Sometimes an author picks the wrong character to be his protagonist. For his novel Morgo the Mighty, Sean O’Larkin chose the pilot Jerry McRory. Jerry isn’t necessarily a bad character. I imagine O’Larkin figured that he needed an ordinary guy to lead his ordinary guy readers through the underworld of Surrilana. He is not, however, as dynamic as Morgo. Morgo fights the giant chickens, negotiates with the giant ants and does all the primitive man heroic stuff. Poor Jerry is a lost guy with a gun who knows that when he runs out of bullets he’s screwed.
I’ve created a Morgo the Mighty page here at Skookworks. It includes all the Popular Magazine covers, the interior art, and downloads of the complete novel in both a Word doc and a PDF version.
Over at the Oz-Squad.com site, Lizzie the Girl Knight has six chapters available for your reading pleasure.
The Little Matchgirl – A Dangerous Run – The Killing – A Princess – and a Strange Coincidence
The Kites – The Storm – The Dragon – An Unexpected Trip – The Forest at Desert’s Edge
A New World – The Orchard – The Dwarves – The Strange Door – and a Terrifying Predicament
Shutting the Door – Queen Lang Li – A Hurried Departure – The Golden Bricked Road – Stalked by a Monster
The Long Walk – A More Dangerous Path – Another Door – Lang Li’s Veranda – Peril!
Tom and Patches Worry -Battling the Skutters – A Make-Shift Raft – The Whirlpool – The Head in the Bag
So what did I learn from retyping Morgo the Mighty?
Number one: I wouldn’t have written the same sentences that Mr. O’Larkin did. I had to keep myself from changing the syntax of his writing. His sentences were just differently constructed than felt comfortable to me.
Number two: The synopses I’d read about this serial were mostly wrong. I didn’t have a problem with that. There are plenty of underground worlds populated by prehistoric animals. Another one wasn’t needed.
I’ve got plans for Derro, Morgo and Nurri Kala but I’ve got to clear my decks of other projects before I can devote any real attention to them. Hopefully sooner, rather than later, you’ll see them again.
I tried finding information about this serial’s author but came up light. The internet is filled with information but only the stuff that’s important to people who are alive and online now. Any further research I do will probably have to be done the old fashioned way, at a library or a records office. “Sean O’Larkin” was a pseudonym for John F. Larkin Jr. He seems to have written fiction for the pulps and scripts for plays. I don’t know when he was born or when (if) he died.
Sean O’Larkin Bibliography
* The Arson Mob, (na) The Popular Magazine Jun #2 1930
* The Devil’s Widow, (sl) The Popular Magazine Aug #1, Aug #2, Sep
#1, Sep #2 1929
* Exit Laughing, (ss) Cosmopolitan Jan 1931
* Flaming Ice, (na) The Popular Magazine Dec #2 1930
* A Hollywood Murder Mystery, (ss) The Popular Magazine Mar 1931
* The Jade Blade, (na) The Popular Magazine Oct #2 1929
* Morgo the Mighty, (n.) The Popular Magazine Aug #2, Sep #1, Sep #2 1930
* Morgo the Mighty, (sl) The Popular Magazine Oct #1 1930
* On the Spot, (ss) The Popular Magazine Feb #2 1930
God Save the Queen! a farce in 3 acts
Sean O’Larkin pseudonym of John F. Larkin Jr.
copyright Aug 21, 1930
Society Girl [SG]. Film.
Dirs. George King and Sidney Lanfield. Adapt. Charles Beahan.
Dialogue Elmer Harris. Featuring Spencer Tracy, Peggy Shannon and
Production History: Fox Film. Released June 1932.
Source: Based on the play Society Girl by John F. Larkin, Jr., (aka
Sean O’Larkin) and Charles Beahan.
Morgo the Mighty by Sean O’Larkin was originally serialized in The Popular Magazine in 1930. I’ve been serializing it again here. Except for correcting the odd typo, I’ve reproduced the text as printed in the original publication. This is the final chapter.
“All right, I’ll stay, Morgo, to try to save your proud hide.”
He laughed, and we moved toward the fire, when a cold wind blustered through the cave. A Bakkete came down to us to report that he had been in Shamman and that is was practically empty of life. The floor was rippling with the waters of the dammed river. Other scouts informed Morgo that the mound on which we were hiding was well surrounded.
His words were unnecessary.
A guttural order rang out to our right. It was taken up on the left. In a moment we were in a ring of signal calls. Zorimi’s forces had us hemmed in – in a death trap of our own making. Morgo’s pride and refusal to flee from the man he said he was fated to kill had placed the lives of the three white people in the cave in jeopardy.
The tramp of advancing feet sounded on every side. I could make out men and animals, but I could see nothing. A Very light was made read and I set it off. The rocket soared up to the vault of stalactites and burst, dousing the immediate vicinity with a pale yellow glare.
The Shammans, the Silurians, the Zaans, even our friends of Kahli – primitive beast men all – were moving toward the mound between flanks of massed Cicernas, Mannizans of the rat and mouse breeds, salamanders and the black and red ants. Zorimi’s peculiar magic had effected this seemingly impossible organization. In some way he had convinced them that our deaths might propitiate the gods that released the river upon their lands. With us out of the way, the river would recede. Morgo heard that from the lips of men who began to chant.
The incantations of the primitive men resounded in the cave, wave upon wave of chanting voices. It was weird, ungodly, pagan. The effect upon us was tremendous. We stared at each other and there was horror in our eyes.
Zorimi was hurling an army upon us in a holy war. He had in some manner convinced the peoples and animals of the caves that with our destruction, their world would be freed of the waters of the flood. Our death meant food and life for all of them. That was the substance of their incessant chant – paean of hate that was hurled at us from the darkness.
The Very light fell to the ground and died.
I waited until the advancing columns seemed nearer. Morgo then urged me to send up another light. We had but five left out of the seven originally in the box.
Another Very light was sent up and it shed its rays upon hordes wending their way through avenues of chalky monoliths, coming at us like the rising tide of the ocean. The volume of the chant was deafening, nerve-wracking. Behind it was the psychology of the Indian war whoop, the battle screams of the Chinese – to instill fear in the hearts of the enemy – to beg the gods for victory.
I could hold my fire no longer. The primitive men and cave creatures were well within range and ready to surge over the mound. They were thickly massed and desperate, and their bloodshot eyes gleamed up at us.
The machine gun sang its first song. The staccato of biting tongues of steel jackets was answered by the screams of the dying and a louder chanting.
“When the white man dies, the river goes to rest! When the white man is gone, the river will sleep! Death for the white man – for we must live! Death for the white man – for we must live!”
That was the marching song of the cave creatures. Morgo whispered it to me. I sent another burst into the hordes of bloodthirsty singers and sprayed the full sweep of the gun.
We sent up another Very light and I saw the havoc I’d done. The approaches to the mound were heaped with the dead – men, rodent, fowl and lizards. Bodies writhed in their last agonies.
But as the Germans climbed over their own dead and pushed through the cut wires into Frances, a gray molten stream of mechanical men eating machine gun lead, the armies of Zorimi, in one last desperate organization, pressed toward us.
Before the light died, I dragged the gun to the other side of the mound and fed the enemy burst after burst of hot lead. They were close to the plateau’s base there and the lead washed them away in piles. I could locate the Silurians by the faint glow of their phosphorescent scales. The butchery to which Zorimi subjected his defenseless unarmed men was brutal. Yet there was but one way to take us and that was with their hands and teeth and beaks – and by drowning us under their milling feet.
Zorimi’s strategy was simple. We were to be inundated with living creatures whipped up to the point of desiring our deaths despite their own. He would defeat us with solid numbers, not weapons. And he knew that our lead could not last forever – while his men and beasts cost him nothing.
Screams! Death cries! Trampling, advancing feet!
And the chanting! The incessant chanting!
“When the white man is gone, the river will sleep! Death for the white man – for we must live!”
The machine gun replied in all directions! The toll of the shambles mounted. Zorimi had unleashed two brands of death!
We conserved the lights. I fired my bursts into the darkness, having a pretty good idea of the range. Little lead was wasted.
Nurri Kala screamed.
A python sidled over the edge of the mound. In the black we had not seen or heard its approach.
Morgo was caught in its coils. Its red and white scales threw off a dull glint in the light of our dying fire embers. Three times it lashed itself around my friend. I saw its muscles constrict as it exerted its lethal pressure to crush Morgo.
“Look to your gun, Derro!” he cried to me. “I can take care of this!”
Nurri Kala beat upon the sides of the reptile whose shining eyes were fixed on Morgo’s. The white man’s face was tense with pain until his knife slashed at the coils that bound his legs and waist. Snake and man toppled over. The python lashed Morgo against the stones to crush him better – for the python does not devour until the prey is dead.
Morgo grew still and I called to Nurri Kala to take the gun. She sent a burst into the darkness and I heard the gun jam. Morgo was deathly still in the reptile’s embrace. The creature, though badly hacked, still lived and breathed with convulsive effort. I sank my knife into its thick skin and it remained wedged there as I was flipped off my feet by the lashing of the long tail.
