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Volume 1623
Jeff Long

Chapter Eight: The Jeddak of Phundahl ~ words by Jeff, art by Duane 

Tur and a score of the other Turs entered our hut when dawn broke.

"We will perform the brain transplants now," he announced, clutching my short-sword in one hand.

As several of the madmen reached for me, I struggled again to break free. But it was pointless. I could not budge. We were carried from the hut, helpless, to the center of the clearing.

Tur motioned for the villagers to gather about, and we were set upon altars made from roughly hewn logs.

"The experiment is a simple one," Tur said. "I will take the brain from this red man, and place it in the skull of this woman."

"Why?" asked someone at the back of crowd.

The question seemed to startle the demented "surgeon," who was busy sharpening my blade upon a rock. I feared that he was blunting it more than anything else. Not that it would matter.

"It might do some good in the world," Tur finally answered.

"What will you do with the brain of the woman?" asked someone else.

"I hadn't thought of that," Tur admitted.

"Can I have it?" the questioner wondered. "I'd like to keep it as a souvenir."

"I suppose," Tur said. "But I must say, the request reeks of sentimentality."

As the madman hefted my short-sword in what looked to be a blow that would sever my head, a small flier landed in the clearing. A red man in leather harness and a half-dozen similarly garbed assistants descended from its deck and approached.

Meanwhile, three naked lunatics were unceremoniously thrust from the deck of the ship. Others from the village swarmed about, putting them through the same detailed examination I had undergone the day before.

"What have we here?" the red leader asked of those gathered about me and Shis-Inday. "What are you people doing now?"

"Ras Thavas!" exclaimed Tur. "You are in time to witness an experiment of great scientific importance."

"Indeed," commented the one called Ras Thavas. His tone was that of a parent humoring a child. He pushed his way through the crowd and looked upon us. "And what experiment is that?"

"I am about to place this red man's brain in his mate's cranium," Tur explained.

"Without benefit of anesthesia?" Ras Thavas asked. He seemed amused.

"Well, we don't have any..." Tur stammered. "The technique is still sound, however."

"Enough!" Ras Thavas roared. The lunatics scattered. Tur himself dropped my blade and scampered for the trees.

Ras Thavas looked at me in a clinical sort of appraisal. He was a typical red man: well-proportioned, black hair, a sword at his hip. He wore the weapon, however, as if it was seldom put to the use that Issus intended. Such men exist on Barsoom -- but they are rare.

His expression was one of scientific curiosity. If he wondered what circumstances had brought me to this rather ignoble predicament, he did not ask.

When the gaze of Ras Thavas turned to Shis-Inday, an intense interest immediately consumed him. He touched her forehead, examined her teeth, and then probed her with a small instrument.

Still gravely ill, the girl swooned in and out of delerium.

"Remarkable!" the scientist remarked, looking at his instrument.

He ordered his assistants to carry her to the flier, including me in his gesture as an afterthought.

We were soon underway, flying low above the marsh in a northerly direction. Once clear of the trees, I could see the outline of a city on the horizon.

"Phundahl," said a padwar near me. He seemed to spit the word out, as if its taste was unpleasant in his mouth.

"Your home?" I asked.

The warrior grunted.

"We are of Toonol, and Phundahl is our enemy," said the padwar, who was called Bal Zak. "Ras Thavas, however, is not particular about politics. He is making use of facilities that Xax, the Jeddak of Phundahl, has provided."

"And what of the village -- the lunatics who were about to brain me?"

"Experiments gone awry," said Bal Zak. "That village is one reason I, for one, am not too disturbed by Ras Thavas's allegiance with Phundahl. Xax permits the scientist to test his theories upon Phundahlian subjects. It's about the best use of Phundahlians that I can think of. When the mastermind is done with them, they are brought to Gooli, in the Great Marsh, and abandoned. We deposited a new batch today. It's lucky for you that we did. Or, perhaps, not so lucky."

The young padwar leaned close, and in a low voice added, "If you ask me, Xax himself is madder than any of those we just left in the village. And on that score, Ras Thavas is not far behind the Jeddak."

The spired city grew in the path of our plodding flier. It brought exotic images to my mind. "Phundahl" and "Toonol" had always been but names on a map. To an American of Jasoom, similar images might be conjured of places that John Carter has told me he visited in his long years of wandering and fighting upon your planet -- Khatmandu atop the tall Himalayas, or Xuja in the heart of darkest Africa. Opar is another distant place of danger I recall the Warlord describing.

In the days of which I speak, Phundahl and Tonool hinted of mystery and adventure to the men of Helium. We knew not their horrors and blasphemy firsthand.

I would soon discover the madness of Phundahl, though.

Upon our arrival, Ras Thavas led the way through a strange temple. Garishly colored tapestries and craven idols adorned the walls. Clouds of thick incense hung in the air. White-robed priests slunk through the corridors on errands I could not guess, while rythmic chants came from a direction I was not sure of.
With a shudder, I realized this was no place of worship for the true goddess, Issus. It belonged to the pagan deity of a backward people.

We entered the pits. Traversing the ancient passages, we soon came upon a sprawling, well-lighted apartment that was filled with an array of scientific instruments. Medical examination tables lined one wall, and it was to one of these that the scientist took Shis-Inday.

An assistant hoisted the unconscious girl to one of the tables.

"Remarkable," Ras Thavas muttered again, as he examined the girl. "The subject is unlike any other I've ever encountered."

"She is not of Barsoom," I offered.

Ras Thavas snorted.

"Of course not," the scientist said, derisively. "Any fool could determine that."

He turned on me then and asked why she was ill.

"Poisoned by a man-eating plant in the Great Marsh," I replied.

He stuck her with a needle, and a colorless liquid flowed into Shis-Inday's arm. He added other liquids to the mix, and seemed satisfied that the girl would recover.

"Where is she from?" he asked.

"I'd have thought any fool could have determined that," I answered.

If the jab carried any insult to the ears of Ras Thavas, he showed no sign of it.

"And where are you from, fool?"

"I am Tardos Mors, prince of Helium," I replied.

"And you do not know, prince of Helium, where the girl was born?"

"She is unable to say," I answered sullenly. "She calls the planet of her birth 'The World,' but appears to have been living among the green men of Warhoon for some time. How she came to be here is anyone's guess."

"She is not of Rasoom, or Cosoom -- that much is evident," Ras Thavas mused. "Thought waves from the inhabitants of those planets suggest extreme refinement, power and flexibility. Even in sleep, the brain patterns of this subject reflect a barbaric savagery that differs little from the green primitives you say she has been among."

He turned from the table, consulting a worn book that I took to be a journal of sorts. He made a few notations in it. When he spoke, it was more to himself than to me or his assistants.

"Jasoom, perhaps," said the scientist. "Yes, that must be it. Jasoom -- a land that time forgot. Its people have advanced little beyond the white apes."

As the examination continued, Ras Thavas seemed less and less intrigued by the girl.

"The subject is of little use in my current experiments," he muttered to an asstant, who took copious notes. "She has even less ability to survive for long periods without water than the humans of Barsoom. That's to be expected, if she is of Jasoom, which is abundant in that respect. If only that incompetent Zodangan would finish his space ship, rather than playing with that other monstrosity! Then we could take all that we need..."

The thought struck some buried chord with the scientist. He turned abruptly back to me.

"How did she get here?" he demanded.

