For sixteen years, Merlin Ambryse skims just under the surface of normal. (The term ‘normal’ being used in its loosest definition, of course.) He lives with his parents in a small town called Ealdor about thirty kilometers outside of the mighty city of Albion, close enough that on an exceptionally clear day he can see the skyline from the peak of Mt. Camlann. He goes to school, works part time at the local bookshop, and lets Will get him into trouble.
A normal, average life, filled with imperfections. There is the time he breaks his collarbone tripping over a hurdle while doing athletics in PE. (Which only goes to prove that whoever invented hurdle jumping deserves the lowest circle in hell.) There are the rows he gets into with his father, the ones that only break up when his mother steps in the middle and gives them one of her glares. There is the stretch of time where he and Will get into their biggest fight ever and don’t talk to each other for two weeks, before finally breaking, blurting out garbled apologies at the same time. There is Suzy Mills, who breaks his heart at thirteen by dumping him for John Tyler. There is Percy Kar, who he kisses under the mistletoe at fifteen, who then proceeds to tell everyone, earning himself a black eye and broken nose, while Will ends up unapologetically suspended for a week and Merlin tries to convince his mother that he has the black plague.
It’s about as normal as you can get, except for one thing: Merlin Ambryse is as extraordinary as they come.
His mum likes to tell him, when she’s tucking him in at night, her voice as soft as the hands that smooth down his sheets and wrap him up tight, about the first time he ever used magic. Three weeks old, barely able to lift his head, but his blue eyes went gold and the rattle in her hand tugged out of her hand and into his chubby fist, magic as natural to him as the giggle he gave as he shoved the rattle in his mouth and chewed on it with his toothless gums. Hunith always smiles at him when she tells this story, pressing a kiss to the crown of his head and whispering “my special, special little boy.”
As he grows up a little, though, he starts to recognize that as many times as his mother says “you’re special, Merlin, and that is a very good thing,” being special the way that he is isn’t actually good. After he starts to talk, and after he grows out of his shy stage—around four—his parents kneel in front of him and take his shoulders and try to impress the notion of secrets and no magic outside of the house. He doesn’t understand why, and he pouts and kicks his feet but even child-him can see the sharp worry in his parents’ eyes, and he doesn’t do magic around anyone but his them.
When he is five, he starts to understand the why. He goes to the doctor for a check-up and it isn’t their familiar old country doctor—it’s some young doctor, one who doesn’t really understand how to work with children and is cold and frightens Merlin a little. When it comes time for him to get an injection the doctor approaches too quickly, without the soft soothing of Dr. Young, and Merlin jerks back, curling into his father’s side, lower lip jutting out—the doctor’s mouth goes into a hard line, he grips the needle tighter, and he reaches out. Some part of Merlin’s instincts reads threat in the motion and his magic jumps up automatically; the needle flies out of the man’s hands, striking the wall and dropping to the floor. The doctor’s mouth drops open and he begins to babble, using big words and making frantic gestures and looking at Merlin as though he’s changed from a boy into a science experiment. Merlin doesn’t understand half of what he’s saying, but he knows that he is scared and that bad things are going to happen and he starts to cry, pulling his legs up to his chest as the doctor makes for him again.
But then Balinor steps in front of him, his body a solid shield, and rights the world with a wave of his hand.
He doesn’t have trouble keeping the secret after that. Fear knots itself inside of him, sealing his lips, and for months afterwards he has to be coaxed into using his magic, until his father sits him down and says “it’s okay, you don’t have to be scared, you just have to be careful”. He grows up with the secret ingrained in him, with it threading through his life—sometimes he thinks of himself as normal Merlin and as magic Merlin, and isn’t sure that they can ever be the same person.
It doesn’t help that he grows up watching news reports on the television, watching the brightly colored superheroes of Albion, the Knights, as they fly through the sky and defeat the evil Rogues, and as a child he presses close to the tv, because the Knights are heroes and best of all, they are magical, just like him, and he wants to be them. Their leader, the Dragonlord, is his favorite, always looking so brave and strong when the cameras fix on him, just like a mythical knight except he rides a dragon instead of a horse. But as he starts to grow older and begins to listen to what the news anchors say, he doesn’t hear words like hero and savior--he hears menace and masked fanatics and quickly comes to realize that the world doesn’t think of the Knights as heroes, it sees them as villains, just like the Rogues. Magic, no matter who uses it, is evil.
Does that make him evil? Merlin asks his father about it one day, and Balinor gives him a sad look, shaking his head, taking him by both shoulders and kneeling in front of him. Then, in a very quiet, intense voice, his father says, “no, Merlin. You could never be evil. You are special, and wonderful, and one day people won’t be afraid of magic. But until then, this is why you have to keep it secret.”
And so he does.
The only person he tells is Will, when they are thirteen, and only because after seven years of friendship he can’t keep it to himself for a second longer. They are sitting in their favorite climbing tree (technically on the property of old man Simmons, who hates them, and thus they are perpetually on the look out), Will sprawled on a higher branch, Merlin below with his back against the trunk and his head tilted back. They are quiet, Will stretching like a cat in the sun that glints through the canopy of leaves, Merlin idly drawing a finger over the bark. He’s not sure what makes him say it, but his lips move and he hears: “I have magic” come out of his mouth.
He is afraid to look as Will stirs above him, fixing his gaze on a whorl in the branch instead. Sure, he knows Will, but that doesn’t make him any less afraid that knowledge of his magic will be like poison, changing Will from his best friend into some beast intent on his destruction. Will makes a sound, trying to draw his attention, but he can’t bring himself to move, and his friend makes a huffing sound before shifting and climbing down, dropping lightly onto Merlin’s branch and sitting directly in front of him. Merlin bites his lip and looks up to find Will studying him carefully.
“You don’t look like magic to me,” Will says, a careless grin at the corner of his mouth.
“Well, I am,” he replies, almost defensive.
“Prove it,” his friend challenges. Merlin takes a deep breath, trying to think of some small bit of magic that he can do, but then the branch they are sitting on makes an ominous crack and there is only time for the two of them to stare at each other, the identical thought of oh shit written on their faces, before the branch snaps. Merlin’s part stays attached to the tree.
Will’s does not.
Merlin reacts automatically, magic bubbling out of him, and everything freezes. Will is suspended in the air, limbs in mid-flail, mouth open in a shriek. Merlin blinks, because he’s never done that before, and thinks quickly, snapping his fingers. A bed appears beneath Will, just as time snaps back into motion, and his friend’s screech turns into a whumph of surprise as he hits the bed and bounces a little. He stares down at Will, who stares back at him, mouth open.
Then: “That was bloody fantastic. Can you do that again?”
Merlin lets out a shaky laugh and rolls his eyes. “You scream like a girl,” he says, and begins to climb down. Their friendship doesn’t change a bit, except now Will comes up with even more elaborate trouble-making schemes, assured that Merlin can always get them out of it.
There is one other thing that sets his life apart from normal.
Every night, his father disappears.
He becomes aware of this when he is ten as he stumbles out of bed for a glass of water and glances out the window to see his father’s figure hunching into the darkness while his mother stands in a pool of light from the kitchen, watching the departure with something he will later recognize as fear in her eyes. He wanders into the kitchen and asks her where daddy is going, only for her to pat him on the head and mumble some excuse that he swallows without question. When he wakes in the morning Balinor is there again, smiling and laughing as though he had never left. But as he gets older, Merlin finds the pattern, that every night his father will leave, sometimes returning early, sometimes coming home just as the sun peaks over the horizon—on these nights he lies in bed, holding his breath until he hears the heavy step outside his door, his mind writing explanation after explanation on the inside of his eyelids. Sometimes his father will lift his arm and accidentally reveal some dark bruise pressed into his flesh, and Merlin will silently ask but never receives an answer. For some reason, he can’t bring himself to ask aloud.
For almost seventeen years, this is how life goes, just slightly off-kilter from normal.
And then, on a Tuesday morning, it unravels, quickly and violently, when he comes downstairs to find bloody footsteps trailing across the kitchen floor and his mother cradling Balinor’s head in her lap, hands leaving red smudges across his father’s cheeks. She sits in a pool of blood that has gone gummy and dark around the edges, his father’s limbs trailing away from her at impossible angles.
Except for the shallow gasp of her breath, he has never known such stillness. When her eyes tilt up to find him standing in the doorway she makes an involuntary keening sound, high in the back of her throat and her hands slip over Balinor’s skin as though she can summon him back.
The magic that surges out of him gives voice to every furious, anguished thought that is frozen inside his mind; it gouges tiles from the floor and explodes them, grinds glass and porcelain into dust, shreds the cabinets to splinters, melts metal and lets it run molten before solidifying into sharp spiked shapes, bursts the light bulbs and leaves them sitting amid destruction in the purple early morning light. The blood looks black and Hunith is translucent and when the last roar of magic subsides, Merlin pitches forward, limp and heavy, and his mother stretches out an arm as if to catch him, but he falls anyway.
Minutes later they will be found by neighbors investigating the noise—a kitchen destroyed as thoroughly as by a fierce storm; Merlin unconscious and bleeding sluggishly from a head wound; Hunith kneeling over him, pressing a cloth to the wound, her other hand clasped around the broken wrist of her husband’s body, a splintering connection unwilling to let go.
In the aftermath of his father’s death, the world tilts upside down. The direct aftermath is this: neighbors, police, ambulances, hospitals. He wakes in a hospital bed, his mother crumpled in a chair by his side, clothes still splattered with blood, her eyes with all the color gone out of them. Will roars into the hospital only minutes later, furiously muscling his way through the army of nurses to burst into the room, pale, shaking, on the verge of collapse, empty of the words that come as naturally to him as breath.
