What's Past is Prologue

Gwen was awoken by a stream of light across her face. She felt the hard bark of the tree against her back and legs as she stretched. It was morning at last.

She had fallen asleep inside a tree with Fira sitting above her on a nearby branch. The bird cocked its head at her and watched her stretch.

"Play time is over," she said, climbing down the tree in no time at all. "We have to reach the castle by nightfall."

The bird spread its wings and spiraled down to meet her. It landed on her shoulder and nipped playfully at her neck.

"Stop that," she said, batting the bird away, "there's nothing you can do to convince me to stay. I have to keep my word."

She untied her horse and jumped upon its back.

"Do you know where the Valley of Shadows is, Fira?" she asked, looking at the bird on her shoulder. "I have no idea where I'm going."

The bird took flight, her body a burst of fire against the pale blue sky.

"I'll take that as a yes," Gwen said charging forward after her.

The Valley of Shadows was a very dangerous territory from what she'd heard. Few ever left the area alive, and those who did wouldn't speak of it. There had been speculations as to way lay within its dark depths: demons, goblins, ghouls, you name it. To Gwen, it was all just gossip. The only way of knowing what it held was to travel through it.

Gwen would have much rather taken the route through the Forest of Meira, but she suspected there was a reason the Green Knight had told her to travel through this particular area to get to the castle.

She couldn't believe it, but she missed the castle already. Though it wasn't quite home, she'd found her niche within the castle. She had become part of a family, something she wasn't quite used to. The only person that had mattered to her had been her father and, though he tried his best to be there, she often felt an incredible loneliness in being his only child. Now she had Merlin, Morgana, Lancelot, and…

Her heart constricted in her chest. Arthur had been a part of that family too, before she betrayed him. She knew he would never forgive her for what she'd done. He had too much pride for that.

She wondered if he'd be sad when she never returned to Camelot. Would he look for her? Or would he be relieved that she was finally out of his life?

Pushing all such thoughts from her head, she willed the horse to ride faster. None of it mattered anymore. None of it. Today was the day of reckoning, a day of sacrifice, a day of fighting.

Today, she would die a hero.

Fira squawked in the distance, flying in a circle to indicate that they had finally reached their destination.

"Good girl!" shouted Gwen. "Let's get going!"

Fira landed on her shoulder once she was off the horse and she walked towards the valley, feeling utterly confused.

The valley was covered in bright green grass and brightly colored flowers. The wind blew lightly against the grass and the blades moved rhythmically side to side. There was no trace of shadows and darkness. The valley appeared light and airy, much like the meadows she used to run in when she was a child.

"Are you sure this is the right place, Fira?"

She turned to face her bird only to find that the bird wasn't there any more. In fact, neither was her horse or any of her supplies. Her vision was engulfed in a sea of vibrant color.

Feeling more confused than ever, she took off running, only to trip over her clothing. She sat up in the grass and looked down at her hands.

They were not her hands; they were the hands of a child.

Panicking, she reached up and touched her face. It was much softer than she remembered. Her lips were a little thinner and her nose was a little smaller, but her hair was just as curly as ever.

Looking down, she realized she was wearing a dress. It was pretty and lavender, her favorite color, and caused a wave of nostalgia to rush through her.

A ring of twisted flowers lay a few feet from her. She leaned over and hooked it around her finger, eyes widening considerably.

This was her medow. The small hands were hers. The flowered crown…

Picking up her skirts and holding the crown gingerly in her hand, she ran as fast as she could, past the small forest, the lake, the dusty trail.

When she reached her house, her cheeks were red from the journey. She pounded on the door with her little fists.

The door opened wide and a much younger version of her father towered over her.

"Gwen, you're home." He eyed the flower-crown. "Did you make that for your her?"

She nodded and tears welled up in her eyes before she could stop them.

"Shh," her father said, wrapping his arms around her tiny body. "I'm sure she'll love it."

She was afraid to speak. This was all too painfully familiar to her. It was not a day she would easily forget.

Her father dropped her near her mother's bedside. Her mother had the same curly hair and smattering of freckles. Her normally beautiful and vibrant face was incredibly pale and thin.

