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Title: The Hills of the Dead
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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Title: The Hills of the Dead
Author: Robert E. Howard




Contents



Chapter I. Voodoo

Chapter II. Red Eyes

Chapter III. Dream Magic

Chapter IV. The Silent City

Chapter V. Palaver Set!





Chapter I. Voodoo

The twigs which N'Longa flung on the fire broke and crackled. The
upleaping flames lighted the countenances of the two men. N'Longa,
voodoo man of the Slave Coast, was very old. His wizened and gnarled
frame was stooped and brittle, his face creased by hundreds of
wrinkles. The red firelight glinted on the human finger-bones which
composed his necklace.

The other was an Englishman, and his name was Solomon Kane. He was
tall and broad-shouldered, clad in black close garments, the garb of
the Puritan. His featherless slouch hat was drawn low over his heavy
brows, shadowing his darkly pallid face. His cold deep eyes brooded in
the firelight.

"You come again, brother," droned the fetish-man, speaking in the
jargon which passed for a common language of black man and white on
the West Coast. "Many moons burn and die since we make blood-palaver.
You go to the setting sun, but you come back!"

"Aye," Kane's voice was deep and almost ghostly. "Yours is a grim
land, N'Longa, a red land barred with the black darkness of horror and
the bloody shadows of death. Yet I have returned."

N'Longa stirred the fire, saying nothing, and after a pause Kane
continued.

"Yonder in the unknown vastness"--his long finger stabbed at the black
silent jungle which brooded beyond the firelight--"yonder lie mystery
and adventure and nameless terror. Once I dared the jungle--once she
nearly claimed my bones. Something entered into my blood, something
stole into my soul like a whisper of unnamed sin. The jungle! Dark and
brooding --over leagues of the blue salt sea she has drawn me and with
the dawn I go to seek the heart of her. Mayhap I shall find curious
adventure--mayhap my doom awaits me. But better death than the
ceaseless and everlasting urge, the fire that has burned my veins with
bitter longing."

"She call," muttered N'Longa. "At night she coil like serpent about my
hut and whisper strange things to me. Ai ya! The jungle call. We be
blood brothers, you and I. Me, N'Longa, mighty worker of nameless
magic! You go to the jungle as all men go who hear her call. Maybe you
live, morelike you die. You believe in my fetish work?"

"I understand it not," said Kane grimly, "but I have seen you send
your soul forth from your body to animate a lifeless corpse."

"Aye! Me N'Longa! priest of the Black God! Now watch, I make magic."

Kane gazed at the old voodoo man who bent over the fire, making even
motions with his hands mumbling incantations. Kane watched and he
seemed to grow sleepy. A mist wavered in front of him, through which
he saw dimly the form N'Longa, etched dark against the flames. Then
faded out.

Kane awoke with a start, hand shooting to pistol in his belt. N'Longa
grinned at him across the flame and there was a scent of early dawn
the air. The fetish-man held a long stave of curious black wood in his
hands. This stave was carved in a strange manner, and one end tapered
to a sharp point.

"This voodoo staff," said N'Longa, putting it in the Englishman's
hand. "Where your guns and long knife fail, this save you. When you
want me lay this on your breast, fold your hands on it and sleep. I
come to you in your dreams."

Kane weighed the thing in his hand, highly suspicious of witchcraft.
It was not heavy, but seemed as hard as iron. A good weapon at least,
he decided. Dawn was just beginning to steal over the jungle and the
river.



Chapter II. Red Eyes

Solomon Kane shifted his musket from his shoulder and let the stock
fall to the earth. Silence lay about him like a fog. Kane's lined face
and tattered garments showed the effect of long bush travel. He looked
about him.

Some distance behind him loomed the green, rank jungle, thinning out
to low shrubs, stunted trees and tall grass. Some distance in front of
him rose the first of a chain of bare, sombre hills, littered with
boulders, shimmering in the merciless heat of the sun. Between the
hills and the jungle lay a broad expanse of rough, uneven grasslands,
dotted here and there by clumps of thorn trees.

An utter silence hung over the country. The only sign of life was a
few vultures flapping heavily across the distant hills. For the last
few days Kane had noticed the increasing number of these unsavoury
birds. The sun was rocking westward but its heat was in no way abated.

Trailing his musket he started forward slowly. He had no objective in
view. This was all unknown country and one direction was as good as
another. Many weeks ago he had plunged into the jungle with the
assurance born of courage and ignorance. Having by some miracle
survived the first few weeks, he w coming hard and toughened, able
to hold his own with any of the grim denizens of the fastness he
dared.

