Erbzine.com Homepage
Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute and Weekly Webzine Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 5,000 Web Pages in Archive
Volume 1726
Jahlanna of Pellucidar
A 175,000-word novel
by
Sean Edward Phillips


.
Part XVI

       The great caravan lumbered slowly north, in the direction of the distant Polar Ocean. The mighty army consisted Sarian warriors, as well as handful of Thurians all mounted upon mammoth and diplodocus. They lumbered through rich, subtropical lands teaming with game of all sorts.  Giant grass-eaters abounded: great shaggy mammoths, primitive cattle and bison, the giant tua, or Irish Elk, and huge ground-sloths, preyed upon by giant lions, leopards, cheetahs and others. But not even the mightiest of predators dared to attack such a mighty assembly of men and monsters. Predators there were aplenty—the great plains-ryth, a huge ursine predator long of limb and feline swiftness, able to kill such as the giant stag-moose with a single swipe of its gigantic paw. There were also the great sabor-tooth tarags, hunting in mighty packs, some over a hundred members strong and able to overhwhelm the mightiest herbivora. But even these blanched before attacking the army of David Innes, Emporer of Pelluicdar.

      The emporer of the lost land rode at the head of the army, the tandor insigne slapping upon a banner above and inscribed on the chest of his armor. He was a hard-faced man with his blond hair cut into a military crew cut. On the tandor to his side rode Dangar, another man of Sari, and a Pellucidaran native. Behind him rode another young warrior, a man of Nu-al named Tarok, and with her arms about him was his companion and lover, the warrior-maid Valkara.  On the other side of David Innes rode Clive Neville, the red-haired outlander, formally explorer and reporter of National Geographic, and his friends Jalmar-the tailed Barraboo, and Professor Alistair Simmons.

    As they traveled ever northward, the swarming subtropical parklands began to give way to open steppe country. The ever-present humidy common throughout most of Pelluicdar was replaced by a chill crisp atmosphere, that steadily increased. The number and amount of game lessoned at first, then grew more numerous. Though here it was noticeably different.

    As the entered the lands where snow was said to fall, they saw herds of wild horses, of the same species that still roamed the steppes of Mongolia on the surface. Here, too, were great herds of diminutive Saiga antelope, also a known native of the Asiatic steppes. There were great burly musk-oxen here as well. Then there were the predators—the codon, gigantic wolves the size of ponies, prides of giant lions with shaggy gray-white coats, and giant cheetahs, not unlike those that roamed the lands they had recently quit, only with thicker coats which were nearly white in color.

     The caravan finally came to a stop. They fed and watered their war-beasts, and set up tents. The gigantic lidis, though they were able to maintain a somewhat steady temperature due to their tremendous bulk, could venture no further without risking death. It was decided that the giant reptiles remained camped where they were, whist the warriors on mammoth-back continued their journey to the lands surrounding the Boreal Sea.

         They continued northward. Valkara informed them that they were nearing the homeland of her people.

     “Does your tribe know of the Mahars and their minions operating in this country?”

     Valkara shrugged her shapely shoulders. “I do not know. I have not been with my people for a great many sleeps.”

      “Perhaps though, they do know of the Mahars, and if they are a threat.” said Dangar. “We should like to inquire of your people.”

     “We should warn them, if there is an invading army here, as you seem to believe.” said Valkara.

     “Indeed. And also, they might prove valuable allies, should a war with the winged reptiles prove eminent.”

      When next they made camp, they were well into the steppelands. The eternal sun of Pellucidar had already begun to shimmer and fade behind them. The sight was a disconcerting one to those who had lived their entire lives within a world of eternal sunlight. Some of the warriors who had not traversed into these lands before now began to whisper amongst themselves, saying that perhaps they were nearing the edge of Pellucidar itself, and perhaps they would risk falling off into the abyss where the Molop Az churned and bubbled.

       Innes assured his troops that this was nonsense, and anyway, they were only to scout the regions of the Boreal Sea, where Mahar activity had been reported. The men believed and trusted him, although a few remained uneasy. It had begun to snow as they made camp, and many of them had never seen this phenomenon either.

      Tarok and Valkara agreed to scout ahead after the sleep period, to see if they could discern any sign of Valkara’s people.

      Dressed in cloaks of mammoth-hide, the man and woman set out across the bleak and barren steppe, the massive army lumbering a half-league behind in their wake.

    It was a bleak, grey world, that of the Pelluicdaran steppe. The vast land stretched out around them, a plain of scrubby grass, moss and lichen. A perpetual sunset slanted through the clouds to their back, a leaden grey sky above from which a steady pour of light snow was falling, coating the bleak land with a dusting of white powder.

    Valkara had lived beneath such vistas before, but to the Nu-al warrior they were strange and forbidding.

      “Are we near the land of your people?” he asked her.

     “Yes.” said Valkara. “Valtor is very near. Already we have crossed the border of my people’s hunting grounds.”

    “I find it hard to believe men can live in such a place.”

    The girl laughed haughtily. “My tribe does not find it difficult. As you shall soon see.”

    They heard a sharp whistle off to their right, and Tarok looked. He saw a small, furry face peering up at them from what must have been a hole in the ground. A burrowing rodent of some sort. It chirped three times, then disappeared.

   Tarok heard an answering chirp some distance away.

   “Those are called ruts,” Valkara explained. “Rodents that burrow beneath the steppe. They make good eating, though not as good as gronth or tandor.”

     “Perhaps, then, we should try to catch one, for food is scarce.”

    “I shall show you.” Valkara located the burrow of one of the steppe-dwelling burrowers. She gave a perfect imitation of the ruts’ chirping call. Within seconds, one of the beasts appeared, which she quickly dispashed with a rock. She then taught tarok to do the same things. Within minutes they had managed to kill six of the small beasts. They were rather like large pikas or marmots in appearance, only with an unlikely pair of  horns above their snouts. When they later returned to the Sarians’ camp in order to skin and clean the carcasses, Professor Simmons identified the horned rodents as epigaulus of the Miocene.

