“We can try,” replied the girl. “Had we remained in your land we should surely have been killed, either by the savages of which you told me, by the wild beasts, or by your own people. If we must die, it is better to die trying to reach safety than to have remained where there never could be safety for us.”
“I sometimes wish,” said Gamba, “that you had never come to Lolo-lolo.”
“You don’t wish it any more than I,” replied the girl.
“We were getting along very well without a Noada,” continued the man, “and then you had to come and upset everything.”
“Things should have been upset,” said Dian “You and Hor were robbing the people. Pretty soon they would have risen and killed you both, which would have been a good thing for Lolo-lolo.”
“I might not have gotten into all this trouble,” said Gamba, “if I hadn’t fallen in love with you. Hor knew it; and he made that an excuse to turn the people against me.”
“You had no business falling in love with me. I already have a mate.”
“He is a long way off,” said Gamba, “and you will never see him again. If you had come to my house and been my wife before all this happened, you and I could have ruled Lolo-lolo as long as we lived. For a bright girl it seems to me that you are very stupid.”
“You were stupid to fall in love with me,” said Dian, “but in a moment it may not make any difference one way or another—look what is coming,” and she pointed.
“Pu be merciful!” cried the man. “This is the end. I told you that we should not come out upon this water which stands on end and is filled with death.”
A great head upon a slender neck rose ten feet above the surface of the sea. Cold, reptilian eyes glared at them, and jaws armed with countless teeth gaped to seize them. The creature moved slowly towards them as though knowing that they could not escape, the water rippling along its glossy sides.
“Your bow and arrow!” cried Dian. “Put an arrow into its body at the waterline, and bend your bow as you have never bent it before. When it comes closer we will use our swords.”
Gamba stood up in the canoe and drew a three-foot arrow back to its very tip; and when he released it, it drove true to its mark; burying two-thirds of its length into the saurian’s body at the waterline. Screaming with pain and hissing with rage, the creature seized the end of the shaft and jerked it from the wound; and with it came a stream of blood spurting out and crimsoning the surface of the water. Then, still hissing and screaming, it bore down upon the two relatively puny humans in the frail canoe. Dian was standing now, her bronze sword grasped tightly in one hand, her bronze knife in the other. Gamba drove another arrow into the reptile’s breast; and then dropped his bow into the bottom of the canoe and seized his sword.
Now, as though by magic, hundreds of small fishes, about a foot long, attracted by the blood of the saurian, were attacking the maddened creature, which paused to wrench the second shaft from its breast. Ignoring the voracious, sharp-fanged fishes which were tearing it to pieces, it came on again to attack the authors of its first hurts. With arched neck it bore down upon them; and as it struck to seize Dian, she met it with her bronze sword; striking at the long neck and inflicting a terrible wound, which caused the creature to recoil. But it came on again, raising a flipper with which it could easily have overturned or swamped the frail craft.
Gamba, realizing the danger, struck a terrific blow at the flipper while it was still poised above the gunwale of the canoe; and so much strength did he put into it that he severed the member entirely; and simultaneously Dian struck again at the neck. The great head flopped sideways, and with a final convulsive struggle the saurian rolled over on its side.
“You see,” said Dian, “that there is still hope that we may reach the other shore. There are few creatures in any sea more terrible than the one which we have killed.”
“I wouldn’t have given one piece of bronze for our chances,” said Gamba.
“They didn’t look very bright,” admitted Dian, “but I have been in much worse dangers than that before; and I have always come through all right. You see, I did not live in a walled city as you have all your life; and my people were always open to the attacks of wild beasts, and the men of enemy tribes.”
They had taken up their paddles again, but now they were out where the full strength of the current gripped them; and they were moving far more rapidly down the strait than they were across it. Because of the current it was hard to keep the bow of the canoe pointed in the right direction. It was a constant and exhausting struggle. They were still in sight of the shoreline they had left, though the distant shore was not yet visible.
“We’re not making very much progress in the right direction,” said Dian.
“I am very tired,” said Gamba. “I do not believe that I can paddle much longer.”
“I am about exhausted myself,” said the girl. “Perhaps we had better let the current carry us along. There is only one place that it can take us and that is into the Korsar Az. There, there will be no strong current and we can come to shore. As a matter of fact, I believe that we can get much closer to Sari along that coast than we would have been if we had been able to paddle directly across the strait.” So Dian the Beautiful and Gamba the Xexot drifted along the nameless strait toward the Korsar Az.
Borne along by a gentle wind, David Innes drifted down across the Land of Awful Shadow toward the end of the world and the nameless strait, in the balloon which Abner Perry had named the Dinosaur II. He knew that his was an almost hopeless venture, with the chances of his balloon coming down near the exact spot where Dian had landed almost nil; and even if it did, where was he to look for her?
