This blog was originally started by Reis and posted on Myspace way back in 2006, but he decided to move it to the larger, more accessible Blogger network in 2008, to better reach the large Conan fan base.
These blog posts represent our personal fandom and are a collection of whatever we can find on our favorite son of Cimmeria. If we find it on the web, we try to post it here. Some of the content, such as fan art, custom action figures and the like are not always used by permission, but we have only posted them out of great respect for fellow fans to enjoy. However, if you see something on here of yours and you'd prefer we took it down or notice that we haven't given proper credit, feel free to let us know and we'll fix it as soon as we can.
We sincerely hope you enjoy the blog and we encourage you all to please make comments and share your thoughts!
The average Joe might be using his garage to restore an automobile or perhaps refinish some antique furniture, but if you're a Conan fan extraordinaire like Samuel Encinas Garcia, the Conan the Barbarian movie has inspired you to build your very own Wheel of Pain!
Oh yeah! That would look so right in the backyard, right between the gazebo and the azaleas...screw the jungle gym, you kids get the hell outside and play with your new Wheel of Pain!!!
This info came my way courtesy of Carsten over at Movie Locations Spain. He's just finished a Conan Christmas Location Special, so head on over (click HERE!) and follow one of the links at the bottom to check it out! Your tour guide...none other than Carsten's pimped out REMCO Conan action figure!
When you buy me that brand spanking new ipod for Christmas, I'd appreciate it if you would load it up with some REH audio books, including the classic Conan tale "Gods of the North" (perhaps better known as The Frost Giant’s Daughter or The Frost King’s Daughter), courtesy of LibriVox!
Special thanks goes out to SFFaudio, for making it that much easier to find these excellent REH freebies!
The temperature hit -40°C the other night (for my good friends south of the border, that's -40°F), so rather than gallivanting around in the snow, I decided to cozy up next to the fire and do a little reading, and thought "how's about a little Conan fan fiction?". Well, Christmas is the time for sharing, so...
To start with, here's Adam Lawrence Miller's "The Crying Pearl". I spoke with Adam recently, and apparently he's got another Conan story in the works...thanks for the heads up Adam, I am so looking forward to it!
A gray mist swept through the ramshackle Yuetshi village, causing even the muck-drenched fishermen to shiver.
"Witch of the marsh," one said.
"Her breath scatters the fish, even," said another. "No point in sailing today, unless you desire a net full of kelp."
The two prune-faced men gazed past one another as the sea breeze sprayed their faces with saltwater, and then wordlessly parted ways and limped home to their huts.
Conan arrived at the village after the sun had set on that miserable day. Not only had night fallen, but the mist from the marsh had grown heavy, so that the village looked to him like swarm of monstrous fireflies. He rubbed his eyes, unsure whether he had been lured to some haunted spot by a wisp. Moving closer, he determined that the light was no mirage.
Conan stumbled from lantern to lantern, searching for a house that would answer his call. His horse had snapped its ankle where the muddy trail he had been following had turned to marsh. He had slit its throat and left it for the wolves, or whatever beasts roamed the fetid bogs that had dogged him for the past fortnight. After losing his horse the going had been slow and arduous, the earth slurping at his boots with every stride and the occasional reed tickling his thighs. He had always been intimate with nature, owed his life to the instincts she had given him, but traversing the marsh had been like a reunion with a lonely mother who heaps too much affection onto her fully grown child.
The entire village was either afloat or rested uneasily in the mud, causing trouble for even the sure-footed Conan, who had dodged arrows as he skipped along cliff ledges, and had leapt between the enchanted spires of Arenjun while carrying his weight in pilfered gold. He did his best to tread lightly, but in his legs were wearied and he found himself crashing into wood or rope with every other step. The Yuetshi had ceased to care for their village. The walkways of their village, a zigzagging series of planks not replaced for years, were now halfway consumed by moss and rot; for this generation of Yuetshi had no plan, and all privately took solace that their town would soon be swallowed by the Earth, and their misery would be ended at last. If the marsh had reminded him of an overzealous mother, this village was an elder, creaking and moaning as he stepped along its spine.
At door after door silence greeted Conan. No doubt these miserable villagers, with lives barely worth the few boney fish they hauled daily, were superstitious on top of their misery, thinking the wearied traveler a reaper out for their souls, or a ghoul from the deeps hungry for their flesh.
"Open for me, you cowardly specks. Open or I'll tear down your rotting homes with one hand while I ring your scrawny necks with the other!"
The town creaked, but was otherwise silent, and Conan shivered, the mist chilling his spine. Conan continued to walk door to door until finally his knock was answered. Conan could not tell if man or woman opened the door; the Yuetshi's head had shriveled to little bigger than Conan's fist, and the few strands of hair it had left were long and gray -- it was more creature than man. The creature looked at Conan for a moment, not contemplating whether or not to invite in the stranger -- not seeming to contemplate anything at all -- but with the slow, aimless eyes of a snail. The dim light of a single lantern flickered inside its home. Conan did not like the way the eyes felt on him, but he bit his tongue, not wishing to insult the stranger and deny himself a safe night's sleep.
"You are not from here? I do not recognize you," the creature said, its voice a strained whisper.
Conan could not help himself. He laughed, laughed so hard his brick-sized abdominal muscles knotted and he doubled over in mirth.
"My apologies stranger," he eventually managed between gasps. "I am delirious from a hard day's travel, and the thought that I, a Cimmerian born born in battle under the indifferent eyes of Crom, who mocks the Northern tribes as they wage war among themselves, I, who am a creature of rolling hills and mountains, could be your neighbor, here, in this swamp--" Conan paused and took in the withered creature before him, and for a moment his face was solemn. But soon he grinned again, more toothsome than before. "But I suppose we both hail from forgotten races. Let us toast to that!"
The creature gave away no emotion. "You will have to sleep on the floor," it said as it turned from Conan and retreated back inside its shack. "Though my bed is not much more comfortable, I suspect, and you would surely crush it."
Conan waited patiently behind the creature as it waddled inside the lantern-lit hut, and then turned to again face Conan. Again, its eyes slithered up and down Conan's body while it slowly pondered some simple question, or, as it seemed to Conan, while its mind slipped out of existence for a moment, into some inner shell, leaving its eyes to wander aimlessly, no being left to rein them in. When the creature returned, it looked shocked to see the barbarian towering over it, as if their previous interaction had been wiped from its memory.
"You must be hungry," it said. "There is dried kelp, as much as you'd like, there's always more, just outside, not far at all, regenerating what we take and then some each day, it never stops, and tea leftover from this morning, though I'm afraid it's now too damp to start a fire, much too damp."
The cheer had quickly faded from Conan, and he flatly thanked the creature for its hospitality, assuring it he would not be of any further trouble. The kelp tasted wretched to Conan -- a creature of the hills, he preferred the hearty taste of mutton and roots -- but he consumed as much of the slimy plant as he could, sensing the deep nourishment locked inside it and guessing he would need all the nourishment he could lay his hands on for the next day's journey. After forcing down several strips of the vile weed he welcomed the taste of the bitter tea, which at least cleansed his palette.
"That was a fine meal, friend," he said, and belched loudly. His words were greeted with silence. No matter. He lay on the damp wood floor and tried to fall asleep. Though Conan had slept through many a frozen night atop the jutting granite teeth of the Eiglophian Mountains, he found this poor wretch's floor even less hospitable. The damp unsettled him, and his body spanned the cramped shack, so that his head pressed against one wall and his boots the other. Conan, who preferred his leep under the vast starry sky, felt like a caged tiger.
Just as he was falling into something resembling sleep, the creature spoke. "You are a fortune-seeker. What fortune do you expect to find in this tiny village of fishermen, clinging as we are to the world as the barnacles cling to our rotting docks?"
Half asleep, Conan was at first startled. He quickly regained his bearings, however, and responded. "Indeed I do seek my fortune, and this is a poor village. I am merely passing through, but again I thank you, for your hospitality has perhaps saved my hide from whatever beasts hunt these marshes at night."
"Beasts indeed! Not beasts you should fear, not beasts at all! Perhaps you pass through here seeking to plunder the temples to the east, or to raise an army of Stygian rebels. You see? I was not always dumb to the ways of the world outside this place. I, who no longer have a name, once sailed the Fires of the South, past the dancing armies of the Black Coast -- past even your beloved Cimmeria! My mind was a treasure map, my gaze as sure as any compass. So when I tell you there is a treasure in these marshes, long forgotten by even the most canny pirates, your ears should perk up and that barbarian's brain of yours should take note."
"Barbarian's brain!" Conan sat up. He did not take insults lightly, even from a wasted creature such as this.
"Be still and listen!" the creature barked. "I have nothing left of value except what I now aim to tell you. Do not prove yourself a greater fool than even I think you."
Conan was surprised by the sudden fire in the creature's voice. He had heard speech like this many times before, always from thieves recalling of treasures that had slipped from their greasy fingers. Perhaps this crazed wretch spoke some truth. Conan obeyed and fell silent.
"The Crying Pearl," the creature whispered now. "When the mists clear in the morning and are replaced by gnats, you will see that in the East a forest springs from the marsh. But not just any forest. It has petrified."
"Why is it called the Crying Pearl?" Already Conan's ears burned at the thought of a neat little prize, which if won might keep him from spending more nights on the damp fisherman's floors in the near future.
"Can a pearl cry? I cannot say. I imagine the pearl is named so because it cries out to thieves like yourself. Fools, I should say, for no man, hero or rogue, has won this treasure.
The creature's warning made Conan suspicious. "And how would you know this? What makes you think any man would return to here, pearl in hand?" asked Conan, who had dealt with the wiliest princes and had acquired a keen ear for traps.
"Oh we know, we know," said the creature, sounding drowsy again.
"Will you show me the way?"
