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< BACKGothic Story By Daniel M, Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School

Lightning tears past my barred window and droplets of rain fly through the slits between the sturdy metal poles. I shiver, and wish for the thousandth time that there could at least be some shutters to keep out the cold. Staring at the ceiling of my prison cell, I wonder what else I could have done to avoid this. But nothing comes to me. If I hadn’t tried to steal from the master, my family would have surely starved. In fact, they probably are now. That’s the irony of it all. By rebelling, I have only made their situation worse. I shiver again, but not from the cold. The baron had told me that I would be an “example to the town” to show what happened to thieves. And we all know what happens to thieves-execution. It looks like it’s going to be a long night…

A harsh knock on my cell door drags me out of my nightmare-filled slumber. The door is flung open and I am confronted by my jailors-fat, greedy men who leach off of the poor’s hard labour. “C’mon then,” grunts the one closest to me. “Let’s get moving. “ I sigh and get up from the springy bed, running my hands through my dark, tangled hair. How is this happening? I am led through the vast corridors and chambers of the master’s mansion until I am finally bought to the main doors, where the master is waiting for me. He is also fat, extremely so, and wears grand orange robes with intricate lace decoration. He has a mop of greasy, ginger hair and a pompous moustache, which sits above a mouth of sickly yellow teeth. All in all, not a very pleasant person. Especially when that person wants you dead.

Outside of the mansion was a set of gallows. They were made of old- splintered wood, and inspired fear in every passer-by. I was marched outside, to see a huge crowd awaiting my arrival. I quickly scan the sea of faces, but my family do not appear to be there. I don’t blame them. No-one wants to see their father die. I am led up the stairs, and the tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Awaiting me at the gallows is another man, tall, stocky and wearing a black execution mask. I shudder in anticipation. Emotions whirl through my mind, pain, anxiety, nervousness and fear all mingling together to form a cold sweat on my brow. The master walks to the edge of the platform to address the crowd as I am shoved towards the executioner, who begins tying a noose round my trembling neck. It would be futile to resist. “Ladies and gentlemen,” booms the master’s deep, sonorous voice. “Today we would like to present to you… some entertainment. And a fine example. Yes, you see, the man about to be hung, a certain Lee Edwards, has committed some heinous crimes against my divine rule. So he will be posing as an example…” the voice drones on in my head as the noose is tightened, and I feel the rough rope constrict my breathing already. It is looped through the gallows, and I realise with a sickening shock that all the man has to do is tug the rope, and my life will be ended. Just like that. So simple… “And therefore, let the entertainment begin!” I brace myself as the rope is heaved upon by the man, lifting my thin and frail body well off the floor. Already I can feel the lack of oxygen, and I gasp to breathe, but nothing is let through my restricted windpipe. I raise my hands to my rope shackles, and try desperately to remove them, but to no avail. They are as tight and steady as metal itself. My pulse slows, and it is like time is stopping and speeding up at the same time. I don’t know how long I hang for, but my vision begins to blur, and I feel my eyes slowly closing as I struggle to keep them open. Everything goes black…

TWANG! The sound of arrow being flung from bow slices through the air, and I fall onto the hard wooden ground, gasping for air. I can breathe! I lift my head to see that from the audience an arrow has been leased towards the knot of my loose, splitting it and freeing me. “Traitor!” bellows the Master, in a wild fury at my release. “You insolent swines! You betraying little…” The master words are cut short by a large, black arrow protruding from his flabby chest. He tries to speak, but no words come to him and he is left stammering and stuttering in utter disbelief. Then he topples forwards, frothing at the mouth, into the front row of the crowd. 3 more arrows are leased, striking each of the King’s men with perfect accuracy. There is utter silence for a second. And then cheering erupts. The poor people who had been so greatly oppressed by their “Master” were now free of his tyrannical reign. Through the swathe of people strode a man, coated in a green cloak and simple black garments. Vaulting onto the stage and tipping back his hood to reveal locks of blonde, untidy hair, the stranger grinned. “Citizens!” he cried, instantly silencing the mob of hysterical peasants. “You, we, are free!” Cheering erupted once more, and the grin stretched wider across his perfect face. “We are free to work hard! To be democratic! To build wealth, and status, not according to who we are, but according to what we do! Now go! Tell your family, your friends, tell everyone! We are free from the master’s tyrannical reign!” Another cheer, and the mob began to charge back towards the town, eager to revel in their new-found freedom. Apart from me. I am standing there stunned. Because as I stare at the stranger, I can clearly see the tattoo on the side of the back of his neck. The mark of Az’guldoth. Az’guldoth the warlock. He turns to me, and smiles, chillingly. “I guess it’s your lucky day,” he spits from his still grinning lips. “Go. Go and enjoy your freedom. What are you waiting for?” I turn to leave hesitantly, and he grins at me again, piercing through to my very soul. I jump down and sprint off towards home as fast as my legs can carry me. “Whilst it lasts,” I hear him mutter.

I wake up in a dark, under-lit room. Confused, I crane my neck to look around, only to find that it is held in place by a solid steel restraint. I try to move the rest of my body, and find that they are also held in place. “Out of the fireplace and into the fire,” I chuckle to myself, finding humour in the irony of my situation. “Something funny?” The unmistakable voice of the blonde stranger fills my ears, and I shudder in a wave of nerves and anticipation. He slinks around the table so that he can whisper into my ear. “I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna enjoy this.” He reaches to a small table next to the larger one that I am lying on, and my fears are confirmed as I see 2 small knifes clutched in his long-nailed hands. They are both deadly and beautiful at the same time, and I grimace as I imagine what my captive might do with them. He whirls them round so that they are pointing straight down towards me, and raises them well above his head. I brace myself once again as his hands come down in unison, solidly planting the knives into my exposed eyes.

Pain, agony and rage fills me and I bellow, feeling the knives dig deeper into my now empty sockets. Everything is black, and blood gushes from the gaping holes in my face, making me feel light and sleepy. Leaving the blades where they are, I hear the man begin to chant strange demonic runes, and my mind ponders what unspeakable atrocity will be committed next. I am soon answered. A sudden warmth floods across the surface of my body, instantly becoming uncomfortable and stinging my bare skin. With a jolt, I realise that I am on fire, as my body contorts and my skin and muscle tear and peel away. The pain is immense, as the flames bite deeper into me, charring and melting as they go. I spasm once more. Then everything is black.