Past and Present Danger
A/N: Set about two years after the end of series four.
Bright light, brighter than anything he'd seen before, tearing through the air like a knife. Morgana's eyes, glowing gold as she clutched an amulet in white-knuckled hands. The concentration was so intense that she seemed to shudder with it, her whole body trembling. A low, aching note began to grow, weaving through the air as if the very foundations of the earth were crying out.
Shaken by the dream as he was, Merlin almost cried out in fear as Kilgharrah's panicked voice reverberated round his mind like a drum. He put his hands over his ears to try and block out the sound, which of course was useless, but the voice had quietened now that Merlin was awake. Rubbing his eyes to try and clear them, Merlin realised that he was sitting up in his bed, although he didn't remember doing so, and his covers clung to him, covered in sweat. Only now did he feel the breeze chilling him as it touched on the moisture that covered his skin. His breathing was quick and shallow and a sense of desperation seemed to be pressing in on him from all sides, but he didn't know what had caused it.
Merlin, the dragon's voice called again, more quietly this time, but with no less desperation than before.
What is it? What's happening?
Morgana is wielding powerful and dangerous magic. I sensed it, even from many leagues off. She is close. You must act young warlock. Now!
Peeling back his covers, Merlin ran to the window which looked over Camelot's outskirts. When he had moved quarters –a privilege for those who were members of the court- he had asked for two things: to be close to Arthur's room and to have a room which looked out over as much of Camelot as was possible. Arthur had agreed to both requests and as such, when Merlin looked out of his window, not only could he see the forest that bordered Camelot to the west, but he could also see for miles across the northern plains. Now as he looked out, his breath caught in his throat. In the forest, several miles in, an unearthly and wholly unsettling glow was beginning to pour out over the tops of the trees, like lava from a volcano shooting into the air, but in slow motion, so slow in fact, that the light didn't seem to be moving, but Merlin could sense it, sense a power that was beginning to grow. He could feel the first tremors of it in the very depth of his magic, like a humming in the back of his mind that was only going to get louder and more violent.
Tearing his eyes away from the scene, he raced across his room, throwing on clothes and boots. In less than a minute he had bolted out of his door and was racing down the corridor. At this time of night, the castle was all but deserted, save for the guards that stood watch outside Arthur and Gwen's room. Their heads turned at the sound of him racing towards them, but their faces showed no shock or surprise and they made no attempt to stop or question Merlin as he barged into the King and Queen's room with no explanation. Merlin was both relieved and unnerved by their lack of response: how many times had he done this now that even Camelot's guards didn't bat an eyelid as their King's chambers were invaded?
'Arthur!' Merlin shouted as he flung open the door. It banged into the wardrobe that stood behind it with a deafening crash and both Gwen and Arthur physically jumped as they were jolted from their sleep. In less than a second Arthur was standing by the bed, sword having been drawn from where it had been in its holster attached to the bed post, while Gwen looked around in utter panic. Arthur squinted at him, seemingly trying to shake of the last vestiges of sleep as he struggled to identify whoever had just flown into his room. Merlin took several steps forward. 'Arthur,' he repeated. With a dramatic sigh, Arthur's body relaxed and he lowered his sword, putting his head back and rubbing his face with his free hand.
'Merlin, how many times do I have to ask you not to fling open the door shout me out of sleep in the middle of the night?'
'Sorry, but I-'
'You're sorry are you?' he asked, irony in his tone. 'Is that more or less sorry than last time?' He turned away for a moment and went and sat on the bed next to Gwen. 'Are you alright?' It was only then that Merlin noticed that the stricken expression on Gwen's face had not changed. She swallowed painfully and then nodded slowly.
'Sorry, Gwen,' Merlin muttered, genuine guilt in his tone this time.
'No Merlin, it's fine. What is it?' she asked sitting up in bed and drawing her knees up to her chest.
'There's something wrong, it's Morgana; she's doing something, something big and terrible. I can sense it.' As if on cue, the magic hum that had been pervading his consciousness since he woke suddenly increased marginally. Putting his hand to his head, Merlin staggered back slightly, the sudden shift catching him off guard.
'Merlin,' Arthur asked; concern in his voice now.
'I'm fine, but we have to go now. I'll get the horses,' Merlin called, already heading out the door.
'No, get a servant to do it, then you can tell me what you know,' Arthur called, already searching for items of clothing. Merlin stopped and turned at the door.
