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Title: Lost on Venus
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Language:  English
Date first posted: July 2006
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Title: Lost on Venus
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs





FOREWARD

WHEN CARSON NAPIER left my office to fly to Guadalupe Island
and take off for Mars in the giant rocket that he had constructed
there for that purpose, I was positive that I should never see
him again in the flesh. That his highly developed telepathic
powers, through the medium of which he hoped to communicate with
me, might permit me to envisage him and communicate with him I
had no doubts; but I expected no messages after he had detonated
the first rocket. I thought that Carson Napier would die within a
few seconds of the initiation of his mad scheme.

But my fears were not realized. I followed him through his
mad, month-long journey through space, trembling with him as the
gravitation of the Moon drew the great rocket from its course and
sent it hurtling toward the Sun, holding my breath as he was
gripped by the power of Venus, and thrilling to his initial
adventures upon that mysterious, cloud-enwrapped planet--Amtor,
as it is known to its human inhabitants.

His love for the unattainable Duare, daughter of a king, their
capture by the cruel Thorians, his self-sacrificing rescue of the
girl, held me enthralled. I saw the strange, unearthly birdman
bearing Duare from the rockbound shore of Noobol to the ship that
was to bear her back to her native land just as Carson Napier was
overwhelmed and made prisoner by a strong band of Thorians.

I saw--but now let Carson Napier tell his own story in his own
words while I retire again to the impersonality of my role of
scribe.



CONTENTS

 1. The Seven Doors
 2. Coiled Fury
 3. The Noose
 4. "Open the Gates!"
 5. Cannibals
 6. Fire
 7. Bull Against Lion
 8. Down the Escarpment
 9. The Gloomy Castle
10. The Girl in the Tower
11. The Pygmies
12. The Last Second
13. To Live or Die
14. Havatoo
15. The Judgment
16. Attack in the Night
17. City of the Dead
18. A Surprise
19. In Hiding
20. Under Suspicion
21. Flight





Chapter 1 - The Seven Doors

LEADING MY captors, but taking no part in the capture, were Moosko, the
Ongyan, and Vilor, the Thorist spy, who had together conceived and
carried out the abduction of Duare from aboard the _Sofal_.

They had reached the mainland, carried there by the flying angans, those
strange winged humans of Venus. (To make the story simpler to
understand, I am abandoning the Amtorian plural prefix, "kl" or "akloo,"
and am forming the plural of nouns in the regular Earth fashion--by
adding "s.") The pair had left Duare to her fate when the party was
attacked by the hairy wild men from whom I had fortunately been able to
rescue her with the aid of the angan who had so heroically defended her.

But now, though they had abandoned her to almost certain death, they
were furious with me for having caused her to be carried from their
clutches back to the deck of the _Sofal_ by the last survivor of the
angans; and having me within their power, after some one else had
disarmed me, they became courageous again and attacked me violently.

I think they would have killed me on the spot had not a better idea
suggested itself to another member of the Thorist party that had
captured me.

Vilor, who had been unarmed, seized a sword from one of his fellows and
set upon me with the evident intention of hacking me to pieces, when
this man intervened.

"Wait!" he cried. "What has this man done that he should be killed
swiftly and without suffering?"

"What do you mean?" demanded Vilor, lowering the point of his weapon.

This country in which we were was almost as strange to Vilor as to me,
for he was from the distant mainland of Thora proper, while the party
who had assisted in my capture were natives of this land of Noobol who
had been induced to join the Thorists in their world-wide attempt to
foment discord and overthrow all established forms of government and
replace them with their own oligarchy of ignorance.

As Vilor hesitated, the other explained. "In Kapdor," he said, "we have
far more interesting ways of disposing of enemies than spitting them on
a sword."

"Explain," commanded the ongyan, Moosko. "This man does not deserve the
mercy of a quick death. A prisoner aboard the Sofal, with other
Vepajans, he led a mutiny in which all the ship's officers were
murdered; then he seized the Sovang, liberated her prisoners, looted
her, threw her big guns into the sea, and sailed away upon a piratical
expedition.

"In the Sofal, he overhauled the Yan, a merchant ship on which I, an
ongyan, was a passenger. Ignoring my authority, he opened fire upon the
Yan and then boarded her. After looting her and destroying her armament,
he took me prisoner aboard the Sofal. He treated me with the utmost
disrespect, threatening my life and destroying my liberty.

"For these things he must die, and if you have a death commensurate with
his crimes you shall not go unrewarded by those who rule Thora."

"Let us take him back to Kapdor with us," said the man. "There we have
the room with seven doors, and I promise you that if he be an
intelligent being he will suffer more agony within its circular walls
than any prick of a sword point might inflict upon him."

"Good!" exclaimed Vilor, handing his sword back to the man from whom he
had borrowed it. "The creature deserves the worst."

They led me back along the coast in the direction from which they had
come, and during the march I discovered from their conversation to what
unfortunate chance I could attribute the ill fortune that had befallen
me at the very moment when it seemed possible that Duare and I might
easily return to the Sofal and our loyal friends.

This armed party from Kapdor had been searching for an escaped prisoner
when their attention had been attracted by the fight between the hairy
wild men and the angans who were defending Duare, just as I had
similarly been attracted to the scene while searching for the beautiful
daughter of Mintep, the jong of Vepaja.

As they were coming to investigate, they met Moosko and Vilor fleeing
from the engagement, and these two had accompanied them back to the
scene just as Duare, the remaining angan, and I had sighted the Sofal
off shore and were planning on signaling to her.

As the birdman could transport but one of us at a time, I had commanded
him, much against his will, to carry Duare to the ship. She refused to
desert me, and the angan feared to return to the Sofal, from which he
had aided in the abduction of the princess; but I at length compelled
him to seize Duare and fly away with her just as the party of Thorists
were upon us.

There had been a stiff gale blowing from the sea; and I was much worried
for fear that the angan might not have been able to beat his way against
it to the deck of the Sofal, but I had known that death beneath the
waters of the sea would be far less horrible to Duare than captivity
among the Thorists and especially in the power of Moosko.

My captors had watched the birdman battling his way against the gale
with his burden, but only for a few minutes; then they had started upon
the return march to Kapdor when Moosko had suggested that Kamlot, who
was now in command of the Sofal, would doubtless land a force and pursue
them as soon as Duare acquainted him with the fact of my capture. And
so, as our path dropped behind the rocky pinnacles of the shore line,
the angan and Duare were lost to our view; and I felt that I was doomed
to go through whatever brief hours of life remained to me without
knowledge of the fate of the gorgeous Venusan girl whom fate had decreed
to be my first love.

The fact that I should have chanced to fall in love with this particular
girl, in the land of Vepaja where there were so many beautiful girls,
was in itself a tragedy. She was the virgin daughter of a jong, or king,
whom custom rendered sacrosanct.

During the eighteen years of her life she had been permitted neither to
see nor to speak to any man other than members of the royal family and a
few trusted servitors until I had invaded her garden and forced my
unwelcome attentions upon her. And then, shortly thereafter, the worst
had befallen her. A raiding party of Thorists had succeeded in abducting
her, members of the same party that had captured Kamlot and me.

She had been shocked and terrified at my avowal of my love, but she had
not informed against me. She had seemed to despise me up until the last
moment upon the summit of the rocky cliffs overlooking the raging
Venusan sea, when I had ordered the angan to carry her to the Sofal;
then, with outstretched hands, she had implored, "Do not send me away
from you, Carson! Do not send me away! I love you!"

Those word, those unbelievable words, still rang in my ears, leaving me
elated even in the face of the nameless death that I knew awaited me in
the mysterious chamber of seven doors.

The Thorists from Kapdor who formed my escort were much intrigued by my
blond hair and blue eyes, for such were unknown to any of the Venusans I
had yet encountered. They questioned Vilor concerning me; but he
insisted that I was a Vepajan, and as the Vepajans are the deadliest
enemies of the Thorists he could not more effectually have sealed my
doom even had I not been guilty of the offenses charged against me by
Moosko.

"He says that he comes from another world far from Amtor; but he was
captured in Vepaja in company with another Vepajan, and he was well
known to Duare, the daughter of Mintep, the jong of Vepaja."

"What other world could there be but Amtor?" scoffed one of the
soldiers.

"None, of course," assented another; "beyond Amtor lie only boiling
rocks and fire."

The cosmic theory of the Amtorians is as wrapped in impenetrable fog as
is their world by the two great cloud envelopes that surround it. From
the spouting lava of their volcanoes they visualize a sea of molten rock
upon which floats Amtor, a vast disk; the occasional rents in the
enveloping clouds, through which they glimpse the fiery sun and feel his
consuming heat assure them that all is fire above; and when these rents
occur at night they believe the myriad stars to be sparks from the
eternal, fiery furnace that fuses the molten sea beneath their world.

I was almost exhausted by what I had passed through since the screeching
of the hurricane and the plunging of the Sofal had awakened me the
preceding night. After the great wave had swept me overboard I had had a
battle with the great waves that would have wholly sapped the strength
of a less powerful man than I; and then, after I had reached shore, I
had walked far in search of Duare and her abductors only to have my
strength further sapped by a strenuous battle with the savage nobargans,
the hairy beastmen, who had attacked her abductors.

And now I was about all in as, topping a rise, there burst upon my view
a walled city lying close to the sea at the mouth of a little valley. I
guessed that this was Kapdor, our destination; and though I knew that
death awaited me there I could not but look forward to the city with
anticipation, since I guessed that food and drink might also await me
behind those substantial walls.

The city gate through which we entered was well guarded, suggesting that
Kapdor had many enemies; and all the citizens were armed--with swords,
or daggers, or pistols, the last similar to those I had first become
acquainted with in the house of Duran, the father of Kamlot, in the
tree-city of Kooaad, which is the capital of Mintep's island kingdom,
Vepaja.

These weapons discharge the lethal r-ray, which destroys animal tissue,
and are far more deadly than the .45 automatics with which we are
familiar, since they discharge a continuous stream of the destructive
rays as long as the mechanism which generates them is kept in action by
the pressure of a finger.

There were many people on the streets of Kapdor, but they seemed dull
and apathetic. Even the sight of a blond-haired, blue-eyed prisoner
aroused no interest within their sodden brains. To me they appeared like
beasts of burden, performing their dull tasks without the stimulus of
imagination or of hope. It was these that were armed with daggers, and
there was another class that I took to be the soldier class who carried
swords and pistols. These seemed more alert and cheerful, for evidently
they were more favored, but had no appearance of being more intelligent
than the others.

The buildings for the most part were mean hovels of a single story, but
there were others that were more pretentious--two- and even three-story
buildings. Many were of lumber, for forests are plentiful in this
portion of Amtor, though I had seen none of the enormous trees such as
grow upon the island of Vepaja and which afforded me my first
introduction of Venus.

There were a number of stone buildings facing the streets along which I
was conducted; but they were all boxlike, unprepossessing structures
with no hint of artistic or imaginative genius.

* * * * *

Presently my captors led me into an open square surrounded by larger if
not more beautiful buildings than we had previously passed. Yet even
here were squalor and indications of inefficiency and incompetence.

I was led into a building the entrance to which was guarded by soldiers.
Vilor, Moosko, and the leader of the party that had captured me
accompanied me into the interior, where, in a bare room, a large, gross-
appearing man was asleep in a chair with his feet on a table that
evidently served him both as desk and dining table, for its top was
littered with papers and the remains of a meal.

Disturbed by our entrance, the sleeper opened his eyes and blinked dully
at us for a moment.

"Greetings, Friend Sov!" exclaimed the officer who accompanied me.

"Oh, it is you, Friend Hokal?" mumbled Sov, sleepily. "And who are these
others?"

"The Ongyan Moosko from Thora, Vilor, another friend, and a Vepajan
prisoner I captured." At the mention of Moosko's title, Sov arose, for
an ongyan is one of the oligarchy and a great man. "Greetings, Ongyan
Moosko!" he cried. "So you have brought us a Vepajan? Is he a doctor, by
chance?"

"I do not know and I do not care," snapped Moosko. "He is a cutthroat
and a scoundrel; and, doctor or no doctor, he dies."

"But we need doctors badly," insisted Sov. "We are dying of disease and
old age. If we do not have a doctor soon, we shall all be dead."

"You heard what I said, did you not, Friend Sov?" demanded Moosko
testily.

"Yes, Ongyan," replied the officer, meekly; "he shall die. Shall I have
him destroyed at once?"

"Friend Hokal tells me that you have a slower and pleasanter way of
dispatching villains than by gun or sword. I am interested. Tell me
about it."

"I referred to the room of the seven doors," explained Hokal. "You see,
this man's offenses were great; he made the great ongyan a prisoner and
even threatened his life."

"We have no death adequate to such a crime," cried the horrified Sov;
"but the room of the seven doors, which is the best that we have to
offer, shall be made ready."

"Describe it, describe it," snapped Moosko. "What is it like? What will
happen to him? How will he die?"

"Let us not explain it in the presence of the prisoner," said Hokal, "if
you would reap the full pleasure of the room of the seven doors."

"Yes, lock him up; lock him up!" ordered Moosko. "Put him in a cell."

Sov summoned a couple of soldiers, who conducted me to a rear room and
shoved me down into a dark windowless cellar. They slammed down and
locked the heavy trap door above me and left me to my gloomy thoughts.

The room of the seven doors. The title fascinated me. I wondered what
awaited me there, what strange form of horrible death. Perhaps it might
not be so terrible after all; perhaps they were attempting to make my
end more terrible by suggestion.

So this was to be the termination of my mad attempt to reach Mars! I was
to die alone in this far-flung outpost of the Thorists in the land of
Noobol that was scarcely more than a name to me. And there was so much
to see upon Venus, and I had seen so little.

I recalled all that Danus had told me, the things concerning Venus that
had so stimulated my imagination--sketchy tales, little more than
fables, of Karbol, the cold country, where roamed strange and savage
beasts and even more strange and more savage men; and Trabol, the warm
country, where lay the island of Vepaja toward which chance had guided
the rocket in which I had journeyed from Earth. Most of all had I been
interested in Strabol, the hot country, for I was positive that this
corresponded with the equatorial regions of the planet and that beyond
it lay a vast, unexplored region entirely unguessed of by the
inhabitants of the southern hemisphere--the north temperature zone.

One of my hopes when I seized the Sofal and set myself up as a pirate
chieftain was that I might find an ocean passage north to this terra
incognita. What strange races, what new civilizations might I not
discover there! But now I had reached the end, not only of hope, but of
life as well.

I determined to stop thinking about it. It was going to be too easy to
feel sorry for myself if I were to keep on in that vein, and that would
never do; it unnerves a man.

I had enough pleasant memories stored away inside my head, and these I
called to my aid. The happy days that I had spent in India before my
English father died were food for glorious recollection. I thought of
old Chand Kabi, my tutor, and of all that I had learned from him outside
of school books; not the least of which was that satisfying philosophy
which I found it expedient to summon to my aid in this, my last
extremity. It was Chand Kabi who had taught me to use my mind to the
fullest extent of its resources and to project it across illimitable
space to another mind attuned to receive its message, without which
power the fruits of my strange adventure must die with me in the room of
the seven doors.

I had other pleasant recollections to dissolve the gloom that shrouded
my immediate future; they were of the good and loyal friends I had made
during my brief sojourn on this distant planet: Kamlot, my best friend
on Venus, and those "three musketeers" of the Sofal, Gamfor, the farmer;
Kiron, the soldier; and Zog, the slave. These had been friends indeed!

And then, pleasantest memory of all, there was Duare. She was worth all
that I had risked; her last words to me compensated even for death. She
had told me that she loved me--she, the incomparable, the
unattainable--she, the hope of a world, the daughter of a king. I could
scarcely believe that my ears had not tricked me, for always before, in
the few words she had deigned to fling me, she had sought to impress
upon me the fact that not only was she not for such as I, but that she
abhorred me. Women are peculiar.

How long, I remained in that dark hole, I do not know. It must have been
several hours; but at last I heard footsteps in the room above, and then
the trap door was raised and I was ordered to come up.

Several soldiers escorted me back to the filthy office of Sov, where I
found that officer seated in conversation with Moosko, Vilor, and Hokal.
A jug and glasses, together with the fumes of strong drink, attested the
manner in which they had enlivened their conference.

"Take him to the room of the seven doors," Sov directed the soldiers who
guarded me; and as I was escorted into the open square, the four who had
condemned me to death followed.

A short distance from Sov's office the soldiers turned into a narrow,
crooked alley; and presently we came to a large open space in the center
of which were several buildings, one a circular tower rising above the
others from the center of a large inclosure that was surrounded by a
high stone wall.

Through a small gate we passed into a covered passageway, a gloomy
tunnel, at the end of which was a stout door which one of the soldiers
opened with a great key that Hokal passed to him; then the soldiers
stood aside and I entered the room, followed by Sov, Moosko, Vilor, and
Hokal.

I found myself in a circular apartment in the walls of which were seven
identical doors placed at regular intervals about the circumference; so
that there was no way of distinguishing one door from another.

In the center of the room was a circular table upon which were seven
vessels containing seven varieties of food and seven cups containing
liquids. Depending above the center of the table was a rope with a noose
in the end of it, the upper end of the rope being lost in the shadows of
the high ceiling, for the chamber was but dimly lighted.

Suffering with thirst, as I was, and being half famished for food, the
sight of that laden table aroused my flagging spirits. It was evident
that even if I were about to die I should not die hungry. The Thorists
might be cruel and heartless in some respects, but it was clear that
there was some kindliness in them, else they would never furnish such an
abundance of food to a condemned man.

"Attend!" snapped Sov, addressing me. "Listen well to what I shall say
to you." Moosko was inspecting the room with a gloating smile on his
thick lips. "We shall leave you here alone presently," continued Sov.
"If you can escape from this building your life will be spared.

"As you see, there are seven doors leading from this room; none of them
has bolt or bar. Beyond each is a corridor identical to that through
which we just approached the chamber. You are free to open any of the
doors and enter any of these corridors. After you pass through a door, a
spring will close it; and you cannot open it again from the opposite
side, the doors being so constructed that from the corridor there is
nothing to lay hold upon wherewith to open them, with the exception of
the secret mechanism of that one which let us into the room; through
that one door lies life; beyond the others, death.

"In the corridor of the second door you will step upon a hidden spring
that will cause long, sharp spikes to be released upon you from all
directions; and upon these you will be impaled and die.

"In the third corridor a similar spring will ignite a gas that will
consume you in flames. In the fourth, r-rays will be loosed upon you,
and you will die instantly. In the fifth, another door will open at the
far end and admit a tharban."

"What is a tharban?" I asked.

Sov looked at me in astonishment. "You know as well as I," he growled.

"I have told you that I am from another world," I snapped. "I do not
know what the word means."

"It will do no harm to tell him," suggested Vilor: "for if, by chance,
he does not know, some of the horror of the room of the seven doors may
be lost upon him."

"Not a bad thought," interjected Moosko. "Describe the tharban, Friend
Sov."

"It is a terrible beast," explained Sov, "a huge and terrible beast. It
is covered with stiff hair, like bristles, and is of a reddish color
with white stripes running lengthwise of its body, its belly being of a
bluish tinge. It has great jaws and terrible talons, and it eats naught
but flesh."

* * * * *

At that instant a terrific roar that seemed to shake the building broke
upon our ears.

"That is the tharban," said Hokal with a grin. "He has not eaten for
three days, and he is not only very hungry, but he is very angry."

"And what lies beyond the sixth door?" I demanded.

"In the corridor beyond the sixth door hidden jets will deluge you with
a corrosive acid. It will fill your eyes and burn them out; and it will
consume your flesh slowly, but you will not die too quickly. You will
have ample time in which to repent the crimes that brought you to the
room of the seven doors. The sixth door, I think, is the most terrible
of all."

"To my mind the seventh is worse," remarked Hokal.

"Perhaps," admitted Sov. "In the seventh, death is longer in coming, and
the mental agony is protracted. When you step upon the concealed spring
in the corridor beyond the seventh door the walls commence to move
slowly toward you. Their movement is so slow as to be almost
imperceptible, but eventually they will reach you and slowly crush you
between them."

"And what is the purpose of the noose above the table?" I asked.

"In the agony of indecision as to which door is the door to life,"
explained Sov, "you will be tempted to destroy yourself, and the noose
is there for that purpose. But it is cunningly arranged at such a
distance above the table that you cannot utilize it to break your neck
and bring death quickly; you can only strangle to death."

"It appears to me that you have gone to considerable pains to destroy
your enemies," I suggested.

"The room of the seven doors was not designed primarily to inflict
death," explained Sov. "It is used as a means for converting unbelievers
to Thorism, and you would be surprised to know how efficacious it has
been."

"I can imagine," I replied. "And now that you have told me the worst,
may I be permitted to satisfy my hunger and thirst before I die?"

"All within this room is yours to do with as you please during your last
hours on earth, but before you eat let me explain that of the seven
varieties of food upon this table all but one are poisoned. Before you
satisfy your thirst, you may be interested in knowing that of the seven
delicious beverages sparkling in those seven containers, six are
poisoned. And now, murderer, we leave you. For the last time in life you
are looking upon fellow human beings."

"If life held only the hope of continuing to look upon you, I would
gladly embrace death."

In single file they left the room by that door to life. I kept my eyes
upon that door to mark it well; and then the dim light went out.

Quickly I crossed the chamber in a straight line toward the exact spot
where I knew the door to be, for I had been standing facing it squarely.
I smiled to myself to think how simple they were to imagine that I
should instantly lose my bearings because the light had been
extinguished. If they had not been lying to me, I should be out of that
room almost as soon as they to claim the life they had promised me.

With outstretched hands I approached the door. I felt unaccountably
dizzy. I was having difficulty in keeping my balance. My fingers came in
contact with a moving surface; it was the wall, passing across my hands
toward the left. I felt a door brush past them and then another and
another; then I guessed the truth--the floor upon which I stood was
revolving. I had lost the door to life.



Chapter 2 - Coiled Fury

AS I STOOD there, plunged for the moment into despondency, the light
came on again; and I saw the wall and the procession of doors passing
slowly before me. Which was the door to life? Which was the door to
choose?

I felt very tired and rather hopeless; the pangs of hunger and thirst
assailed me. I walked to the table in the center of the room. Wines and
milk mocked me from the seven cups. One of the seven was harmless and
would quickly satisfy the gnawing craving for drink that was become
almost a torture. I examined the contents of each receptacle, testing
each with my nose. There were two cups of water, the contents of one of
which had a cloudy appearance; I was positive that the other was the one
unpoisoned liquid.

I lifted it in my hands. My parched throat begged for one little drink.
I raised the cup to my lips, and then doubts assailed me. While there
was a single remote chance for life I must not risk death. Resolutely I
replaced the cup upon the table.

Glancing about the room, I saw a chair and a couch in the shadows
against the wall beyond the table; at least, if I could not eat nor
drink, I could rest and, perhaps, sleep. I would rob my captors of the
fulfillment of their expectations as long as possible, and with this
idea in mind I approached the couch.

The light in the room was poor, but as I was about to throw myself upon
the couch it was sufficient to enable me to discern that its bed was
composed of needle-sharp metal spikes, and my vision of restful sleep
was dispelled. An examination of the chair revealed the fact that it was
similarly barbed.

What ingenious fiendishness the Thorists had displayed in the conception
of this room and its appurtenances! There was nothing about it that I
might use that was not feral, with the single exception of the floor;
and I was so tired as I stretched myself at full length upon it that for
the moment it seemed a luxurious couch.

It is true that the discomfort of its hardness became more and more
appreciable; yet, so exhausted was I, I was upon the verge of sleep,
half dozing, when I felt something touch my naked back--something cold
and clammy.

Instantly apprehending some new and devilish form at torture, I sprang
to my feet. Upon the floor, wriggling and writhing toward me, were
snakes of all kinds and sizes, many of them unearthly reptiles of
horrifying appearance--snakes with saber-like fangs, snakes with horns,
snakes with ears, snakes of blue, of red, of green, of white, of purple.
They were coming from holes near the bottom of the wall, spreading out
across the floor as though they were seeking what they might
devour--seeking me.

Now even the floor, that I had considered my sole remaining hope, was
denied me. I sprang to the table top amidst the poisoned food and drink,
and there I squatted watching the hideous reptiles squirming about.

Suddenly the food began to tempt me, but now for a reason apart from
hunger. I saw in it escape from the hopelessness and torture of my
situation. What chance had I for life? My captors had known, when they
put me in here, that I would never come out alive. What a vain and
foolish thing was hope under such circumstances!

I thought of Duare; and I asked myself, what of her? Even were I to
escape through some miracle, what chance had I of ever seeing Duare
again? I, who could not even guess the direction in which lay Vepaja,
the land of her people, the land to which Kamlot was most assuredly
returning her even now.

I had harbored a half, faint-hearted hope immediately after my capture
that Kamlot would land the fighting crew of the Sofal in an attempt to
rescue me; but I had long since abandoned it, for I knew that his first
duty was to Duare, the daughter of his kind; and that no consideration
would tempt him to delay an instant the return voyage to Vepaja.

As, immersed in thought, I watched the snakes, there came faintly to my
ears what sounded like a woman's scream; and I wondered, indifferently,
what new horror was occurring in this hateful city. Whatever it was, I
could neither know nor prevent, and so it made little impression upon
me, especially in view of a sudden, new interest in the snakes.

* * * * *

One of the larger of them, a great, hideous creature some twenty feet in
length, had raised his head to the level of the table and was watching
me with its lidless, staring eyes. It seemed to me that I could almost
read that dim, reptilian brain reacting to the presence of food.

It laid its head flat upon the table; and, its body undulating slowly,
it glided toward me across the table top.

I glanced quickly about the room, vainly seeking some avenue of escape.
There, evenly spaced in the periphery of the chamber, were the seven
doors, stationary now; for the floor had ceased to revolve shortly after
the light had come on again. Behind one of those identical doors lay
life; behind each of the other six, death. Upon the floor, between them
and me, were the snakes. They had not distributed themselves evenly over
the entire area of the flagging. There were spaces across which one
might run swiftly without encountering more than an occasional reptile;
yet a single one, were it venomous, would be as fatal as a score of
them; and I was harassed by knowledge of my ignorance of the nature of a
single one of the numerous species represented.

The hideous head of the serpent that had raised itself to the table top
was gliding slowly toward me; the greater part of its length extended
along the floor, moved in undulating waves as it crept after the head.
As yet it had given no indication of the method of its attack. I did not
know if it might be expected to strike first with poison fangs, to crush
within its constricting folds, or merely to seize in widespread jaws and
swallow as I had seen snakes, in my boyhood, swallowing frogs and birds.
In any event the outlook was far from pleasing.

I shot a quick glance toward the doors. Should I risk all on a single
cast of the die with fate?

The repulsive head was moving closer and closer to me; I turned away
from it, determined to run for the door the way to which was clearest of
snakes. As I glanced quickly about the room I saw a comparatively open
avenue leading toward a door just beyond the spiked couch and chair.

One door was as good as another--I had one chance in seven! And there
was no way to differentiate one door from another. Life might lie behind
this door, or death. Here was, at least, a chance. To remain where I
was, the certain prey of that hideous reptile, offered no chance
whatever.

I have always enjoyed more than my share of the lucky "breaks" of life,
and now something seemed to tell me that fate was driving me toward the
one door beyond which lay life and liberty. So it was with the optimism
of almost assured success that I leaped from the table and the yawning
jaws of the great snake and ran toward that fateful door.

Yet I was not unmindful of that sound advice, "Put your trust in God, my
boys; and keep your powder dry!" In this event I might have paraphrased
it to read, "Put your trust in fate, but keep an avenue of retreat
open!"

I knew that the doors swung outward from the circular room and that once
I had passed through one of them and it had closed behind me there could
be no returning. But how could I circumvent this?

* * * * *

All this that I take so long to tell occupied but a few seconds. I ran
swiftly across the room, eluding the one or two snakes that were in my
path; but I could not be unaware of the hissing and screaming that arose
about me nor fail to see the snakes writhing and wriggling forward to
intercept or pursue me.

What prompted me to seize the spiked chair as I passed it I do not
know--the idea seemed to come to me like an inspiration. Perhaps,
subconsciously, I hoped to use it as a weapon of defense; but it was not
thus that it was to serve me.

As the nearer snakes were closing upon me I reached the door. There was
no time now for further deliberation. I pushed the door open and stepped
into the gloomy corridor beyond. It was exactly like the corridor through
which I had been brought to the room of the seven doors. Hope sprang
high within my breast, but I braced the door open with the spiked
chair--I was keeping my powder dry!

I had taken but a few steps beyond the doorway when my blood was frozen
by the most terrifying roar that I have ever heard, and in the gloom
ahead I saw two blazing balls of fire. I had opened the door of the
fifth corridor that led to the lair of the tharban!

I did not hesitate. I knew that death awaited me in the darkness of
that gloomy hole. No, it was not awaiting me; it was coming charging
toward me. I turned and fled for the temporary safety that the light and
space of the larger room would give me, and as I passed through the
doorway I sought to snatch the chair away and let the door close in the
face of the savage beast that was pursuing me. But something went wrong.
The door, impelled by a powerful spring, closed too quickly--before I
could drag the chair out of the way, wedging it tightly so that I could
not free it, and there it stuck, holding the door half open.

I had been in tight places before, but nothing like this. Before me were
the snakes and, dominating them, the huge creature that had sought me on
the table; behind me was the roaring tharban. And now the only haven
that I could think of was that very table top from which I had so
thankfully escaped a few seconds before.

To the right of the doorway was a small open space in which there were
no snakes; and, hurdling those hissing and striking at me from the
threshold, I leaped to it at the very instant that the tharban sprang
into the room.

For the instant I was held in the power of a single urge--to reach the
top of the table. How futile and foolish the idea may have been did not
occur to me; my mind clung to it to the effacement of all other
thoughts. And perhaps because of my very singleness of purpose I would
have reached my goal in any event, but when I stood again among the
dishes and cups of poisoned food and drink and turned to face my fate I
saw that another factor had intervened to save me for the moment and
permit me to attain the questionable sanctuary of the table top.

Halfway between the door and the table the tharban, a fighting, rearing,
roaring monster, was being set upon by the snakes. He snapped and struck
and clawed, ripping them to pieces, tearing them in halves; but still
they came for him, hissing, striking, entwining. Bodies cut in two,
heads severed still sought to reach him; and from all parts of the room
came ten to replace each that he disposed of.

* * * * *

Immense and threatening, standing out above them all, rose the huge
reptile that had sought to devour me; and the tharban seemed to realize
that in this creature lay a foe worthy of its mettle, for while he
brushed away the lesser snakes with irritable contempt, he always faced
the great one and launched his most vicious attacks against it. But of
what avail! With lightning-like movements the sinuous coils darted
hither and thither, eluding every blow like some practiced boxer and
striking with terrific force at every opening, burying its fangs deep in
the bloody flesh of the tharban.

The roars and screams of the carnivore mingled with the hisses of the
reptiles to produce the most horrid din that the mind of man might
imagine, or at least so it seemed to me, cooped up in this awful room
filled with implacable engines of death.

Which would win this struggle of the Titans? What difference could it
make to me other than the difference as to which belly I should
eventually fill? Yet I could not help watch the encounter with the
excited interest of a disinterested spectator at some test of strength
and skill.

It was a bloody encounter, but the blood was all that of the tharban and
the lesser snakes. The huge creature that was championing my cause that
it might later devour me was so far unscathed. How it manipulated its
huge body with sufficient quickness to avoid the savage rushes of the
tharban is quite beyond me, though perhaps an explanation lies in the
fact that it usually met a charge with a terrific blow of its head that
sent the tharban reeling back half stunned and with a new wound.

Presently the tharban ceased its offensive and began to back away. I
watched the weaving, undulating head of the great snake following every
move of its antagonist. The lesser snakes swarmed over the body of the
tharban; it seemed not to notice them. Then, suddenly, it wheeled and
sprang for the entrance to the corridor that led to its lair.

This, evidently, was the very thing for which the snake had been
waiting. It lay half coiled where it had been fighting; and now like a
giant spring suddenly released it shot through the air; and so quickly
that I could scarcely perceive the action, it wrapped a dozen coils
about the body of the tharban, raised its gaping jaws above the back of
the beast's neck, and struck!

A horrible scream burst from the distended jaws of the stricken
carnivore as the coils tightened suddenly about it, then it was limp.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I thought for how long an entire tharban
might satisfy the hunger of this twenty-foot snake and distract its mind
from other sources of food supply, and as I anticipated this respite the
mighty victor unwound its coils from about the body of its victim and
turned its head slowly in my direction.

I gazed spellbound for a moment into those cold, lidless eyes, then I
was horror-stricken as I saw the creature gliding slowly toward the
table. It did not move swiftly as in battle, but very slowly. There was
a seemingly predetermined finality, an inevitableness, in that
undulating approach that was almost paralyzing in its frightfulness.

I saw it raise its head to the level of the table top; I saw the head
glide among the dishes toward me. I could stand it no longer. I turned
to run--where, made no difference--anywhere, if only the length of the
room, to get away even for a moment from the cold glitter of those
baleful eyes.



Chapter 3 - The Noose

AS I TURNED, two things happened: I heard again, faintly, the screams of
a woman; and my face struck the noose dangling from the dense shadows of
the rafters.

The screams made little impression upon me, but the noose gave birth to
a new thought--not the thought that it was placed there to arouse, but
another. It suggested an avenue of momentary escape from the snakes; nor
was I long in availing myself of it.

I felt the snout of the snake touch my bare leg as I sprang upward and
seized the rope above the noose; I heard a loud hiss of rage as I
clambered, hand over hand, toward the gloomy shadows where I hoped to
find at least temporary refuge.

The upper end of the rope was fastened to a metal eye-bolt set in a
great beam. Onto this beam I clambered and looked down. The mighty
serpent was hissing and writhing below me. He had raised a third of his
body upward and was endeavoring to coil about the dangling rope and
follow me upward, but it swung away and eluded his efforts.

I doubted that a snake of his great girth could ascend this relatively
tiny strand; but, not caring to take chance, I drew the rope up and
looped it over the beam. For the moment, at least, I was safe, and I
breathed a deep sigh of relief. Then I looked about me.

The shadows were dense and almost impenetrable, yet it appeared that the
ceiling of the room was still far above me; about me was a maze of beams
and braces and trusses. I determined to explore this upper region of the
room of the seven doors.

Standing upright upon the beam, I moved cautiously toward the wall. At
the end of the beam I discovered a narrow walkway that, clinging to the
wall, apparently encircled the room. It was two feet wide and had no
handrail. It seemed to be something in the nature of a scaffolding left
by the workmen who had constructed the building.

As I took my exploratory way along it, feeling each step carefully and
brushing the wall with my hand, I again heard the agonized scream that
had twice before attracted my attention if not my keenest interest; for
I was still more interested in my troubles than in those of some unknown
female of this alien race.

And a moment later my fingers came in contact with something that drove
all thoughts of screaming women from my mind. By feel, it was the frame
of a door or of a window. With both hands I examined my find. Yes, it
was a door! It was a narrow door about six feet in height.

I felt the hinges; I searched for a latch--and at last I found it.
Cautiously I manipulated it and presently I felt the door move toward
me.

What lay beyond? Some new and fiendishly conceived form of death or
torture, perhaps; perhaps freedom. I could not know without opening that
portal of mystery.

I hesitated, but not for long. Slowly I drew the door toward me, an eye
close to the widening crack. A breath of night air blew in upon me; I
saw the faint luminosity of a Venusan night.

Could it be possible that with all their cunning the Thorists had
inadvertently left this avenue of escape from this lethal chamber? I
could scarcely credit it, yet there was naught that I could do but go on
and chance whatever lay beyond.

I opened the door and stepped out upon a balcony which extended in both
directions until it passed from the range of my vision beyond the curve
of the circular wall to which it clung.

At the outer edge of the balcony was a low parapet behind which I now
crouched while I reconnoitered my new situation. No new danger seemed to
threaten me, yet I was still suspicious. I moved cautiously forward upon
a tour of investigation, and again an agonized scream rent the silence
of the night. This time it seemed quite close; previously, the walls of
the building in which I had been imprisoned had muffled it.

* * * * *

I was already moving in the direction of the sound, and I continued to
do so. I was searching for an avenue of descent to the ground below, not
for a damsel in distress. I am afraid that at that moment I was callous
and selfish and far from chivalric; but, if the truth be known, I would
not have cared had I known that every inhabitant of Kapdor, male and
female, was being destroyed.

