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Volume 1588
Torakar Thor of Mars
Den Valdron
An Extraordinary Adventure on John Carter's Mars 
A 100,000-Word Novel Serialized in 53 Chapters 
Part VIII: Chapters 29-32


PART VIII: Chapters 29-32


 I woke up slowly, feeling quite muzzy.  That last loaf, I decided, had had quite the kick to it.  I was glad I hadn’t eaten the whole thing.

 I raised my head up, shaking it to clear out the cobwebs.

 The little creature with the big head, what was his name?   Pew Mogel?  Yes.  Pew Mogel stood on a little platform a few feet away, looking down at me.   I looked around.  On the other side of me, Azara stood, free and unchained, in a Jeddara’s finery.   Flanking her were two red men, perfectly ordinary, except that they possessed four arms, just like the Green Men.

 Me?   I was bound, naked and spread eagled, to a table.  I pulled at my leather cuffs, but they were secure.   It was, I decided, an awkward situation once again.    I considered my nudity, Pew Mogel it seemed, made no concessions to modesty.    I glanced around the room, noting that it was a laboratory or surgery of some sort, filled with little ladders and lifts, obviously for the deformed creature to move around in.   Just behind me, at the edges of my vision, was a crippled Ulsio, its limbs mangled, tied down as I was and wheezing in pain. 

 “You are awake?”  Mogel said to me, some trace of surprise in his voice.   “All the better, I want you to listen to this.”

 He then called Azara to him, so that they stood together, looking down upon me.

 “There is the lover you have scorned me for,” he said hotly.  “Enjoy your last sight.”

 She stared down at me.  Her eyes were hooded.

 “She means nothing to me,” Azara said.   “She was a passing thing, a creature I toyed with.”

 Mogel laughed.

 “Then you’ll surely not object when I transfer her brain into this Ulsio.”

 What was that?   My brain?  Where? 

 “Hey?” I said, but they ignored me.

 “She does not deserve that,” she said.

 “Love is full of cruelties,” Mogel replied.

 Azara bit her lip.

 “I will make you a bargain,” she said.

 “What bargain could you offer me, the Emperor of All Barsoom?” Mogel laughed.  “The very heavens will shout my name someday.  You are a mere creature, what can you offer that I cannot simply take.”
 “My life,” she replied with a quiet intensity, “my love, my honour.  Give me this one thing, and I will renounce her, I will renounce all.  I will love you in the manner that you wanted, now and forever.  I will pledge my heart and soul to you, without hesitation or reservation.  I will love you until the end of time.”

 My heart ached to hear those words from her, because as I looked up at her, I could see the truth in them.   Mogel felt their truth too.

 “For this, I would lay kingdoms at your feet and pull the very stars from the sky to make you a crown.  I have longed to hear these words and abandoned any hope that your lips might shape them unbidden. And for these things,” he asked quietly, with more sincerity than I had ever imagined that deformed frame might have.  In that moment, he was less a mad thing, and more a hopeful suitor.  “What price would you command?” 

 “It is a small thing, barely worth the trifling.”

 “Name it.”

 “Let her live,” she said, staring at me.  “Let her go, let her be unharmed and unmolested.  She means nothing to me, I promise that, and she is less than dust to you.  I will never speak her name, and cast all thought of her from my memory.   Let her go free, and take have me willingly. Prove that you are something I can give my heart to, show me this tiny gesture, and I will be yours for eternity.”

 The room was quiet, even the Red Men were silent, there was no sound but the muted bubble and hiss of strange machines.

 “That is all,” Pew Mogel asked, his voice and expression strangely distant.

 Azara nodded, looking down at me.   I stared up, but could not read her expression.  I pulled against my leather bonds, but they resisted.

 A hollow ringing sound began.   It took me a moment to identify the source.  Pew Mogel was laughing.   His laughter grew and grew, an ugly mocking thing.   Finally, he collected himself and spoke.

 “You pathetic creature,” he told her.  “You preening nothing.  Your offer is a handful of cold sand.  You are nothing, barely worth a half moment of my attention.   I could have had you any time, I could have collected you at any point during the months you wandered the desert, but it amused me to see you walk in pointless circles.   I could manufacture a hundred of you, each one more fervently in love with me than the one before.  I could open up your skull and rewire your very brain until your only thought was passionate devotion, and you were nothing more than a drooling imbecile basking in my cosmic radiance.”

