1 September 5192 (Earth Standard Date)
Merlin actually had two offices.
One was his public office.
It was where he met with the business people and politicians who thought they held the future of the school in their hands, and left with their credit accounts just that much lighter after being convinced it had been their idea to donate their monies for the programmes Merlin wanted to either start or to keep running. Where anxious parents needed to have their nerves soothed, and to be convinced that they were doing the right thing in letting their children study with the accredited magic users Merlin had hand-picked to teach the up-and-coming generations. It was where the very public face of the academy was shown to the outside universe.
Then there was Merlin’s private office.
This was where Jack and Arthur wanted to begin their search for any sort of evidence as to what had happened to Merlin.
It was located in the main campus building, a three-story edifice with two long wings on either side of the blockier front structure. It was where many of the instructors’ offices were located, as well as the library, and Jack, Arthur, and Sabrina took the steps without paying any sort of attention to the comings and goings around them. Jack had far more important things on his mind, and he knew his grandson felt the same way.
They really needed to get into Merlin’s office.
Arthur had thought he could. Jack had meant what he’d said: Merlin would never deliberately keep his mate out of anything. During their first life together Merlin had kept so many secrets from Arthur in the beginning of their relationship, and he’d regretted it even when things eventually came to light and burned away the darkness of the lies Merlin had told to Arthur in order to protect himself.
Arthur had forgiven him, back then, but it had carried over into this life, and Merlin had promised that he’d never hide anything like that ever again. It was one of the reasons Jack was very concerned about what had happened to his grandson-by-mating, as Merlin wouldn’t have simply run off without telling Arthur.
There was no telling what had occurred, to both Merlin and now to Phillip, and the Doctor. As far as Jack was concerned all three of them were now missing, and he would do anything to get them back.
His history with the Doctor might have once been rocky, but this eleventh version of him had done everything he could to make up for his previous regeneration’s behaviour. It was as if he was finally seeing Jack for who he was, not for what he’d once been, and the immortal was grateful for it. It didn’t hurt that they were family now. It was as if this Doctor didn’t see Jack as his former had: wrong, and that he shouldn’t exist. Something had changed, and the Time Lord had once claimed that it was because he’d taken a look at Jack’s future. But he suspected it was more than that, and Jack wasn’t about to ask questions. He would accept that the Doctor had changed, and welcome him into his family.
Merlin’s office was on the top floor, along one of the side wings that stuck out from the main section of the building, where the library was. Jack wasn’t the least bit magical, but even he could feel the power radiating from the door, subtly pushing him away. If it wasn’t for that sensation, Jack would have assumed it was just a plain wooden door, with no adornments, looking just a little beat up from decades of wear. There wasn’t even a name plaque on the door to announce that the titular headmaster and most powerful wizard in the universe held hours within.
“Even I can feel that,” Sabrina commented.
“You and me both,” Jack agreed.
Arthur didn’t say anything. He stepped up to the closed door, one hand out, and the other on Excalibur’s hilt. Then, with a smooth motion he drew that ancient and powerful sword, holding it out, point upward, in front of him.
Jack realised what Arthur was attempting to do even as his grandson sliced the air carefully with his sword, the tip only a hair away from the wood of the door.
Of course, Merlin had primed the door to react to Excalibur. Only one person was able to wield it, and that was the one person he’d want to have access.
Jack noticed immediately when the wards went down; the pressing against his skin that had heralded the magic on the door fading away.
Arthur was smirking as he re-sheathed Excalibur. He put his hand on the doorknob and, with a flourish, he turned it and pushed the door open. “Shall we?” he invited.
Without waiting for an answer, Arthur walked into Merlin’s office. Jack gave his daughter a glance, and Sabrina rolled her eyes at him. “He’s such a show-off,” she sighed. “I wonder where he gets that from.”
“I was a show-off back before I was born into this family,” Arthur called out, “just ask Merlin when we bring him home.”
