Scanning the area of the construction site, Merlin frowned slightly. There was nothing out of the ordinary to give him any clues about what he would be dealing with. Not even a hint of magical residue left behind for him to at least see what he might be dealing with. Cheyrth at least had the power to conjure pure magical energy, so he was powerful. But he had called it a beacon... Could he have been mistaken by it?
No, that was definitely pure energy. So that meant it was just easy for Cheyrth to use so much magic so naturally. He would have to watch out for him until he was able to find out more about his power.
And then there was that shadow he saw on the edge of the woods... Was that Cheyrth too? Or some other player in this war? He was almost positive that the shadow wasn't Cheyrth, but he could have been hiding his true intent when they were in the clearing and released it after they left. Though that seemed unlikely. It had to be someone else, someone in control of Cheyrth perhaps. That thought didn't make him feel any better... Two powerful beings at the front were not a good sign. And it seemed as if they wanted him to join their side, which wouldn't make sense if they knew anything about the prophecy he was apart of. Maybe they had hoped that time would alter his memory enough that he would join them. Or they were just as stupid as all the other fool-hardy freedom warriors that came in the past.
With a sigh, Merlin turned away and glanced to the crater, temptation raising in him. It had been a while since he had done anything big; he had grown used to his magic pleading to be used that the call for it barely bothered him now. But even so... With the upcoming battles he was sure to face, it wouldn't hurt to try, right?
Taking a deep breath, he held his hand out in front of him and concentrated. He pictured a ball of pure power hovering in the air, willing it to be so. He could feel his magic flair inside him, eager to be used and rushing through his veins. The resulting pulse that emitted from him nearly took him by surprise, more so than the lightning that shot from his fingertips into the air. He watched with a smile as the lightning circled itself until it formed what he had wanted.
He felt somewhat more assured of himself now that he knew he was able to create this power as well, that he and Cheyrth were at least on the same level. He snorted as Kilgarrah's voice came to mind, telling him with great pride that he was the strongest magic user to walk the earth. Though that was when he practiced magic regularly and had not laid dormant for a thousand or so years.
He dropped his hand and let his will fade, the sphere wisping away in the wind. If he was to protect the Pendragons and fight evil sorcerers once again, then he would have to get back in the hang of his magic. A flash of an idea raced through his mind, a part of him longing to teach Morgana and keep her from going down the dark path once again. But he chased that thought away. Magic was shunned in this world, and if someone was different then they were targeted by evil people - magic users or not. He had helped her with her dreams, and that was as far as he would go.
Another sigh built within him at the thought of the Pendragon siblings. They had been ignoring his instructions to leave him alone, showing up at his doorstep twice a day every day. Three times on weekends! He would normally ignore them if he were home, listening as they insistently knocked on his door. Arthur had once thought it was a good idea to try picking his lock - where he learned such a skill Merlin didn't want to know. Just as he had opened the door though, Merlin was standing there and created brick wall with a wave of his hand. He had to hide a laugh at Arthur's exclamation of surprised annoyance.
A part of him was touched that they were so determined to spend time with him, and it ripped a part of his heart away every time he heard the defeated sigh of the siblings as they retreated to their normal lives. How tempted he was to just give in and let them know everything they wished, especially on the cold nights that they tried to visit. But destiny or not, Merlin wouldn't allow them a chance to get close with him again. After all he had suffered through, he was no longer the farm boy that had arrived in Camelot, he was not the Merlin that they deserved-
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden raise in power, a person with magic nearing the construction site. Merlin's eyes darted to the direction they were coming from, his posture stiffening. He had come here hoping to find something but he was still unprepared for a face to face confrontation.
He prepared himself as best he could when he caught a glimpse of slicked-back blond hair.
"Emrys, decided to come back?" Cheyrth smiled, green eyes raking over Merlin's body, "Finally saw sense for our cause? You're in your true form now, so I assume you've made your decision."
"I told you my decision before," Merlin's eyes hardened, "I won't let you hurt them. They're innocent now, they haven't done anything wrong. And if you target them, you'll be doing the same thing as the people you hate."
"Hate?" Cheyrth raised an eyebrow, that same distrusting smile in place. "Oh, great Emrys, you misunderstand. I don't hate the normal people. Their simple lives are intriguing to watch. But sacrifices must be made for the greater good, you of all people should understand this."
That comment brought up far too many painful memories that Merlin tried to keep buried; over a century's worth of bad choices flooding his mind. "You're right in assuming I know what you mean... I reluctantly shared the same idea in the past. But in all my years of living with that idea, I've come to realize that it causes nothing but unnecessary pain. Whether to yourself or those around you, or even both, only time will tell. But in my experience, it is never worth it."
"Oh? Are you saying you shouldn't have saved the child instead of the soldier?"
Merlin's body froze up, his eyes wide as he looked at Cheyrth in wary curiosity. "How old are you?"
