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Futuristic ♕ Camelot | ellarose & Syntra

Sub Genres
Action, LGTBQ, Magical

Syntra

Baba Yaga
…kill it, huh. Now, why did that not surprise her at all? When confronted with something beautiful, you see, weak-hearted men often reached for such a solution-- to straight up murder it, most likely out of some twisted desire to own it forever. (A living creature, as everyone knew, couldn’t truly be yours. Not even Toastington, in his blind devotion, belonged to Guinevere in his heart of hearts! First and foremost, his loyalty belonged to himself, and that… that was a pill too bitter for these bastards to swallow, alright. Why else would other beings exist, after all, if not to be owned? A Camelot-tier level of hubris, indeed, and if gods were good, then they would meet the same fate as its leaders! …even if they weren’t, to be honest. Morgan would make sure of it.

“Of course, of course,” the sorceress lied through her teeth, wearing the sweetest of her smiles. The fact that she was secretly seething inside, with poisonous snakes hissing in her belly? Why, not even her own mother would have been able to tell! …then again, her mother hadn’t been able to tell a great many things, so maybe that wasn’t the greatest example. Oh well. Somehow, the imperfect comparison didn’t bother her-- not when there were, you know, so many other things to take care of. Things such as her love possibly being enslaved again, and bound with shackles that would be even harder to break! “You are wise to see the meaning behind its appearance. A less experienced man would have noted its color, and judged it to be sacred-- perhaps he even would have concluded that, since it has done nothing to earn his ire, it shouldn’t be killed. It is a good thing, truly, that you are not nearly as foolish!” …what? Morgan could still have fun with implying implications, and not saying the things she wanted to say in such a way that the recipients of her insults would have been happy with outright aggression. There was just something… hmm, unnerving, perhaps? About the lack of transparency.

What could ’surprise’ mean, though? Call Morgan a cynic, but somehow, she didn’t really expect that sort of joy that came with, say, unpacking one’s Christmas presents. (Not that they had Christmas at Camelot, mind you-- Arthur had said that it would be like spitting in the old gods’ faces, and for once, Morgan had to agree. Surely, they had had enough of being sidelined! Besides, while they didn’t live in the poverty that plagued those who braved the wastes, they didn’t exactly have resources to waste, either. Oh no, no, no. Christmas was a memory from a kinder age, and as such, it had to stay there. …of course, that still hadn’t stopped her from dreaming of receiving countless presents, back when she had been a kid. Maybe the core idea wasn’t that heretical in nature, actually? Stripped of all those unfortunate connotations, it could be a nice way to celebrate, and Morgan… Morgan liked the idea of thinking of gifts to shower Gwen with. Of making her eyes sparkle with happiness, really.

Before any of that could happen, though? They had to get out of this hellhole, duh. “Yes, my goddess,” Morgan nodded, “the priest is correct. Haven’t I taught you that self-control is the key to success?” Or, more accurately, that she shouldn’t lose her cool in front of an enemy? If her love misbehaved here, then the maniac could easily decide that she wasn’t prepared yet-- that, in order for her to achieve that enlightened state of being, she had to be tortured in this secluded space, over and over. The precious opportunity the spirits had granted them? It would go poof, like a balloon popped by a needle! “You are not a street urchin anymore, so please, act like do not dishonor yourself like this.” …so, how much did she want to punch herself for this? On a scale from one to ten, the answer was roughly 9000! Still, you couldn’t star in a theatre play without suitable props, and so Morgan had to sing the same tune they did.

…and then, all of a sudden? Gwen seemed to be drowning in her own blood. How did it happen, even?! Had she been cursed? Or could it be her heritage, manifesting itself in this strange manner? Morgan didn’t know, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t, and that felt almost worse than the whole debacle. Just, how was she to help if she had no idea what was wrong, exactly? How to analyze such a mess?

…except she didn’t have to, as she turned out, because the spectacle had been Guinevere’s plan from the very beginning. (Ugh. Did she want to give her a heart attack? Because seeing the droplets of blood, shiny like rubies, contrasted against her pale skin… yes, that was one way to do it. A very effective one, actually! Regardless of her heart beating wildly in her chest, however, Morgan understood how shrewd Gwen’s plan was-- even if it only bought them a few seconds, you see, it would still be seconds that they hadn’t had before. “No,” she whispered, “we cannot. I… this may sound preposterous, Gwen, but I talked to the local spirits. Your ancestors, it seems. I received instructions, and… just trust me, okay? I’d explain, but we haven’t got much time. Say, do you know something that might aid us in our escape? I think they mostly trust me, but,” she looked around nervously, “they keep me locked in my room, too. I don’t think I have met a lot of people of importance. Have you noticed someone using magic around here? If so, do you know any details? Anything would be helpful, really.”
 

ellarose

wanderer
Guinevere watches Morgan as she speaks, thoughtfully observing every detail the dim torchlight allowed. The light catches her eyes, brushes her nose and cheekbones with a subtle glow. In that moment, she's keenly aware of her heart thumping in her chest. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to pepper her face with little kisses... if only she could reach, you know, and if only her lips weren't stained with blood. And if only this weren't the worst possible time to think of kissing. But days-- weeks-- however long she's been locked in this room has felt like a fucking eternity. She's so relieved to see that her love that her heart couldn't help but crave it. With no one around to decide their fates based solely on the way they looked at each other, she dares not to take her eyes off of her for even a second. (It could be the last time, after all. No, no, no. That's no way to think! That's essentially the same as giving up, after all, and Morgan absolutely would not forgive her for that.) Still. There existed this quiet, world-weary voice in the back of her head that thought she was doomed the moment fate decided she would be the next Guinevere. And that voice amplified to a mournful howl over this seemingly everlasting time she had no concept of anymore, closed up in this dreary room with nothing to distract her from her misery. Nothing but her hazy mind and her body-- which is undergoing painful changes she hadn't been prepared for in the slightest-- all while she ached with her unanswered worries as to whether or not Morgan was okay or even alive. Sometimes it's so damned hard to claw her way out of the holes she keeps finding herself in. Sometimes, she couldn't help thinking, I feel like I've been cursed to lose you over and over again.

...Is that dramatic? Well, maybe. But at this point, Guinevere wouldn't be surprised if she discovered their story written beneath the word in the dictionary. She's so tired. And she wouldn't be surprised if Morgan felt the same way.

Now, though. Guinevere can see for herself, right here and now, that Morgan is alive. (Well, of course she is. You dummy. She's Morgan le Fey! A more familiar voice in her head laughs at her.) Still alive, forging her way through this confusing place, and thinking of escape. And she wouldn't be Guinevere if her wallowing blinded her to the potential glimmer of hope she sees now, however faint it might be. She refuses to go down without a fight, damn it! Anything else would have been serving those cultist bastards exactly what they wanted on a silver platter. Allowing her light to flicker and fade would do a tragic disservice to every battle she fought and survived up to this point. They all try to smother it-- Arthur, the cultists-- to make her into something they could touch and use without getting burned. And yet one breath from Morgan is all it takes to turn her back into a blazing wildfire. To make her feel like herself again, really. Morgan's heard from the spirits and they have a chance. Although there're probably a thousand questions-- as well as a thousand things she'd like to tell her in the mere seconds they have now-- they can't afford to squander it.

"I do." Guinevere says in response to trusting Morgan, sounding so transparently head-over-heels that it makes her blush. Ah, she wants to reach for her hand. It's like when she used to hold herself back from showing any affection, long before they ever confessed to each other, fearing that she'd be dragging Morgan into her mess. She was going to marry Arthur and had absolutely no backup plan. Now it feels like all those metaphors defining her situation back then have become a reality now, what with the way her arms are tied down. Ugh. She begins to bite her lip and quickly stops herself before her teeth can tear right into them. When she speaks, her voice wavers with uncertainty. "And... I'm not sure. Whenever I'm not asleep I'm wearing that stupid blindfold. Guess they're, uh, really determined to keep me in the dark this time. They could be casting magic on me and I wouldn't even know it." That's sort of what it felt like, anyway, as her teeth ached and changed shape. Still. Her frustrations with her lack of vital information in this situation would get them nowhere.

Their time is running short. Surely she can find something useful! Something beyond just drowning in darkness and confusion-- but what?

"O-okay. I don't know if it'll help, but... I've been hearing a buzzing in my ears." Guinevere notes, furrowing her brow. It seems fairly insignificant, but Morgan said any little detail could help, right? "Almost sounds mechanic? It's been constant and I'm pretty sure I didn't hear anything like it last time. Could that mean something?"
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
The desire to kiss her love? Oh, that was one Morgan shared as well, alright. Had it been up to her, she would have struck the chains off Guinevere, escaped from that dreadful room, and showed those bastards why, exactly, it was a bad idea to antagonize a sorceress! (...except that, no, that wasn't what would have happened. The spirits had dissuaded them from leaving for a reason, you see? And Morgan sorely doubted that that reason was them being oh so enamored with the concept of Gwen, their distant daughter, suffering in her shackles. Oh no, no, no! More often than not, spirits had been granted the gift of farsight-- being pulled away from your physical body may have robbed you of your eyes, technically, but in the end, you gained much, much more in return. Eyes were just organs, weren't they? Organs limited both by their owners' individual defects, and by their physicality in general. When you lost them, along with the rest of your body, the curtain between reality and dreams fell-- and it fell in such a way it showed you, um, unexpected consequences of certain actions, too. It wasn't seeing future, per se. The art was much more delicate, and if Morgan had to compare it to something, then perhaps a kaleidoscope would be a good choice? As in, the spirits were essentially looking through one! With the important addendum, of course, that instead of painted glass and jewels, they were working with actions, events, and people's hearts-- all those factors mixed together, you know, and they got to see all the combinations they could possibly create. Indeed, more than a superstition, it was a brand of science, which meant, guess what? That Morgan respected it, of course. The spirits had bestowed valuable advice upon her, and she wouldn't squander it.)

"Good," Morgan smiled. "I knew you would. Soon enough, we'll be free, my love. We'll rejoin the others, and..." Damn, she was violating her own rules here, wasn't she? Every word, nay, every syllable was expensive under these circumstances, and oh, she'd been treating them as common rocks instead of the diamonds they were! Later, she reminded herself. Later, when you're able to enjoy a more pleasant company than that of those fanatics. They'd have all the time in the world to talk then, wouldn't they? Camelot, too, was no longer a cage-- or, if it was, its door at least was open. Tooth and nail, they'd fought for a semblance of autonomy, and these idiots with the fashion sense of a wet napkin wouldn't take it away from them! Not without a fight, anyway. (Ideally, not even then.)

"I assume you'd sense it," Morgan supplied. "Them using magic on you, I mean. There are things a blindfold cannot conceal, you know? And, when it comes to magic, you perceive things with a sense different from your sight." ...which meant that they weren't using magic on her, actually. Again, had they resorted to something like that, Guinevere would have been able to tell! (Morgan didn't know whether that was a good thing or not, honestly. Them not subjecting her to more horrible experiments? A win, certainly, but it also meant that Gwen's transformation was happening on its own, just like those cultists had said. Although... hmmm. They also might have triggered it via non-magical means, or at least means that wouldn't show on the average magical radar-- the system was not perfect, after all. What was it, though? Somehow, Morgan doubted they'd just tell her if she asked nicely, and... ah. A buzzing?)

Immediately, the sorceress furrowed her brow. "That... that might be significant, indeed. I've seen all kinds of machines in the village, so it's possible that..." Possible, possible, possible! Morgan didn't need possibilities, dammit. No, if they were to escape from this hellhole, she needed to be certain, and no certainty could be derived from mere guessing. (Hmmm. They didn't have much time, but perhaps, perhaps...) "Tilt your head backwards," she instructed her. "I'm going to inspect your head with magic. Don't worry-- it'll be just a short pulse." Short enough, in other words, to be nigh undetectable. "I want to see if there's some foreign object in there." And, with that? With that, Morgan emptied her mind, banishing all of her thoughts. (Her skull was hollow, a cavern more than anything else, really, but in those, echoes travelled with great ease-- convenient, considering that she was trying to find one. Come on, where are you, you electronic parasite?)
 

ellarose

wanderer
“Foreign object?” Guinevere asks, voice tinged with alarm. But the neck of their metaphorical hourglass will not close to stop the flow of sand-- not for her, the questions that sprang to mind, or even these thoughts. The most important thing was that she still trusted Morgan, you know? Heart and soul. Even when the spell the other day launched her into the past, she trusted the sorceress to do what she thought was best in every situation they were presented with. From the very beginning of her journey with magic, when they stepped foot in that disturbance zone, it was apparent that Guinevere herself was the confusing variable in all of this. So technically, she's the one at fault if a spell goes awry. And Morgan… Morgan was the brave one. Always proceeding to try new things with her, regardless of the risks. Even if it put herself in danger. She stared it unflinchingly in the eyes when she proposed the idea of exploring her magic so very long ago. (...Guinevere probably remembered that moment so vividly because it had been the first time Morgan kissed her. Not on the lips, but on the nose. Then she said something about making friendship bracelets as not to confuse her friends—? Hah, it had been really adorable. But now’s not the time to get sidetracked by her cuteness—!) Um. Another question: is Morgan going to see her thoughts when she scans her head? Because she may not appreciate seeing that memory of her flustered self escaping the pantry— oh for god’s sake, get it together, Guinevere! “Mhm, gotcha. I'll just...”

