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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."
The 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) ~ Joins the Mars Project
Ta glanced back at his friends as his flier pulled away from the landing deck. He looked forward to returning to Helium once again.
Just a few minutes into his flight, and his craft began to show signs of mechanical failure. He slowed his speed and dropped steadily towards the surface of Barsoom far below. If only there was time enough to land his flier.
Suddenly there was an explosion and his small craft nosed over. He fought hard at the controls, but to no avail. Ta braced for the crash he knew was to come.
At the moment of impact, Ta was thrown clear. He landed somewhat less than gracefully in a dune of sand. Before he could rise, the sand began to slide towards the bottom of a small ravine.
Before he realized what was happening, he was sprawled face up in the sand and small rocks. Then a shadow fell across his face. He was not alarmed, merely curious as to who might be out in such a desolate place.
As he tried to rise, a gloved hand grasped his and pulled him upright. The two looked at each other in surprise, squaring their shoulders and drawing themselves up to their full height.
"Kaor!" said Ta.
The stranger looked puzzled. He brushed the reddish sand off his torn grey uniform and settled his kepi into place.
"Kaor, sir, what ever that means, but I'll assume you are saying hello and thank you for the hand up." The stranger smiled.
It was now Ta's turn to look puzzled. The man before him was speaking gibberish. Such a strange turn of events. He had expected nothing unusual when he set off this morning.
"Do you understand what I am saying, sir? I regret that the many years of war have made me forget what little learning in foreign languages I had."
More gibberish, thought Ta. Perhaps this poor unfortunate was mentally defective. Perhaps years of captivity and forced slavery had destroyed his mind. There were so many beings on Barsoom that relished the suffering of others.
He looked at the stranger in his worn and patched clothes.
"Did you manage to escape and elude your captors?" He tried using his hands to show a prisoner pulling on bars and then used his fingers to indicate running.
The stranger looked at him and shook his head to indicate he didn't understand. Then he spoke more gibberish.
Ta sighed. Then he heard something he did understand. It was something that John Carter had once said: "Virginia." Now it was imperative to return to Helium as quickly as possible.
Gahor set down his glass and reached for his wife's hand. He smiled as he looked into her liquid eyes. She was so incredibly beautiful, perhaps nearly as much as Dejah Thoris herself.
"Let us go out and enjoy the splendid morning air, " he said taking Lu-An's hand. The three rose and moved out to the balcony, where Ta had left only hours before. It was Gahan who spotted it first. A mixture of propellant and some other substance he could not identify.
"By the Gods! What matter of treachery is this?" Gahan slapped his fist into his left mind. "Who would do this?" Then Gahor saw something else. Discarded tools and pieces of machinery, from the flier no doubt.
Lu-An paled. Who would want to harm Ta? She turned to her husband. "Where is the Crown of Har-Ban-Car?"
Gahor turned and ran to the place he had secreted it. There was the box, ripped apart as if someone was in a hurry to steal its contents and be gone before he could be discovered. Next to the wooden fragments was a note: "Did you honestly believe it would be over so quickly? See to all your friends' safety. No prison can hold me, no chains can bind me. My reach is very long. Good luck. you'll need it. Tevid."
Gahor ripped the note into angry shreds. This was too much. It was time to strike back.
The two men stared at each other for several long minutes. Each strove to understand the stranger standing in front of him. Ta could not comprehend how such a being could fight encumbered by...he could think of no words to describe them. He looked into the stranger's grey eyes and then glanced at the empty scabbard hanging from the man's belt. Insane, he thought, to be traveling alone and unarmed in this wasteland.
The stranger spoke more of its gibberish, none of which contained any discernible words. John Carter would discipher it. If only they could get back to him.
Ta looked around him to get his bearings. Above the lip of the ravine, thick black smoke rolled into the sky. Motioning to the stranger to follow him, Ta made his way up to the surface. There, crumpled into burnt and blackened pieces, lay his flier.
"By Issus, that could have been me beneath the wreckage." He spoke to the stranger, who was nudging at a twisted piece of metal with the toe of his worn boot. Ta rolled his eyes and shook his head slowly from side to side as more gibberish poured forth.
Then the stranger pointed at curious depressions in the sand. Ta knelt down to examine them carefully. They defied description. There was no outline to define them. No way to guess if they were human or animal, although he professed to himself that he could recall neither leaving such tracks.
Risng to his feet, Ta saw that the mysterious tracks led off in both directions. He shrugged at the stranger. If only this man could talk! He might be of some use in getting to safety. The stranger pointed in one direction and then indicated with his fingers that they sould go in that direction.
Ta nodded agreement. He looked back to his flier, but the fire was too hot to shift through the wreckage in search of supplies. Very well, they would have to do without them. The way the stranger marched confidently forward, Ta thought that he might be heading for some sort of transportation. Although he loved his flier, he would glad ride a thoat for days on end if it meant getting back to civilization.
Ta and the stranger walked for a long time across the red sands that stirred silently beneath their feet. He signalled for a rest and the two sat down cross-legged in the sand. Ta started to open his mouth to speak, but remembered that the stranger spoke only gibberish. He raised a handful of sand into the air and watched absently as it fell to the ground. This he repeated several times until the stranger began his gibberish again.
The stranger frowned and then pointed to the tracks in front of them. They stopped a mere 20 yards away. Beyond that there was nothing. It was as if the creatures who had made the mysterious tracks had been lifted into the sky by some enormous balloon. He motioned for Ta to come forward.
Ta quickly moved to where the tracks ended and slowly scratched his head. He turned his eyes upward but the heavens would give him no clues. All the tracks moved outward in one direction away from the originals. A curious thing.
The stranger dropped to all fours and began combing through the sand. Ta shrugged and came down beside him. For long mintes they sifted the sands silently. Then Ta felt something hard beneath his fingers. He brushed away the red sand to reveal the well worn surface of a large block of stone. He kept brushing the dirt away until a second, darker stone emerged. When a third and lighter stone came to light, the stranger looked astonished. This was no natural feature for every other stone was darker in appearance than its neighbor. The two men swept their hands briskly across the sands, moving in opposite directions. They met 180 degrees from where they started. The stones were set in a large circle!