Rounding the curve of the tower, I came in sight of another building
standing but a few yards distant; and at the same instant I saw
something that greatly aroused my interest and even my hope. It was a
narrow causeway leading from the balcony on which I stood to a similar
balcony on the adjoining structure.

Simultaneously the screams were renewed; they seemed to be coming from
the interior of the building I had just discovered. It was not the
screams, however, that lured me across the causeway, but the hope that I
might find there the means of descent to the ground.

Crossing quickly to the other balcony, I followed it to the nearest
corner; and as I rounded it I saw a light apparently shining from
windows on a level with it.

At first I was of a mind to turn back lest, in passing the windows, I be
discovered; but once again that scream burst upon my ears, and this time
it was so close that I knew it must come from the apartment from which
the light shone.

There was such a note of hopelessness and fear in it that I could no
longer ignore the demand it made upon my sympathies; and, setting
discretion aside, I approached the window nearest me.

It was wide open, and in the room beyond I saw a woman in the clutches
of a man. The fellow was holding her down upon a couch and with a sharp
dagger was pricking her. Whether he had it in his mind to kill her
eventually or not was not apparent, his sole purpose at the moment
seeming to be torture.

The fellow's back was toward me, and his body hid the features of the
woman; but when he pricked her and she screamed, he laughed--a hideous,
gloating laugh. I guessed at once the psychopathic type he represented,
deriving pleasure from the infliction of pain upon the object of his
maniacal passion.

I saw him stoop to kiss her, and then she struck him in the face; and as
she did so he half turned his head to avoid the blow, revealing his
profile to me; and I saw that it was Moosko, the ongyan.

He must have partially released his hold upon her as he shrank aside,
for the girl half rose from the couch in an effort to escape him. As she
did so her face was revealed to me, and my blood froze in rage and
horror. It was Duare!

* * * * *

With a single bound I cleared the sill and was upon him. Grasping him by
the shoulder, I whirled him about; and when he saw my face he voiced a
cry of terror and shrank back, drawing his pistol from its holster.
Instantly I closed with him, grasping the weapon and turning its muzzle
toward the ceiling. He toppled backward across the couch, carrying me
with him, both of us falling on top of Duare.

Moosko had dropped his dagger as he reached for his pistol, and now I
tore the latter from his grasp and hurled it aside; then my fingers
sought his throat.

He was a large, gross man, not without strength; and the fear of death
seemed to increase the might of his muscles. He fought with the
desperation of the doomed.

I dragged him from the couch, lest Duare be injured, and we rolled upon
the floor, each intent upon winning a death hold upon the other. He was
screaming for help now, and I redoubled my efforts to shut off his wind
before his cries attracted the aid of any of his fellows.

He was snapping at me like a savage beast as he screamed, alternately
striking at my face and seeking to close upon my throat. I was exhausted
from all that I had passed through and from loss of sleep and lack of
food. I realized that I was weakening rapidly, while Moosko seemed to my
frenzied imagination to be growing stronger.

I knew that if I were not to be vanquished and Duare lost, I must
overcome my antagonist without further loss of time, and so, drawing
away from him to get greater distance for a blow, I drove my fist full
into his face with all my remaining strength.

For an instant he wilted, and in that instant my fingers closed upon his
throat. He struggled and writhed and struck me terrific blows; but,
dizzy and half stunned though I was, I clung to him until at last he
shuddered convulsively, relaxed, and sank to the floor.

If ever a man were dead, Moosko appeared so as I arose and faced Duare,
who, half sitting, had crouched upon the cot where she had been a silent
witness to this brief duel for possession of her.

"You!" she cried. "It cannot be!"

"It is," I assured her.

Slowly she arose from the couch as I approached it and stood facing me
as I opened my arms to press her to me. She took a step forward; her
hands went up; then she stopped in confusion.

"No!" she cried. "It is all a mistake."

"But you told me that you loved me, and you know that I love you," I
said, bewildered.

"That is the mistake," she said. "I do not love you. Fear, gratitude,
sympathy, nerves distraught by all that I had passed through, brought
strange words to my lips that I might not--not have meant."

I felt suddenly cold and weary and forlorn. All hope of happiness was
crushed in my breast. I turned away from her. I no longer cared what
happened to me. But only for an instant did this mood possess me. No
matter whether she loved me or not, my duty remained plain before me; I
must get her out of Kapdor, out of the clutches of the Thorists and, if
possible, return her to her father, Mintep, king of Vepaja.

I stepped to the window and listened. Moosko's cries had not attracted
succor in so far as I could perceive; no one seemed to be coming. And if
they had not come in response to Duare's screams, why should they be
attracted by Moosko's? I realized that there was now little likelihood
that any one would investigate.

I returned to the body of Moosko and removed his harness to which was
attached a sword that he had had no opportunity to draw against me; then
I retrieved his dagger and pistol. I now felt much better, far more
efficient. It is strange what the possession of weapons will do even for
one not accustomed to bearing them, and until I had come to Venus I had
seldom if ever carried a lethal weapon.

* * * * *

I took the time now to investigate the room, on the chance that it might
contain something else of use or value to us in our bid for liberty. It
was a rather large room. An attempt had been made to furnish it
ornately, but the result was a monument to bad taste. It was atrocious.

At one end, however, was something that attracted my keenest interest and
unqualified approval; it was a table laden with food.

I turned to Duare. "I am going to try to take you away from Noobol," I
told her. "I shall try also to return you to Vepaja. I may not succeed,
but I shall do my best. Will you trust me and come with me?"

"How can you doubt it?" she replied. "If you succeed in returning me to
Vepaja you will be well repaid by the honors and rewards that will be
heaped upon you if my wishes prevail."

That speech angered me, and I turned upon her with bitter words on my
lips; but I did not utter them. What was the use? I once more focused my
attention upon the table. "What I started to say," I continued, "is that
I shall try to save you, but I can't do it on an empty stomach. I am
going to eat before we leave this room. Do you care to join me?"

"We shall need strength," she replied. "I am not hungry, but it is wiser
that we both eat. Moosko ordered the food for me, but I could not eat it
while he was present."

I turned away and approached the table where she joined me presently,
and we ate in silence.

I was curious to know how Duare had come to the Thorist city of Kapdor,
but her cruel and incomprehensible treatment of me made me hesitate to
evince any further interest in her. Yet presently I realized how
childish was my attitude--how foolish it was of me not to realize that
the strictness and seclusion of her previous life probably accounted for
her frightened and distant manner now--and I asked her to tell me all
that had happened since I had despatched the angan with her toward the
Sofal and the moment that I had discovered her in the clutches of
Moosko.

"There is not much to tell," she replied. "You will recall how fearful
the angan was of returning to the ship lest he be punished for the part
he had taken in my abduction? They are very low creatures, with illy
developed minds that react only to the most primitive forces of
nature--self preservation, hunger, fear.

"When we were almost above the deck of the Sofal, the angan hesitated
and then turned back toward the shore. I asked him what he was doing,
why he did not continue on and place me aboard the ship; and he replied
that he was afraid. He said they would kill him because he had helped to
steal me.

"I promised him that I would protect him and that no harm would befall
him, but he would not believe me. He replied that the Thorists, who had
been his original masters, would reward him if he brought me back to
them. That much he knew, but he had only my word that Kamlot would not
have him killed. He doubted my authority with Kamlot.

"I pleaded and threatened but all to no purpose. The creature flew
directly to this hideous city and delivered me to the Thorists. When
Moosko learned that I had been brought here he exercised his authority
and claimed me as his own. The rest you know."

"And now," I said, "we must find a way out of Kapdor and back to the
coast. Perhaps the Sofal has not departed. It is possible that Kamlot
has landed a party to search for us."

"It will not be easy to escape from Kapdor," Duare reminded me. "As the
angan brought me here, I saw high walls and hundreds of sentries. There
is not much hope for us."



Chapter 4 - "Open the Gates!"

"First we must get out of this building," I said. "Do you recall any of its
details as you were brought through it?"

"Yes. There is a long hallway from the front of the building on the
ground floor leading directly to stairs that lie at the back of the
first floor. There are several rooms opening from each side of the hall.
There were people in the two front rooms, but I could not see into the
others as the doors were closed."

"We shall have to investigate, and if there are sounds of life below we
must wait until all are asleep. In the meantime I am going out on the
balcony and see if I can discover some safer way to the ground."

When I went to the window I found that it had started to rain. I crept
around the building until I could look down onto the street that passed
before it. There was no sign of life there; it was likely that the rain
had driven all within doors. In the distance I could dimly make out the
outlines of the city wall at the end of the street. Everything was
faintly illumined by the strange night light that is so peculiar a
feature of the Amtorian scene. There was no stairway or ladder leading
from the balcony to the ground. Our only avenue of descent was by way of
the interior stairs.

I returned to Duare. "Come," I said. "We might as well try it now as
later."

"Wait!" she exclaimed. "I have a thought. It just occurred to me from
something I overheard on board the Sofal relative to the customs of the
Thorists. Moosko is an ongyan."

"Was," I corrected her, for I thought him dead.

"That is immaterial. The point is that he was one of the rulers of the
so-called Free Land of Thora. His authority, especially here, where
there is no other member of the oligarchy, would be absolute. Yet he was
unknown to any of the natives of Kapdor. What proof did he bring of his
identity or his high position?"

"I do not know," I admitted.

"I believe that you will find upon the index finger of his right hand a
great ring that is the badge of his office."

"And you think that we could use this ring as authority to pass the
sentries?"

"It is possible," replied Duare.

"But not probable," I demurred. "Not by the wildest flight of fancy
could any one mistake me for Moosko--unless my conceit flatters me."

A faint smile touched Duare's lips. "I am believing that it will not be
necessary for you to look like him," she explained. "These people are
very ignorant. Probably only a few of the common warriors saw Moosko
when he arrived. Those same men would not be on watch now. Furthermore,
it is night, and with the darkness and the rain the danger that your
imposture will be discovered is minimized."

"It is worth trying," I agreed; and, going to the body of Moosko, I
found the ring and removed it from his finger. It was too large for me,
as the ongyan had gross, fat hands; but if any one was stupid enough to
accept me as the ongyan he would not notice so minor a discrepancy as an
ill-fitting ring.

Now Duare and I crept silently out of the chamber to the head of the
stairs, where we paused, listening. All was dark below, but we heard the
sound of voices, muffled, as though coming from behind a closed door.
Slowly, stealthily, we descended the stairs. I felt the warmth of the
girl's body as it brushed mine, and a great longing seized me to take
her in my arms and crush her to me; but I only continued on down the
stairway as outwardly cool and possessed as though no internal fire
consumed me.

* * * * *

We had reached the long hallway and had groped our way about half the
distance to the door that opened upon the street, a feeling of optimism
enveloping me, when suddenly a door at the front end of the corridor
opened and the passageway was illuminated by the light from the open
doorway. I saw a portion of the figure of a man standing in the doorway
of the room he was about to quit, he had paused and was conversing with
someone from the room beyond. In another moment he might step into the
corridor.

At my elbow was a door. Gingerly I tripped the latch and pushed the door
open; the room beyond was in darkness, but whether or not it was
occupied I could not tell. Stepping through the doorway I drew Duare in
after me and partially closed the door again, standing close to the
aperture, watching and listening.

Presently I heard the man who had been standing in the other doorway
say, "Until to-morrow, friends, and may you sleep in peace," then the
door slammed and the hallway was plunged into darkness again.

Now I heard footsteps; they were coming in our direction. Very gingerly
I drew the sword of Moosko, the ongyan. On came the footsteps; they
seemed to hesitate before the door behind which I waited; but perhaps it
was only my imagination. They passed on; I heard them ascending the
stairway.

Now a new fear assailed me. What if this man should enter the room in
which lay the dead body of Moosko! He would spread the alarm. Instantly
I recognized the necessity for immediate action.

"Now, Duare!" I whispered, and together we stepped into the corridor and
almost ran to the front door of the building.

A moment later we were in the street. The drizzle had become a downpour.
Objects were undiscernable a few yards distant, and for this I was
thankful.

We hastened along the street in the direction of the wall and the gate,
passing no one, seeing no one. The rain increased in violence.

"What are you going to say to the sentry?" asked Duare.

"I do not know," I replied candidly.

"He will be suspicious, for you can have no possible excuse for wishing
to leave the safety of a walled city on a night like this and go out
without an escort into a dangerous country where savage beasts and
savage men roam."

"I shall find a way," I said, "because I must."

She made no reply, and we continued on toward the gate. It was not at a
great distance from the house from which we had escaped and presently we
came upon it looming large before us through the falling rain.

A sentry, standing in the shelter of a niche in the wall, discovered us
and demanded what we were doing aboard at this hour of such a night. He
was not greatly concerned, since he did not know that it was in our
minds to pass through the gateway; he merely assumed, I presume, that we
were a couple of citizens passing by on our way to our home.

"Is Sov here?" I demanded.

"Sov here!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "What would Sov be doing here
on a night light this?"

"He was to meet me here at this hour," I said. "I instructed him to be
here."

"You instructed Sov to be here!" The fellow laughed. "Who are you to
give instructions to Sov?"

"I am the ongyan, Moosko," I replied.

* * * * *

The man looked at me in astonishment. "I do not know where Sov is," he
said, a little sullenly, I thought.

"Well, never mind," I told him; "he will be here presently; and in the
meantime, open up the gate, for we shall want to hurry on as soon as he
arrives."

"I cannot open the gate without orders from Sov," replied the sentry.

"You refuse to obey an ongyan?" I demanded in the most ferocious tones I
could command.

"I have never seen you before," he parried. "How do I know you are an
ongyan?"

I held out my hand with the ring of Moosko on the index finger. "Do you
know what that is?" I demanded.

He examined it closely. "Yes, Ongyan," he said fearfully, "I know."

"Then open the gate, and be quick about it," I snapped.

"Let us wait until Sov comes," he suggested. "There will be time enough
then."

"There is no time to be lost, fellow. Open up, as I command. The Vepajan
prisoner has just escaped, and Sov and I are going out with a party of
warriors to search for him."

Still the obstinate fellow hesitated; and then we heard a great shouting
from the direction from which we had come, and I guessed that the fellow
who had passed us in the corridor had discovered the dead body of Moosko
and given the alarm.

We could hear men running. There was no more time to be lost.

"Here comes Sov with the searching party," I cried. "Throw open the
gates, you fool, or it will go ill with you." I drew my sword, intending
to run him through if he did not obey.

As finally, he turned to do my bidding, I heard the excited voices of
the approaching men grow louder as they neared us. I could not see them
yet for the rain, but as the gate swung open I glimpsed the oncoming
figures through the murk.

Taking Duare by the arm I started through the gate. The sentry was still
suspicious and wanted to stop us, but he was not sure of himself.

"Tell Sov to hurry," I said, and before the man could bolster his
courage to do his duty, Duare and I hastened into the outer darkness and
were lost to his view in the rain.

It was my intention to reach the coast and follow along it until
daylight, when, I hoped and prayed, we should sight the Sofal off shore
and be able to contrive a means of signaling to her.

We groped our way through the darkness and the rain during all that
terrible night. No sound of pursuit reached our ears, nor did we come
upon the ocean.

The rain ceased about dawn, and when full daylight came we looked
eagerly for the sea, but only low hills and rolling country dotted with
trees and a distant forest where we had thought the sea to be rewarded
our straining eyes.

"Where is the sea?" asked Duare.

"I do not know," I admitted.

Only at sunrise and at sunset, for a few minutes, is it possible to
differentiate between the points of the compass on Venus; then the
direction of the sun is faintly indicated by a slightly intensified
light along the eastern or the western horizon.

And now the sun was rising at our left, when it should have been upon
our right were we going in the direction that I believed the ocean to
be.

My heart sank in my breast, for I knew that we were lost.



Chapter 5 - Cannibals

DUARE, WHO HAD been watching my face intently, must have read the truth
in the despair of my expression.

"You do not know where the sea lies?" she asked.

I shook my head. "No."

"Then we are lost?"

"I am afraid so. I am sorry, Duare; I was so sure that we would find the
Sofal and that you would soon be out of danger. It is all my fault, the
fault of my stupidity and ignorance."

"Do not say that; no one could have known the direction he was going
during the darkness of last night. Perhaps we shall find the sea yet."

"Even if we could, I am afraid that it will be too late to ensure your
safety."

"What do you mean--that the Sofal will be gone?" she asked.

"There is that danger, of course; but what I most fear is that we may be
recaptured by the Thorists. They will certainly search along the coast
for us in the locality where they found us yesterday. They are not so
stupid as not to guess that we will try to reach the Sofal."

"If we can find the ocean, we might hide from them," she suggested,
"until they tire of the search and return to Kapdor; then, if the Sofal
is still there, we may yet be saved."

"And if not, what?" I asked. "Do you know anything about Noobol? Is
there not some likelihood that we may find a friendly people somewhere
in this land who will aid us to reach Vepaja again?"

She shook her head. "I know little about Noobol," she replied, "but what
little I have heard is not good. It is a sparsely settled land reaching,
it is supposed, far into Strabol, the hot country, where no man may
live. It is filled with wild beasts and savage tribes. There are
scattered settlements along the coast, but most of these have been
captured or reduced by the Thorists; the others, of course, would be
equally dangerous, for the inhabitants would consider all strangers as
enemies."

"The outlook is not bright," I admitted, "but we will not give up; we
will find a way."

"If any man can, I am sure that it is you," she said.

Praise from Duare was sweet. In all the time that I had known her she
had said only one other kind thing to me, and later she had retracted
that.

"I could work miracles if only you loved me, Duare."

She straightened haughtily. "You will not speak of that," she said.

"Why do you hate me, Duare, who have given you only love?" I demanded.

"I do not hate you," she replied, "but you must not speak of love to the
daughter of a jong. We may be together for a long time, and you must
remember that I may not listen to love from the lips of any man. Our
very speaking together is a sin, but circumstances have made it
impossible to do otherwise.

"Before I was stolen from the house of the jong no man had ever
addressed me other than the members of my own family, except a few loyal
and privileged members of my father's household, and until I should be
twenty it were a sin in me and a crime in any man who should disregard
this ancient law of the royal families of Amtor."

"You forget," I reminded her, "that one man did address you in the house
of your father."

"An impudent knave," she said, "who should have died for his temerity."

"Yet you did not inform on me."

"Which made me equally guilty with you," she replied, flushing. "It is a
shameful secret that will abide with me until my death."

"A glorious memory that will always sustain my hope," I told her.

"A false hope that you would do well to kill," she said, and then, "Why
did you remind me of that day?" she demanded. "When I think of it, I
hate you; and I do not want to hate you."

"That is something," I suggested.

"Your effrontery and your hope feed on meager fare."

"Which reminds me that it might be well for me to see if I can find
something in the way of food for our bodies, too."

"There may be game in that forest," she suggested, indicating the wood
toward which we had been moving.

"We'll have a look," I said, "stand then turn back and search for the
elusive sea."

* * * * *

A Venusan forest is a gorgeous sight. The foliage itself is rather
pale--orchid, heliotrope and violet predominate--but the boles of the
trees are gorgeous. They are of brilliant colors and often so glossy as
to give the impression of having been lacquered.

The wood we were approaching was of the smaller varieties of trees,
ranging in height from two hundred to three hundred feet, and in
diameter from twenty to thirty feet. There were none of the colossi of
the island of Vepaja that reared their heads upward five thousand feet
to penetrate the eternal inner cloud envelope of the planet.

The interior of the forest was illuminated by the mysterious Venusan
ground glow, so that, unlike an earthly forest of similar magnitude upon
a cloudy day, it was far from dark or gloomy. Yet there was something
sinister about it. I cannot explain just what, nor why it should have
been.

"I do not like this place," said Duare, with a little shudder; "there is
no sight of animal, no sound of bird."

"Perhaps we frightened them away," I suggested.

"I do not think so; it is more likely that there is something else in
the forest that has frightened them."

I shrugged. "Nevertheless, we must have food," I reminded her, and I
continued on into the forbidding, and at the same time gorgeous, wood
that reminded me of a beautiful but wicked woman.

Several times I thought I saw a suggestion of movement among the boles
of distant trees, but when I reached them there was nothing there. And
so I pressed on, deeper and deeper; and constantly a sense of impending
evil grew stronger as I advanced.

"There!" whispered Duare suddenly, pointing. "There is something there,
behind that tree. I saw it move."

Something, just glimpsed from the corner of my eye, caught my attention
to the left of us; and as I turned quickly in that direction something
else dodged behind the bole of a large tree.

Duare wheeled about. "There are things all round us!"

"Can you make out what they are?" I asked.

"I thought that I saw a hairy hand, but I am not sure. They move quickly
and keep always out of sight. Oh, let us go back! This is an evil place,
and I am afraid."

"Very well," I agreed. "Anyway, this doesn't seem to be a particularly
good hunting ground; and after all that is all that we are looking for."

As we turned to retrace our steps a chorus of hoarse shouts arose upon
all sides of us--half human, half bestial, like the growls and roars of
animals blending with the voices of men; and then, suddenly, from behind
the boles of trees a score of hairy, manlike creatures sprang toward us.

* * * * *

Instantly I recognized them--nobargans--the same hairy, manlike
creatures that had attacked the abductors of Duare, whom I had rescued
from them. They were armed with crude bows and arrows and with slings
from which they hurled rocks; but, as they closed upon us, it appeared
that they wished to take us alive, for they launched no missiles at us.

But I had no mind to be thus taken so easily, nor to permit Duare to
fall into the hands of these savage beast-men. Raising my pistol, I
loosed the deadly r-ray upon them; and as some fell others leaped behind
the boles of the trees.

"Do not let them take me," said Duare in a level voice unshaken by
emotion. "When you see there is no further hope of escape, shoot me."

The very thought of it turned me cold, but I knew that I should do it
before permitting her to fall into the hands of these degraded
creatures.

A nobargan showed himself, and I dropped him with my pistol; then they
commenced to hurl rocks at me from behind. I wheeled and fired, and in
the same instant a rock felled me to the ground unconscious.

When I regained consciousness I was aware first of an incredible stench,
and then of something rough rubbing against my skin, and of a rhythmic
jouncing of my body. These sensations were vaguely appreciable in the
first dim light of returning reason. With the return of full control of
my faculties they were accounted for; I was being carried across the
shoulder of a powerful nobargan.

The odor from his body was almost suffocating in its intensity, and the
rough hair abrading my skin was only a trifle more annoying than the
motion that his stride imparted to my body.

I sought to push myself from his shoulder; and, realizing that I was no
longer unconscious, he dropped me to the ground. All about me were the
hideous faces and hairy bodies of the nobargans and permeating the air
the horrid stench that emanated from them.

They are, I am sure, the filthiest and most repulsive creatures I have
ever seen. Presumably they are one of evolutionís first steps from beast
to man; but they are no improvement upon the beast. For the privilege of
walking upright upon two feet, thus releasing their hands from the mean
servitude of ages, and for the gift of speech they have sacrificed all
that is fine and noble in the beast.

It is true, I believe, that man descended from the beasts; and it took
him countless ages to rise to the level of his progenitors. In some
respects he has not succeeded yet, even at the height of his vaunted
civilization.

As I looked about, I saw Duare being dragged along by her hair by a huge
nobargan. It was then that I discovered that my weapons had been taken
from me. So low in the scale of intelligence are the nobargans, they
cannot use the weapons of civilized man that fall into their hands, so
they had simply thrown mine aside.

But even though I was disarmed, I could not see Duare suffering this
ignominy and abuse without making an effort to aid her.

I sprang forward before the beasts at my side could prevent and hurled
myself upon the creature that dared to maltreat this daughter of a jong,
this incomparable creature who had aroused within my breast the first
exquisite tortures of love.

I seized him by one hairy arm and swung him around until he faced me,
and then I struck him a terrific blow upon the chin that felled him.
Instantly his fellows broke into loud laughter at his discomfiture; but
that did not prevent them from falling upon me and subduing me, and you
may be assured that their methods were none too gentle.

As the brute that I had knocked down staggered to his feet his eyes fell
upon me, and with a roar of rage he charged me. It might have fared
badly with me had not another of them interfered. He was a burly
creature, and when he interposed himself between me and my antagonist
the latter paused.

"Stop!" commanded my ally, and had I heard a gorilla speak I could not
have been more surprised. It was my introduction to a remarkable
ethnological fact: All the races of mankind on Venus (at least those
that I have come in contact with) speak the same tongue. Perhaps you can
explain it; I cannot. When I have questioned Amtorian savants on the
matter, they were merely dumfounded by the question; they could not
conceive of any other condition; therefore there had never been any
occasion to explain it.

Of course the languages differ in accordance with the culture of the
nations; those with the fewest wants and the fewest experiences have the
fewest words. The language of the nobargans is probably the most
limited; a vocabulary of a hundred words may suffice them. But the basic
root-words are the same everywhere.

The creature that had protected me, it presently developed, was the
jong, or king, of this tribe; and I later learned that his act was not
prompted by humanitarian considerations but by a desire to save me for
another fate.

My act had not been entirely without good results, for during the
balance of the march Duare was no longer dragged along by her hair. She
thanked me for championing her; and that in itself was something worth
being manhandled for, but she cautioned me against antagonizing them
further.

Having discovered that at least one of these creatures could speak at
least one word of the Amtorian language with which I was familiar, I
sought to delve farther in the hope that I might ascertain the purpose
for which they had captured us.

"Why have you seized us?" I inquired of the brute that had spoken that
single word.

He looked at me in surprise, and those near enough to have overheard my
question commenced to laugh and repeat it. Their laugh is far from
light, airy, or reassuring. They bare their teeth in a grimace and emit
a sound that is for all the world like the retching of mal de mer, and
there is no laughter in their eyes. It took quite a stretch of my
imagination to identify this as laughter.

"Albargan not know?" asked the jong. Albargan is, literally,
no-hair-man, or without-hair-man, otherwise, hairless man.

"I do not know," I replied. "We were not harming you. We were searching
for the sea coast where our people are."

"Albargan find out soon," and then he laughed again.

I tried to think of some way to bribe him into letting us go; but
inasmuch as he had thrown away as useless the only things of value that
we possessed, it seemed rather hopeless.

"Tell me what you want most," I suggested, "and perhaps I can get it for
you if you will take us to the coast."

"We have what we want," he replied, and that answer made them all laugh.

I was walking close to Duare now, and she looked up at me with a
hopeless expression. "I am afraid we are in for it," she said.

"It is all my fault. If I had had brains enough to find the ocean this
would never have happened."

"Don't blame yourself. No one could have done more to protect and save
me than you have. Please do not think that I do not appreciate it."

That was a lot for Duare to say, and it was like a ray of sunshine in
the gloom of my despondency. That is a simile entirely earthly, for
there is no sunshine upon Venus. The relative proximity of the sun
lights up the inner cloud envelope brilliantly, but it is a diffused
light that casts no well defined shadows nor produces contrasting
highlights. There is an all pervading glow from above that blends with
the perpetual light emanations from the soil, and the resultant scene is
that of a soft and beautiful pastel.

Our captors conducted us into the forest for a considerable distance; we
marched practically all day. They spoke but seldom and then usually in
monosyllables. They did not laugh again, and for that I was thankful.
One can scarcely imagine a more disagreeable sound.

We had an opportunity to study them during this long march, and there is
a question if either of us was quite sure in his own mind as to whether
they were beast-like men or man-like beasts. Their bodies were entirely
covered with hair; their feet were large and flat, and their toes were
armed, like the fingers, with thick, heavy, pointed nails that resembled
talons. They were large and heavy, with tremendous shoulders and necks.

Their eyes were extremely close set in a baboon-like face; so that in
some respects their heads bore a more striking similarity to the heads
of dogs than to men. There was no remarkable dissimilarity between the
males and the females, several of which were in the party; and the
latter deported themselves the same as the bulls and appeared to be upon
a plane of equality with these, carrying bows and arrows and slings for
hurling rocks, a small supply of which they carried in skin pouches
slung across their shoulders.

At last we reached an open space beside a small river where there stood
a collection of the rudest and most primitive of shelters. These were
constructed of branches of all sizes and shapes thrown together without
symmetry and covered with a thatch of leaves and grasses. At the bottom
of each was a single aperture through which one might crawl on hands and
knees. They reminded me of the nests of pack rats built upon a
Gargantuan scale.

Here were other members of the tribe, including several young, and at
sight of us they rushed forward with excited cries. It was with
difficulty that the jong and other members of the returning party kept
them from tearing us to pieces.

The former hustled us into one of their evil-smelling nests and placed a
guard before the entrance, more to protect us from his fellows, I
suspect, than to prevent our escape.

The hut in which we were was filthy beyond words, but in the dim light
of the interior I found a short stick with which I scraped aside the
foul litter that covered the floor until I had uncovered a space large
enough for us to lie down on the relatively clean earth.

We lay with our heads close to the entrance that we might get the
benefit of whatever fresh air should find its way within. Beyond the
entrance we could see a number of the savages digging two parallel
trenches in the soft earth; each was about seven feet long and two feet
wide.

"Why are they doing that, do you suppose?" asked Duare.

"I do not know," I replied, although I had my suspicions; they looked
remarkably like graves.

"Perhaps we can escape after they have gone to sleep tonight," suggested
Duare.

"We shall certainly take advantage of the first opportunity," I replied,
but there was no hope within me. I had a premonition that we should not
be alive when the nobargans slept next.

"Look what they're doing," said Duare, presently; "they're filling the
trenches with wood and dry leaves. You don't suppose--?" she exclaimed,
and caught her breath with a lithe gasp.

I placed a hand on one of hers and pressed it. "We must not conjure
unnecessary horrors in our imaginations," but I feared what she had
guessed what I had already surmised--that my graves had become pits for
cooking fires.

* * * * *

In silence we watched the creatures working about the two trenches. They
built up walls of stone and earth about a foot high along each of the
long sides of each pit; When they laid poles at intervals of a few
inches across the tops of each pair of walls. Slowly before our eyes we
saw two grilles take shape.

"It is horrible," whispered Duare.

Night came before the preparations were completed; then the savage jong
came to our prison and commanded us to come forth. As we did so we were
seized by several shes and bulls who carried the long stems of tough
jungle vines.

They drew us down and wound the vines about us. They were very clumsy
and inept, not having sufficient intelligence to tie knots; but they
accomplished their purpose in binding us by wrapping these fiber ropes
around and around us until it seemed that it would be impossible to
extricate ourselves even were we given the opportunity.

They bound me more securely than they did Duare, but even so the job was
a clumsy one. Yet I guessed that it would be adequate to their purpose
as they lifted us and laid us on the two parallel grilles.

This done, they commenced to move slowly about us in a rude circle, while
near us, and also inside the circle, squatted a bull that was engaged in
the business of making fire in the most primitive manner, twirling the
end of a sharpened stick in a tinder-filled hole in a log.

From the throats of the circling tribesmen issued strange sounds that
were neither speech nor song, yet I guessed that they were groping
blindly after song just as in their awkward circling they were seeking
self-expression in the rhythm of the dance.

The gloomy wood, feebly illumined by the mysterious ground glow, brooded
darkly above and about the weird and savage scene. In the distance the
roar of a beast rumbled menacingly.

As the hairy men-things circled about us the bull beside the log at last
achieved fire. A slow wisp of smoke rose lazily from the tinder. The
bull added a few dry leaves and blew upon the feeble spark. A tiny flame
burst forth, and a savage cry arose from the circling dancers. It was
answered from the forest by the roar of the beast we had heard a short
time before. Now it was closer, and was followed by the thundering
voices of others of its kind.

The nobargans paused in their dancing to look apprehensively into the
dark wood, voicing their displeasure in grumblings and low growls; then
the bull beside the fire commenced to light torches, a quantity of which
lay prepared beside him; and as he passed them out the others resumed
their dancing.

The circle contracted, and occasionally a dancer would leap in and
pretend to light the faggots beneath us. The blazing torches illumined
the weird scene, casting grotesque shadows that leaped and played like
gigantic demons.

The truth of our predicament was now all too obvious, though I knew that
we both suspected it since long before we had been laid upon the
grilles--we were to be barbecued to furnish the flesh for a cannibal
feast.

Duare turned her head toward me. "Good-by, Carson Napier!" she
whispered. "Before I go, I want you to know that I appreciate the
sacrifice you have made for me. But for me you would be aboard the Sofal
now, safe among loyal friends."

"I would rather be here with you, Duare," I replied, "than to be
anywhere else in the universe without you."

I saw that her eyes were wet as she turned her face from me, but she did
not reply, and then a huge, shaggy bull leaped in with a flaming torch
and ignited the faggots at the lower end of the trench beneath her.



Chapter 6 - Fire

FROM THE surrounding forest came the roars of hungry beasts; but the
sounds affected me none, so horrified was I by the hideous fate that had
overtaken Duare.

I saw her struggling with her bonds, as I struggled with mine; but in
the clumsily wound coils of the tough lianas we were helpless. Little
flames below her feet were licking the larger faggots. Duare had managed
to wriggle toward the head of the grille, so that the flames were not as
yet directly beneath her, and she was still struggling with her bonds.

I had been paying little attention to the nobargans, but suddenly I
realized that they had ceased their crude dancing and singing. Glancing
toward them, I saw that they were standing looking off into the forest,
the torches dangling in their hands, nor had they as yet lighted the
faggots beneath me. Now I took note again of the thunderous roars of the
beasts; they sounded very close. I saw dim figures slinking amidst the
shadows of the trees and blazing eyes gleaming in the half light.

Presently a huge beast slunk out of the forest into the clearing, and I
recognized it. I saw the stiff hair, like bristles. It was standing
erect along the shoulders, neck, and spine. I saw the white,
longitudinal stripes marking the reddish coat, and the bluish belly and
the great, snarling jaws. The creature was a tharban.

The nobargans were also watching it. Presently they commenced to cry out
against it and cast rocks at it from their slings in an obvious effort
to frighten it away; but it did not retreat. Instead it came closer
slowly, roaring horribly; and behind it came others--two, three, a
dozen, two score--slinking from the concealing shadows of the forest.
All were roaring, and the hideous volume of those mighty voices shook
the ground.

And now the nobargans fell back. The great beasts invading the village
increased their speed, and suddenly the hairy savages turned and fled.
After them, roaring and growling, sprang the tharbans.

The speed of the clumsy appearing nobargans was a revelation to me, and
as they disappeared into the dark mazes of the forest it was not
apparent that the tharbans were gaining on them, though as the latter
raced past me they seemed to be moving as swiftly as a charging lion.

The beasts paid no attention to Duare or me. I doubt that they even saw
us, their whole attention being fixed upon the fleeing savages.

Now I turned again toward Duare, just in time to see her roll herself
from the grille to the ground as the licking flames were about to reach
her feet. For the moment she was safe, and I breathed a little prayer of
thanksgiving. But what of the future? Must we lie here until inevitably
the nobargans returned?

Duare looked up at me. She was struggling steadily with her bonds. "I
believe that I can free myself," she said. "I am not bound so tightly as
you. If only I can do it before they return!"

I watched her in silence. After what seemed an eternity, she got one arm
free. After that the rest was comparatively easy, and when she was free
she quickly released me.

* * * * *

Like two phantoms in the eerie light of the Amtorian night we faded into
the shadows of the mysterious forest; and you may rest assured that we
took a direction opposite to that in which the lions and the cannibals
had disappeared.

The momentary elation that escape from the clutches of the nobargans had
given me passed quickly as I considered our situation. We two were
alone, unarmed, and lost in a strange country that brief experience had
already demonstrated to be filled with dangers and that imagination
peopled with a hundred menaces even more frightful than those we had
encountered.

Raised in the carefully guarded seclusion of the house of a jong, Duare
was quite as ignorant of the flora, the fauna, and the conditions
existing in the land of Noobol as was I, an inhabitant of a far distant
planet; and notwithstanding our culture, our natural intelligence, and
my considerable physical strength we were still little better than babes
in the woods.

We had been walking in silence, listening and looking for some new
menace to our recently won respite from death, when Duare spoke in low
tones, as one might who is addressing a question to himself.

"And should I ever return to the house of my father, the jong, who will
believe the story that I shall tell? Who will believe that I, Duare, the
daughter of the jong, passed through such incredible dangers alive?" She
turned and looked up into my face. "Do you believe, Carson Napier, that
I ever shall return to Vepaja?"

"I do not know, Duare," I replied honestly. "To be perfectly frank, it
seems rather hopeless inasmuch as neither of us knows where we are or
where Vepaja is, or what further dangers may confront us in this land.