Guinevere tilts her head back the way Morgan asked her to, exposing her neck and collarbone. She resists the urge to shiver. Her skin there feels so bare without the locket. Those heartless bastards had stolen it from her when she was unconscious, as if they knew she valued it far more than any priceless treasure one could find in a castle, or Camelot's golden crown itself. And she didn’t even have the chance to put up a fair fight for it. When she awoke, it was gone. Something precious to Morgan, something that was given to her during their vows. She had sworn to take care of it and… and now…

Seriously. This is a surefire way to dehydrate herself! The survivor in her crushes her eyes shut, to squash her thoughts and the welling tears both. Hm. Wait a second. Hadn't they pressed something else against her collarbone, when they had taken the locket away? The texture had been so similar that in her daze she thought they were giving it back, but... it wasn't around her neck now, so obviously that wasn't it. No, there's more to this. The memories slosh around her head like water in a bucket, blurring as if she was holding her eyes open underwater. It had been tiny and cold to the touch. Like a bullet with teeth. It burrowed down into her skin. Into her bloodstream. Which is familiar, somehow. Do you think you need to be yourself for the role you are meant to play? Right. That voice... Merlin's voice. He'd said that just before throwing something at her, hadn't he? It had been smaller than a peanut and mechanical. And it had given him control over her. (Oh no. Is the cult running an eerily similar experiment to make her their flesh and blood puppet? Strange. Now that she's on that subject, Arthur's methods of dealing with her did become eerily similar to the cult's after he arranged Morgan's marriage. Is she coming up with conspiracy theories now, or--?) Well, fuck. Guinevere knew there had to be a catch! They might remove her chains tomorrow night... but she wouldn't really be free, would she?

These thoughts are truly dashed to nothing, though, when the pulse of Morgan’s magic strikes strings in her. Strings Guinevere didn’t even know existed until that very moment. And while it doesn't hurt so much as it causes mild discomfort, the sensation roused something that coiled up tight and unleashed an earsplitting scream. Mechanical and grotesque. It still doesn't hurt, but enduring this noise is— (Shit, shit, shit. This is different, somehow. Not entirely so, but it's worth noting. It's subtler. And in a way, it makes it all the more ominous. Undetected, it may have taken over without her even realizing it.)

Guinevere struggles against her restraints in a desperate attempt to press her hands over her ears. The bedposts groan as she yanks. Of course, they wouldn’t budge no matter what she did. She resorts to thrashing her head from one side to the other, giving each ear a turn against the pillow behind her, but… “So loud.” It begins to sound like the desires of mankind and like death. It’s impatient. It needs her— wants her— underground. "I remember." She breathes out through the noise, hoping it'll offer more... clarity? Ah. How can anyone find clarity when the sound is deafening? Focus, Guinevere. Focus! "...I felt like this in the disturbance zone."

Which is incredibly important for some reason. An event linked to those memories is urgently trying to call for her attention, like a warning sign covered in flashing red lights.

"Morgan, be careful!" Guinevere warns when the realization dawns on her. After all, what had happened the last time Morgan tried to bring her out of that trance? Her magic, or something inside of her, lashed out and blew her back into a tree. She still remembers the blood. The insurmountable guilt she carried afterwards, weighing heavier than the supplies she delivered to her friends, as they traveled back to Camelot. "Don't go any further. I don't want to hurt you."
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
Look, Morgan told herself. Look with your eyes. Which wasn't all that simple, you know? The brain was downright sparkling with energy-- each thought a spark, a star, a constellation of its own. (So, so bright it was! Like staring into the sun, and hoping to see more than just the weirdly colored spots at the edge of your vision. ...it hurt, too. The sorceress could feel it-- the way it burned, burned, burned, deeper and deeper into her eyes. Ah, if only she could look away! Except that I can't. Not till I see it. It had to be there, didn't it? For sure, for sure, for there was no smoke without fire. Someone must have planted something dangerous inside of Gwen's head, and she wouldn't give up before finding out what it was! What it was and how to destroy it, really, for with an enemy's instrument monitoring your thoughts, any kind of freedom was illusory. Technically, a bird trapped in a cage could be seen as free as well, couldn't it? It was free to sing, free to eat, free to do anything, really, but defy their master's will. ...no, Guinevere wouldn't meet such a fate. Fake freedom's twisted face was ugly, and oh, Morgan wouldn't allow it to seize her love!)

Ah. Ah, there it is. It should have been harder to find, probably, among the myriads of dancing lights, but somehow, it just felt different, you see? If Morgan had to compare it to something, then she would say the color was different-- its very essence, juxtaposed against everything that belonged to Gwen naturally. And, ah, was the contrast overwhelming! Much like a skyscraper in the middle of a forest, towering above all the trees. (Towering, yes, but also taking up the space it was never meant to own. A plague, the sorceress thought. A plague, spreading its dark wings. If I allow it to integrate itself deeper into her body… Just, this wasn’t a passive process, dammit! One might be inclined to think so, based on the fact they didn’t see it happen before their very eyes, but the body didn’t just exist around this intruder. Oh no, no, no. It worked, tirelessly, to make this foreign substance a part of itself-- an enemy that couldn’t be conquered had to become your ally, after all, and… and that held true even for cases like this, really. The problem with such a solution, though? Why, if they waited too long, it might not be safe to remove it! Its teeth could sink too deep, the grip of its jaws could grow stronger than steel. Just like that, those bastards would gain control over Guinevere, which… No. No, over my dead body. They will pry her freedom from my cold, motionless fingers!

And maybe that was exactly how this would go down. How, after all, maneuver around such a precarious situation? There was only one path, Morgan knew, and yet, yet each step would only drive thorns into her bare feet. (It wouldn’t be difficult to destroy the thing, you know? A pathetic piece of metal could never stand against her might-- like a snowball in hell, it would melt, melt, melt, and leave nothing behind. No, the problem lay elsewhere. It would be foolish to assume that this device wasn’t somehow connected to the magician who had planted it into her bloodstream, and the second Morgan disposed of it? Sirens would start blaring in their head! That, uh, wasn’t really her definition of ‘stealthy escape,’ mildly speaking. Before they even knew what was going on, the enemy would be there, and likely with much better firepower than what she had the access to. If this magic user was even slightly good, after all, they’d probably prepared rituals in advance-- drawn the sacred symbols, and stored power in high-capacity gems. That way, they’d be able to cast almost immediately, without wasting time on all the groundwork Morgan would still have to lay! No, it wasn’t hard to foresee the outcome of that battle. All the signs pointed towards the same conclusion, and regardless of the angle from which the sorceress chose to view them, she could only see ‘doom, doom, doom’ written there.

…and yet. Yet, how could she possibly abandon Gwen to her fate? Nothing about this mission had gone as they’d planned it, dammit, but Morgan would not allow it to go this catastrophically. There had to be a solution! (She could sense it, lurking just on the edge of her mind. If given more time, she could crack the riddle, but tick tock tick tock tick tock, time was exactly what they didn’t have! Soon enough, the man from before would return. He’d return, and her brief audience would be over, and there would be no chance to… Ah. Ah, I know. Technically, the sorceress didn’t have to destroy the parasite now, did she? Placing a self-destruct button on it, so to speak, would be more than enough. Then, later, upon their escape, all she had to do was activate it, and voila! Guinevere was free. That procedure wasn’t as invasive, either—like a butterfly’s wings, really, brushing against the mysterious caster’s psyche.)

“You won’t hurt me,” Morgan muttered, obviously distracted. Blood was already flowing down her nose, but so what? In the grand scheme of things, the sea of red was the smallest of their problems. “Let me just… let me just take care of something first, okay? I need to open the back door. I need to…”

Except that then, you know, the real, physical door opened. Oh, shit. “Goddess,” the priest from before shrieked, “goddess, worry not. I have come to your aid! Just a few moments, and that terrible bleeding shall stop. In no time, you will be alright once again. If you were to miss the celebration, it would bring great sorrow to your faithful ones, and… Ah. What happened here?” Because, yes, unfortunately, Morgan’s nosebleed was not subtle in the slightest. The bastard would have had to be blind in order not to notice!
 

ellarose

wanderer
Guinevere feels panic and her tiny prison both closing in around her when cultists begin to fill inside. No, no, no. They've run out of time! The exit is blocked by cloaked figures, the priest is staring pointedly at Morgan. Morgan, who happens to be bleeding right now. It's a nosebleed, something that her love has handled countless times before. But if the people in this room connect the dots, connect her nosebleed to a spell... if they begin to see Morgan as a threat before tomorrow night... Gods, what is she going to do about this? Her limbs are tied down, yes, but she still has a weapon at her disposal so long as she can hold onto her consciousness, her mind. That's one of the most precious lessons she was taught since arriving in Camelot. And judging by the long, shiny needles she sees gleaming in the darkness, she'll need to work quickly. Before she can succumb to erratic breaths that shake her whole body to the core, she stabs her teeth decisively into her tongue again to 'cough more blood'. It provided a convenient distraction before and maybe it would again.

"Lady Morgan." He spoke again. Pretty obvious from his tone, the sorts of heinous conclusions he's drawing. Especially considering he goes as far as to try and yank Morgan away from the bed by both of her arms. Rough and uncaring. Bastard. How dare he touch her!? The sudden desire to kill burns, burns, burns. She can feel it agitating something in her, something that winds around her ribcage and grows thorns. "What is the meaning of--"

"Who..." Guinevere coughs as violently as she can without pushing it. If she's overdramatic about it, it's all over. Silently, she thanks Jen for the nightly acting lessons she put her through when they were still kids. Sure, maybe she wasn't quite as good at winning Arthur's trust and approval as her sister. But the few skills she absorbed, along with the new ones she learned from Morgan, got her as far as they have so far, right? Three cultists rush to her bedside to get a closer look at her and she glares at them. Ah. Well, now that she has their undivided attention... "Who are you to stare accusatorially at my assistant? Unhand her at once!" Oh man. She hopes that accusatorially is an actual word. It sounds kind of like one of those words that are long and legit enough to be an actual word, but also might not be one? Anyway. These cultists may not have realized it, but she's been crowned queen since she was last in their village. (They go as far as to call her a goddess, sure, but that doesn't imbue her with any kind of special power. Take one look at the shackles locked around her wrists and that should be blatantly obvious!) Talking like she has her shit together, with some degree of authority... it should tell them she's not the same confused little girl they picked up off the streets all those years ago. Briefly, she wonders why she never took this chance before and... well, it's obvious. The cultists rarely ever spoke to her, as if it were a sacred rule. (And even scarcer than that were instances where they listened to her. Seeing as she often slept a dreamless, drugged sleep and all. She never even got a chance in that position, where they ensured she had no agency of her own. Enraging! But she has to keep her cool now that she has the floor.)

The priest and other cultists stare at her. She can't be sure what's going through their heads, with their masks and hoods obscuring their faces.

"... Has no one told you? Not only is Morgan le Fey an excellent sorceress." She peppers a few coughs in. Still has to appear that she's suffering, here. It's a fine line between queen and damsel she's walking, here. Except... the sensation of her fake coughs may be bringing it on-- or maybe it's her spiking emotions-- but they're awakening something inside her chest. Yeah. It's coming. Along with the thorns, flowers bud and grow at a record breaking speed. Guinevere presses down on her dread to soldier through. "She also acted as my personal healer in Camelot."

And up it comes. Actual coughs, actual blood and, along with it, petals. As strange as it must appear from the outside, it feels just about as unpleasant as coughing up food you were previously choking on. "You were..." A cold sweat breaks out, she struggles to hold onto her thoughts. "You were taking so long. She was only trying to help..."

"Ahem. That may be true, goddess. But Morgan le Fey cannot possibly be equipped with the knowledge to handle your illness. It is rare to your kind. Something only we know how to treat. Attempting to heal you by other means may even worsen your condition!" The cultist sounds particularly... sensitive over this? Threatened, even. Weird that he used the word 'cannot', of all things, as if they knew for a fact that they were the only ones who possessed the knowledge needed to treat this 'illness'. If that's even what it was. Now that she's thinking about it, Morgan needed more time to look at her head... didn't she? That means she found something that wasn't supposed to be there. Something the cultists planted, something that they couldn't snip away or purge in a mere matter of seconds. Hell, they didn't even have seconds now. It's already over. Oh, shit. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Then he smiles. "I am sure she must have meant well, though. Rest assured, goddess. We will not hurt her."

Um. His 'reassurances' have a way of making her worry more, damn it! These cultists are confirmed liars, for one, and-- Guinevere might've said something more if not for the jarring stab in her arm and the wafting of familiar chemicals. She looks at Morgan one more time, fighting her fading vision. Grappling with the sudden fear that she may not be herself again when she wakes up, she mumbles incoherently as the sensation of a weighted blanket falls over her and drags her down into sleep.

Then, sure enough, as if to contradict exactly what he just said, the cultist moves like lightning as he pushes Morgan against the sealed door to interrogate her. That hospitality shtick disappeared real fast, didn't it? "--Out with it, sorceress. What spell did you cast?"
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods. She had been careless, hadn’t she? Such a great opportunity, presented to her on a silver platter, even, and boom, smashed to pieces. The consequences of this… ah, Morgan didn’t even want to think about those! (The celebration. Would the celebration still happen? Yes, more than likely, but unlike Guinevere, she wasn’t a vital part of the festivities-- easily, they could let her rot in some catacombs, and their precious rituals wouldn’t suffer from that absence at all. Aaargh! Had she, in this metaphorical game of chess, sacrificed a queen to protect a pawn? Cut off the branch she’d been standing on, only to tumble down, down, down into the darkness? No, surely not. There had been no good solution, dammit! Had Morgan not taken the risk, she would have regretted it, she just knew-- Guinevere’s future had been at stake, and still was. How, then, could she have prioritized her own safety? Except that now you ruined it for you both. Romantic, isn’t it? Being doomed at the same time. Kinda has a star-crossed feel to it, if you ignore the fact that… well, all of the facts, essentially.)

This was no time for a pity party, though. They would cry, Morgan figured, once they led her to the gallows-- till then, she could, you know, try not to end up there. Just a suggestion! And Gwen, despite being at her captor’s mercy, tried to make that come true for her. (Perhaps absurdly, Morgan felt a sudden surge of pride in her chest. Months ago, you see, when the only world she had known had been the wastes, her response would have been very different! It would have involved teeth, probably, and while she had learned to appreciate that facet of hers, it would, uh, not have been ideal. Mildly speaking. Instead of erupting in rage, though? Guinevere had tamed her fury, swallowed her screams, and spun a silver thread out of her words. A thread upon which she could climb to safety, hopefully!) “Yes,” Morgan nodded, not missing a beat, “that’s right. The goddess’ condition worsened rapidly, and so I did my best to help in any way that I could. Would that not be a crime, to stand around and do nothing?”

