Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 online

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* * * * *

But presently he stopped pacing and faced the door of his cell. Then he
breathed a sigh of relief.

From down the twisting corridors which wound out to the central nave,
stole the high sweetness of soprano voices, the whisper of flutes, and
the mellow resonance of little gongs of jade and gold. It was the signal
for which he had waited.

It had been the Duca's instructions that he should come out into the
temple when the music began, and meet Naida there. Both would advance to
the altar, and when they were in place, the Duca would come to them.
Kirby, therefore, after a glance at the blue trousers and tunic of
tanager scarlet which the girls had made for him, opened the door of his
cell, and stepped out.

In a moment he traversed the windings of the corridor, and halted under
a flat arch at one side of the temple nave.

As he paused so, to await the appearance of Naida and her bridesmaids
under a similar arch directly across the temple, he held his breath. Not
even nymphs could be as graceful as were the twenty-six girls who were
performing the dance of Life Immortal, which tradition decreed should be
given before the ceremony by which, in this realm, two souls were
wedded. The flash of rainbow gowns was like the swirling of light in a
sky at dawning. The music of voices, flutes, and the little gongs of
jade, would have stirred the souls of the dead.

If only the confounded sense of approaching disaster would leave him,
Kirby thought grimly, this would be a magnificent moment. As it was, he
turned his eyes away from the girls, and began to examine the temple.

Just as Naida had told him the case would be, he found both sides of the
nave surrounded by arches similar to the one under which he was
standing. Everywhere, dim and tortuous corridors led to cells like the
one he had just left. Then, in one end of the nave, loomed a closed door
from behind which the Duca and caciques would appear when the couple to
be wedded were in place, before the altar.

The altar itself, a rectangular mass of some jadelike stone, stood at a
distance of perhaps twenty paces in front of the closed door. On top of
the greenish stones, resting on a cushion of some crimson material,
flashed the crown which would be used at the coronation. Kirby's eyes
widened as he beheld a single rose-cut diamond two inches in diameter,
mounted in an exquisitely simple bandeau of wrought gold. But, a moment
later, even the crown which would be his - if nothing happened - seemed
only a bauble compared to the other prize which he had won in this world
beneath the world.


* * * * *

He realized that the dance was ended, the music stilled, and that the
rainbow garbed girls had formed a double line in the center of the
temple. Suddenly his heart beat fast, and for just a moment, as he dared
look full and deeply at Naida, and she smiled back at him across the
distance, he even forgot to be depressed.

But even as he advanced to meet her, his uneasiness returned.

Now the girls were singing again, their voices raised in a triumphant
chorale as beautiful as Naida's face with its warm red lips and smiling
eyes, as beautiful as her wedding gown that might have been woven, in
its filminess, of mist from the sea. The bridesmaids, silent, their
lovely faces alight, paused. But Naida came on.

From her floated to Kirby a fragrance more overwhelming than even the
perfume of the geyser. Presently he felt her hand on his arm, and at
last they stood side by side. Now again, his premonition of evil left
him for a flash; but again it returned.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I love _you_."

"But I am still afraid."

Naida's smile faded.

"And I too. Oh, I've been terribly afraid! We will keep our guard!"


* * * * *

In front of them, on the altar, the crown diamond winked and shimmered
in a dim light. The swelling chorus of triumph, in which the bridesmaids
had joined now, made the whole temple ring. Slowly, while Naida moved
easily beside him, Kirby began to march to the altar.

Then it was done, and they were halted. After both of them had given a
lingering glance at the crown whose diamond shimmered now within their
reach, they raised their eyes to the closed door behind the altar.

The thing was swinging open. An inch it moved, two inches.

Kirby waited, never taking his eyes away from the widening crack. With a
crashing final volume of sound, the chorus swept magnificently to its
climax. Then the door was flung wide.

Still Kirby stood stiffly before the altar, with Naida drawn up
splendidly beside him. After two seconds, however, he moved.

Duca and caciques were not standing in the corridor.

In the semi-darkness, the only figures visible there were squatting,
grotesque things whose bodies were covered with whitish hair and whose
leathery faces were disfigured by gashes of mouths filled with enormous

A feeling of standing face to face with final disaster, turned Kirby
sick. As he jerked back from the altar, sweeping a paralyzed Naida with
him, the ape-men let out gibbering howls, half-human. With gigantic,
hopping strides, the foremost rank of the creatures swung forward,
straight into the temple.


