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
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
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.
“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
But when the ryth roared thunderously, his
mighty volume shaking the very walls of the chasm, he knew this was all
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
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.
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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
There was a snap, as though the ice was breaking.
Jarn looked down a crack in the glassy surface had appeared beneath his
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.