"Oh yes, yes, the way. Tomorrow. My pleasure, yes."
The creature began to snore. He had hoped to travel at least half the distance to Shangara by the half moon, but he could delay another day -- after all, nobody was waiting for him.
Conan awoke swatting gnats from his face. The creature was preparing tea, oblivious to the insect swarm around its head. Conan grimaced. The air had become hot and clingy almost as soon as the sun had risen, parching Conan's throat and needling his temples.
"Do you have anything cold to refresh me, creature?" the barbarian asked, his mood fowl.
"Creature?" The creature paused, having reverted to its dull, uncomprehending state. "Only tea… the water is not safe on its own."
Conan begrudgingly drank his tea, and was not surprised to find the only breakfast offered was kelp.
"Maybe I'll eat you, creature," he suggested as he gnawed on the leathery plant.
"Perhaps, but I don't imagine that I would taste much different."
After breakfast the creature lead Conan to the edge of the village. The creature was clothed in a single tattered robe, and seemed to float over the planks, weighing nothing. When Conan tried to follow, his lumbering steps caused what seemed to be the entire village to creak and sway. Men and women, all indistinguishable from the creature who had shared its house with Conan -- there were no children, Conan noted -- moved about the village in the same unhurried pace, lugging an empty basket here, dumping a pale of water there. None so much as looked up at the barbarian, his sheathed sword larger than any one of them, as he strode past.
"There," the creature pointed with a long, quivering finger when they finally reached the edge of the village.
The forest in the marsh seemed nothing special to Conan. None of the trees had leaves, but most of the vegetation he had passed while riding southward along the Vilayet Sea had long ago shed its leaves, most for good, it had seemed.
"Touch," the creature said.
Conan did not think twice about stepping knee-deep into the muck to reach the tree -- knee-deep in blood he had been just a fortnight ago. When he reached the tree he placed a hand on its bark. It was hard and cold, like stone.
"What obscene curse has been laid on this forest?" Conan bellowed to the creature, still standing at the edge of the village.
"It is the witch's breath."
"And you would be my guide?"
"As I have nothing left to give, there is nothing for her to take."
The creature then continued along the village several paces, crossed the marsh on a partially submerged log and then proceeded to the same tree along a vein of packed mud, not wetting so much as a toe.
"I move slowly, but I advise you to follow me."
Conan cursed at himself, and then stepped onto the hard packed mud, just behind the creature. A clique of small leeches had latched onto the exposed portion of his leg, just above the boot, and he plucked these off as they began to walk deeper into the forest.
After only one hundred or so paces a heavy mist descended on them, and Conan could no longer see the village.
"The witch's breath!" the creature rasped, as if he were being choked. "Every night it covers our village, but there, at least, we have our homes, and can pretend we are safe."
"So you do believe in spirits."
"And you have not seen strange happenings in your travels, barbarian?"
It was true, but more often than not these were tricks, stories told by the cunning to scare off their enemies.
"But believe? No, I do not need believe, what is set in stone."
Conan froze. The mist swirled in front of him and then parted, revealing a statue. It was of a man, his hands outstretched, pleading. His flesh appeared to hang from him his frame like tattered rags. When he was able he looked beyond this first statue, he saw that the forest before him was littered with statues, all nearly identical to the first.
"You had asked, how I knew none had claimed the pearl?"
"You would lead me to my death?"
Conan spun toward the creature in a rage and shot his arm toward it with the speed of a snake. The creature gagged as Conan choked him, but soon Conan stopped. The creature hunched forward, wheezing. It had been no pleasant experience holding that creature's neck, like a worm, and spending his energy choking it had quickly struck Conan as absurd.
When the creature regained its breath, it spoke. "Return, then, if you like, but I know your heart burns with a fire that will not be extinguished by the mere damp of this marsh. I can see this, just as you can see that my heart is but a pebble tossed down a well, and that I live only because I am too cowardly to end my own life, as nobody would deign do it for me."
Conan knew the creature was right. And he had succeeded often where generations of men had failed.
"You will wait for me here," he ordered, aware that he had no bearing on the village.
"Wait? I cannot wait, or the others will gobble up all the fishes."
"Then show me, what is the way out of the forest? I will mark it."
"Way? This is where people come to lose their way. I have already lost mine, and so the witch cannot take it. For you, one way is as good as the next; you will find her."
The creature slowly turned around, and began to head out of the forest. For a heartbeat, Conan considering following it. But he did not.
Conan wandered until what felt like high noon, though he could not say, as the mist shrouded the forest from sunlight. If anything, the forest had grown colder as he progressed. The trees became sparser -- he could see where they had crumbled, like the ruins of a city razed in battle and long forgotten. And then there were the human statues, remains of the warriors who had raided the cursed place and been left to haunt it. They did not look comfortable these statues, and even disfigured as they were, Conan could feel their eyes pleading with him to end their torment as he trudged past them. He steeled his heart against their pleas; they were rogues just as he, and had earned their black fates.
No longer able to navigate the logs, shallows, and veins of hard packed mud that ran through the marsh, Conan again had to contend with the leeches, and it was as he was plucking a particularly tenacious one off his abdomen that he noticed a path. The path consisted of a series of flat stones -- shards of the petrified forest, Conan realized -- set in mud. Conan followed the path with his eyes. It lead to what appeared to be a cabin, again constructed from petrified wood -- a motley assortment of branches and sheets. He tossed aside the leech, unsheathed his sword, and began to creep toward it, ducking low like a wildcat, as was his instinct.
"Conan," he thought he heard a voice, though as he heard his name the sedentary mist came to life, swirling around the trees and statues and over his bare chest, sending a chill down his spine.
"Conan," again, louder this time, and followed by a tornado of mist, fowl mist, the stench of which nearly caused Conan to lose the contents of his stomach.
The mist seemed to gather around the cabin this time before rush toward him, forcing him to his knees. His head spun, and he dropped his sword. He thought he saw a figure standing in front of it, eyes glowing, smiling at him, before he collapsed in the mud.
Conan awoke indoors, in what he figured to be the cabin. He tried to sit up, but found the ground beneath him wet and sticky, as if the structure had simply been set floorless atop the marshland. A primitive clay statue stood several feet from Conan, a pregnant woman. Conan blinked and the statue vanished. In its place a withered old lady hunched over a pot, stirring its contents. He tried to sit up but his head throbbed, and he collapsed back into the muck, which produced an unpleasant slurp. When he opened his eyes again he saw nothing at first, but slowly a woman began to take form. She was approaching, he realized. As his vision returned to him, Conan took in more details of the place. The cabin did not contain a simple, small room, as its exterior had suggested, but was labyrinth of wind-eaten stone, gradually sloping downward into darkness -- how far down he dared not fathom. As the woman emerged more fully from the darkness, Conan could see that she was nude. She approached slowly, swaying seductively. But Conan took in her form with unadulterated horror.
Her first attribute he noticed was a distended belly, clearly pregnant, but hanging from her frame like it had been sewed to it. It was lacked the vitality of youth and emerging life, but sagged as aging flesh does. Her legs could were gnarled tree trunks, and these frightened even as she stomped toward him. He noticed her bosom next -- two massive deformed breasts, which hung to her belly. Her face drew him next. Her jaw was square and masculine, not unlike his own, and her nose was a beak, and crumpled, like it had just eaten the butt of a sword. Her eyes were dark and fierce, and he feared looking away once he'd met them. But he could not help but notice her arms. These were her most striking feature -- delicate, graceful, and entirely out of place. It seemed to Conan that they might once have belonged to a fairer maiden. As the witch stomped toward him, these arms danced through the air with a spirit all their own, ignoring the movements of the ghastly body that they had been pinned too.
"Conan," the witch whispered, sweetly this time. Her voice, too, seemed to have once belonged to a more delicate woman, perhaps the same fair maiden from whom she had harvested her arms.
"Conan," she whispered again. "Do you know the name Ereshkigal?"
As she spoke her name Conan's felt his throat constrict and his heartbeat grow ever more rapid and uneven. Ereshkigal. He had heard her story trading tales with the nomads who had once ferried him across the Shem plains. They believed her to be queen of the underworld, and her sister Inanna the goddess of discord and fertility. He had seen paintings of the two -- Inanna always depicted as beautiful, and Ereshkigal hideous. In the most popular legend about these sisters, Inanna had once dared descend from the heavens to visit her jealous sister, and had been trapped – as to what happened after that, each nomad told a different tale. Conan again looked at the arms pinned to Ereshkigal's shoulders, waving frantically at him, it now seemed, and he guessed at the truth.
Ereshkigal was upon him with impossible speed. She straddled the naked Conan, holding her sex only a few inches above his. He could feel her heat, the slow steady drip of her sweat. Her stench accosted him. She was rank, but the smell was a woman's, and his lust coursed through his veins.
"Do you desire me, Conan?"
He desired nothing more than to curse the hag, to hack off her head and bury it beneath the mud. But he could not move, could not even grunt.
Ereshkigal lowered her teat to him, and he wanted to gag and to sink his teeth into it, for it at once held all the allure of every wench's flesh he had ever known and was oozing mud. Images of the statues lost forever in the marsh surrounding the witch's cabin flashed before him, and yet he could not stop himself from succumbing to his desire. Why could he not resist this hag? He had bedded the pureblooded daughters the kings of Stygia, Shem, and Koth, more Amazonian snow-skinned beauties from the northern lands than he could recall, and still he could not quash his lust for this most vile woman, viler than the lepers who begged at palace gates. What enchantment had she placed on him?
The barbarian's muscles, which had helped him slay foes more than twice his size would not so much as twitch. Ereshkigal gently pressed her flesh to his and he shuddered in revulsion and ecstasy. Conan closed his eyes. He needed to focus.
