Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
Chapter 21
Conan and Reynard escaped during the virtual tour of The King's Palace of Grace. 

"There can be no doubt now" Conan said, morosely, retrieving FirstSearch's reins, "We are in the Forest of Lost Souls." 

"Oh, dear," said Reynard, jumping up onto the saddle, "Are we are now doomed to wander from one useless, time-sucking site to another for eternity?" 

"Not necessarily," Conan answered, "It is only dangerous when one is weak of purpose or when one wanders in accidentally without wearing a button with the proper homing spell..." his voice trailed off. 

"You mean as we did," Reynard said, climbing up to the pommel. Conan scowled and mounted the horse. 

Reynard took no notice. He stretched his nose high to sniff the air. "Over that way," he yipped. 

"What do you smell?" Conan asked. 

"Something I remember from long ago; slightly stale and too sweet, but redolent of food...and science." 

"Scientific inquiry is a hallmark of the Third Kingdom," Conan said, urging FirstSearch to a trot. 

They followed Reynard's nose to the source of the sweetly compelling odor. It was an old site by the standards of the Web, its popularity so long established that it was attended only by a mail slot stuffed to overflowing with messages. All the experiments seemed to involve a Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling. Most of the messages involved a chocolate counterpart. 

Reynard licked his lips. Conan looked puzzled. 

"This seems to be a study of the effects of the four elements on the subject cake," Conan said at last, "though I confess I do not see the purpose." 

"But it looks yummy," said Reynard, drooling. 

"Humorous, perhaps." Conan said, scrutinizing the results of the water test, "but not appetizing. Nor helpful." 

They rode on silently until Reynard perked his ears up again. 

"How about that link?" the fox said, pointing with his nose, "isn't that a symbol for wisdom?" 

The link was a drawing of an unblinking, violet eye. It marked the edge of a rocky trail that spiraled steeply up the side of a hill. There was no telling how far the trail went and it looked too steep for the horse. As they pondered what to do, a man approached. He wore ragged clothes of a coarse and colorless fabric. His sandals were dusty and worn from the trail. He leaned heavily on a crooked staff. 

"Hello," Conan hailed him, "Where are you going?" 

"I come to grovel and place my question before the Great Oracle," the man replied. 

"Can this Oracle direct us to the Third Kingdom in the center of the Wide Web of the Worlds?" 

"The Oracle is all wise and will answer any question, though it sometimes requires some small service in return." 

"Can anyone ask a question of the Oracle?" 

"Only the priests communicate directly with the Oracle. Supplicants must submit a question to them and then wait." He handed Conan a form that began: Oh Oracle most wise... 

"I see." 

"But there are samples of the Oracle's wisdom posted down there." He pointed back down the trail where it wound into the woods. "Perhaps your question has already been asked and answered." 

The man continued his difficult way up the path while Conan backtracked to a small shelter of rough-hewn wood where a group of people were reading and laughing at the posted writings of the Oracle. After tying the horse to a tree, Conan and Reynard joined the group. It took only a moments to see there was no mention of the Third Kingdom. Conan turned to Reynard and said, "There seems to be more humor than wisdom to these pronouncements." 

Before Reynard could comment, someone hailed them. "Conan! Yoo Hoo!" 

They were approached by a woman wearing sequined body armor, sleek silver earrings, and sandals made of thin strands of red leather. The sandals were elongated at the heel so that she stood on impossibly thin red stilts that added three inches to her height. 

"So nice to see you again," she said, extending a perfectly manicured hand. The red jewels in her ring matched the color of her nails. "Remember me?. We were on that panel discussion on the image of the information guilds some years ago at the annual convocation." 

He took her hand for a second and mumbled, "Oh, yes. Of course," while frantically trying to think of her name. She was strikingly beautiful with flowing black hair, smooth, ivory skin and perfectly sculpted eyebrows. Conan's mind was as blank as the Oracle's form. Just then she excused herself, reached into a small, red satin bag hanging from her shoulder and pulled out a round case and a small tube. When she opened the case, looked at herself in the mirror within it, and used the tube to paint her lips the same shade of red as her nails, he remembered exactly who she was. 

© 1998, by Hadley V. Baxendale

Follow Conan Through the Web: 

For a classic (1995) Web page that still entertains (the Turing test is our favorite) visit The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project.

A long established source of wit and wisdom is The Internet Oracle.

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