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Chapter Text

 

*

 

The poisonous Crow shall arrive to a land in the sun retire,

where leaves and herbs grow fresh and green.

The Crow and the Lady will bring the fire down from the skies,

Cast shadows and despair and darkness to the hearts of men.

The sky-candle's aglow and flickering,

it is in the darkness since the opposite was born and free.

 

The King of the bitterest hearts rots in the mind of his own,

The King of the purest of souls opens the heart of his hearts,

The King of the darkest minds corrupts the weakest and the strongest of souls.

 

The Loyalty, The Strength, The Honor, The Silence, The Kindness.

The rightful savior of the kings' falls, dies, disappears, is no more,

In the brightness of the Sun and Hope and the Viper fades as the Falcon soars.

 

The land shakes, the storm grows,

The Crow creaks and the Raven crows when the Fire falls.

Until the world finds the way,

The Father of Fire and Sky meets his kin,

so the Dark and Light come one once more.

 

*

 

The letter had been laid on the dark wooden desk months ago, though not forgotten even for a day, since the mysterious messenger had rode to the city, calling out for the prince of the kingdom, the friends and family of the fallen warrior. He had been exhausted and bleeding from a deep wound on his left side, almost falling off of his weary horse in the awaiting arms of the three knights running for his help. The strong, fast men in their shining armors and red capes flying behind them had carried him to the royal physician, but he only managed to prolong the man's life long enough for the future leader to storm in through the door after hearing the words fallen warrior.

"It is not mine to tell you what you need to know, I-I am but a messenger of the great Taliesin and his p-prophecies," the dying man had coughed out with the last of his strength, holding out his trembling hand where the stained, wrinkled letter was, "but it is his wish and mine that the King of our brighter future has this, e-even at the cost of a small existence like mine to perish... as long as the way is found…"

The physician, one of the wisest in the kingdom, told that Taliesin had been a powerful Seer hundreds of years ago but his prophecies always came through and they were being held in the safekeeping of the chosen families to be delivered when the times was right, but he could not say anything about the letter the prince had been given. It was still kept a secret from anyone but them and the closest knights defending the realm - no one else was to be trusted. But they did not understand it.

Most of the people of Camelot had no idea about the conflict their leader was having with his own mind or about the missing link in the defenders of the realm. They did not know about the prince and the princess having arguments daily, they did not know the real reason of the king's illness and why the son was acting as a regent. They did not know about the heartbreak of the said son, or the empty, colorless life the people of the castle had lived for the past eight months. But the kingdom had been safe despite everything, with nothing to defend the city from, no threats, no conflict with other kingdoms… nothing.

But it was all just the calm before the storm that was brewing in the horizon, in the old blackened castle miles and miles away from the white stoned city of Camelot. The old palace did not draw attention if you went past it - it was centuries old and most of it was cracked, grey stone or wood trying to hold it up. The walls and entrances were covered with hanging vines, the abandoned courtyard had weeds up to you knees. But the reason that made the castle the birthplace of the storm?

The chanting.

It was not loud if you stood outside, one could not even hear it if the wind blew too hard but it was still there and had been for months almost every day. There were three powerful, low voices chanting the same spell and trying to get it work. But what they had not known was that the fourth person in the room, chained to the roof by her hands and screaming as the spell tried to take hold, had a stronger mind than they thought.

"How long has it been, oh great Priestess?" A hollow, dry voice had grumbled five months since everything started when the mentioned Priestess had been left alone with their prisoner. Soulless dark eyes tried to bore holes in the blue ones sunken in their holes, though still shining brightly with the fire of the prisoner's spirit. Despite losing most of her weight, despite the way her skin had tighten around her crackling bones and turned ashen, despite the endless bruises and cuts - no one could remove the fire from a warrior.

"That is none of your concern, Emrys."

The answers had almost drowned under the loud, crackling laughter of the prisoner that did not stop even when the Priestess' fist landed a hard blow to her abdomen. "So it has been far too long," she managed to cackle between the laughter, letting their head fall backwards momentarily just to close her eyes, hiding the small flicker of relief from her capturer. "It seems you did not think I'd be a match for you like this, now did you Morgause?"

She had never received an answer, just an enraged growl and several painful hits on her body. The prisoner's almost manic laughter had done nothing to stop the blows, but only silencing when the last one hit her right on the lips. Her head snapped to the side, blood pooling on her tongue but her eyes never lost their mirth when they slowly turned back to her assailant, spitting the blood at the Priestess' feet. "How long do you think these pathetic excuses for cuffs will hold me?" Her chin tilted up to inspect the engraved cuffs slowly bruising the skin on her wrists for the hundredth time since the start of her captivity. "How long do you think-" the blazing blue eyes snapped back down to the bottomless dark ones, the blue momentarily flickering to molten gold before morphing back, "-you can run from me when I get out?"

It was supposed to be impossible for anyone to get in touch of their powers, especially while being held with cuffs enchanted by a High Priestess - but it would not be the first time the prisoner had defied odds. It was especially worth it when the empty brown eyes showed their first emotion besides rage; fear.

As much as the warrior tried not to, she could relate to that - she was afraid. She could hold the façade with these people, she could spout nonsense and intimidate them, but she was getting weaker. The mind could only be strong for so long when being kept away from those she loved. She could feel her walls crack and grumble, her tightly constructed ideals and thoughts ever-so slowly shift and morph into something completely horrific and wrong.

And every day when the last try of the spell ended and the prisoner slumped down, head hanging between her chained arms, she would think of only one thing.

I'm scared, my love. I don't think I can hold on any longer. Don't be mad at me. I tried.

I love you, Arthur.

Every day she would think of that and hope that somehow he would hear her. Or at least know that she thought of him every day. That she would think of the good moments, as rare as they were. She would imagine what would've happened if she wouldn't have overreacted after losing the Cup… she would imagine him coming to rescue, though she doubted it would happen - no one knew where she was.

No one cared.

Every night the thoughts would take a darker turn. 'I miss you' would turn into a 'I hope you still remember me'. 'I wish you haven't given up' would morph into 'why would you even care anymore?', and 'I'm so tired, I can't go on' would change into 'I'm giving up, please don't hate me''. And lastly - 'I will come back to you' would turn into 'I hope you can find my body'. But every time she would know, that she was still Merlyn.

Until today, eight months of captivity later.

 

"Gúðcyst modjjryau, feorhbona sáwol, hwa héo sy sylfum heord .

Modjjryau hetole breguríce Camelot, sáwol unandgytful sylfum lādaþ, heord fylde eac frige hine, éstfulu ond unmildheortu.

Gemyndelicnes andwendan betigean, hwilc héo soþe mynteþ ond ġefēleþ neowol .

Ābirst ðæt clústor ofdune, ácrimman acon, eácnigende hwa héo sy soþe.

Gúðcyst modjjryau, feorhbona sáwol, hwa héo sy sylfum heord ."

 

The spell had been heard for several hundred times for the past months, but never had it made this effect on her. On the other times, every word chanted over her screams caused horrendous pain all over her body, every cell and muscle felt like they were ripping apart, every bone in her body felt like they were breaking over and over again. Her eyes would burn because of the tears that had already dried off and cuts would eventually appear where the lines had melted in her, her life-force oozing out of her skin, forcing the people to stop and heal her only to do it all over again the next day.

But now, every word made the screeches and whispers echoing in her ears fade one by one, bringing a feeling of almost peace to her mind. The scars of the last attempts were starting to fade away, the blue of her eyes darkening and muscled relaxing so much that her head fell slowly forward the same time her eyes slid shut. The chanting turned louder, sounding almost triumphant as the three pairs of golden eyes widened in excitement as the previously strong woman gave up. But to her it felt… good. She did not feel like she had just given up, she was not really even sure what had happened. All she felt was… calm. She knew she was hanging from her numb arms from the roof, she knew she had been in pain for months, she knew who had hurt her, but even when the room and the world went quiet, even when there was something exhilarating growing in the back of her mind and flaring up in her gut… she felt calm.

But that too, was only the calm before the storm.

An distorted echo rang in her ears, distantly sounding like her own voice as her eyes slowly fluttered open and moved up to one of the three pairs of eyes staring down at her. The blue was dull, dark like the midnight sky without the stars thought still filled with a light - a light that promised destruction. Pain. Misery and blood and fire. A manic glint matching the eyes closest to her own, fading from gold to ice blue. 

"Welcome home, love."

The echo rang once more.

I'm sorry, Arthur.

But she still smiled, though it had no warmth nor affection while her head tilted to the side, brushing away the echo of a feeling foreign to her that the sentence brought, focusing on the eyes crowding her line of sight.

"Glad to be back."

 

*

 

The mind of a warrior, the soul of a killer, the heart of who she is.

The mind once hating Camelot, the soul once incapable of guilt, the heart once filled with love for him, devoted and ruthless.

Memories of her change to what she needs to know, what she feels and thinks deep down.

Bring the barrier down, crumble the sin she has become, bring forth the one she really is.

The mind of a warrior, the soul of a killer, the heart of who she is.

 

*

Chapter Text

*

It was another banquet, not too different from the hundreds he had experienced during his twenty-one summers as a prince of Camelot, though nothing changed the fact that they were all boring as hell. Not even the ever present jokes from his sister changed anything, since he always strayed back to his father's presence just to listen to a story of the daughter of one of the nobles, who Uther deemed suitable to marry the future king of the kingdom.

Though now - just like any feast for the last year - the atmosphere seemed different. Lighter almost, and he didn't need to think twice why anymore.

The reason for Arthur's constant small smile was currently standing next to Sir Gwaine not too far behind king Uther and making strange faces to the prince behind her goblet. It took all his self-control to keep himself from laughing out loud when her face contorted with exaggerated disgust and she began gagging silently at Lord Tyrone's back when the noble tried to not-so-subtly shove his daughter closer to Arthur's side. The daughter - Julia? Juliet? Whatever - was pretty, of course, but nothing compared to the warrior, who managed to look tough despite the pale blue dress she had on. It complimented her pale skin and made her deep black hair stand out even better as it draped down along her bare back to mostly cover up the faint scars left behind to unfortunately remind them all of the bastard Theo. Merlyn wasn't as self-conscious about them any more if compared to just a few months before, but tried to cover them up most of the time.

"If you'd excuse me, Father, Lord Tyrone, it seems that I'm being called," the prince tried to look even slightly remorseful for leaving, though was sure it wasn't successful because of the tugging of the corners of his mouth. He didn't stay to take in his father's expression or listen to the silent whining of the girl, just slid away as quickly as he could. Snatching a goblet of wine from George - bless the boy for knowing what his master needed - Arthur stomped closer to his knights and the little minx who had been distracting him.

The look on Merlyn's face was the picture of innocence with her wide, blue eyes and sweet smile, but the prince knew better and was able to see the mirth in her look. "Grown bored already, sire?" She murmured when Arthur stopped next to her, eyes flicking from his face to the king. Arthur didn't dare to look at his father, knowing that he'd only see the emerald eyes shining with disappointment at the prince's sudden departure.

Instead, Arthur looked down at the warrior and his right hand with a mock-scowl and grumbled, "you're going to be the death of me one day. Father is going to hang me himself if I keep leaving like that just because it's not respectful to be laughing in the company of one of the lord's for no reason."

Merlyn gasped dramatically, hand flying to her mouth as her dark eyes latched back to his. "Arthur," she whispered loudly, hand lowering slightly from her lips, "did you just call me funny?" The corner of her mouth was already twitching up and the prince couldn't keep his own from lifting up even when he rolled his eyes at her.

"Don't let it go to your head, Merlyn," he huffed, ignoring how her face brightened, "I'm going to deny it to the day I die."

"I heard it, I'll testify," Gwaine piped up from Merlyn's other side, grinning when the prince's head spun to him with a heated glare. It didn't bother him though, it never did, just made the knight laugh loudly with Merlyn.

Shaking his head with a small smile, Arthur downed the last of his wine and handed the goblet to George, who had been hovering behind him, before offering a hand to the woman beside him. "Dance with me?" He asked with a charming smile that only grew when Merlyn snorted. "It'll keep the desperate ones away." Just to punctuate his words, he tilted his head a bit to the left towards a small group of princess' and noble's milling not too far from them, all staring at the prince and the knights without even trying to hide it.

The warrior didn't even answer, just threw her head back as she laughed brightly and accepted the offered hand just to be swiftly pulled behind the monarch among the other couples who were dancing in the middle of the ballroom. As he turned around, Arthur spun the woman under his arm once before pulling her against his chest with a bit more force than necessary, though she didn't even stumble - years of practice and expertise had given her such a perfect grace and fast reflexes that she merely skipped close before placing her hand on his shoulder; her movements, as small as they were at that moment, made everyone envious of the obvious fluidity she possessed. Merlyn radiated confidence and grace like no other, and it showed every time she held a weapon, every time she moved even if it was just walking.

No one could compare to that, so was it such a huge surprise that everyone loved and envied her - including the prince himself?

He heard a wistful sigh leaving the warrior's lips as she leaned her head against his shoulder, body pressing lightly against his as they lazily twirled around each other in the fading sunlight. The world seemed to become unfocused around them, the only thing Arthur could focus was the solid, comforting warmth of Merlyn's smaller, but still strong frame. "Are you alright?" The prince murmured, lips ghosting just beside her ear. He felt her shiver when his breath touched her skin, and watched as she lifted her head and offered him a small smile, though it didn't really reach her eyes - the blue looked almost dim, distant even when she looked straight at him.

"I'm just sad we can't do this anymore," answered Merlyn, eyes never leaving his and made the prince frown in confusion. She seemed to pick up on that as a small bubble of bitter laughter escaped her lips and her head dropped down to look at their moving feet, hair falling down to cover her face. "You didn't come for me."

A tight squeezing feeling formed around Arthur's chest after her quiet words, but he couldn't understand them. Come for her? She… she was right here, with him, in his arms. "W-what do you mean?" He almost choked out, the tightness was turning almost painful and made it harder to breath. They never stopped their dancing, the movements turning faster by the step, the hold she had tightening on his shoulder and hand but her head never moved up. "…Merlyn?"

The crowd around them was a blur of colors, the people had stopped just to stare at them - unmoving, blank eyes following their frantic dance around each other. He couldn't stop, couldn't focus on any of them but still saw familiar faces. Gwaine, Lancelot, Leon, Morgana, the king, Gaius… all with blank eyes but faces contorted with anger directed at the prince.

He was about to open his mouth again to get the warrior's attention, but when he looked down she was already staring at him, eyes wide in their sunken sockets, darker than he had ever seen them and staring at him with a fire that had always been directed at her enemies; skin covered in dirt and what looked like blood; dress that was more brown and black than blue. "You left me," her choked up voice accused just as her body vanished from his grip, leaving him to gather his balance again.

When he managed to stand still and look up, he came face to face with her again, but it was all wrong; the pale blue silk was gone and replaced with her jacket he had gifted her; instead of her hair falling in smooth, large curls along her back, they were pulled back to a strict braid and left her stoic face bare.

And she wasn't alone.

A hand on her shoulder, another on her elbow. Their owners were standing only a step behind her, but they looked more like her guards than friends - a woman with eyes so dark brown that they looked almost black, clad in shining armor and a sword in her free hand, but the cruel smile looked almost sharper than the blade she held. A man whose eyes looked like they could drill their way down your soul, pale and cold like the finest steel that matched the dagger dangling on his belt and a manic smile that Arthur knew he had seen somewhere - but where?

"You left me. You left me to them. You never cared, did you?"

"Merlyn-" but his defensive words were cut off before he could even start when the figure between the two others charged at the prince, eyes no longer blue but gold like the burning metal before the blacksmith could bend it to his will; a strong, slender hand wrapped around his throat like an iron glove.

"Why did you leave me?!"

 

*

 

After eight months, waking up from a nightmare no longer made him jerk upright on the bed between sweaty sheets, crying out a name and wiping away an endless stream of tears. That had been the first month, every night and morning. Now, he would only open his eyes, already numb to the pain in his chest and let the hot tears flow freely down his face without even bothering to wipe them away.

Most of the time he didn't even wake up anymore. He had been drinking a special sleeping potion that Gaius had given him after trying to cope for the first month without telling anyone about his nightly terrors, but after falling asleep in training twice in one day, he was given no choice anymore. Not that he even really cared, but the people around him cared enough in his stead. It took his sister's stern look and the physician's raised eyebrow to admit he hadn't slept almost at all since returning from 'the journey no one was permitted to talk about'.

After staring at the canopy of his four-poster bed for far too long without any hint of sleep catching up again, Arthur pushed up from between the mussed up sheets and combed his fingers through his knotted hair as he stood up and walked to the window looking over the courtyard, but not before letting his eyes linger on the wrinkled letter still sitting on his desk. Despite drinking the potion, he still moved a lot during the night - though the potion wasn't made to make him dead to the world, but to relieve him from the anxiety that waking up from a nightmare brought and help him fall asleep again. The physician had never really explained how the potion worked, but Arthur wasn't really even interested if it was made with magic - it wasn't like they even had a king to keep an eye on him anymore.

As regent, Arthur had been far more lenient with his ruling than his father had even been, but it wasn't like anyone really noticed. He still executed magic-users, though he made sure they were actually guilty of something - if someone came to him with a rumor of someone healing another person or helping their crops grow with magic, he sent ahead his most trusted knights to investigate, and every time, they came back saying the rumors were false. But if someone hurt others using magic, they were treated like any other criminal. It was the best he could do, since the laws were still there.

And it was a way he could honor her.

Staring out from the window, he saw the latest patrol ride back to the city after being out searching for the last week. The fact that the knight at the front of the column was riding with no hurry, slumping down in his saddle, told him everything - if there was news, Leon would not waste a second. There were no evidence that she was alive, but neither were there any to show she was dead. All they knew was that she was missing. Gone. It was like the earth had swallowed her up, but that would not leave behind red snow and broken arrows, or more footprints than there should've been. And she would've never left without saying anything, if not to the prince then at least to the men who considered her to be like a sister, or let herself be taken without leaving behind destruction and death - unless she was overpowered.

But there was nothing but blame the size of a dragon resting on his shoulders for letting her go - not that he wanted to but the barrier she had created in her anger and hurt had stood tall and strong for hours after she had vanished in the shadows. The last words he had heard her say had never left his mind. It wasn't so much the words themselves, but the utter hurt and biting anger they had been laced with.

…and then adding to all that, you make me question myself and my sanity. I have been wracking my brain by thinking why could you not tell me you loved me at a time that I could say it back?

Staring at the faint orange hue growing in the horizon, Arthur cursed himself again for the thousandth time since that night. He had never meant for her to feel so unappreciated, never wanted her to feel like she wasn't enough and certainly never wanted her to think she was alone. He would've been there for her if he had only known how much she had been struggling and hurting, even if he was lost in his own worry for his father. But the prince knew he could be off-putting when he was too deep in his worry and anger, so it was no wonder the woman had never dared to come to him.

It had always been him to go to her, even when she tried to push him away.

 

*

 

He woke up in the middle of the night for the fifth night in a row to screaming. The sound itself was enough to jolt him awake, but it was the way he could feel the agony in the sound that got him to finally jerk up from his soft bed and briskly walk in to the hall. He ignored the guards appointed to his door who bowed to him, though saw how they too were worriedly casting glances at the door the prince was walking to.

The screaming had died out when Arthur stopped by the closed door, but the heartbreaking sobbing was still audible, even when muffled by the thick door. After debating with himself for a good minute, the prince squared his shoulders and pushed the door open. It screeched with the motion and got the figure curled up in the tangled sheets to jolt up. Her hand reached for the blade by his bedside, but froze when her eyes landed on the prince's silent figure at the door.

It wasn't the first time he walked into Merlyn's room, but those were always during the day when she was more prepared to see anyone. Now the sight made him freeze for a long while. It wasn't that she could ever really look weak, but the helpless look in her red-rimmed eyes that she was clearly trying to hide and the trembling posture as she tried to curl around herself, made her look so innocent and young that it took Arthur a minute to believe that this was the same person that could beat his knights out on the training ground without breaking a sweat.

"D-did I wake you again?" Her voice sounded raspy, no doubt because of the screaming in her dreams, and it managed to shake Arthur back to reality just to shake his head slightly. He didn't really say anything, just stepped in since she didn't ask him to leave and pressed the door shut, all without letting his eyes leave hers. The silent question was obvious to her, and she answered with a shrug. It was clearly meant to be nonchalant, but the choked sob escaping her throat sort of ruined the effect. "I'm fine."

Arthur shook his head again, but this time smile gently as he pushed away from the door. "No, you're not," he sighed, not that he blamed her. The jousting tournament had ended only a week ago, but it was obvious that seeing the now dead assassin had shaken her to the core. Not to mention the fact that she had admitted her past to the prince. "But it's okay. You don't always have to be."

Her lower lip had started to quiver when he began talking, and by the time he fell quiet again, there were tears pooling in her wide eyes. Her mouth opened a few times, no doubt trying to find words to dismiss his concern, but for once Arthur didn't let her brush it off - he walked around the bed to the empty side of it and slid down next to her, though he left a gap just in case she felt uncomfortable with him being there. But Arthur really couldn't listen to her cry out anymore without trying to help.

"It's okay," the prince repeated after he leaned against the headboard, crossing his ankles over the sheets and glanced briefly to the right at the warrior's wide, surprised eyes as she followed his movements. At least Merlyn didn't start yelling at him about crossing any lines, so he considered that as a win.

After a moment of staring at his bare feet and feeling her burning stare at his profile, Arthur heard how Merlyn slowly slid back down and twisted a bit to get comfortable. It wasn't until he felt a light touch on his forearm that he looked at her again; she was laying on side facing him, covers tucked all the way up to her chin. The dim moonlight was the only reason he was able to see her face, the way her eyes had a soft, warm look in them and small, though shaky smile on her lips. The prince smiled back and moved slowly to grab her hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

They didn't say anything and she never moved her hand away from his, not until the sun rose.

 

*

 

Hours later when the sun had reached its peak, the castle was buzzing with activity again like every other day, but it hadn't offered the same peace for him for the last eight months, though he had learned to accept it eventually - he had said it before, but without the one piece of the puzzle of his life, the world was a colorless mess. Some would say he was being dramatic, some would brush it off as nothing, but he couldn't really help it. And it wasn't like he was the only one who felt it.

Every time he walked the route from his chambers to the physician's own, the onslaught of memories almost made him turn in his heels and walk away like a coward.

Gaius had never blamed him, at least not out loud, but the way he would look at him now - eyes filled with sorrow, questions that the prince couldn't answer - was blame enough. In the last eight months, the physician had lost the pep from his step that had been there for the year Merlyn had lived in the kingdom and brightened everyone's lives. Despite the several arguments the warrior and Gaius had had, nothing could change the fact that they were family - not even when one of them was missing.

Though he didn't outright blame the prince of Camelot, the way he had stared at him when Arthur had told what had happened, still made him feel sick to his core. Of course the old man had understood that Arthur had worried for his father and had had no idea the woman had worked so hard, but the infamous raised eyebrow had screamed disappointment. Something everyone else seemed to feel towards him these days.

A distracted call to come in sounded through the door after he knocked on the worn wood. Arthur didn't feel right walking in without knocking first anymore, though it didn't really matter since it made no difference to the way the hope in Gaius' eyes dimmed when the prince walked in. She never knocked, but the old man still hoped.

They all did.

"Has the potion worked as you hoped, sire?" Gaius asked, voice sounding much more frail than it had just a week before when Arthur had last visited. In the span of just eight months, the physician looked like he had aged eight years.

Nodding tightly, the prince placed the empty vial on the cluttered table before gingerly sitting down on the wobbly bench. "More or less, yes. Thank you," he sighed, eyeing the open book on the table. It was upside down to him, but he still saw the drawings on it. One of them caught his eye especially, since he had seen it etched on his father's skin too - a rune for insanity, as Gaius had explained months ago. He had stopped asking if the physician had found a way to remove the curse from the king ages ago. The small flicker of hope was still there, but buried so deep that it didn't really surface anymore. No one seemed to know what to do; Arthur had gone to different healers, druids and even consulted the reluctant dragon under the castle, but they all said the same; only a powerful sorcerer could remove it. And well, the only one strong enough in theory was missing.

Noticing the darkened look on the monarch, Gaius silently slid the book shut but Arthur's eyes stayed on the cover, mind travelling unbidden back to the times when he had witnessed the extent of Merlyn's powers. According to everyone who knew about them, including Merlyn, there was really no limit to them but it was physically too exhausting for her to use them, even for small things, not to mention trying to remove the curse plaguing the king - only if he had seen her exhaustion back then.

It had taken Arthur a while to really see the beauty of magic, the realization had come only after the woman had vanished from his life. Even when he remembered the terrifying display of power when she had confronted the Priestess Morgause or when the temperature of the king's chambers had risen to scorching hot as she tried to heal him, there was certain beauty in it. Maybe it was the power, or the way she was clearly unmatched by anyone Arthur had ever come across, but there was no denying it - she was magnificent, even when fooling with Gwaine or knocking a tree branch on a bandit or displaying god-like power.

"How's my Father?" The prince spoke up after falling silent long enough for Gaius to move and place a kettle in the fire. His blank, but still sharp eyes glanced at Arthur over his blue-linen covered shoulder briefly before falling back to the fireplace.

The physician poked the blocks of wood a few times before answering. "There is no change, I'm afraid. No worse or better," he sighed as he moved from the fireplace to sit across the table from Arthur. At some point he had placed a full vial of the sleeping potion in front of the prince, which the man was now staring instead of the closed book. "He is still having nightmares, but the potions keep him calmer. The hallucinations on the other hand, have gotten worse. I'm afraid I don't know what to do with them, since I don't have the right level of… skill to reverse it."

Arthur might be aware of Gaius' magic, but the old man was still slightly wary of speaking about it openly. Not that the prince blamed him. Gaius was intelligent enough to not incriminate himself, so he kept the younger man in the dark most of the time. Even when Arthur knew that he used his powers, he had never seen it himself. He wasn't sure which was better, but knew not to bring it up. "And you?" He then asked, in lieu of continuing the discussion of the king and looked up to see a slightly startled look on the older man's face that made the prince smile sadly - he rarely tried to ask, even though he was worried. "How are you, Gaius? I know it hasn't been easy."

Lowering his eyes to the rough surface of the table, Gaius hummed absentmindedly. "It hasn't, that is correct. But…" he trailed off for a moment, a faraway look in his eyes before visibly gathering himself up and looking up to the prince, eyes glistening with unshed tears. "But I'm still living. I know Mer… I know she wouldn't want me to give up. Anyone to give up, for that matter."

Arthur's smile grew a bit, morphing from sad to more fond as he nodded slowly. "She is a strong one," he murmured, not even bothering to care how he said is instead of was. Even now, he didn't want to think of her being gone forever. Clearing his suddenly dry throat, the prince shook his head to dispel the thoughts of her away before he got too emotional - as close as Gaius was to him, showing too many emotions was still a foreign idea for him. He might have cried the day he had returned and told the physician how the warrior had disappeared, and how he and Gwaine had looked for her for over two days, but it never got easier. "Well, I must go now. Thank you again for the potion, and… everything."

He only got a small nod from the man back, but didn't dare to say anything else when he saw the misty look turned worse. Gaius hated to show how his professional mask cracked, so the prince deemed leaving a better option than trying to talk to him.

 

*

 

Coming back to Camelot should've felt elevating. It was home after all, a place he had grown up and lived his whole life. The streets were quiet that time of night, only a few stray drunks were swaying on the sides, trying to navigate their way home from the tavern and the guards were standing by the gates and battlements like statues, only moving to bow to the two riders cutting through the town and stopping at the courtyard.

But it felt wrong. So, so wrong to come back like this, just him and his knight who had not said a word to the monarch or even spared a glance at him during the whole ride. The knight had a determined look on his face, it had been like that since they had been left by themselves. He hadn't even touched his wineskin - this was probably the longest he had gone sober. On a different day, Arthur might have joked about it.

"How could you let her go?!" He had asked, murderous after an hour of trying to crack the invisible barrier and trying to find its edge. "What is wrong with you, saying things like that?!"

Those had been the last words he had heard from Gwaine. He did not even speak before marching inside the castle, leaving the prince alone to confront the physician; her uncle. How could he tell him she was nowhere to be found? How could he explain what had happened - how he had broken her heart for good? How could he tell him that she was hurt, that her blood was now coloring the snow of the clearing along with the broken, spiked arrows?

How could he break the third heart in the span of three days?

 

*

 

"Sire, it has been eight months," one of the lords said, his face the picture of impatience and aggravation as he spoke to the Prince Regent of Camelot, who sat at the head of the table. The cold look the monarch sent wasn't enough to stop him from saying those words, like he had every time the council had gathered. Every time there had been different reasons, sometimes he spoke about resources, sometimes about the knights' time, and sometimes even about the importance of one person. He didn't understand thought, how one person could influence the life of the knights and their leader, how one person could make their lives better and brighter just by being there - or how the gaping, empty hole in Arthur's chest ached every minute of every day. "You must accept the fact that she might be…"

The sentence trailed off, but only because the prince's cold eyes flung to stare at the noble, now flaming with the intent of violence towards the heartless man who dared to suggest she was- "No, I will not accept it before I see proof of… d-death," Arthur practically growled, glaring at the man long enough for the lord to cower and almost curl in himself. The knights standing by the wall had similar looks in their faces, some of them even squeezing the hilts of their swords in the hope of piercing the man through. "And none of you will be able to convince me otherwise. Council dismissed!" Angry already, Arthur sharply waved his hand as to punctuate the dismissal and none of the council members dared to complain.

"Sire? Shall we leave to search soon again?" Arthur looked up briefly at Sir Leon, as he walked closer with Sirs Hugo and Nicholas trailing not far behind. Nicholas and Hugo were staring at the last of the nobles as some tried to linger behind to hear what Arthur had to say, but scurried off when seeing the scowls of the knights'. "If we could find Lancelot and Sir Gwaine, we could-"

"They left over six months ago after hearing what had happened," Arthur cut his second in command off, lowering his eyes back down and rubbed the bridge of his nose, "not that I blame them. They always cared more for her so looking for her under the command of Camelot was not working for them… they won't be found, we all know that."  

As much as Arthur wanted to be angry at the two men now probably long gone, he couldn't. They had stayed for the two months Arthur had joined the searches, but after the monarch had been forced to stay behind, they had vanished and only left behind one red cape along with a short note. Good riddance, princeling. We are not giving up, it had said - clearly written by Gwaine in a haste since Arthur had been barely able to read it. Of course Gwaine and Lancelot had known that Arthur was not even close to giving up and that his absence from the searches was not his own choice, but it didn't ease his guilt.

He just hoped that they would find her and keep her safe, if Arthur himself couldn't.

"So, what shall we do then?" Leon continued, ever-patient with the prince's mood as he had been during the last months and even before that - next to the missing warrior, he had been the only one capable of handling Arthur.

Sighing, Arthur looked up from the table with a frown as he thought for a moment. "Sent out two groups of six, lead one yourself and place Sirs Elyan and Percival to the other." After Gwaine and Lancelot had left, there had been a small but clear hole in the ranks of Camelot, and Arthur had struggled to find men who's be perfect for the role of knights of Camelot after those two - and it had been a huge mission. It had been Guinevere, who surprisingly had stayed behind even when Lancelot had left, who had suggested that Arthur stopped trying to find good men from nobles since his best had been peasants-turned-assassins and a rogue noble. Thus, Arthur's mind had turned immediately to two men he had already seen fight and who were loyal, skilled and fit the ranks perfectly; they had become Sir Percival and Sir Elyan over three months ago after going through proper training and the tests. "One of the teams will go to the North towards Rheged and The Perilous Lands; thought they shall not enter, the Lands are unpredictable. And the others will go East and search the woods."

"When will you expect us back?"

"At the earliest a week from now." The knights straightened their back and gave the prince curt bows before turning swiftly on their heels and marching out of the chamber doors. Arthur wished more than anything that he could join the searches, but had reluctantly admitted that the kingdom needed someone to rule since the king was indisposed and the princess was not yet old enough to be left in charged. For the first two months he had been with his knights, but between his duties, arguing with his sister and listening to the council complain about his absence, he had stayed behind.

"Arthur," a quiet call from his right startled Arthur from his thoughts - he hadn't even noticed that Morgana had stayed behind after the dismissal. "How can you be sure she did not… just leave?" It was always the same when the princess questioned his insistent to continue the search; she either insinuated that she had gone by her own free will or that she was dead. How could she not see what he saw?

"She would not do that," the prince scoffed and removed his arm from under hers. "I know it, and so do you and everyone else in this kingdom. How could you even suggest it? I know her…"

He lowered his eyes from the princess, almost sensing her annoyance because of his words, even when he was right. "But do you really?" Arthur heard her ask, though only gave her a dry glance for her words before looking back down and bringing a hand to rub his forehead. "How much did you really know about her? From what I saw, she was never really… content to being under any authority and living in one place… and she never really trusted anyone enough to, well, be at home..." Morgana's words brought a strange sense of irony in the prince's mind - oh, if she only knew. The fact that Arthur really did know everything about Merlyn didn't change the fact that he still didn't know enough. Sure, he knew about her past and about her magic, but did he really know her? He hadn't even seen that she had feelings for him, so how could he know if the warrior had been happy? Yes, she had said she was happy and thought of Camelot as her home, but what kind of home hunted her kind? Yes, she had said she'd be there through thick and thin to help and that she hoped one day she could be free, but could anyone expect her to be patient for god knows how long for Arthur to be king?

The thought startled Arthur - since when had he thought of that magic-users could be free when he became king?

 

*

 

He knew it had been Merlyn without a doubt, though he couldn't for the life of him understand how since he remembered vividly seeing her standing by the window of her room when the mysterious sorcerer appeared to save the child.

Though… did it really matter how?

The initial reaction for seeing the man appear behind the girl among the flames had been pure shock - how did he do it? How was he not burning? Who was he?

And then he had began talking.

It wasn't that the words were familiar, but the way they had been said was. He power radiating from every word and look, the waves and waves of buzzing energy flowing over the crowd as he spoke and commanded the people with only his presence, the way he looked straight at the prince…

It had to be her.

Merlyn never admitted it, though she never denied it either, which was a good thing. She knew how to keep the prince out of the loop just enough for him to be in the dark of things without having to lie to anyone but she was still not lying - and upon further pondering, he realized that Merlyn had done that the whole time. Had she ever really denied outright having magic? Had she ever really lied about anything? Well, it was quite simple - she hadn't. And that was the final straw he needed to understand - she wasn't evil. Magic wasn't evil, not really. Sure, it was unpredictable, unstable in the wrong hands, a frightening power for someone to have but… evil? No.

For a few days he had been mostly drowning in his spinning thoughts, skipping some training just in case he lost that line of thought, but now he was sure - he needed to know better. And the only person he really knew to ask, was riding next to him along the road leading away the kingdom. But he wasn't really sure how to ask. Merlyn was still a bit skittish about talking about magic in general since Arthur hadn't said anything. He hadn't revealed the extent of his thoughts to her, not yet. The prince had needed time to go through his thoughts and feelings one by one, to make sure the witch didn't see any doubt in him and think he was lying to both of them.

"I can practically hear you thinking, Arthur," a dry voice drawled beside him. Light blue eyes met the darker ones that were shining with mirth even when her face was carefully blank. "Ask away. I know you want to."

Smiling slightly, Arthur nodded as he slowed down his horse and guided it closer to the woods before jumping down. "I wanted to ask about your…" he hesitated a bit and looked around them to make sure no one was nearby, "…about your magic."

The warrior grinned as she dismounted next to him. "I figured. We should move away from the open, though," Merlyn hummed and quirked an eyebrow at him with a pointed look, "so you'll be able to relax a bit. You're making me nervous with all that fidgeting." Arthur didn't even respond, just huffed with a glare but followed the still grinning woman deeper to the woods. They didn't stray too far from the road, just far enough that no one would be able to see or hear them if they used the road.

Tying Hengroen next to Merlyn's mount, Arthur followed the warrior silently as she confidently made her way through the trees a bit further away until they reached a small opening between the trees where she flopped down to sit on a tree stump. He felt her expectant look as he slowly crossed the opening to sit on a fallen tree not to far from her, but still kept his distance. Close proximity to her still made him slightly anxious, though it was not because of her magic anymore - or well, not just because of it.

Arthur looked up and saw Merlyn wave her hand at him as a permission to speak, making the man huff a small laugh at her impatience, but complied. "So, uh. I remember you telling me that you were born with it, and how you have used it, but… how does it feel?" The question sounded much more stupid as it left his lips than what it had sounded in his head, and it made him grimace slightly. He heard a snort coming from Merlyn and pulled a face at her. "Have some mercy, this is new to me."

Nodding in understanding, Merlyn pursed her lips and was lost in thought for a moment. During that, Arthur let himself observe her. Truth be told, Merlyn had looked better. She was no less beautiful, but the dark circles under her eyes sere a clear sign of sleepless nights and he swore she had lost weight since she had moved to Camelot. It wasn't that the warrior looked bad per se, just… a bit worn out. Extremely tired would've been the best way to describe it, though that too felt off. Briefly Arthur wondered if he should've seen it before - he was busy as hell these days, but he still saw her every day.

"It's hard to explain how it feels, since I have never lived without it." Merlyn's voice pulled the prince back from staring at her for way too long, and based on the small smirk she had noticed his intense look. Ignoring it though, Arthur focused on her voice rather than the way she looked. "But… to tell you the truth, it feels good. Natural, since I've always had it, though painful when I use it."

At her words, Arthur remembered how she had tried to explain the pain that came from using her powers. It had slipped his mind until now, and the reminder made him frown deeply. "Why does it hurt? I've never heard anything like that."

Merlyn could only shrug, the confusion was clear on her face. "I really don't know. I've asked Gaius too, but the only explanation we could come up with was that I just… have too much of it," she muttered, voice strained with something Arthur had rarely heard before - fear. "Witches and warlocks, we are born with this… inner pool of power. It's as much of a part of us as our hearts and bones, but we are still connected to the magic of nature, so we rarely need to use the power we have inside us."

"What does that mean?" Merlyn smiled slightly at his question, eyes shining with amusement but also genuine kindness and awe. It must have been clear that he was truly trying.

"Like I told you, the world is filled with magic. Everything we see, the trees, the air… it all has it, but only a small portion of people can access it. The people who are only able to use that and don't have their own, inner power are called sorcerers. They need to learn for years to harness it, and only a small part of those who learn become actually powerful. It's difficult for them, but the reason they are able to access it is because they are more attuned to the nature than those who can't use it," Merlyn explained, eyes roaming over the trees. She still looked lost in thought, no doubt feeling the nature's magic at the exact moment - the thought was strange, but almost exhilarating. "Then are those who are born with their own power. Again, only a small part of witches and warlock are able to use their inner power, so they have to rely on the magic of the earth, but for them it's easier. But then are those, whose magic manifests, as the pool grows too much."

"Grows?" Arthur piped up, accidentally startling the warrior. Throwing an apologetic look at her when she glared at him, she nodded.

"As a warlock or witch ages, the pool grows or in different terms, they grow stronger. With most, it stops at some point after their magic manifests, but with some… there's no end to it. Well, with me, there's no end to it," she sighed and shrugged helplessly again as she glanced at Arthur. "The term witch is the best way to call me, but it's still wrong. There has never been someone like me, and there will never be. My magic manifested when I was still in the womb, and my eyes were gold the moment I opened them. I could summon storms at the age of seven, I can slow time down, my magic reacts without a spell or sometimes without my knowledge, I… I even sometimes need to vent it, let it out when it becomes too much to hold in."

Unbidden, Arthur's mind ran back to the day she had told about Mordred and her darker past. It hadn't really been anything to worry about then, but now that he thought about the way she had kept her back to him for most of the time and the way he had heard branches snapping repeatedly… "When your emotions run high," he stated in understanding, eyes finding hers again as he spoke and got a small, though slightly reluctant nod back.

"It's dangerous for me to be in this kingdom because of it, but I can handle it. Being a soldier helps, since I can vent it in different ways, but sometimes…" Merlyn let the sentence trail, but he understood. The incident with Morgause not too long ago was evidence enough. Arthur still remembered the way the ground had shook when the fortress had crumbled under her grief. "But yeah, it's very complicated to try to explain when I have no comparison for it. At one point, using magic made me feel strong, unbeatable almost but now it just hurts. It's like… when I start a spell, at first it feels exhilarating, freeing but then it's like someone stabbing me in the gut. And when I pull my magic back, it's like twisting the blade in the wound and pulling it away."

"Is it always like that?"

"Most of the time, yes," she answered slowly, but was clearly debating about something in her head for a while before glancing sideways at the prince, "though… not when it comes to you. Protecting you is always instinct. Easy and natural. Painless."

 

*

 

For god knows how long, Arthur stayed in the Council Chambers lost in thought. The thought of magic, no less. The realization that he wanted magic to be free again was strange. No doubt it would be a struggle after everything Uther had done and seeing as how many people were completely against everything about magic, it would take time to win the people over. There were some, even in the council, that Arthur knew were not so strongly against it, and even some of his knights had been quite vocal after some executions, Leon, Gwaine and Percival excluded even.

During the last eight months, Arthur had seriously thought about it. He had not spoken about it to anyone other than Leon, who thought the prince was going insane - but as the knight had said it, in a good way.

The loud bang of the chamber doors startled the prince from his thoughts for the umpteenth time for that day, eyes snapping up to the small cluster of people storming in. At first he saw Sir Leon and the prince was ready to snap at him for delaying the search - but then his gaze landed on two people he hadn't expected to see.

"Wh-"

"You need to prepare for war," choked Gwaine, clutching his side that was bleeding heavily despite his chainmail and armor, and leaning against a heavily bruised, but mostly okay Lancelot. The deep brown eyes he had grown used to being filled with warmth and kindness, were wide with poorly contained panic as the former assassin-turned-advisor locked eyes with Arthur, speaking the words the prince had dreaded hearing since he had learned the name.

"Mordred is coming."

Chapter Text

A year and eight months.

Twenty months.

Six hundred days - all those endless days and nights she had fought through every obstacle, every doubter, every broken bone and lost drop of blood. Voice hoarse and crackling from over-use just to chant the same spell over and over again, voice booming over the two others along side of her, every day just more determined to make it work and to have what was rightfully hers.

Every day the same question had been asked, "are you sure it'll work?" and every time she had been tempted to smother the doubters in their sleep, just to walk back to the abandoned hall to hear another choked up question, "are you sure you're strong enough to best me?" Not even the revelation of the extent of her plan deterred the way the warrior tried to fight - the gifts from her past, the torture, telling the truth about her mother, hurting her precious prince…

Morgause had always known Merlyn was one of a kind; stronger than most, mind and soul made of the hardest metals despite the hurt, voices and visions, but holding on for this long had almost made the Priestess give up. Between the numerous tries of the long tiring spell, keeping the dripping mandrake roots working and creating her horrors and just trying not to lash out on her accomplice, she had been tired.

But the key word had been almost.

They had finally moved her from the middle of the room to the side where a rickety cot had been placed. Despite the first words she had ground out from her dry throat, the woman had lost consciousness hours ago - but not before the Priestess had seen the results of her hard work; the glint in the dark eyes Morgause had seen when the little girl in her care had walked out of one of the cells that had held the blood-capes; the hollow emotion of her smile the Priestess remembered had lit a flicker of fear in everyone's soul; and the pitch-black runes etched around her pupils, only clear to those who knew where to look. No longer was she condemned by that false hope of her destiny, no longer was she held back by the barrier of her mind - no longer was she the hollow shell of what she was supposed to be.

Though this time, the High Priestess had made sure the girl couldn't have her own mind; no one needed her to rebel again. Morgause would make sure she would be just what she was born and bred to be - the worst nightmare of Camelot, right under the Priestess' thumb as she had been as a child.

A hand landed on her shoulder as her brown eyes watched the sleeping form, no longer writhing in the grasp of her nightmares but sleeping almost peacefully despite the way her wrists were still shackled together by the masterpiece Morgause had created. "You did it," a careful whisper called next to her, delicate even though trembling from over-use and the slender hand on the woman's shoulder held a bit tighter. The Priestess turned to look at the owner and smiled warmly when brown met green.

Bringing her beautiful niece in the middle of all this was never Morgause's intention - no doubt her late half-sister would've burned her where she stood for endangering her daughter - but she couldn't deny the fact that Morgana was powerful for such a new witch. After her sister, Nimueh, had unfortunately met her doom when she had gone rogue, despite the protests Morgause had had, she had needed a new source of magic. Ever since the older woman had known of the princess of Camelot, she had also known about her gifts of sights and how she was being smothered in that kingdom.

The scared young girl had caught her eye immediately when Morgause had challenged the weakling the people called their prince; the girl had been the image of Viwien despite the green eyes that were the unfortunate copies of the murderer who sat on the throne and called himself king. No doubt taught of the king's views of magic, Morgana had been reluctant to listen when Morgause had said she was her aunt. So, the Priestess had done the next best thing - she had written to the princess under a false name but made sure the girl knew who she was.

Exchanging letters had been dreadful at first, since Morgana hadn't answered the first few and if the rumors coming from the kingdom through thetred-headed maid had told her anything, the princess had called them 'threats' to his father. Close to giving up, the Priestess had allowed the boy she had been working with write in her stead - the druid, Mordred, had a way with words. It was frightening how easily he had been able to get the girl to write back. Even with all the loyalty Morgana had had for her brother, she had grown to trust the druid fast.

"We did it," answered the Priestess, glancing briefly at the silent man kneeling beside the sleeping woman before returning to observe the girl next to her. It seemed that Morgana only vaguely registered the older woman's words, since her emerald eyes were glued on the movement of Mordred's hand that was brushing off a strand of hair away from the grayish, sweat-soaked face of the warrior's.

Something about the way Morgana stared at the boy made Morgause's insides churn unpleasantly. She knew is could be just an innocent crush, but the glint in the girl's green eyes had been there ever since Mordred had lured her out of the castle to meet him and the Priestess. There were no signs of magic around the girl though, but Morgause couldn't understand it - there was nothing to love about Mordred. He was cold and calculating, no hint of emotion anywhere in his steel-blue eyes; not to mention he was completely attached to the dark-haired warrior that had been the thorn in Morgause's side for years.

But Morgana seemed to have made her mind, and even the endless tries to stop her hadn't convinced the princess to stop from returning - especially since her magic had manifested. Without her permission, Mordred had promised that Morgana could be there to help. While yes, it had been true that Morgause and Mordred would need someone powerful enough to make the spell work, using her niece had never been an option. But as it had been the case with Mordred, so it had been with this - there was no stopping the girl when she had made up her mind.

Offering the Priestess a small, weak smile, Morgana ripped her watering eyes away from the two by the cot and turned her back to them. Morgause was just about to ask what was bothering the princess, when she saw movement from the corner of her eye. Turning to the druid, she straightened her back as he slowly sauntered closer with a carefree smile on his face. To an outsider, he would've looked almost normal but Morgause knew better and was able to see the excited, blood-lusting glint in his eyes. Briefly looking past him, she saw that Merlyn had been moved to a better position on the cot and a heavy blanket had appeared over her.

The sight made Morgause's lip curl in disdain - she did not deserve to be treated like that; with affection. Pushing the biting comment away, the brown eyes landed back on the boy's blue ones that were curiously staring at the back of the princess'. The dark blue velvet dress Morgana had on under the black cloak shimmered slightly in the moonlight as the girl hastily wiped her face before turning around - avoiding Mordred's eyes. "When do we move?" The assassin asked, eyes never leaving Morgana's profile while a small tug threatened to lift the corner of his mouth. "Dear Merlyn will no doubt wake soon enough to-"

"She won't come with us," Morgause cut him off and fought off a flinch when the cold grey eyes snapped to hers, flaming with anger. The Priestess stood tall despite the shiver that threatened to grow under the murderous glare and tilted her chin up defiantly. "We do not have time to wait for her to recover, spell or no spell. Camelot is weak, the longer we wait now, the more time they will have to anticipate our attack. We need to move tomorrow."

