Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Webpages in Archive
An appropriate post would either be a follow-on to a current storyline,
or the outline of a character or a place.
Remarks might be appropriate as well but should be titled "Remark."
https://www.erbzine.com/mag13/1351.htmlThe intent is to embark on a serious adventure into Barsoomian space but levity has its place as well.
Those seeking high parody should either
1. Read the "Ratnaz Files" ~ JoN's All-Gory Edition or Tangor's Fan Fiction Site
2. Start a parody page, or
3. Contact Elmo of "The Barsoomian Blade" and try to get another issue in the works.
Gahor of Gathol
aka John Barnes
Send all submissions or remarks to
~ ducky87 (Jean Elliott) Submission ~ Continued from Volume II
Without any ports or windows, there was no telling how much time had passed. Whenever the men would inquire about the culture of the Fisons, Katel or Lu-An would move the conversation in a different direction or Hera and Diana would find an excuse not to reply. The men seemed a little perplexed, but none pushed the issue.
At one meal, the voice of Tevid filled the entire chamber. ""How touching. I am pleased that you are all getting along so well. Try to keep this togetherness. In several days, we shall be approaching the end of our journey."
"Where are you taking us?" Gahor asked, not really expecting an answer from the disembodied voice in the ceiling. To the wonder of all, the sides of the ship grew transparent again as Tevid spoke. "We will soon be flying over the area once known as Dukia. In eons past, there was a great civilization here. The inhabitants practiced all forms of villainy and cruelty. There is a myth that they left tens of thousands buried alive in shallow graves." Tevid stopped and chuckled. "Enough history, even thous the discourse might be quite informative. We can discuss this at a greater length in the future Let me continue to be your guide. Dukia is a vast, heavily cratered region and it is thickly blanketed by dust. It stretches out in a long thin line, as if it was carved from an ancient, extremely long river bed. On each side there are steep slopes. From time to time, dust and dirt avalanche down from the surrounding area."
The prisoners moved to the sides of the ship and watched the landscape cruise by. Tevid continued, explaining that the chief city in Dukia had been known as Mausia. It was a seat of law, goverment and education. In the heart of Mausia was a great museum. Near there was the Palace of Games. It had been a place of pure evil. Students had come there to study the slowest ways to cause death. But I digress. We have come to Mausian for a purpose. The craftsmen among you shall help with the work on cleaning the murals and replacing loss stones. The others will forrage for the caches that the Fisons left behind."
"I suppose you wil have us chained or unarmed surrounded by your creatures?" Diana asked, grasping her bow tighter.
"Indeed not. You will be unfettered at all times and you may keep your weapons."
"And what if we decide to escape with our lives intact?" Gahan asked.
" I have already thought of that. The craftsmen will not only be workers, but hostages as well. They will work in an area apart from the rest of you. If you do not return in the time allotted to you for each trip, one of your friends will have their hands crushed. I lose you and they lose their hands. Second, you are in the land of Dukia, a land that you have never seen or heard of until now. The surrounding desert is vast and spreads in all directions. You would become lost in short order and no one would let you re-enter Mausia, even if you found your way back. Long before then, your friends would have suffered an abrupt end to their careers." As the sides of the ship turned opaque again, Tevid laughed "Do go back to your stories. I was getting quite interested..."
John Carter wasted little time in sending his most trusted warriors to investigate the disappearance of Lu-An, Gahor, and Gahan. Upon their return, they confirmed everything that the jeweller had told him. Carter questioned them closely, going over the smallest details numerous times, searching for clues.. Convinced that there was nothing more he could learn from them, they were dismissed. He was about to summon the commanders of his military when Dejah Thoris staggered into his chamber.
"Warlord," she began, meaning that the matter was of greatest concern to all of Helium.
Carter turned to her. His eyes opened wide when he saw her. She was clinging to a bloodied padwar for support. Blood was flowing from several wounds and there was a deep cut across her forehead. He moved rapidly, taking her up in his arms and carrying her. to their sleeping chamber. At once her hand maidens crowded in around her, and began loudly crying. One of the young women, who Carter recognized as Llera, Dejah Thoris' favourite, ordered the others to be still. She then commanded one to bring cloth and water. Another was sent to gather whatever healing ointments were in the household. A third she sent away to seek a physician. When Carter laid his princess down on the sleeping furs, Llera pushed him away, and, stretching her out across her lap, and waited for one of the hand maidens to return with cloth and water so she could clean her mistress' wounds. She kissed her mistress on the forehead and massaged her temples. She touched the princess' lips and bade her to say no more. Carter saw the angry tears in Llera's eyes and knew that she would stay, without eating or sleeping, with Dejah Thoris, until her health was restored.
"Warlord," the princess began as Llera swabbed her wounds with water, "they have breeched our home and slaughtered the guards. I was in my upper chamber, isolated from the rest of our castle, providing instructions in the ways of life to the daughters of some of Helium's nobility. I do this often because there are things that fathers would not understand and mothers might not approve. We were discussing a sensitive matter of some import to them when there was the sound of fighting in the corridor. I rushed to the doorway and saw a number of hideous brown and green lanky creatures striking down the guards. The things gave no quarter, but hacked at them until there was blood everywhere. When they had finished their gruesome work, they started towards me." Llear stroked her brow and urged her to rest. The princess stubbornly continued her tale.
"We barricaded the door and prepared to meet the creatures with both long and short sword. Several of the women took positions on either side of the doorway. The monsters brought the door down, and crowded into the room. Petra and Lire hit them from one side, while Jona and Kerah hit the other. The things were momentarily distracted, but they soon gained the upper hand. There were violent screams and then stillness. Immediately I was surrounded by the remaining women. As one we drew our long swords and prepared to meet them. At first we met their blows and inflicted severe wounds with our long swords. But the creatures kept coming, stepping over the bodies of their dead. Soon, the room was too crowded to swing the long sword and we took up the shorter ones." By this time the physician had arrived and was examining her wounds. He too urged her to lie still while he treated her, but Dejah Thoris kept talking.
"The creatures pushed us back until we were all crowded into one corner, with the grim and determined daughters of royalty protecting me so closely that I could not move. When the creatures tried to breech our line, a cry burst from the women's lips: 'All for Dejah Thoris.' They threw themselves upon the things and hacked and stabbed at them until the last of the monsters was dead. We were heartened by our victory, but it did not last long." The physician tried again to bring the potion to her lips, but Llera pushed it away, saying that Dejah Thoris must be allowed to finish.
"More creatures crowded in my chamber. This time we tried to engage each one with two of our own dimished number. Again, they were too numerous for us. The creatures pressed in undaunted until we literally could not move for fear of hurting one of our own number. They seized the women and killed them cruelly. Here and there I could see a silver dagger in a bejewelled hand, but it quickly disappeared. I felt something slimy encircle my waist and then I was staring into the jaws of death itself. I could feel myself being lifted off my feet and pulled towards this caricature of a man. When my students realized what was happening to me, those nearest to me hacked at the loathesome tentacle around my waist. Immediately several creatures, more obscene looking than the first, grabbed my harness and began pulling me in different directions. Fortunately, they succeeded only in tearing it off and freeing me in the process.
"The battle continued but in their favour. With each glance, I saw more of them and fewer of us. Several young daughters of Helium's finest give their lives for me. Others were gravely wounded. The last thing I remember was being dragged from the room. One of the creatures grabbed me by the throat and slowly lifted me off the floor. I grasped at its bony hand with both of mine, but I could not break its hold. I tried to kick at it, but it slammed me hard against a wall. Its head moved slowly from side to side, as if to get a better look at me. I stared back down at a bony face that partially covered with diseased skin. I lookedinto deep eye sockets and reddish eyes that seemed to be afire. The thing's maw opened to reveal two rows of razor sharp teeth. Its fetid breath made me choke for air and it lowered me until we were face to face. I gave no cry or whimper. It smiled and then dropped me. It bowed slightly and then stretched its claw-like hand in front of my face. In its palm was a glass bubble filled with a smoky substance. The thing crushed the ball and instantly I was overpowered by the stench. I tried to rise but I could not, whatever was in the bubble had completely paralyzed me. Then the thing laid its brown dessicated hands upon me and sat me upright to view the fighting.
"Somehow half of the women fought their way through to me. I watched helplessly as they died. In the span of a few heart beats, it was all over. I was soon surrounded by the dead and dying. Then the struggle ceased and it grew very quiet. They took my companions' heads as grisly trophies, and flung the dead down next to me. . I was horrified by what I saw, but could not move! Then they retrieved their weapons and went off down the corridor.. For whatever reason of their own, they did not touch me. As a parting insult they returned my swords to me. They knew that I was powerless. Then anger grew within me. Someone was going to pay dearly for this loss of innocent life. As if in answer to my prayer for vengence, a great number of our own guards filled the corridor and positioned themselves around me. All fought bravely. I despaired that they would meet the same fate as my companions, but another contingent of our warriors appeared. With their sheer numbers they forced the creatures out onto the only balcony near my chamber. I found that I could move and tried to join the struggle but this padwar and several others hastily evacuated me from the scene of carnage. They brought me here to you."
At last Llera allowed the physician to administer the potion. Dejah Thoris began to grow drozzy. She could feel Llera covering her with sleeping silks. With great effort Dejah Thoris raised her head and cried out.
"They have taken Kerah with them!" Before she could say more, the potion had put her into a deep sleep.
As Carter knelt by the side of his beloved princess, another padwar appeared. Behind him was a bloodied contingent of warriors. The padwar was asked to continue the tale from where Dejah Thoris had left off. First, however, the warlord ordered the hand maidens to tend to the warriors and the physician to care for their wounds. After the hand maidens had cleaned his wounds, the padwar asked the physician to treat his men before himself. He then continued the story of the battle.
"We were on the grounds behind the castle. We had been training all day long. Suddenly, one of the men pointed at a rapidly approaching vehicle in the sky. It was an enormous flier coming in about the height of the upper chambers. It hovered near the balcony as grosteque things rushed into the castle. Almost at once we heard horrible screams. We wasted no time. Seeing no movement above, we used the newly developed rocket guns to hurl our grappling hooks up to the balcony. No sooner had the lines played out than we were climbing upward as rapidly as possible.
"We gained the balcony without contest. I left a detachment of men to take charge of the flier and then led the rest of them inside. Hardly had we entered when we saw the fiends. By Issus, I hope never to see such things again in my life! We did not stop to gawk, but fanned out as we had been trained to do. Those armed with pistols composed our front two lines. Behind them was a line of warriors with long swords. Finally we had a lined of skilled hatchet and axe men.
"We saw the loathesome creatures with their bloody trophies. I gave the order to attack. Our pistol shots only seemed to enrage them. I ordered the swordsmen forward. We lost many in that initial charge, but gradually our numbers began to wear them down. I could see the castle guards had surrounded Dejah Thoris and were removing her from harm's way. Feeling that victory would soon be ours, I signalled the hatchet and axe men to join the fray. As if possessed by demons, they surged forward and hacked away at the creatures. It was sheer bedlam.
