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into the air as if he were a mass of bounding rubber. Following his
lead, the whole assembly let out howls that drowned even the drums, and
then began to sway, to squirm, to leap, even as their king was doing
before them.

The caciques and the Duca joined in the madness of foul dancing as
heartily as any there. Their eyes were flaming, their long robes
flapping, their beards streaming.

On his perch in the tree Kirby muttered an oath which was lost, swept
away like a breath, in the shrieking turmoil of sound. Then he turned to
Ivana.

"They've brought Naida here to sacrifice her."

"But _why_?" Ivana's sweet face was frozen in lines of horror. "I've
been able to guess what was going to happen to her. But - _sacrifice_.
Why will it be that?"

"Don't you see?" Looking up to include Nini, Kirby found his hands
quivering against his rifle. "It is easy to understand. In the temple
yesterday, what the Duca hoped to do was to kidnap most, or all, of the
girls for the ape-people. But he was able to get only Naida. The first
result was that the ape-men started to quarrel over the one girl. From
what Gori says, trouble started on all sides at once. It became
inadvisable to let Naida live. So the Duca, in his shrewdness, planned a
sacrifice. By sacrificing Naida, he rids himself of a source of
contention amongst the ape-men. He also hopes his act will win favor
from his Gods, and make them help him when he is ready to launch a new
attempt to capture _all_ the girls."

* * * * *

Ivana and Nini looked at each other, then at Kirby, and horror was
etched deeper into their faces.

"I think," gulped Ivana, "that you - are right. I - begin to understand."

Nini leaned close to them.

"Tell us, then, _how_ this sacrifice is to be made."

Silent at that, Kirby presently made a heavy gesture toward the
maelstrom of howling, leaping animals below them.

"I couldn't guess at first. Now I think I can. They have placed her in
that cage and swung it high above the black hole you were afraid of.
What can that mean except that she is to be offered to - to - "

It was a monstrous theory which had stunned his hope and courage, and to
voice the thing in words was too gruesome.

His bare suggestion, however, made Ivana pass a hand limply over her
forehead and look at him with blank, stricken eyes. Nini tottered so
uncertainly that Gori, who had remained motionless and silent
throughout, had to steady her with muscular arms. If it was impossible
for Kirby to utter his fears aloud, he had no need to speak to make them
understood.

"And - and we can do nothing?" Nini choked at last.

"You can see for yourself how she is surrounded. If we had been able to
get here sooner, we might have done something. Now - "

Kirby's voice trailed off, and he gave an agonized look at his rifle.

* * * * *

The terrific dance in the clearing was going forward with madness which
increased second by second. It had been a general debauch at first, with
the whole thousand of the apes bellowing and squirming. Now a change was
becoming apparent. Red eyes which had caught the glare of ultimate
madness, focused upon the caciques, the Duca, and the great king, all of
whom were swaying together on the central stage. As they looked, the
horde of ape-men broke loose with a heightened frenzy of noise and
movement too overwhelming for Kirby to follow. He leaned forward, making
an effort to see what actions of Duca and king could be so influencing
the congregation. And then he saw.

Both of those central figures, the one with hair-covered giant's body
and evilly grimacing face, the other with white robes and whipping
silver hair, were definitely emulating the motions of a serpent!

It was as if the angles and joints had disappeared from their bodies.
They were become gliding lengths of muscle as swift, as loathsome in
their supple dartings and coilings as any snake lashing across the
expanses of primeval jungle. Lost in what they did, unconscious of the
nightmare, demoniac legion before which they danced, they had eyes only
for the empty, ominous hole beneath Naida's cage. As they circled the
hole, drawing ever and ever closer to it, they opened and closed their
arms with the motion of great serpent jaws biting and striking.

"God in Heaven!" Kirby cried in a voice which shrilled with horror and
then broke.

It was not alone the Duca's dance which had wrung the shout from him. As
Nina and Ivana shrieked and cowered, as Gori twitched, gasped, buried
her head in trembling arms, Kirby knew that Naida was fully aware of
what was going on - had been, perhaps, from the beginning.

Slowly, numbly she raised herself from her huddled position, rose to her
knees, and clutching with despairing hands at the sides of her cage,
looked out from between the bars.

