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“I sat alone in bed till the morning

I’m crying, ‘they’re coming for me’

And I tried to hide these secrets inside me

my mind’s like a deadly disease” - Control, Halsey

 


 

It was rather odd, Merlin thought, that Morgana had changed so quickly. How she had gone from so passionate and kind to cold and cruel in so little time.
As the spirit consumed him and he screamed for Morgana to run, run as fast as she could and warn Arthur, he wondered how he’d never thought of it before.

 


 

It was another one of those days.
He was late to wake Arthur as usual, as punishment Arthur had given him even more chores than a regular man should be able to complete in a day as usual, and whenever he had a spare moment (which he didn’t) Gaius was roping him into doing some task or other- cleaning the leech tank, gathering herbs, making deliveries- as usual, and he had no doubt that before the day was out he’d be running around risking his life with his eyes flashing that glorious molten gold just to ‘save Camelot’ and ‘fulfil his destiny’ as usual.
Sometimes he wondered if one day he’d just collapse from exhaustion. Would they go easy on him then?
He doubted it.

But currently the manservant was darting through the hustle and bustle of Camelot, avoiding baskets swinging on arms and stray fruit rolling along the cobbles of the street. He edged around a large figure of a woman as she inspected a merchant’s wares, and narrowly avoided being trampled by a horse, but as he pushed through the crowd who were making their way across the bridge, he felt his heart lift.
The forest.
He practically ran to the edge of the trees. He felt his magic come alive, all his senses heightening as he slowly loosened his careful hold on his powers.
The invisible tendrils of power burst out to inspect his surroundings, joyful at being allowed to run wild even after only a day of being out of use. They found nothing unusual as they twisted and turned through the wood, only brushing against auras of wood nymphs, mice, and the occasional rabbit.

Merlin felt himself relax properly for the first time in days.
This was probably the main reason he put up with Gaius’ chores as well as Arthur’s (other than his huge respect for the old physician)- these rare moments where he was given time to venture alone into the woods in the search for herbs and he could let his powers run wild.
Sure, in the castle and on quests he used the odd spell to cause branches to fall on bandits’ heads, save his prattish friend’s life, or simply complete his chores on time (much to Gaius’ disapproval), but he always had to be so careful. Ever since the Witchfinder Incident he had tightened his hold on his magic considerably, quelling the instincts that bubbled up inside him.
Stop.
Move.
Slow.

In Camelot, he couldn’t afford to slip up.
Pitchers couldn’t slide unassisted towards nobles, falling trays full of food couldn’t stop in midair, and whatever happened, eyes could NEVER flash gold.

But out here? Out here in this part of the wood where patrols rarely galloped, where few bandits ventured, and where no citizens went?
Here he was safe to let it roam.

 

-

 

It was a good few hours later when Merlin realised how long he’d been gone. He was so swept up in the euphoria of allowing his magic to run free he’d lost track of time.
He squinted up at the sky to try and gain some sort of idea of the time by the sun’s position, but it had vanished among leaves.
“Great.” He muttered.
The warlock checked his basket.
He was three plants short and from what little he could see of the sun, very, very late.
“Now Arthur AND Gaius are going to kill me...”

He slowly headed off into a nearby clearing, searching near the roots of the trees for the plants the physician had asked for.
It was a few minutes before he realised his magic hadn’t picked up any sort of disturbance for a while.
And it was then that he felt the firm, icy grip of a certain hand around his ankle.
Slowly, slowly, he looked down to the cruel grin of the woman he’d once respected so much.
Morgana let out a slow, rattling breath, lips flecked with blood.
“Well then. Fancy finding you here, Merlin.”

He swallowed.

“Morgana.”

Chapter Text

 

“my ghost-
where'd you go?
what happened to the soul that you used to be?

i'm searching for something that I can't reach” -Ghost, Halsey

 



It was a few minutes before he realised his magic hadn’t picked up any sort of disturbance for a while.
And it was then that he felt the firm, icy grip of a certain hand around his ankle.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he looked down to see the cruel grin of the woman he’d once respected so much.
Morgana let out a slow, rattling breath, curved lips flecked with blood.
“Well then. Fancy seeing you here, Merlin.”

He swallowed.

“Morgana.”

 


 

She let out a rasping chuckle, lips quirking back into a smirk.
“You don’t sound too pleased to see me.”
The witch dragged herself forwards, reaching out for Merlin’s other ankle but he quickly stepped back, nearly stumbling as her vice-like grip refused to release him. She may have been crawling on the ground with her face contorted in pain, but that had clearly done nothing to weaken the strength of her grip.
“Why would I be?” He replied coldly.
Her hold tightened. He tried not to flinch as her nails began to dig into the skin of his ankle.

Merlin’s magic flared up in response to his fear but he fought it back down. The last thing he needed was for her to realise what he was.
He could only contain so much, however, and his magic began to carefully re-assess his surroundings. Invisible gold swirled around Morgana’s frail form, searching for answers.
She was badly injured, he could see that clearly enough. But by what? He saw no crimson staining her trail, his magic could sense no wound. Perhaps this was another one of her cruel tricks, the beginning of another act of revenge for the suffering he had caused her.

His magic circled her again and flinched away from the darkness coursing through her, the inky mass that boiled and spat as he drew near it, that burned like fire as he brushed against it.
“Because, Merlin...” She breathed, dark eyes meeting his as she clawed her way ever closer, “You’re going to be seeing an awful lot more of me from now on.”

He looked right and left, desperate for a method of escape that didn’t involve his powers, but she only laughed.
“Scared, Merlin? Now that your stupid king isn’t here to protect you?”
Shaking his leg, he tried to force her to let go but if anything her hold tightened further.
He stumbled back again, eyes widening as he lost his balance and went crashing down to the ground to join her.
The warlock trembled.
He had no other choice.

