[NW] Merlin, Magus of Flowers v2

Goetia

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"Am I good or evil, you ask? That’s for you to decide. To humans — I am an unseen fairy, only noticeable to those who move towards the future."

Name: Merlin
Nickname: Magus of Flowers, Grand Caster
Gender: Male
Age: Unknown
Clan: Senju
Alignment: Lawful Good


Appearance


Merlin’s appearance can be summarily explained as one which is indicative of his heritage; the union between a daughter of earth and a son of the moon. At nearly 6 feet, Merlin is surely an eye-catching individual, his very being is a motif of serene, white flowers which gently dance in the prairie. His skin is nearly as pale as the moon’s surface, though appearing gentle to the touch, as if made from the petals of his namesake. His robes and hair share this same paleness, though the similarities end there. The Magus of Flowers’ hair freely flows down the length of his back, easily reaching his calves, its volume betrayed by the way it wafts gently. It roughly frames his face, with small locks and strands poking into its features, emphasising its unkempt nature. Longer, thicker locks flair down and out from his face, with some protruding in such a way that they resemble pointed petals which cover his ears. His eyes are gentle, their sky-blue pigmentation further accentuating the softness of his features.

Merlin's attire is woven from the finest fabrics that were available in Camelot, though it still conveys an aura of modesty. The robe itself is hooded, and decorated with ribbons, ties and other varieties of cloth ornamentation, underneath which he wears a body suit which highlights a muscular figure otherwise concealed. The Magus of Flowers wears loose, baggy garments on his lower body, decorated with golden and red ribbons that contrast against the colors of his robe, and the leather boots which reach halfway up his knees. Merlin carries a large staff with him at all times, about two meters in length; it resembles a crook, the head of the staff being carved to create a crest resembling the sprawling roots of a tree. Unlike his original Staff of Selection, this harrowed version closely resembles the Void Tree. Its wood is ashen and somewhat cracked with traces of red veins running up and down its length.



Personality


A young man who is like wind blowing on the grasslands. Before him, anyone would end up letting the tension out of their shoulders - a refreshingly righteous person. Still, due to seemingly being quite lacking in terms of seriousness and such, together with a lack of a sense of responsibility, Merlin may also appear to those around him as no more than a shady conman. A rhetorician who, even while perceiving things in an objective manner and accepting the cruelty of the world of humans, turns it into something bright. He loves the world of humans, loves mischief, and loves girls. He is the Magus of Flowers who responds to most things with a refreshing smile and a calm expression. It is easy to see him as having a perfectly happy personality, a perfectly happy guy without a single worry, but since Merlin himself is self-aware about the fact that he is a foreign body in regards to human society, he never crosses that last step, the wall called friendship. Ultimately, he is always watching over and protecting the world so that mankind can reach a happy outcome.

Merlin is a good man, and a wise one. But inside, he is an incubus, a being very far apart from humans. He, a being whose existence is naturally greater, can understand human emotions, but cannot truly sympathise with them. He is an alien-like, inhuman being, who can form complete understandings of human nature and behaviour through rationality and objectivity. He understands humans based on their actions, but if the catalyst for such action is emotion, he cannot engage with it. Due to this macroscopic evaluation criteria, perhaps he just cannot understand the human heart. He is also quite boastful about his abilities as a magus, claiming that he inflicts jealousy and envy on all other magi, since they are second-rate to him. As such, he shares something of a rivalry with Solomon, the King of Magic, and holder of the title of Grand Caster. As one who could also be called Grand Caster, Merlin has a natural inclination towards taunting and teasing the King of Magic for his own amusement. Though they have their ideological differences, there is a mutual respect.​




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Village Information



Land of Birth: Seoyeong
Warring States Clan: None


Rank & Chakra Information



Rank: Sage of Mystery
Health & Chakra: 200 & 3700


Skills & Elements


Fire Release...............................................................................Taijutsu
Earth Release...........................................................................Ninjutsu
Wind Release...........................................................................Kenjutsu
Water Release..........................................................................Genjutsu
Lightning Release..................................................................Fūinjutsu
Wood Release...........................................................................Kinjutsu
Eridian Release....................................................................Sage Mode
Osmium Release......................................................Medical Ninjutsu
Mystic Fire Release
Dendera Light Release
Yin Release
Yang Release


