Conan: Blades of Shadizar

Danyo of Shadizar

Sire,

As to your inquiries regarding that of Danyo of Shadizar, I am at a loss. The struggle to ascertain more of his identity presents a task that I shall endeavor to overcome in the near future. Of course, My Liege already knows that this fellow traveled in the company of Darius the Supposed God Slayer. In addition, I have the utmost certainty that Danyo did participate in the events that brought about his and Darius’ expulsion from their Motherland.

Once again, I swear to report more once I have extracted more intelligence from the writings of Darius. On the other hand, I ask that Your Majesty send more scribes to aid in my enterprise. (The rogue, Darius apparently poisoned his manuscript and thus I am humbly requesting that My King send more assistants to further facilitate the task that Your Majesty has appointed to my unworthy hands.)

Your ever faithful servant,
Martinus of Numalia

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Nemedian Chronicles: Darius the God Slayer
Or an inquiry into the identity of a man wanted by the King...

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Your Majesty,

The meager accounts of Darius the God Slayer has so far proved taxing to your obedient servant. We have, with great effort, translated as much of the text from the annals contained in the diary of Darius. However, he appeared to transcribe his journal in an form of text that requires patience to decipher.

Needless to say, legends surrounding his successes seem hard to verify; given the obscurity and time that passed since his alleged deeds took place – over the course of some several score years. I promise to submit more as soon as my apprentices present me with legible copies taken from the original.

Of course, I shall do my utmost to uncover his relationship with the present King of Aquilonia. He may, according to my hypothesis, share a connection with the Barbarian Usurper through the Queen of Zamora. Alas, only time will tell if my theories prove sound….

Your Most Humble Servant,
Martinus of Numalia

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Chapter I, Session I, Part IV
The Cult of Kara Prama

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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Before I could move to free Danyo, I heard the soft footfall of slippered feet approaching. Gliding noiselessly into an alcove, I waited to see who was approaching my manacled and unconscious companion. An aging figure clad in the exotic fashions of far Vendhya entered the chamber to inspect Danyo. His movements betrayed him. Whatever else he was, it was clear that this man had once been a practitioner of the larcenous arts, and a skilled one at that. I remembered that Vilena had mentioned Lady Nehira’s seneschal, Kilya of Rinjaruin. This figure matched Vilena’s description of the man perfectly. What she had not told me, though my eyes had discerned it, was the danger this man presented. I had to move swiftly. Like a shadow of death I glided noiselessly from the alcove. My art did not fail me. He never knew i was there. Kilya had not time to even feel the pain of the strike when my stiletto ended his life!

I stripped the exotic vestments from Kilya’s still warm body swiftly, lest his life’s blood spoil them. I had the beginnings of a plan forming and these clothes were a vital part of it. Picking the lock of the shackles, I released my friend and set to reviving him. While he was a bit beat up, the gods had seen fit to spare him any permanent damage. Removing the armor and clothing which I had taken from my assailants and put on over my own clothing back at Ninotchka’s, I offered them to my unfortunate friend. Slowly, he donned the clothing and armor while I related all that Vilena had told me as well as my journey to find him. Discussing the matter, we agreed that going forward was a better idea than trying to exit the way we had entered. With that in mind, I removed my own gear, placing it carefully in my kit bag, and donned Kilya’s. Taking a few moments, I did what I could to better disguise myself as Kilya and then took a torch from one of the wall sconces and we proceeded deeper into the tunnels.

The tunnels seemed endless. They were dank and musty, and I took great care to avoid stepping in any dampness as we proceeded. In part, I did this because I suspected that Kilya would have done likewise. I am forced to admit, I also did this in order to avoid any needless damage to the splendid and costly rainment which Kilya had “gifted” me with. The tunnels were, in part, used for storage. Danyo and I shared a look when we noticed that rice was being stored along the tunnel’s walls. I knew that we both thought that it was a terrible waste. In the damp of these tunnels, the rice would quickly be ruined. Ruined rice has no value.

