Disclaimer: I do not own TAPS, Ghost Hunters, Merlin, or any of the people or characters involved. The only things that are mine are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
Jason and Grant slowly opened their eyes to find themselves deep in an unfamiliar forest. How had they gotten here? the last either of them remembered, they had been inside the Mayweather Armory, dodging a shrieking, flying apparition. Turning his head slightly, Jason spied two men in chainmail standing close by. The taller of the two, a young man with close-cut, light brown hair, held the clamshell of the thermal imaging camera in his hands. He and a dark-skinned second man stood staring at it as though they had never seen such equipment. "It's a thermal imaging camera," Jason croaked, rubbing his head and trying to sit up. "It allows us to measure temperature fluctuations in our surroundings that might indicate paranormal activity."
The two men holding the clamshell turned to Jason, looking at him as though he had just spoken Chinese. The taller man asked, "What?"
Grant sat up slowly, also rubbing his head, and clarified, "It's a device that helps us see hot or cold spots in our surroundings. We use it to capture evidence of spirits." He glanced over at Jason and joked, "Jay likes to throw around technical terms; it makes people think he's intelligent."
Neither Jason's explanation nor Grant's seemed to help the men understand what they were looking at. The ghost hunters looked at each other, wondering if these men didn't speak English or if they were just simple. Jason motioned to the camera Grant still clutched in his hand and cautiously reached out to take the clamshell. "Let us show you how it works," he said slowly and calmly, as though talking to a child.
The young man regarded him suspiciously for a moment before glancing briefly at his companion, who shrugged and nodded, also watching Jason and Grant suspiciously. The man handed the clamshell to Jason, and both men put their hands to the swords at their belts, which made Jason and Grant nervous. A third man with dark shoulder-length hair edged warily over to stand between the other two, regarding the ghost hunters with piercing brown eyes.
Jason turned on the clamshell, and Grant turned on the camera. Spying two men in chainmail kneeling by a campfire about a stone's throw away, he pointed the camera at them and said, low, "This is what your friends look like on the thermal." He zoomed in on the two men while Jason turned the clamshell so the men could see it.
As Grant brought the camera into focus, the two men's images glowed white against the background of yellow, green and blue. The three men crowded close around Jason, seemingly in awe of what they saw on the screen. The long-haired man's eyes shifted between the image on the screen and the men in the distance. With a swiftness neither Jason nor Grant expected, he drew his sword, shouting, "What sorcery is this?" The tall man snatched the clamshell from Jason, and the dark-skinned man wrenched the camera from Grant, and they both drew their swords and pointed them at the ghost hunters.
The two men in the distance, alerted by the long-haired man's shout, jumped up, drew their swords and ran towards them. The shorter of the two, a man with short, straight, blond hair, reached them first. "What is the meaning of this? Who are these men?" he barked with authority, and Jason surmised this man was in charge of the group.
The dark-skinned man spoke first. "We don't know who they are, Arthur. We found them unconscious just beyond those trees."
The long-haired man eyed Jason and Grant suspiciously and growled, "These men have this…thing…that captures spirits, and unless I am mistaken, they were attempting to capture yours."
The blond-haired man–Arthur–turned to Jason and Grant indignantly and exploded, "Is this true?" Jason and Grant exchanged an incredulous look; what kind of lunatics were they dealing with, anyway? They held up their hands in surrender as the man brought his sword up and pointed it at Grant's throat. "We're already dealing with the Dorocha; we don't need any spirit-stealing sorcerers to add to our troubles."
Arthur's companion, a tall man with curly, reddish-blond hair, pointed his sword at Jason's throat, and said, "Sire, they may be in league with Morgana. We know she's the one who released the Dorocha."
"With all due respect," Jason began, looking uncertainly from one man to the other, "Who is Morgana, and what the hell is a Do-rock-a?"
"And where exactly are we?" Grant added, staring at the golden dragon crest on the men's red cloaks.
The long-haired man took a step towards Jason and Grant, his sword drawn, and warned, "We'll ask the questions; you're the ones who have some explaining to do."
"Gwaine, let's hear what they have to say," Arthur said sternly, yet not letting his guard down. "Although he is correct; we do have some questions for you gentlemen."
