There were five people in the large room. It was scarcely lit by fancy chandeliers with dimmed bulbs; the curtains were pulled tightly closed, barricading any intrusion of the sun. To be more precise, there were five people in Uther Pendragon's office, indicated by the regal dragon figurine on the desk beside the golden name platter. Three of these strangers were standing to the corners of the room, gazing at the scenario unfolding in the centre compellingly. It was as if some mysterious gravitational force lured in their attention, unwilling to release them. At the centre of this pull, a man - no – a druid was sprawled on his knees weakly, bound by peculiar bronze chains around the wrists and ankles. Behind him a man in smart attire stood with a stern expression, his gun scraped the back of the druid's head.
The final man of course was Uther Pendragon. Pacing around the room, he stared dismally at the sight before him. Of all people, this was someone he had trusted, had never thought would betray him in such a way. Snarling darkly, the figure turned on his heel, knuckles white from tension. Yesterday evening, the traitor had been caught practicing magic- within these very walls, committing treason under the nose of those who deemed it so. Shuddering at the very thought of this despicable behaviour, he stopped pacing.
"All these years you've been lying to me." He stated. The shadows consumed the majority of his face, just as they had done with his heart. "…Hiding what you really are."
No response. Uther pressed his palms into the wooden desk vehemently, head bowed.
"You came from… Albion no doubt." The word Albion fell from his mouth like it was diseased.
The druid on his knees raised his head calmly. Surprisingly, there was no futile attempt at escape, or a desperate begging for mercy as many would have tried. To the druid, his face weathered with age and matted white hair to his shoulders, it seemed all too late. Either way, he was going there. Pleading guilty against the charges would take him there, pleading innocent would take him there; even saying nothing would take him there. Once the tyrannous Uther Pendragon had a suspicion that there was an inkling of magic in your veins, he would be determined to flush it out. The druid knew this better than anyone; he had bore witness to this monstrosity countless times. His friends, people who once believed in Camelot and all it stood for, they had all perished under the hand of Uther and a human race indoctrinated by gluttony and endless want. Eyes misting over with sorrow, the druid finally spoke.
"It's the only place our kind can take refuge. You've destroyed every inch of trust the druids ever had for the human race."
Uther's body faced the shadows, and he shut his eyes. At that exact moment two figures barged through the doors, fumbling forwards urgently. Both were drawn to the spectacle in the centre of the room, immobile with shock as he gave his verdict.
"Take him to the lab-"
Attention instantly shifted to the entrance of the office, the bright light behind the two figures outlined their silhouettes like deities, fighting in the name of justice.
"-What is the meaning of this?" one of them exclaimed, an undercurrent of anger lacing their voice. Confusion and hurt quickly swathed over their complexion. The other figure chose not to allow the evident scandal to affect their demeanour. Furiously, they took a step forwards.
"-Don't touch him!" they spat venomously.
Making his way round the desk at a predatory pace, Uther narrowed his eyes at the two figures.
"You," the male at the doorway felt his resolution crumble at the voice; the female remained bold. "dare defy me?"
His father had taught him practically from birth that there was no room to indulge in one's imagination. Imagination was dangerous – an ancient concept forged by their kind. Imagination had to be harnessed and used only for the formation of products that were realistic, practical for business. It was certainly not for manifesting fictional truths. Nor was it for envisaging the vast terrain miles away from the infinite roads, towering grey buildings, and dreary smog-filled days in Camelot. He was foolish enough to have dreamt of visiting Mercia's lush forest once, one of the only remaining forests to date. When he'd told his father, he was merely scolded.
"Show more appreciation for the safe city you live in."
Thus, Arthur Pendragon had put to rest the dreams of the natural world, the desire to leave the towering walls of this city, and the many others he would find himself caged inside years to come. His father believed Fairytales came hand in hand with imagination, and inspired juvenile, dangerous thoughts. Therefore, they were forbidden in the Pendragon household; Gaius read him 'A history of Camelot Enterprise'instead, which apparently was far more beneficial (it had lulled Arthur to sleep through its long words and sheer monotony, that was for sure!).