"Gwennie?"

"Mother," Gwen said, kneeling in front of the bed. "Are you feeling better? I miss you."

Her mother grabbed her hand tightly and looked her in the eyes.

"Gwennie, you must promise that you'll take care of yourself and your father when I'm gone," she said weakly. "Don't cry for me. I don't want to see tears marring your beautiful face."

Gwen remembered what she'd asked her next.

"When will you be back?"

"I won't be back sweetie," she said after coughing violently. "Remember that, no matter what happens, I love you. I've never stopped loving you and I've done everything I could to protect you. I hope you can forgive once you're old enough to understand."

"Mommy, I don't understand," Gwen found herself saying, as though on autopilot. "What are you saying?"

Her mother slowly closed her eyes.

"Bye, Gwenie," she whispered before her hand went limp.

"Mom!"

Tom knelt down next to his daughter and wrapped his arms around her tightly. Gwen melted in his embrace. She felt like her heart was going to explode, much like the first time she'd had to watch her mother die. Time had not made her death any easier to bear.

She buried her head into her father's chest only to stumble head first into a cold lake.

The water was shallow and she felt the hard rocks cut across her face and knees, cutting her favorite lavender dress. She resurfaced, but not of her own volition. Her hands were being held behind her back and rough hands gripped the roots of her hair.

"You stole from me you worthless little peasant," a voice growled in her ear. "I want my money now."

Gwen's lungs were on fire and she was gasping hungrily for what little air she could get.

"The boy…was starving," she managed to sputter.

"What the fuck do I care what you did with the food," the angry storekeeper growled. "Just give me my money."

"I don't have it!" she yelled.

He dunked her head in the water again before she had enough time to prepare. The water filled her lungs and she could feel her vision going blurry. She was going to die here. All because she stole a loaf of bread for a starving three-year-old.

She had only been five when it had happened and had been traumatized for months after it had happened. It all felt very real, like the threat of death still remained.

The man pulled her out of the water and gasped when he realized her body had gone limp. She felt him drop her on the ground and heard the sound of his footsteps as he ran away.

The water was still burning in her lungs. She was still drowning.

Then, she felt the water being pulled from her throat in a stream, freeing her lungs and causing a rush of air to fill her chest. The rush of air shocked her and she rolled over, coughing violently.

She looked up to see a figure in an elaborate purple dress run away as fast as her little legs could carry her, her long chestnut hair swaying rhythmically. Her kind unidentified savior.

Gwen lay back on the grass and the fear rushed through her as her surroundings vanished and she was back at him, laying on the floor. Her father burst through the door looking beaten and battered and Gwen's heart filled with dread. She remembered this day vividly. It was the day she'd nearly lost her father.

She now realized, as she ran for to get some water, that The Valley of Shadows was inhabited by something far worse than ghouls or goblins.

It was her own personal hell.


"You don't know where the Valley of Shadows is, do you?"

They had been riding around for what felt like hours, with Arthur at the head of the back and his companions following close behind him.

"We'll be there soon, Merlin," said Arthur through gritted teeth. "It's just very far. You have to be patient."

"We've seen this tree at least three times," Lancelot whispered to Merlin, just loud enough for Arthur to hear. "He doesn't seem to know where we're going."

Arthur felt a vein pulsing in his temple.

"He's obviously lost," said Morgana rolling her eyes, "He has too much pride to admit it—"

"Will you all just SHUT UP?" Arthur screamed. "I'm trying my best. I don't see the three of you lifting a finger to help."

"We would if you'd give us the chance to, sire, " said Lancelot.

Arthur felt his blood boil at his words, but he didn't say anything. Lancelot had a way of speaking that was so painfully polite, that Arthur couldn't say anything without looking like an ass.

"Yeah," Merlin piped in. "I've told you at least a dozen times that we should have taken a right at that funny looking tree back there."

"I'm going to need much more target practice when I get home," said Arthur, darkly. "I really think shooting an arrow off of your head would be excellent practice."

That shut him up.

"Wait," said Morgana, stopping suddenly, "do you hear that?"

They all stopped to listen.