The harsh words seemed to jolt Morgana from whatever thought she was deep in and widen her eyes incredulously. "Tomorrow?" She breathed out, blinking rapidly as her mind visibly started to spin. "But-"

"No buts, my dear," Morgause said firmly, but her tone noticeably softer as she addressed the princess. Her gloved hand rose up to brush away a stray strand of the girl's hair, thumb staying to stroke her cheekbone as she continued in a hushed voice, "don't you want to be free? For us and everyone like you and I to celebrate who we are, without having to fear someone like Uther and his precious prince? Don't you want everything you deserve and more?"

It had taken a while, but Morgana understood the truth now; the loyalty and love she had for her father and brother were wholly misplaced. The prince might be softer than the brutal king, but he was still no better than him. He followed the orders Uther Pendragon spouted in his lingering anger and grief, slaughtered innocents and celebrated the massacre of their kind. She knew now how the Purge began; she knew now that her Mother, the beautiful and powerful Priestess Viwien would have never willingly had a child with a murderer; she knew now that the death of her mother was because of self-loathing and shame, not sadness or grief.

And she knew now that a child of the king and a High Priestess, the most powerful Seer of this time, was the rightful heir for the throne of Camelot - for the whole of Albion. Not the murderer's son no better than his father, the golden prince who was only golden because of the jewels and treasures the king showered him in after every slaughter.

The wide green eyes stared at the Priestess for a long moment, before the familiar determined light sparked back to life and she nodded as Morgause let her hand fall back down. From the corner of her eye, Morgause saw the druid tilt his head as his eyes flicked curiously between the two woman, but he never said anything before turning on his heels and walking back to the unmoving warrior. Morgana's gaze turned to follow him, but soon lowered to the peaceful face of Merlyn and turned to harsh steel as she spoke, "of course I do, Aunt. No matter who I need to burn on the way."

 

***

 

The army, enhanced to be unbeatable by the Cup of Life, was ready to move at first light. Among them, Mordred's assassins clad in their familiar leather were shifting restlessly, a stark difference to the completely unmoving soldiers in their armors, unseeing eyes staring forward as they waited for their orders. As much as Morgause had wanted to turn every single one of them to undead weapons under her command, Mordred wasn't someone even she wanted to anger by going against his wishes; the boy was surprisingly stubborn when he had claimed that a person with their own mind was much deadlier than Morgause's puppets and so he didn't want his people to be turned.

But there were few parts of the plan that were still missing, and it was Morgause's job to get them done. Despite the way Morgana had argued that she could do them herself, it had fallen on the Priestess' shoulders. Morgana was needed to be on the throne, not burned to ashes under the castle.

Locking eyes with Mordred where he sat on his horse in the front of the whole army, Morgause gave him a tight nod before addressing the crowd with her voice enhanced by magic. "Today, we ride to Camelot with fire in our hearts, and tomorrow," a smirk spread to her face as her eyes flickered briefly towards the ruined fortress behind the army where the warrior was still sleeping, still chained to the stone, "we force the Pendragon men in the darkness of their precious castle and treat them with the same respect they have shown to us! Tomorrow we take the kingdom and end the bloodshed of Uther Pendragon and his spawn!"

A cheer from the assassins littered between the undead soldiers rang through the cold air at her words and after Mordred, who had not reacted to the speech with anything but a manic look at the Priestess' direction, kicked his black stallion forward as a sign for them to move. They were not far from Camelot, but the army was supposed to go through the woods so that Camelot wouldn't have time to prepare before the army would be knocking on their gates.

After watching the army march past her toward the city, Morgause turned on her heels with a swirl of her dark cloak and briskly walked around the fortress muttering warding spells to keep the blasted warrior in no matter what. Since she was not waking up anytime soon and Morgause couldn't really stay behind to wait for that to happen, any command given would be long forgotten by the time Merlyn opened her eyes. The Priestess trusted the cuffs and knew the warrior wouldn't get out of them on her own, but one could not be too sure - Morgause had unfortunately learned that one too many times in the past when dealing with that wily witch. But with the wards, the younger woman would not be able to step a toe outside of the fortress, not before Morgause came back and took her to see what her false loyalties brought to Camelot - and would enjoy the way she wouldn't know to mourn over the city, but would only laugh merrily over the carnage and ash.

For twenty-two years Morgause had waited for this, to drive the Pendragons off of the throne and place someone worthy on it; someone who would look out for the magic-users. No more would the mundane rule the land with their steel and superior numbers - no, from this moment forth, the witches and warlocks and magical creatures that have been hiding for years, will be free to roam the earth and celebrate the power the Gods have given them.

And it all starts with Camelot's rot.

Throwing her hands up in the air after the last ward was placed after too many long hours of murmuring under her breath, the Priestess' victoriously shining golden eyes glanced at the fortress again before snarling the spell 'astýre ús þanonweard!' and letting the whirlwind of magic whisk her away from the forest straight to the hill that overlooked the kingdom. The sun was still high on the sky and her army was not close enough for her to move forth, so the Priestess shielded herself from unwanted eyes and leaned against a tree by the road, letting the earth's magic complement her own and strengthen it for later.

Under the influence of the nature's magic, Morgause was able to feel her way all through the land; she felt the beauty that was magic and magic-users, one stronger than the next one, but all still bright with hope and promise of a strong future. She felt how a young child was born in the North, radiating power that was like a green glow smelling of the forest after the rain; old man and a woman side by side in their house not far from the newborn, warming up their fireplace with a simple, yet effective spell and keeping close to each other, both radiating the same warmth as the fire; a man calling forth his horse by talking to it in his mind in the East with heart as pure as the gold coins in his pocket.

They were all her responsibility, and even though Uther was just one king, his influence had made life difficult all over the land - there was only one kingdom not agreeing to his rule, but it wasn't enough. Not all were able to travel to safety.

But there was a place where the magic ran the thickest and strongest, it was the most beautiful golden hue she had ever witnessed yet it was still the most frightening of all - and it wasn't unfamiliar to the Priestess, nor was it unfamiliar to any who sensed it, no matter if they had ever felt or seen it before. They would be able to recognize the authority and beauty in it now that it wasn't warded by the holder's own will. It promised pain and healing, destruction and creation, it was everyone's greatest hope yet other's greatest downfall. The gold had been hidden for years, in a way no one should be able to keep it but now it was free to be discovered yet not to be used - the cuffs were there to make sure of it.

Yet no one knew who she was, but the Priestess. Being familiar with the feeling during her growing up from the naïve little girl to a strong witch who had dared to go against her savior, tricking her into an oath that had proven to be Morgause's worst mistake. Oh, how she loathed how that kind of power had been bestowed to someone so weak and misguided. If any felt the power they would not know who they'd find if they'd be able to get through the wards the Priestess had grown around her.

No one knew who she was, but everyone knew she was Emrys, whether they were familiar with the name or not - they'd know to fear and respect her.

Fighting off the shiver that threatened to run along her spine, she twisted her head to hear a satisfying crack from her neck, then slowly let the threads of the earth's magic go before getting up from her hiding place, eyes trailing from the castle to the horizon. The high hanging sun and cloudless skies all screamed a beautiful day, no sign of rain or thunder, or even wind.

It is perfect, she thought as a smile slowly grew on her lips and gloved hands pulled her hood to cover her face, turning to walk down the hill.

 

***

 

Getting in to the castle was dreadfully easy for someone like her. It wasn't even close to dark yet, but the guards looked like they were dead on their feet, or at least close to it, so they did not see the dark figure skipping from alcove to alcove. Fortunately she had memorized the corridors as a young child when she had visited the Priestess Nimueh before the Purge. Morgause remembered the kingdom being almost beautiful then, ruled by a fair, but tough king and a gorgeous, just queen Ygraine who had just glowed with her pregnancy.

Now the white-stoned castle was only a place of thousands of tormented souls, killed too soon, for no reason other than being born or having a skill no other had. The bleak stone walls surrounded the cold halls, not even the torches could bring warmth to the sadness of the ruler's victims, left behind when their souls moved beyond the Veil.

The route up to the royal chambers was familiar too, her having been there to help the princess of Camelot to infect the king with the mandrake root that had held the spell needed to take down the king even before the coming war - because what was a kingdom with only a prince? Morgause didn't know if she should be proud or afraid since it had been her niece's idea - the girl had grown to hate her father so strongly that if was compared to the hate Morgause felt.

Sending a quick spell further down the corridor to knock off a torch, the Priestess watched how the guard jogged to stop the fire before swiftly sliding through the door to the dark chambers. The room hadn't changed one bit during the months since her last visit, but the stale smell and drawn curtains were enough to tell that the man hadn't left the chambers for a long time, if at all.

It had been difficult to find a way to get the king to succumb to his nightmares and fears - Morgause was strong, but even she couldn't fight off knights while performing such a complicated spell with a witch who had only just gotten her magic under control. But using the mandrake root as an anchor for the spell and just releasing it at the right time with the right combination of runic magic had done the job - now the mighty butcher king was nothing but a shell of the man he had once been, sitting on his throne and condemning her kind to a blazing death.

Not even bothering to raise up wards to silence the room, Morgause leisurely made her way across the room and let her eyes slowly roam over the thinner frame of the so-called strong king - in some ways, his fear of magic was justified, especially since he wasn't able to protect himself from it. The only things magical in the kingdom were ancient spells preventing scrying that had made Morgause's plans difficult - well, before the now useless maid and before Morgana had stepped along. But the fear and hate would be the mighty king's downfall - it was rather ironic that the only thing able to protect him from magic, was magic.

The dull green eyes were trained on her face when Morgause stopped by the bed but it was unclear if he saw her or one of the monsters of his mind - but the fearful look still warmed her heart and brought a small smile to her lips. "Oh, Uther," Morgause sighed almost regretfully, using her gloved hand to touch his feverish, clammy forehead and smiled wider when he jerked weakly away, "it is a shame you won't be able to properly see the rise of magic yourself or how your daughter will be the one to usher it. I might be a bit forward, but she truly is the unappreciated, but true savior of us all with that blood of royals and Priestess' flowing in her veins and a mighty sharp head on her shoulders."

"W-who are you?" His raspy voice asked from between his light, silky covers and made the Priestess tut silently, shaking her head in disappointment. "You- you do not work in this kingdom."

"No, I do not." It was clear his feverish mind was not able to comprehend the fact that Morgause was no doubt there to destroy his legacy, as she had very clearly stated - but no matter. "And I will not. Oh, my dear, you should be pleased, you will not die today. You will be here, in this room or under the castle behind the bars, but still here to see how we will turn your kingdom around! You'll be able to see us free, see how the world changes, you-"

"Who are you?!" The king tried to shout, but it came out as a wheezing cough, his body jerking with the force of it.

Morgause merely stepped back and let the king cough and spit wetly, the coloring an unhealthy shade of red. "That is no matter this time, but fear not; you will learn my name soon, if you ever get better that is," she hummed softly, eyes darting to the door when it cracked silently. Throwing her hood back up, Morgause backed quickly away between the wardrobe's side and the wall, and let the shadow fall over her. The dark cloak let her melt to the dark corner perfectly, just to see the person slowly make his way to the king.

"Father," came a silent sigh as the prince of Camelot sat heavily on the stool by the bed. The king was still wheezing for air, the mysterious cloaked figure already forgotten but eyes still darting all over the room, watching figures invisible to everyone else but him. "I wanted to visit you before the meeting starts."

It was clear that the prince had grown used to talking to his father without expecting any answers, even when the older man was wide awake and sometimes even speaking - thought not to the young prince, never to him. It was like the golden haired man was invisible to him, just another hallucination. The words he spoke did not interest Morgause one bit, but the way the boy looked was interesting enough - he looked absolutely destroyed. If he was anyone else, Morgause might have felt at least a bit sympathetic.

He looked like a prince still, big and burly with no signs of weight loss or deceases, well-fed and all. But the way he held himself screamed tiredness, and so did the dark bruises under his bloodshot eyes. While his frame was still as strong as ever, his skin looked slightly ashen and tight around his bones, the healthy pink shade gone from his cheeks and dark-gold hair falling limply over his forehead as it had grown from when the Priestess had last seen him. The biggest change though, was the hopeless look that pushed forth when he spoke the name Merlyn.

"I know even you were fond of her, Father, and I fear I have disappointed you and everyone else by not finding her. I know I say all this every time I walk through that door, but I-" the prince cut himself off and ran his hands over his tired face, moving his blue eyes to stare the blocked off window, "-but I can't help but think that my attempts are not good enough. That I'm not good enough. If I couldn't take care of her, how am I supposed to be able to take care of the kingdom?"

Of course, he got no answer from the distracted king, but still seemed to stare at the older man with a small spark of hope. Uther might have glanced at the boy from time to time, but never showed that he even listened. Eventually, the prince seemed to slump and let out a bone-deep sigh before forcing himself up from the stool. He only murmured a quiet goodbye to the king, who had now fallen back to lie on the bed before disappearing back to the corridor. Still smiling viciously, Morgause emerged from the shadows and locked eyes with the king, who had now again seen her. "He is right, you know," the Priestess informed the man, eyes taking on a faint golden hue, "he is not good enough."

The man got no chance to even react before Morgause's sleeping spell hit him and he fell into a deep slumber. The next time he would wake up, he would have no kingdom anymore.

Deciding to start her own spells in the very same chambers, Morgause walked by the covered window and peeked out. The sun was still up, but already dipping slightly down - Mordred would be there anytime soon and when the darkness came… they would strike.

A smile on her face, the woman pressed her palms against the glass and started murmuring and felt the pleasant burn of her eyes as they shone under her closed eyelids. She could feel the still strong wards the bastard Merlyn had formed, but knew the kind - if the creator wasn't there to strengthen them every so often, they would turn weaker and weaker. And while they were still as strong as Morgause's wards when they were just created, the warrior wasn't there to stop her.

"Ābirst ðæt clústor ofdune, ic onbéodan þec," the spell was quietly spoken, but no less powerful and it took only a second for her to feel how her magic started to run along the stones of the castle. The strongest clusters of magic were at the entrances and hidden entryways Morgause hadn't even known were there, and hundreds of smaller webs of spells and enchantments all around the castle and the city. Trying to untangle them proved to be too slow, as she would've had to pull each tether off one by one, so the Priestess relied on cutting through them. But the threads only snapped right back, no matter how fast Morgause cut and sliced, though they were getting weaker by the minute. Angry and frustrated, she threw a wave of magic at the web, and almost laughed in relief when the burned threads pulled reluctantly back as their counterparts were either burned to shreds or pulled off.

The strong clusters were much the same, though they took much more time and before the Priestess even noticed, the sun was starting to hang dangerously low - but at least now Mordred and the army would have no trouble getting in to the city. It wasn't that the spells would've completely stopped them, but because of the oath the Priestess had stupidly taken, she wasn't able to explain why the army was turned around or they forgot their commands - the wards only did so to those with the intent to harm, so it would've been quite counterproductive to them, and knowing Merlyn, there was no chance she wouldn't have created them at some point.

A loud commotion from the courtyard caught her attention just as she was about to turn to the door. Frowning slightly, the curiosity won and the woman pushed the heavy, red curtains aside to see better. She had never seen the men riding through the gates herself, but after too many months in the presence of Merlyn and creating horror images one after another, the faces were too familiar. The other one with the longer hair was injured and riding in front of the darker one, a second horse attached to the occupied saddle. Neither wore the red of Camelot, but if the way the tall knight ran to them shouting, the two men were well known.

Straining her hearing, Morgause was able to hear some incoherent rambling from the darker man, but the words warn Arthur and he's coming were enough for the Priestess to understand one thing - Mordred was playing his games again. Her anger washing over her stronger than for a while, the normally calm woman growled under her breath and hit her gloved fist against the hard stonewall.

Mordred was a valuable ally, but the boy had no sense of loyalty, at least not to anyone who wasn't a blue eyed, black haired warrior. It was all just a game to the druid, she should've never trusted him to help with this, his priorities were too jumbled up and the games that made his day were too risky during war; now the kingdom had a warning. They could now prepare, though not get help. Morgana had gleefully told that most of the knights and soldiers of Camelot were scattered around the kingdom in different outposts or nobles' homes, and they would only move if they got word from the castle - now it would be too late. The element of surprise was partially ruined by now, but it was no less easy to take over - at least not after Morgause made one last stop.

Leaving the chambers was as easier than entering them, since the guards were in the process of switching shifts for the evening, so it took her only a few minutes to navigate her way through the castle to the servants staircase. The information Morgana had given about the guards', knights' and servants' movements during the day proved to be useful again, as the Priestess didn't come across anyone on her way down to the lower levels and straight to the open archway leading further down. Skipping down the stairs leading down to the dungeons, Morgause didn't even slow down when she saw the guards playing dice by the staircase. "Swefe nu," was whispered just before the men's heads started to turn around at the sound of Morgause's footsteps. They would be none the wiser, especially since no one could really get any time to blame them from all the bloodshed happening by the time they woke up.

Curiously she noticed how the grate separating the dungeon halls and the staircase leading down had been moved, it had been in place for years on end, keeping any trespassers out - though the Priestess knew immediately who had been the one the disturb the peace. Gritting her teeth together, Morgause swiftly made her way down the steep, slippery stairs and prayed to every God she knew that the mighty Emrys hadn't corrupted the ancient beast to see her views - but now how could she have done that? As a Priestess, Morgause knew the way of the world almost as well as a thousand year old creature, so surely it would understand her need?

It seemed that the creature had known she was advancing, since it was perched on the ledge when she reached the end of the stairs. In its full glory, dark golden scales glinting ominously in the light the orb hovering over Morgause's hand provided, teeth slightly bared in its massive maw and those piercing golden eyes boring holes in hers as they watched the human move closer without hesitating, very much confident that she'd get her way.

"What is it that you seek, High Priestess Morgause?" The deep, rumbling voice almost startled the woman, even when she was very much aware that the creature could talk. "It is highly unlikely that you only came to see me, so it only leaves the option of wanting something from me."

Straightening her posture as much as she could under the heavy stare of the dragon, Morgause tilted her chin up and looked right back at it. "You are as knowledgeable of the ways of the world and Destiny as I am, Great Dragon, so surely you are well aware of what I seek?" She spoke, tone strong but still laced with the undeniable awe she felt from standing in front of the mighty beast. Deciding to stay on the dragon's better side, she knew that demanding what she wanted was not a good choice if she didn't look forward to be burned where she stood - even chained, the beast would no doubt see it as a bad thing.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Priestess, surely you are well aware of that?" The dragon countered with narrowed eyes as its head lowered slightly, tilting so it's right eye could stare straight at her. "But yes, I do know what it is that you want, though the question remains; how do you expect me to be of aid? As you can see, I am not in a position to do much of anything." As to punctuate its words, the dragon rattled the chains connecting its hind leg to the stone, the sound echoing in the massive cavern and making Morgause's ears ring.

A small, coy smile stretched to her lips as her eyes flitted between the dragon's right, golden eye and the cuff around its leg. "What if I could free you?" The Priestess suggested and raised her brow, tilting her head to the side. "You'd be the first of many treated wrongly by the false-royals of this rotten kingdom to be freed."

"And what is it that you'd want from me, if I was to agree? I am not one to be happy to be pulled in the whims of men."

The smile on her lips faltered when Morgause didn't hear the excitement she had waited, only a dry tone that sounded almost like boredom. "All I ask, is that you see our enemies as your own, Great Dragon," answered the Priestess. The fingers of her left hand were fiddling with the side of her cloak almost nervously, the anxiety of the beast's stare turning too much to handle. "Surely you wish our kind to be free?"

It was as if the dragon took offence of her words; its massive head was suddenly only a foot away from the Priestess and a warm, strong cloud of breath escaping its maw made the woman struggle to keep her footing. "The enemy of Albion's future is my enemy, Priestess," the low growl answered and spoke of her title like a curse of the worst kind, golden orbs promising pain if she even dared to think of saying anything else, "never forget that."

Deeming the answer worthy of a promise, the Priestess gave a curt, though slightly shaky nod and waited a long moment for the dragon to pull its head away. It was time, Morgause could feel the druid's presence near the castle - a dragon would be a perfect sign for the attack to begin. "Then you shall be free," she sighed, and though she received no answer from the dragon, the Priestess focused on the long chain falling down from the beast's ledge. Knowing that no magic of hers only could destroy metal engraved with magic-restricting marks, she had come prepared - a sword stolen from the knights of Medhir. While she had been tempted to raise the fearsome knights for this endeavor, the Cup of Life had proven to be a better solution since the army could be bigger than just the already existing knights.

The journey down from the ledge she had been standing on proved to be easier than she had imagined, despite the way the stairs had crumbled during the years and soon the Priestess was standing by the end of the chain, black jagged sword raised to the air. Her already golden eyes snapped back up to the expectant ones of the dragon - she was about to seek confirmation for his aid, but decided against it when the harsh look of the beast stared back; no good would come from annoying an ancient creature like the Great Dragon.

"Ic bebeode þisne sweord þæt hé forcierfe þá bende þæra dracan. Un clýse!" The spell left her lips as swiftly as any, but the blowback that happened when the chain broke as she cut through it was enough to send the Priestess flying backwards. The dragon though didn't seem to even notice - it froze for a second as the resistance of the cuffs disappeared before it rose to its hind legs with an almighty roar and victoriously spread the huge wings as if to test the newly found freedom. Morgause never even had a chance to open her mouth to shout at the beast to keep the promise before the creature already took off to the air, large columns of fire bursting out of its maw as it celebrated - and soon it was gone from her sight, but the distant screams that echoed from outside and the dungeon halls told her that the beast had truly stayed behind.

It was time.

 

**A**

 

Arthur wasn't really sure which was the bigger shock - seeing Gwaine and Lancelot again, or the fact that they would be in war soon.

The men gave the prince a quick, vague description of where they had been, which was basically everywhere during the last six months before deciding to round back to Camelot. They hadn't decided if they were going to return to the city or just stay close, but the decision had been taken from them only hours before they had ridden through the gates. An army, more than five hundred or so, was marching undeniably to the direction of Camelot's city - and it was led by no other than Mordred. Gwaine and Lancelot hadn't been able to tell precisely how many the army held or who they were, other than the fact that Mordred's assassins were among the stoic, almost statue-like soldiers. The number of assassins was bigger too, faces that Lancelot had never seen and some too young to be holding a blade in his eyes, but as proven, no less vicious with their attacks since one of the younger ones had gotten Gwaine. They were not sure how they had been able to escape and ride away, but Lancelot, always honest and true, had guessed it was because of the army's leader - he played games like that, and right then the druid was sure they'd win no matter the warning.

"Did you find her?" The prince had asked, in lieu of asking about the army - which, to be honest, should have been his main concern - and received a dry deadpan look from the ex-knight who was being treated by Gaius; Arthur chose to ignore the slight sparks flying from the physician's hands since it was just the three of them that moment.

"Oh, yes, we did! We just decided to leave her behind and not inform her that her crazy excuse of an ex-" the man had cut himself off for a moment just to yelp in pain and cowered under Gaius' heavy stare, but had ended up sighing heavily before looking back at the prince, "-no, we didn't… No sign anywhere."

Arthur had chosen not to say anything else just to hide the way the gnawing guilt in his chest made itself known again. Of course they hadn't found her; anyone who knew Merlyn would know that she would never stray away from a fight, no matter if she was being tied down or holding her head in her hands. The fight was so deeply ingrained in her, the fire of war as much part of her as her magic, the need to protect and help far greater that the need to protect herself - she would never leave Camelot in the hands of Mordred if she knew about it.

Which made the prince once again think that maybe she was dead. It was not a pleasant thing to think about when he was trying to order the guards and knights to evacuate the city, help servants navigate their way through the chaos to their duties under the pressure of war and watch from afar how Morgana and Guinevere were carrying stacks upon stacks of medicine, bandages and whatnot for Gaius to the makeshift infirmary.

If Merlyn was dead, it would explain why she was nowhere to be found. If she was dead, it would explain why Lancelot didn't mention seeing her as a prisoner or, well, an accomplice for Mordred. Not that Arthur thought Merlyn could ever turn her back to the people she had lived for over a year, but still - if she was dead… it would explain why the world was a mess of grays, blacks and whites instead of vibrant colors and happy thoughts, and why the kingdom was now going to be under attack.

"I thought Merlyn had placed wards to protect the kingdom? She said so…" the prince had let his words trail off when he had seen the look on Gaius' face - though the old man had tried hard to keep his professional mask on, his eyes screamed pain. Arthur hadn't been sure he wanted to know what made the physician hurt so bad.

The old man had cleared his throat and let his eyes roam around them, to see that no one had been close enough to hear him, before he had spoken, "the wards she created are strong, stronger than anything I have ever felt. I felt them be in place for months, the power just radiated from them and made me feel safe even though she wasn't…" Gaius' voice had trailed for a moment, before he had visibly shaken his messed up thoughts and averted his eyes, focusing the piercing blue on the bandages he had been straightening. "The wards were one of a kind, and from what I understood when she explained them to me, they would not disappear without a proper cause. That they are linked to her magic and life-force, which are already strong on their own, strong enough to hold just about anything even when she's not here to re-enforce them."

"…what is a proper cause?" The prince had prompted, dread growing in his gut as the other's eyes found his again.

"There are only three options," the physician had sighed, falling silent for a second when two servants had ran past them, "the first one being that she took them down, which is unlikely. Then, someone stronger than her ripping them to shreds, which again, is impossible. Unless… she was unable to stop them. That leaves only one option, a-and…"

The man hadn't needed to finish the sentence, and it had looked like he couldn't even, if the tears gathering in his eyes had told the prince anything.

The last option, which is death.

No more than two hours after the ragged men had rode to the kingdom, the castle was in full chaos; while all the guards and knights were in their own world trying to prepare, there were also servants, peasants, nobles… they all formed a massive whirlwind of panic and noise that Arthur was only a minute away from a full-blown migraine.

Added to that, Morgana didn't seem to understand how he did not have the time to talk about her belongings or to argue about her safety - the latter being the smaller worry for the girl, for crying out loud. "For the love of all that's good and holy, Morgana!" The prince finally snapped after trying to organize the chaos while listening to the princess' rant for the longest time. He spun around on his heels and pointed a harsh finger at the girl, ignoring her flinch at the movement. "If you do not go to safety with the others who are being evacuated, I will knock you out and make George drag you there."

A hard scoff left the princess as she placed her hands on her hips, chin tilting up defiantly, "because I am a woman, is that it? Oh for god's sake, you are such a hypocrite-"

"Because you are my sister and I worry!" The exclamation left the prince's lips a lot more louder than he had intended it to, but it was no more true. Morgana flinched again, but this time just froze where she stood with her green eyes wider than any other time he had seen - never had there been this kind of danger lurking beyond the horizon during their lifetime either. Heaving a bone-deep sigh, Arthur grabbed her wrist and gently but firmly pulled the girl near the huge doors leading to the courtyard. "You are my baby sister, Morgana. If anyone knows how well you are able to take care of yourself, it's me. I still have the scars to prove it,-" they shared a small, sad grin for his words before the prince fell serious again, "-but I cannot truly fight if I worry about you. I need you to be safe… please."

It wasn't a normal sight to see the prince of Camelot pleading like that, but he would use any weapon he had to just get the princess to safety. He did not care about the fights they had had for the past eight months, he did not care how her stubborn rants about the kingdom's wellbeing, the unfair laws and the fact that it needed a ruler and he sure as hell did not care about her having magic anymore - no, he just cared about her being safe from the war that was almost knocking on their gates.

Morgana stared at his eyes for a long, silent moment. Hesitant, burning green meeting pleading, shining blue and neither was backing down. But eventually, the princess let out a quiet breath and let her shoulders droop. "I won't leave the castle, brother," she declared stubbornly as she glared at him beneath her lashes though it had very little heat in it, "you are not the only one who cannot be if they worry. But I will stay out of sight."

A small smile tugged Arthur's lips up. "Promise?" He asked and let go of the girl's hand just to lift his pinky at her. She huffed a small laugh, but nodded as she hooked her little finger around his, just like they had when they had been just two kids making oaths never to leave each other and always share their toys. It seemed that the memories were playing in the princess' mind too, if the forlorn, almost regretful look told the man anything. Without a word, Arthur pulled the princess in a tight embrace, tears burning his eyes behind his closed lids as he buried his face in the thick dark hair of his sister. He felt her strong grip around his waist just a second later, tight enough to push the breath out of him - not that he complained.

"Stay safe," he murmured in her hair, just loud enough for her to hear it. Arthur felt her nod, but he never heard what she was about to say when a battalion of knights stepped to his line of sight not far from them, led by Sir Percival and Sir Elyan. The latter was being hugged fiercely by Guinevere despite the way she had her arms full of more bandages for Gaius. The prince tightened his hold for a second before pulling away, giving the girl a smile he hoped at least looked reassuring. "Go, and take as many citizens with you as you can, and make sure they move father too; I do not know if he's in a good enough state to travel. You know where to go to keep safe."

He only received a nod from the princess before she hurried off with her dark red skirts flying behind her, waiving at the people around her to follow. The prince gave himself a moment to be proud of the way Morgana took such good care of the peasants looking for safety and guidance, before he squared his shoulders and marched to his men, who too straightened when seeing their leader approach. He nodded to the trembling George, who moved in a hurry to attach the straps of the prince's armor, his sword and shield leaning against the wall behind him. The gesture was familiar, and as much as he wanted to get lost in it, Arthur turned his attention to the knights.

"Elyan, Percival. You are to lead a group of knights to search for help. We do not have much time, the scouts have returned and the army is close," he informed the men and fell silent for a moment to take in the slight panic that appeared in the men's eyes. But the look vanished as soon as it came, and was replaced with a fire that he knew his knights had. "The army is in the forest, so we do not know the full number since most are hidden. But we must be prepared for the worst, so you will ride out and get help from the outposts, find any estates you know hold more men and sent all this way before you continue to our neighboring kingdoms."

"What if we are too late, sire?" A voice piped up from between the men just as George finished his duty and handed the weapons to the prince, but Arthur couldn't see who spoke. But the same question was clear in the other's eyes too and it made the prince's chest ache.

Hide, find help, survive, was what he wanted to say, but all that came out of his mouth was a firm; "let us hope it doesn't come to that."

Sir Hugo was about to open his mouth, when a roar shook the entire castle in its foundations - it came deep, it was like the earth itself had come to life. Without a second thought, Arthur and the knights ran, swiftly making their way between the panicking people, struggling not to knock anyone over on their way to the courtyard - though they never made it there, when a massive shadow fell on the courtyard and all eyes snapped up to the darkening sky just in time to see a huge, winged creature fly over the castle.

Shouts for beast, dragon and kill the thing! ringed in Arthur's ears, but he couldn't focus on them - how would Kilgharrah be free? Why would he attack them, after all the things he had said about him and Merlyn? About them paving the way for a greater future the dragon longed to see.

But the thoughts were pushed to the back of his mind - or as far back they could, when the creature flew over them again - when another shout came from the gates. The words registered slowly, the sounds blurring in his ears and blending together only to morph into a steady, high-pitched ringing. He vaguely registered giving orders for the knights to leave and get help, signaling the guards to shut the castle doors to protect the citizens and then stepping to the courtyard surrounded by his men - all that before sound returned and he could hear the hundreds thundering footsteps running through the Lower Town, some dark figures nimbly climbing over the battlements and some even appearing from seemingly nowhere.

They had been attacked several times, but the difference to the previous ones was quite clear - they did not stop to deliver a gruelingly long speech about why they were doing this; no, because they were well aware that the prince already knew.

And they relished in it.

There were no exaggerated battle-cries, no flashy spells, no attempted stealth either - Arthur saw the first attack coming from a mile away. There were two kinds of people among the attacking army; stoic, predictable soldiers in their sturdy, shining armor and helmets covering them that you couldn’t see nothing but their eyes that didn't seem to be looking anywhere; and then there were the ones he had met for several times and even trained with two of them - the assassins, all different from the next one, moving with the agility of a shadow and fervor of a feline, though subconsciously he noticed that none held the same level as she had.

He also thanked his lucky stars that his men were trained enough by her to see the subtle changes in the assassins' tactics, take note of the way they tried to feign trouble or injury and even how they had learned not to underestimate the women they were fighting against.

It was easy for Arthur to get lost in the chaos of the fight when the first wave of snarling assassins hit him. He blocked the attack coming from his left with the shield the same time another tried to attack him with a mace from the right. The mace circled his sword, but his grip didn't loosen even when the man tried to pull the blade away. Instead he jammed the shield hard at the woman as he spun around, using the blade as a leverage to yank the mace-wielder off balance just to jab his boot hard against his jaw. The bone crunched sickeningly under the blow, but there was no time for sympathy during war.

From the corner of his eye, Arthur saw a brief glint of steel and spun around just in time to bring his shield up; the sword pierced through the wood and got stuck in it. He could hear the enraged shout of his attacker, but it died down when he slashed his sword at his stomach. Kicking away the blade from his shield, he spared a brief glance at the assassin, and his stomach rolled unpleasantly - it was one of the assassins Lancelot had spoken about; one of those who were far too young to be in the middle of the bloodshed. Even with his eyes glazed over, the young boy reminded the prince of himself; blue eyes, blonde hair and a big, strong frame even when he looked no more than fourteen.

The distraction proved to be nearly fatal, he didn't have a chance to shield himself when another attack came though this time it was almost behind him - the stealthy woman with a reddish brown hair tied tightly back, clad in nothing but black leather had snuck up behind him and was already in the air with a dagger pointed straight at his neck when Arthur pulled himself together.

He thanked his lucky stars for the second time that day - this time for Gaius - when a blur of red and silver jumped between him and the woman, sword piercing her chest in one gruesome crunch. Kicking the body swiftly away from his blade, Gwaine glanced over his shoulder and surprisingly gave the monarch a cheeky wink before rushing out in the middle of the battle. Arthur would've laughed if a column of fire hadn't erupted from the skies right that moment, hitting a fighting group on the nearest battlement. The prince did not see who got hit, but the worry from earlier reared its ugly head again - had Kilgharrah changed his mind?

The decision was not hard after that; Arthur started to push his way through the crowd, mostly dodging all the attack, blocking or only stopping to help, but his destination was clear. But as much as he wanted to make his way to the battlements to give the bloody dragon a piece of his mind, he couldn't just abandon his men to the flurry of the fight, that was only growing worse by the second.

Despite the fact that the assassins were a much deadlier force than the armored men, the latter seemed to be almost invincible.

No matter where they were, no matter how many times Arthur saw someone dealing a fatal blow; they would not fall - they eerily reminded him of the black knight that Merlyn had fought with. For every hit, they took down a knight or a guard. Once in a while they even engaged in a fight with the assassins, when the paid-killers started to get territorial and were convinced that the others were 'stealing their kills'. That left a dead assassin laying on the ground.

The hopelessness was starting to grown in his mind as the prince parried another strike coming from his right, smashing his shield at the side of the bald man's head. Everywhere he looked, there were bodies, blood, fire. Smoke and ash were filling his senses, he wouldn't have been able to see a foot forward if it was not the flames surrounding them or flying from the dragon still circling above. The worst part was that they couldn't even protect the castle - the air was filling with screams of terror as the attacking army marched in, undeterred by the wall of knights, guards and peasant men trying to protect the people inside.

Looking up to the sky after piercing a young woman's throat with his blade, he saw the massive shape of Kilgharrah fly lower now, his talons arched forward as he surged down and grabbed someone - it wasn't a knight or a guard. It was one of those armored men. He wasn't-

A sharp, stinging pain on his side made the thought abruptly cut off, but with a newly discovered vigor, Arthur did not even stumble at the pain, instead just spun around and caught the attacker off guard with his swinging shield. The man ducked under it and was just about to surge forward, but just a second too late - after the shield, Arthur's sword had swung too and it caught his attacker's throat. The bulging eyes of the attacker would have most likely gotten Arthur's attention, if not for the shadow visible between the blazing flames and flying ash by the gate not too far behind the falling assassin.

The shadow stood there, totally unmoving and even when he did not see the face, he could feel the heavy gaze on him. The long, dark curls were flying wildly around their face and back, the long coat getting caught in the gusts of wind too and flowing around them like a cape. But what caught the prince's attention, were the crossed blades on their back - even from afar, he saw the craftsmanship; he had held them in his hand and could not forget them.

"Merlyn-!"

But then a pillar of white-hot fire crashed down between them and as his focus had been too far from the war still raging behind him, he hadn't seen the hilt of a sword coming for his temple.

Chapter Text

The impact didn't send him unconscious for long, but the prince still lost all ability to stand up or even react when he felt his arms being yanked behind his back to be tied down. The restraints were so tight they almost burned - no, they actually burned when he weakly tried to struggle against them. Magic. It wasn't hard to come to that conclusion but his sight was so blurry that he couldn't see anything but a vague figure of his attacker when they stopped to stand over him. The armor the figure had on made him think it was one of those stoic soldiers creating havoc on the courtyard, but they didn't have a helmet on and the dark cloak flowing around them was in too good shape to have been in the carnage.  

The battle still raged around him, but by the sound of things it was already dying down. There were still shouts and cries of pain, still metal clashing against metal, but the previously constant whooshing sound of Kilgharrah's wings was gone and the warmth of the fire's was simmering down. Arthur wasn't completely sure how for how long he had blacked out, but it was still enough for him to feel like a failure - his people had trusted him. They had put their faith in him to lead the kingdom to victory; but how was he supposed to fight against an army that didn't die down no matter how hard he fought? 

A strange sensation spread through him not long after and the ground vanished from beneath him. He wasn't being lifted to another surface, but rather being floated in the air. Wearily, he was able to crack one of his blurry eyes open and jolted in surprise when he saw a faint shimmer of dark purple encasing his unresponsive body. Beyond the glow, he saw faint shadows still fighting against the red and silver, but the number of his knights and guards was morbidly low. Too many of the unmoving bodies were his men, too many of the struggling, bound ones had burned or torn red capes - too many of the dark figures were just standing around, shouting taunting words at the floating prince.  

Protests of familiar voices searched his ears and he strained his sight to see a small group of badly beaten men forced to kneel on the once-white stones of the courtyard. He couldn't hear their words or completely see their faces, but he could still recognize the muddled figures of Gwaine and Leon, as well as Lancelot who was sadly just huddled on his side on the ground, the only part of him moving was his chest but even that was a barely-there movement. The prince hoped with all he had that he had the ability to try and reassure them someway; but how was he supposed to do that when restrained by magic and being carried past them, clearly beaten and broken and on his way to his death? 

 

*** 

  

The second time Arthur was woken from his haze, it wasn't because of the burning pain around his wrists or the sound of a battle. No, it was the dull ache on his temple accompanied by a sharp sting on his left cheek, as someone slapped him to get him to wake up.  

Head lulling limply to hang on his right shoulder, he faintly registered that the tight feeling around his wrists was still there and that he was no longer floating in the air, but rather in a half-sitting position on the floor with his back pressed against a wall. It took far longer than he would've liked to get his eyes to work, but as soon as he was able to slowly blink them open, he hoped he hadn't. 

He had been placed in the Great Hall, but it did not look like the one that had held thousands of feasts and celebrations, it didn't even look like the one he had grown to see to be the place to hold bleak, stuffy treaty negotiations. The huge windows on the other wall were black with ash and one of them even broken - the hole looked sadly too much like person-shaped one and it was surrounded by dried blood. Blood, that was not only limited on the glass, but it also littered the walls and floor; small splatters here and there, but also bigger pools with drag marks when the bodies had been dragged away. The chandeliers and curtains were still in their places, but badly damaged, the fireplaces empty, cold and stuffed with what looked like Camelot's knights' capes just waiting to be lit. 

The whole hall was quiet and dark, only the faint glow of the moon and stars gave just enough light for the groaning prince to shift his eyes around the space. A dry cough made his smoke-burned lungs ache and the briefly thought he tasted blood on his tongue, but didn't dwell on it for too long. His focus was snatched by the small movement on his left where his slapper sat, also weakly leaning against the nearest pillar. His hands were tied in front of him, but his other wrist was bent so badly that it didn't do him much good. The greenish-brown eyes were heavily bloodshot but still sharply staring at the monarch as he tried to turn to the knight. 

"Back with us, yeah?" Gwaine asked, voice hoarse and held no ounce of the humor Arthur had grown used to hear, but the blonde still gave a short nod as confirmation. "Good. Wouldn't want you to miss our  gracious hosts when they come back." 

The prince found himself frowning slightly. "Ho-hosts?" He grumbled, confused. Wasn't it just Mordred? "Who..?" 

A wry tilt of the corner of Gwaine's mouth caught Arthur off-guard. "The psycho wasn't working alone, it seems," the knight huffed with a weak roll of his eyes and grimaced at the motion; seemed that he wasn't fairing any better than Arthur. "Haven't seen the other one, but apparently it's a she. " Arthur's heart felt like it was about to burst through his chest at Gwaine's words, and the shock must have been clear in his face, since the knights rushed to shake his head, "no, I-I don't think… no, it couldn't be. Right?

They just ended up staring at each other's eyes dumbly, both trying to understand the implications - could it be? 

But before either could voice their thoughts, a pained groan sounded right next to Gwaine. Arthur hadn't even noticed the slumped figure on the floor since they had been partly hidden in the pillar's shadow. Arthur's and Gwaine's eyes snapped at the figure when they started slowly moving, both tensing for a second before they could see their face as they rolled on their back. "W-what the hell?"  The ex-assassin managed to choke out before surrendering to a horrendous coughing fit that shook his whole body. 

A dry, humorless grin stretched on Gwaine's lips again as he nudged Lancelot with his foot. "Glad to see you still live, champ," the knight said when he caught the other man's attention, "would've been a pity to raise hell without you." 

"Shut up," Lancelot huffed between his shaky breaths, blinking slowly as he took a look at their surroundings. Arthur watched silently as the man struggled to push himself off the ground and also lean against the pillar with a dull thump. Now that he was sitting up, Arthur saw more figures behind him. Leon was sitting up and wide awake, but only silently watching the empty hall. He had a bad cut on his forehead and hands tied behind him too, but the look in the knight's grey eyes was as sharp as always. Next to him, Sirs Hugo, Nicholas, the twins Donald and Thomas, and Jackson were in a chaotic pile as they limply leaned against each other but all still breathing. Noticing two friendly faces missing, Arthur almost sighed in relief - Percival and Elyan had left to get help. 

Leon caught the prince's eye and nodded slightly to the silent question, indicating that he was fine, before the knight tilted his head to the side. Arthur shifted slightly so he could see behind the pillar Gwaine and Lancelot were leaning against - Gaius was reclined heavily against Leon's side, wrinkled face grey and filled with dread. His hands were also bound in front of him, and between them he was holding Guinevere's trembling fingers. Neither saw the prince looking, and Arthur figured it was best at the moment; he wasn't sure if he could handle seeing the flicker of hope die down once more. 

Looking back at the two men closest to him, he took note of their injuries as well; Gwaine looked relatively fine despite his bend and bruised wrist. He didn't have any cuts or even blood coming out of anywhere. Lancelot wasn't looking good though; his normally tanned, healthily glowing skin was abnormally pale under the grime and ash, and he was leaning more to the left. Arthur figured he might have been dealt a nasty blow to his right side, though hopefully he had no broken ribs.  

"What the hell are we going to do?" Gwaine's hushed voice snapped the prince out of his stupor. Despite the hall being empty of any enemies, none of them dared to speak too loudly. They didn't even have any weapons anymore to help them out of the ties.

Lancelot huffed weakly beside him and Arthur could see how he rolled his eyes behind his half-closed eyelids. "There's not much we can do," he whispered back, head lulling to the side so he could face the prince better. His dark eyes were still shining, if not slightly dimmer than usually. "Mordred alone is one thing, but with that bitch…

As much as Arthur wanted to point out that it was not normal for Lancelot to call anyone by names, he knew it wasn't the right time - though he didn't have to, since Gwaine muttered the word bitch under his breath with wide eyes. "Who?" The monarch asked, wincing as the act of talking made his throat hurt even more. "Who is he working with?" 

But he didn't need to answer, as the doors flung open much too swiftly for such heavy pieces of wood, though the glowing purple mist pushing them open explained it. The person confidently striding through the door had their chin tilted arrogantly up, dark eyes trained hungrily on the three thrones perched on the dais. Her hair was flowing freely along her back over the black cloak, pale skin almost glowing under the moonlight. With a quick flick of her wrist, the witch set flames to the fireplaces - the burning stench of the bloodied capes soon filled Arthur's nose and made his stomach roll unpleasantly. 

Still, he didn't move his eyes away from the woman. He couldn't. Every enchanting swish of her cloak, every glimmer of the armor, every small shine of a blade - every brief flash of dark gold eyes. She wasn't an unfamiliar sight, but now everything about her made Arthur's blood boil, from the gleeful eyes and wicked grin right to the tips of her curling hair and leather boots. The tense movement from the corner of the prince's eye told that Gwaine and Lancelot were not fairing any better with the sight of her. 

Only the footsteps moving toward the Great Hall's doors managed to get Arthur to rip his eyes away from the woman, though the sight that greeted him at the doors was no better; dozens after dozens of assassins, all wearing their trademark leather and all-black clothing, marching in like a mismatched army of organized chaos and settling all over the hall. He figured that the stoic soldiers had been left to guard the castle, since they seemed to be invincible. Among the assassins, Arthur saw a small peek of a curly black hair and steely eyes, but it was gone the very next moment. In the middle of it all, were two people with expressions so different from the trained killers - the king, eyes vacant and skin ashen as he was almost dragged forward by two armed men, and not too far behind them, the princess Morgana, still wearing her dark red dress and looking as polished as ever though the look in her green eyes was everything but brave. 

"Morgana!" The strangled shout left his lips without a second thought and soon his eyes were met by the wide green ones - it was only the shock and poorly disguised fear that finally managed to get the prince moving. His head was still swimming and with his hands bound behind his back, his attempts were quite frankly pathetic - but at least he tried. Two pairs of hands grabbed him from behind just as Arthur managed to get to his shaky feet, shouting "do not touch her!" just before a kick hit the back of his knee, and send the man hard on the ground. 

Arthur groaned in pain as he rolled on his side, blinking for a few moments before his eyes focused back on his sister. The emerald eyes were still on him and her ruby lips were moving, but it took him a few second to register the words that had been said. 

I told you I'd be safe.  

"Morgana…" his voice was a mere whisper compared to the earlier shout, but it was the best he could do when the scene in front of him started to make sense - though did it really? 

Morgana, his sweet, though temperamental sister, turning her back to the prince and walking past their delusional father without anyone trying to stop her. The blood-red skirts flowing around her as she climbed the steps up to the dais and accepted the hand of the smiling woman waiting there, sharing a smile before the dark-haired girl spun gracefully around and let her eyes roam over the people; those bound on the sides but also those who'd see the kingdom fall for the right amount of gold.  

Lastly, her gaze lowered back to her brother's wide, tearful eyes and the twin emerald one's of her father's. When connected with the king's eyes, the princess visibly gritted her teeth and in her anger, her eyes flashed so quickly that Arthur wasn't sure if he saw correctly - but sharp gasps from his men told that they had seen it too. "It is time for the world to return to what it once was, before the slaughter. The reign of Uther Pendragon ends today," the princess declared as her chin tilted up again, the demeanor changing from the sweet innocent princess to a strong woman Arthur had only seen glimpses of every time they had argued during the past months. But her words, the king's name spit out like a curse rather than with awe like before, were the ones that made the horror grown in the prince's chest. Her words brought movement back to the frozen hall; the men holding Camelot's king up, gathered the old man back up just as the princess' voice rang again, "take him to the dungeons." 

