Conan: Blades of Shadizar

Chapter II, Session II, Part I

The Best Laid Plans

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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I awoke inspired. Instead of a hangover, the night of revelry had started me planning an escape. Every moment in this city brought us closer to death. Enemies were everywhere and, while the known enemies existed in plenty, it was the unknown enemies who ought to be feared the most. Danyo had regained consciousness but was still in a sorry state. He was well tended by Ninotchka’s girls. He ought to feel right at home, as he was born in a place just like this. With any luck, he would be ready to travel soon. It seemed to me that with sufficient planning and preparation, I should be able to prevail over any adversary. If only I had known what adversaries I truly faced. The real danger, I was to find, law back in my past, unknown to me then even as it was unknown to me in that moment.

Packing plenty of coin to begin the preparations, I set out from Ninotchka’s. I left the Desert, and ranged far and wide throughout the rest of the city. Making my way to the Katara Bazaar, I could not escape the feeling that I was being followed. I every so often I thought I had caught a glimpse of my pursuer, only for them to disappear again as I moved through the city. I knew that I was not imagining this. I was being followed by a skilled operator. Entering the bazaar, I browsed through the many stalls. For some reason, the temple of Zath was present. Zath is a spider god and the god of purity. I will never understand how those two are supposed to work together. If I seem unsympathetic, it is only because I have reason to hate the temple of Zath, and I shall thwart their efforts until my last day. Naked temple virgins girls, draped only in black beads, danced while the priest led the rest in a strange song proclaiming Zath’s purity. I like naked temple virgins as much as the next man, but my blood ran cold.

The dancing, as you may suspect, had drawn quite a crowd. As it ended, the priest began preaching about the purity of Zath, and how only Zath could cleanse this nation of decadence and return it to greatness. He began to lose the attention of the crowd the moment the dance stopped and he began preaching. Just as the crowd began to drift away, The priest and virgins began tossing out gold coins to the crowd. This drew back the crowd and also many of the bazaar merchants. Everybody likes free gold! Well this day it seemed that everybody other than myself liked free gold. I took the opportunity to get the items I came in search of from abandoned stalls for free. There was something suspicious about any temple giving away that many coins, so I picked up what I needed and was on my way.

As I headed away from the bazaar, I again had that feeling that I was being followed. This time I caught sight of my pursuer! Trailing me was a woman dressed in the styles popular among the merchant classes of Shadizar, but she was no merchant’s daughter. She moved like a predator, and when she realized that I had spotter her, she drew an arming sword and came at me. Stepping back, I quickly drew my blades and parried her attacks. Who was she? Why was she attacking me? I wanted the answer to these questions. With that in mind, I fought to protect myself and to subdue my assailant. Time and time again, I dodged and parried her attacks while attempting to disarm her. Once I did manage to loose her arming sword from her grip, but faster than anyone i had yet seen, the blade was back in her hand and she was on the attack. With a furious whirlwind of attacks, she managed to hit me. There was an odd feeling to the wound. Poison! I wanted information…but not more than I wanted to live. Tiring of the game, I went on the offensive with a few quick strikes, I watched her cold eyes as the life bled out of her. As she fell, I only hoped I would prove resistant to the poison. It was some sort of spider venom, if I was not mistaken. I staggered a bit, but shook off the effects of this underhanded tactic. Inspecting the woman’s body, I took stock of her equipment. Among her effects was a poison coated dagger as well as a small purse containing a single gold coin with the image of a spider upon it. I would later be glad that I had worn gloved while searching, but at the time I was more intrigued by another discovery. My assailant’s body was covered in a web of tattoos. By this I mean that her body was covered with tattoos which took the shape of a spider’s web.