Suddenly, an anguished cry reached Arthur's ears and he felt like his head was going to split open at any minute. He moaned loudly as the pain coursed through his head.

A large bird swooped down and landed right on his horse's head and… it was singing. Tears were running down its feathered cheeks as it continued to sing.

"How do I shut this thing up?" yelled Arthur, glaring at the bird. "I think it's trying to kill me!"

To his surprise, Morgana jumped off her horse and ran to the beautiful creature, lifting it gently off of Arthur's horse and cradling it in her arms.

He noticed she was crying too.

The bird stopped singing and flew in the air, circling around them, waiting for their next move.

"Gwen's in trouble," Morgana said, wiping her eyes. "She's being tortured. We have to move quickly. Fira knows the way."

Arthur looked at her strangely as she began to mount her horse.

"How the hell did you know all of that?"

"Does it matter?" Morgana snapped back. "Gwen's in trouble and it's your fault she's in this mess to begin with. Do you really want to waste time asking questions?"

She gave him little chance to respond before she rode off after the phoenix. Lancelot took after her immediately.

"Is there something I'm missing here?" he asked Merlin, who just shook his head at him.

"You're an idiot," Merlin said, before he too rode off.

Arthur sighed and followed after him. Something was definitely up with Morgana. He'd known she was strange ever since she'd been brought into the castle, looking defiant and angry. There was always a bit of sadness in her that seemed to go much further than the death of her father and he'd just seen it now when she held that bird.

They were all mad at him for lettingthat woman go off on her own, but Morgana and Lancelot seemed furious. Lancelot was in love, that much he understood. It made him angry that Gwy—Gwen had kept that a secret from him as well. He wondered briefly if she had been seeing the two of them at the same time, but thought better of it. Lancelot longed for her, that much was certain, but she clearly had been keeping her distance from him.

But Morgana? She'd known Gwyn was a woman for some time and he could tell they had some sort of bond. It wasn't something as trite as friendship but, rather, something he couldn't quite grasp.

He would ask Merlin once they returned to Camelot. The boy seemed to know a lot more than he let on.

After riding for a few minutes, the bird started circling around them.

Arthur looked around, startled at the sudden change in scenery. This place was barren. The earth was cracked and dry and barren trees grew from the ground. It didn't look like anything had lived in this place for years.

Morgana dismounted and began running as fast as she could towards something in the distance.

The boys followed after her moments later, keeping their eyes out for anything suspicious.

Morgana stopped suddenly and gasped in horror. Arthur unsheathed his sword and pulled her behind him quickly.

Gwen lay on the ground, completely stripped of her armor and only wearing the training gear beneath. Several long-fingered hands were gripping her arms, legs and hair.

They were trying to drag her into the ground.

"Let her go," Arthur growled, running towards her fallen body.

Her face looked anguished and her skin was ashen, like she was already nearing death's door.

He reached out to touch her face. As soon as he did so, several heads popped out of the soil to glare at him.

These creatures had been human once, but something had changed them. Their skin was thick and grey and looked rough, like a lizard's. They had sharp, pointed teeth that showed under their thin lips and scraggly matted hair that seemed to grow in patches.

They were ghouls.

The palace servants used to tell him about creatures like these when he played tricks on them. They were creatures that ate souls and inhabited human bodies. His father had put an end to such nonsense by assuring him that they didn't exist.

But they were right before him now, his nightmare come alive at last.

"Let her go," he said again, hating the way his voice seemed to waver.

"How very peculiar," said the one grabbing Gwen's left arm. "It's been a while since a prince came to the Valley of Shadows."

The creature turned to Merlin, Morgana and Lancelot with greedy eyes.

"A sorcerer, a faerie, and a warrior," said another clinging to Gwen's hair. "The fates have been gracious to us today."

"You mean a servant, a ward, and a servant," Arthur said, gesturing to his companions.

"Whatever you say, young prince," drawled the female ghoul gripping Gwen's legs. "I know what I see. The souls of sorcerer's and faeries are delicious and I could smell one from a mile away."

