Title: The Seven Rays of Magic
Disclaimer:Merlin and all associated characters belong to the BBC and Shine.
WARNINGS:None
Summary:There are seven types of practice within magic and Merlin is destined to master them all. But, that isn't as easy as it sounds... Part 1: Emrys is the one prophesised to return magic to the land. But how?
AN:When writing 'The Wisdom of an Old Man', I did a fair bit of research into magic in order to find out how they categorised it. What I found wasn't really parallel with what has been said in the series, so I scrapped it and had Gaius speak of the more general idea of 'Black' and 'White' magic. However, I got thinking and decided that maybe I should view them less as types of magic and more as the types of practice within magic.
So, long story short, I have now come up with a small series, with each chapter featuring one of the seven 'types' of magic, to allow me to write some much 'happier' one-shots before I try tackling what I have dubbed: The Dreaded Conversation.
'The Seven Rays' is not a new idea and appears in a lot of philosophies and religions throughout history and around the world – for example the seven 'Gifts of the Holy Spirit' in Catholicism, as well as the fact that seven rays of light are usually drawn to signal the arrival of the dove as it descends from heaven in various illustrations of the bible story. The idea of the Seven Rays features heavily in magic too and each Ray was categorised to have a gemstone (as they were often used to represent each ray in rituals), a quality and a colour associated with it - the latter two of which are hidden in each chapter. There was never any real reason for me to attach these concepts to my story; it's just something I got interested in whilst reading up on my facts. Really, it's just a fancy way of ordering and naming the chapters.
For the sake of getting this storyline to work, this series is completely unrelated to the 'On the Wings of a Butterfly' story arc.
Enough of my babbling now… Enjoy!

-~-M-~-

The Seven Rays of Magic

The First Ray – Diamond
"It's not that some people have willpower and some don't. It's that some people are ready to change and others are not."

Natural Magic – magic which involves either using the secrets of nature or using the power of nature.

-~-M-~-

Merlin had a gift for Natural Magic.

He had long been told that natural magic was the most ancient form of magic; it had always been present all around, and it always would be. It powered life's natural processes, keeping the harmony by maintaining the balance of the land and allowing life to flourish. It was raw and untamed, controlled by none and containing an immense amount of energy that would never run out. Natural magic was the source of the elements, of the seasons and the weather, of time and change, of life and death. It was the type which was used the most by magic-users and also included the most powerful magic of them all: the Old Religion, the type of magic which filled Merlin to the brim and from which he was born.

Sometimes, Merlin almost felt like a conduit for natural magic. It came easily to him: when he reached for it, it seemed to almost reach back, like an old friend. So great was the amount of magic inside of him, that he often almost felt as if he were a part of the land around him; just by sitting and feeling the flow of energy around him he could follow its movements, seeing how it connected animal, plant and human in an intricate pattern of golden light. At least, that was how it appeared in his mind's eye, pulsing and writhing to its own natural beat.

Natural magic was the most easily touched and yet, it still had the potential to be by far the most powerful.

As his small group was led through the tunnel, the young warlock could feel the air practically thrumming with energy, so much so that it almost felt like his bones were vibrating with it. By stretching out his magical senses, Merlin could sense at least four huge rivers of energy – ley lines – converging into this place, feeding it. While so much raw energy in one place made the warlock feel euphoric, it also scared him slightly. The magic was natural, but whatever was luring it here almost seemed as if it wasn't, as if the magic were being forced to.

Merlin knew for a fact that Gaius, Arthur and the other knights that had come with him had no idea what they were really here for and he didn't either, to be honest. He could tell by the way that they were all looking around as if something were going to jump out on them that they could all sense how much magic there was here. Gaius seemed to be especially affected, as his posture was tight as a drawn bow-string and he kept casting cautious glances towards Merlin, as if questioning if this was such a good idea. In this place, magic was more concentrated than the warlock had ever felt before; not even the Lake of Avalon or the Isle of the Blessed had had quite this effect on him. Bearing that in mind, he was not surprised that the others could feel something different upon entering this place.

Not that the fact they were feeling the same on some level made the warlock feel any better…

Back at the entrance to the tunnel their guide – a strange man with worn-out, grey robes, white hair, matching eyes and who introduced himself only as Wief – had said that those who wished to remain behind could stop here. Gwen had been ordered to stay behind against her wishes, along with Percival and Leon as her bodyguards. The rest of the group carried on walking; Wief leading, followed by Merlin, then Arthur and Gaius, then Gwaine and Lancelot, with Elyan bringing up the rear.

They had been walking for what felt like hours now. An uncomfortable silence hung over the group and their only source of light was the crystals – very similar in appearance to the ones in the Crystal Cave, only red – which covered the walls and ceiling of their pathway. Merlin, usually the one who would be doing most of the talking, followed quietly behind Wief, absorbed in his own thoughts.

Camelot was a very different place now. Arthur was King and one of the first things the new ruler had done was to amend the law concerning courting between nobility and commoners, as well as the law concerning the requirements for becoming a knight of the realm. Not long after that Arthur and Gwen were married, at long last.

In general, Queen Guinevere was loved by the Kingdom; she was the People's Queen, having come from a background like theirs. She stood as a symbol of the kind of ruler Arthur was and also represented the commoners, having known what they had to go through in their daily lives. There were some nay-sayers around – mainly traditionalists or those who were worried about promoted peasants 'stealing' their privileges – but they were a minority, and everyday Gwen seemed to be able to win more of them over.

