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Tales of Conan - The Embrace of Shadows

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Age of Conan - Fictional Story Series - #4
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!

The Embrace of Shadows

Ainya perched on the edge of a roof, drawing lungfuls of fresh sea air deep into her body. She had to get above the slime, filth, and corruption of Tortage City. It had been an evil night. A night of murder most foul, a night for an assassin, not for one that had once danced through wilds of high mountain glades of Cimmeria, bow at the ready, the joy of the hunt dancing on her lips and in her heart.

But this …

She took in another deep breath. Tonight she had been an instrument of death, sneaking through a mansion, folded into the shadows to avoid as many of the guards as possible, until she had reached the sleeping chambers of the master of the slaves. Ulric, lord to Saddur, was stupid with wine, snoring loud enough to mask even the tiny creaks of the wooden floorboards beneath Ainya’s feet. She had stood over him, clutching the knife of vengeance in her hands. He was the one behind her initial capture. He was the one that inflicted the scar that caressed her brow. He was the one that had allied himself, or enthralled himself, to the evil sorceress Mithrelle and had turned slaves over to the witch for evil purposes. He was one source of foulness that had tainted her life. Just as Saddur had felt her vengeance, so too would Ulric, but this just felt wrong.

It was one thing to face an opponent on the field of battle, to see the struggle on their face as they embraced the possibility of death and yet fought for their life. It was another to steal a life in sleep. There was no honor in taking this life, but since coming to Tortage and its rancid city, honor was not something to be considered.

The deed was before her, the slaver laying on his back in his bed, exposed to the specter of death that hovered above him. Ainya gazed into his face. There is something so innocent about the face of the sleeping. The way the skin softens, the way the evil in the eyes are hidden by heavy lids, the way the cruel set of the mouth slackens into the embrace of peace.

 

The way in had not been without incident. It might have been the tip of her bow that caught a stray ray of lamplight, but a guard, sensing something in the shadows had approached her. His eyes squinted as he peered into the darkened corner. The blade dashed from the shadows and into his throat, strangling off any cry of alarm he might have given. She had pulled him into the corner and more or less wedged his body into the bottom shelf of a hall table. It was not quite out of sight, but by the time it was discovered – hopefully – she would have done the deed and been gone.

The layout of the house was just as Tina, her contact with the Resistance in Tortage, had told her. The intrigue in which she was entangled rolled through her mind. Strom was a tyrant, linked to the evil and powerful sorcerer Thoth-Amon. Strom, though, was trying to break free of Thoth-Amon’s grip on him. Mithrelle, one of Thoth-Amon’s most valued mages, was performing dark magic either in or near Tortage City. Strom was the city’s self-appointed and thoroughly corrupt ruler. Ulric was a link connecting Strom to Mithrelle, but was about to swing his allegiance strongly to Mithrelle. That could not happen. The city’s power structure was precariously balanced and had to remain so – for at least a little while longer. There was dark magic, arcane evil beneath the city and outside its walls. As surely as she had been trapped onboard the slaver’s ship, bound in servitude by an alien presence within her, she was trapped within the clutches of this machination. Her only hope of escape was to follow the path least objectionable.

She had neared Ulric’s bed, the knife of the assassin held tightly. It was a small thing – raising the hand over her head, double gripping it for a stronger strike, then plunging it down into the heart of the slaver. It should have been simple, but nothing truly is. Ulric’s eyes opened wide and locked on her face. He would take that image to hell with him, but there was something else. He had almost smiled before death claimed him.

Ainya removed the knife, wrapped it in oily rags to present it as a trophy to the Resistance, and then quickly made her way from the house. She should have returned immediately to her contact in the Resistance, but didn’t. Instead she had climbed up to the rooftops, to sit high, where the air was cleaner, above the malevolence of the city, above the deeds she was asked to do for a cause she was not certain she believed in.

She felt as though she had traded one master for another. The first had chained her soul and wrists, using her body on their whim. Was the second so different? Her soul still felt fettered and though there were no cuffs on her wrists, no visible chains, her soul was still darkened by the deeds they asked her to perform.

“What have you gotten me into?” she asked her gods. But now, like before, there was no answer, only the silence of the night and the gentle caress of the wind.

 

Other stories can be found here.

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