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Volume 1725
Jahlanna of Pellucidar
A 175,000-word novel
by
Sean Edward Phillips
.
PART XIII
                                                    
       Three travelers riding on dyal back were approaching the great Tharan desert. There were three of the huge predatory birds. Two of the human travelers—a teenaged boy and girl—rode the lead bird. The boy, a lad who was about fourteen by surface world standards, rode in front with the girl’s slim arms about his waist.  

   The other girl was a bit taller and larger boned. She was of an athletic build, and clad with strips of tarag hide. 

     The boy was one Jarn of Nu-al, far from the lands of his tribe. The girl who rode with him was Jarla of the neighboring country of O-lar. The athelic girl was named Zara, of the Amazon tribe of Azeer. The three had journeyed far, through lands inhabited by savage beasts and fierce tribes, though this far, thanks in part to the Amazon’s girl’s shrewd cunning and her relative familiarity with these parts, they had thus far been able of avoid contact. Now they found themselves traversing a region where the familiar jungles and savannas, common over the bulk of Pellucidar’s breadth began to peter out, merging into barren scrubland that appeared nearly devoid of the teeming multitudes of animal life characteristic of the lands they left behind. The three young people had lived their entire lives within the vast, teeming world within the planet’s center, and this abrupt absence of life was unsettling for them. None of them particularly noted the vast canopy of sound that heralded Pellucidar’s teeming animal hordes, since it was the natural condition of their world. But now they grew acutely aware of its absence. 

    Jarla wondered if they should go back, or try to find some other route, but Zara assured them that this was the shortest and least dangerous trek, if they wanted to reach Sari, that fabled land where Jarn assured them his friends and fellow tribe members would greet them. Jarla secretly hoped this wasn’t one of Jarn’s tales or wild speculations; she’d heard from her elders that the boy was prone to such. But she was now in love with Jarn, and he had more then once proved his loyalty to her. 

     Zara told them though, that dared not pass directly through the Thara however, even though this would technically be the shortest distance; the deeps of the vast desert were to totally uninhabitable, and none who dared them had ever returned. There the savagery of the eternal sun doomed all, men and beast alike, who were so foolish. 

     So when they at last reached the cusp of the Thara itself, Zara bade them head due “east,” over the perimeter. They were always to make certain they kept a certain range of mountains within the near distance. In Pellucidar, the horizon curves upward. This made it fairly easy to not loose sight of the range, and determine by side where their course would take them. They also could see, directly south of them, the vast red dunes of the Thara stretching up and away in the vast distance, into the desert’s central core. 

     Jarn and Jarla had never even heard of a desert before, and the sight of this one filled them with both awe and fear. Jarla had said the place was lifeless and deadly, and they believed them; many times they passed the mighty skeletons of monsters, tandors with great curling tusks, and four-horned gyors, who had met their end within the barren waste, their bones long picked by vultures. 

    But the Thara, or least its outer regions, did not seem to be lifeless after all. As they traveled further, they saw the skittering forms of skink-like desert lizards, indigo in hue, flashing across the waving dunes in flashings of electric blue. And two, there were tiny species of desert bugs, tiny desert mice, and scuttling sand scorpions. And, once, Jarn spied the coiled and menacing form of a scarlet horned dessert viper. 

    By and by, they encountered a number of other species, some of them larger, adapted for their harsh environment. Most numerous among these were bipedal running mammals;  these were most curious lot; they looked somewhat like oversized shrews, bearing the most resemblance to the elephant shrew of East Africa; for they sported elongated and nearly trunk-like proboscises. These were twitchy, and bristling with whiskers. Their ears, as is the case with most species of desert mammal, were outsized and flaring. Their tails were long and thick, and their coats were sandy colored spotted with white. Though built somewhat like kangaroo-rats, they did not hop, but ran in the manner of small dinosaurs over the dunes, often traveling in small groups. They appeared to prey on insects and other game smaller than themselves. 

      “What are those?” Jarn asked Zara. 

      “They are zerniks.” she told him. “Good eating of you can catch one.” 

     Jarn was about to set himself to do just that—it was time he impressed these girls with his hunting skills, he thought—when something else captured his attention. 

     “Ha!” the boy laughed. “I see something better!”

    They looked to where Jarn was pointing. 

   A short distance away, upon the crest of a red sand-dune, stood a slender bipedal reptile at nearly a man’s height. It looked more or less like a featherless ostrich with a long reptilian tail, long and powerful hind-limbs, and an arching S-shaped neck. The bizarre head was more bird than reptile like, with a short heavy bill, and a head-casque, somewhat like that of the Australian flightless cassowary. 

    As the kids watched, the reptile dashed down the side of the dune toward the small herd of bipedal rodent-things, uttering a raucous squawk, it’s the spindly claws of its forearms spread wide.  The zerniks scattered at the dinosaur’s approach emitting a chorus a high pitched squeals. 

    But though the darting mammals were expertly swift, the dinosaur seemed more than a match, and soon snatched up one furred and squealing victim to bite the head clean from the body in a spurt of crimson. 