 “Oh,” he said, “I listened to your trifling bargain with amusement, and might have even granted you some small token, if it was modest enough.   Perhaps Dejah Thoris as your footslave?  The skull of ancient Issus as a drinking cup?  But instead, you ask the liberty of my greatest enemy?”

 Azara was dumbfounded, involuntarily glancing at me with wide eyes and gaping mouth.

 “This simple Panthan?” she exclaimed. 

 “Your greatest enemy?” I protested.   “I haven’t even met you!”

 “Mock me all you wish,” Mogel sneered, “you’ll mock from the body of a crippled Ulsio, whilst I manufacture new diseases to make your carcass rot around you.”

 “I’m not mocking,” I said desperately.  “I never heard of you.  I’ve never crossed your path knowingly. 

 Azara looked wonderingly from me to Mogel and back, I could read astonishment on her face.   I was astonished myself.   We had both thought it had been about her, but now, astoundingly, it was somehow about me.   Who could have imagined?

 “Haja Obol,” he said.   “My agent.”


 “That wasn’t my fault,” I protested, “and you ought to know it, if you have any sense.  If he had listened to me, he would still be alive.”

 “The Mad Jeddak,” he returned.

 “I worked for the Mad Jeddak!” 

 “And betrayed him, and through him, me!”

 “He was mad!”

 “You killed my pawns in the Council of Six, and ruined my plans.”

 “That’s not fair!”

 Cold sweat was breaking out all over. 

 “Look,” I said, “this is all a misunderstanding.   Helium is your enemy, isn’t it?  John Carter?   Carter and Helium are my enemies too.  Let me free, and I will pledge to serve you.”

 “As you served Gurtan Kor?”

 Fear surged through me and I yanked hard on my bonds.

 “It wasn’t as if he gave me any choices!”

 “Enough!” he pronounced.   “For your whole career, you have haunted and harried my plans with a consistency I will not attribute to coincidence.  You and your kind have been a bane of my existence, and I will see your strain obliterated, your flesh expunged and reshaped to my will.   Prepare yourself:   For you will live forever as a testament to my eternal wrath.”

 My kind?   How did he know?  I thought instinctively of the false apes.

 Azara pushed Mogel from his table and threw herself atop me, weeping.

 “Tora!”  She cried out.  “Tora, I love you.   I am so sorry, Tora.   If I had dreamt it would come to this, I would have destroyed myself rather than let the slightest harm come to you.  I’m sorry.”

 Her hand reached out to my wrist, and her other hand cupped my head.  Hungrily, she pressed her lips to mine.   I saw no tears in her face.   We kissed then, passionately, devouring each other, pressing our bodies together.  She tried to climb onto the table with me.   I felt my cuffed wrist jerking under her touch.  The four armed red men grabbed her, but instead, she got her arm around me, clinging even tighter, as we traded desperate kisses.   As she pulled away, her fingers crossed my palm.  I closed my hand into a fist, but they yanked her from my grasp.

 “Take her away!”  Pew Mogel raged, climbing a ladder back up to his perch.   He screeched like a maddened Sorak.   “Take her away!”

 Azara was hustled from the room.   The little creature capered and danced with rage for a while before finally settling down.    He glared at me with passionate hatred.

 “The Ulsio body is only the beginning for you,” he sneered.  “I shall make more abominations, each more vile than the last, and you shall inhabit every one of them in turn.  Your suffering shall make the gods themselves weep.   Of all the thousand sins of you and your cursed race against me, stealing her heart I deem the vilest.”

 I made no reply.  Instead, I stared at him, trying to hold his attention with my eyes.   He turned and busied himself among his instruments, picking up a bone saw.

 Hidden in my palm was my small folding knife, placed there by Azara.   I pulled against my leather manacle, testing its strength, concealing the place where Azara had cut almost through it as she’d kissed me and pretended to weep.   Sweat ran down my spine, I shivered with tension.   She had tried to rescue me, to give me a chance. 

 But was it enough?   Could I break the leather?   I was still bound by three limbs.  Could I defend myself with only a small blade from this tiny monstrosity with his knives and scalpels, instruments and guards, this creature with his endless, boundless, insane hatred?

 A ramp extended from his platform to my table.  Clumsily, he crossed it, carrying a wicked bone saw.  The diamond blades of the saw began to buzz.   I pulled hard against my leather cuff, but it did not break.


 Pew Mogel began to giggle maniacally as he approached, holding the bone saw above my breast.

 “I will pleasure myself upon your body,” he cackled.   “After your brain inhabits the Ulsio.  So that you may watch.”

 “Why not now,” I begged, tugging desperately again on my cuff.   “Pleasure yourself upon my body while I remain within it.”

