The gift of magic is a rare, precious occurrence in this world.
Only a select few are blessed enough to be born with it, and even fewer ever reach their full potential. Every natural born sorcerer possesses the ability to draw upon an inner well of power. That well allows them to manipulate the forces of nature.
The closer that manipulation follows the laws of nature, the easier it becomes to do. One can effortlessly make a flower bloom, or let fruit ripen, or even allow a seeded tree to grow.
When one pushes the boundaries of mother nature, the amount of energy that is needed increases exponentially – as does the stress that it poses on the sorcerer’s body. Changing the flow of water, altering the direction of the wind or healing wounds that would otherwise take days to close are no small feats. All are advanced – and draining – forms of magic.
But magic is at its most powerful – and its most dangerous – when one goes against the laws of nature. Conjuring energy or matter from nothing, levitating objects and creatures, even the changing of one’s natural form are counted among the most difficult and feared of magical abilities.
All but the most gifted of sorcerers are unable to reach such heights. To go against the laws of nature takes an extraordinarily talented and powerful individual. And even then, the strain that such magic puts on their body is severe.
If they are not careful… it will prove fatal.
In the depths of Murkwood forest, the druid called Emrys slowly made his way through the surrounding thicket. In his arms, he held an unconscious Muiri. Emrys had found her in the middle of a flower field not far from their camp, limp and unresponsive.
It was not the first time that he had found her like that. And Emrys knew that it would not be the last.
Such was her gift… and her curse.
When Muiri awoke, she found herself cradled in the druid’s arms.
“…Emrys…?” she whispered. The man nodded.
“I’m here. It’s all right. You’re safe.”
Her eyes were cloudy and unfocused, still affected by the ordeal that she had just gone through. Muiri blinked, trying and failing to get a grasp on her surroundings. When she spoke, her voice was a soft whisper.
“What time of day is it?”
“A little past noon,” Emrys replied, a worried expression playing on his face. “The others said that you left the camp this morning. You never came back. How long were you out for?”
“A… a few hours. I went to fetch water. I don’t think I made it… to the river.”
“You shouldn’t have gone by yourself to begin with. It’s too dangerous, Muiri. We almost lost you once already.”
The druidess fell quiet. She knew what he was referring to. The memory was still fresh in their minds.
Not even a month ago, Muiri had fallen into the water when she was suddenly overcome by one of her seizures. She was all by herself that day. There had been nobody around to catch her. The druidess didn’t stand a chance. And Emrys hadn’t noticed that she was missing until it was too late. They would have lost Muiri right then and there…
If not for magical intervention.
The druidess tried to sit up straight. But Emrys, knowing how frail she was afterwards, stubbornly held on to her. His hands cupped the side of her face as his grey eyes filled with concern. Muiri smiled in response.
“I’m fine, Emrys. Really.”
“Liar,” he responded. “I know you. You’re never fine afterwards. Muiri, promise me that you won’t go off on your own like that again.”
The druidess let out a sigh. She knew that Emrys would not let her go until she agreed. And he was probably right. She gave him a single nod.
“Good. Because I don’t think I could bear a repeat of last time.”
The memory was still too fresh in his mind. Too raw. The druid pushed it away, suppressing the feeling of helplessness that came paired with it. Emrys did not like feeling helpless. And it didn’t matter right now. As the druid looked down on Muiri, his mind began to fill with curiosity.
“Muiri… What did you see?”
Muiri groaned, placing a hand on her forehead as she tried to remember the blurry visions. They were never clear. And they were always cryptic, even when she could recall them well. But a few images stood out to the druidess, jumping to the front of her mind one by one.
“I… I saw a dragon banner,” Muiri spoke. “A grey tower crumbling to pieces with the falling of leaves. I saw dozens of bloody and broken blades in the snow. A sorceress in a red dress… Emrys, I think she was dead.”
The woman’s expression fell as her vision became clearer. She slowly shook her head.
“…I saw… so much death.”
She was turning pale. With a look of concern, Emrys leaned down and placed a hand on her knee.
“Do you know where? Or when?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“What about the tower?”
She shook her head.
“And that sorceress… do you know who she was?”
Muiri shook her head again. She couldn’t recall any more details. But they weren’t needed. In his heart, Emrys already knew. He did not need confirmation. His heart sank. The druid already realized to whom Muiri’s vision was referring.
As far as Emrys knew… there was only one sorceress in Albion that was connected to a dragon banner.
And Muiri seemed to realize that, too. The druidess made eye contact with Emrys, her eyes still clouded. When she spoke, her voice sounded exhausted.
“You need to go get her.”
“I… I can’t,” he muttered, conflicted. “I gave my word that I would leave my past life behind. I gave her my name.”
