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Title: Bride of the Serpent God
Author: John Peter Drummond
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Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
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KI-GOR, LORD OF THE JUNGLE
Bride of the Serpent God
by
John Peter Drummond



I. - Treachery

KI-GOR placed a plump, scarlet berry in his mouth, and munched slowly,
with much satisfaction. He lay in the cool shade of a flowering shrub,
completely relaxed, obviously at peace with the world and pleased with
life in general. The only sounds were the soft hum of insects drawn by
the heavy scent of flowers and the lulling murmur of the broad river
which flowed a scant twenty paces from where Ki-Gor rested.

Helene, his mate, vibrantly young and alive, stood beside Ki-Gor. She
looked down at her lounging husband and feigning disapproval, she
placed hands on hips and sighed with disgust.

"You lazy thing, Ki-Gor. Are you going to lie there all day eating
berries?" she asked, pouting lips as red and much more inviting than
the fruit which had occupied her Jungle Lord the past half hour.

The bronzed giant stirred only slightly, and without opening his eyes,
he plumped another luscious berry in his mouth, and began chewing
contentedly. But a little boy's smile of guilt slowly edged his lips,
as he opened one cautious eye to peer at the accusing figure of his
wife.

"For two days, Mister Ki-Gor, you've been rushing me along like mad,
saying you had an important meeting here with Tembu George," she said,
pointing a meaning finger at the Jungle Lord. "Now that we are here, I
find no Tembu George, no important meeting, nothing but a lot of fruit
you persist in stuffing yourself with because it is the nearest and
easiest thing at hand!"

Ki-Gor's gray eyes opened wide in a great show of innocence. He made a
valiant, though completely unsuccessful, effort to show hurt dismay
that Helene would doubt his motives for a moment.

"Why, Helene, you know how healthful fruit is, and the fact it happens
to be hanging right at arm's reach from me has nothing to do with my
eating it," he righteously pointed out. "And you know also how very
good rest is to build a person up. That's the only reason I am lying
down."

The red-haired girl looked at the superbly proportioned body of her
mate, and burst out laughing. "You certainly look like you need to be
built up, you frail little mountain of a man!"

"Well, anyway," he grinned, "it is only proper to show adequate
appreciation of gifts so conveniently and lavishly provided for us by
nature." Stretching out his hand he urged, "Here, try some of these
berries you'll find them delicious."

Helene tossed her red hair in a definite negative reply, and nudged
Ki-Gor's ribs with one small foot.

"I will not let you fill me up on those things," she declared. "You
promised to catch me some fish for lunch if I would hurry, and I want
my fish!"

Ki-Gor shook his head apologetically. "Wrong time of day. Never catch
fish this time of day. Better wait until morning."

He watched the slim, briefly clad girl turn with a switch of her hips
and walk to where his spear rested on the ground. She bent, picked it
up, and returned to place it across his chest.

"I want fish!" she said.

The white man glanced from spear to river, and reflected sadly, "Too
muddy. I could never get anything in that muddy water. Besides, Tembu
George is due to arrive any minute, and there wouldn't be time to cook
fish even if we caught any."

"Fish, Ki-Gor!" Helene stated, catching the arm of the feebly
protesting Jungle Lord, tugging mightily. With much groaning he got to
his feet, and then abruptly he swept Helene up under one arm, and
grasping the spear with the other, strode toward the river, humming
loudly and tunelessly.

"Put me down, Ki-Gor! Don't you dare throw me in that river!" Helene
cried, wriggling and kicking as she tried to escape. On he strode,
unperturbed by the rising din of her cries. At the very edge of the
bank, he halted, carefully putting his spear down. He appeared to
debate as to where to throw the laughing, struggling girl, and then
his solemn face breaking into a smile, he carefully set her down on
the bank.

"Now sit there, and don't go puddling around the river bank," he told
her, "because there are some very discerning crocodiles hereabouts who
would like nothing better than a red-haired, long-legged young lady
for dessert today."

"Yes, sir," she replied. "Now you go to work."

Helene watched the agile grace with which the big man crouched and
picked up the spear. He straightened, threw back his massive
shoulders, and walked several steps away to where the bank overhung a
quiet, deep pool. He studied the spot, and then satisfied, he bent to
one knee, holding the spear ready.

Minutes passed, and the motionless Jungle Lord was a graven image, his
keen, searching eyes alone betraying the restless energy he held in
check. Then the muscles of his shoulder and arm abruptly tensed, as he
caught sight of a movement in the water below. A large fish passed
with a languid grace up from the depths toward the surface. It swept
by within Ki-Gor's reach, but he made no move, for with the subtle
judgment of a wild creature, he knew the chances were still too great
against a certain catch.

The big fish turned, and swept up ever closer to the surface, then
came in close to the bank. The speed of the Jungle Lord's action
bewildered the eye. With the smooth sureness of a piston-drive, his
powerful muscles sent the spear point true, even before the cold
lightning in the finny body could pull the fish to safety. The
practiced skill of a primitive fisherman showed in the adroit manner
in which Ki-Gor spun the twisting fish safely from the water and
deposited it carefully on the dry ground behind him.

Helene gleefully slapped her hands, watching the success of her
husband. "Ho, ho," she taunted him, "too muddy to catch anything, is
it? Now, my vegetarian friend, we begin to make some progress. Two
more as big as that, and you may go back to your resting."

She jumped to her feet and ran up the bank to make preparations for
cooking the meal. The Jungle Lord glanced at her running form, and
with a smile turned back to his patient task. Crouching on one knee,
he again seemed to freeze into stone, so still was his great body.

Pell mell up the low slope ran Helene in her typically enthusiastic
manner. Occupied with the matter before her, she paid little attention
to her surroundings, giving not a glance to the barrier of shrubs,
brush and thorn which rose head high around the clearing where they
had made camp. She bent to select stones to be heated red hot in
flames as the first step in preparing leaf wrapped fish steamed to
mouth-watering deliciousness in the native manner. She picked up one
rock, and started to reach for another when a low ominous rumble of
sound jerked her upright.

There at the edge of the clearing restlessly moved a big lion, its
mane golden in a bright shaft of sunlight. The huge male glanced
arrogantly around, his baleful yellow eyes coming to rest on the girl.
Out of the jungle behind the sleek male padded a lioness, nervously
testing the air.

Fright burned through Helene with an electric blaze. She kept her
head, however, and though prickles of anxiety ran along her spine,
with deliberate slowness she edged backward one step, then another.

Tense, evil, yellow eyes flickered and burned at her like twin
torches. Every instinct urged her to turn screaming and flee but with
iron will she fought off this suicidal impulse. Her greatest hope lay
in Ki-Gor's keen senses, for if the lions waited a few more moments
before deciding to charge, she felt it was a certainty her mate would
discover something was wrong and in some miraculous manner forestall
the fate which faced her.

But now the great male grew more restless than ever; his jaws opened
and the long tearing teeth glinted whitely against the red cavern of
his mouth. Issuing from his deep chest came a thunderous rumble of
hate, and he gathered himself in cat fashion for a swift, raging
charge at the defenseless woman.

The hideous challenge of the lion struck Ki-Gor's ears like a
thunderclap. He spun up and around, his gray eyes knifing up to Helene
and beyond to take in the situation at a glance. The surface robe of
civilization was torn away by what he saw. His nostrils spread and
whitened, his firm lips drew back over his teeth in an unuttered
snarl. Propelled by a jungle fury as great as that of the stalking
lion, he leaped forward to face the beast and shield Helene. Before
Ki-Gor could reach her, the huge lion straightened from its crouch and
flung with mad speed toward the girl.

Ki-Gor knew instantly he could never reach her. There was but one long
chance, and he took it. His steel muscles corded as he braked to a
stop, and drawing the heavy spear in his right arm back, he plunged it
forward with tremendous speed. The terrible power of the throw sent
the heavy spear hurtling like a weightless shadow. It sped past the
cringing girl and crashed between the fore legs of the charging lion,
through the beast's chest and deep into its vitals. The skewered
animal in its final plunge dashed the spear hilt against the ground
driving it in deeper. Then with a last gurgling roar of pain the big
male careened to one side of Helene and fell shuddering and dying in
the dirt.

Maddened by the sound of her dying mate, the lioness, slavering with
anger and excitement, bounded forward to the attack. Ki-Gor had
anticipated this move, however, and the moment he threw the spear he
resumed his leaping rush. He swept by Helene, straight at the oncoming
lioness. The knife from his belt sheath gleamed in his right hand.
There was a lash of bodies and a blinding melee of dust. The harsh
grunts of the man mingled with the staccato growling hate of the
animal. Through the cloud of dust Helene saw Ki-Gor fasten himself
with unbreakable grip on the back of the lioness, his left arm tight
about the creature's throat, while the right hand drove the knife with
relentless power again and again into the chest. The plunging beast
staggered and stumbled and fell lifeless. Ki-Gor stepped back lightly
from the inert body, and the cruel mask on his face softened and
disappeared. He pulled a great draught of air into his lungs, then
bent with steady hands to clean his knife. Thrusting the weapon back
in its sheath, he turned, calm and unshaken, and walked to Helene's
side.

"It's all right now," he said.

Her eyes were still large with fright, but seeing how unperturbed her
mate was, she caught hold of her feelings, and smiling, reached out a
small hand to caress Ki-Gor's arm.

She smiled, and her voice was steady, as she said, "You really have a
time trying to get your wife fed, don't you, Ki-Gor?"

He took her by the arm and guided her close to the riverbank.
Selecting a clear spot for a fire, he set about collecting firewood
and stones for heating. Expertly he arranged the wood and stones, and
in the age-old jungle manner of rapidly revolving a dry stick with his
broad hands, he soon had flames biting their way along the base of the
wood. Helene gathered the proper leaves, long, broad, heavy leaves to
wrap the fish in, while Ki-Gor deftly prepared the fish for cooking.

The Jungle Lord was busy, his back turned to the river, when Helene,
looking up the river suddenly cried, "Here comes Tembu George now!"

"I might know food would bring him hurrying at top speed," Ki-Gor said
without turning from his task.

Shielding her eyes, Helene strained to make out the figures in the
distant boat which swept down stream towards them.

"He certainly is traveling in style," she commented, "that looks like
the finest war canoe the Masai ever turned out."

His curiosity aroused, Ki-Gor turned to peer downstream, the opposite
direction from which the boat approached. In a puzzled tone he asked,
"Where is any war canoe?"

"Why, right there," the girl cried.

He looked up the river then and instantly arose. "That can't be Tembu
George. He will come from the other direction."

Gliding swiftly with the current, the big craft came at a fast pace.
It was a long, low, rakish boat, seating at least twelve warriors.
Paddles dipped rhythmically into the glittering water sending the
craft along with practiced skill and precision. Ki-Gor made out the
dark forms of the oarsmen now, and he saw the black carved prow.

Apparently the men in the canoe had sighted the couple on the bank,
for they veered in and slackened their pace. There was a harsh cry, a
flurry of action by the rowers, and the big craft slowed almost to a
standstill, and nosed its way up to the bank a few yards from where
the jungle couple stood. In the manner of skilled river men, the
natives hastily made the boat fast to the shore.

The Jungle Lord saw the leader of the warriors leap ashore. The man
was tall and thin, with a lean hard face and nervous, darting eyes.
Those uneasy eyes ran quickly over Helene and Ki-Gor, and then the man
raised his right hand and called out a greeting of peace. The words he
spoke were ones Ki-Gor knew, but his accents were of some distant
locality.

"Welcome, traveler," the big white man said, responding to the
native's greeting. "The war canoe you have there is one to be proud
of."

"Aye! I am proud of it," the black man replied. His eyes flickered
past Ki-Gor to Helene and then off up the slope.

"It has carried us far and fast this day," he said. "Tell me, is this
the country of the Wasuli? It is many years since I was last here and
the region has changed, making it difficult for me to be exactly sure
of my place."

Ki-Gor noted that the other natives in the long canoe were now all
ashore, and each man was fully armed. With studied casualness, he took
in every detail of the group, meanwhile answering, "Yes, this is the
upper edge of the Wasuli area, and their region extends down river a
half-day's ride at least, even in your swift craft."

Several of the men scattered up the bank, and though the Jungle Lord
in no way betrayed the knowledge, his searching eyes knew the men were
on the lookout for others who might be in company with the jungle
couple. With regret, he remembered his bow and quiver of arrows lying
where he had left them by a shrub, and his heavy spear resting against
a tree where he had placed it after dispatching the lion.

From two of the natives padding about in the clearing above them came
surprised exclamations. They had come on the bodies of the slain
beasts. They called to their leader, and Helene and Ki-Gor accompanied
him to the spot. He looked at the big bodies, studying the wounds, and
with a tone of unbelieving admiration in his voice he asked Ki-Gor,
"Who did this?"

"I did," the Jungle Lord stated simply, without any trace of
boastfulness for to him the deed was not in the least unusual.

"You are a great warrior to have done this singlehanded," commented
the tall black man, his uneasy eyes weighing and appraising Ki-Gor
again. "What is your name?"

"I am Ki-Gor," was the answer.

"I am Basru," the native volunteered. "I come from a place of great
warriors, but by the golden moon, I know no other man who could have
performed such a deed as this."

He turned away to go, barking a command for his men to board the
canoe. As though trained to obey, the natives turned toward the craft.
The hostility Ki-Gor had sensed lurking in the strangers, he suddenly
thought, seemed unwarranted. The bronzed jungle man moved to accompany
the native leader to the riverbank. It was this momentary relaxation
of his instinctive guard that Ki-Gor was long to regret. As the Jungle
Lord walked along with Basru toward the boat, he paid little attention
to the two big natives who lingered behind their fellows and now
ambled slowly along at his back.

Basru raised his hand as though to stroke his hair, and at this
signal, the two black men who trailed behind flung themselves on Ki-
Gor's back. The completely unexpected onslaught sent the Jungle Lord
crashing to his knees under the shocked eyes of Helene before he knew
what was happening.

But Ki-Gor's trained reflexes changed him into a raging fury by the
time he struck the earth. He made no single outcry, but fought
silently, desperately, terribly, from the first moment he could bring
his great muscles into play. His steel-hard hands caught hold of one
of the native's ankles and the sheer overwhelming pressure of his grip
burst the man's skin and flesh as he tore him down within closer
reach. He snapped the native's neck like a rotten twig and lashed out
with mighty blows that caved in the ribs of the other native.

The treacherous Basru, seeing that the massive white man was
recovering his footing, picked up a big rock and darted in behind Ki-
Gor. The native smashed the rock down once, twice, against Ki-Gor's
skull. This cowardly blow accomplished what the two natives had failed
to do. Ki-Gor pitched face forward like a felled ox. Helene screamed
in horror as she saw her beloved mate lying crumpled, blood gushing
from his head.

In panic she started to throw herself at Ki-Gor, but ruthless hands
caught her arms and drew her back.

Basru's cruel eyes shifted from the fallen Jungle Lord to the sobbing
girl. "You'll have no further need of him, woman. He's dead, or if
he's not, he soon will be."

At an order from Basru, Helene was taken to the boat, but it took
three men to force the struggling girl along. The hard-faced native
leader glanced at Ki-Gor's unmoving form, debated a moment, then
directed the white man also be brought along to the boat.

"The great Serpent God will smile on us for this day's work," Basru
said in a pleased voice. "Even as the High Priestess ordered us, we
have found a worthy sacrifice for the Festival of the Seventh Moon."

The tall leader jumped into the war canoe to see personally to the
binding of Helene's wrists and ankles. She was forced to lie down in
the bow of the boat, so that her red hair and fair skin could not be
detected by anyone watching from shore. Satisfied that the girl was
safely tied and placed, Basru ordered the boat cast off. His eye ran
down the row of men waiting with paddles ready, and came to light on
the big form of Ki-Gor. The natives had carried the white man and
placed him in the boat, assuming from Basru's directions that he
intended taking the Jungle Lord along.

"We have no use for that lifeless hulk," he called out sharply. "I
meant only for you to bring him to the river bank and throw him into
the water, thus erasing all trace of his body. Quickly now, throw him
over the side."

Helene fought at her bonds, and succeeded in straining her head up to
plead with Basru. He ignored her tumbling words, and the two men
nearest Ki-Gor, rose and caught hold of the Jungle Lord. Through
reddened tear-wet eyes, Helene saw the natives lift the limp and
unresisting Ki-Gor and toss him out over the low side of the war
canoe. She heard the loud splash as he struck the water.
Simultaneously, Basru's harsh voice called out a command and the boat
jumped forward and with steadily increasing speed cut its way Upstream
through the sluggish current.



II. - Amnesia

KI-GOR'S long heavy frame struck the water hard as the two natives
threw him overboard. The flat shock caused an instinctive reflex in
the jungle-bred giant, a sudden tightening of his muscles even though
his mind was fogged deep in unconsciousness. The spark of life in this
powerful man was not easily quenched. The will to live burned in him,
conscious or unconscious, more strongly than it would in any civilized
man, because this will, above all else, was the sustaining force which
had brought him through innumerable seemingly hopeless situations.

