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Volume 1587
Torakar Thor of Mars
Den Valdron
An Extraordinary Adventure on John Carter's Mars 
A 100,000-Word Novel Serialized in 53 Chapters 
Part VII: Chapters 25-28


PART VII: Chapters 25-28


 I sat back against a rock, watching a speck far up in the air.   I could not quite fathom it.  It could only be a flyer, I decided.   A small one, perhaps a one or two man flyer?  And very high up?   It had to be very high to merely be a speck.   Yet somehow, it moved much slower than I thought a flyer should.

 Something even larger then?  A frigate or a cruiser, up so vastly high that its very shape was but a speck?   At that height, something of that sort would indeed appear to be moving slowly.

 Then there was the way it was moving.  There was something wrong about its course, its peculiar slow curving paths through the sky.  I could not put my finger on it.  I grunted.   Azara was putting her kit back together.  Had she seen it?   She gave no sign.  I thought about mentioning it, but decided not too.

 We had barely spoken in the days since our awful conversation.   Our words had been relegated to strict functionalism.  At night, when we held each other, it was merely for warmth.   There were moments when I caught her staring at me, her eyes wide, her lip trembling.  But always she turned away.

 And myself.  There were moments when I longed to take her in my arms and kiss her, to tell her that neither past nor future mattered, that we could live together always in an endless present.   But I did not.  I was afflicted by a strange paralysis that seized me when I would have reached out for her.

 So, we traveled together, steadily walking, allowing the haads to pile up.   We consolidated our supplies, reducing them to one sled, and taking turns pulling that sled.  We were polite, we shared the burden and we did not afflict one another.   But the silence was overpowering.

 I cleared my throat.   She looked at me.

 “We walk a dry river bed,” I said, “see the wide banks?”

 I pointed.   Whatever nameless river this had been, it had been a mighty one.  Its banks were hundreds of yards apart, flat and level.


 “The Orovars,” I told her, “often built their cities and towns along the rivers.   I think I know this area.   Three days to Karnhor, perhaps.”

 She considered that.

 “All right.”

 She continued to drag the sled along.   I thought about offering to take over.  Or perhaps it would be easier if we both drew it, the two of us in harness together.   She wouldn’t look at me.  I did not speak.

 As night fell, we came to our first ruins.   It was the fossilized remains of an ancient dock.  Behind it a handful of withered stone buildings stood.   I stared, the town, if that’s what it was, was set high up, there were steep rock walls to the banks here.  Had this river been a flood plain?  I thought I could pick out the remains of sloping walls.   Dikes?   Around the edges of the steep banks, moisture still persisted, trapped by occasional winds, and vegetation grew.   There would be animals, perhaps.  Maybe small game.

 Perhaps other things...

 “Wait,” I told her, and went to examine the ruins.   She threw off her harness and sat down.   I winced at her lack of craft.   I would have preferred she seek the little cover that there was.  Caught in the open, if there was anything out there, she could only run, and often that was not enough.

 I scrambled up the sheer stone face of the bank to the ruins of the town.   Moving quietly, I examined the open streets, I ducked into one building after another.   There was no spoor of anything dangerous, like a Banth or White Ape.  I found no traces, no footprints, no claw marks.  In one building, I found a small den, not a Banth, perhaps a lone Calot, but it was very old.   A Calot had made this his home, hunted it out of game, and eventually moved on.   I relaxed, this place was safe.

 In one of the buildings, I killed a large Darseen.   Picking up the creature in one hand, I mounted the old dike and waved.   She was still there, sitting by her sled and waiting.  In response, she stood and waved and began to drag her sled.   I could see the weariness with which she moved and bit my lip.  I should have taken over for her.

 That evening, we camped out under the ruins of the dock.  In the fading light, I showed her how to find and distinguish edible tubers.  Perhaps not the best eating, but it would stretch our supplies.   I showed her different kinds of plants, and she repeated their names.   Then I showed her how to skin and clean the Darseen. 

