The Fanged Throne

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Chapter 2

That evening after a rushed dinner, Elora lay in her bed under the blankets, with the coin in her hand. Holding it under the candlelight beside her bed, she examines the object. The edges of the coin were rough with a small indent on the one side. It was only after she had cleaned the dirt away, did she notice the brilliant colour, the coin had shimmered under the candlelight. The symbol on the coin intrigued her, it was not one she had ever seen before or one that was used in the kingdom. She rotated the coin trying to read the words embedded on the surface. The words were in a foreign language with strange symbols on it, different from the languages she studied from the books in the library. Their shapes were more rigid, almost numerical upon first glance. On the front of the coin she could make out the curved lines of a snake which wrapped itself around a bare tree. Frowning she brings the coin up to her eyes to take a closer look.

Her breath hitches in her throat, the tree was made up of hundreds of bodies piled together into the shape of the tree. What did it mean? Why was it even in the prison grounds? Her heart pounded as she tried to make sense of the grotesque imagery. The questions whirled around her mind, lulling her into a fitful sleep.

The room was dark and cold. Elora opened her eyes and glanced around the dark room, a chill spread down her arms and legs. Confused and frightened she looked down to see her body dressed in a white dressing gown and her bare feet hidden under thick black water. Panicked she called out for Virion, but he didn’t respond, the only thing she heard was the dripping of water. Unsure of what else to do, she walked toward the sound, even as her mind screamed at her to turn around. If possible, it felt as if it was getting darker and the water beneath her feet colder.

A low hum started in the distance and grew louder as she walked closer, the hum vibrating in her chest. As she took another step forward her foot connected with something hard and cold. Stone. The water started to evaporate before her eyes, and she was left standing on the top of a large rock. Afraid and confused she turned in a full circle gathering her surroundings. As she turned back to face the same way, her breath caught in her throat, standing in front of her was a large figure shrouded in a dark robe. Their face was hidden under the large hood draped over their eyes. Slowly she takes a step backwards, ready to run away from this bizarre moment. As if the figure could read her mind, they took a step toward her, their face remained covered.

Try as she might she could not move any further. A horrible sensation took over her feet, her head was looking down in horror as her eyes watch thousands of cold black snakes slither around her ankles and up her legs. Screaming she tried to tear her legs away from them as their cold skin glides across hers. The more she struggled, the tighter they wrapped around her thighs. She could feel their cold, scaly skin against her bare skin, the low hum she heard earlier grew louder into a hundred hisses. Her heart pounded furiously in her chest, the snakes were now around her waist inching closer to her lungs, threatening to literally squeeze the life out of her. The cloaked figure slowly reached up as if to pull the hood off their head, then they stopped and brought their hand back to their side.

Her eyes began to water as the creatures wrapped themselves around her porcelain white neck, turning her face into a canvas of purple. Her fingers twitched at her sides under the cold scales as her lungs threatened to explode at any moment. Her mind was turning to mush as grogginess set in, the corners of her eyesight narrowing, turning black.

With her head tilted right back trying to escape the snakes, as the darkness creeps in she could feel the cold creatures slither up her neck. Her mind froze in horror as the snakes buried themselves down her screaming throat. Choking her, suffocating her, as they pushed their way in. The hood of the figure fell away; however, her vision was so blurred all she could see was two dazzling blue orbs, their eyes piercing through the darkness, shining unnaturally. As she stared helplessly into them, they got brighter and brighter, so bright she couldn’t bring her watering eyes to look away. The room stilled as the last of the snakes wormed down her throat and her vision grew black…

Coughing Elora jerked awake in her bed, her trembling hands clutch at her burning chest. She sat there heaving in air, her frazzled mind still racing after the horrific dream. She’s never had a dream like that before, it felt so real. Her throat felt hoarse and dry, like she’d been wandering in the desert for days. As she pulled the blanket off herself her heart stilled, and her blood went cold. At the bottom of her bed was a dark stain, a sinking feeling settled in her stomach as she leaned forward to take a closer look. The mattress smelt of sewer water that slowly dripped into a dark puddle on the hard floor beside her bed, immediately her mind flashed to her dream where she had walked through a chamber of water.