However, the biggest change – at least for Merlin – was that his magic was no longer so secret.

The revealing of his magic hadn't exactly been ideal. Morgause had survived being blasted across the room and had figured out exactly who had done it to her. The scheming cow then hadn't even told Morgana of this fact until they finally attacked Camelot in revenge a year or so into Arthur's rule. The fallen Lady's dumbstruck face when her half-sister had greeted Merlin as 'Emrys' in front of the entire court had been an absolute picture, as had the looks of confusion on everyone else's. Morgause had clearly counted on Morgana's eventual – if a bit delayed – reaction of explosive anger and it hadn't really surprised Merlin either, though the sheer amount of power she'd unleashed sure had. With a single scream, the enraged witch had blown out all of the windows in the council-chambers whilst simultaneously striking Merlin down with a blast of pure energy. Having been smashed into one of the throne chairs across the room, the warlock had then been too dazed to fight off Morgause as she took the opportunity to beat Merlin stupid using her magic. The warlock had learnt later that Morgana's continuing blind fury whipped up a wind which prevented any of the knights from coming to his aid without being thrown back themselves, though at the time he had been too disconnected from reality to realise how hard they had been trying.

Despite the fact that he would have been able to protect himself with magic, Merlin had been reluctant to either defend himself or to retaliate. By his thinking, there was always the chance that Arthur hadn't believed a word that Morgause had said, that if he could just endure, maybe his secret could be kept a little longer and it could all be fobbed off as a misunderstanding. That idea had soon been forgotten when – having been beaten and thrown about until he was bleeding and almost to the point of unconsciousness – Lancelot and Gaius' cries to "Fight back!" had finally reached his addled mind.

Hearing such desperation coming from his father-figure and his magical confidante had struck a chord in the warlock, especially as the former usually warned against Merlin using his magic. Before he knew what he was doing, Merlin's magic – having already been boiling under his skin with the desire to protect him from further pain – had been released in a wave of energy not dissimilar to Morgana's. What was different, however, was that Merlin was infinitely more powerful than the impulsive witch. Reacting on Merlin's over-whelming urge to make sure the sisters couldn't hurt either himself or his friends anymore, his magic had responded by teleporting the sisters away in a blaze of blue light – to where exactly, the Gods only knew.

After that, Merlin's recollection of events blurred as the pain of his injuries caught up with him. Though his entire body had been battered black and blue, the most serious of these injuries had been broken ribs, extensive bruising on his back and a nasty injury to the back of his skull from his original impact with the chair. He spent five days drifting in and out of consciousness and it was a further three more before any of his periods of wakefulness were lucid enough for him to make out where and who he was.

At first, Merlin barely remembered what had happened, never mind what his magic had done instinctively in front of everyone. So, he had spent another four days recovering, never seeing the King once, but seeing pretty much everyone else as they took turns sitting with him. All of them refused to discuss what had happened until Merlin was recovered more, though he didn't miss the way they had all looked at him; as if he were a whole new person. Really, that alone should have clued the warlock in to the fact that something was up; however, it wasn't until he finally came face-to-face with the King that he realised something big had happened. Somehow, Merlin had just known that Arthur knew and he had promptly hyperventilated, scaring the bejeesus out of Gaius and the young King when the pain that exploded through his healing ribs had caused him to go so far as to start to turn blue and nearly kill himself right there and then until the physician sorted him out. Panic-attack over, Merlin then learnt that there really had been no point in his rather over-the-top reaction. As it turned out, impatience was something else to add to Arthur's list of stellar qualities; rather than wait for the warlock to wake up, the King had managed to get most of Merlin's back-story out of Gaius and had then worked out the real stories behind what had been going on in Camelot for the past few years for himself. After getting Merlin's side of the story, followed by a long lecture about keeping secrets from one's master and the importance of self-preservation, Arthur had decided to let sleeping dogs lie and had left things at that.

A month or so later, fully healed, Merlin had found himself promoted to Advisor and the laws on magic were relaxed slightly. Three months after that, Merlin became the first official Court Sorcerer and the ban on magic was lifted completely.

It had now been nearly a year and things had been surprisingly peaceful. Even better – with his gifts allowing him to sense things in a way he couldn't describe – was the news that Gwen was now around three months pregnant. He believed that Gwen was starting to get an inkling as to her condition, but noone else knew and it was killing the warlock to continue keeping his mouth shut.

However, no silver lining shone without dark clouds on the horizon too.

Soon enough, Wief had appeared in a puff of smoke in the middle of a meeting of the Round Table. After hours of trying to get something out of the man other than "The help I seek can only be given by Emrys. Please, follow me – you are needed," the group had finally given up and followed the strange man on a three-day journey past the Lake of Avalon and into the snow-capped mountains which separated Camelot from the next Kingdom. High up on a snowy plateau, they had found themselves faced with a cave, at the back of which was the tunnel that they were currently trekking through.

