Chapter 14: Zorimi’s Hand

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 another day came, we three – Morgo, Nurri Kala and myself – sat on the ledge in front of our dwelling watching the cavern spread below us like a fanciful counterpane of green satin with yellow iridescent overtones. We were fascinated by all that we beheld – and our brows were creased in disturbed frowns.

The Mannizans were but forerunners of other things.

All of Shamman’s living creatures seemed to be pouring across the floor of Kahli toward Verrizon and other caves the names of which I forget. This emigration from Zorimi’s world was gargantuan in its proportions. The people of Shamman traveled as speedily as possible in something like military formation. Their fear was the Mannizan. But few of the latter were in sight and I figured that they had pressed ahead to some unknown destination.

There were Silurians, too, men, women and children. In groups of their own, or peaceably mingled with the primitive men, they, too, were on trek. Toward the middle of the day, we saw the Shamman bats. These made no attempt to engage the Bakketes, who clung among their pinkish stalactites, in warfare. Straight as the crow, they passed over Kahli, spreading a black cloud over its luxuriant verdure.

Smaller Mannizans, more like mice, put in an appearance. The Shammans and Silurians fell upon these lesser rodents and slaughtered them for food. The small Mannizans put up no fight and fled from the hail of the Shammans’ sling shots.

Insects, drab and grayish and foreign to Kahli, were next to be seen. They zoomed through the forests and over the treetops, hurrying, scarcely pausing to feed.

I saw unfamiliar snakes, long, sinuous pythons, and fat, yellow, speckled gray monsters. With surprising agility, they sped along with the other creatures, avoiding them, or attacking them when necessary.

All of Shamman was in flight. Its living life was engaged in the old battle of the survival of the fittest. And its creatures fought for life by running away from those forces that would destroy it – the Husshas and the Rortas.

The flood of ant life Morgo had released from Verrizon to effect Nurri Kala’s rescue from Zorimi now plagued all of Shamman. The black ants drove from cover their hereditary enemies, the red ants, and that vast cavern was turned over to them. It was as in Africa, I remembered. There, when the Driver ants swept through the jungles in a village, the inhabitants fled. The ants swarmed over the houses, devouring the refuse and filth and when they had passed on, the owners returned to their homes – their cleaner homes. Such is sanitation in the heart of Africa.

But the Shammans knew only fear. They were putting as great a distance as possible between them and the Husshas, which moved faster than horses.

Of course, we three on the ledge were seen. No attempt was made to molest us. Our fortified coign of vantage – as far as menace from the four-footed beasts was concerned – was envied by the passing examples of Pithecanthropus Erectus – the two-footed primitives.

“Morgo,” I said with a new fear, “if the Shammans were running away from the black ants, isn’t it likely that they’re being pursued?”

He nodded. “I have been thinking of that, Derro. Tomorrow, when I am certain the Shamman bats are all out of their nests, I will send Bakketes into that cavern to see what is happening.”

“And if the Husshas are headed for Kahli?”

“We must move on – like the others – to a safer cave. This has never happened before in the caves, to my remembering,” Morgo explained. “The Rortas usually feed on the unclean growth under Shamman and do not bother the people on the surface. The black ants stay in Verrizon and other caves farther away.”

Nurri Kala sighed. “I hope they do not come into Kahli. It is too beautiful to be destroyed. Never have I seen such color – those glorious greens and yellows and pink teeth hanging over us. I should love” – she looked at me, remembering the word I introduced to her – “to stay here forever.”

“Would you really?” Morgo and I asked as one man. We looked at each other foolishly. He did not respond to my grin and the crease in his brow deepened. He was profoundly disturbed by the girl’s friendliness toward me.

“Forever and ever,” the girl said, softly, happily.

“We may have to move,” Morgo said practically. “Tomorrow, we will know.

We passed the evening light, watching the camp fires of the Shammans and the Silurians. They twinkled over the floor of Kahli like cheery villages. In the early yellow light of the next day, they would be gone – probably forever – with the people in flight for their lives. I wondered if we had done a wise thing in unleashing the Husshas on our single enemy, Zorimi and his few Silurians. The ants were beyond control – the Raba impossible to locate – and the likelihood of their deluging us was imminent.

In the morning, I insisted on going with Baku into Shamman as the head of a scouting party. Morgo objected a little and then accepted my desire with a shrug.

“Take care, Derro, my brother,” he said to me. “The ways of Shamman are different now, with the ants in possession of that cave.”

“I’m curious,” was my reply and I bid him and the girl au revoir and flew off in Baku’s arms.