The shock of the fall, the tensing of his muscles sent a faint glimmer
of feeling along his stunned nerve centers. The cool water pressed
further awareness into his numbed body, and then as he sank below the
surface, the water bit into the deep gash on his head. This abrupt
burning pain jerked Ki-Gor back to semi-consciousness. He awoke in
choking blackness, and without reasoning, he threw his energies into
an immediate, frenzied fight.

Where it would have seemed impossible for a normal man to have will or
strength left for a struggle, Ki-Gor's jungle heritage rallied his
waning energies. Flailing ponderously, gulping great quantities of
water, he fought his head above the surface.

The big man's body was an agony of hurt and weariness. His eyes saw
nothing. His lungs labored and fought to sustain his failing strength.
But an inner force pushed him on, calling forth from his spent muscles
another, and still another, effort. It was an eternity of time, a
burning stretch of aeons, that he floated and sank, and floated again,
until through luck, his own unseeing efforts, and the eddying movement
of the slow current, he came into a shallow stretch of water near the
bank.

Ki-Gor tried to walk in the shallow water, but his legs refused to
sustain him. He stumbled and fell repeatedly, each time having even
greater difficulty in rising again. But each time he did rise. He came
finally to the low bank, and with one last mighty effort, he pulled
himself up on the dry land, and fell face downward.

The big white man lay in a tumbled heap, his long body pressed into
the gently waving growth of river ferns and grass. Blood from the ugly
gash on his head ran down over his face and dripped on the warm earth.
He slept the deep, black sleep of utter exhaustion and painful hurt.
Africa's ever present clouds of venomous little insects sought him out
and feasted their greed, but Ki-Gor, wrapped in black forgetfulness,
was unconscious of their torturing bites. The slender shadows of the
grass fronds steadily lengthened across his body as the sun departed
westward in a hot and shimmering sky.

Shadows crept out from the great trees along the bank, and slipped
over Ki-Gor to dull the surface of the water. A faint breeze sifted
down the river and with it came night. A mist, gray and ominous,
rolled along the river, gathering in density, and rolling out wetly
over the banks. Still Ki-Gor lay unmoving in the damp grass, his
breath coming with a hard deep regular rhythm. .

Once a large buck, followed by two does, came out of a lane in the
forest, and on soundless feet in the soft turf, picked its way to
water. With the man-scent blanketed by the mist, the daintily stepping
feet of the buck were almost upon Ki-Gor before the wary creature
sighted the white form. Instantly the animal froze, his nostrils
swelling out in search of danger. Reassured by the absolute quiet of
the white body, the buck soon swerved off to the left and continued to
the water's edge, obediently followed by the two does.

The long night was merging into dawn when a lone jackal, after hours
of luckless foraging for easy prey, came panting down to the river to
fill its hungry belly with the cool water. The dirty, bedraggled,
jungle scavenger picked its way along in the natural cringing gait of
its breed. Slavering in disgruntlement, the jackal padded up to the
bank and lapped thirstily. After a full minute, it raised its head
nervously and snuffled at the air. The fur on the animal's back
bristled up at the scent of man, and after a slight wait, the gray
form watchfully moved to follow the scent. The evil ghost crept within
cautious yards of Ki-Gor. The savage brain of the animal sought out
and weighed the man's hurt, balancing the risk of attack against
possible gain for its grumbling belly.

The still form of the Jungle Lord, with its fresh blood scent,
stimulated beyond endurance the greedy gnawing of the beast's stomach.

The jackal, sensing life in the sprawling body, fought to down its
fear of man. With quiet, nervous steps it padded a wide ring around
Ki-Gor, its teeth grinning whitely as rising hunger tried to force
courage into its cowardly heart.

The soft, early-morning wind caught the strong smell of the beast and
brought it to Ki-Gor's nostrils. For the first time since he had
crawled out of the water, the bronzed giant stirred. He shifted
uneasily, but did not waken. The jackal tensed at this movement and
stood head pointed at the man. Again the strong jackal scent poured
into Ki-Gor's consciousness. A primal protective sense shook his
nerves from their stunned lethargy, and his gray eyes flickered open.

Urged by the strong scent of danger, Ki-Gor struggled to focus his
eyes. His vision in the faint light of dawn formed only a confusing,
colorless blur. The jackal growled, sensing the helplessness of the
man. Under the stimulus of this noise, Ki-Gor made out the menacing
figure of the scavenger, the beast's form swimming in outline against
a weaving, shifting background. The jackal girded its courage to the
maximum and advanced with stiff, bristling steps toward the Jungle
Lord. Ki-Gor could see now the white fangs of the hated skulker, and a
wave of sheer anger at this most cowardly of all beasts churned enough
strength into his legs to heave the Jungle Lord to his feet.

He stood there weaving, fighting off waves of nausea. Try as he might,
Ki-Gor could not make his feet respond to his will. With bare hands he
tried to advance, but he was unable to walk. The jackal slowed its
advance, and then halted. A fallen man was one thing, but an aroused
one, even though wounded, was another matter. The animal debated,
emitting low snarls, and then as Ki-Gor at last achieved a staggering
step forward, the jackal leaped back, and with one last growling
outburst, turned and darted away.

Ki-Gor watched the animal disappear. Abruptly the swimming blur closed
over his vision again as the sense of danger faded. A numbness crept
over the Jungle Lord, and with a sense of great effort, he slipped to
his knees and awkwardly stretched out in the wet grass. Dull, aching
sleep came over him, and his mind shut itself off from the stirring
daylight world.

When the Jungle Lord next roused, the sun stood high in the sky, its
scorching rays beating directly on his now dry and feverish body. He
sat up. He looked about him with heavy-lidded eyes, puzzled eyes that
sought an understanding of his present predicament. Slowly he lifted
an exploratory hand and felt his aching head, probing the gash there.

His brows furrowed in thought, but the terrific blows dealt him had
blocked the delicate memory mechanism. Events of not only the past few
days, but of the past years, refused to come. The cruel blow had cut
Ki-Gor off from the past, cutting away from him at the same time the
acquired veneer of civilization which contact with Helene and others
of the outer world had brought him.

He stood up and drew a deep breath into his great lungs. Already his
marvelous recuperative powers were at work restoring power and
strength to his hard muscles. In a few days, with the proper rest and
no untoward accidents, he would be as sound and vigorous as before.
But there was a vague uneasiness in his mind for he sensed that all
was not well. He tried to reach back through the curtain which had
fallen so suddenly and grasp at the memories which troubled him, but
which he could not pluck from his subconscious.

Ki-Gor shook his aching head and glanced around him. His eyes halted
on the inviting water of the river. He walked to the bank and washed
the caked blood and grime from his head and shoulders. Then he drank
deeply. Refreshed, the big man rose and went at a slow gait toward the
rising wall of the jungle. He walked into the darkening shadows of the
trees for a distance of about one-hundred yards, and then, selecting a
towering giant of a tree, he climbed cautiously into its upper limbs.
In the high branches of the tall tree, he selected a comfortable
perch, leaned back against the trunk and closed his aching eyes. The
gentle sway and movement of the ancient tree quickly lulled the big
man to sleep. So passed another night and day, with Ki-Gor, except for
occasional trips to the river, resting and sleeping like any animal
recovering from its wounds. The feverish burn left Ki-Gor's body, and
he shook off the sense of giddy weakness. Hunger began to prick him
into activity. He set out in search of food. His keen eyes searched
the jungle floor for the fresh spoor of game, and at length along a
narrow trail he came across recent signs made by a small buck.

The Jungle Lord's long stride lengthened, as driven by hunger, he
quickened his pace. He sped down the narrow green aisle, eluding the
occasional choking stands of bramble, slipping wraith-like over the
bunched undergrowth.

Ever fresher was the scent of the deer. Ki-Gor's hand slipped
automatically to the hilt of his knife, the always present knife which
had stayed at his waist even during his struggles in the water. The
blade gleamed free in his right hand. The jungle was silent except for
the raucous calls of a few brilliantly plumaged birds.

Ki-Gor's passage was soundless. He was in every sense a cunning
relentless huntsman. He was downwind from the unsuspecting buck, and
though the animal's scent drew him on like a magnet, his own presence
was protected from the hunted creature. He glided within yards of
where the buck stood browsing.

He sprinted to within arm's reach of the fleeing buck, and in a
bounding leap, dived on the animal with crushing weight. The shock of
Ki-Gor's onslaught toppled the buck, and his knife bit deep into the
creature's vitals as it fell.

His appetite satisfied, the Jungle Lord stretched luxuriously and
looked about for a protected resting place. But a strange feeling of
urgency began to permeate his being, and refused to let him rest.
Though he was completely unable to fathom the reason, something within
him propelled Ki-Gor back to the river. He gave in to this inner
urging and began moving leisurely back along the trail he had recently
traversed.

When Ki-Gor reached the river, he hesitated a moment and then swung
upstream. It was not long before the cat-treading white giant neared
the clearing where the natives had attacked him and carried off
Helene. Ki-Gor did not think at this time of the treacherous assault.
He did not recall the event, for the dreadful blows he had suffered on
the head had blotted out even any remembrance of Helene. Buried deep
within his subconscious, however, was the burning knowledge of his
mate and it was this that drew him back to the clearing.

Ki-Gor came up to the edge of the clearing along a narrow animal trail
through a rustling break of tall reeds. He paused, cautious jungle
creature that he was, to survey the ground ahead before advancing into
the open. His keen gray eyes automatically searched the clearing,
alert for any sign of danger.

Ki-Gor's eyes suddenly narrowed and grew cold. He drew back into the
concealment of the reeds, and the powerful muscles along his lean hard
body tightened. There on the river bank, its carved prow drawn up on
the green grass, stood a long, grim war canoe.



III. - The Black Arrow

Ki-Gor stared long at the war craft. The sight of the boat stirred a
feeling of anger in him, started the blood surging through his veins.
This instantaneous reaction was a completely unreasoning one, for he
had no idea why this sight should stir such emotions. Soon his
careful, wary visual search for any sign of life or hidden enemy,
convinced him the open plot was deserted.

Satisfied no enemy lurked in ambush, the Jungle Lord glided out of the
rustling reeds to the war canoe. The scent of natives, still fresh and
strong, was in the boat. Ki-Gor studied the footprints about the boat,
and then went up the low slope following the natives' clear trail. At
the top of the slope, he found the remains of a recent campfire and
scattered remnants of food.

He was painstakingly studying the ground, when nearby he heard the
muffled voices of natives. Ki-Gor stood still for a moment, judging
the sound. He turned then and ran lightly to a gnarled tree a few
yards away. With one powerful spring, he leapt high in the air, caught
a sturdy branch, and rapidly pulled himself up into the leafy
protection of the upper boughs.

The white man watched narrowly as three armed natives, tall, brawny
men, emerged from a jungle trail and passed directly below him. He saw
the warriors halt and place their spears and bows against a small
tree, and then sit down close together near the burned out fire. His
eyes studied with interest the long heavy knives carried by the men,
deadly blades which they did not discard even now when they were
resting.

Although all three of the black men were exceptionally fine physical
specimens, Ki-Gor's eyes were drawn especially to the largest and most
superbly proportioned of the natives. This man was a massive warrior,
graceful as a panther. There was an air of quiet assurance about him.
He wore no gaudy tribal markings nor any of the usual native
decorations, but there was a definite air of command about him, a
clear indication that he was a chieftain.

The three men sat for a long time, staring moodily at the ground,
seldom conversing. Though every stranger in the jungle is potentially
an enemy until proved otherwise, Ki-Gor oddly enough felt no threat
resting in these men. For reasons he could not explain, a sudden urge
came over him to make known his presence. He was armed with only a
knife, however, and even though he felt there was no danger to be
feared from these warriors, he was cautious enough to advantageously
place himself as close to their discarded spears as possible.

He worked his way silently out along a broad overhanging limb. Then
Ki-Gor dropped to the ground on cushioned feet, and moved so swiftly
and quietly that he stood before the three sitting natives almost
before they sensed his presence. The startled natives looked up in
unison, and for a moment their hands hesitated at the hilts of the
heavy knives. Ki-Gor's face betrayed no sign of emotion, but inwardly
he enjoyed the bewilderment of the natives immensely. It was a tribute
to his wisdom, however, that his right hand hovered ever close to the
shaft of one man's spear.

The expressions of alarm on the warrior's faces quickly changed to
bewildered surprise. They seemed unable to believe their eyes. They
stared speechless at Ki-Gor. The massive warrior was the first to
regain his tongue.

"Ki-Gor!" he boomed out in a surprised, unbelieving voice. "But how
can it be you?"

The now friendly eyes of the huge Negro looked expectantly past the
Jungle Lord searching for another person. He seemed disappointed to
find the white man alone.

"But where is Helene?" the warrior asked, his voice reflecting deep
concern. "Is she hurt? Where is she?"

Ki-Gor listened gravely to the man's words. The tongue he spoke was
familiar; it was the language of the Masai. Ki-Gor understood the
words, but he did not understand what the native spoke about. His face
showed clearly how puzzled he was.

"I come as a friend," the Jungle Lord said slowly, "but I do not
understand your questions. Perhaps you mistake me for some other one
you know."

The mouth of the natives' spokesman dropped open at this odd statement
from the great Ki-Gor, the firm friend of many years, the beloved
companion and leader in many exciting and dangerous adventures.

"I-I'm Tembu George! What's wrong with you? Surely you can't be
joking."

The Jungle Lord studied the native's face a moment and then repeated,
half to himself, "Tembu George." After a pause, he again addressed
Tembu George, saying, "I have no reason to joke, Tembu George, I don't
recall seeing you before, and I have no knowledge of the person you
call Helene."

Tembu George stood up now, and came closer to the white man. The
concern he felt at Ki-Gor's strange tone was apparent. His grave eyes,
as he came closer, noted the ugly gash on Ki-Gor's head.

"You have suffered a bad hurt recently," Tembu George stated, noting
every action of his friend. "How did you get that cut?"

Ki-Gor's hand raised to the gash and his brows knit in thought.
"Somehow I can't seem to remember" he replied.

"Hmmm. And what did you say your name was," Tembu George asked,
snapping the question quickly.

In normal fashion and with every evidence of assurance, the Jungle
Lord started to reply, "Why, I am ... I am." He halted and passed his
hand over his brow.

"It is a ridiculous thing," Ki-Gor said in a sheepish, yet worried
tone, "But I can't for the life of me tell you my name."

Tembu George stood looking directly into his eyes now. "You are Ki-
Gor, my friend of many years," he said. "Somehow you have been injured
and are suffering from a loss of memory. It was over four days ago
that I was to meet you and your mate, Helene, here at this spot."

The warrior turned and glanced at his two gaping men. He looked then
down the slope to the riverbank for a few moments before turning back
to his friend.

"When we arrived there were clear signs that a boat had brought men
ashore down there. There was abundant evidence you had been here." And
now there was a hint of a smile in Tembu George's eyes, "for we found
the carcasses of two lions lying over there."

Ki-Gor listened carefully to the big Negro's words. Instinctively, he
felt this man was a friend, a good friend who could be trusted. "Tell
me more," he said.

"Well, reconstructing the scene from the evidence we could find, it is
certain that a group of natives, roughly about twelve, came ashore
from a war canoe, talked with you and Helene for a period of time, and
then there was a sudden brief struggle right over there. There were
blood stains leading from that spot down to the boat."

Ki-Gor tried hard to recall this scene which was described to him but
he could remember no single detail. He shook his head, indicating his
complete lack of knowledge of the event.

"When we arrived the signs were still very fresh, and we thought you
had been carried off by boat," Tembu George said. "We went up river
two days' journey but could find no sign of a war canoe so we returned
to search this place more carefully."

The Masai chieftain related the details of his four day search for Ki-
Gor and Helene. He knew it was impossible that the marauders had gone
down river because he would have encountered them as he approached.
The two day search up river was completely fruitless, as there was no
evidence to be found of any raiding party. Without any lead to aid
him, Tembu George therefore returned to the clearing to search for
further evidence. His men were now beating the jungle approaches to
the clearing thoroughly for any clue as to the identity of the
attackers or for any sign that Helene or Ki-Gor either one might have
escaped into the forest.

While Ki-Gor listened, Masai warriors began to return in groups of two
and three to the clearing. Any further proof needed by Ki-Gor that he
was well known to Tembu George was quickly given by these men. Each
native, as soon as he sighted the bronzed Jungle Lord cried out in
pleased surprise and called him by name. These powerful warriors,
respected the length and breadth of Africa for their grim fighting
qualities, immediately showed a worried sympathy when they learned
from their fellows of their great friend Ki-Gor's strange behavior.

"This Helene," Ki-Gor said, "but how could I forget my own mate?"

"The mind is a strange thing," Tembu George replied, "but even though
fate has struck you such a sudden, unkind blow, we must delay no
longer than absolutely necessary our search for Helene."

Ki-Gor nodded his approval. "Aye, the trail grows cold as we wait."

Tembu George was somewhat cheered by Ki-Gor's response. The Jungle
Lord was undoubtedly convinced that he spoke the truth and that he was
the white man's friend. "Our search proves Helene did not go into the
jungle, so it is evident she was carried away upstream by boat. Come,
let us follow."

