A/N: This crossover is slightly AU due to the nature of the Guardians here. They're the version of the Guardians from our fic series, "The Guardian of Screwing Up" but the differences aren't so bad a newcomer needs to read the series to know what's going on. The main differences:
• Jack and Bunny are now total besties and have cemented their bro-ness
• Jack had to survive a creepy, traumatizing hell maze after being forced ont the Siege Perilous by Pitch Black (the Siege being something Merlin created, natch)
• Bunny helped Jack recover but Jacks's still a little off-kilter
• Jack's center has now deepened from "fun" to "joy" and his physical appearance changed to get icier and deader looking
• Anansi the spider, who was a hidden pseudo-Guardian who Manny has used to solve certain problems for years joined the team officially as the Guardian of Stories
• The Guardians were absent during the fight with Gunmar due to a really messed up situation fighting Pitch and other evil myths and didn't escape until the Trollhunters had already won
That's about it for the differences!
by Kate and Kira
In an abandoned New Jersey warehouse, Merlin prepared a summoning.
Calling on the fae could be expensive, and the fairy princess who specialized in memories was more expensive than some. The worst part of her price wasn't obtaining all the necessary chrysocolla, it was grinding it into fine enough sand.
Fortunately, Merlin once had an apprentice to do these things for him, and that stash of blue-green sand in his small magical gold-and-gemstone cache was still sufficient for one calling, even if the circle he made was a touch...miserly in size.
It would probably be alright. The Princess of Punjam Hy Loo had always been a small girl. Still, summoning royalty - even a royal heir to a kingdom long since fallen and faded into undiscovered history - usually called for a little more decorum than this. But desperate times called for being cheap and relying on a princess to be both petite and polite enough to overlook it.
Merlin swept the warehouse floor himself, laid the necessary sigils out of sticks of rosemary and ashwagandha, and sprinkled the ground chrysocolla clockwise.
As the end of the blue-green sand line touched the beginning and completed the circle, a rush of cool mountain air scented with jasmine and plumeria ruffled the rosemary and freshened the stale warehouse. The princess, fast-talking, mid-sentence, buzzed midair inside the circle. Her transparent insect wings flashing in the sunlight, gold feathers glinting around her pretty pink face, purple highlights flashing in her long blue-green tailfeathers.
"-tehorse, unseasonal ice, three incisors. Molar, Karachi, big one, two of you go -"
The fairy princess's jewel-bright eyes caught Merlin. She turned in midair, blinking, and focused on him. A few of her handful of tiny familiars buzzed around her, almost indistinguishable from hummingbirds.
The princess cleared her throat, and pointed to her fairy familiars. "Do you mind?" she asked, with the polite tone of a working woman mid-task.
"Of course not." Merlin cut the slenderest path in the chrysocolla circle, for the little familiars to exit.
"Thank you." Toothiana fixed him with her star-white smile. "Girls, you know where to go."
The littler tooth fairies zipped out through the path in the dust, and Merlin reclosed the summoning circle. "Well, your highness," he said. No reason not to treat her like a princess when he was about to ask her for a favor. "The years have made many of us less dazzling than we were, but they haven't dimmed you in the slightest."
"Aww." The princess sweetly clasped her hands. She had slowed down her fast-paced jabbering with her assistants on their way, and she seemed prime for a bit of flattering. "Merlin, how kind of you. What in the world are you doing awake? And in -" she spun around, her wings glinting in the sunlight, still exuding the freshness of an incense-scented mountain. Her eyes widened as she inspected the warehouse. "Is this New Jersey? I could swear a little boy named Justin from Camden lost his lower right canine in this warehouse 14 years, 3 months and 18 days ago on a field trip -"
"And the years have left you no less sharp than I remember," Merlin complimented, as the princess drew up her knees and placed her delicate hands on them, sitting in midair. "I cannot tell you how pleased I was to learn that the Princess of Punjam Hy Loo had gone on preserving memories all through the years I slept."
"And how long has it been?" Toothiana asked, leaning forward to the very edge of her containment circle. "I can count, let's see, hmmm -" she leaned back, looking into her own memories. "At least 1,579 years since we last talked, and, well, I guess I was too busy to know when exactly you went underground, or -" she giggled, self-effacing. "Whatever it is you do to stay alive so long. What do you do to defeat mortality, anyway?"
