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We all have our Demons... by Jarl-of-the-North We all have our Demons... :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 43 10
Literature
Knight of the Heart Chapter 2 Part 2/2
Merlin never really was one for silence. There were times where he could appreciate it, but it was never his first choice.
Silence usually accompanied boredom. Not always, but usually. Though a quiet field of flowers was a beautiful scene indeed and noise would probably spoil the ambience, he personally felt sound to be a source of comfort. Sound meant the world was moving forwards.
To Merlin, silence meant static. It implied that the world had come to a halt of some kind, despite the fact that he knew that only in the most exceptional of circumstances would such a thing be possible.
He knew that… but dear God Almighty, it would not have been hard to convince him that time had frozen completely upon stepping into this room.
Simply standing before the Round Table with Gawain, Tristan and Lancelot made the air feel like lead from the sheer tension; heavy and toxic, the gazes of each person at the table nothing short of painfully scrutinizing.
He idly twirled his staff, trying to ke
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Literature
Knight of the Heart Chapter 2 Part 1/2
Merlin could feel his teeth slate against each other as his eyes fell upon the infant in Lancelot’s gentle grasp; though his outward expression was one of idle curiosity, he could feel the telltale hints of irritation beginning to build up in his stomach.
Of all the things that could have happened to change the future he had charted out all those years ago, this was not something he had anticipated in the slightest.
Merlin had known about the baby for years, of course; really, how could he not? He had known how Arturia’s rule would begin and how it would end, and everything in between; his clairvoyance had shown him everything, from the moment of her birth to her end after Camlann.
He was fine with how things were going to play out. King Arthur’s story was one that would end in tragedy, and as far as he was concerned, that was okay. There was no need to interfere with fate.
And yet here they were, with Lancelot holding the object of Arturia’s demise in the crook
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Literature
Knight of the Heart Chapter 1 Part 2/2
Whereas the first snowfall had only just started descending on the land the night before, it appeared now that winter was fully arrived when the four chosen Knights had set out to find Morgana’s destination. Twice, they had been forced to take a detour, the main roads too heavily covered with snow and ice to be a safe route for their horses, combined with a close confinement through snow covered trees that was wearing even Merlin’s patience thin.
The next day had the opposite problem, with the sun shining so brightly on the fresh snow that they'd resorted to tying strips of layered cheesecloth across their eyes to ward off snowblindness. Their horses broke the path effortlessly, as if just as determined to end this journey as quickly yet safely as possible, until they finally chanced upon roads that were at least marginally cleared by wagon traffic.
Despite the less than desirable start, the journey itself had been remarkable in its lack of combat; save a pack of hungry mou
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Literature
Knight of the Heart Chapter 1 Part 1/2
Fate is a rather fickle thing. All it takes is one minor change to alter the entire course of history. The claims that one might make that you cannot alter a river, no matter how many pebbles you toss into the roiling waters?
They could not be farther from the truth.
If anything, reality is more fickle and subject to change than anything else. Change the painting hanging in a room, and what might have been a pleasant night with a conversation piece could be reduced to a vicious argument that destroys a friendship.
Should that special someone opt to walk through the gardens instead of past a pair of men, and what would have been a quarrel over lovers instead remains a seemingly unbreakable bond.
Indeed, it’s like that saying;
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse.
For want of a horse, the message.
For want of a message, the battle.
For want of a battle, the war.
Don’t bel
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Literature
The Serpent and the Masked
He couldn't stop the errant coughs that escaped him as he left the bathroom; the scent of his own bile wafted in and out of his nostrils like a thick musk, escaping his mouth every time he let out a breath, coupling with the foul aftertaste. It was only through the long hours of practice that he'd managed to keep his face straight, even as revulsion washed through to his very bones.
His eyes of grey were halfway closed, combining with his downturned lips to create a rather sullen expression. His white hair, streaked with blue, only seemed to accentuate the look further - closed off from the rest of the world.
That's how he preferred it, anyways.
Sighing, he started down the hall, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets; he knew that if he didn't hurry, he'd be late for class, but part of him didn't seem to care. It wasn't as if he were going through any sort of motions, these days. He was largely still adapting to academy life.
It made him nervous, staying in one place for this long.
How l
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SS Threat Rank Ghoul: Nevermore by Jarl-of-the-North SS Threat Rank Ghoul: Nevermore :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 48 6 Grimm: Glaivetail by Jarl-of-the-North Grimm: Glaivetail :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 56 14 A Moment of Rest by Jarl-of-the-North A Moment of Rest :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 76 24 Battle Royale by ADSouto by Jarl-of-the-North Battle Royale by ADSouto :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 43 21 Lance Du'Lake by ADSouto by Jarl-of-the-North Lance Du'Lake by ADSouto :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 101 31 Lance vs. Pyrrha by Jarl-of-the-North Lance vs. Pyrrha :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 62 33 Team VESL Banner Still (Dark) by SableNight112 by Jarl-of-the-North Team VESL Banner Still (Dark) by SableNight112 :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 11 3 Team VESL Banner Still (Colour) by SableNight112 by Jarl-of-the-North Team VESL Banner Still (Colour) by SableNight112 :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 28 17 Team VESL Banner Commission by SableNight112 by Jarl-of-the-North Team VESL Banner Commission by SableNight112 :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 11 13 Vic Drakul Commission by Sablenight112 by Jarl-of-the-North Vic Drakul Commission by Sablenight112 :iconjarl-of-the-north:Jarl-of-the-North 32 3

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All that remained was his trademark red scarf.
The blonde girl that had delivered the punch panted heavily. Her heart was racing a mile a minute as she tried to calm herself down, snatching up her sister's unconscious body. That had been a terrifying sight for her to
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We all have our Demons...
A commission of my character Flora Orchid by the incredible :iconbakki:; please give this guy all the support he deserves, he did an incredible job on this piece!



She stared out the window into the night beyond, the city lights like lanterns in the cold dark of winter. It was getting easier; one could never truly ignore or forget what they were, but that didn't mean it couldn't become easier to live with.

At least, until you were forced to confront it.

She turned away, staring at the warm red liquid in her glass; it was sweet upon her lips and tongue, but she knew that to any Human or Faunus, they would find the taste of iron.

She sighed, and took a sip, taking another glance at the window.

Her reflection stared back, however briefly, and she remembered.

Who she was. What she was. Who she used to be.

She felt her lips curl downwards, turning away, but the damage had already been done.

She wanted to believe the monsters were elsewhere. That she could at least spend tonight outside of their company.

But not even Flora Orchid, with all her power and riches, could escape her own presence.

Sometimes, in order to find a monster... all one needed to do was look in the mirror.
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Merlin never really was one for silence. There were times where he could appreciate it, but it was never his first choice.

Silence usually accompanied boredom. Not always, but usually. Though a quiet field of flowers was a beautiful scene indeed and noise would probably spoil the ambience, he personally felt sound to be a source of comfort. Sound meant the world was moving forwards.

To Merlin, silence meant static. It implied that the world had come to a halt of some kind, despite the fact that he knew that only in the most exceptional of circumstances would such a thing be possible.

He knew that… but dear God Almighty, it would not have been hard to convince him that time had frozen completely upon stepping into this room.

Simply standing before the Round Table with Gawain, Tristan and Lancelot made the air feel like lead from the sheer tension; heavy and toxic, the gazes of each person at the table nothing short of painfully scrutinizing.

He idly twirled his staff, trying to keep his air of amusement, but one look from Arturia was all it took to convince him that he should probably keep his mouth shut for now.

The King surveyed each of them, her gaze and expression giving away less than a marble statue’s. Finally, it was her voice that broke the silence, “Ser Lancelot. Ser Tristan. Ser Gawain. Ser Merlin. I see you’ve all returned unharmed.”

“Indeed we have, Arthur,” Merlin started, smiling, hoping the familiarity would help him get rid of the lump in his throat. Much to his lack of surprise and displeasure, it did not.

“Your mission was successful?”

“Very, Your Majesty,” Gawain took over, and for once, the Mage was happy to hear the Knight of the Sun’s voice, “We recovered a great many books and documents, several of which Ser Merlin has already gotten to work on studying.”

“Is there any indication of what Morgana is planning?” Ser Kay piped up, seeming every bit as tense as Merlin felt.

“Patience, Ser Kay,” Arturia raised a hand, silencing any further questions from her Knights, “We will hear your report, from the beginning. I want to hear everything you know.”

Merlin bit back a sigh, and stepped forwards, knowing that he would be expected to deliver the bulk of the report. Sometimes, being the smartest person in the room only served to make one’s life harder.

“Morgana has set up her workshop in the northernmost fortress in Britain, as I had suspected,” the Mage began, “She has gone to quite a bit of trouble to make it nigh impenetrable. The surrounding forest has been turned into a deathtrap.”

“It looks fairly normal from the outside,” Tristan interjected, “But barely a hundred feet in, the trees grow unnaturally large and thick; the road disappears entirely, and their roots carve out the landscape in a manner that is extremely difficult to navigate. Furthermore, the entire place gives off an air that interferes with one’s sense of direction; were it not for Ser Merlin’s guidance, we likely would have perished in that forest, simply because it is impossible for even a Knight to navigate. High level magic is a necessity for anyone to find their way through.”

“It was like we had wandered into another world entirely,” Lancelot stated, “The forest from the outside looks to stretch perhaps a dozen kilometers in total, but it felt far larger once we were in the thick of it.”

“Even with an army marching shoulder to shoulder through the trees and advancing straight ahead, one would have difficulty making it through,” Gawain crossed his arms, “Not helping matters were those… what did you call them, Mage?”

“Golems,” Merlin stated, “Animate stone statues the size of siege engines. Slow, but very powerful, and extremely deadly in close quarters combat,” he scratched at an itch, “The only reason we came out of that skirmish unscathed is because they were made to face enemies in large numbers – the forest trees are perfect for forcing an army to separate into small, manageable groups, but not so small that they would have lots of room to maneuver. A smaller group comprised of elite fighters is better equipped to handle them.”

“How many did you destroy?” Ser Agravain asked, eyes narrowed.

“One.”

“Out of how many?” Agravain’s tone was one of impatience, so much so that one could practically hear his teeth grinding against each other between each word he bit out.

Merlin shrugged, “Unfortunately, we don’t know.”

“Morgana’s golems were scattered throughout her forest,” said Tristan, “We didn’t have the visibility nor the resources to log how many there may have been without engaging in further conflict – something we deliberately tried to avoid.”

Ser Agravain seemed greatly displeased as he processed this information, his ever-present scowl deepening even further than usual. Finally, however, he gave a reluctant sigh of acceptance, “Very well. Proceed.”

Smirking slightly, Merlin continued, “The fortress seemed to be under a very similar enchantment. I don’t remember what it looked like to begin with, but it had been magically transformed to resemble a castle more than anything else – and a very large one at that, perhaps even larger than Camelot. The river that once made a simple moat has been transformed into a lake, and the outer walls run around the entire body of water. If it were fully intact, we would have had far more difficulty getting in than we did.

“Aside from the sprawling design, the castle didn’t seem to have any further defenses beyond traps – both magical and mundane, which, if I might add, were no trouble for me to avoid,” Merlin felt his smile grow slightly; though he felt the gazes upon him abruptly sharpen, he did not regret the opportunity he took to stroke his own ego. However, he quickly sobered, “That is, until we reached the bell tower beneath Morgana’s workshop. She’s learned how to make chimeras – magical beasts formed by fusing multiple animals together.”

“… that sounds like a truly depraved kind of magic,” Ser Percival murmured.

“It is,” Lancelot confirmed, “The thing was not only massive and powerful, but clearly in great agony. I shudder to think that someone could truly bring themselves to create such a beast, let alone the idea that they might do so multiple times. I had to unleash Arondight’s power to finish it off.”

“During the fight, it broke Ser Lancelot’s arm and fended off the rest of us with power close to that of the golem’s, but with far greater speed and ferocity,” Gawain spoke, looking to Arturia, “You chose well in sending us along, Your Majesty,” he then looked to the other Knights who were seated at the table, “I mean no disrespect to anyone present, but any Knight less skilled in the way of combat than I or Lancelot would have been slaughtered. Morgana’s creations, be they stone or flesh, are truly fearsome.”

“Making it worse is the exact combination of animals she used to make it,” Merlin again piped up, “She used three creatures, the first two being a wolf and a goat. I’m sure that image is nightmarish in and of itself, but the third she used is an animal not native to this land – a saltwater crocodile.”

“I have not heard of such an animal,” Ser Gareth mused.

“… I have,” Ser Palamedes’s expression was grave, “I have not heard of a saltwater crocodile, but I know the animal itself well – a large, stout lizard with leather-like scales akin to armour, and a bite strong enough to break bones with ease. They typically live in rivers in the lands east and south of my homeland.”

Merlin nodded, “And saltwater crocodiles are the largest type of all, living far, far to the southeast – so far that I doubt Palamedes has even heard of the lands they are native to.”

“Meaning,” Ser Bedivere surmised, “that Morgana somehow has access to creatures from across the world that we haven’t even heard of with which to make her monsters.”

“Correct,” Merlin nodded, and even his three companions seemed stunned by the revelation. Unfortunately, the Mage wasn’t finished. He sighed again; this was the part he had been looking forwards to the least, “I’m afraid… that isn’t the worst of what we found there.”

Even now, the King remained largely impassive, her eyes only narrowing slightly at the information presented. Finally, she gestured, “Go on.”

Merlin turned to Lancelot, and nodded. The Knight of the Lake stepped forwards, and gently set the bundle in his arms on the table before pulling the top layer away.

Everyone at the Round Table seemed to let out a collective gasp at the sight of the sleeping child; Guinevere, who had remained silent up to this point, had her hands clapped over her mouth in shock. Kay was staring, open mouthed, as was Bedivere. Agravain’s expression was one of disbelief, and even Arturia herself felt her eyes widen and her jaw go slightly slack, if only for a few seconds. Not because of the fact that an infant had been brought to the meeting, but because of the truly eerie resemblance…

“… it looks almost exactly like the King,” Ser Gareth murmured. He seemed to want to stand to inspect the child more closely, but remained in his seat.

“But… but that’s impossible,” Ser Percival managed, “The King doesn’t have any children.”

“… perhaps… the King eloped-?”

“Don’t be an idiot!” Gawain abruptly snarled, the sheer viciousness in his tone making Ser Gaheris recoil so violently he nearly fell out of his chair. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that had the Knight of the Sun been close enough, he’d have struck his youngest brother, “The King has never eloped with anyone! The fact that you are even considering such a thing makes me question your position, Gaheris!”

“Ser Gawain,” Arturia called, making the eldest of the siblings freeze. She stared him down with all the intensity of a lion, her mask back in place, but her tone dangerous, “If you cannot remain calm, I will have you wait outside for the remainder of this meeting.”

“… but… Your Majesty,” Gawain started, looking at his brother again. However, when he met Arturia’s gaze once more, he almost seemed to shrink; his head and shoulders fell, and he bit at his lip, “… as you wish, my King.”

Once he was sure that his older brother had sufficiently calmed, Gareth spoke up once more, “Where did the child come from?”

“We suspect that Morgana has turned to kidnapping, though for what reason we are yet to-”

“The child wasn’t kidnapped.”

Merlin’s declaration cut off Lancelot’s voice, and the room was plunged into silence.

“… what do you mean, Merlin?” The Knight of the Lake’s voice was deathly quiet.

The sigh that followed was long and heavy – the sound one makes when attempting to take up a truly heavy burden. The Mage glanced about the room, “… You’re all aware that King Arthur has no heir, despite being married for approximately a decade now. He and Lady Guinevere have been trying with… minimal success.”

It wasn’t technically a lie; Arturia was King, after all, but being a woman, she could not normally produce an heir.

Merlin opened his mouth to continue, but a voice cut him off.

“Merlin,” Arturia’s tone was one of warning, eyes narrowed, “You agreed you would keep that to yourself.”

The Mage shook his head, “I am sorry, Arthur, but… this is deeply connected to the issue at hand. I have no choice if you wish to know the child’s origins.”

Arturia’s mask, for the first time in years, threatened to crack under her frustration; her jaw was visibly set, and she seemed ready to protest Merlin’s exposure of her privacy further. However, she swallowed her pride, “Very well. But this had better be as important to the matter at hand as you claim.”

“Believe me. I wish it wasn’t,” Merlin cleared his throat, “Several months ago, Arthur came to me looking for… assistance in producing an heir. I used my magic to increase his virility, and thus increase the likelihood of conception.”

Again, not technically a lie. Because she couldn’t very well have a child with another woman, the King certainly could not marry a man, and Arturia was not willing to break her vows, she needed a way to produce an heir. Something Merlin had happily provided her, if only temporarily.

“But, you see… there was an issue. That night, Arthur told me he had been with Guinevere… but Guinevere claimed that she had not so much as seen hide nor hair of Arthur until the following morning.”

“… and what does that have to do with the child?” Tristan asked.

Merlin pulled a book from his robes – one of Morgana’s many notebooks – and set it on the table beside the child, “I didn’t know what to make of it myself, at first…”

That was a bold faced lie. Merlin knew damn well what happened, and Arturia knew that he did. All he could do was thank whatever powers that be that the other Knights were not aware of his powers of clairvoyance as well.

“… but I began decoding Morgana’s notes on the return trip from her fortress. Somehow, she knew about my arrangement with Arthur,” he opened the book, flipping through the pages, “It says here that she knew what she needed to do in order to create a weapon strong enough to destroy Camelot; it goes on to describe how she infiltrated the castle, and stole away to the King’s room in the dead of night… how she disguised herself as… I’m sorry, My Lady,” he looked straight at Guinevere, and for what it was worth, he genuinely meant it, “… how Morgana disguised herself as ‘Arthur’s whore’… and made the most of his boosted virility.”

None of the Knights dared to speak. Guinevere looked visibly sick, the colour having drained from her face and her posture in a slouch. She opened her mouth, and closed it again, her shocked expression clearly displaying her horror.

Merlin cast his gaze down upon the child, “She carried the fetus for a full nine months. She used magic to alter its development, transforming it from a relatively normal baby into a homunculus and ultimately gave birth to it. The result was an infant with incredible magical power – bearing the blood of a fairy, the manufactured strength of a homunculus… and the raw magical power of a Dragon, inherited from King Arthur.”

He raised his head, “That… is what you see here before you. The bastard child of Arthur Pendragon and Morgana le Faye.”

In the seconds that followed, Merlin could feel the building outrage in the room. Finally, it all exploded – the Knights were arguing amongst themselves, reduced to a backdrop of shouts and struggle. Tristan and Lancelot were struggling to hold Gawain back from the child, and Bedivere was attempting to reassert order over the group.

It all stopped at the sound of metal slamming into wood; Arturia’s gauntleted fist had collided with the armrest of her chair hard enough to splinter the carpentry.

It was the first time Merlin had seen her visibly enraged in over twenty years. Her eyes were open and her brow was furrowed, and her lips were pulled back in just enough of a snarl to expose the teeth that were pressing into each other so hard it was a miracle her gums weren’t bleeding under the force of her own jaw. She looked about the room at each Knight, all of whom remained stock still, having never seen this from her even once in their time serving as her Knights.

“That. Is. Enough.”