We negotiated the tunnel easily. There were no Shamman bats in it, nor any when we reached the higher, larger cavern. The light was full and Shamman was clearly visible in all its grayness. Silence pervaded everything and, though five other Bakketes flew behind me, when I looked back at them, I could hear nothing – not even the movement of a wing. I felt like a man in a neutral colored dream.

The thin spire of The Flame’s cloudy smoke guided me for a goal. My Bakketes were alert, their eyes on the distant stalactites for trouble – and an instant retreat to Kahli.

Nearing the plateau that was Zorimi’s, I saw six streams of jet black bodies moving toward it. The Husshas were still mobilizing in Verrizon and pouring into the Cavern of Shamman. Their legions were millions and for three days and nights they had been flooding this gray home of evil.

Over the plateau, I beheld desolation below – desolation and carnage. The red Rortas still held the mound where ant of one color was destroying ant of another. I could see the black mandibles crunching red bodies – and black bodies curling up at the lethal bite of the red ant. I wondered if the Husshas would continue to rush to their own destruction – or would ultimately outnumber the Rortas and eradicate them. There were plenty of both colors still hungry and still keen for combat.

Then I understood, in a glance, the cause of the great migration of the living creatures of Shamman – including its human-headed bats.

Some instinct told the Husshas that they could not vanquish the red ants. The latter were wily and more potently armed. Nature whispered to the ant mind and it understood.

Four streams of Husshas ran up the sides of the cave and looking overhead, when Baku took me higher, I saw them wending their way through the stalactites. In their flight from the Rortas, they had gone to Shamman’s ceiling and routed the Shamman bats from their aeries.

I started. The direction the ants on the ceiling were taking was toward the tunnel to Kahli.

Descending closer to the mound where ant ate ant, I saw still another river of black, coursing far to one side, avoiding the territory held by the Rortas. This stream, the same black belt I first saw in Verrizon – a quarter of a mile wide – was moving toward Kahli – slowly to be sure – but inevitably. The moan of munching came to my ears. The Husshas were on the trail of the Shammans, Silurians, Mannizans and other beasts.

How like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow! The Husshas attacked the plateau, Moscow. Finding it destitute of food, and only a red death awaiting them there, they scattered and fled as did the Grand Armee – rushing pellmell toward the ceiling and safer terrain.

I followed the course of the black river of ants – since alighting on the plateau to seek Zorimi was impossible – and presently came to the head, where the workers were less numerous – where the soldiers surrounded the Raba. The great ant pressed on, and I thought of the Little Corporal, his hand tucked in his greatcoat, his head bowed, plowing through the snows that lead from Moscow, alone and dejected. You know the famous painting.

However, I could attribute no human sentiments to the Raba. He was an ant. He was after the spore of humans who were the denizens of these caverns. Kahli was his objective. Defeat was of no moment in his life. Food was his only concern – food for himself and his millions of followers.

I shouted to Baku to hurry back to Morgo’s cave. Kahli was doomed. Its fairness would be ravaged. The black ants would swarm the floor and the walls of the cave. Even Morgo’s dwelling would not be safe.

Baku got back to the cave dwelling without my seeing any sign of our common enemy. He dropped me on the ledge and instead of flying off to his nest higher up the face of the cliff, I noticed that he hesitated apprehensively.

“Morgo!” I called. “Nurri Kala.”

There was no answer.

I went into the cave. It was deserted. Our precious fire was out.

I am still ashamed of my first thought. Morgo, I knew, had a liking for the white girl of the caves. He had a human jealousy for my attentions to her. Now I thought he had carried her off. So great was my surprise at finding the place empty, I jumped at the conclusion that he took her and was leaving me to shift for myself.

But I was wrong. I wronged my friend.

I found the three Shamman servants. Their bodies, badly mutilated, were heaped in dark corner. The dishes were broken and Morgo’s crude decorations were desecrated. I could see that bats had torn the servants limb from limb, leaving their talon marks on the gory flesh. And the forearm of a scaly arm lay upon the ground. My supplies were tumbled about, cartridge cases opened and the rounds strewn, but nothing had been stolen. My guns and knives were there, even my cigarettes and matches.

Immediately I reconstructed what had happened. Morgo had been surprised by an attach of Shamman bats carrying Silurians between their feet. He put up a good fight, slashed an arm from one of the scale-skinned creatures and was subsequently overpowered when his servants were destroyed. He and Nurri Kala were made prisoners and carried off to Zorimi wherever he was hiding.

Perhaps it was clairvoyance, perhaps instinct – but I saw the hand of Zorimi in the fight that had taken place in Morgo’s home.

To Be Continued!