Chapter 22: The Sacred Rock Falls

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.

Nurri Kala’s beautiful face broke into a tender smile which she directed upon me. I was the chosen one! A strangled animal cry broke from Morgo’s lips, and he grasped her wrist.

“You cannot choose him!” he roared. “You belong to me, Nurri Kala! He cannot have you!”

Taking his fingers, she removed them from her hand and smiled at him. “I love you both – Derro – Morgo. And I know that sooner or later I must choose one of you. It is the law of the caves. But give me a little time. I cannot choose now.”

Morgo sighed with relief and avoided my angry glare. By what right did he presume possession of her? She was not a cave or a knife or a spring of drinking water to be claimed forthwith. She was a woman – a human being – with her own inalienable right to choose her man. To hell with the law of the caves! I meant to have her – to have her choose me.

“Put your knives away, my friends,” she said firmly. “You must not fight over me. I shall make a choice in a little while.” Her voice broke. She realized what her choice would mean to the unlucky one, and the woman’s heart in her took pity. She wanted to delay that blow for as long as possible.

We obeyed her, and eyed each other sheepishly. Morgo extended his hand to me, and I took it, clasping it sincerely. I was ashamed of myself, that my emotions and desires had run away with my reason. In my own way, I had been claiming the girl and presuming possession of her, just as Morgo had done.

“We will wait for Nurri Kala’s word,” he said simply, and went over to the fire to rekindle it. Nurri Kala listened to my apologies for my behavior – the drawing of my knife – and I saw that she was impressed. Morgo was right. I was strange to her, and therefore attracted to her, though she was not of my world or my ways.

The Bakketes had seen us – had heard my futile shouts – and Baku dropped into our midst, followed by a legion of five thousand batmen. Morgo paid them little attention, but he told me their story.

Blinded, they had fled from the cave of The Shaft after letting us fall from their arms. That action was purely impulsive. With both hands they had tried to shield their sensitive eye nerves, and we had suffered. There was not blaming them. Morgo and I were agreed.

Beating their way back into the tunnel, they had returned by another route to Kahli, and with their sight sufficiently restored, they recruited a large search party and returned to Zaan. Entering these caves by another and safer door, they skirted the cave of the great white light and hunted for us. They wanted the assurance of our deaths in the jungle or the sight of us alive. I marveled at the human impulses they displayed.

This Land of Canaan they discovered by coming through a tunnel higher in the face of the cliff over the haunts of the Hoatzins. My cries attracted their attention, and they soon located us.

They had seen Shamman bats in the other caves, but put this down to the general exodus from Shamman, where the black and red ants devastated the land. Kahli, they said, was inundated, but as yet the Husshas and the Rortas had not climbed to the stalactites in great numbers, and many of the Bakkete nests were still intact. We were all glad to hear that.

“Well,” I said to Morgo, “I still want to go back to Shamman – to try to reach the Door of Surrilana.”

“Will you go alone,” he smiled, “or will you wait for the girl to decide?”

I was surprised by his shrewdness. He had me checkmated. Of course, I had no intention of going without her – but I had hoped he would come with us.

“I’ll wait,” I murmured.

“And when Nurri Kala chooses me?” he asked confidently, looking up at her. I caught the glance they exchanged and saw it baffled the man. She was noncommittal in her smile.

“In that event, I’ll go alone,” I said.

The girl started. “You must not leave us, ever, Derro.”

I took hope from that remark, and Morgo placidly went out his business of cooking the meat over the fire he had started. He suggested that I look for more honey, and he set the Bakketes to scouring the jungles for the leaves and herbs that we could eat.

I went into the forest and soon found a huge bee hive dangling from a vine encrusted tree. The bees were buzzing about it, crawling in and out. Not being much of a person to tackle such jobs, I filled my pockets with heavy stones and climbed a neighboring tree. From that point of vantage, I heaved away and dislodged the hive from its moorings, sending it tumbling to the ground. The bees fled in surprise, and, dropping to the floor, I grabbed the blackish mass and ran.