Arthur had never been one to rebel against his father, even during childhood a fierce obedience began to sprout, eyes morphing with reverence and respect for the colossal figure, and the future he had been granted as his only son. But that didn't stop her from protesting.There were nights when the mischievous dark-haired girl – orphaned at the age of ten months and taken in by his father - would sneak into his room, smuggling all sorts of clandestine books: Cinderella, Snow White…He was sure not even the gods knew where she got them from; apparently all the books had been purged, and some more valuable copies were locked away forever.
'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' was definitely one of his favourites. His eyes percolated with awe and marvel whenever Morgana was in a nice enough mood to lend him that book. A story focused around courage, bravery to do what was right and of course ma-
-Harry Potter, at times, reminded him of himself. Not because of his valour – Arthur had nightmares for weeks about that bloody Basilisk, resorting to keeping the bedside lamp on all night- but mainly the curiosity and inability to overlook what many would. More peculiar was the way it was perceived. Yes, there were some who used it for evil. But others wielded the skill for the name of justice. Some nights, it would keep him awake, wondering and imagining. He had to be cautious back then, and read only a chapter a night –sometimes less- before slipping it back under Morgana's door on the way down for breakfast. She had always been better at hiding things than Arthur.
After all any utterance of the M word would result in a serious punishment, his father had reiterated this time and time again.
In fact, any utterance of the M word anywhere would result in nothing but trouble and condemnation.
Sometimes, when Arthur was young enough to enjoy life and lack understanding in his future, (a row of crooked teeth, his face dusted in light freckles) he would roll the luxurious red duvet off, and climb out of the bed which could have swallowed him and at least six other children whole. Delicately, he would scoop up the silver chain kept hidden in his mahogany bedside drawer, and clutch onto it tightly. Then, he would sit on the window ledge, admiring the infinite canvas of black, divergent against hundreds, thousands, of twinkling stars. With hisimagination, he would make shapes out of the stars, mould them into forbidden creatures with his eyes and bring them to life with his reeling mind.
The necklace gripped in his hands was his mother's necklace. Hanging from the silver chain was a Merlin bird, it's wings outstretched in a majestic stance.
Now twenty-two years of age, Arthur still wore the chain around his neck everyday. But the days of stargazing and bursts of imaginationwere long gone. Today, the necklace was nestled underneath his immaculate blue silk shirt and red tie- both designer of course. Chunky navy glasses framed his sapphire eyes, blonde hair combed pristinely over his lightly bronzed skin. Sipping the warm tea from his mug, his eyebrows rose. According to the newspaper in his hands, the official statistics of captured druids in Camelot laboratories had been published. This was not new news to him. After all he was the chief executive, top of the business chain – aside from Uther Pendragon. Arthur had been the one to finalise the figures. The laboratory had been running since as long as he could remember, but even he had little knowledge of what exactly went on down there.
It had begun with one lab (Arthur was told the story many times as a child by his proud father) here in Camelot, the head quarters of Camelot Enterprise. To suggest that it would have remained this way would be foolish, even without knowing the views of m…magic...his father held. As the business expanded, it had progressed into a political superpower, not only promising to find vast expanses of oil, but to create a new, efficient energy. In the constant oil strikes, people blinded by fear and despairing investors had latched onto Uther Pendragon's company. It was the only successful energy supplier to have lasted up to this day and age, where demand was excessively high, and supply was…Arthur frowned. Supply was significantly lower.
This new energy was forged through the extraction of magic. How this was done, Arthur was not entirely sure. He left that to the scientists and just got on with his own job. Some things were best kept secret, unknown. All he knew was that there was now a lab for every C.E office – there were five primary locations scattered across the globe: Camelot, Paris, Tokyo, New York and Sydney. Not to mention the smaller business parks (which still employed over 30,000 people) in China, Germany, Russia, Mexico, you name it. C.E had spread like an infectious virus all across the planet.
Arthur refrained from venturing near the lab. Not because he was scared or remorseful, he just didn't want to acknowledge it. Nobody seemed to be concerned about the moral and ethnic hypocrisy all of this proposed. Despite democracy reigning supreme across the world, the druids were subjected to the utmost discrimination. This prosecution of druids, Arthur knew, had began with his Father: the Magic Containment act of 2085 – underground extremists referred to it as the Great Purge, the destruction of cultural harmony.
