1963-12-16 - The 12 Days: Fourth - Part III
Summary: Strange finally obtains that gift… at a cost.
Related: The 12 Days: Fourth, Part II
Theme Song: None
merlin strange wanda 

Bless Merlin for trying, truly, but the tea is ignored for a stalking stride away down the edge of the lake. The Sorcerer's eyes never leave the trail of bubbles breaking on the surface, not for an instant, and his hands are now folded tightly away. Back he paces, past the old Wizard. He's unable to hold still and trying hard not to count out minutes in his head.

Medical textbooks are hellacious things, not only to the student attempting to absorb them, but the one who has a photographic memory and the process's reins are currently handled by slowly-rising adrenaline. The average young, fit human being can hold their breath for approximately four minutes.

Back past the tea-drinking Wizard once more, leaving deep footprints in his wake. Keep calm, Stephen, calm. She's probably using magic, she can breathe, she'll be fine. Logic attempts to grab back control of things and yanks hard enough to make him draw up the Sight. Of course the entire realm of Cumbria glitters back at him like some sort of fever dream and Strange squints at where he thinks Wanda is beneath the shallow waters. There seems to be…a swirl of magic about her, kissing-cousin to the Lake itself, and he lets out a lungful of air he didn't know he'd been holding. Putting his hands on his knees, he bows his head for a minute before standing up straight again and sighing harshly.

"Tea, yes," he mutters, walking back over to pluck the tea cup from the air. Amaranthine fades from his irises to leave them normal steel-blue once more as he glances to the far patch of bubbles breaking on the surface. Sipping at the brew gives him a moment to consider the various flavors and he looks to Merlin with a light shrug of his shoulders. "Not bad."

Then comes the telltale brush of a casting.

Narrowing in on the familiar signature like a hawk, Strange literally drops the tea cup and takes two steps into the Lake. He's clearly about to launch himself in and drag Wanda out kicking and screaming, even if she wants to keep attempting what she's — what in the SEVEN HELLS.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's…a scarlet-clad Witch arcing through the air followed by the shining scattering of some game pieces!

No chance to catch her, not at all, and he winces at her tumbling impact into the shallows before jogging quickly over to her. "Wanda! What on earth?!" He's not quite shouting, but the Sorcerer is clearly not amused as he simultaneously attempts to help her up, pluck lake-weed from her hair, and see if she's injured anywhere.


The old wizard watches the Sorcerer Supreme, sipping on his tea as if there were not a care in the world. Merlin remains in place, as his attention turns, ever so slowly, from Strange back to the water. "Tea has a way of calming us all down and helping us see what really matters." He murmurs softly.

A smile crosses his face at the 'not bad' comment. "Well, I've had some time to perfect the recipe. But thank you. It's good to know that one's tea is appreciated. 'Tis not often I share this brew with another, so I've not had much basis, aside from myself, to know whether or not it was good."

There's a quick swirl of his hand as Strange drops the cup, with the cup, and it's contents, freezing in midair. The old man frowns. "How rude." It disappears with a snap of his fingers, his own cup disappearing as well.

His eyes follow Strange, and then look toward the lake. He blinks, his eyes turning a gold colour. "That's not right…" He murmurs to himself. He grasps his staff and hobbles over to where Wanda landed. "Of course she's on earth! That's what mud is, earth! This is not a time to make silly comments such as that!" He waps Strange on the shoulder lightly with his hand. "Are you all right, young one?" He kneels next to the witch and closes his eyes, reaching his hand above her and moving it around, as if searching for something beyond the realm of sight.


Myriad tendrils of water arc from the lake to fling the chesspieces back onto the shoreline. All thirty-two of them come down in a cascade of bouncing crystal and shining gold, a priceless creation executed with all the humorous view of styled humankind in an era well before the postmodern. The Lewis chessmen would be jealous to look that good.

Followed in force, an aqueous column plunges the folded board itself towards the sorcerers, and tapers out when it reaches the thicket of winter-burned grasses. Nonetheless, the treasure doesn't shatter or go tumbling end over end very far despite its ideal square shape. Even in the waning light of the day, for dusk is rapidly encroaching, it shines, not to be unexpected given the thing is spun of sunlight and gold.