When I reached the clearing, Morgo sprang at me and took the hive from my hands. Jabbing a spit through it, he held it over the fire until it was enveloped with smoke. Turning, I saw a trail of bees behind me. They were rushing to the defense of their home out of sheer instinct.

The smoke did the trick. The bees turned back and did not attack us. Morgo explained that he had been attacked before in other caves where he stole honey, and that he found fire or water the best ways to foil the industrious bees.

We sat down to a hearty meal and ate our fill of meat, honey and herbs. My stomach swelled, and when I was through I rolled over and closed my eyes to welcome sleep. I dreamed of the wealth I’d sweep from the floor of Canaan into my pockets, and devised sacks of Mannizan skins in which to carry more. I saw myself strolling with Nurri Kala down the Rue de la Paix in Paris – I saw her the sensation of New York. And I saw myself the most envied man in the world – the possessor of great wealth, and the husband of its most beautiful woman.

Then Morgo came into the picture. He, too, had escaped the caves, and he wanted Nurri Kala. We met in Times Square – myself dressed in a suit I’ve longed for – Morgo in his skins. He demanded my wife as his lawful mate by virtue of cave law. I refused him, and he sprang at me. Never before did I realize the man’s fierce strength. Taking me in his two hands, he lifted me from the sidewalk while a terrified crowd of New Yorkers fled from him, and he shook me in his effort to tear me asunder. My senses reeled in the terrible impulses of those shakings to which he subjected my body.

I saw Morgo’s face close to mine. “Wake up, Derro. Hurry!”

He was shaking me out of my slumbers in the Land of Canaan. We were alone in the clearing, but beyond, in the forests, I saw the girl and the Bakketes hiding.

My eyes strayed to the ceiling of the cave. It was darkening with many small shapes. Shamman bats! And they carried Silurians!

“Our hiding place has been found out,” Morgo said. “They are ready to attack us in the air or on the ground.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Hide in the jungles. We have not been seen down here yet.”

We joined the others and watched the Shamman bats descend and drop their purple scale-skinned freight in the forests. The voices of the Silurians beating the underbrush reached us as the light began to fail. Nearer and nearer they came.

I saw the first Silurian glistening like a purple wraith, and when I turned to point him out to Morgo, my friend was gone. Crouching, I watched the creature plow knee-deep in the grass, looking to the right and left, scouring every inch of that portion of the forest for us. A neighbor called to him from some distance, and he replied, I gathered, that he still saw nothing.

He swung toward the high clearing and ran for it. He passed between Nurri Kala and me – within five feet of us, with our bodies pressed into the diamond dust. As he climbed to the high ground, his eyes fell upon the signs of the fire, the Mannizan meat, and our footprints.

Before he could call out his find, Morgo shot out of the screening foliage like a white bullet and, striking the Silurian between the shoulders, knocked him flat on his face. Then, kneeling on the creature’s back, Morgo whispered to him to keep silent. He did not want to kill his enemy in cold blood.

The Silurian was obstinate. He struggled and, breaking away from Morgo’s hold, sent a crushing blow into the white man’s face. Morgo staggered, recovered himself, and again threw his body and weight upon the Silurian. They fell into the shining dust, legs and arms.

The Silurian’s slimy body afforded no hold for Morgo’s hands, and with the lugubrious grace of an eel, he started to squirm free of my friend’s grasp. The man’s eyes were afire with hatred and fear for Morgo’s might. I crept forward, my knife in my hand, ready to spring.

A Silurian called from the forest close by. The man, one of the searchers, was invisible in the sea of verdure.

Morgo’s enemy tried to reply, but each time he opened his mouth to shout he was struck full in the face by a lunge of Morgo’s black-maned head, which effectively silenced the cry for help – the warning that would betray our refuge. The Silurian, unable to bear the cruel punishment on his lips, tore himself from Morgo’s grasp with one supreme effort. Undaunted, Morgo flung himself on the man’s back, muffling his mouth with one hand while with the other he caught the Silurian’s windpipe.

The two again thudded to the diamond-pebble floor, and the Silurian, rolling on his back, brought his ten fingers to play on Morgo’s unguarded throat. I saw my friend’s eye bulge under the terrific pressure suddenly exerted on his own windpipe.