Kirby, already falling back toward the other girls, caught Naida up in
his arms, and ran.

"Nini!" he bellowed. "Ivana! Get the rifles!"

While the two whom he had ordered sprang to a corridor, and four others
followed, Kirby fell in with the others and dropped Naida on her feet.
Sick as he was, there was still a ray of hope, because the hard-headed
precaution he had taken against treachery this morning was to have Nini
and Ivana bring the rifles here and hide them.

The first of the ape-men, snarling, laughing, had hopped beyond the
altar, and the yellow foam of madness was slavering from his jaws. Over
his shoulder he howled some jargon which made his hairy legion struggle
to catch up with him.

"Have you got any puff balls?" Kirby snapped at Naida.

She shook her head numbly, just as Nini and Ivana swung forward with the

"No. But you had sense enough to bring the rifles! Oh, what does it

"The Duca has sold himself out to the ape-man! He was helpless against
us, and has brought them to destroy us for him. Here, Ivana, give me a
rifle! Everyone for herself!"

The next moment he had a Mannlicher at his shoulder.

* * * * *

As the thing kicked, an ape who would have reached him in two more jumps
crashed over with his heart torn out, the temple echoed with sound which
threatened to rip its solid walls apart, and bright flashes at Kirby's
right and left told him that other rifles were getting under way.

He fired again, twice more, slaughtering an ape with each shot. The five
other rifles were creating havoc.

Blocked by a dozen torn and bleeding bodies on the floor, the
reenforcements which still poured from the corridor, began to mill
around amongst themselves, and the forward charge slowed down. All the
panic which had sent the ape-men scuttling from the beach at their first
experience of gunfire, seemed ready to break loose again now.

Kirby felt it was good enough for the work of a minute.

"Get into line as I showed you how!" he shouted. "Rifles in the front
rank, the others behind them. We're all right now! Keep firing!"

"Keep behind me!" he ordered Naida, still unarmed.

Then he placed a shell in the chest of one brute who was broader and
heavier than the others - a leader - and saw that he had increased the
demoralization; and from the hastily-formed front rank a volley leaped
hot and jagged.

Then the rout which had threatened broke loose. As eight ape-men slumped
into blubbering, bleeding heaps, the milling remainder of the horde
turned, and in a fighting, scrambling frenzy attempted to get back to
the corridor.

Kirby let his triumph take the form of thoughts about what he would do
to the Duca when that personage could be rounded up.

"Follow after them!" he ordered. "Don't stop until we have located the
Duca. He is the one we must settle - "

* * * * *

But he never finished.

As he himself, holding fire for a second, prepared to follow up the
retreat, he found himself confronted by the utterly unexpected.

A voice unquestionably the Duca's began to shout orders at the ape-men
from somewhere down the corridor! And, riot or no riot, the tones of
that voice seemed to inspire the creatures with more fear than the rifle

So suddenly the change came, that by the time Kirby flung his rifle
again to his shoulder, the crazy retreat had been halted, and as he
fired again, the ape-men swung in their tracks and began to charge!

There was no time to guess by what power the Duca had turned the tables.
There was not even time for orders. Kirby fired twice, knowing that the
ape-men had been infused with some spirit which would bring them on in
spite of rifle fire.

Naida, unarmed, cried out behind him, and he shoved his gun at her.

"Take it!"

He had just inserted a new clip. He handed her others.

"Fire for your lives!" he shouted to the girls.

"But you!" Naida gasped. "You are unarmed!"

"I'll be all right."

On the floor lay a jagged, hand-chipped knife of obsidion which had
fallen as some ape died. Kirby grabbed it.

* * * * *

In another second the flood of ape-men had burst in all its fury over
him. Crashing, thundering shots were dinning in his ears, animal death
screams and the Valkyrie battle cries of the girls filled the temple. He
could not tell how many of the apes were fighting him. As a cave-man's
club whizzed past his head, he drove his knife once, and yanked it
dripping from hairy, yielding flesh to plunge it again. A sudden
side-step carried him away from another assailant. He dropped the knife
to snatch the gigantic club of one of the creatures he had killed.

