Tukali led Westlun’s group across the bridge, the wheezing and puffing of the slaver sounding loud in the ears of the stealthier men around him. Already Westlun had walked further this day than he was accustomed to traveling in a week. The fact that he hadn’t keeled over from the strain was a source of some amazement to the others, though they kept their thoughts to themselves.
Now that they had penetrated farther into the city, a distant tumult could be heard echoing through the streets and off the buildings. The sound of pounding, creaking and a chorus of high-pitched whines and deep groans reverberated together, forming a constant background noise almost but not exactly like the far-off rumbling of thunder.
Up ahead, the bridge met the other side of the deep fissure. Tukali could see the square and the great dome beyond where long lines of metal-bespattered slaves and their towering escorts had flooded into the building just days before.
Now the square was empty. There were no guards, slaves nor even the odd work crew to provide even a moment’s distraction to Tukali’s captors. The Turanian’s hopes for a quick escape were dashed as the group once again failed to meet any resistance on their trek through Boa. Tukali had been guiding them along well-concealed routes to avoid arousing Westlun’s suspicion, but every now and then he’d purposely led them through areas that would have normally been swarming with guards. His luck was proving sour this day, for in each instance where Westlun and his men should have confronted at least a few of the overseers that policed this city, they had met with nothing but silence and a clear path. It would seem that, for the overseers, there were more pressing tasks to be attended to elsewhere.
Tukali sighed as they reached the stone flags of the square. At least his route had been circuitous enough that Westlun and his men wouldn’t be leaving Boa anytime soon–not without taking Tukali with them.
Nagi gripped the Turanian’s shoulder from behind. “Look over there,” he said quietly, pointing past Tukali at the dome. “I see something near those doors.”
Tukali turned his gaze on the dome’s open portals and, sure enough, he could make out the all-too-familiar shape of an overseer against the darkness of the structure’s entrance. “Aye, one of the guards I spoke of,” he said over his shoulder. “It doesn’t see us. Or if it does, it must think we belong here.”
The guard captain stepped up beside the prisoner. “Lead on, then. We shouldn’t tempt the thing to action by tarrying here further.”
With a curt nod, Tukali set off for the edge of the square, Nagi close behind. Out of all the members of Westlun’s troop, Nagi alone had shown at least a modicum of respect toward him, perhaps in observance of some rough sort of warrior’s code. Of the entire group, Tukali suspected the captain of being the only one with any real kind of military background; at least this might give Tukali something to work with if he were called upon to appeal to the guard captain’s sense of honor.
They entered one of the many narrow alleyways twisting between buildings, shunning the wide avenue that branched out from the square but maintaining a course parallel to it. Tukali knew they were fast approaching Enkee-Kutul’s haunt, which meant his opportunities for escape were all but used up. He would have to wait until they reached their destination before he sought some other means to take his leave of Westlun’s company.
Before long they wound up in an alley looking out into the area below Enkee-Kutul’s ziggurat. Tukali halted them, warning them all to silence with a low whisper. Out near the gate an overseer was busy dragging off a mangled corpse while a lone priest looked on. Nagi crept up to Tukali’s side, glanced out at the altar and the gate, and then pulled the Turanian back into the shadows.
Westlun beckoned Tukali further into the darker recesses of the alley. “Why have we stopped?” he demanded loudly.
“One of Enkee-Kutul’s men lingers outside,” Tukali whispered. “A priest, I think. We should leave this place while we still can.”
“A priest, eh?” Westlun said with a grin. “Is the mention of a humble man of the cloth supposed to set my knees to knocking?”
Tukali frowned. “When last I espied this particular ‘man of the cloth’, he was stabbing another man to death upon that altar. After that he summoned forth a demon from the gate that stands without.”
Westlun waved his hand in dismissal. “Bah! Mere parlor tricks. All priests use them to keep their flocks in line. Such things scare women and children, not true men.” He started forward, shoving Tukali aside with his bulk. “Come,” he commanded his hirelings, “I would have this priest fetch his master.”