The woman on Morgana's side smiled wide and proud, eyes never leaving the profile of the younger ones. As the hall's door closed again behind Uther and the assassins, the woman was about to open her mouth, no doubt to start the speech that had been missing from the start of the war but was rudely cut off when something hit the closed door, hard.   

Every single person not bound or unarmed moved, pulling their weapons out as a shout ripped through the air behind the door, followed by another impact against the thick wood. From the corner of his eye, he noticed the cloaked woman push Morgana behind her at the same time purple flames engulfed her hands, barking orders to the people closest to her to go see what the hell is going on! Arthur was struggling just to get up from the ground and kept glancing at Lancelot and Gwaine to see if they knew what was happening, but he - as well as his men - were all frozen as they listened. The angry shouts were rapidly turning into screams of horror, and every now and then the voices would abruptly just cut off.  

A third and fourth thump sounded behind the door, this time followed by a scream of mercy before the door was pushed open and an assassin ran in like the Hell itself behind him through the gap. His deathly pale skin was covered in red splatters, the familiar leather vest ripped and torn, now hanging by its dear life. But the look of pure terror, something very unusual on the face of someone killing for living, was what made the breath get caught in Arthur's throat. The sight got even Morgana and the Priestess to freeze on the dais. The dark-haired man only managed to dash to the middle of the room, lips parting as the warning was just at the tip of his tongue - but the only sound that came out was a frantic gurgling as blood pooled in his throat just before he fell down, revealing the pristine dagger sticking out from the back of his neck.

Lancelot's breath hitched at the sight before Arthur brain finally caught on. 

The letter M carved on the white hilt stared back at him. 

  

**M** 

  

Waking up felt strange. 

It wasn't so much the chirping of the little birds drifting into the room, or even the sunlight hitting her face for the first time in months. 

No, it was the silence in her mind that felt weird. Not a bad weird, no, so there must be one thing to thank Morgause for. Well, if one ignored the captivity, torture and exaggerated intimidation that couldn't really scare even a child. Her memories were vague, it seemed that the witch had been unconscious for most of the time, but what she did remember felt like a dream. A painfully boring dream to be honest. 

There was the spell, or part of it at least. Ābirst ðæt clústor ofduneácrimman aconeácnigende hwa héo sy oþe which loosely translated to Morgause being a control-freak psycho and destroying the barrier from Merlyn's mind. It was surprising that she was even able to do it, even with two others since Morgause was not… well, she was no Emrys. Nor was she that good with planning things all the way through. But it wasn't so much the spoken words  that lingered in her mind , but the feeling of it trying to take hold. It was the whispers when the threads of the Priestess' magic had tried to sneak their way into the warrior's mind month after month, it was the feeling of dread. It wasn't really a voice Merlyn remembered, but just a feeling of knowing that  Morgause wanted to control her – it would take some time to see if it actually had worked, though the warrior was rather confident that she was still in full control of herself, especially since the controlling aspect of the spell required all three of them to be on board. But at least the oath  Morgause  had been tricked to take had given Merlyn her daily dose of entertainment between the pain and darkness, since  Morgause  had… well, struggled was putting it mildly. But yes, the Priestess had had a tough time trying to find a way to explain the barrier to Mordred and the girl who had no clue about Merlyn’s magic – which was a shock in itself -, but the Priestess had eventually spouted some nonsense about a rogue Priestess and Merlyn being desperate for a normal life. Good enough. 

The rest of it was completely lost to her, but it wasn't like she cared that much. Mostly right then she just cared about finishing her job, which had been rudely interrupted by Mordred…  how long had it been? Time is a fickle thing, the witch hummed dryly in her mind, finally letting her eyes slowly flutter open. She couldn't really blame the druid for taking her away, since the mission had been almost compromised - hopefully he had cut off any remaining loose ends. Having moles was never a good thing. But did he really have to shoot those bloody arrows? It would've looked real even if he had just knocked her out. Though that too had proven to be fruitless; those morons hadn’t even managed to carry little ol ’ Merlyn without killing themselves in the process. And worst of all, it had led to the witch hitting her head twice. 

If Mordred hadn’t taken care of those men, she would gladly do it herself. 

The stiffness in her neck brought her back from her thoughts, even when it felt like she hadn't really slept that long, though truthfully it must have been over a day at least. She was in a different room this time and no longer hanging from the roof - thank god. The new room had a big, soft bed, an open but empty closet and even a mirror, but the mirror was covered and she had no interest to it. Merlyn vaguely remembered being laid down on a hard, uncomfortable cot just before falling asleep, but wasn't really sure how she ended up in this soft, dreamy bed. But the only thing her focus really latched on to was the utterly satisfying feeling of cracking her neck and shoulders after being hung from her arms for god knows how long - though her wrists were still tied in the cuffs. The sharp, dark eyes observed the metal surrounding her wrist a moment, a memory of the pain re-surfacing in her pain when she had tried to get rid of them. With a shiver, the warrior let her hands drop back down on the bed and used them as a leverage to sit up and shuffle for a moment before leaning heavily against the headboard of the bed. 

The cuffs were annoyingly rubbing against Merlyn's raw skin. For some reason, it was the only place that hadn't been healed; no doubt her whole body was covered in scars if her healer hadn't removed them. If the healer was Mordred, then no problem; if it was Morgause… well, then it was a miracle that she wasn't still bleeding. The Priestess really knew how to hold a grudge, it was rather childish. Well, it wasn't as if Merlyn wasn't still furious about everything that the woman had done, but she wasn't about to be petty about it. 

Or was she?  

Well, only time would tell, really.  

Losing track of how many hours she sat there listening to the little birds continue their whistling, Merlyn started to slowly feel like herself again. The numbness was still there, but that was just because she wasn't really able to move from the bed since the cuffs had a chain connecting them to the floor. But despite that, the witch started to recognize the power swirling under her skin again. The most brutal part of these particular cuffs was that they didn't just cut you off of your magic and the earth's magic - no, these let you feel it, but you just weren't able to get a hold of it properly.  It was really maddening, to be honest and Merlyn knew all about madness. And if you did get a hold of the power and used it, it was like burning at the stake; and that was putting it mildly. At least Merlyn was able to get slightly in tough with her powers, long enough to mask her aura again. The control had slipped somewhere during her unconsciousness, but seeing that Mordred wasn't there to murder her for hiding it, it must have happened after he had left. 

Speaking of…   

Where the hell was everyone? Now that Merlyn was starting to really get a grip of the world again, she started to notice that the place she was in, was way too silent. Morgause had been boasting about having an army at her disposal, so… where were they? Merlyn could vaguely feel something surrounding the fortress she was held in, probably a ward of some kind, but that couldn't be just to hold her in. 

Right? 

Silently simmering in her growing anger, Merlyn felt how her magic tried to react as well and that resulted in a steadily growing pain all around her body but that only fueled the rage gnawing her gut. How dare they - no, how dare Mordred leave me behind? After everything I've gone through, do I not deserve to be treated with the respect he always yammers about? Same kind of thoughts kept going circles around her mind and Merlyn did not even notice first how something was glimmering on the small table beside the wide bed. The sun was hanging so low that it sent some red and orange rays on the room from a small crack in the planks covering the window - and they hit perfectly the place where a small, decorative key had been placed. 

When the glint finally caught her eye, the warrior felt a cold smirk tugging the corners of her mouth as a murmured, "thank you, my love," left her lips. The sentence might have been perfectly innocent and endearing, if not the murderous glint clear in her dark eyes. Luckily the small wooden table wasn't far, so it was just a matter of bending a bit awkwardly to get a hold of the silver key. But the actual opening of the cuffs proved to be slightly more difficult, since her wrists were so close together. A litany of curses was shouted, the small table kicked further away in a fit of anger and just as Merlyn was ready to summon all the magic, she could reach to just get the damn things off, the key slid into the little hole.   

"Bloody hell, they are not making this easy," the witch muttered out loud through her gritted teeth. If not for the fact that she hadn't probably eaten anything for longer than a day and that she wasn't able to properly feel her magic, the struggle with the key wouldn't have made her feel so weak. Left eye twitching in aggravation, Merlyn  finally twisted the cuffs open, and quite probably cried out loud in relief when the familiar feeling surged through her. 

It was like coming home, the invigorating,  beautiful rush of power running through her like water through a narrow, dangerous rapid. It filled every nook and cranny of her being, almost stronger now that she didn't have any blocks in her mind. The hunger eating away her stomach was sated, the raw skin of her wrists smoothing out with just a small touch and every ache dying down when the warrior fluidly rose from the bed. Rationally, she knew that the initial feeling and easiness of using her powers was only because she hadn't done it for such a long time and because it had been building up for however long those cuffs had been on her, but it felt no less amazing. 

A heavy, satisfied sigh escaped her mouth when Merlyn was finally able to stretch slightly and properly crack her weary joints. Briefly she noticed that her bones were poking out a bit more than normally, even when the masses of muscle were still there, but she just eventually shrugged it off - there were more important things than looks right now. 

Looking around in the room, her eyes landed on a bundle of clothing on the foot of the bed. They weren’t exactly anything too special, but they were familiar – something from years ago. She wasn’t really looking forward to playing into Mordred’s little fantasies of her from five years ago, but it would have to do; he would start wondering where she got her clothes, if she just magicked some on. And well, the clothes left for her weren’t the worst of what she had owned. 

Not too much later, Merlyn had pulled the cloth away from the full body mirror, squinting her eyes at her reflection. It felt... strange. Somehow wrong even to see herself like that; the colors were black as were all her other clothes too, but the styles were off.  And something else too... shaking her head to dispel the spiraling thoughts, her eyes landed back to the clothes she had pulled on. 

The trousers were mostly just normal fabric and clung to her legs like normally, but there were still parts made of hardened leather. The leather spots reminded her of those armor pieces some kingdoms demanded their knights wore in battle to protect their legs. The leather parts were slightly more brown than black, but surprisingly brand new – the initial thought of the clothes all being her old ones vanishing that very instant, especially when she noticed that the boots were completely new too; pitch-black leather and they reached just the mid-way of her shins. The tunic was made of some sort of a soft fabric, not really silk but something very close to that. It was black too, of course, with long tight sleeves and generous neckline Over that she fastened a sturdy, but flexible corset with a snap of her fingers. 

The only part of the clothes that had truly been hers at one point, was the jacket; it wasn’t new by a long-shot as was evident since the dark leather was worn and cracking from some places and the numerous straps all over it were a bit worn. It could be closed from the neck to just an inch below her hips, and it widened slightly from the hip to the end, just below her knee, and it also had a huge hood that Merlyn pulled over her head immediately, just after pulling the straps closed on the front.  

Still, after a while of staring at her reflection, all clad in familiar black and leather, eyes dark and hard under the hood and black hair falling over her shoulders... she felt wrong. It was nothing she hadn’t seen before; it was just what she should see. Maybe a few more scars than she had remembered, but still. 

A strong shiver ran suddenly all the way from her neck to her lower back, cutting off every coherent thought she might have had; blinking rapidly, Merlyn tried to place the feeling – she knew she had felt it before. Staring intently at her reflection, her eyes landed on something behind her. They were almost hidden in the shadows, placed carefully on the old dining table but still slightly shining in the fading sunlight.  

Her weapons. Not only were her new swords the - courtesy of no other than the pretty prince of Camelot – but also a set of three familiar daggers. Their white-wood hilts had been what had caught her eye at first. It was clear that Mordred had taken care of them, since they did not look like they had been used in years. The carved letters were still clearly visible and the white color was so bright it almost hurt.  

Just as Merlyn was about to turn and walk to them, if only to push the strange sensation from earlier away, another violent shiver ran through her spine and made the warrior’s steps falter. A startled cry escaped her lips when a third one followed not too long after, then a fourth that finally knocked her on her knees. The dull thud echoed in the room alongside of her groaning and cursing. Who the fuck was trying to- oh!   

The wards.  

Internally cursing the bloody High Priestess to Hell and back, Merlyn grit her teeth so tight that it almost hurt and fought against the next shiver, struggling to stand up under the feeling. No normal ward-breaking made her feel like this, but in her arrogance, Merlyn had wanted to keep Morgause from getting into the castle – and yes, it would’ve worked if she hadn’t been tortured for months! There hadn’t really been any other reason for it but to just fuck with the Priestess, like Merlyn normally did. Yes, the plan was theirs, yes, they might be on the same side – but why could Merlyn not have fun? And it wasn’t like they really saw eye to eye about everything, like for an example; why had she seen the need to reveal Merlyn’s mother’s death like that?! That intent to murder had been very real at least.  

Another blasted shiver ran thought her again, and this time the witch cursed out loud and searched for the thread that linked her to the kingdom. It wasn’t that hard to find, since it was by far the largest connection, she had to anything, but it sure was the most problematic. Luckily it wasn’t difficult to severe the link and soon the last, by far the strongest shiver vanished and left the warrior gasping air, palms pressed against the table where her weapons were laying on the table. Her breaths were coming out so fast and strong that it sounded like she had been running for hours rather than just struggling to get up from the floor. She might be strong for a witch, but even she couldn’t really fight her own spells so easily; why she had placed such a strong warning in them, Merlyn really had no idea. 

It seems I have a party to catch, Merlyn still thought with a wide grin as she opened her eyes, slender hands grabbing the hilts of her twin-swords and excitedly twirling them around her palms.  

 

*** 

 

The teleportation spell rang in her ears even when Merlyn let go of her magic after landing in the woods not too far from the city but far enough that no one would be able to see her, just as the sun started to dip so low that the sky was more red than blue. It seemed that her magic was a bit too easy to use; usually when she used the teleportation spell, it took much more energy. Now, it didn’t feel that bad. Merlyn still knew she could crash if she tried to use her powers too much, so she opted in appearing far enough from the city so she didn’t need to cloak herself. 

Though it seemed that it wasn’t necessary at all; even from afar she could hear the screams and shouts, and not to mention the huge shadow flying over the castle. The warrior was close enough that she could peer up to the highest battlements and still see some figures dressed in black climb the ropes up the wall while the others held the red-caped guards busy.  

“How fortunate,” the assassin murmured as she grinned wide, tucking her hood down more to hide her face better. It wouldn’t do her any good, if Camelot’s men saw her too early – it would ruin the surprise! Starting to descend the small hill she had teleported on, her dark blue eyes scanned vigilantly the area surrounding the city; she could see the end of the small army Mordred and Morgause had gathered and how the last of the fighters were almost jumping in their bloodlust; she could see the dark pillars of smoke rising to the air as the dragon let first of his fires rain down from the skies and could almost feel the heat of the flames herself; and she could hear clearly how metal clashed against metal, how men were shouting at each other to take cover or to help – and how screams died before they even started. 

Even when Merlyn had lost some weight during her stay with Morgause, her muscles were still very much intact, and so she was by the nearest wall in no time. One of the leather-clad assassins Mordred had, was just about to start climbing the robe to get to the next level, but Merlyn beat her to it. She patiently tapped her shoulder and grinned wider when the girl spun around with a deep scowl. “Mind letting me go first?” The warrior asked, sounding probably way too sweet for a time such as war. 

“I don’t know who you think you are, lady, but-” a smooth gesture brought a short, though sharp dagger up to Merlyn’s neck to graze the pale skin and the holder tried to see under the hood, “-I don’t take orders or requests from anyone but Mordred or if I get gold for it.” 

Merlyn hadn’t moved an inch the whole time the girl spoke or threatened her with the blade, just stood still with a smirk plastered to her lips. Her silence seemed to unnerve the other one; the brown eyes under her furrowed brows were subtly widening and lips parting as she was about to say something, but Merlyn beat her to it. “Is that so?” Her sweet smile definitely did not reach her eyes as she tilted her chin up so the girl could see her face better. The poor child probably had no idea who she was, but she still shivered under the harsh dark eyes. “Shame. I would probably hate to hurt you.” 

The girl was fast, Merlyn had to give her that, but she was way too inexperienced to be a match for the seasoned warrior – the moment she only jerked her hand, that held the dagger, Merlyn was already moving. Her right hand came up to grab her wrist and twisted it painfully to the side, using the girl’s own movements as leverage to spin her around so her back was to Merlyn and her arm was bent along her back between them, effectively stopping her from moving anywhere without whimpering in pain. 

The witch brought her lips just by her ear, chin almost propped on her shoulder and whispered, “now would you be so kind to let me go first?” A hasty nod came as an answer and brought the grin back to Merlyn’s face as she let go of the newbie-assassin, watching with her head tilted how she flopped rather ungracefully on her front when the support disappeared. A displeased tsktsk sounded from the warrior’s lips as the blonde girl spun to her back, eyes on the shadowed figure towering her. “If you are alive after this, I would be surprised. Come find me if you wish to actually learn something.” 

“How do you know him?” The girl asked, but it fell to deaf ears as Merlyn had already spun on her heels with a wide swoosh of her flowing jacket. The fingerless gloves proved to be quite helpful when climbing a rope, it prevented any rope-burns and slipping. Merlyn backed up a few steps before running forward to gain momentum and jumped, easily getting a grip on the rope and starting to heave herself up the wall. Yes, maybe she could’ve used the actual gates to get in, but there was something about just watching what was happening that intrigued her. So, entering undetected was her best option.  

The whole time up to the first level of the city, she felt the girl’s eyes on her back but did not bother to look back down; it was fairly obvious that she was a lot faster than the girl would’ve ever been. It helped that the white-stone wall had a lot of stones slightly poking out, so she could use them to help her climbing. It didn’t take long for the warrior to grab the ledge and swing her right leg over to heave herself on top of the battlement. 

A few feet away from her, two men in dark clothing were furiously battling with three of Camelot’s guards. She vaguely recognized one of the three – who happened to get distracted by the sight of her and get unfortunately stabbed in the gut in the process -, but with an unimpressed shrug she just turned around and continued her journey to the castle. Somewhere behind her, another man yelled a word that sounded a lot like her name but it was cut off before he could finish. 

But Merlyn’s attention was focused on the dragon gracefully flying over the castle, once in a while spitting flames from his maw at the people fighting or swooping down to drab one of them. She never saw who he took, but the only things that mattered were why the fuck was he free and why the fuck was he in the middle of all this. It wasn’t like Kilgharrah to get pulled into a fight like this, or a fight of any kind for that matter. He had always said that he would never try to interfere with the matters of Destiny or men. 

Grunting, Merlyn dove between two slightly smoking buildings and pressed her back against a wall when a group of assassins ran past her to the castle, and instantly thought why should she care if anyone saw her? She wasn’t on her mission anymore; it was all out in the open. But when her eyes landed back on the dragon, turning in the air just over her and heading back to the castle, she decided that discretion might be for the best. Even when Kilgharrah probably had already sensed her, she wanted to keep hidden. Who knew how mad the beast would become when he knew what she really wanted from Camelot? 

Peeking out from the shadows, Merlyn looked around the Lower Town for a moment. The town had always been quite the sight, but now it was just pathetic. The houses were obviously ransacked for hidden wealth, most of them smoking since Kilgharrah's flames reached quite far and all of them were abandoned. Well, most at least - between all the ash, she could see a small, dark-haired figure peek out from a house not too far from her. Merlyn remembered the child; he had been among a small group of kids almost a year ago and asking about being a fighter. She remembered clearly the excited look in his eyes and the flicker of pride that she had felt that day - he would be a mighty force one day, if he survived.

And it seemed that the boy had noticed her, if the brightened look told her anything - his blue eyes were trained on her darker ones, widening in recognition as Merlyn's hood had fallen a bit down to reveal her face. For someone who had sought her out between the knights when they had moved around the city, she would be easily recognizable. The child looked almost relieved, as if he believed that Merlyn was there to save the day.

Little did he know.

The warrior spared no more attention to the small head poking out from the rubble, just turned her eyes to the gates visible at the end of the street. Through them, there was movement. Clearly most of the fighting was centered there, if the screaming and sounds of sword hitting sword were any indication. Licking her lower lip slowly, the witch pulled her hood off of her hair to let it flow freely in the wind as she stepped out of the shadows. The curls flew behind her around the swords crossed on her back and a few strands on her face, but nothing broke the eye contact she had on the gates.

By the sound of things, the castle doors were finally broken open. The screams of terror were filling the air as the peasants tried to run for their lives. Some managed to get out of the gates and were running past Merlyn, no one spearing even a glance at the silently walking woman in black. Their terror might have grown if they had noticed her, to be honest. Merlyn had never really thought of herself as a good actress, but she still knew that the current blank look was nowhere near the warmth she had tried to show during her time in Camelot.

Something exploded behind her, somewhere near the city gates. The noise made her ears ring, but did not affect her more than that. Sounds of loud cheering rang though the air after the explosion, so some of the assassins must have stayed behind to create havoc more than the actual fighting did - amateurs. She could hear them taunting the running citizens, but did not turn around to see if they actually did anything else.

They probably did.

The gates of the castle loomed over her soon, barely visible through the flames and ash, but she still saw the fighting figures. It was clear who was winning; there was more red than black motionless on the gobble stones. But between all that, she saw a fast flash of red and gold, moving like a storm and cutting down any figure in dark clothing as he possibly could. The regality almost oozed out of him, the flames giving him an ethereal glow despite the ash that had stuck to his shining hair and pale skin.

It was as if the prince of Camelot could feel her gaze, because not long after his sharp blade slashed at his opponent in deadly accuracy, his blue eyes landed on her - and there was no doubt if he recognized her or not. Merlyn could see his lips starting to move, but did not see or hear much before a powerful column of fire crashed down on the ground between them. The blast of it sent Merlyn staggering backwards, arms shielding her face from the heat but before the fires died down, the warrior was already moving. Her feet led her to the gate's edge, straight to the ladder she knew was there. Climbing them to the battlement proved to be quite the challenge, since most of them were burnt or broken, but when she did pull herself up to the stone wall, her eyes sought out Kilgharrah immediately.

'What do you think you're doing, dragon?' Merlyn could clearly see how the beast jolted as her question reached him and not soon after the gigantic golden eyes focused on her dark form stalking along the battlement closer to where he was hovering. No one could see her up there because of all the smoke and ash, but there were still people.

The feeling of utter disappointment filled her mind, coming from the dragon even before he spoke, 'what happened to you, young witch?'

Merlyn sneered, pulling one of her swords out just in time to slash at a guard running at her without even looking. 'I got freed from my chains. Clearly so did you.'

Another person ran at her, an assassin this time but the boy apparently did not know who she was so he tried to attack her; Merlyn side-stepped swiftly and grabbed his outstretched arm, twisting it before bringing her boot up to kick him down to the cobble stones. He fell with a loud crack. 'The Priestess offered to free me,' came Kilgharrah's answer. He had stopped his attack, but was still ominously looming over the fighting people. 'I told her the same as I am about tell you.'

'Which is? And please, spare me the cryptic horseshit,' answered Merlyn, ducking when a man in a red cape and another in black leather backed up at her while their swords clashed together. She hadn't stopped walking forward, already closer to where the dragon was but much too low. Merlyn was very close to just attacking the stupid creature.

Kilgharrah's massive head turned to her suddenly, golden eyes glowing with such a strong emotion that it made the witch stop as if she had ran into a wall. 'Albion's enemy is my enemy,' his voice rumbled in the warrior's mind louder and deeper than before, catching the woman off guard and getting her to wince hard, 'it would do you well to remember it too, young witch, as well as why you were brought to this world.'

Before Merlyn could even think of answering - or well, yelling since she was very much tired of hearing anymore about her so-called destiny - the dragon had already risen so high that mind-speech could not reach him anymore. She settled to glaring at the beast before turning her eyes down to the courtyard where the fight was already dying down. But what caught her attention, was the limp form of the golden prince being carried by Morgause and her magic. The shouts and angry protests made a wicked grin grow on the warrior's lips as she moved to the edge of the battlement and flopped to sit down, feet dangling off the edge and back pressed against the stone.

Silently appraising the assassins Mordred had brought after she had left, Merlyn's eyes slowly slid over those still standing or at least still breathing. A red-haired woman with a nasty, pink scar on her dark cheek was battling against a knight with a torn cape, clearly just toying with the man. As she watched, the woman seemed to grow tired of the games and simply spun with a kick. Seanna's heel hit the man on the temple so hard it sent him sprawling on the ground, though still alive.

On the other side, quite near where Merlyn was sitting up on the wall, Olly - an older man with a bald head and a cruel smirk always on his thin lips - was laughing out loud as a guard tried to pierce him with his sword. It was almost sad how easily some of the assassins were able to best the knights, even after Merlyn's teachings. Though, it wasn't like Camelot's men were entirely useless, Merlyn could see several familiar faces among the dead that she had trained with while living with Gregor.

"Let go of- oh, for fuck's sake, let me go and I'll run you through!" A shout ripped Merlyn's attention away from Olly and his prey, eyes searching the courtyard before stopping on a very familiar man wearing a mostly burned cape. His hands were being tied but the knight continued to struggle against it, only to freeze as a loud cry left his lips when the assassin grew annoyed and twisted his wrist so hard, that even Merlyn heard it snap. Gwaine continued to curse very loudly as the assassin continued to tie him down, this time bringing his hands in front of him.

An amused smile tugged Merlyn's lips - if only Gwaine hadn't chosen the wrong side.

 

***

 

The sight that greeted the warrior when she finally entered the castle was mildly surprising. She had been waiting for a total chaos, blood and bodies, flames and assassins on a rampage or something.

But they were acting like lost sheep in the foyer, some twiddling with the hilts of their swords, some pacing around and some even just sitting on the floor. They were clearly waiting for orders, but where the hell was their want to live a little?

"You are the most boring bunch of people I have ever laid my eyes on," the witch declared in a loud voice, startling the men from their stupor. Like, really, were they daydreaming? What was Mordred teaching them these days if they could not even keep vigilant? But at least they were quick to move; within seconds Merlyn had a sword pointed at her throat and another to her side, furious eyes raking her body as they tried to figure out who she was. Merlyn waited silently, just smirking when the confusion became clear. "I'm here to murder Mordred. I'd like to know where he is."

Another few seconds flew by before the warrior caught one of them glancing the doors leading to the Great Hall. Her smirk grew when another started to babble about him being unavailable - really, did he not hear her say she was going to kill him? - and when one of the women's scowl turned even darker. Merlyn brought her hand up to silence the babbling man and watched him blink a few times before she opened her mouth again; "I wasn't really asking for a permission."

Without waiting for them to react, she moved.

Her hands moved to the hilts of her blades so fast that they couldn't even blink before it happened, unsheathing them both. As she slashed them down, Merlyn knocked the blade pointing at her throat away from the man's hand and kicked the other. He at least had a good grip of it and the rest of them were quick to recover from their shock. By the time she had already sliced open the stomach of the one who had no weapon in hand anymore, the others were shouting.

With a grunt, the warrior kicked one of the women hard on the chest and relished the sound of her hitting the Great Halls' door so hard that she lost consciousness immediately. Spinning away from her, the witch ducked down and used her outstretched leg to trip a second one. Just as he landed hard on his back, Merlyn's left sword already pierced his neck at the same time she used her right one to block an attack from above. Jerking backwards, the warrior dodged a slice at her stomach and grinned when the woman screeched angrily.

But before she could think of a good taunt to shout at her, Merlyn sensed someone behind her - her eyes flashed on instinct and the person flew backwards and hit the wooden doors with a sickening crunch.

The woman who she had been looking straight at, let out another screech - but this time in horror. Merlyn did not give her a chance to blow her secret. The witch jumped over the dead body between them and grabbed a fistful of her hair, blade slashing at her neck so fast she could only gurgle. "Shut up," grunted Merlyn, all humor gone from her now.  She let go of the woman's limp body and eyed the remaining men in front of her. She could hear several others running somewhere, closing in on them and she really did not have the patience to deal with all of them. "Time's up."

The sound the men let out were the sound of pure horror when Merlyn's eyes flashed again. This time she slowed time down enough to advance them faster. To them it looked like she had moved ten feet in the blink of an eye, and gave her the advantage of shock again. Parrying a hasty attack from the left by crossing her blades, Merlyn kicked backwards before twisting her hands to wrench the blade away from her opponent. Spinning, she kicked again but this time hit a man straight on the jaw. Her blades slashed at one of the men, but he had a leather vest on so it absorbed most of the cuts.

Getting tired of the back and forth, and with the others still coming closer, Merlyn slashed blindly behind her, cutting of a scream by doing it. The rest were all around her, but frozen in place - not by fear this time though. Her darkly burning eyes raked over them slowly while a broad, cold grin spread on her lips. Her left hand, still holding the sword, came up with the tip of the blade pointing at one's chest. "Say bye-bye," the witch whispered and pushed the tip slowly through the skin, muscle and bone. The sounds were disgusting, but satisfying - the smile on her lips a clear evidence of it.

And the reason for the sound to be so loud, was that what the one man went through - so did the others.

Satisfied with the result, Merlyn swiftly pulled her blade back and let the spells drop; just in time to hear a loud creak behind her. Spinning abruptly around as the bodies drobbed to the ground, she saw a flash of torn leather disappear through the doors to the Great Hall and running wildly forward. Acting on instinct, Merlyn pulled one of the three daggers from her belt and threw if after the coward.

As expected, it hit its mark perfectly and was soon followed by the satisfying sound of a man chocking in his own blood.

What Merlyn had expected to hear when the man fell, was not a total silence. A bit slow today, she thought with a mighty eye-roll before pushing her blades back to their scabbards and nudging at the door to make it swing lazily open. Her eyes landed immediately on the still frame of Morgause, standing slightly hunched on the dais with purple magic around her hands. It didn't stop the warrior from sauntering in though, and offering the Priestess a smile so sweet it did not fool anyone. "It seems I was late for the party," Merlyn mused out loud but did not look away from the blonde woman, not even when she heard her name being called from her left - some voices sounded elated, some worried, some too dry to even be called voices. Behind Morgause, Merlyn saw faintly a figure with dark curly hair and an expensive dress - Morgana. Right. Her.

The wary expression on Morgause's face stayed there as Merlyn continued to advance, smile dropping more every second and replaced with the cold mask maybe a bit too familiar to the older woman. The Hall was a sad imitation of what Merlyn remembered it once being, even with the lit fireplaces. Maybe it was the drying blood, the captives littering the edges or the assassins standing stiffly all around the space.

"Forbēodaþ." The sudden use of the Old Tongue caught Merlyn off guard and got her to halt her steps, eyes frozen on Morgause's face. It was not used as a spell, the Priestess' eyes weren't even shining gold so what was her goal? Staring at the bottomless brown eyes, Merlyn saw them shining with an emotion that she hadn't been expecting to see - pure glee.

Then it hit her; it was a command. Morgause had wanted to tie Merlyn to the Priestess' will, to make a puppet of her and force her to do whatever she would want. If succeeded, Morgause could've ordered Merlyn to reveal her powers and then use Emrys as a weapon.

The spark in the warrior's eyes grew tenfold as she realized how wrong the woman was. Merlyn did not open her mouth to speak and attack her verbally; no, she only took a step forward and relished the look of utter devastation that filled the brown eyes of the mighty Priestess. Another step followed just as some of the assassins seemed to realize that this was very bad for their leader. Several of them started to move while others lingered back, unsure how to proceed. Merlyn cocked her head to the side without her expression ever wavering or moving away from Morgause.

She saw it before it even happened.

Before the assassins could take more than five steps, the golden sheen slowly made itself visible over the deep brown color, the Priestess' right hand started to raise as it shimmered with red and gold - but Merlyn did not back down. The gaze never wavered, not even when Morgause's hand was up all the way and the flames were clear to everyone. Just as they burst out, the warrior heard her name being shouted from somewhere behind her but she didn't turn around and soon her vision filled with only the raging flames.

But they never touched her; the blue shield between her and the fire did not even shake with the impact. It circled her fully, the flames were hungrily licking at it but never meeting their mark. The fire was so big that Merlyn doubted Morgause even saw that she was very much alive between them without even breaking a sweat.

Slowly, the flames eventually started to die down and the Hall became visible. Merlyn could practically feel the horrified eyes on her, no doubt some of them thinking she had just revealed her secret to everyone. But she hadn't.

The dark blue eyes moved slowly away from the wide eyes of Morgause, only coming to a stop when they landed on the figure on the steps of the dais with his hand still in the air and steel-blue eyes wider than she had ever seen them. His chest was heaving under the fur-lined coat and large grey scarf, sword in his left hand slightly raised as if he had been ready to run it through someone at any moment. When Mordred's hand finally lowered, Merlyn went back to looking at Morgause and allowed herself to smirk victoriously. 'It seems you forgot one thing, Morgause,' Merlyn's voice whispered to the older woman's mind, 'everyone taking part in the spell had to want me to lose my own will.'

Mordred started to move when Merlyn finished her sentence; he walked slowly in front of the dais. His sword had been shoved back to the scabbard, but his arm was still raised - palm up,  an invitation. His cold eyes were shining with excitement, the glint would've been so beautiful if Merlyn hadn't been still feeling the gnawing rage from being left alone. But she still moved, slowly and with her head still tilted to the side.

It took Mordred a moment to see that she had a dagger in his right hand. "My love," his deep voice breathed out when his eyes widened at the sight of the short blade in her tight hold. The druid took a step back and raised his hands up to surrender, but Merlyn didn't stop. The murderous glare on her face, the squinted left eye and furrowed brows telling the man everything he needed to know. "Merlyn, love, calm down."

Merlyn didn't even deem him worthy of an answer. She had never really been much of a talker when she was in a mood; and this really was one of her worst moods ever. The slow, predatory steps advanced still and the dark-haired druid backed up even more, now rising up to the dais. He wasn't scared per se, he could not feel fear, but he was not an idiot - anyone in their right mind knew to keep away from Merlyn when she was mad. Suddenly, Mordred's steps faltered when the back of his calves bumped against the throne in the middle. With the grace of an seasoned assassin, he was just about to sidestep it but Merlyn was right before him when he tried; with a not-so-gentle nudge of her knee, Mordred flopped to sit with a groan.

The warrior's left knee rose on the throne between the druid's thighs, eyes studying his perfectly stoic face. There was a small flicker of what could only be seen as a smile on his pink lips, and a small sign of uncertainty when the blue orbs flickered briefly to the dagger gently touching his jaw as Merlyn's head tilted left again. "You had me tortured again," a hushed whisper left her lips, only loud enough for Mordred's ears. Her dark blue eyes fluttered half-closed as they stared down, a nonchalant expression on her pale face before it turned into a pout. "I thought you loved me."

"I do," the answer came without a beat or hesitation, the cold eyes now shining with honesty as they stared up to her face. There was no ounce of lie there, though Mordred never lied. He didn't care enough to lie about anything, since he didn't care about anyone's feelings but his own - if he had any.

A silent tsk sounded as Merlyn shook her head. She could feel eyes on her as the blade's flat side traced down the side of Mordred's neck, lingering a moment on the bulging vein there. The stare that had never left her face was filled with lust; Mordred did always find pleasure in strange things. "But you left me," Merlyn sighed now, voice sounding more like a child whining than something from a strong warrior. The dagger glided down his shoulder, all the way to his forearm that was resting against the armrest. "I don't like to be left when there's a fight."

"I didn't-" But Merlyn cut him off with a sharp look, all the pretense of being sad gone and replaced by burning anger. Without even blinking, Merlyn flipped the dagger in her hand, so that the tip of the blade was pointing down from her fist - and with a rough, fast movement, plunged it down, straight through the back of Mordred's hand and the wood of the throne.

"That, is for leaving me behind," the warrior hummed sweetly between the cries and grunts of pain. From the corner of her eye, she saw a brief flash of dark red and grinned inwardly - the princess wasn't happy apparently. But she pushed the girl put of her mind as she leaned forward and caught Mordred's eye again. He was slightly paler than before, no doubt because of the pain and losing some blood, but he stopped writhing in pain as soon as Merlyn's face was only an inch away, breath ghosting on his lips. His eyes tracked the slow movement of her tongue darting out to lick her bottom lip before rising up again, though still gritting his teeth as he tried to shut the pain out. Merlyn's hand was on the dagger's hilt but eventually it slid down to the back of his hand and from there all the way up to the druid's neck. The bright red blood that had stained her hand left smudges on the pale skin as the warrior let her fingers glide over the ticking muscle on the side of his neck to his smooth cheek, eyes finally landing on his.

"And this... is for saving my life," her hushed voice finished before their lips finally met a heated, long overdue kiss.e

Chapter Text

Drip.  

Drip-drip.

There was a small window in the middle of the dark cell he had been thrown to, unceremoniously flung straight across the cramped space just to silently grunt in pain while his captors chuckled darkly by the door. A red-haired woman in a tattered leather vest had marched forward to chain the prince to the stone wall, one chain per wrist and arms forced to his sides, with little to no chance to move anywhere. He was positioned so that he had a clear view of the hole in the wall, his destroyed courtyard visible between the dark metal bars. 

They said he should be grateful that he was still alive.

They said he still had his privileges since he had been stuffed alone in the furthest cell while his men had been 'forced' to share with others. 

They said he was lucky to see how much better his kingdom would be without him or his father.

Drip.

The once sharp sky-blue eyes, now just a dull echo of before, were trained on the crisscrossing bars though he didn't really see anything. The smell of burnt flesh invaded his senses as the enemy burned their own in a grand ceremony while Camelot's men were thrown to rot to the woods. The odd scuffle of Camelot's finest reached his ears as the men tried to find better positions on the straw covered stone floors, murmuring to one another quietly enough that the words almost didn't reach him over the sound of the fading rain.

At least they weren't chained in darkness and left to rot under the weight of their own mind. They didn't deserve it like Arthur did.

Was it even possible to experience such a whirlwind of emotions in the span of mere minutes? Arthur could still taste the bitter feeling of hope on his tongue from when his eyes had landed on the carved letter of the dagger. He could still feel the taunting echo of the smile that had stretched on his lips, how the same hope had practically radiated off of his people near him. Even though her clothes had looked wrong on her frame, hanging only a bit too loosely over her limbs, and even though her cheeks were a bit too sunken and her skin paler than before, she was still a sight like no other.

"Did you hear… the guards were saying?"

Even the men's hushed voices were filled with emotion, mostly confusion and utter betrayal. He couldn't really blame them.

"I always… there was… strange about her…"

They hadn't known her like he had, not like Gwaine, Leon and Lancelot had - but then again… it all felt like a lie now. I am not sure what to believe anymore… are my memories a lie or are my eyes and mind deceiving me? The memory of his heart and soul being ripped out of his being not even hours ago made Arthur squeeze his eyes shut to stop the tears from falling, but to no avail - they still rolled down his cheeks, scorching hot against his icy skin. He could hear someone crying in pain from where the other's were held captive, followed by an angry shout to shut the hell up. The prince weakly shook his head to dispel the memories of before, twisting his upper body so he could use his right palm to wipe the tears away and scrub his eyes dry - but his thoughts wouldn't leave him alone.

Drip.

Drip-drip.

The warrior had been completely covered in ash and blood, her thigh still bleeding from a shallow cut but her steps as steady as always. But there had been no hair nor piece of clothing in the wrong place, not even beads of sweat falling down on her pale neck. The smear of red on her jaw was the only color really visible on her - even her eyes had looked black in the dim light that the fireplaces provided. Her body had been turned so the prince hadn't been able to catch her eyes properly, to show how grateful he had been at that moment - how much he loved her for just showing up.

"Is it true? Was she… with them? All this time?"

The shouts for her name had morphed into a strange white noise in his ears, his own lips moving to join them without him even realizing it - but the dark eyes had never even wavered from the women standing across the Hall on the dais as her feet had slowly, steadily led her across the long space. The sound of her voice had been like music to his ears, a sweet though dry melody of it like a soothing balm to the aches of his heart - she really was alive. She had stepped over the body without sparing it a single glance, an act which had suddenly sent the prince's stomach lurching uncomfortably - even with enemies, she had always felt remorse for taking a life.

"I didn't see… wasn't there but… saved her."

The unfamiliar word that had rang across the room had made everyone freeze - while he wasn't an expert in the Old Tongue, he had still recognized the language and had waited for the spell to hit. But nothing happened, though as the prince had briefly looked over to the blonde sorceress, he had seen the triumphant look in her dark eyes, though it had only lasted until the dark-haired warrior stepped forward again.

That had led to confusion and agitation - the men and women around the Hall had started to fidget and move slightly forward to stop the lone warrior from moving. Arthur had heard a low murmur from behind him, as one of the enemy men watching over the prince had spoken her name - tone laced with fear and something akin to reverence. Confused, awed, scared and angry whispers and shouts had started to ring in the enemy ranks, though nothing had compared to the shout echoing over them all when a sudden burst of fire had flashed from the blonde Priestess straight at the calm warrior. 

"It was like she knew…"

New, white-hot tears flooded from his eyes, but Arthur didn't make a move to wipe them away this time, frozen in place when his mind reminded him of what had happened - every painful, excruciating detail.

A terrible, soul-wrenching cry had pierced the crowd and it had taken his mind a few, long seconds to realize that the sound had come from his own throat, the pain of seeing her in danger again in front of his eyes and not being able to do anything about it… it was just too much. The eight months he had not seen her dark blue eyes glinting mischievously, her pale pink lips stretching into a wicked grin as she won his men for the hundredth time, or hear her cackle when Gwaine said something that only Gwaine could make funny… it had done nothing but strengthen the knowledge that it had always been her.

So why was he cursed with seeing his heart's keeper in danger again?

"…know what's going on, but… really saved her. The guards… very happy about it."

What was he supposed to do to keep her safe? Keep everyone safe? How was it fair for her to suffer so much for a kingdom that had given her nothing back? Even the prince himself hadn't been able to provide her the protection she deserved, a home that could accept her as she was or… or show the appreciation she needed.

How was Arthur Pendragon supposed to be the king if there were people risking life and limb, satisfied in living in the shadow just so others could walk in the sun?

Drip.

A glint of deep blue between the flames.

A dark figure on the other side of the Hall with a frantic look in his pale eyes and his hand raised.

A swift walk forward, hushed whispers and long looks, a figure in red storming out, a flash of steel, pierced wood and blood - a kiss. That was what had killed his spirit, to see her act like that. He had physically felt the fight leave him - he knew he wouldn't be able to fight against her. And it wasn't even about magic or skill, it was impossible. Maybe… maybe that had been her goal? He remembered thinking as his eyes stayed on the scene, not able to tear them away to save himself from the agony of betrayal. It had been too natural to be an act, too passionate to be forced and the grin on her lips when she had pulled away to turn to the Priestess was too sweet and triumphant to be malevolent. The cries for her name had been silent at that point, everyone frozen in place to see what she had done.

"…heard that they kissed after… together against us."

Arthur let his head fall forward, to hang limply between his shoulders as his tears fell freely behind the sticky curtain of golden hair. Weakly, he tried to tug the chains connecting him to the walls but they wouldn't budge, but the slight rattling drowned the whispers still trying to reach his ears so he kept moving - though nothing could wash away the last memory before they dragged him away from the once magnificent Great Hall of Camelot. 

No one had said a word, not even the assassin who had eventually healed his hand. The man had not held any resentment against Merlyn, no murderous glances or even harsh words. No, the look in his eyes had looked almost loving when he had risen from the throne and had stepped right beside the smug warrior, who had been staring at the Priestess. Morgause had only visibly gritted her teeth before turning on her heels and marching to the same direction Morgana had run off to.

But Arthur's eyes had never left the profile of the warrior, who had been almost curiously examining the other assassins closest to the dais. Her hood had fallen down at some point, thick curtain of jet-black hair falling over her right shoulder as she had tilted her head, eyes hard and unyielding. None of the assassins had met her eyes, most had looked too conflicted about what had happened - maybe they hadn't known who she really was?

Without a word, Mordred had snapped his fingers at his people who had started to move immediately towards Arthur and the other captives. The man who had kicked the prince's knee had yanked him up so forcefully that the prince had cried out from the sudden pain in the joint. His voice had attracted the attention of the midnight eyes he had once dreamed of seeing again, but the uncaring stare that she directed at his wide, pleading eyes was more like from a nightmare.

The assassins had dragged him out last, and all the while he refused to look anywhere else, even when it hurt that she hadn't shown any signs of worry or even recognition. Just before he had been forced to leave the Hall, Arthur saw her lose interest - and lazily drape herself against Mordred's side.

Drip.

Drip-drip.

Click.

Close to wandering off to the safe land of unconsciousness, Arthur didn't first register the way the men's voices cut completely off or how the subtle sound of the sole of a boot hitting a stay rock followed the odd dripping sound the leaking wall made. It wasn't until a second impact made another tiny rock clack across the dark hallway that the sound got him to jerk back awake, bleary eyes wandering from the cold, stained floor to the hole on the wall and from there to the door. The cell was completely made of solid stone, but the door was made from thick metal bars, just like the other cells where his men were. But it was too dark for him to see anything since there wasn't even a flicker of light reaching the hallway even when his cell was illuminated by the slowly rising sun.

Straining his hearing, the prince leaned forward where he was slumped against the furthest wall from the door. The chains didn't give him much room to move, but he could at least get a better look if someone moved close by. Since the guards didn't really bother coming so deep to the dungeons, Arthur seriously doubted it was any random assassin.

"Arthur?" The voice was so silent that he almost missed it, too faint to try and recognize the voice but it was clearly nearby. He felt his whole aching body tense, not sure if he should trust the person or not even when his gut told him to keep quiet and act like he was sleeping or beaten unconscious. But he couldn't keep himself from forcing his upper body from leaning a bit more forward, causing the chains to drag loudly against the stone floor and that made the person to inhale sharply before the prince heard the unmistakable sound of rushing footsteps. "Onlucan!"

The metal hinges screeched noisily in the silence surrounding him like a heavy blanket just before a small shadow pushed their way to the cell carrying a blinding light in their hand. Or rather, it was floating over their palm and throwing bright, white light all over the cell and the person pushing the cell door close again. On instinct, Arthur tried to shield his eyes from the light trying to burn his sight completely, but the sharp ache in his wrist reminded him of the tight cuffs, so he had to try and blink rapidly to get used to the sudden brightness.

It was a clear sign of his mental and physical state when he didn't recognize the light before the person controlling it turned and took two long strides towards him - and only then did he think to look up to their face.

The grayish tint of her skin was more prominent in the pale light, shadows under her wide eyes sticking out as the blue orbs roamed over him, taking in the bruises forming on his fair skin. She lingered a moment on the most painful one that was probably very clear on the side of Arthur's head where he had been struck hours ago on the courtyard, before snapping back down to his slowly widening eyes when his brain finally registered who she was.

"…Arthur?" Now he recognized her voice, even though it sounded a lot more rough than he remembered. The harsh, mocking words she had spoken when she had entered the Great Hall had been a mere mockery of the way she usually spoke, but this was a lot closer. Her dark eyebrows were tight in worry, plumb lower lip tightly clamped between her teeth and hands twitching at his direction like she wanted to touch but didn't know if she should.

The prince wasn't sure how long it took him to find his voice, until he heard himself croak out, "Me… Merlyn?" His normally low, smooth tone was dry as sand from the lack of water and now speaking for the first time after screaming on the top of his lungs hours ago, so he had to cough and swallow a few times before he could try again. By the time he opened his mouth again and was about to lift his head up, his pale eyes landed on the warrior who had moved to kneel before him without him even noticing. "Wh… how, w-what?" He wasn't exactly in the right mindset to speak coherent sentences.

But she seemed to understand; her eyes lowered from his, lip coming back between her teeth to bite it hard enough to draw blood if she continued it too long. Arthur didn't get an answer immediately though, Merlyn focused first on moving her hands to her belt to remove the waterskin and, after a second of hesitation, brought it up to the prince's lips. He drank greedily, not even minding the stray drops flowing from his mouth to his jaw and neck.

