The throne dominated the wide, sloped room, as it had once dominated these wide lands. Even though the chamber had long ago fallen in to ruin, it's crumbling echoing the slow descent of the empire, it was still wrapped in a cold aura of power. Beams of clean sunlight intruded on the dark stillness, and highlighted the dust that filled the musty air. The boys footsteps were nearly silent, his bare feet walking carefully over the broken tiles.
He stayed near the walls, as though hiding from and ancient, half-blind guardian. It was as if staying near the shadows was his one compromise to his fear. If he had listened to the weak side of his heart he never would have come this far.
He approached the throne itself, unlike the rest of the building, it was not overgrown with vegetation, nor did the shafts of light pierce its darkness so readily. It loomed and brooded in shadow, an inanimate testament to the ancient days, when dragons blotted out the sun and the caves echoed with the hammers of goblins and the mailed feet of dwarves.
The boy had come from a land far away, which, in those days, had been one of the most distant thralls of the throne. Because of this, lords who the throne wished to protect and hide were often sent there to live out their days, or work on projects that must not become known to the common people.
His grandfather had been one of these, and the boy had come to claim the prize that he had learned of from him.
The Black Throne
There was once a king who ruled over a land that was filled with life. The villages were always bustling with its townsfolk running from place to place. The baker’s shop opened at the crack of dawn and the pub at sunset. Trees towered over the land creating a sea of forests. Occasionally a bear or a deer would trot along and spook some villagers, but life was, for the most part, peaceful.
Despite the country’s abundance of life, however, there was one who was without this blessing. Yes, the king and queen had tried many times to have a child, but to no avail. What would they do? The king would not be able to rule forever, and there were no other blood relatives to take the throne when he passed. Yes, it was a terrible thought; a kingdom without a king to rule.
One morning when the queen had risen for breakfast she heard the most beautiful song coming from the courtyard. Wiping her face daintily with her napkin, she excused herself and took a step outside. She looked ‘round and ‘round, but could not find the source of the beautiful music she had heard. Finally, when the music began to flow again, she traced the melody back to a fine bronze bird that lifted its head to the sky.
“I know of your plight,” the bird sang, “And I know a good cure just for you. For you see, to have a son, you must pluck a flower from the eldest of trees, but beware for the rest will have none!”
The queen called upon her royal servants, demanding them to bring a flower that matched the description of the bird’s song. The men searched high and low through the ever-vast forest and hope was beginning to dwindle. But at last they found what they believed to be the eldest tree. They found a small bud beginning to blossom and plucked it from where it grew. The bark turned black, but the men did not notice for they shouted “Huzzah!” and the queen was indeed pleased.
She ate the flower in a stew and a year later a beautiful baby boy was born. He did grow into a handsome man, however the kingdom had turned pitched black. The flower, you see, was the heart of the land. Now the streets were barren, the shops were closed and the throne itself turned black.
By Eli/The Otter:
One step. Two steps. The water drips near me as I walk through this tunnel, my cold, clammy hands clasping my rifle with all the strength that I, in my agitation, could muster.
Step. Step. The water drips. A new sound, near me, to my right. I turn to the side, bringing up the automatic rifle, the laser sight attached to it pointing out into the darkness. It stops, leaving a small bead of light on something as I crouch down, moving slightly behind a pillar near me.
I hear breathing. I hear my own, and I hear the breathing of someone...or something else. It’s watching, just as I’m watching it. I hear the clack of a automatic weapon’s bolt, and I frown.
The worst kind of animal.
Regardless of who it is, my finger spasms, a bullet flying down at my enemy, making a quieter sound than normal, due to the suppressor I have attached. A quick crunch-splat, a thump as the body hits the floor, and I thumb the safety of my rifle and move on.
Step. Step. The water drips, as I continue to walk along, my wary eyes constantly flitting about me, checking every dark corner in the tunnel, every last small amount of space where somebody or something could hide, watching me.
I smile, knowing, now, that I was safe.
Step. Step. The water drips. The hard stone floor of my tunnel turns to soft dirt, my boots leaving small imprints in it as I walk along. Again, I hear something moving, and quickly, I bring up my rifle. A small dog passes by me from a side tunnel, and I frown. I press up against the wall of my tunnel, next to the entrance to the side tunnel and wait.