The two men stood outside the circle. They both stared at the silently stones. The stranger knelt and then from a bottle on his belt poured water onto one of the stones. There emerged strange symbols and markings. Ta shook his head as if to say he had never seen anything like them before. What did they mean? Why was this circle out in the middle of nowhere! This was nothing carved out by wind and eroison. It was something made by the hands of man.
Ta dropped down on all fours again. This time he pushed his hands into the sand up to his wrists. For several long moments there was nothing. Then his fingers touched something hard and it was moving counter clock-wise. He jumped back, drawing his sword, and pushing the stranger back behind him.
"I do not know what is happening here, but we shall not be surprized." Ta pressed his short sword into the stranger's hands. The stranger smiled and pushed the sword into his scabbard. Ta scowled. Obviously the man did not grasp the situation before them! The stranger reached into a holster tied down down onto his right thigh. In his hand was some sort of pistol that Ta had never seen before. It looked like a poorly made replicant of his radium pistol, the kind that was often given to young children when they played their games of war and conquest. This proved it. The man was mad beyond all hopes of recovery!
Suddenly the sand beneath their feet rushed downward into a rapidly emerging hole. There was no chance for the men to react. They fell into it and darkness closed over their heads.ducky87Suddenly there was an explosion that knocked them from their feet and tore away part of the balcony. Gahan started to climb to his feet when another explosion tore away the landing ramp. He fell face down onto a large piece of masonry and in seconds was bleeding and unconscious.
Gahor crawled over to him and checked his pulse. The man was still alive! The copious amount of blood came from where the rock had torn open his scalp. Using all his strength, he started crawling towards the doorway, dragging the unconscious Gahan behind him.
He called to Lu-An to remain where she was.
"No, my chieftan, my place is beside you." Already she was making her way across the shattered balcony. Together, they pulled Gahan into the safety of the interior.
The third explosion came close to the doorway, forcing them further inside the house. Lu-An moved rapidly on her hands and knees to where the medicines and bandages were kept. She returned just as a fourth explosion caused the balcony to fall away and shatter on the hillside below.
"My princess," Gahor began, "you must...." His plea went unfinished as another explosion rocked the foundation of the house, knocking him off his feet. Lu-An rushed to his side. His wounds seemed more serious than those of Gahan. She did not give in to tears or hysteria. Now was not the time.
There was one final explosion and then silence fell upon them. Lu-An began attending to her husband's wounds. The skin on his face and neck was torn. Silently, she pulled out the small shards of glass that had created his wounds. One of the explosions had hit the side of the dwelling where there had once stood a beautiful mural.
She heard Gahan moan and saw him rise unsteadily to his feet. Staggering over to her side, he helped dress Gahor's wounds. Some were superficial, but the wound in his left side lay open and gushing his life's blood away. He pushed a handful of bandages into the wound and prayed that he might stop the flow of blood. He replaced the bandages three time in rapid succession and then the flow began to lessen.
"He'll be okay for the moment, Lu-An, but he needs more medical attention than we can supply." Gahan allowed her to treat his wounds and bind his scalp.
"Do you think you can go for help?" she looked pleadingly into his eyes.
"I am afraid that will be difficult. The landing pad is gone. There is nowhere to launch a flier."
Lu-An grasped his hands tightly She pointed at something and gasped. A gigantic flier pulled up to where the balcony had once been. It was unlike any Barsoomiam flier that had ever been seen before. It was silver grey in colour and strange hieroglyphs covered its sides. It was completely enclosed, with a transparent hull and stern.
This was no rescue party! Gahan drew his sword and stepped in front of Lu-An and the stricken Gahor. Although still weak, he was prepared for whatever was outside. Everything at once grew still. Then the side of the flier opened and a metal ramp slid toward the ruined house. On the ramp, five horrible apparitions stood quietly.
A voice rang out from within the fantastic ship. It was the voice of Tevid.
"I know that you are all still alive, but Gahor is seriously injured." As Tevid spoke, the five apparitions moved down the ramp. "let us not quibble or make dire threats we cannot enforce. Drop your weapons and move towards the ramp."
Gahan flexed his wrists and the muscles in his arms, back and legs. He could take them on. His strength had returned. "Perhaps it would be better if your minions took them from us."
"As you wish," Tevid said as his horrid colleagues moved to the doorway. Before they could enter, Gahan was charging forward, rage and determination to prevail in his eyes.
Suddenly, Lu-An screamed. More of the horrid beings were crashing through the ceiling and encircling them. While they had stood spellbound by what was in front of them, Tevid's evil followers had gained entrance to the dwelling.
There was a loud noise and then the sword was torn from Gahan's grasp. He grabbed his wrist and tried to move his fingers. They were locked into a claw. He could not move them. He reached for his short sword, but it was gone.
Another explosion and an evil laugh. As he slipped into darkness, he saw Lu-An, his sword in her hand, surrounded by the awful creatures. And then there was a scream....Ta and the stranger fell but a short distance, then tumbled down an ancient stair way carved into the living rock. As they reached bottom, the chamber changed from complete darkness into soft light. They stood in amazement. They had expected all manner of things, but not this.
The chamber they were standing in was circular, with a broad stairway on one side leading to the ceiling and a large rectangular doorway on the other. Ta motioned to the stranger to follow his lead, but not before he had recovered his swords. The stranger didn't seem to mind giving up the short sword. Instead he dusted off his strange looking pistol and moved something on the opposite end of the barrel. Ta frowned. The man was of no value should they be attacked in this very unexpected place. He had to protect both himself and the crazed stranger if anything would happen.
