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She Comes to Reclaim the Throne

She Comes to Reclaim the Throne Guinevere didn’t know how she had come to be in the forest. Perhaps it was the work of an evil spell or mischievous fairies. All she knew was that suddenly she was here, lying on the spongy forest floor with moss growing on her arms. At first, her vision was spotted, and hazy, but she wiped her hands over her eyes and that seemed to help. Only one question came to mind: where was her Lord, her King Arthur? If she was here, no doubt he was in trouble somewhere, and she must get back to Camelot to see what could be done. He had many knights to protect him, but she was just as important. What was a king without his queen? But as she stood up, the thought occurred: which way could the kingdom be? The surrounding landscape was entirely green and wooded, with no differentiation in its directions. Guinevere had no horse, no compass. So she did the only thing she really could: she picked a direction and started walking. She wasn’t sure how long she had been struggling through the thick vegetation when she spotted an opening in the trees. Perhaps it was a town or a keep, someplace she could ask for lodging or even just directions. But alas, when she pulled back the last layer of leaves all she saw was the surface of a lake, reflecting the pale, cloudy sky above. As she continued to look at the lake, however, Guinevere noticed how strange it was. The water was a positively vibrant shade of brownish-green, and vast swabs of algae and other debris floated on its surface. Clearly, some sort of terrible curse had befallen this lake. It was a shame she had no idea how to lift this curse, but perhaps some brave knight or other would come along sometime soon. She was just about to move on with a heavy heart when she heard a sound. Or rather, it was more an absence of sound. A sudden silence where she felt there should have been a sound. But right where that sound should be, something emerged from the water. Guinevere blinked several times, but indeed, there in front of her suddenly stood a woman in a long, white cloak. An illusion, it must be, for her form flickered in and out of focus, and when she spoke, her voice seemed to come from very far away, so much so that she couldn’t hear some of the words she spoke. “Pro.... Camelot.... ed. Please if you... hear thi.... Camelot... just down this road. Please send all of the.... support you can, ....Guinevere, help.” Camelot was in danger! And this woman of the lake had asked for her help specifically. Arthur had told her of a similar woman before, who had offered him great aid. Perhaps this was that woman, or a sister of hers. From everything she’d heard, the Lady of the Lake was very wise. Guinevere opened her mouth to ask the Lady more, but she merely repeated her direction: “Help.” Thusly Guinevere followed the direction she pointed, and continued on her way. Her pace was quicker, now that she knew there was actual danger ahead. She wasn’t nervous for herself, that wouldn’t set in until far later. For now she was just afraid of what she would find when she reached her destination. It must have been something of at least mild catastrophe, for even here, this far away, the path had somehow been burned. A great fire must have raged through here, for the road itself was blackened and cracked. It felt oddly smooth as she walked along it. The woods were getting thicker and darker. Strange shapes, covered in moss and vines hulked in the distance, and Guinevere hurried along, somewhat afraid that they would suddenly start moving. As she continued along, she began to pick up the sound of running water. Perhaps a stream was ahead? Yes, as she pulled aside a layer of branches and leaves, she could see a bridge curving over the rapids below. Guinevere smiled; she was close. Camelot was just over the bridge and down the hill. She started running until she nearly ran smack into a large shape that in her haste she had failed to see. It was right in the middle of the way, directly in front of the bridge. The shape took notice of her and turned, standing to its full height. A mass of black armor glared down at her. Guinevere knew this figure. It was the Black Knight. If this fell knight was here at Camelot, then the situation must have been truly dire. Guinevere gulped, and straightened, though she could never hope to match the knight’s height. “Good sir knight,” she gulped. “As the queen of Camelot, I entreat thee, let me pass.” “Trespasser...” the knight said simply. “You will not pass.” “But I am not a trespasser,” she insisted. “Like I said, as the Queen of this realm, it is my right that you let me through.” “You will not pass,” was the only response. Then, the knight raised an odd, dark wand of metal, and pointed it in her direction. She dodged out of the way just before three magic lights zinged past, flecking her cheek with heat. What a strange knight, to know magic and yet wear such large armor. After a second’s readjustment, the knight aimed at her again. That armor would be nearly impenetrable, but all armor had its weakness, Arthur had taught her that. She dashed out of the way again as the noise of the magic threatened the integrity of her eardrums, and snatched a sturdy-looking stick from the hard ground. Guinevere circled around the knight, and he had to awkwardly pivot around to see her. Using the opportunity, she leapt upwards onto his back, and jabbed the stick into the joint between his shoulder-plate and helmet. Sparks flew as she was thrown off in the small explosion that ensued. For a second, she lay stunned on the ground, as the world crackled in and out of focus. Once she sorted herself out, she blinked and saw the Black Knight lying motionless in a heap of metal armor. Smoke issued from the body. Perhaps it was not a body at all, but merely a suit enchanted by magic. Whatever the cause, she did not want to stay to discover it, lest the Black Knight rise again. Instead she hurried on, over the bridge covered in vines and other foliage. Strange a bridge so close to Camelot wasn’t being maintained. Then again, she did not recognize this bridge, so it was probably rarely used. Guinevere didn’t have long to