The words came through her teeth, her jaw pressing too tightly for her to properly move it. Nonetheless, it was enough to have them all falling back into their respective places.

“Ser Lancelot. Ser Gawain. Ser Tristan. Take your seats.”

They heard, and they obeyed, moving to take their seats. On impulse, Lancelot moved to pick up the child, but a glare – not a mere glance or meeting of gazes, but an actual glare from Arturia made him stop. Reluctantly, he left the infant where she lay, and took his seat.

“… We will review the other aspects of your report later,” Arturia’s words almost sounded like they were being bitten out one at a time, likely from her struggle to speak around her slated teeth, “For now… we need to decide what will be done with that.”

“… we can’t just let it go,” Ser Kay finally spoke.

“Obviously not,” Ser Bedivere swallowed.

“She is just a baby,” Lancelot stated, his voice strained, “Whatever plans Morgana had for her were foiled the moment we took her. We don’t need to enforce any harsher measures than that.”

“Oh, you think so?” Gawain snapped. Out of all the Knights present, he was the one who seemed to share most strongly in Arturia’s sentiments – from the way he was trembling and glaring at the infant, he seemed beside himself with anger, “That thing is not only Morgana’s attempt at creating a weapon powerful enough to destroy the King, it is a stain upon the honour and dignity of both the King and the Queen. It should be erased – it may not remove what Morgana has done, but it will at least rid us of a potential threat.”

“Brother, how could you say such a thing!?” Gareth cried, getting to his feet, “Are you honestly going to pin Morgana’s deeds on an innocent child!?”

“Are you going to ignore what Morgana has done, Gareth?” Gawain growled.

“You cannot hold a baby responsible for the actions of a Witch!”

“I, for one,” Ser Agravain started, tone cold, “agree with Ser Gawain,” the way he gazed upon the infant seemed to say everything he had to say about her – he looked upon her as though she were garbage, something to be removed and burned or buried without so much as a thought of mercy, “It is a creation of Morgana. It is a threat, and should therefore be destroyed.”

“Now, hold on-,” Ser Bedivere stood, only to be cut off by Ser Palamedes. Again, the Knights had begun to argue with each other, the volume quickly rising until he could barely hear once Knight over another.

The first Knight of the Round Table grit his teeth, and roared, “Will you get ahold of yourselves!?”

He paused, waiting for a moment as the noise began to die down. When he was sure they were all paying attention to him, Bedivere spoke again, “Here you all sit, Knights of the Round Table. And yet, when addressed with any matter involving Morgana, you’re reduced to bickering children!”

Once more, Bedivere paused, surveying their reactions before continuing, “I’m certain that everyone here knows that arguing amongst ourselves will get us nowhere. We all have things to say and positions to take, but you are all so strongly possessed by your emotions on this matter that you seem unwilling to calm yourselves for even an instant to listen! How are we supposed to come to any reasonable conclusion if we can’t even hear one another?”

At the very least, the other Knights seemed to be calming, however begrudgingly; Bedivere had to keep himself from letting out a sigh of relief, instead keeping himself steeled should one of them pipe up again.

“… now then. The issue of the child is… delicate, to say the least. There isn’t a single person in this room who doesn’t feel strongly about it, in one way or another. But unless we can discuss it in a calm and civilized manner, we won’t get anywhere.”

“… then what would you suggest, Ser Bedivere?” Agravain asked, eyes narrowed.

“… I propose a vote,” he said, looking to Arturia, “That, I think, will bring us to the most reasonable conclusion in a timely manner.”

For a moment, it seemed as though Arturia were contemplating refusing Bedivere’s advice. Instead, however, she gave a harsh breath through her teeth, “Proceed.”

He nodded, and then addressed the rest of the Round Table again, “We are going to put this to a vote. We will address everyone in a clockwise fashion, starting with Ser Kay. Then Ser Percival. Then Ser Agravain. And so on. When it is your turn, please stand, cast your vote, and explain the reasoning behind your decision. When we reach the King, you will have one last chance to reconsider your decision. Are we in agreement?”

The lack of protest was taken as a unanimous agreement. After a moment, Ser Kay, son of Ser Ector and Arturia’s adoptive brother, rose to his feet, his long brown hair swept back. His expression remained twisted in conflict for a long moment before he sighed, “I vote we eliminate the child.”

 A murmur rippled through the remaining Knights, though they allowed him to continue, “… I do not approve of killing children any under circumstances. Much less infants,” Kay said, “However… the fact remains that she was made by Morgana. The Witch was trained by Merlin himself for reasons I am yet to understand myself; she is extremely wily. I doubt that she intended for the child to be brought here, but there is no doubt in my mind that she will be able to find a way to twist the situation to her advantage. We should err on the side of caution and put an end to this before anything can come of it.”

With that, he sat back down, his head falling into his hands.

Ser Percival stood next, smoothing out his flowing moustaches, “I vote that we spare the child,” he adjusted his cloak, “I was raised by my mother in the wild, away from the world of men, for the first fifteen years of my life. I may have noble blood running through my veins, but the man I am today has very little to do with that fact. I became a Knight, and a decent man, on my own merits, not because of the blood that runs through my veins. At this point, the child’s origins, as well as her original purpose, are irrelevant.”

When Percival returned to his seat, Agravain in turn rose, expression dark, “I vote we eliminate it. It is Morgana’s spawn, a weapon created with the immense magical potential of the King, and proof of her latest plans to destroy Britain; even with the crimes committed aside, surely you can all see the immense threat it poses by simply existing. I see nothing further for us to debate.”

With that, he sat back down, ignoring the glares several of the other Knights sent his way.

Gawain was next. He cracked his jaw as he stood, “I vote for elimination as well. This thing isn’t worth pitying; it resulted from Morgana’s rape of the King using the form of the Queen. And as Agravain said, it was made to be a weapon against Britain; even if its origins weren’t so heinous, I don’t need to remind any of you that one of Morgana’s specialties is twisting innocents into monsters.”

Ser Tristan stood quickly after Gawain had finished. He paused, then shook his head, “I believe it would be best to spare the child,” he bowed his head, red locks obscuring his face, “She has been removed from Morgana’s presence. In the hands of a loving caretaker, there is no question that the child could become a wonderful person,” he raised his head, his golden eyes flashing brightly in the light, “I myself lost my parents at a very early age, and yet never once was I mistreated by those within my home afterwards; if you need proof of what she may yet become, I ask that you look to me.”

Ser Palamedes rubbed at the ring on his finger as Tristan sat down, a silver band set with lapis lazuli, as he looked about his companions, “I would see the little one spared as well. My life has been a long and tumultuous one. I have travelled across many lands. I have seen many things. While the circumstances behind the little one’s birth are regrettable, they should not be laid at her feet. Fate is a fickle thing; if you had told me I would swear fealty to a King in a distant land I had not even heard of eighteen years ago when I was but a travelling mercenary, I might have slit your throat,” he looked to Arturia, “And yet, here I stand. The loyal Knight of a land far removed from my ancestral home. There is no telling what the future holds in store for us. This does not necessarily bode ill.”

Ser Gaheris stood then, his eyes going back and forth between his siblings; Gareth was looking to him as though seeking his support, asking him to spare the infant. Gawain, on the other hand, had leveled a smoldering glower at him so intense that one might wonder if the elder brother were willing him to burst into flames then and there. Ultimately he shook his head, “I vote that we eliminate it. As often as Gawain and I disagree, this isn’t the time for a petty squabble,” he looked to the infant, expression apologetic, “I take no pleasure in this. But I must cast my vote in the best interests of the realm. Morgana’s influence proves too great a threat, regardless of the form it takes.”

As he sat down, Gareth’s expression fell slightly, clearly disappointed that his younger brother had been cowed into submission, but nonetheless, he tried to give Gaheris a supportive smile… before his face darkened upon looking at Gawain, again.

When the Knight of the Lake stood, his voice remained strong as ever – if anything, it seemed stronger, the vehemence in his tone having redoubled without descending into anger, “I vote that we let the child live,” one by one, his gaze met each Knight as he spoke. In particular, he seemed to be leveling his glare upon Gawain, “I find this entire vote to be completely unacceptable, both as a Knight, and as a father. Some of you would see the child executed merely because of her connection to Morgana. Some of you even see fit to see her as equally guilty of Morgana’s crimes. If that is honestly what you believe to be just, then I would request that you re-evaluate why you are here, and why you were given the position of Knight of the Round Table.”

He paused, and looked to the sleeping child again, “I’ll have no part in it. New life... is innocent and pure. It does not carry with it the sins or crimes of the ones who created it, nor should we condemn them for things they didn’t do. We do not choose our parents; the fact that this one was born to Morgana, and made for such a vile purpose is merely a cruel hand dealt to an innocent victim,” he glanced up at Arturia, though she did not give him any response, “The safest thing to do would be to raise her here, within the walls of Camelot – safe and secluded from Morgana’s legacy and intentions.”

Having said his piece, Lancelot returned to his seat; Gareth was immediately on his feet, his breaths loud enough to be heard, “I cast my vote with Lancelot. There shouldn’t even be a vote on the matter of whether to spare or execute a child,” he cast his gaze among everyone else at the table, “We are the Knights of the Round Table. Our duty is to serve the realm and protect those who cannot protect themselves. In what way are we upholding that simple code if we execute a newborn, regardless of her parentage?”

He shook his head, “No. Knights do not kill children. A Knight should not even consider such an action. If you seriously intend to kill this child… then you are a disgrace to the very concept of Knighthood,” as Gareth spoke, he was glaring at Gawain with such intensity that one thought he might throw himself at his older brother… but ultimately, he took in one last breath, and sat back down.

Bedivere bit at his lip as the Knights all looked to him. Slowly, he rose, heart heavy with doubt as he considered the council laid before him. Both sides of the vote had raised compelling points, but his greatest worry was for the King. He had seen her sit through reports of massacres without so much as flinching, and listened as she declared the destruction of villages for the sake of ridding her land of invaders to be unfortunate necessities without so much as a quiver in her voice.

To see the King like this – to see her so angry it was now visible on her face, in her posture, and audibly bled into her tone – scared Bedivere. He felt no shame in admitting that to himself; he might have seen an occasional flinch of sorrow or anger, but not once in his service of nearly two and a half decades to the King had he seen Arturia react like this, seeing her angry enough to actually physically lash out, even if she only struck her chair. Biting his lip, he cast his gaze downwards…

“I vote we eliminate the child,” he stated, tone reluctant, but resolute. After a moment, he raised his head, “You have all presented very compelling arguments for both sides of this debate. But I must say that the potential threats pose far too great a risk. I am sorry, but in the defense of the realm… sometimes, one must stain their hands.”

He sat back down, praying that he had made the right decision.

For a long moment, silence reigned over the Round Table; at the moment, it was five votes for an execution, and five votes to spare the child.

“… if I may,” the Queen’s voice echoed through the room, “Might I speak on the matter?”

Arturia glanced up at her as she stepped forwards to stand at the table. Guinevere was still in shock, at least to a degree – she was still pale, and seemed to be having some difficulty keeping her voice even, her tone wavering with every word spoken. Nonetheless, she continued, “… this is a matter that heavily involves me. I believe that I have every right to a vote of my own.”

“… Very well,” Arturia said.

Guinevere swallowed, and then slowly walked over to the child on the table, still asleep. She was so small, wrapped in those blankets with her head peeking through the fabric, the mop of golden hair so similar to Arturia’s own…

The Queen brushed the child’s hair away, and slowly traced her face with a finger before giving a slow smile, looking up to face the Round Table, “I vote that the child be spared.”

A murmur of surprise rippled among the Knights. Even Arturia's fury could not completely override her surprise at the Queen's decision. But before anyone could vocalize their thoughts, Guinevere continued, "I will not lie... the origins of this child do shock and horrify me me. Even now, I cannot hide my fears on just what Morgana planned to do us with this child... but in my heart... I know that this all the more reason to spare the child; she did not ask for this. She did not ask to be born an enemy of the realm. And while defending Camelot is a task we should never shirk away from, neither should we punish the victims of fate. To do so would be needlessly cruel, and we would all start going down a path I refuse to follow."

A moment's pause as she gathered her bearings, wiping at her eyes, though no tears had fallen. She gazed upon the knights then, heart bare and voice beseeching, "If we choose to execute the child, what message does that carve on our hearts? Secrecy? Cloak and dagger deception for 'the greater good'? Where do we draw the line? When do we pass difficult but necessary choices and descend into barbarism? Killing a child for a perceived threat is a coward's tactic. One that Morgana would applaud us for making. I won't be the one to give her that satisfaction."

The room was silent, but the impact of the words unmistakable. Even Gawain’s expression softened, if only slightly; the only one who seemed truly unaffected was Ser Agravain, who remained stubbornly resolute.

“Well, now,” Merlin stepped forwards, an eyebrow raised, “That was quite the speech, My Lady. I’m impressed you have found it in yourself to look past the crimes committed against you for the sake of this child.”

Guinevere’s soft smile grew if only slightly, and she closed her eyes…

“… but I’m afraid I must counter it,” the Mage said.

The Queen’s eyes snapped open, mouth opening slightly as he turned to face the Knights.

“I vote for the child’s elimination.”

Merlin’s tone was utterly devoid of humour as he made his declaration, expression as cold as Arturia’s might have been on any other day. He paused, letting his words sink in before he began his explanation, “I understand why most of you are so reluctant to condemn a child. If anything, the fact that some among you are so eager to condemn her is actually rather worrisome,” he looked at the infant again, clicking his tongue, “I can see the merits of raising the little one away from Morgana. It could do a lot of good; even with morals set aside, something so powerful could prove to be an incredible asset in the future.

“But on the other hand, we would have to be extremely careful. One misstep could easily bring the whole house of cards we would have to construct crashing down. We would need to fabricate a way for her to exist within Camelot without arousing suspicion; we would need to keep a close eye on her development at all times; and above all, we would have to strive to keep Morgana’s influence completely away from her. Even if she doesn’t make any active attempts to get the child back, we all know that Morgana will try to reach her somehow… and we also know how trusting and foolish children can be. Once a viper gets into the nest…”

He trailed off, and the silence that followed was cold. He lowered his head slightly, “I take no pleasure in my vote. If there were an easy way of going about this, I may have a different decision. But sparing her involves building a life that we would have to strictly monitor and control; it may only take one mistake for it to spiral completely out of control, and cause more damage than what we may potentially prevent. As distasteful as it may seem, eliminating her may be the best solution for the Kingdom in the long run.”

With that, the Mage fell silent, and let his words sink in to the room around him.

It was Ser Bedivere who found his voice first, looking about the table, “Is there anyone that would care to change their vote?”

No one spoke, or even raised their hand.

“This is your last chance. If you have something to add, or wish to change your decision, then speak now. Otherwise, forever hold your piece.”

Still, no one moved, and nothing was said.

“… then it appears we are at a stalemate,” Bedivere said, sighing, “It is six votes against six votes.”

“Not quite, Ser Bedivere.”

Arturia had finally spoken again, eyes narrowed; she seemed to have regained her composure, though rather than dispassion, her expression was one of grim determination, anger still smoldering in her eyes. She stood, “As the King of Britain and a Knight of the Round Table, I still have my own vote to cast.

“I vote for the elimination of Morgana’s weapon.”

Not ‘infant.’ Not ‘child.’ Weapon.

No further explanation was needed.

“… but…” Lancelot’s mouth was dry, and he felt as though he were in a daze. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening, “… Your Majesty…”

“… you can’t be serious,” Gareth murmured. It was only when Arturia stepped away from her chair to walk around the table that Gareth finally found his voice again, “Your Majesty!”

“The vote is seven to six,” Arturia intoned, “A conclusion has been reached.”

“My liege,” Ser Percival started, “You aren’t seriously letting your anger get the better of you!?”

“I am angry, Ser Percival. Not blind.”

“I would beg to differ,” Tristan was on his feet; his jaw was set and his fists were clenched, “You cannot honestly believe that an infant deserves execution.”

“What it deserves and what needs to be done are two very different things, Ser Tristan.”

“Your Majesty, please!” Lancelot finally found his voice again. He had leaped to his feet, standing before his King, a torrent of fear and panic rising in his chest as his blood beat through his ears.

“Stand aside, Ser Lancelot.”

“No one is asking you to raise the child yourself!”

“Stand aside.”

“She has done nothing wrong!”

“Stand. Aside, Ser Lancelot. I will not ask again.”

Lancelot stood in silence for a long moment, then looked to the other Knights, looking for some form of support; though he saw various expressions of protest and outrage, he knew there was nothing they could do.

There was nothing that he could do.

Knowing that disobeying further would not do any good for anyone, Lancelot slowly shuffled to the side, gripping the edge of his chair as the King strode past, approaching the infant.

This time, it was Guinevere who stepped forwards; she looked Arturia in the eye, praying that she would be able to reach the King’s heart, just this once, “Arthur, please…”

Arturia remained silent for a long moment, studying her Queen; Guinevere was clearly distraught, tears welling up in her eyes and posture outstretched, as though hoping to somehow protect the child from her.

However, she knew what needed to be done; this decision was already difficult enough as it was. She needed to keep her heart and mind encased in steel. Let no weakness sway her.

“… Please Guinevere. I have made my decision,” she spoke, soft, but firm, “I do not expect you to agree with it. But I do expect you to abide by it. Please, stand aside. Don't make this any harder than it needs to be."

“… no,” the Queen shook her head, tears now freely streaming down her face, “No. I won’t let you do this to yourself, Arthur. I won’t.”

Arturia remained silent for a long moment, then sighed, closing her eyes, “… Ser Gawain.”

Guinevere’s heart skipped a beat, and before she knew it, the Knight of the Sun had an arm wrapped around her shoulders and was hauling her away from the sleeping child.

“No!” she shouted, immediately struggling against him, but Gawain was not only much larger and heavier, but considerably stronger and better trained. All she could do was yell as she uselessly scrabbled against the Knight’s firm grip and heavy armour, “No! Arthur! For God’s sake, listen to me, for once in your life! Please!”

Arturia did not respond. Couldn’t afford to, lest her resolve fail her against the emotions running amok within. She forced herself to focus on the task at hand, to ignore the Queen’s cries, stepping up to the bundle and pulling it into her arms.

“Arthur!”

She reached for her belt, and pulled out the dagger from its sheath; a short, double edged blade intended to break through the weak points in armour. The very least she could offer was a quick end.

“ARTHUR!!!”

Arturia studied the blade for a moment, then in turn looked to the child in her - no, the homunculus... the creation of Morgana... in her arm, frowning as she debated on how to administer the killing blow with as little suffering or bloodshed as possible.

She would not allow Britain to fall. If she needed to, she would shoulder all the world’s evils to keep her country alive and well.

But then the bundle began to shift, her mind grinding to a sudden and utter halt.

Without any prompt or warning, the baby slowly started to stir in Arturia’s arms, the movements faint but still enough to distract her, drawing the King away from the moment at hand to look at the bundle in her arms. The teal eyes of the baby met the identical teal eyes of her father. Despite the knife angled so close, the baby seemed more curious than afraid, hands reaching out far enough that Arturia unconsciously moved the knife away to prevent a potential injury.

‘It... it really does look like me...’

