Thundarr The Barbarian in The Wrath Of Crom

Chapter 15

Completely unaware of the trouble the others have found themselves in, Ookla heads forth into his appointed tunnel. At one point, the mok feels a wave of dizziness, which passes quickly. Ookla continues on, watching out for signs of traps, side passages, or that perhaps he is going in the right direction. He comes across the skeleton of a human lying on the tunnel floor. Ookla kneels down to examine the body. The skeleton was once a warrior, judging from his armor and weapons. However, there doesn't appear to be any cause of death. It looks like he had just decided to lie down and die. Ookla continues on, and finds more skeletons. Some of them are in a sitting position with their backs against the tunnel wall. Others are just lying on the tunnel floor, as though they died in their sleep. Some are dressed as warriors, while others were most likely dressed in clothing that had rotted away years ago. Ookla wasn't very good at deciphering puzzles, and this was certainly a puzzle. For not one of these skeletons appeared to have died from any external force. They weren't slain by hidden arrows, or spring loaded blades, or falling stones, or any of the other things that people have a tendency to set as traps in places like these. They appear to have just died. Having no answers to this riddle, Ookla decides to press forward.

As he continues forward, Ookla finds several more skeletons. Soon the mok begins to notice something strange. Every set of skeletons he comes across seems to be in the exact same position as the skeletons several yards back. Out of curiosity, Ookla takes the helmet off of one of the skeleton warriors and sets it next to the skull. Then when he comes to a skeleton sitting against the tunnel wall, he takes its skull off of its shoulders and sets it on the skeleton's lap. The next time he passes a bunch of skeletons in the exact same position, the helmet and the skull are in the exact same position that they were in after Ookla had moved them. To test if this was a coincidence, Ookla crushes the helmet like a tin cup, and punches a hole in the wall next to the sitting skeleton. The mok continues on his way, and then passes a skeleton with an identically crushed helmet, and an identical hole punched into the tunnel wall. Ookla finally realizes that these weren't different people who died in the exact same position as the last bunch. They were the exact same bunch of skeletons, he just kept passing them over and over again.

Ookla turns and starts running back the way he came. Again and again, Ookla runs past the same bunch of skeletons lying on the tunnel floor. Again and again, Ookla keeps running towards the entrance to the tunnel. He begins to pant heavily, but still he runs on. He begins to get a stitch in his side, but still he runs on. Still, he passes the same skeletons over and over again. He must have passed the skeletons twice as many times on his way back than he did on his was in, yet there still appears to be no end in sight. Ookla finally stops to rest. He takes out his canteen and quenches his parched throat. It's at this moment that realization hits him. That's why these skeletons had no visible injuries from what killed them. Time is what killed them. They were caught in this tunnel, trapped in this continual loop. They died from a lack of food and water. And if Ookla couldn't figure a way out of here, he was going to join them in eternity.

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Much like Ookla, Jezmine is completely unaware of what is happening to the others. She creeps along the tunnel, wary of any possible hidden traps, secret passages, or dangers. She has a lit torch in one hand, and a shuriken held ready in another. She comes upon a pile of bones and discarded bits of armor. She begins to move forward to investigate, but stops. Something about all this puts her instincts on edge. She throws her shuriken down the tunnel, and as the Star Metal throwing star passes over the pile of bones, several blades pop out of the wall at various heights like giant sets of sheers. She calls for the throwing star to return, and the blades slash out again as the shuriken passes over the bones. She does this several more times, testing the efficiency of the trap. Apparently, there is no limit to the number of times the trap can be sprung. And there is no height or angle where one can sneak past without being detected by whatever magic triggers the trap. She does, however, discover one weakness in the traps design. The blades are designed to be lethal to any person of any size. One cannot simply step over them because the blades are too low, or duck under them because the blades are too high. The shortest of dwarves would likely be cut in half at the waist, while simultaneously being decapitated and cut off at the knees. The tallest of humans would be sliced up like a piece of meat at a butcher's shop, his skull being sliced clean in two at the eyebrow. But between the topmost set of blades and the ceiling is a relatively wide gap. It would be considered narrow for most people. But Jezmine is an acrobat. She grew up in the circus. She should just be able to make it . . . maybe.