As he progressed he noted an occasional lion spoor but there seemed to
be no animals in the grasslands--none that left tracks, at any rate.
Vultures sat like black, brooding images in some of the stunted trees,
and suddenly he saw an activity among them some distance beyond.
Several of the dusky birds circled about a clump of high grass, dipping,
then rising again. Some beast of prey was defending his kill against
them, Kane decided, and wondered at the lack of snarling and roaring
which usually accompanied such scenes. His curiosity was roused and he
turned his steps in that direction.

At last, pushing through the grass which rose about his shoulders, he
saw, as through a corridor walled with the rank waving blades, a
ghastly sight. The corpse of a black man lay, face down, and as the
Englishman looked, a great dark snake rose and slid away into the
grass, moving so quickly that Kane was unable to decide its nature.
But it had a weird human-like suggestion about it.

Kane stood over the body, noting that while the limbs lay awry as if
broken, the flesh was not torn as a lion or leopard would have torn
it. He glanced up at the whirling vultures and was amazed to see
several of them skimming along close to the earth, following a waving
of the grass which marked the flight of the thing which had presumably
slain the black man. Kane wondered what thing the carrion birds, which
eat only the dead, were hunting through the grasslands. But Africa is
full of never-explained mysteries.

Kane shrugged his shoulders and lifted his musket again. Adventures he
had had in plenty since he parted from N'Longa some moons agone, but
still that nameless paranoid urge had driven him on and on, deeper and
deeper into those trackless ways. Kane could not have analysed this
call; he would have attributed it to Satan, who lures men to their
destruction. But it was but the restless turbulent spirit of the
adventurer, the wanderer--the same urge which sends the gipsy caravans
about the world, which drove the Viking galleys over unknown seas and
which guides the flights of the wild geese.

Kane sighed. Here in this barren land seemed neither food nor water,
but he had wearied unto death of the dank, rank venom of the thick
jungle. Even a wilderness of bare hills was preferable, for a time at
least. He glanced at them, where they lay brooding in the sun, and
started forward again.

He held N'Longa's fetish stave in his left hand, and though his
conscience still troubled him for keeping a thing so apparently
diabolic in nature, he had never been able to bring himself to throw
it away.

Now as he went toward the hills, a sudden commotion broke out in the
tall grass in front of him, which was, in places, taller than a man. A
thin, high-pitched scream sounded and on its heels an earth-shaking
roar. The grass parted and a slim figure came flying toward him like a
wisp of straw blown on the wind --a brown-skinned girl, clad only in a
skirt-like garment. Behind her, some yards away but gaining swiftly,
came a huge lion.

The girl fell at Kane's feet with a wail and a sob, and lay clutching
at his ankles. The Englishman dropped the voodoo stave, raised his
musket to his shoulder and sighted coolly at the ferocious feline face
which neared him every instant. Crash! The girl screamed once and
slumped on her face. The huge cat leaped high and wildly, to fall and
lie motionless.

Kane reloaded hastily before he spared a glance at the form at his
feet. The girl lay as still as the lion he had just slain, but a quick
examination showed that she had only fainted.

He bathed her face with water from his canteen and presently she
opened her eyes and sat up. Fear flooded her face as she looked at her
rescuer, and she made to rise.

Kane held out a restraining hand and she cowered down, trembling. The
roar of his heavy musket was enough to frighten any native who had
never before seen a white man, Kane reflected.

The girl was slim and well-formed. Her nose was straight and thin-
bridged. She was a deep brown in colour, perhaps with a strong Berber
strain.

Kane spoke to her in a river dialect, a simple language he had learned
during his wanderings and she replied haltingly. The inland tribe
traded slaves and ivory to the river people and were familiar with
their jargon.

"My village is there," she answered Kane's question, pointing to the
southern jungle with a slim, rounded arm. "My name is Zunna. My mother
whipped me for breaking a cooking-kettle and I ran away because I was
angry. I am afraid; let me go back to my mother!"

"You may go," said Kane, "but I will take you, child. Suppose another
lion came along? You were very foolish to run away."

She whimpered a little. "Are you not a god?"

"No. Zunna. I am only a man, though the colour of my skin is not as yours.
Lead me now to your village."

She rose hesitantly, eyeing him apprehensively through the wild tangle
of her hair. To Kane she seemed like some frightened young animal. She
led the way and Kane followed. She indicated that her village lay to
the southeast, and their route brought them nearer to the hills. The
sun began to sink and the roaring of lions reverberated over
grasslands. Kane glanced at the western sky; open country was no place
in which to be caught by night. He glanced toward the hills and that
they were within a few hundred yards of the nearest. He saw what
seemed to be a cave.