As the men stepped through the doorway, the darkness changed into light. What was revealed to them was a massive canvas on one wall and a doorway opposite the portal they had just entered. The stranger looked puzzled, but Ta felt curiously darwn to the canvas. As he drew closer, the left edge lit up. Ta saw a collection of mighty buildings, the likes of which he had never seen. Mighty Helium would have been dwarfed by them. Around them circled huge cylindrical flying machines with transparent bows and sterns. Ta guessed that they were at least ten times the size of Helium's proudest fighting ships. Emerging from the buildings was some horrible army of a kind that Ta had never seen or imagined in his worst nightmares.
Ta moved to the right. The part of the canvas he had been viewing faded and a new section emerged. Now there was what looked like a great battle with dueling ships in the air. On the ground was a great collision of warriors fighting in huge gullies and atop great ruins. When Ta moved forward for a closer examination, the light narrowed. He could see every variety of Barsoomian warrior there was. They all seemed united against the common ghastly foe. Ta searched his memory but could not remember such a battle ever taking place in the history he had learned.
He stepped back and the light expanded to its original size. If he moved left, the light faded. If he moved right, a new scene appeared. Now he saw scenes of great devastation and death. The ground was littered with the remains of fliers and the great airships. Ta moved in for a closer inspection and the light narrowed so that he could see terrible piles of Barsoomian dead being pillaged by groups of hideous foe. He moved right again and a new scene lit up. The apparitions had yielded ground under the intense assault of their enemies. Then they were forced back into another set of mighty buildings, with the great army of barsoomians hard at their heels. Ta moved again to his right, expecting to see the conclusion of the battle, but the light did not move to the last portion of the mural. He leaned in close, but nothing happened.
He stepped back and almost bumped into the stranger, who had been following his movements from a distance. "I know you do not understand me, stranger, but believe me that I have never beheld such a thing as this in my life."
The stranger looked at Ta and wished that he didn't speak gibberish. He stared at the mysterious dark canvas before him. He swallowed once and then beckoned to the doorway on the far wall. Again, the light came on as the men stepped into the room.
In front of them lay piles of papers and dangling ceiling wires. Great conduits of steel ran across the ceiling and then down the far side of the room. On the walls were strange metallic boxes with flickering lights. In the exact center of the room was an oversized padded chair with wires going into the floor. The stranger sat down and rubbed the back of his neck before settling into a comfortable position. He slowly let his eyes circle the room. He had no idea of what he saw. It looked some giant boiler room gone to ruins.
Ta looked at the stranger. "By issus, you lack both intelligence and fighting skills. Let's move on. Now!" As he spoke, he slapped the side of the box with blicking lights. There was a loud noise, an intense display of colours across the stranger and the chair, and then the room was filled with the smell of ozone. The stranger lay slumped in the chair, his eyes closed.
Ta approached slowly. The boxes behind him were clattering and flashing their lights. The stranger stirred uneasily and then opened his eyes. Ta touched his hand and then asked him if he needed medical attention.
The stranger stood up and stretched his arms as if he had just woken from a deep sleep. "I am indeed all right, sir, though why you have persisted in speaking a language unknown to me till now is somewhat of a puzzlement."
The two men looked at each other in amazement. Minutes before neither could understand the other and now both spoke the same tongue.
Ta was unafraid of anything, but this room and the sudden transformation of the stranger's speech was too much for him. He grabbed the man's arm and rushed him into the next room. This appeared to be a long hall. Against both walls were lines of pennants. He stepped forward and lifted one by its hem. The edges and scattered here and there were rusted coloured patches. Blood! Each pennant had the same discoloration; some more and some less. Ta stepped back to see all the pennants at once. The stranger spoke softly.
"I have seen these before. On the mural. These flags were being caried by the different bands of soldiers." Save for seeing them on the illuminated mural, none of them were familiar to him.
"You're right." Ta replied. There being no more to see, the two walked into the next room. Here, hung from rings in the walls, were great numbers of swords, pikes, and lances. On the other wall was an assortment of bizarre looking weapons that made Ta wonder what their purpose was. He touched an elongated weapon with a slender barrel. He tried to dislodge it, but something unseen held it in place. The stranger tried to assist, but the thing stubbornly refused to budge. No matter what it was, it was of no use to them glued to the wall. "What do you make of them, stranger?
The stranger looked at the wall and then back to Ta. He shook his head silently. Then he smiled faintly.
"My name, sir, is Blanton, Lieutenant Stephen Blanton. Officer of Cavalry of the Confederate States of America. You may call me Blanton." The stranger offered his hand and Ta took it. John Carter sometimes made the same gesture. As soon as they got out of this place, they would return quickly to Helium. The Warlord would be pleased.
"How is it that you came to be wandering in the great Barsoomian desert, Blanton?"
"That, sir..." He was interrupted by Ta insisting that he use his name. Sir sounded funny. Although Blanton spoke his own language, there was a strangeness to it. "Ta. Yes. To continue, it is a mystery to me how I got here. Is this some sort of Heaven for souls which have lost their way?"
"Heaven, Blanton, I know of no such place on the face of Barsoom. Perhaps your long period of captivity..."
"Captivity? Then we lost the battle?"
"I do not know of what you are speaking. This might not be the time or place to hear your history, but if we are to rely on each other in combat, we should know the other better. Tell me......"
"Let me tell you what I remember," Blanton said as they worked down another corridor. "In April came the sad news that the Army of Northern Virginia had surrendered to General Grant. Many were glad that the struggle was at last over. Some, however, could not face the truth. Our beloved south had been defeated. I was among the latter. It did not seem possible. I and a number of like minded cavalry officers gathered our meagre possessions and rode like blazes towards the west. It was hard riding but we gained Texas than we thought possible. We heard that our forces were gathering near the Rio Grande at Palmeto Ranch. That was the direction we turned our mounts.
My heart began to sink as we neared Palmeto. There was no large force of confederate grey to offer a last stand against the hated federals. There were hundreds, to be sure, what what could they do against the approaching Yankees? We heard that Barrett was coming with 250 negro soldiers of the 62nd Coloured Infantry Regiment and Branson with 50 men of the 2nd Texas Cavalry Regiment . Three hundred men did not present an obstacle to us, especially as we still had our artillery.
