Chapter 19: Before the Source of Light

Morgo the Mighty by Sean O’Larkin was originally serialized in The Popular Magazine in 1930. I’m serializing it again here. Except for correcting the odd typo, I’m reproducing the text as printed in the original publication.

Morgo, blinded, dropped from the arms of his startled carrier into the jutting white treetops. As he went through space, he extended his arms straight out at his sides, and bent his legs. His arms kept his body from turning over and his legs were braced for impact with hard tree limbs, or the ground farther below.

He felt the puffs of foliage close about him and his hands clawed for something durable for support. A branch closed under his fingers and clung to it as would a sailor to a drifting spar in an inky sea.

The shock of the fall from the air subsided quickly and his breathing returned to normalcy. He was in full possession of his faculties – but he could not see.

Two swords of fiery, white-hot light had been flung into them as his Bakkete soared out of the tunnel. He understood what had happened. The party, entering the heart of Zaan from an unknown corner, had run full into the rays of The Shaft. Their mortal eyes were not made to stand such light. It was as great, if not greater, than the sun of the other world.

He pinched his eyelids and rubbed the fevered eyeballs behind the flesh. The pain persisted. Whenever he opened the lids, all he saw was darkness. Blindness was thrust upon him in the same moment that he had been flung by fate into a strange wilderness.

There were those darting red tongues to be feared – for he could not see them. There was Derro, who had saved his life a few hours before – what of his fate? There was Nurri Kala, whom he loved – what had become of her?

Giant that he was, he held on helplessly to his treetop, with hot tears of pain coursing from his eyes, and cried aloud for his friends. He wanted, not their help, but assurance that they were safe.

“Derro! Nurri Kala! Derro! Nurri Kala!”

From a distant wall, his echoes answered him. Then came a heavy, oppressive silence, broken only by the occasional call of a bird, by the humming of insect wings, by the stirring of the leaves in the trees. He realized that he was lost and alone, utterly alone and without the use of his most valuable possession – his eyes.

He recalled his previous visit to the Cave of the Shaft, years ago. t that time, he entered the great chamber of white rock from the usual door, and at time when the light was gone from the caverns. To enter at such a time had been the warning of the Zaans he met in another place. He had not understood why the journey should be made at night.

Now he did understand. The Shaft hurled daggers of flaming white light into those who would look upon it while it lived. Only when it slept was it to be seen.

And when day came in the course of that first visit, he was provided with pieces of dark glass to hold over his eyes while he moved through the brilliant jungle, the floor of which sparked with millions of specks of shining light. He had not stayed long before the source of the light, and have retired to a cave where the light did not destroy the eyes. He had marveled, too, at the immunity of the Zaans. They could look straight into The Shaft – and not be blinded.

Morgo moistened his parched lips, and called again to Derro and Nurri Kala. But there was no reply.

Were they dead? Had they been killed in falling from the arms of the stricken Bakketes who released their human cargoes to shield their own eyes from the dazzling light? Or had the man and girl run afoul of the creatures with the steely red tongues?

For the first time since he came to the caves, Morgo realized what the bonds of friendship and love meant to him. Derro was his friend. Nurri Kala was the girl he loved – the woman he wanted for his mate.

He was sorry to lose Derro. The red-headed one had save his life. nd he had brought a lore to him of a world he vaguely remembered. Had Derro lived, Morgo’s secret, known only to Zorimi, might still be learned. But now only darkness – and the decay of death – was his lot.

But of Nurri Kala! He could bear to lose Derro, who had but recently come into his life. For years he had lived without another white man’s companionship. With Nurri Kala it was different. She was a woman and he felt a love for her that he could never have felt for Derro.

Now she, too, was gone from his existence. Had he never met her, he could have gone on living his tranquil life in the caverns. Love would have remained a stranger to him until Death gathered him to its cold bosom. But now that he had seen her golden beauty, now that he had beheld her smiling blue eyes peering into his, now that he had heard her words of encouragement and praise, he could not live without her.

Nurri Kala was of the caves, a lost child like himself. She was his natural mate – a mate of the world in which he lived. She was to have been his woman!

