Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
Chapter 13
FirstSearch's hooves slipped and clopped over mossy rocks along the path down the valley floor. Reynard had made himself comfortable in the left-hand pouch of Conan's saddlebags. He rode with black forepaws hanging over the edge, sharp ears and long whiskers twitching nervously. 

They passed more fascinated crowds gathered round CAM images: an iguana climbing onto a towel-covered shelf in front of a window, a view from a mountain, a view of only sky--all with no apparent meaning. The crowds took no notice of the white stallion or his passengers. 

Reynard whined softly. Conan turned impatiently and demanded, "If you know where we are, then tell me." 

"Not to alarm you...oh, wait. What's that?," 

Conan glared at him, then followed his worried gaze. Ahead of them, a large sign proclaimed "Adopt!" Beneath it, a crowd oohed and aahed and giggled at an image Conan could not see. Drawing closer, he glimpsed a series of five peaked-roof doghouses, then a small puppy with large green eyes and a coat the color of pea soup happily chasing after a red ball. It was obviously only an image, for aside from the puppy's unnatural coloration, the ball bounced off the artificial borders. Still, the crowd was entranced. Reynard shook his head and sighed. 

"Dogz," said Reynard, "that settles it. We are in the Valley of Shadows. A place of seeming. Very tricky." 

"'Snares and shadows'," Conan said softly. 

"What?" 

"Just part of a poem. Still these shadows seem harmless enough." 

"Oh, yes. Right you are. The harmlessness is but a seeming, too, for when the shadows of the Web become more interesting than reality...." He finished his sentence with a shudder, tucked his head back in the saddlebag and pulled the flap over. 

On they rode. No breaks appeared in the valley walls as the sun started to set behind the mountain. Suddenly, a figure stepped from the shadows into their path, causing FirstSearch to rear and startling Reynard from his nap. Conan's hand went to his sword, but stopped when he looked at the man who stood before them. 

He was dressed in a ragged, cowled robe and straw sandals. A circle of scraggly, blonde hair ringed his bald head and combined with his weathered face and stooped posture to make any guess at his age impossible. His walking stick bore a large sign saying "Y2K is coming; the end of the world is at hand." 

"Stop!" the man cried in a voice that was stronger than Conan expected. "You must listen to me. We must take action before it is too late." 

Before Conan could reply, two men riding black horses appeared from behind a large rock to confront them. They were dressed all in black except for the gold "S" embroidered on their tunics. 

"The Wizard's guard!" Reynard squeaked, hiding himself again in the saddlebag. 

One of the guardsmen expertly bumped his horse into the man with the sign, knocking him face down on the ground. "Reality bites the dust," he said. They both laughed at the joke. Conan did not. 

"By what right do you assault unarmed travelers," Conan demanded, his hand resting by the hilt of his sword. 

"These prophets of doom offend the law of the land by preaching their calendar-based catastrophe theories. And they disturb our guests," said the second guard. "I hope you have not been troubled." 

The first guard had dismounted and picked up the fallen staff, knocking the man down again when he tried feebly to grasp for it. As he began to rip up the sign, Conan turned FirstSearch and wrenched the staff away, knocking the guard off his feet. He then swung quickly around and used it to unseat his companion. 

"No," said Conan, as he reached down to help the fallen prophet to his feet, "it is not his behavior that disturbs me." 

Suddenly, from behind the same rock came a thunder of hoof beats. 

© 1997, by Hadley V. Baxendale 


Follow Conan Through the Web: 

To follow Conan through the Valley of Shadows, try visiting the Iguana cam, other spy cams and Petz.

For (computer-related) prophecies about the last year of the millennium, check out these sites.


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