Jezmine takes several steps back. She takes several deep, steadying breaths. Then she gets a running start at the trap. At the last possible second, Jezmine hurls a throwing star down the tunnel. This activates the blades, right before her leap. She jumps up with everything she has, diving for the gap between the ceiling and the top set of blades. She twists her body in mid-air, so that her chest is practically scraping the ceiling. She arches her back and lands in a hand spring to her feet. She quickly, whirls about and recalls her shuriken to her bracer. Now that she's past this particularly nasty death trap, Jezmine checks herself for any injuries. The top blades had just managed to slice off her belt pouch, and some fabric from the seat of her pants. All in all, she had gotten through relatively unscathed. She just hopes that the others have done just as well.

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Zula heads forth in his assigned tunnel, completely unaware of what is befalling his comrades. As he presses forward, Zula notices several ancient runes carved into the stone floor and walls of the tunnel. He takes a moment to look them over. He is a learned man, but these symbols are something he has never seen before. Grey Wolf would likely know what they mean. Determined to find out where this tunnel leads and what is at the other end, the Wasai prince continues on. Soon, Zula begins to feel a great deal of anxiety. He is unsure as to why, for since the runes he has yet to see anything in this tunnel to warrant such a reaction. He figures it must be the urgency of his quest pressing on him, and presses forward. The farther and farther he goes, the more and more fearful he becomes. Zula is not a weak man. He is a powerful and brave warrior, from an entire race of brave and powerful warriors. He has mastered the sign of Jhebbal-Sag, Master of Beasts. Yet he cannot shake this feeling of dread. And with every step forward, the feeling becomes worse, and worse.

The tunnel appears to be moving, turning around and around as though Zula were being rolled around in a giant barrel. The Wasai prince can barely keep his balance. He falls to his hands and knees. With a growl of defiance, Zula continues forth, crawling like an animal. The tunnel ahead of him distorts, like he's crawling through a bad dream. He crawls forward a little farther, and then collapses under the strain.

When he awakens, Zula finds himself back in his father's palace, bound in irons. Sitting upon his father's throne is his treacherous cousin, Gora. On the end of Gora's royal scepter, is the mummified head of Zula's father, the king. Sitting naked at Gora's feet, their wrists in irons and with chains attached to collars around their necks, are Princess Ariel and Jezmine. Zula attempts to regain his feet.

"On your knees before the king!" shouts a guard, and he jabs the butt of his spear into the back of Zula's knee, forcing him to kneel.

Zula glares up at the guard, and is surprised to see that the guard is, in fact, a serpent man.

"Welcome, cousin," says Gora, "to the new kingdom of Wasai."

"You are no king, cousin," growls Zula.

"On the contrary," says Gora, "My throne has been sanctioned by not only Wrath-Amon, but Set himself."

"Lies!" says Zula, "He has yet to find enough Star Metal to build his temples!"

"He did not need it, dear cousin," says Gora, "You and your friends have lead him to The World Wand. Now he can conjure monsters most foul from anywhere in the multiverse. All thanks to you."

"No!" cries Zula.

"Oh, yes," replies Gora calmly, "Not only have you failed your friends. You have failed the entire world of Hyborea."

"I don't believe you!"

"Then perhaps you will believe this," says Gora, and he motions to his serpent men guards.

A pair of serpent men grabs Zula by the arms and drags him out of the palace. There, in the court yard, are the impaled bodies of Conan, Thundarr, Grey Wolf, Snagg, and Ookla. They had been set out on display as though they were decorative ornaments. Zula looks away, unable to bear to look at his friends.

