The Legend of Matthew Hyde

Escape

subject: Verona Hyde

date: December 21

time: 10:46 a.m.

-resume taped interview-

*mumble of someone in the background*

"Yes. Yes, I saw them. Or at least I saw one of them, the one that got twenty million hits on Youtube? It was barbaric and Matthew was...brave, incredibly brave to face up to those monsters the way he did.

"The last time I talked to him was just minutes before it happened. He told me about a dream he'd had, which I thought was odd at the time. But he must have known what was coming. Somehow he knew that there was no way out for him.

"He did what he did to save all those people, not himself. "

-end taped segment-

He woke quietly, aware in an instant of the forest-his forest-around him. The trees above him shifted, the rustling leaves whispering secrets. Something strange was in the air. During the years that Merlin had lived here, his magic had seeped down into the earth and awoken it, mostly in good ways. Those trees were sentinels and friends. He reached out and patted one of the trunks idly as he yawned. He'd been asleep for a long time. How long, he wasn't even sure.

His world had shrunk down to this wood and he was content with that. For the second time, he had chosen to forsake the human world and its mutability. Far beyond his view, there were people being born, living and dying their tragically short lives. But he remained alone. It was much less painful that way. Both Arthurs had taught him the same lesson in the end: to welcome love was to welcome pain.

As Merlin shifted on his bed of lichen, he dislodged a mama bunny and her babies from his side. A fond smile danced around his mouth as the small, furry mounds moved this way and that, trying to find warmth again. He often found creatures of the forest there; they were drawn to him and to his magic. It was nice to be able to make their simple lives happier.

The mama rabbit raised an ear at him, sniffing at the air constantly.

Merlin sniffed with her. Smoke-far off. He listened, carefully, to the trees and his wood. Everything was fine here, but just beyond, where he'd last left the world of men...something had gone wrong.

Merlin climbed to his feet, stretching and grimacing. Magic swirled through him, warming his stiff joints and easing the ache in his back. How long had he been asleep? Vaguely, he remembered dancing under the stars with dryads and blessing several new deer foals before conjuring some excellent wine and bedding down under sweetly budding trees.

Then he felt it, along with a frisson of panic, the certainty of how much time had passed in his forest. More than just years...a century? What? How?

Merlin stumbled a bit, looking around his forest in dismay. How could he have lost a whole century without knowing it? "Only you could misplace a hundred years, Merlin," he heard Arthur tease,

"Of course, of course, you're right," he murmured back, wiping his eyes. He'd long ago given up trying not to respond to Arthur when he spoke to him; the prat would only repeat himself endlessly until he provoked a reaction of some kind. "And I suppose you want me to risk life and limb to discover the source of that smoke."

"You suppose correct. Getting more intelligent by the day, you are."

"And barmier."

"Definitely barmier, if that's even a word."

"Of course it is. It means more and more barmy. It's a perfectly good word," Merlin continued as he jogged through the forest, noting where new paths had branched off the old ones, seeing the dried up remains of several watering holes and where a few new ones had sprung up. The trees were the same, but denser and more formidable. They had grown from sentinels to a woven shield of protectors. Merlin sensed that though they welcomed his presence and progress, they would bar the explorations of men.

The air was alive with scents, but none as strong as the acrid stench of smoke. That wasn't a wood fire; there were other elements to it...unfamiliar ones.

Merlin ran for nearly an hour before he reached the end of his wood and where the lands of the other god began.

Farther beyond where he stood, people had built an abbey to learn more about their god. The creatures of the old religion had stayed well away, creeping into the forest to be with Merlin. He had welcomed them, knowing they felt the antagonism of the new god for all the old things. They knew better than to show themselves here. And so did Merlin. His information-gathering had always been from a distance.

But now...something had happened.

Agitated, Merlin eased toward the smoke. He wanted to stay away and pretend that he no longer cared. Camelot was long gone; Arthur had been gone longer still. His king hadn't actually charged him to protect the land or its people and yet...

Merlin sighed, giving in.

He no longer fit in with humans. His appearance would shock them, he was quite sure, with his long hair woven back with vines and his modesty and comfort provided for by moss, leaves and magic alone. He snorted at the thought of what the people of Camelot would have done if he'd shown up dressed in this manner.

