Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 online

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lay off me until you can launch another attack. But I have a few things
to say to that. One is that I am not going to permit myself to _be_
sacrificed. Another is that I demand, right here and now, that you begin
to discuss with me certain agreements which are going to regulate the
future conduct of affairs in this world to which I have come."

A low exclamation answered that, but it came from no priest. They
remained sullen and staggered. It was Naida who murmured, and there was
excitement and pleasure in her voice. Suddenly she placed her lips
against Kirby's ear.

"You must not treat with them," she said. "Tell them you want to see the
Duca, and will destroy them all unless he comes!"

Understanding burst over Kirby. The Duca! Then these men were only the
representatives of a High Priest, the Duca!

"Yes," he repeated resolutely to the assembled greybeards, "a meeting is
going to be held in this chamber of council at once. But I will not
deal with you! Do you understand me? I must see the Duca. I leave it to
you to decide whether you will summon him, or force me to fight my way
through to wherever he is staying."

"The Duca!"

* * * * *

The words burst in dismay from the gimlet-eyed cacique who had said
there would be no more fighting. He looked at Naida, well aware of the
fact that it was her interference which had made Kirby extend his
demand. And his look was black.

Kirby slid between Naida and the cacique.

"Yes," he spat out, "the Duca! Will you summon him, or - "

He did not repeat what he would do as an alternative. A second passed in
silence. It seemed as if the cacique who had been speaking was ready to

"Answer me!" Kirby thundered.

And then the priest obeyed.

"Very well," he growled in a voice which quaked with rage. "I obey. But
you will wish you had never made the demand!"

The next second he swung on his heel, and leaving his company behind as
a guard, headed toward a stair which led upward from one side of the
amphitheatre, and which was protected by a door of heavy, grilled metal
work. The stairway seemed to be spiral, and was all enclosed. Kirby
realized that it must lead into the tall and beautiful tower of obsidion
which he had seen outside.

"Oh," Naida whispered as looks and smiles of approval came from all of
the girls, "you have been magnificent! Mark now, what we must do. You
must be the one to state our terms, because you have already won a
victory for us. Tell the Duca that we will not submit to any compromise
with the ape-men, and least of all will we let any of our number go to
the ape-men."

A deep flush crept into Kirby's cheeks at thought of what he would like
to do to the man who had proposed that sacrifice.

"Then tell him," Naida continued, "that we want men brought to our world
from the world above. And finally tell him we will live under his
dictatorship no longer, and hereafter demand a voice in all councils
affecting temporal affairs."

"All right," Kirby spoke grimly. "I'll tell him. Naida, is this high
priest we're waiting for, the one who proposed sacrifice of some of you
to the apes?"

Naida nodded.

* * * * *

Next moment, she, Kirby, and all the others, including the row of
glowering caciques, became silent. At sounds from above, all looked
toward the grilled doorway to the tower. Then Kirby realized that all of
the girls, as well as the caciques, were dropping to their knees.

"No!" he commanded quickly. "Get up! You must not abase - "

He had not finished, and Naida had scarcely risen, when the heavy door
swung on noiseless hinges.

The light in the amphitheatre seemed to become more intense. Then,
against the great glow, Kirby beheld majesty, beheld one who represented
the apotheosis of priestly rank and power.

Clad in robes of filmy material which glimmered white beside the gray
robes of his underlings, the Duca wore about his waist the living flame
of a girdle composed of alternate cut diamonds and blood red rubies each
larger than a golf ball. And Kirby, searching for comparisons, realized
that the Duca's face, upheld to others, would be as remarkable as his
jewels must be when compared to ordinary gems. It was a chiseled face,
seamed by a thousand wrinkles, which a god might have carved from ivory
before endowing it with the flush and glow of life. A mane of snow white
hair cascaded back from a tremendous forehead to fall about thin but
square shoulders and mingle with the downward sweep of pure white
beard. The eyes, black as polished jet, flamed now with the glare of
baleful fires.

As Naida, stealing close to Kirby, trembled, and even the abased
caciques trembled, Kirby himself felt as if icy water was trickling over

He fought the sensation off. For suddenly he knew that in spite of first
impressions which made the man seem a living god, the old Duca was
human. And what was more, he was in the wrong. All of which being true,
the thing to do was keep a level head and fight.