 Our conversation was utilitarian, but somehow it cheered me.  We had exchanged more words today than we had in several evenings.   When we cuddled together for warmth in the night, it seemed to me that there was something more.   When I finally went to sleep, it was with an irrational sense of hope, that despite our barriers and secrets, that there might be something.


 I snapped bolt awake, instinctively reaching for the Ossa sword.   For a second, I couldn’t see in the darkness.   Something put a rough hand upon me.  Instinctively, I stabbed it, and the second I was released, rolled away from it.   I bounced to my feet, my sword swinging and grunted as its blade tasted flesh.

 “TORA!!” came the terrified shriek again, Azara’s voice.   I tried to focus on the sound.  Only a few feet away, but elevated. 

 I faded back towards the petrified pillars of the dock, trying to see the silhouettes of our assailants by the stars their bodies blocked.   To my left, stars winked out, a shape was moving against me.  I slashed in that direction and was gratified when it seemed to leap backwards.

 My eyes were adjusting rapidly, but I did not need to see to know what I faced.  The bulky silhouettes against the stars, the smell of them, the sounds of their voices as they cried out in pain.

 We were being attacked by White Apes.

 “Azara,” I called out, “do not struggle, or they will tear you to pieces.  Go limp, as if dead.”

 I could make out bulky shapes now.   I tried to do a quick count, retreating further within the pillars.   Make them come after me, I thought.
 But no, that was a cursed strategy, it would not help Azara.

 An ape appeared before me, flanking me.  Unexpectedly, I leaped upon him, slipping up inside the reach of his arms and planting a dagger between his ribs.   One gone.   One wounded?  Perhaps two?  How many of them were there?

 Several.  At least four, maybe twice that.

 That made no sense, I thought desperately.   One, perhaps two apes might prosper in a place this small.  But not a small tribe.   And I’d found no trace of any apes when I’d gone through the town.  Where had they come from?   A wandering tribe perhaps?

 “Go away,” I bellowed at them.  “Away, away!”

 I heard nothing but soft grunting as they move in on me.   Where was Azara?  Was she alive?   Yes, I could hear her frightened breathing.  She sounded muffled.

 “My place,” I barked.   “This is my place, go away.  She is mine, let her go.  I will not share.”

 I backed to a pillar, trying to cover myself.  I could see them trying to flank around me.  I could see no way out.   One ape, I might handily defeat.  Two, perhaps.  Three if I was lucky and had surprise.  But I had no luck and no surprise.

 “I kill,” I snarled.

 Something weighted and clinging slapped around my body.  It tightened, pulling me off balance.  A net!   I thrust my sword through the net.

 “Stay away,” I called.  “I kill.”

 “Stop that horrid caterwauling,” a voice spoke above me.   For whole seconds, I was paralyzed with shock.   I knew that gravelly rasping voice, knew the sort of throat that produced it, I had seen the lips make those words.   A Great White Ape had spoken to me in the language of humans.

 “Who?” I grunted out instinctively.

 Then a club descended and I knew no more.


  Swirling nausea woke me.   My head pounded horribly and my mouth tasted of vomit.  I tried to swallow, but that just made the nausea worse.   Trying to focus my eyes, I had a sense of the ground, dimly lit by starlight, hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet below.  I was trapped in a net.

 Hazorns?   Had our escape been a hallucination?  No, I decided.  This didn’t feel like the haphazard and handmade Hazorn net, it was too regular.   I was strapped to something, something large and alive, I could feel the steady flex and pull of its muscles.   A flying creature?

 I could barely move, a few wriggles told me I was bound hand and foot, my weapons were nowhere to be found.   From the corner of my eye, I saw other shapes blotting out the stars.  More flying creatures?

 “Azara,” I yelled.  My voice cracked halfway through.   I swallowed and coughed and tried again.   “Azara!”

 For a second, there was no response.  Then, ever so faintly, a sound came through the thin air.


