Merlin had very little trouble establishing that neither Ros nor Arthur enjoyed climbing on the back of a dragon. Arthur was a little paler than he usually was and his hand kept creeping back towards his sword. Merlin pretended that he didn't notice. After what had happened he did not expect Arthur to be happy to call Kilgharrah to his aid. It was only because Lucas's life was at stake that he was willing to ask the help from one he considered a mortal enemy of Camelot. It stung a bit to know that he had every reason to think like that.
Ros had no history with the Great Dragon, but she too seemed none too pleased with the prospect of flying. But she at least knew how to handle herself. Her facial expression was neutral. She had been in ice queen mode since the start of this operation; focused, taciturn and utterly determined to deal with this. And Merlin strongly suspected that dealing with this in this case was just a euphemism for killing Morgana.
The warlock was not entirely sure how he felt about that, but he would admit that such a course of action might just be necessary. Morgana was a dangerous witch and Merlin did not doubt that if she was given as much as half a chance she would kill Lucas. That of course was the very reason they were going after him without his knowledge or consent, the only reason why king and Section Chief were prepared to put up with a dragon's presence.
'Can you try to stay out of sight?' Merlin asked when Kilgharrah flew up. 'Morgana will probably run when she sees you.'
The dragon made an indignant noise. Merlin had briefed him on the current situation while Arthur and Ros were still attempting to find a comfortable spot on the scales of Kilgharrah's back. He had looked more and more disapproving with every passing second, something which Merlin had pretended not to see. Kilgharrah had his own reasons for doing what he did, but Merlin did not necessarily have to agree with those. He had been the one to tell Merlin that Morgana had to die and Merlin all too well remembered where that had led him. It was partly because of that advice that they were in the situation they currently were in. Merlin had not quite forgotten that.
'I hope you know what you are doing, young warlock.' By the sound of it Kilgharrah was still very displeased. 'You took a great risk in meddling with time itself. There are few who have dared to attempt such a thing and even fewer still who attempted it successfully.'
But I am not just anybody. I am Emrys. Seated on a dragon's back, flying over the lake, he felt almost invincible. And it was an added bonus that he did not need to keep his magic a secret during the confrontation that was to come. Everyone involved already knew about his powers and that was both frightening and exciting. Merlin usually took great care to hide his powers, but now he would use them out in the open for everyone to see.
'Morgana meddled with time,' he replied. 'I did not.' He knew that was a lie before he had even finished that sentence. He had meddled with time. He had done so from the moment he had made that first deal with the spies of Section D that they help him catch Agravaine in exchange for Merlin's magical help on one of their own operations. Admittedly it had been Morgana who forced his hand eventually. She had been the one to create the portal in the first place, she had been the one to start the Al-Qaeda operation that had eventually led to Lucas going to meet Morgana on his own and the three of them going after her.
But Merlin knew what the Great Dragon meant, because he somehow seriously doubted that Morgana was destined to meet her end in such a fashion. Meddling with time was a dangerous thing, because it could alter the course of the entire future. And he was just ignoring that. Surely that was a dangerous thing to be doing, but Merlin could not help but think that in the end it would all be worth it. If Morgana could be stopped, then the future must be changed for the better.
'You did as well, Merlin,' Kilgharrah said. He was flying, so he could not look back at him, for which Merlin was grateful. Dragonlord or not, those huge eyes had the power to unnerve him and make him question his own judgement. He had made that mistake before and the consequences had been catastrophic. He would not do such a foolish thing again.
'If we end Morgana now,' he began. In spite of everything that had happened, despite everything that she had done, he still could not bring himself to refer to Morgana's intended demise as killing. Killing sounded like it was a crime and this was going to be hard enough as it was without burdening the deed with such a term. 'If we end Morgana now, then it will be worth it.'
He would still feel the regret over having to end her life, because a part of him knew he had to be the one to do it. He had been the person to have allowed her to become like this in the first place, so therefore it should be him that ended it, no matter how painful it would be. Because Merlin would regret it, would regret the very need for it.
'This is something the prophecies have never foretold,' the dragon remarked. The tone of voice was still laced with disapproval.
'Did they say this cannot happen?' Merlin countered. The future wasn't set in stone. That was one thing he had learned from his time in London, if nothing else. And he even wondered if the prophecies about Morgana had not only come true because he had made them. He had been so scared that she would become an enemy of Camelot that he had deliberately kept her in the dark about her powers and his own. If he had been honest with her from the start, none of this would have happened. Merlin decided he was done letting himself be led by prophecy and destiny. 'I am willing to take the risk.'