Ástríce.” He whispered, and as his eyes melted into swirling gold. He just about caught sight of the fury in her eyes before she was thrown to the other side of the clearing in a sudden burst of light.
Quickly, he stood. He could feel the remnants of his magic, the extra burst of magic he hadn’t meant to release, fading from the air.
His heart beat furiously as he glanced over to Morgana.
The High Priestess lay limp on the ground, ebony ringlets spread around her head like a shadowy halo. She wasn’t moving.
The manservant let out a sigh of relief.

The feeling disappeared rather quickly, however, as she shuddered back to life, a rasping laugh echoing through the forest.
“Well. That was unexpected.”

Merlin staggered back, hands clenching and unclenching in readiness.
Slowly, his eyes faded back to blue.
“I’m sorry.” He couldn’t stop the words slipping out.
“Me too.” She replied.
Neither of them were talking about the present.
For the briefest moment, her eyes cleared and she looked like the Morgana he’d once known, the one who goaded a prince into saving the life of a servant.
Then it was gone and the fury returned.

“But what I don’t understand is how a simple village boy from Cenred’s kingdom could possibly show so much raw magical power.”
She dragged out the pause for a long moment, eyes darkening further.
“Or how anyone could.”
His heart raced at her words, each breath short and shaking.

She grinned.
“I’d never even dreamed that it could’ve been you, Merlin. That YOU of all people could be Emrys.”

He shook his head.
“No-“

“Yes.” Her eyes gleamed with a mad kind of fervour. Had her eyes always been that shade? That swirling darkness, a bog-black soup?
He frowned but had no time to ponder it as she slowly staggered to her feet.
“Yes. You are Emrys, the one and only- advisor to the Once and Future King, the one who will restore magic to Camelot... And the most powerful sorcerer in the world.”
She laughed. Merlin flinched at the sound, the soft and gentle laugh replaced with a rasping cackle.

All light around her seemed to bend away until she was wreathed in shadow.
“Morgana...”
The warlock was at a loss for words.
This magic was wrong, her aura was all wrong- this swirling dark mess was nothing like the soft, pastel greens that had once lit her up from the inside, that had once brought peace or passion to all those who met her.
He didn’t understand- and then she met his eyes again and she did.

They were vengeful, coal-like orbs.

Those eyes weren’t hers; Morgana was possessed.

Chapter Text

“i’m a wanderess
i’m a one night stand
don’t belong to no city
don’t belong to no man

i’m the violence in the pouring rain-
i’m a hurricane.” - Hurricane, Halsey

 



The warlock was at a loss for words. This magic was wrong, her aura was all wrong- this swirling mess was nothing like the soft, pastel greens that had once lit her up from the inside, that had once brought peace or passion to all those who met her.
He didn’t understand- and then she met his eyes again and she did.
Those eyes weren’t hers; Morgana was possessed.

 


 

He bit his lip as his newfound knowledge settled oddly in his chest.
Morgana- the fiery and good-hearted person he’d once known- was possessed.
But this still left too many questions.
What had happened? Had she sought out the spirit herself? How long had she been possessed? Was it the spirit that prompted her to betray them all, or were those events truly of her own design?
Most importantly- could he get his friend back?

Streaks of golden magic darted around him, flighty and skittish from the nervousness emanating from him.
You’re the most powerful wizard the world has ever known...

Morgana‘s smile faded slightly.
“Cat got your tongue?”

You could take the spirit on, beat it and banish it where it could never harm again.

A streak of impatience entered her tone now.
“Merlin?”

You could free her.

He swallowed.
He’d made his decision.
“I know what happened to you, Morgana.”
Her forehead scrunched into a frown, confusion flickering in her eyes.
“What?”
“And I’m going to save you. I’m going to bring you back.”
Her eyes glanced to both sides, her magic rearing back somewhat nervously.
“I don’t understand.”
Gently, Merlin smiled.
“I know. But I do.”

He closed his eyes and when they reopened, the clearing was lost in a flare of golden light.
The greatest warlock to ever live, the one and only Emrys stepped into the glittering mist, taking Morgana by the hand.
His magic didn’t flinch back now, it barely even reacted to the poison pulsing beneath her skin.
Asellan.“ He breathed.

Darkness burst from the witch’s form, fighting the light as it tried to diminish it, tried to contain it-
Merlin’s heart was pounding, head spinning.
I’m the most powerful magic user of all time. I can fight a mere spirit.
He was wrong.
He felt like he was drowning.
The darkness was clawing at his skin, trailing frosted knuckles down his spine, twisting and turning through the air as it searched for an entryway.
It twirled past his ears whispering seductively, making promises of freedom, of hope, of power-

He’d been prepared to defend Morgana from it.
He hadn’t been prepared to defend himself from it.
The warlock should’ve known that something that could so utterly corrupt someone as powerful and strong-willed as Morgana couldn’t be easy to defeat.

Merlin glanced down.
Morgana’s eyes slowly fluttered open to meet Merlin’s burning gold.
“Merlin-!” Her voice was quiet, awash with horror.
“I’m sorry- I thought- I thought I was strong enough-“ Merlin grunted, gasping out in pain as the icy touch of the dark magic brushed against his leg.
His knees buckled.

Morgana shook her head, falling to her knees with him, shaking his weakening form.
“Merlin! Merlin you have to fight this! Pull yourself together!“ Her eyes were wide and fearful, but her tone was angry- whether she was angry at him or herself he wasn’t sure.
He managed a weak smile.
“Well that’s one good thing- You’re back-“ He broke off coughing, each breath rasping as the shadows tore into him, tearing apart the tendrils of his power that tried to fight them off.
“Arthur has his sister back.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. Despite the urgency of the situation, she couldn’t help but smile as she thought of her brother.
“I don’t think he’ll want me back.”
Wisely, the sorcerer smiled.
“I think you’d be surprised.”
Then his face darkened slightly.
“But I swear to the gods, Morgana, if you ever choose to betray him there will be no place on this earth where you can hide from my wrath... Possessed or no.”

She nodded solemnly.
“I’ll protect him, Merlin. I swear I will.” Her face darkened again. “But don’t you dare stop fighting this, don’t you dare! You can win. I know you can.”

“But if I can’t-“
“You must!”
He put up a hand to silence her protests.

