Land of Terror

Chapter Twenty-One

Edgar Rice Burroughs

AS THE WARRIOR ant was about to seize U-Val, he struck at it with his stone knife severing one of its antennae; and at the same instant I leaped upon it from the side, driving my knife into its abdomen. Instantly, it turned upon me, trying to seize me in its mandibles; and U-Val struck again, piercing one of its eyes, while I drove my knife home several times in quick succession. The creature rolled over upon its side, writhing and floundering; and we had to beat a hasty retreat to escape the menace of its powerful legs.

The other warrior ant approached its fellow and felt of it; then it backed away, apparently confused; but in some way it must have communicated with the other ants in the room for immediately they became very excited, running hither and thither but finally converging upon us in a body.

They were a menacing sight. Their utter silence, their horrible blank, expressionless faces carried a sinister menace that is indescribable.

The creatures were almost upon us when there was an interruption from above. Rocks and debris commenced to fall into the chamber from the ceiling; and, glancing up, I saw that something was tearing at the opening and enlarging it rapidly. One of the honey-pots fell to the floor and burst. A long, furry nose was thrust through the opening in the ceiling, and a slender tongue reached down into the chamber, licking up the ants, as more of the ceiling fell in to add further to the confusion which suddenly seized them. They seemed to forget us entirely; and immediately there was a scramble for the opening leading into the tunnel. The ants crawled over one another and jammed the entrance in panic; and constantly the great tongue licked them up, and more of the ceiling fell in.

U-Val and I ran and crouched close against the wall at the far side of the chamber in an effort to escape the falling boulders, while above us the beast tore away with powerful claws as it sought to enlarge the opening.

The long, powerful tongue sought out every comer of the room. Twice it passed over our bodies; but each time it discarded us as it sought for more ants. When there were no more left, the tongue and the head were withdrawn from the great hole that the creature had made in the top of the ant-hill.

The chamber was filled with debris that reached to the edge of the great rent in the ceiling. It formed an avenue of escape; and there was not an ant in sight.

“Come,” I said to U-Val, “let’s get out of here before the ants recover from their confusion.”

Together we scrambled up the pile of rubble; and when we stood again in the open there was not an ant in sight; but there was a colossal ant bear, as large as an elephant, digging at another part of the hill. In appearance the creature was almost identical with the South American ant bear because of the enormous ants upon which it fed.

Perry and I had often speculated upon the amazing similarity between many of the animals of Pellucidar and of the outer crust; and Perry had formulated a theory to explain this which I believe is based on quite sound reasoning.

It has been quite clearly demonstrated that at some time in the past, tropical conditions existed at what are now the Arctic regions; and it is Perry’s belief that at this time animals passed freely through the polar opening from the outer crust to the inner world; but be that as it may there was a great ant bear, and to it we owed our lives.

Animated by a common impulse, U-Val and I hastened away from the ant hills and down toward the ocean; and I may say that I never left any place before with a greater sense of relief, not even the village of Meeza, King of the Jukans.

At the edge of the surf, U-Val stopped and gazed out across the ocean, shading his eyes with his hand as he strained them into the distance.

As I followed his gaze I was suddenly struck with a change in the seascape since last I had seen it.

“’That is strange,” I said.

“What?” demanded U-Val.

“The last time I looked out across this water, there were islands out there. I saw them distinctly. I could not have been mistaken.”

“You were not mistaken,” said U-Val. “They were The Floating Islands, of which Ruva is one.”

“And now you will never see your own country again,” I said. “That is too bad.”

“Of course I shall see it again,” said U-Val, “that is, if I am not killed as I am going to it.”

“But even if you had a boat, how would you know in what direction to go?” I asked.

“I will always know where Ruva lies, no matter where it is. I do not know how. I simply know.” He pointed. “Beyond the range of our vision it lies directly there.”

Now here was a new phase of that amazing homing instinct which is inherent to all Pellucidarians. Here was a man whose country floated around aimlessly, possibly, upon a great ocean, at the mercy of tide and current and wind; yet no matter where it might be U-Val, given means of transportation, could go directly to it, or at least so he thought. I wondered if it were true.

The point on the coast at which U-Vat had left his canoe was in the direction that I had intended going; so I went with him to look for it.

“If it is not there,” he said. “I shall have to build another; and while I am doing it, Ruva will have drifted much farther. I hope that I shall find my boat.”

Find it he did, where he had hidden it among some tall reeds in a tiny inlet.

U-Val said that he had to make a number of spears before attempting the long journey in search of Ruva. He said that he should probably be attacked many times by sea monsters during the trip; and the only weapon that he could use against them with any degree of success was long spear.

“We shall have to have many of them,” he said.