He was. Good grief, he really was. It felt like everything was coming together now. If they succeeded today, then Camelot would be free of the biggest threat it had seen in its history. Morgana may have opened the portal to the twenty-first century, but in doing so she may have signed her own death warrant.
'You need to be careful, young warlock.' Kilgharrah was his annoying self again.
'When am I ever not?' Merlin inquired sarcastically.
Careful he may be, but he was rash as well. This entire plan was completely reckless, but if they would succeed, it would be well worth it. Maybe Kilgharrah was right and the dawn of Albion was near at hand. But they would still need to make it past today and that for the moment did the job of dampening Merlin's spirits. Morgana was dangerous and resourceful. To underestimate her would be the biggest mistake they could possibly make and Merlin was determined not to fall into that trap. And she might just hold Lucas hostage and that was something Merlin was rather afraid of. Morgana lacked anything even approaching a conscience lately and she would have no problems using Lucas as a shield.
He looked down, watching as the water passed under them. If they were to fall now, as Ros and Arthur visibly were still fearing, they would at least land softly, or as softly as was possible. The Isle however was coming closer and Merlin felt his stomach tying itself into tight knots.
'Can you fly a little lower?' he asked. 'I don't want Morgana to see us.' He was fairly sure that his spell to cover them all from Morgana's magical spying was still holding and the last thing he wanted now was for her to learn of their presence because of their own stupidity. If his plan had one flaw, then it would be that arriving on a dragon was not the least conspicuous way he could have come up with. But there was not really a list of other options, so he had to make do with the ones that were open to him and just hope that Morgana was too preoccupied to notice the rather large dragon arriving at the Isle.
Kilgharrah wasn't happy to be treated like a glorified horse, but he complied with Merlin's request all the same. If Morgana was where Merlin guessed she was, then the ruined walls would obscure them from view. He knew the witch, knew she had a love of theatrics, so his guess would be that she confronted Lucas in the main courtyard. He had been there himself a few times, none of which were pleasant memories, so he was more or less familiar with the layout of the island itself. And there were enough walls still standing to keep them out of Morgana's sight.
'We're nearly there,' he told his two allies, looking over his shoulder.
By the looks of things Arthur was very grateful for that fact. The king of Camelot looked positively seasick, even if that word seemed wholly inappropriate for someone who was airborne at the moment. Well, there was water, he was just not on it. Ros did not seem to have the time of her life either, but in her case it was probably just because she was worried about her colleague. After all, she had done nothing but worrying about him since the decision that Lucas would go undercover had first been made.
Kilgharrah kept descending, apparently heading for a strip of land before one of the ruins. If Merlin remembered correctly, that was still quite a way from the courtyard where he suspected Morgana to be, but there was very little choice. If they landed any closer, Morgana would realise their presence and she would flee and then they would be back to where they started, with no clues to go on this time.
The warlock could hear Arthur exhale in relief when the Great Dragon touched ground again and he could climb back down. Merlin himself rather enjoyed flying. It was a rare occurrence, since Kilgharrah was none too fond of being used as a horse. It felt like he was free from all the troubles that plagued him on the ground below. It allowed him to think more clearly and that was not an excessive luxury when one's destiny was to keep Arthur Pendragon out of trouble, a man who by all accounts seemed to attract and embrace trouble itself if given as much as half a chance.
Ros too was quick to get back to the solid ground again. She gave the dragon a curt acknowledging nod, but it was obvious that she was not very fond of him. Merlin had looked over his shoulders a few times while they had been in the air and he could tell from that dismissive scowl that she did not approve of his sentimental chatter about destinies and prophecies. Ros Myers was just not the kind of woman to believe in such things. Merlin was not truly surprised.
'Thank you,' he told Kilgharrah. And he meant it. Without his help they would never have made it here and he was only too aware of that. 'I will not forget this.' And with any luck, Arthur would not forget it either. If he was very lucky indeed, Arthur might just change his lifelong opinion about magic after this operation. He did not know how likely that was, but he could always hope.
'Can you bloody well hurry up already?' Merlin did not even need to turn around to know who had spoken those words. Ros, he decided, was on edge, bordering on nervous. That was very unlike her, but in this case also understandable. She felt like they were wasting time and maybe they were. There was just one thing she failed to see and that was that one did not simply turn one's back on such a powerful magical creature like Kilgharrah when aforementioned magical creature had just helped them. But Ros would call that sentimentality and point out that such things did not have a place in her line of work.
