Chapter 7: The Obsidian Knife

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.

Morgo, on viewing the thread of smoke that slid out of the roof of the mound, slid down the crag noiselessly onto a soft bit of chalky ground. He was about to motion me to descend when the floor gave way beneath his feet.

His cry of surprise was strangled as he crashed through debris, wet chalk and slime, into a passage beneath the plateau. When he picked himself up and took his bearings, he saw that he had slid at least fifty feet from the surface and the hole he made was but a small patch of gray, seemingly far above him. He tried to clamber up the step slopes, but failed, for the slime and wetness sent him sliding back to the bottom.

He decided to seek another exit from this passage and started on the up grade. He walked for some distance, winding, turning, moving up toward the surface and then down. Several corridors led into the passage, but he ignored them until he finally concluded he would be walking forever in this first passage unless he tried another.

This he did. He tried several, milling forward in inky darkness, dank gloom, and slime that oozed from the walls. At length, he decided that he was lost in a labyrinth that honeycombed the mound that was the home of The Flame.

His energy was great and he did not tire of seeking an outlet. He experimented with each new corridor. Hours were spent in this fruitless search. Silence, dampness and slime were his only companions. His footfalls were muffled and noiseless. Only his breathing assured him that he still lived.

Presently he felt the corridor he was traversing, grow warmer. That meant he was nearing the source of the smoke he saw on the plateau. He pressed forward. The warmth increased, the chalk walls were less damp, the slime decreased.

His progress was brought to a sudden halt by a sound ahead of him. He listened and made out the slow tread of another walker. This invisible person was moving away from him, pursuing his direction.

Again he went forward and turned a bend in the corridor.

Ahead of him, against a faint patch of light he saw a man, a scale covered Silurian. The man stopped, hesitated, and then disappeared.

Morgo was puzzled. Where had the creature gone? To the right, to the left? Or had the floor swallowed him up? He concluded that the Silurian had turned into another corridor, so he continued his march toward the patch of brightness at the far end of the corridor.

He was now conscious of greater warmth – of heat. The chalk was dry at touch. There was no slime underfoot.

His eyes were alert for the blackness on either side of him that would mark another corridor – the point at which the creature he saw had vanished from sight. He found none.

But when it was too late, he saw a niche in the wall. The Silurian was upon him, his eyes afire like those of a cat’s in the night. Two fierce scaly hands fastened to his throat. He threw his strength against the man and his hands slid from the wet, scaly surface of the Silurian’s body. He could get no hold on the man.

The two hands at his throat were pressing hard. His wind diminished and had no chance to recoup. Then, using his fists like hammers, he beat upon the face before him. The Silurian grunted and squealed with pain, his grip grew ruthless.

Morgo succeeded in slipping his fingers between the man’s hands and his throat. They fell to the floor, fighting silently, struggling for breath. The white man eventually succeeded in breaking the other’s hold and the Silurian sprang to his feet for another attack.

Morgo whipped out his bowie knife and scrambled up, too. The Silurian rushed him. The knife slid over his scaly body, but made no entry. Each time Morgo stabbed, the scales turned aside the blade, so invulnerable were they.

The creature used no weapons save his hands. He wanted to kill by strangling. For Morgo there was no opening at which to strike, since his knife glanced even from the hard face and neck of the Silurian. Yet he was not to be defeated and his passage to freedom was barred from this man. He had to kill him for his own life’s sake.

There was one point of attack from which he had refrained. Now perforce, he must strike at it – the Silurian’s glowing, bulging eyes, the gateway to his brain. Morgo struck out. The blade went home. The creature fell back and sank to the floor. Morgo watched him quiet and he felt the racing heart beneath the wet scales slow down and still itself.

He hurried on toward the bit of light. Now he could see that it was yellow and that it flickered.

A moment later he found himself at a window high above a room, the wall of which was lined with skulls. At one end he saw a great living monolith of fire, many Silurians with flambeaux and at the other side, he saw me as I was lifted to the ledge from my perilous perch on the face of the cliff.

And then unbelieving eyes – his eyes that doubted – fell upon the sight that paralyzed me with stark horror.

Beside the marble slab near The Flame stood Nurri Kala, resplendent in the budding beauty of her youth, girdled with a bad of great, sparkling diamonds. A strange flower of little diamonds was caught in her golden hair that streamed down her back, cascaded over her shoulders and defied the red of the fire to color it, to so much as tint its hallowed purity.

