Ted sat in his office looking over the letter he received from Harry. According to him, Dumbledore had straitened out the issue with Tom’s rent, and it had only taken him a matter of days to accomplish it.
He was instantly suspicions, ‘How did Dumbledore find the head of Evergreen so quickly?’ He thought, especially when his own investigations into the matter had led to nothing but dead ends.
Ted put on his jacket and stepped out of his office, making his way to the Leaky Cauldron. ‘I’ll ask Tom and get to the bottom of this,’ he thought to himself.
When he arrived, he found Tom milling about, taking orders from his customers, and looking to be in a far better mood than he had been in over last few weeks. He moved to an empty table and sat down, waiting for Tom.
A few minutes later, a smiling Tom stood in front of him. “I take it you heard the good news?” he asked jovially.
“Yeah, I got a letter from Harry,” Tom replied. “He said Professor Dumbledore was able to get in touch with your landlord.”
“He did better than that, bless his heart,” Tom replied with a wide grin. “It turns out the whole thing was just an accounting error. The Professor got it all straightened out though. They even refunded me the extra galleons they charged.”
“I’m glad it worked out, Tom,” Ted replied, happy for his friend, but still suspicious. “Did he say anything else about the property management company, who they were, or how he got in touch with them?”
“No,” Tom said, shaking his head. “To be honest, I didn’t ask. I was just so relieved to have this whole thing taken care of.”
“Thank you for everything you did, Ted,” Tom said, patting his friend on the shoulder. “I know it was a lot of work, and when you talk to Harry, thank him for me as well, will you? I’ve already talked to the goblins. They’re going to send Harry back his money by the end of the day.”
“Sure Tom,” Ted smiled at his friend as he got up to leave. “I’ve got some things to take care of, but I’ll talk to you later.”
He was glad that Tom’s problems were over, but it still didn’t feel right. He knew the Headmaster was a fixture in the political scene, and had made a lot of connections over the years, but Evergreen was a company that went out of its way to hide the details of their business from everyone. It shouldn’t have been that easy for him.
Harry stood in his mindscape with Merlin. It had been a difficult few days. Professor McGonagall was still on the warpath, acting more and more like Snape with each passing day.
When they embarked on this plan to get Hermione and Draco out of the study group, he hadn’t thought about the consequences of their actions, or who could get hurt along the way.
He had never intended for his head of house to end up caught in the middle of this, and was feeling more than a little guilty about what they did.
“You made the right call,” Merlin said.
“It doesn’t feel that way,” Harry replied. “Because of us, Professor McGonagall won’t become headmistress.”
“Better that than what Andre and his ilk have planned for your friends,” Merlin pointed out. “Sometimes there are no good choices, and people get hurt no matter what you do.”
“Then how do you know you’re doing the right thing?” Harry asked.
“You don’t,” Merlin answered. “Sometimes you just have to make the least bad decision and hope it works out in the end.”
“It sounds like you’ve been in this position before,” Harry observed.
“More times that I care to think about,” Merlin confirmed.
“So, what would you do?” Harry asked, trying to figure out what to do next.
“Focus on getting your friends out of this study group as quickly as possible.” Merlin advised. “They’re clearly up to something big, and they’re on a timetable, so they’re only going to get more dangerous as their time runs out.”
“You’re right,” Harry agreed. “The ritual, recruiting students, and the way Andre talks… it’s something big. But we have the book now, there’s proof. We can take this to the Minister and expose them.”
“No, you can’t,” Merlin denied. “That book needs to be either destroyed or locked away in the vault.”
“What? Why?” Harry asked in surprise.
“That ritual can never see the light of day. It’s far too dangerous. Imagine what would happen if you brought it to your government. How long before it falls into the wrong hands? How long before someone else uses it? The amount of death and destruction this ritual caused the first time can never be allowed to happen again,” Merlin explained.
“The study group has already performed the ritual at least once. What’s the point of destroying it now? Isn’t the secret already out?” Harry asked.