      Tarok and Valkara each secured three of their kills to their belts and journeyed on. Tarok occasionally glanced behind them to make certain they were still followed. The mammoth-warriors remained just within sight.

    By now the snow had begun to fall stronger and fiercer upon the vast steppe. The warrior and his warrior-mate pulled the thick coats of tandor-hide about them, as they pressed onward. They had ventured noticeably further by now, and the sun behind them had shrunk, growing even dimmer than before. The twilight of this strange land—strange indeed to one such as Tarok—had deepened into a quasi-night.

     There were still a few herds about-shaggy musk-ox, wooly antelope, and steppe-bison, and now even a few caribou. The land ahead of them seemed ever dark and forbidding, like they were approaching a land of eternal night.

     “Perhaps we should turn back now.” Tarok suggested.

    Valkara, though used to this country, said, “Perhaps so. The snow falls thickly and faster now. It will be best to be in the company of the warriors and their tents. I sense a blizzard may be coming.”

     “A blizzard? What is that?”

     “You will see.”

     “Wait!” said Tarok. “What is that?”

     They both peered ahead through the swirling, cascading snow. There was something ahead of them. Something moving. But the snowfall had indeed grown very fierce, and it seemed to increase by the second. The force of the wind chilled the man and woman to their marrow, as they strained their eyes to see.

     But something was out there. Some huge animal. But it was camouflaged by the gale of the snow that poured from the darkened sky and was now blanketing the land.

       And it was moving toward them.

       Two glaring slits of blue fire blazed out of the whiteness.

       The man and woman gasped. “A snow-tarag!” cried Valkara.

       A gigantic white shape hurtled out of the cascading storm of flakes. Tarok was thrown over onto his back on the hardened steppe-earth as a half-ton of primal fury slammed into him.

     The man blinked dazedly up through a haze of pain in his skull.

     He found himself staring glassily into a snarling feline visage. It was unmistakably that of an adult tarag. Only Tarok had never seen the likeness of a specimen such as this one. The ruffed face was of pure downy white, striped with grey-black. The eyes were the ice-blue of polar glaciers, and they blazed volcanically into his own. The eighteen-inch tusks were of dull ivory. Each one swept down form the upper jaw on either side.  The beast’s breath came in ragged puffs clouding the air in front to the downed warrior’s eyes. The snow-tarag’s muzzle folded back, wrinkling the savage visage into an expression of incarnate fury. Never had the Nu-al warrior felt this near to death.

     Fortunately for Tarok, his mate was there.

    He heard Valkara give a wild-yell, the cry of a Valtor warrior-maid. The tarag roared and flung off him. In the next instant, Tarok had regained his feet, his own spear ready to face the monster of the snows.

     Valkara had jabbed the beast beneath its right shoulder-blade, then leapt back with feline quickness. She kept her own feral gaze trained upon the mighty beast as it slunk toward her. Muzzle wrinkling savagely, a roaring snarl building within the beast’s massive chest.

     Had Tarok himself not been a seasoned warrior, he might have fainted dead away at the sight of the giant snow-tarag.

     Its dimensions were colossal, almost beyond belief, more massive even, than the mighty species found throughout the bulk of Pellucidar. It was nearly the size of bull thag or a tarap, each of which outbulk the rhinoceras of the surface world. Its pure-white coat was incredibly thick and shaggy, paling to polar-bear ivory on the heavily shagged underbelly. Grayish-black stripes, of the same patterning as the common tarag, decorated its snarling face and forequarters, fading into the snowy whiteness toward its rear legs.

    Once again, the beast snarled mightily, as it slunk savagely toward the barbarian girl. Valkara kept her spear trained upon the vast carnivore, as beast and warrior-maid warily circled one another, both appearing savage deadly animals, survival skills honed by this savage wilderness.

    Tarok hefted his own spear, determined to aide his savage mate if need be.

     But the mighty beast sprung at the Onah warrioress, an incredible hurtling juggernaught of fangs, fur, bone and muscle. The mighty sledge-hammer paws, able to shatter the skull of a musk-ox with a single tremendous blow, might have crashed Valakra to the ground, the mighty saber-fangs shearing clean through the girl’s skull like butter. This, undoubtedly is what the feline monster intended. But Valkara, wise to the ways to the great beasts of her primordial realm ducked beneath the savage onslaught, driving her spear deep into the beasts’ chest, penetrating his savage heart.

      The snow-beast gave terrific vent to a roaring scream of agony, dreadful to hear, for the termination of the cry that burst form the tremendous lungs sounded like that of a strangled woman. The beast crashed to the earth, as Valkara rolled free, narrowly avoiding being crushed beneath its titanic bulk, the spear going clean through.

     Tarok helped her to her feet.

     “Are you all right?” he asked her.

     “Of course,” she said, sounding somewhat surprised. “I have once before killed such a beast on my own rite of warrior-hood. Only it was a steppe ta-ho, rather than a tarag. But the ways of the snow-tarag are so terribly different. Killing it was not difficult.”

     Tarok was about to tell her that only the males of his own tribe were warriors and it was all very strange to him, but thought better of it.

     They turned around. The snow was now falling very fiercely, and they would need shelter. But the mighty forms of the great mammoths of Sari were now looming out of the blinding curtain of snow. One of the men dismounted and came toward them.

      “Tarok!” he shouted.

       Tarok then saw that it was his friend Clive.

      “Clive!! We are most glad you are here. We nearly became a meal for this beast. And the freezing whiteness falls thicker and harder now!”

       “Clive stared stupefied at the slain body of the gigantic, saber-toothed snow tiger.

     “How did you slay it?”

     “I did not.” grinned the warrior. “Valkara did.”

     Clive glanced at her in surprise.

     “It was easy.” she told him.

     The army made camp to wait out the blizzard.

    They unrolled the tents and huddled within them, as the mammoths hunkered down in a tight circle, protecting themselves and their small masters from the whipping winds and deadly cold.