Merlin remembered the Tooth Fairy being a faster talker, and her smalltalk now made him impatient. He'd expected her to want to be on her way, especially now that there were so many more children living in the world. Only a small percentage of the living ones must still believe in her, to keep her this unhurried. "A good magician never reveals his secrets, my dear," he said. "But even the greatest human magic can't keep us as eternal and beautiful as the Fair Folk."
She leaned her petite, pointed chin on her hand and smiled, close-lipped this time. "Oh you old wizard, you'll make me blush. "
The wind picked up, rattling the panes of glass in the windows. Merlin cleared his throat to speak over the sound. "I could easily wile the day away just in compliments to you, but I did call you here with a question."
"A question?" She repeated. "What question would that be, Merlin?"
"I need a memory belonging to a young mother who lived in the 3rd century."
"Oh, the third century," she repeated, drawing the words out, looking aside. "Third century. Which 3rd century? BCE, or AD?"
The wind gusted louder. Outside, someone was yelling. Probably one of the young men at the 'skate park' he'd passed at the end of the road - the voice had that youthful tone of thrill and excitement. "BC. I can't recall the woman's name-"
The Tooth Fairy's expression flattened. "Of course not."
"But she lived in Carthage.-"
"Carthage, mm hmm, I see"
"- and had three -"
"Are you sure?"
"...No - four children, as well as a family secret relating to the -"
"Relating to the Tomb of Osiris?" she suggested. The windowpanes rattled louder.
"No, the -"
"Oh, the birthplace of Enkidu?"
Merlin considered that he might, actually, like to know who had family secrets about both of those places. "No," he went on. "Her secret involved a map to a city of -"
A window by the roof broke and the wind blew a howling boy through it. He landed by the Tooth Fairy's circle, gripping a wooden staff in his pale hands, as something heavier hit the roof above them with a clang and a ringing of bells. The ground between the Tooth Fairy and Merlin fell into a sinkhole. A bearded man in red who would have only been considered on the short side if he were standing next to a troll rappelled from a roof vent to the ground, just as a rabbit as tall as a man jumped out of the hole. Both newcomers joined the boy in pulling weapons on Merlin - the tall white-bearded man, two swords, the rabbit, two hunting clubs.
It dawned on him that the Tooth Fairy, uncharacteristically small-talky, asking so politely to send her familiars off on what he assumed was just their work, had been buying time.
In the instant all three beings had assembled, Merlin barely had time to manifest his own sword and took a step back as they advanced, only to feel something - something hard, and uncomfortably, stiffly hairy - delicately touch the back of his neck.
He turned. A spider the size of a carthorse descended from a web as thick as a hawser. It looked at him with 8 glittering eyes, retracted the leg which had touched him, and a human smile split open the space between its pedipalps.
The visceral stomach-freezing horror that the spider had set off in Merlin solidified as he looked down and saw, glimmering golden, the Sandman.
The ancient, silent maker of dreams looked at Merlin, looked around Merlin to the Tooth Fairy in her gem-sand circle, looked at Merlin again with an expression of utter unimpressed disdain, and shook his head.
"Tooth, you are all right?" asked one of the - the entities behind Merlin, in a thick Russian accent.
Reluctant as he was to turn his back on the only being he knew who was older than himself - and reluctant as he was also to turn his back on a spider that large - Merlin did.
"Who's this clown?" asked the boy. He was as white-haired as the older man, but preternaturally so. Cold radiated off him, misting in the air. Icicles clung to the tips of his hair and frost whitened his eyelashes, glimmered on his colorless cheeks, spread everywhere his skin touched - the staff in his hands, the ground beneath his bare feet, crackling over the fabric of his blue hoodie. There was something alarmingly of the grave in his cold colorlessness, as if he were a corpse pulled from the snow too late.
"I'm fine, guys, stand down," the Tooth Fairy said. They didn't quite stand down, the three before Merlin all lowering their weapons slightly as she went on. "Everyone," she said. "Meet Merlin." She smiled, and the wizard detected a hint of tension in the expression. "Merlin, everyone."
"That...hardly satisfies the beginning of my curiosity," Merlin admitted, looking over his shoulder and back, trying to recognize anything of the new four surrounding him.
