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Tales of Conan - Cold Steel

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Age of Conan - Fictional Story Series - #6
by Michael Lafferty

GameZone.com presents another in a series of original fictional stories by Michael Lafferty stemming from the massively multiplayer online world of Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures. The following story was written with the permission and cooperation of Funcom, the developer of the game. This tale continues a series of stories that deal with the world, the characters and the lore involved in Hyboria. Some of these stories may contain spoilers for quests, so by Crom, be forewarned!

Cold Steel

We gazed upon him, with the fury of the battle wrapping around him like a second layer of armor, and saw not a man with a sword, but rather hell walking. – from the journal of a Nemedian lieutenant.

- - -

The door to Villa Camillus creaked slowly closed behind the barbarian.

A passer-by stopped, eyes widening, jaw opening and closing, like a landed fish groping for air.

Finally, a voice was found.

“You were in there?”

The barbarian barely broke stride. “Aye.”

The man had heard the wild tales of the horrors behind the walls of the villa; he had heard the screams that ripped through the night or the bloodthirsty growls of large creatures at times when his affairs guided him near the place. But fear can often be subjugated by curiosity, and despite himself, he had to ask. “Wha … what is in there?”

“Only the dead,” came the reply.

This was the noble district of Tarantia, the homes of the wealthy, but as seemed to be the case throughout the lands, those with an excess of coin were allowed excesses of another kind. The barbarian thought of the word “noble” for a moment, the word taking on an ugly, sarcastic meaning. There was nothing noble here – only those corrupt and without honor, masking that lack by the flash of gold and pretense.

The journey had been long from the frontiers of Cimmeria to Aquilonia, but there were answers to find, answers that might shed a light on the invasion of his homeland. There was too much going on, too many incidents where those who should not were toying with ancient evils best left untouched. And so it was that as he strode the streets of Tarantia’s upper crust, a man caught his eye, a man whose worry and heartbreak were clearly visible. It was against his better judgment that he spoke to the Stygian, but even as the tale unwove, his anger grew and he knew that he had done the right thing.

What Rahim, the Stygian, told him had familiar beginnings. A noble had employed his child, but from there it grew dark.

“For many years we’ve heard tales of his house staff disappearing, never to be found,” Rahim said. “On more than one occasion, bodies have been found near his home, twisted and malformed. No longer human.”

“And you worry for your daughter’s life?” the barbarian asked simply – a rhetorical remark.

“I do. Her name is Adanna. I’ve thought of hiring mercenaries to storm Villa Lentulus and rescue her, but I know of none willing to take the job. I believe the tales of Camillus’s dark passions and sorcerous meddlings. Just like the nobles of Stygia, my homeland.”

That was all that was needed for the barbarian to agree to investigate. But what he found was beyond his comprehension. How could something so obviously vile exist in the heart of the city without drawing the attention of its rulers?

From the moment he had entered the place, he had felt it – the same evil taint that painted the streets and buildings in Tortage, and that had once infested his own body. He had assessed the situation from the veil of the shadows. Creatures that were once human roamed the halls; some were dark-skinned humanoids with hard scales for skin, a vacant look in their eyes, mouths slathering with madness. The mark of Set was fully upon them. But they were not the only denizens of this vile villa. There were other monstrosities, all fangs and claws, skin oozing green with poisons; there was even the same variety of giant flesh-eating plants that had appeared in the Barachian isles.

He was noticed. It was the way these things generally worked. And if their lack of perception allowed him to remain undetected, he soon made sure that that steel he carried awoke the enemy to his presence.

The blade sung … sinews tore and muscles severed … the rasp of steel against hardened scale, or against bone, created a discordant melody that filled the halls and room after room. An inhuman bellow, an answering roar, and the rhythms of steel – it was the symphony of the battle.

He worked methodically through the villa, entering rooms with guards and leaving behind tombs for the dead.

Camillus was in a great library at the center of the villa, the girl was there, immobilized with fear or under the power of whatever spell the mage was weaving. Camillus wore the smug smile of those who perceive themselves to be superior and untouchable. The barbarian charged, yet another roar resounding off the walls. But when he reached striking distance, the mage simply vanished. The barbarian lurched through the air where the mage had stood. A maniacal laugh rippled through the air.

Just as quickly as he had disappeared, the mage reappeared behind the barbarian, a dagger flashing and drawing a line across the back of the Cimmerian. The barbarian spun, but the mage laughed again and disappeared. The lesson was learned, though, and instead of standing still, the barbarian moved quickly to the side, spinning to place his back to the wall and allowing the greatsword to track downward in a 45-degree slash at a point where the mage would reappear thinking to be behind the barbarian.

The mage reappeared, looking in a direction where he expected the barbarian to be standing, the same grin plastered to his face. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the flash of steel. The tip of the sword caught enough of the hip bone to turn that grin to a grimace. Shock, pain, a lack of comprehension – how could this brute understand the metaphysical forces enough to know where he would reappear?

The barbarian’s scowl turned to a smirk, as though he was reading the mind of the mage. “You are not the first to try that,” he simply said.

The blade swooped down again, and the head of the mage rolled casually off the neck and onto the floor, the look of puzzlement fixed to his face.

Adanna broke from her trance, but her fear was still evident.

The barbarian knew that her fear centered on him, but he did not care. It was time to leave.

 

Other stories in the Age of Conan fictional series can be found here: Tales of Conan - Fictional Stories index.

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