     Once the storm had passed, Valkara showed them how to skin and butcher the tarag’s carcass without damaging the magnificent pelt. Since food was relatively scarce on the steppe, and the warriors would need much energy, they roasted and ate the flesh of the giant tiger. Most of the warriors did not normally partake of tarag meat, but they found it was not all that bad tasting. The pelt the fashioned into four cloaks as protection against the savage cold.

      On they journeyed across the barren ice-bound waste. The mass of darkened clouds had dispersed, and the sun shown once again, but even feebler than before. Tarok and Vlkara again took the lead, though the Sarian army remained closer behind them this time.

    Soon they heard the unmistakable sounds of combat issuing form somewhere ahead. There were the sounds of human voices raised in combat, mingled with the grunts and bellows of some gigantic beast of the steppe country.

    The Nu-al warrior and his mate increased their pace, at last ascending a small knoll. At its top, they lay flat upon their bellies and peered over.

     Below their vantage point, a mighty battle raged. A party of warriors were engaged in a titanic struggle with a huge primordial beast. The warriors were very striking to Tarok’s eyes, for all of them had hair and beards the golden shade of shorn flax, very rare within Pellucidar. They were all lean muscled men. They carried flint, fire-hardened spears, and were dressed in fur-trimmed buckskin garments of caribou hide. Three of their number already lay dead upon the snowfield, victims of their quarry.

     And such a beast! Tarok had never seen its like. It most closely resembled a wooly rhinoceros, a fairly common beast within Pellucidar, along with the more familiar tandor. But this monster was three or four times the size of that beast, mightier and more massive than the tandor itself. It was clothed with a thick and luxuriant shaggy coat of fur of a russet hue, more red than that of a mammoth or the common woolly rhino, the fur on its sides and underbelly of such extraordinary length and shag that it nearly brushed the ground. Its legs were thick and columular, terminating in massively hooved toes, but the legs appeared curiously short as they were partially hidden by the beast’s coat. The tail was long and bore a heavy tuft at the end. The skull was huge and brutishly shaped, with small, piggy ears and eyes. But the most amazing feature was the single colossal horn of dull ivory which sprouted from this skull. In breadth it took up nearly the entire head of the beast. It must have been eight to ten feet in length, that horn, and tapered to a needle tip. This, along with the long tuft-tipped tail, made the beast resemble nothing so much as a gigantic, shaggy unicorn.

      “My people!” breathed Valkara. “We have found them.”

     “What is that beast they are fighting?”

     “It is a gronth. They are the most formidable beasts of the steppe. They are ferocious and most difficult to kill, as you can see. But their flesh is very delicious. There is nothing like a gronth steak grilled over a wood fire.”

      The horned monster was battling savagely for its life amongst the small humans. It continued to rear and toss its great head. As Tarok watched the beast managed to spear one of the hunters upon its titanic horn. The man screamed as he was skewered, then his cry was cut short, as the gronth tossed him away with a casual flip of its head.  It smashed another warrior to red ruin beneath its mighty hooves. The beast, protected as it was by its thick shaggy coat and layer of fat, was already bleeding form a number of spears in its flanks. But still it battled on, determined to take as many of its tormentors with it.

      “If your warriors are determined to bring down that monster,” said Tarok. “Then perhaps we should help.”

      “Indeed. What are we waiting for?” Valkara arose, preparing to race down the slope with a wild war-cry.

     “No!” said Tarok gripped her shoulder. “I will not see you killed trying to bring down that beast. I meant that our warriors form Sari should do it.”

     He could see that his mate wanted to join her comrades in the thrill of battle, but Valkara recognized his concern for her, and realized that she would not which him to risk his life either.

     Besides, the first of the mammoth warriors was already ascending the knoll. The others were close behind it. There was some astonished murmuring amongst the warriors of Innes’ army; apparently none of them had seen warriors such as the Valtor, or a beast such as the gronth until now. But Dangar urged his mount foreword. Recognizing that these must be men of Valkara’s tribe, he determined to ride to their aide. The great war-mammoth, bred for battle, raised its trunk and roared a challenge to the super-rhino.

     The gronth bellowed in answer, as though his species and that of the mammoth were ancient adversaries, as perhaps they were. The Valtor warriors, temporally distracted, looked on as the huge shaggy gronth charged the tandor. Dangar’s mount met the attack head-on clashing with terrifically, mighty trunk and curling tusks smashing into the gronth’s great ivory horn. The two primordial monsters backed up, bellowing their fury. They began to circle one another like two enormous, shaggy gladiators in the bleak world of the Pellucidaran steppe.

    Then, finding a slight opening, the gronth charged!

    It bore down upon Dangar and his mighty mount, a living mountain of incarnate fury. As Tarok and the mammoth warriors looked on in awed astonishment. The mighty gronth drove its titanic horn deep into the side of its opponent, literally skewering the great tandor clean through. The mammoth gave an ear-splitting squeal of agony and defeat, as it found itself actually lifted of its churning columular legs, still impaled like a spitted partridge upon the gronth’s horn.

     Tarok, watching in a daze, could scarcely credit his eyes. Dangar, he felt, was surely done for. But then he saw the lithe warrior leap form the back of his doomed mount to catlike upon the hardened turf.

   The gronth lowered its mighty horn, and began to pull it free form the gigantic carcass of its vanquished foe. But doing so left it vulnerable, and the Valtor warriors closed in on both sides. The clever warriors speared the beast on both sides, one man finding the creature’s throat. The gronth pulled free its bloodied horn, and wailed at the leaden sky before collapsing to the earth with a mighty crash.

      The warriors of Sari dismounted and greetings were exchanged. Dangar might have assisted them in slaying the gronth, but the leader of the blond warriors seemed suspicious at first; never had he seen a great assembly of men and monsters.

     “Who are you, and what are you doing in our land?” he demanded.

     “My name is Dangar.” Dangar said. “We are warriors from the land of Sari.”

     “I have never heard of that tribe.”

    “It is far away. We are in this land searching for sign of the Mahars. We have word that they are massing a great army that may be a threat to all of Pellucidar.”
     “There are no Mahars in our land.” He said. “Or reptiles of any kind. They live only in the jungled south. What is your real business here?”