"Oh, this is Merlin!" yelled the boy. He, alone, relaxed. He spun his staff and leaned on it, suddenly beaming at ease, his snow-white grin lighting up his face. "Hey, so which myth is true," the boy who looked as though he ought to be dead asked. "Do you age backwards through time like in that Bradjamin McButton movie, or do you wake up in a different point in history every day?"
The rabbit had not stood down at all, and still crouched with the hunting clubs ready to attack. "When did you decide to put the Queen here in a circle," he asked, in an accent too new for Merlin to recognize, "and who inherits your stuff when she gets out?"
The troll-sized man in the sweeping red coat had only lowered his swords, his warrior's glare shifted to a smirk. "Truly, you did not have to kidnap one of us to get our attention. We were going to come and find you soon anyway!"
"I...might be flattered if I knew more of your names," Merlin said.
"You wouldn't," the glowering rabbit corrected.
"We're what the kids these days are calling 'Squad Goals,'" said the boy in blue, spreading his fingers for flair.
Toothiana giggled. For all her time-buying earlier, Merlin never had heard her giggle, and she cast the boy a look much more like that of a teenage girl than a dignified princess - or, if the rabbit was right, a Queen. Several of her returned familiars buzzed around the boy, chirping in an affectionate tone. "Well, you're not wrong," she said.
"So you're a wizard, can you do magic?" asked the boy. "Do you make fireworks? Will you give me some?"
Merlin looked at the boy with his apparent unending questions and felt dread in the pit of his stomach. "I'm already tired of talking to you," he said.
The boy's snow-white grin only widened, the tiniest hint of malice finding its way into his grin. "Well that's just too bad for you, because I've got a lot of questions."
"And you are going to hear all of them," said a voice behind Merlin, in an accent that put him in mind of the Akan people. That voice must have come from the un-introduced spider with the human mouth, as the Sandman would not have been the one who chose to speak. A spider with a Ghanian accent set off something in his memories - nothing he knew enough to share details about, but rekindling his awareness of folk tales he'd never found reason to look to the end of.
"Who's the rightful king of England these days?" asked the corpse-boy, his smile widening by the second to something increasingly manic. "Did you make the Siege Perilous?"
"Really, this is fine," Toothiana said, clasping her hands in a pleased motion again. "This saves us time. Merlin, we're the Guardians of Childhood. We've been meaning to speak with you."
Why any Guardians of Childhood would want to speak with him was a mystery - oh.
He kept his expression blank. This could hardly apply. The Trollhunter was barely a child even by the generous standards of this modern era.
And yet here he stood, faced with a rabbit that looked ready to rip his throat out, a troll-sized man who looked ready to help, a giant spider almost as dreadful as the maker of dreams, and a corpse and a queen who seemed prepared to reminisce lightly about his death.
It was infuriating. Toothiana had always been nothing but compliant when he'd summoned her before. He'd had no reason to suspect she'd be anything else now -
Fury wouldn't get him out of the middle of this...mythological gang with his life, though. "I heard nothing of Guardians of Childhood when the children of Arcadia were being attacked by GummGumms during the Night Eternal."
The rabbit scoffed loudly. "Oh now he wants to know where we were during the Night Eternal."
"Indeed, I do," Merlin said, looking the aggressive creature up and down, digging for a reference to understand him by. The boy and the man were easy enough to figure out - a too-solid ghost and a human hero who'd become legend after he went to sleep, but who'd ever heard of a rabbit becoming a hunter? The solar designs etched into his gauntlets and the painted eggs on his bandolier evoked the fairy rabbits who heralded spring, but even the most noteworthy of the pookas had never been more than a mild trickster. "And who should I say was absent during that battle, when I speak of the Guardians of Childhood hereafter?"
The rabbit snorted. "Do your own research."
"I'm serious about the Siege Perilous thing," the boy interjected. "You're not leaving this warehouse until I get a yes or no. Before you say it," he interrupted, as Merlin attempted to tell the boy to also do his own research, "this is me doing my own research, and also, if you did make it, I'm going to see how you like sitting on -"
"Guys, do you mind letting me have a turn?" Toothiana put in, over-politely. "He did ask to speak to me."
