One of the gems taken from Chuntha has some kind of clearly magical hum to it. Conan’s usual magic-sensing powers have apparently failed to alert him, though. Maybe he lost his Barbarian class features when he used the Warp in the last book, and now he can’t rage or repel magic until he has an atonement spell cast on him.
Chuntha has a cloak that can turn her into a quetzalcoatlus (that’s the dinosaur – the Aztec god is just quetzalcoatl without the -us), and also knows feather fall. Like, seriously, it’s a “complex conjuration that would lighten her body to featherweight,” so in terms of casting time and effect it is basically exactly the same as the D&D spell. She plans on using her quetzalcoatlus form to fly home, and since the length of the transportation is extremely swingy, on attempting to use the feather fall spell to save herself if the transformation gives out mid-air. You might think that attempting to fly home in the ‘Neath is going to be difficult, seeing as how everything past the Sunless Sea (and even large portions of the Sunless Sea) seems to be pretty tight tunnels with maybe a dozen yards of head room at most, but apparently this is so little a concern that it doesn’t even need to be addressed. Maybe she’s just using this form to cross the Sea? Either way, the chapter also says that quetzalcoatlus is only nearly extinct, so there’s still dinosaurs stomping around somewhere in the far south of Hyboria. I feel like there’s other Conan stories that have had dinosaurs in them, but I can’t put my finger on an actual name or plot or anything, so maybe it’s just that they go together so well that my mind has associated them without any actual source material to draw on. Certainly I liked the idea enough to write up about half an RPG about it the one time.
The magic gem Conan picked up has given him telepathy, and because Conan is approaching peak Mary Sue, this reveals that Lalo is just constantly praising him in his thoughts, much the opposite of his really dull spoken insults, and that Elashi is constantly lusting after him. Conan doesn’t bother reading Tull’s thoughts, presumably because the theme here is that people who insult Conan to his face secretly admire him, and that power fantasy can’t be carried with the character of Tull, who doesn’t really have any reason to insult Conan in the first place. Also, Conan’s too dumb to figure out that the mysterious and clearly magical tingle gem might be the source of his mysterious and clearly magical telepathy. Again, I’m not sure if Steve Perry’s Conan is supposed to be a gormless idiot or if it’s just lazy writing, but I suspect the latter, just on account of nobody ever seems to call Conan on his actual acts of stupidity. Like, Lalo will call him dumb for no reason at all because lol wacky and Elashi will call him dumb because she’s a nagging 80s housewife for some reason, but nobody ever points out that Conan’s being dumb when he actually is.
This narrative loves to bounce around between perspectives, which isn’t a terrible thing all the time, but I do end up leaving entire pages out because they do nothing except keep us appraised of what the villains are currently up to at all times, often using three or four cutaways to depict what could’ve been covered with just one, showing us each step of a search or a plan when we could’ve had just been given all the necessary foreshadowing in one scene rather than have it spread across several. This time, the only notable thing we learn upon bouncing back to Chuntha is that she is now out of the Sunless Sea and back in the tunnels and also she is perfectly capable of flying through those tunnels in quetzalcoatlus form.
Now, I say quetzalcoatlus, but no specific species name is ever given. Description makes it clear that it’s some kind of dinosaur-era flier, and also that it’s far bigger than any bird save the roc, and also that its size so vastly outstrips that of the Bloodbats that it cannot be mistaken for one even at a distance. Since the narrative drew attention to how big it was, I went with the biggest dinosaur-era flier, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that big (the quetzalcoatlus has a thirty-five foot wingspan). The roc and the Bloodbats are both fictitious, so we have no idea what wingspan Steve Perry is assigning to them, but we do know that this thing is considerably larger than even the largest actual real world bird. We’ll be nice and assume flightless birds are out, so it’s not necessarily dwarfing the size of an ostrich. Your larger condors still have a wingspan of nearly eleven feet. Whatever Chuntha has turned into has to be larger enough by that to clearly exceed it, though not necessarily dwarf it, so let’s call it a twelve foot minimum. That’s bigger than pterodactyl but well below the twenty-three foot wingspan of some pteranodon species.