“Rituals are far more complicated than reciting a few incantations and waving your wand,” Merlin lectured. “You didn’t see it because you arrived at the end, but they had to draw out a ritual circle. It’s intricate, detailed, and if you make even one mistake, you’ll end up dead… or worse. On top of that, you also need to chant the incantation, and if you make a mistake-”
“You end up dead,” Harry interrupted. “I get it, but they could easily have another copy. There’s nothing stopping them from doing the spell again.”
“As I said, rituals are complicated. Even with all of that, they’re missing the final piece. The ritual book itself. It’s imbued with magic of its own that’s vital to perform the ritual correctly. They’re difficult to make, and come with a cost of their own.”
“That’s good,” Harry said, feeling relieved. “Without the book, they can’t complete their plans.”
“They’ve been preparing for this for hundreds of years,” Merlin explained. “Do you really think they haven’t planned for something like this? This is a setback for them, nothing more. At best, all you’ve done is delay them.”
“And the only way to stop them is to find out what they’re planning,” Harry said with a sigh. “Easier said that done.” In all this time, they had found out next to nothing about what they were planning. It was only by chance they found them performing the ritual in the first place.
“The magical object,” Harry said, the realization striking him like a bolt of lightning. “It’s not the ritual book. It’s still out there.” After everything that happened, it completely slipped his mind.
“Exactly,” Merlin said. “Whatever it is, it has a connection to the study group. Find the object, and you’ll find the answers you’re looking for.”
Harry frowned. He hadn’t so much as sensed the object since the ritual, and he had only got as close to it as he had because of Halloween. How was he supposed to find it if he didn’t even know what he was looking for?
“We’ll have to step up your training,” Merlin answered. “I had a similar issue in my time. There were a few things I learned that might help you,” he said, preparing the next set of memories to show Harry.
These last two years had been the happiest that I could remember. After we escaped Morgan’s father, we traveled. We went from country to country, just exploring. Italy, France, Germany, we went wherever we pleased. It was liberating, and I finally felt like I had some control over my life.
We tried searching for more of our kind along the way, but didn’t have any luck. Either they were far fewer of us back then, or they were too afraid to reveal themselves to us.
We brewed various potions in the places we visited, sometimes for coin, other times just to help the people that needed it.
We made a great team. I brewed the potions, and Morgan sold them. She had a way with people that sometimes left me in awe of her. She could get them to trust her in a way that I never could. She was an excellent saleswoman.
During our travels we eventually came across rumors of people in Egypt who possessed advanced knowledge of magic, including complex spells, rituals, magical crafting, and even mind manipulation. We were intrigued and hopeful, believing there could even be whole communities of people like us.
The journey was long, taking us more than a month to arrive in Egypt. But it didn’t matter how many villages, towns, or countries we visited along the way, everyone we met, they all looked at magic the same way.
They were fearful, both of magic, and what their rulers would do if they were found harboring magicals. We talked long into the night about how unfair it was for them to judge our kind without even getting to know us.
Morgan took it particularly badly and confided in me on more than one occasion how she wished things could be different, how the people deserved better rulers, and how much better things would be if they just accepted magic.
After everything I had seen and experienced, I agreed with her wholeheartedly, but I still held out hope that when we arrived in Egypt, things would be different.
I stared out at the city from our ship. Alexandria, it was the largest city I had ever seen. There were ships seemingly from every corner of the earth, all right here, and the people. I had never seen so many people in all my life.
There were stalls selling all manner of goods, soldiers patrolling the streets, carts laden with fruits and vegetables being pulled in every direction.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Morgan asked, standing beside me as we gazed at the busy port city.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I agreed, putting my arm around her.
“Do you think we’ll be able to find more people like us here?” Morgan asked, eagerly.
“I’m not sure they want to be found,” I replied, truthfully. “So many of our kind have been hunted and killed by them over the years.”
Morgan frowned. “It’s not fair.”