At that moment, three warriors entered the apartments.

"Xax demands the presence of Ras Thavas and his captives," ordered the leader.

"I am busy," replied the scientist.

"You will be dead, unless you comply, Toonolian," growled the warrior.

Bal Zak nudged me.

"The walls of Tur's temple have ears," the padwar said. "Even in the pits. It will not go well for you, if the girl is truly of Jasoom. I find the notion hard to believe. But the Phundahlians will consider it blasphemous."

Shis-Inday slowly regained consciousness. Without waiting for any further comment from Ras Thavas, the Jeddak's guards hustled us from the chamber, and up through the pits to the temple. The scientist followed, cursing the interruption.

As we were ushered into a great hall, Bal Zak seemed to stiffen at the sight of a colossal statue -- a squatting, man-like figure. The eyes of the idol rolled ponderously about the massive room, coming to rest upon our party at the far end.

"Tur," the Toonolian whispered. "The god of Phundahl."

Prone before the figure was a man in jewel-encrusted harness, whom I took to be Xax, the Jeddak. It was a pitiful, ignoble position for the ruler of any Barsoomian nation. As a prince of Helium, the sight sickened me. As a Defender of the Faith -- that of the true deity, Issus -- I found the spectacle abhorrent in the extreme.

Standing to one side was a young woman, also ornately jeweled.

"Xaxa," Bal Zak said, following my gaze. "The princess -- daughter of the Jeddak."

She seemed rather homely, for a Barsoomian princess. But etiquette prohibited me from commenting upon that.

The man rose, his head still bent low before the stone god. He did not raise his eyes until he'd turned to face us. Then he stood, motionless, staring at us. The eyes of the giant idol were also transfixed upon Shis-Inday and me. Xaxa took up her father's position upon the cold floor.

The Jeddak did not speak. My heart lept to my throat when the statue did.

"Blasphemers!" it bellowed, in a resonating tone that nearly shook the walls.

Xaxa leapt from the ground. Her body contorted. She bent toward us in a mocking pose of supplication.

"He worships a false goddess!" she screamed, pointing at me. Then the princess turned toward Shis-Inday.

"There are no worlds but Barsoom!" Xaxa cackled in a high- pitched wail. "Nothing exists but that which Tur created!"

The god in question continued to stare at us.

"Chain them in the pits," it said after a long moment. "Let them ponder not my judgement, for it is inevitable -- but the method by which it shall be carried out!"

"These two be guests of Ras Thavas!" shouted Bal Zak, who'd taken a liking to me and Shis-Inday for some reason. Perhaps it was simply because we had been deemed enemies of Phundahl. The Tonoolian had made it plain that he felt no love for Phundahl or its people.

"The girl could be important," added Ras Thavas.

"Tur has spoken," said Xax.

The Jeddak fell to the ground -- gibbering like the lunatics we'd left behind in the Great Marsh.

With that, we were led by the guards back into the pits.

Chapter Nine: Shis-Inday Tells Me Her Story ~ words by Jeff, art by David 

I would come to know Shis-Inday's story as well my own.
She told it to me for the first time that night, in the pits of Phundahl, sitting in darkness amid mildewed bones and the stale smell of death, awaiting the judgement of Tur.

The eyes of hungry ulsios glared from the shadows as she spoke. At first, I listened with half my attention diverted, lest the vermin attack.

Soon, however, the ulsios were forgotten.

To the Men of the Woods, as with the red men of Barsoom, all women hold positions of reverence. Consider that among the Shis-Inday, a race that would one day become feared for their "barbarity" along the length of a Jasoomian continent, there is no more sacred rite than the Nah-ih-es -- the four-day Puberty Ceremony held when girls become women.
A mother knows when her daughter is about to become White Painted Woman. Thus, Light-in-Eyes knew when it was time to call their family's women together to plan the Nah-ih-es of Shoz- Litzogue's only child.

Shis-Inday, whose real name cannot be spoken aloud, made the journey to womanhood during the Summer of Cool Rains, which was appropriate because of the special standing she had among the Be-don-ko-he.

The Power of Water had called to the girl when she was but five rains. Her ability as an izze-nantan was unusual for one so young, and a female at that -- but it was not unheard of.

"You are an extraordinary girl, my daughter," Yellow Bear said to her on the eve of the Nah-ih-es. "No doubt you will become an exceptional woman, the mother of many proud Be-don-ko-he warriors. Your strength will be our strength. White Painted Woman will glow within you. And us."

The Nah-ih-es of Shis-Inday promised to be one of the grandest in the memory of any Be-don-ko-he then living. Tribes from across The World would gather for the feast. Yellow Bear was a great chief, and so Shis-Inday was a princess among her people.

More than a celebration of Shis-Inday's transformation into White Painted Woman, the Nah-ih-es would signify the deep appreciation among the Men of the Woods for the blessings that Usen the Life-Giver had provided. The fruitfulness of a single woman is a symbol of the Shis-Inday's prosperity.

By all the means the Men of the Woods measured wealth, the Be-don-ko-he tribe was a wealthy one indeed. For they had clothes to wear, and food to eat; they knew where to find water in the barren wastes that encompassed their world -- often at the guidance of Shis-Inday. Some said she could conjure forth the precious liquid from rock.

They were brave hunters -- and mighty fighters, for even a peaceful people must defend themselves from enemies if they would remain free.

Most importantly, the Shis-Inday were at peace with themselves and their deity. Would that a similar relationship held between all men and whatever gods they hold dear. Or fear.

The beasts and the trees and air and the sun were put in The World to help the Human Beings survive in a place that was, in many respects, utterly inhospitable. They were brothers with the Directions and knew the twinkling lights in the night sky by name. Barsoom, I would one day learn, was called Gora-ban-Hinsu: "The Weeping Lover."

They were wary of the tricks played by Coyote; gave a respectfully wide berth to Snake; and avoided Raven completely.

All of these things made Usen happy, and He allowed the Men of the Woods to survive.

The Shis-Inday did more than survive. They thrived. They loved, they dreamed, they hunted, they prayed and they prospered.

Until the Men With the Metal Heads came.

Their leader was called Coronado, and he appeared from nowhere to destroy The World with the Evil men who followed him. They had heads of metal, and hair growing from their faces. They were horrible; murdering Be-don-ko-he warriors and ravaging Be-don-ko-he maidens. The Cho-kon-en and Ned-ni tribes suffered similar treatment.

The Men With Metal Heads hunted pesh-litzogue, the yellow stone that is buried underground. They believed it could be found in a place called Cibola, of which the Shis-Inday knew nothing. While searching for the fabled lost city, they burned the camps, the kunh-gan-hays, of the Human Beings and slaughtered their game.

It was on the second day of Shis-Inday's Nah-ih-es that the outsiders roared into The World and changed it forever.

Old Woman called from the darkness to Shis-Inday. "Here, child," she whispered. "Your grandmother is dying."

Shis-Inday found her behind a bush, crumpled and still. Redness covered Old Woman's chest. By the mooonlight, the girl could see blood pump forth with every beat of a tired heart.

"You have the Power of White Painted Woman, child," whispered the whithered one. "You are White Painted Woman, for the Nah-ih-es had not ended before the outsiders came. Her Chidin entered you, girl. And there it still resides."

