A fist was slammed on the meeting room's table with considerable force, making the cups on it rattle. 'What the hell is going on here?' You didn't need to be an expert on Harry Pearce's moods to know that he was angry and dangerously so. 'He is telling me that Morgana is on the loose in London,' a finger was pointed in Arthur's direction, 'and now you're telling me Bob Hogan is causing chaos as well.' This time it was Ros that was on the receiving end of Harry's glare.
'It is both true, Harry,' the Section Chief replied. Arthur greatly admired her ability to remain calm in the face of such a crisis. 'According to Marlin, they are working together.'
Harry's next bang on the table made one cup actually topple over. It crashed to the ground, shattering in hundreds of pieces. 'And would that be the same Marlin that lied to us about today's attack being a dry run, Rosalind?'
'It makes sense,' Merlin cut in, earning him Arthur's respect for doing such a thing in the face of the section head's fury. 'Marlin described her to me. There is no way that woman can be any other than Morgana.'
'I am sure there are countless women out there who look exactly like the woman that bloody traitor described,' Harry said dismissively. 'Any other ideas?'
'I don't think we should rule out Russian involvement,' Connie spoke up.
She was slapped down as well, by Ros this time. 'Can we leave the sodding Russians alone for once, Connie?' She was not as angry as her boss, but Arthur could tell she was on edge, very much like she had been right before the operation that had only been concluded hours ago. 'That woman is probably Morgana. If Merlin says so, I tend to believe him.'
Arthur was obviously not the only one taken aback by that vote of confidence. Judging from the faces around him it was very unusual for this woman to ever put her faith in anyone, let alone someone so new to the team as Merlin.
'I am sure it is her,' Merlin repeated. 'Marlin told me she could do magic. From what I gather there aren't any people left who can do that these days.' The sorcerer's expression turned sad as he said that.
'But how can she be in league with Bob Hogan?' Jo spoke the name as if it was some kind of contagious disease, something poisonous even. Arthur had never heard of someone called that, but whoever it was clearly had some kind of history with MI-5. Ben looked disgusted, Connie disapproving, Harry furious and Ros's hands had been clenched into fists. Lucas appeared to be the only one other than Merlin and himself not knowing who the mysterious Bob Hogan was.
'I think she might have dreamed about him,' Merlin spoke up after a lengthy silence. 'Morgana is a seer.' That earned him a lot of confused looks from the rest of the team. 'It means that she can see the future in her dreams,' he clarified. 'Her finding the portal might not have been a coincidence either, not with her powers anyway.'
That had struck Harry speechless for a while.
'But how did she get Hogan to cooperate?' Lucas asked. The spook's eyes were alert, the expression on his face one of concentration and determination. Not for the first time Arthur noticed how devoted he was to his job. It was almost as if he had nothing else to live for. And the same was true for Ros and Harry.
'Revenge on us, hunger for power, or money.' Ros shrugged. 'You name it. Hogan was a bastard long before today.' To this Jo nodded fervently.
'So, we think they work together for power?' Ben summarised.
And Harry's fist came down on the table again. 'We think? We think? Are we playing Guess Who? We are bloody MI-5, people! We know!'
But at the moment they knew nothing, nothing at all, apart from what Marlin had told them and they all knew it. Well, at least that was one thing they could know, even if it wasn't the most cheerful realisation in the world.
'So, what do you suggest we do then?' Lucas demanded, angered by Harry's outburst. 'Do you want us to sit back and wait while they wreak more havoc or do you want us to get off our bloody backsides and do everything in our power to find them?'
Harry's face started to look a colour remarkably close to purple, so Ros took it upon herself to step in. 'Right, Malcolm, try to find anything you can about Hogan's recent whereabouts. Connie, you assist him. Ben, I want you to arrange a meet with the CIA people. We need to know how far they are involved in this. They might know nothing…'
'Or they're in this up to their eyeballs,' Lucas finished.