"That doesn't matter," He chuckled, hands in the pocket of his dark suit as he casually walked closer to Merlin. "All that matters is that my colleagues and I will make sure that the world knows magic exists, and that we shouldn't be persecuted or else they will as well. Unfortunately... that means we're going to have to get rid of the Pendragons. We can't have them rising to power to fulfill the prophecy and causing our failure."
Cheyrth stopped a short distance away from Merlin, the dark haired man guarded as he prepared for a fight.
"Relax, Emrys, I'm not here to fight today. I'm here to offer you a last chance at redeeming your failures to your kin. Join us, join the side of magic, help us free our kind." The blond offered his hand outward, his green eyes wide with a wild type of power hiding in them.
Merlin studied him, recognizing that power as the same that corrupted many throughout history. It was the power that gave bragging rights, dangerous and almost unmatched. If left unchecked it could bring the entire world to its knees. It reminded Merlin too much of the look in Hitler's eyes after getting a taste of what his power could do.
Looking down at the offered hand, Merlin's eyes flashed gold and sent it back against the chest of Cheyrth. "There have been many like you in the past, there will be more like you in the future. Though your goals may vary slightly, the one thing that stays the same is that you will fail by my hand."
Cheyrth's smile slowly slipped from his face, his eyes drifting down to the hand that laid forced against his chest. He was silent for some time, his expression unreadable. Merlin was almost tempted to turn and walk away, though he did not trust his unused instincts enough to alert him of an attack from behind.
He suddenly felt a pulse of magical energy come from the blond, though his body was still unmoving. Holding his hands out to his sides slightly, Merlin prepared himself for an attack. But one never came. More time passed by with that pulsing until finally, after fifteen minutes, the smile returned to his face.
"I see, I suppose I'm not able to twist destiny after all." Those green eyes lifted back to Merlin's, more composed but no less sinister. "It was an honor to meet you, great Emrys. I look forward to our future battles."
Merlin tipped his head side to side as he let out a sigh, "Yeah, that makes one of us."
A chuckle left Cheyrth as his arm dropped. "And if you ever change your mind, especially now that you'll be taking a more..." His eyes scanned over Merlin's body, "active role with your magic, let me know. I'm sure I'll be able to convince the others of your newfound sense."
Merlin didn't respond to that, the two staring at one another for a short time before Cheyrth turned to leave. Watching as he left, the warlock didn't move from his place until he was sure he was alone once more. He let out a breath as his shoulders slumped, his body sagging from the release of tension. He would really need to work on his confrontation skills again, after the last war and he decided to stay in his old form, he had let all of his social skills go.
A part of him disliked the fact that he would have to start interacting with others again.
With one last look around the clearing, Merlin turned and began his trek back to his home. He hadn't discovered much on location, but perhaps a spell of sight would work. If they didn't set up proper protections, then Merlin would be able to see their every move. Though deep down he knew that they were smarter than that... It wouldn't hurt to try though. Maybe fate decided to smile on him in his old age.
Walking back to the house, Merlin's feet dragged slightly. It was around this time that Arthur and Morgana would be making their appearance, demanding to spend time with him. Perhaps if he took his time returning, they would realize he really wasn't there and decide to leave early. Or would they camp at his door once more and wait for his return...? The latter seemed more likely. He had to give them points for persistence if nothing else.
When he returned home, however, Merlin could not stop the bubble of disappointment at seeing his little house trespasser free. Had they left early once they saw he wasn't there? Or had they even come at all today?
Shaking the thoughts from his head and letting out a huff at his own hypocritical attitude, Merlin made his way inside. It would take some time for him to set everything up for the spell, he needed no distractions or it would take even longer. So he bustled around his hut, pulling out the herbs and potions that had been stored away in every nook and cranny like a squirrel preparing for winter. It was all a safety precaution though; when a group of teenagers thought it would be fun to break into his hut some years back as some sort of initiation but found his stash of magical ingredients instead, he decided he didn't want to rewrite any more memories as long as he could help it and began to hide his things.
Though, looking through some of his things, he hadn't made an effort in keeping his ingredients fresh... While true that some were better aged, it wasn't all. With a sigh, he picked up a sack and headed towards the door. A few of the herbs and fungi he required needed to be fresh, and thankfully he knew where patches of them grew - one of the many reasons he chose this small house.
Grabbing an herb basket crafted for him during the second World War, he stepped out of his house just in time to see Morgana walking down the street to him. Merlin resisted a sigh, contemplating ducking back inside before she spotted him - but it was too late, her wide smile and brisker pace keeping him in place.
"Merlin...!" She called as she drew near, "I finally timed it right, I see."
"Yes, it would seem so..." He closed the door, avoiding eye contact with her as he started walking. "But I'm busy now, so I can't entertain you today."
"You never entertain us," Morgana pointed, keeping pace with him. "In fact, I'd go so far as to say that you've been avoiding Arthur and I."