There was but one thing for Morgo to do, and he did it. Our lives were at stake – menaced by some fifty Silurians – and his humanitarian impulses were wasted on the creature who would crush the life from him. His knife cut through the failing light and found the mark in the man’s vulnerable eye.

As the dead Silurian fell from Morgo’s hands, the other searcher called from the forest. His voice was only thirty or so feet away.

Morgo’s cunning in that moment was superb. Realizing that the hidden man must be answered, Morgo imitated the dead Silurian’s voice and shouted that the white people were not in that part of the jungle. Satisfied, the other searcher moved on. I could hear his footsteps diminishing in the distance, and while we waited with bated breath, silence returned to the cave.

Morgo dragged the corpse into the brush and returned to our hiding place in the glade. We did not speak, but watched the light fade away into the darkness of night.

“He knows that we are here!” Nurri Kala whispered. “He know everything!”

“Zorimi?” Morgo grunted with contempt. “The Shamman bats followed the Bakketes. Perhaps Derro’s cries to them were heard.”

“It isn’t safe in here any longer,” I pointed out.

“No,” the girl added. “Let us go far from here. I am afraid, Morgo. Zorimi will never give up seeking us – as long as he knows we live.”

“I am not afraid of him – or his creatures!” Morgo laughed.

“But you cannot find an army, Morgo. You and Derro are but two men.” The girl was patently upset. Some instinctive dread of the magician possessed her. “What would I do without you two? You must not let me fall into Zorimi’s hands!”

This argument impressed Morgo, and it was then that he gave in to my entreaties for a retreat to a safer cave. I pointed out that we could always return to the Land of Canaan, though in my heart I didn’t want to. My mind was set on reaching Surrilana – or forcing Zorimi’s knowledge of another exit from the caves from him with the point of my bowie caressing his throat.

When the shadow light of the twilight that was Canaan’s period of darkness was full in the cave, Morgo summoned the silent batmen. He told them to carry us to the higher tunnel and to a place of safety.

We went aloft, and as we swung high, close to the white roof, I saw below the fires of the Silurians. They meant to give another day’s search for us in Canaan.

On reaching the tunnel, we plunged into its darkness and flew hard toward the opposite end. Midway, the Bakketes hesitated. They were confronted with two roads, and they could not remember by which they had come. MOrgo insisted that they bear to the north, and we flew for another half an hour in cool gloom.

We emerged from the passage at the side of a glowing ruby wall miles wide and miles high. Our bat wings spread, we soared parallel to this warm face that was The Shaft itself, silhouetted sharply for any enemy below to see. But there was no turning to be made now – no retreat.

How right poor Jim Craig had been. This was the mountain of diamond he spoke of. It was colossal, and now, in the darkness, it glowed blood red form the heat poured into it by passing sun of the outer day.

Looking up, I saw a great hole in the ceiling of the cave. It was miles above our flying position.

My heart sang. Beyond the rim of the fissure were dotted, in a velvet sea of blue, the diamonds that men call stars. For the first time in may a day I beheld the world from whence I came.

I sent Baku close to Morgo in my delirium of joy.

“Let us climb to that hole above,” I shouted. “Let us leave the caves that way!”

“We cannot – dare not,” Morgo replied tersely. “The Bakketes cannot make it. And the outer world up there is cold. We would freeze to death.”

There was no time for further parley. From the camp fires below came a hubbub of voices that grew. We had been spotted by our enemies – Zorimi’s forces. The snowy surface of the white jungle – a jungle with a diamond floor – was quickly overcast with the shadows of black wings. The Shamman bats were rising en masse.

We continued across the ruby light of The Shaft in full view of our enemy, headed for another tunnel the Bakketes knew. It was a race of the fastest wings, and our five thousand Bakketes were proverbially the swiftest winged creatures in the caverns. Our handicap was to our advantage, and with the horde of Shamman bats, twenty thousand strong, trailing after us, we swept through the red strata of light for a distant wall that I could not even see.