* * * * *

All at once Kirby spoke across the silence in the great room.

"I have sent for you," he said, weighing words carefully.

"And I," - the Duca's voice was mellow and deep - "have come. But I am not
here because you summoned me."

"Oh!" Kirby let sarcasm edge his words. "Well, I won't quibble about
your motives for coming. Did my messenger tell you why we are here and
demand your presence?"

"Your messenger," the old man said calmly, "told me."

"Very well. Do you consent to listen to Naida's and my terms? If you
_will_ listen - "

"But wait a moment," the Duca interrupted, still calmly, but with a look
in his eyes which Kirby did not like. "Are you asking _me_, to my face,
whether I will listen to terms which you offer as self-styled victor of
a battle with my caciques?"

Kirby nodded. His apprehension increased.

"Ah," said the Duca softly. And then, amazingly, a smile deepened every
wrinkle of his parchment face. "But do you not remember that I said I
had _not_ come here because you summoned me?"

"Yes," Kirby said solidly. "I remember very well."

"The thing which brought me here was the failure of my followers to
accomplish an assignment which I had given them - namely, that of ending
your life."

"Hum." Kirby scratched behind his ear. "You are _not_ interested in
arranging terms of peace, then."

"I am here," - suddenly the Duca's voice filled the room - "to do that
which my priests were unable to do. And the moment has come when the
Gods will no longer trifle with you. You dog! You thieving intruder!
You - "

Swiftly the Duca plunged one withered but still powerful hand into the
folds of his robe above the flaming girdle. Then his hand flashed out,
and in it he held -

* * * * *

But Kirby did not get to see.

A strangled cry of terror smote his ears. Naida leaped toward him from
one side, while Elana, the lovely youngest girl, sprang from another
direction, hurled Naida aside, and stopped in front of Kirby.

Through the glaring room flickered a tiny red serpentine creature which
the Duca hurled from a crystalline tube in his hand. As the minute snake
struck Elana's breast, she gave a choked cough, and then, as she half
turned to smile at both Naida and Kirby over her shoulder, her eyes went
blank, and she collapsed gently to the polished stones of the
floor - dead.

A second later came squirming out from under her the ghastly, glimmering
little snake which had struck.

Slowly, while every mortal in the room stood paralyzed, Kirby stepped
forward and set his heel upon the writhing thing. When he raised his
boot, the snake was only a blotch on the floor.

The Duca was standing as still as girls and caciques. The laughter with
which he had started to greet what he had thought would be Kirby's
extermination had faded to a look of wonder - and fear. He was an easy

Up to him Kirby rolled, and with all the force of soul and muscular
body, drove his fist into the Duca's face.

"By God," he roared, "you want war, and you shall have it!"

The Duca was simply out - not dead. Since Kirby did not want him dead, he
did not strike again, but swung back from the sprawled body, faced
Naida, and pointed to the tower door.

"Up there!" he snapped. "Seize the tower. I have a reason!"

At the Duca's crashing downfall, had come to the caciques a tension
which made Kirby know they would not be dummy figures much longer. His
eyes never left them.

"Quick, Naida!" he snapped again. "We must hold the tower!"

Naida, all of the girls, were staring dazedly at Elana, dead.

"The tower!" she choked. "But we cannot go there. It is the Duca's!"

"Because it is the Duca's," Kirby said firmly, "is exactly why we must
hold it. Come, Naida, please - "

* * * * *

And then he saw comprehension begin to dawn at last.

He also saw two of the caciques glide from the wooden line, and slink
toward him past the unconscious Duca, stealthily.

As Naida suddenly cried out to her companions, pushed at two of them,
and then darted like a rainbow nymph toward the silent and forbidding
upward spiral of steps, Kirby faced the gliding caciques.

One he clutched with viselike hands, and lifted him. As the other
shrieked and sprang, he was mowed down by the hurtling body of his
fellow priest which Kirby flung forward mightily.

The rest of the caciques were howling. While Naida waited beside the
tower door, the other girls flashed up the steps. The Duca still lay
where he had fallen, a thread of blood oozing from his mouth. Kirby,
after his last look over all, solemnly stooped and gathered in his arms
the limp, radiant little body of the girl who had given her life that
her friends might be left with a leader.