As Merlin carried on walking, he was forced to concede that the sheer volume of magic here wasn't the only reason for the warlock's nerves and feelings of ill. Despite all of the new and hard-earned openness in their relationship, Arthur didn't yet know of the prophecy concerning Emrys and the Once and Future King and Merlin wanted to keep it that way. Back when he was still injured and Arthur had asked after the name Morgause had used for him, Merlin had merely said that it was what the druids called him and that Morgana's reaction was because the fact he had a Druid-name indicated he had magic. Though this was completely true, he had never told Arthur the full truth behind the title. There were no selfish reasons for this, merely that Merlin didn't want to add the pressure that knowing of the prophesies would bring onto the young King. Because he didn't know the prophesies, Arthur had no idea how powerful Merlin actually was; the telekinesis and shielding spells he had seen were child's play for the warlock now, so he was nervous about the King finding out that Merlin would one day – if he wasn't already – be the most powerful magic-user ever. Wief appearing and using the name as well as "you are the only one who can help" will have refreshed Arthur's memory and this time the warlock didn't think the King would accept that it was only a mere name.

Swallowing nervously, Merlin clenched and unclenched his sweaty palms, finally lifting his head as the tunnel suddenly opened out.

They were led out into a huge cavern, so high that Merlin guessed the entire heart of the mountain was hollow. It was perfectly circular; a ledge about a hundred yards wide surrounded the circumference and was softly lit with the same red crystals as the tunnel. Beyond the ledge, the ground then dropped away into a vast, bottomless pit. Suspended over the pit was a large stone circle, attached to the surrounding ledge only by four bridges of stone. Where the bridges attached to the circle there were four large, clear crystals, each thicker than a tree-trunk and as tall as Merlin's chin. Right in the centre of the circle was one last crystal – much smaller, only coming to Merlin's waist – illuminated by a thin beam of moonlight coming from somewhere near the top of the mountain, hundreds of feet above.

Merlin looked upon the place with awe and, gazing at the stone circle, the warlock had the brief thought that maybe this was where the Kings of Old had gotten the idea for a round table. This place was old, ancient even. Yet the design was remarkably reminiscent of one small table in an old, crumbling castle.

The sides of the giant stone circle were covered in runes that had been neatly scored into the rock; though they were so old that even Merlin had no clue what they could mean. A neat, continuous gouge surrounded each crystal in its own mini circle and then followed the circumference of the circle to connect those mini circles to each crystal's nearest neighbour. The centre crystal was also contained in its own little circle and was attached to the surrounding crystals by four lines. Merlin realised that the bridges and each of the four outer crystals lined up perfectly with the four points of the compass, however what really surprised him was that all the crystals were attached to a different ley line, each of which made its way invisibly through the centre of the stone bridges and came to a stop directly beneath a crystal. Merlin had never seen the stopping point of a ley line; even at the Lake of Avalon, the ley line merely snaked past, giving up energy as it passed.

Question was, were these crystals the beginning of the ley lines? Or were they the end?

Merlin was so entranced with his environment that he very nearly walked right into Wief as the man abruptly turned to face the group. The man's colourless, pupil-less white eyes were unnerving enough but, in the strange light of the crystals, they almost seemed to glow orange. Clearly the man was blind, yet he had no problem getting around and he certainly had no problem in fixing his gaze with Merlin's, making a tingle of unease shoot up the warlock's spine.

"We are here."

"Stating the obvious a little there, aren't we mate?"

Wief ignored Gwaine, as he had for the entire trip. In fact, he hadn't even so much as acknowledged anyone other than Merlin and, briefly, Gaius.

"The time is upon us, you must do it now, Emrys."

"He doesn't have to do anything you say." Arthur cut in fiercely, surprising Merlin, who had almost forgotten that the king was there. Not entirely surprising, considering he had become so used to the man either being unconscious at times like this or having been left out of the loop. "What does he have to do?"

Merlin briefly entertained the thought that maybe it would be nice if Arthur actually was unconscious. Honestly, the warlock was glad that Arthur was here to support whatever Wief wanted him to do, really he was. However, what he didn't like was the King speaking for him when he was perfectly capable of doing so himself. But the question was one he wanted to know the answer to, so he merely glared at the side of Arthur's head before looking back to Wief. The old man had a slight smile on his face and a slightly baffled Merlin seriously hoped that the guy wasn't reading his thoughts. To his shock, Wief instantly looked contrite.

"I apologise, my Lord. It is often much easier to communicate in that way than to converse with the riff-raff who cannot see."

Merlin shouldn't have been surprised. He really needed to practice some mental shielding or something. Maybe he could find something written about it somewhere.

"That's… OK," Arthur replied slowly.

Did the prat really think Wief was talking to him? His misguidance would have been funny if it weren't for the fact that the way the strange man was speaking would eventually force Merlin to have to answer some hard questions. Wanting to move things on quickly, Merlin opted to repeat Arthur's question mentally, as well as add his own.

"What is it that I have to do? And what exactly do you mean by 'cannot see?'"

Wief smirked and answered Merlin's questions aloud.

"As you could probably discern; I am completely blind. I have been so since my first ritual, when I was picked to be the next Guardian."

"The guardian of what?" Again, Gwaine was ignored.

"This place is ancient. It is believed by the Druids that in a time of chaos, five beings came together and performed the First Ritual; sacrificing their bodies and becoming a focus-point in order to balance the energy of the elements."

He gestured briefly towards the crystals in the circle.

"That story is what is written into the Circle, though that language is now lost to us. For time beyond memory, The Ritual has been performed here every four years and it was one of the only times that many different magical societies would come together peacefully for the same thing. In order to maintain balance, the five elements must take turns being dominant. Despite Uther's Great Purge driving many beings into hiding, we continued with The Ritual, as we had to. That is, until twelve years ago."

