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Volume 2246
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Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter®of Mars

46. "LAIR OF DEATH" -- Oct. 18, '42
(read novelization

P1: The hissing cries of the dragon-fish echoed dismally through the underground cavern. 

P2: Inside the creature's stomach, John Carter sought to carve his way out before the deadly gastric acids killed him. 

P3: When the final layer in the monster's side parted, the Earthman barely could squeeze head and shoulders through. 

P4: As a master surgeon might wield a giant scalpel, so John Carter enlarged the incision with a single deft cut of his great longsword. 

P5: The scaly hide helped Carter climb to the brute's back, where he raced toward the tail in order to reach the adjacent shore. 

P6: But as he crouched to spring for the bank, the dragon-fish flipped its tail fin and the man was hurled into the air. 

P7: He alighted in the sticky, tangled web of a spider-like thing that had been waiting patiently for cavern bats. 


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Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst

The rush of air into the Earthman's bursting lungs came not a moment too soon. Panting and reeling from the terrible experience, John Carter pulled himself from the dragon-fish's rent side and onto the giant creature's long scaly back. From this position he could hear the great dragon's hissing cries echo dismally through the vast underground cavern. The scaly hide offered Carter good handholds on the brute's back. He was surprised to find that he could vaguely make out the features of the scales and fins of the huge animal. 

"So, there is light in this hell after all," the swordsman sputtered, clearing his nostrils and ears of the same mixture of blood and intestinal acids that covered the rest of his body. 

Indeed, the illumination in the cavern was strong enough that John Carter could make out where it was that the sounds of waves lapping upon rocks were coming from -- perhaps twenty yards away. There he saw the shadows of the cavern walls meet the even blacker shade of the underground lake. Returning his long-sword to its sheath, the Earthman moved cautiously toward the tail of the long creature. As he did this, the thing began to sink slowly into the lake, raising the water first to Carter's knees and then to his waist. He was readying his earthly muscles for a strong leap in the direction of the adjacent shore when the dragon-fish went into its final death throes. An unexpected flip of the gargantuan tail fins hurled the man far into the air. 

Head over heels John Carter tumbled through the gloom. Then one foot struck the hard stone wall of the cavern and the remainder of his body alighted in something soft, sticky and very foul smelling. Try as he might, the Earthman could not disengage himself from the gummy mass. In fact, the more he struggled for freedom the more tightly the thick strands of the "something" adhered to his body and fighting man's harness. In a matter of seconds the man was totally immobilized, with only his left foot and his right arm still not tangled in the sticky web. 

"Yes -- that's what this is -- something like a spider web, only much much larger!" 

He listened to his own words echoing through the dark: "much larger -- much larger..." 

With the one foot still free from the sticky entanglement, the Virginian pulled his entire body toward the creviced wall of the underground chamber. With his free hand he pulled the dagger from his leathern straps and with that blade he began to cut the hundreds of adhesive strands, one by one. By this process he gradually worked his way over to the wall from the center of the enormous silken web. Along the way he encountered the mummified remains of various animals he could not identify. At one point in his arduous peregrinations his knee struck a bat-like animal, securely bound in a cocoon of silken ties. The thing bit him and he put the sharp-toothed captive out of its misery with a single thrust of the dagger. 

On the far side of the web, within an arm's length of the rocky wall, he broken through the webbing and fell part way into a second sticky mass, directly below the first. Carter cursed his poor luck and struggled to loosen the hundreds of strands that held him tight, from feet to elbows, in a morass of glue and spider silk. It was while in this hapless position that the Earthman first heard the whistling hiss of the grazoon upon whose webs he had so unintentionally alighted. 

The Barsoomian grazoon is very much unlike the earthly spider, except for the fact that it spins webs to capture small flying creatures. The animal is neither an insect nor an arachnid, but is closely related to the flying sith of the dying planet's equatorial regions. The grazoon is distributed around the globe of the sun's fourth companion in numerous varieties, ranging in size from the microscopic denizens of the polar ice fields to the mammoth tree climbers which haunt the Tonoolian swamplands. The animal's bite is deadly, if it cares to inject a full dose of its venom into a victim -- if it does not, the bite merely paralyzes, with effects lasting according to the measure of poison it inflicts. While all grazoons are born with twelve legs and four wings, eight of those legs are highly atrophied in most species and all of them lose their wings upon reaching maturity. 

The grazoon John Carter had awakened was one of the kind that moves on four legs, supporting a body nearly the size of an adult African elephant, though weighing far less. Such creatures are content to spend their lives close to their sticky webs, catching in them various living things and sucking away their paralyzed captives' life fluids over a period of several days or weeks. 

The Earthman had saved the four-legged monster a good deal of trouble by his falling so neatly into a sticky, web-bound cavity from which escape was just about impossible. So it was that the old grazoon of the Plateau of Eo made no hurried rush to subdue his new prey. It was quite evident that John Carter was not going to be leaving any time soon. 

Sola was scratching Woola under the chin. It was a sight unimaginable in all of Thark just a few weeks before. The great calot was obviously enjoying the familiar attention and the green girl's smile was one of good will, not the typical sadistic leer displayed by the green giants when watching torture or the agony of a prolonged death. Oman, who had dealt with the neighboring green race for hundreds of thousands of years, was especially impressed by the gentleness of the six-limbed maiden. She was fully capable of running an attacker through with a sharp blade, but Sola was perhaps the only one of her people Oman had ever encountered, who might shed tears of grief over having to take another's life in defense of her own. 

"As I said, there is no being on this plateau blessed with the telepathic powers that would be necessary for us to influence the two dreamers' fantasies directly and in predictably effective ways. That is why I am now turning to you. Sola, you are a friend of both the sleepers and you have their trust -- perhaps even their love. You have already shared thought transfers with both Dejah Thoris and Dotar Sojat, have you not?" 

Sola did not answer. For a long time she sat playing with the calot. She now understood the logic of Oman's entreaty and why the robot had insisted that she come to Vovo's laboratory. Despite all of this, his question surprised her. If Tharks dream at all, it is nothing they could describe in words or would want to share with another person. As for telepathy, the sum total of her experiences with that, up until very recently, had been responding to Sarkoja's work commands and giving her own, similar commands to hatchlings and dumb animals. She asked herself, silently, "What do I know of trust or love? I have no skills in these human passions!" 

"You understand what I am saying, don't you..." Oman began. 

"No." Sola finally replied -- and that was all she said. 


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