Shis-Inday felt fear, not Power. The things she'd witnessed haunted and sickened her. The strange men riding strange beasts had sticks that bellowed with the Power of Thunder. Whenever the Men With Metal Heads called to the heavens, many Be-don-ko-he warriors were killed. Sometimes, women and children were killed, too. Lightning and Thunder are greatly feared by the Shis-Inday, so this Power held by the Men With Metal Heads made them all the more terrible.

The daughter of Shoz-Litzogue had lain in tall grasses, hiding; her Nah-ih-es dress tattered and torn, the ceremonial make-up mussed and streaking. She watched Yellow Bear, brandishing a war club, chase three of the attackers into the hills and disappear.

It was the last Shis-Inday would ever see of her father.

Where was Light-in-Eyes? Did she, too, lie behind some bush in the dark, dying?

Shis-Inday looked at her grandmother.

"I do not know what you mean, Old Woman," said the trembling child. "I have no Power. The Sprit of White Painted Woman is not here. She has fled, with all the rest."

"Shhhhh!" Old Woman hissed, extending a bony finger toward Shis-Inday's quivering lip. "Call upon Killer of Enemies, and Child of the Water! The sons of Usen will slay the Men With Metal Heads, just as they slew the Monsters when The World was young. They will hear you, and come, White Painted Woman!"

Old Woman's spasm of coughing frightened Shis-Inday. The girl ran away, into the arms of Night, tears streaming down her painted face.

"The outsiders have slain the children of Usen!" she screamed at Night. "And they have slain Usen, too -- else why would He have allowed them into The World?"

All around, she heard the sobs and shrieks of Be-don-ko-he women. The Be-don-ko-he warriors, though, were silent.

Shis-Inday ran until she could run no more.

Shis-Inday spent two years, alone, hunting and praying and watching the Men With Metal Heads. Her people, as was their way, had melted into The World's secret places to escape the enemy they could not drive out. But Shis-Inday knew they would return. That, also, was their way.
She made friends with Buu, the Owl, which was odd for a daughter of the Shis-Inday. The Men of the Woods believed Owl to be an incarnation of the Black Mountain Spirit, whose Medicine came from places best left undisturbed. Only her father had ever sung to the Black Mountain Spirit. But he was chief, and could do such things.

It was her spirit guide, Kliji-Litzogue, that Shis-Inday depended upon most during those days and nights.

The Yellow Lizard urged Shis-Inday to adopt the ways of the warrior: to see all, but remain unseen; to strike when there was little chance of being struck; to become feared among her enemies. He showed her the future, and she knew that these methods would become the only hope the Men of the Woods had to survive in a world that had changed into something terrible.

One day, while she spied from a mountaintop, Shis-Inday noticed a White Eye among the Men With Metal Heads.

During vision quests, Kliji-Litzogue had shown her how the White Eyes, or Pindah-Lickoyee, would come into The World after the way had been cleared by the Men With Metal Heads. Shis-Inday knew that they were to be shunned more than the Men With Metal Heads, who wanted only what lay buried beneath The World: pesh-litzogue.

The Pindah-Lickoyee, when they came, would take The World itself from the Men of the Woods.

So it was a matter of great concern to the girl that there was a Pindah-Lickoyee among the outsiders.

The Yellow Lizard could not explain it. At least, his explanation made no sense to Shis-Inday. That is the way of Spirit Guides, sometimes.

"A wanderer," the Yellow Lizard surmised. "An adventurer, perhaps."

"He is one of them," Shis-Inday said.

"Yes," the Spirit Guide answered. "And no. He is alone among them."

For as long as any Be-don-ko-he could remember, the watering hole was a haven. The various tribes of Human Beings put aside whatever dispute they might have had when venturing to this place of safety. Even the animals did not hunt here. They came to drink, and lick salt -- never attacking others that sought the temporary sanctuary.
Shis-Inday often came to this place during her exile. Kliji- Litzogue counseled against it. But the girl felt safe here with her friends, Buu, the Owl, and Ka-Chu, the Jack Rabbit. Sometimes Coyote joined them.

On this day, she sat stroking the head of timid Ka-Chu, and wistfully listening to the hooting of Owl. Coyote wandered in and out of the clearing, probably up to mischief. Shis-Inday shook her head at the wiley creature. He was usually harmless. It was best to keep an eye on him, though.

Kliji-Litzogue sunned himself upon a rock, near the water. He grumbled, sometimes, about the danger of this open place. Mostly, he just picked mosquitos out of the air with his darting tongue. Once, he told Coyote to go play with Snake -- a formidable insult. Coyote growled, and Shis-Inday laughed.

The attack came without warning.

Three of the Men With Metal Heads charged into the little glade and were on top of Shis-Inday before she knew they were within ten marches of her.

In later years, when she thought about the strange circumstances of her advent upon Barsoom, it was her failure to heed the advice of Kliji-Litzogue that pained her most. She would come to realize that the presence of Coyote had been an omen.

She struggled in vain against the marauders. But they were too large; the attack too sudden.

They wrestled with the girl, and then pulled her to her feet. One clutched her arms behind her back, while another, the apparent leader of the trio, disarmed her and stood back to look her over from head to foot. She could not understand the words he grunted, but his leering expression told her all that she needed to know.

She was afraid.

A brief argument ensued among the Men With Metal Heads. Eventually, she was dragged from the glade and marched in the direction the girl knew their main camp to be.

When they arrived, it was late afternoon. The camp was occupied by hundreds of the Men With Metal Heads. Fires were lit for the evening meal. Hunters drifted into camp with the day's kill. It was a loud place of shouts and gruff laughter. Here and there, a fight over some insult or perceived injustice broke out. Others circled around it, to watch and cheer, hurling insults and incentives.

The odors of the camp sickened Shis-Inday: leather and oil; spoiled meat and rotting vegetables; the musk of the strange beasts that the strangers rode into battle, and the pungent smell of the Men With Metal Heads themselves.

As her three captors paraded Shis-Inday through the camp, they gathered quite a following. The girl could not have known how beautiful she'd grown in her two years of solitude. She was sixteen rains old, by now -- a flowering maiden of the Be-don-ko- he, and the object of much attention in this camp of enemy soldiers.

Soon, it became nearly impossible to proceed, so closely were they pressed upon all sides by leering men. They jostled and clawed at Shis-Inday. One attempted to get a hand around her waist. When pulled roughly away, he tore her leather tunic. Another clutched at her flowing hair, jerking her head painfully backward. She stumbled and went down on her back in the dirt.

It seemed nothing could stop the inevitable now. One of the hairy-faced men fell on top of the struggling girl, tearing at what remained of her tattered tunic, while fumbling with his own clothing. Shis-Inday spat in his face, and was slapped visciously across the cheek. She kicked and screamed and scratched, to no avail.

Then she ceased her struggles, and prayed silently to Usen for deliverance.

It came in the form of the Pindah-Lickoyee.

He strode into the center of the jostling group, and roughly pulled the would-be rapist from Shis-Inday. He tossed the attacker back a half-dozen feet, and turned on the others who'd been waiting their turn with the frightened Be-don-ko-he girl. A sword flashed from his scabbard, and he spoke curtly in the alien tongue that Shis-Inday could not understand.

Grey eyes met the angry stares of the Men With Heads. When one reached for his own weapon, the Pindah-Lickoyee deftly disarmed him.

But it would not prove so easy as that.

