleman, facing my
foes and with their blood mingling with mine.
After we had crawled in this disgusting fashion for a matter of a
couple of hundred feet we were halted by our escort.
"Let them rise," said a voice behind us; a thin, wavering voice, yet
one that had evidently been accustomed to command for many years.
"Rise," said our escort, "but do not face toward Issus."
"The woman pleases me," said the thin, wavering voice again after
a few moments of silence. "She shall serve me the allotted time.
The man you may return to the Isle of Shador which lies against the
northern shore of the Sea of Omean. Let the woman turn and look
upon Issus, knowing that those of the lower orders who gaze upon
the holy vision of her radiant face survive the blinding glory but
a single year."
I watched Phaidor from the corner of my eye. She paled to a ghastly
hue. Slowly, very slowly she turned, as though drawn by some
invisible yet irresistible force. She was standing quite close to
me, so close that her bare arm touched mine as she finally faced
Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal.
I could not see the girl's face as her eyes rested for the first
time on the Supreme Deity of Mars, but felt the shudder that ran
through her in the trembling flesh of the arm that touched mine.
"It must be dazzling loveliness indeed," thought I, "to cause such
emotion in the breast of so radiant a beauty as Phaidor, daughter
of Matai Shang."
"Let the woman remain. Remove the man. Go." Thus spoke Issus, and
the heavy hand of the officer fell upon my shoulder. In accordance
with his instructions I dropped to my hands and knees once more
and crawled from the Presence. It had been my first audience with
deity, but I am free to confess that I was not greatly impressed--other
than with the ridiculous figure I cut scrambling about on my marrow
Once without the chamber the doors closed behind us and I was bid
to rise. Xodar joined me and together we slowly retraced our steps
toward the gardens.
"You spared my life when you easily might have taken it," he said
after we had proceeded some little way in silence, "and I would aid
you if I might. I can help to make your life here more bearable,
but your fate is inevitable. You may never hope to return to the
"What will be my fate?" I asked.
"That will depend largely upon Issus. So long as she does not send
for you and reveal her face to you, you may live on for years in
as mild a form of bondage as I can arrange for you."
"Why should she send for me?" I asked.
"The men of the lower orders she often uses for various purposes of
amusement. Such a fighter as you, for example, would render fine
sport in the monthly rites of the temple. There are men pitted
against men, and against beasts for the edification of Issus and
the replenishment of her larder."
"She eats human flesh?" I asked. Not in horror, however, for since
my recently acquired knowledge of the Holy Therns I was prepared
for anything in this still less accessible heaven, where all was
evidently dictated by a single omnipotence; where ages of narrow
fanaticism and self-worship had eradicated all the broader humanitarian
instincts that the race might once have possessed.
They were a people drunk with power and success, looking upon the
other inhabitants of Mars as we look upon the beasts of the field
and the forest. Why then should they not eat of the flesh of the
lower orders whose lives and characters they no more understood
than do we the inmost thoughts and sensibilities of the cattle we
slaughter for our earthly tables.
"She eats only the flesh of the best bred of the Holy Therns and
the red Barsoomians. The flesh of the others goes to our boards.
The animals are eaten by the slaves. She also eats other dainties."
I did not understand then that there lay any special significance
in his reference to other dainties. I thought the limit of
ghoulishness already had been reached in the recitation of Issus'
menu. I still had much to learn as to the depths of cruelty and
bestiality to which omnipotence may drag its possessor.
We had about reached the last of the many chambers and corridors
which led to the gardens when an officer overtook us.
"Issus would look again upon this man," he said. "The girl has
told her that he is of wondrous beauty and of such prowess that
alone he slew seven of the First Born, and with his bare hands took
Xodar captive, binding him with his own harness."
Xodar looked uncomfortable. Evidently he did not relish the thought
that Issus had learned of his inglorious defeat.
Without a word he turned and we followed the officer once again to
the closed doors before the audience chamber of Issus, Goddess of
Here the ceremony of entrance was repeated. Again Issus bid me
rise. For several minutes all was silent as the tomb. The eyes
of deity were appraising me.
Presently the thin wavering voice broke the stillness, repeating
in a singsong drone the words which for countless ages had sealed
the doom of numberless victims.
"Let the man turn and look upon Issus, knowing that those of the
lower orders who gaze upon the holy vision of her radiant face
survive the blinding glory but a single year."
I turned as I had been bid, expecting such a treat as only the
revealment of divine glory to mortal eyes might produce. What
I saw was a solid phalanx of armed men between myself and a dais
supporting a great bench of carved sorapus wood. On this bench,
or throne, squatted a female black. She was evidently very old.
Not a hair remained upon her wrinkled skull. With the exception
of two yellow fangs she was entirely toothless. On either side of
her thin, hawk-like nose her eyes burned from the depths of horribly
sunken sockets. The skin of her face was seamed and creased with
a million deepcut furrows. Her body was as wrinkled as her face,
and as repulsive.
Emaciated arms and legs attached to a torso which seemed to be
mostly distorted abdomen completed the "holy vision of her radiant
Surrounding her were a number of female slaves, among them Phaidor,
white and trembling.
"This is the man who slew seven of the First Born and, bare-handed,
bound Dator Xodar with his own harness?" asked Issus.
"Most glorious vision of divine loveliness, it is," replied the
officer who stood at my side.
"Produce Dator Xodar," she commanded.
Xodar was brought from the adjoining room.
Issus glared at him, a baleful light in her hideous eyes.
"And such as you are a Dator of the First Born?" she squealed. "For
the disgrace you have brought upon the Immortal Race you shall be
degraded to a rank below the lowest. No longer be you a Dator, but
for evermore a slave of slaves, to fetch and carry for the lower
orders that serve in the gardens of Issus. Remove his harness.
Cowards and slaves wear no trappings."
Xodar stood stiffly erect. Not a muscle twitched, nor a tremor
shook his giant frame as a soldier of the guard roughly stripped
his gorgeous trappings from him.
"Begone," screamed the infuriated little old woman. "Begone, but
instead of the light of the gardens of Issus let you serve as a
slave of this slave who conquered you in the prison on the Isle of
Shador in the Sea of Omean. Take him away out of the sight of my
Slowly and with high held head the proud Xodar turned and stalked
from the chamber. Issus rose and turned to leave the room by
Turning to me, she said: "You shall be returned to Shador for the
present. Later Issus will see the manner of your fighting. Go."
Then she disappeared, followed by her retinue. Only Phaidor lagged
behind, and as I started to follow my guard toward the gardens,
the girl came running after me.
"Oh, do not leave me in this terrible place," she begged. "Forgive
the things I said to you, my Prince. I did not mean them. Only
take me away with you. Let me share your imprisonment on Shador."
Her words were an almost incoherent volley of thoughts, so rapidly
she spoke. "You did not understand the honour that I did you.
Among the therns there is no marriage or giving in marriage, as
among the lower orders of the outer world. We might have lived
together for ever in love and happiness. We have both looked upon
Issus and in a year we die. Let us live that year at least together
in what measure of joy remains for the doomed."
"If it was difficult for me to understand you, Phaidor," I replied,
"can you not understand that possibly it is equally difficult for
you to understand the motives, the customs and the social laws that
guide me? I do not wish to hurt you, nor to seem to undervalue
the honour which you have done me, but the thing you desire may not
be. Regardless of the foolish belief of the peoples of the outer
world, or of Holy Thern, or ebon First Born, I am not dead. While
I live my heart beats for but one woman--the incomparable Dejah
Thoris, Princess of Helium. When death overtakes me my heart shall
have ceased to beat; but what comes after that I know not. And
in that I am as wise as Matai Shang, Master of Life and Death upon
Barsoom; or Issus, Goddess of Life Eternal."
Phaidor stood looking at me intently for a moment. No anger showed in
her eyes this time, only a pathetic expression of hopeless sorrow.
"I do not understand," she said, and turning walked slowly in
the direction of the door through which Issus and her retinue had
passed. A moment later she had passed from my sight.
THE PRISON ISLE OF SHADOR
In the outer gardens to which the guard now escorted me, I found
Xodar surrounded by a crowd of noble blacks. They were reviling
and cursing him. The men slapped his face. The woman spat upon
When I appeared they turned their attentions toward me.
"Ah," cried one, "so this is the creature who overcame the great
Xodar bare-handed. Let us see how it was done."
"Let him bind Thurid," suggested a beautiful woman, laughing.
"Thurid is a noble Dator. Let Thurid show the dog what it means
to face a real man."
"Yes, Thurid! Thurid!" cried a dozen voices.
"Here he is now," exclaimed another, and turning in the direction
indicated I saw a huge black weighed down with resplendent ornaments
and arms advancing with noble and gallant bearing toward us.
"What now?" he cried. "What would you of Thurid?"
