Morgan Le Fay passed through the halls of Olympus like a shadow, draped in her strongest illusions, her sword following in her wake like a trained hound. None could see her, or if they did, they saw only what they expected to see. As she walked, she traced enchantments on the air. These enchantments coiled like invisible serpents, waiting for a chance to strike.
Some were but minor illusions, meant to cause confusion and chaos. Others were more serious charms, meant to sow discord between those already inclined to distrust one another. Already she could hear divine voices raised in argument. Such dissension would not last, of course. It would take a more determined effort on her part to set the Olympians and their allies at each other’s throats.
But for the moment, it was enough. She had come to Olympus with a purpose in mind, and she did not intend to risk interruption. Arthur was somewhere in this place, and she intended to find him before it was too late. Perhaps it already was. There was no telling what nonsense Merlin had filled his head with. Her former teacher had a talent for bending the truth to suit his needs – one of many tricks he’d taught her, in more innocent times.
As she searched, she found her mind wandering back to the day she had followed Arthur and Merlin into Avalon, hidden by her illusions, hoping to learn the truth of what had befallen them. When the pair had vanished, ostensibly to seek out the dragon that had laid waste to Camelot, she had taken full advantage of their absence. Camelot had been in need of a leader – one who would not abandon them.
Yet the question of their disappearance – and whether they might return – nagged at her. She had searched and pillaged, and finally found Merlin’s secret vault, hidden beneath Camelot itself. Her magics had showed her the way from there.
In the time since stepping through that silvery portal, she had wandered this strange world and experienced its wonders, even as she yearned to return home. But the way had been barred to her. Camelot was barred to her.
Merlin’s doing, she was certain. She suspected that much of what had befallen Camelot could be laid at his door. Though she doubted there was any way of convincing Arthur of that. He trusted Merlin implicitly. Though possibly less so, these days.
Merlin had made himself scarce during Cthulhu’s rampage, ostensibly seeking some means of combatting the creature. Arthur had been left to rally the gods of the Celts – with whom Merlin claimed some kinship, however distant – against the tide of madness that threatened to engulf both they and their worshippers.
She had watched that particular glorious struggle from the side-lines, hidden behind her most potent illusions. Had he required it, she would have aided Arthur, but thankfully he had persevered on his own – and made staunch allies of the Celtic pantheon in the process. She suspected that had been Merlin’s intention all along. After all, had he not counselled Arthur to do much the same in the early days of Camelot?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of familiar voices. A wicked smile flashed across her face as followed them to a private garden. Rain fell steadily over the garden, but neither of the two men who stood at its heart seemed overly concerned.
Morgan paused behind one of the ornamental statues that ringed the green space. She realized that she had arrived in the middle of an ongoing discussion and decided to eavesdrop for a few moments before making her grand entrance.
Merlin and Arthur were sparring – magic against blade. Merlin’s expression one of frustration. “It is not Camelot, my lord,” he said, as Excalibur crashed down against his mystic shield. He winced and drew a serpent of fire from the air. It turned the rain to steam as it arrowed towards Arthur.
“I saw it with my own eyes!” Arthur cleaved the serpent in twain. “A green and pleasant land, but full of people not my own. It was as if it had been plucked from my dreams…and yet not. Where are our people? If Camelot is here, why are they absent?”
Merlin shook his head. At his gesture, mystic bolts erupted from the air and hurtled towards Arthur. “I know not, my king. This world – this strange world – is so like our own, and yet not. Perhaps there is – or was – a Camelot here, and Tiamat has restored it. But it is not the kingdom we know.” He paused. “Not yet.”
Arthur deflected the bolts and frowned. “What do you mean?”
Merlin’s frustration evaporated, and his expression became guarded. “I have spent the time since Cthulhu’s banishment investigating the changes – the renewal – this…Tiamat has brought with her. I wished to understand how it had been done, what magics might have been used. Alas, they are…beyond my capabilities.”
Morgan frowned to herself. It was unlike Merlin to admit such a thing. What game was he playing? Arthur seemed to be of similar mind, for he faced his advisor, a look of anger on his face. “Then what more is there to say?”
Merlin spoke quickly as Arthur advanced towards him. “The Camelot we know is lost to us, my king – but it could live again. There is opportunity here. We could begin again, here, in this realm. A new kingdom, founded on the principles of the old. The lands of the Celts are wild; untamed. Their gods are much the same. But they owe us much. We defended their lands, their people…and their lands border those of this new Camelot.”
Arthur pulled his swing and stepped back. “I did not do it so that they might owe us. I did it because it was the right thing to do.”
Merlin nodded. “Of course, my king, but even so – we must think of the future.” He stepped back as well, letting his magics fade. “This world is troubled. We might be the ones to bring it some measure of peace…”
“Strange words coming from you,” Morgan said, letting her illusions fall. Merlin and Arthur reacted as she expected. Merlin called forth a spell, even as Arthur leapt towards her, Excalibur raised. She gestured and her sword intercepted Arthur’s stroke. The blade parried his next blow as well, allowing her concentrate on deflecting Merlin’s attack.
“How did you come to be here, witch?” Merlin growled, preparing another sorcerous attack. “The path to Camelot is closed!”
“Yes, as I found to my detriment,” Morgan said. “Despite that, I did not come to fight.” She spread her hands and smiled. “Will you hear me out – or will we waste our time in pointless battle?”