Ros nodded. 'Or even further,' she remarked dryly. Arthur got the feeling she wasn't particularly fond of the CIA, and neither was the rest of the team. 'In the meantime I'll need the two of you to tell us everything about Morgana that might possibly be of relevance.'
It was silent as the three people who had already been assigned tasks left the meeting room. Arthur searched his memory for facts about his half-sister that could possibly be of use to them in finding out what she was up to and where she might be hiding. The frown in Merlin's forehead told him that his manservant was doing the very same thing.
'Morgana fears me,' the warlock suddenly spoke up.
Arthur's head swivelled in Merlin's direction, as did every other head in the room. 'I beg your pardon? Does she know about your magic?' And to think that she found out even earlier than I did.
'No,' Merlin said immediately. 'Or yes, but she doesn't know that it is me.'
What on earth was he really saying here? 'Merlin, feel free to start making sense any time now.' The spooks were also thoroughly confused looking by now.
'She knows me by my disguise,' Merlin clarified. 'I tend to disguise myself as an old man whenever I need to do something and I can't be recognised.'
A few more dots started to make a connection. If he wasn't careful that was all he was doing today. 'Hang on, you're Dragoon the Great?' Now that Merlin told him it was all rather obvious. They had the same eyes and the same disrespect for all royalty. Still it wasn't nice to have been insulted by his very own manservant in disguise. 'So you think you could actually get away with calling me a spoilt arrogant prat with the face of a donkey and the brains of a toad?'
Merlin looked surprised. 'You actually remember that?'
Harry's fist collided with the table again. 'Focus, people!'
'Right,' Merlin said. 'Well, the point is that someone apparently told her the name the Druids know me by and she thinks that my old man disguise is actually him, Emrys. She hasn't realised yet that he is also me. So we might be able to use that.'
'And she wouldn't think it strange to see her archenemy walking around in London?' Ros inquired sarcastically.
'She thinks Emrys is haunting her every step,' Merlin shot back, making Arthur wonder what else he had missed out on. 'And if it comes to a duel I know I can win.'
Arthur frowned, not liking the sound of this. 'And how exactly would you be so sure about that, Merlin?' he demanded. 'It's not like you have ever really fought her, have you?'
The warlock didn't meet his eyes as he replied. 'Well, about that…' His voice trailed off. 'I may have encountered her as Dragoon the Great and we fought and I kind of won, so I guess…'
'You fought Morgana? And you won?' Arthur was trying to determine which of those two surprised him more. 'Is there something else you may have forgotten to tell me as well?'
Merlin offered him a wide smile. 'Ehm, I knocked you out with magic, stole your keys with magic and I may have stolen your dinner once as well, using magic.'
Arthur's jaw dropped. 'What?'
Lucas coughed, although Arthur strongly suspected him to be laughing. He had his head turned in the other direction, so it was hard to make out.
'That's enough,' Harry told them. The head of the section was actually looking nervous, so Arthur stored away the questions he by now was dying to ask away.
That of course was the moment everything went dreadfully wrong. The doors were opened by Ben. The young man's features were looking positively distressed. 'I think you had better come and see this.'
Seeing the video for the third time didn't make it any easier to watch, Merlin decided. His eyes were fixed on the television screen on the Grid, trying to make sense of what he saw. There was an annoying female voice commenting on the things that happened on the screen, but Merlin took no notice, not really anyway.
All he could see now was the woman that had positioned herself in front of the cameras in front of the now no longer existing Tube station. The news item had been dealing with something Merlin couldn't quite recall anymore, something about the tubes being under construction. That had abruptly finished as the woman dressed in black in the background had interrupted. Her eyes had flashed gold and then the place just exploded, causing the camera to black out. The warlock was surprised the camera had even survived the explosion.
The rest of the team was standing there in shocked silence, too shocked to speak or do anything else besides staring at the screen in pure disbelief.
