Tarzan and the Ant-men

Chapter Eighteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

KALFASTOBAN turned immediately to a search of the various chambers of his quarters, but Caraftap laid a restraining hand upon his arm.

“Wait, Vental,” he begged. “If they be here would it not be best to insure their capture by fastening the doors leading from your quarters?”

“A good thought, Caraftap,” replied Kalfastoban, “and then we may take our time searching for them. Out of here, all you women!” he cried, waving the females back into Hamadalban’s quarters. A moment later the two doors leading from the chamber to Hamadalban’s quarters and the gallery were closed and locked.

“And now, master,” suggested Caraftap, “as there be two of them would it not be well to supply me with a weapon.”

Kalfastoban smote his chest. “A dozen such could Kalfastoban overcome alone,” he cried; “but for your own protection get you a sword from yonder room while I lock this proud she-cat in her cell again.”

As Kalfastoban followed Talaskar to the room in which she had been confined, Caraftap crossed to the door of the storeroom where the Vental had told him he would find a weapon.

The Vental reached the door of the room just behind the girl and reaching out caught her by the arm.

“Not so fast, my pretty!” he cried. “A kiss before you leave me; but fret not! The moment we are sure that those villainous slaves are not within these rooms I shall join you, so do not pine for your Kalfastoban.”

Talaskar wheeled and struck the Vental in the face. “Lay not your filthy hands upon me, beast!” she cried, and struggled to free herself from his grasp.

“So—hot a cat, indeed!” exclaimed the man, but he did not release her, and so they struggled until they disappeared from sight within the cell, and at the same moment Caraftap, the slave, laid his hand upon the latch of the storeroom door, and opening it stepped within.

As he did so steel fingers reached forth out of the darkness and closed upon his throat. He would have screamed in terror, but no sound could he force through his tight-closed throat. He struggled and struck at the thing that held him—a thing so powerful that he knew it could not be human, and then a low voice, cold and terrifying, whispered in his ear.

“Die, Caraftap!” it said. “Meet the fate that you deserve and that you well knew you deserved when you said that you dared not return to the quarters of the slaves of Zoanthrohago after betraying two of your number. Die, Caraftap! and know before you die that he whom you would have betrayed is your slayer. You searched for Zuanthrol and you have found him!” With the last word the terrible fingers closed upon the man’s neck. Spasmodically the slave struggled, fighting for air. Then the two hands that gripped him turned slowly in opposite directions and the head of the traitor was twisted from his body.

Throwing the corpse aside Tarzan sprang into the main chamber of the Vental’s quarters and ran quickly toward the door of Talaskar’s cell, Komodoflorensal but half a pace behind him. The door of the little room had been pushed to by the struggles of the couple within, and as Tarzan pushed it open he saw the girl in the clutches of the huge Vental, who, evidently maddened by her resistance, had lost his temper completely and was attempting to rain blows upon her face, which she sought to ward off, clutching at his arms and hands.

A heavy hand fell upon the shoulder of the Vental. “You seek us!” a low voice whispered in his ear. “Here we are!”

Kalfastoban released the girl and swung around, at the same time reaching for his sword. Facing him were the two slaves and both were armed, though only Aoponato had drawn his weapon. Zuanthrol, who held him, had not yet drawn.

“’A dozen such could Kalfastoban overcome alone,’” quoted Tarzan. “Here we are, braggart, and we are only two; but we cannot wait while you show us how mighty you be. We are sorry. Had you not molested this girl I should merely have locked you in your quarters, from which you would soon have been released; but your brutality deserves but one punishment—death.”

“Caraftap!” screamed Kalfastoban. No longer was he a blusterer, deep-toned and swaggering. His voice was shrill with terror and he shook in the hands of the ape-man. “Caraftap! Help!” he cried.

“Caraftap is dead,” said Tarzan. “He died because he betrayed his fellows. You shall die because you were brutal to a defenseless slave girl. Run him through, Komodoflorensall. We have not time to waste here.”