“Wait!” Tukali hissed at the slaver’s back. “Don’t be a fool! He’ll kill us all!”
The slave lord stopped and turned halfway around. “Nagi,” he said, pointedly ignoring Tukali’s outburst, “stay here with this dog and see that he does not escape–if we need to leave in haste, he will have to guide us back to Khorshemish. But if he doesn’t still his wagging tongue,” and he thrust the confiscated dagger into Nagi’s hands, “you may cut it from his head.”
Nagi stepped aside to let the rest of Westlun’s men follow the slaver out from the shelter of the alley. When they had all exited, the guard captain turned to Tukali and pulled him forward so he could likewise watch from the cover of the shadows. Tukali opened his mouth to say something, but Nagi cut him off. “Keep quiet,” he admonished, pointing with Tukali’s dagger to the group approaching the priest. “I want to hear them.”
As he passed by the stained and cracked altar, Westlun strode out in front of his men and called to the priest. “You!” he bellowed, thrusting his chin out arrogantly.
The robed man looked up, probably in surprise, though his face was too well cloaked within the folds of his hood for the slave lord to know for sure. The priest stood there watching as Westlun halted a few paces away, his guards fanning out to each side of him with their crossbows drawn and held at the ready.
All the men abruptly turned as one at the clanking approach of the overseer. It had disposed of the corpse and returned to find a dozen strangers postured threateningly around one of its masters. The overseer spread its arms wide and headed toward the nearest of the men, who raised their weapons in nervous response. But suddenly the priest’s voice barked out a terse order and the overseer stood fast. It lowered its arms hesitantly, while the men did the same.
With a smile, Westlun turned back to the priest. “I would speak to Enkee-Kutul. I have a business proposition for him.”
The priest didn’t immediately reply. He just bowed his head forward for several seconds, then raised it up again.
“I said I–” Westlun faltered as it occurred to him that the Turanian had mentioned something about the wizard being foreign. It was possible these invaders might not even understand him.
He regarded the priest as an adult might regard a child. “Do you speak Kothian?”
With a slight rustle of his brightly-colored robes, the priest pulled back his hood to reveal a face the shade of purest obsidian and a bemused look writ upon those darksome features. “I can speak your tongue.”
“Excellent,” Westlun replied. “I wish an audience with your master. Would you tell him?”
The priest bowed humbly, almost mockingly to the slaver’s eyes. “Enkee-Kutul has been informed of your arrival.” His upper lip crinkled into a slight smirk as he continued to stare at Westlun.
For his part, the slave lord started to feel hot beneath the leather armor he’d been packed into, and the sweltering atmosphere of the cavern only added to his discomfort. But despite the heat and the priest’s unnerving stare, he returned that stare unblinkingly, refusing to back down from someone else’s lackey. In the end, it was the priest who looked away first, if only to acknowledge a new arrival upon the scene.
Westlun blinked in surprise and his men began to murmur nervously when it seemed that the shadows around them came to sudden life, rolling like a thick fog to gather several steps up the side of the ziggurat. An onyx leg stepped out of the shadows, which receded as the rest of the leg’s body came into view. The light fell tremulously about the man revealed, as if shying away from him, and the Kothians looked in awe upon the dark giant before them.
The priest stepped aside to let Enkee-Kutul pass as he descended the steps. The two conversed briefly while Westlun watched them with interest, trying unsuccessfully to make out the words of their speech.
They finished, and Enkee-Kutul looked over the newcomers while the priest remained a little bit to the side and behind him. Westlun could see a hint of a smile on the giant’s face when he spoke. “Welcome to my city!” he said grandly. “I am Enkee-Kutul. How may I be of service to you, . . .?”
“Westlun, of Koth,” the slave lord responded.
“Ah, Westlun of Koth,” mused Enkee-Kutul. “A noble title, to be sure. Tell me, Westlun of Koth, what is this proposition you wish to present to me?” He beamed down at the slaver and his men, smiling expansively.