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Soon, we came to an area which was no longer dank and musty. The passage became progressively more dry until it opened up into a chamber. The walls were lined with shelves containing books and scrolls. A library in the midst of this darkness! As I looked through the shelves and shelves of scrolls and tomes, I found that they were mostly the logs and secrets of the ancient temple which had existed here in secret. As I browsed, I came upon a scroll which detailed many of the religious secrets of this ancient sex cult of Kara Prama. As I read further, I found a prophecy which foretold that if Kara Prama could get a virgin tonight in this very temple, that the demoness will become more powerful than ever before and, through the girl, dominate the city of Shadizar! To fulfill this prophecy, the girl would have to be mated to a man whose description could easily match that of Danyo or myself. The result of this mating would be a witch of abominable sexual appetites. The scroll detailed the blood sacrifices required in the right as well the strengths and weaknesses of the demoness. After reading a dire prediction of mass sacrifices and a colossal death count, I returned the scroll to its case, placing it in my kitbag. Somewhat shaken, Danyo and I discussed the prophecy. He was adamant that not try to be heroes. I can honestly say that I did not disagree. Heroes did not survive in the streets of Shadizar, and we were survivors. The threat of mass sacrifices and countless deaths in our ancient city gave us both pause. I had a terrible feeling, one I think Danyo shared that some deed of heroism would be forced upon us in order to stave off the looming danger. In silence, we left this chamber and moved deeper into the tunnels.

As we continued our progress we began to hear distant chanting. We realized that we were walking straight into the hidden temple which Vilena had told me about. Signalling me to pause, Danyo began to remove the coat of brigandine. “It’s too loud.” he whispered. “Too loud and constricting….it will only slow me down.” I could not help but agree with the sentiment. Signalling my understanding with a slight nod, I waited for him. Laying the coat of brigandine against the tunnel’s wall, Danyo followed me through the tunnel and into a large candle-lit chamber. It seemed like every bored noble in Shadizar was a member of this cult.

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Chapter I, Session I, Part III
From brothel to dungeon

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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The floorboard creaked. It was nearly unnoticeable, but my trained ear heard it. I hushed Vilena with a finger to her lips. It creaked again. The look of fear in her eyes told me that she had heard it as well. Silently I slipped from the bed, retrieved one of my stilettos from my scattered belongings, and waited beside the door. The floor creaked again. From the sound of it, I guessed that there were probably about a half dozen people lurking in the hall. There were some whispers and then the door slowly opened.

Into the darkened room stepped a solitary figure. I could see his shadow stretching from the doorway as the light from the hallway fell upon Vilena’s supine form. She rose into a half-sitting position, allowing the sheet to slip from her body as she did. The figure moved forward, and I slid silently from behind the door slid my stiletto into the man’s neck before he had time to utter a single word. Noiselessly, I held him, dragging him away from the door and into a darkened corner of the room and easing him onto the floor. He wore a brigandine coat and seemed to be arrayed as a soldier of the royal army. This was, of course, a ruse. He was no more a soldier that I was. He was a rogue…part of Harasym’s gang. Creeping silently on bare feet, I returned to my position by the door.

As I heard the hinges of the door in the next chamber squeak slightly and the floorboards creak under the weight of several people edging towards that newly opened door, I noticed the shadow of one more figure waiting in the hallway outside Vilena’s room. “Get in here and give me a hand, this bastard is heavy!” I hissed sotto voce. The shadow loomed as the figure moved somewhat quietly into the room. There was a crash and a scream from Tamara’s room as I slid silently from behind the door and slid my stiletto into the back of the man’s neck with a fluid stroke. Silently easing him down beside his fellow. I was neither pleased nor overly proud. These clods made it all too easy.

I was to find out later the details of the fight that ensued in the chamber next door. Danyo had put up stubborn resistance, but he had been caught unawares and was naked and unarmed. Tamara, not a party to this scheme, had screamed and put up a spirited (if mostly ineffective) resistance to the gang. More than a few of them felt the sting of a lucky kick from her pretty feet. In the end, it was all for naught. Danyo was dragged away unconscious while Tamara cursed at the gang with surprising venom.

