Conan the Avenger Part 4

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"The sorcerer's defenses are strong, Conan. I cannot pierce them. Who is your tutelary deity?"

"It would be Crom, the grim G.o.d of the Cimmerians," muttered Conan, "though I have had naught to do with G.o.ds for many years. I leave them alone and they leave me alone."

"Well, pray to your Crom for help. We need it."

Conan closed his eyes and, for the first time in decades, prayed: "O Father Crom, who breathes power to strive and slay into a man's soul at birth, help your son against the demon that has stolen his mate..."

And into his brain he thought he heard the cold words come: "Long have you forsaken me, O Conan. But you are my true son for all that, in your striving and enduring and conquering. Look!"

Conan opened his eyes. The smoke had begun to thin. The Cimmerian saw that the mirror did not, as one might expect, show the reflection of Pelias; indeed, it showed no reflection at all. Its surface was a deep gray, as if this were a window to forbidden dimensions. In a low monotone, Pelias chanted an incantation in a tongue that Conan recognized as the secret language used by the priests of Stygia in their clandestine rituals in dark-walled Khemi.

Slowly, so slowly that it was not immediately noticeable, a picture took form in the mirror. At first it was blurred and uncertain; then swiftly it cleared and sharpened. In a bare, stone-walled room, a cowled and robed figure sat at a low table, a scroll in his hands.

The picture grew as if the point of vantage of the watchers moved nearer and nearer the hooded one. Suddenly the figure in the mirror threw up its head and looked full into their faces. The hood fell back from the yellow, hairless pate; the slitted, oblique eyes gazed coldly into theirs. The thin, colorless lips parted in a ghastly grin. The yellow one's right hand plunged into the folds of his robe and came out again holding a s.h.i.+ning ball. The man made a motion as if to throw it-and then Conan exploded into lightning action.

A whistling slash of his heavy sword, held in readiness against the unknown perils of the mirror, sheared the frame in two and shattered the reflecting surface into thousands of tinkling splinters.

Pelias gave a start and shook himself like a man awakening. He said:

"By Ishtar, Conan, you saved us both! That s.h.i.+ning thing was as deadly as a nest of cobras. Had he managed to throw it into this room, we should have been torn to bits in a holocaust that might have destroyed half the city. I was spellbound by the necessary concentration and could do nothing."

"The devil with that," grunted Conan, who had never learned to accept praise graciously. "Now, what did all this mean? I saw the man was a Khittan. What has he to do with my quest?"

Pelias' somber eyes rested upon the huge Cimmerian as his answer came from stiff lips. "My friend, these matters are deeper than I thought.

The fate of the world may rest upon you."

The sorcerer paused, swilling a draught of wine. Leaning back on his cus.h.i.+ons, he continued. Outside, the night was black and still.

"The magicians of the West have long been aware that the effects of certain spells have been weakened or nullified. This condition has been growing more marked in recent years. During the past few months I have buried myself in research, prying for the cause of this phenomenon. And I have found it.

"We are entering a new era. Enlightenment and reason are spreading among the peoples of the West. Aquilonia stands as a bulwark among the nations, strengthening its imperial powers by the naked, elemental force of the healthy barbarian mind. You have rejuvenated the nation, and similar forces are at work in other realms. The bonds of black magic are strained and broken by new factors brought in by the changed conditions. The far-flung web of intrigue and evil spun by the black forces is fraying.

"Some of the most evil spells would now hardly succeed at all in the Western realms. This resistance of civilization to the magic of darkness is concentrated in the barbarian king of Aquilonia. You have long' been the center of mighty happenings, and the G.o.ds look favorably upon you. And so things will continue to change until, with another turn of the cosmic wheel, enlightenment shall perish and magic shall rise again to power in a new cycle.

"I grow old, I who am already older than men reckon. Nowadays I use my vast knowledge only to furnish a life of ease and comfort and to pursue my scholarly researches. I do not live as an ascetic in ragged robes, summoning red-eyed beings with slavering jaws and ripping claws to wreak havoc among innocent human beings.

"But there is one who has long thirsted for absolute power over the world and all that dwell therein. He has become obsessed by the idea.

Years ago he began to lay the groundwork for the gigantic, cataclysmal acts of dark necromancy that should rock the earth to its core and enslave its inhabitants.

"This I learned through my unearthly spies: When, one night, he cut out the living heart of a maiden on an altar in a deserted temple by moonlight and mumbled a terrible incantation over it, he failed to get the results he sought. He was dumbfounded; this was his first attempt upon the western countries.

"His failure roused him to insensate rage. For days and nights without end he labored to find who opposed him, and at last he succeeded. You are his main obstacle.

"This dark plan, whose outlines I now grasp, is worthy of his twisted genius. By stealing your spouse, he forces you to go after her. He is sure you will be slain by foes along the way or slaughtered by the orange and unknown peoples that dwell east of the Himelian Mountains.

Should you by some feat of prowess or stroke of luck reach his haunts, he counts on slaying you himself by his diabolical powers.

"After that, the road to conquest will be open to him, for the resistance forged here in the West is too young yet to stand without its backbone-Conan, the king of Aquilonia!"

Dryness rasped Pelias' throat; he sipped the wine.

"As you know, I am accounted one of the mightiest magicians of the West, even though I nowadays seldom use my full powers. But should I be pitted against him of whom I speak, I should riot have the chance of a ewe in a pool of crocodiles. The sorcerers of the East are mightier than those of the West, and he is the mightiest of all. He is Yah Chieng of Paikang, in Khitai."

Conan pondered this information with somber eyes and immobile features.

At last the deep tones of his voice resounded.

