|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
"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
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
"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