The veil of memory parted in the mists of his fevered brain. He remembered how the girl had preferred the man with the red hair to him. She hung on Derro’s words, and laughed more readily at Derro’s sallies. She had said that Derro was the greater man, since he came from a world where men were not brave and that he had acquired a fearlessness that was but natural to him, Morgo. He groaned in his blindness the treetop, and wondered if Nurri Kala were in love with Derro.

Derro, he recalled, was partial to Nurri Kala’s company. He sought her out and sat by her, telling her stories of men and women Morgo knew of but hazily. Had Derro been in love with Nurri Kala? Had they fallen safely to earth and, being unable to find him, gone off – to be together forever after – mates?

“Nurri Kala! Nurri Kala!” Morgo cried out woefully. And then loyal to his other friend, he added: “Derro! Derro! Where are you?”

The mocking echoes were his only reply. His own voice murmured back at him. He was lost, and blind and alone, in a wilderness of black silence. He was a man bereaved of a dear friend and the girl who would have been his mate!

Somehow, he told himself, he would climb down to the floor of the cave. He still had his hands and feet. He still had the cunning of the huntsman. He would brave the red tongues of death and set about seeking Nurri Kala. He must find her!

He swung lower in the tree. His fingers found quick holds and his strength, which was still left to him, sent a surge of encouragement through him. He would live and learn the truth.

They had all been struck by the knives of The Shaft’s light in about the same position. He was certain of that. If Derro and the girl were dead, he would find their bodies.

He paused in his descent of the tree, thinking of Nurri Kala’s white body in the stillness of death. His hand went to his hip and closed over the haft of his knife. When he learned the truth, he, too, would die beside her. Life in the caverns would be unbearable without beautiful Nurri Kala to share it with him.

A happy thought occurred to him, and he called himself a fool for not having thought of it sooner. He gave his signal cry for Baku and the Bakketes. Perhaps they had survived the debacle of the light with the aid of their soaring wings.

But the mockery of the echo came back to him.

He waited. There was no sound from the bat men. He understood and his head fell upon his check dejectedly. They, too, had perished.

He was about to continue to climb to the ground when he heard the murmur of far-off voices. Humans were in the neighborhood. He opened his mouth to cry out to them.

Yet he did not. Some sixth sense warned him.

He strained his ears to listen.

There were voices. And Morgo recognized them.

Silurians roaming on the floor of the white forest. By some means, their eyes were protected from the great white light. And they were his enemies. He move upward again, listening. The foliage would shield him.

The voices came nearer. The Silurians were passing under the very tree that sheltered him. Perhaps they heard his cries and were searching for him.

And he thought of the girl and Derro. What if they still lived? Were they the prisoners of Zorimi’s creatures? Had these eye-destroying blades of light been the instruments of the magician to bring the three people he feared most back in his power? Morgo was worried and, for the first time in his life, frightened. He feared not for himself but for his friends.

For hours, the Silurians moved in the underbrush below, talking and calling to each other. Morgo understood their words. They had heard the voice of a white man and they were searching for him. But their quest had been fruitless. And they said nothing that would suggest whether or not Derro or Nurri Kala were their prisoners.

Evil pervaded Morgo’s blindness. He knew that Zorimi was close by.

He waited patiently in the protecting garb of leaves, perched high on the tree, not daring to move, and breathing guardedly. Often the prowling scale-skinned men stopped beneath the tree. Each time he thought he had been discovered. Then the men below moved on.

Once he heard awful screams.

The Silurians shouted about a red tongue. Morgo knew that a chameleon had devoured one of their number.

The air became decidedly cooler. Cloudy visions danced before Morgo’s eyes, and he wondered if the darkness of his blindness was unseating his reason. When he opened his eyes, the visions persisted – blurred, indistinct forms – and when he brought the lids together, a comforting darkness engulfed him.

The Silurians finally moved off, taking a direction which Morgo ascertained by the murmur of their voices. After a while, he could hear nothing but the buzzing of insects and low calls of small birds. He knew by these primeval sounds that night was entering the Cave of the Shaft.

He started.

His eyes had show him an object – a hazily defined leaf.

He saw!

His eyes could tell him where a white leaf fluttered in the breeze. They revealed to him the trunk of the tree to which he had hung for hours on end. He saw his hands. Moving his fingers, he saw them curl and grip the branch again.

Laughter, soft and happy, came from him. He could see. His blindness had gone.

