Tales of Conan - The Demon Lurking
November 20, 2008
Age of Conan - Fictional Story
Series - #11
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!
The Demon Lurking
The demon lurks in the dark, ready to pounce, to consume, to feast … but I am not certain if I speak of another or of myself. - Llachmora
Bubshur sat on the edge of vast expanse of desert, a town that served as a portal for trade from across the shifting sands; once thought of as a haven, there was a haunting in the eyes of the those still living there, a tightness in the facial muscles that spoke of a people cowed by nightmares, either coming from the desert or from the depths of their own insecurities.
Real or imagined, it was a piece of all that the young woman had once called home.
Her clothes, a patchwork blouse and long skirt, ragged and torn in places, bespoke of her lack of finances, but those who would think ill of her held their tongues for fear of that which hung casually across her back – a great two-handed axe. The blade was notched from many battles, and there were dark reddish-brown stains stubbornly clinging to deep grooves in the metal. It was obvious the blade was well used, and the eyes of the woman confirmed that she was the one that had used it. There was strength there, but something else, perhaps a madness, or maybe it was a hunger – one could easily be mistaken for the other, but whatever it was called it was not of the world the Stygian people would willingly tread. They avoided her gaze, when possible … all save one man, huddled in the shade of a tent near the edge of town.
He mumbled on and on, torment underscoring his words. She was drawn to him for some inexplicable reason. She could hear the words, and she understood the near madness that compelled them to find verbal expression.
The old man merely looked at her, disbelieving her attempts of compassion.
“Madness? What do you know of madness?” the old man, Betarmes, said. “Voices call me down to join them in black depths. I dream of dark abysses, where tentacled horrors writhe in foul ecstasy to the beating of some otherworldly drum. The Lurker in the Dark waits for me.”
“Lurker?” she asked.
“It is an old tale, older than Bubshur itself,” the man spit out, apparently lucidity quelling the madness within him for a moment. “A strange cult made their home here, performing rituals so blasphemous that it would strike you dead to hear of them. Eventually the cult disappeared, swept away by Set’s priesthood. But the thing that they worshipped … it still resides here. The Lurker.”
Her curiosity was piqued – and she knew, deep down, that seldom was a good thing. “What is it?”
“None know,” the old man shrugged. “But every so often, dark dreams visit Bubshur for a while. Then somebody always goes missing and the dreams fade away … for a few years. The madness, the dreams … this time I fear that it means to take me!”
Her words spilled out, almost of their own volition. “I will destroy this dark being.”
The old man laughed, not quite derisively, “You are brave but foolish. One cannot kill darkness itself. Spare yourself the trouble, stranger. The last young man who descended into the darkness of the tombs to face it was taken. We never found his body.”
‘He is not me,’ she thought; then aloud she asked. “Where is this tomb?”
The old man looked away, his eyes lost somewhere else, likely in the same place where his mind would soon follow. His answer was automatic, as though long rehearsed. “Most of the houses in Bubshur are built upon the old tombs. If you find yourself inside, look for a wall that is shoddily made or cracked. The problem, of course, is getting Stygians to invite a stranger into their homes.”
As it turned out, the house was not hard to find. A trio of soldiers stood without, as though guarding the entrance. Llachmora was not quite certain whether they were trying to keep people out, or keep whatever lurked within inside. She made clear her intentions and, somewhat surprisingly, they did not try to stop her.
The house bore a deceptive front, ragged on the outside with a door that was oddly out of place for the framework. It was well fortified, though it gave way easily to her touch. She could feel the evil within pulsating in the wood of the door. It might have turned many away, but something stirred deep within her, and with the stirring was hunger and anticipation.
She had expected the ragged dwellings of one of the residences of the town, but instead found a room that was cut back deep into the rocky mountains that edged the town, the walls high, with ornate carvings, almost as though wealth had plucked at the accoutrements and invested in the décor. While the walls had an almost temple-like quality, the floor, stone blocks, were stained with blood spilled over the ages.
A guard walked stiffly into view, but it was no ordinary guard. It was an undead soul, restored to restless life. The creature turned, saw her, its maw growling in anger. She understood the sound; she was alive, in a place of the dead, and the creature was inviting her to join its ranks.