Jack laughed, joining Arthur.
Merlin’s office was neat as a pin, despite all the of books and papers that filled the space. It would have made Ianto’s neat-freak heart proud, Jack thought to himself, standing in the centre of the room and looking around, impressed at the orderliness. It was the direct opposite of Merlin’s father, he reflected, recalling the time he’d travelled in the TARDIS as a mortal, along with the Ninth Doctor and Rose, and the clutter within the time machine had been epic.
Arthur was at the desk. There was a computer, although it wasn’t as fancy as the ones Jack had gotten used to, and the former Once and Future King – not a title Arthur actually liked – pulled the keyboard toward him and got to work.
Sabrina had moved past Jack toward one of the actual, physical filing cabinets that were against one wall. She had one of the drawers open and was rifling through the files within, long fingers flipping them as she perused their tags.
Jack took the bookshelves. The books on them were arranged by subject and alphabetically, which made it easier for him to sort through them. He had to smile as he recognised several of the titles as presents from him and Ianto, and from other members of their family. Interspersed with the books were photographs and keepsakes, and it was almost like a trip down memory lane for the immortal.
“I think I have something,” Sabrina called out.
Arthur spun the chair around and Jack joined the others at the desk as Sabrina laid the file out on the blotter. Inside were several forms as well as some handwritten sheets in a scrawling hand that Jack found himself squinting at to read.
On the front of the file was clipped a picture. It was a young woman, with blonde hair and dark eyes. She was smiling somewhat coquettishly, as if she was trying to seduce whoever was examining the image. Her face was round and Jack had to admit she wasn’t unattractive on first inspection.
The problem was, Jack thought he might have met her before. He just couldn’t think of where.
“Lucy Cole,” Sabrina read from the file, “is in the top of all of her classes, according to this. She’s been a student here for four years now, and Merlin was apparently so impressed with her progress that he’d placed her in several advanced classes, one of them he, himself, taught. He thought she was showing a lot of promise, especially with weather magic.”
“Does it say anything about the argument she and Merlin got into?” Arthur asked.
She looked frustrated. “Not in here.” She flipped through the papers, her eyes darting as she read quickly. “There is a note here that Merlin was becoming a bit concerned with some of her experimentation, but nothing concrete. And certainly nothing about dark magic, or the expulsion proceedings that were mentioned in the school records I managed to look at.” She sounded frustrated, and Jack couldn’t blame her. It meant that the rumours she’d painstakingly discovered might be just that…rumours, and nothing to do with this supposed disagreement between Merlin and his student, and the expulsion might have been for a different reason altogether.
“Merlin should have a personal journal of some sort,” Arthur said. “He was always keeping them. Says it was a holdover from something his parents did. But there’s nothing on the computer that’s even close to anything like that…not that I’ve found, at any rate.”
It suddenly hit Jack, and he was back at the shelves, his finger running across the spines of the books, searching for something that he was positive would be there.
“Ah ha,” he murmured.
There were four, hand-bound leather journals on one of the shelves, their spines unmarked.
“What is it?” Sabrina asked.
“The Doctor and River only kept physical journals,” he answered, taking the four journals from their places and bringing them back to the desk. “When Ianto found out about Merlin wanting to do the same thing, he made certain that Merlin had several of them.”
“That’s right,” Arthur breathed, taking one of the books almost reverently. “I remember Grandtad Ianto giving them to Merlin as gifts. I just never saw them again after that.”
“Okay,” Sabrina said, “does anyone else feeling just a little bit creepy about reading Merlin’s private diaries?”
“Ianto once put me on decaf for a week one time I read one of his journals,” Jack shuddered melodramatically. “But this is different. We need to know what happened between him and Lucy Cole. I can’t help but think she had something to do with his disappearance, and that it’s all tied into that Director Level event that had Phillip leaving Hubworld and summoning the Doctor.”