The story that his mother tells is a seamless imitation of truth, the kind of perfect lie that is impossible to see through unless one knows exactly where the flaws are. She tells of a burglary by a desperate fanatic, of brave Balinor fighting him off and being fatally wounded in the process, of the fanatic who fled with Hunith and Merlin’s arrival, knocking Merlin out in his desperate escape. Will gets a hard look in his eyes—the one usually reserved for thoughts of his father’s death—and Merlin looks away. (He knows where the flaws in her lie are: there was no burglar; the utter destruction of the kitchen is his own doing; his father is not dead at the hands of random violence.)
In the following week people appear to have whispered conversations with Hunith, Merlin sleepwalks, and Will doesn’t leave his side. Funeral arrangements are made, sympathetic glances are given, and every night Merlin holds his breath waiting for his father’s step outside the door. Everyone believes the lies without question, and Merlin lives in a bubble about to pop.
The day after the funeral Hunith finally convinces Will to go home, pressing a sticky kiss to his forehead and telling him that his mother is worried. More than anything this last remark stirs him, and he guiltily scrapes a foot across the floor, hugs Merlin tight, and heads down the street with a bowed head. (The house feels emptier, as though he were keeping the ghost of Balinor’s absence at bay, filling in the hollow just a little.)
Merlin wanders into the kitchen, closing his eyes against the memory of blood. The kitchen has been restored from its destruction, set to rights except for the spiky metal structures which have stubbornly refused to yield. The sink taps, the handle of the refrigerator, the knobs on the cabinets—all of them are sharp metallic statues, forged in fury and heartbreak, solid structures of frozen grief. He touches a hand to one of them, letting the magic pour out of him. The metal liquefies, cool like mercury against his skin, and returns to its original shape.
His mother’s footstep is light behind him.
“What really happened?” he asks without turning around.
“Your father…,” He turns now, seeing the lie rise for a moment in her throat, instinctive before she swallows it down.
“Where did he go every night?”
She hesitates, then waves her hand, motioning for him to follow up the stairs. He pauses at the doorway of his parents’ room, his father’s presence still on every surface. She disappears for a moment and returns, offering to him a bundle of answers wrapped in a blanket. He peels it back, revealing a bunch of cloth that he has known his entire life. He has seen it hundreds of times, always at a distance, and now it is in his hands, heavier than expected, smooth, ripped and blood-stained. There is something hard in the middle and he pulls the object out—a mask, surprisingly flexible for looking so solid, black and green and silver shot through with glittering orange, shaped into horns and spikes and the muzzle of a snarling dragon. He almost drops it, but manages to keep hold.
He lifts his gaze to his mother.
“I don’t know what happened the last night that your father went out. He didn’t have time to explain…he went up against someone and came off second best. He was wounded badly, but…he managed to get back here. That’s all he was thinking of—getting back to us. When he got here—,” her voice breaks, “we knew that…. I changed his clothes and hid the uniform.”
“Why?” He can imagine the scene in his mind and feels removed from it: his father badly wounded, bleeding; his mother extracting broken limbs from torn cloth and sliding them gingerly into normal clothes; Balinor gasping for breath and Hunith choking down sorrow.
She looks at him, a tremor running the course of her body. “To protect us. To protect you. If people knew your father was the Dragonlord… what would they expect of his son? You would be targeted, or taken away, and I couldn’t—.” Her voice breaks again and spurns him into motion. He starts forward and wraps his arms around her, surprised to find that she is so small and fragile in his grip—she buries her head into his neck, roles reversed just once so that he offers strong comfort and she cries. She shakes for a few moments, then gradually retakes her role, lifting her head and tightening her grip and kissing him on the forehead before letting go. She takes the uniform back from him, but leaves him with the mask, shaking her head when he tries to give it back.
“He would want you to have it.”
And after that, there’s really nothing to say.
Around two o’clock in the morning that night, Merlin gives up on sleep. Ever the considerate son he leaves a note on his bed before climbing out of the window. He levitates himself down, bleeding off some of the magic that jumps under his skin; on the ground he lets out a shaky breath and heads down the road. The night is a bit chilly and beautifully empty. Reaching Will’s house he slips around the side, waggles his fingers to unlock the latch, and crawls through the window. He’s done this a thousand times before, but that doesn’t keep him from catching his ankle on the window sill and pitching head first onto Will’s bed.
The other boy comes awake fast—having someone fall on you will do that—and grabs him. “Mer?” Will asks, grip tight and steadying, eyes wide and bleary.
“Who else climbs through your window in the middle of the night, Will?” he asks dryly.
Even in the darkness he can make out the shape of that half-leering grin. “Oh, I have all kinds of visitors, Merlin.”
“And here I thought I was special.”
“Of course you are.” And even though it’s a joke, there is some earnestness beneath Will’s voice that makes him blush.
Silence falls between them, Will waiting patiently to know why his bed has been invaded, Merlin not finding the words to say. He has no secrets from Will, and this is one that he absolutely cannot keep tight within his chest without it exploding.
“He was the Dragonlord. My dad.”
Merlin doesn’t like speechless-Will. He can almost see the thoughts running through his friend’s mind: bloody hell; that’s awesome; but—how?; why?; and the one that hurts the most, he’s dead. Before Will gets a chance to let one of these thoughts burst out, Merlin continues. “Do you remember how we used to talk about me becoming a Knight one day?”
Something dawns in Will’s face, a mixture of fear, excitement, and concern. “I know what you’re thinking, Mer, but just because your father—“
Merlin sharply shakes his head. “Not just because. I have all this power, Will, and I do bugger all with it. I sit here with the power to help people and—,” His voice cracks. “If I’d been with him, could I have saved him?”
“It’s not your fault,” Will says, automatic. It’s the same thing that Merlin has said to him a thousand times over in a reverse situation.
“I know. Well, logically I know. But he—he’s gone. One less person is out there saving people. There’s one less hero in the world. And he wasn’t just a hero, he was my dad. How can I know what he did with his life and not want to do the same?”
Will studies him for a long time. “You’re crazy. Your mother will kill you. And me.”
“I’ll keep it a secret from her.”
“Merlin, you’re crazy but let’s not be delusional too.”
The next morning when Will’s mother opens the door to find that her son has either grown a second head, created an android, or been joined by a late night visitor, she’s not really surprised.
Predictably, Hunith isn’t happy.
Merlin doesn’t outright tell her—because how does one tell his mother that he wants, essentially, to be a superhero?—but she puts the pieces together. Curious black marks—like burns—appear on the back of her house. Some of Balinor’s books disappear. The boys come trekking into the house one afternoon covered head to toe in a thick orange goo and are unwilling to explain. Will appears one night sporting a brilliantly colored bruise the expanse of his cheek, which is mysteriously gone the next day. Merlin volunteers to clean out the loft, and the boys disappear into it constantly, creating sounds that cannot possibly be from cleaning.
Of course, what clinches it is when she walks into the room to find Will pitching names and costume ideas and trying valiantly to convince Merlin that the gaudy blue fabric in his hand is the perfect material for a costume. Over his shoulder Merlin goes pale at the sight of her.
“Planning your Halloween costumes, boys?”
Will freezes without turning, and even holds his breath as though remaining perfectly still will render him invisible. She folds her arms and he pivots slowly on his heel. His instinct is self-preservation, and she sees his lips form the word yes and is certain that a whole charming explanation will come tumbling from them.
“No,” Merlin says, before his friend gets the chance to talk them out of trouble. Will freezes again, his only motion a quick glare at his friend.
“Oh?” she says, and both of the boys recognize the danger. Will starts easing slowly towards the door, hoping that if he makes no sudden movements she won’t spring for his jugular. He will mess with any authority figure except for the wrath of a mother. She pins him with a look. “Go home, Will.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he says. He makes a motion at Merlin that probably means good luck or you’re dead, then bolts, leaving her to stare down her son.
Normally when Merlin is in trouble he bows his head and scuffs his feet and tries to get out of it with his best innocent who me? look that he learned from Will. This time he meets her gaze, his spine made of steel and his eyes unreadable.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“You already know that, Mum.”
“I forbid it.” He jolts a little, maybe at the vehemence of her voice, maybe at the fact that she has never outright forbidden him to do something. He opens his mouth to reply but she silences him with a sharp shake of her head. “You will not do this, Merlin James Ambryse.” She means business, breaking out the middle name and all. And normally, he would yield. He considers himself to be a good son, and he’s never really outright disobeyed his parents about something serious. The last thing he wants is to upset her, or hurt her, and he knows that that is where the road will lead. But he can’t back down. Not about this. “You will not throw your life away on a fool’s errand.”
“Mum,” he says, his voice soft, “one way or another, I am going to do this. I have to.”
“Why?” she asks, not above letting despair creep into her voice. “Why on earth do you have to throw your life away? You want to have to hide all the time? You want to break yourself trying to save a city full of people who would gladly throw you to the wolves? You want to be hunted by the people you’re fighting and the people you save? There is no glory in this! It’s not pretend, it’s not television, it’s your life!” What she doesn’t say aloud, but what lies behind her words is this: you want to die like your father? She doesn’t fling it at him but he knows it is there all the same.
“I know it’s my life, Mum. That’s why I have to. I’m already living a lie, pretending I’m normal. I’m not. I’m more powerful than Dad was—“
“And you have no idea what to do with that power!” she interrupts.