      “They perhaps have an army of their servants the sagoths. They may have a strong power base—it is probably located below ground, as are their cities.”
      “I know of no such army. Begone from our land.”

     “Wait, Othar!” said a second man. “There are strange men in our land—men such as we have never seen. Do you not remember?”

     Othar seemed to consider this. “Yes…” he said. ‘The only army we have seen in our land is yours. But we have seen strange warriors not of our race, who do not belong to any steppe tribe.”

      “Tell us about them.” said Dangar.

      “We have often glimpsed them form afar. They are garbed for the cold, but not like other men. Always their fur hoods are pulled tightly about their faces. Once they had two giant beasts among them.”

     “Giant beasts?”

    “Greater than your tandors. They did not appear to have any head or limbs. Yet they moved, crawled across the steppe somewhat a huge insect. We followed the warriors from a distance. Then the ground itself swallowed them up. We did not think it wise to pursue them further, for they might be evil spirits or some such.”

     “They disappeared into the ground?”

    “Yes.”

     Dangar’s gaze hardened. “We believe these strange men may be a great threat to your people. Let us be allies, until we can search them out.”

    Othar appeared to consider this.

     At that moment, Valkara spoke. “Othar…do you not remember me?”

    The Valtor leader immediately recognized her as a member of his race. “Valkara…is that you?”

     The warrior-girl ran forward and through her arms about him.

      “I have not seen you since you were a small boy!” she cried.

    “And you…you were still a young lass when they bore you off! We had long thought you lost.”

     The other warriors were coming forward too. All of them looked at Valkara and seemed to recognize her. She introduced them to her mate, Tarok. There was a far greater air of comradry then.

     The host of Sarian warriors accompanied the blond warrior to the village of the Valtor tribe. Valtor, where they made their further plans. The village was somewhat similar to tribes of Inuit bordering the arctic circle, constructed lodges constructed of stone, mammoth bone and hide. There were a great many of the blond warriors around. The women of the Valtor, two were warriors, and their yellow locks were braided not unlike the maidens of the Vikings. There were woolly coated village dogs, undoubtedly trained for hunting, which had undoubtedly been bred from the codon.

      In the lodge of the chief, a great burly man named Wolnar, they laid their plans. It was agreed upon that they should venture forth to the place where the ground had swallowed up the strange warriors. In the meantime a grand feast was held in the lodge of the chief. A strange, potent drink something like ale was brewed poured into flasks fashioned from mammoth ivory. The great carcass of the gronth provided a grand feast. Huge, juicy steaks were craved form the giant rhino-beast, or elasmotherium, as Professor Simmons identified the animal. The gronth steaks were then grilled to perfection over a deep charcoal fire pit, and served hot, red, and juicy, swimming in a gravy-like sauce made from some sort of steppe lichen. The massive head of the wooly great wooly unicorn of the steppe was preserved as a trophy for the tribe of Wol-nar.

     Afterward, they all slept on thick furs of mammoth and snow-tarag, before setting out upon awakening.

      The mammoth warriors set out, now accompanied by Othar, and a number of other blond men of the Valtor. The vast wild steppelands stretched about them, grim and bleak. Their trek now led in a northeastern direction, and the sun grew yet gradually yet dimmer in their wake.

     They reached the area where the men had been seen. There were indeed tracks here, as of many fur-booted men. But astoundingly, there, too were the tracks that could only have been made by a man-made vehicle. There were at three such vehicles.

     “They must be men of the surface.” said Clive.

     “You may be right,” agreed Simmons. “These are doubtless the tracks of the “beasts” Onthar’s warriors saw. But…”

    “But what?”

    “Perhaps the machines were made by the Mahars themselves.”

    Clive looked at David Innes who was standing to their side, for conformation of this. “They may be.” said Pellucidar’s emperor. “The Mahar are certainly advanced enough a race. I have not know them to construct such a moving vehicle before. Perhaps that is because the Mahars have wings, and transportation for them is not a problem. But here in this cold bleak land, they may be using such to transport weapons and supplies.”

        They followed the tracks. They led to steep incline which in turn led to a pair of huge metal doors set into the base of a raised hillock. On either side of this were twin raised pillars of white marble-like stone similar to those that customarily marked the entrance to one of the Mahars’ underground cities.

      It was shut tightly however, and they could find no means of entrance. But the tracks of the warriors and the tread of the vehicle led directly to this entrance.
     After some debate, it was decided that they should make camp nearby, and ait until the next sleep to see if anything untoward occurred. This they did.

     Tarok and Valkara agreed to scout ahead once more. As they approached the area of the strange entrance they saw the distant march of what was indeed a party of cowled and hooded warriors. There were four great metal beasts, that somehow “rolled” over the steppe country.

      “What are they?” Tarok asked her.

      “I have never seen their like. But they must be the “beasts” Othar and the warriors told us of.”

    Tarok and his mate lay flat bellied on the cold steppe ground for a long time, observing the strange party. They crawled forward several inches in the manner of caribou hunters. Then, when the party had nearly passed form view they dared to stand up and trail the party at its rear.

     Sure enough, it turned out they were headed for the strange under ground entrance. Tarok and Valkara watched as the vast metal doors drew apart, and the party marched down within. Both were contemplating how they might fall behind them unobtrusively when some primal instinct bade both warrior and warrior-maid to whirl about.

     “Surrender, gilaks!

    Four of the strange warriors were at their back, having somehow managed to sneak up behind them. Each warrior bore a spear, which meant they were outnumbered. They warriors were dressed for the harsh land, not unlike the Valtor. They wore heavy furred boots and tunics, only these, and their leggings, were not of tanned caribou leather, but of some unidentifiable material. The fur-lined hoods of their tunics were pulled over their heads. Their ragged breaths plumed the frigid air. But now Tarok could clearly see their faces, and it was evident they were not men after all, as he had earlier supposed.

     They were sagoths.

         “What were you doing following in our wake?” demanded the one who had spoken, who appeared to be their leader.