 “Quiet!” a rasping inhuman voice said, it seemed to be directly above me.  “Make any more noise and I’ll loose the net and you can fall to your death.”

 I shut up.

 Azara was still alive, which was something I could take comfort in.   On the other hand, we were in the custody of strange Great White Apes which spoke human language and rode giant flying birds.  I’d heard of such creatures, Gawrs in the swamps of Xancibar, some said a related species, Malagawrs persisted in the Toonolian Marshes.   Apparently, these creatures clung to swamplands.

 But I wasn’t seeing any sign of Marshes, my glimpses of the ground far below suggested that we were flying back towards the great desert, or perhaps clinging to the dry scrublands around the desert.  From my position, it was difficult to get a heading, but from my glimpses of the stars, I thought we were heading east.

 There wasn’t much to do but wait.  The creature flew through the air, the beast atop it grunted occasionally.  Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of other members of the flock, but I could not tell which one had Azara.

 I checked myself as best I could.  My harness was intact, but my sword was missing, as were my knife and gear.   Working against the restriction of the net, I was able to get enough room to find that a hidden blade concealed in my harness was still there.

 So this was my situation, bound and wrapped in a net, strapped to a flying creature, thousands of feet up in the air, with nothing for resources but a few straps of leather and a toy knife?   Ah well, I was sure I had been in worse predicaments, though right at the moment, I couldn’t think of any. 

 “Water,” I croaked loudly.

 “What?” the guttural voice came.

 “Water,” I said again.

 “We’re flying on a Malagawr, and you’d like to take a drink?” my unseen kidnapper said.  I could not make him out.   He was riding on the creatures back, I decided, while I was strapped to its belly.

 “I need water,” I croaked.

 “Well,” he said, “we’ll just have to put down so you can have a drink.”   He laughed, a strange sound indeed.   No White Ape had ever made a laugh like that.   “You’ll wait till we reach our destination.”

 So this told me something, I decided.   I was willing to guess that he had water on him, but was unwilling to pass it down...  Or unable?   Perhaps his hold or his control over the creature was more precarious than he would like?   What would happen if I were to take my hidden knife and slip it into the flesh of this flying creature?

 Would it go wild, rush about and fling off its rider?   Or would it be forced to the ground or closer to the ground, where I could cut my way free and escape?   Or perhaps it might plummet to our mutual deaths?

 That didn’t seem appealing.   But still, I might have chanced it, but for the fact that another bird had Azara, and I was unwilling to abandon her.

 No, there was nothing for it but to wait things out.  Presumably, they would reach this destination, we would be on the ground, and perhaps the situation would offer more possibilities.  Or perhaps not.   But I would have to take my chances.

 So, I simply laid passively in the net, trying to work the taste of my own vomit from my mouth.   A few times, I tried to engage my captor in conversation, but he offered only monosyllabic grunts.

 I have flown many times, but I will confess, I had never flown in such a manner.  The night air was cold and my flesh chilled where it was exposed, but the creature was warm to my back.  The nets and bindings bit into my flesh, and the constant flex of its wings pounded constantly.   We flew through the night, and I confess that I was thoroughly exhausted when we finally landed in the mornings light.

 Indeed, I hardly knew we had landed at all.   The White Ape dismounted from his creature, and as I struggled to regain my faculties, he loosed the net, spilling me on the ground.  I rolled slowly, trying to pull myself up onto hands and knees.  But a massive foot shoved me, sending me rolling again.  I laid on my back, trying to work sensation into my limbs, shaking me like a leaf.

 There were White Apes all around me, dressed in red man style harnesses, carrying green man weapons.   They were laughing, a peculiar human sound not suited to their throats.

 “So this is the She-Banth that put up such a fight?” one grunted.

 “Not so tough now,” another said, “look at her.”

 “Leave me alone,” I grunted.   “What sort of true people are you that you torture children?”

 “She’s making those noises again,” one observed in human speech.