Harry was the first one to break the silence. 'Please tell me I didn't just see a woman blowing up a London tube station on my television.' The sarcasm was too obvious to miss.
Merlin tried to show some kind of smile in order to break the tension, even when he hadn't felt so miserable in days. 'Ehm, you didn't?'
It didn't work. It only made the section head look like he was about to explode, again. 'Do you want to get taken out and shot?' he demanded.
'No thanks,' he muttered.
'Thought so. Play that back.'
Nobody dared to refuse. Merlin didn't feel the need to watch it a fourth time, but he told himself that this was really not the time to behave like a child. This was dead serious and for all intents and purposes he was a member of this team now. And now that Morgana was involved, there was just no way he would be going back to Camelot.
Arthur, however, was another matter entirely. The king needed to get out of here, as soon as possible too. If Morgana found out that Arthur was here, that was if she hadn't already, there would be hell to pay.
He looked at the screen, trying to see something they had not already seen, even though Merlin could picture all the details inside his head. First the reporter talking, then Morgana walking into sight, that smirk on her face, the ice in her eyes, looking right at the camera. Then her eyes would flash gold and the screen would fill with visions of smoke and rubble, very much like the market place he had been in today.
'Stop,' Harry ordered just before Morgana had the chance to blow up the entire station again. 'Malcolm, can you enhance the face of that man in the background? Just behind Morgana?' Well, at least the head of Section D didn't doubt any longer that the woman they were looking at was Morgana. Even if he hadn't been told by Marlin that she was here, Merlin would have recognised her, and so would Arthur. In fact the king had gone into a full-blown tantrum the moment he had seen who was the person responsible for all that destruction, all those dead people…
He blocked it out. It wouldn't do anyone any good if he started wallowing in grief and guilt. Instead he focused on the face of the man Malcolm was now trying to make better visible. Merlin had no idea what exactly he did with the picture but it suddenly appeared on the screen, looking much better than it had before. This was the kind of picture you could actually recognise someone from.
The man they were looking at was probably around Harry's age, bordering on fat, with cunning light-coloured eyes. If anything, Merlin would say there was evil lurking in those eyes. This man was intelligent, he guessed.
'Bob Bloody Hogan,' Ros hissed, speaking the name as if it was some kind of poison.
'Wait, the one Marlin mentioned?' Merlin cut in. 'What's he doing here?'
'He holds us responsible for ending his career with the CIA,' Connie told him, looking rather indignant. 'He made up for it by helping a criminal group abduct some of our officers.'
Merlin's head swivelled in Jo's direction. He remembered Jo telling him last night that she had been abducted by some kind of criminal group. Bob Hogan was the missing piece in that puzzle.
She caught him looking and gave a barely visible nod in confirmation.
'What?' Arthur exclaimed. 'Then why isn't he locked up? Surely the Americans would have had him thrown in prison for that?'
That were Merlin's thoughts exactly. He had heard bits and pieces about the CIA and the United States so far, enough to know that nobody here was particularly fond of either of them. Ros especially seemed to have taken a strong dislike towards them, for reasons he could not yet understand. Something had happened in the past, but Ros was about as open as a stubborn oyster, so he didn't think he would ever find out, unless Jo felt up to sharing again.
Harry's eyes were sparking with righteous rage. 'That's what I want to know as well.' If that glare had the power to kill through the screen, that would have saved them a lot of trouble, because both Morgana and Hogan would be dead in that case. One might think that angry and grumpy was Harry Pearce's default setting, but Merlin was used to dealing with Arthur Pendragon. The king was often moody and irritable, especially in crisis situations (and just after sunrise as a rule), but when it came down to it, his first concern was the safety of his people. It struck Merlin that both leaders were very much alike in that respect.
'What do you want us to do, Harry?' Lucas asked. He stood a little further off, arms crossed over his chest. The spook had that look in his eyes that said he would like to do nothing more than to kill Morgana and Hogan on the spot and be done with it. Once again the warlock made a mental note never to underestimate this man. Lucas usually came across as a charming, easy-going kind of fellow, but there was a lot of hurt, anger and resentment lying underneath the surface, only showing in situations like these.