The spell propelling Wanda out of the lake does not distinguish further than its shoreline, and her sopping state is made only slightly worse for a waterlogged leather coat and the usual heavy boots weighing her down marginally more. Not as though she waded in wading a breastplate or chain over cuirass, and Arthur would be wise to take note of that in the past and future king times he goes swimming.

For her part, she knows how to fall. Not as well as her speedster twin — who never seems to trip, much less end up in these provocative, miserable sprawls — but she's only human, and that means taking bone-jarring meetings with the earth by rolling, or bouncing ragdoll style and narrowing the profile in connection with the slippery bank. Lake weeds give her a very Morrigan of the dread wilds sort of look, especially with eyes glowing that particular inhuman shade from corner to corner, tinged slightly more towards the carmine scale than indigo. Mud scours her to the hip, but if it's any consolation, the little wavelets scour at least a bit of it away, as though to apologize.

Or act like a cat just to mock Strange. Tricky lake.

"Another time," she coughs out the lake water, "I take a net."

The bruising will take a bit to form, and nothing she will admit to. On the other hand, she looks up to the pair of them and then back over her shoulder. "One spirit, night black. Talks. Knew a druid." She pronounces the latter like the European she is, particularly a non-English speaker. There's the barest trace of a glottal symmetry in the ancient Indo-Aryan languages. "I woke it. Put it to rest?"

There's a definite arc of magic around her beyond the usual spellcraft; the relic giving her a wave-tossed halo bright as azure, pearl droplets running over her skin ephemerally and practically coating her throat. Her own magic. The ultraviolet spikes brittle along the outer periphery of her aura? Those are the signs of a bitterly unhappy proto-parent's legacy, flatlining back into themselves.


She's alive and that's what matters most to him. His heart rate returns to normal as he watches her breathe and tries to will away the internalized panic attack that had been looming with dark pressure.

The light cuff is ignored in lieu of observing the magic sluicing around her form. Blinking amaranthine into his irises, Strange picks up the effects of the elementally-charged pearl and nods to himself; that gave her ability to survive that long underwater. But with what he can see of her aura resettling itself, much like hackles slowly lowering, he wonders quietly aloud,

"What made you leave the water like that?"

Wanda answers the question for him. Glancing into the shallows beyond the Witch's legs, he sees…something abnormal. Lake weed does not move like that, especially in multiple tendrils against the ebb and flow of the small waves. No doubt both Wanda and Merlin can feel the low-level static wake of his aura charging up as he glares at the oddity. It seems to shine back at him all the brighter, a weird anti-light of sorts, and he keeps one hand resting gently on the nearest curve of the Witch's shoulderblade while the other forms a mudra of defense.

"Merlin, this is your realm. What is that thing?" His voice is barely audible over the lapping of the lake.


"Strange…old…magic that's…that used to live here." Merlin murmurs as he senses something strange, unusual. He sighs and opens his eyes. "Did you say druid?" That's not a word that's normally spoken any more, here or anywhere else in the world. "I knew some druids…" But which druid?

His eyes flash gold once more as he looks toward the water. "That is something that shouldn't be. My magic…I mean…the magic protecting that…" he waves toward the chess set and its pieces all around, "should have prevented this. Or maybe," he sighs, "It's an old dark magic meant to use another's magic to hide itself." He explains. "And when one seeks out whatever the light magic is protecting, it grasps hold and attempts to keep the finder in a magical slumber, of sorts. If I'm not mistaken."


The rub of her shoulder with her palm assures the coat is relatively intact. If not, some handy spellwork on the double will restore that plainly beloved garment to proper form. She tends to look rather harshly upon damage inflicted with any lasting intent. "Peredur took the board," says Wanda, feeling for tears, broken bones, and the occasional protruding shard of reality. One never knows. "After he slew King Gwenddoleu on the field. At Arthuret." In the same district they're in, in fact, part of Cumbria along the serpentine rivers, so close to this very lake, they may well be standing adjacent to a battlefield. "Gwenddoleu hosted Myrddin — Merlin — as his court sage." She glances towards the man. "Or Peredur the knight, who seeks the graal. Is it one of them?"

Burning questions in the night, a portent of what comes and what passes. She wraps her hands around her waist, and catches one of the charms from her belt, holding it up and assessing the floating disc caught in alabaster. "Then who sleeps? It said it was awakened." The danger to herself, if any, is difficult to attest.


