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The Beginning Of Horror







From: At The Earth's Core

WITHIN PELLUCIDAR ONE TIME IS AS GOOD AS ANOTHER. There were no nights
to mask our attempted escape. All must be done in broad daylight--all
but the work I had to do in the apartment beneath the building. So we
determined to put our plan to an immediate test lest the Mahars who
made it possible should awake before I reached them; but we were doomed
to disappointment, for no sooner had we reached the main floor of the
building on our way to the pits beneath, than we encountered hurrying
bands of slaves being hastened under strong Sagoth guard out of the
edifice to the avenue beyond.

Other Sagoths were darting hither and thither in search of other
slaves, and the moment that we appeared we were pounced upon and
hustled into the line of marching humans.

What the purpose or nature of the general exodus we did not know, but
presently through the line of captives ran the rumor that two escaped
slaves had been recaptured--a man and a woman--and that we were
marching to witness their punishment, for the man had killed a Sagoth
of the detachment that had pursued and overtaken them.

At the intelligence my heart sprang to my throat, for I was sure that
the two were of those who escaped in the dark grotto with Hooja the Sly
One, and that Dian must be the woman. Ghak thought so too, as did
Perry.

"Is there naught that we may do to save her?" I asked Ghak.

"Naught," he replied.

Along the crowded avenue we marched, the guards showing unusual cruelty
toward us, as though we, too, had been implicated in the murder of
their fellow. The occasion was to serve as an object-lesson to all
other slaves of the danger and futility of attempted escape, and the
fatal consequences of taking the life of a superior being, and so I
imagine that Sagoths felt amply justified in making the entire
proceeding as uncomfortable and painful to us as possible.

They jabbed us with their spears and struck at us with the hatchets at
the least provocation, and at no provocation at all. It was a most
uncomfortable half-hour that we spent before we were finally herded
through a low entrance into a huge building the center of which was
given up to a good-sized arena. Benches surrounded this open space
upon three sides, and along the fourth were heaped huge bowlders which
rose in receding tiers toward the roof.

At first I couldn't make out the purpose of this mighty pile of rock,
unless it were intended as a rough and picturesque background for the
scenes which were enacted in the arena before it, but presently, after
the wooden benches had been pretty well filled by slaves and Sagoths, I
discovered the purpose of the bowlders, for then the Mahars began to
file into the enclosure.

They marched directly across the arena toward the rocks upon the
opposite side, where, spreading their bat-like wings, they rose above
the high wall of the pit, settling down upon the bowlders above. These
were the reserved seats, the boxes of the elect.

Reptiles that they are, the rough surface of a great stone is to them
as plush as upholstery to us. Here they lolled, blinking their hideous
eyes, and doubtless conversing with one another in their
sixth-sense-fourth-dimension language.

For the first time I beheld their queen. She differed from the others
in no feature that was appreciable to my earthly eyes, in fact all
Mahars look alike to me: but when she crossed the arena after the
balance of her female subjects had found their bowlders, she was
preceded by a score of huge Sagoths, the largest I ever had seen, and
on either side of her waddled a huge thipdar, while behind came another
score of Sagoth guardsmen.

At the barrier the Sagoths clambered up the steep side with truly
apelike agility, while behind them the haughty queen rose upon her
wings with her two frightful dragons close beside her, and settled down
upon the largest bowlder of them all in the exact center of that side
of the amphitheater which is reserved for the dominant race. Here she
squatted, a most repulsive and uninteresting queen; though doubtless
quite as well assured of her beauty and divine right to rule as the
proudest monarch of the outer world.

And then the music started--music without sound! The Mahars cannot
hear, so the drums and fifes and horns of earthly bands are unknown
among them. The "band" consists of a score or more Mahars. It filed
out in the center of the arena where the creatures upon the rocks might
see it, and there it performed for fifteen or twenty minutes.

Their technic consisted in waving their tails and moving their heads in
a regular succession of measured movements resulting in a cadence which
evidently pleased the eye of the Mahar as the cadence of our own
instrumental music pleases our ears. Sometimes the band took measured
steps in unison to one side or the other, or backward and again
forward--it all seemed very silly and meaningless to me, but at the end
of the first piece the Mahars upon the rocks showed the first
indications of enthusiasm that I had seen displayed by the dominant
race of Pellucidar. They beat their great wings up and down, and smote
their rocky perches with their mighty tails until the ground shook.
Then the band started another piece, and all was again as silent as the
grave. That was one great beauty about Mahar music--if you didn't
happen to like a piece that was being played all you had to do was shut
your eyes.

When the band had exhausted its repertory it took wing and settled upon
the rocks above and behind the queen. Then the business of the day was
on. A man and woman were pushed into the arena by a couple of Sagoth
guardsmen. I leaned forward in my seat to scrutinize the
female--hoping against hope that she might prove to be another than
Dian the Beautiful. Her back was toward me for a while, and the sight
of the great mass of raven hair piled high upon her head filled me with
alarm.

Presently a door in one side of the arena wall was opened to admit a
huge, shaggy, bull-like creature.

"A Bos," whispered Perry, excitedly. "His kind roamed the outer crust
with the cave bear and the mammoth ages and ages ago. We have been
carried back a million years, David, to the childhood of a planet--is
it not wondrous?"