Others pressed the warrior and maiden. Hands now free, the girl could assist in her own defense with all the ferocity that she'd brought to countless raids upon the outsiders during her two years of exile. She wrested a knife from one of her attackers, and cleanly gutted him with it. Then she turned on another, silently and efficiently slashing to left and right, leaving blood and screams in the wake of her blade.

With a grim smile upon his lips, the Pindah-Lickoyee wove a net of steel about them. His sword darted, tasting blood, as they retreated.

"El caballo," the warrior said.

Shis-Inday shook her head, unable to understand. The Pindah-Lickoyee gestured to one of the nearby riding beasts, and the girl knew that he meant for her to mount it.

She'd been fascinated by the animals since the arrival of the Men With Metal Heads. Now, Shis-Inday did not hesitate to leap to the back of the creature, grasping the lengths of leather as she'd seen her enemies do. She maneuvered the animal instinctively, speaking to it in the low but firm tones she'd often used with the woodland creatures that had been her friends since childhood.

"El Caballo," as the Pindah-Lickoyee had called the beast, moved through the swarming marauders at a fast trot.

It had been Shis-Inday's intent to ride close to the warrior who'd come to her rescue, and pull him to her side so that they could escape together. But as she approached, the Pindah- Lickoyee spun and slapped the animal's rump with the flat of his sword, sending it into a frenzied gallop toward the hills.

Try as she might to turn the animal, it was beyond Shis- Inday's power to do ought else than cling to its flowing mane and hope not to fall off. She caught glimpses of the white man's sword flashing beneath the eyes of Kleego-na-ay, the Moon, who had risen from his abode to parade majestically over Night.

For hours she rode, finally crossing a strange field filled with flowers that were thick with green pollen. The pounding hooves of El Caballo spit up the powdery substance until it covered her tattered clothing. Face and arms were also spattered green. By the time she'd reached the other side of the field, a drowsiness overcame Shis-Inday, and the animal.

The beast slowed, and eventually stopped, weaving back and forth in a daze. Shis-Inday slipped from its back, ready to fall to the ground herself from exhaustion.

The figure of a boy, silhouetted in the moonlight, roused her from the lethargy. Standing halfway up the slope of a mountain, he motioned for her to follow him.

"Child of the Water," Shis-Inday said aloud.

The Be-don-ko-he maiden looked for Kliji-Litzogue, her Spirit Guide, who should be near if this was truly a vision of the son of Usen. But the Yellow Lizard was not there. Calling upon a strength she did not know she possessed, Shis-Inday followed the boy upward, high into the mountains.

Child of the Water had always been an icon to Shis-Inday, whose Power among her people was drawn from his totem. She trusted this son of Usen more implicitly than she would her own father -- and Shis-Inday would have followed Yellow Bear into fire.

The way led to a dark cave. Before entering, Shis-Inday turned to look upon The World far below. It was bathed in moonlight, and the tears of countless bright stars. One among them stood out from the rest.

"Gora-ban-Hinsu," Shis-Inday said.

When she turned toward the cave, Child of the Water had disappeared.

In his place stood the Black Mountain Spirit.

Chapter Ten: Blasphemy ~ words by Jeff 

In the pits of Phundahl, Shis-Inday sat silent and brooding, her tale ended in the faceless presence of a Spirit who was not Evil, but of which her people seldom spoke. They respected, and somewhat feared, the great Power that the Black Mountain Spirit wielded over The World's massive places.
"And then?" I gently prodded, after a long time had passed.

"I do not know," she answered. "I felt a moment of sickness, and then a sharp click, as of the snapping of a taut bowstring. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness, and then --"

She shuddered.

I waited, loath to coax such painful memories from her.

"-- And then I woke to find myself here, in this place, staring up at the face of a Green One," Shis-Inday said. "Never had I seen anything so horrible in my most nightmarish visions. Not even Killer of Enemies and Child of the Water faced such a Monster. And they hunted Owl-Man Giant, in the before time."

"There are many red warriors who fear an encounter with the green men," I said softly.

"When the Green Ones learned of my Power, my ability to find water in this place that is even more dry than the most barren stretches of The World, I became a prized possession to them," Shis-Inday said.

"In some ways, I became a form of entertainment, as well," she continued. "For I had a new Power after coming here. I have great strength, and my ability to `sak,' is nothing short of uncanny. Ka-chu would be envious."

"I saw your marvelous leaps that night in the marsh," I said. "I have never seen anything like it. I know something of Jasoom, the world which that old scientist, Ras Thavas, says you must be from. Perhaps the differences between it and Barsoom give you these new abilities."

"Perhaps," Shis-Inday said. "I would certainly trade them to return to Light-in-Eyes and Yellow Bear. It has been a long time. Five rains -- or more; I do not know. I have never seen rain here, so how can I be sure?"

She had been looking at the dirt floor of our prison, hands folded delicately in her lap. Now, Shis-Inday raised her eyes to meet mine.

"I did not really believe that Usen was yah-ik-tee; that the Men With Metal Heads had killed Him," she said. "But, sometimes, it is difficult to understand His purpose."

Heavy chains bound our feet and wrists as guards placed Shis-Inday and me upon a circular dais. Above us rose a long, dark tunnel.
"The judgement of Tur awaits you, infidel," grinned one of the guards. "We'll be waiting for the Word of the Great One with anticipation. I hope that it is fire. I'll make it hot."

We were in a large chamber somewhere in the pits far below Phundahl. It was lit with flickering torches. The radium bulbs that light even the most ancient of Barsoom's dark places seemed to be unkown here.

Chivalry and honor were also unknown. I witnessed barbaric sights in this temple of doom.

An agonized scream from one of the poor souls being tortured punctuated my thoughts. The guard pushed us roughly to the stone tablet.

After a jolt, the dais moved slowly upward, through the opening. The grating of stone upon stone accompanied our progress through the shaft. As my eyes became accustomed to the dimness, I noted the mechanism of our conveyance: a series of pulleys attached to stone rollers, set in the sides of the shaft. I suspected that slaves powered the device.

We continued ponderously upward. One hundred feet. Two hundred. The smell of incense became thick about us.

A dull roar from above suggested the presence of a large crowd. Chants, and a few scattered shouts of passion, replaced the horrid sounds from the torture chamber below.

"Tur is Tur!"

"Death to the Blasphemers!"

"No worlds but Barsoom!"

We emerged in the center of the sweeping aisle that led to the throne of the statue-god, Tur. It sat in stony silence, surveying the chamber with its roving eyes. They rolled upon the crowd, which had been lulled into mesmerized silence. The assembled populace of Phundahl, thousands upon thousands, stared fearfully back at their god from the benches that ascended from the floor to nearly the ceiling of the hall.

The eyes of the people turned back to where we stood. A rumble built slowly from the center of the crowd, and soon the chanting and angered cries began again, hurled at Shis-Inday and me.

"Death!" screamed a woman.

The girl stood straight at my side, seemingly unconcerned by the wrath directed at us. Her gaze rested coolly upon Tur. She was more curious than afraid.

"Usen, slay this idol!" she defiantly whispered.

"Silence!" roared the idol in question.

Priests in white robes stood in front of Tur, facing us. Their entire bodies, including their heads, were wrapped in the cloth. Bowing, each swung a heavy chain with a ball of burning incense attached to it. The pendulums were perfectly synchronized.

Xax, the Jeddak, stood to one side of the huge statue, upon the other side was plain Xaxa.