 This made him cackle all the more.

 “You would suffer the pleasures of Pew Mogel, for only a few additional moments in your own body,” he laughed.   “Beg!  Beg for my pleasure!   I will be your last and greatest lover.”

 I heaved my body, straining to dislodge him.  The whirring bone saw swung perilously close to my nipple.

 “Ah,” he mocked, “your passion betrays you, you hunger for your lord’s touch.   But no, I think a few years as a crippled diseased Ulsio is better for you.  It will make you more docile, should I ever decide to restore you to your own carcass!”

 He moved quickly up, the bone saw whirring before my eyes.   I pulled at the cuff with all my might, my body arching, my muscles straining. 

 The leather let go with a snap.

 Before the little monster could react, I lifted up, growling, thrusting my face towards him.  He froze for a second, as I knocked the bone saw from his hand and fastened my teeth upon his throat.   A scream died in his throat as I crushed his windpipe in my jaws.

 The bone saw rattled on the table, dancing perilously close to me.  I lifted my body and swept it off the table with my free hand.   Mogel’s infant form battered at me, kicking and punching with its small limbs.   I shook my head like a Great Ape, trying to break its neck, but it refused to die.  I refused to let him go.

 Instead, I twisted over, cutting my other arm-cuff, and then freeing my legs.  I snarled, my voice bubbling around his neck.   His struggles were finally growing weaker.   Under the table, the bone-saw ground and bounced.   I leaped down and shut it off. 

 I needed weapons, better weapons than the small folding knife Azara had given me.  Weapons and a plan.   How could I escape this mad city?   Where could I find Azara?

 Mogel’s body was still now, the taste of his unnatural flesh bitter in my mouth.   I spat him out, and then kicked his limp form into a corner.   I gazed at the small broken frame, so deceptively helpless.  I wished I could kill him a dozen times over, but this once would have to be sufficient.

 Weapons?  Quickly, I rifled the room.  Nothing like a serviceable sword or pistol among all the strange machines.    I found a handful of knives and saws, and selected among the most ferocious of them.   With a passing mercy, I ended the crippled Ulsio’s life.   Kicking a leg from a table, I made a serviceable club.   Stealth and murder, I decided.   I would kill everyone and everything I met so that they could not betray me.  I’d find Azara, release the true apes to rampage among their tormenters, and steal one of those giant birds.   We’d escape to some civilized place, and I’d find an army somewhere and come back and raze this place to the ground.   It was a good plan.


 Something was wrong.  Something was not right about this room.

 Was I being watched?   I swept the walls and ceiling, looking for spyholes.  Nothing.

 What then?

 Carefully, I let my eyes roam around the room.  The corner was empty.  I froze in astonishment.

 Where was Pew Mogel’s body?

 A flicker of movement behind me.  I turned swiftly, the whir of a bone saw filled the air.  I shrieked involuntarily, catching the horrid little creature as it leaped down upon me.   Its throat was crushed and no sound escaped its writhing lips.   Its swollen, red veined pop-eye stared hatred at me.   With naked revulsion, I flung the awful creature across the room hard enough to shatter its body.

 But it did not shatter.  Instead, it dropped and immediately righted itself, scampering beneath some tables.

 Desperately, I went after it.  The thing refused to die, did it?   Then I would drag it out and cut it into pieces.   I’d see how much trouble it made for me as twitching bits of flesh.  I overturned tables and ladders as I chased it, but somehow, it eluded me, always just ahead.   Then it reached its destination, a large red lever, which it pulled.   An alarm sounded, the ringing harsh in my ears, as the small monster turned its evil grinning face to me.   His lips moved pronouncing silent triumph.

 Cursing, I flung him across the room again, and then turned a table of knives and beakers upon him. 

 Racing for the door, I threw it open only to find myself confronted by the two four-armed red men.   I crushed ones skull with a single savage blow of my makeshift club.   Seizing the other by the throat as he watched his companion fall, I thrust my knife into his heart.   Taking a moment only to grab his short sword and pistol, and enough leather from his harness for a makeshift belt, I fled down the corridor.
 The plan was simple, really.   I had to get as far away from here as fast as I could.   This was a dead city, notwithstanding the occupants.  There would be many places to hide, and I doubted that these false apes could follow my trail any better than a red man.  Once I was secure from them, I’d take my vengeance.