He didn't respond, just stared ahead. He knew that by just ignoring her wouldn't be reason enough for her to leave, but he couldn't think of anything else to do at the moment. She seemed fine with the silence even, smiling broadly as she walked next to him and gazed around the path that they took.
He noted that her skin was a much healthier color than when he first saw her. Where there were once dark bags he hadn't noticed was now replaced with a glow of youth. "How have you been sleeping?"
She looked to him, her eyes wide that he had started conversation first. "Much better now, thanks to you. I haven't slept this good since I was a kid."
"That's good..." His voice softened against his will, "You don't deserve the curse of a Seer. You never did."
"Merlin," She started, drawing his eyes to hers. Once she had his attention though, she seemed to hesitate. "Those... Those nightmares... You said the other night that it was the power of a Seer as well. Does that mean those are visions? Not just dreams...?"
Blue eyes shifted away from her, scanning the edge of the woods they were about to enter. "That's correct. Not all of them come to pass, the future is always changing and even the slightest word can shift the path destiny is currently on. They are more warnings of what could happen, rather than true future events."
She nodded slowly, taking the information in. "How do I change the path then?"
Merlin glanced back to her, an eyebrow raised as he stopped walking. "What is it that you saw, Morgana?"
"Something evil..." Her eyes drifted, as if looking at something far away. A hand shoved into her jacket pocket and fiddled with something - the hag stone if Merlin had to guess. "A house in the middle of the woods filled with strange things in containers, chains connected to the floor and someone screaming..."
He nodded, taking the information in. It did sound like one of her visions... But normally it would show the person that would be in pain. Unless she didn't know them...
"Well, there's no need to worry about such things now." He changed the subject, looking back to the woods. "I have to gather some things from here, it's messy work that you probably wouldn't enjoy. So perhaps it's time to head home now, hm?"
She looked at him, grateful for the changed subject but smirking in return. "Tell me, Merlin, was my previous life so delicate I couldn't handle a walk through the woods?"
A chuckle passed through his lips unbidden as he shook his head. "No... Can't say she was, and heaven help the man that tried to tell her otherwise." He looked back at her one last time before giving in. "Alright, you can stay just until I've finished gathering what I need."
Her smile was dazzling as they continued into the treeline, starting to talk about her day and ask questions about his. It was a nice change, something he couldn't let himself hate. It still amazed him how similar she was to her past life, the first few years he'd known her anyway. Even while complaining about the arrogance of some rich girls in her classes, she held herself with such dignity and poise that Merlin couldn't stop himself from flashing back to Camelot when Morgana would rant about a visiting noble.
When they reached the first patch of herbs, talk of her day-to-day life ended as she began questioning the uses of the herbs he would be gathering. He couldn't stop himself from explaining the many uses of each herb he picked, and then some he didn't pick. It had been so long since he had taught someone the knowledge that Gaius passed to him, and she was just so eager to learn...
After gathering what he needed, the two ended up staying in the woods much longer than Merlin had originally anticipated. He had showed her all of the herbs, flowers, fungi, and berries that he knew and all that they did; he even allowed himself to show her some of his magic.
The sun was nearing the horizon by the time they made it back to his house, both of them with a flower crown on their heads (one magically created, one not).
"I must say," Merlin started, "I expected you to come with Arthur again today."
"He decided to stay late at school, something with his rugby team. Though," She glanced around as if looking for him, "I did think he would have come to find us once he was let out."
"Perhaps he decided to give up."
"Never." Her firm assertion had him turn to her. "Arthur believes even more than me that you've been alone for too long. I think a part of him feels responsible... He doesn't completely trust you yet, not as I do, but he does know that you're good and would never mean to hurt us. He wants to get to know you, you just have to let him in." She smiled as she reached up and adjusted the crown she'd made him, "Just like you did with me today."
Emotion clogged Merlin's throat, forcing him to look away from her to hide what he knew would be showing in his eyes as well. He hated how temperamental he had gotten now that they were back in his life... His usually firm grasp of his emotions was nothing compared to a simple smile from Morgana.
"I know you want to protect us, Merlin," She continued, calling his attention back to her, "But think about us for a moment. You've had this hole in you for so long, a hole Arthur and I have known our entire lives. You are our missing piece. So please don't shut us out."
His head nodded slightly before he could stop it, a sigh passing through his lips. "I... I'll try."
"Good man," She reached up to pat his cheek, her smile warm as she stepped away. "I'll be back tomorrow. Good luck with your spell."
He watched her go back down the street, his feelings once again warring inside him. He waited until he could no longer see her before going inside. She was right... He was pushing his feelings of needing them away without it even occurring to him that they might feel just the same. Keeping them out of danger wasn't even a solid excuse; he knew what Destiny wanted and distancing himself - as much as he hated to admit it - would only cause greater problems in the future.