Quickly a dozen voices explained.
Thurid turned toward Xodar, his eyes narrowing to two nasty slits.
"Calot!" he hissed. "Ever did I think you carried the heart of a
sorak in your putrid breast. Often have you bested me in the secret
councils of Issus, but now in the field of war where men are truly
gauged your scabby heart hath revealed its sores to all the world.
Calot, I spurn you with my foot," and with the words he turned to
My blood was up. For minutes it had been boiling at the cowardly
treatment they had been according this once powerful comrade because
he had fallen from the favour of Issus. I had no love for Xodar,
but I cannot stand the sight of cowardly injustice and persecution
without seeing red as through a haze of bloody mist, and doing
things on the impulse of the moment that I presume I never should
do after mature deliberation.
I was standing close beside Xodar as Thurid swung his foot for the
cowardly kick. The degraded Dator stood erect and motionless as a
carven image. He was prepared to take whatever his former comrades
had to offer in the way of insults and reproaches, and take them
in manly silence and stoicism.
But as Thurid's foot swung so did mine, and I caught him a painful
blow upon the shin bone that saved Xodar from this added ignominy.
For a moment there was tense silence, then Thurid, with a roar
of rage sprang for my throat; just as Xodar had upon the deck of
the cruiser. The results were identical. I ducked beneath his
outstretched arms, and as he lunged past me planted a terrific
right on the side of his jaw.
The big fellow spun around like a top, his knees gave beneath him
and he crumpled to the ground at my feet.
The blacks gazed in astonishment, first at the still form of the
proud Dator lying there in the ruby dust of the pathway, then at
me as though they could not believe that such a thing could be.
"You asked me to bind Thurid," I cried; "behold!" And then I
stooped beside the prostrate form, tore the harness from it, and
bound the fellow's arms and legs securely.
"As you have done to Xodar, now do you likewise to Thurid. Take
him before Issus, bound in his own harness, that she may see with
her own eyes that there be one among you now who is greater than
the First Born."
"Who are you?" whispered the woman who had first suggested that I
attempt to bind Thurid.
"I am a citizen of two worlds; Captain John Carter of Virginia,
Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium. Take this
man to your goddess, as I have said, and tell her, too, that as I
have done to Xodar and Thurid, so also can I do to the mightiest of
her Dators. With naked hands, with long-sword or with short-sword,
I challenge the flower of her fighting-men to combat."
"Come," said the officer who was guarding me back to Shador; "my
orders are imperative; there is to be no delay. Xodar, come you
There was little of disrespect in the tone that the man used in
addressing either Xodar or myself. It was evident that he felt
less contempt for the former Dator since he had witnessed the ease
with which I disposed of the powerful Thurid.
That his respect for me was greater than it should have been for a
slave was quite apparent from the fact that during the balance of
the return journey he walked or stood always behind me, a drawn
short-sword in his hand.
The return to the Sea of Omean was uneventful. We dropped down
the awful shaft in the same car that had brought us to the surface.
There we entered the submarine, taking the long dive to the tunnel
far beneath the upper world. Then through the tunnel and up again
to the pool from which we had had our first introduction to the
wonderful passageway from Omean to the Temple of Issus.
From the island of the submarine we were transported on a small
cruiser to the distant Isle of Shador. Here we found a small stone
prison and a guard of half a dozen blacks. There was no ceremony
wasted in completing our incarceration. One of the blacks opened
the door of the prison with a huge key, we walked in, the door
closed behind us, the lock grated, and with the sound there swept
over me again that terrible feeling of hopelessness that I had felt
in the Chamber of Mystery in the Golden Cliffs beneath the gardens
of the Holy Therns.
Then Tars Tarkas had been with me, but now I was utterly alone in
so far as friendly companionship was concerned. I fell to wondering
about the fate of the great Thark, and of his beautiful companion,
the girl, Thuvia. Even should they by some miracle have escaped
and been received and spared by a friendly nation, what hope had I
of the succour which I knew they would gladly extend if it lay in
They could not guess my whereabouts or my fate, for none on all
Barsoom even dream of such a place as this. Nor would it have
advantaged me any had they known the exact location of my prison,
for who could hope to penetrate to this buried sea in the face of
the mighty navy of the First Born? No: my case was hopeless.
Well, I would make the best of it, and, rising, I swept aside the
brooding despair that had been endeavouring to claim me. With the
idea of exploring my prison, I started to look around.
Xodar sat, with bowed head, upon a low stone bench near the centre
of the room in which we were. He had not spoken since Issus had
The building was roofless, the walls rising to a height of about
thirty feet. Half-way up were a couple of small, heavily barred
windows. The prison was divided into several rooms by partitions
twenty feet high. There was no one in the room which we occupied,
but two doors which led to other rooms were opened. I entered
one of these rooms, but found it vacant. Thus I continued through
several of the chambers until in the last one I found a young red
Martian boy sleeping upon the stone bench which constituted the
only furniture of any of the prison cells.
Evidently he was the only other prisoner. As he slept I leaned
over and looked at him. There was something strangely familiar
about his face, and yet I could not place him.
His features were very regular and, like the proportions of his
graceful limbs and body, beautiful in the extreme. He was very
light in colour for a red man, but in other respects he seemed a
typical specimen of this handsome race.
I did not awaken him, for sleep in prison is such a priceless boon
that I have seen men transformed into raging brutes when robbed by
one of their fellow-prisoners of a few precious moments of it.
Returning to my own cell, I found Xodar still sitting in the same
position in which I had left him.
"Man," I cried, "it will profit you nothing to mope thus. It were
no disgrace to be bested by John Carter. You have seen that in the
ease with which I accounted for Thurid. You knew it before when
on the cruiser's deck you saw me slay three of your comrades."
"I would that you had dispatched me at the same time," he said.
"Come, come!" I cried. "There is hope yet. Neither of us is dead.
We are great fighters. Why not win to freedom?"
He looked at me in amazement.
"You know not of what you speak," he replied. "Issus is omnipotent.
Issus is omniscient. She hears now the words you speak. She knows
the thoughts you think. It is sacrilege even to dream of breaking
"Rot, Xodar," I ejaculated impatiently.
He sprang to his feet in horror.
"The curse of Issus will fall upon you," he cried. "In another
instant you will be smitten down, writhing to your death in horrible
"Do you believe that, Xodar?" I asked.
"Of course; who would dare doubt?"
"I doubt; yes, and further, I deny," I said. "Why, Xodar, you tell
me that she even knows my thoughts. The red men have all had that
power for ages. And another wonderful power. They can shut their
minds so that none may read their thoughts. I learned the first
secret years ago; the other I never had to learn, since upon all
Barsoom is none who can read what passes in the secret chambers of
"Your goddess cannot read my thoughts; nor can she read yours when
you are out of sight, unless you will it. Had she been able to
read mine, I am afraid that her pride would have suffered a rather
severe shock when I turned at her command to 'gaze upon the holy
vision of her radiant face.'"
"What do you mean?" he whispered in an affrighted voice, so low
that I could scarcely hear him.
"I mean that I thought her the most repulsive and vilely hideous
creature my eyes ever had rested upon."
For a moment he eyed me in horror-stricken amazement, and then with
a cry of "Blasphemer" he sprang upon me.
I did not wish to strike him again, nor was it necessary, since he
was unarmed and therefore quite harmless to me.
As he came I grasped his left wrist with my left hand, and, swinging
my right arm about his left shoulder, caught him beneath the chin
with my elbow and bore him backward across my thigh.
There he hung helpless for a moment, glaring up at me in impotent
"Xodar," I said, "let us be friends. For a year, possibly, we
may be forced to live together in the narrow confines of this tiny
room. I am sorry to have offended you, but I could not dream that
one who had suffered from the cruel injustice of Issus still could
believe her divine.
"I will say a few more words, Xodar, with no intent to wound your
feelings further, but rather that you may give thought to the fact
that while we live we are still more the arbiters of our own fate
than is any god.
"Issus, you see, has not struck me dead, nor is she rescuing her
faithful Xodar from the clutches of the unbeliever who defamed her
fair beauty. No, Xodar, your Issus is a mortal old woman. Once
out of her clutches and she cannot harm you.
"With your knowledge of this strange land, and my knowledge of the
outer world, two such fighting-men as you and I should be able to
win our way to freedom. Even though we died in the attempt, would
not our memories be fairer than as though we remained in servile
fear to be butchered by a cruel and unjust tyrant--call her goddess
or mortal, as you will."
As I finished I raised Xodar to his feet and released him. He did
not renew the attack upon me, nor did he speak. Instead, he walked
toward the bench, and, sinking down upon it, remained lost in deep
thought for hours.
A long time afterward I heard a soft sound at the doorway leading
to one of the other apartments, and, looking up, beheld the red
Martian youth gazing intently at us.
