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.
When I lost Nurri Kala in the windmill of beating, fighting wings, I think I more sincerely hoped for her death than for her capture and return to Zorimi. Yet she was made prisoner. A Shamman bat had caught her with his taloned feet and, holding her tightly, ripped her away from the Bakkete’s grasp. She was well on her way back to the plateau before the combat ended.
Zorimi, the magician, was waiting for her on the lip of the rock outside the chamber of skulls. She was deposited at his feet.
“My magic is still good,” he laughed down at her. “White skin does not believe, but there is magic in Shamman. And I am its master!”
Nurri Kala opened her eyes.
“The white man can spit death from his finger – but he cannot kill Zorimi,” the skin-clad figure said, the sound of his voice apparently coming from the top of the headless mass of pelts. “I have sent the Silurians to destroy them or to return them to me for the death I designed for them.”
“You are very cruel,” Nurri Kala whispered. “I did not believe this of you until I saw with my own eyes. I thought you were a god.”
“I am that, Nurri Kala. But even gods can be moved to anger, when their domain is desecrated.”
“Their coming to this mound was innocent enough,” she replied. “They came to seek friends lost from a bird that brought the red one to Shamman.”
“You must not believe that, Nurri Kala. They came here to conquer The Flame – to which you are a consecrated vestal. They are my enemies.”
Nurri Kala shook her head doubtfully. “But what is this secret about me – and him who calls himself Morgo?”
“The day will come when I can tell you,” Zorimi said in a cunning tone. “And the day is nigh when I will take you from Shamman to the outer world.”
“The outer world? But why? My life is dedicated to these caverns. You told me that.”
Her eyes were incredulous, suspicious.
“I am a magician. I will change all that when the day comes. In the meantime, I must go to Zaan. But not until I am certain that the white men are dead.”
“Why do you so desire their deaths, Zorimi? You once called yourself the All Merciful.”
“They know of affairs of which they should have no knowledge.” Zorimi rubbed his shoulder and groaned. “The red one put a bullet through my flesh.”
“You attacked him – threatened his life,” Nurri Kala said. “Here in the caverns men must fight for their lives and kill to save themselves. You said that was as things should be.”
“They are my enemies. But my magic is greater than theirs.” His voice cackled. “My magic deflected the bullet from my heart and from the Shining Stone I held.”
“Yet you could not deflect it from your shoulder, Zorimi.” Nurri Kala was interested in this thought. The magician’s powers were not as great as he claimed – or Derro’s was stronger.
“I did not act in time!” Zorimi snapped. “I was taken unawares!”
That, Nurri Kala thought, was odd. Zorimi told her once that he knew all things, all that went on in other people’s minds. Yet he did not know Derro’s finger was going to spit at him. And in that instant, her first great doubt of Zorimi’s infallibility was born.
“You will go to your chamber now, Nurri,” the magician said. “I must wait for word from the expedition that set out to find my enemies.”
Nurri Kala rose wearily to her feet. Her body ached from the struggle to which it had been subjected – a Shamman bat tearing it from the hold of a lesser Bakkete. Zorimi’s voice halted her at the steps.
“There is more that I must tell you, Nurri Kala,” he said. “It is best that you know a little of my plans, my slave.”
The girl’s eyes flashed defiantly at the mass of skins. She was no longer his slave. And though he might hold great power over the Shammans and their world, she knew then that he was as much flesh and blood as other living creatures.
She considered this bent, huddled figure, tinted crimson by the rays of The Flame – that horrible pyre stoked with human flesh and bone. His face was a mystery to her since she had always been denied the privilege of seeing it. Only the voice she knew – and until now had obeyed. This man had been her mentor. He gave her life after that accident had robbed her of those other white people she knew as mother and father and who were so good to her. Of them and the accident that robbed her memory, she remembered nothing. Her life in the caves began with the ministrations of Zorimi who found her near the Door of Surrilana.
Through her growing years, the magician had been good to her. He taught her the ways of the Shammans and Silurians and made them her slaves. He gave her pretty bright stones and the reflecting glass in her chamber and indulged all her minor needs. The Flame, she was instructed, was the source of all life in Shamman, a holy thing, and to its burning eternally she must devote all her thought and prayers. This she had done faithfully.
Zorimi was amusing at times. He told her stories about the strange people and beasts in the other caverns. He delighted her with speculations about an outer world. And while she never felt any love for him such as the white man she once called her father, she liked Zorimi. He was her only friend, a man who spoke a language she knew without learning as she had had to learn the speech of the Shammans. She was dependent on him – and believed him when he told her she was an immortal and a sacred person, a vestal of The Flame.
Her slavery was a subtle relationship between them. It was her bowing to his will, her belief in all he told her, her captivity to the power of his awful eyes. And it hinged on his ability to prove himself greater than the people of Shamman. But now Derro had struck at Zorimi and his blow had been a telling one.
