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A FLIGHT UNDERGROUND.

from The Lost City





That sudden appearance and flight of another man took Ixtli even
more by surprise than it did Bruno, for he never even suspected
such a possibility, knowing Prince Hua so well. Still, the young
brave was swift to rally, swift to pursue, sending a menace of
certain death in case the fleeing cur should not yield himself.

Just then Bruno had eyes and thoughts for the Sun Children alone,
who quite naturally shrunk back in mingled surprise and alarm at
his unceremonious entrance. He forgot his disguise, forgot
everything save that before him stood the fair beings whom he had
vowed to save at all hazards from what appeared to him worse by
far than actual death.

Gillespie never knew just what words crossed his lips during
those first few seconds, but he saw that the women, in place of
eagerly accepting his aid, were visibly shrinking, apparently
more alarmed than delighted with the opportunity thus offered.

Doubtless this was caused mainly by that odd blending of Aztec
and paleface, the colour and garb of the one joined to the tongue
of the other; but the result might have been even worse, had not
Ixtli hastened back to clear up more matters than one.

In spite of his utmost efforts, the second Indian had escaped
with life, although he received a glancing wound from an arrow,
as he plunged down towards the lower level; and nothing seemed
more certain than that an alarm would right speedily spread
throughout the town, if only for the purpose of hurrying succour
to the Lord Hua.

All this rolled in swift words over Ixtli's lips, his warning
finding completion before either of the women could fairly
interrupt the young brave. But then the one whom Ixtli termed
Victo spoke rapidly in his musical tongue, one strong white hand
waving towards the now somewhat embarrassed Gillespie.

"He friend; come save you, like save Ixtli," the Aztec hurriedly
made reply, with generous tact speaking so that Bruno could
comprehend as well as the women. "He good; all good! Paba bad;
'Tzin more bad; be worse bad if stay here, Victo--Glady."

Thus given the proper cue, Bruno took fresh courage and, in as
few words as might be, explained his mission. He spoke the name
of Cooper Edgecombe, and for the first time that queenly woman
showed signs of weakness, staggering back with a faint, choking
gasp, one hand clasped spasmodically above her madly throbbing
heart, the other rising to her temples as though in fear of
coming insanity.

"He is well; he is safe and longing for his loved ones," Bruno
swiftly added, producing the brief note which the exiled aeronaut
had pressed into his hand at almost the last moment. "He wrote
you that--here it is, and--"

"Make hurry, quick!" sharply interposed Ixtli, as ominous sounds
began to arise without the Temple of the Sun God. "Dog git 'way,
howl for more. Come here--kill like gods be glad."

With an evident effort Victo rallied, tones far from steady as
she begged both young men to save themselves without thought of
them.

"I thank you; heaven alone knows how overjoyed I am to hear from
my dear husband,--my poor child's own father! And he is near,
to--But go, go! Guide and protect him, Ixtli, for--Go, I implore
you, sir!"

"But how--we haven't arranged how you are to be rescued, and I
must understand--"

"Later, then; another time, through Ixtli," interrupted Mrs.
Edgecombe, since there could no longer be a doubt as to her
identity. "If found here 'twill be our ruin as well as your own.
Go, and at once I fear that Lord Hua may--"

"He 'live yet," pronounced Ixtli, rising from a hasty examination
o f the fallen chieftain. "Dat bad; much more worse bad! He
dog; all over dog!"

"And I greatly fear he must have recognised you as one of a
foreign race, in spite of your disguise," added the elder woman,
trouble in her face even as it showed in her voice. "He will be
wild for revenge, and I fear--Go, and directly, Ixtli!"

Bruno Gillespie was only too well assured that this latest fear
had foundation on truth. Swiftly though he had wielded the
awkward (to him) hand-wood, Huatzin had sufficient time to sight
his assailant, and almost certainly had divined at least a
portion of the truth.

Doubtless it would have been the more prudent course to repeat
that blow with greater precision; but Bruno could not bring
himself to do just that, even though the ugly cries were growing
in volume on the ground level; and he felt that capture would be
but the initial step to death, in all likelihood upon the great
stone of sacrifice.

Imminent though their peril surely was, Bruno could not betake
himself to flight without at least partially performing the duty
for which he had volunteered; and so he took time to hurriedly
utter:

"Watch from the top of the tower for the air-ship, and be ready
to leave at any moment, I implore you--both!"

For even now his admiring gaze could with difficulty be torn away
from yonder younger, even more lovely, visage; although as yet
the maiden had spoken no word, even shrinking away from this
strangely speaking Aztec as though in affright.

