THE ABDUCTION OF NADARA
CAUTIOUSLY Thurg crawled into the cave where Nadara slept upon her couch of soft grasses, wrapped in the glossy pelt of Nagoola, the black panther.
The hulking form of the beast-man blotted out the faint light that filtered from the lesser darkness of the night without through the jagged entrance to the cave.
All within was in Stygian gloom.
Groping with his hands Thurg came at last upon a corner of the grassy pallet. Softly he wormed inch by inch closer to the sleeper. Now his fingers felt the thick fur of the panther skin.
Lightly, for so gross a thing, his touch followed the recumbent figure of the girl until his giant paws felt the silky luxuriance of her raven hair.
For an instant he paused. Then, quickly and silently, one great palm clapped roughly over Nadara's mouth, while the other arm encircled her waist, lifting her from her bed.
Awakened and terrified, Nadara struggled to free herself and to scream; but the giant hand across her mouth effectually sealed her lips, while the arm about her waist held her as firmly as might iron bands.
Thurg spoke no word, but as Nadara's hands came in contact with his hairy breast and matted beard as she fought for freedom she guessed the identity of her abductor, and shuddered.
Waiting only to assure himself that his hold upon his prisoner was secure and that no trailing end of her robe might trip him in his flight down the cliff face, Thurg commenced the descent.
Opposite the entrance to Thandar's cave Nadara redoubled her efforts to free her mouth that she might scream aloud but once. Thurg, guessing her desire, pressed his palm the tighter, and in a moment the tow had passed unnoticed to the ledge below.
Down the winding trail of the upper ledges Thurg's task was comparatively easy--thanks to Thandar, but at the second ledge from the bottom of the cliff he was compelled to take to the upper of the two ladders which completed the way to the ground below.
And here it was necessary to remove his hand from Nadara's mouth. In a low growl he warned her to silence with threats of instant death, then he removed his hand from across her face, grasped the top of the ladder and swung over the dangerous height with his burden under his arm.
For an instant Nadara was too paralyzed with terror to take advantage of her opportunity, but just as Thurg set foot upon the ledge at the bottom of the ladder she screamed aloud once.
Instantly Thurg's hand fell roughly across her lips. Brutally he shook her, squeezing her body in his mighty grip until she gasped for breath, and each minute expected to feel her ribs snap to the terrific strain.
For a moment Thurg stood silently upon the ledge, compressing the tortured body of his victim and listening for signs of pursuit from above.
Presently the agony of her suffering overcame Nadara--she swooned. Thurg felt her form relax, and his flabby lips twisted to a hideous grin.
The cliff was quiet--the girl's scream had not disturbed the slumbers of her tribesmen. Thurg swung the ladder he had just descended over the edge of the cliff below, and a moment later he stood at the bottom with his burden.
Without noise he removed the ladder and the sapling that he had used in his ascent, laying them upon the ground at the foot of the cliff. This would halt, temporarily, any pursuit until the cave men could bring other ladders from the higher levels, where they doubtless had them hidden.
But no pursuit developed, and Thurg disappeared into the dark forest with his prize.
For a long distance he carried her, his little pig eyes searching and straining to right and left into the black night for the first sign of savage beast. The half atrophied muscles of his little ears, still responding to an almost dead instinct, strove to prick those misshapen members forward that they might catch the first crackling of dead leaves beneath the padded paw of the fanged night prowlers.
But the wood seemed dead. No living creature appeared to thwart the beast-man's evil intent. Far behind him Thandar slept. Thurg grinned.
The moon broke through the clouds, splotching the ground all silver green beneath the forest trees. Nadara awoke from her swoon. They were in a little open glade. Instantly she recalled the happenings that had immediately preceded her unconsciousness. In the moonlight she recognized Thurg. He was smirking horribly down into her upturned face.
Thandar had often talked with her of religion. He had taught her of his God, and now the girl thanked Him that Thurg was still too low in the scale of evolution to have learned to kiss. To have had that matted beard, those flabby, pendulous lips pressed to hers! It was too horrible--she closed her eyes in disgust.
Thurg lowered her to her feet. With one hand he still clutched her shoulder. She saw him standing there before her--his greedy, blood-shot eyes devouring her. His awful lips shook and trembled as his hot breath sucked quickly in and out in excited gasps.
She knew that the end was coming. Frantically she cast about her for some means of defense or escape. Thurg was drawing her toward him.
Suddenly she drew back her clenched fist and struck him full in the mouth, then, tearing herself from his grasp, she turned and fled.
But in a moment he was upon her. Seizing her roughly by the shoulders he shook her viciously, hurling her to the ground.
The blood from his wounded lips dropped upon her face and throat.
From the distance came a deep toned, thunderous rumbling. Thurg raised his head and listened. Again and again came that awesome sound.
"The Great Nagoola is coming to punish you," whispered Nadara.
Thurg still remained squatting beside her. She had ceased to fight for now she felt that a greater power than hers was intervening to save her.
