The party of three
struggled mightily upward through the blinding snow. Jarla, Zara and Jarn
had by now left the desert of Thara far in their wake. A great wall of
snow-clad mountains –the mountains of Ator--now stood in their path from
the lands where Sari was located. There were routes around the forbidding
peaks of course, but east would have taken them nearly to the shores of
the Korsar Az, and amongst a vast, swamp swarming with the carnivorous
reptilians of the Mesozoic, not to mention hordes blood-hungry prehistoric
mosquitoes, each nearly the size of a cat. The distance west was
far greater, and it would have taken immeasurably long for two girls and
a boy to circle the mountain chain. Thus, according to Zeera’s directions,
they opted for what she deemed the safest passable route through the mountains
It was not easy going, and unfortunately,
the pass Zara believed was here was located far above timber line. But
tough you might think it nearly unthinkable for three young people to attempt
the feat of crossing the mighty slops of the Ator range. But all three
of them were birthed of warrior tribes, and were well-trained in physical
prowess almost from the cradle. The Amazon maid was very strong and athletic
for her youth, and taller than the others. Jarla too, was already a seasoned
warrioress, as both male and female children of the O-lar were trained
in the art. And Jarn had discovered the art of teasing and escaping such
as tarags and ryths, early on, (much to the chagrin of his elders), and
was quite skilled at climbing, far more than any youth of the modern world.
All three of them, in fact, were
able to locate finger and toe holds that would have remained all but invisible
to even the most veteran mountain climbers of the surface. Although one
might not have expected it, there was plenty of game among the mountains;
herds of shaggy wild goats, ibex, and chamois were in great abundance.
There were also small pika-like rodents, and preying upon these were several
species of alpine hawks, harriers, and other birds of prey, as well as
one species of hunting pterosaur, whose body and leathern wings were clothed
in silky white fur.
the opportunist, was able to bring down one of the wild goats with his
spear. It was a thickly wooled species, whose shaggy fur was decorated
in gorgeous stripes of ebony and chestnut. They hauled the goat’s carcass
to a ledge. There they made camp, and spared no time in flaying and butchering
Jarn’s kill. They made a low fire over which they roasted a great haunch
of goat meat. The wooly coat made effective cloaks for the three of them,
and they sat about their makeshift fire, huddled in their furs. The juicy
goat-meat, after their long and arduous ascent, tasted like heaven, better,
Jarn decided than the domesticated goats raised by the Nu-al. The chill,
bitter wind whipped about them on the ledge, as they huddled about the
fire. Jarn gazed out at the vast distances beyond, at the spine of mountains
that were the Ator as they marched up and away, and at the leagues of mighty
jungle and plain that now appeared, from their vantage point as a jade
and turquoise haze. He could just make out the deep ochre and red of the
Tharra, and the glimmering blue to the east that was an arm of the Korsar
Az. He could not see where their path would take them beyond these peaks,
but the adventuresome spirit in Jarn’s breast was eager to find out.
They slept curled together away
form the lip of the precipice, sharing one another’s body-warmth, as the
wind continued to whip snowflakes about them.
When they awoke, they set off
At length, they reached the pass
through which Zara believed would lead them through the Ator and down the
slope to the lands beyond with relative ease. It was a narrow and winding
passage which snaked between the towering gray slopes to either side. The
going did now indeed seem to be easier. But the cold was all the more fierce
at this altitude, and before they had traversed much further, snow began
to fall in earnest. Soon the kids were trudging deep in drifting snow.
Fortunately, Zara, understanding the treachery of this forbidding region,
and made them fashion some of the goat hide into thickly furred boots for
such travel. While each of the girls were fairly skilled at this, Jarn
was less proficient, having cheerfully shirked the learning of such tasks
back in Nu-al, sand Zeera wound up doing most of the work for him. This
embarrassed the boy a bit, having to be taught by a girl, and for the first
time Jarn had some regret about not listening to his elders, at least part
of the time.
But their improvised cloaks
and boots were serving well enough as the snow continued to swirl, and
the wind to tear at them, whipping their hair and the fur of their clocks.
