Lance stepped out of the moisture farm, wiping his hands on his tunic and searching the area. The two suns were beginning to set and he soon spotted him, the small silhouette on the hill, staring into the horizon.
Sighing, Lance headed towards him, lowering himself to the ground when he reached him. "Hey." He said softly, but received no response. "What's up?"
"Will's gone – to join the alliance." Came the quiet reply, as he continued to stare out at the horizon, hair ruffling in the slight breeze.
Lance sighed. "Merlin, I know you want to fight – and you'd be good at it, too, but-"
"I know, I know," Merlin interrupted, "I'm needed here." He sighed. "I just…It's hard, you know? I mean, Will's out there, actually doing something to help, something that I could do too, but…I'm stuck here."
Merlin sighed again, still not turning to face Lance. "I know, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Aunt and Uncle didn't have to take me in, but…"
"You're itching to actually do something to help." Merlin turned towards Lance in surprise, who shook his head wistfully. "I get it. Believe me, I do. I may not be a great pilot, but I'm a fair shot, and sometimes…" he broke off, sighing and pushed himself off the ground. "Come on, mum's almost got dinner ready."
He held out a hand, helping Merlin to his feet and slinging the same arm around his shoulders as they walked.
"I really am grateful, you know." Merlin said quietly. Lance turned his head in silent questioning. "To all of you, for taking me in. It mustn't have been easy, having a baby dropped off on you, even if it is your nephew."
"Well, I never saw you as a cousin." Lance said as they reached the door. "You were always my scrawny little brother." He ruffled Merlin's hair as he passed to go through the doorway, but he didn't miss Merlin's grin of gratitude.
As the DuLac family sat down to dinner, a small escape pod crashed into the sand-filled wilderness.
The next day dawned – to the blistering heat of two suns, as per usual – and Merlin was still prone to brooding stares, Lance was dismayed to note. He found his younger brother, once again, staring off into space after finishing his chores. "Come on, the Jawas are here."
Merlin sighed and turned to follow Lance. "Market day again?"
"You know we need more droids, Merlin."
"We have plenty of them out working." Merlin grumbled.
"Yes," Lance agreed, rolling his eyes, "but we do need a translator; one who can speak 'the binary language of moisture evaporators'."
"And bachi." Merlin added. Lance quirked an eyebrow. "Aunt told me to remind you. She knew Uncle would forget."
"Of course he will," Lance grinned. "He gets so excited about those evaporators that he has no room left to worry about anything else." Merlin grinned back and the two fell into step beside Owain to inspect the droids the Jawas had on offer.
After a while of looking over the line critically, Owain turned towards the two boys. "Right. So I've got us a translator – that Dragon-Droid over there-" he indicated a golden waist-height dragon halfway along the line, "now we just need another technical unit; one of these smaller ones." He turned to scrutinise the smaller droids before him, Lance mimicking him.
Merlin, however, turned – why, he didn't know – to the other end of the line of smaller droids. His eyes fell upon the only other Dragon-Droid in the Jawas' possession; a smaller, white-coloured dragon, whose eyes were focused on him.
"Right. That's settled then. Lance, you and Merlin take these two back and give them a clean before lunch."
"But dad, I was going to-"
"No buts, Lance."
A sigh, "Yes father. I'll take this one, Merlin; you take the Dragon-Droid. Merlin. Merlin!"
Merlin jerked, tearing his gaze from the dragon to his cousin. "Huh? What?"
Lance sighed, rolling his eyes. "I'm taking this droid in," he said, indicating the small tech unit, "and you take in the dragon."
Merlin let his eyes drift once more towards the smaller of the two dragons – whose gaze was still fixed upon him – before heading towards the other. The golden dragon fell into step beside him quietly, though occasionally sending him odd looks.
About halfway back to the house, the droid beside Lance suddenly stopped, emitting a large bang and copious amounts of steam as it did so. Lance growled under his breath. "Damn it!" he grumbled, stomping back over to the clearly faulty droid. "Dad!" he called over to where Owain was still haggling with the Jawas. "This droid's no good – its converter's gone."
Owain turned back to the Jawas angrily and Lance focused back on the still-smoking droid. "Great," he muttered. "Just great. Now we're going to have to wait while dad chooses a new one."
"What about that one?" Merlin asked, his gaze once again drawn to the white dragon.
"I can speak for him." The golden dragon spoke up. Lance's eyes widened in surprise, but Merlin merely turned to him in question. "I have worked with him before. He's quite the hard worker."
Merlin returned his gaze to the dragon and Lance followed, nodding contentedly. "Yes, he'll do. Hey dad – the white dragon."
Owain turned to appraise his son's choice, frowning. "He seems a bit on the small side."
Lance sighed, resigned to spending more time at the market, but Merlin spoke up this time. "We have plenty of the larger ones for the farming. It's the tech side we need now; we don't necessarily need large ones for that."
Owain glanced back to the dragon before nodding and turning back to the Jawa. Merlin grinned. "Aithusa!" he called. Lance whipped around in surprise as the white dragon headed for Merlin in response to his call. "Come on, Kilgarrah." The golden dragon started for the house too as the white dragon caught up to them. Merlin went to follow, but Lance held him back.
"How did you know their names?" Merlin blinked at him for a moment, brow furrowing.
"I…" Merlin floundered for a moment, unable to come up with an answer. "They must have told me." He finally settled on with a shrug.
"They didn't tell you, Merlin." Lance spoke seriously, his eyes focused intently on Merlin.
"Must be the magic thing, then."Merlin shrugged, slipping free of Lance's hold and following the dragons inside.
"Yeah," Lance muttered, staring after his cousin as he disappeared inside. "Must be."
Lance sighed as he watched Merlin clean up the two droids. "I don't see why I have to be here; you're the one doing all the work."
"Oh, no," Merlin laughed as he lowered Kilgarrah into an oil bath. "You're not leaving me here to run off with your friends."
"It's not like anything interesting is gonna happen."Merlin sighed and bowed his head, fiddling with the oil bath controls. "Hey, you're not still upset about Will, are you?"
"Will was right, you know."Merlin sighed, heading towards Aithusa. "We're never gonna get out of here."
"Yeah," Lance sighed dejectedly. "It's not fair."
"Excuse me," Kilgarrah cut across, though he seemed to be talking only to Merlin, "but might there be something I could do?"
"No," Merlin sighed. "Not unless you can speed up time so the harvest will be over and Uncle might let me go to the Academy. Or teleport me off this rock."
"Hmm." Kilgarrah watched Merlin intently as he began to clean Aithusa, holding the air of someone who knew more than they were letting on. "I'm not entirely knowledgeable about such things, not on this planet anyway."He paused for a moment. "Come to think of it, I'm not even sure which planet I'm on."
"Well," Lance cut in dryly, causing Kilgarrah to start slightly, turning towards him and blinking in surprise. "If there's a bright centre of the galaxy, we're the farthest from it."
"I see, sir." Kilgarrah said seriously. Lance raised his eyebrows at the shift in tone from when the dragon had been talking to Merlin.
"You can call me Lancelot, or just Lance."
"I see, Sir Lancelot." The dragon replied. Lance's lips twitched into a small grin as Merlin snorted with laughter.
"Just Lancelot." Lance corrected him.
Merlin hid his smile in his elbow as he tried to dig out the dirt in the nooks and crannies ofndnotes]=I struggled for a whi he encountered a particularly stubborn patch. "There's a lot of carbon scoring here – it looks like you two have seen a lot of action." He muttered as he tackled the patch.
"Yes," sniffed Kilgarrah disdainfully. "With all we've been through I wonder how we're in as good condition as we are. What with the rebellion and all."
"You know of the rebellion against the empire!?" Merlin and Lance burst out, whirling round to look to Kilgarrah in wide-eyed shock.
"Yes," Kilgarrah replied, eyes flickering between the two. "That's how we came to be in your service."
The two immediately began to bombard them with questions – what was it like? were you in many battles? – before they fell silent once again.
Merlin sighed. "I'll never get out of here."
"You will. Someday." Lance sighed, moving away towards the tools.
"Maybe, but the question is – will the rebellion be over by the time I do?"
Lance didn't answer, and Merlin focused back on cleaning Aithusa, jumping backwards in surprise when a hologram erupted from the small dragon. "What's this?" Merlin muttered, more to himself than to the others. Aithusa merely stayed silent, trying to look innocent while the others' gazes were fixed upon the hologram.
It was clearly only part of a message, showing a tall beautiful woman, who pled "Help me, Gaius. You're my only hope." before another woman appeared and the two looked to their right – panicked – and the taller woman leant to turn off the hologram. The hologram repeated the fragment of the message as Merlin, Lance and Kilgarrah stared at it.
"Who is that?" Merlin asked, puzzling over the slightest flicker of recognition inside him.
"I don't know." Kilgarrah answered hesitantly. "She was a passenger on our last voyage – a person of diplomatic importance, I believe."
"She's beautiful." Lance breathed, but as Merlin turned to glance at him, he found Lance's eyes following the smaller, curly-haired woman who had run in at the end. "Play the rest of the message."
Aithusa emitted a few beeping noises and Kilgarrah just looked at him for a moment before translating. "He says that he is the property of Gaius and that the message is for him."
"Gaius…" Merlin mused, sitting down on the floor. "I wonder if he means Old Gaius up in the hills."
"Surely not," Lance snorted. "Old Gaius is just a crazy old hermit."
"I don't know…" Merlin said hesitantly but Lance ignored him, instead turning back to Aithusa.
"Play the rest of the message." Lance demanded, but Aithusa bleeped some more. Lance looked to Kilgarrah for a translation.
"He says that the restraining bolt has short circuited his recording system, and that if you take it off, he may be able to play the rest of the recording."
Merlin looked ready to argue, but Lance jumped up to get the equipment. "Oh, of course. I suppose you're too small to run away on us, if I take this off." The bolt came off as Lance took a wrench to it, but the hologram simply disappeared. "Hey, where'd it go!?" Lance demanded angrily, turning to Kilgarrah.
"What do you mean 'where'd what go?'" Kilgarrah demanded of Aithusa. "The message you were just playing." Aithusa blinked innocently, shifting uneasily.
Lance looked ready to argue some more when they were interrupted by a voice calling out. "Boys, dinner!"
Lance sighed, calling back, "We'll be there in a minute, mother!" He looked back to the two dragons, turning to Kilgarrah. "You see what you can get out of him. I'll be right back."
Merlin hesitated in the doorway, unsure, but another cry of "Boys!" had him heading for the main house.
At dinner, Merlin was the one who brought up the dragons. "I think one of those Dragon-Droids might have been stolen." Merlin remarked, pushing his food around his plate.
Owain frowned. "What makes you say that?"
"When I was cleaning the smaller one, I came across a recording. And he said he belonged to a Gaius – I wondered if he meant Old Gaius up in the hills."
Owain and his wife shared a look before he responded. "That wizard's just a crazy old man." Again, Merlin wanted to argue, not knowing why he did, but his uncle spoke up before he could. "Tomorrow, I want you to take that Dragon-Droid to Anchor Head and have its memory erased. That'll be the end of it – he belongs to us now." His wife shot him a look but he pointedly looked away.
"But what if this Gaius comes looking for him?" Merlin argued.
"He won't. I don't think he exists anymore. He died, about the same time as your father." Lance's gaze flickered between his father and cousin.
Merlin's head shot up. "He knew my father?"
"I told you to forget it." Owain said sternly. Merlin dropped his gaze back down to his plate.
"I think those new droids are going to work out fine." Lance cut in, trying to diffuse the tension that had built up. "In fact," he paused, glancing at Merlin before continuing, "I've been thinking about our agreement. You know, about Merlin staying on another summer." Merlin glanced up sharply at him, wide-eyed. "And I was thinking, if these new droids work out, he could submit his application to the Academy this year."
Merlin stared at Lance, but Owain frowned. "This term? Before the harvest?"
Merlin smiled bitterly, shaking his head at Lance, but Lance frowned slightly and continued to argue. "We've got more than enough droids."
"Harvest is when I need the two of you the most, Lancelot. You know that." Lance looked down at his plate, Merlin caught his eye and let out a small grin of gratitude. "It's only one more season. This year, we'll make enough in the harvest that I can spare you, Merlin."
Merlin – who had been fairly calm throughout, knowing that his Uncle would never agree – felt himself getting angry at the familiar argument. "Yeah, that's what you said when Will and I were planning on going together – and looked how that turned out." He stood from the table, smiling gratefully at Lance and his Aunt, before he walked out.
Lance found him half an hour later, sitting on the ridge watching the two suns set. "Thanks for trying, Lance," he murmured, "but you had to know it wouldn't work."
Lance sighed. "I think he's afraid to let you go, Merlin." Merlin shook his head, but Lance continued. "You don't realise how much you mean to us, do you?" Merlin just looked at his cousin for a moment, scrutinising him. Lance grinned back at him, hauling him to his feet and throwing his arm around his shoulders as he had the night before. "Come on, let's get those dragons fixed up for tomorrow."
The room was dark when the two cousins stepped back into it. Merlin glanced at Lance uneasily before he started calling out. "Kilgarrah? Aithusa?"
Lance jumped as Kilgarrah emerged from the shadows, though Merlin didn't bat an eyelash. "I'm sorry, Merlin." Kilgarrah started. "I did try to persuade him, but he refused to listen – just kept babbling on about his mission."
"Oh no." Merlin groaned, grabbing the binoculars and running back out the door.
"Damn it!" Lance exclaimed, running after him. "Any sign of him?" he asked desperately as he caught up.
"No."Merlin sighed, taking the binoculars down from his face.
"This is all my fault." Lance shook his head angrily. "I shouldn't have taken off the restraining bolt."
"Maybe," Merlin conceded, "But let's focus on finding on Aithusa now."
"Dad's going to kill me." Lance groaned. "That little dragon's going to cause me a whole lot of trouble."
"Oh, he excels at that." Kilgarrah said ruefully.
"Well, it's too dark to go looking for him now," Merlin said grimly. "We'll just have to wait and go looking in the morning."
Lance nodded with a sigh, still watching the horizon. Kilgarrah and Merlin turned to head back into the house but as he had that morning, Lance held Merlin back.
"Merlin," he spoke lowly and slowly. "How did he know your name?"
Merlin shrugged. "He must've heard you or Aunt saying it." He twisted out of Lance's grip again and headed back inside.
Lance watched him go, brow furrowed in thought, not quite so convinced.
Merlin woke up early the next morning, hoping to find and bring back Aithusa before his uncle discovered he was missing. As soon as he was dressed, he hurried into Lance's room to wake him too.
"Wha? What's going on?" Lance asked groggily when Merlin shook him awake.
"We've got to find Aithusa. Before uncle finds out he's missing." Merlin whispered in reply, hurrying out the door again once Lance sat up. When Lance exited the house, he saw Merlin and Kilgarrah already waiting. "I can't get a reading on him." Merlin muttered as Lance reached them, lowering the binoculars. "We'll head over there – I should be able to get a reading from that height." And, glancing at Kilgarrah, he took off.
"Merlin! Wait!" Lance called out as he chased after his pseudo little brother and the larger of the two dragons they had bought from the Jawas. The two stopped on one of the ridges and Merlin pulled out his binoculars. Lance, who was considerably slower than Merlin, was still on the lower ground and so could see the gryphon heading towards the pair on the ridge. "Merlin! Look out!"
Merlin turned towards Lance in time to see his brother waving frantically at him before the giant head of the gryphon appeared over the ridge, causing both himself and Kilgarrah to scramble backwards. Hearing Kilgarrah yelp, Merlin turned, only to trip himself, sending him sprawling.
"Merlin!" Lance yelled again as the gryphon advanced upon Merlin. Merlin frantically tried to scramble backwards, but was stopped by the rock face behind him. Looking left and right, Merlin decided that he had no choice, as the gryphon closed in on him, and he thrust his hand outwards, towards the gryphon. Immediately, blue flames shot outwards from his hand, engulfing the gryphon as it shrieked before disappearing.