Her eyes slid close after he had drank enough, blindly trying to close the skin as her head dropped down. "I-I'm so sorry, Arthur," she suddenly spoke up, voice still quiet but frantic and regretful. "I- he- no, they… I had to get their-" she peeked at him under her lashes, though averted her eyes immediately when she saw him watching blankly, "-trust, so I-I…" Her words were so mismatched that the prince was hardly even able to follow, and apparently the warrior noticed since she let out a frustrated sound and picked herself up from the floor, letting the water skin flop down on the floor with the cork still open.

She had always been amazing with her words, no matter the situation, so seeing Merlyn like this; stuttering, almost desperately searching for a way to explain got the prince moving too. He felt very weak still, aching all over but the water and seeing the warrior renewed his strength so he was able to turn on the floor to first slowly get on his bruised knees before heaving a heavy breath as he forced himself to stand on his shaky legs. Merlyn had been pacing the small space, furiously rubbing her face with her fingers but the sound of the chains got her to abruptly spin around. It felt like a blink of an eye from him standing straight and her on the other side of the room, to Arthur feeling his balance give out only to be steadied by two strong arms.

A small sound came from the warrior when Arthur was forced to lean more of his weight on her, but he really couldn’t care less if he was too heavy - Merlyn was there, holding him. Merlyn is here, rang in his mind over and over again like a healing mantra. His brain was way too confused to understand that this was really the person he had seen before. Her dark eyes were staring somewhere to his chains, no doubt beating herself up from Arthur being in this situation - she always did that even when there was no bloody reason for it. "You… you came back," the prince managed to choke out, and not because of his dry throat but the emotions surging up so strong that he felt like he was about to collapse under all of them.

The thick curtain of dark curls fell to cover her eyes as she shook her head slightly and the prince had never wanted to touch the long strand more than now. "I… I just can't believe…" Merlyn murmured, voice a little strained as more strands fell over her face. Arthur's eyes followed the movement, momentarily so hypnotized by them that he almost didn't see the way the warrior's mouth curved up at the corners.

"What?"

The low, unfamiliar chuckle caused the hairs on his arms to stand up and his heart to start racing again. "I just…" she paused for a moment shaking her head again before letting out an almost regretful sight, and finally looked up to him again. "I just can't believe you're this stupid." The arms holding him upright loosened their grip so suddenly that Arthur lost his balance immediately, falling hard on his knees with a pained groan. Luckily he managed to catch himself with his right hand so he didn't fall completely on his face.

Blinking to erase the spots from his vision that the pain caused, he tried to look at the warrior again. The first thing he saw was Merlyn's boots, shining perfectly clean under the white light before carefully moving up to her face. The woman was crouching only a foot away from the injured prince, elbows rested on her knees and head tilted left. The woman had her face, but it couldn't be her. It just couldn't be. The vision of her in the Great Hall was nothing compared to this, seeing her so close to him and with all her focus on Arthur's face. Everything was the same; same arched eyebrows and dark eyes, straight nose and high cheekbones, slightly hollowed cheeks and refined jaw, full lips stretched into a smile.

But at the same time, everything was so, so wrong; the worry from earlier was replaced by some sort of sick, satisfied curiosity and humor, the smile bore no affection or the warmth he had gotten used to but it was only for show. The angles of her face were so much sharper and the raised eyebrow was not in any way sarcastic but only a challenge for him so deny what he was seeing. The eyes were not the midnight blue he loved, but almost pitch black and hard as steel, observing her prey hungrily.

Arthur couldn't find the words to ask. Did he even have to? This wasn't Merlyn. This was a trick, someone else portraying her. It had to be. This person… it was who she told she had been before, not the one he had known. He… Arthur deserved a fucking break already.

I can't do this anymore if this is true.

The warrior was able to see where his thought were going, and it made the cruel smirk only widen. "You really are that stupid, aren't you?" The sweet, poisonous voice asked; the same he had heard in the Great Hall. It pierced his heart with every word and caused the gaping hole in his chest to ache even worse - what had they done to her? A cold finger appeared to stroke Arthur's now burning cheek when the woman hummed thoughtfully, trailing the still damp tear tracks left there. The touch still made him shiver, though for the first time he wasn't sure if it was a good feeling. "Did you really think that I would ever be on Camelot's side? When I or people I care for would be burned the moment someone heard or saw anything out of place?"

Jerking himself away from her touch, the prince forced himself completely up to his knees ignoring the pain completely. Now that she was crouching down, he was slightly taller than she was, but the look on her face made it clear that his attempt to appear strong only amused her. "People know," Arthur sneered, somehow recovering some of his courage to talk back to her. It wasn't that he was really scared of her - though he did know she was a force to be reckoned with - but it felt wrong now. So many months trying to tone it down only to try and find that arrogant, rude part of himself again. "And here you still are."

The smile on her lips morphed into a disgusted curl of her lip as Merlyn bounced back up, twisting her neck to crack it. "That's only because they believed I'm not a threat," the warrior huffed as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, waiving her hand dismissively as she turned her back to the prince, simultaneously snuffing out the ball of light, and started to slowly circle the cell, "and it's not like the knights are the smartest of the bunch. They couldn't recognize a cow from a chicken on a good day - they are weak, like their kingdom. I owe nothing to them or this place."

"And you… you owe something to him?" Arthur managed to ground out, completely out of the loop. Never had he heard Merlyn talk about anyone with such a deep loathing as he had spoken the name Mordred. The look in her eyes alone could've snuffed out the bravest soldier, her tone could've frozen the heart of the warmest person and now… Arthur watched how the warrior's tense shoulders relaxed when she turned sideways to him, offering him a good look at the serene smile that rose to her lips as her eyes fluttered shut. She hadn't looked so calm in… well, ever really.

"I owe him everything," Merlyn hummed gently and peeked at the prince from the corner of her eye, her expression hardening the moment when she saw the shocked look on his though she didn't deem it worthy of a mention, just rolled her eyes dramatically and turned back to her pacing. Her left hand's fingers were idly trailing the rough, cold surface of the wall as she walked, sometimes stopping by a stain or a crack. A part of Arthur's mind registered that the dripping sound he had been hearing for hours was not there anymore.

The weakness he had felt not long ago was slowly coming back, but the prince refused to give up. How could she even say that? "He tortured you!" His voice came out a lot louder than he had intended it to, chains rattling again when he tried to pull against them, but none of his men in the other cells reacted to the sounds. It dawned then that Merlyn had probably been there a bit longer than he had thought, and cut off any sound coming to and going from Arthur's cell "Remember? Theo?"

Stopping by the end of the right side chain connecting the prince to the floor, Merlyn spun on her heels with a loud bark of laughter, eyes sparkling with something akin to humor. He couldn't really see anything funny in it. "It was to remind me of what this mission was all about, and that I should focus on it more than messing with you. To remind me what Uther-" she sneered the name like a curse, not any differently than any magic-user attacking the kingdom, "-can do without any evidence to just about anyone, no matter who they are." Her fingers stopped on another spot of something dark on the wall, this time lingering a lot longer than before with an almost wistful look in her eyes. "Hm, though they did change the door after that. Probably for a better view… that sick bastard."

There was no need to ask what she meant - though the prince himself had been the one to remove all solid doors from the dungeons. He had been surprised that his father readily agreed to it, though after what had happened to Merlyn it was a surprise the king wasn't begging for the warrior's forgiveness on his knees. Arthur wanted to prevent anything like that from happening ever again and even though he knew that there would be ways for someone to go around it, he had wanted to whatever he could.

"Then-" the man opened his mouth again, this time to ask about the Priestess, but only managed to get out one word before Merlyn growled, patience suddenly gone and slammed her boot on the chain. The sudden pressure made the metal tighten and pulled his arm hard, forcing him to lean more to the right and cry out in pain. Though that meant the cuff on his left wrist was cutting in his skin too, but at least not that hard.

He felt a sudden warm breath right by his ear when Merlyn leaned down without moving her foot away from the chain, her lips ghosting on his skin just enough to make an unpleasant shiver run across his spine. "I owe you nothing, Pendragon,"  her hushed, menacing voice whispered as she tilted her head so that he could see the manic, cold look in her eyes where the gold pulsed around her pupil without covering the whole eye like normally; a threat if he had even seen one, "not answers, not mercy… nothing." The pressure and her presence disappeared then, allowing Arthur to heave a relieved breath when the pain went mostly away though his eyes still followed her, no matter how much he just wanted to slip away from the world.

Watching as she peered out of his pathetic excuse of a window and smiled wickedly, he couldn't help but frown. What happened to her? Where had Merlyn been this whole time? Was it possible that the others were… controlling her? As much as the prince wanted to let go of the suspicion he had against magic - and especially against Merlyn -, he still didn't know what was possible to do with it so it was only fair to consider. He didn't even want to think that everything that had happened before was… a lie. "Why doesn't he know then?" The question left his lips without any further thought and winced immediately as Merlyn spun around to face him again, though this time actually showing how frustrated she was.

The leather of her fingerless gloves creaked ominously when her fingers curled into tight fists, eyes drilling holes on his face - he couldn't see it since her back was turned to the rising sun peeking out behind the heavy clouds, but the feeling was still there. "Do you ever shut up?" The warrior snarled, no doubt baring her teeth under the shadows and her voice so low that he almost didn't even hear it.

But Arthur had never had any idea of self-preservation and he knew doubting her commitment to the assassin would make her show some emotion. "Why doesn't he know about your magic?"

To be fair, this was not quite the emotion he had thought of.

The only warning he had was the glimpse of gold in the shadows before Merlyn appeared right before him, crossing fifteen feet in the blink of an eye, bringing her face, twisted in anger and hatred, only inches away from his and her right hand clamped around his jaw with her mangled fingernails digging painfully in his cheeks, forcing a pained grunt out of the disadvantaged prince. The placement of her palm forced the kneeling prince to tilt his head back with the furious warrior looming over him, eyes no longer gold but still burning their way to his soul as she stared down. The shadows over her face dipped deeply to the hollows of her cheeks, over her eyes and under her defined jaw; making her look like a monster parents warned their children about.

"You-" the witch growled between her clenched teeth, voice unrecognizable, her hold tightening around his jaw and fingernails digging to his skin so tight that he swore it would draw blood soon enough, "-have no right to ask me that!" Merlyn's hold forced the prince's lips to part since her fingers dug so deep in her cheeks that they made his clenched teeth part, her hand shaking his head back and forth to punctuate her every words. He had to close his eyes for a moment when the ache on his temple and neck returned, but the bitter, almost manic laughter got Arthur to snap his eyes back up to hers and met two wide, twitching orbs so close that he could see his own reflection in them, even when she was shaking her head rapidly from side to side. "And you really don't want him to know."

"W-why not?" Even with her hold around his jaw, Arthur managed to force the words out. They were barely coherent enough to be understood but what did he really have to lose anymore? He knew perfectly well that Merlyn could snap his neck with a thought if she so pleased and he was powerless to do anything about it. So why not at least try to get answers, try to get her to understand, help those who could survive. "If you trust him so much, why not tell him everything?"

He didn't hear her laugh, but saw how Merlyn's shoulders shook silently as her lips stretched into a wide, unnatural grin that revealed her teeth. It was very unnerving to be honest, especially since her unblinking eyes stared straight at his and her head tilted to the left, her anger all gone and replaced with a look of sick glee. "I will, and he will understand. I'm just keeping a secret, it is not lying… you would know something about that, wouldn't you, princeling?" Her tone turned back to the almost childlike, sweet voice Merlyn had used earlier, but her hold only tightened more as her dark eyes suddenly flickered somewhere over Arthur's head and lost focus for a second as if listening to something. Her rhetoric question reminded Arthur of his foolishness when he had kept his admission a secret. It had not been a wise decision... 

But when they snapped back down, her smile turned into a vicious smirk and the bite of her nails vanished and was replaced by her arms forcing him to stand up again. "He's coming… and you need to look presentable… well, as much as you can, really," the warrior giggled, slightly bouncing on her feet as she straightened the ripped undershirt he was wearing and brushed his blood-soaked hair from his eyes. Merlyn's voice never lost the sweet tone, but the next words she almost sang to him sent chills down his back, "I'd suggest you keep your little mouth shut, because if he finds out now... Nothing will stop me from using my powers. And you do not want that."

Trying to ignore the cheeky wink she sent his way, Arthur swallowed thickly against the lump forming in his throat. "What about the… t-the destiny you spoke of..? Was that a lie?" The prince regretted asking immediately - Merlyn's eyes snapped back up to his and the hand that had previously tried to rip off his jaw, grabbed the collar of his shirt and yanked him down, unyielding eyes once again boring in his though they had none of the humor and glee they had only seconds ago.

"Destiny knows nothing. Destiny promised me a strong, mighty king-" she sneered as her upper lip curled in disgust, eyes briefly flicking over Arthur's beaten, dirty body, "-and yet it gave me a pathetic excuse of a prince living in his father's shadow of hatred. I'm not Destiny's puppet!" Her free hand came up to his cheeks, cold trembling fingers stroking the skin almost gently and eyes lowering to stare at the movement from behind her messy curls, tone softening again, "you are nothing to me, Pendragon. You're not even worth killing."

The sweet smile that graced her lips only worsened the feeling gnawing Arthur's chest, but he didn't have any time to open his mouth to say anything because the minute she was done talking, her eyes flashed and sounds returned to the cell. His men were being shouted at by the assassins guarding them and they were yelling back twice as loud, only to be silenced by a deafening clang when someone hit the metal bars of their cells. Arthur could hear Gwaine curse the assassins over the noise somewhere mich closer to Arthur than the others, but he didn't sound like he had any fight left in him either.

The door to his cells suddenly clicked and opened with a swift movement, making Arthur flinch where he stood. Merlyn on the other hand just stepped back from it in a practiced movement and tilted her head slightly to the left when the first person walked in. "I see you've been busy here," Morgause grumbled and narrowed her eyes at the warrior, who didn't pay her any attention as she looked behind the Priestess.

A humorless chuckle sounded from the hallway at the woman's words. "Doesn't she always?" A man's voice almost purred, sounding very pleased and it was those words that brought a grin to Merlyn's lips. The prince only saw it from the corner of his eye but he refused to look properly at the joy that psychopathic freak gave her. Mordred's open, long dark jacket almost flew behind him when he quickly strode across the cell without even a glance at the prince chained in there - he only seemed to have eyes for Merlyn who he circled with his arms, a gesture she happily mimicked. "Such a busy worker… I wouldn't expect anything less."

It was only because Arthur tried to stare anywhere but the those two that he was able to catch a glimpse of the heartbroken, angry expression on the princess' face when she walked in last, fingers curled around her dark blue skirt so tight that her knuckles were white. The green eyes, much darker and serious than he had ever seen them, were trained solely on Mordred's back as he nuzzled his face to Merlyn's exposed neck and paid the girl no attention. It seemed that Morgause noticed too, since the Priestess cleared her throat a bit and shook Morgana from her staring.

"Morgana…" Arthur breathed, swallowing hard when the green eyes looked back at him and widened at the sight of him. It had been only hours since they saw each other, but he still remembered the way she had taken the enemy side and sent their father to the dungeons. "How- no. Why?!"

Morgana was about to open her mouth, but another voice spoke for her. "Why? Can you really ask that, Pendragon?" The Priestess growled as she stepped between the siblings, eyes wide with rage. Arthur saw a glimpse of her armor beneath the black cloak she was wearing, ominously glinting in the light of the rising sun. "Did you expect her to sit back and wait to die just because the killers are related to her?"

She didn't know. Morgana didn't know he knew already. The prince inhaled shakily and squeezed his eyes shut, letting his head drop down. Of course Morgana would think that - what good had the prince ever done for anyone with magic? She didn't know about Merlyn, she didn't know Arthur had been trying to protect her, she definitely didn't know that Arthur had been dreaming of a better future for everyone. During the past months, every time anyone had spoken about magic in any way, Arthur had shut down completely. It was to avoid any poorly placed words, to avoid saying something that would incriminate anyone for any reason. Not to mention that even thinking about magic had made him think about Merlyn, but that was already given at this point.

So… when his sister had tried to speak about it, had it been a part of the plan? Or had she joined to help the others later on? Was… was Morgana a part of whatever was going on with Merlyn? Had she done something to the warrior even when they were friends?

There were too many questions, too many possible answers too but none of them made him feel better - Morgana was still a part of it. Even when he didn't understand why she wouldn't trust them, since Uther had never treated her poorly even if Morgana had spoken on the behalf of magic-users, and Arthur certainly had never thought badly about her, no matter what his first reaction had been.

"Are you here to gloat now then?" Arthur decided to break the silence - he really couldn't say that Morgana didn't have reasons to hate them. What good had the prince ever done? Lifting his head up, had to blink to keep his eyesight from blurring anymore since standing was making him feel too weak already but he didn't want to give them any more weapons against him. Morgause flipped her long hair over her shoulders as she turned back to the prince, face hard as stone as she took in his appearance. The dark eyes lingered somewhere around his jaw before snapping up to his. "Tell me that you'll kill me, keep me here for the rest of eternity, torture me, something like that?"

His grumbled questions cracked the cold exterior of the Priestess, lifting the corner of her mouth up slightly but she still didn't answer. "I thought I told you not to touch him, dear," Morgause asked, eyeing him for a second longer before her eyes slowly turned to look where Merlyn and Mordred were. "Were my instructions unclear?"

When a small, poorly smothered snort came as an answer, Arthur too looked back to the warrior who wasn't even looking at the glaring Priestess. Instead, her eyes were trained on her own finger that was tracing the jaw line of the emotionless assassin. His steely eyes were staring back at Arthur, and the prince couldn't look away even when he wanted to. "I thought I told you that I don't take orders from you, dear," Merlyn sighed and curled her lips in disgust for calling her that before she let her hand drop from Mordred's face and looked at the older woman, eyes hard and unforgiving, "or was I unclear when I chucked my dagger at you before coming down here?"

Her response brought a smirk to Mordred's lips, though his eyes never left Arthur's. The man barely blinked as he stared at the prince, just watched him completely silently. It was a calculating look, very much similar to those he had seen on a battlefield and that fact unnerved Arthur even more. He was just there, watching and waiting as if expecting Arthur to go berserk, completely at ease as he moved his hand to rest on Merlyn's hip - a possessive gesture, something the prince recognized all too well. The prince could understand now why Merlyn had once said that everything was like a game for the assassin; he waited for the next move, but in reality he knew he had the upper hand and several countermoves just waiting to be used at the perfect moment. Having Merlyn back and Arthur in the dungeon was just his counteract after Merlyn had joined Camelot's knights.

It was Arthur's turn now and Mordred knew it wasn't coming. The sad reality was that so did Arthur.

Morgause didn't give an answer to Merlyn, just turned her head back to Arthur. "I am not here to do anything you said," she informed the prince when he was finally released from Mordred's eyes. The assassin looked down when Merlyn whispered something to him; it was like a spell had broken when Arthur turned, the Priestess looked at him with pity, of all things. "I only wanted to see if I was correct."

"And you need all of them here for that?" The prince frowned, eyes flicking to his sister who was again staring at Merlyn and Mordred. They were whispering to each other still and he refused to look back there in case he'd see something that wouldn't leave his mind ever again.

Morgause smiled again though it didn't reach her eyes at all. "Don't expect my dear Morgana to do anything for you, Arthur," she said when she saw where Arthur had looked, "she has learned the lies and seen the hatred. Soon, she'll be the new ruler of Camelot as she should be."

"I'm the eldest-" Arthur started but was cut off by Morgana now, whose eyes flung to him now with a burning passion raging behind them as she straightened her back, "but I'm also the daughter of a High Priestess and the Greatest Seer of this time. The crown is mine, because I'm stronger than you and I care about everyone."

A soft chuckle left Merlyn suddenly even when her face was pressed against the assassin's shoulder and all the eyes turned to her. It took the warrior a second to realize that everyone had heard her; she raised her head, a bewildered look in her eyes. "What?" She huffed, sharing a small look with Mordred before looking straight at the princess now. "I can't be the only one to think that those are some big words from… well, someone like you."

With a small sound that almost sounded like a growl, Morgana now stepped towards Merlyn who was just watching her with a wide, very amused grin. "And you think you'd be better?" The princess hissed, pointing a finger at the warrior. Morgana had her head turned but Arthur still saw a small glimpse of gold flashing in her eyes as if wishing it would scare the warrior - which it definately did not. "A commoner, a warrior, someone who doesn't even understand magic? How could you be the one to bring it back?"

The smile never left Merlyn's lips, but Arthur saw how her eyes hardened a little. Even when she was acting different, the mention of magic seemed to still be a touchy subject to her. "I don't care about ruling the kingdom, be a queen if you want to," the warrior snorted and waved a dismissive hand at the younger girl's words, "because in any case, I didn't mean that."

Merlyn placed hands on her hips, now standing side by side with Mordred, who looked very curious about what was happening but said nothing, just crossed his arms. "Then what did you mean?" Morgana angrily pressed, taking another step with her chin tilted up slightly. The princess was a few inches taller than Merlyn, but the warrior still looked stronger, bigger. Merlyn had an aura of confidence and power that over shined everyone else in the cell, but Morgana didn't seem to realize that - she walked right in front of the older girl, jabbing a finger at her chest. "I could squash you like the cockroach you are."

Without hesitation, Merlyn grabbed the princess' raised hand and twisted it so quickly that the princess was forced to flip around, her arm twisted painfully behind her with Merlyn's chest against the arm and her back. Morgause let out a startled cry at the motion and Arthur tugged against the chains, but Mordred merely took a step back and watched. "Don't touch me if you want to keep your hand," Merlyn snarled with her lips only inches away from Morgana's ear before pushing the girl away and watching her stumble to Morgause's arms. "I meant that they are big words from someone like you; a privileged princess with too much time on her hands, so she decides to take over the kingdom because why the hell not? You couldn't even move me an inch without an hour of studying and another hour of trying to make it work."

Two pairs of eyes were glued on the warrior as she spoke while Mordred smiled to himself, making eye contact with Arthur when the prince accidentally looked at his way. The assassin only looked a moment, before winking so quickly that Arthur almost missed it and looked back at Merlyn again. "Aren't you going to do anything?!" The princess nearly screamed at Mordred when the man didn't do anything and the only answer Morgana got was a half-hearted shrug but no eye contact which made the princess actually screech before storming out of the open door with Morgause hot on her heels.

Arthur had been too shocked with everything that had been going on that he hadn't been able to say anything, and nothing changed now. Since when had Morgana and Merlyn been like this to each other? Had something happened while the warrior had been missing or...? But he wasn't in a place to even try and ask those questions; not that he knew how to since Merlyn was once again too focused on Mordred to even spare the prince a second glance. Her left hand was gliding down along Mordred's chest while fiddled with a loose strand of her hair.

"I think I liked your hair shorter more," Arthur heard the assassin murmur distractedly, while the warrior herself didn't really react in any way, "why don't you cut it again?"

The warrior shook her head a bit but didn't look up from his chest. "I like it this way," Merlyn hummed, fingers smoothing a crease on Mordred's dark tunic. Then she seemed to remember where they were and her dark eyes suddenly snapped to Arthur who was watching them with very poorly disguised disgust. It was like two different people; at one second she was like any other girl just standing there completely at peace, and in the blink of an eye the aggressive assassin emerged and she was at Arthur's face with her hand curling around his jaw again. Yanking him down so that their faces were on the same level - a motion that brought tears of pain in his eyes - Arthur was met with her eyes again. "Is there something you want to say, sire?"

Behind her, Mordred looked almost like he wanted to burst down to sing, a look of pure glee almost lighting up his cold face caused by the sight in front of him. And Arthur didn't have the energy to try and fight right now, not when Merlyn wasn't herself and when the assassin was looming right there like a shadow, completely silent. So, the prince just closed his eyes and shook his head as much as he could. Without even opening his eyes, he could unfortunately picture the manic look in her face when he gave up without a fight and soon enough she pushed the prince back, making him finally lose balance and fall against the damp wall behind him.

Only when he was already sliding down to the floor did Arthur crack his eyes open just to see the door swinging close again. Further down the dark hall, Mordred's figure was already walking away. Arthur's men were kicking the metal bars and shouting, but the assassin never answered.

Merlyn had stayed back to lock the cell, doing it agonizingly slowly just to eventually curl her fingers around the bars and stick her head between two of them. The crack was too small for her head to go through, but he still saw her… unfortunately. Her smile was wide and sweet again, lit up by the warm glow of the sun but it was still wrong, twisted almost. Arthur couldn't keep the slight grimace off of his face but she luckily didn't notice. "I hope you enjoy your life down here," Merlyn bid her goodbyes, sounding way too pleased as she watched Arthur shift his position slightly on the floor and wincing in pain. "I'll come see you again-," she continued, catching Arthur's eye now, "-I promise we'll have so much fun.

And then she was gone, leaving Arthur staring blankly at the waterskin too far for him to reach without really seeing anything.

What now?

Chapter Text

"You're awake."

Merlyn didn't bother to answer since she had made eye contact with the assassin before he had even opened his mouth. What was the point in stating the obvious? So instead she just rolled on her other side and turned her back to Mordred brooding in front of the window of her room. She had woken up to the sunlight hitting her face perfectly - and it was annoying as hell. Didn't she deserve some bloody sleep around here anymore? The previous day had been filled with trying to be anywhere but in the same room with the Bitch Witches, or Morgause and Morgana if one wanted to call them by name. Merlyn had endured enough of them for a lifetime, so instead she had holed herself in her old room and hoped that sleep would finally claim her - which it had, when the adrenaline and rush from getting her magic back finally faded.

She had slept like the dead, but apparently Mordred had other ideas since he was there at the crack of dawn for crying out loud. "What do you want, Mordred?" It took her several minutes of trying to ignore the feeling of him staring at her bare back to finally lose her patience. The warrior rolled around again and heaved herself to sit on the edge of her lush bed, letting her cover fall down from her torso to cover only half of her legs. Not using any clothing while she slept was enough to distract the assassin for her to actually shake off the last of her sleep. "Are you here just to state the obvious and stare at me, or did you have something to say?"

Without moving his eyes - unashamedly staring at her naked figure, creep - Mordred shrugged, "do I need a better reason to see you?" His answer got Merlyn to roll her eyes and get up from the bed, Mordred stare never wavering. The room was hauntingly familiar yet so strange. It was like two images placed on top of each other, messing with her mind a bit - on one hand, the room looked homely with warm colors and familiar silky bed sheets, but on the other hand it was still Camelot and it made her skin crawl. She knew that removing the wall would make her feel a bit weird since it was almost like two different people coming together, but this was a lot more than she had thought it would be. First of all, Merlyn had no idea why the old her would have wanted to create the wall in the first place. The memories were very hazy, and she only knew what Morgause and Mordred had told her - she had wanted to see what else there was for her. But then she had met the king of Camelot and then joined forces with Mordred again after trying to figure out a plan on her own.

The stubbornness and doing weird things did sound like her, but it didn't sit well. Something was off.

"You do when you wake me up at this hour," Merlyn grumbled as she made her way behind the privacy screen where her clothes were already waiting. Mordred answered something, but Merlyn didn't really pay attention to it when her eyes wandered over her own skin. Had she always had this many scars? The one on her thigh she didn't remember and it was a bit worrying since it looked like it could've been quite bad. And that wasn't the only one. The most annoying part was that she could remember bits and pieces, like how much pain she had been but not how she had gotten some of them. "So, did you have anything important to tell me?" Deciding to distract herself from the messy, blank spots in her mind - quite probably another side-effect of the wall coming down -, Merlyn directed her attention back to Mordred.

As happy as she was to see the curly-haired assassin again and actually be with him, the betrayal was still too fresh in her mind. He could've brought her with him when they made a move against Camelot, but instead he had listened to Morgause and left Merlyn alone. Who knows how long she would've been waiting if not for the key? And not to mention the torturing he had put her through, twice. Yes, she knew why, but it didn't make it any better.

A soft scuffle reach her ears from the other side of the screen just before Mordred came into view just as Merlyn managed to pull on a dark grey tunic. It was long enough to reach her leather covered hips, but slightly too loose seeing as the warrior had lost weight during her captivity. But the assassin paid no mind to her obvious annoyance for his intrusion and just wrapped his strong, long arms around her waist from behind. "It's been too long, bunny," he purred, lips touching her neck just below her ear. Reflexively, Merlyn tilted her head to the side to give him more space and let her eyes flutter closed as the man continued, still quietly, "haven't you missed me? Or… has he kept you busy enough..?"

Eyes snapping open, Merlyn frowned deeply at the words but didn't move away from him when his slightly damp lips started to trail the vein on her neck. He? He who? Mordred couldn't mean the rotten prince, right? They both knew what Merlyn's plan had been, so why would he be mad or jealous about it? "What.. what do you mean?"

Mordred's lips vanished the moment Merlyn had spoken, and suddenly the warrior found herself being pressed face first against the stone wall with Mordred's solid weight heavily against her back. She grit her teeth to keep her angry words silent, grimacing when he moved his hips against her backside and caused her body to slide against the rough surface of the wall, a hand on her right shoulder and the other flat on her stomach under the tunic. Merlyn's right cheek was pressed against the wall so the assassin was able to lean a bit forward to press a hard, bruising kiss on her dry lips. "Forget him," he growled into the kiss, fingernails grazing against the skin of her stomach, "I'm here now."

The kiss gave Merlyn a chance to push herself slightly away from the wall just to flip around and let his body go flush against hers, his calloused hand now at the small of her back pulling her closer and the other pushing to her hair. Grinning against his lips, Merlyn grabbed a fistful of his hair in her left hand and yanked Mordred's head away from hers. He looked positively sinful with his lust-blown eyes and swollen lips, but his possessive behavior was getting to her nerves. "Do not tell me what to do," the warrior spat and spun them around so that it was him against the wall now, knocking a stool over the same time, before pulling the man's lips back to hers. A loud moan escaped his throat when her grip of his hair tightened, but before his hands appeared back on her body, Merlyn removed her own from his hair and shoved hard at his shoulders. The curls of his dark hair bounced when he hit the wall, enraged wide eyes casting an almost betrayed look at Merlyn, who just shrugged. "Patience is a virtue… if you have any left."

Before Mordred could answer, the warrior spun on her heels and grabbed her leather vest from where it had fallen on the floor when the stool had fallen down, her swords and belt with daggers in her other hand from the foot of her bed and briskly walked out of the room while pulling it on. Mordred had always been like this, possessive to no end and while Merlyn was practically the same, she enjoyed the little game of cat and mouse they had going on - with both of them being the feline and everyone else being the mice. They fought for dominance, for blood and glory with nothing to lose.

After all, it wasn't him who taught that everything could be a game if you so wished.

The corridor was completely empty when Merlyn stepped out of the door. Pulling the vest on her, her steps never faltered while her eyes flashed and the straps tightened perfectly on the sides and front, while at the same time her hair braided itself in one long plait. By the time she turned the corner to head to the staircase where the first people were, she had her swords strapped to her back and belt with her daggers hanging over her hips, long braid falling over the right shoulder and expression completely frozen with steely dark eyes. The servants were familiar since very few of those who worked at the castle had had the opportunity to escape even when their families lived in the Lower Town or had left the city. They still showed Merlyn the respect she deserved, but no longer were the bows and curtsies accompanied by smiles and bright eyes - only timid glances and hurried escapes.

The assassins were a totally different story. Some of them recognized her from the Great Hall when she had appeared for the first time, but it was clear that most of them still didn't know who she was. Those who strolled the castle to guard it only gave her brief glances, those who were just hanging around paid her no mind and those who had actually seen her kiss Mordred stared openly. The whispers said Merlyn was only a fling, someone Mordred had kept hidden for his own fun until now.

It was disgusting to hear that people actually thought Merlyn would let herself be used like that - but what could they possibly think, when there was no one alive to tell about her? Her name was never spoken by anyone per Mordred's orders, that much Merlyn knew. It was the reason why everyone had called her bunny - an ironic pet name since the warrior had nothing in common with a cute, fluffy animal.

A shout snapped her eyes slightly to the left when she got to the bottom of the stairs. A small group of young assassins were loudly bickering about something and getting a bit too rowdy with it. A blonde girl, maybe fifteen, had her arm around another girl's throat and was holding her slightly too tight while three boys were trying to get her to stop. One of the boys, his sandy brown hair cropped short and pitch black eyes, stopped mid-sentence when he saw Merlyn standing only a few feet away from them with a raised eyebrow. There were no other's around and Merlyn wasn't exactly the right person to handle kids who were fighting among themselves - lord knows she had done that in her own time without anyone stopping her enough.

"Whatcha staring at, lady?!" The blonde girl snarled when she noticed where the boy was looking at. Her blue eyes looked almost hazy with rage, no doubt directed to the reddening girl she had in her hold. "Nothin' to see here, bitch crossed a line."

Merlyn felt a grin spread to her face as she took a few steps closer, now standing right in front of the girls. She felt the boys' eyes on her but they seemed smart enough not to say anything to someone armed with two swords, two daggers and a freezing cold look in her eyes. "What did she do?" The warrior questioned, tilting her head curiously as she looked at the choking girl. Her pleading brown eyes were starting to look a bit red on the sides, but they didn't move away from Merlyn's blue ones. "I don't think anything short of murder or betrayal could make her deserve this."

"She stole my dagger," the blonde one barked, shaking her victim and visibly tightened her hold, "and won't admit it!"

Surprised, the warrior laughed out loud with her head thrown back and started to shake her head at the explanation. "Stole your dagger?! You want to kill the poor girl for stealing one of your rusty daggers?" Merlyn huffed, wiping a small tear of mirth from the corner of her eye before she stepped even closer and leaned over the weakening girl and stared at the blonde one right in the eye. "Make a new one, steal one of hers back or get over it. Not let go."

But the blonde one was stubborn, she just pulled the other girl away from Merlyn. She didn't get far though, Merlyn managed to grab the arms she was using to choke the poor kid and forced her to let go by gripping her elbow hard enough for the blonde to groan in pain. The brown-eyed victim fell hard on her knees, wheezing for air, but was grabbed by two of the boys before she fell down completely. "What the hell do you think you're doing, lady?!" The blonde screamed, violently thrashing in Merlyn's hold while the warrior just stood there, patiently waiting for her to calm down. "When you leave, I'm gonna kill her, I swear to god-"

"Swear to whoever the hell you want," Merlyn cut the girl off and pulled her closer. The warrior was a half a head taller than her so she was able to stare her down. Now that the girl actually focused on her better, the color started to slowly drain from her face when she look at the warrior's hard eyes and winced when Merlyn's grip grew tighter. "But I'll swear to come after you if you do that."

"What do you care, I don't even know who you are!" She still screamed back, dragging her body as far away from Merlyn as she could. Her struggling was getting on the warrior's nerves and it was now showing on her face as a twitching left eye and gritted teeth. "You're a nobody, you might have fucked the boss-"

The blonde's shouting cut off when Merlyn used her arm as leverage to fling her against a marble pillar close by. She hit her face in it, her nose cracking loudly and caused her to cry in pain while Merlyn just stepped back and let go of the girl's arm, mind screaming what the hell are you doing?! but the inner shouting was ignored. As the blonde collapsed to the ground, Merlyn stepped over her and kicked her shoulder so she would roll on her back. "He fucked me to get to the top, kid," the woman growled, no longer looking like the epitome of calmness and humor - it was funny that at one point she had thought of herself as an ex-assassin, but truthfully… you could never escape that life, "and you better tell that to everyone who thinks otherwise. If I hear anyone accusing me for screwing my way to where I am, I'm going to start leaving bodies behind-," Merlyn crouched down in one swift movement and grabbed the girl's chin to tilt her head upwards so she would actually look at her, "-and I do not need money to do that. Got it?"

When Merlyn received a hasty nod from the blonde girl holding her bleeding nose and stiff agreements from the other's behind her, her hard stare changed back to the sweet smile she had had earlier and she finally let her bruising grip drop. The damage to the girl's nose wasn't that bad, it probably wasn't even broken that badly but the blonde was still looking like she was in immense pain.

Rolling her eyes, the warrior pat the girl's cheek briskly and stood up again. "Get a grip, it's not that bad," she huffed and grimaced in disgust when she wiped the smeared off blood from her finger to the girl's dark tunic before glancing at the other girl, who was staring at Merlyn from behind her curls. "Give the damn dagger back or one of your own, I don't care. If I see you fighting over nothing again, I'll have to smack some more sense into you all. That's not how things are done here, even if Mordred has turned his back to it. I won't."

"You can't call him that," a gruff voice spoke behind her. Turning around on her heels, Merlyn came face to face with the black-eyed boy who had been the first to see her before. Has the power gone to Mordred's head? The warrior thought and resisted the urge to roll her eyes - of course it has… Raising a questioning eyebrow at the boy, he boldly looked at her straight in the eye, "he doesn't let anyone call him by his name. Wanted to do it in Gregor's way." Well, Mordred had been Gregor's golden boy…

Smiling sweetly, Merlyn patted the boys shoulder as she walked past him. "He isn't my boss or master, so I call him whatever I please. But he is..." the warrior hummed as she stopped by the boys side, glancing over her shoulder at the bleeding blonde and the other one still rubbing her throat before looking at the staircase and promptly forgetting her line of thought when she saw that Mordred was hopping the stairs down two at a time. He slowed down completely when he made eye contact with Merlyn, lingering there a second longer than necessary. The corner of his mouth tugged up without any reservation - an expression he showed to no one but her, and he didn't seem to have eyes for the two girls in pain when Merlyn was there. The man had changed his gray tunic into a forest green one with his dark vest over it, black trousers stuffed in his boots and a sword and daggers hanging at his hip - he looked beautiful, in the orange sunlight peeking through the clouds, creating mismatched highlights in his pitch black curls. How she had ever though she could get away from feeling like this was beyond her.

"He is my everything."

 

***

 

The last time Merlyn had been in the dining hall of the castle, she had had dinner with Uther. The situation right now couldn't have been any different from what it had been then. The chair at the end of the table had been removed for some reason while two women sat across from each other on the sides. Instead of having servants running around bringing them plates and drink, the items were flying in the air own their own, surrounded by a faint purple shimmer, and instead of guards clad in shining armor and bright red capes, unmoving men in full armor and helmets stood outside the doors while assassins stood inside.

When the warrior walked past the guards outside, she was immediately stopped when she stepped to the dining hall. Two pairs of hands grabbed her elbows, pushing her on her knees to stop her from moving while a third had their sword on her throat. "What business do you have here?" The bald one with the sword snarled at her, but Merlyn's eyes were staring behind him at the smug princess and expressionless Priestess - neither made a move to assist her. "Answer or die!"

Making eye contact with the princess, a smirk spread slowly to Merlyn's lips when a familiar aura of magic reached her senses. The baffled look that took over Morgana's face was worth the wait, and soon enough Merlyn heard the telltale sound of a sword being drawn and only a second later how it hit its target - target being the bald one's shoulder. A shadow landed on the warrior just before the bruising grip on her arms vanished, her capturers briskly backing up. "Touch her again like that, and I'll cut off your hands," a low, ominous words sounded from the shadow as Merlyn straightened herself on her knees and tilted her head back to look at her savior.

"My hero," she purred, smirk only widening when Mordred offered a hand to her and pulled her up from the ground. He didn't look happy at all, not even smiling when their eyes met - he looked at her like she was a stranger, like this was something he had never seen before. "What?" Her smirk started to turn into a confused frown when he only looked away to his men, glaring at them long enough for them to actually bow stiffly and go back to their places before pulling the warrior to the dining table. The injured onw left the room, leaving only three others to the side. Mordred dropped her hand at the end of the table and walked to the other end where the women were sitting, staring at what was happening.

Mordred didn't spare Merlyn another glance, only sat beside Morgana and focused his attention to whatever Morgause was saying. The princess looked way too happy about the assassins presence, at least based on the way her expression turned smug again when she looked at Merlyn again with a raised eyebrow that only got the warrior to roll her eyes as she slumped to the chair at the furthest end of the table. "What do I have to do around here to get some food?" She asked loudly, cutting off whatever Morgana was trying to whisper to Mordred and propped her feet noisily on the corner of the wooden table, so hard that the whole table shook.

Grinning at Morgause's death glare, Merlyn raised an eyebrow as she waited for an answer and crossed her legs lazily on the table as a sign that she was not going anywhere. The staring match between her and the Priestess was familiar from her childhood when Merlyn had been a stubborn child and refused to incinerate someone just because Morgause thought it was good practice. I wonder where I got my aggression? The witch thought, grin widening when Morgause finally let go and waived her hand. A shimmer of dark purple flashed and sent the food sliding down the table to Merlyn.

Offering the Priestess a cheeky salute, the warrior grabbed an apple from the basket. As she bit into it, her midnight eyes started to observe the room. It didn't look like it had changed at all, but the same thing feeling filled her when she looked around as it had in her own room. The blank spaces in her mind made it impossible for the witch to figure out what she was supposed to think about being in the castle. Her skin was itching constantly, something was crawling in her mind and making the hairs on her body stand up. Everything looked wrong. It wasn't the different guards or even the different people sitting around the table, it was more like a… feeling. Like she was missing something.

Has to be a remnant of the wall… she decided, sinking her teeth in the apple again. There was a part of her that tried to cling to the person she had been when the wall was up. I was more in control of what I did then, it's harder to keep my anger down now. Years ago, Merlyn had always acted on what she felt - and she had felt anger the most. Creating the wall in her mind, she had wanted to see if she could become stronger with some control of her actions. It worked in some ways, for example even though she knew now why she had done what she did, there were no voices or twitching in her limbs. The urges to move constantly had come back, and even now as she sat by the table Merlyn craved to go out and find someone to spar with. But still, she was much more in control of it than before.

You're holding back too much. You were stronger then when you didn't mind what people thought, what the consequences were… the voice that came to her mind when she thought of that sounded way too much like Mordred's, but it was still true - not minding about anything but only doing what she wanted to had been a strength that not many people had. But if having the wall had taught her anything, was that being like that would only come back around and bite her in the ass. I can't be like that. I'm better like this. I don't need to scare people by violence.

But how else are they going to respect you?

Her chewing slowed down at that thought, eyes momentarily stopping on the rough surface of the dining table. The other's were still talking on the other end of the table and while she did hear Morgause complaining about how the druids were not coming out of hiding, the words were like white noise in her ears as her thought started to run again. The people Mordred had with him didn't respect Merlyn like they had, and she hadn't seen anyone that had been in the group with her. Sure, when the fight was still going on, she had seen Sienna and Olly, but they were probably doing their jobs somewhere else. No one else knew her, Mordred hadn't introduced her to them. As Merlyn swallowed, her eyes snapped up to the three assassins standing on the other side of the table next to each other; they had been staring at her, frowning and probably trying to figure out who she was and what to think of her.

They didn't look away, but they visibly almost stopped breathing when her sharp eyes did not move. The fun part about being unknown… is that they have no idea what to expect, her mind deduced, the corners of her mouth slowly rising up into a sinister smirk and that accompanied by the manic look in her eyes made the color drain from the men's faces. They might not know who she was, but there were still ways to make them be afraid of her without violence.

The most dangerous people are those who lull you into a feeling of security, only to gut you when you least expect it, Myror had once taught her. She hated the dead assassins with everything she had, but even Merlyn had to admit that he had been good at what he did.

"Are you listening?" A sharp, snapped questions brought Merlyn back to reality, but her eyes never wavered from the men, only her left eyebrow rose in annoyance and the smile dropped completely. Morgause's fuming voice told the warrior that she had probably tried to get her attention for a while now.

"I would, if anyone else would talk," she gave a grumbled answer, biting down on her apple again when she finally ripped her eyes away from the nervous assassins and looked at the Priestess, whose brown eyes were glued to her, eyebrows burrowed and lips twisted downwards. "Don't frown, you'll get more wrinkles."

Merlyn had spoken with her mouth full and offered the woman a mock-sweet smile that got Morgause to clench her fingers in tight fists. "You should be listening, not trying to glare the men into submission, and act like a pig," the older witch snapped as Merlyn swallowed and threw the half-eaten apple to the table. It bounced for a moment before almost dropping to the floor, but it stopped mid-air - glancing further to the three people at the other end, Merlyn saw a glimpse of Mordred's golden eyes. "I gave you orders, did you hear them or has your hearing been compromised while you were gallivanting around the land?"

Snorting, the warrior withdrew her legs from the table and twisted on the seat so she could turn her body properly towards the Priestess, eyes shining with mirth when she looked at her again. "Gallivanting? That's what you call it?" Merlyn laughed as she shook her head, getting up from the high-backed chair, her feet leading her slightly closer to the others. "From my point of view, I was running away from your toxic "parenting"-," she made the air quotes with her fingers, voice laced with heavy sarcasm, "-and left you alive when I could've killed you for everything you did." At the side, Morgana let out a sharp gasp you tried to kill her?! at Merlyn's words but neither of the other women paid her attention. The princess' sounded like she couldn't believe anyone would want to do that to the Priestess, but she was frighteningly naïve, even after literally throwing her family in to the dungeon.

"Merlyn-" Mordred's hand handed on the warrior's elbow when she walked behind him and Morgana, but Merlyn shook it off and only stopped when she was at the head of the table, glaring down at the Priestess who hadn't moved from her seat and continued, cutting off the assassin, "is it that hard to believe?"

The girl didn't have a chance to answer when Morgause spoke up, "I was good to you." That brought out a startled bark of laughter out of Merlyn, her eyes wide and dark with growing anger staring right back at the woman, who looked defiant, as if she really believed her own words.

"Good? You call that being good to me?!" Merlyn's voice rose slightly, and Mordred started to rise from his seat to stop them from fighting. His chair scratched the stone floor noisily, but Merlyn's attention didn't shift. "You killed my mum, kidnapped me, forced me to torture people, tried to use me for your own gain, then tried to kill me several times before capturing me again and torturing me for months,-" the warrior listed them all while counting the reasons with her trembling fingers, her anger penetrating Morgause's mind at the same time and making the Priestess unintentionally grimace in pain, "-to name a few reasons."

"I did not-," the Priestess snarled, eyes flashing briefly golden, and was about to stand up to but stopped as if she hit a wall when she looked over the warrior's shoulder and met Mordred's eyes. Merlyn didn't have to check to know that the look had no emotion in it, but at least it was enough for the woman to change her mind and recline against the chair instead, looking back at the warrior again. "I didn't torture you."

Merlyn let out a humorless huff of laughter, throwing her arms to the air, voice almost frantic, "I don't give a fuck, everything else still stands. Ergo-," she pointed a finger the older woman, leaning slightly forward with her palm pressed against the table, her own eyes flashing now that only Morgause could see, "-I don't take orders from you," the warrior snarled, before switching to point at Morgana's direction but didn't look that way, "or you. You both lost that privilege when you tried to control my mind. Talk about disrespect!"

"How do you know?" It was Morgana speaking this time, when Morgause didn't give any reaction to Merlyn's words other than looking down to her lap where her hands were resting. "How do you know about that?"

Now Merlyn looked at the girl, though only over her shoulder and gave her an unimpressed eyebrow raise. "I'm not an idiot," the warrior deadpanned before turning back to the Priestess, though she didn't look back anymore so Merlyn just waived a hand at the woman's direction as she straightened again, "and I did live with this one for years, so I understand the Old Tongue. And I have a good guess why it didn't work." Her smile rose again when she mentioned the spell failing, and that made the older woman glare again from under her lashes. Morgause had never been very good at planning things all the way through - using someone who was practically obsessed with Merlyn to control her mind had been a huge mistake.

A hand appeared on the small of Merlyn's back when she took a step away from Morgause. Mordred looked down to her when she raised her head, and nodded at the direction of the door. "I'll come with you soon and we'll go do the rounds together," he promised as he pushed her slightly away from the Priestess, causing Merlyn to frown. Was he dismissing her?! About to question him, Merlyn spun towards the assassin with her mouth already open, but he cut her off before she could get a words out, "go, I'll be there soon. We can…" he trailed off for a second before smirking fully now, touching the warrior's lower lip with his finger, "-have some fun."

