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Before | After

Beastmaster/Tarzan : untitled

Fandom: Tarzan/Beastmaster crossover
Disclaimer: I do not own Tarzan or Beastmaster -- but what man can ever be owned?
Rating: young adult: no sex, overt or implied, or language (but it's good anyway!)
Short synopsis: After a magical event lands Tarzan in the Mydlands, he joins with the Beastmaster to investigate. Takes place shortly after Beastmaster Season 1 and between The Return of Tarzan and The Beasts of Tarzan.

The jungle was filled all of a sudden with the cries of animals. He who was John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – but always thought of himself as Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle – was on his feet before he was fully awake. The screams were centered three miles West of his position. It was just past midday, a time when most of the denizens of the jungle rested, as had Tarzan and his mate been. On the pallet of leaves where they had been dozing, Jane Clayton, Lady Greystoke, sat awake, clutching her knees against her teeth. Her eyes told Tarzan everything: she was startled, apprehensive, but strong in her trust of her mate’s vast ability to protect her. She nodded to him, almost imperceptibly, and he was off. As he was lost to her sight, the screeching of animals ceased, replaced by a silence which, in contrast, brought a chill to the American woman’s heart. Shuddering, she moved her hands protectively to cover her womb. She didn’t want to tell Tarzan until she was quite sure, but she believed that she was pregnant.

Having walked far, two men shared an afternoon repast on the shaded bank of a slow river. Nearby, a male tiger snoozed in a patch of sun, while two chittering ferrets tumbled about, hoping for a tidbit of food. The shorter, darker man shook his head and laughed. “If we gave them all the food they ask for, they’d be so fat you couldn’t carry them!”

There was no response.


At the sound of his name, the other returned from his reverie. “Tao, I’m sorry. I was thinking . . .” He didn’t need to finish. Although Tao couldn’t read the thoughts of his friend, he knew him well enough to deduce them. Nearly half a year ago, Dar had witnessed the death of his one true love. A tough man, physically and emotionally, he had nonetheless taken the loss very hard.

Tao wished to let his friend mourn, but was growing weary of his periods of moodiness. He decided to repeat his joke about the ferrets. “Well, I was just saying, if we – “ he broke off as the tiger half rose, tensing, and Dar’s blond head swung to focus on the animal. Eyes of man and tiger locked briefly, then both stood, the man gathering his food and belongings.

“There is a disturbance. Ruh wants to have a look.”

“Disturbance?” Tao asked, scrabbling to gather his own belongings. Several small animals ran past them, making sounds of distress. “What could be disturbing to a tiger? And why would he want to go to it?”

Dar was already dashing off, in the tracks of his tiger friend, Ruh. Over his shoulder, he called: “Something in the air, but not like weather. Ruh says it feels like when the Sorceress is about.”

“And why are we going to it?” Tao asked again, sprinting to catch up.

Several of the animals turned to look at him as Tarzan entered the clearing, but most of them stared fixedly ahead. There were representatives of all the many species of the jungle there – predator and prey; animals of the earth, trees, and air – all their differences forgotten as they marvelled at the terrible new presence. Their screams of terror had given way to the silence of a more subtle fear: fear of the unknown.

Thank the sun and rains that the Lord of the Jungle was here! In all the jungle, none was more powerful than Tarzan. Even this new threat would surely be subdued by him. Tarzan had been raised in the jungle by a tribe of anthropoid apes, but as a young adult had returned to civilization, where he had studied languages, history, and science, as well as learning much of man’s culture, before he had rejected it all to return to his true home, the jungle.

Though the swirling vortex of color, hanging in midair like a vision from eating overripe fruit, filled his ape’s heart with fear, his man’s brain recognized the principles of physics. He had seen such images created by machines in the universities of Paris and London. The animal fear left him. He replaced his knife in its thong and stepped toward the vortex. Its colors intensified, and a sound somewhere between humming and chanting reached his ears.

The animals remained where they stood, watching silently as the man stepped closer, closer to the vortex. Suddenly, Otdek, a young male ape of Tarzan’s tribe, cried out “Tarzan!” and rushed forward. In his haste, the ape lost his footing and crashed into Tarzan. Both fell forward, disappearing into the vortex. The animals began to wail anew.

Ruh, the tiger, led the way. Dar and Tao kept several paces behind him. Many of the threats of their world, especially those involving sorcery, were generally of more danger to men than to tigers. Dar’s ability to communicate telepathically with Ruh added another level of security to the little procession.

