From the back cover:
Few places are as desolate as the Thanza Mountains on the border of Nemedia and Aquilonia. Few areas are so remote, so dangerous, or so inaccessible...which is why Conan chose these mountains as the perfect spot to hide in the first place
Unfortunately, it is the single worst spot in the word for Conan to be.
Bandits and sorcerers - and worse - inhabit this lonely realm. Worst of all, it is the home of the Soul of Thanza. He who possesses the Soul will become the Death Lord - a post unfilled for many thousands of years. If the Death Lord should come into his full power, mountains will move, seas will be pushed back, the earth itself will shiver, and dead men will rise to fight again. No army of puny humans will be able to stand against the Death Lord. Only one man would even dare to try - Conan the Cimmerian!
A heavily armed caravan descends through the Pass of Oteron in the Border Range into Aquilonia. They are unaware that they are being observed by the bandit Lysinka and her men. Her archers fire their volley and her men rush to take advantage of the surprise attack. Unfortunately, their prize, a chest locked with iron bands, releases a blinding light and thunderclap before rising into the air and flying away. Lysinka's band pursues.
On the southern, Ophirean side of the Tybor river, Conan contemplates crossing into Aquilonia. He is avoiding a bounty placed on his head by King Moranthes, but needs a boat. He stalks along the river bank and eventually spies a pair of men with a boat who, upon seeing a large ship sailing on the waters, are signalling others downriver - Nemedian pirates. He easily overpowers them and takes their boat, briefly contemplating whether to warn off the ship or confront the pirates himself. He chooses to sail towards the other pirates, who don't realize Conan isn't on their team until it's too late. He swiftly dispatches the pirates on one canoe, and dives into the waters as a volley of arrows from another canoe descends. Under night's cover he swims underwater to another canoe and topples it, then climbs aboard a third to fight hand to hand. The pirates are no match for Conan, and he jumps back into the water to avoid another round of missiles. Meanwhile, the original targeted ship, given enough warning from the sounds of melee, attempts to speed up to plow through the area, but Conan notices one band of pirates has managed to sneak their canoe near the side of the ship. Conan swims swiftly to the ship and climbs aboard, confronted by a sailor who is immediately picked off by an arrow as the grappling hooks of the pirates hurdle over the edge. Conan calls the sailors to the decks as the first pirates board, and Conan is soon engaged in combat. Conan and his allies rebuff the attack, and the grateful owner of the ship, Levites, invites Conan to stay in the best cabin for the remainder of the journey to Shamar.
The two day voyage finds Conan slightly wary of traveling with a Messentian who is loyal to Argos, where Conan also has a bounty, but as the city of Shamar appears on the horizon, Conan, given a generous reward by Levites, relaxes and disembarks. He walks through the city, notices with some amusement a recruitment poster promising treasure and pardons that he knows is nothing more than a plea to draw desperate men into looting villages along the border region, but before he can walk away, he spies a couple of familiar faces - men who are looking for Conan. He tries to casually turn and walk away, but is chased. He evades the first couple of bounty hunters, then vanishes into an alley and climbs to the roof. He begins to think that looting the country-side and the promise of a pardon a very attractive offer. He spends the morning on the town's roofs, then makes his way to the Golden Lion in, crashing through a window and startling a servant girl. The bounty hunters, suspecting this might be Conan's destination, rush into the inn to stop him from joining the recruits, but Conan beats one senseless and holds him as a shield until he makes his way to the recruitment table and volunteers, claiming his name is Sellus, to Tharmis Rog, Master-at-Arms of the Rangers. At that moment, Levites returns, revealing himself to be the source of the information that Conan was in town, and the attack is renewed. Conan dispatches several, with the occasional assistance of a bemused Tharmis Rog, who eventually ends the brawl and demands answers from Levites and "Sellus." The tension is broken by the arrival of the youthful but surprisingly commanding Captain Klarnides, who, after hearing their stories, dismisses Levites and the bounty hunter Mikros, and swears Conan into the ranks of the Rangers, although Conan is required to turn over all his money. Conan is angry, but complies, already planning on how he will desert the Rangers.
