And at last, stripped to a string and carrying naught but his primitive weapons, Korak the Killer took the trail with a score of the swiftest and bravest of the Waziri in search of his father. Long and diligently they searched the jungle and the forest, often enlisting the friendly services of the villages near which they chanced to be carrying on their quest, until they had covered as with a fine-toothed comb a vast area of country, covered it as could have no other body of men; but for all their care and all their diligence they uncovered no single clew as to the fate or whereabouts of Tarzan of the Apes, and so, disheartened yet indefatigable, they searched on and on through tangled miles of steaming jungle or across rocky uplands as inhospitable as the stunted thorns that dotted them.
And in the Royal Dome of Elkomoelhago, Thagosto of Veltopismakus, three people halted in a rock-walled, hidden chamber and listened to a human voice that appeared to come to them out of the very rock of the walls surrounding them. Upon the floor about them lay the bones of long-dead men. About them rose the impalpable dust of ages.
The girl pressed closer to Tarzan. “Who is it?” she whispered.
Tarzan shook his head.
“It is a woman’s voice,” said Komodoflorensal.
The ape-man raised his candle high above his head and took a step closer to the left-hand wall; then he stopped and pointed. The others looked in the direction indicated by Tarzan’s finger and saw an opening in the wall a hual or two above his head. Tarzan handed his candle to Komodoflorensal, removed his sword and laid it on the floor, and then sprang lightly for the opening. For a moment he clung to its edge, listening, and then he dropped back into the chamber.
“It is pitch-black beyond,” he said. “Whoever owns that voice is in another chamber beyond that into which I was just looking. There was no human being in the next apartment.”
“If it was absolutely dark, how could you know that?” demanded Komodoflorensal.
“Had there been anyone there I should have smelled him,” replied the ape-man.
The others looked at him in astonishment. “I am sure of it,” said Tarzan, “because I could plainly feel a draught sucking up from the chamber, through the aperture, and into this chamber. Had there been a human being there his effluvium would have been carried directly to my nostrils.”
“And you could have detected it?” demanded Komodoflorensal. “My friend, I can believe much of you, but not that!”
Tarzan smiled. “I at least have the courage of my convictions,” he said, “for I am going over there and investigate. From the clearness with which the voice comes to us I am certain that it comes through no solid wall. There must be an opening into the chamber where the woman is and as we should investigate every possible avenue of escape, I shall investigate this.” He stepped again toward the wall below the aperture.
“Oh, let us not separate,” cried the girl. “Where one goes, let us all go!”
“Two swords are better than one,” said Komodoflorensal, though his tone was only halfhearted.
“Very well,” replied Tarzan. “I will go first, and then you can pass Talaskar up to me.”
Komodoflorensal nodded. A minute or two later the three stood upon the opposite side of the wall. Their candle revealed a narrow passage that showed indications of much more recent use than those through which they had passed from the quarters of Kalfastoban. The wall they had passed through to reach it was of stone, but that upon the opposite side was of studding and rough boards.
“This is a passage built along the side of a paneled room,” whispered Komodoflorensal.
“The other side of these rough boards supports beautifully polished panels of brilliant woods or burnished metals.”
“Then there should be a door, you think, opening from this passage into the adjoining chamber?” asked Tarzan.
“A secret panel, more likely,” he replied.
They walked along the passage, listening intently. At first they had just been able to distinguish that the voice they heard was that of a woman; but now they heard the words.
“—had they let me have him,” were the first that they distinguished.
“Most glorious mistress, this would not have happened then,” replied another female voice.
“Zoanthrohago is a fool and deserves to die; but my illustrious father, the king, is a bigger fool,” spoke the first voice. “He will kill Zoanthrohago and with him the chance of discovering the secret of making our warriors giants. Had they let me buy this Zuanthrol he would not have escaped. They thought that I would have killed him, but that was farthest from my intentions.”
“What would you have done with him, wondrous Princess?”
“That is not for a slave to ask or know,” snapped the mistress.
For a time there was silence.
“That is the Princess Janzara speaking,” whispered Tarzan to Komodoflorensal. “It is the daughter of Elkomoelhago whom you would have captured and made your princess; but you would have had a handful.”
“Is she as beautiful as they say?” asked Komodoflorsensal.
“She is very beautiful, but she is a devil.”
“It would have been my duty to take her,” said Komodoflorensal.
Tarzan was silent. A plan was unfolding itself within his mind. The voice from beyond the partition spoke again.
“He was very wonderful,” it said. “Much more wonderful than our warriors,” and then, after a silence, “You may go, slave, and see to it that I am not disturbed before the sun stands midway between the Women’s Corridor and the King’s Corridor.”