"It would be rude of me to act in your stead, within your Realm," Strange murmurs to the old Wizard, eyeing the swaying weed-like tendrils of submerged oily magic with a gimlet glare. "Would you care to deal with it or shall I?"

It threatened his Beloved, no doubt caused her to retreat with such haste, and gives him the heebie-jeebies. It can also apparently talk, according to the musings of the Witch. To the Sorcerer Supreme, it matters that the swirl of magic might be sentient or could have connections to the fabled Court of King Arthur. Perhaps the thing can be reasoned with rather than outright destroyed.

Still, no lessening of the general intensity of his focus, scalpel-keen, as if attempting to pin the squiggly spell in place.


"It spoke to you?" Merlin murmurs, humming and nodding as he thinks. "Curious. Yes. Yes, I see. I know! Yes, in a matter of speaking it was asleep. You see, I imagine it was only meant to activate, or awaken, when one was after the chessboard, like you were." He smiles softly. "You heard the song, yes? The song with the rhyme? I'll admit, it was my doing. I bit crude, but it was meant to do a job. Someone must have manipulated that. This druid who I must have known. I'm sure it was someone who wanted the board."

He shakes his head at Wanda's question. "I do not believe it could have been Peredur or Gwenddoleu. Neither would have done this. Nor did they have the powers to do this." He frowns. "And I do not believe they would have gone to a druid instead of speaking with me."

He smiles and nods to Strange. "Oh, yes. Yes. I'll deal with it. Nothing a little happiness and joy won't cure, eh?" He grasps his staff in both his hands and sticks it firmly into the mud. There's a low rumble from his throat, and a white light surrounds the top of his staff. "Land of light, land of waking. We seek your might, we seek your retaking."

One by one, five beams of pure white light shoot from the tip of his staff, each hitting one of the dark tendrils. They each seem to grapple with each other, fighting to defeat the other. A look of pure determination covers Merlin's face as he attempts to focus the powers and keep them fighting.


The coughing witch finally manages to push the last of the liquid out of her throat, no longer needing the admixture to satisfy her lungs. Coming to the surface makes breathing water somewhat less convenient than air, the bubbles of sound fading away. Wanda's wet hair drips a steady stream to the ground off her coat, and she squeezes out the damp waves and tangles until properly divested of all those excesses. Arms shaken out, and then her body wriggled, she dispenses equally of any sense of propriety.

"I yield to you, my betters," she says without too much pride being dented, aware when something stands outside her typical pay grade. Slim finger pointing to the water, she gestures where last that gloomy halo of power was last observed. "I heard something? Maybe." It is not an ideal answer, though she still has to get water from her ears and the film of discomfort from within. Her eyes narrow when Merlin starts to raise his hands to engage the creature, the spilling power emerging from his staff, and the low, stirring power within the very soil itself.

This is, after all, the northernmost reach of England where the natural lines between Anglias - all of them - and Scotia converge, and the Old North remembers its master though modern history may not. The earth shivers and heaves.


Rising to his full height, Strange takes a cursory step back from the old Wizard. One does not crowd Master-level Wizards when they cast Master-level spells. The words spoken by the practitioner seem to have literal clout in the air around them — the entire Realm itself inhales to hold a breath before a plunge. This is Old Magic, the flavor he felt time and time again in the presence of the Ancient One when a mere apprentice in Kamar-Taj, and he gains a better appreciation for it as he sees it up-close for the first time again in several years.

The grit of Merlin is something to avoid underestimating. This is marked especially by the literal reaction of the beach once that gnarled staff is planted exorably into it. The struggle is something that the current Sorcerer Supreme notes and one hand rises up as if to settle upon the Wizard's shoulder…but pauses. No, they are both so terribly proud and tempestuous. He won't act without permission for the sake of professional relations.

"How can I assist you?" The good Doctor inquires, very much aware of his standing here even as Master of the Mystic Arts. Not will assist — how, for it's perfectly acceptable for the practitioner standing on the edge of the Lake, pouring incandescent happiness into a writhing mess of polar opposition, to tell him that he's just fine, thank you very much.


