|The chimes in the tower were playing as Conan left the gates of fabled
Ithaca. The tower remained visible until the road took him around the mountain
into the misty forest.
FirstSearch tread his sure-footed way up the steep path until the trees
and mist were below them and the rocky summit of Mount Krakatoa rose above.
An odor of ozone emanated from the mouth of a large cave. FirstSearch snorted
and refused to go nearer. Conan left him behind a boulder and entered the
cave on foot.
Inside, the cave was dark and smelled more like coffee.
From its deep recesses came a pale light and a coarse voice, like cry
of a raven, "By the pricking of my thumbs, something vagrant this way comes."
"Really, Deja," scoffed a second voice, "if 'vagrant' is your high score
augury, you might as well start wearing your wrist brace again."
"Enough, Lyca," said a third, more authoritative voice, "Come forward,
With a hand on the handle of his sword, Conan advanced slowly toward
the light until he faced three ancient women. Their long garments were
formless and dark, their faces craggy and pale. The strands of their white
hair fell over their shoulders in wisps, some reaching for the ground,
some floating above them lifted by unseen currents. Before them was a small
fire upon which a large, black cauldron sat emitting blue steam. They did
not look up, but focused on the cauldron.
"Our guest foreknown, his way foreshown. Have a seat on the stone,"
sang the hag on the left with the raven's voice. She pointed with a crooked,
"You look surprised," cackled the one on the right, her crooked smile
showing two unmatched teeth. "My sisters and I have watched you all the
way up the hill. We aren't Webmasters for nothing, you know. Close your
mouth and park it."
Conan closed his mouth and seated himself carefully on the high, flat
stone before them. His mind attached the names he had heard to the recognizable
voices so that the sisters, left to right, became Deja, Alta and Lyca.
"So, Conan, you seek the way to the third kingdom in the center of the
Wide Web of the Worlds," Alta said, indifferently.
"Yes, oh wise ones."
"Wide and wider, slides the spider, where's the rub? Dub, dub, dub,"
"What my sister, means," said Alta, calmly, "is what do you offer us
in return for this information?"
"We don't take American Express," said Lyca with a chuckle.
Before Conan could speak, Deja chimed in again. "In the garden, I can
see, tall and green, a shrubbery!"
"Been there," said Lyca impatiently.
With a bony hand, Alta pulled back on a stick at the edge of the cauldron
causing the steam to swirl with undefined shapes that gave Conan an idea.
"I have a platinum edition of Myst," he offered.
"Done that," said Lyca sarcastically.
Deja reached into her sleeve and dropped a pinch of powder into the
cauldron, causing the shapes to form into warriors. "Double, double, toil
and trouble, wars and warlocks, death and rubble, weapons cause the blood
"And way cool graphics!" Lyca looked at him hopefully.
Conan thought fast. "Well, I hate to part with it," he said slowly reaching
into his pack, "but in my travels I did come across a beta copy of Doom
Alta smiled and Conan knew he had a deal.
© 1996, by Hadley V. Baxendale