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art of shooting has come at last. Come, I think we had better be getting
back downstairs."

Kirby took three guns himself, and with the others lugging the rest,
they started back. The parchment rolls, he decided, must be left for
examination later on.

They were all elated when they rejoined the girls in the prayer chamber,
and high spirits were still further increased by the report, promptly
given, that all had remained quiet in the amphitheatre. Save only for
the presence of Elana, radiant and calm in death, the give and take of
questions would have been accompanied by actual gaiety.

But the time of peace did not last much longer. While Naida was in the
midst of answering incessant questions about the wonders of the jewel
chamber, Kirby heard a sound from below, and suddenly went over to the
downward-winding steps.

"Listen," he called sharply back to the others.

He had not been mistaken. Many footsteps echoed from the amphitheatre,
and he made out that the caciques were coming toward the bolted gate at
the foot of the steps. While he listened, and Naida came eagerly to his
side, silence fell.

But then clear words came up to them.

"Let the upper-world man come to the foot of the steps," called the
Duca. "I have an offer to make him!"


CHAPTER VII

To himself Kirby chuckled. Such real entreaty filled the Duca's voice
that there seemed no danger of further treachery from him at the
moment.

With a grin, Kirby took Naida's hand and led her down the steps,
unbolting each bronze gate but the last.

"What do you want?" he asked in a cool voice a moment later, when he
stopped on the final step and faced the Duca from behind the protection
of the final gate.

Clearly the parley was going to be a blunt one.

"I want you to leave our world," the Duca rumbled promptly.

He was drawn up in a posture intended to display dignity. But his left
cheek, where Kirby had hammered him, was pulpy and discolored, and
somehow he seemed to Kirby more than ever merely human.

"Under what conditions am I to leave?"

"If you will vacate my tower at once," the Duca said with a flush of
eagerness which he could not conceal, "I will permit Naida and one of my
caciques to escort you back to the Valley of the Geyser. I will also
give you directions by which you may travel in safety from there to the
outer world."

Kirby, wanting more details, made himself seem thoughtful.

"And what will happen to me, and to the girls, if I decline?"

Encouraged, the Duca made an impressive gesture.

"You will be left in the tower to die of starvation. Mine is not a
complicated offer. It should require no complicated decision. What is
your answer?"

Kirby dropped his carefully assumed mask of thought.

"My answer is this," he lashed out. "I will not leave! The tower is
ours, and we will hold it until you have accepted Naida's peace terms on
your priestly oath!"

"But if you stay in the tower you will starve!" thundered the Duca.

"No, we won't starve! We won't starve because we eat the food of
Ducas!"

* * * * *

In silence, Kirby took from his pocket a strip of the sacred Peyote and
bit off one end of it. Suddenly the hush in the amphitheatre became
complete. As he watched Kirby chewing, the Duca gasped and choked.

"Moreover," Kirby announced with slow emphasis, "I have taken possession
of the weapons which you took from men of the upper world, and which
have already sent men of your race to their death. I have no wish to
kill either you or your caciques, but if you do not presently discuss
peace with me, you will certainly find yourself embroiled in a struggle
more bitter than the mild one of this morning."

With that said, he swung on his heel, and taking Naida's hand again,
started with her up the steps.

"I have nothing more to say," he called over his shoulder to a Duca
whose white haired majesty had been stripped from him.

"We're getting on," he whispered to Naida a moment later. "The best
thing for us is just to sit still now, and wait."

With the questions he wanted to ask Naida about her world becoming
insistent, he found himself, as a matter of fact, glad for the prospect
of further respite. As both of them rejoined the girls in the Duca's
prayer chamber, the first thing he did was to take from his tunic the
cylinder of gold which he had found in the canyon.

"What is this, Naida?" he asked, hoping to start talk that would make
all of them forget the Duca and politics, and at the same time help him
to learn much that he wished to know.

But a queer thing happened. Naida's reaction to the carven gold was as
unexpected as it was marked.

"_Oh!_" she cried in a voice which suddenly trembled with surprise, with
blank dismay. Somehow, the cylinder of gold brought to her face things
which not even the Serpent's head of the diamond had evoked.