One would have assumed so, but for some reason, the official narrative claimed otherwise. Hmm, hmm. What was going on here, actually? (All the clues pointed to a certain conclusion, and that conclusion was written with big, neon letters, too. Clue number one: The curious timing of Guinevere’s illness. Clue number two: Its nature, which seemed to have something to do with awakening the dead soil. You know, just like what the cultists had been trying to do! Clue number three: The bastard of a priest looking almost alarmed that she had attempted to cure Guinevere-- not like a doctor might be, but like a criminal that had been caught red-handed. So, the conclusion? Unless she was terribly, terribly mistaken, then it seemed to Morgan that they did not want her to get better. In fact, they might have caused it! Whatever they’d been doing was working, quite clearly, but at what cost? And considering that they hadn’t hesitated to drown her…)

Don’t touch me, you filth, the sorceress wanted to say, but she kept her temper on a tight leash. So what if he had no right to breathe the same air as she did, much less touch her? The revenge would be sweet, oh, it would, it would, but its time hadn’t come yet. No, Morgan had to douse the fire in her belly before it consumed everything that was dear to her! “I’d wager that this is just a misunderstanding,” she said, with all the calm that she was not feeling. “We both want the best for the goddess, don’t we?” …yes, except that her definition of best didn’t translate to ’keeping her locked for some cult’s parasitic needs.’ Just, this couldn’t be her destiny! Restoring the earth, whatever it meant, couldn’t possibly boil down to this-- to handing herself over to those who would use her, ruthlessly, till she had nothing more to give. That… that had been Arthur, dammit! And they hadn’t toppled his reign just so that Gwen could end up a prisoner to another.

…right. Nice to know that the façade was gone, if nothing else. What would be the wise thing to claim, though? Certainly not the scanning spell-- if she was right, you see, then that would be one way of ensuring her eventual execution. “Nothing bad,” Morgan said. “Just a simple charm. It has been designed to alleviate pain. The goddess was struggling to breathe, and it terrified me, okay? Or would you have preferred to return to her cooling corpse, hmm? You simply took too long. In situations such as this one, every second can be worth your own weight in gold. Again, I ask you: what was it that I should have done? Perhaps, had you given me actual instructions, I would have known what was expected of me.”
 

ellarose

wanderer
"We would all love to see the goddess recover. But these illnesses... are like fate." The priest waves a hand around, like he's reaching around in the air for more bullshit. 'Because fate said so' is hardly a concrete reasoning, is it? The group of cultists were working on repositioning Guinevere in the back, presumably so she wouldn't choke in her sleep. The man presses his hands together as he watches them, giving a long pause as if he's trying to recollect himself. Or maybe as if he's carefully considering what he should say. "They must pass naturally. It is difficult to stand by and watch, yes, but... she is a goddess, is she not? She is very durable. You see, Lady Morgan, now that we have the sword, our research has improved vastly. And we have learned that her pain, while it is heartbreaking to witness, must not be eased." Oh, heartbreaking. Right. Does he believe he's fooling anyone at this point? "It is an integral part of communicating with the sword. It is truly fascinating, the way the heirloom reacts! When she is pushed to her limits, miracles will be possible." He removes a needle from the folds of his hood, then, and hands it to another cultist who goes on to draw blood from Guinevere's arm. "No one ever said that reclaiming this earth would be an easy task. Blood must be shed. If you feel you must avert your eyes from it, Lady Morgan, perhaps you should not join the festivities tomorrow." He moves in closer, then, as if he fancies himself all-knowing and intimidating, and reaches for her arm.

"Tch. You preach incessantly about obeying the goddess's will." One of the cultists towards the back, a woman, speaks up. She exudes a sort of confidence that the rest lack, like a wolf among sheep. "Tonight, for the very first time, I heard her voice loud and clear. Didn't the rest of you? Unhand her."

The room goes silent, enough that the awkward shuffling of someone's feet could be heard scuffing the ground. The priest's jaw goes slack for a moment, as if he'd been slapped across the face. And in his shock, he releases Morgan's arm.

"I am not saying you are wrong. The research never lies." The woman said smoothly, gracefully stepping between the priest and Morgan. "...But Lady Morgan has a point. You did not give her instructions. The goddess unquestionably values her advisor's merit and company... more than yours, that is for certain. Tell me. Are you only trying to bar her from the festivities because you feel you made a mistake?"

"A-- a mistake!? What are you--"

"It was your idea to bring her here, was it not? And then you left her alone with the goddess without explaining our methods properly. If you ask me, you are the only one to blame." The woman tilts her head and examines her nails. Her... bloodstained, bubblegum pink nails? "If it were me? Well, I would have explained everything properly before allowing her to step foot inside of this room. You are the one in the position of authority here, sir, and I believe that you should take responsibility instead of blaming your missteps on our guest. Shall I bring this issue to the superiors and see what they think?"

"No. No, that is unnecessary." The priest tries to smooth both his tone and his robe, obviously flustered. Obviously unused to being questioned by his fellow cultists. None of them seemed eager to step up on his behalf. Then he glares, as if trying to discern who is trying to challenge him.

"Then it's settled. Lady Morgan will attend the festivities as planned. I am sure the goddess will be pleased to see a familiar face in attendance." She bows her head. "I will escort Lady Morgan to her room so that you all may resume your duties. Excuse me." She takes the blindfold into her hands and without further preamble or explanation, ties it over Morgan's eyes.

The woman doesn't remove the blindfold once they're outside. Even if she's an ally, it'd be too risky an endeavor with the guards roaming the streets. Even so, she doesn't take the same intentionally confusing, roundabout way that the priest had. In fact, she moves slow, as if she's trying to help Morgan memorize the route. She refuses to say a word until they arrive inside of the sorceress's room. She unties Morgan's blindfold... and then proceeds to remove her own mask. Revealing Guinevere's face? No, not Guinevere... not if the distinct second scar running in a jagged line down her face meant anything at all. A self-inflicted scar in the catacombs, a bargaining chip for her freedom.

"...Did you see the look on his face?" Jennifer grins like a satisfied cat, shaking her blonde curls free from her hood like a model on a runway. "Fucking hilarious."
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Were you familiar with the feeling that made it seem as if your heart was in your throat? With that wild thud, thud, thud, so loud it almost tore your ears off? Because that was what Morgan was experiencing now, essentially. (The soundtrack of failure, she almost wanted to say. The sign of things going terribly, terribly wrong, and you knowing that that was the case. Self-awareness was a terrible curse, wasn't it? 'I didn't receive any instructions,' pffft! An excuse worthy of an elementary school student who had forgotten their homework, and not of her. Of the person who was, you know, essentially engaging in acts of espionage here! No, not all is lost. Not as long as you don't give up. Haven't you lied yourself out of worse situations? The gods haven't granted you your silver tongue for nothing. Silver, you see, was a blessed metal-- easily bendable, easily mendable, easily shapable. With some willpower, you could transform it into the instrument you needed, and weren't proper instruments the first step to changing the world? Not even Camelot, with its foundations of stone, had withstood her onslaught. And, after killing that beast, why should she die here? Here, in the middle of nowhere? That would be like like slaying a hydra with five heads, only to have her throat torn out by a mere coyote! How very, very anti-climactic.)

Now, anti-climactic wasn't the way she wanted to go-- not after suffering through multiple lifetimes, dammit. Surely, there had to be a point to all of this! A point that wasn't just 'life is random and cruel, so suck it up, buttercup.' Led by this faith, Morgan looked up, and... ah, of course. Naturally. Why had she expected anything aside from excuses, again? And those excuses weren't even good! Maybe she would have believed them, really, had she been raised in this godforsaken place where 'critical thinking' seemed to be the foulest of slurs, but, unfortunately for him, that was not how Morgan le Fey had been taught to operate. "Oh?" she asked, her eyebrow flying somewhere into the stratosphere. "I could have sworn you spoke of a treatment earlier. Treatment, as in the thing that tends to lead to curing the patient. Silly me, right? Apparently, I am so tired now that my brain straight up invents things." Doubtlessly, if one could cut their hand on Morgan's sarcasm, the priest would be bleeding to death right now. So, Guinevere had to suffer for the good of them all, huh? The pretty little sacrifical lamb? How, hmm, familiar. Hadn't Arthur and his cronies spouted something similarly idiotic earlier? Because, you know, hiding behind a meatshield was so, so comfortable-- as long as that meatshield wasn't you, that was.

"Ultimately, however, it changes nothing. You still failed to prepare me for the situation. How was I to know that the goddess wasn't to be treated? Do you truly think that, when a faithful one sees their deity wither, their first reaction is to do nothing? To stare their pain in the face? If so, then you understand not the believer's heart." Had Morgan just pulled out the verbal equivalent of a shotgun? Yep, she had! Because, underneath that statement? Underneath that statement, there was a thinly veiled implication of 'You are not a true believer. You are not worthy of your goddess' love.' Surely, the cultists must have caught up on it? They weren't stupid, per se-- just manipulated into dedicating their entire lives to this concept that wasn't an actual thing. Presumably, if Guinevere was their greatest treasure, they'd recognize an insult aimed at her!

...one of them did, at least, and joined Morgan as an unexpected ally. (Ah. Was it just her, or did the woman's voice seem familiar? Her way of speaking did, too, even if she couldn't categorize it-- like a dream half-forgotten, really. Wait, wait, wait. Is she actually thinking? Without the priest's guidance? In a place like this, that could only be considered heresy, and yet, yet the woman continued shattering taboos left and right. Okay. Okay, what was going on here? Trouble in paradise, perhaps? Could the cult be divided into multiple factions, each more power-hungry than the other? If so, then that could be exploited, the sorceress supposed, but it wouldn't be wise to jump to conclusions so fast. No, Morgan would allow this rebel to lead her to her room, and...

...and, before that could happen, she almost gave her a heart-attack. Just, what? Jennifer? Morgan had had an inkling they'd meet again, but she'd wagered it would happen during another failed impersonation attempt. Instead of that, however... well, it appeared that Jen had just saved her hide. (Or had she? When stuck in a pit full of snakes, one had to mind their step.) "Yes," the sorceress agreed, "prime comedy material. What are you doing here, Jen? Sightseeing? Or have you found your religion, perhaps? Do share the details, please."
 

ellarose

wanderer
"Aw. I thought you knew me better than that, Morgan dear. I would never support a religion that forces me to dress like this." Jennifer pinches at the heavy sleeves billowing around her arms and then gestures downward at her outfit with the enthusiasm of a feline doused in water. There were, of course, other reasons. Reasons that went far deeper than that surface level she always broadcasted. Opening up about the past isn't on the agenda right now. Or ever, in her case. "And neither would you. Like... you agree, right? This robe is so frumpy I want to throw it in the garbage and set it on fire. Your people in Camelot might be stuck in a time capsule or whatever, but at least they know how to dress.” Ah, the dresses! She nearly loses herself in her envy, then, when she thinks of Guinevere reigning singlehandedly over a castle that gives her access to clothes and shoes and jewels that she couldn't care less about.

"As for why I'm here... well, I'm going to help you two lovebirds escape." Jennifer smirks and then perches herself down on Morgan's bed. She fixes her with a steady, unwavering gaze. "And I know what you're about to ask. What's in it for me, right? If I said I've come out of the goodness of my heart, you wouldn't believe me!" She drapes a hand dramatically over her forehead and then schools her expression back into something neutral. "I'm not here to repay my debt, either. No, no, no. I'll be honest with you, Morgan, because I know you'll see through my bullshit. And I can respect that."

"In this world, there's only one person I serve. And that's myself." She aims a manicured nail at her own chest. "You see, my reasons are a simple matter of survival. The beasts out there are worse than ever, food is scarce, and I'm hardly prospering."

Jennifer stands, then, and begins to pace. "Anyway. I was out there living my own life, minding my own business... and before I know it, I'm being chased down by a frantic search party comprised of knights and that annoying Adrianne." She rolls her eyes and flips her hair. "They were looking for you and Gwen and mistakenly grabbed me. Not the first time that's happened. I've got to tell you, it's a nuisance looking like the biggest damn target in the wastelands." Bastards corner her all the time thinking they'd be able to ransom her off! And it really just puts salt in her wounds, knowing that no one would pay a ransom for the likes of her. They seek her out and then toss her back the moment they realize she isn't the genuine artifact. It really is aggravating. "Adrianne was reluctant to give me any information, but the knights blabbed. They were all freaking out, you know, seeing as you two disappeared out of thin air. I figured my skills could come in handy, considering I have a knack for tracking down my sister. I had a gut feeling she'd be here."

"Now, getting to my point. From what I understand, you drove Arthur out. And now, without Gwen, Camelot is vulnerable without a leader. It's only a matter of time before word will spread. People living out in the wastelands are becoming more and more desperate. An army could assemble and storm past the gates. Or god forbid Arthur might take advantage of this opportunity and come crawling back. All your efforts wasted... the situation could become very, very dire." Jennifer shakes her head somberly. "Anyway. Truth be told, I'd prefer to see Gwen on the throne over Arthur or some rando. Deep down, I know she holds enough love for me not to let me starve. If I do this for her, she can send me on my way with some water and food... maybe a jewel and a few dresses for good measure. And then I'll be out of your hair. My ambitions are realistic, okay? I'm not delusional enough think I have a fighting chance taking over Camelot with you and her pesky little gang around."