Fergis awakens Lysinka on the morning of the tenth day of marching after the flying chest. Although some in the band begin to question the wisdom of the action, they still pack up and move in haste when a heavy rain begins to fall. Hundreds of miles away, Tharmis Rog begins to train his mustered army with limited success, partially due to his lack of leadership skills and the men questioning Klarnides's notable absence. Conan fares well, but the tension between him and Rog is palpable, and during an exercise in which a boulder accidentally rolls down a hill and nearly flattens Rog, he and Conan quietly agree to settle their differences in private later that night, so as not to agitate the men. Meanwhile, Lysinka's band creeps through a murky forest and comes across a lone, hooded man standing in the path, who greets Lysinka by name and reveals he has a piece of iron casing from the chest she chases. He also pursues the chest, and suggest they work together. He invites Lysinka and her men to his camp, and though suspicious, she agrees.
That evening, Conan rests in preparation for his confrontation with Tharmis Rog, and Lysinka leads ten of her men up a treacherous mountainside pass, losing one over the cliff side via a powerful breeze the Thanzans call the Spider Wind. Lysinka and her men are soon entertained by the hooded man, Baron Grolin, who proposes aligning his magic with her steel in finding the chest, which has been recalled to the Mountain of Skulls and contains something called the Soul of Thanza, which grants its possessor power over death. Lysinka withdraws to discuss with her men, who vote to join Grolin. Back in the forest, Conan heads to his encounter with Rog, but instead finds himself stalking a band of men sent by Mikros. He secretly dispatches one of them, and, upon seeing a waiting Rog in the grove, shouts a warning. A groggy Rog eventually shakes the sleep off and assists Conan in fighting off the bandits. The two men call a truce and retreat to discuss the events. At a nearby tavern, Rog tells Conan that Klarnides has brought two inexperienced captains into the band, which infuriates the master-at-arms. Conan vows to assist Rog in creating the finest army with the dregs they have been given.
After ten days, Klarnides and one of his newly-minted yet inexperienced captains, Nestorinus, take 100 Rangers upriver on their first campaign. Conan wonders why their patron, Count Ralthon, who supplies the Rangers with abundant supplies and rations, would spend far more than necessary and to what ultimate end, but Rog refuses to speculate. During the week-long march through the Border Range, the camp is besieged by mule-thieving bandits, and the men get their first taste of battle. The fight is short, and Klarnides, to the mild surprise of COnan and Rog, acquits himself well, though the blustering Nestornius impresses no one. Later that night, as the camp restlessly sleeps, Conan speaks with Klarnides, who is a bit shaken up at taking his first life, but Conan reassures him, at the same time reassuring himself that Klarnides may make a good captain indeed. Meanwhile, Lysinka and Grolin's camp gets news from scouts that the Rangers are in the area and the leaders contemplate how this may affect their search. That morning, Grolin is visited by a sorcerer nature spirit, who warns him about his choice of allies.
Grolin returns to Lysinka and insists they attack the Aquilonian Rangers. Lysinka is unsure, but acquiesces. They set up an ambush, but clumsily, and Conan spots it from far away. Conan discretely sends word among the marching men to prepare, as Fergis and Lysinka lie in wait, knowing they are outnumbered and endangered, but hesitant to overtly cross Grolin. An arrow shot prematurely by a nervous Ranger signals the start of battle, and as the ambushing army breaks the cover of the forest-covered slope above, they are thinned both by arrows and a charging Conan. Tharmis Rog himself is attacked and wounded by Lysinka, but when Conan steps forward to face her she is defeated. Conan convinces her to stop the battle and discuss terms. Conan returns to the main force to find Nestorinus cut down while fleeing (though Klarnides insists he was struck cowardly from behind due to his boldness) and an angry Klarnides demanding Conan explain not only why he introduced himself to Lysinka by the name "Conan" but why he negotiated a truce without leave. Conan briefly states his case, and to his surprise, Klarnides is pleased; Conan is a name he was familiar with and could trust with command, now that Nestorinus is dead. Suddenly, Conan is attacked and brutally wounded by an opposing soldier. After taking the man down, Klarnides demands to know why Lysinka broke the truce. The shaken bandit chieftain explains how she was allied with the forces of Grolin, and this was his man who attacked. Honor bound, she agrees to any punishment Klarnides demand, but Conan convinces her to join her band to the Rangers and take vengeance on Grolin. Lysinka and Klarnides swiftly agree.