Why did this return to his goals no longer comfort him? Merlin glanced over his shoulder again at the Sandman, who had composed of his sand a small board to file his nails with. The expression he cast at Merlin told Merlin that he was firmly on his own, and that if anyone were prepared to stop the corpse-boy from attempting to cast Merlin onto the Siege Perilous, that anyone was not the Sandman.
"Merlin," said the Tooth Fairy in a gentle, cajoling sort of voice - "Let's talk about how your amulet chose a child. "
"The amulet chose the best candidate for -"
"Best?" Toothiana repeated, her eyes widening suddenly, her inquiring voice taking on a tone of warning. "Out of all the beings in all the world, a 15 year old child with no combat training was the 'best?'" Her wings seemed to vibrate at a faster rate, though she stayed in place in her summoning circle. "Merlin, do you want to clarify what pool of candidates the amulet had to choose from?"
"I'm afraid you haven't taken into account what the boy has done -"
"I'm afraid you haven't answered my question," pressed the Fairy Queen. "Because if the amulet chose from all the candidates in all the world, then it's extremely convenient that its next bearer happened to live in the same town where the previous Trollhunter died. It's inconvenient that this candidate was a mortal human child. How unfortunate that in all the world there was no troll more fit to wield."
Her voice was rising, in a commanding fury he hadn't expected of the young immortal he'd encountered centuries in the past.
"How unfortunate that in all the world there wasn't an adult human fit even to hold on to the amulet until he could receive training and come of age. Is that really what you expect me to believe?" she asked. "That in all the world, there was no troll warrior - no firefighter - no rescue swimmer - no living, trained, adult hero more prepared to be chosen by the amulet than a pure hearted child who lived where it fell? That's what you expect us to believe?"
"Regardless of what any of us believe, the boy has proven himself most suited -"
"If the boy was so much more suited than any other living being, so undeniably fit for the amulet as he was, then why did you have to change him into an entirely new creature in order to fulfil the mission you trapped him in?"
The tension in the room had risen to true, concentrated anger. Every one of the Guardians who'd smiled before stared at him with the same hard fury that the Tooth Fairy voiced.
"I would like you to tell me the truth about the range from which your amulet had to choose, Merlin," she said. "I would like to know if you considered that range, and the need for failsafes, before you made it."
Frustration boiled at the edge of Merlin's mood. He'd had a simple question about a map to a secret city, and now he was being interrogated by a group of spirits whose power he could only guess at, given that the oldest known being was one of their number. "I had limited time to make the amulet and was barely given a hand with its creation." Literally. "It still chose the best person for the job." The princess - queen - continued to stare. "If I'd had more time and resources, I could have, perhaps, widened its scope -"
Her crest of headfeathers laid back slightly, some tension removed from her frown. "Now was the truth really so hard to tell us?" she asked.
"I fail to see what you expect will come of this...interrogation," he said, watching any of them for a sign of motion, for an opening by which he could escape, and leave them to deal with freeing their summoned Queen. "The boy would not give up the amulet now even if he could -"
"No, you certainly left him with no path in life but to wield the amulet until he dies," Toothiana said. "Taking that purpose from him when it's the only purpose he can have anymore would be cruel." She crossed her arms. "But changing the boy is the last cruelty you will ever do him, Merlin." She spoke it like a sentencing. "You are bound to this boy's life. You made the amulet, and you failed to ensure that it wouldn't endanger a child by choosing them. You made him the Trollhunter, and now you will be his benefactor in every appropriate way."
"It seems to me that guarding a child falls under the domain of people who would call themselves Guardians of Childhood," Merlin argued. "If you are so powerful that I should worry about the consequences of your anger -" each small fairy chirped in sharp, personal indignation and the Queen's eyes widened again, her feather crest flaring again with the beginnings of insult. "Then clearly you should be the ones going into battle for the boy."
"Of course we will go to war for this child," cut in the Russian man. "As we go to battle for all children."
"But he's a little old to believe in us," the rabbit said. "You, though, he believes in."
"Even if he doesn't like you any more than we do," said the boy in blue.
"May you choke on that dislike, for all the good it does you to have it," Merlin said, looking down his nose at the boy.
The boy's smile twitched, dropped, but before he could finish inhaling the rabbit interjected. "Oh, yeah mate? And may your chooks turn into emus and kick your outhouse down."