ponder this, however, because just then she crested the last hill, her eyes falling on Camelot. Or at least, what used to be Camelot. Some sort of disaster had occurred here, but much to her shock, it was not recent. The tall tower to the far side had crumbled halfway down, its remaining wall smoothed by what must have been years of rain and wind. The main, central dome was almost entirely obscured by flora, and the whole path down to the main gate was crumbled and dug up by roots. Numb, Guinevere stumbled down to the castle, past the guard’s station, itself abandoned and silent, and through the open gate. Inside, the entire entrance hall was silent, still. Dust floated idly through the motes of light cast from the holes in the ceiling. As she glanced around in mute horror, Guinevere brushed something with her foot. She glanced down, and recoiled at the sight of a bleached white skeleton, reaching towards the door she’d just come through, like it was trying to flee something. What could have happened here? What sort of army or beast had invaded these halls? She floated through the castle, through the magicians’ laboratories with their bottles and beakers, through the barracks, sifting through the belongings of the knights and squires, but she found nothing. Not a single human soul. Only silence and bones. Everyone was gone. The knights, Merlin, her ladies. Why had Guinevere been left behind? Why was she alone? Eventually, there was only one place she hadn’t visited. She’d stalled, checking every other room of the castle before she had eventually come to Arthur’s chambers. She stood outside for the longest time, unable to will her hand to grab the doorknob. After who knew how long she’d been standing there, she managed to wrap her fingers around it, then she let go again. Guinevere did this for several more minutes before something in her suddenly clicked and she just did it. Inside, the room was musty and dark. Dust covered the ground to such an extent that Guinevere left footprints. But besides that, this one room, of all the places she had seen, was left untouched. It was as if Arthur had just stepped out for a few minutes’ walk. This room was waiting for a king that would probably never return. Guinevere took a step towards the desk, but stopped as the room was filled with a harsh, white light from above. “Subject 622, Codename ‘Guinevere’ detected. Playing message.” And suddenly, through some sort of spell or illusion, there he was. Mussed hair, two strange pieces of glass in front of his eyes, and wearing the same, long white cloak that the lady wore. Just as she remembered him. “Arthur.” The name almost caught in her throat. “Guinevere,” he seemed to respond to her, though she knew it to be only a message. “If you’re watching this recording, odds are I’m dead. I really hope this won’t be the case. The initial blast from the first bomb seems to have short-circuited some of your processors. We have people out looking for you as I speak, but I have the distinct feeling they won’t succeed. I built you to be too smart for that.” Guinevere took a step back. Bomb, short-circuit, processor, what were all of these strange words? And why did they sound so familiar to her? “Your auto-repair should still be functioning, but I don’t know how well. It could only be days before you see this, it could be years. Regardless,” he pushed his glasses—that’s what they were—up the bridge of his nose. A nervous habit of his. “Regardless,” he repeated, “I’m sure you must be very confused. The bombs fell. All of those threats, and the bastards finally grew the balls to do it. One fell last night, and we’re tracking two others on the way. I hate to say it, but I think this is it for us.” Reaching out, Guinevere tried to grab his hand. He looked so terrified, so alone. Why hadn’t she been there? Her whole body felt heavy. Of course, as soon as she reached it, her hand fell right through his, breaking the hologram. She was beginning to understand things, see them as they were. His voice was bringing it all back. “So if you’re still alive out there, somewhere,” he looked up, almost directly into her eyes. “I guess you’re free to do whatever you wish now. No more labs, no more tests. Just... promise me one thing: Do you remember those stories I always told you? About King Arthur and Camelot? Please remember us... remember me like that.” Just then a voice, and an arm, came from somewhere to the left of the camera. “Arthur, we’ve gotta go!” “One second, Lance.” Arthur didn’t look away from her for ever a second. “I know that... that we haven’t always been the best of people. Some might even argue that creating real, synthetic life like you, life that’s maybe too human, is inhumane. I don’t really know myself, but—”

Somewhere in the distance, alarms were blaring, and getting louder, more insistent. He ignored them. “But despite it all I’m glad... glad that I got the chance to meet you. I’m glad...” Before he got a chance to finish, there was an extremely loud noise, so deafening that the room shook, and then... the video ended, and there was silence. At some point, Guinevere had fallen to her knees. She wished that she could cry, so much was pushing against her skull, dying for release. But no tears came. She probably wasn’t even capable of it. She remembered now. She remembered everything. She was not the Queen of Camelot. She wasn’t even human. But he was glad he had met her. Not that he’d created her, but that he’d held her company. The only man who could maybe understand her was long gone from this world. With a pain, some circuit or other jolted in her brain, and she saw the first time they’d met, the first time she’d been conscious, laying on a cold, metal table. He’d taken her hand, then only a skeleton of metal, and though they hadn’t given her the ability to sense touch yet, she’d still felt it, a warmth deep down inside. What would happen now? What could she do? Where could she go? She couldn’t stay here, not in the ruined hallways she knew so well. But she couldn’t move. At some point, she would have to stand. But not yet, not until the pain in her chest dulled and she stopped seeing his face behind her closed eyelids.

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