We’re all just gonna pretend it’s Saturday.
Conan and company flee the wizard they’ve just escaped, and learn that Lalo wasn’t, like, planning on saving them or anything, and it was pure stupid luck that the floor happened to cave in underneath him while he was wandering through the wilderness after finally getting kicked out of the inn. The four decide that now is the best time to rob Chuntha and/or Katamay Rey blind, since they’re both out hunting Conan (it’s still not clear why Katamay cares, nor if Chuntha has any motivation besides lust). There was definitely some kind of divination from Katamay Rey, but it’s not really clear to me what Conan is actually prophesied to do. Katamay and Chuntha must have a pretty solid idea that Conan is a threat, though, to go to such lengths chasing him.
Wikkell and Deek are making their way back to their respective homelands in hopes of stirring up revolution while the rulers are away. They discuss both the difficulty in convincing them to act and the potential for the future if the wizards can be deposed.
“We must convince our brothers and sisters to take the long view, Deek. Why, we might even create some kind of joint council, your folk and mine, with input from the plants and perhaps even the bats and Whites. Bring prosperity to the caves, instead of the boots of Rey and Chuntha upon our throats.”
Vote Wikkell 2020.
It’s not really clear how Conan and company get back across the Sunless Sea, but they do, arriving back in Tull’s hideout. Chuntha and Katamay Rey’s domains are both reasonably close, but in different directions, so they have to pick one or the other to raid. Katamay prefers gold, while Chuntha prefers gems, specifically rubies, emeralds, and firestones are named, and apparently we’re meant to take these as equally tempting treasures, but the real answer here is clearly Chuntha, because rubies and emeralds are worth more pound for pound than gold. If Chuntha has similar volume as Katamay, hers is the more valuable hoard. If she has similar value to Chuntha, hers is the more portable hoard. But I guess rubies and gold are supposed to be equally valuable, or else a lot more of Chuntha’s treasure is made up of less valuable gemstones than Tull implied.
Conan says the witch, but not for economic reasons.
Elashi raised one eyebrow at Conan. “Why so?”
It lay upon the top of Conan’s tongue to answer that he thought dealing with a witch – a woman – would be easier than dealing with a wizard – a man – should anything go wrong. Recalling his travels with Elashi so far, however, he realized that to speak such reasoning aloud would only irritate her and bring forth an undammed flow of invective. For some reason, Elashi seemed convinced that women were the equal of men in practically all things, and Conan had no desire to listen to another of her tirades. Perhaps, he thought, he was learning to deal with women after all.
I can’t tell if Steve Perry is trying to paint Conan as dumb and conceited or if the audience is meant to agree that Elashi is unreasonable. Certainly Elashi is unreasonable, not in this particular case but just in general, which suggests probably the latter.
But then it turns out that Steve Perry does know the value of rubies:
“Well?” she said.
Conan thought quickly. “Well-cut jewels are more valuable than gold, and much lighter. We can carry more gems than coin.”
Well, you can carry more value in gems. Individual gems will probably be bigger and harder to transport than individual coins. I’m nitpicking, but seeing as how 1) Conan was the only one smart enough to realize this very obvious fact and 2) even Conan only got here because announcing “because sexism!” is a faux pas and Conan cares about social propriety now for some reason.
Also, the general trend of both wizards having effectively identical solutions to all problems is only getting stronger. They’re both scouting the Sunless Sea for Conan, and the magical bird-size hornets they’re using are seriously just palette swaps of one another. There’s a backstory for how these near-identical magic items wound up in their possession, but while that might’ve been kinda funny on its own, being as it is the third or fourth time two nominally distinct wizards have turned out to be palette swaps of one another, it’s mostly just dull. Anyway, they’re still searching the Sunless Sea, so no chance of finding Conan any time soon. On the other hand, we’ve only got about eighty pages to burn before the climax, when the wizards are scheduled to be killed by Conan, their own rebellious minions, or both, so presumably they’re getting back home sooner rather than later.
That rebellion isn’t going so great, though. Deek and Wikkell are unable to prompt a rebellion just by asking for one, so they resolve to try and find some crack in their respective evil overlords’ armor with which to inspire their fellows.
This whole chapter is just spent putting pieces into place. Deek and Wikkell plan to raid Chuntha’s chambers while she’s gone, hoping to use their ability to rob her and get away with it to provoke an uprising. It’s not clear how they plan to repeat the operation for Katamay Rey, who’s likely to have returned by the time they can reach his chambers. Katamay Rey has turned around and begun heading back to his stronghold, but Chuntha has decided to remain in the Sunless Sea, hoping that Katamay will continue searching it and she can ambush him. This marks pretty much the first time that Chuntha and Katamay Rey have ever made significantly different decisions from one another. Harskell is on Conan’s tail and following him to Chuntha’s realm.
Everyone but the wizards are moving to Chuntha’s realm, so it looks like we’re probably going to have another dud climax where one threat after another is brought down, not compounding one another nor draining any significant resources but instead just plowed through in order of potential threat.
Early in this chapter, Harskell muses that the bats will exsanguinate Conan when they catch him, and they’ll have to move quickly to get some blood on Conan’s sword for the splitting spell. They mention that only a few drops will suffice. So why are you trying to kill him, then?!
In any case, Conan and Tull lead guard worms away from Chuntha’s chambers, kill a few of them with rocks, and that scares the survivors off, allowing our heroes to head off to the rendezvous point. Elashi and Lalo get into Chuntha’s chambers and steal a bunch of pretty rocks. So that went well. Given Steve Perry’s uneasy pacing, I’m really not sure whether or not something’s going to go wrong at any point.