It looked as though it was growing into a blizzard.
“How much further?” Jarn asked.
“I already told you.” Zara said.
“We’ll have to find shelter.” Jarla
said. “We’ll have to wait this out.”
Just then, a blurred, manlike
shadow dropped sideways from a shelf above, to land some distance in front
But his vision was much
obscured by the pouring snow, and it had occurred with such swiftness that
Jarn was uncertain he had seen it at all.
“I saw it,” the Azeer girl said.
There was a steely tone in voice, which told Jarn that the warrior maid
was preparing herself for possible battle. But he could also detect an
undercurrent of fear, uncharacteristic of the Amazons of her tribe, evident
in her voice. The girl readied her spear. The other two kids followed her
What unknown foe were they facing?
Jarn was not sure he cared to know, surrounded as they were, by sheer walls
of solid rock, caught in a near-blizzard. The boy kept his eyes trained
ahead, to the spot where he had seen the shadow land, though still he could
not see anything save the falling snow, not even any movement, and for
a second he believed he must have been mistaken.
Another such shape fell—or leapt—into
the canyon from the opposite wall. It landed somewhere to there side. Then
another and other. The gray man-like forms were now pouring into the ravine
from both sides. Jarn and the two warrior-maids formed a circle, facing
outward at their foes, nettle formation.
Shambling horrors now surrounded
them, and they gasped in unison. The things were manlike in form, but unlike
any beast or race Jarn had ever seen, much less heard of. Their sinewy,
ape-like arms reached below their bent knees, and terminated in large grasping
hands tipped with black talon-like claws. They had powerful torsos and
broad shoulders. Thick mans of long silky hair framed their small, bestial
faces, which were small apish, flat-nosed visages, with wide gashes for
mouths, from which short, tusklike fangs protruded form the lower lip.
Their entire bodies were clothed in short but thick furr, the same snowy
sheen as that of their wild manes. Long, tails each tipped with a bristly
tuft, lashed behind them. Small, feral eyes of a deadish, pallid blue gazed
at them with bestial malice.
“It is the sharkas! The
wild-men of the Ator!” cried the Amazon girl. “Fight—or we are lost.”
Jarn and his companions leveled
their spears as the horde of slavering feral creatures began to close about
them. The Nu-al boy had never seen or heard of such beasts. They were not
sagoths, that known enemy of his people, though their appearance was somewhat
apish, and they seemed somehow more similar to true men than to the ape.
Perhaps they were humans who had reverted to a state of savage bestiality
from living among the windswept slopes. But whatever their origins, the
sharkas, as Zara had so named them, were clearly a hostile race, and intent
upon either killing or capturing them.
Manlike thought they were
the pack of feral men circled the three kids, in the manner of a starving
wolf-pack, looking for any weakness or opening, through which they might
launch their attack. A low growl escaped the throats of some, again more
in the manner of the savage codon then any human or humanoid.
Then, the growl in his barrel chest,
building into a wild scream that drowned the alpine wind, the first among
the pack attacked.
He sped straight toward Jarn, perhaps sensing
that he was the youngest. But the boy reacted with skill and veteran quickness,
ducking beneath the creature’s talons as they raking the chill air above
his head, and jabbing up with his spear. He impaled the creature on his
spear. The man-beast screamed horrendously, the sound more chilling to
the boy’s ears then the frigid wind. Jarn rolled aside, then regained his
feet quick as a cat, as he pulled the blood-soaked spear free.
The other sharkas were upon them now.
They charged upon the three in a whirlwind of slashing talons. The boy
and the warrior girls thrust and with their spears killing any that came
For a second the howling horde drew
back, intimidated by the sudden deaths of their fellows. But it was obvious
that they were hopelessly outnumbered. Soon the pack of feral men would
drag them down. The normally optimistic Jarn felt his brave heart sinking;
would this really be the end for them? Even if it was so he determined
to make his slayers remember him well into the afterlife. A low, determined
growl escaped the throat of the savage boy as he prepared to meet his would-be
slayers as they closed in.