“Phillip must have thought something along those lines if he sent me to check into Merlin’s disappearance,” Sabrina agreed. “He just didn’t have any other information at the time except for his own suspicions.”
“And now we know about this argument,” Jack said. “I don’t want to follow Phillip until we have more facts, and if this had anything to do with Merlin’s disappearance.”
“Dad, do you know where Phillip is?”
“I know where he was going,” Jack admitted. “But I’m sorry, sweetheart, it’s Director Level.”
“No, that’s fine,” she answered. “I understand the secrecy thing. I just wish he’d have waited…although I can understand why he didn’t, if just from the Merlin angle.”
“He most likely thought he wouldn’t be gone all that long,” Arthur mused. “And we all know Phillip by now: he knows what he’s doing, and had most likely gone into this situation as prepared as he thought he could be, which was why he decided to call the Doctor.”
“There may have been a time constraint as well.” Phillip had written as much in the file he’d left for Jack. Whoever had destroyed all those Vashta Nerada wouldn’t have wanted to hang around to get caught, and Phillip had thought the Doctor as perfectly acceptable back-up. It had been the magical burst on the Library that had led him to get Merlin’s advice…only to discover that he’d vanished days earlier. It only made sense that Phillip put two and two together, although he hadn’t wanted to believe that Merlin could do something like that.
And, if whoever had invaded the Library had done their killing using Merlin…Phillip hadn’t wanted for them to get away with his nephew-by-mating, and there had been the chance that they would have done away with Merlin the moment they hadn’t had any further use for him.
There had also been the slight chance that Merlin had killed the Vashta Nerada deliberately, in an attempt to bring his mother back from the dead. Phillip’s own words on the subject had been reluctant, but it had been something he’d needed to consider.
It was what had led him not to contact anyone in the family, not wanting to be the bearer of bad news. He was always doing that sort of thing to protect those he cared for, and in Jack’s opinion it made him – at times – a self-sacrificing idiot. Not that he’d have Phillip change for anything.
Merlin hadn’t had the closeness to his birth parents that Jack and Ianto’s children had…with the exception of Anwyn, but they’d done their best to fix that situation, and were closer to their eldest child than ever before. The Doctor and River had almost been absentee parents, and Jack knew part of that was because, after River had died, Merlin reminded the Time Lord of his lost wife. River, herself, had gotten into trouble early on, and had ended up in Stormcage Prison, and so she’d missed many of the milestones of her only son’s life. It had turned out that she’d been incarcerated for something she hadn’t even done.
And then, the day the Doctor had shown up and told Merlin that River had died at the Library, and that in fact he’d long known it was going to happen, had caused a rift between father and son that had never truly had a chance to heal. The couple of times that River had shown up at Ddraig Llyn after she’d supposedly died had been hard on everyone.
Time travel was a bitch where Merlin’s mother was concerned.
Thank Goddess for Jack’s mother. Samara had been there for Merlin, in a way that neither of his birth parents had been, even though her arrival had been long after Merlin had matured and had gained a family of his own. Rhys Williams had also stepped in; he’d accepted Merlin as his own great-grandson, and had always had time for him when Merlin needed a shoulder to support him. He’d even worked at the school there on New Avalon, helping out with the logistical nightmare running a campus such as this could be, and had retired to New Avalon with his and Samara’s own family.
“We’re going to have to follow him, though,” Arthur pointed out.
Jack nodded. Arthur was right. Phillip had gone missing in the Library, and what had happened to Merlin seemed to have dovetailed into that. “Let’s see if we can get something from these journals,” he said. “Which one is the newest one?”
“This one,” Sabrina answered, holding one of the diaries up. She handed it to Arthur, who accepted it solemnly. “It should be you, Arthur. Merlin is your mate.”
“She’s right,” Jack agreed.
Arthur’s expression was somewhere between hopeful and reluctant. Jack couldn’t blame him for that at all.