But no matter how different he thought himself, no matter how he justified his drawing away from them, these were the people of Albion and Arthur had cared about them.

Out of a desire to be kind, Merlin magicked a shirt, boots and breeches to cover his form further. Then he hurried through the trees to a sparser wood, then to an orchard and finally to the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.

It was sundown, growing darker by the second, so it was difficult to see anything but the silhouette of the looming stone building with the bright flare of an enormous bonfire against the side of it. There were voices weeping, crying out in protest and many others raised in anger, along with the voracious sounds of a roaring fire. The cacophony made Merlin's blood run cold.

Kept safely behind the trunk of a tree, he conjured a slight wind to clear out the smoke-heavy air, and then saw the people in front of the large abbey weeping, sobbing, clinging to each other. They were dressed in brown robes and implements that marked them as residents of the abbey, while several men in black clothing guarded them. Behind the men in black, others-likely people from the town-were tossing books and splintered wood on the bonfire. Two men dragged a long bench out of the abbey door, yelling obscenities at the monks. With great relish, they tossed the bench in the fire and the gathered townspeople cheered.

Merlin couldn't make sense of it. The abbey was a holy place, set aside for learning more about the Christian God. He had found it to be full of good people who lived peaceful lives and helped others. Why would anyone want to attack it? Beyond that, who would be so bold in the face of their god? Not even those of the Old Religion had dared such an insult. He stepped out from the tree and moved closer until he felt the further shifting of magic under his feet.

Merlin halted, the hair at the back of his neck prickling. His magic did not like this place. The worshippers of this God were strange to him, but how could he leave things as they were?

He felt pulled by the misery of the people, gentle kind people who were at the mercy of those who hated them. He could not stand and see hatred rewarded.

Looking up to the darkening sky, Merlin raised his hands and whispered words of heavy wetness. He pulled upon all the waters, whether on the ground or dissipated into the sky. Clouds massed in the dark sky quickly. Again, Merlin whispered the words, and the air swirled in a new pattern. The crying voices halted. Two men tossed a large, carved wooden chair onto the fire and turned back to the abbey to get more. Then the first drops of rain fell.

It began as a gentle downpour, stopping the misery for a moment. The faces in the firelight shone with hope and awe. But Merlin wasn't done yet. His eyes glowed and his voice rose and the downpour grew to a deluge centered around the bonfire. Now, new voices cried out, in surprise and frustration. The men who had been working to burn the abbey's furnishings turned back to see their method of conquest was dying out.

The monks fell to their knees and openly worshipped their god as the rain put out the fire and died away. When it stopped, the setting sun gilded the remaining clouds red and orange. It looked as if the fire had leapt up into the sky.

"Abbot Whiting! He has heard our prayer!"

One man stood to his feet and came forward, making the sign of the cross. He raised his voice. "God has spoken. There will be no more burning tonight, and no more violence. We will not abide by the new laws. This is our home."

"You'll regret those words, abbot. We'll be back tomorrow. And you'd better be gone," a rough voice yelled from the doorway. A few of the townspeople agreed, but the sudden rain seemed to have dampened more than just the ground.

The townspeople left the grounds and disappeared into the night. The sounds of horse hooves galloping toward town were welcome to the monks, who showed no signs of leaving. Instead, they formed a circle around the fire and knelt, raising their hands to the sky. Tears were flowing down the abbot's face, but there was joy in his voice as he prayed and led them in a song of faith.

The music made Merlin feel strange as he pulled back to the orchard. Had his magic just been used by their god? But then why had their god given up on the abbey and let it fall into other hands in the first place? At least there had been no bloodshed. Not this time, as there had been before on this very land. Always so much hatred; always so much blood. He was reminded of why he had pulled away again, why he lived his life in the deep and lovely woods.

Slowly Merlin's heart lifted again as returned home, taking in the beauty of his forest and the growth and change of a hundred years. He would one day return to the world of men.

Maybe.

But surely if ever his king did return...