"Zunna," said he haltingly, "we can never reach your village before
nightfall. If we bide here the lions will take us. Yonder is a cavern
where we may spend the night--"

She shrank and trembled.

"Not in the hills, master!" she whimpered. "Better the lions!"

"Nonsense!" His tone was impatient; he had had enough of native
superstition. "We will spend the night in yonder cave."

She argued no further, but followed him. They went up a short slope
and stood at the mouth of the cavern, a small affair, with sides of
solid rock a floor of deep sand.

"Gather some dry grass, Zunna," commanded Kane, standing his musket
against the wall at the mouth of the cave. "But go not far away, and
listen for lions. I will build here a fire which shall keep us safe
from beasts tonight. Bring some grass and twigs you may find, like a
good child, and we will sup. I have dried meat in my pouch and water
also."

She gave him a strange, long glance, then turned away without a word.
Kane tore up grass near at hand, noting how it was seared and crisp
from the sun, and heaping it up, struck flint and steel. Flame leaped
up and devoured the heap in an instant. He was wondering how he could
gather enough grass to keep a fire going all night, when he was aware
that he had visitors.

Kane was used to grotesque sights, but at first glance he started and
a slight coldness travelled down his spine. Two men stood before him
in silence. They were tall and gaunt and entirely naked. Their skins
were a dusty black, tinged with a grey, ashy hue, as of death. Their
faces were different from any he had ever seen. The brows were high
and narrow, the noses huge and snout-like; the eyes were inhumanly
large and inhumanly red. As the two stood there it seemed to Kane that
only their burning eyes lived.

He spoke to them, but they did not answer. He invited them to eat with
a motion of his hand, and they silently squatted down near the cave
mouth, as far from the dying embers of the fire as they could get.

Kane turned to his pouch and began taking out the strips of dried meat
which he carried. Once he glanced at his silent guests; it seemed to
him that they were watching the glowing ashes of his fire, rather than
him.

The sun was about to sink behind the western horizon. A red, fierce
glow spread over the grasslands, so that all seemed like a waving sea
of blood. Kane knelt over his pouch, and glancing up, saw Zunna come
around the shoulder of the hill with her arms full of grass and dry
branches.

As he looked, her eyes flared wide; the branches dropped from her arms
and her scream knifed the silence, fraught with terrible warning. Kane
whirled on his knee. Two great forms loomed over him as he came up
with the lithe motion of a springing leopard. The fetish stave was in
his hand and he drove it through the body of the nearest foe with a
force which sent its sharp point out between the man's shoulders. Then
the long, lean arms of the other locked about him, and the two went
down together.

The talon-like nails of the stranger were tearing at his face, the
hideous red eyes staring into his with a terrible threat, as Kane
writhed about and, fending off the clawing hands with one arm, drew a
pistol. He pressed the muzzle close against the savage side and pulled
the trigger. At the muffled report, the stranger's body jerked to the
concussion of the bullet, but the thick lips merely gaped in a horrid
grin.

One long arm slid under Kane's shoulders, the other hand gripped his
hair. The Englishman felt his head being forced back irresistibly. He
clutched at the other's wrists with both hands, but the flesh under
his frantic fingers was as hard as wood. Kane's brain was reeling; his
neck seemed ready to break with a little more pressure. He threw his
body backward with one volcanic effort, breaking the deadly hold. The
other was on him, and the talons were clutching again. Kane found and
raised the empty pistol, and he felt the man's skull cave in like a
shell as he brought down the long barrel with all his strength. And
once again the writhing lips parted in fearful mockery.

And now a near panic clutched Kane. What sort of man was this, who
still menaced his life with tearing fingers, after having been shot
and mortally bludgeoned? No man, surely, but one of the sons of Satan!
At the thought Kane wrenched and heaved explosively, and the close-
locked combatants tumbled across the earth to come to a rest in the
smouldering ashes before the cave mouth. Kane barely felt the heat,
but the mouth of his foe gaped, this time in seeming agony. The
frightful fingers loosened their hold and Kane sprang clear.

The savage creature with his shattered skull was rising on one hand
and one knee when Kane struck, returning to the attack as a gaunt wolf
returns to a wounded bison. From the side he leaped, landing full on
the sinewy back, his steely arms seeking and finding a deadly
wrestling hold; and as they went to the earth together he broke the
other's neck, so that the hideous dead face looked back over one
shoulder. The body lay still but to Kane it seemed that it was not
dead even then, for the red eyes still burned with their grisly light.