"We don't have to be friends, Morgan. Just consider me a temporary ally. I know the ins and outs of this place. You know what that's like, right? Blending into your environment to survive? Gwen slept like a baby through that part of our childhood, with all those sketchy tests they were running... but me? A handful of these sick fuckers practically raised me." Jennifer reaches in her robes and reveals an ornate dagger. Not just any dagger, though. Guinevere's dagger. The one Morgan gave her so long ago, the one she used to put the stag out of its misery when all of this began. "They confiscated this. I thought you might find a use for it. Consider it a peace offering? You're armed now. If you think I'm deceiving you, I'm giving you the okay to plunge it into my heart."
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"No," the sorceress smirked, "you really wouldn't." Jennifer may have been a lot of things, and Morgan may have struggled to find a kind word for her, but for her to desecrate the holy altar of fashion? Pffft! The thought was so bizarre, really, that only the idea of a fish drowning managed to top it in its absurdity. "I mean, despite our differences, I don't think you would have chosen that color if it had been up to you. Makes your complexion look rather ashen, doesn't it?" ...what? Morgan could be petty as well, thank you very much. After everything she'd been through in those past few days, she felt she should have the right to give in to her, uh, less charming traits. (Blah blah blah, yeah, it was potentially risky, alright. The thing was, Jen had saved her for a reason, right? A damn good reason, too, because only a fool would risk her life for the survival of someone who she was half-hearted about. Oh no, no, no! A tiny jab like this, Morgan knew, wouldn't tank her chances. "They're probably designed that way on purpose," she said despite all of that, possibly as a peace offering. "I imagine that, if those poor brainwashed sheep realized there are things more beautiful than the fairytales their beloved priest spins, they might be less inclined to follow his teachings." Jen had compared this place to Camelot, and she wasn't wrong, you know? Except that, in Camelot, it was wisdom they'd seen as dangerous, not beauty-- a fatal mistake, for both could serve as an instrument of understanding.

...still, though. What, exactly, was Jennifer doing here? What kind of plan had she hatched, and to what extent would Morgan go along with it? Because, make no mistake, she didn't actually have a real choice here. When surrounded by feral wolves, you grabbed whatever sword that happened to be in your reach, right? Regardless of how rusty it might be. (Of course, that didn't mean you'd trust it blindly. Both a rusty sword and Jennifer had their uses, but to actually consider them her allies? Pffft! Morgan hadn't been born yesterday, so don't expect her to act like it.) With her gaze sharper than most knives, the sorceress looked at her love's twin. Her motivations... actually sounded believable? Believable for who she was, and the situation she found herself in. Now, make no mistake-- Morgan wasn't actually going to believe her. At least 30% of what she was saying likely was unambiguously true, but what of the rest of it? And would a woman as ambitious as Jennifer be alright with a few dresses as payment? The way she flattered her activated her inner alarm, too-- without trying too hard, Morgan could see a trap hidden in those words, sharp and metallic.

No, no. Caution was in order, just like during all the dealings with potential enemies. "Very well," she nodded, her expression carefully neutral. "If that's what you want, then that can be easily arranged. I'm sure Gwen wouldn't mind." As long as Jen didn't try to pull another grand theft identity, or whatever it was that she was currently occupied with. With everyone always watching her, though? Even Morgan had to admit that it would be hard for her. "Fine, fine, ally. I'm not going to pretend I'll shed tears of joy over getting to work with you, but better you than those freaks." See? The sorceress was even honest! (Lies, you see, were an instrument too blunt-- a hammer, or perhaps a mace. They had its uses, of course, but why reach for a hammer when a needle would do? Half truths, in other words, and details unshared.)

"And, no. As theatric as that would be, we just don't have the time for this, alright?" Morgan said, before accepting the dagger. (Hmm. Perhaps her intentions were cleaner than what she gave her credit for? Because this gesture was nice, not gonna lie.) "Thank you. Anyway, you spoke of us escaping earlier. Is there a plan? Did you have anything specific in mind? We were thinking of using the celebration, but if you have other ideas, I'm all ears. Oh, and also! Upon capturing her, the cultists took Gwen's locket. Do you happen to know where it is?" The stag she knew about, and presumably, the Excalibur was something that Guinevere could access, but the locket? The location of that remained a mystery.)
 

ellarose

wanderer
"Allies. I would toast to that, if we had the drinks." Jennifer grins, coiling a curl around her forefinger, and nods amusedly along with the sorceress's 'better you than those freaks' comment. She releases her hair and it bounces back into place like a spring. Ah, she could really use a drink. "I swear, those bastards living in the ritzy parts of the village have a secret stash somewhere. Vintage wine, champagne, the works. They dress like trash bags, but don't let that fool you. They created this whole 'religion' to benefit themselves. Make the rules up as they go." She hums, almost understandingly. "And the poor villagers on the bottom are so desperate for food that they don't think twice about the contradictions, let alone about selling their souls. They see the results firsthand, so they can't deny that they're doing something right."

Jennifer watches Morgan carefully as she asks her questions, tilting her head as she considers each one.

"A locket, hm? Interesting. I don't know where it is. But if you followed my advice and put an enchantment on her jewelry, I'd be willing to bet that they took it to the lab to study it." Jennifer shrugs, her eyes shining in the dark. "Even if it's not in there, it'd still be worth your time to go and check it out. You love your research, right? I hear they've got all sorts of files and juicy secrets hidden inside. No doubt the place to go if you want to find out what makes Gwen tick." She winks teasingly and then examinines her nails, as if the concept bored her already. The cult's creepy labs still give her major ptsd, but she's not about to reveal that tidbit of information. They're allies, after all, not friends. "According to my sources, the lab's in the basement of the building with the cute little birdbath fountains out front. You could take advantage of the party to check it out." She lowers her voice a touch conspiratorially. "Besides, we need to figure out how to undo whatever they've done to poor Gwen. Not to sound shallow or anything, but we can't take her back to Camelot looking the way she does now. Those new fangs of hers? They're going to freak people out."

There's a prime opportunity here to boast about how she's undoubtedly the prettier twin now, but one look at Morgan and she knows she doesn't have the right audience for that. There's a time and place for everything! And despite what her actions in the past might have implied about her character, a hint of worry is decipherable if you squint hard enough at the little crease in her brow. "And you haven't seen half of it. Like... plants were growing out of her skin and shit. That can't be natural." There are some lines even she wouldn't cross. This has evolved from taking blood a few times a day to outright torture. "I always suspected she was a different species from me, you know. Her lack of fashion sense, for one, is just tragic." She shakes her head. "Not like this, though."

"Right. So, I snuck in this morning and had to play a boatload of catch up on all the new developments. Like, the freaky magic sword in the greenhouse? Can't say I've had enough time to craft a brilliant plan in the meantime." Jennifer reassembles her usual smirk. Ah. The last time they spoke one on one like this, they were in a similar situation, weren't they? Only she was trying to coax Morgan's plans for Arthur out of her... and using all the wrong means to do so. Ah, so nostalgic. The wedding dress she'd been wearing at the time seemed to belong in a distant dream. You know, before she got tossed into the catacombs and ruined it. Watching the dress deteriorate day by day was it's own sub-genre of horror. Ugh, cringe. Still gives her nightmares to this day. "Not that I'm worried. We'll improvise, dear, because that's how you survive the wastelands. When the party presents us with an opportunity, we'll grab it by the balls."

"I'll drop by later with your disguise. I know this garb is hideous, but blending in is your ticket to getting around. Everyone wears the same lifeless shade of white, as you know... so that pretty black number of yours is going to stick out like a sore thumb." Jennifer nods approvingly at it. "...If you need me, just look for the cultist with the best nails." She flashes her pink manicure with pride. "I'm thinking I'll ransack some quality goods and set a few fires. That should provide you with the chaos you need to make a move, no?"
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Ah, of course. Why wasn't that surprising? Probably because, when you stripped down all those layers and got to the living, beating heart of Camelot, it had been exactly the same-- every single rule, no matter how nonsensical, had been drafted with one goal in mind. And, that goal? Why, to strengthen Arthur's grip over their lives! (How weak they were, the sorceress realized. They might have thought themselves strong, clad in their shiny armor and armed with bulletproof ideologies, but in reality? Only a weakling would ever reach for those. A strong person, you see, didn't mind their viewpoints challenged-- didn't mind adjusting their opinions, once they found they'd been wrong about something. That, after all, was the vehicle of progress. These fools, on the other hand? Willingly, they'd put wool over their eyes, and now they were forcing the others to do the same! ...that was how Morgan knew they'd lose, ultimately. In the short-term, the tactic had brought them victories, yes, but all those successes stood on feet of clay. Lies weren't the most durable of materials, you know? And those who attempted to build an empire on such foundations would always learn about the true depths of their folly, sooner or later.)

"The lab," Morgan repeated, astonished. How come these freaks even had one? From what she'd gathered, these guys weren't exactly the fans of, uh, intellectual solutions-- then again, it wouldn't surprise her if that was only true for pawns. Reaping the fruits of research, she imagined, wasn't unpleasant. As long as they cherrypicked facts, and didn't have to acknowledge certain uncomfortable truths, it could be very convenient, indeed! "Yes, I would love to examine the place. I'm sure many answers are hiding there. As for Gwen's condition... I have my suspicions regarding that as well, and if my intuition is right, then the lab might shed more light on it. Either way, I'm fairly sure it is connected to this place in some way. The bastard of a priest claimed it was inherent to her nature, but don't you think it's such a funny, funny coincidence? The fact that she had literally never suffered from something like that before, and then suddenly, when they subject her to these strange experiments, it just happens. Hmm, hmm! If I were a more cynical woman, I'd say they're doing this to her. Of course, things being what they are, never would I dare to imply such a thing! Everyone can see they only have Gwen's best interests in mind."

Thankful for the promise of more suitable clothes and a distraction, Morgan sent Jen on her merry way. It was time for her to rest, you see? If magic had to be called upon at some point, the sorceress could use every drop of energy, and there was no better opportunity to gather it. Just wait for me, Gwen. Soon, I will free you from your shackles. No longer will you have to deal with any of that, I swear. On my honor.

With nothing for her to do, time passed torturously slow, but never did it stop, and eventually? Eventually, Morgan was free to leave her fancy little prison.

Oh, gods. Gods, what they have done? A good question, indeed, because the sight she was greeted with was utterly breathtaking. All those miserable little huts were drowning in flowers, red and white and yellow, and as for lights? Swarms of fireflies were illuminating the scenery, so numerous that they dwarfed the stars in the sky. Beautiful, truly. Beautiful and spine-tinglingly horrible, for Morgan didn't even want to imagine what they must have done to Guinevere to coax so much life out of the earth! The cultists, of course, cared not for any of that. Those mindless beasts were talking and laughing and dancing, as if their happiness wasn't built on top of someone else's suffering, and...

"Beloved brothers, sisters," the main bastard addressed his precious followers, his voice magically amplified. "We've gathered here today to celebrate our goddess' triumphant return," yes, right, "and to see where her fate will compel her to go next. For that reason alone, all of you will be allowed to glimpse her face. Treasure the moment, for whole eternity may pass before such an opportunity comes again!" Next to him, a woman was standing-- her face was veiled, like that of a bride, but it must have been Gwen, Morgan knew, and... wait. A bride? Hadn't he said something about her having to pick a new husband? Oh shit, shit, shit! The priest, of course, proceeded to reveal her face. "Greet goddess Guinevere, your joy and salvation! Now, new life always springs from a union of two, and that's why she must be given away. To whom shall she be given, though? We've thought long and hard about it, and come to the conclusion that only fate may decide." Ah, fate. Not, you know, her? The woman that this was directly affecting? Hahaha, what a silly, silly thought! ...gods, Morgan wanted to die.

"Only fate itself, you see, is wise enough to have a say in who shall father her children. So, bearing that in mind... our goddess shall dance!" Dance? What? What did that have to do with literally anything? "She shall dance, dance till exhaustion makes her fall to her knees, and the one who holds her at that time shall become her husband. To that end, we crafted special shoes for her." One of her handmaids kneeled next to Gwen, probably to put those on, and... gods. Was it just her, or did Morgan see steel flash in the darkness? Spikes, perhaps? The bastards! Oh, how she wished to strangle every last one of them--

"May the wedding begin!"
 

ellarose

wanderer
Guinevere wonders if this is how unsuspecting animals in the wastes feel, waiting in a morbid chrysalis before emerging a mechanical beast. Watching with eyes wide open as the virus weaves itself around the nervous system, infecting the networks of cells and fibers. Watching just behind the veil, horrifically aware as their bodies moved at the will of their mysterious puppeteer and betrayed every base instinct. When she first opened her eyes to greet the new day, it was only natural that she immediately wondered and fretted over what had happened just before they dropped a dark curtain over the scene unfolding in front of her. (Because-- damn it-- by threatening Morgan, they may as well have been dangling her heart over a flame, holding it at knifepoint, filling it with stones and sinking it to the darkest depths of the ocean.) What happened to her? Morgan, who the priest grabbed so callously. Morgan, with blood running down her face. All because she'd been trying to save her. And... save her from what? The answer became clear in the gravest of ways when Guinevere's lips parted to form these questions and, instead of words, a wheezing breath escaped. Refusing to give up, she tried again and again and again to make a noise until tears brimmed in her eyes. When he decided she understood the situation, the priest dangled a shiny purple vial in front of her. He claimed that she might earn her voice back if she behaved during the festivities. No biting, in other words, which was one of the very few actions she was capable of performing herself. They couldn't very well present her to her people gagged, after all! They laughed and shook their heads at that and she wanted nothing more than to set the room on fire. Hell, she didn't even care if she remained inside herself and burned with them. It would be satisfying just to watch them scream and writhe. (Was this how Morgan had felt, back when Excalibur burst into flame between herself and Arthur? You suffered so much cruelty... and, at a certain point, the hatred burned any remaining fucks you had to give to ashes. Somehow, she can understand the way the sorceress appeared to accept her fate in that moment. Guinevere, though, didn't want to accept that fate for her. Love compelled her to dive into flames after her... and that was powerful. Love was the reason she had picked up a sword in the first place. Not to end lives, but to save them. Die for love instead of hate. She wanted to hold onto that belief, naive as it might have been. She wanted to hold onto it until the bitter end. Morgan had to be alive. Had to, had to, had to! There was still love out there to fight for. Even if Guinevere lost everything else, she resolved to keep her head. If she could at least do that, these bastards would get what they deserved in due time.) The cultists proceeded to unlock her shackles and she didn't run. She didn't move an inch. Couldn't move an inch. They cleaned her until not a spot of blood remained on her skin, dressed her in an outfit befitting of a deity amidst an apocalypse, and then, for what felt like hours, tirelessly combed at her wild, knotted hair until it cascaded down her back in soft, shiny waves. Again, she was reduced to a pretty doll and... when a red tint was applied to her lips and a veil was draped over her head, the realization dawned on her.