    None of the human spectators knew that the name of the reptile to the scientists of the unguessed surface world was oviraptor, and that the predator’s fleet little victim was lepticdidium. But Jarn knew what he wanted right away. At that moment he was not less than an adolescent youth out to impress two attractive members of the opposite sex. 

    Uttering a wild yell, Jarn urged his dyal into a charge down the sand hill towards the saurian as it ripped into the body of its prey. The brash caveboy raised his spear, aiming it directly at the small dinosaur. 

    But the beast took immediate notice of the charging dyal and its mounted human and dashed away, swerving instantly to avoid the passage of the boy’s spear. Pulling the reigns of his bird, Jarn urged his mount into a chase. 

     “Foolish male!” cried Zara. “He’ll never catch that guuna!”

   “But we must follow him!” cried Jarla.

    “I suppose we must.” She answered, spurring her mount in Jarn’s direction. “Even if he leads us into the deep desert.” The two girls raced after the foolish Jarn, sand flying from the dyals racing claws. Both of them yelled at Jarn to come back. 

    But the boy was too caught up in the exhilaration of the hunt. The small dinosaur was proving hard to kill—so much the better. This wouldn’t be any fun at all if it weren’t a challenge. 

      The fleet reptile fled in zigzag fashion across the sand, hoping to wear out and confuse it pursuer. 

     Jarn tried to steer his steed into a fairly straight course in order to overtake it. But the dyal, its own predatory instincts taking over, attempted to follow the reptile’s course, and was gradually tiring. Jarn yelled at it, tried to make it obey him. 

    There was a noise like a shot off to Jarn’s left. He was barely conscious of it, but out of the corner of his eye, he recognized a small puff of sand and dust, like a miniature geyser. He paid no attention, though, so intent was he on capturing the reptile. He distantly heard Zara’s voice yelling for him to come back, warning him about something urgent, but he paid not the slightest heed. 

    Then something happened that was totally unexpected. 

    The sand directly in front of the little dinosaur’s path exploded, as some vast object erupted from beneath its’ placid surface. 

       The oviraptor screamed a shrill bird-like cry. In the next instant, the vast shape seized the small dinosaur in immense jaws like those of a monster crocodile. 

     Jarn, eyes stunned and wide, reined his squawking steed to a sudden halt. 

    Before him, still clutching the small dinosaur, was a monstrous animal. At first, he thought he recognized the species—but it was impossible, here in this sea of sand!

      It clearly resembled a zorag. Jarn knew of these monsters well, had more than once tasted their flesh, when a party of warriors of his tribe managed to bring one down. They were great otter-like beasts, with mighty crocodilian jaws. Partially aquatic, they were native to Pellucidar’s lakes and rivers. It was the last thing he expected to run into in such a region as this!

    But it was different from the zorags found in his native country. It was more than a size larger, for one thing. And instead of the sleek coat of otter-like fur favored by its species, this beasts sported naked hide of wrinkled pinkish skin, like that of an African mole-rat. 

     Hadn’t Zara mentioned something about the Tharan desert having been once a part of a vast ocean? Some part of Jarn’s dazed mind wondered. Maybe that was it—somehow this zorag—or its ancestors-- had somehow become stranded here, and changed somehow. 

    The young Pellucidaran, of course, knew nothing of the science of adaptive evolution, which was the only possibility of how such a species had managed to thrive here. But he did know the thing was here and real, and if did not move right away he was finished. 

      And Jarn was quite correct in this assumption. For a predator of this bulk was hardly satisfied with one small dinosaur, especially with a full-grown dyal and half-grown human boy so readily available. 

     Jarn had no trouble in urging his mount to turn its feathered tail and flee back whence they had come. The panicked bird was already squawking loudly and racing for dear life. Jarn whipped its reigns furiously nonetheless. The two girls, taking in the spectacle had urged their own mounts into a run as well. Jarn glanced fearfully back as they raced over the dunes. 

    The zorag was no longer visible, but it was pursuing them nevertheless. Somehow it was adapted for “swimming” through the thickly powdered crimson sand, and dove back beneath the surface. It was obviously gaining at a furious pace, despite its vast bulk, for sheets of rust-colored sand sprayed up in front of it. 

       “Run!” shrieked Zara. 

       Though the phorohacas make terribly swift steeds, the sand-zorag seemed hideously faster. Jarn felt his heart sour in his throat; soon it would overtake them. 

       Soon they had nearly reached the place where Jarn had first spotted the dinosaur. Their pack-dyal was still waiting there. But to the boy’s dismay, he saw what was clearly a second such monster as one currently gaining on them, causing sand to flying up before it, its path curving around their flight to head them off. Did these cursed things hunt in packs, like the mighty tarags sometimes did, occasionally circling around, upwind of their intended prey? It would appear so. 

      The pack-dyal, its broad feathered pack weighed down with their satchels and supplies, squawked harshly in terror, then began to run of its own accord, sensing the rapidly approaching peril. 

     But it was slower then the other birds, thanks to its burden. Jarla screamed loudly, as the sand in front of the pack-dyal exploded, and the mighty jaws of the second zorag came forth to seize and rend the hapless bird, then gulp its feathered victim down, along with their supplies. 