“No, it’s not,” I agreed with a sigh.
When the boat docked, we paid our fare, and went out into the city, seeing what we could find.
At first, no one wanted to talk to us about magic. We thought Egypt would be the same as every other country we visited, and perhaps we had made this long trip for nothing.
Late in the evening, just as we were about to find a place to sleep for the night, a man in a shrouded cloak found us. I never found out his name, but he said he knew what we were searching for, and our journey was near its end.
He told us to go to the eastern desert, to the red sea mountains, and we would find what we had been searching for.
We didn’t believe him at first, thinking it was an obvious trick, that he wanted to lure us away to rob or even kill us, but what he did next stopped us dead in our tracks.
He raised his hand and formed a bolt of lightning. We watched in awe as he released it into the sky, creating a massive clap of thunder, but when we turned back to face him, he was gone, as if he had never been there in the first place.
That very night we excitedly made our preparations, buying all the provisions we would need to go to the red sea mountains, and set off at first light.
It took us another three days to reach the mountains. I had been initially worried about finding what we were looking for in the vast mountain range, but it wasn’t long before we found a long column of people dressed in white robes. It looked like they were making a pilgrimage somewhere, and we knew it had to be the same place we were searching for.
We rode our camels to the front of the line to speak to the man leading them. He wasn’t dressed like the other pilgrims, an obvious sign of his position above the others.
He was tall, broad shouldered, and carried a massive broadsword on his back.
“Can we speak to you?” I asked, riding alongside the man.
“You may,” the man replied, never looking in my direction, his eyes focused in front of him.
“Who are you? Where are you going?” I asked.
“My name is Rexor. I am the high priest of the Order of Set,” the man answered. “And we are on a pilgrimage to the Mountain of Power.”
“What’s that?” Morgan asked curiously.
“It is a place of wonder and enlightenment,” Rexor explained as he finally turned to look at both me and Morgan for the first time. He stared at us for a long moment before he spoke again. “It is the place you have been searching for.”
I looked between Rexor, and the long line of pilgrims behind him. “Are you all like us? Can you also do magic?”
“I have heard it called that before,” Rexor answered.
“What can we learn there?” Morgan asked, excited to meet more of our kind.
“You have only scratched the surface of what you are capable of. I and the other priests can teach you so much more,” he offered.
“You said you’re the Order of Set. What is that?” I asked, curiously.
“We follow the god Set. It is from his divinity that our magic flows,” Rexor answered.
I looked down at the symbol on his chest, a snake in the shape of a circle eating its own tail.
An uneasy feeling settle in the pit of my stomach as I looked at it. I couldn’t explain it, but something didn’t feel right.
I pulled Morgan aside, waiting until we were out of earshot of Rexor before I spoke. “Morgan, maybe this isn’t such a good idea,” I said, voicing my concerns.
“What the matter Merlin?” Morgan asked. “This is exactly what we’ve been searching for all this time, isn’t it?”
“That’s what has me worried,” I admitted. “Every other place we’ve ever been, we couldn’t find anyone like us, and now we’ve found more than a hundred of them? It doesn’t feel right.”
“We can’t pass this up,” Morgan implored. “Please Merlin.”
I looked between the hopeful face of Morgan and the long line of Rexor’s followers, trying to decide what to do. All my instincts were telling me we should get as far away from these people as possible, but in the back of my mind, I had another nagging thought. I knew Morgan, cared for me deeply, just as much as I cared for her, but learning magic was her dream. Would she come with me if I decided to leave?
I let out a sigh, not willing to risk losing her, and set my doubts aside. “Alright, we can see what they have to teach us, but we have to be careful,” I reluctantly agreed.
“Thank you, Merlin,” Morgan said with a beaming smile as she hugged me close. “You’ll see. We’re going to learn so much.”
It had been a year since we traveled to the Mountain of Power, and started learning from Rexor and the other acolytes, and we had learned much over that time.