Drip. Drip. I take a step, my gun levelled, and I open fire. My magazine runs out, and I drop it down, loading another, and I finish the job. They didn’t even have time to fight back, let alone time to cry out.
Step. Step. The blood drips around me as I walk back to my tunnel, moving along, ever alert. I hear breathing, and I fire. Nobody can sneak up on me.
I refuse to allow it.
Step. Step. The blood drips around me, as I continue to enforce my rule from this tunnel, my tunnel. Step. Step. The water drips to the floor as I walk through my lengthy throne room.
Step. Step. The blood drips from my bayonet, another challenger for my throne, my tunnel, falling to my skill. Step. Step. The water drips from a leaky pipe, carrying a rancid smell with it as I continue along. My radio beeps, telling me that I’m not far, now.
The blood drips.
Another sacrifice to my strength.
The water drips.
It tells me that I keep getting closer.
The blood drips.
The throne was ugly. Flat slabs of stone that had been laid close to each other, joined by whatever device the stoneworkers had implemented. Grey, rough, unpolished stone cut at right angles with no curves to ease your body into. The guard carefully watched at the townspeople lifted the throne with ropes onto a wooden stage, also rough and unstained and (in some areas) with bark still attached to the planks. The whole thing was heavy with the scent of pine. You probably couldn’t walk across it barefoot without losing a toe or two from infection by splinter. The throne was placed in the middle of the dais on a large rock that extended beneath the platform and into the ground. The ropes were yanked from underneath just as the procession neared the town square.
“Hail the king!” someone cried, and everyone fell silent.
Before their eyes a middle aged man, ragged and limping, was herded into the square by a group of guardsmen. He stumbled, hobbled, and walked dazedly, but as soon as “Hail” had been cried he stood straight up, startled, began to walk towards the platform. He reached the base of the steps up, and hesitated.
A guard lashed out with a gauntleted fist and knocked the man down, kicking him until he scrambled up giving small sounds of pain as he tried to move gently across the wood to sit in the stone throne.
“Hail the man that would be king!” the head of the guard cried, taking a brand from one of his fellows and thrusting it beneath the platform. Within minutes the structure was licked from side to side by flames, and the man in the middle could be seen to be huddled on the throne, sweating profusely. Heavy with resin, the structure burned remarkably fast until all that remained was the scorched rock in the middle, the withered man whimpering from burns, hunger, and thirst.
“Hail, the man who is king! May the reign of the Throne of Fire be long!” The head guard called, dismissing the crowd to go silently home as their king was lowered from the ugly throne.
Alright let’s be honest here. The world sucks, the rules of it suck, and the people. Well don’t even get me started on the people. Yeah… I think you can gather already that I’m not a big fan of this world, I mean hell, who is. Wouldn't anyone choose the amazing world of fantasy? Where they could be a noble warrior setting the world free.
Or maybe they like science fiction, a daring rogue on a guest to defeat a galaxy eating monster and take down the empire. Hell, maybe they are the bloody emperor, I mean, they could be whatever right?
Of course, circumstances supposedly shove us in a place right? So emperor is out, but y’know the beauty of that world? Well, in a world like that anyone could be the dashing rogue. All one needs is to try. Earn, Win, Steal, I don’t care, but find a way to get some money, and bam a new star ship is yours, and now you can set foot on your quest.
Point is, you can’t do that here, real life is in no way supportive of what you may need to do. After all say you do have superpowers in this world the thing is this world has no singular evil force. There’s nothing for the hero’s to challenge, all the darkness that exists in this world is in hearts of man.
I mean yeah we've got crooks, but they aren't some emperor ruling with an iron fist, or a reborn warrior fighting to take the land. There’s nothing, at most the hero may be able to stop a few, but that’s only if he can find out where and when the criminals are even committing the crime.
This world, well it just doesn't make for the best world for any heroes, it doesn't make for the best world for an adventure, cause it’s got no real villains. No household name striking fear into the hearts of even the lowliest of scum or the bravest of men.
There’s no antagonist, no person on top of this world.
Y’know that’s not such a bad idea, this world could use an antagonist. Someone to make this world their throne, their domain. Someone who everyone can see and say, “Stay away from him child.” Or, “Make sure you don’t get on his bad side.” Yeah a real enemy for them to quiver in fear of, someone who’s a real life boogie man needs to come here. He should be the kind of person that scary bed times stories are made up of. The only difference is, his stories are real but even more frightening.