Another wedding! Whoop-dee-fucking-doo.

When the veil is lifted again, Guinevere finds herself staring out into a sea of masks. An ominous hush rolls over a crowd that was previously chatting and laughing as every figure pivots to stare at her. They all give off such a cold and unfeeling air, with their expressions hidden from view. There's not a trace of humanity to be found among them, the way they watch unflinching as the handmaid slips those horrible shoes onto her feet. They're... expecting her to dance in these? The insoles feel prickly and incredibly uncomfortable. Like, who designed them and why? And, uh, the last time she danced was during her last wedding-- and it had been so horrible that it spawned all sorts of teasing remarks from the noble ladies. Yeah, she's pretty sure those inside jokes about her terrible dancing persisted among their catty circles even to this day. So, ha, the joke's on them! All they're going to accomplish here is making their precious goddess look like a total idiot! They're throwing stones at their own credibility, what with all that bull about her grace and blessings and shit. No way anyone can put her on a pedestal after witnessing such a travesty. She can't--

Except that she does. The musicians pick up their instruments and start to play a waltz. At the same time, the prickling sensation under her feet intensifies until, suddenly, the spikes on her insoles grow in length and plunge into her feet. They move up and down in time with the music, spurning her into action. Guinevere vaguely feels the warmth of her blood pooling and filling the shoes as she performs a dance that sure as hell isn't her own. Each movement is fluid and graceful and not at all indicative of the horrible pain she's in. Like this, she resembles a delicate, prima ballerina who lived her whole life in an ivory tower instead of a warrior who braved the wastelands. Whenever the rhythm slows, her feet are allowed a brief moment of respite... only to experience that searing pain when it picks up again and the spikes stab upward. It's horrible, horrible, horrible. Were the song and these hellish shoes linked magically somehow? Or maybe they're controlled by a remote? Either way, this spectacle is certainly putting on a show for the crowd. People gasp in awe as the once empty plots of land circling the square fill in with long grass and wildflowers, springing to life impeccably adjacent with her steps. It resembles a scene out of a fairytale, really. To the eyes of the villagers present, she's accomplishing this miracle by dancing-- seemingly without a care in the world-- effortlessly blessing them with new life.

Guinevere didn't know how anything could be worse than those high heels she had to wear in Camelot. Unfortunately, life seems to derive entertainment from informing her that things could always be worse! She's confident that she'd have collapsed the instant these torture devices were strapped on her feet... but her pain threshold is callously disregarded as her puppeteer's invisible strings hold her upright for the entirety of the dance. They force her to endure every step of the way. The worse she feels the more luxurious the flowers... they grow taller and more beautiful until a buzzing explodes in her ears. Make it stop, please. The pain, the blood, the flowers. They're all linked. Well, duh. Shit. The cultists planned their first act perfectly, didn't they? Giving their people both a show and a tangible proof of their teachings... and, in one fell swoop, they destroyed Guinevere's feet to the point where she wouldn't be able to dream of running away on them.

The music fades and then stops. Guinevere's barely coherent, panting shallowly as the masks in the crowd blur around her. The strings snap and she collapses towards her eager followers, all according to the cultist's plans.

...Except for, you know, the fact that at that very same moment, the building they regally deemed 'her chambers' burst into flames.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
One day, when they found themselves far, far away from the craziness of this night, Morgan would ponder over everything they'd experienced here. 'Do they really believe this is meant to help Guinevere?' she'd ask herself. 'Are their eyes this unseeing? Is there not an ounce of shame in their bodies, an ounce of decency?' All of those were good questions, doubtlessly, except that she couldn't focus on asking them now-- not when her blood was boiling in her veins, anyway. Just, how dared they?! What kind of sick freak had invented a game this cruel? Husband this, husband that. Why oh why did their lives have to revolve around some bastards they'd never even met? The shade of those strangers hung over them, dark like clouds filled with a storm, and whether it happened to be Arthur, Lancelot, Urien, or someone else entirely... well, that actually mattered very little. All those names, you see, equaled to loss of freedom. Loss of self. Ah, if only she could run to her, and alleviate some of that pointless suffering! (If, if, if. As much as it made Morgan wince, and as much as her eyes pricked with unshed tears, she knew she couldn't do it. So the sorceress would approach her, and then what? Heal her feet? Kiss the blood away? That was all nice and dandy, but it wouldn't buy them their grand escape, dammit. It would close the only route that led there, right before their very noses! Think of the locket. The locket. That's the important thing here. ...I'm sorry, Gwen. Forgive me.)

Jen, if nothing else, had fulfilled her promise of bringing her more inconspicuous clothes, so Morgan was standing in the crowd-- just one molecule of water in the white, white sea. A perfect disguise, really! How could anyone tell who she was, with the hood over her head? With everyone far too focused on Gwen's dance, so much that sparing a glance at one of their colleagues seemed like a damn waste? Fanatics. Filth. I will end you, all of you, but before that happens? You will beg for mercy, that I promise to you. You will beg for it, and you shall only receive it to the same extent that you afforded to Guinevere. That is, not at all!

Entirely disgusted with the spectacle, and with her heart heavy, Morgan turned away. The lab! She had to find the lab, otherwise all of her love's suffering would be in vain. Now, where had Jennifer said it was? Ah, yes, yes, in that direction, and if the sorceress focused enough... indeed, she could sense the tell-tale humming. (It was and wasn't mechanical, much like the beasts roaming the wilds. The wild energy swirled, swirled, and swirled in the air, much like smoke over fire, and Morgan? Morgan only had to follow it. Soon. Soon, I shall find it, and then you will regret ever being born.)

In meantime, though? It seemed that Guinevere had more reasons to regret exactly that, really. The cultists laughed and clapped, as if seeing her bleed all over the grass was the most fun they'd had in ages. Those chuckles quickly morphed into ooohs and aaahs, too-- the flowers growing in her footsteps, you see, was an impressive touch. (The imagery of spring? Check. A new life being born from a sacrifice? Check. The confirmation of Guinevere's godly nature? Check, check and check! Whoever had invented this scenario, they must have been a skilled propagandist.)

"Praise to the goddess!"

"Yes, praise her, praise her!"

"Let her wash this earth in her blood, and drown those unfaithful to her cause!"

Charming, wasn't it? The way people could cease being people, and turn into a crowd-- into a many-headed hydra, a mindless beast who only yearned for blood. (...the blood of their enemies, or the blood of their goddess? Anything would quench that thirst, it seemed, as long as it was paid for with another's life.)

"See? See how beautifully she dances?" the priest shrieked, his voice somehow louder than the music. (Hmm, hmm. How curious! Could magic be strengthening it, perhaps? Because no ordinary human could achieve such a feat.) "Fate itself is leading her, oh yes, yes. For this dance alone, he is her partner-- and it is his goal to hand her over to another, much like a father leads his daughter down the aisle. Watch this moment, faithful ones, and carve it into your memory! History is being written right before your very eyes." ...history that, apparently, also included explosions. Explosions that weren't really meant to be part of this, judging by the quick looks of alarm the cultists exchanged among themselves! Now, did it unnerve the priest? If so, you couldn't read it in his eyes-- with a flick of his wrist, he merely sent a pack of goons to investigate, and then he turned back to Guinevere.

"Worry not, faithful ones," he spoke, in a calming tone a shepherd might use for soothing scared sheep. Which, heh, fitting! "The arcane energies are wild tonight, for they know our goddess is to find her other half. A man so righteous, indeed, that he alone was chosen among mortals to reach divinity! Soon, his face shall be unveiled." Unveiled, yes, because the bastard that Guinevere had collapsed in front of? He was wearing a mask, black with golden embroidery. Nothing but his mouth could be seen, his mouth and his narrow, cruel eyes, but... hmm. Was it just her, or was there something familiar about his posture? About his aura, as Morgan might have said?

"Before that happens, however," joy glimmered in the priest's eyes, "let the newly-weds enjoy their first dance together. Rise, oh goddess, and step beyond your limits!" The music started to play again, the notes whirling in a sweeping crescendo as her legs moved against her will, and then... then the man spoke. Uh oh. "Have you missed me, Guinevere?"
 
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ellarose

wanderer
Blood, drown, drown, drown. Wild, fate, daughter. The priest's words brush against her mind in snippets. Guinevere's whole body-- especially her feet-- pulse with aftershocks. Whatever remains of her consciousness hangs by a magic thread, really, a stubborn tether that doesn't allow her to succumb. Lying on the ground, the phantom pain of spikes haunt her long after the dance ended. Eating into her flesh, tearing, tearing, tearing. Goddess, righteous, chosen, newly-weds, dance. No, no, no. Anything but another dance. Please. She can't take this anymore. And... and what was that about newly-weds? She isn't given much time to wonder, because at his command she's on her feet again and, gods... her feet. Contrary to what these bastards believe, she isn't a fucking goddess. Even for her, the raw hurt is far too much for her to comprehend. All she can think is that she wants it to stop. All around her are masks that reflect a complete disregard for her as a person. Because they don't see her as a person, obviously. Ugh. And a particularly rancid aura emanates from the man standing in front of her.

Have you missed me, Guinevere? ...Who? Guinevere has trouble focusing on his blurry, masked face. But the sound of his voice and the shape of his hand on the small of her back are all she needs to take a cold slap of familiarity to the face. Of all people... Arthur? Either this is a trap, a cruel illusion, or he's real. And if he's real... if he's real... it's too much. Well, this has been too much for quite a while now. The physical strain is bad enough without piling this extra layer of psychological torment on top. Every muscle in her body yearns to disobey the will of her conductor, to get as far away from him as possible. Ah. If the strength of her will alone could break her chains, she'd have broken free of them by now! Alas... Roots snap, snap, snap and the crowd gasps in awe as healthy trees flourish and fill in the remaining spaces. What a miracle, right? Like clockwork, with no other viable options of escape, she dissociates.

The reverie whisks Guinevere off to a dreamlike place, far away from the cult and their schemes. A forest. One where several creatures like her are positioned in a circle. They're all sharp teeth, bright eyes, and messy hair adorned with flowers, twigs, berries and leaves. Hand in hand they dance, laugh, and lean against each other when they've grown tired. The air around them shimmers with fireflies and magic. The simple sensations of the breeze, the gentle brush of the grass and flowers beneath their skin joins them like old friends. They aren't refined or polished, they aren't goddesses. Aren't infallible. They have vices, yes, each and every one of them. And yet not one has the desire to wear a mask to hide her true face. No. Intuitively, she understands that their state of being is what provides nourishment to the earth around them. The forest is vast, the grass tall and trees taller. Not one of her sisters is made to act like something she is not, none are cruelly made to drown in their own blood. For them, it really is as simple as... dancing. Painlessly, for fun-- moving in any way that comes naturally to them. (Hm. When was the last time Guinevere danced for fun? The fact that she can't even remember is... sad.) Wait. Her sisters? Ah, right. That's what the other Guinevere said to reference to other fae. She hoped to learn more about them when she visited the past... but the first Morgan said that they cast her out.

The lively scene unfolding around her slows until it stills completely. A voice echoes in her head.

'Forgive us, child. Our intention was never to abandon you. That is why we forged the Excalibur to respond when you needed help.' It says. 'The humans are fragile creatures, but dangerous in that they are innovative. With you and the sword in their possession, they have come to understand the nature of this magic.'

Ah. Well, Guinevere's capable of putting two and two together. Now they're torturing her and reaping the benefits. Of course they can't outright sacrifice her until she has children, you know, to continue her bloodline as a failsafe or something. So now they're sending her back to Arthur, or... or forcing Arthur to hand her over to another disgusting creep to own her for the rest of eternity? Either way. What... what complete bullshit! She'd have screamed at the top of her lungs if she still had a voice to scream with. So she fought through hell and high water to forge her connection with the sword... for this? Wielding Excalibur was supposed to be a step towards finding her own agency, her own path, her own future. It's supposed to be her partner, right? Is there a way to alter the magic, perhaps? Maybe so that it doesn't instinctively treat her like a goddamned damsel in distress? If she could convince it to respond to her will and hers alone, instead of the will of these horrible cultists... wouldn't that make all the difference? Um. Except there's no way of knowing for sure if that's even possible. She still has so much to learn about magic and the sword is so old. The only person she trusts to help her with such an endeavor is Morgan and she hasn't turned up yet. Surely she wouldn't stand idly by and watch this mess unfold? Which means she has to be someplace else. Or... or...

'Shall we show them that their actions have consequences?'