     “We are hunters.” Said Tarok. “My name is Tarok of Nu-al. The girl is Valkara of the Onah people. We were hunting caribou when—"

     “Enough!” growled the sagoth. “You are spies, and will be treated accordingly, according to the will of the great ones.”

      Tarok and Valkara were marched by their sagoth captors to the rear of the party, and through the huge metallic doors, which then shut behind them with a resounding boom.

       Sure enough, it appeared to be genuine Mahar city. Tarok found the streets and general layout to be not unlike the city of Zhuma. There were a great many other sagoths about, now without their hooded tunics.

 They were marched to a great room, larger than any which Tarok could have conceived as possible. It was vast, warhouse-sized. There were several of the huge crawler machines about. Some appeared to be parked, in stationary rows. The one accompanied by the sagoth warriors now opened in the front. A ramp descended.

    And down this ramp waddled a Mahar!

    So this was how the Great Lords were able to operate a city so far from the interior of Pellucidar. Each of the great crawlers must have contained one of the monstrous winged reptiles.

     Tarok felt Valkara clutch at his arm. “What is that thing?”

     “It is one of those David Innes and Professor Simmons warned us of. It is a Mahar.”

    “Oh! What a dreadful and hideous creature it appears.”

     “Indeed it is.” Agreed Tarok grimly.

     “Then you have seen such monsters before now.”

     “Indeed I have. And they are not mere beasts, but something far worse.” He explained briefly his own experience in the Mahar city of Zhuma. He related the winged saurians’ dreadful mental powers.

     “How will we escape form such monsters?”

     “I do not yet know.” He said. “But Clive and the others are still out there. When they find that we did not return, they will come for us?”

     “But how can they save us from this awful place?”

     Tarok shrugged. “I know not. But adventuring with them has taught me one thing; there is hope even when hope seems naught. We may yet escape as long as we draw breath, just as we did form the belly of the zarith –az.”

     “But that horrid thing.” Said Valkara, meaning the Mahar. ‘I am frightened.”

     Tarok admitted that he was too, and it was a bit unnerving to see the fearless warrior cowed by the appearance of the weird reptile. But, tarok remembered, she had every right to be.

      “Silence, gilaks!” said the sagoth behind them. We are taking you to the chief scientist. There your fate shall be decided.

     They were escorted to a large chamber, somewhat like a giant throne-room. Three of the gigantic winged reptiles hunched there. The three reptiles examined the captives. Tarok bade Valkara to turn away from the frigid gazes of the sentient reptilians. But They seemed intent only on examining the captives.  Telepathic communications beamed back and forth amongst the winged saurians. Of course, tarok and Valkara could hear nothing of this, but they were aware that some type of communication was taking place, some vital decision was being conferred. Then tarok felt a mental wave pass from one of the winged monsters into his brain, invading it deep recesses. It was not meant to bend him to the creatures’ will, but it was far from pleasant. The man groaned and cried out. Valkara had the same sensation, she shrieked and shuddered. Then the sensation was gone.

     They were then led away by the sagoth guards, ushered deep within the labyrinth of tunnels, and placed in a cell with other prisoners. Some of the prisoners were human. One to the right of Tarok, however, appeared to be of some other species entirely.

    Like a man in form he was, with thickly knotted and powerful limbs, though with a thick pelt of shaggy fur, not unlike a shaggy bull or bison. On either side of his brutish skull there grew a long and heavy horn, like that of the plains-thag, the mighty long-horned bison of the Pleistocene. His brutish face showed a curious mixture of the bovine and the human.

     Tarok had heard tell of beings such as this one. They were called ganaks, or bison-men. They were said to inhabit a country far away, and use humans for cruel, inhuman rituals.

      The bison-man looked at Tarok and Valkara as they sat across form him.

      “More Gilak captives?” the bison-man growled, a sound deep within his barrel-chest. ‘It seems the Mahars have been even more industrious of late.”

     “My name is Tarok of Nu-al.” Tarok said. Though would not trust this creature normally, did not trust him, he thought it would be best to treat the creature as a friend than an enemy under the circumstances.

      “And I am Valkara of Onah.” Valkara.

      “Mine is Grunth.” said the ganak, “a warrior of the tribe of Furth far east and south of here. My tribe was at war with the Snarg tribe of sagoths. I killed many of them defending our homeland, but I was captured at last. The sagoths, realizing my value as a warrior sold me to the Mahars for use in the arena.”

    “Why did the Mahar take us captives?” Tarok did not want to give away that they actually were spies, even though the Mahars seemed to have searched his mind.

     “Why do they take any gilak captives—or ganak for that matter? They grow bored, and use such as you and I for their amusement. All the captives in this room are to be forced to fight in the arena.”

      “There is an arena here?” Tarok asked.

      “Yes. We are the captives who are to be thrown to the great beasts. Or perhaps they will have us kill each other. Whatever happens, I shall be ready.”

      Tarok was greatly relived that they had apparently not probed his mind deeply enough to discover what he and his mate were doing here in the city.

    “What is this place—why did the Mahars build a city this far north?”

     Grunth shrugged his sahggy shoulders. “I do not know why. There is talk that the plan to conquer a new world. That a new land lies somewhere beyond Pellucidar where the sun does not stand still in the sky, but travels over the edge of the world, leaving the land in darkness, only to reappear on the other side. But if this is what they seek, than the Mahars are fools after all. They have built many great metal beasts and are traveling north—but if they go on further, they will fall off the edge of the world and into the Molop Az. No such world as they seek can possibly exist.”

      So they were right! Tarok thought. The man called David Innes was correct—he must be. There was a hidden world out there somewhere. At one time he would have undoubtedly agreed with the ganak. He had found it difficult to believe that Clive Neville and his friends had actually heralded from such a world, and realized that he had had trouble grasping it until now. But it must be correct, and the Mahars were truly bent on launching a conquering army.

    Just then the door to the cell opened. A sagoth guard with a whip entered. He surveyed the captives, including four humans huddled against the far wall then at Tarok, Valkara, and Grunth. He gestured his whip at the three. “Come. Your prowess is to amuse they Great Lords.”

