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Xaltotun is a character in The Hour of the Dragon.


Xaltotun was the High Priest of Set in the city of Python, in ancient Acheron, circa 13,000 BC. In that role, many blood sacrifices were performed on the altar of their snake god. Xaltotun held the Heart of Ahriman, never invoking it, but instead guarding it, lest it be used against him. A few days after the death of his sister, Xaltana, he was engaged in a ritual, involving the blood sacrifice of three virgin youths and the sevenfold symbol. Red Sonja, having been sent back to Acheron (along with Conan) by the mirrors of Tuzun Thune, arrived in a pit below Xaltotun's altar and climbed to the surface in time to see him preparing for one of the sacrifices.

Red Sonja failed to stop the slaying of the young woman, but did manage to knock the Heart of Ahriman from his grasp and escape back down into the pit. Xaltotun tried to locate her using the Heart of Tammuz, but the Heart of Ahriman's magic shielded her from detection. He then sent one of his demon familiars after Sonja. It succeeded in catching up with her and had overpowered her when she managed to tap into the power of the Heart of Ahriman and destroy it. As Sonja fled to the outside of the city, she ran smack into a gathering of various Hyborian tribes, who had assembled to overthrow Acheron. A shaman decked out in a feathered costume recognized the Heart of Ahriman and snatched it from her grasp. Sonja, exhausted from her struggles, chose not to fight for the gem, but rather returned to the city, to relocate Conan.

Meanwhile, Conan had stirred up a rivalry between the Acheronian Guards and a few Cimmerian guards, which served only to help the Hyborian army to burst through the gates of Acheron and storm the city. The feathered Shaman, using the Heart, managed to overpower Xaltotun's sorcery. Subsequently, Acheron fell before the attacking barbarians, and Xaltotun fled to Khemi, Stygia, where he was slain in his great house. He was poisoned by "jealous priests," who then mummified him. Around 10, 000 BC, Xaltotun's sarcophagus was located and brought to Belverus, the capital of Nemedia, by four would-be rulers: Amalric, Orastes, Tarascus and Valerius. Orastes, a former priest of Mitra, had obtained the legendary Heart of Ahriman, with which he called upon the Old Ones for the power necessary to revive Xaltotun. The mummy burst forth from the sarcophagus, slowing regaining its original form and much of its memories. The four conspirators explained their plot to Xaltotun--to take over the throne of Nemedia and then conquer Aquilonia, and from there to overtake the whole civilized world. Their greatest obstacle would be Conan, the King of Aquilonia--a descendent of the Hyborians who had defeated the Acheronian years ago. Xaltotun used the Heart to conjure a great plague, which struck down many in Nemedia, including King Nimed himself. As planned, Nimed's younger brother, Tarascus, assumed the crown of Nemedia. Tarascus called for the overthrow of the "god-defying usurper" Conan from their sister kingdom, and his replacement with Valerius, the rightful heir. King Tarascus' good friend, Amalric, supplied the money to armor the many legions of Nemedia and set them against the forces of Aquilonia. In the valley of the Valkia river, the two forces met and prepared for combat. The night before the battle, Xaltotun ambushed King Conan and afflicted him with paralysis. Not wanting his troops to despair without the fighting spirit of Conan, he had a look-alike, Valannus, outfitted with his battle armor and helmet, and pretend to be him. The ruse worked and the men believed Valannus to be their ruler--and followed him into Xaltotun's trap. This resulted in the death of Valannus (which was believed to be the death of Conan) as well as five hundred of Aquilonia's finest warriors, as Xaltotun brought the peaks of the mountains above Valkia crumbling down on top of them. At this news, Conan forced himself to overcome his paralysis and attacked Tarascus and his soldiers. Xaltotun generated some mists that robbed the Cimmerian of consciousness, but refused to allow Tarascus or any others to finish off the King. Instead, Xaltotun planned to slay him later during a ritual ceremony. Xaltotun demanded that the news of Conan's survival be kept secret, even going so far as to slay some of Tarascus' soldiers to prevent them from revealing what they had seen. The wizard then brought Conan to Belverus, where he offered to return Conan to his throne in exchange for total obedience. Conan, of course, refused, and Xaltotun taunted him with images of his troops fleeing from the Nemedians, with defeat imminent. Conan rushed the wizard, but was stopped by his servants and then the senses-robbing mists of the Heart of Ahriman. Conan was imprisoned in the crypts below the city, but escaped with the aid of Zenobia, a woman who he had never met before, but who had loved him from afar and wished him to survive and defeat the evil of Xaltotun. Meanwhile, Tarascus, fearing Xaltotun's power and not trusting his intent, stole the Heart of Ahriman from him while he slept after smelling a Black Lotus. Tarascus gave the Heart to one of his soldiers, instructing him to cast it into the sea.