 My ears detected rushing footsteps.  I fell back around the corner, folding myself into a doorway.   Three men, normal red men, rushed past me.   Then one of them caught a glimpse of me from the corner of his eye.   I leaped out, pushing them against each other, drawing my pistol and pressing it against the flesh of the hindmost one.  I fired, his flesh muffling the sound of the shot, the bullet passing through two bodies.  The last one struggled to pull his sword, as I cut him down with my blade.

 I fled the way they came, darting immediately down a branching corridor whose dust was undisturbed.   From there, I squeezed through a crack in the wall.   I found my way to an upper floor, crossing onto the roof of an adjacent building.  There I killed another man and made my way down.   After slipping through two more buildings, I found a small space where a roof had collapsed and formed a small lean to and hid for an hour, waiting for nightfall.

 I considered my situation.    It did not seem good.   Red Men saw poorly at night, as indeed, they saw poorly generally.   These false apes would see better, but how much better I could not reckon.   Something told me I had little to worry about in their tracking abilities.   Still, I was in unknown territory, surrounded by enemies, night would give me only a small advantage.

 Malagawrs swept the sky above the dead city.   I had stirred the nest indeed.   Did these birds fly at night?   I had the germ of an idea.   I picked up a stone and focused on a sagging beam protruding from the remaining roof.

 As night fell, the birds grew fewer in number, their flight lower.   Whether they could see well at night, their riders clearly did not.  I waited, letting the patrols grow even more infrequent.  Chills ran down my spine as I began to worry that I had waited too long.

 Then luck came to reward me, a Malagawr swept over my hiding place.  As it passed, I flung the stone hard against the sagging beam.  It clattered loudly, and more gratifyingly, a small avalanche of weathered debris shook loose.   The Malagawr wheeled in the air and landed.  The rider, one of the false apes, peered uncertainly at the debris.   He dismounted his bird and drew his sword.

 I crept from my hiding place behind him and shot him in the head.   The sound of the pistol was crashingly loud.   I winced at this dishonourable murder.  Barsoomian codes of etiquette in combat are drilled into each of us, practically from birth, and to murder victims by attacking from behind, allowing no opportunity to defend themselves, went against the very grain of my being.  But necessity drove me, and I knew that there was no honour in this place.   Before he finished falling, I shot his bird in the leg.

 With a mighty screech, the creature leaped into the air, its wings beating so furiously that there was an explosion of dust.   Even as the creature flew, shrieking into the air, I fled the rooftop, desperate to get away.
 Let them think I have taken the Malagawr, I pleaded with fate.   Without a rider, maddened with pain, they would be all night pursuing it, and hopefully, they wouldn’t be able to see it well enough to judge that I wasn’t on it.   My diversion seemed to work, for I could detect a mighty fluttering of wings as all the patrols took off in pursuit.

 I picked my way across derelict buildings as fast as I dared.   Azara, I whispered to myself,  I am coming for you.

 Abruptly, out of the darkness, two pairs of arms wrapped themselves around my waist and breasts.   I snarled, but another hand clamped around my mouth.   I reached for my weapons, but more arms seized my wrists and forced my hands open.   Even my kicks were stilled as yet more hands fastened to my legs and thighs.

 “Tora Kar Thor,” a voice whispered in my ear.   “If you value your life, you will not resist.”

 I grunted around the hand.   I did not value my life returned to Pew Mogel’s surgery.  I redoubled my efforts, but it was futile.  The army of hands held me fast.   Was this a multitude or a single being?  What new monsters had Pew Mogel set upon me?

 The creature, if creature it was, slid forward, almost onto all fours.  The ground was bare inches above my struggling form.   Then it began to move, surging with blinding speed.  The ground became a blur and then darkness as it slid into a tunnel.  We moved straight up, and then down at a dizzying pitch, turning corners, all without a cessation of speed.

 Suddenly, we wound up in an open sheltered glade.  Above me, I saw a transparent roofed dome, patched in places.   I lay in a circle of trees.  I climbed to my knees, catching a glimpse of my strange captor.

 The creature had the head and shoulders of a man, but where a normal body should have begun, instead, there was another set of arms, and another.  Its long sinous form was punctuated by well over a dozen sets of arms, with no apparent hindquarters.  He did not walk, but instead, pulled himself along the ground, walking on his many hands.

 “Wait,” I called.  “Who are you?  Where am I?”

 “That is Jar Van,” a voice said behind me.   “And this is the garden of Pew Mogel.”

 “And before you ask:  I’m a tree,” the tree said, “you idiot.”


 “What a stupid plan,” the tree said to me.   “What were you thinking?”

