We have good news and bad. You're getting the good news first. We've updated! Now time for the bad news. We're not updating anything for 18 whole months. For more information about this decision to go on hiatus please see our profile and/or PM me. Don't worry you won't get ignored.
Finley leaned against a tree to stay awake and carefully watched Rose, who stood alert with a drawn sword. "If you're too stupid to figure it out, then go back to sleep." Now that she was awake enough to understand its full significance, Finley found the statement slightly amusing.
In a sense, there was a power struggle between Finley and Rose. It wasn't that Finley necessarily wanted to take Rose's position in the group. It was that Finley knew how to indirectly lead efforts in the direction of her own self-interest, and Rose sensed this displacement of power.
Finley liked to undermine authority while still playing the role of submissive underling. She didn't want to directly lead because others would expect certain responsibilities from her that she preferred to ignore. However, despite always being a "follower," she always got her way. And in Finley's years of experience in many different settings, few people ever noticed her control over a situation until it was too late. Even sometimes after the fact everyone was still oblivious. Finley thought Rose ought to congratulate herself on her perception.
The decisions Rose made, hoping to express her dominance, were interesting. The most interesting was the decision to allow Finley to be the enchanter of the amphora. Ashley and Darby were both powerful enough and intelligent enough to have made the bindings. However, Finley, the one Rose considered mutinous, was allowed the greatest control over one of the most dangerous objects in existence. Others could control it, but the enchanter had primary control. During the process of the bindings Finley realized that Rose was trying to exhaust her, prevent her from plotting. The exhaustion was a minor inconvenience in light of the advantages though. Finley could hardly believe how such a perceptive woman could make such a critical mistake. There had to be another catch other than the means of deactivating the amphora being around Rose's throat. Finley was sure of it; Rose was too clever for that.
Rose was very clever. For a while she had managed to fool everyone into thinking she was more powerful than she was. Finley was fairly certain that Ashley, Ruby, and Darby still thought the pendant around Rose's neck—not the one that could deactivate the amphora—was just a good luck charm. Finley only by chance found out that the pendant was the source of Rose's power. In case Rose's power plays ever turned to disposing of Finley, Finley wasn't going acknowledge that she knew Rose's secret.
The suggestion that Finely should go back to sleep if she's stupid, though, was definitely a good power play. The ostensible reason for staying awake was obvious: If awake, she would be prepared for anything on this already eventful night. However, it might be in her best interest to sleep. Ruby probably just wandered in the wrong direction after answering nature's call. If that was the only problem, then tonight provided nothing worth losing sleep over. In that case, having not slept properly in days, Finley would actually be expressing intelligence by returning to sleep.
As she contemplated the pros and cons of simply going back to sleep, Finley realized that she had done something stupid in her excitement to sleep after finishing the bindings. She had merely tossed the grimoire aside before collapsing. Finley crouched down by the amphora. She should put the magic book somewhere safer, not in open space. They might be forced to leave the amphora - since it required open air - in a wide open area, but they didn't have to do the same with the grimoire.
Finley felt around the pot and bedroll. Nothing. She lifted the bedding, threw it back down, and frantically looked here and there. It had to be here. She couldn't have lost it.
Rose turned around. "What is it?" she demanded.
Finley clenched her jaw. She had no desire to admit such a stupid mistake to Rose. She desperately patted the area around the amphora one last time before saying, "The book is gone."
"What?" Rose hissed icily.
"It's gone," Finley said in a distinctly unapologetic tone. Usually she would pretend to be submissive, but what good would that do now? Rose knew that Finley wasn't as subordinate as she liked to seem.
"You lost it?"
Admittedly, Rose was quite a terror whenever she got angry, but Finley was going to remain nonplussed. "Perhaps you can find it," she replied sardonically.
"Don't you know the hell someone can unleash with that book?"