Merlin blinked. "Was that English?"
The Tooth Fairy cleared her throat again.
"You owe the boy several things for his work. You owe him honest guidance that isn't shaping him into something more convenient for your own plans. You owe him a way to live in both of his worlds as much as he can. You owe him every chance, under his circumstances, to become as close to the adult he wants to be, and would have been without your interference."
"And the consequences if I do not?"
Somehow, this made the fairy Queen look slightly sad.
"Merlin, you used to have a heart as good as any hero," she said. "I don't have your memories to protect, but I still protect the memories of people who knew you when the world was simpler. When you were more hopeful. Why do you ask me for consequences before you'll do right by Jim?" Her softened voice slowed some of the racing of his pulse. "You used to do the honorable thing because your heart felt it was right. Don't you want to feel that again?"
He could not tell her, long as she had now lived, that her idealism was come from naivety. She'd been awake while he'd been asleep. He didn't know what she'd seen, to tell her that she hadn't seen enough to understand the hardening of his soul.
She sighed into his silence.
"If you do anything else to hurt the boy - and you must think very, very carefully about how your choices can and will hurt the boy - we will kill you."
The dire sentence sounded strange on her sweet voice.
"I would rather not do that, Merlin. You have done much to protect the world. You've done much to save mortals in your life. But you've also done so much to hurt them, and called the balance fair. But you're not the only judge in the world anymore." She sounded almost sympathetic. "If you do everything in your power to fight alongside the boy, and provide for him as a knight in your employment, then you can go back to calling on me for assistance like you used to. You can call on all of us for assistance in your good works. And once you do your research -" her chiding was still gentle - "you'll realize that you want us to be willing to help you in all things, not only those things that involve protecting children."
All this was threatening enough, but Merlin eyed the gem-sand circle that kept the fairy queen within, and her minions without. He raised a bushy eyebrow. "It does not seem to me, Your Majesty, that you are in a position just yet to be dealing threats or cutting bargains."
The spirits all looked at each other with a clueless sort of disbelief. Toothiana's eyes were wide with blank innocence. "What do you mean?"
Merlin gestured to the circle, with a touch of grandiosity. "Have you forgotten you're here at my request?" he said, rather patiently he thought, for someone who'd just been threatened with death.
A snort of disbelief and - yes - humor rippled through the attending spirits. The rabbit and the man in red sounded ready to burst into real laughter. The chittering of oversized pedipalps behind Merlin made his spine tingle.
The ghost boy in blue looked rapidly from Toothiana, who had her forehead in one delicate hand, to the circle, to Merlin, and back. "Who the French Toast does this wise guy think he is?" he burst out, as the Tooth Fairy rubbed her own temples.
"Alright, I see," she said. "You really thought - oh Merlin. You've misunderstood for long enough."
To his horror, she glided over the ring of blue sand as if it were not there at all.
The steely fury in her eyes only grew as he found himself with no more room to step back, the spider and the Sandman holding him in place, the boy in blue, man in red, and green-eyed rabbit circling, penning him into a circle in which the fairy Queen held him captive.
"Did you really ever think that a summoning circle would hold me?" she asked. "Did you truly think I remained in that circle because I had to bow to your power?"
The buzzing of her wings filled the room, the sound growing louder and louder as her words grew harsher.
"I have never been a demon for you to command. I don't owe oaths to anything you can use to bind me. You have thought so wrong about so many things, Merlin. I am only one of them."
The buzzing was so loud, now, too loud to come from even her brilliant wings alone. The windows darkened as if clouds covered them, but no - the darkness covered the glass like masses of insects, a million wings buzzing all words away.
Bodies streamed in to fill the warehouse, through holes in broken windows, chinks and cracks barely big enough to admit a mouse, the air filling with flashing green and blue, sharp beaks and bright eyes and buzzing wings. Yet still the windows were darkened with fairy birds.
"You thought you could lie to me about the child?" the Guardian of Memories asked, her hands on her hips. "You thought you could pull the wool over my eyes? When I have so many?"
Every bright eye was fixed upon him, so many small familiars - so many that every child in the world must believe in her, to give them all flight.
"The world is changed, Merlin."
The Princess of Punjam Hy Loo - Queen of he knew not what - hovered above his eye level, her arms crossed, her sweet face steely.