The very air itself seems to thicken ever so slightly, trees nearby bend and groan. The very land they stand on appears to want to help Merlin, whose own being is so deeply intertwined with everything that surrounds them. As the energy reaches forth from his staff, and the true struggle begins, he closes his eyes.

The undertaking takes its toll. He winces, inhaling sharply. "This is a twisted magic." His says, grimacing. "Dark. 'Tis of a kind I have not felt, and have not expected to sense, in these parts in quite some time." He opens his eyes and looks back at Strange and Wanda.

"If you'd care to aid me, this is what you may do." He glances around. "Humbly request the essence of the land to assist by pouring its positive force toward my staff."


Respect invites respect. Kindness invites kindness. They all gain by a principled woman holding herself to account, approaching the deep realm of their mother as supplicant and child rather than ordered demands. She takes several steps up the slope until fully upon the dormant field overlooking the water, this ancient remnant of stone scoured by the Ice Age and once more restored by successive seasons laying down soil and seeds. Grasses crunch under her squelching boots, and she finally stumbles over some half-hidden foxhole, landing upon her knees and hands. Rolling to her side, she forces the waterlogged laces apart and drags her sock-feet from the right boot and then the left. Fighting with the bloated leather armour leaves her mildly shivering, but thinner. Off with the socks next, which end up squeezed out as the water is given in offering to the thicket of flattened, brown plants.

Bare toes wiggle, and she puts her feet flat to the ground, feeling the hard soil and the pebbles, roots and rough gorse among the heath. Her soles follow suit, allowing Wanda to roll to her hip and perch there. Hands skim in a hemisphere marked from shoulder to mid-calf, drawn in slipping arcs. "Mother," she whispers, using English. Transian might be easier, but it's not appropriate for Britain.

"Mother Alba. Mother of the white shore and the silver lake, your daughter asks your aid." She might be self-conscious that they listen, but this is what she does, witch, earth daughter. One can only hope the great mother ignores her father's other lineage. "Not for myself, Mother, but the wizard and sorcerer ask. They would lay this to rest, this darkness. I ask for them, and in respect of you, let them take the energy they need of me?"

Her tone is almost affectionate, respectful, and oblivious to whether it's prickly or cold out there.


The Sorcerer Supreme eyes their immediate surroundings in silent musing and then nods. More space will be needed, so while the Witch travels to immerse herself within the glad familiarity of Mother Earth, he'll touch the sky.

The crimson Cloak seems to taste the potentiality of the air around him before kicking in. Hands offered palm-up before him in doubled varada mudras, for the old Wizard wishes for well-wishes in turn, he rises up. The air takes on the weight of a muggy day, but not so heavily that it drains the strength.

This is the kiss of summer, on a morning far before the high heat of noon. The air stirs in a breeze refreshing and brings in its wake the glory of youthful delight undimmed, memories of a time when one woke before dawn simply to see the sun rise and to scatter the dewdrops against the shin. This is the vesper that begs one to pause and linger in the moment, in quiet appreciation and contentment alike, and it rushes over the surface of the Alban land around them. Grasses stir, leaves whisper, branches rattle in mild percussion, and the Lake's surface riffles. His is a passing entreaty to the Earth Mother, but one carrying the glad solar light she needs for her flora to flourish and to bolster the souls of the ones who carry on in her name.

Haloed in amaranthine trending high-heaven's blue, Strange remains airbourne off behind Merlin and quietly wills glad tidings towards the practitioner locked in his duel.


"Do you feel that?" The old wizard murmurs softly, even as the world around them starts to hum and to buzz and to vibrate. Life abounds around them, from the smallest of insects fluttering about to a family of foxes which come to a rest nearby to owls and all other manners of creatures, all of which add their songs to the. Plants of all variety sway to and fro, rustling and creaking. The wind swirls about, an unusually warm breeze seems to dance lightly all about them as the sun shines down. The water of the lake ripples in response to the energy surrounding it.

The beams from Merlin's staff grow brighter still. The assistance, it would seem, from his fellow magic users seems to be helping. The magical presence in the lake, whatever its true nature, makes one last attempt, the tendrils warily slogging out of the water before disappearing once more beneath the surface.