"And what if we never find Vepaja, Duare? What if you and I go on for
many years together? Must it always be as strangers, as enemies? Is
there no hope for me, Duare? No hope to win your love?"

"Have I not told you that you must not speak to me of love? It is wicked
for a girl under twenty to speak or ever think of love; and for me, the
daughter of a jong, it is even worse. If you persist, I will not talk to
you at all."

After this we walked on in silence for a long time. We were both very
tired and hungry and thirsty, but for the time we subordinated all other
desires to that of escaping the clutches of the nobargans; but at last I
realized that Duare had about reached the limit of her endurance and I
called a halt.

Selecting a tree, and lower branches of which were within easy reach, we
climbed upward until I chanced upon a rude nest-like platform that might
have been built by some arboreal creature or formed by debris falling
from above during a storm. It lay upon two almost horizontal branches
that extended from the bole of the tree in about the same plane, and was
amply large enough to accommodate both of us.

As we stretched our tired bodies upon this mean yet none the less
welcome couch, the growl of some great beast arose from the ground
beneath to assure us that we had found sanctuary none too soon. What
other dangers menaced us from arboreal creatures I did not know, but any
thought of keeping wakeful vigil was dissipated by the utter exhaustion
of both my mind and my body. I doubt that I could have kept awake much
longer even in the act of walking.

As I was dozing off, I heard Duare's voice. It sounded sleepy and far
away. "Tell me, Carson Napier," she said, "what is this thing called
love?"

* * * * *

When I awoke, another day had come. I looked up at the mass of foliage
lying motionless in the air above me, and for a moment I had difficulty
in recalling my surroundings and the events that had led me to this
place. I turned my head and saw Duare lying beside me, and then it all
came back to me. I smiled a little as I recalled that last, sleepy
question she had asked me--a question that I realized now I had not
answered. I must have fallen asleep as it was propounded.

For two days we moved steadily in what we thought was the direction of
the ocean. We subsisted on eggs and fruit, which we found in abundance.
There was a great deal of life in the forest--strange birds such as no
earthly eye had ever gazed upon before, monkey-like creatures that
raced, chattering, through the trees, reptiles, herbivorous and
carnivorous animals. Many of the latter were large and predacious. The
worst of these that we encountered were the tharbans; but their habit of
senseless roaring and growling preserved us from them by warning us of
their proximity.

Another creature that caused us some bad moments was the basto. I had
met this animal once before, that time that Kamlot and I had gone out
upon our disastrous tarel-gathering excursion; and so I was prepared to
take to the trees with Duare the instant that we sighted one of these
beasts.

Above the eyes, the head of a basto resembles the American bison, having
the same short powerful horns and the thick hair upon its poll and
forehead. Its eyes are small and red rimmed. The hide is blue and about
the same texture as that of an elephant, with sparsely growing hairs
except upon the head and tip of the tail, where the hair is thicker and
longer. The beast stands very high at the shoulders but slopes downward
rapidly to the rump. It has a tremendous depth of shoulder and
exceedingly short, stocky fore legs, which are supplied with three-toed
feet. The forelegs carry fully three-quarters of the beast's weight.
The muzzle is similar to that of a boar, except that it is broader, with
heavy, curved tusks.

The basto is an ill-tempered, omnivorous brute, always looking for
trouble. Between him and the tharban, Duare and I became most proficient
tree climbers during the first few days that we wandered through the
forest.

My two greatest handicaps in this encounter with the primitive were lack
of weapons and my inability to make fire. The latter was probably the
worse, since, without a knife, fire was indispensable to the fashioning
of weapons.

At every rest I experimented. Duare became inoculated with the virus of
the quest, and fire became our sole aim. We talked about little else and
were forever experimenting with different combinations of wood and with
bits of rock that we picked up along the way.

All my life I had read of primitive men making fire in various ways, and
I tried them all. I blistered my hands twirling firesticks. I knocked
bits of flesh off my fingers striking pieces of stone together. At last I
was on the point of giving up in disgust.

"I don't believe any one ever made fire," I grumbled.

"You saw the nobargan make it," Duare reminded me.

"There's a catch in it somewhere," I insisted.

"Are you going to give up?" she asked.

"Of course not. It's like golf. Most people never learn to play it, but
very few give up trying. I shall probably continue my search for fire
until death overtakes me or Prometheus descends to Venus as he did to
Earth."

"What is golf and who is Prometheus? demanded Duare.

"Golf is a mental disorder and Prometheus a fable."

"I don't see how they can help you."

I was squatting over a little pile of tinder laboriously knocking
together various bits of rock that we had collected during the day.

"Neither do I," I replied, viciously striking two new specimens
together. A string of sparks shot from the two rocks and ignited the
tinder! "I apologize to Prometheus," I cried; "he is no fable."

With the aid of this fire I was able to fashion a bow and to make and
sharpen a spear and arrows. I strung the bow with a fiber from a tough
liana, and I feathered my arrows gayly with the plumage of birds.

* * * * *

Duare was much interested in this work. She gathered feathers, split
them, and bound them to the arrows with the long blades of a very tough
grass that grew in profusion throughout the forest. Our work was
facilitated by the use of bits of stone we had found so shaped that they
made excellent scrapers.

I cannot express the change that came over me with the possession of
weapons. I had come to feel like a hunted beast whose only defense is
flight, and that is a most unhappy situation for the man who wished to
impress the object of his love with his heroic qualities.

I really cannot say that I had any such intention in my mind at any
time, yet with the growing realization of my futility, I really did come
to wish that I might cut a better figure before Duare.

Now I stepped out with a new stride. I was the hunter rather than the
hunted. My pitiful, inadequate little weapons swept all doubts from my
mind. I was now equal to any emergency.

"Duare," I exclaimed, "I am going to find Vepaja; I am going to take you
home!"

She looked at me questioningly. "The last time we spoke of that," she
reminded me, "you said that you hadn't the remotest idea where Vepaja
was and that if you had, you couldn't hope to get there."

"That," I said, "was several days ago. Things are different now. Now,
Duare, we are going hunting; we are going to have meat for dinner. You
walk behind me so as not to frighten the game."

I moved forward with my old assurance and, perhaps, a little
incautiously. Duare followed a few paces in the rear. There was
considerable undergrowth in this portion of the forest, more than I had
encountered before, and I could not see very far in any direction. We
were following what appeared to be a game trail, along which I advanced
boldly but silently.

Presently I saw a movement in the foliage ahead and then what appeared
to be the outlines of some large animal. Almost instantly the silence of
the forest was broken by the thunderous bellow of a basto, and there was
a great crashing in the undergrowth.

"Take to the trees, Duare!" I cried, and at the same time I turned and
ran back to assist her in climbing out of danger; and then Duare
stumbled and fell.

Again the basto bellowed, and a quick backward glance revealed the
mighty creature in the trail only a few paces in my rear. He was not
charging, but he was advancing, and I could see that he would be upon us
before we could possibly climb to safety, because of the slight delay
occasioned by Duare's fall.

There appeared to be but one course of action open to me--I must delay
the beast until Duare had gained a place of safety. I recalled how
Kamlot had slain one of the creatures by distracting its attention from
himself to a leafy branch held in his left hand and then plunged his
keen sword behind the shoulder down into the heart. But I had no leafy
branch and only a crude wooden spear.

He was almost upon me, his red-rimmed eyes blazing, his white tusks
gleaming. He loomed as large as an elephant to my excited imagination.
He put his head down, another thunderous roar rumbled from his cavernous
chest, and then he charged.

* * * * *

As the basto bore down upon me my only thought was to divert his
attention from Duare until she should be safely out of his reach. It all
happened so quickly that I imagine I had no time to think of my own
almost certain fate.

The brute was so close to me when he started his charge that he attained
no great speed. He came straight toward me with head lowered, and so
mighty and awe inspiring was he that I did not even consider attempting
to stop him with my puny weapons.

Instead, all my thoughts centered upon one objective--to save myself
from being impaled upon those horns.

I grasped them, one with each hand, as the basto struck me, and, thanks
to my unusual strength, I succeeded in breaking the force of the impact
as well as diverting the horns from my vitals.

The instant that he felt my weight the brute ripped upward with his head
in an effort to gore and toss me, and in the latter he succeeded beyond
anything that I might have expected and, I imagine, beyond what he
intended.

With almost the force of an explosion I was hurtled upward to crash
through the foliage and the branches of the tree above, dropping my
weapons as I went. Fortunately my head came in contact with no large
limb, and so I retained consciousness through it all. I also retained my
presence of mind and, clutching frantically, I succeeded in grasping a
branch across which my body had fallen. From there I dragged myself to
the safety of a larger limb.

My first thought was of Duare. Was she safe? Had she been able to climb
out of danger before the basto disposed of me and was upon her, or had
he reached and gored her?

My fears were almost immediately allayed by the sound of her voice. "Oh,
Carson, Carson! Are you hurt?" she cried. The anguish of her tones was
ample reward for any hurts I might have sustained.

"I think not," I replied; "just shaken up a bit. Are you all right?
Where are you?"

"Here, in the next tree. Oh, I thought he had killed you!"

I was testing out my joints and feeling of myself for possible injuries;
but I discovered nothing more serious than bruises, and scratches, and
of these I had plenty.

As I was examining myself, Duare made her way along interlocking
branches and presently she was at my side. "You're bleeding," she
exclaimed. "You are hurt."

"These are nothing but scratches," I assured her; "only my pride is
hurt."

"You have nothing to be ashamed of; you should be very proud of what you
did. I saw. I glanced behind me as I got to my feet, and I saw you
standing right in the path of that terrible beast so that it would not
reach me."

"Perhaps," I suggested, "I was too terrified to run--just paralyzed by
fears."

She smiled and shook her head. "I know better than that; I know you too
well."

"Any risk would be worth taking if it won your approval."

She was silent for a moment, looking down at the basto. The brute was
pawing the ground and bellowing. Occasionally it would pause and look up
at us.

"We could get away from it by going through the trees," suggested Duare.
"They grow very close together here."

"And abandon my new weapons?" I demanded.

"He'll probably go away in a few minutes, as soon as he realizes we are
not coming down."

But he didn't go away in a few minutes. He bellowed and pawed and gored
the ground for half an hour, and then he lay down beneath the tree.

"That fellow's an optimist," I remarked. "He thinks that if he waits
long enough we'll probably come down of our own volition."

Duare laughed. "Maybe he thinks we'll die of old age and fall down."

"That's a joke on him; he doesn't know that we have been inoculated with
the serum of longevity."

"In the meantime, the joke is on us; and I am getting hungry."

"Look, Duare!" I whispered, as I caught sight of something dimly visible
through the tangled undergrowth beyond the basto.

"What is it?" she asked.

"I don't know, but it's something large."

"It is creeping silently through the brush, Carson. Do you suppose it is
something that has caught our scent, some other terrible beast of prey?"

"Well we are up a tree," I reassured her.

"Yes, and many of these creatures climb trees. I wish you had your
weapons."

"If that basto would look the other way for a minute, I'd go down and
get them."

"No, you mustn't do that--one or the other of them would get you."

"Here it comes now, Duare! Look!"

"It's a tharban," she whispered.



Chapter 7 - Bull Against Lion

THE EVIL FACE of the fierce carnivore was protruding from the underbrush
a short distance beyond and behind the basto. The latter did not see it,
nor did his nostrils catch the scent of the great cat-like creature.

"It's not looking at us," I said; "it's watching the basto."

"Do you suppose--" commenced Duare, and then her words were drowned by
the most blood-curdling scream I have ever heard.

It came from the savage throat of the tharban at the instant it sprang
toward the basto. The latter beast, lumbering to its feet, was caught at
a disadvantage. The tharban leaped full upon its back, sinking talons
and fangs deep into the tough flesh.

The bellowing of the basto mingled with the roars and growls of the
tharban in a hideous diapason of bestial rage that seemed to rock the
forest.

The huge bull wheeled in a frenzy of pain and sought to sink its horn in
the thing upon its back. The tharban struck viciously at the savage
face, raking downward from poll to muzzle, tearing hide and flesh to the
bone, one great talon ripping an eye from its socket.

Its head a bloody mass of torn flesh, the basto threw itself upon its
back with almost cat-like agility, seeking to crush the life from its
tormentor; but the tharban leaped to one side and, as the bull scrambled
to its feet, sprang in again.

This time the basto, wheeling with lowered head and incredible
swiftness, caught the tharban full upon its horns and tossed it high
into the foliage of the tree above.

A screaming, clawing hellion of unrestrained primitive rage and hate,
the great carnivore hurtled upward within a few feet of Duare and me;
and then, still clawing and screaming, it fell back.

Like a huge cat, that it most closely resembled, it came down feet
first. With ready horns and tail stiffly erect, the basto waited to
catch it and toss it again. Full on those powerful horns the tharban
fell; but when the basto surged upward with all the strength of that
mighty, bulging neck, the tharban did not soar upward into the tree
again. With powerful claws and mighty jaws it clung to the head and neck
of its antagonist. It raked shoulder and throat as the basto attempted
to shake it loose. With fearful strokes of its talons it was tearing the
basto to shreds.

In a bloody welter of gore, the stricken creature, now totally blinded
by the loss of its remaining eye, wheeled in a grotesque and futile
pirouette of death; but still its screaming Nemesis clung to it,
tearing, striking in mad, blind rage, its hideous cries mingling with
the now shrill death bellowings of the stricken bull.

Suddenly the basto stopped in its tracks, its feet spread swaying
weakly. Blood was gushing from its neck in such a torrent that I was
positive its jugular must have been severed; I knew that the end must be
near and only wondered at the unbelievable tenacity with which the
creature clung to life.

Nor was the tharban in an enviable state. Once badly gored and now
impaled upon those two mighty horns, the blood of his terrible wounds
mingling with the blood of his intended victim, his chances of survival
were as negligible as those of the weaving bull, already seemingly dead
upon its feet.

But how could I guess the inconceivable vitality of these mighty
creatures?

With a sudden shake of his horns the bull stiffened; then he lowered his
head and charged blindly, apparently with all the strength and vigor of
unimpaired vitality.

It was to be a short charge. With terrific impact he struck the bole of
the tree in which we were crouching. The branch upon which we sat swayed
and snapped like a loose spar in a gale, and Duare and I were toppled
from our perch.

Clutching futilely for support, we shot downward on top of the tharban
and the basto. For an instant I was terrified for Duare's safety, but
there was no need for apprehension. Neither of these mighty engines of
destruction turned upon us; neither moved. Except for a few convulsive
shudders they lay still in death.

The tharban had been caught between the bole of the tree and massive
poll of the basto and crushed to pulp; the basto had died as it wreaked
its final, fearful vengeance on the tharban.

* * * * *

Duare and I had rolled to the ground beside the bodies of these mighty
Titans; and now, uninjured, we sprang to our feet. Duare was pale and a
trifle shaken, but she smiled bravely up into my face.

"Our hunting was more successful than we dreamed," she said. "There is
meat enough for many men."

"Kamlot told me that there was nothing like a basto steak grilled over a
wood fire."

"They are delicious. My mouth is watering already."

"And mine, too, Duare; but without a knife we are still a long way from
the steak. Look at that thick hide."

Duare looked crestfallen. "Did ever two people have such continuous bad
luck?" she exclaimed. "But never mind," she added. "Get your weapons,
and perhaps we shall find something small enough to tear to pieces or
cook whole."

"Wait!" I exclaimed, opening the pocket pouch that hung over my shoulder
by a stout cord. "I have a piece of stone with a sharp edge that I use
for scraping my bow and arrows. I may be able to hack out a meal with
it."

It was a laborious job but I finally succeeded, and while I was engaged
upon this crude and ragged butchery Duare gathered tinder and wood and
surprised us both by starting a fire. She was very happy and excited
over her success, and proud, too. In all her pampered life at home she
had never been required to do a practical thing, and the reward of even
this small accomplishment filled her with joy.

That meal was a memorable one; it was epochal. It marked the emergence
of primitive man from the lower orders of life. He had achieved fire; he
had fashioned weapons; he had made his kill (figuratively, in this
case); and now for the first time he was eating cooked food. And I liked
to carry the metaphor a little further in this instance and think of the
partner of his achievements as his mate. I sighed as I thought of the
happiness that might be ours did Duare but return my love.

"What's the matter?" demanded Duare. "Why do you sigh?"

"I am sighing because I am not really a primitive man instead of a poor,
weak imitation of one."

"Why do you want to be a primitive man,? she inquired.

"Because primitive man was not bound by silly conventions," I replied.
"If he wanted a woman and she did not want him, he grabbed her by the
hair and dragged her to his lair."

"I am glad that I did not live in those times," said Duare.

* * * * *

For several days we wandered on through the forest. I knew that we were
hopelessly lost, but I was anxious to get out of that gloomy wood. It
was getting on our nerves. I managed to kill small game with my spear
and my arrows; there was an abundance of fruit and nuts; and water was
plentiful. In the matter of food we lived like kings, and we were
fortunate in our encounters with the more formidable creatures we met.
Luckily for us we saw none that were arboreal, though I am positive that
this was merely by the luckiest chance, for the woods of Amtor harbor
many terrible creatures that live wholly in the trees.

Duare, notwithstanding all the hardships and dangers she was constantly
undergoing, seldom complained. She remained remarkably cheerful in the
face of what was now palpably the absolute certainty that we could never
hope to find the distant island where her father was king. Sometimes she
was sober and silent for long periods, and I guessed that at these times
she was sorrowing; but she did not share her sorrows with me. I wished
that she would; we often share our sorrows with those we love.

But one day she suddenly sat down and began to cry. I was so surprised
that I just stood there for several minutes staring at her before I
could think of anything to say, and then I didn't think of anything very
brilliant.

"Why, Duare!" I cried. "What's the matter? Are you ill?"

She shook her head and sought to stifle her sobs. "I'm sorry," she
managed to say at last. "I didn't mean to; I've tried not to; but this
forest! Oh, Carson, it's on my nerves; it haunts me even in my sleep. It
is endless; it goes on and on forever--gloomy, forbidding, filled with
terrible dangers. There!" she exclaimed, and rising she shook her head
as though to dispel unwelcome visions. "I'm all right now; I won't do it
again." She smiled through her tears.

I wanted to take her in my arms and comfort her--oh, how badly I wanted
to! But I only laid a hand upon her shoulder. "I know just how you
feel," I told her. "I've felt the same way for days. I have to take it
out by swearing to myself. But it can't last forever, Duare. There must
be an end to it pretty soon; and, anyway, you must remember that the
forest has fed us and sheltered us and protected us."

"As a jailer feeds and shelters and protects the criminal condemned to
die," she responded dully. "Come! Let's not speak of it any more."

Once again the underbrush was thick, and we were following a game trail
that was as erratic as most game trails. I think it was this thick brush
that depressed Duare even more than the forest itself. I know it always
depressed me. The trail was wide and we were walking abreast when
suddenly at a turning the forest seemed to disappear in front of us.
There was a void staring us in the face, and beyond that, far, far away,
the outlines of distant mountains.



Chapter 8 - Down the Escarpment

WONDERINGLY we advanced until we stood upon the brink of a lofty
escarpment. Far below, at least five thousand feet, a great valley
spread before our eyes. Far, far away, across it, we saw the outlines of
the distant mountains that hemmed it upon that side; but to the right
and left its extent was shrouded in the mists of distance.

During the days that we had been wandering in the forest we must have
been climbing steadily, but the ascent had been so gradual that we had
scarcely noticed it. Now, the effect of coming suddenly upon this mighty
depression was startling. It was as though I were looking into a deep
pit that lay far below sea level. This impression, however, was soon
dispelled, for in the distance I saw a great river winding along the bed
of the valley; and I knew that it must run downward to some sea.

"A new world!" breathed Duare. "How beautiful by contrast with this
frightful forest!"

"Let us hope that it will be no less kind to us than the forest has
been."

"How could it be otherwise than kind? It is so beautiful," she replied.
"There must be people living there, generous, kindly people as lovely as
their lovely valley. There could be no evil where there is so much
beauty. Perhaps they will help us to return to my Vepaja. I am sure they
will."

"I hope so, Duare," I said.

"See!" she exclaimed. "There are little rivers running into the big
river, and there are level plains dotted with trees, and there are
forests, too, but no terrible forest that stretches on and on seemingly
without end as this that we are escaping. Do you see any cities or signs
of man, Carson?"

I shook my head. "I cannot be positive. We are very high above the
valley; and the large river, where it is probable the cities would be,
is far away. Only a very great city with tall buildings would be visible
from here, and the haze that hangs over the valley might even hide a
large city from us. We shall have to go down into the valley to find
out."

"I can scarcely wait," exclaimed Duare.

The trail on which we had approached the edge of the escarpment turned
sharply to the left and skirted the brink, but from it a smaller trail
branched and dropped over the edge.

This trail was little better than a faintly marked foot path, and it
zigzagged down the almost vertical face of the escarpment in a manner
calculated to send the cold chills up one's back if he happened to be
affected by such things.

"Few creatures go up and down here," remarked Duare, as she looked over
the edge of the escarpment at the dizzy trail.

"Perhaps we had better go on farther; there may be an easier way down,"
I suggested, thinking that she might be fearful.

"No," she demurred. "I wanted to get out of the forest, and here is my
chance. Something has gone up and down here; and if something else has,
we can."

"Take my hands, then; it is very steep."

She did as I bid, and I also handed her my spear to use as a staff. Thus
we started the perilous descent. Even now I hate to recall it. It was
not only fraught with danger but it was exceedingly exhausting. A dozen
times I thought that we were doomed; seemingly it was impossible to
descend farther, and certainly it would have been impossible to retrace
our steps to the summit, for there had been places where we had lowered
ourselves over ledges that we could not have again scaled.

* * * * *

Duare was very brave. She amazed me. Not only was her courage
remarkable, but her endurance was almost unbelievable in one so
delicately moulded. And she kept cheerful and good-natured. Often she
laughed when she would slip and almost fall, where a fall meant death.

"I said," she recalled, once while we were resting, "that something must
have come up and down this trail. Now I wonder what manner of creature
it may be."

"Perhaps it is a mountain goat," I suggested. "I can think of nothing
else that might do it."

She did not know what a mountain goat was, and I knew of no Venusan
animal with which to compare it. She thought that a mistal might easily
go up and down such a trail. I had never heard of this animal, but from
her description I judged it to be a rat-like animal about the size of a
house cat.

As we were starting down again after a rest, I heard a noise below us
and looked over the edge of the ledge on which we stood to see what had
caused it."

"We are about to have our curiosity satisfied," I whispered to Duare.
"Here comes the trail maker."

"Is it a mistal?" she asked.

"No, nor a mountain goat; but it is just the sort of a creature that
might most easily cling to this vertical pathway. I don't know what you
Amtorians call it. Take a look; perhaps you will recognize it."

It was a huge, hideous lizard about twenty feet in length that was
climbing sluggishly upward toward our position.

Leaning on my shoulder, Duare glanced downward over the ledge. She
voiced a low gasp of terror.

"I think it is a vere," she said, "and if it is we are in for it. I have
never seen one, but I have read of them in books and seen their
pictures; this one looks like the pictures I have seen."

"Are they dangerous?" I asked.

"They are deadly," she replied. "We wouldn't have a chance against a
vere."

"See if you can climb back out of the way," I said to Duare. "I will try
to hold it here until you are safe." Then I turned toward the creature
crawling slowly upward.

It was covered with scales of red, black, and yellow arranged in
intricate designs. Its coloration and ornamentation were beautiful, but
right there its beauty stopped. It had a head not unlike that of a
crocodile, and along each side of its upper jaw was a row of gleaming
white horns. Across the top and down the sides of its head sprawled a
single huge eye of myriad facets.

It had not discovered us yet, but in another half minute it would be
upon us. I loosened a bit of rock near my hand and hurled it down,
thinking I might turn the creature back. The missile struck it on the
snout, and with a grunt it raised its head and saw me.

Its great jaws opened and out shot the most prodigious tongue I had ever
seen. Like lightning it curled about me and snapped me toward those
gaping jaws from which was issuing a harsh screaming whistle.

All that saved me from being instantly engulfed was the fact that I was
a little too large a mouthful for the creature to negotiate with ease. I
wedged crosswise of his snout and there I fought with all my strength to
keep from being dragged into that rapacious maw.

* * * * *

It was a great slimy, toothless, sucking gullet that I struggled to
escape. Evidently the creature swallowed its prey whole, its horns being
probably solely for defense. From that repulsive throat issued a fetid
odor that almost overpowered me. I think that it may have been a
poisonous exhalation that was intended to anaesthetize its victims. I
felt myself growing weak and dizzy, and then I saw Duare at my side.

She was grasping my spear in both hands and lunging viciously at the
horrid face of the vere. All the time she was moaning, "Carson! Carson!"

How small and frail and inadequate she looked to be pitting herself
against this fearsome creature!--and how magnificent!

She was risking her life to save mine, and yet she did not love me.
Still, it was not incredible--there are noble qualities far more
unselfish than love. Loyalty is of these. But I could not permit her to
sacrifice her life for loyalty.

"Run, Duare!" I cried. "You can't save me--I am done for. Run while you
can, or it will kill us both."

She paid no attention to me, but thrust again. This time the spear tore
into the many-faceted eye. With a shrill whistle of pain, the reptile
turned upon Duare and sought to strike her with its gleaming horns; but
she stood her ground and, thrusting again, drove the weapon between the
distended jaws, drove it deep and far into the pink flesh of that
repulsive maw.

The spear point must have pierced the tongue, for it suddenly went limp;
and I rolled from its encircling grasp to the ground.

Instantly I was on my feet again, and seizing Duare's arm dragged her to
one side as the vere charged blindly. It brushed past us, whistling and
screaming, and then turned, but in the wrong direction.

It was then that I realized that the creature had been totally blinded
by the wound in its eye. Taking a perilous risk, I threw my arm about
Duare and slid over the edge of the ledge upon which the brute had
encountered us, for to have remained even an instant where we were would
have meant being maimed or hurled to our doom by the viciously lashing
tail of the frenzied lizard.

Fortune favored us, and we came safely to rest upon another ledge at a
slightly lower level. Above us we could hear the whistling scream of the
vere and the thudding of his tail against the rocky escarpment.

* * * * *

Fearing that the creature might descend upon us, we hurried on, taking
even greater risks than we had before; nor did we stop until we had
reached comparatively level ground near the foot of the escarpment. Then
we sat down to rest. We were both panting from our exertions.

"You were wonderful," I said to Duare. "You risked your life to save
mine."

"Perhaps I was just afraid to be left alone," she said with some
embarrassment. "I may have been entirely selfish."

"I don't believe that," I remonstrated.

The truth was that I didn't want to believe it. Another implication was
far sweeter to me.

"Anyhow," remarked Duare, "we found out what made the trail up the
escarpment."

"And that our beautiful valley may not be as secure as it looks," I
added.

"But the creature was going out of the valley up into the forest," she
argued. "That is probably where it lived."

"However, we had best be on our guard constantly."

"And now you have no spear; and that is a real loss, for it is because
of the spear that you are alive."

"Down there a little way," I indicated, pointing, "is a winding strip of
wood that seems to be following the meanderings of a stream. There we
can find material for another spear and also water. I am as dry as a
bone."

"So am I," said Duare, "and hungry too. Perhaps you can kill another
basto."

I laughed. "This time I shall make you a spear and a bow and arrows,
too. From what you have already done, you seem to be better able to kill
bastos than I."

Leisurely we walked toward the wood, which was about a mile away,
through soft grass of a pale violet hue. Flowers grew in profusion on
every hand. There were purple flowers and blue and pale yellow; and
their foliage, like the blossoms, was strange and unearthly. There were
flowers and leaves of colors that have no name, colors such as no
earthly eye had ever seen before.

Such things bear in upon me the strange isolation of our senses. Each
sense lives in a world of its own, and though it lives a lifetime with
its fellow senses it knows nothing of their worlds.

My eyes see a color; but my fingers, my ears, my nose, my palate may
never know that color. I cannot even describe it so that any of your
senses may perceive it as I perceive it, if it is a new color that you
have never seen. Even less well might I describe an odor or a flavor or
the feel of some strange substance.

Only by comparison might I make you see the landscape that stretched
before our eyes, and there is nothing in your world with which I may
compare it--the glowing fog bank overhead, the pale, soft pastels of
field and forest and distant misty mountains--no dense shadows and no
highlights--strange and beautiful and weird--intriguing, provocative,
compelling, always beckoning one on to further investigation, to new
adventure.

All about us the plain between the escarpment and the forest was dotted
with trees; and, lying beneath them or grazing in the open, were animals
that were entirely new to my experience either here or on Earth. That
several distinct families and numerous genera were represented was
apparent to even a cursory survey.

Some were large and cumbersome, others were small and dainty. All were
too far away for me to note them in detail; and for that I was glad, for
I guessed that among that array of wild beasts there must be some at
least which might prove dangerous to man. But, like all animals except
hungry carnivores and men, they showed no disposition to attack us so
long as we did not interfere with them or approach them too closely.

* * * * *

"I see that we shall not go hungry here," remarked Duare.

"I hope some of those little fellows are good to eat," I laughed.

"I am sure that big one under the tree is delicious; the one looking at
us," and she pointed to an enormous, shaggy creature as large as an
elephant. Duare had a sense of humor.

"Possibly it entertains the same idea concerning us," I suggested; "here
it comes!"

The huge beast was walking toward us. The forest was still a hundred
yards away.

"Shall we run?" asked Duare.

"I am afraid that would be fatal. You know, it is almost instinctive for
a beast to pursue any creature that runs away from it. I think the best
course for us to follow is to continue steadily toward the forest
without seeming haste. If the thing does not increase its speed we shall
reach the trees ahead of it; if we run for it the chances are that it
will overtake us, for of all created things mankind seems to be about
the slowest."

As we proceeded, we constantly cast backward glances at the shaggy
menace trailing us. He lumbered along, exhibiting no signs of
excitement; but his long strides were eating up the distance between us.
I saw that he would overtake us before we reached the forest. I felt
utterly helpless, with my puny bow and my tiny arrows, before this
towering mountain of muscle.

"Quicken your pace a little, Duare," I directed.

She did as I bid, but after a few steps she glanced back. "Why don't you
come, too?" she demanded.

"Don't argue," I snapped a little shortly. "Do as I bid you."

She stopped and waited for me. "I shall do as I please," she informed me,
"and it does not please me to let you make this sacrifice for me. If you
are to be killed, I shall be killed with you. Furthermore, Carson
Napier, please remember that I am the daughter of a jong and am not
accustomed to being ordered about."

"If there were not more pressing matters to occupy me I would spank
you," I growled.

She looked at me, horrified; then she stamped one little foot in rage
and commenced to cry. "You take advantage of me because there is no one
to protect me," she sputtered. "I hate you, you--you--"

"But I am trying to protect you, Duare; and you are only making it
harder for me."

"I don't want any of your protection; I would rather be dead. It is more
honorable to be dead than to be talked to like that--I am the daughter
of a jong."

"I think you have mentioned that several times before," I said, coldly.

She threw up her head and walked stiffly on without looking back at me.
Even her little shoulders and back radiated offended dignity and stifled
rage.

I glanced behind me. The mighty beast was scarce fifty feet away; ahead
of us the forest was about the same distance. Duare could not see me. I
stopped and faced the colossus. By the time it had dispatched me, Duare
would probably be close to the safety of the branches of the nearest
tree.

I held my bow in one hand, but my arrows remained in the crude quiver I
had fashioned to hold them behind my right shoulder. I had sense enough
to realize that the only effect they might have upon this mountain of
hairy sinew would be to enrage it.

After I stopped, the beast approached more slowly, almost warily. Two
little eyes, set far apart, regarded me intently; two large, mulish ears
pricked forward; quivering nostrils dilated.

On it came, very gradually now. A bony protuberance extending from its
snout to its forehead commenced to rise until it revealed itself to my
astonished gaze as a sharp-pointed horn. The horn rose until it pointed
fiercely at me, a terrible weapon of offense.

I did not move. My experience of earthly animals had taught me that few
will attack without provocation, and I staked my life on the chance that
the same rule prevailed on Venus. But there are other provocations
besides those that arouse fear or anger; a most potent one is hunger.
However, this creature looked herbivorous; and I hoped that it was a
vegetarian. But I could not forget the basto; that somewhat resembled an
American bison, yet would eat meat.

Closer and closer came the remarkable beast, very, very slowly, as
though its mind were assailed by doubts. It towered above me like a
living mountain. I could feel its warm breath upon my almost naked body;
but, better still, I could smell its breath--the sweet, inoffensive
breath of a grass eater. My hopes rose.

The creature stuck out its muzzle toward me; a low rumbling issued from
its cavernous chest; that terrible horn touched me; then the cool, moist
muzzle. The beak sniffed at me. Slowly the horn subsided.

Suddenly, with a snort, the animal wheeled about and went galloping off,
bucking and jumping as I have seen a playful steer buck and jump, its
little tail stiffly erect. It presented a most ludicrous appearance--as
would a steam locomotive skipping rope. I laughed, possibly a little
hysterically, for my knees were suddenly weak and wobbly. If I had not
been near death, I had at least thought that I was.

* * * * *

As I turned back toward the forest I saw Duare standing there looking at
me, and as I approached her I perceived that she was wide-eyed and
trembling.

"You are very brave, Carson," she said with a little catch in her throat.
Her anger seemed to have departed. "I know that you remained there so
that I might escape."

"There really wasn't much else that I could do," I assured her. "And now
that that's over, let's see if we can't find something to eat--something
a few sizes smaller than that mountains of steaks and roasts. I think
we'll go on until we strike the stream that flows through this forest.
We may find a drinking place or a ford that the animals are accustomed
to coming to."

"There are many animals out there on the plain that are small,"
suggested Duare. "Why don't you hunt there?"

"There are plenty of animals, but there are not enough trees," I replied
with a laugh. "We may need some trees in our hunting. I don't know
enough about these Amtorian beasts as yet to warrant me in taking
unnecessary risks."

We moved on into the wood beneath the delicate foliage and among the
strangely beautiful boles with their lacquer-like bark of white and red
and yellow and blue.

Presently we came in sight of a little river winding leisurely between
its violet banks, and at the same instant I saw a small creature
drinking. It was about the size of a goat, but it didn't look like a
goat. Its sharply pointed ears were constantly moving, as though on the
alert for the slightest sound of danger; its tufted tail switched
nervously. A collar of short horns encircled its neck just where it
joined the head. They pointed slightly forward. There must have been a
dozen of them. I could not but wonder what their specific purpose might
be until I recalled the vere from whose horrible maw I had so recently
escaped. That necklace of short horns would most certainly have
discouraged any creature that was in the habit of swallowing its prey
whole.

Very gently, I pushed Duare behind a tree and crept forward, fitting an
arrow to my bow. As I was preparing to shoot, the creature threw up its
head and turned half around. Probably it had heard me. I had been
creeping on it from behind, but its change of position revealed its left
side to me, and I planted my first arrow squarely in its heart.

So we made our camp beside the river and dined on juicy chops, delicious
fruits, and the clear water from the little stream. Our surroundings
were idyllic. Strange birds sang to us, arboreal quadrupeds swung
through the trees jabbering melodiously in soft sing-song voices.

"It is very lovely here," said Duare, dreamily. "Carson--I wish that I
were not the daughter of a jong."



Chapter 9 - The Gloomy Castle

WE WERE both loath to leave this lovely spot, and so we tarried there
for two days while I made weapons for Duare and a new spear for myself.

I had constructed a little platform in a tree that overhung the river;
and there at night we were comparatively safe from predatory animals
while the soft music of the purling water lulled us to sleep, a sleep
that might be suddenly broken by the savage roars of hunting beasts or
the screams of their victims, to which the distant lowing and bellowing
of the vast herds upon the plain furnished a harmonious undertone in
this raw aria of life.

It was our last night in this pleasant camp. We were sitting on our
little platform watching the fish leaping and jumping in the river
below.

"I could be happy here forever--with you, Duare," I said.

"One may not think of happiness alone," she replied; "there is duty
also."

"But what if circumstances make us helpless to perform our duties?
Aren't we warranted in making the best of our fate and making the most
of the chance for happiness where we find it?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean that there is practically no possibility that we can ever reach
Vepaja. We do not know where it is, and if we did it seems to me that
there is not even the remotest chance that we should survive the dangers
that must lie along that unknown trail that leads back to the house of
Mintep, your father."

"I know that you are right," she replied a little wearily, "but it is my
duty to try; and I may never cease to seek to return, to the end of my
life, no matter how remote I may know the chance of success may be."