      They were prodded down an array of confusing corridors, and through a door, into a vast arena. The sagoths gave each of them weapons. Two long spears for the warrior and his mate, and a short-sword for the bison-man.

    Tarok was stupefied that such a vast amphitheater could exist below ground; but he knew that the Mahar race, hideous though they were in appearance, were workers of marvels.

     The arena was already filled. The Mahars, the “Great Lords” of Pellucidar were already thronged throughout the vastness of the stadium. All around them were the hunch-winged, scaly hordes of winged saurians. There was a raised platform in the center, where squatted the three chief scientist. And above them was a strange apparatus of metal. One familiar with outer-world technology would recognize the resemblance of this to a type of high-tech weapon. But Tarok, having no such frame of reference, supposed it to be some bizarre fetish of some kind to whatever gods such as the Mahar might worship.

    Valkara, warrior-maid though she was clung to her mates burly shoulder at the sight of the hideous multitude. “Ooooh! Tarok, there are so many of the bird-lizards!”

      “We’ll fight our way to freedom.” Growled the warrior, though he was less than confident underneath.

    ‘We will fight,” agreed Grunth. “But we shall never leave the city. Those who are captives of the Mahars remain captives until they are killed.”

    “We will see about that!” Tarok hissed. Once, he, too had remained fatalistic about such things, but the overthrowing of Zhuma had seemingly accomplished the impossible, and his ensuing adventures with Clive and Alistair, he and they had overcome similarly implausible situations.

    “We can merely hope to fight to the end, and to die a swift death.” said Grunth.

     The arena door was now opening.

     Within the darkness therein, they saw two burning emerald splotches, the orbs of some gigantic predator of times dawn.

    A second later, the monstrous owner of those incandescent orbs padded majestically into the arena.

      Tarok recognized the beast instantly. It was non other than a gigantic tarag, the tremendous saber-tooth cave-tiger of the Paleolithic. It was of the common, striped tarag found throughout the jungles and plains of the inner-earth, rather than the huge gray-white beasts of the steppes, with which Tarok and his mate had so recently done battle. Nonetheless, the beast was of awesome size, nearly the bulk of a Volkswagen. Yet it stalked into the arena with fluid feline grace. The monster raised its muzzle as it caught the scent of the man-things which were its intended pray. The great muzzle wrinkled back, forming a deadly snarl of hideous hunger, as its burning eyes fixed upon them.

   “Prepare for death, black-hair.” Tarok heard Grunth say by his side. He expected the beast, now gathering its mighty strength, to spring across the arena sands in a mad dash, then spring titantically upon the three of them. Indeed, this is what would surely have happened had not another event suddenly occurred.

     Another door in the wall of the arena opened. To his surprise, Tarok witnessed yet another giant denizen of the Paleolithic age emerge into the arena. This one was a gigantic stag, nearly the size of a small elephant, crowned with a fantastic spread of antlers over twelve-feet wide from tip to tip. The beast was clothed in shaggy, russet fur, remarkably thick and full on its mighty neck. Tarok recognized the beast as a Tua, the gigantic Irish Elk of the Pleistocene, as men of the surface world call the beast.

    The monstrous cervid snorted gigantically and pawed the arena sands in bull-like fashion. The presence of the giant deer had an immediate effect upon the saber-tooth tiger. The huge feline turned its attention immediately from the puny manlings, to the far more satisfying prey. Doubtless the monster had been starved to fury for this use in the arena. The Tua, as well, had been purposefully goaded into a frenzy by the Mahars’ sagoth servants. The gigantic elk, seeing its hereditary predator, the monstrous cave-tiger, turned its muzzle heavenward and bellowed forth a mighty challenge.

     In the next instant, the two primordial monsters each charged upon the other, while the captives looked on in awe. No surface man of the modern era has ever beheld such a combat as the one that then exploded within the massive Mahar amphitheater, save recently Clive Neville and Allistair Simmons had witnessed such a duel between these very same Pleistocene Titans as now Tarok Valkara and Grunth bore mute witness.

    The titanic tiger sprung mightily upon the charging elk, his mighty paws seeking to dash the beast’s skull to fragments. The charging tua swept is mighty crown of fantastic horns to either side, striving to smash its adversary to the ground. At length it succeeded in tossing the mighty tarag from it with a wide sweep of the enormous antlers. In a flash the giant tiger was up and springing upon the flank of the super-stag. It clung there, while the tua backed and contorted, attempting the gore the tiger with its horns. Meanwhile the huge cave-tiger raked and trashed savagely with its gigantic hindquarters, slashing the thick furred hide of the elk to bloody ruin, until the massive ribcage with nearly exposed. Then the elk managed to jab the spear of its left antler tip into the flank of the tarag. The tiger yowled and tore itself loose, ripping free an entire portion of the elk’s flank, exposing the raw, red musculature underneath.

     The tua was now gushing blood, seemingly gallons of it staining the white arena sands a gory crimson. The mighty stag-monster stood its ground, though its sturdy limbs shook with the effect of massive blood-loss.  The tarag, too, quivered from the same, as blood poured voluminously from the injury in its side. It barred its gigantic ivory fangs nonetheless. Both monsters were prepared to continue the duel to the last of their breath was spent.

   A strange, eerie whining filled the arena.

   The sound was incredibly height pitched, nearly inaudible. Yet the effect pierced the skulls of Tarok and his companions. It lasted what must have been several second. More than that, Tarok felt would have been intolerable.

     But the effect on the two beasts was even more extraordinary. As the bizarre scream fell silent, the tow primordial monsters turned their attentions away from one another. Both fixed their gazes upon the three puny creatures in their midst.

    “What is happening?” Tarok asked Grunth.

   “I do not know.” answered the bison-man. “This is not as beasts should act.”

    The two monsters, mortal enemies since the dim dawn of creation, began to circle the arena, each intent upon Tarok and his fellow-captives. The tarag slunk toward them, head lowered, painted ears flattened in feline menace. The tigers eyes blazed in killing-fury, as its muzzle wrinkled and writhed back. A cavernous snarl escaped its mighty lungs. The giant elk, antlered head lowered, bellowed mightily, tearing at the sand with a gigantic hoof, preparing to thunder down terrifically upon them.