Pleased at the prospect of avenging the wrong done Ki-Gor, the rangy
Masai warriors swiftly gathered their war gear and hastened to the
boat. The Jungle Lord was lifted from his puzzled gloom by the
friendly bond which he felt ever more strongly for these stalwart
fighting men. He felt kinship with them, and a hope, that through
their company and aid, the dark blank in his mind would be remedied.

Ki-Gor followed the Masai down the slope. He paused as he came to the
carved prow of the black war canoe. He stared hard at the prow for a
long minute. Tembu George saw the rapt expression on his friend's
face, and came over to him. The Masai chieftain looked at the prow,
but saw nothing except the familiar panther figurehead.

"The figurehead," Ki-Gor said suddenly. "Somehow the sight of that
prow brings back the memory of another war canoe. One with the
figurehead of a fanged serpent."

"Fanged serpent," Tembu George repeated thoughtfully after him. "I
know the tribal symbols used throughout this region, and that is not
one of them. I believe this is the clue we needed to find Helene."

Tembu George consulted with his men carefully, and in great
earnestness, they discussed the serpent figurehead described by Ki-
Gor, concluding the war canoe must have come from far afield.

Ki-Gor listened to the discussion, then pointed out, "If the symbol is
an unusual one, then certainly it will be noticed somewhere along the
river, and if we try hard enough we are sure to find those who have
seen the boat pass."

The Masai made their boat ready now, and skillfully they cast off and
swept upstream in search of the foe. The muscled blacks bent to their
work, and in fast, smooth rhythm their broad paddles cut the placid
surface of the wide river. The proud war canoe scudded forward at a
fast, sustained pace.

Long, hot hours passed, and still the broad backs of the Masai
resisted fatigue. The paddles rose and fell with deceptive ease as the
men labored under the burning sun. The bright green of the jungle,
unbroken except for brilliantly colored splotches of flowers, flowed
by, an impenetrable sameness that wearied the eye. The merciless
bright sky dimmed before the approach of evening, and the shimmering
glaze over the water softened and faded. High clouds rolled out across
the sky with night. It was now Tembu George who guided the long craft
ashore.

The Masai laid down their paddles, and rising stiffly from the
positions so long held, stepped on land. The warriors rested and ate,
taking their ease while they waited for the moon to rise. But beneath
their apparent air of leisure was a restless undercurrent, for these
grim men would not again rest quietly until their quarry was run to
earth. Only the silent, moody Ki-Gor, looming big in the firelight as
he sat apart from the others, was completely relaxed.

At last the moon came, swollen and yellow, its diffused rays
reflecting silver on the river. The fire was doused, and hurriedly the
natives took their places in the boat again. The wall of the jungle on
each side of the river rose black and smothering above the canoe. The
Masai were soon too busy to feel lost and alone in this canyon of
darkness, for Tembu George set them a fast pace. The sweat gathered on
their shoulders and trickled down their backs as with endless
repetition they dug their paddles, sending the craft sweeping through
the night.

Not until dawn tinged the cloud masses in the east with red did the
Masai call another halt, but this, too, was only another breathing
spell, a brief pause to regain strength. In a short time they headed
forward again, moving toward where the early morning sun hung over the
already steaming horizon. The grueling pace continued except for
occasional breathing spells, throughout the day. When night came, the
worn men went ashore and flung themselves down to sleep heavily until
midnight.

Three days and nights Tembu George pushed his men forward in this
fashion. On the morning of the fourth day, the war canoe nosed up to a
landing at a large native village set along the bank. Ki-Gor and Tembu
George stepped out on the landing and walked through the crowd of
curious natives that quickly gathered. Searching out the chief, they
found him sitting before his hut, directing one of his sons in the
fashioning of a spear. After an appropriate exchange of greetings, Ki-
Gor asked the chief, a gaunt, humped native, whether a war canoe with
a fanged serpent on its prow had been seen by any of the villagers.

The thin native sucked in his cheeks in thought, and then replied, "We
have not seen this boat here, but one of my men who has been upriver
described such a craft to me only yesterday."

"It is probable the boat passed this village during the night to avoid
being seen," Ki-Gor pointed out to Tembu George.

Turning back to the chief, Ki-Gor asked, "Did your men see which way
the boat was headed?"

"Yes, it was going up the river and was moving fast," the chief
answered, proud to have such ready and complete knowledge at his
fingertips.

Tembu George leaned forward eagerly now. "And tell us, did your man
see a white woman in the canoe?"

The native wrinkled his forehead in thought, and scratched his skinny
ribs. "No, he saw no woman in the boat. There were only warriors, men
not of this region."

While the chief spoke, a slight wiry man, grizzled with years, but
still strong and active came up beside him. There were white markings
painted across his bare chest and his forehead was disfigured with a
crudely tattooed emblem. Around his neck and wrists he wore bands of
bones, teeth and odd stones, and close inspection showed many of the
bones and teeth were human ones. He was the tribal witch doctor,
feared and respected.

"These strangers come in search of a white woman?" he asked, as though
he knew already much of the conversation that had passed between Ki-
Gor and the chief.

"Yes, O wise one," responded the chief, "and they seek to trace a war
canoe with the figure of a serpent carved on its prow."

His voice showing surprise at the witch doctor's knowledge of their
search, Tembu George addressed the old man, "Do you know where we can
find the woman?"

The grizzled witch doctor rustled his necklaces with his fingers, and
his eyes looked beyond Tembu George in a far away, unseeing stare. The
chief maintained respectful silence as the old man pondered. The witch
doctor shifted his eyes to Ki-Gor and spoke directly to him.

"I recognize you as the great Ki-Gor, friend of the jungle peoples. I
would like to give you some definite aid, but unfortunately my poor
knowledge makes it possible only to give you a general lead."

The witch doctor paused and wrinkled his brow, as he appeared to probe
his mind for the exact information he wished to give Ki-Gor.

"I have heard it said that a strange tribe," he continued slowly,
"that worships a fearsome serpent, dwells many days up this river in a
region of vast lakes. I believe your search would end successfully, if
you could find this tribe."

Ki-Gor expressed his thanks to the witch doctor, for this slender
thread of information was the first positive clue he had received as
to the identity of the marauders. He and Tembu George then returned to
the canoes and the wearing pace was resumed.

The burning merciless days merged into hot sweltering nights, as the
grim, tireless Masai warriors unsparingly pushed themselves. The
grueling punishment they took did not dampen the vengeful spirit which
inspired the powerful natives. Through their prodigious efforts, in
nine days the Masai brought their craft into a section of rolling
hills. The river now bit its way between higher banks, banks in some
places which rose to canyon proportions. But the river still lay broad
and placid, a muddy, slow-moving thing.

In mid-morning on the ninth day, Tembu George selected an even, open
place to halt for food and rest. The boat was made fast, and the men
picked out sheltered places to relax, all except one hot, tired
warrior. This rangy Masai fighting man ambled back to the river and
strolled out into a shallow section, splashing the cooling water over
his sweaty body. Intent on the refreshing water, he was careless of
his surroundings.

The native neither felt nor saw the cold, staring eyes that fastened
on him. He failed to see the slimy, gray-green bulk of the huge
crocodile lying near the bank like a half-submerged log. The big
reptile, with scarcely a stir of the water slid forward, placing
itself between the man and the shore. As the creature reached the
shallow place where the native entered the water, it used its powerful
tail for leverage in climbing.

This abrupt splash roused the warrior to his danger. He turned, and
with horrified eyes saw the hideous monster heading for him. The man
cried out in alarm to his mates. The shout brought all the natives
upright instantly, but in their surprise, they hesitated, groping for
a means of saving their fellow. Ki-Gor, who also was brought to his
feet by the cry, did not hesitate.

The Jungle Lord, reared to a perilous existence which depended on
split-second judgment, moved with flashing speed in this fateful
interval. Ki-Gor sped toward the river, scooping up a Masai spear from
the ground without breaking his stride. The crocodile was almost upon
the native, its gaping jaws opened in anticipation of the kill, when
the Jungle Lord leaped far out over the water directly at the reptile.
As he descended, Ki-Gor bore his full weight on the haft of the spear
and drove the broad, sharp point under the crocodile's left fore legs.

The bronzed giant's unerring skill enabled him to send the spear deep
into this less heavily armored spot on the creature. The dreadful pain
of the wound sent the monster into an agonized, writhing plunge at the
defenseless native. With sudden death from the flailing tail hanging
over him, Ki-Gor pressed forward. He had landed at the very side of
the crocodile, and now he dived forward on the back of the slimy
creature, digging his legs around its belly and his left arm
encircling its neck. His free right arm wielded his long hunting
knife, and he drove the steel into the crocodile's hard underthroat.
Ki-Gor heard the native shriek in pain, and the sound poured more
strength into his straining knife arm.

The heaving crocodile plunged forward now, mad with pain and fury,
into deeper water. The deep spear wound was eating the life from the
creature, but its tremendous powers were not easily dispersed. The
great reptile smashed into the deep water and dived, rolling as he
went, to shake loose the burden on his back. The Jungle Lord realized
his only hope was to cling to the crocodile and strive for a mortal
blow; for once dislodged he would fall easy prey to it in the water.

Down went the crocodile until Ki-Gor felt his lungs would burst. In
the impenetrable, muddy blackness of the river bottom the reptile gave
another terrific spin. It was impossible for the Jungle Lord to keep
his hold from loosening. Desperately he grappled, catching himself
before he was torn completely loose. He found he had slipped to one
side of the creature, and though choking in his agonized craving for
oxygen, he realized this was his opportunity.

He gathered his waning strength, slashed deep into the exposed under
belly of the crocodile, laying its stomach open in long ragged
ribbons. The crocodile shook violently and suddenly went limp. Ki-
Gor's numb arms and legs released their grip and he drove to the
surface.

The moment his blond head broke the water, the Jungle Lord greedily
sucked deep breaths into his aching lungs. When his body's painful
hunger for oxygen was sated, he turned his attention to the shore. The
worried Masai, fearful that their white friend was lost, shouted with
pleasure when they saw Ki-Gor strike out for land. The courageous
action of Ki-Gor in leaping immediately into seeming death to save the
Masai warrior was only another of many bonds which welded these
indomitable fighters to the side of the beloved white leader.

Ki-Gor climbed out on the bank and went to where the rescued native
lay. The man's legs were badly mangled, but Ki-Gor knew there was a
chance through careful nursing to save the man's limbs. Employing the
best means at hand, he treated the wounds and stopped the bleeding.

"We will go on to the next village along the river, where perhaps we
can find the proper herbs and medicines for the treatment of our
comrade," Ki-Gor announced to the assembled warriors.

The wounded man weakly asked that he be left behind, so as not to
interfere in any way with the search for Helene. Ki-Gor would not hear
of this, and within a brief while, the wounded native was made
comfortable in the war canoe, and the trip was resumed.

In a few hours, Ki-Gor spied a broad path which led out of the jungle
to the river's edge. He ordered the boat moored. With the aid of Tembu
George, he quickly fashioned a sturdy litter in which to carry the
wounded Masai.

"This path shows it is used by many people," Ki-Gor stated, "and
probably a village lies just a short distance away. We will take this
man there for treatment, and perhaps we can gain further information
of the serpent boat."

The broad, well-trod path was an easy avenue through the dense forest.
The Masai, wary in this strange land of possible foes, ranged
themselves in a long skirmish line, and held their weapons ready. Ki-
Gor advanced at the head of the column. It was roughly an hour's
journey over the clean winding trail before the warriors sighted a
large village. The men held back as Ki-Gor walked up to the open
entrance to the stockade surrounding the cluster of huts. Two natives
lounging inside the gate looked up in surprise at the massive white
man, but they evidenced no enmity. He held up his hand, palm outward,
in the sign of peace, and the men returned the greeting, calling out
to him in a dialect that was closely akin to the Wasuli.

"Welcome, O white one, who comes under the sign of peace," one of the
natives said in a shrill voice.

Ki-Gor responded with the words, "Greetings, O friends, I would see
your chief."

The natives rose without haste and escorted the Jungle Lord down a
lane between the huts to a thatched abode somewhat larger than the
rest. In answer to their calls, the lion's skin hung over the door was
thrust aside, and the chief came out. He was a fat, genial native, of
medium height with round eyes and a mild, honest face.

"I am Ki-Gor," the Jungle Lord said simply, "and I need your help in
treating one of my friends who has been injured by a crocodile."

The round eyes of the native grew even rounder, as he expressed his
sympathy at this news. "I am Wabumaa. You are welcome in my village.
We are a peaceful people and we welcome in friendship all those who
come in peace."

Ki-Gor's trained eyes already had ascertained that this was not a war-
like tribe. There was ample evidence these people were friendly and
peace-loving, preferring to live a simple, plain, safe existence,
instead of the sometimes rich, but always dangerous, costly life of a
war-like, marauding tribe.

Ki-Gor thanked Wabumaa and the two went out to meet the waiting Masai.
The roly-poly little chief stared with frank admiration at the
stalwart warriors who came forward at the white man's motion. The
wounded Masai was quickly made comfortable in a vacant hut, and a brew
of rare herbs was prepared to heal his lacerated legs.

Weary after their days of strained, unrelenting haste, Ki-Gor, Tembu
George and their men soon took advantage of this opportunity for rest.
They sought cool, sheltered spots and soon were fast asleep, all
except one man who sat beside the injured warrior. It was nightfall
when the increasing clatter and bustle within the village roused the
Masai one by one. Ki-Gor awakened, completely refreshed, and went to
search out the reason for the unusual stir.

He found the amiable Wabumaa waddling about in a pleased bustle,
giving directions right and left. He was preparing a feast for the
visitors. The chief, being both a hospitable man and also one who
enjoyed celebrations, had no intention of letting this excellent
excuse for a banquet pass unheeded. The air was fragrant with the
satisfying aroma of cooking meat. The circular area about the lone,
big tree which had been left standing in the center of the village was
being prepared for the diners.

Perspiring, but wreathed with smiles, the chief motioned to Ki-Gor and
the Masai to take their places. Wabumaa's men joined them, sitting
cross-legged in a wide circle around the tree. Wabumaa made a
gracious, flowery address repeating in detail his briefer welcome of
earlier in the day. Tembu George replied in kind, as required by
native etiquette and then the heaping platters of savory game and
fresh fruits were brought forward.

Ki-Gor had hardly begun his meal when there was a sudden, splintering
thud. An abrupt silence fell over the company. The eyes of the natives
shifted to a point on the tree trunk about eight feet from the ground.
Following the chief's gaze, Ki-Gor looked to see a long, black arrow
embedded in the tree, its haft vibrating.

Ki-Gor glanced around the ring of staring natives. Their gay, happy
mood of a few moments before was completely gone.

Ki-Gor stood up, walked to the tree, and jerked the long black arrow
free. He turned back to the chief and inquired, "What is wrong with
your people? Does this one arrow shot by a sneaking bowman have some
evil significance?"

The chief rose now, his plump face troubled, as he sought words to
answer Ki-Gor. "It is the Black Arrow of the Serpent God!" he said
fearfully. "It means my two finest warriors must go to their death!"



IV. - The Sacrifice of Zaa

HELENE began to believe the long nightmare of the canoe trip would
never end. Forced to lie on the floor of the boat, cramped by her
bonds, barely protected from the burning sun, she was worn and
exhausted. The harsh Basru paid her scant attention except to see she
was well fed, and that she did not want for water.

The red haired girl, consumed with her burning sorrow, gave little
notice to the rising spirits exhibited by her abductors one morning,
and the renewed energy with which they began to ply their paddles. Had
she been interested, she would have known the men were nearing home.
The war canoe had left the broad river and sped up one of its
tributaries. By midday the canoe fought through a long, turbulent
stretch of rapids to glide out upon a vast, blue lake.

An island stood, green and inviting in the middle of the lake, and
Basru directed his course straight for it. When the island rose close
before them, three other craft darted from a hidden cove.

One of the craft drew near and its captain, after careful inspection
called out: "After all these days, surely you don't return empty
handed, friend Basru!"

Basru's hard face broke into a wide smile as he bent and carefully
raised Helene to a standing position. With an eloquent gesture, he
triumphantly indicated the precious cargo he carried. The captain at
this sight swept in very close, and gazed with long interest at
Helene, who remained breathtakingly beautiful despite the hardships
she had suffered.

The man nodded his head admiringly and called, "You have done well,
Basru! This voyage will win you the favor of the Serpent God."

Helene looked at the broad lake, the green island, and the towering
mountains which rose in the far distance. This was a strange region,
an area completely unfamiliar to her. She noted the island was quite
large and the banks were grown up with huge trees.

Basru skillfully brought the war canoe in near shore, sending it
gliding up a narrow inlet into a snug harbor which nature had
carefully camouflaged from outside view. The boat was soon beached,
and for the first time since her capture, Helene was completely freed
of her bonds. When the cramps in her legs and arms were relieved, the
tired girl climbed from the boat.

A smooth, clear road led from the beach into the forest. It was up
this road Basru and his men escorted Helene past clumps of staring
natives with ill-concealed pride. The jungle girl noted with interest
that the avenue was paved with blocks of wellworn stone, and was not
the usual dirt path found in African villages. Before she could dwell
on this oddity, Helene entered the outskirts of the town.