Before anyone could say anything else, a distant shriek sounded through the forest. Jason and Grant tensed up and began looking wildly around them, searching for the source of the voice. The other men grabbed the ghost hunters and dashed towards the campfire, where they snatched up torches and stood in a circle, their backs to each other's backs. The man called Gwaine lit two torches and thrust them at Jason and Grant. "Fire is the only way to ward them off. It doesn't destroy them, but it stops them from attacking."
The man with reddish-blond hair leaned towards Arthur and said, "We can't stay out here all night, Arthur." He looked around fearfully as another wail cut through the dusk. "There is an abandoned castle just over the ridge from here. If we move quickly, maybe we can make it."
Arthur looked around uncertainly at the others. Jason and Grant could see that he was torn between staying within the relative safety of the campfire and getting to a more substantial shelter which might or might not offer better protection. They remembered that they had been inside the armory when the spirits had attacked them. "Arthur, he's right," the dark-skinned man said. "We stand a better chance if we were at least within some sturdy walls."
Arthur returned his gaze, his eyes troubled and his demeanor suggesting that he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Finally he nodded his agreement, and he and his men took swords and torches and reluctantly began heading quickly through the trees. Jason and Grant, too, took torches and their equipment and followed them, casting anxious glances over their shoulders into the deepening twilight.
Suddenly, a loud shriek sounded close by, and the tall man shouted, "Look out!" before shoving Grant aside and waving his torch at a quickly-approaching skull-faced apparition, which dissipated in a puff of mist as it encountered the torch.
"Thanks," Grant muttered shakily, looking up at the man, who gave him a tight-lipped smile and nodded his acknowledgement.
The group hastily made it out of the woods and up a steep ridge from which they could see the remains of what must have once been a grand castle. Jason turned to Grant with questioning eyes. Grant returned his look with a curious expression of his own. In all their years of paranormal investigating, they had never experienced anything like this. It wasn't just the nature of these…Dorocha…although they had never encountered a such a spirit before; it was also the fact that they seemed to have been transported back in time. Neither of them had missed the significance of the fact that one me these men was called Arthur. Was it possible that they were in the presence of the King Arthur, and were the men with him truly Knights of the Round Table?
Night had fallen by the time the exhausted group made it to the abandoned castle. Everyone rushed inside, and Gwaine and the tall man hurriedly shut the large iron gate while the others hastily built a fire with what little timber they could find. Jason caught Gwaine's eye and gave him a look as though to ask if he were crazy; they both knew that neither an iron gate nor a stone structure would keep the Dorocha out. Gwaine returned his look with a shrug and a crooked smile before he and the other knight headed over to join the others.
Once the fire was built, they did the only thing they could do; they sat down around the fire to rest, keep warm and pass the time till morning. When everyone was seated, Arthur turned to Jason and Grant with an expression that was both somber and hospitable. "Now that we're settled for the time being, I suppose it's time to get the introductions out of the way." He drew himself up as regally as could a man seated on a log and continued, "I am Arthur Pendragon, Prince of Camelot, and these are my most trusted knights."
Jason and Grant sized up each of the knights as they introduced themselves. Gwaine was brave and reckless, with a playful, light-hearted streak that resonated with fun-loving Grant. Leon, the man with reddish-blond hair, was quiet, serious and wise, and seemed to be Arthur's right-hand man. The tall man was Percival. Jason grinned as he shook hands with the gentle giant; he was himself quite tall and muscular, but next to this knight, even Jason felt a bit small. Elyan stepped forward last; like Leon, he seemed to be serious and steady as a rock.
Arthur turned to Jason and Grant, eyeing their equipment once more, and said, "Now you know who we are; please tell us about yourselves."
Gwaine leaned forward quickly and added, "And tell us about…" He motioned towards the thermal camera and the digital voice recorder. "…Those…whatever you called them."
