The Gods of Mars

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 48

of therns.

Constant confinement below ground had wrought odd freaks upon their
skins. They more resemble corpses than living beings. Many are
deformed, others maimed, while the majority, Thuvia explained, are
sightless.

As they lay sprawled about the floor, sometimes overlapping one
another, again in heaps of several bodies, they suggested instantly to
me the grotesque illustrations that I had seen in copies of Dante's
INFERNO, and what more fitting comparison? Was this not indeed a
veritable hell, peopled by lost souls, dead and damned beyond all hope?

Picking our way carefully we threaded a winding path across the
chamber, the great banths sniffing hungrily at the tempting prey spread
before them in such tantalizing and defenceless profusion.

Several times we passed the entrances to other chambers similarly
peopled, and twice again we were compelled to cross directly through
them. In others were chained prisoners and beasts.

"Why is it that we see no therns?" I asked of Thuvia.

"They seldom traverse the underworld at night, for then it is that the
great banths prowl the dim corridors seeking their prey. The therns
fear the awful denizens of this cruel and hopeless world that they have
fostered and allowed to grow beneath their feet. The prisoners even
sometimes turn upon them and rend them. The thern can never tell from
what dark shadow an assassin may spring upon his back.

"By day it is different. Then the corridors and chambers are filled
with guards passing to and fro; slaves from the temples above come by
hundreds to the granaries and storerooms. All is life then. You did
not see it because I led you not in the beaten tracks, but through
roundabout passages seldom used. Yet it is possible that we may meet a
thern even yet. They do occasionally find it necessary to come here
after the sun has set. Because of this I have moved with such great
caution."

But we reached the upper galleries without detection and presently
Thuvia halted us at the foot of a short, steep ascent.

"Above us," she said, "is a doorway which opens on to the inner
gardens. I have brought you thus far. From here on for four miles to
the outer ramparts our way will be beset by countless dangers. Guards
patrol the courts, the temples, the gardens. Every inch of the
ramparts themselves is beneath the eye of a sentry."

I could not understand the necessity for such an enormous force of
armed men about a spot so surrounded by mystery

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