The village puzzled her even more. First came a belt of thatched
native huts, the small dingy kind found throughout Africa, but these
huts halted at the edge of a tall stone wall. The wall gave evidence
of having been built long decades before, and though it remained
generally strong and imposing, it was cracked and falling into
disrepair in places.

The road went through a wide, arched gateway set in the wall and
entered a second or inner city. Helene could not suppress a cry of
surprise at the sight which greeted her. Within the wall, lay a
totally different type of community, a well laid out city of square
stone buildings. The structures were simple in design, but these
solidly built rock houses were a unique and astounding sight to find
in the heart of primitive Africa.

This was some ancient fortress city, built by long dead hands, Helene
could easily see. It was apparent many of the structures were
deserted, and she was impressed by the absence of any signs of life on
the streets. Helene's inspection was cut short, however, for Basru
marched her to a large building, and rapped on the carved door.

Basru averted his eyes and bowed low when the broad door swung open.
With misgiving, Helene looked through the open doorway. She was
greeted with another totally unexpected shock. Seven young women,
their skins almost as fair as Helene's, stood waiting upon the
threshold. With their long dark hair and great black eyes, the women
were like exquisite tropical blooms, exotic and fragile in their
delicate beauty. They were oddly dressed, wearing silver breastplates
and brief girdles, likewise heavy with silver. Over this scanty dress,
each wore a long cape of brilliant yellow, fastened at the bare throat
with a jeweled clasp.

One dark haired woman reached out a graceful hand in welcome. She
spoke in a low musical voice and though many of the accents and words
were unknown to Helene, Ki-Gor's mate understood the greeting to mean,
"Enter, O bride to be of the mighty Zaa."

The proud red-haired girl, unsure of the fate which lay ahead, but
feeling the company of the women in any event to be more desirable
than association with the cruel Basru, shrugged her shoulders and
stepped through the door. Helene turned and looked back at Basru. Both
he and his men bowed low and withdrew, walking backwards, so that they
still faced the young women respectfully. The big door swung closed,
and Helene was guided down a long passage into a large comfortable
room.

The jungle girl noted the rich furnishings of the room. Fine
tapestries hung from the walls. Strangely fashioned pieces of
furniture adorned with beautifully carved figures, indicated a quite
high type of civilization. A low table of burnished red-tinted wood,
inset with gold workings, stood in one corner. The fair young
spokesman drew a small bench up to this table for Helene.

"Be seated, lovely one of the red hair," she said in her soft, warm
voice, "and we will bring you food and drink."

Tired, hungry, thirsty, Helene needed no further urging. She sat down,
and in a few minutes vessels of hand beaten silver were placed before
her. The various dishes were delightfully flavored, and acquainted
though she was with the world's finest foods, Helene had never tasted
more exquisite cookery. She ate ravenously, and as the pangs of hunger
were satisfied, her spirits rose.

The women departed after serving Helene, leaving her to her own
devices. She studied the odd furnishings for a time and then lay down
on a couch to rest. She fell into a deep sleep and awakened only on
the return of the women.

"Tell us your name," the dark haired spokesman said, after Helene had
rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked inquiringly at the smiling
faces.

"Helene," answered the jungle girl.

"Helene. Helene," the girl pronounced in her odd accents. "It is an
unusual name, one I have not heard before, but I like it. I am known
as Rannee."

"Who are you?" Helene asked in a puzzled voice.

"We are handmaidens of the High Priestess of Zaa."

Helene's face showed clearly she did not understand. "Yes, but who is
Zaa?"

There was a touch of awe and fear in Rannee's face as she replied,
"Zaa is the all-powerful god of my people, the great Serpent God.
Surely you jest when you say you do not know of Zaa."

Helene shook her head slowly. It was difficult to believe that people
as apparently civilized as these had such a primitive religion, but
she had no opportunity to pursue the matter further, because Rannee
now beckoned her to follow.

Helene rose and accompanied the seven girls down a stone passage and
into a large, oval room.

The walls floor and ceiling of the room were of glistening black
stone, so dark and shining she could see herself mirrored in it. Set
in the exact center of the room was a rectangular pool of gleaming
white marble. Steps led down into the pool, and from gaping mouths of
odd figureheads set in each corner of the pool poured crystal-clear
streams of water.

Rannee pointed to the inviting pool, saying to Helene, "It is the hour
for your first ceremonial bath of purification."

The unexpected splendor and luxury of the gleaming black room took
Helene aback. The unrealness of this scene set in the heart of a
dense, primitive jungle fastness overwhelmed and confused her, and she
gave small attention to the meaning of this ceremonial. In her
disturbed state of mind, she hardly cared in any case. She offered no
objection, therefore, when Rannee came forward and gently aided her to
slip out of the leopard skin brassiere and breechclout.

Helene walked down the white steps into the clear water, shivering
with pleasure as the refreshing coolness slipped up to cover her body.
She bathed hurriedly, paying little attention to her quiet audience.
The pleasant luxury of the bath, the feel of the water on her smooth,
young body, soothed and rested Helene. Reluctantly, at last, she
emerged from the pool. The handmaidens waiting to dress her exclaimed
admiringly at the radiant beauty of her graceful form, and Rannee
murmured in deepest sincerity, "You are very lovely, Helene, you will
be the most beautiful bride taken in my memory by the great god Zaa."

Helene, though not unpleased by the compliment, was disturbed at its
implications. But before she could speak, Rannee called out to her
sisters and two of them came with woven towels and care fully dried
the jungle girl. Next they brought silver flasks containing rare and
exquisite scents which they applied. Rannee herself put breastplates
delicately fashioned from gold and gleaming with rare gems on Helene,
and fastened about the jungle girl's shapely hips a girdle of worked
gold likewise resplendent with jewels. About Helene's shoulders was
thrown a cape of purest white, exceedingly soft and fine to the touch.
Small gold sandals were placed on her feet.

The seven handmaidens drew back to survey their handiwork, and their
faces amply reflected the pleasure and admiration with which they
regarded the red haired girl. Helene, in returning the looks of the
handmaidens, found it hard to believe these fair, gentle women were
preparing her as some sort of sacrifice or offering to this Serpent
God they worshipped.

For a moment, she felt the urge to tear the soft white cape from her
shoulders and throw it at their feet, and offer resistance to these
superstitious fools. But the memory of her beloved Ki-Gor going to his
death came back to her, and a black despair laid hold of her heart.

What did it matter what became of her, she thought. There was no life
for her without Ki-Gor and if these odd people meant to send her to
her death, then perhaps all was for the best. Ki-Gor's arms would
never hold her again, nor would she ever again hear his teasing,
laughing voice. Life held no attraction. What was the sense of
resisting.

Helene was escorted back down the stone passages and into a square
high ceilinged room. It was an outside room, but the windows were
small and placed high up on the walls, well beyond her reach. The
afternoon sun filtered through these small openings softly
illuminating the rich, but ancient, interior.

Rannee and her companions left Helene to her thoughts. The despondent
girl, overcome by her grief, now that the dreadful shock of recent
events had abated and her mind again functioned, threw herself on a
couch and sobbed bitterly. She resolved in her unhappiness to openly
welcome whatever means of death the snake people planned for her.

Helene was subjected for the next two days to the same quiet ritual.
The seven women, always together, brought her superb meals and saw to
her comfort, disturbing her little, except to insist on the luxurious
bath taken in the great black room. It was midmorning the fourth day
that the dark haired girls came to summon Helene, and Rannee, their
spokesman, said with suppressed excitement, "You have completed the
formal ceremony of purification and the time has come for you to enter
the temple and be presented to Dian, High Priestess of Zaa."

The occasion, which obviously excited the handmaidens, stirred no
emotion in Helene. Without objection, she rose and followed them out
through the wide doorway to the flagstone street, where they turned
their footsteps east. The warm morning sun emphasized the extreme age
of the village, and although there was an impressive beauty to the
place, Helene felt a sense of death and evil, an indefinable
atmosphere of decay over everything. This was a place out of the past,
she thought, a pale remnant of a long-dead civilizations, a decadent
holdover forgotten by time.

Few people were about as the party wound through the eerie, deserted
streets toward a vast stone structure that rose in the center of the
village. The vast building was impressive in size, but the most
striking feature was its complete ugliness. Everything about it was
too heavy, too big. The tremendous stone columns which jutted up to
support the heavy roof were bulbous, obscenely huge.

Helene walked across the flagstone courtyard and mounted the broad,
worn steps. Through the open doors of the temple, she looked into the
tomblike interior, and from the dense gloom, broken only by the faint
light of flickering torches, there rolled out an intangible sense of
evil. The red haired girl drew her white cloak more closely about her,
took a deep breath and crossed the portals into the inner dimness.

Helene's attention was drawn as though by a magnet to a great yellow
square of stone placed in the center of the temple. This flat slab,
set on a dais of black marble, sent a chill over the red haired girl;
this, she knew, was the sacrificial stone of the pagan temple. The
uneven light of the sputtering torches revealed long lines of squat,
round, stone chairs extended along the right and left sides of the
temple, facing the yellow altar of the Serpent God.

The sound of a heavy gong reverberated ominously as Helene neared the
rock slab. When the waves of sound from the gong fell away, the
shrill, high chanting of women's voices seeped into the temple. The
thin, sing-song notes came nearer, steadily growing in intensity,
until the pagan chant filled the air with its weird pulsation.

A faint radiance wavered in the darkness behind the great stone. The
baleful fluorescence burned more brightly, until in a sudden burst of
light, a double file of torchbearers, walking in slow, measured step,
appeared through an arched doorway at the front of the temple. Holding
the fiercely burning torches high, the two files of chanting
handmaidens split, one going to the left, and one to the right of the
smooth, glistening stone altar slab.

Helene watched the rapt, intent faces of the singers, white and unreal
above their yellow capes. Her eyes were drawn back with resistless
attraction to the massive rock, which in her fancy, appeared to glow
dully at first, but with increasing intensity as the long seconds
dragged by. Helene shook her head and lifted her eyes by sheer force
of will from the hateful, inanimate stone.

The singing abruptly ceased. The curious chant did not reach a climax
of any kind before halting, nor did it fall away softly; instead, the
voices rose in full volume at one breath, and at the next were
absolutely stilled. Silence, eerie and startling in its suddenness,
burst over the huge temple like a thunderclap.

Helene's eyes followed those of the torchbearers to the door. A dark-
haired, fullbreasted woman, a woman of incredible, burning beauty,
stepped forward into the center of the light. Her cape was flung back
over her bare shoulders, revealing the exquisite curves of her firm,
lithe body. All attention focused on this magnetically beautiful woman
as she moved with liquid, feline grace toward the altar.

Rannee, who had stood quietly all the while, now bowed deeply, saying,
"Hail, O All-Powerful. Dian, High Priestess of the Mighty Zaa. As the
ancient writs prescribe, we bring before you the chosen one, whom Zaa
will take into himself at the Festival of the Seventh Moon."

The High Priestess looked directly at Helene during this formal
speech. Then as Rannee finished speaking, Dian raised her right arm
high, and lifted her eyes toward the shadowy gloom which enfolded the
high ceiling of the temple. Her lips moved soundlessly in this ancient
rite of accepting Zaa's bride-to-be into the protection of the temple.

Helene studied in this interval the haughty, barbaric figure of the
High Priestess. Dian stood during the ritual with head thrown back,
dark eyes half-closed, her body taut with emotion. Her raised arm,
both commanding and beseeching, was encircled at the wrist with a
bracelet wrought in the likeness of a coiled serpent. Dian's firm,
full breasts were cupped by loose, revealing gold coils, cleverly
encrusted with green gems. The brief, jeweled girdle she wore was made
up of the same green stones worked into the gold.

It was the woman's face, however, that most attracted Helene's
attention. It was a cruel, exotic face. The white, smooth skin was
doubly-fair set as it was against the cloud of raven hair. The
forehead was high, and the lips full, scarlet, and sensuous. Dian's
firm chin and strong cheekbones clearly were those of one born to
command. But the eyes of the High Priestess were her most dominant
feature, for they were large, dark, burning pools, so black as to be
almost luminous, so charged with inner fire they were electric in
their intensity.

Dian concluded at length the initial part of the ritual and roused
from the near hypnotic spell, in which she had communed with Zaa. She
addressed Rannee and the handmaidens, saying throatily, "Zaa will be
pleased with his people for bringing him this fair one. You have
handled your trust well, and I bid you welcome now into the sacred
inner portals of the temple."

The handmaidens who had cared for Helene the past three days bowed
deeply, and the weird chant of the torchbearers was resumed. The High
Priestess advanced around the stone altar to within arm's reach of
Helene. Behind her came a young girl bearing in extended hands an
ornate ivory box. Dian spoke again in a soft undertone, and because of
her nearness, Helene could hear many of the words, but they were in a
strange tongue, some forgotten language reserved now by these people
only for their formal ceremonies. When the speech was ended, Dian
turned and opened the small box held by the girl, and lifted out a
slender, gold headband, set with rubies.

The High Priestess placed this slender band on Helene's head, stepped
back one pace, made a mystic symbol with her hand, and after one last
glance at the jungle girl with those intense, glowing eyes, said, "The
temple now receives you, O Promised of Zaa!" Rannee placed a hand on
Helene's arm at these words and urged her forward after the retreating
figure of the High Priestess. The chanting handmaidens fell in behind
Helene, filing after her toward the archway beyond the altar.

Helene had the look of a sleepwalker as she went through the door. The
incredible events which had piled up in her life, one on another, in
such a short span of time had dazed and shaken her. The world was
suddenly too grotesque to seem real. Her pale face reflected a soul
weariness as she advanced half-bravely, half-unbelieving, into the
musty, gloomy inner sanctum of the temple.



V. - The Mysterious Warrior

Ki-Gor balanced the black arrow of the Serpent God in his right hand.
He stared long and thoughtfully at this ominous missile which had
spread fear and consternation among the natives. His eyes traced and
retraced the writhing serpent carved about the arrow's polished, black
shaft. The Jungle Lord turned a thoughtful gaze on Wabumaa, the chief.
The laughter and happiness were gone out of the fat, good-natured
native, for the slim arrow had wrought a fearful change in Wabumaa.
The man's color was a sickly yellow, and his plump jowls trembled as
he nervously sought to moisten dry lips with his tongue.

"You mean your two strongest warriors will be sent as a sacrifice to
the Serpent God, merely because someone shoots a black arrow into your
village," Ki-Gor asked in an incredulous voice, finding it difficult
to comprehend the abject submission of the tribesmen to such tyranny.

"Aye, I dare not do otherwise," the chief said fearfully. "A tribe to
the north of us tried once to revolt against this old, old custom, and
the people of the Serpent God came with spear and fire and wiped them
out."

Never had Ki-Gor brooked arbitrary action or words from any man, so
there was scornful anger in his voice as he snapped, "You have many
strong, young men in your tribe! It is hard to understand warriors who
won't battle for their rights."

The disturbed black man shook his head helplessly. "We are a peaceful
people and fighting is not our calling. For many generations before
us, our fathers followed the custom of sending the required two men."
Wabumaa saw there was still no understanding in Ki-Gor's stern face,
so pointing for emphasis to an unhappy group of his people standing
nearby, he declared with finality, "Is it not better these two should
be given up that the rest of us may live in peace? Resistance to the
Serpent God would mean the destruction of all my people. Aye, all this
was settled and determined long ago by my fathers."

Clearly the chief had no thought of resisting the Serpent God's
summons, so Ki-Gor asked how often the sacrifice was required.

"Always at this season," was the thickly muttered reply. "Always when
the moon grows swollen and heavy with the approach of the great rains,
this summons comes from the hated Serpent God."

Tembu George, who had shouldered his way up in time to hear part of
the conversation, questioned, "Where do these snake people live, and
what sort of rites do they hold?"

"I don't know," Wabumaa answered. "The two men must go out alone and
unarmed along a trail to the north. It is taboo for us to go into that
region. What happens to them I don't know, but none has ever
returned."

Ki-Gor toyed with the arrow, while his mind weighed a desperate plan.
He felt certain the serpent worshippers were the marauders he sought.
It was typical of him to seek direct action, heedless of overwhelming
odds and danger. A grievous wrong had been done him by these people,
his mind darkened by a cowardly blow, his wife stolen, and here he
found further evidence of long-standing crimes against these
submissive natives.

The Jungle Lord's voice was as deliberate as though he inquired about
the weather when he asked calmly, "You would not object if some one
took the place of one of the men you must send to the Serpent God?"

This soft-spoken remark could have had no more stunning effect on the
fat native if it had been a thunderclap of sound. Bewilderment and
disbelief crowded into Wabumaa's face.

"No one has ever made an offer of that kind," he said, and then as the
rising wails and laments of his tribesmen fell on his ears, he
hurriedly added, "but it would make no difference to the Serpent
people that I can see."

The big Masai Chieftain, Tembu George, turned and scrutinized the
Jungle Lord closely, the significance of the white man's statement
slowly dawned on him, and a gleam of admiration came into the massive
fighting man's eyes.

"Then I will replace one of the victims!" the Jungle Lord declared.

The fat chief felt the white man certainly was mad to make such an
offer, but it was with regret in his voice that he pointed out the
proposal was impossible in Ki-Gor's case. "I do not believe the snake
people would accept you because your skin is fair. They would think it
was a trick and would know you were not my tribesman. If you were a
native, I do not think it would matter to them."

