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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



FANTASTIC ADVENTURES JULY, 1941

Three thousand Martian Legionnaires
faced more than they could handle
when they attacked the holy city of
Daloss to rescue captured comrades

CITY OF LOST SOULS

by Ralph Milne Farley and Al P. Nelson

"WARREN!" cried Hammersmith, as he thrust his shaggy head between my tent-flaps. "The desert chieftain, Mu-Lai and his blarsted Mauros have wiped out our garrison at Wacco. Two hundred Legionnaires and a hundred Martians!"

Hammersmith, a rangy red-haired Australian, with cold blue eyes, was the only Earthman to hold a commission in the Martian Foreign Legion; for all the other officers, and even some of the non-coms, were copper-skinned Martian aristocrats.

He eased his rangy frame into my tent and sat down at the foot of my canvas cot. Little Cedric, the Englishman, followed him in.

"It happened last night!" Cedric breathlessly added. "One of the survivors has just reached camp—he's over at headquarters right now reporting to Colonel Ak-Ak. He says the Mauros fell on the little city at midnight and slaughtered nearly every man, woman, and child. Babies—little babies — torn from their mothers' breasts and slit open with swords. Oh, my God!" His boyish face was blank with horror.

Hammersmith's leathery jaw was set and grim. His blue eyes flashed in the light of my tent-lantern.

"That's not the worst of it. The dead are dead, but think of what's going to happen to our buddies who were taken prisoner. Ten of them! Dragged off to Daloss to be tortured and then burned alive on the golden altar as a sacrifice to the Dark Star, Erlik. One of them in particular!" His voice broke.1

1: The Foreign Legion of Mars (called Legion of the Damned by peoples of the other planets) is perhaps the most famous military group in history, not even excepting the French Foreign Legion of Africa, which was dissolved with the ending of the Second World War in Europe.

It boasts a history of one hundred years of bloody conflict, of victories and of defeats that can be equalled by no other fighting group on Mars or Earth, the only two worlds in the solar system where armies are maintained.

Like the Earth Foreign Legion, its members are mostly derived from the ranks of fugitives from justice, and from the adventurers of five planets. They are all a hard-bitten, careless, fearless lot, used to facing death.

And in the Martian Legion they do face death constantly. Nowhere in the system is there a planet where warfare rages more continually. This is perhaps because the peoples of Mars are comparatively few, and being segregated and Isolated tribes, they develop a fierce animosity toward each other, which flares up into bloody battle at any chance meeting.

Fortunately these meetings are rare, since travel on Mars is a serious undertaking. Yet, periodically, migrations occur, when the site of a camp becomes too arduous, and then it becomes a matter of capture or defend a new site or what you already hold.

The Legion holds the unenviable position of being mediators (by the right of force) between migrating tribes, with the usual result that both tribes attack the Legion.

But of all Mars, Daloss, the holy city, alone has never bowed to the Legion.—Ed.

Daloss. In spite of my horror at the fate of my comrades, I could not restrain a thrill at the magical spell of that name. Daloss, hidden deep in the fertile valleys between the ranges of the mighty Fobian Mountains, was the age-old mystic city of the Mauros, a stronghold which bristled with guns and superstitions.

Here the worship of the Dark Star was most devout. Here plans were daily reviewed for the mighty holy war, which some day would find all followers of Erlik rising to wipe Infidels from the face of the planet.

Scourge of Mars for generations, Daloss was known as the most holy city of the worshippers of Erlik. If a nonbeliever should venture to reach its borders, the curses of the dark religion, yea, the curses of Erlik himself would most certainly fall upon him. Disease and misfortune, like a raging storm, would seize the infidel crraat,2 or would fill his soul with an evil dark spirit to torture him the rest of his days upon the planet, should he escape death from the Mauros themselves.

2: "Crraat," a particularly repulsive desert rodent-like reptile.—Ed.

This city it was that the Martians dreaded to approach too rapidly, despite the despotic orders from the Capital city to seize the Mauro gold mines at any cost.

No believer in any other religion had ever come back from the holy city. Infidel captives were anointed with rare Martian perfumes, then burned alive on the great altar of gold in the Maadar, largest and most sacred of all of Erlik's temples. Then their ashes were scattered upon the fields, where the heavy hooves of lumbering oxlike Martian beasts of burden ground them into the soil, so that no trace of the unbelieving crraats might remain to taint the city of the Dark Star.

Truly a City of Lost Souls—Christian souls, Martian souls, doomed by incantation of Erlik's high priests to roam in misery over the red planet, pursued by evil dark spirits.

And yet there was a romantic side to this city of mystery. The tales which reached us from Daloss were not all horror. There were things to draw us there, as well as to repel us. For not only was there the fabulous wealth of its gold mines—but there were its women!

