Escape on Venus

Chapter XXXIX

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE THARBAN might be described as the Amtorian lion, although it does not bear much resemblance to Felis leo except that it is a ferocious carnivore. It is much larger; its tawny coat is striped lengthwise with dark brown markings; its enormous jaws, splitting half the length of its head, are armed with sixteen or eighteen fangs and its feet are equipped with three heavily taloned toes; it has a black mane, much like that of a horse; long, pointed ears, and the tail of a lion. It also has a most abominable disposition and an insatiable appetite.

For Duare, the situation was not overly auspicious. Though there were trees all around her, she could not possibly climb to safety before the creature could overhaul her.

“Shoot it!” she called to Vik-yor.

The Vooyorgan drew the pistol; but his hand shook so that he could not aim, and the r-rays buzzed futilely in many directions other than the right one.

“Look out!” cried Duare; “you’ll hit me!”

The tharban appeared to be enjoying the situation, for it continued to creep slowly upon the prey which it knew could not escape.

“Throw the pistol down to me!” cried Duare.

“No!” shouted Vik-yor; “I won’t give it to you—I told you I wouldn’t.”

“Fool!” screamed Duare. She faced the terrible creature with only a sword—a tin whistle would have been almost equally as effective. She was about to die, and Carson would never know. He would hang there on that wall until death released him, the longevity serum with which he had been inoculated in Vepaja, a curse rather than a blessing.

Suddenly the tharban halted in its tracks and voiced a thunderous roar; the very ground seemed to tremble to it. Duare realized that the creature was looking at something beyond and behind her, and she cast a quick glance in that direction. The sight that met her eyes appalled her. Slinking upon her from behind was a creature as large and as terrible as the tharban. Its body closely resembled that of a Bengal tiger; in the center of its forehead was a single eye on a short antenna; from the shoulders, just anterior to the forelegs, grew two enormous chelae; and its jaws were terribly armed as those of the tharban.

This creature, Duare knew well; for they haunt the forests of Vepaja from the ground to the highest branches where life may be found, and they prey upon all forms of life. By the advent of this terrible beast, Duare’s situation was altered only to the extent of the probability of which one reached her first; and they were about equidistant from her.

Answering the tharban’s roar, came the scream of the tongzan. Now the tharban charged, fearing its prey would be stolen by the other. The same fear must have motivated the tongzan simultaneously, for it charged, too. And Duare, between these two engines of destruction, seemed about to be torn to shreds. Vik-yor, safe in a tree, watched the events unfolding beneath it with thoughts only of itself. With Duare dead, it could no longer travel in the anotar; it would be earthbound, prey to some hideous creature such as those two which were about to rend and devour Duare. Vik-yor felt very sorry for itself, and cursed the hour that it had looked upon a woman or thought that it might emulate a man.

As the two beasts rushed for her, Duare threw herself to the ground; and the creatures met above her. She felt their pads and talons upon her body; their roars and screams resounded in her ears as they battled above her. Presently one of them gave back a few feet, uncovering her; and then Duare rolled cautiously aside. Now she could see them; so engrossed were they in their duel that they paid no attention to her. The tongzan had already lost its single eye and most of its face; but it held to the tharban with one mighty chela, drawing it closer to those terrible jaws and cutting and rending it with its other chela.

Duare moved cautiously to a near-by tree and clambered to safety; she had been careful to select a small tree, lest the tongzan’s mate should come, for they cannot climb a tree of small diameter. From the safety of her sanctuary, she watched the bloody duel below. The tharban had inflicted hideous punishment on the tongzan, which was literally torn to ribbons from its muzzle back to its shoulders, nor was the tharban in much better shape. It, too, was torn and bleeding; and one foot had been completely severed by a giant chela, which was now groping for its throat while its mate held the huge tharban in a viselike, unbreakable grip.

The blinded tongzan screamed continually, and the tharban roared; the forest reverberated to the hideous din. Vik-yor still clung to its tree, shaking from terror. Duare, in an adjoining tree, viewed it with contempt—the thing that aspired to be a man. She glanced down at the battling carnivores; the tongzan was clawing the tharban to ribbons with the talons of both its powerful front feet, and the blindly groping chela was finding the throat. At last, spreading wide, it found its goal; and then those mighty nippers closed; and the tharban’s head rolled upon the ground, severed as cleanly as by a guillotine.

For the moment the victor stood over its fallen antagonist, and then it commenced to devour it. Blind, horribly mutilated, still its insatiable maw must be filled. Blood flowed from its countless wounds in veritable torrents, yet it ate and ate until it sank lifeless upon the bloody remains of its repast—dead from loss of blood.