But he was no longer the farmboy that they had grown attached to... When Merlin looked in a mirror now, he no longer recognized the face that stared back. Many times during his final years with Arthur he had questioned if they would have become friends if they had met with the Merlin he had turned into? Or would Arthur have seen all his problems and turned him away...? Merlin could never have been certain.
A sigh left him as he set the basket down on a table, unloading the ingredients from inside. He needed to clear his mind if he wanted this spell to work...
As if actively working against him, the faint floral scent of the Dutch Clover crown on his head caught his attention and spread a smile on his face. He had been showing off when they stopped to rest in the patch, a wave of his hand causing the stems to intertwine into a perfect circlet that he raised to her head. He wasn't expecting her to start making another by hand as he talked, stunning him momentarily as she stood on her tiptoes to snatch his beanie off and replace it with her flowers.
He stared at the blue hat that laid inside the basket as well, the article of cloth that had taken the place of his beloved neckerchief. Feeling another swell of emotion rising, Merlin took the flowers from his head and pulled the hat back. He could always begin the spell tomorrow he reasoned as he went to his room, trying to ignore the flowers on his table as he left.
Chains rattled loudly, almost drowning out a quiet curse that left gritted teeth. The sounds of voices and footsteps could be heard through a large wooden door in front of them, but no one ever came through no matter how much they yelled.
Their body went limp, sagging forward against the chains. They didn't know what it was about this place, but they could just feel the energy leaving them - slowly being sucked away the longer time passed.
Worried blue eyes looked back at the door. They would never admit it aloud, but a part of them was hoping that one of those footsteps would belong to someone they had met not too long ago, coming to set them free.
Merlin wasn't sure what time it was when he woke up, but he was fairly certain that the sun hadn't been up long. He wished to turn over and go back to sleep, but the pounding at his door kept him from it. Suppressing a groan, he rolled out of bed and stomped to the door.
Throwing it open with a glare, he was instantly wide awake at the image of Morgana on the other side.
Her eyes were wide - wild - and her hair a mess that was falling out of a braid, dirt smudged on her sleep clothes and only one slipper on her foot. She was panting, sweat on her skin as if she had run all the way there; when she pitched forward, he wasn't surprised and easily caught her.
"Whoa, easy now," He murmured as he lifted her in his arms, bringing her to the sofa as his magic shut the door behind him. "What's going on? Did you run all the way here?"
Merlin's breath stilled for a moment before he inhaled deeply and placed a calming hand on her shoulder. "Tell me what happened."
Her eyes darted around in front of her, panic still clear in her expression even in the darkness of his living room. She stumbled over her words for a second, trying and failing to find order to put them in. Merlin started breathing deeper and more audibly, smiling slightly when she subconsciously started mimicking him. "Yesterday..." She started again, looking at him with somewhat clearer eyes, "You told me they weren't just dreams, they were warnings. Last night I... I was worried, I took the stone out from under my pillow, I had to know who that person in chains was."
She stopped as tears started filling her eyes, highlighted in the small rays of early morning sun that slipped through his curtains. Merlin pieced her words together as his eyes closed. "It was Arthur..."
"He didn't come home last night! Dad's furious but thinks that he just didn't tell him he would sleep over at a friend's house. Merlin, Arthur's in danger! Someone wants to kill him...! I know it!"
"I believe you."
"Merlin-" Her eyes widened, blinking in shock. "You believe me?"
"Of course," He offered her a smile, though his heart felt heavy. "I'm the one that told you they were visions, wasn't I?" He stood up, patting her shoulder as he left to his room.
He dressed as quickly as he could, glad to have started with his pants since just as he tugged them on, Morgana appeared in the doorway. "How will you find him? You don't know what the house in my vision even looked like."
"Yet," He corrected, shrugging out of his night shirt. "You're going to show me."
"But I don't know how-" Her breath caught in her throat, her eyes wide as she stared at his bare back and all the scars it held. He could feel her question building as he put the shirt on faster.
"I'll guide you," He avoided her eyes as he passed her, putting his beanie on to seem busy. "I need you to trust me."
"I do." Her answer was immediate, though Merlin didn't allow himself to feel touched now. They had a job to do and it wouldn't be easy for her.
He led her back to the sofa, having her sit next to him and turn so they faced each other. He held both hands out in front of him, "Since you're untrained, your visions only appear to you while you sleep, when your guard is down completely. But with my power and ability to guide, we'll be able to do it while you're awake and see greater details."
"Will you train me?"
"Take my hands and close your eyes, Morgana." He pointedly ignored her question. She did as he asked, and he waited a few seconds to make sure she didn't peek before closing his own. He leaned forward slightly, pressing his forehead against hers and letting the extra touch both calm her and guide his magic.
He let his magic flow freely from him, finding hers and wrapping around it. It was faint, small, but once he nudged it a bright whiteness filled his head. He heard her gasp and squeezed her hands gently. "Keep your eyes closed and think of the house in your vision, picture yourself walking up to it."