As I lay to one side, stunned, with Nurri Kala’s strange diamond flower tumbled from my blouse at my feet, I saw Morgo with one mighty effort rip off the monster’s head. The python’s muscles in reaction of death, continued to contract in their steely grasp. Another slash and Morgo cut through one coil and he breathed more easily.
He was safe and I ran back to the gun. The jam was caused by a defect in the cartridge belt which I quickly adjusted. I was about to pump away again when I noticed that the advance had ceased as suddenly as it had started.
We sent up a Very light and I saw that the enemy had taken to hiding behind the monoliths of chalk. Some salamanders and Mannizans and ants were feeding among the dead. And as the light descended in a graceful arc over the ring of slaughter, my eyes caught sight of bat wings in the air. They did not belong to the Bakketes hidden higher in the stalactites.
“Shamman bats!” Baku cried. “Now they come!”
The Very light went out and it was followed by a hailstorm – a hailstorm of stones as big as a Shamman bat could carry between its feet. Zorimi was cunning! But the bats missed their range and the stones fell upon the hordes beyond the mound. Again there was a woeful cry and the sound of retreating creatures.
I pleaded with Morgo for the last time. “They’ll come at us again. Don’t be foolish. Let’s get out while there’s a living chance!”
Morgo shook his head and leaned against the parapet. He was exhausted from his fight with the python.
“But you can’t ask Nurri Kala to do that too!” I blazed hotly. “You can’t – if you love her!”
She had picked up the diamond flower I dropped and was holding it in her hand. Morgo, his eyes blood red, looked at her, pleading mutely. I stood as though ready for a blow.
“I love you both,” she whispered. Her eyes were filled with tears. “And I must choose one of you – life or death!”
She kissed the little flower that I had first seen in her golden hair that night of the human sacrifices and handed it to me. Morgo gasped and a sob broke from his lips. I took Nurri Kala’s hand. She had decided.
“I love you, Derro,” she aid, “but Morgo is right. I belong to the caves – not to your world. I should be strange to it and its ways. And I love Morgo, too. I will stay with him!”
From the depths of despair, Morgo was raised to the heights of ecstasy by a single word. “Him!” How he must have loved her! He knelt before her and she rumpled his tangled hair like a playful child.
“You have my flower, Derro,” she smiled sadly. “Remember me by it – and kindly.”
The tide of battle surged back upon us. Morgo shouted orders to Baku and setting off a Very light, I sprang to the gun. The ants alone were being unleashed upon us.
Blacks and reds – Husshas and Rortas – they ambled toward the mound. Zorimi was hurling his invincible shock troops upon us.
A gleam of pure white light shot from the top of a distant crag. Zorimi stood upon it displaying the Shining Stone – She of the Three Heads – to his army. It was a gesture of ultimate victory and one of benediction for the ants. They seemed to understand and those who had paused at the dead to dig their mandibles into the warm flesh turned toward us once more.
I seized the rifle and as the Very light floated over Zorimi, I took aim. There was a bark and finger of flame.
The Shining Stone was shattered and the magician staggered backward.
A cry of surprise went up from the primitive men who had seen the destruction of the magic symbol. The ants hesitated in their march.
The light was full upon Zorimi who was trying to clamber down the protected side of the monolith. I fired again and then emptied the clip at him. The bark of the gun banged back from the echoing walls.
Zorimi tottered and fell upon his back.
Morgo seized me. “You must go, Derro. You must save yourself. Baku will take you away before it is too late.”
“The fight isn’t over,” the Irish in me laughed. “Not by a damn sight!”
“Please, Derro!” Nurri Kala begged.
“I’ve got to spray the ants!” I cried, and I turned the Vickers’ mouth into the nearest group of blacks and reds. The waving, snapping colors of the long mandibles swam before my eyes like a sea of pikes and pitchforks as my finger crooked tightly on the trigger.
“Remember your promise!” Morgo shouted between bursts of fire. “Save yourself, Derro!”
I wasn’t interested in escape now. The ants fascinated me, challenged me to battling an entire army corps. My senses were reeling with strain and excitement. The leaden hail, spat from the gun, mowed the Husshas and the Rortas down.
Two arms were dexterously slipped under mine. I was shot from the mound into the upper darkness.
“Goodbye, Derro! Godspeed, my friend!” Morgo’s voice floated up to me. Nurri Kala was sobbing.
I cursed Baku and commanded him to return me to the mound. He resisted my kicks by catching my legs in his and I could not struggle. It was Morgo’s greatest gesture – the willingness to sacrifice himself and the woman he would call his mate in order that my desire to return to my own people would be realized. He could not bear to have me share the awful fate which awaited the defenders of the little plateau.
Shouting voices from the primitives! Beating bat wings overhead! Rat-tat-tat-brrr-rup! The leaden tongues spat upward.
The Shamman bats were trying to cut off Baku’s flight. Morgo was ripping them down in large numbers from the air.
A Very light – the last one – burst over me.
The cave was filled with bats and Hoatzins. Morgo was manning the machine gun, Nurri Kala the weapon. The children of the caves were using the weapons of civilization in their last stand.
The aerial enemy could not withstand the slaughter. Their attack was repelled and they fled. But the ants were thrusting their mandibles over the edge of the little fort.
Now Morgo was using his knife against black mandibles. The girl was swinging the rifle butt as a club.
The Bakketes rained from the stalactites where they were hidden.
The falling light was full upon Zorimi’s body directly below me – the cowl thrown off the face.
The condor nose!
Zorimi was Kenvon – Edgar B. Kenvon who I piloted over Kanchenjunga’s icy breasts – who forced me at the point of a gun to penetrate the Door of Surrilana. Beside his body was the shattered Shining Stone – the evil symbol, She of the Three Heads.
How I reached Darjeeling I do not remember. They found me in the street in front of the Nepal Bar, a fever-wracked shell. When my mind cleared I told my story and pleaded for a party that would fly into Kanchenjunga to seek Morgo and Nurri Kala. The doctors spoke of the sun and how it had addled my brain. Not a soul believed a world I uttered. Nor was any stock placed on the Bibles I had in my pockets.
It was Baku who undoubtedly brought me as far as he could and dropped me in the jungle of the Sikkim. My feet did the rest. Whatever his fate was, I don’t know – but I owe the remnants of my life to him.
Back in New York, I found Kenvon’s deposit of ten thousand dollars to my credit in the bank I designated. I turned it over to charity. My hands are poor ones, but they’ll not touch blood money.
Little was known of Kenvon, as I had suspected. He was regarded as a mysterious man of wealth who had frequently appeared in fashionable circles only to vanish again for months and years on end. I was told that he had died in an airplane accident in India.
His plot is obvious to me now. He organized the expedition that took us into Kanchenjunga to satisfy his vanity. He wanted men of science to see his world – to envy him – before he killed them – offering them up in sacrifice to the gods of his distorted mind. The crash spoiled his plans, for I had escaped him. So he killed Harker, put his flying togs on the body which I found, to deceive me should I chance upon it, and he took the geologist’s head to grace his grim collection in the chamber of skulls.
Somehow, Jim Craig learned the secret of the sacred diamond talisman – and Kenvon’s secret of the diamond caves. And he paid with his life for his knowledge – precipitating me into the great adventure of love and death.
As I sit here at my table concluding this take, I cannot believe that Morgo is dead. He was a mighty man and such men are immortal. He was too magnificent to die. But my heart is heavy and fearful.
Nurri Kala’s little diamond flower lies before me. It has been the source of my inspiration. I want the world to know of her beauty and courage. And as I pen these last words, I am pressing those brilliant petals to my lips – petals that have tasted Nurri Kala’s lips and their sweetness.
Nurri Kala, the Beautiful – Morgo, the Mighty – I pray that God is kind to you.
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.
That night seemed eternal. It was arctic long, and blacker than the sins of man. We huddled close to the fire while the tireless Bakketes mounted guard in wide circles over our head. Hours went by and there was no sign of the return of light.
I knew that The Shaft had failed. It was in the grip of the flood. Beneath the waters of the river that spread until it was a lake and vast inner seas, there was a world of diamonds. I knew that I would never see it again – nor possess the wealth I dreamed of.
“You heard what Zorimi said,” Morgo ventured. “He was right. The caves will fill with men and beasts fighting for their lives. Man will go down. They will flee up here – and we will be driven through the Door of Surrilana into the freezing outer world that is encased in ice. I have been told about it.”
“But beyond the ice, Morgo,” I said, “there are warm jungles – and civilization. You are an American and so is Nurri Kala. You can return to your own land – to friends and relatives.”
“We are savages, Derro,” he laughed. “Who would ever believe I am the person you say?” I showed him the Bibles. “They are nothing. I cannot even remember my life before the caves. It is here that I belong – it is here that I must fight – or die!”
I looked across the flames at Nurri Kala. “It is time for you to decide. I am ready to try to escape with the Bakketes – to fly into the outer world.”
“No, Derro. Give me a little more time. I am very frightened.” She was suppliant, and neither Morgo nor I would insist on an answer to the question of our fate.
My thoughts were presently directed toward the imminence of a battle in the caves. Man would fight man. Animal would destroy animal. And then man and animal would seek supremacy for the little food these barren wastes in the high cold caves provided. I was determined not to leave before Nurri Kala’s decision, for she might elect to go with me, and I did not want to go without her.