He flipped to the back of the book; Jack knew he’d be going for the last entries. If what Sabrina had heard was true, then the argument would have occurred a couple of standard weeks before Merlin’s disappearance. Knowing his grandson-by-mating, Merlin would have recorded it faithfully, if just for his own, personal, records.
They waited as Arthur read the journal. A couple of times he blushed slightly, and Jack had to stifle a smile at what he was assuming had been written. He wasn’t as promiscuous as his reputation might have once been, but the immortal also wasn’t an innocent. He was well aware of all of his children’s proclivities, even Cadi’s previous affair with his late partner, John Hart. Jack hadn’t approved of that at all, but he really couldn’t say anything. Cadi was an adult, after all, and capable of making her own decisions. At least she hadn’t named that psychopath as her mate. That would have had Ianto renewing his long-ago Vow of Vengeance against John, and that would have been a real mess.
He knew immediately when Arthur got to the part they were searching for. His face turned grave, and then anger darkened his blue eyes and they narrowed. He resisted the urge to go around the desk and rest a hand on Arthur’s shoulder, familiar enough with his grandson to know the gesture wouldn’t be appreciated.
“Alright,” he finally said, looking up from the page he was on, “it appears that Merlin had been having a few concerns about how Lucy was twisting some of the spells she’d been learning. He kept an eye on her, but didn’t see anything amiss…until she started some rather pointed questioning about what Merlin says is necromantic magic.”
It was Jack’s turn to frown. There was something…damnit, he hated his memory sometimes. Humans simply weren’t meant for immortality, and their memories had a tendency to fade over time…
“What is it, Dad?” Sabrina asked, sounding concerned.
“It’s just…I know we’ve dealt with that sort of thing before.” He raked a hand through his hair in frustration. “But it was so long ago…I’ve forgotten. I think it was back with our first Torchwood Team, back when we were based in Old Cardiff…”
“Tad might remember,” she said.
Sabrina was trying to be soothing but Jack didn’t want to be soothed. He wanted to remember, damnit!
“It’s probably not all that important,” Arthur replied. “If it was back all that time ago, I doubt it has much bearing on what’s happening now.”
Jack nodded, conceding the point. Still, he was going to ask Ianto about it when he next spoke to his mate. “Go on,” he urged, signalling that he was alright.
“So, what…she wanted to raise someone from the dead?” Sabrina scoffed.
“That’s what Merlin assumed,” Arthur confirmed. “He tried to brush the questions off, but this Lucy began to press, and that was apparently what caused their argument. Merlin practically ordered her to stop her line of questioning, and she refused. That was when he began the expulsion proceedings, although he really didn’t want to. It seemed he didn’t trust her not to make her own enquiries even if she would no longer have access to the resources at any of the magical schools.”
“Does it say why he stopped?” Jack asked.
Arthur’s eyes flickered down at the page. “Merlin writes that Lucy came to him and claimed to have had a change of heart. Apparently, her lover had talked her out of it, and she didn’t want to risk losing him. She also claimed that she’d only really wanted to understand the process, not to actually perform any sort of magic involving bringing someone back to life.”
“Merlin should have sent her to talk to Phillip,” Sabrina rolled her eyes. “He’d have been more than happy to set her straight about what hell he went through to come back from the dead.”
She had a point. Phillip’s resurrection might not have involved necromancy, but it had been horrific, and a combination of the technology that had succeeded in bringing him back and the magic that had been used to kill him had made him immortal, and a mage to boot. From what Clint had claimed, his mate still wasn’t entirely over it, and it had been millennia.
“She practically begged for another chance,” Arthur went on as if his aunt hadn’t interrupted. “She took a vow not to have anything to do with dark magic again, and Merlin accepted it.”
“But he didn’t stop keeping an eye on her.” To Jack, it had been obvious that Merlin wouldn’t have just taken her word for it.