 “Give me a sword,” I slurred in the red man language, “and I’ll show you how tough I am.”

 I was weak enough, it was true.   But I’d slurred and coarsened my voice, feigning more weakness than I actually had, in hopes of tricking them.   They merely laughed.   Deep down, I seethed.

 Just wait, I thought.   Just wait, whatever it was you creatures were, I’ll show you all.   What were these creatures anyway?   They looked like Great White Apes, but they acted like men.   They seemed to speak only in human tongues, though their throats were unsuited for such speech.

 In a moment of sudden insight, I realized that these must be the creatures that Haja Obol had thought he was greeting when he had walked into the jaws of true Apes.   I laughed out loud at this thought.  I should have realized it sooner, but what with one thing or another, I’d been distracted.  Oh what an excellent joke on Haja Obol, it was too bad that he did not live to appreciate it.

 “Stop laughing,” one snarled.  “We laugh!  You are the joke!”

 One of the creatures kicked me, and I doubled over, the wind torn from my chest.

 There was a feminine cry, and suddenly, as their laughter redoubled, warm arms encircled me.   It was Azara.

 “Oh my darling,” she cried out.   “My poor darling.”

 Again, I noted that she seemed unaffected by the ordeal of our flight through the night. 

 “It looks like we will be meeting Him,” I said.   I could see no explanation for our situation but that the mysterious suitor who pursued Azara was behind it all.   Whatever sort of man that had maintained that strange tower might well enlist talking Apes and flying birds in his service.

 “Don’t speak of it,” she pleaded.   “Do not give them more cause to mock you.  Save your strength.”
 But I had my strength.  Not enough yet, but freed from the netting and the savage contrasts in temperature, without the birds constant buffeting, I could feel strength returning to my limbs.   Not enough, of course.  I was hardly myself, not yet.  And even if I was, there was no chance of fighting my way through a dozen creatures who resembled White Apes.   But my wits, they were fully back.

 I glanced around, pretending bleariness, faking weakness, while counting their numbers and gauging weapons. 

 There were a dozen near us.   Seven of them surrounded us, while the rest tended to the giant birds, Gawrs or Malagawrs, or whatever they were called.   I counted fifteen birds.   Were these the mounts of creatures who had been killled, or spares.  Watching them, their resemblance to White Apes was merely physical.   They did not move like Apes at all, most moved like Red Men, though two seemed to have the rolling gaits of Green Men.  That in itself was peculiar to me, since I could tell that their muscles were not well suited to the way they moved.  I breathed deeply, tasting their scent, like White Apes but not quite.   As I noted, they wore harnesses, but most wore them in the manner of the Red Men.   Their weapons were strange, an exotic mix of designs, with types of pistols and rifles I had never seen before.   Among themselves, their manner was the uneasy mixture of military discipline and casual thuggishness I had always come to associate with common criminals who inhabited the bottom of the panthan trade.

 We were in a small arena, a structure common in many of the better preserved dead cities.  This wasn’t quite dead though, I marked many areas where repairs had been made, doors and shutters replaced, even new structures added.   Around the edge of the arena, makeshift tent stables had been added, and I could glimpse dozens upon dozens of giant birds, their heads hooded.  They were tended to by these false white apes, as well as by green and red men and strange lizardlike creatures with human proportions..

 Abruptly, Azara and I were pulled apart.   One of the false apes grabbed me by the hair, lifting me into the air so my feet dangled.

 “Come,” the creature said, “the Emperor of All Barsoom awaits.”


 We were marched and dragged out of the Arena through the dead city, which was far from dead.

 There were dozens upon dozens of inhabitants, this place sheltered the numbers of a small army.  But what an army.  There were many more of the ape-like creatures.  But there were also green men and red men, orovars and therns, okars and first born.   We passed a cage filled with true white apes, their bellows and threats assuring me that these beasts were genuine.   The lizard-like men slithered everywhere, with even stranger sights.   At one point, we passed what appeared to be a mess hall, and my quick glance showed a Banth sitting in the middle of it, accompanied by unconcerned red men and white apes.   The Banth was dining, eating its food casually with the aid of a pair of human arms growing from just behind its jaws.   There were plants everywhere, strange florid growths which seemed impossible in this dry arid climate.