Approaching a clearing, through which the group of travellers had passed earlier the previous day, Ruh stopped and lowered his head. He made a low sound in his throat and transmitted to Dar a short message: hold! In turn, Dar shot his hand out to the side to stall Tao’s progress.

Ruh crept forward as if he were stalking prey. Entering the clearing, he was met with a shocking sight. In his association with Dar, whom other men called the Beastmaster, Ruh had seen much of the machines of men and the magic of sorcerers, who, after all, were more men than beasts. But here there were no men or wizards, and yet a yawning, spinning wheel of colors and sound hung in midair. Despite his stout heart, Ruh felt afraid, and he did what he always did to dispel fear. He roared.

Dar did not get clear images from his tiger friend’s mind. He sensed curiosity, wonder, then fear – and as Ruh filled his lungs with air for his mighty roar, Dar sensed that, too, and, drawing his staff, rushed forward into the clearing.

He stopped abruptly, almost knocking over Tao who was, as usual, just behind him. The vortex hung before him. Its colors were beautiful, the sound intriguing, but Dar had seen enough evil disguised as beauty to be cautious. As he pondered the situation, the swirling of the vortex grew stronger, its strange music took on a new rasp, and, from its middle, dropped a naked, black-haired man with a young ape clinging to his leg.

Long experience in the jungle had taught Tarzan that he must regain his feet immediately, and had given him the agility to do so. He sprang into a crouch, one hand moving to his knife, while the other signalled Otdek not to move.

The tiger stood his ground, eyes fixed on the newcomers and muscles tensed, should action become necessary.

Tao took two steps back, while Dar extended an open hand and stepped forward. “We are friends.”

Tarzan did not understand the other man’s words, but his gesture was universal. The ape-man moved his hand from his knife, and stood erect. Tao and Ruh, less trusting than the Beastmaster, remained where they were.

Tarzan began to step forward, to take the hand that Dar offered, but was stopped by Otdek’s giant hands as they gripped his arm. The ape began to scream as a crack of electricity arced across the mysterious vortex. The strange singing grew louder, and then the vortex disappeared completely.

No one moved for a long moment. The two men stood frozen, with hands extended toward one another. The ape, quiet now except for a soft whimper, still clung to Tarzan’s elbow.

In the space, Tarzan had time to assess the man who faced him. He was smaller, and blond, but otherwise Tarzan found him oddly similar to himself: fit, tanned, dressed only in a loincloth. He carried a leather pouch, and a bone staff, but Tarzan did not see any evidence of another weapon.

It was Ruh who broke the silence, chuffing hard and shaking his immense head. Tao’s tongue was loosened, and he began asking the hundred questions that had occurred to him.

“Tao!” Dar warned, quietly but firmly. “A moment.”

He continued his forward motion and gripped Tarzan’s hand. Each man used the moment to gauge the other’s strength, and both were impressed.

“Parlez-vous Français?” asked Tarzan. Most of the races of man he had encountered spoke, or at least understood, the International
Language. But Dar merely smiled, shaking his head. “Do you speak English? Sprechen sie Deutsch? Ti-tkállīm-Árab-i?”

Each question was met with the same lack of comprehension. Tarzan was unconcerned; he had a gift for languages, and was confident he could acquire this one as well. He turned his attention to his surroundings. They were clearly no longer in his African jungle. This was more like the temperate forests he had visited in America. It sounded and smelled different, too. As he looked around, his eyes fell on the tiger, who now stood at Dar’s side. The eyes of man and beast met, and Tarzan was surprised at the intelligence he felt there. This tiger, he realized, was used to close association with men. Speaking in the ape language of his childhood, Tarzan addressed Otdek: “We have travelled to a strange land. That cat is not like the cats of our acquaintance. And those men . . . “ his voice dropped, conveying his wonder. “They are unlike any men I have ever met.”

Dar and Tao exchanged a look. Tao stated the obvious: “This man speaks the language of the apes.”

A small smile played around Dar’s lips as an idea came to him. Focusing his mind on the young ape, he sent a message: Hello.

Otdek made a small fearful sound and clung to Tarzan’s arm, chattering. “Tall one speak in my head, hello.”

Tarzan raised an eyebrow and looked at Dar, appraising him yet again in this new light. The ape-man knew that many animals communicated through the use of their minds, but he had never met a man who could do it. He, himself, would have like to have that ability but had found that it was not in him. He scooted Otdek forward by taking hold of his shoulder. “Well,” Tarzan said. “Be polite and respond to him. Then ask him where we are.”