He shakes his head. “Then I’ll learn, Mum. I have to do something.”
“Why do you suddenly have a death wish?” She says, her voice sharp and he tenses in response.
“Did Dad have a death wish?”
“No,” she says automatically, and then closes her eyes. “We aren’t talking about your father, Merlin. We’re talking about you. This isn’t a fairytale where everything will end happily. The life you are trying to choose is dangerous. It will end with you hurt or dead or locked in prison or strapped to a gurney in some white room being poked with needles.”
He swallows hard, knowing that she’s right. Knights don’t usually have happy endings; he’s seen it time and time again: the way they plunge out of the sky and crash against the pavement and go limp; the way they collapse from exhaustion and are seized by police officers; the way the light goes out of their eyes when masks are pulled off. “I know it’s not a fairytale,” he says softly. “But that’s the point. In a fairytale someone always saves the day, but in the real world they don’t. Unless someone has the courage to stand up and be the hero.”
The breath eases out of her slowly. “This isn’t your duty, Merlin. Nothing says that you have to try and be the hero.”
“I think it is though. Not everyone has magic, Mum, and we know that my magic is different. It’s not just meant to sit around.” He half-smiles. “When I was little, you always told me that I was special. You always said that everyone has a destiny and that I could grow up and be whatever I wanted. You always told me that I could change the world if I tried.” He swallows, sure that his eyes are fever bright. His mother looks older and more tired than she ever has in his memory, her face lined and her dark hair touched with gray; his heart clenches in his throat. He wants to promise to be careful, he wants to tell her that everything will be okay, that he’ll be fine, that nothing bad will ever happen to him, but he’s never been good at lying, not when she can see every guilty tick in his atoms. He can’t open his mouth now and lie like that, not when there’s a good chance that he might end up bleeding on the kitchen floor with her unable to save him. Instead, he reaches out and touches her shoulder, pleading. He needs her to understand, even if she can’t support him.
She stares back, something breaking into resignation in her eyes. “You have the same look in your eyes that your father did,” she says. It’s not a blessing, but it’s not a forbiddance either.
After a couple of months, when his enthusiasm hasn’t flagged and as he and Will fumble their way through research and strategies and trite names and gaudy pieces of fabric, Hunith grudgingly comes to accept the shape that his future will take. She sets a few ground rules—he will not let his school work suffer over this, he will not begin action as a Knight until he is eighteen at least, he will train each and every day, he will go to uni, he will research and fully comprehend the laws he will be breaking and all of the terrible things that can happen, he will wear something more substantial than tights—and stops trying to talk him out of it. For a few more weeks she watches as he struggles to get more out of his magic than he knows is possible, but she only takes pity on him after he blows up the shed in the back garden.
The next morning, when he shambles downstairs, still dressed in an over-sized sleep shirt and a pair of jogging bottoms that he stole from Will, he finds her sitting at the dining room table, a cup of tea in front of her and a contemplative look on her face. She looks up at his arrival—announced loudly by him tripping over a bubble in the carpet, one he has tripped over almost every day of his life, and cursing loudly—and shakes her head. “I swear, one day you’re going to concuss yourself, tripping over that thing.” He shrugs, because yeah, it’s probably true, and steps in, taking a seat across from her when she tilts her head at it.
She looks at him for a long moment and he squirms under the attention, wondering which of his misdeeds she’s found out about this time and planning how he’s going to blame Will this time. Then she slides a piece of paper across the table to him. He picks it up curiously, reading an unfamiliar name and an address.
“Gaius White? Who’s that?”
She looks down at her tea, studying her reflection in the dark liquid surface. “He was a friend of your father’s. A very good friend,” she says, her voice stressing the underlying meaning and he blinks down at the name in new light. “He taught your father when he was younger.”
“Do—do you think he would teach me?”
She turns the cup slightly in her hands, pressing the handle into her palm. “I don’t know, Merlin. Things are…complicated. But he might. He’s the only one that would, these days.” With that, she stands, heading for the kitchen. She pauses to kiss him on the top of his head, and murmurs something that might be good luck.
Four hours later he is standing in front of a door, reading the embossed plaque that says Gaius White, PhD. and trying to talk himself into knocking. It took two buses and nearly an hour of wandering aimlessly through the campus of Joyous Garde University to get him here, but standing in front of the door—dressed in his ‘nice’ clothes—he’s suddenly not sure about this course of action.
His mobile phone buzzes in his pocket, and when he pulls it out there’s a text from Will that reads: knock on the door you sissy. He looks around suspiciously, half-wondering if Will is somewhere stalking him, then decides that his friend just knows him way too well. He scowls at the phone, flips it closed, and shoves it back into his pocket before knocking.
If he holds his breath waiting for a response, well, this is a huge thing.
A few seconds later the door opens, revealing an older man who looks vaguely familiar. He has completely white hair, longer than convention, and his face is lined with age, good-natured. “May I help you?” the man asks, looking at him with slightly narrowed eyes as though trying to place him.
Merlin swallows before extending his hand and trying not to let his smile slip into ‘constipated’ territory. “Hello. Are you Gaius White?” The man nods, shaking his hand. Despite the age spots on his skin, the grip is strong. “I’m, uh, I’m Merlin Ambryse,” he says, without stuttering too much.
Something changes in Gaius’s expression, maybe recognition slotting into place, maybe a touch of wariness, but the older man opens the door wider and beckons him in. He steps into the cramped room and Gaius closes the door firmly behind him, moving around to the other side of the desk. “Please, take a seat, Merlin.” He does, looking at the man and trying to place him. It hits him after a few moments—this man was one of the ones having whispered conversations with Hunith after Balinor’s death, and he was at the funeral as well.
“I—you knew my father,” Merlin says, and isn’t sure if it sounds like a question or a statement.
Gaius nods. “I did.” The man folds his hands in front of him, examining him from across the desk. “Your father was a good friend of mine.” For a moment sorrow flashes across his expression, something that Merlin has become acutely acquainted with. “But what can I do for you, Merlin?”
Merlin watches him carefully, weighing how best to continue. “My mother mentioned that you once taught my father. I was hoping you might be able to teach me as well.”
The man closes his eyes briefly, sighing softly. “Your mother is a remarkably stubborn person.”
He starts a little, and then grins. “I suppose she is.”
Gaius idly straightens a pile of papers on his desk, the motion a rote of nervousness. “Your father was also remarkably stubborn.”
“I suppose he was,” Merlin says, grin fading to something more somber, and Gaius gives him a scrutinizing look.
“I would assume, then, that there’s no hope in thinking you might turn out to be more sensible and less stubborn than the both of them?” There is a hopefulness in Gaius’s voice, one that dies as Merlin draws himself up. He’s not sure where this is going, but he does know that the last thing he inherited from his parents was sensibility, and that he is more stubborn than both of them put together.
“I’m afraid not,” he says, almost apologetic, and Gaius nods.
“Yes, that’s what I was afraid of.” The man taps one finger against the surface of his desk, lips slightly pursed. “I know why you’re here,” he says finally. “Your mother called me last night.”
“Yes. And she’s hoping that my answer will change if I talk to you, if I see you.”
Gaius sighs. “You’re just a boy, Merlin. You have no idea of how dangerous the path you’re choosing will be. Magic is a dangerous game these days.”
The other man smiles grimly. “I’m sure you think you know. But do you truly understand? Do you know the political motivations? Are you aware of the new efforts the police are putting into capturing Knights and Rogues? Do you know the penalties for being caught using magic—just using magic, much less being found as a Knight or a Rogue? Do you know why the purge against magic began, or what happens to the Knights who are captured?”
“Then teach me.” The words surprise him as much as they surprise Gaius, but as soon as he says them he knows it is the right thing to say. Gaius has a valid point—Merlin knows next to nothing about everything going on in Albion. He doesn’t know the answers to all the questions he’s just been asked, and he isn’t going to know the answers unless someone teaches him. “This morning, when my mother gave me your name, she said that you were the only person who would teach me. Not the only one who could, the only one who would.” He pauses. “You taught my father. You were his friend and his mentor, so now help his son.”
Gaius turns his head to the side. “I knew your father in a different time, before magic was banned. There was a fellowship between sorcerers back then, and even after the Purge began I kept his secret, gave him aid when he needed it over the years. But those were different circumstances. We live in a darker place now, and I do not believe your father would wish me to help you meet the same fate he did.”
Merlin straightens his back. “The world only gets darker when no one decides to fight.” He stands and it takes a moment for Gaius to mimic the motion. “Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. White.”
“Professor,” Gaius corrects absently, watching him. He echoes the honorary and offers his hand. Gaius shakes it, the slightest tremor in his hands. “I haven’t changed your mind at all, have I?”
He grins. “Stubbornness, remember? Are you sure…?”
Gaius shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Merlin. I can’t teach you.”
“Well, thank you for your time,” he says, and steps out of the room, the door closing with a click behind him.
When he gets home later Hunith looks at him and he shakes his head. Her face falls a bit and she offers him a cup of tea. “I’m sorry, Merlin. I thought you might be able to convince him—“
He shakes his head, smiling. “It’s alright. Thanks for trying, mum. I’ll muddle through on my own just fine.”
She folds her arms. “If you blow up my shed again—“
“That was Will’s fault!” He says.
“Will doesn’t have magic. Would you like to try again?”
He mock-scowls. “Since when has he needed magic to blow things up?” His mother tilts her head, considering this, and shrugs. He grins at her and she reaches across to pat him fondly on the shoulder.
“You’ll do just fine,” she says. “I’m sure of it.”
