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Through Flood And Flame

From: The Gods Of Mars

Yersted's information convinced me that there was no time to be lost.
I must reach the Temple of Issus secretly before the forces under Tars
Tarkas assaulted at dawn. Once within its hated walls I was positive
that I could overcome the guards of Issus and bear away my Princess,
for at my back I would have a force ample for the occasion.

No sooner had Carthoris and the others joined me than we commenced the
transportation of our men through the submerged passage to the mouth of
the gangways which lead from the submarine pool at the temple end of
the watery tunnel to the pits of Issus.

Many trips were required, but at last all stood safely together again
at the beginning of the end of our quest. Five thousand strong we
were, all seasoned fighting-men of the most warlike race of the red men
of Barsoom.

As Carthoris alone knew the hidden ways of the tunnels we could not
divide the party and attack the temple at several points at once as
would have been most desirable, and so it was decided that he lead us
all as quickly as possible to a point near the temple's centre.

As we were about to leave the pool and enter the corridor, an officer
called my attention to the waters upon which the submarine floated. At
first they seemed to be merely agitated as from the movement of some
great body beneath the surface, and I at once conjectured that another
submarine was rising to the surface in pursuit of us; but presently it
became apparent that the level of the waters was rising, not with
extreme rapidity, but very surely, and that soon they would overflow
the sides of the pool and submerge the floor of the chamber.

For a moment I did not fully grasp the terrible import of the slowly
rising water. It was Carthoris who realized the full meaning of the
thing--its cause and the reason for it.

"Haste!" he cried. "If we delay, we all are lost. The pumps of Omean
have been stopped. They would drown us like rats in a trap. We must
reach the upper levels of the pits in advance of the flood or we shall
never reach them. Come."

"Lead the way, Carthoris," I cried. "We will follow."

At my command, the youth leaped into one of the corridors, and in
column of twos the soldiers followed him in good order, each company
entering the corridor only at the command of its dwar, or captain.

Before the last company filed from the chamber the water was ankle
deep, and that the men were nervous was quite evident. Entirely
unaccustomed to water except in quantities sufficient for drinking and
bathing purposes the red Martians instinctively shrank from it in such
formidable depths and menacing activity. That they were undaunted
while it swirled and eddied about their ankles, spoke well for their
bravery and their discipline.

I was the last to leave the chamber of the submarine, and as I followed
the rear of the column toward the corridor, I moved through water to my
knees. The corridor, too, was flooded to the same depth, for its floor
was on a level with the floor of the chamber from which it led, nor was
there any perceptible rise for many yards.

The march of the troops through the corridor was as rapid as was
consistent with the number of men that moved through so narrow a
passage, but it was not ample to permit us to gain appreciably on the
pursuing tide. As the level of the passage rose, so, too, did the
waters rise until it soon became apparent to me, who brought up the
rear, that they were gaining rapidly upon us. I could understand the
reason for this, as with the narrowing expanse of Omean as the waters
rose toward the apex of its dome, the rapidity of its rise would
increase in inverse ratio to the ever-lessening space to be filled.

Long ere the last of the column could hope to reach the upper pits
which lay above the danger point I was convinced that the waters would
surge after us in overwhelming volume, and that fully half the
expedition would be snuffed out.

As I cast about for some means of saving as many as possible of the
doomed men, I saw a diverging corridor which seemed to rise at a steep
angle at my right. The waters were now swirling about my waist. The
men directly before me were quickly becoming panic-stricken. Something
must be done at once or they would rush forward upon their fellows in a
mad stampede that would result in trampling down hundreds beneath the
flood and eventually clogging the passage beyond any hope of retreat
for those in advance.

Raising my voice to its utmost, I shouted my command to the dwars ahead
of me.

"Call back the last twenty-five utans," I shouted. "Here seems a way
of escape. Turn back and follow me."

My orders were obeyed by nearer thirty utans, so that some three
thousand men came about and hastened into the teeth of the flood to
reach the corridor up which I directed them.

As the first dwar passed in with his utan I cautioned him to listen
closely for my commands, and under no circumstances to venture into the
open, or leave the pits for the temple proper until I should have come
up with him, "or you know that I died before I could reach you."