I really do like this idea now that it’s been brought to light. Plus this antagonist would definitely have a starring role, after all every hero needs their villain. The villain even gets the perks, no constantly on the run. No hiding your identity from everyone. Nope the villain gets to be proactive and defeat the hero.
Yeah we need a villain, I could be the villain. I could own this world, make it my throne, while simultaneously making it interesting. After all who wouldn't want to live in a world where interesting things happen every day, I mean let’s be honest won’t be amazing when you live each life without knowing whether today is your last day?
I know I for one would love a world like that, in a world like that things happen, there’s not sitting around and hoping, nope you want to do something, you can just do it. No petition a politician, or speak to your boss. No you can make the difference in a world like that.
I’ll give my gift to the world, I’ll become the antagonist, I’ll kill all those necessary, I’ll make the world my throne, and then, well let’s just say then, things really will be fun…
And Yet We Live
I went to the city of the gods, and found it empty, and despaired.
The wasted sand stretched on before my feet, noisome and dry, and the sword was in my hand again. The sword that I could not put aside. I could hear them. All those voices, whispering to me in the silence of the barren plain. The city was almost lost in the haze at my back: a ruin of spires and noble stones, tumbled and fallen and long, long dead. I turned for a moment to stare and sigh, but it was the same as before. A crumbled throne and a gilded grave for its makers. I would find no help there.
The sword was heavy...so heavy...and I was weak. Still, I gathered what remained of my strength and flung the sword away as I had a hundred times before. It flashed in the sunlight, and the blade flamed red with the blood it fed upon, the blood I had given to it in my madness. Away it twisted and the sand rose up to swallow it, and I ran again, stumbling down the dunes. Ran with all my hopeless energy. Ran and ran and ran, and my thoughts returned to the days before it had come to this. Those sunny days when I was free, before I had unsheathed the sword in anger and spilled the lifeblood of my enemies and avenged myself. Oh, the joy of it. The wrathful joy, to know that I had worked justice in the world, that my loved ones could rest at last in the cool earth, no longer to burn in endless unease. I had done it. I, with my own hands.
The blade was hot and did not need to be cleaned. It drank the blood and flickered…and then it thirsted for more. It was awakened, I found, and all the injustice of the world cried out for absolution. And there I stood, holding justice in my hands. I could not put it aside. The days grew dark as I took that burden upon myself. Long and dark and full of anguish, as the voices grew louder and the blood of judgment weighed upon me, until finally I could stand it no longer.
That was when I tried to lay down the sword, leave it sheathed and cooling in the temple-shade. I thought I had found peace. I had given it up. But it was not that simple. No, for the blade was in my hand again, demanding. I flung it down, yet raised it high once more. It was my duty, my burden now. I, a mortal, for the gods were dead, their thrones empty...and there was no one else.
So I walked through the world in search of escape and administered justice wherever I had to. But every blow struck was a mark against me, and every victory was ashes, and at last I returned to the old man in his hovel, who had shown me the sword and had wept when I stole it. Humbled I came to him and asked for his help, asked to be released from burden and the wailing of voices. But he shook his head:
“No power of yours could release you from this path. It will ask everything of you, everything that you have,” he said.
“Is there no escape then? You told me the gods were merciful in days past. Can the gods save me now?”
“The gods...it is true that only they could help you now. The sword is their tool. It was not a thing for you to take up. No mortal could withstand such a burden.”
“But there are many such things in the world, are there not?” I asked, desperate, “The tools of this world are those left by the gods...”
“This is true. Many things are left to us: the Scales of the Far Off City, where the ignoble dead are weighed and sent to the fire or interred in the endless, silent dark. The Ruling Crown which chooses the kings of men. Yes, these are the instruments of divine hands, but divine hands do not wield them now, and the world groans...”
I gritted my teeth. “Then how may I be free? Surely there must be a way. They say that the gods are dead, but is it true, old man? Are they truly gone?”
“I do not know,” he replied. “They are silent, still and silent. They do not speak to any man, not now. But I ask you: what drove you to take up the sword? Was it pride? Did you think yourself righteous? You, as guilty in your heart as the all rest? What gave you the right?”
“I had no right. I know that now.”
“Yet you chose this path. A path that only a god could walk...”
“But I am not a god.”