Quicker in every movement than the ape-men, he laid on, right and left,
with such power that blood spurted in a dozen places, and heads were
split open on every side. And because of his speed, the frantic, clumsy
blows and knife thrusts which were directed at him proved harmless.

A terrific drive which smashed a snarling face into pulp, left Kirby
free for a second, and he emerged from the first round of battle ready
to cut in and help the girls. But then he saw that he had gotten
separated from the main body.

"Naida!" he called. "Naida!"

A series of shots answered him, and as several apes fell, a gap was
opened through which he saw her conducting a well ordered retreat of all
the girls toward the dark corridors surrounding the temple. Again Kirby
fell to with his club, swinging, hacking, fighting with his whole
strength to catch up. He made headway, and hope began to come again. The
ape-men would not kill, or even harm, the girls. What they wanted was to
carry them off. If he and Naida together could get their party rounded
up in the corridors, the chances were good.

"Naida!" he shouted again. "Coming!"

Battering down an ape in front of him, he jumped up on the corpse, and
saw that already the vanguard of girls had reached the first sheltering
corridor. Naida had been cut off from the others by eight or ten apes.
But even so her fire made her mistress of the situation, and she seemed
all right.

It was just as Kirby started to jump down from the corpse that he saw
something which put another complexion on the matter, and left him
frozen where he was.

* * * * *

Behind Naida, directly in the path in which her slavering aggressors
were slowly forcing her, a huge stone slab in the temple floor had begun
to tilt up as if it were a trapdoor raised by an invisible hand. Within
the yawning opening, Kirby caught a glimpse of stone steps winding down
into blackness.

In a flash he saw that it was Naida, and her alone, that the ape-men
were after. The Duca's determination was to capture her, and it was the
presence of this trapdoor, making capture possible, which had brought on
the second charge of the apes.

A scream, high and wild, from Naida released Kirby from his trance of
horror. He leaped off the corpse, and smashed a suddenly presented skull
like an egg shell. Momentarily he saw Naida, too terrified to fire,
staring at the open trapdoor. Kirby felled two apes and felt their blood
on his arms.

"Ivana!" he yelled. "Help Naida, for God's sake!"

An answering shout, not from Ivana alone but from many girls, encouraged
him, and he swung his club with a speed and force which would let
nothing stand before him. But then another scream from Naida rang in his

"Naida!" he shouted. "It's all right! We're coming!"

He knew, though, that it _wasn't_ all right. Fighting like a maniac, he
opened another lane down which he glimpsed her. Fighting still, in a
last terrific effort to force his way down the lane to her side, he saw
the black opening gape at her feet; and, as Naida screamed again, a
dozen hairy arms reached it at once, twisted the empty rifle out of her
hands, and lifted her shining body as if it had been a feather.

Shouts and murderous fire were coming from the other girls, and Kirby
swung his club as never before. But even as he fell upon the last two or
three apes which kept him away from Naida, those who had snatched her,
bolted down the steps.

Kirby was left with the memory of Naida's great eyes fixed upon his,
fear-filled, beseeching his protection. In a second, the ponderous
trapdoor crashed into place, and she was gone.


Dazed and grief-stricken, Kirby stood in the bloody, corpse-filled nave
of the temple, surrounded by thirty-two girls whose faces were blanched
and most of whose eyes were tear-bright. The fight was over, and they
were assembled to decide what must be done, but for a time no one

Gaining the trapdoor just as it was pinioned from beneath, Kirby had
torn at it with bare hands. But that had been hopeless. Then he had
begun to fight again. But that had been hopeless also. With howls and
screams they started to retreat, and it had not taken Kirby long to find
out that every part of their raid had been carefully planned, even to
this retreat under fire. Straight into the damp black tunnel which led
away from the corridor behind the altar, the ape-men had leaped. And
Kirby, in hot pursuit, had heard the Duca's voice driving them on. Too
much the soldier to follow in that darkness where the Duca knew every
foot of the way, and he knew nothing, Kirby had seen that he must go
back to the girls and take stock.

Now he looked at the strewn ape corpses, smelled the corrosive reek of
burned powder, and tried to put aside his grief.