The Englishman turned, to see the girl crouching against the cave
wall. He looked for his stave; it lay in a heap of dust, among which
were a few mouldering bones. He stared, his brain reeling. Then with
one stride he caught up the voodoo staff and turned to the fallen man.
His face set in grim lines as he raised it; then he drove it through
the savage breast. And before his eyes, the great body crumbled,
dissolving to dust as he watched horror-struck, even as the first
opponent had crumbled when Kane had first thrust the stave.



Chapter III. Dream Magic

"Great God!" whispered Kane. "The men were dead! Vampires! This is
Satan's handiwork manifested."

Zunna crawled to his knees and clung there.

"These be walking dead men, master," she whimpered. "I should have
warned you."

"Why did they not leap on my back when they first came?" asked he.

"They feared the fire. They were waiting for the embers to die
entirely."

"Whence came they?"

"From the hills. Hundreds of their kind swarm among the boulders and
caverns of these hills, and they live on human life, for a man they
will slay, devouring his ghost as it leaves his quivering body. Aye,
they are suckers of souls!

"Master, among the greater of these hills there is a silent city of
stone, and in the old times, in the days of my ancestors, these people
lived there. They were human, but they were not as we, for they had
ruled this land for ages and ages. The ancestors of my people made war
on them and slew many, and their magicians made all the dead men as
these were. At last all died.

"And for ages have they preyed on the tribes of the jungle, stalking
down from the hills at mid-night and at sunset to haunt the jungle-
ways and slay and slay. Men and beasts flee them and only fire will
destroy them."

"Here is that which will destroy them," said Kane grimly, raising the
voodoo stave. "Black magic must fight black magic, and I know not what
spell N'Longa put hereon, but--"

"You are a god," Zunna decided aloud. "No man could overcome two of
the walking dead men. Master, can you not lift this curse from my
tribe? There is nowhere for us to flee and the monsters slay us at
will, catching wayfarers outside the village wall. Death is on this
land and we die helpless!"

Deep in Kane stirred the spirit of the crusader, the fire of the
zealot--the fanatic who devotes his life to battling the powers of
darkness.

"Let us eat," said he; "then we will build a great fire at the cave
mouth. The fire which keeps away beasts shall also keep away fiends."

Later Kane sat just inside the cave, chin rested on clenched fist,
eyes gazing unseeingly into the fire. Behind in the shadows, Zunna
watched him, awed.

"God of Hosts," Kane muttered, "grant me aid! My hand it is which must
lift the ancient curse from this dark land. How am I to fight these
dead fiends, who yield not to mortal weapons? Fire will destroy
them--a broken neck renders them helpless--the voodoo stave thrust
through them crumbles them to dust--but of what avail? How may I
prevail against the hundreds who haunt these hills, and to whom human
life-essence is Life? Have not--as Zunna says--warriors come against
them in the past, only to find them fled to their high-walled city
where no man can come against them?"

The night wore on. Zunna slept, her cheek pillowed on her round,
girlish arm. The roaring of the lions shook the hills and still Kane
sat and gazed broodingly into the fire. Outside, the night was alive
with whispers and rustlings and stealthily soft footfalls. And at
times Kane, glancing up from his meditations, seemed to catch the
gleam of great red eyes beyond the flickering light of the fire.

Grey dawn was stealing over the grasslands when Kane shook Zunna into
wakefulness.

"God have mercy on my soul for delving in barbaric magic," said he,
"but demonry must be fought with demonry, mayhap. Tend ye the fire and
aware me if aught untoward occur."

Kane lay down on his back on the sand floor and laid the voodoo staff
on his breast, folding his hands upon it. He fell asleep instantly.
And sleeping, he dreamed. To his slumbering self it seemed that he
walked through a thick fog and in this fog he met N'Longa, true to
life. N'Longa spoke, and the words were clear and vivid, impressing
themselves on his consciousness so deeply as to span the gap between
sleeping and waking.

"Send this girl to her village soon after sun-up when the lions have
gone to their lairs," said N'Longa, "and bid her bring her lover to
you at this cave. There make him lie down as if to slumber, holding
the voodoo stave."

The dream faded and Kane awoke suddenly, wondering. How strange and
vivid had been the vision, and how strange to hear N'Longa talking in
English, without the jargon! Kane shrugged his shoulders. He knew that
N'Longa claimed to possess the power of sending his spirit through
space, and he himself had seen the voodoo man animate a dead man's
body. Still--

"Zunna," said Kane, giving the problem up, "I will go with you as far
as the edge of the jungle and you must go on to your village and
return here to this cave with your lover."

"Kran?" she asked naively.

"Whatever his name is. Eat and we will go."