Slowly the Shamman bats gained – lessening the distance between us. Soon I heard their frantic warlike screeches, deafeningly. They did not mean to have us escape them this once, when we were literally bottled up in caves we knew little about.

The Bakketes, frightened by the proximity of their traditional foes, weakened in their rush. The Shammans gained. Now I could hear the beating of their leathery wings, striking one another’s in their mad dash for us.

I cried out in astonishment. The Bakketes had stopped flying and were hanging in the air as though waiting for their inevitable destruction.

The Shamman bats darted for us headlong. I could see the glint of red in their eyes reflected from the ruby of The Shaft. In another moment, we would be beaten to the ground – prisoners or dead.

The higher Bakketes screamed an odd signal. As one man they shot upward, and I was almost jerked out of Baku’s arms by the effort.

The Shamman bats, thousands quickly massed, passed under us in stampede. They could not stop their headlong rush in time to catch us. We veered to the right – a veritable Immelmann – and I saw ourselves being dashed full against a huge wall of white.

The Bakketes hesitated again, climbed the wall, and should into a tunnel hidden when viewed head on. This passage was a winding one, and not very long. We passed over a cave diffused with a pale light and quickly entered another passage.

We had not left it when I heard the volume of Shamman bats screeching behind us. They had found the hidden door, and were in the cavern we had just left. The chase was too close for comfort. And I was devoid of a gun.

Passing through two other caves, I suddenly realized where we were. The Bakketes, in their blind flight for safety, had blundered into the connecting caverns that led back to the amphitheater, where we emerged from the secret river – the amphitheater of the sacred hanging rock.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I spied the huge rock below, surrounded by a semicircle of dotted fires – the camps of the guardians of the rock. This cave was a veritable cul-de-sac. There was no other escape from it save through the door by which we entered – or the course up the river to the Land of the Cicernas, which was an impossible one.

Morgo signaled for our descent, and we landed on the rim of the amphitheater. The river, a black ribbon far below, thundered and roared as it passed this open space on its mysterious way from a source of plenty to an unknown end.

The Shamman bats filled the cave, while the three of us climbed over the ledge of rocks and burrowed into hiding places behind projecting boulders. The Bakketes were ordered to deploy to the far side of the cave, as though we were with them, trying to escape through a door. This was ruse to throw the Shammans off our track – and if successful, the survivors among the Bakketes were to return for us.

But the Shammans were too numerous. The twenty thousand spread through the cave and met the retreating Bakketes. The clash of battle reached our ears, and from my niche over the river in the face of the amphitheater, I saw the old tactics repeated – the Bakketes using their hands and taloned feet – the Shammans their wings and teeth, beating their prey to the ground.

Hundreds of bats became knotted in an aerial death struggle over the sacred rock. They lurched upward and then downward, first one side giving way, then the other. Closer and closer, the Bakketes were pressed to the balancing rock. They fought doggedly, for more than life itself was at stake. They feared the sacred rock.

My blood ran cold. In that moment I knew what was inevitable if the rock ever fell.

The shouts of the guardians of the stone rang out, mingled with the furious screeching of the fighting bat hordes. They, too, saw the danger.

What happened was quicker than the eye could see. The rush of Shammans hurled the Bakketes into the stone and beat against them. A thousand leather wings smothered a few hundred – the Bakketes.

Small stones thudded down the face of the cliff over the tunnel into which the secret black river flowed. There was a rending crash, and I saw the sacred rock topple over, tearing a wide path down the face of the precipice. It plopped into the river in the very mouth of the gorge so essential to the course of the rushing waters.

This was not all. The disturbed cliff crumbled, and a landslide started. Boulders, shale and rocks of all sizes showered themselves upon the sacred stone that uprooted them. The walls of the amphitheatre trembled with the blast and launched deafening echoes.

When the clouds of dust subsided a little, I saw that the feared damage had been done. No wonder the peoples of the caves said that all life in them would cease when the sacred rock fell!

The river, choked off from its natural outlet, was rising with the speed of mercury in a thermometer to which a match had been applied. In a few minutes it would be bubbling over the very rim on which we were perched.

The caves were doomed by a flood!

To Be Continued!