Chapter 23: The End of a World

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.

The Shamman bats understood. As though an orchestra conductor had brought his baton down for complete silence, their screechings ceased. They avoided the Bakketes and flew over the rising river. Their eyes convinced them of the holocaust to come. Legend had prepared them. “When the rock falls, all life in the caves must end!” It was a phrase known to all forms of life in this inner world.

Then with cries of fright and utter terror, their thousands turned taild and fled from the cave which grew lighter when the clouds of wings retreated. The startled Bakketes clustered over us and we climbed from our niches to the top of the amphitheater. The waters had risen twenty feet, and I could see it welling up foot by foot, blotting out long perpendicular stretches of stone markings.

“It is done,” Morgo said philosophically. “The caves are doomed. All of them will be filled with the river. It will flow from here and at points farther to the north.”

“We must hurry to the higher caverns,” I said, “before it is too late. If they fill, too, the tunnels will be waterfalls that we cannot pass through.”

He nodded. “I think that our path will be safe – for a little time. The Shammans that fled to Zaan from the ants will return to their own cave to escape these rising waters. They will be too busy to bother us, Derro.”

Nurri Kala stood apart watching the oncoming flood with horrified eyes. “It is his work – Zorimi’s evil! I was afraid before. I am more terrified now. We are faced with worse things than death – that is dying by torture. I saw a man drown, and it awful – awful, Derro!”

Her voice died in her throat as the picture of that terrible experience became fixed in her mind.

Morgo told us to wait while he flew over to the Zaans who were guardians of the rock that was. They were hastily preparing for flight and he meant to assist them by having the batmen carry them to safety. On his return, he had some fifty Zaans, odd blond creatures, with their primitive knives and slingshots, in the arms of the carrier Bakketes. They were frightened and remarkably submissive.

We all took off and retraced our way through the caves that had brought us to the scene of destruction. There were no lurking Shamman bats in sight.

Before penetrating the last passage that lead into the Cave of the Shaft, we rested. Morgo drew Nurri Kala and me to one side.

“How great the damage will be, I do not know,” he said. “If I am right, the river had but one outlet and that is dammed up. It may be good that we leave the caves entirely.” His eyes met mine and I knew he was waiting for Nurri Kala to make up her mind.

She was to choose between us for a mate. She had begged for time, but now we were faced with flight into my world. There I would have the advantage over Morgo. He meant for her to decide while we were still equals in her eyes.

“Nurri Kala,” he said, “you must speak now – decide. With which of us will you cast your lot in life?”

For several minutes, the girl bowed her head and did not utter a word. Then she said: “If I choose Morgo, Derro will go away. I shall lose him. If I choose Derro, what then?”

“You must try to leave the caves with Derro,” he said in a voice he fought to control, so great was his emotion. “It is his desire. I shall remain behind.”

“Then I shall lose you, Morgo,” Nurri Kala said sadly and moved away from us.

I had not anticipated this magnanimity on Morgo’s part. Taking him for a primitive child, I thought that in the event of my being the lucky man, he would fight me for the girl. But there was a spark of his early civilized training in him. He was a good sport – and would be a good loser.

“Nurri Kala,” he cried alound, “you must decide.”

She shook her golden head. “Not yet, Morgo. Give me more time. Let us go to the upper caves first.”

“No, now!” he commanded.

“Give me a day, Morgo!” she pleaded.

He hesitated and then bowed out of deference to her wish. “Very well. It shall be a day. No longer, Nurri Kala.”

I could not help trembling, knowing that my fate in love was to be decided so soon. Each hour was to bring me closer to happiness or despair.

Again Morgo gave the orders to the Bakketes and we went aloft, penetrated the long corridor and flew into the Cave of the Shaft. The red glow was turning white. The new day was entering Zaan, and its sunny beams were seeking out the colossal diamond wall that in a few hours, to light the world with the Himalayas, would throw off a light so great it blinded.

Yet if the waters rose and covered that diamond reflector, would darkness fill the caverns? I could not tell. I had no idea how great would be the flood.

Flying low, away from the others, I saw the columns of the Silurians and Shammans moving through the forest. There were no bats defending them.

Zorimi’s procession of litters containing himself and his sacks of diamonds was easily spotted. They moved like a speckled python over the floor of the jungle, not in the direction our Bakketes were taking but toward a depression in the floor.

Was Zorimi headed for his secret exit? I suspected as much. The bats had warned him of the flood and he was in full flight, using his creatures as long as was possible to get him and his treasure caravan out of the caves into Nepal or Tibet.

I directed Baku to Morgo and shouted my news to him. He was interested, and, going higher, we hung over the magician’s train. It moved swiftly afoot and presently I saw the mouth of a cave partially overgrown with brush and giant leaves. Was this the secret door? I could not resist dropping down to be certain.