The whiteness took shape, forming into a path in the woods. He stood next to Morgana on the path, both of them looking ahead to a clearing where the outline of a house was. Morgana had started walking ahead, but Merlin looked around him in search of some sort of landmark. Familiar rock formations caught his eye, but he couldn't place how he knew them or where they were...
The scene shifted, both of them standing outside the house. It was a large, two-story place that looked to be almost fallen apart. The wood, which Merlin was sure was whitewashed at some point, was a dark and eerie brown now, weather worn and aged. Boards were peeling off some of the sidings and the glass from the windows were long gone, but something about it didn't seem completely abandoned...
"Go to him," He instructed her, lightly placing a hand on her back. "Go find Arthur."
She was scared, he could tell, but his words caused her shoulders to square and her head to lift as she marched forward with him right behind her. The door swung open on its own, creaking loudly on its hinges. She hesitated only slightly before entering into the darkness inside. As he stepped up next to her, her hand sought out his and gripped it tightly, needing the physical reassurance of his presence. He squeezed her hand and urged her to continue, staying next to her as she led him through the house. They passed three people walking the halls as they went, Morgana holding her breath each time.
"They can't see you, this is all just a vision. Nothing will hurt you here." He assured her, his eyes both watching her expression and memorizing the layout of the house and guard positions.
As they reached a dead end hall, Morgana's eyes grew confused. "He should be here... I don't understand, he's so close...! I can feel him nearby!"
"Relax," He held up his hands, standing in front of her. "Close your eyes, let your vision guide you. You're thinking too much about this. Concentrate on Arthur and let your body move where you feel is right."
She nodded and followed his instructions, letting her body lead her to the wall. Her hands ghosted over the wood surface, her brows knitting together. "Here... He's through this wall."
Merlin stepped up next to her, scanning the wood as well. His eyes flashed gold for a moment, locating a board that was looser than the others and pulled it out to reveal a handle. Turning it, a large wooden door opened that was once seamlessly blended into the wall.
Inside was dark and smelt like mold, shelves lining the walls holding various spell ingredients. In the center of the room were a pair of chains pulled taught but empty. Morgana couldn't hold back her gasp.
"No...! He was right there! I swear he was! He should be in those chains!"
"Morgana, calm down." Merlin eyed her as he entered in further, stepping near the chains. "These are magic resistant, but see how stretched they are? They're hiding someone from our view." He sent her a brief smile, "Good job, you found him."
"But we still don't know where this is!" Her frustration was almost palpable as she tugged at her hair. "They're in the woods somewhere, but we don't know where! It could be any woods!"
Merlin scanned the room again, noting some very rare items that even he had only read about before. He walked to the shelves, following his own advice and allowing his body to lead him. A shriveled body of a formora, a serket's stinger, a large claw, a larger tooth, and ah- there it was. A chunk of a crystal.
He broke the connection between them, reality crashing back on top of them. Before the world was fully in focus again, Merlin was up from his seat and rushing to put his boots on. "I know where they are."
"I'm coming too."
"No," He frowned at her, looking up to see her wobble towards him. "It's too dangerous. Stay here until we return, you'll be safe from anyone who wants to harm you."
"Merlin, please," She gripped his arm, tears welling in her eyes. "Please let me help you save my brother."
His jaw locked, looking away from her. "You're in your sleep clothes."
"I don't care."
"You only have one shoe...!"
"Then I'll lose the other and go barefoot!"
He let out a frustrated sigh, tugging the beanie down more on his head. His eyes darted around the room before sighing again and grabbing her upper arm. "If you aren't changed in three minutes, I'm leaving without you."
He brought her to his room, opening his wardrobe and pulling out the smallest clothes he had. Black pants and a blue tshirt, still too large for her but nothing magic wouldn't fix... He pushed them into her hands and left, closing the door behind him. Back at the front door, he pulled out a second pair of boots and paced as he waited.
She came out a minute later, holding up the pants on her waist as she looked at him. He set the boots in front of her wordlessly and she stepped into them as well. With a flash of golden eyes and a silent spell, the clothes and boots shrunk to conform to her size.
She gasped lightly, looking down at herself and unable to stop the grin from spreading across her mouth. Merlin didn't allow himself time to appreciate her joy, quickly turning and stepping out the door with her close behind him.
They hurried up an ancient stone staircase, large rocks on either side of them. Merlin half expected this area to be under the protection of a National Park or something similar, but it would seem that - with as close to civilization as it was - the Valley of the Fallen Kings had yet to be discovered by the modern man yet.
Morgana stared with wide eyes at the dilapidated and crumbling statues around her, barely able to contain her wonder and awe. She had been silent the whole journey, determined not to be a bother to him. A part of him felt bad for her thoughts to be like that, but he couldn't afford her the comfort now. Not after knowing where Arthur was...
