Conan The Barbarian #8: "The Keepers Of The Crypt!"

Conan The Barbarian #8
 "The Keepers Of The Crypt!"
 August, 1971

 Roy Thomas: Writer
 Barry Smith: Artist
 Tom Sutton and Tom Palmer: Inkers
 Sam Rosen: Letterer
 Stan Lee: Editor
 Based on an original synopsis by
 Robert E. Howard, Creator Of Conan

 The moon is overhead... as six Corithian soldiers with torches search for a thief -- unaware that both he and death are overhead as well!

 Captain Burgun urges his men to make less noise and reminds them Corinthia's treaty with Nemedia, and they must search for the barbarian who stole from a house of relics... As the soldiers begin to wonder if they will catch up with the savage, they are caught in a man-made avalanche of rocks!

 As the Cimmerian youth climbs down for a closer look, he soon learns that one of the Corinthian soldiers has managed to survive! He knows Conan from two years ago -- at Venarium -- Gunderland's northernmost outpost -- The Gundermen had pushed their borders further north -- and were prepared to use their crossbows against the oncoming Cimmerians. It was the Gundermen who learned a bitter lesson that day -- and several would never live to learn another.

 The Cimmerian youth was the most reckless of his people's horde -- The Gunderman hacked his way through his own men to reach him -- and they would have crossed swords then, if he could have reached him through the bloody sea of human flesh -- Venarium fell -- and the Gunderman left the Aquilonian army -- where he ended up with the Corinithian one. He urges the Cimmerian to stand ready and have his words sliced out of him! The Gunderman has no desire to duel against a shadowy opponent and he has no defense against one who lets his own broadsword do his talking for him.

 Conan heads east towards the approaching dawn -- which reveals a city in the distance. Since he is thirsty, he is going in through a breach in the wall. He has never seen this city on any maps and wonders if the Corinthian cartographers are a match for their soldiers. The bravado dies and a tingling begins at the back of his neck after climbing over... in a silent city with sand-swept streets... He spots a stone gargoyle seated atop a fountain and knows the water-bearers will never come. Conan hears a whisper and turns towards the columns... for a sight that momentarily stops him in his tracks.

 The Cimmerian youth has heard of dragons and regarded them as tales to frighten children at night... He is not ready for a thirty-foot creature with spear-like teeth and man-rending talons. For a moment, Conan considers this to be a mirage -- created from fatigue and thirst... As the creature's claws crushes the former fountain... he knows otherwise! He is certain his sword will be useless against the dragon's scaly hide -- but there must be something in the city capable of doing just that.

 His desperate search leads to naught but a dead end -- and nearly to his own death! It will not be able to reach him atop his perch -- where slow starvation will prove to be his undoing! It has chased him and was about to reap its reward...

 Conan serves it some rocks through its open maw and as it rolls over with indigestion, the Cimmerian uses his blade on its soft underbelly -- Its crimson blood runs beneath the sun... and all is still. He does not wonder where the dragon came from -- as long as others do not appear in its place -- Conan head for a stone temple in the center of the city -- for where there is a ancient temple --

 There may be other things of value through the unlocked door. The Gunderman has reunited with him, having only had his armor sliced, and not his own neck. When the Gunderman asks why he shouldn't run him through and be done with it, Conan points out there may be enough jewels for both of them to carry. This makes the Gunderman intent on slaying him and making a return trip. If there is a second guardian as deadly as the first, he will need a sword protecting his back. The Gunderman urges him to enter first and to draw his weapon. The Cimmerian youth swears he will not stab him -- in the back. Even with the doors open, it is pitch black within -- until they both reach the light!

 There is another door ahead of them. As Conan wishes he knew what was beyond them, the Gunderman sees the light is coming from the ceiling! If there is neither water or gold, the barbarian will head to Argos, and the Gunderman may have to stop him. After kicking in the rotted door, they find enough gold and jewels to appease all the thieves in Zamora!

 The Gunderman recognizes this place as the Treaure-Crypt of Lanjau. Lanjau was the wealthiest of the ancient cities -- until the gods drove its citizens insane. All of this treasure is guarded by six Stygian mummies! Conan reminds him of the dragon and eyes the gold -- the jewels -- and a jade serpent. He would take the jade serpent for himself -- and leave the Gunderman with the rest. The Gunderman fancies the snake for himself -- and since it cannot be divided between them -- he decides to take him on for the entire item! It will be a game of cubes. The high thrower gets the jade serpent and its gems -- the loser takes anything else. The Gunderman throws -- a twenty. Conan throws -- a twenty-two and likes this game. As he reaches for the jade serpent, the barbarian can feel other eyes upon them.