This prejudice against the druids had always been visible in human history, but it was only now that the druids were truly prosecuted, discriminated against. Morgana used to recite to him verses of 'æmryš': a compilation of sacred druid texts named after their supposed savoir 'Emrys' – extremely rare. She had been privileged enough to find a tattered copy in a tiny Venetian bookshop. Leon, biologist and furtive scholar on the Druids had begged to see it; Arthur had tried to throw it into the water, where it belonged. His response had not been well received by both Morgana and Leon.
The book, æmryš, revealed that the Druids once had lived amongst people. In fact, they had done so for centuries. However, in the last century, they had returned to their 'Holy land': Albion (Aęniän). Albion – just the human name for it dripped with magic and myth. Many doubted whether Albion existed, for it was invisible to the eye, the expanse of land larger than Australia was secured under a constant magical barrier. It was their safe-haven. Unspoiled land. It was a place where they could continue in their primitive, simple means of living without the threat of being taken to labs or court for simply being a druid.
Those that were stupid enough to step into this world were taken to the labs. Despite the prospect of going to the lab, many druids infiltrated the modern streets, acting as normal people in order to "spy upon the modernised world".
The published figures of druids held in captivity had increased by 60% in the last decade alone. Arthur didn't really have an opinion on this. It was a positive increase, but whether it was worth celebrating over- it wasn't really his place to say. He knew that Morgana would not be happy about this. She had no doubt, once again, planned some sort of sick controversial attack on Arthur for supporting his father in this (support, he thought, was perhaps the wrong word.) Last year, she had set free ten druids – which was ridiculous – and recklessly harboured them to the safety of Albion through a covert network of druidians (people without magic who either support and preach the beliefs of the druids or help shelter them when they exit Albion).
He dreaded to think what kind of stunt she had been planning for this year. Work was going to be hell. Sighing, Arthur glanced down at his watch. Shit. He was late- again.
Tearing himself away from vast mahogany table he was sat at, immersed in subtle touches of Victorian woodwork and modernist simplicity, he picked up the black briefcase. Holding his hand out he spoke monotonously.
"Keys." The car keys obediently landed in his hand.
At the word 'door' it opened itself, allowing Arthur to step outside onto the dark steps. The sun was shining vividly; the usual thick smog was almost untraceable. As he briskly trotted down each step, Gucci sunglasses framing his eyes, the door behind him closed. The buzzing that echoed through his ears assured him his apartment was locked. Jumping into his sexy - he thought it was sexy – C.E 2000, a streamline jet-black vehicle with golden-laced interior, Arthur revved the engine complacently. All thoughts of druids and magic were expelled from his head as the booming music shook the car.
Arthur had definitely broken all the speed limits on his smooth drive to Camelot Enterprise. Any anger anybody had at his outrageous driving melted away in reverence of the beautiful vessel he travelled in. Besides, it didn't matter. He was Arthur Pendragon; he could do whatever he wanted, within reason. Parking up outside the colossal building (the Camelot Enterprise perimeter stretched for miles), he strode up the glass staircase towards a network of codes and heavily monitored steel doors. Flashing his card hastily to the machine, the device buzzed, granting him access. He walked into the main reception hall. Dramatic glass windows peered into other rooms and distant buildings. The tall, towering ceiling continued to astound him every morning, and the large brass statue of his father stood proudly in the centre of the expansive hall. As expected, a woman was rushing towards him over the cerulean-tiled floor, eyes wide. Her long raven hair streaked behind her frantically. Mentally preparing himself for their verbal warfare, Arthur removed the sunglasses from his face, placing them in his suit pocket.
Instead of being greeted by a crude remark, he was struck unexpectedly with an aura of alarm about her person. Agitatedly, she grabbed his arm and pulled him across the hallway wordlessly. A few spectators gazed upon the sight curiously before resuming their business. Drawing his eyebrows together in confusion, Arthur tugged himself free of her grip. The statue of his father towered over him, spilling a dark shadow over the floor.