There was a promise in his pale eyes, something sinister that got the bottom of Merlyn's gut to twist excitedly and she eventually returned the grin, straightening her back and giving the man a slow nod. "We better," Merlyn huffed back, flicking her braid over her shoulder to fall along her back between the crossed swords and raised her eyebrow slightly at him as she backed up from the three of them, "don't make me wait."

When she turned on her heels, the previously staring assassins were intently staring anywhere but her, as though trying to give her some privacy. My outburst did some good at least, her mind helpfully supplied as she rolled her eyes for the hundredth that day and lazily strolled out of the dining hall, heading straight to the courtyard of the castle. At least she hadn't been hungry in the first place.

It was strange to see the yard so quiet and empty. Sure there were some servants walking around, but they weren't smiling idly or stopping to happily chat with each other, only briskly walking from one place to another and avoiding the empty eyes of the enchanted soldiers. The said soldiers gave even Merlyn an uneasy feeling when she felt their unseeing eyes on her, but a completely different reason - she felt the dark magic ooze out of them, and it was rather unnerving. While the citizens didn't know that they were created with the Cup of Life that Morgause had gotten her hands on with Merlyn's assistance, they had seen that they were undead and practically unstoppable. Merlyn on the other hand knew a weapon that could kill them, but fortunately the dragon had flown away and there were no swords bathed in his fire. The Cup was stored somewhere out of the castle, so that ruled out tipping it to spill the blood.

"You!" A loud shout pierced the air suddenly when Merlyn reached the bottom step and suddenly an unfamiliar weight crashed against her side, making the warrior stumble briefly. She spun around, hand already in the air as she was about to grab one of her swords but the movement stopped when she saw a familiar servant boy with reddish brown hair falling to touch his shoulders and dark green eyes just like his twin sister, Merlyn's traitorous servant had, though these weren't staring at her shyly but instead of rage so powerful that it even made Merlyn stop on her tracks. Two assassins close by had grabbed Lucan when he had hit the warrior, and were now holding his arms back and pushing him to his knees. "We trusted you! How could you?!"

Merlyn's hand dropped down as she stepped closer to the boy, staring down at him. Dark blue against deep green, her blank and unwavering but Lucan wasn't giving up either, trashing in the assassins' hold. The boy had been Sir Owain's personal servant before the poor bastard had died, then became Gwaine's servant - Merlyn remembered him ordering guards and even some knights around when one of the banquets was being organized. He had been a good lad - too bad his sister was a completely different. The people holding Lucan down didn't give Merlyn any chance to say anything before they were already yanking him up and dragging him to the dungeons to be locked up like the rest of those servants, knights and nobles who had tried to fight back. He was still yelling at the top of his lungs while the warrior watched him disappear inside of the castle.

It wasn't like she should even care, but the anger didn't sit right with her. It never had to be honest. Well, she knew and enjoyed the way people hated her for things like talent, her position and her actions, but to tell that Merlyn wasn't trustworthy? Maybe not to Camelot and it's rotten people, but to her own? Without a doubt. The truth was that Merlyn wasn't really the type of person to give a rat's ass if someone wanted her dead or just plain hated her, but it just made everything so much more difficult. And the fact that she had been living nicely for over a year without the same sort of thought process made it even more annoying.

"They'll come around eventually," the warrior muttered to herself as she turned on her heels and observed the people there, most of them minding their own business while a few assassins were unashamedly staring at her, "they just don't see it yet." Was there really anything to see? I destroyed their lives.

But they destroyed your life first, the other voice reminded her and drowned the first one, you need to let go of what you really weren't. She wasn't ever really part of the kingdom, not truly. Meeting the king and getting the job had been a coincidence, but everything after that had been a part of the plan. While the prince thought Merlyn had been looking for Mordred for the five days she had disappeared, the warrior had been forming a solid plan with him; get close to the royals and gain their trust, find out their weakness' and secrets, and make sure that they will be defenseless. It had proven to be much more effective when Merlyn had realized that the golden prince had fallen for her; it had only been a question of how much did she have to give him to keep him on the hook.

Turns out, not that much.

Quick, skipping footsteps descended the stone steps and soon a tall shadow stopped by Merlyn's side. The warrior didn't even have to look to know who it was, since she had sensed the man as soon as he was walking to the castle doors. "So, what are we supposed to do?" She asked, crossing her arms across her chest and stared at the archway leading to the training grounds she had spent a lot of time at. Merlyn wasn't sure if the assassins used it, or if they trained where ever they wanted to. "Did the wench give you more orders she expects me to obey, or are you going to try and command me?"

His face gave nothing as when Merlyn glanced at him, though he was staring at the same direction as she was. Merlyn remembered how the druid had been watching her sometimes during training so she had given him a show during those times. It had been years since they had sparred together, or fought side by side, but the fond memories were still quite strong in her mind - stronger now, actually, now that the old memories were clear as day. "I know you won't listen if I try to give you orders," Mordred eventually spoke, briefly looking down at her before turning to look at the castle again, "so I'll do what I have to, and you can do whatever you want."

"You said we'd have fun," the warrior scoffed and grabbed his elbow when he tried to take a step towards the castle, flipping him forcefully around so he'd face her again. Though he was avoiding her eyes for some reason. "What's this about?"

"I'm going to interrogate the prisoners, find out if there are any of them left somewhere. Can't have any surprises." So… torture? Not-

Don't even dare to think about them. Merlyn quickly let go of Mordred's arm and turned her head to the left so he wouldn't see the way the warrior had to squeeze her eyes shut. The point of having the wall in her mind for a while and then removing it had been to get rid of the bloody shouts in her mind - but no, there they still were! Though now they weren't variations of her own voice trying to get her to lose it, but a deep male voice arguing with her own thoughts and confusing Merlyn to no end. Violence isn't the only way to get them to respect me, she had to remind herself again and again when a sudden urge to pierce someone with her sword surfaced, not even when it seems like the only answer.

Since when have you cared? Did she? It was like there were two people fighting for the control of her body - one person was the ruthless assassin with eyes as dark as the midnight sky, living her joyless life of looking for the next, short-lived thrill and smashing young girls' noses in their skulls, and then there was the knight in-all-but-name who had some resemblance of control, heart filled with sadness and compassion towards others that got Merlyn to step away from the girl, and not smack her again and again.

She wasn't either of them, but still both of them - and it was tearing her apart. The feeling of being reborn was already cracking under the confusion, and the warrior couldn't help but wonder if being controlled by Morgause would've been better. Maybe the spell went wrong in more than one way? Maybe the wall isn't gone after all? No, it had to be gone, she would know if it was still there.

The knight in her might have been acting like she was loyal to Camelot, but every compassionate thought had been real. The assassin in her might have been a ruthless torturer, but there was no insanity anymore… so who was she?

A calloused hand appeared under Merlyn's chin and tilted her head up, the owner of it waiting patiently for her to eventually crack her eyes open. The look in the pale eyes was exactly what it had been before in the dining hall - almost disappointed, sad look. The look of someone who had lost something important. "Don't you want to join?" Do I?

Shaking her head, the warrior managed to pull a smile on her lips and back up a few steps away from the man, pushing her thumbs beneath her belt in an attempt to seem more nonchalant than she felt. "Nah, you go ahead," Merlyn shrugged, glancing at the direction of the training grounds again, "I'll go find something to do." The assassin didn't seem any more pleased with her answer, but didn't argue, only gave her a stiff nod and watched as the warrior turned and practically cried in relief when her fast steps led her through the archway out of his sight. What the hell is wrong with me?!

 

***

 

The practice dummies weren't any help. When have they ever been, though? The pent up energy and frustration after being held in a dark, damp room alone, starving and in pain just for Morgause to her what she wanted - slash - but eventually ending up even more confused and angry than eight months ago?

Slash-knock-slash

A frustrated shout escaped her mouth, completely unbidden as her hand came up to grab the other blade from her back too to accompany the one on her right already hacking the dummy to pieces. The straws and dust pouring out of the burlap surface didn't give the woman any satisfaction, she needed--

Yelping out loud when something hard hit the back of her head, Merlyn spun around with narrowed eyes and found herself watching a man dropping rocks from his hands as he walked closer. Behind him were two people; another man though with a bald head and not a flowing golden hair like the one who had thrown the rock at Merlyn's head, and a girl - a girl with a crooked nose and still some leftover blood on her angry face. The age differences were huge, but they all looked practically the same - huh.

"You broke my sister's nose, yeah?" The man with the long hair asked, the tone of his voice tinged with poorly held rage and as expected, soon he was holding a sword at Merlyn's chest. The woman was still holding her swords, but the blades were hanging down along her forearms when she raised her hands up and took a step back. "Yeah?!"

"Tattletale, that's what she is," the warrior huffed as she raised her brows at the girl. She wasn't meeting Merlyn's eyes, as though ashamed of what was happening. "I broke off a fight, she didn't like it and then insulted me. What else was I supposed to do?"

The tip of the blade inched closer to her, but this time Merlyn didn't back down. Her hands stayed up, but her fingers tightened around the hilts, a familiar, bubbling anticipation growing under her skin. "Who the fuck are you to say what they can do, huh?!" The golden man shouted while the bald one nodded behind him, dark ink along his smooth skull drawing Merlyn's eyes to it for a second. Were those runes? But the blade's glint snapped her attention back when it surged forward again, stopping only an inch away from her throat. The man's eyes were wide with rage, but there was a hint of surprise when Merlyn only looked at him without a change in her expression or fear for the sword.

"And you think killing someone over a dagger is better?" She scoffed when the man was about to open his mouth again, shaking her head a bit and moved her left hand now. The blade she had in it stayed down, but the woman used her forefinger to gently push the offending sword away from her throat without looking away from the man as she continued, "violence isn't always the answer, and if you haven't been taught that, Mordred fucked up."

"You can't say his name!" The bloodied girl screeched when Merlyn got the words out and suddenly there was a second sword coming at Merlyn, though this one wasn't about to stop - the blonde girl practically flew at her, wide blue eyes trained on Merlyn who only brought her right blade up to parry the attack while her left one knocked the man's away from his grip.

The girl tried to twist Merlyn's blade so that it would fly off her hand, but for god's sake, Merlyn had invented that move?! The warrior huffed under her breath as she hooked a foot around the girl's ankle and yanked hard enough for her to fall unceremoniously on her back. Using her boot to kick her blade too far for the girl to reach, before focusing on the men. "And are you going to accuse me for using his name too, huh?" The warrior tiredly asked, scanning the men's faces but didn't find any signs that they were going to attack any time soon. "Who the fuck do you think he had been looking for? Who do you think was the one to kill Gregor before she left? Who do you think taught Mordred everything he knows?!"

I did, but who am I?

"You're lying." Blue eyes flung to the bald man who had been silent this whole time; he was shaking his head while waving a hand at the girl to get her to move from the ground. "You're just trying to make yourself seem bigger and more dangerous than you are. You might be the one he was looking for, but-," there was a small, almost disgusted tone in his voice, "-I don't know who you are. No one does, so you're nothing."

Am I?

 

***

 

Had she ever been anything she remembered being? Was Merlyn the Assassin just a figment of her imagination, a delusion born from her merciless habits and Mordred's obsessive devotion?

You should've just stayed with him, her mind cursed her for her own idiocy - she should've never left the group. Or never let them break the wall. Or heal herself when she had escaped from Morgause. Grabbing a fistful of her own hair Merlyn kicked the door of her room open and let her magic slam it closed behind her, a shout leaving her lips as she ripped her scabbards off of her back and threw them at the wooden privacy screen. It tipped and fell down with a loud bang that echoed in the shadowy room while Merlyn rapidly paced the empty space of it.

Maybe she hadn't been reborn, maybe she had died? A part of her had been ripped out, leaving a gaping hole of confusion, growing rage and emptyemptyempty in its place. The bravado she had had when coming to Camelot and later in the dungeons the morning after Camelot had fallen had slipped away almost immediately after she had parted from the others and stormed out of the castle to get some air while flashes of the beaten down prince's face looped in front of her eyes, her mind not understanding why the sight had affected her so bad. Was it Destiny that was punishing me for going against the prophecy? Emrys was Fate's creation, linked to the Once and Future King, so if she abandoned her path… maybe that meant that she'd vanish in the wind too? End up as an empty vessel walking the land with nothing to live for, nothing to fight for… just nothing. Would she lose herself, be an armed woman with no direction or identity, a shell for endless magic with no reason to be?

Could she find a destination, a lit up path to strut on? Groaning loudly, the warrior squeezed her eyes shut with hands pressed on the sides of her head, blue flashing gold beneath her eyelids and something broke behind her, wood splintering violently. Would Emrys still be? Would someone else be cursed with the prophecy I was meant to make true?

"I am not Destiny's puppet," the witch growled out loud, her molten eyes snapping open and glass shattering when her eyes landed on the full-body mirror in front of her. The cracks enveloped the whole mirror, starting from where her reflection's face was, distorted and broken - just like she was, her whole body trembling as the gold slowly retreated and revealed the blue again. "I am… not…"

What? What was she not? Who was she? Another shout, fist flying through the air and hitting the broken mirror again, again, again… red mixed with glass, wild eyes staring back between the shards when the door slammed open behind her and suddenly there were arms around her chest and upper arms. "Merlyn!" The intruder grunted when the warrior screamed and kicked her legs up in the air, twisting her body so that the hold loosened and she was dropped. On instinct she managed to land on her feet and grab a hold of the corner of her dining table before spinning around and grabbing a hold of the attackers shirt. "Stop!"

Furious wide eyes stared down at her when his big hands wrapped around her wrists to pry her hands away, but Merlyn was strong - she had to be, what else was there anyway? Her grip stayed strong and pushed, his back hit her wardrobe hard enough to make the already splintered door crack loudly, but it was drowned by the sound of Mordred shouting her name in a pained voice when the back of his head smashed against the hard surface just before Merlyn was flung around and her back was pressed against the thick carpet on the floor.

A heavy weight pressed against her throat, almost cutting off her ability to breath altogether but it only made her choke out a humorless cackle, tears of pain springing to her eyes as she grabbed the forearm pressing against her - though not to push it away but keep it in place. "Do it!" She spat between her gritted teeth, her blurry vision completely filled with the wide, baffled eyes of the assassin as he knelt over her body. "You didn't even tell them about me, so what good am I?! They will never respect me! So do it!"

"I wanted to let you-," he ground out while trying to get his arm away but she kept on pulling it tighter on her throat, "-show them yourself!" Now laughing out loud, she was frantically shaking her head and accidentally let go of the man, who used the freedom the pull her up from the ground.

Merlyn shoved him away from her, shouting again when he hit a bedpost, "even I don't know who I am, Mordred! What good am I like this-," she gestured wildly at her shaking body with both her hands before throwing them in the air, "-as nothing, a nobody, weak and confused-" then suddenly he was there right in front of her grabbing her face and pressing a hard kiss on her tight lips, demanding and heavenly in all the right ways, but she was too far gone to enjoy anything - the warrior's hands flew to Mordred's shoulder as she pulled free from his hold, but only a second later her head snapped forward, forehead crashing against the man's nose, her right leg coming up and kicking him back.

The momentum was harder than before, his whole weight crashed against the dining table that screech against the stone floor before hitting the wall while Mordred stumbled to the ground. But with the grace of a feline and skill gathered during his years he was up in the blink of an eye, blood flowing from his nose, staining his lips and grabbing her again. He flipped her around and forced the woman face first on the bed, fingers wrapped around her wrists and forcing them down on either side of her head, pushing his weight on Merlyn's back. "Stop!" There was a strange, almost pleading tone in the assassin's voice when he repeated the word over and over again to the struggling, screaming warrior but he was too heavy over her. "Stop, my love…"

"Why?!" The words was cried out with such a heartbreaking cry that even Merlyn herself was shocked enough to stop thinking when she heard the sound. Her struggles were starting to die down as the fight left her, leaving behind only the lost soul she felt like she was anymore. "…what good am I when-when I don't even know myself? Everything is so messed up in here-," she pointed vaguely at her own head, "-that I can't find out who I'm supposed to be…"

Mordred couldn't understand her, he had always known exactly who he was and what he wanted to do - so had Merlyn, at one point or a few. Be a weapon, escape. Be an assassin, leave. Be a better person, betray people who liked you. Find yourself again… get lost on the way. Now where was she supposed to go?

Neither of them spoke again, not even when Mordred removed his weight from over her. She was too spent to try and move from the spot she had been pushed into, but he was there to pull her onto his chest over the messed up covers. She didn't see the deep, unhappy frown on his face in the darkness that spread over them when his eyes flashed to pull the curtains in front of the window or the thoughtful look in his eyes as he tried to think of a way to help the dual-person Merlyn felt she was now. The warrior, once so fierce and powerful, felt like a lost puppy as she slowly curled around the solid warmth beneath her, hoping with all her might that she could draw some strength from him or just crawl inside his body and hide forever, be safe and unseen.

You are not either of them anymore, Merlyn… so who are you?

 

***

 

A lost soul.

A lost lamb sleeping fitfully on his side like a child with monsters in her mind, monsters of her past and present haunting her waking mind as well as the unconscious one. The Priestess had promised that she would return to what she had been, fire and ice, strength and victory. But this wasn't her, she hadn't been lost with him. He had let her embrace him when he had been too weak to hold his own pieces together, to guide him when he had been lost and finding his own truth, to teach him when the world failed. She had shown him how to suppress the bad and painful, rejoicing with him when he had found his mask and kept it.

But this confused little lamb only had her face, not her soul. The deep shadows on her face morphed her into a stranger with furrowed brows and pursed lips, tiny whimpers leaving her lips and disappearing into his tunic. While he had conquered his emotions, she was filled with them - always had been. There was no snuffing out the light, not even now when she was blinded by it. Her misguided thoughts of leaving him had led to this, and now that he had her back… he really didn't. Not yet.

She would find her way, she always had. The tiny, though fierce child that he had seen join their little group had been lost too, looking for her purpose. The only thing he had had at that time had been the jealous, scared whispers of her horrific actions - though he had drank them all, curious and awed, ready to learn if the change came. The child, first just a ghost with dark hair and sparkling eyes, had turned into the woman he had so loved; a feeling no one believed he could feel, but oh, how he did. Then, it had been a struggle to live that had showed them both the right, lit path, but she was too afraid to walk it now and draw her weapons, and face the demons with human faces, belittling her and believing her to be weak.

Gritting his teeth, the image of the cursed prince popped into his mind, golden hair and bright eyes cajoling her to step into the path that wasn't hers, unaware of her real self - she had changed because of him, even when she hadn't accepted that. The man had polluted her with his ideals and ways, kicking out the one's Mordred had created and celebrated. It wasn't right. Now, she thanked the curly-haired man for not trying to change her - he hadn't, not really. He had only made sure she would know what was their truth.

But was it really the truth if she held on too tight to the sin she had been?

Chapter Text

You know perfectly well who to blame for this.

The slumped figure across from her, on the other end of the dark, cold space hadn't moved even when she had entered, no matter how loud she had been. The metal door of the cell had groaned as if in pain when Merlyn had swung it shut and the straws on the floor had crunched when she had walked to the wall opposite from the prisoner and slid down to sit on the floor just to stare and wait for him to wake up.

He was still chained and the position he had fallen asleep in didn't seem to be too comfortable, with his back only halfway against the damp stone wall and chin hanging against his chest. Served him right in her opinion.

Merlyn had woken up in the middle of the night, not because of a nightmare but because of the nagging feeling that she had to do something about this feeling of being lost. There was no way to pinpoint the exact moment when she had lost herself, maybe it had happened the moment Morgause had taken her or when she had stepped on Camelot's land, but there was only one thing she could blame at that moment - her so-called destiny. Everything had gone wrong from the moment the prophecy had been created hundreds or thousands of years ago, but it had still doomed the woman from the start and driven her to do what she had done - and probably would do in the future. The bigger part of her wanted the warrior to let go and fuck everything, but could she? Could she revert back to the darkness?

Yes, you can. There is no reason to hold on.

The blonde prince didn't notice her at first, sitting beneath the dark shadow completely still and watching. The vigilant eyes observed how he let out a groan as he lifted his head, twisting his neck and groaning again when his spine cracked loudly in the silent cell. Only when she turned to look out of the window did the prince notice the second person and from the corner of her eye, Merlyn saw Arthur's whole body tense when he took in the sight of the warrior sitting on the disgusting floor, knees bent and arms resting on tem. The jerking movement he made caused the chains to drag against the floor, almost masking the sharp intake of breath when his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

His scratchy voice called her name so drily that she almost felt pity for him, but it drowned under the anger swirling under the surface. Despite that though, her voice stayed surprisingly steady. "You did this to me," she stated without looking directly at him, but still made note of every small movement from the corner of her eye, "you made me weak."

"…what?" Now she did turn to him, rising from the ground in one smooth movement simultaneously but still sticking under the shadow. The look of total bafflement on the prince's beaten face did nothing to simmer down the anger she felt.

"You made me weak," she repeated, the only thing completely visible were her eyes, "you and your knights, your pitiful kingdom."

But he was shaking his head even before she finished talking, denying words spilling from his lips. "No, no, I did nothing to you, Merlyn, I swear-"

"You swear?!" Her voice rose a bit, but luckily she had remembered to silence the cell before entering. Her feet led her quickly halfway across the cell, like a moth to a flame but stopped herself before she got too close. Stay away, you'll never know what lies he'll say. "Your words mean nothing, they never did! You're nothing but a… a-" Merlyn search for the words, finger pointing at the prince who wasn't looking at her anymore, "-a liar! A murderer!"

"How can you say that?!" The loud whisper left the prince so quickly that Merlyn doubted he had even meant to voice the question, and it gave the warrior a pause. He took it as a sign to continue, "isn't he the murderer?"

Jumping forward, Merlyn grabbed a fistful of the prince's hair and yanked his head back, growling over the pitiful whimper he let out, "do not speak of him." Blue against blue, one dark as the night and one light as the sunny sky. Both of them were breathing heavily on each other's faces, wide eyes staring at one another. "I was powerful, fearless, magnificent. Now…" the warrior trailed off, lips twisting in distaste but her eyes never left his, "now I'm like you. Pathetic."

He didn't answer and even looked away from her, but was there even anything for him to say anyway? He was a monster, killing innocents in his father's name and celebrated the deeds. He didn't care - even finding out about Merlyn had been a plot to have a weapon for himself. How many times had Merlyn been forced to kill someone with magic, to watch an innocent person burn at the stake for something that hadn't hurt anyone? And how many times had the prince done something to stop it? Not one.

"You poisoned my mind, Pendragon," Merlyn hissed through her clenched teeth, watching how his eyes wandered slowly over her, though stayed away from her face, "just like your kingdom poisoned this land."

"What is that?" Glancing at the direction he was looking at, the only thing she saw was an old scar near the crook of her right elbow from her days with the assassins and it was nothing remarkable. Her hold loosened from the man's hair and she backed away again, watching how Arthur's head lulled forward without the support. Her fingers rubbed at the spot he had been staring at, the curious if not a little panicked look in his eyes making the woman's head spin again. How was it possible that the man had such a hold on her, even when she had betrayed him?

"Stop trying to confuse me!" Merlyn screamed, forcing her hand away from the opposite elbow and marched to the dungeon door without another look at the golden man, that haunted her dreams. "I was never yours, and I never will be." The last words were spat out over her shoulder just before she slammed the door shut behind her. The booming sound of the metal bars hitting stone echoed in the corridor when Merlyn removed the spell, but none of the other prisoners woke up to it.

His shout for her name followed the warrior out of the dungeons, right next to the loud sound of loose chains hitting the floors.

Her feet led the twitching warrior up and up the stairs, only stopping when the fresh air hit her face as she stepped on the high battlements surrounding the castle. There was still ash and burn marks marring the white stone since it hadn't been raining after the battle - a reminder to her of the victorious feeling she had had when stepping to the kingdom after freeing herself. Where had that gone?

A heavy, bone-deep sigh left Merlyn's lips, her whole body deflating under the enormous weight on her shoulders - who was she kidding? Slow steps led her to the high ledge of the battlement and few second later she had heaved herself to sit on top of it, legs dangling over nothing and tired eyes trained on the slowly brightening horizon. The gentle wind made the dark tunic flutter and loose strands of her hair stick against her damp cheeks - was she crying?

Despite saying she didn't know what was happening to her, Merlyn knew.  Oh, she knew. She was hanging on to her past selves, too hard for her to see that it wasn't her anymore. She could see in the eyes of the assassins that she was a nobody, she could see it in Mordred's pale, pitying eyes too. Where had the fight gone? The skills were still there, the knowledge too but the will to actually grab her weapons was lacking. The Merlyn who had lived in Camelot under the guise of a loyal servant had been much more calm than the one who had blood on her hands that didn't ever wash away.

She hadn't always liked the attention. Back with Morgause, it had been mandatory for her to show up when the Priestess wished, and usually the visits were formal gatherings where kings and queens shook hands and exchanged false smiles, and sometimes Merlyn was supposed to introduce herself to an ally and show her magic. The latter rarely happened, since even Morgause wasn't able to force her, no matter how she starved the young Merlyn.

But now, under the attentive, sharp eyes of the assassins she felt like home. A home where she was respected, where they sought her from a crowd to help and teach, where she was able to share knowledge that wasn't linked to the prophecy she was supposed to usher forth. Here, Merlyn was just an assassin, though still in high-demand and a role model for most. Here she didn't have to hide or act like someone else, nor did anyone really expect that from her.

Here, she was home.

The brief flash of the rundown fortress Gregor had called home brought a tiny smile on her chapped lips. It had been home, at one point at least. Now, it was like a dream, a very distant memory, though a treasured one. Yes she had been respected and feared, but was that really all she craved? Attention? No, it was the feeling of doing something she wanted to, not something someone else ordered her to do - like when she had been in Camelot. There, Merlyn had been an anomaly at first, but then just a figure in the background while the prince took the credit, shouted orders and basked in the glory of her success.

And Mordred hadn't been in Camelot then. Letting her head hang against her chest, the warrior let out a shaky breath and squeezed her eyes shut. Mordred wasn't the best person, that much Merlyn knew from the past. He got off of creating havoc and - unfortunately - so had Merlyn and…

There was an itch under her skin that had been there ever since she had woken up alone in that room that begged to be scratched, but it couldn't only be that, could it? There was more to life than what had been then, wasn't there?

Shuddering, Merlyn eyes snapped open again, staring down to the darkness - she missed it.

 

***

 

Like the previous three days, the courtyard was almost completely empty. This time though, there weren't any servants either since most had been either imprisoned or being held inside the castle so they wouldn't do anything stupid, so the only people on the square were half a dozen of armored guards, two small groups of assassins enjoying the warm day, and Merlyn.

It was a warm midday, but the world felt bleak in her eyes. The bright rays of the sun dominating the sky were only annoying her, as were the constant stares thrown to her way. One of the groups of leather-clad men and women contained the blonde girl whose nose Merlyn had broken. It seemed that she hadn't gone to anyone with magic to heal it, since it was awfully bruised and a bit crooked still, but at least they were mostly leaving the warrior alone now. It wasn't that she looked that welcoming even, sitting on the bottom steps of the castle with her elbows against her bent knees and staring into nothing. The pristine leather vest over her black tunic glistened in the sun as did her worn trousers, but even when she looked well put together, she didn't really feel like that.

After leaving the cell and stopping her pointless wandering, her morning hadn't been any better. As she had predicted, the leering whispers of her fucking the boss for her own gain were increasing, though now they were saying that she didn't even really have any skills. Even the blonde girl was saying that it was pure luck that Merlyn had been able to break her nose. Violence may not be the answer, but it's a start, you know?

The weapons on her back felt a lot heavier that before, the weight of their purpose heavy on her mind. Merlyn knew what she was supposed to do and be, but it wasn't easy to let go of what she had been eight months ago - a docile, nice young woman with only a slight problem with her temper, who felt sorry for even taking enemies' lives. That wouldn't work now. I'm not either of those people, but I have to be someone.

Why not create a new you? Oh, how Merlyn wished it was that simple.

Mordred's face gave nothing away when he appeared beside her and sat down, neither of them looking at each other; she was staring at her hands while Mordred threw an icy look at his people, who immediately looked away from them. "That was quite the show last night," he stated as he watched a group of people walking through the gates. They too were all clad in thick leather and dark colors, talking animatedly to each other and letting out the occasional roar of laughter. Merlyn glanced at the direction too, and saw a small flash of rusty red hair among them when Sienna jumped on some man's back, kicking her heels to his thighs like one would do to a horse.

A wry smile rose to her lips. "I would imagine it was," she curtly answered but still didn't look at the man. She felt ashamed enough to show Mordred that confused side of her life now, but who even cared anymore? It would've come out eventually, and it wasn't like Merlyn could magically change that - she had already tried after she had woken up. Turns out, changing one's personality wasn't possible.

"Where did you go? I woke up alone," the man continued, his voice still not giving anything away. Merlyn only shrugged and murmured had to think with a vague wave of her hand, but he took it. "Still feeling that way, then?"

Snorting, the warrior placed her palms on the step behind her and leaned against them, eyes never leaving the group that had stopped by some others. "I don't think it's going away that easily," Merlyn sighed, ashamed again. It was a feeling she was growing used to, along with being angry at herself for being so weak in front of Mordred. "It's not like I'm completely useless, right? I'm still skilled, still annoying as hell and I will hold my own if I need to."

"But you're still afraid of being you." And who is that exactly?

Merlyn shook her head a bit. "I'm not afraid, I just don't have a reason to be anything but this," she waived a hand at herself before looking away from Sienna, who was trying to make eye contact with the warrior, "it's embarrassing, Mordred. But I don't know what to do, it's like… like I don't have control of myself anymore."

Her words made Mordred pause, unseeing eyes staring at the distance. From the corner of her eye, Merlyn could see his thinking hard about something. "You're holding on the ledge when you need to let go and fall," he stated, thought the cryptic words only worsened Merlyn's confusion. "Why are you holding back?"

The sudden question gave Merlyn a pause, before she blinked rapidly and looked up to Mordred's turned face. He still wasn't looking at her but it was clear that she got his attention more than the group, that had stopped not too far from them. "What do you mean holding back?" She huffed, trying to muster at least some humor in her words, while she knew deep down what the man was talking about. He understood, at least in some way. "I have no idea-"

That earned her a dubious, dry look from the curly-haired assassin when he finally looked down at her, making her cut off the sad excuse she had been ready to give him. Merlyn still couldn't get over the fact how many expressions the man had for her but showed practically none to others. "Yes you do, love," he deadpanned, even the pet name sounded like an insult when spoken like that and it made Merlyn grit her teeth tightly, "you could change it, if you let go of everything that's holding you down."

It was a responsibility in so many ways, to be 'herself' and let go. Mordred expected her to fall right back to what she had been, but the same time Merlyn needed to keep herself on the surface and in control. Destiny needed her to free the man in the dungeons, but magic-users needed him to rot there. Morgause needed a weapon, but Morgana needed an enemy. Was she all that or only half of that? How would she let go?! "And how do you suppose I suddenly do that, hm?" The warrior questioned with raised eyebrows, looking away from him to the other's dressed in black. "I can't be one of them, because I try to control my emotions and actions too hard, but at the same time I can't be like you, because I can't control them enough. I can't be like the people of Camelot, because I'm on your side, and I definitely can't be… whoever I was before, because everything is different."

"You could start simple," the man still insisted, and raised his own brow when Merlyn glanced at him again, "stop being afraid." Huffing loudly, the warrior stood up from the steps and was about to storm off but a hand around her elbow stopped her. The assassin yanked Merlyn back, chest against chest but she started to immediately trash in his hold.

"What?!" The witch spat, using her right hand to shove the man backwards. The group of people from before suddenly tensed and from the corner of her eye Merlyn noticed how Sienna stopped them from advancing. "Now you think I'm weak?! It's been only three days since I woke up, it's not like it's going to last!" I hope. Another shove at the assassins' shoulder, but this time Mordred grabbed her wrist and yanked her back against him. She bumped against his body hard, his steely eyes staring down to her rage filled ones, gripping her wrist so hard that she knew it would bruise.

"This is not you and I need you to find yourself," he snarled, shaking her arms so hard that her whole body swayed a bit before using his free hand to grab her jaw and tilt her head back even more, "you were… Magnificent. Fierce beyond my wildest imagination. A deadly force that no one wanted to go up against! What happened to you?!" It was hard to answer when his hold on her jaw was so tight that her skin was starting to ache under his calloused fingertips, and Merlyn's constant trashing was not helping.

There was something holding her back, yes, but for the life of her Merlyn didn't know what that was. Everything should be like before - she should be the ruthless assassin she was before the wall, the person that was deadlier and more dominating than Mordred, the person he had once called his queen. But on the other hand, she should also be the knight in-all-but-name, the 'loyal' protector of the realm who had hatched a plan with the kingdom's enemy, the prince's love interest and his mightiest soldier. How was she supposed to suddenly let go of the remnants of her previous lives she had been holding for her dear life until this moment, and just live? 

It's hard but I want to!

The angry, sinister look in his eyes only grew worse when Merlyn didn't answer, he looked … disappointed again. "I waited for years, my little bunny," the man spat, shoving Merlyn backwards so hard that she tripped on her feet and fell on her back with a startled cry. "What happened to you?!"

"I don't know!" She finally screamed back, but didn't move from the ground anywhere. The ache the cobblestones caused was a welcomed sensation, it made her feel more alive than before. Her vision felt like it was swimming, but that wasn't caused by Mordred's actions - no, that had been happening ever since she had woken up alone, cuffed to the lush bed of the abandoned fortress with only a half of her memories clear and the other half hazy and barely there. "I don't know what to do!"

Actually growling out loud, his hand attacked the collar of her black tunic and used that to pull her forcefully up, just to smack the back of his hand across her right cheek and send her back down on her side. And this time the impact of his strike and the stones made her cry out the same time Mordred shouted at her, "you are stronger than before, be that person!" Merlyn could feel his foot kick her stomach and force the warrior on her back over her swords, but she kept her eyes burning closed. The stinging pain on her cheek was annoying, but it was more the fact that it had been Mordred to cause it. It wasn't the first time it had happened, but the first time it wasn't during sparring. "We were beautiful, my love-," he continued when Merlyn didn't say anything and soon his cool hand was pressed almost gently on the burning skin of her cheek, "-so why would you let that go? Why not find at least a part of that now?"

"I was never beautiful like you, Mordred," she laughed without an ounce of humor and cracked her eyes open, a powerless, defeated expression on her face, "I was an abomination. A monster without a conscience, and I know I'm still that… thing." His accusing words were draining the last of the fight from her - was this what it felt like to give up? Was she really that weak? Was the person she was with the wall still in control? …did it matter? Merlyn knew she couldn't be the person she had been while working for Gregor, and she couldn't be the person she had been eight months ago. She had this burning fire under her skin that begged her to grab her weapons, but at the same time there was a leash around her neck that tugged her away from the fire. The warrior wanted to burn in the fire inside her, be drowned in the sea her eyes had and turn into ash, just to be truly and finally reborn.

Who am I?

Mordred's grip returned around her jaw, but this time it was soft and only to get her to look at his grey, hard eyes. "I saw no monster nor a thing. You conquered, destroyed and ruled. You taught, you supported and you protected," his fierce words were like a whisper, but still loud enough for her to hear them. They were trying to penetrate the haze of her confusion, but the raging fight in her mind drowned them. "You are my equal, my warrior, my queen! Let go of the ghosts you were and create a new you."

Suddenly his touch and shadow vanished, making the warrior squeeze her eyes shut when the sun burned her eyes and roll back to her side. A second later, she spun to her hands and knees, and with a grunt pushed herself on her feet. The slight stumbling was to be expected, but the sudden lightness she felt was not - frowning, Merlyn glanced at her belt and was met with empty sheaths where her daggers had been. Her hands flew automatically over her shoulders, but the familiar hilts of her swords were gone.

"What did you do?!" An enraged scream left her lips automatically as she spun on the spot, ready to confront Mordred - but instead of the pale-eyed assassin, there were at least a dozen unfamiliar faces maybe fifteen feet away from her. Behind them stood Mordred with her weapons in his hands and Sienna next to her, both looking at her expectantly. "Y-you cannot be serious?!" She laughed incredulously when their plan became clear to the warrior, her eyes widening almost comically and hands coming up to the air.

"You know you can do it." It was Sienna who stated that, her musical though slightly scratchy voice bringing old memories to the forefront of Merlyn's mind - their first spar that the redhead had won, fierce competition after that only to end up in a place where Merlyn was teaching the older girl. "You've faced worse."

Merlyn huffed breathlessly, backing up briskly when a few of the people advanced. She had never seen any of them, so the odds were quite well-balanced - they had never seen her fight, but neither had she seen them. The people around them, including the girl with the black nose, all looked like they were holding their breaths - some visibly glaring at her and probably thinking now she'll get what she deserves, while some were slightly worried; for her or those attacking her, who knew? "I know that! But without my weapons?!" The warrior screeched just as two of the group broke away from the rest and attacked. Merlyn kept with dodging, jumping to the side and crouching down to avoid their sharp blades. When one of them sliced at her head and Merlyn bounced back up from the ground, again further away from them, she continued, "you apparently want me dead now, Mordred. Hah, and I thought you loved me?! Or are these people who you want out of the picture?"

Forcing her to defend herself couldn't work, right? Would the blood that would soon stain her skin be able to banish her doubts and the haze away, to color her vision in red and gore to give her a purpose again? Merlyn didn't want to be a weapon for anyone but herself, but the gleeful shine in Mordred's eyes made the itch under her skin only grow.

You missed this, admit it.

"Do you care?" The man called back, his voice incredibly knowing and smug when Merlyn fell silent while she still backed up from the group. Did she care? Had she ever cared?

A woman with a scar running from her forehead over her left eye straight to her chin, came at the warrior with a furious battle cry, her mismatched eyes - one brown, one white from blindness - locked on her and her short, curved sabers raised for attack. Merlyn stepped to the left and when the woman flashed past her, the warrior grabbed the back of her vest and yanked her backwards, her leg behind the assassin's knees. The half-blind, blonde woman fell down immediately and after the sharp stab of the heel of Merlyn's boot against her jaw, stayed down. A flash of a blade slashed just an inch away from the warrior's right ear, and on instinct Merlyn dropped down to swipe her leg backwards at the attackers feet and tripped him. The rough looking, huge man dropped like dead and when his hand knocked against the ground, his sword left his grip and rolled closer to Merlyn's feet.

Do I care?

Lunging forward at the blade and gripping the soothing, leather covered hilt, the shouts in her mind started to fade while people not too far from her were getting louder and louder. Taunting words whore, talentless, insane were still ringing in her ears despite Mordred's orders.

Who am I?

Rising slowly back to her feet, blade loosely in her hold and eyes on the shining steel without seeing anything. Silence all around, the world getting clearer with each glint of the blade. Expectant eyes on her unmoving figure, mouths twisted down and up when they waited, every single mind wishing for a different outcome.

Does it matter?

A step forward and the blade moving in a familiar arc, sharp tip down and through the soft flesh and hard bone. Light brown eyes slowly losing focus, midnight blue staring back with a growing fire behind them. Insulting words dying and replaced with a sudden, shocked silence that felt like it stretched for hours when it was only a few seconds.

The itch was scratched and gone.

No. It doesn't matter.

Merlyn pulled the blade free and snapped her eyes at the eleven people still there with her teeth bared, but focused at the only one that mattered behind them. The hunger grew in her gut when his proud eyes locked on hers, watching how the furious warrior spread her hands and yelled is this what you want?! just before she brought her blade up to parry an attack from above and kicked the blonde, short man at the chest, swung the blade to the left when the man fell and caught another attack from a dark-haired woman, who lost her hold as soon as she twisted her own sword around it. The blade flew into the air and was caught by the warrior, and then both swords were clashing with others.

The never-ending dance of steel and pain made the world around her blur as she drowned in it, relishing the feeling of being on top and unbeatable, the storm of sharp blades and hard kicks between the small sea of fighters, red splashing on her skin. The screams of anger, fear and joy rang across the courtyard bathed in sunlight, eyes all around glued to the flurry of battle in the middle.

A slash on her upper arm, a growl from her throat and a swipe at the person who injured her. She fell with a cry while Merlyn jumped with a spin and kicked her heel at a bald woman's temple, just to slide to the ground on her knees and slash her blade at another man's ankle when he tried to swing a spiked mace at her head. "Rude," the warrior grumbled at the mace-wielder when he dropped next to her, writhing in pain since the tendon of his ankle was cut.

Merlyn spun on her knees, ignoring the sharp pain, and crossed the blades above her head just in time to block a sword from cutting her face from forehead to chin, but a second person managed to land a sharp kick on her right side. Merlyn swore out loud when she felt a bone crack, and that was enough momentarily distract her. She was sent to her other side, but on instinct she rolled immediately to her feet and backed away. There were splatters of blood on the pale skin of her face along with a bruise Mordred had given her, but under the red across her lips and left side of her jaw, there was a wide toothy smile promising things they didn't want to witness. "Oh, you are good, I'll give you that," she cackled and pointed at the remaining four with her left blade with an approving nod before wiping her face to her right sleeve, "but this is getting old."

Giving them no time to answer, she burst into a run at the remaining people. Two of them sprinted at her too, already ready to attack but at the last minute Merlyn blinked and let her eyes flash very briefly beneath her eyelids - it slowed time just for a second, but it was long enough for Merlyn to see where the blades were directed and then dodge to the side just so that the closest blade merely grazed at the hip. Kicking up her knee, she hit the hand that held the sword and it clashed against the other one when the man tried to swing at the warrior from the same direction. Both blades flew away from their holders and Merlyn used the distraction to grab the blonde woman's neck, yanking her head down and bringing her knee up to kick her nose in. As the woman slumped down, Merlyn went down too to her left knee and punched the man in the groin as hard as she could. "You bitch-" but the rest of the scream turned into a pained groan when he fell to his knees.

"Pleasure is all mine," the warrior cheekily grinned while she stepped over the woman who had fallen unconscious from the kick and focused on the two still left but also to the gawks behind them - three pairs of bright blue eyes wide and lips pursed tightly together, the siblings from the day before seemed to realize how lucky they had been. No one was unbeatable, but Merlyn was damn near being one.

The people still fighting looked focused though; while the on the right looked ready to wet herself, sword shaking in her hand as she took a few hasty step backwards, she still stayed. She already had a cut on her forehead that had turned her almost white hair red and her vest was hanging for its dear life over her. And the man on the left, with his deep brown hair tied to his neck to keep it out of his face, had no injuries whatsoever so he had probably stayed out of the way to save up his strength. Smart one. Merlyn grinned wider as she spun the blades around her palms before getting into position, chest falling heavily as she steadied her breath and cocked an eyebrow at them as a challenge.

The rest of the fight was accompanied by Merlyn's loud laughter when she easily danced away from their attacks just to serve her own as a retaliation, her grin never leaving even when she got cut on her left calf and thigh. Even with the stolen blades with wrong balance, her attacks and parries were steady and well-placed, the blood flowing to her eyes from the smears on her triumphant face not even bothering - the surge of power and energy from the fight was enough to make her vision crystal clear and vibrant. The stench of blood, sweat and victory was strong, the ache of her cuts and bruises only spurring her forward and the sound of her own gleeful laughter and Mordred's approving eyes following her making her feel invincible.

When the man fell down without a weapon, crying out loud after he received a hard kick on the side of his knee, Merlyn finally stopped. Or, mostly stopped - the energy was still bumping through her muscles and veins, and it made her bounce lightly on the balls of her feet, wide excited eyes moving from one fallen person to another, and her chest heaving rapidly under the surprisingly still pristine, though bloodied vest .The people were all in different stages of pain, and one or two even dead - not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things, or when she found him still at the bottom of the stairs next to Sienna. The woman had a massive grin on her lips, hands clapping together slowly and not even a hint of surprise in the expression - of course she had known.

Mordred on the other hand wasn't smiling, but Merlyn knew him better. He had always found the show of her power thrilling, more than doing the same himself. They weren't unbeatable by a long shot and that made it even better; the gamble with their lives and the rush that winning brought, but the thing was that there was no match to them here - other than themselves. They were equal, even if Mordred didn't know that she had magic too but it didn't matter - the pride in his eyes was enough for now and it got her to grin so wide that her teeth became visible just before she began to cackle loudly, dropping her blades the same time. Her hands were more red than pale skin as were her clothes and face, and the looks people had on their faces were enough for her to know that she had done what she had wanted to.

Violence isn't the answer… but sometimes it feels damn good.

It didn't matter if she didn't know who she was, or if she even existed at all. The world wouldn't stop spinning if she disappeared, but god, would it be dull if she wasn't there. It only mattered what she saw; the pale eyes, the cold smirk matching her own and the inviting arms that opened for her to crash into only seconds later; a kingdom at their mercy with people too afraid of them to do anything; a Priestess visibly scared of her destroying a dozen people even without magic; the assassins with awe-filled eyes.

But what she didn't see, where two pairs of eyes staring at her too. One pair was up in the tower by her window, hand clasped over her mouth and emerald eyes wider than ever. The look of shock was unfamiliar on the face of the future ruler of the kingdom, but the fear she was feeling inside was what made her so frozen. What Merlyn didn't know, was that the monarch made a promise to herself while watching the bloodied warrior, that she would do whatever she could to remove her. It wouldn't do her any good to let the warrior stay and be with him.

The second pair of eyes were a sharp contrast to the emerald ones. The blue was dull and miserable - a feeling too familiar to him now -, and while they didn't see everything, they saw enough of the carnage she left behind, some of those bloody poor souls were right outside the window after all. What she didn't know, was that the blue eyed man was blaming himself, and also making a vow in his mind - that he would do whatever he could to save her. It wouldn't do him any good to let the warrior stay and be with him.

I was never lost - just a little blinded.

 

***

 

Not too long after, Merlyn was sitting on the bed in her room and hissing in pain as Mordred cleaned the wounds on her skin. He had stripped her from the leather vest and black tunic without even asking, but the warrior didn't really have any objections since her mind was still outside of the room. Leaving the yard had been a struggle, since the strength had left the warrior's body as soon as she had jumped into Mordred's waiting arms. It had been too long since she had last done so much, it would've been too much even if she hadn't been hanging from a roof for eight months. Thank goodness getting her magic back under her skin had restored most of her strength. The dark-haired assassin had been forced to carry the limp warrior inside, but they had been stopped several times during the journey - not that Merlyn had complained, since the people had wanted to know if she was really the person the whispers said she was.

Better to let them speculate, Mordred had murmured when he had not given the woman a chance to answer and she understood that. The problem was far from completely solved, but the world was so much more clear now. She had her place in the reality Mordred had helped carve out of the bleak world she had been living in, and the realization that he was happy made everything a hundred times better. Maybe she hadn't been as lost as she had thought, only a bit misguided? One things was even more clear now though - she had really missed this.

Now, the druid was trying to clean away the blood so that he could see what to heal - it wasn't like she could do it herself right now, not under his sharp eyes. It would be way too suspicious if she suddenly had no cuts whatsoever without any reason, and even with the oath Morgause wasn't exactly bound to lie for Merlyn. "Easy!" She hissed again as a particularly sharp sting made her grit her teeth, dark eyes throwing an accusing look at the man. He didn't look apologetic at all, just grinned and resumed his cleaning. The wound on her upper arm was the worst, though even that wasn't that bad. "You're slow." It wasn't like he couldn't have just magicked the blood and dirt away, but apparently he enjoyed her squirming.