In dire circumstance the barbarian's mind had proved itself as sharp as his blade, if not more so. Now, however, his head was clouded with lust, less useful than his limp body, even. He tried to recall the tales of the desert nomads -- had not there been a version in which Inanna had been saved? At last, he thought he remembered, or perhaps in desperation his half conscious mind had concocted a plan all its own.
Mustering all his remaining strength, the barbarian cried out to Ereshkigal. "Fair. Long have I travelled in search of you."
Ereshkigal pushed herself off Conan, startled.
"Know that I have seduced the fairest women in every kingdom, have made giant's jealous with the power of my manhood. There is no woman I cannot have, but in all my conquests I have never had one so fair as you."
Though all the men and women who had stumbled upon Ereshkigal's chamber had succumbed to their desire for her -- for Ereshkigal's body, while hideous, had been formed through thousands of years of lust and denial, and spoke to that unrefined quarter of the soul that knows no beauty, only wanting. And if her past victims had choked out any words at all, the words had been insults and curses.
"Let us raise the child you carry. Let me be your king, for at last I have found my queen."
Though doubt needled her -- for Ereshkigal was as shrewd as any Kushite assassin -- it had been an eternity since she had been flattered. Not since she was a child herself, eons ago, had she received a compliment, and then only from her mother, cradling her in one arm and her sister in the other; eons ago that had been, before Atlantis sunk, before Atlantis had ever been spewed from the bowls of the Earth.
"Do you speak the truth, barbarian, or have you come here to trick me out of whatever treasures you believe I horde, to trick me with that silver tongue of yours?"
"My queen, I cannot help but flatter you. Never have I seen a bosom so large -- a bosom that could surely nurse calves and children alike; and all of you supported by legs so sturdy they would make any mare jealous. Aye, you are a barbarian's dream But most of all I admire your arms, for they move through the air not as flesh but as a dancer's silks."
At Conan's last remark Ereshkigal burned with jealousy. But she held her tongue, for she could not bring herself to admit that her arms were not her own, but had belonged to her sister. At once overcome by jealousy and desire, Ereshkigal forgot her suspicions.
"You would be the father of my child, though he is not your own?" she said. "Know that my child has formed me over thousands of years. Surely he shall be the most beautiful child ever to walk the undeserving Earth. But alas, inside me he has grown large inside me, and has never stirred as if he wished to leave, which is no surprise. I fear if I am to be a mother you must cut my child from my womb."
"Surely you cannot expect me to do anything to harm you, my love."
"Do not fear, though, my precious, my beloved, my man above all men -- though a mortal weapon can tear me, it can do me no lasting harm. You will see that I have collected some of my favorite visitors and their possessions. Among them you will find your sword."
After saying this, Ereshkigal lay down on the mud and shut her eyes tightly. Conan observed the witch with amusement.
"If no blade can do you harm, why do you close your eyes, wincing as a child when her wounds are scrubbed?"
"Though I have survived many thousands of years, no amount of time has diminished the sensation of pain. To the contrary -- as I have grown powerful it has become but a chore to drive off those who would harm me, and so I have grown less accustomed to pain as the years have worn on."
"In that case, I suggest you shut your eyes tight, for I am no healer but a violent man, my hands trained at inflicting pain."
With that Ereshkigal shut her eyes tighter than before, and Conan made for his blade. Conan spotted the where the witch had stashed her treasure, and as he approached it, searched for any object that might help him escape. One statue in particular caught his eye, a man dressed in the garments of Aquilonian royalty. One hand rested on his sword, also petrified, and the other on his hip. No mortal blade could wound this demon, he thought, but what of a blade infected with her own magic? Conan grabbed the blade and snapped it off with surprising ease, for the witch's stone was brittle, diseased.
“What was that sound?” Ereshkigal called to him.
“The head off one of your statues. A handsome and wealthy one, by the looks of him. I admit I am prone to jealousy, though I make no apologies for it.”
Ereshkigal felt her bosom swell. Again her reason rasped at her, "This is a trap!", and again she ignored it.
Holding the blade low, he held his sword, glinting steel, he passed it before her face. Sensing the blade, Ereshkigal could not help but peak; when she did, she found she could not take her eyes off the handsome barbarian's blade. But when he knelt beside her and laid his hand on her belly, her eyes shut again and her chest tightened in anticipation of the pain.
Conan silently set his sword on the mud floor, and then brought the tip of the petrified blade to Ereshkigal's distended belly. Ereshkigal began to squirm, her legs bending and straightening, her head tossing from side to side. Eerily, her arms, which did not look to Conan a part of her, rested just below her belly, hand cupping hand, a posture of serene meditation.
The edge of the petrified blade was ragged and dull, and Conan knew it would require all his strength to draw it through flesh. He tensed his muscles, and then, in a single fluid motion, Conan inserted the blade until he struck something hard -- the Pearl, he thought -- and forced it down her middle. To Conan's surprise the belly gave way like soft mud to a stick. Ereshkigal opened her mouth as if to scream, "My child!", but as soon as she opened her mouth the whole of her turned to mud, and her head split in half along the crease of her mouth. Whatever she had meant to say was as lost as if she had whispered it to the reeds thousands of years ago. The marsh slurped; already it had begun to reclaim her.
Before Conan could pull away, the witch's arms seized Conan with lightening speed, her hands wrapping themselves around his neck. But once in place the hands relaxed. One stroked the side of Conan's neck, a lover's gesture, before these most delicate appendages turned to mud along with the rest of the witch and fell back to the Earth, where they steadily disappeared into the muck.
As Conan ascended into the cliffs that bordered the southern tip of the Vilayet Sea, he could not help but pause to admire his prize with the day's remaining sunlight. The pearl was the size and shape of a nearly born child. He knew the site, one that would forever haunt his memory, for, as a youth, he had often witnessed the Vikings of Asgard cut open the stomachs of pregnant women to torture their husbands before slitting their necks. But this -- this -- was a wondrous jewel, perhaps redemption for all the miseries of battle he had endured.
Conan had avoided the Yuetshi village, hoping the fishermen would assume he had perished along with the rest of the plunderers who had sought the pearl. When he had emerged from the witch's cabin the mist had lifted from the marsh and the sun shown as brightly as it had in the village. But this had not put Conan at ease -- he had often found himself closest to death just after tumbling from its jaws. As he had left the swamp he had glanced behind him every few paces, and spun around at every snapped twig and diving frog. But as he had ascended from the muck into rockier terrain, the barbarian had begun to feel more at ease. He was a Cimmerian, and the hills were his home.
As the sunset it became too dark to travel over the unfamiliar trail with any speed, so Conan found an alcove not far from the sea cliff, fairly well protected by rock walls. The den could have belonged to any variety of beast, but Conan did not entertain the thought, for he badly needed rest, and fell asleep as soon as he laid his head to ground.
A hand moved across Conan's cheek, down his neck and to his chest, where it swirled like the eddy in a river. The hand did not linger long, and soon its delicate fingers danced across his thigh, moving closer, closer, until, peeking beneath his loin cloth, it moved to grip him.
Conan felt a chill course through his body and bolted upright. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, and he knew danger was near. Conan did not bother with his sword, for fear of the noise it would make, and crept toward the edge of the alcove. In the light cast by the half moon, he discerned a vague form, but an unmistakable one nonetheless.
"My pearl," the creature whispered, running its slender hands over the treasure.
Conan crept to within pouncing distance, and he was about to grab the creature and snap its neck, when it shrieked, and dropped the pearl. Conan rushed forward, knocking the creature to the ground effortlessly with one arm and scooping up his hard-earned treasure with the other. Only the treasure was no longer a pearl, but a child.
As if in a nightmare Conan stared wide-eyed at the being in his hands. Its skin held the same pale sheen as the pearl had, and was streaked with pulsing blue veins. The child shimmered in the moonlight, its eyes closed, its mouth etched into a serene smile.
“Give it back! Give back my pearl!”
The creature lunged at Conan, grabbing hold of the child by its foot. At that moment the child's eyes shot open and it cried a cry that would have frozen any heart to stone. This again startled the creature, and Conan used the opportunity to kick it away. For a moment Conan's black eyes met the creature's gaze -- its eyes aglow as rubies lit by candle flame. No longer was this the defeated creature who had greeted him in the village. He did not need to contemplate his next action. With a single fluid motion he tossed the abomination over the cliff.
“My pearl!” cried the creature again, tearing at its sagging face with bony fingers.
“That was no pearl, or child," Conan muttered, "but a thing born of depths men know only in the backs of their minds, places we dare not confront, but that creep up on us like vines, encircling us, until it is too late.”
Conan tensed, preparing for the creature to charge. But it did not. Instead, it raced to the edge of the cliff and leapt into the dark waters below.
You can read more of Adam's fiction on his blog, Tiger Escapes Panda Suit (click HERE!).
And here's a tale from one Rob Morganbesser, "Conan and the Crown of Kull", that was apparently posted over on the REH Comics Group a while back. I was unable to find out anything more about Rob, but I'm pretty sure he would want us to enjoy the fruits of his labor!
Conan and the Crown of Kull
An original tale set in the time of the Hyborian age
The inn was a small one and popular since it sat astride the road that ran from Tarantia to Messantia. Tarantia, many-spired capitol of the Hyborian kingdom of Aquilonia lay to the north, Messantia; rough-hewn capitol of Argos lay to the south. The inn was comfortably between them and saw many travelers; soldiers changing stations, tradesmen plying their wares, villains looking for plunder, thieves looking for an easy mark. The inn, called The Dancing Horses, was always crowded, its common room always noisy. Tonight was no different. A fire blazed in the huge hearth and the Inn-keep, a fat man named Chasus, roamed the room making sure his guests were comfortable and happy. In the kitchen was Chasus equally rotund wife Josia. It was known for miles around that the best racks of pork and joints of beef could be had at The Dancing Horses. Chasus sold only good ale and better wines, the drink coming from as far off as Hyrkrania in the east.