"Good morning to you too." He grunted, wiping his creased sleeve extensively.
Morgana swallowed-hard and then whacked him forcefully in the arm. She appeared to be apathetic to his dramatic exhale. Taking a step out of his father's shadow, Arthur glowered at her.
"We don't have much time." She said sternly.
Her feet pushed her forwards promptly in a strident march before he could begin to question her behaviour or what she meant. It was typical of her to withhold information. Flapping his arms to his sides in a huff, Arthur followed out of curiosity only. It would be unfair to say that those piercing, sharp eyes had any control over him whatsoever. The cerulean tiles morphed into a dull yellow, the great hall dwindled into the distance behind their brisk walking. They continued to walk through the thin corridor until it stretched out into a wider network. Morgana steered towards the left- a corridor bathed in white and sparse in decoration. Walking down the corridor briskly, Arthur had established that they were nearing Uther's private office. Rolling his eyes, the blonde blocked Morgana's path.
"Get out of my way!"
Her tone was venomous as she took step to the left; Arthur mirrored her steps, avoiding the poison accurately.
"Hasn't this gone on long enough Morgana?"
Drearily, he took a step to the right, predicting her next move. Holding both hands to each side of the wall, he gazed down at the woman with a raised eyebrow. A smirk drifted over his lips. He'd only been here five minutes, and had already foiled her plans of causing disruption, protest or whatever else she was trying to demonstrate.
"This isn't about me." She spat; the words peeled the smugness off Arthur's face, morphing the expression into confusion.
Catching his eyes, her turquoise orbs permeated anxiety.
By now Arthur had reached optimum levels of bewilderment. Blinking slowly, he opened his mouth a little, eyebrows raised as if to gesture he required a little more information than it's Gaius. For all he knew that sentence could lead to just about anywhere. Gaius was kind of an enigma. Reaching the door, the pair barged past the protesting guards (more like mice, Arthur pushed them aside in seconds) and dramatically sprung open the doors. The sight was sickening.
Eyes-wide, he gazed upon the supposed 'druid' on the floor, and heard his father's cold voice resonate through the office.
"Take him to the lab."
Without hesitation, the brutal man standing behind Gaius hauled him up viciously. Attention shifted suddenly to the entrance of the office, the bright light behind the two recent intruders outlined their silhouettes like deities, fighting in the name of justice.
"-What is the meaning of this?" Arthur exclaimed, an undercurrent of anger lacing their voice.
"-Don't touch him!" Morgana spat savagely at the guard, stepping forwards.
The guard shoved past her ignorantly, dragging a silent Gaius down the corridor. Tearing his head towards the sight in shock, Arthur was resolved to run after the man. He was a fast runner, and he could definitely take that guard down easy after getting the gun out of reach.
"You," Arthur, stood at the doorway, felt his resolution crumble at the voice. He remembered where he was standing, whose wrath was about to be unleashed. "dare defy me?"
The observers of the trial left the room quickly, establishing that this was becoming a personal matter that they had no right to impose on. Morgana's stance didn't falter, lips snarling. Swallowing-hard, Arthur opened his palm in a gesture of urgency. This was Gaius for crying out loud! A man of sixty-something who had tucked him into bed, cared for him, nursed Morgana, advised Uther on all decisions. Gaius was like an uncle to Arthur (a far better one than his actual Uncle Aggravaine – slimy traitor). Meeting Morgana's fearful gaze, he took a step forwards valiantly.
"Father please, I beg you to reconsider." Though Arthur knew they were too late. There was no changing his father's mind. Uther was resolute in the 'war against evil' as he called it.
"I will hear no more of this." Uther replied sitting down in his leather chair with feigned nonchalance.
Shaking his head, the young Pendragon continued gallantly. His father wasn't seeing clearly. There was no way Gaius would do anything like this.
"Gaius has always been a lifelong friend a trusted-" Arthur found himself compelled to silence as his father lifted his hand in the air. He pretended not to have seen the flames ignite Morgana's face; she'd always hated how loyal he was to his father.
"Gaius," Uther churned the name out fiercely. "has been secretly converging into my business with the purpose to report back to the druids in Albion."