Where would she be, in a strange land, entirely unknown to her, provided that she was still alive, which seemed beyond reason; for, supplied with warm coverings as he was, and provided with food and water, he had already suffered considerably from the cold; and he knew that Dian had been without food, or water, or covering of any kind, other than her scant loincloth, at the time that her balloon had broken away.
Yet somehow he thought that she was not dead. It did not seem possible to him that that beautiful creature, so full of life and vigor, could be lying somewhere cold and still, or that her body had been devoured by wild beasts. And so he clung to hope with an almost fanatic zeal.
At last he came to the nameless strait, across which he had never been. He saw the waters of it below him, and far to his right two figures in a canoe. He wondered idly who they might be and where they might be going upon those lonely, danger-ridden waters; and then he forgot them and strained his eyes ahead in search of the farther shore, where, if at all, he felt sure that he might find his mate.
His balloon was floating at an altitude of only about a thousand feet when he approached the opposite side of the strait. His attention was attracted by two things. On the beach below him lay the wreck of a dismasted ship, which he recognized immediately; for he and Perry had designed her and superintended her building. He recognized her, and he knew that she was the Sari.
The other thing that had attracted his attention was a walled city, not far from the shore of the nameless strait. He knew that O-aa had been aboard the Sari when she had been abandoned by her crew; and he realized that perhaps O-aa had been captured by the people who lived in that city.
The presence of a walled city in Pellucidar was sufficiently amazing to arouse many conjectures in his mind. In a walled city there might live a semi-civilized people who would have befriended O-aa; and if Dian had landed near it, she might be in the city, too; or the people might have heard something about her, for a balloon would certainly have aroused their interest and their curiosity.
Now he saw that his balloon had accomplished that very thing; for people were running from the city gates, staring up at him, and calling to him. They might be cursing and threatening him, for all he knew; but he decided to come down, for here were people, and where there would be rumors; and even the faintest rumor might lead him upon the right track. So he pulled the ripcord, and the Dinosaur II settled slowly towards Tanga-tanga.
As the basket of the balloon touched the ground David Innes found himself surrounded by yellow-skinned warriors, wearing leather aprons painted with gay designs, that fell from their waists both before and behind. On their heads were leather helmets; and they carried swords and knives of bronze, as well as bows and arrows.
Some of the warriors shouted, “It is Pu. He has come to visit our Noada.”
“It is not Pu,” cried others. “He comes in the same thing that brought the false Noada of Lolo-lolo.”
David Innes understood the words, but not the purport of them; only that the reference to the false Noada who had come in a balloon convinced him that Dian the Beautiful had been here. He did not know who Pu might be, but he saw that they were divided among themselves as to his identity; and he also saw that no weapon was drawn against him.
“I have come down out of the sky,” he said, “to visit your chief. Take me to him.”
To many of the men of Tanga-tanga this sounded as though Pu spoke; and many who had said that it was not Pu wavered in their convictions.
“Go to the house of Furp, the go-sha,” said one who was evidently an officer to a warrior, “and tell him that we are bringing a stranger to the temple to visit him and our Noada. If he is indeed Pu, our Noada will recognize him.”
The gas bag, partially deflated, still billowed limply above the basket; and when David Innes stepped out and relieved it of his weight the balloon rose slowly and majestically into the air and floated away inland across the city of Tanga-tanga.
When David stood among them, those who thought that he was Pu, the god, fell upon their knees and covered their eyes with their hands. David looked at them in astonishment for a moment and then he quite suddenly realized that they must believe him a deity coming down from heaven; and that the name of this deity was Pu; and he thought to himself, what would a god do under like circumstances? He hazarded a guess, and he guessed right.
“Arise,” he said. “Now escort me to the temple,” for he recalled that the officer had said that that was where they were taking him. The officer’s reference to “our Noada” and to “Furp, the go-sha,” meant little or nothing to him; but he decided to maintain a godly silence on the subject until he did know.
They led him through the city gate and along narrow, crooked streets flanked by mean little houses of clay. Here he saw women and children, the women wearing painted leather aprons like the men and having headdresses of feathers, while the children were naked. He noted with some measure of astonishment the bronze weapons and ornaments, and realized that these people had advanced into the age of bronze. Their walled city, their painted aprons, craftsmanship displayed in their weapons and ornaments, suggested that if the inner world were closely following the stages of human development upon the outer crust, these people might soon be entering the iron age.
To David Innes, if his mind had not been solely devoted to the finding of his mate, these people might have presented an interesting study in anthropology; but he thought of them now only as a means to an end.
They had seen Dian’s balloon. Had they seen her? Did they know what had become of her?