Inspirational Quote: "I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose." -- Woody Allen
Laughter is one of the few invaluable things we can give each-other that costs nothing. What follows is intended as a parody of Conan that Robert Howard never envisioned. My gift to you. May it make you laugh.
Zarek-Amun had just finished the pyramid temple’s six-hundred and thirtieth step and was looking forward to the last stretch leading down to the cracked stones and tangled creepers of the ruined city. It was a good day. Warm sun, nice breeze. His broom made a shush-shush-shush as it pushed dust, dirt and small stones off one step and onto the one below it. He smiled and pursed his lips to whistle.
That was when, with an incoherent shout, a barbarian crashed into the temple clearing.
Zarek stopped sweeping and propped his chin on the top of his broom. The barbarian was tall and broad, tanned and muscled. He glared dramatically and raised a sword that gleamed so brightly the light itself could have cut flesh. He opened his mouth, no doubt to shout some obscure oath from his homeland.
Zarek cleared his throat. "Can I help you?"
"Er." The Barbarian's sword wavered and he glare dissolved into a squint. He'd lost his momentum. "I'm Kor of the Northlands?"
"Is that a statement, or are you looking for some kind of assurance?"
"I don't know if I can do much for you in the way of identity crisis counseling. The Temple of Self-Actualization is a couple of miles that way." Zarek pointed off to the east.
"Oh. Uh. Is this the Black Temple of Ee?"
Zarek looked up the long staircase to the temple proper, which sat squat and dark, covered with vines at the top of the pyramid. An enormous tentacled monstrosity had been carved in shiny black stone around the temple entrance. "I'm not sure. Let me go check."
The Barbarian lowered his sword and fiddled with the rough cord wound around the handle. Zarek propped his broom against the side of the staircase and made the long climb up to the temple. A font stood just inside the entrance, a black and bubbling cauldron from which a cup dangled on an old string. Zarek grabbed a drink. It was said that the water within oozed up from the deepest hells. It must have been quite a place, because the water was excellent and always cold.
"Who is that?" Echoed a voice from the inner sanctum. “A worshiper come to praise my dark majesty?”
“It's just me, lord.”
"Lord Ee, Dark God of the Netherhells, Herald of the Apocalypse, Beast of Ruin, I'll thank you to remember. A god is nothing without adjectival titles.”
“Of course, Great Ee.”
“I see we have a visitor. A worshiper?”
"A barbarian, lord," Zarek said, still sipping his water.
"Seeking to loot the treasures of the temple? Lay waste to the altar? Slaughter the priests? When I assume my dark dominion over the world, his suffering will be truly terrible."
Zarek emptied the cup and dropped it, letting it dangle from its string. Within his dark sanctum, the Beast of Ruin sighed.
"Fourth one this week isn't it?"
"Third. That other was a tax collector."
"Humph. I should have scourged his soul. Doesn't anyone believe in the separation of church and state anymore?"
“Modern times, Great Ee.”
“Modern times,” muttered Ee. “When I begin my black reign, I’ll show them ‘modern times.’ Tax collectors. Barbarians. Traveling salesmen. They’ll all know my wrath.”
“Yes, Great Ee.”
“Great and Terrible Ee, please.”
“Of course, Great and Terrible Ee. I’ll just see him on his way, shall I?”
Great Ee’s muttering echoed in the shadows of the temple. Occasionally, Zarek could make out arcane invective hurled against barbarians, tax collectors, traveling salesmen and small children who rang the temple gong and then ran away before anyone could answer. Zarek left the temple and made his way down to where the Barbarian still waited. Kor had sheathed his sword and was now delicately excavating one nostril with a pinky. When he saw Zarek's approach, he smiled and surreptitiously wiped his fingers on his leggings. “Ah. There you are. Well?”
“Still not sure.”
"Wait. Aren't you a priest?"
"Do I look like a priest?"
Kor looked down at his feet, then tilted his head to one side and squinted at Zarek. "You've got the robe and the scepter."
"Scepter." Zarek picked up his broom and shook it. Dust rose from the bristles in a cloud that made him cough. "Are you sure you’re not Kor the Nearsighted?"
"There's supposed to be priests here and naked ladies and heaps of treasure." Kor waggled his heavy eyebrows and grinned. "You know."
"I don't know about that," Zarek said. "We've got dust. And rocks. And a bit of dried mud that someone dragged in last week. I don't know why I bother putting out the boot scraper when nobody uses it."
"Could I go look?"
"Are your boots clean?"
Kor lifted first one foot, then the other. "Um," he said. "No. The forest is kind of damp, and there are lots of animals, if you understand me."
"Then kindly stay out."
"But..." Kor seemed to recall himself. His voice grew deeper. "I'm Kor the Northlander, the Warrior, the Reaver. I tread the jeweled thrones under my feet..."
"Fine, but don't do it here. I just swept."
Once again, Kor's fire faded. "Look. I'm here to pillage and slay."
Zarek smiled. "Oh, well. You should have said. I'm afraid we were pillaged last week, and it's going to be at least a month before anyone comes by who'd be worthy of a good slay."
"Really?" Kor's shoulder's slumped. "By the sons of..."
"Language, please. This is a temple."
"Right. Sorry. Look, is there anything you could do for me?"
"Well, I could point you to the Ancient Brotherhood of Soth Yogurt in the Forbidden Forest."
"They sent me here."
"Oh, they did?" Zarek gritted his teeth. Toth Azor was going to get an earful at the next poker game. "Well, then, have you tried the Eldrich Grotto of Murku? North side of the Dark Tower, fourth temple on the right."
"Is it worth the trip?"
"I hear the high priestess doesn't go in much for clothing."
Kor brightened. "Ah! A foul temptress?"
Zarek pictured the high priestess of Murku, mentally trying to reverse the ravages inflicted by eighty years of tending to an incontinent god in an unlit cave. "Something like that," he said. "You're half right."
"Wonderful! By Tigram's Ba... Sorry. Look, thanks for the help."
"Don't mention it." Zarek waved at Kor's retreating back.
The undergrowth rustled back into position and Kor's squelching footfalls receded into the distance. When silence once again reigned, Zarek-Amun went back to smiling as his broom swept dirt from the stones. It was a good day.