“This is no surprise,” Cang says. “I always knew we’d vanish into a throne together some day.”
“And just like that, those two jump in? Caution, meet wind?”
“Because of course they do.” Shyan scowls. “I guess there’s nothing valuable in here after all.” She gestures at the empty, airy space, squints up against the last red rays of the sinking sun.
“Value is found in perspective,” Cang says. He sits near the throne, withdraws a journal, and takes a brief sketch. He coughs, waves away the clotting stench.
Shyan taps at the flagstones around it with the pommel of her sword. Finding nothing, she grunts in frustration.
Cang packs his things. “Into the throne?”
Abia approaches the throne at an unhurried pace. Shyan and Cang follow behind her, angled away as points of defence, should further wheezing beasts emerge from the shadows.
None do. Only a deep, crushing silence fills the chamber. Their footsteps on the gravel resound with crunching echoes through the space. The wretched odour grows stronger as they approach.
Abia touches the throne. It’s gone. As though she’d pushed right through it, without resistance. She withdraws, and her hand reappears.
Cang and Shyan draw nearer. Cang openly stares at the sorcery before him — Shyan steals only quick glances, minding their flanks.
Without a word Abianarin presses further into the throne. She steps through and is there no longer.
Shyan winces as Fassn sprints to the throne, sure he’ll step into a pit and crash down to some well-hidden spikes just below — but he doesn’t. He reaches the throne and stops abruptly.
He reaches as though to feel the grain of the bronze, run his fingers along the tangled brambles that make up the throne, but he touches only air.
The others watch from the shadows, and can’t hear him say, “Old Ajralan, may you have your fill.” With nary a look over his shoulder, Fassn sits on the throne — and vanishes.
The throne entices Cang, entices them all. Its empty seat beckons, suggests a crown. Glory, riches, followers, sycophants reinforcing your every decree. Cang licks his lips. He starts towards the centre of the room, but Shyan stays his step with a hand on his shoulder.
“Not going to check for traps?” she asks quietly.
Cang scoffs to hide his injured pride. “That is just what I’m doing, Shyan,” he says, his voice tinged with a haughty air. “Thank you very much.”
Fassn, oblivious, says, “I’m gonna sit on it,” and hurries off. He cups his face against the unearthly stink.
After a night of dreams portentous and strange, our heroes step out from murky corridors into a broad, open space. The dome’s walls reach up into the sky but crumble before their apogee, leaving the ceiling open to the sky. Vibrant red sunlight crashes in, moving across the rubble-strewn ground by aching degrees. The air is thick with a putrid miasma.
At the centre of the enormous chamber: a mighty throne of brass and brambles.
A thing of crumbling concrete and rebar stepped out of the murk, blocking the path of our erstwhile heroes. Its breathing was low and heavy. Its black eyes glassily stared. It advanced a step, another.
“Back, demon,” shouted Fassn, to no effect. He turned to the rest and shrugged, raised his weapon.
“A creature of stone and iron,” Shyan said.
“That certainly seems to explain the stench,” Cang added. He lobbed a stone at the creature with his sling, but it plinked harmlessly away.
“This place rise up against us,” Abianarin said.
Shyan grimaced, raised her shield and advanced with careful steps. “Ready your weapons.”
The stink of iron rose to meet the group as they trawled through the corridors of the dome. Fassn waved a torch this way and that, causing shadows to leap and dance in disconcerting patterns. Shyan held her shield high despite the apparent absence of danger. They stepped as lightly as they could, as the iron stink grew.