Terrified, she leapt off her bed and backed into the furthest corner of the room, hiding in the protection of the dark shadows. As she sat there on the floor of her room, she took comfort in the familiar tread of the night guard doing his rounds down the corridor. Beads of sweat rolled down her forehead as her mind tried to make sense of the situation. Her mind could come up with no logical explanation for the water on her bed or her burning chest which still felt like someone had their heavy boot pushing down upon her chest. Keeping her eyes on the bed she rested her head on her knees refusing to fall victim to another one of those dreams…

She was woken up again but this time by the usual rapping on her door for breakfast. Grimacing, her body ached, as she stood up from sleeping on the floor. Without looking at her bed, Elora goes to her small dresser and pulled out her plain cotton prison uniform which was made up of a pair of loose brown cotton pants that bunched around her ankles. She then pulled on a thin undershirt over her bare chest before shrugging on the prison issued top over it. The icy wind whistled through the cracks on the stone walls raising the hairs on her arm. She went to stand in front of the small mirror and basin in her room to gaze at her tired face.

A pair of ice blue eyes sat upon a face with a small dusting of freckles covering her small, pink, straight nose. A pale sunken face stared back at her. Above her pointed chin were her lips, chapped and charred from the continuous cold weather. Her limp blonde hair fell in long messy waves down her small body. On her right forearm was the brand she was given when she was a young child, her fingers brush lightly over the scarring, remembering the day she was formally sentenced to life in prison. The brand burnt onto her arm, like she was cattle, meant that she would never leave the prison, alive at least, she was not a citizen of the Wirenth Kingdom, she had no allegiance to the king or their customs. She was no one, just another face in this miserable building.

Her nimble fingers weaved the strands of hair into a thick braid that fell down her back before tying a knot at the end. A pair of sad and tired eyes stared back at her, taunting her about the dream last night. Without realising it, her eyes drifted back towards the end of her bed. Blinking twice, Elora took a step closer to the bed and noticed that the puddle had gone and so had the stain. With furrowed eyes, she ran her fingers over the fabric that last night was stained black. Confused, she could swear last night was real, the puddle by her bed was real. Her eyes glanced around the room, looking for anything that might explain what was happening. Her heart jumped in fright as the guard rapped against the door loudly to remind her to get to breakfast, now. Without a second thought she slipped the coin into her pocket, she needed to see if the library had any answers about the strange coin.

Again, breakfast was a rushed affair as she practically inhaled her food, ignoring Virion’s narrowed eyes at her strange behaviour. Under the table, her slipper clad feet bounced anxiously against the cold stone, the cup of water shaking upon the table. Virion leaned forward, eyes searching her face. “What’s the matter with you? You’ve been acting odd all morning, have you pissed off another inmate again?” He smirks. She barely looked up at him as she gives him a non-committal shrug, tuning him out as he grumbled that it’s her own fault. Her mind desperately trying to rationalise the episode from last night and yet she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the blasted coin was somehow connected to it all. It seemed suspicious to her that someone would have just left the coin lying in the prison garden, surely someone would have noticed it lying there, half exposed. For the first time in ages Elora felt a twinge of excitement at the thought of it all, her own secret.

Virion was more than happy to leave her in the library, in the care of the bookkeeper’s hands. Under the pretense of sorting and stacking books, Elora began searching for anything that may assist her in finding out what the coin was. This proved to be a difficult task as she thumbed through the dusty books. There was nothing on symbols or strange trees made of bodies. The library itself had very few books on magic. The word magic was frowned upon and spoken in hushed whispers. There was no such thing as magic in the Northern realm. Among the citizens there were whispers and old folk tales that believed that King Ylyndar of Wirenth, had banned magic years ago, before she was even born. All books that even mentioned magic were banned and anyone caught practicing magic of any kind were taken away. Elora used to believe these stories were made up, but after last night she wasn’t so sure.

As she turned around to walk down another aisle her foot caught onto something solid. Bending down onto her knees, she peered under the wooden bookshelf. Pushed under the shelf lay a thick book covered in dust and cobwebs, the pages housing a dark layer of dirt. Carefully she stretched her arm out under the shelf, grimacing as the cobwebs tangled between her fingers. A cloud of dust flew out from under the shelf as she pulled the book and rested it in her arms. Glancing around to make sure no one was near; she carried the book to the far corner of the room. With her hand she wiped away on the front cover to reveal faded letters arranged in the native Wirenth language. Great. Flipping, slowly through the pages, Elora looked for anything that could be related to the coin. The first half of the book contained long paragraphs with only a few words that she could understand. The second half of the book contained diagrams of different shapes connected by lines. There was a repeated symbol on each page, a half-moon with a snake wrapped around the bottom of it. Using her finger, she traced the shape of the snake on the page, thinking. While the snakes on the coin and in the book were different, she had a gut feeling that they could be related. A feeling of dread curled in the bottom of her stomach as she recognised more images of the tree.