But in her hand, which drooped limply at her side, she held a knife of obsidian – a symbol of sacrifice.

There she stood, the high priestess of Zorimi’s diabolical cult of fire and blood. There she stood, prepared to officiate a ritual of human sacrifice. The firelight played like a spotlight on the exquisite flower of diamonds, turning it a ruby red.

Two Silurians brought forward a screaming Shamman, one of the those who roved through the forests of stalagmites hunting the mice creatures for food. Undoubtedly he had dared to wander upon Zorimi’s Mount Olympus, and this, death and sacrifice, was to be his fate.

The man, whose howls were heart-rending, was flung upon the marble slab – the altar of this satanic temple. His arms were thrown over his head and held taut by one Silurian while the other held fast to his legs. This was the position in which he would best receive the blow of that obsidian dagger in Nurri Kala’s hand.

Zorimi’s voice thundered in the guttural language of the caves from some hidden point. Nurri Kala shook her head.

“I cannot do this, Zorimi,” she said listlessly.

“I have commanded it.”

“But I cannot.”

“You have refrained from taking part in the rituals these many years,” Zorimi cried harshly. “Now do my bidding!”

“If I refuse -”

“Then you will take that man’s place.”

“Perhaps I will choose to that rather than kill him!”

“Nurri Kala!” Zorimi’s voice broke plaintively. “He must die in any event. But you – ”

“I will die rather than kill, Zorimi.”

“So be it!” He barked his orders to the Silurians.

Nurri Kala stepped back from the sacrificial altar and dropped the obsidian knife. It clattered to the floor.

A Silurian woman, ugly, a Gargantuan-legged mermaid, detached herself from the others and, crossing the chamber, picked up the knife. Her eyes were agleam with a lust for blood. She stared avariciously at the livid victim on the slab.

Zorimi uttered further commands. Nurri Kala turned away from the sight of the substitute priestess and closed her eyes.

The Silurian woman tested the blade with her finger and waited.  Two men appeared carrying something wrapped in a silk, similar to the tunic Nurri Kala wore earlier in the day. I could swear it was silk from China. Holding this object over the victim whose moans were choking in his throat, they waited, too.

Then a tall man wrapped in think, odd skins that covered even his head and face like a monk’s cowl, walked swiftly to the altar. Zorimi!

Bony hands shot out from the bundle of skins and they whisked the covering from the object.

She of the Three Heads flashed in the firelight, unholy, unclean. This diamond emblem – this Shining Stone, as the Shammans called it – evoked a murmur of awe from the Silurians witnessing the pagan ritual. Zorimi held it to the victim’s breast and throat. Then it was covered and it disappeared beneath the folds of his cowl in his bony grasp.

Zorimi muttered an incantation, and the Silurian woman sent the obsidian dagger into the victim’s heart. I turned away, too, when she began to hack the head from the body.

When I dared look again – at something that was to be Nurri Kala’s fate – I saw a Silurian place the skull with the others in the frieze. The two, holding up the decapitated body, at another command from Zorimi, flung it far out into the fingers of The Flame.

At a sign from this Master of Evil, Nurri Kala moved easily toward the altar – prepared to take her place for sacrifice. Zorimi ordered the Silurians to seize her.

No sooner had their hands touched her white body than they screamed in agony and fell to the floor, dead. An arrow protruded from an eye in each man’s head.

Zorimi wheeled about and looked up. Still I could not see his face. He spoke quickly. The terrified Silurians sprang into action.

A moment later I heard a scuffle, the sounds of fighting, wild cries, shrieks of pain and mortal agony ringing out from the direction of a high window. Then silence, ominous and oppressive.

The Silurians returned to the chamber with Morgo fast in their arms, a struggling, snarling Morgo. It was he who for the moment saved Nurri Kala’s life by his unerring aim from that distant window.

“Morgo!” Zorimi cried. “At last! At last! For years I have awaited this moment!”

“Zorimi!” Morgo tried to see the man’s face but the cowl was lowered. “Who is this white girl?”

“Nurri Kala is not a white girl. She is an immortal.”

“She is white – like I am. Who is she?”

“I have spoken, Morgo.”

“You can kill me if you do not harm her.”

“I intend to kill you anyway,” Zorimi cackled, “that your secret will be the safer.”

“Secret? What secret?”

