At the Earth's Core

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 55

a few paces and then began to ascend a
primitive ladder similar to that which leads from the ground to the
upper stories of his house. We ascended for some forty feet when the
interior of the space between the walls commenced to grow lighter and
presently we came opposite an opening in the inner wall which gave us
an unobstructed view of the entire interior of the temple.

The lower floor was an enormous tank of clear water in which numerous
hideous Mahars swam lazily up and down. Artificial islands of granite
rock dotted this artificial sea, and upon several of them I saw men and
women like myself.

"What are the human beings doing here?" I asked.

"Wait and you shall see," replied Ja. "They are to take a leading part
in the ceremonies which will follow the advent of the queen. You may
be thankful that you are not upon the same side of the wall as they."

Scarcely had he spoken than we heard a great fluttering of wings above
and a moment later a long procession of the frightful reptiles of
Pellucidar winged slowly and majestically through the large central
opening in the roof and circled in stately manner about the temple.

There were several Mahars first, and then at least twenty awe-inspiring
pterodactyls--thipdars, they are called within Pellucidar. Behind
these came the queen, flanked by other thipdars as she had been when
she entered the amphitheater at Phutra.

Three times they wheeled about the interior of the oval chamber, to
settle finally upon the damp, cold bowlders that fringe the outer edge
of the pool. In the center of one side the largest rock was reserved
for the queen, and here she took her place surrounded by her terrible
guard.

All lay quiet for several minutes after settling to their places. One
might have imagined them in silent prayer. The poor slaves upon the
diminutive islands watched the horrid creatures with wide eyes. The
men, for the most part, stood erect and stately with folded arms,
awaiting their doom; but the women and children clung to one another,
hiding behind the males. They are a noble-looking race, these cave men
of Pellucidar, and if our progenitors were as they, the human race of
the outer crust has deteriorated rather than improved with the march of
the ages. All they lack is opportunity. We have opportunity, and
little else.

Now the queen moved. She raised her ugly head, looking about; then
very slowly she crawled to the edge of her

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