“If I can’t and the spirit wins- if it tries to do what it did with you...”
Her eyes widened in understanding.
“I can’t.” She whispered.
“You have to.” Merlin snapped. He relented slightly, tone softening as her expression soured.
“Promise me- if my magic turns dark and I try to hurt Arthur or any of the knights, promise me that you’ll kill me.”

She nodded.
“I promise.”

It was rather odd, Merlin thought, that Morgana had changed so quickly. How she had gone from so passionate and kind to cold and cruel in so little time.
At least now, he knew why.

As the spirit consumed him and he screamed for Morgana to run, run as fast as she could and warn Arthur, he wondered how he’d never thought of it before- of her quick change.
He watched her go.
She hated to leave him, he knew that, but he was losing the fight to the spirit- badly.
Each golden wave was smaller than the last, each stab of darkness was stronger.
He was just buying them time, now.

Time before this spirit uses my magic to raze Camelot to the ground.

Merlin wondered if he should try to stop this before it could start.
If he should take the small dagger at his hip that Arthur had insisted on him carrying after another one of their many near-misses, after Arthur had dragged them on another pointless hunt-
He wondered if he should just take the blade and-
The warlock grimaced at the thought.
He couldn’t.

He thought of Gaius, of Arthur, of Morgana and Gwen.
Of how they’d scream, how they’d run and plead for their lives.
He had to.

With trembling hands he reached for the knife, fingers burning in protest as they curled around the hilt-

His whole arm was screaming in pain as he fought the will of the shadows, as more and more streamed in with every shaking breath he took-
Icy fingertips trailed down his throat, nails scraping at his bones and his hand was trembling, trembling so badly he might just-!
He dropped the dagger.
Slowly, excruciatingly slowly he was frozen from the inside out and all he could hear was screaming.
It was just as the world blurred, shifting into darkness, that he realised the screaming was his own.

-


An hour later, Merlin woke.
The wood had faded to dark and inviting shades and a sunset of soft pastel hues stretched across the sky.
He slowly stood, stretching, and wiped a few flecks of blood from his lips, brushing it off against his jacket.
A certain, familiar coldness had settled in his stomach.

With a shuddering breath, his lips cracked into a smile.

Chapter Text

“What have I become,
My sweetest friend?

Everyone I know,
Goes away in the end.”

-Hurt, Johnny Cash


 

An hour later, Merlin woke.
The wood had faded to dark and inviting shades and a sunset of soft pastel hues stretched across the sky.
He slowly stood, stretching, and wiped a few flecks of blood from his lips, brushing it off against his jacket.
A certain, familiar coldness had settled in his stomach. 

With a shuddering breath, his lips cracked into a smile.


 

 

*~•MORGANA•~*

Morgana ran for her life, breaths coming in short, stuttering gasps.
The forest itself seemed determined to delay her, gnarled and twisted roots hooking her ankles, thorny branches tearing at her already ragged clothing, boggy ground trying to swallow her whole...
But nothing, not even a forest come to life could keep her from her mission.
Only one word echoed in her mind- 

Arthur.

Eventually she reached the edge of the forest, gasping for breath, pale eyes wild.
The witch finally stopped to consider what fate would befall her if she entered Camelot-
She doubted Arthur would listen to the ravings of his traitorous and surely deranged sister who was a high priestess of all things.

He’d execute her.
But how?
Dismemberment? Drowning? Beheading? Hanging? 
She shuddered. 
The pyre? 

Increasingly horrible thoughts darted through her brain as she took step after hesitating step.
She reached the edge, wrapping illusion after illusion around her with the hopes it could hide her- protect her- from her brother, the king.
What in the gods’ names do I say to him?
She wondered.
Gods, how can I look him in the eye after all I’ve done to him?

Her heart broke slightly as a different thought occurred to her.
What about Gwen? How can I possibly-
Morgana choked up, shaking her head.
She couldn’t think- wouldn’t think about these things.
She couldn’t afford to think of herself at a time like this when Merlin and Arthur and all of Camelot were in danger thanks to Merlin’s stupidly large heart.
The witch smiled softly, despite her fear.

 

*•~ARTHUR~•*

The king paced around his chambers, three figures hovering at his door.
“He’s late- nearly three hours late!”
His jaw was set, eyes flashing with worry.

“I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, Sire.” Gaius replied calmly. He gave no hint of the worry dancing in his chest.
Merlin had almost undoubtedly got himself involved in this week’s plot against Camelot which brought no end of worry to the old man. 
The boy should be more than capable of taking care of himself, he knew that, but with every new assassination attempt or crazed magical beast Merlin would come home with another collection of cuts, scrapes, and wounds; trouble just seemed to find him. What if one day it was too much? What if he waited up in his tower all night until supper cooled and dawn broke and Merlin never returned? 
He sighed.
It would do no good to think that way.

“Well there’d better be!” Arthur grouched, fists clenching and unclenching.
Eventually his pacing came to a halt.
“Perhaps we ought to send out a patrol. Just to scout the outskirts of the forest, check for bandits...”

Gaius smiled slightly. It always alleviated a bit of his worry, seeing the king so caring towards Merlin- even if it was in a bit of a gruff, roundabout way.
Then it faded. If there truly was a plot against Camelot, the castle would need all the defence available until the young sorcerer returned... But his ward wasn’t invincible and without aid...
He shuddered.
The elderly physician hesitated a moment longer, then finally spoke.
“If I may, sire, I would suggest keeping as many knights on hand as possible. A threat to Camelot could appear at any moment and we should always be prepared.”

Arthur’s face screwed up with worry and indecision but finally, he nodded.
“Thank you, Gaius. You’re a wise man. Your counsel is appreciated as always.”
Gaius gave him a half-bow, nodding in return.
“If that’s all you require-?”
The king nodded.
“Of course. I don’t mean to keep you.”
He smiled half-heartedly and Gaius headed towards the door.

Arthur took a half step, meaning to say words he couldn’t, to confide in the old physician like he hadn’t in years, but the old man was already gone and the words stuck in his throat.
The boy stood frozen in his room, the mantle of king weighing heavily on his shoulders and the pressing feeling of loneliness heavier still.