Despite this, things did not go our way. On the 12th of April came news that Branson had been reinforced with 200 men of the 34th Indiana Volunteers. Our infantry fell back on Palmeto Ranch and then was pushed further back again. The federals put the torch to our supplies. It began to look grim, but then a large force under the command of Col. "Rip" Ford came to our rescue. Our gallant artillery helped out as well.
Barrett started to withdraw his men, with skirmishers covering the retreat. I turned to lead my men forward and there was an explosion. I felt my feet give way beneath men and saw my sword fly out my hand. My eyes closed and I fell forward. I opened my eyes again and found myself, to my utter amazement sourrounded by nothing but sand. At first I thought that I had been evacuated to the banks of the Rio Grande, but as my eyes opened wider and my head ache cleared, I saw that the sand was reddish in colour.
I sat up, thinking I should see dead and wounded about me, but I was wrong. I was alone. Where Ford's cavalry had been minutes before, there was only shifting red sand. I climbed with difficulty to my feet and gauged my wounds. Aside from the feeling of being severely pummeled by the explosion and having lost my sword, all was well. In addition, I still had my cartridge cases, a full canteen of water, and my kepi to keep the sun out of my eyes
I had a compass and so I decided to head east, towards the federals. Once I found them, I could ascertain the best course of action to take next. I walked for a long time before I heard something."
Ta stopped. The tale, of course, made no sense, but at least it was interesting.
"What did you hear?"
"I heard the sound of voices and then desperate cries of wounded and mortally stricken men. I started to run towards the voices, then slowed my pace. It would be better if I made any approached unannounced. If my comrads were being harmed by the federal, it would give me a chance to get into a good position and fire my colt without being seen.
I made my way round to where the cries originated. To my horror, I saw not my men but men and women being set upon and tortured by some sort of fiendish creatures from Hell. There are no words to describe what I saw. They were parodies of men with huge maws in which they stuffed parts of their victims. Decayed tendrils coiled around their victims. Most of the men had been viciously killed and there was a dozen or so frightened women clinging to each other in the midst of it all.
I could do nothing for the men, but it was my duty to rescue those fair women from harm. I checked my colt, making sure that the chambers were full. I lept atop a small ridge, pistol blazing. The fiendish creatures paused in their tracks and then.....
Blanton stopped as they reached the end of the cooridor and turned sharply left. They entered a cavernous room whose air chilled their flesh. On each of the four walls were long lines of glass cyclinders. The cyclinders were approximately man-size, although here and there they were larger, distorted or curiously shrunken. Moreover there were rows of cylinders rising to the ceiling, some four rows tall. Although once transparent, centuries of reddish had long kept the contents secret.
"What do you make of this, Ta?" Blanton asked as he approached the closest cylinder. The story he was telling lost for the moment.
"It is beyond my comprehension, Blanton. I have never seen such a room as this. I have never heard of a room like this." Ta touched the cylinder and it began to glow. "By the Gods!" he stepped back quickly as the entire cylinder glowed and a gravelly voice began to speak. It was not quite the language that Ta understood, there were sounds that meant nothing to him. He listened carefully and then began to understand parts of it. He rapidly cleared away the dust of ages and gazed upon the face of a tall warrior.
"...Gra...recognized...the evil..." The voice faded quickly into silence.
"Who is this Gra? One of your ancestors?" Blanton asked, peering intently into the glass. Before him was a man over 7 feet tall, wearing strange garb and holding a long sword in his left hand. On his index finger was a large signet ring. On his head was a bejeweled crown of metal.
"I know of no one called Gra," Ta replied. He moved to the next cyclinder and it too began to glow and speak.
"The demise of Kuq..." The voice stopped. Both men hastily cleared away the dust and immediately wished they had not. Inside the cylinder was a man about 6 feet tall. His arms were raised as if to fend off a blow. The head was cruelly crushed on one side, and the mouth was wide open in pain. The thin lips were pulled back revealing two rows of interlocking, razor like teeth. The clothing was covered with the stains of blood and soil.
Blanton stopped before a wide cylinder. Inside were two figures. He looked upon a woman who could have been his relation. She lay propped up against the man's knee. Her face was tilted back and her long blonde hair cascaded to the ground. About her waist was a bejeweled leather belt. From it descended both long and short swords. On the white silken cloth between her breasts was a stain of red. The man bore a look of deep grief and pain. One hand cradled her head, while the fingers of the other caressed her cheek. Beside them both lay a metal tube of small diameter set into a metal frame.
The men moved on. The unseen voice spoke each time they stopped: "Bre the 39th...Lis the 15th...Oxthord the Minor..." Each of the figures looked as if it might suddenly breathe and come to life, but here and there the figures were in poses of agony, as if death had just descended upon them
"I suggest..." said Ta, wiping the dust away from another of the endless cylinders. He stopped. Inside the glass tube was a Thark.
"What in the name of Heaven is that?" Blanton stared at it, unable to take his eyes away from the creature before him. But Ta did not answer. Instead, he ran down the line of cylinders, briefly wiping the dust from each. Blanton followed him with his eyes as he ran along an ascending ramp. The man seemed possessed! When Ta returned to where Blanton stood, he was exhausted. He dropped to the floor and tried to catch his breath.
"They're all here." Ta began. "Every race of Barssom I know, and a few more that I don't know are represented here. It's a museum. It begins with Gra and ends in the earliest known period of Barsoomian history. On the fourth tier is a small room. Its cylinders are filled with the most wretched creatures I have ever seen. Almost like those you described to me before. There also one more thing..."
"What?" Blanton asked, helped Ta to his feet.
"A door and a way outside!"
John Carter stood in the chamber where he greeted those who came with matters of concern. What he wished is that one person would come forward with a story that might stir him to adventure. Life in Helium was becoming far too predictable. He yearned to be facing an adversary again.
At that moment entered Wegon, one of the lesser jewellers in Helium. Dejah Thoris was particularly fond of his work. Wegon bowed slightly and approached the Warlord cautiously. He was hesitant to speak, but he could contain his tale no longer.