Again the sun slanted toward the west. Kane sat in the cave, waiting.
He had seen the girl safely to the place where the jungle thinned to
the grasslands, and though his conscience stung him at the thought of
the dangers which might confront her, he sent her on alone and
returned to the cave. He sat now, wondering if he would not be damned
to everlasting flames for tinkering with the magic of a black
sorcerer, blood-brother or not.

Light footfalls sounded, and as Kane reached for his musket, Zunna
entered, accompanied by a tall, splendidly proportioned youth whose
brown skin showed that he was of the same race as the girl. His soft
dreamy eyes were fixed on Kane in a sort of awesome worship. Evidently
the girl had not minimized this new god's glory in her telling.

He bade the youth lie down as he directed and placed the voodoo stave
in his hands. Zunna crouched at one side, wide-eyed. Kane stepped
back, half ashamed of this mummery and wondering what, if anything,
would come of it. Then to his horror, the youth gave one gasp and
stiffened!

Zunna screamed, bounding erect, "You have killed Kran!" she shrieked,
flying at the Englishman who stood struck speechless.

Then she halted suddenly, wavered, drew a hand languidly across her
brow--she slid down to lie with her arms about the motionless body of
her lover.

And this body moved suddenly, made aimless motions with hands and
feet, then sat up, disengaging itself from the clinging arms of the
still senseless girl.

Kran looked up at Kane and grinned, a sly, knowing grin which seemed
out of place on his face somehow. Kane started. Those soft eyes had
changed in expression and were now hard and glittering and snaky--
N'Longa's eyes!

"Ai ya," said Kran in a grotesquely familiar voice. "Blood-brother,
you got no greeting for N'Longa?"

Kane was silent. His flesh crawled in spite of himself--Kran rose and
stretched his arms in an unfamiliar sort of way, as if his limbs were
new to him. He slapped his breast approvingly.

"Me N'Longa!" said he in the old boastful manner. "Mighty ju-ju man!
Blood-brother, not you know me, eh?"

"You are Satan," said Kane sincerely. "Are you Kran or are you
N'Longa?"

"Me N'Longa," assured the other. "My body sleep in ju-ju hut on Coast
many treks from here. I borrow Kran's body for while. My ghost travel
ten days march in one breath; twenty days march in same time. My ghost
go out from my body and drive out Kran's."

"And Kran is dead?"

"No, he no dead. I send his ghost to shadow-land for a while--send the
girl's ghost too, to keep him company; bimeby come back."

"This is the work of the Devil," said Kane frankly, "but I have seen
you do even fouler magic--shall I call you N'Longa or Kran?"

"Kran--kah! Me N'Longa--bodies like clothes! Me N'Longa, in here
now!" he rapped his breast. "Bimeby Kran live along here--then he be
Kran and I be N'Longa, same like before. Kran no live along now;
N'Longa live along this one fellow body. Blood-brother, I am N'Longa!"

Kane nodded. This was in truth a land of horror and enchantment;
anything was possible, even that the thin voice of N'Longa should
speak to him from the great chest of Kran, and the snaky eyes of
N'Longa should blink at him from the handsome young face of Kran.

"This land I know long time," said N'Longa, getting down to business.
"Mighty ju-ju, these dead people! No need to waste one fellow time--I
know--I talk to you in sleep. My blood-brother want to kill out these
dead fellows, eh?"

"Tis a thing opposed to nature," said Kane sombrely. "They are known
in my land as vampires I never expected to come upon a whole nation of
them."



Chapter IV. The Silent City

"Now we find this stone city," said N'Longa.

"Yes? Why not send your ghost out to kill these vampires?" Kane asked
idly.

"Ghost got to have one fellow body to work in," N'Longa answered.
"Sleep now. Tomorrow we start."

The sun had set; the fire glowed and flickered in the cave mouth. Kane
glanced at the still form of the girl, who lay where she had fallen,
and prepared himself for slumber.

"Awake me at midnight," he admonished, "and I will watch from then
until dawn."

But when N'Longa finally shook his arm, Kane awoke to see the first
light of dawn reddening the land.

"Time we start," said the fetish-man.

"But the girl--are you sure she lives?"

"She live, blood-brother."

"Then in God's name, we can not leave her here at the mercy of any
prowling fiend who might chance upon her. Or some lion might--"

"No lion come. Vampire scent still linger, mixed with man scent. One
fellow lion he no like man scent and he fear the walking dead men. No
beast come, and"--lifting the voodoo stave and laying it across the
cave entrance--"no dead man come now."

Kane watched him sombrely and without enthusiasm.

"How will that rod safeguard her?"