Westlun regarded this mountain of a man, unflinchingly meeting his gaze as he’d met the priest’s; no matter the man’s impressive stature, he couldn’t allow himself to be intimidated if he wished to strike a lucrative bargain. Strange, but this Enkee-Kutul hardly resembled the normal run of wizards. Were they not supposed to be bent and wizened? “I have learned from a source of mine that you seek to build an empire.” Westlun explained what he’d heard from Tukali without giving mention of the prisoner.
As Enkee-Kutul listened in apparent interest, an interest that seemed to grow with each passing moment, the slave lord described how he could use his own extensive network to provide the emperor with all the slaves he could possibly need, enough to swell the ranks of his legions to withstand any attacks from the forces of neighboring nations. “It is obvious to me,” said Westlun, “that you need more men to protect your empire. If a band such as mine,” he flicked his hand at the guards standing alertly behind him, “could easily penetrate so far into your territory, think of what might happen if an invading army from, say, Ophir, were to do the same?” He puffed up his chest self-importantly, succeeding in making himself look fatter than usual. “With the slaves I could provide, you could use the gilded madness to convert them to your cause, as you have with those you’ve already taken.”
“Hmm . . . indeed,” Enkee-Kutul reflected. He looked aside at the priest, nodding imperceptibly. The priest smiled enigmatically and bowed his head, eyes closed. Enkee-Kutul turned back to Westlun. “Explain this one thing to me: Why could I not just use my ‘gilded madness’, as you call it,” he grinned at the mention of the name, “to perform the same service you yourself propose to render?”
Westlun considered this dilemma with the experience of an orator used to participating in some of the most heated debates in Khorshemish’s royal court. “To begin with,” he said, “your plague has its limitations. Doubtless by now word of a plague in Khorshemish has already spread throughout Koth. King Strabonus has likely declared the city off-limits to travelers in order to prevent the spread of disease. No one is likely to come near, not if they value their lives.” As he spoke, he noticed Enkee-Kutul glancing past him, his grin widening to reveal rows of sharpened black teeth. Westlun resisted the urge to glance in the same direction, unwilling to allow anything to detract from the negotiations at hand.
Enkee-Kutul folded his hands behind his back. “And what if I were to send infected slaves out to other cities?”
Westlun shook his bald head vigorously. “Nay, such an effort would bear no fruit. News of the plague’s effects would already be common, and anyone bearing the signs of it would be killed and burned on the spot in order to spare everyone else from infection. There was a village once in eastern Khauran where plague broke out, a few years back–” The slave lord went on, describing the fate of that little village. He had to make himself invaluable to Enkee-Kutul’s plans of conquest, else he would have no bargaining power.
Meanwhile, shielded from view within the darkness of the alley, Nagi and Tukali watched in apprehension as Westlun trumped himself up to impress the terrible Enkee-Kutul. Tukali had just finished relating some of the terrible things he’d seen in Boa, among them the brutal sacrifices carried out by the wizard and his henchmen. “Your master has made a grave error,” he insisted. “If Enkee-Kutul needs more slaves, why would he sacrifice the ones he already has?”
“I saw no one sacrificed,” replied Nagi. He didn’t want to believe what Tukali was saying, for it could only bode ill for them all. Besides, the man might just be attempting some ruse to pave the way to an escape. “That man we saw being dragged off could have been injured during his labors.”
“Damn it, man! Look at the altar!” insisted Tukali. “See you not the bloodstains upon it?”
Nagi didn’t want to trust his prisoner, but he could hardly refute the evidence behind the man’s words. Any explanations he could think up would sound half-hearted and lame even to his own ears, but he voiced one anyway in hopes of assuaging his doubts. “Westlun knows what he’s doing. He’s not only skilled at bargaining–he’s ruthless as well. Those eleven with him will riddle the wizard and his priest with crossbow bolts at Westlun’s slightest command, and there is but one of those strange guards for them to–“
At that instant a great bulk interposed itself between them and the men beyond, eclipsing the group from view. Nagi snapped his mouth shut in mid-sentence, recognizing one of the towering hulks like the one already standing near the gate. The two watched in growing alarm as the overseer stepped past the mouth of the alley and quietly lumbered toward the group. Across their line of sight, at least a score of the dark blue titans slowly closed in around the band of men, spreading out to form a ring that cut off all avenues of escape. The sound of their passage was muffled by the ever-present background roar of the city.