Once again, a bolder member of
the sharka pack charged, uttering a hideous, inhuman scream. But in that
selfsame instant there was a loud report, like thunder, that resounded
off the high windswept walls of the ravine. Thunder was impossible here,
Jarn thought. But in the same instant, the man-beast fell over dead in
his tracks. The other pack members, rather then rush in upon them, howling,
fell back once. A few stray whines escaped form their throats.
And through the cascading curtain
of flakes in the dim passage ahead, Jarn saw another upright form, this
one not hunched in the manner of their attackers but erect in the manner
of a human. A voice called to them over the howl of the wind and confused
jabbering of the sharkas. “Over here! Run—if you wish to live!”
Jarn and the others realized
that they could not have imagined that voice—it clearly belonged to a man.
The figure held one arm aloft, and bore a faint light—a torch of some kind?
They all raced in the direction of the figure through the slogging snow,
seeing that under the circumstances they had little choice.
The sharkas howled,
now gathering their collective courage once again, and poured after them
There was another loud report,
and another of the beast men went down.
“Run!!” cried Jarn.
They ran and ran, though
the shadowy figure before them now seemed to have disappeared. Jarn began
to wonder if he’d imagined it. Snow swiveled and got in his eyes. The man-beasts
behind them gave vent to a ghastly howl in unison. It chilled Jarn to the
bone, sounding as much like the baying of wolves as the chorus of simian
half-men. Some of the beasts, growing emboldened, began to take up the
chase once again. The rest of the pack began to follow.
The girls and boy ran and ran,
slogging through the snow, which now was growing nearly to their knees.
Then Zara suddenly stopped and
starred. Though they had no idea why, Jarla and Jarn did also, wondering
what she could possibly have sighted.
Then they saw through the swirling curtain
of flakes, a vast black aperature in the cliff wall. And in that blackness
Jarn saw twin splotches of greenish incandescence that could only be the
eyes of some huge predator.
The kids stepped back. Zara readied
And out of the black rift and
into the dim light and whirling flakes, there emergd a nightmare vision.
Never before had Jarn beheld
such a beast as now greeted his vision. But he had heard of beasts like
this. They were the great white ryth of the mountain country, beasts twice
the bulk of their lowland counterparts. The beast the now emerged was roughly
the size of a bull mastodon, or appeared so to the startled eyes of the
young cave boy. To Jarn the monster that now filled his gaze seemed unreal
almost dreamlike, some impossible colossus born of the flying snow and
his own wild imagination.
But when the ryth roared thunderously,
his mighty volume shaking the very walls of the chasm, he knew this was
all too real.
Their feeble spears would be as toothpicks
against such a living mountain of shaggy muscle. Even a full party of armed
warriors would have meager chance of bringing such a titan down without
sacrificing half their number.
“Run!” screamed Zara. She flung
herself to open side. The other two followed her lead. They ran on. Jarn
looked back, expecting to see the ursine behemoth surge after them in pursuit.
But it seemed its attention
was fixed upon something else. Jarn ran on, keeping pace with his female
companions as best he could. And then he discovered the answer.
The sounds of frenzied combat sounded
behind them, overridden by the quaking roars of the mountain ryth.
Jarn and the others looked
Through the pouring curtain of
snow, they saw the pack of sharkas attacking in the massive snow bear.
The howling ape-things hurtled themselves at the towering white colossus.
Screaming, the quasi-humans continued to attack raking the behemoth with
their slashing talons. The roaring ryth charged among the horde. Jarn watched
in a savage mixture of awe and satisfaction, as the ryth batted and slew
with the blows of his gigantic, sledgehammer paws. The sharkas continued
to swarm over him in berserk rage, gibbering their fridgid, inhuman cries
of battle. Quas-humans were sent flying bloody, and disembowel, as the
giant cave bear slew…and slew.. and slew.. and slew.
They heard the voice, and
all looked. The figure was there once again, holding up the pale wan light.
The kids, not knowing what else to do, followed. This time they did not
lose sight of their benefactor.