 As I looked around, I noted that everywhere there was camouflage above us.   In many areas, the streets were roofed over, in other areas, buildings were hollowed out, their connecting shells making new boulevards.   A flyer might pass over this place without ever realizing that it was inhabited. 

 I chuckled.   The Emperor of All Barsoom seemed dedicated to hiding his glory.

 “Why do you laugh,” my captor demanded angrily.

 “Because,” I told him, “I will kill you all.”

 It was his turn to laugh.

 “Maybe I will ask him to give you to me for a slave,” the creature said.  “I would enjoy breaking whatever is left of you when he is finished.”

 “What is this place?” I asked.   I had no particular interest in trading threats with underlings.

 “This?”  He replied.  “This is Horvas.  Capital of Barsoom.”

 “I’ve never heard of it,” I said. 

 “But you have now,” he told me, “and soon, everyone will.”

 We entered an unprepossessing building, which turned out to be the entrance to a large complex of underground bunkers.   We passed strange machines whose purpose I could not define.   Strange creatures manned pumps which passed strange glowing liquids.   The false Apes shied away, seemingly intimidated by these surroundings.

 Finally, Azara and I were thrown to the floor before a strange being.  I could not believe my eyes, I had never seen anything quite like this creature.   Its skin colour seemed a dusty burnt orange, its general shape was that of a white ape or a green man, a roughly human outline with an intermediate pair of arms.  But there the resemblance ended.   Unlike either creature, this monster was grotesquely fat, its body was massive, with thick thighs and arms and a huge sagging potbelly.  He must have weighed more than a half dozen green men put together.   Combined with this repulsive visage was the heavy jaw of a white ape from which protruded a pair of giant curving tusks that were beyond those of even a green man.  Behind the tusks were the deep set eyes, heavy brow and flaring nose of a white ape, and atop its head was the ears of a green man.

 I gaped, astonished.   I was physically repulsed by the strange combination of features, the bits of familiarity mixing together to produce a sense of disgust similar to what I had experienced with some of Azara’s abominations.

 “Ah,” the creature said, its voice full of gravelly tones, “you have returned to us at long last, Azara.   I anticipate the pleasures of your body once again.”

 Azara drew herself up.   I could see that she was terrified, that her body trembled, and yet, she found the courage to stand and face the awful creature.

 “I shall never again submit to such a foul creature as you,” she said, “you belong in the pits with the other failures.”

 He cuffed her then, casting her to the ground where she lay motionless.   For a second, I thought that he had killed her, for he had held nothing back from his blow.

 “How many times must I tell you,” it snarled, “I am a natural man.”

 It turned to face me, and I spat at its feet.

 “The mighty Tora Kar Thor,” he said reflectively, “the famous She-Banth, the legendary butcher queen, all the charm of a White Ape cow and none of the redeeming qualities.   Has she been searched?”

 “We stripped her when we captured her,” one of the apes said.

 “Fools,” the creature snapped, and seized me in three of its arms.  I struggled in its grip as it efficiently rifled through my spartan harness, turning me this way and that, until it had found the concealed folded knife hidden below the breast of my leather straps.    It chuckled, flicking open the blade with a free hand and pressing it to my face.

 “What do you think, Tora Kar Thor, am I not beautiful?   My father was a White Ape, my mother a Green Woman.  Does this intrigue you?  Perhaps I should take you, rather than this false beauty?  Would you wear the scars I give you forever?   Could you learn to hunger for my touch as so many Red Women have learned to do?   I have heard of your remarkable strength, perhaps you might survive my attentions.”

 “When I kill you,” I said quietly, “I promise that I will use a small knife.”

 He blinked.