"Kaor," I cried, after the red Martian manner of greeting.
"Kaor," he replied. "What do you here?"
"I await my death, I presume," I replied with a wry smile.
He too smiled, a brave and winning smile.
"I also," he said. "Mine will come soon. I looked upon the radiant
beauty of Issus nearly a year since. It has always been a source
of keen wonder to me that I did not drop dead at the first sight
of that hideous countenance. And her belly! By my first ancestor,
but never was there so grotesque a figure in all the universe.
That they should call such a one Goddess of Life Eternal, Goddess
of Death, Mother of the Nearer Moon, and fifty other equally
impossible titles, is quite beyond me."
"How came you here?" I asked.
"It is very simple. I was flying a one-man air scout far to the
south when the brilliant idea occurred to me that I should like
to search for the Lost Sea of Korus which tradition places near to
the south pole. I must have inherited from my father a wild lust
for adventure, as well as a hollow where my bump of reverence should
"I had reached the area of eternal ice when my port propeller jammed,
and I dropped to the ground to make repairs. Before I knew it the
air was black with fliers, and a hundred of these First Born devils
were leaping to the ground all about me.
"With drawn swords they made for me, but before I went down beneath
them they had tasted of the steel of my father's sword, and I had
given such an account of myself as I know would have pleased my
sire had he lived to witness it."
"Your father is dead?" I asked.
"He died before the shell broke to let me step out into a world
that has been very good to me. But for the sorrow that I had never
the honour to know my father, I have been very happy. My only
sorrow now is that my mother must mourn me as she has for ten long
years mourned my father."
"Who was your father?" I asked.
He was about to reply when the outer door of our prison opened and
a burly guard entered and ordered him to his own quarters for the
night, locking the door after him as he passed through into the
"It is Issus' wish that you two be confined in the same room," said
the guard when he had returned to our cell. "This cowardly slave
of a slave is to serve you well," he said to me, indicating Xodar
with a wave of his hand. "If he does not, you are to beat him
into submission. It is Issus' wish that you heap upon him every
indignity and degradation of which you can conceive."
With these words he left us.
Xodar still sat with his face buried in his hands. I walked to
his side and placed my hand upon his shoulder.
"Xodar," I said, "you have heard the commands of Issus, but you
need not fear that I shall attempt to put them into execution.
You are a brave man, Xodar. It is your own affair if you wish to
be persecuted and humiliated; but were I you I should assert my
manhood and defy my enemies."
"I have been thinking very hard, John Carter," he said, "of all
the new ideas you gave me a few hours since. Little by little I
have been piecing together the things that you said which sounded
blasphemous to me then with the things that I have seen in my past
life and dared not even think about for fear of bringing down upon
me the wrath of Issus.
"I believe now that she is a fraud; no more divine than you or I.
More I am willing to concede--that the First Born are no holier
than the Holy Therns, nor the Holy Therns more holy than the red
"The whole fabric of our religion is based on superstitious belief
in lies that have been foisted upon us for ages by those directly
above us, to whose personal profit and aggrandizement it was to
have us continue to believe as they wished us to believe.
"I am ready to cast off the ties that have bound me. I am ready to
defy Issus herself; but what will it avail us? Be the First Born
gods or mortals, they are a powerful race, and we are as fast in
their clutches as though we were already dead. There is no escape."
"I have escaped from bad plights in the past, my friend," I replied;
"nor while life is in me shall I despair of escaping from the Isle
of Shador and the Sea of Omean."
"But we cannot escape even from the four walls of our prison,"
urged Xodar. "Test this flint-like surface," he cried, smiting the
solid rock that confined us. "And look upon this polished surface;
none could cling to it to reach the top."
"That is the least of our troubles, Xodar," I replied. "I will
guarantee to scale the wall and take you with me, if you will help
with your knowledge of the customs here to appoint the best time
for the attempt, and guide me to the shaft that lets from the dome
of this abysmal sea to the light of God's pure air above."
"Night time is the best and offers the only slender chance we have,
for then men sleep, and only a dozing watch nods in the tops of
the battleships. No watch is kept upon the cruisers and smaller
craft. The watchers upon the larger vessels see to all about them.
It is night now."
"But," I exclaimed, "it is not dark! How can it be night, then?"
"You forget," he said, "that we are far below ground. The light
of the sun never penetrates here. There are no moons and no stars
reflected in the bosom of Omean. The phosphorescent light you
now see pervading this great subterranean vault emanates from the
rocks that form its dome; it is always thus upon Omean, just as
the billows are always as you see them--rolling, ever rolling over
a windless sea.
"At the appointed hour of night upon the world above, the men whose
duties hold them here sleep, but the light is ever the same."
"It will make escape more difficult," I said, and then I shrugged
my shoulders; for what, pray, is the pleasure of doing an easy
"Let us sleep on it to-night," said Xodar. "A plan may come with
So we threw ourselves upon the hard stone floor of our prison and
slept the sleep of tired men.
WHEN HELL BROKE LOOSE
Early the next morning Xodar and I commenced work upon our plans
for escape. First I had him sketch upon the stone floor of our
cell as accurate a map of the south polar regions as was possible
with the crude instruments at our disposal--a buckle from my harness,
and the sharp edge of the wondrous gem I had taken from Sator Throg.
From this I computed the general direction of Helium and the distance
at which it lay from the opening which led to Omean.
Then I had him draw a map of Omean, indicating plainly the position
of Shador and of the opening in the dome which led to the outer
These I studied until they were indelibly imprinted in my memory.
From Xodar I learned the duties and customs of the guards who
patrolled Shador. It seemed that during the hours set aside for
sleep only one man was on duty at a time. He paced a beat that
passed around the prison, at a distance of about a hundred feet
from the building.
The pace of the sentries, Xodar said, was very slow, requiring
nearly ten minutes to make a single round. This meant that for
practically five minutes at a time each side of the prison was
unguarded as the sentry pursued his snail like pace upon the opposite
"This information you ask," said Xodar, "will be all very valuable
AFTER we get out, but nothing that you have asked has any bearing
on that first and most important consideration."
"We will get out all right," I replied, laughing. "Leave that to
"When shall we make the attempt?" he asked.
"The first night that finds a small craft moored near the shore of
Shador," I replied.
"But how will you know that any craft is moored near Shador? The
windows are far beyond our reach."
"Not so, friend Xodar; look!"
With a bound I sprang to the bars of the window opposite us, and
took a quick survey of the scene without.
Several small craft and two large battleships lay within a hundred
yards of Shador.
"To-night," I thought, and was just about to voice my decision to
Xodar, when, without warning, the door of our prison opened and a
guard stepped in.
If the fellow saw me there our chances of escape might quickly go
glimmering, for I knew that they would put me in irons if they had
the slightest conception of the wonderful agility which my earthly
muscles gave me upon Mars.
The man had entered and was standing facing the centre of the room,
so that his back was toward me. Five feet above me was the top of
a partition wall separating our cell from the next.
There was my only chance to escape detection. If the fellow turned,
I was lost; nor could I have dropped to the floor undetected, since
he was no nearly below me that I would have struck him had I done
"Where is the white man?" cried the guard of Xodar. "Issus commands
his presence." He started to turn to see if I were in another part
of the cell.
I scrambled up the iron grating of the window until I could catch
a good footing on the sill with one foot; then I let go my hold
and sprang for the partition top.
"What was that?" I heard the deep voice of the black bellow as
my metal grated against the stone wall as I slipped over. Then I
dropped lightly to the floor of the cell beyond.
"Where is the white slave?" again cried the guard.
"I know not," replied Xodar. "He was here even as you entered. I
am not his keeper--go find him."
The black grumbled something that I could not understand, and then
I heard him unlocking the door into one of the other cells on the
further side. Listening intently, I caught the sound as the door
closed behind him. Then I sprang once more to the top of the
partition and dropped into my own cell beside the astonished Xodar.
"Do you see now how we will escape?" I asked him in a whisper.
"I see how you may," he replied, "but I am no wiser than before
as to how I am to pass these walls. Certain it is that I cannot
bounce over them as you do."
We heard the guard moving about from cell to cell, and finally, his
rounds completed, he again entered ours. When his eyes fell upon
me they fairly bulged from his head.
"By the shell of my first ancestor!" he roared. "Where have you
"I have been in prison since you put me here yesterday," I answered.
"I was in this room when you entered. You had better look to your
He glared at me in mingled rage and relief.
"Come," he said. "Issus commands your presence."
He conducted me outside the prison, leaving Xodar behind. There
we found several other guards, and with them the red Martian youth
who occupied another cell upon Shador.
The journey I had taken to the Temple of Issus on the preceding day
was repeated. The guards kept the red boy and myself separated,
so that we had no opportunity to continue the conversation that
had been interrupted the previous night.