In the room were Bossonian archers, heading back to the frontier to keep the rest of Aquilonia safe from the Picts, who lurked on the coast, always looking to plunder innocent homesteads and take home skulls for tribute to their dark gods. Stocky and dark haired; Bossonian archers were the best in the northwest of the world, as many would-be invaders of Aquilonia had discovered to their everlasting regret.
Two merchants, one a tall slender man with waxed mustaches from Argos, the other short and wide, with a thick beard from Zingara, shared a table. Both were maritime nations, both plundered each others ships (when away from shore) quite mercilessly. While both 'kingdoms' sought legitimacy from true kingdoms such as Nemedia, Ophir and Aquilonia, it was well known that they had been founded by bloody handed pirates. Still the two kingdoms did brisk trade with the rest of the world, even dark and mysterious Stygia, far to the south.
The two men were as different as two could be, the Argossian tall and slender, the Zingaran short and fat, but they were having a merry conversation, both trying to outdo the others tall-tales from when they shipped to foreign shores.
In a far corner sat a dusky skinned Stygian, sipping at a tall goblet of wine. His dark eyes were hooded like twin cobras and the serving maids dealt with him quickly when they could be forced to do so at all. Chasus found himself waiting on this unwelcome guest, but since he welcomed anyone's gold or silver, waited upon the man was. Chasus couldn't tell if the man was a priest, since his only clothing were a simple robe that said he was a traveler, nor did he ask. The ways of Stygians were secret from the rest of the world and Chasus wouldn't have it any other way.
At the common table, gnawing on a rack of ribs and a joint of beef, drinking ale from a serving pitcher rather than a cup, sat a massive dark-haired barbarian. His blue eyes, nearly hidden under a square cut mane of ravens-dark, shoulder length hair, never stopped moving, even as he drank and ate. Dressed in a fine mail shirt and deerskin pants; calf high boots of much service covered his feet. On his waist were two daggers of Poitanian make and a long sword whose scabbard and worn pommel announced it had seen much work. His air told those who knew, such as the Bossonian's who tried to ignore him, that he was a Cimmerian, one of the wilder races of the north. Many of the northern Hyborian kingdoms had dealing with the Cimmerian tribes, usually to the others regret. The most recent problem had been fifteen years past when the Gundermen tried to keep an outpost on Cimmerian land. One dark and cold night, the Cimmerian tribesmen swept down on Venarium and laid it waste. Few who survived would ever cross the border again. So intent on driving these invaders away, the clans of the dark hills of Cimmeria had united. Such unity had not been seen again, most hoped it wouldn't be seen again ever!
The Cimmerian had paid for a room and his food with coin bearing the image of King Yezdigerd of Turan. Chasus' eyes had opened wide at the foreign coins, but they were good gold so he took them.
On one wall were pegs for cloaks. Beneath them gathered a growing puddle of water. It was the wet season in Aquilonia so the Inn was even more crowded than usual. Suddenly, with a gust of wind and a torrent of rain, the doors opened and a cloaked figure, tall and slim entered. Behind the unknown arrival were two more, both similarly dressed.
Chasus smiled and boomed out, "Welcome to the Dancing Horses, my friends! Please hang your cloaks on the far wall and have a seat. Something to drink?"
The only reply the three gave was to lower their hoods, bringing a gasp from the fat inn-keep. Unlike the friendly faces of most travelers, these three bore the albino countenance of Hyperboreans. Living far to the north, these sullen people rarely left their own land, then usually to war with the Aesir and the Vanir, killing and taking slaves. Usually called the "Witch-people", some captives were sacrificed to their feared gods. Chasus made the sign of Mithra and stepped back. His friendly demeanor was gone now.
"What do you want here?" Chasus voice quavered.
The leader of the men put a hand on Chasus chest and hissed, "We seek a thief. Move aside." The two behind their leader flanked out to either side. Around the room voices were falling silent.
Chasus put the tray he held in front of his chest as if it would ward off evil. "There are no thieves here…" He barely finished the sentence before the Hyperborean raised a hand to strike him. Before the hand could move it was grabbed in one the color of bronze. Chasus stepped back, amazed. It was the huge Cimmerian, his free hand holding the joint of beef, a morsel of which he was busily chewing. Chasus had always heard that the Cimmerians were dour, keeping to themselves. Perhaps this one had not heard that.
"You are in this man's inn now, in Aquilonia. Hyperboreans have no rule here." That the Cimmerian hated the albinos was clear by his voice, if he had any fear of them (or anything), it was well hidden.
The Hyperborean turned his head, pale eyes staring at the Cimmerian. For a moment those eyes were dull; then they went wide. The Cimmerians did the same. They both exclaimed, "YOU!"
Swifter than a striking asp, the Cimmerian, whose name was Conan and who had spent time as a slave in Hyperborea a few years past, the memories still fresh, smashed his joint of beef into the Hyperboreans face. As the albino fell back, nose gushing blood, broken by the heavy bone, Conan's and the Hyperboreans bodyguard's swords flashed out.
One of the guards went down before his sword could come up, his heart skewered on the Cimmerians blade. With a gush of blood from his mouth, the man collapsed, sword tumbling from nerveless fingers.
The second moved in, attempting to strike a blow before the barbarian could withdraw his blade from his companion's chest. Conan lashed out with a booted foot, smashing the man's knee. The bone splintered and the man stumbled, his leg destroyed. Before he could grab the knee, Conan brought his heavy sword, of good Nemedian steel down and clove the man's skull to the teeth.
The two men were dead so quickly no one had time to call the guard or draw their own weapons. Conan wiped his blade and sheathed it, tugging the remaining Hyperborean, who had been the chief of his tormentors when the Cimmerian had been captured, to his feet. Shaking the now terrified man, Conan pulled him up until their noses almost touched. "I remember you, Hyperborean. What thief do you seek?"
"They seek me, barbarian." Conan knew without turning that it was the Stygian who spoke. He had raided in their land when he had been known as Amra, the lion, pillaging with Belit and the black corsairs, and learned to hate them. It was the cultured voice of a priest that spoke, that dark caste that kept the rest of Stygia in thrall.
Conan looked over his shoulder. "Why am I not surprised that the witches of the far north should seek one of the far south?" Conan shook the Hyperborean who glared back through pink eyes.
The Stygian put down his goblet and stalked over. Standing close to the Cimmerian, he hissed, "I am not one of the priests whose temples you raided oh Amra." Conan's eyes widened at the name he hadn't used since Belit had died, her neck stretched on a string of rubies by the last of ancient race. Conan had killed the last member, taking a bloody vengeance for his murdered lover.
"Yes, I know who you are," the Stygian continued. "I am of a different caste. I sought out the Hyperboreans to stop an alliance between them and a dread lord of Stygia."
Conan could feel sorcery in the air. He hated and despised it, yet always found himself battling it. He would rather drink, wench and fight, but his plans were always being thrown awry by some wizard or sorcerer. Croms pox on them all, the thought, wishing he had minded his own business.
The Stygian put a hand on Conan's shoulder. His dusky skin was dry and cool to the touch. "Yes, I recognize Amra, the Lion, lover of Belit. I would speak with you, Cimmerian."
Conan glanced at Chasus. "We will all be in my room." Fishing out another coin from Turan, he tossed it to the in-keep, who caught it expertly. "Get rid of those and forget what happened here." Chasus did not think to ask for more money. The tone in the Cimmerians voice let him know that had he tried any blackmail, a third corpse would be littering the floor of the inn.
Conan strode toward the rear doors, the Stygian following as Chasus and his help began removing the corpses. He'd have a girl wipe the floorboards with sand. Their blood wasn't the first to stain the Dancing Horses floorboards and likely wouldn't be the last.
The Stygian removed his robe and motioned for the others to sit. Conan stared at the slim, well-muscled arms of the priest. They were covered in arcane tattoos, but none of them were of Set, the serpent god that Conan, like most westerners abhorred. Binding the Hyperborean cruelly, Conan tossed him to the floor, allowing the man's bloody nose to drip onto a cheap rug. Chasus could afford to replace it.
"I am Ahman-Rha, priest of Nema."
Conan leaned forward from the chair he sat on, making it creak with his weight. "I've never heard of Nema. What kind of dark, Stygian god is this?"
Ahman-Rha passed Conan a heavy glass bottle of wine. Opening it, the Barbarian's sniffed it; then drank deep. Had there been anything amiss in the wine, he would have crushed the priest's head with it.
"Nema is not known outside of Mempi, the city I come from. Nema is a more enlightened god and most of us are healers to the sick. Long ago, Nema's followers fought a war with Set's. We lost and the survivors were banished to the coast, away from the sacred river Styx."
Conan leaned back, swallowing more wine. "So why were you in Hyperborea?"
Ahman-Rha smiled slightly. "I was seeking an artifact, one that is capable of powerful magiks that the Hyperboreans came into possession of. How they got it, I don't know since it has been lost to antiquity."
The witchman on the floor rolled over, "Liar. It was ours; you stole it because you fear us. You shall be long dying on the altar…ooff!" The breath was driven out of the wounded albino as Conan drove a foot into his stomach. "Silence, dog. If we don’t need you, you can disappear as easily as your companions."
The albino glared at Conan, but said nothing.
Conan took another deep swallow of wine, the hackles on his neck rising. Since he had left his native Cimmeria, he'd been involved in one strange adventure after another. He felt he was a magnet for such activities and would rather not be. "Crom," he breathed. "What have I gotten myself into now?"
Ahman-Rha smiled again, his lips curving up. Conan had never known a Stygian to smile so much. He had heard them howl though when he and Belit used to run rampant on their coast, looting the cities and setting the black corsairs on them.