'I am coming,' Merlin said. 'Thank you again.' Just because he was a Dragonlord did not mean he could abuse that power and for all their sakes it was best to remain on Kilgharrah's good side. They might need him again before all of this was over.
'What you are about to do might change the future of Albion forever, young warlock,' Kilgharrah warned.
Merlin inwardly moaned. He already knew this and he also wished that his ally, because that was what he was, would not choose now of all moments to be so annoyingly cryptic. And it wasn't something he did not know already. But he meant his words too: if they succeeded here today, then changing destiny, throwing prophecy to the wind, it would all be worth the risk. And there was something incredibly exciting and liberating about being able to make his decisions for himself.
Kilgharrah took off, leaving Merlin alone with Ros and Arthur. Neither of them had spoken much during the encounter with the dragon and neither of them seemed particularly pleased with the need for said dragon. Come to think of it, both Ros and Arthur seemed to dislike magic in general. Given their experiences with it, Merlin found he could hardly blame them for thinking the way they did, but he would not deny that it hurt him. He was trying so hard to prove them wrong, but so far he had not been very successful.
'Do you know where to go?' Ros demanded. Her hand was grasping her gun as if it was the only thing keeping her alive and she might be right in that assumption. If Morgana showed up, their reflexes could mean the difference between life and death. He had seen for himself that Morgana could be hurt by bullets. Ros's weapon of choice may not be entirely useless against her.
Merlin nodded. This place was a maze, but his sense of direction was distinctly better than Arthur's and he had already been here twice before. And he could always use a little magic trick if he wasn't entirely sure about where to go. Of course it was better not to mention that fact to Ros.
'Follow me,' he said. He felt confident now, even if it was still mixed up with nerves. But this was a place he knew and if he was clever, he could use the magic already present here to his advantage. This fight was not yet lost and Merlin was determined to come out as a victor this time.
'Hello, Morgana,' Lucas could hear himself say as he took in the sight of the witch standing next to the stone altar in the middle of the square. She looked exactly the same as the last time he had seen her: the same messy hair, the same old and dirty black dress and the same pale complexion. Morgana did not spend a lot of time in the sun, but that only justified a certain amount of paleness. This looked more like exhaustion to Lucas. The dark shadows under her eyes only confirmed that theory.
And she was still injured. The dress had been torn by the bullet and Lucas could see the bandages underneath. He would have imagined that such a wound would not take a sorceress such as Morgana much time to heal, but it would seem he had been mistaken. If she had the power to heal such an injury, she would have done so. The spook imagined that the wound must hurt, speaking from experience, and she had not been able to get any decent rest lately. Maybe that was because of the pain, but Lucas thought it more likely to be because of the failings of her plans.
And that would make sense, because her goal to take over Camelot meant everything to her. It was more than just her life's ambition. It was her ultimate goal, the purpose of her very existence. She needed it, desperately needed it for reasons Lucas could not even begin to comprehend, and now it had been taken from her.
And this made her vulnerable, receptive to the things he was about to say to her. A part of him felt almost guilty that he would have to break this young woman. When it really came down to it, she was just a confused and misled girl who had far too much power for her own good. Delusional people should not wield such magic. They could not be trusted with it. But it did not make Lucas pity her any less.
Stockholm Syndrome, Harry would call it and that of course was the very reason he had not made any mention of this. He would never have been allowed to do this if he had given off the signs. And it would be an asset in persuading Morgana to see his side of the story, after which he would betray her again. That would be his revenge. And at the same time he would feel sorry for her, just like Merlin did too, even if the warlock was not the kind of person to admit to that, not even to himself probably.
For a moment Morgana's calm composure lay in pieces on the ground. 'What are you doing here?' She tried to sound harsh and commanding, but she failed rather spectacularly. The confusion ruled her voice.
'I think you know.' Lucas's answer could be interpreted in various ways, which was what he was counting on. The less lies he would have to tell, the more plausible his story became and the more likely Morgana was to buy it.
She was pulling herself back together, but she never regained that untouchable air she had about her before. The injury must be hurting her. One hand was lying on it, made to be look casual, but Lucas was not fooled. The other hand was resting on the altar for support. That meant that for the time being she would not be firing any spells at him. He had thrown her off balance enough to talk to her and try to convince her to see his point. This attitude could change in a matter of seconds though, so he was careful to remain vigilant. He had underestimated her before and that mistake had almost cost him his life. He was none too anxious to repeat the experience.