“‘We’?” I repeated. “I am not going with you.” He looked astonished. “You are not?” he demanded. “But where will you go? You have told me that you don’t know how to find your way to your own country. You had much better come with me.” “No,” I said. “I know that Sari does not lie out in the middle of an ocean and that if I went there I should never find it; whereas, if I stick to the seashore, I may eventually come to it, if this is, as I think, the ocean near which it lies.” “It is not as I had planned,” he said; and I thought that his tone was a little sullen.

“I’ll stay with you until you shove off,” I told him, “for I have to make more weapons for myself—a short spear, a bow, and some arrows.”

He asked me what bow-and-arrows were, as he had never heard of them. He thought that they might be handy and in some ways better than a spear.

Once again I set to work making weapons. It may seem to you that I had very bad luck with my weapons, constantly losing them as I did; but making them entailed very little work as they were most crudely done. However, they had always answered my purpose; and, after all, that is the only thing that matters.

U-Val kept reverting to the subject of my accompanying him. He seemed absolutely set upon it and was continually trying to persuade me to change my mind.

I couldn’t understand why he was so insistent for he had never given the slightest indication of harboring any affection for me. Accident had thrown us, two alien people, together; and about the most that one might say about it was that we were not unfriendly.

U-Val was a fine-looking chap; and in the bright sunlight he was a deep black with a copper glint. His features were quite regular; and he was, all in all, quite handsome. The first man-like creatures I had seen on Pellucidar, when Perry and I first broke through the crust from the outer world, were black men; but they were arboreal creatures with long tails, and low in the scale of human evolution. U-Val, however, was of an entirely different type and, I should say, fully as intelligent as any of the white race of Pellucidar that I had seen.

After I had finished my weapons, I helped him with the making of his spears as I had promised to stay with him until he sailed. At last, the weapons were completed and the boat stocked with water and food. The former he carried in sections cut from large, bamboo-like plants, which, he maintained, would keep the water fresh indefinitely. His food supply consisted of tubers and nuts, a diet that would be varied by the addition of such fish as he might be able to spear enroute.

When all was ready, he suggested that we sleep before separating so that we might both be fresh for the start of our journeys.

Just before I awoke, I dreamed of Dian. She had taken both my hands in hers; and then, in one of those weird transformations which occur in dreams, she suddenly became a Hartford, Connecticut policeman, fettering my hands behind me with handcuffs. Just as the lock snapped, I awoke.

I was lying on my side, and U-Val was standing over me. It was a moment before I gathered my wits, and when I did I found that in fact my hands were bound behind my back.

At first I couldn’t realize what had happened to me. The recollection of the dream still clung persistently in my mind. But what was U-Val doing in it? He didn’t belong in the same picture with a cop from Hartford, Connecticut—and where was the cop? Where was Dian?

Presently my brain cleared, and I realized that I was still alone with U-Val; and that it must have been he who had bound my hands behind my back. But why?

“U-Val,” I demanded; “what’s the meaning of this?”

“It means that you are going to Ruva with me,” he replied.

“But I don’t want to go to Ruva.” “That’s the reason I bound your hands. Now you’ll have to go. You can’t do anything about it.” “But why do you want me to come with you?” U-Val thought for a moment before he answered; then he said, “Well, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t know, because there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m taking you back to Ruva as my slave.” “Where I come from,” I said, ‘’you’d almost qualify as a rat. “ “What’s a rat?” he asked. I had used the English word, which, of course, he did not understand.

“You are—almost. A rat has some redeeming qualities; I suppose; though I don’t know just what they are. You have none. You accepted my friendship. Together we suffered imprisonment and faced death. Together we fought against a common enemy for our freedom. Together we escaped. And now you bind me in my sleep, planning to take me back to your country as your slave.”

“What’s wrong with that?” he demanded. “You are not a Ruvan; therefore, we are enemies. You should be glad that I didn’t kill you while you slept. I let you live because a man with slaves is an important man in Ruva. Now that I have a slave I shall be able to get a mate. No woman of Ruva, who is worth having, will mate with a man who has no slaves. It takes a brave man and a fine warrior to capture a slave.”

“The way you did?”

“I do not have to tell them how I got you,” he said.

“But I can tell them,” I reminded him.

“You won’t, though,” he said.

“And why?”

“Because a man may kill a bad slave.” “My hands will not always be bound behind my back,” I said.

“Nevertheless, with my friends, I can kill you, if you tell this about me.”

“I shall tell no lies.”

“You had better tell nothing. Come! We’ll be going. Get up!” He gave me a kick in the ribs. I was furious, but helpless.

It is not easy to get up when your hands are bound behind your back, but with the aid of head, shoulder, and elbow I finally got to one knee and then to my feet.

U-Val pushed me, none too gently, toward his canoe.

“Get in,” he commanded. I sat down in the bow. U-Val cast off, and took his place in the stern. With his great paddle he headed the frail craft out of the inlet toward the open sea; and thus commenced a journey on an uncharted ocean in a frail craft, without sextant or compass, toward a destination that was constantly shifting its position.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-Two

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