A moment passed as silent conversation took place, Otdek’s expressive eyes showing a mixture of fear and concentration.

“This place Mydlands,” Otdek told Tarzan, repeating the strange word carefully. “They not know Africa, not know what make swirling light. Not know much, for men.” Otdek sniffed in disdain in a manner so human that both Tarzan and Dar laughed.

Come with us to our camp, Dar told Otdek, where we can sit and talk further.

It was not far, and soon the small group was seated comfortably on the grass. As Dar removed his pouch, Tarzan’s sensitive nose detected the scent of weasels. Although his thoughts were focused on finding a way home, he knew that his body required sustenance, and hoped there might be enough weasel to share. But he was to be disappointed. Dar’s two ferret friends, Kodo and Podo, poked their heads from the pouch, eyeing the strangers suspiciously. Dar lifted them up, making contact with their minds and suggesting they seek some dinner for themselves. Tarzan watched them go with some regret, knowing it would be poor politics to eat the ferrets – at least for the moment.

As Kodo and Podo trundled off, Tarzan pointed to them, then put his fingertips against his temples as he had seen charlatan mentalists do in the salons of London. Dar understood, and nodded. Then Tarzan gestured from Dar to himself, and made the same motion with his fingers and temples. Dar shook his head with a smile, and began to explain, but Tarzan thumped his chest and pantomimed his request again, more forcefully. Dar sensed something, and decided to try. He looked into Tarzan’s eyes, seeking his mind. He felt a flash, sensed a few emotions, but was unable to penetrate the wall that, in all men, surrounded the animal brain, a result of their higher brain functions. Dar spread his arms and shook his head again.

Tarzan nodded sadly. He had felt Dar at the edge of his mind, and had felt him fail. The ape-man felt again the familiar sadness that he could never fully be either man or beast.

Tao watched the exchange in fascination. Other than Dar, he had never seen another man so at ease with animals. He had thought that, perhaps, here was another with the gift of telepathic communication, but apparently that was not the case.

Otdek, too, had been watching, and now he moved cautiously to Dar and laid a black hand on the Beastmaster’s leg, looking up into his eyes. As best he could, he told Dar the story of Tarzan, and about his beautiful wife. Dar nodded his understanding, and conveyed a bit about himself, including the painful loss of his own beloved. Otdek repeated the story to Tarzan in their shared language, while Dar brought Tao up to date.

When they had done, Tarzan asked Dar, though Otdek, to help him learn the language of the Mydlands. Dar indicated Tao with his thumb, saying, “He is the one who is good with languages. Tao, do you mind -- ?”

Tao beamed. “No, no, of course not!” He was proud whenever his scholarly abilities proved to be of use in the many adventures he and Dar had shared. A testament not only to Tao’s skill as a teacher, but also to Tarzan’s exceptional capacity as a student, by nightfall the ape-man had learned the rudiments of Tao’s language, if not much vocabulary.

As the group sat eating a meal of local nuts and roots, Tarzan asked what thoughts the others had about solving the mystery of the vortex, and how he might find his way home.

Tao spoke up immediately. “Sorceress!” Seeing Tarzan’s blank look, he explained. “Many of the problems we encounter here are the result of magic. The one we call sorceress seems to have an unusual interest in the affairs of men. This seems like her work.”

“But why?”

“Her reasons are not always clear to we who suffer her whims.”

“Well, where can we find this Sorceress?”

Tao and Dar shared a look, and Dar spoke. “We won’t. But if she’s behind this, I expect she will find us.”

Tarzan threw a bit of nutshell in frustration. He did not trust any of his jungle friends to protect Jane, his mate. What’s more, he missed her companionship. Suddenly, his anger grew, and found an outlet in a tirade against Otdek. “You! This is all your fault! You pushed me into the vortex, you clumsy, foolish, little ape!”

He rose to his full height, formidable indeed, and Otdek fled in terror. Many times had he witnessed the wrath of Tarzan, and he knew that the ape-man’s accusation was valid. He had panicked, and had run into Tarzan, pushing him into the swirling light. If Tarzan killed him, it would only be what he deserved; still, the first rule of the jungle was to do anything to stay alive, and so he ran.

Back at the camp, Dar laid a firm hand on Tarzan’s chest, even though the other man towered above him, a quivering giant, blinded by rage. And in that moment, Dar’s mind found Tarzan’s, and sent it a message: Peace!