 “Oh it wasn’t that bad,” another tree offered.

 “What would you know?” the first tree said.  “You’re not even a real tree.  You’re just a red man’s brain transplanted, like all the rest.”

 “I resent that!”

 “Well, its true.”

 This was my days in the grove.   The wonder of encountering this strange grove had worn thin after it became clear that the trees, with the gift of speech, spent most of their time bickering.

 “As I was saying,” the tree turned its attention back to me.   “It was a stupid plan.  Shooting a Malagawr and sending Mogel’s flyers after it.  What did that accomplish?  It did nothing to free you from your real danger, the ground searchers.”

 “You’re lucky that Van found you when he did,” another tree chimed in, “or you would have fallen back into Pew Mogel’s hands sooner or later.   And if that happened, he’d surely put your brain into something truly awful, a bush, perhaps.”

 “Piss off,” said a bush resentfully.

 I was quite glad, actually, that the grasses and flowers, most of the plants in this strange garden, did not speak.  The trees assured me that there was no other vegetation that was sentient, including the bushes.   The bushes assured me that the trees were elitist snobs.

 “Of course,” a bush said, “the tree has a point.  Your pointless cruelty did no good.  The bird flew until it could fly no further, and then bled to death.  On the chance that you were riding it and escaped, Pew Mogel has sent out continuous air patrols to find you.  They would surely detect any further escape attempt.  All your foolish plan did was bottle you up here with us.”

 “A repulsive outcome,” the senior tree agreed.

 “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I protested.

 “A moment’s reflection would have served any sensible person better,” the tree said. 

 Trees, I thought to myself, never had to deal with being chased and hunted by a horde of raving monstrosities.  Still, I was coming to agree, for entirely different reasons, that it had indeed been a repulsive outcome.  Wisely, I kept this conclusion to myself.

 I had spent five days in the garden, unmolested by Pew Mogel’s forces.   His guards, his army of false apes and falser red men did not approach the garden.  I wasn’t sure what kept them away.   I had learned that Mogel’s kingdom featured many different kinds of creatures.

 For the most part, his subjects were an assortment of great apes with transplanted human or green man brains, as well as red men or green men, left in more or less human states.   They were all, to one degree or another, petty thugs and criminals, the sort who wandered restlessly from one city to another, often mistaken for Panthans.

 There was a smaller group who called themselves Experiments.   Each experiment seemed a race unto itself, a singular creature distinct and unique.   Jar Van, for example, was a centipede man, although not a bad fellow for all his hands.   Another of the creations was a boneless human worm.   Yet another, a sort of hybrid of green man and Thoat.   There was a creature with a head mounted on a pair of legs, with no intervening torso.   Another was a headless woman, with two arguing faces where her breasts might have been.   Once, I was taken to sea a huge spiderweb which was simply a human nervous system, covered with a rudimentary network of blood vessels, and secreting digestive fluids.  It regarded me from a single eye at its center, and spoke by strumming its webs.   There were creatures who were strange combinations of human and Banth, human and bird, even human and plant.   There were entities for whom I had no ability to describe with words.

 The grove was a centre for the Experiments, who held themselves apart in a rough society at the edges of Pew Mogel’s rule.   Their attitude to him was strangely diffident, a combination of worship and contempt, whose dimensions I could never quite fathom.

 Then of course, there were the Monstrosities and the Abominations.   The Monstrosities included the lizardlike creatures I had seen skulking about.   The Experiments liked to tell each other that there was something natural to them, that they were hybrids created by surgery or tissue, but that ultimately, their origins lay in nature, for at least part of them.   The Monstrosities were tainted by unnature.

 The Abominations were completely unnatural.  They were perverted tissues, mangled and reformed, sculpted and grown in vats.  Most of them were almost completely mindless, though some betrayed a sort of intelligence.   The abominations, cut off from nature, were the most thoroughly obscene, their bodies distorted and suffering.   The creatures that Azara and I had found in the tower had been the worst of the Abominations.

 “And Azara herself?” I asked, remembering the love and compassion she had showered upon each monstrosity in succession.  “What is she?”

 I already suspected the answer.

 If a tree could shrug, it would have.

 “An Abomination, born to suffer,” it said.  “The finest Abomination ever made, a fluke proof of both his vast abilities and abysmal failures.   Her existence mocks his every ambition, for he knows he shall never again approach that incomparable accomplishment.   Thus he loves her and hates her with passions both grand and equal.   He would destroy her, if he dared, but of all his works, she is the one thing he dares not touch.”