'You go and find out where the hell our dynamic duo is hiding out,' Harry ordered. He then turned towards Arthur. 'How do you feel about being a liaison officer with the CIA for the next few days?'
Arthur clearly hadn't seen that one coming. 'Eh…' was the very intelligent sounding reply that came out in the end.
'It involves lots of shouting,' Harry told the king. 'You were made for the job.'
'But he can't stay,' Merlin interjected. 'Morgana is here now. We need to get him out of the way before she can get to him.'
All heads now swivelled in Merlin's direction. 'Since when are you so concerned about my wellbeing, Merlin?' Arthur demanded.
Merlin stared back at his king stubbornly. 'Since it's my destiny to protect you.'
'I beg your pardon?' Arthur shouted.
'Long story,' Merlin muttered. 'The point is that you are the king of Camelot, you should have been back home almost two days ago and now Morgana is here. As soon as she finds out you're here as well, she'll certainly try to kill you. You'll need to return to Camelot as soon as possible.'
Arthur was about to protest this, but then Ros nodded. 'He's right. The king will attract far too much attention here. He'll draw that bloody witch straight to us.'
Lucas shook his head. 'She may very well know already,' he argued. 'Why else would she have allied herself with a man who lives to get his revenge on MI-5? She doesn't know us personally and there must be a reason why she does what she is currently doing.'
Merlin privately agreed with Ros, but Lucas had a point as well.
'I'm not going anywhere,' Arthur stubbornly stated. 'If it's me Morgana is after, we stand a much better chance of catching her here than in Camelot. Let's face this, Merlin, we do have better means to find and defeat her than we will ever have in Camelot. We cannot afford to let it slip through our fingers now.'
Since when did Arthur know how to make sense? 'What will happen in Camelot without you?' he shot back. What will Agravaine do now that Arthur is out of the picture for a while? 'There is still a traitor in Camelot who might take advantage of your absence.'
Arthur raised his eyebrows. 'Big words, Merlin. Do you even know what they mean?'
'It means that you're being a dollophead, as usual, not seeing that in Camelot you're probably seen as missing now and there are probably a lot of people who are going to use that.' Why couldn't Arthur just understand that?
'And you have no intention of going back with me,' Arthur understood. 'Forget it, Merlin. We'll deal with Morgana. We just send a message to the council telling them things took longer than we thought. Agravaine will take good care of the kingdom until we return.' That was his king's voice and Merlin knew him long enough there would be no arguing now.
Oh, Agravaine will take care of the kingdom, just not the way you want to. 'And how am I supposed to send a message?' he demanded.
Arthur snorted. 'Are you a sorcerer or not? Figure something out.' And, spotting Merlin's still clueless face, he added: 'Don't they have carrier pigeons here?'
'We do,' Jo nodded.
'Although I doubt they know the way to Camelot,' Merlin finished.
Arthur looked at him as if he was the most stupid person on earth. 'You are a sorcerer, right?' This was followed by an annoyed snort. 'Can't you just enchant it to fly in the right direction?'
Merlin had become used to dealing with surprises, but hearing Arthur talk about his magic so casually, almost as if it were normal, that beat it all. 'You… you want me to use magic?' he stammered. He knew Arthur had accepted or at the very least tolerated the fact that he had magic, but he hadn't seemed all that enthusiastic about it all just now, in the meeting. The fact that Arthur was now more or less ordering him to do magic was a completely new experience to him.
The snort that the king let out was now more impatient than annoyed. 'Yes, Merlin, or are you deaf as well as dumb?'
Some people might have taken this as an insult, but Merlin recognised it for what it was: the full acceptance of his magic and his king's permission to actively use it. His face split in a wide grin that not even Morgana could take from him.