       The three were trapped between the two monsters with no apparent hope of escape or rescue.

      “Now we die.” Grunth said.

      “Then we shall fight to the last.” Tarok growled.

      “We will!” said Valkara.

      “I am with you, gilaks.” said Grunth.

      They readied their weapons.

      The tarag was the first to spring. The feline monster hurtled itself upon them in a monstrous spring. Tarok readied his spear. The tarag, already weakened form his battle with the tua, crashed down upon the Nu-al warrior. Tarok was a seasoned fighter, and he knew exactly where to run his weapon so that the spear shaft thrust into the chest-cavity of the giant tarag, through fur muscle and tissue, until it penetrated the mighty heart of gigantic creature. The tarag yowled thunderously, as impaled upon the warriors spear, it sell forward in a crash, as tarok rolled to one side to avoid being crushed beneath that mountain of shag and muscle.

    Grunth and Valkara were upon the beast in the next seconds. With the savage cry of a warrior-maid, the blonde girl thrust her spear deep within the tarag’s ribcage. The bison-man thrust into the other side with his sword. The monster whined and died, emerald eyes glazing over.

      But now the tua readied himself for the attack.

      Its thunderous bellow quaking the arena, the stag-beast charged terrifically upon the  warriors. The three readied their weapons. In the next instant the beast was upon them. They leaped to either side. The giant elk swept its fantastic array of horns to either side. Grunth attacked first. Rather than use his sword, the ganak rammed into the side of the tua, goring the beast with his left horn. The tua bellowed in pain and fury, thrusting about its tremendous crown of antlers. The ganak warrior was not quite quick enough and the edge of the horn caught him, and swept him off his feet with a strangled scream.

     But Tarok had hunted tua before, and ducked with a panther’s savage quickness beneath the killing thrust of the antler. He then dove him thrusting his spear through the partially exposed ribcage, and into the mighty heart. Vlakra attacked the monster-elk form the other side. Its legs buckling, the giant elk fell to its knees, issuing a loud wail of death. They continued to thrust with their spear, until the tua, already severely weakened form its duel with the cave-tiger, collapsed, leaking volumes of blood into the arena sands.

   Dazed and blood-spattered, Tarok and his mate rose to their feet. Tarok’s first thought was to check on Grunth, see if the bison-man was fatally wounded. He found that he had been gored very deeply and was loosing blood fast.

     Tarok placed his hand on the bison-man’s shoulder. “You have fought well, my friend.” he said. “May the gods treat you kindly.”

       ‘You, too fought well.” said Grunth. “I hope we shall meet in the next life…”

      Two sagoth warriors approached. “On you feet, gilak.” One of them told him.

     Tarok gazed at him steely. “Your masters have cost the ganak-warrior his life.” He said.

     “The bison-man will not die.”  The guard said. “The lords have decreed his life shall be spared.”

     “He is mortally wounded.” said Tarok.

     “He is to be taken to the hospital. The Mahar physicians will see to him.”

    The Nu-al warrior, not knowing at all what the guard meant, merely shrugged. Grunth was taken away on a stretcher. He and Valkara were returned to their cell.

     Some indeterminate time later, Grunth was returned to them. He showed them his wound, which tarok noted with amazement, was almost completely healed.

     “How did they do this?” he asked. When ever a warrior of Nu-al was unfortunate to have received such an injury, he was presumed done for.

     Grunth shrugged his burly shoulder. “I do not know. I only know that the Great Lords have most extraordinary powers of healing. I must admit that they know things that you and I do not.”

      Tarok could not help himself form wonder—what if his own tribal shaman had known of such incredibale healing power—what if every sickness and injury were readily available to the men and women of his own tribe. He remembered many brave warriors who had died in battle from injuries less serious then Grunth’s. Too, he thought of the many children of Nu-al who had died of disease or mishap. What if they could harness the power of Mahar for themselves?

     “What else can they do?” he asked. “Can the Mahars even overcome death?”

       The ganak shook his horned head. “They cannot revive someone whose spirit has already fled to the Beyond. But I have heard they can heal almost any injury or sickness. They themselves do not suffer death as do the gilak and the other races, or so I am told.”

    Tarok had to admit that the prospect was overwhelming. Perhaps David Innes should not attempt to kill or exile the Mahars. There was evidently much they could learn from them.

     “Do you have any idea why the beasts suddenly attacked us?”

     “The guards told me.” said Grunth. “It was the strange weapon they have. You saw it, over the pedestal in the arena.”

     “That thing was a weapon?” Tarok asked.

    ‘Yes. It is a terrible thing of magic that can control the minds of the beasts. With such weapons they plan to conquer the world they believe lies beyond the rim of Pelluicdar.”

    Tarok understood now. The thing had to be one of the fabled super-weapons that the Mahars were producing.  It must work in manner similar to the Mahars own mental powers, only greatly amplified. Somehow the Mahars and their servant s were constructing a vast legion of those things. They had to be stopped, or else none within the realm of Pellucidar—and perhaps without as well—would remain safe.”

     “Do you know the secrets of their construction?” he asked Grunth.

    “I know nothing of how the weapons are made, only that they are being assembled by teams of trained sagoths within this very city. Listen! Here the sounds beneath this floor? It is the labor of the Mahars servants, building their weapons of doom!”

     Tarok and Valkara listened—and they heard. He had noticed the weird noises before, but had paid scant attention. They were sounds no man of the Paleolithic had ever heard. But Tarok now knew the portended something monstrous indeed.

       It was sometime later, shortly after their sleep-period, that Tarok heard the rattling of keys at their cell door. He looked up.

     The door opened. Three figures wearing heavy-furred cloaks entered.

     Right off, Tarok knew that these could not be the sagoth guards. Though their features were hidden, he could tell by their size and general build that they were not sagoths. “On your feet.” The first one said.

     Tarok was greatly relieved, for he knew the voice well.