Once more he had eyes with which to seek the woman he loved. Once more he had all his powers, all of the strength he needed to fight for her – if she still lived.

Swiftly, he clambered down the trunk and planted his feet on the rocky floor of the cave. The light had gone from the cave, but there was a dull red glow in the direction taken by the Silurians. He decided to seek his mate in opposite way, for the Silurians had scoured the underbrush in the vicinity of his hiding place and had found no one – no crushed bodies dropped from the air.

He stumbled along, pausing whenever he heard the undergrowth in motion. A lizard crossed his path and glanced lazily at him. Another time, as he pressed forward as cautiously as possible, he saw the hulk of a chameleon, its back heaving in the deep regular movements of sleep. He gave it a wide berth.

Hunger forced him to rest a while and eat of the leaves. They were warm and tasteless, but they satisfied him. His ears strained for the sound of voices he desired so much to hear. The silence that would have unnerved another lover in such a plight meant nothing to Morgo. He had lived in it and with it for years.

After long hours of ceaseless, vigilant marching, he grew weary. The voices he wanted to hear did not whisper to him. Yet he moved on, undaunted. He had been hurtled from a Bakkete’s arms, he had been blinded, he had experienced the tortures of a man who had lost his loved one, he had hidden for hours from enemies, and he had plunged into a strange white jungle along a path on every side of which death was hidden. He gave it no thought.

Where another man would have gone under, Morgo carried on. He lived for but one object – knowledge of Nurri Kala – her life or her death. If she lived, he meant to have her, to tell her of the love pent up inside him. If she was dead – then he, too, would die.

His mind was made us as to what was going to be.

His consciousness was stirred. Was that a human voice? Or the call of an animal in the night?

He listened intently.

Vague words – English-sounding – broke the silence ahead of him.

His heart leaped with joyous abandon. He clasped the tiny cross beneath his pelt and murmured a word of thanks to the deity he knew from childhood.

He had made out Nurri Kala’s laughing, silvery tones!

Instead of calling to his friends, he thought of surprising them. Derro always loved a joke. He would stalk them, and appear out of the white jungle at their side. They would jump and then there would be the gay laughter of reunited friends. The idea pleased Morgo and he walked forward stealthily.

Yes, there was Derro’s Irish voice! He knew it of old. It was like meeting an old friend, that sound. Nurri Kala was laughing. He thrilled at the sound that was her – that was the woman he loved.

Now the voices were lowered. He could not here them so distinctly, but he had their direction.

Presently he saw them. They were in a clearing, two whitish forms, whispering.

Morgo felt a chill creep down his spine.

Was he still blind? Were his eyes telling him the truth? Was all this – hearing and seeing his Nurri Kala – but a trick of a fevered brain?

He gripped the handle of his knife and slipped the blade from his belt as he advanced.

Nurri Kala revived me. It was into her eyes that I looked. They were the twin shining-blue stars that I saw when my temporary blindness left me.

Perhaps I was dreaming, I though. So I spoke her name.

She smiled and I knew that my eyes were telling me no lies. My imagination was not capable of painting the rare beauty of that smile.

“Are you badly hurt, Derro?” she asked softly.

I ached in places but no bones were broken and I told her that I was all right. My fall into this cave had been broken by the branches of the white trees through which Baku had dropped me.

The light was gone and, though there was a dull red glow to the south and sweet coolness in the night air, I thought we were lost in a snow covered forest. The whiteness of the forests was gleaming and it reminded me of the snowfields over which I had piloted my planes in the moonlight. Save for the hush-hush of leaf rubbing against leaf in the trees, there were no other earthly signs of life.

“I fell into a tree,” Nurri Kala said. “I hung there and when my eyes could see again after the darkness that smote them, I climbed down. It was already dark. Oh, I called so many times to you and Morgo. I even tried to imitate Morgo’s call for the Bakketes. But there were no answers.”

“So you took a stroll?” I laughed.

“No, I saw you not very far away. You were lying here and very still. I thought at first that you were dead, and I was afraid to come closer. But when you groaned and moved a little, I knew that you lived and that I must help you.”

“I’m glad I groaned. But where is Morgo? He can’t have fallen much farther away.”

Nurri Kala turned her head away and I caught her thought. Had our friend been devoured by one of the long-tongued chameleons? Surely his fall would have been as easily broken as ours.