 “Why a small knife?” he asked. 

 “Because,” I said, “one who strikes a captive woman is worth no better weapon.   And in your case, I want to take my time.”

 He gave a strange bellow of laughter.   It was all the moment I needed, I twisted hard, squirming from the grip of two hands.   He laid another hand to hold me, but it was too late, my back arched, my hips swung and I drove both feet into that horrid face.

 The creature released me as it uttered a cry and fell back.  I landed hard on my side, but even as struggled to recover, the Apes piled upon me and I was instantly helpless.   I noted with considerable frustration that Azara simply watched.

 “Fool girl,” I snapped.  “Do you have the sense of a Sorak, you might have fled while they were occupied.”

 “There is nowhere to go,” she said quietly.   “We are in his power.”

 “Power?  Bah!” I snarled.  “You escaped him before, and together we put an end to his monstrosities in the tower.  Why let me get one hand free, and I’ll tear off this your monstrosities’ tusks and shove them up his nether parts.”

 Braggadocio of course.  But when one is helpless at the bottom of a pile of grunting angry white apes, bragging is the only weapon left.

 “Look upon your friend,” Fan Gos sneered, “for soon, she will be returned to her proper place, a place she found so comfortable before.   As for you...  When next she sees you, she will not know you, not if I have my way.”

 “Fan Gos,” Azara cried, “do not listen to her, she is maddened.  I beg of you...”

 “Do not give him the satisfaction of begging,” I told her.  I snarled at the creature.   “Emperor of All Barsoom, Emperor of dust more like it, you misbegotten freak.  I would pull your worthless kingdom down with one free hand.”

 “She thinks I am the master here?” Fan Gos, the hybrid monster said wonderingly.   He bent down to look upon my face.  “More the fool you, Tora Kar Thor.   He that rules this place is far greater than I, and far crueler.   You might have served yourself better had you sought my favour.  But then, you were always a fool.”

 One of the apes pushed my face aside, as I tried to spit on him.   Azara wailed, and I cried out.   I struggled and thrashed as heavy chains were fixed to my arms and legs.   Barely able to hobble, I was dragged to my feet.

 “The master awaits,” Fan Gos announced.

 We were dragged through a great doorway into a vast throne room.  Here, as I looked about, were creatures of every description, cripples and hunchbacks, limbless monsters, strange parodies of human and animal forms.  This was a court of the damned.

 Once again, I was thrown to the floor, I rolled and tumbled until my back was to the throne.   This was becoming tiresome, I thought irritably.   I decided to lay there, facing Fan Gos.  A silence grew and deepened.

 “Well,” a booming voice said from behind me.

 “Well what?”
 “Turn and face me,” the voice said, “I command it.”

 “Forget it,” I snapped.  “Every time I get halfway close to standing, some cretin throws me to the floor.  I’m tired of it, I’ll just say here, it saves time.  Besides, I’m enjoying myself.”

 “You’re enjoying yourself?” the voice asked.  “How is that?”

 “I am looking upon Fan Gos,” I said, “and contemplating the ways I will kill him.”

 “Enough of this nonsense,” the voice said peevishly.   “Stand her up facing me.”

 Immediately, rough hands grabbed me and lifted me to my feet, turning me around.  The handlers stayed however, as they felt my body twisting to throw itself on the floor once again.

 “Tora Kar Thor,” the voice said, “my hated enemy, finally we meet.”

 That stopped me.  I looked.   The throne was empty save for some small deformed creature.   It was a massive high backed chair, something to have dwarfed a green man.   I squinted, staring.   Where was he?  Despite myself, I was curious to meet this man who terrified Azara so much that she dared not even speak his name.  Who was this prodigy who had made this city, and gathered its strange inhabitants?  The fact that he should have such a mighty throne but somehow feel the need to conceal himself was another puzzle.

 “Why are you hiding behind your throne?” I asked, puzzled.