I kissed Vilena, thanking her for her aid, as I quickly dressed and recovered my equipment. Peeking out the door, I saw four armored men dragging Danyo away. While proficient with a blade in the dark, I was no warrior. I knew that I could not hope to take on these four and survive. And yet…I felt that I had to act. I felt a surprising obligation to Danyo. He was my partner… and yes…my friend. Having heard from Vilena that sacrifice awaited him, I could not simply abandon him to his fate. The decision came to me quite easily. From the equipment of the two fools I had killed, I arrayed myself as a soldier, just like the rest of the gang. I prayed that the gods grant that the other four be as witless as the two on Vilena’s floor, and fall for the hurried ruse I had decided upon. I thanked Vilena again, and asked that she give me as long as she could before she raised any alarm. Kissing her to seal the bargain, I put on the helmet and followed the four who had carried my friend away.

Passing from the Desert to the Craftsman district, I finally caught up with the group in the wealthy quarters of the city as they neared what appeared to be a noble mansion. “Where is the other?” one of them asked at my approach. “He’ll be along…. left the kid to bring him.” I growled. “I know he’s new, but…. aw hell… as long as he brings him.” came the reply which could only signal that my ruse had succeeded. I was glad it had worked, but at the same time I found myself a little disappointed at the simplicity of my foes. This was Shadizar, after all, and thief has his pride! We came to the tall wrought iron gates. The barrier was topped by grotesque gargoyles with over-sized genitals and widespread wings, tongues extended
from dog-like muzzles lifted arrogantly into the air. As we got closer, I saw that the iron of the gates themselves were cast into hundreds of nude men and women acrobatically standing on top of each other to form the bars and cross-bars of the gate. A bored looking Kushite slave-warrior was posted at the gate. This colossus simply waved us through, as if such visits were a regular occurrence. “How goes it, eunuch?” I inquired, most amiably. I only got a growl and a murderous glare in return. No sense of humour!

We proceeded into the mansion grounds and into what seemed to be rather ordinary cellars. As we continued on, cellars became dark and dank dungeon. The unconscious and naked Danyo was unceremoniously deposited onto the floor and secured in shackles. As the group departed, I slowly fell further behind. Backtracking, I made my way back to the dungeon, listening carefully for any other travelers while preparing to free my companion.

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Chapter I, Session I, Part II
Above stairs

From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer

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I cannot tell you how I managed not to burst out laughing upon hearing the cries of passion coming from Tamara’s nearby room. I believe it may have had something to do with Vilena, the little wonder who had brought me to this room. I spared little time for thoughts of anything else as soon as the wisps of clothing dropped from her slender form to the floor. Perhaps I already knew that the night must end in blood. In truth, I cannot now say. Regardless of the reason, the passion which burned within me was overwhelming, and little Vilena was burned by it.

As we lay there, panting in the wake of the passionate coupling, I took a good look at my companion. Her raven hair was in a delightful state of disarray. He face was flushed and her delicious body was covered in a sheen of sweat. As I gazed into her dark eyes, she burst into tears! As you may well imagine, this was not the reaction I had expected. The girl gave me no time to question her, pouring forth her soul before I had a chance to speak. “I have placed you in danger!” she sobbed. “Harasym sent me to you…I’m sorry…I didn’t know…I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you!”

I silenced the poor girl momentarily with a kiss, and she returned a kiss with every bit of her being in it. Somewhat calmed, she explained to me that the man who had set the hairs on the back of neck on end was called Harasym and he was the leader of a gang that ran this street. His intent was to rob us and kidnap us, delivering us to a woman Vilena called Lady Nehira. Vilena sounded envious of this Lady Nehira’s beauty as she told me of the cult the lady led and the orgiastic rituals she had seen with her own eyes. We were needed, it seemed, as some sort of sacrifice. Though once a party to this plan, Vilena was now desperate to save me from it!