Matthew woke with a jump, breathless, unsure of where he was and why he wasn't in a forest. It was a noise, a thump, that had woken him. His huge cup of water was on the floor, slowly spilling water. Had he done that? No. The tray table was pushed to the side, as it always was when he was asleep. He pushed the nurse's button with a sigh. He didn't want to wake Arthur up. After all, he'd never even seen him tired enough to sleep before. And he kinda' needed to have some privacy, anyway. Bathroom break.

Matthew felt an inordinate amount of pride in the fact that he made it to the bathroom and back to his bed without falling in the water puddle on the floor. It wasn't until he was back in his bed laying down and catching his breath that he remembered to wonder why the nurse hadn't answered his call. It was Tanya's shift and she should have been here right away. That bothered him.

Matthew took a deep breath. For the first time in days, he felt clear-headed and not crippled by pain. He didn't want more meds. He needed to think, to think hard about all the impossible things that had been coming at him since the night of the attack.

Despite himself, his mind was amassing a list of things that supported Arthur's claim, like the crazy ghost girl who claimed that Matthew's presence was upsetting things and who might be knocking things over and messing up the nurse call button because of it. He'd never seen a ghost before, but something about her had been so real and impossible to ignore.

There were more things to support Arthur's claim, like the impossible thing that attacked Matthew in the first place-a wendigo, which was a thing out of legend itself. If wendigos walked the earth, as seemed evidenced by the fact that there were further disappearances and mutilated, half-eaten bodies around Crystal River, then why couldn't King Arthur and Gwaine and Merlin all exist?

It was time to get more information.

Dread pooled in Matthew's gut as he grabbed the remote and paused. He might have dreamed Cricket's visit, or at least the news report part. With that hopeful thought, he turned on the t.v. It was tuned to a local channel, where a continued special report was underway, one that looked like something from a sci-fi channel original movie.

The blurry home video was shot through a window, filming in a neighborhood where what looked like several wendigos were running loose down the street, flipping cars and chasing people into their homes.

The news anchor was trying to calmly narrate the video, but it was obviously a struggle to stay coherent. "As you can see, these things are dangerous in the extreme. Do not approach one. Let me repeat, this is a live feed from downtown. Yes, it is live and we're hearing that this very scenario is taking place in multiple areas around the city."

Matthew watched, terror building in his chest until he thought he would suffocate.

Several police officers had appeared ahead of the wendigos and were blocking their path, trying to force a stand-off. When they opened fire, the beasts jerked and bellowed,angered into charging forward. They downed three officers with massive swings of their hairy arms before they could be hit with enough bullets to take them down. One of them charged the camera and ran into a window, smashing its head through the glass. There were screams and then the screen went blank. The t.v. feed switched back to the news anchor.

"Bullets...uh, don't have much effect on the creatures, as you've just seen here," the anchor said, speaking louder over the noise of several voices talking off-screen urgently, and an alarm of some kind in the background. "The mayor is urging everyone to stay in their homes. Do not seek to aid the police in their attempts to bring down the creatures. Stay inside, lock your doors and stay safe. The National Guard should be arriving within minutes."

Across the bottom of the screen scrolled a warning in red: The creatures appear to be moving toward the downtown area. If you are in the downtown area-

Matthew jerked when a shrill ring sounded in the room. It was Arthur's cell phone and he jumped to his feet, crying out, "No!" He looked around wildly, only stopping when he saw Matthew safe in the bed. Then he fumbled at his vest pocket, cursing under his breath. "Hate these damn things. Arthur here. What is it?" His gaze sought out Matthew's, a question in his eyes.

Matthew was too freaked out to give him any reassurance. Instead, he pointed weakly at the television.

Arthur frowned and moved closer, his gaze moving to take in the report, eyes widening.

Then Gwaine was slamming through the door.

"We have to leave now," Gwaine said to Arthur. "Get your clothes on," he said to Matthew.

Arthur was watching the report, but he answered the person on the phone. "I'm seeing it right now."

Matthew nodded to Gwaine and slipped out of bed. The person talking to Arthur had to be Matthew's mother. She must be frantic.

The news anchor was still talking. "The beasts, which we are now learning might be the elusive wendigos of Native American myth, seem to be converging on one area. The warning has gone out to anyone living in or around the downtown area, you are in direct danger."

"That's us, mate," Gwaine said as he tossed Matthew his jeans. "This hospital is right in the middle of downtown."