Heh. That's the best idea she's heard all day! Far more satisfying to consider revenge than the grim scenarios her mind was about to conjure up, anyway. (Because how can she be expected to show self-restraint in this state? She's made progress, sure. But she not perfect, not a goddess, and she's had enough!) When Guinevere reopens her eyes to her cruel reality, they're luminescent. Sure, she can't respond or articulate her disgust to the crowd... but she can still move her jaw. Do they want to know what her cause is really all about? Well, she hopes they're watching closely! Without hesitation, she viciously sinks her sharp, sharp teeth into her dance partner's shoulder.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Unlike Guinevere, of course, Arthur seemed deeply entertained-- almost as if someone had told him a hilarious joke, and now he was trying not to burst out in laughter. (Too bad that the joke happened to be her life, huh? Yeah, hard to laugh at that when the punchline always, always revolved around you being less than. A container for whatever heirs he gracefully gave her, really.) "I wasn't kidding when I spoke of your role in my grand destiny, you know? You may wish to run from it, my dear, but fate will always, always force you to return to my embrace. That is its very nature." Elegantly, he spun her around, and then he pulled her closer-- probably in an attempt to make the dance reflect his words, the pretentious bastard! (Well, that, and the flurry of movements also allowed him to step down on her foot, hard. It could have been a coincidence, sure, but the way he smiled when it happened? Yeah, it wasn't the type of smile that would say 'please, please, forgive me.' On the contrary, actually. If one were to interpret it, you see, something like 'serves you right' would be the most faithful translation!)

"Speaking of nature," Arthur continued, as if the act of casual cruelty had flown under his radar, "the medical examinations our friends here have conducted on you so far revealed some, hmm, interesting things. Groundbreaking things, even. Say, Guinevere, was it my sister who poisoned you?" ...wait, what? "It is just like her, indeed, to hit where it truly hurts. Like the fool I was, I believed her, entrusted the health of my wife into her hands, even, and she..." he paused dramatically, probably drunk on the fantasy of living in some alternative universe where Guinevere cared about what he might say. (Milking the tension would surely rouse her curiosity, wouldn't it? Wouldn't it?) "...she killed my sons before they were born," Arthur finally finished. "Stole you, too. I was far, far too merciful when dealing with her, and that mercy only brought me pain in the end." Yeah, pain. Kinda like having to dance while wearing those medieval torture devices, perhaps? That level of pain? "No matter, though. No matter. Fate travels via convoluted paths, my love, and in my darkest hour, I found my most faithful allies. The true extent of my destiny was revealed to me, too. I should have known-- being a mere king was a goal way too narrow for a man of my caliber. Instead, I shall become the father of gods. I presume that, with me gone, Morgan hasn't been poisoning you any longer, has she?" Unsurprisingly, the smile he wore while saying that could only be described as creep-tastic. "A blessing wrapped in a tragedy, truly. Tonight, I shall finally make the first step towards saving this wretched world." Good to know that he hadn't grown a brain or anything shocking like that during their brief separation, really! At this point, that would probably have been about as jarring as watching an alligator compose poems.

"This night, my dear, shall go down in history," he prattled on happily, ignoring all the warning signs. "My treacherous sister will die, too. Along with the stag, she will be sacrificed in order to bring-- aaargh!" The one certainty that Guinevere had in this mess? That Arthur did not appreciate the sharp, sharp teeth she had grown in captivity. Before he realized what was happening, blood was dripping down his throat, falling on the ground with this quiet plop, plop, plop, and, uh. Let's just say that there were some fascinating side-effects to this! Because the earth, you see, responded. (Guinevere's blood had made it sing, bloom in a wild frenzy that resembled the springs of old, but the blood that belonged to Arthur? The grass that drank it died, leaving behind patches of grey. The smell it generated was terrible, too, like ashes mixed with something incredibly acrid, and... ah, damn. What the hell was that? Those strange sounds, similar to a beast's stomach grumbling?)

The answer, of course, was provided to the confused onlookers soon enough. The growling grew more and more intense, as if its source was getting closer and with that? With that, the earth split itself apart, only for monsters to start pouring out of the cavity. "Pay," an inhuman voice shrieked. "Time to pay, pay, pay, for all the boons you've stolen!"

Meanwhile, Morgan reached the labs, blissfully unaware of the chaos that reigned outside. The locket, the locket, the locket. Now, if I had a brain the size of a chickpea, where would I hide such a thing? The sorceress could only pray that they hadn't taken it away, as that would have complicated everything-- she was a magic user, not a thief, and pickpocketing wasn't really a part of her skillset. Like, not at all! Please, let it be here. Let it be here. Let it be... Perhaps the gods themselves had decided to show her some mercy, indeed, because something silvery shimmered just at the edge of her vision. Could she have found it already? This easily, too?

"Ah, lady Morgan," someone said, and a chill ran down her spine. So much for mercy, she guessed. "How nice of you to finally visit me, after all those months!"
 

ellarose

wanderer
Merlin takes the locket between his fingers, intentionally dangling in front of her for a beat before slipping it into his pocket. (For what reason, though, other than perhaps to say 'I know what you're here for and you can't have it?') Even more unnerving, perhaps, is how he continues to treat Morgan like a guest in his humble abode as he sips on his wine and amicably gestures to the bottle at his work station. "Care for a drink? I thought you might want one, considering the circumstances." The wizard swirls his wine by the stem in one hand and opens the palm of the other, revealing what at first glance looks like a tiny fairy? Or rather it's a dancing silhouette of light. Is that supposed to be Guinevere? She resembles a flickering flame, the way her feet burn a dark, purplish red while the rest of her body maintains a soft shade of yellow. He observes for a moment longer before crushing it in his fist. The figure flickers and reappears over a metal plate on an elaborate contraption behind him. Intricate symbols glow in the dark and the machine whirs to life. It seems to be hooked up to a network of wires that dig under the ground beneath small plots of soil. The figure collapses momentarily, her body deepening to a shade of orange as she's lifted and swept into a second dance by a gray silhouette... a man. "Your dear brother reclaims what is rightfully his as we speak." He sips on his wine, presses his lips together, and hums as if considering something.

"Looking back, I should have noticed your... unhealthy attachment to the girl when you drank yourself into a stupor during the wedding reception." Ah. Is that the light he's chosen to paint it in? He's accusing Morgan of having an unhealthy attachment? (Really? Not his egotistical liege or, say, the mindless flock of masked sheep up above? Not a single one of those people who kept her locked in a cage to force her to stay?) Well. It seems he'll tell himself whatever helps him sleep at night. "It seems queen Guinevere is destined for more than providing a good and noble king with his heirs. Why, she is meant to become the matriarch of a world reborn. And you... your poison will leave her barren no longer! Your villainy has come to light in this very laboratory, lady Morgan. Many of us have come to the agreement that these crimes should not go unpunished. You've double-crossed the king and endangered everyone's future."

Merlin composes himself, resting his hand over his pocket. "Ah, yes. I was surprised to find this locket in her possession. It belonged to your mother, no?" He gazes at her coldly, almost accusatorially. "It is also imbued with magic bearing your signature. I have assessed that it is this very magic that bars us from completing our mission." The magic that solidifies their bond, in other words. "And so... I am prepared to offer you a deal. We wish for the goddess to be at peace as she fulfills her purpose, you see. Her position is not an easy one." He says this while shaking his head somberly, as if he has any idea. At peace? In what way, though? Knowing his ilk, peace could probably be equated to sedated. Unable to fight back in any capacity, in other words. "You may atone for your wrongdoings by helping us. It appears that only the original castor may nullify this locket's spell. If you break it for us... we will agree to grant you your freedom. You may ascend the throne and reign singlehandedly over Camelot, just like you've always wanted." He steeples his fingers, as if he fancies himself so clever for coming up with this. Ah. Wow. Is that really what she's always wanted?

"You're a smart girl. Surely you must agree that this is the wisest option? After all, you are in no position to refuse." Merlin snaps and a handful of cultists appear from either side of the dark lab. Looks like they're all far too busy watching Morgan to realize that right behind them, the figure meant to resemble Guinevere is warping and flickering a bright, alarming red. "Otherwise you will be sacrificed before the crowd tonight. Your neck breaks, her heart breaks... and, who knows? Your death may even break the spell and solve all of our problems. But, lady Morgan, there is no need to consider such a gruesome end. If you agree to these terms, the goddess will be well taken care of for the rest of her days... and you shall rule over Camelot and enjoy the prosperous decades to come." Yeah. Speaking of prosperous, those empty plots of soil on either side of the machine have started to sprout rows upon rows of healthy vegetables. Whatever they're doing here, it seems like they're getting the results that they want.

And, hmm. Something about their proposition sounds familiar, doesn't it? Like... didn't the cultists corner Jen with this very same offer, all those months ago?

"You're outnumbered, lady Morgan. What will it be?"
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
Ah. Ah, of course. At this point, Morgan didn’t know whether she truly was surprised, or whether her body only faked the reaction in order to meet some unspoken expectation-- you should be surprised, you see, when your plans fell apart like a house of cards in the middle of a storm. Too bad, really, that for her, this was basically yet another Tuesday! (Merlin. Merlin, the old bastard. What was he doing there? Wasn’t he supposed to be too busy trying not to die in the wastes, and fighting for scraps like the hungry dog he was? A pleasing prospect, perhaps, but one not really rooted in reality. Not at all, actually. On some level, the sorceress had always known that he would escape such a fate, too-- that, regardless of how much he deserved it, the hand of justice was too short to reach him. Cockroaches like him had their ways, you know? Dark, filthy places sheltered them instead of sapping their strength away, and there, they waited, waited, waited, for as long as it took for another opportunity to emerge. Sometimes, not even cutting his head off sufficed! So, so immense their thirst for life was, indeed, that tiny details such as them lacking their microscopic brain couldn’t possibly stop them. I won’t make the same mistake twice, Morgan promised herself. When I’m done with him this time, I shall crush him. Only dust will remain, and perhaps an unmarked grave.) “Merlin,” she spat the wizard’s name out, as if it was something gross that had no business being inside of her mouth. “Those protective spells! You cast them, didn’t you?” Gods, the sorceress felt so, so stupid for not putting two and two together earlier! They had his handwriting all over them, now that she thought of it-- the swirls of energies pointed at him, in this large, neon green font. (Perhaps she had known all along, actually. Denial made for a fine safe haven, away from the blinding light of truth, and… well. Not even Morgan was completely immune to it, now was she? Everyone’s soul sought peace, oh, it did, it did! …that the peace was an illusion, paid for with your future tears, mattered very little to your current self.)

Gods, gods, gods. What was she to do? The coward needed her for something, that much she could tell-- the chances of them leaving her alive out of the goodness of their hearts was close to zero, after all. ‘All your crimes are forgiven, sweet Morgan. Go forth, and seek your own path in life. May you find the happiness Camelot has never been able to give you.’ Yeah, right. Had dogs sprouted wings all of a sudden, Morgan would have been less shocked by that! (In Arthur’s eyes, mercy had always been a weakness. The enemies had to be crushed, one by one, and monuments were to be built from their bones. ‘Behold,’ the gesture said. ‘Behold what kind of man I am, and know what happens to those that cross me. Beware.’ And, considering the role she had played in Guinevere’s rebellion? Oh, it only made sense they’d want to remove her out of the equation entirely. Morgan, the one stain on their family’s precious honor, was too dangerous-- too wild, too unpredictable. Sleeping next to her was like putting your hand in an alligator’s jaws, truly! Yes, yes, that sort of narrative would resonate with the lords and ladies, who still remembered keenly how to hate her for no reason at all. So, why? Why didn’t he wish to weaponize it against her?)

The answer, naturally, was revealed soon enough. So that’s what you’re playing at, huh? Horror mixed with shock in her belly in the strangest of ways, and, bizarrely enough, Morgan wanted to laugh. Oh. Oh, you sad little fool. Have you misread me this badly? For a man who claimed to be the wisest of them all, he was fascinatingly bad at, you know, actually seeing the person he was judging, instead of applying his own standards. (To reign over Camelot, just like she had always wanted. Why oh why would she wish so badly to own that pathetic pile of grey rocks? Had Arthur been even slightly less insufferable, Morgan would have been happy to confine herself in the library! Never, never would she have so much as looked at the cursed throne, but, nooo. No, her brother had simply needed to break her-- to step on her back, over and over and over, till she had forgotten how it felt to walk upright. And, this desire to have it all? It had ended them once already, so there was no reason for the history not to repeat itself.)

“Very well,” Morgan said, quietly. “You present compelling evidence, indeed. There is no need for me to pretend that I’m something I’m not, is there? You know me, Merlin. You know me and what I truly want, perhaps better than anyone else. Alright, then. I accept. But, Merlin, you are aware of the spell’s intricacies, are you not? You see, I tied myself to Guinevere with this bond, and so I cannot break it on my own. The link is reciprocal, in many ways. I need to reach for her energy as well in order to break it, for this is how I designed the mechanism. Will you lead me to her? As you yourself said, I am outnumbered. That will not change, no matter where we go. Well? What do you say?” Say yes, Morgan prayed. Say yes, and sign your own death sentence. Because, the amounts of energy that would get released once it broke? Oh, the sorceress could see herself performing many, many interesting feats with it-- feats like healing Gwen’s feet, for example. That, or spilling their captors’ blood!
 

ellarose

wanderer
"Reciprocal," Merlin hisses, as if the very nature of the word offends him. A concept like that would truly be too much for him to comprehend, wouldn't it? It's one thing to say that Guinevere possesses an unruly spirit that simply refuses to bend for anyone-- but that she vastly favors Morgan over Arthur, to the point where she would willingly bind herself to her? (Bind herself to her and join in the coup to overthrow all they held dear?) That is a very bitter pill for the likes of them to swallow indeed. "How you ever got inside that girl's head, I will never understand." Arthur may explain it away with the narrative that his bride is bewitched, but clearly a wizard of Merlin's caliber knows better. He knows and yet said nothing to disprove those claims when they rose up to the surface, said nothing when that false narrative sent Morgan to the catacombs. As much as he may not want to believe it, he had sensed a second signature, interwoven with Morgan's, while conducting his studies. At this juncture, denial wouldn't get them any results, now would it? "Even so, I cannot deny that there is truth in what you say." He strokes his chin. "Yes, yes. I will bring you to her. Later. You see, it would be terribly impolite of us to stop the ball. Your brother was looking forward to their dance."