 The small creature curled up on the cushion leaped to its feet, jumping angrily.   I could see it better now.   It had an almost human sized head, with coarse and brutal features and one extravagantly pop eye.  But its body was tiny and wizened.   Our children hatch from the eggs, almost half grown, able to shortly walk and talk.  But if an egg is hatched or broken prematurely, the being inside is called an infant.  Undeveloped, mostly they die, but some have been known, with adequate care, to survive and grow.   This thing had the body of an infant, tiny and frail beneath its strange head.

 It hopped up and down, screeching, and to my astonishment, a wave of cursing and invective poured from it.

 “You mock me?”  It screamed.   “You dare to mock me?   Me, the ruler of Korvas, conqueror Helium, the vanquisher of John Carter himself, master of life, shaper of flesh, the ultimate intelligence, the Emperor of All Barsoom.  Look upon me, you shabby creature!  Look upon me and tremble, for I am Pew Mogel!”

 My brows knit, as the silly capering thing announced itself.   Unbidden, my next word forced itself out, even though I knew, as I said it, that it was exactly the wrong thing to say.



 Well, sometimes you just wind up saying exactly the wrong thing.   Had I stopped and schemed for an entire fortnight, I dare say that I could not have offered up a greater insult.

 For a second, Pew Mogel, if that was the little freak’s name, was paralyzed with astonishment.  There was a great collective gasp of breath from the assembled throng.  Even the false Apes who had been holding me up dropped my chains and stepped back, as if terrified of being associated with me.

 Then the storm broke, and the capering figure exploded into a new torrent of profanity and invective such as to give Issus herself pause.  I can tell you that I have witnessed the rages of the Mad Jeddak himself, and stood at attention through the most lunatic declamations of the Council of six.  But for sheer colourful imagination, this little creature passed them both.

 Unfortunately, I did not trouble to listen to the whole thing.   Rather, noting that the false Apes had, in their shock, loosed their hold from my chains, I took them up myself and began to swing them as flails.   There’s a small place called U-Gor, now long ruined and gone to desert, where an ancient art of fighting with chain flails had survived, and I had a bit of it.   I swung hard, laying down all before me.

 Soon, my chains were whirling instruments of death, battering aside swords and knives alike.   I moved swiftly, driving foes before me.  Could I escape?   Hardly, I decided.   My best hope was to sell my life as dearly as possible, for it had come to me that death might be preferable to existence in that capering creature’s clutches.

 I looked around for Fan Gas, resolved to crush his ugly skull.  But instead, my eyes laid upon Azara.  For a second, I paused.  Then my feet were yanked out from under me as someone with some presence of mind got ahold of my ankle chain.   My moment of rebellion was short lived as Mogel’s deformed subjects swarmed all over me.

 Fan Gas appeared before me, and his mighty fist crashed down on my face.

 As he raised his hand, I spat blood up at him, my eyes burning.

 “My mother used to hit harder than that,” I snarled.

 It becomes tedious after that, I am afraid to say.  The kicks and punches swept over me like a sandstorm, so many and so fierce that there was little point in noting any one of them.   I kicked and twisted, tore and snapped, but was barely able to return any.   I might have been beaten to death, but for the screaming of the little monster.

 Suddenly, the crowd parted from me, the last few stubborn ones being poked off by spear wielding red men.   I laid there, gasping, spitting up blood defiantly.

 “Do you know me now, Tora Kar Thor?” the little abomination screeched.  “For I know you.  Oh yes, I know you well.”

 Did he?  I could not recall ever meeting a creature like him, nor having ever crossed paths with some deformed midget.  I’d never even heard a rumour of a deformed midget among my many adveraries.  I was pretty certain that I should remember something like that.  Still, it felt wiser not to question it. 

 “Take her away,” he said.   With that, I was dragged off to a dungeon. 

 All in all, I decided, it had gone about as well as could be expected.

