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Volume 1727
Jahlanna of Pellucidar
A 175,000-word novel
by
Sean Edwards Phillips


.
Part XIX



       The party of three struggled mightily upward through the blinding snow. Jarla, Zara and Jarn had by now left the desert of Thara far in their wake. A great wall of snow-clad mountains –the mountains of Ator--now stood in their path from the lands where Sari was located. There were routes around the forbidding peaks of course, but east would have taken them nearly to the shores of the Korsar Az, and amongst a vast, swamp swarming with the carnivorous reptilians of the Mesozoic, not to mention hordes blood-hungry prehistoric mosquitoes, each nearly the size of a cat.  The distance west was far greater, and it would have taken immeasurably long for two girls and a boy to circle the mountain chain. Thus, according to Zeera’s directions, they opted for what she deemed the safest passable route through the mountains themselves. 

     It was not easy going, and unfortunately, the pass Zara believed was here was located far above timber line. But tough you might think it nearly unthinkable for three young people to attempt the feat of crossing the mighty slops of the Ator range. But all three of them were birthed of warrior tribes, and were well-trained in physical prowess almost from the cradle. The Amazon maid was very strong and athletic for her youth, and taller than the others. Jarla too, was already a seasoned warrioress, as both male and female children of the O-lar were trained in the art. And Jarn had discovered the art of teasing and escaping such as tarags and ryths, early on, (much to the chagrin of his elders), and was quite skilled at climbing, far more than any youth of the modern world. 

     All three of them, in fact, were able to locate finger and toe holds that would have remained all but invisible to even the most veteran mountain climbers of the surface. Although one might not have expected it, there was plenty of game among the mountains; herds of shaggy wild goats, ibex, and chamois were in great abundance. There were also small pika-like rodents, and preying upon these were several species of alpine hawks, harriers, and other birds of prey, as well as one species of hunting pterosaur, whose body and leathern wings were clothed in silky white fur. 

        Jarn, ever the opportunist, was able to bring down one of the wild goats with his spear. It was a thickly wooled species, whose shaggy fur was decorated in gorgeous stripes of ebony and chestnut. They hauled the goat’s carcass to a ledge. There they made camp, and spared no time in flaying and butchering Jarn’s kill. They made a low fire over which they roasted a great haunch of goat meat. The wooly coat made effective cloaks for the three of them, and they sat about their makeshift fire, huddled in their furs. The juicy goat-meat, after their long and arduous ascent, tasted like heaven, better, Jarn decided than the domesticated goats raised by the Nu-al. The chill, bitter wind whipped about them on the ledge, as they huddled about the fire. Jarn gazed out at the vast distances beyond, at the spine of mountains that were the Ator as they marched up and away, and at the leagues of mighty jungle and plain that now appeared, from their vantage point as a jade and turquoise haze. He could just make out the deep ochre and red of the Tharra, and the glimmering blue to the east that was an arm of the Korsar Az. He could not see where their path would take them beyond these peaks, but the adventuresome spirit in Jarn’s breast was eager to find out. 

     They slept curled together away form the lip of the precipice, sharing one another’s body-warmth, as the wind continued to whip snowflakes about them. 

     When they awoke, they set off once again. 

     At length, they reached the pass through which Zara believed would lead them through the Ator and down the slope to the lands beyond with relative ease. It was a narrow and winding passage which snaked between the towering gray slopes to either side. The going did now indeed seem to be easier. But the cold was all the more fierce at this altitude, and before they had traversed much further, snow began to fall in earnest. Soon the kids were trudging deep in drifting snow. Fortunately, Zara, understanding the treachery of this forbidding region, and made them fashion some of the goat hide into thickly furred boots for such travel. While each of the girls were fairly skilled at this, Jarn was less proficient, having cheerfully shirked the learning of such tasks back in Nu-al, sand Zeera wound up doing most of the work for him. This embarrassed the boy a bit, having to be taught by a girl, and for the first time Jarn had some regret about not listening to his elders, at least part of the time. 

