Warlord of Mars

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 76

but before we reached the city gate I was to learn the
purpose of that grim shaft and the meaning of the mighty accumulation
beneath it.

We had come almost to the gate when one of the party called to
his fellows, at the same time pointing toward the distant southern
horizon. Following the direction he indicated, my eyes descried
the hull of a large flier approaching rapidly from above the crest
of the encircling hills.

"Still other fools who would solve the mysteries of the forbidden
north," said the officer, half to himself. "Will they never cease
their fatal curiosity?"

"Let us hope not," answered one of the warriors, "for then what
should we do for slaves and sport?"

"True; but what stupid beasts they are to continue to come to a
region from whence none of them ever has returned."

"Let us tarry and watch the end of this one," suggested one of the
men.

The officer looked toward the city.

"The watch has seen him," he said; "we may remain, for we may be
needed."

I looked toward the city and saw several hundred warriors issuing
from the nearest gate. They moved leisurely, as though there were
no need for haste--nor was there, as I was presently to learn.

Then I turned my eyes once more toward the flier. She was moving
rapidly toward the city, and when she had come close enough I was
surprised to see that her propellers were idle.

Straight for that grim shaft she bore. At the last minute I saw
the great blades move to reverse her, yet on she came as though
drawn by some mighty, irresistible power.

Intense excitement prevailed upon her deck, where men were running
hither and thither, manning the guns and preparing to launch the
small, one-man fliers, a fleet of which is part of the equipment
of every Martian war vessel. Closer and closer to the black shaft
the ship sped. In another instant she must strike, and then I saw
the familiar signal flown that sends the lesser boats in a great
flock from the deck of the mother ship.

Instantly a hundred tiny fliers rose from her deck, like a swarm of
huge dragon flies; but scarcely were they clear of the battleship
than the nose of each turned toward the shaft, and they, too, rushed
on at frightful speed toward the same now seemingly inevitable end
that menaced the larger vessel.

A moment later the collision came. Men were hurled in every
direction from the ship's deck, while she, bent and crumpled, took
the last, long plunge

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