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Tales of Conan - In the Underbelly of the Beast

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Age of Conan - Fictional Story Series - #5
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!

In the Underbelly of the Beast

In the graying mist of a distant shore
memories of my home are reborn
but what hope lies beyond the sight of my eyes?
it matters not – a prayer of steel silences the cries
of my heart ...
While my soul blends into the night

The atmosphere of the tavern spun in a dark embrace, but even so the half-hooded gray-green eyes of the raven-haired woman tracked all movements. A jug of wine sat on the table before her, but that was merely for show. The half-full cup in front of her had not touched her lips, and – if anyone had cared to notice – the appearance of wine consumed would have been dispelled by the fresh stain on nearby floorboards.

“Hey there, how's about you and me getting better acquainted?” The drunken Red Hand guard sat down next to the woman with a thud, his eyes lingering on her exposed thigh, before they journeyed up to rest on the cleavage displayed by her purple tunic.

“How about you wandering to other entertainment,” she replied, her voice even.

“Oh Aquilonian, are ya’s? I shoulda known.” His head swayed easily on his neck, struggling against the influence of whatever he had imbibed. “I’ve never had the pleasure of an Aquilonian bed-woman. Hows ‘bout you being the first for ol’ Wastada, here?” He finally managed to bring his gaze up long enough to catch her eyes and then gave her a solicitous wink.

Kyrran leaned closer to the man, her voice intended only for his ears. “What do you know of Aquilonia?” Her voice was soft, sweet, seductive.

“A beautiful land, the jewel somes calls it. The people are peaceful …”

“Would you say that Aquilonia is without intrigue, without the taint of foulness, a land of lambs, not wolves?”

“Aye, I would says that,” the soldier slurred, his hopeful smile showing yellowed, stained teeth.

Kyrran’s right hand pulled back the cloak she wore just enough to expose the hilts of the twin daggers belted to her waist. “I was trained in Aquilonia, and I am quite good at what I do,” her voice had turned as cold as the steel of her assassin’s knives. “Unless you wish to see tomorrow’s dawn – after, of course, you sleep off whatever befuddles you – I  would suggest you find other sport.”

The soldier’s eyes widened in understanding. Roughly grapping the mug he had thumped down on the table, he rose and staggered off. Kyrran’s eyes went back to scanning the bar; there was another she sought this night.

The Zingaran innkeeper of the Thirsty Dog, Alyssa, glided into the room, a light smile on her lips, offering kind words to this or that half-drunk patron, fending off lusting hands with a playful giggle.

‘There but for the guidance of Mitra go I,’ Kyrran thought. The group of soldiers had diverted their eyes to Alyssa, all but the one whom had tempted a dalliance with Kyrran. She locked eyes with him, saw and understood the anger. She knew of one way to diffuse the situation. Rising slowly, never breaking the lock with his eyes, she moved with subtle grace, skirting the tables and then moved to the stairs leading up. One last look and she turned her head deliberately and climbed the stairs, moving through the landing to the next flight. She lingered long enough to catch his presence cresting the top of the stairs and then moved up toward the upstairs room. The hallway was dark. Kyrran melted into a doorway and waited.

The soldier was stumbling, his hands reaching out to feel his way through the dinginess.

“Where be ya, me pet?” he slurred.

Kyrran slid quietly downward, letting his hand sweep over the top of her head, then came up behind him, her daggers in hand. One circled around to the front of his neck, drawing a deep gash across his larnyx. The other blade angled upward into his back, through the kidneys – both movements were quick, and the assassin was stepping back even as the entry wounds were first made.

She leaned down and wiped her blades off on the dead man’s leggings, sheathed the weapons and then headed back downstairs.

Alyssa had taken up a station near the stairs, overseeing the flow of the room.

Kyrran walked softly up behind her.

“I have the note you sought,” she said softly, placing the note into the right hand of the innkeeper. Alyssa acted as though the note had been in her hand all the time, bringing it up to read, angling it toward the light cast by the fireplace.