"Isn't that being a little unreasonable, Duare?"

"You do not understand, Carson Napier. If I had a brother or sister it
might make a difference; but I have neither, and my father and I are the
last of our line. It is not for myself nor for my father that I must
return but for my country--the royal line of the jongs of Vepaja must
not be broken, and there is none to perpetuate it but myself."

"And if we do return--what then?"

"When I am twenty I shall marry a noble selected by my father, and after
my father dies I shall be vadjong, or queen, until my oldest son is
twenty; then he will be jong."

"But with the longevity serum that your scientists have perfected your
father will never die; so why return?"

"I hope he will not die, but there are accidents and battles and
assassins. Oh, why discuss it! The royal line must be preserved!"

"And what of me, if we reach Vepaja?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Will there be a chance for me?"

"I do not understand."

"If your father consents, will you marry me?" I blurted.

* * * * *

Duare flushed. "How many times must I tell you that you may not speak of
such serious things to me?"

"I can't help it, Duare; I love you. I care nothing for customs nor
jongs nor dynasties. I shall tell your father that I love you, and I
shall tell him that you love me."

"I do not love you; you have no right to say that. It is sinful and
wicked. Because once I was weak and lost my head and said a thing I did
not mean you have no right to constantly throw it in my face."

Now that was just like a woman. I had been fighting every impulse to
keep from speaking of love during all the time we had been together. I
couldn't recall but one other instance when I had lost control of
myself, yet she accused me of constantly throwing in her face the one
admission of love that she had made.

"Well," I said, sullenly, "I shall do what I said I'd do, if I ever see
your father again."

"And do you know what he will do?"

"If he's the right kind of a father he'll say, 'Bless you, my
children.'"

"He is a jong before he is a father, and he will have you destroyed.
Even if you do not make any such mad admission to him, I shall have to
use all of my powers of persuasion to save you from death."

Why should he kill me?"

"No man who has spoken, without royal permission, to a janjong, or
princess, is ordinarily permitted to live. That you may be with me alone
for months and possibly years before we return to Vepaja will but tend
to exaggerate the seriousness of the situation. I shall plead your
service to me; that you risked your life innumerable times to preserve
mine; and that I think will have sufficient weight to save you from
death; but, of course, you will be banished from Vepaja."

"That is a pleasant outlook. I may lose my life, and I am certain to
lose you. Under such circumstances, do you think that I will prosecute
the search for Vepaja with much enthusiasm or diligence?"

"Perhaps not with enthusiasm; but with diligence, yes. You will do it
for me, because of that thing which you call love."

"Possibly you are right," I said, and I knew that she was.

The next day we started, in accordance with a plan we had formulated, to
follow the little river down toward the big river along which we would
continue to the sea. Where we should go from there was problematical. We
decided to wait until we reached the sea before making any further
plans. What lay before us we could not guess; had we been able to we
might have fled back to the comparative safety of the gloomy forest we
had so recently quitted with delight.

Late in the afternoon we were taking a short cut across open ground
where the river made a great bend. It was rather rough going, for there
were many rocks and bowlders and the surface of the land was cut by
gullies.

* * * * *

As we clambered up the bank of a particularly deep gully I chanced to
glance back and saw a strange animal standing on the opposite rim
watching us. It was about the size of a German police dog, but there the
similarity ceased. It had a massive, curved beak remarkably similar to
that of a parrot; and its body was covered with feathers; but it was no
bird, for it went on four legs and had no wings. Forward of its two
short ears were three horns, one in front of either ear and the third
growing midway between the others. As it turned part way around to look
back at something we could not see, I saw that it had no tail. At a
distance its legs and feet appeared bird-like.

"Do you see what I see, Duare?" I asked, nodding in the direction of the
weird creature; "or am I suffering from a touch of fever?"

"Of course I see it," she replied, "but I don't know what it is. I am
sure that there is no such creature on the island of Vepaja."

"There's another of them, and another, and another!" I exclaimed. "Lord!
there must be a dozen of them."

They were standing in a little knot surveying us when suddenly the one
we had first seen raised its grotesque head and voiced a hoarse, wailing
scream; then it started down into the gully and headed for us at a rapid
gallop, and behind it came its fellows, all now voicing that hideous
cry.

"What are we going to do?" asked Duare. "Do you suppose they are
dangerous?"

"I don't know whether they are dangerous our not," I replied, "but I
wish that there were a tree handy."

"A forest does have its advantages," admitted Duare. "What are we going
to do?"

"It would do no good to run; so we might as well stand here and have it
out with them. We'll have some advantage as they come up the bank of the
gully."

I fitted an arrow to my bow and Duare did likewise; then we stood
waiting for them to come within range. They loped easily across the
bottom of the gully and started the ascent. They didn't seem to be in
much of a hurry; that is, they didn't seem to be extending themselves to
their full speed, probably because we were not running away from them.

Perhaps this surprised them, for they presently slowed down to a walk
and advanced warily. They had ceased their baying. The feathers along
their backs rose stiffly erect as they slunk toward us.

Aiming carefully at the foremost, I loosed an arrow. It struck the beast
full in the chest, and with a scream it stopped and tore at the
feathered shaft protruding from its body. The others halted and
surrounded it. They made a strange cackling sound.

The wounded creature staggered and sank to the ground, and instantly its
fellows were upon it, tearing and rending. For a moment it fought
fiercely to defend itself, but futilely.

As the others commenced to devour their fallen comrade, I motioned Duare
to follow me, and we turned and ran toward the trees we could see about
a mile away where the river turned back across our line of march. But we
hadn't gone far before we heard again the infernal screaming that told
us that the pack was on our trail.

This time they overtook us while we were at the bottom of a depression,
and once again we made a stand. Instead of attacking us directly, the
beasts slunk about just out of range, as though they knew the danger
line beyond which they would be safe; then slowly they circled us until
we were surrounded.

"If they charge now, all at once," said Duare, "we are sure to be
finished."

"Perhaps if we succeed in killing a couple of them the others will stop
to devour them, thus giving us another chance to get closer to the
wood," I argued with an assumed optimism.

As we waited for the next move of our antagonists, we heard a loud shout
in the direction from which we had come. Looking quickly up, I saw a man
seated upon the back of a four-footed animal at the rim of the
depression in which we stood.

* * * * *

At the sound of the human voice, the beasts surrounding us looked in the
direction of the interruption and immediately commenced to cackle. The
man on the beast rode slowly down toward us, and as he came to the ring
of beasts they moved aside and let him pass through their savage ranks.

"It is fortunate for you that I came when I did," said the stranger, as
the beast he rode stopped in front of us; "these kazars of mine are a
ferocious lot." He was eying us intently, especially Duare. "Who are
you, and where are you from?" he demanded.

"We are strangers, and we are lost," I replied. "I am from California."
I did not wish to tell him that we were from Vepaja until we knew more
of him. If he was a Thorist he was an enemy; and the less he knew about
us the better, especially that we were from the country of Mintep, the
jong, than whom the Thorists have no more bitter enemy.

"California," he repeated. "I never heard of such a country. Where is
it?"

"In North America," I replied, but he only shook his head. "And who are
you," I asked, "and what country is this?"

"This is Noobol, but that of course you already know. This part of it is
known as Morov. I am Skor, the jong of Morov. But you have not told me
your names."

"This is Duare," I replied, "and I am Carson." I did not give surname as
they are seldom used on Venus.

"And where were you going?"

"We were trying to find our way to the sea."

"From where did you come?"

"Recently we were in Kapdor," I explained.

I saw his eyes narrow ominously. "So you are Thorists!" he snapped.

"No," I assured him, "we are not. We were prisoners of the Thorists." I
hoped that my guess had been a good one and that he was not kindly
disposed toward the Thorists. The slender thread upon which I hung my
hopes was no more substantial than the frown that had clouded his brow
at my admission that we had just come from Kapdor.

To my relief his expression changed. "I am glad that you are not
Thorists; otherwise I would not help you. I have no use for the breed."

"You will help us, then?" I asked.

"With pleasure," he replied. He was looking at Duare as he spoke, and I
did not exactly relish the tone of his voice nor the expression on his
face.

The kazars were circling around us, cackling and whistling. When one of
them approached us too close, Skor would flick it with the lash of a
long whip he carried; and the creature would retreat, screaming and
cackling the louder.

"Come," he said presently, "I will take you to my house; then we may
discuss plans for the future. The woman may ride behind me on my zorat."

"I prefer to walk," said Duare. "I am accustomed to it now."

Skor's eyes narrowed a bit. He started to speak, and then he checked
himself. Finally he shrugged. "As you will," he said, and turned the
head of his mount back in the direction from which he had come.

* * * * *

The creature he rode, which he called a zorat, was unlike any beast that
I had ever seen before. It was about the size of a small horse. Its
long, slender legs suggested great speed. Its feet were round and
nailless and heavily calloused on the bottoms. Its almost vertical
pasterns suggested that it might be a hard-gaited beast, but this was
not so. Later I learned that almost horizontal femurs and humeri
absorbed the jolts and rendered the zorat an easy riding saddle animal.

Above its withers and just forward of its kidneys were soft pads or
miniature humps which formed a perfect saddle with natural pommel and
cantle. Its head was short and broad, with two large, saucer-like eyes
and pendulous ears. Its teeth were those of a grass-eater. Its only
means of defense seemed to lie in its fleetness, although, as I
afterward had occasion to discover, it could use its jaws and teeth most
effectively when its short temper was aroused.

We walked beside Skor on the journey toward his house, the grotesque
kazars following docilely behind at the command of their master. The way
led toward the great bend of the river, that we had sought to avoid by
taking a short cut, and a forest that lined its banks. The proximity of
the kazars made me nervous, for occasionally one of them would trot
close at our heels; and I was fearful that Duare might be injured by one
of the fierce beasts before I could prevent it. I asked Skor what
purpose the creatures served.

"I use them for hunting," he replied, "but principally for protection. I
have enemies; and then, too, there are many savage beasts roaming at
large in Morov. The kazars are quite fearless and very savage fighters.
Their greatest weakness is their predilection for cannibalism; they will
abandon a fight to devour one of their own number that has fallen."

Shortly after we entered the forest we came upon a large, gloomy,
fortress-like building of stone. It was built upon a low rise of ground
at the water's edge, the river lapping the masonry upon that side. A
stone wall connecting with the river wall of the building inclosed
several acres of clear land in front of the structure. A heavy gate
closed the only aperture that was visible in this wall.

As we approached, Skor shouted, "Open! It is the jong," and the gates
swung slowly outward.

As we entered, several armed men, who had been sitting beneath one of
the several trees that had been left standing when the ground was
cleared, arose and stood with bowed heads. They were a hard and also a
sad-looking lot. The feature that struck me most forcibly was the
strange hue of their skin, a repulsive, unhealthy pallor, a seeming
bloodlessness. I caught the eyes of one that chanced to raise his head
as we passed, and I shivered. They were glazed, clammy eyes, without
light, without fire. I would have thought the fellow stone blind but for
the fact that the instant that my eyes caught his they dropped swiftly.
Another had an ugly, open wound across his cheek from temple to chin; it
gaped wide, but it did not bleed.

Skor snapped a brief order; and two of the men herded the pack of
cackling kazars into a strong inclosure built beside the gateway, as we
proceeded on toward the house. Perhaps I should call it castle.

The inclosure across which we passed was barren except for the few trees
that had been left standing. It was littered with refuse of all
descriptions and was unspeakably disorderly and untidy. Old sandals,
rags, broken pottery, and the garbage from the castle kitchens were
strewn promiscuously about. The only spot from which any effort had been
made to remove the litter was a few hundred square feet of stone
flagging before the main entrance to the building.

* * * * *

Here Skor dismounted as three more men similar to those at the gate came
lifelessly from the interior of the building. One of these took Skor's
mount and led it away, the others stood one on either side of the
entrance as we passed in.

The doorway was small, the door that closed it thick and heavy. It
seemed to be the only opening on the first floor on this side of the
castle. Along the second- and third-floor levels I had seen small windows
heavily barred. At one corner of the building I had noticed a tower
rising two more stories above the main part of the castle. This, too,
had small windows, some of which were barred.

The interior of the building was dark and gloomy. Coupled with the
appearance of the inmates I had already seen, it engendered within me a
feeling of depression that I could not throw off.

"You must be hungry," suggested Skor. "Come out into the inner court--it
is pleasanter there--and I will have food served."

We followed him down a short corridor and through a doorway into a
courtyard around which the castle was built. The inclosure reminded me
of a prison yard. It was flagged with stone. No living thing grew there.
The gray stone walls, cut with their small windows, rose upon four
sides. There had been no effort toward architectural ornamentation in
the design of the structure, nor any to beautify the courtyard in any
way. Here, too, was litter and trash that it had evidently been easier
to throw into the inner court than carry to the outer.

I was oppressed by forebodings of ill. I wished that we had never
entered the place, but I tried to brush my fears aside. I argued that
Skor had given no indications of being other than a kindly and
solicitous host. He had seemed anxious to befriend us. That he was a
jong I had commenced to doubt, for there was no suggestion of royalty in
his mode of living.

In the center of the court a plank table was flanked by grimy, well worn
benches. On the table were the remains of a meal. Skor graciously waved
us toward the benches; then he clapped his hands together three times
before he seated himself at the head of the table.

"I seldom have guests here," he said. "It is quite a pleasant treat for
me. I hope that you will enjoy your stay. I am sure that I shall," and
as he spoke he looked at Duare in that way that I did not like.

"I am sure that we might enjoy it could we remain," replied Duare
quickly, "but that is not possible. I must return to the house of my
father."

"Where is that?" asked Skor.

"In Vepaja," explained Duare.

"I never heard of that country," said Skor. "Where is it?"

"You never heard of Vepaja!" exclaimed Duare incredulously. "Why, all
the present country of Thora was called Vepaja until the Thorists rose
and took it and drove the remnants of the ruling class to the island
that is now all that remains of ancient Vepaja."

"Oh, yes, I had heard of that," admitted Skor; "but it was a long time
ago and in distant Trabol."

"Is this not Trabol?" asked Duare.

"No," replied Skor; "this is Strabol."

"But Strabol is the hot country," argued Duare. "No one can live in
Strabol."

"You are in Strabol now. It is hot here during a portion of the year,
but not so hot as to be unendurable."

* * * * *

I was interested. If what Skor said were true, we had crossed the
equator and were now in the northern hemisphere of Venus. The Vepajans
had told me that Strabol was uninhabitable--a steaming jungle reeking
with heat and moisture and inhabited only by fierce and terrible beasts
and reptiles. The entire northern hemisphere was a terra incognita to
the men of the southern hemisphere, and for that reason I had been
anxious to explore it.

With the responsibility of Duare on my shoulders I could not do much
exploring, but I might learn something from Skor; so I asked him of the
country farther north.

"It is no good," he snapped. "It is the land of fools. They frown upon
true science and progress. They drove me out; they would have killed me.
I came here and established the kingdom of Morov. That was many years
ago--perhaps a hundred years. I have never returned since to the country
of my birth; but sometimes their people come here," and he laughed
unpleasantly.

Just then a woman came from the building, evidently in response to
Skor's summons. She was middle aged. Her skin was the same repulsive hue
as that of the men I had seen, and it was very dirty. Her mouth hung
open and her tongue protruded; it was dry and swollen. Her eyes were
glazed and staring. She moved with a slow, awkward shuffle. And now,
behind her, came two men. They were much as she; there was something
indescribably revolting about all three.

"Take these away!" snapped Skor with a wave of the hand toward the
soiled dishes. "And bring food."

The three gathered up the dishes and shuffled away. None of them spoke.
The look of horror in Duare's eyes could not have gone unnoticed by
Skor.

"You do not like my retainers?" demanded Skor testily.

"But I said nothing," objected Duare.

"I saw it in your face." Suddenly Skor broke into laughter. There was no
mirth in it, nor was there laughter in his eyes but another expression,
a terrible glint that passed as quickly as it had come. "They are
excellent servants," he said in normal tones; "they do not talk too
much, and they do whatever I tell them to do."

Presently the three returned carrying vessels of food. There was meat,
partially raw, partially burned, and wholly unpalatable; there were
fruits and vegetables, none of which appeared to have been washed; there
was wine. It was the only thing there fit for human consumption.

The meal was not a success. Duare could not eat. I sipped my wine and
watched Skor eat ravenously.

Darkness was falling as Skor arose from the table. "I will show you to
your rooms," he said. "You must be tired." His tone and manner were
those of the perfect host. "To-morrow you shall set out again upon your
journey."

Relieved by this promise we followed him into the house. It was a dark
and gloomy abode, chill and cheerless. We followed him up a stairway to
the second floor and into a long, dark corridor. Presently he stopped
before a door and threw it open.

"May you sleep well," he said to Duare, bowing and motioning her to
enter.

Silently Duare crossed the threshold and Skor closed the door behind
her; then he conducted me to the end of the corridor, up two flights of
stairs and ushered me into a circular room that I guessed was in the
tower I had seen when we entered the castle.

"I hope you awaken refreshed," he said politely and withdrew, closing
the door behind him.

I heard his footsteps descending the stairs until they were lost in the
distance. I thought of Duare down there alone in this gloomy and
mysterious pile. I had no reason to believe that she was not safe, but
nevertheless I was apprehensive. Anyway, I had no intention of leaving
her alone.

I waited until he had had plenty of time to go to his own quarters
wherever they might be; then I stepped to the door, determined to go to
Duare. I laid my hand upon the latch and sought to open it. It was
locked from the outside. Quickly I went to the several windows. Each was
heavily barred. Faintly from the distant recesses of that forbidding
pile, I thought I heard a mocking laugh.



Chapter 10 - The Girl in the Tower

THE TOWER ROOM in which I found myself imprisoned was lighted only by
the mysterious night glow that relieves the nocturnal darkness of Venus,
which would otherwise have been impenetrable. Dimly I saw the
furnishings of the room--they were meager. The place had more the aspect
of a prison cell than a guest chamber.

I crossed to a chest of drawers and investigated it. It was filled with
odds and ends of worn and useless apparel bits of string, a few lengths
of rope which, I had an ugly suspicion, might once have served as bonds.
I paced the floor worrying about Duare. I was helpless. I could do
nothing. It would be vain to pound upon the door or call for release.
The will that had incarcerated me was supreme here. Only by the
voluntary act of that will could I be released.

Seating myself on a rude bench before a small table I tried to plan; I
sought to discover some loophole for escape. Apparently there was none.
I arose and once again examined the window bars and the sturdy door;
they were impregnable.

Finally I crossed to a rickety couch that stood against the wall and lay
down upon the worn and odorous hide that covered it. Absolute silence
reigned--the silence of the tomb. For a long time it was unbroken; then
I heard a sound above me. I listened, trying to interpret it. It was
like the slow padding of naked feet--back and forth, to and fro above my
head.

I had thought that I was on the top floor of the tower, but now I
realized that there must be another room above the one in which I had
been placed--if the sound I heard was that of human feet.

Listening to that monotonous padding had a soporific effect upon my
jaded nerves. I caught myself dozing a couple of times. I did not wish
to go to sleep; something seemed to warn me that I must remain awake,
but at last I must have succumbed.

How long I slept I do not know. I awoke with a start, conscious that
something touched me. A dim figure was leaning over me. I started to
rise. Instantly strong fingers, clutched my throat--cold, clammy
fingers--the fingers of Death they seemed.

Struggling, I sought the throat of my antagonist. I closed upon it--it,
too, was cold and clammy. I am a strong man, but the Thing upon my chest
was stronger. I struck at it with closed fists. From the doorway came a
low, hideous laugh. I felt my scalp stiffen to the horror of it all.

I sensed that death was close, and a multitude of thoughts raced through
my mind. But uppermost among them were thoughts of Duare, and harrowing
regret that I must leave her here in the clutches of the fiend I was now
certain was the instigator of this attack upon me. I guessed that its
purpose was to dispose of me and thus remove the only possible obstacle
that might stand between himself and Duare.

I was still struggling when something struck me on the head; then came
oblivion.

* * * * *

It was daylight when I regained consciousness. I still lay upon the
couch, sprawled upon my back. Staring up at the ceiling, trying to
collect my thoughts and memories, I perceived a crack just above me such
as might have been made by a trap door partially raised; and through the
crack two eyes were peering down at me.

Some new horror? I did not move. I lay there fascinated, watching the
trap door slowly open. Presently a face was revealed. It was the face of
a girl, a very beautiful girl; but it was strained and drawn and the
eyes were terrified, frightened eyes.

In a whisper, the girl spoke. "You are alive?" she asked.

I raised myself on an elbow. "Who are you?" I demanded. "Is this some
new trick to torture me?"

"No. I am a prisoner, too. He has gone away. Perhaps we can escape."

"How?" I asked. I was still skeptical, believing her a confederate of
Skor.

"Can you get up here? There are no bars on my windows; that is because
they are so high that no one could jump from them without being killed
or badly injured. If we only had a rope!"

I considered the matter for a moment before I replied. What if it was a
trick? Could I be any worse off in one room in this accursed castle than
in another?

"There is rope down here," I said. "I will get it and come up. Perhaps
there is not enough to be of any use to us, but I will bring what there
is."

"How will you get up?" she asked.

"That will not be difficult. Wait until I get the rope."

I went to the chest of drawers and took out all the rope and string that
I had discovered there the previous night; then I shoved the chest
across the floor until it was directly beneath the trap door.

From the top of the chest I could easily reach the edge of the floor
above. Handing the rope up to the girl, I quickly drew myself up into
the room with her; then she closed the trap and we stood facing each
other.

Despite her disheveled and frightened appearance, I found her even more
beautiful than I had at first thought her; and as her fine eyes met mine
in mutual appraisal my fears of treachery vanished. I was sure no
duplicity lurked behind that lovely countenance.

"You need not doubt me," she said as though she had read my thoughts,
"though I cannot wonder that you doubt every one in this terrible
place."

"Then how can you trust me?" I asked. "You know nothing of me."

"I know enough," she replied. "From that window I saw you when you and
your companion came yesterday with Skor, and I knew that he had two more
victims. I heard them bring you to the room below last night. I did not
know which one of you it was. I wanted to warn you then, but I was
afraid of Skor. I walked the floor for a long time trying to decide what
to do."

"Then it was you I heard walking?"

"Yes. Then I heard them come again; I heard sounds of a scuffle and
Skor's awful laugh. Oh, how I hate and fear that laugh! After that it
was quiet. I thought they had killed you, if it was you, or taken the
girl away, if it was she they had imprisoned in the room below. Oh, the
poor thing! And she is so beautiful. I hope she got away safely, but I
am afraid there can be little hope of that."

"Got away? What do you mean?" I demanded.

"She escaped very early this morning. I do not know how she got out of
her room, but from the window I saw her cross the outer courtyard. She
climbed the wall on the river side, and she must have dropped into the
river. I did not see her again."

"Duare has escaped! You are sure it was she?"

"It was the beautiful girl who came here with you yesterday. About an
hour after she got away Skor must have discovered that she was gone. He
came out of the castle in a terrible rage. He took with him all of the
miserable creatures that watch the gate, and all his fierce kazars, and
set out in pursuit. Possibly never again may we have such an opportunity
to escape."

"Let's get busy, then!" I exclaimed. "Have you a plan?"

"Yes," she replied. "With the rope we can lower ourselves to the castle
roof and from there to the courtyard. There is no one watching the gate;
the kazars are gone. If we are discovered we shall have to trust to our
legs, but there are only three or four of Skor's retainers left in the
castle and they are not very alert when he is not here."

"I have my weapons," I reminded her. "Skor did not take them from me,
and if any of his people try to stop us I will kill them."

She shook her head. "You cannot kill them," she whispered, shuddering.

"What do you mean?" I demanded. "Why can I not kill them?"

"Because they are already dead."

* * * * *

I looked at her in astonishment as the meaning of her words slowly
filtered to my shocked brain to explain the pitiful creatures that had
filled me with such disgust on the previous day.

"But," I exclaimed, "how can they be dead? I saw them move about and
obey the commands of Skor."

"I do not know," she replied; "it is Skor's terrible secret. Presently
you will be as they, if we do not escape; and the girl who came with
you, and I--after a while. He will keep us a little longer in the flesh
for the purpose of his experiments. Every day he takes a little blood
from me. He is seeking the secret of life. He says that he can reproduce
body cells, and with these he has instilled synthetic life into the poor
creatures that he has resurrected from the grave. But it is only a
parody on life; no blood flows in those dead veins, and the dead minds
are animated only by the thoughts that Skor transmits to them by some
occult, telepathic means.

"But what he most desires is the power to reproduce germ cells and thus
propagate a new race of beings fashioned according to his own
specifications. That is why he takes blood from me; that is why he
wanted the girl you call Duare. When our blood has become so depleted
that death is near, he will kill us and we will be like those others.
But he would not keep us here; he would take us to the city where he
rules as jong. Here he keeps only a few poor, degraded specimens; but he
says that in Kormor he has many fine ones."

"So he is a jong? I doubted it."

"He made himself a jong and created his own subjects," she said.

"And he kept you only to draw blood from you?"

"Yes. He is not like other men; he is not human."

"How long have you been here?"

"A long time; but I am still alive because Skor has been away most of
the time in Kormor."

"Well, we must get away, too, before he returns. I want to search for
Duare."

I went to one of the windows, none of which was barred, and looked down
on the castle roof below, a distance of about twenty feet. Then I got
the rope and examined it carefully. There were several pieces, in all
about forty feet--more than enough; also it was stout rope. I tied the
pieces together and then returned to the window. The girl was at my
elbow.

"Can anyone see us from here?" I asked.

"The creatures are not very alert," she replied. "Those that Skor left
here are the servants. They remain in a room on the first floor on the
other side of the castle. When he is away they just sit. After a while
two of them will bring food for us; and we should get away before they
come, for sometimes they forget to go back to their quarters; then they
sit around outside my door for hours. You will notice that there is a
grille in the door; they would see us if we attempted to escape while
they were there."

"We'll start now," I said. Then I made a loop in one end of the rope and
passed it around the girl's body so that she could sit in it while I
lowered her to the roof.

* * * * *

Without an instant's hesitation she stepped to the sill of the window
and lowered herself over the edge until she was seated securely in the
loop. Bracing my feet against the wall, I let her down rapidly until I
felt the rope go slack in my hands.

I then dragged her cot close beneath the window, passed the free end of
the rope beneath it and out the window, letting it fall toward the roof
below. This gave me two strands of rope reaching to the roof with the
middle part of the rope passing around the cot which was too large to be
dragged through the window by my weight as I descended.

Grasping both strands firmly in my two hands, I slipped through the
window and slid quickly to the side of the waiting girl; then I pulled
in rapidly on one end of the rope, dragging the free end around the cot
until it fell to the roof. Thus I retrieved the rope for use in
descending the remainder of the way to the ground.

We crossed the roof quickly to the edge overlooking the outer courtyard
into which we expected to descend. There was no one in sight, and I was
just about to lower the girl over the edge when a loud shout from behind
us startled us both.

Turning, we saw three of Skor's creatures looking at us from an upper
window of the castle on the opposite side of the inner court. Almost as
we turned, the three left the window and we could hear them shouting
through the castle.

"What shall we do?" cried the girl. "We are lost! They will come to the
roof by the tower door, and they will have us trapped. They were not the
servants; they were three of his armed men. I thought they had all
accompanied him, but I was wrong."

I said nothing, but I seized her hand and started toward the far end of
the castle roof. A sudden hope had flared within me, born of an idea
suggested by what the girl had told me of Duare's escape.

We ran as fast as we could, and when we reached the edge we looked down
upon the river lapping the castle wall two stories below. I passed the
rope about the girl's waist. She asked no question; she made no comment.
Quickly she climbed over the low parapet, and I commenced lowering her
toward the river below.

Hideous mouthings arose behind me. I turned and saw three dead men
running toward me across the roof. Then I lowered away so rapidly that
the rope burned my fingers, but there was no time to lose. I feared that
they would be upon me before I could lower the girl to the dubious
safety of the swirling waters.

Nearer and nearer sounded the hurrying footsteps and the incoherent
yammerings of the corpses. I heard a splash, and the rope went slack in
my fingers. I glanced behind. The nearest of the creatures was already
extending his hands to seize me. It was one of those that I noticed at
the gate the day before; I recognized it by the bloodless gash across
its cheek. Its dead eyes were expressionless--glazed and staring--but
its mouth was contorted in a ghastly snarl.

Immediate recapture faced me; there was but a single alternative. I
sprang to the top of the parapet and leaped. I have always been a good
diver, but I doubt that I ever made a prettier swan dive in my life than
I did that day from the parapet of the gloomy castle of Skor, the jong
of Morov.

As I rose to the surface of the river, shaking the water from my eyes, I
looked about for the girl; she was nowhere to be seen. I knew that she
could not have reached the river bank in the short time that had elapsed
since I had lowered her into the water, for the masonry of the castle
and the walls which extended it both above and below the building
offered not even a hand-hold for hundreds of feet in both directions,
and the opposite shore was too far away.

I cast about me in all directions as the current carried me down stream,
and I saw her head rise above the surface of the water a short distance
below me. Swiftly I struck out for her. She went down again just before
I reached her, but I dived for her and brought her to the surface. She
was still conscious but almost out.

Glancing back at the castle, I saw that my would-be captors had
disappeared from the roof; and I guessed that they would shortly appear
on the bank of the river ready to seize us when we emerged. But I had no
intention of emerging on their side.

Dragging the girl with me, I struck out for the opposite shore. The
river here was considerably deeper and broader than at the point we had
first encountered it farther up stream. Now it was quite a river. What
strange creatures inhabited its depths I had no means of knowing. I
could only hope that none would discover us.

The girl lay very quiet; she did not struggle at all. I began to fear
that she was dead and I exerted myself still more to reach the bank
quickly. The current bore us down stream, and I was glad of that, for it
was taking us farther away from the castle and retainers of Skor.

At last I reached the bank and dragged the girl out onto a little patch
of pale violet grass and set to work to resuscitate her, but even as I
commenced she opened her eyes and looked up at me. A shadow of a smile
touched her lips.

"I shall be all right in a minute," she said weakly. "I was so
frightened."

"Don't you know how to swim?" I asked.

She shook her head. "No."

"And you let me lower you into the river without telling me!" I was
amazed by the sheer bravery of her act.

"There was nothing else to do," she said simply. "Had I told you, you
would not have lowered me, and we both should have been recaptured. I do
not see even now how you got down before they seized you."

"I dived," I explained.

"You jumped from the top of that castle! It is incredible!"

"You do not come from a land where there is much water," I commented
with a laugh.

"What makes you think so?"

"If you did you would have seen enough diving to know that mine was
nothing extraordinary."

"My country is in a mountainous district," she admitted, "where the
streams are torrents and there is little swimming."

"And where is that?" I asked.

"Oh, it is very far," she replied. "I do not even know where."

"How did you happen to get into Skor's country?"

"During a war in my country I was captured with others by the enemy.
They carried us down out of the mountains into a great plain. One night
two of us escaped. My companion was a soldier who had been long in the
service of my father. He was very loyal. He tried to return me to my
country, but we became lost. I do not know how long we wandered, but at
last we came to a great river.

"Here were people who went in boats upon the river. They lived in the
boats always, fighting. They sought to capture us, and my companion was
killed defending me; then they took me. But I was not with them long.
The first night several men were quarreling over me; each of them
claimed me as his own. And while they quarreled, I slipped into a small
boat tied to the larger one and floated away down the great river.

"I drifted for many days and nearly starved to death, although I saw
fruits and nuts growing along the banks of the river. But the boat was
without oars and was so heavy that I could not bring it in to shore.

"Finally it ran aground by itself on a sand bar where the river ran
slowly about a great bend, and it chanced that Skor was hunting near and
saw me. That is all. I have been here a long time."



Chapter 11 - The Pygmies

AS THE GIRL finished her story, I saw the three dead men standing upon
the opposite bank. For a moment they hesitated, then they plunged into
the river.

I seized the girl by the hand and raised her to her feet. Our only
defense lay in flight. Although I had had to abandon my spear, I had
saved my bow and arrows, the latter being tied securely in my quiver
while the former I had looped across one shoulder before leaving the
tower; but of what use were arrows against dead men,

Casting another glance toward our pursuers I saw them floundering in the
deep water of the channel, and it became immediately evident that none
of them could swim. They were bobbing around helplessly as the current
swept them down stream. Sometimes they floated on their backs, sometimes
on their faces.

"We haven't much to fear from them," I said; "they will all drown."

"They cannot drown," replied the girl with a shudder.

"I hadn't thought of that," I admitted. "But at least there is little
likelihood that they will reach this shore; certainly not before they
have been carried a long distance down stream. We shall have plenty of
time to escape them."

"Then let's be going. I hate this place. I want to get away from it."

"I cannot go away until I have found Duare," I told her. "I must search
for her."

"Yes, that is right; we must try to find her. But where shall we look?"

"She would try to reach the big river and follow it to the sea," I
explained, "and I think that she would reason much as we would, that it
would be safer to follow this stream down to the larger one inasmuch as
then she would have the concealing protection of the forest."

"We shall have to keep careful watch for the dead men," cautioned the
girl. "If they wash ashore on this side we shall be sure to meet them."

"Yes; and I want to make sure where they do come ashore, because I
intend crossing over and hunting for Duare on the other side."

For some time we moved cautiously down stream in silence, both
constantly alert for any sound that might portend danger. My mind was
filled with thoughts of Duare and apprehension for her safety, yet
occasionally it reverted to the girl at my side; and I could not but
recall her courage during our escape and her generous willingness to
delay her own flight that we might search for Duare. It was apparent
that her character formed a trinity of loveliness with her form and her
face. And I did not even know her name!

That fact struck me as being as remarkable as that I had only known her
for an hour. So intimate are the bonds of mutual adversity and danger
that it seemed I had known her always, that that hour was indeed an
eternity.

"Do you realize," I asked, turning toward her, "that neither of us knows
the other's name?" And then I told her mine.

"Carson Napier!" she repeated. "That is a strange name."

"And what is yours?"

"Nalte voo Man kum Baltoo," she replied, which means Nalte, the daughter
of Baltoo. "The people call me Voo Jan, but my friends call me Nalte."

"And what am I to call you?" I asked.

She looked at me in surprise. "Why, Nalte, of course."

"I am honored by being included among your friends."

"But are you not my best, my only friend now in all Amtor?"

I had to admit that her reasoning was sound, since as far as all the
rest of Amtor was concerned we were the only two people on that
cloud-girt planet, and we were certainly not enemies.

* * * * *

We were moving cautiously along without sight of the river when Nalte
suddenly touched my arm and pointed toward the opposite bank, at the
same time dragging me down behind a shrub.

Just opposite us a corpse had washed ashore; and a short distance below,
two others. They were our pursuers. As we watched, they slowly crawled
to their feet then the one we had first seen called to the others, who
presently joined him. The three corpses talked together, pointing and
gesticulating. It was horrible. I felt my skin creep.

What would they do? should they continue the search or would they return
to the castle? If the former, they would have to cross the river; and
they must already have learned that there was little likelihood of their
being able to do that. But that was attributing to dead brains the power
to reason! It seemed incredible. I asked Nalte what she thought about.

"It is a mystery to me," she replied. "They converse, and they appear to
reason. At first I thought they were motivated through the hypnotic
influence of Skor's mind solely--that they thought his thoughts, as it
were; but they take independent action when Skor is away, as you have
seen them do today, which refutes that theory. Skor says that they do
reason. He has stimulated their nervous systems into the semblance of
life, though no blood flows in their veins; but the past experiences of
their lives before they died are less potent in influencing their
judgments than the new system of conduct and ethics that Skor has
instilled into their dead brains. He admits that the specimens he has at
the castle are very dull; but that, he insists, is because they were
dull people in life."

The dead men conversed for some time and then started slowly up river in
the direction of the castle, and it was with a sigh of relief that we
saw them disappear.

"Now we must try to find a good place to cross," I said. "I wish to
search the other side for some sign of Duare. She must have left
footprints in the soft earth."

"There is a ford somewhere down river," said Nalte. "When Skor captured
me we crossed it on our way to the castle. I do not know just where it
is, but it cannot be far."

We had descended the river some two miles from the point at which we had
seen the dead man emerge upon the opposite bank, without seeing any sign
of a crossing, when I heard faintly a familiar cackling that seemed to
come from across the river and farther down.

"Do you hear that?" I asked Nalte. She listened intently for a moment as
the cackling grew louder. "Yes," she replied--"the kazars. We had better
hide."