Tarascus informed Orastes that Conan yet lived and requested his aid in slaying the former monarch before he escaped altogether. Without a King, the Aquilonians welcomed the reign of Valerius, rather than begin ruled by Count Trocero of Poitain, who was left in charge by Conan himself. Meanwhile, based on the advice of the witch Zelata--"Find your Heart"--Conan returned to Tarantia. There he rescued the countess Albiona from execution. Fleeing, they ran into a group of the Priests of Asura, who helped them escape. From the priests, he learned that the Heart of which Zelata had referred was the Heart of Ahriman. Conan set out to find the Heart of Ahriman. Conan revealed himself and rebuilt his armies in Poitain. He then tracked the Heart, following it towards Stygia. Conan overtook the ship Venturer, out of Messantia, Argos, by rallying its crew, many of them former members of his Black Corsairs. He led the ship to Khemi after the Heart. Conan infiltrated the Temple of Set in Khemi, where, after much struggle, he claimed the Heart of Ahriman and headed back towards Aquilonia, where he gathered his forces to confront those of Xaltotun and the conspirators. Conan gave the Heart to Hadrathus, the Priest of Asura who had helped him before. At the same time, the conspirators plotted against Xaltotun, correctly fearing that he planned to enact an immense blood sacrifice in order to restore the empire of Acheron. Xaltotun confronted the group and slew Orastes, knowing he was the only potential threat to his existence. The sorcerer revealed to the remaining three that Conan was still alive, but proclaimed that the power of the Heart made him unconquerable. Xaltotun obviously had not realized that the Heart had been stolen by Tarascus, and Tarascus did not volunteer the information, hoping that the wizard still had sufficient power to defeat Conan and his forces, but would then be vulnerable to he, Amalric, and Valerius. Xaltotun led the assault against Conan's forces, planning to lead them into a sudden flood. However, the heavy rains summoned by Xaltotun failed to have their full potency, and Conan's forces continued their advance. Valerius and his forces fell prey to a trap of thousands of Aquilonians, cloaked by a dense fog generated by Hadrathus, using the Heart of Ahriman. Xaltotun prepared a virgin sacrifice to Set and his other dark gods, but was interrupted by Hadrathus, who revealed that he possessed the Heart. Enraged, Xaltotun rushed Hadrathus--and was impaled on the sharp sword of Conan, who had accompanied the Priest of Asura. Xaltotun collapsed to the ground and, in death, returned to his previous, decayed form. Conan placed the body of Xaltotun on his former chariot and sent its horses rushing into the battle where the Nemedians were falling before the Aquilonians. Conan himself slew Amalric and defeated Tarascus, forcing him to surrender.

Xaltotun is an evil wizard from Robert E. Howard's stories about Conan the Barbarian. He appears in The Hour of the Dragon as an ancient resurrected wizard, and serves as the main enemy to Conan. Much of the book revolves around Conan's quest to retrieve the Heart of Ahriman in order to defeat the wizard.

Xaltotun is by far the most dangerous black wizard Conan ever faces, in any of the Conan stories.

Conan regularly destroys black wizards through brute force and determined frontal attack - in fact, one of his favourite sayings is "A stout blade is a hearty incantation". Xaltotun is different - the one time Conan faces Xaltotun in direct combat, Xaltotun brushes Conan aside as easily as if he were swatting a fly, blasting him unconscious with a flick of his hand.

The raising of Xaltotun from the dead is the act of inadequate men. Orastes, a frustrated seeker of dark knowledge, wishes for a teacher worthy of his ambition. Valerius, Amalric and Tarascus are second rate nobles who seek greater Earthly power, and hope the harebrained schemes of their "pet" black wizard Orastes might advance their quests. None of them hesitate to consider the wider consequences of their acts.