 It was Azara who had saved my life, in a sense.  For the Experiments, upon finding me running loose, took it upon themselves to shelter me on her behalf.   It was a very near thing, in another mood, they might have handed me over.   But it was my assistance to her in destroying the mishappen things in the tower, and Pew Mogel’s own insistence on rendering me into another monstrosity that tipped won their sympathies and tipped the scale.

 Outside, in the dead city beyond us, Pew Mogel’s kingdom swarmed like an insect hive with a stick poked into it.   His birds ceaselessly patrolled, scanning the deserts for any sign of life, and his army combed through the decaying empty parts of the dead city, searching each room again and again.

 And so I waited, growing increasingly bored and frustrated.   The trees sheltered me, allowing those Experiments who were trusted to visit me.   Azara, I was told, was confined to her quarters, reduced once again to chains.   Pew Mogel yet lived and raged maniacally, though some experiments mentioned with considerable satisfaction, that his voice was considerably hoarsened.

 “I wish I had dashed out his brains on the wall, and cut him to pieces when I had the chance,” I complained bitterly.

 “That would have only angered him,” a Tree told me.  “He cannot be killed.  John Carter cut off his head, and he merely grew a new body.   Somewhere out there, we think his body has grown a knew head, and thus there are now two of them.”

 “Some body,” I replied, thinking of the stunted, deformed, infantlike frame that supported that massive and unwieldy head.

 The tree seemed to shrug.

 “A body is a body,” it replied, “if you were a tree, you would appreciate this.”

 “I fear discovery,” I said.   “What will happen to you, if I am found here?”

 “Do not trouble yourself,” a tree assured me.

 Suddenly, Azara appeared.

 “Tora,” she whispered, “I have escaped.” 

 I stepped up standing before her.   She held her arms out for me.   I hesitated.

 “Hormad,” the single word passed my lips involuntarily, against my will.  I wished fervently that I could take it back, that I could have died without ever speaking it.

 She turned her face as if struck.   Slowly, she lowered her arms and turned away.

 “It’s all right,” I said quickly.   “I don’t care.”

 But I could see the sadness in her, in the set of her shoulders.

 “I am his creature,” she said, “and I can never escape him.   I knew that all along, though I pretended not too.   But I have endangered you, I will make that right.   Tonight you will fly from here.”

 “Tora Kar Thor,” a voice came from behind me.   I knew that voice.   “I thought I would find you here with Azara’s freaks.   And sure enough, I had only to let her slip her leash, and she leads me straight to you.”

 I turned.   My weapons were across the grove, resting beside one of the trees.   Fan Gas, the strange White Ape/Green Man hybrid advanced into the grove with two nearly human red men beside him.   One of them had a Banths claws, the other had secondary forearms protruding from his elbows.   Neither was necessary, Fan Gas held a Green Man’s rifle, its barrel trained upon me.

 Instinctively, I stepped in front of Azara, though I knew that the bullet would pass through both of us.   Perhaps it would be better that way.

 “Make no move, Kar Thor,” he gloated.  “I will not kill you, but I would be pleased to shoot your arms and legs off at your knees and elbows.”

 I held my hands up.

 “I was alone when you found me,” I said.   “Alone.   I threatened the Experiments and forced them to shelter me.”

 He grinned around his tusks, ignoring me.

 “In fact,” he said, “knowing your reputation, undeserved as it is, I think I should shoot your arms and legs off.   Then I’ll pleasure myself upon your bleeding body as your paramour watches.  I promise I’ll leave enough life in you for Pew Mogel’s entertainments.”

 He laughed.  A hollow feeling opened up in the pit of my stomach.  I saw his finger tightening on the trigger, and tensed myself for a futile leap.

 Suddenly, there was a series of whiplike cracks as the trees branches lashed out faster than they eye could follow.   Fan Gas and his assistants stood paralyzed, suddenly caught in a wooden cage.  With growing astonishment, I noted that the trees branches had actually entered their flesh, twigs and tendrils protruding from their skin.   Fan Gas could not even move his jaw.  I stared as his massive bulk strained futilely to move even a single muscle, and yet his most heroic efforts produced little more than a tremble.

 His eye tried to shift to follow me as I stepped back, instinctively placing myself between Azara and the other trees.

 “Please,” he whispered out from his torn throat, even as the delicate branches burrowed within his flesh.

 Then the tree drank.   Fan Gas’ body seemed to shrivel up from within, as the tree sucked every drop of moisture from him almost instantaneously.   Its branches embedded in his flesh seemed to surge and flex.  I saw his eyes cave in on themselves, his flesh going hollow under his ribs.