"Warlord, I have come with a most unusual story. I know not what to make of it..." and so be began. He was a neighbor of Gahor. They often met during the day as they were about their visits with clients and suppliers. Most days they would stop for a libation and tell each other of their designs and their clients. Such was the trust of each man for the other that sharing secrets of the trade created no problems. Wegon, in fact, had long ago been a student of Gahor. The two never considered themselves in competition.
At one of their daily meetings, Gahor had spoken of the Crown of Har-Ban-Car. It was the first time that Wegon had ever seen his friend so secretive and a little worried. Gahor spoke of the crown as something from Barsoom's past. It was quite valuable and he was going to make several copies before the original was moved to a place that would always be guarded and out of sight. He explained that there was a limited time to make the crowns and asked Wegon to assist him. Wegon was, of course, greatly honoured. They arranged to meet at Gahor's home in several days' time. Gahor cautioned him never to speak of the crown again. Wegon agreed.
"And then?" the Warlord asked softly. The jeweller seemed skittish and he did not want to still the story at its birth. Wegon explained that he and Gahor met every day as usual over a small libation. Gahor spoke no more about the crown and he did not bring the matter up. He indicated that the man should come the next day and bring his tools for making an impression of the crown. Wegon agreed.
"Warlord, when I went by my flier to visit him, his house lay in ruins. I brought my flier to rest on what used to be the roof of his dwelling. Throwing a rope over the side, I made my way gingerly inside." Wegon then described what he saw. The interior of the house was gutted. There was blood in places, but the swords he saw were clean. He looked for the occupants and found no one. He followed a faint blood trail that led him to the doorway to the balcony. The trail stopped here, but there was no pool of blood as if a body had fallen there. It was as if the wounded person had stepped forward and disappeared into the ether. Then he saw it...
"Saw what," asked the Warlord. He was curious now.
"The largest airship that I have ever seen. No, larger than that and of a strange design." He then told of regaining his flier with some difficulty. He lept to the controls and headed off to catch up with the strange airship. He had gained a little on it when there was a whoosing sound and an explosion in front of his craft. Without hesitation he turned the nose of his flier round and headed for Helium.
"And you saw no sign of Gahor in his ruined home?"
"I found no one. There was only this." He handed the Warlord a piece of of paper that he had taken from Gahor's and Lu-An's sleeping chamber. The paper was torn and one edge was stained with blood. It was a note addressed to the Warlord.
"I can see that you do not take my threats seriously. Now is the time that you should. I have taken your three friends to a place that I seriously doubt you can imagine. Trust me, it won't be to their liking. They will pay for your transgressions, Warlord. The woman will watch them suffer a fate that is so hideous that I scare believe that I can throw them to it. You will learn of my demands in short order. Be on your guard!" It was signed in blood: Tevid
Lu-An awoke first. All of her accouterments had been taken from her. She was completely naked. To her great relief, she was not encumbered by chains, as were Gahor and Gahan just a short distance away. She quickly checked herself for wounds, but, aside from a few bruises, she was all right. .
She rushed to Gahor's side.
"My chieftain. My beloved Gahor. Speak to me." She stroked his face gently. She massaged his temples. His skin was cold and she pressed her nude form to him, hoping her warmth would revive him. She cradled him in her arms and wept silently. For long minutes, Gahor remained still. Then a moan escaped his lips and his eyes opened. He looked at her briefly, smiled, and then dropped back into sleep. Gahan stirred. His harness and armaments had also been taken from him. He looked at Lu-An and the sleeping Gahor. She spoke a single word before Gahan could say anything: "Why?"
"I know not, but I suspect that everything revolves around the cursed crown of Har-Ban-Car. It has caused so much trouble already." He tried to recall the events that had led them to this place. Everything had happened so quickly. He looked at Gahor's wounds. They would need attention soon. Gahan frowned and then tried to rise to his feet. He could not. A short chain running from the wall was linked to a collar around his neck and another to one around his waist. There was only enough play to allow him to rise to his knees. He gave the chains a quick pull, but they did not budge. He sat down and looked about the room but saw nothing that might aid them to escape. Four blank walls formed a small enclosure around them. The ceiling was high enough to barely permit Lu-An to stand upright. There seemed to be no exit from the room.
At that moment, one of the walls slid back. Tevid strode into the room.
"You must forgive," he smiled, "the rather primitive conditions of your chamber. I'm afraid that the sleeping silks and furs are being otherwise used." He looked at the three of them. "You disappoint me, Gahan. I was sure that you would hold out longer. The rapidity with which you three succumbed allowed me little time for merriment." He shook his fist in their direction. "I will not be cheated again. The time will soon come when your swords will be returned to you and you will have a longer time to amuse me."
Gahan looked at Tevid with disgust. If he had his long sword, he would cut this lunatic down to size. He tried to rise, but the chains held him fast.
"So eager!" Tevid laughed. As if he could read Gahan's mind, he withdrew his long sword and slid it towards him. The warrior quickly scooped it up. As he tried to rise, the chains pulled him back down and closer to the wall. When the band around his neck began to choke him, Gahan let loose of the hilt of the sword. Tevid retrieved it. "Did I forget to mention that you are bound by living flesh? Indeed, there are creatures behind you that would willingly suck your marrow dry if I tell them. I suggest that you relax." Gahan stopped resisting and the pressure around his neck eased considerably. The living chains assumed their previous length, allowing him some movement.
At that moment Gahor regained consciousness. At the first movement of his body, the living chains tightened. Lu-An screamed. Then the chains relaxed. She kneeled over his prostrate form. There were no new wounds that needed attention. She stroked his head gently.
"What do you want from us?" she said.
"Entertainment of course. You owe me for all the troubles I have been through." Tevid slipped the sword back into his harness and walked away slowly.
"Do you think that I could ever entertain you or..." she choked on the words, "be with you." She sprang to her feet and lept at Tevid. With little effort he flung her back, knocking the air from her lungs..