Arthur looked doubtfully at his friends (and begrudging acquaintance). He could buy Lancelot as a hero, but there was no way Merlin was a sorcerer. He'd known Morgana for more than twelve years and he'd never once seen her sprout wings and flit about.

"The sorcerer is protecting you all as we speak," the female ghoul insisted. "If he wasn't, we'd all be devouring your souls."

Arthur turned to Merlin, who had his hands behind his back. He was looking forward and his eyes didn't show a trace of the trademark glow of sorcerers.

"How about we play a game with you," said the ghoul gripping Gwen's hair. "If you win, you all get to escape. If you lose we get to devour all of your souls."

"No!" yelled Merlin from behind Arthur. "Never play a game with a ghoul. It's too dangerous."

"If you disagree," said the ghoul, stroking Gwen's forehead with a gnarled finger, "this poor girl will be ours. She's already running out of time. Her mind is half way through the third cycle."

"If I lose," Arthur said, sheathing his sword, "You must promise to let my friends go. I will not risk their lives."

"It must be all of you or no deal," said another, flashing his teeth threateningly.

"Do it, Arthur," said Morgana, stepping forward. "I'll gladly risk my life to save her."

"I would as well," Lancelot said.

They all looked at Merlin.

"Sure," Merlin said, pouting. "Make me look like the bad guy. Don't say I didn't warn you."

"I'm taking that as a yes," said Arthur, smirking. "Don't worry. I won't lose."

"We will send you into her head," said the three ghouls simultaneously. "She cannot see or hear you unless you find the words to unlock the trance. If you can't find them before her memory begins another cycle, we win and your souls are ours for the taking.

"I accept your challenge," Arthur said, nodding. "I will stay true to my word, you must promise to stay true to yours."

Very well," they said in synchrony.

The world swirled around him and Arthur found himself in a dark shed. Light seeped in through the various small cracks and through a tiny hole in the wall.

A tiny figure crouched down in front of the hole, watching intently.

"So he puts all his weight on his left leg," she said in awe. "I suppose that's what gives him all the power of his swing."

The girl was wearing a delicate light pink dress that looked brand new. Her hair lay freely across her back and shoulders, long and curly with flowers threaded through out.

He was looking at young Guinevere, not a day past fourteen.

Arthur knelt down beside her so he was close enough to see what the girl was seeing and his own eyes widened a bit in both astonishment and embarrassment.

She was staring at him through the hole; a seventeen-year-old version of himself practicing swordsmanship and training to become a knight.

"I'll never look that graceful, " she said dreamily. "He's perfect."

"I'm not perfect," he said to her. "Not even close."

She didn't hear him, she just kept looking at him in admiration, and he couldn't help but think of how he'd let her down by throwing her in a dungeon at their first meeting.

The door to the shed swung open and three burly silhouettes stood just beyond the door frame. Gwen stood up and glared at them defiantly.

"Thought you could run away from us, did you?"

"I did pretty well for myself if it took you this long to catch up with me, Peter."

"Well look at you," he said, leaning against the door frame. "I told you we weren't finished. What kind of girl refuses a offer of marriage from a man who is much richer than she?"

"A stupid one," a boy wearing green.

"I'll never marry you, you pervert," she hissed. "I want to become a knight. I can't waste time on people like you."

"I gave you your chance, you stupid girl," he said. "You? A knight? A woman is not meant to do anything but bear children and cook for her husband. It is the way it's always been and you don't have the power to change it."

"I will," she said confidently. "No matter how long it takes."

Arthur was astounded by her resolve. She had told him how much she had wanted this but, in his anger, he'd never believed her.

"We can help you along a bit," said a boy in red as he pulled a knife from his pocket.

Guinevere backed into the wall as they approached her. She held her fists right below her face, preparing to fight.

Her stance was weak, Arthur realized in horror. She had no chance against these men.

The boy handed the knife to Peter, who turned it around in his hand, staring at it with manic glee.

"Hold her down," he ordered.

Gwen tried to scream, but one of the boys held his hand over her mouth, silencing her.

Peter grabbed her hair by the ends and pressed the knife a few inches from her scalp. He moved the knife back and forth across her curly locks until he'd cut it clean off.