Weapons for the defense of our lives were essential. I asked Morgo about arming the Bakketes, who had arms and hands, but he said they had never profited by his lessons in the past with slingshot or knife. Their intelligence was limited. And I had only the rifle and ammunition that would be nothing in the face of a mass attack.
The machine gun in the plane! It flashed across my mind. That was just the thing to hold an army at bay! It was well oiled, and might have withstood the mild weather in Shamman, where it fell with the Junkers.
I told this to Morgo and he was skeptical of its value. But Nurri Kala respected the use of my weapons and insisted that we try to find it. Baku was summoned and he seemed to remember the location of the crashed plane.
I showed Nurri Kala how to use the rifle and when she demonstrated the ability to handle its simple mechanism, I took off with Baku, Morgo and a large number of Bakketes. The girl was left by the hidden fire, heavily guarded by bat men who were instructed to hide her in the stalactites above, at the slightest sign of trouble.
We entered Shamman, where there was no gray light of day. In seeking the location of the Junkers, we course far over the land dotted with the many fires of the primitive men who stayed close to them, wondering what blight had come upon them. I heard the snarls of foraging animals, attacking each other in the darkness, the cries of men and women caught unawares by the sudden appearance of a herd of squealing Mannizans, the peculiar cries of the Hoatzins in search of prey, and the fearful cacklings of the bewildered and vicious Cicernas. All, with their backs to the proverbial wall, were now more dangerous than in less troublous times.
My heart fell when we flew low, trying to find the monolith that marked the resting place of the plane. I had heard the hush-hush of the black ants – those carnivorous Husshas who now needs must feed on human flesh, for the vegetation was eaten away from Shamman. Below was a floor of horrible death – a floor the most primitive of men never had to tread in fighting for existence.
Morgo called to me. He should that something was happening in the end of Shamman near Kahli’s tunnel. I looked toward the groups of fires there and saw them extinguished, one by one, as though some unseen hand was drawing a cover over the ground.
Curious, we flew toward that end to ascertain the trouble. Shrieks and cries of fear and pain rent the darkness. Shamman bats crossed our path and paid no attention to us.
Then I heard the gurgling sound of flowing water. The flood had reached Shamman. The nearer we flew toward it, the louder it became until it was the song of a tyrannical, hungry torrent gushing up from Kahli throug the tunnel.
Shamman was doomed.
The flood was claiming its territory.
The exodus into the cave where Nurri Kala stayed was under way. We could hear the tramp of feet moving in its direction, the calls and screams of animals clashing with the men invisible to us. The air was again a flutter of birds’ wings.
We despaired of finding the machine gun, and returned to the defense of the girl. I suddenly realized that it had been sheer folly to leave her while we went on this wild goose chase.
A flock of Hoatzins struck at us in the dark. They were flying blindly. Ravenously they fastened themselves upon our flesh to satisfy their hunger. I felt the bite of a hundred wing claws about my face and head and the Bakketes screeched while Morgo bellowed with the horrible little pains. Our knives were impotent against the hundreds of frightened flesh eaters, and only the wit of the Bakketes saved us from being pecked to death in the air.
They dropped to the ground and there beat off the Hoatzins with their wings while Morgo and I used our hands, wringing feathered necks and tearing claws from our shins. No sooner had the claw-winged creatures fled than we found ourselves hemmed in by Cicernas. The startled Bakketes rose without us.
I cursed the fate that sent me to die so far from Nurri Kala. God knows what would happen to her now! Morgo met the rush of the first chicken, catching it about the neck with his arm. This once he did not use his knife. Instead his hands twisted the long neck til it broke. He signaled loudly for Baku and, when I felt something touch my shoulders, I wheeled about with my knife and plunged it blindly into the breast of a Bakkete, thinking it a Cicerna.
Baku caught me and whirled me away from the reach of the beaks with Morgo. The chickens, cheated of human flesh, quickly turned to their own plentiful dead for a meal.
The pandemonium on the floor of Shaman increased as the word spread that the flood had reached that high level. We could hardly hear ourselves think in the uproar of voices, human and animal.
Baku, by some uncanny instinct, finally found the plane. It had been overrun and devoured by the ants, but the machine gun, a Vickers, was gone. And so were the cartridge cases and boxes that held the Very lights. Who had beaten us to the gun? There were fresh footprints in the chalky ground. Silurians! And undoubtedly under Zorimi’s orders.
“Zorimi has the gun!” I cried to Morgo. “That means annihilation for all who oppose him now. He knows how to use it.”
“So be it,” he said philosophically. “Let us hurry back to Nurri Kala.”
We had hardly gotten into the air when a burst of yellow light shattered the darkness. It hung in midair and then gently floated earthward, lighting the floor below. Someone had set off a Very light – one from the Junkers!
The shambles portrayed in the rays of the yellow light was awful. Men were at death’s grip with men. The old fight for the right of way between the lofty stalagmites set up a new problem here in Shamman. And Mannizans and Husshas struggled with one another to satisfy hunger.
A python lashed itself about a Cicerna and was preparing to eat while the chicken pecked its coils to pieces.
The salamanders ran riot, their bodies moving through the shadows like slow tracer bullets from a Spandau. Silurians and Shammans and the blond men from Zaan looked up at the Very light in holy awe and then fell upon each other again, some fighting for a knife, a cut of meat, a bundle of herbs carried from the greener caves.
But was interested me most was a party of Shammans carrying the machine gun and its cartridge cases on their shoulders. Zorimi was with them and it was he who had set off the Very light to impress the primitive peoples of his power to bring light out of darkness. His guttural harange came up to us as the light struck the ground and sputtered out, leaving a heavier darkness behind.
I ordered Baku to drop upon the machine gun carriers. Morgo heard me and pleaded with me to stay with him but when he saw our headlong flight, he joined it.
We landed beside the man who had the gun on his shoulder. Our appearance out of the air, like evil spirits suddenly materialized, startled him. I caught the gun as it slid from his back and passed it to a Bakkete. I seized the cartridge cases and Morgo, understanding, told the other bat men to pick them up. Then I dashed in Zorimi’s direction. I wanted very badly those Very lights.
I did not find the magician – but the box of lights were on the ground. These were consigned to another carrier. The Shammans, weary and hungry, put up no fight, but accepted our materialization with resignation. They stood dumbly aside while we robbed them of the most valuable weapon of the hour, a machine that could fire a hundred pieces of hot lead a minute – that could wipe out an army when one man pressed the trigger.
Zorimi, far off in the darkness, was calling for his bats and salamanders. Again we had outwitted him. But it for the last time.
With our loot in safe hands we returned to the fire where we found Nurri Kala waiting for us. She had killed a small Mannizan with the rifle, had skinned it and was roasting some meat over the blaze.
What I deemed was the day wore on. All was night for us. Bakketes reported the arrival of people in the far end of the cave, and we put out our fire. I busied myself with the machine gun, fitting the cartridge belts into place. The gun was thick with oil, and I cleaned it as best I knew how.
Morgo watched me use it on the shadowy spire of a monolith a hundred yards away. I pressed the trigger, the belt raced through the chamber and the mouth of the gun was a spitting torch of orange light. The spire crumbled and vanished. Morgo was astonished. I was happy, for the gun was still working.
Baku reported a miniature plateau, the top of a broken-off stalagmite. It could hold fifty men, he said, and Morgo decided that we would be safer up there than down on the floor. We repaired to the crag with our arsenal, the Very lights, meat and wood for a long fire. The Bakketes were kept hard at it replenishing the supply for the fire that meant warmth for us all.
The crag commanded on all sides of the cave and we had only Shamman bats to fear. The fire was built in a hollow where we could huddle when night came, and the Vickers gun was mounted on a natural rampart from which it could sweep and spray the three possible approaches from the mound.
Hours went by and we heard nothing. Bakketes reported that large numbers of men and beasts were in the cave but they were strangely silent. Shamman bats soared over us, betraying themselves by their wing beats, but nothing happened. The silence surprised me. Was this more of Zorimi’s magic? I suspected as much.
Once in the flying forces, I had been sent up to the front line trenches for observation purposes. The stillness then was much like it was in this black hole in Kanchenjunga’s bowels. The Germans were getting ready for a barrage. We had not been told, but the very idea of a mass attack was in the air then, as it was now.
Zorimi had lost his diamond treasure. His domain was underwater. The two white men he hated most were at large – and a menace to the secrets he labored to hold – the secret of the mountain and its wealth. Time and again they had tricked him, defied his magic. And now they held the girl he wanted, the girl whom he had called his slave.
I told Morgo that Zorimi was responsible for the peculiar quiet and he would not believe me. He had no explanation to offer, and he was worred, though unafraid. He eyed my machine gun hopefully while I showed the girl how it operated. He refused to take a quick lesson.
Nurri Kala agreed with me that Zorimi was concentrating his efforts on us. By the power of Her of the Three Heads, he had in some way organized the fugitives from the flood. In one last assault, they would try to accomplish his ends so that he might enjoy his triumph of evil and take the girl into my world under the wings of the Shamman bats.