As Merlin's aura flashes white and his eyes flash a brighter gold, the dark magical tendrils disappear from the lake and the beams disappear back into Merlin's staff. He sighs deeply. "Thank you, my friends." He bows in turn to both Wanda and to Strange in the sky. Looking around, he smiles and bows to the creatures and to nature. "And thank you all as well. Once more, I owe you all debts for which you can call upon me at any moment." Yes, he's talking to all the animals and to the plants as well. He's spent too much time in this land not to become indebted to them on more than one occasion.


The witch opens her hands to the tendrils of a dawning light that breaks over the cusp of the soil and the night. Lazy fireflies bumble through the summer heat brought to the precipice of winter dusk. Bioluminescent sparks lift off the stalks of grass quickening from the heated soil, a spreading ring of budding ferns and rising toadstools spotted carmine among the friendlier white varieties. Water-plaintain blooms on the silt-rich waters along the mucky waterfront, spearwort and woodsia springing up in gentle green spots. Bugles peer with purple-tinged leaves above a rising carpet around the witch, their toothed leaves running ahead of the lively spring of bluebells and shy violas, pansies and violets springing in amaranthine glory wherever she goes. The celandines normally would spark gold, but their shade is decidedly orchidean, to match the currants and the plums in tender silk petals as delicate as the first blush of springs. Wispy flowers common to hedges, and dreamy hawthorn delicately rose-flushed upon twiggy branches, tumble over a breeze kicked up behind her.

Enchanter's nightshade surrounds the sorcerers, throwing their spade shaped lime leaves outwards, and the stalks raising up a coronet of tiny pointed pink buds. When they open as a string of stars, they release the faintest of fragrances. Downy alpine flowers join the sprigs of common heather in deepest incarnadine bells, chiming to the buzz of honey bees and the solitude of the north-facing hills of the far north of Cumbria and Yorkshire.

Thumbs spread slightly from her fingers, the sacred mudras which Wanda adopts tie the furthest reaches of Eurasia together, even as she wears the same expression as the statues of Isis and the Corn-Maiden, the giver. How many faces has her mother worn? All and known.

Merlin's strobing presence pushes back the darkness, and she basks in the sunshine, ephemeral or not, her face turned up to it. Water running off her garments forms a faint haze that spreads away, and paints her aura that rises in a wide crescent halo mixed into the good Doctor's, sharing the same amaranthine shade throughout the majority of its nebulous process. Only nearest her does it turn scarlet, and where it touches the earth, sharply pale, distorted silver as moonlight. Stars speckle the nebula between the two casters.

Entranced, she lowers her chin to the pillowing effect of her forearm. Her dazed eyes lift upwards, and yet more of the incarnadine shade retreats until the spell halo around her is fully eclipsed. Fascination pulses through every windy breath rattling over her lungs, and she sinks lower, until full prostrate in the field of wildflowers and oak forest herbs forming a thick carpet around her, though they don't blot out the crystalline board or the thirty-two pieces lying scattered around Merlin and Strange.

Making a muzzy sound, she might well be two steps to falling asleep contentedly upon the spot.


"Of course." Naturally, he's here to help — always.

Strange wills the crimson Cloak to release its effects on him and he drops down the last few feet to land with near-silent grace on the pebbly beach. The last remnants of his query sluice around him with velvety touches before disappearing off into the Realm proper. Surrounded by the nature drawn up by the Witch's communing with her dearest Earth, he glances back to find her nearly disappeared beneath mildly-fragrant greenery. A small, affectionate smile curves his lips before he turns his attention to the scattered chess pieces and board nearby.

"All this for a chess set…" he murmurs and utters a soft, relieved laugh that everything turned for the best despite his initial concerns.


The creatures burst with a final cacophony of sound, emitting their respective calls and noises before finally scattering. "I must especially thank the two of you, once more." Merlin nods to Wanda and Strange, looking at them again. "If I can assist either of you with anything, anything at all, just tell me."

There's a raised eyebrow at the mention of 'all this for a chess set'. "This is no mere chess set! This is the Chessboard of Gwendolyn! Quite a special chessboard, considered a special treasure of Britain, and thought lost to time itself!"

He snaps his fingers and the chessboard rights itself. "Pieces, to the board!" He commands speaks in a firm, authoritative tone. The pieces, on cue, spring to life and start hopping toward the board. "As I said, 'tis no ordinary board. It's quite special."

Merlin smiles again. "And it's to be a gift."

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