"The sound of thunder and a blinding light stopped the fighting. We were all blinded and at the complete mercy of the monsters. I was more fortunate than the rest because at the moment of the burst of light I was fighting a huge thing I cannot easily describe. His massive bulk afforded my eyes protection. He hesitated at the deafening sound and I took the opportunity to finish him off. In the next instant a man man appeared before us, his figure projected into the room by some unseen device. The monsters fell back. He spoke slowly and laughed as your daughter Kerah was brought struggling into the room.
"Padwar! Tell your warlord that Tevid has his daughter. I will not kill her....not yet, but I shall if he fails to follow instructions. Tell all your warriors to lay down their weapons and allow my men to pass. They will not be harmed. Hardly able to see, we had to let them pass. Outside we heard the sound of fighting as the detachment of warriors with the flier went into action. They also stopped short when the strange explosion blinded them . It was not long after that our vision returned, but we were too late. Kerah was gone."
When the padwar finished his story, Carter summoned all the warriors around him. He appointed one to go to the physicians and bring them to examine the bodies of the dead monsters. A second was dispatched to the scientists and the weapon makers to examine the creatures' weapons and report ongoing developments in the warlord's armory. The third was dispatched to the heads of the military to bring them so that they might develop a strategy against Tevid and his creatures. A fourth was sent to the ambassadors of Helium's allies. The others he sent back to their barracks to rest and recuperate.
Some time later the physicians arrived. They were sent to the upper chamber to examine the bodies. Carter waited patiently for them to return with their findings. To a man they looked confused. The leader of the group approached John Carter.
"Warlord. I do not know what to say. I brought with me some of the greatest physicians in all of Helium. We have never seen anything quite like this."
"I know that you have done your best in the time allotted to you. No man can ask for more than that. Explain. Maybe in the telling the story will become clearer."
The physician cleared his throat and then began, speaking in a layman's tongue so as to be completely understood.
"These beings are very old. Far older than anyone we have ever examined in our varied careers. They are all tall with long limbs that reach below their knees. The hands are quite lethal, being covered with sharp thorns. Their wrists can bend back farther than ours and can swivel almost in a perfect circle. Some have lost their hands for strong tentacles. The flesh of their bodies looks decayed, but it is not. It's just their strange colouration of brown and green. Their heads are larger than ours. They have lidless, deep set red eyes that glow even in death. If dead is how you can describe them."
"What are you saying, physician? How can something be dead and not be dead at the same time?"
The physician shallowed hard and approached closer to John Carter, lowering his voice as he spoke.
"Warlord, these creatures are so old as to defy logic. By all rights, they should be in graves long forgotten. And yet their flesh is resiliant to the touch and quite flexible. We opened the body of one of the largest. Inside there was nothing. Just bone and sinew. There is no way that they should have been able to stand up, let alone fight your armed warriors. We summoned several of the warriors and asked about the creatures' movements. They told us the monsters fought with unparralled savagery. We looked inside one of the skulls. Inside was some sort of very primitive brain and this..."
The physician held out a rectangular device with two lines of metal plugs. Some of the plugs had coloured lines attached to them, while others were bare. "We were astonished by this. We then examined every brain case. Most held devices like this, but here and there the brains appeared larger and the boxes were smaller with fewer lines attached. We found nothing else and so we returned to you as quickly as we could."
John Carter thanked the physicians and sent them away with instructions to have one of the bodies put under the most extreme inspection. He needed to know as much about these monsters as he could if he was to fight them.
A group of scientists and weapons-makers arrived next. The warlord showed them some of the weapons that had been left behind in the battle.
"I want to know what these things can do. I want to know if you can duplicate them and make them in large quantities. If I and Helium's mightiest warriors are to do battle with them, we must have every advantage."
The group looked at the wewapons for a while and then gingerly touched them. They then backed away to confer amongst themselves. All except one. His name was Frak and he was the chief weapons-maker to the warlord of Helium. He picked up each of the weapons in turn. On each weapon were two small holes where the monsters would have grasped them.
"Warlord," Frak reported, "these are useless now. They could not be fired if we wished. What is missing is some sort of power source."
"Can you make them work again, Frak?"
"If I was to have unlimited time at my disposal I might. From the urgency of your call I gather than there is little of time to be had. I have an idea to go over with you. I will wait in your study until you have sent the others away. This is for you alone." The diminutive Frak handed Carter one of the weapons and left the chamber. The scientists and the other weapons-makers could offer no further evidence and the warlord dismissed them, making them take the now useless weapons with them.
After checking on Dejah Thoris, he greeted the heads of his military.
John Carter was calm, but blunt as he spoke to them.
"Some one has dared to invade my home, done harm to Dejah Thoris and her ladies, and stolen my daughter. It is a mad man named Tevid, who controls some sort of ghastly, powerful army of monsters. Hear me! The time has come for Helium and its allies to avenge Dejah Thoris and Kerah. I want this man and his horrible army hunted down and exterminated!" As the warriors conferred with their warlord, Tevid appeared in the center of the room. Whatever device projected his image into the room was not working properly because Tevid's body would waver and then break apart.
"At last we meet, John Carter! I assure you that the pleasure is all mine. Now that I have your daughter, you will listen and do as I say. My demand is quite simple. In return for your daughter I want control of the entire planet." The ghostly figure crossed its arms in front of its chest and rocked back on its heels. "If you do not meet my demands, Kerah will end her days in the lost city of Karnak clearing away the dust and debris with her lovely little hands. I suspect that it will take some time to break her spirit, but then..."Tevid chuckled and wiped his eye.
In seconds a great number of daggers passed through Tevid's image and buried themselves in the far wall. Tevid raised his eyebrows in mock alarm. "I suspect you would have killed me many times over just then, warlord, but I caution you against such rash moves. If you harm me in anyway, Kerah will die. Slowly. She will rot away in the lower levels of Karnak and die alone and afraid. If you think I am bluffing or incapable of fulfilling my threat, track me down and slay me. Your daughter will most certainly die. I know you, John Carter, and know that you feel you can overcome any adversary. Think again. I die, she dies." Tevid shook his head from side to side making a clicking sound with his tongue.
"All of Barsoom will be on my side. We will track you down and learn where Kerah is. When we have recovered her, you will die a thousand deaths!" In anger, Carter stabbed through the smokey figure.
"Let us not play games then. I will meet you on the plains of Gra. A large place for you to sift through, but I shall give you clues on how to find me. When you have, we will fight to the death, you and I. The winner takes everything!" With that the image broke apart and vanished.
John Carter instructed one of the warriors to bring him the maps of Barsoom. The Plains of Gra were unknown to him. When the current map of the planet was examined closely, the site could not be found. He examined earlier maps and still he could not find such a place. He ordered another warrior to bring him Helium's greatest historians and archeologists. When they appeared some time later, he questioned them about the Plains of Gra.
They conferred for a long time and sent for maps that were used in training those who aspired to their professions. When the maps arrived, they conferred again at length. Finally one of them stepped forward.
"We have located Gra at last. We went through our collections of old maps of Barsoom and found it on the oldest. I doubt, though, that it will be of much use to you, Warlord. It lacks any real reference point."
"What are you saying?"
"This map," he brought it to John Carter, " is a copy of an ancient one discovered several centuries ago by the archeologist, Elit. It was among the treasures he and his team found northeast of Helium in the ancient ruins of Gathax. Elit studied the map for many years to little avail. The map is circular and depicts seas that have long turned to dust. There are no familiar names on it. Indeed it was made long before Helium was constructed. The map has little value because it does not show equator or pole. It also has depictions of strange creatures residing in the seas, airships of a peculiar designs, and monster men, "
"You said that you had found the Plains of Gra!" No, the scholar answered. "We have found Gra. It is not a plain, but a vast sea."
Carter felt his frustration growing, but kept his mind clear to best understand what the scholar was telling him.
"The map depicts a vast island and cut into this is the middle of this is the sea of Gra.. I'm afraid that it doesn't mean anything. We have tried to overlay a new map on the old but nothing matches. There are no islands now."
Carter pointed to the land mass, "Is there a city of Karnak on this island?"
"Yes, warlord, except that it is not the name of any city. It is the name given the land mass. But," he coughed, " this map is most often called Elit's fantasy world. There is no proof that it ever existed."
The warlord was silent for several minutes. He stared at the map they had been using. He turned to his military commanders.
"I want a large force prepared to go to Gathax . We will take the scholars with us. They shall continue the work of Elit with our assistance and protection. Gathax will tell us next how to proceed."
"A word, warlord?" It was Frak, the keeper of his armory. He asked Carter to accompany him to his workshop. "I have something to show you." When the two arrived, Frak went to a locked closet and opened it. He withdrew a pistol with a squat barrel and a five chambered cylinder.
"What is this?" the warlord asked as Frak handed him the pistol.
"It is a new design of mine. It uses spent radium in the heads of the cartridges. This makes it far more powerful than anything else in your armory. You should be able to stop man, monster or machine with it. I have not had an opportunity to produce another, although I have made a number of cartridges for it. I think it's your best chance to rescue Kerah and destroy Tevid and his creatures."
Before Blantan and Ta could move, a dark figure appeared in the doorway. Blanton could hardly believe his eyes. The thing was huge and had six arms!
"What is that?" he asked, slowly drawing his pistol from its holster.
"That is one of the white apes. They frequent the ruins of our cities. Do not make a sudden move." As he spoke, he drew his long sword from its scabbard.
For a moment, the thing in the doorway was motionless. It was letting its eyes adjust to the reduced light in the great hall. It turned its head slowly and then spotted the two figures at the bottom of the ramp. At once it bared its great teeth and let out a deafening roar. From its six hands came a barrage of huge stones. Ta and Blanton scrambled for cover behind the glass cylinders.
As the ape searched for new rocks to throw, Blanton stepped out and rapidly fired three shots from his colt. The great hall reverberated with the sound of the blasts. The beast staggered as the shots tore away half its skull. It roared once and died.
Eager to see the dead ape, Blanton started forward. Ta grabbed hold of his arm.
"We have to go, quickly. The apes never travel alone. If there are others nearby, they will investigate the noise of your pistol. They do not take kindly to intrusions into what they consider to be their home. From high up there they could keep us pinned down with their chunks of rock. There is abundant rubble up there for them to do it. I think it best to move on and choose our own place of battle where we can command the high ground." Blanton agreed and they reluctantly abandoned their position.
They walked through endless rooms and long corridors. Some contained fantastic looking devices. Some resembled the rifles that Ta was familiar with. They took one of each. Blanton found a sword that was similar to the one he had lost in the final battle in Texas and slipped that into his scabbard. Other things might have been weapons, but being unsure, they left them alone.
They had just taken up the pace again when they heard noises in a side corridor. Blanton drew his pistol and cocked the hammer. When he saw Ta begin to withdraw his long sword. He placed his hand on the man's wrist.
"Your pistol, sir! If what we hear is the sound of the apes, we shall not want to wait until they are within sword's reach. We will need to reduce their numbers as quickly as possible." Ta agreed and withdrew his own piece.
The two moved forward with great stealth. Gradually the noise became louder. Blanton recognized it as the sound of human pain. He drew a deep breath and pistol at the ready and looked quickly around the corner.
