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white The Barsoom series
  branch John Carter and the Giant of Mars
Previous page Next page navigation 8/14 branch Chapter 8.   The reptile pit
Next paragraph     As the last bird in Pew Mogel's fantastic army flapped out of sight behind the rim of the crater, John Carter turned to Tars Tarkas in the cage hanging beside him. He spoke softly so that Dejah Thoris would not hear.
Next paragraph     "Those creatures will make Helium a formidable enemy," he said. "Kantos Kan's splendid airfleet and infantry will be hard pressed against those thousands of apes equipped with human brains and modern armament, mounted upon fast birds of prey!"
Next paragraph     "Kantos Kan and his airfleet are not even in Helium to protect the city," announced Tars Tarkas grimly. "I heard Pew Mogel bragging that he had sent Kantos Kan a false message, supposedly from you, urging that all Helium's fleet, as well as all the ships of the searching party, be dispatched to your aid in the Great Toonolian Marshes."
Next paragraph     "The Toonolian Marshes!" Carter gasped, "They're a thousand miles from Helium in the other direction."
Next paragraph     A little scream from Dejah Thoris brought the men's attention to their own, immediate fate.
Next paragraph     The ape beside the pit had pulled back a tall, metal lever.
Next paragraph     There was a gurgle of bubbles as air blasted up from the water in the pit below the three captives and the water at the same time commenced to rise slowly.
Next paragraph     The guard now unfastened the rope on each cage and lowered them so that the cage tops were a little below the surface of the ground inside the pit. Then he refastened the ropes and stood for some time on the brink looking down on the helpless captives.
Next paragraph     "The water rises slowly," he sneered thickly, "and so I shall have time now for a little sleep."
Next paragraph     It was uncanny to hear words issuing from the mouth of the beast. They were barely articulate, for although the human brain in the ape's skull directed the words, the muscles of the larynx in the creature's throat were normally unequipped for the specialized task of human speech.
Next paragraph     The guard lay down on the brink and stretched his massive, squat body.
Next paragraph     "Your death cries will awaken me," he mumbled pleasantly, "when the water begins to envelop your feet and the reptiles start clawing at you through the bars of your cages." Whereupon, the ape rolled over and began snoring.
Next paragraph     It was then that the three captives saw the slanting, evil eyes, the rows of flashing teeth, in a dozen hideous, reptilian faces staring greedily up at them from the rising waters below.
Next paragraph     "Quite ingenious," remarked Tars Tarkas, his stoic face giving no more evidence of fear than did that of the earthman. "When the water partly submerges us, the reptiles will reach in with their claws and begin tearing us to pieces if there is any life left in us, the rising water will drown it out when finally it submerges the tops of our cages."
Next paragraph     "How horrible!" gasped Dejah Thoris.
Next paragraph     John Carter's eyes were fastened on the brink of the pit. From his cage he could just see one of the guard's feet as the fellow lay asleep at the edge of the pit.
Next paragraph     Cautioning the others to silence, Carter began swinging his body back and forth while he held fast to the bars of the cage. If he could just get it swinging.
Next paragraph     The water had risen to about ten feet below their cages.
Next paragraph     It seemed an eternity before he could get the heavy cage to even moving slightly. Nine feet to the water surface and those hideous, staring eyes and those gleaming teeth!
Next paragraph     The cage was swinging now a little more, in rhythm to the earthman's constantly swaying body.
Next paragraph     Eight feet, seven feet, six feet came the water. There were about ten reptiles in the water below the captives ten pairs of narrow, evil eyes fixed steadily to their prey.
Next paragraph     The cage was swinging faster.
Next paragraph     Five feet, four feet, Tars Tarkas and Dejah Thoris could feel the hot breath of the reptiles!
Next paragraph     Three feet, two feet! Only two more feet to go before the steadily swinging cage would cut into the water and slow down to a standstill.
Next paragraph     But the iron prison, swinging pendulum-like, would reach the brink on its next swing so this time as the cage moved toward the brink on which lay the sleeping guard, John Carter knew he must act quickly.
Next paragraph     As the bars of the cage smacked against the cement wall of the pit, John Carter's arms shot out with the quickness of a striking snake.
Next paragraph     His fingers closed in a grip of steel about the ankle of the sleeping guard.
