The Black Throne
I see it now, in my own mind, as clearly as a memory belonging to me.
I see her slumbering deeply in a dim, subterranean hall, full figure stretched cat-like across an ink-black throne. Constructed in a forgotten epoch by hands unknown to accommodate an alien form of unusual and inhuman proportions, it was smooth and glimmering like glass yet hard and cold as steel. Composed of some arcane alloy and wrought by now-lost technique, it towered like a mountain-shadow in the sweeping dark of the dusky marble hall. The woman – whose lithe, feminine body was draped contented and careless atop it – was at once muscular yet delicate, iron-thewed yet supple. Her insouciant repose, easily mistaken for languor, concealed the deep witch-sleep in which she was immersed nigh entirely. Raven hair spilled like black water from her head, framing in wild curls and murky locks a soft, elegant face as pale and flawless as mountain snow. At the peak of this dark cascade, casually crooked, sat a gleaming black crown, sparkling darkly with all manner of richly-colored, nameless jewels: bloody red, malachite green, and inky purple cabochons, smooth as her porcelain skin, yet for all their allure just a fraction as beautiful. They caught the dim light like the eyes of a nocturnal beast, glittering with lust and suffused with malice and mystery.
She was a portrait of serenity, and yet, in this exquisite slumber, something savage stirred behind her gentle countenance, betrayed in the rapid fluttering of eyes beneath lily-white lids and thick black lashes: unconscious and fervent as a predator’s restless dream. Her ivory chest found scant restraint in the deep plunge of a rich black dress trimmed in gilt silk and freckled with flecks of pure gold, and her generous bosom rose and fell with each deep, perfumed breath. A decorative slash in the skirt revealed a milky-white leg to the thigh: Thick and comely but electric with the violent power of a striking viper.
All of this was bared freely and without reservation to the watchful eye: and a watchful eye there was. Hidden in the shadows of an ancient passage – a black labyrinth-within-a-labyrinth, whose existence was known only to the keepers of secrets ancient, the Astronomers of Baast – this singular eye was set in a hook-nosed, saturnine face, covered in portion by a tangled, unkempt black beard split by a wide, hateful grin. Where there should have been a second eye was only a mangled mass of thick scar tissue, long since healed from the price its former owner had chosen to pay. The man’s ghoulish face was framed proudly in a sun-faded black turban, the wraps of which covered his ears and throat, thus emphasizing the hideous ferocity of his scarred and scored aspect. Through a narrow slit in the smoke-gray marbled wall, he watched from the pitch-blackness, observing carefully, hungrily, the unconscious form, consuming its beauty and danger in equal parts, and sated by neither. From her noble face to ample chest, her slender waist to tender bare feet, he watched with a nervous, voyeuristic excitement, his weathered hand absently fingering the hilt of a wicked dagger stowed at his belt.
In this long stretch of silence so deep and stark as to madden the average man, the two did dwell: his eye, bloodshot and predatory, feasting greedily upon her and seeking opportunity; her eye, spectral and wide, reaching into the benighted ether of both past and future, seeking something and somewhen else. In this way, though not only this way, were the two alike – man and woman, beast and beauty – for with a single eye did they each see the most.
Upon her aberrant throne, this spectral sight was magnified, thrust upon the attendant with such phantasmal force as to stop beating hearts and still pumping blood. The arcane power surging beneath its placid surface exceeded that which could be comprehended, let alone wielded, by mortal ken, though in the beginning, that stopped not ambitious men who sought power above all else. In those days, these war-like men of iron fist and adamantine will, the likes of which exist no longer, found immeasurable power coursing through the cosmos-black construct, and seated upon it rose to titanic heights, and ended – without fail or exception – in even greater ruin.
For centuries after the last great king met his destruction, the throne stood untouched. Indeed, it seemed in itself to refuse contact, and the few who tried met an agonizing and grisly end, their bodies burned and blackened as by lightning; never once did even a mote of dust come to rest upon its surface. The machinations of man continued on, and in the grave dark of the underearth its power and terror was nigh forgotten. In that intervening span, the City of Baast surrendered its achievements and glories to corruption, decadence, and degeneracy: as is the fate of all worlds of men across all spans of creation. And so it was, until this woman – a savage, an outlander – swarmed the gates with her great barbarian hordes and seized the City of Baast for her own, putting accused loyalists to the sword without reservation or mercy. For six long, black days did the basalt streets run red with the tide of slaughter, until this queen among savages sought the Hall of the Black Throne, buried, nigh forgotten, beneath immeasurable tons of black, stony earth.