"Come, brother, or too late," urged Ixtli, almost sternly. "Save
you, or Glass-eyes call Ixtli dog-liar. Come; must run, no
fight; too big many for that."

And so it seemed, when the young men rushed away from the lighted
interior and gained the uncovered space beyond. Loud cries came
soaring through the night from different directions, and dim,
phantom-like shapes could be glimpsed in hurrying confusion.

Apparently the majority only knew that trouble of some
description was brewing, and that the centre of interest was
either in or near the Temple of the Sun God; yet that was more
than sufficient to place the white intruder in great peril,
despite the elaborate disguise he wore.

Then with awful abruptness there came a sound which could only be
likened to rolling thunder by one uninitiated, but which caused
Ixtli to shrink and almost cower, ere gasping:

"The great war-drum! Now MUST go! Sacrifice if caught; come,
white brother! See, dat more bad now!"

Those mighty throbs rolled and reverberated from the hills,
filling the night air with waves of thunder, none the less
awe-inspiring now that their true import was realised.

The entire population was aroused, and each building seemed to
cast forth an armed host, while, as through some magic touch, a
circle of fires sprung up on all sides, beginning to illumine
both valley and barrier.

Bruno stood like one appalled, really fascinated by this
transformation scene for which he had been so poorly prepared;
but Ixtli better comprehended their situation, and gripping an
arm he muttered, hastily:

"Come, brother; stop more, make too late. Must hide, now. Dat
stop go back way came. Come!"

Bruno roused himself with an effort, then yielded to the Aztec's
guidance, crouching low as the brief bit of clear moonlight had
to be traversed.

Instead of making for the steps which, as customary, reached from
terrace to terrace at each corner, Ixtli crept to the centre,
where the temple-side was cast into deepest shadow, then lowered
himself by his arms, to drop silently to the broad path below.

A whispered word urged Bruno to imitate this action, and those
friendly hands caught and steadied Gillespie as he took the drop.
And so, one after another, the mighty steps were passed, both
young men reaching the ground at the same instant, having
succeeded in leaving the Temple of the Sun God without being
glimpsed by an Indian of all those whom the sonorous drum-throbs
had brought forth In arms.

"Whither now?" asked Bruno, in guarded tones, as he looked forth
from shadow into moonlight, seeing scores upon scores of armed
shapes flitting to and fro, all looking for the enemy, yet none
able to precisely locate the trouble.

Just then a savage yell broke from the top of the temple,
followed by a few fierce-sounding sentences, which Ixtli declared
came from the Lord Hua, then adding:

"He say kill if catch, but dat--no! Come, white brother. Ixtli
show how play fool dat dog; yes!"

"All right, my hearty. Is it a break for the hills? I reckon I
can break through. If not--well, I'll leave some marks behind
me, anyway!"

"No, no, dat bad! Can't go to hills; must hide," positively
declared the young Aztec. "Come, now. Me show good place; all
dead but we."

Evidently trusting to pass undetected where so many others were
rushing back and forth in seeming confusion, Ixtli broke away
from the shadow of the temple, closely followed by Gillespie,
heading as directly as might be for the strange refuge which he
now had in mind.

That proved to be a low, unpretending structure which was of no
great extent, so far as Bruno's hasty look could ascertain.
Still, that was not the time for doubting the wisdom of his
guide, nor a moment in which to discuss either methods or means;
and as Ixtli passed through a massive entrance, the paleface
followed, giving a little shiver as the barrier swung to behind
them.

"What sort of a place is it, anyway, Ixtli?" he demanded, but the
Aztec was too hurried for words, just then, save enough to warn
his companion in peril that they must descend deeper into the
earth.

It was more of a scramble than a deliberate descent, for the
gloom was complete, and Bruno had no time in which to feel for
steps or stairs. Only for the aiding touch of his guide, he must
have taken more than one awkward tumble ere that lower level was
attained.

Then a breathing-spell was granted him, and, while Ixtli bent ear
in listening to discover if pursuit was being made, Bruno drew a
match from the liberal supply he had taken the precaution to
fetch along, and, striking it, held aloft the tiny torch to view
their present surroundings.

Only to give an involuntary start and cry as he caught indistinct
glimpses of fleshless bones and grinning skulls, those grim
relics of mortality showing upon every side as his wild eyes
roved around.

Then a hand struck down the match, and a swift voice breathed:

"Dey come dis way. See us hide--come hunt, now, to kill!"





Next: THE SUN CHILDREN'S PERIL.

Previous: A DARING UNDERTAKING.



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