“No, you are not, and because of that this burden will be your undoing. You have lived by this sword, and by it you shall end.”
“I…I do not want to die.”
I staggered in the clutching sand, eyes straining, for the sun had gone down behind the dunes and the city. The light was all dying, and soon, so would I. The sword tugged heavily at my hand once more, its point tracing a line in the dust behind me. I tried to let it go, but it was useless now. My fingers clenched tighter around the grip. Soon, the final price would be asked of me. I, who had lived by this sword for so long. At least I could take solace that, when the end finally came for me, the sword would remain here, forever lost, and all the blood it drank would be lost with it. That burden was too great for any man to bear, and it had already cut short the happiness of my days.
Stars shone out clear and sharp in the sky ahead now, harsh silver points like eyes; the witnesses to my final end. They would look on, but they did not care. The city with all its thrones was empty. There was no help for me now. My steps slowed as I struggled up another dune. I did not think I would reach the top. I was so weak now, and my mouth was parched. If I had had any tears left, I would have wept...I do not want to die. Even here, even now.
The dune leveled out at its peak, and I found myself staring across the starlit expanse once more. I could go no farther, no farther for me. The tendons in my arm cramped, and the sword rose in spite of myself. This was the time. The blade was still warm as my fingers touched it, running along its cruel edge, but it did not cut me, not yet. The voices were crying out now, no longer whispers. A thousand voices screaming for justice. Let us rest! It must be made right! The wakeful dead were burning in some far off land beneath the heartless stars, and still they had no rest. No cool silence for the souls unavenged. I had tried to make it right. I had taken up the sword, but I was only a man, and I had no right to mete out the vengeance they needed. Now vengeance would be done upon me.
The sword-handle sank to its hilt in the dust, and the dust held it there, a long spike of steel. My breath caught in my throat. I could not resist. All the voices demanded it. All of them, screaming. Eyelids closed, and I prepared to fall forward, prepared for the end...
…and then my eyes snapped open again. The sword was still there, sharp and inviting, still waiting to drink up my lifeblood. The stars still flashed along it like silvery sparks, cold points stabbing out at me...but there was something else now. Another light, and it was not cold.
Red fire blossomed along the desert floor, and my eyes rose to follow it as I stood there, wavering upon the precipice of life and death. A tongue of flame moving from dune to dune. It approached, and the air shimmered with its heat as it came up the slope. The stars seemed to tremble and retreat before it, and the blade dissolved into gleaming crimson.
I fell to my knees, the sword-point at my throat, as the fire crested the dune before me and washed me with its searing breath, and stood with feet that burned the sand into glass, and looked with a face like the face of the lightning, and pierced me with eyes that blinded me and yet were clear. Its flaming hand closed around the handle of the sword, and it was no longer a sword. It was a scepter, and a fiery throne loomed beyond. The voices rose up to crescendo as I fell forward—
—and then they were silent.
I went to the city of the gods, and found it empty, and despaired.
But then I looked into the emptiness beyond and found a truth in my despair:
For we all deserve the sword, and yet we live.
Above All Others
Life changes slowly. Beyond the microscopic level, adaptation is a subtle process, played out over the courses of a hundred thousand lifetimes, picking apart the genetic pieces of what is advantageous and what is not. But sometimes there comes a situation where change does not come soon enough. When patience is trumped by ability, the opportunity to do spectacular things comes into play. If we cannot be handed the throne to the universe, we must climb to it. Dominance is often a cruel game, one of winners and losers. But to ascend to the top carries a new weight. You have displayed your abilities and made your power known. And some day, someone, somewhere, will wish to usurp you. The cycle of kings, once gods in their own time, must continue. For this is the nature of genetic perfection, to weed out the weak and let the strong be seated upon a pedestal of metaphorical royalty.
This raises the question as to what sort of reward comes from taking the throne. Ultimately, the reward is only a matter of survival. No victory can conquer death and even the most perfect genes must finally break down and die. The throne exists as a challenge, to pit brother against brother, perhaps even similarly made creatures born galaxies apart, dared to stomp the other out of existence. This is not a gilded throne of beauty, it is scarred and pitted and stained with the blood of all who could not attain it. The throne tests you every day, playing upon the most basic instinctive parts of the mind. It demands a show of power and sometimes that is precisely what it receives. For if you deny the throne, someone else will surely use you and your grave as a stepping stone toward it.