At length they came to another
great gaping aperture in the side of the cliff. Fearing it was the lair
of another great beast, Zara stopped momentarily. But their benefactor
seemed to have disappeared into the dark in front of them. Warily they
The descended down a slope
into what had to be a vast, deep cavern. When they reached the cavern,
the man turned and faced them. They all gasped.
He seemed an elderly man, with
a white beard, and a craggy face yet he seemed to be fairly powerfully
built, doubtless the effects of living in these hostile environs. He was
dressed in a patchwork of animal skins, comprised of the skins of various
mountain goats, and the fur of the great white mountain ryth itself. The
light source that he carried was no torch, as Jarn had first supposed,
but a hanging square box, which held within a dancing yellow flame. Of
course, none of them had ever seen a lantern before, but this was what
it was, without a doubt. Looking closer at the man’s face, Jarn decided
that perhaps he was not as old as he had seemed, but had grown hard and
wild from living in this windswept place.
The cavern, they now saw,
was littered with heaps of animal furs, and another fire stood at its center,
the dancing orange flames throwing up their tongues fantastically, casting
ghastly patterns onto the high, craggy walls. There were other objects
about, doubtless the old man’s possessions, but jarn was unable to identify
any of them.
“What are you doing here?” the
man asked of them.
“We are travelers,” Zara said,
“seeking to cross the Ator.”
“”Seeking to cross the Ator?
Three youngsters such as yourselves? Perhaps you are fugitives, running
from your tribes.”
Jarn was uncertain
if he should tell the truth, but he did anyway. “We are searching for a
country called Sari. It’s supposed to lie somewhere beyond these mountains.
Do you know where it is?”
This seemed to produce a reaction
in the old man. “Sari, eh? The Land of the Empire. What business do you
The two girls remained silent, but
Jarn said, “My name is Jarn of Nu-al. I have friends there. They set out
for that country and I was seeking to join them.”
“Humph! You look a bit
young to be traveling from Nu-al to Sari by yourself! Not that I suspect
any seasoned warriors would risk taking you along with them on such a vast
journey. I think you’d better tell me what you and two young women barely
older then yourself are doing out here nearly getting yourselves devoured
Jarn was about to reply, but
the man waved his hand. “I expect it’s quite the story. Come sit by the
fire, and have some meat. Then I’ll listen.”
The youngsters settled
themselves on some cube shaped objects of wood, which were arranged about
the fire evidently for this very purpose.
The man himself sat down on one
of them opposite the fire. He gazed at the kids warily with his rheumy
blue eyes. The kids shivered and stamped their feet. Outside the cave,
out in the vast world, the wind howled mightily. The man had seen to it
that his dwelling was man and secure form the frightful elements.
Jarn and his friends stamped
their feet, and rubbed their hands together to rid themselves of the chill.
Over the fire, they now saw,
was a roasting torso of ibex. The man stirred the coals. Then he said,
“I brought down this beast myself. I believe it’s cooked about enough.”
He doused the fire, then carved slabs of meat from the roasted carcass.
These he served to his three young visitors. One slab he saved for himself.
After this, he started up the fire again, until once more the flames were
leaping merrily. The kids felt the warmth seeping gratefully until their
chilled bones. The manner in which the man did this, though, was most curious
to Jarn. He did not bother rubbing two stones together, as the boy expected
him to do. Instead he held out a small, flat rectangular box, and merely
flicked his thumb. The top of the box flipped open and, to Jarn’s amazement,
a small flame appeared.
It made sense now. The
man had to be a Shaman—and a very powerful one, more so than Zug, the shaman
of Nu-al, Jarn decided. That must be how he made the light he carried with
him as well. Why else would a man be living out here in the mountains by
himself, in less he were a working of powerful magic? Doubtless he had
powerful allies with whatever spirits haunted these soaring peaks.
“Tell me,” the man said.
“Like I said, I’m dying to hear your tale.”
Jarn elected to be the teller
of the tale, and for once he decided to tell the flat-out truth. Jarla,
and then Zara put in the details where necessary. The oldish man listened
to them patiently, not seeming incredulous.