The thought was... surprisingly calming, the burning rage within starting to cool, her tight grip loosening slightly...

No. Focus! This was one of Morgana’s sick, twisted games. She knew what had to be done. Staying her hand now would only –

A giggle, as innocent and pure as it was adorable. Even now, knife in hand and intending to end its life, the baby was completely unafraid of her. It felt safe... happy... to be in her arms. It trusted her completely.

Her resolve was breaking. She could feel it slipping away. How could she justify letting this happen? Merlin was right. This was for the better of the realm. Everything she had sacrificed, everything she swore to uphold since she willingly drew the sword from the stone... it would end in disaster if she let the child live. How... how...

Another burbling laugh. The child's face was one of pure happiness. Pure trust. It wanted to play, hands out, trying to reach out for her.

... How could she rightly claim it was for the good of the realm to kill one who trusted her so completely in cold blood?...

 

That, more than anything, made her already fragile resolve crumble away entirely. With a long, drawn out sigh, she slid her knife back into its sheath.

“Take the child to the guest bedchambers,” She ordered, voice just barely concealing the weariness that had settled over her as she offered the baby back to Lancelot.

He was quick to take her back in his arms (the child squirmed a bit with the exchange, but otherwise remained blissfully unaware of its predicament), but his face betrayed his uncertainty, “Your Majesty?”

“It has been a very long day. Enough blood has been spilled in this venture,” Arturia couldn’t look anyone in the eye, but her voice had already regained its coldness and authority, concealing her true thoughts from those around her, “I have changed my vote. It is now seven to six, in favour of sparing the child. It... may stay within these walls for now.”

The Knight of the Lake bowed as deeply as the baby in his arms would allow, “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

A slight nod from the King, and he departed immediately, not willing to test her sudden display of mercy to Morgana’s creation.

She looked to Ser Gawain, who was nothing short of flabbergasted, and holding an equally shocked Guinevere by the shoulders. Arturia gestured, “You may release her now, Gawain.”

It took a moment for the order to register, but the Knight of the Sun released the Queen, who promptly pulled away from him. Guinevere stared at her husband, tears again welling in her eyes, “Oh, Arthur…”

Arturia did not respond. Instead, she turned to the remaining Knights of the Round Table, “The rest of you are dismissed. See to it that this development is kept quiet. I do not want anyone outside this room knowing about the child until we are ready to handle the situation.”

Some of the Knights looked like they still had questions and concerns they longed to address, but none gave them voice, obeying their King’s orders without question until only Guinevere and Merlin remained. As the doors shut behind them, another sigh made it’s way past the King’s lips, a hand coming up to try and rub away the headache that was now making itself known. What a day this had turned out to be...

Guinevere’s hands, soft and delicate, took her husband’s free hand into her own. Her smile was faint but present, eyes delicate yet hopeful.

“Thank you, Arthur. I know it was a difficult decision to make, but I believe you made the right choice.”

Arturia said nothing, not trusting herself to speak just yet. What was happening to her, to make her suddenly so uncertain, so... imperfect?

Knowing she would find no answers at the moment, she turned to Merlin, trying to change the subject, “Does it... does the child have a name?”

Merlin shrugged, true thoughts on the matter concealed. As difficult as this new situation was, there was surely no harm in divulging that piece of information, “I’m still trying to decode Morgana’s documents. Her encryption methods are very thorough, but I have found some common words and phrasings throughout,” he waited until the King and Queen were both watching, waiting to hear his answer, “Mordred. Her name is Mordred.”

“Mordred...” Guinevere repeated under her breath. The grip on Arturia’s hand tightened for a moment, then eased.

“A fine name, all things considered,” the jest felt flat even in his own years. Better to leave now before things got even worse, “I’ll take my leave now. So many documents to search through, so little time. My King... My Lady.”

The doors thudded shut behind him a moment later, leaving the King and Queen along in the giant room. It felt surprisingly hollow now. As if the life and power that normally radiated within had been drained until only a faint flicker of its fire remained. Everything was changing so rapidly it seemed, the future now uncertain and not sure how to react to recent developments.

“Are you sure of this?”

The question was sudden, and it took Guinevere a moment to register Arturia had spoken. When she did not reply, Arturia asked again.

“Are you sure this is what you wish? If this is what you want, there will be no turning back.”

Was this what Guinevere wanted? She had vouched strongly to keep Mordred alive, but now that the decision was made, Arthur was still giving her a chance to back out, to find an alternative if she desired. It was the closest the King had ever been to uncertain in the entire time they had known one another. A subtle hint that her husband would offer her no ill will if she decided to go back on her word.

And yet...

“... I am,” she finally declared. Words soft, yet wrapped in the strongest steel, “No matter what happens, I will stand by my decision. Nothing will convince me otherwise.”

Arthur stared back at her, emotions hidden but eyes surprisingly bright, “...Then we will keep the child. We will be vigilant, but it will remain within Camelot’s walls.”

“Thank you, Arturia...” the sound of the King’s true name sent chills down her spine, “I promise, she’ll be a good addition to the family some day.”

“I said it could stay,” Whereas the previous words had been soft and accommodating, this statement was cold and sharp, pulling the hand away abruptly as Arturia turned away, “That doesn’t make it my child.”

Without another word, the King departed the hall entirely, the very image of the perfect King of Camelot, leaving Guinevere all alone with her thoughts.

Knight of the Heart Chapter 2 Part 2/2
Once upon a time, there was an heir to a mighty King, who adored her father greatly. Upon learning of her heritage, she tried to gain his acknowlegement... and was ultimately rejected. But... say one thing changed long before this could happen. Certainly, one small pebble couldn't change the entire flow of the river of time... right?

AU Collab with :iconbatomys2731:. If you're wondering why we are both posting the exact same thing, well, that's why.

Neither of us own TYPE-MOON. If we did, the idiots that designed Boudicca and Spartacus and gave Blackbeard his POS personality would have been fired for presenting such stupid ideas.

Please leave your thoughts below; every little bit of feedback we get helps us enrich the story a little bit more.

You can find Part 1 of Chapter 2 here:jarl-of-the-north.deviantart.c…

You can find all the story chapters here: jarl-of-the-north.deviantart.c…
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Merlin could feel his teeth slate against each other as his eyes fell upon the infant in Lancelot’s gentle grasp; though his outward expression was one of idle curiosity, he could feel the telltale hints of irritation beginning to build up in his stomach.

Of all the things that could have happened to change the future he had charted out all those years ago, this was not something he had anticipated in the slightest.

Merlin had known about the baby for years, of course; really, how could he not? He had known how Arturia’s rule would begin and how it would end, and everything in between; his clairvoyance had shown him everything, from the moment of her birth to her end after Camlann.

He was fine with how things were going to play out. King Arthur’s story was one that would end in tragedy, and as far as he was concerned, that was okay. There was no need to interfere with fate.

And yet here they were, with Lancelot holding the object of Arturia’s demise in the crook of his arm.

The Mage knew from the instant he saw the child, and from the reactions of his three companions, that there was no way he could convince them to leave the infant be; all three of the Knights were still in shock, but there was no way that they would leave a baby in the care of Morgana. He briefly considered casting an illusion of the child so that the real one might be left behind, but logic shut that solution down almost as quickly as it had presented itself; not only would it be impossible for him to maintain an illusion that intricate without eventually slipping up, he knew that it would likely end in every member of the Round Table demanding his execution once they learned he had tricked the three into leaving the baby here – and given the context of the situation, he wasn’t sure if Arturia would stop them. Say what one might about her methods of ruling, her moral code is still up to par.

Furthermore, it wasn’t possible for him to simply tell the Knights who and what the infant was – that would just make them even more reluctant to leave the baby behind, if for entirely different reasons. One did not simply leave a powerful weapon in the hands of their worst enemy, after all.

His irritation only continued to grow as it dawned on him that, at this stage, there really was no way to “fix” what was broken.

The future had changed, his prophecy was ruined, and that was all there was to it.

“Well… that’s just great,” Merlin muttered.

“A baby,” Tristan repeated, his voice quiet. Finally beginning to recover his composure as he stepped forwards. Cautiously, he reached out to the infant, only for her to recoil upon his gentle touch, as though he were some kind of terrifying beast. Tristan flinched back, seeming hurt; he hadn’t meant to scare the poor thing, but…

“… I can’t believe this,” Gawain’s face was beginning to lose its shock as well, but rather than any form of solemnness or serenity, his expression was grim, his grip on his sword tightening in the throes of anger, “I knew Morgana was a monster… but to kidnap a child?” he let out a hiss, his weapon beginning to audibly clatter as his lips pulled back in a snarl, “That’s repulsive, even for her!”

Merlin had to bite down on a snort of laughter. The other Knights, however, were as solemn and silent as the grave, Lancelot doing his best to soothe the baby, but to relatively little effect.

Finally, Merlin stepped forwards, softly murmuring under his breath; he then slowly brought his hand over the baby’s head, a shower of countless twinkling white lights slowly falling over her. After a moment, the child finally stopped crying, dazzled by the countless small stars surrounding her, her eyes a vibrant shade of teal. She reached out to touch them, only for them to zip away before they could be grabbed. Again and again, the baby tried, but her movements were steadily growing more and more sluggish. Finally, the baby’s eyes drooped shut, and she stilled.

“Minor sleep cantrip,” Merlin smirked, crossing his arms, “Works much better than any lullaby.”

“And you would know that… how?” Gawain shot at him, his grip on his sword still so tight he feared the hilt may break in his hand. Something, anything to distract him from his own fury was welcome.

“I raised Arthur, remember?” Merlin gave the Knight of the Sun a lazy smile, “I’ve got more experience with children than all three of you.”

At this, Lancelot glanced away, biting his lip as his mind wandered to days long past – to the boy he could only briefly act as a father to…

“… whose child do you suppose she is?” the Knight of the Lake finally asked, looking back down at the sleeping infant.

Tristan frowned, once again reaching for its face to brush the hair from its eyes, “… if I didn’t know any better…” he seemed to struggle with the words for a moment, “I would say she was Arthur’s child. The resemblance is… uncanny.”

“But that isn’t possible,” Gawain stated, seeming grateful for the change in topic, the rattling of his sword finally beginning to die down, “Arthur doesn’t have any children,” the matter of fact tone Gawain carried seemed to imply something else entirely – that Arturia in fact couldn’t have any children, being one of the few to know of her true gender, “Besides, even if Arthur did have an child, we’d have known about it if they were kidnapped. Resemblance notwithstanding, I’d wager that the child is a commoner.”

“But why?” Lancelot wondered, “What would Morgana have to gain by kidnapping a common-born newborn?”

“Birth does not necessarily determine one’s ultimate place in the world,” Tristan pointed out, “Ser Percival may have been of noble birth in the end, but he was raised in the wild – no one, not even Percival himself, knew of his bloodline until after he had joined the Round Table. And Ser Palamedes wasn’t even of British birth – many see him as even lower than the common folk, and yet he stands among us as equals,” he looked at the child again, “There may be more to this child than what any of us are aware of.”

“Perhaps,” Merlin interjected, “the answer lies in Morgana’s notes.”

The Knights turned to look at the Mage, and he pressed, “Let’s not forget our objective, here. Our mission was to find out what Morgana was doing. We know this child has something to do with it, and we can’t very well just leave it here,” he glanced back at the entrance, “Aside from that, Morgana is on her way here. We don’t have time for an extended investigation. We have to take what we can and get out.”

“… He’s right,” Tristan spoke, turning back to the others. He shouldered Failnaught and reached into the pouch on his belt, retrieving a large burlap sack, “Merlin? What should we grab?”

“Books,” Merlin stated bluntly, “Artifacts and ingredients aren’t as important; the former are often fragile, the latter spoil, and we don’t have the time needed to make sure they will remain intact in either case. The books, on the other hand, may be helpful in the long run. Ancient texts might give us some inkling on what Morgana has been trying to do, as will more explicit notes.”

“There are a lot of books here,” Gawain glanced about at the towering bookshelves, “How should we differentiate in terms of importance?”

“Dust. Anything that has a layer of dust has been left for some time; try to find books and notes that were recently disturbed. I’ll take this room,” Merlin stepped over to the desk, a sack of his own in hand, and began unceremoniously dumping books into the sack, “If the shelf itself has a consistent layer of dust, then chances are nothing on it’s been touched in a while.”

Gawain paused, then looked to the others, “I’ll take the observatory.”

“I’ll take the common room,” said Tristan.

“I suppose that leaves me with the library,” Lancelot looked from Gawain to Tristan, “We leave at the count of five hundred. Keep your search brief.”

“One,” Gawain started, “Two.”

“Three.”

And the three departed for their respective search areas, keeping an internal countdown as they began.

It did not take long for Lancelot to fill his bag completely; many of the books were large, and attempting to fit everything together like a puzzle was easier said than done with the baby in his arm. Nonetheless, he did what he could, taking care not to directly touch what he couldn’t read – his English and French were both flawless, and he knew a level of Germanic and Latin, but there were still many texts whose written language he could not even hope to place despite many hours of study.

Tying the sack off and affixing it to his belt, he made for the entrance of Morgana’s workshop.

It didn’t take long for Tristan or Merlin to join him, their bags filled and tied; Gawain, however, barely made it back in time for the final count, one hand on a bag full of books, the other on a thick curtain cord bound around an ancient text with a cover of mottled green that had, according to the Knight of the Sun, tried to take a bite out of him (“You’re supposed to stroke the spine first, you idiot!” Merlin had snapped as he took the book from Gawain, rolling his eyes in disgust).

Merlin cast his wards one last time to hide them from Morgana’s magical defenses, and they swiftly retraced their steps, the scribbles in the halls that the Mage had made with his staff disappearing as they passed them, one by one.

 Thankfully, leaving the castle was far easier than entering had been; with their increased pace and memorized route, they emerged onto the frozen rocky shore within twenty minutes of emerging from Morgana’s workshop; the lake itself, however, impeded their progress, the deep snow banks upon the ice, along with their new burdens (the sleeping infant having been wrapped tightly in a thick blanket), making it a long, slow trudge to the abandoned town.

When they finally reached and mounted their horses, Merlin took off with a gallop, leading the Knights out of the forest as quickly as possible whilst avoiding the golems. All the trio could hope to do was follow blindly, and hope the Mage knew where he was going.

Finally, the trees began to thin; they were no less numerous, but they weren’t nearly so incredibly thick or tall, becoming more natural. And then, they emerged onto the northern road, the fields and forests of Britain visible once more, stars faintly glimmering beyond the clouds, a wave of relief washing over all of them.

“Oh, thank God,” Lancelot whispered.

Gawain turned, and stared into the dark forest, his grip on his reigns tightening, “We did not manage to kill Morgana…”

“She wasn’t present, and Lancelot was injured,” Tristan said, ever the voice of reason, “It could not be helped, Gawain. Even if she were there, Lancelot’s injuries would have put us at an immense disadvantage.”

“Besides,” Merlin cheerfully began, “We’ve given her a pretty hefty setback. She’s not bouncing back from this in a few days; it’ll take her years to recover everything we took.”

Lancelot let out a long, slow breath, staring into the forest. Then, the bundle in his arms began to squirm, faint whimpering reaching his ears; he pulled the blanket down slightly to expose the child, beginning to stir.

Merlin hopped down from his horse and approached, looking the child over with a curious eye, “Restless little thing. It hasn’t even been an hour since I cast my cantrip, and she’s already waking up.”

The baby’s eyes slowly opened, and she looked upon the Mage and the Knight of the Lake; for a moment, it seemed as though she would begin to cry again… but then a snowflake gently landed on her forehead. She blinked, burbling slightly, and gently prodded the melted snow before noticing the falling white around her.  She reached up, fingers outstretched, seeming to be trying to catch them…

“With this little one with us, we’ll have to make haste on our way to Camelot,” Tristan’s voice was somewhat grave as the others turned to look at him, though the baby still seemed more interested in the falling snow. He pulled out his rations, lips curled downwards slightly, “We have water, but our food is not fit for a newborn. If we do not make it there within a few days, it is likely the child will starve to death on the way.”

“Can we not stop by villages to see her properly fed?” Lancelot asked.

Gawain shook his head, “The villages are all at least several days apart, and we need to report our findings to the King as soon as we are able. If we do stop, it will only be for an hour or two at most.”

“I can slow her metabolism,” Merlin offered, “It won’t be any sort of miracle, but it should give her a week before any ill effects begin to set in. That being said, she’s probably going to be miserable if she doesn’t get food for that long.”

“She will have to bear it,” Gawain stated simply, “We cannot delay – for the King’s sake, as well as her own.”

“… very well,” Lancelot muttered, internally cursing the circumstances to keep himself from cursing Gawain, “Then let us make haste.”

But before they could set off, a streak of black, darker than even the clouded night sky above, arced across the sky like a fell falling star, soaring over the forest towards the castle within. Though it made no sound, all of them saw it – even the baby, who promptly began to cry again.

“… what was that?” Tristan wondered, a chill running down his spine.

“… we have to leave,” Merlin mounted his horse, “Let’s go.”

“Mage,” Gawain’s voice was stern, “Ser Tristan asked you a question.”

Merlin sighed, “That… was Morgana. And I don’t think she’s going to be in the mood for tea. So I recommend we put as much distance between us and her as possible before she can find a means to track us down.”

The Knights needed no further prompting. Once Lancelot had the baby once again tucked in her blanket, they took off down the road at a full gallop, not stopping until well after the forest was out of their sight, and the first rays of dawn began to climb over the horizon.

 

 

 

 

Morgana was no stranger to rage.

If anything, rage was something she knew very, very well.

She still remembered the fury that accompanied the fear at her mother’s rape; the blinding anger that followed the sorrow of her father’s murder; the outrage and humiliation that overtook her on the day she was taken from her mother and sent to a nunnery… and again, when she was married off to King Urien.

All at the hands of King Uther Pendragon.

Even the name was enough to bring Morgana’s blood to a boil.

But this?

Morgana couldn’t think of an appropriate word for how this made her feel.

The ajar door was the first thing she noticed upon arriving at her tower, letting snow sweep into the darkness within. The second thing was the residual prana in the air, which no doubt belonged to Merlin – she knew that signature far too well to mistake it. The third thing she noticed was the stench – the smell of rotting flesh and blood.

She knew her chimera was dead from the moment her link to it was broken; but she did not expect to find it so thoroughly destroyed, with nearly half of its right side completely missing.

It was the dread that hit her first; there were very few weapons that could pierce the magically strengthened hide of a chimera, let alone one with a base formed from the thick, leathery scales of the massive saltwater crocodiles from the lands far to the south. To do this kind of damage, one would need the power of a cursed sword… like those wielded by the Knights of the Round Table.

At that thought, she sprinted up the stairwell to her workshop. Most of the books that had been strewn across her desks were gone; years of research and centuries old notes and texts from magicians and wizards who lived hundreds or even thousands of years ago… all gone.

But that could be recovered.

Morgana needed to make sure her homunculus was intact.

Her heart nearly stopped when she found the entrance to her laboratory proper open, its illusion stripped away. She rushed in, praying that her creation remained unharmed, throwing the curtains aside with all her might-

Only to find the cradle empty.