In the middle of the corridor was a small group of women. They were entirely naked and most were severely bruised or bloodly from numerous wounds about their bodies. The women were surrounded by six of the white apes and six of the most ungodly creatures Blanton had ever seen. All seemed intent on pawing at the ladies and inflicting non-lethal wounds apon them. Each time, the women screamed and tried to huddle closer together. All save one. She was tall, with long blonde hair trailing to her waist. She alone made no sound, and struggled to strike back at the fiends who strove to bring her to her knees.
"We must act quickly or these women will be lost. Use the rifles first and aim for their heads. We must not injure the ladies with our misdirected fire." Ta and Blanton moved to the neck of the corridor and then opened fire. The creatures were caught completely by surprize and fled in terror, leaving their dead and wounded behind.
Some of the women were too dazed to move, but the tall blonde came directly to the warriors and asked for Ta's pistol. Ta looked at Blanton and then handed it to her. Without a word, she walked over to the creatures and administered the coup de gras. She then returned to the two warriors.
"My name is Yann and these are my sisters. We were making our pilgrimage of togetherness when these things set upon us." She paused and then looked hard at Blanton. "Sisters! Here is the one who fought to save us before he was so cruelly overcome. "
Ta looked at Blanton. "You never finished your story about what happened in the pit! I and these women want to learn what happened. Especially me." Blanton protested that this was not the place, but Ta would not hear of it.
Blanton sighed wearily and then told his story as they made their way from the side corridor. "I jumped into the pit and emptied all six chambers into them. They were so intent on their wicked plans that those nearest to me did not notice me. I reloaded and fired another six shots into them. There was no time to reload. I grabbed for my sword, but my fingers closed on empty air. I had lost the sword back in Texas. Without fear for my own safety, I leapt upon the nearest one and used my pistol as a club. I crushed its skull open and jumped clear before it fell. I spotted a pike not far from me. I was able to retrieve it and use it against the monsters. I would have made it to the women, but something hard struck me from behind. When I awoke the scene was empty. The rest you know."
When they had reached a large open area with good lighting, they stopped to rest. Blanton and Ta looked after the women, tending their wounds as best they could. When they had finished, they turned to Yann.
"Who are you? Ta asked. "I have never seen women like you before."
The woman laughed "no, I suppose you haven't. We are the Fisons This is our ancestral home. We call it Karnak."
Blanton looked at the young woman and smiled. "We are at your service, miss. You are familiar with the design of this place? We came here entirely by accident. We were following strange tracks in the sand.."
"The tracks of death's own."
"I have never heard that term before."
"Few have. My story is long and detailed. Perhaps we can stay and rest? Tanya, my mate, and her mate, Calia, will find us food and drink."
"But they need time to rest, miss." Blanton objected.
"No, they are Fisons. They are strong and young. They recover quickly."
"But, miss..." Blanton started to object again.
"Please stop making that hissing sound. My name is Yann, not mezzzzzz." She called to Tanya and Calia to get food and drink for all of their party. Yann then explained to the two warriors that Karnak was often the goal of the pilgrimage of togetherness. So often that the Fisons had come to stock provisions here. It would not be a hard task for Tanya and Calia to find substance for them all.
When the two young women had returned, the group ate and drank. Yann put down her bottle of water and then started to tell her story.
"A long time ago, before the Fisons men died of the mysterious plague, there was an eccentric scientist by the name of Romero. In the beginning, he was a brilliant physician, but his interests gradually turned from practice to research. He taught many of our finest physicians before he left practice. His research was in the area of reattaching limbs. Although he achieved some success on the lesser creatures, such as the vinkots and the dawots, small creatures whose soft pelts are used to make to make our sleeping furs, he was not successful with larger creatures. Their bodies rejected any attempt to reattach living tissue. Romero abandoned this line of research, and began studying the yath, which is able to regenerate damaged or missing limbs."
Blanton could not imagine what vinkots, dawots and yath looked like. He started to interrupt, but thought it better to save his questions. Perhaps he might even be able to see such creatures later. Yann continued.
Romero worked with the yath for a long time. Then he made his breakthrough. He developed a serum that made men grow new limbs. Moreover, the serum was found to cure many other ills and restore potency. There was great celebration over this, because it seemed to be the remedy for so many problems. After a hundred years, however, the process somehow reversed. Those Fisons who had taken the serum began to deform and many died horrible deaths. Romero tried everything possible, but there was no stopping the effects of the serum. Madness became the norm amongst the infected. To protect ourselves, we destroyed all remaining supplies of the serum and rounded up all the infected. We sealed each victim in metal cylinders and pumped in a gas to keep them in statis until a cure could be found. Romero became distraught and attempted suicide. He, too, was sealed in a metal tube and placed with the others."
"And they are all here in Karnak?" Ta asked.
"They were," Yann replied, "until most recently. Then the cylinders were opened and the creatures reanimated. Most were removed somehow and carried off to I know not where. Those you saw were somehow left behind. It seems impossible, but they have allied themselves with the white apes."
Yann paused to let the full impact of the story sink in. "Word of the creatures' existence reached us slowly in Mardor. At first we could scare believe them. Then couples returning from their pilgrimages reported close encounters with the creatures. We bent our traditions a little so that the pilgrimage could be made by several couples or small groups. But we could not abandon tradition, nor could we change it to allow couples to go heavily armed. Instead, we provided extra caches of supplies along the most common pilgrimage routes and added more medical supplies to each. We also encouraged couples to pilgrimage to the ancient cities that were free of the creatures, such as Mausia, until a new menace was discovered there, a man named Tevid!
Ta banged his fist against his open hand. He then related the incident that caused him to lose his flier and to meet Blanton. "He is the root of all our problems."
"Who is this Tevid to cause so much misery?" Blanton asked.
"He is one of the most wanted men on the entire planet. The warlord has offered great riches for his capture. He rode with Hexan Tel until Gahor killed Hexan. Since then Tevid has sought to make the warlord and Gahor pay for the man's death. There was much talk about Tevid at Gahor's party, the night before my flier crashed in the desert."
"Help me out here," Blanton said as he finished loading his colt. "Who is this warlord you have been mentioning?"
"He holds the title of warlord, but his name is John Carter and he is from a place called Virginia. He now resides with his mate, Dejah Thoris, in Helium."
"John Carter!" Blanton jumped to his feet. "I know him well. We attended school together and later went to VMI. We fought together trying to keep the federals at bay on the road to Richmond. In our last engagement, our unit was over run. We tried to escape to the south, but John's horse was shot out from under him. I turned back in time to see him rise and draw his revolver. He didn't have a chance to use it. The federals were on to him like fleas on a dog. I drew my revolver but could not fire for fear of hitting him. When the federals saw me, they fired on me. Fate intervened, for at the moment they discharged their wepons, a union sargent on horseback galloped after me and it was he that was killed that day. I rode away and joined some others near the capital. I suppose that poor John was chained up like a dog and then carted off to Fort Delaware, otherwise known as Fort Death. I never found out what really happened. Events happened too quickly."
Now it was Ta's, Yann's and the others' turn to be confused. Although an exciting tale, it made no sense to them. When they started asking questions, Blanton asked them for silence. He promised to tell them everything, but first he needed to know if there was an exit from this vast underground complex. Yann explained there were several and one was not far away from where they were. Before they reached it, they needed to complete their pilgrimage and spent a night in the temple of togetherness. Once this had been done, they would leave Karnak and return to Mordor. Although Blanton was eager to leave, he respected the women's wishes and he and Ta followed them as they went in seach of the temple.
Kerah of Helium was enraged. Being the youngest daughter of Dejah Thoris, she was used to commanding respect and very special treatment. Everything about her spoke of royalty and sophistication. There she was listening to her mother speak with the other young women of royalty of Barsoom when her whole world exploded. She remembered her mother's words:
"There is an unseen world around you. I speak not of wild animals, dead cities, and a very harsh environment. I speak of things that you have never imagined. Of things that your father is unaware of and perhaps your mother as well. I invited you here to discuss this because you are of the age to understand and accept." This set off much whispering and a few giggles.
"We know about eggs and stuff...." a young woman sweetly laughed "...and it was my mother who had to tell me. Father was too embarrassed, especially when I kept asking to see a hatchery!" This brought roars of laughter.
"No, this is not about eggs and stuff. Not exactly. This is about something different. Some wonderful. Something that even John Carter does not know." A hush fell over the group and all leaned closer to hear.
"There is a race called Fisons. There are no men because of a terrible plague in their early years. They..." Dejah Thoris' words were cut short when she heard the noise in the corridor. She urged them to be quiet and then ordered Jona and Kerah to one side of the door, with orders to strike hard when the things crashed through the doorway. Although usually argumentative, Kerah did as she was told. There was a crash as the door splintered and then collapsed. Instantly some of the most disgusting things Kerah had ever seen were in the room. At first she and Jona had the element of surprize, but then the creatures realized what was happening behind them. The two women were simply overwhelmed. Jona threw herself in front of Kerah, taking a sword to her chest. Then the the things were grabbing her and dragging her from the room. A great slimy hand covered her face and then she fell unconscious.
When she awoke, she was in the darkness. She lay on her stomach in a large pungent sack. The smell was overpowering. It made her eyes water. She tried to move, but a harsh male voice commanded her to be still. She began to cough and immediately was whacked on her backside and urged to be silent. She struggled once more, but another sharp slap made her stop. She fumed and swore that somebody or something was going to pay for this ignomy! Not even the warlord himself dared to accost her in such a way.
She breathed as little as possible until suddenly the sack was upended and she was unceremoniously dumped onto a dirty stone floor covered with debris. She started to rise. The room was brightly lit. Around the walls stood more of the hideous guards and one man, Tevid's second in command, Kelvid, his younger brother. He approached her slowly, allowing her to look at his scarred face and body. He reminded her of a troll. He grabbed her by the hair and jerked her roughly to her knees. Smiling evilly, he touched her cheek with the back of his hand.
"Let me go this instant!" she commanded, "You smell like a dead thoat!" She struggled with both hands to free herself from his grip, but to no avail. Then she screamed as loud as she could and spit into Kelvid's dirty face. He hurled her down on broken rock and laughed as she winced in pain. He abruptly slapped her hard and raised his hand for a second blow.
"Wait! Don't do anything that you will regret." Kerah commanded, although her tone was much modified.
"Regret? In a few days you'll regret that I had not finished with you off here and now." He kicked her in her behind.
Kerah roarded with rage and sprung at the man. He met her squarely with a blow to the abdomen, making her bend over in pain.
She clutched her stomach with both hands and exhaled slowly.
"Now, we can keep this until you get it into your thick royal head that you don't have a chance." Kelvid grabbed her wrist and pulled her towards him. He raised his arm and the odor of the sack she had arrived in came back at once. She coughed mightily.
"Whatever you say. Please release me and I'll give you no further trouble. What do you want of me? Do you know who I am?"
Kelvid shouted a Barsoomian expletive regarding banths that is rarely used in the most lowest society. Kerah blanched at its implications.
"Please. Let me go." Her eyes were welling up with tears from his stentch. She was finding it extremely hard to breathe.
"I know who you are and who your father is. I also know who your mother is."
"My mother? What has Dejah Thoris to do this all this?"
"She has everything to do with this. This is why you are here." Kelvid dropped her.