     “This way!” Zara ordered. They spurred their mounts into a sideways direction. Behind them, the first zorag clashed with the second, and the two monsters clashed briefly with one another amid furious sprays of russet sand. 
    The kids yelled and raced away as fast as they could—and not one second too soon. For they heard once more behind them the dreadful, approaching swish beneath the dunes, as both monsters, alerted to the escape of their pray, came in their direction, twin sprays of sand marking their passage. 

     On and onward the birds raced. The dyals were huge and fearsome predators in their own right, the top carnivores in Miocene South America. But these two were now racing for their lives out of pure terror. 

        Then, in the distance, there rose a brooding outcropping of craggy, slate-gray rock rising up out of the swirled dunes.   

     “There! That place of rock!” Zara cried. “Make for it!”

    And so they did. 

     They had barely managed to race their steeds up the slanting surface of stone, when the great jaws of the first zorag exploded in their wake. The gaping jaws broke the surface with a mighty roar. 

    Jarn hoped that as they were now clear of the monsters’ element, they would now be safe. 

     But no—not only could the zorags swim effortlessly through the sand, they could climb over rock as well. 

   At their back, the monster was nearly clear of the crimson sand, already scrabbling across the barren rock. 

    The birds, however, proved unused to fleeing over the uneven, rocky surface. Jarn’s dyal floundered, flopping onto its breast, screaming in terror. 

     “Jarn!” Jarla shrieked. 

    Jarn leapt form the bird’s saddle, just as the zorag’s mighty jaws closed upon his stricken mount. 

     “Everybody!” screamed Zara. “Off of the birds!”

     They leapt from the scrabbling, shrieking dyals, clambered for higher ground.  Behind them, they heard the sickening sound of the bones and meat and feathers being crushed and devoured, as the two monsters dined upon their steeds. 

    “Climb!” She ordered “Make for higher ground!” 

     They began clambering up the steep, rocky slope, and over and, heading for the summit. The youngsters had all been raised within the wilds of Pellucidar, and were capable of locating minuscule and footholds which most adults of the surface could not. They were strong and healthy, especially the young Amazon, and were now swiftly beyond the jaws of the mighty zorags. 

    Once out of reach, they watched as the monsters devoured the rest of the phorohacas. One of the beasts rose upon its back legs, and roared up at them. But it was incapable of ascending the escarpment. 

    “What…what are they?” Jarn asked Zara following a few moments of breathless silence. 

    “Desert zorags,” she answered. “They can swim through sand as easily as their counterparts threw water. They are even more deadly.”

     “You’re telling me,” said Jarn.

     In time, the two monsters dove back beneath the sand and swam off, a sight shifting of sand on the surface marking their retreat. 

    At length Zara said. “Fine situation we’re in, thanks to you, boy. Perhaps Zeera was correct about you after all. We’ve lost our steeds and our supplies. And dangerously close to the inner desert.”

     Jarn and Jarla looked at the horizon, and saw it was true. The ring of mountains was no further up in the haze of distance. And the rim of the Thara now looked dreadfully far off. 

     “We can still make it back to the edge,” Jarn said. “It’s not that far away.”

    Jarl’s lips curled at him in a sneer. “Just pray we do not encounter any more such monsters. This country is their domain—that is why I tried to warn you not to go charging off into the dunes. Because of you, we may all die here.” 

       “No we won’t!” Jarn told her. “I’ll show you! I still have my spear! I’ll make sure all of us are safe!”
    “Then see that you do, boy!”

     They had little choice but to make their way back as carefully as they could. Zara warned them to be on the lookout for puffs of sand—those were the signs of the zorags when concealed beneath the sand awaiting helpless prey to stumble upon them. 

    Jarn reflected that part of Zara’s anger toward was caused by jealously—she had not spoken to him much since Jarla was around, and giving him the most attention. Still, their current situation did not much improve it. 

        They were traversing the crest of a dune, when they heard a human scream. It seemed to have issued from a deep sand pit to their right. 

    They all stared as it sounded once again. 

    “Someone’s in trouble,.” Jarn said. 

    “It that is so, it is no concern of ours.” Zara said. 

    “Yes, she’s right, Jarn,” Jarla said. “We must not help someone who could well turn out to be our enemy.”

    “We need to see who it is, at least,” said Jarn. “If we help him, he could turn out to be a  friend.” 

    “You are a fool Jarn,” Zara said. “Whoever it is cannot possibly be our friend.”

    But Jarn was already striding form the edge of the pit the girls followed. 

   The pit was almost perfectly circular. It was very deep and funnel-shaped. 

   In its exact center, they beheld a scarlet insectasoid horror. It somewhat resembled a gigantic termite, with a scarlet and black carapace, and black glassy eyes the size of eggplants. The fearsome, mandibular jaws of the thing clacked menacingly. 

   None of them recognized the monster-insect, but from the description, it was undoubtedly some species of monstrous prehistoric ant-lion, which seems to be indigenous only to Pellucidar’s desert regions.  The sand pit was it s trap, designed to capture prey just as its smaller cousin traps small insects. 

     As for the prey itself, this was undoubtedly what had caused the noise. A short, slight, humanish figure struggled to free itself from the pit. It was hairless and reddish-white of skin. Despite its struggles, it kept sliding inexorably toward those ghastly clacking mandibles. 