The raven-haired beauty scoffed, eyes darkening demonically.
"You're wrong Uther. You're always wrong! So quick to turn your back on your friends. You, Uther Pendragon. (Arthur held a hand to the bridge of his nose, wishing he could become invisible. This wasn't helping Gaius.) You are full of hate." Uther locked his eyes on the woman. Any sane person would have taken this as a hint to stop talking.
"Full of evil. You are nothing but a mutated replica of humanity-"
Standing up suddenly, Uther strode towards her.
"ENOUGH." His voice boomed, and for a moment even the voices in the corridor stilled. Morgana bared her teeth resentfully, eyes smouldering.
"YOU ARE MY GODDAUGHTER." Turning away from her in outrage, he loomed over Arthur ferociously.
"And you are my son." The abrupt hushed tone didn't make his words any less startling. In fact, it made them even more foreboding.
Silenced, the pair of them watched as the figure retreated from their personal space and back towards his char. Lowering himself onto it, he spun around. Its long back faced them.
"Leave this room. Now."
Trudging away from the office, defeat plastered on his face, Arthur sighed. Gaius' fate had been sealed, and there was nothing he could do about it. Morgana didn't even look at him; she brushed past him wildly, taking the nearest possible turning, clearly to get away from him to avoid physically lashing out at him.
The next hour passed quickly and – to his relief – he was in solitude. He didn't take a break, ploughing through the stack of files on his desk. He feared getting out of sync with the efficient routine would draw his mind back to the events of the morning. Sitting in his own office, very much an imitation of his father's, Arthur gazed out through his window. It wasn't an inspiring sight; the immediate horizon was full of grey buildings. Workers walked briskly through the dampened streets, some stopped to exchange hellos and others were alone – but nonetheless content.
Camelot Enterprise offered a wide range of jobs. From marketing, sales, production, advertising, engineering…the list trundled on. It was sales and figures that were Arthur's forte, but often he would be found dabbling in other departments. Adjusting some recent projections of their next quarterly figures, and scrutinising his father's new proposals had kept him occupied.
Yet no matter how much he tried to keep his mind busy, lock his thoughts on corporate matters, a deep nausea spread inside his body. One name echoed constantly in the air. Gaius.
Merlin always knew he was lucky to live in Ealdor. It was after all one of the largest druid clans in the whole of Albion, centred at the heart of the magnificent land, and home to the Crystal Cave. The large expanse of tunnels and sparkling crystals were said to be older than time herself, more sacred than the holy water of Avalon. The forest here was nothing but bold and beautiful, trees staggering high enough to hear the voices of those who had passed. They stood proud, tall and archaic, full of stories that only the rare few would have the privilege to hear. The lush layers of woodland were bursting with vibrant tropical plants, and berries that oozed sweet deliciousness. Not to mention the lake, Merlin called it beorhtne. The pure, blue water shimmered in the clearing of the forest, a large mount of rocks scattered around by the hands of nature, which were perfect spots to sit and relax.
The mornings were peaceful and sprinkled with the humming of the forest, the singing of the birds, the cries of animals unfortunate enough to have been chosen for death, and his favourite sound: the morning chants of his people. It was always the same chant, a morning grace perhaps the other world would have described it as. He was a druid with a free life, sheltered from the world of Pendragon's– he had heard the rumours of what happened out there. His best friend Will had seen it all for himself, hiding as a druid with the druidians for two years out in the world where towering metallic forests flocked with people, and strange contraptions like a 'key' that would let you into your own home existed. Merlin thought it was ridiculous, even more so the fact that they were incapable of living alongside nature. He never understood how Will had done it, or Gwenevere for that matter. His lips curved upwards at the name.
She was one of purest, most honest people he'd ever had the pleasure to meet, and to have discovered that she had sacrificed everything, even her freedom to help Will – a man she'd just met according to the retelling of the story - escape from the clutches of the Pendragon DC Team was a constant reminder of her courage. She was a rare exception to the rule: the rule that people from that world are to remain there and never enter Albion. Not that they could, because Albion was made invisible to their eyes, undetectable on satellites, protected by ancient magic. Apparently it was a bit like Hogwarts, Gwen had said when they first met, though Merlin wasn't sure why William found it funny, or what on earth a Hog-wart was.