That crystal, as dark and lifeless as it was, definitely came from the Crystal Cave. It was why those rocks seemed so familiar to him, they were the old path through the Valley that Merlin and Arthur traveled many times in the past - almost always ending with one of them hurt in some way... Merlin had formed the superstition through his years in Camelot that nothing good ever came from a trip there, and he still firmly held that belief. If Arthur was being held near the Valley, it would only lead to pain.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Morgana held in a gasp, her eyes wide as the scene before her was just the same as her vision. Merlin looked to her and gave a small smile.
"Not used to seeing your dreams in real life?"
"No... This is amazing..."
He led her to the edge of the treeline to look at the old house. "I would ask you to stay here and wait for me to bring Arthur out, but I don't know if there's anyone patrolling the woods that might catch you. And even if there wasn't," He sent her a look, "I don't think you'd listen to me anyway."
"Ah," She smirked with a tilt of her head, "Maybe you do know me after all."
"Better than you'd think." He looked forward again, sending his sight out to be sure there were no guards near the windows. "You stay behind me and do exactly as I say, understood?"
She hummed a confirmation, Merlin waiting a second after before sprinting to the house. He could sense her next to him as they pressed against the wall. His hand hovered over the door handle, his eyes glowing before he opened it silently. The darkness inside was ominous, causing him to hesitate for a moment before pushing forward. No turning back now, he told himself.
He was thankful to Morgana's sight of the house, being able to know where Arthur was meant the search would be much better than most of Merlin's others. But one thing they couldn't rely on was the people... Always changing, always moving, making different decisions than what the vision showed. He was grateful to the many dark corners and hallways of the house that he was able to stowaway in to narrowly avoid being spotted. In all the years he's been alive, Merlin was never more thankful that people's peripheral vision hadn't improved.
As they raced up the stairs as quietly as they could, Merlin's eyes were a constant gold to keep the wood from creaking. He missed when large houses like these were built of stone so creaking wasn't a problem...
After having to duck behind a table one last time, the two made it to their destination. That was already opened. Merlin's eyes narrowed, easing closer to look inside. A large man had his back to the door, watching as another man walked along the shelves, taking things down and putting them in a pile next to Arthur, who was chained to the floor.
He didn't seem too hurt, more tired than anything. His head was hanging low with his hair tousled, his hands were chained behind his back and his body strained against the restraints. But he didn't appear to be injured as far as Merlin could see...
"I wonder if the dead ones will still work?" The man picking from the shelves asked, stacking the jar of a dead formora in his arms. "One way to find out, right? There isn't a lot written about how they work, so I guess it'll just be trial and error with you then. Hope you don't mind."
Arthur lifted his head to glare at him, but kept his mouth shut. Merlin's heart beat faster than it had in a while as he watched as the man started to undo the jar with that accursed snake. He straitened up, sending Morgana a quick look, before opening the door wider.
"Would you really stop if he did mind?" The three men jumped, the larger one reaching into his jacket. Merlin tilted his head, his eyes flashing gold and the man was sent flying into the wall. "Because something tells me you wouldn't."
The way that Arthur's eyes lit up as he saw him, a relieved smile that tried to hide behind annoyance reminded Merlin all too much of the original Arthur... "It's about time you showed up, Merlin...!"
"Sorry, sire," A teasing smirk pulled on his lips, unable to help himself. "But next time you get kidnapped, do me the favor of leaving a note behind, yeah?"
"Getting lazy in your old age?"
"You don't give me the chance."
"You-" The other man stuttered, "How did you get in here? Cheyrth said this place would be hidden, safe!"
Merlin's eyes narrowed, frowning at him. "Of course Cheyrth's behind this... Though I hadn't expected him to act so soon."
The man perked up, his eyes impossibly wider, "You know Cheyrth too?"
"Yes...?" Merlin hadn't meant it to sound like a question, he had long outgrown his age of uncertainty when it came to confrontations. But something about the way this man spoke threw Merlin off. "Do you... Do you not know who I am?"
"You're one of Cheyrth's messengers?"
"No! I'm Merlin...!" The confusion stayed in the man's eyes. "Emrys? Really, nothing?"
"Should I know you?"
Arthur failed at hiding a snort, obviously finding amusement in the situation despite his position. Merlin sent him a glare before looking back to the man. He didn't think he was arrogant, but he was used to magic users being a bit more aware of him. Especially ones he declared war with.
He looked at the larger man still pinned to the wall, releasing the spell as he fell into a crouch. "Do you know who I am?"
"The Great Emrys..." He muttered, his eyes hard and glaring. "The enemy of my master."
"See, that's more like it." Merlin let a chuckle out as he stepped more into the room, "I don't mean to be boastful, but I'm used to more of a reaction when I show up."
Arthur let out a much louder laugh, "That sounds exactly like boasting, old man."
"Children that get kidnapped have no say in these matters."
As the blond opened his mouth to protest, both Merlin's hands shot out and pinned the two sorcerers down, his expression changing into a more serious one that had Arthur silenced. "Now, tell me what Cheyrth was planning to do to Arthur."