Father and daughter were oblivious to the crowd, to Shis- Inday and me, and even to Tur. They seemed made of a stone more solid than that which comprised the false god. Blank looks of indifference masked their features as effectively as the shrouds that hid the emotions of the priests.

Despite Tur's vehement admonition, Shis-Inday spoke quietly in the strange language I'd heard her use before. I could tell that it was a prayer.

I listened for a moment, then turned my attention to Tur.

"I know not what science animates you," I cried at the obscenity. "Or where the workers of your mechanism hide -- but Issus will descend from the Lesser Moon and lay waste this blasphemy ere it continues much longer!"

That silenced the crowd. The poor deluded followers of a sacrilege were frozen in terror. Not by my words, but by the reaction they might bring from the stone god.

"And if She does not," I continued, "the soldiers of Helium surely will!"

Tur's reaction was immediate.

The lights in the temple were extinguished, plunging us all into inky blackness. For a moment, I was disoriented. But soon a greenish glow eminated from the direction of Tur. Whisps of smoke danced in the shadows that outlined the immense statue. Red points of lights glared from where I judged its eyes to be. A low gurgle became a moan that seemed amplified and utterly inhuman. I reached a manacled hand through darkness to Shis- Inday, to calm her.

But she needed no reassurance from me. Shis-Inday squeezed my hand, and we waited for whatever would come.

"Usen will protect us, if your Issus cannot," she whispered.

As instantaneously as the light had been extinguished, it was restored. Scarcely ten tals had passed. When my eyes refocused, I saw that the countenance of Tur had changed.

The grinning face, heavily joweled, had transformed into a wicked scowl of rage. A thick tongue undulated from the open mouth, and frothy droplets fell from it to the floor of the temple. One fleck landed upon a priest. He screamed, rolling to the ground and clawing at what must have been an acidic burn. His swinging ball of incense clattered across the floor, leaving a trail of noxious vapor. After a moment, his struggles slowed and finally ceased. He appeared to be dead.

The other priests remained frozen. Not a soul in the vast crowd stirred.

I hadn't noticed him at first, but now I saw that a newcomer stood at the front of the line of white-robed priests.

His ornamentation was even more resplendent than that of the Jeddak. A scintillating diadem was afixed to his brow. He bore a wicked grin that mimicked the statue-god behind him.

His skin was white and his head was bald. That seemed strange to me then, for the people of Phundahl are as red as the men of my own empire.

I'd never seen a Holy Thern before. And if I had, this would have been the last place I'd expect to find one.

"I am Hora San, High Priest of Tur," said the white man. "I speak for the god of Phundahl."

Hora San walked slowly toward Shis-Inday and me. The great chamber was absolutely silent, save for his echoing footsteps on the stone floor. When he was an arm's length from the girl at my side, the high priest stopped and glared intently into her unflinching eyes.

"Have you studied the Turgan?" he asked softly.

"Your words carry no meaning, Pindah-Lickoyee," Shis-Inday replied.

The crowd erupted. Hora San himself seemed gripped by an apoplexy that made it difficult for him to speak. When finally he was able, he motioned to one of the lesser priests. The man scurried forward, carrying a large book.

"It is The Book, penned by Tur himself -- one hundred thousand years ago," Hora San said.

The white-robed one knelt abjectly before Hora San, holding the book reverently. The high priest made a show of slowly opening the leather-bound volume, and turning to the appropriate page. With great flare, he quoted:

"I am Tur. Tur am I. My home is upon the sun. I fashion a disk of clay, and call it Barsoom, tossing it upon the ocean of space to watch it spin in a solitary existence that is absolute. It amuses me to create Man in various forms, and of two sexes. I also fashion animals, to be food for Man and each other. Vegetation will appear, and water, that Man and the animals might live. Know these things, and worship me in my many forms. And always fear me. I am Tur. Tur am I."

Hora San closed the book and looked expectantly at Shis- Inday.

"It is a lie," she said.

The statue groaned in a long, drawn-out wail that slowly increased in pitch and volume. I looked to the crowd, and saw that the Phundahlians had fallen on their faces, covering their ears and eyes with trembling hands. They rocked back and forth, chanting, "Tur is Tur. Tur is Tur."

Then the wailing stopped.

"You are a lie," Hora San said. "There are no worlds but Barsoom, and yet the ears of Tur heard it claimed that you come from another."

"There are many worlds!" I interrupted, straining against the thick chains that bound me. "Have you not seen them at night? Even Thuria and Cluros, who parade across the heavens in the Dance of Lovers, are populated by beings not completely unlike ourselves!"

"Silence!" screamed Xaxa from her place beside Tur.

Hora San ignored me, turning to Shis-Inday.

"Speak the name of the all-powerful!" the high priest demanded. "Speak the name of the true god!"

Shis-Inday didn't hesitate.

"In the beginning, Usen the Life-Giver created The Universe," she said. "Nobody knows just how he did it, but he did it and that is all."

A murmur ran through the crowd, as if no one could believe that such blasphemy could be uttered in the presence of Tur without the speaker having her eyes blasted from their sockets. Hora San made no comment, motioning for the girl to continue.

"You seal your own fate with every word you speak," he warned.

"When it came time to form The World, Usen told four power- spirits to do it for him," Shis-Inday said. "They were Black Water, Black Mountain, Black Wind and Black Thunder. Together they fashioned The World, but when they were finished they saw it was no good. It was dead."

I was fascinated by the girl's words. She recited the catechism of her religion in a soft sing-song. It was pleasing to the ear, no matter how difficult for the mind to grasp. It was the simple faith of a simple mind. Or, so I thought at the time.

My own faith in the Goddess of Death and Eternal Life remained unshaken; and would for long years to come. My trust in Issus was as strong as the day I'd first set foot in her temple at the center of Greater Helium. It could not be otherwise. I was a Defender of the Faith -- the faith of my father, my brother, and all our ancestors.

I know now that I was as deluded as the fanatics who stared down upon me that day from their perches surrounding a stone idol. That is a bitter admission for any red man of Barsoom to make; perhaps more bitter than you of our sister planet can know.

In the years since John Carter and my granddaughter revealed the hideous truth, the sham that is Dor and the wickedness of Issus, there are times when I recall the beliefs of my Shis-Inday. And I wonder.

Late at night, in the solitude of my cavernous palace, I sometimes seek the wisdom of Shis-Inday's Usen. I can tell you honestly, nephew of John Carter, that I believe the Life-Giver hears me -- a thing Issus never did. Even when I believed, I never felt her presence.

Perhaps Man creates god in his own image. Or some perverted contortion of it. That does not change Man's need for a god that listens. For who else will?

Shis-Inday continued the story of her gods:

"To make The World live, Black Water gave it blood by causing the rivers to flow. Black Mountain gave it a skeleton of hills and mountains. This way it was strong. Black Wind breathed life into The World by causing the wind to blow. The World was there in Usen's Universe, but it was cold. So Black Thunder clothed The World in trees and grass. This way it was made warm."

"And did it just lay there, in darkness?" asked the high priest.

"Of course not," answered Shis-Inday. The reply dripped from her tongue, scornfully.

"In the beginning, there was no darkness," she said. "Sun shone all the time. Night was kept prisoner in a sack, and Usen gave the sack to Badger to guard."

"Night was kept in a sack?" Hora San demanded. "That's preposterous! A land of eternal daylight?"

The high priest turned to the audience, spreading his arms wide.

