Chapter 6: The Pattern of Atropos

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

We descended roughly hewn steps in the rock for about forty feet when I found myself in a cavernous, smoky blue chamber. An opening at one end gave upon a sea of gray monoliths and outer Shamman. At the other end was a blasting pillar of flame – The Flame – and before it a bright shining slab, possibly marble. It was gory in the light of the fire.

For the first time I now saw my captors. They were men, like the primitive Shammans, equally as large and well-muscled, but their bodies glistened iridescently and purple. Instead of hair, scales like those of a fish covered their hulks. These creatures were not as well divorced from their reptilian ancestry as were the Shammans. Their heads were small and their mouths protruded, fishlike.

The grip on my arms was released, and I was permitted to stroll toward the opening that was farthest from The Flame. I wanted air, coolness. My blood was boiling, my mind reeling from the heat and odor of death that clung to the walls of this hollow mound.

I started.

A frieze of age-yellowed skulls ranged around the chamber a little higher than a man’s reach. They were all alike – those of the Shammans – browless, brutish and of small brain capacity. Matted hair and crumbling teeth still adhered to many of them, and there were, I’d judge, a thousand or more.

I remembered Kenvon’s decapitated head – the bat flying off with it after Zorimi’s arrival at the scene of the crash. Was that part of the ritual? Decapitation? But Kenvon’s body was not sacrificed to The Flame. And mine was to be committed to those tongues of crimson fire – alive.

Therefore, I reasoned, I would be allowed to keep my head. And keep it I must – before things began to happen.

One skull near the middle of the room attracted my attention. It was still covered with its human, fleshly sack. Though it was in a dimmish spot, I moved toward it and peered up, straining my eyes against the glare of the fire which was hot against my cheek.

My captors stared at me for the cry I uttered involuntarily.

The head I beheld was Harker’s.

But what had they done with his body? I had seen the bats carrying that, too. And Kenvon’s head. Where was that?

Screwing up my courage which was at lowest ebb, I walked around the chamber beneath the frieze of half human skulls. Each one I scrutinized, whether lighted or shadowed. I went closer to The Flame and far from the blistering heat toward the opening. I saw every skull that was visible.

But Kenvon’s face I did not see. Nor that of Lacrosse. Harker’s face was the only one recognizable, still holding its flesh.

The scale-skinned men withdrew and left me alone – with something not unlike Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors to keep me company. The gray light over Shamman lightened at noon and then its diffused rays slowly dimmed. The dark hours were swiftly approaching.

My automatic! I clapped my hand to my belt. It was still in its holster. The Shammans had not know enough of such things to seize it – to disarm me. But could I shoot my way out that room? What chance had I? Those purple-scale-skinned men would overwhelm me by sheer numbers – like the Germans pouring through the French lines, feeding the poilus’ machine guns – but ultimately taking the trenches attacked.

The chamber’s faint light faded like a room in which a lamp’s wick was turned low. Only the pillar of fire at the far end roared upward through the roof of the plateau, its crimson rays tinting those sections of rock and chalk nearest the orifice.

I wondered what had become of the eagle-eyed Baku – of Morgo – of the army of Bakketes hovering over the distant end of the Cave of Shamman. A shot would no attract no attention in the outer cave and might bring my captors upon me to disarm me. I remembered from the fight with the three bats of Shamman how the shots of my automatic were muffled.

“White man,” a small voice whispered, “speaker of English -”

I wheeled around and saw Nurri Kala who partially shrouded by the heavy shadows. Only the loveliness of her face and a glint of light on her golden hair were visible.

“Do not speak too loudly.” Her words were laden with great fear. “I may help you – but do not take too much hope to your heart.”

“Can you show me the way out of this hellhole?” I demanded, trying to forget her beauty in that hour of stress.

“The steps are well guarded. They lead to the plateau, where many Silurians are gathered.”

The word “Silurian” caught my attention. Wasn’t that the name of a prehistoric reptilian monster? That was Zorimi’s name for the scale-skinned men.

“But,” she added, “if you are brave, you can climb down from that door in the cliff’s face to the floor of Shamman. There are little holes for hands and feet. It is unsafe, but your only hope.

I nodded, then thought further of my mission. “Nurri Kala, are they any other white men prisoners of Zorimi? Or were there any?”

She hesitated and met my eyes fully. “Yes, there was another. Zorimi brought him here – on his return from the Long Hunt.” She avoided my inquisitive gaze and shuddered. “He brought his head with him – but not his body.”