Fighting Styles


Verg Avesta​




Earth Release Specialty (Primary)


Merlin is a master of Earth Release, being capable of utilising all of the element's techniques with but a single seal if required. Naturally, he is well-acquainted with the element, being one of the components of his unique Wood Release ability, alongside Water Release. His prowess with the element grants him access to the Earth Release: Mountain Smash technique.​


Water Release Specialty (Primary)


Like with Earth Release, Merlin displays a great level of mastery over Water Release, able to perform all Water Release techniques with a single seal. His remarkable level of skill with the element allows him to use Water Release: Powerful Blasting Rain Trench and Water Release: Water Dragon Biting Explosion.​


Advanced Speed Resistance (Secondary)


Despite Merlin's stature as a magus, one who combats enemies from a distance through the use of arcana, he is a swordsman by preference. He combines his skills in each of these areas, and is thus capable of exerting a constrictive aura that slows down enemies within short-range of him, subtracting two levels from their base speed. This grants him a slight speed advantage no matter which form of combat he elects to perform.​


Yang Release Specialty (Extra)


Having trained in the ways of Yang Release, Merlin's attunement with his own internal physical energy is heightened, which bestows upon him even greater vitality. He is granted an additional 1000 chakra, and his physical durability is enhanced, allowing him to reduce incoming physical damage by 30 points, and recoil damage to 0.​


Verg Avesta Specialty (Fighting Style)


The awakening of the insidious spirit within Merlin granted him the ability to utilise Verg Avesta. One of his most potent weapons, his specialisation in the style has enhanced his spiritual constitution, protecting him from the persuasive influences of enemy spiritual techniques.​


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Background Information


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🌸 A Tale of Magic 🌸

The circumstances of Merlin's birth are shrouded in mystery, for those that know of him and have interacted with him have only done so when he was an adult. Even still, his appearance cannot be trusted, for as an incubus he does not physically age. All that is known of his history is that his mother was a human and his father, like him, was an incubus. He was raised in secret, hidden away from the world, and only emerged once he was of age. Taught in the ways of magecraft, Merlin was left to his own devices, free to use his gifts as he saw fit. But he did not use them, not for many years. Rather, he instead observed the actions of others, those of humans. Their joy was his own, and he resolved himself to protecting that joy.

Though Merlin was responsible for assisting many of the settlements and towns that would arise in the Era of Warring States, it was in the century after the advent of chakra that Camelot came to be. The kingdom ruled by King Arthur and his knights, of which Merlin was its Court Magus. Serving Arthur's father and the previous king of Camelot, Uther Pendragon, it was he who created the Sword of Selection, Caliburn, and bestowed upon Arthur the fate of kingship. His ideology, as well as his role in Camelot's affairs, put him at odds with Solomon, the King of Magic, though their conflict never amounted to more than one of words. It was due to Solomon's ideal of non-partisanship and distanced observation that he left the Magus of Flowers to his own devices.

With Camelot's fall due to a rebellion carried out by Mordred, the Knight of Treachery and once of the Round Table, all of Merlin's work was undone. However, he foresaw the fall of Camelot long before it had come to be, and chose not to intervene. He visited Camlann after the conclusion of the battle which saw Mordred slain, and accompanied Bedivere as he dragged their king to the lake from which he drew Excalibur. Merlin chose to save the King of Knights, sealing away his memories and nursing him back to health. Spending the centuries between the fall of Camelot and the present hidden away in the Tower of Avalon, he watched the world distantly, fated to do so for the rest of time. But in the modern age, there was one man who had managed to sway him, a man of walking contradictions but one who walked proudly with them. A Hero of Justice. Watching his exploits from afar in the Reverse Side, Merlin emerged from Avalon after centuries of isolation.​

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🌸 Chapter I: Childhood 🌸

Though it is not known what year Merlin was born, the earliest evidence of his existence can be traced back to some years before the time of Ōtsutsuki Kaguya's sealing at the hands of her sons, Ōtsutsuki Hagoromo and Ōtsutsuki Hamura. His existence is the product of a union between man and myth, the earthly and the otherworldly. His mother, Adhan was the princess of a state once known as Wales, and his father, Balinor, was an incubus. In other words, he was of the same kind as the interstellar travellers who pursued the chakra fruit throughout the cosmos, the same kind as the Rikudō Sennin. Although, his birth was not a celebrated event, for only his parents knew of it, and such was the case for most of his childhood. Raised away from the eyes of humans, he would later be faced with the critical choice that would define the rest of his life; whether to use his gifts in service of humanity.