* * * * *

Acting upon Nalte's suggestion we concealed ourselves behind a clump of
underbrush and waited. The cackling grew in volume, and we knew that the
kazars were approaching.

"Do you suppose that it is Skor's pack?" I asked.

"It must be," she replied. "There is no other pack in this vicinity,
according to Skor."

"Nor any wild kazars?"

"No. He says that there are no wild ones on this side of the big river.
They range on the opposite side. These must be Skor's!"

We waited in silence as the sounds approached, and presently we saw the
new leader of the pack trot into view on the opposite bank. Behind him
strung several more of the grotesque beasts, and then came Skor, mounted
on his zorat, with the dead men that formed his retinue surrounding him.

"Duare is not there!" whispered Nalte. "Skor did not recapture her."

We watched Skor and his party until they had passed out of sight among
the trees of the forest on the other side of the river, and it was with
a sigh of relief that I saw what I hoped would be the last of the jong
of Morov.

While I was relieved to know that Duare had not been recaptured, I was
still but little less apprehensive concerning her fate. Many dangers
might beset her, alone and unprotected in this savage land; and I had
only the vaguest conception of where to search for her.

After the passing of Skor we had continued on down the river, and
presently Nalte pointed ahead to a line of ripples that stretched from
bank to bank where the river widened.

"There is the ford," she said, "but there is no use crossing it to look
for Duare's trail. If she had escaped on that side of the river the
kazars would have found her before now. The fact that they didn't find
her is fairly good proof that she was never over there."

I was not so sure of that. I did not know that Duare could swim nor that
she could not, but the chances were highly in favor of the latter
possibility, since Duare had been born and reared in the tree city of
Kooaad.

"Perhaps they found her and killed her," I suggested, horrified at the
very thought of such a tragedy.

"No," dissented Nalte. "Skor would have prevented that; he wanted her."

"But something else might have killed her; they might have found her
dead body."

"Skor would have brought it back with him and invested it with the
synthetic life that animates his retinue of dead," argued Nalte.

Still I was not convinced. "How do the kazars trail?" I asked. "Do they
follow the spoor of their quarry by scent?"

Nalte shook her head. "Their sense of smell is extremely poor, but their
vision is acute. In trailing, they depend wholly upon their eyes."

"Then it is possible that they might not have crossed Duare's trail at
all and so missed her."

"Possible, but not probable," replied Nalte. "What is more probable is
that she was killed and devoured by some beast before Skor was able to
recapture her."

The explanation had already occurred to me, but I did not wish to even
think about it. "Nevertheless," I said, "we might as well cross over to
the other bank. If we are going to follow the big river down stream we
shall have to cross this affluent sooner or later, and we may not find
another ford as it grows broader and deeper toward its mouth."

* * * * *

The ford was broad and well marked by ripples, so we had no difficulty
in following it toward the opposite bank. However, we were compelled to
keep our eyes on the water most of the time as the ford took two curves
that formed a flattened S, and it would have been quite easy to have
stepped off into deep water and been swept down stream had we not been
careful.

The result of our constant watchfulness approached disaster as we neared
the left bank of the stream. The merest chance caused me to look up. I
was slightly in advance of Nalte as we walked hand in hand for greater
safety. I stopped so suddenly at what I saw that the girl bumped into
me. Then she looked up, and a little, involuntary cry of alarm burst
from her lips.

"What are they?" she asked.

"I don't know," I replied. "Don't you?"

"No; I never saw such creatures before."

At the edge of the water, awaiting us, were half a dozen manlike
creatures, while others like them were coming from the forest, dropping
from the trees to shuffle awkwardly toward the ford. They were about
three feet tall and entirely covered with long hair. At first I thought
that they were monkeys, although they bore a startling resemblance to
human beings, but when they saw that we had discovered them one of them
spoke, and the simian theory was exploded.

"I am Ul," said the speaker. "Go away from the land of Ul. I am Ul; I
kill!"

"We will not harm you," I replied. "We only want to pass through your
country."

"Go away!" growled Ul, baring sharp fighting fangs.

By now, fifty of the fierce little men were gathered at the water's
edge, growling, menacing. They were without clothing or ornaments and
carried no weapons, but their sharp fangs and the bulging muscles of
their shoulders and arms bespoke their ability to carry out Ul's
threats.

"What are we going to do?" demanded Nalte. "They will tear us to pieces
the moment we step out of the water."

"Perhaps I can persuade them to let us pass," I said, but after five
minutes of fruitless effort I had to admit defeat. Ul's only reply to my
arguments was, "Go away! I kill! I kill!"

I hated to turn back, for I knew that we must cross the river eventually
and we might not find such another crossing, but at last, reluctantly, I
retraced my steps to the right bank hand in hand with Nalte.

All the remainder of the day I searched for traces of Duare as we
followed the course of the river downward, but my efforts were without
success. I was disheartened. I felt that I should never see her again.
Nalte tried to cheer me up, but inasmuch as she believed that Duare was
dead she was not very successful.

Late in the afternoon I succeeded in killing a small animal. As we had
eaten nothing all that day we were both famished, so we soon had a fire
going and were grilling cuts of the tender meat.

After we had eaten I built a rude platform among the branches of a large
tree and gathered a number of huge leaves to serve as mattress and
covering, and as darkness fell Nalte and I settled ourselves, not
uncomfortably, in our lofty sanctuary.

* * * * *

For a while we were silent, wrapped in our own thoughts. I do not know
about Nalte's, but mine were gloomy enough. I cursed the day that I had
conceived the idea to build the huge torpedo that had carried me from
Earth to Venus, and in the next thought I blessed it because it had made
it possible for me to know and to love Duare.

It was Nalte who broke the silence. As though she had read my thoughts,
she said, "You loved Duare very much?"

"Yes," I replied.

Nalte sighed. "It must be sad to lose one's mate."

"She was not my mate."

"Not your mate!" Nalte's tone expressed her surprise. "But you loved
one another?"

"Duare did not love me," I replied. "At least she said she didn't. You
see, she was the daughter of a jong and she couldn't love any one until
after she was twenty."

Nalte laughed. "Love does not come or go in accordance with any laws or
customs," she said.

"But even if Duare had loved me, which she didn't, she couldn't have
said so; she couldn't even talk of love because she was the daughter of
a jong and too young. I don't understand it, of course, but that is
because I am from another world and know nothing of your customs."

"I am nineteen," said Nalte, "and the daughter of a jong, but if I loved
a man I should say so."

"Perhaps the customs of your country and those of Duare's are not the
same," I suggested.

"They must be very different," agreed Nalte, "for in my country a man
does not speak to a girl of love until she has told him that she loves
him; and the daughter of the jong chooses her own mate whenever she
pleases."

"That custom may have its advantages," I admitted, "but if I loved a
girl I should want the right to tell her so."

"Oh, the men find ways of letting a girl know without putting it into
words. I could tell if a man loved me, but if I loved him very much I
wouldn't wait for that."

"And what if he didn't love you?" I asked.

Nalte tossed her head. "I'd make him."

I could readily understand that Nalte might be a very difficult young
person not to love. She was slender and dark, with an olive skin and a
mass of black hair in lovely disorder. Her eyes sparkled with health and
intelligence. Her features were regular and almost boyish, and over all
was the suggestion of a veil of dignity that bespoke her blood. I could
not doubt but that she was the daughter of a jong.

It seemed to be my fate to encounter daughters of jongs. I said as much
to Nalte.

"How many have you met?" she asked.

"Two," I replied, "you and Duare."

"That is not very many when you consider how many jongs there must be in
Amtor and how many daughters they must have. My father has seven."

"Are they all as lovely as you?" I asked.

"Do you think me lovely?" 

"You know you are."

"But I like to hear people say so. I like to hear you say it," she added
softly.

The roars of hunting beasts came up to us from the dim forest aisles,
the screams of stricken prey; then the silence of the night broken only
by the murmuring of the river rolling down to some unknown sea.

I was considering a tactful reply to Nalte's ingenuous observation when
I dozed and fell asleep.

* * * * *

I felt some one shaking me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes to look up
into Nalte's. "Are you going to sleep all day?" she demanded.

It was broad daylight. I sat up and looked around. "We have survived
another night," I said.

I gathered some fruit, and we cooked some more of the meat left from my
kill of the previous day. We had a splendid breakfast, and then we set
off again down stream in our quest for--what?

"If we do not find Duare to-day," I said, "I shall have to admit that
she is irrevocably lost to me."

"And then what?" asked Nalte.

"You would like to return to your own country?"

"Of course."

"Then we shall start up the big river toward your home."

"We shall never reach it," said Nalte, "but--"

"But what?" I demanded.

"I was thinking that we might be very happy while we were trying to
reach Andoo," she said.

"Andoo?" I queried.

"That is my country," she explained. "The mountains of Andoo are very
beautiful."

There was a note of wistfulness in her voice; her eyes were
contemplating a scene that mine could not see. Suddenly I realized how
brave the girl had been, how cheerful she had remained through the
hardships and menacing dangers of our flight, all despite the probably
hopelessness of her situation. I touched her hand gently.

"We shall do our best to return you to the beautiful mountains of Andoo,"
I assured her.

Nalte shook her head. "I shall never see them again, Carson. A great
company of warriors might not survive the dangers that lie between here
and Andoo--a thousand kobs of fierce and hostile country."

"A thousand kobs is a long way," I agreed. "It does seem hopeless, but
we'll not give up."

The Amtorians divide the circumference of a circle into a thousand parts
to arrive at their hita, or degree; and the kob is one tenth of a degree
of longitude at the equator (or what the Amtorians call The Small
Circle), roughly about two and a half earth miles; therefore a thousand
kobs would be about two thousand five hundred miles.

A little mental arithmetic convinced me that Nalte could not have
drifted down the big river two thousand five hundred miles without food,
and I asked her if she was sure that Andoo was that far away.

"No," she admitted, "but it seems that far. We wandered a long time
before we reached the river, and then I drifted for so long that I lost
track of time."

Nevertheless, if we found Duare, I was going to be faced by a problem.
One girl must go down the valley in search of her own country, the other
up the valley! And only one of them had even a hazy idea of where her
country lay!



Chapter 12 - The Last Second

DURING THE afternoon of the second day of our search for Duare, Nalte and
I came to the big river that Duare and I had seen from the summit of the
escarpment, the same river down which Nalte had drifted into the
clutches of Skor.

And it was a big river, comparable to the Mississippi. It ran between
low cliffs of gleaming white limestone, flowing silently out of the
mystery above, flowing silently toward the mystery below. Upon its broad
expanse, from where it swept majestically into sight around a low
promontory to where it disappeared again beyond a curve down stream,
there was no sign of life, nor on either bank--only the girl, Nalte, and
I. I felt the awe of its grandeur and my own insignificance.

I had no words to express my thoughts; and I was glad that Nalte stood
in silence that was almost reverential as we viewed the majesty and the
desolation of the scene.

Presently the girl sighed. It awoke me to the need of the moment. I
could not stand mooning there in the face of the immediate necessity
that confronted us.

"Well," I said, "this is not crossing the river." I referred to the
affluent that we had followed down from the castle of Skor.

"I am glad that we do not have to cross the big river," remarked Nalte.

"We may have enough trouble crossing this other," I suggested.

It flowed at our left, making a sudden turn before it emptied into the
larger stream. Below us was a great eddy that had strewn the nearer bank
with flotsam--leaves, twigs, branches of all sizes, and even the boles
of great trees. These things appeared to have been deposited during a
period of high water.

"How are we going to cross?" asked Nalte. "There is no ford, and it
seems too wide and swift to swim even if I were a good swimmer." She
looked up at me quickly then as a new thought seemed to strike her. "I
am a burden to you," she said. "If you were alone you would doubtless be
able to cross easily. Pay no attention to me; I shall remain on this
side and start up the river on my journey toward Andoo."

I looked down at her and smiled. "You really do not believe or hope that
I will do anything of the sort."

"It would be the sensible thing to do," she said.

"The sensible thing to do is to build a raft with some of that stuff
down there and float across the river." I pointed to the debris piled up
on the bank.

"Why, we could do that, couldn't we?" she cried.

She was all eagerness and excitement now, and a moment later she pitched
in and helped me drag out such pieces as I thought we could use in the
construction of a raft.

It was hard work, but at last we had enough material to float us in
safety. The next job was to fasten the elements of our prospective raft
together so securely that the river could not tear it to pieces before
we had gained the opposite bank.

We gathered lianas for that purpose, and though we worked as rapidly as
we could it was almost dark before we had completed our rude ferry.

As I contemplated the fruit of our labor, I saw Nalte surveying the
swirling waters of the eddy with a dubious eye.

"Are we going to cross now," she asked, "or wait until morning?"

"It is almost dark now," I replied. "I think we had better wait until
tomorrow."

She brightened visibly and drew a deep sigh of relief.

"Then we had better think about eating now," she said. I had found the
girls of Venus not unlike their earthly sisters in this respect.

The meal that night was a matter of fruit and tubers, but it was
sufficient. Once more I constructed a platform among the branches of a
tree and prayed that no prowling arboreal carnivore would discover us.

* * * * *

Each morning that I awoke on Venus it was with a sense of surprise that
I still lived, and this first morning on the big river was no exception.

As soon as we had eaten we went to our raft, and after some difficulty
succeeded in launching it. I had equipped it with several long branches
for poling and some shorter ones that we might use as oars after we got
into the deep channel, but they were most inadequate makeshifts. I was
depending almost exclusively on the eddy to carry us within striking
distance of the opposite shore, where I hoped that we would then be able
to pole the raft to the bank.

Our craft floated much better than I had anticipated. I had feared that
it would be almost awash and most uncomfortable; but the wood was
evidently light, with the result that the top of the raft was several
inches above the water.

No sooner had we shoved off than the eddy seized us and commenced to
bear us up stream and out toward the center. Our only concern now was to
keep from being drawn into the vortex, and by poling frantically we
managed to keep near the periphery of the whirlpool until the water
deepened to such a degree that our poles would no longer touch bottom;
then we seized the shorter branches and paddled desperately. It was
gruelling work, yet Nalte never faltered.

At last we swung in toward the left bank, and once more we seized our
poles, but, to my astonishment and chagrin, I discovered that the water
here was still too deep. The current, too, was much stronger on this
side than on the other; and our futile oars were almost useless.

Remorselessly the river held us in its grip and dragged us back toward
the vortex. We paddled furiously, and held our own; we were keeping away
from the center of the eddy, but we were being carried farther from the
left bank.

Presently we were in mid-channel. We seemed to be hanging on the very
edge of the eddy. Both of us were almost exhausted by this time, yet we
might not pause for an instant. With a last, supreme effort we tore the
raft from the clutches of the current that would have drawn us back into
the embrace of the swirling Titan; then the main current of the
mid-channel seized us--a fierce, relentless force. Our craft swirled and
bobbed about absolutely beyond control, and we were swept down toward
the great river.

I laid aside my inadequate paddle. "We have done our best, Nalte," I
said, "but it wasn't good enough. Now all that we can do is to hope that
this thing will hang together until we drift to one shore or the other
somewhere along the big river."

"It will have to be soon," said Nalte.

"Why?" I asked.

"When Skor found me he said that I was fortunate to have come to shore
where I did, as farther down the river tumbles over falls."

I looked at the low cliffs that lined the river on both sides. "There
isn't any chance of making a landing here," I said.

"Perhaps we shall have better luck lower down," suggested Nalte.

Down we drifted with the current, sometimes borne close to one shore,
sometimes close to the other as the channel meandered from bank to bank;
or again we rode far out on the center of the flood. Sometimes we saw
little breaks in the cliffs where we might have made a landing; but we
always saw them too late, and were carried past before we could maneuver
our clumsy craft within reach.

* * * * *

As we approached each bend we looked expectantly for some change in the
shore line that would offer us some hope of landing, but always we were
disappointed. And then, at last, as we swung around a headland, we saw
two cities. One lay upon the left bank of the river, the other on the
right directly opposite. The former appeared gray and drab even at a
distance, while that upon the right bank shone white and beautiful and
gay with its limestone walls and towers and its roofs of many colors.

Nalte nodded toward the city on the left bank. "That must be Kormor;
this is about the location that Skor told me his city occupied."

"And the other?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Skor never mentioned another city."

"Perhaps it is all one city built upon both banks of the river," I
suggested.

"No; I do not think so. Skor told me that the people who dwelt across
the river from Kormor were his enemies, but he never said anything about
a city. I thought it was just some savage tribe. Why, that is a splendid
city--far larger and handsomer than Kormor."

We could not, of course, see the entire expanse of either city, but as
we drifted closer it was apparent that the city on our right extended
along the river front for several miles. This we could see because at
this point the river ran almost as straight as a canal for a greater
distance than I could see. But the city on our left, which was Kormor,
was much smaller, extending but about a mile along the water front. As
far as we could see both cities were walled, a high wall extending along
the river side of each. Kormor had a short quay in front of a gate about
the center of this wall, while the quay of the other city appeared to be
a long avenue extending as far as I could see.

We had been drifting for some time opposite the right hand city before
we came close to Kormor. There were a few fishermen on the long quay of
the former city, and others, possibly sentries, on top of the wall
behind them. Many of these saw us and pointed at us and seemed to be
discussing us, but at no time did we drift close enough to that side of
the river so that we could obtain a close view of them.

As we came down toward the quay of Kormor, a small boat pushed out into
the river. It contained three men, two of whom were rowing while the
third stood in the bow. That they were pulling out to intercept us
appeared quite evident.

"They are Skor's men," said Nalte.

"What do you suppose they want of us?" I asked.

"To capture us, of course, for Skor; but they will never capture me!"
She stepped toward the edge of the raft.

"What do you mean?" I demanded. "What are you going to do?"

"I am going to jump into the river."

"But you can't swim," I objected. "You will be sure to drown."

"That is what I wish to do. I shall never let Skor take me again."

"Wait, Nalte," I begged. "Why haven't taken us yet. Perhaps they won't."

"Yes, they will," she said hopelessly.

"We must never give up hope, Nalte. Promise me that you will wait. Even
in the last second you can still carry out your plan."

"I will wait," she promised, "but in the last second you had better
follow my example and join me in death rather than fall into the hands
of Skor and become one of those hopeless creatures that you saw at his
castle, for then you will be denied even the final escape of death."

The boat was now approaching closer, and I hailed its occupants. "What
do you want of us?" I demanded.

"You must come ashore with us," said the man in the bow.

* * * * *

I was close enough now so that I could get a good look at the fellow. I
had thought at first that they were some more of Skor's living dead, but
now I saw that this fellow's cheeks had the hue of health and blood.

"We will not come with you," I called back to him. "Leave us alone; we
are not harming you. Let us go our way in peace."

"You will come ashore with us," said the man, as his boat drew closer.

"Keep away, or I'll kill you!" I cried, fitting an arrow to my bow.

The fellow laughed--a dry, mirthless laugh. Then it was that I saw his
eyes, and a cold chill swept over me. They were the dead eyes of a
corpse!

I loosed an arrow. It drove straight through the creature's chest, but
he only laughed again and left the arrow sticking there.

"Do you know," cried Nalte, "that you cannot kill the dead?" She stepped
to the far side of the raft. "Good-by, Carson," she said quietly; "the
last second is here!"

"No! No, Nalte!" I cried. "Wait! It is not the last second."

I turned again toward the approaching boat. Its bow was already within a
foot of the raft. I leaped upon him. He struck at me with his dead
hands; his dead fingers clutched for my throat. But my attack had been
too quick and unexpected. I had carried him off his balance, and in the
same instant I seized him and threw him overboard.

The two other creatures had been rowing with their backs toward the bow
and were unaware that any danger threatened them until I crashed upon
their leader. As he went overboard the nearer of the others rose and
turned upon me. His skin, too, was painted in the semblance of life, but
those dead eyes could not be changed.

With a horrid, inarticulate scream he leaped for me. I met his rush with
a right to the jaw that would have knocked a living man down for a long
count; and while, of course, I couldn't knock the thing out, I did knock
it overboard.

A quick glance at the two in the water convinced me that my guess had
not been amiss--like their fellows at the castle, the two could not swim
and were floating helplessly down stream with the current. But there was
still another, and it was stepping across the thwarts toward me.

I sprang forward to meet it, ripping in a blow toward the side of the
jaw that would have sent it after the other two had it connected; but it
did not. Our movements caused the boat to rock and threw me off my
balance, and before I could regain my equilibrium the creature seized
me.

It was very powerful, but it fought without fire or enthusiasm just the
cold, deadly application of force. It reached for my throat; to reach
for its throat was useless. I could not choke the life from something
that had no life. The best that I could do was to try to evade its
clutches and wait for an opening that might never come.

I am rather muscular myself; and I did manage to push the thing from me
for a moment, but it came right back. It didn't say anything; it didn't
make any sound at all. There was no expression in its glazed eyes, but
its dry lips were drawn back over yellow teeth in a snarling grimace.
The sight of it and the touch of those cold, clammy fingers almost
unnerved me--these and the strange odor that emanated from it, the
strange odor that is the odor of death.

As it came toward me the second time it came with lowered head and
outstretched arms. I leaped for it, and locked my right arm about its
head from above. The back of its neck was snug against my armpit as I
seized my own right wrist with my left hand and locked my hold tighter.
Then I swung quickly around, straightening up as I did so and,
incidentally, nearly capsizing the boat. The creature lost its footing
as I swung it about; its arms flailed wildly, as with a last mighty
surge I released my hold and sent it stumbling over the gunwale into the
river. Like the others, it floated away.

A few yards away, the raft was drifting with Nalte wide-eyed and tense
with excitement. Seizing an oar I brought the boat alongside and
extending a hand assisted Nalte over the side, I noticed that she was
trembling.

"Were you frightened, Nalte?" I asked.

"For you, yes. I didn't think that you had a chance against three of
them. Even now I can't believe what I saw. It is incredible that one man
could have done what you did."

"Luck had a lot to do with it," I replied, "and the fact that I took
them by surprise. They weren't expecting anything of the sort."

"How strangely things happen," mused Nalte. "A moment ago I was about to
drown myself in sheer desperation, and now everything is changed. The
danger is over, and instead of an inadequate raft we have a comfortable
boat."

"Which proves that one should never give up hope."

"I shan't again--while you are with me." I had been keeping an eye on
the Kormor quay rather expecting to see another boat put out in pursuit
of us, but none did.

The fishermen and the sentries on the waterfront of the other city had
all stopped what they were doing and were watching us.

"Shall we row over there and see if they will take us in?" I asked.

"I am afraid," replied Nalte. "We have a saying in Andoo that the
farther strangers are away the better friends they are."

"You think that they would harm us?" I asked.

Nalte shrugged. "I do not know, but the chances are that they would kill
you and keep me."

"Then we won't take the chance, but I would like to remain near here for
a while and search for Duare."

"You can't land on the left bank until we are out of sight of Kormor,"
said Nalte, "or they would be after us in no time."

"And if we land in sight of this other city these people would take
after us, if what you fear be true."

"Let's go down stream until we are out of sight of both cities,"
suggested the girl, "and then wait until night before coming back near
Kormor to search, for that is where you will have to search for Duare."

Following Nalte's suggestion we drifted slowly down stream. We soon
passed Kormor, but the white city on the right bank extended on for a
couple of miles farther. I should say that its full length along the
river front was fully five miles, and along all that length was the
broad quay backed by a gleaming white wall pierced by an occasional
gate--I counted six or seven along the full length of the water front.

Just below the city the river turned to the right, and almost
immediately the cliffs shut off our view of both cities. Simultaneously
the aspect of the country changed. The limestone cliffs ended abruptly,
the river running between low banks. Here it spread out to considerable
width, but farther ahead I could see where it narrowed again and entered
a gorge between cliffs much higher than any that we had passed. They
were wooded cliffs, and even from a distance I could see that they were
not of the white limestone that formed those with which we had now
become familiar.

There came to my ears faintly an insistent sound that was at first
little more than a murmur, but as we drifted down the river it seemed to
grow constantly in volume.

"Do you hear what I hear?" I demanded, "or am I the victim of head
noises?"

"That distant roaring?"

"Yes; it has become a roar now. What do you suppose it can be?"

"It must be the falls that Skor told me of," said Nalte.

"By Jove! That's just what it is," I exclaimed. "And the best thing that
we can do is to get to shore while we can."

The current had carried us closer to the right bank at this point, and
just ahead of us I saw a small stream emptying into the river. There was
an open forest on the farther side of the stream and scattered trees on
the nearer.

It appeared an ideal location for a camp.

We made the shore easily, for the current here was not swift. I ran the
boat into the mouth of the small stream, but there was not water enough
to float it. However, I managed to drag it up far enough to tie it to an
overhanging limb of a tree where it was out of sight of any possible
pursuers from Kormor who might come down the river in search of Nalte
and myself.

"Now," I said, "the thing that interests me most at present is securing
food."

"That is something that always interests me," admitted Nalte, with a
laugh. "Where are you going to hunt? That forest on the other side of
this little stream looks as though it should be filled with game."

She was facing the forest as she spoke, while my back was toward it.
Suddenly the expression on her face changed, and she seized my arm with
a little cry of alarm. "Look, Carson! What is that?"



Chapter 13 - To Live or Die

AS I TURNED at Nalte's warning cry, I thought that I saw something dodge
behind low bushes on the opposite bank.

"What was it, Nalte?" I demanded.

"Oh, it couldn't be what I thought I saw," she whispered excitedly. "I
must be mistaken."

"What did you think you saw?"

"There's another--there--look!" she cried.

And then I saw it. It stepped from behind the bole of a large tree and
stood eying us, its fangs bared in a snarl. It was a man that went on
four feet like a beast. Its hind legs were short, and it walked on its
hind toes, the heels corresponding to the hocks of animals. Its hands
were more human, and it walked flat on the palms of them in front. Its
nose was flat, its mouth broad, and its heavy, undershot jaws were armed
with powerful teeth. Its eyes were small and close set and extremely
savage. Its skin was white and almost hairless except upon its head and
jowls. Another one appeared suddenly beside it.

"You don't know what they are?" I asked Nalte. "We have heard of them in
Andoo, but no one ever believed that they existed. They are called
zangans. If the stories I have heard are true they are terribly
ferocious. They hunt in packs and devour men as well as beasts."

Zangan means beast-man, and no better word could have been coined to
describe the creature that faced us across that little stream in far
Noobol. And now others came slinking into view from the shelter of
bushes and from behind the boles of trees.

"I think we had better hunt elsewhere," I said in a weak effort to be
jocose.

"Let's take to the boat again," suggested Nalte.

We had already walked a little distance from the spot where I had moored
our craft, and as we turned to retrace our steps I saw several of the
zangans enter the water on the opposite side and approach the boat. They
were much closer to it than we, and long before I could untie it and
drag it into deeper water they could be upon us.

"It is too late!" cried Nalte.

"Let's fall back slowly to that little rise of ground behind us," I
said. "Perhaps I can hold them off there."

We retreated slowly, watching the zangans as they crossed the stream
toward us. When they came out on shore they shook themselves as dogs do,
and then they came slinking after us again. They reminded me of
tigers--human tigers--and their gait was much that of a stalking tiger
as they approached with flattened heads and snarling lips.

They growled and snapped at one another, revealing a viciousness greater
than that of beasts. Momentarily I expected a charge, and I knew that
when it came Nalte's troubles and mine would be over forever. We
wouldn't have even a fighting chance against that savage pack.

There were about twenty of them, mostly males; but there were a couple
of females and two or three half grown cubs. On the back of one of the
females rode a baby, its arms tightly hugging the neck of its mother.

Savage as they appeared, they followed us warily as though they were
half afraid of us; but their long, easy strides were constantly cutting
down the distance between us.

* * * * *

When we reached the little mound toward which we had been retreating
they were still fifty yards behind us. As we started to ascend the rise
a large male trotted forward, voicing a low roar. It was as though it
had just occurred to him that we might be trying to escape and that he
ought to try to prevent it.

I stopped and faced him, fitting an arrow to my bow. Drawing the shaft
back to the very tip I let him have it squarely in the chest. He stopped
in his tracks, roared horribly, and clawed at the feathered end
protruding from his body; then he came on again; but he was staggering,
and presently he sank to the ground, struggled for a moment, and lay
still.

The others had stopped and were watching him. Suddenly a young male ran
up to him and bit him savagely about the head and neck; then raised his
head and voiced a hideous roar. I guessed that it was a challenge as I
saw him look about him at the other members of the pack. Here, perhaps,
was a new leader usurping the powers of the one who had fallen.

Apparently no one was prepared to question his authority, and now he
turned his attention again to us. He did not advance directly toward us,
but slunk off to one side. As he did so he turned and growled at his
fellows. That he was communicating orders to them at once became
evident, for immediately they spread out as though to surround us.

I loosed another arrow then, this time at the new leader. I struck him
in the side and elicited such a roar of pain and rage as I hope I may
never hear again--at least not under such circumstances.

Reaching back with one hand the beastman seized the shaft and tore it
from his body, inflicting a far more serious hurt than the arrow had
made in entering; and now his roars and screams fairly shook the ground.

The others paused to watch him, and I saw one large male slink slowly
toward the wounded leader. The latter saw him, too; and with bared fangs
and ferocious growls charged him. The ambitious one, evidently realizing
that his hopes had been premature, wheeled and fled; and the new chief
let him go and turned again toward us.

By this time we were three-quarters surrounded. There were nearly twenty
ferocious beasts confronting us, and I had less than a dozen arrows.

Nalte touched me on the arm. "Good-by, Carson," she said. "Now, surely,
the last is upon us."

I shook my head. "I am saving the last second in which to die," I
replied. "Until then I shall not admit that there is ever to be a last
second for me, and then it will be too late to matter."

"I admire your courage if not your reasoning," said Nalte, the ghost of
a smile on her lips. "But at least it will be a quick death--did you see
how that fellow tore at the throat of the first one you shot? It is
better than what Skor would have done to us."

"At least we shall be dead," I observed.

"Here they come!" cried Nalte.

They were closing in on us now from three sides. Arrow after arrow I
drove into them, nor once did I miss my mark; but they only stopped
those that I hit--the others slunk steadily forward.

They were almost upon us as I loosed my last arrow. Nalte was standing
close beside me. I put an arm about her.

"Hold me close," she said. "I am not afraid to die, but I do not want to
be alone--even for an instant."

"You are not dead yet, Nalte." I couldn't think of anything else to say.
It must have sounded foolish at such a time, but Nalte ignored it.

"You have been very good to me, Carson," she said.

"And you have been a regular brick, Nalte, if you know what that
means--which you don't."

"Good-by, Carson! It is the last second."

"I guess it is, Nalte." I stooped and kissed her. "Good-by!"

* * * * *

From above us and behind us on the mound came a sudden crackling hum
that was like the noise that an X-ray machine makes, but I knew that it
was not an X-ray machine. I knew what it was even without the evidence
of the crumpling bodies of the zangans dropping to the ground before
us--it was the hum of the r-ray rifle of Amtor!

I wheeled and looked up toward the summit of the mound. There stood a
dozen men pouring streams of the destructive rays upon the pack. It
lasted for but a few seconds, but not one of the ferocious beasts
escaped death. Then one of our rescuers (or were they our captors) came
toward us.

He, like his companions, was a man of almost perfect physique, with a
handsome, intelligent face. My first impression was that if these were
fair examples of the citizens of that white city from which I assumed
they had come, we must have stumbled upon an Olympus inhabited solely by
gods.

In every company of men we are accustomed to seeing some whose
proportions or features are ungainly or uncouth; but here, though no two
men exactly resembled one another, all were singularly handsome and
symmetrically proportioned.

He who approached us wore the customary gee-string and military harness
of the men of Amtor. His trappings were handsome without being ornate,
and I guess from the insigne on the fillet that encircled his brow that
he was an officer.

"You had a close call," he said pleasantly.

"Rather too close for comfort," I replied. "We have you to thank for our
lives."

"I am glad that I arrived in time. I happened to be on the river wall as
you drifted past, and saw your encounter with the men from Kormor. My
interest was aroused; and, knowing that you were headed for trouble down
river on account of the falls, I hurried down to try to warn you."

"A rather unusual interest in strangers for a man of Amtor," I
commented, "but I can assure you that I appreciate it even if I do not
understand it."

He laughed shortly. "It was the way you handled those three creatures of
Skor," he explained. "I saw possibilities in such a man; and we are
always looking for better qualities to infuse into the blood of Havatoo.
But come, let me introduce myself. I am Ero Shan."

"And this is Nalte of Andoo," I replied, "and I am Carson Napier of
California."

"I have heard of Andoo," he acknowledged. "They raise an exceptionally
fine breed of people there, but I never heard of your country. In fact I
have never seen a man before with blue eyes and yellow hair. Are all the
people of Cal--"

"California," I prompted.

"--of California like you?"

"Oh, no! There are all colors among us, of hair and eyes and skin."

"But how can you breed true to type then?" he demanded.

"We don't," I had to admit. 

"Rather shocking," he said, half to himself. "Immoral--racially immoral. Well, be that as it may, your system seems to have produced a rather fine type at that; and now, if you will come with me, we shall return to Havatoo.

"May I ask," I inquired, "if we return as guests or as prisoners?"

He smiled, just the shadow of a smile. "Will that make any
difference--as to whether you return with me or not?"

I glanced up at the armed men behind him and grinned. "None," I replied.

"Let us be friends," he said. "You will find justice it Havatoo. If you
deserve to remain as a guest, you will be treated as a guest--if not--"
he shrugged.

* * * * *

As we reached the top of the little hillock we saw, just behind it, a
long, low car with transverse seats and no top. It was the first motor
car that I had seen on Venus. The severity of its streamlines and its
lack of ornamentation suggested that it was a military car.

As we entered the rear seat with Ero Shan his men took their places in
the forward seats. Ero Shan spoke a word of command and the car moved
forward. The driver was too far from me, and hidden by the men between
us, to permit me to see how he controlled the car, which moved forward
over the uneven ground smoothly and swiftly.

Presently as we topped a rise of ground we saw the city of Havatoo lying
white and beautiful before us. From our elevation I could see that it
was built in the shape of a half circle with the flat side lying along
the water front, and it was entirely walled.

The river curves to the right below the city, and the direct route that
we followed returning to it brought us to a gate several miles from the
river. The gate itself was of magnificent proportions and an
architectural gem, bespeaking a high order of civilization and culture.
The city wall, of white limestone, was beautifully carved with scenes
that I took to portray the history of the city or of the race that
inhabited it, the work having apparently been conceived and executed
with the rarest taste; and these carvings extended as far as I could
see.

When one considers the fact that the wall on the land side is about
eight miles long and on the river side about five miles, and that all of
it is elaborately carved, one may understand the vast labor and the time
required to complete such an undertaking along both faces of a twenty-foot
wall.

As we were halted at the gate by the soldiers on guard I saw emblazoned
above the portal, in the characters of the universal Amtorian language,
"TAG KUNI VOO KLAMBAD," Gate of the Psychologists.

Beyond the gate we entered a broad, straight avenue that ran directly
toward the center of the water front. It was filled with traffic--cars
of various sizes and shapes, running swiftly and quietly in both
directions. There was nothing but vehicular traffic on this level,
pedestrians being accommodated on walkways at the level of the second
stories of the buildings, which were connected by viaducts at all
intersections.

There was practically no noise--no tooting of horns, no screeching of
brakes--traffic seemed to regulate itself. I asked Ero Shan about it.

"It is very simple," he said. "All vehicles are energized from a central
power station from which power emanates in three frequencies; on the
control board of each vehicle is a dial that permits the operator to
pick up any frequency he desires. One is for avenues running from the
outer wall to the center of the city, another is for transverse avenues,
and the third for all traffic outside the city. The first two are cut
off and on alternately; when one is on all traffic moving in the
opposite direction is stopped at intersections automatically."

"But why doesn't the traffic between intersections stop at the same
time?" I asked.

"That is regulated by the third frequency, which is always operative,"
he explained. "A hundred feet before a vehicle reaches an intersection a
photo-electric current moves the dial on the control board to the proper
frequency for that lane."

Nalte was thrilled by all that she saw. She was a mountain girl from a
small kingdom, and this was the first large city that she had ever seen.

"It is marvelous," she said. "And how beautiful the people are!"

I had noticed that fact myself. Both the men and the women in the cars
that passed us were of extraordinary perfection of form and feature.

