Conan The Barbarian #21: "The Monster Of The Monoliths!"

Conan The Barbarian #21
 "The Monster Of The Monoliths!"
 December, 1972

 Roy Thomas: Writer/Editor
 Barry Smith: Layouts
 Dan Adkins & Craig Russell & Val Mayerik & Sal Buscema: Embellishers All!
 Artie Simek: Letterer
 Inspired in part by the story "The Black Stone" by Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan

 Dawn rises against Makkalet's shadowy spires. After a disastrous land and sea defense against invading Turanians, the citizens of this proud Hyrkanian city-state begin the task of constructing makeshift barricades... Construction ceases... as a man slowly pulls himself from the water at the foot of the marble steps of Makkalet's main wharf... and the Cimmerian knows he has walked into hell!

 Seeing the wounded barbarian at their feet, they take him for one of Turan's mercenaries! As Conan slowly rises and starts to explain, he comes under attack from these workmen who have lost their friends and relatives... armed with the tools of their various trades -- only for them to learn he is capable of fighting back! Now armed with a smithy's hammer, Conan has no chance to wield it, as he is struck from behind by a miller's staff!

 As the others hold the Cimmerian's arms... the miller is readying his next blow -- and is himself struck down from behind by an arrow. The barbarian is claimed as the king's prisoner! If any dare to answer back to Haram-Pyr, the guard commander -- their bodies will float today in the Vilayet Sea! The wounded barbarian is brought over and placed upon Haram-Pyr's horse. They know to be the king's prisoner is to be the captive of the high priest, as well! Better for the Cimmerian if he had been struck down by Akkif's staff -- than to be left at the mercy of Kharam-Akkad!

 The barbarian sleeps through the sounds of slaughter and the cries of those who are about to die are heard in his dream. Conan awakes at last. His shoulder blade is throbbing where a shaft had recently been... and he wonders why he is still alive! The high priest is breaking his fast with the queen... who is curious about the young Cimmerian they had seen in his temple. The barbarian had escaped... and was found later ashore at sunrise... with a Turanian arrow jutting from his back! Their highness has arrived and the talk turns to how their enemies have not dared to attack since the failure of their initial landing attempt. As long as the Tarim is theirs... they will try again. That evening... the Cimmerian youth watches the Hyrkanians at work and wonders why Yezdigerd has not resumed his attack. A shrug of his shoulders and Conan sleeps once more. In the morning, the court physician has come to check his wound. The queen has commanded their leech to treat him personally and to escort him to their presence.

 When Khurusan tells him to move, he learns the guard's name, and promises to meet him again. The hooded figure of the Tarim passes along in a procession and when the Cimmerian youth seeks to learn more about him, Khurusan curses him for his blasphemy! If his chains were off, Khurusan would become the newest arrival in Hyrkanian heaven! The guards bring the barbarian in, where he is made to bow before King Eannatum, Queen Melissandra... and Kharam-Akkad! Conan gazes upon one in particular...

 He has known Melissandra as the temple-maid who called herself... Caissa. They learn he is Conan, a Cimmerian who slew a Turanian when his friend was slain. This particular Turanian was a friend of Yezdigerd... and it was time to jump ship. The city of Makkalet has need of him at this time. All he wants in return is a swift horse and the shortest route towards the west. As the high priest agrees, the Cimmerian youth asks that his chains be removed, and Khurusan is to inform him of the task ahead.

 They are to sneak past the Turanians and ride to the city of Melissandra's father, who is obliged by the marriage to aid Makkalet. She is glad the Cimmerian has joined them and admires the look of the Hyrkanian helmet on him... The queen gives him a rune-carved armlet to keep him safe... until he returns to... them. After a hidden gate has been raised... four horsemen gallop beneath a moonless and starry sky...

 The Turanian war camp completely surrounds Makkalet and cannot endure for longer than a few weeks. Within that self-same camp, Yedigerd is the most somber of men, and is determined to avenge himself upon the barbarian who gave him the scar he now wears... and Makkalet will soon be covered by the shadow of the vulture! Half a mile between Makkalet and the Turanian campfires, Conan's horse knows to keep its hoofbeats unheard... so that they pass by the tents of Yezdigerd... and approach a darkened glade... which is located between a forest which allows them safe passage through the Turanians. Eyes wide open, the four horsemen enter the glade... no birds or animals are heard...

 They soon come upon two Turanian scouts armed with flaming arrows! The initial advantage appears to be theirs, but Conan thinks little of their unmanly weapons, and prefers to trust in his broad-sword -- and a running start -- to render the bow useless--

 Their hands are now stilled!! When Khurusan begins to thank him, he reminds them that he has done his work, and that he knew these two when he was a soldier with the Turanian army... and both of them were worth more than him... On the fifteenth day of relentless riding, they come upon a steep path... and they are to follow the queen's directions... to perform certain rites for Makkalet to have their victory. The proper place for these rites is... THERE!!

 In the center of the wide glade are the Black Monoliths of Xuthltan! Justin the blind hermit has brought his young daughter along and is to help them ready the sacrificial braziers! Tonight when the moon is right, they will make their prayers to the nameless god! Khurusan and the blind hermit know what night this is. The Cimmerian youth guides his horse closer to the stones... their carvings look familiar to him... but he does not know why... "They say foul things of olden times still lurk in dark forgotten corners of the world... and gates still gape to loose on certain nights...shapes pent in hell!" Justin has said what he had to say! When Conan asks the old man what he meant by certain nights, his non-Hyrkanian gives him away!