The youth's face had haunted me. Where had I seen him before.
There was something strangely familiar in every line of him; in
his carriage, his manner of speaking, his gestures. I could have
sworn that I knew him, and yet I knew too that I had never seen
When we reached the gardens of Issus we were led away from the temple
instead of toward it. The way wound through enchanted parks to a
mighty wall that towered a hundred feet in air.
Massive gates gave egress upon a small plain, surrounded by the same
gorgeous forests that I had seen at the foot of the Golden Cliffs.
Crowds of blacks were strolling in the same direction that our
guards were leading us, and with them mingled my old friends the
plant men and great white apes.
The brutal beasts moved among the crowd as pet dogs might. If
they were in the way the blacks pushed them roughly to one side, or
whacked them with the flat of a sword, and the animals slunk away
as in great fear.
Presently we came upon our destination, a great amphitheatre situated
at the further edge of the plain, and about half a mile beyond the
Through a massive arched gateway the blacks poured in to take their
seats, while our guards led us to a smaller entrance near one end
of the structure.
Through this we passed into an enclosure beneath the seats, where
we found a number of other prisoners herded together under guard.
Some of them were in irons, but for the most part they seemed
sufficiently awed by the presence of their guards to preclude any
possibility of attempted escape.
During the trip from Shador I had had no opportunity to talk with
my fellow-prisoner, but now that we were safely within the barred
paddock our guards abated their watchfulness, with the result that
I found myself able to approach the red Martian youth for whom I
felt such a strange attraction.
"What is the object of this assembly?" I asked him. "Are we to
fight for the edification of the First Born, or is it something
worse than that?"
"It is a part of the monthly rites of Issus," he replied, "in
which black men wash the sins from their souls in the blood of men
from the outer world. If, perchance, the black is killed, it is
evidence of his disloyalty to Issus--the unpardonable sin. If he
lives through the contest he is held acquitted of the charge that
forced the sentence of the rites, as it is called, upon him.
"The forms of combat vary. A number of us may be pitted together
against an equal number, or twice the number of blacks; or singly
we may be sent forth to face wild beasts, or some famous black
"And if we are victorious," I asked, "what then--freedom?"
"Freedom, forsooth. The only freedom for us death. None who
enters the domains of the First Born ever leave. If we prove able
fighters we are permitted to fight often. If we are not mighty
fighters--" He shrugged his shoulders. "Sooner or later we die
in the arena."
"And you have fought often?" I asked.
"Very often," he replied. "It is my only pleasure. Some hundred
black devils have I accounted for during nearly a year of the rites
of Issus. My mother would be very proud could she only know how
well I have maintained the traditions of my father's prowess."
"Your father must have been a mighty warrior!" I said. "I have
known most of the warriors of Barsoom in my time; doubtless I knew
him. Who was he?"
"My father was--"
"Come, calots!" cried the rough voice of a guard. "To the slaughter
with you," and roughly we were hustled to the steep incline that
led to the chambers far below which let out upon the arena.
The amphitheatre, like all I had ever seen upon Barsoom, was built
in a large excavation. Only the highest seats, which formed the
low wall surrounding the pit, were above the level of the ground.
The arena itself was far below the surface.
Just beneath the lowest tier of seats was a series of barred cages
on a level with the surface of the arena. Into these we were
herded. But, unfortunately, my youthful friend was not of those
who occupied a cage with me.
Directly opposite my cage was the throne of Issus. Here the horrid
creature squatted, surrounded by a hundred slave maidens sparkling
in jewelled trappings. Brilliant cloths of many hues and strange
patterns formed the soft cushion covering of the dais upon which
they reclined about her.
On four sides of the throne and several feet below it stood three
solid ranks of heavily armed soldiery, elbow to elbow. In front
of these were the high dignitaries of this mock heaven--gleaming
blacks bedecked with precious stones, upon their foreheads the
insignia of their rank set in circles of gold.
On both sides of the throne stretched a solid mass of humanity
from top to bottom of the amphitheatre. There were as many women
as men, and each was clothed in the wondrously wrought harness of
his station and his house. With each black was from one to three
slaves, drawn from the domains of the therns and from the outer
world. The blacks are all "noble." There is no peasantry among the
First Born. Even the lowest soldier is a god, and has his slaves
to wait upon him.
The First Born do no work. The men fight--that is a sacred privilege
and duty; to fight and die for Issus. The women do nothing,
absolutely nothing. Slaves wash them, slaves dress them, slaves
feed them. There are some, even, who have slaves that talk for
them, and I saw one who sat during the rites with closed eyes while
a slave narrated to her the events that were transpiring within
The first event of the day was the Tribute to Issus. It marked
the end of those poor unfortunates who had looked upon the divine
glory of the goddess a full year before. There were ten of
them--splendid beauties from the proud courts of mighty Jeddaks and
from the temples of the Holy Therns. For a year they had served
in the retinue of Issus; to-day they were to pay the price of this
divine preferment with their lives; tomorrow they would grace the
tables of the court functionaries.
A huge black entered the arena with the young women. Carefully
he inspected them, felt of their limbs and poked them in the ribs.
Presently he selected one of their number whom he led before the
throne of Issus. He addressed some words to the goddess which I
could not hear. Issus nodded her head. The black raised his hands
above his head in token of salute, grasped the girl by the wrist,
and dragged her from the arena through a small doorway below the
"Issus will dine well to-night," said a prisoner beside me.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"That was her dinner that old Thabis is taking to the kitchens.
Didst not note how carefully he selected the plumpest and tenderest
of the lot?"
I growled out my curses on the monster sitting opposite us on the
"Fume not," admonished my companion; "you will see far worse than
that if you live even a month among the First Born."
I turned again in time to see the gate of a nearby cage thrown open
and three monstrous white apes spring into the arena. The girls
shrank in a frightened group in the centre of the enclosure.
One was on her knees with imploring hands outstretched toward
Issus; but the hideous deity only leaned further forward in keener
anticipation of the entertainment to come. At length the apes spied
the huddled knot of terror-stricken maidens and with demoniacal
shrieks of bestial frenzy, charged upon them.
A wave of mad fury surged over me. The cruel cowardliness of the
power-drunk creature whose malignant mind conceived such frightful
forms of torture stirred to their uttermost depths my resentment
and my manhood. The blood-red haze that presaged death to my foes
swam before my eyes.
The guard lolled before the unbarred gate of the cage which confined
me. What need of bars, indeed, to keep those poor victims from
rushing into the arena which the edict of the gods had appointed
as their death place!
A single blow sent the black unconscious to the ground. Snatching
up his long-sword, I sprang into the arena. The apes were almost
upon the maidens, but a couple of mighty bounds were all my earthly
muscles required to carry me to the centre of the sand-strewn floor.
For an instant silence reigned in the great amphitheatre, then
a wild shout arose from the cages of the doomed. My long-sword
circled whirring through the air, and a great ape sprawled, headless,
at the feet of the fainting girls.
The other apes turned now upon me, and as I stood facing them
a sullen roar from the audience answered the wild cheers from the
cages. From the tail of my eye I saw a score of guards rushing
across the glistening sand toward me. Then a figure broke from
one of the cages behind them. It was the youth whose personality
so fascinated me.
He paused a moment before the cages, with upraised sword.
"Come, men of the outer world!" he shouted. "Let us make our
deaths worth while, and at the back of this unknown warrior turn
this day's Tribute to Issus into an orgy of revenge that will echo
through the ages and cause black skins to blanch at each repetition
of the rites of Issus. Come! The racks without your cages are
filled with blades."
Without waiting to note the outcome of his plea, he turned
and bounded toward me. From every cage that harboured red men a
thunderous shout went up in answer to his exhortation. The inner
guards went down beneath howling mobs, and the cages vomited forth
their inmates hot with the lust to kill.
The racks that stood without were stripped of the swords with
which the prisoners were to have been armed to enter their allotted
combats, and a swarm of determined warriors sped to our support.
The great apes, towering in all their fifteen feet of height, had
gone down before my sword while the charging guards were still some
distance away. Close behind them pursued the youth. At my back
were the young girls, and as it was in their service that I fought,
I remained standing there to meet my inevitable death, but with
the determination to give such an account of myself as would long
be remembered in the land of the First Born.
I noted the marvellous speed of the young red man as he raced after
the guards. Never had I seen such speed in any Martian. His leaps
and bounds were little short of those which my earthly muscles had
produced to create such awe and respect on the part of the green
Martians into whose hands I had fallen on that long-gone day that
had seen my first advent upon Mars.
The guards had not reached me when he fell upon them from the rear,
and as they turned, thinking from the fierceness of his onslaught
that a dozen were attacking them, I rushed them from my side.