Matthew nodded grimly and grabbed hold of his i.v. With a grimace and a jerk, he pulled out the line that had been feeding him nutrients and painkillers.

"Ouch," Gwaine said with a sympathetic wince.

"We'll head north and call you when we're in a safe place," Arthur said into his phone, his voice tight and controlled. "Don't worry, we'll get him out." Arthur said as he flipped his phone shut.

"Would have been easier yesterday," Gwaine grumbled, stopping right beside Arthur. "I told you we needed to get him out."

Arthur cursed under his breath. He studied the map on the t.v. intently, showing another live shot of the creatures as they wound their way through the city streets. "You were right, Gwaine. My apologies. It looks like we're going to have to fight our way out of here," Arthur said, briefly clapping a hand on Gwaine's arm.

Gwaine grinned. "That's the only upside I can see."

"Matthew, get dressed," Arthur snapped, and Matthew jerked back to attention. He slipped his shirt on over his head, moving slower as his thoughts caught up. He grabbed his phone and typed in a quick note, handing it to Gwaine to read.

Are those things coming for me?

Arthur gave Matthew a piercing look before answering, then went back to fiddling with his phone. "Of course they are."

"Don't worry," Gwaine said, slapping Matthew on the back, "that's why we're here. Strength and Courage on tap. Once you get your magic figured out again, we'll be unstoppable."

Matthew wanted to argue the point again but his attention was caught again by the television.

The station had switched back to the news anchor's report, where the circumstances were a challenge to his professional detachment. The anchor's tie was askew and he appeared to be sweating profusely. "The downtown area includes your local broadcasting station here and we are busy making preparations. As you can see behind me, our windows are being shuttered and our lights will shortly be dimmed. You do not want to call attention to yourself. Stay inside and do not seek to engage the creatures. They are dangerous."

Matthew heat in his chest again, and an uncomfortable sensation like ants crawling all over him. If those things were after him, it didn't matter where he went, right? The wendigos would follow. He gritted his teeth. Suddenly he was glad Cricket had left him; he hoped she was already safely on a flight out of town.

"We'll use this," Arthur said, grabbing Matthew's backpack and dumping all of his school things all over the bed. The heat in Matthew's chest twisted into anger.

He slammed his palm on the tray table in protest. No! he signed.

"We take only the necessities," Arthur snapped. "Now get your shoes on or I'll carry you out of here."

Matthew went stiff with fury. I am not a child! he signed.

"Stop that!" Arthur said, stepped closer. "I swore to protect you. Now do as I say." Their eyes locked for a long moment and Matthew saw desperation warring with resolve in Arthur's eyes.

Gwaine watched them. "Mate. You can't just order him around like that. He's Merlin. Even worse, he's American."

A siren broke the moment into bits and the moment was broken.

Gwaine cursed. "A warning, like the bells at the castle."

"We're out of time," Arthur concluded.

Matthew's fury fled and he dropped into the chair to put on his shoes. What was he even thinking? He wasn't mad at Arthur; he was mad at those hellish things for hunting him down like a...a...

"Matthew's mother said there was a GPS or something on here that would help us map our way out." Arthur was tapping at his phone.

Matthew grabbed the phone from him, navigated through the menus and found the map app, then handed it back to a surprised Arthur.

"Thank you."

Matthew eyed him a moment and then nodded in return.

Outside the door, the sounds from the hospital had slowly gotten louder without Matthew noticing. But when Tanya entered the room, Matthew could hear clear sounds of panic in the hallway.

"Good, you're already up, Matthew," she said, her usual placid pace replaced by brisk, decisive movements. "We're moving everyone into to the storm shelters. All you'll need is your..." she trailed off as she took in the bed covered in school supplies, the full bag in Gwaine's hand and the guilt in Matthew's expression. One hand went to her hip as she narrowed her eyes at them. "And just where do you think you're going?"

"We're heading-"

"I don't think so," she interrupted Arthur, holding up a single index finger. "Are you crazy? Did you not hear that siren? He is my patient and he has not recovered sufficiently to handle what is going on out there! No one can handle what's going on out there!"