The axe moved from her back, as though of its own volition. Flames surged off her hands, demonic hellfire wielded by one known as a Herald of Xotli. The creature lunged in, not capable of recognizing that that which stood before it was not a weak bit of Stygian flesh, but rather a conduit to a hell deeper, more profoundly violent than the one that had called it to service.
With inhuman strength, the woman pulled the axe back, and then brought it back toward the creature with blinding speed. The axe bit deeply into the side of the creature, severing all that which tenuously gave it life. Her hands left the handle of the axe, spread wide and she leaned forward. The laughter that erupted from her lips was not of the world of men, but from the nether reaches beyond known existence, from one in the throes of service to a demon-god feared by even those who reside in the nightmares of mortal hell.
She felt the demon within her surge to power, felt the bloodlust, the urge for release. She had brought this upon herself, her own recklessness robbing her of her hold on humanity and the demon within her compelled her even now.
Broken ones, restless dead stood before her as she walked toward the back of the house, seeking the wall that would allow egress to the tombs beneath. But whatever lunged at her from the darkness was embraced by a darkness not expected. Their distorted battle cries of rage were turned to fear and death songs of pain and fear.
Even the undead, it seemed, knew fear.
She saw a wall that she knew would lead below. A body, half-crushed beneath the its crumbling remnants, showed stairs beyond. The axe bashed through the pitiful barrier. The body, it seemed, was not merely half-crushed, it was cut in half. The top half, pinned by the wall, had climbed the stairs in one last desperate attempt to escape. The hips and legs were left at the bottom of the stairs, guarded by a restless dead. This was likely the last to try to find the Lurker.
The demon within her chuckled at the foolishness, and not kindly.
“Pitiful, weak and stupid,” it said to her. She nodded in response. She let the demon have its way, strengthening its ties to its true master, and that master was not the woman walking through the halls in the material world.
Broken ones, the restless dead, plaguewalkers littered the halls, as did the lieutenants of the Lurker. They had names, were more grotesque than the minions; Shepses, Akhiban, Menkakri, Akhita – lurching horrors that lacked the speed to touch the lithe woman, and lacked the power to slow the demon shadowing her walk and controlling the human puppet that she had become in those moments. Wrapping the wrath of Xotli, caressed by arcane demonic fires, the demon guided the woman among the Lurker’s servants, destroying anything that would dare to stand in their way. Flames embracing, axe dancing and repainting the walls in the blood of the living dead – there was a joy within the woman, but it was not her joy. Her mind, cowering back and watching as though the tableau played out in another world, felt a sense of horror for the destruction caused. She knew what was being fought, and part of her consciousness rejoiced in the path of terror the demon walked.
There was a huge chamber, with a great fountain, and a hallway to the right that led to one more chamber. The guards stationed were given back to death. A tall figure walked across the chamber, a figure that reminded Llachmora of one of the Black Ones from the islands near Tortage.
‘That is the tormenter of the town,’ the demon within murmured. ‘Truly pathetic.’ She felt it turn its attention to her solely, ‘release me, child,’ it said.
Her own decisions years before had relegated her will to another, and she did as instructed. The words formed on her lips, the fires erupted from beneath her and flesh turned from human to that of a creature that was the embodiment of a demon-god’s wrath. The demon roared, rushing forward with a speed that was more surreal than its own appearance in this place. The Lurker turned, saw the death reaching for it, called for help from its remaining servants and prepared to defend itself.
The fight did not last long. Pillars of flame fanned out from the demon, burning stone and undead flesh alike. The axe, as though as light as the air itself, chopped, sliced and tore flesh from bone. Where it struck stone, chips of rock flew.
The moment passed. Llachmora found herself standing in the silent chamber. At her feet, laying in a pool of its own blood, were the remnants of the Lurker and its servants.
It was odd, she thought, that she had to surrender to a demon to protect the living, to spare the frail threads hope that humans held. She knew it was her way of justifying what dwelled within her, but she was content with that, for without that justification, she knew that madness would swallow her.
“I had better get paid for this,” she murmured. The demon within her laughed at that. It was, for the moment, sated.
Other stories in the Age of Conan fictional series can be found here: Tales of Conan - Fictional Stories index.