Sitting down on the mossy tree root, he frowned a little. The sun was rising over the tips of the forest ahead, bursts of amber light streaking through and dancing with the air around. Merlin felt the warmth on his skin, but did not share in its rejoicing. The sun had set yesterday, and something was very, very wrong. It was one of those moments where he just knew something had happened. Like that very day Gwen and William had been on the run thousands of miles away in a completely different world, he sensed it in his gut. Only this time, it was worse. The twinge had kept him up most of night, tossing and turning restlessly. His heart had risen in pace, skin waxen. Clasping his hands together he sighed deeply, allowing himself this one moment to express his concern, knowing nobody else would be around to speculate it…or so he thought.
"Afara*," lifting his head at the gentle voice, his eyes met the face that was swathed in affection. Soft brown curls draped over her shoulders, seeping out from the messy bun. Sitting beside him, she reached for his hands and smiled lightly.
"You may have everybody else fooled, but don't think your own mother can't see that troubled glint in your eyes." Merlin spared a small smile at her teasing tone, it really was amazing how well she could read him, before morphing his face back into a stern expression.
Swallowing-hand, he ran a thumb over his mother's hands.
"Gaius." He choked, eyes favouring the rocky ground beneath the tree. "He didn't come back last night."
Caressing his hands soothingly, Hunith leant towards the raven-haired man. She knew Merlin's love for Gaius was almost on parallel to that for his own father and herself. Gaius had been a role model to him, a man he could look up, the one who would tell him stories at night when Balinor could not. Her face was etched in calmness, in an attempt to pacify the young man; she could feel his pulse quickening through his wrists.
"I'm sure that he is safe Merlin-"
Turning to face her sharply, Merlin allowed the panic that had towered over him all night, whispered things into his ears, to enter his body and consume his entirety. Eyes wide, he breathed quickly at the revelation of his next words.
"He comes back every night since he left Ealdor, even before I was born I know he did."
It was a truth that could not be denied even by his mother. Without fail, Gaius would return from that world and back to Albion at night. Whether it was for a few hours or even a few minutes, he would make his own welfare and safety known to the clan. Merlin wondered if anybody else had noticed he didn't return. Pursing her lips together, Hunith reached for her son's face, flicking a strand of black hair off his forehead.
"I'm sure he's safe Merlin." She assured once more.
But it wasn't assuring at all. It was terrifying. Something was wrong- he knew it. He could feel it inside his magic, inside his soul. Yet nobody, not even his father, had seemed to understand that Gaius not coming back was a big deal; even possibly an indicator that he was in trouble. Images of what the truth may be flashed through his mind, and it was enough to make him stand up suddenly and pace back and forth agitatedly.
"No." he murmured, biting one of his fingernails as it rested against his mouth.
He always came back, always.
"No." Merlin repeated more forcefully, spinning around to pace the other way. "Something's wrong. I can feel it. I just know-"
Hunith stood up, grabbing his shoulder.
"Merlin-" her voice was stern, eyes narrowed in a rather protective manner.
Despite knowing the worry that was going to consume her, the clan for that matter, he knew he had to fight her on this. There was no way he was going to stand by and let Gaius suffer. He felt a wave of nausea burst through him. What if they were torturing him? What if- Releasing himself from his mother's grasp, he took a few steps back from her.
"You know I'm right. I'm going to find him."
Flinging herself forwards, eyes wide, Hunith shook her head. Merlin took an extra step back, hand raised, palm outstretched.
"It's too dangerous Merlin please! You can't do this." Small tears threatened to escape her eyes.
"Watch me." Smiling sadly, Merlin inhaled a deep breath.
With that, his eyes became rimed in a rich Gold, shining belligerently. A bright light enveloped around him, trees shaking blithely against the force of wind blowing around.
But it was too late. The moment Hunith's words sounded, they were echoing around an empty clearing. Merlin was now in a dangerous world, where death for a druid was theeasy option. Even worse, he was in the heart of all of this evil: