A Throne of Shattered Bones

I.
Jacob sits on a throne of shattered bones. His shroud is black and red, hooded and flowing. A single gas lamp flickers behind him, casting shadows of dancing bones along the abandoned station. An empty beer can rolls along the platform. It topples over the edge, clatters against the tracks, and stops.

“Angelus,” he says. He holds out a pewter cup. Angelus pours his wine. Jacob runs a curled finger through Angelus’s long red hair. “Israel has betrayed me for the last time.”

Angelus sighs. “You betray each other,” he says. “You are both driven by a lust for power.”

Jacob sips the wine, considers Angelus’s words, and places the cup on the arm of the throne. “I am the one.” Turning to Angelus, he narrows his eyes . “I have many followers. It is only a matter of time.”

“You both have many followers,” says Angelus. “You are moving towards a war that Lazarus will not tolerate.”

Jacob closes his eyes and steeples his fingers. “Israel’s wings need to be clipped,” he says. “Only I can lead.”

Angelus offers another sigh, hands the cup back to Jacob, and pours more wine. Jacob looks at him and holds his gaze. “Do not sigh at me, Angelus. Say what is on your mind.”

“You’re the same. You and Israel are two pieces of the same puzzle.”

“We are not the same,” Jacob spits, slamming his left fist down.

“You are too alike,” Angelus says. “You will only end each other.”

Jacob stares ahead and crushes the cup in his hand, feeling the metal bend to his will. He goes to stand, stays frozen for a long moment, then shudders.

“What is it?” asks Angelus.

Jacob gasps. “I have been summoned.”

II.

Jacob waits, eyes downcast. He is on his knees, his nose touching the tiled floor. He listens to the scratchy rasp of Lazarus’s breath surrounding him. Israel is to Jacob’s left. They both bow and wait.

“We can only exist when we understand that we are one,” Lazarus says. Each word is clipped, stifled, pained. “Your pettiness has worn my patience to a gossamer thread.”

Jacob tries to wriggle, to squirm, to run, but he is paralysed, held fast by Lazarus’s will.

“We are one. We are dependant.” Lazarus spits the last word, punctuating each syllable with a click of his skeletal fingers. “It is time for your fable, time for your lesson.”

There’s a rush of red light as cold fire engulfs Jacob’s body. His flesh quivers and curls.

Then, the pain ceases.

“Jacob. Israel.” Lazarus’s voice holds with it command and affirmation.”You are cursed to end. You will expire if you do not feed on each other. You must learn the value of our brood.”

III.

There’s a rush of stale air from a train passing through the adjacent tunnel. The smell of refuse and insects drifts by. Bones splinter between Jacob’s fingers when he grips the arms of his throne. “We are going to war,” he says, turning to Angelus. “We cannot live together like mutually dependent parasites.”

Angelus frowns. “If Lazarus’s curse is what you say, then you will both end. Your talk of war and conquest will be for nought.”

“Lazarus,” Jacob spits. He closes his eyes and holds his rage. There’s a nudge at the back of his mind, a pull towards Israel. He leans forward, rests his elbows on his knees. His expression softens as he looks up at Angelus. “No one tastes sweeter than you,” he says.

There’s a tingle, an urge. He lurches forward, takes Angelus by the wrist, sinks his teeth into his flesh, and feeds. “What is this?” he growls, choking on the blood. He jerks away and drops Angelus’s arm as trails of blood extend along the platform, pooling near the edge.

“What is it?” asks Angelus, his voice weak.

“I…” Jacob rests his head in his hands. “Your blood is wrong,” he mutters. He jumps to his feet. “I have to find Israel.”

IV.

Maggots swarm at the base of the throne while Israel’s flesh teems with swarming, buzzing flies. There’s a pile of drained and rotting corpses scattered around his throne. The seat is made of dark oak. Human skin stretches across its back and sides, dried pinks and browns twisted in strands that bow and stretch with Israel’s every gesture and movement. A fluorescent light tube buzzes in the corridor leading to the platform, casting a cold blue light over the scattered dead.

Jacob stands before Israel, his arms outstretched, his wrists gaping and dripping with blood. “Brother, Lazarus’s curse is our only enemy now. I offer a truce between us. Let there be no blood spilled, save for our mutual feeding.”

Israel’s throne creaks as he sits back. A cloud of flies darts this way and that, eddying in a macabre waltz. Jacob watches his brother’s face, his expression and features mirroring his own. “Agreed,” Israel snaps. “Mark my words, Jacob, there will be a truce, but only until this curse is lifted.”

“As you say, brother.” Jacob bows his head in assent.

There’s a long moment’s pause between them. Israel stands, tears at his right wrist with his teeth, and offers it to Jacob.

“Together,” Jacob says.

“Together,” Israel says.

They lean down to each other’s gaping wounds and feed, sucking the blood with silent gulps as the flies hum around them.

“You taste…” they both say, their words trailing off as the faint hint of a smile creeps along their faces.

V.

Jacob is awake when Israel crawls into his bed. The flies hover outside the chamber, waiting. “Send your thrall away,” Israel says, pushing Angelus aside with a shove.

“He is no thrall,” says Jacob, but he makes no further protest when Angelus skulks away and stands with the flies.

They bite into each other’s wrists again and feed.

“I hate this,” they say.

VI.

Jacob and Israel meet on neutral ground, a tunnel used by rats as a graveyard. The tunnel is strewn with rodent corpses, some still bloated and crawling with maggots, others no more than dusty husks. Bones crack and shatter beneath their feet as they walk. They take a moment to feed on each other and then stand back-to-back.