* * * * *

The king and Duca edged closer to the hole until they were dancing upon
its very brink. From that position, they stared down into the depths,
their faces tense and strained. And then their look became radiant,
exalted, joyous. Suddenly the Duca leaped back. He shrieked something
at the gargoyle ape, and they flung their arms high in a commanding,
mighty signal which was directed across the nightmare legion of ape-men,
to the drums.

As Kirby winced in expectancy, the drums ceased to roar. Over the night
smashed a hideous concussion of silence, deafening, absolute. And the
ape-men - all of them - and the Duca, his caciques, and the king, ceased
to dance. As if a whirlwind had hurled them, the caciques scattered in
all directions. The Duca, having already leaped back from the gaping
orifice, suddenly turned and ran with blurred speed over to the
slobbering, deadly still front rank of the congregation. An instant
later the king crouched down beside him, and the whole stage was left
bare and deserted.

Kirby gave one look at Naida, found her staring down, deeper and deeper
down, into the hole which yawned beneath her so blackly. Then Kirby
lowered his eyes until he, too, stared at the opening.

Amidst the pressing silence there stole from the earth an uneasy sound
as of some immense thing waking and stirring. Came a hissing note as of
escaping steam. The tribes of the ape-men waited in silent rapture.
Kirby saw Naida still looking down, and felt Ivana crouch against him,
fainting. He held his rifle tighter, and continued to stare.

Something red, like two small flames, licked up above the edge of the
pit. Then Kirby gasped and all but went limp. Up and out into the
moonlight slid a glistening white lump that moved from side to side and
licked at the night with flickering black and red tipped forked tongue.

The glistening white lump was the head of Quetzalcoatl, buried God of
the People of the Temple. It was wider and bigger than an elephant's,
and the round snake body could not have been encircled by a man's two
arms. Kirby guessed at the probable length of the Serpent in terms of
hundreds of feet.

* * * * *

Sick, numb, he glanced at Naida, who was still staring silently, and
hitched his rifle half up to his shoulder. But he did not look down the
sights yet. Although it was time, and more than time, that he fired, he
would not do it until the last possible second, when nothing else
remained.

Slowly from the hole slid a fifteen or twenty-foot column of the body,
and Quetzalcoatl, thus reared, looked about him with a pair of eyes
immense and not like snake's eyes, but heavily lidded and lashed; eyes
that stared in a wise, evil way; eyes glittering and round and black as
ink. After a time the mouth opened in a silent snarl, showing great
white fangs and recurved simitars of teeth. The head was snow white,
leperous in its scabby, scaly roughness, with here and there a patch of
what looked like greenish fungus. From the rounded body trailed a short,
unnatural, sickening growth of - feathers. Old and evil and very wise the
Feathered Serpent seemed as his forked tongue flickered in and out and
he stared at the ape horde, who stared back silently.

He seemed in no hurry to devote his attention to the cage set forth for
his delectation. The black eyes rolled beneath their lashes, staring now
at the Duca in his robes, and again at the huddled ape-people. But after
ghastly seconds, Quetzalcoatl at last had seen enough.

Again the moonlight glinted against simitar teeth as the great, white,
puffy mouth yawned in its silent snarl. Quetzalcoatl reared his head a
little higher, slid further from his hole, and then looked up at the
dangling cage of barked withes.

In Kirby's mind stirred cloudily a remembrance of moments in the past:
the feel of Naida's first kiss, her look as they advanced to the altar
in the temple. Then he saw things as they were now, with Naida
surrounded by all the tribes of the apes, and with Quetzalcoatl staring
from beneath heavily lidded lashes at the whiteness of her.

Suddenly Kirby stirred to free his shoulder of Ivana's supine weight
against it, and he made himself look down his rifle. He let the breath
half out of his lungs, and nursed the trigger.

* * * * *

But he did not fire.

All at once he started so violently that he almost hurtled from the
tree. Suddenly, trembling, he lowered his rifle.

"Oh, thank God!" he yelped in the silence of the night.

The idea which had transformed him was perhaps the conception of a
lunatic. But it was still an idea, and offered a chance.

Again Kirby peered down his rifle. But he no longer aimed at Naida. As
Quetzalcoatl lifted white fangs, Kirby aimed deliberately at him, and
turned loose his fire.