"Merlin, are you alright?" Lance scrambled over the ridge, rushing towards Merlin and hauling him to his feet.
"I'm fine." Merlin assured him. "Where's Kilgarrah?"
"Here." The dragon replied. Merlin hurried towards where he heard the voice and, with Lance's help, lifted the dragon back onto the ridge. Kilgarrah seemed unharmed, apart from his right wing, which was twisted.
"He needs help." Merlin said as he examined the wing.
"Yes, but who would know how to heal a dragon around here?"
"Well, I could probably-" Merlin started, but Lance cut him off.
"No, Merlin." He said quickly. "It might take too much energy."
"But what if it's the only way?"
"Well, let's wait until we know that."
The two were interrupted in their arguing by the arrival of a third, older man; tall, with long grey hair. He looked at the two for a moment, before glancing around them in surprise. "What happened to the gryphon?"
"Um, I got rid of it." Merlin said uncertainly. Lance scrutinised the old man; there was something familiar about him…
"Yes, I saw that, but…how?" The old man continued to look at Merlin, eyes widening slightly. "Who taught you?"
"No one." Merlin answered quickly.
The old man raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Come now, boy. Who taught you?"
"No one, really." Merlin assured him. "I've always been able to do things like that. Haven't I, Lance?"
"Yes." Lance replied, still scrutinising the old man. "Wait a minute – you're the one who brought Merlin to us!"
Merlin's eyes widened as he glanced quickly between Lance and the old man, whose eyebrow had risen further. "You have a good memory, Lancelot. Now, might I suggest we continue this inside?"
"Oh, we're looking for-" Merlin started, but was once again interrupted.
"Aithusa!" Kilgarrah shouted as the smaller dragon sheepishly shuffled into view.
"He said he had a mission and had to deliver a message to someone named Gaius. I wondered if he meant you." Merlin said to the old man.
"Yes, well, if you'll follow me, I'll take you to my house where I can help your other dragon's wing."
Merlin and Lance exchanged looks before shrugging and following the old man. Upon reaching Gaius' house Merlin immediately helped Kilgarrah lower himself to the table, where both he and Gaius set to work fixing him.
"What I don't understand is why uncle told me you were dead." Merlin said as he carefully spread Kilgarrah's injured wing. "He also told me you knew my father; is that true?"
Gaius smiled. "Oh, yes. I knew your parents very well. We fought together during the Purge."
Lance raised his eyebrows and Merlin chuckled. "My father didn't fight in the war. He was a pilot on a Space Freighter."
"That's what your uncle told you." Gaius said, sitting back. "Your father was the best pilot I ever knew – the best in the galaxy in fact – and a cunning warrior. He was a good friend."
Merlin bit his lip for a moment, looking uncertain. "How did he die?" he asked finally. Lance looked as though he wanted to protest but stayed quiet, understanding that Merlin needed to know.
Gaius sighed. "He was killed by a young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine before he turned to the Dark Side." Gaius' voice turned wistful as he continued. "For over a thousand years the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Religion. But that was before the Empire, before Uther. Uther was seduced by power and reformed the Galactic Senate into the Galactic Empire, from democracy to dictatorship. He played Vader, a young Jedi who trusted him, manipulating Vader until he joined him. Vader betrayed his fellow Jedi and together he and Uther destroyed the Jedi Order, hunting down the Jedi. Few survived." He stopped, looking mournful.
"It isn't entirely a dictatorship." Lance spoke up diplomatically. Gaius raised an eyebrow at him. "I mean, there's the Imperial Senate, isn't there?"
"But they disbanded that, didn't they?" Merlin countered. "I heard Aunt and Uncle talking last night. Besides, it's not as though they had any real power, anyway. The Empire just did whatever the hell it wanted, regardless of what the Senate had to say." Lance fell silent.
"Gaius," Merlin spoke up hesitantly after a while. "You said that Vader was a pupil of yours when he was a Jedi, does that mean you're a Jedi too?" Gaius nodded and Merlin took a deep breath before continuing. "Was…was my father a Jedi?"
Gaius smiled. "Yes, and one of the best there ever was. Which reminds me," Gaius said, getting to his feet and opening a chest in the corner of the room. "I have something for you." He rummaged in the chest for a moment, still speaking. "Your father wanted you to have this, when you were old enough, but your uncle would not allow it. He thought you might follow old Gaius on 'some damn idealistic crusade' like your father used to. He didn't agree with your father's ideals. Thought he should've stayed at home and not gotten involved."
"He seems to be trying his best to make sure I don't." Merlin sighed dejectedly.
"He just wants to protect you, Merlin." Gaius said gently, handing Merlin a small metal cylinder.
"What is it?" Merlin asked. It was small enough to fit his hand around and either end jutted out slightly from his closed fist.
"Your father's lightsaber." Gaius said softly. "A Jedi's weapon. Much more elegant and sophisticated than a blaster."
Merlin stared in awe at the object in his hands. This had been his father's. He'd never had anything of his father's before. Turning it slightly in his hands, he found a small button and pushing it, a beam of blue laser light extended from one end. Merlin stared at it for a moment, before pressing the button again, recalling the light, and putting it in his lap, still turning it over in his hands.
"Now," Gaius said, moving over to Aithusa. "Let's see if we can find your message."
"We saw part of it before." Lance said as Merlin lifted Kilgarrah off the table, having fixed his wing. "There were two women."
"I think I found it." They turned their attention to the table as Aithusa projected the holographic message onto it.
The tall beautiful woman from before appeared again. "General Gaius," she began. "Years ago you served my father during the Purge. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father's request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack and I'm afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory system of this Dragon-Droid. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see it safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Gaius. You're my only hope." As before, the shorter woman ran in then and both turned to something to the side before the taller woman turned off the recording.
Everyone was silent after the recording stopped, lost in their own thoughts. Eventually, Gaius spoke up.
"Well, Merlin, you must learn to control your gift."
Merlin blinked in confusion. "Gift? What gift?"
"I think he means the magic, Merlin." Lance hissed.
"Magic?" Gaius echoed.
"It's what Will called it when he found out when we were eight." Merlin shrugged. "The name sort of stuck."
"You mean, you don't know what it is?" Gaius asked incredulously, his eyebrow rising half-way up his forehead, which it seemed to quite a lot, Merlin noticed. "My boy, you are a question that has never been posed before." He mused thoughtfully. Merlin continued to blink confusedly until he spoke again. "That level of power, of control, without having trained…without even knowing what it is…"
"Um, would you mind explaining?" Merlin asked, irritated by his confusion.
"The force, my dear boy, the force. The source of a Jedi's power."
Merlin's eyes widened. "You mean… I… What? Jedi – me?" Merlin spluttered incredulously.
"The force is very strong with you, Merlin." Gaius said seriously. "You say you have had no training, and yet you are more powerful than most Jedi I have ever known. Certainly more powerful than I." Merlin blinked in astonishment. "Well, if you're to come with me to Alderaan, you must learn to use it."
"Alderaan?" Lance spoke up for the first time since the recording stopped. "We're not going to Alderaan." He laughed. "We've got to get home – it's late and we're in for it as it is!"
"I need your help, Merlin." Gaius looked at him intently. "She needs your help. I'm getting too old for this sort of thing."
Merlin seemed torn, glancing between Lance, Gaius and the place where the hologram had been. "I can't get involved!" he finally burst out, though he sounded extremely reluctant. "I've got work to do! It's not that I like the Empire. I hate it! But there's nothing I can do about it right now, no matter how much I want to. It's such a long way from here."
"That's your uncle talking." Gaius remarked. Merlin bit his lip, looking down at the lightsaber in his hands.
"Oh, God, dad. How am I ever going to explain this?" Lance moaned.
"You cannot escape your destiny, Merlin." Kilgarrah said quietly, speaking for the first time since entering the house. Merlin looked to him, his resolve steadily weakening. This was what he had always wanted, wasn't it? And there was something telling him to go, pulling him towards that decision…
"Look, we can take you as far as Anchor Head." Lance cut in. "You can get a transport there to Camelot or wherever you're going."
Gaius sighed, looking disappointed. "You must do what you feel is right, of course."
The walk back was quiet, Each with their own worries. Lance worried about what to tell his father about their trip, Gaius worried about Merlin's power and his decision not to train, and as for Merlin… Well, Merlin was confused. According to Gaius, he had this power, a power that his father and few others had ever had. It could be his ticket out of Ealdor, his chance to do something to help… so why was he hesitating?
"Hey, what's that?" Lance piped up, shattering the silence of the walk. Merlin followed his pointing hand to see the Jawas' Sand Crawler, which seemed to be smoking slightly.
"What happened?" Merlin murmured. "Who could've done this?"
"Well," Lance called from where he was inspecting the ground, "It looks like it was the Sand People. Look: Gaffi sticks, Bantha tracks…"
"But they wouldn't hit anything this big…" Merlin argued.
"They didn't." Gaius spoke up, coming back from where he had been looking over the Sand Crawler. "But we are meant to think they did. Look: these Bantha tracks are side by side."
Merlin's brow furrowed in confusion. "But Sand People ride in single file, so they're harder to spot coming."
"Exactly." Gaius said with a hint of a smile. "And these blast points; much too accurate, more like the work of Imperial Storm Troopers."
Lance shook his head. "What would Imperial Storm Troopers be doing hunting Jawas?"
"These are the Jawas that sold us the Dragon-Droids…" Merlin said slowly. "The woman in the recording, she said Aithusa had important information for the rebels in his memory system. What if the Imperial troops were looking for them? If they traced them to the Jawas they might have found out who they sold them to."
Lance's eyes widened as he caught on. "And that would lead them straight home!"
Merlin took off, Lance not far behind him. "Wait, Merlin! Lancelot!" Gaius yelled after them. "It's too dangerous!"
But neither Merlin nor Lancelot paid him any notice, too focused on getting home. Finally, the two made it out of the Jundland Wastes, where the land was now flat and so they could see for miles. Even from that distance, they could see the smoke rising from their home and, with a quick look at the other, they took off.
When they reached the house Lance hung his head and Merlin had to turn away, for the smouldering remains of their guardians were sprawled across the entrance to the house.
Gaius sighed and his shoulders slumped as he caught sight of the two defeated figures ambling towards him. "There was nothing you could have done, either of you." He remarked sadly as they reached him. "Had you been there, you too would have been killed, and the dragons would now be in the hands of the Empire." Merlin nodded.
"I want to come with you to Alderaan." Merlin spoke up suddenly, raising his eyes determinedly to meet Gaius'. "I want to learn to control this power and become a Jedi, like my father." Gaius nodded in understanding.
"I'm coming too." Lance added. Merlin turned to face him in surprise and Lance smiled grimly. "I've always wanted to be able to do something to help, and now I have a reason. Never again will I be helpless in the face of tyranny. I don't want anyone else t have to go through this." He gripped Merlin's shoulder, a support for both of them. "Besides, there's nothing left for me here."
Gaius looked sympathetically at the two before turning to beckon the dragons. "We'll set out for Anchor Head. From there we'll take a transport to Camelot. There we'll find a pilot to take us to Alderaan."
The group walked to Anchor Head, where they rented a speeder to get them to Camelot. "Camelot Spaceport." Gaius mused as he stood at the cliff edge, Lance and the dragons at his side while Merlin got the speeder working. "You will never find a more contrasting place; full of scum and villainy since the Empire was formed, and yet it still maintains the beauty of a more peaceful time. We must be cautious."
As the speeder spluttered to life, Lance lifted the droids into the back before jumping in beside Merlin, helping Gaius in beside him before Merlin sped off.
Gaius was right, Camelot was beautiful – the bright light of the sun reflecting off its many spacecraft and hangars – and yet was full of the worst types of scum imaginable.
Soon after entering the busy Spaceport, their speeder was stopped by a group of Storm Troopers, who were eyeing the dragons. "How long have you had those Dragon-Droids?"
Lance and Merlin felt their heart-rates spiking as they began to panic, though they fought to keep control over their emotions, giving nothing away. Gaius, on the other hand, didn't flinch. "Oh, I don't know… Merlin, what do you think? About three seasons?" he said easily, looking to Merlin.
Merlin paused as if to think. "Yeah… That's about right, I reckon. Maybe four."
"They're for sale if you want them." Lance opened his mouth to argue but Merlin swiftly kicked him in the shin, understanding Gaius' ploy.
"Let me see your identification." They said to Merlin, and Lance felt himself really start to panic, knowing that his father hadn't let Merlin get his licence, fearing for his safety too much. Though he didn't know that Merlin was driving anyway, racing speeders with Will most nights.
"You don't need to see his identification." Gaius said firmly, raising his eyebrow with a slight flick of his hand.
To Lance's amazement, the Storm Trooper turned to the others and said, "We don't need to see his identification."`
"These aren't the droids you're looking for." Gaius continued, repeating the gesture.
And once again, the Storm Trooper turned to the others and said in a confident tone, "These aren't the droids we're looking for."
Merlin felt himself smile, somehow knowing what Gaius was doing. "We can go about our business." Merlin spoke this time, trying to replicate what Gaius had been doing.
"They can go about their business." The Storm Trooper parroted back, waving them on. Merlin grinned and Lance stared at him.
"Well done, my boy." Gaius smiled proudly at him. "You certainly are powerful, to do that without being told how."
"I can't understand how we got past those troopers." Lance shook his head confusedly as he got out of the speeder, Merlin grinning behind him. "I thought we were dead. What was that?"
"The force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded." Lance's eyes widened as he realised the implications of that, turning to Merlin with a look of mock-horror.
"What?" Merlin asked innocently, though he was grinning.
"Don't even think about it, Merlin." He tried to say threateningly, but he was fighting a grin. "I will not be made your slave."
"Oh, I don't think you're weak-minded, Lancelot." Gaius laughed. Lance breathed a sigh of relief. "Though with the power he has demonstrated so far, I wouldn't put it past Merlin to be capable of doing it regardless."
Merlin grinned cheekily at his cousin's stricken face. "Come along, Lance." He joked, raising his arm slightly, though using no power.
"Yes, Merlin." Lance replied, following after Merlin with a blank face, but they didn't make it any further than a few steps before bursting into laughter. Gaius smiled indulgently at them, glad to see their spirits lifting again.
Sobering up, Lance glanced around sceptically. "You really think we'll find a pilot to take us to Alderaan here?"
"Not all pilots are trained, or necessarily stick by the law, Lance." Merlin reminded him with a small grin.
"Not everyone's you, though." Lance grinned back. Merlin shoved him as they followed Gaius into the cantina.
"Watch your step in here, it can get a little rough." Gaius warned them. "Stick together; I'll talk to the space pirates." He caught Lance's eye, who nodded, understanding the message: keep Merlin safe and out of trouble. The older cousin had been to Camelot's cantina on a few occasions, mostly trading with or for his father, and knew that it wasn't a place Merlin would fit in, or he particularly wanted Merlin around.
Once inside the cantina, Gaius immediately slipped into the throng of people, seeking out a pilot. Lance and Merlin, on the other hand, stopped in the doorway, staring.
"Gaius wasn't kidding." Merlin muttered, gaze flickering around the various seedy occupants of the cantina.
"Hmm." Lance hummed in agreement, glancing around the cantina and sidling closer to Merlin. "Let's just find somewhere out of the way to sit and wait for Gaius." They shuffled their way towards the less-crowded area of the cantina – away from the bar and near the tables in the corners.
On their way towards them, they passed a large open archway that led to a courtyard. The sound of laughter and a blaster caused Merlin to stop in his tracks. There was a group of boys, perhaps a few years older than Merlin himself, one of which had his blaster out while another ran with a large target. The rest of the group laughed as the boy-with-the-blaster shot at the boy-with-the-target, who tripped and fell to his hands and knees, dropping the target, which rolled to a stop at Merlin's feet.
"Hey." Merlin called out, gaining the attention of both the boys outside and Lance, who hadn't realised that Merlin was no longer following him. "That's enough."
"What?" the boy-with-the-blaster replied, raising an incredulous eyebrow."
"You've had your fun, my friend."Merlin laughed, a hint of something dangerous lacing his tone.