"Please. I don't understand. Please, sir, perhaps this has all been somekind of misunderstanding."
Kelvid laughed and slapped his thigh. "Misunderstanding? That's rich. There's no misunderstanding. It's your mother all right. I wish to Issus that her egg had been stolen by one of the white apes or crushed beneath the hoofs of a thoat."
"But what has she done to the likes of" ....Kelvid struck her again and sent her tumbling. He cursed at her roundly and chucked a bit of stone at her.
"Wait. I'm sorry." Kerah could scarcely belive the words that were coming out of her mouth, apologizing to THIS! "Perhaps my father can rectify this. He is the warlord. His word is law. Whatever she is doing, he can command her to stop."
Kelvid laughed harder than before. "and who's going to tell him to stop her?"
"I will. Everybody knows that I am his favourite. He listens to me. Honest." She tried to approach him, but the smell was too strong. She was sure that she saw several tiny things flying about his head.
"Sure you can. As soon as he gets here. Of course, that might be some time as he doesn't know where to look!" Kelvid laughed and walked over to where a pile of sacks lay. On top of the stack was a large heavy hammer. "You can think about what you're going to say while you work on clearing away all this debris." He thrust the hammer at her and she recoiled in shock. What did he expect her to do? He pushed her down to her knees before a large piece of stone. "Get busy. Break up the large pieces and place them in the sacks. When they are full, one of my assistant's will cart them away. Protest and you'll have the job all to yourself."
Kerah picked up the hammer and swung it against the hard stone. The hammer rang in her hands and she could feel the pain up to her shoulders. Her body, unused to any labour at all, save for sports and swordsmanship, protested mightily, but she would not make a sound in Kelvid's presence.
Kelvid sat on a large stone and pulled something bluish from the pouch on his harness. He smacked his lips loudly and then pushed it quickly inside his mouth. "Cold flesh of dawot. Want some?" He said pushing a similar portion towards her. Kerah averted her eyes and swallowed hard, shaking her head. This set Kelvid to laughing insanely. When he stopped making his awful noise, he grinned, showing a number of missing teeth. "By the end of the day, you will think this the best meal you have ever eaten."
Kerah struck off another piece of the stone and gently tossed it into the sack. Then she remembered what her father had told once when he was teaching her how to use a long sword. "Get to know all you can about your opponent. Watch his every move or gesture. You cannot hope to defeat him if you do not know what to expect. As you learn, make your plans."
"Tell me more about this thing and Dejah Thoris, please."
"And why should I tell you any more?" He got up from his rock and roughly grabbed her arm. "And before you get any ideas about hitting me with this hammer, you should know that your guards will kill you before you can take the first swing."
Kerah waited until his grip relaxed and then stepped back quickly. "I only thought it would pass the time more quickly for me. There are so many rocks to break." Kelvid sauntered back to his stone perch, took a deep swig from a flask hanging from his harness, and began his story.
"It was Dejah Thoris that was the ruin of my brother Tevid. He was enguaged to a young woman by the name of Llera."
"My mother's handmaiden?" Kerah asked as she broke off another piece of stone.
"One and the same. They had the warlord's blessing and everything. I never saw two more happy people in my life. Then your mother got involved. Tevid was set to become a member of the very lesser nobility of Helium. It wouldn't have gotten him much, but it would have been enough for the two of them to have a place in society. The problem was that on her marriage day Tevid gave her some very old jewelry that was said to come a place called Mordor. Well, Dejah Thoris saw it and said that it had been stolen from a museum long ago and been kept illegally in Tevid's family. Llera protested to the warlord, but he sided with Dejah Thoris. Tevid tried to intervene by force, but was quickly subdued and thrown into prison. As an atonement for the supposed wrong, Llera agreed to serve as your mother's handmaiden until Tevid had made up the value of the jewelry and the warlord forgave him. Tevid was stripped of any future claim to his title. He swore revenge. Confinement was more than he could bare. He found a way to escape, killing two guards in the process and stealing the warlord's thoat. I think he did that last part just for spite. Llera has kept her part of the bargain to this day, but Tevid keeps trying to get revenge against Dejah Thoris."
"All this for old jewelry?" Kerah stopped hammering until Kelvid chunked her thigh with another rock.
"That and what she did to Llera."
"What she did she do?"
Kelvid scratched his head, dislodging several more flying things. "Exactly what she was going to you before we broke up the school lesson. Teach you about the Fisons!"
"But" said Kerah, as she broke off another piece of stone, "I still don't understand. Who are the Fisons and what do they have to do with my mother? Tevid had the opportunity to make amends. He didn't have to choose being an outlaw."
Kelvid sighed and took another swig from his flask. "You are a dumb one, aren't you? Well, since you're not going anywhere and I have the time, I'll tell you." He took a hearty swig and set the flask down beside him.
"Your mother isn't normal." Kerah's mouth dropped, but she was hardly in a position to object. She gritted her teeth and let Kelvid continue. "Many years ago, Dejah Thoris disappeared for a brief time. All of Helium was in a great turmoil for the two months of her absence. It was during her absence that she met the Fisons. The how isn't important, but she did. It was in a place called Mardor. That's where it happened.
"Your mother met with the elders of Mardor. They were all women because a plague had killed all their men long before. Naturally , your mother was curious as to how the race could survive without men, especially as the women avoided men from all the other races of Barsoom. Bela, the oldest matriarch, educated her." He paused to take another swig and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"The Fisons learned how to make their eggs fertile. I cannot go into detail, because I'm not a scientist . It involved a lot of ritual, and a trip to a place they called the Temple of Togetherness. At the temple there is more ritual, an elaborate..." he frowned and rolled his eyes "er...mating process, and then the new eggs are left there to hatch. There's never any men. Just women and the hatchlings are all the same except for the colour of their eyes. Karnak is just one of many temples, there are others spread across the Plains of Gra. When the pilgrims return to Mardor, they bring back one new hatchling." He looked at Kerah, who had stopped working to listen to his story. He cuffed her behind the ear and indicated with his hand that she should continue working.
"Now your mother was as leary of the story as most people would be, but she was also curious about it. She pleaded with Bela to see one of the temples. After much persuasion, she was allowed to go to Karnak with several Fisons physicians on one of the pilgrimages. She learned much along the way. By the time she reached the temple, she knew as much about the process of creating new eggs as they did. Maybe even more." Kelvid unended the flask but it was empty. He put it in his harness and continued.
"Your mother returned to Helium but said nothing about Mardor to anyone. After Llera became her handmaiden, she drew her into her confidence and eventually told her about the Fisons. After not so very long, Dejah Thoris and Llera produced a beautiful white egg and that was you. After that, Llera seemed to lose interest in men, especially Tevid."
Kerah dropped the hammer. "That is the most outrageous story that I have ever heard anybody tell! How dare you tell me that John Carter is not my father!" She became so angry that she said an expletive referring to the reproductive methods of Tharks that shocked Kelvid.
"But it's the truth. Why do you think that Tevid is so eager to get back at your father and mother? They took his chance at a title away, they threw him in prison for something he did not do, they changed the nature of his intended, and they are keeping his daughter away from him. Well, you might have been his daughter had they been able to create their own egg. But that makes no difference, really, to Tevid. So he is bent on your parents' destruction."
"If what you are saying is true, and I don't believe it at all, how could they fool my father into believing that my egg was his? Explain that if you can!"
Kelvid hit her in the shoulder. "You are so stupid. Your father and mother produced an egg of their own upon her return. Dejah Thoris spread a rumour that some maniacs were trying to poison the hatcheries and insisted that your father create a special hatchery just for their egg. When he was called away on urgent business, she switched eggs and put you in the hatchery. The other egg failed to hatch, even though the princess and Llera did their best to protect it. Your father suspected nothing and some time later you were born as his daughter. Tevid learned of this somehow and has bore a terrible grudge ever since.
"Before you can ask how he intends to destroy your parents, let me tell you how. Tevid had made the acquaintance of an archeologist before this whole thing happened. His name was Elit. He told Tevid that he had uncovered a map at the ruins at Gathax that showed the lost city of Karnak. In some texts he found with the maps, he learned that the people who had once inhabited Gathax were great builders and engineers. They had learned how to build great enclosed airships that allowed them to travel rapidly over the face of Barsoom. They had also constructed awesome weapons of destruction, so terrible that they deposited them all underground here at Karnack.
"The Gathaxians were a very advanced race. They built great machines that did something to the brain so that all men could speak the same language. They even learned to create their own bionic creatures, but the results were catastrophic. The bionics were used as workers on the ambitious projects the Gathaxians wanted to undertake. They were used in the quarries and on the ancient roadways that have since turned to dust. At the height of the Gathaxian Age, there were more than a million of the bionics at work. Then, something happened. The bionics revolted and attacked the nearby cities. The other races of Barsoom formed a great crusade against them and their masters. In a long war, the Gathaxians were driven from their homeland to Karnack. Karnack had been a satellite of Gathax for many centuries. When the Gathaxians fell back on the city, they were able to fend off the other races for a while. In the end, some of their own betrayed them by exchanging some of the weapons for safe passage elsewhere. The terrible things were turned on them and the Gathaxians died to the last man, woman, child and egg. When the city was leveled and all the bionics destroyed, the crusade was ended. The underground remained intact because it was so vast and mostly undiscovered. Most of it has turned to ruin, but here and there the great machines still survive.
Tevid visited Karnak and he has put the airspaces back into the air. He discovered the awful creatures of Romero and enlisted them in his cause. The airships attacked the palace in Helium and brought you here. Another raided the house of Gahor and Lu-An so that a suitable crown might be fashioned for Tevid by their hands. A third ship attacked the ancient city of Mausia and carted away a number of Fisons. Finally a fourth has gone out to catch examples of all the beasts of Barsoom. They are all headed back this way. You will have plenty of time to clear away all this debris and make the place presentable to them. You see, this is the ancient arena of the Gathaxians. This is where they trained their bionics to fight. This is where you will all meet your fate. When you are all dead, Helium will be no more. Tevid will rule! The first thing he will do is unite the races against the Fisons!
John Carter sent hundreds of his warrior to Gathax. They worked side by side with the scientists, wiping the dust of centuries away, laying out grids to explore the city section by section. When the number of sites to be explored outnumbered those present to explore them, the Warlord brought in hundreds more. Night and day the work continued.
It was on the morning of the 12th day that the first real clues began to surface. Then one of the warriors rushed to Carter.
"Warlord, we have found a room filled with ancient books and artifacts. You must come quickly. The entrance of fresh air into the room has caused some of the books to literally fall apart when they are touched. The scientists are trying to solve the problem, but they insist you come now."
John Carter wasted no time in reaching the site. He commanded several dozen warriors to bring sealable boxes that the books and artifacts might be stored in before their return to Helium.
Inside the large room, Carter looked round in amazement. It was like some miniature museum, packed to the ceiling with all sorts of wondrous things. Sitting at a table, one of the scientists was pasting pieces of one of the disintegrated books back together.
"We touched only one warlord. It fell apart in my hands. The rest we are trying to conserve. This page may have the answer you seek." As John Carter sat down, the scientist began reading aloud:
"...at first the bionics were successful. Later they lay waste to the cities around us. We tried to compensate our neighbours for their losses, but soon there weren't enough riches to meet their claims upon us.