      But their improvised cloaks and boots were serving well enough as the snow continued to swirl, and the wind to tear at them, whipping their hair and the fur of their clocks. It looked as though it was growing into a blizzard. 

    “How much further?” Jarn asked. 

    “I already told you.” Zara said. 

    “We’ll have to find shelter.” Jarla said. “We’ll have to wait this out.”

      Just then, a blurred, manlike shadow dropped sideways from a shelf above, to land some distance in front of them. 

      But his vision was much obscured by the pouring snow, and it had occurred with such swiftness that Jarn was uncertain he had seen it at all. 

      “Zara…!”

     “I saw it,” the Azeer girl said. There was a steely tone in voice, which told Jarn that the warrior maid was preparing herself for possible battle. But he could also detect an undercurrent of fear, uncharacteristic of the Amazons of her tribe, evident in her voice. The girl readied her spear. The other two kids followed her lead. 

     What unknown foe were they facing? Jarn was not sure he cared to know, surrounded as they were, by sheer walls of solid rock, caught in a near-blizzard. The boy kept his eyes trained ahead, to the spot where he had seen the shadow land, though still he could not see anything save the falling snow, not even any movement, and for a second he believed he must have been mistaken. 

    Another such shape fell—or leapt—into the canyon from the opposite wall. It landed somewhere to there side. Then another and other. The gray man-like forms were now pouring into the ravine from both sides. Jarn and the two warrior-maids formed a circle, facing outward at their foes, nettle formation. 

      Shambling horrors now surrounded them, and they gasped in unison. The things were manlike in form, but unlike any beast or race Jarn had ever seen, much less heard of. Their sinewy, ape-like arms reached below their bent knees, and terminated in large grasping hands tipped with black talon-like claws. They had powerful torsos and broad shoulders. Thick mans of long silky hair framed their small, bestial faces, which were small apish, flat-nosed visages, with wide gashes for mouths, from which short, tusklike fangs protruded form the lower lip. Their entire bodies were clothed in short but thick furr, the same snowy sheen as that of their wild manes. Long, tails each tipped with a bristly tuft, lashed behind them. Small, feral eyes of a deadish, pallid blue gazed at them with bestial malice. 

      “It is the sharkas! The wild-men of the Ator!” cried the Amazon girl. “Fight—or we are lost.”

     Jarn and his companions leveled their spears as the horde of slavering feral creatures began to close about them. The Nu-al boy had never seen or heard of such beasts. They were not sagoths, that known enemy of his people, though their appearance was somewhat apish, and they seemed somehow more similar to true men than to the ape. Perhaps they were humans who had reverted to a state of savage bestiality from living among the windswept slopes. But whatever their origins, the sharkas, as Zara had so named them, were clearly a hostile race, and intent upon either killing or capturing them. 

      Manlike thought they were the pack of feral men circled the three kids, in the manner of a starving wolf-pack, looking for any weakness or opening, through which they might launch their attack. A low growl escaped the throats of some, again more in the manner of the savage codon then any human or humanoid. 

    Then, the growl in his barrel chest, building into a wild scream that drowned the alpine wind, the first among the pack attacked. 
   He sped straight toward Jarn, perhaps sensing that he was the youngest. But the boy reacted with skill and veteran quickness, ducking beneath the creature’s talons as they raking the chill air above his head, and jabbing up with his spear. He impaled the creature on his spear. The man-beast screamed horrendously, the sound more chilling to the boy’s ears then the frigid wind. Jarn rolled aside, then regained his feet quick as a cat, as he pulled the blood-soaked spear free. 

    The other sharkas were upon them now. They charged upon the three in a whirlwind of slashing talons. The boy and the warrior girls thrust and with their spears killing any that came too close. 

    For a second the howling horde drew back, intimidated by the sudden deaths of their fellows. But it was obvious that they were hopelessly outnumbered. Soon the pack of feral men would drag them down. The normally optimistic Jarn felt his brave heart sinking; would this really be the end for them? Even if it was so he determined to make his slayers remember him well into the afterlife. A low, determined growl escaped the throat of the savage boy as he prepared to meet his would-be slayers as they closed in. 