Wief suddenly reached out, placing his index finger on Merlin's forehead. Before the warlock could ask what he was doing, Merlin let out a strangled yelp and he heard Arthur calling out his name as the world abruptly spun and faded to black.

-~-M-~-

Shapes and colours quickly began to join together again and Merlin found himself still stood in the same spot, though the people present and the atmosphere were both very different from before. The small crystals which coated the outer part of the cavern were glowing yellow instead of red and the ledge was packed with people. Most wore Druid clothes, though some wore nothing but strange coloured paints on their bodies and others didn't even look human at all. In the air all around were faeries of many different kinds and Merlin finally understood what Wief had meant; creatures from many different backgrounds and species were gathered here. They couldn't be more different and yet they all shared two things: their magic and the world they lived in.

Merlin then suddenly realised exactly who he was with; stood next to the warlock with his blue eyes wide with awe was a much younger, brown-haired version of Wief. Just when Merlin was about to try speaking to him, Wief's voice echoed inside his head.

"This was my first ritual more than fifty years ago. I was a few years older than you are now and was oh so curious about the world around me. Be what I was seeing incredible or ordinary, I drank it in as only those still in their youth can. I had no idea then what lay ahead of me."

Merlin's eyes were drawn to the circle, where four people – two women in Druid clothes, one man wearing the strange paint and the last man in clothes that Merlin was more familiar with – were each making their way to stand behind a crystal. Once all four were in place, they closed their eyes.

Everything went utterly still and silent.

Suddenly, all four pairs of eyes opened, blazing gold. There were no spells and no incantations, though through Wief's memories, Merlin felt the sheer amount of power the quartet were exuding before everything suddenly went white with bright flashes of gold.

There was a loud scream, though Merlin wasn't sure whether it was his own or just another memory…

-~-M-~-

Jolting back to himself, Merlin found himself lying on the floor surrounded by the concerned faces of his friends: all his friends. Through the lingering dizziness, he figured that Arthur was probably rather miffed that Gwen had ignored his orders and followed them anyway, but at present he was much more concerned with what he had just seen. Despite some rather insistent hands on his shoulders trying to keep him down, Merlin managed to sit himself upright, his eyes locked on Wief's.

"What was that?"

"That was the moment I was chosen to be the next Guardian. It is the Guardian's job to choose the representatives for each ritual. On that day, the Elements gave me the gift of Sight; I see into people's hearts – where magic resides – finding just the right person at the time to take up the mantle of the conduit. I do not need eyesight, because I can see."

"Merlin? Are you alright?"

Gaius sounded worried and Merlin realised that it was his guardian's hands on his shoulders. Clearly he had passed out when Wief showed him his memories. Normally Merlin would reassure them that he was fine and he would have explained what had happened. However, the warlock was starting to get an inkling of what he was here to do and he just had to know.

"What happened twelve years ago?"

Wief looked distressed now, his face contorting into an anguished expression.

"I could not find any representatives. The Painted Ones dared not travel to Albion from their homeland across the sea in order to be present for the ritual, and Uther has hunted down and killed many of the Druids. The faeries turned to bitterness, choosing to remain in their parallel realms where they would be protected from both the wrath of Uther and the perils of the land. There was noone to choose from and since the last ritual was performed twelve years ago, none have been performed since."

Someone tried pushing Merlin so he was lying down again, but the warlock shrugged them off and shakily stood, still keeping his eyes locked with Wief's and virtually ignoring everything else around him, despite the worry it was probably causing.

"What happens to the people chosen after The Ritual?"

"I think we should get out of here. I don't think this place is good for him; he's been acting strange ever since he set foot in the tunnel."

Gwaine sounded uncharacteristically worried and reached a hand up to test Merlin's forehead for fever. Said hand was quickly swatted away by the warlock, whose dizziness had subsided. But any irritated retorts or further conversation between his friends was ignored when his attention refocused on Wief's reply.

"What happens to them? Nothing. The original five have already made the sacrifice to become the point where the energy pools; what they cannot do is release the energy that they collect between rituals, which is the task of the representatives. They feel drained afterwards and occasionally some younger specimens are physically or mentally overwhelmed by the power in the crystals on productive years. Usually though, they all walk away from this mountain with their lives."

"But what if a ritual is missed? You said that The Ritual keeps the balance, so surely it's a bad thing?"

"It is very bad indeed, my Lord." Then Wief switched to speaking aloud. "Tell me, do you know what a ley line is?"

The sudden change in both the subject and the method of communication made Merlin aware that he had been completely neglecting the others from this conversation. He too replied aloud.

"It is a river, made up of natural energy, which flows across the land, usually just underneath the surface of the earth. They are invisible to the mortal eye, but those with magic can sometimes feel them."

There were a few sighs of relief from around Merlin and the warlock guiltily realised that his silent conversation with Wief had been going on for a few minutes now, not to mention the unexplained faint. He didn't want any of them to worry, but something about this place was seriously unnerving the warlock and it honestly hadn't registered that he would have to explain things to them. He felt like he really needed to do something, but he had no idea what and that was causing his distraction.

"Merlin, you're making no sense. What do ley lines have to do with this place? Come on, you're scaring Guinevere."

The warlock only now became aware that Gwen was holding his hand in a death-grip and that Arthur himself was tightly grasping Merlin's other forearm. Merlin looked at the rather distressed young queen and smiled weakly, squeezing her hand in return – though that didn't cause her to let go – before he looked at a still-concerned Arthur.