He shook himself, and sent a servant to summon two knights- Sir Percival and Sir Gwaine. He knew the pair wouldn’t rest until Merlin was found... And that Sir Gwaine would kill him if Arthur didn’t send him on the patrol to find Merlin.
“He’ll be fine.” He muttered.
Now he just had to make himself believe it.

 

*~•MORGANA•~*

Sharply, the witch tugged the cords securing her cloak tighter, wrapping the ratty material closer to her lithe form. She had coated herself in hundreds of layers of illusions but paranoia insisted on one final defence.
Her eyes darted towards the walls of Camelot that she could see so clearly through the final line of trees. So many people. Hundreds of pedestrians here to seek their fortunes in one of the greatest kingdoms in the land. She felt a flicker of pride glow in her chest before it was extinguished by the icy claws of fear that gripped tighter at her chest.
Morgana took another trembling step, forcing back her fear.
Then she heard it, faint at first, but growing louder and louder by the second.
Her eyes widened.
Thundering hooves.

She ducked into the cover of the nearby bushes, her cloak helping her blend into the foliage.
A hand went immediately to the curved blade at her hip.
“Bandits? A Camelot patrol?”
The priestess was certain that neither rode in this part of the woods while she was Uther’s ward, but perhaps times had changed.
“Or maybe it’s someone else.”

Her grip on the dagger tightened.

Chapter Text

 

"My past has tasted bitter
For years now
So I wield an iron fist
Grace is just weakness
Or so I've been told
I've been cold, I've been merciless
But the blood on my hands scares me to death
Maybe I'm waking up today

I'll be good, I'll be good
And I'll love the world, like I should
I'll be good, I'll be good
I'll be good, I'll be good" - 'I'll Be Good', Jaymes Young

 

 


 

“Then she heard it, faint at first, but growing louder and louder by the second.
Her eyes widened.
Thundering hooves.

She ducked into the cover of the nearby bushes, her cloak helping her blend into the foliage.
A hand went immediately to the curved blade at her hip.
“Bandits? A Camelot patrol?”
The priestess was certain that neither rode in this part of the woods while she was Uther’s ward, but perhaps times had changed.
“Or maybe it’s someone else.”
Her grip on the dagger tightened.”



She peered out from behind the bushes and to her relief (and mild horror) she saw the rolling waves of red that the Camelot knights wore across their backs flapping in the wind as they cantered forwards.
She deliberated for a few seconds and then emerged from the foliage, skin twisting and gnarling like the bark of a tree, eyes growing small and beady, back hunching and hair fading to grey until she appeared to be nothing but a very old woman. A branch found its way into her hand and she leant on it for support.
It wasn’t that she wanted to lie to Arthur but… Well, she doubted she’d get him to listen to her (or trust her) if she showed her true appearance.

The witch hobbled forwards, right out into the centre of the path and one of the knights called out in alarm to the rest of the group. The horses protested at the sudden halt, braying and shaking their heads, but all of them managed to slow before they trampled Morgana.
“Help! Please help!” She called, marvelling for a moment at how reedy her own voice sounded.

One knight- Sir Gwaine if she recalled correctly, dismounted his horse and cautiously approached her.
Before he could speak, she cut in, doing her best to channel wisdom and authority and not ‘crazy old lady planning to curse the living daylights out of the kingdom’ vibes.
“We are all in terrible danger! I MUST speak to the king!”

That really put him on guard then, and she didn’t miss how his fingertips brushed against the pommel of his sword as they swung at his side.
“Who are you? What kind of danger?”

Protective, loyal, foolish knight.
Morgana bit her lip to keep back her frustration, feeling her magic boil and spit at the questions. They were smart and straight to the point but that wouldn’t help now.
Her only objective was to reach Camelot- Arthur- before Merlin could.
“That is of no importance to you. All I can tell you is that a great curse has been unleashed on this land and many innocent lives are in danger.”
That’s accurate enough.

Gwaine hesitated. She could’ve screamed with frustration.
He was clearly recalling the hundreds of times people claiming similar things had launched attacks on the kingdom- she should’ve slipped off while she had the chance.
But to her surprise he slowly nodded and the horrible, choking fear lessened.
“You believe me?”
She barely dared to hope.
The knight’s eyes lingered on her a moment longer, suspicion glittering in their depths but nodded.
“I believe you.”

He turned to the other knights.
“One of you escort her to Camelot and inform the king that someone is seeking an audience with him. See that she finds her way onto the list.”

A young knight at the back- tall, dark, and handsome- nodded. He dismounted and stepped forward, chivalrously helping her onto his horse. She could’ve rolled her eyes but in truth she missed the knights and their amusing ways- obnoxious and brash one minute, charming and courteous the next.
Her attention was dragged to a different problem, however- the horse. The beautiful mare sniffed her as she mounted it, nose brushing against her knuckles. 
Morgana held her breath.
She knew animals could sense and smell magic at a hundred paces and if the animal gave any indication something was off about her… Well. That could be the end for many, many lives.

To her surprise the horse merely looked away with a quiet huff.
The knight mounted the horse behind her and smiled.
“She likes you.”
The witch smiled nervously, unsure how to react. 
“How sweet. I can’t thank you all enough.”
Gwaine bowed.
“It’s our duty to the people, milady.”
He grinned but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Go on ahead, Sir Edmund. Tell the king we’ll be back later- with Merlin.”
Her eyes widened slightly at his words.
His voice sounded so firm, so determined, Morgana almost believed it.
Of course, he was horribly wrong. Merlin would tear them all to shreds if they got within twenty paces of him with all that dark energy racing through his blood.
She couldn’t warn them- not without raising further suspicion or questions. All she could do was watch as the knights rode off to meet their doom at the hands of their friend.

As Sir Edmund turned the horse around and they headed for Camelot, Morgana tried to pretend that the knowledge didn’t grate on her.
She tried to draw up the familiar, comforting apathy the spirit had inspired in her but when she reached for it, it danced beyond her grasp.
They wouldn’t listen. They would go no matter what you claimed and you would only be held back. 

