Near Lake Batur
Bali, Dutch East Indies
Friday, February 5th 1909
ad any other man but you aschked me to go cave-crawling in search of a demon-god, I dare say I would have laughed heartily, Holmesch!’ Dr Henry Jones said with a twinkle in his eyes as he adjusted the miner’s helmet and checked the headlamp. Twenty years younger than Holmes, the Scotsman was in the prime of his years, his close-cropped beard barely showing the first signs of grizzle. The powerful musculature under his rough miner’s boiler suit was more suggestive of a man of action than thought, and yet this man had made medieval literature, especially relating to the Holy Grail his life quest.
‘I have done no such thing, Doctor!’ Holmes, similarly attired, protested. ‘We have come to look for any evidence to suggest this beast is not merely a figment of old myths.’
‘You do doubt its existensche then?’
‘Not in the least. All the priests that I interviewed here back in 1885 agreed that Miss Yogalimari had gone to do battle with Black Naga the day of her disappearance, and neither she nor the sacred Crises were ever seen again. All that the priests could find here was disturbed earth and grass, as if by trampled in battle, and spatters of blood and a foul-smelling green ichor.
Since I met the young lady in question, I can assure you that any suspicion of foul play on her part is erroneous. If she failed to return to the temple with the priceless sacred Kris daggers, then it was because she was unable to do so, because of her death or some other reason. Furthermore, anything able to overcome Sita Yogalimari in open battle would be fearsome in the extreme – I saw her move, doctor, or to be more precise, I did NOT see her move when she went from sitting in front of me making conversation to holding a deadly blade to my carotid artery. No, Doctor Jones, she met something, something terrible… but what exactly?’
‘Well, I supose we won’t find out schtanding idle here, will we?’
Holmes smiled and finished adjusting his gloves and his tool belt. ‘Elementary, Dr Jones!’
The mouth of the cave was lightly overgrown with vines and weeds, but it was obvious that it had been open in a not too distant past. The growth was easily cleared with bare hands.
Jones arched an eyebrow. ‘This haschn’t been overgrown for very long.’
Holmes nodded. ‘Hardly conclusive evidence of anything, but worthy of note anyway.’
The cave itself was more akin to a tunnel boring into the earth, turning tortuously but always desdcending at a rough 45 degree angle. It was surprisingly even in proportions, even if it’s side were jagged and uneven.
‘Hardly a natural passage, is it?’ Holmes remarked off-handedly. ‘If it had been gouged out by water alone, the sides would be smoother.’
Long strands of roots hung from the ceiling. Holmes suddenly stopped, produced his trademark magnification glass from his breast pocket and examined a few broken off strands protruding from small cracks in the ceiling.
‘Some thick roots have been broken off just where they emerge from the fractured rock. They are dead and dry, but not completely decayed. To judge from the pattern of fragmentation of the fibres, I’d say they were broken off by something ascending this passage, rather than descending it.’
‘Hm. Makesch you think, doesn’t it? What do you schuposche we shall find down there, Holmes?’
The famous detective just shook his head. ‘Hopefully nothing but an empty natural cave Dr Jones, although I’m holding it as increasingly less likely. Steel yourself for anything.’
The descent seemed never-ending, but could not have lasted longer than two or three hours, after which time the two men were tired to their bones and totally disoriented as to any other direction of travel than downwards. The air had grown increasingly humid and cold, but Holmes and Jones still sweated profusely under the thick protective clothing. The rock face at this depth was a glossy black with moisture spotted with growths of fungi. And suddenly, the cave tunnel ended.
It finished with a wall obviously constructed and not natural, completely covered in tortuous carvings: a myriad intertwined, slithering shapes in stone. In the centre of it, a huge maw-like opening offered an entrance further into the subterranean complex.
‘Look at tisch!’ Jones exclaimed, his rich voice full of wonder. ‘At first sight, it looks almoscht Balinese in schtyle, but it ischn’t , not really. This hasch not been built by any civilisation I know of, it must be a precursor to the earliest known cultures in this area. I wonder how old it could be?’
Holmes said nothing, but instead produced a small geologic sampling hammer from his tool belt and went to the nearest corner, where the carven wall joined the tunnel wall. Here, he hammered energetically at the later until a large chip came loose.
‘What are you doing, Holmesch?’ The characteristic eyebrow rose again.
‘Aha! Just as I suspected; come here, look!’