Disbelief washed over her, a chill running down Le Faye’s spine as she tried to process what she was seeing. She blinked, half expecting the child to simply appear before her – and yet, nothing happened. The baby was gone.

For a long moment, all she could do was silently stare into the crib. Then, she slowly walked away, as though in a trance, her trembling steps taking her out of her workshop and into the tower below once again. She stopped right beside the chimera, breaths heavy... and her hands began to shake, slowly clenching into fists.

Abruptly, she let out a shriek of unholy fury that would make the divine cry out in fear, a wave of black lightning causing the tower to tremble. A solid, jagged pillar of dark flared from Morgana’s outstretched hand, and the chimera’s remains were completely consumed, smote by a power so dark and terrible that even she did not know its true name. At the end of it, the tower had a jagged, gaping hole in the side, and much of the floor had fallen away into nothingness; it still stood, but only through some miracle that the Witch neither knew nor cared for.

She breathed heavily, trying to force herself back into a state of calm. This was a heavy blow indeed; not only were her notes gone, so was her magnum opus. The weapon she would use to bring Arturia and everything she stood for tumbling down had been stolen from her, no doubt to be disposed of…

She took a long, slow breath. No… mere disposal wasn’t it. If the intruders had wanted to dispose of her homunculus, all they would have needed to do was stick a knife in the infant’s belly when they found her. No, there was another purpose for taking the child.

And as long as she was alive, Morgana could still recover her prized weapon.

She simply needed to bide her time.

Breathing through her slated teeth, she started up the steps once more. This fortress had been compromised; her golems and her chimera had failed to stop the intruders. That being said, this place was still Morgana’s home, and she would not leave it so easily. She simply needed to better fortify it; armies were no longer her sole concern, not if Arturia was willing to send the Knights of the Round Table after her, and Merlin was willingly taking a more active role in assisting them.

This meant she needed a different type of guard.

Slipping back into her workshop, Le Faye reached out and pulled a particular book from the shelf, directing her energy back into study.

She would not be able to replicate her masterpiece…

But a single masterpiece homunculus would never be able to patrol the halls of a castle on its own anyways.

 

 

 

 

Lancelot sat outside of the tent, shivering slightly in the harsh winter cold and his breaths turning to mist in the cold night air. It had been six days since they left the castle, and thus far the infant seemed to have finally adjusted to the presence of the Knights and Mage; merely looking at them did not cause her to cry anymore.

That said, she still seemed to have her preferences when it came to whose presence she was in. She squirmed constantly whenever Merlin held her, never seeming comfortable in the white haired man’s arms; but that was nothing in comparison to when Gawain held her. She would not lie still for him in the slightest, and even went so far as to reach up and yank out a tuft of his hair, as though to demonstrate her pure disdain for the Knight of the Sun. She even went so far as to laugh at his pained swearing, as though she understood that he was uttering curses that truly should not be uttered in front of children.

In Tristan’s arms, however, she seemed relatively calm. She remained still and quiet for him, and was quick to sleep in his arms whenever she was tired. If anything, Tristan seemed to be growing rather fond of the child, using his musical talent to lull her into calm and sleep whenever it was possible.

But it seemed that Lancelot was her favourite; merely seeing him seemed to excite her, and she would squirm and reach for him until he finally acquiesced and held her. She would occasionally reach up and try to grab his hair, but unlike with Gawain did not yank on it, merely content to play with the indigo locks. She frequently vocalized her happiness with burbles and sudden wordless shouts and giggles in a way that reminded the Knight of the Lake very much of his own son.

But even then, there was one thing the baby seemed to hate above even Gawain, and that was being inside.

Not even Tristan’s lullabies could get the child to calm whenever she was brought into the tent. Even when they brought her in from harsh cold, the Knights were met with unhappy squirming and even wailing; the child would cry until she was either too tired to continue crying, or until she was taken back outside into the chill. It was almost as though the inside of the tent were a reminder of her first few weeks of life in Morgana’s workshop, the outside world closed off entirely.

It had taken two days for them to figure out the baby’s fascination with the mysterious yet beautiful sky above. Even when clouds scudded low overhead with the threat of snowfall, her innocent green eyes were focused upward often enough that Merlin had joked she must have been formed from the stars above. During the day, she was mesmerized by the sea of bright azure and its islands of grey and white. At night, the child rarely seemed to sleep, the twinkling of the stars evoking a near rapturous bliss that kept her awake and excited throughout most of the night, tiny hands occasionally reaching out to try and pluck the shining gems from the sky.

And so here Lancelot sat, out in the cold as opposed to in the tent wrapped in a fur blanket, the child happily giggling; oddly, she didn’t seem to display any sign that she even felt the cold, her cheeks remaining clear as ever. Even Merlin seemed to be affected by the chill, if only in temperament.

Lancelot couldn’t help but smile, brushing the child’s hair out of her face again, “You’re a fussy one, aren’t you?”

The only response he got was another laugh, though he pulled his hand away before she could try to grab it; a cold glove wasn’t an ideal child’s toy.

“Lancelot.”

The Knight glanced up at the sound of the voice to see Gawain, standing in the light of the tent. The two simply stared at each other for a long moment before Gawain finally spoke, “You should come inside.”

Lancelot paused for a moment, debating his response, before turning his gaze away, “You know she doesn’t like it.”

“This cold isn’t good for either of you.”

“I’ll come in once she’s gotten to sleep.”

Gawain sighed, knowing that there was no arguing the point; instead, he asked, “Would you like me to get Tristan?”

“No. She should be asleep soon.”

The Knight of the Sun sincerely doubted that, given how active the infant seemed to be, but ultimately made no further argument. Instead, he sat down beside Lancelot, staring off into the darkness.

“… You’ve gotten attached to her,” Gawain remarked.

“And she has gotten attached to us.”

“Some of us more than others.”

“Still angry about your lopsided haircut, Gawain?”

The only response Lancelot got was a snort of displeasure, at which he couldn’t help but smirk.

Silence reigned for a long while…

“… you won’t be able to keep her, you know.”

Lancelot blinked, then felt his eyes narrow; he already didn’t like where this was going, “What do you mean?”

Gawain leveled a heavy gaze at him, expression serious, “I’ve seen the way you look at her, Lancelot.”

“And what of it?”

“It’s the look of a father.”

Lancelot felt all his possible responses die at that; all he could do was stare at Gawain, who had now cast his gaze back into the snow.

“Lancelot, I know you regret having to leave your son behind… but you can’t treat this girl as though she’s a second chance at being a father. It isn’t fair to you, or to your son, or to her. Especially not when she’s likely going to be sent to an orphanage.”

“Gawain,” Lancelot’s tone had grown dangerously low; the baby in his arm had grown quiet, as though sensing the Knight of the Lake’s darkening mood.

Gawain looked at him again, unyielding, “I am not trying to offend you, Lancelot. I am simply trying to keep you from making a mistake. After we report our findings to the Round Table, you will likely never see this child again. If you get too attached, you will never be able to let go of what could have been.”

Lancelot’s jaw was set, but he could not say anything in response. All he could do was remain silent, knowing Gawain was right at least on some level… despite how badly Lancelot wanted to deny it.

“It would be better to let go now,” Gawain stated, “When you were recalled to Camelot and had to leave your son behind, you were a complete wreck of a man for weeks. I’d rather not see history repeat itself.”

Again, Gawain received no response. He let out a long, slow breath, and stood, turning back to the tent, “You should come back inside before you freeze. Those furs will only keep you warm for so long.”

With that, he disappeared back inside.

Lancelot did not return to the tent until long after the baby had fallen asleep.

 

 

 

 

It was a silent trip back to Camelot that was infused with a sense of urgency and caution both. With Merlin scouring through and trying to decode one of Morgana’s encrypted books and Lancelot still keeping the newcomer safe, Gawain and Tristan were tasked with keeping watch of the surrounding area for hints of pursuit. Whereas the previous lack of combat when approaching the fortress had been a welcome change of pace, the opposite was true on the venture back. Now it felt like they were being watched, another danger purposely lurking just out of site within the tree line, waiting to pounce the moment their guard was down. The two of them refused to let that happen, hands close but not quite gripping the grips of their weapons, not willing to trust the supposed emptiness until the forest was well and truly behind them.

Even before the walls of Camelot came into view, it was agreed they would keep the child out of sight until she was delivered to the King. The situation was precarious enough as it was. The last thing they wanted was for the citizens to see a child near identical in appearance to King Arthur in the arms of his knights. Thus as they started approaching the main gates, Lancelot kept his cloak close to his person, concealing the bundle underneath from view, with Merlin again using the same sleeping cantrip to ensure the child did not wake at an inconvenient moment. None of the guards appeared to notice anything amiss as they passed by, yet they all remained vigilant.

It wasn't the first time that the Knights had found themselves visiting the streets of Camelot; once, a long time ago it seemed, they would have accompanied each other with a closeness like family, striding atop their horses through the market district with shining new armour and the cocky arrogance of young gods who accepted the deference shown to them by the commoners as no less than their rightful due.

Merlin had put it best, during one of their last ‘mighty adventures’: “If only they could be young again, so that today’s troubles could stay far away.”

An issue for a later time, indeed.

Moving through the market district now, all four of them saw it with new, more experienced eyes. Everything familiar, and yet not, and not just because the recent snowfalls had reduced the number of people moving throughout the packed streets. No one here was likely to recognize them, at least, not as the Knights of the Round Table. With concealing hoods over their heads and battered looking cloaks with nondescript tools at their belts, they resembled nothing more than a small group of travellers, albeit well supplied ones. They drew curious stares, though not as curious as they would likely have gotten had they been dressed in more proper armor for their stations.

Lancelot’s eyes swept the stalls of the market, wondering if they had truly changed so much, or if the greatest changes were within him, or the Knights as a whole. The gaily striped awnings and tents did not seem nearly so bright, the filth on the snow covered cobble-stoned streets seemed more pronounced, and the people themselves looked weary and worn. There had once been a time where he'd never noticed the tension around their eyes when he was younger, never given any thought to the notion that whether or not the noblewoman browsing the available goods made a purchase might determine whether or not the merchant's family ate that night. He'd never noticed how thin the children playing in the street were, or the way the guards stood grimly outside the closed gates that marked the direction of the castle; had they been closed when he had been here last?

"You're looking thoughtful," Tristan murmured.

"It just looks so different from the way I remember it sometimes,” Lancelot replied quietly, "I can’t describe it. Sometimes the city just feels... different from how it should be.”

“This year’s winter arrived sooner than anyone anticipated. It hasn’t exactly lead to a pleasant preparation period.”

“Even still...” Lancelot trailed off, still uncertain.

"It will not always be so," the redheaded knight assured him, “We just went through quite a harrowing experience. And earned a new passenger along the way. Don’t be surprised that things seem distant now. That time will pass, and the memories will fall back into proper perspective."

Lancelot nodded, hoping that he could feel as sure of that as Tristan was. Perhaps he was just being a bit more cynical than usual, and hadn’t noticed it.

He gave his head a shake, drawing back to his full height, once again tall and firm. "We should probably gather what we need before seeing the King," he said, surveying the market once more, forcing his mind back to practical matters, "We need to inform Arthur about what we found as soon we can, but it has been a long ride. Our new arrival hasn’t eaten for nearly a week.”

They had barely moved to split up however when a voice seemed to break through the surrounding noise and cold alike, warm and beautiful like a summer melody.

“Welcome home, Knights of the Round Table.”

All four of them turned at the same time to see a beautiful woman flanked by a pair of guardsmen approaching, though her posture was relaxed and open, as if finding such protection unnecessary. Dressed in a simple but expertly designed red silk dress of nobility and a heavy fur cloak, the woman smiled a faint and but sweet smile of welcome, golden brown eyes possessing warmth and relief at their safe return. Even without the golden circlet on her brow, her posture and effortlessly graceful movements made it impossible to mistake her for anyone else. Even Merlin could not quite hide the surprise of being greeted in the markets by none other than the Queen of Camelot herself.

“Lady Guinevere.” Lancelot was already standing straight, yet seemed to try and stand even straighter as he spoke to her, as did the other Knights, “So good to see you again.”

A small dip of the head in thanks, a slight action that was still enough to knock a single curled strand of brown hair out of place. She raised a small, delicate hand to gently brush it away from her eyes as she straightened, “To you as well, Ser Lancelot. It is wonderful to see the four of you have returned safely.”

She then noticed the damage to Lancelot’s gauntlet, the warmth of her eyes briefly betraying a look of worry. Her voice remained as calm and serene as ever, “None of you are injured, I trust?”

Now it was Lancelot’s turn to dip his head in a faint bow, “Nothing that Merlin’s magic couldn’t mend. We are all safe and well, My Lady.”

The worry disappeared entirely, replaced with relief and much of the previous warmth. But before he could say anything more, the noise of the Round Table’s Court Mage clearing his throat broke them both from their reverie.

“Forgive the unsightly break of decorum, my Queen, but I’m afraid we must call for a meeting with the King immediately. The whole situation with Morgana has become much more complicated than we anticipated.” The Mage’s face was devoid of its usual humour. “And I would request that you were present as well, my Lady. There are things that we discovered that you will need to know as well.”

Whatever her thoughts on the rare request - it was not often the Court Mage requested she attend meetings of the Round Table as well - she hid them well. She motioned to a nearby guardsman, “Send for the others. Tell them to meet the King and myself in the main chamber immediately.”

The chosen guardsmen gave a quick salute, then rushed to complete his given task. The other moved to escort the Queen and Knights, the entire party silent as they made their way back to the castle. As they moved, Lancelot’s arm gently reached up to touch the hidden burlap sack beneath his cloak, careful not to wake the child within or inadvertently reveal the surprise too soon.

Things were about to get interesting indeed.

Knight of the Heart Chapter 2 Part 1/2
Once upon a time, there was an heir to a mighty King, who adored her father greatly. Upon learning of her heritage, she tried to gain his acknowlegement... and was ultimately rejected. But... say one thing changed long before this could happen. Certainly, one small pebble couldn't change the entire flow of the river of time... right?

AU Collab with :iconbatomys2731:. If you're wondering why we are both posting the exact same thing, well, that's why.

Neither of us own TYPE-MOON. If we did, the idiots that designed Boudicca and Spartacus and gave Blackbeard his POS personality would have been fired for presenting such stupid ideas.

Please leave your thoughts below; every little bit of feedback we get helps us enrich the story a little bit more.

You can find Part 2 of Chapter 2 here:jarl-of-the-north.deviantart.c…

You can find all the story chapters here: jarl-of-the-north.deviantart.c…
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Whereas the first snowfall had only just started descending on the land the night before, it appeared now that winter was fully arrived when the four chosen Knights had set out to find Morgana’s destination. Twice, they had been forced to take a detour, the main roads too heavily covered with snow and ice to be a safe route for their horses, combined with a close confinement through snow covered trees that was wearing even Merlin’s patience thin.

The next day had the opposite problem, with the sun shining so brightly on the fresh snow that they'd resorted to tying strips of layered cheesecloth across their eyes to ward off snowblindness. Their horses broke the path effortlessly, as if just as determined to end this journey as quickly yet safely as possible, until they finally chanced upon roads that were at least marginally cleared by wagon traffic.

Despite the less than desirable start, the journey itself had been remarkable in its lack of combat; save a pack of hungry mountain wolves who they had quickly convinced to seek easier prey, they had encountered nothing to fight. The absence of bandits, in particular, was a welcome respite after facing them daily for so long less than a month ago.

Even so, they knew all too well the reason for the missing bandits now. The image of that dangerous witch - mercy was not something she gave to those in her way - was etched into their minds. That knowledge lay heavy on them all, giving a grim purpose to their steps, and the first sight of the bluffs of the abandoned fortress was an ominous one.

“… well, there it is,” Merlin huffed, wrapping his cloak tighter around his body.

“Not the most hospitable location. This place has clearly been forgotten since the Twelve Wars of Britain,” Tristan intoned, “I don’t think a single tree has been cut here in two decades or more. Even what’s left of the road is overrun with plants and roots.”

“What better place to be left alone, but a forgotten corner of the world?” Lancelot asked, eyes narrowed.

“It doesn’t matter. We’ve found it,” Gawain’s tone was grim, “Now we can get to work.”

“Hang on, Gawain,” Merlin glanced at him, “We can’t afford to rush this. Even a fourth rate Mage knows to ward their workshop against intruders, and Morgana is hardly fourth rate.”

“So take things slowly, is it?” Gawain’s glare was like the edge of a knife, “Give her time to prepare against us?”

Merlin sighed; it seemed he would have to be more direct, “Gawain, with all due respect… if you had to invade Camelot by yourself, and I were the one defending it, would you say you had the advantage as the assailant?”

This seemed to do the trick. Gawain, startled, opened his mouth to speak… then slowly closed it, having been forced to concede Merlin’s point.

Seeing his chance, Merlin continued, “Morgana is almost as powerful of a Mage as me; in some ways, her magical abilities even surpass that of my own. She’s not someone that we can afford to take lightly under any possible circumstance.”

“… I understand,” Gawain finally relented, though his voice betrayed his frustration.

“And we understand you, old friend,” Tristan glanced at the Knight, “Morgana has hurt all of us in some way, shape or form. It’s only natural to desire justice against her, given the chance. But the fact remains that we must be cautious; we cannot allow rage to blind us to the fact that she is a very dangerous opponent.”

Merlin had stopped listening at that point; his eyes were shut, and he had his hand on his crooked staff. After a long moment, he opened his eyes again, “No wards yet… but there is residual magic in the air a ways into the forest. Defenses of some kind, in all likelihood.”
“We won’t make any progress sitting here,” Lancelot spoke again, “Let us proceed. Slowly.”

In silent agreement, all four began to slowly lead their horses into the woods.

The already dark sky seemed to grow even darker under the shade of the trees; the harsh winds slowed to a gentle breeze, only a light powder of snow falling to the ground from between the many great branches above… but this only served to further enrich the feeling that the four were being watched.

The trees were large – far too large, even if Tristan was correct, and none had been touched in decades. All four of them had been present for a least some of Arturia’s conquest of Britain, and there were no forests like this in those days; the trees were winding an thick, the roots alone enough to force the four to take detours around barricades formed from a sudden rise of dirt and snow upon what at first seemed to be a great log. The trees reached dozens of feet high, with so many branches that hardly any snow managed to make it past their grasping reach, and once they had breached the first hundred yards, the Knights would be hard pressed to pick out one that wasn’t as big around as a chariot’s wheel, if not bigger.

No birds called out. No animals made noise. Even rodents failed to scamper across the snow.
The four felt well and truly alone.

“It’s like we’ve wandered into another world entirely,” Gawain breathed.

“An empty world, at that,” Tristan said, lip curling downward slightly.

“Stay close,” Merlin called back from the lead, “The magic has gotten stronger here. This isn’t an ordinary forest anymore.”

“Anymore?”

“Morgana’s using one of the oldest tricks in the book with this place; anyone who doesn’t have a guide gets to wander the forest, forever lost,” Merlin spoke, “Even with normal forests, this is a very real danger to the unacquainted. A magical forest like this… you three would never come out alive if you came alone,” he glanced back, and couldn’t help but smirk, “Well, Lancelot might… if he’s willing to give Morgana one hell of a night.”