This objection had not occurred to Ki-Gor. As he frowned, and cast
about for a solution, Tembu George broke in to agree with the chief.

"That's right. White men are scarce in this region and I don't believe
those snake worshippers would take kindly to your appearance."

The big warrior paused a moment, and glancing out of the corner of his
eye at Ki-Gor, advanced another suggestion. "They would find nothing
suspicious in my looks, so I will go."

"Yes, yes, that's true," the chief was quick to urge, happy to think
one of these foolhardy men would voluntarily save the life of one of
his tribesmen.

There was a faint smile on Ki-Gor's lips when he looked at Tembu
George, an expression of pleasure at the loyalty and courage of his
friend.

"You may go if you like, my young lion, but you do not get rid of me
quite so easily," Ki-Gor chuckled meaningly. "Give me a few hours'
time and the Serpent God himself will swear we are twin brothers."

For the first time in many days, Ki-Gor laughed heartily. He slapped
Tembu George on the shoulder, turned on his heel and strode away, his
booming laughter startling the mourning natives. Ki-Gor heard their
laments change to shouts of happiness and admiration behind him when
their chief announced the two strangers would offer themselves up as a
sacrifice to the Serpent God.

After searching through the jungle several hours, Ki-Gor returned to
the village. He carried a leaf-wrapped bundle containing various herbs
and plants, which he immediately placed in a large urn. The Jungle
Lord filled the urn with water and placed it among hot coals to boil.
He squatted by the mixture, stirring and watching it carefully, until
tests convinced him it was properly done.

He then cooled the concoction and carried it into a hut with him.
After a long while, a big figure loomed in the doorway of the hut. It
was Ki-Gor, but it was a drastically changed Ki-Gor. Where a tall,
superbly muscled white man had entered the thatched abode, a black man
came out whose ebony skin glistened in the sun. The long, blond hair
was replaced by a close-cropped black head of hair, stiff and slightly
kinky.

The altered Jungle Lord strode through the village seeking Tembu
George. The gleaming, velvety black of his skin accentuated Ki-Gor's
tremendous muscular development. His freshly oiled skin shone in the
light, revealing in every detail the play of the steely muscles along
his massive frame. Natives turned to gape at the strange warrior
walking so confidently through their village, wondering at the
identity of this awesome black fighting man.

Lounging idly near the central campfire, Tembu George noticed with
interest the approach of the big native buck. He watched with good
humor the swagger of the native, smiling to himself at this
affectation, but in no way resenting it, because as a chieftain of
real fighting men, he well understood the overdose of pride and self-
satisfaction experienced by many young warriors. He did not recognize
Ki-Gor, and little knew that this swagger was part of a show being put
on for his benefit.

With elaborate indifference to Tembu George and the staring groups of
natives, the Jungle Lord stooped and picked up a charred piece of wood
from the edge of the fire. He walked casually to the lone tree that
stood nearby, the same tree in which the black arrow had been
embedded, and reached up to mark three black crosses on the trunk.
Standing back, he surveyed the three charcoal crosses placed one
beneath the other at intervals of a foot. In the same casual manner,
Ki-Gor strode a few steps to where two bows with partially filled
quivers had been left by returning hunters.

"Would you risk embarrassment by matching your skill with the bow
against mine!" Ki-Gor barked suddenly at Tembu George in a loud, rough
voice. This display of arrogant self-confidence by the strange black
man aroused a momentary flash of anger in Tembu George. Considering
the suggested contest, however, the Masai chieftain, conscious of his
own ability with the bow, regained his good humor, thinking it would
be a good lesson to teach this upstart giant some manners. He heaved
his muscled bulk up and walked toward the strange warrior. Hardly
looking at his friend, Ki-Gor pitched a bow and three arrows to Tembu
George.

Ki-Gor restrained his laughter with difficulty, and half turning his
back to the Masai leader, he barked again in the assumed harsh voice.
"Three arrows apiece, making one shot for each cross. You may shoot
first."

It would be a pleasure to shatter the studied indifference of the big
native, Tembu George thought, so without a word, he fitted an arrow to
the bow and raised it easily, almost carelessly. The bowstring twanged
and like a gleam of light the arrow sped to the top cross mark. There
was a crack of sound and the arrow dug into the tree trunk. A cry of
approval went up from the watching natives. The arrow was embedded not
half an inch from the exact center of the cross.

Outwardly solemn, but quite pleased with himself, Tembu George lowered
the bow. "Let the swaggering buck beat that," he said to himself. But
before he had an opportunity to really enjoy his pride of
marksmanship, he heard the big fellow say, "Would you like to try that
shot over? It is so wide, perhaps your foot slipped."

"That shot stands! Pay more attention to the contest, and less to the
wagging of your tongue," the Masai Chieftain growled, unable to
restrain his anger this time.

"I have no desire to show you up, old man, if you are not at your
best," proclaimed the delighted Ki-Gor, "so if you prefer, we can
forget the contest."

"Stop your loud gabbing and get on with it!" roared the now infuriated
Tembu George.

Having never yet deigned to look straight at his Masai comrade, the
Jungle Lord sighed audibly, shrugged his shoulders, and raised the bow
in one smooth motion, let fly an arrow. The arrow struck the tree so
hard the impact cracked like a pistol shot. A gasp went up from the
onlookers. The barked shaft was driven deep into the exact center of
the cross.

The Jungle Lord pursed his lips, and squatted native fashion on the
ground, apparently deeply interested in his big toe. It was all he
could do to suppress the gale of laughter that threatened to burst
from his throat.

The heavy brows of the Masai leader touched in a deep frown. It was
clear this upstart was not to be taken lightly, so Tembu George
dropped his casual air, and tensely prepared for the second shot. He
would show him this time something about Masai marksmanship. Perhaps
the fellow's first shot was merely a lucky one anyway. The massive
Negro aimed with great care, and then with exacting skill released the
barb. Delighted cries went up. The arrow vibrated precisely in the
center of the second cross mark.

"Well, that slight wind helped right your aim this time," declared Ki-
Gor, showing only casual interest in the accuracy of the shot. He took
slightly longer aim himself this time and then sent his arrow flashing
at the mark. The superhuman skill of the Jungle Lord was never better
shown, for his arrow split the shaft of Tembu George's barb cleanly,
and sent the pieces flying.

He turned a quick glance at the face of the Masai Chieftain, and
seeing the consternation in the big man's expression, he was unable to
control himself any longer. He shouted with delight, slapping his
thighs and laughing until the tears came.

This display of poor sportsmanship on the part of his rival brought
Tembu George up short, his mouth open to deliver a challenge. Then as
he listened to the familiar tone of that storm of guffaws, he stared
in bewilderment at his black foe, hardly knowing what to believe.

A sheepish grin suddenly appeared on Tembu George's face as he
comprehended the joke played on him. "Ki-Gor, I should shoot you with
this last arrow. How on earth did you rig yourself up like that? You
look more like a native than those fellows standing over there." The
massive Negro joined Ki-Gor in the laugh had at his expense.

Now Ki-Gor drew Tembu George aside, and explained his plan to enter
the realm of the Serpent God. The two men would probably be facing
certain death, and they would have no means of protection for Wabumaa
had warned them they must go forth completely unarmed, they were to
travel straight along the designated path to the east until met by
warriors of the Serpent God. Ki-Gor warned Tembu George not to resist
no matter what provocation was offered. The two men must bide their
time for the one lone chance when they might have an opportunity to
either free Helene, or if it were too late for that, at least to
avenge her.

The Masai warriors were called in and the plan explained to them. They
were unhappy at the prospect of being left behind, and argued long to
be allowed to go. When they finally understood this was impossible,
they made a counter-proposal agreed to by Tembu George. The fierce
fighting men exacted the promise from their leader that a clear trail
he left for them to follow. The idea of violating the taboo district
observed by the local natives in no way disturbed them. These great
warriors would fight the devil himself if need be to aid either the
White Lord of the jungle or their chieftain.

It was agreed the Masai would follow after an interval of a day, and
using their own discretion, would decide on some feasible plan to aid
in rescuing Helene. The wounded warrior would be left in the village,
and if by the time he recovered, the others had not returned, then he
would go downriver and gather the full forces of the Masai nation.
This stern people brooked no insult or injury, and as surely as night
follows day, if it became necessary, long files of grim Masai warriors
would seek out the snake people and exact full vengeance.

The fat, little chief waddled up to warn Ki-Gor it was time to depart.
Without ceremony, the two uncommonly hale and hearty victims rose and
strode after the plump native. He led them into the jungle a distance
and pointed out the trail they were to follow.

He pressed the black arrow into Ki-Gor's hands. "It is necessary to
take this dreaded thing with you," he muttered.

Wabumaa glanced hastily at the two men with a mixture of admiration
and sorrow. He gulped in an unsuccessful search for words, and his
eyes turned fearfully down the shadowy trail which lay ahead of these
two madmen. A tremor of fright ran over the fat chief and he turned
and ran back toward the safety of his village.



VI. - A Battle for Life

THE TWO MEN spoke little as they traveled the narrow choked trail.
Their minds were occupied with the dangers ahead, but despite, those
dangers, their eagerness to match wits and strength against warriors
of the Serpent God made it necessary for them repeatedly to slacken
pace. It would be unwise to appear to invite the coming ordeal, so the
two men played the role of frightened and none-too-anxious sacrifices.

The trail bored an uneven way through the wild and overgrown jungle.
Great trees interlaced their branches tightly overhead, cutting off
any sight of the sky. Twisted vines, ranging in breadth from the size
of a man's waist to slender threads, twisted and clung, in an endless,
choking battle for survival. Ki-Gor preceded Tembu George along this
dank, sunless route, when suddenly on rounding a sharp turn in the
trail, they confronted a group of heavily armed warriors.

Ki-Gor halted, and faced the warriors in silence. These men, he knew,
were guards sent to escort the cringing natives, whom he and Tembu
George had replaced. With an air of apparent resignation, the Jungle
Lord held out the black arrow to the flat-nosed, ape-like, black man
in command of the warriors. The native advanced with a heavy, splay-
footed gait, his hard face sneering at these sheep who came so meekly
to be slaughtered, and accepted the proffered arrow.

He wasted no words on his captives, merely calling out, "Come! Don't
stand there like crippled monkeys, the trail ahead is long."

The group set off immediately, with Ki-Gor and Tembu George sandwiched
in the center of the file of warriors. It was a long journey,
requiring the better part of four days, with most of the ground
covered at a dogtrot. At no time were the captives bound or
mistreated, but a careful watch always was kept on them.

It was a weary, travel-worn party that struggled out of the smothering
jungle in the late afternoon onto the beach of a sparkling, blue lake.
The warriors dragged a long canoe from its place of concealment in the
undergrowth, and slipped it into the clear water.

The Jungle Lord's eyes narrowed coldly when he saw the canoe. The
fanged serpent carved on the prow made him bristle instinctively. With
one broad hand he rubbed his cropped head, struggling to break through
the gate which barred his memory. Despite the careful, detailed
outline given Ki-Gor by Tembu George, the past remained sealed in the
inner recesses of his mind. He strove constantly to break this
imprisonment of his memory, seeking especially to conjure up the faces
of those responsible for his present troubles.

The sight of the serpent figurehead moved him deeply, bringing almost
within reach the image of a man he felt was the one who tried to kill
him. He remembered vaguely a loud, arrogant voice associated with
uneasy shifting eyes, but he could not adequately visualize the man or
the circumstances. Ki-Gor felt somehow he would recognize this key
figure if only he could come face to face with him.

A large island formed a shimmering splash of green far out on the
lake. The ape-like black leader hurried his captives into the canoe
and set course for the island. With the goal of his search in sight,
Ki-Gor could not help thinking how tremendous a gamble this venture
was, and he felt a twinge of regret that Tembu George was involved in
the dangerous undertaking out of friendship for him. Tembu George,
however, was certainly no figure to invite concern for he sat without
an apparent worry in the world, stolidly gazing at the rapidly
approaching island much like a bored tourist on a boat ride.

The canoe reached the island with a final burst of speed and darted
into the small harbor. Over a score of natives were busy on the bank,
and they gathered about the canoe when it beached, turning curious
eyes on huge Ki-Gor and Tembu George.

"These two look better than the usual run of cattle you bring back
from Wabumaa," an onlooker said in a matter-of-fact voice to the guard
leader.

The ugly warrior replied with disgust, "These two are merely larger
than the usual yield from that tribe of jackals. These fellows are as
meek and mild as all the rest, and I doubt their performance will add
anything to the Festival of the Seventh Moon."

Tembu George narrowly watched Ki-Gor, half expecting the Jungle Lord
to throw off his air of resignation and make a sudden break for
freedom, now that they had entered the realm of the Serpent God. Ki-
Gor realized, however, any move on his part would be valueless until
he knew exactly how to search out the captive jungle girl, so he let
himself be herded along the same cobbled road over which Helene had
passed. He experienced Helene's surprise when he passed from the outer
village of thatched huts into the strange, deserted, inner city, but
to his captors he evinced no flicker of interest.

The file of natives threaded its way through the silent streets to a
lone, stone building, different from the rest only because it was more
formidably constructed. The Jungle Lord and Tembu George were taken
down a long flight of stairs, and through groaning, age-blackened
timber doors. The doors opened on a low-ceilinged passageway which
sloped down sharply to a second timber barrier. Two stolid warriors
stood guard before the heavy door, and on the approach of the
captives, they silently lifted the bar and the prisoners were
impatiently pushed into a darkened room.

Ki-Gor was instantly alert as the door closed behind him. His vision
adjusted itself with catlike swiftness to the semidarkness. He saw
eight natives bunched together on the far side of the rectangular
room. He recognized immediately in their listlessness the air of men
who live without hope. These, then, were more unfortunates sacrificed
by their tribes to appease the Serpent God.

The strong, muscular natives were fine looking specimens, quite
evidently the picked men of their individual tribes. A surge of anger
went through the Jungle Lord at the thought of numberless men like
these cruelly and supinely sacrificed by their tribes as tribute to
the Serpent God.

Ki-Gor and Tembu George moved forward and joined the natives, being
quickly and easily accepted by this group brought together in a common
misfortune. The eight men, Ki-Gor learned, had arrived in pairs that
same day. Apparently the black arrows were delivered on a carefully
planned schedule, so the victims would arrive at approximately the
same time. The conversation of the moody natives soon died away, and
rose again only at the scuffling of feet outside the door, heralding
the approach of further victims.

When the door clicked open, two more figures were pushed into the damp
room. Ki-Gor looked at the two newcomers who stood at the door,
muttering nervously while they strove to adjust their eyes to the
darkness. One native was average size, well built, but in no regard
unusual, but the other man was of tremendous bulk. This giant Negro
was one of the most massive black men Ki-Gor had ever seen. He was
almost neckless, with smooth shaven bullet head set close on great
sloping shoulders. His arms, as thick, hairy and muscled as a
gorilla's, were abnormally long. The man's trunk, grotesquely big, was
supported by correspondingly large and muscular legs.

A greeting was called out to the newcomers, and reassured that the
nameless horror of the Serpent God was not yet to greet them, the two
warriors advanced. The smaller man was obviously happy to find the
company of his kind, but to, all appearances, his hulking companion
did not share the same sentiments. Ki-Gor sized the giant up
accurately now when he could view him at close quarters. Although the
fellow was a giant insofar as muscular development, his brain had in
no way kept pace with the growth of his body.

Except for a low, animal cunning, the man gave no evidence of
intelligence. Even in the face of death, the big native was a boastful
bully, mean tempered, his evil little eyes looking for trouble. His
loud bellows and brutish arrogance grew more insufferable as the
minutes passed, and the mild dislike Ki-Gor first felt for the native
grew by leaps and bounds.

Ki-Gor in no way was intimidated by the black man's size, for fear had
no part in the Jungle Lord's being. Except for a reluctance to create
a disturbance which would bring the guards down upon all the natives,
he would have immediately crossed the warrior. He held himself in
check, however, until one final act of the overbearing bully was too
much to swallow.

The occasion was the bringing of food to the prisoners. Guards opened
the door and placed inside a large vessel, which contained food for
the entire group. A prisoner, out of courtesy to his fellows, stepped
forward and picked up the vessel, intending to place it in the center
of the group for all to share. As the man bent to place the container
on the floor, a brawny, hairy arm scuffed him aside and the hulking
giant took possession of the food.

"I will eat first," he declared belligerently, "and when I am
finished, you jackals can paw over the remains!"

An angry chorus burst from the natives at this gross display of
arrogance and greed. The giant black pulled the food closer, and
growled contemptuously at the natives.

"If any of you have different ideas, let him come forward and we shall
soon decide whose word is law here," rumbled the bully, swelling his
vast chest, parading his hugeness before the others.

The natives realized crossing the man would plunge them into unarmed
combat, and a hand-to-hand struggle with the gorilla-like creature,
obviously, was an invitation to death. The cries of protest ceased,
bringing an ugly smile to the giant's thick, animal lips. With
considerable show, he prepared to reach one hand into the vessel,
already pleased at the prospect of gorging himself before the hungry
eyes of the others.