Distractedly, Merlin waves two of the cultists forward to shield him and keep watch over Morgan as he swirls around to check his workstation. As insufferable as his monologue may have been for Morgan to endure, there is a benefit to it in that it kept him away from his task. His arrogance that he had everything under control caused him to miss that, in the meantime, things up above had gone terribly awry. Guinevere's little figure is collapsed over the metal plate and flickering wildly-- taking on just about every shade of the rainbow in the process. As he desperately pulls at strings to get her to budge, it seems that his once obedient puppet refused to dance for him anymore. The machine breathes harder than before, as if it needs to overwork itself to keep functioning properly. And more subtly, one of the rows of tomatoes growing on the soil nearby is shriveling away just as quickly as it sprung up. A particularly pungent scent wafts in the room like a bad omen. "Curses!" He storms past the goons and breezes towards the staircase. One of them makes a step to follow and he holds up his hand. "No. I will see to this matter myself. You keep watch over lady Morgan. She is not to leave this laboratory. Do I make myself clear?"

Leaving Morgan with the goons, the old wizard rushes up the stairs. He immediately takes notice of the monsters wreaking havoc in the village. Although at first he's inclined to blame this on Morgan's illusionary tricks attempting to buy their freedom a second time, he notices a particularly unusual sight. Namely, a giant tree that stretches high above all of the buildings... it surely stands taller than any other tree on this earth. The way it flourishes with pink blooms, it resembles a plume of smoke after a massive explosion. The bark is wrapped in heavily spiked, translucent vines-- their insides sparking vibrantly with untapped magical energies. Somehow, the sight is equally beautiful as it is ominous. The first thing he investigates, of course, is this. He passes those still running for their lives, yes, as well as mangled bodies. Which without a doubt proves this isn't an illusion after all.

Many of the cultists are still gathered in the square, though, around the tree.

Merlin assesses from the accounts of various panicked cultists and his own readings is that this strange tree had swiftly grown itself around Guinevere, like a dome of protection as the monsters ran rampant in the village streets. None of the beasts were inclined to bother her, especially after this earthy structure built itself around her and shielded her away from harm. Perhaps something about this tree repels the monsters? If so, however, the cultists, were not affected the same way. In fact, many were devoted enough to their 'goddess' to risk their lives as they hack desperately at the tree with their weapons and cry out for her. Except the fools may not be helping, as the magical energies flow more and more erratically with every hit it takes.

'Our daughter bleeds on account of your vicious, vicious greed!' The inhuman voice bellows. The spikes on the vines grow longer and sharper yet. 'Leave now, for none may enter!'

This tree would not be persuaded so easily. Knowing this, Merlin instead busies himself with finding Arthur and examining the wound on his shoulder. "Your highness. What has happened he--"

'None may enter.' The voice echoes, 'None but Morgan le Fey.'

Ah. Well, to say the wizard's blood is boiling at this point would be a severe understatement.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Of course that you won't, Morgan thought, with venom dripping from her words. There is no point in describing sunlight to one who has never left his cramped, dark cave. Because that was what this essentially was, wasn't it? Actually loving someone, for no other reason than to love them, must have been such a foreign concept for the man! No, she wouldn't waste her breath on explaining the mechanism-- that would have been as nonsensical as trying to get a wolf to understand that his prey thought him cruel. (Besides, he didn't deserve to know. It was the sort of knowledge you had to unearth on your own, you see? For Morgan, it hadn't been an easy thing to uncover, either. So, so scarred her heart had been, indeed, that opening it up had taken conscious effort-- effort sweetened with patience, mostly supplied by Guinevere herself. Ah, to think just how prickly she'd been in the beginning! How had Gwen found the strength not to harden herself, right then and there? Camelot had been so hostile towards her, and Morgan, who had only cared for her own wounds, hadn't been much better. Casual cruelty was still cruelty, after all. The metaphorical whip had still fallen on Gwen's back, again and again and again, regardless of her motivations. Why had she forgiven her, even? Because, out of all the bad options, Morgan had been the least repugnant one? No, I must not think in this way. The roots from which their relationship had sprung may have been damaged, sure, but... well. Damaged things could heal, couldn't they? As long as they weren't dead, that was, and she'd never felt more alive than now, standing by Gwen's side.) "I understand that," she said instead. "My poor, poor little brother! I want you to know, Merlin, that it has never been personal. I just wanted him gone as a concept, you see? I am the firstborn, after all, and so the throne should have gone to me. I do not doubt that he has the potential to become a terrific ruler in his own right, however," Morgan lied through her teeth. (That was the role he was expecting her to play, wasn't he? A power-hungry backstabber, mad with the prospect of snatching the throne for herself. Very well, then! The sorceress would accept the trappings of that persona, despite how bitter they were.)

And, you know, perhaps that plan would have worked. The ability to improvise on the spot had saved their lives more than once, right? So, Morgan was confident that, if she remained vigilant, their victory was all but certain. As long as they hadn't chained her will, they hadn't won, dammit, and she couldn't see a version of reality in which they'd succeed in that! The thing was, it turned out the sorceress didn't have to keep the charade up. Hah. Good. Good, indeed! (Once again, the extent of their foolishness was revealed. Just, how did they still think they could make Guinevere bend to their whims? Had they learned nothing? This was the woman who had come to a hostile territory, all on her own, and instead of surrendering, she had turned it into her home. No, of course that they couldn't have her! ...and, for that matter, they couldn't have Morgan, either.)

So, the moment Merlin left? Her lips curled up in a grin. "You can't seriously think you're equipped to imprison me here, can you? Without an actual magic user to sway the scales in your favor, that is."

"Blasphemer!" one of them shrieked. "Filthy oath-breaker, how dare you..." Blah blah blah, more generic insults. Really, couldn't they at least try to be more inventive? Morgan had heard the same song so, so many times that she couldn't bring herself to care. (The spirits that spoke to her in their gentle, soothing voices demanded her attention, too. 'Let me in, let me in, let me in,' they begged, and oh, how could she refuse them? Couldn't, was the obvious answer.) Her hands began to glow, and, hmm, were they backing off? Too bad, though, because it was coming, coming, coming, that wild surge of energy, which-- ah. Yeah, she couldn't stop it anymore, alright. The wave ran through her, through the whole building, really, and everything, everything shattered. The snowflakes in the air? It, ah, took her a while to realize that those were shards of glass, from the windows and the beakers and their precious, precious machines. Good riddance! (Blood filled her mouth immediately, too, but that seemed unimportant in the grand scheme of things-- especially when juxtaposed with the broken bodies on the floor. Was it hers, even? Some of it, at least, surely couldn't be, for the wild red patterns on her robe didn't really correspond with her wounds.)

Not wanting to waste her time, Morgan rushed out of the laboratory, and... ah. Ah, alright. She hadn't expected that, but at this point, the sorceress had been foolish for forming any expectations at all. Gwen. Gods, Gwen, be alright. "Out of my way," she hissed at the cultists, letting the spirits push aside those who didn't get the message quickly enough. The safety of the tree was close, so close now, and Morgan? Morgan ran. "Gwen! Gwen, what's happening? Can you talk?"
 

ellarose

wanderer
Faintly, Guinevere is aware that her strings are still being yanked. Some magical force beyond her or the spirits control is demanding that she rise again, walk in the horrible shoes still strapped to her feet and leave her safe haven. Though her limbs move to answer these pleas, the embrace of the earth holds her still. Roots hold her body down. Not to restrain her, like the cultists with their chains, but to prevent her from obeying her captor's whims. As grateful as she is for the chance to rest, the noises outside are worrying. The screams, the howling of the beasts. A dark little voice at her core says they deserve this. Another, however, registers with slow-moving terror that this is all her doing. Isn't it? Her thirst for revenge wrought this destruction. In her imagination she often imagined burning this village to the ground as a sort of catharsis, as a coping mechanism. In reality, though... in reality there must be innocents in the village, among the corrupt ones. Children, even. Not to mention that Morgan... Morgan, if she's still out there, she could be in the midst of this chaos as well. She has to be, right? Has to. Shit. Suffering clouded her senses and she took the opportunity presented to her. Arthur prattled on so joyfully about sacrificing Morgan and-- and desperate for a way out, she had taken it unthinkingly, forgetting just how powerful she is. Forgetting that along with being a source of endless potential, magic is also dangerous. Guinevere herself is dangerous. She stirs in a cold sweat, her lips moving in a soundless mumble, and her ancestors voices console her. 'Shhh, rest now. Some may get caught in the crosshairs, that is true. But your curse targets those who have wronged you.' Her curse? Um... what? 'It is natural. Pain inflicted on fae will manifest curses. Many learned to employ them sparingly, in harmless mischief and tricks. Otherwise they grow and fester... like this. You have been holding onto a lot of hurt. Haven't you, child?'

Guinevere dimly remembers the sight of her first self in those visions, playing countless pranks in Camelot's courtyard. One might look at her and immediately think her wild, immature and childish... but to vividly understand the pain she was enduring, being away from home and forced into Arthur's embrace? Well, surely she must've understood what could happen if she didn't do something to counteract it. (Yeah. Turns out she'd also been right to be cautious of shoes!) That in mind, of course no fae would be able to find happiness within Camelot's walls. It goes beyond just yearning for freedom... because it goes against their very nature. Their incredibly magical nature, which, duh, of course has consequences! And tragically, no one bothered to try and understand her. No one but Morgan.

'Morgan le Fey.' The voices of the less articulate spirits echo her name fondly, over and over again. 'Morgan le Fey, Morgan le Fey.'

What Guinevere doesn't realize is that, outside the shelter of her hollow tree, the voices continue to sing her love's name like a song and gravitate towards her like moths to a flame.

'She cannot speak, for they have stolen all from her but her mind.' The inhuman voice outside answers the sorceress's question. 'In her stead, we shall abide by her will. Morgan le Fey. We grant you and you alone entrance.'

The thorny vines slither away at the base of the tree and a mouth opens in the bark to create a doorway. It reveals the flowery patch of land that Guinevere bleeds and rests in, ensnared by roots that hold her still and safe. Before Morgan has the chance to enter, however, Merlin seems to have anticipated this-- for he comes out of hiding nearby, quickly hurling a spell at her to push her out of his way. Rushing at the opening before it can close again, the old wizard uses all of his strength to tear Guinevere free from her bed of roots, tossing her to the ground outside. The tree's doorway seals itself shut again, imprisoning him before he can leave... but from inside? From inside, he still has the power to reactivate the strings and force Guinevere to rise again at his will.

As the spikes drive into her feet again, Guinevere's eyes shutter open with shock. Her lips form Morgan's name, but no sound comes out. No... she's hurt. And covered in blood? Oh, she wants to run to her side, but can't, can't, can't. The spirits voices sound incomprehensible and faraway. And they're enraged at being ignored, enraged for her sake. Pebbles rattle in a light dance as the ground trembles softly under beneath her bleeding feet. Something dark and ferocious and hungry is awakening underground.

"Now, lady Morgan. Remember our deal." Merlin says from inside the tree's enclosure. He speaks calmly, as if he didn't just wield his magic like a weapon against her. "Tell her what she must do to break the spell. It seems to me that this madness will come to an end as soon as she finds peace! Don't you see? In this state, a creature like her is a danger to everyone."

Don't listen to him. Guinevere urges. Like, does that old bastard really have room to talk? After everything he's done to her, to Morgan!? Except that his words mirror her own thoughts from just moments ago. She looks around at the ruined decorations like a deer in headlights, shame heating her face. Blood, bodies, fire, destruction. This is what she feared, exactly what she'd envisioned back when Morgan told her she might endanger everyone if she didn't learn how to control her magic. And judging by the patterns of blood on her clothes, Morgan is suffering as well. (Please be okay, please be okay, please--) Revenge isn't worth it-- especially not if it means hurting the person she loves. Tears prick at her eyes and she blinks hard to ward them off. Find peace? Break the spell? What does he mean by that? And... what deal? Quite honestly, she's confused by everything at this point and-- and she wants to make sure Morgan is unhurt. She wants the pain to end, and--

"And if you need some incentive..." The wizard says, interrupting her thoughts. Guinevere doesn't have time to process as her hands move against her will and close tightly around her own throat. Squeezing, choking. Her own desires feel like phantom limbs attempting to pry them away... but they keep phasing through and do nothing to help. As she struggles to breathe, the earth gives another ominous rumble. "Yes. It seems that she is still mine to control." As if to illustrate this, she's forced to release her throat. She gasps for air as he continues, unfeelingly. "...King Arthur. Might I implore you to lend your bride your sword?"

No, no, no! Merlin's not going to force her to fight Morgan, is he?
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
On some level, Morgan supposed, this was actually terribly interesting. The fairytale-like atmosphere, with trees that appeared to have a will of their own? The voices whispering into her ear, akin to the crumpling of dry leaves? The contrast between Guinevere, so fair and beautiful, and the twisted roots that kept her prisoner? Overwhelming, that was what this was! Like a scenario born from a mad artist’s mind, for a cruel audience’s amusement. The main catch, though? Why, that the hypothetical painter had used reality as his canvas! (Gods, gods, gods. What was happening here, even? Morgan had dedicated her entire life to learning, to unraveling the threads of the mysteries that lay at the heart of this cursed world, and yet, yet her efforts seemed pointless now, in the light of everything. The journey had lasted more than a thousand steps, you see, but what did she have to show for it? The goal was still shimmering on the horizon, no closer than before! …maybe, maybe the goal was a lie, too. How could you ever pursue something without knowing what it truly was, after all? A hunter who didn’t know whether he planned to take down a doe or a wolf was no hunter at all, and Morgan… gods. Morgan had no idea, even, if she wasn’t chasing something that had never been there-- a fata morgana, casting shadows so, so long that one could drown in it. Nevertheless, all of that was just a theory, wasn’t it? Something to ponder over during her many sleepless nights, when Guinevere’s freedom wasn’t at stake!)

