“I had gone down to the end of the ramp and a short distance along a corridor, when I saw a dim light far ahead. I thought this worth investigating, as I did not wish to be taken unexpectedly from behind and, perhaps, caught between two enemies; so I followed the corridor in the direction of the light, which I presently discovered was retreating. However, I continued to follow it, until presently it stopped in a room filled with chests.
“Looking in, I saw a creature of most horrid mein—”
“Lum Tar O,” I said. “The creature I killed.”
“Yes,” said Llana. “I watched him for a moment, not knowing what to do. A lighted torch illuminated the chamber. He carried another in his left hand. Presently he became alert. He seemed to be listening intently; then he crept from the room.”
“That must have been when he first heard Pan Dan Chee and me,” I suggested.
“I presume so,” said Llana of Gathol. “Anyway, I was left alone in the room. If I went back the way I had come, I might run into the arms of a green man. If I followed the horrid creature I had just seen, I would doubtless be in just as bad a fix. If I only had a place to hide until it would be safe to come out of the pits the way I had entered!
“The chests looked inviting. One of them would provide an excellent hiding place. It was just by the merest chance that the first one I opened was empty. I crept into it and lowered the lid above me. The rest you know.”
“And now you are coming out of the pits,” I said, as we started up a ramp at the top of which I could see daylight.
“In a few moments,” said Kam Han Tor, “we shall be looking upon the broad waters of Throxeus.”
I shook my head. “Do not be too disappointed,” I said.
“Are you and your friend in league to perpetrate a hoax upon me?” demanded Kan Han Tor. “Only yesterday I saw the ships of the fleet lying at anchor off the quay. Do you think me a fool, that you tell me there is no longer any ocean where an ocean was yesterday, where it has been since the creation of Barsoom? Oceans do not disappear overnight, my friend.”
There was a murmur of approval from those of the fine company of nobles and their women who were within earshot. They were loath to believe what they did not wish to believe and what, I realized, must have seemed an insult to their intelligence.
Put yourself in their place. Perhaps you live in San Francisco. You go to bed one night. When you awaken, a total stranger tells you that the Pacific Ocean has dried up and that you may walk to Honolulu or Guam or the Philippines. I’m quite sure that you wouldn’t believe him.
As we came up into the broad avenue that led to the ancient sea front of Horz, that assembly of gorgeously trapped men and women looked about them in dumfounded astonishment upon the crumbling ruins of their once proud city.
“Where are the people?” demanded one. “Why is the Avenue of Jeddaks deserted?”
“And the palace of the jeddak!” exclaimed another. “There are no guards.”
“There is no one!” gasped a woman.
No one commented, as they pushed on eagerly toward the quay. Before they got there they were already straining their eyes out across a barren desert of dead sea bottom where once the waters of Throxeus had rolled.
In silence they continued on to the Avenue of Quays. They simply could not believe the testimony of their own eyes. I cannot recall ever having felt sorrier for any of my fellow men than I did at that moment for these poor people.
“It is gone,” said Kam Han Tor in a scarcely audible whisper.
A woman sobbed. A warrior drew his dagger and plunged it into his own heart.
“And a our people are gone,” said Kam Han Tor. “Our very world is gone.”
They stood there looking out across that desert waste; behind them a dead city that, in their last yesterday, had teemed with life and youth and energy.
And then a strange thing happened. Before my eyes, Kam Han Tor commenced to shrink and crumble. He literally disintegrated, he and the leather of his harness. His weapons clattered to the pavement and lay there in a little pile of dust that had been Kam Han Tor, the brother of a jeddak.
Llana of Gathol pressed close to me and seized my arm. “It is horrible!” she whispered. “Look! Look at the others!”
I looked about me. Singly, in groups of two or three, the men and women of ancient Horz were returning to the dust from which they had sprung— “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!”
“For all the ages that they have lain in the pits of Horz,” said Pan Dan Chee, “this disintegration has been going slowly on. Only Lum Tar O’s obscene powers gave them a semblance of life. With that removed final dissolution came quickly.”
“That must be the explanation,” I said. “It is well that it is so, for these people never could have found happiness in the Barsoom of today—a dying world, so unlike the glorious world of Barsoom in the full flush of her prime, with her five oceans, her great cities, her happy, prosperous peoples, who, if history speaks the truth, had finally overthrown all the war lords and war mongers and established peace from pole to pole.”
“No,” said Llana of Gathol, “they could never have been happy again. Did you notice what handsome people they were? and the color of their skins was the same as yours, John Carter. But for their blond hair they might have been from your own Earth.”
“There are many blond people on Earth,” I told her. “Maybe, after all the races of Earth have intermarried for many ages, we shall develop a race of red men, as has Barsoom. Who knows?”
Pan Dan Chee was standing looking adoringly at Llana of Gathol. He was so obvious that it was almost painful, and I could see that it annoyed Llana even while it pleased her.
“Come,” I said. “Nothing is to be gained by standing here. My flier is in a courtyard nearby. It will carry three. You will come with me, Pan Dan Chee? I can assure you a welcome in Helium and a post of some nature in the army of the jeddak.”
Pan Dan Chee shook his head. “I must go back to the Citadel,” he said.
“To Ho Ran Kim and death,” I reminded him.
“Yes, to Ho Ran Kim and death,” he said.
“Don’t be a fool, Pan Dan Chee,” I said. “You have acquitted yourself honorably. You cannot kill me, and I know you would not kill Llana of Gathol. We shall go away, carrying the secret of the forgotten people of Horz with us, no matter what you do; but you must know that neither of us would use our knowledge to bring harm to your people. Why then go back to your death uselessly? Come with us.”
He looked straight into the eyes of Llana of Gathol. “Is it your wish that I come with you?” he asked.
“If the alternative means your death,” she replied; “then it is my wish that you come with us.”
A wry smile twisted Pan Dan Chee’s lip, but evidently he saw a ray of hope in her noncommittal answer, for he said to me, “I thank you, John Carter. I will go with you. My sword is yours, always.”