Little Cedric, the English boy, was telling us this. But somehow it went against my prejudices.

"Filthy wenches!" I snorted.

"Not all," said Cedric quietly.

Something in his tone caused me to look at him searchingly.

"Well?" I asked.

"There was one," the boy said dreamily. "Blue eyes, golden curls, skin pink and white like a sea shell. Her father was a very wealthy Mauro, and sent her to finishing school on Earth, in England. She was from Daloss. I'd like to see her again."

"A Mauro—as beautiful as that?" I exclaimed.

"A Mauro, not a gunmetal-blue Martian," said Cedric, with disdain, "nor a copper-red member of the Martian aristocracy. A Mauro, most of whom are white like ourselves; One of the reasons I came to Mars and joined up with the Legion, was the hope of seeing that little beauty again."

Then he went on to tell us of what he had heard of the midnight ritual of the City of Lost Souls.

IT was said that, on moonlit Martian nights, these beautiful Mauro women, shedding their flowing white shawls and silken tunics, roamed the streets of Daloss, to perform weird, naked, worshipful dances in honor of Erlik the Unspeakable, while hidden stringed instruments throbbed with wild barbaric music. Every male inhabitant cast his eyes upon the floor of his hut while these dances held sway, for worthy only is Erlik himself to gaze upon so much naked loveliness.

A growl from Hammersmith snapped our minds back from these dreams, to the horrid fate awaiting our ten captured comrades.

"Who were they?" I asked. "Any whom we know?"

"Well, there's Gustav Schmidt," little Cedric began.

I shook my head. The name was not familiar.

"And Victor Lafontaine."

"Not Vic?" I cried. I knew him well, a lovable roly-poly Frenchman.

"And Hammersmith's own brother!"

So that was the reason for the catch in Hammersmith's voice a few moments ago.

"The others," the young Englishman ended harshly, "were not of our outfit."

"Well," I demanded, "what are we going to do about it?"

"The Legion is wild with rage!" Hammersmith declared. "You and Cedric are the two senior Sergeants— other than the Martians. I want you two to come with me to headquarters to talk to Colonel Ak-Ak."

"You're on!" I cried, jumping up and jamming my desert hat onto my head.

Together the three of us made our way to the whitewashed stone house, which served as headquarters and dwelling for the red Martian aristocrat, who was our commandant.

Colonel Ak-Ak, a gross swarthy Martian with long drooping moustaches, received us with an air of graciousness, and listened quietly to the suggestions of Captain Hammersmith.

"Sir," our Captain concluded—in Esperanto, of course, the official interplanetary tongue, "the men are eager to avenge this damned massacre, and to rescue their comrades from bloodthirsty Mu-Lai and his savage Mauros. Is not this what you have been waiting and hoping for? An incentive to drive us to capture the gold-mines which the Capital City is anxious for us to seize?"

The Colonel seemed pleased at the suggestion, promised to take it up with the Staff early in the morning, thanked us profusely, and poured out some excellent wine—quite different from the rancid syrup, swimming with desert insects, which formed a part of our daily ration.

Then we returned to our encampment and spread the word of the rescue plans. The whole camp buzzed with excitement. Weird tales of the City of Lost Souls, and its beautiful women, were told far into that desert moonlit night.

Now at last we Legionnaires could look forward to a real war! No more mere slow skirmishing across the sunbaked red sands. No more cautious advances. Quick action, desperate action, decisive action would be necessary, if we would save our ten comrades.

NEXT morning we awoke—those of us who had slept at all—eager to set out for Daloss. But no call to the colors came. All through that sweltering day, we fretted and chafed beneath the boiling sun, watched the red haze of the mighty Fobian range, and waited.

We questioned the junior Martian officers and non-coms concerning plans for the advance. But they merely shrugged their shoulders.

"What are a mere ten men? And especially mere Earthmen, mercenaries?" they said, snapping their fingers. "Nothing, in a war like this. And the massacre? 'Tis but the fortunes of war, nothing more: a mere desert wind, which blows some good, some ill."

The Legion seethed. For with every minute that slipped by, rescue was becoming more and more difficult. So finally Captain Hammersmith and Little Cedric and I went back again to the Martian Colonel, Ak-Ak.

We intended to make demands—perhaps even to threaten a mutiny. But we never got that far. For, as we entered the Colonel's office, after cooling our heels in the outer room for an hour, we were set upon by a squad of men from one of the native Martian regiments.

"Seize—bind them!" shouted the swarthy red-skinned Colonel.

It would take more than eight Martian regulars to seize the three of us. Cedric and I dropped back several paces, and raised our fists to defend ourselves. But Hammersmith, our leader, seemed to slump with servility, as he meekly held out his wrists for the s...

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