He watched both men carefully, the confusion in the small man's face and the - there. That flicker of recognition and fear in the larger ones. He walked to him and knelt down, smiling as the man tried to cover his emotions. "What's your name?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"So Cheyrth will know who it was that almost let King Arthur die in a shack."
He swallowed hard, his eyes glancing back to Arthur before looking down. "We didn't know it was him... Dinn is here to learn how to use the artifacts and creatures, test them out for the war. We caught the first person we could."
"So..." Merlin looked back to Arthur with a smirk, "A child who was kidnapped accidentally by his enemy..."
"Stop calling me a child! I'm eighteen!"
Merlin ignored him as he turned back to the man, "That means your little army doesn't know how to use many artifacts, hm? I have to say, knowing you won't have the means to use a formora against anyone is a relief."
"Do you?" The smaller man, Dinn, asked, his eyes bright. Merlin let his smirk speak for itself.
"Something tells me though that, as much as I disagree with him, Cheyrth would be very angry to learn you almost killed a key player in his war by accident. I believe he has bigger plans for him, right?"
The man didn't answer, his expression angry because he knew Merlin was right.
Morgana's head peeked around the doorway, knowing it was against what Merlin wanted but she had to know what was going on. Arthur was still chained, but he seemed much more relaxed - most likely because he knew Merlin would never let anything happen to him while there. She couldn't stop her smile at the thought that no matter how closed off her brother wanted to seem, he couldn't stop himself from trusting Merlin as much as her.
Her eyes drifted to the other men in the room, Merlin kneeling in front of a rather large man and speaking to him in a voice too low for Morgana to fully understand. But then there was another man, closer to Arthur, on the floor, his hands moving to a jar that laid in front of him, one that Morgana recognized from her vision. Her eyes widened as he started to undo the lid.
"Merlin!" She called in warning, her friend whirling around to look at her with an angry face before he saw her pointing to the man. He turned again just in time to throw a hand up and block the horrid snake with an invisible wall. It fell to the ground, limp body laying in a puddle of black liquid that dripped from every open mouth's fang.
Merlin's eyes traveled back to the small man and Morgana couldn't contain her awe as his eyes flashed gold and held him in the air. "That wasn't a smart move, Dinn..."
The room exploded in a blast of gold; streams of light and glittering dust burst out of Merlin, circling around Dinn and the other man and shooting out the room. The shouts of surprise she heard from elsewhere in the house told her that the other men were being lifted as well. The dust shone brighter than the stream that wrapped around them.
"Tell Cheyrth when you see him," Merlin stepped closer to Dinn, his shoulders squared and head held high, his full height more than a few inches taller than what he normally appeared to be, "that I won't be so forgiving the next time one of you touches either of the Pendragons, accidental or not. They are under the protection of your Great Emrys and I will not hesitate to destroy any who try to harm them. Now be gone! Besendan híe dness!"
With a forward tilt of his head the dust flashed a bright white, blinding Morgana for a moment and causing her to duck back out of the room to save her sight. The sound of a roaring wind accompanied the light, and she could feel her hair whipping around her face. The power that Merlin held was amazing... It was awe inspiring and she wanted even more for him to teach her how to use her powers.
"Morgana," She heard him call once the wind died. She risked her eyes opening to find that everything had gone back to its normal lighting - candlelit darkness.
She slowly moved back around the corner to see an empty room save for Merlin and his arms crossed over his chest with an eyebrow raised at her. She glanced at Arthur to see his expression was a much less concealed anger than Merlin's.
"You brought her along? Are you out of your mind, old man? I can't believe you'd be so stupid!"
"You ever try telling her to stay back when she knows something's wrong?" Merlin's eyes didn't leave hers, but Arthur still flinched at his tone and Morgana's chest swelled with pride.
"You could have forced her..."
"She's the reason we were able to find you so quickly." His eyes hardened and Morgana had to look away. "Though I had hoped you would have understood my warning to stay in the hall."
"He was going to attack you!"
"I would have been fine! But what if he had seen you and decided to throw the formora at you instead? I wouldn't have been able to stop it in time!"
She opened her mouth to argue back, but looking into his eyes she found she couldn't. What she had originally thought was concealed anger was instead barely contained fear. Merlin was scared for her, scared his magic wouldn't be strong enough to protect her even after the display of power she just witnessed. He doubted himself...
She knew he had a fair amount of problems, it was obvious from the first night they met; but to doubt himself so much he didn't think he could protect her from a simple snake?
"I trust you," She finally said, watching as his eyes widened before looking away.
"Don't." He turned away from her, going to kneel in front of Arthur to look at the chains. The air was heavy between the three, the siblings sharing a look but unable to come up with a way to pull Merlin from his thoughts.
After some minutes passed with just Merlin skirting his hands along the chains, Arthur finally had enough of the silence. "Hope you decided to keep the key from whoever it was that locked me here. Otherwise I don't see how you're going to get me out."
