THE BEGINNING OF HORROR
Within Pellucidar one time is as good as another. There were no nights to
mask our attempted escape. All must be done in broad daylight--all but the work
I had to do in the apartment beneath the building. So we determined to put our
plan to an immediate test lest the Mahars who made it possible should awake
before I reached them; but we were doomed to disappointment, for no sooner had
we reached the main floor of the building on our way to the pits beneath, than
we encountered hurrying bands of slaves being hastened under strong Sagoth guard
out of the edifice to the avenue beyond.
Other Sagoths were darting hither and thither in search of other slaves, and
the moment that we appeared we were pounced upon and hustled into the line of
What the purpose or nature of the general exodus we did not know, but
presently through the line of captives ran the rumor that two escaped slaves had
been recaptured--a man and a woman--and that we were marching to witness their
punishment, for the man had killed a Sagoth of the detachment that had pursued
and overtaken them.
At the intelligence my heart sprang to my throat, for I was sure that the two
were of those who escaped in the dark grotto with Hooja the Sly One, and that
Dian must be the woman. Ghak thought so too, as did Perry.
"Is there naught that we may do to save her?" I asked Ghak.
"Naught," he replied.
Along the crowded avenue we marched, the guards showing unusual cruelty
toward us, as though we, too, had been implicated in the murder of their fellow.
The occasion was to serve as an object-lesson to all other slaves of the danger
and futility of attempted escape, and the fatal consequences of taking the life
of a superior being, and so I imagine that Sagoths felt amply justified in
making the entire proceeding as uncomfortable and painful to us as possible.
They jabbed us with their spears and struck at us with the hatchets at the
least provocation, and at no provocation at all. It was a most uncomfortable
half-hour that we spent before we were finally herded through a low entrance
into a huge building the center of which was given up to a good-sized arena.
Benches surrounded this open space upon three sides, and along the fourth were
heaped huge bowlders which rose in receding tiers toward the roof.
At first I couldn't make out the purpose of this mighty pile of rock, unless
it were intended as a rough and picturesque background for the scenes which were
enacted in the arena before it, but presently, after the wooden benches had been
pretty well filled by slaves and Sagoths, I discovered the purpose of the
bowlders, for then the Mahars began to file into the enclosure.
They marched directly across the arena toward the rocks upon the opposite
side, where, spreading their bat-like wings, they rose above the high wall of
the pit, settling down upon the bowlders above. These were the reserved seats,
the boxes of the elect.
Reptiles that they are, the rough surface of a great stone is to them as
plush as upholstery to us. Here they lolled, blinking their hideous eyes, and
doubtless conversing with one another in their sixth-sense- fourth-dimension
For the first time I beheld their queen. She differed from the others in no
feature that was appreciable to my earthly eyes, in fact all Mahars look alike
to me: but when she crossed the arena after the balance of her female subjects
had found their bowlders, she was preceded by a score of huge Sagoths, the
largest I ever had seen, and on either side of her waddled a huge thipdar, while
behind came another score of Sagoth guardsmen.
At the barrier the Sagoths clambered up the steep side with truly apelike
agility, while behind them the haughty queen rose upon her wings with her two
frightful dragons close beside her, and settled down upon the largest bowlder of
them all in the exact center of that side of the amphitheater which is reserved
for the dominant race. Here she squatted, a most repulsive and uninteresting
queen; though doubtless quite as well assured of her beauty and divine right to
rule as the proudest monarch of the outer world.
And then the music started--music without sound! The Mahars cannot hear, so
the drums and fifes and horns of earthly bands are unknown among them. The
"band" consists of a score or more Mahars. It filed out in the center
of the arena where the creatures upon the rocks might see it, and there it
performed for fifteen or twenty minutes.
Their technic consisted in waving their tails and moving their heads in a
regular succession of measured movements resulting in a cadence which evidently
pleased the eye of the Mahar as the cadence of our own instrumental music
pleases our ears. Sometimes the band took measured steps in unison to one side
or the other, or backward and again forward--it all seemed very silly and
meaningless to me, but at the end of the first piece the Mahars upon the rocks
showed the first indications of enthusiasm that I had seen displayed by the
dominant race of Pellucidar. They beat their great wings up and down, and smote
their rocky perches with their mighty tails until the ground shook. Then the
band started another piece, and all was again as silent as the grave. That was
one great beauty about Mahar music--if you didn't happen to like a piece that
was being played all you had to do was shut your eyes.
When the band had exhausted its repertory it took wing and settled upon the
rocks above and behind the queen. Then the business of the day was on. A man and
woman were pushed into the arena by a couple of Sagoth guardsmen. I leaned
forward in my seat to scrutinize the female--hoping against hope that she might
prove to be another than Dian the Beautiful. Her back was toward me for a while,
and the sight of the great mass of raven hair piled high upon her head filled me
Presently a door in one side of the arena wall was opened to admit a huge,
shaggy, bull-like creature.
