Pairing/s: Arthur/Merlin, Arthur/Gwen
Character/s: Arthur, Merlin, Morgana, Gwen, knights
Summary: Morgana kidnaps Gwen as bait for Emrys. A Dark Tower AU.
Word Count: 1000 (10 x 100)
Prompt: Saviour, by Obsidian Serpent
So many thanks to Obsidian Serpent for letting me use her beautiful art for the prompt this week, and thank you CD mods for the chance to choose. I promise I'll stop guessing now! Also thank you to Plutonia for cheerleading.
The artist gave me permission to write for other pictures too, so I picked a second one, The Magic Stealer.
I refer also to another piece of art, The Dark Tower, previously drawn for me by Jampaintsphotos.
In order to not write a million words, I forced myself to do ten drabbles of exactly a hundred words each (as counted on my writing program). That was challenging!
The queen disappeared on a pilgrimage to her father's grave. An ensorcelled raven delivered the ransom note along with her finger, wedding ring still attached. It read, “Unless Emrys turns himself over to me at the Dark Tower, Gwen will die. You have five days.”
Arthur neither slept nor ate but haunted the castle, pacing endlessly, thinking. He had heard stories of the terrors held within the Dark Tower. But he didn't know how to find Emrys. Even if he did, could he ask a stranger to sacrifice himself for Gwen? It was decided: Arthur would rescue his wife himself.
Merlin watched Arthur turn into a ghost. He was but a shadow without Gwen. How he leaned on her; how he loved her. The same way Merlin loved his golden king. Always and forever.
He knew it was a trap; Morgana wouldn't invite Emrys over without ample protection from his magic. But Merlin couldn't bear to be the cause of his friends’ misery—not when he could do something about it. He would rescue Gwen before Arthur tried and got himself killed. Barring that, Emrys would surrender to Morgana.
It was worth it to know Arthur would be happy again.
Arthur saw Merlin flutter around the castle like a wounded moth. He and Gwen had been close friends. Merlin must be as worried for her as Arthur was.
They both travelled with the knights to the Perilous Lands, laden with silence and grief. Merlin buzzed with a nervous energy Arthur couldn't explain.
Cutting through the impenetrable forest that guarded the tower was nigh impossible. They struggled all day and ended where they started. Camp was miserable.
In the morning, there were two strange things. One, the sun’s shadows pointed east. Two, Merlin was gone. Arthur’s heart pulsed with electric fear.
“Left is right and right is left, and the way behind is the way ahead. It's simple!”
Queen Mab, the impish spirit, had spoken riddles. But, free from Arthur's observation, Merlin used magic to discern the path through the forest.
The tower stood dark against a blood-red sky, jagged and sharp, eager to rend any cloud that dared approach. The plains surrounding the tower were barren: no place to hide.
Merlin summoned his magic around him like a shield and pressed onwards, unhindered. Morgana waited at the gaping entrance, smiling.
“Hello, Merlin,” she said, teeth flashing. “You shouldn't have come.”
Merlin’s tracks went backwards, just as the shadows did. Arthur followed them anyway; and the plains soon appeared before him.
In the distance he saw Merlin meet someone at the tower door and disappear. Fear propelled Arthur forward, faster than he could go.
He left his knights far behind. He had to get to Merlin before the idiot did something foolish. Nothing else mattered.
The way in was open, the voices clear.
“Let her go! I'm the one you want.”
“Why would I want a serving boy?” Morgana sneered.
“Because I'm Emrys.”
Morgana cackled; Merlin screamed.
Arthur was too late.
Merlin woke to chanting. Freezing air enveloped his naked body; magic scalded his blood but couldn't escape Morgana’s binding. The enchantment had been laid over the entire tower; the moment he walked inside, the magic was trapped within him, a beating heart set on fire.
He struggled but was chained to… a fucking altar? Was he being sacrificed?
The chanting crescendoed, and a starry darkness coalesced over him. Were those eyes peering at him? A mouth with serrated teeth?
The face inhaled ceaselessly, sucking Merlin's soul out his throat, extirpating the magic from his body. Excruciating.
He begged for death.
Morgana shrieked giddily as the starry blackness grew into a hideous creature with spindly limbs and spiral horns. Chains disintegrated as the thing lifted Merlin towards it, almost lovingly. Obscenely long fingers traced gently against Merlin's skin, and the creature kissed him.
No normal kiss could cause such a heart-wrenching scream.
“And you were to be my doom! Goodbye, Emrys!”
Arthur didn't understand Morgana, but he knew this: Merlin was about to die.
Excalibur raised, he charged the creature.
“No mortal blade can harm a summoned demon, dear brother!” Morgana cackled. “You and your sorcerer are doomed!”
Arthur struck anyway.
Merlin dropped onto rough stone. Pain shot through him, and with it, awareness. Nearby, Arthur slashed at the demon. It howled and melted into a darkness that engulfed Arthur. When Arthur inhaled, the blackness surged into his throat, stifling his breath. Excalibur crashed to the ground.
Merlin summoned his magic, but it didn't respond. Had the creature eaten it all?
Arthur collapsed. Desperate, Merlin mustered the dregs of his power and summoned Excalibur. Morgana was distracted watching Arthur—this was his chance. Striking the demon hadn't worked. With his last energy, Merlin crawled over and plunged Excalibur through Morgana’s back.
Arthur's vision faded. His chest burned, filled with raging darkness. He would die.
Only—he didn't. The scalding fire diminished; air poured into his lungs. The creature faded into nothing.
Confused, Arthur sat up, panting for breath. He saw Morgana, impaled on Excalibur. Behind her lay Merlin, utterly still. Arthur pushed himself to reach him. He felt for a pulse… yes! Thank the gods.
His knights tried to pull Merlin away. Arthur refused. They found Merlin's clothes instead. Arthur carefully dressed and lifted Merlin’s battered body in his arms.
Elyan appeared, carrying an unconscious Gwen.
Arthur still didn't relinquish Merlin.
Merlin woke wrapped in Arthur's arms, their foreheads pressed gently together. Arthur thought him asleep; Merlin didn't correct him.
“Don't ever do that again, you idiot,” Arthur whispered. “I couldn't survive without you.” He sighed. “I know. About the magic. I wish you could trust me. I’ll make everything better. I promise.”
Arthur squeezed him. “Thank you. For saving Guinevere. But—you're as important as she is. Don't forget that.”
Arthur's lips pressed against Merlin's before pulling away. “I need to visit my wife. I'm sorry.”
Arthur disentangled himself and left.
Now there was no one to see Merlin cry.