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Watching the snowflakes descend slowly from the soft gray clouds filled Arthur with a serenity greatly at odds with the destruction of his beloved city all around him. Looking through the window of the last remaining Stormwatch Tower, he could almost forget for a moment that he was Arthur, Sword Brother and King of the Britons. Instead, he was just a small boy again, looking on as the snowflakes gently fell. The memory was one reason he always looked forward to serving as a Storm Watcher, just as all citizens of his Realm were required to serve, by his own edict. His subjects might have been dismayed to learn that he kept a mental countdown of the days until it was his turn to stand watch for signs of the dreaded Veilstorms.
As his mind drifted along with the snowflakes, his thoughts became dark, turning to his people’s misery. The Second Breaking of the earth was upon them, and the ruin of his beloved Camelot, the One True City in the world, was almost complete.
By now, his companions would be making their final rounds of the burning city, looking for any stragglers. Once they were sure that the city was indeed empty, they would remove the final stabilizers, and the destruction of the One True City would begin in earnest. At least his brothers had left him the dubious honor of removing the very last stabilizer from this city and loosening the continent on which it rested.
“Damn them all to Hel, or whichever misbegotten power they now worship!” he muttered. It was his city, and he wouldn’t let this happen. He was Arthur, after all. He called out, “Where are you now, my mentor? I need your aid again, as when I was a youth,” but he knew that Myrddin was long gone. The prophecy had been fulfilled, and Arthur knew that there was nothing that he could do about it.
He remembered how difficult it had been, in the beginning. How heartbreakingly hard it was to convince his brothers to build something new, to come together for once, united by their belief in the One True City. To put their stabilizers and their power to use, and raise new land from the bottom of the sea. It had taken everything he ever had, every ounce of his belief and Gwen’s ingenuity, to make them realize he was not mad. That they could work together, could build together, to bring the vision of Camelot to life. For a brief, bright moment, all that was left of creation had been united in one place, in the shining City.
Arthur sighed; he could hear footsteps behind him, and recognized the sound of his companions. Breaking away from his thoughts, Arthur forced his eyes to leave the window and turn to face the two people he loved most in the world. One was a Stormrider, the Storm-captain of The Land, and the other was his Gwen. He knew that they were filled with the same sorrow that sought to break him down, but were too proud to show it. He smiled unhappily, knowing why they had come.
“It is time,” said Arthur, “Isn’t it?”
“Yes, my lord, it is time,” said the Stormrider, “The city is clear, and we are the last who remain within its walls. Even the rats have abandoned us.”
“I can think of a few ‘rats’ that I wish had remained within the city,” added Gwen, her mouth a bitter line. “We should have never let them leave alive, Arthur!”
“We had no choice, Gwen,” said Arthur, shaking his head. “I did what was necessary to save lives.”
“But it was your city, my love,” said Gwen, twisting her whiskered face into a grimace. “It was your dream they tore apart.”
“No, it was not my city,” said Arthur, shouting now. “That is the thinking that allowed this to happen. Don’t you see that? Damn it Gwen, it was our city! It belonged not just to me, or my brothers! It belonged to you, to all of the Realms, and all of their people! Why couldn’t they see that? Why couldn’t they see that Myrddin was right, in the end?”
“Because in the end, the Changed are not perfect, Arthur,” said the Stormrider, a slight grin crossing his face. “Not even me.”
Most of the time, the Stormrider’s poor attempt at humor would have gotten a smile and a sarcastic comment from Arthur as well, but not today. It was time to do what he dreaded most: ascend the stairs up to the top of the tower and remove the last stabilizer. He silently said goodbye to this room and this city, and made his way further up the Stormwatch tower, his friends joining the silent climb he used to love so much.
When they reached the tower’s summit, the stabilizer was glowing more brightly than usual. The complicated mechanical device hummed with whirring gears and crystal gyros, an intricate system of articulated metal branches that made it look like a metal tree growing around a sapphire globe. Arthur guessed the shimmering effect was due to the extra effort the stabilizer was making to sustain the land.
Grasping the edge of the parapet with razor talons, three fliers waited. Their long, sinuous necks were bent as if in sadness at the collapsing city below. While the drakes were not as intelligent as others of their kind, they had long ago learned to sense the emotions of those around them. Their abilities must be overwhelmed, Arthur thought. He thought he saw the beginnings of a tear form at the corner of one flier’s eye, but like the serenity of the City, that was an illusion.
Arthur walked over to the last stabilizer and reached out, then stopped himself. The king motioned his friends to come over and join him. “We built this city together. If it must be destroyed, we should destroy it together.”
They nodded in assent. Six hands and a tail all grasped the last remaining stabilizer. Strangely enough, the stabilizer wouldn’t come free easily. The object was not a living being, but it seemed to fight them, unwilling to uproot from the city. In the end, however, that was just another illusion; with a final tug, the stabilizer pulled out of its base. Arthur could have sworn he heard a sigh when it came loose, but that was probably his own voice. Placing the whirring mechanical tree in a knapsack, he slung it over his back and walked to his flier.
As he slid easily onto the saddle in the way he had learned over so many lifetimes, Arthur felt a wave of sadness once again threaten to overwhelm him. He patted his mount’s furry neck, and urged her up into the air.
Within moments, he and his friends soared high above the city, watching as the destruction began in earnest. Removing the last stabilizer was like pulling the plug from a bathtub full of water: Buildings that had stood for centuries started to shake as the land began to pull itself apart. Great holes tore open in the earth, and inexorably they began to swallow up the burning city as if they were alive, greedily gobbling up the streets and boulevards. When he could watch no longer, Arthur turned to look at his companions soaring nearby.
“Let us leave this sad sight, Arthur,” said the Stormrider, the gem in his forehead flashing as he looked up. “There is nothing more to be done here, my friend.”
“No, there is one more thing to do,” the king answered.
“And what is that, my love?” asked Gwen.
“Remember,” said Arthur, “That for one brief shining moment, there was a place called Camelot.”
“We Cait Sith have excellent memories,” said Gwen, “As well you know, we forget nothing. Even things we would wish to forget.”
“I too will remember, Arthur,” said the Stormrider, “I will never forget those that betrayed you.”
“I know you won’t, Lance,” said Arthur, “As ever, I am counting on you.”
They leaned over empty air as the fliers spread their wings and swooped about in a wide arc, long tails rippling in the wind. Arthur said his final goodbyes to the City in a whisper, and swore a terrible oath. To this day, only he knows what it was.
Arthur, Gwen, and Lance flew off into the sky and turned towards their homeland, settling into their saddles and the rhythm of the wingbeats with grim faces. Perhaps they somehow guessed that not everyone was distressed by the destruction of Camelot. Deep within the bowels of the earth, laughter rumbled and echoed throughout The Depths.
As he flew higher over the crumbling city, Arthur remembered Myrddin’s teaching. A king must remember better than his subjects. The ritual of Memory Walking began with a cleansing breath, a few shakes of his head and arms, and a simple rhyme: “For simply there’s just not…a more congenial spot…than here in…” and with that, his eyes opened wide as saucepans. His gaze still steady on the horizon ahead, Arthur drifted back into the deepest corridors of his mind, as he journeyed into his past and to the day he remembered so well…
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