* * * * *

The prospect of a long session of talk began to fade out in Kirby's
mind.

"But Naida, whatever is there about this fragment of gold to startle you
as it does?"

By this time all of the thirty-odd other girls had come flocking about
them, and all were staring at the cylinder as fascinatedly as Naida.

"Do you see what he has there?" Naida finally asked, ignoring Kirby in
her continued excitement.

"Do we _see_?" answered the girl she had addressed. "Naida, surely it is
the carving which was lost!"

Naida was quivering with feeling now.

"Do you realize what it means to our cause that it should have been
returned to us in this way?"

The girl to whom she had spoken, and the others, simply looked at her,
but in one face after another presently dawned awe and joy.

Kirby stood still, puzzled and interested, until at last Naida was
recovered enough to speak to him.

"Where did you get this thing which you call 'a fragment of gold'?" she
asked in a hushed voice.

"I found it," Kirby answered, "lying beside the skeleton of an
upper-world man, while I was ascending the canyon which brought me to
the Valley of the Geyser."

"And you do not know what the cylinder is? But no, of course you could
not."

"_What_ is it, Naida?"

* * * * *

Naida glanced at her friends, then laid her hand on Kirby's.

"Next to the great diamond, it is the most cherished possession of our
race. In some respects it is even more holy than the Serpent's head. The
cylinder happens to be the first work in gold which was ever produced by
our people. It was made when the race was new. It was because our first
wise men had found they could create things of beauty like this
cylinder, that they decided to attempt the creation of the Serpent's
head, which is supposed to have brought all of our blessings upon us."

Kirby thought he was beginning to understand the excitement which his
introduction of the cylinder had created. He also thought he could see
what Naida had meant by implying that the cylinder could be made to aid
their cause.

"Tell me," he asked in a mood approaching reverence, "how the cylinder
came to be lying beside a dead man's bones."

"It was stolen," Naida answered in the breathless silence which the
others were keeping. "When I was very young, an upper-world man found
his way here, and the Duca captured and meant to sacrifice him. But
while they were leading him to the temple where such special ceremonies
are held - the building stands on another plateau, beyond this - the man
broke away. Some of the priests in the procession were carrying the
cylinder, for it was an occasion of great importance. The prisoner
knocked them down, got the cylinder away from them, and finally escaped
by the same route over which you came."

"And he escaped," said Kirby wonderingly, "only to be killed by a
rattlesnake before he ever reached the civilized world. But do you mean
that you never knew your sacred cylinder was so close to you all these
years?"

Naida shook her head.

"We never got to the canyon of which you speak, for a special reason
which I shall explain some day. And besides that, I think the Duca was
afraid of this man who fought so bravely. So he counted the cylinder as
lost. And that is one of the reasons why he killed the men with the
rifles, who appeared in the Valley a few years later."

* * * * *

Kirby looked at her thoughtfully. The mood for discussing all the
wonders of this lower world, which had made him bring out the cylinder
originally, had quite vanished.

"I suppose," he said, "that anyone who was responsible for the return of
the cylinder to its rightful owners, would be held in some respect?"

Naida nodded vigorously, while little lightnings of excitement flickered
in her eyes.

"He might be held in more than respect."

"What, then, do you suggest that we do next?"

Again the small lightnings darted, and Naida reached for the cylinder.

"Do you mind if I take it for a moment?"

"Of course not."

Promptly then she faced around.

"Wait here, everyone," she ordered.

And with that she waved the cylinder in a flashing little arc before
their eyes, and darted to the door.

It was all so unexpected that she was gone before Kirby could speak.
Slowly, with all of the suddenly gay company of girls following after
him, he went to the doorway, and stood on the steps leading to the
amphitheatre.

* * * * *

A minute passed. He heard voices downstairs. He heard Naida's voice
ringing clearly, though he could not distinguish her words. He heard a
great cry from a score of male throats. More minutes passed. Words that
were low and tense poured out in a rumbling volume. Above the rumble,
Naida's voice presently sounded again, clear and sweet, but incisive.
Then, when no more than five or six minutes had gone, Kirby heard the
clang of the bronze gate at the foot of the steps, heard light, swift
footsteps ascending.

"Naida!" he called softly.