With the first shot, the Serpent lurched back from the cage, snapped his
jaws, and closed evil, black eyes. From one lidded socket squirted dark
blood. As a second and third shot crashed into the cavernous fanged
mouth, and others ripped into the flat skull, Quetzalcoatl seemed dazed.
His head wavered back and forth and his hiss filled the night, but he
did nothing.

But all at once Kirby felt that he was _going_ to do something in a
second, and a great calm came upon him. He quickly jammed home a fresh
clip of shells.

"Nini! Ivana! Fire at the Serpent. Give him everything you've got! Do
you understand? Fire! He thinks that the ape-people have hurt him, and
he will be after them in a second. If we have any luck, he will do to
them what we never could have done, and maybe destroy himself at the
same time! Me, I'm going down there and get Naida now!"


CHAPTER XIII

No sooner did Kirby see comprehension in the girls' faces than he swung
around and let go of his perch. As he crashed, caught the next limb
below him, and let go to crash to another, he had all he could do to
suppress a yelp of joy. For all at once every voice in the ape
congregation was raised in howls and screams of devastated terror.

He did not care how he got down from the tree. Seconds and half seconds
were what counted. From the last limb above the ground he swung into
space, and a split second later staggered to his feet, clutched his
rifle, and started for the clearing. His lungs seemed collapsed and both
ankles shattered. He did not care. Not when the ape screams were growing
louder with every step he took. Not when he heard Nini and Ivana pouring
down from their tree a continuation of the scorching fire he had
started.

Panting, his breath only half regained, but steeled to make the fight of
his life, he tore from the jungle into the clearing just in time to see
a twisting, pain-convulsed seventy-foot coil of white muscle lash up and
strike Naida's cage a blow which knocked it like a ball in the air.
Naida screamed and hung to the bars.

But she was all right. It was not against her that Quetzalcoatl was
venting his wrath: the blow had been blind accident. As Kirby stood at
the clearing's edge, he knew to a certainty that Quetzalcoatl's reaction
to sudden pain had been all he had dared hope.

In front of him forty or fifty ape-bodies lay in a crushed heap. While
yard after yard of the Serpent's bleached length streamed out of the
hole, the hundreds of feet of coils already in the clearing suddenly
whipped about a whole squadron of ape-men, and with a few constrictions
annihilated them as if they had been ants. Across the clearing, the
leperous head reared up as high as the trees and swooped down, fangs
gleaming. The howls of the ape-men trying to flee, the screams of those
who had been caught, rose until they became all one scream.

* * * * *

But Kirby had not left the safety of the tree merely to get a ringside
view of carnage. He faced his next, his final task unhesitatingly.
Straight out he leaped from the shadows of the jungle into the clearing,
out into the presence of the beleagured, screaming ape-men. Well enough
he knew that those creatures, despite their frenzy, might sight him and
fall upon him at any second; well enough he knew that a single flick of
the white coils all over the clearing could crush him instantly. But the
time to worry about those hazards would be when they beset him. With a
yell as piercing as any in the whole bedlam, Kirby rushed forward.

High up in the moonlit vault of the night, swaying between the two poles
which supported it, hung the white cage which was Naida's prison. By the
time Kirby had sprinted fifty yards, he knew that his yells had reached
Naida. For she staggered to her knees and looked straight at him. A
second later, though, he realized that the almost inevitable recognition
of him by ape-men had come to pass.

Eight or ten of the creatures, left unmolested for a second by the
Serpent, halted in the mad run they were making for the sheltering
jungle, and while one pointed with hairy arm, the others let out
shrieks. Kirby gritted his teeth in something like despair. Then he
realized that the worst danger - Quetzalcoatl's blurred coils - was not
threatening him so far. And he went on, straight toward the ape-men.

He did not look where, how, or at whom he struck. All he knew was that
his rifle blazed, and as he clubbed at soft flesh with the butt, blood
spurted, and new screams filled the night. He felt and half saw big,
stinking bodies going down, and clawed his way forward, around them,
over them. Then he felt no more bodies, and knew that he was through. A
little farther he ran over the trampled earth, and stopped and looked
up.

The howls of the living, the shrieks of the dying deafened him. Renewed
shots from the rifles in the tree, made the Serpent lash about in a
dazzling white blur, smashing trees, apes, everything in its path. But
Kirby, finding himself still safe, scarcely heard or saw. His eyes,
turned upward, saw one thing only.