"By Crom, Pelias, there rests more upon my shoulders than I could ever fathom, if what you've said is true. But I care not for the fate of the world, if I can only get my Zen.o.bia back!"

"Ah, my friend, the fate of you, of your queen, and of the world are fast entwined. Mighty events are upon us; the destinies of uncounted ages to come will soon be decided. This is Yah Chieng's supreme bid for power. He is sure of success, or the crawling snake would not have dared attempt it. This kidnapping is but a trick to lure you from the West, which you are guarding against evil eastern sorcery. Think, man, and compare! Which is the more important: a single woman or the fate of millions?"

"The devil with that, Pelias!" roared Conan. "D'you think I would let my woman be torn from my side and then stay at home because I am some sort of wizard's jinx? May the demons of s.h.a.ggali eat the marrow of my bones if I care one copper's worth for kings.h.i.+p, power, lands, or riches! I want my woman back, and I'll have her if I must carve my way through a hundred thousand swordsmen to reach that bald-pated scoundrel!"

Pelias shrugged. He realized that the savage promptings that guided the barbarian's actions would not be affected by his disclosure of the deeper causes of the recent events. The only world Conan really cared about was the one that now surrounded him with red-blooded life. He had little concern for the future. Pelias said:

"Alas, the Fates have already spun their web, and I cannot change it.

Now listen. Paikang, in Khitai, is your goal. There Yah Chieng lives in his purple tower, guarded by two hundred giant Khitan saber-men, the most skilled in the East. He has usurped the power of the rightful rulers, and he governs with flail and whip. Beware his black arts. By a wave of his hand he can blot an army from the earth. I know not if I can help you, but I will try. Come with me."

The lean wizard rose and went to a small, gold-inlaid secretary-table made of some strange wood. There was an oddness about its looks, as if the craft that had fas.h.i.+oned it was not of human origin. Conan was a little mystified. In all his wanderings he had never seen furniture in this style.

Pelias pressed a projection hidden among the carvings of one leg of the table. A small drawer shot out, and the wizard picked an object from it. It was a ring. Strangely wrought, it did not s.h.i.+ne with the fire of gold, nor with the icy gleam of silver, nor yet with the rich red of copper. Its dull-blue l.u.s.tre was not like that of any known metal. All along its band were hieroglyphs of ancient origin. Bending to peer, Conan recognized forbidden symbols found only on the altar friezes of the secret temples of certain inhuman G.o.ds wors.h.i.+ped in Stygia.

The seal, also, was strangely fas.h.i.+oned. It was of rhombic shape, with the upper and lower points long and sharp. A careless man could easily p.r.i.c.k himself with it.

Pelias gazed at the ring for a moment. Its strange blue gleam was like a sword of icy flame in the room. The Cimmerian, with his fine-whetted senses, could feel the power emanating from the thing. Then the wizard straightened and brushed back a grizzled lock from his forehead.

"Many moons have pa.s.sed since I won this ring," he intoned. "For days and nights without cease I fought its owner, a powerful sorcerer of Luxur. The fury of the dark powers we unleashed might have devastated the land had not our spells and counter-spells canceled each other.

With brain whirling and senses reeling, I strove with him through eons of black time. When I felt I could not continue much longer, he suddenly gave up. He changed his form to that of a hawk and tried to flee. My strength resurged within me: I transformed myself into an eagle, swooped upon him, and tore him to shreds. Ha! Those were the days when I was young and gloried in my powers!

"Now, my friend, I want you to wear this ring. It will be a powerful aid on your journey. Have you heard of Rakhamon?"

Conan nodded. The southern countries were rife with legends of the past, but still the name of that dread sorcerer was whispered with caution, though a full century and a half had pa.s.sed since his end.

Hyrkanian invaders had sacked and burned his city while he lay helpless in the stupor induced by the black lotus.

Many adepts in magic had sought for his secret books, said to be written on the dried skins of maidens flayed alive, but none had found them. If this ring was a relic of Rakhamon's possessions, it must be powerful indeed.

"Aye, this is the ring of Rakhamon," said Pelias gravely. "Some of the unnatural beings summoned from the darker realms could not* once called, be controlled by the usual protective spells. Therefore he fas.h.i.+oned this ring of a metal he found in the stone of a fallen star during his travels in the icy North. He invested the ring with unimaginable powers by secret and nameless rituals, in which blood was spilled in profusion and screaming souls were condemned to the deepest and darkest h.e.l.l. The wearer of this ring can stand against any beast summoned by magical arts, that much I know.

"As to its detailed use, there is no clue. Probably the knowledge perished with the secret ma.n.u.scripts. Take it, Conan! This is all I can aid you with. No other spells I know can avail against the evil power of Yah Chieng."

Conan took the proffered ornament. At first it seemed too small for his ma.s.sive ringers, but as he tried it on the middle finger of his left hand it slid lightly on. It seemed to have a life of its own; it fitted as if made to order. The Cimmerian shrugged. Decades of experience had made him casual about the pretensions of magical things. The bauble might work, and if not, no harm would come of it. At least, Pelias'

intentions were good.

"To the devil with all this talk," said the barbarian. "I have a long journey before me. A loaf, a joint of meat, and a skin of wine, and I am for bed. Could you spare me a cot for the night?"

"Any sort of bed you desire, my friend. My servants will fetch food and tend your horse." Pelias clapped his hands.

"That reminds me," said Conan, yawning. "I. must sacrifice a bullock to Crom ere I set forth tomorrow. Say nothing of it, for, if they knew, people would say: Conan grows old; he is getting religious in his dotage!"

3. Vengeance From the Desert ----------------------------.

Conan the Avenger Part 4

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Conan the Avenger Part 4 summary

You're reading Conan the Avenger Part 4. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Robert E. Howard already has 338 views.

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