Setting the bottle of rich wine down, Conan put out his feet, resting them on the back of the albino. "So how do you know that I was Amra?"
Ahman-Rha sat back, fingers steepled against themselves. "I saw you once, in a dream when you raided Luxur. The temple of Set was set aflame; many of the lesser priests of Thoth-Amon were killed. He is a dangerous enemy, Cimmerian. Pray that his thought does not come your way."
Conan put a hand on one of his daggers. "I've found that most wizards are cowards, preferring to deal through familiars. I also haven't found anything that good steel won't cut."
Ahman-Rha leaned forward; pointing to the weapons the Cimmerian bore. "There are forces in the universe, Conan that those weapons of yours are but toys to. If the artifact I have is true, it may well be one of them."
"So what is it man?" Conan's voice held a tone of exasperation, patience not his greatest virtue.
The dark Stygian rose and pushed his chair back. Pulling up a few floorboards, he removed a cream colored sack. The priest's muscles flexed as he lifted it and set it aside. Putting the floorboards back, he moved his chair then put the sack in his lap.
"How did that get into my room?" Growled the barbarian.
Ahman-Rha grinned mirthlessly. "The priests of Nema are also skilled thieves. I took the liberty of hiding this in a room not my own… just in case."
Conan said nothing but his face showed his displeasure at this. A great thief himself, he was angry that he hadn't noticed his room had been invaded.
"What I am about to show you has not seen the light of day for over 10,000 years. It was old when the king who last wore it walked in the sunlight. It is an artifact of Atlantis."
Conan stifled his laugh. "Atlantis? Do you expect me to believe that old fable? That it sunk beneath the sea thousands of years ago?"
Ahman-Rha sat back, eyes deadly serious. "Well you should, since the Cimmerians are the last descendants of the people of Atlantis. Well it may be that you are a descendant of him who wore this."
"Well show it then!"
"Do and you die!" Hissed the albino; too angry to remember that the Cimmerian would just as soon cut his throat.
Conan lifted the Hyperborean by his collar and rolled him face down on the floor. "If you don’t wish to see, then don't look!"
Reverently, Ahman-Rah opened the cloth sack and removed a dark grey object. It was a simple crown with a flickering gem set in it. Holding it up with both hands, he passed it to Conan, who held it with one. The crown was made of heavy iron inlaid with silver. The gem was of a kind, frosty white; then blue, that Conan had never seen before. Likely it would cause a riot should this gem appear in the markets of Zamora.
Conan turned it around in his hands, examining it in the lamplight. There was no sign of age on it, but he could feel it. A chill swept across him as his fingers brushed the gemstone. At his touch it flared into brief life; then faded.
"Ha!" Exclaimed Ahman-Rha. "I was right! You are a descendant of the Atlanteans! Only one of the kings blood could get such a reaction!"
Conan sat back, one hand on the crown. "How do you know this?"
Ahman-Rha helped himself to some wine. "Have you heard of the Scrolls of Skelos?"
A nod from the Cimmerian prompted him to continue.
"The Scrolls were not set down by the ancient kingdom of Acheron, no! They came from an older civilization, from Valusia, wonder of its age. Back then the scrolls were the domains of the Serpent People, they who were hunted to extinction by he who bore that crown. Kull of Atlantis - the last King of Valusia."
Kull! Even Conan had heard that name. A mighty king centuries before, he had taken his throne and held it against all. Kull was a barbarian, but a philosopher as well. Conan held the crown up and peered into the jewel. He could see that at one time the jewel had been faceted, now it was smooth. This crown was an artifact of magik? But what kind of magik?
Outside the Dancing Horses lurked three heavily cloaked men. If one could see beneath the masks they wore for anonymity, it would be known to all that they were dreaded Stygians. What they were doing so far from home would be answered with cold steel or deadly black lotus dust, were a city guard foolish enough to ask. The leader of them slid along the wall, reaching for the door just in time to hear the heavy timbers that secured it for the night come down. Cursing the owner to the hells of Set, he motioned and the others slid off behind him, looking for another entrance to the Inn.
In Conan's room, he and Ahman-Rha had decided to sleep on things before (Conan felt) they parted ways in the morning. The Hyperborean, his nose finally ceasing to flow from his broken nose, even more securely tied, lay in the corner. The Stygian priest sat upright in a chair, wrapped in his cloak, while the massive Cimmerians frame covered the small bed, making it groan with his weight. While the Hyperborean had slid off into his dark, blood filled dreams (no doubt wishing he had killed Conan years before) and the Stygian entered a meditative state; Conan slept, as do most Cimmerians lightly. Thus when the first shadow came creeping into the star lit room, the Cimmerian, silent as a panther, moved to his feet, a poniard in each hand.
The first of the shadows crept toward the sleeping Rha, the glitter of steel in his right hand. Before he could raise the blade, Conan was there, one dagger slashing through the man's hand, the other thrust down through the neck, the blade erupting through the hollow of the throat. Tearing the blade free, Conan spun as the second shadow entered and raised a thin pipe to its lips. With a closed backhand, poniard held tight, the barbarian warrior slapped the pipe, filled with deadly powdered black lotus into his opponent's mouth. Eyes wide, the Stygian began to gag as the poison went to work. With a booted foot, Conan hit the creature in the chest, shattered the breastbone and propelling the already dead enemy out the window to the street below.
The third stygian, who had entered while Conan was occupied, rose up, a brass dagger dripping with blood in each hand. Conan's eyes flashed with anger as he saw the pool of blood beneath the Hyperborean. Whatever information they'd hoped to get out of the albino was gone now. Flexing his thews, Conan raised his own long, gore-covered daggers and moved to close with his enemy.
He needn't bother. From to his left came a low whistle and a red feathered dart appeared in the Stygian's neck. With a sigh, his eyes rolled back and, dropping the daggers from nerveless fingers, the enemy collapsed to the floor.
Ahman-Rha stood beside the Cimmerian. "He is not dead, only paralyzed."
Conan turned to look at the priest of Nema. "Too bad you didn't wake up sooner."
"Where my spirit was walking is not an easy journey to return from my friend. Let us bind this one and have some answers, no?"
But the Stygian assassin was dead. Conan had seen death in its myriad forms and knew from the up rolled eyes and the lolling tongue that his opponent had expired. Ahman-Rha cursed Set under his breath. Conan lifted the body effortlessly and tossed it in a corner. It would be one more thing for Chasus to deal with.
"How come he died?"
Ahman-Rha, staring at the dead Hyperborean, shook his head. "I thought these were acolytes of Thoth-Amon, they are not. See the red eye tattooed on his forehead? These are from the cult of Huthomes, a renegade part of my order. They seek to overthrow Thoth-Amon, but none of us have the power to do that."
"So what do we now, eh?" Conan was thinking of slitting this one's throat, climbing out the window and sliding away into the night. Sorcery raised the hackles on his neck.
Ahman-Rha smiled as if he could read the barbarians thoughts. "If you help me put the albino in a sitting position, he can still tell us much."
Conan thought of asking what was going to happen, but thought better of it. Grabbing the gape-mouthed corpse, he put it in a chair. From under his robes, the priest drew forth a piece of black chalk, a piece of white and four short, fat candles. Quickly he began to draw. First a circle in black and a countering one of white. Inside the inner circle he put four smaller ones, each with a symbol in black in its center. Working feverishly, he then began writing a series of glyphs such as Conan, who was well traveled in the Hyborian world, had never seen. Finally lighting the candles, the priest sat back, sweat beading his brow.
"What you are about to see, Conan, is a sight few are privileged to put eyes upon. I am going to call back the spirit of the Hyperborean and he will tell us all, or I will banish his shade to the underworld."
Conan, who had cleaned and replaced his daggers, put one mighty hand on his swords grip. Again he had a fleeting thought of murdering the priest and fleeing, but his curiosity held him fast.
"C'thzul, L'crat, O'zard." The priest intoned. A slight haze formed around the corpse, then coalesced into a glow that faded into the body's flesh. A low keening came from the lips of a man dead now half an hour. Conan frowned. He didn't like such mummery and would rather have been drinking and wenching. But he stayed, eyes locked on the once corpse.
Ahman-Rha repeated the words and the albino jerked into a sitting position. "Why have you called me back?" He hissed. "My gods were welcoming me." The dead eyes glared at Conan and the body lurched to its feet, only to reach the inner circle and be blasted back, a smell of ozone in the air.
"You will never see your dark gods again," intoned Ahman-Rha harshly, "Unless you answer my questions!"
The albino sneered through pale lips. "I will answer nothing, Priest of Nema! My gods will…" Suddenly the albino shuddered, his body quaking and twitching. Dark viscous blood, from deep within the body began to drip from the eyes, nose and mouth. Fear crept across the living dead man's face.
"Oh? I don't think you're gods can hear you now. Do you wish to see them again? Then answer!"
The corpse slumped back in defeat. "Ask!" It snarled droplets of dark blood flying from its mouth to splatter the invisible shield and fall to the wooden floors, leaving smoking spots where they landed.
"What do those of Huthomes want with the crown of Atlantis?"
The Hyperborean stood still one moment as one eye bubbled up and melted out of his face. The right side of his body was starting to decay before them.
"Speak!" Shouted Ahman-Rha. "If you're body rots here in the circle, your shade will fade to nothingness!"
With a scream of pain beyond the ken of mortals, the albino shouted, "They wish to bring Kull back and have him lead an army of conquest!"
Ahman-Rha's eyes opened wide. "To conquer Stygia?"
The albino's body was falling to bits. With a clatter, his right arm fell off and flesh on his side peeled away, revealing his ribs and lungs. "No; to conquer the world."
Conan leaned forward, his fear dissipated by the thought of Kull returned to the Earth. "Where can they be found?"