As the Trohanadalmakusian withdrew his sword from the heart of Kalfastoban Vental and the corpse slid to the floor of the cell Talaskar ran forward and fell at the feet of the ape-man.

“Zuanthrol and Aopontato!” she cried. “Never did I think to see you again. What has happened? Why are you here? You have saved me, but now you will be lost. Fly—I know not where to you may fly—but go from here! Do not let them find you here. I cannot understand why you are here, anyway.”

“We are trying to escape,” explained Komodoflorensal, “and Zuanthrol would not go without you. He searched the quarry for you and now the Royal Dome. He has performed the impossible, but he has found you.”

“Why did you do this for me?” asked Talaskar, looking wonderingly at Tarzan.

“Because you were kind to me when I was brought to the chamber of Zoanthrohago’s slaves,” replied the ape-man, “and because I promised that when the time for escape came we three should be together.”

He had lifted her to her feet and led her into the main chamber. Komodoflorensal stood a little aside, his eyes upon the floor. Tarzan glanced at him and an expression of puzzlement came into the eyes of the ape-man, but whatever thought had caused it he must have put quickly aside for the consideration of more pressing matters.

“Komodoflorensal, you know best what avenues of escape should be the least beset by the dangers of discovery. Whether to go by way of Haraadalban’s quarters or through the gallery they mentioned? These are questions I cannot answer to my own satisfaction; and look!” his eyes had been roving about the chamber, “there is an opening in the ceiling. Where might that lead?”

“It might lead almost anywhere, or nowhere at all!” replied the Trohanadalmakusian. “Many chambers have such openings. Sometimes they lead into small lofts that are not connected with any other chamber; again they lead into secret chambers, or even into corridors upon another level.”

There came a pounding upon the door leading into Hama-dalban’s quarters and a woman’s voice called aloud: “Kalfastoban, open!” she cried. “There has come an ental from the quarry guard in search of Caraftap. The sentry at the entrance to the quarters of the slaves of Zoanthrohago has been found slain and they wish to question Caraftap, believing that there is a conspiracy among the slaves.”

“We must go by the gallery,” whispered Komodofiorensal, stepping quickly to the door leading thereto.

As he reached it someone laid a hand upon the latch from the opposite side and attempted to open the door, which was locked.

“Kalfastoban!” cried a voice from the gallery beyond. “Let us in! The slaves went not this way. Come, open quickly!”

Tarzan of the Apes glanced quickly about. Upon his face was a half-snarl, for once again was he the cornered beast. He measured the distance from the floor to the trap in the ceiling, and then with a little run he sprang lightly upward. He had forgotten to what extent the reduction of his weight affected his agility. He had hoped to reach a handhold upon the upper edge of the opening, but instead he shot entirely through it, alighting upon his feet in a dark chamber. Turning he looked down at his friends below. Consternation was writ large upon the countenance of each; but at that he could not wonder. He was almost as much surprised himself.

“Is it too far for you to jump?” he asked.

“Too far!” they replied.

He swung, then, head downward through the opening, catching the edge of the trap in the hollow of his knees. At the gallery door the knocking was becoming insistent and now at that leading into the quarters of Hamadalban a man’s voice had supplanted that of the woman. The fellow was demanding entrance, angrily.

“Open!” he shouted. “In the name of the king, open!”

“Open yourself!” shouted the fellow who had been hammering at the opposite door, thinking that the demand to open came from the interior of the chamber to which he sought admission.

“How can I open?” screamed back the other. “The door is locked upon your side!”

“It is not locked upon my side. It is locked upon yours,” cried the other, angrily.

“You lie!” shouted he who sought entrance from Hamadal-ban’s quarters, “and you will pay well when this is reported to the king.”

Tarzan swung, head downward, into the chamber, his hands extended toward his companions. “Lift Talaskar to me,” he directed Komodolflorensal, and as the other did so he grasped the girl’s wrists and raised her as far as he could until she could seize upon a part of his leather harness and support herself alone without falling. Then he took another hold upon her, lower down, and lifted still higher, and in this way she mananged to clamber into the chamber above.