Finally the man said, “That
is quite a tale, though I’m certain I believe quite all of it. It is clear
that your elders”—and here he indicated Jarn and Jarla—“do not approve
of your being together. But it’s not my business. After all, I don’t doubt
they reacted too harshly. You two seem meant for each other, even if you
made up that part about a jealous suitor. I’ll let you stay with me until
the storm abates. Then, I’ll give you enough supplies to see you on your
way. You’re very lucky I found you in time by the way. The sharkas are
“So I have heard.” said
Zara. “I have never seen one of them myself, but my people tell tales of
the ghastly half-men that lurk among these peaks.”
“They mostly kill goats and wild sheep,”
the man said “but they relish the flesh of any human and humanoid who ventures
into these mountains. I’ve had more than one nasty brush with the blighters
“I have heard they are descended form
men who ventured into the Ator and became lost and without food, and so
fell upon themselves and ate one another’s carcasses.” said Zara. “Then
the gods cursed them to dwell forever in this land, always preying on whatever
travel strays among their midst.”
“How did you mange to kill them?” Jarla
“Yes.” said Jarn. “We heard a loud
noise, before we saw you. And one of them fell.”
Zara laughed. “Jarn is a foolish boy.
Only such as he would think a noise could kill. Whatever killed the sharka,
it was not that.”
“The noise did not kill.” agreed
the old man. “This did.” He held up a strange object of some black shiny
substance. Jarn gazed at it. He had seen its like before, although the
others had not. It was similar to the small thing the red-haired outlander,
Clive Neville had carried, which the warriors and he claimed was a type
of weapon. Clive, in a friendly gesture, had once even allowed him to hold
it, informing him that “the safety was on,” but to be careful. The boy
remembered well turning the weird object over in his hand. Clive had even
explained a little of how it supposedly worked. But he had not demonstrated
its power, had said that its power was limited or something like that,
and he couldn’t waste a valuable round on his curiosity. It left the boy
a bit skeptical, but some of the warriors claimed to have seen its use,
that Clive did not need to be near the thing he wished to kill in order
to kill it.
It must indeed work, Jarn
decided. Surely that was what had killed the sharkas. How did this man
manage to get a hold of such a weapon? It must be a weapon of magic, since
he was obviously some kind of shaman. More than that,. Jarn couldn’t guess,
only a shaman such as this one surely knew the secret of the weapon’s creation,
and this man or another like him must have given the weapon to Clive Neville,
liberator of Jarn’s people. That at least, made Jarn feel as though they
could indeed trust this man.
“It is weapon
that is capable of killing from afar.” The man said, confirming Jarn’s
“By the way,” said
Jarn, “Just you are you, and why did you save us from the sharkas? You
never told us. What are you doing up here in the Ators?”
The man looked at
him hardly. “I saved you because you were in danger. I would have done
the same for any traveler, so long as they did not pose a threat to me.
As for my name, it is Lieutenant John Preston of the U. S. Air force. I
realize that name may sound strange to you. I flew my plane over the North
Pole, but I noticed the land starting to curve inward. In following that
curve, I ended up here, in this land of eternal sunlight and endless horizons.
I grew amazed as my compass became useless, and the barren icy wastes gave
way to vast tundra and steppe, then coniferous forest which merged into
vast subtropical jungles, great plains, rivers and seas. My plane was flying
over these mountains when it happened; I was planning on circling about
and returning to my own world on the surface of the planet. But my plane
collided with one of those gigantic flying reptiles, long extinct in my
own world, called the pterodactyl.”
“Pterodactyl?” Jarn asked,
the unfamiliar Latin term sounding strange upon his tongue.
“Your people call them the thipdar.”
Jarn nodded, unconvinced by the
“Anyway, it collided with my
plane, perhaps mistaking it for a rival thipdar invading its territory.
My plane was destroyed, but I parachuted out and sailed into these mountains.