"South!" Screamed the albino. "In Shem…"
Ahman-Rha leaned forward and blew out one candle. As he did he wiped an opening in the chalk circle. With a sigh that was half scream, the Hyperboreans corpse disintegrated into a mushy puddle as his shade fled to the land of his dark gods.
"Crom!" Conan exclaimed. "I hope never to see such a thing again!"
Ahman-Rha, pale and weak from the effort, spoke softly. "I hope never to perform it again. Conan, will you accompany me to Shem? I do not know that land well. I will reward you well."
The thought of gold pushed Conan over to the priest's side. "Yes, I will come. If only to see that Kull remains at rest."
"We'll leave in the morning then."
Five days later…
Conan hated camels. They were foul smelling, ill-tempered beasts, but for crossing the desert, there were few better. Ahman-Rha rode his easily, as do most of the people of upper class from Stygia. They'd paid Chasus with a few extra coins so that the four bodies in their room would be quietly disposed of. Conan knew that most likely they'd be slit open and dumped in some river, after having the faces and fingers removed. Chasus had the look of a one-time thief or burglar, so Conan knew he would keep his mouth shut. Still the fat Aquilonian hadn't been happy at another set of bodies to dispose of.
"Mithra man, but I won't be sad to see you go! What are you some kind of butcher?" Conan's glare as he girded his sword belt was enough to shut the man up. With that done, the Cimmerian and his new companion (Conan was loath to use the word friend) took horse to the border of Aquilonia; then traded them for camels.
Now as they trod the desert, Conan felt safe from prying ears and decided to ask a question; "Can they do it, Ahman? Can they bring Kull back from the dead?"
Ahman-Rha turned slightly in his seat. The priests of Huthomes are clever and have delved far in the book of Skelos. They do not have a complete text; few do since purple tiered Acheron fell millennia past."
"But why Kull?" Asked Conan; staring ahead at small dark shapes circling in the sky.
"Because Kull was the greatest king of a dying age. A warrior-philosopher who defeated the serpent people long ago. Kull is one of your people's ancestors, as the gem showed. What are you staring at?"
"Trouble, I think," Answered the barbarian.
Conan was right. Yumma, the last oasis before their destination, the Shemite City of Haval, was an abattoir of blood and corpses. Conan drew his sword while still a quarter of a mile away, his keen senses bringing him the coppery smell of blood. Ahman-Rha, not from a sect that dealt in human blood so unused to the scent, put a silken scarf across his face. Conan stared at the carnage through steel blue eyes. The camel's lay where they had been hobbled, throats slit, the open wounds covered in the black biting flies of the desert. The wagons of the caravan had been hewn apart by axes and burned, but the burning had to have been days earlier, since the scorched wood was cool to the touch.
Conan moved into the small grove of palm trees carefully, his sword in one hand. He was glad he'd chosen to wear his mail, since there were places in this oasis where the brigands who did this could have hidden.
Conan moved closer to the water and froze. There were the guards and merchants of the caravan. All had been slain cruelly, their eyes cut from their heads, their backs flayed with heavy whips until the ribs showed. All were lying face down a dozen paces from the water where black scorpions and the tarantulas of the desert crawled across their corpses.
Ahman-Rha came up quietly beside Conan. "This is a mystery to me, my friend. Nothing is taken. There are chests of gold and gems, bolts of silk, all lying about. What kind of brigand or nomad does this?" The Stygian waved a hand before the tortured bodies of the dead men.
"None that I know of," replied Conan. "I have been in Shem. Each of the small cities wars with the others, but all welcome travelers. Each will gouge a small percentage of a caravan in tax, but none would do this."
Ahman-Rha looked at the corpses. "Do you think the water will be safe to drink?"
Conan started at this. Moving forward he peered into the crystal clear waters. There at the bottom, ten or so feet below them was a small metal pot. Conan licked his lips. "I don't think so. Let's see to the camels before they decide to drink and poison themselves."
Ahman stared down into the pool. "If we could recover that pot, perhaps I can discern which poison they used and counter it."
Conan nodded. "Let's see if we can find a grapnel."
It took Conan four tries before he hooked the pot. With barely a ripple of his muscles, he drew it up. When it broke the surface, Ahman-Rha made a small noise of amazement. "What's wrong?" growled the Cimmerian, carefully coiling the rope.
"This is not poison, this pot is sealed." Ahman-Rha took a vial from his robes and filled it with water. Holding it before his face, he mumbled a few words Conan strove not to hear and the water remained the same. "It is not poisoned. If it were, this would have told me."
"What of the pot?
Ahman-Rha lifted it and turned it in his hands. It was black, seemingly of iron but too light to be such. It had been hammered shut, a band of similar metal holding the lid to the pot. Ahman-Rha shook it; then set it before him. "I don't know what to make of this."
Conan nodded. "Well I do know what to make of the corpses. We need to burn or bury them before every vermin in the area comes for dinner. It could cause a bloodbath in which we might end up on their menu."
Ahman-Rha rose to his feet, leaving the pot where it was. "I agree. I saw some skins of oil near one of the wagons. I'll fetch them."
"I'll start cutting the corpses free."
It took them until the sun was setting to pile fragments of wood around the corpses and douse them all with oil. Conan waited until the sun was almost set before setting them to the torch. A great greasy pyre of black smoke rose up into the sky, disappearing into the coming darkness. Conan and Ahman-Rha moved away from the blaze, staying upwind of the smoke.
It was going to be a long night.
Sitting well away from the smell, the two travelers dined on beef jerky and spring water. They had searched the remnants of the caravan and discovered that the wineskins had been slashed and the contents scattered to the desert. From the scent of the wine Conan knew it to be a fine Ophirean vintage. He cursed the raiders silently, damning them to whatever hell their gods commanded. Failing that he wished them all a miserable death.
They sat with a series of bushes between them and the funeral pyre. The plants rustling would awake at least Conan if not his more civilized companion. While they were eating by a small fire to keep away the chill of the desert night, Ahman-Rha froze. Hissing at his barbarian companion, he whispered, "I think we have company."
"Hah," snorted Conan. "I heard our visitor a while ago. From the light step, it's a woman. From the smell of sweat and fear…" Conan was on his feet in an instant, reaching into the bushes and pulling out a smaller, well rounded form. With a thud the Cimmerian deposited their visitor on her bottom, eliciting a squeal of anger.
"Be still, we won't harm you."
The form fought a moment more; then when Conan had torn the small dagger from her dirty fingers, stopped struggling. "Pass some food, Ahman. This one has drunk, but I can hear her belly rumbling from here."
The captive sat up and Conan and Ahman-Rha felt their breath freeze. Their captive was no girl, but a full woman. Her dirty face did not hide her beauty, not did her ripped clothing keep her curvaceous form from their eyes. Conan's eyes narrowed as he took in her dark lustrous hair and well formed face. He squatted on his haunches and asked, "Who are you? Were you part of this caravan?"
The woman looked from Conan's face to the Stygians and began to shake. "It was people like him who attacked. They murdered everyone. Even the animals…" She began to shake as tears further marred the kohl she had spread around her eyes. Conan put a blanket around her shoulders, knowing it was best for her to let her cry. She would speak when she was ready.
While the stranger in their camp was crying, Ahman-Rha went to the remains of the caravan and searched for clothing. Her own had been torn to shreds, likely when she had fled for her life. Conan took a skin pail and brought water from the oasis so she could clean herself. He knew that city women had an overwhelming desire to be clean and that once she'd cried herself out, would think to make herself look presentable.
But it would be daylight before she spoke. From crying, she slipped into a troubled sleep. Conan motioned for Ahman to remain silent when he returned with the clothing he'd gathered. In a low voice Conan said, "Go and sleep, Ahman. I'll keep watch." Conan withdrew his sword and laid it close by. "If anyone can sneak up on me, they deserve to slit our throats."
Conan awoke at first light. Nothing had disturbed them during the long night, so he rose and stretched, returning his sword to its sheath. He moved silently to where the woman slept and felt his pulse increase. She was indeed a lovely woman of high-class Shemite birth from her looks. Her skin was bronzed by the desert sun and her hair was as dark as the void between the stars. Her hands and feet were soft and delicate telling the barbarian of her birth to comfort, perhaps even royalty. He and Ahman planned on burying the caravan's treasure, but perhaps in this woman was more than mere treasure? Perhaps a king's ransom or reward?
The woman awoke suddenly and Conan put a huge hand on her shoulder. Her skin for all the past days travails; was still soft and tender. "Don't scream," said the barbarian. "We will not harm you. Who are you?"
The woman sat up, pulling the tatters of her shirt together to hide her impressive bosom. "I am Princess Jhery Al Lornyss, of the city of Haval."
Conan grinned. "Then you are in luck for that is our destination."
Ahman-Rha appeared with an armload of clothing. "For you my lady." He carefully laid them at her feet.
"Why is he with you? He is a Stygian!" The venom in her voice was quite clear, amazing Conan since many of the border cities of Shem, especially those near the river Styx, such as Haval, had good relations with the strange country south of them.
"He is a priest of Nema, we are traveling together," Conan answered.
Ahman-Rha stared into her eyes. "Tell me Princess, was it Stygians who massacred the caravan?"
Jhery's eyes took on a far away look. "Stygians and worse. Strange white skinned men who gave no quarter and took none. What they did to the drivers and guards! I can still hear their screams!" She covered her face in her hands and sobbed again. Conan rose to his feet. "White skinned men. Hyperboreans. A bad sign, Ahman."
The priest rose to his feet as well. "Very bad, my friend. Hyperboreans seldom leave their own lands. I think we need to see what was in that pot we rescued!"
Jhery came to her feet at the Stygian's words. "The pot? You found it? They did throw it in the oasis!" Her undress didn't bother her as excitement took over. Bared breasts forgotten she turned to the priest, "Where is the pot? What have you done with it?"