Directly above her, Duare discovered a bunch of grape-like fruit; and soon she, too, was satisfying her hunger; while Vikyor eyed her enviously. “Bring me some of that,” it said.

“Get your own,” advised Duare.

“There is no fruit in this tree.”

Duare paid no more attention to him; looking around, she discovered a tree that bore nuts which she recognized as both delicious and nutritious. She climbed down from her tree and swarmed up another; here she gathered nuts and ate them. She filled her pouch with them and descended.

“I am going,” she called to Vik-yor; “if you wish to come with me you had better get down out of that tree.” She would have gladly gone off and left it, but for the pistol; which she must have to carry out her plan.

“I am afraid,” cried Vik-yor, “another of those creatures might come along.”

Duare continued on toward the anotar. Suddenly she stopped and called back to Vik-yor; “Stay where you are! Hide! I’ll come back for you later—if they don’t get you.” She had seen a dozen men sneaking toward the anotar, they were short, squat, hairy men; and they carried spears. Duare broke into a run, and so did the warriors—it was a race for the anotar. Duare had a slight advantage—she was nearer the anotar than they, and she was fleeter of foot.

One of the warriors outdistanced his fellows, but Duare reached the plane first and clambered into the cockpit just as the warrior arrived. As he clambered onto the wing in pursuit of her, the engine started and the propeller whirred. The ship taxied along the rough ground, and the warrior had all he could do to keep from being thrown off. It rose and zoomed upward. The man clutched the edge of the cockpit; he looked down, preparing to jump; he had had enough; but when he saw the ground so far below, he shut his eyes and seized the edge of the cockpit with both hands.

Duare banked; and the man’s body slid its full length along the wing, while he clung frantically to his hold. He screamed. Duare banked again, more steeply, trying to shake him off; but he hung on with a grip of death; then, as she flattened out, he clambered into the cockpit beside her.

For a moment he just sat there, panting, limp as a dishrag; too terrified to move. Duare fastened her safety belt and climbed. The man looked over the side, and drew a crude dagger from his belt. He stuck the point of it against Duare’s side. “Take me down,” he commanded in a coarse gutteral. “If you don’t, I’ll kill you.”

“And this thing will fall, and you’ll be killed,” warned Duare. “You’d better take that knife out of my side if you want me to take you down.”

He pulled the knife back a couple of inches. “Hurry!” he said; “take me down.”

“Will you promise to let me go, if I take you down?” asked the girl.

“No; you belong to me. I take you back to the village.”

“You’re making a mistake,” said Duare. “If you promise to let me go, I’ll take you down. If you don’t—” .

“What?” asked the man. “I’m going to keep you. What do you think you would do if I don’t promise to let you go?”

“I’ll show you!” said Duare, with a trace of venom in her voice. “You asked for it, and you’re going to get it.”

“What did I ask for?” demanded the man.

“This!” said Duare, and looped the anotar.

Screaming, the man plunged to his doom. He fell not far from his companions, who came over and examined the splash and the hole his body had made in the ground.

“There is not much left of Djup,” said one.

“The thing is coming back,” said another, looking up into the sky.

“lf it comes close, we can kill it with our spears,” said a third; “we have killed big birds before.”

“We cannot kill it,” said the first warrior, “because it is not alive.I am going into the forest, where it cannot follow us,” and as he started on a run for the forest, the others followed him.

Duare tried to head them off; but fear gripped them, they would not turn aside; they ran into the forest at the very point at which Duare had emerged. They saw the dead bodies of the tharban and the tongzan, and sat down and commenced to eat. They ate like beasts, tearing the meat from the carcasses in great chunks and growling ceaselessly.

Vik-yor sat in the tree above them, paralyzed with fear. Oh, why had it ever left Voo-ad? What in the world had made it think that it wanted a woman? Now, it hated her. It was all her fault. it did not know it, but it was learning fast that there is always a woman at the bottom of everything—especially trouble.

One of the warriors looked up and pointed. “What is that?” he asked his fellows. It was Vik-yor’s foot carelessly protruding below some foliage.

“It is a foot,” said another.

“There must be a man at the end of it.”

“Or a woman! I am going up to see.”

The shaking of the tree caused Vik-yor to look down. When it saw one of the hairy warriors ascending, it screamed and started up the bole. The warrior pursued; and, being a better climber than Vik-yor, soon overhauled it. Vik-yor forgot about the r-ray pistol that was hidden in one of its pocket pouches. With it, it could have routed fifty hairy warriors.

The warrior seized Vik-yor by one of its ankles and dragged it down. Vik-yor would have fallen to the ground, had the warrior not supported it. Hanging to its captive’s hair, the warrior descended.

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