Still, Chuntha is flying through the tunnels with at least a twelve-foot wingspan, possibly a twenty-foot wingspan, and a thirty-five foot wingspan isn’t out of the question. If Chuntha’s wingtips were brushing the walls, I’d expect a comment to that effect, so I think it’s safe to say that even with a twelve-foot wingspan, she’s got at least a few feet of clearance to either side, giving us a minimum tunnel width of eighteen feet. And here I was imagining corridors so tight that Conan and company would frequently have to walk single file down them.
And also apparently a lot of time has been passing without the narrative letting us know. There’s supposed to be a two day hike from Chuntha’s stronghold to Katamay Rey’s. Deek and Wikkell just robbed Chuntha in the last chapter, right after Conan and company escaped. Now in this one, they’re robbing Katamay Rey. Deek and Wikkell have been chasing Conan and company for half the book, so they’re clearly not much faster or else they would’ve caught up on raw speed, rather than only catching up when the two of them (somewhat accidentally) caught them in a pincer. Not only that, but after stealing from Katamay Rey and then leaving his domain, they are now closer to Chuntha’s realm, and thus decide to try and use their successful theft to inspire a worm uprising before doing the same with the cyclopes. But this means that either they spent a full day or more leaving Katamay Rey’s realm before stopping to plan their next move, or else that the passage between Katamay Rey’s and Chuntha’s realms is so short that they can get closer to one than the other in, like, an hour, just putting a bit of distance between themselves and the border so they’re not caught conspiring before they’re ready to put their plan into action. So is the passage from Katamay Rey to Chuntha two days, or a quick hike? Are Deek and Wikkell using a considerably shorter passage that Tull doesn’t know about or which is too heavily patrolled by either side for him to consider using? If so, why didn’t the narrative tell us that?
Harskeel catches up with Conan, and Chuntha soon afterwards, so at least that’s two of the three major antagonists who are having the climax together rather than one after another. The narrative also tells us two things about Chuntha’s dino-form:
- It takes up merely half the cavern’s width, and
- “Crom, it was huge!”
So I’m feeling more the twenty-three foot pteranodon if not the thirty-five foot quetzalcoatlus, here. Which puts our cavern somewhere between forty and seventy feet wide. We don’t even seem to be in a particularly wide corridor! It’s not like the Sunless Sea or the bats’ breeding chamber, where it was called out as a particularly large chamber. This place seems like it’s supposed to be perfectly typical.
Conan leaves his sword behind while retreating from the fray, along with just a few drops of blood, so Harskeel splits themselves back in twain. No word on who’s wearing what, if anything, but the man has Conan’s sword and the woman has their original. Katamay Rey shows up to confront the two of them, and they immediately begin bickering with one another, and then die that way as Katamay Rey reduces them to bubbling piles of goo, because 80s sitcom tropes. We could’ve had a scene here where the Harskell has this sort of bittersweet psuedo-reunion in death, but no, instead they just squabble like they’re arguing over the TV remote.
Our cuts to Deek and Wikkell depict them bouncing back and forth between Chuntha’s and Katamay Rey’s realm intercut with scenes of Conan in the same fight with Chuntha in her dino-form. Deek and Wikkell appear to be crossing this distance in minutes. Chuntha does end up carrying Conan off, however, while his three companions are instead captured by Katamay Rey. Once Chuntha resumes her human form, Conan is immediately seduced and follows her into her bedchambers. He still has his telepathy gem, though, so he knows that she’s going to suck out his life essence by fucking him, succubus-style. And he decides that his only hope is to go ahead and sleep with her, and just try and avoid climax for as long as possible. This is the dumbest final confrontation.
The dumbest final confrontation comes to its dumbest conclusion. It’s not actually the final confrontation, turns out, but still, Conan lasts until Chuntha passes out from exhaustion and then just walks out the front door and meets up with Deek and Wikkell. He spills all his stolen gems on the floor on the way out, and does not stop to gather them up, being in too much danger, and thus loses his telepathy gem. Also, Deek and Wikkell use magic, and Conan reminds us that he doesn’t like magic, despite having been totally unconcerned about spontaneously gaining the power of telepathy earlier. Rather than actually disliking magic, Steve Perry’s Conan only seems to hate it when it’s used against him.