But Muiri wouldn’t take no for an answer. She looked up at the druid, a pleading look in her eyes.
“Emrys… I felt so much pain. I can’t ignore this. There are already so few of us left. If you can’t go… then… then I-”
“No,” Emrys replied, cutting her off. “Absolutely not. You’re my people. The capital isn’t safe for you. For any of you.”
Muiri merely looked up at him. The last traces of cloudiness were finally vanishing from her mind, once again allowing the druidess to think clearly. Her expression slowly became one of determination.
“You’re right. It isn’t safe. For any of us. But you forget, Emrys.”
The druidess gently placed her arms around his waist, pulling him into her embrace. With a soft voice, she whispered into his ear.
“They are all your people.”
Her words were gentle, and without malice. Kind. Understanding.
But they hurt more than any insult would have. Emrys lowered his head in shame. She was right. Muiri was always right. It didn’t matter that they were not in the same forest, or even in the same nation. They were all their people… including Morgana.
Emrys just hadn’t been ready to face it. Face any of it. The memories pained him too much. He hadn’t thought of his past in years. Not until that night, until seeing the face of Prince Arthur. After that, the shadows of his past had started coming back to haunt him. The words of his grandmother. The druids burned on the pyre. The hand that had pulled him into the catacombs, away from danger and out to safety.
The people that he had left behind. Selfishly. Cruelly.
Without ever coming back.
Emrys knew what he had to do.
The druid returned Muiri to their camp, making sure that she was cared for in his absence. They had begun moving around the depths of Murkwood, never staying in one place for too long. Their encounter with the mercenaries had taught them that. Emrys wholeheartedly supported their decision. Not just because the chance of getting trapped by brigands lessened as a result.
But because, as much as Emrys appreciated the knights’ help in freeing his people…
The druid did not trust any of them.
Emrys departed their little safe haven not long after dusk. He did not intend on staying away for long. Despite what he had told Muiri. He couldn’t. Despite his own intentions, Emrys just could not leave his people undefended. He couldn’t leave them helpless. Especially not now.
And… he couldn’t leave Muiri.
But, what he could do instead… was send someone else.
Emrys quietly approached the ring of toadstools, carefully avoiding any flowers and weeds as he made his way through the forest grounds. The druid could see the ring’s faint glow slowly increase in intensity as he came closer. The mushrooms shifted ever so slightly, reflecting the pale moonlight from above.
As he reached the circle, the forest around him suddenly went quiet. Birds stopped chirping. Insects fell silent. The wind died down, an eerie stillness overcoming the entire area around the clearing. For a moment, it was as if nature itself held its breath. Watching. Waiting.
And Emrys bowed.
“I seek Nimueh. Please grant me safe passage. I come bearing gifts.”
He knelt down, reaching into his pockets. The druid pulled out a small handful of wildflower seeds. To the common eye, his offering looked insignificant. But Emrys carefully placed them just outside of the ring, an expression of reverence on his face that gave evidence of the contrary.
As he rose back to his feet, the seeds vanished. A faint echo of laughter drifted through the air, fading away as the breeze picked up. Leaves around him rustled peacefully. Insects resumed their nightly chirping. A smile spread on the druid’s face.
Permission had been granted.
Emrys took a step forward, crossing over the threshold…
…and stepped into the circle.
The effect was instant. The grassy ground underneath his foot vanished, making way for a deep, azure blue. The shrubs disappeared. Pale moonlight from above caused little flecks of light to dance across the surrounding clearing, making for a beautiful, almost ethereal display.
Emrys had seen that display before.
When the druid regained his vision, he knew that he was no longer in the forest of Murkwood. Or in Albion. Or even within the mortal world.
No, where Emrys had travelled… was somewhere else entirely.
Somewhere that Emrys had visited before, many years ago.
He remembered this sanctum well. An otherworldly crossroads, connected by all the bodies of water in Albion.
He knew who dwelt here.
He found her in the centre of that sanctum, robed and in the middle of a ritual.
The Sidhe that had saved both Muiri’s life… and his own. More than four years ago, after he had foolishly tried to swim a distance too great for any child to handle.
The Sidhe that had taken his name away from him.
The druid could feel the hairs in the back of his neck stand up as his body responded to the memory – as well as the raw power that radiated off of the two figures in front of him. It was almost overwhelming. Emrys quietly walked forward, his hands folded neatly behind his back. He watched the display in complete silence.
He knew that there was no need to announce his presence. She had let him in, after all.
She already knew that he was there.
And Emrys was right. As their dance came to an end, the horned Sidhe slowly turned to face him. A strange, calculative smile played on her lips.
“…Emrys. Welcome back.”
The druid sank down, getting onto his knees as he lowered his head.
“I need your help.”