Ambad Lat. Psychologist Avenue led us directly to a semicircular civic
center at the water front, from which the principal avenues radiated
toward the outer wall like the spokes of a wheel from the hub toward the
felloe. Here were magnificent buildings set in a gorgeous park, and here
Ero Shan escorted us from the car toward a splendid palace. There were
many people in the park, going to or coming from the various buildings.
There was no hurry, no bustle, no confusion; nor was there idling or
loitering. All suggested well-considered, unhurried efficiency. The
voices of those who conversed were pleasant, well modulated. Like the
people I had seen elsewhere in the city, these were all handsome and
well formed.

We followed Ero Shan through an entrance into a wide corridor. Many of
those we passed spoke pleasant greetings to our companion, and all of
them looked at us with seemingly friendly interest, but without
rudeness.

"Beautiful people in a beautiful city," murmured Nalte.

Ero Shan turned toward her with a quick smile. "I am glad that you like
us and Havatoo," he said. "I hope that nothing will ever alter this
first impression."

"You think that something may?" asked Nalte.

Ero Shan shrugged. "That all depends upon you," he replied, "or rather
upon your ancestors."

"I do not understand," said Nalte.

"You will presently."

He stopped before a door and, swinging it open, bade us enter. We were
in a small anteroom in which several clerks were employed.

"Please inform Korgan Kantum Mohar that I wish to see him," said Ero
Shan to one of the clerks.

The man pressed one of several buttons on his desk and said, "Korgan
Sentar Ero Shan wishes to see you." Apparently from the desktop a deep
voice replied, "Send him in."

"Come with me," directed Ero Shan, and we crossed the anteroom to
another door, which a clerk opened. In the room beyond a man faced us
from a desk behind which he was seated. He looked up at us with the same
friendly interest that had been manifested by the people we had passed
in the park and the corridor.

As we were introduced to Korgan Kantum Mohar, he arose and acknowledged
the introduction with a bow then he invited us to be seated.

"You are strangers in Havatoo," he remarked. "It is not often that
strangers enter our gates." He turned to Ero Shan. "Tell me, how did it
happen?"

Ero Shan told of witnessing my encounter with the three men from Kormor.
"I hated to see a man like this go over the falls," he continued, "and I
felt that it was worth while bringing them into Havatoo for an
examination. Therefore I have brought them directly to you, hoping that
you will agree with me."

"It can do no harm," admitted Mohar. "The examining board is in session
now. Take them over. I will advise the board that I have authorized the
examination."

"What is the examination, and what is its purpose?" I asked. "Perhaps we
do not care to take it."

Korgan Kantum Mohar smiled. "That is not for you to say," he said.

"You mean that we are prisoners?"

"Let us say rather guests by command."

"Do you mind telling me the purpose of this examination?" I asked.

"Not at all. It is to determine whether or not you shall be permitted to
live."



Chapter 14 - Havatoo

THEY WERE ALL very polite and pleasant, very professional and efficient.
First we were bathed; then blood tests were made, our hearts examined,
our blood pressure taken, our reflexes checked. After that we were
ushered into a large room where five men sat behind a long table.

Ero Shan accompanied us throughout the examination. Like the others, he
was always pleasant and friendly. He encouraged us to hope that we would
pass the examination successfully. Even yet I did not understand what it
was all about. I asked Ero Shan.

"Your companion remarked upon the beauty of Havatoo and its people," he
replied. "This examination is the explanation of that beauty--and of
many other things here which you do not yet know of."

The five men seated behind the long table were quite as pleasant as any
of the others we had met. They questioned us rapidly for fully an hour
and then dismissed us. From the questions propounded I judged that one
of them was a biologist, another a psychologist, one a chemist, the
fourth a physicist, and the fifth a soldier.

"Korgan Sentar Ero Shan," said he who appeared to be the head of the
examining board, "you will take custody of the man until the result of
the examination is announced. Hara Es will take charge of the girl." He
indicated a woman who had entered the room with us and had been standing
beside Nalte.

The latter pressed closer to me. "Oh, Carson! They are going to separate
us," she whispered.

I turned toward Ero Shan to expostulate, but he motioned me to be
silent. "You will have to obey," he said, "but I think you have no
reason to worry."

Then Nalte was led away by Hara Es, and Ero Shan took me with him. A car
was waiting for Ero Shan, and in it we were driven into a district of
beautiful homes. Presently the car drew up in front of one of these and
stopped.

"This is my home," said my companion. "You will be my guest here until
the result of the examination is announced. I wish you to enjoy yourself
while you are with me. Do not worry; it will do no good. Nalte is safe.
She will be well cared for."

"At least they have provided me with a beautiful prison and a pleasant
jailer," I remarked.

"Please do not think of yourself as a prisoner," begged Ero Shan. "It
will make us both unhappy, and unhappiness is not to be tolerated in
Havatoo."

"I am far from unhappy," I assured him. "On the contrary, I am greatly
enjoying the experience, but I still cannot understand what crime is
charged against Nalte and me that we should have been put on trial for
our lives."

"It was not you who were on trial; it was your heredity," he explained.

"An answer," I assured him, "that leaves me as much at sea as I was
before."

* * * * *

We had entered the house as we were conversing, and I found myself amid
as lovely surroundings as I have ever seen. Good taste and good judgment
had evidently dictated, not only the design of the house, but its
appointments as well. From the entrance there was a vista of shrubbery
and flowers and trees in a beautiful garden at the end of a wide hall.

It was to this garden that Ero Shan led me and then to an apartment that
opened upon it.

"You will find everything here for your convenience and comfort," he
said. "I shall detail a man to wait upon you; he will be courteous and
efficient. But he will also be responsible for your presence when it is
again required at the Central Laboratories.

"And now," he said, seating himself in a chair near a window, "let me
try to answer your last question more explicitly.

"Havatoo and the race that inhabits it are the result of generations of
scientific culture. Originally we were a people ruled by hereditary
jongs that various factions sought to dominate for their own enrichment
and without consideration for the welfare of the remainder of the
people.

"If we had a good jong who was also a strong character we were well
ruled; otherwise the politicians misruled us. Half of our people lived
in direst poverty, in vice, in filth; and they bred like flies. The
better classes, refusing to bring children into such a world, dwindled
rapidly. Ignorance and mediocrity ruled.

"Then a great jong came to the throne. He abrogated all existing laws
and government and vested both in himself. Two titles have been
conferred upon him--one while he lived, the other after his death. The
first was Mankar the Bloody; the second, Mankar the Savior.

"He was a great warrior, and he had the warrior class behind him. With
what seemed utter ruthlessness he wiped out the politicians, and to the
positions many of them had filled he appointed the greatest minds of
Havatoo--physicists, biologists, chemists, and psychologists.

"He encouraged the raising of children by people whom these scientists
passed as fit to raise children, and he forbade all others to bear
children. He saw to it that the physically, morally, or mentally
defective were rendered incapable of bringing their like into the world;
and no defective infant was allowed to live.

"Then, before his death, he created a new form of government--a
government without laws and without a king. He abdicated his throne and
relinquished the destinies of Havatoo to a quintumvirate that but guides
and judges.

"Of these five men one is a sentar (biologist), one an ambad
(psychologist), one a kalto (chemist), one a kantum (physicist), and one
a korgan (soldier). This quintumvirate is called Sanjong (literally,
five-king), and the fitness of its members to serve is determined by
examinations similar to that which was given you. These examinations are
held every two years. Any citizen may take them; any citizen may become
one of the Sanjong. It is the highest honor to which a citizen of Havatoo
may win, and he may only achieve it through actual merit."

"And these men make the laws and administer justice," I remarked.

* * * * *

Ero Shan shook his head. "There are no laws in Havatoo," he replied.
"During the many generations since Mankar we have bred a race of
rational people who know the difference between right and wrong, and for
such no rules of behaviour are necessary. The Sangjong merely guides."

"Do you have any difficulty in finding the proper men to form the
Sanjong?" I asked.

"None whatever. There are thousands of men in Havatoo capable of serving
with honor and distinction. There is a tendency to breed Sanjongs among
five of the six classes into which the people of Havatoo are naturally
divided.

"When you become more familiar with the city you will discover that the
semicircular area facing the Central Laboratories is divided into five
sections. The section next to the river and above the Central
Laboratories is called Kantum. Here reside the physicists. There are no
caste distinctions between the physicists and any of the other five
classes, but because they all live in the same district and because
their association with one another than with members of other classes. The
result is that they more often mate with their own kind--the laws of
heredity do the rest, and the breed of physicists in Havatoo is
constantly improving.

"The next district is Kalto; here live the chemists. The center district
is Korgan, the district in which I dwell. It is reserved for the warrior
class. Next comes Ambad, the section where the psychologists live; and,
last, Sentar, for the biologists, lies along the water front and down
the river from the Central Laboratories.

"Havatoo is laid out like the half of a wagon wheel, with the Central
Laboratories at the hub. The main sections of the city are bounded by
four concentric semicircles. Inside the first is the civic center, where
the Central Laboratories are situated; this I have called the hub.
Between this and the next semicircle lie the five sub districts. I have
just described. Between this and the third semicircle lies the largest
district, called Yorgan; here dwell the common people. And in the fourth
section, a narrow strip just inside the outer wall, are the shops,
markets, and factories."

"It is all most interesting," I said, "and to me the most interesting
part of it is that the city is governed without laws."

"Without man-made laws," Ero Shan corrected me. "We are governed by
natural laws with which all intelligent people are conversant. Of course
occasionally a citizen commits an act that is harmful to another or to
the peace of the city, for the genes of vicious and nonconformist
characteristics have not all been eradicated from the germ cells of all
of the citizens of Havatoo.

"If one commits an act that is subversive of the rights of others or of
the general welfare of the community,he is tried by a court that is not
hampered by technicalities nor precedent, and which, taking into
consideration all of the facts in the case, including the heredity of
the defendant, reaches a decision that is final and without appeal."

"It seems rather drastic to punish a man for the acts of his ancestors,"
I remarked.

"But let me remind you that we do not punish," explained Ero Shan. "We
only seek to improve the race to the end that we shall attain the
greatest measure of happiness and contentment."

"Havatoo, with no bad people in it, must be an ideal city in which to
live," I said.

"Oh, there are some bad people," replied Ero Shan, "for there are bad
genes in all of us; but we are a very intelligent race, and the more
intelligent people are the better able are they to control their bad
impulses. Occasionally strangers enter Havatoo, bad men from the city
across the river. How they accomplish it is a mystery that has never
been solved, but we know that they come and steal a man or a woman
occasionally. Sometimes we catch them, and when we do we destroy them.
Rarely, our own people commit crimes, usually crimes of passion; but
occasionally one commits a premeditated crime. The latter are a menace to
the race and are not permitted to survive and transmit their
characteristics to future generations or influence the present by their
bad examples."

* * * * *

As he ceased speaking a very powerfully built man came to the door of
the room. "You sent for me, Korgan Sentar Ero Shan?" he asked.

"Come in, Herlak," said Ero Shan. Then he turned to me. "Herlak will
serve and guard you until the result of the examination is announced.
You will find him an efficient and pleasant companion.

"Herlak," he continued, addressing my guard, "this man is a stranger in
Havatoo. He has just been before the examining board. You will be
responsible for him until the board's decision has been announced. His
name is Carson Napier."

The man inclined his head. "I understand," he said.

"You will both dine with me in an hour," Ero Shan announced as he took
his departure.

"If you would like to rest before dinner," said Herlak, "there is a
couch in the next room."

I went in and lay down, and Herlak came and sat in a chair in the same
room. It was evident that he was not going to let me get out of his
sight. I was tired, but not sleepy; so I started a conversation with
Herlak.

"Are you employed in Ero Shan's house?" I asked.

"I am a soldier in the unit he commands," he explained.

"An officer?"

"No, a common soldier."

"But he asked you to dine with him. In my world officers do not mingle
socially with common soldiers."

Herlak laughed. "Similar social conditions prevailed in Havatoo ages
ago," he said, "but not now. There are no social distinctions. We are
all far too intelligent, too cultured, and too sure of ourselves to need
artificial conventions to determine our importance. Whether a man cleans
a street or is a member of the Sanjong is not so important as is how he
performs the duties of his position, his civic morality, and his
culture.

"In a city where all are intelligent and cultured all men must be more
or less companionable, and an officer suffers no loss of authority by
mingling with his men socially."

"But don't the soldiers take advantage of this familiarity to impose
upon their officers?" I asked.

Herlak looked his surprise. "Why should they?" he demanded. "They know
their duties as well as the officer knows his; and it is the aim in life
of every good citizen to do his duty, not to evade it."

I shook my head as I thought of the mess that Earthmen have made of
government and civilization by neglecting to apply to the human race the
simple rules which they observe to improve the breeds of dogs and cows
and swine.

"Do the various classes mingle to the extent of intermarrying?" I asked.

"Of course," replied Herlak. "It is thus that we maintain the high moral
and mental standards of the people. Were it otherwise, the yorgans must
deteriorate while the several other classes diverged so greatly from one
another that eventually they would have nothing in common and no basis
for mutual understanding and regard."

* * * * *

We talked of many things during that hour while we awaited dinner, and
this common soldier of Havatoo discussed the sciences and the arts with
far greater understanding and appreciation than I myself possessed. I
asked him if he was particularly well educated, and he said that he was
not--that all the men and women of Havatoo were schooled alike to a
certain point, when a series of elaborate examinations determined the
calling for which they were best fitted and in which they would find the
greatest happiness.

"But where do you find your street cleaners?" I asked.

"You speak as though some reproach might attach to that calling," he
remonstrated.

"But it is work that many might find distasteful," I argued.

"Necessary and useful work is never distasteful to the man best fitted
to do it. Of course, highly intelligent people prefer creative work, and
so these necessary but more or less mechanical duties, which, by the way,
are usually done by means of mechanical contrivances in Havatoo, never
become the permanent calling of any man. Any one can do them; so every
one takes his turn--that is, every one in the yorgan class. It is his
contribution to the public welfare--a tax paid in useful labor."

And now a girl came to summon us to dinner. She was a very lovely girl;
her saronglike garment was of fine material, her ornaments of great
beauty.

"A member of Ero Shan's family?" I asked Herlak after she had left.

"She is employed in his house," replied Herlak. "Korgan Sentar Ero Shan
has no family."

I had heard this Korgan Sentar title attached to Ero Shan's name
previously, and had wondered relative to its significance. The two words
mean warrior biologist, but they made no sense to me as a title. I
questioned Herlak concerning them as we crossed the garden in response
to the summons to dinner.

"The title means that he is both a warrior and a biologist; he has
passed examinations admitting him to both classes. The fact that he is a
member of one of the other four classes as well as a Korgan makes him an
officer and eligible to the title. We common soldiers would not care to
serve under any but a brilliant man; and believe me it takes a brilliant
man to pass the entrance examination to any of the scientific classes,
for he has to pass creditably even in the three to which he is not
seeking elevation."

Herlak led me to a large apartment where I saw Ero Shan, three other
men, and six women laughing and talking together. There was a suggestion
of a lull in the conversation as we entered the room, and interested
glances were cast in my direction. Ero Shan came forward to meet me and
then introduced me to the others.

I should have enjoyed that dinner, with its marvelous food and sparkling
conversation, and the kindness showed me by the other guests, but I
could not rid my mind of a suspicion that their kindness might be
prompted by pity--that they might share my doubt as to my ability to
pass the hereditary test.

They knew, as well as I did, that the shadow of death was hovering over
me. I thought of Duare, and hoped she was safe.



Chapter 15 - The Judgment

HERLAK SLEPT on a couch near me that night. I called him the death
watch, and he was polite enough to enjoy my little joke.

Ero Shan, Herlak and I breakfasted together the next morning. The girl
who had summoned us to dinner the night before waited on us. She was so
radiantly beautiful that it was almost embarrassing; I felt that I
should be waiting on her. She was young, but then every one I had seen
in Havatoo appeared young.

Of course I was not greatly surprised by this, for I knew of the
longevity serum developed by the scientists of Amtor. I myself had been
inoculated against old age, but I remarked on it casually to Ero Shan.

"Yes," he said, "we could live forever if the Sanjong so decreed. At
least we would never die of old age or disease, but they have decreed
otherwise. Our serum gives immunity for two or three hundred years,
depending upon the natural constitution of the individual. When it
ceases to be effective death comes quickly. As a rule we anticipate it
when we see that the end is coming."

"But why not live forever if you can?" I asked.

"It was quite apparent that if we lived forever the number of children
that could be permitted would be too small to result in any considerable
improvement of the race, and so we have refused immortality in the
interest of future generations and of all Amtor."

As we were finishing breakfast,word was brought to Ero Shan directing
him to bring me before the examining board immediately; and a short time
later, with Herlak accompanying us, we entered Ero Shan's car and drove
down the Korgan Lat. or Avenue of Warriors, toward the Central
Laboratories that stand in the civic center of Havatoo.

Both Ero Shan and Herlak were unusually quiet and grave during the
drive, and I sensed that they anticipated that the worst was about to
befall me. Nor can I say that I was particularly blithe though the least
of my worries was occasioned by what lay in store for me; it was Duare I
was thinking of, Duare and Nalte.

The stately government buildings, the Sera Tartum or Central
Laboratories as they call them, looked very beautiful in the gorgeous
setting of Mankar Pol, the park that is named for the great last jong of
Havatoo, as we drove in and stopped before the building in which I had
been examined the day before.

We did not have to wait after we entered the building, but were
immediately ushered into the presence of the examining board. Their
grave faces portended bad news, and I prepared myself for the worst.
Through my mind raced plans for escape, but something told me that these
people did things so well and were so efficient that there would be no
escape from whatever fate they decreed for me.

Kantum Shogan, chief of the board, invited me to be seated; and I took a
chair facing the august five. Ero Shan sat at my right, Herlak at my
left.

"Carson Napier," commenced Kantum Shogan, "our examination of you shows
that you are not without merit. Physically you approach that perfection
toward which our race is constantly striving; intellectually you are
alert but ill trained--you have no culture. While that might be
remedied, I regret to advise you that you possess inherent psychological
faults that, if transmitted to progeny or allowed to contaminate others
through association with you, would work inestimable wrong on future
generations.

"You are the unfortunate victim of inherited repressions, complexes, and
fears. To a great extent you have risen above these destructive
characteristics but the chromosomes of your germ cells are replete with
these vicious genes, constituting a potential menace to generations yet
unborn.

"With deep regret, therefore, we could but conclude that it would best
serve the interests of humanity were you destroyed."

"May I ask," I inquired, "by what right you elect to say whether or not
I shall live? I am not a citizen of Havatoo. I did not come to Havatoo
of my own free will. If--"

Kantum Shogan raised his hand in a gesture that enjoined silence. "I
repeat," he said, "that we regret the necessity, but there is nothing
more to be said upon the subject. Your accomplishments are not such as
to outweigh your inherited defects. This is unfortunate, but of course
Havatoo cannot be expected to suffer because of it."

So I was to die! After all that I had passed through it verged upon the
ridiculous that I should die thus tamely simply because one of my
ancestors failed to exercise a little intelligence in the selection of
his bride. And to come all this long way just to die! It made me smile.

"Why do you smile?" inquired a member of the board. "Does death seem an
amusing thing to you? Or do you smile because you expect to escape death
through some ruse?"

"I smile," I replied, "when perhaps I should weep--weep at the thought
of all the toil and knowledge and energy that were wasted to transport
me twenty-six million miles just to die because five men of another
world believe that I have inherited some bad genes."

"Twenty-six million miles!" exclaimed a member of the board; and a second:

"Another world! What do you mean?"

"I mean that I came here from another world twenty-six million miles
from Amtor," I replied. "A world much further advanced in some respects
than yours."

The members of the board stared at each other. I heard one of them
remark to another: "This bears out the theory that many of us have long
held."

"Most interesting, and not improbable," said another."

"You say that Amtor is not the only world?" demanded Kantum Shogan;
"that there is another?"

"The heavens are filled with countless worlds," I replied. "Your world
and mine and at least eight other worlds revolve around a great ball of
flaming gases that we call a sun, and this sun with its worlds or
planets is called a solar system. The illimitable void of the heavens is
starred with countless other suns, many of which are the centers of
other solar systems; and no man knows how many worlds there are."

"Wait!" said Kantum Shogan. "You have said enough to suggest that our
examination of you may have been faulty in that it presumed that we
possessed the sum total of available human knowledge. Now it appears
that you may possess knowledge of such vast importance as to outweigh
the biological inadequacies inherent in you.

"We shall question you further upon the subject of this theory which you
have propounded, and in the meantime the execution of our sentence is
postponed. Our final decision as to your future will depend upon the
outcome of this further questioning. Science may ignore no possible
source of knowledge, and if your theory is sound and opens a new field
to science, you shall be free to enjoy Havatoo for life; nor shall you
go unhonored."

Although I had graduated with honors from a college of high scholastic
standing I realized as I stood in the presence of these super-men of
science that what Kantum Shogan had said to me was true. By comparison
with them I was poorly trained and uncultured--my degrees meaningless,
my diploma a mere scrap of paper. Yet in one field of science I
surpassed them, and as I explained the solar system and drew diagrams
of it for them I saw the keen interest and the ready understanding with
which they grasped all I said.

Now, for the first time, they were listening to an explanation of the
phenomena of the transition from day to night and from night to day, of
the seasons, of the tides. Their vision restricted by the cloud
envelopes that constantly enshroud Venus, they had been able to see
nothing upon which to base a planetary theory; and so it is not strange
that astronomy was an unknown science to them, that the sun and the
stars did not exist insofar as they were concerned.

* * * * *

For four hours they listened to me and questioned me; then they
instructed Ero Shan and Herlak to withdraw to an anteroom with me and
wait there until we were again summoned.

We did not have long to wait. In less than fifteen minutes we were
recalled before the board.

"It is our unanimous opinion," announced Kantum Shogan, "that your value
of humanity far outweighs the danger that it incurs from your inherited
defects. You are to live and enjoy the freedom of Havatoo. Your duties
will consist of instructing others in that new science which you call
astronomy and in applying it for the welfare of humanity.

"As you are now the only member of your class you may live in any
section of the city you choose. Your requisitions for all that you
require for your personal needs and the advancement of your department
will be honored by the Sera Tartum.

"For the time being I recommend you to the guidance of Korgan Sentar Ero
Shan as you are a stranger to Havatoo and will wish to become familiar
with our customs and our manners."

With that he dismissed us.

"Before I go may I ask what is to become of the girl, Nalte, who was
taken with me yesterday?" I inquired.

"She was considered fit to remain in the yorgan section of Havatoo," he
replied. "When her duties have been definitely determined and her living
quarters assigned her I will let you know where you may find her."

It was with a feeling of relief that I left the Sera Tartum with Ero
Shan and Herlak. Nalte was safe, and so was I. Now if I could only find
Duare!

I spent the following several days familiarizing myself with the city
and purchasing such things as I required, an of which were suggested by
Ero Shan. Among them was a car. It was very easy--all I had to do was
sign a voucher.

"But what check have they on my expenditures?" I asked my friend. "I do
not even know how much has been placed to my credit."

"Why should they check what you spend?" he asked.

"But I might be dishonest. I might buy things for which I had no need
and resell them."

Ero Shan laughed. "They know you will not do that," he assured me. "If
the psychologist who examined you had not known that you are an
honorable man, not even your knowledge of astronomy would have saved
you; that is one vice we will not tolerate in Havatoo. When Mankar
destroyed the corrupt and the vicious he almost completely eradicated
the breeds in Havatoo, and during the many generations of men that have
followed him we have succeeded in completing the work he inaugurated.
There are no dishonest men in Havatoo."

I often talked with Ero Shan about Duare. I wanted to cross the river to
Kormor and search for her, but he convinced me that it would be suicidal
to attempt it. And in view of the fact that I had no reason to believe
that she was there I reluctantly put the idea away from me.

"If I had an airplane," I said, "I would find a way to search Kormor."

"What is an airplane?" asked Ero Shan, and when I explained it he became
very much interested, as flying has never been developed in Amtor, at
least in those portions with which I am familiar.

The idea intrigued my companion to such an extent that he could scarcely
talk to anything else. I explained the various types of both heavier and
lighter than air ships and described the rocket in which I had traversed
space from Earth to Venus. In the evening he had me sketch the several
types I had explained. His interest seemed to be becoming an obsession.

One evening when I returned to the house I now shared with Ero Shan I
found a message awaiting me. It was from an under-clerk of the board of
examiners and it gave the address of the house in which Nalte lived.

As I was now familiar with the city I started out in my car after the
evening meal to visit Nalte. I went alone as Ero Shan had another
engagement.

I found the house in which Nalte lived in the yorgan section of a quiet
street not far from the Korgan Lat. the Avenue of Warriors. The house
was occupied by women who cleaned the preparatory schools on the Korgan
Lat. nearby. One of their number admitted me and said that she would call
Nalte; then she conducted me to a living room in which were eight or ten
women. One of them was playing a musical instrument, the others were
painting, embroidering, or reading.

As I entered, they stopped what they were doing and greeted me
pleasantly. There was not one among them that was not beautiful, and all
were intelligent and cultured. These were the scrub women of Havatoo!
Breeding had done for the people of Havatoo what it has done for our
prize-winning dairy herds; it has advanced them all toward perfection.

Nalte was glad to see me, and as I wished to visit with her alone I
asked her to come for a ride with me.

"I am glad that you passed your examination successfully," I said as we
started toward the Korgan Lat.

Nalte laughed joyously. "I just squeezed through," she admitted. "I
wonder what they would say back in Andoo if they knew that I, the
daughter of their jong, was considered fit only to scrub floors in
Havatoo!" and again she laughed happily. It was plain to be seen that
her pride had not suffered by reason of her assignment. "But after all,"
she continued, "it is a high honor to be considered fit to remain on any
footing among such a race of super-men.

"And you! I am very proud of you, Carson Napier, for I have been told
that you were elevated to a high place among them."

It was my turn to laugh now. "I did not pass the examination at all," I
admitted. "I would have been destroyed but for my knowledge of a science
that is unknown to Amtor. It was rather a jolt to my self-esteem."

We drove along the Korgan Lat. through the great public park and parade
ground in the center of which stands a magnificent stadium, and thus to
the Avenue of the Gates, which forms a great arc nearly eight miles long
just inside the outer wall on the land side of Havatoo.

Here are the factories and the shops in the district included between
the Avenue of the Gates and the Yorgan Lat. a wide avenue a third of a mile
inside the wall, all the principal shops being located along the Avenue
of  the Gates. The avenue and the shops were brilliantly lighted, the street
swarmed with vehicles, and the walkways at the level of the second
stories were crowded with pedestrians.

We drove twice the full length of the avenue, enjoying the life and
beauty of the scene; then we drove into one of the parking places, to
which all of the ground floors on the main arteries are devoted, and
were lifted by an escalator to the walkway on the level above.

Here shops displayed their wares in show windows, much as is the custom
in American cities, though many of the displays aimed solely to please
the eye rather than to call attention to the goods for sale within. The
scientists of Havatoo have developed a light that is brilliant and at
the same time soft with which they attain effects impossible of
achievement by our relatively crude lighting methods. At no place is the
source of the light apparent; it casts soft shadows and gives forth no
heat. Ordinarily it resembles sunlight, but it can also produce soft,
pastel shades of various hues.

After we had enjoyed the spectacle for an hour, mingling with the happy
crowd upon the walkway, I made a few small purchases, including a gift
for Nalte; then we returned to my car, and I took my companion home.

* * * * *

The next morning I was busy organizing my classes in astronomy, and so
numerous were those wishing to enroll that I had to organize several
large classes, and as only four hours a day are ordinarily devoted to
work of any nature it was evident that I should have to devote my time
at first to the training of instructors if the new science was to be
expounded to all the inhabitants who were interested.

I was greatly flattered by the personnel of the first matriculants. Not
only were there scientists and soldiers from the first five classes of
Havatoo, but every member of the Sanjong, the ruling quintumvirate of
Havatoo, enrolled. The thirst of these people for useful knowledge is
insatiable.

Shortly after noon, my work for the day having been completed, I
received a summons to call upon Korgan Kantum Mohar, the warrior
physicist who had arranged for the examination of Nalte and myself the
day Ero Shan brought us to the city.

I could not but wonder what he wanted of me. Could it be that I must
undergo another examination? Always, I presume, I shall connect Mohar's
name with examinations.

As I entered his office on the Sera Tartum, he greeted me with the same
pleasant demeanor that had marked his attitude the day he had told me I
was to be examined to ascertain whether or not I should be permitted to
live; so his graciousness was not entirely reassuring.

"Come over here and sit down near me," he said. "I have something here
that I should like to discuss with you."

As I took a chair beside him I saw spread on his desk the sketches of
airships that I had made for Ero Shan.

"These," he said, pointing to the sketches, "were brought to me by Ero
Shan who explained them as best he could. He was quite excited and
enthusiastic about them, and I must confess that he imparted some of his
enthusiasm to me. I am much interested, and would know more concerning
these ships that sail through the air."

For an hour I talked to him and answered his questions. I dwelt
principally on the practical achievements of aeronautics--the long
flights, the great speed, the uses to which ships had been put in times
of peace and in times of war.

Korgan Kantum Mohar was deeply interested. The questions that he asked
revealed the trained, scientific mind; and the last one that of the
soldiers the man of action.

"Can you build one of these ships for me?" he demanded.

I told him that I could but that it might require long experimentation
to adapt their motors and materials to the requirements of a successful
airplane.

"You have two or three hundred years," he said with a smile, "and the
resources of a race of scientists. Materials that we do not now possess
we can produce; nothing is impossible to science."



Chapter 16 - Attack in the Night

I WAS GIVEN a factory close to the Gate of the Physicists, at the end of
Kantum Lat. I chose this location because there was a level plain beyond
this gate that would make an excellent flying field, and also so that I
would have my finished plane finally assembled where it could easily be
wheeled out of the city without interfering with traffic to any great
extent.

On the advice of the Sanjong, which took a deep interest in both this
new venture into aeronautics and the, to them, new science of astronomy,
I divided my time between the two.

My time was fully occupied, and I worked far more than the usual four
hours a day. But I enjoyed the work, especially the building of a plane;
and engrossing were the daydreams in which I indulged of exploring
Venus in a ship of my own.

The necessity for relaxation and entertainment is stressed by the people
of Havatoo, and Ero Shan was constantly dragging me away from my drawing
board or my conferences with the corps of assistants that had been
placed at my disposal by Mohar to take me to this thing or that.

There were theaters, art exhibits, lectures, musicales, concerts, and
games of various descriptions in gymnasiums and the great stadium. Many
of their games are extremely dangerous, and injury and death often
accompany them. In the great stadium at least once a month men fight
with wild beasts or with one another to the death, and once a year the
great war game is played. Ero Shan, Gara Lo, Ero Shan's friend, Nalte,
and I attended this year's game together. To Nalte and me it was all new;
we did not know what to expect.

"Probably we shall witness an exhibition of such scientific wonders as
only the men of Havatoo are capable," I suggested to her.

"I haven't the faintest conception of what it will be," she replied. "No
one will tell me anything about it. They say, 'Wait and see. You will be
thrilled as you have never been before.'"

"The game doubtless hinges on the use of the most modern, scientific
instruments of war and strategy," I ventured.

"Well," she remarked, "we shall soon know. It is about time for the
games to begin."

The great stadium, seating two hundred thousand people, was crammed to
capacity. It was gorgeous with the costumes and the jewels of the women
and the handsome trappings of the men, for the intelligence of Havatoo
concedes their full value to beauty and to art. But of all that went to
make up this splendid spectacle there was nothing more outstanding than
the divine beauty of the people themselves.

Suddenly a cry arose, a roar of welcome. "They come! The warriors!"

* * * * *

Onto the field at each end marched two hundred men; a hundred men naked
but for white gee-strings at one end of the field, a hundred men with
red gee-strings at the other end of the field.

They carried short swords and shields. For a while they stood inactive,
waiting; then two small cars were driven onto the field. Each contained
a driver and a young woman.

One of the cars was red, the other white. The red car attached itself to
the contingent wearing the red gee-strings, the white cars to the
whites.

When they were in position the two factions paraded entirely around the
field clockwise. As they passed the stands the people cheered and
shouted words of encouragement and praise, and when the warriors had
completed the circuit they took their places again.

Presently a trumpet sounded, and the reds and the whites approached each
other. Now their formations were changed. There was an advance party and
a rear guard, there were flankers on either side. The cars remained in
the rear, just in front of the rear guard. On running-boards that
encircled the cars were a number of warriors.

I leaned toward Ero Shan. "Tell us something of the idea of the game," I
begged, "so that we may understand and enjoy it better."

"It is simple," he replied. "They contend for fifteen vir (the
equivalent of sixty minutes of earth time), and the side that captures
the opponent's queen oftenest is the winner."

I do not know what I expected, but certainly not that which followed.
The reds formed a wedge with its apex toward the whites, then charged.
In the melee that ensued I saw three men killed and more than a dozen
wounded, but the whites held their queen.

When a queen was pressed too closely her car turned and fled, the rear
guard coming up to repel the enemy. The tide of battle moved up and down
the field. Sometimes the whites seemed about to capture the red queen,
again their own was in danger. There were many individual duels and a
display of marvelous swordsmanship throughout.

But the whole thing seemed so out of harmony with all that I had
heretofore seen in Havatoo that I could find no explanation for it. Here
was the highest type of culture and civilization that man might imagine
suddenly reverting to barbarism. It was inexplicable. And the strangest
part of all of it to me was the almost savage enjoyment with which the
people viewed the bloody spectacle.

I must admit that I found it thrilling, but I was glad when it was over.
Only one queen was captured during the entire game. At the very last the
white queen fell into the hands of the reds, but only after the last of
her defenders had fallen.

Of the two hundred men who took part in the game, not one came through
unwounded; fifty were killed on the field, and I afterward learned that
ten more died of their wounds later.

As we drove from the stadium toward our house, I asked Ero Shan how such
a savage and brutal exhibition could be tolerated, much less enjoyed, by
the refined and cultured inhabitants of Havatoo.

"We have few wars," he replied. "For ages war was man's natural state.
It gave expression to the spirit of adventure, which is a part of his
inheritance. Our psychologists discovered that man must have some outlet
for this age-old urge. If it be not given him by wars or dangerous games
he will seek it in the commission of crimes or in quarrels with his
fellows. It is better that it is so. Without it man would stagnate, he
would die of ennui."

* * * * *

I was now working on my plane with the keenest enthusiasm, for I now saw
rapidly taking form such a ship as, I truly believe, might be built
nowhere in the universe other than in Havatoo. Here I had at my disposal
materials that only the chemists of Havatoo might produce, synthetic
wood and steel and fabric that offered incalculable strength and
durability combined with negligible weight.

I had also the element, vik-ro, undiscovered on earth, and the
substance, lor, to furnish fuel for my engine. The action of the
element, vik-ro, upon the element, yor-san, which is contained in the
substance, lor, results in absolute annihilation of the lor. Some
conception of the amount of energy thus released may be obtained by
considering the fact that there is eighteen thousand million times as
much energy liberated by the annihilation of a ton of coal as by its
combustion. Fuel for the life of my ship could be held in the palm of my
hand, and with the materials that entered into its construction the
probable life of the ship was computed by the physicists working on it
to be in the neighborhood of fifty years. Can you wonder that I looked
forward with impatience to the completion of such a marvel ship! With it
I would be sure to find Duare.

At last it was finished! I spent the final afternoon checking it over
carefully with my large corps of assistants. On the morrow it was to be
wheeled out for my trial flight I knew that it would be successful. All
my assistants knew that it would be; it was a scientific certainty that
it must fly.

That evening I determined to indulge in a little relaxation; and I
called Nalte on the wireless, transmitterless, receiverless
communicating system that is one of the wonders of Havatoo. I asked her
if she would take dinner with me, and she accepted with an alacrity and
display of pleasure that warmed my heart.

We dined in a little public garden on the roof of a building at the
corner of Yorgan Lat. and Havatoo Lat., just inside the river wall.

"It seems good to see you again," said Nalte. "It has been a long
time--not since the war games. I thought you had forgotten me."

"Far from it," I assured her, "but I have been working day and night on
my airship."

"I have heard some mention of it," she said, "but no one that I have
talked with seemed to understand very much about it. Just what is it and
what will it do?"

"It is a ship that flies through the air faster than a bird can wing," I
replied.

"But what good will that be?" she demanded.

"It will carry people quickly and safely from one place to another," I
explained.

"You don't mean to say that people will ride in it!" she exclaimed.

"Why, certainly; why else should I build it?"

"But what will keep it in the air? Will it flap its wings like a bird?"

"No; it will soar like a bird on stationary wings."

"But how will you get through the forests where the trees grow close
together?"