For some reason, the words didn’t bring the comfort they should have.
The idea of sacrificing the few for the good of the many never did sit right with her.

Guilt writhed in her gut and before she could stop it, her voice rang out loud and true and not at all reedy in the quiet of the forest.
"Wait."


Then she let the illusion fall.

 

 

Chapter Text

“I'll be good, I'll be good

I'll be good, I'll be good

For all of the light that I shut out
For all of the innocent things that I doubt
For all of the bruises I've caused and the tears
For all of the things that I've done all these years

And all
Yeah, for all of the sparks that I stomped out
For all of the perfect things that I doubt
I'll be good, I'll be good“ -‘I’ll Be Good’ by Jaymes Young

 


“For some reason, the words didn’t bring the comfort they should have.
The idea of sacrificing the few for the good of the many never did sit right with her.

Guilt writhed in her gut and before she could stop it, her voice rang out loud and true and not at all reedy in the quiet of the forest.
“Wait."

Then she let the illusion fall.”

 


The knights instantly jumped back, swords unsheathed with a scrape of steel, instantly pointed at her throat. She fought the instinct to raise her brow; if she wanted to, she could send them flying with a thought. Their swords could never stand against her magic.
But she wouldn’t, of course, she reminded herself. She couldn’t hurt an innocent.
But she had.

“Morgana.”
Her eyes fell upon Gwaine, pulled from her thoughts.

“Sir Gwaine..” 
His eyes narrowed at her knowledge of her name and he stalked forwards, sword held out in front of him. Another knight- one she recognised but didn’t remember the name of- moved to follow him, but in the end only shifted forwards a few steps.

“What are you doing here?”
Gwaine’s words were sharp yet measured.
She felt her patience begin to thin yet again.
“There isn’t time for that-“
Then his sword was touching her throat, just enough to draw blood. Her eyes flashed with gold, her magic surging up with a sudden rush of adrenaline, ready to aid her. She fought it off.
Gwaine watched with a morbid kind of fascination as the gold drained from her irises, returning them to a soft blue.
Soft.

The word was odd. For Morgana- good or bad- could never be seen as soft. He had seen her in and out of action, heard the stories from Merlin and Gwen whispered in the
night when they thought no one was there to listen.
She was borne from greed and raised in war and that shaped her into a truly cunning and brilliant warrior.
Soft should not be in her nature.
And yet they claim it once was. That her gaze was sweet with the slightest hint of mischief, that her touch was gentle and her heart was warm.
He has only ever seen coldness in her.
Perhaps that was why he halted.

Perhaps it was that look in her eyes, that unnatural softness that caused him to hesitate. Perhaps it was the way she recalled the burning embers from her eyes- the embers the true enemy as far as anyone of Camelot believes.
But whatever it was, it halted the blade where it was, blood blooming at its tip to travel down her neck, pooling at her clavicle.
He pulls it back, just slightly, and gives her a long, calculating look.
“Explain.”

The witch let slip a sigh of relief- not out of fear of dying as some of the knights thought, but at the knowledge she wouldn’t have to attack them to escape- and spoke.
“You can’t go any further into the forest.”
The man’s eyes narrowed.
“Why?”

She kept her tone level.
“It’s too dangerous-“
“All the more reason to go, if Merlin is trapped out there!” Gwaine interjected, challengingly.
Morgana nearly scowled, nearly, but managed to keep her features schooled.
Well they clearly don’t know of Merlin’s magic then, nor his destiny… Or his useful talent for escapism.

“I think you’ll find Merlin is the exact thing you ought to be avoiding, more than anything else, right now.”
She saw him process her statement and then his face sharpened in anger. He very nearly impaled her right then and there.
“What have you done to him?”
Her eyes flashed and she stepped forwards, the blade sizzling and melting as it touched her throat. The metal trickled down her neck, mixing with the blood.
“I haven’t touched him. The fool went and did something heroic, damning himself and all of Camelot in the process.”


She watched the knights scurry back at the simple display of magic, at the molten magma gleaming in her eyes. Crossbows were raised, each pointed at her chest.
The day before she would’ve laughed at the sight.
That day, however, the sight merely made her sad.
I hope you are right about Arthur, Merlin. I hope he is the man you claim he is. The man I saw him becoming.

She saw the fear in them, felt their anger and betrayal as if the emotions are her own, near tangible in the air. She felt Gwaine’s fear strongest of all- not of her, not at all. His fear is entirely for his friend. For Merlin.
Her voice was gentle when she spoke again. Soft.
“He has been possessed by a creature of dark magic. A creature he saved me from.”

She paused, searching for the right words to reassure the knight.
“Merlin is safe for as long as the creature is possessing him. It won’t damage its host unless something better is available.”
And there is no better host for a power-hungry wraith than Merlin Emrys.

“Going after him will just get you both hurt.”
She let the sentence hang in the air.

“He... Saved you?” Gwaine asked, guardedly.
She nodded, just once.
“I can’t tell you how. Only that he recognised the creature’s influence over me and found a way to rid me of it. Something went wrong however-“
Her eyes darkened slightly and Gwaine shivered.
“And it took him instead.”

When her gaze returned to them, burning brighter than ever before, they flinched.
“I don’t want to hurt you, or Merlin, or Camelot, or even Arthur. But Merlin made me promise him something when he freed me.”

Gwaine wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.
“What?”
Her smile was thin.
“Protect Arthur and his knights at any cost.“

He didn't trust her, she knew that. He believed that now she had incapacitated Merlin, her next target would be Arthur. He was right, in a way; she was going after Arthur next. But to protect, not harm.
She knew, however, that instead of making for Camelot he would go running off into the trees as soon as he possibly could for if he has to choose between his best friend and his King he will always, always choose Merlin.
It is a loyalty craved by all, earned by few.
If she does not hold true to her promise and intervene, he will die for that loyalty.
Her mind was made up.