"They demanded that we destroy the bionics and began hunting them down..." The scientist stopped. "Here is a section that we could not restore. We can only guess what happened. Perhaps the other books might offer us some clues."
The warlord nodded his understanding and urged the scientist to continue.
"...the alliance was complete against us. All manner of Barsoomians were prepared to bring us to ruin. Then our road and waterways were interdicted. The city was cut off. Save for our airships, there was no way to reach the weapons and foodstuffs at Karnak. The Tharks found positions where they could fire they rifles at the airships with impunity. One was brought down on its way back from Karnak and its precious cargo seized..." The scientist indicated that another portion of the page was beyond hope of recovery. John Carter asked him to continue reading what there was.
"struggle was onesided...so many against us....appeal to Mausia... airships destroyed...Fisons abandoned the cities when plague...long retreat to Karnak hampered by the Sea of Gra...enemies are too close behind...Vaslor summoned the councilors...great numbers attacking our last refuge...There is no more here, warlord."
"Can you determine where Karnak is?" Carter asked, rising quickly to his feet. The scientist produced a map that Elit must have drawn on his own. It contained all the lines of longitude and latitude that were needed to find the Plains of Gra and Karnak. The warlord seized the map and left with the room in a hurry.
After checking that the warlord had left, the scientist returned to pasting the fragments together.
"Do you think he was convinced? Will he now try for Karnak?"
"Yes, I think so. "
"Good. Just as I assumed." Tevid stepped out from behind a door and placed his hand on the scientist's shoulder. "He will be expecting Karnak to be just another dead city. He will never anticipate what awaits him there. You told him about Mausia?"
"Yes, Tevid, but I don't think it meant anything to him."
"But it shall, my friend, especially when he hears that Dejah Thoris is being held against her will there."
"I'll leave that to you, Tevid. You promised me that I would be allowed access to all this back in Helium. You also promised me more riches than I could imagine if I helped you."
Tevid smiled, drawing a wicked looking blade from his harness. "Here is where your imagination dies." He made short work of the scientist then dumped his body onto the floor against the door.
"John Carter," Tevid laughed evilly, "you have taken the bait. My other scientist colleagues will tell you how to reach Mardor. Then you will join the jeweller and his lot and return to Karnak. Right where I want you.
When the warlord went to confer with the scientists and his chiefs, they were already sitting together at a long table studying several different maps. At first they did not notice his approach, but as they did, they fell very quiet.
Carter thrust the new map out at them. One of the warriors came silently to his side. He said quietly "Dejah Thoris has been kidnapped.."
The warload stepped back quickly from the table.
"I don't know, warlord," the man said, hanging his head. She was aboard your vessel. Her handmaiden, Llera, was with her. Seeing that Llera did not come out to bring the princess' morning meal, a warrior was sent to see if all was well with her. You can imagine his dismay to to find her cabin empty. He searched through her cabin, but she was gone. Llera, too. All the warrior found was a scrap of paper which looked like it had been torn from a very old book. One word over Tevid's signature: Mausia."
John Carter stared at the man for a brief moment and then ordered a number of his men to accompany him to Mausia right away. The rest he ordered to break camp immediately, stow the wepons, food and water aboard the cargo ship, and follow him as soon as possible.
The warlord summoned a dozen of his most trusted warriors to his vessel. While the others moved quickly to complete their assigments, one warrior walked slowly away from the encampment.
"Now," he said as he approached another warrior holding a strange looking weapon. The second man nodded and instantly the strange weapon began to make a whurring sound. Then flame erupted from one end and detonated in one of the fliers.
Tevid sat down on a rock and began peeling off his disguise.
Blanton and Ta followed the women in their search for the temple. Both had slung their rifles and had their pistols out. The going was difficult because here and there portions of the ceilings had collapsed. Light from the outside streamed in.
Yann motioned for them to stop. On her right were two massive iron doors. The women helped to pull one of the doors open and then the entire assembly filed in.
Blanton could scarce believe his eyes. All around the walls were beautiful paintings of a lush, tropical world. The floor was covered by different colours of soft moss arranged in pleasing patterns. In the center of the high vaulted room was a massive slab of stone that nearly touched the ceiling. The slab was covered with leafy vines.
Facing the stone was a large circular pool, with a fountain in its center. The women removed their harnesses and slipped into the water to get rid of the dirt and grim on their skin.
Blanton watched them for a moment and then turned away to examine one of the paintings. Ta saw him standing alone.
"Aren't you going to take a bath?" Ta asked as he dropped his harness to the floor.
"I do need one, Ta, for I'm as dirty as can be, but I usually bathe alone. I don't see a place for us to take a bath. Where do the men go?"
"Go?" Ta asked. "Why should we go anywhere else. We all bathe together." Blanton shook his head and tried to explain about the concept of propriety. Again Ta laughed. "Your ways are as strange as the stories you tell."
Yann appeared. "Leave us. I will take care of Blanton." Ta left, although there was a broad smirk on his face. Without hesitation, he dove in the pool and began talking with the women.
"That thing you are wearing is filthy. It smells. One of the women can try to clean it if you insist on wearing it. Take it off." Then she began to undo his tunic. He looked at her and felt his tunic open. Yann laughed as she saw that underneath the grey matierial was a layer of white cloth. She plucked at it, making Blanton so nervous that he jumped to his feet.
"I can do this myself, miss." He blushed.
"There you go with that silly mezzzzzzzzzzzzz again. Relax. Sit down." Blanton sat, but this was all too much for him. He tried to brush her hands away. Yann signalled for the women to help her. Blanton's eyes bulged at the sight of five wet and naked women charging down on him. He felt their hands tugging at him, pulling his clothes off piece by piece. Soon he was as naked as they were. The women pushed him towards the pool and then dumped him in.
Blanton sputtered and coughed as his head broke the surface of the warm water. Ta wadded over to him and thumped him on the back. Gradually the coughing subsided. He started to speak and then Yann waved him away. She came up to Blanton and smiled.
"You are such a silly man." She splashed water in his face and then began her own bath. She passed him a bar of scented soap that she had taken from its place near the pool. Blanton gingerly took it from her and started washing his chest. He watched as she ducked beneath the surface to rinse away the lather. She broke the surface away from him and then waded to the side of the pool and climbed out. He watched her being dried by another woman, who then dumped Blanton's clothing into the pool.
He finished his bath and climbed out of the pool. Yann dried him off. He had to admit to himself that it really wasn't that bad after all. In fact, he liked it.
Yann handed Blanton the now wet towel and sat down beside him.
"Where you come from, does everybody wear these "Kloze?" She indicated his uniform that one of the women was washing in the pool.
"Yes. Nearly always. People would be thoroughly shocked to see this."
"Are you shocked, Blanton?"
"No, Yann." I had five sisters as I was growing up. I lived on a farm that bordered on the river. During the summer us boys would go down to the river and go for a swim. The girls weren't allowed. One day my sister, Cynthia, decided it was just too hot. She and my other four sisters followed down to the river and when we took our clothes, they did the same. Us boys were shocked, but when the girls started hogging the swing and looked like they was having more fun than us, we forgot our nakedness and just joined in. We had to keep it secret though otherwise our parents would have switched us good."
"And no one ever found out?" Yann smiled a smile that made Blanton feel warm all over.
"Almost. One time when we was all in the water, some kids from a neighbouring farm was in there with us. It was getting towards the late afternoon when we heard their mother calling for them and our mother calling for us. Us boys swam as fast as we could and made it to the other side and hid in the woods. The girls started laughing and splashing water over each other. When the two mothers asked if they had seen us, the girls lied and said they hadn't. The neighbour girls had to leave then to help with the dinner. We waited until they were gone and then we swam back. We played for a while and then decided that everybody should go back just like nothing had ever happened."
Yann reached over to tussel his black hair with its thin streaks of silver. "I don't understand. Why did your bathing have to be kept secret?"
Blanton smiled slyly. "Boys and girls just aren't supposed to do that. See each other naked. Especially not when they get to be a certain age. It's not proper."
"But you did. Maybe you were't "that age." She smiled and slid closer to him.
Blanton laughed. "Oh, but I was that age! I liked looking at girls my age. It's like overnight they changed into young women. There was this girl named Laura. She was as flat chested as a board. Then one day she comes to the river for a swim. She takes off her clothes when I had my back to here talking to this boy. She swims up behind me and puts her hands over my eyes. I spin around and I cannot believe my eyes. She has two beautiful breasts...
"I am sorry, Yann, I shouldn't have," Blanton blushes, but Yann takes face in his and kisses him passionately on the lips. He returns the kiss. His arms steal around her waist and pulls her to him. He breaks the kiss, and stares into her deep moist eyes.
"If you say you're sorry about this, I will never forgive you, Blanton."
"No, I'm not sorry. I'm a loss for words."
"Good," Yann said, "Don't talk." She kissed him again and snuggled as close as possible. She kissed his neck and then his shoulder. She was pleased that he returned her kisses with equal fervor. When the woman who was washing his uniform came back it, Yann urged her away with the wave of her hand. She pulled Blanton's head towards hers and kissed him hard. As she did, she slid towards the mossy floor, pulling him on top of her.
She rolled to her side and gently touched his chest. She sensed his need, but she also sensed something else. A sort of sadness in him. She decided to see if he would tell her.
"Did you love this Laura?"
"Yes, especially after that day in the river. Well, actually the love took a while to grow, but it grew well. When John Carter and I were at VMI, she waited for me. She could have had any man in the entire state of Virginia, but she waited for me. We married in the summer of 1860 and honeymooned in New York. We both knew that war was coming, but we thought we could somehow escape it. After Lincoln was elected President, John and I swore our alliegance to the state of Virginia and to the Confederate States of America. I sent Laura to live with my parents in Saltville in the southwestern part of the state so she would be safe from harm.
She was safe there until 1864. Then in September General Stephen Burbridge left Pikeville, Kentucky with 500 men,intent of destroying the Salt Works at Saltville. He was reinforced along the way, until his stregth exceeded 5,000 men.
Burbridge approached Saltville by way of Clinch Mountain, fighting Confederate skirmish lines in the passes he had to travel through. These attacks bought precious time for the defence of our town.
General Alfred Jackson took command of some 2,000 troops in Saltville. He placed his troops along the high river bluff back of the town, along the northeast on the high ground to the Elizabeth Cemetery, and across where Cedar Branch meets the North Fork of the Holston River, where Robertson and Dribble deployed their men.
On October 2nd, Burbride attacked. The fighting was fierce and there was a lot of hand-to-hand combat. The fighting went on throughout the day, and when dusk arrived, the Yankees pulled back their troops out of firing range, leaving their dead and wounded still laying on the field of battle.
That night they lit giant fires to make us think that they were preparing for a morning assault. The fires were nothing more than a decoy, for as soon as it was dark, the Yankees left the Saltville valley and headed back to Kentucky. They had been beaten but good.