Rexor taught us mind magics, how to control our thoughts, organize our minds, and review our previous memories to glean new information from past events. Finally, understanding what our kind was truly capable of was enlightening.
From the other priests we learned to control the elements, cast powerful spells that I never thought possible before, and yet with everything we learned, my unease only grew.
There was a certain tilt to our teachings. Those with magic were above those without, and that it should be our kind that ruled, not those without magic. That we should not be the ones living in fear, instead it should be the ones that hunted and killed our kind so relentlessly that should fear us.
A part of me was swayed by their arguments. I had lived much of my life in hiding, and had lost a great deal to those fearing magic, but when that happened, my thoughts always returned to Gaius and my mother.
Gaius had no magic, yet he treated me like his son. My mother, loved and protected me, despite the King’s laws, and the danger to her life. It flew directly in the face of Order’s teachings.
Morgan however, was another story. She had taken to her lessons, and the orders teaching with a fervor I had never seen from her. It was only a few months into their teachings that she started making the same arguments about how the magicals should be in charge. How even her own father hid her away from the world instead of letting her live her life.
Each day that passed filled me with worry as I thought about what their plans might be. What did they recruit our kind for, and what would happen when our training was complete?
I, along with the other followers, heard the rumors about the leader of the Order, a powerful sorcerer, even though none of us had ever met him. He only met with the most powerful of the order members, teaching them personally.
Morgan and I were easily the most powerful of the new recruits, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he granted us an audience with him. I knew we had to leave before that.
“Morgan,” I said once we reached the relative privacy of our shared bedroom. “I think it’s time for us to leave.”
“What? Leave? Merlin, you can’t be serious, not when we’re so close,” Morgan denied.
“So close to what?” I asked, trying to make her see sense. “We’ve already learned all we can from these people. There’s nothing to gain from us staying here.”
“There’s still so much we can learn. We still haven’t met with the leader of Order. Imagine what he could teach us,” Morgan implored.
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of,” I replied. “Haven’t you noticed the things they’re teaching us? It’s all about displays of power meant to intimidate and frighten others.”
“I know,” Morgan agreed, surprising me.
“You can’t mean to be part of this,” I said in shock.
“Of course not,” Morgan said, putting her hand on my cheek and looking into my eyes. “That’s why we have to stay. To meet with this leader of theirs and find out what he’s planning. We can’t just leave and wash our hands of this. He’s building an army for a purpose we don’t fully understand it. We may be the only ones capable of stopping him.”
I exhaled deeply, feeling a wave of relief wash over me. I didn’t know what I would have done if Morgan and I ended up on opposite sides of this. But that still left the larger problem of dealing with the Order.
“It won’t be long now,” Morgan continued. “We’re already the best acolytes. We can meet with this leader, and find out what he’s planning, and if we have to, stop him.”
Every one of my instincts screamed at me to get out of there, that nothing good would come from this meeting, but as usual, my love for Morgan outweighed my instincts, and I reluctantly agreed to her plan.
It was another three months before Rexor approached us, telling us we were ready for the next step in our training.
We both knew it was coming, and followed him in to the main chamber of the mountain, the one that only the elite disciples of the Order were allowed to enter.
In the middle of the chamber, a man sat on a raised throne made of stone, but what surprised me most about him was how plainly he was dressed. He wore a shrouded purple robe, and black leather boots. There were no jewels, weapons, or armor that would denote a man of his standing.
“Welcome,” the man said in a surprisingly youthful voice. “I have been following your progress closely this last year. You are both talented and skilled, and there is nothing left that Rexor can teach you. It is time for your true lessons to begin,” he said, throwing back his hood and revealing his face to us.
His skin was dark, and his head bald. He looked no older than Morgan or I. I wondered then how he could have done all he had in such a short amount of time. How could he have built this place, recruited so many followers, and learned all that he had? I struggled most of my life just to learn a small fraction of what he knew, even with the help of Amatheon.