The witch shook her head. 'No.' The tone was decisive, far too decisive for Lucas's liking. 'You are a traitor.'
Lucas conjured up a sad smile, a little alarmed that he managed to do so without too much effort. 'Why else would I be here?' he asked of her. He figured that Morgana might suspect that he had been sent in – if only by himself – to try and turn her as he had been before, but that was such a hare-brained scheme that he did not believe that she would truly believe it. After all, who would be as foolish as to try and work the same plan twice on the same victim, especially when aforementioned plan had gone horribly wrong the first time around? It was foolish and reckless, one of the main reasons why Harry was so opposed to it, but it could just work because it was so foolish and reckless. And he was counting on that.
So far it seemed this scheme was working. Morgana was looking at him, eyes narrowed, clearly wondering what on earth he was playing at. Like before she could not work him out and that could be both an asset and a setback. If she had no idea what Lucas was doing, her suspicion might easily get the upper hand, but the hesitation could also make her stall, long enough for him to convince her. And it did help that she needed all the help she could get, even if it came from a traitor like him.
'You cannot be trusted.' It was a clear sign that she was very injured that she had yet to move. When he had met her before, Morgana had always been moving about, walking around him, almost never standing still. When she had been unmoving, that was because she was lounging in some chair or other. The trademark smirk also was absent. From time to time she even grimaced in pain. Yes, getting hit by a bullet and being unable to get the required medical attention would do that to a person.
Lucas snorted. 'Now where have I heard that before?' he asked sarcastically.
That sparked Morgana's interest. A shadow of the well-known smirk found its way onto her face. 'Your friends don't trust you either.' She nodded, half-smiling as if she just had a light bulb moment, even if those were not yet invented in this day and age. 'They think you're still working for me, even after…' She trailed off.
Even after you nearly tortured me to death. It took all his willpower not to clench his hands into fists at the memory. The flashbacks were lurking somewhere in the back of his mind as well and those wouldn't do either. He could do weak and delusional, but he would not humiliate himself if it was not strictly required by the operation. He had some dignity left.
He smiled wryly. 'You have no idea what that little world is like, have you?' he asked. 'You're a risk as soon as the "enemy" gets their hands on you. Because an enemy will try to extract information from their prisoner, and sometimes, under great duress, the prisoner gives it to his interrogator.' Lucas and Morgana both knew that he had done no such thing, but the witch was a clever woman, even though she was highly delusional. She would understand that this was what his colleagues thought, not what had happened for real.
And, so very like the stories he had spun her before, this was awfully close to the truth as well. It was not spoken about, but that was merely because the on-going operation took precedence over his debriefing. Lucas did not think Ros believed he had leaked classified information during his captivity, either willingly or under duress. The Section Chief was very like him in many ways and one of those things was that neither of them would give up their secrets. She understood. And Lucas had not been giving away intelligence in Russia, not even after eight long years, and he would not do so after only twenty-four hours of pure hell in Morgana's hovel.
It did however not stop Harry from suspecting it, even if he did not suspect willingly. But he had been in this job for decades and expecting the worst had become second nature to him. It was a healthy trait in a spy, but Lucas could not deny that this distrust did hurt, more than he was willing to admit even to himself.
But close to the truth or not, he had Morgana's undivided attention now and that was what he had been hoping for. It was like the first time he had gone to her; she was intrigued, unable to stop herself from being curious, allowing him to wriggle his way in. This was working. And so he strung her along. 'But that's not really the thing they fear most,' he told the witch, keeping his eyes on her. 'What they fear most is that a prisoner might be turned by their captor. You see, this prisoner is weak, isolated, despairing, so he will take any chance to escape, even if that means working for the person who kept him captive in the first place.'
Again, it was close to the truth, too close perhaps. It was how he had gotten out of Russia, by agreeing to spy for the FSB, or, more specifically, Arkady Kachimov. He knew that there were people who ended up really doing it. Lucas however had not been one of them. Maybe it was because he considered Section D the only home he had, maybe because he was stronger than most. He didn't know and he did not particularly care.