 And then, quickly as they had snared him, the branches were gone.   His form swayed for a second and then collapsed.   I noted with horror that one of his arms fell off.   Other trees released their captives who fell in dry heaps.

 Fan Gas body gave a dry rattle.   This man was still alive.

 “Leave the bodies to the bushes,” a bush complained, its foliage seeming to grow out from the ground around the stricken hybrid.  Fan Gas gave another dry rattle, as the bushes branches grew up through his body.   There was a brief sprouting of leaves and flowers, and then the bush seemed to melt back into the ground.   There was no body left to see.   “It is always the way, no respect.”

 My heart was pounding.   For days, I had lived in the shadow of these things.

 “I never liked him anyway,” a tree observed.   “Always putting on airs.  Claiming that he came from a real egg.  Bah.  As if.”

 “Pretensions,” another tree said, “I hate pretentiousness.   He was merely a monster like the rest of us.”

 “But tasty,” a bush said.

  Behind me, I felt Azara reaching for my hand.   I clung to it as if drowning.

 “You will escape tonight,” she said.

 “No,” I told her.  “We will.”


 Despite the risk of detection, we left the Garden of Pew Mogel.   I could not bear to remain there, knowing what these plants were.   I had heard that there were ambulatory plant-men in the Valley Dor, and even observed rare carnivorous plants in certain botanical gardens.  But these things had unnerved me completely.

 Instead, we found a sheltered spot, concealed by Experiments loyal to her, and while we waited for nightfall, she began to speak.   This is the tale she told me, in her own words:

 My parents were the Jeddak and Jeddara of Aztor, for this much is true, and in my moments of despair, I cling to these truths, for much of what I am about to tell you takes such simple and ordinary facts and twists them till they can no longer be recognized, yet the truth of them remains. 

 I was born, the sole child of the Jeddak and Jeddara in the city of Aztor.   These were happy days, for Aztor was a pleasant city, well favoured by nature.  Its people were clever and brave, its buildings tall and graceful, its lands rich and fertile.   It was a happy and gracious city.

 All was well for my childhood, until a fateful day when, while playing, I fell from a high tower.   For nine days, my mother and father watched and prayed over my shattered form, as all the Kingdom’s physicians laboured to save my life.   How often I would wish that they had not.  Death would have been such a sweet mercy in comparison to what awaited me.

 For I lived, if it could be called living.   My bones were shattered, my flesh torn and scarred.   I lived as a crippled hideous monstrosity, always in pain.   I was a creature now, such that people turned their face rather than look upon me.  I could only crawl like an animal, my broken hands reduced to trembling claws.  Always, I hovered on the verge of death, my existence prolongued only by the unceasing dedication of Aztor’s finest physicians.

 I should have died, and I would have, but for the constant love of my parents.   They never shied from looking at me.  No matter how horribly mutilated my flesh, their eyes beheld my spirit, and when they gazed upon me, I felt their love.   They never let me surrender to my pain, nor allowed me the solace of death.   They taught me to use what strength remained within my shattered body, they taught me and honed my mind, truly all that was left to me.

 Thus, I grew from a child to a girl.  Always at the edge of death, with no more future but as a hideous cripple, hidden from sight, with no hope of love, of friendship, of life.   Free to savour a few precious moments as my shattered body slowly broke down a little more with each passing year. 

 And yet, it was not without its pleasures.   Behind curtains to conceal my hideousness, I watched children play, musicians perform, dancers dance and artists make their works.  I listened to the debates and discourse of philosophers and savants.   I learned, and more than that, learned to appreciate the beauties of life.   That these beauties were denied to me, I accepted.   But if they were not mine, I could still find joy in that these gifts existed at all.

 From a girl, I grew to a woman, my body growing weaker and more painful with each passing year.   Even my nurses hesitated to look upon me.   My parents mourned, knowing that my death was not far off.   I did not fear death, for so many years, it had been a patient companion.   But for my mother and father, death was a cold enemy they had fought, and every day, they grieved.

 Then, one day, there came to Aztor a person who could only be described as a Wizard.   His name was Pew Mogel, and he was hideous in appearance, a hulking malformed brute with a powerful body.   He was quite different then, than he is now, in body at least.   His twisted spirit remains unchanged.  I distrusted him from my first sight of that foul creature. 

 And yet, he worked what could only be described as miracles, healing the sick, mending broken bodies.   As his reputation grew, he came to my parents attention, and for the first time in years, they allowed themselves the luxury of hope.