Grolin and his remaining men run swiftly away, Grolin wondering why his man attacked Conan the way he did. He startled once again visited by the sorcerer, who explains he clouded the man's mind and made him attack, as the man would have eventually turned on Grolin and his cause. The sorcerer was also responsible for the ineffectual charge of Grolin's men. Grolin agrees to serve the sorcerer in the quest for the Soul of Thanza, but only if it spares his other men. Meanwhile, Conan and Klarnides begin the process of absorbing Lysinka's band, and place the wounded under the care of Tharmis Rog, who will set up a full camp while the remainder continues onward.
Grolin and his men hide in the forest as Conan and his army approaches, intent on Grolin's citadel. The disembodied sorcerer's voice advises Grolin to hold back, and then unleashes the Spider Wind, which blots out the stars as it approaches the men who are climbing the hill towards the citadel. The mysterious power grabs hold of one of Lysinka's bandits, pulls him into midair, and begins to crush him, while the courage of Grolin's men snaps, and, despite the fact that he who commands the Spider Wind is an ally, they flee en masse. Lysinka thrusts a spear into her dying soldier to spare him more agony, which seems to injure the Spider Wind. Conan and the others realize to slay the person caught in the Spider Wind's maw hurts, and might even destroy, the magical creature. Unfortunately, it grasps Lysinka, who in turn is anchored by one of her men. The man yanks Lysinka out of the Spider Wind's grasp and hurls himself into its maw. Wasting no time, Lysinka kills the man and the Spider Wind, screaming in agony, dissipates. Conan is determined to continue the momentum and take the abandoned and stripped citadel, which he does. In the forest, Grolin realizes the sorcerer he has pledged to is not invincible as he surveys his eighteen remaining men, and considers his options while in the citadel, Conan keeps a shivering Lysinka warm...
The group spends the next several days searching and fortifying the citadel, and word quickly spreads of Conan and Lyskinka's liaisons. Conan then selects twelve of the stoutest men to form a search party and look for Grolin. Soon, the sharp-eyed Ranger Dutulus spots a Nemedian caravan, and Conan goes to greet it in the name of Grolin. As Conan wheedles his way into the caravan's trust, claiming to be an emissary of Grolin, a wave of giant winged snake-like creatures swoops down from the sky, killing the captain and attacking the men and mules. Conan's scouts join in the fray, and after much blood is spilled, and many Nemedians fled, Conan allows the one remaining caravan member, Regius Panon, to join his band, and they concentrate on gathering the food, weapons, and supplies left behind, intended for Grolin's citadel. From the treetops, Dutulus spies the lair of the snake-creatures, in a mountain peak a league away, and Conan is determined to investigate, six men and Regius at his side. They reach the base of the mountain as dusk falls, and Conan, Dutulus and Regius leave the others to climb a small trail up the steep hill and look for smaller caves to perhaps spend the night. They find a cave, and Conan enters, but at the third step the ground gives away and he plummets into darkness while Dutulus, desperately reaching for him, stumbles and falls behind him, leaving Panon to stare astonished over the ledge.
