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opened furiously.

With a cry muffled behind her mask, Naida leaped out in front of her
squadron and cut loose her queer vegetable ball with whizzing aim and
force.

Full into the snarling face of one of the ape-men the thing smashed,
filling the air all about the creature with a yellow, mistlike powder.
Kirby was half deafened by the yells of rage and terror which went up
from the entire attacking band. The creature who had been hit fell to
his knees the while he made agonized tearing movements at his face and
uttered shrill, jabbering yelps.

Other balls flashed instantly from Naida's ranks, and each brought about
the same ghastly result as the first. But then Kirby saw that the whole
jungle seethed with the hairy, awful men.

"Keep back!" Naida shrieked at him through her mask. "We have no mask
for you. If the powder from our fungi touches you, it will be the end!"

* * * * *

With gaps in the advancing line filled as soon as each screeching ape
went down, the attackers leaped on until Kirby knew they would be upon
the girls in a matter of seconds. A sweat broke out on his neck.

But then an idea gripped him, and suddenly, without even a last glance
at Naida, he leaped away even as she had commanded.

A great boulder lay on the shore fifty yards away. Toward it Kirby
streaked as though he had become coward. But he had not turned coward.

By the time he reached the shelter which would protect him from the
fungus mist, a turning point had come in the battle. The ape-men had
closed in on the girls, were swarming about them, and the mist balls had
almost ceased to fly. But the thing which gave Kirby hope was that the
apes were not attempting to harm the girls. They seemed victors, but
they were not committing atrocities.

It was the sharp intuition that something like this might happen which
had sent Kirby fleeing from the fight. He believed he might yet prove
useful.

The thickest group of attackers were jostling about Naida. As the
screams and sobs of the girls quivered out, mingled with the guttural
roaring of the men, Naida was shut off by a solid wall of aggressors.

Then Kirby saw her again. But now two of the most powerful of the
ape-men had caught her up and was carrying her. Her kicking and writhing
and biting accomplished nothing. The apes were headed directly back to
the jungle.

* * * * *

Now, however, most of the yellow mist had disappeared, and that was all
Kirby had been waiting for. With a growling shout, he tore out from
behind his boulder, his Luger ready. Naida's captors were in full
retreat, and other pairs of men were snatching up other girls and
hopping after them. Toward Naida Kirby ran madly but not blindly.

"Naida! Naida!" he bellowed.

He got in two strides for every one the apes made.

"Naida!" he shouted, and at last saw her look at him.

Her face was pallid with loathing and terror. As her glimmering dark
eyes met his, they flashed a plea which made his heart thrash against
his lungs.

With a final roar of encouragement Kirby closed in on the hair-covered
men, and fired instantly a shot which caught one full in the heart. The
creature wavered on its legs, looked at the unexpected enemy with
dismayed, swinish little red eyes, and relaxing his hold upon Naida,
dropped without making a sound.

After that -

But suddenly Kirby found himself unable to comprehend fully the other
terrific results of his intervention. Before the echoes of his shot
died, there came to him the rumble of what seemed to be tons of falling
rock. In the bright air a slight mist was precipitated. To all of which
was added the effect upon the ape-men of fear of a weapon and a type of
fighter utterly new to them.

Kirby had fired believing that he would have to fight other ape-men
when the first fell. But not so. Instead of that -

* * * * *

He blinked rapidly as he took in the scene.

Naida had been released. Lying on the sand beside the dead ape-man, she
was looking up at him in stupefied wonder. And her other captor, instead
of remaining to fight, had clapped shaggy hands over his ears, and was
leaping headlong for the protection of the jungle!

Moreover, the soprano cries of the girls and the deep howls of the men
were rising everywhere, and everywhere the ape-men were dropping their
captives and plunging away after their leader.

"Huh," Kirby muttered aloud, and wondered what the citizens of Kansas
would have to say about _this_.

Naida looked at the dead and bleeding ape-man and shuddered, and then at
the score or so of others brought down by the puff balls. Then she
looked up at Kirby, raised her arms for his support, and smiled up into
his brown face.

Kirby forgot Kansas, lifted her, warm and alive, radiantly beautiful, in
his arms.