Tarzan felt calm fill him as though the word had been a potion. As his human lucidity returned to him, Dar’s touch was pushed from his mind. The eyes of the two men met. Tarzan was still angry, but it was a dull anger, not a driving rage. He pushed Dar’s hand away, and sat again.

“Otdek –“ Tao began.

“He is not my responsibility,” stated Tarzan, coldly.

“He doesn’t know anything about this place. He cannot survive.”

“He will survive, if he chooses to.” The conviction in Tarzan’s voice told the others much about his philosophy of life, tested in the jungles of Africa and the cities of devious men.

“Well, I . . . “ stammered Tao.

Dar held up his hand to silence his friend. Dar’s mind found Otdek not far off, cowering in dense foliage. He told the ape he’d be safe to sleep there, and recommended it. Then, he addressed Tarzan, who sat sulkily, his dark eyes fixed on the ground. “We all need to sleep now.” He began to settle into a pallet of leaves.

“I need to get home to my mate.” Tarzan rose. “When I again feel her gentle arms around me, then I will sleep.”

“You will need your wits sharp to find a way home.” Said Dar, from his position on the ground. “And you need sleep to keep your wits sharp. But,” he waved his hand. “If you feel you must go, then I wish you luck. Be cautious, for there is much sorcery out there, and your muscles are powerless against it.”

Tarzan hesitated a moment, his jaw tense. Finally, he said, “Thank you for your hospitality.” And, still not making eye contact with the Beastmaster, he left the little camp.

Tao watched him go, and, incredulous, watched Dar settled back down into his pallet. “You can’t just let him go. He has no idea what he is dealing with here!”

Not opening his eyes, Dar smiled. “I have a feeling this one can take care of himself.”

Lacking her husband’s facility with the languages of their jungle home, Jane was unable to get a clear impression of what had happened. Many of their animal friends tried to tell her, but all she really understood was that he was gone. Even after everything she had seen her husband survive, she worried for his safety. She tried not to think about what would happen to her, and the child she believed she carried, if Tarzan never returned. Instead, she turned herself to preparing a store of roots, just as she had planned to do before any of this happened.

Tarzan walked slowly through the forest, using his evolved senses of smell and hearing to learn about his surroundings. At one point, he smelled Otdek, and turned to go another direction. He was still angry and did not care to meet up with the foolish ape. Shortly, he came to a cliffside, with a slow-running river far below. The moonlight was strong, and Tarzan considered making his way down the cliff, but changed his mind. He turned, and nearly fell backwards over the cliff when he found a woman standing there. He had neither heard nor smelled her approach, something that rarely happened to him. It was as if she had just appeared there. From the way she was dressed, in a long, sleeveless dress made of satin, he guessed she must be some sort of noble, and so he made a small bow.

Tossing her blond curls, the Sorceress laughed. “I think I like our new friend!”

Tarzan realized that he was hearing her words in French. “Madame,” said he, as he had learned to address a lady in Paris society.

Again, her musical laugh. “You may call me Sorceress.”

He started as anger rose in him again. “Sorceress! You are the one who created the vortex!”

She pressed her lips into a line before responding. “No,” she said quietly. “But I did see it. The magic that created it was very powerful, very dark. Come away from that cliff.”

As he did so, she walked around him, looking him up and down while he kept a wary eye on her. Her smile indicated that she approved of what she saw. Tarzan was used to the adoration of women, and not influenced by it. He was more interested in finding a solution to his problem.

“If you are a sorceress, can you not open a vortex to take me home?” Tarzan asked her.

She was still smiling. “I have sworn not to interfere with the lives of men. Even if I could, I’m not sure I could open the vortex exactly where it was before.”

“I did not choose for my life to be interfered in, yet it happened. You would be setting things right. Please, I must get home to my mate.”

The Sorceress raised her eyebrows. “Ah, your mate. Of course. Man’s eternal quest for love. I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do.”

Tarzan sighed heavily. “Then why are you here? Why seek me out in the middle of the night?”

A look of hurt crossed the Sorceress’s face, then was gone, replaced with forced indifference. “I was curious.”

“Well, if you have satisfied your curiosity, you will excuse me,” He pushed his way past her and strode back into the forest.

“Wait!” she called after him. He ignored her, but she rematerialized in front of him. “Perhaps I can help a little.” Holding out her hand, she conjured a small ball of light, which slowly formed into a small teardrop crystal. “This crystal will turn color when you are near dark magic. Dark magic is common around here, so I don’t know how much use it will be to you, but it is all I can think of.”