     Jarn ran to the trapped person’s aid. He reached into the pit. The hairless man—Jarn at least guessed it was a man, for that was what it most resembled—cried out, and reached up for him. The boy saw that his ears looked strange, and indeed not a single hair appeared to grow upon his head, and his skin was wrinkled and pinkish, aside from his smooth pate. 

     “Zara, Jarla, help!” he cried. “I can’t reach him!”

    “Leave him, Jarn!” Zara said. “He is not our friend!”

     “What concern is it of ours if he dies?” Jarla asked.  “Why must you save him?”

      “I don’t know!” Jarn yelled. “I…I…Just have to do it! Help me!”

      Jarla wondered why Jarn was always having to stick out his neck to save someone else—especially when he had it on the word of her elders that he was the most selfish, shiftless boy in the Nu-al tribe. Zara should be acting more grateful, though—if Jarn had not risked his own life to save her from the trodon, she would not be here now. 

    Still, both girls saw there was no stopping him this time either, and they were not about to abandon him. Zara clasped Jarn’s hand, and lowered the boy further into the pit. Jarla clasped Zara’s in turned, forming a chain that reached down into the lair of the ant-lion. 

     Jarla was stretched precariously over the very lip of the sand pit. The sight of the monster below made her stomach heave and squirm. The ant-lion’s original victim had slid even further toward his anticipated doom. But Jarn had nearly reached him. 

    “Just a little further!” he gasped to Jarla. 

    “I can’t!” Jarla cried, fearing they would all wind up in the ant-lion’s belly.

   But straining her lithe muscles she inched herself slightly further over the edge of the swirling pit. The full combined weight of Jarn and Zara felt as though it was about the pull her arm from its socket. 

      But it was all Jarn needed. The boy seized the little man’s arm and wrist in a firm grip. “Pull!” he ordered. 

     All three young people pulled. In a moment, all of them lay panting on the sand, safely out of reach. 

    When they got to their feet, the small man, if he could be called that, addressed them. 

    “Why…..why did you save me?” he asked, in a queer, dry voice. 

   “I just couldn’t let you be eaten by that thing.” Jarn said. 

    “Then you are different from any other gilaks I have known or heard of. Who are you?”

    “My name is Jarn if these and Zara and Jarla. We are trying to reach a land called Sari.”

    “I fear I have never heard of it. But you will be greatly thanked by my people for saving me.” 

     “Who are you? And who are your people?” Jarn asked. He saw now that little man was indeed entirely hairless. He was dwarfish in height and built, his head slightly large in proportion to his body. His eyes, his most unsettling and curious aspect, were of a deep and lusterless black. His skin was pink and hairless like that of a naked mole rat. He had a nose that was a mere bump above two slit-like nostrils. His mouth was a wide, slitted gash. And his pinkish ears were huge, veined, and flaring—somewhat resembling those of a desert fox. 

     “I am called Thok, and my people are Therks. I am one of the soldiers of my colony’s queen. We venture abroad to gather meat between each of our sleep periods. I had the misfortune to stumble into the karka’s lair from which you have saved me.”

     “So that is a karka?” Jarn asked.

     “Yes. One of the desert’s fearsome predators who consider my people a delicacy.”

     “Where is your colony?”

     “It is not far from here. Let us go there now! You will need supplies and food if you are undertaking a long journey, and you will be well received, once I bring news of your feat.”

    At first, they were not too certain they could trust Thok. But since it was true they were out of supplies, and needed to rest, they agreed that it was their best bet.

    Then one of Thok’s flaring ears did something which caused Jarn to laugh out loud. His left ear actually twitched like that of a fennec fox or a miniature radar, a though it possessed muscles that could be willed to move independently of the head. 

    “There are vibrations!” Thock announced in all seriousness. 

    “Vibrations?” asked Jarla. 

     “A sand-zorag!” said Thok. “We must be away from here at once!”

     The kids had had more than enough of sand-zorags, so they all agreed, and followed Thock as swiftly as they could. 

    Thock apparently had super-keen auditory abilities, for he knew when they were out of range of the vibrations caused the predator. As the traveled, they saw other desert wildlife—several species of small, fleet-footed saurian, a large, bluish monitor lizard, and large species of scorpion, that appeared unrelated to other desert scorpion. In fact, it more resembled the sea-scorpions of the eurypterid family which had gone extinct on the surface since the late Cambrian. These were scarlet in color, with great round eyes like black pearls, gashing pincher-claws, and curling tails bearing stingers like darts. Thock cautioned them that these creatures were capable of shooting their tail-darts as well, so they made certain they kept their distance. 

    At last the towers of Thok’s colony rose before them. At first sight, Jarn thought they were some natural formation. But as they toped the sandy rise, and found themselves staring down into a cup-shaped valley, they saw that the towers in fact belonged to a gigantic, man-made structure—much grander in scale then any and cave boy and girls had before seen. It was structured in fact like a gigantic termite mound, with a wide and massive base, and a multiplicity of towering turrets spearing heavenward. 

    Thock lead them down into the valley to the entrance of the bizarre edifice. 