The overseer near the gate strode through the edge of the group of men, drawing their eyes as it casually climbed a few steps up the ziggurat to stand behind its master. The others halted scant yards behind the men, and neither Westlun nor his guards appeared to be aware of the deadly ranks waiting at their backs.
Without thinking, Nagi put his hands to his mouth to yell a warning, but Tukali quickly stepped in front of him. “Don’t!”
“Get out of my way,” warned Nagi. “I’ll not stand here and see my fellows cut down from behind!”
“There’s naught that either of us can do,” said Tukali. “The trap is already sprung. If you call to them, they’ll die that much sooner, and then the overseers will know of us as well. Nay, only your master’s skill at bargaining can save them now, if he truly ever had a chance at all. Westlun should have heeded my warning. Don’t make the same mistake.”
Nagi opened his mouth to retort, but suddenly thought better of it. Once again, his captive was right. He looked away from Tukali and sighed, reluctantly giving in. He hoped the slave lord could indeed talk himself out of this predicament like he had so many others.
Tukali stepped away, and they both looked on with uncertainty as the slaver tried to strike a deal with the ebony giant.
Westlun concluded explaining his own prominence in the slave trade of Koth, selling himself as the only one of his kind capable of collecting the manpower Enkee-Kutul would need to sufficiently build his army. He felt he was dealing from a position of power since he had all the right connections and knew the elements of the trade so well. It seemed that the wizard had been receptive to his arguments thus far, though with uncommonly good humor.
“You have made it quite clear to me that you are the one to deal with should I wish to add to my legions,” said Enkee-Kutul after Westlun had finished. “But what, may I ask, is the price of your help? It seems to me that you would require some kind of payment for your services?” His smile lessened somewhat, his expression shifting to one of questioning.
“For one of your power and affluence,” replied Westlun, “my payment would be but a trifle. I ask only that I might continue to expand my trade under the protection of your new empire. That, and a small fee, a monetary token if you will, off the top of the cost of each new slave I procure for you.”
“Oh yes, of course,” said Enkee-Kutul, the smile back again in full-bloom. “A reward would hardly be out of the question, especially for so loyal an ally.” He stepped forward, coming within reach of Westlun. He laid a massive hand upon the slaver’s shoulder. “You would be loyal to me, would you not, Westlun of Koth?” His grin stretched even wider, his jaws parting as if to take a bite out of the shorter man.
Westlun sensed he’d missed something here, an element to the conversation’s mood that he was just staring to pick up on. “Of course,” he said in a voice that of a sudden sounded small and frail. “I-I mean, I–“
Enkee-Kutul looked over Westlun’s head, ignoring him. “Sacrifice them all,” he commanded, his gaze directed to something or someone at the rear of the group. Behind Enkee-Kutul, the priest began chanting in some awful-sounding language.
Feeling the hand gripped tight around his shoulder, Westlun tried to pull away. “W-what?” he stammered. “I don’t understand. Don’t you need slaves? What will you do without my slaves?”
Enkee-Kutul glared down at the slave lord with plain contempt. “I don’t need more slaves. I don’t need anything you have to offer. Who are you, little man, to tell me what I need, to dare to set foot within my realm and dictate terms to me? I am the herald of Scybor! I could shrivel your pathetic soul at a whim!”
Westlun cowered beneath the giant, trying to wriggle out from Enkee-Kutul’s iron grip. Around them the overseers were closing in, the slaver’s guards having just noticed them and now drawing together into a compact group with their backs to each other, crossbows raised defensively. The sound of the chanting grew more forceful as the priest bit off each mind-rending word, his eyes rolled upward in their sockets.
