I stand on the sleek boulevard overlooking the dock and my bones are filled with frost and duty. They tell me someone from my family has always stood on this spot, this or one very much like it, looking out towards the Wavering Sea which lies outside the City. My hands ache, tugged towards the water as if the ice in my veins longs to return to its former, more relaxed state, to roll gently to and from both sides of the body of water. I can't help but lean a bit further on the rail, as if the salt has one hand on the small of my back and two fingers in my nostrils, pulling me closer and closer to its abode. Around me, the busy traffic on the boulevard is as brisk as ever, although its easy to detect people picking up their pace as they pass by me. I snort, causing two boys who were just getting close to skip their stride and cast frightened glances towards me. From their reaction, slightly more than I am used to but nothing too out of the ordinary, I can gather that the storytellers have been plying their trade well recently. The man next to me, clad is he is in his crimson raiment, walks softly towards the boys and assures them that everything is alright in his golden voice. This one will be a problem.
They tell us, my family that is but also all denizens of the City, that the sea was here before us but not by much; right after the glacial melt turned this massive dust bowl into an enclosed ocean ("right after" in geological scale, of course), a Galadcar came from...somewhere and looked out across it. That somewhere constantly changes, revolving around a choice of tired tropes; we either came across a mountain or from a forest or from a land so far away that its name only means "The Far Place" or some other nonsense that the storytellers feel would loosen people's purses. Wherever we came from, we've been here for ages; now there's a City here which mistakes us, me, as part of it, rationalizing our presence so that it makes sense inside their municipal narrative. Almost a physical extension of that narrational effort, the lights of the City spill out over my shoulders and towards the sea, obscuring the stars and lending the wave-foam a glitter, as if a thousand pearls were scattered into the night air with every susurration of the waves. The lights of the City spill over me just like any other person, enfolding me in their possessive embrace, luminescent versions of the City's attempt to incorporate us into something which makes sense.
Like the people now walking around me, to and from their early evening business, who smellthe ages on me, the storytellers and mayors and aldermen created a vacuum around us inside which they could cast us, me, into appropriate roles. Guardians, watchers, those who stand at a border, perhaps the least understood border of the City, the border with the sea. A border which never stays still, which constantly moves and from which comes the dual blessing of magic. They call it the Wavering Sea because, like all bodies of water, it defies definition and demarcation. But they also call it that because, without it, the City would waver, and they feel that incosistency, that dependence in their bones, in the same place frost and duty live in my own skeleton. As the crimson-clad man returns to my side, I consider his kind's role in all of this. They are the visible sentinels of the City, patrolling its streets and assuring everyone that everything will be just fine, that all is in order since they, their sentinels, had killed all there was to be afraid of. They, by which I mean both the citizens who occupy its streets and the shadowy structures which rule them, don't like to recognize the unusual nature of their demesne, shoveling the remnants of how the world was made into the realms of stories and histories, so that they can ignore that the stories are real and that they walk their streets. And we? We're the postman stationed at the door underneath the bed, the portal through which the magic pours in, holding the portal closed enough to keep the worst of the night out but not so closed that the nocturnal part which makes brains exist, disappears. While our more visible counterparts destroy the odd thing that makes it in.
A perfect balance then, one which affords the City the wavering of reality on which its existence relies while keeping out the worst of what would seek to undo its precious routine and stability. Which is, of course, nonsense. Magic does indeed pour in from the Wavering Sea but we were here long, long before the City ever needed a psychological scapegoat, a guardian whose job it is to allow them to forget that which he is guarding from, long before these...Guards ever began their assignations. The pain in my fingers increases and my heart starts beating faster. My sailors must have hoisted the sails; I can feel it deep within, my own personal, internal glacier shifting in the face of the prospect of return, another voyage on the skin of its ancestors, its liquid forefathers. The voyage is inevitable now, not that there was ever a real doubt of that; the narwhals have been riding high recently, the tell-tale surges of their presence increasing in size, the more philosophical parts of their existence pushing against the proverbial door. I knew this was coming, as always; I had woken up last week from dreams filled with horns braying over open water, a sound no human should ever be forced to here as frequently as I have, right before the City Guard had knocked on my door. I walked up and opened it before he had the chance to rap on the wood and prepared my best cynical smile, a preparation which proved for naught as his eyes captured me for an instant.
The blaze of conviction there was something I had seen only several times and not good times, either. Down here in the warrens and alleys of the City's neighborhoods most close to the Docks, that kind of eyes was a boon to a Guardsman looking to do his job. But out there, on the ever shifting skin of age-old glaciers, that kind of conviction would only serve as a lure, a draw, siren song to the primordial forces that still swam below/above the Wavering Sea. Nevertheless, I knew he would be joining me on this tour, this beacon of civic duty, this towering mountain of red-clothed flesh and willpower. I put on my smile, finally, already setting in motion my vessel's preparation with a few hand-signals thrown towards the lookout always keeping watch over the portal to the Galadcar abode. "Listen closely" I said, cleaving through his astonishment at my timing, "if you're to come with me on this trip, there needs to be an understanding between us. Out here, you shine your light into the shadowy places and the shadows recoil
Out there", I point gruffly at the sea from the boulevard, drawing the soldier's attention from the scampering children, "the brighter you shine your light, the bigger the shadows become. Do you understand?". He nods and tries to swallow his panic stealthily, so that I don't see it. But I do; he is not ready. His mind is too sharp and there's too much weight behind it; the bones of who he is, the words that make his story and his family's story and the story of his house and his street and his City, are too brittle. My bones ache, the terrible onus of my family's years and calling descending upon my shoulders, the frozen torrent of eons running alongside my blood, freezing the core of me. We're all going to die on this tour, probably. But when has that not been the case? The sails are fully hoisted now and the wind catches them, the wind which blows from the Wavering Sea and I am no longer my own person, no longer in full control of my own body. Duty rides me now and I spring over the rail and on to the docks, only slowing a moment to see that the soldier follows suit. He does and thus, with the first salt spray that plays across his brow, the sea claims him.Back to The Augmented World