'I barely know anything, and what I do I can tell you on the way. Besides, I always was your best servant.' He watched Arthur's face change from focus to mild amusement, before racing out the door and down to the stables.
By the time Arthur raced down the stone steps into the courtyard, in full armour, with Excalibur, as always, by his side, Merlin was bringing their horses across the cobbles, their hooves echoing loudly off the stone in the quietness of the night. He passed the reigns of Arthur's horse to the King who quickly swung himself up and onto the bay stallion. The creature had been a loyal and faithful horse to Arthur for many years now and Merlin had not hesitated in choosing him over the other horses. Merlin had, as always, taken his horse, Halesha, whom had been gifted to him by Arthur just over eighteen months ago, on being appointed Court Sorcerer. She was a beautiful chestnut mare, with a gentle but determined spirit. Merlin found it easy to talk to her with magic, making her faithful to his every command. He swung himself up onto her saddle and nodded to Arthur.
'Are you ready?'
'For what, Merlin? You haven't told me anything,' Arthur snapped in frustration. Merlin ignored the tone, knowing that it was directed at the situation and not him. 'Honestly, will you ever let me ride into a situation with full awareness of what to expect?' Maybe it was partly directed at him.
'Come on, I'll explain as we go.'
They galloped out of the courtyard, the guards moving aside instantly. It was not unusual to see the King and his Sorcerer disappearing at any time of the day or night without warning. Merlin set the direction, turning towards the west as soon as they were out of the town walls.
'Look!' he pointed. Arthur's gaze moved in the direction that Merlin indicated and Merlin felt the King's confusion. Up ahead, the light that Merlin had spied from his window was beginning to climb higher, growing in intensity as it did. It was almost like a sunrise, but the darkness of the night which surrounded it on every side soon dispelled the comparison.
'What is it?'
'I don't know.'
'Merlin!' Arthur snapped. Merlin nodded his assent and quickly detailed Arthur on the events of his dream, the feel of the magic that he could sense and Kilgharrah's warning. All the while they raced closer and closer to the light. Merlin knew where it was coming from; a clearing that he had often used to speak with Kilgharrah before Arthur had known about his magic and also in the following six months when he had, for all intents and purposes been hiding to avoid execution at Arthur's command. He shuddered when he considered those long weeks. They had been the worst of his life.
Their conversation died down and Merlin took the opportunity to recall as many spells as he could that might possibly counteract whatever it was that Morgana was doing. He was only faintly aware of the trees that swept by him and the rush of the wind on his face. Halesha guided them through the maze of the forest with ease, her sense of direction and understanding of their destination enhanced and strengthened with magic.
They were still a few minutes away when the light up ahead, which was now filling the sky and making their night trek through the forest look more like an approaching dawn, suddenly blazed like the sun. Both horses reared at the sudden change and Merlin struggled to stay on his steed as images suddenly shot through his head with such intensity that it hurt. He cried out and it took all his will power not to let go of the reigns and clutch at his head. He delved into himself and drew his magic forward to try and help him slow the onslaught of images and make sense of them. It barely did anything, but the pain lessened enough for him to focus. He opened his eyes, seeing gold as his magic continued to flow through him. In front, he could just make out Arthur calming both horses and calling out to him, but he was helpless to respond, completely encapsulated by the images that were flowing through his head.
They were mostly familiar: people and places and situation that he had been in, mostly with Arthur, but it was as if he was seeing them from his own point of view and Arthur's at the same time. He watched each scene as if he was in two places. He watched the last eighteen months roll through his mind at breakneck speed, in reverse order, all the while seeing what he saw and what Arthur saw. It was so fast that he could barely make out what was happening, and some things he didn't recognise. Frowning in confusion and horror he relived his six months of exile in the blink of an eye, while at the same time seeing Arthur's anger and sense of betrayal at that time. His magic being revealed, Morgana trying to take Camelot, Uther's death, Gaius, the knights, the magical beasts that had plagued the city, his arrival in Camelot, Ealdor, training with knights, gathering crops, royal banquets, playing with Will, fighting with other noble children, his mother, servants doing whatever was asked of them and then blinding light once again.
With a gasp he came out of his trance to hear Arthur's irritated voice.
'...you hear me? Merlin, come on. I need you to focus.'