"They have everything to do with this place, Arthur." He then returned his gaze back to Wief. "Am I right?"

"You are, Emrys," the man said with a wry smile. "You will all no doubt feel the power of this place. That is because four ley lines find their end here; each ley collects a specific natural energy and transports it here, where it pools in the crystals. Energy is never still and unless it is contained, it is constantly moving. These ley lines give it direction and allow it to be recycled. When it reaches the end of the lines and is contained in one place it is dangerous and in order to be returned to the land again, it must be released. That was the purpose of the Ritual and every four years, a different element was placed as the dominant one to influence how the land developed over the following 'Rest Years'. Twelve years ago, we found ourselves unable to perform the next Ritual, or any Ritual since.

"Though these crystals' sole purpose is to store energy, it is unnatural for so much to be in one place. That is the problem. If the energy remains here and not out in the land as it should be, then eventually the world will suffer for it."

"How will the world suffer? Can we stop it?"

Arthur was the one to ask the question and, for the first time, Wief looked directly at the king. Merlin could tell by the set of his friend's jaw that he was uncomfortable with the stare, but he hid it well.

"This natural energy is what allows the land we live in to grow and survive. Each element, when dominant, brings different qualities to our environment; it needs them all but cannot solely survive on one. The last element to be declared dominant was Fire; it produces mild winters and hot summers, it purifies the land through flame and allows new life to flourish. But the element doesn't just affect the land; it also affects the people, though only very mildly. During the Years of Fire, people are more inclined to be good leaders, brave and passionate, as well as often being angry and uncontrollable. This cleansing of the land is very much a good thing, but after being stuck in the Years of Fire for twelve years, the purging is getting out of control. On top of that, if the energy built-up here is not released back into the land then eventually things will start dying, until such a time that the energy it needs is returned to it. This is something that you, my young king, cannot do."

It was kind of poetic to Merlin that the land was stuck in the Years of Fire; it certainly held a lot of symbolism, considering the burning pyres that still haunted his nightmares. Though he supposed that having his brainwaves influenced by the element of Fire wasn't really an excuse you could use on Uther, as he led the Great Purge at least eight years before the land became trapped in the Years of Fire.

"But Merlin can."

Merlin looked at Arthur, who was staring at him intensely and the grip on his arm had become bruising. It wasn't deliberate, but the warlock understood; Arthur was worried for his Kingdom.

"Indeed. Every twenty years, five rather than four representatives are picked for a special Ritual called the Quintessential Ritual. During the four years after that, the fifth element rules. It consists of all of the elements, yet is an element all of its own and the years it rules are the most balanced and peaceful. Its known to most as Aether, though some have named it Spirit."

Ha, there was another name for it too and Merlin voiced it tentatively but with a touch of slightly bitter sarcasm, already knowing he was right.

"Or Magic?" Wief nodded.

"Two rituals have been missed since the last was held. This year, is the year for a Quintessential Ritual."

"And you have picked me as one of the representatives?"

That earned a different kind of stare from Arthur, as if to say 'what makes you so special', but the warlock ignored him.

"No, you are the representative."

…Wait, what?

That made little sense and the look on Merlin's face must have showed what he was thinking more than his words ever could.

"As I have explained, there are no other representatives to be found right now and besides, you know as well as I that you would be no normal representative, Emrys. Any representatives chosen have a slight affinity for their element; ones picked to represent Aether have an equal balance of all four elements inside of them. Yet you do not merely have a slight affinity for Magic, do you Emrys?"

Merlin felt himself colour slightly as Wief as good as proclaimed how powerful he was with magic for everyone to hear, though granted not in so many words.

"Why didn't you just tell us Merlin was needed for a ritual to save the land? It would have been much easier."

Leon made a good point.

"Maybe from your point of view it would have been. I knew your curiosity would get the better of you all eventually and that you would follow me. Here, I can answer all of your questions in a place where it's much easier to understand."

Merlin and Arthur may be opposite sides of a coin, but they did have some traits in common and impulsiveness was one of the less favourable of these traits. Honestly, they really had to watch themselves in future; following a man on curiosity alone wasn't exactly a wise move on both their parts.

The man was right about the magic though. All those years ago Merlin had said to Gaius, "if I can't use my magic, I may as well die." It was impossible for him not to use it and it was almost as if his soul was fused with his magic, it was so much a part of him. Kilgharrah had once said that they were kin, that they were both creatures of the Old Religion. Merlin didn't just have magic, he was magic and because of that he was the perfect candidate in a time where magic-users were scarce; he had so much of the elemental energies inside of him, Merlin could effectively be five representatives in one, solving the problem that Wief'd had for the last twelve years. Something bothered the warlock though and he didn't want to worry the others with it, so he asked Wief telepathically.

"You said that some young representatives were overwhelmed by the energy running through them in 'productive years'. If energy has been building up in the crystals for twelve years and I have to handle all five at once… what does that mean for me?"

This time, Wief's expression made him look so very old. Merlin couldn't imagine what this man had been through and how he must have felt watching the beautiful place that was under his care fall into such turmoil.

"I cannot say Emrys. But if anyone could handle the power and restore balance, it is you. It is what you are prophesied to do after all."

That struck Merlin dumb, so much so that he forgot to keep speaking mentally.

"…I'm what!"

He earned eight incredulous stares for his random exclamation, until Gwaine suddenly clapped his hands together loudly.