In the rapid fighting that followed I had little chance to note
aught else than the movements of my immediate adversaries, but
now and again I caught a fleeting glimpse of a purring sword and a
lightly springing figure of sinewy steel that filled my heart with
a strange yearning and a mighty but unaccountable pride.
On the handsome face of the boy a grim smile played, and ever and
anon he threw a taunting challenge to the foes that faced him.
In this and other ways his manner of fighting was similar to that
which had always marked me on the field of combat.
Perhaps it was this vague likeness which made me love the boy, while
the awful havoc that his sword played amongst the blacks filled my
soul with a tremendous respect for him.
For my part, I was fighting as I had fought a thousand times
before--now sidestepping a wicked thrust, now stepping quickly in
to let my sword's point drink deep in a foeman's heart, before it
buried itself in the throat of his companion.
We were having a merry time of it, we two, when a great body of
Issus' own guards were ordered into the arena. On they came with
fierce cries, while from every side the armed prisoners swarmed
For half an hour it was as though all hell had broken loose. In
the walled confines of the arena we fought in an inextricable
mass--howling, cursing, blood-streaked demons; and ever the sword
of the young red man flashed beside me.
Slowly and by repeated commands I had succeeded in drawing the
prisoners into a rough formation about us, so that at last we fought
formed into a rude circle in the centre of which were the doomed
Many had gone down on both sides, but by far the greater havoc
had been wrought in the ranks of the guards of Issus. I could see
messengers running swiftly through the audience, and as they passed
the nobles there unsheathed their swords and sprang into the arena.
They were going to annihilate us by force of numbers--that was
quite evidently their plan.
I caught a glimpse of Issus leaning far forward upon her throne,
her hideous countenance distorted in a horrid grimace of hate and
rage, in which I thought I could distinguish an expression of fear.
It was that face that inspired me to the thing that followed.
Quickly I ordered fifty of the prisoners to drop back behind us
and form a new circle about the maidens.
"Remain and protect them until I return," I commanded.
Then, turning to those who formed the outer line, I cried, "Down
with Issus! Follow me to the throne; we will reap vengeance where
vengeance is deserved."
The youth at my side was the first to take up the cry of "Down
with Issus!" and then at my back and from all sides rose a hoarse
shout, "To the throne! To the throne!"
As one man we moved, an irresistible fighting mass, over the bodies
of dead and dying foes toward the gorgeous throne of the Martian
deity. Hordes of the doughtiest fighting-men of the First Born
poured from the audience to check our progress. We mowed them down
before us as they had been paper men.
"To the seats, some of you!" I cried as we approached the arena's
barrier wall. "Ten of us can take the throne," for I had seen
that Issus' guards had for the most part entered the fray within
On both sides of me the prisoners broke to left and right for the
seats, vaulting the low wall with dripping swords lusting for the
crowded victims who awaited them.
In another moment the entire amphitheatre was filled with the shrieks
of the dying and the wounded, mingled with the clash of arms and
triumphant shouts of the victors.
Side by side the young red man and I, with perhaps a dozen others,
fought our way to the foot of the throne. The remaining guards,
reinforced by the high dignitaries and nobles of the First Born,
closed in between us and Issus, who sat leaning far forward upon
her carved sorapus bench, now screaming high-pitched commands to
her following, now hurling blighting curses upon those who sought
to desecrate her godhood.
The frightened slaves about her trembled in wide-eyed expectancy,
knowing not whether to pray for our victory or our defeat. Several
among them, proud daughters no doubt of some of Barsoom's noblest
warriors, snatched swords from the hands of the fallen and fell
upon the guards of Issus, but they were soon cut down; glorious
martyrs to a hopeless cause.
The men with us fought well, but never since Tars Tarkas and I
fought out that long, hot afternoon shoulder to shoulder against
the hordes of Warhoon in the dead sea bottom before Thark, had I
seen two men fight to such good purpose and with such unconquerable
ferocity as the young red man and I fought that day before the
throne of Issus, Goddess of Death, and of Life Eternal.
Man by man those who stood between us and the carven sorapus wood
bench went down before our blades. Others swarmed in to fill the
breach, but inch by inch, foot by foot we won nearer and nearer to
Presently a cry went up from a section of the stands near by--"Rise
slaves!" "Rise slaves!" it rose and fell until it swelled to a
mighty volume of sound that swept in great billows around the entire
For an instant, as though by common assent, we ceased our fighting
to look for the meaning of this new note nor did it take but a moment
to translate its significance. In all parts of the structure the
female slaves were falling upon their masters with whatever weapon
came first to hand. A dagger snatched from the harness of her
mistress was waved aloft by some fair slave, its shimmering blade
crimson with the lifeblood of its owner; swords plucked from
the bodies of the dead about them; heavy ornaments which could be
turned into bludgeons--such were the implements with which these
fair women wreaked the long-pent vengeance which at best could
but partially recompense them for the unspeakable cruelties and
indignities which their black masters had heaped upon them. And
those who could find no other weapons used their strong fingers
and their gleaming teeth.
It was at once a sight to make one shudder and to cheer; but in a
brief second we were engaged once more in our own battle with only
the unquenchable battle cry of the women to remind us that they
still fought--"Rise slaves!" "Rise slaves!"
Only a single thin rank of men now stood between us and Issus. Her
face was blue with terror. Foam flecked her lips. She seemed too
paralysed with fear to move. Only the youth and I fought now. The
others all had fallen, and I was like to have gone down too from
a nasty long-sword cut had not a hand reached out from behind my
adversary and clutched his elbow as the blade was falling upon me.
The youth sprang to my side and ran his sword through the fellow
before he could recover to deliver another blow.
I should have died even then but for that as my sword was tight
wedged in the breastbone of a Dator of the First Born. As the fellow
went down I snatched his sword from him and over his prostrate body
looked into the eyes of the one whose quick hand had saved me from
the first cut of his sword--it was Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang.
"Fly, my Prince!" she cried. "It is useless to fight them longer.
All within the arena are dead. All who charged the throne are
dead but you and this youth. Only among the seats are there left
any of your fighting-men, and they and the slave women are fast
being cut down. Listen! You can scarce hear the battle-cry of
the women now for nearly all are dead. For each one of you there
are ten thousand blacks within the domains of the First Born. Break
for the open and the sea of Korus. With your mighty sword arm you
may yet win to the Golden Cliffs and the templed gardens of the
Holy Therns. There tell your story to Matai Shang, my father. He
will keep you, and together you may find a way to rescue me. Fly
while there is yet a bare chance for flight."
But that was not my mission, nor could I see much to be preferred
in the cruel hospitality of the Holy Therns to that of the First
"Down with Issus!" I shouted, and together the boy and I took
up the fight once more. Two blacks went down with our swords in
their vitals, and we stood face to face with Issus. As my sword
went up to end her horrid career her paralysis left her, and with
an ear-piercing shriek she turned to flee. Directly behind her a
black gulf suddenly yawned in the flooring of the dais. She sprang
for the opening with the youth and I close at her heels. Her
scattered guard rallied at her cry and rushed for us. A blow fell
upon the head of the youth. He staggered and would have fallen,
but I caught him in my left arm and turned to face an infuriated
mob of religious fanatics crazed by the affront I had put upon their
goddess, just as Issus disappeared into the black depths beneath
DOOMED TO DIE
For an instant I stood there before they fell upon me, but the
first rush of them forced me back a step or two. My foot felt for
the floor but found only empty space. I had backed into the pit
which had received Issus. For a second I toppled there upon the
brink. Then I too with the boy still tightly clutched in my arms
pitched backward into the black abyss.
We struck a polished chute, the opening above us closed as magically
as it had opened, and we shot down, unharmed, into a dimly lighted
apartment far below the arena.
As I rose to my feet the first thing I saw was the malignant countenance
of Issus glaring at me through the heavy bars of a grated door at
one side of the chamber.
"Rash mortal!" she shrilled. "You shall pay the awful penalty for
your blasphemy in this secret cell. Here you shall lie alone and
in darkness with the carcass of your accomplice festering in its
rottenness by your side, until crazed by loneliness and hunger you
feed upon the crawling maggots that were once a man."
That was all. In another instant she was gone, and the dim light
which had filled the cell faded into Cimmerian blackness.
"Pleasant old lady," said a voice at my side.
"Who speaks?" I asked.
"'Tis I, your companion, who has had the honour this day of fighting
shoulder to shoulder with the greatest warrior that ever wore metal
"I thank God that you are not dead," I said. "I feared for that
nasty cut upon your head."
"It but stunned me," he replied. "A mere scratch."
"Maybe it were as well had it been final," I said. "We seem to be
in a pretty fix here with a splendid chance of dying of starvation
"Where are we?"