 I had taken sick, and was about to take the final journey when they summoned him.  I woke to that hideous pop eyed face, with its microcephalic skull, torn by him from the very hands of death.  Though I felt no pain, and in fact felt more strength than years, I could not help but shudder.  For as I looked upon this deformed creature, I seemed to look past his flesh, to a soul more mangled than my body.

 But all my parents saw was a great wizard who had saved their daughters life.   He tended to me, and they showered riches and power upon him.   Under his ministrations, my strength grew, the pain lessened.   And in turn, he insinuated himself deeper and deeper into the court of my parents, becoming more powerful than even the most trusted ministers and advisors.   His promises grew apace, and he told them he could make me whole.

 But ever did his greed and lust for power grow.   One dark night, he was discovered plotting the overthrow of the Jeddak and Jeddara.   He was forced to flee for his life.   For one night, I rejoiced that this poison had been purged from the kingdom, that no longer would I be the key through which this monster insinuated his influence.

 Alas, I had only one day of happiness.   For this fiend was not done with me, nor had he finished with my beloved parents, nor Aztor itself.   In the dark of night, his associates kidnaped me.   A scented cloth was placed across my mouth, so that I could not cry out.  My head swam, my eyes closed....

 When I opened them again, his hideous, leering countenance was before me.

 This was the beginning of a nightmare such as no living person had ever endured.   As my Mother and Father scoured the kingdom, as our nation mourned for my theft, I was in the clutches of the most fearsome madman ever to walk the face of Barsoom.

 “You fiend,” I told him, “my father shall have you drawn limb from limb.” 

 But he only laughed, one of his eyes popping from his head and dangling horribly as he tormented me.   He barely noticed, and when he did, he merely popped it back in.

 “Your father shall never find us, Princess.   You are mine to do with as I please, for my revenge upon him.”

 “You monster,” I sobbed.    “What have my parents ever done to you, that you should torment them so?”

 His face darkened then.

 “Bah,” he said, “I thought you, of all beings, might understand.  But I see that you are a fool like all the rest.”

 And with that, he stormed off.

 Oh, but he returned.  I had thought he might kill me, but his plans were far worse than that.   Instead, I became a subject of his experiments.   Day after day, he cut into me with his knives, unraveling my body, draining my blood and replacing it with strange fluids.   At times, he would cut things away as I screamed and begged for death.  At other times, he added strange organs which pulsed and throbbed outside my helpless body.  He inserted strange probes, stealing tissues and liquids from every organ, every muscle in my body.

 Oh, I will tell you that I wept those nights, as I had never allowed myself to weep before.   There was agony, such as I had never known.   I screamed and cursed him, but he merely laughed.  I sobbed and moaned as he performed his unnatural works upon me.

 Perhaps the worst of it all were his flashes of kindness, for he could be kind when the moment was upon him.   There would be periods when he ceased his experiments and his eyes would light with compassion.   These times I learned to dread the most, for they allowed me to hope.  Invariably, his monstrous nature would reassert itself with cruelty redoubled, and hope was crushed.

 Then one day, during a particularly horrific surgical procedure where, with the aid of carefully placed mirrors, I watched him open up my skull and spine, exposing the very brain within...  I passed out.

 When I awoke, I saw my body, a red ruin of mangled tissue.  I stared into my own face, each scar and bruise as familiar as my thoughts.   Only gradually, did I realize that I was looking at my body from outside.

 For a few minutes, I wondered if in fact, I had died and it was my liberated spirit looking upon the ruins of my corporeal form.

 Then gradually, I became aware that I was in a physical body.   I could feel my lungs drawing breath.  My eyes blinked.  I swallowed and my tongue moved within a mouth suddenly moistened.   I tried to lift my head, but it merely flopped to the side.

 From the corner of my eye, I spotted Pew Mogel.   I tried to speak, tried to ask him what diabolical thing he had done to me now, but all that came from me was an incoherent moan.   Still, I attracted his notice, and he approached, almost hopping with glee.

 “You are reborn,” Pew Mogel spoke.   “I have taken samples of the dying tissues of your broken body, enhanced and multiplied these cells and used them to craft a new shell to house your brain.”

 “You are entirely my creation,” he boasted.  “Your face and figure are as nature may have intended, but I have made improvements to your very tissue.  You are immortal now, and indestructible, beyond any need.  You are a thing of beauty and perfection, an artificial woman...”

 He lowered his voice.

 “A fitting mate for the perfection of an artificial man.”

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