"You underestimate me, my dear. I don't want you and have no desire to separate you from your friends. You will all be together until the end." With that, he was gone and the wall slid back into place.
The three prisoners looked at each other silently. On their faces were expressions of anger, frustration, and pain.
"What does Tevid intend for us?" Lu-An asked, hugging her ribs and trying to catch her breath.
"A new and entertaining way to die!" Gahan said curtly. He massaged his throat as he spoke. He wished he had a weapon with which to slash at the living chains that bound himself and Gahor. What gave him pause was the fact that Lu-An was not fettered. It seemed unlikely that the villainous Tevid had some code of honour that prevent him from causing harm to a woman. What was his purpose?
The three spoke among themselves for a long time. As often as not, more questions were raised than answered. They agreed that Lu-An should carefully examine their surroundings and look for a clue as to the way out. Dropping on all forms, she started crawling about the room. There was nothing save the living chains that hung from the one wall. She pressed in various places on the walls for hidden panels, tried to pry her fingers into the corners of the chamber, but she found nothing.
"I can see nothing that would help us." She said as she sat down next to Gahor. She began to stroke his brown when there came the sound of shuffling feet from outside. " We don't have much time to plan," she said as she rose to her feet. "We must be ready to strike at any sign of an opening."
Gahan looked in her direction and smiled. "We?"
She hastily shot him a look that commanded silence.
"We! Perhaps you two can create a disturbance and I can come up behind our visitor and over power him. I won't fail as I did before when Tevid was here." Her voice fell away as the wall began to slide open. This time, an intense bright light flooded into the room. It was so bright that the three prisoners instinctively flung their arms in front of their eyes to prevent any damage to their sight.
Several dark forms shuffled through the entrance. All at once the chamber filled with a horrible stentch, much like that of an animal carcas left rotting in the burning sun. The prisoners covered their mouths with their free hands to prevent themselves from gagging. They pressed themselves together against the wall that chained two of their number there.
The lumbering forms moved into the centre of the chamber and came to a halt. The bright light in the passageway dimmed and then the darkness in the chamber began to fade.
Lu-An looked up first. What she saw made her scream as she had never screamed before. Standing before her were three apparations. One could scarely call them women. They were all of equal height, about that of Lu-An. Their heads were capped by long strands of lusterless hair. Here and there were spots where the flesh was bald or torn to reveal the skull beneath. Their foreheads were sloped back. The faces were vacant, with large black eyes staring straight ahead beneath a large bony browl. Their elongated, emaciated arms hung limply at their sides, and ended below the knees. The long bony fingers were curled and covered with what looked like thorns.. The bodies were completely unadorned.
Lu-An turned her face away. She felt sick. She made herself turn back and look upon them. If they were lower forms, she reasoned, perhaps she could take advantage of them somehow. She studied the faces with their open mouths and exposed interlocking razor like teeth, It wouldn't do to get too close to those. She looked for something else. The women's breasts lay flat astride the bony chests. Their skin was riddled with sores and lesions and coloured a sickly green with a mottle of brown spots..
To her dismay, two of the forms moved to where Gahor lay and knelt beside him. "Get away from him'" Lu-An screamed and launched herself like a wounded banth upon the two. She grabbed for an arm when that of a third being knocked her flat to the floor. When she tried to rise, she felt herself pinned down by an unseen foot.
Gahor flinched when the beings touched him but determined not to show any emotion. If this was to be his demise, he would find a way to make them pay an awful price for his life. The two held him down and rubbed something into all of his wounds. When they had finished, they turned and walked out of the room. The third released Lu-An and then vacated the chamber. As she left, the wall slid back into place.
Lu-An crawled over to where Gahor lay, expecting the worst. For moments he lay there scarce breathing. Then he opened his eyes and looked into hers. "My princess!" He kissed her warmly.
"Gahor lie still. Your wounds...."but as she spoke, she could see that the wounds were healing, amazingly fast.
Gahan and Lu-An watched Gahor as he tried to climb to his feet. His wounds were gone, but the living chains still held him in place. He embraced Lu-An, holding her tight in his strong arms. He whispered softly into her ear so that Gahan might not hear his words. She nestled her head against his chest and then whispered something back. Gahan turned his head away to give them some measure of privacy. The two continued their whispers for some time, holding hands tightly.
Before they could realize what was happening, their chains fell away and the far wall panel slid back. This time, no one or thing waited outside for them. The three rose as one and moved slowly into a narrow, modestly lit corridor running away from their chamber. It was broken at even intervals with inset doorways.
Gahan took the lead. He instructed them to stay several paces apart and to tread softly. He paused at the first doorway and looked inside. It was a sleeping chamber. On the furs and silks lay all their belongings. They rushed to pick them up. When their harnesses were back on and their swords in place, they felt almost invincible. The three moved silently from the chamber and crossed to the one on the opposite side of the hall. On the sleeping furs lay strange hooded capes, and an assortment of what might have been weapons. Gahan picked one up. It had a grip at one end, but was made for a different kind of hand than his. The grip was attached to a rod about the length of his hand. It was capped at one end by a small blue orb that dazzled brightly. He set it gently down and noticed that the orb dimmed immediately. He picked it up again and the orb blazed into light. He asked Gahor and Lu-An whether they had ever seen anything like it. They both replied in the negative, although Lu-An ventured that it might be an artificial torch. Gahan shoved the object into his harness, as he let go, the orb dimmed again. Nothing else looked as remotely useful and the three of them decided to move on.
The next few rooms were completely bare and they passed them by quickly. Then they came to a flight of stairs leading upword. Swords in hand they went cautiously upward. They were confronted by a large metal door that would not budge under their combined weight. It appeared that they would have to find another way out when the door slid back.
In the large chamber was a table heaped with food and drink. Gahor started towards it when Gahan stepped quickly in front of him.
"It could be a trap. The food or the drink might be poisoned." Gahan kept the two of them back with his sword.
"Yes," Gahor agreed, "but it seems highly unlikely that Tevid would go to such trouble to abduct us and then not be there to watch us die from poisoning.
