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Chapter 32 Tarzan and the Forbidden City by Edgar Rice Burroughs

IN the cavern temple, Chon had finally regained control of his shattered nerves. He could curse again, and he did. "Curses on all who defile the temple of Chon, the true god," he cried.

"Chon!" exclaimed Tarzan. "But Chon is dead."

"Chon is not dead," replied the god. "I am Chon!"

"Chon was drowned when his galley was sunk, many years ago," insisted the ape-man.

"What do you know of all this?" demanded Chon.

"I know what Herkuf told me," replied Tarzan, "and he was a priest of Chon."

"Herkuf!" exclaimed Chon. "Does he live?"

"Yes, Chon; he is on his way now to Thobos with the casket of The Father of Diamonds which we found in the wreck of your galley at the bottom of Horus."

"Thanks be to Isis!" exclaimed Chon. "When Atka's galleys attacked us," he went on to explain, "I donned my water suit and helmet and leaped overboard. Thus I escaped, and eventually I found this cavern. Here I have lived for many years, watching my chance to capture ptomes from the temple of the false Brulor—ptomes who were still at heart faithful to the true god. If you have spoken the truth you shall all go free with my blessing."

"First of all," said Tarzan, "we must find the girls. D'Arnot, you come with me. Ungo, bring the mangani. The rest of you search the main corridor," and so the survivors set out in search of the missing girls, while Chon and his priests chanted a prayer for the safe return of The Father of Diamonds.

As the Asharians saw the girls leap into the water, the officer in charge of the galley directed that its course be changed; and it was rowed rapidly in their direction. Helen and Magra saw it coming and tried to find a place where they could gain the shore and escape, for they knew that there would be only enemies in the galley; but the precipitous cliff that fronted the lake at this point made escape impossible. The galley overtook them, and they were soon dragged into the craft.

"By Brulor!" exclaimed one of the Asharians. "This is the woman who murdered Zytheb, keeper of the keys of the temple. Atka will reward us well for this, for it was, doubtless, this woman who also contrived the flooding of the temple and the drowning of all within it."

Magra looked at Helen. "What more can happen to us?" she asked wearily.

"This must be the absolute end," replied Helen, "and I hope it is. I am very tired."

When they finally reached the city and were taken into Atka's presence, the Queen scowled horribly at them and pointed at Helen. "It was because of you," she cried, "that the temple was flooded and all the priests and handmaidens drowned. I cannot think of any punishment adequate to your crime, but I shall. Take them away!"

In the dungeon in which they were chained, they sat looking at one another, rather hopelessly. "I wonder how long it will take her to think up a punishment to fit the crime," said Helen. "Too bad she can't call in Gilbert and Sullivan."

Magra smiled. "I am glad you can joke," she said. "It makes it much easier to endure."

"Why not joke while we can?" asked Helen. "We shall soon be dead, and death is no joke."

The mad Thome wandered aimlessly near the banks of Horus, jabbering constantly of the things his great wealth would purchase from the fleshpots of Europe. He had no idea where Europe was nor how to reach it. He only recalled that it was a place where one might satisfy the cravings of every appetite. He was so engrossed in his mad dreaming that he did not see Taask approaching.

The Indian had been searching for Helen and had become separated from Gregory and Brian, when suddenly he came upon Atan Thome and saw the casket in his hands. Instantly he sloughed every thought but one—to get possession of the accursed thing that held the priceless diamond. Sneaking up on Thome, he leaped upon him. They rolled upon the ground, biting, kicking, and clawing. Taask was a younger, stronger man; and he soon wrenched the casket from Atan Thome; and, leaping to his feet, started to run away with it.

Screaming at the top of his voice, the madman picked up a rock and pursued him. There was murder in the eyes and heart of Atan Thome as he chased his erstwhile servant across the rocky ground above Ashair. Seeing that he could not overtake Lal Taask, Atan Thome hurled the rock at him; and by chance it struck the fleeing man full on the head, knocking him to the ground; and his mad pursuer was soon upon him. Recovering the rock, Thome pounded with all his strength upon the skull of Lal Taask until it was but a mass of splintered bone and brains; then, clutching the casket to his breast and screaming a challenge to the world, he fled.

Following the scent spoor of the two girls, Tarzan and d'Arnot found themselves in a third cavern of the temple, facing two bull apes.

"Where are the shes?" demanded Tarzan.

Zu-tho pointed toward the lake. "They jump," he said, "in water."