"A Bos," whispered Perry, excitedly. "His kind roamed the
outer crust with the cave bear and the mammoth ages and ages ago. We have been
carried back a million years, David, to the childhood of a planet--is it not
But I saw only the raven hair of a half-naked girl, and my heart stood still
in dumb misery at the sight of her, nor had I any eyes for the wonders of
natural history. But for Perry and Ghak I should have leaped to the floor of the
arena and shared whatever fate lay in store for this priceless treasure of the
With the advent of the Bos--they call the thing a thag within Pellucidar--two
spears were tossed into the arena at the feet of the prisoners. It seemed to me
that a bean shooter would have been as effective against the mighty monster as
these pitiful weapons.
As the animal approached the two, bellowing and pawing the ground with the
strength of many earthly bulls, another door directly beneath us was opened, and
from it issued the most terrific roar that ever had fallen upon my outraged
ears. I could not at first see the beast from which emanated this fearsome
challenge, but the sound had the effect of bringing the two victims around with
a sudden start, and then I saw the girl's face--she was not Dian! I could have
wept for relief.
And now, as the two stood frozen in terror, I saw the author of that fearsome
sound creeping stealthily into view. It was a huge tiger--such as hunted the
great Bos through the jungles primeval when the world was young. In contour and
markings it was not unlike the noblest of the Bengals of our own world, but as
its dimensions were exaggerated to colossal proportions so too were its
colorings exaggerated. Its vivid yellows fairly screamed aloud; its whites were
as eider down; its blacks glossy as the finest anthracite coal, and its coat
long and shaggy as a mountain goat. That it is a beautiful animal there is no
gainsaying, but if its size and colors are magnified here within Pellucidar, so
is the ferocity of its disposition. It is not the occasional member of its
species that is a man hunter--all are man hunters; but they do not confine their
foraging to man alone, for there is no flesh or fish within Pellucidar that they
will not eat with relish in the constant efforts which they make to furnish
their huge carcasses with sufficient sustenance to maintain their mighty thews.
Upon one side of the doomed pair the thag bellowed and advanced, and upon the
other tarag, the frightful, crept toward them with gaping mouth and dripping
The man seized the spears, handing one of them to the woman. At the sound of
the roaring of the tiger the bull's bellowing became a veritable frenzy of
rageful noise. Never in my life had I heard such an infernal din as the two
brutes made, and to think it was all lost upon the hideous reptiles for whom the
show was staged!
The thag was charging now from one side, and the tarag from the other. The
two puny things standing between them seemed already lost, but at the very
moment that the beasts were upon them the man grasped his companion by the arm
and together they leaped to one side, while the frenzied creatures came together
like locomotives in collision.
There ensued a battle royal which for sustained and frightful ferocity
transcends the power of imagination or description. Time and again the colossal
bull tossed the enormous tiger high into the air, but each time that the huge
cat touched the ground he returned to the encounter with apparently undiminished
strength, and seemingly increased ire.
For a while the man and woman busied themselves only with keeping out of the
way of the two creatures, but finally I saw them separate and each creep
stealthily toward one of the combatants. The tiger was now upon the bull's broad
back, clinging to the huge neck with powerful fangs while its long, strong
talons ripped the heavy hide into shreds and ribbons.
For a moment the bull stood bellowing and quivering with pain and rage, its
cloven hoofs widespread, its tail lashing viciously from side to side, and then,
in a mad orgy of bucking it went careening about the arena in frenzied attempt
to unseat its rending rider. It was with difficulty that the girl avoided the
first mad rush of the wounded animal.
All its efforts to rid itself of the tiger seemed futile, until in
desperation it threw itself upon the ground, rolling over and over. A little of
this so disconcerted the tiger, knocking its breath from it I imagine, that it
lost its hold and then, quick as a cat, the great thag was up again and had
buried those mighty horns deep in the tarag's abdomen, pinning him to the floor
of the arena.
The great cat clawed at the shaggy head until eyes and ears were gone, and
naught but a few strips of ragged, bloody flesh remained upon the skull. Yet
through all the agony of that fearful punishment the thag still stood motionless
pinning down his adversary, and then the man leaped in, seeing that the blind
bull would be the least formidable enemy, and ran his spear through the tarag's
As the animal's fierce clawing ceased, the bull raised his gory, sightless
head, and with a horrid roar ran headlong across the arena. With great leaps and
bounds he came, straight toward the arena wall directly beneath where we sat,
and then accident carried him, in one of his mighty springs, completely over the
barrier into the midst of the slaves and Sagoths just in front of us. Swinging
his bloody horns from side to side the beast cut a wide swath before him
straight upward toward our seats. Before him slaves and gorilla-men fought in
mad stampede to escape the menace of the creature's death agonies, for such only
could that frightful charge have been.
Forgetful of us, our guards joined in the general rush for the exits, many of
which pierced the wall of the amphitheater behind us. Perry, Ghak, and I became
separated in the chaos which reigned for a few moments after the beast cleared
the wall of the arena, each intent upon saving his own hide.
I ran to the right, passing several exits choked with the fear mad mob that
were battling to escape. One would have thought that an entire herd of thags was
loose behind them, rather than a single blinded, dying beast; but such is the
effect of panic upon a crowd.