Swords of Mars

Chapter XVI

Invisible Foes

Edgar Rice Burroughs

LOOKING down in the direction that Zanda had indicated, I saw what appeared to be a large building on the bank of a river. The structure nestled in a clearing in the forest, and where the rising sun touched its towers they sent back scintillant rays of many-hued light.

One section of the building faced upon what appeared to be a walled court, and it was an object lying in this court which aroused our interest and excitement to a far greater extent than the building itself.

“What do you think it is, Zanda?” I asked, for it was she who had discovered it.

“I think that it is Gar Nal’s ship,” replied the girl.

“What makes you think that?” asked Jat Or.

“Because it is so much like this one,” she replied. “Both Gar Nal and Fal Savas stole ideas from one another whenever they could, and I should be surprised indeed if their ships did not closely resemble one another.”

“I am sure that you are right, Zanda,” I said. “It is not reasonable to assume that the inhabitants of Thuria have, by some miraculous coincidence, constructed a ship so similar to that of Fal Sivas’s; and the possibility is equally remote that a third Barsoomian ship has landed on the satellite.”

I directed the brain to spiral downward, and presently we were flying at an altitude that gave us a clear view of the details of the building and the surrounding terrain.

The more closely we approached the ship in the courtyard the more certain we became that it was Gar Nal’s; but nowhere did we see any sign of Gar Nal, Ur Jan, or Dejah Thoris; nor, indeed, was there any sign of life about the building or its grounds. The place might have been the abode of the dead.

“I am going to ground the ship beside Gar Nal’s,” I said. “Look to your weapons, Jat Or.”

“They are ready, my—Vandor,” he replied.

“I do not know how many fighting men are aboard that ship,” I continued. “There may be only Gar Nal and Ur Jan, or there may be more. If the fight goes our way, we must not kill them all until we are positive that the princess is with them.

“They left Barsoom at least a full day ahead of us; and while it is only a remote possibility, still they may have made some disposition of their prisoner already. Therefore, we must leave at least one of them alive to direct us to her.”

We were descending slowly. Every eye was on the alert. Zanda had stepped from the control room a moment before, and now she returned with the harness and weapons of a Martian warrior strapped to her slender form.

“Why those?” I asked.

“You may need an extra sword hand,” she replied. “You do not know against how many foemen you will be pitted.”

“Wear them, if you like,” I said, “but remain in the ship where you will be safe. Jat Or and I will take care of the fighting.”

“I shall go with you and fight with you,” said Zanda, quietly but emphatically.

I shook my head. “No,” I said; “you must do as I say and remain on this ship.”

She looked me steadily in the eye. “Against my will, you insisted upon making me a free woman,” she reminded me. “Now I shall act as a free woman and not as a slave. I shall do as I please.”

I had to smile at that. “Very well,” I said; “but if you come with us, you will have to take your chances like any other fighting man. Jat Or and I may be too busy with our own antagonists to be able to protect you.”

“I can take care of myself,” said Zanda, simply.

“Please stay on board,” pleaded Jat Or solicitiously; but Zanda only shook her head.

Our ship had settled quietly to the ground beside that of Gar Nal. I caused the door in the port side to be opened and the ladder lowered. Still there was no sign of life either on the other craft or elsewhere about the castle. A deathly silence hung like a heavy mantle over the entire scene.

Just a moment I stood in the doorway looking about; and then I descended to the ground, followed by Jat Or and Zanda.

Before us loomed the castle, a strange weird building of unearthly architecture, a building of many towers of various types, some of them standing alone and some engaged in groups.

Partially verifying Fal Sivas’s theory of the tremendous mineral wealth of the satellite, the walls of the structure before us were constructed of blocks of precious stones so arranged that their gorgeous hues blended and harmonized into a mass of color that defies description.

At the moment, however, I gave but cursory attention to the beauties of the pile, turning my attention instead to Gar Nal’s ship. A door in its side, similar to that in our ship, was open; and a ladder depended to the ground.

I knew that in ascending that ladder, a man would be at great disadvantage if attacked from above; but there was no alternative. I must discover if there were anyone on board.

I asked Zanda to stand at a little distance, so that she could see into the interior of the ship and warn me if an enemy exhibited himself. Then I mounted quickly.

As the ship was already resting on the ground, I had only to ascend a few rungs of the ladder before my eyes were above the level of the cabin floor. A quick glance showed me that no one was in sight, and a moment later I stood inside the cabin of Gar Nal’s ship.

The interior arrangement was slightly different from that of Fal Sivas’s, nor was the cabin as richly furnished.

From the cabin, I stepped into the control room. No one was there. Then I searched the after part of the ship. The entire craft was deserted.

Returning to the ground, I reported my findings to Jat Or and Zanda.

“It is strange,” remarked Jat Or, “that no one has challenged us or paid any attention to our presence. Can it be possible that the whole castle is deserted?”

“There is something eerie about the place,” said Zanda, in low, tense tones.

“Even the silence seems fraught with suppressed sound. I see no one, I hear no one, and yet I feel—I know not what.”

“It is mysterious,” I agreed. “The deserted appearance of the castle is belied by the well-kept grounds. If there is no one here now, it has not been deserted long.”

“I have a feeling that it is not deserted now,” said Jat Or. “I seem to feel presences all around us. I could swear that eyes were on us—many eyes, watching our every move.”