A moment later, he was standing on the steps. Naida, unopposed by the
still stupefied caciques, swung shut the tower door and shot a double

"Naida - " Kirby whispered as he held Elana closer to him, "oh, I am so
sorry that we could have won only at such a price."

As Naida stooped to kiss the pale little forehead with its halo of
golden hair, sobs came. But then she raised her eyes, and they were, for
Kirby, alight with the message that she could and would accept Elana's
sacrifice, because she would gladly have made it herself.

"We will not forget," she whispered. "Carry her tenderly, and come."

For better, for worse, the Duca's tower was theirs.


At the end of an hour, Kirby was taking a turn of guard duty at the foot
of the steps, while the others remained with Elana in a chamber above.
To Kirby, with things thus far along, it seemed that the seizure of the
tower had proved a shrewd stroke.

It seemed that the tower was to the Duca what hair was to Sampson. From
Naida had come the information that the Duca lived hidden within the
great shaft of obsidion, and appeared but seldom even before his
caciques. Apparently a large part of his hold upon his subjects was
maintained by the mystery with which he kept himself surrounded. And now
his retreat was lost to him! Such had been the moral effect of the loss
upon both Duca and caciques, that his whole first hour had gone by
without their doing anything.

Kirby, standing just around the first turn of the winding stairway,
presently cocked his ears to listen to the conclave being held in the

"Why not starve them out, O Holy One?" he heard one of the caciques ask
of the Duca, only to be answered by a growl of negation.

The Duca, Kirby had gathered before this, wanted to fight.

"But there is no food in the tower, is there?" the cacique still pressed
on, and this time he was supported by other voices.

"No," the Duca rumbled back. "But am I to be deprived of my retreat,
left here like a common dog amongst other dogs, while these accursed
fiends starve slowly to death? No! I tell you, you must fight for me!"

* * * * *

But he had told them so several times before and nothing had happened.
Kirby grinned at the thought of the caste the Duca was losing by being
driven to this belittling parley.

"Holy One," exclaimed a new priest in answer to the urge to fight, "what
can we do against the golden haired fiend? The stairs are so narrow that
he could defend them alone. And then there are the gates of bronze. If
we could shatter the first, at the foot of the steps, we should only
encounter others. The Duca must remember that his tower was built to
withstand attack."

"Even so," the Duca snapped back, "it must be attacked! I - "

But then he fell silent, having been made so by the sounds of dissension
which arose amongst his caciques. Kirby, laughing to himself, turned
away from his listening post, and tip-toed up the steps.

After he had closed and bolted behind him three of the bronze portals so
feared by the caciques, he turned to the entrance of the chamber in
which he had left Naida and the others. Here all was silent, and he
found his friends grouped about a couch on which lay Elana. Feeling the
solemnity of the moment, he would have taken his place quietly amongst
the mourners.

Naida, however, came to him at once, and in a low voice asked for news
from the amphitheatre, and when Kirby answered that the caciques were
unanimously in favor of leaving them alone until they starved, she

"Oh, then it is good news!"

After that, however, a shadow of doubt flickered in her great eyes.

"And yet, is it? It means temporary immunity, of coarse.
But - starvation!"

Kirby assured her with a grin.

"If we had to starve we might worry. But there is more food here than
the Duca thinks. Look!"

* * * * *

From a bulging pocket of his tunic he fished a strip of the roots on
which he had subsisted so comfortably. Naida's eyes widened, and several
of the girls gave low cries.

"Yes," Naida exclaimed, "but such food! Why - why, do you know what you
are offering us? Why, this is the sacred Peyote! Only the Duca eats it,
and, at rare intervals, his priests."

Kirby was really startled now.

"But surely you and the others have taken quantities of the stuff away
from the Valley of the Geyser. Do you mean - "

"Because we gathered the Peyote does not mean that we have ever tasted
it. We gather it for the Duca. To taste would be complete, utter
sacrilege. Have _you_ been eating it?"

Inwardly Kirby was chuckling at this added proof of the buncumbe with
which the Duca - and other Ducas - had fooled all.

"Of course I've been eating the Peyote."

"And - and nothing has happened to you?" Naida asked.

