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Tales of Conan - In the shadow of the volcano

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Age of Conan - Fictional Story Series
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 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!

In the Shadow of the Volcano

The slavemaster stood in the shadow of the volcano, the angry tongue of lava occasionally throwing up enough light to briefly illuminate his perch and cast it in malevolent tones of orange and golden red.

The steady roar of the mountain’s fires mingled with the smoke of scores of campfires, while the hot breath of the magma buffered him in gentle waves. In all, he did not find the setting displeasing at all. This was the hope of his future, and in the pockets of stone, hidden from the view of so many, this was the bed of his power.

His eyes drifted over the portion of the army that was visible on the mountainside, a vast wellspring of mindless slaves, their bodies bound to servitude to the undead souls that would command them even beyond the realm of mortal wounds – an army of the undead. Strike them down and they would rise again. Such was the promise of the mistress he served, such was …

“Shenti-Aku …”

His name drifted in on a wave of hot air, carried by the wind fostered in the streams of molten stone. It almost was a breath, as though the wind itself has spoken his name.

He turned, expecting to see someone there, but there was no one – only the darkness of the night and shadows of an army that stirred restless on the mountain. Chastising his own imagination, he turned back to view from his perch. ‘I have been dealing with those in the dark arts for too long,’ he murmured, then allowed a bit of a chuckle as though it would shake him free of nightmares clinging to him, swirling up around him in the acrid, hot night.

“Shenti-Aku …”

He spun quickly this time, hand reaching for the bladed weapon strapped to his back. Again, there was no one.

“By Set’s scales,” he spat the curse. This had to be Mithrelle’s doing; that Stygian witch, the favored hand of the god-mage Thoth-Amon, was playing games with him. She could be so cruel, so malicious. He screwed his eyes shut and forced his mind to slow down. Power was nearer his grasp, he could not allow phantoms to trick his mind now.

“Shenti-Aku.”

This time the voice was much more tangible than a breath of wind, this time it carried body. The slaver turned in the direction, eyes narrowing.

She was standing off to his left, a small woman, her skin the deep browns that bespoke of a Stygian heritage. Her light brown eyes regarded him coolly; her eyelids were stained with black liner that drew out the width and depth of her penetrating gaze, a gaze that saw much and reflected knowledge of much. Her attire was a simple tunic, dark gray, belted at a narrow waist. She wore a circlet on her forehead, partially obscured by her dark braided locks. Upon her back was a two-handed longsword; the blade scarred, pitted in places with deep stains. Shenti-Aku sensed it to be more than decoration.

“You have killed many to win the honor of standing before me,” he said, his lip sneering his contempt. “My mistress’ wrath will know no bounds at the chaos you have caused. So why meddle in these affairs, swine? I would have your reason before I have your head.”

“Those standing between you and me were weak, soulless, and mindless. They were less than adequate,” she replied.

“Who sent you?”

“I came to find answers, slaver.”

“Answers to what?”

“To what would compel a son of the desert to turn his back on his own people and give them over to darker powers, and to use his countrymen and women as servants and slaves?”

Shenti-Aku smiled. “They are as nothing now, just as they were before.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed, hatred flaring from them. The slaver knew what would eventually follow, but he did not wish to see her ready for it. Instead, he wanted her to relax. His tone softened somewhat.

“Very well, we shall speak like reasonable beings. Surely you have heard that vast armies gather in Stygia and shake the desert with their marching tread? I am but one of the overseers of this army, serving the glorious and most beneficent Thoth-Amon.”

“You serve a foul master.”

“I … merely stand on the side of he who will conquer all before him. There is no choice – no true choice. Now leave. I could kill you in a heartbeat if I chose to, but I am in a gracious mood.”

“No Shenti-Aku. You will die for this!”

“Ha,” sneered the slaver. “We will see about that!” His great axe swung from his back and in a fluid move angled in for the neck of the woman, but it never tasted the softness of her flesh. The sword she carried was also in motion, flashing into the axe’s path and deflecting the blow. The sound of steel on steel was drowned out in the roar from the volcano.

The woman let the slaver’s initial attack push her sword away and changed the momentum of her weapon, swinging it back around her head, dipping low and then arcing upward. The blade bit deep into the ribs of the slaver, sending a wave of shock and pain through his body. He staggered back, howling in pain. And then he realized just what she had done. By cutting her path to him, she had removed all those within earshot who might have come to his aid. He was alone with this creature.

The sword went from a two-handed grip to rest gently, improbably, in one hand, the arms of the woman reaching out from her sides. Her back arched as words were muttered to the night. A deep mystical light erupted from the ground beneath her, reaching up and embracing her lithe form.

Shenti-Aku watched in horror as hope faltered and then fled. The light wrapped itself around the woman, changing her. And then it stood before him, a demon, a nightmare he had seen often in his sleep. Its skin was black and sinewed, the head a tangle of bone and horn. Both hands griped the sword as though it were a twig.

In desperation, Shenti-Aku swung his weapon at the creature, hitting it squarely on the shoulder, but instead of severing the arm, the blade bounced off harmlessly. The creature regarded him, and then it laughed. He stepped backward, precariously close to the edge. The laughter changed and became a roar even as the great sword drove in. It caught the slaver in the chest, but did not stop there. The blade sunk in to the hilt, the face of the demon following until it was inches from the face of the slaver.

“The task has been seen to,” said the otherworldly voice.

 

Other stories can be found here: Tales of Conan: In Service to a King and Deliverance from the Sea.

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