When Jones came closer, he saw that where the chip of stone had broken loose, a minute portion of the carved wall had been uncovered
‘What the… how on earth did they manage that!?’ Jones wondered, totally perplexed. ‘Look, it fits perfectly against the wall, down to the smallest ridge and crack. I have never seen such a closche fit of two uneven surfaces! How is that even possible?’
Holmes regarded the fracture. ‘What I just did is what palaeontologists do in order to establish the age of a fossil, which can only be determined by examining the geological strata in which the fossil has left an impression
! I’ve just done the same to this structure. I’d venture to guess that the wall continues some considerable distance into the mountain. You see, the builders of this wall have not shaped the rock to fit the wall nor vice versa; no, the rock, the very mountain has formed around and entombed this structure. It’s literally older than the mountain.’
‘But… but that is imposchible!’ Jones objected. ‘This is Pliocene sediment! That would make this wall nearly two thousand million years old!’
‘At least no less than 1.800 million years. But when the impossible has been eliminated, then what remains, however incredible, is the truth. It seems “there ARE more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”!’
Feeling oppressed by the shocking age of the monstrous-looking wall, Holmes and Jones pressed on through the dark opening, entering into a vast hall or gallery in which the distant walls and ceiling were at first lost in darkness. Examination with their headlamps exposed they were supported by closely spaced and pointed arches, giving the unsettling impression of the inside of a ribcage. Both men maintained an awed silence in this hall older than man, older than mammals, older than all known life above the order of molluscs. There was nothing to say as their souls shrunk from the implications of what they saw.
In the very centre of that open space was a strange mushroom-like construction of rough black stone, taller than a man and some three metres across. It was composed of a flattened half-sphere mounted on top of a wide cylinder of stone of nearly the same diameter, which rose from the stone floor to a height of about the width of a hand.
‘Now what do you supposche this is?’ Jones asked. ‘It looks almoscht like some over-sized Lingam!’
‘I could not say. Let me examine it first and… What in the name of sanity is this!?’ Holmes kneeled to examine the base of the stone mushroom.
‘A Kris! The point of it is jammed between the dome and the base!’ He leaned closer to inspect the weapon with his magnifying glass, and suddenly recoiled, a look of disgust on his face. ‘Merciful God! What is that stench!?’
A frown immediately appeared on the brow of the academic. Apparently Dr Jones had little tolerance for blasphemy, but he nevertheless leaned closer to sample the smell.
‘Awg… repellent! Although it’s actually very faint. I believe that foul miaschma is actually filtering up through the crack left by the knife, schmall as it might be.’
Holmes shook his head, as if trying to deny what he was seeing. ‘I know this black Kris well, in fact I had it in my possession for some time before giving it up to Miss Yogalimari.’
‘But… how did it end up here?’
‘Well… I presume it was lodged in the flesh of whatever creature is now lurking below that lid and the smell of which we have sensed – oh yes, Dr Jones, this is a lid, covering a well or a pit, in which the monster resides during it’s long sleep. I believe it was impaled by this blade in the battle with Miss Yogalimari. As it descended into the well to heal, the blade got stuck on the edge, ripped free and was trapped by the falling lid.’
‘Well, that probably did the beascht in then! Schurely, that schmell was of something long dead!’
Holmes shook his head. ‘No Dr Jones; that was the smell of something that should not live. Sita told me it has two hearts; obviously she managed to pierce only one of them: had she managed both, the beast would have died there and then, and had she missed both, it would have spread terror and death on Bali as it has done many times before. No, it was badly wounded and forced to retreat back to this infernal pit to heal. But when the stars are next right, a thousand years from now, this lid will rise to let loose Old Black Naga again, and may God have mercy on humanity then!’
‘Can we not finish the job your Lady friend schtarted then?’ Jones asked. ‘We could blow up the lid, usche that blade to pierce the other heart, or simply dynamite the monster itself.’
Again Holmes shook his head. ‘And risk rousing that creature before it’s time? I doubt that it sleeps in helpless slumber. Most likely it can wake enough to defend itself. Possibly, nay probably the wounded heart has already healed, since we can deduce from the necessity of using TWO blades that two sequential hits would not be adequate to the task. And we have only one blade. As for using dynamite, I’m certain that it would not damage this Ancient Thing in the least, or the priests would not have sent their champion armed only with two small blades – they would’ve sent an army, backed up by heavy artillery!
No Dr Jones, until we have two blades, either by finding the missing left hand blade, or the priests can forge a new one, it’s best that this grave be not disturbed. In fact, we shall collapse the entrance shaft so that this place is never found by the unwary. Humanity can ill afford such knowledge as this!’