“There is still time to escape through Surrilana,” I said to Morgo, hoping to convince him that his days in the caves were numbered. “It is futile to entrench ourselves here and attempt to fight.”
“Go – if you want to, Derro. No one will stop you. But here I must stay. I shall not run away from Zorimi. With his death, I am sure peace can be restored among the peoples and beasts of this world.
To Be Concluded!
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 flood had laid its heavy fingers well across the once fair face of the Cave of Kahli by the time we left Morgo’s dwelling. The waters were not deep, and long lines of Shammans, Zaans, Silurians and animals, neither molesting the other save when their paths crossed, were wading their way toward the upper reaches of Shamman. As yet, no Shamman bats had put in an appearance.
I wondered if the bats we saw rushing pell-mell into Zaan were bottled up there with Zorimi and Nurri Kala. Yet I tried to assure myself that there were other exits – other means of escape than through the destroyed Land of the Cicernas.
As we made our way to the tunnel, reinforced by the Bakketes who had stayed on in their stalactites after the raids of the red and black ants, I saw the floor of Kahli streaked with veins of water holding living creatures. It looked as the seams of the cave leaked, that we were within a container the sides of which threatened to cave in upon us.
I saw a column of Silurians marching upon one of Cicernas. When the two met, there was a clash for the right of way. The scale-skinned men fought hard with their impregnable bodies, but the might of the powerful chicken wings hurled them heavily to the ground. The wings were a force the men could not overcome and they had to give way, the water gurgling about their ankles while the chickens marched by in great numbers.
At another point, we saw the Shammans beat off the small Mannizans, killing several in their efforts to reach the tunnel first. Later, they ran afoul of the large Mannizans, the rat breed, and met with rebuff. The rats were fierce in their insistence of the right of way and they swarmed over the column of Shammans, trampling men, women and children – terrified primitives whose one thought was for their lives.
The tunnel up to Shamman was dry and we took hope. On entering the great gray cavern, we found the light weak and waning. Either The Shaft was failing because of the rising waters in Zaan or the means of reflecting the sun’s rays through other caves and corridors was being cut off by the crumbling of those chambers.
As yet there wasn’t a living creature in all Shamman. We made our way over miles of bleak gray wastes and stunted trees on which the ants had found lean pickings, toward the plateau of The Flame. There was no thread of smoke to guide us. The pagan fire had died out, untended by its keepers, who fled from the plague of red and black ants.
Morgo proved himself an able general of his Bakkete army. He decided not to take possession of the Shamman stalactites but to press on into the higher and darker cave close to the Door of Surrilans. We flew over the plateau and continued on toward the distant opening, beyond which was a hazy darkness.
In that vast cavern that once was compared to the plains of Kansas, I saw Shammans and small Mannizans running in the gloom below. Some of Shamman’s creatures had gone in this direction when the Husshas and the Rortas invaded their cave while the others went to warmer reaches of Zaan.
It was cold and I saw Morgo shivering when we landed. The Bakketes who went aloft to inspect the dripping chalk stalactites fed by the ice of Kanchenjunga kept in motion for the scant warmth activity gave them. The floods were driving us into a state comparable to the Ice Age of old. Wood was gathered from the weird trees that thrived in this cavern darkness, and Morgo made a fire in a depression – a veritable corral of towering stalagmites. He was anxious for secrecy even in this wilderness of chalky monoliths.
“Now let us return to the plateau,” Morgo said. “When the Shammans and Silurians return, they will not be eager for fight. They are badly frightened by the flood. And it is to the plateau that Zorimi will come -”
“If he still lives,” I put in pessimistically.
“He will. And he brings Nurri Kala, too. I know it, Derro.”
Baku and four other Bakketes took us from our fire, tended by the remaining Bakketes, into Shamman. Morgo and I were landed on the mound of the dead flame while the other bat men were sent off to watch for the Silurians and Shammans.
I led the way down the roughly hewn chalk steps to the chamber of skulls. A chill draft swept through it and whistled up the shaft that was the former chimney of the sacred pagan fire that Zorimi kept burning. We climbed over Hussha and Rorta remains, most of which were nearly wholly devoured by the ants. An odor of death and decay pervaded the place.
Morgo was content to wait calmly for word of Zorimi’s return. He meant to kill the magician and take Nurri Kala from him. And I think he hoped by that deed to wind favor in her eyes. But I insisted that we search fro the room which Nurri Kala had described – the room where the Bibles were said to be hidden.
Reluctantly, Morgo accompanied me. We went back up the steps to a landing that gave upon a long corridor. In the dim light I saw several wooden doors, heavy and closed. We tried the first, and it swung open. The chamber was small with a little window. A pallet was in one corner and upon it I found a flying helmet. It was Harker’s – that of the man whose drying skull graced the horrible bony frieze in the chamber below, the hall of human sacrifice.
“This is Zorimi’s room,” I said. “Somehow, I smell his evil in it.”
Morgo agreed. He pointed to a little book in a niche in the wall. It had been flung there hastily. I ran for it and opened it eagerly for the secrets it could tell me. It had been a diary but the pages were ripped out.
Still, on one page a fragment remained. It was in a curious, scrawling penmanship, barely legible. Somehow it was familiar to me. I tried to recall if I had ever seen the handwriting of Jesperson, whom I now suspected of being Zorimi. No luck.
But I read: ” – who is the prisoner Lacrosse. I shall take him to Zaan. He can evaluate the stones and – ” The fragment was brief, but it revealed to me that Zorimi had held Lacrosse a prisoner in the plateau, even while we faced him in the chamber of skulls.
It was the magician who brought the naturalist to the Caves of Zaan and for the stated purpose of putting a value on the treasure Zorimi was collecting there before his escape to the outer world. Harker, the geologist, the better judge of stones, was sacrificed by Zorimi, perhaps because he refused to deal with the evil one. And Lacrosse lived only to reach the torrid Zaan and die there with diamond dust heaped upon him, possibly as an ironic gesture, by Zorimi.
We went into another room, more attractive than Zorimi’s and I recognized in it Nurri Kala’s reflecting glass – a tall mirror of polished silver. On a ledge was the odd flower of diamonds that I saw in her yellow hair the night she was called to participate in human sacrifice. Before Morgo spotted it, I picked it up and stuck it into my blouse.
“Nurri Kala lived in this room,” Morgo said slowly. “I can feel her presence.”
He did not want to leave it. We stood long before the mirror looking at ourselves. Our faces were shaggy with ancient beards and our eyes were lighted with fierce determination. They met in challenge and then Morgo smiled at me. His arm slipped into mine and he patted my clenched hand. I feared his friendship in that instant, for on the morrow he might be my enemy because of the girl we both loved.
“We are friends, Derro,” he said. “I am black-haired and you are red-haired. There is fire in you. But we are friends. Do not let us quarrel over Nurri Kala – when she chooses me?” He laughed as he spoke this last sentence.
“Or when she chooses me?” I smiled at him. His face hardened, but I felt the sincerity in the pressure of his hand.
“I shall try to be brave – if she is that foolish,” he replied. We laughed again and went on to the next room. The door was tied with a cord of hard vines which we cut with our knives.
Within was a spacious well-lighted chamber. On a crude table before which a rock was set for a chair, there was a pile of diamonds. From this Zorimi had evidently been sorting our the different sized stones which were neatly arranged in four smaller heaps. On the floor I saw small bags in which they could be carried.
Morgo exclaimed in surprise. “There they are.”
Following the direction of his finger, I peered into a dim corner and saw a stack of black books. Quickly I drew them to the light of the window, a poor light at that, for the source seemed to be dying slowly, and I rummaged through them.
There were tomes on anthropology, the history of gems, studies of cave life in other parts of the world, textbooks on botany and zoology, and an account book from which the pages had been torn. There were no names of a possible owner on the fly leaves. And there were two small pocket Bibles, grimy, pages yellowed with age and wear.
I studied the larger Bible and found on the front and back covers the genealogy of the Graham family. It dated from 1832 and on the back cover was the entry of the wedding of Martin Graham, of New York City, to Helen Ferguson on May 10, 1902. It designated Martin Graham as a scientist and his bride as the daughter of the Fergusons of Chicago. Added to this entry was another: “Born to us on July 4, 1904, a son, who we named George, New York City.”
I read on: “Helen died of pneumonia in the Door of Surrilana on August 9, 1914, where my ill-fated expedition seems doomed to failure. I buried her beneath a pile of stones and read the burial service. I pray that I can take George back to Darjeeling.”
1914! That was sixteen years ago when Morgo said he came to the caves after knowing the outer world.
The last entry was blurred. “George and Nesta were hurt in the landslide. I pray that both live. Blake is strong enough to try with me to get down to the warmer climate.”
That was the secret of Morgo’s identity. He was George Graham, the son of an American scientist and explorer. The landslide explained the loss of his memory in his childhood. He had to told me of being struck on the head with a stone, and I had attributed his amnesia to that.
Nesta must be Nurri Kala!
I opened the other Bible. There were family tree entries in it beginning in 1866. Mention was made of an ancestor who was a major in the Civil War and of another who was a historian. The last read: “Jeremiah Blake, of New Orleans, married Lois Montgomery, of Atlanta, on October 22, 1905. A daughter, Nesta, blessed their union on November 6, 1906.