The angry warriors at the two doors were now evidently engaged in an attempt to batter their way into the chamber. Heavy blows were falling upon the substantial panels that threatened to splinter them at any moment.

“Fill your pouch with candles, Komodoflorensal,” said Tarzan, “and then jump for my hands.”

“I took all the candles I could carry while we were in the storeroom,” replied the other. “Brace yourself I I am going to jump.”

A panel splintered and bits of wood flew to the center of the floor from the door at the gallery just as Tarzan seized the outstretched hands of Komodoflorensal and an instant later, as both men kneeled in the darkness of the loft and looked down into the chamber below the opposite door flew open and the ten warriors who composed the ental burst in at the heels of their Vental.

For an instant they looked about in blank surprise and then their attention was attracted by the pounding upon the other door. A smile crossed the face of the Vental as he stepped quickly to the gallery door and unlocked it. Angry warriors rushed in upon him, but when he had explained the misapprehension under which both parties had been striving for entrance to the chamber they all joined in the laughter, albeit a trifle shamefacedly.

“But who was in here?” demanded the Vental who had brought the soldiers from the quarry.

“Kalfastoban and the green slave Caraftap,” proffered a woman belonging to Hamadalban.

“They must be hiding!” said a warrior.

“Search the quarters!” commanded the Vental.

“It will not take long to find one,” said another warrior, pointing at the floor just inside the storeroom doorway.

The others looked and there they saw a human hand resting upon the floor. The fingers seemed frozen into the semblance of clutching claws. Mutely they proclaimed death. One of the warriors stepped quickly to the storeroom, opened the door and dragged forth the body of Caraftap, to which the head was clinging by a shred of flesh. Even the warriors stepped back, aghast. They looked quickly around the chamber.

“Both doors were barred upon the inside,” said the Vental. “Whatever did this must still be here.”

“It could have been nothing human,” whispered a woman who had followed them from the adjoining quarters.

“Search carefully,” said the Vental, and as he was a brave man, he went first into one chamber and then another. In the first one they found Kalfastoban, run through the heart.

“It is time we got out of here if there is any way out,” whispered Tarzan to Komodoflorensal. “One of them will espy this hole directly.”

Very cautiously the two men felt their way in opposite direction around the walls of the dark, stuffy loft. Deep dust the dust of ages, rose about them, chokingly, evidencing the fact that the room had not been used for years, perhaps for ages. Presently Komodoflorensal heard a “H-s-s-t!” from the ape-man who called them to him. “Come here, both of you. I have found something.”

“What have you found?” asked Talaskar, coming close.

“An opening near the bottom of the wall,” replied Tarzan. “It is large enough for a man to crawl through. Think you, Komodoflorensal, that it would be safe to light a candle?”

“No, not now,” replied the prince.

“I will go without it then,” announced the ape-man, “for we must see where this runnel leads, if anywhere.”

He dropped upon his hands and knees, then, and Talaskar, who had been standing next him, felt him move away. She could not see him—it was too dark in the gloomy loft.

The two waited, but Zuanthrol did not return. They heard voices in the room below. They wondered if the searchers would soon investigate the loft but really there was no need for apprehension. The searchers had determined to invest the place—it would be safer than crawling into that dark hole after an unknown thing that could tear the head from a man’s body. When it came down, as come down it would have to, they would be prepared to destroy or capture it; but in the meantime they were content to wait.

“What has become of him?” whispered Talaskar, anxiously.

“You care very much for him, do you not?” asked Komodoflorensal.

“Why should I not?” asked the girl. “You do, too, do you no!”

“Yes,” replied Komodoflorensal.

“He is very wonderful,” said the girl.

“Yes,” said Komodoflorensal.

As though in answer to their wish they heard a low whistle from the depths of the tunnel into which Tarzan had crawled. “Come!” whispered the ape-man.

Talaskar first, they followed him, crawling upon hands and knees through a winding tunnel, feeling their way through the darkness, until at last a light flared before them and they saw Zuanthrol lighting a candle in a small chamber, that was only just high enough to permit a tall man to sit erect within it.