"I was not there to help my family or my wife. When the Yankees set those large fires, they also ransacked and pillaged my home. They killed everyone they found, even my mother and my wife. This was not an act of war, this was just plain murder. I was able to get to Saltville three days later. General Jackson himself took me to the gravesites. I hadn't even been in time for their internment. I swore vengence on my mother's grave. I would make every damn Yankee pay for this. I would give no quarter in battle. I wanted blood for their blood.
"I stayed at Laura's graveside until I received a note that I needed to rejoin my unit. I never got back to Saltville. From that day on, we were running and holding and then running again. The number of Yankees grew as our losses diminished our ranks. Finally, Lee surrendered to Grant. I could not give up. I fled to Texas."
He looked at Yann and then continued.
"When I first saw you, you reminded me of all the good things in my life that I had fought for. All the things that were lost at the end of the war. I felt my heart begin to beat again, but I wasn't sure how to speak my mind." He sat up and reached for her hand. He stroked her fingers lightly.
Yann touched her finger to his lips and lightly kissed his cheek. Then she molded her body to his and started to touch him.
"Yann. We want to sleep now."
They looked up to see a mere slip of girl standing there with a sleeping fur pulled tightly around her. She looked at Yann and then at Blanton. "What are you doing?" the woman asked as she drew closer. She watched in puzzlement as Blanton tried to shield his arousal. She moved closer.
"We are mating. Give us some privacy. Go sleep with the others." Yann scolded her.
"How is that possible? Mating with a man? The Frisons never mate with men."
Blanton couldn't believe his ears. "Well, who do you mate with?"
"Other women! I have never heard of mating with a man except in those boring mythic stories that come from the boring past." She continued to stare as Blanton tried to cover his manhood with his hands. At once the girl began yelling excitedly for the others to come and watch what was happening.
Yann grabbed her by ankle and pulled her down on the soft yellow moss. "Be quiet and go back to your sleeping furs and silks. This is not an exhibition. Go back with the others and mate with them. Do you not want to bring a daughter into this life?" The girl smiled awkwardly, then she backed away. She returned to the others and soon they were all squiming and giggling beneath the soft furs.
Blanton looked at Yann and then at the sleeping furs. "I am sore at a loss to understand what I have just heard. Is it true?" Yann nodded affirmatively. "And you?" He pointed to the sleeping furs.
"No. I am one who will never bring fourth an egg of my own as they will. I am different than them. It is not part of me to mate with another woman. I do not find other women attractive. Must be something in my chemical makeup that has made me different. I felt an attraction the first time I saw you. Every step that I have taken since then has led me to this moment. I have scarce thought of anything else. Do not turn me away, Blanton. I need you."
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her warmly. Then he called to Ta to bring some sleeping silks and furs. Ta complied but was halted a short distance away. Blanton told him to toss the things to him and then leave. Ta did as he was instructed and then left them alone. Under the furs, the mating was consumated.
Some hours later, Blanton heard a noise from far away, but growing closer. He woke everyone and called them to arms. This time the sounds had become the fierce screams of the white apes. They were coming back to kill him and Ta and steal away the women. There being only one way into the chamber, the two men took up positions opposite it. Yann took Ta's radium pistol as he and Blanton prepared to use their rifles. The women were sent to the giant blab of stone in the center of the room. Although they might climb as high as they could, Blanton knew they would stand no chance at the hands of the apes.
Then a more horrible sound rent the air. It was the cry of the monstrous banths.
Blanton saw an angry yellow beast with too many legs come into his sights and fired at once. Ta and Yann also fired. The beast's head exploded from the volley of fire. There was no time to congratulate each other for a trio of banths appeared in the door. One was overcome by bloodlust and immediately set upon its dead companion. The remaining two paused, but were shoved forward by others crowding into the doorway.
Again and again Blanton pressed the firing mechanism of the gun. The things kept coming. Faster and faster. It took several sounds to bring each one down. Slowly, they felt themselves losing ground. Then the white apes rampaged over the dead banths and charged towards them. The three fell back into the shallows of the pool, firing constantly as they retreated.
The radium pistol was the first to exhaust its munition. Then the rifles quit. They would have to resort to swords.
Then a voice called out to them. It was that of Tevid.
Tevid's voice came from the ceiling. "We are docking at Karnak. Prepare yourselves."
The men and women looked at each other and then towards the ceiling. "Karnak? You said Mausia." Diana asked taking hold of Hera's hand.
Tevid laughed. "I have some unfinished business here. Then we shall go to Mausia, where John Carter thinks that Dejah Thoris has been taken."
"Where is she," Gahan asked, drawing his sword.
"Here, " Tevid answered. "Not very far from where we have docked."
"I demand...," Gahor said.
"Demand? You are scarcely in a position to demand anything. Besides, you needn't demand. Follow the corridor and it will lead it to her. Put away your sword! I've had more than my share of your over-dramatics." Then there was a low hum and a flash of light.
Gahor droppped the sword and grasped his wrist where a large burn mark had appeared.
"I could have done that anytime I wanted,"Tevid laughed. "I still can. Would you like me to burn Lu-An's eyes out?"
Gahor hurried to Lu-An and pulled her to his side.
"Shall we go?" Tevid asked in a mocking tone. The party looked at each other and then at the corridor stretching out before them. "Just keep walking ahead and you shall see Dejah Thoris." Gahan retrieved the fallen sword and returned it to Gahor's scabbard. He turned and joined the others.
If any of the party had been outside, they would have noticed that the airship had descended into a wide deep pit. Beneath the craft teams of white apes and Romero's creatures were securing lines fore and aft. A short walkway extended from the transparent nose of the craft to a rectangular opening in the pit's wall. High above, a great sandstorm was howling.
As they walked, Diana and Hera dropped back to be with Gahan.
"If this is really Karnak, we may be able to get the advantage over Tevid. Our people have come here many times in the past. We know the layout. We know hidden passages that Tevid is ignorant of. We...."
"Gahor! Lu-An!" It was Dejah Thoris, running towards them. Beside her was her handmaiden Llera. The two women joyously embraced their supposed liberators. They told of how they had been kidnapped from the warlord's vessel by his own warriors. Their departure had been covered by an explosion that hit Carter's flier just seconds before. Hustled into an awaiting flier, they had been tied to each other hand and foot. They did not know where they were. Their captors said nothing the entire trip. Then they were simply dumped onto the ground and untied by one of the warriors, who, when finished, simply turned his back and went away.
Dejah Thoris and Llera looked at the party for a moment and then each other.
"You are here to rescue us? John Carter must be on his way!"
"Of that, my princess, I can't say." Gahan then recounted the raid upon Gahor's home and the strange trip that culminated in Karnak.
Diana and Hera moved towards the princess. "Dejah Thoris! We are glad to see you again. It has been some time since you and your handmaiden were in Mardor to share our sleeping furs and silks." Diana explained their story. She offered hope, saying that they were familiar with Karnak.
The others stared as the four women embraced and kissed. Gahor cleared his throat, saying that they should follow the two Fisons and find a means of escape. As they walked deeper into the corridor, Lu-An caught hold of the princess' bejewelled arm. The largest bracelet was exactly like that of Diana and Hera.
"You know the Fisons?"
"Yes, they are friends." Dejah Thoris hesitated and then continued. "I have known of the Fisons since the time of my disappearance..." she told the story of how she had met this race of women, come to know of their ways, and embrace some of their culture. She stopped short of mentioning Llera and their child, Kerah. It was not the time nor the place to tell such things.
Lu-Ah looked puzzled, but could not ask another question. Diana had found an opening to a new passage, assuring them that she knew where they were. She cautioned them to silence lest any of Romero's creatures or the white apes be around. They had travelled a short ways when the sound of fighting reached their ears. They drew their swords as Diana and Hera notched their bows. Gahor and Lu-An recognized a voice above all the din and cried out at the same time: Ta!
The party emerged from the corridor into a large room that was dominated by a massive slab of rock. They split up into two groups and raced towards Ta. Diana and Hera fired their arrows as soon as they saw the white apes. A dozen arrows split the air before the apes retreated. When they had gone, Ta embraced Lu-An, Gahan and Gahor. They were introduced to the others. Domer and Diana went out into the corridor, but the apes had vanished. They rejoined the others.
The most remarkable stories were exchanged. Then Ta introduced Blanton, saying that he knew John Carter. Gahan clapped his on the shoulder and let out a barrage of questions all begining with who what or why. Blanton answered as best he could to Gahan's satisfaction.
Once again Tevid's voice came down from the ceiling. "I'm glad that you survived the little encounter I planned for you. I must admit that I am a little impressed. White apes and banths! You survived them both. And you found Dejah Thoris as well. Now the fun can begin."
"And what fun is that?" Domer yelled at the ceiling.
"Not for you, I assure you, but a great deal for me. I went to lots of trouble to bring you all together. It's remarkable, but revenge is best when it is served cold." Tevid then explained why they have to pay for their transgressions.
"Not while John Carter is alive," Dejah Thoris replied. Tevid answered quickly. "Especially while John Carter is alive, my dear. He thinks that you are in Mausia. I even told your friends here that you were in Mausia in case they could find some way to escape, not that that was even possible."
"We still have our weapons," Katel said.
"I am so glad of that. You will need them once you find Kerah. She's waiting for you. Just beyond the door to the outside. I'll make sure that she...er...lets you know of her presence. You are familiar with her cry of pain?"
Dejah Thoris screamed in anger, demanding that Kerah be returned. Tevid laughed long and hard. "If you look around this chamber, you will find munitions for your rifles and pistols. You may have your choice and any blade, axe, pike or club that you choose. Choose carefully for there will be no second chances." Tevid's voice faded. All around the room the paintings fell to the floor to uncover the weapons that Tevid had promised. Dejah Thoris and Llera took several weapons, while the Fisons contented themselves with more arrows.
Diana, Domer and Katel went out first. To their surprize, they were unopposed. The others followed them at spaced intervals, Blanton making sure that they did not bunch up. They passed by the doorway to the outside and continued their way deeper into the gloom of Karnak. After considerable walking, they stopped and sat down in the stone corridor to rest. It was Katel who heard it first.
"Listen," she told them, "Sounds like hammering." They all listened carefully and then Dejah Thoris rushed to the nearest wall. "Kerah!" She pounded her fists on the cold stone that refused to budge. "Kerah!" The others began shouting her name as well.
"Mother!" came the reply and then a blood curling scream of pain.
"How can we reach her?" Dejah Thoris cried. Diana moved quickly down the corridor and stopped before a steel door."This way!"
The door was forced open and the entire party raced down a smaller passage. At the end stood two of Romero's creatures. Blanton drew his colt and fired two shots into the head of each. Before they reached the ground, the party was pushing them to one side and into a room dimly lit with radium torches. In the center of the room was a drawfish man holding a dagger to Kerah's throat.
"I bid you welcome."
Dejah Thoris and Llera cried out at the same time: "Don't hurt my daughter." This had the immediate impact of making everyone stop short and look at the two women. When they had recovered from their shock, they again turned to face Kelvid, who was patiently waiting with his knife at Kerah's throat.
He looked at the assembly of men and women before him. His eyes stopped on Blanton, who had grown a beard and mustache since his arrival on Barsoom. His eyes moved on to take in Diana and Hera who looked exactly alike save for the colour of their eyes. He blinked twice and looked at Kerah, who looked exactly like the two Fisons save for her black hair.