Beneath this was scrawled in a shaky hand: “May God preserve my daughter Nesta and little George Graham. Conners will try to take them down to the warmer air. They have been terribly shocked by the landslide and their injuries and seem to be dazed. Graham is dead.”
What fate befell Connors, or who he was, I cannot guess. But it was certain that Zorimi found the children or at least the girl. Morgo – George Graham – somehow managed to enter the caves and establish a life of his own. The girl was brought up by Zorimi.
I explained all this to Morgo, but it revived no recollections in his veiled brain. That he was an American meant nothing to him. He remembered nothing of his father’s expedition to the heights of Kanchenjunga, of the landslide, of how he came to live in Kahli.
Taking the Bibles with us, we returned to the chamber of the skulls, where Baku and another bat man were awaiting us. It had grown quite dark. I feared that light was forever lost to the cave world. The waters would blot out everything.
The other Bakketes presently winged their way in through the opening and informed Morgo that Shammans and Silurians and animals, including armies of Husshas and Rortas, were streaming into the far end of Shamman. They believed that the waters were welling up fast, covering most of Kahli, judging from the panic they witnessed among the refugees.
“Soon they will be here,” Morgo said. “I know that Zorimi is not dead. I am fated to punish him.”
He sat on the ledge and watched the air over Shamman – the gray gloom that was melting into early night. The Bakketes grew uneasy both at this diminution of their day and seeming to sense presences that we could not see with human eyes.
Morgo sprang to his feet and drew back from the ledge into the protecting shadows of the eerie chamber. I saw what prompted this move. Shamman bats, but shadows in the twilight, were gathering over the mound. And the air was filled with smaller birds, darting hither and yon, strangers in an empty world whence the flood drove them.
Two bats swooped from the roof and approached the opening. Morgo commanded absolute silence and we pressed ourselves flat against the shadowy walls, man and Bakkete.
Zormi and Nurri Kala were deposited on the ledge. The magician turned and addressed the hovering bats, revealing to them Her of the Three Heads – that ugly symbol of his power, concentrated in a bloodstained slab of carved diamond. The three awful heads seemed alive – the lizard’s, the woman’s and the bat’s.
The bats murmured contentedly and flew up to their haunts in the stalactites. They paid no attention to the panicky birds whose numbers grew steadily, pouring the darkness a dirge of terror.
Zorimi vanished into the darkness of the cavern and lighted a flambeau. We saw him pear into the yawning maw wherein The Flame once burned.
“Be patient, my children,” he crooned down into the pit. “You will never die. And I shall feed you soon. Be patient.”
“What do you talk to?” Nurri Kala asked listlessly, moving close to him. “There is no one here – nothing that lives.”
“In the pit! In the pit!” Zorimi laughed. “There are living things in the pit – creatures that live on water and fire. My Silurians are far away but I have my other army – in case an enemy shows a head.”
“You still fear Morgo and Derro?” the girl asked. “You could make peace with them.”
“Never! They would not have it – nor would I. There can be but one lord of Shamman and all the caverns – and his name must be Zorimi.”
I knew now that the man was mad. His voice was shrill and high-pitched. “But we go away – tonight, Nurri Kala. There is no time to be lost. This cave will fill with all living life from the other caverns. They will destroy each other in quest for food. The strong will devour the weak. And man must perish – for he is weak.”
“And what of you, Zorimi?” the girl asked. “You are a man, too.”
“I am not of this world, Nurri Kala. Zorimi is immortal. He commands all creatures, human or bestial. We are leaving the caves, my child. I will show you strange great cities and take you across vast seas. The world will adore you – as my wife!”
In his madness, Zorimi sounded like the villain in a badly made talking picture. He was exceedingly melodramatic and he meant to impress the girl, who no longer feared him. He seemed to sense her defiance of his powers.
“I am not going with you, Zorimi,” the girl said decisively. “I will stay here and seek my friends, Morgo and Derro.”
“They are dead, my child. They perished when the walls of the Cicernas country caved in. Now do not resist me, Nurri Kala – or I shall have to put you to sleep.”
“You mean – you mean make me look into your eyes again?” Her tone was one of revulsion.
“Ah, you have not forgotten. You saw these eyes once. And you did forget to obey me. You slept for many days.”
I wanted to spring at the man. It was obvious what he meant. He had the power of hynosis, and it was with that he threatened the girl, hoping to bend her to his will.
“I will never look into your eyes again, Zorimi. And I am not going away with you.”
Zorimi caught her wrists and drew her face close to his. With a jerk of his head, he threw back the cowl that masked his face, but I could not identify him because his back was to me. Then the girl’s face was contorted with horror and she closed her eyes.
“I see that I must make you sleep. I have no time for argument, my child.” His voice then thundered: “Look into my eyes, Nurri Kala!”
Swiftly, silently, Morgo ran across the floor. He was with in reach of the magician when his pattering footsteps reached the man’s sensitive ears. Zorimi shrouded his face and leaped from Morgo’s path to the edge of the pit where he uttered a loud wailing call.
Morgo took the girl in his arms and advanced toward Zorimi. I joined them with the intention of ripping off the magician’s cowl.
A slithering, scratching noise echoed in the pit. Morgo instinctively hesitated, aware of danger. Zorimi laughed and drew the magic stone from his pelts, holding it high over his head.
A moment later, the rim of the pit was lined with faces, long lizard faces, in which luminous green eyes bulged and stared at us. These creatures leaped over the edge and flattened themselves to the stone floor, crawling slowly, with horrible motions, toward us. Zorimi spoke to them in a wailing voice, and they ran thick red tongues over their bluish lips.
They were salamanders – blue-skinned and huge, with spotted backs of the venomous breed. Their bodies were alive with a bluish light that phosphorescent as they entered the shadows into which we backed warily. These relations of the lizard, amphibians, thrived on the heat of high fires. They were denizens of the pit of The Flame. And they heeded Zorimi’s commands.
“Give up the girl!” Zorimi called to us, at the same time speaking to the salamanders, “and I will call off my creatures!”
The slithering bodies halted and the bulging green eyes were so many points of hypnotizing fire in the gloom.
“Not to you, Zorimi!” Morgo cried. “If we die – we all die together.”
“But I want the girl!” Zorimi insisted. He urged the bluish salamanders closer to us, still holding them in check with his orders.
We were beside the stairs. Morgo pushed the girl onto them and shouted to her to run. Zorimi unleashed his uncouth creatures and a score of phosphorescent slugs of blue light were launched at us. The Bakketes screeched and flew out the opening.
Morgo sidestepped the first creature to rush him, and it could not turn quick enough to set its jagged teeth in his flesh. He plunged his knife into its back above the heart and a fountain of luminous blood shot into the air. A weird cry came from the lips of the other salamanders. While several of them fell upon the dead, tearing the phosphorescent skin apart to reach the meat, the others continued to come at us.
We reached the stairs and started up after Nurri Kala. Morgo was behind me and cried out as I slipped, lost my balance and dropped feet foremost into the chamber again. A salamander marked me and slither across the floor in my direction.
Morgo turned to the creature trying to climb the stair under Zorimi’s exhortations. He waited until the salamander was close enough, and then, leaning far over the inclined body, he fell upon it, burying his knife in its entrails. It writhed and nearly threw him into the jaws of the others below before his blade could find the heart.
I imitated Morgo in side stepping the lizard that rushed me but my knife missed its goal. It cut through a shoulder, and the tail of the creature lashed itself around my legs while it doubled to reach me with its fangs.
Morgo knelt on the steps and shouted for me to give him my hands. Unconsciously, so great was my terror, I reached upward and felt the grasp of his powerful hands over my wrists. I was jerked clear of the floor and then Morgo’s mighty thews slowly lifted me and the salamander to the edge of the steps where I sat. Morgo then dropped on his stomach and, leaning over the edge, hacked the salamander’s tail from my body.
We took to our heels, shooting up the steps, just as another speckled lizard, glowing like a pagan dragon, set its jaws for us. Nurri Kala was on the plateau with the Bakketes. They took us aloft and off to the fire we had prepared in the higher, colder cave.
To Be Continued!
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.
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!
The movement of many heavy bodies plowing through the underbrush aroused me from my reveries. Animals? Men? Morgo and the girl? I had heard the incessant tramp of marching men going up to the front in France. I was hearing it again.
Cautiously, I raised my head, and scrutinized the fanciful jade screens of leaves and vines, and rainbow flowers behind which the marching feet were hidden. I could see nothing.
A voice thundered in commanding tones. It was guttural and deeply throaty.
And I had heard it before – that day when I fell into Shamman. It was Zorimi’s. He still lived – and the body at my feet no longer solved the mysteries of the magician.
Slinking forms, bobbing heads and shining purple bodies glided into view and I dropped flat on my stomach, crawling into the tall green grass. I had seen Silurians. I had seen the atavistic men of Shamman in gray hordes. All were tramping from this Canaan into the tunnel of the Hoatzins.
When I turned from that column of prehistoric men, to retreat to the high ground where Morgo must be warned, I was forced to burrow into deeper grass. There were scale-skinned creatures on that side, too. There could be no retreat now – yet Morgo and the girl must be warned.