"The Duca," he said at last, "must have been planning this with the apes
ever since the first morning in the castle."

Ivana, Naida's sister, nodded.

"The Duca brought the ape-people here, kept them in the tunnel, and then
herded them back when their work was done. I suppose it was one of the
caciques who opened the door when the time was right."

"Does anyone think we ought to try the tunnels now?" Kirby asked.

* * * * *

Several girls shook their heads. He knew that already they felt he had
been wise in giving up the pursuit. Ivana spoke.

"If the Duca and his horde stay underground, we shouldn't have a chance
against them. And if they don't, we're better here."

Kirby shot a searching glance at her, somehow sure that her thoughts
were running parallel with his.

"You don't think they're going to stay here, do you?"

"No, and you don't either," Ivana answered.

"It seems to me that they will retreat into the Rorroh as fast as they
can," Kirby then observed.

"And do you think the Duca and all the caciques will go with the apes?"
This time it was Nini who spoke, and with the council so well launched,
Kirby began to feel better.

"I think," he answered Nini, "that the Duca has gone over to Xlotli
altogether. We fooled him to-day. Instead of killing or capturing us
all, he - he only got Naida. But he won't give up. I think he is taking
the apes off to some place from which he can launch a new attack. And
we've got to stop him before he is ready to deliver another blow."

"What do you mean?" Ivana now asked.

"Do you know where the villages of the ape-people are?"

"Yes. None of us has been very far into the Rorroh, but I could guess
where some of the villages may stand."

* * * * *

Silence fell after that, but Kirby knew from the glint in Ivana's eyes,
and the quick breaths which other girls drew, that they understood.

"Ivana," he said suddenly, "will you go with me into the Rorroh jungle,
and stay with me, facing down every danger it may conceal, until we have
found Naida and brought her back?"

A flush of life crept into Ivana's pallid cheeks.


Kirby faced the other girls, all of them keyed up now.

"Nini, will you go?"

Nini, bronze-haired, dainty nymph of a girl, who had yet the stamina of
a man, looked at him with brave eyes. Then her hands tightened on her
rifle, and she stepped forward.

"When will you have us start?" Ivana asked in a low voice.

"Now!" Kirby answered, and, taking up the rifle which lay beside
him - the same with which Naida had fought - he looked at the other

"There is not one of you," he said slowly, "who would not go willingly
on this quest. But the pursuit party must be small and mobile. And
there is another duty. To all of you I leave the care of the castle and
the plateau. Take the three rifles I shall leave behind, do what you can
to reassure the old people, and hold the plateau safe until we return."

A murmur of girls' voices sounded in the temple. Kirby motioned to Nini
and Ivana, and followed by a low cheer, they moved off together.

* * * * *

The night was on them, where they crouched in a cave above a swiftly
flowing river. Kirby, rifle across his knees, sat peering out across the
black, invisible stretches of the forest. His nostrils quivered to this
mingled smells of fresh growth and fetid decay of the grotesque land. In
his ears shrilled the creaking and scraping of insects, the flap of
unseen wings, the distant bellowing grunt of some unseen, unknown

"I cannot sleep," Ivana said presently, from back in the cave.

"Hush," he whispered, "you will wake Nini."

"But I am already awake!" came her answer. "I - I cannot forget the white
snakes which slid from that tree when you tried to cut firewood."

"Hush," Kirby murmured again. "Presently the moon will rise on the earth
above, and light will come here. Even if the jungle is terrible, were
you not born with courage? Go to sleep now, both of you, because you
must relieve me soon."

As silence fell again, he knew that the real thing behind their
nervousness was their ghastly doubt about what the night was bringing to
Naida. But none of them spoke of Naida. So sickening were the
possibilities that Kirby would not permit conjecture to occupy even his
mind when, at length, the sound of even breathing told him that Nini and
Ivana slept.

After dreary passing of an hour, a faint light grew over the jungle,
silver and clear, and Kirby let his mind run back to the two deserted
ape-men communities which they had found and searched before dusk sent
them to the cave. From the signs of hasty departure, it looked as though
a far-reaching order had taken the brutes away from their dwellings, and
sent them - somewhere.