But that was not a choice to be made until years from now. Let alone, learning how to harness chakra. On Adhan's insistence, Merlin was to be raised in the way of a normal child, oblivious to his true nature and his abilities until he was older. Balinor was acquiescent, such was his nature as an incubus, as a being whose ways were exemplified by the whispering of sweet nothings and airs of harmlessness. Deep down in his heart, Merlin's father did not have any kind of wish for his son's future, and did not dwell on the matter. He was more concerned with raising a boy who would always follow through with his choices and have no regrets, unlike himself. Adhan, who was human, held the hope that her son would make the choice to be kind to those around him, and to help those in need. She had witnessed all the warmth and despair mankind had to offer in equal measure, and hoped for her son to be a catalyst for change, someone that would push humanity to a better place. Merlin's parents were not at odds with each other, strictly speaking, though at times Balinor would be scolded by Adhan for not setting a better example for the young incubus. Though Merlin's father was pure and good, he was still an incubus, and his penchant for mischief did not entirely fade.

The day he turned seven, was the first day Merlin was taught in the ways of chakra. The countless hours he spent learning and training were ones spent alone with his father, for Adhan knew nothing of how to utilise it. But in this time, Merlin did not grow apart from his mother, continuing to help her in every day life with chores and other tasks. She had always been open with her view that her son's training was done in the hopes that he would become an agent of change in the world, something which the young incubus felt indifferent to. Balinor, who was far more easygoing by comparison, kept his expression of his beliefs confined to the times they shared alone. Every time Merlin asked his father why this was so, he was met with the same answer; "Because I'm an incubus." It would not be until later in life that the magus-to-be would come to understand those words.

Merlin showed great promise in his aptitude for magecraft. His power was abnormal, as to be expected, but it did not manifest in the same way as it did with Balinor. He did not bear either of the sacred Dōjutsu that typically manifested in the Ōtsutsuki lineage; the Rinnegan or the Tenseigan. His attunement with the world around him, however, was unparalleled, his very existence brimming with vitality. His more formal training progressed into games and competitions with his father, much to the annoyance of Adhan, whose household work was a casualty of their thrill-seeking behaviour on more than a few occasions. Merlin's years of learning and growth were all spent in seclusion from everyone but his family, and his desire to see the world beyond the confines of their home, buried deep within a great forest, grew each and every day. Eventually, it reached a boiling point, where Merlin would sneak out of home to explore the entirety of the woodland, hoping to find something new at the very least.

The great forest in which Merlin lived seemingly stretched on for miles. An intentional choice by his parents. They did not want to expose Merlin to the outside world until he was ready to face it, until the it was time for him to make his decision on how he would use his gifts. Though his mother hoped in her heart that he would choose the side of humanity, to guide them to a better future, a happy ending, she knew it was not her place to push her son to make any kind of decision. Humanity, the world at large, was more complicated than the mere black and white dynamic and good and evil. Though it was not necessarily difficult to see the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil, in both action and people, the world was not a place where either actions or people were met with outcomes that one would think they were deserving of. It was for Merlin, and Merlin alone, to decide whether he would be an agent to ensure that things would be set right. And besides, he was an incubus. Though the blood between mother and son was partially shared, they were two different beings in the end. These were the thoughts that filled Adhan's head for years, and particularly on the night Merlin ventured out into the forest. Unlike Adhan, who anxiously awaited her son's return and his decision, Balinor was less concerned, knowing that whatever choice the young incubus made, he would see it through to its end.