The Shammans kept me at my distance by hurling stones at me from their slingshots. Zorimi was in a panic. He climbed out of his litter and holding the Shining Stone aloft – She of the Three Heads – that the inner world world worshiped – he exhorted them to move faster. He counted each litter of diamond sacks as they passed by, descending into the cave I had seen.

The line disappeared steadily. I watched it, comparing it to the tail of a rat scurrying to cover.

The line halted. Zorimi screamed imprecations. The last litter carriers, hearing the cries from the cave, dropped their cargoes and retreated despite Zorimi’s guttural commands. If he had a whip or a gun he would have killed the men on the spot so tremendous was his wrath.

Now I saw the cause of the panic in the cave. Little rivulets of water seeped from its mouth. They grew larger and formed a pool out of which terrified Shammans scrambled and splashed.

The flood was doing its work beneath this Cave of Zaan. The water was seeking the level of its source. Shortly, the entire cave would be submerged. And Zorimi’s secret exit to the outer world was cut off.

I was tempted to drop down and take the man prisoner when his army deserted him in panic, leaving him a gesticulating mass of pelts beside his treasure sacks. But Morgo cried a warning to me. Shamman bats were in the air.

Zorimi saw them and set up a shrill call. They wheeled and swooped down upon him.

I rejoined Morgo and flew to the tunnel by which he first entered Zaan years before. It was the route that he knew and it led through the Land of the Cicernas, Verrizon and into Kahli and higher Shamman.

We flew hard and made the tunnel as the light fell full upon the diamond, lighting it up so that we could not look back upon it without shielding our eyes. Out of curiosity, I dared to peer over my shoulder to behold its glory. The whiteness of the diamond was not full yet, but it was of a glorious purity and bespoke the wonders to come when the outer sun, hurling its ray through the hole in the back of the Himalayas, set it afire, giving day to the caves.

In entering the tunnel which had a peculiar hollow ring, I was deafened by flapping of the Bakketes’ wings. The monotony of the sound almost lulled me to sleep , as often did an airplane motor. Many a lucky dive I came out of, wakened just in time to avert disaster, over a German trench, or on the crest of a high ridge in the Argonne.

An affinity with the sound of the Bakketes’ wings made me sensitive to other wing beats. I opened my eyes, startled. The reverberations that were lulling me into a doze had come from behind me. Now I could hear wing ahead in the passage. Was it merely an echo or –

We rounded a wide bend and and found ourselves face to face with a horde of Shamman bats. Fright and panic seized the Bakketes. They could not turn about. The Shammans came at us, hundreds of them.

In a flash, we were a mass of colliding bodies, screeches and tangled wings and legs. The Bakketes tried to force a passage over or under the steady stream of Shammans. Morgo and I hacked away at the enemy with our knives, trying to keep close to Nurri Kala’s carrier. We were clouted with wing, kicked with flying feet.

The melee broke as suddenly as it had started. The Shammans did not want to engage us for some reason. They were bent on reaching Zaan with every possible haste.

A little battered and breathless, we debouched into the luxurious Land of the Cicernas. The air was a pandemonium of shrill cacklings and shrieks from the chicken fiends.

I saw that the floor was partially inundated with water that poured through the tunnel through which we made our original entrance into Zaan – the tunnel that led to the river. From that culvert, the water gushed in a steady cascade as from a huge fire hydrant, hurling trees and rocks out of its path as it sought elbow room in the broad cave.

And I screamed to Morgo when I counted the Bakketes that came through the collision with the Shamman bats.

Nurri Kala was missing.

Her carrier was not in the depleted ranks of the batmen. Several of the Zaans which we were carrying were likewise gone.

Instinctively, Morgo and I ordered our bats to turn us about and return to the tunnel. We meant to give chase – to learn what fate befell the girl – to rescue her from Zorimi’s power if there was still time. We were ready to do combat with a hundred Shamman bats – for the girl we loved was in danger.

Before we reached the opening, we saw its ceiling sag and crumble. A shower of rocks was followed by a deluging stream of water. The rising river had found some outlet in a higher level and its weight was bearing down upon the ceiling of the Land of the Cicernas.

In a moment, the tunnel walls collapsed before our eyes and we knew that access to Zaan was completely cut off. The pain on Morgos face was intense, and I saw his eyes moisten with tears. He was frustrated rather than frightened – fearful for Nurri Kala rather than worried about the fate of this cavern.

The Bakketes added their warning screeches to the terrified cackles of the Cicernas, those huge beasts that hopped about in the waters below, seeking dry land. The roof of the cave was giving way. Three or four dribbles of water started high up and holes quickly widened to give the waters above their forced right of way.

We went back to the Bakketes and continued on to the door to Kahli. Below, the mottled feathers of the Cicernas mingled with those of the cockatoos and the birds of paradise. The latter sought refuge on the chickens’ backs when their trees were swept down in the rush of the rising water.