"Our friends the enemies," she whispered as she remained for a second in
his embrace and then drew away, "will attack no more this day - thanks to
you."

There was no possible need for another shot, Kirby saw. In terrified
silence, the first of the apes had already floundered behind the prickly
pear and aloe bushes, and the last stragglers were using all the power
in their legs to catch up. On the beach, Naida's followers were picking
themselves up, and already a few of them had burst into ringing
laughter.

"Come on, all of you," Naida said to them, and, including Kirby in her
glance, added, "We may as well go to the caciques now, and have it over
with."


CHAPTER IV

It was with Naida at his side and the other girls grouped about them,
that they started their journey to the "caciques," whoever they might
be, "to have it over with," whatever that might mean. As they strode
along in silence, Kirby did what he could to straighten out in his mind
the many curious things which had happened since he sat testing his rope
in the upper world this morning.

In final analysis, it seemed to him that, extraordinary as his
experience had been, there was nothing so much out of the way about it,
after all. The only unusual thing was the existence of this inhabited
pocket in the earth. For the rest, the strange colors to which he could
not put a name, were simply some manifestation of infra-reds and
ultra-violets. And then the startling effect of his single shot at the
ape-men - that was simply the old story of savage creatures running from
a new weapon and a new enemy; naturally the shot had sounded loud in
this enclosed cavern. Lastly, the pull of gravity down here seemed upset
somehow. But why should it not seem so, at this distance within the
earth? The American was no scientist; the conclusions he reached seemed
very reasonable to him.

All told, the last thing Kirby found he needed to do was pinch himself
to see if he was awake.

A place of indefinite extent, the cavern seemed to be exactly what he
had already judged it - a giant pocket within the earth. The ceiling, or
the sky, was of some kind of natural glass - no doubt the same kind which
was crackling on his clothes now - and from it emanated the brilliant,
many colored glow which lighted the cavern. Radium? Perhaps it was that.
Perhaps the rays were cast off from some other element even less
understood than mysterious radium. As for the plant and animal life with
which the cavern teemed, it was amazing.

* * * * *

But Kirby did not give himself up to silent observation any longer.

"Will you finish telling me," he asked of Naida, "about the task I am to
perform for you here?"

Naida, walking with lithe strides along a path jungle-hemmed on both
sides, smiled at him.

"You are to be our leader."

"Yes?"

Now both Naida and the other girls became sober.

"You will lead us in a revolt."

"Ah!" Kirby whistled softly.

"In a revolt against the caciques - the wise men - whose kind have
governed the People of the Temple since the beginning."

Her statement was received with acclaim by the whole troop, who crowded
close around, the while they smiled at Kirby.

"You mean I am to lead a revolt," he asked, "against these same caciques
whom we are going now to face?"

Naida nodded emphatically.

"Yes, if revolt proves necessary. And it probably will."

"Hum." Kirby scratched behind his ear. "You'd better tell me what you
can about it."

* * * * *

Then, as they hurried on, Naida spoke rapidly.

The situation before the People of the Temple was that for a long time
now, the only children to be born had been girls. Worse still, not even
a girl had been born during a period equal to sixteen upper-world years.
The only remaining members of a race which had flourished in this
underground land for countless thousands of years, consisted of the
caciques, a handful of aged people, and the thirty-four girls, including
Naida, who accompanied Kirby now.

On one hand was promised extinction through lack of reproduction. On the
other, even swifter and more terrible extinction at the hands of the
ape-men, whom Naida called the Worshippers of Xlotli, the Rabbit God,
the God of all bestiality and drunkenness.

It was the menace of the ape-men, rather than the less appalling one of
lack of reproduction, which was making the most trouble now. Ages ago,
when the People of the Temple had flourished as a race, they had been
untroubled by the Worshippers of Xlotli. But now the ape-men were by far
the stronger; and they desired the girls who had been born as the last
generation of an ancient race. The battle of this morning had been only
one of many.

Dissension between the caciques, who ruled the People of the Temple, and
their girl subjects, had arisen on the subject of the best way of
dealing with the ape-man menace.