She flashed upward toward him around the last curve in the stairway.
Straight to his outstretched arms she went.

"It is done! It is done!" she whispered.

"Tell us!" cried first one girl and then others.

Naida drew away from Kirby at last.

"I told the Duca," she said to all of them, "that our leader would keep
the cylinder for a period of time equal to one upper-world year. If the
Duca grants all the terms of peace which we will ask of him, and if he
accepts the upper-world man as our temporal ruler, and all goes well for
a year, then we will consider replacing the cylinder where it belongs."

"And what," Kirby asked exultantly, "does the Duca say?"

Suddenly, without warning, Naida dropped before him on one knee, and
from that position gazed up at him laughing.

"He says he will make you our King, to govern all temporal affairs
within our realm! He is waiting for you to come and hold a conclave
now."

"_What?_"

Still kneeling half in fun, half in sincere reverence, Naida held out
the precious, potent cylinder of gold.

"Guard it carefully!" she exclaimed. "So long as you keep it away from
the Duca, making him hope to win it back, he will consent to almost
anything. Yes, he is waiting with the caciques in the amphitheatre now;
waiting to draw up terms of peace."


CHAPTER VIII

To be King amongst these people! A queer sensation tugged at Kirby's
heart as he descended the steps with Naida at his right, and all of
her - and his - dainty and gracious friends following after. Yet, intense
as his emotion was, never for a second was he able to doubt the evidence
of his senses which told him that all of this was real. As they
descended the black steps of the tower, Naida's sweetness, her grace,
the warm humanity of her, made him humble with gratitude for the
extraordinary fortune which had come to him, an unromantic aviator born
in Kansas.

Then they were standing in the brilliant light of the amphitheatre, and
the Duca, surrounded by his caciques, was advancing to meet them.

It was not a long conference which followed. Kirby saw from the start
that the Duca was indeed ready to come to terms. So treasured an object,
it seemed, was the cylinder of gold, that the mere fact that Kirby
possessed it made the Duca respect the possessor, whether he would or
no. With this initial advantage, it did not take long to make demands
and win acceptance.

It was agreed that some systematic campaign of extermination should be
planned and carried out against the ape-men. Further, the project for
eventually bringing other upper-world men to the realm was accepted.
Most notable of all, it was agreed that while the Duca should retain a
voice in the regulation of temporal affairs, Kirby should possess an
absolute veto over his word.

Naida said there must be some formal ceremony to celebrate Kirby's
ascendency to power. To this the Duca consented, and established the
date as a fortnight hence, and the place as the temple on the plateau
beyond the plateau of the castle, where the Ducas had been invested with
their robes of state from time immemorial. At the end, it was decided
that little Elana should be left in the prayer chamber until a burial
ceremony could be held on the morrow.

* * * * *

In less than an hour, Kirby, Naida, and the others withdrew from the
amphitheatre to return to the regular dwelling places of the girls. Deep
in his mind, Kirby did not know how sincere the Duca was, and fear
lingered, somehow, but he put it aside for the present.

As they came out of the castle, proceeding in a gay procession across
the drawbridge above the moat of beautiful aquatic plants, Kirby saw
that the light from the glass sky was fading to a glow like that of
spring twilight in the upper world. Naida answered his question about
the phenomenon by saying that day and night in the cavern corresponded
to the same period above. What quality of the glass sky gave out light,
she did not know, but it seemed definite that the element was sensitive
to the presence of light in the upper world, and when the sun sank
there, the glow faded here.

A flower embroidered path led them around the castle to a group of
little crystalline houses all overgrown with bougainvillea vines and
honeysuckle. In front of the first, Naida paused, and while the others
went on to the other houses, she looked at Kirby.

"It is Elana's dwelling," she said simply, "and it will be vacant now.
Elana would want you to take it. Will you, please?"

The twilight was deepening swiftly. Kirby nodded reverently, then drew
close to Naida.

"Naida?"

"Yes?"

He took her hand.

"I can stay here, I can consent to become, after a fashion, a King, only
if you will reign with me as Queen. Will you, Naida? Will you love me as
I have learned to love you during this single day in Paradise?"