“May your candles burn as deathlessly as your beauty, Princess,” said the slave, as she backed across the apartment.
An instant later the three behind the paneling heard a door close.
Tarzan crept stealthily along the passage, seeking the secret panel that connected the apartment where the Princess Janzara lay composed for the night; but it was Talaskar who found it.
“Here!” she whispered and together the three examined the fastening. It was simple and could evidently be opened from the opposite side by pressure upon a certain spot in the panel.
“Wait here!” said Tarzan to his companions. “I am going to fetch the Princess Janzara. If we cannot escape with her we should be able to buy our liberty with such a hostage.”
Without waiting to discuss the advisability of his action with the others, Tarzan gently slid back the catch that held the panel and pushed it slightly ajar. Before him was the apartment of Janzara—a creation of gorgeous barbarity in the center of which, upon a marble slab, the princess lay upon her back, a gigantic candle burning at her head and another at her feet.
Regardless of the luxuriousness of their surroundings, of their wealth, or their positions in life, the Minunians never sleep upon a substance softer than a single thickness of fabric, which they throw upon the ground, or upon wooden, stone, or marble sleeping slabs, depending upon their caste and their wealth.
Leaving the panel open the ape-man stepped quietly into the apartment and moved directly toward the princess, who lay with closed eyes, either already asleep, or assiduously wooing Morpheus. He had crossed halfway to her cold couch when a sudden draught closed the panel with a noise that might well have awakened the dead.
Instantly the princess was on her feet and facing him. For a moment she stood in silence gazing at him and then she moved slowly toward him, the sinuous undulations of her graceful carriage suggesting to the Lord of the Jungle a similarity to the savage majesty of Sabor, the lioness.
“It is you, Zuanthrol!” breathed the princess. “You have come for me?”
“I have come for you. Princess,” replied the ape-man. “Make no outcry and no harm will befall you.”
“I will make no outcry,” whispered Janzara as with half-closed lids she glided to him and threw her arms about his neck.
Tarzan drew back and gently disengaged himself. “You do not understand, Princess,” he told her. “You are my prisoner. You are coming with me.”
“Yes,” she breathed, “I am your prisoner, but it is you who do not understand. I love you. It is my right to choose whatever slave I will to be my prince. I have chosen you.”
Tarzan shook his head impatiently. “You do not love me,” he said. “I am sorry that you think you do, for I do not love you. I have no time to waste. Come!” and he stepped closer to take her by the wrist.
Her eyes narrowed. “Are you mad?” she demanded. “Or can it be that you do not know who I am?”
“You are Janzara, daughter of Elkomoelhago,” replied Tarzan. “I know well who you are.”
“And you dare to spurn my love!” She was breathing heavily, her breasts rising and falling to the tumultuous urge of her emotions.
“It is no question of love between us,” replied the ape-man. “To me it is only a question of liberty and life for myself and my companions.”
“You love another?” questioned Janzara.
“Yes,” Tarzan told her.
“Who is she?” demanded the princess.
“Will you come quietly, or shall I be compelled to carry you away by force?” asked the ape-man, ignoring her question.
For a moment the woman stood silently before him, her every muscle tensed, her dark eyes two blazing wells of fire, and then slowly her expression changed. Her face softened and she stretched one hand toward him.
“I will help you, Zuanthrol,” she said. “I will help you to escape. Because I love you I shall do this. Come! Follow me!” She turned and moved softly across the apartment.
“But my companions,” said the ape-man. “I cannot go without them.”
“Where are they?”
He did not tell her, for as yet he was none too sure of her motives.
“Show me the way,” he said, “and I can return for them.”
“Yes,” she replied, “I will show you and then perhaps you will love me better than you love the other.”
In the passage behind the paneling Talaskar and Komodoflorensal awaited the outcome of Tarzan’s venture. Distinctly to their ears came every word of the conversation between the ape-man and the princess.
“He loves you,” said Komodoflorensal. “You see, he loves you.”
“I see nothing of the kind,” returned Talaskar. “Because he does not love the Princess Janzara is no proof that he loves me.”
“But he does love you—and you love him! I have seen it since first he came. Would that he were not my friend, for then I might run him through.”
“Why would you run him through because he loves me—if he does?” demanded the girl. “Am I so low that you would rather see your friend dead than mated with me?”
“I—” he hesitated. “I cannot tell you what I mean.”
The girl laughed, and then suddenly sobered. “She is leading him from her apartment. We had better follow.”
As Talaskar laid her fingers upon the spring that actuated the lock holding the panel in place, Janzara led Tarzan across her chamber toward a doorway in one of the side walls—not the doorway through which her slave had departed.
“Follow me,” whispered the princess, “and you will see what the love of Janzara means.”