The officer saluted and left me. The men filed rapidly past me and
entered the diverging corridor which I hoped would lead to safety. The
water rose breast high. Men stumbled, floundered, and went down. Many
I grasped and set upon their feet again, but alone the work was greater
than I could cope with. Soldiers were being swept beneath the boiling
torrent, never to rise. At length the dwar of the 10th utan took a
stand beside me. He was a valorous soldier, Gur Tus by name, and
together we kept the now thoroughly frightened troops in the semblance
of order and rescued many that would have drowned otherwise.

Djor Kantos, son of Kantos Kan, and a padwar of the fifth utan joined
us when his utan reached the opening through which the men were
fleeing. Thereafter not a man was lost of all the hundreds that
remained to pass from the main corridor to the branch.

As the last utan was filing past us the waters had risen until they
surged about our necks, but we clasped hands and stood our ground until
the last man had passed to the comparative safety of the new
passageway. Here we found an immediate and steep ascent, so that
within a hundred yards we had reached a point above the waters.

For a few minutes we continued rapidly up the steep grade, which I
hoped would soon bring us quickly to the upper pits that let into the
Temple of Issus. But I was to meet with a cruel disappointment.

Suddenly I heard a cry of "fire" far ahead, followed almost at once by
cries of terror and the loud commands of dwars and padwars who were
evidently attempting to direct their men away from some grave danger.
At last the report came back to us. "They have fired the pits ahead."
"We are hemmed in by flames in front and flood behind." "Help, John
Carter; we are suffocating," and then there swept back upon us at the
rear a wave of dense smoke that sent us, stumbling and blinded, into a
choking retreat.

There was naught to do other than seek a new avenue of escape. The
fire and smoke were to be feared a thousand times over the water, and
so I seized upon the first gallery which led out of and up from the
suffocating smoke that was engulfing us.

Again I stood to one side while the soldiers hastened through on the
new way. Some two thousand must have passed at a rapid run, when the
stream ceased, but I was not sure that all had been rescued who had not
passed the point of origin of the flames, and so to assure myself that
no poor devil was left behind to die a horrible death, unsuccoured, I
ran quickly up the gallery in the direction of the flames which I could
now see burning with a dull glow far ahead.

It was hot and stifling work, but at last I reached a point where the
fire lit up the corridor sufficiently for me to see that no soldier of
Helium lay between me and the conflagration--what was in it or upon the
far side I could not know, nor could any man have passed through that
seething hell of chemicals and lived to learn.

Having satisfied my sense of duty, I turned and ran rapidly back to the
corridor through which my men had passed. To my horror, however, I
found that my retreat in this direction had been blocked--across the
mouth of the corridor stood a massive steel grating that had evidently
been lowered from its resting-place above for the purpose of
effectually cutting off my escape.

That our principal movements were known to the First Born I could not
have doubted, in view of the attack of the fleet upon us the day
before, nor could the stopping of the pumps of Omean at the
psychological moment have been due to chance, nor the starting of a
chemical combustion within the one corridor through which we were
advancing upon the Temple of Issus been due to aught than
well-calculated design.

And now the dropping of the steel gate to pen me effectually between
fire and flood seemed to indicate that invisible eyes were upon us at
every moment. What chance had I, then, to rescue Dejah Thoris were I
to be compelled to fight foes who never showed themselves. A thousand
times I berated myself for being drawn into such a trap as I might have
known these pits easily could be. Now I saw that it would have been
much better to have kept our force intact and made a concerted attack
upon the temple from the valley side, trusting to chance and our great
fighting ability to have overwhelmed the First Born and compelled the
safe delivery of Dejah Thoris to me.

The smoke from the fire was forcing me further and further back down
the corridor toward the waters which I could hear surging through the
darkness. With my men had gone the last torch, nor was this corridor
lighted by the radiance of phosphorescent rock as were those of the
lower levels. It was this fact that assured me that I was not far from
the upper pits which lie directly beneath the temple.