"And you're sloppy," he retorted without looking up to her affronted eyes, only turned to throw the bloodied linen out of the way, "you were supposed to show people who you are, get them to respect you. How are they supposed to do that-," he glanced at her briefly before placing his hand on her arm and ribs, "-if you show mercy so easily?"

Merlyn snorted even while wincing when she felt her cracked rib mend itself under Mordred's magic. "I didn't show mercy, Mordred," she huffed, struggling to keep herself still when the annoying feeling of the healing spell intensified, "those who didn't die know that I could've finished them off and so do those who were watching. You know that assassins are like gossiping old ladies as well as I do."

"You did it on purpose?" The dubious question made Merlyn pull a face and look at the man again, though he was focusing on the healing. He was by far the best at healing - even better than Morgause. It was bound to happen when he had spent so much time with Merlyn, who always got hurt on missions and it was him that had to heal her since she hadn't let anyone else touch her. She watched, mesmerized, how the bluish light flooded from his palms to her skin, healing the cut and how the blood slowly vanished, leaving behind only her own pale, scarred and bruised skin - why he didn't heal her all the way, she didn't know. Maybe to let her show everyone the marks of a victorious battle.

"Yes," she sighed, finally pulling her arm away when the gold vanished from his eyes, "I'm still not an idiot. Confused about… well, everything maybe-," the woman grimaced a bit at her own foolishness before but shrugged then, "-but not an idiot. They are alive knowing that I have their lives in my hands, and they will not forget it." Mordred leaned back on his chair with crossed arms and leveled the warrior with a empty look, searching for a lie she knew wasn't there. He had pushed the sleeves of his tunic to his elbows, revealing his strong forearms covered in old scars and splotches of Merlyn's blood that was a stark contrast to his almost white skin. The dark blue tunic clung to his biceps and chest sinfully well, his vest loosened and hanging over his shoulders.

He stayed silent for a long time, not even reacting to Merlyn's unashamed staring and it was hard to see what was going on in his mind. The way he worked, was to make the subject of his observation nervous like that, just staring blankly and unmoving. Though it was more that he wasn't really capable of showing any emotion, even Merlyn knew that the smiles she got were a show - he didn't feel it joy or even real love, nor sadness or anything like that. For him, they were more extreme emotions that surfaced only rarely - rage, obsession, misery… but she took what she could. Even if his love wasn't what one would think, it was enough - every toxic, violent, obsessive part of it. To her, it was beautiful, the way he could feel that about her when everything else was just empty. And her love? Well, one couldn't really call that healthy either.

Suddenly, he was right there - one second he was reclined on the chair and the next he had jumped up, looming over her with hands pressed on either side of her hips on the bed's edge and his face only an inch away from hers. "I believe you," he simply stated, eyes flicking down to the bruise he had caused but she didn't see any remorse in his eyes - not that she had expected any - before his hot lips crashed against hers. Mordred's body pressed against her bare one, pushing her to lay down on the bed. She dragged herself closer to the middle as he crawled along, their lips never stopping the violent dance. The assassin's hips slotted perfectly between Merlyn's thighs when he pressed against her, using his left hand to lift her leather covered knee up and anchored her foot behind his back.

"You... were supposed… to be… patient-ah," she mumbled between the kisses, letting out a guttural moan when his hips dragged deliciously against her core, "asshole, that's what you are." The man chuckled darkly when he slid his lips from hers to her neck, biting down to the sensitive spot below her left ear.

…lips on her the left side of her neck and a sharp sting as he sucked on the skin, her fingernails raking his tanned skin while his calloused hands pulled the silky purple fabric down, hips against hips and the scent of arousal and possessiveness lingering in the air around them…

Merlyn's eyes snapped open and in one smooth movement she flipped them around with her straddling Mordred's hips, hands pressed on his shoulders to keep him down. The look of bafflement morphed into a frown when he took a good look of her wide, alarmed eyes and almost unmoving chest. "Wh-" he tried to speak, but Merlyn moved away from him before he could talk. The flash of something had been very brief, but so strong that it had stopped all coherent thoughts going through her mind - but still she didn't know what it had been. As she scrambled up from the bed, her trembling hand came up to touch the spot under her ear - what the hell?!

Shaking her head vigorously, she dispelled the strange thoughts and spun around to give Mordred a sweet, hopefully convincing smile. "Sorry, love," the warrior murmured with a sad shrug that made the man frown. "Even you can't heal everything, like how tired I feel."

He seemed to surprisingly believe her, the devious smirk growing on his lips told her as much. "I think I can do something about it…" he hummed as his lust filled eyes moving lazily over her body and then moved so quickly to grab the warrior that she didn't have time to skip further away. Mordred pulled her back on top of him, rough, warm hands all over her bare upper body before pulling her once again flush against him. The hungry look in his eyes was all it took for the woman to give up and sink down to kiss him again, the hunger growing in her gut too. "Thought so." His smug whisper got Merlyn grunt and to bite down on his lower lip, accidentally hard enough to break the chapped skin - but that only spurred the assassin forward. A moan left his throat just before he flipped them around again, his vest and tunic flying somewhere in the room in the process, making Merlyn laugh out loud at his eagerness but it was cut short when his metallic tasting lips crashed back on hers.

While she moved without any hesitation, hands studying his bare, scarred skin eagerly as if to memorize it again, fingernails scratching his back and leaving behind angry red marks that he loved… while she did all this, and loved every second of it, there was the tiniest feeling of wrong-stop-wrong trying to shout over the haze of lust and hunger for Mordred. But it was so small that she didn't think anything of it, only threw her head back when she felt his hand slip beneath the tight leather of her trousers--

 

Knock-knock-knock

 

"Ignore it," Mordred murmured when his fingers found their mark and she listened gladly as she felt the first one slipping in and making the warrior's back arch under the sensation, moaning breathlessly when he bit down on the root of her neck--

 

KNOCK-KNOCK

 

"Oh for fuck's sake!" The curse was more like a choked off moan than a real shout, but when the third knock followed immediately after the second one, Merlyn growled out loud and shoved the assassin off of her before rolling swiftly out of the bed. Mordred landed gracefully on his back on the bed, smirking when he clasped his hands behind his head and lazily reclined against the headboard. The warrior on the other hand scrambled to grab a tunic - Mordred's blue one - and pulled it on, flipping a rude finger at the man when he followed her movements without making a move to cover himself, and then she pulled the door open just a little so she could see who it was - though now that she focused again, the aura of magic was pretty clear.

"Morgause wants to see you," Morgana stammered out so quickly and breathlessly that it sounded like she had ran there, "and h-have you seen Mordred? He disappeared before…" The princess words trailed off when her eyes flickered over Merlyn's head to the dark room, where he no doubt saw some movement. Feeling slightly cruel, the warrior offered a sweet smile and swung the door more open as she turned around to find her boots and weapons, letting Morgana have an eyeful of the half-naked, unashamed assassin waving his fingers at the princess from Merlyn's bed.

Mordred had apparently heard that the Priestess wanted to see the warrior, so when she pulled the boots on and attached a sword to her belt this time, he just grabbed her wrist and yanked her almost halfway on top of him, the too big tunic rolling up in the process and letting him place one of his large hands on the small of her back. "Don't be long or I'll continue without you," he murmured with narrowed eyes and no smile, but Merlyn knew him well enough to know when he joked. The young woman flipped her open hair over her shoulder and smacked a loud kiss on his lips as an answer before tearing herself away from the man's strong grip and skipped out of the room.

Though not before giving a big grin and a wink to the princess, of course. The look of complete outrage the girl tried to cover and the high-pitched voice that echoed in the corridor after Merlyn when she walked off, were enough to make her cackle loudly when she turned the corner.

 

**Morgause**

 

"Your spell is a disaster."

Watching the woman sit alone on the steps of the castle, Morgause's mind travelled back to the morning when Mordred had come to see the Priestess. He had been sitting on the chair by Morgause's desk, arms loosely crossed and spinning a quill between the fingers of his left hand, all the while staring at the woman as she walked into the room. His stare had made chills run through her body despite the thick cloak she had over her dark dress.

"What do you mean?" Morgause asked, stopping by her bed in the middle of removing her cloak and frowned at the assassin, who never ceased twirling the quill. "I was with Morgana, what happened? Does she remember?!" The questions poured out of the woman's lips and the cloak dropped from her numb fingers when she thought of what would happen if-

A snort snapped her out and her baffled, wide eyes found Mordred smiling wryly and throwing the quill on the desk as he straightened slightly. "That's the problem," he answered, now looking at the Priestess again though his eyes contained no mirth whatsoever, "she doesn't even remember who she is supposed to be."

Slender fingers tightened around the windowsill and eyes wandered away from the offending warrior, turning to look over the white, massive battlements surrounding the castle. It was already midday and nothing was going the way it should be. Not only was Merlyn creating more problems than before, but Morgana was also practically lost in her delusions that the curly-haired assassin somehow felt like she did. Anyone with some sort of sense could see that it was impossible to rip the man away from the damned blue-eyed warrior.

"Maybe then you could focus on something else?" The icy look worsened, but Morgause looked away and needlessly fixed her skirt as she sat down on the other chair beside the man. "…or someone else?"

There was total silence after her words and, feeling more brave than she probably should have, the Priestess glanced at Mordred. He wasn't looking at her anymore, but she saw how his fingers had curled into tight fists. "What I mean is that she's... A mess," he ground out between his clenched teeth, ignoring her suggestion and visibly forced his fists to open up, flexing his fingers a bit before looking up again. "One second she's out there breaking noses, scaring my best men with a look and practically making the prince wet himself like she should, and the next she's too afraid to do anything, as if-if she had no idea why someone would be like that."

Looking down again, Morgause's face relaxed a bit when she saw the said man walk up to Merlyn and sit down beside her. She wasn't stupid enough to believe that he was about to break off… whatever that was between them, but hopefully he would find a way to fix things. Morgause certainly couldn't - Merlyn didn't let the older woman close even if her life depended on it, and that was the only thing the girl didn't seem to be confused about.

Sometimes… sometimes the Priestess wondered if she could've done something differently with the girl. The others had always told her that trying to use another of their kind was wrong, but was it using when she just taught her the ways of the world and what was right? Was it using when she gave the little girl the means to protect herself? Merlyn had had a good life with her in the fortress far from the corruption of the world, she had learned and lived, grown and become stronger in a lot of ways. If only the stubbornness could've been snuffed out, then the Priestess wouldn't have had to punish her with leather strips, hunger and darkness. Maybe that had been Morgause's mistake - she had been too kind, given the girl too much freedom to do and think on her own.

Maybe she should've snuffed out the light before it was even lit?

Mordred's face turned to the Priestess now, and there was a tinge of anguish clear in the grey of his eyes though he tried his best to hide it. Sometimes Morgause wasn't sure if the man was as emotionless as everyone thought and he let them believe. There had been moments before they had managed to capture his lover that he had been absolutely miserable and colder that normally. There had been a change in him when the princess of Camelot had joined, but it had never been anything true - it had been just some sick fascination. But, oh, when Merlyn had been back in his arms the day the kingdom had fallen… he felt something. For her. Because of her, more like. "What did she do, then?" The Priestess relented with a sigh.

"Had a breakdown, destroyed her room with her bare hands… almost including me, too," he huffed, rubbing his face almost tiredly but the vigilant look in his eyes never left, "…tried to make me kill her."

For all the years Morgause had known Merlyn, the girl had never given up. There may have been a time when they hadn't seen each other, but the warrior was strong - as much as Morgause hated to admit it. So to hear Mordred tell that so… casually, as if it happened every day, was too much. "What?!"

Head bobbing up and down absentmindedly, the assassin fidgeted with the sleeve of his green tunic. "Apparently she doesn't think there's anything worth living when she has no purpose," he explained and now she really heard it - he tried his best to sound like it didn't really matter to him, that he really was the coldhearted man everyone knew, but there was something under all that. Even when he glared at the Priestess, accusing her for it all, she saw through it."You told me she'd be the woman I knew, but instead you gave me this... Pathetic thing."

A shout ripped the air and echoed even up to the room she was in. Something was happening on the yard, but she couldn't see anything but- oh. Morgause felt her whole body freeze when Merlyn fell to the ground by Mordred's actions, her hold of the windowsill tightening even further as she leaned forward and almost pressed her nose against the glass in anticipation. What was he doing?

The sun reflected from the swords Mordred swiftly drew from the black scabbards attached to Merlyn's back, blinding the Priestess for a second. When the white spots vanished, the warrior had already risen to her unsteady feet with her back to Mordred, and what she didn't see was the group of people Mordred was waving closer, saying something the Priestess didn't hear but the look on his face was tight with determination.

Shaking her head, Morgause's eyes landed briefly on his covered forearm. "You are linked. She'll never doubt you and aims to please you. But-" the assassin was about to interrupt her, but the woman raised her hand to stop him from speaking, earning an annoyed huff for it, "-it doesn't mean you control her. You just need to… give her a little push."

"A push?"

A smile graced her lips, looking sweet and small while her mind went to a much darker place. "She's trying to hang on to the ledge for her dear life when she must let go and take the fall," she hummed with a tilted head, watching how Mordred grew thoughtful, "and she cannot fall without a push."

The only thing reaching her ears was a frantic voice when Morgause watched the warrior spin away from the weapons attacking her and back up, trying to safe her precious life - the Priestess' lips curled slightly in distaste, but the glimmer of hope still flared up in her chest. There was no chance the lost soldier would be able to save herself, not in this state. Not even Mordred could help her. The spell hadn't been a failure, but she was - her magic was too strong, resisting even the spell Morgause had created while her mind was too resilient for someone so weak.

Merlyn would either have to die, or reveal herself.

The feeling of being observed by the pale, bottomless eyes was unnerving for even the High Priestess. "Why are you afraid of her?" Mordred asked, curiosity coloring his voice and lips twisting in a mocking smile while she glared right back - she was not afraid. She hated, no, loathed Merlyn. But it was true that she was… a bit annoyed with herself for agreeing to the oath so easily. The sinister smile on his lips only widened, when Morgause shivered and he mistook the pain that flared in her chest of even thinking about the oath as fear, and soon he spoke again, "what if she one day remembers everything the spell was meant to do? Everything you did to her?"

"…we'll have to make sure she won't."

The smile stayed stretched on his lips as he rose from the chair, straightening his tunic almost nonchalantly before walking for the door. "Then there shouldn't be any reason to fear her, is there, High Priestess?"

She could feel her heart beating violently against her chest, trying to jump out as Morgause watched Merlyn get a hold of a blade. The world seemed to pause with the girl, everyone holding their breaths for what was about to come. The birds stopped singing, the air grew heavy and the silence stretched as she stared down to her hand where the leather covered hilt lay. The hold was loose, as if she didn't understand what to do with it. Carrying the weapons on her daily had seemed to be a habit rather than a need ever since Merlyn had woken up.

Then--

Then the blade found its way to a man's chest, brutally and without hesitation, and Morgause felt her heart skip too many beats - no, not possible, she can't--

But she could and she did. As Morgause watched, the scene turned from a possibility of hope to something she refused to admit to anyone; fear. The girl wasn't saved from injuries, but for someone who had known her for so long and seen her change from the naïve little girl to the fearsome force, Morgause saw that play out again and… the Priestess swore there was a flicker of enjoyment in the way she moved between the sea of people and destruction. Merlyn had become everything the Priestess had wanted her to be... but now she wished it hadn't happened.

"What if she one day remembers everything the spell was meant to do? Everything you did to her?"

Swallowing thickly against the lump in her throat, the woman turned away from the window when the delighted, wicked laughter rang from the courtyard and ran a hand through her curled, fair hair, trying her hardest to dispel the echo of the girl's cruel glee from her mind. The feeling of fear was unfamiliar to her, but seeing the girl find her courage and ruthless personality again… "I hope she never remembers."

Because if she did… it would be the High Priestess' demise.

 

***

 

It took hours to get Morgana to calm down after seeing what had happened on the courtyard. The princess didn't understand how Merlyn could be like that, she couldn't understand why Morgause's spell hadn't worked and why the warrior wasn't a mindless puppet now. But what was left unsaid unnerved the Priestess the most - Morgana's worry for Mordred. She hadn't said it out loud, but the way the girl spoke of Merlyn being trouble and a danger to them, how the warrior had to be removed so we could be happy...

It wasn't good.

The sudden feelings Morgana had developed for the dark-haired, coldhearted assassin were troubling; no one in their right mind would fall for his smooth talking exterior and harsh eyes that lured the innocent to the darkness. The two of them hadn't even spent any time alone and the letters had only talked about his goddess. So why was she so hopelessly obsessed?

The door to the Priestess' room creaked open behind her back as she stared at the now almost still courtyard. The stains of blood were still coloring the white cobblestones and a few of Mordred's people were showing their respect for the man who had fallen by Merlyn's merciless hand. The care Mordred had for his people was non-existent and it showed in the way he had let those twelve people go up against the warrior, as lost as she had been. Everyone knew that he would've never let anything bad happen to her, so no matter what... they would've lost. At least only one had lost a life. "You make people leave their weapons when they enter?" An amused, mocking voice called from the door the same time Morgause heard footsteps stop not too far from her.

"One can never be too careful, don't you think?" She answered with a grimace, but drew on the impassionate mask back as she turned to look at her expected visitor. Merlyn had hopped up to sit on the desk and was twirling the same quill in her fingers as Mordred had.

There was a smile on her bright, bruised face when she tilted her head and observed the older woman, the feather of the quill being pulled between two fingers of her left hand. "Too bad it doesn't work for everyone," the dark-eyes woman hummed as she pointed the feather at the Priestess' direction. There was a brief pause before Morgause tensed as the staring eyes swirled gold and the quill flew from the calloused hand straight at her. The ink-stained tip pointed straight at her heart but stayed almost three feet away.

"You know that won't hurt me," Morgause said, proud of herself when her voice didn't tremble with the words and forced a hollow laugh out to follow the statement, but her bravado didn't fool Merlyn, who just grinned wider and shrugged.

"It will if I want it to." The quill floated slightly closer, drawing a large X in the air where Morgause's wildly beating heart lay. "So play nice, will you?" The younger girl jumped down from the desk then, completely at ease with her hands clasped behind her back and burning eyes wandering around the room, while the Priestess slid sideways to sit on the chair by her dining table. The quill followed, but thankfully stayed far.

Watching the young woman lazily stroll around the room, fiddling with things here and there with little to no real interest, Morgause couldn't help the way her mind wandered back to the time she had found the small, but powerful witch in the run-down village of Ealdor. She had been barely talking coherently, helping her washed-down, too thin mother with their chores. Following those two for weeks had been too easy since the girl hadn't known what she had felt when Morgause's aura had been close enough for her to feel it, but it had been enough for the ambiguous witch, who had only just began preparing to vow her being to the Goddess.

The girl, all big blue eyes and a mop of scruffy black hair, had had no idea what she could be. The aura she had showed then, it wasn't like the others Morgause had felt and that had drawn her closer. Normally they all were colors or feelings, tastes and smells that described who they were and what they could be. One was the taste of the sea and sand, filled with healing powers and need to help while the other was thunder and blood, heart and soul set on revenge and war.

There had been no distinct feeling or taste in the girl, no one color - she had been everything, a rainbow and a palette of tastes, a sea of emotion and feeling, a bouquet of the most wonderful scents.

The warrior in front of the brown eyes now, she had no aura of magic. Somehow Merlyn had learned to mask it, to hide her true self behind steel and cold eyes, and morphed from the scared, kind girl to this soldier, a protector of the Once and Future King - who the girl thought was the cursed prince of Camelot. Morgause didn't believe it; how could the offspring of Uther Pendragon be the King magic-users had waited for centuries? No, that was the part of the prophecy Morgause refused to believe - there wasn't a King, Emrys was meant to create the real one, someone who'd look out for the best of the magical community.

"What did you want from me?" Merlyn's voice brought the woman back from her reminiscing, focus snapping back to the warrior who had stopped by Morgause's dresser and was fiddling with piece of parchment with no writing on it. Her back was straight even though there was no tension in her muscles, still golden eyes sharper than they had been for days.

Looking back at the quill perfectly unmoving and hovering in front of her, Morgause cleared her throat and attempted to relax against the hard back of the chair. "You said you know why the spell didn't work," she started, eyeing the grey feathers slightly moving under her breath, "why didn't it?"

"You already know why," Merlyn immediately answered placing the parchment away and strolling across the room to perch back in the edge of the desk with her head tilted curiously. "Did you really expect that Mordred would want you to control me? And well-" the warrior suddenly snorted and straightened the too-large tunic she had on, a wicked grin playing on her lips, "-it's me. I'm not really something you could control… you never could."

Runes were fickle things and no one could really know what they would do or what they would need to work, but at least Morgause knew for a fact that they were extremely strong - if Emrys hadn't been able to lift the spell from Uther, then no one could. But Merlyn had been so weak and even cut off of her magic, so how was it possible? It couldn't be just because one of them didn't wish her to be controlled. "Are you still lost?" She decided to ask instead, if only to save herself from embarrassment and getting caught on the wrong side of the threatening quill still hovering too close for comfort.

A delicate, unimpressed eyebrow rose on the battle hardened face that turned just before Merlyn turned away from the Priestess, sucking in her cheeks in irritation. "Did Mordred tell you or is that a part of your spell?" The younger witch eventually countered after glaring at the wall long enough, but didn't wait for Morgause to answer before she continues, "Not so much, no. He helped me let go, though."

No need to ask who he was. "Was that really wise?"

"You know, it was actually! It helped me realize something…" the girl hummed with a sweet smile though a far-away look in her eyes as she gazed somewhere over Morgause's head, "I think wasn't really that lost in the first place."

Morgause felt her own brows crease in confusion. "You lied?"

A loud bark of laughter left the warrior then and the look on her face was almost startled, if not more amused than anything else. "No! No, no, I don't do things like you do," Merlyn huffed and wagged a reprimanding finger at the Priestess, who just settled on a glare, though it did nothing to ease the girl's mirth. "Oh, you're thinking about our little secret, aren't you? Hmh, no one has ever asked so I'm not lying. About that, or this. I think I was just-" there was a small pause and a thoughtful look on the pale face before Merlyn grinned again, although more sheepish than amused, "-wrong about it."

"You seem... The same as always, though a bit more-"

"Insane?" The question was asked almost innocently, and Morgause would've believed it if the grin on the warrior's face hadn't widened almost unnaturally as her head tilted to the side. There was something seriously unnerving about the way Merlyn's golden eyes glinted beneath the black lashes, something… feral. Feral and extremely volatile. "Perhaps I am. Too many hits to the head and all that, I don't know-" the younger girl suddenly hopped off of the desk again, but stayed by it, now leaning her hip against it and shrugged almost helplessly, as if the fact that she sounded and acted crazy was normal, "-but I do like this person more than the one I was. All the previous times, actually…"

Even though Morgause knew that this woman was someone she had never met before, perhaps closer to the assassin she had been than the child, the Priestess couldn't help but take note of the way her behavior changed slightly when she talked about the time before the spell - Merlyn wasn't lost in thought, or lost at all, but the look was… forlorn, almost. Maybe even a little sad - but what time was she missing?

"Isn't the change a bit... Sudden?" The warrior's eyes snapped right back to the Priestess, though the far-away look didn't leave. Her left hand was scratching the inside of her right forearm right by the spot where the rune on her skin would be. Even without seeing it, Morgause remembered the moment it had appeared on the grayish skin after eight months of trying - pitch black lines weaving around and across each other before settling into a shape created hundreds of years ago for one purpose only; devotion.

Shrugging again, Merlyn's eyes focused back to the older woman but she wasn't smiling anymore. Though she was still clearly enjoying the situation, based on the way she observed the quill that was gliding closer to the Priestess who was trying to shrink back quietly. "Even if it did, it's still just me. Not just Merlyn the Assassin or not Merlyn the Knight, not even just Emrys. I'm none of that but all of that, the best of all of them really. Not afraid to take a life, always protecting and teaching those I care about, the magic in human form." There was almost an ancient tone coloring the twenty-one winters old warrior, though nothing really surprised Morgause anymore. Merlyn had always felt like there was an old soul in her, even when she was acting like nothing bothered her. That must've been the prize of carrying a burden of an ancient prophecy, then. A quiet chuckling slowly filled the air as the warrior suddenly spread her arms, the gold in her eyes burning almost impossibly bright against Morgause's brown, "I finally understand what Cerridwen meant!"

"It feels rather sudden still," Morgause murmured, loud enough that Merlyn still heard but the girl said nothing. She only let her arms fall the same time as her smile did, the almost childishly happy look melting away and being replaced by a hardened mask that Morgause was familiar with. "It does no good for us if you are going to be bouncing from personality to personality every day."

The silence stretched between them with Morgause fidgeting under the warrior's unmoving eyes. "Do you still doubt me, Morgause? After everything I've endured from you and still let you live?" The quiet, almost whispered words sent chills to the woman's spine. "Why won't you just believe me when I say that this is me and I'm here to stay. Ah, well-" the cold look suddenly changed and Merlyn actually grimaced a bit sheepishly, "-here to stay until I decide to move on. After all, there's nothing holding me back, no Destiny or anything."

"What do you mean?" No, no, no...

"My destiny died the moment I stepped on Camelot's land," she answered flippantly, waiving a dismissive hand at and started to wander around again, though this time closer to the four-poster bed behind Morgause's back. The Priestess on the other hand stayed where she was, warily staring at the quill when it started to waver without reason. "There's no use for me in this kingdom anymore."

Merlyn sauntered back to Morgause's eyesight after a long minute of the feathered quill coming closer and going back again, all the while looking much more threatening than it should've looked. The warrior stopped by the window, fiddling with something Morgause didn't see. She was absentmindedly watching the birds fly over the courtyard, a look of wonder in her eyes - a look of longing. "What if Mordred stays? He wouldn't want you to leave."

It was a stretch, but Mordred couldn't let Merlyn leave. What if one day she actually revealed her secret and would be useful to her? What if one day Morgause would find a way to correct the spell? There were too many possibilities and things that could happen - one of which was the tiny, but scary possibility that Merlyn would remember everything if something outside triggered it.

The silence that followed the words had gone longer than Morgause had expected and the fact that Merlyn was just standing there while even the quill froze, turned to the Priestess but not moving or saying anything, got the Priestess to finally rip her eyes away from the quill and look at Merlyn. "I wouldn't want him to be unhappy…" All emotion had slipped from her normally brisk, commanding tone and the eyes, still burning gold, were completely glazed over. There was a small speck of black almost shining in the middle of the molten color, and even from far away Morgause recognized it.

Devotion.

But before Morgause could even react, the burning eyes started to blink and there was a look of someone who woke up from a nap on Merlyn face, before it cleared out of the way and she moved again as if nothing happened, waiving a hand at the Priestess direction. "I'm best of all worlds, and I won't play around anymore." So suddenly that Morgause didn't even have time to blink, the quill moved again - but this time it didn't only hover closer. No, it shot at her face and while it moved, the tip started to glint like steel, widen and sharpen in front of her eyes - before long, it had the distinctive shape of a dagger, though much smaller than a normal one - but no doubt as deadly if used correctly. "So I'd appreciate if you'd stop trying to control me, use me or fool me."

"What do you-" but her words cut off when Merlyn appeared behind the dagger, shining eyes locked on her behind the weapon as she leaned forward and placed her hand against the armrests.

"Stop trying to reveal my magic. I'll do it when I want to." The promise in Merlyn's voice was almost nonexistent, and Morgause doubted that she would ever hear the warrior use the words I have magic in front of anyone.

Narrowing her eyes slightly, Morgause studied the younger one's face for a lie, but still couldn't find one. Though as she did it, the Priestess' gaze landed on the mark only just fading away from her eyes, a proud reminder of what had been done. "…what about Mordred? Won't he be unhappy that you kept it a secret?"

The rune shone again, more fiercely than before as the hold Merlyn had on the chair loosened and her face went slack. Feeling the hope building up in her chest, Morgause was just about to flick her fingers to sent the small dagger away when the arms on either side of her tensed again. "He'll understand." No, no, no… Looking back up, Morgause managed to catch a glimpse of how the rune practically crumbled under the force of the gold burning hotter - just like the hope she had felt. "And again, I never lied. If he loves me, he'll get over it... He better, because I won't apologize for it."

"…fine. I guess I have no choice," the Priestess grit through her clenched teeth, her own fingers curling around the armrests to tight she could feel splinters pricking her skin. As much as she hated the bloody, arrogant girl now grinning in front of her again, looking too smug for her own good, there were benefits still - this Merlyn, the one who didn't care about anything really, wouldn't be so easily swayed as the one from before that had been too lost for this world. This one at least had some fire in her, and as long as they made sure she wouldn't remember… everything would work out. Right? She was the High Priestess! Not even just Merlyn could defeat her, it had been proven multiple times - the younger witch always showed off but she was all bark and no bite. She was much more aggressive, yes, but power couldn't match skill.

"Good!" The threatening object was suddenly snatched away from Morgause and thrown back to the desk, now again looking like the quill it had originally been and the previously sinister warrior was once again practically bouncing on her feet as she walked to the door of Morgause's room. "Oh, before I forget-" she spun on her heels just before opening the door, eyes once again blue and glinting ominously, "-do keep that precious princess of yours away from Mordred, would you? I'd… dislike to have to hurt her... or you."

And with a grin and one last flash of golden eyes, she was gone, leaving the Priestess to just stare at the door...

With a slowly growing smile. Now this Merlyn… this one would be useful. Even if she couldn't make a queen out of her, in battle she would be a force no one wanted to go up against.

Chapter Text

The dawn found Morgause marching purposefully through the castle, dark purple skirt flowing behind her. The castle was quiet, most of the residences were still either sleeping or doing their rounds. Out of pure kindness, Morgause had allowed even some of the nobles to live under the roof, though only if they stayed out of the way and quiet. Though surprisingly, Morgause had been confronted by four of the oldest nobles who had lived in Camelot before the Purge - all four of them pledged their loyalty, saying that they knew Uther had lied and abused his powers as a king. Those four were powerful and influential, a big asset when a new ruler would sit on the throne.

But no matter if they had the support of the nobles, the city was empty. After five days, almost all of the peasants had fled to the woods and surrounding kingdoms. None of those had been found, not even when the most skilled of Mordred's trackers were sent out after them, which only meant that someone on the outside was helping them - unfortunately, Morgause had a good idea who. There was no reason for the druids to hide from a now-magical kingdom… unless they still believed the prophecies. But there was a reason why Morgause hadn't gone after them to bring them in by force if necessary; druids had hid from the world for decades, longer even. No mere Priestess could find them just like that if they wished to be hidden, as much as Morgause hated to admit it.

Nodding tightly to a guard standing by the dungeon door, the Priestess strode down the stairs to the damp, dark corridor lined with full cells and pitiful whimpers. Despite offering the guards and knights healing and a place under Morgana's rule, none of them had accepted it - apparently Camelot's men had a stronger sense of loyalty compared to servants and nobles. So that meant that behind the metal bars were men still dressed in their chainmails and bloodied clothes, ripping the fabrics to crudely tie the bleeding wounds marring their skin and, even after five days, occasionally letting out a cry of pain if someone touched them in the wrong way.

But the cell Morgause headed straight to was completely silent and nothing moved in it, though she knew that the man was there, sitting on the cold floor looking as miserable as he should. His golden hair lay flat on the man's forehead, covered in grime and old blood, his undershirt was a far cry from the glamorous clothes the prince was no doubt used to and even the air in the cell was stale and pathetic. Still, something had changed and it took Morgause too long to realize that the prince was standing by the tiny window on the opposite side of the cell where the chains had been - chains that were now uselessly lying on the floor, holding nothing in place. "How are you free?!"

The prince didn't even react to the loud voice and stayed silent while Morgause's wide eyes stared at his back, posture too straight and confident for someone who had been in the dungeons for a week and would not be leaving anytime soon.

How is he free? There had been no keyholes in the cuffs so picking the locks was impossible, but here he was, standing like a free man, like a prince, and watching the brightening courtyard out of the hole in the wall. "I don't know," he eventually answered and turned to the Priestess, bright blue eyes staring straight at hers from between the bars. Though he was far on the other side of the cell, Morgause saw how badly he tried to keep his composure - the slight tremble of his shoulders, the tension around his jaw and sharpness of those sky-blue eyes. "They…" Arthur waved a hand vaguely as he eyed the chains, "…fell off last night."

"Did someone visit you? …Morgana? One of my men?" Asking questions was useless, based on the frown on the prince's face and his reluctance to answer was already getting to the woman's nerves - if only she hadn't promised the man's sister to not touch him, Morgause would've marched into the cell and ripped the words out of him. Gritting her teeth, she placed her palms against the rusty metal bars and murmured under her breath bernan á hwæt gecostnian ingán before she looked back up. "…did Merlyn do something?"

The sudden dry bark of laughter threw her off the loop, frozen in place with her hands still up in the air as the spell enveloped the door, turning to an invisible layer over the beaten metal. Arthur looked almost insane with the way he stared right back at the woman, a humorless grin on his face and eyes dark with anger. "Isn't she yours now? Why the hell would she do something like that?" The man's smile fell off when a sudden surge of determination took its place and soon he was marching towards the door, big calloused hands wrapping over the bars. They wouldn't hurt him unless he tried to get the door open. "what did you do to her?!"

Now that was a reason to smile even though Morgause took a step backwards so the prince couldn't reach her if he tried. "Just something to... make sure she knows what's best for her and the rest of us, so she won't ruin my plans again," she answered, a newly found glee coloring her voice and causing the blood to slowly drain from Arthur's horrorstricken face, "no matter what you do, she won't come for you. No one will."

The hands gripping the bars were trembling under the force of Arthur's hold, his knuckles white and cracking, "what did you do..?" But despite the show of strength that got even the door Morgause had re-enforced to rattle, his voice was a hollow sound devoid any other emotion but pain. He really does love her… the Priestess realized, thoughtful eyes scanning his features and taking in all the signs of anguish she could - pain for someone he loved.

But even if he did, he would've never accepted the truth. He would've forced Merlyn to stay hidden, just like he had before Mordred had taken her and the Cup. If only he had given her the permission, she would have never been captured - too late to feel sorry now, the woman thought with a growing smile and tilted head. "Runes are quite powerful, aren't they?" Morgause asked in lieu of answering, enjoying the way the prince's eyes flashed as he no doubt remembered the ones on his sorry excuse of a father. "Even the great Emrys can't beat them."

The flare of pain caught the Priestess by surprise, though only because it didn't make her choke on her own spit like it usually did. Normally, if she even tried to speak to anyone about the prophecy, she could only speak vaguely and without even mentioning the name Emrys, but… did he know something?

"Emrys? Who is Emrys?"

No, he didn't. Not enough, at least. Maybe only the name, so that's why the oath didn't stop her. "No one you'll ever get to know," Morgause waived a dismissive hand, grinning wider when the prince flinched away from the door as if expecting the Priestess to put a hex on him, and turned slightly away from her. As much as she wanted to curse him with the most heinous hex she could think of, Morgana would not like it. Though the princess wasn't as powerful as Morgause had hoped, her emotions always heightened her magic and sometimes, when Morgause was on the receiving end of it, it was rather painful. "She is still herself you know… just not the fake one you knew."

He kept shaking his head and muttering things the Priestess didn't hear, but it was no use. Not even love could be strong enough to restore what Morgause had changed, no matter how strong it was or what Destiny dictated - no one man could change what has been done. The way of the world was not something a mere mortal could change, no matter how he resisted the rotation of reality, no matter how he pulled back and fought. The world had turned to ash under the Pendragons' hold and now it was time for it to rise and born again, more beautiful and resilient than before.

She wouldn't need Emrys to bring magic back or create Albion, because soon they would all kneel before the new queen of Camelot and he Priestess whispering in her ear. It wouldn't matter even if Emrys would rise again and try to take her place, it wouldn't matter even if she found the real King someday…

Her time was here but she didn't know it and if Emrys didn't know… she wouldn't return.

"You seem scared." Arthur had returned from his thoughts without her realizing and had been observing the Priestess quietly, some sort of realization growing in his eyes. What he found irritated her more than she wanted to admit, but there was no need to avoid the truth. It didn't matter anyway, not when Merlyn was stuck under Mordred's thumb and unable to go against his wishes - wishes that were the same as Morgause's.

"Perhaps," she admitted with a nonchalant shrug though the smile never left her lips as he watched the myriad emotions flow on his bruised face. "But at least she thinks we're on the same side here, unlike you are. It is you, and the people like you and your father who should be scared… and not only of her." With a flick of her wrist, a blast of power flew at the prince, making him stumble backwards and shy away from Morgause's fading eyes and cruel smile. Though she still couldn't understand why the chains would let go - the Priestess did create them herself -, nothing would stop her from celebrating her victory. And it was hers, not anyone else's.

"...what did you do?" There weren't many things that brought joy to the stoic High Priestess, but the finality of Arthur Pendragon's pained voice and his slumping shoulders were one of those. She felt it course trough her entire being, feeling like a blessing from the Goddess herself, as she watched the fight finally leave the once mighty knight - right here, under his own castle and in front of his worst enemy. It was beautiful.

"She remembers almost everything still, you know. All the conversations, fights, journeys..." Morgause murmured, caressing the rough metal door with her fingers, almost coyly looking at the prince through her lashes when his head snapped up, "...but the thing is, people always remember things differently. I'd suggest you get cozy until we have no more need for you to be alive." There was a small pause in the man as his tired brain processed her words but by the time realization dawned in him, she was already walking away and smiling wide as she listened the frantic yelling following her through the maze of corridors to her next destination that incidentally was not too far from the shouting prince - though no one couldn't even understand what he was trying to say, with his voice turning into an echo lost under the broken sobs breaking through the words.

Memories… such easy things to corrupt with the right tools.

Not far from her, Morgause spotted a familiar figure walking briskly forward, hair flying over her face and shoulders, and dragging someone with her. The second person was vaguely familiar, a woman with a wildly curling brown hair and dark skin, wearing a simple peasant dress just like most of the servants did. "Why are you doing this?!" The servant was repeatedly screeching, wide eyes roaming over the closed cells where Camelot's men were awake now and banging against the bars, shouting at the grim warrior. "Why?!"

"Shut up already!" Merlyn grunted and shoved the servant against the hard wall, towering over the tiny woman and completely ignoring the shouts around her. Although the two were practically the same height, the maid seemed to shrink under the glaring eyes, seemingly unfamiliar with the look - well, until now. "Shut. Up. Or I'll do something much worse than lock you up."

There was a crude key in the hand that wasn't keeping the dark-skinned maid against the wall and that's when Morgause recognized the maid - Morgana's chambermaid. The daughter of the town blacksmith. No doubt the blacksmith would've taught his daughter the simplest things - like how to duplicate a key.

Grumbling under her breath, the warrior yanked the other woman away from the wall just as she managed to get a cell door open, just to shove the maid in harder than strictly necessary. There was a cruel smirk on her lips now as she glanced further into the cell, though Morgause didn't see what she looked at. "Have fun while you can," Merlyn's mocking voice said and then the door was slammed shut, "I'll come back soon to decide what to do with you, Guinevere." Almost giggling to herself, the blue-eyed woman looked down at the key in her hand curiously and tilted her head. Something flashed in her eyes as she watched it, and it didn't sit well with the Priestess observing from further away.

But then, Merlyn's eyes moved up and landed on Morgause who stood mostly hidden in the shadows and another grin spread to her lips as her fingers curled around the key. The blue flashed gold for only the briefest second and when the fingers opened again, only dust fell to the floor.

"Told you to trust me," the younger woman hummed as she spun on her heels and vanished around the corner before Morgause could even think to answer.

Still, with a slowly growing smile, Morgause waved a hand with a murmured onlucan and with a straight back walked in after the door swung open to the cell right next to the one where the maid was shoved in. The prisoner was slumped against the furthest wall, his chainmail covered in old ash and blackened blood, cradling his injured wrist and hair hanging limply around his face - a face, that still seemed to have some strength as he glared at the woman with such loathing it almost stopped her from advancing. Almost.

"I think it's time for us to have a little chat, don't you think?"

A growled in your dreams, bitch, was the only thing he managed to say before the temporary sleeping spell hit him.

 

***

 

To say that her interrogation was worth it would be a bad lie. The knight, previously a world-class drunk and nomad, had given her nothing. Absolutely nothing. Where he managed to draw the strength to spit curses at the Priestess and laugh, Morgause did not know but it didn't mean she was about to stop. Everyone had their breaking point, and so would he.

But it had already been too long and by the look of her room, where Mordred and Morgana were waiting, she had been letting them wait for too long - Mordred was valiantly trying to avoid speaking to the princess, who's eyes were sparkling with excitement as she mooned over the brooding assassin. But despite that, Mordred indulged. The sweet, alluring words he let out once in a while kept the girl trying but he still always went back to the blasted warrior currently probably giving the young ones in Mordred's group a real, living hell.

"And what is this?" Morgause made herself known as she watched how Morgana perched herself on the armrest of the cushioned chair the assassin was sitting on, though he was trying to lean away from the girl. The Priestess' voice snapped the princess out of whatever daze she had been and scramble away from Mordred, but she still sat in another chair similar to his right next to him. The look of mild regret on the assassin's face would have been comical in another situation where Morgause wasn't trying to spell away the left over blood from her hands. "Is there something I can do for you?"

The way Morgana's bright green eyes darkened as she remembered something caught the older woman's interest and as soon as her hands were clean, Morgause pulled a chair in front of the girl. Morgana was squeezing her red dress with both her hands as she looked at her aunt, pitch black hair falling in big curls around her sneering face. "I went to see Uther," she announced with lips curled in disgust, "he had a brief moment of clarity and was trying to lie to me again."

The corner's of Morgause's lips threatened to curl up when she heard the thick tone of anger in Morgana's voice, but she fought to keep her face impassionate. "And what did he say?"

"'I didn't know about your mother, but I don't care!'," Morgana imitated the king's frantic voice frighteningly well before puffing out her cheeks in irritation and rolled her eyes, "like I'd ever believe him…"

Explaining the whole truth about her birth and her mother's, Viwien's, death had been the turning point of Morgana's beliefs. For all her life, she had thought that her mother had killed herself out of grief for her late husband Gorlois who had died in the war, but the truth was that she had killed herself out of shame. No self-respecting, powerful witch could live with herself after having a child with the king who killed their kind. And on top of that, Uther must have known - and perhaps even driven the late Priestess into suicide.

Too bad he had never thought that Morgana would find out the truth and have magic like her mother.

"Are the runes still working?" The princess asked next, still frowning at the memory of the king's words and looked up from her fists, "I mean, if the ones on Merlyn aren't working-"

"They work just fine," Morgause grunted and leaned away from the girl, "it was just the one that failed… though that wasn't mine or the spell's fault." The last part was added with a pointed look at the assassin, who wasn't really paying attention to the women. His glazed eyes were trained on something Morgause couldn't see, but there was still a tiny smile paying on his lips.

But Morgana didn't understand, of course. She was too new to magic and too young to see. "Why didn't it work? And why did you need three of us for her but not for him?" The princess continued, her bafflement only growing with each question. That got Mordred's attention too, this time, as he too seemed to realize the same thing - and Morgause had to lie. Again.

Sighing, she tried to ignore the flare of pain in her chest as her mind automatically turned back to Merlyn and her magic, and rubbed her forehead tiredly. "They… were different runes for starters," she slowly started, trailing off as she tried to find the right words to explain it without sounding like she didn't know anything, "and… they are different people. Uther is only strong when he's on the throne and ordering innocent to be burned, but Merlyn-"

"Merlyn is strong all the way through." Mordred spoke for the first time since Morgause had stepped into the room, and already he sounded too smug for his own good. Gods, they are perfect for each other… "You can't control her, and that's why it didn't work. Because I knew it."

Morgana's emerald eyes widened as she flipped to stare at the assassin, who was only smirking at the blonde woman avoiding his eyes now. "It was because of you? Why-why would you not want that?!"

But, of course, Mordred only gave the princess a sweet, poisonous smile as he glanced at her, though did not answer and left the girl steaming in silence. "So, the runes… you never explained what they do," the assassin spoke to Morgause, as the Priestess threw an apologetic look at Morgana's direction, but the girl just jumped up from the chair and started pacing by the windows, muttering to herself. "Or what mine does."

So she explained, as well as she could. "Runes are too ancient to really understand, but all I need to know is what they need to work and how they affect her," Morgause started, now straightening in her seat and waving a hand to the assassin. He scooted forward in his chair and pushed up the sleeve of his tunic before showing the rune on his forearm, right below the crook of his elbow. It was very simple looking, but anyone with some sort of magic - or even none of it - could sense the power it had. "This one means devotion or obsession, depending how you use it. She has one on her skin too at the same place, and it links you two. She's, in a sense, bound to you and aims to please you in any way possible, but you still don't control her."

"So… they aren't real?" The princess piped up behind the Priestess, causing Morgause to grimace and Mordred to glare over the Priestess' head. There was a tiny squeak when their eyes met, but the man never said anything, just looked down at the older witch - though he did have a question in his pale eyes too.

"Everything is real," she eventually sighed, looking away from the triumphant grin that stretched on Mordred's lips, "the feelings are just… more present and heightened. Your words have an effect on her, but they don't control her. Basically, all it does is to make sure she's devoted to you, and will not want you to be unhappy in any way." Except when it comes to her magic, she added in her mind and fought against the urge to roll her eyes.

The smile Mordred had, faltered at the Priestess words and was slowly replaced with a deep frown as Mordred snatched his arms away from Morgause's hands and pulled the sleeve down again. He didn't look too happy about it, and Morgause wondered if it still went against his wishes for Merlyn to be herself. Though wasn't devotion what love was all about? Morgause had never personally been in love or loved anything or anyone, but it made sense - wouldn't you want to make your other half happy?

A flurry of red appeared by Morgause's side while she was deep in thought, but Morgana's voice brought her back to reality, along with a vice grip of the Priestess' forearm with fingernails digging through the long sleeves of her dress. "What if she recognizes the rune? O-or finds out something is going on?" Behind her, Mordred openly rolled his eyes as he got up from the chair he had occupied and waltzed to stare out of the window, leaving Morgause to deal with the princess.

"She won't- Morgana!" She snapped over the muttering girl and managed to rip her green eyes away from the assassin's back. "She won't see it. There's only one on her skin and that, along with those in her eyes, are covered with a masking spell. Okay? She will not see them, I've already witnessed it."

Morgana's worry turned into a smug smirk as she started to chuckle and let go of the older woman, smoothing down her own wrinkled skirt. "I knew she was a moron…" The murmuring was clearly not meant for anyone else's ears but her own, but still the Priestess heard it - and based on the way Mordred's aura flared angrily, he had caught it too. The princess' eyes widened again when she looked back at the man, the spiteful look vanishing in a blink of an eye as she panicked and muttered an apology. Morgause couldn't help but sigh inwardly at the girl - she needed to harden her skin and calm herself, and it needed to happen soon. She would be no use if she continued to act like a privileged princess and a girl with a crush all the time. As much as Morgause loved her niece - if not literally by blood but through being a Priestess with her mother - Morgana was too naïve for all of this.

"So what about the others?" Mordred spoke up again though didn't move back to her sight. Morgause heard him walk behind her and go to the wine jug on her dining table. "You said there were more than this one. What are they?"

Nodding slowly, slightly absentmindedly, she straightened again and swallowed thickly - this was the hardest part. "Well, one of them was to control her, but it won't matter, so then there are two left; both for memories, so I don't think I need to explain those to you."

"How come you weren't just able to see her mind and figure out what secrets there are? I'm sick and tired of trying to torture these men, they either won't speak or know absolutely nothing." The assassin huffed in to his goblet, and there was no need to see him to hear the eye roll. "You're still supposed to be the High Pries-"

"No one can read someone's mind like that!" Morgause snapped and whirled around in her chair to level the man with the best murderous glare she could muster. "You can search a mind for something you already know, but not to see everything. Especially now, when she's free and able to protect herself."