Lance cringed; this was exactly what Gaius had in mind when he told Lance to keep Merlin out of trouble.
The rest of the group's hands were inching towards their own holsters and the blonde who seemed to be the leader was twirling his blaster between his fingers as he tilted his head at Merlin. "Do I know you?"
"I'm Merlin." Merlin replied, arm twitching in an aborted movement, having thought better of offering his hand.
"So I don't know you?" the blonde verified.
"Nah." Merlin replied with a shrug.
"Yet you called me 'friend'?" the blonde queried in a curious tone, stepping closer to Merlin until they stood nose-to-nose, replacing his blaster in his holster but resting a hand on it.
"That was my mistake." Merlin said with a tight smile and tone.
"Yes, it was." The blonde replied condescendingly.
"I'd never have a friend who could be such an ass."Merlin shrugged and Lance inwardly groaned as the blonde blinked at Merlin in shock and the snickers from the group behind him were silenced.
"Or I one who could be so stupid." The blonde shot back after a moment and raked his appraising gaze over Merlin, from head to toe and back again. Reaching his eyes, the blonde smirked. "Tell me, Merlin," he began, tilting his head slightly. "Do you know how to walk on your knees?"
Lance tensed, a scowl making its way across his face. He didn't like the glint in the blonde's eyes as he eyed Merlin, and coupled with his words… Lance started to make his way towards the courtyard.
Merlin shook his head slightly, ducking his head for a moment. "Oh, I wouldn't, if I were you." Merlin warned, his tone bordering on dangerous again and a smirk flirting about his lips.
The blonde laughed, taking a step backwards and spreading his arms. "Why? What are you going to do to me?"
This time Merlin couldn't contain the smirk. "You have no idea."
The blonde's grin widened as he took another step backwards, spreading his arms further. "Be my guest!" he taunted. "Go on!"
"Merlin, no." Lance muttered from behind him.
"Come on!" Merlin's eyes narrowed as he made his decision, though he didn't move and uncertainty flickered through the blonde's expression for a moment.
Before Merlin could do anything, Gaius reappeared with a tall curly-haired man in tow. "Boys, this is Leon." Gaius introduced the man. "He's a co-pilot on a ship he says can take us to Alderaan."
"Yeah," the blonde scoffed, "I don't think so."
"Who do you think you are?" Merlin glared. "The Emperor?"
"No," the blonde sneered. "I'm Arthur Pendragon, captain of Excalibur. This is my co-pilot, Leon."
"Arthur-" Leon started but the blonde – Arthur – waved him off.
"No, Leon." He said simply.
"We need the money, Arthur."Leon said lowly.
"Why didn't you mention money before?"Arthur brightened up, leading them to a quiet corner table where they could talk privately.
"Right," Arthur started once they were all seated, "to business."
Gaius was the one who spoke up, offering their agreed sum of money. Arthur shook his head.
"Sorry, but no."
"Arthur-" Leon warned under his breath but Arthur ploughed on.
"We want 10,000. All in advance."
Merlin and Lance gaped at him. "10,000!?"Merlin exclaimed incredulously.
Arthur shrugged at him, leaning back in his seat and folding his arms over his chest. "Excalibur is the fastest ship there is. That costs you."
"But 10,000?" Merlin persisted, narrowing his eyes at the arrogant blonde. "We could buy our own ship with that!"
"And who would fly it?"Arthur scoffed. "You?"
"Yeah." Lance snapped, bristling once again at the glint in the blonde's eyes as they raked speculatively over Merlin at his last remark. "He's the best pilot I've ever known. Probably better than you."
"Not likely." The blonde smirked, eyes not leaving Merlin.
Gaius cut in with a glance at Lance. "We'll give you 2,000 now and 15,000 when we reach Alderaan."
Leon looked to Arthur, ready to cut in should he protest, but Arthur grinned. "Deal."
"Good." Gaius smiled. "We have some supplies to get, so we shall meet you in the hangar. Is half an hour sufficient?"
"Half an hour will be fine." Leon replied, and Gaius smiled before standing, Merlin and Lance following.
Gaius and Merlin headed for the exit, Lance following after them with a glance at Arthur, moving to block his view of Merlin's retreating form after following his eye line.
"Are you sure we can trust him?" Merlin hissed as he hurried to keep up with Gaius, Lance following closely behind, glancing back suspiciously over his shoulder.
"We don't have much of a choice, Merlin." Gaius replied, glancing disapprovingly at Merlin. "He's supposed to be the best pilot in this spaceport; the only one who can get us there in time."
"He's a prat, that's what he is." Merlin muttered mutinously.
"Merlin." Gaius looked disapprovingly at him. "At least be civil."
"Why should I?" Merlin groused as they drew level with the dragon-droids. "He's the one who started it. He's just so…argh! I hate him. And I'm pretty sure the feeling's mutual." Lance scoffed at that, carefully avoiding Merlin's questioning gaze.
"The half cannot truly hate that which makes it whole." Kilgarrah spoke up, drawing everyone's gaze to him. "You and the young Pendragon are but two sides of the same coin."
Merlin stared incredulously at the dragon-droid, his eyebrows inching towards his hairline. "Uh…o-kay?" his voice trailed off uncertainly but Kilgarrah simply continued to gaze steadily at Merlin, his large amber eyes boring into Merlin's blue.
"We should start towards their ship – Excalibur, did they call it?" Lance broke the silence that had fallen after Kilgarrah's comment. Gaius nodded and the group turned to head towards the spaceport's hangar.
They were met in the hangar by Leon, who led them onto the spacecraft and into the cockpit where Arthur was preparing for the journey.
They managed to take off with no problems, the only slight hitch was a few storm troopers who tried to question them about the dragon-droids, but luckily a few blasters were no match for the ship.
Once they had made the jump to light speed, both passengers and pilots headed to the living area to wait out the flight. Leon soon caught Lance in a conversation about the various controls on the ship, while Arthur sat in the corner cleaning his holster, keeping an eye on Merlin all the while.
Merlin, for his part, was training with Gaius who had produced a small metal sphere, which floated and had an inlaid blaster. "What's that for?" Merlin asked, fingering his father's lightsaber at his hip.
"To test your reflexes." Gaius answered simply, activating the sphere. Merlin drew his lightsaber and proceeded to deflect each and every shot. "Clearly this exercise is too easy for you." Gaius remarks, eyebrow raised, before he turned his back and rummaged for something in his bag.
"You have excellent reflexes." Leon remarked, earning him a grin from Merlin.
"He always has." Lance told him. "It's what makes him the best pilot on Tatooine."
"That I highly doubt." Arthur scoffed from his position. Merlin scowled, opening his mouth to snipe back, but Gaius cut him off before he could utter a syllable.
"Here." He said, handing Merlin a helmet with an opaque visor. "Put this on. We can test your instincts. Without your sight, focus on the force; it is your strongest ally."
From his corner, Arthur snorted, but Merlin only ignored him this time, focusing.
As before, he seemed to be a few steps ahead of the droid-sphere, blocking each and every beam with ease.
"You display a level of control over the force the likes of which I have never seen before." Gaius said, collecting the sphere and deactivating it. "What I see you do is…elemental. Instinctive."
Arthur snorted again from his spot in the corner and this time Merlin wheeled on him before Gaius could intervene.
"If you have something to say, say it."
"'The force'? Please." Arthur deadpanned, rolling his eyes. "There's no such thing."
"Says who? You?" Merlin shot back sardonically, raising his eyebrows. Arthur raised his in return and Merlin fell into a mock bow. "Oh, I'm sorry, my Lord. I did not realise that your every whim was to be declared a truth."
Lance spoke up before Arthur could reply, eying him suspiciously. "If there's no such thing as the force, how do you explain what Merlin just did?"
"Dumb luck." Arthur replied around a yawn, stretching his arms over his head as he placed his feet back on the floor of the spacecraft. "Come on, Leon. Time to check on our progress." He left the room then, Leon following behind him after shooting an apologetic smile at Merlin.
"What an arrogant, narcissistic-" Lance muttered furiously once the pair left the room.
"Prat." Merlin finished for him decisively. Gaius raised an eyebrow at him. "What? He is!"
"Remember Merlin, Arthur has been kind enough to grant us passage to Alderaan on his ship. We should be grateful. All of us."Gaius gave Lance a significant look at his last remark. Lance looked down with his lips set in a grim line.
Merlin sighed and threw himself back into the hair Leon had vacated with a sigh. "I'll try Gaius, but he's not exactly making it easy, is he?"
"He could at least have the decency to refrain from mocking someone's beliefs." Lance muttered, still looking towards the floor.
Leon leant around the doorframe then, eyes flickering between them before speaking up. "We're approaching the coordinates now. You need to come back to the cockpit and strap in for the jump out of light speed. It can be a bit rough, sometimes." Gaius nodded and started up after him, leaving Merlin and Lance to gather their supplies.
"What's your problem with Arthur?" Merlin asked as he reattached his lightsaber to his belt before packing up the helmet and laser-sphere.
"What?" Lance asked incredulously, turning to raise his eyebrows at Merlin. "You clearly don't like this guy either, Merlin. You've been calling him a prat all day."
"Well, yeah, but he deserved it. I just mean; he hasn't done anything to you, and it's not like you to dislike someone so easily. Especially not without getting to know them."
"I don't like the way he looks at you." Lance finally admitted.
Merlin looked confused. "What? He doesn't look at me any differently than anyone else." Lance snorted. "What? He doesn't!"
Lance shook his head with a small smile. "I swear, Merlin. You're the most oblivious genius I've ever met."
Merlin just looked at him for a moment, blinking. "I can't figure out if that was a compliment or an insult."
Lance laughed then, heading towards the doorway.
"Hey!" Merlin yelled after him. "Seriously. Was that an insult or a compliment? Lance? Lance!"
Merlin and Lance appeared in the cockpit soon after one another, Merlin shooting Lance a reproachful glare as he buckled himself in.
"Alright then, Leon." Arthur spoke up when everyone was buckled in. Leon reached across the controls and confidently flicked the appropriate switches.
With a jolt, the ship returned to its starting speed. Leon's eyebrows crinkled with confusion. "Are you sure you gave us the right coordinates?" he asked, glancing back at Gaius.
Gaius raised an eyebrow at him. "Yes."
"Because there's no planet here." He remarked, peering out the windscreen. "Just asteroids."
The ship continued to jolt as Arthur and Leon fought to navigate the asteroid field they had suddenly found themselves in.
"What's that?" Merlin piped up. Having unbuckled his seatbelt, he was now leaning over the back of the console, between Leon and Arthur's chairs, pointing out of the windscreen.
"Maybe that's your missing planet." Arthur answered him, turning away from the object in the distance, slowly coming nearer, to look at Merlin, who was frowning.
"That's no planet." he mumbled, staring at it intently.
"A moon, then." Arthur shot back. "Must be."
"No." Merlin shook his head, finally tearing his gaze away from the windscreen to face Arthur. "There's something about it…"
"Turn around." Gaius spoke up suddenly from his seat. Both Merlin and Arthur jumped despite the soft tone of his voice.
"What?" Arthur glanced back at the object. "Why?"
"I gave you the coordinates for Alderaan. Now we are in an asteroid field." Gaius spoke quietly but urgently. "The only explanation is that Alderaan was destroyed."
"Impossible." Arthur shook his head. "What could have enough power to destroy a whole planet?"
"The thing that has us caught in a tractor beam." Merlin cut in, eyes wide as he lunged between Arthur and Leon's seats, aiming for the controls. "Turn around! Turn around!"
Arthur and Leon sprung into action, frantically trying to turn the ship. "It's too late." Arthur sat back in defeat, scowling. "It's too strong."
"What are we going to do?" Lance questioned from his position clinging to Leon's seat with wide eyes.
"We cannot fight but there are alternatives." Gaius spoke quietly, not moving his eyes from the windscreen.
The ship continued to be pulled forwards, even as Leon and Arthur turned off the power in a last-ditch effort to stop the effects of the tractor beam. "It's a spaceship." Merlin gasped, wide-eyed, as they drew near enough to see the opening shields to the hangar. "An Imperial ship."
Arthur's face was grim. "I have a bad feeling about this."
The cockpit was silent as its occupants watched warily as Excalibur came to a stop in the hangar of the space station.
Stepping back slowly from the windscreen, so as to avoid drawing attention to themselves, the ship's occupants moved along the corridor towards the break room they had recently occupied.
"Wait." Arthur whispered, taking hold of Merlin's arm to stop him from going any further along the corridor. "They'll be coming on board in a few moments. We need to hide."
Merlin narrowed his eyes at him. "No, we'll just stand here and hope they don't spot us. Do you think I'm stupid? Where are we supposed to hide?"
Arthur nodded at Leon who, at his captain's signal, stooped down and started tracing his fingers along the edges of the floor panels. He stopped, lips twitching into a grin, and dug his fingers under the edge, lifting the panel to reveal an empty chamber, large enough to hide in.
Merlin raised his eyebrows at Arthur who simply grinned and shrugged unrepentantly "Smuggler." Merlin rolled his eyes as Arthur tugged on his arm. "Come on, we can all fit in here."
After jumping into the hold, Arthur turned and lifted Merlin down by the waist, ignoring his squeak of protest and grinning at his flushed cheeks. Lance narrowed his eyes at Arthur, who merely quirked an eyebrow as he lifted the dragon-droids in. Gaius followed the dragons and then Lance and Leon, pulling the panel back into place on top of them.
The hold was large enough to fit the five of them plus the dragons, but only just. Merlin could feel Arthur's breath on the shell of his ear from where he was pinned between Arthur and the wall, and opened his mouth to protest the necessity of this position but froze when he heard footsteps overhead.
Starting at the feeling of fingers on his lips, Merlin felt Arthur's twitch into a smirk as he leant in closer, shushing him. "If I open the panel a smidge, d'you think you could use your magic-mojo thing to knock them out?"
"Thought you didn't believe in that?" Merlin murmured through Arthur's fingers.
"I may not believe in what it is, but it seems to work." Arthur breathed into Merlin's ear. "Now, do you think you can? Only it's rather essential to the only way out of this, as far as I can see." Merlin thought it over for a moment before he nodded once. "Yeah?" Arthur whispered before manoeuvring them along the wall towards the panel edge. "Ready?"
Again Merlin nodded, focusing as Arthur slowly lifted the hatch. Once it was opened enough he grasped Arthur's shoulder and pushed with his mind. The group of four stormtroopers were gathered in the corridor, likely having returned from searching the ship each relaying the same lack of life forms on board. They stood with their backs towards the panel and so never had any warning before they slumped to the floor, unconscious.
"Nice." Arthur mused as he gave Merlin a boost out of the hold before climbing out himself. The others clambered out behind him, casting looks at the unconscious stormtroopers.
"Remind me not to get on your bad side." Leon muttered. Merlin smiled, sheepish.
"So what's the rest of this plan?" Merlin turned to Arthur expectantly.
"We steal their uniforms." Arthur shrugged. "They'll let us go anywhere on this station without question – even the control room."
"Fair point." Lance conceded, glancing at the unconscious troopers. "But in case you haven't noticed, there're four of them and five of us."
"Well, we need an excuse for walking around with two dragon-droids." Arthur turned to Gaius then. "If you don't mind Gaius, we'd handcuff you and tell them you were arrested on suspicion of possession of the wanted dragon-droids."
Gaius nodded thoughtfully as Merlin looked to him for his response. "Alright."
"What?" Lance gasped, stunned.
"Go on. You heard the man, put a suit on." He gestured to where Merlin, Arthur and Leon were already peeling the stormtroopers' suits off and climbing into them. Lance sighed and followed.
The plan went exactly as Arthur had said; no one thought to question the group of stormtroopers escorting a prisoner and two droids through the battle station. When they reached the control room, they emptied it and locked the door, before Leon turned to free Gaius.
Aithusa, with a little help from Merlin, climbed up to the controls and plugged himself in, searching for the power source of the tractor beam. "There." Merlin spoke up, pointing at the tech readouts that had appeared on the small screen. "If we can disrupt the power at one of these positions the beam should lift and we can get out of here."