But I saw only the raven hair of a half-naked girl, and my heart stood
still in dumb misery at the sight of her, nor had I any eyes for the
wonders of natural history. But for Perry and Ghak I should have
leaped to the floor of the arena and shared whatever fate lay in store
for this priceless treasure of the Stone Age.

With the advent of the Bos--they call the thing a thag within
Pellucidar--two spears were tossed into the arena at the feet of the
prisoners. It seemed to me that a bean shooter would have been as
effective against the mighty monster as these pitiful weapons.

As the animal approached the two, bellowing and pawing the ground with
the strength of many earthly bulls, another door directly beneath us
was opened, and from it issued the most terrific roar that ever had
fallen upon my outraged ears. I could not at first see the beast from
which emanated this fearsome challenge, but the sound had the effect of
bringing the two victims around with a sudden start, and then I saw the
girl's face--she was not Dian! I could have wept for relief.

And now, as the two stood frozen in terror, I saw the author of that
fearsome sound creeping stealthily into view. It was a huge
tiger--such as hunted the great Bos through the jungles primeval when
the world was young. In contour and markings it was not unlike the
noblest of the Bengals of our own world, but as its dimensions were
exaggerated to colossal proportions so too were its colorings
exaggerated. Its vivid yellows fairly screamed aloud; its whites were
as eider down; its blacks glossy as the finest anthracite coal, and its
coat long and shaggy as a mountain goat. That it is a beautiful animal
there is no gainsaying, but if its size and colors are magnified here
within Pellucidar, so is the ferocity of its disposition. It is not
the occasional member of its species that is a man hunter--all are man
hunters; but they do not confine their foraging to man alone, for there
is no flesh or fish within Pellucidar that they will not eat with
relish in the constant efforts which they make to furnish their huge
carcasses with sufficient sustenance to maintain their mighty thews.

Upon one side of the doomed pair the thag bellowed and advanced, and
upon the other tarag, the frightful, crept toward them with gaping
mouth and dripping fangs.

The man seized the spears, handing one of them to the woman. At the
sound of the roaring of the tiger the bull's bellowing became a
veritable frenzy of rageful noise. Never in my life had I heard such
an infernal din as the two brutes made, and to think it was all lost
upon the hideous reptiles for whom the show was staged!

The thag was charging now from one side, and the tarag from the other.
The two puny things standing between them seemed already lost, but at
the very moment that the beasts were upon them the man grasped his
companion by the arm and together they leaped to one side, while the
frenzied creatures came together like locomotives in collision.

There ensued a battle royal which for sustained and frightful ferocity
transcends the power of imagination or description. Time and again the
colossal bull tossed the enormous tiger high into the air, but each
time that the huge cat touched the ground he returned to the encounter
with apparently undiminished strength, and seemingly increased ire.

For a while the man and woman busied themselves only with keeping out
of the way of the two creatures, but finally I saw them separate and
each creep stealthily toward one of the combatants. The tiger was now
upon the bull's broad back, clinging to the huge neck with powerful
fangs while its long, strong talons ripped the heavy hide into shreds
and ribbons.

For a moment the bull stood bellowing and quivering with pain and rage,
its cloven hoofs widespread, its tail lashing viciously from side to
side, and then, in a mad orgy of bucking it went careening about the
arena in frenzied attempt to unseat its rending rider. It was with
difficulty that the girl avoided the first mad rush of the wounded
animal.

All its efforts to rid itself of the tiger seemed futile, until in
desperation it threw itself upon the ground, rolling over and over. A
little of this so disconcerted the tiger, knocking its breath from it I
imagine, that it lost its hold and then, quick as a cat, the great thag
was up again and had buried those mighty horns deep in the tarag's
abdomen, pinning him to the floor of the arena.

The great cat clawed at the shaggy head until eyes and ears were gone,
and naught but a few strips of ragged, bloody flesh remained upon the
skull. Yet through all the agony of that fearful punishment the thag
still stood motionless pinning down his adversary, and then the man
leaped in, seeing that the blind bull would be the least formidable
enemy, and ran his spear through the tarag's heart.

As the animal's fierce clawing ceased, the bull raised his gory,
sightless head, and with a horrid roar ran headlong across the arena.
With great leaps and bounds he came, straight toward the arena wall
directly beneath where we sat, and then accident carried him, in one of
his mighty springs, completely over the barrier into the midst of the
slaves and Sagoths just in front of us. Swinging his bloody horns from
side to side the beast cut a wide swath before him straight upward
toward our seats. Before him slaves and gorilla-men fought in mad
stampede to escape the menace of the creature's death agonies, for such
only could that frightful charge have been.

Forgetful of us, our guards joined in the general rush for the exits,
many of which pierced the wall of the amphitheater behind us. Perry,
Ghak, and I became separated in the chaos which reigned for a few
moments after the beast cleared the wall of the arena, each intent upon
saving his own hide.

I ran to the right, passing several exits choked with the fear mad mob
that were battling to escape. One would have thought that an entire
herd of thags was loose behind them, rather than a single blinded,
dying beast; but such is the effect of panic upon a crowd.





Next: Freedom

Previous: Slaves



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