"Hardly. I certainly haven't been blasted by the Lords of the Sun and
Moon, or the Serpent either!"

Naida and all the others were silent. The conflict between their
reverence for the food and their clear desire to eat it, now that it was
become the food of their leader, was pathetic.

Kirby put one of the strips in Naida's hand.

"Why not?" he asked. "We have bested the Duca in fair fight. We have
seized his tower. Why not eat his food?"

As he had hoped it would, the suggestion at last settled the matter. A
moment later, as Naida nibbled her first bite, she smiled.

"Why, it - it's good!"

With the question of provisions settled at least for a time, Kirby's
next thought was of the tower. The present lull of peace seemed made for

"Come along," he said to Naida, "we've plenty to do," and then, when he
explained, they set out, accompanied by Nini, a cousin of Naida's, and
Ivana, a younger sister.

All of the others remained with little Elana.

* * * * *

While they climbed spiral stairs, Naida explained that the chamber they
had just left was used by the Duca as a place in which he prayed before
and after contacts with caciques or subjects. A sort of halfway station
between earth and heaven, as it were, where the Duca might be purged of
any sullying influence gained from human relationships.

At thought of the rank, egotistical hypocrisy implied by the story,
Kirby smiled grimly. Then they came to a new door, heavier than that
which barricaded the prayer chamber. Unlocked, the thing swung
ponderously at Kirby's push, and with the three girls pressing close
beside him, he entered - and stopped.

"Naida!" he gasped.

"Oh, _oh_!" she cried, and while Nini and Ivana gasped, she clapped her
hands in an instinctive, feminine reaction of joy. "But there are things
here which I believe none but the Ducas of our race have ever seen! Oh!
Why, the sacred girdle is as nothing compared to this display!"

By "display" she meant a treasure which took Kirby's breath away, which
made his heart act queerly.

The walls of the chamber were fashioned of polished blocks of obsidion
on which stood out in heavy bas-relief a maze of decorative figures
fashioned of pure, beaten gold - the same kind of gold which had gone
into the making of the cylinder of gold. With his first glance at the
gorgeously wrought motifs of Feathered Serpent and Sun and Moon symbols,
Kirby knew to a certainty whence the golden cylinder had come

But even the gold - literally tons of it there must have been - was
nothing compared to the gems.

* * * * *

They were spread out in blinding array upon a great table in the center
of the room. There were pearls as big as turkey eggs and whiter, softer
than the light of a June morning growing in the East. There were rubies.
One amongst the many was the size of a baseball and glowed like the
heart of a red star. The least of the two or three hundred gems would
have outclassed the greatest treasures of the Crown jewels of England
and Russia combined.

Most overwhelming of all, however, was the jewel which rested against a
square of black cloth all its own in the center of the table. While his
heart still acted queerly, while Naida, Nini, and Ivana hung back,
delighted, but still too bewildered to move, Kirby advanced and took
gingerly in his hands a single white diamond about eighteen inches long,
and almost as wide and deep as it was long.

The thing was carved with exquisite cunning to a likeness of the living
head of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.

Kirby dared not guess how many pounds the carven hunk of flashing,
blue-white carbon weighed. He knew only that like it there was no other
diamond in the world, and that the thing was real. Naida and the two
girls were silent now, and suddenly Kirby realized that to their awe of
the gem was added awe of deepest religious nature. Slowly he put the
diamond head of the Serpent back upon its square of cloth.

"We - we had heard that this thing existed," Naida said presently, voice
hushed, "but no one except the holy men of our race has ever beheld

"But, what is it?" Kirby asked. "Whence came it?"

However, when Naida would have answered, he interrupted.

"But wait! Tell me as we go. We could stay here for the rest of our
lives without much trouble, but we've got to cover the rest of the tower
and get back to the others."

* * * * *

It was after they had closed the door to the treasure room that Naida
told him the story.

"There is not so much to tell," she began. "The diamond itself is so
gorgeous that it is hard to talk about. But here is the story. A great
many ages ago one of the Ducas of our race found the diamond, decided to
carve it into a perfect likeness of the head of the Serpent God. All of
the craftsmen of the race helped him and when they were done, they took
their image to Quetzalcoatl himself, and showed him what they had done.