Standing at watch at the citadel, Lysinka sees the flying snakes descend into the forest, and assumes they are not only attacking Conan and his band, but will pose no threat to them. She is surprised by a slight quake in the ground, but gives it little heed. Soon, Conan awakens and finds himself in, save for a soft glow from moss, an almost lightless cavern with the sounds of rushing water from deep in the mountains. Dutulus, not so lucky, lies dead, and Conan settles in to await rescue. Meanwhile, Grolin is awakened by the vision of a giant snake maw almost devouring him. He finds his courage and begins to stand up to the sorcerer who guides him. The sorcerer shrinks the image down to that of a flying serpent, and clearly disturbed, tells Grolin that Conan had entered the Mountain of the Skull and that Grolin needs to march on it at once. Grolin, once again feeling his oats, announces he will wait until morning, as a night march would be too dangerous, and the sorcerer agrees and vanishes. In the morning, a slightly refreshed Conan awakens and explores the cavern in the light of day. He finds the underground river he had heard and decides to risk it, sliding into the waters to be carried deeper into the mountain. Back at the citadel, Regius Panon tells his story, and Lysinka and Klarnides plan their next actions.
Conan half swims, half rides the current, down the river, surfacing to briefly take in air as he contiues his journey into the mountain. He finally comes across a large enough cavern and climbs out of the river, but just as he is pulling himself onto the rocky shelf, a water dragon that had been shadowing him strikes from behind. Fortunately for Conan, the hungry and enfeebled ancient dragon only chomped on the bag tied to Conan's waist. Conan freezes as he realizes the age of the dragon has caused its eyes to glaze and teeth to rot, but it is still dangerous. The dragon, not able to see Conan, lunges out on the shore again and grazes Conan's ankles, then goes into a frenzy as it smells the blood scraped free. Conan lashes with his dagger and blinds the beast further, then runs for a cavern archway that is surrounded by the skeletal remains of prior victims. Realizing the dragon's charge would crush the skeletons, Conan halts and turns to face the beast, his sense of honor not allowing the bones of the honored fallen to come to any further harm. He brushes a bloody hand against a protruding bone, and to his shock, the pile of bones reforms into a fully moving skeleton, which then grabs a spear and looks to Conan for direction. Conan shakes off his horror for the moment, and together the two rush the beast. Skeleton and man are victorious, and the blood from the dragon is absorbed by and animates nearly fifty skeletons, who then turn, and in formation, begin to march towards Conan...
Lysinka walks the walls of the fortress and exchanges pleasantries with a Thanza Ranger on guard duty and Rasha, a member of her bandits. As she walks along, she encounters Fergis, who warns that her men are uneasy with Conan's disappearance, but their conversation is halted by Rasha's scream. Running back, they see the Ranger has knocked her to the ground and has drawn his blade. Fergis hurls a rock at his head, which hits squarely, and the Ranger stumbles over the wall to his death. Rasha says the man was part of a group who were planning to loot the stores and flee. Unfortunately, before she can decide what to do, the sound of a cry pierces the night. At Grolin's camp, he is awakened by the sorcerer's voice, who bids him to enter the forest. There, the sorcerer's body appears, but his head is that of one of the flying snakes! Grolin demands to know the secrets of the Soul of Thanza, and what he is fighting for, and after a moment's hesitation, the serpent-sorcerer agrees. He opens his snakelike maw wide and tells Grolin to look inside, and Grolin does. The sorcerer shows him visions of an bejeweled stone head, which the sorcerer tells him is the Soul of Thanza. Then Grolin is shown visions of Conan and the skeletons, and the sorcerer admits that he may not be able to enter the mountain, as the magics inside are unknown to him. Grolin is both disturbed and intrigued by the sorcerer's weaknesses. Back at the fortress, Lysinka and Fergis run to the courtyard, where four Rangers and two of her men hold torches outside storeroom. The apparent leader of the mutiny, a bandit named Horkas, threatens to burn the stores and loot. One of the mutineers shoots an arrow at Lysinka, but she is knocked down by Fergis and Regius, who takes the arrow to the chest and dies. As all stare in shock, Klarnides marches with purpose to the mutineers, and Horkas throws a torch into the storage. Klarnides swiftly kills Horkas, and all surge forward to put out the fire. The next morning, after Regius's funeral, Lysinka, Klarnides, and forty men leave in search of Conan while Fergis reluctantly stays behind to man the fortress.