He hopes that she’s right.
(Sometimes, he has the strangest dreams. He can’t remember them, not in full, just remembers flashes—light on metal, the smell of steel, a murmur of voices, a flash of gold that he knows is magic, the jutting stone precipices of a castle, half of a man’s face, the ringing clash of sword upon sword—and they are muddled and confused and slip away quickly when he wakes. But he does remember one thing from the dreams, one thing that tucks itself into the back of his consciousness when he wakes. A voice, calling to him, one that says: Come to me, young Warlock. You have a destiny. Come.)
One morning, two weeks after Gaius’s refusal, Merlin is awakened by his mother. He sits up in bed, groggy, blinking blearily at her. “Gaius is downstairs,” she says. “He would like to talk to you.” He pulls on whatever clothes he can lay hands on first and shambles downstairs, to where Gaius is waiting in the kitchen. There’s something in his manner that is disconcertingly uncomfortable, hesitant almost.
“Gaius?” He asks, through a yawn.
Gaius clears his throat, showing that hesitancy more. “Good morning, Merlin. I—ah, I have a request of you.”
He raises an eyebrow, half wondering if he is still asleep. “Okay.”
“There is…someone I believe you should meet. Would you accompany me?”
“Of course.” He stretches, looking at the older man. “Where are we going?”
Gaius just shakes his head and motions for him to follow.
“Gaius, we are in the middle of nowhere. If this turns out like that one episode of Torchwood, I’m going to scream like a girl.”
Gaius’s mouth quirks in amusement and then settles back into a troubled line. He pulls off the road and parks the car, then gets out. Merlin follows, staring around at the completely empty countryside. “Er…,” he says, and then realizes that Gaius is already half-way over a hill and runs to catch up. “No, seriously. We are in the middle of nowhere. I thought we were going to see someone…?”
“We are,” Gaius says, and then falls silent, refusing to offer anything more. This has been the pattern of the entire trip, and in the car Merlin had shrugged and accepted it, staring blindly out of the window instead. But now they are walking through the middle of nowhere and he would kind of like a little bit more information.
“Where does this person live?” He asks, and then jerks to a stop, realizing that Gaius has paused abruptly and seems to be staring—no, that’s really more of a glare, isn’t it?—at the hill in front of them. “Er…did that hill offend you in some way that I should know about?” He asks. And then the hill moves.
At least, that’s what it looks like at first, like the earth bulges upwards and grows into a mountain; then, against the gray sky, the silhouette clarifies, showing the canvas of two extended wings and the rectangular shape of a head.
Merlin, to his credit, doesn’t scream like a girl, but he does let out a rather undignified squeak. “That’s a dragon.”
Gaius make a noncommittal sound.
The dragon—it’s a bloody dragon, and if he’s been brought all the way out here to be offered up as a sacrifice to it, he is going to have some serious issues—is covered in scales, orange and rust and brown, the color of living earth. Its eyes are the luminous yellow of a predator, decidedly feline in shape, but with the intelligence of a human and the otherness of a divine being.
“Young Warlock,” it says, and its voice rings straight through him, echoing in his mind.
Merlin narrows his eyes. “I know that voice. I’ve heard it in my dreams. You’ve been talking to me in my dreams.”
The dragon laughs. “Yes, I have.” It looks at Gaius, who has his arms folded and a dark look on his face. “Physician,” it says, something mocking in its tone.
Gaius doesn’t offer a greeting back. “Will you stop troubling my dreams now?” He says instead.
If dragons can smirk, Merlin is sure that this one is. It bobs its head. “I will. If you consent to train him.”
Gaius sets his jaw. “Train him and let him get himself killed?”
“He will do as he wants with or without your help, Physician. But without aid he is likely to fail.”
“And knowing that you would still send him off to the slaughter, wouldn’t you?”
“Er, can the two of you stop talking about me like I’m not here?” Merlin interjects, looking between man and dragon. Both of them snap their attention to him, Gaius flushing a bit, the dragon tittering a laugh.
“Stubborn as always,” it says.
He raises an eyebrow. “How would you know that? Have we met before?”
“Not in living memory, young Warlock,” it says, and there is a cipher in its words. It looks back to Gaius. “You will train him?” It is phrased as a question, but even Merlin knows that it is not.
For a moment Gaius visibly wavers. “I will help him because he needs it. Not because you command it.”
The dragon gives the equivalent of a grin, lips pulling back to reveal teeth longer than Merlin’s arm. “Yes, Physician. Pretend that your decision are your own. Take petty comfort in the thought that you can sway the course of fate.”
Gaius glares and stalks away, back towards the car, leaving Merlin feeling small before the dragon. He looks up at it, intimidated but unafraid. “What was that about?”
The dragon swings its head down; up close Merlin realizes just how insignificant he is in comparison, how the pupil of its eye is the size of his hand, how the length of his body is the height of its muzzle. “There are old things between the physician and I, young Warlock.”
“Why do you keep calling me that? And why are you talking to me in the first place?”
“I call you what you are. And I speak to you because you are more important than you realize.”
“I seriously doubt that.”
“You have a destiny, young Warlock. You will help recreate a kingdom of old. You will help bring magic back to this world. You will restore balance.”
For a long moment, Merlin is silent. “Are you telling me that I’m the Chosen One and that I must bring balance to the force? Because I’m all for being a Jedi, but I really don’t want to be Anakin. He’s such a whiny bitch, and as awesome as Darth Vader is, I’d rather not have to be melted by lava first.”
The dragon blinks at him. “I do not understand your reference, Warlock.”
He clears his throat. “Sorry. Star Wars. It’s a film. Um, what were you saying?”
The dragon settles itself into a more comfortable position. “You must be aware of this destiny. It will unfold itself before you in time, but you must be conscious of it, aware of its presence upon your life. There is another, who shares this fate with you, the destined king. You are two halves of one whole, and you must protect him at all costs.”
“And how will I know who this ‘destined king’ dude is?”
“You will know. Your fates will intertwine. You will first meet three times, and after this your lives will be bound together. He will bear the crest of the dragon, and by this you will know him.”
Merlin, his head swimming, stands there a moment longer, staring at the dragon. “You knew my father,” he finally says. “You’re the dragon he called to the city three years ago.” Merlin remembers that night vividly. He was at Will’s house, the two of them glued to the tv, where the story was on every channel. The battle raged between the Dragonlord and his forces--Merlin recalls the Fisher King, Sentinel, and the Healer most clearly, although there were more--and the Enchantress, the leader of the Rogues. There were never any concrete details on what had happened to begin the fight, but the cameras clearly caught the blow that struck the Healer square in the chest, the way she flew through the air and crashed against the wall and then was still, and Merlin can remember the look on the Dragonlord’s face then, the way it tightened in fury, the way his neck went rigid as he tilted his head back to he sky and screamed out something in a strange language.
Five minutes later, the dragon was there. The creature that was the Dragonlord’s usual steed paled in comparison against the beast that overtook the sky, wings seemingly filling the horizon; it breathed fire down, scorching the ground, pushing the Rogues back. The Dragonlord rose beside it, guiding his mount into the air, and together they were impossible to beat. The Ravenmaster, the Enchantress’s partner fell beneath them, and the Rogue’s fell back, their battle lost, and it ended with smoke rising in the air. Then the Dragonlord touched his hand to the great dragon’s snout and the creature took to the sky.
And now it is standing in front of him, eyes closed briefly, in an expression Merlin knows as pain. “I did. I am sorry for his loss. And for yours.” When the dragon opens his eyes again he sees the sincerity. There’s something more there as well, some knowledge, some secret that he will not speak yet. “Goodbye, young Warlock. We will meet again.” And before Merlin can say anything more the dragon leaps into the sky, buffeting him with strong gusts of wind as he wings high into the overcast sky and disappears into the cloud cover.
Merlin makes the muddy trek back to he car, sliding into the passenger seat. Gaius is looking straight forward, seeming unable to make eye contact, and they are silent for a moment.
“You couldn’t have warned me about the bloody dragon?”
Gaius turns, tension seeping from him, his gaze amused. He reaches out and cuffs him lightly on the shoulder. “Language. As a Knight you have to present yourself as respectable, God help us. You have a long way to go before you’re presentable.”
He sits straight up, staring. “You’ll train me?” He knows that he heard the man’s acquiescence to the dragon, but there are things there that he doesn’t understand. He needs to hear the acceptance directed to him. Gaius nods.
“I will. And we start today.”
What Merlin doesn’t realize when Gaius agrees to train him, is that the older man has the heart of a drill sergeant. True, he looks like a kind, genial old man, (and okay, he is a kind, genial old man) but beneath that he is sharp and demanding and has massively high expectations. More than that, he has the soul of an old warrior, one long out of the game who has never forgotten the look of war. He is an excellent teacher, endlessly patient and beyond capable of explaining things so that Merlin can wrap his tiny brain around them, but he is also ruthlessly demanding, and he knows when Merlin is slacking off. He has an innate sense for it, the kind that stretches over miles and allows him to call Merlin at the exact moment that he is neglecting his training for some escapade with Will.
Nor does Gaius let up on any part of Merlin’s life. Merlin doesn’t slack off at school—because these are A-levels and if he doesn’t do well his mother will kill him—but when he mentions cutting down on training just a bit until the end of school Gaius gives him a look. He tries to explain that this is insane, because he has school five days a week, his weekends belong entirely to Gaius except for the hours he spends on homework, and the rest of his time is spent training. But Gaius folds his arms and tells him: “You have to learn how to balance this life with the rest of your life.” And Merlin sighs and nods and tires not to complain, because he did ask for this.