Tarzan made no move to take the crystal.

“Go on, take it!” she snapped. This one might be more handsome than Dar, but was equally more aggravating.

“I have heard about you. You claim that you do not interfere with men, but I have heard differently. How do I know this crystal is not some devious plan of yours to . . . to . . . capture, or . . . manipulate me?”

“Very well.” She blew on the little crystal and it turned to dust, wafting away on her breath. Narrowing her eyes, she waved her hand and disappeared.

At dawn, Dar awoke to find Otdek, asleep, curled tightly against him. With a chuckle, he gently shook the little ape. Good morning.

Miss Tarzan. Don’t care what happen to me.

We will find him.

While Tao prepared a quick breakfast, Dar called his eagle friend, Sharak. Otdek cringed as the huge bird landed on Dar’s arm. In his African jungle home, eagles and anthropoids were not friends, and he had seen the terrible damage that such a bird could inflict with its beak and talons. He breathed a sigh of relief when, a moment later, Sharak took flight again.

I’ve asked him to look for Tarzan. From above, he can get a better look around than we can on the ground. Dar explained to Otdek.
What we do?

A man leaves a trail. We will find it, and follow it.

This Tarzan. Tarzan know about leaving trail, and about not leaving trail.

replied Dar. You did say you wanted to try.

Yes! Yes! We try.

Tarzan had kept moving through the night. In the early dawn, he pulled a fat fish from the stream and ate it while continuing to walk. He thought of his beloved, Jane, and hoped that she had not come upon the vortex herself. What if she had been sent to some equally mysterious destination? What if she wandered this same world, but in a different place? What if she had met with the dark magic that both Dar and the Sorceress had told him were abundant in this place?

He flung aside the fishhead. A small rodent dashed out from the underbrush to gather it up, round eyes watching the human all the while. Tarzan suddenly felt tired. He looked up at the trees, seeking a good resting spot, one with just enough coverage while still affording him a view of the surrounding forest. Spying one, he moved to the base of the tree to begin climbing, but paused as he became aware of movement in the corner of his eye. Opening his throat in preparation for the low growl that struck terror into his
enemies, he turned cautiously. A snake was twining its way down a tree almost directly behind him.

Tarzan had seen many large snakes, even battled a few. This one was of a species that he did not recognize, but surely snakes were the same wherever they existed. The smaller monkeys, the Manu, feared snakes. Even the larger apes, like Otdek, were warily cautious of them, preferring to avoid rather than confront them. Tarzan, with his man’s intelligence, understood the unique place that snakes occupied in the natural world, and did not fear them. But this snake, with its shining scales of gold and green, and piercing red eyes, did not seem natural. There was more to the gaze it fixed upon Tarzan than a predator assessing potential prey. The ape-man’s pulse quickened, and his belly tightened in preparation to spring, but he did not move as the snake slithered toward him. He wanted to grab for his knife, but, for reasons he did not comprehend, he made no move to do so.

The snake, its eyes fixed on him all the while, circled Tarzan as he stood uncharacteristically still. Having made one complete circuit, the snake stopped before the man, and rose up on its tail, until their noses were level with one another. The snake stank of decay, but Tarzan was accustomed to such odors, nor was he inclined to show any sign of emotion before this creature.

Even so, when the snake spoke, in language he could understand, a gasp escaped the lips of Tarzan, and his hand was finally spurred to seek his knife.

“Sssso,” uttered the snake. “What do you seek? Gold?” It’s red eyes narrowed. “Women? Or perhaps good old-fashioned power?” The snake’s long tongue flitted about Tarzan’s chin. “I can help you achieve any of these things. You have only to do one simple thing for me.”

Tarzan gripped his knife, his arm at his side. He could not see any benefit in letting this creature live, but there was no guarantee that a knife would do the trick against whatever dark magic this was. Tarzan, used to having the edge on any man or animal he met, was in the unaccustomed position of being unsure of his next move. His best chance was reason.

“I seek none of those,” Tarzan addressed the snake in the tongue of the Mydlands. “I seek only a return to my home, far from here.” There was a flash of the old Tarzan, as he fingered the knife, “Why don’t you just let me pass.”

The snake spit a bit of sulfur, which sizzled briefly on the ground. “Well, perhaps I can help you after all. Of course, you will still have to do something for me. It is only fair that we should help each other.”