    The kids saw that there were guards stationed there before the entrance. The guards tensed at the sight of the gilak youngsters. 

    “Hold, Thock! Who are these strangers, and what are they doing in the country of the Therks?”

    “They are friends,” Thock replied. “These young gilaks saved me from the jaws of a karka. Will you agree to show them hospitality?”

     The guard looked them over. “I will agree that they shall be shown to King Ruk. If they tell him their story, and he believes them, we will do as you ask.”

    “And if he does not?”

    “Then they shall be killed as are all strangers to venture within our country.” 

     The two guards got behind Jarn, Zara, and Jarla, and ushered them into the tunnel. Thock led the way. 

    Jarn was now very uneasy. Thock seemed confident, and meant them well. But he was less certain the king would well receive them. 

         The inside of the tunnel they found to be shockingly, refreshingly cool. Jarn and the girls gulped the chill, and moist air gratefully like dew, after the harsh blistering leagues of burning sand. Thock’s people it seemed, were truly marvelous engineers. 

    At last they reached what must be the central chamber. Seated upon a throne of hard packed earth sat Ruk, the chief. He was of the exact same appearance and build as Thock and the others. 

    ‘What have you brought me, Thock?” Ruk asked. 

    “These three gilaks are travelers and friends. They saved me from the jaws of a karka.”

     “Did they now? And how did three gilak younglings accomplish that, without becoming food for the kerka themselves?”

     Thock explained as best he could. 

    “Oh?” said Ruk. “Perhaps you tell the truth. But what were the three gilak strangers doing in our land at all?”
    “They were—“

    “Silence, Thock.  I want to hear them  tell us themselves.”

     Jarn almost felt like making up a story. But he could think of one no better then the one that was the truth. So he told the king everything of how he came to be here, though he abbreviated a bit, about his fight with Lu-gor and how Jarla was betrothed to the man. He told where they were heading, and their flight form Azeer. Jarla and Zara filled in parts when needed.”

    After he had finished, Ruk regarded them for a few uncomfortable moments. Then he announced. “I believe you. And even if you are lying, I do not see how it could be any concern of the Therks, as I see no reason why you could possibly pose a threat to us. You shall not be killed. If Thock says you saved him form a karka, as unlikely as it sounds, than I believe him, and you as well. Find yourselves seats. A celebration will be prepared in your honor.”

     Greatly relieved,  Jarn and his companions sat on the floormats and rested, while Ruk ordered his chefs to prepare the travelers a grand meal. 

     There were apparently vast kitchens here within the vast, hive-like city, and they caught delicious aromas wafting in the air. When their feat arrived, it proved a very strange one indeed. 

     First, there were earthen jars of fresh, chilled water. This was what surprised Jarn the most. Thock, sitting crosslegged beside them on the mat, told him that his people had ways of obtaining moisture beneath the ground in special chambers, where the liquid would form naturally. Jarn understood little of it, and assumed it must be some kind of special magic the Therks possessed to created water beneath ground—not that he cared. The boy gulped the water greedily, not realizing just how parched his throat had really become. 

     Then came their first entrées of food, served by Ruk’s underlings on earthen plates  and dishes. There was a roasted carcass of a fat desert lizard, gutted and steaming hot, and stuffed full of shreds of a cooked pepper-like fruit. Then there several whole-roasted carcasses of bipedal dinosaur, including one that was nearly human size that must have been the same species as the oviraptor Jarn had foolishly attempted to bring down himself. There were also earthen bowls of strange, yet refreshingly succulent desert fruit. One was a violet-skinned, and rather like a mango, but tasting more like a tangerine. One of as round, prickly fruit of a rich crimson, which they found oozing with cool, sweet juices, a delight on their tongues. There were several kinds of cheeses, made from the milk of some unknown mammal. There were bowls of several kinds of specialty soups as well. All of them were sharp hot, and spicy, with bits of succulent hers and juicy chunks of lizard meat swimming in them. There were also plates heaped high with boiled roots and tubers of unknown desert plants set before them, and strange morsels that were not unlike some like of baked potato, stuffed with cooked vegetables and melted cheeses. 

    The famished teens gulped and guzzled this fine repast down with mighty relish.  The others of Thock’s people had joined in the feast of course, as though this were a grand occasion, as undoubtedly it was. 

     Once their bellies were full to bursting, Jarna and his companions curled up on the mats to sleep it off, along with their fellow feasters. 

    Sometime later, Thock aroused them. 

   He shook Jarn’s shoulder first, and the boy rose to groggy wakefulness. 

    “Get up, my friends! It is time you were well on your way.” said Thock. “Do not worry. We have prepared everything for your journey. And we have a mount for both you and the girl.”

    Jarn, still rubbing his eyes got to his feet. He blinked and saw that it was true. 

    Thock stood beaming in front of him, his gash-like mouth split in a wide grin. Others of his curious race were there as well. And it was as Thock had said. 