“I’ll have to decide on a fitting punishment for your impertinence. It would be a waste to just let you die with the others when I could make you suffer first.” With an open hand, Enkee-Kutul smote Westlun across the temple, stunning him. He plucked up the limp fat man before the slave lord could hit the ground and stuffed him under one bulging arm, expending no more effort than an eagle snatching a plump salmon from the water. He mounted the ziggurat steps and started climbing, his deep voice booming downward in laughter while he ascended.
Crossbows thumped as their owners fired bolts at the encircling overseers, but when the projectiles met their targets they either broke or skidded harmlessly off hard metal. There came a clatter as the missile weapons were dropped to the ground. Swords whispered free of their sheaths in time for the men to meet the onslaught of the darkly gleaming automatons.
From the alley, Nagi watched the fight from where he’d been pinned to the wall beneath the weight of the taller Turanian. With his hands bound, Tukali’s only recourse to prevent the guard captain from joining his comrades in getting slaughtered had been to stop him bodily. He’d saved the man, not only to keep him from giving away their position, but also because he felt a kinship to this warrior; Tukali had done the decent thing and saved the man from himself. At least Nagi’s struggles had ceased, the futility of his charging in to aid the others readily apparent in the ease with which the overseer’s armor deflected the blows of Westlun’s men.
Tukali stepped back when he sensed Nagi no longer had any interest in attacking the overseers. They watched numbly as the men fighting near the gate were gradually, and casually, snatched up by the prehensile whips of the overseers and borne over to a place near the altar. The guards fought valiantly, aiming repeated slashes at the heads, arms and chests of their captors, but to no avail.
When eleven of the overseers had gathered near the gore-splattered block of stone, captives held struggling above their heads, the chanting priest waved his hand to signal that the sacrifices should begin.
The first of the overseers swung his victim down, thrashing the man upon the hard stone. The guard crunched against the altar and yelped pathetically, his sword flying from his hand. Flesh and bone yielded to solid stone, blood, brains and bone fragments flew out in a gruesome spray as the guard was pulped again and again, then flung aside.
Most of the men died, either mewling or screaming, within their first few impacts against the bloodied rock. Most, but not all. Several of Westlun’s men had been gripped awkwardly, hoisted up by an arm or a leg, so that when they were dashed to death by the overseers it sometimes took upwards of a half-dozen strokes for the victims to die, especially if the aim of their executioners was off, in which case the men were sometimes pounded against the ground or the edges of the altar. The last man to die was one of these unlucky ones; while he yet lived, his midsection caught the sharp corner of the stone block and his lower body was ripped nearly free of his torso, the intestines spilling out over the pile of corpses on the flagstones. Two more thrashings and he was finally dead.
Nagi finished spewing against the alley wall, choking down sobs of horror at the brutal deaths of his men. Tukali’s own stomach roiled and heaved, but he forced the bile down. Out in the killing zone the gate had begun to glow in a shower of sparks and blazing white light. They watched, sickened and yet enthralled at the same time, as the broken and dripping bodies of the dead rose into the air to hover like a wall of gore.
Something murky and ponderous appeared against the light, screeching in an ear-splitting voice. Both Nagi and Tukali clamped their hands over their ears to drive out that maddening sound, but it seemed to penetrate straight through their skulls. The wall of corpses rippled, and drops of blood began weaving through the air toward the gate. The flow of blood increased in speed and volume until a hissing cyclone of gore spun into the maw of the creature writhing sluggishly inside the gate.
Nagi held his hands to his face to block out the horrendous sight, and Tukali likewise looked away. His gaze fell upon the form of Enkee-Kutul halfway up the ziggurat. The sorcerer was standing near a doorway, and Tukali could see the unmistakable glinting shell of an overseer flanking him at the portal’s side. As Tukali watched, it seemed to him that the wizard was speaking to someone. Maybe Westlun had regained his senses.