The ground beneath them trembled, shook and then tossed frightfully. The rumbling and the roaring became deafening. Thurg, his passion frozen in the face of this new terror, rose to his feet. For a moment there was a lull, then came another and more terrific shock.
The earth rose and fell sickeningly. Fissures opened, engulfing trees, and then closed like hungry mouths gulping food long denied.
Thurg was thrown to the ground. Now he was terror stricken. He screamed aloud in his fear.
Again there came a lull, and this time the beast-man leaped to his feet and dashed away into the forest. Nadara was alone.
Presently the earth commenced to tremble again, and the voice of The Great Nagoola rumbled across the world. Frightened animals scampered past Nadara, fleeing in all directions. Little deer, foxes, squirrels and other rodents in countless numbers scurried, terrified, about.
A great black panther and his mate trotted shoulder to shoulder into the glade where Nadara still stood too bewildered to know which way to fly.
They eyed her for a moment, as they paused in the moonlight, then without a second glance they loped away into the brush. Directly behind them came three deer.
Nadara realized that she had felt no fear of the panthers as she would have under ordinary circumstances. Even the little deer ran with their natural enemies. Every lesser fear was submerged in the overwhelming terror of the earthquake.
Dawn was breaking in the east. The rumblings were diminishing. The tremors at greater intervals and of lessening violence.
Nadara started to retrace her steps toward the village. Momentarily she looked to see Thandar coming in search of her, but she came to the edge of the forest and no sigh of Thandar or another of her tribesmen had come to cheer her.
At last she stepped into the open. Before her was the cliff. A cry of anguish broke from her lips at the sight that met her eyes. Torn, tortured and crumpled were the lofty crags that had been her home--the home of the tribe of Thandar.
The overhanging cliff top had broken away and lay piled in a jagged heap at the foot of the cliff. The caves had disappeared. The ledges had crumbled before the titanic struggles of The Great Nagoola. All was desolation and ruin.
She approached more closely. Here and there in the awful jumble of shattered rock were wedged the crushed and mangled forms of men, women and children.
Tears coursed down Nadara's cheeks. Sobs wracked her slender figure. And Thandar! Where was he?
With utmost difficulty the girl picked her way aloft over the tumbled debris. She could only guess at the former location of Thandar's cave, but now no sigh of cave remained--only the same blank waste of silent stone.
Frantically she tugged and tore at massive heaps of sharp edged rock. Her fingers were cut and bruised and bleeding. She called aloud the name of her man, but there was no response.
It was late in the afternoon before, weak and exhausted, she gave up her futile search. That night she slept in a crevice between two broken boulders, and the next morning she set out in search of a cave where she might live out the remainder of her lonely life in what safety and meager comfort a lone girl could wring from this savage world.
For a week she wandered hither and thither only to find most of the caves she had known in the past demolished as had been those of her people.
At last she stumbled upon the very cliff which Thandar had chosen as the permanent home of his people. Here the wrath of the earthquake seemed to have been less sever, and Nadara found, high in the cliff's face, a safe and comfortable cavern.
The last span to it required the use of a slender sapling, which she could draw up after her, effectually barring the approach of Nagoola and his people. To further protect herself against the chance of wandering men the girl carried a quantity of small bits of rock to the ledge beside the entrance to her cave.
Fruit and nuts and vegetables she took there too, and a great gourd of water from the spring below. As she completed her last trip, and sat resting upon the ledge, her eyes wandering over the landscape and out across the distant ocean, she thought she saw something move in the shadow of the trees across the open plain beneath her.
Could it have been a man? Nadara drew her sapling ladder to the ledge beside her.
Thurg, fleeing from the wrath of The Great Nagoola, had come at daybreak to the spot where his people had been camped, but there he found no sign of them, only the ragged edges of a great fissure, half-closed, that might have swallowed his entire tribe as he had seen the fissures in the forest swallow many, many trees at a single bite.
For some time he sought for signs of his tribesmen, but without success. Then, his fear of the earthquake allayed, he started back into the forest to find the girl. For days he sought her. He came to the ruins of the cliff that had housed her people, and there he discovered signs that the girl had been there since the demolition of the cliff.
He saw the print of her dainty foot in the soft earth at the base of the rocks--he saw how she had searched the debris for Thandar--he saw her bed of grasses in the crevice between tow boulders, and then, after diligent search, he found her spoor leading away to the east.
For many days he followed her until, at last, close by the sea, he came to a level plain at the edge of a forest. Across the narrow plain rose lofty hills--and what was that clambering aloft toward the dark mouth of a cave?
Could it be the woman? Thurg's eyes narrowed as he peered intently toward the cliff. Yes, it was a woman--it was THE woman--it was she he sought, and, she was alone.
With a whoop of exultation Thurg broke from the forest into the plain, running swiftly toward the cliff where Nadara crouched beside her little pile of jagged missiles, prepared to once more battle with this hideous monster for more than life.