Katamay Rey disrobes Elashi, is all ready to get his torture on, and then Lalo lies about where Conan is hiding. Katamay Rey immediately leaves to go search the false location Lalo gave.
We’re getting through these pretty quick, now, mainly because the book is spending a lot of time reforeshadowing things over and over again. Like, there’s two scenes in here where it establishes that yes, Katamay Rey is in fact searching for Conan in the fake location given him in the last chapter, and yes, Chuntha does chase after Conan after he escapes. Both of these things could easily have been inferred from earlier scenes, but instead we cut back and forth between the two wizards just to confirm that neither has made any meaningful progress. Likewise with the fomenting revolution. Like, yeah. That’s still going on. Thanks for reminding me, book. Go ahead and let me know when they actually start attacking their wizard overlords, and feel free to keep quiet about the scenery as Deek, Wikkell, and Conan walk from one part of the cave to another.
Elashi is able to slip her bonds in Katamay’s chambers, where Lalo and Tull are also imprisoned. And also where Katamay keeps a trunk full of all his magic spells. And which he just leaves there with them while he’s out searching for Conan. Katamay Rey is apparently both squeezed hard for real estate, that his storage room and his dungeon have to be the same place, and also not very bright. Elashi finds a rod that shoots lasers when you push a button on one end, and she’s able to use it to blast the chains off of Lalo and Tull. Takes her three cutaways to do it, though, on account of the device has a recharge time and the first time she fires it, it’s by accident and aimed at nothing in particular.
Katamay Rey hears the commotion, and the rod is still recharging, so he’s free to turn them into puddles of ooze without any fear of retaliation. But instead he does that thing that villains do, where they hear the cavalry coming, and instead of immediately finishing off their immediate foes in order to shore up a flank before confronting the new threat, they instead decide to put off eliminating the known threats right in front of them until after they have finished ascertaining exactly what the unknown approaching threat is.
Chuntha sees the revolutionary armies approaching (Blind Whites and Bloodbats got recruited to the cause at one point, in addition to the worms and cyclopes – funny enough, neither “worms” nor “cyclopes” ever gets capitalized by the narrative, even though “Blind Whites” and “Bloodbats” have consistently been capitalized, but only when “Bloodbat” is spelled out completely, never when they’re referred to as just “bats,” which is frequent). She’s in her quetzelcoatlus form again, hunting down Conan, so she decides to just leave. When Katamay Rey sees the approaching army (they’re striking simultaneously for some reason? Seems to me like you’d be better off massing your forces and knocking off one after another, especially since it seems like Deek and Wikkell can get from one stronghold to another in like fifteen minutes), he buries a bunch of them in a cave-in, but apparently that’s something he has to set up in advance, because he doesn’t do it again when the second wave comes in.
His cave-in having left the revolutionary army bloodied but undeterred, Katamay Rey summons a demon of Set named Tunk. Tunk was in the middle of fucking some hot lady demon, and is completely naked now, but nevertheless bristling with dagger-like claws on hand and foot. But Steve Perry wanted to jam just a little bit more sex into the story, I guess. Anyway, Conan kills the demon with the help of Wikkell using a spell he’d stolen from Katamay Rey earlier, Chuntha is watching from nearby in her quetzalcoatlus form and tries to finish off Conan but loses her transformation mid-dive and dies on impact, and then Conan closes on Katamay Rey and stabs him through a magic forcefield with the power of his muscles and also being really angry at Lalo’s insults. The climax came within a hair’s breadth of happening all at once, but no, all the final bosses just sit around waiting their turn to confront Conan even though they’re all in the same room as him at the same time.
They all live happily ever after. Like, seriously, this chapter is two and a half pages long and consists of Elashi and Lalo falling in love, Conan deciding he doesn’t want Elashi that much anyway and these two annoying side characters are made for each other, and then the victorious worms and cyclopes show the human cast to a hidden exit back out onto the surface world.
The offer at the back of a book for a free Conan poster to all new members of the Conan can club has, alas, expired on December 31st, 1989.