As I calmed the distraught girl I heard a floorboard creak in the hallway.

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Chapter I, Session I, Part I
Shadizar the Wicked - The Beginning

Shadizar

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This city, the capital of the realm of Zamora, is the bastion of a culture alien to the Hyborian nations of the West. The streets of the city burst with life. Garish nobility followed by pandering sycophants, wealthy aristocrats carried on high-borne litters, exotic merchants haggling with thrifty buyers, hungry soldiers parading forth in black armour, greedy mercenaries looking for fortune and glory, all jostle with diseased paupers huddling in filthy alleys, odorous livestock herded for frenzied consumption and contaminated rats surrounded by a swarm of flies in the streets of this ancient city. Over the teeming streets hang odoriferous miasmas; sweet smells rising from countless ovens, malodorous incense burning in bizarre temples and the cloying stench of local industries. The unending surge of life brings an eternity of clamour blaring with it; clanging gongs and banging bells resounding from distinctive temples, laughing children and shouting parents playing in littered streets, bleating sheep and lowing cattle booming in fruitless outrage, foreign crowds and local throngs pushing through narrow alleys, shouting criers and screaming servants bellowing out unheeded announcements and lamenting mourners and begging cripples sharing their pitiful woes.

In Shadizar, it is cheaper to dispose of an incriminating corpse than to buy a horse to escape from the law. The sweltering city is a den of vice and sin. Shameful things done behind closed doors in other places are proudly done publicly and openly in Shadizar the Wicked. The most horrible acts of man can find a patron or a supplier in this unholy city. Murders are taken as a matter of course and given only the most perfunctory of investigations, if any at all. Theft is such a routine of life in Shadizar it does not warrant much mention in the discussions of the denizens, nor do the authorities care to do much about it. A man does not walk unarmed in the city, day or night, and a woman is advised to do the same.

Shadizar, with a population that averages 38,215 permanent inhabitants and averaging over 60,000 people on any given day, is a dangerous city. Predators hunt prey and, if they are not careful, become prey themselves by even more powerful predators. Scavengers lurk in the shadows, ready to strip the figurative carcasses of a predator’s hunt or the abandoned property of the prey. The drunken king cares only that none usurp his authority even as he allows sorcerers and priests to manipulate his every decision. Loud and boisterous, this is not the city for those in dire need of peace of quiet but for those who desire to carouse until unconsciousness, Shadizar is a veritable paradise.

The Desert
The maul of Shadizar is known as the Desert. It is not called that because it is sandy and hot, but because nothing worthwhile comes from there. The sharp smells of damp sewage, the reeking odours of unwashed masses, the gamey stench of animal pens and the overpowering tangs of food and alcohol all compete for attention as one walks down the winding mazes of the Desert’s alleys and streets. Death and disease are evident wherever one looks. Rotting beggars, stricken with venereal diseases and worse, sit beside murdered corpses, oblivious to their neighbours’ fate. Pigs, chickens, dogs and cats run underfoot, as do the ragged youth of the district. The air is thick with the fumes of cooking fires and chimneys. Noise is constant. Screaming, singing, carousing and laughing all vie against the omnipresent bell ringing from the prophets and temples as well as the noisy beat of the craftsmens’ hammers.

Just two among the many denizens of the Desert, Danyo and Darius made their way to Ninochka’s Bordello. This brothel is a ramshackle affair and has two floors plus an attic. On the ground floor is the main parlour where the whores are chosen. The kitchens and a few rooms are also located on the ground floor. Above are the sleeping rooms. Crumbling taverns sit on either side of the brothel, providing music through the thin walls of the seamy whorehouse. Across the street a food stall where slabs of roast pig and baked lizards mounted on long sticks are sold to those who are hungry, but want to spend most of their money on sex or alcohol. Within, sleek girls with round hips, soft breasts and willing dispositions allow any who walk into the building to play with them as desired, willing to explore any excess or taste. The prostitutes are young, but they all have a tired, world-weary look about them, doubtless gained from long nights spent as outlets for the debauches of foreign men.