"You didn't bother to find out how the world is changed, but it is. The last time you were awake, things were harder. Things were crueler. People who should have been protected were exploited instead. That world is gone." She indicated her team. "We changed it. And now- you're going to learn how that change affects you."
Quietly, just enough to be heard in the background, the boy hissed "Yaaaaas, Queen," and the remaining four stifled their laughter.
Toothiana looked down her nose at Merlin, ready with her final judgement.
"It's time you learned about Child Labor Laws."
Jim and the horde of grootslangs had been locked in pitched battle for at least five hours in the cave system. The darkness had meant that Claire couldn't come inside and fight because she didn't have nightvision like him, and the light of his armor wasn't quite enough to fight by. After Nomura had been hurt by their fire, he'd helped her get to the cave exit, leaving him to face the last of them alone.
He slain most of the creatures but a few of the largest ones were still alive, and Blinky was still nowhere to be seen. That was no surprise. He'd been blocked by a cave-in earlier, while destroying the nests of hatching grootslangs in the other chamber, and had disappeared into the cave system to try to find another way back to help Jim.
Jim's only comfort there was knowing that all the adult grootslangs had been occupied with chasing him - he'd kept count, using their distinctive markings to keep track of them all.
He couldn't count on help coming and he couldn't let the firebreathing, snake-like grootslangs slither into the outside world where they could wreak havoc on the suburbs above.
Like many battles before, this fight was his alone.
Jim heard the rattling hiss of scaly skin sliding on the cave floor behind him and turned just in time to see an unmistakable spark of light in the dark. Jim summoned his helmet over his head and formed his shield on his arm, holding it up with an arm shaking with exhaustion as the monster spewed fire at him. Bracing himself in a firm stance, he waited for the flames to knock him back like they'd done several times before.
Expect when the blast finally came, it dispersed in front of him, as if it'd hit an invisible wall, spreading around him in a spherical shape. After absorbing the blast, green magic etched in intricate designs around him revealing that he'd been placed in...some kind of magical bubble?
"Wait, what?" said Jim, as the grootslang blasted the bubble again. Once again the flames dispersed.
Jim dared to lower his shield arm and was hit in the back of the head by a bag full of something. He looked down and saw a two large zip lock bags at his feet. One was filled with triangles of orange plastic that looked like they'd once been a traffic cone, the other was filled with empty capri sun packets.
Jim looked to the left to see an armored arm sticking through the sphere. It held a plastic container of hydraulic fluid. A bendy straw poked through the foil on top.
Merlin raised his other hand and blasted back the grootslang with a blast of green fire.
"Ummm," said Jim. "I am so confused right now.
"Just take it," said Merlin in a long-suffering tone. "You've earned a short - " He corrected himself. "- a half hour's rest."
Jim was reminded very suddenly of being handed orange slices and a juice box by his mom after a soccer game. He watched in confusion as Merlin took up the fight in his stead.
"Why - why is this thing that's happening a thing that's... happening?" Jim asked in confusion.
"Be silent and eat your snack, Trollhunter."
Jim shrugged and sat down on the cave floor inside the magic bubble, stuffing the Capri Sun packets in his mouth. They were tangy, with a nice chewy texture, like slightly stale potato chips. The hydraulic fluid was refreshing, too.
"A half hour, you said?" Jim shouted around a full mouth as Merlin locked himself into mortal combat.
"Thirty minutes minimum, and if you waste another three hours finishing the job, I'll...take over.."
The New Jersey Labor Law statutes were very exacting about the length of the workday.
"Uh. Okay!" Jim said brightly, already moving onto the traffic cone wedges.
One of the grootslangs slammed Merlin back against the bubble, and the wizard stood up, groaning. "Oh, and." He reached into his pocket, shoved his hand through the bubble to Jim again, and dropped something into Jim's hand. "Take this. Your wages."
Wages? Jim looked into his hand at the -
"Holy sheesh-kebab!" he burst out, lifting the fist-sized nugged. "That's - that's so much gold!"
"It's back-pay." Merlin hefted his sword and charged back into battle, snarling. "Back in my day, ten was considered a perfectly respectable age for adulthood -"
After Merlin managed to knock the grootslang down, Jim yelled up encouragingly, "You're doing great! I think you have it on the ropes!"