     The warrior grinned. “Clive…?” he ventured.

    The man through back his hood, revealing the red-hair and honest visage of the surface man. The second man revealed himself to be Allistair Simmons, the aged scientist, and the third one was none other than Jal-mar, their strange furred companion.

      Tarok calpped his friend on the shoulder. But Clive silenced. “Shhh! We must try to make our escape form the city.”

    “How did you find us.”

    We camped not far form the city. Jal-mar, Alistair and I, ambushed some sagoth warriors and took their cloaks.”

    “Can you get us out?”

      “I believe so.”

    Then Tarok remembered Grunth. “If we are to leave, then this ganak will accompany us.”

      “Who is he?”

      “My name is Grunth.” said Grunth.

      “He is a fellow warrior. We fought in the arena. We are in this together, though our peoples would doubtless be enemies in circumstances other than this.”

     Clive agreed. Then he noticed the other human slaves in the cell. There were three of them, in the far corner, all male. These did not appear to be warriors, only servants. ‘We cannot abandon these men either.”

     Tarok feared escaping would be more diffult the more of them there were, but reluctantly he agreed. He simply could not abandon them to the cruel whim of the Mahar.

     Clive bade the three men approach. “We are escaping.” He said. “We wish to take you with us.

      The men looked at him wonderingly. “There is no escape from here.” said one of them. “Our lives are to serve the Great Ones.”

    Tarok grunted in disgust. “Then perhaps we should leave you at their mercy.”

   “There is a world beyond this city.” said Clive “we will bring you to freedom if you join us.”

     “If we are caught, they will kill us.”

     “Then come is you like.” Claive told him. “In any case, we are leaving.”

      The men, with some reluctance agreed to join them. Tarok remained disgusted, but allowed the three servants to accompany them. They remained behind Clive, Alistair and Jal-mar, who, hidden under their cloaks, pretended to be sagoth guards escorting the salves through the city. They encountered few guards, and other then one or two curious glances, they attracted no unfavorable attention. Tarok was unsure where Clive and the old man were leading them, but he trusted they had found the route out of the city. The corridors and passages were maze-like and bewildering.

       At last they passed out onto a narrow walkway overlooking a vast ware-house-sized room. The size of the place was staggering to the senses of the Nu-al warrior, greater even then the arena, especially since it was this far below ground.

     “Here is where they create their engines of war!” he heard Grunth hiss.

     And so it was. The vast space below them was filled with scores of the gigantic, canon-like war-machines, in various stages of construction. Everywhere sagoth servitors labored. Most all of them wore shiny, metallic-looking tunics. They worked with strange metal tools, such as Tarok and his mate had never seen. Some wore visors, and were working with what were essentially blow-torches. The entire place rang with the sounds of labored construction.

      They passed on, through a door and into another plain hall of quartz-like white stone. Tarok’s mind felt dazed and horrified by what he had witnessed. The machines were capable of terrible destructive power, each one perhaps equal to the mental powers of twenty Mahars.

     As they rounded a corner, one of the gigantic winged saurians leaped directly in front of them. The Mahar hissed shrilly at them, beating its volumous wings.
    Clive through aside his tandor-hide cloak and brandished a long-sword, obviously provided to him by the warriors of Sari.

    Another Mahar flapped down in front of them. It had entered though a vent in the ceiling designed for just that purpose.

      “Do not look into their eyes!!” Tarok warned.

      But Clive already knew of the Mahars mental powers. He leaped to the side, keeping his gaze away form the cold gaze of his foes’ reptilian orbs, forcing the winged reptile to lunge forward with its ghastly array of teeth and claws. The surface man slashed upward with his sword, slashing the creature’s breast. The pterosaur shrieked deafeningly.

    Meanwhile the other creature advanced upon Alistair, Tarok, and the others. Jal-mar dashed forward, his cloak falling away to reveal a spear clutched tightly within the Barraboo warrior’s grasp. He rushed forward with the skill and speed characteristic of his species, driving the point of his weapon deep into the Mahar’s breast.

      Clive moved in on the other wounded creature slashing the monsters scraggly throat, even as the creature slashed down upon him with its tooth-filled beak. The Mahar went done in a welter of reeking reptilian gore.

     Jal-mar continued to drive his weapon home. Unexpectedly, Grunth leapt to the attack. Though he was now weaponless, the ganak warrior attacked with his horns, slashing them from side to side in the manner of the bull bos. He gored his reptilian foe, until the creature collapsed with a weak cry.

    Jal-mar withdrew his spear, and rammed it home again, making certain the incredible vitality of the saurian was put to rest.

     He then turned to the ganak. “My thanks, friend.” he said.

     “My pleasure.” said Grunth. “But the masters have somehow been alerted to your presence. There will be more on the way.”

     As if in answer to the ganak’s prediction, a small army of sagoth guards rounded the corner.

      Clive and his companions readied their weapons.

      But the sagoths carried weapons as well—strange new weapons that resembled somewhat Clive’s pistol. Tarok had not seen their like before, and he felt his boded ill.

        “They have slain two of the Lords!” said one of the guards.

        “Look!” another cried in horror. ‘That one is Za-rah! She was our engineer of Cyrstal Technology! The filthy gilak slaves have killed her.”

      “Then we must kill them!” said a third.

      “No!” commanded the first guard. He aimed his weapon directly at Clive. “This one is the red-furred surfacelander! We are ordered to capture him and his companions unharmed.

      The sagoth fired his weapon. It did not emit a bullet, or even a laser, as Clive soon discovered. He weird sound like a super-sonic squeal invaded his brain, making him want to scream. The effect was rather like nails across a chalk board, the same unpleasantness, only magnified a thousandfold.

      Clive collapsed to the floor, his sward clattering from his grasp.

      His companions were soon similarly incapacitated.

     “What shall we do with them?” asked one of the sagoths to their captain.

      “Tu-rah commands that the red-haired one and his companions be taken to the Dead World—the Moon of Pellucidar!”
 


 

BACK TO NOVEL CONTENTS PAGE


BILL HILLMAN
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2006 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.