Moreover, Zorimi, a kindly man, had proven himself a destroyer of human life. Till that night, she had no knowledge of what went on at the rituals in the chamber of skulls. She had not been permitted to attend the other ceremonies. Yet now she knew, and Zorimi had commanded her to participate in it – to draw a man’s blood and take his life with the obsidian dagger, all for some incomprehensible reason. She suspected, though, that these pagan rituals were Zorimi’s method of demonstrating his power – a power built on the taking of human life.
She reflected. She might have killed a Shamman in the act of ritual. They were not really men but beasts. Zorimi might have induced her to believe in her godhood to that extent. But he erred in asking her to kill in the presence of a man with white skin, Derro, who was so brave.
Yes, she knew Zorimi better that night. He was a man of evil. He was not to be trusted. He planned her destruction in some way still obscure to her limited knowledge.
Zorimi was talking in high sounding words, many of which she did not understand. He was discoursing on her future, a glowing career in a world of great cities and vast seas of water that was salty to taste, of men and women who dressed strangely in suits and dresses of colors and who drove in things called motors and trains and airplanes, who went under water in boats. He was telling her incredible things and she smiled placidly to disarm him though she did not believe a word he uttered.
“And when I return from Zaan, the Cave of Diamonds -” Zorimi was saying.
“Diamonds? What are they?” Nurri Kala asked. “My mother had a diamond – I remember.”
“You shall have thousands, Nurri Kala. I promise it. You will look more beautiful than all the queens in the world.”
“Rulers of men, women with great power in the outer world.” Zorimi grew ecstatic. “You shall be the greatest and richest woman in all the world. I promise it. And I shall be the richest man. Diamonds can buy anything?”
“But I do not want that,” Nurri Kala said seriously.
“No?” Zorimi was amused. “What do you want then? You shall have it.”
“I want to have Morgo and Derro for my friends – for they have a skin like mine. And Derro is very brave – and so is Morgo.” She spoke with the simplicity of a child.
Zorimi thundered. “That is something you cannot have! The friendship of those two! They must be destroyed – or they will destroy us! Morgo is a savage and the other seeks my life! Surely you would not be the friend of a savage and a murderer?”
Nurri Kala did not believe him, but she silenced her tongue. Instinct warned her not to betray to Zorimi her new attitude toward him.
“Nurri Kala,” Zorimi declaimed, taking her little hand in his grimy fist, “you are to be the Bride of the Shining Stone!”
She smiled at the sound of the words. They were pleasant. “Bride of the Shining Stone! My mother was a bride – I remember her saying it. And I shall be like her.”
“You shall be what I promise!”
“But who shall be like father to me? Like he was to mother?”
“I shall be that, Nurri Kala. I shall marry you!”
The girl did not understand this but an indefinable fear welled up inside her. She wanted to hurry to her chamber.
“I shall make you my bride before The Flame, Nurri Kala, and then again in a ceremony in the outer world. I promise you that.
She ran up the steps without further comment. She wanted to be alone.
Her chamber, a room off one of the higher corridors in the mound, was spacious though plainly furnished. There was a flambeau for light, stuck in a chalk hole, a pallet heaped with skins, a few dishes from which she ate her meals, a tiny window that fed her the air of Shamman and the reflecting glass – a tall mirror of polished silver.
She beheld her image in the silver and was pleased with it. What a relief from looking at the ugly, scale-skinned Silurians! And only she was permitted to look into it. The Silurian women were forbidden its secrets and she kept it covered when they cleaned her room.
Her hands ran languidly over her whiteness. The silver mirror showed her a pretty picture – the most beautiful she had ever seen. The girdle of shining stones winked and danced in the light of the flambeau. She removed it and the strange flower of diamonds in her hair and, combing her golden locks when they sprawled over her broad shoulders with skillful fingers, she thrilled to her splendor.
And later, lying on her couch in the darkness, stretching luxuriously with the grace of a sybarite, she hoped, in the moment before she fell asleep, that Derro, the red one, though she was good to look at.
The tramping of many feet in the corridor outside her door awakened her. The Silurians who went in search of Derro and Morgo, were returning to report to Zorimi. Perhaps the two men were prisoners again. She leaped to her feet with fast-beating hear and when the last man had passed her door, she crept out and made her way stealthily to the stairs leading to the chamber of skulls.
The leader of the Silurians addressed Zorimi. His voice sounded angry. A man had been killed by Derro, but the two white men were not captives. Her heart bounded with joy. They were free and she might see them again.
The Silurian’s next words left her frozen with terror. Derro and Morgo had dropped into the cave of the unclean growths to be devoured by plants that thrived on human life. They were utterly lost. Zorimi clapped his hands gleefully and chuckled with fiendish laughter. She hated the magician more than ever in that hour for she knew what death in the jungle of fungus meant. It had been described to her by the Silurian women who lost their men in it while they were on the hunts.
Yet Nurri Kala refused to despair. One man, she had heard, came out of that livid green cave alive and told his companions about it. She was not so much concerned with his tale as with the fact that he did live to escaped the creeping threads of growth that devoured flesh and blood.
And while Nurri Kala knew nothing of the God of the outer world, she raised her eyes and whispered: “If one man can escape, let the two – Derro and Morgo – free themselves from that death!”
To Be Continued!