The training regime that Gaius comes up with is threefold: part physical, part mental, and part magical, and it fills every last second of Merlin’s spare time.
One day a week he heads into Albion to visit Gaius at the university, where Gaius piles book after book on him, ranging from works on magical history to myth and legends to heavy volumes on the more current legal issues regarding magic users. He gets quizzed on his reading after he finishes it, and then he and the professor have long in-depth discussions about the subject matter.
The most important of these conversations is about the Regulation Council, the driving force behind what is referred to as “the Great Purge of magic from Albion”. (Technically, the council’s official title is actually The Council for the Regulation of Magic and the Restriction of Masked Fanatics, but even people who have nothing to do with magic know it as the Regulation Council.) Whenever they get to this topic Gaius’s mouth goes tight, and Merlin sometimes wonders if it is simply because the Regulation Council is responsible for destroying people’s lives or if there is something more personal there. Whatever it is, the professor leans forward, his eyes intent, and speaks in a quiet voice. “If you learn nothing else, Merlin, know that the Regulation Council is your greatest enemy.”
Merlin bites his lip. “Gaius, I’m not even sure I understand what the Regulation Council is,” he admits, and hastens to explain when Gaius gets that reproachful look of I told you to read that book in his eyes. “I mean, I read the book. I got that they’re responsible for all of the anti-magic sentiment in Albion and the rest of the country, and that they’re behind ninety-eight percent of the legislation against magic users. But I’m not sure what they are.”
Gaius leans back in his chair, sighing. “The Regulation Council is composed of very powerful individuals, most of them corporate leaders. They are very wealthy, powerful, and they control the city. They can build or destroy political campaigns, they have virtual control over the police—they are the true rulers of Albion.”
“And their major goal in life is to arrest everyone with magic,” Merlin says, half-question, half statement that sinks into him. Gaius nods shortly and he sighs. “Great.”
Beyond the mental training—sometimes it feels like he goes to school twice—there is also the physical. Gaius drills into his head that “as a Knight, you can’t just rely on your magic. Your magic cannot make you a faster runner or make you any less clumsy—you have to train that into your body yourself”. His solution is a grueling physical regime including weights training, cardio, and an obstacle. A bloody obstacle course which he builds in Merlin’s back garden. Or, to be accurate, that Merlin builds in the back garden, Gaius directing him while Will makes snarky comments from the side. (The snarky comments only last until Gaius glances over at him and says mildly “William, why don’t you go and fetch the rope from the front”. Will nods and goes and it takes him until he comes back around the corner for him to realize that he’s been conned into helping. The look on his face is priceless.)
The obstacle course includes a straight running course with hurdles (his eternal nemesis), an eight foot high wall with a rope, an army crawl, and the tallest tree in the garden affixed with a flag at the very top. After they finish building it Gaius makes him run it. Three times. Without magic. (Except for that part the second time through where he slips climbing the tree and uses magic to keep from splattering to the ground, which is probably why after he finishes it and stands panting in front of Gaius all he gets is a “again”. He glares, mentally calls Gaius a tyrant, and goes through it again.) Gaius orders him to run it once a day, and recruits Will to make sure that he does it.
Will, of course, takes an unholy delight in it and shows up with an actual whip that he cracks menacingly. Merlin glares at him and runs the course, waiting for the satisfying sound of his friend inevitably hitting himself with it.
And then there is the magic.
The first thing that Gaius has Merlin do is give a demonstration of his magic. His specific words are “Show me what you can do.” Merlin blinks in reply and shifts his weight, before asking: what do you want to see?. A bit of surprise slides across Gaius’s expression, before he shakes his head and tells Merlin to do whatever he can. So Merlin raises his hands and sends objects flying through the air around them, changes the color of his shirt, sets fire to a patch of grass and then with a pass of his hand grows new life from the burnt ground. Gaius surprises him, pulling out a handful of golf balls and chucking them at him—he freezes the first, explodes the second, and conjures a shield to block the last.
Afterwards, Gaius looks at him and nods, his expression unreadable. “Okay,” he says.
The training from there is a lot of fine-tuning. Concentration, focus, accuracy, learning spells—when Gaius hands him an old, heavy book of spells, he tilts his head and says “I’ve never had to use a spell before.” To which Gaius raises his eyebrows and replies: “That’s because your control over your magic is entirely instinctual. You think of the outcome you desire and merely extend your magic to make it happen—there’s no real control in it. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I suspect it might take more energy ultimately. I’d like you to know the spells.” So he learns the spells. He learns how to use the smallest amount of magical energy, how to change objects, how to enchant, how to use magic to change his surroundings. Eventually Gaius adds another element to the obstacle course—targets and magical obstacles.
It’s hard. Most nights he comes trudging into his house, covered in sweat and dirt, and he collapses onto his bed, sleeping straight through the night until he wakes the next morning to repeat it all. But, over time, it gets better. He feels his body grow stronger and he adjusts to the stress of the different factions of his life. He still never has time, but he can manage more easily. And his magic—he becomes super-aware of his magic, of the way it pulses insides of him, of the way it swirls in the air around him.
Slowly but surely, he feels himself turning into a Knight.
But when it comes to the superficial part of being a Knight, Merlin mostly feels like a giant idiot. He knows, realistically, that the aliases Knights take up are to protect their identities, and that their costumes have sensible purposes, but that doesn’t really make him feel any better when it comes to creating his.
He and Will fight for months over first the name, and then the costume. Will throws out all shades of ridiculous names—“Count Magic, Merlin. Really. It’s awesome.” “Have I told you recently that you’re out of your bloody mind?”—while Merlin tries valiantly to find something that doesn’t make him sound like: a) the biggest prat in Britain, b) a little boy wearing a sheet as a cape, c) someone who listens to his idiot best friend (especially when Will comes out with “Enchanter Man”, because seriously, where the hell does he get this stuff from?), or d) someone who picked a name from an online superhero name generator (which he may or may not have spent a good three days hitting the ‘generate’ button on, hoping it would come up with something decent).
In the end, it’s actually the dragon who gives him the name. He’s sitting across the table from Will one morning, going through a list of names that he has come up with and rejecting the ones that Will offers, something that has become commonplace since he started this venture.
“You are ridiculously picky, Merlin,” Will drawls, leaning back in his chair. “I’ve given you pure gold.”
Merlin glares. “You wanted to name me the Curse Ninja, Will.”
“That’s a damn cool name. Clearly you are unworthy of it.”
“Clearly I’m not an idiot.” He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “Why is this so hard? I just want a name that isn’t stupid. Something simple that actually works.”
“Like the Dragonlord?” Will asks softly, and Merlin manages to not flinch when he says it. Mutely, he nods, because that is what he wants, something as strong and elegant as his father’s name, something that will live up to his father’s reputation. He wants a name that will be said one day with the reverence the name Dragonlord receives, not something that will be mocked. He closes his eyes, and when he does so he thinks of his father, of the Dragonlord, and then of himself. And what comes to mind is the dragon, looking down at him and calling him young Warlock and saying I call you what you are.
His eyes open with a flash and he stares across at Will. “I’ve got it.”
And thus he becomes Warlock. (Which, even Will has to agree, is a hell of a lot better than ‘Curse Ninja’.)
Then comes the costume. He and Will pour over hundreds of comic books and the internet and dozens of fabric samples. Gaius gives them the eyebrow and drags Merlin off to train while Will tags along, hands full of clumsy drawings and fluttering pieces of gaudy cloth.
“Spandex, Merlin. Either spandex or leather, your choice.”
Merlin folds his arms. “Why the hell can’t I wear jeans and a shirt?”
The open-mouthed look of disbelief Will gives him is priceless. “Have you ever seen a Knight wearing jeans and a shirt? You would be the worst superhero ever.”
“I believe the term is ‘masked fanatic’ these days,” Merlin says, but Will is already going off about spandex and leather and the pros and cons of both.
Hunith makes no comment other than to stick her head into the living room and say: “Merlin James, if you think you’re going to prance around Albion in nothing but a skin tight suit….”
Merlin looks pointedly at Will, who doesn’t seem to see any problem with that. “She said in nothing but a skin tight suit, Merl. Clearly you need armor over the spandex. You’re not buff enough to pull it off by itself. Now, what colors do you think?”
They argue back and forth, Will wanting the flashier colors like a bright shiny blue or metallic gold, Merlin plaintively asking what the hell is wrong with a nice dark brown or black, and they keep going until Gaius walks in and looks at them with his best you’re both idiots expression. Will finally makes a scoffing noise in the back of his throat, grabs a swath of cloth from Merlin’s hand and disappears down into the basement that he has appropriated as his “laboratory”. (Only once does Merlin say “Don’t you have your own loft?” and gets a “I can’t very well put together things for a superhero in my loft, now can I?” in response.)
He refuses to let Merlin into the loft after that, saying “I’m working on it, you’ll get to see when I’m done”. Merlin shakes his head, wonders if he’s going to end up wearing a rainbow costume, and lets it be.
For three days the week before his eighteenth birthday, Merlin has dark dreams. He dreams of swords and blood and shadows and secrets, wakes with a feeling as though something is pressing down on his chest, making him gasp for breath, and it all goes rushing right out of his head before he can grab it, water through his fingers. He knows people die. He knows that he watches them, gasping, sobbing, helpless. He knows that he kills them. He knows that people bend and break before him; that something inside of him reaches out with all the capability of destruction and reigns chaos, and that nothing can stop him except for a touch of someone whose face he cannot see clearly. For three days he dreams and wakes a little more broken, his magic pulsing under his skin, leaping out of him with a wild fury, and no matter what he tries, he can’t bring it under his control.