"I shall fly over the forests."

"So high? Oh, it will be dangerous," she cried. "Please do not go up in
it, Carson."

"It will be very safe," I assured her, "much safer than incurring the
dangers of the forest on foot. No savage beasts or men can harm the
voyager in an airship."

"But think of being way up above the trees!" she said with a little
shudder.

"I shall fly even higher than that," I told her. "I shall fly over the
loftiest mountains."

"But you will never fly over the great trees of Amtor; I know that."

She referred to the gigantic trees that raise their tips five thousand
feet above the surface of Amtor to drink the moisture from the inner
cloud envelope.

"Yes; possibly I shall fly even above those," I replied, "though I will
admit that flying blind in that solid bank of clouds does not appeal to
me."

She shook her head. "I shall be afraid every time I know that you are up
in the thing."

"Oh, no you won't, not after you are familiar with it. Some day soon I
am going to take you up with me."

"Not me!"

"We could fly to Andoo," I said. "I have been thinking of that ever
since I started to build the ship."

"To Andoo!" she exclaimed. "Home! Oh, Carson, if we only could!"

"But we can--that is if we can find Andoo. This ship will take us
anywhere. If we could carry enough food and water we could stay in the
air for fifty years, and it certainly wouldn't take that long to find
Andoo."

"I love it here in Havatoo," she said, musingly, "but after all, home is
home. I want to see my own people, but I would like to come back to
Havatoo again. That is, if--"

"If what?" I asked.

"If you are going to be here."

* * * * *

I reached across the table and pressed her hand. "We have been pretty
good friends, haven't we, Nalte? I should miss you terribly if I thought
that I were not to see you again."

"I think that you are the best friend I ever had," she said, and then
she looked up at me quickly and laughed. "Do you know," she continued;
but stopped suddenly and looked down, as a slight flush suffused her
cheeks.

"Do I know what?" I asked.

"Well, I might as well confess. There was a long time that I thought
that I loved you."

"That would have been a great honor, Nalte."

"I tried to hide it because I knew that you loved Duare; and now
recently Ero Shan has been coming to see me, and I know that I did not
know before what love was.

"You love Ero Shan?"

"Yes."

"I am glad. He is a splendid fellow. I know you will both be happy."

"That might be true but for one thing," she said.

"And what is that?"

"Ero Shan does not love me."

"How do you know that he doesn't? I don't see how he could help it. If I
had never known Duare--"

"If he loved me he would tell me," she interrupted. "Sometimes I think
that he believes that I belong to you. We came here together, you know,
and we have been much together since. But what's the good in
speculating! If he loved me he would not be able to hide it."

We had finished our dinner, and I suggested that we drive about the city
for a while and then go to a concert.

"Let's take a little walk instead of driving," suggested Nalte, and as
we rose from our table. "How beautiful the view is from here!"

In the strange glow of the Amtorian night the expanse of the great river
stretched into the vanishing visibility above and below the city, while
on the opposite shore gloomy Kormor was but a darker blotch against the
darkness of the night, with here and there a few dim lights showing
feebly in contrast to brilliant Havatoo lying at our feet.

We followed the walkway along Havatoo Lat. to a narrow side street that
extended away from the river.

"Let's turn here," said Nalte. "I feel like quiet and dim lights
to-night, not the brilliance and the crowds of Havatoo Lat."

The street that we turned into was in the yorgan section of the city; it
was but dimly lighted, and the walkway was deserted. It was a quiet and
restful street even by comparison with the far from noisy main avenues
of Havatoo, where raucous noises are unknown.

We had proceeded but a short distance from Havatoo Lat. when I heard a
door open behind us and footsteps on the walkway. I gave the matter no
thought; in fact I scarcely had time to give it thought when some one
seized me roughly from behind and as I wheeled about I saw another man
grab Nalte, clap a hand over her mouth and drag her into the doorway
from which the two had come.



Chapter 17 - City of the Dead

I TRIED to break away from the man who held me, but he was very strong.
I did succeed in turning about so that I could strike him; and this I
did repeatedly, hitting him in the face as he sought to reach my throat
with his fingers.

We must have made quite a lot of noise in that quiet street although
neither of us spoke, for soon a head was put out of a window, and
presently men and women came running from their houses. But before any
of them reached us I had tripped my assailant and was on top of him
clutching his throat. I would have choked the life out of him had not
several men dragged me from him.

They were shocked and angry because of this unseemly disturbance and
brawl on a street in Havatoo, and they placed us under arrest, nor would
they listen to what I tried to tell them. All they would say was: "The
judges will listen to you;" "it is not our province to judge."

As every citizen of Havatoo has police powers and there is no other
police force, there was no delay as there would have been in an earthly
city while waiting for the police to answer a summons.

We were bundled into a large car belonging to one of the citizens, and
with an adequate guard we were whisked away toward the Sera Tartum.

They do things with celerity in Havatoo. They may have a jail; I presume
they have, but they didn't waste any time or cause the state any expense
by putting us in to be boarded and lodged by the taxpayers.

Five men were hastily summoned, one from each of the five upper classes;
they were judge, jury, and court of last resort. They sat in a large
room that resembled a huge library; they were served by a dozen clerks.

One of the judges asked us our names, and when we had given them two
clerks went quickly to the shelves and brought forth books in which they
began to search.

Then the judges asked those who had arrested us to explain why they
brought us in. During the recital of our violation of the peace of
Havatoo one of the clerks, evidently having found what he sought, laid
his book open before the judges; the other was still searching.

From the open book one of the judges read aloud my official record since
I had come to Havatoo, including the result of the examination that I
had undergone and its embarrassing finding.

A judge asked me to state my case. In a few brief words I told of the
unprovoked attack upon us and the abduction of Nalte, and in conclusion
I said, "Instead of wasting time trying me for being the victim of this
unwarranted attack and defending myself against my assailant you should
be helping me search for the girl who has been stolen."

"The peace of Havatoo is of more importance than the life of any
individual," replied a judge. "When we have fixed the responsibility for
this breach of the peace the other matter will be investigated."

The second clerk now approached the judges. "The name of the prisoner
who calls himself Mal Un does not appear in the records in Havatoo."

All eyes turned toward my assailant, Mal Un, and for the first time I
had a good look at him under a bright light. I saw his eyes! Instantly I
recalled what I had evidently noticed only subconsciously before--the
chill of the flesh of his hands and his throat when I had fought with
him. And now those eyes. They were the eyes of a dead man!

I wheeled toward the judges. "I understand it all now," I cried. "When I
first came to Havatoo I was told that there were few bad men in the
city; but that occasionally, none knew how, bad men came from the city
of Kormor across the river and stole men and women from Havatoo. This
man is from Kormor. He is not a living man; he is a corpse. He and his
companion sought to steal Nalte and me for Skor!"

With calm efficiency the judges made a few brief and simple, but none
the less effective, tests upon Mal Un; then they whispered together for
a few seconds without leaving the bench. Following this, the one who
acted as spokesman for the tribunal cleared his throat.

"Mal Un," he announced, "you will be decapitated and cremated forthwith.
Carson Napier, you are exonerated with honor. You are free. You may
conduct a search for your companion and call upon any citizen of Havatoo
to assist you in any way that you desire assistance."

As I was leaving the room I heard a mirthless laugh burst from the dead
mouth of Mal Un. Horribly it rang in my ears as I hastened out into the
night. The dead man laughing because he was sentenced to death.

* * * * *

Naturally, the first person I thought of in my extremity was Ero Shan,
who had rescued me from the ape-men. My own car was parked where I had
left it at the corner of Yorgan Lat. and Havatoo Lat.; so I hailed a
public conveyance and was driven rapidly to the house at which Ero Shan
was being entertained that evening.

I did not go in but sent word that I wished to speak to him upon a
matter of great urgency, and a moment later I saw him coming from the
house toward me.

"What brings you here, Carson?" he asked. "I thought you were spending
the evening with Nalte."

When I told him what had happened he went very white. "There is no time
to be lost!" he cried. "Can you find that house again?"

I told him that I could. That doorway is indelibly burned into my
memory."

"Dismiss your car; we will go in mine," he said, and a moment later we
were speeding toward the place where I had lost Nalte.

"You have all my sympathy, my friend," said Ero Shan. "To have lost the
woman you love, and such a woman! is a calamity beyond any feeble words
to express."

"Yes," I replied, "and even if I had loved Nalte I could scarcely be
more grieved than I now am."

"'Even if you had loved Nalte'!" he repeated incredulously. "But, man,
you do love her, do you not?"

"We were only the best of friends," I replied. "Nalte did not love me."

Ero Shan made no reply, he drove swiftly on in silence. Presently we
reached our destination. Ero Shan stopped his car beside the stairway,
nearest the house, that led up to the walkway; and a moment later we
were before the door.

Repeated summons elicited no response, and then I tried the door and
found it unlocked.

Together we entered the dark interior, and I regretted that we had
brought no weapons; but in peaceful Havatoo men do not ordinarily go
armed. Ero Shan soon located a light switch, and as the room in which we
stood was illuminated, we saw that it was entirely unfurnished.

The building rose two stories above the walkway, and of course there was
a lower floor on a level with the street. We searched the upper stories
first, and then the roof, for in this part of Havatoo most of the roofs
are developed as gardens; but we found no sign of recent habitation.
Then we went to the ground floor, but with no better results. Here was
space for the parking of cars, and in rear of that a number of dark
storerooms.

"There is no living creature in this house except ourselves," said Ero
Shan. "They must have taken Nalte to some other house. It will be
necessary to make a search, and only under the authority of the Sanjong
itself may the home of a citizen be searched. Come! we will go and get
that authority."

"You go," I said. "I will remain here. We should keep a careful watch on
this house."

"You are right," he replied. "I shall not be gone long."

* * * * *

After Ero Shan's departure I commenced another careful investigation of
the premises. Once again I went through every room searching for some
secret place where a person might be hidden.

I had covered the upper stories of the house thus, and was searching the
first floor. The dust of neglect lay heavy upon everything, but I
noticed that in one of the back rooms it had been disturbed upon the
floor at a point where Ero Shan and I had not walked. Previously this had
escaped my notice. It seemed to me that it might be fraught with
importance.

I examined the floor carefully. I saw footprints. They approached a
wall; and there they stopped; there seemed to be a path worn in the dust
of this point in the wall. I examined the wall. It was covered with a
form of synthetic wood common in Havatoo, and when I rapped upon it it
sounded hollow.

The wall covering was applied in panels about three feet wide, and at
the top of the panel I was examining was a small round hole about an
inch in diameter. Inserting a forefinger in this hole I discovered just
what I had imagined I would discover--a latch. I tripped it; and with a
slight pressure the panel swung toward me, revealing a dark aperture
beyond it.

At my feet I dimly discerned the top of a flight of steps. I listened
intently; no sound came up to me from the gloom into which the stairs
disappeared. Naturally, I was convinced that Nalte's abductor had
carried her down that stairway.

I should have waited for the return of Ero Shan, but I thought that
Nalte might be in danger. I could not think of wasting a single precious
instant in delay.

I placed a foot upon the stairs and started to descend; and as I did so
the panel closed softly behind me, actuated by a spring. I heard the
latch click. I was now in utter darkness. I had to feel my way. At any
moment I might come upon Nalte's abductor waiting to dispatch me. It was
a most uncomfortable sensation, I can assure you.

The stairway, which was apparently cut from the living limestone that
underlies Havatoo, ran straight down to a great depth. From the bottom
of the stairway I felt my way along a narrow corridor. Occasionally I
stopped and listened. At first I heard not a sound; the silence was the
silence of the grave.

Presently the walls commenced to feel moist; and then, occasionally, a
drop of water fell upon my head. Now a low, muffled sound like the
shadow of a roar seemed to fill the subterranean corridor like a vague,
oppressive menace.

On and on I groped my way. I could not advance rapidly, for I was
compelled to feel every forward footstep before taking it; I could not
know what lay beyond the last.

Thus I continued on for a long distance until finally my extended foot
felt an obstruction. Investigating, I found that it was the lowest step
of a flight of stairs.

Cautiously I ascended, and at the top I came against a blank wall. But
experience had taught me where to search for a latch, for I was
confident that what barred my progress was a door.

Presently my fingers found what they sought; a door gave to the pressure
of my hand.

I pushed it slowly and cautiously until a narrow crack permitted me to
look beyond it.

I saw a portion of a room dimly illuminated by the night light of Amtor.
I opened the door a little farther; there was no one in the room. I
stepped into it, but before I permitted the door to close I located the
opening through which the latch could be tripped from that side.

* * * * *

The room in which I found myself was filthy and littered with debris. It
was filled with a revolting, musty odor that suggested death and decay.

In the wall opposite me were three openings, a doorway and two windows;
but there was no window sash and no door. Beyond the door, to which I
now crossed, was a yard inclosed by one side of the building and a high
wall.

There were three rooms on the ground floor of the building, and these I
searched rapidly; they contained only broken furniture, old rags, and
dirt. I went upstairs. Here were three more rooms; they revealed nothing
more of interest than those downstairs.

Other than these six rooms there was nothing more to the house, and so I
was soon aware that I must search farther for Nalte. Neither she nor any
one else was in this house.

From an upper window I looked out over the yard. Beyond the wall I saw a
street. It was a dingy, gloomy street. The houses that fronted it were
drab and dilapidated, but I did not have to look out upon this scene to
know where I was. Long before this I had guessed that I was in Kormor,
the city of the cruel jong of Morov. The tunnel through which I had
passed from Havatoo had carried me beneath the great river that is
called Gerlat kum Rov, River of Death. Now I knew that Nalte had been
abducted by the agents of Skor.

From the window I saw an occasional pedestrian on the street that passed
the house. They moved with slow, shuffling steps. Somewhere in this city
of the dead was Nalte in danger so great that I turned cold at the mere
thought of it. I must find her! But how?

Descending to the yard, I passed through a gateway in the wall and out
into the street. Only the natural, nocturnal light of Amtor illuminated
the scene. I did not know which way to go, yet I knew that I must keep
moving if I were not to attract attention to myself.

My judgment and my knowledge of Skor suggested that where Skor was there
I would find Nalte, and so I knew that I must find the jong's palace. If
I might only stop one of the pedestrians and ask him; but that I did not
dare do, for to reveal my ignorance of the location of the jong's palace
would be to brand me a stranger and therefore an enemy.

I was approaching two men who were walking in the opposite direction to
that which I had chosen. As I passed them I noted their somber garb, and
I saw them half stop as we came abreast and eye me intently. But they
did not accost me, and it was with relief that I realized that they had
gone on their way.

Now I understood that with my handsome trappings and my brisk, alert
step and carriage I would be a marked man in Kormor. It became
absolutely imperative, therefore, that I disguise myself; but that was
going to be more easily thought of than accomplished. However, it must
be done. I could never hope to find and rescue Nalte if I were
constantly subject to detection and arrest.

Turning, I retraced my steps to the mean hovel I had just quitted, for
there I remembered having seen odds and ends of rags and discarded
clothing from among which I hoped that I might select sufficient to
cover my nakedness and replace the fine apparel I had purchased in
Havatoo.

* * * * *

Nor was I disappointed, and a few moments later I emerged again upon the
streets clothed in the cleanest of the foul garments I had had to select
from. And now, to carry out my disguise to the fullest, I shuffled
slowly along like some carrion from a forgotten grave.

Again I met pedestrians; but this time they gave me no second look, and
I knew that my disguise was ample. To all outward appearances, in this
unlighted city of the dead, I was just another corpse.

In a few houses dim lights burned; but I heard no noises--no singing, no
laughter. Somewhere in this city of horror was Nalte. That so sweet and
lovely a creature was breathing this fetid air was sufficiently
appalling, but of far greater import was the fact that her life hung in
the balance.

If Skor was in the city he might kill her quickly in a fit of mad
revenge because she had escaped him once. My sustaining hope was that
Skor was at his castle and that his minions would hold Nalte unharmed
until he returned to Kormor. But how to learn these things!

I knew that it would be dangerous to question any of the inhabitants;
but finally I realized that in no other way might I quickly find the
house of Skor, and haste was essential if I were to find Nalte before it
was too late.

As I wandered without plan I saw nothing to indicate that I was
approaching a better section such as I felt might contain the palace of
a jong. The houses were all low and grimy and unlovely in design.

I saw a man standing at the intersection of two streets, and as I came
close to him I stopped. He looked at me with his glassy eyes.

"I am lost," I said.

"We are all lost," he replied, his dead tongue thick in his dead mouth.

"I cannot find the house where I live."

"Go into any house; what difference does it make?"

"I want to find my own house," I insisted.

"Go and find it then. How should I know where it is if you do not?"

"It is near the house of the jong," I told him.

"Then go to the house of the jong," he suggested surlily.

"Where is it?" I demanded in the same thick tones.

He pointed down the street that I had been following; and then he turned
and shuffled away in the opposite direction, while I continued on in the
direction he had indicated. I wished to reach my destination quickly;
but I dared not accelerate my speed for fear of attracting attention,
and so I shuffled along in the lifeless manner of the other wayfarers.

Somewhere ahead of me lay the palace of Skor, the jong of Morov; there I was
certain I would find Nalte. But after I found her--what?



Chapter 18 - A Surprise

THE PALACE of Skor was a three-storied building of gray stone similar in
its ugliness to his castle by the river in the forest, but it was
considerably larger. It stood in no spacious plaza. Mean hovels were its
near neighbors. All about it was a high wall, and before heavy gates
stood a dozen warriors. It looked impregnable.

I shuffled slowly past the gates, observing from the corners of my eyes.
It seemed useless to attempt to enter there. The guards were posted for
a purpose, and that purpose must be to keep out those who had no
business within.

What reason could I give for wishing to enter?--what reason that they
would accept?

It was evident that I must seek some other means of ingress. If I failed
to find any then I might return to the gates as a last resort, but I can
tell you that the outlook seemed most hopeless.

I followed the high wall that inclosed the palace grounds, but nowhere
did I find any place to scale it. It was about twelve feet high, just
too high for me to reach the top with my fingers by a running jump.

I reached the rear of the palace without discovering any place where I
might scale the wall, and I was convinced that there was no place. There
was plenty of litter and rubbish in the filthy street that encircled the
wall but nothing that I could make use of as a ladder.

Upon the opposite side of the street were mean hovels, many of which
appeared deserted. In only a few, dim lights revealed a sign of--life. I
was going to say--of occupancy. Directly across from me an open door
sagged on a single hinge.

It gave me an idea.

I crossed the street. There were no lights in any of the near-by houses.
That before which I stood appeared tenantless. Stealthily I crept to the
doorway and listened. There was no sound from the gloom of the interior,
but I must make sure that no one was there.

Scarcely breathing, I entered the house. It was a one-story hovel of two
rooms. I searched them both. The house was unoccupied. Then I returned
to the door and examined the remaining hinge. To my delight I discovered
that I could easily remove the door, and this I did.

I looked up and down the street. There was no one in sight. Lifting the
door, I crossed to the wall and leaned the door against it.

Again I searched the street with my eyes. All was clear.

Cautiously I crawled up the door. From its top, precariously gained, I
could reach the top of the wall. Then I threw caution to the winds, drew
myself up, and dropped to the ground on the opposite side. I could not
take the chance of remaining even for an instant on the summit of the
wall in plain view of the palace windows on one side and the street on
the other.

I recalled the vicious kazars that Skor kept at his castle, and I prayed
that he kept none here. But no kazar attacked me, nor did any evidence
suggest that my entry had been noted.

Before me loomed the palace, dark and forbidding even though some lights
shone within it. The courtyard was flagged, and as barren as that of the
castle in the wood.

* * * * *

Crossing quickly to the building I walked along it seeking an entrance.
It was three stories high. I saw at least two towers. Many of the
windows were barred, but not all. Behind one of those barred windows,
perhaps, was Nalte. The task before me was to discover which.

I dared not go to the front of the palace lest I be questioned by the
guard. Presently I discovered a small door; it was the only door on this
side of the building, but it was securely locked. Carrying my
investigation further, I came to an open window. The room beyond was
unlighted. I listened but heard no sound; then I vaulted quietly to the
sill and dropped within. At last I was inside the palace of the jong of
Morov.

Crossing the room, I found a door on the opposite side; and when I drew
it open I saw a dimly lighted corridor beyond. And with the opening of
the door sounds from the interior of the palace reached my ears.

The corridor was deserted as I stepped into it and made my way in the
direction of the sounds I had heard. At a turning I came to a broader
and better lighted corridor, but here dead men and women passed to and
fro. Some were carrying dishes laden with food in one direction, others
were bearing empty dishes in the opposite direction.

I knew that I risked detection and exposure, but I also knew that it was
a risk I must take sooner or later. As well now, I thought, as any time.
I noticed that these corpses were painted in the semblance of life and
health; only their eyes and their shuffling gait revealed the truth. My
eyes I could not change, but I kept them lowered as I shuffled into the
corridor behind a man carrying a large platter of food.

I followed him to a large room in which two score men and women were
seated at a banquet table. Here at last, I thought, were living
people--the masters of Kormor. They did not seem a very gay company, but
that I could understand in surroundings such as theirs. The men were
handsome, the women beautiful. I wondered what had brought them and what
kept them in this horrid city of death.

A remarkable feature of the assemblage was the audience that packed the
room, leaving only sufficient space for the servants to pass around the
table. These people were so well painted that at first I thought them
alive too.

Seeing an opportunity to lose my identity in the crowd, I wormed my way
behind the rear rank and then gradually worked my way around the room
and toward the front rank of the spectators until I stood directly in
rear of a large, thronelike chair that stood at the head of the table
and which I assumed to be Skor's chair.

Close contact with the men and women watching the banqueters soon
disclosed the fact that I was doubtless the only living creature among
them, for no make-up, however marvelous, could alter the
expressionlessness of those dead eyes or call back the fire of life or
the light of soul. Poor creatures! How I pitied them.

And now, from the lower end of the chamber, came a blare of trumpets;
and all the banqueters arose and faced in that direction. Four
trumpeters marching abreast entered the banquet hall, and behind them
came eight warriors in splendid harness. Following these were a man and
a woman, partially hidden from my sight by the warriors and the
trumpeters marching in front of them. These two were followed by eight
more warriors.

And now the trumpeters and the warriors separated and formed an aisle
down which the man and the woman walked. Then I saw them, and my heart
stood still. Skor and--Duare!

* * * * *

Duare's head was still high--it would be difficult to break that proud
spirit--but the loathing, the anguish, the hopelessness in her eyes,
struck me like dagger to the heart. Yet, even so, hope bounded in my
breast as I saw them, for they were expressions; and they told me that
Skor had not yet worked his worst upon her.

They seated themselves, Skor at the head of the table, Duare at his
right, scarce three paces from me; and the guests resumed their seats.

I had come for Nalte, and I had found Duare. How was I to rescue her now
that I had found her? I realized that I must do nothing precipitate.
Here, faced by overwhelming odds in the stronghold of an enemy, I knew
that I might accomplish nothing by force.

I looked about the room. On one side were windows, in the center of the
opposite wall was a small door, at the far end the large doors through
which all seemed to be entering or leaving; and behind me was another
small doorway. I had no plan, but it was well to note the things that I
had noted.

I saw Skor pound on the table with his fist. All the guests looked up.
Skor raised a goblet, and the guests did likewise.

"To the jong!" he cried.

"To the jong!" repeated the guests.

"Drink!" commanded Skor, and the guests drank.

Then Skor addressed them. It was not a speech; it was a monologue to
which all listened. In it occurred what Skor evidently considered an
amusing anecdote. When he had narrated it he paused, waiting. There was
only silence. Skor scowled. "Laugh!" he snapped, and the guests
laughed--hollow, mirthless laughs. It was then, with those laughs, that
my suspicions were aroused.

When Skor finished his monologue there was another silence until he
commanded, "Applaud!" Skor smiled and bowed in acknowledgment of the
ensuing applause just as though it had been spontaneous and genuine.

"Eat!" he commanded, and the guests ate; then he said, "Talk!" and they
commenced to converse.

"Let us be gay!" cried Skor. "This is a happy moment for Morov. I bring
you your future queen!" He pointed to Duare. There was only silence.

"Applaud!" growled Skor, and when they had done his bidding he urged
them again to be gay. "Let us have laughter," he bid them. "Starting at
my left you will take turns laughing, and when the laughter has passed
around the table to the future queen you will start over again."

The laughter commenced. It rose and fell as it passed around the table.
God, what a travesty on gayety it was!

I had passed closer until I stood directly behind Skor's chair. Had
Duare turned her eyes in my direction she must have seen me, but she did
not. She sat staring straight before her.

Skor leaned toward her and spoke. "Are they not fine specimens?" he
demanded. "You see I am coming closer and closer to the fulfillment of
my dream. Do you not see how different are all the people of Kormor from
the mean creatures at my castle? And look at these, the guests at my
table. Even their eyes have the semblance of real life. Soon I shall
have it--I shall be able to breathe full life into the dead. Then think
what a nation I can create! And I shall be jong, and you shall be
vadjong."

"I do not wish to be vadjong," replied Duare. "I only wish my liberty."

A dead man sitting across the table from her said, "That is all that any
of us wishes, but we shall never get it." It was then his turn to laugh,
and he laughed. It was incongruous, horrible. I saw Duare shudder.

* * * * *
Skor's sallow face paled. He glowered at the speaker. "I am about to
give you life," cried the jong angrily, "and you do not appreciate it."

"We do not wish to live," replied the corpse. "We wish death. Let us
have death and oblivion again--let us return to our graves in peace."

At these words, Skor flew into a fit of rage. He half rose, and drawing
a sword struck at the face of the speaker. The keen blade laid open an
ugly wound from temple to chin. The edges of the wound gaped wide, but
no blood flowed.

The dead man laughed. "You cannot hurt the dead," he mocked.

Skor was livid. He sought words, but his rage choked him. Flecks of foam
whitened his lips. If ever I have looked upon a madman it was then.
Suddenly he turned upon Duare.

"You are the cause of this!" he screamed. "Never say such things again
before my subjects. You shall be queen! I will make you queen of Morov,
a living queen, or I will make you one of these. Which do you choose?"

"Give me death," replied Duare.

"That you shall never have--not real death, only the counterfeit that
you see before you--neither life nor death."

At last the ghastly meal drew to a close. Skor arose and motioned Duare
to accompany him. He did not leave the room as he had entered it; no
trumpeters nor warriors accompanied him. He walked toward the small
doorway at the rear of the room, the spectators giving way before him
and Duare as they advanced.

So suddenly had Skor risen and turned that I thought he must surely see
me; but if he did he did not recognize me, and a moment later he had
passed me, and the danger was over. And as he and Duare moved toward the
doorway I fell in behind and followed. Each instant I expected to feel a
hand upon my shoulder stopping me, but no one seemed to pay any
attention to me. I passed through the doorway behind Skor and Duare
without a challenge. Even Skor did not turn as he raised the hangings at
the doorway and let them fall again behind him.

I moved softly, making no noise. The corridor in which we were was
deserted. It was a very short corridor, ending at a heavy door. As Skor
threw this door open I saw a room beyond that at first I thought must be
a storeroom. It was large and almost completely filled with a
heterogeneous collection of odds and ends of furniture, vases, clothing,
arms, and pictures. Everything was confusion and disorder, and
everything was covered with dust and dirt.

Skor paused for a moment on the threshold, seemingly viewing the room
with pride. "What do you think of it?" he demanded.

"Think of what?" asked Duare.

"This beautiful room," he said. "In all Amtor there cannot be a more
beautiful room; nowhere else can there be another such collection of
beautiful objects; and now to them I am adding the most beautiful of
all--you! This, Duare, is to be your room--the private apartment of the
queen of Morov."

I stepped in and closed the door behind me, for I had seen that but for
us three there was no one else in the apartment; and now seemed as good
a time to act as any.

I had not meant to make any noise as I entered. Skor was armed and I was
not, and it had been my intention to throw myself upon him from the rear
and overpower him before he could have an opportunity to use his weapons
against me. But the lock of the door clicked as I closed it, and Skor
wheeled and faced me.



Chapter 19 - In Hiding

AS THE eyes of the jong of Morov fell upon me he recognized me, and he
voiced a sardonic laugh as he whipped out his sword and brought my
charge to a sudden, ignominious stop--one does not finish a charge with
the point of a sword in one's belly.

"So!" he exclaimed; "it is you? Well, well. It is good to see you again.
I did not expect to be so honored. I thought Fortune had been very kind
to me when she returned the two young women. And now you have come! What
a merry party we shall have!"

With the last words his tone, which had been sarcastically bantering,
changed; he fairly hissed that gay sentence. And the expression on his
face changed too. It became suddenly malevolent, and his eyes glittered
with the same mad fire of insanity that I had seen there before.

Behind him stood Duare, her wide eyes fixed upon me with incredulity
mixed with terror. "Oh, why did you come, Carson?" she cried. "Now he
will kill you."

"I will tell you why he came," said Skor. "He came for the other girl,
for Nalte, not for you. You have been here a long time, but he did not
come. To-night one of my people seized the girl, Nalte, in Havatoo; and
he came immediately to try to rescue her, the fool. I have known for a
long time that they were in Havatoo. My spies have seen them there
together. I do not know how he got here, but here he is--and here he
stays, forever."

He poked me in the belly with the point of his sword. "How would you
like to die, fool?" he snarled. "A quick thrust through the heart,
perhaps. That would mutilate you least. You will make a fine specimen.
Come, now, what have you to say? Remember this will be the last chance
you will have to think with your own brain; hereafter I shall do your
thinking for you. You will sit in my banquet hall, and you will laugh
when I tell you to laugh. You will see the two women who loved you, but
they will shrink from the touch of your clammy hands, from your cold,
dead lips. And whenever you see them they will be with Skor in whose
veins flows the bright blood of life."

My plight seemed quite hopeless. The sword at my belly was long, keen,
and two-edged. I might have grasped it, but its edges were so sharp that
it would have slipped through my fingers, severing them as it plunged
into my body. Yet that I intended doing. I would not wait like a sheep
the lethal blow of the butcher.

"You do not reply," said Skor. "Very well, we will have it over
quickly!" He drew back his sword hand for the thrust.

Duare was standing behind him beside a table littered with the sort of
junk to which Skor seemed partial--his crazy objects d'art. I was
waiting to seize the blade when he thrust. Skor hesitated a moment, I
presume to better enjoy my final agony; but in that he was disappointed.
I would not give him that satisfaction; and so, to rob him of most of
his pleasure, I laughed in his face.

At that moment Duare raised a heavy vase from the table, held it high
above her, and crashed it down on Skor's head. Without a sound he sank
to the floor.

I leaped across his body to take Duare into my arms, but with a palm
against my breast she pushed me away.

"Do not touch me!" she snapped. "If you want to get out of Kormor there
is no time to be wasted. Come with me! I know where the girl you came to
rescue is imprisoned."

* * * * *

Her whole attitude toward me seemed to have changed, and my pride was
piqued. In silence I followed her from the room. She led me into the
corridor along which we had approached the room to which I had followed
her and Skor. Opening a door at one side, she hurried along another
corridor and stopped before a heavily bolted door.

"She is in here," she said.

I drew the bolts and opened the door. Standing in the middle of the room
beyond, looking straight at me, was Nalte. As she recognized me she gave
a little cry of joy and, running toward me, threw her arms about me.

"Oh, Carson! Carson!" she cried. "I knew that you would come; something
told me that you would surely come."

"We must hurry," I told her. "We must get out of here."

I turned toward the door. Duare stood there, her chin in the air, her
eyes flashing; but she said nothing. Nalte saw her then and recognized
her. "Oh, it is you!" she exclaimed. "You are alive! I am so glad. We
thought that you had been killed."

Duare seemed puzzled by the evident sincerity of Nalte's manner, as
though she had not expected that Nalte would be glad that she was alive.
She softened a little. "If we are to escape from Kormor, though I doubt
that we can, we must not remain here," she said. "I think that I know a
way out of the castle--a secret way that Skor uses. He showed me the
door once during some strange mood of his insanity; but he has the key
to the door on his person, and we must get that before we can do
anything else."

We returned to the room where we had left Skor's body, and as I entered
it I saw the jong of Morov stir and try to rise. He was not dead, though
how he had survived that shattering blow I do not know.

I ran toward him and threw him down. He was still only half conscious
and made little or no resistance. I suppose I should have killed him,
but I shrank from killing a defenseless man--even a fiend like Skor.
Instead I bound and gagged him; then I searched him and found his keys.

After that Duare led us to the second floor of the palace and to a large
room furnished in the bizarre taste that was Skor's. She crossed the
apartment and drew aside a grotesque hanging, revealing a small door
behind.

"Here is the door," she said; "see if you can find a key to fit the
lock."

I tried several keys, and at last found the right one. The opened door
revealed a narrow corridor which we entered after rearranging the
hangings, and then closed the door behind us. A few steps brought us to
the top of a spiral staircase. I went first, carrying Skor's sword which
I had taken from him with his keys. The two girls followed closely
behind me.

The stairway was lighted, for which I was glad, since it permitted us to
move more rapidly and with greater safety. At the bottom was another
corridor. I waited there until both girls stood beside me.

"Do you know where this corridor leads?" I asked Duare.

"No," she replied. "All that Skor said was that he could get out of the
castle this way without any one seeing him--he always came and went this
way. Practically everything that he did, the most commonplace things in
life, he veiled with mystery and secrecy."

"From the height of that stairway," I said, "I believe that we are below
the ground level of the palace. I wish that we knew where this corridor
ends, but there is only one way to find out. Come on!"

* * * * *

This corridor was but dimly illuminated by the light from the stairway,
and the farther we went from the stairway the darker it became. It ran
straight for a considerable distance, ending at the foot of a wooden
stairway. Up this I groped my way only a few steps, when my head came in
contact with a solid substance above me. I reached up and felt of the
obstruction. It consisted of planking and was obviously a trap door. I
tried to raise it, but could not. Then I searched around its edges with
my fingers, and at last I found that which I sought--a latch. Tripping
it, I pushed again; and the door gave. I opened it only an inch or two,
but no light showed in the crack. Then I opened it wider and raised my
head through the aperture.

Now I could see more, but not much more--only the dark interior of a
room with a single small window through which the night light of Amtor
showed dimly. Grasping the sword of the jong of Morov more tightly I
ascended the stairway and entered the room. I heard no sound.

The girls had followed me and now stood just behind me. I could hear
them breathing. We stood waiting, listening. Slowly my eyes became
accustomed to the darkness, and I made out what I thought was a door
beside the single window. I crossed to it and felt; it was a door.

Cautiously I opened it and looked out into one of the sordid streets of
Kormor. I peered about in an effort to orient myself and saw that the
street was one of those that extended directly away from the palace
which I could see looming darkly behind its wall at my right.

"Come!" I whispered, and with the girls behind me I stepped out into the
street and turned to the left. "If we meet any one," I cautioned,
"remember to walk like the dead, shuffle along as you will see me do.
Keep your eyes on the ground; it is our eyes that will most surely
betray us."

"Where are we going?" asked Duare in a whisper.

"I am going to try to find the house through which I came into the
city," I replied; "but I don't know that I can do so."

"And if you can't?"

"Then we shall have to make an attempt to scale the city wall; but we
shall find a way, Duare."

"What difference will it make?" she murmured, half to herself. "If we
escape from here there will only be something else. I think I would
rather be dead than go on any more."

The note of hopelessness in her voice was so unlike Duare that it
shocked me. "You mustn't feel like that, Duare," I expostulated. "If we
can get back to Havatoo you will be safe and happy, and I have a
surprise there for you that will give you new hope." I was thinking of
the plane in which we might hope to find Vepaja, the country that I
could see she had about despaired of ever seeing again.

She shook her head. "There is no hope, no hope of happiness, ever, for
Duare."

Some figures approaching us along the dusty street put an end to our
conversation. With lowered eyes and shuffling feet we neared them.

They passed, and I breathed again in relief.

It would be useless to recount our futile search for the house I could
not find. All the remainder of the night we searched, and with the
coming of dawn I realized that we must find a place to hide until night
came again.

I saw a house with a broken door, no unusual sight in dismal Kormor; and
investigation indicated that it was tenantless. We entered and ascended
to the second floor. Here, in a back room, we prepared to await the
ending of the long day that lay ahead of us.

We were all tired, almost exhausted; and so we lay down on the rough
planks and sought to sleep. We did not talk; each seemed occupied with
his own dismal thoughts. Presently, from their regular breathing, I
realized that the girls were both asleep; and very shortly thereafter I
must have fallen asleep myself.