"Oh, he's doing that tele-pathetic thing again. That explains why he spaced out after he fainted."

Any other time, Merlin may have been offended at the rather sly way Gwaine had said 'fainted' and the likely purposeful mispronunciation of 'telepathy'. But he was a little too dumbstruck to truly notice when he was being teased.

"The prophecy concerning you and your clingy friend there is only one example of the many prophesies which concern you, Emrys. The prophecy about bringing magic back to the land isn't related to the prophecy concerning the Once and Future King, nor is it the only one there is; as you will one day discover."

"Well, someone could have bloody told me that!" Merlin shrieked, startling everyone around him and causing Arthur and Gwen to squeeze his arm and hand so hard that he cried out briefly in pain.

"Sorry, sorry…" Gwen muttered meekly, opting to latch onto Gaius instead, who had uncharacteristically said nothing since asking if Merlin was alright.

Meanwhile, Arthur stepped in front of Merlin, blocking his view of Wief and causing the warlock to focus all of his attention onto him. He then placed his hands on Merlin's shoulders, though Merlin realised only then that he had been a little unsteady on his feet.

"Merlin, please calm down. What exactly does he want? You know you don't have to do anything you don't want to do."

Merlin closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm his turbulent emotions before opening them again and looking his king right in the eye. Whether bringing magic to the land involved connecting himself with ancient gemstones or helping to lift the ban on magic from Camelot, it really didn't matter. In the end, Merlin had long since learnt that they were all just tools for Fate.

"You cannot run away from destiny, Arthur. I've always known that, even though I found out the hard way." His cryptic response clearly confused the man, but Merlin continued before he could speak. "I have to do what he asks of me, Arthur. I really am fine with it, honest."

For a while, the king and the warlock stared at each other. Merlin may have been able to keep his magic a secret for nearly five years, but he had never been able to convincingly lie outright. Any time he had he'd always been deliberately vague before he'd make a quick escape from the then-prince's presence. Eventually, finding no evidence of a lie in Merlin's eyes, the king let him go and moved aside, taking hold of Gwen's free hand. Merlin hadn't exactly answered the king's question, but Arthur was deciding to trust Merlin's judgement for now and get answers later, which the warlock appreciated more than he could say.

"Do what you have to do then."

Merlin nodded, finally breaking eye-contact to briefly meet eyes with everyone else before settling onto his guardian's gaze instead. He had a feeling the old man knew more than he was letting on, which probably explained his silence and his terrified gaze. Gaius had always let Merlin make his own decisions though; he had never once stood in the way and he wasn't going to start now, merely nodding his support from where he stood with Gwen gripping tightly onto his arm.

Setting himself, Merlin walked forward until he was close enough to Wief that he could lift his arms and touch him. Once again he met the man's strange, white eyes.

"What do I need to do?"

Wief smiled, before moving so that he was standing next to Merlin, with both of them facing the Circle.

"Unlike others of its kind, the Ritual doesn't need to be performed at a certain time of day; it can be done as soon as all of the representatives accept their task during that year. None of us can follow you into the stone circle, so once you are in you stand on your own until the Ritual is complete. Stand in the inner circle of your element and then it is up to you; noone knows what the representatives do to begin the magic, the Elements will tell you."

The old man reached out and Merlin flinched slightly – understandable, considering the last time – but then could only stare as a circle of gold briefly appeared where Wief's pupils and iris' should be as he performed some kind of magic. A feeling of warmth flowed through Merlin before fading away. Glancing down at himself, Merlin let out a surprised gasp when he saw that he was no longer wearing his usual clothes. What he was wearing reminded him of the well-made robes the Druids wore, only without the cloak and hood. The tunic had wide sleeves and had a high neckline, and the trousers he was wearing were slightly more flared than he was used to. They were all a brilliant, azure blue like his magic, though the collar and cuffs were accented with white and decorated with a pattern of little gold circles. He looked at Wief in confusion.

"Consider them a little gift from me Emrys. Successful or not, I am grateful for what you are attempting to do here today and I have been waiting for this day a long time. Today you stand as a representative of human-kind; it only makes sense that you look your best."

Merlin grinned, nodding his thanks before proceeding across the nearest bridge and onto the stone circle.

Though it was invisible to his eyes, Merlin felt a ripple of power pulse through the air as he crossed over, sealing him inside the Circle where the air was still and completely silent; despite the fact that the others were talking nervously amongst themselves only a few yards away. Now that he was close to the nearest large crystal, he could see that on the side of the crystal facing the centre of the circle there was a small black symbol etched into the crystalline rock: a triangle. Merlin recognised it easily; it was the symbol for Fire. The crystal directly opposite carried the symbol of an upside-down triangle with a line cutting horizontally across the centre of it; the symbol for Earth. The crystal to his left bore a plain upside-down black triangle, Water, and the one to his right a black triangle with a horizontal line across the centre, Air. However, Merlin felt himself drawn straight to the centre crystal and he wasted no time in walking closer to it; this crystal's symbol was a small black ring and was etched so that it was facing straight up to the sky.

Merlin entered the inner-circle of the Aether crystal and he felt the air ripple again as whatever barrier had been present was lifted away. He could hear the others once more and he could tell by their voices that they were just as confused as he was. Remembering what Wief had shown him in his memories, Merlin decided to close his eyes; opening his mind so that the Elements might tell him what to do.

He almost immediately got an answer.