Tarzan hesitated. He knew a suspicious proposal when he heard one; he’d heard enough of them in his bizarre life as an ape-man in polite European society. But he was just desperate enough that for a moment he entertained the idea. Even when he had rejected it,
he thought that he might just be clever enough to play this creature and obtain some answers. He replaced the knife in its thong.

“I do not know that you can help me. I came here through a swirling spiral of light, that opened in my jungle and dropped me here.”

The snake could not conceal its reaction to this news. Its eyes flashed and its head pulled back a few inches. “Spiral of light, you say? Now, that is very interesting. Very interesting indeed. I do know of such a spiral. But, we have an agreement: you must do something for me first.”

In an instant, Tarzan’s knife was out again, and he had grabbed the snake around the head with one sinewy arm, while the other held the knife against its throat. He could feel its hot pulse surging against his arm. “We have no such agreement. You will help me or die; I do not care which. “

The snake’s tail crept to Tarzan’s ankle and worked its way up his calf, wrapping itself around the limb as it went. The reptilian lips curled into a cruel smile: so easy it was! Men were so corruptible.

“Do you really think you are more powerful than I?” asked the snake in a sneering tone. “You have no idea. I am the associate of The Evil One, his most trusted hand. The hatred you feel right now, that is The Evil One’s power finding your heart. Soon enough, you and I will be the best of friends. In a way, we have already been travelling together. That was my vortex that you passed through.”

The screech of an eagle overhead caught their attention, and as they looked up, Dar came bursting from betweeen the nearby trees, his bone staff assembled and held straight out before him. A moment later, panting, came Dar and Otdek. The little ape, seeing the predicament of his friend Tarzan, began to chatter and wail.

“As you see,” said Tarzan, “I already have travelling companions.” Then, to Dar: “This one claims to have opened the vortex. While I would like to kill him –“ here, he pressed the knife more tightly against the soft golden scales at the creature’s throat. “—we may be able to get some more information.”

The snake looked around at the little group, and a weird laugh issued from its nostrils. “You do not have the means to keep me. I serve The Evil One! You are powerless against my magic.”

As soon as these words were spoken, the snake seemed to frost over until it was as rigid as the Beastmaster’s staff. The bit of tail wound around Tarzan’s leg was the last to freeze, uncoiling as it did so. Beneath the hoar, the red eyes for the first time showed an emotion other than arrogance. It was fear.

Sorceress was there, a small smile playing around her painted lips.

“I thought you weren’t going to help me.” Said Tarzan, as he replaced his knife in its thong. “Why did you change your mind?”

“Two reasons, “ she said, coming close to him, her eyes admiring. “One, I am sworn to combat dark magic and two, the story about your mate.” She sighed. “I’m afraid I’m a sucker for a love story.”

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Tao and Dar both concealed small chuckles at this revelation.

Gesturing at the frozen snake, Sorceress continued: “That won’t hold forever. But, perhaps you can get something out of it. I don’t recommend torture; those dark ones thrive on it.”

Dar thrust his staff, disassembled into its two halves, into its sheath on his back. “I think I know what will get through to it.” With a knowing smile, Sorceress faded into nothing.

The Beastmaster continued: “Tao, I need you to prepare a mud pit and a net. Tarzan, you and I will carry this fellow. I don’t have to warn you to take care.”

Otdek, his eyes wide with fear, approached his old friend slowly, placing one hand softly on Tarzan’s arm. Softly, he chittered:" Sorry for all the trouble."

With all the recent events, Tarzan had long forgotten his anger at the little ape. "I have put it behind me. Now, let go of my arm so I can carry this thing."

Once at the mud pit that Tao had constructed, Dar and Tarzan sunk the still-frozen snake in it, with its head just above the surface, then covered the entire pit with the net, stretching it tight and securing it with stout branches pounded into the ground. It wasn’t foolproof, but ought to hold their captive long enough for their purposes. Setting Ruh as guard, Dar took Tarzan aside, where he hoped the snake would not overhear them, to outline his plan.

Dar had much experience in the interrogation of magical creatures, and he had found that the most direct method to information involved playing to the creature’s ego. He had not yet met one who was not easily led to talk about himself, and in so talking, reveal his secrets. This snake, from what little he had heard of its conversation with the ape-man, appeared to have the same fatal flaw.

Returning to the mud pit, Tarzan and Dar squatted right at its edge, as Ruh moved into the cool of the shadows to rest. Tao and Otdek sat somewhat further back, munching on nuts.

