At the sight of the guards strewn about the floor, Vik-vik-vik became violent and abusive. “The lazy beasts!” cried the jong, and went up and kicked one of them. It was then that they discovered that the guards were dead.
“They are all dead!” said one of the creatures. “Who could have killed them?”
“Never mind that now,” said Vik-vik-vik; “I’ll find out later. First, I want to get the woman I came for. Come, Ata-voo-med-ro! Where is the antidote? We’ll have her back to life and take her to the banquet. She’s going to live in the palace with Vik-vik-vik. Other jongs have a vadjong; why shouldn’t I?”
“You should!” cried some sycophant.
Vik-vik-vik and Ata-voo-med-ro searched the wall where Duare should have been. “She’s gone!” exclaimed the latter.
The jong looked at me and demanded, “Where is she, creature?”
“How should I know?” I replied. “She has been gone a long time.”
“How did she get away? Who took her?” demanded Vik-vik-vik.
“I do not know,” I replied. “I had been asleep; when I awoke, she was gone.”
Vik-vik-vik turned to the guests. “Search for her! Search the whole city! Hurry!” Then it said to Ata-voo-med-ro, “Summon all those who were on guard here today,” and Ata-voo-med-ro scampered out after the others.
The jong looked at Ero Shan. “Did you see her go?”
“Yes,” replied Ero Shan.
“Who took her?”
“What man?” demanded the jong.
“Well it wasn’t anyone you know, for the only men in Voo-ad are hanging on these walls.”
“What was it, then?”
“I never saw him before, “ said Ero Shan; “he had wings like an angan, but he was not an angan; he was a man—a human man. He flew in and looked at the guards, and they all fell dead; then he cut the woman down and flew away with her. He said that he was coming back to look at you and all the rest of the Vooyorgans; so pretty soon you will all be dead—unless you liberate all the human beings in here. That is what he said.”
“Nonsense!” said Vik-vik-vik; “you are lying to me,” but he looked worried.
Just then I heard the b-r-r-r of an r-ray pistol from the direction of the plaza, and there were screams and shouts mingled with it.
“What was that?” demanded the jong.
“It sounds like the man who came for the woman,” said Ero Shan. “When he thought, his brain made a noise like that. I guess that is what killed the guards.”
Vik-vik-vik left then, and he left on the run—probably for his palace.
“That was Duare!” I said to Ero Shan. “They caught her; she didn’t have time enough.”
“They haven’t got her yet,” said Ero Shan, as the humming of the pistol came to our ears again, mingled with the shouts and screams of the Vooyorgans.
“The whole population of the city must be out there, from the noise they’re making. I wonder if Duare can fight them all off. “
“They’re not very keen on fighting, I should say,” replied Ero Shan. “I think she has an excellent chance, if they don’t succeed in damaging the anotar.”
“Or if Vik-yor doesn’t turn yellow.”
“He couldn’t be any yellower.”
The noise in the plaza continued for some time, punctuated by occasional bursts of r-ray fire. When I heard these, I knew that Duare still lived and that they hadn’t recaptured her yet; but between bursts I was nearly frantic with apprehension.
After a while the noise died down; there was no more shouting and the r-rays ceased to hum. What had happened? What had been the outcome of Duare’s courageous attempt to escape? Had they recaptured her? Had they killed her? Had she really gotten away? Was I ever to know the answer to even one of these questions?
Ero Shan spoke to me, breaking the thread of my lugubrious reverie. “Perhaps we should never have let her go,” he said.
“I am glad she went,” I replied. “I would rather that she were dead than eternally condemned to this hideous existence.”
“And of course,” suggested Ero Shan, taking a brighter view of the situation, “there is always the chance that she may succeed; and that some day your friend Taman, jong of Korva, may march on Voo-ad and release us.”
“But suppose,” I countered, still prone to look upon the dark side because of my fear and sorrow concerning Duare; “suppose that Taman does come; will we be much better off? We shall still be paralyzed.”
“Oh, come!” exclaimed Ero Shan; “don’t be so gloomy. When Taman takes Voo-ad, he can force the jong to furnish him with the antidote.”
“You speak as though it were already an accomplished fact,” I said, smiling. “That is the way we should feel. I am sorry that I have been so depressed; I’ll buck up from now on. By the way, what was the purpose of that cock-and-bull story you told Vik-vik-vik—about the man who flew in and flew away with Duare?”
Ero Shan laughed. “If you can put fear into the hearts of your enemies, you already have an advantage over them—especially if it is fear of the supernatural; that is something they can’t combat. Killing you doesn’t help any; they feel that it will only increase their danger. Then, too, I wanted to disabuse his mind of any suspicion he may have had that you or I were in any way responsible. Had he believed that, the reasonable thing for him to have done would have been to have had us destroyed, lest we free ourselves and the others.”
I scarcely slept all that night, wondering about Duare. I tried to question the new guards when they came on duty; but they just told me to shut up, and they kept as far away from Ero Shan and me as they could after they had removed the dead bodies of their fellows.
Long day after long day dragged slowly by, and still we heard no faintest word concerning Duare. The guards would not talk to us, neither would those who came to see the exhibits; it was evident that they had received orders, undoubtedly from the jong.
Had Duare escaped? If she had, she was off somewhere alone with Vik-yor. That thought added nothing to my peace of mind. I killed Vik-yor in some dozens of different and most satisfying ways during those long hours. I also killed Ata-voo-med-ro and Vik-vik-vik, nor did I stop there; I indulged in a perfect orgy of murder—the vain, wishful imaginings of impotency. However, it was very pleasurable imagining; and there are few pleasures in which one may indulge while hanging against a wall, dead from the neck down.