     Once again, a bolder member of the sharka pack charged, uttering a hideous, inhuman scream. But in that selfsame instant there was a loud report, like thunder, that resounded off the high windswept walls of the ravine. Thunder was impossible here, Jarn thought. But in the same instant, the man-beast fell over dead in his tracks. The other pack members, rather then rush in upon them, howling, fell back once. A few stray whines escaped form their throats. 

     And through the cascading curtain of flakes in the dim passage ahead, Jarn saw another upright form, this one not hunched in the manner of their attackers but erect in the manner of a human. A voice called to them over the howl of the wind and confused jabbering of the sharkas. “Over here! Run—if you wish to live!” 

     Jarn and the others realized that they could not have imagined that voice—it clearly belonged to a man. The figure held one arm aloft, and bore a faint light—a torch of some kind? They all raced in the direction of the figure through the slogging snow, seeing that under the circumstances they had little choice. 

       The sharkas howled, now gathering their collective courage once again, and poured after them in pursuit. 

     There was another loud report, and another of the beast men went down. 

      “Run!!” cried Jarn.

      They ran and ran, though the shadowy figure before them now seemed to have disappeared. Jarn began to wonder if he’d imagined it. Snow swiveled and got in his eyes. The man-beasts behind them gave vent to a ghastly howl in unison. It chilled Jarn to the bone, sounding as much like the baying of wolves as the chorus of simian half-men. Some of the beasts, growing emboldened, began to take up the chase once again. The rest of the pack began to follow. 

     The girls and boy ran and ran, slogging through the snow, which now was growing nearly to their knees. 

     Then Zara suddenly stopped and starred. Though they had no idea why, Jarla and Jarn did also, wondering what she could possibly have sighted. 

   Then they saw through the swirling curtain of flakes, a vast black aperature in the cliff wall. And in that blackness Jarn saw twin splotches of greenish incandescence that could only be the eyes of some huge predator. 

    The kids stepped back. Zara readied her spear. 

     And out of the black rift and into the dim light and whirling flakes, there emergd a nightmare vision. 

     Never before had Jarn beheld such a beast as now greeted his vision. But he had heard of beasts like this. They were the great white ryth of the mountain country, beasts twice the bulk of their lowland counterparts. The beast the now emerged was roughly the size of a bull mastodon, or appeared so to the startled eyes of the young cave boy. To Jarn the monster that now filled his gaze seemed unreal almost dreamlike, some impossible colossus born of the flying snow and his own wild imagination. 

     But when the ryth roared thunderously, his mighty volume shaking the very walls of the chasm, he knew this was all too real. 

    Their feeble spears would be as toothpicks against such a living mountain of shaggy muscle. Even a full party of armed warriors would have meager chance of bringing such a titan down without sacrificing half their number. 

     “Run!” screamed Zara. She flung herself to open side. The other two followed her lead. They ran on. Jarn looked back, expecting to see the ursine behemoth surge after them in pursuit. 

      But it seemed its attention was fixed upon something else. Jarn ran on, keeping pace with his female companions as best he could. And then he discovered the answer. 

    The sounds of frenzied combat sounded behind them, overridden by the quaking roars of the mountain ryth. 

      Jarn and the others looked back—then stopped. 

     Through the pouring curtain of snow, they saw the pack of sharkas attacking in the massive snow bear. The howling ape-things hurtled themselves at the towering white colossus. Screaming, the quasi-humans continued to attack raking the behemoth with their slashing talons. The roaring ryth charged among the horde. Jarn watched in a savage mixture of awe and satisfaction, as the ryth batted and slew with the blows of his gigantic, sledgehammer paws. The sharkas continued to swarm over him in berserk rage, gibbering their fridgid, inhuman cries of battle. Quas-humans were sent flying bloody, and disembowel, as the giant cave bear slew…and slew.. and slew.. and slew. 

       “Over here!!”

      They heard the voice, and all looked. The figure was there once again, holding up the pale wan light. The kids, not knowing what else to do, followed. This time they did not lose sight of their benefactor. 