The pawlike hand moved down to select a piece of meat, but was halted
in midair by Ki-Gor's cold, steel-hard voice. "I would not touch that
food, if I were you!"

"Eh," grunted the black man, his evil, little, red-flecked eyes
peering up in surprise at this implied opposition.

"We will all share alike here, and furthermore, I have heard enough of
your blustering." The Jungle Lord's steady voice lashed out again.
"Either you will stop acting like an animal, or I will see that you
are given the treatment due one."

When the meaning of this statement trickled into the slow mind of the
brutish native, he swept the food vessel aside with a slap of his
hand. Rage and contempt boiled up in his face to hideously twist his
flat, oily features. He drew his lips back in a sneer, revealing
uneven, yellow tusks, and a driblet of saliva slipped down the corners
of his mouth. The elephantine native drew to his full height, swaying
slowly as anger pulsed through him.

The figure of the black man, grotesque and inhuman in the shadowy
light, completely dwarfed Ki-Gor. The watching natives gave the calm,
quiet Jungle Lord little chance before the giant and they were
spellbound at his deliberate stance. Tembu George alone among them
realized Ki-Gor's deceptive calm masked a dreadful fury, volcanic and
terrible once unleashed. The natives fell back, leaving the two
antagonists to face each other. Still Ki-Gor stood there, every muscle
in delicate balance, his steady eyes never leaving the big man's face.

"You dare challenge me, Brogar! You dare insult Brogar!" the giant
bellowed. "You sniveling dango, you die for this!" he screamed,
throwing his vast bulk forward in a headlong charge.

The Jungle Lord, alert for this move, flicked aside from the ponderous
charge, and with the blasting power of a pile driver, struck the
native's temple with the open palm of his right hand. The blow from
that rock-hard hand, which would have felled most men, only jarred
Brogar. The enraged black man smashed at Ki-Gor again, moving with an
agility startling in a person of such mountainous proportions. He kept
rushing Ki-Gor, striving to catch the smaller man in his flailing
arms, but the Jungle Lord successfully evaded him. Ki-Gor was forced
to retreat, but he dealt terrible, punishing blows for every step he
gave ground.

Brogar was accustomed to crushing his smaller opponents without undue
trouble, and this experience of being mauled by the evasive Jungle
Lord sent him insane with blood lust. The giant warrior was terrible
to behold as he beat his chest savagely, a stream of guttural, animal
sounds poured from his frothing lips.

Flailing, clawing, rushing, he drove Ki-Gor back steadily into a
corner of the room. The one thought in his mind was to box the nimble
Jungle Lord up where he could get his hands on him, then he would show
him what the hate of Brogar meant.

Ki-Gor realized he was being forced into an unfavorable position, and
he put forth every trick he knew to turn and divert the raging giant.
The white man knew he could not cope with the vast bulk of the
warrior, once the opportunity to maneuver was gone. Brogar would not
be diverted, though, and Ki-Gor was pushed back, inevitably back,
until his back suddenly struck the cold stone of the wall.

This was the opportunity Brogar awaited. He spread his great arms
wide, and bore forward to close with this puny mortal, who dared
oppose him. Ki-Gor lashed three rocking blows at Brogar's exposed
face, putting his full desperate strength in a last ditch effort to
break out of the trap. The giant wavered, halted, and then came on
again, his tremendous paws smashing on Ki-Gor's head like sledge
hammers. The Jungle Lord was torn from his feet by the shock and
thrown to the floor. Brogar, screaming fiendishly, kicked Ki-Gor as he
fell, sending him rolling.

When he went down and felt the cruel kicks, a black blinding rage
poured over Ki-Gor. He changed in an instant from a calm, self-
possessed man, fighting a deliberate battle, into a raging jungle
killer. The uncontrollable fury that swept over Ki-Gor doubled and
tripled his normally immense strength.

The amnesia previously caused by Basru's head blow, when Helene was
abducted, had swept away much of his veneer of civilization; and now,
rage and pain cut away every last vestige of civilized man. Ki-Gor was
suddenly a jungle beast with the killer-madness on him, and the
raging, primitive, savagery he exhibited made even the blood of the
watching natives run cold.

The black giant leaped at Ki-Gor, straining with his thick fingers to
capture the Jungle Lord's throat. But in vain did the huge black
strain to hold Ki-Gor to the floor and throttle him. The flood of
power exerted by the steel-hard muscles of the Jungle Lord was a
resistless, terrifying force, nullifying and defeating the awesome
strength of the native.

A small twinge of fear crept into the bully's heart as he found he
could not control the writhing, demoniac Ki-Gor. The Jungle Lord
forced the black warrior's choking handhold to loosen, slip and break.
With a supreme effort, Ki-Gor drew his legs up under the smothering
weight of the native, and catapulted them forward, plunging the big
man off of him. Ki-Gor gained his feet in this interval like a leaping
tongue of flame, and swept at the giant, utterly heedless of the
punishing blow's dealt by the hulking warrior.

The leonine Ki-Gor dove straight into his foe, tearing and slashing
with incredible speed and power. His face terrible with anger and a
low, chilling snarl of hate sounded deep in his throat. The White
Lord's lips were sheared back in an animal snarl, and his eyes spat
flame.

The Jungle Lord was no longer a man battling only. He was a ruthless
beast of prey intent on destruction, an irresistible fighting machine
geared to tear and rend and kill. Essentially, this was the role
nature had fitted him for, because from the earliest youth his life
and safety depended entirely on his instinctive battle urge, on an
ability to act quicker and with greater deadliness than the countless
savage foes who hunted him.

The bewildered black warrior gave ground before Ki-Gor's fierce,
unrelenting attack. The giant knew fear for the first time in his
life. Never before had the tremendously powerful native had reason to
fear defeat in any struggle. But a fear crept over him now not merely
of being humbled by an adversary, but an actual fear of being killed.
The warrior fought ever more wildly, his guard crumbling before the
shattering blows dealt by Ki-Gor as the two men grappled and strained,
seeking always an opening which would bring decisive victory.

The natives, whose cause Ki-Gor championed, watched with excited
delight as they saw the black giant waver and fall back before Ki-Gor.
This sight of the Jungle Lord beating down the huge warrior was a
totally unexpected turn of events. None of the prisoners, except Tembu
George, had given the smaller man a chance, and for a time in the
beginning, even the Masai chieftain looked with doubt on the outcome.
The spectacle jerked the prisoners out of their silence as they loudly
cried encouragement to Ki-Gor.

But Ki-Gor heard them not. He fought in a red haze which excluded all
except the figure of his foe. He failed to hear also, the sudden
clamor outside in the passageway, where the guards, aroused by the
rising din made by the prisoners, called for more men to put down the
trouble.

The reinforced guards burst through the door and swept into the room
to halt the disorder just as Ki-Gor landed a stunning blow. He struck
with the hard outer ridge of his hand, and the giant black man reeled
back. Before the brutish figure could recover, Ki-Gor moved in like a
panther, and with an iron grip swung the huge black from his feet.

The immense weight would have torn loose the shoulder muscles of a
lesser man, but the massive Jungle Lord easily lifted the great bulk
overhead and then smashed it to the ground. The moment the bully hit
the floor, Ki-Gor dived to finish him. He gave no heed to the figures
swarming at him. His attention was focused exclusively on reaching the
dazed giant before the man could struggle to his feet.

A score of hands clamped on Ki-Gor as he pounced at the native. Other
guards grasped the huge black, who gave them no resistance. He was not
eager to resume the combat. The men who attempted to control Ki-Gor
though, had their hands full, but their numbers were sufficient to
hold him. When his senses cleared, he reluctantly submitted and stood
quietly.

The Jungle Lord looked about him, as his rage cooled, realizing only
gradually what had taken place. He surveyed the battered visage of the
giant with grim satisfaction, noting, however, the cold, baleful hate
which shone in the native's eyes. The hurt bully would never forgive
Ki-Gor, but this fact did not worry him. Ki-Gor was disturbed that his
action might bring down punishment on the prisoners. He glanced
regretfully to where they were lined up by the guards, and was
reassured. The men's faces amply told him his humbling of the giant
more than repaid them for any trouble which might ensue.

A sharp command rang out, and a sudden hush fell over the room. The
guards stood stiffly erect as a commanding figure strode into the
door. Ki-Gor's eyes widened in surprise at the newcomer. The man,
obviously a person of rank and importance, was white.

He was an austere, middle-aged fellow, with severe, cold features. He
was oddly garbed, wearing over his bare chest a long scarlet cape,
embroidered with a figure of a fanged serpent. His loins were swathed
with a metallic cloth, yellow as gold, and buckled at his waist was a
short broad sword. Silver sandals encased his feet, and he wore a
gleaming silver helmet on his head.

The white warrior stared around the room, then motioned one of the
guards to him to report on the disturbance. His dark eyes searched Ki-
Gor and the giant black, noting they were not seriously injured. He
gazed at them impersonally, as at cattle, pursing his thin lips in
displeasure at the entire event.

The commanding white man turned with a sweep of his cape, after this
inspection, and stalked to the door. Abruptly, he halted, and half
turning, addressed the prisoners in clipped, emotionless words.

"You will shed blood enough tomorrow, you savages, without spilling
each other's blood in such foolish personal grudges as this!"

With that ominous pronouncement, the cold, precise white man strode
from the room, leaving the cruel torment of his meaning to torture the
thoughts of the prisoners.



VII. - The Ritual of Flame

THE ETERNITY of suspense drew to an end for the prisoners. It was the
first day of the Festival of the Seventh Moon, and their fate would
soon be known. Uneasily, they waited.

Then the scarlet-robed white warrior came with the guards, four armed
natives for each prisoner, and they were escorted individually from
the cell. The guards took them out of the cool building into the
bright sunlight. The procession of victims wound through the silent
streets, past the great temple, to a long open stretch of ground which
lay behind it.

Excited crowds of natives massed on each side held back by files of
warriors standing shoulder to shoulder. The cleared strip was broken
at regular intervals by what appeared to be barriers and obstructions
of various kinds.

The prisoners had no opportunity to clearly view the field for they
were hurried through the crowd and drawn up before a colorfully
decorated stand containing several tiers of seats. The stand was
located about the center of the field and a heavy guard of helmeted
black warriors was stationed about it. The tiers of seats were packed
with elegantly garbed men and women, and the eyes of the prisoners
widened in surprise--every person in the stand was white skinned.

Ki-Gor looked at the scarlet and yellow robed people who stared
disdainfully at the victims from their vantage point. These people
then were the ruling class of this strange fortress city, a haughty,
fairskinned handful who dominated hundreds of blacks on the island and
made their baleful influence felt throughout the entire lake region.

He remembered the sprawling, overgrown outer city, jammed with crude,
thatch huts and crowded with natives, and the inner city with its
stone houses, deserted and falling into disuse. The two cities told
the story. These whites were the fading remnants of a once mighty
people, a handful who maintained their rule through religious
domination of the vast numbers of superstitious natives. His interest
in the Serpent God deepened. He realized this small island buried in
the inner fastnesses of the jungle held one of the many weird,
unbelievable secrets of Africa.

As these thoughts passed through his mind, the Jungle Lord studied the
faces of these strange, barbaric whites. A woman of striking beauty
occupied a raised throne in the front rank of the stand. It was Dian,
High Priestess of the Serpent God. Ranged on each side of her were the
Handmaidens of Zaa, except at the place to the immediate right of
Dian, where the pale, beautiful Helene sat.

Tembu George immediately recognized Helene, but he was separated by a
great distance from Ki-Gor, and could not direct the Jungle Lord's
attention to her. For his part, Ki-Gor's searching eyes had quickly
singled out the red-haired, blue--eyed girl and noted how different
she was from the other animated, interested spectators. Although
dressed like the others, she seemed filled with sadness, withdrawn
from the scene around her.

But though Ki-Gor's eyes paused long on Helene, he did not know her.
Nor did he recognize the tall, hard native with the ever-shifting eyes
who stood in front of the stand. It was Basru. The hatchetfaced
warrior was reaping his first honor for the capture of Helene by being
placed in charge of the personal guard of the High Priestess.

Helene's glance barely touched the prisoners. She had no interest in
the proceedings, and sat pale and aloof, her thoughts turned inward.
It would have been a miracle, in any case for her to recognize Ki-Gor
even had she looked directly at him. He bore no resemblance to the
beloved mate her memory touched on constantly, so altered was his
appearance by the black, oiled skin and shortcropped hair. Helene
would have known Tembu George instantly had she picked out his face
from the mass of natives ranged before her.

The High Priestess rose to her feet and stared out over the multitude.
She raised her right arm high and the roar of many voices fell away.
The hushed silence was tense with expectancy; the crowd strained to
hear the words of the High Priestess.

"I, Dian, High Priestess of Zaa, declare this day the opening of the
Festival of the Seventh Moon, and do command my people to pay homage
to the mighty Serpent God as proscribed by the ancient rites."

The roar of the crowd swept up in a flood of sound as the haughty
priestess made this declaration, and then died away as the high
pitched voice came again.

This time Dian spoke in a strange tongue, the words falling and rising
in odd cadence, as she prayed to Zaa in the dead language of her
forefathers. The moment the prayer was completed the bedlam of noise
broke from the throats of the hundreds of natives, continuing until a
signal from the priestess. Dian looked now at the prisoners and
addressed them.

"Subjects of the Outer Realm, you twelve are sent here by your
respective peoples to do honor to the almighty Zaa.

"As unbelievers, only one among you is given the priceless opportunity
through the Festival of the Seventh Moon to be received into the
service of our mighty god.

"But this fortunate one--the only one of you who will live--must be
the strongest, the fittest, and the greatest warrior. The blood of the
others will atone for the sins of their people."

Dian paused as though to let her words sink into the minds of the
prisoners. The unfortunate men, tense and trembling, looked uneasily
at one another, wondering which would be the lone survivor of the
festival. Anxiously, they strained to hear what the method of decision
would be.

"The two who are most favored by Zaa will be determined through the
Ritual of Flame," continued the High Priestess. "All twelve of you
will compete. Between lanes of fire you will race the length of this
field, passing through five obstacles which will test your courage,
strength and skill."

As Dian halted dramatically, the milling crowd broke out in a
bloodthirsty roar. This was the spectacle they wanted. They pressed to
see how the prisoners reacted to the pronouncement of the High
Priestess.

"One of the first two to cross the finish line will be the man whose
life is spared," cried Dian. "Those who lag behind the two winners
must die on the altar."

The prisoners were stunned by this harsh-cruel contest decreed for
them. They wondered fearfully what the obstacles would be. And in the
mind of each, the desire to live flamed up, and each resolved he must
be one of those first two. They felt an instinctive, even though
unwanted, fear and suspicion of each other, for every man was
henceforth set against every other.

Ki-Gor and Tembu George alone remained undisturbed. These two
ironnerved men willingly entered the realm of the Serpent God, and
they were prepared to face any resulting dangers unflinchingly. It was
obvious this packed field, with its countless warriors, offered no
chance for escape, so the only alternative was to go on with the
contest and hope for a further opportunity to rescue Helene.

The contestants were escorted down to the end of the field and lined
up. Ki-Gor saw now the dangers they were to face. Two narrow ditches
ten feet apart were dug the length of the field and were filled with a
thick, black residue. The Jungle Lord's nostrils quickly identified
the black substance as being principally oil. This oil would provide
the flaming barriers to keep the men on the obstacle course.

The first obstacle was a stretch of earth set with knives, buried hilt
down, so the irregularly placed blades angled up to slash the legs of
any runner who misjudged a step. Beyond this knife-sown area were
three hurdles formed from spears. The hurdles were successively
higher, and each row of spears was pointed to impale any man who
failed to clear the jump.

Next lay an obstacle more dangerous than the first two. Five pairs of
wooden posts were sunk in the ground, and chained to every post was a
leopard. The chains on each pair of leopards permitted the animals
almost to touch paws, when they strained forward, growling and
fighting. Only a narrow, uncharted trail precisely between the pairs
of leopards could be followed by the contestants with any hope of
passing through safely.

A deep pit lay beyond the leopards, and it was impossible for Ki-Gor
to see what danger awaited there. The final obstacle appeared to be a
small ditch across the course, and he deduced it was filled with the
same oily substance as the corridor lanes. It was likely a high flame
barrier would be the final obstacle; and placed as it was at the end
of the course, the flames would be hard for the tired and breathless
natives to surmount.

The cruel mind that conceived this Ritual of Flame made certain the
two winners were men not only of great physical prowess, but also men
smiled on by luck and good fortune. Ki-Gor realized part of the twelve
would never complete the course. He glanced down the lane of prisoners
to place Tembu George, and he noted the hate-filled eyes of the giant
Brogar in turn were searching him out. He understood the extent of the
brutish warrior's hate, and resolved during the race to be watchful of
the native.

The white warrior in charge of the prisoners shouted a command and all
along the field, guards with burning torches ran forward to light the
channels of flame which lined the course. The twin sheets of fire
burst up, wavering yellow in the still air. The chained leopards
screamed in an agony of fear at the fire, and a great roar went up
from the watching crowd, lending a further barbaric note to the
terrible scene.