There was sufficient light in which to see so I told Nurri Kala to remain where she was while I circled about. I beat my way through the undergrowth widening the circle of my search each time I passed a certain tree. The chameleons did not enter into my fears. I was thinking only of Morgo. If he still lived, we might help him, save his life.

I searched for nearly an hour, establishing my location by frequently calling to the girl when I lost sight of her. Morgo was not to be found.

We did not speak of my failure but moved into an open space, where the Bakketes might see us if they had survived the burst of white light into which the tunnel had ejected us. I remembered that Morgo had eaten of the forest leaves so I brought some to Nurri Kala and we chewed on them. I cannot recommend their taste, but their juice and bulk did allay our hungers.

Sitting down side by side, we stared at the glow of red, which slowly faded. I marveled that even when it had gone I still pictured myself in a snowy forest. The trees resembled something off a Christmas post card.

“I should hate to spend the rest of my life in this cave,” I said, thinking of our lost friend.

“So would I,” Nurri Kala answered. “It would make me think too much of Morgo. It was here that he – that he – ” There was a catch in her voice when I looked at her, and I saw that her cheeks were wet with tears.

“You loved Morgo?” I ventured after a tremendous pause.

“I think so – I do not know, Derro. I have not thought of love. Until you taught me the word, it meant nothing to me.”

“Think, Nurri Kala,” I said, “we are lost – without means of escape – in a strange cave. We cannot just lie down and die. We cannot but help fight for our lives.”

“I know.”

“I am not as strong as Morgo – nor can I fight as he did. But, Nurri Kala, I can fight for you – I have my weapons – and while they last, I will make a home for you.”

The girl filled the night with merry peals of laughter.

“You are – making love to me?” she said. “Is it true, Derro?”

“I do love you, Nurri Kala. I loved you from the first moment I laid eyes upon you.”

“I remember. You thought I was pretty.”

“And I’ve said you’re beautiful, Nurri Kala. You are the most beautiful woman in all of God’s worlds!”

She was pleased, but a pensiveness claimed her. We did not speak again for some time. I knew she was thinking of Morgo.

“Nurri Kala,” I said, breaking the tedious silence, “if Morgo had lived – if he still lives – he or I would take you for a wife.”

“That was what my father called my mother. And he loved her.”

“Yes, that’s so. Which one of us would you choose?”

“The one I love, of course.” I marveled at this daughter of the caverns. She was fencing with me coquettishly – like a flapper back in the States. She was the eternal woman.

“And which one of us is that?”

“I am afraid, Derro -” she looked deeply into my eyes – “that I love you both equally.”

“That’s impossible!” I laughed. “You must like one of us more than the other.”

“You are both strong, you are both brave,” she mused. “You both fought for me against Zorimi. How can I really answer your riddles – I think you call such hard things to figure out?”

“But I love you, Nurri Kala. I want you for my wife.”

“So does Zormi. You remember, he told me that, too.”

“But Zorimi will never have you.” I was suddenly beside myself with the desire for her promise. She was the woman that all men dream about. And here she was at my side in the flesh – more lovely, more beautiful than any dream. “Did Morgo tell you of his love for you, Nurri Kala?”

“No,” she said quietly, “he does not know of love as you do. But I have read his thoughts in his dark eyes.”

“Then you must consider me first,” I said eagerly. “I love you, Nurri Kala! I am the first to speak for you!”

“But if Morgo lives -”

She was filled with sudden apprehension.

“Beloved, consider him alive – and choose!”

Tenderly, her eyes met mine and she let fall her hands upon my clenched fists, I saw her face as a dream image floating in a mist. I forgot her flesh and blood at my side.

She smiled languidly and sighed.

I took her in my arms and kissed her. She did not shrink away from me. Her lips were responsive.

“Morgo!” she murmured and my heart went leaden. She should have spoken my name in that moment.

Springing to my feet, I turned my back upon her and walked a little distance from her. I had offered her love – such as I knew it – and some secret spring within her had betrayed her while she accepted my lips. She loved Morgo. With effort, I mastered my emotions and returned to where she was sitting.

A man was standing over her, great and mighty in the white glow of the darkened jungle. A knife blade was silvery in his hand.

It was Morgo.

To Be Continued!