'Arthur?' Merlin asked, breathing heavily as he tried to gather his thoughts. It felt like his mind was still going in reverse. 'We need-' but he was cut off again as the light brightened further and the true intention of Morgana's enchantment seeped into the magic all around him. His head was thrown back as the revelation stormed through his magic and the danger of what she was attempting hit him.
'Merlin!' Arthur shouted, angry now. Merlin blinked and refocused.
'She's going to kill us,' he whispered.
'That's not possible,' Arthur replied slowly, evidently trying to calm Merlin. 'You've made sure that we're both protected against any magic she tries to use against us. Everything I'm wearing has an enchantment on it Merlin, and you've placed what feels like hundreds of wards on me.'
'You don't understand. Now you're protected, but you weren't then.'
Merlin looked up at the light and spurred Halesha on once again, giving speed to both her and Arthur's horse with a few words. He glanced back at Arthur.
'I know what she's doing. She's opening up a doorway to the past, Arthur. She's going to kill us when we were children.'
Merlin didn't wait for Arthur's response to the comment; he only knew that he had to get there quickly. He could sense the world ahead of him beginning to tear open and had to fight the fear that swelled up into him at the sensation. Morgana was messing with something far more complex and volatile than she could possibly control. Any misjudgement on her part could destroy everything, not just from the present day, but also stretching back into history. How could she possibly have done it? What secrets had she unlocked and found; what desperation had driven her to do something so incredibly reckless? Merlin could feel the possibilities shuddering through the air around him. Even the old magic was crying out against her actions. He had to stop her. Something bothered him though. Morgana's choice of location, didn't make sense. Why would she open a doorway so close to Camelot, so close to where she knew Merlin was? She knew that he was much more powerful than her; surely she wouldn't risk her plan failing because Merlin arrived before she'd finished.
But when Merlin finally cleared the trees he knew exactly why Morgana had chosen somewhere close by. It was so that he would get there in time, so that he could see it happening, because he knew instantly that he would never be able to close the gap now that she had opened it. It would bow only to her wishes, and it drew power from the very magic of the air. She had gained control of the magical elements, a task that couldn't have been easy and had no doubt damaged her.
Devastated by the understanding that he could do nothing to stop Morgana, Merlin initially failed to react to the intense brightness that encompassed the entire clearing. The light felt like it was burning into his eyes and so he muttered a few words to help his eyes adjust and then did the same for Halesha.
Behind him, Arthur broke from the cover of the trees, his arm flying up to shield his eyes instantly. Merlin reached out a hand and repeated the spell twice more for the King and his horse.
'You can see now,' he told him as he dismounted.
'Merlin, I've told you not to perform spells on me before you've told me what they are,' jumping down to the ground lightly.
'I've filtered the light,' Merlin explained quietly, not turning to look at Arthur.
'Well we're here, Merlin. What can you do?' Merlin looked across the clearing. The light, which he had assumed before arrival was coming up from the ground, actually began about a metre or so in the air, as if a blanket of light was being held out by invisible hands. The light itself, seemed to writhe in agony, but he soon noticed that the different shades of yellow and blue and green -for those were the colours he could see- were twisting continually into different shapes; shapes that he recognised: places and buildings and people. It was filtering through time, sifting each moment until it found the right one. He couldn't see Morgana, but he sensed that she was nearby -in the trees on the opposite side of the clearing.
'Merlin, what do we need to do?'
He shook his head, unwilling to look at Arthur, looking frantically around for something, anything that could help, but there was nothing. He felt Arthur's hand fall heavily on his shoulder and spin him round until they were facing each other.
'What do we need to do?' he asked slowly, firmly, pronouncing every word with precision.
'There isn't anything we can do. It's too powerful, I can't stop it.'
'Merlin, you've proven time and time again that you are more powerful than Morgana, you can-'
'But it's not just her magic that she's using. She's drawing it from the earth and air, from everywhere.'
'Then do the same.'
'I can't. It would take months of attuning myself to natural magic, learning how to wield its power.'
'Then attack Morgana.'
'She's protected herself. I can sense it.'
'Merlin,' Arthur said, his voice loud and angry. 'You just said that she's going to kill us when we were children. What happens if she succeeds?'
Merlin looked at Arthur. He hesitated, but Arthur's intense gaze cut through the silence.
'We won't exist anymore. Anything that we changed or caused in our lives and the lives of other won't have happened. We'll be dead and no-one will even know that we were alive past the age that Morgana kills us.'