"Beneath the arena," I replied. "We tumbled down the shaft that
swallowed Issus as she was almost at our mercy."
He laughed a low laugh of pleasure and relief, and then reaching
out through the inky blackness he sought my shoulder and pulled my
ear close to his mouth.
"Nothing could be better," he whispered. "There are secrets within
the secrets of Issus of which Issus herself does not dream."
"What do you mean?"
"I laboured with the other slaves a year since in the remodelling
of these subterranean galleries, and at that time we found below
these an ancient system of corridors and chambers that had been
sealed up for ages. The blacks in charge of the work explored
them, taking several of us along to do whatever work there might
be occasion for. I know the entire system perfectly.
"There are miles of corridors honeycombing the ground beneath the
gardens and the temple itself, and there is one passage that leads
down to and connects with the lower regions that open on the water
shaft that gives passage to Omean.
"If we can reach the submarine undetected we may yet make the sea
in which there are many islands where the blacks never go. There
we may live for a time, and who knows what may transpire to aid us
He had spoken all in a low whisper, evidently fearing spying ears
even here, and so I answered him in the samesubdued tone.
"Lead back to Shador, my friend," I whispered. "Xodar, the black,
is there. We were to attempt our escape together, so I cannot
"No," said the boy, "one cannot desert a friend. It were better
to be recaptured ourselves than that."
Then he commenced groping his way about the floor of the dark
chamber searching for the trap that led to the corridors beneath.
At length he summoned me by a low, "S-s-t," and I crept toward the
sound of his voice to find him kneeling on the brink of an opening
in the floor.
"There is a drop here of about ten feet," he whispered. "Hang
by your hands and you will alight safely on a level floor of soft
Very quietly I lowered myself from the inky cell above into the
inky pit below. So utterly dark was it that we could not see our
hands at an inch from our noses. Never, I think, have I known such
complete absence of light as existed in the pits of Issus.
For an instant I hung in mid air. There is a strange sensation
connected with an experience of that nature which is quite difficult
to describe. When the feet tread empty air and the distance below
is shrouded in darkness there is a feeling akin to panic at the
thought of releasing the hold and taking the plunge into unknown
Although the boy had told me that it was but ten feet to the floor
below I experienced the same thrills as though I were hanging above
a bottomless pit. Then I released my hold and dropped--four feet
to a soft cushion of sand.
The boy followed me.
"Raise me to your shoulders," he said, "and I will replace the
This done he took me by the hand, leading me very slowly, with much
feeling about and frequent halts to assure himself that he did not
stray into wrong passageways.
Presently we commenced the descent of a very steep incline.
"It will not be long," he said, "before we shall have light. At
the lower levels we meet the same strata of phosphorescent rock
that illuminates Omean."
Never shall I forget that trip through the pits of Issus. While
it was devoid of important incidents yet it was filled for me with
a strange charm of excitement and adventure which I think I must
have hinged principally on the unguessable antiquity of these
long-forgotten corridors. The things which the Stygian darkness
hid from my objective eye could not have been half so wonderful as
the pictures which my imagination wrought as it conjured to life
again the ancient peoples of this dying world and set them once
more to the labours, the intrigues, the mysteries and the cruelties
which they had practised to make their last stand against the
swarming hordes of the dead sea bottoms that had driven them step
by step to the uttermost pinnacle of the world where they were now
intrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of superstition.
In addition to the green men there had been three principal races
upon Barsoom. The blacks, the whites, and a race of yellow men.
As the waters of the planet dried and the seas receded, all other
resources dwindled until life upon the planet became a constant
battle for survival.
The various races had made war upon one another for ages, and the
three higher types had easily bested the green savages of the water
places of the world, but now that the receding seas necessitated
constant abandonment of their fortified cities and forced upon them
a more or less nomadic life in which they became separated into
smaller communities they soon fell prey to the fierce hordes of
green men. The result was a partial amalgamation of the blacks,
whites and yellows, the result of which is shown in the present
splendid race of red men.
I had always supposed that all traces of the original races had
disappeared from the face of Mars, yet within the past four days
I had found both whites and blacks in great multitudes. Could it
be possible that in some far-off corner of the planet there still
existed a remnant of the ancient race of yellow men?
My reveries were broken in upon by a low exclamation from the boy.
"At last, the lighted way," he cried, and looking up I beheld at
a long distance before us a dim radiance.
As we advanced the light increased until presently we emerged into
well-lighted passageways. From then on our progress was rapid
until we came suddenly to the end of a corridor that let directly
upon the ledge surrounding the pool of the submarine.
The craft lay at her moorings with uncovered hatch. Raising his
finger to his lips and then tapping his sword in a significant
manner, the youth crept noiselessly toward the vessel. I was close
at his heels.
Silently we dropped to the deserted deck, and on hands and knees
crawled toward the hatchway. A stealthy glance below revealed no
guard in sight, and so with the quickness and the soundlessness
of cats we dropped together into the main cabin of the submarine.
Even here was no sign of life. Quickly we covered and secured the
Then the boy stepped into the pilot house, touched a button and
the boat sank amid swirling waters toward the bottom of the shaft.
Even then there was no scurrying of feet as we had expected, and
while the boy remained to direct the boat I slid from cabin to
cabin in futile search for some member of the crew. The craft was
entirely deserted. Such good fortune seemed almost unbelievable.
When I returned to the pilot house to report the good news to my
companion he handed me a paper.
"This may explain the absence of the crew," he said.
It was a radio-aerial message to the commander of the submarine:
"The slaves have risen. Come with what men you have and those that
you can gather on the way. Too late to get aid from Omean. They
are massacring all within the amphitheatre. Issus is threatened.
"Zithad is Dator of the guards of Issus," explained the youth. "We
gave them a bad scare--one that they will not soon forget."
"Let us hope that it is but the beginning of the end of Issus," I
"Only our first ancestor knows," he replied.
We reached the submarine pool in Omean without incident. Here
we debated the wisdom of sinking the craft before leaving her,
but finally decided that it would add nothing to our chances for
escape. There were plenty of blacks on Omean to thwart us were
we apprehended; however many more might come from the temples and
gardens of Issus would not in any decrease our chances.
We were now in a quandary as to how to pass the guards who patrolled
the island about the pool. At last I hit upon a plan.
"What is the name or title of the officer in charge of these guards?"
I asked the boy.
"A fellow named Torith was on duty when we entered this morning,"
"Good. And what is the name of the commander of the submarine?"
I found a dispatch blank in the cabin and wrote the following order:
"Dator Torith: Return these two slaves at once to Shador.
That will be the simpler way to return," I said, smiling, as I
handed the forged order to the boy. "Come, we shall see now how
well it works."
"But our swords!" he exclaimed. "What shall we say to explain
"Since we cannot explain them we shall have to leave them behind
us," I replied.
"Is it not the extreme of rashness to thus put ourselves again,
unarmed, in the power of the First Born?"
"It is the only way," I answered. "You may trust me to find a way
out of the prison of Shador, and I think, once out, that we shall
find no great difficulty in arming ourselves once more in a country
which abounds so plentifully in armed men."
"As you say," he replied with a smile and shrug. "I could not
follow another leader who inspired greater confidence than you.
Come, let us put your ruse to the test."
Boldly we emerged from the hatchway of the craft, leaving our swords
behind us, and strode to the main exit which led to the sentry's
post and the office of the Dator of the guard.
At sight of us the members of the guard sprang forward in surprise,
and with levelled rifles halted us. I held out the message to one
of them. He took it and seeing to whom it was addressed turned
and handed it to Torith who was emerging from his office to learn
the cause of the commotion.
The black read the order, and for a moment eyed us with evident
"Where is Dator Yersted?" he asked, and my heart sank within me, as
I cursed myself for a stupid fool in not having sunk the submarine
to make good the lie that I must tell.
"His orders were to return immediately to the temple landing," I
Torith took a half step toward the entrance to the pool as though
to corroborate my story. For that instant everything hung in the
balance, for had he done so and found the empty submarine still
lying at her wharf the whole weak fabric of my concoction would
have tumbled about our heads; but evidently he decided the message
must be genuine, nor indeed was there any good reason to doubt it
since it would scarce have seemed credible to him that two slaves
would voluntarily have given themselves into custody in any such
manner as this. It was the very boldness of the plan which rendered
"Were you connected with the rising of the slaves?" asked Torith.
"We have just had meagre reports of some such event."
"All were involved," I replied. "But it amounted to little. The
guards quickly overcame and killed the majority of us."
He seemed satisfied with this reply. "Take them to Shador," he
ordered, turning to one of his subordinates. We entered a small
boat lying beside the island, and in a few minutes were disembarking
upon Shador. Here we were returned to our respective cells; I with
Xodar, the boy by himself; and behind locked doors we were again
prisoners of the First Born.