Arthur lowered his sword. “Speak, Morgan. Begin with how – and why – you are here. And be quick about it.”
“I came through the portal in Merlin’s vault, the same as you. I hoped to learn what had happened to you both.”
“My vault…?” Merlin said, looking startled. He regained control of himself quickly. “What have you done Morgan?” he asked, quietly.
“I did what needed to be done. What you abandoned I took up.” She looked at Arthur and saw that he’d gone pale. She allowed her smile to widen. “I was a good queen, if I do say so myself.” Rather than attacking her in a fury, as she expected, Arthur merely looked away. She frowned in mild disappointment. “But I was a fool. I followed you two, and found myself trapped here, even as you are.”
“A sad story,” Merlin said. “My heart bleeds for you.”
“Merlin – silence,” Arthur said. He looked at Morgan. “What do you want, Morgan? If it’s a way home, I’m afraid we cannot help you.”
Morgan met his gaze. “No. But there is someone who can.”
Merlin’s eyes narrowed. “Tiamat.”
Arthur glanced at him, and then at Morgan. “What do you mean?”
“Think, Arthur – though I know it pains you to do so. If this Tiamat restored this world – locked away a creature as powerful as Cthulhu – do you not think that she could send us home to Camelot? Or even bring Camelot to us?” She gestured. “There is a new land, untouched by the ravages of Jormungandr…a land our people might grow and flourish in. All we have to do is bring them here…”
“Our people were all but wiped out by one dragon, and you ask me to trust another?” Arthur shook his head. “No.”
“What is it about her that frightens you, Arthur?” Morgan asked, as she circled them. She trailed her fingers across the broken statues and columns that marked the sparring ground, briefly illuminating each one as she passed by. “Is it her power – or because she reminds you of Jormungandr? Whom you failed to slay, despite your oath.”
“Cease, Morgan,” Merlin said. “There is no need for this.”
“I beg to differ, old man,” she replied. “There is every need.” She paused. “You are a fool, Arthur. To set yourself against Jormungandr was one thing. But Tiamat is not Jormungandr.”
Merlin stepped between them. “No. She is more dangerous by far.”
“Power does not mean danger,” Morgan countered. “Or it does not have to.” She looked past him, at Arthur. “She restored this world, Arthur. But swear your sword to her service, and she might yet restore your people. Our people.”
“She cannot,” Merlin said. “Those lands are not the lands we knew.”
“And how do you know?” Morgan asked.
Arthur stirred. “A good question, Merlin. How do you know?”
Merlin turned, frowning. “Arthur, I -”
“Ask him how he knew what he knew how to banish Jormungandr, Arthur,” Morgan said, stepping towards them. “Ask him how deep the waters of his wisdom run. Ask him their source, and you will see, as I saw, that he cannot be trusted.”
Merlin spun to face her, anger in his eyes. “And you can? You, who took what I taught you, and sought to usurp the crown for yourself?”
“Yes. I wanted to rule Camelot. But I cannot rule an empty land. In this, Arthur and I share common cause – no matter how much it might distress you.”
Merlin gestured, and the rain turned to shards of ice as it fell all around her. Her sword swung in a wide circle over her head, shattering the shards in mid-air. Merlin was already conjuring his next spell – and from the look of it, it was a good deal more lethal than some ice. She awaited it with arms wide, a smile on her face.
Mystic fire roared towards her, only to be parted by Excalibur. Arthur stood between them his expression grim. “Wait,” he said, firmly. Merlin flushed.
“Arthur, we cannot trust her – she lies as easily as you or I might breathe…”
“But not this time,” Morgan said. She smiled at Merlin over Arthur’s shoulder. Merlin’s eyes flashed and she could sense him gathering his might. She hesitated – had she pushed him too far? Merlin’s power was greater than she recalled. This new realm had something to do with it, she suspected – perhaps that was why he’d led Arthur here. “I mean you no harm, Merlin. Nor Arthur. Nor anyone. I merely wish to help our people. And Tiamat is the surest path to the restoration of Camelot.”
“Is she now?” a new voice interjected. Morgan turned, and her smile widened. Gilgamesh leaned against the entrance to the garden, his muscular arms crossed over his chest. “I would caution you against trusting such a creature,” he went on. “Tiamat is not known for her largesse.”
“Gilgamesh,” Morgan said, stepping away from Arthur.
“King Gilgamesh, if you please.” His gaze went to Arthur. “And you are King Arthur. Zeus told me I might find you here.”
Arthur sheathed Excalibur. “You were looking for me. Why?”
Gilgamesh smiled widely, and Morgan almost laughed. He was like a tiger trying to convince someone he was a housecat. “To talk, of course. One king to another.”
“You do have much in common,” Morgan said, as she drew her illusions about herself once more. “Both of you kings without a kingdom. I leave you to it. Think on what I said, Arthur. And for all our sakes, do not act with your usual rashness.”
Arthur turned, hand out as if to stop her, but her thoughts were already elsewhere. She had accomplished her first goal. A seed of doubt had been planted between Arthur and Merlin. In time, it would grow into something useful. And when it did, she would present it to Tiamat and ask of her a boon. She would see Camelot again, one way or another.
But until then, there was much yet to do.
Morgan Le Fay smiled.