"Xuthal of the Dusk" is a novelette by Robert E. Howard first published in the September, 1933, edition of Weird Tales as "The Slithering Shadow".

Plot Summary[edit | edit source]

Conan and his companion Natala discover the nearly abandoned city Xuthal in the desert, occupied only by a Stygian witch and a shadowy demon.

Detailed Synopsis[edit | edit source]

The last survivors of Prince Almuric’s army, Conan and his latest female companion, Natala, struggle through the desert. Just as their water runs out, they see a city in the distance. At first it seems the whole city is devoid of life, finding only an apparently dead, woundless body on the steps. However, a short while later, while Conan ponders how to get water from a nearby well, the "corpse" leaps up and chases them, to be promptly decaptitated by Conan. Searching for food and water, Conan and Natala find multiple signs of recent life, eventually come across a table richly laid out with food, which they hesitantly eat. Soon they come across another apparently dead man, lying on a dais. As they watch, the man seems to be consumed by a black shadow, terrifying Natala. Later, they come across a third man, but this time he is awake, and asks them where they are from. He thinks Conan is but a dream and is shocked to find that he is all too real. Conan tells him of the strange shadow, whereupon the other man runs away screaming, only to be consumed himself. As Conan and Natala consider escaping the city, they encounter Thalis the Stygian. She describes how the city of Xuthal is the last remnant of a once-great civilisation. They used to be incredible scientists, creating the light-producing radium and food manufactured “out of the primal elements”, but now spend most of their time in a drug-induced haze. Thalis also mentions a marvellous healing wine, which can restore vitality, cure wounds and prolong life. She tells Conan how the people of Xuthal live only for pleasure, their lust the only reason they rescued her from starvation. Thalis then urges Conan to stay with her and become king, as she has become infatuated with the barbarian. Conan declines, whereupon Thalis kidnaps her rival for his affections, Natala.
Thalis drags Natala along a dark corridor, where Natala tries to stab her attacker. She doesn’t manage to kill her, but does at least escape her grasp, if only briefly. Thalis finds a light and recaptures the Brythunian, binding and sadistically whipping her. However, Thalis is then consumed by the shadowy demon. The creature then turns it attention on the helpless Natala, apparently seeking to rape her.
Meanwhile, Conan finds himself beset upon by large numbers of male citizens, all of whom he dispatches systematically. These warriors are no match for Conan despite their numbers, but are at least brave, throwing themselves into battle despite their near-invincible opponent. He races through the corridors, but stops in surprise when he spies a yellow skinned woman who quickly triggers a pit trap that Conan falls through, landing in front of Thog just in time to halt the demon’s disturbing advances towards Natala. Thog proves a problematic enemy, but Conan does at last manage to knock the monster into a chasm.
Mortally wounded from the battle with Thog (this is the closest Conan ever comes to death), Conan is miraculously revived by Natala. She feeds him a glass of the “golden wine” Thalis mentioned earlier, which cures all of the barbarian’s wounds. Together they escape Xuthal and head for a nearby oasis. Natala humorously blames Conan for having aroused Thalis' lustful personality, Conan responds playfully about women's jealousy.

Characters[edit | edit source]

* - dies in this story

Locations[edit | edit source]

Continuity Notes[edit | edit source]

When his plans for welding the hill tribes into a single army fail, Conan rides back through Hyrkania and Turan, avoiding King Yezdigerd's patrols and sharing the tents of his former kozak companions. Big wars rage in the West and, scenting greener pastures and larger loot, Conan returns to the Hyborian kingdoms. Almuric, prince of Koth, has rebelled against the hated King Strabonus. He has raised a formidable army from far and wide, and Conan signs up with him. Strabonus; neighbors, however, come to his aid. The rebel cause fails, and Almuric's motley army is driven south. They cut their way through the lands of Shem, the borders of Stygia, and into the grasslands of Kush. Here they are run down and wiped out by the combined black and Stygian forces at the edge of the sourthern desert. Conan is one of the few survivors. - Conan the Adventurer

Miller/Clark/deCamp Chronology
Previous Story:
"The People of the Black Circle"
"Xuthal of the Dusk" / "The Slithering Shadow" Next Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
Robert Jordan Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan the Marauder
"Xuthal of the Dusk" / "The Slithering Shadow" Next Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
William Galen Gray Chronology
Previous Story:
Conan and the Mists of Doom
"Xuthal of the Dusk" / "The Slithering Shadow" Next Story:
"Drums of Tombalku"
Joe Marek Chronology
Previous Story:
"Shadows in Zamboula"
"Xuthal of the Dusk" / "The Slithering Shadow" Next Story:
"The Devil in Iron"
Dale Rippke Chronology
Previous Story:
"The Snout in the Dark"
"Xuthal of the Dusk" / "The Slithering Shadow" Next Story:
"A Witch Shall Be Born"

Adaptations[edit | edit source]

Publishing history[edit | edit source]

Believed complete --Ant 21:25, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

"Xuthal of the Dusk" (novelette) • Robert E. Howard

"The Slithering Shadow" (novelette) • Robert E. Howard • edited by L. Sprague de Camp

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.