And on the third day of this, he wakes with the dragon’s voice ringing in his mind.
It’s early, barely dawn, when the world is still captured by sleepy purple shadows. He clenches his fingers around his blankets, the dragon’s call still echoing somewhere intangible, and then he grits his teeth. He pulls a jumper on over his head, leaves a note for his mother, and steals Will’s car. (Steal is a little harsh, it’s more of a borrowing without permission with full intent to return, and it’s a ridiculously easy feat, considering he knows where the spare key is. And, though Will’s expression when he looks out the window and sees his car gone will be quite comical, Merlin knows that he won’t mind.)
At around nine, after about an hour of mind-numbingly dull scenery, his phone rings. He answers it without looking at the caller ID, knowing that there’s only a handful of people it could be.
“What the fuck, Merlin?” Will says, and as expected he is more confused than angry. “Where the hell have you taken my car?”
“I need to go and see someone.”
“Who?” Will demands, sounding grumpy. Probably because he’s awake before noon, and this makes Merlin wonder if his mum didn’t wake him up to ask where the car went.
“A dragon,” he replies simply.
There is a pause. “Is that some sort of metaphor or code that I should google? Have you been kidnapped? I’m not saving your stupid arse if you have.”
“Actual dragon, Will.”
Another pause. “Really?”
“…Just don’t blow up my car,” Will orders, and then hangs up.
After a little while, Merlin pulls the car over to the side of the road. He has absolutely no idea where in the hell he is—not that he had any idea of where he was going in the first place, considering he’s going to see a dragon in the middle of nowhere—but something tells him that he’s getting close. Maybe it’s instinct, maybe it’s his magic, most likely it’s the damn dragon doing something mystical. He parks the car and gets out, stretching, then spins in a slow circle until he finds the direction that feels right. And then he starts walking.
It’s not more than ten minutes before he comes upon the house. He slows when he crests the hill in front of it, eyeing it warily. It’s a little wooden house, a bit ramshackle but still quaint. And it’s in literally, the middle of nowhere. There’s no road leading to it, not even a dirt path . He bites his lower lip, considering.
“Hmm, moderately creepy house in the middle of nowhere? This sounds like a brilliant idea,” he mutters to himself, right before walking down the hill and towards the door. What good is magic if he can’t use it to save himself from the possibility of backwater cannibals? And there’s something summoning him, pulling him forward, something he can’t resist.
He walks up to the front door, takes a breath, and knocks. The door opens only a few seconds later, as though his approach was expected. An old man stands there—he is older than Gaius, his hair completely white and almost translucent, his body one that has the old strength of an ancient tree, gnarled and crooked and immovable. Merlin shifts his weight. “Er, sorry to disturb you—.” He falters, because what is he supposed to say? Sorry, just wandered into the middle of nowhere by mistake, please don’t kill and eat me, by the way, have you seen a dragon around? The old man looks at him with an oddly familiar expression and opens the door wider, beckoning him in.
Surprisingly, none of his instincts tell him to run away. Oh, sure, the actual rational part of his mind is going bonkers with alarm bells, but the rest of him—magic and instinct and all that jazz?—not a blip. Which makes absolutely no sense, and his confusion is probably what makes him step across the threshold. The old man, without saying a word, leads him into a musty living room, and stupidly he follows. The man motions for him to take a seat and he does so, shifting awkwardly on the dull sofa that feels dusty to the touch. The room is sparse, the furniture worn, and in the corner is the only sign of technology, a dusty radio that looks like it worked twenty years ago. There’s no other sign of the outside world at all.
The old man comes to stand in front of him, un-speaking, just looking at him with an odd kind of smile. “Er, like I said, sorry to barge in and disturb you. I’m a bit…lost,” he says lamely. But the old man still says nothing, and he shifts again, looking around the room. He drums his fingers on his legs, looking everywhere but the old man who is so intently looking at him. And when he finally looks back, finally meets the man’s eyes, he feels like a complete and utter idiot.
“It’s you!” He says, jumping to his feet, and the old man smiles.
“Your observation skills need fine-tuning, young Warlock,” the old man says in the voice of the dragon. It’s the dragon’s eyes—yellow and slitted and abnormal—staring out at him.
“What the hell?” is really all he can manage, and the dragon is far too amused. “Why are you human?” He says after a moment.
The dragon—because he may look like an old man, but now that he knows better, Merlin can practically see the scales beneath his translucent flesh—takes a seat. “The world is not as empty as it used to be. The wild shrinks every year, as you humans expand farther and farther.”
Merlin follows this train of thought, understanding. “And sooner or later someone is bound to come across a giant dragon in the middle of the British countryside.” The dragon inclines his head. “So, you live as a human?”
“Sometimes. Your forms are so…frail. I could not bear to always be in this body, but it serves its purpose.”
Merlin takes this in, and then glares at the dragon. “Why the hell are you talking to me in my dreams?”
The dragon tilts his head. “There are things you need to know. It was the only way I had to call you here.”
"You've never heard of a phone?" The dragon gives him a look. It's a Gaius look, one that he has become acutely accustomed to over the past months of training, and it startles him. Did Gaius learn it from the dragon, or is it just some knowledge that becomes ingrained in a person after they reach a certain age? He shrugs.
"I do not submit myself to your modern technologies," the dragon says, snorting, the sound more dragon than human. "You humans have become so disconnected to the natural world. You've always surrounded yourselves with stone, but now you have to search for a spot of earth or a blade of grass."
Merlin eyes him. "I never figured on dragons being environmentalists." The dragon glares and he sits back. "How did you call me, anyway? Do you dragons have some kind of telepathic powers or something like that?"
"I am a creature of the Old Religion. I have powers that you could not begin to understand. But I can summon you because we are connected, young Warlock. You and I are bound."
"You know, that's the second time in a conversation that you've told me I'm bound to someone. Do I get any choice in this whole binding thing, or am I going to be bound to a sheep next time?"
The dragon grins, the expression odd on the old man's face, belonging as it does to a reptilian head and sharp fangs. "Your destiny and your life is bound to the Once and Future King, and there is no use struggling against that binding, Warlock. The bond between us is more tenuous. It is an old bond, hereditary, but it cannot change the world the way the other will."
Merlin folds his arms, raising an eyebrow. "And what exactly is this bond?"
"I am a dragon of old. You are a dragonlord." He flinches automatically at the name, and the dragon's eyes flicker. "Your father was dragonlord before you, and with his death the power became yours." The dragon bows forward, not fully submissive but a gesture of respect. "We are bound, you and I, by this power. I am yours to command."
He looks down at his hands, which shake just a bit. "I-I don't--"
"Don't trouble yourself about this now, young Warlock. You are a dragonlord, but it is not your destiny. That belonged to your father--you have your own fate to follow, and this power changes nothing. I did not bring you here to discuss this. There are more important things."
"Like what?" He asks, irrationally angry. Or perhaps it's not all that irrational, when he's been dragged out here and informed of his fate and destiny and of all these things he has no control over. The dragon humors him with a look and he feels his magic lurch beneath his skin, drawing on his irritation. The dragon's eyes sharpen and narrow. They are more than yellow in this light--they are molten gold, burning through with heat and ancient power.
"Your magic. You have been dreaming, have you not?"
He draws his arms in close around him, warding off the heavy chill the vague memories of the dreams brings him. "You should know--you've been sending them."
The dragon shakes his head. "No. They are not dreams from me. I merely sensed them. They sent tremors through the very fabric of the magical world."
Merlin sits up straight. "Why? They're just...just dreams."
"Dreams, yes. And with the dreams your magic twists. It tries to escape you, doesn't it?" He looks down, away, and the dragon nods. "You are coming upon your eighteenth year, correct?"
"My birthday's next week."
"Your magic is destabilizing."
He jolts and meets the dragon's eyes. "What?"
“You are powerful, young Warlock. So powerful that you do not properly comprehend your own abilities. You come into your full magical strength in your eighteenth year, and you should be fully prepared and capable of controlling it. But you…you are too close to Albion, where magic is embedded in the earth. And you have inherited your dragonlord powers early as well. There is too much, and your control is not strong enough. If you are not trained properly your magic will destabilize, grow wild. It will slip from your control entirely, burn too brightly within you, until it consumes you and escapes.”
He blinks. “Are you saying that I’m going to die if my magic ‘destabilizes’?”
“Not at first. You will be a shell, a puppet of wild magic. It will wreak havoc on this world.”
“That is so not good.”
The dragon gives him a look of your powers of understatement are incredible, idiotic human but merely says, “Indeed.”
“So, there’s a way of keeping all this from happening, right? Because I would really like to not be consumed by my own bloody magic and then killed.”
“I will teach you, young Warlock. We will start immediately.”
“Oh good. How long is this--” Merlin pauses halfway through the sentence, reconsidering based on the dragon’s flat look. “You know, actually, let me just call my mum and tell her I won’t be home tonight.”
The dragon nods.
Merlin spends three days in the dusty house in the middle of nowhere, learning exactly what it means for his magic to destabilize. The dragon reverts to his actual form, an unsettling transformation to watch as his skin darkens and hardens to scales, his body contorting up and out, neck growing long as the bones of his skull shift and lengthen—Merlin watches in fascination but has to look away eventually, not necessarily because he is squeamish but because there is something so unnatural about the sight that it makes his stomach roll. The dragon seems to feel something similar, because once it is back into its own form it stretches its wings and sighs.