Of course Finley knew. She had unleashed some of that hell herself. A prime example was the amphora she was kneeling next to. Funnily, Rose almost sounded as though she had a conscience. Finley considered mentioning that but decided not to keep baiting Rose. "Of course. That's why I'm looking for it. So are you going to help, or just stand there shouting veiled threats?" Alright, so Finley couldn't help but bait a little. In a twisted way she was enjoying how direct Rose was willing to be about her disdain when Finley's brother, Ashley, was absent.
Even in the darkness Finley could see Rose's jaw tighten. Having found a lull in acerbic comments, Finley widened her search for the book. Instead of joining the search, Rose turned back to watching the direction in which Ashley and Darby had gone.
After some time Finley looked up at the sound of people approaching. Ashley and Darby had returned. And Darby was carrying Ruby. She was limp, and everything from the waist down was bloodied. Finley only saw Darby take a few steps before he collapsed.
Ruby was dead, and her widower was completely distraught. Finley knew Darby must be regretting all the conflict he had had with his wife. Nobody said anything for many minutes. Nothing could be said. Finley had no problem with being insincere, but she wasn't going to stoop to giving comforting words when she never liked the dead person in the slightest.
After the moment of silence, Rose said to Finley, "Perhaps the one who did this, also stole the book."
"Someone stole the book?" Ashley asked incredulously.
"I don't think Finley would thoughtlessly lose it," Rose explained, managing to keep most of the sarcasm out of her voice.
There was another silence which was again broken by Rose. "At this point, if we are to still conquer Camelot, we need to act fast." She paused. "We need to bring the amphora into the city tomorrow and place wheat in it."
"What about giving the people a choice first?" Finley objected.
"We no longer have time."
"I will bring it into the city," Ashley volunteered.
Anger flared inside Finley. It was one thing to allow a few people to die as collateral damage. She could even justify many deaths as long as a greater purpose was served. But what Rose wanted was needless slaughter. It gave no citizen of Camelot a chance to accept sorcery and be ensured safety. Finley could hardly believe that her brother was advocating this plan. Unlike Finley, who could be very sly about achieving her ends, Ashley was direct. If Ashley didn't approve of this plan, he would have said so. At this point there was only one thing Finley could do.
"I will help you," she offered.
"Gaius!" Merlin's voice hollered as the door opened. "I'm back."
So Gaius did know Merlin had left. Arthur had figured as much. "Where were you?" Arthur asked.
Merlin froze in the doorway, his arms shooting behind his back. "I went for a walk," he answered disconcertedly.
"By yourself? What are you hiding behind your back?"
"You left your chambers like that?" Merlin said weakly, indicating Arthur's bare chest.
"Well, you didn't give me much of a choice, Merlin," Arthur snapped. "What's so important that you had to drug my knights?"
Merlin paled. "I-I didn't drug them. They're just drunk. Just drunk."
Arthur raised his eyebrows. So Merlin did drug them. Placing his elbows in his lap Arthur leaned his face into his hands and bit. Hard.
Arthur was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath from Merlin and a satisfying thump as whatever the servant had been holding hit the floor.
"What's that?" Arthur demanded.
"It's one of Gaius's books," Merlin replied as he bent down to retrieve the book.
Arthur stood up. Both of them grunted as Arthur's body protested. "Then why were you hiding it?"
"I wasn't hiding it."
"I was just holding it."
"Behind your back?"
Arthur rolled his eyes. He walked towards Merlin. "Then let me see."
"Oh, you don't want to do that."
"Why's that?" Arthur asked with a slight edge in his voice.
Arthur was about a yard away from the idiot. It would make things so much easier if Merlin would just tell. The. Truth.
"No. Arthur," Merlin protested, "Just hand it back to me."
Opening the book Arthur ignored his manservant's pleas. He then flipped the tome open and proceeded to make a growl of outrage. It was a bloody spell book. He turned his head back to Merlin who looked positively sick.