Pulling his knife, Tarzan rapped the hilt on the snake’s head. A chunk of the frost fell to evaporate on the surface of the mud. Tarzan rapped again, and a large crack appeared in the frozen casing. Wedging the point of the knife into the crack, not being particularly careful, Tarzan pried the casing off.

Dar was unable to access the mind of the creature, it being a magical construct, so he spoke aloud to it. “You told us that you are the
minion of The Evil One, and that you opened the vortex.”

“That’s right,” replied the snake, who lacked no confidence that, appearances to the contrary, it was the one in full control of the situation. “I am his most beloved.”

“Why should we believe you? So far, you haven’t done much evil. You’ve threatened, but even the weakest mouse will cover his fear with bravado.”

“It is precisely because I have so much power that I can afford to be choosy. I have quite a story to tell.”

Dar glanced at Tarzan, whose eyes were darkly intent. “All right, let’s hear this story then.”

The snake considered. It could feel the freezing magic beginning to dissipate at the very tip of its tail, but there would be some time before it was completely free. And then there was the matter of the mud and the net to escape. It may as well pass the time in telling its tale.

Looking around to be sure all were attentive, the snake began to speak in an ostentatious voice: “In the time before time, there was only The Garden, where all lived in peace. To be sure, animals slew other animals for food, but it was all part of the balance. The Garden was doted on by its creator, The Righteous One, who took pleasure in its cycles and beauty. It was said that he loved each creature as a part of his soul. But The Evil One, in a stroke designed to destroy The Righteous One, planted in his head the idea of creating new animals, describing them in great detail.

“The idea was so slyly presented that The Righteous One was soon convinced. As pleased as he was with his new creatures, The Evil One was even more so, for his plan was going perfectly. He created me from his own blood and excrement. As he breathed life into me with his terrible breath of flame, he gave me my purpose: I was to see to it that these new creatures, which The Righteous One had called men, would acquire reason. The Evil One knew that the nature of reason would destroy not only men, but also the peace and balance of The Garden.

“I came upon the female first, and presented her with a most tempting fruit. Its sweetness was proclaimed by its aroma, which I exaggerated by scoring the skin gently with my scales, and waving the fruit before her. It was no accident that my master had chosen the form of a snake for me, for many snakes hypnotize their prey into passivity. So did I use these talents as I tempted the woman, and soon she stretched her little hands toward me, begging for the fruit.

“Now the magic of this fruit went beyond its lusciousness, for it had been purloined from the laboratory of The Righteous One, who had designed it to do the very thing we were after: imbue his creatures with reason, the need to understand, analyze, predict, and assume. But The Righteous One understood the danger that reason presented to his Garden, and so he locked the fruit away. You might wonder why he did not just destroy it. That was his peculiar vanity: he never destroyed anything, at least not in those days. Later, he grew cynical and petulant and frequently destroyed his creations as they began to displease him. That was really all a result of man’s acquisition of reason, so in a way it destroyed him as well, though my master has never succeeded in taking him down completely.

“Anyway, the fruit had been locked away, but my master, the clever Evil One, using flattery as always, convinced The Righteous One to show it to him, and, using sleight of hand, replaced it with a fake and purloined the original.

“The female tasted it, moaning in pleasure as the juice ran down her chin. As she opened her mouth to take a second bite, I suggested to her that she ought to share some with the male, as he would surely enjoy it. She was reluctant, wanting the whole thing for herself – already, her virtue was falling away! – but I convinced her. After his first bite, the male tried to steal the remainder of the fruit from her, and they began to kick and bite at one another. The fruit fell from their hands as they fought. A small bird darted out to pick at the fruit, and the female threw a stone at it, whereas previously men always treated the other animals with respect and kindness.

“As I watched, I was so proud to have served my master so well! Suddenly, there was a great crack of thunder and the ground began to shake. The sky grew dark, shot with flashes of light. A great wind grew, enveloping everything. I saw the land split, with one part falling off below and the other part rising into the sky. As the wind faded, I fell and was knocked unconscious.

“When I awoke, just a little bit ago, I found myself in a world overrun with men, where wickedness thrives. I sought my master but could not find him, nor did he respond to my invocations. Then I became aware of another world, this one, where wickedness is less abundant. I thought that perhaps my master would be here, where his influence is more needed. My magic is as strong as ever, so I opened a door between the worlds. I have not found my master here, either.”

“Yet, here I am!” The voice seemed to come from all around them, and the stench of sulfur was suddenly strong. A dark mist congealed to form a slender figure. His features were sharp and his dark eyes were penetrating.

