Conan the Librarian on the Information Highway
 Chapter 23
The sudden departure of the fox from the pizza parlor did not surprise Conan. He remembered how suddenly his furry companion had joined him. What surprised him was realizing that he would miss him. But for now there was no danger of loneliness. The waiter brought the check, which the Lip Paint Warrior insisted upon putting on her expense account. The effect of the long journey on Conan's resources caused him to accept the hospitality graciously. 

"The most dangerous thing in the Web is inaccurate information," the Lip-paint Warrior said, delicately wiping the corners of her mouth with a napkin. "The only reliable sites are in the Third Kingdom itself." 

"Yet there must be some way to get there from here," Conan said, thinking of all the twists and turns he had taken through the Web already. 

"There's always a way," his companion said, but her expression was one of deep thought as they walked out of the restaurant together. 

FirstSearch whickered at their approach. "You know," the Lip-paint Warrior said, stroking the horse's white nose, "I believe I know a site that can help you. It is a humorous site so it can't be far away and it illustrates the importance of not accepting information at face value, so it probably contains a link to the type of genuinely valuable information that will lead to the Third Kingdom." 

"Then it is a site I must see," Conan said. 

His companion pulled the small mirror and tube from her bag and refreshed the crimson color of her lips. "Good," she said, flashing a smile like sunshine after a summer rain, "I'll take you there." 

The Lip-Paint Warrior's horse was as tall as FirstSearch, with the same strong, arched neck, but he was as solidly black as the other was white and his large hooves were fringed with black curls. His tack had red sequins that matched his rider's armor. As they rode at a smooth trot, Conan noticed that the horse's mane and his rider's hair were the same color as they rippled and flowed in unison, glistening when the sun broke through the trees. 

The path wound downhill into a valley of lush ferns and towering conifers. Steam rose from occasional fissures in the mountainside giving the air a tropical freshness. 

"I love to ride through here," the Lip-Paint Warrior said with a deep breath and a sigh, "it does wonders for the complexion. It's hard to believe, but just outside this valley you can ski for eleven months out of the year." 

Conan did not answer, for before them now was a wide river. Small sailboats floated downstream. On the opposite bank was a marshland dotted with windmills. Below them was a large dock. A strange ship-black and smooth with no masts or sails-was moored there. It floated like a manatee with most of its bulk below the surface; only a chimney-like projection, painted red, white and blue at the top, broke its horizontal lines. The name stenciled on the side was "Iron Maiden." 

When Conan remarked on the strange ship, his companion replied, "You must come back in mid-summer for Submarine Days and take a ride in one of them." He was going to ask what you held onto with no rigging and a sloping deck, but just then the valley opened out into a plain and they came in sight of something more wondrous. 

It was the color of sand and the size of a mountain with four flat sides coming to a perfect point at the top, and it towered over all the puny surrounding structures. 

"According to legend," the Lip-Paint Warrior explained, "this town was founded by Gods who arrived in great silver glowing disks. Several legends mention a pyramid that they built as a homing beacon, that was buried by an earth tremor over a thousand years ago. This recent excavation is now the highpoint of the local State University Campus." 

Conan was skeptical. "I see nothing here," he said, dryly, "that could lead us to the third kingdom." 

"Not a something," his companion replied, tossing her raven hair and looking back over her shoulder, "more of a someone." 

Conan looked in the direction she indicated and saw a small woman with mousey hair and an officious manner. "Don't be misled!" she cried as she hurried toward them, clutching her sweater around her shoulders. The horses tossed their heads and sidestepped as she waved her hands in front of their faces. "None of this is real," she continued, breathlessly. 

"But it is entertaining, don't you think, Maureen?" the Lip-Paint Warrior said, "And an excellent object lesson for travelers of the Web." 

The woman ignored her and turned to Conan. "If you seek truth," she said, "take this." She handed him a golden key and he felt himself immediately sucked into the hyperlink. 

© 1998, by Hadley V. Baxendale 

Follow Conan Through the Web: 

Visit all the wondrous "sites" of Mankato, MN for yourself. 

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