"No, my friend, he would not." Another red Barsoomiam stepped into the light.
"Who are you and why should we trust you?" Gahan pushed Lu-An back and flexed the sword in his hand.
"My name is Domer and this is my mate, Katel. We are artisans from Gathol. We were out in the desert looking for materials for our work. Katel likes to work with stone to make jewelry and small ornaments We knew of a spot where a meteor had crashed into Barsoon some time again. Katel thought that she might be able to do something with the fused rock or perhaps the sand around the crash site. We were working on the meteor when Tevid found us. He explained that he was part of a company searching through this part of the world for the fabled lost ruins of Karnak. As he was so equipped for such a searah and accompanied by five others in similar garb, we gave his story creedence. At first he was polite. He said that he had uncovered some stone and jewel antiquities and wanted our opinions. He asked if we would accompany him to the main exploration area not very far from where we were. As we had been previously been called to render opinions in the past, and as we ourselves were in no hurry to complete our work at the site, we agreed to follow him and his band at first light."
Lu-An interrupted to ask if Domer was sure that the food was safe. He answered by lifting some food to his mouth and chewing contently on it. The others laughed and soon all were sitting at the table and eating. When they were all finished, they asked Domer to continue.
"The next morning, we set out with Tevid and his band. He seemed to pose no threat, nor was his language so coarse or vulgar that we would think that he was anything but what he claimed to be. He got into the flier with Katel and myself and gave us directions. I ran the flier full speed and in no time at all we came upon the ruins of what he referred to as Karnak. This was proof enough for us. He led us into a cave that was well lit. Katel sat down at a bench along one wall and looked at an assortment of stones and masonary pieces that Tevid claimed were from Karnak. I must admit that they were unusual pieces, but they were not entirely unknown to us. I started to protest to Tevid that this be some kind of hoax. He laughed and admitted that it was. He stepped aside and two hideous creatures approached us. We were unarmed because there is no need for arms where we were. I picked up the heaviest object from the collection and hurled it into the face of one of the creatures. There was the sound of a stone hitting a rotten piece of fruit. The creature did not falter, but came on, even as the rock slid away with part of its face still attached to it. Katel screamed and then fainted. I hurled more object at the two of them but their pace was unhindered. When one of them neared Katel, I launched myself on him. Before I could do anything, the other had me and a strong blow to my head ended the struggle as I fell into darkness."
Domer told the remainder of his story, closing with their finding themselves in a sealed chamber. It was only recently that they had left their chamber and found the room in which they now sat. They had breakfasted on the food and drink they found and it had not harmed them.
"Have you uncovered any other rooms?" Gahan asked eagerly.
"No," Domer replied. "Everywhere we turn the walks are solid. We were outside in a corridor exploring when we heard your voices."
"Do you feel it?" Katel asked.
"What?" Gahor replied.
"A sense of vibration. As if we were moving." All paused to see if they could feel anything. Then it became apparent that there was, indeed, a faint vibration under their feet.
"It's the vibrations of the engines." Tevid's voice came out of the ceiling. "You are on my airship. If you will look to your left..." as he spoke the side of the enormous craft turned transparent. Below them they could see the ochre sands of the desert. Here and there were ruins. Once Katel spotted a crater formed by the impact of a meteor. She wished that they might stop and inspect the site. She could work wonders with the stone.
"We will stop here, dear Katel." The voice seemed to be mocking her. "You will have every opportunity to examine the stone. We shall bring it aboard with one last couple of women. Be patient and wait where you are." Tevid's voice faded. With that the forward motion of the craft slowed and then stopped. Gently the craft began to descend to the surface below. With a lurch it settled into place. Then came a sound as if a mechanical ramp was being rolled out.
The five watched as the horrible creatures left the ship in two groups. One group was towing a digging and scooping mechanism. The other went into a large tent-like structure and emerged with the two captive females. Gahan watched, angered that he could not come to their defence. To his surprize, one of the women tore loose from the creatures and made to escape. Instantly the others were after her. For a moment she vanished behind a tall stack of crates. When she emerged, she held one of the strange devices that Gahan had tucked into his harness. Her left hand twisted the end. When she held the device level, a dazzling ray of light sprang forward, enveloping the creature before her. It moved forward several steps and then literally crumbled into dust before her.
The woman turned as to run in the direction of her captive friend. She aimed the weapon at the closest being and it too crumbled. She turned it on another and another with the same result. Gahan and the others began to cheer for her. They shouted for her success and urged her to free her friend and escape as quickly as they could. She seemed to hear them and was encouraged by their words. She demolished the creatures one by one until she was standing back to back with her friend. For a moment it looked as if they would prevail.
From the craft emerged two columns of more grotesque figures with two arms on either side of their bodies. They moved with speed and surrounded the two women. The first woman readied her weapon and then fired into the creatures. This time the weapon was useless. The creatures were apon them quickly. There were two brief screams and then everything was quiet. Gahan and the others tried to see the outcome of the struggle, but the wall lost its transparency and they were alone again.
Katel was the first to notice the vibration. Then the ship loosened its grip on the ground and began moving onward and upwards.
The five returned to their seats and began to recount what they had seen. They began to speculate about the fate of the two women. Lu-An remarked that they seemed as tall or taller as the tallest men in Barsoom. Their blond hair was a mass of long ringlets reaching down to their waists. Around their foreheads were beaded bands and on each arm were broad pink bands. They wore simple harnesses with a single holster for the strange weapon the one had brandished and like the one that Gahan now possesed. One other thing set them apart. Their skin was very pale.
The five of them talked among themselves for some time. Then the two tall women walked into the room. They were identical in every way save for the colour of their eyes and the style in which they kept their hair. They looked somewhat bruised from their struggle, but still full of fight. In each woman's left hand was a long bow and astride her back a quiver filled with arrows. In the holster on their right was the mysterious weapon that had been put to such good effect during their brief battle.
Gahan bid them to come forward and share the food and drink. The women looked at each other and then moved towards the table. They ate and drank but a little and spoke not at all.