Kelvid pressed the knife closer to Kerah's throat so that she winced in pain. This had the greatest impact on Dejah Thoris and Llera, who now stood side by side and hand in hand.
"Now that I have your attention," the dwarfish man sneered, "let me explain what is going to happen. Lest you concern yourselves about being rescued, I have to tell you that John Carter and Kantos Kan have taken Helium's navy to Mausia. They can not get here before it is too late.
"Tevid has prepared a special treat for all of you. Call it a game of survival. You will be at one end of the airfield and Kerah will be at the other. All you have to do is rescue her. She will be in plain view at all times."
"Just to keep things interesting, there are scattered here and there the nests of trap door spiders discovered in the Valley of Hohr. They are just as deadly as their giant cousins.
"The first group you encounter will include banths and white apes. Having met with you already, they are most anxious to settle some scores. There will also be some thoats that we have taken from the warhoons. They are so frightened that they will just want to trample their way through.
"The second group will comprised of starving, diseased calots. They will want any "scarps" that fall in battle. If you choose to help a wounded comrade, make sure it's worth the effort or two might die instead of one. There will also be rats to contend with.
"Both groups will be released at the same time.
"In the center of the airfield is a moat that you must cross. There are three bridges. Two are weakened and will collapse. The third is the only way to cross. In the waters are many silians and a strange breed of fish with giant jaws of sharp teeth. I say strange because these fish have limbs and grasping hands to seize their prey and tear it apart.
"After you have crossed the moat, the arboks will be waiting. We've kept them in the sun to make them rather testy. Oh yes, I forgot. Besides the trap door spiders, there will be others. Make a false move and you will be surrounded by siths and other insects.
"I suppose," said Blanton, "you will relieve us of our weapons now."
The dwarf looked shocked and offended. "That would hardly be sporting. Did you not receive all the weapons that you wished? Do you need more?" He waved a hand and suddenly the perch on which he sat with Kerah opened and spilled out more weaponry. "Take it all. Use it as a reserve."
"What's to stop us from seizing you and obtaining Kerah's release." Ta scowled.
Kevid laughed. "Be my guest. Here, look, I'll let her go." He removed his knife from her throat and Kerah fell to her knees. Diana loosened two arrows in Kelvid's direction. As they hit their mark, both Kelvid and Kerah disappeared. A disembodied voice laughed and said "see you on the other side."
The company marched towards the center of the room and searched for some sign of their egress. At that moment, Kelvid's voice rang out.
"Did I forget to mention that there are a number of Romero's 'men' in there with you? They'll give you the momentum you need to get started. Grab what weapons you can. There will be no turning back and no chance to rearm."
As the assembly turned to examine the weapons, two things happened. The farthest wall began to slide back, opening the way to the airfield. Then Romero's creatures piled into the room as the opposite wall opened.
Blanton assumed immediate comand. He ordered the group to encircle the arms cache so that it might be secured and none of the creatures could sneak up behind them. He ordered Dejah Thoris and Llera to go through the ordinance and cull out the more useful pieces. The princess's eyes flashed that a Jasoomian dared to give her orders, but she knew that THIS was not the TIME or PLACE to argue protocol. Diana and Hera were told to climb the perch and command the heights back to back.
Blanton levelled his colt at the closest creature and fired twice. As he stopped to reload, the others fired their weapons as fast and as accurately as they could. Diana and Hera let fly dozens of arrows before stooping down to get more from the princess and Llera.
The group's combined firepower prevented the creatures from advancing too close. Then Llera screamed and point at the door to the outside. A great number of banths and white apes were on the verge of coming into the room.
Blanton yelled for the two archers to fire into the pack of white apes and banths. Their bows sang and the arrows ran true. Dejah Thoris passed them each handfuls of replacement arrows. She noted the tips of the arrows are all different. There was no time to question the archers about their purpose. In any event, the two Fisons were too busy to answer questions.
Rooting through the light arms at her feet, Llera came up with a pistol each for herself, Dejah Thoris, Katel and the ladies that Blanton and Ta had rescued earlier. The pistols looked as different from one another as night from day. They varied in colours. The red ones had fat grips with small lengths of tubing connecting the grip with the nose of the piece. The blue pistols had longer barrels and a single sealed cylinder. The black pieces had two grips and a short magazine jutting out from the side. She passed them out without considering the potential value they might have or what their massed fire power would be.
When the final creature in their rear was destroyed, Blanton directed the company to concentrate their fire forward. Hera and Diana were kept upon the perch to shoot at any creature that tried to press in on them from the side. Gahan and Gahor were directed to set up a cross fire, using the two small double barrel rifles that the princess had uncovered. There was no time to protest that the weapons were unfamiliar. The women were commanded just to shoot straight and not let anything get within striking range.
"Gahan!" Blanton yelled as one of the deadly apes neared him. There was no time to react. Gahan leveled the weapon and pressed the firing button. At once there was a leap of flame and a crash of thunder. The ape was torn apart by the impact of the blast. Gahan looked and saw Lu-An standing near him, one of the blue pistols in her hand. They could only exchange brief smiles before an angry banth lept at them. They fired in unison. Again came the sound of thunder and the same result. The charging banth was ripped apart and there was a frenzy as the other wild creatures tore at its remains.
At one point, the apes made a massive charge in the center with the banths on the flanks. Blanton trusted that Hera and Diana could stop the leaders while Gahan and Gahor hit the flank. Gahor fired his weapon and was knocked back on his butt from the concussion. He scrambled to his feet to see that the entire center of the charge had been destroyed. The frightened banths grabbed portions of the dead and dying about them and retired from the field. One or two of the remaining apes shook defiant defiant fists in the air and backed away from the warriors.
Blanton and the others watched the withdrawal. Then, to their amazement, the front and back walls slid closed. Each man and woman stood with weapon ready, breathing hard and covered with sweat. They jumped when they saw Kelvid appear magically before them.
"Tevid said that you would put up a good show. Take a rest. The game is concluded for now. Tomorrow will be round two. Lest you feel over confident, let me remind you you had the advantage with your weapons and numbers. The apes and banths were old. Romero's creatures were beginning to lose their coordination. Tomorrow you will face very hungry, very angry animals. I admire your strategies, Blanton, but you cannot hold up in here. Did I forget to mention that Kerah is in a chamber with a limited amount of air?"
Dejah Thoris fired her pistol at the dwarf, but the shot went through him. He was no more solid than a whiff of smoke.
"How do you expect us to rest? Do you think that we are so naive to take your word on anything?" Blanton asked.
"I don't think anything about you all and I care even less. I told you that this is Tevid's game. If you died in a dark closed room, it would deprive him of the pleasure of watching you die." With that Kelvid was gone. Blanton took no chances. He set up a guard on each side of the perch. If anything happened, he hoped that there would be time for the rest of the company to react.
Yann dropped down beside him and took his hands in hers. She kissed him and then placed her head on his shoulder. In an instant she was asleep.
~ ducky87 (Jean Elliott)
Blanton couldn't sleep. The adrenaline in his system from the fury of the fighting kept him awake. He gently lowered Yann to the ground and went over to where Ta, Gahan and Domer were talking. He sat down and was filled in on the conversation to that point. They had been discussing strategy. Although the room offered them some advantage in the fighting, they had to move out into the open if they were to free Kerah and deal with Kelvid and his brother Tevid.
The four men discussed ways in which they might gain some advantage over the crazed animals outside. It was agreed that all their fire power should be directed forward as the wall slid open.
Gahan proposed that the company be formed into three compact lines. Those using the powerful coloured weapons would fire a massive barrage to cut down the front line of creatures. The second line, armed with rifles, would fire into the center of the crazed creatures. The last line, armed with pistols, would take on any of the creatures surviving the original barrage. Diana and Hera would remain on the perch to protect the rear.
Waking the others, Blanton had them see to their weapons as he explained the plan of action. He urged Dejah Thoris and Llera to sort through the munitions and disperse them accordingly.
Yann took Blanton to one side and held him close. He felt her tremble slightly. He stroked her hair for a moment thinking of what to say.
"Blanton, I am filled with regrets for the life together that we will be losing. It is just a matter of time, isn't it? We can't kill all of them, can we?"
Blanton tried to put on a brave face for her, but knew she was right. The odds were overwhelmingly against them. Even with the awesome power of the newly found weapons.
He kissed her and then looked into her eyes. "We shall make them pay dearly for our bodies, which they will tear asunder, but our souls will always be together."
Yann stepped back and then took one of the bracelets from her arm. She pressed it onto his. He looked at the blue field and the single white star and then held her close once more.
"Courage will see us through this. We still live!"
Yann looked into his eyes, smiled as best she could, and then turned to check her weapon for what was about to come.
"Good morning, players." Tevid's image appeared against the front of the dim room. "I trust you slept well. You will need to be very alert this day. In a moment the wall will slide open and you will have a chance to test your strategy! To be completely fair, I want you to know that the animals lost yesterday have been replaced." With that the image faded and the wall began to slid open.
At once the most hideous screaming came to their ears. All of the creatures outside were impatient to get at their human feast. Others were attacking the wild thoats or the diseased dogs. It was complete mayhem.
The wall slid quickly into its receptacle and a wave of angry creatures surged forth. Instantly the attackers were torn apart by the combined fire power of the company. The angry beasts kept coming despite their losses. Slowly, but surely, they began drawing closer to the humans
Diana and Hera slipped to the floor and concentrated their fire forward. Soon a hail of arrows was raining down on the creatures. Blanton yelled for Dejah Thoris and Llera to grab what munitions they could and prepare to move out on his command.
The apes and the banths howled and charged at the company. Again and again the coloured weapons served their purpose and kept the creatures at bay.
"Blanton!" yelled Dejah Thoris. "The munitions are gone. We have used them all!" There were simply too many of the enemy! They could hold them off for a while, but time was running short.
Blanton looked at the woman for a moment and then hollered to Ta. "Can you ride?" The man nodded yes . "Then ride to Hell with me!" Blanton pulled himself onto the thoat's back. He drew his sword and let out the fierce rebel yell that had chilled many a many a Yankee heart during his time. As Ta mounted another thoat, Blanton felt a weight drop behind him. It was Yann, armed with one of the double barrelled guns.
Instantly Blanton charged into the animal swarm. His sword sliced into the ravenous beasts that would tear him limb from limb. Behind him, Yann fired until the weapon was empty. She yelled something that Blanton could not quite hear, then drew her own sword to hack away at the creatures surrounding them.
The apes and the banths were confused by what they saw. The thoat did not attempt to flee, but wheeled about and used his legs to effectively break some skulls and grind down its attackers.
Ta charged into the fray, using his weapon until it was exhausted. He attempted Blanton's yell as he drew his sword. Again, the creatures were caught off guard and many felt the sharp edge of his blade.
Back with the rest of the company, Gahan ordered the company to keep firing. He watched as Domer and Gahor found thoats of their own and charged into the swirl of animals about them. They might just have a chance yet!
One by one the weapons failed and the company members were forced to draw their swords. The fighting intensified when the animals sensed that the powerful weapons were gone.