“You’re surprised,” the man observed, catching my eye. “But don’t let my appearance fool you. I am much older than I look.”
“How?” Morgan asked in wonder.
“I can teach you,” the man offered. “Join me. Become one of my true acolytes, and I can show you that, and so much more.”
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.
“My name is Thulsa,” the man replied. “I am the Leader and founder of the Order of Set.”
“What do you want from us?” I asked, keeping my tone respectful. I could practically feel the power emanating from him. “What is the purpose of this order?”
“The purpose has always been the same, to take our rightful place as rulers of this world. Too many of our kind have been hunted and killed by the weak, seeking to hold on to power they do not deserve. We will bring order to the chaos.”
“What will you teach us we haven’t already learned?” Morgan asked, eager to find out what else she could learn.
“You have only scratched the surface of your true potential,” Thulsa explained. “With my training you can move mountains, command legions, together we can re-shape this world to our liking.”
“How?” I asked. “I’ve spent my entire life searching for others of our kind, and learning about magic. How have you learned so much, and recruited so many?”
“I have heard of your struggles, Merlin,” Thulsa explained. “For much of my life, it was the same for me. Scratching out a meager existence, forced to flee from one town to the other just to stay alive.”
I listened to his words. It felt like he had plucked the thoughts right out of my head. I began to see how he had recruited so many of our kind.
“It all changed when I heard a voice in my head, whispering to me, guiding me, teaching me the wonders of magic,” Thulsa continued.
“…A voice in your head?” I asked, my eyes growing wide. ‘Could he be like me?’ I thought. “Did this voice have a name?” I asked, focused on finding out as much as I could about this voice.
“No,” Thulsa said, shaking his head. “If the voice had a name, it never shared it with me.”
“What did the voice ask you to do?” I asked.
“At the time, I was nothing more than a slave, building a pyramid for the Pharaoh,” Thulsa explained. “I was in a pit, with a thousand other slaves just like me, digging out stones to build the pyramid. But unlike the other slaves, I could hear the voice.”
“At first I thought I was crazy, and tried to ignored it, but as I worked it revealed more and more about myself, things that I had hidden away from everyone. It promised me freedom, a life free of the chains of my bondage, and I listened.”
“Day by day, I learned more, until I could no longer stand the life the masters forced upon me. The voice told me to keep digging, that I would soon find something that would change my fortunes forever.”
“I returned in the dead of night to the pit, sneaking past the slave masters, and continued to dig well into the night, until I finally found what I had been searching for,” Thulsa said as he went to the dais at the side of the room, and removed a cloth, revealing a leather-bound tomb.
“With this I learned how to break my chains, and hide this place away from the prying eyes of those that would do harm to our kind, where we could learn, free from their persecution and their judgment.”
Morgan’s eyes gleamed as she stared at the book. She could feel the raw magical power radiating from it just as easily as I could. I still wonder to this day if she felt the dark undertones that I did, the malevolent and otherworldly feel of it.
“Do you still hear the voice?” I asked.
“No,” Thulsa said, shaking his head. “The voice stopped when I found the book. It had achieved its purpose.”
“And you never heard the voice again, or any others?” I asked.
“No, after all this time to think, I believe the voice was my own magic, guiding me to something I did not understand, but instinctively knew I needed,” Thulsa explained.
A feeling of both relief and sadness washed over me as Thulsa finished his explanation. Relief that Thulsa wasn’t like me at all, and also sadness because I did not find a link that could explain my own existence.
“What is it?” Morgan asked, her eyes locked onto the tomb.
“It is called the Darkhold,” Thulsa answered. “Over the years I have learned to decode its pages, and become what I am. Join me, and you too can do the same.”
Thanks for reading and supporting me. I hope you enjoyed the new chapter. It is another Merlin heavy chapter, but I promise it’s building towards something big. What do you think of Merlin and Morgan’s new teacher? If you can, please take the time to review. It helps a lot with figuring out how the story is going, and how I can improve it.