     At length they came to another great gaping aperture in the side of the cliff. Fearing it was the lair of another great beast, Zara stopped momentarily. But their benefactor seemed to have disappeared into the dark in front of them. Warily they followed.

      The descended down a slope into what had to be a vast, deep cavern. When they reached the cavern, the man turned and faced them. They all gasped. 

     He seemed an elderly man, with a white beard, and a craggy face yet he seemed to be fairly powerfully built, doubtless the effects of living in these hostile environs. He was dressed in a patchwork of animal skins, comprised of the skins of various mountain goats, and the fur of the great white mountain ryth itself. The light source that he carried was no torch, as Jarn had first supposed, but a hanging square box, which held within a dancing yellow flame. Of course, none of them had ever seen a lantern before, but this was what it was, without a doubt. Looking closer at the man’s face, Jarn decided that perhaps he was not as old as he had seemed, but had grown hard and wild from living in this windswept place. 

      The cavern, they now saw, was littered with heaps of animal furs, and another fire stood at its center, the dancing orange flames throwing up their tongues fantastically, casting ghastly patterns onto the high, craggy walls. There were other objects about, doubtless the old man’s possessions, but jarn was unable to identify any of them. 

     “What are you doing here?” the man asked of them. 

     “We are travelers,” Zara said, “seeking to cross the Ator.”

     “”Seeking to cross the Ator? Three youngsters such as yourselves? Perhaps you are fugitives, running from your tribes.”

       Jarn was uncertain if he should tell the truth, but he did anyway. “We are searching for a country called Sari. It’s supposed to lie somewhere beyond these mountains. Do you know where it is?”

     This seemed to produce a reaction in the old man. “Sari, eh? The Land of the Empire. What business do you have there?”

    The two girls remained silent, but Jarn said, “My name is Jarn of Nu-al. I have friends there. They set out for that country and I was seeking to join them.”

      “Humph! You look a bit young to be traveling from Nu-al to Sari by yourself! Not that I suspect any seasoned warriors would risk taking you along with them on such a vast journey. I think you’d better tell me what you and two young women barely older then yourself are doing out here nearly getting yourselves devoured by sharkas.”

     Jarn was about to reply, but the man waved his hand. “I expect it’s quite the story. Come sit by the fire, and have some meat. Then I’ll listen.”

      The youngsters settled themselves on some cube shaped objects of wood, which were arranged about the fire evidently for this very purpose. 

     The man himself sat down on one of them opposite the fire. He gazed at the kids warily with his rheumy blue eyes. The kids shivered and stamped their feet. Outside the cave, out in the vast world, the wind howled mightily. The man had seen to it that his dwelling was man and secure form the frightful elements. 

      Jarn and his friends stamped their feet, and rubbed their hands together to rid themselves of the chill. 

     Over the fire, they now saw, was a roasting torso of ibex. The man stirred the coals. Then he said, “I brought down this beast myself. I believe it’s cooked about enough.” He doused the fire, then carved slabs of meat from the roasted carcass. These he served to his three young visitors. One slab he saved for himself. After this, he started up the fire again, until once more the flames were leaping merrily. The kids felt the warmth seeping gratefully until their chilled bones. The manner in which the man did this, though, was most curious to Jarn. He did not bother rubbing two stones together, as the boy expected him to do. Instead he held out a small, flat rectangular box, and merely flicked his thumb. The top of the box flipped open and, to Jarn’s amazement, a small flame appeared. 

      It made sense now. The man had to be a Shaman—and a very powerful one, more so than Zug, the shaman of Nu-al, Jarn decided. That must be how he made the light he carried with him as well. Why else would a man be living out here in the mountains by himself, in less he were a working of powerful magic? Doubtless he had powerful allies with whatever spirits haunted these soaring peaks. 

      “Tell me,” the man said. “Like I said, I’m dying to hear your tale.”

     Jarn elected to be the teller of the tale, and for once he decided to tell the flat-out truth. Jarla, and then Zara put in the details where necessary. The oldish man listened to them patiently, not seeming incredulous. 