Blood was still trickling down her mouth, the pattern curiously similar to the vines that held Guinevere in place, but Morgan? Oh, to hell with it! Morgan didn’t care in the slightest. (Couldn’t speak? Couldn’t speak? How did you even steal a person’s voice? Via tearing their tongue off, presumably, but somehow, the sorceress doubted that Arthur would resort to such a drastic measure. Oh no, no, no. That just wasn’t his style, you see? No point in owning a pretty, colorful bird when you couldn’t get it to sing your tune! …which, of course, could only mean that magic was involved somehow. The conclusion was both reassuring and nerve-wracking at the same time, really-- just, what if she didn’t have the means to recover it? What if the spirits had claimed Gwen’s voice forever, as a payment for keeping her safe? In their eyes, she wagered, such an exchange would seem entirely fair, and… and… No. First things first. Getting her out of here should be the step number one, not worrying about technicalities!)

A valuable realization, and perhaps one that should have come several seconds sooner-- the world didn’t have the decency to stop in its tracks just because Morgan happened to be stuck in her own thoughts, and certain people didn’t hesitate to take advantage of that. You know, people like Merlin! Ah, damn. ’Damn’ actually seemed like a bit of an understatement, honestly, considering just how hard she’d failed here. (Truly, to go from such an overwhelming advantage straight to the losing position within the blink of an eye required a special set of talents! One that she happened to possess, apparently. …gods, gods, gods. Morgan wanted to scream, scream from the top of her lungs, but that wouldn’t help, now would it? If anything, the sorceress losing her temper would be the final nail in the coffin-- the anthem of Arthur’s victory, and her funeral song as well. So, instead of following her instincts? Morgan breathed in and out, in and out, in and out, and clasped the locket tighter. Calm down. Think of the future. This cannot end here, dammit, because I will not allow it!)

What followed, of course, couldn’t even be called a twist. For that, there would have had to be some degree of unpredictability, you see? And that the bastard chose to use Gwen against her instead of solving his problems on his own… well, that was so painfully, painfully unsurprising that Morgan almost wanted to laugh. (Almost. A small, but immensely powerful word.) The sorceress looked around, like a cornered animal estimating her meager options, and then… then it dawned upon her, with all the force of thousand suns. Her sword. The Excalibur, doubtlessly. She will wield it, and I already have the locket in my possession! It was coming together, wasn’t it? Like a puzzle box that you had to tilt in a certain direction so that all the components fell in place, indeed. The stag is still missing, though. Can I call lure it here, perhaps? Will it respond to my voice? No way to find out but try, Morgan supposed. Gently, she reached out to the animal with her mind-- unlike the brutes surrounding it, she was calm and warm and safe, and the stag must have sensed that. ‘Come here and I shall protect you,’ she promised. ‘You do not have to await your fate passively, my friend. Seize it!’

Speaking of which, yes, that was exactly what Morgan had to do, too. “Back in the old world,” she said, “they had a rather complicated set of laws. A lot of them revolved around promises, which they called contracts. And, you know what, Merlin? Most of them agreed that a promise given under duress is no promise at all! So, no, I am not obligated to honor our deal. I will not. Rather than that, you poor parody of a man, I shall die on my own terms. Not everything is for sale, and Morgan le Fey definitely isn’t. Well? Slay me if you must,” she met Guinevere’s eyes, her gaze unflinching. Don’t worry, my love-- you only need to break the locket. The burst of energy should be strong enough to sever her chains, especially when caused by the likes of Excalibur, but… hmmm. She couldn’t exactly say that aloud, right? Not with their audience watching, watching, watching, with those terribly hungry eyes. Oh well! The sorceress only had to trick her into it, in the middle of combat. No biggie, surely. …why had she rejected Gwen’s swordfighting lessons, again?
 

ellarose

wanderer
Guinevere holds her breath as Morgan speaks up, dazzled and captivated by the way she fights to forge her own path. While she admires her love's ability to spin her words like a spider's silk, the art of slowly trapping her prey in a web, there is something uniquely flooring about these rare circumstances where she gets to speak for herself. Where Morgan gets to express Morgan's thoughts. Just... damn are they as eloquent as the are savage! She doesn't need the extra spice of a few creative curse words to pack a punch. Calling Merlin a poor parody of a man? Hah. Excellent. Saying that she'll die on her own terms? Fucking admirable. And, um, regrettably horrifying. Because when their eyes meet, she has to confront the fact that 'dying on her own terms' also effectively means dying by Guinevere's hand. No, no, no. Long ago she contemplated the fact that there are indeed fates worse than death. There's plenty of spare time to contemplate circles around shit like that in captivity, living albeit not really living. Unable to run or laugh, enduring the dull absence of stories and song and the wind in her hair. So having to live on in chains with Morgan's blood on her hands...? That certainly qualifies as one of those things! If the sorceress knows her at all, she ought to know how she feels. The night she had to wrap her hands around Morgan's throat and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze still haunts her to this day, you know, and technically that wasn't even real. As of recent, whenever she awoke from those nightmares in a cold sweat, she became comfortably accustomed to the fact that she was lying right there beside her. Their life began to feel like a dream, she'd said, one that she was afraid to wake up from.

When Guinevere manages to blink past the tears blurring her sight, however, she reads the unflinching clarity in Morgan's eyes. That single look between them communicates without words that there's a plan in motion. Undoubtably a brilliant one, too, if she knows her love! She steels herself with a shuddering breath, then, resolving not to cry anymore. She wouldn't give Arthur or his lackey Merlin the satisfaction, damn it.

"Tch. Your pride is a sin, girl. And now it will be the death of you." Merlin spits from his hiding spot, clearly not having anticipated the narrative to swerve in this direction. Anyway, has this old man seen his own reflection lately? "Foolish. You could have had everything your heart desired!"

Surprisingly, the sword Arthur hands her is rather plain in appearance. It's not Excalibur, in other words. His cheeks wrinkle in sort of a smirk... only for it to collapse a moment later as he backs far away from her. Hm. He's obviously still sore about the fact that she bit him. Probably afraid that she'll regain control of her body and strike him down where he stands. Well, good! Although she doesn't want people to fear her for... for being whatever she is, she doesn't particularly care if she manages to scare Arthur away. Yeah. Be afraid, coward! Stay the fuck away! Never touch me again.

Walking forward on spikes, Guinevere breathes sharply through her nose. The burst of familiar pain blinds her with a spray of black stars and her ears begin to ring. Fuck. Hurts like a bitch. It truly, truly feels as if the bottom of her feet are in tatters. She'd be genuinely surprised if she had any skin left by the end of the night. Clenching her teeth, she makes an effort to disentangle her fingers from the hilt of her blade. No dice. Feels like they're glued on, with how tightly they're clenched. One of the few benefits of Merlin being her puppeteer, though, is that he obviously isn't a skilled swordsman himself-- nor had he prepared himself to guide her into battle. While Guinevere engages in swordplay like a dance all of her own, he alternatively makes her movements both clumsy and slow. He forces her to raise the heavy blade over her head and swing it down as if it's a club instead of a sword. Unfortunately that doesn't mean the blade is any less sharp, though, and whenever it comes down all she can do is pray that none of these strikes hit Morgan. Every single time it sinks into the earth instead of her love, she thanks the spirits.

Guinevere swears she's never been more stressed, more on edge than in these moments. Knowing every move she makes can potentially hurt Morgan, perhaps fatally, and knowing she's helpless to do anything to stop it? It's a rather odd feeling, to want to rip free from her chest in order to protect her love from herself. And then? And then this desire manifests, apparently, because she does. Much like in the disturbance zone, Guinevere slips out of her own body like a snake shedding its skin. Her physical body still exists there, obeying Merlin's whims. But this metaphysical self she's inhabiting now? Well, she can move very freely. What just...

'Hurry, child. Follow us.'
Guinevere looks up to see a very different world before her eyes. Well, it's the same and it's different? The world as she knows it pales in comparison to the magical lights and threads sparkling all around her. She fits into this environment herself, aglow and transparent like a ghost. The brightest lights clear a path for her. 'Your contract with Excalibur was not made in vain. Your spirit may wield it, if you only take it for yourself. We will guide you to it. Like this, you can still help your love! But you must hurry. There is no time to waste.'

Guinevere glances back. Her physical body now stares at Morgan with vacant eyes, moving mindlessly like a grotesque zombie or robot under Merlin's control and she feels sick to her stomach. Seriously. What the fuck have they turned her into? And... how do they fix it? Little orbs push behind her, insisting. 'Make haste, make haste!'

This is the only way. Isn't it? Isn't it? Trapped in her own body, rendered completely useless, there's nothing she can do. But this manifestation of her heart and mind, her spirit or whatever-- she can still do something, so long as she still exists. I'm coming back. I swear I won't let them hurt you. And they sure as hell won't use her hands to do it! Guinevere hurries after her guides. They rush towards the greenhouse in the back of the village and approach the machine that holds Excalibur captive, amidst tangling vines and wires. She has to make it back in time. Has to, has to, has to!

Meanwhile, the spirits also swarm Morgan, unwilling to stay silent after having their commands utterly disrespected. 'The tree, the tree.' Sure enough, the entrance is opening up again at their command, revealing the wizard pulling the strings inside. With his eyes closed, it seems he doesn't even notice. And judging by the blood running down his face, this is all beginning to take a toll on him. Ah. He still has the locket on his person, doesn't he? Roots snap up at him, then, distracting him and subsequently making Guinevere's movements even clumsier than before. Well, of course! If the puppeteer himself cannot focus well enough, the 'puppet' surely won't move the way he wants her to.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Curses! Was Arthur somehow privy to her plan? Had he glimpsed it in a dream, perhaps, and decided to follow that thread? There was absolutely no reason to deny Guinevere the Excalibur otherwise, and yet, yet there he stood, handing her an ordinary sword. (In hindsight, the sorceress thought later, she'd probably been underestimating him. Arthur and prophetic dreams? Pffft! Both absurd and hilarious, much like the idea of a crow wielding a knife. A man so absorbed in himself, in his so-called glory, would die before recognizing there was something greater than himself-- something that he had to believe in, unquestioningly, and entrust his fate into its ghostly hands. So, more than likely? More than likely, he simply wished to claim the Excalibur for himself, thinking that the sword would... uh, make do with whatever wielder that happened to pick him up, probably. That was how powerful magical artifacts worked, right? Right? Ah, the depths of his desperation were staggering, indeed! Enough to match pretty much any ocean, Morgan knew. Just, wasn't it enough that Gwen had no will of her own? That they'd turned her into a puppet, to do with as they wished? No, apparently-- in Arthur's eyes, giving her her true sword was still too risky, still too dangerous.)

Ah, well. Alright, then. Alright. That wasn't what she'd planned for, and quite distinctly at that, but it wouldn't be the first time Morgan had spun a victory out of a thread soiled with despair. Once, again, she'd prevail! (...there was no way she couldn't, really. Abandoning her love now, when she was in such a state? Knowing that her captors would reduce her to a blood bank for them to use and use and use, till she was Guinevere no longer? Ah, damn, don't make her laugh! As if Morgan, the queen of improvisation, would give up just because step one of her hastily put together plan hadn't worked out-- no, no and no, thousand times no.) "My pride," she hissed at Merlin, "is all I have. My pride, my magic that you've always resented me for, and my love. If you think I am going to give up either of those, you old fool, then you're even more hopeless than I previously thought." Empty words? Perhaps, perhaps, indeed, but the sorceress figured that her foe couldn't really focus on too many things at once. As in, commanding an unwilling puppet must have exhausted him tremendously, right? Morgan wasn't familiar with his exact brand of sorcery, but certain laws were universal, and she assumed the good old conservation of energy principle applied to him as well. And, in that case, words could serve as a weapon of its own!)

Nimbly, Morgan jumped to the side. (The long robe she was wearing? It, ah, wasn't ideal, and perhaps for the first time in her life, she yearned for a proper pair of trousers. Indeed, now she could see why Guinevere found them so crucial! A lesson for my future self: when we go on a dangerous, potentially suicidal mission, remember to wear some pants.) Her hands were glowing with energy, too, but damn, how could she ever use it? Against Gwen, of all people? Merlin may have turned her into an enemy, yes, but deep inside, it was still her, and Morgan's magic wasn't a surgical blade-- more than that, it was a sledgehammer, and gods, did she not want to see the damage it would wreak on Guinevere's body! Think. Think, Morgan. This is not a checkmate yet, so what will be your next move?

And, really, it turned out that the next move wouldn't necessarily belong to her. With her eyes, so finely attuned, she saw Gwen slipping out of her body-- the real Gwen, in her spiritual form. Ah. Ah, of course! The sword was magic itself, wasn't it? An intangible wielder was no problem at all, that much was obvious, and... the stag. Was that its role? Morgan could feel it approaching, like a tiny shadow on the edge of her consciousness, and yes, yes, that had to be it. 'Do you sense her?' she asked, with all her might. 'Your mistress. Your other half. Make haste, please, and carry her where she needs to be. Make haste!'

Meanwhile, in between dodging the blows, the tree revealed... hmm, other secrets. Fascinating secrets, in truth. Morgan had to hold back with Gwen, but with the old wizard? Oh, he had no such protections! Blood was still running down her nose, but this was no time to hesitate-- her whole body was tingling with energy, and it yearned to be released. And, truly, what better target than him? It made no sense to destroy the puppet when the puppeteer was right there, comfortably within her reach. (Hmm, hmm. What was it that he had suggested for her all those years ago, when her standing in Camelot had still been so fragile? Death by fire? Oh yes, yes, if her memory wasn't failing her! 'It is a traditional fate,' he had said back then, 'for witches. His Highness might want to consider it.' But, wouldn't wizards burn just as well? An interesting theory to explore, to be sure.)

The thread of his life was thin, thin and dry and frail, and frankly? It was the easiest thing in the world to grab it with her mind, douse it with the proverbial gasoline, and, yes, drown it in fire. Burn, burn, burn!
 

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