I have lived here ever since, feeding on wild goats, and trying to repair
my plane. I have made expeditions to the land below of course. I have made
some contact with the local tribes. Most of them were less then friendly,
though, and I remained up here, trying to repair my plane, so I can return
to my world on the surface, and bring with me knowledge of the land of
Jarn understood very little of
what the man had said. Some of the words—plane, parachute, compass—were
totally unfamiliar to him. He spoke the common tongue, though with an accent
that was distinctly different. It was somewhat similar to that of Clive
Neville, but somehow not quite. Anyway, it was obvious that the man was
mad, even if he was a powerful shaman. Either that or he was the most outrageous
liar he had ever come across. Much more so than himself, and that actually
made Jarn feel a twinge of envy.
But choosing to ignore the man’s
outrageous tale, Jarn said. “I almost forgot. Thank you for saving us.”
He had smirked through much of the man’s story, but as far as Jarn was
concerned anyone who had gone out of his way to save them was a friend.
The man smiled and waved his hand as
though he’d never expected them to believe his outrageous tale in the first
place. “Think nothing of it. For now, I suggest you all three get some
needed rest. It appears you have a long journey ahead of you.”
While the wind
continued to howl outside the cavern, all of them curled up around the
fire in the thick furs and slept soundly.
When they next awoke, Preston,
as Jarn now mentally dubbed the man (he had trouble pronouncing his full
name) loaded them with supplies. These included satchels full of dried
strips goat and ibex meat, and skins of chill mountain water, as well as
a crude map Preston had drawn for them with charcoal upon a piece of tanned
chamois-leather. This showed that the pass led down to mountain valley
within the cradle of the Ator range, and another pass would lead them down
and out of the mountains themselves Preston accompanied them with his pistol
(for this, of course, was what his strange weapon was) through the remainder
of their trek through the narrow mountain pass. The went down and downward
until at last they reached a valley circling a huge mountain lake, frozen
The heavy cloud cover had
dispersed by now. The eternal sun now shone brightly on the icy snowfields.
“Do you think you can journey
the rest of the way by yourselves?” Preston asked.
“I am sure,” said Jarn.
“Good.” the man said. “You certainly
seem to have the warrior in you.” He fondly ruffled the boy’s thick black
locks, then bid them farewell.
The three then set out over the
vast frozen lake. It was very large, it turned out, and though the ice
was thick enough for them to cross, it seemed to take forever. The cold
snow, the chill and the majestic snowy crags soaring above—it was a land
unfamiliar to most Pelluicdarans, and a new experience to the three teens
who were used to perpetual warmth of the noonday sun.
They had reached about the half-point
across the frozen lake when the land began to grow dim. Once more heavy
clouds began to mass overhead. A few flakes fell from the sky. But there
was little wind, and there was no sign that blizzard would develop.
Then, somewhere far to their backs,
in the direction of the pass they had recently quitted, a marrow-chilling
ululation came to their ears.
All of them knew well the sound
for what it was; the hunting howl of the mighty codon. They are gigantic
wolves, the ancient Pleistocene progenitors of the modern timber wolf.
Each one is fully the size of a Shetland pony, and packs of them are able
to overwhelm even the mighty tandor.
The howl was still far behind
them, but it caused goosebumps to rise on the forearms of the three young
people, and all of them quickened their pace at the ghastly sound.
The land had grown ominously
darker when that mournful cry echoed once more across the frozen reaches.
Was the sound now closer this time, Jarn wondered, or had he just imagined
“Hurry.” He said to the two girls.
“We hardly need you to tell us that,”
All three of them increased their speed.
Incredible, the far shore of the lake still seemed dreadfully distant.
And after, a narrow pass, which could very well serve as a deathtrap. Jarn
prayed silently to the gods of his people that it wasn’t them the codons
His prayer proved to be in vain, however.
Soon answering howls were heard, louder now, and more strident. The codon
had picked up their scent, and was now in pursuit.
The kids ran on, still vastly far ahead.
But the pack as coming. The shore was
now fairly close. But already the yelps of the pack could be heard. Jarn
glanced back. He could actually see them now, distant gray shapes gliding
over the ice fields in their direction.
Jarn cursed their luck. If only Preston
was still with them he could be capable of slaying a great many of the
predators from afar. As such they were armed only with their spears and
knives. How long could they hold out.
was a sharp growl behind them. Jarla whirled her head back—and screamed.