A BREAK FOR LIBERTY
Xodar listened in incredulous astonishment to my narration of the
events which had transpired within the arena at the rites of Issus.
He could scarce conceive, even though he had already professed his
doubt as to the deity of Issus, that one could threaten her with
sword in hand and not be blasted into a thousand fragments by the
mere fury of her divine wrath.
"It is the final proof," he said, at last. "No more is needed to
completely shatter the last remnant of my superstitious belief in
the divinity of Issus. She is only a wicked old woman, wielding a
mighty power for evil through machinations that have kept her own
people and all Barsoom in religious ignorance for ages."
"She is still all-powerful here, however," I replied. "So it behooves
us to leave at the first moment that appears at all propitious."
"I hope that you may find a propitious moment," he said, with
a laugh, "for it is certain that in all my life I have never seen
one in which a prisoner of the First Born might escape."
"To-night will do as well as any," I replied.
"It will soon be night," said Xodar. "How may I aid in the
"Can you swim?" I asked him.
"No slimy silian that haunts the depths of Korus is more at home
in water than is Xodar," he replied.
"Good. The red one in all probability cannot swim," I said,
"since there is scarce enough water in all their domains to float
the tiniest craft. One of us therefore will have to support him
through the sea to the craft we select. I had hoped that we might
make the entire distance below the surface, but I fear that the
red youth could not thus perform the trip. Even the bravest of the
brave among them are terrorized at the mere thought of deep water,
for it has been ages since their forebears saw a lake, a river or
"The red one is to accompany us?" asked Xodar.
"It is well. Three swords are better than two. Especially when
the third is as mighty as this fellow's. I have seen him battle
in the arena at the rites of Issus many times. Never, until I
saw you fight, had I seen one who seemed unconquerable even in the
face of great odds. One might think you two master and pupil, or
father and son. Come to recall his face there is a resemblance
between you. It is very marked when you fight--there is the same
grim smile, the same maddening contempt for your adversary apparent
in every movement of your bodies and in every changing expression
of your faces."
"Be that as it may, Xodar, he is a great fighter. I think that
we will make a trio difficult to overcome, and if my friend Tars
Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark, were but one of us we could fight our way
from one end of Barsoom to the other even though the whole world
were pitted against us."
"It will be," said Xodar, "when they find from whence you have come.
That is but one of the superstitions which Issus has foisted upon
a credulous humanity. She works through the Holy Therns who are
as ignorant of her real self as are the Barsoomians of the outer
world. Her decrees are borne to the therns written in blood upon
a strange parchment. The poor deluded fools think that they are
receiving the revelations of a goddess through some supernatural
agency, since they find these messages upon their guarded altars
to which none could have access without detection. I myself have
borne these messages for Issus for many years. There is a long
tunnel from the temple of Issus to the principal temple of Matai
Shang. It was dug ages ago by the slaves of the First Born in such
utter secrecy that no thern ever guessed its existence.
"The therns for their part have temples dotted about the entire
civilized world. Here priests whom the people never see communicate
the doctrine of the Mysterious River Iss, the Valley Dor, and the
Lost Sea of Korus to persuade the poor deluded creatures to take
the voluntary pilgrimage that swells the wealth of the Holy Therns
and adds to the numbers of their slaves.
"Thus the therns are used as the principal means for collecting
the wealth and labour that the First Born wrest from them as they
need it. Occasionally the First Born themselves make raids upon
the outer world. It is then that they capture many females of the
royal houses of the red men, and take the newest in battleships and
the trained artisans who build them, that they may copy what they
"We are a non-productive race, priding ourselves upon our
non-productiveness. It is criminal for a First Born to labour or
invent. That is the work of the lower orders, who live merely that
the First Born may enjoy long lives of luxury and idleness. With
us fighting is all that counts; were it not for that there would
be more of the First Born than all the creatures of Barsoom could
support, for in so far as I know none of us ever dies a natural
death. Our females would live for ever but for the fact that we
tire of them and remove them to make place for others. Issus alone
of all is protected against death. She has lived for countless
"Would not the other Barsoomians live for ever but for the doctrine
of the voluntary pilgrimage which drags them to the bosom of Iss
at or before their thousandth year?" I asked him.
"I feel now that there is no doubt but that they are precisely the
same species of creature as the First Born, and I hope that I shall
live to fight for them in atonement of the sins I have committed
against them through the ignorance born of generations of false
As he ceased speaking a weird call rang out across the waters of
Omean. I had heard it at the same time the previous evening and
knew that it marked the ending of the day, when the men of Omean
spread their silks upon the deck of battleship and cruiser and fall
into the dreamless sleep of Mars.
Our guard entered to inspect us for the last time before the new
day broke upon the world above. His duty was soon performed and
the heavy door of our prison closed behind him--we were alone for
I gave him time to return to his quarters, as Xodar said he probably
would do, then I sprang to the grated window and surveyed the nearby
waters. At a little distance from the island, a quarter of a mile
perhaps, lay a monster battleship, while between her and the shore
were a number of smaller cruisers and one-man scouts. Upon the
battleship alone was there a watch. I could see him plainly in
the upper works of the ship, and as I watched I saw him spread his
sleeping silks upon the tiny platform in which he was stationed.
Soon he threw himself at full length upon his couch. The discipline
on Omean was lax indeed. But it is not to be wondered at since no
enemy guessed the existence upon Barsoom of such a fleet, or even
of the First Born, or the Sea of Omean. Why indeed should they
maintain a watch?
Presently I dropped to the floor again and talked with Xodar,
describing the various craft I had seen.
"There is one there," he said, "my personal property, built to carry
five men, that is the swiftest of the swift. If we can board her
we can at least make a memorable run for liberty," and then he
went on to describe to me the equipment of the boat; her engines,
and all that went to make her the flier that she was.
In his explanation I recognized a trick of gearing that Kantos Kan
had taught me that time we sailed under false names in the navy
of Zodanga beneath Sab Than, the Prince. And I knew then that the
First Born had stolen it from the ships of Helium, for only they
are thus geared. And I knew too that Xodar spoke the truth when
he lauded the speed of his little craft, for nothing that cleaves
the thin air of Mars can approximate the speed of the ships of
We decided to wait for an hour at least until all the stragglers
had sought their silks. In the meantime I was to fetch the red
youth to our cell so that we would be in readiness to make our rash
break for freedom together.
I sprang to the top of our partition wall and pulled myself up
on to it. There I found a flat surface about a foot in width and
along this I walked until I came to the cell in which I saw the
boy sitting upon his bench. He had been leaning back against the
wall looking up at the glowing dome above Omean, and when he spied
me balancing upon the partition wall above him his eyes opened wide
in astonishment. Then a wide grin of appreciative understanding
spread across his countenance.
As I stooped to drop to the floor beside him he motioned me to wait,
and coming close below me whispered: "Catch my hand; I can almost
leap to the top of that wall myself. I have tried it many times,
and each day I come a little closer. Some day I should have been
able to make it."
I lay upon my belly across the wall and reached my hand far down
toward him. With a little run from the centre of the cell he sprang
up until I grasped his outstretched hand, and thus I pulled him to
the wall's top beside me.
"You are the first jumper I ever saw among the red men of Barsoom,"
He smiled. "It is not strange. I will tell you why when we have
Together we returned to the cell in which Xodar sat; descending to
talk with him until the hour had passed.
There we made our plans for the immediate future, binding ourselves
by a solemn oath to fight to the death for one another against
whatsoever enemies should confront us, for we knew that even should
we succeed in escaping the First Born we might still have a whole
world against us--the power of religious superstition is mighty.
It was agreed that I should navigate the craft after we had reached
her, and that if we made the outer world in safety we should attempt
to reach Helium without a stop.
"Why Helium?" asked the red youth.
"I am a prince of Helium," I replied.
He gave me a peculiar look, but said nothing further on the subject.
I wondered at the time what the significance of his expression
might be, but in the press of other matters it soon left my mind,
nor did I have occasion to think of it again until later.
"Come," I said at length, "now is as good a time as any. Let us
Another moment found me at the top of the partition wall again with
the boy beside me. Unbuckling my harness I snapped it together
with a single long strap which I lowered to the waiting Xodar below.
He grasped the end and was soon sitting beside us.
"How simple," he laughed.
"The balance should be even simpler," I replied. Then I raised
myself to the top of the outer wall of the prison, just so that
I could peer over and locate the passing sentry. For a matter of
five minutes I waited and then he came in sight on his slow and
snail-like beat about the structure.
I watched him until he had made the turn at the end of the building
which carried him out of sight of the side of the prison that was
to witness our dash for freedom. The moment his form disappeared
I grasped Xodar and drew him to the top of the wall. Placing one
end of my harness strap in his hands I lowered him quickly to the
ground below. Then the boy grasped the strap and slid down to
In accordance with our arrangement they did not wait for me, but
walked slowly toward the water, a matter of a hundred yards, directly
past the guard-house filled with sleeping soldiers.
