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(Fic) Revenge of the Red Witch - Chapter Five

16th June 2010 (14:09)
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Only a short chapter this time; clearly my sense of pacing has been screwed up. But it's chock-full of danger, comradeship in the face of peril, and blatant phallic symbolism! Conan and Willow face the final defences before they can enter the wizard's tower...

1385 words, rating 15 for violence and danger.  Chapter One is here, Chapter Two is here, Chapter Three is here, Chapter Four is here.

Revenge of the Red Witch - after Frank Frazetta

Conan the Cimmerian is black haired and sullen-eyed; a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, who came sword in hand to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.
Willow Rosenberg is a red-haired Jewish lesbian wiccan who thinks that eating a banana before lunch is an act of wild rebellion.
Together, they fight evil sorcery.


Revenge of the Red Witch - Chapter Five

They followed the trees around as far as they could, but soon only open ground separated them from the stone-lined path that, presumably, led to the gate. The terrain wasn't entirely smooth - there were occasional outcroppings of rock and patches of grass, but they would offer scant cover even to an experienced woodsman. But they had no other choice; so Conan judged his distances, then muttered "Wait here, I'll go first" to his companion. She looked unhappy about that, but Conan didn't wait for a reply before he set off at a low crouch across the darkened earth.

Maybe it was a flash of movement in his peripheral vision that alerted him, or perhaps it was just barbarian instinct; but a sudden sense of danger prompted him to throw himself flat on the ground, just as something fast-moving and hot disturbed the air right over his back and hit the soil behind him with a dull roar.

"Crom!" The earth was smouldering behind him, a heat haze hanging over the rocks. If that had hit him...! He looked up at the battlements, and saw one of the gargoyles he'd noted before was grinning straight at him. Then he saw its open mouth gaping wider, and with another curse he threw himself sideways just as a second fireball exploded in sheets of flame right where he'd been lying. He half-expected a third to cook him where he lay, but when it didn't come immediately he staggered up and ran full-tilt for the nearest cover. He threw himself flat behind the knee-high boulder - only just in time as another ball of fire splashed on the other side of the rock, filling his nostrils with the charred reek of burning. Two more followed, but then the bombardment ceased - presumably because he was no longer in sight.

He lay there, gasping for breath, shaken by the narrowness of his escape... though now he was trapped behind his scanty cover. At least the girl hadn't been with him; she would have...

She was walking across the ground towards him, casual as if she were a fine lady promenading down the Royal Mall in Tarantia city. He opened his mouth to scream at her for her insanity; but before he could draw breath she skipped nimbly to one side - and a crimson ball of energy shot past her to her left and crashed to earth behind her. She just kept on walking, and a few paces later jumped in the opposite direction; and again the fireball missed her by no more than a handsbreadth. Now she was closer he could see she was mouthing words; and just as he realised she was saying "Three... four...five!" she jumped again, and once more the sorcerous missile passed through the air where she'd been standing then, not where she was now. Then she flung herself on her belly beside him, and the next fireball slammed uselessly onto the other side of the rock they were now both sheltering behind.

She grinned at him, face flushed and a slightly wild light in her eyes. "Boy, that was kinda fun. Also scary, but I think our gargoyle friend up there isn't exactly the brightest bulb on the tree. Or maybe it's just an automatic spell, hard to tell."

"How did you know you'd be safe?"

"I was watching you, of course. I saw what happened, how it worked. Look for yourself!" And without another word she stretched up her hand, out of the cover of the rock, and began counting aloud. "One, two, three, four, five!" On five she pulled down her arm again, just as another fireball passed low overhead and crashed to the ground behind them. "See? It fires after every five seconds, regular as clockwork. Er, do you know what clockwork is? Regular as a, a regular thing, anyway."

He grinned, amused rather than offended. "I know what clockwork is. So we're safe as long as we dodge or duck every five seconds?"

"Yep. From the fireballs, at least. Dunno what other defences there might be."

"We'll face them when we come to them. Well then - let's go."

And so, both counting aloud and diving to the side every so often, as if playing a children's game - but one with deadly serious consequences for a mistake - they made their way across the open ground and around the curve in the walls to the shadow of the gate itself.

The path from the edge of the cliff ended in a broad patch of gravel in front of the gate, and Conan searched it briefly for tracks. He could see that someone - or something - had passed fairly recently, but no clearer details than that were available. Willow, meanwhile, was examining the closest of the rune-carved pillars that thrust upwards beside the path. The Cimmerian could now see that it was carved with some sort of snake motif as well as other, more blasphemous symbols, but declined to look any more closely. Such things were best left alone, in his experienced opinion: though perhaps his sorcerous companion could glean some sort of useful knowledge from it.