He dropped the hair to the floor and she began to cry as he began to tear her new dress until it was nothing more than a tattered mess, held up by her bodice.

"You should be thanking me," said Peter as he stood up, admiring his handiwork. "You look enough like a boy that you might actually be considered."

They began to walk away, sniggering to each other as Gwen cried behind them.

"Cowards!" Arthur yelled. "Get back here!"

But it was no use. They couldn't hear him, just as Gwen couldn't hear him.

All the while, his younger self was swinging his sword, oblivious to what had just transpired.

Amazingly, Gwen dragged herself off the floor and peered through the hole to watch him again.

"I can never return to this place," she whispered as though the young prince could hear her. "When we meet again, I will show you and all of Camelot that I'm worthy enough to become a knight."

He reached a hand out to touch her shoulder but, before he could make contact, she and the shed were gone, replaced by yet another memory.

There was a girl in the forest, swinging a sword, falling, bruising, breaking, but she continued, day after day. Everything was moving quickly now, the sun rising and setting in minutes.

He watched every minute of it, transfixed as this girl he barely knew, became a woman right before his eyes. Her hair had grown back, longer and thicker than before, just as defiant as she.

He watched her kill a man in a forest, threatening the young prince. It was a strange sight to see. The man he'd thought he'd known for months was cowering on the ground. His expression and face were foreign to Arthur. This man looked much more masculine than the Prince Gwyn he remembered. This man had no trace of the courage he'd shown in battle.

But the woman who battled the bandit radiated the quality down to the tips of her bare toes.

He watched her arrive in Camelot and cringed as his overly-confident self strode over challenging her to a fight and then sending her to the dungeons. Saw her heartbroken face as Lancelot left her in her time of need, Malegeant advancing upon her after learning her secret, her changing feelings towards him.

He searched for something meaningful to say. Each time he watched a piece of her life. Something that would get her out of her trance so he could get through to her. But, nothing he said to her seemed to work.

"And so you return. I've been waiting all night," Arthur heard himself say.

He stood at a corner of the room, looking at her with more anger than he thought he was ever capable of. Gwen, who had previously looked very happy, looked confused and a little frightened.

"I was angry," Arthur said. "I didn't know everything I know now. I didn't know how much you suffered to get to where you were. I thought you'd deceived me."

Gwen didn't turn around. she just stood fixed at the Arthur of her memories.

"I nearly slept with a handmaiden yesterday. She reminded me that I'm still a man, despite what you may think."

The real Arthur cringed as he knelt down beside her.

"I'm ashamed of that," he said, touching her shoulder. "So ashamed. But I was confused and angry at you. You have to believe me."

"You were going to massacre an entire race for no reason!" Gwen shouted, without turning back to face him. "You would have done something dishonorable had I not stopped you."

"YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO SPEAK OF HONOR!"

Arthur's own voice terrified him. Had he really said all these things to her?

The guilt increased as he watched her plead to him, sobbing, hoping he would just give her another chance. But he was stubborn to a fault. He wouldn't hear her out even though she'd been telling the truth.

"I want you to leave Camelot immediately and never return."

Arthur had never wanted to punch himself so badly in his life.

The door slammed and Gwen seemed to crumble onto the floor, crying with complete abandon. Again, he searched for the words to say to her.

"I'm sorry," he said, rubbing her back.

Nothing.

"I—I…"

All he wanted was for her to stop crying. To stop reeling from the pain that he had caused her. He'd seen enough of her anguish. No one should have to suffer this much. And, though she had hurt him too, his sympathy for her was stronger than his pride.

He knew what he had to say.

"I forgive you."

Nothing happened at first and, for a moment, Arthur thought it hadn't worked. But then, she slowly turned around to face him.

"Arthur?" she reached out a hesitant hand to touch his cheek, but soon dropped it. "Is that really you?"

He caught her hand before she could drop it completely.

"It's me," he said, moving his other hand up to her cheek to wipe off the tears with his thumb. "You're such an idiot, crying for me like this. I'm not worth your tears. No man is."

She chuckled a little through her tears.