“I am truly sorry, Sir Gwaine, but I cannot allow you nor any of your fellow knights to go after Merlin.”
She stepped forwards, eyes lit with swirling gold, studying the stubborn countenances of the knights. That’s when she saw Gwaine’s eyes widen, just slightly.
That’s also when she realised that the large one- Sir Percival, she remembers now- has disappeared.
She sucked in a breath but the world had already vanished, stolen from her by a harsh blow to the back of the head and the crackle of boots on dry leaves.

Chapter Text

 

 


 

“I am truly sorry, Sir Gwaine, but I cannot allow you nor any of your fellow knights to go after Merlin.”
She steps forwards, eyes lit with swirling gold, studying the stubborn countenances of the knights. That’s when she sees Gwaine’s eyes widen, just slightly.
That’s also when she realises that the large one- Sir Percival, she remembers now- is gone.
She sucks in a breath but the world has already vanished, stolen from her by a harsh blow to the back of the head and the crackle of boots on dry leaves.

 


 

-M O R G A N A-

 

Her first thought was that she’s blind.
All she could see was darkness. But as she properly came-to, she felt rough fabric brushing her cheeks, obscuring her vision.
Breathe.
But even as air whistled past her lips and her chest rose and fell, the building pressure on her lungs didn’t ease.
What was wrong with her?
Her breathing grew more panicked until slowly, ever so slightly, the pain lessened. 

What had happened?
It took a moment for her to realise where she was and what on earth had occurred to bring her here.
The presence always lingering at the edge of her mind had vanished, leaving her thoughts clearer, her mind sharper than in years despite the pounding in her skull and her increasingly frantic inhales.
She desperately wracked her brains for answers.
Merlin- Emrys- Golden light- Peace. Anger. Fear. Clarity and then running, running and tripping and falling and fear all over again. Gwaine and his knights- Percival. Then darkness.

She shook her head. She couldn’t believe she had allowed the knight to get the slip on her, too focused on that irritating Sir Gwaine.
The High Priestess attempted to rise to her feet but found that she was stuck still, wrists bound- chained to the floor.
She felt cold ground beneath her knees- for that was the position she had been left in- kneeling, arms behind her back, chin resting on her chest.
She didn’t raise her head just yet, feigning sleep a moment longer while she figured out where she was and how much time has passed-
Her heart nearly stopped.

How much time has passed?


She jerked her head up then, the chains shuddering violently.
“Hello!” She shouted, fear clear in her tone.
Morgana heard boots on stone and reached for her magic as a precaution-
But she cannot find it.
She searched desperately, the need for the time forgotten as she threw mental grappling hooks out as far as she dared, looking for something that had never abandoned her, never left her before now.  

The boots neared and panic flared in her chest. She is defenceless. She is utterly at their mercy.
The weight returned like an anchor, throwing her to the ground, leaving her reeling. Magma flowed in her veins and her every movement was agony. 
The footsteps stopped.
“The witch is awake! Inform the king!”

And then the footsteps started again, the chains clinked as if disturbed and she felt something brush against her arm through the haze. Part of the force holding her down lessened and she was yanked to her feet. The pain lessened but remained there, dull and endless, an infuriating background noise.
“No funny business, you hear me?”
The voice was rough and threatening. She nodded.
And then she was frogmarched towards her fate.

 


 

-a r t h u r-

 

He doesn’t think he’s hated her before now- not really.
He was heartbroken when she was revealed as a traitor- his heart screamed for another answer- any answer that didn’t involve his childhood friend, his greatest weakness and greatest strength betraying him.
He was furious when she confirmed it, furious when no other explanation arose to contest it.
But he had never hated her- not quite. Not really.

Now, when she languished in her dungeons, Merlin was apparently in mortal danger because of her, and two of his finest knights had disappeared off into the wilderness in a reckless attempt to save his manservant because of her and his people were still digging graves to fill with their loved ones that had been slaughtered because of her he was having to reconsider.
He struck out, sweeping the contents of his desk onto the floor. Plates shattered, parchment went flying in a flurry of yellow and brown and a goblet clattered to the stone, rolling to meet his boot.
The king was drawing in ragged breath after ragged breath, chest heaving, eyes glittering with fury.

Someone knocked at the door and Arthur groaned, running a hand through his hair.
“Come in.”
A servant poked her head around the door, paling at the sight of the room but wisely she didn’t comment.


“What is it?” He snapped, patience spent.
She flinched and his face softened slightly.
“I’m sorry.” He tried, “I’m just a bit… Frustrated.”
She nodded, a hesitant smile making its way onto her face.
“It’s the witch, sire. She’s awake.”
The girl didn’t miss how his face darkened and continued hurriedly, “They’re bringing her to the throne room, Sire, as you requested.”

He nodded, dismissing her, and she fled from his presence. The people loved their king but they knew his limits and when he carried such quiet, writhing anger... Well. He reminded them of his father, and his father was a king they knew to fear.
The king reached for his crown, his cloak, and his scabbard, and left the room, his expression promising danger to anyone who dares to obstruct his path.

He made his way to the throne room and the guards opened the heavy wooden doors without question.
There he waited for her, half in shadow, half in light, the soft hues of sunset painting the hall a much gentler colour than the mood asked for. The banners that had adorned the walls the day of his and Guinevere’s wedding were still hanging there, but for some reason the sight of them offered little comfort, increasing his anger rather than quelling it.

His fingers drummed the hilt of his sword and he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong with the balance of the world, that something terrible- unspeakable- had occurred that day.
The thoughts were stolen from him by the groan of the wooden doors and the arrival of her- his half-sister, his enemy, the High Priestess Morgana.

“Morgana.”
Arthur’s voice was unflinchingly cold.
He turned to the guards.
“Leave us.”
They departed with a bow, leaving them alone.

Arthur walked slowly around Morgana, studying her closely.
Her midnight-black hair was matted and had long since lost its sheen and her wan skin appeared almost sickly, barely visible beneath blood and dirt. A thin trail of blood (and what he assumed to be metal) ran down her neck and her clothes of lace and leather were ragged. Her whole being screamed ‘dangerous’ and ‘wild’ yet she was the one who was afraid here, not him.