“He didn’t, yes. If anyone knows how pervasive dark magic is, it’s Merlin. He and Lisa do talk, and she’s been more than forthright with him about her former life as Morgana. I think she’s more than a little terrified that she might fall back into old and bad habits where magic is concerned, even though it seems as if she wasn’t reborn with any.”
Jack could understand. Lisa didn’t want to have anything to do with her previous life as Morgana le Fay, and hated to be reminded of it. It was the number one reason she’d stayed Lisa Harkness-Jones, even when the others who’d been reincarnated had taken at least part of those former existences back.
Arthur, though, was glad to have his sister back, and not the mad creature she’d become. Even if she was now technically his aunt.
“Was there any sign that she was up to something?” Jack pressed. While they certainly didn’t have any proof of it, his instincts were telling him that Lucy was somehow behind Merlin’s disappearance. If she really was practicing dark magic…
Merlin might be powerful, but he was still human…well, Time Lord, and he wasn’t infallible. He could still be tricked or trapped and, for all of his power, be completely helpless.
Arthur flipped through the diary, coming to another page. “Merlin writes here that Lucy had been doing a lot of research. Mostly into magical history, which didn’t bother him at first.” He paused, reading some more. “He checked her library time, and was surprised to see that a lot of it had to do with what used to be SHIELD, and their collecting of magical artefacts back in the day. There was also a fair number of hits for Torchwood, as well as the Warehouse.”
“She was searching for something,” Jack concluded.
And, suddenly, things began to fall into place.
He could tell they were for Arthur as well.
Sabrina glanced between the two of them. “Do you need me to leave the room?” She wasn’t upset, but Jack could tell she was very curious and yet figured out that this was all a part of what he and Arthur couldn’t tell her.
“Do you mind, sweetheart?” He did hate excluding her, but she was still a Torchwood operative and wasn’t privy to the sort of conclusions he and Arthur were obviously drawing together.
“I’ll keep watch at the door, in case someone tries to eavesdrop.” Sabrina left, but not before turning and saying, “If there’s anything I can do to help, you just have to ask.” Then she was gone, the door closing softly behind her.
“That’s what happened at the Library,” Jack said the moment they were alone.
Arthur was nodding. “Whatever Lucy was looking for here, she must have traced it to the Library.” He leaned back in the chair, steepling his fingers. “But weren’t all the books there printed especially for the Library? That was what caused the infestation: they’d used trees that had housed the Vashta Nerada.”
Jack began to pace. “That’s what we’ve always been told. But what if…what if the Lux family also allowed certain artefacts to be stored there?” Then he paused. “No, not an artefact…a book. A particular book.”
“A magical book. A spell book, perhaps?”
“That has to be it.” He leaned his hands on the desk, staring down at his grandson. “Did Merlin try to trace back what Lucy was searching for?”
Arthur picked up the open journal once more. He flipped past several pages, as Jack stood there, nerves tingling with the sudden sense of urgency he was feeling. If this was a powerful book, then they couldn’t let Lucy get her hands on it.
It had been six days ago though. It might already be too late, and Lucy could be out there in the universe somewhere, with a powerful magical book and a plan to raise someone from the dead.
That begged the question: just who was she planning on bringing back? Was it someone dangerous, or someone she’d lost and was desperate to resurrect?
He thought back on Phillip’s notes. One of the things he’d been worried about was the deaths of all those Vashta Nerada, and how they might fit into events. Magic had a price for resurrection: a life for a life. He’d considered that all that loss of life had been toward bringing River Song back, and that Merlin had been just that desperate.
He’d been wrong, of course, but then it had been a logical conclusion to draw. Everyone in their family knew how much Merlin missed his mother, and had even missed her before her death. But this new evidence pointed toward it having been Lucy Cole who’d done this deed in order to retrieve a book that would allow her to do just that.
“Grandfather,” Arthur broke into his thoughts, “I think I have something.”
“What is it?” Jack demanded.
“It appears Lucy might have been searching for something called the Darkhold…”