      Finally the man said, “That is quite a tale, though I’m certain I believe quite all of it. It is clear that your elders”—and here he indicated Jarn and Jarla—“do not approve of your being together. But it’s not my business. After all, I don’t doubt they reacted too harshly. You two seem meant for each other, even if you made up that part about a jealous suitor. I’ll let you stay with me until the storm abates. Then, I’ll give you enough supplies to see you on your way. You’re very lucky I found you in time by the way. The sharkas are cannibals.”

      “So I have heard.” said Zara. “I have never seen one of them myself, but my people tell tales of the ghastly half-men that lurk among these peaks.”

    “They mostly kill goats and wild sheep,” the man said “but they relish the flesh of any human and humanoid who ventures into these mountains. I’ve had more than one nasty brush with the blighters myself.”

    “I have heard they are descended form men who ventured into the Ator and became lost and without food, and so fell upon themselves and ate one another’s carcasses.” said Zara. “Then the gods cursed them to dwell forever in this land, always preying on whatever travel strays among their midst.”

    “How did you mange to kill them?” Jarla

    “Yes.” said Jarn. “We heard a loud noise, before we saw you. And one of them fell.”

    Zara laughed. “Jarn is a foolish boy. Only such as he would think a noise could kill. Whatever killed the sharka, it was not that.”

     “The noise did not kill.” agreed the old man. “This did.” He held up a strange object of some black shiny substance. Jarn gazed at it. He had seen its like before, although the others had not. It was similar to the small thing the red-haired outlander, Clive Neville had carried, which the warriors and he claimed was a type of weapon. Clive, in a friendly gesture, had once even allowed him to hold it, informing him that “the safety was on,” but to be careful. The boy remembered well turning the weird object over in his hand. Clive had even explained a little of how it supposedly worked. But he had not demonstrated its power, had said that its power was limited or something like that, and he couldn’t waste a valuable round on his curiosity. It left the boy a bit skeptical, but some of the warriors claimed to have seen its use, that Clive did not need to be near the thing he wished to kill in order to kill it. 

      It must indeed work, Jarn decided. Surely that was what had killed the sharkas. How did this man manage to get a hold of such a weapon? It must be a weapon of magic, since he was obviously some kind of shaman. More than that,. Jarn couldn’t guess, only a shaman such as this one surely knew the secret of the weapon’s creation, and this man or another like him must have given the weapon to Clive Neville, liberator of Jarn’s people. That at least, made Jarn feel as though they could indeed trust this man. 

        “It is weapon that is capable of killing from afar.” The man said, confirming Jarn’s beliefs.

       “By the way,” said Jarn, “Just you are you, and why did you save us from the sharkas? You never told us. What are you doing up here in the Ators?” 

       The man looked at him hardly. “I saved you because you were in danger. I would have done the same for any traveler, so long as they did not pose a threat to me. As for my name, it is Lieutenant John Preston of the U. S. Air force. I realize that name may sound strange to you. I flew my plane over the North Pole, but I noticed the land starting to curve inward. In following that curve, I ended up here, in this land of eternal sunlight and endless horizons. I grew amazed as my compass became useless, and the barren icy wastes gave way to vast tundra and steppe, then coniferous forest which merged into vast subtropical jungles, great plains, rivers and seas. My plane was flying over these mountains when it happened; I was planning on circling about and returning to my own world on the surface of the planet. But my plane collided with one of those gigantic flying reptiles, long extinct in my own world, called the pterodactyl.”

      “Pterodactyl?” Jarn asked, the unfamiliar Latin term sounding strange upon his tongue. 

     “Your people call them the thipdar.”

     Jarn nodded, unconvinced by the man’s story. 

     “Anyway, it collided with my plane, perhaps mistaking it for a rival thipdar invading its territory. My plane was destroyed, but I parachuted out and sailed into these mountains. I have lived here ever since, feeding on wild goats, and trying to repair my plane. I have made expeditions to the land below of course. I have made some contact with the local tribes. Most of them were less then friendly, though, and I remained up here, trying to repair my plane, so I can return to my world on the surface, and bring with me knowledge of the land of Pellucidar.”