The pack as
coming—fully a dozen mighty codons loped toward them across the ice. They
were immense gray furred beasts, ears flat back on their heads, muzzles
snarling with mad hunger. Their leader was a huge white animal, a magnificent
creature even larger then his underlings.
Jarn imagined them being slain, the ravenous
wolf-pack tearing and fighting over their slain carcasses.
“Now we fight!” cried Zara.
The Amazon girl whirled around to bravely face the death-charge of the
codons. Her tress blew magnificently, a and her cloak flapped in the wind.
“I’m with you!” hissed Jarla, as she readied
Jarn nodded grimly to them both, his male
prejudice he had learned in Nu-al put aside They were warriors all three,
though two of them happened to be young women.
They grimly faced the charge
of the codon.
And then they noticed something
There was a snap, as though the ice
was breaking. Jarn looked down a crack in the glassy surface had appeared
beneath his booted foot.
Jarn wondered—had the reached
a spot where the frozen water had grown too thin, as Preston had warned?
No—it was something else.
The girls glanced around too at the
cracks—and saw an enormous gliding shape beneath the surface. It was vast,
some huge underwater creature. Jarn rembered that there was actual water
beneath the frozen surface—but manner of monster could possibly thrive
here? But he had run into plenty of other surprises during his adventures
“Get back!” cried
All of them did backing
away form the ominous gliding shadow.
And not a moment too soon!
For ice burst in all directions, as
a gigantic head exploded through the surface of the frozen lake. The kids
fell onto their bellies, the girls screaming, as shavings of rent ice showered
Jarn looked up to see a head of nightmare
rear up from the rent in the ice. It looked composed entirely of gaping,
tooth-lined jaws after the manner of a crocodile or mosasaur, but it was
neither of these. The hide of the thing was smooth, rubbery, like that
of sea-lion or whale. It was alabaster-white in colorations the same as
the small beluga whales of the polar ocean on the surface. Though none
of the youngsters had ever seen one of the mighty Az-taraps of Pellucidar’s
oceans, this was what the thing resembled—was virtually identical with
one, in fact, save for its striking lack of color. For the beast, from
its description, was none other than a zueglodon, a primitive carnivorous
whale of the bygone Eocene, that had somehow become adapted to life in
a frozen mountain lake.
And it had come bursting upon its prey
the same second the codon pack closed in for the kill.
The hunters of the land closed with
the mighty lake dweller. The results were catastrophic. The pack fell back
from the az-tarap’s onslaught, whining and yelping.
The az-tarap slashed forward, causing
the thick ice to split massively; the creature heaved its entire fore quarters
out of the lake now. It thrashed about gigantically snapping its jaws at
the snarling wolf pack. One great codon it seized in its tremendous jaws,
the great cetacean shook the massive dire wolf as a hound would a hare,
then gulped down its kill. The rest of the pack emboldened by the pangs
of hunger, attacked the great fresh-water whale. Indeed the monster would
have been a bonanza could they somehow manage to slay it. But in doing
so, they only provided the prehistoric whale with more meat to satisfy
its own bottomless appetite. It body after the head, as the awe-struck
youngsters could now see, was clothed in a coat of thick, glossy-white
fur. The thick, insulating coat, as well as the cetaceans rubber hide,
a and thick layer of fat, proved too dense a barrier of the talons of the
codon. The mighty whale seized one attacker after another in its massive-toothed
jaws, crushing them, gulping them down.
Soon the ice was stained scarlet with
gore, and littered with the bodies of dead and dying codons, which the
whale-monster finished off with lightening snaps. At last, its massive
hunger satisfied, the great cetacean slipped once more from sight beneath
the frigid surface to glide peaceably back to his freezing haunts.
The few members of the codon pack,
injured and confused, dispersed back across the ice.
Tremblingly, Zara, Jarla and Jarn got
to their feet. None of them spoke for several seconds, before they managed
to gather their wits and continue their journey.
They reached the other pass,
and continued down and out of the mountains of Ator, back into the friendly
lands green with forest and plain—and toward Sari.