"Preposterous!" he shouted, and the glaring crowd hissed its contempt. "If there was no night, how could Tur cause the eggs of our young to spring forth from His mouth?"

Shis-Inday was not deterred.

"One day Coyote saw Badger carrying the sack, and thought he had things to eat in there," she continued, ignoring the snickers of derision that still tittered from above. "Coyote started walking with Badger and said, `Old man, you look pretty tired. Why don't you let me carry that sack for a while?'"

Hora San folded his arms, yawning.

"Badger knew that Coyote was playing tricks," Shis-Inday said. "But Badger was indeed an old man. And he was tired. So he trusted Coyote to hold the sack for a little while. Sometimes we all need to trust one who is not worthy of trust. That is the way of things. Badger lay down by a tree to sleep."

"This is a child's tale," Hora San said. "I assume this `Coyote' fellow opened the sack, and Night escaped."

"He couldn't help it," Shis-Inday said. "It is Coyote's nature to do wrong. Badger could not blame him. And neither could Usen, or the Human Beings. Coyote is misguided."

That stopped Hora San for a moment. He licked thin lips, eyeing the girl with suspicion.

"Nor do I blame you, or the people of this strange place," Shis- Inday said. "You know not what you do. But you are hungry, and will do what you please. It's in the nature of Man to fill his belly, no matter the cost."

The high priest stared at the girl, his emotions rocking between disbelief and rage.

Soon, he regained his composure. Or, some semblance of it.

"Preposterous," he said again. But it was with less conviction than before.

Hora San's white face had grown somber. He stepped closer, and spoke in a voice too low for anyone else in the chamber to hear, except for Shis-Inday and me.

"And you, red man," he said. "I suppose you'll tell me of Issus?"

I made no reply.

"And Dor?" he continued. "Your heaven? The peaceful afterlife to which every man, woman and child of your race aspires following a thousand years of bloodshed?"

I refused to say anything of my faith to this heathen. It surprised me when he chuckled in a tone that sounded almost sympathetic.

"Your heaven, Prince of Helium, is in truth a hell," he whispered. "You should sink to your knees and thank me for preventing you from ever reaching it."

With that, he turned and walked back toward the statue god. When the high priest arrived at its base, Tur spoke our fate. "Death by fire," bellowed the stone god.

The only sound in the great hall was the hysterical laughter of Xaxa, princess of Phundahl.

No one noticed, or seemed to care, that Xax, the Jeddak, was gone.

Chapter Eleven: Hora San ~ words by Jeff, art by David 

As we descended toward the waiting fiends who would carry out the order to burn us alive, I wrestled feverishly with the chains that bound my wrists. The dais seemed to move downward faster than it had risen. The stone rollers fairly shrieked in protest as they scraped the sides of the shaft, sparks flying in the dimness that enveloped us.
I placed a length of chain between one of the rollers and the wall. The links snapped, after a violent tug that nearly wrenched my arm from its socket. Shis-Inday watched intently as I repeated the procedure with the chains that bound my feet. Soon, the girl and I were both free.

I calmly gathered the excess chain and motioned for the girl to do likewise. But she needed no coaching from me. The Be-don- ko-he princess understood my plan perfectly, without a word having been spoken.

The suddenness of our attack caught the guards below wholly unprepared. We burst from the shaft as soon as the opening was wide enough to permit it. Arms swinging like windmills, we twirled the loosely hanging chains to deadly effect. I caved in the skull of the first of our jailers who was unlucky enough to approach.

Shis-Inday, meanwhile, delivered a blow that cut another entirely in half through the torso. She'd told me that her strength was incredible upon Barsoom. But this was the first evidence I'd seen of it. She leaped nimbly across the chamber to the next frantic guard, and rained blow after blow upon his head and chest with the heavy chains on her wrists in a blur of motion that was impossible to follow.

We were alone.

Spying a set of keys hanging upon the wall, I rushed to find the one that would unlock the dangling chains. Presently, I'd traded the encumbrances for a good long-sword. After buckling a dagger and short-sword to my waist, I felt whole again.

Shis-Inday accepted a dagger, but preferred a length of chain to the other unfamiliar weapons I offered. Having seen her effectiveness with that improvised offense, I did not argue.

In the next room sat a line of prisoners, chained together. Taking the keys, I went to free them. The first that I saw was Bal Zak.

"One day I'll learn to mind my own business," he said grimly, as I hastily freed him.

"Perhaps you already have," I replied. "But the Prince of Helium will never forget that you spoke in his defense while surrounded by enemies."

An astonished cry from the far end of the line caused me to look to another of the prisoners. I felt my knees weaken as I recognized him, ignobly imprisoned like some common slave.

It was my father, Moros Tar.

"They come!" whispered Shis-Inday from her post at the door. "Many warriors."
The fighting light of old flickered in my father's eyes. Gone was the resignation and despair that clouded him when last we'd been together, in the Temple of Reward. He'd found purpose, somehow, in these thrice-cursed pits.

There was no time for explanations.

"A sword!" cried Moros Tar, as the chains fell from him.

From the racks on the wall, I quickly armed the dozen prisoners. I recognized several of them as members of my father's private Guard, who would have accompanied the Jeddak upon his Pilgrimage. I knew them to be the very finest warriors Helium had to offer. Their sole purpose was to protect the Jeddak's life with their own. That they had failed caused me some little consternation, though I had scarcely the time to dwell upon such things.

My earliest tutelage in the art of swordplay came at the experienced hands of my father and brother. Almost before I could walk, those two practiced teachers imparted to me the thrill of steel upon steel and the satisfaction of thrust and parry against an equal or superior foe -- not that many could match the skill to be found in the House of Mor.

Later, I stood shoulder to shoulder with them in battle against the enemies of Helium.

How many times had we three faced incredible odds, and overcome them to the everlasting glory of the Empire? I could not begin to say.

That time in the Temple of Reward, when the Jeddak whispered his intent to seek Dor, I thought never again would we defend together a cause that was just.

But now Moros Tar and I rose once more to the task, here in the pits of Phundahl, half a world from home, as wave after wave of pagan zealots rushed madly upon the points of our swords. Had my brother been there, my joy would have been complete.

Another, however, stood ably in Mors Kajak's place.

My father's eye fell admiringly upon the slender form of Shis- Inday as she lithely feinted and powerfully smote the attacking guards with the heavy chains that had formerly bound her.

"By Issus! She's a devil in combat!" Moros Tar breathed.

"I know little of Issus," Shis-Inday returned, leaping over the head of a foe to strike another. "It is in Usen's name that I fight for life, his most precious gift."

We'd lost two men in the unequal battle -- a Phundahlian slave and one of my father's guard. Bal Zak maneuvered close to my side.

"We cannot stand much longer, Tardos Mors," he whispered. "I know a way to elude these calots through precincts of their own pits that they do not even dream exist."

I was loathe to give up the fight, but there was nothing to be gained by holding useless ground. I'd learned that much at Flemster. I nodded acknowledgement, and Bal Zak led the retreat. I covered the rear, while the Tonoolian and Shis-Inday darted forward at the head of our remaining force through unlit chambers of damp and black.

The warriors of Phundahl were not the only enemies we needed to defend against, as these remote corners were fairly overrun with ulsios and other carnivorous creatures of Barsoom's underworld.

When we'd secluded ourselves, I turned with questioning eyes upon the Jeddak.