Shouting above the noise, the white warrior told the prisoners the
contest would begin the moment he lowered his sword. The twelve men,
their dark skins pale with fear and stress, glued their eyes to the
raised sword. Ki-Gor watched, too, his muscles tense, for he was
anxious to get through the knife-strewn area before the full mass of
men reached it. Twelve men fighting to outrun each other through that
dangerous stretch meant several would be jostled into missteps and a
fall would be fatal.

The short, broad sword glistened in the sun as the white warrior held
it steady, and then with a shout, slashed it down, starting the
contest.

The twelve men burst forward in a frenzied sprint. Twelve superb
physical specimens strained every nerve and fiber to take the lead.
Ki-Gor threw every ounce of strength into a powerful driving spurt,
gaining speed like a startled hare. He edged slowly ahead, leading all
except one figure, which hung with him. He saw from the corner of his
eye this companion who kept pace with him was Brogar.

The agility of the huge black man was astounding. His size made him a
slow starter, but his tremendous strength pushed him forward at
surprising speed once under way. The sharp blades glittered close at
hand now, and Ki-Gor had no desire to enter the obstacle running
shoulder to shoulder with Brogar.

Barriers of flame reared up to swallow the racing men. The tightly
grouped natives surged close behind Ki-Gor, and the sound of their
pounding feet urged him to greater effort. Entering the flaming walls,
the men swept down the center of the course, striving to avoid the
torturing heat and smoke. The first obstacle rose before them, the
leaping flames gleaming on the waiting forest of blades.

This was the moment Ki-Gor awaited. All the great strength in his
magnificent body exploded into his driving legs as he spurted ahead of
the others. He veered to the burning wall on the right, running so
close the flame pricked his skin with its darting red tongues. Through
this stratagem, Ki-Gor placed himself out of reach of the cunning
Brogar, escaping at the same time the danger of being trampled by the
pack should he stumble or misstep.

The main body of natives gave him no notice as they held to the middle
aisle. Heat seared over Ki-Gor and he fought an overwhelming urge to
escape the torturing fire. His iron will kept him from wavering and
the pain was forgotten, momentarily, as all his attention and
concentration was required to avoid the wicked, blades that slashed up
from the earth.

Ki-Gor had guessed the knives would be placed less thickly along the
outer edge of the course than in the center. He was correct, but the
field of gleaming blades was a tremendously formidable obstacle for a
running man. The Jungle Lord called forth his greatest dexterity, and
inviting death at each step, he threw himself over the cruel stretch
in a dizzy, breathtaking gamble.

The massive White Lord of the jungle leaped free over the last row of
knives at the same instant an agonized burst of screams filled the
air. He knew without looking a native had gone down under the frenzied
rush of the pack. Others, he knew, bore gaping leg wounds after
jostling and fighting over the obstacle.

But the brutish giant had survived, for he swept into the lead now as
Ki-Gor lost time turning back to the more endurable portion of the
course. An excruciating hurt flared over Ki-Gor's dry, scorching body
and it was impossible for him to stay so close to the flames. Two
other natives besides Brogar passed him before he reached the center
aisle. Clear of the knives, the Jungle Lord settled quickly into a
dead run, straining to pass the three natives ahead of him.

His terrific pace carried him past the nearest straining native. He
tried his utmost to close the gap to the next man, but the warrior ran
like a frightened deer, the dread thought of the Serpent God urging
him to supreme heights. And the monstrous black figure of Brogar sped
as though all the fiends of hell pursued him, crashing over the earth
with gargantuan strides.

The Jungle Lord saw the second obstacle near, and discarded any idea
of regaining the lead until it was passed. The obstacle was three
successive hurdles, each higher than the last. The hurdles were formed
of braced rows of spears, their points honed to needle sharpness.

The giant Brogar swept over the first bank of spears, pounded three
steps and cleared the second, and then with a rush threw his bulk over
the third hurdle. The warrior who tailed Brogar cleared the initial
jump, stumbled, tore himself back to his feet, and awkwardly but
successfully leaped the second hurdle. Ki-Gor was close on the
native's trail, and realizing this, the man refused to allow himself
time to regain balance. The warrior flung himself at the third and
highest barrier, and completely off-gait, he spun up in a faltering
jump. The man crashed with a scream on the spear points and hung
there, the blood drenching down from his impaled body.

Ki-Gor cleared the second jump just as the warrior struck the spears,
and his insides writhed at the cruel, mad scene. But it was too late
to aid the dying man, and Brogar drew ever further ahead, so the
Jungle Lord steeled himself and with a prodigious leap went over the
final bank.

He ran now as he never ran before. The sight of the running giant
acted as a whip-lash, beating new strength into his corded muscles.
The hot, smoke-filled air sent a choke of pain over his chest at every
laboring breath. Sweat drenched him, while the torturing flames burned
him at the same time. But only one thought filled his mind: catch and
pass Brogar.

And Ki-Gor's great body responded to his will. He gained steadily on
the huge native. Ever faster he closed the gap. Then in amazement, he
saw Brogar falter and come to a complete stop.

Suddenly, Ki-Gor understood. The big native faced the third obstacle
and was afraid. The obstacle was, in truth, a sight to strike fear
into the bravest of men. Ten leopards, chained opposite each other in
pairs, had been driven insane by the scorching flames. The rearing,
leaping beasts slashed and fought to break free, and their clawing
bodies formed living barricades across the course.

Even the jungle-wise Ki-Gor was struck by the extreme peril ahead. He
did not pause in his stride, however, but swung past Brogar into the
hellish area. He knew the maddened beasts would strike at any moving
object, but in their crazed state, he realized, the leopards would
give no concentrated effort to bringing him down. If he could avoid
their fearful, but aimless, writhings, he could pass through safely.

The White Lord burst between the first pair of leopards when one of
the beasts was jerked back by its chain after a charge, leaving an
open gap for passing through. He dove directly over the second pair,
and the moment his feet struck the earth, he sprinted to the left, and
hovering close to the wall of flame, circled behind the next raging
beast.

When he reached the fourth pair, one of the leopards turned straight
for him. The blood-chilling attack came with lightning swiftness. Ki-
Gor saw the raging jaws yawn toward him as the animal leaped, and he
threw himself backward. He struck the ground violently and slid, his
head nearly reaching the flames before he pulled it away. The leopard
seemed to poise over him in the air for a moment, and then it crashed
back away from him, its neck almost broken. The chain around the
beast's neck had checked it in mid-air.

Ki-Gor sprang up and past the leopard like a released arrow. Again he
hugged the barrier of fire, and though one of the leopards in the
final pair started for him, the flames held the animal back, and the
Jungle Lord sped through safely.

He turned at the edge of the obstacle and looked back, curious about
the progress of the others. An unbelievable sight met his eyes. All
the natives still in the race crowded up to the far side of the
obstacle, hesitating at entering the raging leopard den. As Ki-Gor
watched, Brogar shoved two natives forward with a great push which
committed them to continuing, and then the giant caught up another
native in his huge paws like a club and sprang forward.

It happened too quickly for anyone to know what Brogar was about. He
sent the first two natives in ahead to distract the attention of the
leopards from him. But not satisfied with this protection, the brutish
monster swung the third native in his arms to use as a shield if he
were personally attacked.

The Jungle Lord was both angered and sickened by Brogar's cowardly,
inhuman action. Ki-Gor was helpless to act now, but he resolved to
repay the brutal warrior in full for this performance, and this time
the bully would not escape the penalty as before.

Spurred by his anger, Ki-Gor threw himself forward to complete the
course. He neared the fourth obstacle, which was a deep, square pit
extending completely across the field, from one lane of fire to the
other. The White Lord's puzzlement at what new horror now faced him
grew as he raced toward the yawning pit. When he reached it and looked
down, the shock of the scene was as great as he anticipated.

The floor of the pit crawled with hundreds of snakes. The cold,
squirming bodies were of every size, shape and kind, twisting and
slithering over each other in constant, uneasy motion. He saw at a
glance the excavation contained both deadly and harmless species.
Addition of the harmless serpents, he thought grimly, was probably the
High Priestess' conception of good sportsmanship toward the prisoners.

No other action was open to him but to jump into the pit. His feet
landed squarely on two scaly bodies, crushing them. Then began a
fearful dance, as he picked his way through the weaving pattern of
snakes, leaping over the floor of the pit, taking advantage of every
clear space. Time and again he barely avoided the fangs of the
disturbed snakes. After an eternity, Ki-Gor reached the farther side
of the obstacle.

He faced another problem now in getting out of the pit. Certainly, he
had no wish to go back and attempt to run over that writhing pattern
of death in order to gain momentum. A running leap was out of the
question. The Jungle Lord gathered himself, and suddenly unleashing
his strength, sprang up to catch the top of the pit wall. He fumbled
at the soft turf, the earth crumbled in his grip and he fell back.
Twice more he tried, only to fall. Worn by the exhausting ordeal, his
strength was not at full ebb, but he took a great breath and bounded
up the fourth time. One hand caught. Up, up, he pulled himself, while
the sweat poured from his straining face. Without warning the bank
crumbled, and he fell heavily. He lay still for a moment, and then
when he started to rise, a cold, scaly body slipped over his legs. Ki-
Gor fought down a wave of revulsion and cautiously raised his head to
look at the snake. Relief flooded over him when he saw it was of a
harmless species.

This experience lent him false strength, and with his next terrific
effort, he managed a firm grip on the high bank and pulled himself to
safety. Although he could hear the other contestants arriving at the
obstacle behind him, the Jungle Lord did not permit himself a backward
glance.

He went straight for the final barrier, a shimmering wall of flame
rising to a height of over eight feet. His breath came in deep,
laboring gasps, and his pace had fallen to a loping run. He came
straight at the center of the burning hurdle, measuring the distance
with his eyes. The Jungle Lord's indomitable will whipped his tired
body erect, dragged up one last explosive burst of energy, and he
vaulted. Ki-Gor arched up, slowed at the top of the leap, and then
with a tremendous twist of his long body, jerked over the searing
wall.

The shock of landing brought him to his hands and knees, and Ki-Gor's
taut iron muscles trembled as he pulled his spent body up. He peered
at the finish line through eyes, red and stinging from the smoke and
heat. A score of guards were drawn up in wait for the survivors of the
Ritual of Flame. At the sight of these guards, Ki-Gor stiffened,
refusing them the pleasure of seeing him stagger with exhaustion.

He trotted across the finish mark, his tired body held proudly, no
sign of the utter weariness he felt showing on his expressionless
face. Four guards formed about him immediately and led him in front of
the milling throng of natives to the stand where the High Priestess
waited.

Dian's hypnotic black eyes, stirred with excitement of the cruel
spectacle, flickered over the regal body of the Jungle Lord. Her
breath came quickly through half parted red lips. She pulled herself
up, and leaned forward and called to Ki-Gor.

"You have proved your prowess, barbarian! You have won the Ritual of
the Flame!" she called in a voice husky with emotion. "There is yet
one more test you must meet. Tonight in the temple you must fight and
kill the warrior who ran second."



VIII. - To the Death

KI-GOR was taken from the field to a small stone room in the rear of
the temple. He was not permitted to see the other contestants. His
mind tortured itself with the question of who the man was he must
kill.

If the man was Brogar, then he welcomed the combat. But suppose he had
to face one of the natives toward whom he felt no enmity. And Tembu
George! What if he was pitted against his stalwart friend.

He dropped into an exhausted sleep with these anxious thoughts on his
mind. Ki-Gor blinked his eyes open hours later. The small cell lay
darkened in the purple-black African night. The tiny slits high on the
wall which served as windows drew his gaze. Outside where the swollen
moon rose silver over the blackness of the jungle was freedom.

There were steps at the door, and Ki-Gor stood up to face the guards.
He stepped silently into the long hall and followed the lead of two
men bearing torches. He rubbed his left arm as he walked, massaging
the stiffness from it. With a start, he suddenly realized the natural
white of his skin showed through in a small place under the pressure
of his fingers.

The black mixture with which he had coated his skin in a well-nigh
perfect camouflage was ready to peel away. The protecting sheet of oil
he had spread over his body was gone, and the terrific heat of the
obstacle course had baked the texture off his body. He had not used a
simple stain, because this formula showed him by a witchdoctor,
achieved a more natural result and also could be taken off more
easily.

The matter was pushed from Ki-Gor's mind when he stepped into the
great temple. Hundreds of torches lit the massive expanse of stone,
and except for a wide place about the sacrificial rock, every
available space was jammed with chanting natives. The white skinned
aristocrats occupied the rows of stone seats on each side of the
altar.

Dian, High Priestess of Zaa, stood before the yellow altar, her arms
thrown up in a beseeching gesture as she called upon the Serpent God
to witness the faithfulness of his people and pour forth his bounty
upon them.

Into this pagan scene came the dejected figures of the contestants who
had survived the Ritual of Flame. Ki-Gor counted them as they passed
into the temple. There were only five, and two of them were half-
dragged by the guards, so badly cut and burned were they. Exactly half
the natives had died on the diabolical obstacles.

The fourth man to enter was Brogar and the fifth was Tembu George.
Both men had come through the ordeal unscathed. One of these two, the
Jungle Lord knew, was the opponent he must face.

At the entrance of the natives, Dian concluded her high-pitched
prayer, and pointing to the altar, cried to waiting guards, "Draw back
the sacred stones about the altar!"

Burly warriors sprang forward and hooked chains into iron rings set in
the floor stones around the yellow rock-slab. With tremendous hauls,
the guards pulled the hinged floor back, section by section, revealing
a yawning pit which ran completely around the altar. The gaping six
foot void which separated the sacrificial stone from the temple floor
was bridged at only one point, where a narrow path was left to reach
the rock.

A signal from Dian brought absolute quiet, and she spoke again to the
Serpent God, saying, "O Mighty Zaa, we call upon you to send your
spirit into the serpent of the pit to receive our sacrifices. We offer
up these men with the hope you will be pleased, and will come among us
again and lead us to renewed greatness."

Ki-Gor listened intently to this prayer of a dying race. The previous
ritual was offered for all the snake people, white and black, but this
particular plea was made actually on behalf of only the fairskinned
aristocrats. The High Priestess called on Zaa to return in earthly
form and rebuild the former power of her tribe.

"Your sword and helmet, your scarlet cape await your return. Come unto
us again as the Great White Warrior who brought our forefathers into
this country from beyond the endless waters."

Abruptly, Dian broke off the prayer. She paused in silence a moment,
then commanded a helmeted warrior, "Make ready the two warriors. Zaa
waits restlessly for the first sacrifice of the Festival."

The hatchet-faced Basru hastened to obey the High Priestess. He barked
two orders. Ki-Gor's guards shoved him forward before the sacrificial
stone. From the other side of the altar, guards brought his opponent.
He stared narrowly at the man, and the tension in him relaxed. His foe
was the hulking Brogar.

Basru spoke briefly to the two men, explaining what they were to do.
They would fight on the flat top of the altar until one man was killed
and cast into the pit. The winner would be accepted into the service
of the Serpent God. Basru handed Brogar a knife and sent him over the
narrow bridge and up on the yellow slab. The guard turned then, and
his eyes shifted nervously over the Jungle Lord's face as he held out
a knife. The two stared at each other for a long second, before Ki-
Gor, unbidden, swung on his heel and crossed to the altar. Frowning,
Basru, looked after him, and then, his face puzzled, he glanced to
where Helene sat before walking away.

The bride-to-be of Zaa occupied a place of honor beside Dian in the
front row of seats. Helene cringed at the ruthless barbarism of the
spectacle about to be enacted. The High Priestess felt the redhaired
girl's reaction, and a cruel smile played over her sensuous lips.

"I would advise you to watch, my dear," she said tauntingly, "because
the longer the two men fight, the longer you have to live."

Despite Helene's resignation to death, there was horror in her voice,
as she gasped. "You mean I, too, will die tonight on the altar?"

Dian's burning eyes savored the girl's suffering. "Yes! Immediately
after the other sacrifices are made. Zaa's bride is the last one he
claims."

Helene looked involuntarily at the armed black men on the yellow rock.
The smaller warrior crouched across from the giant, his finely
chiseled profile contrasted with the big man's gross features.
Helene's eyes widened at that familiar figure. Only Ki-Gor fought from
that deadly, crouching stance--and yet, this man was black.

She strained forward, her heart beating wildly. All doubt was swept
away. It was Ki-Gor, she knew. It was impossible because she saw him
die, but somehow, some way, the man before her was Ki-Gor. A wild joy
burst over her, fading as soon as it began, to be replaced by a
gnawing fear he would be killed by the hulking giant.

The Jungle Lord, for his part, was absorbed to the exclusion of all
else with the crafty warrior who began now to stalk him. He saw there
was no over-confidence in Brogar this time to make him less wary. The
giant knew full well how dangerous the smaller man was.

Ki-Gor watched the huge Negro's fingers tighten on the long knife as
the fellow moved forward, his thick, gorilla arms held wide. The man's
red, pig eyes glinted evilly, and his loose features were set in a
flaccid, hideous leer. Ki-Gor judged the overly wide reach of the
native, measuring the disadvantage he must overcome.