Jason glanced at Grant and began, "Well, my name is Jason Hawes, and this is Grant Wilson. We're from Rhode Island…" His eyes met Grant's uncertainly before he glanced at Arthur. "But I guess you don't know where that is, since America hasn't been discovered yet…"
The knights exchanged confused glances with each other and with Arthur. Grant thought they were still suspecting magic, so he jumped in to try to explain. "We're really not sure how to explain this, because we don't really know what happened ourselves, but we come from several hundred years in the future." Arthur and Leon exchanged a serious, almost fearful look that almost confirmed they were thinking he and Jason were sorcerers. Grant continued, his dark eyes staring into the fire, "We were investigating the Mayweather Armory. The owner had recently acquired armor and weaponry that he claimed was from…Camelot." At this, Arthur met Grant's eyes indignantly; Grant looked back at him apologetically and went on, "Soon after the armor was brought in, the staff began experiencing paranormal activity."
"I beg your pardon?" Leon asked, a quizzical expression on his face.
"They believed they were being haunted," Jason replied. "They heard screams, felt icy drafts and saw…apparently whatever those things are that are flying around out there. One man claims he was attacked by one of the spirits and had to be hospitalized for frostbite-like symptoms."
Percival asked incredulously, "But he didn't die?"
Jason and Grant both shook their heads, and Arthur said gravely, "Many here have died from the Dorocha. Our court physician Gaius told us that the Dorocha are spirits of the dead, and they were released when the veil between the worlds was torn through sorcery." He looked around at his knights and continued, "We are on our way to the Isle of the Blessed to close the veil and get rid of the Dorocha."
Gwaine continued, "Arthur's servant Merlin was attacked just last night. He and Lancelot are headed back to Camelot to see if Gaius can help him."
Jason and Grant looked curiously at each other. Merlin was a servant and not the wizard of the legends? Neither of them had heard this take on the Arthurian legend. They said nothing about this, but Grant asked, "How is…Merlin?"
"He was still alive when they left," Arthur responded, tossing a twig into the fire. "But we haven't heard of anyone surviving an attack yet." As Jason looked at Grant and shook his head in disbelief, the prince asked, "Do you doubt me, Jason?"
Jason sat up quickly and apologized. "No, your highness, of course not. It's just that…" He looked at Grant uncertainly. "…In all the years we have investigated the paranormal, we have never encountered a human spirit that could physically harm a person to the point of killing them." Not wanting to offend Arthur or the knights, he quickly amended, "I mean, I suppose it could happen, but it would be rare…" His voice trailed off under the withering glances of the other men seated around the campfire.
"Maybe you would like to come back to Camelot with us and see all the dead for yourselves," Elyan responded angrily.
Grant jumped in to smooth things over. "No, Elyan, we believe you; honest we do. This is simply…something we have never seen, and we're not sure what to think." He fidgeted with the digital voice recorder for a moment before glancing at Gwaine. "I believe you asked about our equipment?"
Gwaine's eyes lit up, and he leaned forward to ask, "What is that you're holding?"
Jason and Grant spent the next few minutes demonstrating their equipment for the knights, showing them how they looked on the thermal imaging camera and letting them listen to their voices on the voice recorder. Gwaine set everyone laughing when he heard his voice and joked, "No wonder the ladies come running when they hear me call."
When the knights were satisfied that the ghost hunters' equipment was not something magical, they all gathered around the fire once more. Gwaine sat down between Leon and Elyan and removed his boots and his heavy woolen socks. Leon and Elyan grimaced as the putrid odor of unwashed feet drifted through the air. Elyan fanned the air and asked, "Has something died?"
Gwaine pulled off a sock and shook it out, replying irritably, "Why am I always the butt?"
"I can't think," Leon quipped, as he and Elyan got up and moved across to sit with Arthur and Percival.
Jason and Grant looked at each other and laughed, thinking that these men sounded a lot like the TAPS team when they were on the road. Gwaine looked at Leon and Elyan and said, "Pick on Percival."
"Why me?" Percival asked, glaring across the fire at Gwaine, who was holding his sock close to the fire with a stick..
"At least he washes," Elyan responded.
Gwaine glared over at Elyan, offended, till Leon warned, "I think you've caught your socks on fire."
Gwaine cried out in frustration as he jerked his sock out of the fire and began beating it on the ground to extinguish the flames. Everyone laughed, and Grant nudged Jason and asked, "Remind you of anyone?"
Before Jason could respond, Arthur threw up a hand and hushed everyone. Out of the darkness, they all heard the large iron gate slam shut. The knights grabbed their swords and quickly got to their feet; they knew that whoever was approaching was flesh and blood, and not Dorocha.