Of course she understood his anger. Being connected to the spell only allowed him to know the altered memories he was involved with or knew everything about, but not any secrets, while Morgause was able to see bits and pieces here and there as she was the one who made everything slot in where it should. It was like the world's most complicated puzzle, where you needed to form ideals and thoughts that started at a certain point, that would shape how Merlyn would remember everything and how she acted with those memories - it was too bad she couldn't go back and alter those that happened when Merlyn had lived with Morgause, though. But since Morgause couldn't see it all, it was difficult. But as long as Merlyn believed what the rest of them did, it would stick - and the rest was taken care by the runes. One to change, another to create a flow through her mind that made sure nothing would clash against another memory.

"Why do you want to know the secrets so badly, Mordred?" Morgana curiously asked, watching how Mordred drowned the rest of his wine down his throat. "We already have the kingdom, what else is there?" Mordred refused to answer, only stared intently down at his empty goblet but Morgause already knew; it wasn't about the kingdom, but Merlyn. It was always about her. He was borderline obsessed with the woman by this point, and he was losing focus on what was really important, but he didn't care about ruling the land, he didn't care about finding more magic-users to join them and he certainly didn't care about finally crowning Morgana as queen - no, all he cared about was knowing everything there was to know about the warrior and who to punish for taking her away.

"Isn't there anyone who could do it?" Oh, Morgana… There was the pain again. Morgause had grown used to the flaring pain spreading from her heart to all over her chest every time her mind went to the prophecy and Merlyn's magic, but recently it had been even worse. Perhaps it was because of the proximity of her and the younger witch, or the fact that she had quite probably ruined any chance for the prophecy to come true - but the pain was awful. It caused Morgause's face to contort in pain as Morgana continued, "isn't anyone strong enough?"

Pale eyes were trained on Morgause's face that had already gathered a sickly grey color as she tried to fight off the pain, staring curiously and questioningly. "Do you know something, Priestess?"

"I-" Choking on air was never a pleasant feeling, and not even the princess' hand pounding against her back helped with it - it wasn't physical per se. "I c-can't talk about it!"

"T-talk about what?" It was Morgana squeaking the question through the panic of seeing Morgause choking on nothing, but the older witch just shook her head rapidly in lieu of trying to answer.

Living with the oath - or curse, as Morgause liked to think - had done nothing but restrict her in every way possible. She wasn't able to speak about the prophecy properly, only just use very vague words and ask difficult questions that not many understood, she couldn't really even mention the name Emrys, or even tell about the figure of Fate to anyone who didn't already know about it. Right now, there were only a few people who knew the whole truth - the warrior herself, Morgause, the blasted prince and three knights, who weren't talking about anything.

Waving her hand for Morgana to stop hitting her back as the choking subsided, Morgause took a deep, steadying breath and opened her slightly watered eyes. From behind the blurry tears, she saw the vague figure of Mordred still in the same place with his head tilted and left corner of his mouth quirking up. The bastard enjoyed this, no doubt. "Wait, what about... that man, the one w-who saved the girl?"

A huff of humorless laughter left the assassin again even while Morgana was in the middle of her question. "You mean the one who didn't even seek revenge against the people who wanted to kill a child for nothing and… just left? Who wouldn't take my offer because he knew about her," Mordred almost spat as he jerked his chin at the wheezing Priestess direction and crossed his arms tightly, "and he can't be that powerful, since I couldn't even feel his magic. Luck, that's what I think."

But Morgana was shaking her head vigorously and surprisingly kept a steady eye contact with the assassin. "No, I'm sure he could be useful!" She stubbornly insisted, glancing at the Priestess but Morgause was in the middle of trying to get the pain to subside since this talk about 'him' wasn't doing her any good - not when Morgause was sure it was actually a she. "H-he just appeared in the middle of the pyre, and-" the young woman was waving her hands in wide gestures, almost slapping both Morgause and Mordred in the process, as she spoke, and walking subconsciously closer to the assassin who in turn was backing up, "-he… he just, he had these golden eyes that never changed a-and… and he froze everyone with a gesture, Mordred! And left in that smoke, t-that teleportation smoke without a spell! And-"

"All right, I get it!" Mordred's eyes had been widening more the longer Morgana went on and on about the 'mystery' sorcerer, hands up in a calming gesture to keep the princess from flying away with all her excitement. If anything compared to the princess obsession for Mordred, it seemed to be this one. It was rather sad really - the person Morgana was describing so enthusiastically was the same one she hated with all her heart and wanted gone. "So what, we need to find him? Do you know his name, where he lives, who he actually is?"

"Well no, but-"

"Then what about how to find him? Any special tracking spells you've suddenly learned?"

"That's not fair-"

Glaring, Mordred raised an eyebrow at the defeated princess and gave her a pointed, very unamused look. "Then that's that. There's no way we'll find him without any idea where he is, what's his name or an object to track him with," he explained in a tone of voice that one would usually use with a child, extremely condescending and mocking while Morgana lowered her eyes and started to chew her lip in shame, "unless the great Priestess has any ideas?"

Two pairs of expectant eyes turned to Morgause now, who was swallowing thickly to wet her dry throat but still she managed to focus enough to shake her head slowly at the question. "You won't find him," she rasped, waving a hand at them when they were both about open their mouths to interrupt, "…he can't be found, he doesn't exist, not really. It's a ghost hunt, and only if you get to the hunting part of it."

And despite the betrayed looks she was given, Morgause ordered the two out of her room so she could rest and forced herself to ignore the grumbles from both as they marched away together towards where Morgause guessed Merlyn was training the young ones.

Well, it wasn't a lie, she comforted herself as she pushed the heavy door shut and leaned her forehead against it, the lingering pain in her chest making it still hard to breath, he doesn't exist. The situation they were in wasn't doing any good for any of them - Mordred was mooning over the damned warrior and forgetting all about the plan he had signed up for and then Morgana was drooling over him and kept pushing the date for her crowning further and further away, saying she wasn't ready yet as if Morgause didn't already know that she waited for Mordred to say he wanted to be her king.

And all the while, Morgause was struggling to keep all of them together and united, to keep working on the same goal of bringing magic back and rule over the land but still it seemed that she was the only one who cared about that anymore. Not only were Mordred and Morgana focusing on all the wrong things, Merlyn wasn't focusing on anything! Only to keep herself happy, spend time with Mordred and terrorize everyone else with her mere presence - or at least that's how it worked with Morgause these days. If not for the warrior's steely mind and power she held in both magic and not, Morgause would've crushed her a long time ago - the only thing she was able to do, was to keep chatting with the prisoners.

 

**Merlyn**

 

Waiting for the Priestess to finally leave the dungeons was probably the most bored Merlyn had ever been. Sitting beneath the dark shadow of the closest alcove, Merlyn leaned against the wall for a good two hours and practically just stared at the opposite surface, eyes unseeing and a dagger idly twirling between her deft fingers. Sure, she had sat there after just leaving the dungeons, but there was no way she was able to go play with the prince while Morgause was down there too. For some god-awful reason the woman had promised to keep the prince from harm's way to keep the little girl playing future queen happy - so that meant no one could go there under her watch. Though Merlyn wasn't sure if it actually only meant her and the Priestess herself, or literally everyone - from what Merlyn had seen, the golden boy was getting more and more bruised every time she went there. Probably ungrateful for the guards bringing him food, the warrior thought with a scoff.

The only reason she had gone there in the first place had been to go glare the prince to death or something like that, but her plans had been ruined by that sneaky, frighteningly clever chambermaid that Morgana liked to drag along everywhere she went. Whole lot of good they do for you, Merlyn had thought when she had caught the maid trying to sneak into the dungeons with a spare key. Probably to free that no-good lover of hers - so Merlyn had done them both a favor. If they so wanted to be together, then they could share a cell. Though that decision had cost Merlyn her hearing when Morgana had heard about Gwen being in the cells - the voice that girl had… unbelievable lungs, the warrior thought and shuddered as she glanced at the corridor again, remembering how the shrill voice of the princess had echoed through the castle as she had stormed to the dungeons to see the evidence herself.

People walked by all the time, but none of them paid any attention her so the warrior had forgone masking herself with spells - and if any noticed her, they avoided even looking at her direction. It made her smile to herself when she had noticed those who saw her scurry away like scared dogs with tails between their legs, since it was rather amusing how such fearsome assassins could go from practically jumping her everywhere to being too scared to even make eye contact with her in the span of a day.

"Cowards the lot of them…" the woman murmured to herself and narrowed her eyes a bit, watching the last of them quicken their steps to get out of her eyesight as if they feared she'd attack for someone looking at her. Luckily later that day, Merlyn would be the one overseeing their training and finding out if they were actually good for anything. After discovering her true nature - or at least most of it, the part she had missed - Mordred had never been happier. He had praised the warrior, showered her with long overdue affection just the previous night when she had returned to her chamber and then even had drawn them both a steaming bath that had filled her room and the corridor with full, earthy scents. It had been heavenly, but the spell had been broken the very next morning when she had woken up alone just to hear the assassin sweet-talk the blasted princess out in the hallway.

What he was doing with that girl, Merlyn had literally no idea. Like, everyone saw that what Merlyn and Mordred had was real and permanent, and that Morgana was just a fleeting fancy, but why was he still feeding her delusion when he had the real thing right there behind one door? Merlyn could understand playing with the princess, since he had done that before - she still remembered the first time all too well; the girl hadn't survived her wrath - but could he at least let her in on it? The thought made the warrior grumble under her breath, ignoring the weird looks two assassins gave her for it when they walked by, and chucked her dagger into the air. It flew high and spun around itself, and she caught it from the blade with no scratches, only to repeat the motion and catching it by the handle the next time it came down.

Merlyn managed to repeat the same thing for almost two dozen times before a brief flash of purple silk caught her eye - snatching the dagger mid-fly, she leaned a bit forward and caught a glimpse of Morgause's retreating back. "Finally." With a tiny grin on her face, the warrior slipped out of the alcove and dashed behind the guards' backs. Flashing her eyes, something popped not too far from them on the opposite end of the corridor and immediately both men marched to see what it was - and Merlyn had always thought that only Camelot's guards were idiots... The perks of being who she was that even if she didn't hide from the guards, they wouldn't exactly stop her from going anywhere - it was just much more fun like this.

Blending perfectly in the deep shadows on the opposite wall from the first cells, Merlyn slowed down for a second and just watched the men who didn't see her. They all looked miserable, almost like they had one leg in the grave already. Grey skin, limp hair and bloodied clothes. None of them had accepted any help from the healers Mordred's people had - they didn't trust magic, surprisingly.

But, the warrior still catalogued the worst of the worst, such as Sirs Nicholas and Hugo who were both sitting in strange angles, probably because of broken ribs, then there was Gwaine - oh, Gwaine. The man was sleeping with his back to the door when Merlyn stopped to look in - the difference between these cells, where Lancelot, Gwaine and Leon were, was that the doors were wooden with a small window, while the prince and the less known men had only the bars so the guards would see them at all times. It was eating her soul to even look at the man slumped on the moldy floor like that - though, ever since she had seen him for the first time for years, the sight of his face had done that every time. Even when the man hadn't seemed to remember his real part in everything that had happened, Merlyn wasn't able to forget, despite the way she had forced herself to laugh at his jokes.

The thing about being isolated for months and essentially tearing something out of her head was that it could very well mess up with her mind, make her a bit lost. That had been the reason - at least in her own opinion - for being such a mess after seeing the beaten down prince and now seeing Gwaine's sleeping figure. The remnants of the Merlyn who had lived with the wall wanted her to trust the man, to see kindness in everyone despite past actions, but the warrior couldn't trust the tiniest voice that told her to trust the people of Camelot because the voice was a dirty, rotten liar that sounded like him.

Glancing up to the small hole in the door for the last time, Merlyn's lips twisted in distaste - good riddance. Even if someone cleaned up their act just before the worst could've happened, it didn't mean they were good people. That had been the only thing meeting Gwaine had taught her in the end, and it was a lesson she still carried with her - she might have saved people at some point, but the scales still tipped to the wrong side when she weighted out her victims and people who owed her their lives. So why should he be forgiven for being a part of the people who had wanted to hurt her, even if he listened to his conscience at the last minute? Easy answer - he shouldn't be.

It wasn't fair, but it was life.

And the same could be said about the next person Merlyn saw as she murmured a spell to silence the corridor. His shoulders were slumped as if the weight had only just started to be too much and his face was turned away from the door. It took Merlyn a moment to actually register the fact that he was free to stand instead of chained to the darkest corner of the cell. Gritting her teeth together, Merlyn used the dagger still in her hand to band loudly against the metal bars, causing the prince to jump and spin around, startled eyes widening when he saw her. "How the hell are you free?!"

"You keep asking that... Why is my cell fixed?" His counter caught Merlyn by surprise and left her to just blink stupidly, dumbfounded and staring at the man. Huh?

Shaking her head to clear her head, her face twisted almost automatically in a disgusted sneer. "How should I know? Now answer me, how are- ah!" While she had been talking, the warrior had stepped forward and grabbed hold of two bars of the door, but the contact had instantly burned her skin like molten metal from a forge, causing the woman to jerk away with a startled shout. "What is going on?!"

"Morgause-"

But Arthur's explanation cut off when Merlyn tried again and it ended up with her actually screaming in pain now, despite trying to cover her palms with a spell. Without thinking, Merlyn grunted in anger and aimed a strong kick at the bars. The door shook under the force but didn't budge, while Merlyn cursed loudly and snapped her eyes at the prince. "How are you free?" The growl was accompanied by another kick, but it didn't change the outcome - the door only rattled and she cursed again, while the prince just stared, not knowing what was happening.

"They fell off."

"What?!"

Clearing his throat rather loudly, Arthur looked up from the spot where she had been kicking and shrugged helplessly, the tip of his blackened boot nudging an half-empty bowl of something very questionable. "The chains," he explained and gestured to the corner with his chin, "they fell off when you left the last time."

The warrior stared at the chains, now laying uselessly on the dirty floor and thought about what the prince was trying to say. "You… you think I did that?" Her voice was tight with suppressed laughter but it erupted the moment he nodded once - the force of the manic, uncontrollable laughter made Merlyn clutch her sides as she shook. "Y-you… you think I'd help you?! Ahhahh… Oh, that-that just made my day!"

The snickering didn't stop even when Arthur continued, sounding more desperate than before as he watched Merlyn try to control the way her body was shaking, "why aren't the walls leaking anymore?" Oh, she tried to answer, she really did but the nonsense question only worsened the laughter, causing the woman to stumble a bit and lean against the wall opposite from the cell's door. "You did something, I know it, Merlyn! I-I.. you were touching the walls, it had to-"

"Now, sire… why on Earth would I do that?" She interrupted his strange ranting, actually slightly worried that he had already gone insane after spending only six days in the cell. Not so strong, are you? Wiping away the tears of mirth gathering in the corners of her eyes, the witch started to shake her head and pushed herself away from the wall. "What would I gain from that, huh?"

Seeing the prince this time… it did nothing to her. She didn't really see him as anything, a former brother-in-arms, her commander, or even a prisoner. It was just a man who she hated, nothing more, not even the rumored King of her prophecy. He looked like a man, slowly losing himself in the darkness of the dungeons without a way out. Merlyn knew the feeling - before, she had been struggling to find any words to say when she saw the man locked up and beaten, but now that her head was clear… it did nothing to her.

"I-I don't know, but I know you and I know your mag-"

Surging forward when her anger suddenly flared, Merlyn slammed a hand against the stone next to the door and flashed her eyes at the prince. "Do not talk about it," she growled, feeling pleasantly warm inside when the prince flinched and then let a small grin spread to her lips. "You can't confuse me anymore, Arthur,-" his name was purred in the most sweetest though falsest voice she could muster and it made the man grimace, "-I'm not falling for your lies. I do not want you free nor do I want the kingdom as it was."

Her closeness to the doors made the metal heat and it got Merlyn to jerk away again, glaring at the bars as she silently paced back and forth. The protection spell was clearly the Priestess' doing, since the woman was so paranoid of Merlyn's loyalties which the warrior didn't really understand - why would Morgause be suspicious of her, but still let her be a part of the plan? The most obvious option was that she expected Merlyn to just up and vanish in to thin air like before, but why would Merlyn even want to do that? She had assassins to train, a decent and secure life inside the kingdom - and most importantly, Mordred was there. So what if two of her least favorite people plus the prince she loathed were there too, Merlyn could always just escape to Mordred's arms if the world became too much. Then another possibility was that Morgause thought Merlyn still cared about the prophecy, which she didn't!

there's nothing holding me back, no Destiny or anything…

Stopping mid-step, Merlyn's mind reeled - was that her voice? When had she ever-

"Merlyn?" Arthur had somehow appeared right by the door and his tentative voice caused the warrior to spin on her heels, just to recoil backwards when the prince's face was too close for her liking. "Are you-"

"Do you know what was the best part of coming back here and finding the kingdom in a chaos?" She interrupted his deceiving worry as she stopped backing up just to stare at him with her head tilted to the right, all coherent thoughts crumbling under the memory of the first time she stepped to the kingdom after waking up. The elevating feeling had crashed and burned for a while, but it was there again, lighting a fire in her gut and making her lips ever-so slowly stretch into a soft smile that clashed against the sharp, dark look in her eyes. "I only had to sit back and watch. It was a beautiful view from the battlements might I add, all burning and blazing with the pitiful peasants and pathetic blood-capes running around like ants among the wreckage."

"Beau- " the prince choked on the word, backing up from the door while he shook his head. His hands came up to the sides of his head, pushing his finger through his hair only to make it stand up even more before gesturing at her and around him wildly with both hands, "you protected them! This kingdom, those people! You almost died more than once for them! You-"

His denial only widened the smirk on Merlyn's lips, cruelly taunting the panicking prince who's eyes were glued on her, unable to look away even if he wanted to - it was a masochistic fascination that Merlyn was all too familiar with. "I lied," told the warrior, voice sweet as if talking to a child that had a hard time to understand. "Why would someone like me protect this kingdom? People who'd see me burn for who I was born to be, a prince raised to be a mindless puppet for a king who cares not for innocence, but is purely driven by his grief and hypocrisy. Those are no people I would ever protect, but rather wait and see them die."

And, oh, she had once almost achieved her goal to remove the king from the Earth and no one would've ever known it was her.

"Did the Questing Beast do its work?" A voice called as soon as Merlyn got out of the rickety boat that had led her over the water. The warrior looked up from the muddy grass that threatened to soak her boots and was met by two wide, sky-blue eyes watching her not too far away. "Is he bitten?"

Nodding, Merlyn flashed a grin and wiped the back of her trousers clean. "Yep, everything went as it was supposed to," she hummed with hands now on her hips, observing the almost twitchy Priestess curiously. "But you know that already. What is it that you really want to ask?"

The pointed look she gave was enough to make the older woman to relent and sigh, though Merlyn saw right through the innocent act. "I just do not understand why we can't just let the prince die and then take out Uther ourselves," Nimueh explained as she walked by the sacrificial stone in the middle of the abandoned courtyard, hissing the king's name like a curse while still looking calm, "I, myself, would rather enjoy it."

"The prince needs to live so we'll have leverage in the future and, frankly, I've done too much just to see him die too soon without enjoying hia demise first. Worry not, Priestess," Merlyn huffed, grinning again when their eyes met, "neither of them will live long."

Before Mordred and Morgause even met, there had been another Priestess after the death of the Pendragons'. Even though Merlyn had gone behind Mordred's back for the first, she had needed outside help so no one would suspect her - and Nimueh hadn't cared even if someone would find out it was her. The older Priestess had been even more cruel than Morgause, but at least bold enough to stand up against Merlyn and try to mess with her - she had wanted to carve out Uther's heart herself, so instead of using Uther's life for Arthur's, she had taken Morgana's. And well, despite not being that interested if Morgana survived, Merlyn hadn't exactly liked the way Nimueh had screwed with her. Thus, Nimueh had become the latest victim in the warrior's ever-growing list.

Her smile dropped as she stepped back to the door, steely look dead-set on the man in front of her halfway under the shadows. "I did everything here just for this ending, made deals with a Priestess to get a monster to bite you, fought with an undead soldier to keep the charade of a loyal little warrior-," another step closer, she felt the heat of the door on her skin again but ignored it, "-let myself be thrown out of a window when the Sidhe tried to screw up everything, made friends with Morgana to keeps tabs on her for Morgause…" she let her list trail off, mind stuck on a faraway memory of riding Saewig towards the Isle of the Blessed and letting her magic run wild, ecstatic and ready for the upcoming freedom… Suddenly grinning like a beast over its prey, Merlyn's gaze focused again and landed on the prince, who looked like he was on the verge of tears, still shaking his head in denial. "And now it's here and it feels wonderful."

"What happened to you..?"

"You ask that all the time, aren't you tired of it yet? Or have you been hit on the head too many times?" She received no answer from the man, though he was unconsciously taking small steps closer to the door as if a man enchanted. "I was always like this, sire, you were just too blinded by your misguided love to see it."

His pain was all too clear in his eyes when Merlyn said the word love - a word that got her insides churn unpleasantly just for thinking about being involved with the prince for real. But he fought through the emotional agony, forcing himself to maintain their eye contact as he stopped right in front of her. Only few inches of sturdy metal stood between them and his fingers were twitching as if he wanted to use his bare hands to rip the door off of its hinges. "Then why do you keep secrets from him? If you trust him and magic is now free, why do you still hide?"

"I don't…" But she did. What had she told Morgause just the day before? No one has ever asked so I'm not lying, right? Well, that wasn't exactly true. There had been times when Merlyn had been forced to use her magic in the presence of Mordred, but when asked about it, the warrior had lied. Dozens of times, actually. Did that make her a liar, like the prince? But… the difference was that Merlyn was just protecting herself, her Des- no, but there was no Destiny anymore, so what was there to protect? Mordred would be elated, Morgause would be relieved from the oath and maybe Morgana would stop trying to intimidate her every goddamn day? But… she couldn't. Living behind the façade of a normal person with just a massive set of skills had been her safe haven for most of her life so letting go of it felt absolutely impossible. She trusted Mordred. Tried to somehow trust Morgause and Morgana too. So… Why was Merlyn still keeping secrets? No bloody idea. The tiny, timid voice in her head kept insisting that it it was because she really didn't want to reveal the truth of herself, while the other argued that it was just a part of who she was now - a lie in a lie on top of a lie inside a tough exterior. It had to be that.

"See? You don't trust them, they want you to just think like that," insisted the prince, sounding more urgent than before as Merlyn spaced off, "why are you hiding if you could be free?"

"Stop-"

Answer the man, Merlyn.

No, no, no- "Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"The warrior hissed as she grabbed her head and shut her burning eyes, out loud even when the demand wasn't audible to anyone but her, it was right there next to her ear, whispering over her shoulder while its strong hold was trying to draw Merlyn back to the madness she had escaped from, the sin so dark that even the stars couldn't shine through it - what had Lanc-, no, Mordred? What had he said? You are stronger than this. So, no, she was not doing this again, not anymore, not ever - no more voices, no, no, nononoNO! She was not weak anymore, she was not haunted by the ghosts of her past, victims or living people, she was Merlyn, not the Assassin nor the Knight, the voices would not get her again.

"Merlyn-" But no more was the witch letting the broken prince spread his poisonous lies and help the voices come back, no longer was she even going to let him try.

Merlyn's eyes snapped open and locked on the man, swirling molten gold as her body jerked at the burning door. Claw-like grip latched on to the bars despite the way her skin sizzled like cooking meat at the impact, teeth bared in a furious sneer while her voice came out as a growl more fit to an animal than a human.

"I'll sit back and watch once more when the time comes. Watch the people rot from the inside out without food for their sinful hatred, watch how their king's mind blackens by the spell eating away his heart and soul..." Her other, blistered hand snapped forward so quick that the weakened prince wasn't able to react in time and grabbed his jaw, bringing his face closer to her own. "I am going to watch how their golden prince, their once future king wastes away to nothing under his home, his white-stoned castle while his kingdom slowly and painfully withers and dies, just to be long forgotten by the time I move."

The sneer made way to an impossibly wide smile, the partial light created deep, angular shadows on the witches pale skin, making her look out of this world, an ethereal nightmare born in the deepest pits of human imagination. There were drops of blood pooling around her burning fingers, slicking up the metal surface and drawing the horrorstricken blue eyes to them, before snapping back up to the golden ones. "I'm going to watch this castle, this kingdom crumble to dust. Because when the time comes... Emrys will watch, being Hell and Heaven to this plain, erase the last marks of the Pendragons and bring forth a new beginning. And she'll love every. Last. Second of it."

The pain in her soul for stumping down on her Destiny one last time, was worth the memory of the devastation on the prince's face.

 

***

 

Despite being terrible at healing spells, erasing any evidence of her little visit down to the dungeons worked surprisingly well since there was no marks on her palms the moment she walked back up. And no one even noticed her strolling up the stairs and back to the corridor leading her straight to the Great Hall of Camelot, not even when she walked right past the assassins who were supposed to guards the door to the cells. Idiots. She may or may not have thrown a nasty look at the two for it, which they answered by looking quickly away.

The Great Hall was filled with young assassins, ages ranging between thirteen and nineteen and armed from head to toes probably. Not that Merlyn was any better, though her weapons were in better shape than theirs - there were slightly rusty swords and daggers, as well as a few that had chips already gone, and even a few maces with missing spikes. Sure, some had great looking weapons too - Merlyn spotted two girls with sharp, glinting sabers and a boy with a sword that looked like it had been stolen from a knight, though that could've been the case actually.

There must've been at least thirty or more girls and boys, all dressed in dark clothes and chattering away as if they were just any kids and not ones who killed and stole for money. But, as expected, the chatter started to rapidly die away as Merlyn made her way through the crowd, feeling their eyes on her. The tension that filled the air was heavy and suppressing, but it felt like a self-knit blanket on the warrior's shoulders - home.

"All right, listen up," her commanding voice rang as soon as she reached the dais at the other end of the room and swiftly spun on her heels to face the people, startling few of the closest ones, "before we get started on anything, I want to ask you one question,-" her dark eyes roamed from face to face and soon she raised an eyebrow but kept her face stoic, "-raise your hand if you still won't take orders from me?"

No hands went up and it warmed her heart after it had frozen from the hatred the broken prince had made her feel.

A smile spread to her lips now and she saw that it relaxed most them. "Fantastic! Now," her voice turned more cheery as she clapped her hands together, a glint of excitement growing in her eyes, "shall we begin?"

The kids spread out on the sides of the Great Hall at her order, curious eyes watching Merlyn pace back and forth in front of the dais with fingers thoughtfully rubbing her chin. It was strange for them that the warrior had decided to train them inside the castle when they had perfectly good training grounds out there, but Merlyn had made up her mind. Well, she might have told them that not all wars are fought outside so why should all practices be there, when in truth Merlyn just wanted to mess with the two witches in the castle. Grinning absentmindedly, she could almost imagine the annoyance Morgause would feel when she'd have to fix the damage.

"You," Merlyn suddenly pointed at one of the boys and caused everyone around him to take a step away, "attack me." The boy's eyes widened almost comically and followed Merlyn as she stopped walking and leaned her weight on her left leg, hip cocking to the side a bit. He was quite big, maybe eighteen or so with a reddish brown hair cropped short and a tunic that revealed his gigantic arms. He also had two swords strapped to his back, though they were actual long swords, not the shorter kind that Merlyn had on hers. But, he seemed to be a slow-witted one since he didn't move an inch and made the warrior sigh rather loudly while rolling her eyes and wave a hand at the boy, "did I bloody stutter? Attack me! And do it like you mean it, I'm not made of glass."

The young man blinked a few times before taking a slow, deep breath and carefully drew out his weapons as he stepped forward. There was still a good twenty-five feet between them but it felt at least twice as long with how slow the boy was advancing. Merlyn didn't move an inch from where she was standing and her expressionless face gave nothing away to the diligent, calculating look she was receiving. When he had crossed half of the distance, there was the tiniest twitch in the boy's left arm which she took note of though didn't look away from his muddy brown eyes.

Eight feet apart, the arm twitched again and the muscles around his left shoulder tensed and there was a brief flicker in his eyes when he made up his mind, surging forward with a surprising speed for someone so heavy and his left blade jabbed made a wide, fast arc at Merlyn's right arm. Merlyn's hand snapped up to grab his right upper arm while her opposite leg kicked at the hand bringing the blade closer - the impact against his fingers got the blade to fly away at the same time Merlyn turned to the left and tightened her hold of the assassin's right arm. Just as her back made contact with his wide chest, the warrior hooked her foot around his ankle and yanked forward, making them both fall - he fell hard on his back with her on top while Merlyn managed to wrestle the second blade away from him and soon roll to her feet just to point his own blade at his throat.

It all took less than two minutes.

"Care to guess where you went wrong?" The woman asked in a calm voice, not breathless at all while he was trying to make his lungs work after being completely winded. He still was able to shake his head in denial though it only made the scowl on Merlyn's face deepen and change her attention to the others observing. "Anyone have any guesses?"

The young man used her distraction as an invitation to try and retaliate, but before he could even twitch his hand at her leather covered legs, the warrior placed her boot over his throat and poked his cheek with the tip of the stolen blade, giving the boy a disapproving look just as a low murmur caught her attention. The words were so quiet that it was a bit difficult hear them since they were almost lost under the scuffle of boots as they tried to find the best spot so they'd see everything and the boy's labored breath, but her trained ear still caught most of it.

"..you think the rumors… are true?"

"They can't… not all of them.."

Glancing at the direction where the whispers were coming from, Merlyn was actually surprised to see three familiar faces with their heads bent down and closer to each other, trying to hide behind the boys that stood tall in front of them. "You, in the corner," Merlyn called loudly as she eased the pressure of her foot from her opponents throat, nodding to him as an permission to get up. The boys that were unintentionally covering the whisperers behind them, looked around when they realized Merlyn was looking at their direction. As they finally figured that she wasn't actually looking at them but behind them, they awkwardly slid to the sides to reveal the girls that weren't paying any attention.

There were three girls, two of them blonde and one with a brunette hair. They all looked maybe fifteen summers at most, and even when Merlyn knew they were a part of Mordred's people, they looked too innocent to be here. The brunette one was the girl Merlyn had saved from being choked to death, there was still a dark mark around her throat where the attackers arms had been tightening. And, incidentally, the girl who had choked her, was one of the whisperers too. Her nose wasn't black anymore, or crooked even, but she looked like she had been in another fight after it based on the black eye.

But the third one was an actual surprise. Even when Merlyn's mind had been hazy with her magic going crazy and getting free from the cuffs, she still remembered the slowly widening, suspicious light brown eyes trying to peer under Merlyn's hood when she had threatened the older warrior with a dagger just to be thrown to the ground. But, at least the girl had seemed to remember the promise that had been made - if she survived, she should come to Merlyn.

Long seconds ticked by as Merlyn gave the boy his blade back and stared at the still oblivious girls, her patience growing thin with each of them and her shoulders tensing up in irritation. Flicking her eyes to the boy closest to them, she didn't need any words to communicate - the bald, dark-skinned boy poked at the brunette girl on the shoulder to get her attention and then jerked his chin at Merlyn's direction when the girl lifted her head. In the blink of an eye, three pairs of startled eyes spun to stare at Merlyn who raised an eyebrow at them. "Done gossiping?" She questioned in a flat voice, but didn't wait for an answer as she continued, "what are your names?"

The girl with the previously broken nose was called Juliet, the one who had been choked was Fiona and the one rude enough not to let an older person go first up the wall introduced herself as Catherine. Not that Merlyn really cared about their names, it was just a lot easier to think about them with names rather than the girl who's nose I broke or the one who was almost strangled to death or, her favorite, the one I thought would die before the sun rose. It was about convenience, not familiarity.

"Catherine, Juliet and Fiona, our lucky trio," the woman purred sweetly and clasped her hands together behind her back as her feet led the warrior closer to the young ones, "you get to help me with training today."

The three pairs of eyes widened the same time as a few snickers left the others. "W-what?"

"You heard me. You have two choices, help me,-" the warrior gestured at herself with a smile before it turned into a nasty sneer, "-or go shovel shit to the stables. You see, I have only a few rules when I try to extend my knowledge to you young ones," Merlyn's voice rose now as she addressed the others too, all who straightened their backs and listened closely. With each rule, Merlyn lifted a finger as she walked by the rows of people, "the first one; when I talk, you listen and when I try to teach, you pay attention. I do not care to fight for the chance to speak, but if I have to, it won't be just verbal. The second one; you will do as I say, or you are sent to shit-duty. Believe me, it is not a joke and I did not make up that rule. And the third one, in my opinion the most important one-" her eyes snapped back to the three girls, "-if you have questions, ask them. Do not whisper behind my back and especially do not listen to rumors. If I don't want to answer, I won't but nothing is stopping you from asking."

The boy who Merlyn had used as an example, raised his hand slowly to get the warrior's attention - and got everyone else's at the same time. His cheeks colored in embarrassment when Merlyn quirked an eyebrow at his manners, but she nodded once for permission. "So, uh," he started awkwardly, clearing his throat a bit as he fiddled with the blades still loosely in his hands, "not to poke the metaphorical hornet's nest, but… who are you then? I-I mean, we all know what happened yesterday, but… all we have are the rumors. So, who are you? W-where did you come from, how did you get here, why-"

"Whoa! That's… a lot of questions." Did he even take a breath? Merlyn's eyes were wide as she interrupted the boy, hands raised up as a sign for him to calm down. But he was right - she could tell them to stop listening to the gossip, but would they if they didn't know what was true? Pursing her lips slightly, Merlyn's eyes moved from one curious face to another before she sighed dramatically and let her shoulders slump. "Story time it is then. Gather around, children!" Waving her hand as a gesture for the kids to come closer, Merlyn spun and walked over to the dais.

The young ones obediently followed Merlyn but stayed down while she walked the stairs up to the dais, removing the scabbards from her back in the process. The daggers still hung on her belt as they always did, but it wasn't like anyone was stupid enough to attack her anymore since the spectacle yesterday.

Lazily strolling to the middle of the dais, she spoke, "I'd appreciate if you wouldn't interrupt me in-"

"Isn't that the throne?"

The warrior squeezed her eyes shut and breathed deep while counting down from ten, before plastering a tight smile on her lips as she made eye contact with a furiously blushing girl at the front and dramatically slumped to sit on the throne.  "As I was saying, if you interrupt, I'll send you to shit-duty or to the stocks."

Satisfied that the kids were going to actually listen now, the tension rolled away from her shoulders and she chuckled lightly, waving a hand to them so they'd get comfortable - it wasn't a short story. Merlyn did the same; she flung her legs to dangle over one of the wooden armrests while her back leaned against the other, fingers automatically finding a dagger to idly play with so she'd gave something to do while talking. Staying still wasn't really her thing these days.

"So, it all started about eighteen years ago, when I was three…"

And so, she told her story - well, the most important parts and nothing about her secret identity. She told about being kidnapped, about her mother's untimely death and the miserable life she had had with the blasted Priestess now calling the shots in Camelot too.

Not skimming over any details of the gruesome acts she had to make as a child, from killing to torturing to sending severed heads of the knights' back to the kingdom they had come from - the warrior didn't even need to explain how she had escaped at the age of twelve, not after they had seen her skills at this age of almost twenty-one.

The part that got all the young ones on their metaphorical toes was when Merlyn explained Gregor finding her and starting to personally teach her with the assistance of Myror, how it had led to the young assassin climbing the ranks and becoming who she is now, only to lose sight of what was real and leave.

She grit her teeth telling about the traitorous man who had ratted her out and then almost killed her when she had tried to escape, how she had lived alone with little to no food under the skies.

And lastly, about arriving to Camelot. How it had felt like a cosmic joke to end up in a kingdom that was so deeply corrupted and ugly, and how she had eventually reached out to Mordred again - and thus started the revolution.

But, unbeknownst to her, she wasn't the only one telling the story at the same time, miles and miles away from the white-stoned castle and the once-honorable woman, in a forest right between two kingdoms with a waterfall making its music in the story's background. Merlyn wasn't the only one explaining how she had met the prince of Camelot or how she had become the man's right hand - but only one of the versions was true.

And it wasn't the one she was telling, oh no.

The true version was the one that a man listened from the maw of a beast, back turned to the words but fingers gripping the pieces of wood in his hands. A man, known only as someone who lived alone in a cave, thought to be a mad-man by some and a dangerous one by the rest - but truth be told, he was neither. No, not normally at least.

But hearing the end of the creature's story, he was both - there was a spark in his eyes. Eyes, familiar to the beast when the man turned and locked eyes with it - patient gold against midnight blue glinting dangerously.

"Take me to her, Kilgharrah," the man growled, more like the creature he commanded than a man he once saw himself as - but the situation was not one he had thought he'd find himself in. "Take me to my daughter."

Chapter Text

He knew that there were others stuffed in the cells under the castle, he could hear them. All week long, he could hear them shout profanities to the people guarding them or bang against the metal bars with no reason other than show where their loyalties lay, not so much to get out since they knew they couldn't - there were too many guards and most of Camelot's men were injured. None of them had accepted help with their injuries, mundane or magical, and he didn't really know if it was a good thing or… just plain stubbornness. But because of that, Lancelot couldn't accept help either and his injuries were beginning to weaken him so much that he wasn't able to stay awake for more than a few hours and his sleep wasn't that peaceful either - filled with nightmares and violent images of past and present, of people from both times that were now almost all under the same roof.

No one had visited him, even his food was thrown in from the tiny window in the door. It was always the same - stale bread enough for one meal but not for a day and a half-empty waterskin. Every day at the same exact time, but the time was never just about the food. It was a time the guards, who were assigned to bring the prisoners food, stayed behind Lancelot's door and taunting him, calling him traitor and pathetic among other things. It wasn't the names that bothered him, but the fact that they seemed to believe it even when the man had left with Mordred's blessing. The curly-haired psychopath had never refused his need to leave, but it was clear that Mordred had changed his mind or decided that even asking had been a betrayal.

Groaning silently, he moved his position on the floor of his lonely, dark cell. It was one of the smallest there was and probably the dirtiest too. Only the spot where he was laying on his less injured side, wasn't covered in mold and mud, the darkened stone walls were dripping water and there were no windows to give him a view of what was happening outside - not that he could even rise up from the ground to see.

"Why are you doing this?!"

For a moment, Lancelot thought he was dreaming of hearing that voice again, as panicked as it was. The voice kept shouting, the sound echoed in the corridors and was coming closer and closer. Fighting through the pain, Lancelot was ready to force himself up from the ground - but just as he managed to roll on his knees with great difficulty, he heard another voice and froze on the spot.

"Shut up already! Shut. Up. Or I'll do something much worse than lock you up."

The door was pulled open and only a second later a figure dressed in a light blue dress was shoved in. She fell rather ungracefully with a cry of surprise, but didn't stay down. Gwen pushed herself on her behind and crawled backwards away from the door while her assailant grinned at Lancelot, wild eyes locked on his sad ones, "I'll come back soon to decide what to do with you, Guinevere."

As the door was slammed shut, Lancelot shook away the daze and snapped to look at Gwen, who had her back turned to him. The hem of her dress was close enough for the temporarily-mute man to reach and tug gently, causing the maid to shriek and spin around, nearly kicking him in the process but he was just barely able to tilt backwards to avoid the impact. But twisting like that in his state was not good, and soon he found himself falling on his injured side again, grunting through his clenched teeth when the pain shot through his body and forced himself to roll more on his front to ease the pressure.

"Oh my Lord, Lancelot!" Even with his eyes shut as he pressed his forehead against the dirty, rough stone floor, Lancelot could imagine the way Gwen's eyes would widen in shock and in the matter of minutes, a pair of warm trembling hands were placed on his shoulders from the back. Guinevere didn't dare to move him, but the firm touch was enough to tell him that she really was there, it wasn't a trick created by his fuzzy mind. "Are you-- Lancelot, can you move?"

In lieu of answering, Lancelot inhaled slowly to steady his beating heart before carefully rolling to the less painful side. His dirty tunic left marks on the light blue fabric of her dress when his back touched Gwen's knees, but the closeness helped him ground himself to the reality. "…are you really here?" His throat was dry as a desert and voice raspy, but she heard him - as Lancelot blinked his eyes slowly open, he could see the blurry shape of Guinevere kneeling right next to him, holding his head in her lap and watching him with tear-filled eyes. The hurt and fear were so clear even when he didn't see well and the sight made him frown. "Don't be sad, Gwen… why are you sad?"

Laughing wetly, the woman shook her head the way that made some loose curls fall to frame her face as she gazed down at him and lifted a hand to softly stroke his grime covered hair. "I'm not sad, I'm worried," she murmured and pushed her slender fingers through his hair, letting her eyes wander slightly over Lancelot's beaten body. "I wasn't sure if-- I didn't know…" I didn't know if you were alive, was there but left unsaid as her voice trailed off and was replaced with a broken sob that escaped her throat. But Gwen swallowed her tears down and gave the man a wobbly smile, trying so hard to stay strong like she always did - during the battle, he had found her trying to help the citizens to escape, fighting for their lives but she was unfortunately captured with Lancelot, when he had been injured. It hadn't stopped her from trying her best to protect him. "I'm just glad you're here, Lancelot."

He was too weak to lift up his arm, but with her help Lancelot's palm was pressed on her wet cheek. "I'm so sorry, Guinevere, I-"

But the maid shook her head fiercely and it was her turn to frown as she threaded her fingers through his and squeezed hard. "Don't you dare apologize!" Gwen hissed, placing her free hand on his cheek this time. Lancelot was completely captured by her warm brown eyes, filled with the fire he had always seen - it wasn't snuffed out by their situation, and that was one of those things that had made him fall for her so fast, and why he looked up to her so; she never gave up, no matter what. "I-I know that you feel responsible, because it's-- but this is not on you, okay? You can't make everything better."

He wished he could believe it. For all his life, Lancelot had only really called one person family after losing the one he was born into - Merlyn. She had been the annoying though very dangerous little sister to him for as long as he had known her, even before she had even liked the man. From the silent, stoic girl to the witty, amazing woman, Lancelot had been there. And now… now it felt like he hadn't only let down her, but everyone. How was it possible that he hadn't seen this coming? How had he not known that she was in trouble, or… or how she had been lying, which ever the real answer was? He had sworn to be there for Merlyn, through thick and thin, through her trying to lock away her darkness… and now it seemed that he had failed her, that Merlyn had never healed completely and now her darkness was free again, casting shadows so dark over the land that they couldn't even see where they were heading.

The feeling of failure was beginning to be familiar to him.

But Lancelot put on his mask and smiled softly at his love watching him intently from above, squeezing her hand. "I know," he lied, always the master of the art of hiding and portraying the calm man everyone knew, "I know."

 

***

 

The darkness of sleep had fallen over him without Lancelot even realizing, perhaps because he was finally able to relax as he was held so softly and lovingly by the dark-skinned, caring maid who had kept stroking his hair for who knows how long. Maybe she too needed the confirmation that they were actually in the same place. After Morgana had briefly appeared outside the door and just stared in with such deep hatred in her eyes that even Lancelot had felt colder than before, Gwen had held on to him even tighter.

From what she had been able to tell before Lancelot had fallen asleep, the princess had kept Gwen as her maid despite knowing that the older woman resented Morgana for siding with the enemy. The only reason she had been thrown down to the dungeons was that she had managed to duplicate a key that would open up all the cells - but when she had been trying to get in, Merlyn had caught her. The dark-haired warrior had been unusually cruel towards Gwen, forcing her to follow and had kept glaring at her with so much hatred that Gwen had thought she had been led to her death. But even with that, Lancelot hadn't detected anything but sadness when Gwen had spoken about the warrior, though he had fallen asleep before he could've asked about it.

Blearily blinking his eyes open, he was immediately greeted with the sight of Gwen's face, though turned upwards as she gazed the door with unseeing eyes, worrying her lip between her teeth. Despite the situation, she still looked like she was well, if not tired based on the darker areas beneath her eyes. The dress was wrinkled and slightly dirty from being dragged to the dungeons, her curls were falling away from the bun she had had at the back of her head but still there were hints of the well put-together maid he knew.

"Hey," he murmured, smiling a bit weakly when Gwen startled from her reverie and looked down, "are you all right?"

She huffed in annoyance, but there was a small tug to the corner of her lips as she brushed his hair away from his forehead. "I should be asking you that," Guinevere countered and frowned when her eyes fell to the side Lancelot was holding out of habit. The tunic was torn where his opponent had sliced with his blade and through the gab Gwen could undoubtedly see how dark the bruise still was. "Why haven't you accepted help?"

"And let the others think that I really am a traitor by heart?" A wry smile rose to his lips and shifted, grimacing a bit when his side ached as he pushed himself up from the floor, but still needed Gwen's help to lean against the cold wall. "I can't, Gwen. Who knows what they'll think, or if the help is even something I'd get."

"Why wouldn't you get it? If the people are offering it to the others…"

A sigh left Lancelot's lips and his head lulled slightly back, but his eyes never left Gwen's face. She was hesitating, her left hand was resting against Lancelot's knee but the maid was trying to keep her distance. "They call me Lancelot the Filthy Traitor down here," he answered finally, voice heavy with bitterness and reached out to brush a strand of curls behind Gwen's ear. The sleep had given him some of his strength back, but his arm still slumped down like dead weight after the act. "It seems Mordred decided that me leaving was a betrayal, even when I was free to do so."

Guinevere frowned at his words as she mulled them over, her brown eyes losing focus though she still moved closer to the man. He lifted his arm up and pulled the woman against his uninjured side despite how the motion pulled his bruised skin and made him wince - the closeness made him feel safer too. It had been nine months since he had actually been able to put his feelings into words when he had built up the courage to talk to Gwen's father - and he was a fearsome warrior, so being afraid to talk to a blacksmith was strange for him. But it had gone well, he had gotten Tom's blessing and went straight to the maid. Elyan too had given him his blessing; the once-wayward brother was important to Gwen and Elyan adored his sister, so of course Lancelot had to seek his approval too. Luckily Elyan had known the former-assassin for a while before that.

But then, after only two months, everything had turned violently upside down when Merlyn had vanished during a journey with the prince and Gwaine, and Lancelot had been distraught - even Gwen hadn't been able to console him properly. It had broken his heart to see how worried the woman had been, but he hadn't been able to talk about it, hadn't been able to put into words how miserable he had felt. So, after two months… he had left with Gwaine to find his friend. Of course Guinevere had been terribly worried and sad that he had to leave, and even offered to come along, but she still had shown the courage he loved and understood why he had to go look.

He hadn't been able to see the results of his failure. He should've been with them, but had thought that Merlyn would protect them and be able to come back from retrieving the Cup of Life - she always came back.

"Why is M-Merlyn with them, Lancelot?" Gwen's quiet voice pushed his thoughts of the past away. Her eyes were on his face, but the man couldn't look back. He didn't want to show that he didn't know - or didn't want to believe, more likely. "I've never seen her like this…"

"I have." His mumbled words made Guinevere tense beside him, but he still didn't look down. Lancelot's mind had already turned to old, nearly forgotten memories that felt clearer than ever now that the warrior reminded him of those times. "…and I'm not sure if you really want to know."

 

The ruined courtyard of the fortress was filled with life as almost everyone had gathered there to watch the fight they had been dying to see. The girl had been training in secret so that no one would see her true skill or distract her - or that's what Gregor and Myror told. Lancelot thought differently; he knew that Gregor wanted his other assassins to fear his authority even more when they saw the new, deadly weapon he had. She had been there almost three months now but they barely saw her do anything but walk around the fortress as if to memorize the layout.

