The Beginning Of Horror

: At The Earth's Core


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


"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


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


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.