Lancelot was not amused, his eyes narrowing, “I am well aware of the witch’s attraction to me, Ser Merlin. I do not need a reminder.”

“Oh, lighten up. It was a joke.”

“Then you have exceptionally poor taste in jokes. Then again, this likely surprises no one.”

Merlin let out a soft sigh, shaking his head, “Everyone’s a critic…”

“No one would have to criticize you if you would shut up and simply move us along,” Gawain’s tone was particularly scathing today.

“Alright, alright, fine,” Merlin’s tone finally grew irritable, and then the Mage fell silent. They continued down the path that he determined, weaving around trees, over frozen streams and icy hills, and before long, neither Gawain, nor Lancelot, nor Tristan could make heads or tails of where they’d been. Glancing back, even their horse’s hoofprints seemed to fade into nothing, leaving no indication that they’d even been present.

However, abruptly, they came to a halt.

“What is it, Mage?”

“… we’re not alone,” Merlin’s voice was unusually quiet as he reached for his staff.

Immediately, the other three were on guard; Gawain had dismounted from his horse, drawing Excalibur Galatine, the brilliant blue blade gleaming in the little light that was there; Lancelot, scanning the area as best as he could, had his hand on Arondight’s hilt. Tristan had unslung his bow and carefully undone his bindings to the saddle, lest he need to leap free of his horse.

They didn’t need to see their target to know that something was coming.

They could already hear it.

The sound was like distant thunder.

Faint at first, but slowly growing.

When it emerged from between the trees, its footsteps were like cannon fire; it was only vaguely humanoid, a mass of stone and earth, with dust falling from its form every time it moved. It was broad – in every possible sense, with impossibly thick limbs attached to a torso that was more like a mountain than anything belonging to a living creature, like someone decided to affix oversized limbs to a boulder, and what passed for a head had squashed, squared features, roughly hewn into the stone as though it were an afterthought. But as it moved, more dirt fell from its form, and the better defined its features became.

“A golem,” Merlin commented, as though it were an everyday occurance, “And a big one…”

The stone giant pushed into the clearing, the sheer force behind its slow advance enough to shatter one of the trees that stood in its way, pushing the mighty wooden pillar down as easily as if it were a toy. It made no noise, but began to advance upon the four.

“Don’t leave the clearing!” the Mage called, turning his horse and making a dash for the edge; he’d need all the distance he could get with this opponent.

The other three acted in perfect sequence; Tristan brought his horse to a gallop and then leaped for the lower branches of one of the trees, pulling himself into a higher position before readying his bow; thankfully, his horse was well trained enough to not immediately flee, instead pulling back to stand beside Merlin, who seemed to have entered some kind of trance.

Lancelot and Gawain, on the other hand, were quick to enter an assault; the former on horseback and the latter on his feet, the two charged the mighty golem, heedless of its massive strength.

Its attempt to strike them was ponderous, and seemed to require the same amount of effort one might take to swat a fly; however, Gawain simply ducked under the attack, his gleaming, holy blade coming up in an arc and biting into the stone.

A normal sword would have simply bounced off the rocks, perhaps even come away with a dulled, dented, or even chipped blade from the clash.

But Excalibur Galatine was no normal sword.

A sister blade of the mighty Excalibur, forged with a shard of the sun itself, Excalibur Galatine’s blade screamed through the air and bit into the stone, leaving a slash mark in the golem’s side at the waist.

At the same time, Lancelot had leaned to the side to evade an attempt to grab his arm, and retaliated by bringing Arondight down on the golem’s shoulder.

Much like Excalibur Galatine, Arondight was a sibling blade to Excalibur, forged by fairies for the purpose of assisting heroes in their time of need. Gleaming silver steel rang as a fist-sized chunk of stone was sent flying, and Lancelot too leapt from his horse as Gawain jumped up upon a large boulder. Side by side, they hurled themselves up and onto the golem’s shoulders, and drove their swords down into the stone.

But even as their blades bit deep, they felt a sudden wave of relief wash over them as the effects of the golem’s attacks became fully apparent.

It was slow, there was no question of that; provided they had the common sense to move, it was doubtful that the construct could even hit a normal soldier, for how long it took for the statue to complete a single swing.

But its mighty fists both smashed into the ground; the frozen earth cracked, buckling beneath the force of each blow as easily as one might break a thin board of kindling over their knee. Stone and frozen dirt were driven up from the ground in massive splinters, rough and jagged, and the golem slowly pulled its fists from the earth.

As it attempted to reach for the Knights that had scaled its back, Tristan frowned, gently fingering the bowstring of Failnaught. Clearly, this was not something that was intended to take on a small force of elites. This was something that would have been better suited to battling a large band or small army, or even used for siege purposes; Tristan doubted that even castle walls would stand up to blows of that force for very long.

Morgana had been preparing for an attack from an army…

Pushing such thoughts aside, he let his fingers gently strum the many gleaming strings of his bow. Failnaught was a weapon that, at first glance, did not seem like a weapon at all; indeed, to the casual observer, it appeared to be more like a strangely shaped harp, its graceful silver arms affixed with large anchors that stretched a dozen cords of silver between them, all of varying thickness. Even if the strings were strong enough to fire arrows without breaking, the draw weight that would result from all of them being strong enough to do so would have rendered it impossible to use – something beyond the ability of a normal archer to properly utilize.

However, it was never Tristan’s intention to fire an arrow.

The soft thrums of his bowstrings were soothing, gently ringing out across the clearing in stark contrast to the effects they had.

There was no visible projectile – after all, what being could possibly see sound?

Nonetheless, the gentle notes immediately turned into screams as spears of pure sound slammed into the statue’s chest, high pitched shrieks more akin to a hawk’s cries than anything else. A barrage of three, each one dislodging more dust and leaving marks in the stone – no small feat, especially for an archer.

But the statue seemed no worse for wear; Lancelot and Gawain still struggled to maintain a hold on their swords as the golem clumsily reached for them, stumbling about and making it difficult for them to hold on. It briefly lost its balance, and crashed into a tree, sending another one of the great wooden giants toppling to the ground.

“Tch… no effect,” Tristan grit his teeth, “Ser Merlin! Whatever you’re planning, you’d best do it now!”

Merlin did not respond, still lost in his trance. He murmured under his breath, words of power that were finally beginning to take form. His eyes snapped open, and a word Tristan would not even try to pronounce rang out across the clearing.

Chains of black iron materialized like streaks of dark lightning, thick around as a man’s arm and tipped with wickedly hooked claws that dug into the stone giant’s body; one it could have broken easily, but one quickly became a dozen, and that original dozen was quickly lost among the ones that followed.

Within seconds the golem was immobilized, the chains around its limbs stretching it out to shape something akin to an X; its struggles only succeeded in rattling the chains, which continued to pull it tighter and tighter, and the Knights thought for a moment that Merlin intended to pull the construct’s arms off.

“Lancelot, Gawain!” Merlin shouted, “Arondight, Excalibur Galatine! Minor blasts!”

Without so much as a word of complaint, Lancelot and Gawain redoubled their grips on their swords; within seconds, both weapons had taken on a brilliant glow, Arondight, a bright blue that bordered on white, Excalibur Galatine, a bright orange to match the summer sun.

The tips of both blades then exploded in bright light, dislodging both the Knights and their swords from the golem’s back. They gracefully flipped and landed safely in the snow below, and looked up to admire their handiwork; the golem crashed to the ground, its chest and shoulders completely destroyed and its arms severed from its body completely. Merlin released his spell, letting the massive limbs crash to the ground below… but clicked his tongue when the golem still refused to cease its function.

Even after being on the receiving end of such a powerful combination (albeit a greatly limited form of what Arondight and Excalibur Galatine were truly capable of), the giant refused to stay down; it pressed its head to the floor to gather its feet beneath itself once more, and gradually began to rise.

When it finally stood once more, Tristan saw his target; the blast had dislodged the entire chest-piece away from the construct’s body, exposing the glow of the magical inner workings that kept the golem going. A glow akin to deep magenta, dozens of symbols etched onto a stone disk…

Gathering all the strings of Failnaught in his fingers, he pulled back to his cheek as hard as he could; he could feel the magical power in the bow readying itself, compressing into a shaft of echoing, contained energy as his arms and shoulders screamed, begging for him to release…

But he held fast.

Only once he was sure of his target, did he release the strings.

This was not the harmonious sound of the harp from before.

This was every note at once, simultaneously echoing in his ears.

What he fired wasn’t a mere arrow or even a spear; it was a bolt from a ballista that could fell a Dragon.

The magical stone disk didn’t stand a chance.

Indeed, it shattered upon contact, the arrow boring its way all the way through the golem before smashing into the ice behind it.

The statue stood, silent, as though disbelieving of what happened; the hole Tristan had put through its torso was easily the size of a log, and the force behind the blow had left the inner walls almost entirely smooth. If Tristan had known where to aim to begin with, then it was possible he could have ended the battle with that strike alone.

After a long moment, the statue pitched forwards, and smashed heavily into the ground, never to move again.

Silence reigned through the forest as the Knights finally began to relax.

“Well… at least we know a little bit more about what we’re dealing with,” Gawain huffed, tapping the golem in the head before sheathing his blade.

“Morgana was expecting a larger force,” Lancelot spoke, eyes narrowed, “She doesn’t believe a small group such as ourselves could navigate this forest well enough to make it to the castle.”

“And normally, she’d be right. This place would confound even high level magi,” Merlin led the horses over, having resumed his normally happy mood, “She wasn’t expecting me to come along.”

“Because you were her lover, once?” Gawain challenged.

Merlin shrugged, “Lover, teacher. Or perhaps she never thought I would help Arturia quite like this… which, I must admit, is a fair assessment. I know you don’t approve, but I happen to be rather fond of Morgana.”

“Then why stand against her?” Tristan pressed.

Again, Merlin simply gave a noncommittal shrug – an infuriatingly neutral gesture that said nothing of his intentions.

Gawain gave a disgusted snort, “You should pick where your loyalties lie, Mage.”

“I have,” Merlin said simply, “If I hadn’t, none of us would be here right now.”

“… questioning him won’t get us anywhere,” Tristan concluded, turning to his fellows, “The fact is, he is here to guide us and assist us against Morgana’s magic. He’s played his fair share of tricks over the years, but I think it’s fair to say that we know whose side he’s on – for the moment, at least.”

“‘For the moment?’” Merlin pouted, “I’m the Court Mage! Don’t I get a little bit more trust that that?”

All three Knights turned to stare at him, the expressions of utter deadpan on Lancelot’s and Gawain’s faces matching Tristan’s perfectly.

“… oh, fine,” Merlin muttered, looking away, “Just get on your horses. I doubt that will be Morgana’s only line of defense, so we’ll be trying to take alternative routes to conflict from now on if at all possible.”


_______________________________________________________________________________________________


It was a long while before they finally reached the castle.

Morgana’s forest had forced them to take a convoluted path of detours that wound through the forest seemingly without end. Around trees, through monstrously deep banks of snow, and across a frozen river, it seemed that there was no end to the forest. Gawain even repeatedly considered accusing Merlin of leading them in circles.

Not helping was that the golem they had destroyed was clearly not Morgana’s only attempt at making such constructs. It wasn’t uncommon for the telltale thunder to reach their ears once more – a clear sign of more of those ponderous stone giants on the approach. Merlin had to repeatedly change routes whenever these quiet booms began, the party as a whole unwilling to spend any more time on this mission than necessary; further conflict should be avoided if at all possible in favour of completing their goal.

Eventually, however, they reached their destination, even as the snow began to fall with greater fervor, turning a relatively clear night into a blizzard.

Had Merlin not been able to confirm the presence of magic here, he’d have said this fortress, though impressively large in comparison to most structures, was still very much empty; the outer stone wall was broken in several places, struck down by either ballistae or catapults. The gate was in pieces, only barely standing, with several gaps more than large enough for even Lancelot or Gawain to squeeze through with relatively little trouble.

Several of the structures past that were in no better shape, with large, gaping holes in the walls exposing the rooms within.

There were no banners. There were no fires. There weren’t even the slightest hints of life to be found milling about. Furthermore, everything was coated in a thick layer of snow, further giving credence to the idea that this place had been left to the mercy of the elements.
“She certainly hasn’t bothered to clean up at all,” Merlin remarked as he dismounted from his horse, tying the reigns to a broken piece of stone.

“Were it not for those golems, I would say we wasted our time coming here,” Tristan scratched his chin thoughtfully, “Why would she leave this place in such ill repair after putting so much effort into trying to defend it from an army?”

“Perhaps she has simply not had the time. Or the man-power,” Lancelot intoned, following Merlin’s lead, “Repairs to a castle of this scale is not something a man can do on his own. Those golems are strong, but they hardly seem fit for assisting with construction or restoration.”

Gawain said nothing, merely staring up at the structure and biting at his lip before descending from his horse. He tied the reigns to keep the steed from wandering off, then turned to the others, “Shall we proceed, Mage?”

After a moment of considering calling a vote to leave the Knight of the Sun behind, Merlin spun his staff before planting it firmly in the ground. He began to murmur under his breath, magical energies flowing through him once more.

The Knights quickly felt the energy emanating from Merlin begin to spread, and then surround them like a thick cloak or fog. It wasn’t visible, but it didn’t need to be seen to be perceived; Lancelot cleared his throat, as though something had been caught, his expression twisting in a grimace. If Tristan was unnerved by the display of magic, he did not allow it to show, though beneath his cloak he did feel his fists clench involuntarily. And Gawain did not realize his hand was straying until he felt his fingers wrap around the hilt of his sword, yanking his hand back with a start.

Merlin finally opened his eyes, and the prana flow ceased. He glanced at the Knights, “These wards I’ve cast should conceal us from most of Morgana’s defenses, which I’m assuming are magical in nature, as well as reveal anything that would normally be concealed with illusions. That said, it does not mean we are concealed from everything, or that there won’t be anything hidden through simple mundane means; this won’t protect us from mundane traps and the like. Be on your guard.”

With that, he turned, and started forwards; the Knights followed, and soon found themselves in a ruined courtyard.

The resemblance to Camelot was not lost upon any of them; it was not a perfect copy by any means, but it certainly seemed to emulate King Arthur’s seat of power. It was, at once, both exaggerated and ruined, the towers spiraling higher than any tree; the ornately carved wooden doors were wrought with rusted iron fittings, standing far taller than what was necessary. A chapel held a massive, vaunted ceiling through a hole in its roof, with several large chandeliers hanging from its rafters. Even the square seemed to reflect once incredible grandeur, as though even the peasantry that lived here once upon a time lived in luxury. The castle itself was nothing short of gargantuan, a structure that towered over the forest.

But it only seemed to add to the sense of foreboding. Masterfully carved stonework lay scattered across the cobblestone street; the remains of a siege were all that was left. Great stones thrown by catapults and massive bolts left by ballistae remained firmly lodged where they had struck, and the stone was still blackened from intense fires. Even more disconcerting was the distinct lack of any sort of perishables or commerce. Looking in the windows, nothing was left behind in the shops; perhaps, one could chock this up to bandits taking everything of value, but the distinct lack of anything aside from the remains of battle only seemed to enrich the chill wrought by the abandoned structures.

“… I don’t recall any of the fortresses I have been in being nearly this grand,” Gawain murmured.

“Nor do I,” Lancelot agreed, “Merlin, you said this place was a fortress from one of the King’s eleven wars?”

“It was,” Merlin said, “But there are many things magic can do, to people and to places. Seems Morgana wasn’t satisfied with it as it was.”

The four advanced across a great stone bridge to the castle proper; Gawain was quick to shove his body against the great doors, only to grunt in unsurprised frustration when they did not open.

“Locked,” he muttered.

Merlin gave him a wry smile, “Did you really expect Morgana to leave her front door unlocked for you?”

“No,” Gawain snorted, “I’d simply prefer to make sure before wasting my time looking for an alternative entrance.”

“It’s hardly a waste if it is a necessary step,” Tristan glanced about, trying to recall this place from the many sieges he’d seen over the years. But no matter how he wracked his brain for the answer, he could not place it; if this was somewhere Tristan had been, once, then Morgana had warped it beyond recognition.

He stepped onto the railing of the bridge and stared out across the snow, frowning. The castle didn’t really have a moat; that would imply that the gap between the town and the castle had been man-made. No, it would be more accurate to say that the castle had been built upon its own isle in the middle of a frozen river, which now seemed to stretch much farther than it reasonably should have, going from the frozen strait that they crossed not two hours prior. From what Tristan could tell, the outer wall stretched to encompass land on both sides of the river, each with massive portcullis that stretched into the depths of the frozen water below.
The island itself was not particularly large, probably a few thousand feet across at most, but it was more than enough for a castle to be built. The stone foundations disappeared into the earth below, the island’s shores coated in small stones rather than sand, given what was visible beneath the blanket of white that enveloped everything.

He frowned. Given the design of the castle, there wouldn’t be many ways by which the occupants could escape in the event of a siege. Camelot, having a very similar design, at the very least had a small boat at the ready should the need arise to get the nobility out of the castle quickly and efficiently. This meant the castle had a hidden escape passage that led out the base of the castle to the ocean.

If this one had anything similar…

“Perhaps we should try the base of the castle,” Tristan stated, finally turning back to the others, “Every castle and fortress has some means of escape should the need arise. If an army is going to march across the bridge…”

Lancelot was quick to catch his meaning, “Then they would likely escape by boat. Meaning they would likely have an exit located with relative ease of access to the castle’s shoreline.”
Merlin scratched at his chin, “It’s definitely plausible… shall we go see?”

“I prefer a more direct approach… but that may not be for the best, today,” Gawain said, looking down over the railing himself. He then glanced at the others, “Let’s find a way down there.”

With that unanimous agreement, Tristan reached out to the stone and ran his fingers along the surface; when he finally found purchase, he gripped the stone, and swung out into open air, his armour clanking heavily as his boots hit the wall. He looked at his companions before beginning to descend, carefully seeking out handholds as he began the long descent to the beach below.

Each of them followed Tristan’s lead, using the handholds he set for purchase… though it was harder for each of them in different ways. Lancelot and Gawain were both significantly bigger than the red headed archer; even with their swords moved to their backs instead of at their waists, they struggled with the smaller handholds under their own weight. And Merlin was forced to carry his staff in his teeth, having nearly slipped and met a very premature end trying to climb with one hand.

Finally, they reached the bottom, hands aching and practically coated in snow, their armour and cloaks barely visible. With the sky quickly growing darker, they began their search for an entrance.

Gawain rounded to the west side, drawing his sword; even in these shadows, Excalibur Galatine’s glow was more than enough to cast a light through the darkness, though he still had to squint to see through the snow. It seemed to fall faster the further ahead he trudged, and it was already up past his ankles, making it difficult to push forwards.

Gawain grit his teeth, wrapping his cloak tighter around himself as he scanned the area as best he could, the castle towering over him. He pulled himself beneath its shadow hoping to get the snow out of his eyes if only for a moment.

Then he saw it.

A gaping crack in the stone; a seemingly small, innocuous cavern.

He had to bite his tongue to keep himself from calling to the others. He pushed through the snow bank to the crevice, easing himself in as carefully as he could, Excalibur Galatine held before him like a torch, its blue light casting the darkness aside.