"Where did you really get this?" Arthur demanded.
"I stole it," Merlin replied, pained.
"You?" Arthur sputtered, "Who did you steal it from?"
" A sorcerer."
Arthur felt his face flush. "You what?"
"Or five." Merlin amended distractedly, trying to get the book back.
"Five!" Arthur's voice went up an octave. What was Merlin thinking? Putting his life in danger like that. Only Merlin would think it was a good idea to steal from five dangerous sorcerers instead of reporting them, like a sane person. "What could have been so important that you had to risk both of our lives?"
"I stumbled on them by accident. But I think they're ones who are trying to kill us. I thought that this could help stop them."
Arthur clenched his jaw. This kept getting better and better. "Gaius has already found the cure."
"But I think they're up to something. Something... Big" Merlin sounded slightly desperate.
"I don't know. Something bad."
Well that went without saying. Defeated, Arthur slapped the grimoire against Merlin's chest. The twinge of pain almost made Arthur regret the decision. Almost. Merlin shot Arthur filthy look as the prince went grab the stool. Merlin sat down and just as Arthur sat down the door opened. Gaius, Elyan, Leon, and Lancelot entered.
"Merlin got back about five minutes ago."
All of the knights looked bemused.
"Back?" Leon said, clearly Gaius hadn't elaborated on the current plight.
"Arthur, I thought that Percival and Gwaine were watching Merlin?" Elyan pointed out.
"Yes, so did I." Arthur replied dryly. "But someone," Arthur glared at Merlin, "has taken drugging as a hobby."
Merlin glared at Arthur indignantly.
"We're going to have a long day tomorrow because Merlin here thinks he knows where the sorcerers are." Arthur replied.
After the knights had left, and Gaius had given Arthur and Merlin the old age antidote, Merlin busied himself with the grimoire. Apparently Arthur was worried that the grimoire could have a negative effect on Merlin. The prat wouldn't stop hovering much less go to bed.
"Arthur, Gaius is here. He'll make sure nothing happens. Just go to bed." Merlin pleaded.
Nonplussed, Arthur looked over at Gaius who, unfortunately for Merlin, had fallen asleep. "I think Gaius has dozed off." Arthur replied in a tone that implied that arguing the point could be fatal.
Merlin cursed not sealing Arthur in his chambers before investigating the amphora. It would've made things so much easier. The warlock flipped furiously through the book. Eventually, he found it, what the amphora was for. He read the page several times to make sure that his eyes weren't deceiving him. Merlin felt himself go cold. Surely they weren't that desperate to kill Arthur...
"Merlin." Arthur demanded sharply. "What is it?"
Merlin looked at Arthur and willed his mouth to work. "They mean to poison us."
"How do you figure that? Merlin, they'd have to get our food first." Arthur replied incredulously.
"Not with their amphora they don't." Merlin shook his head fighting the bile rising in his throat. "All they have to do is get that pot within Camelot's walls... If they place something in it that thing becomes poisonous while it remains in it."
"Well, don't worry Merlin." Arthur said cheekily. "I'm not going to eat food out of strange pots."
"You don't understand. If they put wheat in it then all of the wheat in Camelot will become poisonous."
Arthur's face turned serious. "Well, maybe they haven't gotten inside the city. Maybe we can intercept it at the gates and destroy it."
"No!" Merlin almost shouted, causing Gaius to stir slightly.
"Arthur, listen to me." Merlin's face had turned shock white. " Whatever you do. Don't let anyone smash that thing. If it gets smashed it could kill everyone in Camelot."
Arthur nodded. "Is there a way to destroy it?"
"Yes, but it will require something. A-a key of some sort that was used to make it."
"Do they need this- key to make it poison things?"
Merlin looked down at the Grimoire quickly scanning the pages. He looked at Arthur and shook his head. "They only need is the amphora and some food."
Hope you enjoyed it. See you in 18 months! I'll still be here though!