On the next page sat a formula for what she wasn’t sure but knew for certain it involved magic. The letters seemed to jumble and move before her eyes as she tried to read it. Almost as if the book didn’t want her to read it. She could hear the bookkeeper shuffling a few aisles ahead, his footsteps getting closer. Without thinking, she tore the page out of the book and crumpled it into her pocket, kicking the book under a shelf just as the bookkeeper appeared. Smiling at him, she gestured towards a pile of books before her. “I was just sorting these by alphabetical order.” She holds her breath as he nodded at her before grunting , “Good, good.” Impulsively she calls out to him as he turns to leave.

“Have you ever seen magic before?” The old man stopped and turned to face her, a hard look in his eyes. “Why would you ask such a thing?”

“I was just wondering… I overheard some of the men talking about it, that the King had banned it?” She lied to him, “Do you think that such a thing exists?” He stepped closer to her; his wrinkled face right next to hers, “I suggest you stop this line of thinking immediately. Those kinds of thoughts are what get people killed”, his warm hands had wrapped themselves around her wrists, squeezing tighter with each word spoken. Then he let go and shuffled back to his desk. Still in shock, she stood there in the aisle. His reaction said it all, he was scared. Of what? That’s what she’ll find out.

The next couple of weeks passed in a monotonous pattern, and yet something was wrong with it all. Elora couldn’t quite determine what it was yet. There was a feeling of unease and a sudden sinking dread that she couldn’t shake off. Even Virion had noticed the atmosphere in the prison, forever looking over his shoulder and frowning to himself, more than usual. The prisoners themselves were quieter as well, the obnoxious laughter no longer filled the air. Instead, hushed whispers were floated across the walls. Thankfully, she never had another one of those nightmares again. She had finally got rid of the mounting dread that threatened to crush her as she closed her eyes to sleep at night. Her slumber was now dreamless.

She sat by the window one late afternoon, watching the snowflakes land on the windowpane. The weather had turned cold, really cold. The winter season had arrived. Although Wirenth had all four seasons, it was always cold. Summer days were hot and nights freezing, spring and autumn were not that different to winter. The only difference was that Winter brought more snow. Snow that buried everything underneath it. The town below was always covered in a thick layer of the stuff. The little smoke puffs fought their way out of the chimneys into the frigid winter air. Her woollen coat did nothing to prevent the cold from seeping into her bones, her hands now had a permanent shake to them. A loud shout broke her thoughts. She peered out her door to see three guards dragging a prisoner by the arms, as his feet kicked against the floor. An awful sensation flowed through her body as the man locked eyes with her, “They’re coming!” He shouted at her. The guards tightened their grip and pulled him faster down the passage. He kicked harder, violently thrashing against them, desperately trying to get her to understand him. “They’re coming! Don’t let them in.” A hard kick to his head shut him up, briefly. “It’s too late, they’re here! Too late.” He screamed at her “It’s too late.” His words echoed down the prison halls and down the prison stairs as they took him away.

The prison was buzzing during the evening meal, all anybody could talk about was the lunatic man from earlier. Elora had asked Virion about it at their table, “Who do you think he was referring to?” she pushes her potatoes around on her plate. Virion paused a moment as if considering the answer, “I’m not sure that he was referring to anyone actually. He came from solitude, so it’s more likely he’s gone mad in the head.” He glanced at her hands, “I wouldn’t worry about the ramblings of a lunatic…I’m certainly not worried”.

As Elora lay in bed that night, she thought of Virion’s words during the evening meal, they did little to ease her trepidation at the man’s warning. Her thoughts were jumbled as she fell into a restless slumber. Hours later the smell of smoke wafting underneath her door woke her. Frantically she jumped out of bed to investigate. The smoke grew thicker in her room and a huge boom shook the prison grounds, crumbling the walls around her.

Too late, they’re here.

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