    There was a great beast there, a large desert lizard, big enough for them to ride. It somewhat resembled the gorobors, huge lizard-like reptiles that were fairly common throughout Pellucidar. Jarn had even heard that a certain race of reptile-men called horibs had learned to tame gorobors to ride on them as steeds. Only this reptile had short, hornlike protrusions, and its scales were a deep crimson, perhaps a natural adaptations to enable it to blend in with the red sands. There were already satchels on the lizard’s back, and Jarn saw they were filled with supplies. The boy went and looked. Yes, there were breads, and some dried strips of lizard meats, and several large jars of fresh water, tightly sealed. The boy almost smiled, as he was deeply grateful to Thock and his people. 

    But then he realized. 

    Something was wrong. Deeply wrong. 

    At first, Jarn had no idea what it could be. Thock’s people had befriended them. They had not bound their hands during the sleep period, or forced them to remain in the city. Then what…?

     And he knew. Jarn’s head flashed around suddenly. Zara! She was no where to be found. 

     “Where’s Zara?” he demanded. 

      “Do not worry about her.” said Thock. “You and Jarla may go.”

      “But where is she?”

      “Please, do not ask me, my friend. We had to take one of you. You must understand. There are too many stillbirths among my people. We need more women. Seeing you intended to take Jarla as your mate, I could not let them take her. You are the one who saved me from the karka. But she would have left me there! I heard her tell you that.”

    “But I can’t leave her!”

    “You must. Go, now, or Ruk will take you and the girl prisoners.” 

    “But I can’t!” The boy was shouting now, at the top of his lungs. “Zara’s our friend! She leaves with us!”

     The other Therks had now surrounded them. Jarn seized up his spear. He glared fiercely at the diminutive warriors. Jarla remained his side, glaring at them as well. “Come on, you little monsters!” she challenged them. 

    Jarn felt an explosion of white-hot agony into the back of his black-tousled head. He collapsed to the hard-packed floor as oblivion claimed him. 

      When Jarn awoke, he and Jarla were both lying on the hard-packed floor of a chamber, somewhere in the hive-city. Their wrists were both bound painfully behind their backs. Where Zara was, neither of them knew. 

     A noise caused the kids to look up. In front of them was Thock. 

     “You!” the boy exclaimed. 

      “Do not fear, young gilak. I am here to help you escape.”

     “And we’re supposed to trust you?”

    “Shhhh!  Not so loud. It is the sleep period once more. If you allow me, I can get you both out of the city. The guards are all asleep.”

     “But what about Zara? Where is she!”

    “I told you, my people suffer form stillbirths. There have been very few female Therks born to us the last generation. We will need a new queen soon, for our queen is short-lived. Your friend was taken to the chamber where the new queens are fed. If you insist I can lead you to her. But she is under a heavy drug, as are all the prospective queens. I hope you will be able to leave here with her in tow.”

     “We need to save her,” Jarla agreed. “We just can’t leave her behind.”

     “Very well,” said Thock. “You saved my life, so I will agree to assist you.” 

    Thock cut through Jarn and Jarla’s bounds with his stone knife. Then the three of them fled through the tunnels. Thock knew each passage like clockwork. They passed storechambers were they saw stacks of roots and tubers. Other chambers held huge caches of underground water. 

      At last they came to a very large chamber that appeared to be far underground, perhaps at the very center of the hive. The interior was bathed in bluish kind of light. Jarn and Jarla saw immediately in this chamber at least, the Therk guards were awake, and engaged in some sort of activity. In the center of the chamber was the bloated form of—

    The boy and girl gasped, for the monstrous bulk could only be that of what Thock referred to as the queen. She was not like the other Therks at all—a huge, whitish maggot-like thing coated with a film of shiny substance. Only the glimpse they got of her face showed that it was normal size, and not unlike the city’s other inhabitants with their flaring ears and round black eyes. The kids pulled their heads away as two of the queen’s attendants glanced toward the entrance. 

    Thock motioned to the younglings, and they joined him. 

     “Is that—“ Jarla stated.

    “Yes!” whispered Thock hoarsely. “It is the queen’s chamber.  We must stay away from there.”

    “But—“ said Jarn.

   “The chamber we are looking for is this way. I will show you.”

   They rounded a corner, and found another chamber. Inside were stacks of strange underground herbs. And Zara. 

    The kids gasped. The girl was sitting upright against a wall. As they approached her they saw that she had a dazed, far-away look in her eyes. Jarn shook her shoulder. 

     “Zara!” he whispered fiercely.

    “Huh? Jarn? Are you here too? Where are we?  Hmmmm… I like it here. You should stay here too…”
    “She’s drugged,” said Thock. 

    “Then tell us you to undrug her!” Jarn hissed fiercely 

    “It will wear off. It is harmless, and only keeps her complacent. But she will be unable to walk. I warned you this would not be easy. One of you must carry her.”

    Jarn volunteered, but the Amazon girl proved heavier then he thought. 

   Following Thock’s lead, they traversed the bewildering maze of underground tunnels, heading for the surface. Gradually they found that the ground was slopping upwards. 

     Thock showed them to the stable-chamber that held the scarlet riding-lizards, such as the ones Jarn and Jarla were to ride away on. They found the lizard, or another like it, saddled and weighed down with satchels and water bags. 

     The three kids plus the diminutive Therk mounted up. Jarla now took here turn holding the barely conscious Azeer maid in the saddle. 