* * * * *

How long I slept I do not know. I was awakened by footsteps in an
adjoining room. Some one was moving about, and I heard mutterings as of
a person talking to himself.

Slowly I rose to my feet, holding Skor's sword in readiness. Its
uselessness against the dead did not occur to me, yet had it, I still
would have felt safer with the sword in my hand.

The footsteps approached the door to the room in which we had sought
sanctuary, and a moment later an old woman stopped upon the threshold
and looked at me in astonishment.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded. If she was surprised, no less
was I; for old age was something I had never before seen in Amtor. Her
voice awakened the girls, and I heard them rising to their feet behind
me.

"What are you doing here?" repeated the old woman querulously. "Get out
of my house, accursed corpses! I'll have none of the spawn of Skor's
evil brain in my house!"

I looked at her in astonishment. "Aren't you dead?" I demanded.

"Of course I'm not dead!" she snapped.

"Neither are we," I told her.

"Eh? Not dead?" She came closer. "Let me see your eyes. No, they do not
look like dead eyes; but they say that Skor has found some foul way in
which to put a false light of life into dead eyes."

"We are not dead," I insisted.

"Then what are you doing in Kormor? I thought that I knew all of the
living men and women here, and I do not know you. Are the women alive
too?"

"Yes, we are all alive." I thought quickly. I wondered if I might trust
her with our secret and seek her aid. She evidently hated Skor, and we
were already in her power if she wished to denounce us. I felt that we
could not be much worse off in any event. "We were prisoners of Skor. We
escaped. We want to get out of the city. We are at your mercy. Will you
help us?--or will you turn us over to Skor?"

"I won't turn you over to Skor," she snapped. "I wouldn't turn a dead
mistal over to that fiend; but I don't know how I can help you. You
can't get out of Kormor. The dead sentries along the wall never sleep."

"I got into Kormor without being seen by a sentry," I said. "If I could
only find the house I could get out again."

"What house?" she demanded.

"The house at the end of the tunnel that runs under Gerlat kum Rov to
Havatoo."

"A tunnel to Havatoo! I never heard of such a thing. Are you sure?"

"I came through it last night."

She shook her head. "None of us ever heard of it--and if we who live
here cannot find it, how could you, a stranger, hope to? But I'll help
as much as I can. At least I can hide you and give you food. We always
help one another here in Kormor, we who are alive."

"How many of you are there?" I asked.

"A few," she replied. "Skor has not succeeded in hunting us all down
yet. We live a mean life, always hiding; but it is life. If he found us
he would make us like those others."

The old woman came closer. "I cannot believe that you are alive," she
said. "Perhaps you are tricking me." She touched my face, and then ran
her palms over the upper part of my body. "You are warm," she said, and
then she felt my pulse. "Yes, you are alive."

Similarly she examined Duare and Nalte, and at last she was convinced
that we had told her the truth. "Come," she said, "I will take you to a
better place than this. You will be more comfortable. I do not use this
house very often."

She led us down stairs and out into a yard at the rear of which stood
another house. It was a mean house, poorly furnished. She took us into a
back room and told us to remain there.

"I suppose you want food," she said.

"And water," added Nalte. "I have had none since yesterday evening."

"You poor thing," said the old woman. "I'll get it for you. How young
and pretty you are. Once I was young and pretty too."

"Why have you aged?" I asked. "I thought that all the people of Amtor
held the secret of longevity."

"Aye, but how may one obtain the serum in Kormor? We had it once, before
Skor came; but he took it away from us. He said that he would create a
new race that would not require it, for they would never grow old. The
effects of my last inoculation have worn off, and now I am growing old
and shall die. It is not so bad to die--if Skor does not find one's
corpse. We of the living here bury our dead in secret beneath the floors
of our houses. My mate and our two children lie beneath this floor. But
I must go and fetch food and water for you. I shall not be gone long."
And with that, she left us.

"Poor old creature," said Nalte. "She has nothing to look forward to
except the grave, with the chance that Skor may rob her of even that
poor future."

"How strange she looked!" There was a shocked expression in Duare's eyes
as she spoke. "So that is old age! I never saw it before. That is the
way I should look some day, were it not for the serum! How ghastly! Oh, I
should rather die than be like that. Old age! Oh, how terrible!"

Here was a unique experience. I was witnessing the reactions of a
nineteen-year-old girl who had never before seen the ravages of old age,
and I could not but wonder if the subconscious effect of old age on
youth accustomed to seeing it was not similar. But these meditations
were interrupted by the return of the old woman, and I caught a new
insight into the character of Duare.

As the old woman entered the room, her arms laden, Duare ran forward and
took the things from her. "You should have let me come with you and help
you," she said. "I am younger and stronger."

Then she placed the food and water upon a table, and with a sweet smile
she put an arm about the withered shoulders of the old crone and drew
her toward a bench. "Sit down," she said. "Nalte and I will prepare the
food. You just sit here and rest until it is ready, and then we shall
all eat together."

The old woman looked at her in astonishment for a moment and then burst
into tears. Duare dropped to the bench beside her and put her arms about
her.

"Why do you cry?" she asked.

"I don't know why I cry," sobbed the old creature. "I feel like singing,
but I cry. It has been so long since I have heard kind words, since any
one has cared whether I was happy or sad, tired or rested."

I saw the tears come to Duare's eyes and to Nalte's, and they had to
busy themselves with the preparation of the food to hide their emotions.

That night a dozen of the living of Kormor came to the house of Kroona,
the old woman who had befriended us. They were all very old, some of
them older than Kroona. They laughed at Kroona's fears that Skor wanted
them; and pointed out, as evidently they had many times before, that if
it was old bodies Skor wanted, he long since could have found them, for
their old age was ample evidence that they were of the living. But
Kroona insisted that they were all in danger; and I soon realized that
it was her pet obsession, without which she would probably be more
miserable than she was with it. She got a great thrill out of leading a
life of constant danger and hiding first in one house and then in
another.

But they were all of one opinion that we were in great danger, and the
dear old things pledged themselves to help us in every way they
could--to bring us food and water and hide us from our enemies. That was
all that they could do, for none of them believed that it was possible
to escape from Kormor.

Early the following morning a very old man, one of the visitors of the
previous evening, hobbled into the house. He was perturbed and greatly
excited. His palsied hands were trembling. "They are searching the city
for you," he whispered. "There is a terrible story of what you did to
Skor and of what Skor will do to you when he finds you. All night and
all day last night he lay bound and helpless where you left him; then
one of his creatures found and released him. Now the whole city is being
scoured for you. They may be here any minute."

"What can we do?" asked Duare. "Where can we hide?"

"You can do nothing," said the old man, "but wait until they come. There
is no place in all Kormor that they will not search."

"We can do something," said Nalte; then she turned to our informant.
"Can you get us paints such as the corpses use to make themselves appear
like living men?"

"Yes," said the old man.

"Well, go quickly and fetch them," urged Nalte.

The old man hobbled out of the room, mumbling to himself.

"It is the only way, Nalte," I cried. "I believe that if he returns in
time we can fool them; dead men are not very bright."

It seemed a long time before the old man came back; but he came finally,
and he brought a large box of make-up with him. It was quite an elaborate
affair which he said that he had obtained from a friend of his, a living
man, whose craft was applying the make-up to corpses.

Quickly Nalte went to work on Duare and soon had transformed her into an
old woman with lines and wrinkles and hollows. The hair was the most
difficult problem to solve, but we finally succeeded in approximating
the results we desired, though we used up all of the cosmetician's white
pigment, rubbing it into our hair.

Duare and I together worked on Nalte, for we knew that we had no time to
spare, the old man having brought word when he returned with the make-up
that the searchers were working in the next block and coming our way;
then Nalte and Duare transformed me into a very sad-looking old man.

Kroona said that we should each have some task that we could be
performing when the searchers arrived, to that we might appear natural.
She gave Duare and Nalte some old rags which they might pretend to be
fashioning into garments, and she sent me out into the yard to dig a
hole. It was fortunate that she did so, because the association of ideas
resulting reminded me that I must hide Skor's sword. Were that found we
were doomed.

I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth and carried it out into the yard
with me, and you may take my word for it that I dug one hole there in
record time. When I had covered the sword with dirt I started digging
another hole beside it and threw that dirt also on the spot above the
weapon.

I had just finished when the yard gate was thrown open and a score of
dead men came shuffling in. "We are looking for the strangers who
escaped from the palace," said one. "Are they here?"

I cupped my hand behind my ear and said, "Eh?"

The fellow repeated his question, shouting very loud, and again I did
the same thing and said, "Eh?" Then he gave up and went on into the
house, followed by the others.

I heard them searching in there, and every instant I expected to hear
cries of excitement when one of them discovered and pierced the thin
disguises of Duare and Nalte.



Chapter 20 - Under Suspicion

SKOR'S CREATURES searched Kroona's house far more carefully than they
would have searched that of one of their own kind, for Skor must have
assumed that of all the people in Kormor the living would be most likely
to aid the living; but at last they came out and went away. And I sat
down on the pile of dirt I had dug and mopped the perspiration from my
forehead, nor was it the sweat of toil. I think that for fifteen minutes
I had come as near to sweating blood as a man can.

When I went into the house I found Duare, Nalte, and Kroona just sitting
there in dazed silence. They couldn't seem to realize that we had passed
through the ordeal successfully.

"Well," I said, "that's over."

My voice seemed to break the spell.

"Do you know what saved us?" demanded Nalte.

"Why, our disguises, of course," I replied.

"Yes," she admitted, "they helped, but our real salvation was the
stupidity of the searchers. They scarcely looked at us. They were
hunting for somebody who was hidden, and because we were not hiding they
didn't give us a second thought."

"Do you think we might remove the paint now?" asked Duare. "It is very
uncomfortable."

"I think we should not remove it at all," I replied. "As we know, they
won't find us in this search; so Skor may order another search, and next
time we may not have time to disguise ourselves even if we are lucky
enough to get the materials again."

"I suppose you are right," said Duare, "and after all the discomfort is
not much by comparison to what we have already gone through."

"The disguises have one advantage," said Nalte. "We can move about more
freely without danger of detection. We won't have to sit in this stuffy
little back room all the time, and I for one am going to the front of
the house and get a breath of fresh air."

It was not a bad suggestion, and Duare and I joined Nalte while Kroona
went about some household duties. The front room on the second floor, to
which we went, overlooked the street. We could hear the searchers
ransacking the house next door, and we could see the pedestrians
shuffling along the dusty street.

Suddenly Nalte seized my arm and pointed. "See that man?" she exclaimed
in an excited whisper.

Shuffling along the street was a large corpse painted in the semblance
of life. His trappings were finer than those ordinarily seen in Kormor.
Only his peculiar gait revealed to the initiated eye the fact that he
was not as alive as we.

"Yes, I see him," I replied. "What about him?"

"He is the man that abducted me from Havatoo!"

"Are you sure?" I demanded.

"Absolutely," replied Nalte. "As long as I live I shall never forget
that face."

A plan, perhaps I had better call it an inspiration, shot into my mind.
"I am going to follow him," I said. "I shall be back soon; hope for the
best." I turned and hurried from the room.

* * * * *

A moment later I was in the street. The fellow was only a short distance
ahead of me. If my guess was correct he would lead me eventually to the
entrance to the tunnel that led to Havatoo. Perhaps not today, but if
I learned where he lived today; then some other day.

His gait was more rapid than that of the average Kormoran, and he walked
as though with a definite purpose in view. I judged that he was one of
Skor's more successful experiments and that for this reason he had been
chosen as one of the jong's agents in Havatoo, where the ordinary run of
Kormoran corpses could not long have passed themselves off as living
men.

As I followed him I noted carefully every detail of the street in which
we were; so that I would not again be unable to return to my starting
point. When presently he turned into a street leading toward the river
my hopes rose, and I noted carefully the buildings at the intersection.

Near the river the fellow turned into a small alley, followed it to the
next street, and then turned again toward the river. Directly ahead of
us, even before he turned into it, I saw and recognized the building
beneath which lay the Kormor end of the tunnel.

At the gateway leading into the yard before the house the man turned for
the first time and looked behind him, I presume to see if he was being
observed. Then he saw me.

There was nothing for me to do but keep on toward him. I kept my eyes on
the ground and paid no attention to him as I approached him, though I
could almost feel his gaze upon me. It seemed an eternity before I
reached him. I was about to breathe a sigh of relief as I passed him,
then he spoke to me.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I am looking for another house to live in," I cackled. "The doors and
the windows have all fallen off mine." 

"There are no houses here for
you," he snapped. Your kind is not allowed in this district. Get out of
here and never let me see you here again."

"Yes," I replied meekly, and turned back.

To my great joy he let me go, and a moment later I had turned into the
alley and was hidden from his view. But I had learned what I wanted to
know, and my blood was tingling with happiness. Now only the worst of
ill fortune could prevent me guiding Duare and Nalte back to the safety
of Havatoo.

As I made my way through the streets of Kormor toward the house of
Kroona my mind was filled with thoughts and plans for escape. I was
determined to leave as soon as darkness fell, and already I was looking
forward to and planning on what I should do upon my return to Havatoo.

As I entered Kroona's house I saw immediately, even before any one had a
chance to speak, that something was amiss. Duare and Nalte rushed
toward me, and it was evident that both were perturbed. Kroona and the
old man who had brought us the pigments with which we had disguised
ourselves were cackling together excitedly.

"At last you are back!" cried Nalte. "We thought that you would never
come."

"Perhaps it is not too late even now," said Duare.

"I wanted them to come with me and let me hide them," croaked Kroona,
"but neither one of them would leave without you. They said that if you
were to be taken then they would be taken too."

"What in the world are you all talking about?" I demanded. What has
happened?"

"It is soon told," said the old man who had brought us the make-up. "The
cosmetician from whom I borrowed the materials to change you into old
people has betrayed us in order to curry favor with Skor. A man heard
him tell his servant to go to the palace and inform Skor that he would
lead Skor's men to this hiding place of yours. The man was a friend of
mine and came and told me. Skor's men may be here at any minute now."

* * * * *

I thought rapidly; then I turned to Duare and Nalte. "Get your make-up
off as quickly as you can," I directed, "and I will do the same."

"But then we shall be lost for certain," exclaimed Duare.

"On the contrary," I replied as I commenced to remove the pigment from
my blond head.

"They will know us at once without our disguises," insisted Duare, but I
was glad to see that both she and Nalte were following my example and
removing the paint from their hair and faces.

"Our own youth will be the best disguise we can adopt in this
emergency," I explained. "These creatures of Skor are none too
intelligent, and having been sent to find three fugitives who have
disguised themselves as very old people they will be looking only for
those who appear very old. If we can get out of the house before they
come I think we have a good chance to avoid detection."

We worked rapidly and soon had the last vestiges of our disguises
removed; then we thanked Kroona and the old man, bid them good-by, and
left the house. As we entered the street we saw a body of warriors
approaching from the direction of the palace.

"We were not quite in time," said Nalte. "Shall we turn and run for it?"

"No," I replied. "That would only arouse their suspicions immediately
and they would pursue and most certainly overtake us. Come! We shall go
and meet them."

"What!" demanded Duare in astonishment. "Are we going to give ourselves
up?"

"By no means," I replied. "We are going to take a great chance, but
there is no alternative. If they see three people walking away from them
they will investigate, and if they do that we may be recognized; but if
they see us approaching them they will believe that we do not fear
anything from them and will be convinced therefore that we are not those
whom they seek. Walk with the shuffling gait of the dead, and keep your
eyes on the ground. Duare, you walk ahead, Nalte a few paces behind you;
I shall cross to the other side of the street. By separating we shall
attract less attention; they are looking for three people whom they
expect to find together."

"I hope your reasoning is correct," said Duare, but it was evident that
she was skeptical. I was none too enthusiastic about the plan myself.

I crossed the street to the side along which the warriors were
approaching, knowing that there was less likelihood that any of them
would recognize me than that they would know Duare, who had been in
Skor's palace for some time.

I must admit that I felt none too comfortable as the distance between me
and the warriors steadily lessened, but I kept my eyes on the ground and
shuffled slowly along.

As I came abreast of them their leader halted and addressed me. My heart
stood still. "Where is the house of Kroona?" he asked.

"I do not know," I replied and shuffled on my way. Momentarily I
expected to be seized, but the warriors went on their way and let me go
on mine. My ruse had been successful!

As soon as I felt that it was safe I crossed to the opposite side of the
street, and as I caught up with the two girls I told them to follow
behind me but not too closely.

It still lacked an hour until sunset, and I did not dare risk
approaching the entrance to the tunnel until after dark. In the meantime
we must find a place to hide and keep off the streets where every moment
we were in danger of arousing suspicion.

Turning into a side street I soon found a deserted house, of which there
are many in Kormor; and presently we were in hiding again.

* * * * *

Both girls were dejected. I could tell by their silence and
listlessness. The future must have seemed hopeless to them, yet they
voiced no complaints.

"I have some good news for you," I said.

Duare looked at me with scarcely any indication of interest, as though
there never could be any good news for her again. She had been unusually
silent since our escape from the palace. She seldom spoke unless
directly addressed; and she avoided speech with Nalte as much as
possible, although her manner toward her was not definitely unfriendly.

"What is the good news?" demanded Nalte.

"I have found the entrance to the tunnel to Havatoo," I replied.

The effect of that statement upon Nalte was electrical, but it seemed to
arouse only passive interest in Duare. "In Havatoo," she said, "I shall
be as far as ever from Vepaja."

"But your life will not be in danger," I reminded her.

She shrugged. "I do not know that I care to live," she replied.

"Don't be discouraged, Duare," I begged. "Once we are in Havatoo I am
confident that I shall discover a way to find Vepaja and return you to
your people." I was thinking of the plane ready and waiting in its
hangar on Kantum Lat., but I didn't say anything about it. I wanted to
save it as a surprise for her; and, anyway, we were not yet in Havatoo.

The two hours that we waited until complete darkness enveloped the city
were as long a two hours as I have ever spent; but at last it seemed
safe to attempt to reach the silent, deserted house near the river
front, where all our hopes were centered.

The street was deserted when we left the building where we had been
hiding; I was certain of my way to our destination, and without delay or
adventure we at last came in sight of the decaying structure that hid
the entrance to our avenue of escape.

I led the girls into the buildings, and there we huddled in the dark,
listening. I regretted then that I had been unable to retrieve the sword
I had taken from Skor and buried in the yard of Kroona's home. It would
have given me a feeling of far greater security than I now enjoyed.

Satisfied at last that we were the sole occupants of the building and
that no one had followed us, I crossed to the doorway that hid the
entrance to the tunnel, Duare and Nalte close behind me.

I had no difficulty in finding the latch, and a moment later we were
descending into the dark corridor with liberty and safety almost in our
grasp.

There was a chance that we might meet one of Skor's creatures returning
from Havatoo; but I felt that everything was in our favor inasmuch as
one of them had just crossed in the opposite direction, and there had
never been any evidence that they were in Havatoo in great numbers. It
was my opinion that the two that set upon Nalte and me were alone in
that venture, and if that were true it was also doubtless true that Skor
never had more than a couple of his retainers in Havatoo at the same
time. I certainly hoped that I was right.

In silence, through the utter darkness, we groped our way along the
cold, moist corridor beneath the River of Death. I moved more rapidly
than I had when I had come through it to Kormor, for I knew now that no
pitfalls lay in my path.

At last I felt the stairs leading upward at the tunnel's end, and a
moment later I stopped behind the door that would let us into Havatoo. I
did not wait; I did not listen. Nothing could have stopped me then. I
would have grappled a dozen of the gruesome corpses of Kormor had they
stood in my way, and I believe that I should have overcome them, so
desperate was my mood.

But we met neither dead nor living as we stepped out onto the lower
floor of the dismal building off the Havatoo Lat. Quickly we crossed to
the front of the building and out through the door there to the street
beyond, and a moment later we stood in the Havatoo Lat with its
brilliant lights and its two streams of traffic.

* * * * *

We were a conspicuous trio in our mean garments of rags with which we
had sought to disguise ourselves in Kormor, and many were the suspicious
glances cast in our direction.

As quickly as I could I hailed a public conveyance and instructed the
driver to take us to the home of Ero Shan, and as we settled down upon
the cushions we relaxed for the first time in many a day.

We talked a great deal during the drive, particularly Nalte and I. Duare
was very quiet. She spoke of the beauty of Havatoo and the wonders that
surrounded us, all strange and new to her, but only briefly and then
lapsed into silence again.

Our driver had eyed us suspiciously when we entered his car, and when he
deposited us in front of the house of Ero Shan he behaved peculiarly.

But Ero Shan was delighted to see us. He ordered food and drink, and
plied us with questions until he had had the whole story from us several
times. He congratulated me upon finding Duare, but I could see that his
greatest happiness lay in the return of Nalte.

The girls were tired and needed rest, and we were preparing to take them
to Nalte's home when the first blow fell that was to put the lives of
two of us in jeopardy and plunge us all from the heights of happiness to
the depths of despair.

There was a summons at the main entrance, and presently a servant
entered the room. Behind him was a file of warriors commanded by an
officer.

Ero Shan looked up in surprise. He knew the officer and called him by
name, asking him what brought him here with armed men.

"I am sorry, Ero Shan," the man replied, "but I have orders from the
Sanjong itself to arrest three suspicious-appearing people who were seen
to enter your house earlier in the evening."

"But," exclaimed Ero Shan, "no one has entered my house but Carson
Napier, whom you know, and these two young women. They are all my
friends."

The officer was eyeing our mean apparel and evidently not without
suspicion. "These must be those I was sent to arrest if no one else has
entered your house this evening," he said.

There was nothing to do but accompany the warriors and this we did. Ero
Shan came with us, and a short time later we were before an
investigating board of three men. The complaining witness was the driver
who had brought us from the house that hid the entrance to the tunnel to
Ero Shan's. He said that he lived in the neighborhood, and having known
of the abduction of Nalte he was immediately suspicious when he saw
three people, garbed as we were, in the vicinity of the place.

He accused us of being spies from Kormor and insisted that we were but
painted corpses like the man I had grappled with at the time of the
abduction of Nalte.

The examining board listened to my story; then they examined Nalte and
Duare briefly. They questioned Ero Shan concerning us, and without
leaving the room they discharged Nalte and myself and ordered Duare back
for a further examination by the official examining board the following
day.

I thought that they seemed a little suspicious of Duare; and so did Ero
Shan, though he only admitted this after we had returned the girls to
Nalte's home and were alone.

"Justice sometimes miscarries in Havatoo," he said gravely. "The
loathing that we feel for Kormor and everything connected with it colors
all our decisions in matters concerning it. Duare admits having been in
Kormor for some time. She admits having resided in the palace of Skor,
the jong. The examining board knows nothing about her other than what
she claims and what you tell them, but they do not know that they can
believe either of you. You will recall that the result of your
examination was not such as to create considerable confidence in you.

"And you think that Duare may be in danger?" I asked.

"I cannot tell," he replied. "Everything may come out all right; but, on
the other hand, if the board has the slightest suspicion concerning
Duare, it will order her destroyed, for our theory of justice is that it
is better to do an injustice to a single individual than to risk the
safety and welfare of many. Sometimes that policy is a cruel one, but
results have demonstrated that it is better for the race than a policy
of weak sentimentalism."

I did not sleep well that night. The weight of a great fear for the
outcome of tomorrow's trial oppressed me.



Chapter 21 - Flight

I WAS NOT permitted to accompany Duare to her examination. She was
placed in charge of the same woman who had guarded Nalte at the time of
her examination, Hara Es.

To pass the hours until the result should be made known, I went to the
hangar to inspect my plane. It was in perfect condition. The motor
hummed almost noiselessly. I could not, under ordinary circumstances,
have withstood the urge to have the ship wheeled out onto the plain
before the city for a trial flight; but my mind was so distraught with
apprehension concerning the fate of Duare that I had no heart for
anything.

I spent an hour alone in the hangar. None of my assistants were there,
they having all returned to their ordinary duties after the completion
of the plane. Then I returned to the house that I shared with Ero Shan.

He was not there. I tried to read, but I could not concentrate long
enough to know what I was reading about. My eyes followed the strange
Amtorian characters, but my thoughts were with Duare. At last I gave it
up and walked in the garden. An unreasoning terror enveloped me like a
shroud, numbing my faculties.

How long I walked I do not know, but at last my sad reveries were
interrupted by the approach of footsteps through the house. I knew that
Ero Shan must be coming to the garden. I stood waiting, looking toward
the doorway through which he must come; and the instant that I saw him
my heart turned cold. I read the confirmation of my worst fears in the
expression on his face.

He came and laid a hand upon my shoulder. "I have bad news for you, my
friend," he said.

"I know," I replied; "I read it in your eyes. They have ordered her
destroyed?"

"It is a miscarriage of justice," he said, "but there is no appeal. We
must accept the decision as the board's honest conviction that they are
thus serving the best interests of the city."

"Is there nothing I can do?" I asked.

"Nothing," he replied.

"Won't they let me take her away from Havatoo?"

"No; they are so afraid of the contaminating influence of Skor and his
creatures that they will never permit one to live that falls into their
hands."

"But she is not one of Skor's creatures!" I insisted.

"I am quite sure that they had their doubts, but the benefit of the
doubt is given to the city and not to the accused. There is nothing more
to be done."

"Do you think they would let me see her?" I asked.

"It is possible," he replied. "For some reason she is not to be
destroyed until to-morrow."

"Will you try to arrange it for me, Ero Shan?"

"Certainly," he replied. "Wait here, and I will see what I can do."

I have never spent such long and bitter hours as those while I was
awaiting the return of Ero Shan. Never before had I felt so helpless and
hopeless in the face of an emergency. Had these been ordinary men with
whom I had to deal, I might have seen somewhere a ray of hope, but there
was none here. Their uprightness precluded the possibility that I might
influence even a minor guard by bribery; they could not be moved by an
appeal to sentiment; the cold, hard logic of their reasoning left their
minds impregnable fortresses of conviction that it was useless to
assail.

I have said that I was hopeless, but that was not entirely true. Upon
what my hope fed I do not know, but it seemed so impossible to believe
that Duare was to be destroyed that my mind must in some slight measure
have been stunned.

* * * * *

It was dark before Ero Shan returned. I could read neither hope nor
despair in his expression as he entered the room where I had finally
gone to await him. He appeared very serious and very tired.

"Well?" I demanded. "What is the verdict?"

"I had a hard time of it," he said. "I had to go all the way up to the
Sanjong, but at last I got permission for you to visit her."

"Where is she? When may I see her?"

"I will take you to her now," he replied.

After we entered his car I asked him how he had accomplished it.

"I finally took Nalte with me," he replied. "She knew more about you and
all that you and Duare have passed through together than any one else in
Havatoo. For a while I almost thought that she was going to persuade the
Sanjong to reverse the verdict against Duare, and it was solely through
her appeal that they at last gave their consent to this last meeting.

"I learned a great deal about you and Duare from Nalte, much more than
you have ever told me; and I learned something else."

"What was that?" I asked as he paused.

"I learned that I love Nalte," he replied.

"And did you learn that she loves you?"

"Yes. Were it not for your unhappiness I should be quite the happiest
man in Havatoo tonight. But what made you think that Nalte loved me?"

"She told me so."

"And you did not tell me?" he asked reproachfully.

"I could not," I replied, "until after I knew that you loved her."

"I suppose not. She told me that you were planning on taking her back to
Andoo; but now that won't be necessary--she seems quite content to
remain in Havatoo."

We had been driving along the Korgan Lat. toward the stadium, and now Ero
Shan turned into a side street and stopped before a small house.

"Here we are," he said. "This is the house of Hara Es, in whose charge
Duare has been placed. Hara Es is expecting you. I shall wait out here.
You are to be allowed to remain with Duare for five vir."

Five vir are a little over twenty minutes of earth time. It seemed all
too short, but it was better than nothing. I went to the door of the
house, and in answer to my summons Hara Es admitted me.

"I have been expecting you," she said. "Come with me."

She led me up to the second floor and unlocking a door, pushed it open.
"Go in," she directed. "In five vir I shall come for you."

* * * * *

As I entered the room Duare rose from a couch and faced me. Hara Es
closed the door and locked it. I heard her footsteps as she descended the
stairs. We were alone, Duare and I, for the first time in what seemed an
eternity to me.

"Why did you come here?" asked Duare in a tired voice.

"You ask me that!" I exclaimed. "You know why I came."

She shook her head. "You cannot do anything for me; no one can. I
supposed you would come if you could help me, but as you can't I do not
know why you came."

"If for no other reason, because I love you. Is not that reason enough?"

"Do not speak to me of love," she said, looking at me queerly.

I determined not to make her last moments more unhappy by pressing
unwelcome attention upon her. I sought to cheer her, but she said that
she was not unhappy."

"I am not afraid to die, Carson Napier," she said. "As it seems
impossible that, living, I should ever return to Vepaja, I prefer to
die. I am not happy. I can never be happy.

"Why could you never be happy?" I demanded.

"That is my secret; I shall take it to the grave with me. Let us not
speak of it any more."

"I don't wish you to die, Duare. You must not die!" I exclaimed.

"I know that you feel that way, Carson, but what are we to do about it?"

"There must be something we can do. How many are there in this house
besides Hara Es and yourself?"

"There is no one."

Suddenly a mad hope possessed me. I searched the room with my eyes. It
was bare of all except absolute necessities. I saw nothing with which I
might carry out my plan. Time was flying. Hara Es would soon return. My
eyes fell upon the saronglike scarf that Duare wore, the common outer
garment of Amtorian women.

"Let me take this," I said, stepping to her side.

"What for?" she demanded.

"Never mind. Do as I say! We have no time to argue! Duare had long since
learned to submerge her pride when my tone told her that an emergency
confronted us and to obey me promptly. She did so now. Quickly she
unwound the scarf from about her and handed it to me.

"Here it is," she said. "What are you going to do with it?"

"Wait and see. Stand over there on the right side of the room. Here
comes Hara Es now; I hear her on the stairs."

I stepped quickly to one side of the door so that I should be behind it
and hidden from Hara Es as she entered. Then I waited. More than my own
life lay in the balance, yet I was not nervous. My heart beat as quietly
as though I were contemplating nothing more exciting than a pleasant
social visit.

I heard Hara Es stop before the door. I heard the key turn in the lock.
Then the door swung open and Hara Es stepped into the room. As she did
so I seized her by the throat from behind and pushed the door shut with
my foot.

"Don't make a sound," I warned, "or I shall have to kill you."

She did not lose her poise for an instant. "You are very foolish," she
said. "This will not save Duare, and it will mean your death. You cannot
escape from Havatoo."

I made no reply, but worked quickly and in silence. I bound her securely
with the scarf and then gagged her. When I had finished I raised her
from the floor and placed her on the couch.

"I am sorry, Hara Es, for what I was compelled to do. I am going now to
get rid of Ero Shan. He will know nothing of what I have done. Please be
sure to inform the Sanjong that Ero Shan is in no way responsible for
what has happened--or what is going to happen. I shall leave you here
until I can get away from Ero Shan without arousing his suspicions.

"In the meantime, Duare, watch Hara Es closely until I return. See that
she does not loosen her bonds."

I stooped and picked the key from the floor where Hara Es had dropped
it; then I quit the room, locking the door after me. A moment later I
was in the car with Ero Shan.

"Let's get home as quickly as possible," I said; then I lapsed into
silence, a silence which Ero Shan, respecting what he thought to be my
sorrow, did not break.

He drove rapidly, but it seemed an eternity before he steered the car
into the garage at the house. There being no thieves in Havatoo, locks
are unnecessary; so our garage doors stood wide open as they always were
except in inclement weather. My car, facing toward the street, stood
there.

"You have eaten scarcely anything all day," said Ero Shan as we entered
the house; "suppose we have something now."

"No, thanks," I replied. "I am going to my room. I could not eat now."

He laid a hand upon my arm and pressed it gently, but he did not say
anything; then he turned and left me. A wonderful friend was Ero Shan. I
hated to deceive him, but I would have deceived any one to save Duare.

* * * * *

I went to my room, but only long enough to procure weapons; then I
returned to the garage. As I stepped into my car I offered a prayer of
thanks that the motors of Havatoo are silent. Like a wraith the car
slipped out of the garage into the night, and as I passed the house I
whispered a silent good-by to Ero Shan.

Approaching the house of Hara Es I felt the first qualm of nervousness
that had assailed me during this adventure, but the house seemed quite
deserted as I entered it and ran up the stairs to the second floor.

Unlocking the door of the room in which I had left Duare and Hara Es I
breathed a sigh of relief as I saw them both there. I crossed quickly to
the couch and examined Hara Es's bonds. They appeared quite secure.

"Come!" I said to Duare. "We have no time to waste."

She followed me out of the room. I locked the door on Hara Es, found
another sarong for Duare in a room on the first floor, and a moment
later Duare and I were in my car.

"Where are we going?" she asked. "We cannot hide in Havatoo. They will
find us."

"We are going to leave Havatoo forever," I replied, and just then I saw
a car pass us and draw up in front of the house we had left. Two
men were in it; one of them jumped out and ran to the door; then I
opened the throttle. I had seen enough to turn me cold with
apprehension.

Duare had seen, too. "Now they will discover everything," she said, "and
you will be killed. I knew that it would end in disaster. Oh, why didn't
you let me die alone? I want to die."

"But I won't let you!"

She said nothing more, and we sped through the now almost deserted
streets of Havatoo toward the Kantum Lat. and the Gate of the Physicists.

We had gone about two miles of the three that we must cover before we
reached our destination when I heard an ominous sound such as I had
never before heard in Havatoo. It sounded like the wailing of sirens
such as are used on police cars in the large cities of America.
Instantly I knew that it was an alarm, and I guessed that the man who
had entered the house of Hara Es had discovered her and that our escape
was known.

Closer and closer came the sounds of the wailing sirens as I drew up
before the hangar where my plane stood; they seemed to be converging
upon us from all directions. I was not surprised that they should have
guessed where they would find us, for it would have been obvious to even
duller minds than those of Havatoo that here lay my only chance to
escape.

Fairly dragging Duare with me, I leaped from the car and ran into the
hangar. The great doors, operated by mechanical means, rolled open at
the touch of a button. I lifted Duare into the cockpit. She asked no
questions; there was no time for questions.

Then I took my place at her side. I had designed the plane for training
purposes; and it had two seats, each accommodating two people. I started
the motor--and such a motor! Silent, vibrationless, and it required no
warming up.

I taxied out into the Kantum Lat. The sirens were very close now. I saw
the lights of cars bearing down upon us. As I started toward the Gate of
the Physicists I heard the staccato hum of Amtorian rifles behind us.
They were firing at us!

I nosed up; the wheels left the ground; the great gate loomed directly
ahead. Up! Faster! Faster! I held my breath. Would we make it?
Responding perfectly, the light ship climbed almost vertically in the
last few seconds; she sped over the top of the lofty gate with only
inches to spare. We were safe!

Far below, the lights of Havatoo lay behind us as I turned the ship's
nose toward the shimmering ribbon that was the River of Death--the River
of Life to us--that was to guide us down to that unknown sea where, I
was confident, we would find Vepaja.

Duare had not spoken. I felt her arm against mine trembling. I reached
over and laid a hand upon it. "Why are you trembling?" I asked. "You are
quite safe now."

"What is this thing we are in?" she asked. "Why does it not fall to the
ground and kill us? What keeps it up?"

I explained as best I could, telling her that there was no danger that
it would fall; and then she drew a deep, long sigh of relief.

"If you say that we are safe; then I am afraid no longer," she said.
"But tell me, why are you making this sacrifice for me?"

"What sacrifice?" I asked.

"You can never return to Havatoo now; they would kill you."

"I do not want to return to Havatoo if you cannot live there in safety,"
I replied.

"But what of Nalte?" she asked. "You love one another, and now you can
never see her again."

"I do not love Nalte, nor does she love me. I love only you, Duare; and
Nalte and Ero Shan love one another. We are on our way to Vepaja; I
would rather take my chances of winning you there than live a Sanjong in
Havatoo without you."

She sat in silence for a long time; then, presently, she turned and
looked up into my face. "Carson!" she said in a low voice.

Yes, Duare, what is it?"

"I love you!"

I could not believe that I had heard right. "But, Duare, you are the
daughter of a jong of Vepaja!" I exclaimed.

"That I have known always," she said, "but I have just learned that
above all things else I am a woman."

I took her in my arms then. I could have held her thus forever, as our
marvelous plane raced onwards toward Vepaja and home.



THE END




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