Instead, he turned to examine the gate itself. The entrance to the tower was a huge double door, looking solid and impenetrable. It was faced with bronze, cast into ornate shapes and patterns, and Conan shuddered as he saw once again the ophidian imagery, now larger than life before him. He recognised the shape of Set the Old Serpent, demon-god of benighted Stygia where passive, drug-stupefied slaves were sacrificed daily to the sinister temple pythons. Even the handle of the door was cast into the shape of a bronze snake, fanged head poised to strike, and Conan eyed it suspiciously. Legends whispered of such things, and--

Behind him his companion burst out laughing. "Oh, come on! That's even cheesier than anything Xander ever came up with when he ran D&D for me, Jesse and Michael." And without another word of explanation, she stepped forward and grasped the door handle.

Conan tried to shout out a warning, but he was too late. The cold brass came to evil, writhing life, the head of a real serpent dripping poison from its all-too-real fangs, and his companion...

...was holding the snake safely by its neck, just behind the head and out of reach of its fangs. She'd grasped the shaft of the door handle, not its grip. Now she grinned, and yanked hard on the snake, pulling it away from the door. Her grin faded slightly as she had to lean back and even plant her foot against the bronze panels to get the leverage to pull, and the snake was whipping around fiercely. She looked over towards Conan. "Uh, a little help here, maybe?"

Stung into action, he drew his sword and brought it sweeping around in a flash of light. It severed the snake in two, and as the two halves convulsed and Willow dropped them to the ground, they turned back into hard, lifeless bronze again. She scrubbed the palms of her hands against her tattered skirt.

"So much for that. Hey, at least this wizard has a snake fetish instead of a spider fetish. That would have been extra-icky. And don't get me started on the phallic symbolism of all these snake carvings; definite over-compensation going on there, I think, hmm?"

As she spoke - and as Conan, listening, once again felt completely baffled as to what on Earth she was talking about - she was cautiously crouching down and peering through the hole where the snake-handle had previously gone into the door. She was careful never to bring her face too close to the metalwork. Then, she reached down and picked up the body-half of the severed serpent and poked the length of brass into the hole, again standing carefully to one side. She jiggled the metal bar around and up and down a few times, and then there was a *click* and the door swung open.

It moved silently, no creaking of hinges or tortured shriek of metal on stone, and revealed darkness behind it. Conan took a firmer grip of the sword still in his hand and stepped forward to confront whatever the shadows might hide.

Comments

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 20:22 (UTC)

Who ever thought D&D experience would come in handy for Willow?

She'd better hope Conan's world runs on 4th edition rules. It's almost impossible to die in 4th edition. :-)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 00:39 (UTC)

If Willow played D&D with Xander, Jesse and Michael, it would most probably have been 2nd Edition. Maybe even First if Xander's parents wouldn't give him the money for 2nd and he had to buy a second hand copy. :-)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 09:08 (UTC)

Willow's quite the snake charmer. But I thought Set was some sort of aardvark, not a snake? *wikipedias* Huh. Not in the Conan mythos, apparently. Nice tie-in.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 12:16 (UTC)

Are you thinking of Cerberus, not Set?

But yeah, Set the Old Serpent is often mentioned in the 'Conan' books, often being worshipped by evil cultists and sorcerors. R E Howard was a friend of H P Lovecraft, and borrowed certain elements of the Cthulhu Mythos for his own stories: Set is very much from the same mould as the Great Old Ones. (I'm not so familiar with how Marvel Comics have used the idea.)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 14:18 (UTC)

Are you thinking of Cerberus, not Set?

Nope, this guy:


I'm honestly not sure what animal he's supposed to be, and wiki seems unsure too. I like the idea of an aardvark god, to whom we are as ants.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 15:21 (UTC)

That's Thoth, the god of wisdom. He has the head of an ibis.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 20:38 (UTC)

Are you sure? Because a) I linked that directly from the wiki page for Set, and b) if that's an ibis, it's an ibis with ears and a snout. :) Here's Thoth:

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 17:03 (UTC)

I should maybe clarify that I was thinking of Cerebus the Aardvark, not Cerberus the Guardian of Hades in Greek myth. Just in case it was unclear. ;-) Though I didn't know until reading the link that Cerebus was originally intended as a Conan parody himself. Huh.



Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 17th June 2010 20:48 (UTC)

Ah, OK, that guy. I was wondering what the connection was between aardvarks and hellhounds... unless it's that Blackadder episode where Baldrick turns into a dog while Blackadder tries to define "aardvark" ("Medium-sized insectivore with protruding nasal implements").

Cerebus was originally intended as a Conan parody himself. Huh.

See? Everything comes back to Lovecraft somehow.

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