* * * * *

Some time ago, Naida, heading a council of all the girls, had proposed
to the caciques that support be sought amongst the people of the upper
world. This would be done judiciously, by bringing to the lower realm a
few men who were wise and strong, men who would make good husbands, and
who could fight the ape-men.

This proposal the priests had promptly quashed. They would never
receive, they said, any members of the teeming outer races from whom the
People of the Temple had so long been hidden. Those few who had
blundered into the Valley of the Geyser during the centuries, and who
had never escaped, were enough. Better, said the caciques, that a
compromise be arranged with the subjects of the Rabbit God.

Flatly then, the priests had proposed that some of the girls, the number
to be specified later, should be given to the ape-men, and peace won.
During the time of reprieve which would thus be afforded, prayers and
sacrifices could be offered the Lords of the Sun and Moon, and to
Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. In answer to these prayers, the
Gods would surely send the aged people who alone were left as
prospective parents, a generation of sons.

Once the priests' program of giving up some of the girls to the ape-men
had been made definite, it had not taken Naida and the others long to
decide that they would never submit. And then, while matters were at an
acute stage, a tall, blond white man had come to the Valley of the
Geyser - Kirby.

* * * * *

As Naida had finished her story, Kirby mustered a smile despite the
soberness which had come upon him.

"So the white man came," he repeated after her, "and all of you decided
forthwith to stage your revolt."

"Why not?" Naida answered. "We observed you until we were sure you
possessed the qualities of leadership we wanted. After that, we did what
we could to coax you to come here."

Kirby grinned at that.

"Now," Naida ended simply, "we will go to the caciques. If they accept
you, and grant our requests to them, there will be peace. If they rage,
it will be war."

Suddenly she drew closer to Kirby as they swung along, and slipped her
hand into his, looking up at him in silent entreaty.

"How much farther," he asked in a voice which became sharp, "until we
reach the headquarters of these caciques?"

"They live in a castle which our ancestors built ages ago on a protected
plateau," Naida answered tensely. "It is a good distance still, but we
will cover it soon enough."

They crossed now one edge of a shadow-filled forest composed principally
of immense, pallid palmlike trees. Farther on, the path wound through a
belt of swampy land covered by gigantic reeds which rustled above their
heads with a glassy sound, and by things which looked like the cat-tails
of the upper world, but were a hundred times larger. Everywhere hovered
odd little creatures like birds, but with teeth in their long snouts and
small frondlike growths on each side of their tails. About some swamp
plants with very large blooms resembling passion flowers, flitted dragon
flies of jeweled hues and enormous size, and under the flowers hopped
strange toadlike creatures equipped with two pair of gauzy wings.

* * * * *

Finally, through a tunnel composed of ferns a hundred feet high, they
emerged to a still densely overgrown but higher country which Naida said
was a part of the Rorroh forest.

In the forest, Kirby gained a hazy impression of bronzy, immense cycads
and what appeared to be tree chrysophilums with gorgeous blossoms. Then
he received a much clearer impression of other trees with blossoms of
bright orange yellow and very thick petals, each tipped with a glassy
sharp point. The disconcerting thing about the tree was that, as they
approached, the scaly limbs began to tremble and wave, and suddenly
lashed out as though making a human effort to snatch at the bright
travelers.

Naida and all the others hurried along without offering comment, and
Kirby asked no questions.

Once he thought he saw a group of gorilla creatures parallelling their
course back amongst the forest growth, but if Naida observed the
animals, she paid no attention. The one thing which had any effect upon
the company was the appearance, presently, of two vast, birdlike
creatures. As these things approached, Naida signaled to all to crouch
beneath the shelter of a tall rock beside the path.

Enormous, the birds had bat wings, and carried with them, as they
approached, the stink of putrid flesh. The long beaks were overfull of
sharp teeth. The heads, set upon bodies of glistening white-grey, were
black. Reddish grey eyes searched the jungle as the creatures flapped
along. But, the Pterodactyls - if they were that - passed above Naida's
band without offering attack, and presently Naida gave the command to
advance again.

* * * * *

In time, they came to a chasmlike gorge across which was suspended
a slender long thread of a bridge. Not far above the bridge, a
considerable river emptied itself into the gorge in a mirrorlike
ribbon. Kirby could not hear the torrent fall - or rather could not
hear it strike any solid bottom. But from somewhere in the unlighted,
unfathomed depths of the abyss rose strange bubbling and whistling
sounds.