Merlin's magic was roiling beneath his skin, but not in a way that he associated with danger. Curious, he relaxed his control on it and allowed it to flow as it seemed to want to, snapping his eyes open as he did.

The warlock could feel the power pushing behind his eyes and turning them gold as his magic flowed outwards. The gouge which marked his crystal's inner-circle started to glow gold and he watched in complete fascination as the golden energy flowed along the gouges like water; first running along the four straight lines to each outer crystal and filling their inner-circles, before then running around the circumference of the large circle and connecting them all together. Once complete, the whole stone structure flashed white, before starting to glow with a soft silver light while the gouges continued to blaze golden.

The group still on the ledge were completely silent now, watching the magical display with wonder.

Slowly, Merlin raised his right hand – though he had no recollection of telling it to do so – towards the crystal which was sitting at the eastern point of the circle; the crystal for Air. The warlock's chest tightened uncomfortably and he sucked in a breath as he felt a great wave of magic flow out of him and run brightly along the gouge-line to the waiting gem. As soon as the magic touched it, the crystal absorbed it and started to glow as strongly as a blacksmith's furnace in a brilliant sunshine yellow colour.

Before he could do so much as blink in amazement, Merlin moved on the spot clockwise so his hand reached out to the crystal in the south; Fire. Again, Merlin felt a wave of magic flow out of him and this time it was enough to cause him to let out a shuddering gasp when his body trembled from the exertion involved in unleashing so much energy at once. This crystal, glowing just as brightly, was blood red. Next turning to face the west, Merlin felt himself start to break out in a cold sweat and begin to pant as yet another wave of magic caused the Water crystal to glow royal blue. Despite the fact that he tried to, he couldn't stop himself and he was forced to grit his teeth in discomfort as his magic continued to direct his body against his conscious will. Finally, the warlock turned to the north and the strain of this wave of energy caused him to let out a strangled yelp as his head spun and his vision briefly faded. When it cleared the final crystal, Earth, was glowing leaf green.

Merlin's arm dropped heavily and he leant, trembling, against the Aether crystal in front of him for support; trying to get himself under control.

"Merlin, are you alright? Look at me."

The tone of voice was one that Merlin always obeyed and his head twitched before he forced himself to look towards Arthur's voice. When his blurry vision cleared, he saw that Arthur and the knights had all moved forward towards him. All had gotten no further than to where Wief stood with his arms spread wide, preventing them from passing into the Circle. The warlock couldn't really answer through his rapid breathing, so he nodded firmly to reassure them. Despite his current fatigue, Merlin had plenty of magic to spare and he was already starting to recover. Peace had its downsides and he just wasn't used to letting out such a large volume of magic at once, never mind four times in a row.

Straightening himself up, Merlin looked around the Circle, wondering what had to be done next.

"Prepare yourself Emrys, the toughest part is yet to come."

...It was?

"Merlin!" At the urgent shout, the warlock's confused gaze snapped from Wief and to his guardian. He was startled to find that the man looked even more distressed. "He means it Merlin. The crystals are going to use your magic and energy as a means of directing their own energy up and out of the mountain so it can spread across the land again. That's what he meant by a conduit; all that energy is going to go through you and you have to direct it to where it needs to go."

Well, that certainly helped, but how did Gaius know that? And why the hell hadn't he said so before?

"I'm so sorry my boy. I was asked to keep everything I knew to myself so that you would decide whether or not to accept without any outside influences. I have been to witness no less than three Rituals; I have seen what it's like for the representatives and my opinion would have been biased."

The man really did look distressed now and worry filled Merlin's heart. He made to step away from the Aether crystal and comfort Gaius, but instead nearly took his own feet out from under himself when his hands wouldn't budge from the surface of the crystal.

"What the-?"

Merlin tugged harder, but his hands were stuck fast palm-down on the Aether crystal. The warlock's eyes then widened in alarm as he spotted a layer of transparent crystal slowly creeping up over the back of his hands and fingers.

"What's happening?"

Well beyond trying to spare the others any worry now, Merlin's shout came out sounding fearful and unsure whilst he continued to try and pull away from the crystal. He was aware of raised voices as the others tried to get past Wief, but he couldn't make out any words beyond the blood rushing in his ears. The crystal growing over his hands was disturbing, yes. But beyond that was the sense of something building, something huge and his whole body was thrumming with the will to flee from it.

Everyone stopped when there was a sudden, ominous crack and Merlin's eyes shot to the nearest bridge. He watched in horror as it started to slowly crumble away, the rubble falling down into the blackness.

Oh God, the whole thing was going to fall!

Merlin renewed his efforts to escape and back on the ledge, Arthur aimed a punch at the back of Wief's head, only to yelp in pain and fall back clutching his hand as it smashed into an invisible shield the man had conjured. It had to have hurt.

Merlin's magic was boiling and writhing beneath his skin, filling him to the brim. His eyes began to glow again as power continued to build up and the warlock realised that, in his panic, he had failed to notice that magic from the four crystals was now flowing along the gouges in the ground and into him. All the while, the bridges continued to crumble.

In his desperation, Merlin began to whimper slightly as the rate of magic moving into him began to increase. It continued to do so and soon the warlock fell still, all his energy going into keeping his magic contained; as he always had done in the past.

Yet still the flow increased.