Once he was free Gaius moved towards the small service door in the corner of the room. "Where are you going?" Merlin called after him as he opened the door.
"There is something I must do, Merlin. You stay here and I will free the ship." Merlin looked as though he was about to protest, but Gaius smiled and added, "Your destiny lies along a different path than mine." Before he disappeared through the door.
Merlin stared after him for a moment before his thoughts were interrupted by a squeak from Aithusa. "What?" Merlin turned to look questioningly at the little dragon-droid. "Who's here?"
"Uh…we are…?" Lance answered, though in his confusion it sounded more like a question.
"No, Aithusa." Merlin shot back over his shoulder at Lance. "He says he's found her, that she's here, but he just keeps repeating it and won't say who!"
"Merlin, he's not saying anyth-" Lance started, eyebrows furrowed in confusion and the beginnings of worry, but was cut off when Aithusa let out another high-pitched, excited sounding growl. Both Merlin and Kilgarrah visibly reacted then; Merlin's eyebrows rose and Kilgarrah drew himself upright, expression surprised.
"The princess?" he directed at Aithusa, who let out a squeak. "Where?"
As Aithusa turned back to the controls, Merlin turned to Kilgarrah. "The princess? That's the one from the message, right?"
"What princess? What message?" Arthur cut in, but was ignored.
"Detention block B." Kilgarrah translated for Aithusa. "But it seems that the princess and her handmaiden are due to be terminated.
"Well we can't just sit here then!" Lance stepped forward. "Ask him how we get there."
"Would someone please tell me what is going on? What princess?" Arthur asked the room at large.
Merlin turned from the dragon-droids and the screens where Lance was scrutinising the map of the station Aithusa had called up, to address the two confused smugglers. "We were heading to Alderaan on response to a message we received, through Aithusa, sent by the princess and her handmaiden. We were supposed to deliver the dragons to Alderaan, but it seems to have been destroyed… And now they're due to be executed." Merlin glanced over his shoulder at the dragons. "Lance is right. We have to help."
Arthur shook his head slightly. "We didn't sign up for saving any princess. Hell, we didn't sign up for any Imperial adventures – I remember you specifically asking for none."
Merlin scoffed, thinking fast. "There'll be a reward."
Leon quirked an eyebrow at the mention of a reward, a move which Arthur didn't miss. "No, Leon! We can't get involved in this!"
"So you're just going to let them die?" Merlin bit out incredulously.
"Well, I'm very sorry about it but-" Arthur started, but was cut off, finding himself with a very angry Merlin in his personal space.
"Give me one good reason and I'll leave you alone."
"I-I…" Arthur stammered, staring at the red-cheeked, bright-eyed, indignant Merlin before him "I don't have one." he finally admitted, eyes drinking in every last inch of Merlin this way. "Alright, let's go save a princess." Merlin grinned, bright and pleased, and Arthur can't help but think he's made the right decision.
After finding out the location of the detention block from Aithusa the four of them left, instructing the two dragon-droids to keep out of sight. Having donned their stormtrooper helmets once again, they weren't bothered as they headed towards the detention block, mimicking the troopers' marching gait.
Upon reaching the detention block they slipped inside, Merlin silently locking the door behind them with a flash of golden iris. Feeling fingers – Arthur's – on his wrist, Merlin disabled the security feeds with another flash of gold. At Merlin's nod the others drew their blasters and started shooting, disabling the rest of the room. Lance and Merlin headed down the cell block, and Leon stood guard at the entrance as Arthur headed to the control panel, where lights were blinking as a voice emitted from it. "What's going on up there?"
"Everything's fine. We've just had a technical malfunction." Arthur said confidently. The trooper on the other end didn't seem as convinced.
"Sending technicians up there-"
"Negative." Arthur shot back quickly. "We don't need that."
"What's your identification number?" The voice asked suspiciously, and Arthur shot the panel. Leon raised an eyebrow at him, but Arthur merely shrugged.
"Make it quick, Merlin!" He called over his shoulder. "We'll have company soon."
"What did you do now?" Merlin called back, grinning at the answering bark of laughter. Lance grimaced. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing." Lance muttered, coming to a stop before the door Aithusa had indicated.
"Come on." Merlin scoffed. "You think I don't know when you're lying? Tell me." Merlin narrowed his eyes, concentrating on the mechanism.
"It's nothing, really. Just…" Lance trailed off and Merlin turned to question him further, but at that moment there was a beep and the door slid open.
Inside the cell sat two women, leaning against the wall on either side. The shorter one turned towards the opened doorway, her brown eyes wide with shock. "I thought it was tomorrow." She said, her voice only slightly shaky.
"What?" Lance spluttered in confusion. Merlin bit back a smirk as he saw where Lance's gaze was directed, elbowing Lance and removing his helmet. "Oh! Right." Lance scrambled to remove his own helmet. "We're not Storm Troopers, we're here to rescue you."
"Rescue us?" she gasped, turning to her companion, the tall dark-haired princess from the hologram.
"Well then, come on." She said, rising gracefully from her position, and the four of them hurried out of the cell.
They came to the mouth of the corridor of cells, where they were blocked by Arthur and Leon, who were crouching at opposite sides of the entrance.
"Told you we'd have company." Arthur threw over his shoulder with a wink at Merlin.
"Yeah, we can see that." Lance muttered darkly.
"So how do we get out?" The handmaiden asked from where Lance was trying his best to keep her behind him.
"That was our way out…uh…" Lance said over his shoulder, pausing when he realised that he didn't know her name.
"Gwen." She supplied. "Well, it's Guinevere really, but call me Gwen."
"Well, Gwen, it would seem we're stuck." Arthur called from his position on the other side of the doorway, shielding Merlin – and, consequently, the princess – behind him.
"Don't be stupid." Merlin said, turning to survey the corridor behind them. "We'll just make our own way out."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Leon called out, shooting a stormtrooper and ducking back.
"Like this." The princess spoke up, grabbing Arthur's blaster and aiming it at the gratings lining the bottom of the walls.
"That won't go through those gratings." Arthur said, pulling his arm back from her grasp. Merlin lifted a hand and, with the barest movement of his wrist, a section of the gratings blew apart. "But that might." Arthur conceded.
"Go on, then." He snapped at the two women, who were now gawking at Merlin. They quickly shook themselves out of it and jumped it, Lance and Leon following while Merlin and Arthur covered them, before jumping in themselves.
The six ended up in the rubbish chute, landing with a wet thump in what looked like a swamp of rubbish.
After landing, Arthur took a cursory glance around, raising an eyebrow expectantly at Leon who stood by the door's control panel. He shook his head.
"Well done, princess." Arthur snapped, jumping from a pile of debris and offering Merlin a hand down. "What a brilliant escape!"
"It's Morgana." The princess snapped back from where she and Gwen sat on the raised platform where Leon stood. "And at least we won't be shot by Storm Troopers here."
Arthur scoffed and looked away, eyes roving for an escape. Merlin pulled out a small comm., the pair of the one they had left with the dragon-droids, to try to contact them for help.
The silence was broken only by the sound of dripping water until Gwen gasped.
"What is it, Gwen?" Morgana turned to her.
"I- I thought I saw…" Gwen trailed off, unsure, but suddenly leapt to her feet, pointing. "There! There's something in the water!"
The others started looking around frantically, all except Merlin, who continued speaking into the comm. "Kilgarrah? Kil-" He cut off with a yelp as he felt something wrap around his ankle and pull, dragging him under the water.
"Merlin!" They cried out as Merlin disappeared from view with a splash. Lance leapt to his feet from where he had sat down at Gwen's feet, head twisting frantically, trying to catch sight of Merlin.
"There!" Gwen burst out, stepping forward and clutching Lance's arm with one hand as she pointed with the other to where Merlin's head had just emerged from the water, gasping. Arthur lunged but the same thing that had wrapped around Merlin's ankle was now wrapped around his chest and shoulders, dragging him under once again.
"Damnit!" Arthur grunted as he landed on his side with a splash.
"Where'd he go?" Lance called out as Arthur pushed himself into a standing position.
"I don't know." He muttered, glancing about him. He felt a hand at his ankle, scrabbling for purchase, and looked down to see Merlin, gasping for breath as a tentacle wrapped around his throat.
With a shout, Arthur reached down and wrenched the tentacle from around Merlin's neck, throwing it back into the sludge at their feet, where Lance and Leon shot it. Grasping Merlin by his upper arms, Arthur hauled him to his feet as he coughed and spluttered. "Merlin? Merlin!" Arthur shook him until he regained clarity to meet his gaze and reach up and grasp Arthur's wrists. "You alright?"
Merlin nodded. "Yeah… Yeah." He affirmed, voice hoarse.
Arthur nodded and took a step back, clearing his throat and looking to Leon. "Any ideas on how to get out?"
Leon shook his head. "Not unless we can hack this pa-"
Leon was cut off by a loud grinding sound and the six looked about nervously before the walls began to move.
"It's a compacter." Lance muttered under his breath, sharing a worried look with Merlin, who quickly pulled out the comm. again and began calling for Kilgarrah with renewed urgency. "Kilgarrah! Come on, Kilgarrah, where are you!?"
"Right here." Came the voice of the dragon-droid through the comm.
"Kilgarrah!" Merlin cried out happily. "Quick, we need you to shut down the compacter beneath the detention block. And hurry!"
The group scrambled to climb to higher ground in an attempt to escape the approaching metal walls. Leon, Lance and the two women backed into the doorway of the platform they had been resting upon while Arthur scrambled up the tallest rubbish pile, hauling Merlin up after him.
The walls ground to a halt and the six heaved a sigh of relief.
"Thanks Kilgarrah." Merlin sighed, sagging against the wall beside Arthur, laughing. "Any chance you could unlock the door?" A moment later the door slid open with a click. Merlin grinned. "Start trying to make your way back to the ship." Merlin related through the comm. as the others left through the door, grasping Arthur's hand in order to jump down from the mound of rubbish. "We'll meet you there."
Once the mismatched group squeezed through the doorway the boys disposed of their, now wet, stormtrooper uniforms before silently making their way along the corridor, trying to establish how far from the ship they were. They soon stumbled upon a large window overlooking the hangar, through which they could see Excalibur, guarded by at least half-a-dozen stormtroopers.
"You came in that thing?" Morgana raised an eyebrow sceptically. "You're braver than I thought."
Arthur sneered at her. "I think we've heard enough from you."
"Your suggestion just nearly got us all crushed and Merlin drowned by some sort of tentacle." He burst out, glaring harder when she raised an imperious eyebrow at him. "We'll be taking no more suggestions from you, thanks."
"I don't know who you are, or where you came from," she began coldly, drawing herself up to her full height, "but from now on? Just shut up and follow me." She narrowed her eyes as Arthur shook his head at her.
"Sorry, princess,but I answer to no one but myself." Arthur spat, moving to push past her to get closer to the window.
"No one?" she smirked, eyes flitting to Merlin and back, eyebrow crawling up her forehead as Arthur clenched his jaw. Arthur pushed past her, ignoring the amusement on her face as he stepped up to the window beside Leon and Merlin, who was speaking to Kilgarrah through the comm."
"Where are you now?" Merlin spoke quietly into the comm., hearing the tinny reply of 'in the hangar'from the other end.
"Alright, we're right above you hang tight." Leon piped up leaning to speak into the comm. Merlin disconnected the contact and stashed the comm. back on his belt, next to his lightsaber. "Let's go then." Leon led the way as they continued down the corridor, looking for a way down.
They had a few close calls with stormtroopers, but were able to duck out of sight before they were spotted.
Reaching the entrance to the hangar, Lance peeked around the doorway, grimacing as he caught sight of the stormtroopers, still standing guard over the ship. "How're we going to get past them?"
"I don't-" Leon cut off, narrowing his eyes in confusion. "Wait a minute… Are they…?"
"They are." Arthur finished for him, eyebrows rising in surprise. "They're moving away. Now's our chance, let's go."
The group ran as silently as they could towards the ship, spotting Kilgarrah and Aithusa appearing from their left, heading towards the ship.
A crackling noise from their right drew Merlin's attention, sounding similar to the sound his lightsaber made when drawn. Stopping dead when he registered what he was seeing, Merlin stared, horrified at what he saw.
The stormtroopers who had been guarding Excalibur were now standing before a large window, similar to the one they had viewed the hangar from earlier. Through this one, however, Merlin caught sight of Gaius, lightsaber drawn and clashing with the red beam from Darth Vader's own lightsaber.
As Merlin watched, Gaius looked up and, upon catching Merlin's eye, smiled and withdrew his lightsaber, standing motionless and making no move to defend himself as Darth Vader struck him down.
"No!" Merlin screamed, shock rippling through him as he watched Gaius' body disappear, his brown robe and inert lightsaber falling to the ground.
At Merlin's scream the stormtroopers turned to see the fleeing group, immediately lifting their blasters and opening fire. Stopping in Excalibur's doorway Lance and Arthur sheltered themselves behind the walls of the ship, shooting back at the stormtroopers while Leon and the girls got the dragon-droids on board.
They both called out to Merlin, who seemed frozen in shock, staring at the spot where Darth Vader was poking at Gaius' robe with one of his boots, before turning to the chaos before him.
Arthur's eyes widened as Darth Vader once again raised his lightsaber, striding towards the open space where the window was now lowering. "Merlin, the doors! Close the doors!"
Arthur's shout seemed to rouse Merlin from his frozen state and he jerked, head twisting to face Arthur before turning back towards Darth Vader, thrusting a hand out and managing to close the emergency blast doors before the Sith Lord could pass through.
The stormtroopers continued to shoot as Merlin sprinted back towards the ship, Arthur and Lance grabbing hold of an arm each and dragging him on board. Arthur punched a button on the wall with the hand still holding his blaster as they ran past, lifting the ramp and allowing Leon to begin take off.
After a last glance at Merlin, Arthur took off towards the cockpit muttering to himself as he went. "Let's hope he at least got the tractor beam disabled…"
Lance led Merlin back to the living area they had occupied earlier sitting him down at the table before moving to settle the dragon-droids.
Merlin sat in silence, morosely trailing his fingertips across the table. He sighed sensing a presence at his shoulder. "I can't believe he's gone." A moment later he felt a blanket being draped over his shoulders and looked up to see Gwen dropping into the seat beside him.
"How did you know him?" she asked quietly, rubbing a hand along his shoulder.
"Uncle Owain bought the dragon-droids for working on the farm." Merlin murmured back, eyes still on the table. "Aithusa ran away looking for him after we saw part of your message." His eyes flickered to Morgana, who was sitting at the other side of the table, silently watching him. "I haven't known him for long, but… He knew my father; he understands what I am, these powers… he was teaching me how to use them. He was like more than a teacher. Almost like…" He trailed off, swallowing, unable to bring himself to say it.
Gwen drew him into a hug, rubbing soothingly between his shoulder blades. "It'll get better. I know that doesn't exactly help much right now but…" she trailed off shrugging. Merlin managed a small smile.
"Don't you think…" Morgana began hesitantly, a thoughtful look on her face. "That was almost too easy; what if they let us go? What if they're tracking us right now?" The others exchanged uneasy looks and she sighed. "At least the information in the smaller one is intact."
"Aithusa." Merlin cut in quietly, earning him a curious look from the two women. "What exactly is this information, anyway?"
"It's a technical readout of the plans for that battle station. We hope to analyse it – to find a weakness."
Merlin nodded, opening his mouth to question her further about the Rebellion, when Arthur skidded around the corner, one hand on the doorframe. "We've got fighters on our tail, four of 'em. C'mon Merlin, time to pull out the big guns."
"Why Merlin?" Lance stood up, immediately leaping to Merlin's defence, as always. Merlin smothered a small smile. "Can't you see he's-"
Arthur cut him off impatiently. "We've got four fighters on our tail and two guns – we need to use both of them to avoid too much damage. Leon needs to try to keep the ship steady for us and if Merlin's half the pilot you say he is then we need him on the guns to get out of this. Okay? Good, let's go, Merlin."