Conan watches warily as the skeletons approach him, knowing it would be pointless to even draw his sword against them. The skeleton who Conan assisted in slaying the dragon steps forward and seems to confer with the apparent leader. After a few moments' pause, the skeletons lay down their arms and grasp bony hands, and a loud hum fills the cavern. The hum coalesces into words and the skeletons ask if Conan is an enemy to the Death Lord of Thanza. Conan replies that there is no current Death Lord, but that Grolin and the sorcerer Conan believes he serves may be trying to become one. The skeletons ask for his help to defeat the Death Lord, asking for both his leadership and his blood so that they may revive more skeletons. Conan refuses, but offers the possible blood of the flying serpents instead. The skeletons agree, and Conan gathers the bones of one skeleton and leads a small group of skeletons to the nest. Meanwhile, Lysinka and Klarnides head towards the Mountain of Skulls and in the camp of the wounded, through an interrogated prisoner Tharmis Rog learns that Grolin was looking for the Mountain of Skulls as well.
Grolin realizes that he and his small group cannot flee Lysinka's swiftly-gaining-ground army, so, after a consultation with the sorcerer, who convinces Grolin to stand and fight, orders his men to prepare an ambush. As Lysinka, Klarnides, and their men ascend a hill, the sorcerer causes a small landslide that quickly gains power and momentum. Some Rangers are killed by boulders, and the entire troop is scattered when Grolin and his followers attack. Grolin himself attacks Lysinka directly, but finds himself swiftly stabbed in the gut. To his surprise, the lifeforce of one of his men flows into Grolin and heals himself as the man dies, and the sorcerer's voice declares and shock that Grolin has become the Death Lord. Testing his power, he kills another of his soldiers and grows even stronger. A horrified soldier clubs Grolin, but it barely harms him, and Gorlin violentally pulls the lifeforce from the man, turning him to powder. The sight of this causes the battle to stop, and both sides flee Grolin in opposite directions. Grolin runs uphill and begins stalking his own men while forcefully silencing the sorcerer's voice in his head. He climbs the mountain to a cave near the summit, and sees the sorcerer standing on a rock outside the mouth, projecting bolts of lightening Grolin's way. Grolin batters the rock to pieces, but the sorcerer levitates away as Grolin runs into the cave, the opening of which collapses behind him in another volley of lightening. In the darkness, Grolin makes out the shape of a large skull, and as he hurls himself into the mouth, he feels something penetrating his chest, and an explosion crumbles the skull and cracks open the side of the mountain. Filled with magical, Grolin hurtles rocks at the sorcerer, killing him, and turns his attention to Lysinka and the others down the mountain.
Conan leads the skeletons through the caverns to the serpents nest, smelling them well before they encounter the creatures. The group bursts into what seems to be a nesting chamber, and, although the skeletons are unsure if the green, ichor-like blood of the serpents will be of use to the bones below, they leap to battle and Conan swears he can hear them laughing. Conan stashes the bones he has been carrying into a niche and joins the fray, at one point beheading a serpent so that its head flies into the niche. Not long after, a reformed skeleton, larger, stronger and seemingly more independent than the rest, emerges. As the battle has turned against the serpents, they begin to flee, but the new skeleton lights the nest on fire, burning the unhatched eggs, and the serpents return to protect their young, before being slaughtered in the smoke filled cavern. Soon, the serpents' bodies are dragged to the waiting bones below, and newly reanimated skeletons emerge. Suddenly, the mountain itself begins to shake. Conan and the skeletons rush out into the light just in time to see the top of the mountain tear free and float into the air, with them still on it!