Merlin had had headaches before; ones which pulsed in your head and made it feel like mini-daggers were stabbing into your brain, bringing so much pain that it was as if it were trying to escape out of your eye sockets. It was like that for him now, only many times worse and it didn't help that his magic felt as if it were trying to explode out of his chest too. Through tear-filled eyes, Merlin could see that the crystal his hands were attached to was starting to pulse with white light.

"Emrys!"

Merlin turned his face to Wief, tears that he couldn't stop or wipe away falling freely down his cheeks as the pressure in his body continued to build. His eyes felt like they were burning their way out of his skull now and, if he could see himself as Arthur and the others could, he would have been shocked to learn that the entirety of his eyes – whites, pupils and iris' – were all glowing together, so that it appeared as if they were made of liquid gold. As it was, the warlock was just hoping against hope that the man was going to help him put an end to his pain.

"Do not fight it Emrys. The energy knows where it wants to go, all you have to do is show it the way and allow it through you."

Merlin could feel that what the man was saying was true, his magic wanted out and it wanted it now. However, he was terrified that he would lose control. When he had let his magic do what it wanted before with the four crystals it had, for the first time, resulted in discomfort for Merlin. He had never lost control of his magic before and the thought of such an integral part of him not being there anymore or turning on him was one of his greatest nightmares.

"I CAN'T!"

Merlin was straining so much now to keep his magic in that he was incapable of doing anything other than scream out his words. But even in his mad state of pain, stress and fear, he heard clearly the words of the next person to speak.

"You can, Merlin. You can and you will."

Despite the crashing of stone, Merlin still heard Arthur's quiet voice and his tortured golden eyes met with the suspiciously bright eyes of the young king for a fleeting second.

Then, Merlin let himself go, throwing back his head as he screamed from deep in his very soul.

The magic he had been fighting so hard to hold back burst from his body, knocking over his friends and obliterating what remained of the bridges. It was as if his mind were separate from his body and a part of him watched as a wave of white light streaked towards the sky; blowing off the top of the mountain as it went and revealing the starlit sky to those below. Merlin had opened the flood-gates now and the energy from the leys which had been contained for so long burst forth more strongly than a rushing wave of water, entering the warlock's body to mix in with his own essence. Through the roaring power he felt his magic reach out with four invisible tendrils, pushing the power back slightly so that it wouldn't overwhelm his body. The crystals glowed more brightly than before as Merlin poured the modified energy back into them, until four beams of brilliant light burst from the tops of the gems and shot straight upwards. Through all of this, the stone circle remained steady, held up by a lesser stream of Merlin's magic.

Everything was all too much. It felt like the magic was going to rip him apart from the inside out. But although fear is the enemy, one with the need to succeed can turn such mental blocks into the building blocks for an impenetrable wall. Deep within himself, Merlin found this will. And so he still carried on.

But it was no good giving the energy of the land to the stars, and Merlin now understood what needed to be done. Finally adding his willpower to what his magic was already doing by instinct, he felt more than saw a pure white beam shoot out from the Aether crystal to join the coloured ones, and then – guided by Merlin – the four elemental beams began to bend. Focusing his will, Merlin directed the beams to where he instinctively knew they needed to go; twisting each beam back into the direction from whence it had come and allowing it to throw its energy out across the land as it went.

Task complete, now Merlin just had to hold it.

However, adding his willpower to his magic had brought him back from the detached state he started in with a crash; all Merlin knew was pain and the flowing of power. His heart was racing, his lungs couldn't seem to get enough air and he was much too hot. He felt a tickling sensation in his nose and it was only when a splatter of red landed on his wrist that he realised he was looking down at his hands and that his nose was bleeding. Maybe his tears weren't tears at all anymore now either, but he couldn't be sure.

Raising his head, Merlin watched the beams as his eyesight started to blacken around the edges. From the angle Merlin was at, it almost looked like the beams were forming a five-pointed star, the pentagram: the symbol for magic. The irony of it almost made the exhausted warlock laugh.

Finally, after a few minutes that felt like days, Merlin felt a change.

Slowly but surely, the amount of power flowing through the crystals and then through Merlin's magic was lessening. It continued at a steady rate until eventually the light emanating from the crystals dimmed back to colourless and the four elemental beams faded. He was not done yet though. His fear having now deserted him, the warlock gave one final push.

A second, more powerful wave blasted outwards. But this time it hurt noone; his target was the land itself and he sent his magic outwards in all directions in a sphere shape, the white energy passing harmlessly through the bodies of those assembled. There was a faint rumbling sound as the land accepted the change and then the hundreds of small red crystals in the cavern shuttered once before changing to white, signifying that the Years of Aether had begun. Finally, the lines of the stone circle briefly changed to green as new bridges grew from the Circle to the ledge to re-encase the invisible ley lines. The magic dissipated and all the gouges faded back to their original dull state.

Then, that was it. It was finished.

The last thing to penetrate through Merlin's fading senses was a burning sensation in his hands and the white light from the Aether crystal finally dying down, followed by a sense of falling. He had the vague feeling that someone had caught him and familiar, mumbled voices before things went too numb and dark for him to be able to tell anymore.

Just before Merlin surrendered his weak grip on consciousness so that he could rest and recuperate in oblivion, a whispered voice reached his mind and caused a soft smile to twitch at the corners of his lips.

"Magic is returned to the land. Thank-you Emrys, it is done."

Then, Merlin knew no more.

-~-M-~-

Next time: As Emrys, Merlin will face his greatest fears. But occasionally, it can just be uncomfortable.