Ahman crossed his arms. "It is safe. What is in the pot?"
Jhery went silent for a moment, putting her arms across her bosom. "I cannot tell you." Her face showed confusion as if she wanted to tell but wasn't sure of her companions.
Conan put one hand on his broad belt, the other on her shoulder. "Princess, if we wanted to know what you do, we could make you quite easily. Have we harmed you?"
Jhery looked unsure. "No, but…" She looked from man to man. "Very well. In the pot is the skull of a great warrior. My uncle who was killed with the caravan bought it from a wizard in Turan."
Conan and Ahman looked at each other. "The skull of a great warrior," said the priest. "It could be Kull's. With it, and the crown, they could bring him back. But they must have something to hold him under their spell."
Conan looked southward. "I think the sooner we reach Haval, the better."
Haval were as most Shemite city-states, a walled city. It was the final destination for those caravans with permission to enter Stygia, the first for travelers leaving that benighted land. It's close proximity to western most Shem meant that Argossians, Ophirians, Stygians and the occasional Turanian or Hyrkranian traveling afar from their steppes could be found there. A bustling trade city, it was led by Prince Valhar, whose family had ruled (which was rare for Shem) for nearly ten generations. Valhar was growing old now but was far from in his dotard. Sitting on his throne, he listened to the Captain of his troops.
Captain Almuric was from Potian, one of those southern Aquilonians who still remembered when Poitan was its own kingdom, rather than part of Aquilona. Not content to be part of that kingdom, restless in peace, Almuric had set out to seek his own fortune. A tall red-haired man with a fierce mustache, Almuric was honest and loyal. He had trained his troops in western style combat and the Red Hawks were well known at the oases around Haval.
"I do not like this, my lord." Almuric, clad in mail with a red cloak hanging from his shoulders, stared out the window at the city below. "Hyperboreans do not travel afar. And in the company of Stygians? We should not have let them inside the gates. I fear mischief."
Valhar sipped at a goblet of cool water. Getting on in years, he had stopped drinking wine. He was hoping that his daughter, Jhery would marry Valhar and carry on the tradition of their kingdom, but that was in the future.
"Would you have Haval lose its reputation as a place where the weary may rest, Captain?" Valhar set down his cup and waved a hand about his throne room. "I am well protected and you are keeping a clear eye on our visitors. If they break any of our laws then you will show them the gates, agreed?"
Almuric turned to face the lord of Haval. "Yes sire. But I can't help shake a feeling of a coming storm."
The sun was beginning to set as Conan and his companions rode up slowly to the main gates of Haval. The Cimmerian had pressed them on the last five miles, knowing that if they arrived after sundown they would have to wait until dawn to enter the city. Five guards stood there, armored and armed spears at the ready. Conan's hackles rose at this. Most gate guards in Shemite cities were usually not quite prepared for trouble as ruffians of all kinds routinely traveled between the various city-states. Conan reigned in his camels, hoping he didn't run into any old 'friends'. Many were the times he'd run into some mercenary or another from a previous campaign and blood would flow. Conan was hoping to avoid this.
The chief of the guards, a man almost as wide as he was tall, wearing well-used armor, put a hand on his scimitar and growled, "Halt! What is your business in traveling to…" The man's eyes gaped wide as he saw the woman with the barbarian and Stygian.
"Baal's eyes! Princess!" Instantly all the guards fell to one knee, eyes averted. Jhery made a motion with her hand, "Rise Sergeant Jowar."
Jowar came to her side. "How came you hence, highness? Where is the rest of the caravan?" The man cast eyes at her two companions. "Who are these?"
Jhery could feel the man's unease. "They have saved me, Sergeant. As for the rest, it is a tale best told my father. Let us proceed."
Jowar stepped aside, nearly leaning on Conan's camel. The Cimmerian bent over and said, "Captain, have there been … strange visitors to Haval?"
Jowar jumped like a cat with it's tail on fire. "Why do you ask?"
Conan smiled grimly, the captain's reaction answer in itself.
"Who are you?" The Shemite demanded. "Why do you ask such a question?"
Jhery raised a hand. "Enough, Captain. Let us pass!"
Jowar and his men could only watch as the Princess and her strange companions, one obviously a barbarian from the north, entered the city.
Almuric was on the steps of the palace when he saw the princess arriving followed by a Stygian and… he rubbed his eyes. Could it be? He would have thought that the man he was looking at long dead, perhaps by the banks of the Styx when he had left Zarallo's camp following Valeria. Yet here he was, big as day and still wearing that Cimmerian scowl. Almuric strode down the broad steps of the sun-bleached palace as the trio rode up and stopped.
Before Jhery could get off her camel, Almuric bowed deeply then growled, "So Conan, still alive?"
The Cimmerian's dark face blossomed with a smile. "Almuric? Alive yet!" Conan left his camels back effortlessly though burdened with mail and sword. "Croms storms, man. I thought never to see you again!"
Jhery and Ahman-Rha stood there watching while the two dogs of war shook hands by grasping one another's wrists. After a few moments, Almuric gasped, "Enough! Mithra's heart; Conan. I'd swear you are stronger than when I last saw you!"
"That's because I live a life that's pure," rumbled the Cimmerian.
Almuric turned to Jhery and stared at the Stygian. "Princess, how came you here with these two?" His eyes never left the Stygian, who bowed and said, "I am Ahman-Rha, priest of Nema." Almuric did not look impressed, the city was close to the Styx and made trade with the dark kingdom, but trust was not on the list of things traded.
"We must speak with my father, Captain."
"I'll take you to him!"
Valhar made a delighted noise when his daughter appeared. Before allowing them to speak, he ordered refreshments that included bowls of scented water to wash the desert dust from their faces and hands. As the sweet wine of Haval was poured into golden goblets, cushions were set for the guests. Even Ahman-Rha was welcomed and made to feel at home.
Valhar's happiness at his daughters return was quickly tempered by news of the slaughter of his caravan and his daughters near death.
As the tale was concluded, Almuric exclaimed, "Hyperboreans! Devils above, I knew they were up to no good!"
Ahman-Rha came to his feet, spilling his wine cup. "They are here, then?"
"Yes," said Valhar, regretting now that he'd ever let the Hyperboreans and their Stygian companions enter his city. "Fifty of them; all in the Inn of the Flowing River."
The Stygian stroked his chin. "Nema's breath! Fifty? Could it be?"
Conan, never having patience for secrets, exclaimed, "Crom! Out with it man! What does fifty mean?"
Ahman's dark eyes made the lord of Haval and his captain feel wary. "It means they are going to try and continue with their spell and bring Kull back, with or without the talisman's to guide them."
Dark was falling and attendants had entered the room to light torches. Four of them moved about using long tapers to light the various lanterns in the throne room.
Jhery raised the small pot she had thrown into the oasis. "Then they need this?" Suddenly one of the attendants dropped his taper and shouted, "Die enemies of Huthomes!" Before even Conan could move a blinding flash filled the room, throwing them all into confusion. Jhery screamed in fear, Conan could feel a dagger blade snap on his armor, and then all was silent.
Jhery felt the pail torn from her hands as cold, dry fingers grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her away. Once out of the throne room her vision returned. The regular attendants lay dead, their throats opened by sharp daggers. Dragged from the palace, she screamed a second time before a gag was thrust into her mouth. Her captive, breath horrid, hissed into her ear, "Your death will begin our conquest of the world!"
The Princess struggled as her hands were bound and she was dragged off into the night.
Quick as the would be assassin was, Conan, born on a battlefield, who had killed more men than he could remember, was quicker. Using his superb senses, he heard where the man was and struck out with a fist. There was a snapping of bone and the thud of a body hitting the floor. Before the sound could echo, Conan's sight was back. Moving like a wraith, he drew one of his daggers and grabbed the down man. A Stygian this time, his face tattooed in arcane designs that had been old when Acheron was new to the world.
Almuric grabbed a still burning taper and lit the lanterns. This done he ran to Valhar, who was senseless on his throne. Making sure his employer was well; the large red haired Poitanian sped to Conan's side. The barbarian had shaken the man awake. Furiously the Stygian, whose collarbone was broken from the Cimmerian's blow, spat on his captor.
This was an unwise thing to do. Grabbing the man by the throat, Conan lifted him effortlessly. "DOG!" The Cimmerian shouted. "Where is the princess? WHERE?"
For a moment words of bravado were on the Stygians lips. Before he could utter them, Conan flung the man off the near wall. The Stygian hit with a scream as his broken bones ground together. Holding the dagger in one fist, Conan advanced on him, menace in the barbarians dark blue eyes.
"You are too late," screamed the Stygian in triumph. "Tonight, Kull will be ours and with his re-birth, we shall have the world!"
Conan grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him. "You won't be here to see this, dog." Slowly he began to squeeze…
"The inn!" Almuric shouted. "The gates are closed, they must be at the inn!"
Before Conan could snap the Huthomes priest’s neck; Ahman-Rha touched the wounded man's forehead. With a scream as if his soul were being ripped from him, the man's eyes rolled back, a gush of blood erupted from his nostrils and he died.
Conan dropped the body and spun. "Why did you do that?”
Ahman-Rha's eyes were cold as he pointed to the dead Stygians hand. On his good hand the first two fingers were covered in metal tops. "Those are steeped in the juice of the black lotus. One scratch and you would be with Crom."
Conan nodded his thanks and spun to Almuric. "Where is this inn?"
"It's in the maze. On the other side of town."
Conan nodded. "Get your soldiers, I'll meet you there. Come Ahman-Rha! No woman under my protection is dying at the hands of the dogs of the north and south!"
Before Almuric could say a word, the Cimmerian and the priest had stormed out of the throne room.