"God, I've missed you," she whispered, closing her eyes into his touch. "I thought I'd never see you again. I didn't even get a proper goodbye."

"I'm sorry for that," Arthur said. "I said some awful things to you. I didn't listen—

"I shouldn't have lied—"

"I should have trusted—"

They both stopped, staring at each other for a moment before laughing.

"We're both horrible people," said Gwen, once she could speak again. "Let's just leave it at that."

"We can't leave it at that," Arthur said, entwining his hands with hers. "I didn't say goodbye, remember?"

"It's too late for that now," Gwen said, looking at him strangely. "I've already left."

"Then how about I say hello," he said huskily, pulling her arm so her lips and body collided with his.

It was a kiss filled with all the emotion and longing they'd been feeling for the last few days. Anger, jealousy, anguish, and lust flooded from one to the other until it was difficult to tell who was feeling what anymore.

She placed her hands on his jaw to steady herself and he threaded his hands in her hair at the roots, sending a shiver down her spine as she arched back a little.

His other hands rested on the curve of her back as he dipped her even further back, kissing her harder and hungrier than he had before. His mind was finally clear. There was no more confusion, or doubt that he'd ever had feelings for her or that she had felt something for him. He could feel the same rush of exhilaration through both their bodies as he had the last time they'd kissed.

The castle melted away around them and Arthur felt their minds slipping away from each other as he returned to his own body and she to hers. He turned to face her and she smiled weakly at him as she sat up.

He offered a hand towards her, which she accepted gratefully.

"Took you long enough."

Merlin was standing in between Morgana and Lancelot, shaking his head. They were now standing in a grassy hillside and there was no trace of the Valley of Shadows. The black stone castle stood a small distance away.

"And what have you three been doing while I was off doing all the real work?" Arthur said, raising an eyebrow at them all.

"Oh, I don't know," said Merlin, playing dumb, "immobilizing ghouls. No problem though, they didn't do anything but break the promise and try to eat our souls the moment you went under. We turned them all to stone, though. They won't be able to reclaim this valley for another hundred years."

"What? Why?" Arthur asked, looking confused. "I won, didn't I? I brought her back."

"Because we," said Morgana, gesturing to her self and the other two men with a wide sweep of her hand, "took care of it. You didn't win anything."

"And ghouls are hard to get rid of," said Lancelot, wiping his sword off on the grass. "You have to hit them right in the center of their hearts or else they won't die."

"It took us ages to figure that one out," said Morgana, sighing.

Merlin sighed exasperatedly.

"Never play a game—"

"—with a ghoul," Gwen finished for him.

All four of them looked at her.

"I have Gaius to sprout these things to me everyday," Merlin said, raising a brow. "What's your excuse?"

"My mother used to tell me all. I didn't even get to see what they looked like before they dragged me down. I didn't even know they were behind it."

"I can't believe I did all of that for nothing," said Arthur sighing. "I thought I was a hero or something."

"Not all for nothing," Gwen whispered, smiling at him.

"Guess not," he said, returning the gesture.

"Could you whisper any louder?" asked Merlin, craning his ear. "I think the people in Camelot may have just a little trouble hearing what you're saying."

Arthur glared.

"Shut up, Merlin."

"I save him yet again and this is all he can say to me," Merlin said, vying for sympathy. "Such is life."

"Well," said Arthur, ignoring him, "I guess we're off to the castle, then. I've been itching for a good battle for a while. I've been getting bored lately."

"Arthur," Gwen said, placing a warning hand on his shoulder. "This isn't just a fun battle you can brag about when you're finished. These knights are clever. It's going to be very dangerous."

"What makes you say that?" Morgana asked her, trying to hide her joy at Gwen's recovery.

"There are five of us," Gwen said, looking around, "And there are five of them. I remember. I'm beginning to think we were all lured here. Whoever's behind this must have known I would react this way, and must have anticipated you would all follow me here."

"But why?" Lancelot asked. "What's so special about the five of us?"

Arthur coughed importantly.

"Fine," Lancelot sighed, showing signs of irritation. "What's so special about the four of us."