Tarzan looked out to see the Asharian galley rowing in the direction of the city; then he and d'Arnot returned to the throne room and related what they had seen. "I am going to take the apes to Ashair," he said. "With their help, I may be able to bring the girls out."

"My priests shall go with you," said Chon, and the party soon set out from the temple, the men armed with tridents and knives, the apes with their terrible fangs and their mighty muscles.

An excited warrior rushed into the throne room of Atka and knelt before her. "O Queen!" he cried, "a great fleet of war galleys is approaching from Thobos."

Atka turned to one of her aides. "Order out the entire fleet," she directed. "This day we shall destroy the power of Thobos forever."

As the Asharian horde embarked at the quay, Tarzan of the Apes looked down from the hillside above the city and watched them; and in the distance, approaching Ashair, he saw the war fleet of Herat approaching.

"Now is the time," he said to his motley followers, "we shall have fewer warriors to oppose us."

"We cannot fail," said a priest, "for Chon has blessed us."

A few minutes later the Lord of the Jungle led his little band over the wall into The Forbidden City. It was a bold, rash venture—at best a forlorn hope that thus they might succeed in saving Helen and Magra from death or an even more horrible fate. Success or failure—which would it be?

As the two fleets met amid the war cries of the opposing warriors, quarter was neither asked nor given, for each side felt that this was to be a battle to the death that would determine for all time which city was to rule the valley of Tuen-Baka. And while this bloody battle was being waged on sacred Horus, another battle was taking place before the gates of Atka's palace, as Tarzan sought to lead his little band into the presence of the Queen. It was Atka he sought, for he knew that with Atka in his power he could force the Asharians to give up their prisoners—if they still lived.

Finally they overcame the resistance at the gates, and Tarzan forced his way at the head of his company into the throne room of the Queen.

"I have come for the two women," he said. "Release them to me, and we will go away; refuse, and we shall go away; but we shall take you with us."

Atka sat in silence for a few minutes, her eyes fixed upon Tarzan. She was trembling slightly and appeared to be making an effort to gain control over her emotions. At last she spoke. "You have won," she said. "The women shall be fetched at once."

As Tarzan and his triumphant band led the girls from Ashair, Magra clung to his arm. "Oh, Tarzan," she whispered, "I knew that you would come. My love told me that you would."

The ape-man shook his head impatiently. "I do not like such talk," he said; "it is not for us. Leave that to Helen and Paul."

Herat, victorious, entered Ashair, the first king of Thobos to set foot within The Forbidden City. From the opening in the cavern of Chon, that looked out over the lake, Chon had seen the Asharian fleet demolished and the victorious Thobotian fleet steer toward Ashair; and when Tarzan and his party returned and the ape-man learned of the successful outcome of Herat's expedition, he had Chon send a messenger to Ashair to summon Herat, in the true god's name, to the temple.

When the greetings between Herat and Chon were concluded, the true god blessed the entire party, giving credit to the strangers for their part in the restoration of The Father of Diamonds to the temple of Chon and the successful reuniting of the King and the true god; then Herat, to demonstrate his own appreciation, offered to outfit the Gregory party and furnish them with galleys to take them out of Tuen-Baka. At last, their troubles seemed over.

"We are reunited and safe," said Gregory, "and, above all others, we owe it to you, Tarzan. How can we ever repay you?"

Gregory was interrupted by maniacal screams, as two of Herat's warriors who had been among the guard left at the outer entrance to the caverns, entered the temple, dragging Atan Thome between them.

"This man has a casket," reported one of the warriors, "which he says contains The Father of Diamonds."

"The true Father of Diamonds, which Herkuf just brought with him from Thobos," said Chon, "rests here in its casket on the altar before me. There cannot be two. Let us have a look at what the man has in his casket."

"No!" shrieked Atan Thome. "Don't open it! It is mine, and I have been waiting to open it in Paris. I shall buy all of Paris with it and be king of France!"

"Silence, mortal!" commanded Chon; then, very deliberately, he opened the casket, while the trembling Thome stared with mad eyes at the contents—a small lump of coal.

At sight of it, realizing what it was, Atan Thome screamed, clutched his heart, and fell dead at the foot of the altar of the true god.

"For this false and accursed thing," exclaimed Brian Gregory, "we have all suffered, and many have died; yet the irony of it is that it is, in truth, The Father of Diamonds."

"Men are strange beasts," said Tarzan.


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