“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.
Cresting a frothy wave, Lionel B. Thretkaut salutes his crew. Black water spills into the boat, rising to the men’s knees. His forehead itching, LBT salutes again – a hasty, ill-formed thing hardly befitting the gravity of the situation – and cannonballs into the ocean’s freezing depths. He swims a few kilometres until he comes across an emissary from the Sea Queen, who guides him to her throne room.
The space around the throne is framed with undulating seaweed in a thousand different hues, and the Queen herself is flanked by liveried servants at parade rest. LBT prostrates himself and begs for the lives of his crew to be spared – “They’re but lowly dogs in your sight, O Sea Queen; show your infinite mercy by hastening their return from Your Storm, and I shall be forever your faithful consort.”
The Sea Queen shares a sneering glance with a servant at her right flipper and assents to LBT’s request. He’s shown to a cage of green copper and bends double to fit inside. Over the years he is never once sent for by the Sea Queen; nor is he ever, even once, certain that she did in fact let his crew live. LBT becomes quite skilled in meditation, and eventually wastes away due to a protein deficiency.