     Jarn understood very little of what the man had said. Some of the words—plane, parachute, compass—were totally unfamiliar to him. He spoke the common tongue, though with an accent that was distinctly different. It was somewhat similar to that of Clive Neville, but somehow not quite. Anyway, it was obvious that the man was mad, even if he was a powerful shaman. Either that or he was the most outrageous liar he had ever come across. Much more so than himself, and that actually made Jarn feel a twinge of envy. 

     But choosing to ignore the man’s outrageous tale, Jarn said. “I almost forgot. Thank you for saving us.” He had smirked through much of the man’s story, but as far as Jarn was concerned anyone who had gone out of his way to save them was a friend. 

    The man smiled and waved his hand as though he’d never expected them to believe his outrageous tale in the first place. “Think nothing of it. For now, I suggest you all three get some needed rest. It appears you have a long journey ahead of you.”

        While the wind continued to howl outside the cavern, all of them curled up around the fire in the thick furs and slept soundly. 

     When they next awoke, Preston, as Jarn now mentally dubbed the man (he had trouble pronouncing his full name) loaded them with supplies. These included satchels full of dried strips goat and ibex meat, and skins of chill mountain water, as well as a crude map Preston had drawn for them with charcoal upon a piece of tanned chamois-leather. This showed that the pass led down to mountain valley within the cradle of the Ator range, and another pass would lead them down and out of the mountains themselves Preston accompanied them with his pistol (for this, of course, was what his strange weapon was) through the remainder of their trek through the narrow mountain pass. The went down and downward until at last they reached a valley circling a huge mountain lake, frozen solid. 

      The heavy cloud cover had dispersed by now. The eternal sun now shone brightly on the icy snowfields. 

      “Do you think you can journey the rest of the way by yourselves?” Preston asked. 

     “I am sure,” said Jarn. 

    “Good.” the man said. “You certainly seem to have the warrior in you.” He fondly ruffled the boy’s thick black locks, then bid them farewell. 

     The three then set out over the vast frozen lake. It was very large, it turned out, and though the ice was thick enough for them to cross, it seemed to take forever. The cold snow, the chill and the majestic snowy crags soaring above—it was a land unfamiliar to most Pelluicdarans, and a new experience to the three teens who were used to perpetual warmth of the noonday sun. 

     They had reached about the half-point across the frozen lake when the land began to grow dim. Once more heavy clouds began to mass overhead. A few flakes fell from the sky. But there was little wind, and there was no sign that blizzard would develop. 

    Then, somewhere far to their backs, in the direction of the pass they had recently quitted, a marrow-chilling ululation came to their ears. 

     All of them knew well the sound for what it was; the hunting howl of the mighty codon. They are gigantic wolves, the ancient Pleistocene progenitors of the modern timber wolf. Each one is fully the size of a Shetland pony, and packs of them are able to overwhelm even the mighty tandor. 

     The howl was still far behind them, but it caused goosebumps to rise on the forearms of the three young people, and all of them quickened their pace at the ghastly sound. 

     The land had grown ominously darker when that mournful cry echoed once more across the frozen reaches. Was the sound now closer this time, Jarn wondered, or had he just imagined it? 

     “Hurry.” He said to the two girls. 

    “We hardly need you to tell us that,” Zara said. 

    All three of them increased their speed. Incredible, the far shore of the lake still seemed dreadfully distant. And after, a narrow pass, which could very well serve as a deathtrap. Jarn prayed silently to the gods of his people that it wasn’t them the codons were hunting. 

    His prayer proved to be in vain, however. Soon answering howls were heard, louder now, and more strident. The codon had picked up their scent, and was now in pursuit. 

   The kids ran on, still vastly far ahead. 

    But the pack as coming. The shore was now fairly close. But already the yelps of the pack could be heard. Jarn glanced back. He could actually see them now, distant gray shapes gliding over the ice fields in their direction. 

    Jarn cursed their luck. If only Preston was still with them he could be capable of slaying a great many of the predators from afar. As such they were armed only with their spears and knives. How long could they hold out. 

         There was a sharp growl behind them. Jarla whirled her head back—and screamed. 