Lance gaped as Arthur took off down the corridor once again, Merlin scrambling after him, trying to fight a grin at Lance's expression.
Arthur led Merlin down a narrow stairway which split into two at the bottom, Merlin going left when Arthur went right. Quickly strapping himself in and attaching the headset, Merlin reached for the controls, eyes swivelling everywhere to get a feel for the equipment.
"Ready Merlin?" Arthur's voice crackled from the headset as two of the fighters came into view. The ship jolted under fire of the TIE fighters, Leon fighting to keep it as steady as possible.
Arthur and Merlin focused on the two they could see, taking them out before staring round with narrowed eyes, searching for the elusive final two fighters.
As they came into sight Arthur and Merlin both leapt into action, Arthur's eyes trained on his equipment while Merlin focused on his instinct, honed by years of free shooting on Tatooine, keeping his eyes on the window.
Arthur let out a loud whoop as the last fighter exploded. Merlin grinned as he listened to the sound of Arthur's relieved laughter in his ear.
The two headed back up the stairs and along the corridor, still grinning. "You know, Lance was right." Merlin tilted his head in confusion, lifting an eyebrow. "If your shooting is any indication of your flying… You're better than I expected."
"Was that a compliment?" Merlin fought a grin as Arthur's face twisted.
"Shut up, Merlin."
Merlin let out a loud bark of laughter, grinning openly at Arthur, whose lips twisted into a small smile as he elbowed Merlin in the ribs, smile widening as Merlin elbowed him back before taking off down the corridor laughing, Arthur hot on his heels.
Please drop me prompts on my tumblr (littleredandhissourwolf), or if anyone is skilled in photo editing and would be interested in helping me promo this on tumblr by making a photo/gif-set?
I have recently realised that while I had posted the new chapters to ff.net, I had forgotten to do the same on AO3... oops.
Anyway, here are four more chapters, and I am trying to get back into writing this and my XS story, so hopefully more chapters soon!
As they began on their journey towards the true location of the Rebel Base, the group continued to grow closer. Merlin fluctuated between practicing the skills he had learnt from Gaius and bouts of melancholy, mourning for his fallen mentor. They each tried to cheer him when he fell into such moods.
Gwen tried to get Merlin to focus on the good memories he had of Gaius, sitting with him in the rec room and prompting him to tell her tales of Gaius on Tatooine, knowing that such an approach had been a great comfort when her father had died. For Merlin, however, this only proved a reminder of just how little time he had had with Gaius and pushed him further into melancholy with thoughts of the time they had lost, growing up so close to the old man, from whom Merlin still had so much to learn.
Morgana tried the silent approach, sitting with Merlin much as Gwen had, yet waiting for him to begin the conversation when he was ready. Merlin merely ignored her presence, or perhaps failed to notice at all, and continued staring sightlessly at the holo-table.
Even Leon attempted to lift Merlin’s spirits, offering many a game of holo-chess or even a variety of card games, but received little more than a grunt as Merlin continued tracing patterns on the table.
As a whole their attempts were each met with little success. Lance, knowing his brother’s moods and having observed his recent behaviour, eventually decided to give Merlin his space, as he had after Will left for the Academy, Leon and the girls following his lead.
Arthur, however, persevered despite Lance’s actions, and was the only one to get a reaction out of Merlin in such a state. Little by little, Arthur wormed his way past Merlin’s defences, drawing him into their usual teasing banter until Merlin forgot what had him so morose in the first place.
Morgana and Gwen had asked Arthur to set a course for the Yavin system, in order to return to the Alliance, and by the time Excalibur landed on one of the planet’s moons Merlin was back to his old self to everyone’s delight – and a little trepidation from Lance as he eyed Merlin and Arthur huddled together in conversation; a frequent sight upon the ship.
When the group emerged from Excalibur they were greeted by many members of the Alliance, all glad to see Morgana and Gwen safe. Morgana quickly sought out the leaders and ushered Aithusa inside, to show the data stored inside of him.
Merlin watched in awe as the readouts from the Empire’s battle station were analysed and a weakness found. Lance sent frequent sideways glances at his brother, smiling to see him get to where he had dreamt of being for years.
‘And perhaps this may take his mind off of blonde space pirate captains who are far too flirty for their own good…’ he mused.
Despite Lance’s hopes, the first thing Merlin did upon receiving his pilot’s uniform and call sign was to go looking for a certain blonde captain to share his excitement with.
Upon finding him, however, Merlin’s enthusiasm faltered when faced with the man currently loading packages onto Excalibur.
At Merlin’s voice both Arthur and Leon looked up, Leon glancing between the other two before backing away silently, gaze locked intently on his clipboard.
Arthur cleared his throat, setting the package in his hands back onto the cart. “Well, yeah,” he said simply, shrugging. “My job’s done here. Delivered you and your brother – a different destination than intended, I grant you, and hey! We even rescued a Princess! Now I’ve got my reward and Leon and I can get off to spend it,” he finished with an easy grin.
“You could come with us, you know?” Arthur added with an attempt at nonchalance, briefly looking away from Merlin as he absentmindedly toyed with one of the packages still to be loaded. “Could always use another pilot. And you’re…decent, I suppose.”
Merlin’s lips twitched with the urge to smile. “I’m needed here,” he said with a glance around at the various spacecraft stored in the hangar. “You could stay?” he offered tentatively, looking at Arthur from the corner of his eye.
Arthur froze for a moment before he shook his head, scoffing. “You don’t think I’m foolish enough to stick around here, do you?”
Merlin’s eyes hardened. “Come on, Arthur. They could use a pilot like you! You’re turning your back on them, you…” Merlin cast about for a moment, looking for the right word, before settling on, “prat!”
“What good’s a reward if you’re not around to use it?” Arthur quipped, gesturing towards the packages.
“So, what? You get your reward and you’re just leaving then? Just like that?”
Arthur’s hackles rose at Merlin’s tone and he shot back with faux flippancy, “That’s right, yeah.” Leaning back against Excalibur and crossing his arms, Arthur watched as Merlin’s face creased into an expression of disapproval. “I have debts I need to pat off with this stuff,” he continued. Not quite sure why he felt the need to explain himself to Merlin, Arthur rushed to add, “Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage, Merlin. It’s more like suicide.”
Merlin shook his head with a frustrated sigh. “Alright. Take care of yourself then, Arthur.” Turning to walk away, he added, “I guess that’s what you’re best at, isn’t it?”
Arthur suppressed a wince at the bitterness in Merlin’s voice as he walked away. Almost before he could stop himself, he called out “Merlin.”
Merlin stopped, half turning back to face him with an eyebrow raised expectantly.
Arthur opened his mouth, but the words caught in his throat. “May the Force be with you,” he said instead, watching as Merlin nodded before turning away again and leaving the hangar bay.
With a frustrated grunt Arthur dropped his hands to the loading trolley, leaning against it for a moment, head hanging.
Gathering himself, Arthur straightened up again, starting to load the remaining packages into Excalibur’s cargo hold. After a moment Leon returned from wherever he had been hiding during Arthur and Merlin’s conversation.
Arthur avoided Leon’s gaze as he snapped, “What are you looking at?” as he continued to load the packages. “I know what I’m doing.”
Leon merely hummed in response as he began to help with the rest of the load. He hoped his Captain did, indeed, know what he was doing, but somehow… he really doubted it.
Merlin continued making his way through the hangar, disheartened by his conversation with Arthur. He soon spotted the rest of his companions and headed over to join them before he had to leave.
Gwen spotted him first, waving him over with a call of his name that made the others turn. Lance eyed his brother warily as he approached, not liking the look in his eye, nor the defeated slump to his shoulders. ‘And I bet I can guess who caused it…’ he mused darkly.
Lance wasn’t the only one to notice Merlin’s morose demeanour. “What’s wrong?” Morgana asked as soon as Merlin reached the group, eyes narrowed in concern. Merlin simply shrugged as five pairs of eyes – three pairs human, the others belonging to the Dragon-Droids – focused on him.
“Arthur,” Lance spoke up when Merlin stayed silent. Merlin met Lance’s eyes with a shrug.
“Yeah,” he agreed on a sigh. “I don’t know. I really thought he’d change his mind.”
The rest of the group exchanged glances, Morgana opening her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by Kilgarrah.
“No young man, no matter how great, can know his destiny. He cannot glimpse his part in the great story that is about to unfold. Like everyone, he must live and learn.”
While the others exchanged bewildered looks, Merlin – used to Kilgarrah’s enigmatic comments by now – looked thoughtful.
“You mean he’s got to follow his own path… No one can choose it for him?”
“Precisely, Merlin.” The larger of the two dragons smiled. “That your and Arthur’s paths lie together is but the truth. One day, he will see that.”
Merlin smiled briefly at Kilgarrah’s words, though the group was soon startled out of the heavy atmosphere that had settled over them by a loud alarm echoing throughout the base, reminding them of the short time frame left until the attack was to be launched.
“You’d better get going, Merlin,” Gwen said with an encouraging smile, hearing the call for the pilots to make their way to their stations. “Good luck.”
Merlin smiled in return, nodding to the group before he turned to leave.
“Merlin, wait.” Lance caught him by the arm a few moments later, stopping the two of them just out of hearing range of the rest of the group. “Just…” he hesitated, swallowing hard. “Stay safe.”
“I will,” Merlin vowed, squeezing Lance’s arm in return before once again walking away, leaving Lance staring after him.
Merlin was, once again, stopped on his path by a familiar voice – one he hadn’t heard in some time – calling his name.
“Will!” Merlin called, turning with a megawatt grin to meet his best friend in a hug.
“I don’t believe it!” Will laughed, pulling back from the hug. “How’d you get here… Are you going out with us!?”
“Of course!” Merlin grinned. “I’ll be up there with you. Listen, have I got some stories to tell you!”
Merlin’s grin never left his face, even as the pair were approached by a Senior Officer.
“You’re Merlin?” he asked, eyes sliding doubtfully between Merlin and the X-Wing the pair had come to a stop in front of; the one Merlin was to pilot in the attack. “Are you sure you can handle this ship?”
Before Merlin could open his mouth, Will was quick to leap to his defence. “Sir, Merlin is the best pilot in the Outer Rim Territories,” he declared proudly, slinging an arm around Merlin’s shoulders. “He used to bullseye Womp Rats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two metres.”
The Officer’s eyebrows rose as he assessed Merlin in a new light. “You’ll do alright.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll try,” Merlin replied and the Officer took his leave.
“We’ve got to get aboard,” Will said reluctantly with a glance at the pilots rushing to and fro around them. “Listen, you’ll tell me your stories when we come back, alright?”
Merlin nodded, smile never fading, knowing that from Will such a statement was an attempt to secure a promise to come back.
“I told you I’d make it someday, Will!” he called as he turned to begin climbing the ladder to the cockpit.
“You did, all right,” Will called back, doing the same. “It’ll be like old times, Merlin. They’ll never stop us!”
Still grinning, Merlin settled into the cockpit, refusing the ground worker’s suggestion for a replacement droid after a sceptical eye at the condition of Aithusa’s plating as the little dragon was loaded into the back.
However, Merlin and Aithusa had been through a lot together; Merlin wasn’t going to give up on the droid now.
As Merlin finalised his equipment settings, preparing the X-Wing for take-off, he could have sworn he heard Gaius’ voice echoing in the cockpit.
“Remember, my boy… The Force will be with you…”
Morgana, Gwen and Lance gathered in the control room as the various space craft took off from the base, hearing the pilots begin their check ins. Gwen noticed the tension set into Lance’ s shoulders when Merlin’s filtered voice came through the comms and, reached over to squeeze his hand, offering him a reassuring smile when he looked her way.
Sending Gwen a quick grin to show his gratitude, Lance focused on the feed from the pilots’ comms as the last one checked in, and attention turned to the preparations for the attack. Closing his eyes, Lance let his thoughts drift from the group leaders calling for their squads to get into position and accelerate to their attack speeds. “Please be okay, Merlin…”
Merlin pulled up within range of the Death Star, staring up at the imposing structure of the massive Space Station. “Well, Aithusa. Here goes nothing.”
Aithusa said nothing in reply, though Merlin could swear he felt a wave of calm was over him in response. His attention was soon drawn, however, back to his surroundings by the voices emitting from his comms unit.
Another group had been ordered to make the first attack fun.
Merlin watched them pulling away from the main group from the corner of his viewscreen, wishing them lick as he prepared his X-Wing for the task his group had been given – drawing fire from the Death Star’s laser cannons to protect the group going for the trench.
Merlin felt a grin spread across his face. Lance would kill him if he knew, but Merlin was actually looking forward to this.
Don’t get him wrong; he loved learning about the force but flying? He’d been in a cockpit practically all his life, from the old harvester he’d used about Uncle Owain’s Moisture Farm to the rusty speeders he’d used to race his friends with and, of course, the infamous Womp Rat challenge. So, after all that – a series of manoeuvres to distract and avoid the station’s laser cannons?
Merlin felt at his most confident since he had left Tatooine.
The grin never left Merlin’s face as he bobbed and weaved through the brightly coloured laser light show. Not even when the Empire seemed to realise that they weren’t going to catch the agile X-Wings with their large weapons, and sent out their fighter craft to engage with them.
No, Merlin simply smiled wider and engaged in some more daring manoeuvres, egged on by Will’s whoops through the comms.
Merlin kept an ear n the comms, listening out for the progress of the group making the attack run. He heard the first group miss the target, and a second group make an attempt only to come to the same result.
Frustration started to build amongst the main group, the leaders recalculating and trying to come up with a way to increase their chances of hitting the target.
Merlin, however, was distracted by Will’s voice echoing through the cockpit.
“I’m cornered over here – three fighters on my tail and I can’t shake ‘em!”
“Hang on, Will, I’m on my way,” Merlin replied, already reaching for his instruments to make a rapid turn to Will’s co-ordinates. Coming from behind, Merlin made quick work of the fighters tailing Will. The two friends didn’t have long to celebrate, however, as their position apart from the main group had not gone unnoticed. Even as the two began to make their way back to the main group, three Imperial fighters headed straight for them.
The mission leader’s voice sounded over the comms unit, belaying the new orders.
“Gold 2, Red 6 – you’re the closest. I want you on the next attack run Gold 4, you join them.”
“You take lead, Merls,” Will’s voice filtered in next as the two X-Wings adjusted their course. “If anyone’s going to make that shot, it’ll be you.”
“Right,” Merlin replied, sobering up as the third craft caught up with them. The X-Wing wasn’t the only one to catch up with them, however, as the three Imperial fighters also reached them.
Flinching as a laser blast from one of the fighters rocked his X-Wing, Merlin lunged for his controls.
“We’re going in full throttle,” he relayed, hurriedly to the other two, still frantically trying to assess the damage to his X-Wing, praying Aithusa could fix it. “That’ll get those Imperials off our backs.
The uncertainty from the other two regarding this plan was evident in the silence that momentarily echoed throughout the cockpit from the comms.
“Merls…” Will started anxiously, falling into place behind Merlin all the same. “At that speed, will you be able to pull out in time?”
“It’ll be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home!” Merlin assured him, pushing his X-Wing to accelerate to the required speed.
Despite his misapprehension Will posed no further comments and kept pace with Merlin, trying to provide cover from the fighters.
Merlin continued forward, focused on his instruments and ignoring the coloured flashes outside the viewscreen.
The other pilot covering him, a woman called Sefa, spoke up over the comms.
“My scope shows the tower, Gold 2, but I can’t see the exhaust port. Are you sure the computer can hit it?” Merlin paused for a moment, hands freezing over his controls. Though he said nothing, it was something that had crossed his mind too.
Broken out of this musing by a sudden flash of green and a jolt from his X-Wing, Merlin grabbed for his controls with a glance at his screens.
“Watch yourself!” he called to Sefa, pulling his X-Wing back on track. “Increase your speed!”
“What about the tower?” she shot back.
“You worry about those fighters!” Will pitched in as another jolt rocked through Merlin’s cockpit. “Merls will worry about the tower.”