Dar had experienced demons like this before, and was instantly alert. “Tarzan, Tao, don’t move.” He commanded.

The snake, magical freeze having dissipated, burst from the mud pit and through the restraining net to rise up on its tail, its red eyes wide. “Master! Oh, Master! I knew I would find you!”

“And for what were you so eager to find me?”

“Master, our plan has succeeded! How sinful men have become!”

The Evil One stroked his chin, his eyes narrowed. “Yes, indeed mankind has proved to be most sinful. Still, I am not wanting for work.”

“Oh, yes, master! Whatever you ask of me, I shall do.”

“You don’t understand, do you? When you were knocked unconscious, I left you there. I did not expect you to ever wake up, but I didn’t really care. I had done with you.”

“What? But, you made me. Such strong magic you gave me! . . . “

The demon made a sound of frustration, and turned to Dar, ignoring the sputtering snake. “Kill it, whatever you wish. It is of no use to me.” In a burst of flame, The Evil One disappeared.

There was a moment of stunned silence as Tarzan and Dar looked at each other, and at the snake, still raised up on its tail. Then, with a look almost of embarrassment, the snake slunk to the ground. It laughed nervously, its eyes shifting. Then, with sudden resolve, it drew itself up again and addressed the empty air. “And I don’t need YOU! My magic is strong. I am powerful! These weaklings will fall before me!”

Dar began to laugh. Tarzan looked at him in surprise. “I don’t think your magic is so strong,” Dar told the snake. “All we ever hear is you talking about it.”

The snake’s eyes narrowed. “Ah, you would like to see some magic?”

Out of the corner of his mouth, Tarzan whispered, “What are you doing?”

Dar smiled. “You’ll see.” He whispered back, then spoke aloud to the snake. “Sure. Make something disappear.” He looked around for an appropriate object. “That rock over there.”

With a smirk, the snake exhaled in the direction of the designated rock, and it disappeared. “There, you see?”

Dar laughed again. “Well, that wasn’t bad. I suppose you do have some magic, but that vortex – that is something more than disappearing a rock. I doubt you have the skill for it.”

Rising up until it was supported only by the last two small bones of its tail, the snake took several deep breaths, then exhaled again, and the vortex opened.

“Tarzan, go!” cried Dar, but the ape-man hesitated.

“How do I know where it goes? What if – “

“You don’t, but it’s your only chance. Go! Now!”

As Tarzan, with Otdek right behind him, leapt through the vortex, Dar tackled the snake, pinning its head to the ground with one half of his staff. Holding the other, sharp end of the staff like a dagger, he plunged it into the soft spot at the base of the skull, and the snake died with a terrible wail.

Jane finished trimming the last of the roots she had collected, and was stacking them neatly in her little root cellar when she heard a great commotion of animals coming her way. Two female apes, descendents of the clan who had raised Tarzan, found Jane as she emerged from the little cellar. Each one grabbed an arm and began dragging, as much as leading, Jane toward the West. Jane was used to such rough handling, and did her best to keep her footing against the ape-women’s giant strides.

The whoops and calls of the animals grew louder, and Jane became aware of a weird glow coming from the direction in which the travelled. As they burst into the clearing, and her arms were suddenly under her own control again, Jane fell onto her knees. What she saw kept her there.

Before her hung a giant, spinning wheel of color. It had been silent, but now a humming sound started soft, growing louder and more complex in tone. Jane shook. Why had the apes brought her here? She figured that it must have something to do with Tarzan’s disappearance earlier in the day, but that didn’t make either thing easier to comprehend. As she wondered, the colors in the vortex began to shift wildly, and the humming turned to a keening so loud and sharp that she brought her hands to her ears. The light flashed, blinding her for a moment, then it, and the sound, were gone.

She didn’t need to see whose strong arms gathered her up, whose fond lips found hers. As her vision cleared, she already knew that her Tarzan had returned, as he always had and probably always would. At her knees, Otdek was chattering enthusiastically about something.

“My dear,” breathed Tarzan. “All I have thought these past few days was to get back to you.”

“Days?” wondered Jane. “You have been gone a long time, so my yearning heart told me, but it is a matter of hours, not days.”

The ape-man’s eyes oscillated as he thought. “Time must move differently there.”

“What?” Jane asked.

“Ha! What an adventure I have had. Come, I will tell you all about it.” Tarzan wrapped a powerful arm around the gentle shoulders of his wife, and they headed home.



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June 2009

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