"Naida!"

* * * * *

She had snapped two of the withes of the cage and was leaning forward
through the opening. Her face was livid with horror and exhaustion, but
she was able to look at him with eyes that glowed.

"You - you came!" she gasped. "You came to me!"

In a flash Kirby jumped over to the poles and began to cast off one of
the lines which held the cage aloft.

"Get ready for a bump!" he shouted, as he lowered away, arms straining.

Paying out the one line left the cage suspended from the second, but let
it sweep from its position between the poles, down toward one pole. As
the thing struck the tall support, Kirby bounded over to stand beneath
it, only too sharply aware of the death waiting for him on every side,
but ignoring it. Naida still hung suspended a good twenty feet above
him, but there was no time to let go the other line. He braced himself
and held up his arms.

"Jump!" he yelled.

Then he saw the white gown sweeping down toward him, felt the crash of a
soft body against his, and staggered back. Recovered in a tenth of a
second, he drew a deep breath, and looked at Naida beside him, tall and
brave, unhurt.

"Are you able to run?" he snapped, and then, the moment she nodded,
motioned toward the jungle.

Behind them, in front, on all sides, rose screams so horrible that he
wondered even then if he would ever forget. As he started to run, he
realized that when Naida had finally landed in his arms, the nearest
squirming loop of the Serpent had been no more than four yards away, and
that, right now, if their luck failed, a single unfortunate twist of the
incredible hundreds of feet of white muscle could still end things for
them.

* * * * *

But luck was not going to fail. Somehow Kirby knew it as they sprinted
side by side, and the sheltering jungle loomed closer every second. And
a moment later, something beside his own inner faith made him know it,
too.

"Look, Naida! Look!" he screeched all at once.

At the upper end of the clearing, where an unthinkable slaughter was
going on, there leaped out from amongst a surging mass of apes, leaped
out from almost directly beneath a downward smashing blur of white snake
folds, a figure which Kirby had not seen or thought about for many
seconds.

The Duca's robe hung in tatters from his body. Blood had smeared his
white hair. His eyes were those of a man gone mad from fear. And as he
escaped the tons of muscle which so nearly had engulfed him, he began to
run even as Kirby felt himself running.

Straight toward him and Naida, Kirby saw the man spurt, but whether the
mad eyes recognized them or not, he could not tell, nor did he care. All
at once his feeling that they would escape the clearing, became
conviction.

For suddenly the same single twitch of Quetzalcoatl's vast folds which
might have finished them, if luck had not held, put an end to the Duca's
retreat. At one moment the man's path was clear. The next -

Kirby, running for dear life, gasped, and heard Naida cry out beside
him.

The great loops flashed, twisted, and where had been an open way for
the Duca, loomed a wall of scaly white flesh. The living wall twitched,
closed in; and as the Duca dodged and leaped to no avail, a cry shrilled
across the night - a cry that cut like a knife.

* * * * *

Kirby saw no more. But it was likely that most, if not all, of the
caciques had gone with the Duca.

Somehow, anyhow, in but a few seconds more, Kirby dove into the spot
from which he had left the jungle to enter the clearing. As Naida
pressed against him, winded but still strong, he found his best hopes
for immediate retreat realized, for Gori, Nini, and Ivana, down from
their tree, ran toward them.

"She is all right," he said with a gesture which cut short the outbursts
ready to come. "But we've got to keep going. Ivana, tell Gori that her
people are gone, wiped out, but that if she will cast her lot with us,
we will not forget what she has done. Come on!"

With Gori leading them they ran, stumbling, recovering themselves,
stumbling again. To breathe became an agony. But not until many minutes
later, when they plowed into the cover of a fern belt whose blackness
not even the moonlight had pierced, did Kirby call a halt.

Here he swept a final glance behind him, listened long for sounds of
pursuit, and relaxed a little only when none came to disturb the night
stillness. However, that relaxation, now that he permitted it at last,
meant something.

The complete silence gave him final conviction that what he had said
about the whole ape-people being destroyed was true. As for the
Serpent - well, perhaps he was destroyed even as they were. Perhaps not.
In any case the grip which Quetzalcoatl held upon the imagination of the
People of the Temple had been destroyed by this night's work, and that
was what counted most. The Serpent would be worshipped no longer.