Then Tukali gasped in surprise. A figure appeared for a moment from out of the darkness behind the open doorway, and he glimpsed golden skin and raven locks of hair. Even at this distance, Tukali could see it was a woman, much smaller than Enkee-Kutul and clad in a wispy, loose-fitting gown.
It was Jessica! Not only was she alive, but by the way she was talking to her captor she was free of the plague’s effects as Tukali was. By the guard posted near the door and the way Jessica didn’t step outside, Tukali could tell she was a prisoner, as she must be, for he couldn’t dream of her throwing in with such a monster as Enkee-Kutul.
But if she was a captive in a cell, then Enkee-Kutul must realize her importance to Conan.
Tukali looked back around at the small square before the ziggurat, recalling how the overseers had come out of nowhere to trap Westlun. It had seemed like the overseers had been waiting there for them, hiding in the shadows of nearby buildings until they were summoned forth to kill.
Well, if he managed to get out of there alive, he’d warn Conan and Mach when they met up back at Jessica’s estate.
His attention was diverted back to the gate, drawn by the meaty sound of human carnage dropping to the paves. Every last shred of flesh had been sucked dry of blood, and the overseers themselves shone like new, their previously blood-bespattered armor now cleaned of every last trace of gore. The light between the carved demons was fading, and the priest, his hood again pulled forward, was walking up the steps to join his master.
The chime of steel on stone in the alley caused Tukali to whip around. He’d forgotten about Nagi. In his anguish and fury, the man was slowly beating his armored fist against the wall.
Tukali’s eyes darted back to the overseers to see if they’d noticed. They had. Moving as one, the score of overseers halted in place from where they’d been heading back to their posts. Twenty featureless heads turned in the direction of the alley, their bodies following suit, and Tukali felt a shiver run down his spine.
“Nagi!” he whispered, his voice trembling.
The guard captain turned, trying to compose himself. Some instinct told him of the danger lurking outside, and he looked toward the square without having to be told. When he saw the overseers facing in his direction, he looked around wildly, catching sight of the Turanian. “Mitra! What do we do?” he whispered fervently.
“Cut my bonds,” Tukali said in a low voice. “I can get us out of here.” He pivoted, swinging his bound wrists toward Nagi. Out of the corner of his eye he saw several of the blue automatons, the closest ones, splitting off to either side of the main group with the likely of circling around the buildings to block the other end of the alley. The rest of the overseers clumped for the alley’s mouth, hampered slightly by their numbers. “Come on,” he said. “Do you wish to survive this or not?” Up on the ziggurat, Enkee-Kutul and the priest were heading toward the top, ignorant of the scene playing out in the square below. “There’s nothing you can do for them now,” he said, referring to the slain men.
Nodding wordlessly, Nagi pulled Tukali’s dagger from his belt and carefully slashed at the Turanian’s ropes, cutting through them in a few deft strokes. They could hear the echoing footsteps of the overseers coming closer as they stalked across the square.
Tukali slipped off his backpack and rifled through it. His hands closed on the iron grapnel and he handed the hook and rope to Nagi before sliding the pack into place over his shoulders. Taking back the climbing tool, Tukali trotted down to the midpoint of the alley, swinging the grapnel on its line. He could see the edge of the lowest rooftop a little over two stories above. He whirled the hook faster, building speed until it thrummed as it spun. The sound of approaching footsteps was louder now, sounding even above the hammering of Tukali’s pulse in his ears.
With a heave, he released the hook and it shot upward. The hook sailed up and bounced off the edge of the roof, coming down a few paces away with a loud clatter. Now he could hear the faint hum of the overseers themselves nearing the mouth of the alley. There was little time left.
Working with desperate speed he recovered the grapnel and twirled it again. He released, and sighed in relief as the hook arced over the wall and onto the roof. Tukali gently tugged at the line, feeling the iron prongs catch against some obstruction. He pulled hard but the anchor refused to come loose.