I crouched between two streams of enemies which converged into the tunnel. Zorimi came into view, carried in a litter suspended from a pole that rested on the shoulders of two giant Silurians. As ever, he was swathed in his furs, his head and face invisible. Behind him filed twenty-four more litters, laden with bulging sacks. I counted them. And I knew that the magician had been filling his bags with the shining treasures of this Canaan.
Unconsciously, my hand stole over the butt of an automatic stuck in my belt. I thought quickly. Zorimi could be destroyed with a fusillade. A rush to his side would place Her of the Three Heads – that talisman worshiped in Shamman – in my possession. With it, I would be supreme, the commander of the primitive peoples. Morgo would be my linguistic ally, and together we would establish a peace with the animal kingdom. Behind all this was my secret plot, to flee from the caves with Nurri Kala.
I raised myself, lifted the gun and calculated the range. I would empty the clip into the magician’s body – thereby ending all that was evil in the caverns. My act was a justifiable one, my conscience assured me, for had I not seen Zorimi murder men in cold blood? I was but the instrument of his ultimate punishment – his executioner. An eye for an eye – a tooth for a tooth!
My finger pressed the trigger.
There was a click, but no spurt of flame, no report. The gun was jammed, useless. Throwing it away, well aware that the waters of the river had done their rusting work, I reached for my other gun – my last.
With bated breath, I aimed again. Zorimi was farther away now, close by the tunnel’s mouth. The Hoatzins flew our and circled over him but did not molest his army of men.
The trigger snapped back. There was a click. This weapon, too, was impotent. I had been counting on the weapons of civilization and now I was utterly reduced to those of Morgo’s primitive life – a knife and my bare hands. Helplessness ebbed within me, and I drew myself into the veiling grass, somehow glad that fate had not permitted me to take Zorimi’s life despite the justification. WHat were those spinners weaving for me – Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos? What was my end to be? I glanced at Lacrosse’s staring eyes and shuddered.
After some time had passed, the last of Zorimi’s army disappeared into the tunnel. There were no other sounds of prowlers. I got to my feet and raced to high clearing only to find it deserted. To call to Morgo would be foolhardy. Silurians and Shammans, stragglers or a rear guard, might still be in the cave.
A low whistle drew my eyes to the top of a tree. Morgo was barely discernible from the emerald foliage. Another call gave me Nurri Kala’s hiding place.
They climbed down and listen to my tale. Morgo was amazed that Zorimi would essay an entry of the cave in which The Shaft blazed white during the daytime hours. He was puzzled as to how they protected their eyes against the blinding glare of the diamond mountain, upon which my sun beat its golden rays.
“It is too bad you did not shoot him,” he said finally. “As long as he lives, we must look forward to killing him.”
“Do not say that, Morgo,” the girl cried. “And I am glad Derro could not shoot him. It is better to avoid him – and keep your hands clean of the stain of blood.”
“He would take you for his mate!” Morgo replied, his eyes meeting hers angrily. “Besides, Nurri Kala, you do not understand the business of life – nor man’s rights in protecting himself and what he treasures. You are only a woman.”
“A woman – to serve her lord and master?” she laughed. “Is that all that life offers me, Morgo?”
“It is the way of life in the caves – to which you belong,” he said seriously.
“It is not a woman’s lot in the outer world,” I spoke up. “There, Nurri Kala, you could be a queen. All women would envy your beauty and all men would worship you.”
Morgo glared at me from lowered eyes. “The outer world of which you speak, Derro, is only a word now – a dream to us in here. You must forget, nor think of ever returning. Content yourself with ending your days in these caverns.”
“I mean to leave the caves, Morgo,” I said. “I’m not cut out for this life. And I think escape can be managed.”
Morgo’s manner changed noticeably to secret elation. He was my friend but he wanted to be rid of me. But when his eyes fell upon the ecstatic smile on Nurri Kala’s lips, he frowned with annoyance.
“Could you escape, Derro?” she asked. “Could you take us with you?”
“I think so,” I told her. “If we can reach the Bakketes again – we can fly out through the Door of Surrilana.”
“We shall never see the Bakketes, Derro,” Morgo said firmly. “We are caught in this cave you call Canaan. It is best that we stay here, where food is plenty. With only our feet, we cannot get back to Kahli or Shamman.”
“There must be a way,” I said. “How will Zorimi get back – or out of the cave? He must know of another exit besides Surrilana. Let’s follow him.”
Morgo tossed his black mane as he shook his head. “No, we are of the caves now. We will stay here.”
I was on the verge of protesting sharply because I knew that Morgo was speaking for himself and the girl whom he wanted for his mate, when we heard a crash in the underbrush. This was followed by the squeals of the Mannizan.
Morgo turned away from us, saying that it was time to seek a safe dwelling and find meat to eat. He watched herd of small Mannizans coursing through the jungle below us, and finally, telling Nurri Kala to return to her treetop, he bade me to follow him.
We were off to attack the Mannizans – with only our knives.
“I’ve thrown my guns away,” I told Morgo. “They were rusted from the dousing in the river.”
“We have our knives and our hands and our heads, Derro,” he laughed. “We will not starve.”
By a devious course, we crept upon the Mannizans whose thrashings in the brush we could hear. Morgo selected the side where the soft breeze would not betray our scent to the creatures. And presently, pushing forward through walls of pale-green vines and riotous orchids in purple and yellow, we spied our quarry. These Mannizans were like those in Kahli, smaller than the Shammans of the same family, and more wholly edible.
The little black shoe-button eyes darted along the floor of the diamond dust cave as the sharp teeth bit into leaves and strange black roots. The gray creatures were totally unaware of our imminence and, from time to time, they paused in their forage to exchange words. I wondered why they never raised their eyes from the ground, even when they talked.
“They are not as strong as the Shamman mice,” Morgo whispered, “but they are quicker and their teeth are sharp. Follow me. Then move this way.”
Morgo scaled a low-limbed tree, pulling himself upward on the gnarled vines, hand over hand in sailor fashion. I shinnied up after him.
The leaves blotted out the ten small mice, but from time to time I could see their grayish hulks, the size of a St. Bernard dog, or snapping long teeth close to the ground, white in the reflection from the diamond flooring.
“Watch me,” Morgo said, “and you will learn the best way to hunt these Mannizans. The trick is to avoid their pretended fear and attack them suddenly, scattering them. When I say the word, jump from the tree and make a loud noise. Shout.”
The Mannizans burrowed through the brush until they were directly under our tree. I saw Morgo crawl out on a far-reaching limb and lie on his side. He seemed to be waiting for the fattest Mannizan to come into range. His knife was out and I waited for him to throw it. Then I remembered that I had never seen him use such a tactic, and I wondered if he was adept at knife throwing, too.
Without a cry, Morgo dropped from the tree and straddled the Mannizan. The creature did not move. The others, startled, were immobile, and as they stared at him they bared their fierce lean fangs.
Morgo’s knife plunged into his victim’s body between the shoulders and, as the Mannizan limply fell on its side, the man ran at another. The Mannizan sprang at the same moment, surprising Morgo midway in his rush, and the two collided with a thud, Morgo throwing his arms about the rodent’s body, ducking his head from the raking teeth.
The other Mannizans bristled, their white whiskers flattened against their heads, their teeth bared. As if in a concerted effort, they started for the man was now beneath the Mannizan, pinned to the ground.
“Jump, Derro!” Morgo called out calmly. “Jump and shout!”
I yelled like a Comanche and dropped feet foremost from my branch. The Mannizans bridled, and on hearing more bloodcurdling whoops from me, turned tail and scampered off into the forest in panic, squealing and jabbering.
“Shall I help you, Morgo?” I asked fearfully
He laughed at me and I saw a twinkle in his eyes. “No, Derro. I have done this before – many times. It is play to me.”
His arm encircled the Mannizan’s neck, and despite the tugging and lashing about of the creature, Morgo took his time about delivering the death blow. I saw that he was trying to trip the creature from its footing.
His knife slipped from his hand and I cried out fearfully. He continued to smile. His legs shot out and, catching the Mannizan off balance, he threw it on its side and sank his fingers in the furry throat. Unarmed, he was pitting his might against the great rat’s. The whitish belly near the palpitating heart of the Mannizan ceased to heave in the rodent’s gasps for breath. Morgo had strangled the beast.
When he got up, he showed me how to cut a suitable branch and lash the two Mannizans to it with vines. We were to sling this pole between us and carry the meat back to the high clearing. I tried to lift one mouse and found it mighty heavy. I staggered under the load of two which Morgo shared with me on the return march.
My admiration for the way in which he leaped into the midst of the ferocious Mannizans, selecting the fattest, slaying it and then attacking a second single-handed. He did not know the meaning of fear. Supposed his knife hand had slipped? But these emergencies, that only a civilized mind would consider, were foreign to the primitive notion of battle for survival.
On rejoining Nurri Kala, Morgo told us to fetch firewood, while he skinned and butchered the Mannizans. Unquestioningly, I turned from him to seek dead wood, calling to Nurri Kala to remain where she was. It was not a woman’s job to gather wood.
“Nurri Kala will go with you, Derro,” Morgo said firmly. I resented his tone.