        The pack as coming—fully a dozen mighty codons loped toward them across the ice. They were immense gray furred beasts, ears flat back on their heads, muzzles snarling with mad hunger. Their leader was a huge white animal, a magnificent creature even larger then his underlings. 

   Jarn imagined them being slain, the ravenous wolf-pack tearing and fighting over their slain carcasses. 

      “Now we fight!” cried Zara. The Amazon girl whirled around to bravely face the death-charge of the codons. Her tress blew magnificently, a and her cloak flapped in the wind.

   “I’m with you!” hissed Jarla, as she readied her spear. 

   Jarn nodded grimly to them both, his male prejudice he had learned in Nu-al put aside They were warriors all three, though two of them happened to be young women. 

      They grimly faced the charge of the codon. 

      And then they noticed something totally unexpected. 

    There was a snap, as though the ice was breaking. Jarn looked down a crack in the glassy surface had appeared beneath his booted foot. 

      Jarn wondered—had the reached a spot where the frozen water had grown too thin, as Preston had warned? No—it was something else. 

    The girls glanced around too at the cracks—and saw an enormous gliding shape beneath the surface. It was vast, some huge underwater creature. Jarn rembered that there was actual water beneath the frozen surface—but manner of monster could possibly thrive here? But he had run into plenty of other surprises during his adventures thus far. 

       “Get back!” cried Zara. 

      All of them did backing away form the ominous gliding shadow. 

    And not a moment too soon! 

    For ice burst in all directions, as a gigantic head exploded through the surface of the frozen lake. The kids fell onto their bellies, the girls screaming, as shavings of rent ice showered over them. 

   Jarn looked up to see a head of nightmare rear up from the rent in the ice. It looked composed entirely of gaping, tooth-lined jaws after the manner of a crocodile or mosasaur, but it was neither of these. The hide of the thing was smooth, rubbery, like that of sea-lion or whale. It was alabaster-white in colorations the same as the small beluga whales of the polar ocean on the surface. Though none of the youngsters had ever seen one of the mighty Az-taraps of Pellucidar’s oceans, this was what the thing resembled—was virtually identical with one, in fact, save for its striking lack of color. For the beast, from its description, was none other than a zueglodon, a primitive carnivorous whale of the bygone Eocene, that had somehow become adapted to life in a frozen mountain lake. 

    And it had come bursting upon its prey the same second the codon pack closed in for the kill. 

    The hunters of the land closed with the mighty lake dweller. The results were catastrophic. The pack fell back from the az-tarap’s onslaught, whining and yelping. 

    The az-tarap slashed forward, causing the thick ice to split massively; the creature heaved its entire fore quarters out of the lake now. It thrashed about gigantically snapping its jaws at the snarling wolf pack. One great codon it seized in its tremendous jaws, the great cetacean shook the massive dire wolf as a hound would a hare, then gulped down its kill. The rest of the pack emboldened by the pangs of hunger, attacked the great fresh-water whale. Indeed the monster would have been a bonanza could they somehow manage to slay it. But in doing so, they only provided the prehistoric whale with more meat to satisfy its own bottomless appetite. It body after the head, as the awe-struck youngsters could now see, was clothed in a coat of thick, glossy-white fur. The thick, insulating coat, as well as the cetaceans rubber hide, a and thick layer of fat, proved too dense a barrier of the talons of the codon. The mighty whale seized one attacker after another in its massive-toothed jaws, crushing them, gulping them down. 

    Soon the ice was stained scarlet with gore, and littered with the bodies of dead and dying codons, which the whale-monster finished off with lightening snaps. At last, its massive hunger satisfied, the great cetacean slipped once more from sight beneath the frigid surface to glide peaceably back to his freezing haunts. 

    The few members of the codon pack, injured and confused, dispersed back across the ice. 

    Tremblingly, Zara, Jarla and Jarn got to their feet. None of them spoke for several seconds, before they managed to gather their wits and continue their journey. 

     They reached the other pass, and continued down and out of the mountains of Ator, back into the friendly lands green with forest and plain—and toward Sari. 
 
 

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