Nagi was at his side, handing him his dagger. “My life is in your hands now,” he explained. Looking past the Turanian, he caught his breath and pointed. “They’re in the alley!”
Sure enough, the two groups of overseers sent to circle around had converged at the other end of the alley, pouring into it single file. At the nearer end the others had likewise entered, though their wide shoulders scraped against the narrower walls there, slowing them down by forcing them to advance in a shuffle at a sideways angle.
Tukali mounted the rope and pulled himself upward with a monkey’s agility. Nagi followed, albeit at a much slower pace.
When the Turanian had reached the top and gained the roof, Nagi’s efforts had only taken him to a point a third of the way up the wall, weighted down as he was by his armor. Tukali could see the overseers closing in on either side. The guard captain would still be well within reach of their whips.
Heaving with all the strength at his command, Tukali struggled to improve Nagi’s progress by hauling on the rope. He wrapped his hands in the line and stood, walking backward. Mercifully, the rooftop was flat, and the grapnel had snagged on a thick power cable.
Nagi felt the rope rising, increasing his own rate of ascension, and he thanked the gods that Tukali had the presence of mind to get them out of there and the strength of character not to leave him behind. This Turanian was an honorable man indeed.
A whip lashed out from below, its sharp tip striking the wall just inches from Nagi’s leg and lodging in the stone. The whip was yanked free, taking a few small chunks of the wall with it. Nagi redoubled his efforts, adrenaline and fear spurring his muscles with newfound vigor. In moments he was clambering over the roof’s edge. He looked down at the overseers in time to see one of them grabbing for the rope that dangled so elusively about its shoulders. Nagi tugged at the line, springing to his feet. He caught at the lower portion of the rope as it swung within reach, retrieving the rest of the line.
Tukali came over, coiling the rope at his waist. They peered over the edge to see their pursuers milling about aimlessly in the alleyway. After a few moments the overseers realized their prey had climbed beyond their reach and they worked their way back out of the alley, leaving a couple of their brethren behind. The rest formed a ring around the building, patiently waiting for the men to come down.
“It would appear we’re safe for now,” said Nagi. “But they’ve got us surrounded.”
Tukali snorted. “How wonderful for them. We, however, are leaving.”
“Eh? How?” Nagi asked. “If we climb back down, they’ll catch us.”
“So we don’t climb down.” Tukali pointed at a black cable stretching between their own building and the next. “See that cable? The city is littered with them, and they bear a man’s weight easily enough. All we have to do is climb across one of those in the places where we cannot jump from roof to roof. And if all else fails,” he patted the coil of rope looped at his belt, “we can use this. Simple.”
Nagi frowned. “You knew of this route all along, and yet you led us through the streets, risking the guards.” He shook his head in amazement. “You are a crafty one, I’ll give you that.”
Tukali laughed. “Are you kidding? I was being practical. That bloated warthog you call your master would never have made it to the rooftops, much less leapt and crawled his way between them across the length of the city! We had to take the streets.”
The Kothian smiled at the thought of Westlun trying to perform any act more strenuous than walking. “Aye, you’ve the right of it.” His gaze suddenly flitted around the roof, and he looked nervous. “Let’s be off, before that wizard decides to show up. There’s one I hope never to lay eyes on again.”
While the overseers remained in their positions below, impotent and out of reach, the two escapees, with Tukali leading, embarked upon their hike back across Boa. Nagi was glad to be alive, though he knew he’d have nightmares for many months to come after witnessing the horrible ritual for which his fellow guards had been murdered. Tukali went with a feeling that at least he’d made an important discovery; he’d located Jessica, alive and well. Conan would be extremely pleased at this news, though Tukali could only imagine the Cimmerian’s fury when he learned that his love was a prisoner of their nemesis, possibly being used to bait them into a trap.
Tukali cleared his mind of these concerns, concentrating on the task at hand. He would give voice to his suspicions when he again saw Conan and Mach. He was confident that between the three of them they could work out a plan to destroy Enkee-Kutul, regardless of the desperate odds they faced.