The girl couldn't have been more than thirteen. The top of her head could barely reach Myror shoulder as she walked beside him, her long, braided black hair reached the middle of her shoulders and her whole tiny figure was covered in tight, sturdy leather just like everyone else did, but on her… it looked more like something she had to wear, not something she needed to protect herself or to blend to the shadows. Lancelot was far enough that he couldn't see her properly, but the chills he felt when he caught a glimpse of her cold expression were enough and got him to recline stiffly against the crumbled stone balustrade behind him, though his eyes never left the crowd or the two kids put against each other.

Mordred walked from the other side, also clad in leather but with a smug smirk on his lips though his eyes were practically glued on the girl, just like every other time Lancelot saw the boy - always following the black-haired girl like a lost, obsessed puppy even when she gave him no attention. Lancelot wasn't even sure if they knew each other. But the way he was able to keep on the bravado of the best soldier Gregor had made it clear that he knew he was good and knew he'd win - and Lancelot too knew he had it in him. But still… something made Lance bet his money on the girl, as tiny as she was.

And, as it turned out, he was correct.

The fight was brutal, filled with quick spins and harsh kick, flashes of steel and grunts of pain - though those were mostly from Mordred. The girl didn't make a peep, not even when she was thrown backwards when Mordred landed a kick on her stomach; she just flipped around and retaliated twice as hard, which had resulted to the boy relying on magic - it hadn't worked though. The girl had probably expected it, since she was able to duck and jump out of the way every time a blast of fire came at her, and eventually, after the fastest, most exciting though terrifying hour Lancelot had ever experienced, the girl had a blade against Mordred's throat while her other hand had grabbed a fistful of his hair to yank his head back to expose his neck.

That was the first time Lancelot saw the girl smile, but it only made him feel even colder.

 

Clearing his throat, Lancelot forced the memory away and let his chin drop against his chest. "You remember what I told you about her, about her past? That it was… very complicated, and I couldn't tell you if she didn't want me to." He didn't look at Gwen, but felt her nod slowly since her cheek was against his shoulder. "It's-- it's not the nicest story, you need to know that. I want to tell you, but… but please don't think differently of her, or me, before we know all the facts, okay?"

And when he was sure she was ready to listen, he told everything but the part of her magic, twisting the story so it sounded like Merlyn had gotten help from someone else to create the wall, just like the warrior herself had told once. But everything else was the same - how he had actually feared her at first even though she had been only thirteen and so small; how they had become something resembling friends but Merlyn had hated the fact that he had been going on and on about a better life;

"She hated me at first, you know," he started with a tiny huff of mirthless laughter, leaning slightly more against the woman by his side. "Like, not even a little bit, fully loathed and probably wanted me gone more than anything. I was-- well, I can't say better than her, but definitely more liked among the people and in high demand with the customers, but on the other hand I had been there for a few years already. And when we started to actually talk, the only thing we had in common was the need to be better than others, to continue learning and maybe even teach others… but we started with each other. There were moments when I really thought she would attack me, because I talked a lot about the life I wanted, but she didn't want anything else."

How one day after a job they had done together, Merlyn had finally told about the Priestess who had taken her, making the girl do horrible things and how she had grown to love it; how Merlyn had been with Mordred and how she had been as terrible as him… or possibly even worse.

"I knew something was up with her the first time I saw her smile after she won a fight. It looked like it was the only moment she could feel happiness. Only later did I learn that it was actually the truth. After one longer job we did together, it was… almost a year after I saw her the first time, she told me about Morgause kidnapping her when she was a small child and-- the woman, she…" he had to stop to find the words, so he wouldn't spill Merlyn's secret. Gwen stayed silent while he tried to think, just watching him frown deep in thought. "I'm not sure what she wanted from Merlyn exactly, but she taught her. First just to read and write, then languages and later, to fight. When she was only ten, Merlyn told that she had lost the compassion she had felt for others. That the only time Morgause would compliment her was after Merlyn had either killed someone or tortured information out of another."

Gwen looked calm as he talked, but her eyes widened a bit when Lancelot came to the part where Merlyn had been willingly going on jobs just so she could spill blood, but he explained that her twisted personality had been the result of Morgause and the things Merlyn had had to do there, how it had changed her mentality so much that she had believed there was nothing else for her, that she was destined to be a monster.

"I'm not sure what she did exactly, because I was always too busy doing my own thing or we were out separately, but every single time she came back from a job covered in blood and genuinely smiling." At this point Guinevere let out a tiny gasp, though didn't try to interrupt his story. "Then Mordred started to go with her, and-- what you need to know, is that Mordred was always awful. No emotion, nothing, just focused on the job, but with Merlyn it was like a statue coming to life. He smiled a-and laughed, spoke to other people too… He liked to play with his targets, truly and brutally torture them… So they were the perfect match."

Glancing sideways, Lancelot caught the moment realization dawned on Gwen's eyes. Her lips quivered as the maid tried to find something to say, but the words seemed to fail her, so she settled into finding confirmation. "So, she… played with them too?"

The only thing Lancelot could do was to nod.

And he also explained shortly how Merlyn had met Gwaine and that had been the turning point and she had tried to be better, stopped spending time with Mordred and left the violence to others. Grimacing mentally, he left out the part of him and Merlyn being… very close for a while, but still said that he had been there for her as much as he could, but Gregor had made it difficult by locking her up and practically torturing the warrior, making her go insane in the darkness and with her guilt. And because of that, Merlyn had turned to magic that had locked away that part of her, so she could grow as a person.

"…and then, she started to plan an escape," Lancelot concluded the story with a heavy sigh, letting his head drop back and hit the wall with a dull thump, "and you already know how well that went. I almost killed her because I was mad that she'd leave without me… I hadn't known that I had scared her so that was because she hurt me, and I definitely hadn't known she had been looking for me-- I acted out of anger. A-and now…-" he paused, squeezing his eyes shut when the tears finally threatened to fall down, "-I don't know where it all went wrong, how she is like this again or… or if it was all a lie. If-if she had always been like this and I was too blind to see it, too trusting, a failure-"

"Hey, stop!" Gwen gasped, scrambling up to her knees when Lancelot smacked the back of his head against the wall, harder this time out of desperation - he just wanted to sleep, forget this or just knock himself out and wake up to find that it was all a nightmare, and that Merlyn was still Merlyn, not the person he had seen glimpses of. Guinevere placed her hands on his now damp cheeks, patiently waiting for Lancelot to crack his eyes open - the look on her face was pure determination, but even that didn't stop the tears from falling. "This is not your fault, Lancelot, okay? No, no, listen-" she insisted, more forcefully when he tried to turn his head, now actually grabbing his jaw to keep Lancelot's face turned to her, "-you are not to blame. From what you told me, you did everything you could. And I know you, you would never miss something so huge, not when it's someone you care about."

He couldn't argue with the woman, not when her chocolate brown eyes shone so earnestly and how tenderly her thumbs were wiping the stray tears away from his skin. Guinevere was right, of course she was - how was it possible that Lancelot would've missed Merlyn faking the spell working? And what about her time in Camelot - what would she gain from pretending to be a good person and saying that Arthur was her King, only to run back to Mordred after a year? Why would she save the prince, the knights and the kingdom so many times, if she was going to turn her back to it?

Why would she say she loved Arthur and be completely heartbroken when they couldn't be together, if she would just lock the prince in the dungeons like a common criminal and act like she hated him?

Blinking away the rest of the moisture from his eyes, brown eyes met brown as a confused frown appeared on his face. "If you're right… then I don't know what is happening with her," Lancelot murmured, trying his best to keep the fear away from his eyes so that Guinevere wouldn't panic again, though he wasn't sure if it worked. "And I don't know if we want to see where it's going to lead."

 

***

 

It was easy to forget that they were in danger, when Lancelot and Gwen were snuggled up together on the floor. It was definitely not the most comfortable place to lay down, but at least they had each other. The only thing that interrupted them on the second day was a guard shoving food in, this time on a tray but it was barely more than Lancelot had been given when he had been alone - two bowls of what looked like hastily made porridge and a tiny, hard loaf of bread. At least they got a full waterskin, so neither would be too thirsty.

But on the third day, things went a bit differently.

It started with the guards being completely silent. There were no shouts of Lancelot being a traitor or a pathetic excuse of a man, not even a single leering word for Gwen. It felt like the men in the other cells were silent too for some reason.

The second thing was a new person bringing the food, but they didn't leave immediately afterwards. She kept the tray in her hands as she pulled the door shut behind her, before tilting her head and just staying there, watching Gwen and Lancelot on the ground with curious, gleaming eyes. Gwen was the one on her knees and slightly in front of Lancelot, while he was just barely able to keep himself sitting up.

"Well, come on," Merlyn huffed impatiently, nodding to the tray in her hands but her eyes stayed on them, "I'm not walking another step in this disgusting cell, so you'll have to get this from me. Unless you want to eat the soup from the floor…"

It was dark in the cell, but the gleaming eyes that stared him from the other end of his small cell seemed to glow and draw his attention. The woman he had spent months looking for with Gwaine with no leads to go on and falling deeper into the pit of despair with every day that had gone by, only to be attacked on the way back to the city he had started to call home and then again in the said city, inside those once-safe walls… and to find her again, on the enemy side. She still looked the same as before, though a lot thinner just like when she had appeared back a week ago. The long leather jacket was familiar to Lancelot right down to the last strap and stitched cut, from their days with Gregor, even the daggers with almost shining white hilts were a distant memory of that time - but the look of absolute glee in the blue orbs was new. Back then, there had been nothing in her eyes, now it was a mess of everything; happiness, anger, hate…

Everything, but compassion or sadness for her friends.

Gwen cast an unsure look at Lancelot and he answered it with a slight shake of his head. The warrior caught that, and let out an irritated sigh, scuffling on her feet. "You are already locked up and I'm here to talk, just come and get it. Now!" She snapped, and the tray rattled in her hands when she moved to lean slightly against the wall. Her face was completely impassive so it was hard to see if Merlyn was seriously not going to do anything. Though Lancelot could spot her observing Gwen more than him, waiting for something.

Guinevere moved then, removing her hand from Lancelot's despite the man's quiet protest and rose to her feet. She kept her brown eyes on Merlyn, wary and waiting for something to happen, but the warrior kept completely still with the tray slightly raised up. Lancelot could hear the slightest sound of the soup hitting the tray when it was jostled, but none spilled to the floor.

Moving carefully, Gwen crossed the tiny space of the cell from where they had been to the door while Lancelot forced himself on his knees with his left hand pressed on the wall and his right one on his aching side. A huge part of his life had been learning to push through his pain no matter how bad it was, and now he was fighting in his head to focus on the unmoving woman and the love of his life. He wasn't about to let Merlyn do anything to Gwen, no matter how badly he was hurting.

But he was too slow. By the time he registered the signs of something being wrong, Gwen had already grabbed a hold of the tray just for Merlyn to use that as a leverage to yank the maid closer and their food was spilled all over the floor, cups upturned and rattling weakly. Her leather covered left arm snaked around Gwen's waist when the maid was spun around to face Lancelot and her other hand grabbed a fistful of her bouncy curls. Lancelot choked up a cry of panic, pushing himself up from the damp floor but his head started to swim as soon as he got up, forcing him to stumble and lean his shoulder against the back wall.

Merlyn let out a disappointed tut as her head hovered beside Gwen's, who's neck was stretched uncomfortably to the right by the warrior's tight hold. "I'm disappointed, Lancelot… I thought you'd do anything to protect your love?" Merlyn purred with a sweet grin, eyes mostly under the heavy shadows but he could feel her staring at him. Groaning as he tried to steady himself against the wall Lancelot grit his teeth when his feet slipped on the slick floor. The dizziness made him see the women double as he slumped shoulder first against the wall.

"…what are you doing, Merlyn?" He asked, voice wavering slightly due to the worry he felt when he locked eyes with Guinevere. The maid was surprisingly calm and hadn't even made a sound when Merlyn caught her, though he could see the panic in the way her eyes were wide and her chest was falling and rising rapidly. I'm sorry hung unsaid in the space between them. "You said it yourself, we're already locked up."

The grin on his friend's face only grew as she pulled Gwen's head more to the side. "Well, the baby-princess wants her former maid to hang and so does the Priestess, but me and Mordred… we have a choice for you," Merlyn mused and pursed her lips almost thoughtfully, but Lancelot could see through the act - the way the woman's eyes roamed over his face, waiting for a reaction that he fought hard not to give. "So… I have two ways that this can go; either this pretty thing is hanged for treason just like they want, or-- you wipe the dust from your sword and accompany me to train the new generation. They don't learn unless they see something they can imagine killing. A traitor is a marvelous choice, am I right?"

"What?!" Gwen's frantic gasp made Lancelot grimace. They had spoken about his past in great detail many times, and she had said that she worried Lancelot would fall back to that lifestyle one day, by choice or not. He worried about the same thing, though he had never thought it would come true. Right now, his greatest motivation to stay clean and away from the assassins he had essentially grown up with was the maid herself, who was being used as leverage to draw him back in. Even if it was only to act as an opponent for the kids to beat up as long as they possibly could, it was a step too far.

There was a good reason Lancelot was close to pleading he could take Gwen's place in the execution - he knew he wouldn't survive with the second option, it would only last longer to die, especially with his injuries and if this Merlyn was in charge.

After losing his family, Lancelot hadn't had a lot of reasons to keep living but later he had found a way to keep going - he was always there if someone needed help, he was always putting others before himself and tried to save at least as many lives as he had taken. He wanted to believe himself as an honorable man with at least some integrity and worth, but his being was ripped in half when he had seen the evidence of the cruel monster Merlyn had turned back into… helping the woman leave her past behind had been his one and only source of pride and happiness for so long.

But he knew that even if he had failed one person, he could still try and save the others - he could atone his sins with his life it came to it but first try to find a way to figure out if he had always just been blind to see what Merlyn really was or if they had done something to her.

"Let her go, this is not you!" Lancelot had his free hand up in a calming gesture, making sure he at least appeared to be in a better shape in every way than he really felt while his whole being craved for him to slump down to the ground. What was Merlyn doing? Never during the years they had met had she used an innocent to get her way, not even during jobs in her worst state. Glancing briefly at Guinevere, he noticed that she was trying to slide her hands away from Merlyn's unwavering hold, and he couldn't really let that happen - if the warrior got angry, it would mean Gwen would die either way. "Gwen, stay calm, please."

"Ach, you all keep saying that!" The displeasure was clear in the way Merlyn make a face of pure disgust and yanked the maid closer to her body when Gwen tried to wiggle away, before she rolled her eyes dramatically. "What does a girl have to do that people would pay attention?"

"Merlyn, please..." Her hand that was tangled in Gwen's hair loosened slightly, but only to idly twist a strand of it around her finger. Even from the other side of the cell, Lancelot saw Gwen shudder from the feeling as tears began to form in her eyes. The blue wicked ones never strayed from him though, so he tried to talk her out of whatever she was planning to do. "He said I could leave-"

"He left-"

Gwen tried to speak again, at the same time as Lancelot did but was cut off by Merlyn's hand tightening the hold of her waist. "Shush, you," the warrior cooed in a way one would talk to a child, but even Gwen couldn't miss the warning in Merlyn's tone. While her attention was briefly directed to the maid, Lancelot attempted to straighten himself, but found that getting a steady footing was impossible in his state. "But yes, he left and now-" Merlyn's eyes snapped back to the former assassin as her hand began to lazily stroke Gwen's hair and Lancelot froze mid-movement in an uncomfortable position that pulled his side again, "-he has a chance to fix things. You see, dear, traitors are usually just-- well, killed. He has a chance to live, and keep you alive!"

The wicked triumph got Lancelot to straighten fully now with his right hand against the rough wall, his blurry, wide eyes coming back to Merlyn's just to stare at her, dumbfounded - she really thought he was a traitor too? "I left for you, Merlyn, you know that."

A dumbstruck look took over the woman's face just briefly before she burst into a loud, roaring laughter that rang through the heavy silence that had taken over, actually throwing her head back with the force of it. It also jostled Gwen, but the warrior managed to keep them both upright. It was only then that Lancelot noticed truly how no one outside of the cell reacted, so she must've done something about it. "Me?! Now did you decide that lie before or after you almost killed me?" She asked, her smile unnaturally wide but still too menacing to be from actual mirth while she took a step closer to him, pushing Guinevere forward in the process, but all Lancelot could focus was the almost enchanting eyes that felt like they could drill in to his very soul. " Or when you ratted me out? Brought information to bloody Camelot?"

"What?! I-I didn't-"

"Oh, pray tell me. What did you not do?" Merlyn cut him off, her lips twisting in distaste when she watched Lancelot frantically try to find the words to convince her that it was certainly not true - but how was he going to do that? She had been there, it had been Mordred! But then, out of nowhere, Merlyn's loud, almost booming voice called again, shouting to the moldy ceiling like one would shout a prayer to the skies, "Saint Lancelot, never does anything wrong! Praise him for He is perfection!"

"Merlyn-!" He tried again but the words failed him just like they had only seconds ago, now doomed to watch how Merlyn's eyes lowered back down and how a grin spread to her lips again just before the blue of her eyes flashed gold behind Gwen's curls so briefly Lancelot thought he had seen things - but then he lost his footing completely and went crashing down straight on his knees and from there hard on his bruised side, with no chance to prepare for the pain so he cried out. Gwen's gasp sounded just barely from under his own pained voice, but whatever she tried to say was muffled, by probably Merlyn's hand.

His vision was swimming again, this time worse than when he had tried to stay up - gasping, he rolled on his front and pushed himself up on his trembling arms, his stomach lurching when he couldn't focus his eyes on anything. Never had he thought Merlyn would use her magic like that, on such petty thing like trip Lancelot when he was already as low as he could be. She had always been so magnificent, even when the warrior had been acting more like a monster than a human being - her magic especially, it had filled him with warmth that he had not experienced, a sense of security and love that had been hard to find when one was an assassin. But now, as brief as it had been, the small spark of power had been weak and cold, wrong.

"Mm… such a sweet lady you have here." He heard her voice, but it sounded so warped, as if coming from below water or behind glass. There were hints of the Merlyn Lancelot knew and loved, but it was hollow - she was hollow. This wasn't the woman he saw, just an actress reading from a parchment given to her by the very people who had taken her - who had broken the beautiful soul Merlyn truly was. "Tell me, Lance-dear... When did you starts preferring this…-" Blinking, Lancelot was able to push himself on all-fours and look up to the women from under his hair that was falling limply over his face - Merlyn had her right hand cupping Gwen's chin and lips hovering too close to the maid's neck, "-…or did you always? Was that another lie?"

"What are you-"

"I said shush!" The warrior's voice resembled a growl more than her normal voice, an unnatural command as she grabbed Guinevere by the hair again. Gwen tried valiantly to bite her lip to muffle her whimpers, but some escaped and reached Lancelot's ears. A dark chuckle left Merlyn as she observed the way Gwen's shoulders were shaking with her silent sobbing. "Hmm.. I do wonder, what would my Mordred think of you..?"

"Don't-" Lancelot tried again, struggling but succeeding to get up on his shaky legs, but choked on nothing as he powerlessly watched Merlyn tilt Gwen's head to the side more and trail her tongue almost teasingly over the bulging vein on the maid's neck, from the root of her neck right up to the lobe of her ear, before she locked eyes with Lancelot again, half-lidded and hungry, making his stomach flip again in disgust.

"How about a trade then, huh?" The warrior hummed with a tilted head and paid no mind to Guinevere who was struggling again, though the arm around the older woman's waist tightened visibly and made Gwen gasp. "I'll bring this sweet thing to Mordred-," she mused, wiping the curls away from Gwen's face just to grab her chin again, gleaming eyes roaming over the maid's profile like inspecting a purchase, face only mere inches away from the silently crying woman, "-and you and I have fun in the meanwhile? How's that, Lance, for old time's sake?"

"...Lancelot?"

"Merlyn, please..." No, this was not something she did - Merlyn was almost as wary of speaking about their shared past as he was, and she certainly never threw the fact out there like that. This time the grimace came unbidden and Gwen clearly saw it. Brown met glistening brown again, just for him to witness how she saw the truth in the man's face - Lancelot wasn't sure if Gwen even realized how bad he wanted to apologize for not telling, though he had never thought it would come out like that; he and Merlyn had made a deal never to speak of it.

But the cruel smirk that had spread on the warrior's lips, a stark contrast to the crestfallen expression on Gwen's face, was a clear sign that Merlyn had known what her words would do, and she enjoyed it. Never in his life had he really experienced this side of her - yes, versions of it, but they were all just small glimpses and never directed towards him, not with the intention to hurt. "Does she not know? Oh, Lancelot-"

He knew it wouldn't work, but Lancelot still surged forward at the women. The sudden flare of energy was very short-lived, when he was forced to stop in the middle of the room when the hand that had been on Gwen's waist snapped up to bring a dagger the warrior had been concealing up to the maid's exposed neck so fast that Lancelot's eyes couldn't keep up with the movement, but he still managed to stop before he could put Gwen's life in more danger - skidding to a stop he staggered once more, but this time was able to stay up. Guinevere's eyes snapped wide open again, frantically moving from Lancelot to try and peer down, but she couldn't look down since Merlyn was still holding her hair tightly. All the woman could do was grab a hold of the warrior's forearm in a desperate attempt to hold the dagger far away from her neck, but Merlyn barely even noticed.

"Now that's not nice." The warrior's left eyebrow raised slightly as the sharp edge of the dagger scraped Gwen's skin, leaving behind a tiny red mark as it trailed from right to left, but never broke the skin. Lancelot still couldn't look away from the mark, dread growing stronger and stronger in the pit of his stomach. "You see, Lance and I were once much more than just friends. You must know what he's like, don't you? Such a gentleman, cares more for your pleasure than his..."

But Gwen wasn't really even listening, even when Merlyn's lips were right beside her ear, purring almost only for the maid - no, she was more focused on the dagger that she could see partly now as it trailed up and stroked the shape of her tear-streaked cheek, the tip of it going dangerously close to her left eye every time it came up again. The way she was shaking wasn't making anything better, it only seemed to irritate Merlyn if the tightening in the warrior's jaw told Lancelot anything.

One small, careful step closer, and the midnight blue eyes snapped immediately to him again and the dagger froze at the same time he did in mid-step, despite the dizziness and need to slump down. No matter how badly the man wanted to just jump forward and do anything to rip Gwen away from the maniac Merlyn appeared to be now, the sharp edge of her blade was hovering just by the woman's carotid. "M-Merlyn, please… I don't know what happened to you, but you're not making sense! I looked for you, Gwaine and I-- we were out there for six months trying to find where you were-"

"Stop lying!" The shout made Gwen startle a shocked cry and move too quickly the same time Merlyn's hand jerked and it resulted in a cut on the maid's smooth neck. A tiny trail of dark red blood started to flow from it and it attracted Merlyn's attention. Her mood went from anger to sick amusement so fast Lancelot had a hard time to keep up - giggling like a kid with sweets, the woman adjusted the dagger a bit so she could use her forefinger to stop the drop of blood and slowly trail it up to the cut, gathering the substance on the tip of the finger. "Hm, well-" the mocking regret in her voice as she pushed her dagger suddenly away, made Lancelot's heart skip a beat, "-time is up! To hang it is then!"

"No, no, wait--Gwen!"

"What?! No, please, no, Merlyn-"

"Wait!"

Merlyn had already dragged the squirming Gwen by the door and had both their backs turned to Lancelot, who stumbled not far behind them, but she stopped abruptly when he touched her, with her left hand pressed on the door and the other now wrapped around Guinevere's throat. The maid's labored breath was loud in the brief silence, even from behind Merlyn he could see the quiver of her shoulders and fingers grabbing the warrior's arm so hard that the knuckles were white. Merlyn on the other hand was perfectly still with no hints of even struggling to keep the maid still, shoulders tense under Lancelot's palm. The ten seconds that passed without no one talking stretched out unnaturally, tension so heavy over them and it didn't help that he could see the subtle rise of Merlyn's cheek when the corner of her mouth twitched up.

Breathing as deep as he could with the burning pain on his side and lung, Lancelot let his hand drop from Merlyn's shoulder and felt his back straighten when his old, buried instincts took over - the instincts of a paid killer who embraced the pain, loved the pain, fought through and with it. "...when do we start?"

The cheek rose even more just before her pale fingers left the cell's door. Using the hold she had on Gwen's throat, Merlyn twisted the maid around and tilted her chin up a bit, inspecting the damage done. Fortunately he had been able to keep her calm enough, that there was only the faint mark from the blade, not even bruising. Deeming her well enough, the warrior suddenly pushed the woman away from the door and released her - Guinevere dropped down immediately and fell hard on her backside, but just as Lancelot was about to go help, the back of Merlyn's hand smacked against his chest and the silent tsk-tsk stopped him. "Leave her," the warrior hummed, not even looking at the maid but Lancelot with her head tilted to the door, "we start now."

 

***

 

"Get up." The voice rang from the end of the huge space where Merlyn stood on the first step of the dais, hands clasped behind her back like a good soldier and face emotionless - but for someone like Lancelot, who had known her for years, the sick excitement was all too clear. But he couldn't exactly stay laying down if he was supposed to defend himself, so with great difficulty he rolled over to his front and pushed his body up from the ground. To be honest, even with the injury, he wasn't as weak as he portrayed himself. It was almost like a habit to fight dirty in this group, something he hadn't done since joining Camelot's ranks.

He may not be a knight, but he wanted to act like one and leave his past in the past.

"I said get up," the woman snapped when he stayed on his knees and let his head lull slightly to the side. But the guards didn't give him a chance to do it himself before they were already there, forcefully yanking him up to his unsteady feet and thrusting a sword to his hand right after removing his cuffs. It was the first time they armed him since Merlyn had dragged Lancelot out three days ago.

"Why does it matter if I stand or kneel?" He asked in a loud voice as his fingers curled around the hilt of the blade. The familiar weight felt like a lifeline in the situation, even when he knew he'd be dead long before he could fight his way out. One could hope. Lancelot's eyes roamed briefly over the kids around him, all with their weapons out just in case he tried something too soon, before looking up to the warrior calling shots. She had lowered herself to sit on the throne, and the sight made the former-assassin's heart ache. Not like that, Merlyn, not yet. "If they have been taught by you, no matter how long, I have no chance. I'm sure you've told them that already, based on the excitement I am practically able to smell on them and the I have not stood a chance the previous days either."

Leaning her back against the throne and curling her fingers around the armrests, a wicked smile spread on the woman's lips. "I have told them that being taught by me is better than by anyone else," she admitted with a slight nod of her head, but the cruel look never vanished, "But there is something I have not told them and that should make this particular lesson… very interesting."

"And what would that be?" There was a small group of kids already inching closer to him. It seemed that Merlyn had divided them into groups already, since most stayed where they were. It didn't take a genius to know that there would be no rules other than don't kill him, but do hurt him - the worse the better. Just like in the past, then.

"Oh," Merlyn giggled, child-like happiness clear in her eyes and mixed with the blood-lust Lancelot knew and feared more than anything, "that they might have been taught by me for days and they have the advantage of numbers, but you-" her left forefinger pointed at the man and his hold tightened around the hilt, preparing for an attack he knew was about to come from behind him, "-were the one who learned with me."

The sound of something heavy piercing the air snapped Lancelot into action - the mace that was flying down at his sword-wielding hand was only an inch away from shattering every last bone he had in that hand. He snapped his elbow backwards and heard the muffled oof when it hit the attackers mouth just as a blade was coming at him from the left and clashed against his. The motion of parrying so high pulled painfully at the heavily bruised skin of Lancelot's side, but he was able to keep himself from showing the true extent his pain.

Grabbing the girl's blade with his free hand, he twisted it from her hold and feigned a swing at her, just to get the blonde to back off so she wouldn't get hurt. She did back away, eyes wide and angry but another kid took her place and landed a kick on Lancelot's stomach. It took him off guard and just as he doubled up, a knee crashed up to his chin and sent him flying backwards instead.

"I know what you're thinking, 'they're just kids, I can't hurt them!'," Merlyn mockingly shouted over the ruckus, imitating his voice just as Lancelot rolled back to his feet and spun away from a mace coming at his shoulder. He let the chain of it wrap around his left blade and yanked hard, managing to get it away from the large young man wielding it. "But isn't it better to teach them now rather than let them be subjected to the same beatings we had to endure when we were sent out without knowing a better way?"

From the corner of his eye, Lancelot could see Merlyn tilting her head to see past the people crowding him, to see the injuries and no doubt smile as she'd see them. "You hated every single second of it," he called back and immediately rolled under a blade swiping at him, tripping the brunette, young woman at the same time. With one smooth movement, he rolled up to his left knee and parried two attacks coming from above with both swords he now had. "And don't even try to lie, Merlyn!"

She laughed over the sound of a boy crying in pain, an action Lancelot wanted so badly to do himself too but settled for gritting his teeth so hard they were about to shatter in his mouth - because of the pain but also the guilt for slicing up the boy's arm so bad. He wouldn't probably be able to use it properly for weeks, depending on who treated it. "Lie?!" The cackle rose over the ringing in his ears when a burly, short haired boy managed to smash Lancelot back first against a marble pillar, "do not lecture me about lying as if you never lied to me or deceived me in any way!"

The arm pushing hard against his windpipe made answering difficult since even air wouldn't travel to his lungs - Lancelot struggled against the young man's hold, using both his hands to try and push the forearm away. His skin was turning alarmingly dark with all the blood trying to rush to his brain to keep it functioning, he could feel his feet inching up from the ground - but all he still could think about was what happened to her? "Not so great after all, are you, traitor?" The boy grunted, a wild grin spread on his cut lip and cheers for his assumed victory were loud behind his broad back.

The boy looked mildly alarmed soon though, when Lancelot grinned. "I never said that." Lancelot had managed to bend his right leg slightly between them and by the time his assailant noticed it, he had already used all his strength to kick he huge, solid weight away. The boy stumbled and crashed against few others who had been celebrating too soon behind him while Lancelot sloppily parried an attack from one of the more alert ones. Swiping her blade away, the man spun and smashed his heel against her temple, though he knew for a fact that she'd only be unconscious.

He used the very brief pause between the never-ending onslaught to glance at Merlyn. The woman looked downright bored, using her dagger to scrape dirt from under her fingernails. "This is not you, Merlyn! When have I ever lied or-" But his mistake had been to trust that he had showed his skills enough - the boy who had tried to strangle him to death, suddenly came running at the former-assassin and practically tackled him with his head under Lancelot's arm and the boy's own around his ribs with a crushing hold. It only took a second for Lancelot to fly through the air and land on the ground again, though this time with a young man at least twice his weight on top of him.

The boy's face appeared in his blurry sight just as Merlyn's drawling voice spoke, "it seems that even you never really cared."

And then the darkness came, ushered by a massive fist coming at his face.

 

If he once expected to be woken up by Guinevere with perhaps a sweet kiss or gentle words, now he never wondered again - the harsh slap on his non-bruised cheek was followed by a splash of lukewarm water on his face from the still full waterskin the guards had brought with their meals. It was the third day since Merlyn had came to the cell, and every day Lancelot was dragged out there and every day he was brought back more or less bruised, though this time had been the first that he had lost consciousness. The memories were slightly vague, but he did remember a fist coming at his face and did notice that breathing through his nose was almost impossible, which would explain why he was almost drowning on the tiny amount of water.

Lancelot spluttered and rolled to his side, coughing up the water from his windpipe. "Lancelot! Are you all right? I'm sorry, b-but it has been almost a day!" Gwen's frantic, tight voice called barely over the annoying humming and ringing in his ears. It felt like he'd been ran over a couple of dozen horses and drowned to top it all off. The days had mostly been him acting as a literal practice dummy for the younger ones, though fortunately he was never with the actual kids - the ones facing him had been probably around fifteen or sixteen, maybe a bit older. No matter what his past had been, Lancelot would've rather died than fought with a child. At least the ones he had faced knew how to fight, and it wasn't like Lancelot really put up a fight - he just let them practice on him, which was probably better anyway.

Everything had gone-- well, as well as expected really, but it hadn't been until the third day Lancelot had gotten the great idea to exercise his old instincts, and appear to be weaker than he actually was, which had angered the boy he had been up against. The boy hadn't exactly liked the way Lancelot had practically won one, so he had thrown him around a bit before punching the man once so hard, he had fallen into the darkness immediately.

Fighting somewhat like he had meant it had felt nice at the time, though right now… Lancelot was starting to regret it.

"I could be better," he rasped drily as he opened his eyes a fraction and saw the dirty hem of Gwen's light blue dress - and a pair of black boots behind her, completely still almost blending into the shadowy corner of the cell. Jerking violently, Lancelot tried to roll up from the ground and pull Guinevere behind him to protect her, but all he managed to do was start coughing more though this time right on the blue dress while grimacing in pain as the movement and coughing made his ribs ache again. "W-watch out-"

A bitter snort came from the owner of the boots. "And here I thought you had more fight in you, Lance." It was a woman's voice, but one he hadn't heard in almost two years. The boots moved closer despite Gwen's protest and the maid moved slightly to cover the broken Lancelot, but the assassin only crouched by them both, keeping a safe distance though. Her blue eyes stared down when the man finally stopped coughing and was able to move his spinning head, belatedly noticing that the red hair pulled in a bun was certainly not Merlyn. "Mind if I help you with that?" She asked and gestured vaguely at - well, his whole body.

Despite being out there three times already, Lancelot hadn't seen any familiar faces other than Merlyn, but he had still known that Sienna was still there. She was only a year older than him but so much more skilled than he had ever been in a lot of ways, so thinking that she'd be alive wasn't that much of a stretch. She and Olly were the only ones he had gotten along with most of the time, until Merlyn had appeared in their lives.

"That bad?" He received a humorless grin for it, but also a confused, alarmed look from Gwen. The maid knew about his past, but he had never told any details - like names. Shifting a bit to get the curly-haired woman's attention completely, he smiled as reassuringly as he could with the injuries he undoubtedly had on his face. "It's okay. I really need her help, if I plan to go back tomorrow again."

Guinevere bit her lip and didn't move anywhere, though casted a suspicious look at the assassin's direction, who matched it with a patient one and gestured at him again. "If he goes out there like this, he won't come back next time," she stated bluntly, just like the Sienna Lancelot remembered - never sparing anyone with details. Though the tiny squeak that left Gwen as a result made him hope that Sienna had some sort of a filter, but at least the red-head had the decency to look a bit apologetic, "sorry, but it's the truth. She won't let him go easily."

"…M-Merlyn, right?" Lancelot grimaced at how badly Gwen's voice trembled - that had been his fear when he had opened up about the warrior's true nature and his past in general. It had never been his wish to hide anything about himself from the woman who had stolen his heart and never given it back, but he had feared that Gwen would speak his name with that tone.

But Sienna waved a hand at Guinevere's concern. "I wouldn't call her by that name right now," she huffed as she scooted slightly closer to Lancelot. This time Gwen didn't object, but stayed right beside him and held his hand tightly, while Lancelot turned to stare at his old friend, completely baffled though she didn't even look at his eyes.

"What do you mean?"

Not even looking up from the bloodied fabric sticking to his right side, Sienna let out an annoyed grunt. "That bitch is not the one I knew. I have to act like I don't mind, but... Yeah, not liking this situation," she mumbled while lifting up Lancelot's tunic. It let out a disgusting wet noise as it slowly let go of his skin, making the man bite his tongue so he wouldn't make any sounds - more for Gwen's sake than his. "I'll tell you all about it, but first I need to cut this away, all right?" Now she looked up, but at Guinevere who had moved Lancelot's head to rest on her bent knees. Biting her lip as she looked away from the assassin, Gwen gave a small nod as an approval, so Sienna fished out a small, wood-hilted dagger from her belt, a weapon she had had for years and the sight of it made Lancelot snort despite the situation.

"Still have that?" He huffed as he shifted awkwardly when Sienna cut the cloth and began to pull the tunic off of him, but he still saw the tiny grin on her lips. "I wasn't very good then, was I?"

"You talk like it has been decades, not two years," the assassins murmured absentmindedly, observing the bruised skin, "but yeah, why throw it away when you can always just sharpen it? And-" she glanced at him again with a smirk, "-sometimes it's fun to remember that you were actually terrible at something like anyone else would be, you perfectionist."

Gasping dramatically, Lancelot stared at Sienna with wide eyes. "You wound me."

"No need, someone already has," Sienna immediately shot back with a disappointed twist of her lips and looked back down, though didn't do anything yet. She was hesitating - and for a reason, he knew by just seeing his wounds. "You think I could help you with-- my other ways?"

Crunching up his nose, Lancelot looked up at Gwen who was still intently staring at anywhere but them. Lancelot had never talked about it with her, since it was still very much illegal in Camelot but… Gwen was a smart woman, she would understand, right? "Guinevere," he called softly and waited for the maid to swallow a few times before her deep brown eyes slowly lowered to him, "I think you should, uh-- let my head down for a moment and move, okay? Just-" the maid was about to interrupt, but he raised his trembling hand slightly, "-trust me at least, you'll want to move soon enough, so better now. I don't want to upset you."

She didn't understand, of course not when he spoke so cryptically, but after a few seconds there was a slight nod of her head and soon Gwen gently helped him move his head back to the hard ground. He missed her warmth the second the woman rose from the ground and moved by the back wall, arms around herself as if to get some comfort now that she wasn't holding him. Her eyes never left Lancelot though and he couldn't help but worry if she'd hate him for this. Gwen and her brother never spoke about their own beliefs, but they were very law-abiding and good people, so her reaction could be anything.

Sienna watched them silently, surprisingly patiently for someone with her fierce temperament and impatience, and only moved again when Lancelot gave her a small nod before looking back to his love. He could hear the murmured spell and without even looking, he knew what Gwen saw - the golden sheen covering Sienna's light blue eyes matching the glow of her hand that was pressed gently against Lancelot's skin. Guinevere didn't even move at first, showed no reaction - it was like the world moved through a thick layer of jelly. But when her mind caught what was happening, the beautiful brown eyes widened in shock and her hand slapped over her mouth to muffle her shriek while her body automatically jerked forward at Sienna's direction. "Stop! What are you doing?!"

"Gwen," Lancelot grit between his clenched teeth as the pain of being healed was almost worse than being injured, but he fought through it, "Guinevere, please-" she stopped as if she'd hit a wall, hand still over her mouth but looked at him now, tears gathering in her panicked eyes, "-it's okay, I'm okay."

"Wh-what is she doing?! That-that's-"

"Magic, right you are," Sienna interrupted the maid though still stared intently down at the former-assassin's injuries that were slowly starting to fade, "and right now it's the only thing keeping your hubby here from dying tomorrow. Or tonight, more likely." There it was again, her unfiltered way to talk.

Grimacing, Lancelot pushed up to his elbows despite Sienna's protesting noise and tilted his head to get Gwen to look at him and not Sienna's glowing eyes. "If you don't trust her-" he started, giving the assassin a pointed look when she let out an indignant huff, "-then trust me. She's not hurting me."

His reassurance was a bit ruined by the way he was almost biting his tongue in half to keep himself from crying in pain when his ribs snapped back in place, and it didn't go unnoticed. "Yes she is, you're in pain!" Gwen hissed and moved again, left hand rising and going for Sienna. "How can you trust a sorcerer?!"

It was Sienna's golden eyes that snapped up to her that stopped the maid again. "Witch, thank you very much," she snapped, always so angry when people didn't know the difference, and pressed her palm blindly over the next injury on Lancelot's body, glaring at Gwen, "and why does it matter? I'm helping and the pain is going to be present even if I did this the mundane way."

"But-"

"Gwen," Lancelot spoke again, breathing a lot easier not that his cracked ribs weren't pressing against his lung and fought to keep his voice as soothing as he could, "you don't have to trust her, but I do. Despite all this-" he waved a hand a bit, gesturing around them, "-I trust her. Sienna is… probably the only one of that group we can trust right now."

As he was speaking, Lancelot could clearly see that his words weren't helping Gwen's alarm, but at least she took two steps back and not at the assassin currently lifting her hand over his face. He'd hate to find out what would happen if Sienna got angrier when she was working on his broken nose. The twinge of pain when his nose straightened was nothing compared to what he had felt with the ribs, and soon, when the swelling went down finally, the gold faded and Sienna smiled triumphantly. "All done."

As Sienna rose from the ground and backed up to wipe her trousers clean, Gwen surged back to Lancelot's side and almost crushed him as she gave him a frighteningly strong hug with her arms around his shoulders, hands moving over his bare skin where some cuts and bruises had been. "I'm okay," he murmured repeatedly in her ear, smiling a bit against her blue dress when he felt the maid's body relax, "I told you."

That earned him a slap at the back of his head right after Guinevere pulled back and the action caused Sienna to cackle loudly where she stood watching them while Lancelot yelped in surprise. "I like her."

"'I'm okay?!'" Gwen hissed, furious beyond what he had ever seen and ignored the redhead's remark completely despite how she had been staring at her intently while Sienna had healed him. The maid, even when kneeling on the dirty floor while he leaned against his hands, managed to look like a reprimanding mother when she placed her hands on her hips and glared down at the sheepish Lancelot. "I need someone to explain what the hell is going on. Now."

"I, uh-"

But Sienna beat him to it, suspiciously glad of the opportunity. "Well, to summarize, I had just joined Gregor when this poor sod came there and after… some difficulties-" Lancelot rolled his eyes at that, difficulties was an understatement since they did try to kill one another all the time, "-we became friends, I guess. I was about nineteen when my powers manifested and he was there, keeping me calm and being my literal practice dummy - unintentionally, though."

"And when I tried to calm you down, you burned me-"

"I did not!"

"So why do I have a burn mark on my back?"

"Accidents happen, I have scars too-"

"From practice! You-"

"Slow down!" Guinevere almost shouted over their sudden bickering, eyes rowing from one face to another, wide in alarm and held her hands in the air to shut them down. "You were friends, that I can understand, but… manifested? I-I thought-"

"You thought that what Uther says, goes, right?" Sienna grumbled and raised her brows at Gwen, who just stared at the annoyed assassin, who huffed loudly and pushed herself away from the door. "Listen, kid-"

"Sienna." The redhead stopped mid-sentence and glared at Lancelot, who looked at the woman by his side. Their brown eyes were glued together as she tried to see any signs that he was lying. "It's not magic that makes people evil, Gwen. It's the people who make magic evil."

"I was born with it, even when I didn't know it since I was already nineteen when it manifested," Sienna interjected, unhelpfully but caught Gwen's attention now and crouched down so their eyes would be on the same level. The maid hadn't moved anywhere, even her hands were still slightly raised from where she had stopped the others from arguing. "I might be one of Mordred's people, but I wasn't like this since birth. I was a happy kid, who's mum and pap died and was left an orphan. If not for this, I'd be long gone. Life happens, ya know, can't help it all the time. But it's not like I can even use it all the time, I'm just a healer. Nothing more."

You could've heard a pin drop in the silence. Gwen was staring at Sienna, dumbfounded and mouth slightly ajar. Lancelot could see it in her eyes that she was trying to process what she heard, but after a life of listening to whatever rant the king came up with, it must've been difficult. He couldn't help but feel sorry for those who were just misunderstood for something they could do. Sure, it was different for people like Sienna and Merlyn, who had made bad choices and had magic - they could be judged as bad people, but not only for the magic part. And Sienna wasn't lying - she really was only a healer despite what she did for a living and she hadn't even wanted to learn anything else, not even when Mordred had insisted that Sienna could.

If Lancelot had learned anything about magic, it was that most people just were great at one thing or two, not everything - the only person he knew that could do practically anything they tried, was Merlyn, but he knew why it was like that.

"Sienna, weren't you going to tell us something about Merlyn?" Lancelot reminded his friend to give Gwen some time to think. He also gave a pointed look to the woman to make her get some distance. Rolling her eyes slightly, Sienna complied and moved by the door, sliding down to sit on the floor. "What do you mean you couldn't even call her by her name?"

Loosening up her bun, the assassin scrunched up her nose in mild disgust. "Because even the girl I knew, wasn't like that, and she was terrifying. Merlyn back then was someone you could at least talk to, try to calm down and the likes. But this one?" Sienna shivered dramatically, but it didn't seem it was all for the effect. "This one is beyond mad. And the things she says don't really make sense. I saw her almost destroy the best twelve fighters we have-- no, she did kill one of them! But... She laughed after it and since then... She has been turning worse, everyday more and more."

Frowning, Lancelot glanced at Gwen but the maid was still deep in thought, now staring at the wall with unseeing eyes so he looked back at Sienna. "I saw that she's… not herself, but insane?" Shaking his head, he rose more from the ground and leaned against the wall, pulling the pieces of his tunic to cover himself up. "Not any more than then-"

"Oh, but she is, believe me. Like, she was always quite- well, insane, I guess that is the only word, but now she's downright lost it. She's even making up stories that don't sound right, about her life with us and after, even when she got her act together. But the worst part?" Her blue eyes turned to Lancelot again, overflowing with fear and anger both. "Her with Mordred. He's-- it's like his presence makes it worse and he feeds the stories and her delusion. I know he was always obsessed with her-" she grimaced again and pulled her knees closer to her chest, "-but it goes both ways now. I'm not sure which one of them has it worse."

"What do you mean making up stories?" Gwen asked now, frowning too as she snapped away from her thoughts. She had her lower lip trapped between her teeth and was worrying it unconsciously, a look of something in her eyes.

"Like a few days ago, the kids asked about her life," Sienna explained thought kept her eyes away from the maid as a courtesy, which Lancelot was grateful for, "it sounded right until she told about Gregor and being with us."

"Is this about what you told me?" Gwen asked next, turning to look at Lancelot. The fear from a few days before when he had told the maid about Merlyn's true past was there again. "About her being… bad?"

Sienna snorted at his description. "Bad is an understatement. She was brutal, a monster in human form even as a child, but I'll blame the Priestess for that. Played with her targets, enjoyed blood and gore, was the perfect ice queen for Mordred and Gregor's golden girl," she mumbled but Gwen heard it and the color started to drain from her face - but Sienna wasn't done, and Lancelot knew that stopping her would only make things worse for the maid. "Something happened to her though, and she started to get her life together - well, as much as possible as an assassin, but Lance here was helping and it worked. But anyway, she was better. And then-" the woman puffed out her cheeks in irritation, "-Gregor found out and started to torture her by locking her up. Didn't end well, I'll tell you that…"

"He locked her up, right? It… made her go mad and she got that wall in her head?" The quiet question got Lancelot's heart to ache and he reached for Gwen to pull her close. She didn't fight it and soon the woman was curled against Lancelot's side with no need to hold gently since he wasn't in pain anymore. He knew Gwen was afraid of Merlyn right now, it was clear enough after the warrior had threatened her and after she had heard about Merlyn's life, but it was amazing how Lancelot could still see that Gwen felt sorry for the woman. Not a lot of people could be so compassionate towards people who were going out of their way to hurt others, intentionally or not - he still didn't know what was happening with his friend, but after three days of seeing what she was like, he had a hard time finding any clues that someone had done something to her.

"And that's the problem right now," Sienna spoke with a nod, now straightening and her face completely serious as her light blue eyes stared at him from beneath her now open deep red hair. "The story she told us, ended with Mordred, the princess and the bloody Priestess removing the wall, and now she's back to who she was before she started to get her life together, which makes no fucking sense because-- well, she was different, I heard about it when Olly had to spy on her while she lived here. She wasn't like this, not even close... I have a feeling that-"

A loud shout interrupted Sienna, making her jerk up and peer out from the small window in the wooden door of the cell. Her body tensed after whatever she saw but the woman still quickly walked to Lancelot to murmur in his ear, "whatever they did, it did not stop at just removing the wall. It's like she doesn't know anything bad Mordred did to her."

A silently mouthed I'm sorry didn't ease the feeling her words brought and Lancelot barely noticed the assassins slide out of the cell.

What happened to you, Merlyn? Where did I go wrong?