"Quetzalcoatl was pleased. So pleased, that he promised all of the wise
men that he would cease to prey upon them as he had in the past, and
henceforward would take his toll of sacrifice from the ape-men alone.
Them he hated and would continue to hate because they worshipped not him
but Xlotli.

"And so it came about," Naida went on slowly, looking up at Kirby as
they still mounted wide steps to the upper reaches of the tower, "that
our people gained immunity from a God which had always before harmed and
destroyed them. Our race presently began to build this castle here on
the high plateau, and Quetzalcoatl kept his compact with them. He still
comes out of his chasm at intervals and preys upon the ape-men, but no
one of our race has seen him for thousands of years, and he has always
let us alone. And there is the whole myth and explanation of why the
great diamond is revered among us as a holy of holies."

* * * * *

They had mounted to a new door which Kirby guessed might give entrance
to the Duca's living quarters. But he was in no mood to open it at

"Wait a minute," he said as they all paused. "You say that, although
none of your race has seen Quetzalcoatl since the diamond head was
carved, he still comes out of his chasm and makes trouble for the
ape-men. Just what does that mean?"

"Why - " Naida looked at him wonderingly. "I mean what I have said. The
Serpent comes out of his chasm and - "

"What chasm?" Kirby asked sharply.

"Why, the one we crossed this morning. It extends to the far reaches of
our country, beyond the Rorroh forest, where the ape-men dwell but which
our people never visit. It is in that distant part of the chasm that the
Serpent dwells."

"But - but - Oh, good Lord!" Kirby whistled softly. "Naida, do you mean to
tell me that Quetzalcoatl was not simply a mythical monster, but an
actual, living serpent which is alive _now_?"

Naida and the others shrugged.

"Why not?" she answered. "Sometimes we have captured a few ape-men, and
they tell us stories of how Quetzalcoatl kills them. _They_ say he is
very much alive."

"But," Kirby mumbled in increasing wonder, "is this living creature the
same which your ancestors worshipped first as long ago, perhaps, as a
million years?"

"That," Naida answered unhesitatingly, "I'm not sure of. Our caciques
believe that the Serpent, although it lives longer than any other
sentient thing, finally dies and is succeeded by a new Serpent which is
reproduced by itself, within its own body."

So overwhelming did Kirby find this unexpected sequel to their discovery
of the great diamond head, so staggered was he by the fact that
Quetzalcoatl, of Aztecan myth, might exist as a sentient creature here
in this cavern world, that he had little heart left for exploring other

* * * * *

Nevertheless, he presently pushed open the new door before which they
had paused, and behind it found, as he had expected, the Duca's living

These were as severe as the jewel chamber had been gorgeous. A thin
pallet spread upon a frame of wood formed the bed, and beside it stood a
single stiff chair. That was all. The walls of glistening obsidion were

There was, however, a door in one circular wall, and as Kirby flung this
open, his previous disappointment changed to delight. For shelves along
the walls of the small chamber held roll after roll of parchment covered
with script. And in one corner lay six undamaged, almost new Mannlichers
and several hundred rounds of ammunition!

"Naida," he exclaimed, "do you know what those are?"

"I suppose that they are weapons of the sort you used against the
ape-men this morning?"

Kirby grinned.

"They are the same kind I used, and then some. With these weapons we can
do what we never could with the smaller one. How did they get here?"

"They came when I was much younger," Naida answered with a shade of
sadness in her voice. "The men who had them penetrated the Valley of the
Geyser, coming by a different route from the one you followed. When the
Duca learned they were there, he sent such men of the race as were still
able to fight to kill them. That order of the Duca's was one of the
first things to turn me against him. The men were not harming us, and
they should have been permitted to go away. But the Duca insisted that
they be killed, and in the fight were lost eight of our youngest and
strongest men."

* * * * *

Kirby stooped to inspect the rifles.

"Has no one learned to use these weapons?"

"No," Naida answered. "The Duca kept them for himself."

"We think," put in Ivana, "that he hoped to learn to use them, and was
afraid for us to have the knowledge."

Kirby filled one of the magazines, and felt the heft of the gun with

"Very well," he said. "It looks to me as though your time to learn the

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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 14 of 19)