I started. “He brought his head? Does Zorimi dress in strange clothes – of leather?” A horrible thought had occurred to me.

“I do not know. I did not see him return from the Long Hunt. He was gone many, many days. I only went to him when he summoned me. Then I saw him as I always saw him – in his skins with hidden face and hidden eyes.”

“You’ve never seen his face?”

“No, never.”

“And the head he brought back?” My eyes darted to that of Harker in the frieze of skulls lining the walls. She understood the significance of my glance and nodded.

“And what was this Long Hunt?” I asked. “Where did Zorimi go?”

“I do not know. He often goes on them and is away for a long time. When he returns, he looks after his affairs here in Shamman – the ruling of his subjects – then he goes down to Zaan for the Shining Stones which many Shammans and Silurians gather for him. The stones he takes away with him on the Long Hunts – and, I think, buries them – for some reason I do not know. I should like to have more of the Shining Stones. They are so beautiful.”

“Does he take the stones toward the Door of Surrilana?”

She shook her head. “I do not know. But I think he take them down to still another cavern – one lower down.” She listened at the stairs and grew anxious. “Go now. Hurry please! Quickly.”

“Nurri Kala, why do you want to help me?”

“You are white, like I am.” She turned away. “Somehow, I cannot bear to see your life destroyed. I see so much of death.”

“What do you mean?”

She pointed toward The Flame and bit her lip.

“Please go.”

“You warn me, try to help me – yet you are Zorimi’s friend.”

“No, I am only his slave. You have little time. The light is dying.”

With that she vanished. Just a motion of her slender white hand toward the door to freedom, and she was gone.

Now I had looked over the possibilities of escaping through that opening, and I had seen none. Again I looked and, lying flat on my belly, I squirmed forward and peered far over the ledge which was a good hundred feet from the bottoms of Shamman. The gray light was changing to gloom. Darkness would not be long in arriving.

I saw a feeble foothold, accessible only by my hanging by my hands from the lip of the ledge and then trusting to luck. Yet I had no other choice. I saw to the reloading of the automatic and then swum myself over the ledge. My arm muscles, sore where the Silurian monster had held me fast in his titanic grip, were not too secure.

My feet touched the first foothold. The surface of the chalk cliff was damp and fetid. It was some time before I found a purchase for my hands. But so far my luck held out. Foot and hand found purchases. I lowered myself some ten feet.

My heart pounded in trip-hammer fashion.

There were no more footholds. I clung fast to the bit of life and security that seemingly endless face of cliff yielded me.

There was a flurry of wings. I dared not look over my shoulder, though I knew a bat was approaching me, for my strength was ebbing and I feared for my balance.

“Derro!” It was Baku’s voice. “I am here.”

I thanked my luck stars. I felt Baku’s talons on my back.

A screech rent the leaden, gray silence. Another and another!

Baku cried out in fright.

Wings beat against each other and the shrill voices of three huge bats were mingled in rage and terror and pain. Behind me Baku was fighting for his life, bravely, almost hopelessly. My light was excluded by shadows of many wings. Hundreds of bats of Shamman, armless and handless, were dropping from the stalactites above to home, Zorimi’s prisoner, from rescue.

“Baku! Baku!” I screamed. “Fly away! Bring the Bakketes! Bring the others!”

I could not see the fight. But presently I heard the fighting wings and the screeching move away from me. Either Baku had been destroyed or he took flight and escaped his killers.

A flambeau cut the gloom overhead with its yellowish glare. The Silurians were looking for me over the ledge. I was seen.

My first thought was to drop – to take death on the rocks below rather than perish in The Flame. I would cheat Zorimi. But the desire to fight for life persisted. Those three old crones who weave the fabric of our lives – Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos – might still have more threads for me to live on. It was not, I sensed, time for Atropos to end the pattern she had designed for me.

Two paws reached out of the darkness and clutched at my shoulders, took hold of my arms. One Silurian had lowered another by his legs and I was being lifted back to Zorimi’s chamber of horrors by a living rope.

Once more my two feet were planted firmly on solid flooring. The room was lighted by many flambeaux and I saw it literally packed with Silurians, their bulging black eyes devouring me, shining in the many points of light. The Flame seemed to crackle more loudly, more hungrily.

Was this the pattern spun for me by that hag Atropos?

I shut my eyes, opened them and blinked at what I saw beside the marble slab. My lips parted to utter a cry of horror, of revolting disgust – but no sound came from them.