The forest seemed to stretch on infinitely, though Merlin had not deviated in his path of travel since he left his home. Even though he had never attempted to leave before, he was reasonably certain that the forest was not as large as it seemed. Attuning himself with his chakra, he realises that he is under a Genjutsu. Upon breaking it, the world shatters and coalesces around the young incubus, turning into an open landscape with mountains on either side of him. He progresses forward, eventually encountering great walls made from logs sharpened to spikes at the top. No doubt, to protect themselves from invasion or infiltration. Placing a hand on the wooden battlements, he exerts his unique control over the material to move through it, quietly entering. Emerging on the other side of the wall, he hears laughter and chatter, the light of campfires illuminating the tents and houses around the area. He stealthily moves through the village, observing the human inhabitants. He watched them closely, the adults conversing and carrying out a number of tasks while the children played amongst themselves. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he turned to see his father standing beside him.

"This is the world of humans, Merlin. What do you think?"

"It's...happy."

"Not always. What you see now is humanity at its brightest. Your mother wants you to protect that, to nurture it."

"And what do you want, father?"

"I want you to be happy. I am a being apart from humans. I cannot understand them, so I do not lend myself to them."

The young magus looked back to the humans, laughing and mingling with each other. It was beautiful. It was in this moment that Merlin made his decision. Balinor knew deep down what his son would choose in that moment, and so he would offer no protest. He would not try to convince the young incubus of the other option.

"Let's go home."

By the time the two returned, it was the break of dawn. Merlin told his mother of his decision, to which she smiled and expressed her pride in him. She gave him the warning that Balinor did not, though he knew as well as she did of its merit, that the road ahead would be one full of hardship, paved with sacrifice and tragedy. But it was all for the sake of ensuring a happy ending. Because humans were capable of it. Because they were deserving of it. And thus, the greatest Kingmaker was truly born. The Magus of Flowers, and one who held the right to the station of the crown, Grand Caster, Merlin.​

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🌸 Chapter II: A Star is Born 🌸

It was early in the morning, the young Artoria was woken by the sound of hay being ruffled by the horses in the stable. Her eyes slowly blinked open, remaining slightly closed due to the brightness of the sunlight which peeked through the cracks of the closed windows. Standing to her feet, and brushing her clothes of the hay that stuck to her from lying in it, she opened the wooden windows to see the sun emerging over the horizon. Mild dread began to fill her chest.

"Oh, oh no..."

She turned away from the window and stumbled over the piles of hay to retrieve a brush to take care of the horses. She thanked the one next to her, Eto, for waking her up, admitting that she was worried such a thing would happen. She spoke to the horse, telling her that she was certain Eto would make a great war horse, just like her father's. Making a note to herself to prepare breakfast for everyone later, she brushed Eto, telling the animal of how she managed to land a blow on Ector the previous day during training. She corrected herself, saying that she managed to push him back one step, and said that even something like that would be enough to make a difference on the battlefield. She noted that Ector had become more somber recently, wondering if he was troubled by something. In her thoughts, she had stopped brushing Eto, apologising to the horse and resuming when it began snorting.

"A while ago, I told Ector that if he had any troubles, he could talk to me. I'd do anything I could to help, unless he planned to cut down our meals. I wondered if it was something to do with his legs or his back. He only said to me that it was my impression. His body would remain fit for another ten years. I, on the other hand, am not fit to do everything to help. He said that to me in such a matter-of-fact way... perhaps Kay nii-san must be causing troubles again."

Finishing brushing Eto, she remarked on his beautiful hair. Leaving the stables, she sprinted back towards the horse, where Sir Ector was waiting outside the front door, arms crossed and his sword sheathed on his hip.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Ector! I overslept!"

"You seem lively enough for one who just woke up. Very well then. Be prepared to train within the hour, no breaks today."

Though the household of Ector was peaceful and cheerful enough, the rest of the country was experiencing harsh times. Foreign armies had crossed the seas to arrive here, demanding control of territories. Britain was an island ruled by a King and royal families. Due to unresolved conflicts and tensions between some of the royals, there was some cooperation between them and the invaders. The brother of the current King, Vortigern, was one of the individuals who conspired with the invaders to topple the current kingdom of Camelot. Uther and Vortigern eventually came into direct conflict, resulting in Uther being gravely injured and Vortigern's disappearance. Uther would never again be seen by the people, but he continued to quietly rule from within Camelot. With this, Britain entered a period known as the Age of Darkness. Despite this, the people did not lose hope, for the magus Merlin presented them with a prophecy.