“Now, young warlock, we will begin.”
He beckons Merlin closer and has him sit, legs crossed, guiding him through the motions of meditation. It’s something that Gaius has taught him before and he falls into the familiar patterns now, listening to the dragon’s voice, taking hold of the magic beneath his skin. Following the dragon’s instructions he pulls the magic up and expels it outwards, through his skin.
It surprises him how much it hurts. How his magic feels always changes—sometimes it is warm and coursing, sometimes it is cold pressure; sometimes it is a softness sliding through him like velvet, sometimes it is fizzing in his blood—but it has never hurt before. Until now, and he realizes exactly what the dragon means when he says wild; the magic fights him, writhing inside of him, a living pulse that tears at him and rages and tries to hold on as he pushes it out of himself.
He doesn’t know how long he does this—inside of his head it is the suspension of time, just an endless moment of pain and heat and a dizzying lack of control—but he holds to it until the dragon’s voice slides over him, audible in his head as well as his physical body. He opens his eyes slowly, surprised to find his limbs have gone numb, even more surprised as he lifts his head to find a circle of char burnt into the earth surrounding him. He blinks at it and then stretches his limbs trying to work the kinks out of them, wincing at the way his skin feels tight and hot, a bit like a bad sunburn. He looks up at the dragon, who nods.
“Good, young warlock. It is a start.”
Merlin resists the urge to suspiciously ask what do you mean a start? because he’s positive he won’t like the answer. The dragon has him bleed off his magic into their surroundings twice more that day, and by the end of it he feels boneless, limp and exhausted even though most of his day has been spent motionless. As the skies turn dusky and the sun sets behind the horizon he makes his way yawning into the house and collapses into the first bed he finds, sleeping straight through until the sun is peaked in the sky the next day.
When he wakes he finds the house empty. He pokes around, letting his inner snoop come out, and finds that the place is mostly barren. There is furniture scattered throughout the house, but it is clear that this isn’t a place where someone lives—it is a pale imitation of a home, having more in common with a motel room than anything else. He wanders into the kitchen, scouring the cupboards in hopes of finding something edible.
No such luck, and his stomach growls loudly. Scowling, his heads out of the house and around the back, to where he suspects he will find his dragon companion. Sure enough, the dragon is sprawled on the ground, wings unfurled, its body stretched languidly in the sunlight, apparently sleeping.
“I really hope you have something to eat around here,” Merlin calls as he approaches. “I’m starving, and you have to eat something.”
“I feed on magic,” the dragon says, lazily opening one eye.
He folds his arms. “Bully for you. I don’t.”
“Hasn’t the physician taught you how to summon food for yourself?”
“No, that’s not something that we covered in my training on how to be a superhero.”
The dragon sighs, lifting its head. “Young warlock, you are foolish to think that your destiny is as small a thing as being a superhero.”
“Well, as far as I know, I can’t eat destiny, so that doesn’t really help me right now.”
“Impertinent and ungrateful as usual, aren’t you?” It remarks, something almost fond in its voice. It yawns widely and Merlin takes a half step back instinctively, then scowls at the dragon, challenging it to comment. “Ask the earth to provide you with sustenance,” it suggests.
“And how, exactly, do I do that?”
“Figure it out yourself, young warlock,” it replies, putting its head down and going back to sleep. He stares at the beast for a long moment and then growls under his breath and flops into a sitting position on the ground.
“Okay, ask the earth…,” he mutters, “whatever the hell that means.” He closes his eyes. “Ask the earth, ask the earth….” He starts to reach into his inner core of magic, then stops and reaches out instead, searching for magic in the world around him. To his surprise, he finds it—magic in the earth beneath him, in the air, in the pond of water yards away, magic that is somehow softer than his own, subtler. His eyes open and he finds the dragon watching him. “There’s magic in the earth.”
“Yes. Most of it is the magic that you released yesterday, absorbed by the natural world.” The dragon’s voice is intent. “There is supposed to be magic in the earth. Magic is a force of nature, like the air and the seas and the earth itself.”
“But?” Merlin prompts.
“Magic, like wind and water, moves in currents. It can be drained from one place and trapped in another. It is meant to be evenly distributed across the land, but it is not. If you had not expelled large amounts of your magic yesterday you would be unable to feel it in the earth now.”
The dragon shifts, pulling his wings in. “Albion.”
“What about it?”
“The city is built on the ruins of Avalon, an ancient civilization.” The dragon tilts its head, looking at him. “Avalon was the birthplace of magic, the source. But Avalon fell, and the magic that originated from it became locked in place, unable to spread outwards. Trapped as it is, the magic becomes more and more potent, and more and more unstable. Inside of your city of Albion magic is everywhere—in the air and in the ground and in the water.” Merlin squirms beneath the suddenly intense gaze of the dragon. “You, young warlock, are meant to release the magic from its entrapment. Bring it back into this world. You and the Once and Future King will rebuild the glory of Avalon and restore magic to this world. This is your destiny.”
Merlin is quiet for a moment, taking this in. Then he climbs to his feet, brushing the dirt from his jeans with a hand. “I don’t believe in destiny.”
The dragon snorts. “You need not believe in it, warlock, for you to fulfill it.” The beast twists around, turning his head away, but before he does he adds, “There is bread in the bottom cupboard, if you are still hungry.”
He scowls at the dragon’s back and very, very quietly under his breath says how much he hates barmy dragons who preach about destiny.
The dragon’s snort follows him as he retreats inside the house.
Later, as the afternoon bleeds into night, the dragon teaches him how to recall magic once he has expunged it from himself. He tells him how to draw magic from the surrounding world into himself, and how to keep it from overwhelming him if he needs to take on large quantities of energy. Merlin expels the magic from himself and draws it back in half a dozen times until the dragon is satisfied and finally lets him sink into a dreamless sleep.
The third morning dawns too bright and too soon.
Merlin readies himself for departure—trying valiantly to keep from slipping into daydreams about the massive quantities of food that he’s going to eat the minute he hits civilization—and checks his magic. It’s easier, now, to look inside of himself and gauge his levels of magic—he is more aware of it than ever and it pulses under his control, steady as a heart beat.
“Well,” he says, standing in front of the dragon, “thank you. For teaching me—“
“Your thanks are unnecessary, young warlock. It would be disastrous if your magic fully destabilized.”
“Thank you anyway,” he says, and the dragon makes a pleased sound.
“You are welcome, dragonlord,” it says softly, more sincerity in its voice than he has heard before, and he smiles briefly at it before starting back towards the car.
The celebration following Merlin’s last A-level exam consists of him and Will sprawling on the roof with a bottle of rum between them. Merlin shifts his position, stretching out and closing his eyes, humming in content. “No. More. A-levels,” he says, and Will laughs somewhere next to him.
“You do realize that you’re going to uni, right? You’re not done with education yet, mate.”
“Shh. Don’t ruin my moment of bliss.”
“Also, you do realize that you’re now going to be balancing uni with actually being a superhero? I mean, that’s why we’re living in central Albion instead of on campus, remember?”
“William, what did I say about my moment of bliss?”
Will sits up and looks over at him. “I want to show you something.”
He glances over, a bit unwilling to move. “Right now?”
Will grins at him. “Yes, right now, you lazy sod.” And then his friend is swinging himself over the edge of the roof and through the window and he takes the rum, which leaves Merlin no choice but to follow. It only takes him a moment once they’re inside to realize where they are headed, and he navigates the stairs to the loft carefully.
Will maneuvers him into position before flipping on the light switch, so that he has a full view of the room when the light comes on.
There are two long folding tables heaped heavily with an assortment of items that he can’t even begin to wrap his head around yet, but the pinnacle is at the far end of the room. It’s a suit. His suit, placed carefully on an old mannequin of his mother’s. Merlin takes a step forward, then another, feeling himself shake a little, unsure of whether it is from the alcohol or the awe or the unnamed emotion sitting somewhere between his throat and his stomach.
The uniform is dark green, accented with black, red, and pale gold. It is made of a stretchy fabric underneath—Spandex, he thinks—with padding and armor set over it, covering the most vital areas. The armor extends over the shoulders and torso, down past the groin and stops just short of the knee. There are leather gloves that extend just past the wrists, and boots that end at mid-calf. The chest is emblazoned in gold with a symbol that he doesn’t know, a spiral that uncoils, extends out like a wave on the ocean, and coils tightly into itself on the other side.
“Do you like it?” Will asks softly. Merlin turns to face him, aware that his mouth is still hanging open a bit, and apparently that is all the answer that Will needs, because he grins. “The symbol is Celtic—a double spiral. It means balance. I figured it was appropriate for you, what with everything that dragon keeps telling you.” His friend moves forward, plucking an item off of one of the tables. “There’s a belt too—can’t be a superhero without a utility belt. And I’ve made a couple of things that should be useful. I need your help on some of them, since I figured that we can probably use magic to make up for what we can’t do with the tech.”
“You,” Merlin interrupts, “—are brilliant.”
Will grins and looks down. “Well, I wanted you to have the best. I mean, if you get yourself killed I’ll have to pay rent all by myself.”
Merlin stops him by reaching out and pulling him into a tight hug. “You are the best friend I could have.”
“I’m your only friend, Merl,” Will says, but his voice is suspiciously wavery and he hugs back no less tightly. When they break the embrace, well, if both of their eyes are a bit bright and shiny in the light, it’s probably just the alcohol talking.