Next paragraph     An ear piercing shriek rang out across the arena, echoing dismally in the hollow crater, as the ape felt himself jerked suddenly from his slumbers.
Next paragraph     Back swung the cage. Carter regrasped the shrieking ape with his other hand through the bars as they swung out over the water. The reptiles had to lower their heads as the cage moved over them so close had the water risen.
Next paragraph     "Good work, John Carter," came Tars Tarkas's tense words as he reached out and grabbed hold of the ape with his four mighty hands. At the same time, Carter's cage splashed to a sudden stop. It had hit the water's surface.
Next paragraph     "Hold him, Tars Tarkas. While I pull the key off the scoundrel's neck - there, I've got it!"
Next paragraph     The water was flowing over the bottom of the cages. One of the reptiles had reached a horny arm in Dejah Thoris's cage and was attempting to snag her body with its sharp, hooked claws.
Next paragraph     Tars tarkas flung the ape's body with all the force of his giant thews straight at the reptile beside the girl's cage.
Next paragraph     "Quickly, John cater," cried Dejah Thoris. "Save yourself while they are fighting over the ape's body."
Next paragraph     "Yes," echoed Tars Tarkas, "unlock your cage and get out while there is still time."
Next paragraph     A half-smile lifted the corner of Carter's mouth as he swung open his prison door and leaped to the top of Dejah Thoris's cage.
Next paragraph     "I'd sooner stay and die with you both," the earthman said, "than desert you now."
Next paragraph     Carter soon had the princess' prison door unlocked but as he reached down to lift the girl up, a reptile darted forward into the cage with the princess.
Next paragraph     In a quick second, Carter was inside the girl's cage, already knee-deep in water and he had hurled himself onto the back of the reptile. A steely arm was clamped tightly around the creature's neck. The head was jerked back just in time for the heavy jaws snapped closed only an inch from the girl's body.
Next paragraph     "Climb out, Dejah Thoris to the top of the cage!" ordered Carter. When the girl had obeyed, Carter dragged the flopping, helpless reptile to the cage door, as other slimy monsters started in. Using its body as a shield before him, the earthman forced his way to the door.
Next paragraph     In an instant he had released his hold and vaulted up on top of the cage with the girl.
Next paragraph     A moment later he had unlocked Tars Tarkas's cage door. After the green man had swung up beside them without mishap, the three climbed the ropes to the scaffolding above and then lowered themselves down to the ground beside the pit.
Next paragraph     "Thank Issus," breathed the girl as they sat down to regain their breaths. Her beautiful head was cushioned upon Carter's shoulder, and he stroked her lovely black hair reassuringly.
Next paragraph     Presently the earthman rose to his feet. Tars Tarkas had motioned him across the arena.
Next paragraph     "There are some malagors left inside here," Tars Tarkas called from the entrance to the cavern inside the crater from where had come Pew mogel's mounts.
Next paragraph     "Good!" exclaimed Carter. "There may be a chance yet to reach and help Helium."
Next paragraph     A moment later they had caught two of the birds and had risen over the ancient city of Korvas.
Next paragraph     They spotted their planes on the outskirts of the city where they had left them the night they were tricked into being captured by Pew Mogel.
Next paragraph     But to their disappointment, the controls had been destroyed irreparably, so they were forced to continue their journey on the backs of the malagors.
Next paragraph     However, the malagors proved speedy mounts. By noon the next day the trio had reached the City of Thark, inhabited by a hundred thousand green warriors over whom Tars Tarkas ruled.
Next paragraph     Gathering the warriors together in the marketplace, Tars Tarkas and John Carter explained the peril that confronted Helium and asked for their support in marching to their allies' aid.
Next paragraph     As one man, the mighty warriors shouted their approval. The next day dawned upon a long caravan of thoat -mounted soldiers streaming out from the city gates towards Helium.
Next paragraph     A messenger was sent on a malagor to the Toonolian Marshes in an attempt to locate Kantos Kan and urge him to return home with his fleet to aid in the defense of Helium.
      Tars Tarkas had abandoned his malagor to this messenger, in favour of a thoat upom which he rode at the head of his warriors. Directly above him, mounted on the other malagor rode Dejah Thoris and John Carter.