Tarzan, not entirely assured of her intentions, followed her warily.
“You are afraid,” she said. “You do not trust me! Well, come here then and look, yourself, into this chamber before you enter.”
Komodoflorensal and Talaskar had but just stepped into the apartment when Tarzan approached the door to one side of which Janzara stood. They saw the floor give suddenly beneath his feet and an instant later Zuanthrol had disappeared. As he shot down a polished chute he heard a wild laugh from Janzara following him into the darkness of the unknown.
Komodoflorensal and Talaskar leaped quickly across the chamber, but too late. The floor that had given beneath Tarzan’s feet had slipped quietly back into place. Janzara stood above the spot trembling with anger and staring down at the place where the ape-man had disappeared. She shook as an aspen shakes in the breeze-shook in the mad tempest of her own passions.
“If you will not come to me you shall never go to another!” she screamed, and then she turned and saw Komodoflorensal and Talaskar running toward her. What followed occurred so quickly that it would be impossible to record the facts in the brief time that they actually consumed. It was over almost before Tarzan reached the bottom of the chute and picked himself from the earthen floor upon which he had been deposited.
The room in which he found himself was lighted by several candles burning in iron-barred niches. Opposite him was a heavy gate of iron bars through which he could see another lighted apartment in which a man, his chin sagging dejectedly upon his breast, was seated upon a low bench. At the sound of Tarzan’s precipitate entrance into the adjoining chamber the man looked up and at sight of Zuanthrol, leaped to his feet.
“Quick! To your left!” he cried, and Tarzan, turning, saw two huge, green-eyed beasts crouching to spring.
His first impulse was to rub his eyes as one might to erase the phantom figures of a disquieting dream, for what he saw were two ordinary African wildcats-ordinary in contour and markings, but in size gigantic. For an instant the ape-man forgot that he was but one-fourth his normal size, and that the cats, that appeared to him as large as full-grown lions, were in reality but average specimens of their kind.
As they came toward him he whipped out his sword, prepared to battle for his life with these great felines as he had so often before with their mighty cousins of his own jungle.
“If you can hold them off until you reach this gate,” cried the man in the next chamber, “I can let you through. The bolt is upon this side,” but even as he spoke one of the cats charged.
Komodoflorensal, brushing past Janzara, leaped for the spot upon the floor at which Tarzan had disappeared and as it gave beneath him he heard a savage cry break from the lips of the Princess of Veltopismakus.
“So it is you he loves?” she screamed. “But he shall not have you—no! not even in death!” and that was all that Komodoflorensal heard as the black chute swallowed him.
Talaskar, confronted by the infuriated Janzara, halted, and then stepped back, for the princess was rushing upon her with drawn dagger.
“Die, slave!” she screamed, as she lunged for the white breast of Talaskar, but the slave girl caught the other’s wrist and a moment later they went down, locked in one another’s embrace. Together they rolled about the floor, the daughter of Elkomoelhago seeking to drive her slim blade into the breast of the slave girl, while Talaskar fought to hold off the menacing steel and to close with her fingers upon the throat—her antagonist.
As the first cat charged the other followed, not to be robbed of its share of the flesh of the kill, for both were half-starved and ravenous, and as the ape-man met the charge of the first, sidestepping its rush and springing in again to thrust at its side, Komodoflorensal, who had drawn his sword as he entered the apartment of Janzara, shot into the subterranean den almost into the teeth of the second beast, which was so disconcerted by the sudden appearance of this second human that it wheeled and sprang to the far end of the den before it could gather its courage for another attack.
In the chamber above, Talaskar and Janzara fought savagely, two she-tigers in human form. They rolled to and fro about the room, straining and striking; Janzara screaming: “Die, slave! You shall not have him!” But Talaskar held her peace and saved her breath, so that slowly she was overcoming the other when they chanced to roll upon the very spot that had let Tarzan and Komodoflorensal to the pit beneath.
As Janzara realized what had happened she uttered a scream of terror. “The cats! The cats!” she cried, and then the two disappeared into the black shaft.
Komodoflorensal did not follow the cat that had retreated to the far end of the pit; but sprang at once to Tarzan’s aid, and together they drove off the first beast as they backed toward the gate where the man in the adjoining chamber stood ready to admit them to the safety of his own apartment.
The two cats charged and then retreated, springing in quickly and away again as quickly, for they had learned the taste of the sharp steel with which the humans were defending themselves. The two men were almost at the gate, another instant and they could spring through. The cats charged again and again were driven to the far corner of the pit. The man in the next chamber swung open the gate.
“Quick!” he cried, and at the same instant two figures shot from the mouth of the shaft and, locked tightly in one another’s embrace, rolled to the floor of the pit directly in the path of the charging carnivores.