She did not answer. But presently Kirby's mind went blank for sheer joy.
For then Naida raised her face, and he kissed her lips.

It made no difference then that, despite the day's victory, Kirby could
see trouble ahead, and feared, rather than rejoiced at, the Duca's too
easy acceptance of terms. The future could take care of itself. This
moment in the dusk belonged to him and Naida.

* * * * *

The two weeks which passed for Kirby after that particular twilight sped
quickly. During the first morning, all attended the ceremony which was
held for Elana's burial in the plot of gardened ground where lay her
ancestors. Ensuing mornings were devoted to conferences in the
amphitheatre with Duca and caciques.

After the fourth day Kirby, at Naida's insistence, moved into splendid
quarters in the castle - a suite of chambers across the amphitheatre from
those in which the caciques dwelt. In practically forcing the move on
Kirby, Naida won his consent finally by agreeing to have their wedding
ceremony performed on the day of his coronation; then she would come to
the castle with him.

The afternoons of that first fortnight before the wedding and coronation
were spent in hunting and fishing. Also Kirby and Naida visited often
the aged people of the race, who dwelt in crystalline, vine covered
houses like those of the girls, but removed from them. Naida's relatives
were dead, but she had relatives there, and to all these aged ones, who
sat living in the past, she did what she could to explain present
developments in the affairs of the younger generation.

Last but not least, Kirby set aside certain hours each afternoon which
he devoted to the formation of a rifle squad amongst the girls. Six
rifles he had, and in turn he trained each of the girls in their use,
having set up a range at the foot of the plateau cliffs. The results he
gained made him feel that the day would come soon enough when he would
dare launch an offensive against the ape-people; and especially pleasing
was the sense of power over the Duca which he gained. The Duca showed no
sign of treachery. Yet Kirby did not trust him. Never did he quite
forget the misgivings which had lingered in his mind after the first
conclave.

* * * * *

As for his relationship with Naida, that grew with every moment they
could steal to spend with each other. And side by side with their
growing knowledge of each other grew, for Kirby, an increasing store of
knowledge of the realm.

He learned, amongst other things, what seemed the origin of the worship
of the Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, amongst primitive Mexican races. The time
had been when the People of the Temple had mingled freely with the races
above them; and, that they might have ready means of egress to the
world, they had built the tunnel through which Kirby had entered the
Valley of the Geyser. Thus, going and coming as they did, they had
spread their cult of the worship of Quetzalcoatl; and when, eventually,
strife arose between the peoples of upper world and lower, and the
People of the Temple withdrew to their realm, they left behind them the
Serpent myth which was to live through countless centuries.

The tunnel, Naida said, had been abandoned when her people left the
upper world once and for all, and its use for any reason prohibited.
This, Naida gave as the reason why none of them went near the tunnel
now, and why the cylinder of gold had lain in the canyon undiscovered.
It was the explanation she had promised on the day in the tower, when
first she saw the cylinder.

So the days passed, until the day set aside for wedding and coronation
dawned. On that morning, Kirby, having concluded a long conference with
the Duca, was walking with Naida in the gardens outside the castle.

"Tell me," he said to her: "do you yourself believe that this Serpent
has the powers of a God?"

Naida looked at him quickly, a sudden fright in her eyes.

"I believe the Serpent exists to-day, somewhere in the distant reaches
of the chasm, beyond the Rorroh forest."

"Yes, but do you believe the Serpent is God?"

* * * * *

Actually frightened now, she looked swiftly about. But when she saw that
they were alone, confidence returned.

"No!" she exclaimed. "I do not believe Quetzalcoatl is a god. I believe
he is the most terrible creature anywhere in our realm, and that men
first worshipped him through fear. I believe our race would be better a
hundred times if they had never made him their God."

Kirby whistled.

"Then you do _not_ believe that the Ducas of past ages talked with him.
You do not believe it was Quetzalcoatl's pleasure over the great diamond
which made him cease preying on your people?"

"No! Long habit makes me show respect for these myths, and adhere to the
customs of our cult, but I do not believe. I think our race gained
immunity for the Serpent's ravages, not through a compact with
Quetzalcoatl, but because our builders were intelligent enough to erect
the castle up here on the plateau, where Quetzalcoatl could not reach
them. To tell the truth, I think the whole cult is false and wrong, and
I wish Quetzalcoatl were dead and gone from the world!"