The comms went silent between the tree as they continued down the trench, dodging laser blasts as they went. Merlin focused once again on where he was going, only taking his eyes off his viewscreen to check in on damages and repairs with Aithusa.
Sefa‘s voice crackled across the comms again following a thick volley of laser blasts from the Imperial fighters. “I’m hit!” she panted, voice high and frantic. “I can’t stay with you.”
“You can’t do any more good back there. Get yourself to safety!” Will responded, sounding harassed as he combatted the enemy fighters.
“Sorry!” Sefa apologised one more time as she retreated from the trench.
It was now down to Will to keep the fighters from Merlin for as long as possible. He glanced around worriedly at the fighters rapidly closing in on them. “You’d better hurry, Merls,” he warned, keeping an eye on the fighters behind him. “They’re coming in a lot faster. I can’t keep holding ‘em!”
“You’d better go, Will. There’s nothing more you can do here either!”
“But Merls –“
“Go!” Merlin urged, turning on his targeting computer and attempting to locate the exhaust port.
“Alright,” Will agreed, though clearly unhappy about it, as he too pulled out of the trench. “But hurry!”
Alone now in the trench with the Imperial fighters, Merlin went back to his targeting computer. The fighters continued to close in on him as Merlin attempted to lock in on the exhaust port. He had nearly locked onto the target when a voice echoed through the cockpit.
“Use the force, Merlin…”
Glancing about himself in confusion Merlin returned to his computer hesitantly. He could have sworn he had heard Gaius’s voice…
“Let go, Merlin…”
There it was again.
“Trust me, my boy…”
Opening his eyes – when had he closed them? – Merlin moved from his frozen position to switch off his targeting computer, focusing with a deep breath.
In the control room, Gwen could feel Lance getting increasingly tense beside her as the battle progressed and Merlin was thrust further into harm’s way. A ping from the monitoring equipment drew her attention from him and back to the General, who was muttering under his breath.
“What is he doing?”
“What?” Lance demanded head shooting up to pin the General with a look. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s turned off his targeting system…” the General muttered, almost to himself, before he flicked a switch to his right. “Merlin, your computer’s off. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Merlin’s calm voice came over the speaker. “I‘m fine.”
Lance relaxed again a fraction at Merlin’s reply though he, along with the rest of the room, did not know what Merlin had planned. He simply returned his gaze to the map, where the blinking yellow light showed Merlin’s progress as he continued towards the target.
Without Will and Sefa at his back, Merlin had to work harder to avoid the oncoming fighters. He was coming up fast upon the target and he was under fire from the three fighters behind him. As the fighters got nearer it was harder to dodge their blasts and Merlin soon found his X-Wing rocked with nearby blasts more often than not.
After a shot that was worryingly close to Aithusa, Merlin grit his teeth, trying to push the spacecraft faster. He could almost feel the fighter behind him, its pilot locking onto him on his computer…
A shot came out of nowhere and hit one of the fighters behind him. Merlin twisted to see where it had come from, but could see nothing but the explosion from the destroyed fighter.
“Yahoo!” a shout came over the comms and Merlin felt his heart jolt.
Another shot came from behind, destroying another of the fighters, the explosion from which sent the final one, the leader, spiralling off-course and out of the trench.
“You’re all clear Merlin!” Arthur’s voice sounded once again across the comms as Merlin couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face. “Now let’s blow this thing and go home!”
Still grinning, Merlin turned back to his viewscreen and, as the target appeared in his sights, pulled the trigger on his his torpedoes, felling the power flow through him as he guided them towards the target.
The pilots and those back at the station watched with bated breath, knowing that the battle station had reached its firing range on their base.
“It’s in!” The General’s shout echoed across the comms as Merlin collapsed back against his seat, huffing a sigh of relief.
The remains of the Rebel attack fleet pulled away from the Death Star, heading back to the base as the battle station erupted behind them.
“Great shot Merlin! That was one in a million!” Arthur whooped over the comms, Leon’s shouts of approval coming from beside him.
“Still up to your old magic tricks, then?” Will added with a giddy laugh, relieved that his friend had pulled it off and still come back safely.
Closing his eyes in relief as he laid his head back against his chair, Merlin heard Gaius’ voice echoing throughout the cockpit once again.
“Remember, Merlin. The force will be with you. Always.”
It was a much smaller group that landed in the hangar bay than that which had taken off, though this could easily be forgotten, given the sheer volume of noise that hit Merlin the moment the cockpit of his X-Wing cracked open.
Merlin jumped from the cockpit and was immediately tackled in a hug by a relieved Lance, who clung to him tightly in relief.
“You just had to do it in the most reckless way possible, didn’t you?” he rasped hoarsely, voice muffled by Merlin’s hair.
Merlin grinned sheepishly in responses, returning his brother’s hug with the same ferocity. While Lance and Merlin remained in their embrace many of the returning pilots and those who had remained behind at the station clapped Merlin on the back as they passed, calling out congratulations as they did between whoops and shouts.
Over Lance’s shoulder Merlin caught sight of Excalibur as its ramp lowered and Arthur emerged, Leon close behind him. Pulling back from Lance with a wide grin, Merlin ran to Arthur who, upon spotting Merlin, felt a matching grin spread across his own face.
“I knew you’d come back!” Merlin burst out when he reached Arthur, almost bouncing in place with excitement.
“Well, I couldn’t let you take all the credit, Merlin,” Arthur threw back, grinning from ear to ear.
The others had reached them by this point, not that either of the two seemed to notice.
“I knew there was more to you than money!” Gwen squealed, seeming to realise what she was saying mere seconds after she said it and slapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide.
Before Arthur could respond, or Gwen could begin apologising, the sound of sniggering could be heard. Arthur turned with an eyebrow raised to see Merlin attempting, and failing, to hold back his laughter.
“Shut up, Merlin,” he groused, dragging Merlin into a headlock.
Sniggers turning into full-blown laughter, Merlin twisted out of Arthur’s hold, making a break for it as Arthur gave chase, both of them still running on the high of their success as they giggled like children.
“Of course he wasn’t going to stay away, Gwen,” Morgana remarked, her usual smirk replaced by a wide grin. Linking arms with Gwen, the two women began to walk away, Morgana adding “Merlin’s still here,” as they went.
Lance watched Merlin and Arthur acting like a pair of rowdy teenagers as they chased each other around the hangar. It would seem that, for now at least, Morgana was right.
Watching Merlin’s face, flushed with happiness, he conceded that it might not be such a bad thing. After all, he mused with a sigh. It had been quite a while since he had seen Merlin so happy.
In fact, he wasn’t sure he ever had.
The Rebel base came alive that evening, the celebrations in full swing as everyone took the opportunity to celebrate their victory before returning to work the next day. After all, they had won the battle against the Death Star, but not the war. The Emperor and Darth Vader were still out there, along with many other prominent Imperial leaders.
The party had been preceded by a grand award ceremony, in which Merlin, Anthur, Leon and Will were presented with glinting gold medals of valour by Morgana, who was visibly holding back a grin the whole time.
Merlin, in face of the party atmosphere filling the (formerly) secret base, found himself pulling away from the others, thoughts being drawn back to Gaius’ voice echoing throughout his cockpit. He found himself back in the now deserted spacecraft hangar, sitting on the parts transport cart Arthur had been using to load his reward money mere hours ago.
Had it only been that long? It felt like days.
Staring at his new medal, still hanging around his neck, as he turned it between his hands absentmindedly, Merlin’s thoughts drifted back to Gaius voice. He‘d been distracted with the attack that he hadn’t had much time to dwell on his mentor’s death.
He hadn’t known Gaius for very long – at least, known him in more than name – but the old wizard, as they had used to call him on Tatooine, had soon grown on him and within days Merlin was looking up to Gaius almost as a father figure.
“Thought I’d find you in here,” Merlin felt Arthur settle in next to him on the cart. With a nudge to his shoulder, Arthur continued. “Never thought I’d get one of these,” Merlin glanced sideways at Arthur, to see him staring down at his own medal, a small, self-deprecating grin on his face. “Was never exactly the one who sprung to mind at the word ‘valour’. Too much of a coward, I suppose ,” Arthur paused for a moment, considering his next words carefully. “I really was going to leave, you know. But when it came to it, I just… couldn’t. I couldn’t leave all of you to risk your lives fighting. Not while there was something I could do to help.”
“I knew you’d be back.”
Arthur’s head snapped around to meet Merlin’s steady gaze. “Really?” he asked softly, something almost vulnerable in his expression.
“Never a doubt,” Merlin affirmed with a gentle grin. Arthur continued to stare at Merlin, seeming to search his face for something. “You’re a good man, Arthur,” Arthur scoffed, breaking eye contact to stare at the ground. “You could be a great leader here, you know? If you stay.”
There was silence between the two for a moment.
“You really think so?”
Merlin turned to meet Arthur’s gaze, noting that strange expression in his eyes again. “I meant what I said before,” Merlin said seriously. “Well,” he began, tilting his head in mock thought. “As long as you stop being such a prat.”
And that concludes Part I of this story! Part II (a.k.a. The Empire Strikes Back) will hopefully begin posting shortly!
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
So this is officially the start of Part II (A.K.A. The Empire Strikes Back). I had the end part of this chapter written for ages - it was actually what inspired me to get back into writing this, and I have marked out quite a few things to include later, and a few scenes/sections from this part and Part III have already been written, so I can't wait to get to some of them! I've also decided to include more quotes from Merlin in this story along with the quotes from the Original Trilogy, so look out for some of them!
I have only just realised that I hadn't uploaded this chapter to AO3 yet... Oops? Hope you enjoy!
It had been months since the Death Star mission and the Rebellion had since –due to the Empire’s discovery of their base’s location –been chased across the galaxy by the Empire, understandably upset by the destruction of their battle station.
Arthur and Leon had, in the end, decided to stay with the Alliance. Lance didn’t miss the looks that passed between Merlin and Arthur at this announcement, though he found that it no longer bothered him as much as it previously had. If it was making his brother happy, he figured, he could give Arthur the benefit of the doubt for now. He didn’t have to like it, but one slip up…
The Alliance eventually managed to lose their Imperial tail, settling on the remote ice region of Ismere. On the seemingly deserted frozen tundra landscape, along with the daily tasks the Alliance sent out daily patrols out to place, check and replace sensors as an early warning system for any life-forms approaching the new base.
Arthur was sceptical of ever finding life-forms, whereas Merlin insisted he could feel some.
It was on one such patrol that Merlin saw something streak through the sky and crash into the snow out of the corner of his eye.
Twisting round on his Taun-Taun’s back, Merlin brushed snow from the lenses of his binoculars, lifting them to his face and attempting to focus the image. Merlin couldn’t make out what exactly it was, for the only thing he could see was a tower of smoke rising from the snow bank.
Brow furrowed, Merlin put his binoculars away and reached for his comms unit.
“Arthur, can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear,” Arthur drawled in response. “What’s up?”
“I’ve finished my circle but I don’t get any readings,” Merlin started, glancing at the sky, trying to gage how long was left in the day.
“I told you, Merlin!” Arthur scoffed. “There’s not enough life on this ice cube to fill a space cruiser. Anyway, my sensors are placed. I reckon we should head back now.”
“You go. There’s a meteorite that’s just hit the ground near here that I want to check out first.”
“Alright. See you shortly.” Arthur’s voice disappeared from the comm with a click and Merlin started towards the snow drift, where the smoke was still rising.
However, Merlin never made it to find out what had hit the ground. As Merlin got closer to the smoke, reaching for one of his instruments when his Taun-Taun stopped.
Opening his mouth, Merlin was interrupted by a shadow falling over him.
Merlin whipped round, catching sight of a large, monstrous creature before pain exploded in the back of his skull and everything went black.
Arthur arrived back at the Rebel base not much later. Glancing at where Leon was working on, and nearly finished by the look of things, Excalibur’s repairs as he passed on his way to deliver his report, Arthur sighed. He knew that, no matter his feelings, he had to continue with his and Leon’s plans.
The Command Centre was as cold as the rest of the base and filled with technicians and commanders alike, each and every one of them wrapped up in their winter gear.
“General,” Arthur announced himself as he located his superior and headed for the console he was studying along with Morgana.
“Pendragon,” the General acknowledged, handing Morgana his data pad and turning to face Arthur.
“Still no sign of life out there, but the sensors are in place so you’ll know if anything comes around.”
As the General nodded, Arthur could see Morgana eyeing him over the General’s shoulder. He should have known she wouldn’t miss his use of pronouns.
Knowing that he couldn’t put it off any longer, Arthur took a deep breath, blurting, “General, I’ve got to leave. I can’t stay anymore.”
Morgana froze, pinning him with her unreadable stare. The General too looked displeased.
“I’m very sorry to hear that.”
“There’s a price on my head,” Arthur elaborated, unsure whether he was trying to explain himself more to his Senior Officer or his friend. “If I don’t pay Jarl I’m a dead man.”
“A death mark’s not an easy thing to live with,” he conceded with a sigh, expression softening.
Morgana’s, however, did not.
“You’re a good fighter, Pendragon. I’m sorry to lose you.”
With a clap to Arthur’s shoulder, the General moved to another console, leaving Arthur with the still stony-faced Morgana.
“Well, Your Highness. I guess this is it.” Arthur, aiming for nonchalance, missed it by a mile.
“That’s right,” was Morgana’s only reply. She made no move, except to cross her arms as she continued to stare Arthur down.
In the end it was Arthur who broke first, dropping his gaze with a sigh. “What do you want me to say, Morgana?”
“I thought you’d decided to stay?” Morgana continued in her cool, calm manner.
Arthur felt his temper flare in response. “Yeah, well that bounty hunter we ran into last month changed my mind.”
“Sometimes you have to do what you think is right,” Morgana shot back, starting to get angry herself, “and damn the consequences.”
“And you think I should stay, then?” Arthur challenged.
“It doesn’t matter what I think?”
With that reply, Morgana left to join the General once more and Arthur, looking perturbed, stormed out of the Command Centre.
Meanwhile, Merlin was slowly becoming aware of a throbbing pain in his head and right shoulder. Reaching up to investigate the injuries, he soon realised that he couldn’t as he was hanging upside down, thick chains wrapped around him. Opening his eyes – flinching and closing them again for a moment at the brightness – Merlin took in his surroundings blearily.
He was in what appeared to be a cave made up of ice – all he could see around him was a blinding shade of white and he could see his breath forming before his face.
A glint of silver amongst the white caught Merlin’s attention out of the corner of his eye. His lightsabre must have fallen from his belt when whoever, or whatever, had attacked him had strung him up.
Closing his eyes, Merlin concentrated on his lightsabre, willing it into his hand. Fingers closing around the weapon as he felt it hit his palm, Merlin didn’t waste any time activating it and twisting to release himself from the chains that seemed to tighten at every move he made.
Landing in a heap with a groan, Merlin staggered to his feet, pressing a hand to the back of his head. He let out a hiss through his teeth as it came away coated in red.
Hand tightening around his lightsabre, Merlin cast a glance around for an exit. Locating one, Merlin headed for it, a menacing hissing sound echoing from behind him spurring him on as he ran from the cave into the snow.
Arthur stepped out of his room, having changed from his heavy-duty winter clothes into his overalls, intending to help Leon finish Excalibur’s repairs. The sooner they could get away and pay off their debt to Jarl, the better. Then, maybe, he could return. ‘If they let you back,’ the small voice at the back of his mind spoke up.
Shaking his head to silence that voice, Arthur stepped forward to head towards the hangar bay but found Gwen blocking his path.
“So, I hear you’re leaving?” she shot at him, her entire body radiating her disapproval - from her crossed arms to her raised eyebrows.
“Yeah,” Arthur shrugged. “I am.”
“You chose to stay with us for a reason, Arthur,” Gwen continued, stance not shifting. “Why are you leaving now? We need you and I know you like it here.”
“It’s not that simple, Gwen,” Arthur sighed. “I owe someone a lot of money.”
“So you’re going to turn your back on us?” Gwen’s glare was eerily like Morgana’s had been earlier. Those girls had been spending far too much time together in Arthur’s opinion.