      “What about you, Thock?” Jarla asked.

      “I fear I must come with you. My people will surely kill me if they find I am the one helped you escape.”

       Just then, as though in half-answer to Thock’s words, a great swell of voices rose to their backs. The sleep period had ended, and it had been discovered they were missing, and worse, that the new prospective queen was missing as well.

      “We must flee at once!” 

       “Will they pursue us into the desert?” Jarn asked. 

        “They will. They will not give up the chase until we are recaptured.” Thock started to instruct Jarn how to control the beast. But the boy had his experience riding both a thipdar and, most recently, a dyal. He surmised this lizard would not be much different, and he was right; he simply kicked it with his heels and gave a yell, and they were off. 

    The beast scuttled up the narrow shoot of the tunnel, and into the blinding light of the desert. Jarn and Jarla were nearly blinded, but they held on tight as the lizard raced out over the cup shaped valley and out into the burning sands of the Thara. 

       “Hah! Hah!” yelled Jarn, kicking the beast’s sides. “Go, lizard! That way!”

       The edge of the desert, where the green and inviting lands began seemed leagues away, and perhaps they were. But the horned lizard was as lightning-swift as its smaller cousins. Miles of barren dunes passed swiftly beneath its tread. 

      They were a good distance away now, and Jarn made the lizard slow. He was looking about for a place they might rest and rejuvenate, when something dreadsome and totally unexpected happened. 

     Jarla suddenly screamed. 

    Above the crest of a sand dune there arose the head and torso of a hideous reptile. It looked like a monstrous snake or lizard, with emerald-colored scales, jetting forked tongues, and orange lidless eyes. Only what was by far the most startling was that the torso of the thing was like that of a human, with a pair of powerful arms. This and the fact that the thing also bore in its grip a long javelin-like spear of bronze. 

     Then another such torso rose above the dune, followed by another and yet another. Their bronze-bladed spears were leveled at them. 

      Jarn had heard tell of a race called the horibs—terrible lizard-like reptilian beings that walked like men, and eerily spoke in Common, just as did most of Pellucidar’s human-like races, though he had heard that they inhabited great swamps and marshes rather than deserts.  That each of these reptiles bore a pair of tiny twin horns on their heads completed their resemblance to that dreaded race, from the descriptions that Jarn had heard. 

     But as the monsters topped the rise to gaze burningly down upon them, he saw where this race differed. Instead walking upright in two powerful manlike legs, these things were exactly like serpents from the torso on down; great serpentine trunks joined with their upper bodies, the length of each seemed to be around thirty-five feet. 

      There was another shriek form Jarla, and they looked to see more such creatures closing upon them from a dune to their left. 

    In the next instant the things had them surrounded. 

   “Wh-what are they?” Jarn asked. 

   “They are Zathavs!” cried Thock in despairing tones. “We are lost, my young friend!”

    “I’m not giving up!”

    “It is useless! They are mortal enemies of my people. The Zathavs prey on us Therks like vipers prey upon zerniks! My people kill them when ever we can—that is why we never venture out into the desert alone and unarmed. But this is war-party of Zathavs, and we are doomed.”

     The snake-men had them surrounded. The one who appeared to be their leader leveled the tip of his spear at the boy’s breast. 

     “Three young gilaks and a Therk.” The creature hissed in a sibilant form of Common. “Who are you, and what are you doing in the Thara, so far from your own lands? ”

    “We are travelers.” said Jarn. “We wish only to be out of the Thara, and on our way.”

    “Why do you travel in the company of a Therk? Is he your prisoner?”

    “No. We escaped a Therk city, and this one helped us. He is our friend. Will you let us pass?”

     “No! You will be killed as are all captives of the Zathav!” 

    “No!” cried Jarn. “You dare not kill us—not when you hear what we have to say!”

     “What could a gilak possibly have that would interest us—save for the succulent meat on his bones!” The creature slithered toward them a few more feet.

      “Hear me!” cried Jarn. 

     “Then speak, foolish youngling!”

      “My name is Jarn. I am a prince of my tribe! My father is a powerful chief of many nations. He will reward you handsomely for my safe return.”

    “Jarn--!” Jarla whispered. She knew very well Jarn was lying, for among his own people he was considered anything but a prince.  

    Jarn shushed her. 

    The Zathav leader chortled hissingly, in what Jarn supposed was its equivalent of mocking laughter. 

    “So you are a prince, are you boy? What could any reward interest us? You will provide nourishment for our hatchlings in our underground dwelling, same as any other gilaks who have foolishly strayed into out lands. You and the females will make good meals for them—we grow tired of runty Therks!”

      “If you return me to my tribe,” said Jarn coolly, “my father will reward you with a great many 
slaves—prisoners of war and of our own people—to satisfy your young!”

      For several horridly long moments, the Zathav leader remained gazing unblinkingly at them, his scarlet forked tongue twitching up and down, as though attempting to reach a decision. Jarla hoped feverishly that he—or it—was considering Jarn’s words, though its reptilian visage was impossible to read. She had no idea what Jarn had in mind, but whatever it was, she was praying to her tribal gods right now that it worked. 