Kirby smiled. In spite of Naida's reverence for certain features of the
cult, he had long suspected that her true feelings were those she had
just expressed. And he was glad for this new bond of understanding
between them. He glanced at her with understanding and perfect trust.

"Naida, since we have talked so frankly, there is one more thing which I
must bring out."

She looked up at him.

"What is it?"

"The Duca."

* * * * *

She drew closer, her perfumed body brushing his, her great eyes
caressing him.

"Naida, I am afraid of the man."

"And so am I!" she confessed suddenly.

"It has all been too easy," Kirby said in a slow voice. "There is no
doubt whatever that our possession of the cylinder of gold has had great
influence on the Duca, and yet - "

He paused, taking her hand.

"And yet," she went on for him, "you do not believe he would have
conceded what he has, unless he intends to make trouble?"

Kirby nodded twice, emphatically.

"Well, you have trained all of us to use the rifles."

He smiled gravely at her understanding.

"Yes, I have. And your skill, and that of the others, with the rifles,
will always help us. Yet even so - "

Closer still she drew now, and there was sadness in her eyes.

"I think I see," she said in a voice which choked. "When do you think he
will make a move to start trouble?"

Kirby hesitated, then drew a long breath.

"To-day!"

"On - on the day of our union?" Naida echoed in dismay. "Can you tell
where or how he will strike at us?"

Kirby shook his head.

"There are a hundred things he could do. Naida, I - I - Well, somehow I am
afraid of the ceremony this afternoon - the wedding ceremony!"

* * * * *

He felt a little shiver go through her, and would have taken her in his
arms, save that a gay cry rang in the garden then.

"Naida, Naida!" It was her cousin, Nini, a bronze-haired youngster as
elfin and Pucklike as her name. "I thought we should never find you! Do
you realize this is your _wedding_ day, and that you're acting as if
there was nothing to be done?"

Nini darted a mocking glance at Kirby, who grinned.

"Do come, Naida!" cried another girl. "Your gown is ready, and we want
you to ourselves for awhile."

Other girls joined them, some singing and some carrying an obligato on
the sweet, flutelike instruments which Kirby had first heard as he hung
in the throat of the geyser. In front of them all, Kirby laughed and
kissed Naida on the forehead. But as he took leave of her thus, he
whispered:

"We must not let our guard relax for a second this afternoon. And I
think there is a more definite precaution which I will take, besides."


CHAPTER IX

Some hours later, Kirby smiled with tight-lipped satisfaction at thought
of that precaution which he had taken. What it was only he, Nini, Ivana,
and three other girls knew, which secrecy pleased him as much as the
precautionary measure itself.

Seated alone in a dimly-lighted, thick-walled cell of the ancient temple
in which the dual ceremony of wedding and coronation would take place,
he was waiting for the moment when the festivities would begin. Thus far
the Duca had done nothing. Yet Kirby's uneasiness would not leave him,
and he continued to be thankful that, if trouble should start, the Duca
might not find as many trumps in his hand as he expected.

A couple of hours after Kirby had left Naida and the other girls in the
garden, all had begun the two-mile journey from the castle to the small
plateau on which stood this temple, where the ceremony would be held.
Now, while Kirby waited alone, the Duca and his caciques had gone to
another wing of the temple. Naida, attended by her bridesmaids, had been
assigned to a cell of their own, and the rest of the girls were waiting
in the nave of the temple. Unable to attend the walk from their plateau
to this, the old people of the race had remained in their crystal
houses.

With ten minutes more to wait, Kirby rose from a bench on which he had
been seated, and began to pace his cell. It was this archaic pile of
stone, he finally decided, which was causing his depression. Unlike the
bright and cheerful castle, this place, older than any other building in
the realm, was squat, thick-walled, and gloomy. Here, in the dusky cells
which lined labyrinthine corridors, the early generations of the race
had found protection from outside dangers. All of which was all right,
Kirby thought, but just the same he wished he had insisted upon being
wedded in the brilliant and cheerful amphitheatre.


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