 As the blind hermit tells his daughter to follow him to their village, Khurusan strikes him down with his sword. Yaar and Akhaan use their sword handles to knock the barbarian senseless. The moon has risen higher... and the Cimmerian gazes once more into Hyrkanian eyes... He is about to join the Turanians... in death.

 The rulers of Makkalet have commanded this, for the Hyrkanians are an ancient race... descended from those who once ruled in ancient Lemuria. They have known other gods than the Living Tarim... and will tonight make sacrifice to these gods! Khurusan bids Yaar Ali and Akhaan to step forward to bear witness to this unholy rite -- and they come close enough for Khurusan to cut them down! The daughter is to become the opener of the way. He calls upon the taloned lords who yet lurk in nameless gulfs -- for the middle eve of summer is close at hand--! Tonight when they enter our world from theirs --

 They swim upon crimson rivers -- the life's-blood of a freshly slain maiden! As Khurusan bids the nether-lord come, something shimmers above them... and blots out moon and stars! It congeals and clots like blood...! Conan strains to see -- a giant toad-like creature... who squats atop the two monoliths! The young Cimmerian ceases struggling for a moment, his barbarian mind frozen with fear... and as the toad-like creature makes its way down the stone monolith... his barbarian muscles react against his bonds...!

 These hasty ties are unable to withstand his determination to be free. Even as he reaches for a fallen sword and leaps towards Khurusan, his legs are still bound. The barbarian has reached the end of his rope -- in the worst of ways. The toad-creature is still making its way down the monolith... and Khurusan is still mouthing his forgotten words! Conan knows that those who call up demons... often cannot retain control over them. He is eager to see what happens when it is Khurusan who is standing nearer to the unearthly creature!

 The toad-creature's form is now clearly seen against the moonlight... its unblinking eyes reflecting all the lust, the greed, and other cruelties that have dogged man since their distant ancestors swung from the treetops! In those unholy eyes are secrets that sleep in the sunken cities, and that cannot withstand the light of day. All of this the barbarian has grasped -- and has forgotten in a single instant! He has seen that the toad-creature is coming for him! It has bypassed Khurusan... the dead Hyrkanians and the daughter who have served as blood-sacrifice... IT IS COMING FOR HIM!!

 Khurusan taunts him to flee for the glade -- before it can catch him! He knows he will never reach the glade in time! He returns his gaze toward the slithering monstrosity... and sends his scimitar up to its hilt into its head -- and still it comes! As the Cimmerian youth curses the gods who have brought him here... he suddenly remembers... that the carved runes upon the monoliths... match those on the armlet given to him by Melissandra!

 At the last possible moment, Conan removes the armlet, and hurls it to the startled Hyrkanian -- who catches it! Now they will both see which of them the toad-creature wants to play with! Khurusan gazes at the armlet. His gaze falls upon what is fast approaching, and is now upon him! "AAAAEEEEAAAAAHH!"

 Following a thunderous croak, the toad-creature suddenly turns, and leaps into black swirls of smoke which writhe down from the twin monoliths. It leaps... its monstrous form engulfed... and vanishes from sight... Conan is now alone... with the dead. The girl should have stayed at home... had a family... She had asked why before she died... but never got an answer. She and Conan are not ones to understand the why and wherefore of things.

 Each of them merely live and die at their own appointed time. With the coming of dawn, he spots the armlet which attracted the toad-creature first to him and then to Khurusan... as flies are drawn to carrion. The Cimmerian youth remembers the one who gave him the armlet, with her sad eyes and sweet honeyed words... The queen will think it has done its work... for he will not return. The barbarian will keep his word and relay the message to gather allies for Makkalet. Once that has been completed, he will part ways, and return to the Hyborian lands... where there are those who stalk with their bloody sword in hand, and honest hatred in their eyes... not with fair skin, and softness of the morning dew...!

 I've enjoyed the art of Craig Russell on Killraven in Amazing Adventures.

 I especially enjoy how Mr. Russell renders the background with a variety of textures.

 I've enjoyed the art of Val Mayerik on Man-Thing, Frankenstein, and Howard the Duck.

 I especially enjoy how Mr. Mayerik renders the characters' facial features and expressions.

 From the Grand Comics Database Entry: "According to an interview with Craig Russell in Conan: The Jewels of Gwahlur, only the first page and a couple of separate panels were fully drawn by Barry Smith, Val Mayerik did the completed figure work and Craig Russell did the backgrounds. It was Inker Dan Adkins who fell behind and called on them to do finished inks."

 "In Back Issue #67, Craig Russell stated he along with Val Mayerik did the finished pencil work, with Craig Russell, Val Mayerik and Mark Kersey completing the inking."

 An arrow in the back is worth a smithy's hammer in hand and a miller's staff in the head!

 Conan should beware queens bearing gifts.

 When the Cimmerian comes a'running, it's the Turanian scouts who are the ones to be startled out of their saddles.

 Monoliths were big in 2001.

 The barbarian and the toad creature were not going to be friends.

 Conan played his scimitar to its hilt.

 In accepting Mellisandra's gift, it was now Khurusan's turn to croak.

 Steve Chung
 "The Review Of The Monoliths!"