“The secret of who you are. The secret of your identity.”

“You know – ”

“I have always known,” Zorimi thundered. “I know all things of this world and of the other world.”

“Then,” I spoke up, “you know Nurri Kala’s true identity, too.”

Zorimi did not look in my direction. “I know all things, white man,” he said to me. “Once I feared Morgo. But nevermore!”

He shouted orders to the Silurians, and Morgo was dragged, struggling, to the altar.

“I had no intention of killing Nurri Kala,” he said softly, with sinister implications. “My threat was merely a test of her courage. She is brave, very brave. But death is not for her this night. I have other plans for her – for she is consecrated to the Shining Stone. But you, Morgo, will take her place. Your head will decorate my temple. And the other white man’s body will follow yours into The Flame.”

Morgo was flung upon his back on the marble slab. The Silurian woman caressed the obsidian knife. The men stretched Morgo’s arms and legs.

Beyond the opening, I heard the beating, the whirring of wings – hundreds of them. The Bakketes were there. A sixth sense assured me. Baku had brought the army from the far end of the Cave of Shamman. Zorimi had heard. He was puzzled. There were no sounds of fighting. The Silurians drew back, obviously frightened by imminence of the Bakketes.

“Your rescuers are here, Morgo,” he said uneasily, “but it is too late.” He spoke to the wielder of the obsidian dagger.

The purple-scale-skinned woman made ready for the sacrifice of Morgo’s life to gods and beliefs unknown to me.

Morgo’s primitive weapons had failed to effect Nurri Kala’s delivery. They had resulted in his own capture. Now it was time for me to use my “ace in the hole”. Zorimi knew of the outer world – therefore, I reasoned, he had some knowledge of guns – but he had forgotten about my automatic. Perhaps he hadn’t seen it when I was made prisoner or had forgotten to disarm me.

The Silurian woman’s arm went up, a cobra’s head poised to strike. Zorimi bent low over Morgo’s taut body, drew the Shining Stone – She of the Three Heads – from his coverings and prepared to caress my friend’s breast with it. It was the sigh of death.

There was no time to waste. The Bakketes were on hand for our rescue.

I drew my gun and shot the knife from the woman’s paw. She fell to the floor, writhing and screaming. Zorimi sprang back, clutching the Shining Stone to him.

Again and again I fired, killing the two Silurians who held Morgo to the marble altar. The other scale-skinned creatures hissed with terror and pressed back from me. I was a man who spat death from his finger. To their primitive minds, I worked miracles greater than Zorimi’s. They saw me point my finger, heard a report and saw two men fall dead. They could understand no more. It was magic to them.

Baku’s voice sounded behind me on the lip of rock. “Derro! I come back. Bakketes come.”

Morgo slid from the altar and ran to my side. I shouted to Nurri Kala to join us and she did, though her eyes strayed to Zorimi. His head was bent and she took courage to escape from her master.

“Morgo,” I snapped, “have a Bakkete prepare to carry the girl with us.” I watched while he gave this direction and saw Nurri Kala safe in a flying man’s arms. She accepted my hasty smile by way of reassurance.

“Now, Zorimi – or Lacrosse!” I said and saw the ruler of the caverns start. “Tell us the names of Morgo and Nurri Kala – their secret.”

“I will choke the truth from him!” Morgo cried, advancing on the man.

Screeched outside the chamber told me that the Bakketes were being attacked. The Shamman bat hordes had spied our army. Zorimi heard the whirring of wings, the sounds of fighting and took heart.

“That I cannot do,” he laughed. “Better compromise and make your escape, if you can, or my bats will destroy your Bakketes. And I will hurl my Silurians upon you!”

Morgo was about to spring when I caught his arm. “Hold on! We had better accept his offer and get him another time!”

Morgo nodded. “Yes, the Bakketes cannot fight the fierce bats of Shamman – though they can defeat them in swift flight.”

We backed to the opening, and I committed myself to Baku’s arms after seeing Nurri Kala safely off. Morgo took wing and shouted for me to hurry.

Zorimi screamed with rage and uttered what I took to be a command, to the Silurians, to seize me. They rushed forward as one man.

I shot at Zorimi. My last vision of that smoky blue chamber of horrors was of Zorimi crumpling to the floor, his hand to his chest, coughing and choking. He was all too mortal where hot lead was concerned.

To Be Continued!