“And now,” said Dian, “I shall go up.”
“Perhaps you had better wait until David comes,” counselled Perry. “Something might happen.”
“It took all that rock up,” argued Dian, “and I do not weigh as much as the rock.”
“That is not the point,” said Perry. “It would take you up, all right; but I don’t think you should go until after David gets back. As I said before, something might happen.”
“Well, I am going,” said Dian.
“What if I forbade it?” asked Perry.
“I should go anyhow. Am I not Empress of Pellucidar?” She smiled as she said it; but Perry knew that, Empress of Pellucidar or not, Dian the Beautiful would go up in the balloon if she wished to.
“Very well,” he said; “I’ll let you go up a little way.”
“You’ll let me go up to the end of the rope,” she said. “I want to see if David is coming home.”
“Very well,” said Perry, resignedly. “Get in.”
The other Sarians clustered around Dian as she clambered into the basket. Here was a new experience far beyond anything that they had ever imagined, and Dian the Beautiful was about to have it. They all envied her. They made little jokes and told her what to look for when she got up to the sun. They asked her all the questions outer Earth people might have asked under similar circumstances—all but one: nobody asked her if she were afraid. One does not ask a Sarian if he is afraid.
Perry signalled to the four men at the windlass and the balloon commenced to rise. Dian the Beautiful clapped her hands happily. “Faster!” she called to the four men at the windlass.
“Slower!” said Perry. “Take it easy.”
Up and up went the great gas bag. A little breeze caught it, and it swayed to, and fro. Dian felt very small up there all alone with that huge thing billowing above her.
“Can you see David?” some one shouted.
“Not yet,” shouted Dian, “but I can see the Lural Az. Send me up higher!”
Soon almost all the rope was out, and Perry was glad; for then he could start pulling the balloon down. He was anxious to see Dian the Beautiful on terra firma again. Perhaps Perry had a premonition.
The terrible creatures crept closer and closer to Hodon and O-aa. They were men, naked black men with long, prehensile tails. Their brows protruded above small, close-set eyes; and there was practically no head above the brows. Short, stiff black hair grew straight out from their skulls; but their outstanding feature was a pair of tusks that curved down from the upper jaw to below the chin.
“I wish,” O-aa was saying, “that you would go away and leave me alone. I do not like you. If my brother—”
It was then that the creatures charged, roaring like beasts. With hands and tails, they seized Hodon and O-aa; and the two were helpless in their grasp. Chattering and jabbering among themselves they dragged their prisoners off into the forest.
Hodon tried to talk to them; but they did not understand him, nor could he understand them. They were very rough, slapping and cuffing their captives without provocation.
“Now we shall die,” said O-aa.
“What makes you think so?” asked Hodon. “If they had intended to kill us, they could have done so when they attacked us.”
“Do you not know what they are?” asked O-aa.
“No,” said Hodon. “I have never seen nor heard of such creatures before.”
“They are the sabertooth men,” she said. Of course she did not use the word saber. What she said was, roughly, the taragtooth men—the tarag being the sabertooth tiger. “They are man eaters,” she added for good measure.
“You mean they are taking us home to eat?” demanded Hodon.
“Exactly,” said O-aa.
“If you had come with me long ago, this would not have happened to you,” said Hodon.
“Oh, there are worse things than being eaten by a saber-tooth man,” rejoined O-aa.
“Maybe you are right,” agreed Hodon; “having to hear about your family, for instance.”
“My brother is a mighty fighter,” said O-aa. “He could break you in two, and my sister is very beautiful. You have no women in Sari so beautiful as my sister. She is almost as beautiful as I. My mother’s father was so strong that he could carry the carcass of a full grown bos on his back.”
“Now, I know you are lying,” said Hodon. “Why must you lie so much, and always about your family? I am not interested in your family. I am only interested in you.”
“My father is a king,” said O-aa.
“He can be a Sagoth, for all I care. I do not wish to mate with your father.”
“Now you will never mate with anybody,” said O-aa. “Instead, you will be eaten by a sabertooth man and his mate.”
“Maybe the same man will eat us both,” said Hodon, grinning. “Then we shall be truly mated.”
“If he does that to me I will give him a pain in his belly,” said O-aa.
“You do not like me very well,” said Hodon.
“You are very stupid, if you have only just discovered that,” replied O-aa.
“I do not understand why you don’t like me. I am not bad to look at. I would be kind to you, and I can certainly protect you.”
“This looks like it,” said O-aa.
Two of the sabertooth men each had his tail wrapped around the neck of one of the captives. Thus they, dragged them along, while other sabertooth men pushed, and slapped, and kicked their prisoners from the rear. The grotesque blacks kept jabbering. They reminded Hodon of the little hairy men who lived in the trees of the forests.
The cliff of Kali is the last rampart of a range of mountains that extended toward the northeast, parallel with the coast of the Lural Az. It was into these mountains that O-aa and Hodon were being dragged. The terrain became rougher as they ascended, the limestone formation giving way to volcanic rock. Extinct volcanos were visible on either hand. The vegetation was sparse and poor. It was a tough country.
Buffeted and bruised, the prisoners were dragged at last to a yawning hole in the side of a mountain. Inside it was dark as a pocket, but the sabertooth men did not even pause on the threshold. Still jabbering, they entered the cavern and raced along as though in broad daylight. Neither O-aa nor Hodon could see a thing. They felt the smooth surface of the rock beneath their sandals and they could tell that they were ascending. Presently the ascent became so steep that they would have fallen back had not their captors supported them. Up and up they went, dragged by their necks. In the grip of the choking tails they were gasping for breath.
At last the ascent became absolutely perpendicular and here were long lianas depending from above and there was daylight. Above them they could see a round opening into which the sun shone, and they could see that they were ascending a circular shaft. They did not know it, but they were in a volcanic tube.
The sabertooth men swarmed up the lianas, dragging O-aa and Hodon with them; and when they reached the top of the tube both their prisoners were unconscious. Then they released them, and the two lay as though dead where they had fallen.