"That mighty ju-ju," said N'Longa. "You see how one fellow vampire go
along dust alongside that stave! No vampire dare touch or come near
it. I gave it to you, because outside Vampire Hills one fellow man
sometimes meet a corpse walking in jungle when shadows be black. Not
all walking dead men be here. And all must suck life from men--if not,
they rot like dead wood."

"Then make many of these rods and arm me people with them."

"No can do!" N'Longa's skull shook violently. "That ju-ju rod be
mighty magic! Old, old! No man live today can tell how old that fellow
ju-ju stave be. I make my blood-brother sleep and do magic with it to
guard him, that time we make palaver in Coast village. Today we scout
and run, no need it. Leave it here to guard girl."

Kane shrugged his shoulders and followed the fetish-man, after
glancing back at the still shape which lay in the cave. He would never
have agreed to leave her so casually, had he not believed in his heart
that she was dead. He had touched her, and her flesh was cold.

They went up among the barren hills as the sun was rising. Higher they
climbed, up steep clay slopes, winding their way through ravines and
between great boulders. The hills were honey-combed with dark,
forbidding caves, and these they passed warily, and Kane's flesh
crawled as he thought of the grisly occupants therein. For N'Longa
said:

"Them vampires, he sleep in caves most all day till sunset. Them
caves, he be full of one fellow dead man."

The sun rose higher, baking down on the bare slopes with an
intolerable heat. Silence brooded like an evil monster over the land.
They had seen nothing, but Kane could have sworn at times that a black
shadow drifted behind a boulder at their approach.

"Them vampires, they stay hid in daytime," said N'Longa with a low
laugh. "They be afraid of one fellow vulture! No fool vulture! He know
death when he see it! He pounce on one fellow dead man and tear and
eat if he be lying or walking!"

A strong shudder shook his companion.

"Great God!" Kane cried, striking his thigh with his hat; "is there no
end to the horror of this hideous land? Truly this land is dedicated
to the powers of darkness!"

Kane's eyes burned with a dangerous light. The terrible heat, the
solitude and the knowledge of the horrors lurking on either hand were
shaking even his steely nerves.

"Keep on one fellow hat, blood-brother," admonished N'Longa with a low
gurgle of amusement. "That fellow sun, he knock you dead, suppose you
no look out."

Kane shifted the musket he had insisted on bringing and made no reply.
They mounted an eminence at last and looked down on a sort of plateau.
And in the centre of this plateau was a silent city of grey and
crumbling stone. Kane was smitten by a sense of incredible age as he
looked. The walls and houses were of great stone blocks, yet they were
falling into ruin. Grass grew on the plateau, and high in the streets
of that dead city. Kane saw no movement among the ruins.

"That is their city--why do they choose to asleep in the caves?"

"Maybe-so one fellow stone fall on them from roof and crush. Them
stone huts, he fall down bimeby. Maybe-so they no like to stay
together --maybe-so they eat each other, too."

"Silence!" whispered Kane; "how it hangs over all!"

"Them vampires no talk nor yell; they dead. They sleep in caves,
wander at sunset and at night. Maybe-so them fellow bush tribes come
with spears, them vampires go to stone kraal and fight behind walls."

Kane nodded. The crumbling walls which surrounded that dead city were
still high and solid enough to resist the attack of spearmen--
especially when defended by these snout-nosed fiends.

"Blood-brother," said N'Longa solemnly, "I have mighty magic thought!
Be silent a little while."

Kane seated himself on a boulder, and gazed broodingly at the bare
crags and slopes which surrounded them. Far away to the south he saw
the leafy green ocean that was the jungle. Distance lent a certain
enchantment to the scene. Closer at hand loomed the dark blotches that
were the mouths of the caves of horror.

N'Longa was squatting, tracing some strange pattern in the clay with a
dagger point. Kane watched him, thinking how easy they might fall
victim to the vampires if even three or four of the fiends should come
out of their caverns. And even as he thought it, a black and horrific
shadow fell across the crouching fetish-man.

Kane acted without conscious thought. He shot from the boulder where
he sat--like a stone hurled from a catapult, and his musket stock
shattered the face of the hideous thing who had stolen upon them. Back
and back Kane drove his inhuman foe staggering, never giving him time
to halt or launch an offensive, battering him with the onslaught of a
frenzied tiger.

At the very edge of the cliff the vampire wavered, then pitched back
over, to fall for a hundred feet and lie writhing on the rocks of the
plateau below. N'Longa was on his feet pointing; the hills were giving
up their dead.

Out of the caves they were swarming, the terrible black silent shapes;
up the slopes they came charging and over the boulders they came
clambering, and their red eyes were all turned toward the two humans
who stood above the silent city. The caves belched them forth in an
unholy judgment day.

