The Ape-men of Xlotli
Kirby, already falling back toward the other girls, caught Naida up in his arms, and ran.
“Nini!” he bellowed. “Ivana! Get the rifles!”
While the two whom he had ordered sprang to a corridor, and four others followed, Kirby fell in with the others and dropped Naida on her feet. Sick as he was, there was still a ray of hope, because the hard-headed precaution he had taken against treachery this morning was to have Nini and Ivana bring the rifles here and hide them.
The first of the ape-men, snarling, laughing, had hopped beyond the altar, and the yellow foam of madness was slavering from his jaws. Over his shoulder he howled some jargon which made his hairy legion struggle to catch up with him.
“Have you got any puff balls?” Kirby snapped at Naida.
She shook her head numbly, just as Nini and Ivana swung forward with the Mannlichers.
“No. But you had sense enough to bring the rifles! Oh, what does it mean?”
“The Duca has sold himself out to the ape-man! He was helpless against us, and has brought them to destroy us for him. Here, Ivana, give me a rifle! Everyone for herself!”
The next moment he had a Mannlicher at his shoulder.
As the thing kicked, an ape who would have reached him in two more jumps crashed over with his heart torn out, the temple echoed with sound which threatened to rip its solid walls apart, and bright flashes at Kirby’s right and left told him that other rifles were getting under way.
He fired again, twice more, slaughtering an ape with each shot. The five other rifles were creating havoc.
Blocked by a dozen torn and bleeding bodies on the floor, the reenforcements which still poured from the corridor, began to mill around amongst themselves, and the forward charge slowed down. All the panic which had sent the ape-men scuttling from the beach at their first experience of gunfire, seemed ready to break loose again now.
Kirby felt it was good enough for the work of a minute.
“Get into line as I showed you how!” he shouted. “Rifles in the front rank, the others behind them. We’re all right now! Keep firing!”
“Keep behind me!” he ordered Naida, still unarmed.
Then he placed a shell in the chest of one brute who was broader and heavier than the others--a leader--and saw that he had increased the demoralization; and from the hastily-formed front rank a volley leaped hot and jagged.
Then the rout which had threatened broke loose. As eight ape-men slumped into blubbering, bleeding heaps, the milling remainder of the horde turned, and in a fighting, scrambling frenzy attempted to get back to the corridor.
Kirby let his triumph take the form of thoughts about what he would do to the Duca when that personage could be rounded up.
“Follow after them!” he ordered. “Don’t stop until we have located the Duca. He is the one we must settle--”
But he never finished.
As he himself, holding fire for a second, prepared to follow up the retreat, he found himself confronted by the utterly unexpected.
A voice unquestionably the Duca’s began to shout orders at the ape-men from somewhere down the corridor! And, riot or no riot, the tones of that voice seemed to inspire the creatures with more fear than the rifle fire.
So suddenly the change came, that by the time Kirby flung his rifle again to his shoulder, the crazy retreat had been halted, and as he fired again, the ape-men swung in their tracks and began to charge!
There was no time to guess by what power the Duca had turned the tables. There was not even time for orders. Kirby fired twice, knowing that the ape-men had been infused with some spirit which would bring them on in spite of rifle fire.
Naida, unarmed, cried out behind him, and he shoved his gun at her.
He had just inserted a new clip. He handed her others.
“Fire for your lives!” he shouted to the girls.
“But you!” Naida gasped. “You are unarmed!”
“I’ll be all right.”
On the floor lay a jagged, hand-chipped knife of obsidion which had fallen as some ape died. Kirby grabbed it.
In another second the flood of ape-men had burst in all its fury over him. Crashing, thundering shots were dinning in his ears, animal death screams and the Valkyrie battle cries of the girls filled the temple. He could not tell how many of the apes were fighting him. As a cave-man’s club whizzed past his head, he drove his knife once, and yanked it dripping from hairy, yielding flesh to plunge it again. A sudden side-step carried him away from another assailant. He dropped the knife to snatch the gigantic club of one of the creatures he had killed.
Quicker in every movement than the ape-men, he laid on, right and left, with such power that blood spurted in a dozen places, and heads were split open on every side. And because of his speed, the frantic, clumsy blows and knife thrusts which were directed at him proved harmless.