Merlin and Morgana can use magic, Gwen thought. I supposedly have Fay blood. Arthur's a prince. Lancelot…

She hadn't quite figured that one out yet. Admittedly, her deduction didn't really lead her anywhere. Why on Earth would someone want them all to come here? Was it because the knights wanted to toy with them?

"I'm not sure," Gwen said after a moment. "I just know that whatever is in that castle wants something from either one or all of us. Any of us could be used for leverage for the other since we're all such…good friends."

Judging by the way Arthur was glaring at Lancelot, the two of them were anything but good friends.

"It's you," Morgana said, pointing at her. "You're the common thread between us all. You're probably the target."

"Then why even bother to bring you all here?" Gwen wondered aloud. "It doesn't make any sense. Why didn't they just grab me at the castle. I was completely vulnerable."

No one could think of an answer to that question. They all stood in silence, completely dumbfounded.

"Well, we're just wasting time trying to find a logical explanation for all of this," said Arthur. "We're bound to figure it out once we face whatever is in there."

"I never thought I'd say this," said Morgana, slowly, "but Arthur's right. We're wasting time."

"Thanks for your support," Arthur said dryly.

"Let's go," said Gwen, looking more determined than ever. "Let's show whoever's in that castle that we are not to be toyed with."

They left their horses in the medow and Merlin covertly whispered a spell to keep them from running off.

Within the next hour, they were standing at the door to the castle. They stood in a line, a unified front with Gwen in the middle. Two sorcerers stood on her left and two warriors stood on her right. They were indeed a team to be reckoned with.

The doors creaked open slowly, revealing nothing but a dimly lighted hallway. Gwen grabbed one of the torches and led the way as the others followed quickly after her.

They reached a circular room with a large eight-pointed star embedded in the ground. There was a staircase to the far left that seemed to lead to a higher floor.

They began to walk towards it, but a force pushed them back and they all collided painfully with the floor.

"Did you really think it would be that easy?"

They all looked up to see a blue armored figure sitting in the center of the star.

"If you wish to advance," he said. "If you fail, you'll be kept here forever, as souvenirs for our Queen."

"Who is your Queen?" Arthur asked.

"Defeat me and I will tell you," said the knight. "Only one of you can challenge me."

"I will," said Arthur, unsheathing his sword.

"Insolent boy," the knight growled. "You are not a creature of the old religion. There are three who qualify. I will choose the most suitable challenger."

"None of us here can use magic," Arthur said, crossing his arms over his chest. "You're out of luck."

"We often miss what is right in front of us," the knight said, shaking his head. "There are three, though one is not in control of the little magic she has."

He lifted a hand and pointed at Merlin, who froze.

"I challenge the one named Merlin, for he is said to become the greatest sorcerer that ever lived," said the knight.

"Merlin?" Arthur guffawed. "He is certainly not a magician. Don't you think I'd know if my servant was practicing magic right under my—"

"I accept your challenge," said Merlin, stepping forward and doing his best to avoid Arthur's eyes. "Name your stakes."


We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again
(And by that destiny) to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come,
In yours and my discharge.

The Tempest Act 2, scene 1, 245–254


A/N: Sure, now that I'm stressed, I get more motivation to write. At the time when I shouldn't. Oh well. You can't stay away from something you love for that long.

I promised fireworks. I think I gave you sparklers, but I didn't want to get too carried away.

Merlin had to reveal his magic at SOME point in this story. I couldn't let Arthur stay oblivious forever. He deserves more than that.

I think it'll be a chapter or two before I finish this arc. And, since this story is moving much faster than I thought, I may make it 25 chapters instead of 30, like Hello, Sunshine, my other story, which means I'm more than half-way done. If I decide to cut it short. Again, I hate when things drag on. I know how this story ends and how to get there, and I think I can get there in 11 chapters (about 70,000 more words), but who knows. Time will tell.

Finally, other people have a chance to fight! I've underutilized magic for a reason. I really didn't want it to get too repetitive. Now I get to write two entire magic battles!

I spent time I shouldn't have spent writing this (for shame) so please tell me what you think. It will make me feel much less guilty :P.

Miki-hime