Arthur took a deep breath and something in him...shifted. Matthew took a step back, shocked at how Arthur suddenly became...more, as if the breath he had pulled in was from another time and another place. "Listen carefully because what I am going to tell you is the truth, even if it sounds...crazy. These monsters are the reason we are here in the first place. They are hunting Matthew. They're converging on this point simply because he is here. It is in your best interest to release him."

Tanya's eyebrows shot up so high they crawled up under her bangs, but her expression said that she was not impressed. "Excuse me? Did I not make myself plain?" She shifted her significant girth. "Let me put it you more clearly. There is no way some smooth-talking, white, Prince William-wanna-be is going to come in here and tell me how to protect my patient from whatever the he-ell those things are!"

"Now." She walked over and took hold of Matthew's arm. "We are heading to the storm shelter. You are welcome to go fight them big ol' mamma-jammas outside on yo' own."

But Arthur was not done. He took in another breath and this time, all the light in the room seemed to pull to his side. His hair glowed, his eyes shone clear cobalt blue and his countenance was radiant with nobility. When he spoke, his voice was deep and stately and it echoed through the room, drowning all sound from outside.

"I am not who you think I am. He is not who you think he is. Trust me when I say that I will protect him. I am Arthur, the Once and Future King, and his life is more precious to me than my own."

There was complete silence in the room as the light dispersed and Arthur's glory slowly melted away. Matthew was surprised to find himself on his knees, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Tanya was on her knees beside him, her eyes wide and her face filled with wonder.

"King Arthur? In my hospital? My...God...I didn't even know. I can't even..."

Arthur looked disconcerted and moved quickly over to help her off her knees. He then extended a hand to Matthew, who was having a hard time meeting his eyes. "We must leave now. Do you understand?"

Tanya nodded, her eyes adoring. "Oh, absolutely, baby. I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time. You know how I am. Sometimes I get all mama bear about my patients, especially when they're this sweet." She gave Matthew a side hug. "You'll take good care of him. I know that."

She moved to the door as Gwaine patted Matthew on the shoulder. "He doesn't do that often, mate. Don't worry."

Tanya paused at the door and turned to look at them one more time. "Imagine that. King Arthur himself." She hummed in disbelief, smiled and moved out the door and into the chaos in the hallway.

Arthur had already moved to the window, pulling on his brown leather gloves. He looked out, eyes roving over the scenery. "East is this direction. Gwaine?"

Gwaine held up the bag, packed with Matthew's things. "Let's rock and roll."

"What?" Arthur stared at him.

"That's American for 'let's go.'" Matthew would have rolled his eyes, but he was still feeling off-balance after...whatever it was that Arthur had just done. It was impossible to not add spontaneous, magical kingliness it to the list proving the Merlin hypothesis. Damnit.

Arthur, after giving Gwaine a decided frown, led the way out the door and turned right into the hallway. Already, the hallway was emptying out as patients, visitors and nurses gathered in the storm shelters in the center of the hospital's walls.

Matthew gripped the shoulder straps of his backpack and tried to turn off his brain again. What Arthur had just done...what he had briefly turned into...well. Matthew couldn't think about that right now. Right now, they had to escape with their lives. To that end, he needed to stay alert and stay with Arthur and Gwaine.

Which was actually harder than it looked. Matthew was already breathing hard. Laying around in a hospital had not done wonders for his stamina. Arthur, on the other hand, led the way and it was obvious from his efficient movements that he was comfortable with danger. Or, actually, thrived in it. Matthew watched as Arthur edged open the door and checked the parking lot.

How does one go about making sure the path is safe from mythological monsters? Making sure nothing is flying around in the air would be a good start. Then listening for roars...

Arthur gestured and slipped out the door.

"That means go," Gwaine said, his now-gloved hand on Matthew's shoulder. Matthew nodded and moved forward, his blood spiking with adrenaline as soon as the doors of the hospital fell shut behind him. He felt vulnerable out here, like the goat on a chain outside the T-rex paddock in Jurassic Park.

Beside him, Gwaine paused and reached behind a tall, potted tree. He jerked at something and pulled two swords from their hiding spot. One, he shoved in the scabbard looped onto his belt. The other...

"Arthur," he said and held up the sword.