"I do not understand, father," I said.

"And neither do I, fully," Moros Tar answered. "Foul intrigues are afoot in Helium and elsewhere. Thank our ancestors that we are reunited, Tardos Mors, to uncover them."

Moros Tar had never begun the Pilgrimage. Spies had been waiting in his innermost sanctuary that day in the Temple of Reward. With the swiftness of Thuria, and as silently, they whisked him and his Guard from Helium and brought them to distant Phundahl.

The Jeddak was questioned, under torture, by Xax and Hora San, the white-skinned High Priest of Tur. They sought information about the Empire's defenses and her ability to continue the war with Ptarth.

They may as well have questioned a rock, for all the information they'd get from Helium's Jeddak.

"That stone blasphemy, Tur, sentenced me to death," Moros Tar said.

"Fire?" I asked, with the grim humor of a fighting man.

"Decapitation," the Jeddak replied, also smiling. "Although it was to be my fate to witness the immolation of another prisoner -- you, I now presume."

He laid his hand upon my shoulder.

"I knew that you would come," he said.

I briefly narrated my adventures, including my encounter with Thuvan Dihn, who harbored suspicions himself about the war .

I also made it clear that it was not by design that I'd found my way to Moros Tar's side. He shook his head, softly, and the wisdom of a Jeddak stared back at me.

"I knew that you would come," Moros Tar repeated. "And now that you are here, we must learn the intent of our enemies."

I haunted the temple of Tur for days, hiding in the rafters and other secret places that Bal Zak had discovered during his service with the conniving mastermind, Ras Thavas. I witnessed barbaric rituals that would turn the stomach of any who believed in the deity of Issus.
I also learned the secret of Tur.

On the third morning of my vigil, as I spied from a hidden recess at the back of the temple, I saw Hora San's furtive entrance. Save for we two secretive souls, no other occupied the vile shrine.

Hora San snuck, cowering, to the rear of the statue. He toggled a jewel at its base, and a hidden door slid silently open. With a futile glance to assure himself that no one was watching, he slipped inside, and the door closed behind him.

I leapt from hiding my place, and bounded across the stone floor to the place where the white scoundrel had disappeared. It was the work of an instant to repeat the procedure, and soon I was inside the blasphemy.

In the gloomy interior, I heard whispers drift softly from above. I recognized the second speaker as Xax, puppet Jeddak of Phundahl.

"I tell you, the Heliumites must be found!" said Hora San, rage evident in his tone.

"And I tell you, they have escaped Phundahl!" rejoined Xax. "Slaughtering half my finest warriors in the process. By all the forms of Tur! One man was cut in half!"

A ladder rose to the platform where Hora San and his henchman plotted. I secreted myself behind it, to better hear their words.

"If my agents among Moros Tar's Guard still live, then perhaps they're waiting for the right moment to make their move," mused the High Priest.

More intrigue! Would it never end?

"Your daughter is still ignorant of our plans?" Hora San asked the Jeddak.

"My daughter is ignorant of everything," Xax replied, sadly. "She believes with the rest of Phundahl that this monstrosity is the living god, Tur."

"Then all is not lost," the high priest said. "We can use her to further our purpose."

"Have we not already used her enough?"

"Ignorant red man!" Hora San hissed. "We'll yet save Barsoom from the slow death that awaits it."

"Save it for whom?" questioned Xax. "A handful of slaves to do your bidding? My people -- my entire race -- deserve better."

There was the sound of a brief struggle. A body fell from the platform, landing with a dull thud a sword's length from where I hid.

Glancing at the contorted figure, I knew that the princess Xaxa now ruled this evil land.

"It is as you said," Bal Zak reported. "Xaxa has been crowned Jeddara of Phundahl."
I'd been waiting quietly in our secret apartments for the return of Moros Tar and the others of our party from their various missions of espionage. Shis-Inday stepped to my side as Bal Zak, my father, and the six remaining members of the Jeddak's Guard gathered about a rough table in this remote chamber of the pits.

The room was well-lighted by radium bulbs. A collection of highly advanced scientific instruments surrounded us. They belonged to Ras Thavas, and other scientists that Bal Zak told me had been gathered from the farthest reaches of Barsoom by Hora San -- Fal Sivas of Zodanga; Phor Tak of Jahar; even a yellow-skinned fellow, from some northern clime, named Solan.

"And Xax?" I asked.

"His body has been paraded through the streets," Bal Zak answered. "They say that you killed him."

"Would that it were true," I murmured.

"What is your plan, my son?" asked Moros Tar.

As I think on that comment, these many years later, it strikes me as the moment I became Jeddak. My coronation would come later, and then all of Barsoom would know that Tardos Mors ruled Helium. My father had given me his blessing in the Temple of Reward; but that had rung hollow. This was the instant when Moros Tar truly knew I was ready for the throne, even if I did not.

"First, it is time for the Test of Loyalty," I said casually, carefully observing the reaction of the Guard.

Without hesitation, and no flicker of emotion betraying their thoughts, three of that group rose immediately from the table, facing Moros Tar. A fraction of a moment later, the other three rose to join them. The delay was enough to tell me who the traitors among them were.

The Guard members each drew short-swords, and stood poised to plunge them into their own breasts at the command of Moros Tar or myself.

Seldom is the Test used by a Jeddak of Helium -- but any who would thus serve the House of Mor must be ready at a moment's notice to prove in this manner that they are loyal. It is the only way to insure the Jeddak's safety when there is the possibility of breached security.

Moros Tar had already drawn his own weapon. He knew that I would not call for the Test unless I had reason for my suspicions. The hestitation among the three he thought to be loyal was enough to raise suspicions of his own.

"You would betray me?" the Jeddak said. "I've known each of you since the day you broke your snowy white shells!"

For answer, the unfaithful three turned upon those who were loyal.

"It is for Barsoom that we act!" cried the leader, attacking.

Chapter Twelve: Bal Zak ~ words by Jeff, art by David 

The loyal three expertly defended themselves. They did more than that -- carrying out the duty for which they had trained since childhood: To protect the life of Helium's Jeddak. It was a duty any subject of the Empire would gladly shoulder. Few, however, could do it so well as the Jeddak's Guard.
But the traitors had also been superbly trained -- by the same warlords as the three who were loyal. The display of swordsmanship that ensued would have drawn cheers from the throats of thousands, had thousands been there to witness it.

Love and loyalty might have been enough to bring victory to the Jeddak's faithful guards. But they had more than that -- there were Shis-Inday, Bal Zak and myself.

Two traitors were quickly dispatched; the third escaped through a hidden panel that none of us could re-open once it slammed shut behind him.

"Knife and awl!" cursed Shis-Inday, hurling her great strength against the immobile door.

"He'll make his way to Hora San," I said. "We're no longer safe here. If ever we were."

"We must know their plans!" insisted Moros Tar. "By the knee of Issus, I'll not sacrifice Helium because of some disparity in numbers."

"Disparity in numbers!" cried Bal Zak. "You men of Helium have a strange mathematics. It is four against a city!"

The Toonolian suggested we steal a flier, adjusting the mechanism in a way he knew that would improve the sluggish Phundahlian craft. We could return with reinforcements in a matter of days.

Neither Moros Tar nor I favored that plan, for who could know whether days were available to spare? But Shis-Inday counseled that there was wisdom in it.

Reluctantly, the Jeddak and his son were persuaded -- by two outsiders -- the best way to protect the Empire.