I was conscious of much the same sensation myself. I looked up at the windows of the castle, fully expecting to see eyes gazing down upon us; but in none of the many windows was there a sign of life. Then I called aloud, voicing the common peace greeting of Barsoom.

“Kaor!” I shouted in tones that could have been heard anywhere upon that side of the castle. “We are travellers from Barsoom. We wish to speak to the lord of the castle.”

Silence was my only answer.

“How uncanny!” cried Zanda. “Why don’t they answer us? There must be someone here; there is someone here. I know it! I cannot see them, but there are people here. They are all around us.”

“I am sure that you are right, Zanda,” I said. “There must be someone in that castle, and I am going to have a look inside it. Jat Or, you and Zanda wait here.”

“I think we should all go together,” said the girl.

“Yes,” agreed Jat Or; “we must not separate.”

I saw no valid objection to the plan, and so I nodded my acquiescence; then I approached a closed door in the face of the castle wall. Behind me came Jat Or and Zanda.

We had crossed about half the distance from the ship to the door, when at last suddenly, startlingly, the silence was shattered by a voice, terror-ridden, coming from above, apparently from one of the lofty towers overlooking the courtyard.

“Escape, my chieftain!” it cried. “Escape from this horrible place while you may.”

I halted, momentarily stunned—it was the voice of Dejah Thoris.

“The princess!” exclaimed Jat Or.

“Yes,” I said, “the princess. Come!” Then I started on a run toward the door of the castle; but I had taken scarce a half dozen steps, when just behind me Zanda voiced a piercing scream of terror.

I wheeled instantly to see what danger confronted her.

She was struggling as though in the throes of convulsions. Her face was contorted in horror; her staring eyes and the motions of her arms and legs were such as they might have been had she been battling with a foe, but she was alone. There was no one near her.

Jat Or and I sprang toward her; but she retreated quickly, still struggling.

Darting to our right, and then doubling back, she moved in the direction of the doorway in the castle wall.

She seemed not to move by the power of her own muscles but rather as though she were being dragged away, yet still I saw no one near her.

All that I take so long to tell, occurred in a few brief seconds—before I could cover the short distance to her side.

Jat Or had been closer to her; and he had almost overtaken her when I heard him shout, “Issus! It has me, too.”

He went to the ground then as though in a faint, but he was struggling as Zanda struggled—as one who gives battle to an assailant.

As I raced after Zanda my long sword was out, though I saw no enemy whose blood it might drink.

Scarcely ever before in my life have I felt so futile, so impotent. Here was I, the greatest swordsman of two worlds, helpless in defense of my friends because I could not see their foes.

In the grip of what malign power could they be that could seemingly reach out through space from the concealment of some hidden vantage point and hold them down or drag them about as it wished?

How helpless we all were, our helplessness all the more accentuated by the psychological effect of this mysterious and uncanny attack.

My earthly muscles quickly brought me to Zanda’s side. As I reached out to seize her and stop her progress toward the castle door, something seized one of my ankles; and I went down. I felt hands upon me—many hands. My sword was tom from my grasp; my other weapons were snatched away.

I fought, perhaps never as I have fought before. I felt the bodies of my antagonists pressing against me. I felt their hands as they touched me and their fists as they struck me; but I saw no one, yet my own blows landed upon solid flesh. That was something. It gave me a little greater sense of equality than before; but I could not understand why, if I felt these creatures, I could not see them.

At least, however, it partially explained the strange actions of Zanda. Her seeming convulsions had been her struggles against these unseen assailants. Now they were carrying her toward the doorway; and as I battled futilely against great odds, I saw her disappear within the castle.

Then the things, whatever they were that assailed me, overpowered me by numbers.

I knew that there were very many of them, because there were so many, many hands upon me.

They bound my wrists behind my back and jerked me roughly to my feet.

I cannot accurately describe my sensations; the unreality of all that had occurred in those few moments left me dazed and uncertain. For at least once in my life, I seemed wholly deprived of the power to reason, possibly because the emergency was so utterly foreign to anything that I had ever before experienced.

Not even the phantom bowmen of Lothar could have presented so unique a situation, for these were visible when they attacked.

As I was jerked to my feet, I glanced about for Jat Or and saw him near me, his hands similarly trussed behind his back.

Now I felt myself being pushed toward the doorway through which Zanda had disappeared, and near me was Jat Or moving in the same direction.

“Can you see anyone, my prince?” he asked.

“I can see you,” I replied.

“What diabolical force is this that has seized us?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I feel hands upon me and the warmth of bodies around me.”

“I guess we are done for, my prince,” he said.

“Done for?” I exclaimed. “We still live.”

“No, I do not mean that,” he said; “I mean that as far as ever returning to Barsoom. is concerned, we might as well give up all hope. They have our ship. Do you think that even if we escape them, we shall ever see it again, or at least be able to repossess it? No, my friend, as far as Barsoom is concerned we are as good as dead.”

The ship! In the excitement of what I had just passed through I had momentarily forgotten the ship. I glanced toward it. I thought that I saw the rope ladder move as though to the weight of an unseen body ascending it.

The ship! It was our only hope of ever again returning to Barsoom, and it was in the hands of this mysterious unseen foe. It must be saved.

There was a way! I centered my thoughts upon the mechanical brain—I directed it to rise and wait above the castle, out of harm’s way, until I gave it further commands.

Then the invisible menace dragged me through the doorway into the interior of the castle. I could not know if the brain had responded to my directions.

Was I never to know?

Swords of Mars - Contents    |     Chapter XVII - The Cat-Man

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