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Authors: Burroughs, Edgar Rice

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Half a dozen great leaps brought me to the spot, and another instantsaw me again in my stride in quick pursuit of the hideous monsters thatwere rapidly gaining on the fleeing warrior, but this time I grasped amighty long-sword in my hand and in my heart was the old blood lust ofthe fighting man, and a red mist swam before my eyes and I felt my lipsrespond to my heart in the old smile that has ever marked me in themidst of the joy of battle.

Swift as I was I was none too soon, for the green warrior had beenovertaken ere he had made half the distance to the forest, and now hestood with his back to a boulder, while the herd, temporarily balked,hissed and screeched about him.

With their single eyes in the centre of their heads and every eyeturned upon their prey, they did not note my soundless approach, sothat I was upon them with my great long-sword and four of them lay deadere they knew that I was among them.

For an instant they recoiled before my terrific onslaught, and in thatinstant the green warrior rose to the occasion and, springing to myside, laid to the right and left of him as I had never seen but oneother warrior do, with great circling strokes that formed a figureeight about him and that never stopped until none stood living tooppose him, his keen blade passing through flesh and bone and metal asthough each had been alike thin air.

As we bent to the slaughter, far above us rose that shrill, weird crywhich I had heard once before, and which had called the herd to theattack upon their victims. Again and again it rose, but we were toomuch engaged with the fierce and powerful creatures about us to attemptto search out even with our eyes the author of the horrid notes.

Great tails lashed in frenzied anger about us, razor-like talons cutour limbs and bodies, and a green and sticky syrup, such as oozes froma crushed caterpillar, smeared us from head to foot, for every cut andthrust of our longswords brought spurts of this stuff upon us from thesevered arteries of the plant men, through which it courses in itssluggish viscidity in lieu of blood.

Once I felt the great weight of one of the monsters upon my back and askeen talons sank into my flesh I experienced the frightful sensation ofmoist lips sucking the lifeblood from the wounds to which the clawsstill clung.

I was very much engaged with a ferocious fellow who was endeavouring toreach my throat from in front, while two more, one on either side, werelashing viciously at me with their tails.

The green warrior was much put to it to hold his own, and I felt thatthe unequal struggle could last but a moment longer when the hugefellow discovered my plight, and tearing himself from those thatsurrounded him, he raked the assailant from my back with a single sweepof his blade, and thus relieved I had little difficulty with the others.

Once together, we stood almost back to back against the great boulder,and thus the creatures were prevented from soaring above us to delivertheir deadly blows, and as we were easily their match while theyremained upon the ground, we were making great headway in dispatchingwhat remained of them when our attention was again attracted by theshrill wail of the caller above our heads.

This time I glanced up, and far above us upon a little natural balconyon the face of the cliff stood a strange figure of a man shrieking outhis shrill signal, the while he waved one hand in the direction of theriver’s mouth as though beckoning to some one there, and with the otherpointed and gesticulated toward us.

A glance in the direction toward which he was looking was sufficient toapprise me of his aims and at the same time to fill me with the dreadof dire apprehension, for, streaming in from all directions across themeadow, from out of the forest, and from the far distance of the flatland across the river, I could see converging upon us a hundreddifferent lines of wildly leaping creatures such as we were now engagedwith, and with them some strange new monsters which ran with greatswiftness, now erect and now upon all fours.

“It will be a great death,” I said to my companion. “Look!”

As he shot a quick glance in the direction I indicated he smiled.

“We may at least die fighting and as great warriors should, JohnCarter,” he replied.

We had just finished the last of our immediate antagonists as he spoke,and I turned in surprised wonderment at the sound of my name.

And there before my astonished eyes I beheld the greatest of the greenmen of Barsoom; their shrewdest statesman, their mightiest general, mygreat and good friend, Tars Tarkas, Jeddak of Thark.