At the bridge, Naida paused and pointed to the land across the river.
And as Kirby looked in the direction indicated, he beheld a rocky
eminence rising for several hundred feet straight up from the expanse of
a level, tree and grass covered plain. Atop of the plateau, glimmered
the complex towers and turrets, the crenellated walls of a castle which,
in its grey antiquity, seemed as old as the race of men.

"It is behind those walls that the caciques dwell," Naida said quickly.
"It is behind the castle, in a series of separate houses, that the older
members of the race dwell. We shall go and look upon them presently. But
first we will force an interview with the caciques."

In silence Kirby took her hand, and, with the others following, they
moved out upon the swaying, perilous causeway which hung above the
chasm. After that, the trip across the plain to the foot of the plateau
cliffs was quickly accomplished.

Here, however, Kirby thought they must face trouble, for he found that
the great walls, of a sparkling, almost glassy smoothness, shot up to a
height of at least three hundred feet, and that no path of any sort was
visible.

"We're here," he said, "but how can we get up?"

* * * * *

But understanding began to dawn as Naida laughed, and produced from the
pouch at the side of her gauzy dress four pliable discs of a substance
which resembled rubber.

"You are very strong, are you not?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Then you will have no trouble in following us up the cliff. Our Serpent
God, Quetzalcoatl, taught us how to climb long ago."

With that she handed Kirby the set of vacuum discs, and producing
another for herself, moistened them in a pool of water close at hand.
Then, as all of the girls followed her action, she strapped them to her
hands and feet, and in a moment they had begun the ascent.

"Why," Kirby said presently, "with these things you could hang by your
feet and walk on a smooth ceiling!"

Naida laughed, and they worked their way upward.

When the climb was accomplished and the discs were put away, Kirby found
himself standing on the outer edge of a mediaeval paradise, of a
magnificent plateau partly fortified by nature, partly by the hand of
man.

"Ah!" he cried in deep admiration, then followed Naida.

The building - the castle - in the near distance, resembled a castle of
Spain, save that there was greater beauty and subtlety of architecture.
Turreted on all four corners, constructed of material which looked like
blocks of natural glass, the fairylike structure was crowned by a
gigantic tower of something which resembled obsidian. Up and up this
tower soared until its gleaming black tip seemed almost to touch the
glassy-radiant sky of the cavern.

No people showed themselves, and Kirby saw that the bronze-studded
portals set in the front of the castle were closed.

Admiringly, he glanced at the surrounding land laid out in checkerboard
patches of gardens and orchards where grew a bewildering variety of
unknown fruits and blooms. Butterflies drifted past, and the air was
freighted with the scent of flowers. Inside a walled enclosure, Kirby
saw a good-sized plot heavily grown with the plant on which he had been
subsisting. As they passed this ground, each of the girls, Naida
leading, made a strange little bowing, gliding genuflection, and Kirby
wondered.

* * * * *

Now, however, new sights distracted him as they crossed a port
drawbridge above a deep moat which was a fairyland of aquatic plants.
Although not a sound had come from the castle, the great entrance doors
were swinging back.

"Be ready," Naida whispered, "for almost anything. The doors are being
opened by some of the palace guard. I have little doubt that word was
long ago rushed to the caciques that we are come to them with an
upper-world man!"

Kirby answered with a nod. Then they passed the outer doors, passed
inside, and Kirby blinked at what he saw.

In a long hall decorated bewilderingly with a carven frieze in which
appeared all of the symbols common to early Mexican religions, and many
new ones, stood a row of bright suits of armor of the Sixteenth Century.
From each suit peered the glassy face and shovel beard of a dead
Conquistadore.

So this was what happened to intruders from the upper world! The
Conquistadore who kept his long watch beside the geyser was not the only
one! Kirby felt an involuntary chill prickle up his back. But he was not
given long to think before Naida, ignoring the gruesome array, clasped
his arm.

"Look! Behold!"