Bal Zak proved to be a wizard with machinery. He tuned the hulk of a Phundahlian flier we selected so that it hummed with the efficiency of the sleekest ship of the Heliumetic fleet. Not long after we'd been aloft, Moros Tar offered him a post in our Navy.
"No," the Tonoolian answered. "Ras Thavas may be an eccentric master, but I've served him my entire life. I suspect that I always will."

"Such loyalty makes you even more valuable," said the Jeddak. He was thinking, no doubt, of the three who'd betrayed him.

Moros Tar spoke no more of it, however. To those with honor, a Barsoomian's oath is more sacred than his life. And the number of those with honor is greater by millions than those without it.

That Bal Zak had thrown his sword at the feet of a mad scientist made the act no less significant. Any fealty to Xax and Hora San, by extension, had been broken by Bal Zak's sentence of death.

Shis-Inday leaned far over the side of our speeding craft, marveling at the new sensation of flight.

"The spirit of Black Wind must be a powerful ally among your people," she said. "He carries you upon his shoulders!"

"It's no ghost that lifts us," muttered Bal Zak. "Though I'll wager the Phundahlians who built this crate have long since gone to meet their ancestors."

"How long till we reach your camp?" Shis-Inday asked.

I'd never heard Helium referred to as a "camp," with all her millions. Smiling, I was about to answer, when the princess disappeared.

"Hair of Issus!" shouted Moros Tar, leaping to his feet. "She fell!"

Bal Zak, who manned the controls, needed no command from either the Jeddak or myself to plunge our ship in a mad descent toward the surface of Barsoom.

But we three knew it was a meaningless gesture. The Jasoomian girl's life upon our planet had ended as anonymously as it began. I felt sorrow and loss well within me, and I grieved for this unknown savage from another world. I sank to my knees, stunned by the loss.

I'd seen countless other lives senselessly snuffed out -- including my own brother and mother. Why did this girl's death affect me so profoundly? I barely knew her.

The answer came with the words I spoke after a faint cry for help rose from below our ship.

"Hold, my princess!" I shouted, staring over the gunwale at the dangling form of Shis-Inday. She clutched in one hand a rope that trailed in the wind, straining with with her great Jasoomian strength against the gravity that sought to drag her downward.

With Shis-Inday hanging by so slender a tether to life, I did not have time to think about the import of those words: "My princess."

I leapt to the rail, fastening a grappling hook to it, and began the perilous descent to Shis-Inday's side. Before I reached her, our craft was near enough the ground that she could drop lightly to the spongy floor of the Great Tonoolian Marsh.

I joined her, crushing her to me in an embrace that was more like that of a father than lover -- proper, for two who were not betrothed. She nestled contentedly.

"Raven nearly caught me," she said, as defiant as she'd been before Tur. "But Usen prevented it. Perhaps another day Old Man Death will win. But not this day."

Despite the brave words, I felt her tremble.

Then she stiffened, and a low growl of warning escaped her lips. Her dagger flashed from its sheath.

Hundreds of the Gooli lunatics surrounded us.

Perhaps it was Raven's day after all.

With drawn swords, Moros Tar and I kept Shis-Inday between us, circling slowly and menacing as best we could the lunatics that crept closer. Some carried rocks. Others had sharpened sticks. Their numbers alone were enough to overwhelm us.
Shis-Inday was annoyed by the positions my father and I had taken on either side of her. Though we'd both seen her fight, and thus knew her to be entirely capable, it was difficult to undue a lifetime of protective instinct toward the fairer sex.

Bal Zak had been tinkering with the controls of the flier when the lunatics appeared. That he was unaware of their presence seemed evident by the loud curses coming from his direction.

"Foul workmanship!" he shouted over the side, amidst clanking metal. "Twisted drive shaft! The ship was unequal to the dive."

The lunatics were readying themselves for a mad charge when Bal Zak stuck his head up over the gunwale. The effect was electric.

"Ho!" cried the padwar of Ras Thavas. "Back, you unwashed pouch-breeders!"

They obeyed.

"You just have to hit 'em with the right voice," Bal Zak called to us. "The mastermind can do it in his sleep. I'm not bad at it, though."

For added emphasis, he pulled on the booming air-horn of the flier. The squeal sent our would-be attackers scurrying.

"Marsupials -- can you believe it?" Bal Zak said, climbing to the ground. "Why Ras Thavas wanted to breed human marsupials, I'll never know. The idea itself is as insane as they are. But if he's not cross-breeding species, he's growing a new one in some reeking vat. Or hacking out a brain and...doing things to it. That one is never content with Nature's plan."

"I'm a fool, to have forgotten the wireless," said Bal Zak, as we made our way toward the village. "No need to go to Helium, when we can as easily dispatch a message through the ether."
Moros Tar looked at Shis-Inday.

"Your fall saved us a long journey," he said.

"Nevertheless," she answered, "I, too, feel like a fool."

We forced the door to the locked shed in Gooli where Ras Thavas kept his wireless. Soon, instructions had been delivered for a fleet of warships to meet us. The jedwar we contacted seemed confused, but as both Moros Tar and myself provided our personal codes, he obeyed without question.

Later, Shis-Inday and I scouted the forest around Gooli. I worried that we'd been followed from Phundahl, and wanted to assure myself otherwise.

We paddled across the lake, from the island of Ompt to the mainland. Over the course of millenia, the Great Toonolian Marsh had alternated between watery swamp and jungle-like forest. During the time of which I speak, the waters had receded to a few scattered lakes and small creeks, seeping into the ground to permit the nearly riotous growth that surrounded Shis-Inday and me.

I marveled at the girl's woodcraft. She saw signs in the tangled vegetation that were invisible to me. None of them hinted at pursuit, she told me.

Feeling confident that we were secure, I was about to turn back to camp when Shis-Inday laid a hand upon my shoulder. Without words, she nodded toward the open sea bottom that lay beyond the edge of the Great Marsh.

"Green men," I said, cursing. "Thousands of them." Two great hordes were converging upon us -- no doubt from Thark and Warhoon.

Possibly they hunted Shis-Inday. Or it might have been a continuation of the war that began with the destruction of Thark hatchlings at the incubator.

Whatever the cause, it heralded no good for us.

Then, over the rim of the horizon, a monumental battle fleet appreared. I knew that it could not be from Helium, as sufficient time hadn't yet passed for the arrival of Moros Tar's Navy. When the flagship approached close enough for me to make out its lines, I recognized the design of Ptarthian craftsmen.

Shis-Inday pointed in the opposite direction. Another fleet was massing on that horizon.

Whatever scheme had been hatched by Hora San, it now seemed ready to play out. The opposing fleet was from Phundahl.

Would the two meet in battle?

Or were they joining forces, as allies?

by Jeff Long

ERBzine 1620
Intro & Contents
ERBzine 1621
Section 1
ERBzine 1622
Section 2
ERBzine 1623
Section 3
ERBzine 1624
Section 4
ERBzine 1625
Section 5

Jeff Long's Barsoomian Blade & Panthan Press Features in ERBzine
Blade 1 | Blade 2 | Blade 3 | Blade 4 | Blade 5 | Blade Fiction 1 | Fiction 2 | Fiction 3 | Fiction 4
Princess of Jasoom | Princess 1 | Princess 2 | Princess 3 | Princess 4 | Princess 5 |

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