N'Longa pointed to a crag some distance away and with a shout started
running fleetly toward it. Kane followed. From behind boulders taloned
hands clawed at them, tearing their garments. They raced past caves,
and mummied monsters came lurching out of the dark, gibbering
silently, to join in the pursuit.

The dead hands were close at their back when they scrambled up the
last slope and stood on a ledge which was the top of the crag. The
fiends halted silently a moment, then came clambering after them. Kane
clubbed his musket and smashed down into the red-eyed faces, knocking
aside the upleaping hands. They surged up like a great wave; he swung
his musket in a silent fury that matched theirs. The wave broke and
wavered back; came on again.

He--could--not--kill--them! These words beat on his brain like a
sledge on an anvil as he shattered wood-like flesh and dead bone with
his smashing swings. He knocked them down, hurled them back, but they
rose and came on again. This could not last--what in God's name was
N'Longa doing? Kane spared one swift, tortured glance over his
shoulder. The fetish-man stood on the highest part of the ledge, head
thrown back, arms lifted as if in invocation.

Kane's vision blurred to the sweep of hideous faces with red, staring
eyes. Those in front were horrible to see now, for their skulls were
shattered, their faces caved in and their limbs broken. But still they
came on and those behind reached across their shoulders to clutch at
the man who defied them.

Kane was red but the blood was all his. From the long-withered veins
of those monsters no single drop of warm red blood trickled. Suddenly
from behind him came a long piercing wail--N'Longa! Over the crash
of the flying musket-stock and the shattering of bones it sounded high
and clear--the only voice lifted in that hideous fight.

The wave of vampires washed about Kane's feet, dragging him down. Keen
talons tore at him, flaccid lips sucked at his wounds. He reeled up
again, dishevelled and bloody, clearing a space with a shattering
sweep of his splintered musket. Then they closed in again and he went
down.

"This is the end!" he thought, but even at that instant the press
slackened and the sky was suddenly filled with the beat of great
wings.

Then he was free and staggered up, blindly and dizzily, ready to renew
the strife. He halted, frozen. Down the slope the vampire horde was
fleeing and over their heads and close at their shoulders flew huge
vultures, tearing and rending avidly, sinking their beaks in the dead
flesh, devouring the creatures as they fled.

Kane laughed, almost insanely.

"Defy man and God, but you may not deceive the vultures, sons of
Satan! They know whether a man be alive or dead!"

N'Longa stood like a prophet on the pinnacle, and the great blackbirds
soared and wheeled about him. His arms still waved and his voice still
wailed out across the hills. And over the skylines they came, hordes
on endless hordes--vultures, vultures, vultures! come to the feast so
long denied them. They blackened the sky with their numbers, blotted
out the sun; a strange darkness fell on the land. They settled in long
dusky lines, diving into the caverns with a whir of wings and a clash
of beaks. Their talons tore at the evil horrors which these caves
disgorged.

Now all the vampires were fleeing to their city. The vengeance held
back for ages had come down on them and their last hope was the heavy
walls which had kept back the desperate human foes. Under those
crumbling roofs they might find shelter. And N'Longa watched them
stream into the city, and he laughed until the crags re-echoed.

Now all were in and the birds settled like a cloud over the doomed
city, perching in solid rows along the walls, sharpening their beaks
and claws on the towers.

And N'Longa struck flint and steel to a bundle of dry leaves he had
brought with him. The bundle leaped into instant flame and he
straightened and flung the blazing thing far out over the cliffs. It
fell like a meteor to the plateau beneath, showering sparks. The tall
grass of the plateau leaped aflame.

From the silent city beneath them fear flowed in unseen waves, like a
white fog. Kane smiled grimly.

"The grass is sere and brittle from the drought," he said; "there has
been even less rain than usual this season; it will burn swiftly."

Like a crimson serpent the fire ran through high dead grass. It spread
and it spread and Kane, standing high above, yet felt the fearful
intensity of the hundreds of red eyes which watched from the stone
city.

Now the scarlet snake had reached the walls and was rearing as if to
coil and writhe over them. The vultures rose on heavily flapping wings
and soared reluctantly. A vagrant gust of wind whipped the blaze about
and drove it in a long red sheet around the wall. Now the city was
hemmed in on all sides by a solid barricade of flame. The roar came up
to the two men on the high crag.

Sparks flew across the wall, lighting in the high grass in the
streets. A score of flames leaped up and grew with terrifying speed. A
veil of red cloaked streets and buildings, and through this crimson,
whirling mist Kane and N'Longa saw hundreds of dark shapes scamper and
writhe, to vanish suddenly in red bursts of flame. There rose an
intolerable scent of decayed flesh burning.