 The gems by themselves will be enough for Conan when he reaches the rich seaports. The Gunderman knows of a girl who might with favor upon him -- that is if the Corinthians do not slay him for losing an entire troop. A rich deserter lives better than a poor captain and perhaps this sudden wealth will provide him with safety. Unfortunately, it has brought them -- sudden death!

 These two trespassers have disturbed the sacred serpent -- then call upon their gods for help -- but neither Crom nor Mitra will keep them safe from the Keepers of the Treasure-Crypt of Lanjau. The Keepers were ancient, when their gods were yet to be in the heavens -- and they shall return to their deep slumber once again -- when the two trespassers are dead!

 The young Cimmerian would run or scream if it did any good -- but since it would not, he lashes out -- only to be surrounded by four Keepers! The Gunderman finds one Keeper barring his way. These guardians of the crypt are about to deal with the human blasphemers when Conan finds their weak spot! AIEEEEE He tells the Gunderman to ignore their dead flesh and concentrate on severing their spines! As the Gunderman takes his advice, the Cimmerian is grazed by a thrown spear --

 The Gunderman urges him to run if he can! He -- can -- and he will--! There is something -- he must do first -- and the Cimmerian youth uses the spear to bowl over the Keepers!! There are no further words and barely enough time for escape -- Cimmerian and Gunderman emerge from the crypt's portals to their freedom -- and their very lives if they manage to run quickly enough -- and if there are no more guardians in their way -- The Keepers are the next to emerge, eager to make the two men pay with their own souls for -- and they are watched by the sun overhead!

 The two men watch as the Keepers crumble to dust outside the crypt. No sooner do they fall that an earthquake strikes the city! Cimmerian and Gunderman strive to avoid the walls of the city and the flames on either side! This city of the damned has begun to burn!

 They will meet by what remains of the gate -- if they do manage to meet again! Stone and flame continue their destructive dance -- until all is still. From the stillness emerges the sole survivor. Conan lives... and the nameless Gunderman -- does not. He is still trying to recall the captain's name, as he makes his way into a nearby village. Inside a tavern, it is Jenna who catches young Conan's eye --

 She had fled from Shadizar to Corinthia with his gold. The last of it was used to purchase this tavern. He had saved her from a bat-god and was happy to see a friendly face -- and he is now rich enough to forgive what Jenna had stolen from him. It is not gold the bag is filled with -- but neither is it filled with precious gems -- only dust?! The five gems-- have turned to dust. His other bag contains the true prize. When Jenna asks to see what is inside, she is taken aback when it... it moves! The magistrate and his men have found the barbarian they had sought. From the look of him, this is the Cimmerian they must extradite back to Nemedia.

 It's a swordless barbarian against four armed men. Will he surrender to them -- or do they send his carcass to the Numalian governor -- whose niece he slew? It was a man-headed serpent that killed the niece -- so said Demetrio, but the Nemedians still want his head -- Since Jenna seems to know him, the magistrate thinks maybe she should join him -- and then he notices the fallen bag. It's obviously contains some stolen goods from Numalia -- but even he and his men are unprepared for the sight of a live venomous green viper! The startled magistrate is bitten -- and is now dead! Before they can be seized, Conan urges the girl to run --

 Jenna has lost her tavern -- if not her life! With the magistrate's men on their heels, or not since none in the tavern would weep over the dead pig, and they know that it's one of their own who rides the dark winds this very night! Horse hooves thrum upon the dirt road -- the strong and firm hand is upon the rein -- and who can say if the one in the saddle is fleeing from unseen terrors that threaten to pursue him -- or heading towards an unknown tomorrow -- a time and a place of solace for a born wanderer--?

 The young Cimmerian knows that sticks and stones will break their bones, but Captain Burgun will hurt him.

 The Gunderman talks a good fight, but Conan prefers to let his own broadsword do the talking.

 The dragon resembles a giant gila monster.

 It was given something to chew on and the reptile soon had one heckuva bellyache.

 This story adapted by Roy Thomas, with art by Barry Smith, inks by Sutton & Palmer, and lettered by Rosen is treasure in itself.

 The Cimmerian is known to have diced with death and is not bad when it comes to a game of cubes.

 Rich deserters live longer than poor captains, but not while they're still in the crypt with the Keepers.

 The Keepers of the Crypt saw the light at last and the city of the damned was also shaken by the sight.

 The magistrate found terror in a handful of dust.

 He was shaken by the booty in the sack.

 Steve Chung
 "The Keepers Of The Review!"