Two days before he and Will are set to move to Albion, Merlin hears the dragon’s voice in his head. He’s right in the middle of packing a box, smoothing tape over the openings, and the voice is just a whisper, a magical tug. He frowns, because the dragon has never called him when he was awake before, and puts down the tape.
Come to me, young warlock, the dragon’s voice reverberates through his head.
Merlin scowls, thinks hard You know, I can’t always be expected to drop everything and come and find you in the direction of the dragon, and goes to steal Will’s car again. Will catches him in the process of this theft, walking into the kitchen just as Merlin is lifting the keys from their hook, and snatches them from him, slapping Merlin’s hand away.
“No way, tights boy. The last time you took my car it was gone for three days.”
“But you got it back in one piece, now didn’t you?”
“Not a chance,” Will says. “Wherever you’re going, I’m coming too.”
Merlin shrugs. “Fine. But I’m driving.”
“Over my dead body,” Will says and heads off, leaving Merlin to follow protesting behind him. In the car, Will looks over at him expectantly. “Where are we going?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he replies. “Gimme a sec.” He focuses on the direction that the summons are coming from and then points. “Mt. Camlann.”
“Should I even ask?”
“It’s probably better if you don’t. Drive the car.”
Twenty minutes later they are hiking up the side out of the mountain—more of an overgrown hill than a proper mountain, really—Will asking loudly what the hell they are doing, Merlin ignoring him in favor of focusing on pinpointing the dragon’s presence. As they crest the top he sees the beast, tucked behind a copse of trees.
Behind him, Will’s talking cuts off abruptly as he trips, stumbles, and regains his balance. Merlin grins without looking behind him, waiting for it…”Holy shit, that’s a dragon.”
Merlin snorts and walks up to the dragon’s side, folding his arms when it turns its head to look at him. “You rang?” He asks dryly.
“Ah, young warlock, good of you to come.”
Merlin shakes his head. “How did you get here?” The dragon extends one wing, giving him its your capacity for thought is shockingly low look and he scowls in response. “No, I mean, you do realize that there are people around, right? Someone was bound to see you.”
“That is none of my concern. People are aware of my existence—your father made sure that they knew.” Merlin feels Will come up behind him, sees the dragon’s gaze slide over his shoulder. “I see that you have brought a companion.”
“This is Will, my best friend. Be nice.” He turns his head to look at his friend. “Will, this is the dragon I mentioned. Who, I’m sure has a name but won’t tell me what it is.”
“That is why I have called you here, young Warlock. You are moving towards your destiny, and it is time you learned the powers of a dragonlord. You know my name—you need only to find the knowledge already within you and speak it.”
Merlin thinks of making a quip, but it doesn’t feel right. There is something solemn to this, that even Will recognizes, keeping quiet and hanging back so as not to intrude. So he nods his head silently and sits on the ground, falling into the patterns of meditation. He extends his magic, probing gently, feeling the tiny pulse of magic in the earth, feeling Will behind him, solidly un-magical, then coming to the edges of the dragon’s presence, which is as solidly magical as Will is not. He understands for the first time what he has taken for granted before—the dragon is magic, from bone and sinew and blood, gold fire straight to his core on every level of his being. His magic brushes lightly against the dragon, pulled by some kinship, a recognition of something that Merlin can’t put a name to, and when he opens his eyes the word comes unbidden from his lips.
The dragon—Kilgharrah—nods. “Very good, Dragonlord.” It bows its head to him, not quite submission but closer to it than he has ever been before. “I am yours to command. Call my name, and I will come to you.”
Behind them, Will makes a soft sound that Merlin completely understands. It’s one thing to have magic—it’s another thing entirely for him to have a bloody dragon bowing to him and nearly pledging fealty. Merlin swallows, his throat dry, and he can’t quite find something to say that sounds right, so he just gives a little half-bow in return, and Kilgharrah seems pleased enough by the action.
“I have one more thing for you, young warlock,” it says. “Your father had a wyvern as his steed, but they are dim, fickle creatures. I have a companion I believe is much more suited to you.” It pulls back one of its wings to show a dark colored creature curled up against its side—it nudges the creature with the tip of its muzzle and the animal lifts its head, blinking around. “This is Archimedes.”
At Kilgharrah’s prompting the other creature rises, revealing itself to be a dragon about the size of a greyhound and just as lithely built, thin and elegant, more serpentine compared to Kilgharrah’s bulkier build. The dragon yawns and then in a blur of motion almost too fast for Merlin to follow isn’t a dragon any more—from where the dragon was an owl emerges and flutters over to him, tawny and no bigger than the palm of his hand. The owl hovers in the air in front of Merlin’s face, blinking at him with large gold eyes, and then perches on his shoulder, settling in against his neck and making a little coo of contentment.
Kilgharrah seems vastly amused, and Merlin is still trying to formulate a thought.
“He is a Gewrixlung dragon, the first born in over a century.” Merlin blinks and Kilgharrah shakes his head, elaborating. “A shape-changer. He is young still, but he can take any form he desires. I believe that you and he are meant for each other.”
Merlin turns his head slight, raising a finger to softly stroke the owl’s head. Archimedes makes another soft sound and leans into the touch, and Will stifles a laugh. He glances at the dragon. “Thank you.”
“It was his choice, young warlock.” Kilgharrah stretches his wings. “Our paths will cross again, Dragonlord.” And then he launches into the sky, winging away dramatically and probably causing at least three car accidents in the towns below. Merlin turns to face Will, still scratching Archimedes’s head.
“You know, we’re not supposed to have pets in our flat ,” Will says.
“And I’m not supposed to dress up in a costume and chase down bad guys. Since when do we listen to rules?”
“Good point. C’mon Wizard, and bring your fluffball with you. We’ve got packing to do.”
I am not a fluffball, an unfamiliar voice says in his mind, and Merlin looks to the owl on his shoulder as Will pivots on his heel.
“You can talk?” Merlin asks the owl, who fluffs up his feathers in response.
Of course I can. I’m a dragon.
“Oh good,” Will says. “All the arrogance of the big one travel-sized for your convenience. Maybe he’ll keep your ego from inflating, wonder-boy.”
“I thought that was your job. What else am I keeping you around for?”
“I can always use reinforcements.”
Kilgharrah did say that you were interesting to be around, Archimedes muses.
“Oh? What else did he say about me?”
The owl gives him a bird-grin. Something about destiny and a king and how you would restore balance to the magical world.
Merlin sighs. “Typical. He needs some new material.”
“Merlin, the boxes aren’t going to pack themselves, and don’t think I won’t leave you here,” Will warns, halfway down the side of the mountain. He scowls, starting after him.
“I can freeze time and steal your car, you know.”
“Bring it on!”
He shakes his head and mutters a spell under his breath. The ground beneath Will’s feet goes soft and he sinks down a good six inches before it re-solidifies around his ankles, trapping him. Merlin saunters past him, grinning.
“Cheater,” Will says, sticking his tongue out.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to mess with a sorcerer?”
“Plenty of times. I just never listened.”
Merlin slides into the driver’s seat of the car before he releases Will, who scowls at him before reluctantly climbing into the passenger side. “What are you going to tell your mum about him?” His friend asks with a nod to the bird, who looks at him, tilts his head, and then flutters over to his shoulder.
Merlin shrugs. “The usual. Giant dragons, destiny, all that jazz. She’ll probably take one look and try to steal him.” When Archimedes blinks at him he grins. “Because you’re cute, Archimedes.”
I am not cute. I am intimidating and terrifying.
Both of the boys smother their laughter and Will scratches the owl on the head to placate him. “Of course you are Arc,” he soothes. “You’ll be the most feared dragon in all of history, promise.”
Good, the owl says, and then blinks. Arc? he asks.
Will shrugs. “I’m not saying Archimedes every time I talk to you, fluffball. I’m nicknaming you Arc.”
I suppose this is acceptable, Arc says, and then tucks his head into his chest, closing his eyes.
“Merlin, I think we’ve adopted,” Will says.
“Just as long as you’re mummy,” Merlin replies, and starts the car.
Two days later, Will heaves the last box into their flat and rolls a glare at Merlin, who returns it with a helpless I’m being strangled look over his mother’s shoulder as she holds him in a death-grip embrace. Merlin pats his mum on the back and waits for her to let go, resigning himself to the long haul, since she’s already been hugging him long enough for Will to travel down the four flights of stairs and back carrying the heavy box.
“Mum, it’s not like you’ll never see me again. I’m only forty minutes from home.”
She pulls back just a little to glare at him. “Yes, but you’ll be too busy at uni and throwing yourself into danger to visit your poor mother.”
“Muuuum,” he groans, drawing it out. She pulls him in again before releasing him.
“You will call me once a week, do you understand Merlin James?”
He grins at her. “I’ll call you once a week, mum. And I’ll come home. Often.”
She turns towards Will and hugs him tightly as well, holding him to the same promises of visits and calls, and then kissing both of them on the cheek. “Have fun boys. Try not to get into too much trouble.” They walk her out to the door and then turn to look at their new flat, filled as it is with boxes and containers and very minimal furniture.
“Well, we could start to unpack…” Merlin says.
“You order the pizza, I’ll get the beer,” Will replies.
Archimedes crawls out from behind a cabinet, covered in dust and looking thoroughly pleased with his cat-self. I like it here. Is this part of the destiny Kilgharrah keeps talking about?
Merlin grins, going to root out his phone from wherever it has gone. “I don’t know. But I guess we’ll find out.”
Arc jumps, shifting forms in mid air and spreading his wings the moment he has them to glide up and perch on Merlin’s shoulder. Good.
END CHAPTER ONE