Kane gazed, awed. This was truly a hell on earth. As in a nightmare he
looked into the roaring red cauldron where dark insects fought against
their doom and perished. The flames leaped a hundred feet into the
air, and suddenly above their roar sounded one bestial, inhuman scream
like a shriek from across nameless gulfs of cosmic apace, as one
vampire, dying, broke the chains of silence which had held him for
untold centuries. High and haunting it rose, the death cry of a
vanishing race.

Then the flames dropped suddenly. The conflagration had been a typical
grass fire, short and fierce. Now the plateau showed a blackened
expanse and the city a charred and smoking mass of crumbling stone.
Not one corpse lay in view, not even a charred bone. Above all whirled
the dark swarms of the vultures, but they, too, were beginning to
scatter.

Kane gazed hungrily at the clean blue sky. Like a strong sea wind
clearing a fog of horror was the sight to him. From somewhere sounded
the faint and far-off roaring of a distant lion. The vultures were
flapping away in black, straggling lines.



Chapter V. Palaver Set!

Kane sat in the mouth of the cave where Zunna lay, submitting to the
fetish-man's bandaging.

The Puritan's garments hung in tatters about his frame; his limbs and
breast were deeply gashed and darkly bruised, but he had had no mortal
wound in that deathly fight on the cliff.

"Mighty men, we be!" declared N'Longa with deep approval. "Vampire
city be silent now, sure 'nough! No walking dead man live along these
hills."

"I do not understand," said Kane, resting chin on hand. "Tell me,
N'Longa, how have you done things? How talked you with me in my
dreams; how came you into the body of Kran; and how summoned you the
vultures?"

"My blood-brother," said N'Longa, discarding his pride in his pidgin
English, to drop into the river language understood by Kane, "I am so
old that you would call me a liar if I told you my age. All my life I
have worked magic, sitting first at the feet of mighty ju-ju men of
the south and the east; then I was a slave to the Buckra and learned
more. My brother, shall I span all these years in a moment and make
you understand with a word, what has taken me so long to learn? I
could not even make you understand how these vampires have kept their
bodies from decay by drinking the lives of men.

"I sleep and my spirit goes out over the jungle and the rivers to talk
with the sleeping spirits of my friends. There is a mighty magic on
the voodoo staff I gave you--a magic out of the Old Land which draws
my ghost to it as a white man's magnet draws metal."

Kane listened unspeaking, seeing for the first time in N'Longa's
glittering eyes something stronger and deeper than the avid gleam of
the worker in black magic. To Kane it seemed almost as if he looked
into the far-seeing and mystic eyes of a prophet of old.

"I spoke to you in dreams," N'Longa went on, "and I made a deep sleep
come over the souls of Kran and of Zunna, and remove them to a far dim
land, whence they shall soon return, unremembering. All things bow to
magic, blood-brother, and beasts and birds obey the master words. I
worked strong voodoo, vulture-magic, and flying people of the air
gathered at my call.

"These things I know and am a part of, but how shall I tell you of
them? Blood-brother, you are a mighty warrior, but in the ways of
magic you are as a little child lost. And what has taken me long dark
years to know, I may not divulge to you so you would understand. My
friend, you think only of bad spirits, but were my magic always bad,
should I not take this fine young body in place of my old wrinkled one
and keep it? But Kran shall have his body back safely.

"Keep the voodoo staff, blood-brother. It has mighty power against all
sorcerers and serpents and evil things. Now I return to the village on
the Coast where my true body sleeps. And what of you, my blood-
brother?"

Kane pointed silently eastward.

"The call grows no weaker. I go."

N'Longa nodded, held out his hand. Kane grasped it. The mystical
expression had gone from the fetish-man's face and the eyes twinkled
snakily with a sort of reptilian mirth.

"Me go now, blood-brother," said the fetish-man, returning to his
beloved jargon, of which knowledge he was prouder man all his
conjuring tricks. "You take care--that one fellow jungle, she pluck
your bones yet! Remember that voodoo stave, brother. Ai ya, palaver
set!"

He fell back on the sand, and Kane saw the keen, sly expression of
N'Longa fading from the face of Kran. His flesh crawled again.
Somewhere back on the Slave Coast, the body of N'Longa, withered and
wrinkled, was stirring in the ju-ju hut, was rising as if from a deep
sleep. Kane shuddered.

Kran sat up, yawned, stretched and smiled. Beside him the girl Zunna
rose, rubbing, her eyes.

"Master," said Kran apologetically, "we must have slumbered."



THE END



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