“I can do the job,” I said. “Besides, she’s a woman.”
“We all must work,” Morgo retorted quietly. “Women share men’s work in the caves.”
Nurri Kala said she would like to gather wood and thereby averted a situation that was growing tense between my friend and me. The girl knew the proper wood for burning and pointed it out to me. We returned to the clearing with our arms filled, and I wondered how Morgo was going to make a fire.
The dark-haired youth had skinned one Mannizan and was busy searching among the diamond chips for fire stones. How silly of me not to have thought of the flints sooner? What a poor Boy Scout I’d make!
Morgo found the proper stones, set to work putting a spark to a kindling pile of leaves, and soon I saw the bluish smoke of burning wood climbing out of the pyre he had made. He put Nurri Kala to work holding spits laden with chunks of meat over the blaze. I was sent off for more wood.
Happening to look up at a gorgeous bird of paradise darting its crimson tail of streaming feathers through the tree tops, I saw a familiar black speck high up near the white roof of this Canaan. It was a Bakkete. And I made out several others. They were searching for us. They had not been destroyed in the debacle of the blinding light.
I ran back to the clearing. It was deserted. Morgo called to me from a covered glade of sprouting giant leaves.
“Bakketes!” I cried to him. “They’re in this cave!”
He beckoned to me and I ran toward the glade.
“They’ll see the fire,” I said. “But call to them, Morgo. Let them know where we are!”
He shook his head, and out of the corner of my eye I was surprised to see that the fire had been put out. Nurri Kala’s face was tense with anxiety.
“Call to them, Morgo!” I repeated. “The fire is out!”
I put it out,” he said in a low voice. “I do not want the Bakketes to find us.”
I was amazed. “Why not? They mean escape to Kahli – the outer world, perhaps!”
His eyes were smoldering but his voice remained even. “I do not want to leave Canaan, Derro. We are all staying here. It is the best cave. Come in here before the Bakketes see you.”
I understood. He did not want to risk the chance of losing Nurri Kala to me – and the possible success of my plan to leave the caves entirely. He knew I wanted the girl – wanted to take her with me to my own world.
“I don’t mean to stay here,” I said hotly. “If you won’t call the Bakketes, then I’ll do it.”
I ran back to the clearing and to the best of my ability, tried to imitated Morgo’s schoolboy cry. It was a dismal failure, but I made plenty of racket. The forests echoed with it.
Morgo darted from his cover, leaving Nurri Kala crouching behind the giant leaves. He came up to me and let a hand fall on my shoulder.
“Derro,” he said, “we have been friends. You have saved my life. I owe much to you. But now we must decide something.”
“I want the Bakketes!” I snapped. “You can stay here if you want to!” My temper was mounting.
“Will you go alone – with them – if I call them down?” His eyes were transfixing mine. There was pleading and determination in them.
For the first time he betrayed himself to me with words. I shook my head. “If Nurri Kala will come with me, I mean to make her my wife.”
“You cannot have her, Derro. I love her.” He spoke simply, with anger, like a child. And he spoke as a man who meant what he said, too.
“And I love her, Morgo!” I said firmly, adding, “but let her choose between us.”
Again he shook his head. “She is a woman, Derro, and she likes strange things. You are strange to her. You have told her of greater worlds – places she would like to see. I cannot let her go – because I need her. I belong to these caves – and so does she. We have gone too far in life to change our ways of living. We would be unhappy in your world, Derro. It is so different – so strange to us of the caves.”
I turned my back on him and, seeing a Bakkete wheeling lower in the air above us, I shouted to it. Morgo promptly clapped his hand over my mouth and pinned me to him with his other arm. He started to drag me backward to the hidden glade.
Struggling, I flung myself from him and met his blazing eyes. My hand went for my knife. I did not mean to die like Lacrosse in the midst of the wealth I’d found. I wanted to enjoy it – and to live the life I knew best – the life of the outer world. And I wanted Nurri Kala.
Morgo saw the knife flash in my hand, and he drew his own.
“I do not wish to kill you, Derro,” he whispered huskily, “but I will not let you have Nurri Kala. She belongs to me.”
“By what right?” I blazed at him.
“It is the law of the caves. Man selects his mate and takes her. Nurri Kala is to be my woman. I love her. She is my kind – not yours. Consider that, Derro, my friend, and do not let us fight.”
Nurri Kala was standing between us, gently pushing us apart. Her eyes were wet with tears and to each of us she shook her head, pleadingly.
“Do not fight! Do not fight!” she sobbed. “You, who are great friends!”
“Then choose one of us!” I commanded her.
Morgo watched her apprehensively. I could see his heart pummeling his breast with mighty, excited blows. My own was going like a trip hammer. The girl met our inquisitive gazes, shuddered at the sight of our bared knives and closed her eyes.
Which one of us would she choose?
To Be Continued!
My friend’s behavior amazed me. He was hardly the lost man suddenly come upon by his friends. His body trembled and his nostrils were dilated in answer.
Nurri Kala and I greeted him. We told him how glad were to find him whole and alive. Separately, we told him what befell us when the great light blinded us and we dropped into the white treetops.
Morgo, silent and morose, nodded and slipped his knife back into his belt.
“What is wrong, Morgo?” I asked. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost!”
“I have,” he replied tersely. Then, relaxing his tensed body, he dropped down beside the girl and tried to smile. “I came upon you in the dark – and took you for enemies. There are Silurians in the forests. I heard them when I was hiding in the jungle during the day.”
His words were not convincing. Nurri Kala and I hardly looked like the scale-skinned creatures in any light. And Morgo possessed sharp, shrewd eyes, trained in the hunt for food. He must have recognized us. Had he seen me kissing Nurri Kala? Was that what troubled him?
It dawned upon me in that moment. I had not given the fact any thought earlier, but as I recalled little scenes in which the three of us participated back in Kahli, I suddenly understood.
Morgo was in love with Nurri Kala, too.
And so was I!
Here in a strange, cruel jungle, we three were faced with the eternal triangle. I, alone, knew of the great harm that it could do. I came from the outer world where such relationships were common knowledge. My friendship with Morgo was at stake. And my love for the golden beauty of Nurri Kala, too.
I did not mean to lose the girl.
In that moment, the primitive being inside me cried down the civilized man. I was ready to fight Morgo for the love of Nurri Kala.
Possible sensing the electric charges of our emotions – mine and Morgo’s – the girl stepped into the breach.
“What shall we do, Morgo?” she asked him. “We are lost. The Bakketes have disappeared. We must find some safe shelter on foot.”
The problem she presented appealed to Morgo. He seemed to forget the common thought we two shared.
“I know,” he said. “The great light will soon return. We cannot face it. While it is still dark, we must find another cave – one where The Shaft does not give its full light.”
I subscribed to this, and Morgo, leaving us, went to a tall tree and nimbly scaled its leafy height. From his high perch, he gazed over the snowy forest, seeking a path that would lead us to a haven of some security.
Presently he descended from the tree. He inquired if we were strong enough to walk several miles and we told him that we were.
“I think I have seen a darker spot,” he explained. “It may mean a tunnel to another cave. Let us try to reach it before the great light shines upon us – trying to blind us again.”
We were enthusiastic, and set off behind Morgo, on whose instinctive sense of direction I faithfully relied. Coursing through the underbrush, penetrating the thickest jungle glades, we plunged through the glowing white night in Morgo’s wake. Before us, trudging with a steady, even pace, he loomed like a Greek god delivering us from inevitable doom.
How long it took us to reach the spot selected by Morgo, I cannot guess. It was probably three or four hours. The girl and I were weary and footsore, spoiled by the flying Bakketes for such close grips with nature and our own physical endurance. Morgo was not a bit tired.
The dark spot in the wall of the cave, which threw up sheer white cliffs beyond our range of vision, proved to be a tunnel. We climbed to its door and started in.
I was surprised to find the narrow corridor filled with thin, fragile trees that cracked and fell over as soon as we pushed them aside. Leaves, soft and cool, showered down upon us like a gentle rain.
We had walked for about a mile without coming out the other end of the tunnel. I said it might be wiser for us to stop for the remainder of the night and get a bit of sleep. But Morgo pointed out the danger of bivouacking in a connecting corridor. Animals often preyed in one cave and slept in another. If we slept in the tunnel, we might be set upon in the morning when the day’s migration began, and that would be fatal.
So we pressed on, beating the trees away from our faces, and shielding our eyes with cupped hands from the snapping, whipping twigs and branches.
There was a flutter of wings and the brushing of wings on the leaves overhead.
Morgo grunted painfully.
I could hear his arms thrashing about over his head, beating against the tree limbs, cracking them and increasing the deluge of thin leaves upon us.
Nurri Kala screamed that something had scratched her.
And I felt sharp little claws digging into the back of my neck. I caught at the creature and my hand fell over a feathery bird, flinging it roughly to the ground. It chirped loudly and scurried into the underbrush.
In another moment, we were in a maelstrom of flying, clawing birds. We ran forward, and the flock seem to grow thicker. Eight, ten, twelve little birds clung to my body with hundreds of claws that bit into my flesh and I could only run, protecting my eyes and face with my hands. The sharp little bills pecked and dug into my flesh. The pain was excruciating.