Jhery awoke to a feeling of cold. Opening her eyes she saw horror. That she was nude and tied to a table in the common room of an inn didn't register. What did was the scent of fresh blood and the flayed skins of human beings nailed to the walls. All of the Inn's inhabitants had been slaughtered. Around her were the Hyperborean and Stygian priests, all covered in the arcane signs of Acheron, which before had been the written language of the serpent people, deadly enemies of Kull, king of Valusia. Any scream was stopped in her throat by her gag, but a feeling of horror crawled over her nude skin, raising Goosebumps even in the warm night.
A Stygian and a Hyperborean standing on each side of her smiled down. The Stygian removed her gag and pointed to a makeshift altar near her feet. "Look, wench. Look and see the beginning of the end and the rise of a new Acheron!"
Tilting her head up, Jhery saw the skull sitting on the temple. It glowed reddish, which she thought was the firelight, then realized that the skull was sprouting tendrils, that it was regrowing flesh!
This was too much for her mind and she fainted dead away.
The Hyperborean smiled at her unconscious face. "Let her faint. We'll reawaken her when it's time for her to die."
On the temple, the skull was sprouting a spine, then arms, all of which were beginning to be covered with fresh, new flesh.
Kull was being reborn.
On horses taken from the front of the palace, Conan and Ahman-Rha sped through the night. Every city has a maze, it's the part of town that usually the oldest, inhabited by thieves and beggars, the despondent and the desperate. This was usually Conan's favorite part of a town, since when young he'd been a thief. Rare it was for him to enter a maze and not know at least one from the thieves' guild of Zamora, whose people ranged far and wide. But this night the maze was silent. No ribaldry, no drinking songs echoing out of dark alleys. Even the slatterns who sold their bodies for coppers were absent.
Speeding through the empty streets, Conan hoped that Almuric would get his soldiers together quickly. If not, well Conan had no fear of death, just wanted to meet it man to man, a sword in his hand, a curse or a drink of wine on his lips. Seeing the sign of the inn, Conan reigned in, slowing in case of ambush.
Ahman-Rha dismounted as Conan did. "I must prepare, Conan. Be careful."
"What will you do," asked Conan.
"All that I can," answered the Priest. With that he drew a pouch from his robe and withdrew a large piece of black chalk. Conan knew that some mummery or such was about to take place and moved toward the door of the inn. He would rather not see what the priest was going to do.
Kull was almost reborn. Pink as a newborn baby, the once denizen of Atlantis, king of Valusia stood in the torchlight, his well muscled form standing still. Eyes grey and dark, he didn't move, even the breaths of air he took in were barely noticeable.
Uthil, the chief of the Hyperboreans snarled; "See, he is dumb! We need the crown!"
Zhatha-Ur, the chief priest of Huthomes laughed. "The crown! What need we of the crown! You Hyperboreans have forgotten much!' Clapping his hands, two Stygian's went to Kull's side. Quickly they dressed him in armor that, whence they came by it was unknown, but it was Kulls own from Atlantis, grey as his eyes, the overlapping scales like that of a fish. Dressing him in this, they put a sword in his hand. It was a huge blade that glittered in the torchlight. This too had been Kulls. How the priests of evil came by it, no one would ever know. Suddenly Kull looked up, his eyes dark and dead. "I was in the throne room when the assassins came. How came I here?" His voice though quite, held a tone of command that could not be denied.
Zhatha-Ur bowed deeply. "O great and terrible Lord Kull, we brought you hence to the future, away from the assassins of the Serpent people to rule us!"
Kull raised the blade and stared down at the woman. He felt odd, as if he should not be here. Uthil, standing at Jhery's head, shook her awake. "Look, woman! Look and be damned!" The Hyperborean began to raise a long sharp dagger to end her life and bind Kull to this time.
But they did not know enough of Kull. The partial documents read by them had led them to believe that the Atlantean was a conqueror and a killer. But these had been written by his enemies, those who would thrust him from the seat of power in Valusia.
"Hold!" Demanded Kull. "Stay your hand."
Zhatha-Ur and Uthil stared at one another, the Stygian hissing, "Do it! We must command him!"
"Such as you command Kull?" The Atlantean roared. With a leap that would have done his totem, the tiger proud, he leapt across the make shift altar and cleaved Uthil from his skull to his navel. Tearing his sword free, Kull snarled, "Who dies next?"
Before any could move, the doors to the common room burst inwards, shards showering the priests who guarded it. Conan came in behind it, snarling, "Who is ready to die?"
Outside, Ahman-Rha completed his task. Each of the windows and the doors had a ward on them now; no more magic could be carried out. Moving in the front door, he felt the crown of Kull hanging from one of his pouches…
Conan and Kull stared at one another; then the priests of Huthomes attacked. Copper daggers bared, one tried to complete the sacrifice. His attempt ended with his head flying from his shoulders, courtesy of the re-born Kull. Conan, never one to shy from battle, charged the priests, his great sword rising and falling, leaving severed limbs and crushed skulls and torsos in its wake. Kull, defending the woman, lay waste to the priests about him. Sword arm pumping, within moments he was covered in gore up to the shoulder. In barely five minutes, a third of the priests were down, their lifeblood staining the inn's floor.
It was then that Ahman-Rha entered, crown in one hand. Zhatha-Ur saw this and shouted, "The crown! We must have it!" Ten priests swarmed toward their enemy, the priest of Nema. Ahman-Rha drew his own long dagger and backed against the wall. The first of his enemies to reach him went down, eye pierced to the brain by the long stiletto blade. But Ahman knew he could not persevere. Shouting, he raised the crown. "Conan! Destroy it!" With a grunt he threw the heavy iron circlet…
…Only to see it snatched out of the air by Kull.
The former king of Valusia smiled through the gore that covered him. "My crown! What do you dogs need with it?" Desperate, Zhatha-Ur moved in, dagger raised, seeing his plans for domination fading quickly. "Dog! Give that to meeee!" Putting the crown on his head, Kull grabbed the priest by his tunic, raised him up and dashed him, skull first to the hard floor. The timbers beneath his feet shattered, as did Zhatha-Ur's skull.
Conan and Kull faced one another across the small knot of priests that remained. The terrified men could think of one thing: escape!
But it was not to be. Long sword rising and falling, Conan and his ancestor fell upon the evil men, severing them from the mortal world whose presence they had long desecrated. Finally only four living beings were in the inn - Conan, Jhery, Ahman-Rha and Kull.
The two barbarians, separated by eons, leaned on their swords. They watched while Ahman-Rha cut Jhery free and gave her his own robe to cover her nakedness.
"What do we now, priest?" Conan asked, wondering if he was going to have to fight a legend. Kull stared at his descendant and touched the gem in his crown. "I remember when this was given to me, by Zana of the Picts. He said this jewel would lead me on a great adventure. But I do not belong to this time, do I?"
Ahman-Rha answered, "No lord. I can send you back, but you have to remove the crown."
"Back to die?" Pondered Kull. Like Conan he had no fear of death, but to die at the hands of assassins?
"No Lord," replied the Stygian. "You will defeat the assassins. Brule the spear-slayer will arrive with those Black Dragons loyal to you. Valusia will remain yours."
Kull nodded at this. Staring at Conan he said, "I feel that if I stayed here, we could be friends, but I know that I cannot."
"I feel the same," Conan said. "But you must return to the past, to save yourself and your people."
Dropping the sword, Kull removed the crown and set it on the table. "Do your work, priest." The way he said the last word sounded like a curse. It was apparent that while Kull might swear by his gods, as did Conan, neither of them had any real use for them.
Ahman-Rha drew a circle around Kulls feet. Speaking in a tongue that sounded like one was gargling with glass, Kull began to glow. Slowly the flesh so recently reborn began to regress, sliding away to whence it had come. The bloodstained armor grew empty and finally clattered to the floor. On the makeshift altar so recently occupied by Jhery, the crown flashed brightly and melted away, leaving only a few wisps of smoke that it had ever existed. All that remained of the greatest warrior of his time was the skull, which Conan ground beneath his heel before Ahman-Rha could touch it.
Ahman-Rha stared at his companion. Before he could ask why, Conan said, "Let Kull rest. He has earned it." As Conan spoke, the city guard, led by Almuric came in through the shattered doors. Sliding to a stop, Almuric could only stare. "I might have known, where Conan goes, blood flows. What happened here?"
Conan wiped his blade on a dead Stygians robe. "Get me a flagon of ale or wine and I'll tell you. Crom but slaying is thirsty work!"
Conan made himself more comfortable as he rode away from Haval. He had turned down an offer of employment from Almuric to be his lieutenant. This city was far to close to Stygia for his comfort and if those dusky devils knew that Amra was near, well he'd like to rest his sword arm awhile. Ahman-Rha had left the day before, taking with him the armor and sword of Kull. Before they parted, Ahman-Rha had grasped Conan by the shoulder and made a solemn promise. "Should you ever need the help of the priests of Nema, merely ask. You have helped us stop a great evil. We are forever in your debt." Conan accepted the promise, having no intention of ever using it. He didn't care for the users of magic and made (an endless) promise to himself to steer clear of it.
As he rode out of sight of the city, Conan changed his course for the oasis at Yumma. He had a good reward from Valhar, whom Conan was sure would marry his nubile daughter off to Almuric, but why not take a bit more before the King of Haval sent his men to retrieve it?
Laughing to himself, the barbarian rode north, thinking that it had been a while since he'd visited the fleshpots of Ophir…
Finally, I would encourage you to head over to Fanfiction.net and check out the mega-sized fan story "Conan the Vengeful", courtesy of Flip62. Click right HERE!
Thanks to Marek for the inspiration and additional information which made this post a reality...Oh, and a few words of advice...don't be licking your sword when it's that damn cold outside!