I did not know what to make of the appearance of the assassin. I suspected that she was somehow connected with the cult of Zath, though I was at a loss to understand what they would want with me. Shelving this concern for the moment, I continued with the preparations for our escape with even more urgency that I had begun them. Moving swiftly through the winding streets I made my way to the Caravan District in the south of the city with a reasonable belief that I had not been followed. I stopped at 3 different caravansaries and reserved rooms, paying for a tenday in advance at each. I deposited the baggage I was carrying at one of these places, a Shemite owned called the Hawk’s Rest. This was the only one of the three I intended to use personally. I suppose that, since a significant time has already passed, I may safely disclose my plan to you. It was my intention to go to the Turanian slave markets in the city with the purpose of finding and purchasing three pairs of slaves who approximated Danyo and myself in terms of height and build. They would be installed in three different inns, along with mounts and baggage. These groups would leave the city at the same time Danyo and I did. This would, I hoped, baffle any pursuers. As soon as the slaves were beyond the sight of the city, they were to consider themselves free. It would be an expense, but one we could well afford.

With this plan in mind, I headed to the Wealthy Quarter of the city. While the rest of the accommodations were in the Caravan District, the final inn would be among the wealthy. This was necessary, because it was meant to serve a double purpose. Knowing that the gang would eventually turn on me as others made power plays, I decided to eliminate the problem before it arose. The gang needed to be eradicated. I had a plan to take care of this. A key part of their operation was kidnapping. Very often they would do kidnappings to order, that is they would kidnap beautiful and noble maidens specifically or to a customers specifications for enormous prices. I would tell the gang that we had such a buyer who wanted a specific noble maiden. I would plan the kidnapping and place the gang members in position. They would be told to make their move when a lantern was placed in the window of the room I intended to get at an inn in this part of the city. I would, of course, inform the noble family of the intended plan and disclose the exact position of each and every one of the kidnappers. One of the slaves would send the signal from the window and it would all end with the destruction of the gang and the departure of four pairs of similarly sized men from the city! Convoluted? Perhaps. This was Shadizar, and plans within plans was the order of the day. Treachery was like mother’s milk to us. By the gods, I loved that town! I knew that I would be sad to leave.

As I walked through the Wealthy Quarter and approached the inn I had chosen, I noticed a patrol of the watch harassing what looked to be another of those priests of Zath. They beat him to the ground, and once he was there they proceeded to kick him. I could have applauded. I am no fan of the watch or their abuses, but such was my dislike for this spider god and his clergy. In falling, the priest had dropped a sack of gold coins similar in appearance to the one i had retrieved from the body of the assassin. When the watch patrol bored of beating the priest, they collected the sack of coins. Doubtless, they would call it evidence; evidence that would never make it to the patrol house.

Approaching the fallen priest, I lifted him to his feet, leaning him against a wall for support. “What is the meaning of the coins?” I asked him. He only ranted about Zath’s purity, nearly frothing at the mouth as he shouted that Zath would purify the world and excise the wickedness of Shadizar. “Why does your temple send assassins? What do you want with me?” I demanded. The sick Zathite actually cackled! “You belong to Zath, Darius!” he proclaimed. “You are his and will not escape again as you did when you were a child. You have no family to protect you…to die for you now. You will be put to the purpose Zath intended!”

My mind reeled. I saw in my mind’s eye the images which have haunted my sleep for almost all of my life. The traitor murdering our devoted servant. The masked killers swarming the house, slaying every servant or slave they encountered. My father taking up his sword to but time for my mother and I to flee, felling two of them before falling before their blades. Most of all, i remembered my mother telling me to be very quiet and still as she hid me in a chest, and how she was slaughtered as I held my breath and watched through the gap between the lid and the chest. I held onto that image as I slowly my short sword into him, sliding it across his belly and then upward, disemboweling him. “Zath has marked you!” he screamed. “You are his!” I leaned closer, whispering into his ear as his guts fell out of his body and onto the pavement. “Tell your god that I am not through with him…there will be a reckoning.” I smiled as I heard the breath leave his body, and I let his body drop to the ground. All of my life I had wondered who had been responsible for the slaughter of my family. Now I knew who had destroyed my life and cast me into these treacherous streets. I had a name for my pain: Zath.

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