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.