This story has been nominated for Best Crossover (Book) at the Sunnydale Memorial award site. Thanks to whoever nommed me! ♥
We'e nearing the climax of the story now, but the peril facing our intrepid heroes is also rising to a peak...
2187 words, rating 15 for violence and danger. Chapter One is here, Chapter Two is here, Chapter Three is here, Chapter Four is here, Chapter Five is here.
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.
The room was dark, save for the shaft of light coming in from the door behind them, but the Cimmerian noticed blackened cressets on the walls which presumably could be lit were illumination needed. Two rows of pillars, once more emblazoned with the omnipresent serpent symbol of Set, held up the roof. The lines converged, drawing the eye towards a raised dias at the far end of the room. A throne was set there, made of some white material, perhaps ivory. It too was serpent-carved, with the hood of a cobra forming a canopy over the seat. The snake's eyes glittered redly in the dim light, and Conan felt a moment of fear - then chuckled as he recognised what he was seeing. Two rubies were set into the carving in place of eyes, and as his own vision adjusted to the dimness he saw other gems embedded in the carvings and reliefs on the throne. There was a fortune here alone, could he but pry those jewels loose of their settings - and assuming there were no sorcerous booby-traps set upon them to deter thieves. Which doubtless there were, but the Cimmerian was experienced in dealing with such things.
They walked down the short stone corridor, Conan in the lead, sword drawn and eyes scanning for danger, his companion just behind him equally alert. Their footsteps rang loudly on the granite slabs of the floor. Ahead, the passageway opened up into a large chamber that seemed to take up most of the ground floor of the tower. Conan braced himself ready for attack, but none came. They seemed to be alone for the moment.
Still, first they had a wizard to kill. He was not here in his audience chamber, nor were there any guards or servants to be seen - though whether an immortal sorceror would even bother with human servitors was an open question. A brief search revealed a doorway in the opposite wall of the chamber, hidden behind a dusty crimson drape. Through the curtain was a winding staircase, built into the walls of the tower, curving both up and down.
"So, which way to see the wizard? The not-so-wonderful wizard of wherever-this-is?"
He considered his answer. "Down doubtless leads to sorcerous laboratories, dungeons full of alchemical creations and hideous cross-breeds of demons and helpless prisoners. He may be there with them, conducting his experiments."
Willow giggled. "You're serious, aren't you? You do this kind of thing for real, all the time?" She thought for a moment, brow knotted in concentration. "You may be right, but if he wanted an underground base why would he build a tower instead? I'm betting his secret chamber will be right at the top, under the roof. Wanna make a bet on it?"
Conan smiled and shook his head. "I'll trust you to understand how a sorceror would think. I have no experience in such. Up it is, then."
And so they climbed the stairs. They made a half-turn, and then another doorway gave onto a chamber. This too, like the one below it, took up the full breadth of the tower; but the roof was lower, and narrow windows on the east and west walls gave enough light to see by. The room appeared to be a storeroom of some kind, piled high with bales and boxes and chests. There was an odd, slightly sweet fragrance in the air, and Conan frowned as he tried to place it. Then he saw the tightly-bound iron chest at the side of the room, around which the scent hung thickest, and he shuddered as he suddenly recognised the odour of black lotus dust. The chest must be full of it, and he hastened his companion through the room and out into the clear air of the door on the opposite wall before the deadly drug could cloud their senses and send them into unwakening dreams of madness.
A second staircase continued to climb upwards, winding around to the second floor of the tower. This, to their surprise, was a comfortably-furnished living space, complete with a curtained-off sleeping area, a kitchen - with a fireplace, although it was cold and empty - a table and a bookshelf full of arcane tomes. Willow immediately went over to this and ran her hand along the spines of the volumes, then withdrew it reluctantly.
"No time now. But you can have the jewels, I'll take these. They might make all this worthwhile, y'know?"
Conan stirred uncomfortably. "I hope they'll be of use to you, but are you not worried about what such books might contain? This wizard is accursed, his sorceries foul and evil - I fear his spell-books might only corrupt and damn those who read them."
Willow rolled her eyes. "Please, not a total newbie here. No - wait, I'll be fair, you do have a point. Books of darkest magic can be incredibly dangerous and corrupting, kinda got experience of that actually. But I know what I can handle now. I am, you might say, intimate with what dark magic can do - and what it can only do if you let it." She took a deep breath, then looked up towards the ceiling. "This wizard up there, this Takla Kron. He's what happens if you give in, if you forget why you have the power and only remember what it can do. It - it might be a good thing for me to come face to face with him. Y'know? Another lesson." She shook herself. "And then we kill him."
Conan nodded grimly. "And then we kill him."
Up another staircase, and into another room. This was bare and empty, seemingly larger than the ones below it due to its uncluttered state. The floor was shining white marble, and as he looked more carefully Conan could see a delicately inlaid tracery of gold spidering out across the floor. He pointed it out to his companion, who frowned.
"Looks like magical symbols of some kind. This room must be where he does his serious spellcasting. Yes - look over there! An actual pentacle drawn permanently into the floor. He must summon a heck of a lot of demons here to need that. Hey, he should have come and lived on the Hellmouth, you could summon demons there by just poking your head out the door and waving. Or in some cases going down to Buffy's basement and saying 'Hi'."