“Arthur.”

 The corners of his lips quirked up slightly.
“Kind of you to join us, sister.”
He heard her impatient huff and raised an eyebrow as she demanded to know the time, rambling something about Camelot and danger as if she wasn’t the one that had tried to tear it down so many times.
His smile died at that and he yanked the blindfold from her head.
“Why don’t you see for yourself?”
She blinked rapidly but it didn’t take long for her eyes to adjust, the hall being as dark as it was.
Her head jerked to the light source, eyes widening as she saw the sunset.
“No…” She breathed.
Then her head whipped back to Arthur and their gazes connected.
Her eyes were wild, fear stark in her pale eyes. He barely registered her words, too shocked at the genuine terror he saw there (but if he never realised her true allegiances before, how can he trust his interpretations now?-) just about picking up on the fact that she’s begging him to release her, something about her magic and Merlin-
His focus sharpened then.
“Merlin.”
“Yes, weren’t you listening?!”
His temper flared and just like that everything was how it was before.
Before Merlin arrived. Before his father died. Before his sister was revealed as a traitor.
Then the spell is broken as the light hits her eyes at just the right angle and the tiny specks of gold are all he can see in her eyes. 

 “No. In fact, I was rather focused on the fact that a traitor to my kingdom has returned, threatened my men and has apparently put my manservant in mortal danger.”
Her face twisted in anger, but just as soon as the emotion surfaced it seemed to slip away.
She shook her head, leaning back on her heels.
Arthur was flummoxed. It’s a dangerous thought to have but- it appears that something has changed. That she might be- 
She might not be quite as insane or vengeful or cruel as the last time they met.

It’s a dangerous thought and he cast it aside instantly.
It doesn’t stop him wishing it were true, though.

 

-M O R G A N A-

She looks up at him, at the anger glittering, promising violence in his eyes and deflated.
She feels the emptiness now.
Now, when she is without the magics of Merlin or the spirit to influence her, to tell her how to act, how to feel. She allows the weight to drag her down, to push her into a state of nothingness.
She is lost. 

She isn’t the pure-hearted king’s ward that stood by the king’s throne she sees before her.
The woman who convinced her brother to save a servant, who spoke with a tongue that changed so easily from smooth quicksilver to biting steel as she spoke her mind to the king like few dared to.
She isn’t the creature of darkness that was so willing, so eager to slaughter those in her way to achieve her goals either, however. The creature who lost sight of who she was, what she wanted to create.

The spirit had corrupted her perceptions of the word, warped her and her magic beyond recognition. Merlin’s magic reversed it… Temporarily.
Now she is a lost soul caught somewhere in between, burning in purgatory, held fixed between heaven and hell. She is viewing her memories through the eyes of a stranger, seeing all the things she failed to notice when blinded by hatred… The hatred she chose because it was easier, because hatred is always easier.

She dimly recalls a time long ago when she was offered three paths.
Peace. Ignorance. Rebellion. She chose the third, believing in a world where magic wasn’t condemned and when little girls didn’t wake in the night screaming themselves hoarse, terrified to speak of their nightmares for fear of death. Where they didn’t watch those nightmares play into reality. She dreamt of a world where creatures of magic roamed freely and magic was both a parlour trick and an art to be revered. 
She believed in freedom.
She received slavery.

The Witch had played right into the spirit’s hands with her stupid, idealistic notions and her world had suffered for it.
She now had that choice again.
She could find a way to escape her bindings, free her magic, and run.
She could dive straight back into darkness, continue blazing down that path the spirit had set her on, raze the world to the ground and rebuild it as she saw fit. Or she could seek the path Merlin begged her to follow so long ago. Cast aside the ghosts of hatred that the spirit inspired in her and embrace a life of ‘goodness’, saving innocents and sinners alike, help Merlin and Arthur build the Albion she has dreamed of for so long. Or she can keep toeing this line between the two, wavering back and forth between the two Morganas she used to be. 
She had that choice now the darkness wasn’t crawling beneath her skin, whispering sweet nothings to her eager ears. She had that choice again now she isn’t blinded by the beauty of Merlin’s magic, of the glittering waves that leave her euphoric and filled with love for the world.
She recalls the way the sparks of her magic danced and spun around her, like she was the world and they were moons caught in orbit when the spirit disappeared.

She doesn’t think she can be the sweet, mischievous girl she once was. She knows she could be the devil that sat in that throne what feels like days ago.
But perhaps she can try to be ‘good’. To be the woman Merlin believes her to have been restored to.
The High Priestess nods slightly, her mind made up.
She will keep her promise.
She will protect Arthur.
She will stop Merlin at all costs.

She realises she has been silent for too long and smiles softly at Arthur, a move that has him flinching, hands curling into fists that guard his face.
“I’m back, Arthur. It’s me. And I will protect you from them.” 
"I don't understand."
She feels a flicker of amusement at his perplexed expression and at his words, so disturbingly similar to the ones she uttered to Merlin only hours ago.
"I know. But I do."
She reaches for the magic that hums at the edge of her mind, growing in strength with her decision. 
"And I will protect you all."

No matter what the cost.

She yanks her magic back, reclaiming it from the abyss it had been forced to.
She is triumphant, glorious, and for the blissful moment that is her magic returning to her system, she looks it too.

Then the cuffs around her wrists begin to burn and she is burning with them, vision crackling with lightning as she’s consumed by the flames that had haunted her dreams for years.
Morgana is vaguely aware of the screaming, of the twisting choked screams that ring throughout the hall as her magic fights to return to her, tearing her very being apart as it desperately grabs at her and is forced back again and again by the ancient irons binding her wrists. Shouts blend with the screams but her head is pounding too harshly for her to care, let alone identify the person yelling.

A name ghosts from her lips and she hears metal crash to the ground.

Chapter Text

She yanks her magic back, reclaiming it from the abyss it had been forced to.
She is triumphant, glorious, and for the blissful moment that is her magic returning to her system, she looks it too.