Lu-An broke the silence by openly admiring their jeweled headbands. Again the women looked at each other and then spoke quietly to her.
"We do not wish to intrude upon your kindness. Especially not now."
"What do you mean?
"Your sacramental time. We do not wish to intrude on your rituals."
Lu-An looked at the others to indicate that she knew not what these two new prisoners were speaking about. One of the women looked at her and smiled.
"Is this not your sacrament of togetherness? Have you not gathered to celebrate your unions?"
Gahan laughed aloud. "We are not here by choice. We are here because we have been abducted and have not found a means of escape. We are prisoners and yet all our weapons have been returned to us." He stood and introduced the others one by one.
Then it was the turn of the women to laugh. "Prisoners? Abducted? We had no idea. We thought," she paused and then let the other woman continue. "We thought that this was part of a ritual that we call The Undertaking. This is the time in which people come together and declare their intentions for each other. They do this in a chapel were all are invited to hear them. When they have declared, they leave us and undertake a difficult pilgrimage together. During this time they are completely on their own. They must use their wits and work together. If they do not, they are lost. After a agreed upon time, we seek them out. If they want to remain together, we provide means for them to complete their journey. If they can no longer be together, we bring them back separately and they never see the other again. There is no loss of face. The realization is that they cannot face life together. They are free to seek out new partners. If they express their desire to complete their pilgrimage, they break bread with us, exchange vows, and are declared mates for life. We thought that you had all declared for each other and this was part of your pilgrimage."
Gahor smiled broadly. He explained what had happened to them up to the present. There being naught else to do as the ship continued its flight forward, he asked the women to tell them more about their culture.
"We are of the Fisons, a very old race. By choice we have kept ourselves from the other tribes of Barsoom. We have not wanted to be tainted by their violence. Our once proud cities have crumbled into dust and we have taken to the remote deserts of our planet. A long time ago, the Fisons ran afoul of The First Born. I still remember the story that my mother's mother told to me as a child. We treated with them, but they only wanted us as chattel. Our people agreed to go if they would not harm us. I'm told that they were ugly and arrogant. They thought us weak and childlike. Each evening when the First Born chose to stop, they made our people listen to their boasting and bragging. Then one night, we reached the spot where the Fisons have one of their many caches of weaponry, water and food. This is the custom of my people, to leave such caches in the desert so that no Fison traveler need ever perish. When the First Born were sleeping, we rose up and slaughtered them all. Death comes to those who underestimate our people. We are always prepared!"
Domer remarked that he had never heard of the Fisons. The others admitted the same ignorance. The women smiled at them and then one began to speak. "The Fisons number only a few and that is another reason that we prefer to keep our existance unknown. Once we controlled an entire hemisphere of Barsoom. Fison banners flew from the lofty spires of our cities. We devoted much of our resources to our scientists. They achieved so very much. Then at the peak of our accomplishments, we were decimated by an insidious plague for which there seemed no cure. People grew ill and their lives drained away with their bodily fluids. There was no way to keep them hydrated. Our streets and abodes were soon unsafe from the plague. If someone in the home were to come down with the plague, they infected the others with their coughing and wheezing. Everyday, hundreds became infected and they lingered on in hideous pain. There was nothing we could do. When our water supplies were contaminated, the healthy gathered together and made a very hard decision. We would have to abandon our homes and cities, leaving behind the dead and the dying. Do not think of us as merciless. We had tried everything and nothing worked. Every city we knew was dying. We could not take the sick with us! If we had, we all would have become infected and died soon. With heavy hearts, we left everything behind, and as we moved away, we picked up other survivors. We became nomadic and disappeared from the history of Barsoom."
Lu-An was crying by the end of the woman's tale. "All those lost souls. But how did the rest of you survive?" The first woman answered her. We do not understand why the plague had left us unharmed. Over time, the Fisons found their a new place to dwell. It was a deep cavern called Mardor. Here we taught each other to survive, to forrage, and to fight. We have prospered, but our numbers are less than a thousand."
"Can you tell me more about this weapon that I saw you use so skillfully out there? Gahan asked, placing the one he had found before him on the table..
"It's not really a weapon," one of the women replied. "We use it for light and warmth. When you turn the grip, you increase the intensity of both. It's quite useful during the Barsoomian nights and in Mardor, which would be very cold without them. It can be used as a weapon, but the orb dissipates its energy very quickly that way and soon is useless. I used it as a last resort to protect Hera. If I had been able to get at another, I might have saved the day. But I could not and we were brought into this conveyance against our wills."
Domer coughed and then asked if they had found anything unusual where they had been working on the meteor. Hera answered that the rock was criss-srossed with greenish gold veins. They had hoped to chisel some of the rock away parts and then turn the pieces into treasures that others who adore. When Domer asked her to explain her last statement, Hera laughed. Just because others have not not heard of the Fisons, it doesn't mean that we haven't heard of them. Some of our numbers regularly visit your cities, sell our goods, and then come back to alert us to any danger. I dare say that we have actually sold some of polished rocks and jewels to you, Gahor and Lu-An! We keep a steady supply of gems coming your way. Those who buy from us do not betray us because the trade is so lucrative to them.
Lu-An pushed Gahor's open mouth closed with two of her fingers. She said that they were in awe of what they had just heard.
Katel asked if this was what they did as a trade.
"No," Hera replied. "We are completing our pilgrimage. Diana is my mate." Although Diana looked very proud when Hera touched her hand, the others in the room dropped back in their seats, looking somewhat aghast.
"I thought," Katel asked, seemingly at a loss for words, "I thought..." her voice drained away.
"We thought you understood," Diana said, "the purpose of the pilgrimage. Were we not clear? Can you not see that our armlets are alike? They indicate that we are one."
'Yes," said Gahan, "but I thought that the pilgrimages were a sacrament for two who wished to share their lives together. Why, you are both women...."
"Of course, we're women," Diana laughed. " All Fisons are women. There are no men. They all died in the plague....."
Continued in Volume III
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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