“We must fight this curse, brother,” says Jacob.

Israel says nothing.

“We should test the curse,” says Jacob.

Jacob doesn’t move but senses Israel turning to him. There’s a long pause, a silence. A rat enters the tunnel along the track opposite Jacob; it stands on its hind legs, sniffs the air, locks eyes with Jacob, turns, and scurries away.

“Well?” Jacob asks.

“Well, what?”

“Well?”

“Do you have a plan?”

Jacob turns, meets Israel’s gaze, and nods.

VII.

The air changes when Angelus nails down the final sheet of thick wood. Gone are the ebbs and flows of rushing air that mark the rhythm of the underground trains. All around is dry and still.

Jacob curls into a tight ball and feels Angelus return to his bed.

“Do you wish to feed?” Angelus asks.

Jacob nods. Angelus offers his wrists. Jacob leans his head and tries to feed. There’s an urge to gag, to vomit. Jacob turns away and sighs.

“I…” Jacob says. “It will pass.”

Angelus says nothing.

The pull to Israel becomes an obsession, a twitching, a yearning twisting at every facet of Jacob’s mind.

“Jacob?” Angelus whispers.

“What is it?” Jacob’s hands and feet are heavy and stiff. He looks down: they are granite. “Summon Israel,” he says. “Now.”

Israel’s arms and feet are the same bluish-green stone as Jacob’s when he arrives, limping, supported by Angelus. The flies avoid Israel’s hands.

“Send away your thrall,” Israel manages.

“Go,” whispers Jacob.

Angelus turns and leaves.

Weak and gasping, the pair finds flesh halfway up each other’s right arm and feed. There’s a burning sensation, and they are bowing before Lazarus, their noses against the floor and their stone arms anchored to the tiled floor as if bound by chains.

Lazarus gives a wheezing laugh. “You dared to defy me? You thought you could lift the curse?”

“No,” Jacob and Israel say.

Lazarus clicks his fingers. “You were supposed to learn a lesson, but instead you worked against me.”

“No,” Jacob and Israel say.

“Do not lie to me,” Lazarus says. “You instructed your thralls to keep you apart, to resist the curse. And now you are here.”

There’s a green glow all around them as starvation floors the brothers. Pain tears through their insides, a boiling, searing pain that writhes and contorts from within. Their screams do not leave their mouths.

VIII.

All Jacob and Israel can do is feed. Jacob calls to Angelus for wine, but before he utters a single word, the petrification returns and spreads across his limbs like setting ice.

“I hate this,” says Jacob, his voice muffled as he feeds.

Israel agrees, mumbling though Jacob’s armpit.

“We should end,” says Jacob.

“Yes,” says Israel. “We should end Lazarus.”

Bodies half-petrified, Jacob and Israel summon their minions. Stone crackles along their skin as they move from feeding to uttering short blasts of orders.

Jacob leans up and eyes his lieutenants. “We are in alliance…” A tendril of stone crawls along his thigh, twisting like ivy, and stops only when he returns to feed. “You must end Lazarus.”

Israel repeats the words to his own lieutenants and returns to feeding.

Jacob lifts his head weakly. “Take us to him,” he whispers.

IX.

The minions carry Jacob and Israel to Lazarus as battle rages. There are flames and spears flying in all directions, arcing in and out of time, extinguishing everything. The flies and rats hide in the shadows. Angelus leads the procession.

The minions fall by the thousands. Jacob and Israel crawl towards Lazarus, their knees and elbows scraping, stone against stone, along the ground. All the while, they still feed.

“What is the meaning of this?” Lazarus gasps, his flailing arms rendering him powerless.

Jacob and Lazarus drag themselves forward and separate. They lunge at Lazarus with a deafening scream and sink their teeth into his arms.

Lazarus writhes as they feed. They pull on his centre, tear at him, and extinguish him. Their arms and legs turn soft, fleshy and bony, the stone retreating along their bodies like the first thaws of spring.

“Fools,” says Lazarus. “You may end me, but I will make the curse stronger.”

A brilliant burst of black light emanates from Lazarus, filling the chamber with the screams of a billion horrors. The walls around them shatter and crumble. Lazarus falls to dust as a beam of sunlight penetrates from above.

Jacob and Israel share a smile as a gust of air blows the dust of Lazarus away. “We are victorious,” they say. “And now the curse is lifted.”

They look around at the scattered corpses of their armies, their crumbling empire, and the swarming flies and rats returning to their masters and share another smile. Jacob looks down at his hand and offers it to his brother. Israel’s smile falls away.

“What is it?” Jacob asks. Before Israel can answer, Jacob’s eyes widen at the petrification spreading along his body.

“The curse,” says Israel, holding up his stone hand.

Their bodies stiffen as the petrification moves up past their thighs. “I fear this will not end us,” says Israel. “We will be trapped in stone for— ” His words stop as his jaw turns to stone.

Jacob nods. “Angelus,” he calls. “Take us to the light. End us, before it is too late.”

Angelus crawls over to his master, his lover, his body wrecked with contusions and fractured bones. “As you wish,” he says.

Jacob’s body stiffens as the petrification continues up his spine, engulfing his ribs and twisting his shoulders. Angelus drags Jacob and Israel towards the sunlight, towards their end.

As they are dragged into the light, they are already men of stone. The flies retreat and the rats scatter.

Angelus falls to his knees. He is too late.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.