       At last the snake-warrior hissed, “Where is this tribe of yours, boy? Is it near the edge of the Thara? You best not be lying!”

      “Of course I am not.” said Jarn, though of course he was. “My father and his warriors are camped less than a league from here. He has a good many slaves with him right now. We were planning to trade them with a tribe who lives across this stretch of sand—over there—“ he gestured to the green above the march of desert dunes. “If you show him I am your prisoner, he will give the slaves—and a good many more from our own land, should you wish.” 

        “Then you are not alone here?”

        “What, did you think the three of us would be traveling out here by ourselves? I was fleeing with this female slave and her friend, you see, and—“

      “Silence, gilak!” hissed the thing. “I have heard enough. Lead us to your father’s camp—if it exists. We will be covering you every step of the way. Do not attempt treachery. If so, you and your friends shall die!”

      Jarn urged the lizard in the direction he wanted. The Zathav warriors slithered unnervingly alongside them, their spears raised. 

      Jarla still had no idea what Jarn’s plan was. There was no camp out here, of course—Jarn was an orphan and did not even have a father, that much she knew. So what could they gain by retreating back into the desert? 
    Then she saw that they were actually retracing their steps—going back in the direction of the Therk city. The tracks of their reptilian mount were still evident in the sand, and that gave some weight to Jarn’s lie. But still—
    Then, as they rode over the crest of a dune, she saw the answer. 

    It was just as Thock had said. A great army of his people, wielding curved blades, flashing in the desert sun were pouring, antlike over the undulating dunes ahead of them. They were Rak’s warriors, come in pursuit of them. 

    And she remembered what Thock had said about his people and the Zathavs being mortal enemies of the other. 
     As soon as the Zathavs saw them, they hissed, and slithered forward. But they soon saw that the Therks had them vastly outnumbered. The Therks halted en masse at the sight of the serpent-folk. Then the horde, led by Ruck himself (who raised his weapon and gave a yell of combat), rushed forward to the attack. 

    The Zathavs were backing off, forgetting about their four prisoners. 

    “Go!” Jarn urged the lizard. The beast scuttled sideways and over the dunes. The boy glanced behind them as the battle raged. It was savage and short. The Zathavs hissed and jabbed with their bronze-bladed spears. But the Therks, all of whom hated the snake-men with a vengeance, stabbed and sliced at their reptilian foes. Some of the Zathavs attempted to suffocate the Therk soldiers in the same manner as a constrictor, by throwing loops of their heavy coils about their diminutive combatants. But Ruk’s people were too many, and those that did wound up speared to death by their intended victims’ fellows. 

     At last, all of the snake men lay dead and dying, the red sands stained purple with their greenish, reptilian ichor. 

       Ruk, leader of the Therks, raised his voice to the humans on the scarlet lizard, who had paused to observe the battle on a distant dune.  

       “Thock! How came you to be captured by the Zathavs!”

      “It was the boy, o, chief!” called Thock. “The young gilak Jarn, whom you would have killed, led the Zathavs here, so that you might kill them.”

     Ruk, accompanied by some of his soldier were approaching them. The Therk chieftain stopped and gazed up at Jarn. “Is that so, boy? Then you and the females are free to go. Thock, you sought to flee with these gilaks, doubtless fearing my justice. But after what has happened, you need not fear. You may remain with us.”

     “I am grateful, my chief.” said Thock. The small Therk dismounted. He turned to clasp Jarn’s hand. “May we meet again, lad.” he said. 

      “I’ll remember.” said Jarn. “But hopefully, we will be far away from here, and will not need to pass this way again.”

    “Farewell, my friends.” 

     Jarn kicked at the lizards sides. Once again they were off at a dizzying pace.

     They did not stop or slow their pace until the desert sand began to grow shallow, and the dunes were replaced by scrubland dotted with thorny vegetation. They then found themselves entering a land of cycads and williamsonias, and a few stands of clubmosses here and there. These were browsed upon by plodding herds of stout armored reptiles of the Triassic known to science as pariasaurs. 

     Then, slowly, the trees and inviting green meadowlands returned. Once again they found themselves in a rich, teeming land overflowing with game. Red deer, great shaggy tandors and burly arouchs, and other innumerable species roamed in mighty herds in the verdant subtropical lands. 

     Finally, they stopped to rest. 

    Zara had recovered sufficiently from the drug the Therks had given her by this time. Jarn and Jarla killed an orthopi and roasted it. 

     Zara found the whole tale of her being knocked and drug a bit humiliating. 

     “I suppose I owe you my life again, Jarn.” The Azeer girl conceded.

     “We both owe him our lives.” Jarla corrected. “If he hadn’t thought up that lie, we would have ended up as food for Zathav young.”

     “I have long heard rumors of the Zathav, the snake-folk of the Thara.” Zara shuddered. “But I really did not believe they existed—until now.”

    Jarn shrugged modestly. “Lying isn’t hard.” he told them. “You just need to know how to do it.” 

   “So you’ve had practice.” Jarla told him teasingly. 

    The boy nodded. “I do it with my elders all the time.” 

    “Why am I not surprised?” Jarla said, giving the lad a playful shove. Jarn shoved her back, and they all three burst out laughing. 
 

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