'But even if it doesn't go like that, there's always this thing called Stockholm Syndrome,' he went on. Now he was the one walking, pacing. It would give Morgana the impression that he was distressed – which he was to a certain extent – and that was what he wanted to achieve. 'I don't think you have ever heard of it. It was only invented long after this time. It means that a captive develops strong emotional ties to his captor.' You're somehow still in love with your captor, even though no longer captive. 'Some of them even end up defending this captor, even long after their captivity has ended.' And here I was thinking Morgana would make for such an excellent partner. 'It means that these former captives can no longer be trusted, because they have grown so close to the ones who locked them up in the first place, often tortured them. They are emotionally compromised, no longer capable of doing their job properly.' And they'd be wrong anyway.
But they weren't wrong, not entirely and that was something that frightened the spook. He knew he was in no danger of truly choosing Morgana's side, but he did feel pity for her and that was dangerous. But he had felt that even before he had been taken prisoner by her. But he was emotionally compromised and he knew that Harry worried, maybe even rightly so. Ros too had not been enthusiastic about this operation, but she at least had given it her seal of approval. Colleagues are okay indeed.
Morgana understood what he was trying to say. 'Your friends think you still work for me, that you are attached to me.'
Lucas gave a curt nod in response. She had indeed caught on and if he had read her right, then her distrust had subsided somewhat. He was doing this right so far. Morgana was receptive to the possibility of him joining her side and she was still intrigued. It made Lucas feel as if he was victorious already. And that of course was a dangerous feeling, because he was not yet triumphant. He needed to exercise caution if he wanted to keep the witch interested. Showing triumph would certainly undo all the hard work he had poured into it. And failure was something he could not stand for.
'But you're not, are you, Lucas?' Morgana smirked, proving to the Senior Case Officer that he would be right to proceed with caution. She knew he was not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. That would have been his first approach to the situation, to make her believe that he was, but operational reasons dictated otherwise. 'You would not be able to talk about it so rationally as you do if that had been the case.'
'I am not, my lady.' Lucas let the title slip in to get her attention, even while he was telling himself he was insane for even trying this. But it did seem like the best way to go about it, even if Ros would probably have pulled him out already if she had ever caught wind of the fact that he was doing it. What he would be trying to achieve was to make Morgana believe that he was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, even if he did not appear to believe so himself. It required all of his acting skills and all his concentration to pull it off, but he thought he could do it, even if he had to put his own sanity on the line to do so. It was not as if he had a whole lot of other choices.
The quick flash of intuition in Morgana's eyes told him that so far at least this strategy was working. 'Then why are you here?' She gave him a once over. 'You're a traitor. You betrayed me to save my pathetic excuse for a half-brother. You're not on my side.'
'I am on my own side,' Lucas informed her. 'A rogue officer, as my former friends would call it. You see, they don't trust me anymore.' This too was true to a certain extent. While that knowledge hurt, it made the lie easier to tell. 'My association with you has made me… unreliable, they think, dangerous even.' As frightening as this was, it also gave him something that might be well be called adrenaline boost. He was on top of this game and Morgana was believing him. She still had not quite worked him out, but she was catching on, realising that she may not have lost all her allies after all. And she wanted to believe that, because it made her current situation a little less gloomy.
'And are you?' Morgana inquired, trying and failing to make her casual leaning on the altar look casual. 'Dangerous?'
Depends on who you're asking. 'I wouldn't know,' he replied.
'Then why are you here?' Morgana demanded. She was getting impatient. It could not have escaped her notice that he had so far failed to answer that particular question directly. He had been feeding her hints and she had swallowed them, but he had been careful to avoid giving a direct reply and he intended to keep it that way.
Lucas huffed. 'You still do not understand that little world at all, my lady,' he said. 'They think I cannot be trusted any longer, which is why they kicked me out. I am no longer one of them.' There, he had said it and now it was up to Morgana to decide what to do with it.
'And yet you came back to me?' The tone of voice was an interesting mixture of incredulity and hopefulness.
'Where else do I go?' Lucas countered. 'And you need me.'
Lucas thought he had got her where he wanted her, but this had been the wrong thing to say. He knew it before the last word had even left his mouth. Morgana had not been ready for this. It was evident in the way her eyes narrowed. Her hand, that had been lying on the altar for the duration of their conversation now was half lifted, as if its owner had not quite decided if she should use it to cast a spell with, something that had not escaped Lucas's notice.
She shook her head, smirk gone. Instead there was only ice-cold hatred left on her face. 'I don't trust you,' the witch said.