“Roll on the ground!” Morgo bellowed back at us. “Crush them from you and then run!”
This expedient was temporarily effective. I flung myself on my sides and rolled as far the narrow tunnel would permit. The frightened birds jumped from me and winged their way to higher perches. But as we ran, they attacked us again.
It was the clearing of the cave into which we ran that saved us from a slow, tortured death. The birds did not pursue us into the open.
“What were they?” I asked Morgo as I regained my breath. My flesh was horribly lacerated with a thousand tiny scratches and wounds from the which the blood flowed freely.
“I do not know,” Morgo said. “but look upon your coat. One is caught there.”
I reached down and found a feathered bird, dead, caught by its claws in the leather of my windbreaker. It was the size of a small eagle, and the edges of its wings were lined with long cutting claws. What strange creature was this? Then I recalled pictures I had seen in the study of bird life at the flying school years before. This denizen of the tunnel was not unlike the Hoatzin of South America. That claw-winged bird was a descendant of the reptilian Archaeopteryx of the Jurassic Period – one of the first reptiles to rise above the ground in the quest for food.
Forthwith, I named the tunnel birds Hoatzins because of their resemblance to their prehistoric ancestors; because, like them, they were meat eaters.
Morgo and Nurri Kala, wearing scanter clothing than myself, were more badly injured. Their backs, legs and arms were a welter of crisscrossing lacerations. The girls moaned in her pain and Morgo offered to carry her. She wanted to refuse but she was forced by her wounds to give in.
As we penetrated the forests of this new cave, climbing to an eminence that Morgo had spied, I smelled sweeter air. There were fragrant flowers in this cave, and I longed to behold its beauty in the morning light. I could even see that the tree leaves were deep greens and yellows and that the trunks were browns and blues.
We reached a clearing on high ground as the dawn light spread over the cave. But we were too sleepy to wait for the full light.
When we woke up a few hours later, Morgo was cutting open a bees’ nest with his bowie. He had gone into the forest for food and found it. The hive was thick with sweet-smelling, yellow honey and we consumed it ravenously with our fingers.
The cave was the most beautiful in all the world I had seen beneath the Himalayas. Its jungle was a flaming mass of red and orange flowers, cascading over the tops of majestic green-leaved trees, mingled with blue and purple flowers, none of which I could possibly describe or name. They were weirdly gorgeous, something that one might see in pagan ritual – but never in the outer world.
Bees and other insects buzzed from flower to flower, drinking deeply of the nectar hidden in them. We were assured of honey as long as we stayed in this cave and fought free of the bees’ lancets.
“If we could only find a cow in here,” I said, “this would be the land of milk and honey – the promised land of Canaan.”
Morgo and Nurri Kala glanced up sharply at me.
“The Land of Canaan?” they whispered as one person and then stared at each other.
Morgo rubbed his brow in pensive reflection. “I have heard of that land before. My mother used to read to me about it from a big black book.”
“Yes,” the girl cried, “I remember the book, too. All our names were written in it.”
“Yes,” Morgo added, “my name was in it, too. My mother showed it to me. The names of all my people were written in it.”
I knew that the veils of amnesia were lifting slowly in the minds of these cave children. My chance reference to the Land of Canaan of Biblical origin had proved a key to unlock new memories in them. It is customary in many families to keep a history of relationships – of births and deaths – in the family Bible. Morgo and Nurri Kala had seen just such books in the hands of their parents.
And then I remembered Zorimi’s boast. He said he held the secret of their identities. Had he come upon the Bibles of these cave children? Did he find them in the possession of their parents? It was not an impossibility.
Whatever the fate of the parents was, I had a hunch that the Bibles had been among their effects. And Zorimi had found the books when he found the children. I explained my suspicions to the man and girl, and they were elated.
Nurri Kala caught my wrist. A flash of remembrance illuminated her eyes. “Derro, I remember something. Zorimi has books in his cave. I did not see them for so long, I forgot them. But when I was younger, I remember being in a room where there were books – and a black book like my mother and father used to read from. I wanted to open it to look at the pictures, but Zorimi put it on a high shelf and forbade me to enter the room again.”
“Where is this room?” Morgo demanded excitedly.
“In the plateau of The Flame,” she said.
Morgo shook his head sadly. The plateau in Shamman was far away – hundreds of miles. We could never reach it without the Bakketes. And they were lost.
Morgo went into the jungle again soon to return with an armful of juicy leaves. He explained that he had recognized them – for the same leaves were in Kahli. They had healing properties. Squeezing the juice from them onto Nurri Kala and his wounds, he allayed the smarting pain cause by the Hoatzin’s claw wings.
I sensed that two was company and three a crowd. Willing to bide my time in speaking again for Nurri Kala’s love, I left the pair alone. My footsteps carried me toward the tunnel by which we entered this veritable Land of Canaan. Somehow, I felt secure. I could not imagine the red-tongued chameleons living in so heavenly a world. They belonged to the great white places where the heat was more tropical.
My eyes, seeking a path free of entangling jade vines, fell upon the pebbles beneath. These little stones winked at me and blazed as the light caressed them.
I scooped up a handful and held my breath.
The floor of the Land of Canaan was paved with diamonds.
I trod upon wealth that would ransom all the world’s wealth. My feet crushed diamonds that would buy my heart’s desire – with the possible exception of Nurri Kala. For her, I must fight and hurt my friend to whom I owed so much. Diamonds meant nothing to a girl who flowered to womanhood amid the savagery of the caverns. They could neither buy nor offer her anything.
I suspected then that poor Jim Craig knew what he was talking about that night he was murdered by the dacoit in Darjeeling. She of the Three Heads – Zorimi’s Shining Stone – was the key to this cave of diamonds. And The Shaft – the source of light – was the mountain of diamond about which Craig had spoken in his cups!
No wonder we had been blinded when we suddenly darted out of the gloom of the other tunnel in the heart of Zaan. We had flown full into the light reflected by the wall of diamond.
But what source fed that great stone with light? Internal fires – or the sun of my world through a cleft in the skin of the Himalayas? I inclined to the latter view as I reasoned out this strange light phenomenon of the caves.
The peculiar properties of the great diamond mountain – which I meant to see one day – fed by the light of the sun itself, diffused its rays throughout all the caves. And the farther away a cave was, the poorer and weaker was its light. I remembered that inside the Door of Surrilana which we penetrated in the Junkers G-38, there was darkness. Next was the grayness of Shamman. In Kahli, nearer the source, the glow was yellow by day. The Land of the Cicernas had a bright white light and, in the Caves of Zaan, the light was truly diamond-bright.
Unconsciously, I began to plot and plan. With this wealth underfoot, and willing fates, I might get back to civilization. If I could persuade Nurri Kala to accept my love, I would make her a queen of women. Lord knows, she was already that in her perfection of beauty – but in the outer world, other values needs must contribute to queenliness. With her beauty, and the diamond wealth of Zaan, I could be the happiest and proudest of men.
Morgo I refused to admit into my thoughts. Him I must fight. My hunches, which were usually pretty good, told me that such was inevitable. And I did not shrink from the thought.
Nurri Kala said that it was to Zaan that Zorimi came to gather the shining stones. And I suspected Jesperson, the jeweler, who eloped with my De Haviland, or Lacrosse, the naturalist, of being the man who masqueraded as Zorimi and took the wealth of Zaan into the outer world, transmuting it into the power of money.
I was no longer interested in Zorimi, not in his identity. I wanted to know the path to freedom from the caves. I had every reason to seek it, and the life of my own world. Zaan had shown me riches greater than Monte Cristo ever dreamed of. Once more, my mind, easily adaptable to cave life, switched back to the dictates of the civilization in which I was bred.
I had to escape from the caves to enjoy this wealth – to give Nurri Kala her due in a world that would appreciate her.
A low mound of diamond pebbles attracted my eye and I ran toward it, feasting my ambitions on its flashing, dazzling majesty. Kneeling beside it, I scooped up the stones and let them pour through my fingers. I had no thought of filling my pockets. The plentifulness of the rare white stones in Zaan gave me the bounty of the spendthrift.
My fingers touched upon something soft – beneath the surface of hard, bright pebbles. I brushed the diamonds away.
A face with staring eyes challenged my curiosity. Instead of recoiling in horror, I peered closer.
I knew that face. It was a familiar one. The stubble of beard did not deceive me.
It was the death mask of Lacrosse that I beheld.
Lacrosse beneath a mantle of a kingly treasure! How ironical of Death! To take his life in the midst of splendor and wealth!
Uncovering the body, I sought the manner of his death. The pallid skin bore the clawings of the Hoatzins, the bruising and lacerations of excessive hardships, the tusk marks of a Mannizan on a leg. The body was wasted and emaciated, yet I could find no sign of a mortal wound. My companion in the Junkers had apparently died of natural causes and the soft breezes had buried him in diamond chips.
Yet how had he reached Zaan from the Cavern of Shamman? He was still wearing his flying togs, now ragged and moldy. Had he come under the wings of a bat man? I considered this: there was but one other white man that I knew of who used the bats for aerial transport.
His name was Zorimi.
Was this decaying corpse that of the magician?
To Be Continued!