AoC: The Path From Hell

Amuntoth just wrote a piece on roleplaying in MMOs, and his post served as the catalyst for me breaking down and writing an introductory piece for my current Age of Conan character, Tanaji.

The problem with the Conan-verse is that it’s already based on some heavily stylized writing, that of Robert E. Howard. Howard’s stories are very pulpy and at times a little trite (Conan sleeps with another beautiful woman!), but they definitely have a certain unifying style — a style that I was certain I’d be unable to duplicate.

But I wanted to write something about my character, and I gave it my best shot – I hope you enjoy.

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As the pair worked their way inland, the cool breeze blowing in off of the ocean had disappeared, dying amongst the bramble and vines of the jungle. Now only the hot, sticky filth of the tropics remained.

Tanaji tried to wipe sweat out of her eyes, but only succeeded in re-moistening the dried blood on her hands. With that last provocation, the Khitani’s irritation finally boiled over. “I thought you said you knew the way, whore.”

“I do, I do,” the blond wench called out from ahead. “I just need to get my bearings. Those brutes”–and here Tanaji noticed the pathetic thing shuddered–“chased me for a long while, and then-”

Now the whore was bawling uncontrollably. Tanaji groaned. Her only way out of this forsaken hell hole was a woman broken in both body and spirit.

Kill her, someone whispered Tanaji’s her ear. Instinctively, she spun around and struck, only to slide her blade through open air.

It took the Khitani a second to realize that she had screamed out as she had swung, and that her unexpected yell and strike had terrified the whore, Casilda, into silence. For a long moment, neither woman moved or spoke. Only the ambient noise of the jungle permeated the scene.

Finally, Tanaji turned and sheathed her weapon. “When I was a slave, that detestable slaver abused me in unimaginable ways,” she said, uncharacteristically quiet.

“‘When I was a slave,'” Casilda scoffed through her tears. “Words alone do not unfetter manacles, woman.”

Tanaji raised her wrist. “You mean these? I’ll find a way to get them off. In the same way I cut down that bastard Saddur.” A pause. “Look, what I’m trying to say is that no amount of crying while fix the past. Nothing can change that. Those men mercilessly raped you. But… action now, in the present, can change the future. If it helps you recover, I swear I’ll hunt down and murder each man who hurt you. It’s the least I can do for your help.”

—–     —–     —–     —–

Of course,” Tanaji thought to herself much later, “it was easy for me to say that.”

Casilda stirred beside her, but didn’t awake. It turned out the whore had indeed gotten them lost, and the pair had been forced to camp in a clearing for the night. It was probably for the best; the heat had been driving Tanaji to start hallucinating voices.

The Khitani raked the coals, still buried in thought. She could easily promise the death of half a dozen men – she had no memory, no attachments, and killing seemed to come easily to her.

It deeply worried her, the ease with which she had taken life. Had she been a soldier, before? She could remember growing up in Khitai, traveling with her merchant parents, seeing the Great Wall for the first time, learning to write–

–and then nothing, except the past few days on the slave ship. And even those memories were murky.

Something in the darkness chuckled. Tanaji bolted up, sword in hand, and peered out beyond the campfire. “Who’s there?” she challenged, slowly turning in a circle.

Behind you, in the flame, the whispering voice replied. Tanaji turned to see the fire had risen up into a shifting iridescent column. And there was a face forming in the fire, constantly twisting and changing. At moments, it would be her face, and then it would be something… else.

“What do you want, spirit?” Spirits were common enough in Khitai; a talking flame was not completely unheard of.

The voice laughed, harsh and grating. I am no spirit, Tanaji of the Khitai. I am an avatar of the Lord of the Elder Night, and you are my sworn Herald, pathetic though you may be now.

Tanaji readjusted her grip on the swords hilt. “Be gone, demon. I’ll fall for no such trickery.”

There was a time, the fire spoke, when you would have sacrificed a thousand innocents to be blessed with such an encounter as this.

Something in Tanaji’s mind popped, and the warrior froze. In a sudden searing moment of clarity, the Khitani vividly remembered the event – the cutting out of a thousand hearts, the intoning of sacred words, and the gradual coalescence a smokey, corporeal form, the avatar of her god-

Xotli. The fire laughed again, even more menacing and inhuman.

“What do you want?” Tanaji whispered, shaken and afraid. Her sword clattered to the ground.

What could you give me? Xotli possess your soul, mortal. Though you may not remember the event, you willing parted with it, all for more knowledge. How… ironic.

Tanaji’s fear passed, replaced with rage. “So now you return, to torment a broken tool?”

Peace, mortal. He From Beyond is timeless and all powerful. He would dare dain manifest an avatar to simply torment one as pathetic as yourself. No–that brand on your flesh interests Him. It is the work of one whose reach exceeds his grasp, and it is troubling.

“I reject that which binds me to you,” Tanaji coldly intoned. Without thinking, she brought her fists up, channeling her anger and rage into them. “I’ll not be your, nor anyone’s plaything.” Her fists grew hotter, and the air around them warped. “Not now, nor ever again.”

In an instant, fire sprang forth and consumed her mortal frame. She became an avatar of pure heat, her wrath made manifest. Power, raw and unrestrained, surged through her veins.

But her flesh did not burn. Tanaji felt alive in a way she could never remember.  And she was laughing hysterically, laughing with the demon’s voice.

And then, like a match snuffed out, it was over. Tanaji stood alone, in the dark. The fire had long since burned to embers, and Casilda continued to sleep soundly. The night air, warm and damn, silently hung over the scene.

The wind whispered one last time. The power to summon fire. Xotli rebestows this gift upon you, Herald.

7 thoughts on “AoC: The Path From Hell

  1. Wow, thank you all for the kind comments! I felt really good about this story – I think it’s the best thing I’ve written to date. I had been wanting to write some sort of origin story for my character, and this turned out better than expected.

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