As we neared the entrance to Kahli, we saw the Cicernas moving toward the same point. The air was thick with the insects and the winged creatures, their beautiful plumage bedraggled and wet from contact with the sudden flood.

The tunnel was not high enough to permit the bats and the tall Cicernas to share it. We had to reach it first. But the huge chickens were suddenly endowed with a supernatural speed and they raced for that goal of safety as speedily as we did.

Cicernas were in the tunnel when we reached it. They turned on us and tore at the Bakketes with their hideous cackling beaks, their beady eyes alight with fear. Morgo took the advance and flying low with his knife outstretched, he cut at heads and throats. Falling on on Cicerna’s back, he severed the thin neck and flew to the chicken immediately ahead, decapitating that one, too. I followed suit, striking out blindly, my knife becoming a mass of blood-coated feathers.

The surprise of our attacked momentarily stayed the Cicernas and we got into the tunnel while the huge creatures had to climb over the bodies of their fallen brothers. The air was a whirl of darting birds but they gave us no trouble.

My last glimpse of the Land of the Cicernas was a burst of water from the ceiling. It roared down in a steady torrent as if some pagan god had turned on a giant spigot to water his garden, heedless of the destruction of living creatures. With the caving in of the roof, light was blotted out of the land that had been so beautiful.

We entered Kahli, a desecrated land, torn up by the marauding black and red ants with a symphony of splashing water and cackles ringing out pitifully behind us. The Kahli in which I had learned the ways of the caves from Morgo was gone. In its place was a drab desolation of nude trees and barren brush. The Husshas and the Rortas had fed well.

The usual yellow light was dim, and I knew that the day was well advanced. Was darkness inevitable as a result of the flood? Were the rising waters touching The Shaft that reflected the sun’s light upon this hidden world?

I began to feel like the primitive men who wondered at the miracles of the heavens, and I understood in that hour how they came to worship the sun and the forces of nature that were fickle, now kindly and fertile and fruitful, now cruel and sterile and relentless in their toll of lives. This was what man experienced when the great glaciers moved down upon his home millions of years ago – inexplicable horror and futility. All his efforts went for naught in the face of merciless nature.

We flew to Morgo’s former dwelling, and I was happy to see that the rocks I piled over the entrance were still in place. The ants had not broken in. But the decay of the Mannizan flesh we left there made the cave unlivable until the Bakketes cleaned it out. I saw a wealth of ammunition and a rifle I took from the Junkers. Again I was endowed with a weapon of my civilization and I felt stronger.

Morgo gave no though to food though he was as hungry as the rest of us. We had many mouths to feed, too, counting the Zaans, who shivered in the cooler warmth of Kahli and the legion of Bakketes. He stood on the ledge watching the cave he had loved with sorrowful eyes.

His hand caressed the little cross of twigs that he always carried. Here in the midst of nature’s impending destruction, this son of the caves was turning to the deity his parents had taught him in the days when he was a little boy of my world.

“Derro,” he said at length, “I believe that we shall meet Nurri Kala again. She is not dead. I have faith in that belief. We had better go into Shamman and wait near the plateau of The Flame. She will return there – with Zorimi.”

“But how do you know that she will, Morgo?”

He smiled at me. “I have what you call a hunch.” He held the little cross of twigs up to my eyes and then tucked it away.

“Good,” I said, “and while we’re there, we can search for that room where Nurri Kala said the black books were kept. One of them my contain your name – a clue to your true identity.”

“I am no longer interested in learning that secret,” he said listlessly. “I want only Nurri Kala.”

And so did I, but what could I say in the face of his simple desire? Now was not the time to pit my will – my desire – against his. I, too, meant to make the girl my wife, if I ever laid eyes on her again.

The Bakketes flying over their ruined land came to us reporting that there was a leak in their field of stalactites. We had no reason to suspect that the river could send its flood over Kahli, but we remembered what had happened to the Land of the Cicernas.

Immediate flight was urgent. Other bat men reported the appearance of herds of Cicernas and Mannizans moving across the lower end of the cave where water trickled from the tunnels. Ants and snakes had been seen near Verrizon, entering Kahli in retreat of the welling waters.

I marveled at the catastrophe. A single rock falling into the mouth of a river’s solitary outlet was accomplishing the end of a world. The caves were doomed. All animal life and men were fleeing to higher ground for their lives.

The identities of individual cave life would be lost and creature would fight creature for the morsels of food that the ants had left behind them after they plagued Shamman – the ultimate destination of the refugees of the flood.

I remembered my readings on the end of the Carboniferous Age three hundred million years ago when the glaciers appeared and rising waters wiped out the ancient ancestry of man. Here beneath the Himalayas – with a few hundred miles of the outposts of twentieth century civilization – nature was repeating herself.

A cave world was being wiped out by water.