“I don’t have a choice. I’m sorry Gwen, but if I don’t pay back the money I owe-“
“In life you always have a choice. Sometimes it’s easier to think that you don’t.”
“Well,” Arthur sighed, defeated. “Then I choose to leave.”
Gwen sighed too, dropping her arms to her sides and her glare fading to a defeated look. “Then I’ll miss you.” After a moment’s pause, she added, “Does Merlin know yet?”
Arthur shifted on his feet, trying to ignore the pang he felt when he considered Merlin’s reaction to his leaving. He sincerely hoped he would be welcomed back once his debt was paid, but with the reactions so far…
“He wanted to check out a meteorite when he’d finished his circle. I’ll tell him when he gets back.”
Gwen said nothing, merely continued to stare at him, her eyes filling with what looked like disappointment and… pity?
Arthur cleared his throat and, straightening and taking the opportunity to escape this conversation as well as his own tumultuous emotions, strode towards the hangar bay leaving Gwen staring after him.
As night fell over Ismere the temperature dropped to near freezing and to top it off a blizzard had begun to form, getting progressively worse as time went on.
The full effects of Merlin’s head injury were starting to hit him as he staggered through the snow. His shoulder was also throbbing. Merlin hadn’t been able to check on it since he had left the cave, not wanting to take the risk in exposing his bare skin to the cold air, but when he had taken a peek at it earlier there was a large red welt swelling to a noticeable size. He struggled to put one foot in front of the other, eventually collapsing into a snowbank when he could go no further. As he lay panting in the snow, head spinning, Merlin’s mind drifted.
Maybe he could rest for a while… Just a little nap…
“Merlin…” A familiar voice cut through the fog of Merlin’s mind. “Merlin…”
Merlin lifted his head sluggishly, looking around in disbelief. “Gaius?”
Even as he asked the question, voice wavering in disbelief, Merlin could see a vague outline of a figure and as it drew nearer he recognised the shape of his mentor.
“Gaius,” Merlin gasped, feeling a lump form in his throat at the feelings that rose in him when he relived the last time he had seen the man before him. It gave him the sudden urge to grovel for his mentor’s forgiveness.
It seemed that Gaius could still read Merlin like a book for his mentor’s ghostly figure’s eyes were shining as he spoke. “My boy, to have known you has been my greatest pleasure, and to sacrifice myself for you has been an honour. You are and always will be the son I never had.”
Merlin’s breath caught in his throat at Gaius’ words and he felt a fresh wave of grief wash over him.
“Your life is destined for greatness, Merlin. You must live by the tenets I have taught you and I believe you will become the greatest of them all.”
Merlin rasped through the tightness in his throat, “There is so much I have yet to learn, Gaius. I need you to teach me.”
Gaius shook his head slowly with a soft smile. “I have taught you all I know. Your destiny is great; you need a teacher far more skilled than I. You must go to the Isle of the Blessed and seek out the Druids. Iseldir can finish your training there.”
As Gaius finished speaking, his hazy figure began to fade.
“No…” Merlin gasped, hand reaching for the space where the figure of his former mentor had stood as his vision too began to fade.
Kilgarrah could tell that he had found Arthur as soon as he entered the hangar. Although he could not see the man there was no mistaking the cacophony of grumpy mutterings and the metallic clanging of various tools as coming from anyone but Arthur Pendragon.
With a sideways glance at Aithusa as they reached the area where the aforementioned space pirate was working on Excalibur, Kilgarrah cleared his throat.
“Excuse me, sir, but might I have a word?” Receiving a grunt in response Kilgarrah continued. “The Princess has been unable to reach you on the communicator-”
“Probably because I turned it off,” came the grumbled response around the screwdriver held between his teeth.
Kilgarrah ignored Arthur’s mumbling, simply continuing on. “She is wondering about Master Merlin. He hasn’t come back yet and she doesn’t know where he is.”
“Well I don’t know where he is,” Arthur bit back, now using the screwdriver on one of Excalibur’s outer panels.
“Nobody knows where he is.”
At Kilgarrah’s glib reply Arthur froze. Whirling around to face the two dragon-droids, pointing the screwdriver still in his hand at Kilgarrah’s face, he demanded, “What do you mean nobody knows?”
“Well-” Kilgarrah began but it seemed that Arthur was not willing to wait around to hear the answer, for he was already storming off, screwdriver still held within his clenched fist. The two dragons scrambled after him as he called out for the Deck Officer, placing his hand over Kilgarrah’s mouthpiece when the dragon began to voice his inquiries. Upon finding the Deck Officer Arthur, once again pointing his screwdriver threateningly, demanded, “Do you know where Commander Emrys is?”
“I haven’t seen him,” the Officer replied, eyeing the screwdriver warily. “It’s possible he came in through the South Entrance.”
This statement, though aimed at appeasing the irate Captain, had little effect.
“It’s possible?” Arthur echoed sarcastically. “Why don’t you go find out? It’s getting dark out there.”
As the Deck Officer nodded before scurrying off towards the South Entrance, Arthur frowned lowering the screwdriver before absentmindedly twisting it between his hands, betraying his worry as he glanced over his shoulder towards the doors leading to the ice planet. Arthur was still playing with the screwdriver when the Deck Officer returned.
“Sir, Commander Emrys hasn’t come in through the South Entrance either.” At Arthur’s clenched jaw and fisted hands he rushed to add, “We have scoured the radar-”
“Scour it again.” Arthur insisted, ignoring the looks the two dragons shared behind his back.
“Sir,” the Deck Officer protested. “There is no sign of the Commander. Perhaps he forgot to check in?”
Arthur scoffed. “Not likely.” Setting his jaw, he put the screwdriver down before striding determinedly towards the hangar.
When Guinevere found Arthur he was wrapping himself back into the layers he had stripped only a few hours previously when he had returned from his patrol.
“What are you doing?”
Arthur ignored her, instead turning to one of the base’s technicians. “The speeders ready?”
“Uh, negative sir,” the technician replied nervously. “We’re having some problems with their systems in this weather. They should be ready by morning.”
“I’ll have to go out on Taun-Taun,” was Arthur’s muttered response as he pulled his parka on.
“But sir!” the technician exclaimed in shock. “The temperature’s dropping too rapidly!”
“That’s right, and my friend’s out in it.” Arthur shot back, pulling his gloves on as he headed towards the Taun-Tauns.
Gwen hurried after him. “Arthur!”
Arthur paused, turning to face Gwen as she caught up to him. “I’m as worried about Merlin as you are-” she began, before Arthur cut her off.
“You’re not going to change my mind.” Arthur turned away, continuing towards the Taun-Tauns. Gwen followed, hovering nervously behind him as he readied one for riding out into the cold.
“Who knows what’s out there at night!?”
“I have to go,” was Arthur’s only response, not stopping in his actions.
“The patrols and the radar have found no sign of him.”
“Do you really expect me to accept that!?” Arthur burst out, whirling to face Gwen. “Just to sit here and take their word that Merlin’s gone?”
Gwen found herself incapable of forming a response to that, and Arthur shook his head, turning away again to mount the Taun-Taun. He paused for a moment, looking back over his shoulder towards Gwen.
“I won’t rest until I at least try.”
And with that he pushed the Taun-Taun into a run, leaving Gwen staring worriedly after him.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
The longer time went on with no sign from either Arthur nor Merlin, the small crowd gathered in the hangar bay became increasingly worried, and noticeably so.
Lance paced up and down the hangar, eyes flitting towards the bay doors at any sign of movement. Each time he was disappointed and as the night wore on and the dark descended the worry buzzing under his skin began to bubble over. Gwen watched him anxiously, biting her lip as she too glanced towards the doors and saw the blizzard raging in the darkness.
Feeling Morgana tense from her position at Gwen's side, Gwen turned to her in question, frowning at the tension in her jaw and her hard gaze focused somewhere over Gwen's shoulder. Turning to follow Morgana's gaze, Gwen felt her own shoulders stiffen when she caught sight of the Deck Officer heading towards the group, expression grim.
By the time the Deck Officer reached their small group, even Lance had stopped his pacing and stood still, eyeing the Deck Officer expectantly.
"Your Highness," he started seriously, addressing the stony-faced Morgana, but didn't get very far before Lance unfroze, shaking his head firmly with clenched fists.
"No," Lance muttered, turning away from the group.
"All patrols are in and we've had no contact from either Commander Emrys or Captain Pendragon," the Deck Officer continued apologetically, gaze moving between Morgana and Lance's back. The storm is only supposed to get worse… The doors must be closed."
"No!" Lance roared, spinning to face the group again, shaking his head furiously. "No, we can't close those doors. They are still out there! We cannot just-"
Lance's voice cracked and he fell silent, trembling. Gwen stepped up beside him, squeezing his arm.
"There's nothing more we can do for them," Morgana spoke up, pained eyes focused on Lance. Lance dropped his head with a sigh as Morgana nodded at the Deck Officer. "Close the doors."
The group watched in tense silence as the heavy doors drew together, broken first by the loud metallic clang of the doors colliding, followed closely by a series of mournful coos from Aithusa.
"Don't say things like that!" Kilgarrah snapped at the smaller dragon swatting at him with one of his wings. "Of course we'll see Master Merlin again. He'll be quite alright, you'll see." With a final nudge of Aithusa's wing with his own, Kilgarrah walked away from the group, the muttering under his breath betraying the true depth of his worry.
Beyond the closed doors the conditions continued to deteriorate. The fierce blizzard raged on as the temperature plummeted beyond the already freezing temperatures of the icy planet.
Arthur felt the panic that had been fighting its way to the surface of his thoughts from the moment he heard Merlin was missing swell within his chest as minutes passed and there was still no sign of Merlin. Glancing round at the frozen wasteland was doing little to prevent the panic from winning out.
It was cold, dark, and visibility was at a minimum as the snow fell hard and fast, stinging at Arthur's cheeks. Even his Taun-Taun was struggling in the present conditions. Arthur tried to push that thought to the back of his mind. If the Taun-Taun, native to Ismere and with a body specialised for living in such an environment was having difficulties…
It didn't even bear thinking about how Merlin could be faring…
Arthur had to find him. FAST.
Gwen looked about herself uncertainly as she moved through the dimly lit corridors of Echo Base, devoid of the usual hustle and bustle and bustle of daily operations. Reaching the spacecraft hangar she pulled her parka tighter around herself at the chill in the air, waving to the night shift engineers as they worked on the snowspeeders. One of the engineers looked up at her approach and nodded his head towards the X-Wings stationed at the other end of the hangar, where she could just make out a shadowy figure curled up on one of the X-Wings. With a nod of thanks to the engineer, Gwen headed towards the figure.
Gwen trailed off as she reached the X-Wing that had been piloted exclusively by Merlin since joining the rebellion, staring up at the figure curled up on top of the ship. Heaving a sigh, Gwen climbed the ladder and pulled herself up to sit next to the curled-up Lance, putting an arm around him.
For a moment Lance remained stiff and unmoving, and Gwen began to worry that she had overstepped, debating whether to remove her arm when Lance suddenly slumped against her side like a puppet whose strings had been cut, and his head rested upon Gwen's shoulder.
"I can't lose him, Gwen." Lance whispered into her shoulder, quietly enough that Gwen almost thought she had imagined it.
"I know." she murmured, stroking his shoulder in an attempt to soothe him.
"I just…" Lance started, swallowing thickly. "First my parents, and now…after everything that's happened…I can't, Gwen…" Lance lifted his head, revealing his tear-streaked face as he whimpered, "Not him too."
Wordlessly Gwen reached out to him, brushing back the hair that had fallen over his face before her hand rested in the hair on the back of his neck.
"Arthur will find him," was Gwen's eventual response, although Lance remained unconvinced. "He will." Gwen insisted shaking Lance a little for emphasis. "Arthur wouldn't give up on Merlin. You know that. He couldn't when Merlin was facing the entire Death Star; he's not going to let some snow stop him now."
Lance snorted, acknowledging Gwen's point with a watery smile. Gwen gave a soft smile of her own in response before using her hand on the back of Lance's head to draw his head back onto her shoulder, wrapping her arms around him.
"Arthur will keep him safe until morning, and then the snowspeeders will be sent out to find them. Or else they'll have to answer to Morgana."
With another snort at the thought of the speeder patrol pilots cowering in the face of a dressing down from Morgana, Lance settled into Gwen's embrace, lifting his own arms to wrap them around Gwen in return.
It would be morning before they heard any news, but for now he was content to wait, trusting his cousin's safety to Arthur Pendragon.
In fully fledged panic mode now Arthur scanned the endless sea of white surrounding him, searching for any trace of Merlin. He gathered up his Taun-Taun's reins, ready to turn away to continue the search in another direction when he froze, spotting something out of the corner of his eye as he turned.
Arthur whirled around, and…THERE!
In an otherwise purely white landscape, slumped and quickly becoming covered by the still-falling snow was a figure lying face down.
Arthur threw himself from the groaning Taun-Taun, stumbling in the snow in his haste to reach the figure. He fell to his knees and hurried to turn them over, gasping "Merlin" as the face of his missing face was revealed.
Arthur was quick to lift his friend from the snow, hauling Merlin's head and shoulders onto his lap, frantically brushing the snow from Merlin's already soaked winter gear.
"Oh God…Merlin…What can I do…"
Arthur muttered to himself, eyes roving over Merlin's body and taking in his half-frozen state.
"Right… Come on, we've got to get you back to base…"
As Arthur nodded to himself manoeuvring Merlin in his arms he heard a wailing sort of groan coming from behind him, and when he turned his head he was just in time to see his Taun-Taun keel over in the snow, where it lay motionless.
Arthur swore and turned back to Merlin in his lap, forehead creasing with worry as he scrambled to think of how to proceed. "Alright, well the snowspeeders will be out in the morning…we just need to stay safe until then… Yes, I can do that." Arthur nodded to himself decisively. "We'll just need a shelter and …"
Arthur trailed off, watching Merlin breathing in his lap. He wasn't shivering. That was a bad thing, wasn't it?
"We need to get you warm first."
Arthur bit his lip as he looked around himself, taking in his limited options. His eyes fell upon his fallen Taun-Taun.
"You're going to hate me for this…" Arthur told Merlin as he carefully stood, cradling Merlin in his arms, "…but it will save your life."
There was no response from Merlin besides his head lolling onto Arthur's shoulder.
Stopping once he drew level with the dead Taun-Taun, Arthur struggled to manoeuvre the limp form of Merlin into one arm, leaving the other free to grope for the lightsabre attached to Merlin's belt.
"You're heavier than you look, you know." Arthur grunted, as he fumbled with the lightsabre. "Now, how does this- Aha!"
Flinching back as the laser sword extended, Arthur bent his knees carefully balancing his and Merlin's combined weight as he used the lightsabre to slice open the dead animal's belly. Nose crinkling at the smell that emerged, Arthur deactivated the lightsabre and attached it to his own belt before bending to push Merlin into the hole he had made.
Once Merlin was secure within the warm innards of the creature, Arthur slumped against its side, sagging slightly in relief.
"Right, that should keep you warm until I can get the shelter up."
Arthur remained leaning against the rapidly cooling outside of the Taun-Taun, taking a moment to hope that the heat from the inside of the creature would be enough…
Shaking himself, Arthur turned to grab his pack from the saddle bags still attached to the Taun-Taun and stood to begin work on building the shelter.
"This shelter will be up in no time, Merlin, unlike when it's your turn to put it up. Honestly, I don't know how you do it."
Arthur took a few steps away before hesitating, gaze falling upon the now just barely visible gash in the Taun-Taun's stomach.
"I…" he started shakily before he stopped himself, clearing his throat. "Do take better care of yourself, Merlin. I can't always be around to save you, can I?"
With that, Arthur forced himself a few more steps away, dropping the pack to begin setting up the shelter.
Arthur worked, keeping the fallen Taun-Taun's belly within sight at all times, as he tried to ignore how much he wished he could always be there to make sure Merlin kept himself out of trouble…
'No, you know why you can't,' he reminded himself harshly. Gritting his teeth, he continued to build the shelter whilst viciously shoving thoughts of how he could continue to keep Merlin warm within the shelter to the back of his mind.