While the big fellow came on, the Jungle Lord slipped into his deadly
crouch, balancing his muscled weight for instant action. His earlier
fatigue was gone. The few hours of rest had renewed all the tremendous
power of his superbly conditioned body, and every nerve and fiber was
alert. He followed the slightest move Brogar made, and with his
knowledge of a thousand battles, calculated the best means of attack
against this behemoth.

Then Brogar struck. The giant threw his great weight forward three
paces and slashed his knife arm like a striking python at Ki-Gor's
chest. He hoped for his long reach and sudden onslaught to blast the
White Lord over, disabling him before he could fend the blow.

Ki-Gor made no effort to retreat. His keen eyes anticipated the attack
when Brogar betrayed himself through an unconscious tensing. The
Jungle Lord threw himself forward, reversing the natural human
reaction to retreat, and through his blinding speed slipped under
Brogar's knife arm and close against the giant. In the same motion, he
chopped his blade into the black's left shoulder with a short, hard
blow. The native roared with pain and fury at this unexpected turn of
events, and goaded into madness threw off all caution, charged
headlong at Ki-Gor.

The Jungle Lord fought to retrieve his knife, but the strength of his
blow had buried it in the rigid mass of bone and muscle of the
native's shoulder. He delayed a fraction too long before freeing the
blade from its human sheath and all the trampling power of the monster
burst against him. Before he could recover or fight back, the raging
man made his attack and sent Ki-Gor hurtling back.

The Jungle Lord crashed on the stone, slid wildly to the edge of the
rock slab, teetered helplessly for a moment, and then fell. While the
breathless audience watched, he whirled over in the air and struck
with his body half on, half off, the narrow bridge which joined the
altar to the temple floor. Dazed, he hung limply, then with rending
slowness recovered sufficiently to inch himself upon the bridge.

Had the brutish giant been in full possession of his feeble wits, he
would have leaped from the altar and kicked the White Lord into the
pit. The wounded Brogar, however, in his animal madness at first did
not realize what had occurred, and by the time he grasped the
situation, Ki-Gor was on his feet. Fearing the death that lurked in
the pit, he would not risk going out on the narrow walk to meet even a
dazed foe.

Ki-Gor swayed on his feet, shaking his head oddly. He blinked his eyes
and looked strangely at the knife still tightly gripped in his
fingers. He raised his right hand to the side of his head and
carefully felt along the long scar there.

He turned and his puzzled gaze ran over the room, along the nearby
rows of seats, and came to rest on his mate. She seemed to swim into
his vision, a blurred, uneven picture which gradually came into focus.

Then abruptly he understood. The picture fitted into place. His
bruised lips drew into a smile, and softly he formed the name,
"Helene."

The terrific fall he had taken, striking head first on the altar, had
been the shock needed to counteract the damage suffered from Basru.
His memory came back with a rush. And the sight of that beloved face,
pale with fear for him, sent a rush of indomitable power over him.

Ki-Gor whirled and ran lightly back to the altar. His mind raced
feverishly. Determined to end the bout quickly, he circled the wounded
giant like a hunting lion, his lithe, liquid movements ominous with
purpose. Brogar circled with his antagonist, his black face yellow
with strain and hate, alert for the least opportunity to slash at the
Jungle Lord. Brogar was on the defensive now, but the stiffening wound
did not disable him for his huge, insensitive body was not to be
incapacitated by so minor a hurt.

Faster Ki-Gor circled, while his eyes, narrow and cold, endlessly
measured the giant. He was darting lightning when his dagger struck.
His massive legs flung him in, and his corded right arm exploded into
action. The giant staggered under the rush and crimson flooded over
his chest.

But the human beast was not to die so easily. The coursing hate in him
and the physical urge to live made him batter back with frenzied
power. Brogar had but one fleeting opportunity to use his knife, and
Ki-Gor's remorseless battle skill nullified this chance. As Ki-Gor
struck, the giant stabbed at him, but the White Lord caught and held
that huge wrist in mid-air. The next moment his blade tore to the bone
of the native's forearm, and the threatening knife tumbled from the
fellow's fingers.

Brogar screamed hoarsely, and to protect himself, flung his great arms
about Ki-Gor. He held the Jungle Lord in a chest-cracking hug, and the
two men pitted brute strength in a gasping struggle. In their
staggering battle, they moved ever closer to the edge of the altar.

Ki-Gor saw the yawning pit and fought to break the giant's steel grip.
Brogar saw or knew nothing, every ounce of his ebbing strength being
centered at crushing this dreadful foe. When the Jungle Lord fought to
pull back, he threw his monstrous bulk into a counter pull, and the
lighter man could not stand against him. The giant jerked backwards
and one foot slipped off the altar. Too late he realized what he had
done.

He teetered clumsily, and then careened into the dark pit, dragging
Ki-Gor with him.

The two men hurtled down in the darkness. Instinctively, even in this
desperate situation, Ki-Gor struggled to spin Brogar's great bulk
under him. He accomplished this just as they struck. The two splashed
deep into the slime and water, and although the impact was cushioned
by the liquid, their velocity was so great Brogar's back was snapped
by the impact.

Ki-Gor sought with difficulty to reach the surface of this stagnant,
muddy pool. He gulped deep breaths of the foul air into his lungs, as
he swam heavily in the slimy water. His eyes gradually accustomed
themselves to the darkness and he made out faintly the outline of the
nearby wall. He forced his way through the filthy water until he came
to an ooze-covered ledge at the base of the wall.

The Jungle Lord hoisted himself onto this ledge, and a moment after
heard the water break apart with a loud splash. Waves lapped over the
stone ledge and broke against his ankles. He stared into the dimness
and made out a vague but hideous reptilian form rising and shifting in
the pool. The long, smooth head of the immense serpent weaved in a
frightening pattern.

Ki-Gor shrank back against the pit's stone side and watched the
serpent. Flattened against the wet rock, he saw the darting head dive
into the black water and jerk up again holding a big object. The huge
serpent had searched out Brogar's body and was gulping it. Fearful of
any movement that might attract the serpent's attention, Ki-Gor glued
himself to the wall hardly daring to breathe, until at length the ugly
monster slid beneath the surface.



IX. - The Coming of Zaa

A faint glimmer of light was visible across the pit. Ki-Gor worked his
way around the perilous ledge, and after an eternity, he reached the
point. He peered through a small opening into a room where an aged
woman sat dozing on a bench. From the stained, yellow cape worn by the
old crone, Ki-Gor knew she was a servant of Zaa. Exploring the area
around the tiny window, he found he stood outside a stone door which
was tightly fastened.

He sought in desperation for a means to get that door opened. He
shivered, realizing a stream of cold water was splashing down on his
shoulders from above. The fresh water came from a point high on the
wall. He rubbed one chilled arm, unable to bring himself to leave the
lighted window, and as he stood there under the trickling water, a
plan of escape came to him. Immediately he began scrubbing his body,
vigorously washing and rubbing every inch of his skin.

Ki-Gor placed his face to the little window and called to the dozing
crone. The old woman, deaf and half-blind, did not rouse until after
repeated calls. Finally, she awoke with a start and stared about her
with dim eyes, eventually locating the source of the voice.

The aged handmaiden of Zaa was upset and obviously disturbed by this
disturbance beyond the door. She hesitated, fright growing on her, but
deciding to act at last, she took a torch from its holder and carried
it to the window.

The light from the torch streamed through the narrow slit and
illuminated Ki-Gor's face. The Jungle Lord stared unflinchingly at the
old crone, and in a commanding voice cried, "Open the door, Old One,
that I may enter!"

The sight of this calm face staring at her from the pit completely
upset the woman, and nearly fainting with fright, she stuttered in her
cracked voice, "But who are you, who stands unscathed in the pit?"

It was an unbelievable occurrence to the woman. Since long, dim years
before, when she was first relegated to this lonely task of watching
over the pit, no single person had ever emerged alive from the Pit of
the Serpent God. Ki-Gor now made his great gamble for freedom. The
answer he gave to the woman's question was, "Open, Old One, and look
upon me! Certainly, a true believer should be pleased at my coming!"
The dim, watery, frightened eyes peered more closely at the clean-cut
masculine features revealed by the window, and as the woman's frown
changed to amazement, Ki-Gor knew he had won his gamble. The crone's
mind, never too clear in the calmest moments, at this time of
frightened bewilderment, jumped suddenly to the only conclusion which
had presented itself.

She blanched with fear, and cried out, "It is he--Zaa-the Great One.
He comes at last in human form to aid us."

With fluttering, fumbling hands she unlocked the stone door and
utilized her greatest strength to shove it open. When the door swung
out, the old handmaiden fell to her knees on the floor, abject and
humble before this proud, regal white man she thought was Zaa.

When he stood in the pit, anxiously seeking a means of escape, the
memory of the High Priestess' prayer for Zaa to return to his people
had come into Ki-Gor's mind. The Jungle Lord scrubbed the dark coating
from his skin on the long chance he could pass himself off as Zaa. He
little thought at the moment this plan would succeed so completely,
but he had hoped it would so baffle and interest the ancient woman
that she would permit him to enter.

Realizing now the extent to which this superstitious woman was taken
in by his masquerade, he decided to press this opportunity to the
extreme.

He strode into the small room, assuming a proud, arrogant, disdainful
air. "You are a faithful servant, Old One, and for this one reason I
present myself first to you. The young ones of the temple do not serve
me with their hearts as do you. Thus do I reward you first for your
years of faithful service to me."

Overwhelmed by this compliment, the grovelling woman, long resentful
of the treatment handed her by the younger ones of the temple, could
mutter only. "True, O Lord Zaa, too true. No longer, though, will the
young ones scorn me after this. They have laughed at me because of
this lonely job it has been my lot to tend. They will laugh no
longer."

"Rise now, and fetch me fitting garments, for I would appear before my
people," Ki-Gor ordered. He cautioned the woman to secure these
garments without the knowledge of anyone, saying he did not wish to
disclose his presence until the height of the sacrificial ceremonies
in the temple.

Exaltation lent speed to the crone's feet, and soon Ki-Gor was
caparisoned in the golden helmet and sweeping scarlet cape which were
held always in readiness for the hoped-for return of Zaa. Ki-Gor
buckled at his side the jeweled sword and slipped his feet into golden
sandals. He told the woman to remain at her post, and then with a
sweep of his cape he strode from the room.

Ki-Gor went through the deserted halls, and proceeded quickly to the
door by which he previously was taken into the temple. He held himself
back in the doorway, surveying the barbaric scene. Dian, High
Priestess of Zaa, stood in the center of the sacrificial stone holding
high a bloody knife.

Dian loosened her cape and dropped it onto the yellow stone. She stood
there in the flickering light of the torches swaying in time to the
quickening chant of the massed spectators. The jewels on her almost
nude body glittered with her sensuous movement. She jerked the knife
in a stabbing motion, and four guards hurried forward another
screaming victim.

Ki-Gor acted quickly to forestall this sacrifice. Tall and regal in
the robes of the Serpent God, he stepped from concealment and stalked
into the temple, going unnoticed until he stood before the altar. The
sacred robes were known to every person in the temple. Every eye in
the frenzied multitude seemed to focus on him at the same time.

Tense and ear-tingling silence exploded over the temple. The pregnant
quiet was terrible in its intensity. Then and awed murmur ran back,
over the staring ranks, swelling and growing as from countless throats
burst the astonished whisper, "Zaa! . . . It is Zaa! He has come!"

The dense mass of natives went to their knees as one man. The white-
skinned snake people, thunderstruck by Ki-Gor's regal figure,
hesitated uncertainly, and then one by one bent in homage. Behind him
on the altar, the tense bare form of the High Priestess knelt.

Two people in the temple stared at this embodiment of the Serpent God
with the most confused disbelief of all. Tembu George and Helene could
not believe their eyes for a second. They were shaken by the Jungle
Lord's audacity, but wild hope rose in their hearts.

Ki-Gor acted now to assert his authority.

His deep, measured voice resounded through the hall. "I--Zaa--return
to lead you as I led your forefathers."

A low roar like the breaking surf rose from the snake people and died
away, as they awaited his next statement.

"I am sickened of the blood spilled in my name, and these forays
against peaceful tribes henceforth shall cease, and there shall be no
further sacrifices. I declare this reign of blood and terror ended,
and I command you to live in peace.

"In penance for your wrongs, I order you to remain in the temple
tonight. Tomorrow you will gather again and select a chieftain and a
council of wise, good men to lead you in a life of peace."

Cries of praise thundered up from the natives, except for the
glowering black guards. Ki-Gor did not notice the shiftyeyed guard
leader stare at him, and turn cursing to scurry to a group of the
white warriors. The cruel, hard Basru, far more cunning than the
others, caught the overjoyed look on Helene's face when she saw Ki-
Gor, and as the Jungle Lord spoke, he recognized the man posing as
Zaa.

"I go now into the inner temple," Ki-Gor cried, "and the prisoners and
my bride shall accompany me."

The Jungle Lord held out his hand to Helene, and the red-haired girl
rose and came to him. The restraining hands on the prisoners loosened,
and all that was left of the original twelve, three men including
Tembu George, joined Ki-Gor.

Before the five could move, a white warrior leaped shouting: "This man
is not Zaa!" he screamed. "He is the white savage Basru took this girl
from far downriver. I don't know how he comes here, but he is no god,
and my sword will prove it."

The warrior darted at Ki-Gor, sword in hand, but the alert Jungle Lord
was not to be checkmated so easily. He swept Helene behind him, and
Zaa's sword flashed gleaming from its scabbard. The two swords
shattered together as Ki-Gor blocked the man's sweeping thrust and
locked the weapons hilt to hilt. Before the white warrior could brace
himself, the Jungle Lord threw his great weight forward, snapping the
man's blade from his grip, and in the same motion, half-severed the
fellow's head.

More white warriors ran at them, and Ki-Gor retreated toward the only
open avenue, the narrow bridge to the altar. He tossed Tembu George
the fallen man's sword, and shoulder to shoulder they fought off the
attackers, while Helene led the two natives over the stone walk.

Helene in the excitement had forgotten the High Priestess. Dian stood
on the altar, holding the sacrificial knife, with her eyes glued on
Ki-Gor's mate. The High Priestess' face was contorted with savage hate
as she flung at Helene, intent on stabbing the girl. A pool of blood
from the native sacrificed on the altar lay across the stone. The feet
of the nearly-nude priestess struck the wet place, and she slipped out
of control and plunged headlong past Helene into the pit.

The black mass of natives saw the white warriors swarm at the mighty
figure they believed to be the Serpent God. Zaa had promised them they
could rule themselves, and he had discredited and cast out these cruel
masters.

A handful of blacks sprang to defend the Serpent God and the action of
these few catapulted the entire mob forward. The roar of their charge
shook the ancient temple as they flowed against the fairskinned
swordsman and the force of guards commanded by Basru.

"Come," Ki-Gor called to Tembu George, "We must try to get through to
the inner temple."

The two men joined the others on the altar. Ki-Gor glanced across the
yawning pit, locating an open space among the struggling groups on the
far side. He pointed to the spot, and without a word, Tembu George
leaped the gap. Ki-Gor picked up Helene and tossed her across to his
waiting friend. Quickly the two natives followed, and then with an
effortless bound, Ki-Gor was over the pit.

He led the way to the door, sword ready for instant action, while
Tembu George brought up behind. Ki-Gor sent the others down the
passage, while he lingered a moment to make sure they were not
followed. And his wait was not in vain.

A tall, raw-boned guard forced his way to the door, his uneasy eyes
searching for Ki-Gor. It was Basru staying on the scent of his victim.
This time the Jungle Lord recognized the renegade, and with a grim
smile, he stepped out to meet him.

Basru came at Ki-Gor like a dervish, his lean body whirling and
dancing, and his sword whining as it slashed. The Jungle Lord met him
with equal agility, and their blades sparked as they whirled.

Ki-Gor pressed the attack, raining blows at Basru's head and
shoulders, and the tall native retreated, almost staggering at times
under the shock of the white man's power. The sword bit at the
native's head ever faster, and Basru raised his guard further to ward
off the onslaught. This was the trap Ki-Gor planned, and with an
abrupt change of tactics, he abandoned the chopping head blows and
stabbed completely through Basru's chest. The black man reeled in
anguish and fell backwards, writhing in death.

Delaying no longer, Ki-Gor ran in pursuit of Helene and the two
prisoners with Tembu George. The five hurried out of the temple and
sprinted through the deserted streets. The battle clamor fell behind
them as they went down the flagstone road to the lagoon. It was a
minute's work to find and launch a small canoe.

There was no sound but the hard breathing of the men as they sent the
canoe scudding over the lake. Helene sat quietly, drinking in the
splendor of the African night for a time. Ki-Gor sat behind her and in
the silvery brilliance of the full moon he saw every feature of her
lovely face when she turned to stare at him.

"Tell me something, Ki-Gor," she said in her low, throaty voice.

"Yes, my dear," he answered softly.

"As I remember, Ki-Gor," she continued, "this all began because you
had an important appointment with Tembu George. Tell me, just what was
that appointment about?"

Ki-Gor grinned sheepishly. "Well," he said, ducking his head like a
small boy explaining where the jam disappeared, "we were going
hunting."

"Urrimmm," commented Helene.

An eavesdropper named Tembu George was totally unsuccessful in his
attempt to suppress a chuckle.



THE END




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