It wasn’t a particularly wide gap; Gawain could slip in easily enough, but he suspected that if the others were to follow, they would have to do so in single file. Though he was fairly certain this was the entrance they were looking for, he needed to make sure.

Five feet. Then ten. Then fifteen.

And then the natural stone walls gave way to brickwork and cobblestone.

Gawain couldn’t help the smile that crossed his lips. Finally, some luck!

He turned and returned to the storm beyond the reach of the cavern, shouting into the dark at the top of his lungs, “Tristan! Lancelot! Mage!”

For a long minute, there was no response. Then, finally, his companions emerged from the shadows.

“Well, I see you’ve found our entrance,” Merlin remarked, peering past Gawain.

“You’re sure this leads into the castle?” Tristan asked.

“I checked. The walls give way to masonry twenty feet in.”

“Good,” Lancelot stated, “Then let us make haste.”

Gawain had been correct in his assessment – the four of them had been forced to march through the crevice in single file. Once again, the Knight of the Sun took the lead, with the Knight of the Lake directly behind. Merlin walked silently behind Lancelot, and Tristan took the rear, his hands twitching, ready to strum his bow at the slightest sign of a threat.

As promised, the cavern gave way to stonework, and the hall gradually widened so that Lancelot and Gawain could walk side by side. At Merlin’s insistence, Excalibur Galatine had been sheathed, as he did not know if his magic could hide the light of the holy blade.

Eventually, the four found themselves at a dead end, though the wall seemed to have a distinct difference from the rest. Familiar with the concept of false walls and sealed chambers, Lancelot and Gawain immediately had their swords drawn; after a brief moment of debating the best way to strike, both warriors slammed the pommels of their blades in between the bricks at the center.

Immediately, the brickwork fell away behind the force of the blow, the seal either worn, shoddy, or both. It did not take long for both Knights to remove enough of the bricks for them to enter the room beyond; the hallway opened up into a large chamber with tables lining the center and the sides, the wood rotted beyond recognition, and the wood stoves having all gone dark, ashes in the bottom of each.

“… it appears we have reached the kitchens. Or at least, what’s left of them,” Gawain muttered with clear disgust. As a fine chef of great caliber (or so he believed himself to be), this was a complete disgrace to all things culinary.

Tristan glanced at each of the three doors, each one appearing more than a little flimsy even if they had been locked, “So where do we go from here?”

“Well,” Merlin stated, “The most logical thing to do would be to try and find the strongest source of magic within the castle. With that in mind, splitting up would be a terrible idea – none of you can sense magic and might wander into a trap.”

“So more following Ser Merlin, then,” Lancelot crossed his arms.

“Hey, it works. Unless you have a better idea, I recommend you refrain from knocking it.”

The inside of the castle was a winding maze of rooms and corridors. The rooms that didn’t appear to have a dedicated purpose were all barren, and there were several areas in the castle where the wall and ceiling had been smashed in, allowing snow to fall freely through the gaps.
The only consistencies in their path was Merlin’s occasionally scribbling on the walls and floors with his staff to mark their path, as well as a consistent ascent, leading them up through vast halls, tight stairwells and across walls and parapets to the upper echelons of the structure.

“We’re getting close,” Merlin glanced about as they strode across another wall, “So far, most of Morgana’s defenses have consisted of traps, all of which we’ve managed to bypass… very little in terms of a more active defense.”

“It’s empty… eerily so,” Tristan stared out into the forest, jaw set, “You would think there would be something here… guardians, of some sort.”

“Merlin has been keeping us concealed, and illusion is his specialty,” Lancelot said, “It’s possible his skill in this regard yet outmatches Morgana’s.”

Seemingly pleased to have his ego stroked, Merlin abruptly stopped, staring up at the massive door that stood before them, easily upwards of twelve feet tall, wrought from iron and engraved with several magical beasts of various natures. The central tower in the castle was truly a massive structure, with everything built seemingly with the specific purpose of spiraling around it in a sprawling complex far below.

Merlin smirked, then swept his hand across the surface of the door; as he suspected, the door had been sealed shut with magic, dozens of deep purple runes appearing in the air before the door – powerful wards indeed…

His smile widened as he spun his staff between his fingers, and slammed the tip into the stone; the dozens of gaps in the weaving wood began to glow as Merlin began his counterspell.
The circle began simply enough; a simple white line that began at the top and stretched to about five feet across as it seamlessly completed itself. But then, symbols began to appear, runes of glowing white within a diagram of ever growing complexity. Before long, it formed something akin to a chart to map out the stars, with an intricacy only matched by the seal upon the door in that instant.

Both magics began to glow brighter, and brighter, shining with the intensity of the rising sun for a brief instant and making all three Knights shield their eyes.

And then they both shattered, the door slowly swinging open.

“Is this it?” Gawain asked.

“No. But it is just above us. We don’t have very far to go.”

“Then let’s get inside.”

The interior of the tower was every bit as massive as its exterior; the rafters rose high above them, with a spiraling staircase lining the wall starting at the far side of the room. Evidently, when Merlin said “just above us,” what he meant was “at least sixty feet above us,” as the walls and stairs tower stretched high into the darkness, with no ceiling in sight.

The way the stone seemed to branch from the walls in the form of four large pillars and align in the center like a cross seemed to suggest that this place had once been some kind of bell tower; several chains lay on the floor, with no indication of what they might have once been used for beyond the room’s design. The floor, oddly, was mostly comprised of thick, rusted metal grating, with only an outside ring of stone forming a completely solid floor – likely for the sake of transferring and amplifying the sound of the missing bell as it travelled down the tower.

It was only when they were halfway across the room that they heard it.

It wasn’t quite a clicking sound; it was heavier than that. More like hooves on stone, echoing all around them with no clear source… and growing louder.

It was Tristan that found the source first, finally looking down into the dark pit. His golden eyes shot open, and he leaped back, shouting as loudly as he could, “SCATTER!!!”

No sooner did each Knight and the Mage immediately throw themselves in opposite directions, than something truly massive smashed into the grate from below. The metal bent outwards, several large chunks sent flying like earth from a newly formed geyser. The stench of rotten flesh quickly filled the room, as though they had just walked into a massacre of a battlefield, and a low growl began to echo through the tower.

Gawain could only gape at what he saw, a mix of horror and revulsion washing over him, his eyes as wide open as his mouth. Lancelot murmured a small prayer beneath his breath as he pulled himself to his feet, and Tristan, for once, found that he could not close his eyes out of some sick fascination.

It was huge – its head was easily twice the size of a horse’s if not bigger, and its massive shoulders were wider across than most carriages. It scrabbled for traction with its hind legs briefly before finally beginning to pull itself up through the hole, leaving deep gouges in the metal beneath them, the Knights all shocked that the grating could actually support its weight.

Monstrous did not properly describe it; monsters were comprehensible. Monsters could be understood. The proper word to describe the creature was ‘abomination.’

Its mouth was large – far too large for any creature any of the three Knights were aware of, five feet from the tip of its snout to the edge of its lips, with its lower jaw being over a foot longer still. Its nose was bulbous and black, glistening as sickly green mucus poured out of its nostrils, the creature heaving its heavy breaths with every movement; the overall shape of its head was some strange mix of canid, ovid and lizard, with a top that bordered on flat, but a clearly defined brow that stretched from the front of its “face” to the sides.

However, it was the teeth that got the attention of the Knights first.

At first, it appeared as though the beast were gasping for breath, almost panting, but it quickly became clear that it simply could not close its jaws. The teeth at the front were mostly sharpened fangs along the top, wolf-like teeth that were accompanied by large, sharp spires of bone that jutted out from the gums at random intervals around or even between them, as though there had not been enough room for all of them to emerge as the creature grew. But the bottom was nothing short of a nightmare; they appeared to be that of a goat’s, but again the wolf and unknown teeth attempted to emerge from the flesh, creating the horrifying visage of fangs and molars being forced to grow around one another in a chaotic mess that caused pain just by being looked upon. Further back, the mess only continued, with teeth jutting both out of and into the mouth, molars and fangs forced to coexist where they truly should not have. Every time the creature’s mouth drew too far shut, the teeth would gouge into its own flesh, forcing the jaws back open with blood dripping from fresh wounds, inflicted by its own horrifying excuse for a maw, its long tongue trailing the air and dripping with spittle and red.

Past the terrible mouth was a series of eyes – six in total, three on each side, mismatched in colour and design. The front pair were dark, bearing the circular pupils of dogs and wolves, set in the skull with an eerily human appearance; the ones beyond that were closer to green in colour, with the slit pupils one might expect from a cat or a snake, large and unblinking. And the ones mounted on the sides of the beast’s head were a deep gold, with the horizontal pupils of a goat; all six sets of eyes wandered the room with a mad fervor, as though looking for something it desperately needed.

Finally, it pulled itself onto solid ground, widening the gap in the floor and causing the metal to groan; as it rose to its full height, it became clear it was far larger than the golems from before. Its long ears twitched as it steadied itself, each of its four legs longer than Lancelot was tall and easily thick around as a man’s torso. Its overall build was closer to a hound’s than anything else, though each limb ended in a mix of cloven hoof, wide foot and dog-like paw; large, flat, blackened bone jutted out from each of the creature’s toes, some more wickedly hooked whilst others seemed more blunt, the foot overall disproportionately wide even for its size. Its skin was patchwork, with white fur more predominate at the head and shoulders, fading to a dark, almost bluish grey at the sides and limbs, and leathery scales dominating its long, heavy, lashing tail, though patches of scales and poked out like spots on a dog’s fur, though to a decidedly less than aesthetically pleasing effect. Nearing thirty feet in length and standing over nine feet tall, it was truly a nightmare to behold.

It only took a moment to breathe before its jaws opened wide, almost to a full one hundred and fifty degree angle, spittle continuing to drip to the floor. Rather than a roar, however, the sound it made was more akin to a scream of horrified agony – as though the creature knew what it was, and wanted nothing more than to end its tortured existence.

“A chimera,” Merlin swallowed, “That’s… that’s troubling.”

“A what?” Gawain asked, appalled, “That looks nothing like the Chimera from Roman mythology, Mage!”

Any further exchange was cut off by the creature springing into action with shocking speed and incredible violence, its jaws thrown wide open and snapping down where Gawain once stood. He had Excalibur Galatine drawn, and swung it into the chimera’s snout; the blade cut into the flesh, but unlike with the golem, the beast’s bones proved too sturdy for the sword to cut through. It gave a low groan, then pushed forwards, knocking Gawain off his feet and onto his back.

It was only by Lady Luck’s grace that he was not halfway swallowed; he managed to slam his sword into the bottom jaw of the chimera to keep it at bay as it tried to bite down on his head and torso, buying him just enough time to pull himself out from between those teeth.
Nonetheless, he couldn’t stop himself from choking as he dragged himself out from under the chimera again. Its breath was truly noxious, in every sense of the word – just what did Morgana feed this thing?

The monster did not seem to notice him, however; its mismatched eyes were fixed upon the other Knights, equal parts rage and pain in its distorted features as it suddenly launched itself from its perch straight at them.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, the voice of reason was shrieking at Lancelot that this was not a good place to be, but the mad chaos of combat had already begun its dance of death. There was no time for retreat or reposition. Morgana’s abomination would offer no mercy to any of them. Only death should its jaws catch any not fast enough to avoid them. He raised Arondight high, ready to fight the beast head on.

“For the King! For Camelot!” he roared, a battle cry soon echoed by his fellow Knights, as they too prepared to enter the fray.

He ran forward to meet it, taking it by surprise and forcing it to correct the path of its attack. He ducked under the slash of its claws and swung upward, feeling his sword bite, hearing the screech change to a bellow of pain and rage. It landed heavily, seeming almost clumsy on the ground after the deadly grace of its initial pounce, but it whipped around with surprising speed, the jaws parting, taking in a deep breath, and then...

A thunderous, ear-splitting roar.

Lancelot brought his hands up purely out of instinct, wincing as the agonized howling filled the air once more, a ungodly cacophony seeking to immobilize them. It felt almost like his skin beginning to redden and blister, could almost see his gauntlets start to warp in the mangled melody, and then the noise softened suddenly, magic swirling around him, healing the damage dealt, deflecting the monster’s unnatural attack, Merlin’s voice rising strong and steady.

Dimly, he was aware of the others, but he could not even spare them a glance before he charged forward again, spinning around the wicked head as it darted out for a bite, slamming Arondight once more into the massive skull and opening a gash in the thick hide over one shoulder with the strength of his swing.

A mighty buffet of the creature’s tail sent Gawain and Tristan tumbling backward, but Lancelot
hunched his shoulders and drove forward, lashing out with Arondight again and again, staying close, using the beast's own bulk as a shield against its teeth and claws while the others attempted to do the same against its flank. With a bellow of fury, it launched itself into the air, twisting and diving back to earth a short distance away.

Before any of the Knights could make attempt at closing the gap again, they saw the jaw drop open, and braced in anticipation of another gout of its unnatural roar. Instead, the creature shot its head out, hooking its fangs around Arondight in an attack as unexpected as it was sudden, then whipped its neck sideways in a rapid, violent motion. Agony flared white-hot down Lancelot’s left arm, and then he was flying through the air in an arc that ended with bruising force at the foot of a marble pillar. The edifice shook with the impact, crumbled stone raining down from above to pummel the dazed Knight.

He opened his eyes, saw the creature wheeling to face him again. He shook his head, trying to clear it, tried to rise, but his blade was pinned to the ground, buried beneath a pile of rubble, and his left arm refused to obey his commands.  The sounds of magic exploding and the clash of steel, Gawain and Tristan attacking from opposite flanks, trying unsuccessfully to divert its deadly intent from him, then scattering as it strafed the ground with another swipe of its claws, digging up the stone with its fury.

“Keep it distracted! Don’t let it focus on a target!” he shouted, heedless of the bolt of pain from his trapped arm. The creature reared back to strike again, then pulled up short, flinging its head skyward and roaring in pain as it clawed at the pair of arrows that had pierced one of its left eyes. It wheeled, seeking the source of its pain, and only then did Lancelot release Arondight from his grip, still trying to pry himself free from the rubble. Within seconds, he was free, his left arm hanging limp and useless at his side as he scrambled to his feet, the fingers of his right hand closing again over his sword’s hilt. The creature was facing away from him now, thrashing its head wildly as the others attacked from all sides.
Lancelot felt a grin on his face as Gawain leaped in, weaving like a mongoose fighting a snake and driving his sword into the top of one massive foot. The creature bellowed, its movements hampered as it tried to limp away on just three legs.

“Tristan, take the left leg!"

He ran forward, a single stroke of his sword slicing cleanly through the tendon at the back of the right hind leg. The archer’s method was messier, but no less effective: several powerful shots launched one after another around the tendons, the targeted limb shaking and tearing from each impact until the deed was done. Hamstrung, the creature sagged back onto its now useless hindquarters, its front half still slashing at its enemies in a futile effort to attack, roaring in agony.

Gawain’s war shout filled the world as he made another running leap and buried Excalibur Galantine in the creature’s side in a massive overhand thrust, the weight of his body dragging the blade down through flesh and bone as he fell back to the ground. The roar became a keening wail, blood sizzling in the next bellow that burst from its mouth. A clawed forepaw slammed into the earth next to Merlin, who stepped back calmly, hands incandescent with power that he shaped with will and word, creating a crackling globe of pure energy that an almost negligent flick of his wrist sent flying into the maw of the beast.

The great head tipped skyward, and each Knight struck at once, driving the blades of their swords deep into the exposed chest, then rushing away as the creature reared back once more. Its massive body slammed down heavily into the grate, and it again struggled to rise.

Lancelot brought his sword to bear, holding it before him as it began to glow. Unlike with the Golem, this shine bore the true brilliance of the stars above reflected in the surface of the lake; the true shine of the holy blade Arondight.

As though sensing its end, the chimera redoubled its effort to rise, focusing its efforts entirely on Lancelot – though whether it be out of some sick desire for self preservation or an active wish for its misery to end, none could be sure.

“May this blade offer you peace,” Lancelot spoke, stepping forwards, the glow of his blade focusing at the tip; the chimera launched itself at him right as he began his swing.
“Unfading Light of the Lake! Arondight!”

The light filled the room in a blinding blaze of golden glory; Lancelot’s swing was straight and true, the energy within the blade released instantly upon contact with the chimera’s body. The light of destruction washed over the creature, like a raging river over a stone, and Lancelot felt the creature’s shoulder simply disappear under the edge of his sword.

When the light faded, it was clear the strike had been a mortal blow; the chimera lay on its remaining side, struggling for breath. One might have said it had been cut in half, if there were a second half to even examine; the only parts of the creature that remained intact were its twitching tail and hideous head.

It was a macabre sight, to see something so thoroughly twisted still struggling for life, despite its clearly tortured existence.

Lancelot knelt down beside the creature, gazing solemnly into its eyes; beyond the pain, beyond the hunger, he could have sworn he saw a hint of contentment despite the ever dogged desire for self preservation. Finally, the chimera gave a single convulsive shudder, ululating a deathknell with what little breath remained, and fully collapsed, a torn and bloody mountain of flesh.

“Lancelot,” Gawain quickly approached his fellow Knight. His eyes immediately went to his companion’s limp limb, “Your arm…”

“Broken,” Lancelot grunted in confirmation as he rose to his feet.

Gawain bit at his lip, then gestured over to the stairs, “Come. I’ll set the bone in place.”

As the two drew away, Tristan continued to stare at the remains of the slain beast. He cracked his jaw as he tried to process what he was looking at; even in death, it seemed to break every rule of nature, the bones and organs themselves only barely recognizable as anything from the world he knew.

Merlin pulled in beside him, lips curled downwards, “Something troubling you, Tristan?”

“… you said this was a chimera?”

“I did.”

“… Gawain is right. This doesn’t look anything like the Roman legend.”

Merlin shook his head, “Not the Chimera, a chimera. The Chimera from legend was born from the monster Echidna – a natural magical monster. This,” he poked the corpse with his staff, “is what you get when you use magic to forcibly fuse multiple animals into one creature.”

It took all of Tristan’s willpower to keep himself from giving in to the rising sickness within his stomach, “Morgana… made this?”

Merlin nodded, “Got it in one. In particular, three different animals – wolf, mountain goat… and saltwater crocodile, though how she managed to snag one of those is well beyond me. They’re native to the lands to the south – even farther south than Palamedes’ homeland.”

Tristan shuddered as Merlin began to poke through the creature’s insides. If this… thing was an indication of the lengths Morgana was willing to go…

“Mage,” Gawain called, approaching with Lancelot at his side, “I’ve set the bones in Lancelot’s arm. Would you be able to heal it before we continue?”

Merlin did not respond. He seemed more fixated on the creature’s heart, reaching in and pulling what was left of the organ out of the chest cavity; his lips curled downwards as he inspected it, ignoring even the blood as it dripped onto his sleeve.

“Merlin,” Tristan prompted, gripping the Court Mage’s shoulder.

“… oh no…”

The quiet words immediately had the attention of all three Knights as Merlin’s expression morphed from focus to realization.

“Merlin?”

“… it’s more than just a guard dog,” Merlin tossed the heart away, turning to the others, brow creased in a frown, “This chimera… it was a familiar.”