Grolin decides to make a show of his power, and directs his floating mountain top in the direction of a nearby town, which he intends to destroy to further his notoriety. He studies himself in a mirror he creates with a thought, and notes that his body has grown larger and stronger, covered in a crimson armor, though the Soul of Thanza itself has taken root in his chest and glows a bright green. He even begins thinking of himself as the Death Lord, and Grolin as deceased. As for the rebels, although many were below the crack which separated the mountain, Lysinka and Klarnides have found themselves on the flight, and decide to find the Death Lord. At the same time, on another part of the mountain, Conan and the skeletons continue their hunt as well, and eventually the two groups meet. The skeletons fill Lysinka and Klarnides in on the details, none knowing that the ever-growing senses of the Death Lord have begun to notice them.
A giant green eye appears above the mountain, looking for Conan's group, and while Grolin does spy them, Iom realizes he must have used a lot of power to do so. The army and skeletons double their speed to ascend the remainder of the mountain, but Grolin has seen enough to realize the Slayers of Death have returned for him, and he renews his focus on gaining power from taking the lives of the town. Conan barely has time to notice the mountain approaching the town before magical bolts strike down at the group from the summit. However, the skeletons seem to create a natural barrier to the Death Lord's magic, and the bolts turn away as if repelled magnetically. The skeletons form a circle around the Rangers, but one Ranger, Tolos, stumbles out of the protection and dies immediately. The skeletons pull the body of Tolos back into the circle and one begins to feed off his blood to the consternation of the other Rangers, but Conan calms them and the group continues marching up the mountain, not realizing how much power the Death Lord had spent, and that he was now desperate for any life to drain. The humans and skeletons approach the cave, now glowing with the light of the Soul of Thanza. As deadly rays stream from the Death Lord, a skeletal Slayer intercepts each before they can envelop a human, sometimes destroying the Slayer, but preventing the Death Lord from absorbing the strength of the living. Still, some of the men and women are injured, and the Slayers soak up the blood to keep the battle at a rough stalemate. Rasha is killed, but Ruks absorbs enough of her blood to grab the Death Lord and hold him still. Iom pulls his own skeletal arm from his body, and Conan takes it and stabs the Death Lord in the eyes with it. The Death Lord falls, dead, but so does the mountain. Luckily, it is over the lake, and although the ride is bumpy. many survive. The Slayers, however, turn to dust. Conan and Lysinka leave to survey the damage.
The survivors all make their way from different points to the Ranger camp where Tharmis Rog awaits them. Klarnides, who is an acquaintance of the local governor, is confident he can arrange pardons and safety for everyone, to the delight of all. Conan and Lysinka sneak away to a nearby town for several days, but eventually Conan leaves her and heads for Turan one night, while Lysinka dreams of a future with an aged, crowned Conan observe both his own son, and Lysinka's, and she wonders what may come.
- Lysinka of Mertyos, bandit chieftain
- Levites of Messentia, owner of the ship Sidris
- Mikros, Aqulinoian thief-taker
- Tharmis Rog, Master-of-Arms of the Thanza Rangers
- Captain Klarnides, Leader of the Thanza Rangers
- Fergis, bandit
- Baron Grolin, self titled lord of Thanza *
- Nestorinus, captain in the Thanza Rangers
- Dutulus, Thanza Ranger *
- Regius Panon, Nemedian mercenary *
- Rasha, bandit *
- Horkas, bandit *
- Unnamed sorcerer *
- Iom, reanimated skeleton *
- Ruks, reanimated skeleton *
- Tolos, Ranger *
* dies in this book
- Thanza region of the Border Range between Aquilonia and Nemedia
- The Tybor river
- Shamar, Aquilonian city
- Mountain of the Skull
|William Galen Gray Chronology|
"The Star of Khorala"
|Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza||Next Story:|
Conan and the Amazon
- Conan and the Death Lord of Thanza (novel) • Roland J. Green • Tor January 1997