Time seemed to stop as Matthew stared. The high shine of silver gave way to gold in the center, and the edge was lined in flowing type of some kind. To Matthew's shock, Arthur held his hand up and the sword just...pulled away from Gwaine and landed in Arthur's hand with a loud thunk. Arthur moved forward without hesitation, giving just one glance and a smirk at Matthew.

Matthew was frozen, gaping.

"What's the matter," Gwaine said to him, grinning, "never seen a magic sword before?

Excalibur. Pretty famous, yeah? Got pulled out of a stone and everything."

"You're falling behind. Stop babbling," Arthur barked at Gwaine.

Matthew closed his mouth and followed Arthur while Gwaine once again took the rear

position. There were a few scattered cars screeching out of the parking lot in a rush, but no signs of the beasts yet.

Matthew's eyes were drawn back to Arthur's sword. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised. Why wouldn't someone claiming to be King Arthur have a sword named Excalibur?

A volley of shots rang out from behind them and Matthew whipped around, trying in vain

to find the source.

"From the other side," Gwaine called out, "move faster!"

Arthur reached back to grab Matthew and began to run, finally dropping his arm as they encountered the last double row of cars and began winding their way in-between. More shots and shouting came from their right. There was a large parking garage ahead that looked shadowy and creepy and Matthew really hoped that they were going to avoid.

"Head left," Arthur said in a low voice.

"But won't the ones on the right be more likely to be dead?" Gwaine hissed from behind.

Matthew found himself nodding.

"At this point, we don't know that there are any on the left. We do know there are some on the right. Ergo, we head left."

"Ah, but we do know there are some on the left."

Arthur speared Gwaine with a glance. "And just how to do we know that?"

"'Cause I'm lookin' at them," he said quietly.

Matthew's head snapped to the side just in time to see two of the beasts emerging from the neighborhood on the left. They slowed as they entered the parking lot, and moved their heads from side to side, sniffing at the wind. The taller one bent in their direction, its mongrel face screwed up in concentration. Then a spike of energy seemed to go through him, arching its back and sending a savage howl from his mouth.

Matthew jerked as answering howls came from all around.

"Bloody pack animals?" Gwaine asks, cursing as he propels Matthew to keep moving.

"It's simple," Arthur says counterintuitively. "I take one, you take the other. Then we get to the car however we can."

"I'll drive," Gwaine offered, looking wounded when Arthur snorted. "What? I'm a great driver!"

"Yes, but we'll want to avoid crashing into other cars," Arthur said, eyes on the coming attack. "Driving will be your job, Matthew. You do drive, correct?" Matthew nodded, his horror mounting as both the wendigos loped in their direction. He found himself grabbing on to Arthur's jacket and digging in, that feeling of hundreds of ants moving under his skin too strong for comfort. He wished he could do something other than panic.

But fear didn't even seem to enter Arthur's mind as pulled away from Matthew and climbed on the back of a '65 Mustang and over the top. Just as he reached the hood, the first creature was on him, swiping at him with one long, sinewy arm. Arthur met the swipe with a swing of his sword, and the creature was suddenly minus one arm. Enraged, it swung its other arm and promptly lost that as well. It leaned forward, slavering, jaw gaping to chomp off a bite of Arthur, but then its mouth was full of Excalibur and its brain was skewered and it was too dead to do anything else.

Matthew was still registering the cool merciless nature of Arthur's attack when the second wendigo reached Gwaine. It howled and raised both of its arms over its head, and Gwaine skewered it through the midsection. The creature stilled and blinked its round, black eyes in something like surprise. Then it ignored the weapon and attacked anyway, sending Gwaine flying.

Matthew scampered behind another car. Suddenly, Arthur was there, inserting himself between the wounded wendigo and Matthew. With one swipe, he sliced through the creature's chest, adding another gaping wound that made it falter and sink to its knees. One more swing of the sword and the creature was gone.

Arthur turned to Matthew, gore and fur clinging to him. "Let's go!" He wiped at his mouth, smearing it with blood, before helping Matthew get Gwaine up. "You all right?"

Gwaine nodded, but his run was a bit unsteady and Matthew worried about him. The wendigo had hit him like a freight train. They were so strong, and smelled so nasty. Matthew shuddered.