Upon entering the brothel, the two found themselves in the parlour. Several girls in varying states of dress (or undress) lounge about, some talking to (and being toyed with by) potential customers. A beefy Kushite bouncer named Ubah watches the room like a gargoyle as the pair make their way to the bar. Along the bar, a collection of individuals converse in hushed tones over drinks. Some of these individuals appear to be thugs, others appear to be soldiers soldiers, and two are richly attired. The group is accompanied by one of the house’s girls. Brushing politely past the group, the pair lift the purses of the richly dressed men with an unnoticed and delicate touch. As Danyo and Darius reach the bar, they are greeted by the pretty Zamoran bartender who introduces herself as Tamara. Darius orders wine, telling Tamara he’d be happy with whatever vintage is the least watered down and willingly paying the slightly higher fee from the silvers in his newly acquired purse. Danyo decides to play the bumpkin. Pulling a single coin from the purse he had only just lifted, Danyo explains that this is all he has in the world. Tamara’s eyes light up at the sight, and it is only then that Danyo notices that the coin is gold!

While this exchange is going on, the pair hear bits and pieces of the conversation which the other group at the bar is trying so desperately to have without being overheard. There is talk about a ritual and a sacrifice and a secret temple before the louder one of the group is hushed by his compatriots. While what little they have heard arouses their suspicions, it also motivates them to avoid the group entirely. Darius and Danyo are small time thieves, and this sounds dangerously beyond them. They find little time to think about this before their coins garner attention. The gold coin which Danyo produced in the midst of his bumpkin routine easily attracts attention far beyond his plans. A pair of prostitutes from Khitai approach him, offering their attentions. Unsure himself whether it is real or simply part of his bumpkin act, Danyo sputters that that single coin was all that he had and that he cannot afford their company. Without looking up from his drink, Darius sighs, “You must excuse my cousin. He is a bit…simple.” With the help of Tamara, Danyo manages, after several minutes, to convince the girls that he is not the worthy they seek. Tamara quietly offers herself to Danyo, and the surprised cutpurse accepts. With a smile, Tamara leaves the bar for a few moments to find a girl to cover for her for a while, returning to collect Danyo and lead him upstairs.

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Darius did his utmost to suppress a grin while watching the display. He had not managed to pass unnoticed himself. While his use of coin was far less obvious than Danyo’s, it did catch the attention of Harasym, one of the richly dressed individuals in the other group at the bar. Whispering into the ear of the raven-haired girl with the group, his eyes fall upon Darius. The small girl nods her head and sinuously approaches Darius. She is a small girl, standing only five feet, four inches in height. Her raven-coloured hair cascades over her shoulders and down to her waist, save for a topknot of hair she affects to keep her bangs out her eyes. Darius cannot help but observe that the raven-haired beauty has dark, almost black eyes, long limbs, small, pert breasts and a small waist. Introducing herself as Vilena, she slide up against the thief and asks if he would like to buy her a drink. While he can see that this is clearly a trap of some kind, Darius is still not certain of the purpose. Clearly the richly arrayed individual (who Darius just noticed is wearing brigandine and is armed with at least a short sword beneath his expensive cloak) is in charge of the group. This moustached and beardless figure was unusually tall. His light eyes, sickly foreign, showed the cold arrogance which foretold and easy brutality. This was not a man that Darius wished to cross. Darius almost regretted lifting the man’s purse only moments earlier. Almost. If he found himself facing this man, Darius knew that he would have to do everything he could to kill him, or else he would be killed himself. Smiling at Vilena, he signals for another drink and says, “What man could refuse such a beauty?” The smile this elicits from Vilena is surprisingly genuine. As they finish their drinks, Darius and Vilena move towards the stairs and proceed to the rooms above with unspoken agreement. Unable to resist the temption to practice his art, Darius deftly lifts the purse of a fat Corinthian who brushes past him in the opposite direction on the narrow stairwell.

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