Then the cuffs around her wrists begin to burn and she is burning with them, vision crackling with lightning as she’s consumed by the flames that had haunted her dreams for years.
Morgana is vaguely aware of the screaming, of the twisting choked screams that ring throughout the hall as her magic fights to return to her, tearing her very being apart as it’s forced back again and again by the ancient irons binding her wrists. Shouts blend with the screams but her head is pounding too harshly for her to care.
A name ghosts from her lips and she hears metal crash to the ground.

 


-a r t h u r

 

He couldn’t stand it. He’d never be able to stand it. No matter what she’d done, no matter how many people she’d killed or tortured or hurt, listening to her scream was like a knife being drove through his heart. 
All he saw when he looked at her was his sister.
The cuffs glow amber on her wrists, steaming and hissing while she screams and screams and screams and Arthur just can't stand it a moment more.
He dives to his knees and fumbles with the little key around his neck. It twists in the lock.
The manacles clatter to the ground and she whispers something, too quiet to catch.
It sounds like a name.
He isn’t quite sure.

Gold bursts out of her like a ripple on a pond and he throws up his arms to guard his face-
But it passes straight through him. Specks of gold drift lazily around the room where they were flung and he stares at them in wonder.
He’s always surprised when magic manages to be beautiful.

His sister staggers to her feet, burns healing, eyes still burning gold.
For a moment, neither of them speaks. Then she smiles at him, hesitantly, carefully.
“I know you have no reason to trust me. I know that you care-“ She gestures to her wrists where the red marks are already fading to smooth skin, “And I know that you are in danger.”
She steps forwards and Arthur takes a quick step back, hands already flying to his sword hilt.
She freezes, raising her hands in a show of peace.
“I promised Merlin I’d protect you.”
Arthur hesitates, still poised to draw his sword if need be.
He doesn’t think about the fact she could blast it from his grip with a thought. That kind of thinking would only make this worse.
“Protect me from what?”

His question is answered when the doors blow off of their hinges and Morgana pushes him behind her.
“Morgana.”
Arthur stares from behind Morgana’s lithe frame- he had tried to move sideways, push past, but she stubbornly moved to block his path each time. 
Standing in the smoking doorway is a cloaked figure, barely an inch taller than himself. Their irises glow in the dark shadows of their cloak’s hood making them appear-
Well. If demons walked the earth then this was one of them.

“Wraith.” His sister replied, still shielding him with her body.
The stranger smiled. It was a cruel grin like a knife and Arthur found himself shuddering involuntarily.
“I see the King still hides behind his magicians.” 
Arthur starts to bristle but- He knows that voice. He knows that voice like no other and while his heart screams no, his mind desperately back-pedalling, he knows who’s face he’ll see when the hood falls.
The figure throws the fabric back, away from his face and Arthur’s heart nearly stops dead in his chest.
No.
It was impossible.

“Impossible you say?” The stranger grins with Merlin’s teeth, with Merlin’s eyes. His other half stares at him with eyes like blazing suns.
Arthur didn’t realise he’d spoken aloud. Perhaps he hadn’t.
“I think you’ll find that impossible is a lot less common than you think. Especially when you have magic on your side.”
He raises his hand and Arthur watches with horrified fascination as it bursts into flame.
Then Not-Merlin’s grin turns feral.

“Run. Run!”
Arthur hesitates but Morgana’s hands are firm on his shoulders as she shoves him forwards, forcing him to move.
Fire rains down on them, dissipating as it hits Morgana’s shield. Through the blur of movement Arthur sees the banners go up in flames, tongues of gold licking at the ceiling. If they don’t put them out, if they don’t stop Not-Merlin, the whole of Camelot could be razed to the ground. Morgana seems to be thinking along the same lines as with a sweep of her hands, the fire goes out.
Not-Merlin huffs out a laugh.
“You’re so boring. So predictable.”
His eyes flash and the whole room is ablaze, the carpets, the tables, the banners and the tapestries. Everything is burning, everything is awash in flickering gold.

The sorcerer stalks towards them as they run, never changing pace and yet always right behind them.
“I loved that once. Your predictability. How you threw yourself into danger for me, for your knights, for Camelot again and again.”
Wherever he walks, flames grow. Fireballs and bursts of magic still fly at them and Arthur has the horrible feeling that Not-Merlin might be missing on purpose. Dragging out the hunt so he can really enjoy it.
Arthur remembers how Merlin sank to his knees next to the unicorn he- Arthur- had shot. How he stroked its mane as it heaved its dying breaths.
“What have you done?!”
“Don’t be such a girl, Merlin.”
Arthur wonders if he deserves it.

“Merlin-“ Morgana tries, as if this Sorcerer could ever really be Merlin.
“You need to think. You need to listen to me- whatever the spirit is saying to you, it isn’t true. It isn’t real.”
Not-Merlin looks almost sad for a moment.
“That’s the worst thing of all, Morgana.” He meets her eyes. “It isn’t lying. It’s all true.”
And then the hunt begins again.

The magician chases them down winding corridors, up and down twisting stairs. 
“I trusted you! I cared about you. I’ve saved your life a hundred times and you’re too thick to even realise it. Do you think all the trees in Camelot’s forest have branches that weak? Do you think it’s convenient that you never have to fight more than one bandit at once? Do you think it’s luck that you’ve come out of all your crazy scrapes alive and breathing?”
Arthur shakes his head. It all makes too much sense.

“No- No, you’re lying-“
Merlin couldn’t be a sorcerer. The thought had crossed Arthur’s mind more than once in the past but he'd soon deemed it ridiculous. Merlin was good. Merlin was kind. Sorcerers- Magic Practitioners- were all evil. Magic corrupted.
He looks between his sister and his best friend.
It had already corrupted.

The Thing with Merlin’s face snarls at him.
“The only one still lying is you- lying to yourself. Camelot will be safer with you gone. Anything of magic will be safer with you gone.”
He almost sounds like he’s trying to convince himself of that fact when he raises his hand, fingers already aglow and Morgana readies her magic once again.