That somewhere seemed likely to be the great central community which
Ivana said was rumored to exist in the far reaches of the Rorroh. The
problem was how to locate the community through the hideous country. But
Kirby presently drove the question from his head. To-morrow's evils
could best be faced when morrow dawned.

* * * * *

Enough light had grown now so that the swirling bosom of the river, and
a strip of sand directly below the cliff in which their cave was set,
were visible. As Kirby let his eyes wander to the lush growth beyond the
sand, he heard something which made him stir uneasily. Some creature
which suggested power and hugeness immeasurable was moving there.

The brush parted, and he saw plainly an animal with the bulk of a
two-story house. On two feet the nightmare thing stood, as lightly as a
cat, and then came down on all four feet as it ambled out on the sand
and extended into the lapping river a tremendous beak studded with
teeth. A smell of crushed weeds and the musty odor like that of a lion
house filled the night. The tyranosaur - it was more like a tyranosaur
than anything else - breathed heavily and guzzled in great mouthfuls of

Kirby sat perfectly still. He hoped the thing would go away. But the
tyranosaur did not go away. All at once it hissed loudly and stood up,
its eyes glowing green and baleful, and Kirby leaned forward.

From the water was slithering another creature with a gigantic,
quivering, jelly body. Kirby saw to his horror that, in addition to four
short legs with webbed, claw-tipped feet, there sprouted from the body a
number of octopus tentacles. From the scabrous mottle of the head,
cruel, unintelligent, bestial eyes glared at the rearing tyranosaur.

* * * * *

One of the serpentine tentacles whipped out, slapped against the
tyranosaur's fore-shoulder to call forth a hiss and a short bellow. Then
other tentacles waved in the moonlight, and in a flash the tyranosaur
was enmeshed as by a score of slimy cables. He was not altogether
helpless. Suddenly the steam shovel of a beak buried itself in the jelly
body of the water animal, and there spurted out a flood of inky liquid.
The water animal emitted a sickening gurgle. But the tyranosaur's
advantage was only temporary. Closer and closer drew the ugly, scabrous
tentacles. The tyranosaur never had a chance. Its green eyes flared, the
shovel beak plunged and slashed, but never for a second did the
tentacles relax. As Kirby stared, he saw the water animal begin to back
up, dragging its gigantic enemy with it. For a second the whole night
was hideous with the sound of hisses, gurgles, dashing water. Then the
river boiled once and for all, and both animals sank in its depths.

Kirby chafed cold hands together and shivered a little, then turned to
see if Nini and Ivana had heard the struggle.

Fortunately, however, they still slept. And as if this peace which was
upon them were an omen of good, the jungle continued quiet for the next
hour. Kirby wakened them at last, and after a snatched nap, was in turn

The three of them started again when the first glimmerings of dawn came
to the forest. Of food there was plenty - fruits which grew in profusion,
and some roots which Nini grubbed out of the earth. Having started along
the first trail which they encountered beside the river bank, they ate
as they walked.

* * * * *

Kirby judged they had kept their steady gait for more than two hours
before a slight widening of the trail roused him from the preoccupation
into which he had fallen.

"See there," he exclaimed to both girls, and pointed at a grove of trees
with fanlike leaves which towered up to the right of the trail. "What
are those big bundles fastened to the lower limbs?"

Ivana glanced at Nini, who nodded as if in answer to a question.

"This must be one of the places where the ape-people leave their dead,"
Nini answered. "The bundles - But come over to them."

Kirby forced his way ahead until he stood beneath a huge, unsavory
bundle wrapped in roughly woven brown fibre, and wedged in a fork
between two limbs. Judging from the ugly odor which overhung the grove,
there could be no question about what the bundle contained. Nini and
Ivana, glancing at the scores of similar bundles which burdened the
trees of the whole grove, made wry faces. Kirby slung his rifle in the
crook of his arm, and nodded toward the trail.

"There must be a village somewhere near," he said.

A mile farther on they found what they were seeking, a colony of seventy
or eighty conical dwellings of mud and thatch, which were ranged in a
double circle about a central common of bare, well-trodden earth. It
took no long reconnaissance to discover that the town was deserted
completely of all inhabitants.

Ivana beckoned and darted to one of the nearest huts, and Kirby,

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