Arthur just stared at him, unable to take in what was being said. His face was completely still, a quiet desperation in his eyes, the only indication of the turmoil that was going on in his head.
'I'm sorry Arthur.'
'No, I won't accept that. Find a way, now! As your King, I order you.'
'Merlin, we can not let this happen.'
'I can't stop it.'
'Then do something else, change her plans. You protect us from her now, why can't you protect our younger selves when she finds them?'
As if on cue, the light suddenly stilled in its shifting to capture perfectly, and with much more clarity, the images of two young children, unmistakably Arthur and Merlin.
'She's found us,' Merlin whispered. As he spoke, the light shrank in on itself, shrinking until it was a sphere, only a few metres in diameter, with the still images of the children contained within it, shining brightly. Without warning, Morgana's voice suddenly echoed across the clearing, infused with magic. Merlin couldn't understand all that she was saying, but as she spoke, the light began to seep into the two children and they faded until their colouring looked remarkably life like. Their features softened and began to grow in dimension, while all the while a thin veil of light made up the skin of the sphere.
'Merlin, look.' Merlin tore his gaze from the children to the other side of the clearing where Morgana was now walking. She was covered in a similar veil to the one the two children were in and her eyes were fixed upon them, like a predator on its prey. By now the children seemed to have formed fully. They were moving in the sphere, pressing against the sides in desperation. Confusion riddled their faces as they looked and saw Morgana. They both shrank back as she drew nearer, but the sphere's limits stopped them from escaping.
'You have to do something. She's nearly reached them.' Arthur was right. Morgana had raised her hand and the skin of the bubble began to press outwards, heading towards the sphere that held the two boys. With a yell, Arthur unsheathed Excalibur and ran towards them. He swung his sword against Morgana's veil, but the swing was stopped as if the sword had hit an impenetrable surface. The jolt sent Arthur staggering back, a yell of pain being torn from his lips as he clutched his arm.
All three occupants of the veil looked over; the boys in sheer terror -their mouths open with screams that couldn't be heard- and Morgana with smug confidence.
Merlin ran forward until he was by Arthur's side. He held out his hand and tried anything he could think of to break the connection; to send the boys back, even as Morgana's sphere drew ever closer to the boys'. Nothing worked. He screamed out anything he could think of, his eyes constantly blazing gold, but nothing had any effect. The skin of the sphere was now only inches away from making contact.
'She's going to reach them,' Arthur told him.
'There's nothing I can do.'
'There has to be,' he growled. 'Protect them from her. You've done it for us, do it for them.'
'She's powerful, Arthur. What she'll throw at them…it would take months for me to put any protection in place.'
'But that's us. She's going to kill us,' Arthur told him, quietly, desperately, shock making the words less than a whisper. Merlin froze.
'That's it!' he cried. 'They're us. That's it; they're us.' Turning away from an utterly confused Arthur, Merlin drew his magic up from inside him. The spheres had nearly connected; there couldn't be more than a few seconds left. Summoning as much power as he could, Merlin pointed one hand at Arthur and turned his thoughts in on himself. Both he and Arthur began to glow with the gold light of magic, almost as if it was evaporating out of them. It looked like golden steam rising from their bodies. Within the spheres the occupants observed the new happenings. Their young selves looked just as terrified as before, but now Morgana's face, too, was edged with terror. She looked between the past and present versions of Arthur and Merlin and realisation moulded her features. Rage twisted her face into a sneer, but her resolve only seemed to strengthen. She closed her eyes and with a final leap the spheres connected.
Simultaneously, Morgana and Merlin launched everything they could at the two boys. Morgana's ice blue magic shot towards them, terrifying in its power, while Merlin threw the golden magic, which had risen from himself and Arthur directly at the boys. This time the magic flew effortlessly through the orb. It longed to be with the person it had been placed on to protect, regardless of what time they came from.
Merlin had a split second to notice the gold envelop the boys, before an earth shuddering explosion seemed to fill the clearing. Morgana's magic had rebounded off Merlin's, shattering her concentration and attacking her woth as much force as she had tried to attack the boys. Merlin felt himself being lifted of his feet and thrown back several metres, Arthur in a similar situation beside him. Through the haze of magic, he saw Morgana disappear, screaming in agony, as she used magic to escape the clearing. After that he saw nothing as his head connected with the rough bark of a tree.