"King Uther is hiding the one that will be his heir. He will become the King of the next generation. The new King, the incarnation of the Red Dragon, will bring many knights together to a Round Table, and together, they will vanquish the White Dragon. The King lives. It shall soon be known."

That was the prophecy Merlin foretold ten years ago. In the current year of 108, Artoria Pendragon would be fifteen years old. It would be this fateful year that Merlin would present the knights of all the kingdom with the Sword of Selection. But he knew that only one would draw the sword and earn the right to be called King. And that one was the daughter of Uther.

"Artoria, it seems that Kay forgot his things. Go to town and deliver them to him, you can make it on time if you leave now."

"Sigh... my own brother, a knight, forgetting his own lance. Is that possible?"

"Indeed, it must be because there have been no jousting matches held in years."

"Understood. I only have to take this to Kay nii-san, right?"

"Yes. It will be your last task for the day."

The edge of the town was packed with a great many people, looking towards the fields just outside it, where many knights were crowded together. Among the crowd of ordinary citizens was Kay, whose eyes were locked onto the gathering of knights in the field, much like everybody else. Making her way towards her foster brother, his lance in hand, Artoria paused when a young girl shouted Merlin's name, having spotted him walking towards the knights in the field.

"Eh? Merlin?"

"Yes! He came saying that he would choose Uther's heir! All the knights in the land are gathering here. The one who pulls the Sword of Selection from the stone shall become the new King!"

"Who'll it be? Who will become King?"

"I see. That is the Sword of Selection."

Moving on, Artoria strode towards her brother, calling his name and presenting him with his lance that he had left behind. They both watched the knights from afar, all of them trying their hardest to pull Caliburn from the stone. But the sword would not budge. None were succeeding. And none would. "So that thing tells me I'm not worthy to be King?", "Is that great knight also not worthy?", these were the sentiments expressed in great number by the knights present at the gathering. The citizens watching from town wandered if the new King really would appear. Kay spoke to his sister, saying that the sword was one that nobody would be able to draw, thus its existence was one that only caused problems rather than solve the one it was intended to. The King should be chosen through a tournament. He justified it as this; such a method of selecting the King, drawing a sword, is to search for things that cannot be seen. Who has more power, with their hands and with wealth, is the superior metric. It is easier to help further their objectives that align with their interests with such things. Nobody wants to see or become 'the agent of god that saves everything'.

"Do you really think that, Kay nii-san?"

"Of course. You should go back to father before you get mocked for having such a slender, feminine body that can barely hold a sword.

Do you understand? This is your first and final opportunity. Go home."

As the remaining knights who gathered around the Sword of Selection failed to pull it from the stone, more and more people began to turn away, dismissing Merlin's prophecy as mere fantasy. Artoria remained, her eyes fixed on Caliburn, and her thoughts on Kay's words. "Nobody wants to see, nobody wants to be...". She began to question everything. Why had she been living falsely as a man named Artorius? Why, since she had gained the use of reason, had she been trained in swordsmanship, taught about the country and denied her own desires as a person? In that moment, all became clear to her. It was all for this day. She possessed the kindness of heart to pull the sword from the stone. She did not know her parents' faces. To fulfill the objective of creating an 'ideal king', she was born as part of that plan. She felt nothing about the emotions or pain of her father, King Uther, because she did not know him. It was the same for the lessons that the Magus of Flowers, Merlin, had taught her. She felt something towards the fifteen years of her life that she experienced, living with Sir Ector and Kay, and the lively voices of the people living in the city. It was not admiration or love. But she knew that it resonated within her, as something right and beautiful. She did not possess any wish to come closer to people. Every time she pictured such a thing, she tenderly shut it down. As she walked into the fields, towards the sword in the stone, she remembered the life she had lived so far, with Ector and Kay. Standing over Caliburn, embedded in the stone, she thanks her foster brother, and asks him to forgive her. As she grasps the handle of the Sword of Selection, a voice speaks to her, from a few meters behind her.

"You should think it through before pulling that sword."

"You surprised me.

This is the first time we meet outside a dream, isn't it? Merlin."


