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
.