“I got this far,” he said to them, “and as it offered a fair hiding place where we might have light without fear of discovery I came back after you. Here we can stop a while in comparative comfort and safety until I can explore the tunnel further. From what I have been able to judge it has never been used during the lifetime of any living Veltopismakusian, so there is little likelihood that anyone will think of looking here for us.”

“Do you think they will follow us?” asked Talaskar.

“I think they will,” replied Komodoflorensal, “and as we cannot go back it will be better if we push on at once, as it is reasonable to assume that the opposite end of this tunnel opens into another chamber. Possibly there we shall find an avenue of escape.”

“You are right, Komodoflorensal,” agreed Tarzan. “Nothing can be gained by remaining here. I will go ahead. Let Talaskar follow me, and you bring up the rear. If the place proves a blind alley we shall be no worse off for having investigated it.”

Lighting their way this time with candles the three crawled laboriously and painfully over the uneven, rock floor of the tunnel, which turned often, this way and that, as though passing around chambers, until, to their relief, the passageway abruptly enlarged, both in width and height, so that now they could proceed in an erect position. The tunnel now dropped in a steep declivity to a lower level and a moment later the three emerged into a small chamber, where Talaskar suddenly placed a hand upon Tarzan’s arm, with a little intaking of her breath in a half gasp.

“What is that, Zuanthrol!” she whispered, pointing into the darkness ahead.

Upon the floor at one side of the room a crouching figure was barely discernible close to the wall.

“And that!” exclaimed the girl, pointing to another portion of the room.

The ape-man shook her band from his arm and stepped quickly forward, his candle held high in his left hand, his right upon his sword. He came close to the crouching figure and bent to examine it He laid his hand upon it and it fell into a heap of dust.

“What is it?” demanded the girl.

“It was a man,” replied Tarzan; “but it has been dead many years. It was chained to this wall. Even the chain has rusted away.”

“And the other, too?” asked Talaskar.

“There are several of them,” said Komodoflorensal. “See? There and there.”

“At least they cannot detain us,” said Tarzan, and moved on again across the chamber toward a doorway on the opposite side.

“But they tell us something, possibly,” ventured Komodoflorensal.

“What do they say?” asked the ape-man.

“That this corridor connected with the quarters of a very powerful Vetlopismakusian,” replied the prince. “So powerful was he that he might dispose of his enemies thus, without question; and it also tells us that all this happened long years ago.”

“The condition of the bodies told us that,” said Tarzan.

“Not entirely,” replied KomodoflorensaL “The ants would have reduced them to that state in a short time. In past ages the dead were left within the domes, and the ants, who were then our scavengers, soon disposed of them, but the ants sometimes attacked the living. They grew from a nuisance to a menace, and then every precaution had to be taken to keep from attracting them. Also we fought them. There were great battles waged in Trohanadalmakus between the Minunians and the ants and thousands of our warriors were devoured alive, and though we slew billions of ants their queens could propagate faster than we could kill the sexless workers who attacked us with their soldiers. But at last we turned our attention to their nests. Here the carnage was terrific, but we succeeded in slaying their queens and since then no ants have come into our domes. They live about us, but they fear us. However, we do not risk attracting them again by leaving our dead within the domes.”

“Then you believe that this corridor leads to the quarters of some great noble?” inquired Tarzan.

“I believe that it once did. The ages bring change. Its end may now be walled up. The chamber to which it leads may have housed a king’s son when these bones were quick; today it may be a barrack-room for soldiers, or a stable for diadets. About all that we know definitely about it,” concluded Komo-doflorensal, “is that it has not been used by man for a long time, and probably, therefore, is unknown to present-day Veltopismakusians.”

Beyond the chamber of death the tunnel dropped rapidly to lower levels, entering, at last, a third chamber larger than either of the others. Upon the floor lay the bodies of many men.

“These were not chained to the walls,” remarked Tarzan.

“No, they died fighting, as one may see by their naked swords and the position of their bones.”

As the three paused a moment to look about the chamber there fell upon their ears the sound of a human voice.

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