"As you can see, dear cousin," says Gora, "There is no hope."

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Ookla sits down on a large rock and contemplates what to do next. Ookla had never really been big on trying to solve problems with his mind. Like most moks, he was better at solving problems with his fists. But this seems like a thinking problem to him. So he sits and he thinks. Obviously the people who were trapped here before him were better thinkers than he is. They hadn't found a way out using their brains. If only there were something Ookla could smash to stop the loop in the tunnel, then he could get out of here.

What would Ariel do? wonders Ookla.

She would probably know just the right spell to cast to counter this tunnel's effects.

What about Thundarr? wonders Ookla, What would he do?

He'd probably take out his Sunsword and carve a whole new tunnel out of there. Then Ookla stands up and howls with joy.

That's it! That's the answer!

Ookla looks around the tunnel, trying to get his bearings. Once he knows which way he was walking when he entered the tunnel, he also knows which side of the tunnel connects to the tunnel Thundarr is investigating. The mok walks up to the tunnel wall and punches a hole in the stone. Then again. And again. And again.

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Jezmine continues on past the bladed trap. She hopes none of her friends try and follow her to see if she's okay. She had forgotten to leave them any kind of marker to let them know about the trap. Granted, the pile of bones was a pretty obvious marker, but they need to know not to go beyond that point. She hopes that if anyone tries to check up on her, it will be Grey Wolf or Ariel. Thundarr or Conan would just get themselves killed. So would Ookla, most likely. Zula tends to be more reflective than Conan, although he did get captured by slavers by being too impulsive. Hopefully he'd be okay.

As she continues forward, she sees a pile of discarded items up ahead. Cautiously, she creeps forward for a closer look. It appears to be a collection of weapons, burnt out torches, leather sacks, metal lanterns, and other seemingly random items. Suspicious as to why these things are sitting out here, with no sign of their former owners, Jezmine takes a cautious step backwards. She takes a shuriken from her bracer and throws it down the tunnel. As the throwing star passes over the pile of discarded items, several long steel spikes pop out of an illusionary wall. Suspended upon those spikes are several human and humanoid skeletons.

"So that's where the owners of those pieces went," whispers Jezmine.

As the spikes retract to their hidden compartment, Jezmine recalls her throwing star to her bracer. The spikes extend again as the shuriken passes over the pile of lost items. Once more, Jezmine sees a weakness in the trap's design. There's a gap between the top spikes and the ceiling. Apparently, whoever designed this dungeon never considered that people might be able to jump that high. Jezmine takes a throwing star from her bracer and throws it down the tunnel. This time, as soon as the spikes extend, Jezmine runs up and climbs the sides of the spikes as though they were a ladder. When she gets to the top she crawls across the top spikes as though crawling across a scaffold. Almost as soon as the acrobat gets to the top of the spikes, they begin to retract. She hurries across as quickly as she safely can. Once she gets to the other side of the spikes, she tumbles down to the tunnel floor, and lands dexterously on her feet, then runs off down the tunnel, recalling her shuriken to her bracer.

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Zula is sitting in his cell, awaiting his execution in despair. He can't believe how things could have gone so wrong. All of his dearest friends, murdered. Jezmine and Princess Ariel, enslaved by his treacherous cousin. He had to set things right somehow. Exactly how, he didn't quite know. Perhaps he could start a revolt. But Gora had said that Wrath-Amon brought Set back to Hyborea. There was little the citizens of the world could do against the likes of Wrath-Amon, Set, and the warriors of Wasai. Well, his first order of business is to escape his cousin's prison.

Finally, the snake men guards arrive to take Zula to his execution. He's put into irons, and taken to the palace courtyard. 'King' Gora is sitting there, watching his cousin being dragged out like a common criminal. Zula glares at his cousin in defiance. In response, Gora grabs Jezmine and kisses her on the mouth. The acrobat returns the evil Wasai kings embrace. Of all the things Zula had seen since returning home, this is the most out of place. He could accept that Jezmine might be captured and forced into slavery. But Jezmine is a fighter. She would never, ever, just accept her role as a slave, she would fight to the bitter end. Accepting the embrace of the man who has enslaved her like a lover? Never!