 The dungeon I wound up in was not bad, so far as dungeons go.   I was chained up there and left alone to recover.    After a while, I stopped spitting up blood and decided that my ribs were not broken after all.   My bruises healed.   I took stock of my surroundings in the dim light of one of the eternal bulbs of the ancients.    It was a typical dungeon by the look of it, a small cell barely large enough to stand up or lay down in.   With an excess of caution, they had added chains, to keep me, though I doubted that I would get through the thick half-fossilized door.   It was covered in fine dust, of course.   I had to dig down a couple of feet before I came to the thick stones of the true floor.   None of the stones of the floor or walls were at all loose, the chains and their fastenings, though ancient, were unbreakable.

 Once a day, through a small opening in the base of the door, a metal plate and a tin cup were passed into my chamber.   The cup contained water, the plate a small loaf of moss bread.  It was a tough hardy bread baked without water from the ground and powdered red moss.  It was barely nutritious and not at all edible.  But I ate and drank.   The plate and cup were attached to small chains and withdrawn after I had used them.   The chains were small and weak, easy enough to break, but I could see no advantage to doing so.

 Instead, I inhabited my cell, rebuilding my strength, saving up a small stock of food, practicing sword and knife moves with imaginary blades and concocting increasingly elaborate escape attempt plans.

 I had no idea how many days passed in this manner.   Apart from the provision of food and water, there was no way to tell, and I had no special desire to count my feedings, they would only reinforce the awareness of my captivity.   There would be occasion enough to mark time when I escaped.

 Somewhere along the line, I vaguely recalled a story of Pew Mogel.   He’d been some sort of dead city bandit, I recalled, who had tried to kidnap Dejah Thoris and briefly attacked Helium.  The stories had been full of wild exaggerations that I had given no credence to, they all agreed on two points:   Pew Mogel’s reign of terror had ended almost before it began, and he had died at John Carter’s hand. 

 This must be another Pew Mogel.   Perhaps a henchman following in the footsteps of the first.  Or perhaps an unrelated bandit taking the name?  Although on that point, I could not see why anyone would follow in the footsteps of a mad failure.

 I wondered how Azara was connected with him.  Clearly, she was.  All that talk of Aztor was clearly a series of clever lies intended to provide a plausible mask for her true nature.   Which was?  Courtesan, concubine?  Or court lady?  Or perhaps merely some slave with a bit of breeding and pretension?  I sighed.

 No, there had to be more to it than that.   Mogel had offered exorbitant prices for her return, far more than a fickle concubine should be worth.   He had sent his false apes and flying beasts to scour the desert for her and had named me his chief enemy for daring to shield her?   Azara must be more than some simple slave.  Or she was in possession of some knowledge, some power that he feared.   It might have helped if she’d bothered to tell me anything, I reflected sourly.

 I cursed Azara’s name.   Had I never heard of her, I might yet be bringing a Caravan of freed slaves to some safe harbour, and reaping whatever rewards came of that.  Or I might at this very moment be collecting a fat bonus from Haja Obol.  Or even now enlisting in some Panthan army, once again climbing the ranks, preparing to war against the ever devouring legions of Helium.

 For a time, I became quite bitter.   It was Azara’s falsehoods and secrecies that had brought me to this place.   I was careful not to think of how she had carried me through the desert and saved my life with water carried in her mouth.      I despised her, for everything about her was false, even her love.   I played our every conversation in my head, searching for the traces of betrayal.   Bitterness would be my strength.

 Then, one day, I taking up my loaf and cup as I always did, I felt something upon the base of the loaf.   I turned it over, tracing the scarring in the trust with my finger.

 It was a single word.


 With that, all my bitterness melted away.   There was a power greater, a feeling stronger, a sustenance more nourishing than the hollow anger of bitterness.  The despair that had begun to cling to me was dispelled.

 I did not know what Azara was, or how she was connected to the little freak.  She had lied to me and held secrets from me.   I was trapped in the hands of a madman, with no hope of escape.  But somehow, I did not care.   These things did not matter.  I had hope.

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