When Dejah Thoris started to engage an ape on her right side, she didn't feel the soil beneath her begin to move. Then, in the flash of an eye, an eight-eyed spider surfaced and grabbed the woman before anyone could rescue her.
Dejah Thoris felt her left leg jerked from beneath her. She was dragged feet first into the tunnel of the trap door spider. She was helpless to do anything because the tunnel was so small in diameter that her arms were pinned above her head.
The grotesque black spider pulled the princess deep inside its burrow then deposited her roughly on the dirt floor. Dejah Thoris looked round in great apprehension. She knew that it was the natural inclination of the spiders to bind their prey with sticky silken strands and then store them in their lair for food.
Far worse, the spiders injected their eggs into their prey as a food source for their developing babies!
From a pouch beneath its abdoment, the spider drew its silk and hastened to coccoon its latest prisoner. Dejah Thoris grabbed her short sword. She sliced the strand of webbing on her leg and regained her feet.
Enraged, the spider shook its mandibles and front legs. Its unblinking coal black eyes flashed a brilliant red to blind its victim. It drew back its body and then sprang forward to crush the princess with its powerful jaws.
Dejah Thoris rushed forward so that the spider would overjump its mark. She saw the awful segmented black underside was covered with small hairs, further contributing to its overall ugliness. When the spider was overhead, she pushed the sword deep into its body.
The spider's body went rigid with pain. A dreadful cry escaped its mouth. It would have fallen on the princess had she remained still, but she was able pull the sword out and roll out from underneath it.
The spider was not mortally wounded, but bled heavily from its belly. It staggered on its legs and then leaped at the princess. It overpowered her with its weight, forcing her back to the ground. Wasting no time, it spun its silken threads about her until she was covered from head to toe.
Unable to fight back or escape because she had lost her short sword, the princess felt herself lifted from the ground and carried into a separate chamber. Then she was rudely dumped on the ground and left alone.
Dejah Thoris strugged against the strands that held her to no avail. She was bound tight. Through the silken threads, she could see chunks of animal that the spider had apparently pulled down from the surface during the mad fighting of animal against man.
She looked round the room and noticed the forms of men and women. They too were covered with silk, but their bodies looked curiously shrunken, as if all their fluids had been drained away.
The princess tugged at the silken threads but she could not break them. Her eyes went wide with terror as she saw small spiders the size of her hand emerge from the sunken chest of one of the nearby corpses. She was fated to be nourishment for the next generation!
She struggled with all her might, but remained securely bound. Then she noticed a spider even larger than the one who had grabbed her from the airfield. This was the female trap door spider. It slowly approached her. The eight eyes stared at her. The mouth drooled. It touched her leg and the princess screamed.
The spider moved so that its swollen abdomen was above her. The princess screamed because she knew what would come next.
But she was wrong.
When Diana and Hera saw her pulled into the tunnel, they wasted no time in following her. Easing their way down the small opening, they used their hands and feet to control their forward momentum. When they reached the spider's chamber it was vacant.
But only for a moment. The male spider was returning from depositing Dejah Thoris in the nursery. Its belly ached from where the princess had wounded it. Suddenly it sensed movement in the tunnel. It reared back, its front legs waving in anger.
Diana quickly unholstered the torch at her side. She turned the power up as high as it could go and then charged at the spider. The weapon blazed into light. Without hesitation, she swung it across the spider's eyes, instantly blinding it. She swung again and brought the weapon down on its head.
The spider screamed in agony and tried to capture its tormentor. Before it could move, Diana had raced along its length, setting its body aflame. It died instantly.
The two archers heard Dejah Thoris scream and then scream again. They ran to the chamber were the giant spider was hoovering over the entangled princess. Diana waved the torch to distract the spider while Hera tried to retrieve the princess.
The spider could see both Fisons in its eight eyes. It hesitated and then lunged towards Hera. Hera sprang back and notched an arrow into her bow. She remained in harm's way until the spider was no longer over Dejah Thoris. Then she fired three arrows in rapid succession.
Diana rushed forward and struck the torch against the spider's side. It reared up in pain and as it did Hera fired her arrows into the exposed underbelly. One last scream and the creature was dead.
The two archers rushed to Dejah Thoris and began cutting the silken strands away. Once freed, the princess hugged both of them in turn. She told them that she had been certain she was going to die as horribly as the shrunken corpses around her. She was never so happy to see the Fisons as she was that moment.
Diana and Hera comforted her with warm kisses on her neck, her cheeks, and her lips. They embraced her and held her close, stroking her arms and legs.
Dejah Thoris smiled at them, with tears running down her cheeks.
"We must return to the surface," Hera said. "The animals are many and there are fewer of us. The women who were with Yann have been killed and Domer has been badly wounded. We must get back."
The three women started to leave the chamber when they noticed a small room off to one side. Diana used her torch to scare back any small spiders that might be lurking there.
Before their eyes was a mound of weapons and munitions. Apparently the spiders had gotten these over time when they obtained new victims. The weapons had been cast aside because they were of no use to the aracnids
The three women grabbed all that they could and gingerly made their way up the small tunnel. As they drew closer to the surface, they could hear the sound of the beasts and the cry of wounded and dying humans. The animals seemed to be gaining.
Dejah Thoris raised the trap door and immediately let it slam down on her.
Just several feet away, several siths were finishing off a dying Domer.
When Blanton climbed onto the thoat's back, he threw all caution to the wind. The creature looked like a horse with too many legs, but he prayed that 'neath its strange exterior it was a horse at heart.
He had always had a knack with horses, even as a small boy of 10 he could approach a wild horse and calm its apprehensions, letting him ride on its back. This unusual talent had come to rescue a number of times when his own horse was shot out from beneath him and he had to quickly mount and redirect a riderless horse that was at the brink of madness from all the ungodly noise of battle around it.
This particular thoat was no different. Instantly it sensed its rider's determination to protect it and himself from harm. When Yann leaped upon its broad back, it did not miss a beat, but continued to follow Blanton's directions.
Blanton charged into some apes with the rebel yell upon his lips. With his legs thight around the thoat, he leaned down and hacked and sliced at the creatures that would not get out of the way. The thoat reared and brought many of his hoofs down on the ape's heads.
When Ta mounted another thoat and charged into the fighting, the apes started to fall back. Blanton and Ta showed them no mercy, but pressed hard their attack.
The panicked apes retreated into the slobbering jaws of starving calots. The intensely ugly animals jumped on their backs and shoulders , pulling the apes down. Blanton looked back to see four dogs hanging onto one of the apes. Fangs closed on a jugular and the ape went down in a spray of blood.
Blanton reared the horse and charged at the banths. Ta followed quickly behind. Swords swinging, they tore through the rear ranks. The enormous animals tried to rise, but when they did their exposed bellies were sliced open.
Suddenly, Yann screamed Blanton's name. Two calots were trying to grab at her exposed legs. The thoat wheeled about and in one swift motion, Blanton plunged his sword into the nearest beast's face. As the animal collapsed, the other sprang towards Yann. Blanton let go his sword and drew his colt. He fired once and the creature's face dissolved into blood and bone.
The frenzied calots and banths collided in one howling bloody mass. Ta rode by and threw Blanton a sword. Together they hacked at the creatures in front of them until the last vicious beast was dead. The two men and Yann rode back to where the rest of the company waited.
Their losses had been great. They had started with a party of 16 and now they were reduced to 10. Among the dead where the five women who had been with Yann and Domer. Katel held his limp form in her arms and her body heaved with heavy sobs and tears. Lu-An comforted her as best she could, and when Dejah Thoris and the two archers emerged from the spider's tunnel, they did too. The three women took turns holding her.
Two of thye people gently pried Katel's arms from Domer's form. They moved the body to a spot on the edge of the field and laid Domer to rest near some trees. Snarls from the other side of the water reminded the survivors that they were still in peril.
The party prepared for the water crossing. No one was optimistic. They were tired, hungry and thirsty. Most were covered with the blood of the many creatures they had faced.
Two of the one-man wide bridges were rigged to collapse and there was no guarantee that the third would not. Even if just one bridge was intact, the company could hardly cross individually lest the orlok pick them off. Bunching up would only prevent them from using their weapons or swords.
Moreover, the water way was too wide for the thoats even to hazard a jump. Katel had tried, with the others yelling for her to stop, and had come within inches of the other side before the water creatures leaped at her and pulled her down into the boiling waters.
They could not stand idle. Kerah was running out of breatheable air and would die if they did not get to her. Dejah Thoris looked at the company's sad faces and began to fear the loss of her daughter.
It seemed like all was lost.
Then the sky overhead filled with fliers. Dejah Thoris recognized the pennants flying from the warlord's ship. The fliers buzzed around and fired into the orluks until the last beast collapsed dead on the dusty field. Kantos Kan directed a party of warriors to where Kerah was imprisoned. The men overpowered the guards in short order and set the princess free.
In the chaos of the slaughter of the beasts, Tevid and his brother Kelvid rocketed away in a sleek black craft never before seen on Barsoom. It was a remnant of an older technology. It had been constructed by the original inhabitants of Karnak and now it served as an escape vehicle for the two brothers. A few of Carter's fastest fliers tried to catch them, but they could not match the speed of the vessel.
John Carter gathered his family to him and held them tightly in his arms.
Dejah Thoris asked: "How did you know where to come? Tevid told us you were heading towards Mausia."
"We were ready to go to Mausia, but one of the older scientists was found murdered. Then there was the attack on my flier when I was consulting with Kantos Kan. We decided to take a gamble. We would send a small force to Mausia and the rest of the company would head for Karnack on the plains of Gra.
"My gamble paid off. As the fleet was rushed here, we saw the airfield from far off. We saw the animals and the beginning of the fight. The rest you know about."
Then Carter recognized the figure in confederate grey and a very familiar face.
The two men looked at each other for a second and then exchanged handshakes and pats on the backs.
"I heard that you had been killed in Texas," Carter said. "I was imprisoned in Fort Delaware for the duration of the war and then was released with a number of other officers. When I got home, I got the news of your demise. They told me that you had been blown up by a cannon shell."
"I was blown somewhere, John, and ended up here. I hear that you are the warlord of the planet. Think you might have a position somewhere for me?"
Carter looked at his old friend and then clapped him on the shoulder. Yes, he told him, "I shall make you the overlord of my cavalry. You will teach my men how to train the wild thoats. You gave a good accounting of yourself here. I trust you can teach my warriors the same."
Carter took his wife and daughter aboard his ship. He turned and asked if Blanton was coming.
"Only if that offer includes Yann, and the others, if they will come. After all, they are my comrades in arms." Yann came to his side and kissed him softly on the cheek. Only the Fisons insisted on remaining.
"I will follow you wherever fate takes us." Yann said as she took Blanton's hand in hers. He smiled at her and then the two went to join the warlord on his vessel. As the flier turned back towards Helium, Blanton looked at the city of Karnak and knew that his adventures on Barsoom were just beginning.
~ ducky87 (Jean Elliott)
ERBzine's UNTOLD STORIES OF BARSOOM
Read them all at:
Volume I ~ Volume II ~ Volume III
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL and SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
All ERB Images© and Tarzan® are Copyright ERB, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work © 1996-2010/2020 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.