Finally I felt the lapping waters about my feet. The smoke was thick
behind me. My suffering was intense. There seemed but one thing to
do, and that to choose the easier death which confronted me, and so I
moved on down the corridor until the cold waters of Omean closed about
me, and I swam on through utter blackness toward--what?

The instinct of self-preservation is strong even when one, unafraid and
in the possession of his highest reasoning faculties, knows that
death--positive and unalterable--lies just ahead. And so I swam slowly
on, waiting for my head to touch the top of the corridor, which would
mean that I had reached the limit of my flight and the point where I
must sink for ever to an unmarked grave.

But to my surprise I ran against a blank wall before I reached a point
where the waters came to the roof of the corridor. Could I be
mistaken? I felt around. No, I had come to the main corridor, and
still there was a breathing space between the surface of the water and
the rocky ceiling above. And then I turned up the main corridor in the
direction that Carthoris and the head of the column had passed a
half-hour before. On and on I swam, my heart growing lighter at every
stroke, for I knew that I was approaching closer and closer to the
point where there would be no chance that the waters ahead could be
deeper than they were about me. I was positive that I must soon feel
the solid floor beneath my feet again and that once more my chance
would come to reach the Temple of Issus and the side of the fair
prisoner who languished there.

But even as hope was at its highest I felt the sudden shock of contact
as my head struck the rocks above. The worst, then, had come to me. I
had reached one of those rare places where a Martian tunnel dips
suddenly to a lower level. Somewhere beyond I knew that it rose again,
but of what value was that to me, since I did not know how great the
distance that it maintained a level entirely beneath the surface of the

There was but a single forlorn hope, and I took it. Filling my lungs
with air, I dived beneath the surface and swam through the inky, icy
blackness on and on along the submerged gallery. Time and time again I
rose with upstretched hand, only to feel the disappointing rocks close
above me.

Not for much longer would my lungs withstand the strain upon them. I
felt that I must soon succumb, nor was there any retreating now that I
had gone this far. I knew positively that I could never endure to
retrace my path now to the point from which I had felt the waters close
above my head. Death stared me in the face, nor ever can I recall a
time that I so distinctly felt the icy breath from his dead lips upon
my brow.

One more frantic effort I made with my fast ebbing strength. Weakly I
rose for the last time--my tortured lungs gasped for the breath that
would fill them with a strange and numbing element, but instead I felt
the revivifying breath of life-giving air surge through my starving
nostrils into my dying lungs. I was saved.

A few more strokes brought me to a point where my feet touched the
floor, and soon thereafter I was above the water level entirely, and
racing like mad along the corridor searching for the first doorway that
would lead me to Issus. If I could not have Dejah Thoris again I was
at least determined to avenge her death, nor would any life satisfy me
other than that of the fiend incarnate who was the cause of such
immeasurable suffering upon Barsoom.

Sooner than I had expected I came to what appeared to me to be a sudden
exit into the temple above. It was at the right side of the corridor,
which ran on, probably, to other entrances to the pile above.

To me one point was as good as another. What knew I where any of them
led! And so without waiting to be again discovered and thwarted, I ran
quickly up the short, steep incline and pushed open the doorway at its

The portal swung slowly in, and before it could be slammed against me I
sprang into the chamber beyond. Although not yet dawn, the room was
brilliantly lighted. Its sole occupant lay prone upon a low couch at
the further side, apparently in sleep. From the hangings and sumptuous
furniture of the room I judged it to be a living-room of some
priestess, possibly of Issus herself.

At the thought the blood tingled through my veins. What, indeed, if
fortune had been kind enough to place the hideous creature alone and
unguarded in my hands. With her as hostage I could force acquiescence
to my every demand. Cautiously I approached the recumbent figure, on
noiseless feet. Closer and closer I came to it, but I had crossed but
little more than half the chamber when the figure stirred, and, as I
sprang, rose and faced me.

At first an expression of terror overspread the features of the woman
who confronted me--then startled incredulity--hope--thanksgiving.

My heart pounded within my breast as I advanced toward her--tears came
to my eyes--and the words that would have poured forth in a perfect
torrent choked in my throat as I opened my arms and took into them once
more the woman I loved--Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium.

Next: Victory And Defeat

Previous: The Air Battle

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