“A familiar?” Gawain’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes. Morgana made a link with it. She was capable of seeing what it saw, and directing its movements like a puppet on strings,” Merlin glanced at the corpse again, “She did not appear to be in control for that battle, and for that much, we should be thankful. Applying actual finesse to that monster is not something I would be eager to see.

“But that is beside the point. The fact that it is a familiar and that it is now dead means that the link has been broken.”

“And that means… what?”

“It means that Morgana knows her pet is dead. By extension, it means she knows we’re here.”

Silence overtook the room as the Mage’s words slowly began to sink in.

“We need to move,” Tristan decided, turning to Lancelot, “Merlin, how quickly can you heal his arm?”

“It won’t be one hundred percent by any means,” Merlin huffed, moving to inspect the Knight’s newly set arm before a white glow overtook the limb, “But I can fuse the bone and dull most of the pain.”

Tristan nodded, “As soon as you’re done, we’re going up, and grabbing what we can. We no longer have time for an in-depth search.”

They all but sprinted up the steps with their weapons drawn once Merlin was finished, stealth having been utterly thrown to the wind as they climbed, exhaustion all but forgotten. At the top of the tower was a door similar to the one they had opened to get in, but this time, Merlin simply blasted the doors down, having no more time for a fancy demonstration; this was one lover’s quarrel he desperately wanted to avoid.

Unlike the rest of the castle, the laboratory was fairly well cared for, perhaps even homely; torches lined the walls and crackled with flame, along with a hearth that held a roaring fire. Despite the fact that there were no such protrusions visible from the outside, multiple hallways seemed to branch off from the main room they just entered, which appeared to serve the purpose of a large study – thousands of books and scrolls of all types lined the circular walls, and lay open upon a large desk near the fire. It was almost a disarming visage, given the rest of the castle and what each of them knew of Morgana.

Regardless, they remained vigilant.

“Gawain, with Tristan,” Lancelot intoned, “Merlin, with me.”

“Don’t touch anything,” Merlin stated, a rare, serious expression forming over his face, “Everything in here is likely cursed. Do not touch at anything, do not open anything, and do not read anything that is already open. I might not be able to fix whatever happens to you.”

They broke off from each other without another word to inspect the different wings of Morgana’s home. Artifacts and baubles of all sorts lined the walls of one wing; in another, various diagrams of anatomy and stone carving. They only conducted the briefest of checks around the workshop, having no time to inspect everything.

However, it was Lancelot that heard it as he turned to leave the room.

A faint wailing…

Curiosity piqued, yet clearly wary, he turned back to the rear of the room, searching for the source.

Merlin came to stand beside him, head tilted, “So you hear it too?”

“Just now,” Lancelot answered.

Cracking a knuckle under his thumb, Merlin allowed his staff to glow once more, and lazily swept it across the room; at the far end, a bookshelf, and the wall behind it, faded from existence, and the wail became exponentially louder.

“Heh… Morgana never did take to illusions quite like I did,” Merlin stated.

Lancelot only frowned. He drew his sword, and started towards the hall.

“You sure you want to go down there alone?” Merlin asked.

“Go and get Tristan and Gawain,” Lancelot responded, “I will scout ahead.”

With that, he ducked into the archway, the light beginning to dim.

The room he emerged in was more spacious than the ones before it; a massive stone worktable lay in the center, empty save for the dozens of runes that covered its surface, as well as the large chains that lay on the floor around it, bolted to the ground. More bookshelves and artifacts lined the walls, along with another fire. But this was not the calm, soothing fire of a hearth; this one was strong, but controlled, giving off a powerful heat that warmed the room to an almost uncomfortable degree. Suspended over the flames was a large sack of flesh, held in place by several chains attached to a wrought iron frame. A desk lined the far wall, and was absolutely piled with open books, some new, some old, and some truly ancient, and plants and herbs and even stones and meats of multiple types were displayed on several of the shelves, though for what purpose, Lancelot did not know.

But Lancelot was drawn to the curtains in the corner, which obscured something from view.

“Lancelot?”

The Knight of the Lake glanced back; Tristan, Gawain and Merlin had finally caught back up with him, their weapons also drawn.

“What is that?” Gawain asked, almost seeming to want to reach for his ears.

Lancelot merely brought a finger to his lips, then returned his attention to the curtain, drawing closer. After a moment of deliberation, he steeled himself, and yanked them open.

A long, agonizing pause swept over the Knights, Gawain and Tristan waiting for Lancelot to strike whatever it was on the other side of the curtain and end the wailing... but no strike was made.

Instead, both men saw something they thought they would never see in their lifetimes.

Ser Lancelot was... completely dumbstruck, to the point he nearly dropped Arondight in shock at whatever it was his eyes, now wide as dinner plates, saw within. His bulk obscured it from the other two, preventing them from making the same discovery as he. Only when he sheathed his blade did they risk approaching, still confused, wondering what could possibly reduce the greatest Knight in the realm to such a stupor.

Gawain briefly met eyes with Tristan, “Lancelot?”

No answer. The Knight seemed completely oblivious to his companions’ presence as he entered the room. Was he under a spell perhaps? It did not appear so.

“Lancelot?” Gawain tried again, louder this time. “What is it? What’s inside?”

Still the Knight ignored them. Or was too entranced with what lie within to respond. The possibility of a spell was becoming more likely with each moment he remained unresponsive. The other two did not dare enter the room, unsure whether it was safe to do so thanks to his peculiar behaviour.

Lancelot, however, was focused only on what he saw in front of him. Not as a Knight defending the land from an enemy threat, but as a man who was most experienced in this regard. An area where both Gawain and Tristan lacked any experience entirely. He was calm as he approached, and made no sudden movements as he carefully reached down to pick up...

Gawain moved to enter the room, the silence unbearable. “Lancelot, what is going-“
They all heard it at the same time, stopping Gawain in his tracks: a high note of fearful crying. The kind one only heard from the mouth of...

Slowly, Lancelot turned to face his brothers, the source of the crying tucked gently into the crook of an arm. It’s tiny hands were close to its face, while its eyes were screwed shut, crying out in dismay at having found itself surrounded by unfamiliar beings. Despite being so young, a full head of hair rested atop its head. A full head of golden hair.

Even Ser Tristen’s eyes snapped open, wide and uncomprehending, mouth hanging open as he tried to come to terms with what it was he saw. Even Gawain could barely force the words out of his throat, so stupefied he was at the sight.

“A... a baby?!”
Knight of the Heart Chapter 1 Part 2/2
Once upon a time, there was an heir to a mighty King, who adored her father greatly. Upon learning of her heritage, she tried to gain his acknowlegement... and was ultimately rejected. But... say one thing changed long before this could happen. Certainly, one small pebble couldn't change the entire flow of the river of time... right?

AU Collab with :iconbatomys2731:. If you're wondering why we are both posting the exact same thing, well, that's why.

Neither of us own TYPE-MOON. If we did, there's a LOT of stuff we'd fix and have localized.

You can find Part 1 of Chapter 1 here: jarl-of-the-north.deviantart.c…

You can find all the story chapters here: jarl-of-the-north.deviantart.c…
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Fate is a rather fickle thing. All it takes is one minor change to alter the entire course of history. The claims that one might make that you cannot alter a river, no matter how many pebbles you toss into the roiling waters?

They could not be farther from the truth.

If anything, reality is more fickle and subject to change than anything else. Change the painting hanging in a room, and what might have been a pleasant night with a conversation piece could be reduced to a vicious argument that destroys a friendship.

Should that special someone opt to walk through the gardens instead of past a pair of men, and what would have been a quarrel over lovers instead remains a seemingly unbreakable bond.

Indeed, it’s like that saying;

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, the horse.

For want of a horse, the message.

For want of a message, the battle.

For want of a battle, the war.

Don’t believe me? Do you think that such changes are inconsequential, in the end?

Heheh… well, what do you say we make a change? A small, minor change… and see how “inconsequential” that change is.

Let’s say we give a minor travelling inconvenience to a certain woman…

 

 

 

The bitter chill of winter had already begun to set in.

She could see her breath in the cold evening air, steam fading into the ever-darkening grey of the sky above without so much as a trace. The wind ran through the dying trees like a mischievous child, its faint whispers accompanied only by the rustling leaves that danced low across the ground.

The first frosts had already come some weeks earlier, much earlier than what had been anticipated; the people of Britain had found their harvest being cut painfully short by the rapidly approaching winter, many of their remaining crops abruptly killed by the sudden snap of cold. It would be a hard year for the country, without a doubt.

It was almost a pity that the woman hadn’t opted to take advantage of it.

But no.

Winter was not one of the tools by which she would claim her desires.

The road, usually either thick with dust or caked in mud, was like cold stone – hard and brittle, whatever moisture that might have been present turned to ice within the earth. She grit her teeth as the wagon tossed and jostled, a normally smooth, if boring ride turned into a truly irritating test of her patience. If it hadn’t been for the fact that she had used up much of her stamina in a recent endeavour for materials, she’d be walking right now.

Huddling in her cloak, she did her best to ignore the cold and the constant bouncing of the wagon. If there was one thing that was beneficial about all this, it was that she was all but alone; not many people were willing to travel in this weather.

She only barely registered the slow creak of the wood before it was followed by an abrupt snap. She threw her arms out just in time to grab hold of the side of the wagon as it tipped, the seat beneath her rising; she felt pain jar up through her hips, hissing in pain.

“Ah, shite!” the voice came from the front of the wagon, the man directing it leaping down from his seat to the side.

The woman felt her eyes narrow as she stood, and descended, not making so much a sound as she moved. Not even the wood creaked under her footsteps, nor did she shift any dirt in her path.

This was an interruption she was not appreciating.

When she drew up beside the coach, it became clear what the issue was; one of the wagon’s wheels had collapsed under its own weight, the old wood broken into splinters.

“I knew I should have replaced that bloody wheel!” he cursed, then looked at the woman, “… I’m sorry, miss, but-”

“This isn’t something you can fix,” her tone was colder than the air around them.

He lowered his head, “I’m afraid so. We’re going to have to turn back – get some of the boys to come out here with horses to retrieve it later.”

“What about your horse?”

“Pardon?”

“Your horse. We can continue the journey on it.”

He shook his head, “No, miss. That horse hasn’t carried anyone for fifteen years. A draught horse, that one is – good for burden, but not fit for riding. Besides, I’ve no saddle.”

“We can make do,” she spoke, “This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve ridden bareback.”

“I’m sorry, miss,” he insisted, “But that isn’t an option. We’ll just have to turn back and continue in the morning,” he dug into his pocket, and took out several coins, counting through them, “I’ll even give you your coppers back – give you a ride back out as soon as me wagon’s fixed.”

Turn back?... no. That was out of the question. She needed to be back in her workshop by tonight. Tired as she was, walking wasn’t an option, especially not with the cold sapping even more of her strength. Night was already falling, and she was in no mood to deal with any wild beasts; they were less likely to attack a large wagon than a single small person (she’d already driven off all the bandits within miles of her home some time ago).

She glanced at the man beside her, who was holding out the coins she had given him earlier as payment for the ride. It wouldn’t take much to force him into compliance; minor hypnotism, or perhaps the threat of her dagger in his belly.

She glanced at the draught horse, then gave a low curse; the thing was large, far too big to comfortably ride even if they had a saddle. Riding, even as a passenger, took energy – energy she simply didn’t have at the moment.

But she could not, would not wait another day to return to her workshop. She couldn’t. She had to make it back tonight.

Finally, she looked at the wheel of the wagon, broken, rendering the entire contraption lopsided. Gritting her teeth, she knew she only had one option if she wanted to be home before the night was through.

Raising her hand, she reached deep, deep into the wellspring at her core; a wave of overwhelming heat flowed out and into her limbs, rendering the cold a moot point, at least for the moment. Then shadows began to dance along her fingertips, shadows where there should have been none… and they began to grow, thickening, darkening, and finally rising, giving way from insubstantial shade to a physical blackness, tendrils dancing in her hand like a flame.

She paid no heed to the bewildered coach, merely stepping forwards and tipping her hand and letting the shadows fall to the broken wheel. They immediately set to work, picking up every last splinter of wood and slowly forcing everything back into place; the wagon slowly rose with each piece set in place, until finally, it stood once more, solid as a rock.

The woman glanced back at the coach, “Now we can continue.”

“…you… you’re a… a…”

“What I am makes no difference.”

“You-you’re a Witch!”

“What of it?”

The coach had begun to back away, clearly terrified by the woman before him. He seemed about ready to sprint, but abruptly, shadows rose up from the ground and gripped him by the ankles. He tripped, fell, and was dragged back to the woman’s feet with all the effort of a child dragging around a toy duck on a string, unable to pull away out of a mix of fear, bewilderment, and simply being bound in place.

The woman leaned down, gripped his shirt by the collar, and glared into his eyes, a minor hypnotism spell immediately kicking in; slowly, the man began to calm, his eyes growing hazy as the memories of the last few minutes were eaten away by the spell. Before long, he seemed to be in a dreamlike state, awake, but senses clearly dulled.

Finally, she released him, and he fell back to the ground, the shadows gone. He groaned, “What… what happened?”

“We hit a rock, and you fell to the ground. I’ve been trying to wake you up for some time now.”

“Did I?” he frowned, but ultimately pulled himself to his feet, “Sounds like I owe you an apology. I don’t mean to hold you up at all, miss.”

“You can apologize by getting me as close to the old fortress as you can.”

“Ahright,” he made his way back to the wagon as the woman climbed back to her seat, “Why do you want to go there, anyways? Place hasn’t been lived in since the King’s siege of it all those years ago.”

“That’s none of your concern.”

“… I guess it ain’t.”

The rest of the journey proved uneventful for the woman…

 

 

 

It was so sudden - a flare of light where there was once only black sliding over black with the subtlety of a serpent - he barely had time to react as his wards were triggered so abruptly. To the unknown eye, it would appear that Ser Merlin had accidentally burnt himself or been struck aside the head by an unseen object. With a grimace, he tried to recover and was now struggling to regain his bearings.

The constant search for Morgana’s whereabouts had been a task imposed on him by the King, one that he had carried on dutifully and without complaint. Weeks had turned into months without success in finding the elusive Witch, so thorough she was in erasing her trail. Even for his abilities, Morgana had proven herself a troublesome foe to catch.

So why was she so suddenly giving her location away, using enough power that even a novice could notice her whereabouts?

A moment longer he needed to recover in full, then another to cast a much more subtle scrying spell over the location the Witch had cast her magic. Given the recklessness of the Witch’s spells, he suspected she would have been in conflict, either with beasts from the forest or perhaps one of the patrols still enduring in their duty in spite of the cold weather.

He was surprised to discover neither suspicion was the case. She had simply repaired a broken wheel on a carriage, then erased the memories from the driver to continue on her way away from the cities... but to where, he couldn’t determine yet.

A discovery like this was interesting to be sure, and one that he had been waiting for quite some time... but was it worth alerting the King now? Or would it be better to wait, discover where exactly the Witch was headed? Morgana wasn’t the kind to use her magic without justifiable cause. Repairing a wooden carriage was hardly cause for such a display of power.

Both options had their respective merits, as well as their drawbacks. What a conundrum...

There was also the matter of time to consider, both present and future. A simple rift in the timeline could easily tear apart a carefully crated story. If he rushed ahead unwisely, then years of preparation and watching over the land would be wasted because he too had been careless with magic.

It would not be the first time he had chosen to conceal his findings from his King. Nor would it be the last, assuming the timeline followed the path he had foreseen.

Another ward triggered, this time - thankfully - without nearly blinding him in the process. His attention was again drawn to watching over Morgana, who evidently decided her driver was still moving too slow in taking her further north... Just what was provoking her into such foolishness? Whatever she had in mind, she wanted to reach her destination with all possible speed, and was willing to take great and greater risks to counter the poor conditions of a rapidly approaching winter.

Perhaps it was for the best to report this development to the King after all. Morgana was not exactly being subtle with her magic at the moment. Without apparent reason from what he could tell. There had to be a objective they hadn’t thought of, else Morgana would not have been so easily snuffed out.

Besides, the search had been trying King Arthur’s patience, especially after several months without success. It would not do if another came to the King and reported something he had already learned about earlier.

He left his scrying spell active as he departed for the main hall. If Morgana reached her destination, he would be the one to report it. Perhaps a closer investigation with the help of his fellow Knights might shed light on why the realm’s most dangerous Witch was suddenly acting like a fool.

 

 

 

The room was dead silent.

Though not an uncommon occurrence, this day, the silence bore a heavy chill – a tension not unlike the cold of the night beyond the windows, the first snows of winter gently powdering the stone.

A total of twelve figures sat at the table – an ornately carved, perfect circle depicting images of battle and glory, a true masterpiece that could only be produced by the finest of craftsmen.

But that was hardly what they were paying heed to.

None of them made so much as a sound as they waited, the unease enough to drive a man mad. All they could do was glance at their King, and then to one another in concern, wondering exactly what could have caused him to call a meeting at this hour.

Finally, the door swung open, and a young man clad in white slipped in, humming a gentle tune as he carefully swung it shut with his foot, white hair cascading down his shoulders. Glancing about the room, he smiled, taking a step towards the table, “I take it that everyone is here?

“Everyone,” the King intoned, her voice as cold as ever.

“Good, good,” he glanced about. Gawain and Lancelot were as sharp as ever, like a lion and a panther sizing him up, ready to strike – and really, why shouldn’t they be, this early in the morning? He didn’t typically like being woken up early either. And there sat Tristan, eyes closed… for all his magic and clairvoyance, he could never tell when that man was awake and attentive or just asleep.

‘Back on track, Merlin,’ he coached himself, shaking free of his wandering thoughts, ‘Arturia brought you here for a reason.’

Ser Kay leaned forwards in his seat, the dark bags under his eyes matching his dark hair and sullen expression perfectly as he glared at the Court Mage, “Ser Merlin. If this has something to do with you, it had better be good.”

“Can’t I get a moment to enjoy the suspense? It isn’t often all of us are in the same room at the same time these days,” Merlin teased, lips splitting into a grin.

At this, he felt the chill in the room grow and focus, all the Knights’ expressions seeming to sharpen into the stares of particularly irritable wolves. Seems they weren’t in the mood for his particular brand of humour…

“Merlin,” the King’s voice ran out, erasing all the irritation from the room… as well as any sense of mirth the Mage might have had, “You told me you had something of great importance to report.”

He felt his expression turn into a pout, then he sighed, spinning his staff slightly, “As you wish. I was hoping to ease you all into this; it’s not exactly a weather report,” he gestured to the window for emphasis… then glanced outside, “Oh, hey, it’s snowing!”

“Merlin,” though the King’s tone had not changed even in the slightest, there was a slight hint of warning in it – a clear demand to get on with it.

He sighed again, returning his attention to the King, “I’ve finally managed to find Morgana.”

He wasn’t surprised when he was met with yet more silence – and once again, he couldn’t blame them. He didn’t pretend to understand any of them personally, but he did understand that Morgana was a heavy subject for everyone at the Round Table, for one reason or another. Merlin could see Gawain’s blue eyes being cast down towards the floor, obscured by his short blond locks his armoured hands clenching into fists with audible clicks… the man was likely thinking about the Green Knight – one of Morgana’s sickest attempts at damaging the Knights of the Round to date, twisting a man into a monster.

