The Trident missile snaked through the thin layers of atmosphere and up into low orbit.
It had breached the surface of the ocean only minutes earlier, pushed out of the womb of a nuclear submarine and into the birthing pool of the Pacific ocean. The captain of the submarine had dropped his novel when the signal to launch came through. After going through the necessary confirmation procedures, the crew didn't waste any time.
Casimir stood on the steps in front of the Museum and watched the star of nuclear death on the horizon. It grew brighter and brighter, even in the light of day.
"Shouldn't we go inside?" Casimir had asked.
General Radcliffe had shaken his head.
"Negative. It would make the same amount of difference as choosing whether to shovel out a horse's stall or a cow's stall. No matter the decision, you're still going to be knee-deep in shit. Enjoy the view."
Casimir stood next to the General, and Emblem, Amy and the rest of the survivors. Ignatius had led the pyromancers into the city. Before they left, Ignatius had turned to General Radcliffe.
"I see that you smoke cigars. May I have one?"
General Radcliffe passed one to Ignatius.
"And a light?"
He passed a lighter to the pyromancer, who flicked it once. He pinched the flame off of the wick and passed the lighter back to General Radcliffe. Ignatius had rolled the flame between his fingers like a magician with a quarter before letting it fall into his palm. With a nail, he flipped it onto the end of the cigar. It lit.
Taking a pinch of cherry-red ember between his fingers, he closed his fist around it, then threw it into the air. Instead of a scrap of tobacco ash, a ball of flame arced into the air and exploded, showering smaller balls of fire into the waiting hands of the other pyromancers.
"Obliged," Ignatius had said. "Our best chance is to catch the shockwave in the middle of the city. We'll spread out since we don't know where it'll land. I don't make any promises."
The pyromancers had marched into the city. They lobbed balls of flame and sent chubby blooms of fire into the zombies. In that way they burned a path towards the Knot at the center of Constantinople.
Now Casimir watched fresh plumes of smoke rise from the streets of the Knot.
The missile grew in brilliance and its speed increased. It arced downwards towards Constantinople. The trajectory carried it straight towards the Knot.
For a moment, Casimir thought that he could see the stripes on the missile. He admired the fury of the flames erupting from its backside.
Then he went blind and deaf. He couldn't smell, he couldn't taste, and the only two things that he could feel were the thousands of jackhammers pounding through the soles of his shoes and the sudden pain of Amy's hand clutching his, crushing the bones of his hand.
Then the whiteness began to recede and bundles of merciful nerves threw cloths over the clappers of the bells that rung in his ears.
Casimir could see, in the center of the Knot, the awful majesty of a nuclear explosion. The air shook as the reaction raged against the pyromancers. The cloud erupted into a lethal death's cap mushroom. Finally, its fury expended, the cloud began to lengthen and disperse as the prevailing winds dispersed its radioactive spores.
Several skyscrapers were gone and several more decapitated, but Constantinople still stood on the banks of the Lac.
Casimir heard breaths being let out. One of them was his own. Amy disentangled her fingers from his.
"Sorry about that," she said.
"No problem. I didn't need my one remaining functional hand, anyway," Casimir said, smiling at her.
The pyromancers emerged from the smoke. Half of them, at least. Ignatius grinned a surprisingly innocent grin for somebody who had just enjoyed a nuclear explosion.
"We lost a few," Ignatius said. Sweat dripped down his face as he let himself fall onto the steps of the Museum. "That's one hell of a bomb you've got! How are there any of you left?"
"I am sorry for your loss," General Radcliffe said, saluting.
"We live by the flames and, godsdammit, we die by them," Ignatius said. "Does a dragon get sad if a kidnapped maiden skewers it in the heart? Does a dwarf shed tears into his beard if a pile of rocks tips over and crushes him?"
Casimir looked up at the battered skyline of Constantinople and let gravity pull his gaze down towards the crowds of zombies that still shambled across Le Jardin and, no doubt, still prowled the streets and alleys of the city. He'd come here to follow his heart. Unfortunately, he hadn't aimed very well and he'd had to trek through a city of zombies to fish it out.
He'd also had his hand chewed on, his clothes ripped off and his head shot at.
The dead had risen and magic returned.
And despite all that, Casimir still thought Constantinople was a stupid town. But he'd be damned if he didn't have a soft spot for the people.