Chapter II - A Forest Battle*

Tars Tarkas and I found no time for an exchange of experiences as westood there before the great boulder surrounded by the corpses of ourgrotesque assailants, for from all directions down the broad valley wasstreaming a perfect torrent of terrifying creatures in response to theweird call of the strange figure far above us.

“Come,” cried Tars Tarkas, “we must make for the cliffs. There liesour only hope of even temporary escape; there we may find a cave or anarrow ledge which two may defend for ever against this motley, unarmedhorde.”

Together we raced across the scarlet sward, I timing my speed that Imight not outdistance my slower companion. We had, perhaps, threehundred yards to cover between our boulder and the cliffs, and then tosearch out a suitable shelter for our stand against the terrifyingthings that were pursuing us.

They were rapidly overhauling us when Tars Tarkas cried to me to hastenahead and discover, if possible, the sanctuary we sought. Thesuggestion was a good one, for thus many valuable minutes might besaved to us, and, throwing every ounce of my earthly muscles into theeffort, I cleared the remaining distance between myself and the cliffsin great leaps and bounds that put me at their base in a moment.

The cliffs rose perpendicular directly from the almost level sward ofthe valley. There was no accumulation of fallen debris, forming a moreor less rough ascent to them, as is the case with nearly all othercliffs I have ever seen. The scattered boulders that had fallen fromabove and lay upon or partly buried in the turf, were the onlyindication that any disintegration of the massive, towering pile ofrocks ever had taken place.

My first cursory inspection of the face of the cliffs filled my heartwith forebodings, since nowhere could I discern, except where the weirdherald stood still shrieking his shrill summons, the faintestindication of even a bare foothold upon the lofty escarpment.

To my right the bottom of the cliff was lost in the dense foliage ofthe forest, which terminated at its very foot, rearing its gorgeousfoliage fully a thousand feet against its stern and forbiddingneighbour.

To the left the cliff ran, apparently unbroken, across the head of thebroad valley, to be lost in the outlines of what appeared to be a rangeof mighty mountains that skirted and confined the valley in everydirection.

Perhaps a thousand feet from me the river broke, as it seemed, directlyfrom the base of the cliffs, and as there seemed not the remotestchance for escape in that direction I turned my attention again towardthe forest.

The cliffs towered above me a good five thousand feet. The sun was notquite upon them and they loomed a dull yellow in their own shade. Hereand there they were broken with streaks and patches of dusky red,green, and occasional areas of white quartz.

Altogether they were very beautiful, but I fear that I did not regardthem with a particularly appreciative eye on this, my first inspectionof them.

Just then I was absorbed in them only as a medium of escape, and so, asmy gaze ran quickly, time and again, over their vast expanse in searchof some cranny or crevice, I came suddenly to loathe them as theprisoner must loathe the cruel and impregnable walls of his dungeon.

Tars Tarkas was approaching me rapidly, and still more rapidly came theawful horde at his heels.

It seemed the forest now or nothing, and I was just on the point ofmotioning Tars Tarkas to follow me in that direction when the sunpassed the cliff’s zenith, and as the bright rays touched the dullsurface it burst out into a million scintillant lights of burnishedgold, of flaming red, of soft greens, and gleaming whites—a moregorgeous and inspiring spectacle human eye has never rested upon.

The face of the entire cliff was, as later inspection conclusivelyproved, so shot with veins and patches of solid gold as to quitepresent the appearance of a solid wall of that precious metal exceptwhere it was broken by outcroppings of ruby, emerald, and diamondboulders—a faint and alluring indication of the vast and unguessableriches which lay deeply buried behind the magnificent surface.

But what caught my most interested attention at the moment that thesun’s rays set the cliff’s face a-shimmer, was the several black spotswhich now appeared quite plainly in evidence high across the gorgeouswall close to the forest’s top, and extending apparently below andbehind the branches.

Almost immediately I recognised them for what they were, the darkopenings of caves entering the solid walls—possible avenues of escapeor temporary shelter, could we but reach them.