'He deserves better.'
The following morning saw Morgana, Leon, Lance, Gwen and the dragons in the control room, Lance's hand wrapped tightly around Gwen's as they listened in to the snowspeeder patrol's reports.
Lance's hand squeezed Gwen's tightly as the repeated calls for Captain Pendragon and Commander Emrys continued to go unanswered.
Gwen kept her gaze anxiously on the blinking lights of the control panel, eyes flickering to Lance's face with every squeeze of her hand. She tried stroking the back of his hand with her thumb, hoping to soothe the tension out of him when, suddenly, his entire body went rigid.
One of the pilots had broken off mid-report.
"Rogue Two, report. Come in, Rogue Two!" The General's sharp voice cut in. It seemed as though the entirety of the assembled personnel collectively held their breath in anticipation of his response.
"Echo Base, this is Rogue Two," the pilot's voice crackled back across the comm system. With a jolt, Lance recognised it as Will's. "I've found them. Repeat, I've found them!"
A sigh of relief rippled throughout the room at Will's report. Someone even began cheering.
"Roger that, Rogue Two!"
Gwen turned to Lance, seeing the relief she felt magnified upon his face, and this time it was Gwen who squeezed Lance's hand tightly.
"They found him…" Lance murmured weakly, looking as though he could barely believe it. Gwen could feel a smile tugging at her lips as she nodded.
"They found him!" Lance repeated, a laugh escaping his throat even as tears welled in his eyes and he reached to pull Gwen into a hug, whispering "Thank you," into her hair.
"Rogue Two, coming in," came Will's voice once again over the comms. An icy chill went through Gwen's body at the tension to be heard in his voice. "Alert medical."
Lance stiffened once more and before Gwen knew it he was disappearing along the corridor. With a glance at Morgana, who caught her eye and jerked her head towards the doorway Lance had disappeared through, Gwen rushed after him, Will's words "Alert medical," ringing in her ears as she followed Lance towards the Shield Doors.
The hangar bay was alive with activity by the time Gwen arrived. A speeder lay abandoned in the middle of the chaos, screen up and empty of its pilot. Gwen spotted Will standing a few feet away, helmet still on as he watched a gurney surrounded by medics was wheeled hurriedly towards the medical bay, rapid shouting echoing in their wake.
As Gwen stood there a second speeder flew through the Shield Doors, landing haphazardly next to Will's. Almost as soon as the screen was released with a hiss, a hand appeared forcing it open, soon followed by a head and shoulders as Arthur scrambled out of the small craft. Stumbling once he hit the floor, Arthur put out a hand to steady himself on the speeder as he scanned the room.
Gaze landing on the gurney as the still-shouting medics drew his attention, Arthur straightened with a shout and pushed off from the speeder to dart after the medics. Halfway there he was intercepted by Will, who stepped in front of him to prevent him heading any further.
"Will," Arthur gritted out, body tense in Will's grasp. "Move."
"No, Arthur," Will insisted, standing his ground as Arthur tried to lunge past him. "You've done what you could; now you need to let the medics do their job."
Arthur hesitated a moment, eyes still locked on the doorway that the gurney carrying Merlin had disappeared through. A hand land on his arm, and when Arthur turned his head he saw Gwen standing at his shoulder, face lined with worry.
"Will's right, Arthur," she said softly. With a sigh, Arthur's shoulders sagged, and he nodded, taking a step back from Will.
Will glanced between Gwen and the now calm Arthur before turning silently to lead their small party down the corridor the medics had rushed down moments earlier with Merlin in tow.
At the end of the corridor they found Lance, staring forlornly at the locked doors that led to the treatment area, where the medics were undoubtedly working on Merlin. Gwen came to stand beside him, taking his hand without a word and leading him to take a seat, resuming her earlier actions of stroking his hands in an attempt to soothe him a little whilst they waited. She felt Will settle into the seat on her other side while Arthur remained on his feet. His body seemed to contain too much nervous energy to allow him to remain still for too long as he paced the room; stopping periodically to stand before the locked doors or to sag against the far wall, worrying the ring he wore on his right thumb, never losing sight of the doors.
Their anxious party soon doubled in size as they were joined by Morgana, Leon and the dragons. Not a word was spoken as they waited for news on Merlin to reach them, the silence only broken by Arthur's soft footsteps.
This chapter had me stuck for a while, and I'm not 100% sure I'm happy with how the conversation that had me stuck went, but I'm pretty sure it's the best I'm going to get with it. Hope you like it anyway!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Merlin opened his eyes once again to a blinding whiteness. For a moment he froze. Had he been caught by another one of those creatures?
His panic only lasted a moment, however, as the soft hissing of medical equipment reached his ears. Somehow, he was back at the base; though as to how he got there…his mind was blank.
Merlin blinked rapidly, and he turned his head towards the slash of colour that had caught his attention amongst the endless white decoration of the Medical Bay.
The blurs of colour swam into focus, allowing Merlin to make out the relieved faces of his friends squeezed into the small room.
"Hey guys," Merlin grinned at them as he pushed himself into a seated position eyeing Lance's twitch of aborted movement, and how he seemed to deflate somewhat with a small smile as Merlin managed the movement with ease.
"What happened out there, Merlin?" Morgana spoke up, striving to remain professional even as the others could see the absence of the tension she had carried on her shoulders over the last twenty-four hours.
Merlin's brow creased in thought. "I don't know…" he said carefully. "There was a creature… it came out of nowhere… One moment I was on the Taun-Taun, looking for a meteor, and the next I'm strung up in a cave, my head's killing me, and there's a creature eating my Taun-Taun. I… I think I got out, but I don't remember much after that. Just… It was very white… and cold."
"That's two you owe me now, Merlin." Arthur spoke up from his position leaning on the wall near the head of Merlin's bed.
"Oi!" Will cut in from somewhere near Merlin's feet. "I helped too!"
Arthur merely raised his eyebrows at him, expression blank. Merlin bit his lip to hide his smile, glancing between the two as Will began spluttering indignantly.
"If it wasn't for me you'd still be out there in the snow, you ponce!" Will crossed his arms with a huff as he continued grumbling to himself. "Should've just taken Merlin and gotten out of there… Shouldn't have bothered calling Kay to come get you!"
"Boys," Morgana chided, hiding a grin herself. "There's still work to be done. Will, the General's waiting on your report; Gwen, you and I are expected in the Command Centre; and Leon, you said something about finishing the repairs on your ship?"
At Morgana's words the group began to disband. Will and Leon left with parting assurances to Merlin as to how good it was to see him up again, while Morgana lingered in the doorway for a moment, a hint of a smirk playing about her lips.
"The General doesn't think it wise for any craft to leave the planet until we get the energy shield up and running, so it looks like you'll be sticking with us for a while longer then, Arthur."
Arthur's eyes narrowed in response to the challenging look levered at him by Morgana, and he opened his mouth to retaliate.
The tentatively spoken question from behind him caused Arthur's retort to freeze in his throat as he spun to face Merlin, who was watching him closely with an uncertain expression. Arthur floundered for a moment when faced with Merlin's eyes on him.
Lance hid a smile behind his fist as Morgana slipped away quietly, her own smirk firmly in place.
"I…uh…" Arthur stuttered. "Well… Apparently I'm needed here more than I thought! Can't even think about leaving without someone nearly getting themselves killed. Honestly, Merlin, you really should start taking better care of yourself."
"Were you worried about me?" Merlin teased, a small smile tugging at his lips.
"No!" Arthur scoffed, unconvincingly. "I… was worried about that meteorite you saw. Thought the Empire could be onto us."
"So you came back to look for me?"
Arthur hesitated, and then sighed.
"Alright, it's true," he paused, worrying at the ring he wore on his thumb. "I went back for you because you're one of the only true friends I have, and I couldn't bear to lose you."
Merlin froze, throat going dry. He stared at Arthur a moment, wide eyed. "Really?"
Arthur looked up, his gaze locking with Merlin's for a moment with a soft expression on his face, before his eyes flickered to Lance, still sitting against the opposite wall, and a grin spread across his face.
"Don't be stupid."
Merlin huffed a laugh to himself and smiled down at his hands as Arthur turned and left the room. He knew Arthur well enough to translate his meaning.
There was silence in the medical bay for a few moments following Arthur's departure, before it was broken by a sigh from Lance as he slumped in his chair, head falling back to hit the wall with a gentle thump.
"You've got to stop doing this to me, Merlin."
Merlin looked up, turning to Lance with confusion written all over his face.
"You're always…throwing yourself at dangerous situations. First the Death Star, and now this… I'm worried that one of these days I'm going to lose you too – I thought I had lost you this time, Merlin! I can't…" Lance's words tailed off as he stared back down at his shaking hands, swallowing thickly.
"Hey," Merlin reached out to nudge him gently and when Lance looked up at him, Merin had a grin spread across his face. "Aren't you forgetting something? I have magic."
"It doesn t make you immortal, Merlin!" Lance's response came out sharper than he had intended and he winced as he saw the smile disappear from Merlin's face as he bit his lip, looking contrite.
"No," he murmured, fiddling with the bedsheets under his hands. "Lance, I-"
"Arthur was right, you know." Lance interrupted him, abruptly changing the subject in order to escape the aftermath of Merlin's failed attempt to lighten the mood.
"How so?" Merlin squinted, immediately suspicious that Lance was agreeing with Arthur of all people.
"You really do need to start taking better care of yourself, Merlin. Otherwise Arthur will just have to stick around you forever to keep getting you out of these scrapes you insist on getting yourself into. Unless…keeping him close was your intention all along? Surely there must be easier ways, Merlin!" Lance teased, grinning as he was hit in the face with a pillow.
"Lancelot du Lac!"
In the Command Centre attention was focused on the large screens displaying the readouts from the variety of scanning equipment placed across the ice planet by the rebellion's patrols. One screen held particular focus as the General's attention was called to the strong reading it held.
"There's something out there," the technician who had spotted the anomaly called.
"Could it be another one of those creatures?" Morgana wondered as she too approached the screen.
The technician shook his head. "No, it's too small. There's something coming through… it's very weak, but I think it's transmitting some sort of code. I don't recognise it though."
With a frown of confusion the technician flicked a switch on his console and suddenly the code could be heard throughout the Command Centre.
All eyes turned to Kilgarrah as the dragon-droid cleared his throat. "I am fluent in more than six billion forms of communication, but this is not one that is known to me. It is most certainly not one used by the Alliance. It may be an Imperial code."
"I doubt it's friendly, whatever it is. I'd better go check it out." Taking a step back from the screen, Morgana handed her headset to Gwen before leaving the room.
It wasn't long before Morgana's voice filtered through to the headsets worn in the Command Centre.
"I can see something," she reported in hushed tones. "It's small, but it seems to be looking right at the Shield Generator."
There was silence over the comms before the sound of a single blaster shot and a disproportionately loud explosion erupted throughout the earpieces. Shouts of "Morgana!" and "What just happened?" echoed throughout the Command Centre.
"I'm afraid there's not much left of it," came Morgana s response after a moment, a note of confusion in her voice.
"What was it?" Gwen's voice filtered through the headset Morgana had left her.
"Some kind of droid. I don't know what happened… I didn't hit it that hard but it just exploded. It must have had some kind of self-destruct function."
"An Imperial Probe Droid?" Gwen suggested, looking troubled at the thought.
Morgana hummed in response. "My thoughts exactly, Gwen. I think it's safe to say we've been compromised, General. The Empire's going to know we're here now."
"Agreed," the General nodded, turning to the technician at his side. "Sound the alarm, we must begin evacuation procedures immediately."
The destruction of the Probe Droid did not go unnoticed.
Half a galaxy away from the system containing the frozen planet of Ismere drifted the hulking form of an Imperial Star Destroyer. The infamous Executor, feared throughout galaxies for the destruction left in its path under Darth Vader's command.
With a hiss the doors to the bridge opened, revealing the imposing form of Darth Vader himself. As Vader stalked onto the bridge, heavy footsteps sounding in his wake, a single hushed conversation caught his attention amidst the usual noise of one of the fleet's main ships.
"…think we've got something, sir. The report is only a fragment from a Probe Droid in the Ismere system, but it's the best lead we've had."
"We have thousands of Probe Droids searching the galaxy. I want proof not leads!" dismissed the voice of the Admiral.
"The visuals indicate life readings-"
"That could mean anything."
"But sir, that system is supposed to be devoid of life forms-"
As Vader neared the pair he noted that the officer arguing the case was a young captain, and the Admiral was paying little attention to his efforts despite their validity.
"You found something?" Vader spoke up from behind the pair, at which they both immediately stood to attention.
"Yes, my Lord," the young captain spoke up and before the Admiral could form a word to say otherwise the captain had led Vader to the console and was showing him the image the probe had managed to transmit.
"That's it," Vader spoke up decisively. "The rebels are there."
"My Lord," began the Admiral, finally finding his voice, "there are so many unchartered settlements. It could be smugglers, it could be-"
Bristling at the condescension dripping from the Admiral's voice, Vader straightened from the console and turned to face the Admiral, cutting him off sharply.
"This is the system, and I'm sure the rebel who destroyed the Death Star is with them. Set your course for the Ismere system."
The Admiral nodded stiffly and turned to give the order, though not without a sharp glance at the young captain still hovering by the console. Hearing footsteps behind him Vader turned in time to see the General approaching.
"Lord Vader," the General greeted upon reaching him. "The Emperor commands you make contact with him."
"Very well," Vader responded with a nod. "Prepare your men, General." We have set a course for the rebels' location."
"Yes, Lord Vader."
Satisfied that preparations would be made for meeting the rebel fleet, Vader turned and left the bridge.
Upon reaching his personal quarters Vader wasted no time in heading for the communication room was dark and eerie, empty but for a single communication console. Approaching the console Vader selected a single switch amongst a sea of blinking lights before taking a step back and sinking to kneel on the platform placed before the console.
After a moment the lights on the console flickered before a beam of light appeared, stretching from the top of the console. Within the beam of light appeared a hologram forming the hooded figure of the Emperor.
At the appearance of the hologram Vader bowed his head. "What is your bidding, my master?"
"There is a great disturbance in the Force." The voice that came from below the hood was deep and raspy; a voice that sent a chill down the spine of many who had heard it.
"I have felt it," Vader replied, his thoughts turning to the young X-wing pilot who had destroyed the Death Star.
The Emperor hummed, sensing the direction Vader's thoughts had taken. "We have a new enemy – the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star is Emrys."
Vader's head rose at the name. "Is this possible? The one the Old Religion spoke of, he is here?"
"Indeed," the Emperor continued in the same deep tone. "He could destroy us."
"He is just a boy." Vader thought back to the presence he had felt when persuing the X-wing pilot, before he had been knocked off course by the smuggler's ship, Excalibur. "Gaius can no longer help him."
"The Force is strong with him," argued the Emperor. He hesitated for a fraction of a second before continuing, watching Vader carefully as he did. "I believe that this boy, Emrys, is the offspring of Balinor." Vader jerked at the Emperor's words, turning a surprised look to the Emperor. "Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You will know it to be true."
Vader's head dropped to study the floor and he was silent for several moments. The Emperor watched him carefully as the seconds ticked by without a response. "The child survived?"
"So it would seem," the Emperor responded carefully. "But the son of Balinor must not be allowed to become a Dragon Lord."
Vader was silent for another moment before he replied. "What if he could be turned?"
The Emperor paused, scrutinising Vader carefully as he considered the suggestion. "Yes…he would make a powerful asset. But can it be done?"
"Yes, master." Vader replied, looking up to the hologram. "He will join us, or die."
With this response the holographic image of the Emperor's intimidating figure quivered before it and the beam of light shrank back down to the console and disappeared.
Vader remained on the floor a moment before he stood, turned on his heels and left the room, all without a sound.
So, there was the first glimpse into the Empire! Hope you enjoyed it, though I'm not sure if it will be cropping up again!