“… how did you manage this, after months of repeated failures, Ser Merlin?”

Ah, that would be Ser Palamedes. Merlin turned to look at the darker skinned Knight, his smile returning, “She made a rather foolish mistake earlier tonight. She used magic without preparing a proper ward to keep me from seeing it.”

The Knights all seemed to have questions they wanted to ask, but one by one, they turned their gazes to the King. For a long moment, Arturia remained silent, her fingers interlocked and expression blank. Finally, she stated, “I suppose the most important questions now are where she was and why she would use her magic so recklessly.”

Recognizing the statement for what it was, Merlin had to swallow the urge to offer a witty retort. All of the Knights had issues with their senses of humour, but Arturia was like a brick wall, and had been ever since her early days as a King; and right now, she was in even less of a mood for jokes than usual. Which was really saying something when you consider how humourless she was normally-

‘Again, Merlin. Get it together!’

He shrugged, his internal dialogue hidden from everyone present, “Earlier tonight, I saw her travelling along a road by wagon. The wagon had been damaged to the point where it was unable to continue – one of its wheels had basically been reduced to splinters.”

“… and what does that have to do with Morgana using her magic without wards?” it was Ser Percival that spoke this time, “Was she attacked?”

“See, that’s the strange part,” Merlin felt his expression grow more serious at this, “She used her magic to repair the wagon and made the coach forget everything he saw – all so she could continue her journey without delay.”

“… that seems like an extremely foolish move,” Ser Lancelot rubbed at his chin, dark eyes narrowed, “Using magic when she likely knows she’s being watched?”

“It could be a trap,” Ser Kay pointed out, “An attempt to draw one or more of us out. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I doubt it,” Ser Gareth seemed especially thoughtful, his youthful, exceptionally feminine face perfectly matching his youthful, exceptionally feminine voice, his eyes of blue and sandy blonde hair matching his older brother’s almost perfectly, braids aside.

 “And why is that, Ser Gareth?” This time it was Ser Gaheris.

“Because Morgana is a lot of things. Straightforward has never been one of them,” Gareth frowned, “Even when the bait was obvious, she’s never been so brazen as to use herself for something like this. This seems more like a mistake.”

“A very foolish mistake, at that,” Ser Tristan finally stated – so he was awake! His long red hair shifted as he raised his head, expression as unchanging as Arturia’s herself.

“I still don’t like it. I think it would be better to err on the side of caution,” Kay again. He’s certainly grown from the reckless little child Merlin once knew him to be – the difference was like night and day.

“Merlin. Your conclusion?” Arturia spoke once more, silencing the others.

The Mage frowned a bit more deeply at this – even he wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. If everything was in accordance with his clairvoyance, then this should be about the time when Morgana’s… project was undergoing its last bit of fine-tuning before the final gears of his prophecy began to turn. But if so…

“… to be honest, Arthur,” he began, using the petite woman’s given name rather than her true name – not everyone knew her true nature, after all, “I would say that this is an act of impatience. Something has Morgana on edge, enough to push her to move along on her journey rather than keeping to caution as she usually would.”

Merlin knew that would have the attention of every Knight present.

“Impatience…” the dark, sullen tone came from the figure clad in dark armour, his hair slicked back and his skin pale – Ser Agravain.

“Well, it will prove her undoing,” Gawain finally declared, eyes like steel, “We have an approximate location of where she is. If Merlin would be so kind as to direct us to where he found her, I can physically track her and do the rest. We can finally be rid of this Witch once and for all.”

“With all due respect, Ser Gawain, it would be foolish to act so rashly,” it was Lancelot that spoke this time, his dark eyes fixing Gawain with a stern stare, “We cannot forget that Morgana is a powerful Witch. Mistake or not, rushing in will only result in disaster. No doubt she has prepared defences for just such a miscalculation.”

“There is also something else to consider,” Ser Gaheris’ voice was quiet, his expression grave, in contrast to his brothers’ – Gawain’s fuming anger and Gareth’s silent pondering, “What would cause Morgana to abandon her sense of caution to begin with? As Ser Gareth has said, she is not one to be so straightforward. There may be more to this than we realize.”

“A greater threat at hand, great enough to frighten the Witch?” Palamedes asked.

“Perhaps.”

“Or,” Gawain interrupted, “Perhaps another one of her plans. Something bigger, more dangerous than what she’s done before – something she wants to ready and test as soon as possible,” he was truly itching to hunt her down.

“So on one hand,” Ser Bedivere started, “There’s a possibility we now have something worse than Morgana on our hands. On the other, there’s a possibility that she’s planning something big enough for her to abandon her normal habits. Either way, this isn’t something we can ignore.”

“In other words, we must act quickly,” the King intoned. Again, her voice failed to inflect any particular tone, but it still carried an authority like no other. It was a voice one obeyed on principle – not out of any sense of loyalty or affection (though among those present, those certainly existed), but simply because her presence was just that commanding. Her gaze never once left Merlin, “Do you have any idea where she might be going?”

“There are only a few locations around where I saw her that I can think of,” Merlin stated, “But given the road she was taking… I’d say the most likely candidate would be the abandoned fortress along the northern road.”

“Wasn’t that place a frequent hideout for bandits?” Gareth asked.

“It was. We cleared it out several times, but Morgana heavily opposed restoration efforts back when she was a member of King Urien’s Royal Court, and I don’t need to remind you how strong her influence among the Courts was back then. Eventually, the castle was abandoned altogether, and it became a haven for criminals to hide in. Reports concerning bandit activity came to an abrupt halt about six years ago, but we had more pressing issues at the time, so we never bothered to look into it,” Bedivere took a breath, eyes narrowing, “If Merlin is right, then it seems we’ve finally found out why the bandits disappeared… and why Morgana may have opposed restoring the castle as vehemently as she did.”

Merlin fixed his gaze on the King, “Your Majesty?”

Arturia closed her eyes, not so much as letting her breaths make any sound for a long few moments. Finally, she opened her eyes, “Ser Gawain. Ser Tristan. Ser Lancelot,” she glanced at each of them as she spoke their names, “I am leaving this task in your hands.  I want you to go to the fortress Merlin speaks of and investigate it – in disguise.

“You are not to wear your coats of arms. Your swords are to be carried in non-descript sheathes. And you yourselves will answer to different names along your journey should you happen across anyone else. If Morgana catches wind that three of the Round Table are approaching, she may flee, and this will all have been for nothing.”

“Your Majesty,” all three stood and bowed at the same time, their actions borderline simultaneous.

“Furthermore,” she looked up to her Court Mage, “You are to protect them on their journey, Ser Merlin. You are the only one here with any form of magical prowess, and the only person in Britain who can hope to match Morgana. Wards, disguises – anything you believe may be helpful in this endeavour.”

Merlin smiled, giving a somewhat lopsided bow, “As you wish, my King.”

She nodded, and then stood, “You will leave as soon as the four of you are rested and prepared. This meeting is dismissed.”

With that, each Knight stood, and filed out one by one, returning to their respective quarters. Merlin waited until the last one had left, leaving him alone with Arturia.

“Well… it seems things are about to get interesting.”

“Dangerous,” Arturia intoned, walking around the massive table to face him.

“Potato, potahto.”

“No, Merlin. There is a very distinct difference.”

He smiled, “I remember when you would have said that to me.”

She glanced at him, expression still cold, “I was a child, then. Now, I am older. Wiser.”

“And apparently have lost your ability to smile,” he smirked, “I know I told you your story would end in tragedy, but would it kill you to lighten up once in a while?”

Arturia didn’t give him an answer this time, instead turning on her heel and starting for the door.

He was about to call after her when he felt something in his head twinge.

It didn’t hurt, really. It was more like… a shift. A change in focus, like when the mind moves from one task to the next. He gave a slight grunt as he pressed a hand to his temple; what had just happened?

“Merlin?”

He glanced up again to see Arturia at the open door. Her expression remained cold as ever, but there was something beneath the monotone voice that he had not heard in a very long time; concern, “Are you alright?”

He smiled, “I’m fine, Arturia. Just… slight concerns with my magic, is all.”

“Will you be able to perform your duties?”

“I can do that much. Don’t start losing faith in me now,” he teased.

“… very well,” she stated, and pulled into the hall, closing the door behind her.

Merlin paused, then sighed, making the slow return to his own quarters. When he arrived, he shrugged out of his robes and sat on his cot, frowning. Something wasn’t right…

Closing his eyes, he activated his clairvoyance; the ability to see all of Humanity. The past, the present… the future…

The future.

He grit his teeth, trying to make sense of the muddled mess that was being presented to him. This… this didn’t make any sense. None of it did. The war that would see Camelot’s end, the war that would grind the Kingdom and its inhabitants into mere memory…

It was gone.

His eyes snapped open, a sudden shiver of dread running up his spine.

“Oh… horse shit,” he whispered, finally realizing what he’d done without ever intending to do so.

He’d changed the future.

He’d changed fate.

 

 

 

Morgana felt her teeth slate against each other in concentration as her mixture came to a boil, the acrid stench of rotting flesh wafting in and out of her nostrils. One of her many books was open beside her, though at the moment she paid it little heed; her utmost focus was on her current task, the fleshy vat before her continuing to boil, all but disintegrating everything that fell into its depths.

When the appropriate time had passed, she took a pair of tongs, and reached into the boiling acid, heedless of the sweltering heat that surrounded her arms, and slowly extracted her prize.

She couldn’t help but smile at the result – the gleaming object held firmly in her grasp, coated in a thin layer of bile, but nonetheless maintaining a beautifully polished surface.

A Dragon’s pearl. One of the very items used to infuse her dear sister with the strength of a Phantasmal Beast of the highest order, and normally very difficult to obtain; after all, in order to get your hands on the genuine article, you would have to slay a Dragon.

Morgana had essentially bypassed that step entirely with this creation; using the stomach of the Dragon Merlin had used to begin with, she had slaved over long hours to examine the process by which these nigh-priceless lacrima were created. Hundreds of thousands of ingredients used over years of experimentation had been lost… but it seemed that she was growing very close, if she hadn’t already succeeded.

Before she could move to set it down, however, the small sphere abruptly cracked.

She could never have moved fast enough to stop it. The cracks spread, one turning into two, then four, then eight; within seconds, there were dozens of cracks all running in different directions, and the pearl didn’t so much shatter as it did simply disintegrate, the pieces falling away into magically infused dust.

Joy and satisfaction turned to raw frustration, but however much she wanted to, Morgana did not rage or curse. She forced it down, only allowing it to manifest through a single click of her tongue, “Another failure…”

She let out a long, slow breath through her nostrils, sinking into a chair and rubbing at her temple. Her creation already had Dragon blood, that much Morgana was sure of; it had already proven her predictions correct by inheriting dear Arturia’s Magic Core.

But that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was the Dragon blood’s actual interaction between the magics used in the art of creation, as well as Morgana’s own blood.

Normally, humans and Dragons proved to be incompatible with one another. Coexistence had proved time and time again to be borderline impossible on nearly every level, from the sociological differences, to the psychology, from the biology, to the sheer difference in strength. Interaction between the two almost always ended in conflict, and by extension the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of people.

And yet, it wasn’t impossible for proof of some twisted marriage of human and Dragon to emerge; that fool from the Burgundian Courts in the east some few decades ago somehow managed to attain nigh invincible battle prowess by bathing in the blood of a Dragon he slew, his skin like Dragon scales – nigh impossible to even scratch.

In dear Arturia’s case, Merlin had somehow gone even further, infusing her with Dragon’s blood and giving her all the magical strength of the world’s strongest Phantasmal Beasts. Indeed, on the battlefield in days long gone, the woman had often been compared to a Dragon in human form, impossible to so much as touch and striking down any and all who would oppose her, single-handedly breaking the spirits of twelve separate Kings through twelve consecutive wars, conquering Britain in one fell swoop.

The promised King indeed…

Morgana shook her head, forcing herself to return to the task at hand. She had assumed that because of the lineage, her creation would have inherited all of Arturia’s same traits. Of course, she hadn’t been wrong, but Morgana had nonetheless made a miscalculation that she was doing everything in her power to fix.

Put simply, the Dragon blood wasn’t properly mixing with Morgana’s fairy blood, or the increased magical potential of a homunculus.

Homunculi of any type, even the lowest of the low, still had incredible magical potential through their magic circuits; one of high quality made for combat could be expected to properly face an army and still come out victorious and no worse for wear, provided they were properly trained and equipped. Combining that with Morgana’s blood, fairy blood, would create something truly powerful – after all, it was fairies that made Excalibur and its sister swords, Caliburn, Arondight and Excalibur Galatine, and fairies were also capable of magic far beyond what could ever be expected of humans. Even those that didn’t learn magic still had plenty of magical energy to make up for it.

Dragon blood should have created something borderline unstoppable when combined with these aspects.

Instead, it was clashing – only slightly, for now, but as time went on, it would slowly grow worse. The combination of magics was simply too much for a mortal body of any type to handle.

In the end, Morgana supposed that she shouldn’t have been surprised; humans were fragile, after all. Surprising, certainly. Tenacious, most definitely. But fragile nonetheless – a result of their mortal coil.

That meant she needed to find a way for this body to withstand the incredible energies dwelling within it.

So far, the problem seemed to be rooted in the Dragon blood itself, the magic core’s constant magic production interfering with the extraneous (but still exceptionally high quality) magic circuits, slowly overflowing them with prana. It was similar to the result one could expect from trying to compensate for cracks in a massive dam by directing the water into small creeks or streams – the resulting flood would cause catastrophic damage no matter how slow it was.

She stood, and glanced back into the vat. Morgana had been trying to make a Dragon’s pearl in hopes of finding a way to regulate the prana overflow – using the pearl to create a runoff point, of sorts. In the meantime, Morgana had also slowed her creation’s aging down in hopes of buying the both of them a little bit more time to create a working system; the accelerated aging she had initially intended to implement would, at this stage, only worsen the problem. However, she’d been struggling to find any kind of success in actually making a pearl, and she’d just used her last ingredients in the attempt.

She’d have to leave to gather more.

Sighing, Morgana stepped away from the vat and over to where her creation lay, peacefully asleep. She looked so much like her father when Arturia was an infant; the resemblance was uncanny.

Then again, that was something Morgana had been hoping for when she began this venture.

Smiling, she leaned down, and gently whispered into the small homunculus’ ear.

“You’re going to be King someday.”

With that, she silently pulled away, and swept from the room to find her cloak. Within the hour, a dark shape was fighting against the wind across the grey sky, like a black meteor through the ever falling white.

The Jarl’s Musings; On the Subject of Purity

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the second installment of the Jarl’s Musings, the Musings that could potentially leave your own Musings in utter ruin.

There’s something that’s been bothering me lately about the idea of purity. The way that people seem to treat it as one of the ultimate expressions of goodness and compassion. It’s even been used as a synonym for words such as righteousness or virtue. This is especially prominent when it is one of the major themes in a given story, and it is often given links to both benevolence and to innocence. Which is where the problem comes in for me. What is that problem, one may ask?

Simple. Innocence and benevolence are not the same thing. Not by a long shot.

Allow me to explain my position here. A benevolent being is one that will go out of their way to attempt to make the world around them a better place, even if it’s in the smallest of ways. They at the very least understand the basic concept of good or positivity even if they don’t necessarily grasp the concepts of evil or negativity, and their actions reflect the goodwill they carry. Although in some cases – usually ones where the lives of the characters in question are considerably more complex than the hedonistic lifestyles of the Felaryan predators - it isn’t always clear, as sometimes the greater good requires some necessary evils to be attained. I would expand further on this, but as I have another Musing planned for the natures of benevolence and malevolence specifically, I think I will save that particular subject for a later date.

On the other hand, however, we have the nature of innocence. I find that Felarya is an excellent setting with which to demonstrate the darker side of this trait; yes, the actions of children or childlike beings such as Karbo’s Crisis are rarely taken with any intent to cause legitimate harm, but that is hardly any consolation to those whose lives are destroyed at their hands. Crisis routinely eats caravans of people who pass through central Felarya without so much as a second thought the vast majority of the time, the only exception that I’m aware of being the day she met Lea (I’m not saying there aren’t any other exceptions, but I’m not about to go digging through the whole Writing section looking for specifics). Another good example of this is the animated short that inspired the Toy Story movie series, where a toddler plays rather roughly with his terrified toys. The toddler might not have any malicious intent or even know what malice actually is, but that doesn’t make things any better on the toys’ end. It doesn’t make the encounter any less horrifying or any less painful to watch or, as some may see it, any less evil.

So why exactly is purity linked to both of those concepts when they can clash so heavily? It could be the roots of the word, but I personally don’t see how there could be much of a connection there.

Rather, if you were to ask me personally, I’d actually say that purity is significantly closer in nature to innocence than benevolence or goodness. The reason behind that being the actual definition of purity; unsullied. Free of outside influence.

Think about it. When a child is born, one couldn’t possibly expect them to understand the nature of good or evil. It’s beyond them; their primary concerns are going to be eating and sleeping. Now, some may argue that as they age, they’ll begin to get a grasp of right and wrong on their own, but by and large, that’s learned behaviour, not innate nature. People learn from their environments; where a gentle, kind child would result from a stable, supportive family, a violent, insecure one would arise from a dysfunctional, broken household. I know that there are exceptions to this rule, and that some people are more inclined to certain types of behaviour than others, but that’s generally how things tend to go down.

So what does this say about good and evil in relation to purity and innocence?

It says that purity is neither good nor evil, but of utterly neutral ground as a result of lack of exposure. Felarya isn’t exactly a place where good or evil have much sway among the predators of the world. As I said before, most of them lead simple, hedonistic lifestyles free of such hefty concerns; with a few exceptions, at best, they concern themselves with right and wrong in a much looser sense, and at worst, they don’t even think about that, their thoughts only extending to how something feels. They’re pure, but purity isn’t necessarily a positive thing, as a pure being can do absolutely catastrophic damage without concerning themselves with the morality of it. A pure creature is the closest thing to a truly amoral being that I have been able to find (I will discuss the nature of amorality in another Musing).

Essentially, good and evil are little more than additives, elements of learned behaviour, each of which eradicate purity in its own way. Good, in its own way, affects those it touches just as easily as the way evil corrupts. We have a natural grasp of positive and negative, but we don’t really learn how to apply that to the world at large without the proper environment and people to show us that.

And in all honesty... I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that good and evil are things we have to learn. After all, we don’t always understand our most base emotions; if good and evil were innate, would we really be able to truly understand the nature of either one? Besides... even if positivity and negativity are innate, who is going to know better? The one who was born good? Or the one who learned about it, who chose it, and overcame everything that barred their way through great effort?

... So that’s all I really have to say on the matter. What are your thoughts on the issue? I’m legitimately interested to hear what you have to say.

With that said and done... I think that will be all. See you in the next installment.

JotN

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Jarl-of-the-North
The Dragon King
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Pettyexpo Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for watching!!!
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Thank you very much for the watch! I appreciate it! :)
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Thank you so much for the watch! ;//v//; ♥
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Thanks for the watch!

Guess I'mma go do stuff now?

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Hello Dragon kun~
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