The dead fish raft is becoming unusable because apparently things have been feeding on it from below, but conveniently in such very small chunks and so infrequently that it didn’t just, y’know, be devoured entirely within a few hours. Conan and company ditch the boat, confident that they’ve eluded pursuit, because they could’ve taken any of the myriad passages leading away from the Sunless Sea. It apparently does not occur to them that someone might notice their boat and drastically narrow the number of possible exits to those in the boat’s immediate vicinity. Granted, the boat is made from a fish, which means it’s possible that pursuers won’t realize it was converted into a boat, but it’s also possible that they will, and this possibility is one that Conan, Elashi, and Tull all completely ignore. And while it takes him a bit, Deek does eventually realize that a fish is about the only thing that Conan could’ve made his boat from, and that the dead fish with he odd wounds they passed was probably carved up by a blade and used as a raft. Being cunning enough to understand things like “pursuers might recognize these cuts were artificial and continue their chase, we should not let our guard down” was actually pretty critical to Conan’s character once upon a time, but apparently not anymore.
And once the plot needs him to be clever, he suddenly is. Far more clever than the original stories posited, in fact. In Frost Giant’s Daughter, we establish that Conan is easily baited into a trap by pretty women. In some chronologies, this happens when Conan is like fifteen or sixteen years old, and makes a good deal of sense, but in the Tor chronology that this book operates off of, Conan is like twenty-something when that encounter happens, but he’s still fifteen or sixteen here, in Conan the Indomitable. Logically speaking, Conan should be pretty much helpless before the charms of the siren voice of the Webspinner Plants. So, y’know, maybe Elashi or Tull have to snap him out of it, like, maybe give Elashi any reason at all to even be in this story besides making it a direct sequel to Conan the Defiant and also letting Steve Perry hit his sexism quotas. But, no, Conan is suddenly good at resisting seduction, because if there’s one thing that’s characterized Conan in this story so far, it’s restraining himself from sexual interludes in situations where they might be dangerous.
Side note: Conan is, as mentioned, supposed to be about fifteen or sixteen in this book, but he seems like he’s basically in full Conan mode already, save that he is sometimes extremely stupid in a way that doesn’t line up with teenage inexperience so much as just with being so extremely imperceptive as to miss the blatantly obvious. This is probably just a result of Steve Perry either not knowing or not caring that Conan is actually super young at this point in his career, and treating the Conan timeline as more a dotted line crossing a map than the growth of a character. This problem is endemic to the entire Conan saga. Robert E Howard himself doesn’t seem to have cared much for the growth of Conan’s character, treating sixteen year old Conan as much the same as thirty year old Conan. If this were the story of Conan from age twenty to age thirty-five, that would make some amount of sense. People change at all from their twenties to their thirties, but I could believe that a specific person might not grow much in that time. But, like, to be basically the same person at thirty as when they were fifteen? Jesus, man. Like I said, though this is a problem endemic to all of Conan (it even came up, and was particularly noticeable, in Conan of Venarium, where he was supposed to be thirteen and yet the narrative regularly treated him like he was already full grown Conan), so I’m really only bringing it up here because I had to bring it up somewhere and Conan’s ability to resist seduction being dialed up or down according to the needs of the plot got me on the tangent.
Anyway, they escape the plants and compare notes, and Elashi’s strongest desire is “[t]he powerful voice of a desert chief” who is “[a]sking me to be his bride and firstwife[,]” which is definitely better than what I was fearing, which was “oh, Conan, it sounds just like you.”
But when our heroes turn around to try and find a different route, they discover that Harskeel and their bat minions have come up behind them.
Conan and company are just slaughtering the bats. Harskeel decides to resolve the situation with magic, tossing a vial of light intended to blind their enemies, but it turns out it’s actually a vial of darkness. Conan and company are able to escape in the dark, slipping through Harskeel’s forces. Including the bats, despite the fact that being able to navigate through echolocation is, like, the one fact about bats that everyone knows. Like, seriously, unlike owls, who merely have night vision, bats are specifically adapted to be perfectly functional in situations of no light whatsoever, like you get in caves. Bat eyes are also very good (“blind as a bat,” as a phrase, could scarcely be more wrong), but they’re not even necessary.
Also in this chapter we have Wikkell’s reaction to seeing Katamay Rey having arrived with cyclopes in force:
Wikkell uttered a whispered epithet, the common and impolite word for excrement, and backed hastily into a deep shadow.
Apparently you weren’t allowed to say “shit” in books back in 1989. Just in case anyone was letting their eight year olds read Conan novels, or we’re clinging to the delusion that thirteen year olds don’t use swear words. Granted, they mostly use swear words to show off how cool they are, but regardless of how dorky they sound doing it, the dam’s been broken, no point pretending it hasn’t.
Anyway, Katamay Rey has shown up on the shore, Deek and Wikkell are hiding from him, having just returned from a dead end and looped back around to try one of the other passages near the abandoned fish raft, and Conan run smack into Katamay while fleeing Harskell’s bats and what’s left of their bandits. And Chuntha’s not too far behind. Steve Perry’s gotten much better at having problems compound rather than be dealt with one after another without the result of one much impacting the next. It’s kind of a weird place to be bringing all of our villains together, though, because we’ve got like 140 pages of book left.
Turns out how we’re resolving that is that Katamay Rey just wins, like, instantly. He conjures a net on a surprised Conan and company, and since it’s magic, they can’t cut their way free. And also can’t stick an arm through the net to swing their swords at the cyclopes who haul them off, apparently. I guess maybe the weave of the net is too thin to permit an arm through? Like, maybe this is more mosquito net than fish net. Anyway, Katamay Rey wins and the remaining 140 pages are just the same story repeated again, word for word, in order to prevent readers from getting a feel for the proximity of the climax by the number of pages physically left in the book.
For real, though, Katamay Rey is bringing his prisoners back to his stronghold, and now both Chuntha and Harskeel are trying to chase him down. And the cyclopes are massively stronger than Conan, to the point where struggling against them is useless. They are like nine feet tall, so this makes sense, although I’m expecting it will be totally ignored once Conan is fighting them, and he will be able to cut through like eight of them single-handedly. In fairness, these cyclopes do appear to be completely unarmed, and brute strength is kind of at a disadvantage compared to having a sword.
It’s still not really clear what exactly Katamay Rey wants with Conan. Apparently he thinks Conan is some kind of threat, because divination? In which case it’s not clear why he doesn’t kill Conan immediately. This isn’t usually much of a problem, because the viewpoint character is Conan, not Katamay, except that Katamay Rey does actually have a bunch of scenes where he’s the viewpoint character, including one here, after he already has Conan. Why not just kill him now? What are you going to do with him back in your stronghold that’s so important?
Whatever he was going to do, he isn’t now, because some rocks collapse on him, and before he can recover from that he is attacked by Chuntha and Conan and company escape in the fray. Their mysterious rock-collapsing savior turns out to be Lalo, the “witty” insult guy from the start of the book. And here I thought I’d gotten away with only having to put up with this guy for the one scene.