The scant remainder of the court watched in somber, treacherous silence as she climbed to the throne, their bloodlust whetted by a racial hatred and their own primitive impulses of self-preservation, awaiting the empyrean justice of that accursed object. Her slim, muscular figure slipped nobly into the seat, assuming the mantle as though it were hers by birth right, but a strange and new madness glittered in her smoldering blue eyes. She opened her mouth, her parted lips lingering sumptuously, until not a torrent of blood, as the duplicitous throng expected, but words cut the air.
“At long last, I have taken what is mine,” her voice lilted, feminine, mocking, limned by a metallic ring, like that of keen blue steel.
Years had passed since then, and she used the brobdingnagian powers of the throne to great effect, ruling the City of Baast as a tyrannical child might dominate a playground: coldly, cruelly, jealously. In spite of such brutal autocracy – or perhaps because of it – she was at once loved and feared, perceived as a goddess-mother dispelling abasement and depravity like shadows before the high-noon sun. Under her supreme iron rule, Baast rose to a glint of its former glory, a time so long past that living memory barely recalled it ever having existed. Her rule was without fault, her direction unwavering, and in time, she could do no wrong before the eyes of her people: no nobleman’s head belonged upon his shoulders if she should wish it otherwise. This suited not the power structures of Baast, hidden as they were, who had learned to profit from decay and debauchment, growing avaricious, sadistic on the miseries of man. These institutions worked tirelessly to oppose her, though she seemed to sense their every move, thwarting their shadowy statecraft as the gusting wind thwarts the flickering flame.
Though her own mind was overfull with cunningness and guile, it was due largely to the precognizant power of the throne that she perceived the complex webs that had been woven around her, intended to snare and bind her at every step. And so she sought these dreams of the future again, as she did frequently, though this time, she did so with a sense of urgency heretofore unknown to this she-wolf among sheep. Her keen, pantherish instincts stirred; she sensed danger lurking at the periphery of her rule.
Now, seeing with her mind’s eye, she strode across time and space like pebbles beneath an unshod foot, seeking to know that which was beyond knowing, to see all which was, will be, and never shall. Across this black abyssal plain she walked without walking, her fine, bare feet following the infinite paths trod across space and time by man and beast alike, all of which wind and splinter and splay like roots running in the loam, and every one of which ends, at some point. On this pilgrimage athwart time and space, she beheld in the dim, electric-black haze a ladder: the rungs of which were planets, the top of which an entrance into a house of many secrets, above the firmament of reality, but more real than life and death itself. She climbed this Jacob’s ladder while upon the strange throne did her body sleep restfully, clawing with her astral essence up the sheer and dizzying height. Below her loomed the ashen mountains and black valleys of yet unraveled space-time, and higher she strove, until at last a glow of light that could not be seen, only felt, caressed her with its radiance.
Though it was not seen, it was perceived, and the heat grew nigh intolerable as she swiftly ascended the celestial ladder, a black sun boring a hole in her mind’s mind as the house of secrets basked in its unlight just a finger’s reach away. But ere her nimble hands could reach the threshold, a booming voice resounded across the cosmos, shaking the planetary ladder as though it were spider’s silk in a gust of hot summer wind.
“No,” it commanded: Not harshly, but with the stern resonance of a father’s scolding. “It is not thy time; thy purpose remains unfulfilled.” The words hung in the black sky, idle clouds of murky enigma. “Ye must return.”
She opened her mouth to protest, to entreat with this intrusion, speak reason unto the madness flitting like moths against the electric glow of her bewildered brain, but the words froze in her throat: She was stunned, bewitched into silence, as such only a mighty force may cause a woman to be. Here in this house, the bulk of which loomed just beyond her sight, dwelt a primitive consciousness – it could have been the throbbing, thrumming heart at the center of the universe, for all she knew. She was awash in the unseen light of its black sun, under which her white skin wilted like a lily in the merciless desert heat. Her fierceness, imbued by blood and battle and ruthless ambition, paled, and she was at once a girl again. The sensation shook her, and she was seized by an action not entirely her own. Before she could apprehend it, she released the rungs of the ladder and plummeted through the endless black stretch of space like a star from the night sky.
She woke with a shock – an uncontrollable jolt, as an unprepared submersion into ice-water. Her eyes snapped open, glossy black pupils dilated from the high of her dream-fugue, which presently yielded to the blazing blue crystals that ringed them like ice-fire. In the gray light of the Hall of the Black Throne, she came dimly to consciousness, and at that moment was acutely aware of a shadow leering over her, cold steel glinting bluely in its raised hand.