Zula slams his irons into the faces of the guards guiding him to the impaling pole. The guards collapse to the ground, clutching their injured faces. Zula charges his cousin. Gora takes out his ax, preparing to meet his cousin head on. Zula leaps and tackles the traitor to the ground. He wraps the chain of his irons around Gora's neck and pulls it tight. Gora grabs Zula by the wrists and tries to get him to release his grip. Zula pulls even harder. Gora's eyes begin to bulge as he can't get enough air. The Wasai prince ignores the death rattle of his cousin. Gora becomes weaker and weaker, and eventually stops struggling altogether. As the life leaves Gora's body, the image of the palace courtyard begins to shift. His irons begin to disappear, the land around him goes dark, and he is once again in the tunnel inside Wyrm Mountain.

Zula understands now that he never truly left. It was all an illusion. A trick of magic, causing his mind to make him live out his worst fear. He takes up his torch and continues forward.

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Ookla continues punching the tunnel wall. Finally, the wall gives way and he opens up a hole between his tunnel and Thundarr's. He continues to punch the wall, again and again, widening the hole until it is big enough for him to step through. As he steps from his tunnel into Thundarr's, he sees what looks like Princess Ariel's blue leotard lying on the tunnel floor. The mok picks it up and sniffs it. He recognizes the scent, and it doesn't belong to Ariel. Glasya might have been able to assume Ariel's form, and conjure a replica of her leotard, but she couldn't fool a mok's nose. Ookla sniffs the air, trying to determine which direction Thundarr had gone. He discovers that the barbarian hadn't continued into the tunnel, but had doubled back. Knowing him, he likely ran to Ariel's aid. Not wanting to abandon his friends when they need his help, Ookla runs to catch up and help out.

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Jezmine reaches a section of the tunnel where the entire area is unusually blackened. She doesn't like the looks of this. Unlike before there are no piles of bones indicating a trap. No piles of random items as though they were just dropped. Just blackened walls, floor, and ceiling. As before, she takes out a shuriken and throws it down the tunnel. Nothing happens. She recalls the throwing star to her bracer. Again, nothing happens. She gets down on her hands and knees and inspects the tunnel floor. It appears as though the floor here was man made, not a natural formation. She gently brushes away any dirt that has built up on the floor over the years. Carved into the stones on the floor are symbols. She has never seen this kind of writing before. These look like ancient hieroglyphs, pictures meant to represent specific words. There was a symbol of a snake. A symbol of a man. A symbol of a dragon. A shield. A spear. A sword. A horse. An eagle. Yet she still has no idea as to what they represent. As an experiment, Jezmine chooses the symbol of the dragon and presses down on it with all her weight. Flames burst out from the walls, forcing Jezmine to throw herself backward out of the way. She looks back and sees that the walls are now glowing red.

"Well, that explains why there aren't any remains," says the acrobat.

She inches back up and tries another symbol, this time the symbol of the snake. Once more the walls spit out flames, leaving the stones red hot. Once again, Jezmine tests a symbol. This time she tests the symbol of the man. Once again, flames burst from the walls, forcing the acrobat to leap back once more. Again she goes back. And again, she tests another symbol. This time she tests the symbol of the shield. Nothing happens. She tries the symbol of the sword, and flames burst out of the walls. She tries the shield again . . . nothing. So she steps onto the shield symbol and begins gently clearing away the soot and ash from the floor. When she sees a shield symbol she steps on it, and then starts the process over again. Eventually, she gets all the way across. The tunnel continues on, beyond into the darkness. Jezmine takes up her torch, and continues her search for The World Wand.

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