Title: From the Ashes
Summary: Even when Mother Nature has had enough, Merlin continues his hunt for Arthur.
Word Count: 1171
Prompt: #245, "enough"
He was in Toronto when the news broke, trying to banish his disappointment at yet another dead end. In the centuries since Arthur’s death, not many had led him away from the UK, and certainly not across the ocean. This one had seemed so promising, though. While he didn’t put much stock in prescience these days—hadn’t his experiences with Morgana and her dreams taught him how dangerous that could be?—the spell he’d cast to clarify the visions was irrefutable. He needed to follow the boy, even when it meant flying to Canada when the child’s family relocated.
But as Merlin watched the ash spew into the Icelandic atmosphere, dread wrapped its icy arms around his thin frame. Leaving had been a mistake. Perhaps the gravest of his entire life. The boy had proven to be just that—a normal child without any ties to any of the people he’d once called friends, let alone Arthur himself. Merlin had been dragged away from the land Arthur would return to on a wild goose chase, and now, Mother Nature looked like she was planning to stop him from ever returning.
He couldn’t let her win. Not when he’d waited so long for Arthur’s return.
The European airports closed while he was somewhere over the Atlantic, forcing his plane to divert to Morocco. They landed to a cacophony of terror, a world gone mad as rains drowned South America, earthquakes ripped apart the American west coast, swells the size of buildings slammed into Asian shores.
“She finally did it,” he heard a woman mutter as they stood side by side in the terminal and watched the telecasts in horror.
Merlin didn’t ask for clarification. The talking heads were all saying it, too. Earth had given up on humanity, once and for all. If anyone survived the disasters, it would be a miracle.
Nobody would get him out of the country. People were fleeing inland, as far away from the encroaching ash clouds as they could get. “Are you crazy?” he heard from more than one person, to which he always replied, “A little.” It was inevitable after all these years.
He ended up stealing a boat to cross the Strait of Gibraltar on his own. Nobody awaited him on the other side, but the roads were clogged from mass hysteria, exodus nearly impossible for anyone who wasn’t armed. He had to charm a lorry driver into letting him tag along. They didn’t get far before traffic came to a standstill.
The barren skies did little to dispel the growing sense of doom, especially when the storms began. The air became thick, driving everyone into their vehicles to watch in horror as sediment began to accumulate. On the windows. On the cars. On the ground. Inch by inch, the world became gray, what little could be seen, anyway.
Wordlessly, the lorry driver reached across and pulled a battered Bible out of the glove box. Merlin left him there, praying and crying, to venture forth on his own.
With his head bent against the wind, he trudged forward. A simple spell kept his path clear, though he had to keep his scarf over his face to prevent choking on the swirling ash. But this was the story of his life, step after step, one foot forward, always onward as he remained diligent in his hunt for Arthur. He had outlived too many generations to count. If the rising death toll surrounding him was any indication, he would outlive this one, too.
The storms stopped on the sixth day. In their void, the world held its breath, those who survived locked behind their doors, those who might thrive poised to surge to the fore. Merlin found a motorcycle that cut through the worst of the ash, but he had to forge a grated helmet with his magic that would filter it from his lungs. Still, it wasn’t enough. Fresh winds cut through his clothing. A sudden frost turned the roads to ice. By the time he was fully protected from the elements, his shoulders bowed from all the weight.
It took him a month to get to northern France. Rather than brave the waters, he headed for Calais where he hoped to find the Channel Tunnel still passable. If it wasn’t, at least he’d be at the narrowest part of the channel and he’d have the best odds of success possible then.
It was. It wasn’t deserted, though. Within the tunnel walls, he found hundreds of people doing everything they had to just to survive. Their desperation called to him as he shouldered his pack, each plaintive cry for help another shackle around his ankles.
The first one he stopped for was a young mother, trying to nurse her infant son. Silent tears ran down her face as she coaxed the baby to suck, but she wiped them away when Merlin crouched at her side.
“I can’t get him to eat,” she said.
On the pretense of dropping something from his bag, he brushed against her arm and murmured a quick spell. A moment later, the baby made a gurgling noise that was quickly cut off by the sound of his loud feeding.
There were more. A lot more. Thirty-one miles of underground tunnel took Merlin another two weeks to traverse. By the time he reached the end, he felt hollow. He’d given all he had. Nothing was left.
In the station, he sagged against the wall. His knees crumpled.
“Hey, careful there.”
A strong arm scooped around Merlin’s waist in time to keep him from hitting the floor. Merlin struggled to get his feet beneath him, but his benefactor was quicker, practically carrying him to the nearby bench. They collapsed onto it together, and the other man thrust a dented canteen into Merlin’s hand.
“Here. You need this more than I do.”
He needed more than water, but he was too exhausted to protest. It was warm and slightly sweet, and he took only a mouthful before handing it back.
“Thank you,” he started to say, but the words died on his tongue as he met the eyes of his benefactor for the first time.
They were blue. Bright. Familiar.
The man smiled, exposing a crooked tooth. “No offense, but you look like you’ve walked through hell and back.”
“Haven’t we all?” Merlin said.
The smile faded. “It seems that way, doesn’t it? But we’re still here. That’s what counts.”
Merlin nodded, then cleared his throat. “We can’t give up.”
When his companion rose to his feet ten minutes later and held out his hand to help Merlin stand, Merlin took it with newfound strength. His search might be over, but the battle was just beginning, more dangerous than he’d ever imagined, the stakes impossibly high. The prospect was daunting.
He wasn’t scared, though. Because now, he wasn’t alone. Mother Nature could throw whatever she wanted at them. They would face it. They would beat it.
They would do it together.