There was but a single way, and that led through the mighty, toweringtrees upon our right. That I could scale them I knew full well, butTars Tarkas, with his mighty bulk and enormous weight, would find it atask possibly quite beyond his prowess or his skill, for Martians areat best but poor climbers. Upon the entire surface of that ancientplanet I never before had seen a hill or mountain that exceeded fourthousand feet in height above the dead sea bottoms, and as the ascentwas usually gradual, nearly to their summits they presented but fewopportunities for the practice of climbing. Nor would the Martianshave embraced even such opportunities as might present themselves, forthey could always find a circuitous route about the base of anyeminence, and these roads they preferred and followed in preference tothe shorter but more arduous ways.

However, there was nothing else to consider than an attempt to scalethe trees contiguous to the cliff in an effort to reach the caves above.

The Thark grasped the possibilities and the difficulties of the plan atonce, but there was no alternative, and so we set out rapidly for thetrees nearest the cliff.

Our relentless pursuers were now close to us, so close that it seemedthat it would be an utter impossibility for the Jeddak of Thark toreach the forest in advance of them, nor was there any considerablewill in the efforts that Tars Tarkas made, for the green men of Barsoomdo not relish flight, nor ever before had I seen one fleeing from deathin whatsoever form it might have confronted him. But that Tars Tarkaswas the bravest of the brave he had proven thousands of times; yes,tens of thousands in countless mortal combats with men and beasts. Andso I knew that there was another reason than fear of death behind hisflight, as he knew that a greater power than pride or honour spurred meto escape these fierce destroyers. In my case it was love—love of thedivine Dejah Thoris; and the cause of the Thark’s great and sudden loveof life I could not fathom, for it is oftener that they seek death thanlife—these strange, cruel, loveless, unhappy people.

At length, however, we reached the shadows of the forest, while rightbehind us sprang the swiftest of our pursuers—a giant plant man withclaws outreaching to fasten his bloodsucking mouths upon us.

He was, I should say, a hundred yards in advance of his closestcompanion, and so I called to Tars Tarkas to ascend a great tree thatbrushed the cliff’s face while I dispatched the fellow, thus giving theless agile Thark an opportunity to reach the higher branches before theentire horde should be upon us and every vestige of escape cut off.

But I had reckoned without a just appreciation either of the cunning ofmy immediate antagonist or the swiftness with which his fellows werecovering the distance which had separated them from me.

As I raised my long-sword to deal the creature its death thrust ithalted in its charge and, as my sword cut harmlessly through the emptyair, the great tail of the thing swept with the power of a grizzly’sarm across the sward and carried me bodily from my feet to the ground.In an instant the brute was upon me, but ere it could fasten itshideous mouths into my breast and throat I grasped a writhing tentaclein either hand.

The plant man was well muscled, heavy, and powerful but my earthlysinews and greater agility, in conjunction with the deathly stranglehold I had upon him, would have given me, I think, an eventual victoryhad we had time to discuss the merits of our relative prowessuninterrupted. But as we strained and struggled about the tree intowhich Tars Tarkas was clambering with infinite difficulty, I suddenlycaught a glimpse over the shoulder of my antagonist of the great swarmof pursuers that now were fairly upon me.

Now, at last, I saw the nature of the other monsters who had come withthe plant men in response to the weird calling of the man upon thecliff’s face. They were that most dreaded of Martian creatures—greatwhite apes of Barsoom.

My former experiences upon Mars had familiarized me thoroughly withthem and their methods, and I may say that of all the fearsome andterrible, weird and grotesque inhabitants of that strange world, it isthe white apes that come nearest to familiarizing me with the sensationof fear.

I think that the cause of this feeling which these apes engender withinme is due to their remarkable resemblance in form to our Earth men,which gives them a human appearance that is most uncanny when coupledwith their enormous size.

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