The consequences of Xaltotun's resurrection go far beyond the conquest of a new empire, or a few lessons in the black arts. Orastes finally understands, and repents too late when he realises what he has done. "When we employed the Heart of Ahriman to bring a dead man back to life," Orastes said abruptly, "we did not weigh the consequences of tampering in the black dust of the past. We thought only of our ambitions, forgetting what ambitions this man might himself have. And we have loosed a demon upon the Earth, a fiend inexplicable to common humanity. I have plumbed deep in evil, but there is a limit to which I, or any man of my race and age, can go. My ancestors were clean men, without any demoniacal taint; it is only I who have sunk into the pits, and I can sin only to the extent of my personal individuality. But behind Xaltotun lie a thousand centuries of black magic and diabolism, an ancient tradition of evil. He is beyond our conception, not only because he is a wizard himself, but also because he is the son of a race of wizards". When Conan fights Xaltotun, he is fighting for the future of the world, not just the future of his kingdom. As the following passage shows: "My Lord, it is ill to say, and I fain would say otherwise. But the freedom of [Conan's kingdom] Aquilonia is at an end. Nay, the freedom of the whole world may be at an end! Age follows age in the history of the world, and now the world enters an age of horror and slavery, as it was, long ago.". "What do you mean?" demanded the king [Conan] uneasily. Hadrathus dropped into a chair, and rested his elbows on his thighs, staring at the floor. "It is not alone the rebellious lords of Aquilonia and the armies of Nemedia who are arrayed against you." answered Hadrathus. "It is sorcery - grisly black magic from the grim youth of the world. An awful shape has risen out of the grim shades of the past, and none can stand before it". "What do you mean?" Conan repeated. "I speak of Xaltotun of Acheron, who died three thousand years ago, yet walks the Earth today.". Orastes explains Xaltotun's ambition to destroy the world as we know it to his fellow plotters. "And in the last conclave to which I accompanied him [Xaltotun], understanding came to me at last, while the drums beat and the beast worshippers howled with their heads in the dust. I tell you he would restore Acheron with his magic, by the sorcery of a gigantic blood sacrifice such as the world has never seen. He would enslave the world, and with a deluge of blood wash away the present and restore the past.". In conclusion, the following quote sums up Xaltotun's relationship with the plotters who raised him from the dead - at least, those who are still alive. Xaltotun turned his inscrutable gaze upon the King. "Conan is wiser than you." he said at last. "He already knows what you Kings have yet to learn - that it is not Tarascus, nor Valerius, no, nor Amalric, but Xaltotun who is the real master of the western nations".

Physical appearance[]

Xaltotun is described by Howard as "a tall, lusty man, naked, white of skin, and dark of hair and beard". He is not a dusky Stygian; his appearance is the very description of a member of the Elder race. He has glowing eyes: "slowly intelligence grew in his dark eyes and made them deep and strange and luminous. It was as if long-sunken witch-lights floated slowly up through midnight pools of darkness" and "the lambent lights of hell flickered in his eyes". When Xaltotun appeared after the Battle of Valka, Conan recognized his approach as being like that of a serpent.

Possesses an unearthly beauty, serene and extremely self-controlled under normal circumstances. Xaltotun is an embodiment of supreme evil, the dark fruit of a long line of evil necromancers. This has lead him to be cruel and callous about murder - totally lacking in any regard for human dignity or the value of life. In his past, he often let the altars of Set run red with blood. In his future, he would have destroyed the present to remake the past. His absolute power has corrupted absolutely.

Born to the ancient, lost empire of Acheron, he was the guardian of the coveted Heart of Ahriman. When this was stolen by a barbarian shaman and used against him, he fled to Stygia to escape the destruction of Acheron. Stygian priests of Set poisoned and mummified him. He was resurrected through means of the Heart by a group that conspired to overthrow King Conan of Aquilonia. After a brief battle, Xaltotun had the life sucked out of him by a priest using the Heart, returning him to his mummy form. He was subsequently put on his own chariot, thought to be bound for Hell.

Traits and skills[]

  • Powers/Abilities: Xaltotun was a sorcerer of great knowledge and power. In the time of Acheron, he was perhaps the most powerful mystic on the planet. His powers were vastly amplified when he used the Heart of Ahriman, which enabled him to cause sudden floods, avalanches, deadly plagues, and other forces of mass death and destruction. He could cast illusions, generate consciousness-robbing mists, paralyze others on contact, and animate inanimate objects. His own abilites however, could be overcome by another learned mystic in possession of the Heart of Ahriman. Xaltotun also held other magic items, such as Heart of Tammuz, the Hand of Nergal, a Sleep Crystal, and others.