* * * * *

Kirby reached out in the darkness and found Naida's hand.

"Come along," he said to all of the party. "I think the past is - the
past. And with Gori to guide us out of the jungle, and our own brains to
guide us through the jungle of self-government after that, I think the
future ought to be bright enough."

Ivana and Nini both chuckled as they moved again, and Gori, hearing her
name spoken in a kindly voice, twitched her ears appreciatively. Naida
drew very close to Kirby.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked presently.

"The - temple," he answered.

"About the crown which probably is still lying on the altar there?"

Kirby looked up in surprise.

"Why, I had forgotten about that!"

"What was it, then?"

"But what could I have been thinking about except how you looked when we
came together in that gloomy place, and walked forward, side by side?
_Now_ have I told you enough?"

Naida laughed.

"There is so much to be done!" Kirby exclaimed then. "As soon as
possible, we must climb to the Valley of the Geyser, go on into the
outer world, and there seek carefully for men who are willing, and fit,
to come here. And that is only one task. Others come crowding to me
every second. But first - "

"What?" Naida asked softly.

"The temple. Naida, we will reach the plateau sometime to-morrow. All of
the girls who kept watch there will be waiting for us, and it will be a
time of happiness. May we not, then, go to the temple? There will be no
priests. But we will make our pledges without them. Tell me, may I hope
that it will be so - to-morrow?"

Naida did not answer at once. She did not even nod. But presently her
shoulder, still fragrant with faint perfume, brushed his. She clasped
his hand then, and as they walked on in silence, Kirby knew.




The Reader's Corner

[Illustration: The Readers' Corner

A Meeting Place for Readers of
Astounding Stories]


"Literature"

Dear Editor:

After comparison with various other magazines which specialize in the
publication of Science Fiction, we - The Scientific Fiction Library
Ass'n, of 1457 First Ave., New York City - have found that your magazine,
Amazing Stories, publishes stories to which the term "literature" may be
applied in its real sense. A fine example of this is the story "Murder
Madness," by Murray Leinster. Others of the finer novels are: "The
Beetle Horde," by Victor Rousseau, and, up to the present installment,
"Earth, the Marauder," by Arthur J. Burks. "Brigands of the Moon," by
Ray Cummings, was interesting and well-written, but it was not
literature (not a story which you will remember and read over again). Of
the shorter stories, the novelettes, the best are: "Spawn of the Stars,"
by Charles W. Diffin, "Monsters of Moyen," by Arthur J. Burks, and "The
Atom Smasher," by Victor Rousseau.

Since the magazine started, there are only three stories that did not
belong in the magazine, and were not even interesting. These are: "The
Corpse on the Grating," by Hugh B. Cave; "The Stolen Mind," by M.
Staley, and the last (I wonder that the editors who used such good sense
in picking the other finer stories, let it pass), "Vampires of Venus,"
by Anthony Pelcher. May you keep up the high standard of fiction you are
publishing at present. - Nathan Greenfeld, 873 Whitlock Ave., New York
City.


You See - It Didn't!

Dear Editor:

Firstly, let me say that I am sending a year's subscription to
Astounding Stories, which will tell you that they are good.

On the average, the stories are of good literary merit and plot.
However, there is one thing that seems to be getting rather pushed
into the background and that is the second part of your title,
"Super-Science." If this is to be a Science Fiction magazine let us have
it so. I am kicking against stories like "Murder Madness" and the like.
They are really excellent in every way but just need that tincture of
a little scientific background to make them super-excellent. "Brigands
of the Moon" and "The Moon Master" seem to me more the type of story
"our mag" should publish, from its name.

No doubt this criticism will leave you cold and this effusion find its
way into the nearest waste paper basket, but I find that a number of
your readers in Australia think somewhat the same as I do.

More brickbats - I hope not! and more bouquets - I hope so! the next time
I write. - N.W. Alcock, 5 Gaza Rd., Naremburn, N.S.W., Australia.


Not in de Head!!

Dear Editor:

I shall be glad to take advantage of your cordial invitation to come
over to "The Readers' Corner." In the first place, I find your magazine
the best of its kind on the market, and you are to be congratulated on
having such excellent authors as Ray Cummings, Murray Leinster and
Captain S. P. Meek. Nevertheless, there are so many things to be


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