"Is it safe?"
"Sure, none of the runes are active now. Just, maybe better not step on any of them, huh? Otherwise it might not be a bear you're eaten by."
So Conan set off across the room. Despite the witch's assurance, he still felt vaguely uneasy, and so his senses were hyper-alert for danger.
It probably saved his life.
There was the faintest of sounds, like silver bells tinkling on the hem of a dancer's garment. It rushed closer, louder, and Conan swung up his sword to parry just as a heavy weight slammed his sword down and fierce bright pain shot like flame up his arm. There was another silvery tinkling sound, and he gasped in shock as something hard and sharp struck his flank. His mail saved him from being gutted like a fish, but broken metal rings from his armour spilled out and down and rang on the floor in an off-key descant to the silver sound of bells.
He backed away, swinging his sword in wide arcs to fend off his unseen adversary. Behind him, he heard his companion mutter something unintelligible, and then he felt the crackle of magic in the air as she cast her spell like a net to ensnare their enemy. Of course, this must be the demon that slaughtered the merchant caravan, back down in the forest! It had come now to protect its master, but thanks to the witch's spell he--
Could do nothing. The spell did nothing; the demon was not slowed or handicapped at all! There was nothing to be seen - and then Willow shrieked in pain and Conan spun around to see her, white faced, cluching at her side where three long gashes scored deeply into her flesh. Blood was pouring out of them over her hand and staining the white marble floor crimson.
He leaped forward, swinging his sword, but met only empty air. The silver ringing came again, and this time Conan was sure it sounded like mocking laughter. It seemed to be coming from the very air about them; and then it was his own turn to gasp in pain as a needle-sharp edge slashed at his leg, only a frantic kick saving him from being hamstrung. His foot briefly contacted something solid with a thud, but only another tinkling silver giggle rewarded his efforts.
He backed away, determined to shield his companion's body with his own, still swinging his sword in blind, hopeless sweeps. But then he felt Willow's hand clinging to his arm, as she peered around his side and supported herself against him; and suddenly he felt her grip turn hard and cold as ice, and a numbness spread down his arm. He wheeled in shock, wary of treachery and betrayal, and felt his blood run colder than the chill in his arm as he met the witch's eyes.
They were black, black as the depths of interstellar night, and her voice was flat and lifeless and empty as she ground out a single word. Her hand, still clutched to her side, was now flung out in a wide circle, and her lifeblood spattered in a broad arc across the floor.
Except on one place. Here the blood droplets did not fall to the ground, but instead clung to something invisible, hovering there in mid-air. As the Cimmerian watched, the blood seemed to sizzle and spread out, sliding in a thin pinkish film across whatever it was they touched, coating it. Outlining it.
Conan gritted his teeth as the shape of his adversary was revealed to him, its form drawn in his companion's own blood. A demon it was indeed, taller than a man but far more spindly and gaunt, its face a nightmare out of the pits of hell. Its arms ended in long glittering claws, three of them to a hand, each longer than Conan's own forearm, and the noise as they clicked and clashed together made the sound of silver bells.
The demon was prowling around them in a circle, clearly toying with them. It started to drift closer, past the Cimmerian, towards his companion who had now slumped to the floor, her last reserves of strength drained by her spell. The monster moved slowly, almost theatrically, its high-stepping gait a parody of a man tip-toeing. It cocked its head to one side and raised its arm as if considering where best to strike Willow to prolong her agony further.
Then it keened in shock and horror and pain of its own as Conan's sword came down and sliced deeply into its arm. It turned, knowing itself revealed, and flung itself in berserk fury at the Cimmerian.
Now Conan was in a fight for his life, and against a foe far stronger than mortal. His blow would have severed a normal man's arm, but this was a waif of the Outer Dark, possessing inhuman reserves of strength and stamina. But the Cimmerian, honed by a lifetime of hard adventure, was no normal man either. Reflexes fast as a panther's, and the experience of armed combat with a thousand vanquished foes, kept him safely out of reach of the demon's claws now he could see them coming. Bit by bit his own swordblows ate away at the horror's monstrous vitality, scoring its body with a dozen wounds, any of which would have killed a human. It was moving slower now, its claw-slashes less precise and confident, but it was still strong and Conan himself was starting to tire. He backed up, watching for an opening, and the demon sprang forward with renewed confidence.
Then the Cimmerian stepped across one of the golden lines traced on the floor. It had no effect on him that he noticed - but the demon, lunging forward hungrily, seemed suddenly to recoil as if hitting a solid barrier. It was only for a moment, but the barbarian was ready. His sword carved around in a glittering circle, and bit deeply into the creature's neck. Halfway through it cut, and the monster glared at him and gnashed its teeth, still alive despite its head being half-severed. But then Conan gripped his sword-hilt in both hands and yanked sideways, and suddenly the resistance ended and his sword flew free. The demon's head rolled forwards to his feet, still working its mouth in helpless anger, but its body collapsed into a twitching heap. Slowly, ever so slowly, the fierce eyes dimmed in death.
But Conan ignored them, for he had turned back to help his companion. The witch was slumped forward on the marble floor, a pool of blood spreading warm and red around her, unmoving.