They had taken scarce a dozen steps when I too dropped to the
ground and followed them leisurely toward the shore. As I passed
the guard-house the thought of all the good blades lying there
gave me pause, for if ever men were to have need of swords it was
my companions and I on the perilous trip upon which we were about
I glanced toward Xodar and the youth and saw that they had slipped
over the edge of the dock into the water. In accordance with our
plan they were to remain there clinging to the metal rings which
studded the concrete-like substance of the dock at the water's
level, with only their mouths and noses above the surface of the
sea, until I should join them.
The lure of the swords within the guard-house was strong upon me,
and I hesitated a moment, half inclined to risk the attempt to take
the few we needed. That he who hesitates is lost proved itself a
true aphorism in this instance, for another moment saw me creeping
stealthily toward the door of the guard-house.
Gently I pressed it open a crack; enough to discover a dozen blacks
stretched upon their silks in profound slumber. At the far side
of the room a rack held the swords and firearms of the men. Warily
I pushed the door a trifle wider to admit my body. A hinge gave
out a resentful groan. One of the men stirred, and my heart stood
still. I cursed myself for a fool to have thus jeopardized our
chances for escape; but there was nothing for it now but to see
the adventure through.
With a spring as swift and as noiseless as a tiger's I lit beside
the guardsman who had moved. My hands hovered about his throat
awaiting the moment that his eyes should open. For what seemed
an eternity to my overwrought nerves I remained poised thus. Then
the fellow turned again upon his side and resumed the even respiration
of deep slumber.
Carefully I picked my way between and over the soldiers until I
had gained the rack at the far side of the room. Here I turned to
survey the sleeping men. All were quiet. Their regular breathing
rose and fell in a soothing rhythm that seemed to me the sweetest
music I ever had heard.
Gingerly I drew a long-sword from the rack. The scraping of
the scabbard against its holder as I withdrew it sounded like the
filing of cast iron with a great rasp, and I looked to see the room
immediately filled with alarmed and attacking guardsmen. But none
The second sword I withdrew noiselessly, but the third clanked in
its scabbard with a frightful din. I knew that it must awaken some
of the men at least, and was on the point of forestalling their
attack by a rapid charge for the doorway, when again, to my intense
surprise, not a black moved. Either they were wondrous heavy
sleepers or else the noises that I made were really much less than
they seemed to me.
I was about to leave the rack when my attention was attracted by
the revolvers. I knew that I could not carry more than one away
with me, for I was already too heavily laden to move quietly with
any degree of safety or speed. As I took one of them from its pin
my eye fell for the first time on an open window beside the rack.
Ah, here was a splendid means of escape, for it let directly upon
the dock, not twenty feet from the water's edge.
And as I congratulated myself, I heard the door opposite me open,
and there looking me full in the face stood the officer of the guard.
He evidently took in the situation at a glance and appreciated the
gravity of it as quickly as I, for our revolvers came up simultaneously
and the sounds of the two reports were as one as we touched the
buttons on the grips that exploded the cartridges.
I felt the wind of his bullet as it whizzed past my ear, and at the
same instant I saw him crumple to the ground. Where I hit him I do
not know, nor if I killed him, for scarce had he started to collapse
when I was through the window at my rear. In another second the
waters of Omean closed above my head, and the three of us were
making for the little flier a hundred yards away.
Xodar was burdened with the boy, and I with the three long-swords.
The revolver I had dropped, so that while we were both strong
swimmers it seemed to me that we moved at a snail's pace through
the water. I was swimming entirely beneath the surface, but Xodar
was compelled to rise often to let the youth breathe, so it was a
wonder that we were not discovered long before we were.
In fact we reached the boat's side and were all aboard before the
watch upon the battleship, aroused by the shots, detected us. Then
an alarm gun bellowed from a ship's bow, its deep boom reverberating
in deafening tones beneath the rocky dome of Omean.
Instantly the sleeping thousands were awake. The decks of a thousand
monster craft teemed with fighting-men, for an alarm on Omean was
a thing of rare occurrence.
We cast away before the sound of the first gun had died, and
another second saw us rising swiftly from the surface of the sea.
I lay at full length along the deck with the levers and buttons
of control before me. Xodar and the boy were stretched directly
behind me, prone also that we might offer as little resistance to
the air as possible.
"Rise high," whispered Xodar. "They dare not fire their heavy
guns toward the dome--the fragments of the shells would drop back
among their own craft. If we are high enough our keel plates will
protect us from rifle fire."
I did as he bade. Below us we could see the men leaping into the
water by hundreds, and striking out for the small cruisers and
one-man fliers that lay moored about the big ships. The larger
craft were getting under way, following us rapidly, but not rising
from the water.
"A little to your right," cried Xodar, for there are no points of
compass upon Omean where every direction is due north.
The pandemonium that had broken out below us was deafening. Rifles
cracked, officers shouted orders, men yelled directions to one
another from the water and from the decks of myriad boats, while
through all ran the purr of countless propellers cutting water and
I had not dared pull my speed lever to the highest for fear of
overrunning the mouth of the shaft that passed from Omean's dome
to the world above, but even so we were hitting a clip that I doubt
has ever been equalled on the windless sea.
The smaller fliers were commencing to rise toward us when Xodar
shouted: "The shaft! The shaft! Dead ahead," and I saw the opening,
black and yawning in the glowing dome of this underworld.
A ten-man cruiser was rising directly in front to cut off our
escape. It was the only vessel that stood in our way, but at the
rate that it was traveling it would come between us and the shaft
in plenty of time to thwart our plans.
It was rising at an angle of about forty-five degrees dead ahead of
us, with the evident intention of combing us with grappling hooks
from above as it skimmed low over our deck.
There was but one forlorn hope for us, and I took it. It was useless
to try to pass over her, for that would have allowed her to force
us against the rocky dome above, and we were already too near that
as it was. To have attempted to dive below her would have put us
entirely at her mercy, and precisely where she wanted us. On either
side a hundred other menacing craft were hastening toward us. The
alternative was filled with risk--in fact it was all risk, with
but a slender chance of success.
As we neared the cruiser I rose as though to pass above her, so
that she would do just what she did do, rise at a steeper angle to
force me still higher. Then as we were almost upon her I yelled
to my companions to hold tight, and throwing the little vessel into
her highest speed I deflected her bows at the same instant until
we were running horizontally and at terrific velocity straight for
the cruiser's keel.
Her commander may have seen my intentions then, but it was too late.
Almost at the instant of impact I turned my bows upward, and then
with a shattering jolt we were in collision. What I had hoped for
happened. The cruiser, already tilted at a perilous angle, was
carried completely over backward by the impact of my smaller vessel.
Her crew fell twisting and screaming through the air to the water
far below, while the cruiser, her propellers still madly churning,
dived swiftly headforemost after them to the bottom of the Sea of
The collision crushed our steel bows, and notwithstanding every
effort on our part came near to hurling us from the deck. As it
was we landed in a wildly clutching heap at the very extremity of
the flier, where Xodar and I succeeded in grasping the hand-rail,
but the boy would have plunged overboard had I not fortunately
grasped his ankle as he was already partially over.
Unguided, our vessel careened wildly in its mad flight, rising ever
nearer the rocks above. It took but an instant, however, for me
to regain the levers, and with the roof barely fifty feet above I
turned her nose once more into the horizontal plane and headed her
again for the black mouth of the shaft.
The collision had retarded our progress and now a hundred swift
scouts were close upon us. Xodar had told me that ascending the
shaft by virtue of our repulsive rays alone would give our enemies
their best chance to overtake us, since our propellers would be
idle and in rising we would be outclassed by many of our pursuers.
The swifter craft are seldom equipped with large buoyancy tanks,
since the added bulk of them tends to reduce a vessel's speed.
As many boats were now quite close to us it was inevitable that we
would be quickly overhauled in the shaft, and captured or killed
in short order.
To me there always seems a way to gain the opposite side of
an obstacle. If one cannot pass over it, or below it, or around
it, why then there is but a single alternative left, and that is
to pass through it. I could not get around the fact that many of
these other boats could rise faster than ours by the fact of their
greater buoyancy, but I was none the less determined to reach the
outer world far in advance of them or die a death of my own choosing
in event of failure.
"Reverse?" screamed Xodar, behind me. "For the love of your first
ancestor, reverse. We are at the shaft."
"Hold tight!" I screamed in reply. "Grasp the boy and hold tight--we
are going straight up the shaft."
The words were scarce out of my mouth as we swept beneath the
pitch-black opening. I threw the bow hard up, dragged the speed
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