"The car is this way," Arthur yelled as he sprinted into the neighborhood. Apparently, parking had been sparse. Behind them, there were more shots and a long, drawn-out scream. Gwaine cursed.

"There it is." Arthur sprinted a few houses down and Matthew followed him, breathing like he had pneumonia. His ribs were hurting again.

A howl behind them gave them fair warning. Then, there were shouts, more gunfire and the sound of bodies impacting cars. Matthew sucked in air as quickly as he could and then he was collapsing against the beat-up station wagon Gwaine had claimed as theirs.

"Get in!" Arthur said, tossing him the keys.

Now this, Matthew could do. He opened the door, slid behind the wheel and started the car while the other two waited in the road, standing guard. Though the body of the car was pretty beat-up and atrociously avocado in color, the engine purred and Matthew felt a quiver of excitement. He pulled out, then put it in reverse and backed up with a screech of tires.

Rolling down the window, he banged on the hood of the car to get their attention. The wendigos had just cleared the parking lot and were loping toward them. Gwaine and Arthur dove in, shouting furiously and Matthew took off while they were still shutting their doors.

The pack of wendigos was only ten yards back, despite a small army of police and soldiers firing at them with every step. They seemed to be slowing down.

Matthew swerved a car in the middle of the road and saw a blur come at him from a side street. He slammed on the brakes, throwing out his arm to keep Arthur from plastering his face against the windshield. Arthur cursed and they both found themselves staring down a wendigo.

It stared back at them, head cocked.

"Why isn't it attacking?" Gwaine asked.

"I don't think it can smell us in here," Arthur said in a low voice. Matthew was still shaking slightly, adrenaline rushing through his veins as the creature raised its arms and slammed them down on the hood of the car, roaring. Matthew put the car in reverse and, after a moment the creature followed. Damn.

"Don't want to go this way, mate. They're almost here," Gwaine warned.

Matthew slammed to a stop and put the car in first, turning the wheel sharply to go around the creature. The back wheels spun before gripping the road and propelling them forward. The car lurched to the side of the creature before running over one its prominent feet.

They sped down the road, grins breaking over their faces at the sight of a wendigo hopping around on one foot and holding the other. In another moment, several more of the creatures had appeared, circling around the injured one, looking confused.

"Why aren't they following?" Gwaine asked.

"I think it's because Matthew's in the vehicle, closed off where his scent can't get picked up as well," Arthur said. "I'm beginning to like these...cars, even if they are incredibly noisy and ugly." Matthew sent him a disparaging look. "Don't look at me like that. One day you'll remember what it was like to ride a horse everywhere and you'll understand." Arthur's glance had turned fond and Matthew looked away, back to the road. He risked one more look at the would-be king and caught his eye.

"What is it?" Arthur asked.

Matthew gestured at his forehead. He'd tried to stop Arthur from hitting the windshield, but hadn't been completely successful.

"I'm fine. Just a bump. Keep your eyes on the road."

After a few more minutes on the road, Matthew showed them how to put on their seat belts, but had to settle for only Arthur putting one on. Gwaine refused on the grounds that he was a grown man and didn't need "restraining straps". Matthew was tempted to stomp on the brakes again now that the man had settled himself to lean in between the two front seats to look ahead. He resisted the temptation.

Once again, he gave Arthur a look, and was surprised by how quickly he could communicate his question without hands or words.

"Where are we going?" Arthur interpreted correctly, to Matthew's surprise. "To see a friend, or well, the descendant of a friend."

"You found him?" Gwaine asked in surprise.

Arthur cocked his head. "It doesn't seem likely, does it? Maybe magic is on our side."

"Percival. Remember him at all?" Gwaine's eyes were piercing where they caught Matthew's in the rearview mirror. Large bloke? Big heart? No? Well, you knew him and served his great-great-great-whatsit-or-other for much of his life. Kept him alive. Thought you'd be glad to know that his line survived even after you went back into the woods for a while. His descendents, though they don't outnumber mine by a long shot, well, they're still around, only here in America instead of Australia."

"Australia?" Arthur asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"Where else would my people live? Whole country full of criminals and free spirits, at least it was when it started."

"That actually makes perfect sense," Arthur said. "I think I've got the address locked in on this ithing," handing the phone to Matthew. "Just follow that map."

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