And Kirby saw that with almost magical silence the whole wall at the end
of the corridor was sliding back to reveal an enormous amphitheatre in
the center of which stood a vast circular table. Ranged in a semicircle
about that table, stood fifteen incredibly ancient men clad in long,
glistening grey robes. Blanched beards trailed down the front of the
garments until they all but touched the floor.

The caciques!

Kirby, on the threshold of the amphitheatre, squared his shoulders and
held his head high. Then with Naida on his right, his own eyes boring
unyieldingly into the smouldering, narrowed eyes which stared at him, he
advanced.

But in front of him the priests moved suddenly. From Naida burst a
shriek. In the radiant glare of the council room flashed the long, thin,
cruel blade of a sacrificial knife.

The cacique who had whipped it from his robe flew at Kirby with a condor
swoop, talon-hands outstretched, his wrinkled, bearded face contorted
with fury.


CHAPTER V

Before Kirby was more than half set to fight, the priest was clawing at
his throat, and a gnarled old fist was poised to drive the knife in a
death stroke.

Kirby did the only thing he could do quickly - sprang to one side. The
move saved him. The knife whipped past his shoulder, and the cacique
nearly fell. But it had been a close enough squeak for all that.

Nor was it over. After Kirby the priest sprang with unexpected agility,
and before Kirby could snatch at his pistol the talon-hands were lunging
at his throat once more.

With the gasps of the girls ringing in his ears, Kirby bunched himself
for another side leap only to find the cacique all over him like an
octopus. Momentarily the knife hung above his chest, and Kirby, dismayed
at the powers of his opponent, almost felt that the thing must plunge
before he could break the octopus hold.

But he had no intention of being defeated, and now he was getting used
to the fight. The priest's left arm swiftly clenched about his neck and
shoulders, and the right arm, with the knife, attempted a drive through
to the heart. Suddenly, however, Kirby lurched sideways and backward,
and as the octopus grip slackened for a flash, he himself got a
wrestler's grip that left him ready to do business. As the priest broke
free, he slid around in an attempt to fasten himself on Kirby's back.
Quickly, tensely Kirby doubled, and knew that he had done enough. The
cacique shot over his shoulders, described a somersault in midair, and
landed with a sharp crack of head and shoulders against unyielding
stone.

* * * * *

From the semicircle of other priests went up a gasp. From Naida came a
strangled cry of joy. Kirby made one leap for the knife which had fallen
from the cacique's hand as he slumped into unconsciousness, and then he
straightened up with the weapon safe in his possession.

"There, you old billygoat," he croaked in English, "maybe you won't try
any more fast ones for awhile."

A second later he stepped over the sprawled body to stand beside Naida.

Upon the wrinkled countenances of the remaining caciques was stamped a
look of dismay and hatred which boded no good. It was plain to Kirby
that in battering up the man detailed to kill him, he had committed a
desecration of first order.

"Is there anyone else who cares to fight?" he flung at them in Spanish,
showing a contempt as great as their rage.

The response he got was instant. From one old gullet, then from others,
came choking, snarling sounds which presently became words. By those
words Kirby heard himself cursed with a vituperation which made him,
even in his temporary triumph, feel grave.

But he did not let that soberness trouble him long. For the main point
now was that no one made a move to fight further, which was what he had
expected. He had flung them the challenge, knowing that he was possessed
of their knife, and suspecting that it was their only weapon. The belief
that no one would care to try a barehanded conflict, no matter what
insult was waiting to be avenged, seemed justified as none of the
caciques advanced, and as even the cursing presently ceased.

"No?" Kirby asked. "There is to be no more fighting?"

* * * * *

One of the caciques now came forward a few steps.

"No," he answered with a lameness which was not to be denied. "But you,
a criminal interloper in our realm, have been marked as a victim for
sacrifice, and from this there is no power in the universe which can
save you."

Kirby, after a reassuring glance at Naida, looked at the floored priest
who was sitting up now, looking stupidly about, and feeling himself all
over, and Kirby suppressed a grin.

"Ah, I am to be sacrificed, eh? But what happens until that time comes?
Listen my Wise Ones - "

He stabbed a finger at them, and his eyes flashed.

"Listen! What you mean to say is that I have defeated you, and you must


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