"Unfortunately I don't get to decide what part of them stays and goes when I do that spell."
"Then how am I going to get out of this?"
Merlin looked up to met his eyes, a small smile playing on his mouth. "This may hurt a bit." With another flash of golden eyes, the chains lit up and Arthur's teeth clenched, his body tensing up. It lasted a little over a second before the sound of metal hitting the floor was heard. Arthur cursed as he brought his hands up, rubbing around his wrist.
"A bit? You damn near burned my bloody hands off!"
Merlin chuckled, but reached for his hands. Arthur reluctantly let him take them, watching as he whispered a word and a soothing coolness washed over his burning wrists. "There shouldn't be a mark left behind in an hour or so. Just enough time to get you home."
"Home-!" His eyes widened, looking to Morgana, "Father's going to be furious."
"Oh, he is." She supplied unhelpfully, though a bite to her bottom lip told she was just as nervous. "Though he believes you spent the night at a friend's house, and plans to thoroughly reprimand you over dinner tonight."
Arthur bit back a groan, his head tilting up. "Wonderful..."
"He believes you to be at school again today, right?" Merlin asked, glancing between the two. Morgana nodded, an eyebrow raised in question.
"Yeah, one of the maids thinks I rushed off so fast this morning to warn him. I imagine he'll be upset with me as well."
Merlin opened his mouth but then paused, his eyebrows pushing together in confusion. "Do you often go to warn him while in your night clothes?" Seeing a sheepish look appear on her face, he shook his head. "Nevermind. More importantly, since he believes you'll be occupied for the next few hours, would you be willing to join me somewhere? I want to tell you both something, explain things more."
"Of course!" Morgana leaned forward in her earnest, eyes bright with the idea that Merlin was finally going to open up to them. He gave her an honest smile before turning to Arthur.
The younger man glanced around before shrugging, pulling his healed hands back to his chest. "I suppose I don't have anything better to do..."
With another smile, the three of them left the house and started the trip back through the woods - pausing only long enough for Merlin to look back at the house and burn it to the grown with a single word.
As they walked, Arthur retold his experience of being kidnapped and the little they did to him - which was very little. They just locked him in that room and left him, no food or water but he claimed to have suffered worse.
When the small group reached the town however, they felt the air around them change, a more serious atmosphere hanging around them. The siblings fell silent, looking to Merlin and his unreadable expression.
As they walked along the street, Morgana paused as she looked around, noticing that this was not the way back to the sorcerer's house...
A deep breath drew her attention back to him. "You both claim to want to be apart of this battle... Whether that still stands after today, we'll see. But I feel I should explain the whole situation to you and what will happen going forward from here, instead of the brief synopsis I left you with the other night. If you still wish to stay in the fight, then I will help you better prepare yourselves for it. If not, then I will do everything in my power to make sure you are safe. The choice is up to you and you will face no criticism for whatever you choose."
They watched as Merlin took a turn, walking up to a fairly nice house and opened the door. He turned to look at them expectantly, motioning them inside.
"You have a house like this and choose to live in that shack?" Arthur asked, the first to step through the threshold. "I'm worried about that mind of yours and what being alone did to it."
"It's not my house."
The two turned to him suddenly, eyes wide. "What?"
"It's not mine."
"Merlin," Morgana glanced around nervously before looking back, "you're not having us break into someone's house, right?"
"I'm sure he won't mind," Merlin smiled as he shrugged out of his jacket to hang on a coat rack. "He's a very understanding man."
The door opened once again, a man carrying a grocery bag in one hand coming through. He had short, dirty blond hair that curled just faintly at the ends; an evenly trimmed, close-shaven beard that made him seem older; and soft, blue eyes that widened as he saw the sorcerer standing in front of him.
"M-Merlin...! You're young again...!" An almost disbelieving smile graced his face, making him seem kinder as he took a step forward to hug him, but then froze as his eyes darted past Merlin to the two teens standing in his living room. The bag in his hand dropped, can goods spilling out to the floor, but the man remained unchanged as he stared at them.
"Your highness..." He finally murmured, quickly moving into a deep bow. Merlin smiled as he stood next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Arthur, Morgana, this is Leon." His eyes were soft as he motioned for the man to stand straight again. "He's been waiting for your return just as long as I have."
Smoke slowly wafted from the ashes, nothing left to burn in the ring it had been confined to. Ashes blew on the breeze as a pair of boots walked through the damage, green eyes surveying the surroundings before landing on something that glinted in the dying sunlight.
Stepping to it, a gloved hand dusted the white powder away from a dull crystal. Lifting it up, the sun hit it so that it shone again and highlighted a pale blue glow inside. A smirk pulled at scarred lips before shoving the crystal in their pocket and walking away, the ash and dust rising to hide the figure as they retreated through the trees.
A/N: The artwork for this chapter is by leedraki on Instagram, but it can be found on destiny_called_merlin under the Regne Vienne story folder.