She read it quickly, and then gave it a second read. There was alarm in her face as she turned to talk to Kyrran, the words tumbling out. The note detailed yet another bit of ugliness fostered on the hell-hole that was Tortage City by the tyrant who ruled it, Strom. Beneath the city, in the Underhalls, was a servant of darkness, weaving spells of black magic that seeped up into the city, tainting the air and staining the city with hatred, mistrust and fear.

Kyrran knew what was coming next, and raised her hand to stop the flow of words and the inevitable request.

“I shall take care of this, but only if you take care of something for me,” she said.

Alyssa’s mouth remained open, but the words stopped.

“You have a rodent in your hallway upstairs,” Kyrran said. “It has been exterminated, but needs to be removed.” Then she moved through the room, and left the inn.

The day was fading into twilight, a coolness beginning to wash over the port town. Kyrran took a deep breath and agreed there was the scent of foulness that permeated the air in the town. She tugged the hood of the cape lower over her forehead and pulled the folds of the cape forward to hide the knives at her waist, before moving through the town toward the docks. There was a doorway down there, old and thick, that would allow egress to the Underhalls.  

As the door shut out the freshness of the wind blowing off the docks, Kyrran waited in the darker gloom of the door frame, allowing her eyes to adjust to the light. The Underhalls stank of rotten flesh and blood, mingled with the mustiness of water standing for too long. There were mildew stains on the walls, algae in places along fine cracks, all revealed in the flicker of standing torches that barely held back the dark. In the distance she could hear chanting and worked her way silently in that direction. One passageway, then another, all while the chanting drew her ever nearer her target.

Even as the chants grew louder, Kyrran began a chant of her own, one that was taught long ago, an intricate weaving of words that allowed the assassin to fade into the environment. She remembered the words but not the one who taught them to her. That had been stolen from her by the foul embrace of another evil – one that had left her with a mark branded above her right breast.

The hallway opened into another, one passage running away to the right, but it was the dead end to the left that had her attention. The man-beast stood over seven feet tall, his skin painted and head concealed behind a mask that gave the appearance of death walking. His arms were spread wide, head tilted back to the stone above his head, chanting up toward the city.

In the middle of a word, he stopped and his head swung down, a hideous smile twisting his lips back to reveal sharpened teeth. Bodies lay about his feet, pools of blood staining stone and the beast’s flesh. He looked straight into the wall, straight at the faint form of the assassin.

‘He sees me,’ Kyrran thought, then was in motion, springing from the wall, cape flashing out behind her, masking the litheness of her body. Her dangers cut along the ribs, delivering a splash of poison.

The man-demon laughed and attacked, as though he had not been touched. The stone rang with parried blows, steel deflecting blows that would have incapacitated and killed, then driving back, scraping off bone, cutting through flesh. The blood flowed down the front of the ceremonial master, but he fought on with undaunted strength. The only sign that he was hurt was a slowed rate of attack.

Kyrran was panting, sweat stinging at her eyes. It had to end soon.

The beast lunged and his attempt to land his blow touched only air. His chest was exposed and daggers arched in, one in a backhanded move, the other lining up inches below and on a parallel course. One blade found the heart and punctured it. The other found the main artery leading upward and severed the connection.

Some considered this foul creature a demon, but Kyrran knew him for a man consumed by evil, walking in the dark magics, but vulnerable nonetheless. The blades tore their way free, ripping muscle and flesh. The man spun in a half circle, his life spurting out. He landed face down near the bodies he had used in his ceremonies, becoming one more discarded husk of what was once a live being.

Whatever the others would name her, seer or prophetess, she was a witch and in the torchlight of her shack tucked into a corner of the city she had placed a burden upon the assassin: “You embody the hope of the townsfolk, and you are the blade of liberation.  They see in you the hope of breaking free from Strom’s grip.

What did the old crone know of hope? Kyrran thought of the words that echoed across her soul and gave them silent passage from her lips:

What hope lies beyond the sight of my eyes?
it matters not – a prayer of steel silences the cries
of my heart ...

 

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

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