"I hate to sound ominous, but it is better if you stop. After you pull that sword, you will cease to be human. Not only that, but you'll be hated by all kinds of people, and you will die a horrendous death.

Is that alright?"


"Many people were smiling, so... certainly, this path... I don't think is the wrong one."

With those words of affirmation, both to herself and to Merlin, Artoria drew the Sword of Selection, Caliburn, from the stone, holding it to the sky. With this, Artoria had taken her first step down the path of the King. Much like Merlin's mother said years earlier, the path ahead would be one paved with sacrifice and tragedy. And it would end with her horrendous death.​

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🌸 Chapter III: The Communion 🌸

Whilst Merlin worked to facilitate the rise of Camelot, he had learned of another magus who was of great renown, but it was not until Artoria had taken the throne that he pursued the one known as Solomon, the King of Israel. The Magus of Flowers wished to learn more of the king, the one who was known as Grand Caster. On several occasions, remaining unseen, he would peer into the mind of the King of Magic through his Dreamwalking ability. Over a number of visits into Solomon's mind and inner self, Merlin would come to know of the man's history, his reign, his exploits, and his greatest love. Merlin was sure of Solomon's awareness of him, but it was not until his seventh, and final visit that Solomon had developed a method of protecting his mind from Merlin's reach. It was in this final visit that Merlin adopted the form of Queen Sheba, one of Solomon's many wives but by far his most beloved, and interacted directly with the King of Magic. They sat atop a grassy hill, just outside the great palace of Jerusalem, which overlooked the great city. Knowing of this dream, and how it developed, Merlin, in the guise of Sheba, chose to play along. The two conversed for a great length of time, and as the sun began to set, Merlin revealed himself.

"Why do you insist on remaining a neutral bystander to the destiny of humanity?"

The form of the King of Magic's wife faded away, revealing the Magus of Flowers. Solomon stood from the hill, saying that it was about time the two stopped trying to fool each other. The landscape quickly melted away into darkness, and was replaced by a grandiose, otherworldly one. The Time Temple. Ars Paulina. One of Solomon's Noble Phantasms. Looking around the space isolated from time, Merlin got to his feet, and was subsequently trapped in a shining cage of light.

"For someone who also holds the right to the title of Grand, you sure are hopeless, aren't you? The fact that you couldn't see this right before your own eyes astonishes me."

"W-well, in my defence, this never happened the last six times I came here..."

The King of Magic was unimpressed. Not only due to Merlin's failure to foresee the mental fortifications Solomon had established, but also at his casual tone. Perhaps it was due to his disposition as a king, he expected that Merlin would show some modicum of respect. But nevertheless, he took no offence to it. He was a humble man at heart, and did not hold himself as someone 'above' others. The two discussed the kingdom that ruled parallel to Israel; Camelot. Solomon interrogated the Magus of Flowers on his relationship with the kingdom, learning of his status as Court Magus to Arthur Pendragon. Merlin also divulged his interest in the two children of Lancelot, Amara and Galahad, and his plans to have them become Knights of the Round Table. The King of Magic pleaded with the Magus of Flowers to see the error in his ways, to spare the bastard children of Lancelot a life that would be marked by betrayal and hatred. Merlin remained resolute, unwilling to reconsider what he was to do. Angered by this, Solomon chastised the Magus of Flowers for condemning an entire kingdom to raise children into weapons. Artoria, Galahad, Amara, they would be the greatest victims of all, for they would lose everything they stood to gain.

“Your interference will cost thousand of lives. And for what? To inflict tragedy upon two innocent children? Had you not convinced Lancelot to take them instead of turning them away, then Camelot never would have fallen, the siblings would have led peaceful lives, and the Great Schism would never have happened. Thousand of lives weighed against two mere children. The answer should have been clear!”

"You know better than anyone, Solomon. The end is something which comes to all things. When all is said and done, whether I like it or not, Camelot, Arthur, Galahad, Amara...all of it will fade away. And I might condemn them to an end worse than if I didn't intervene in their lives. But they will all go on to do great things, and save many lives."

The two conversed for a while longer, unable to best the other in the exchange of ideals and words. Their acceptance was mutually begrudging, and the King of Magic released Merlin from his spiritual shackles. Merlin would return to Camelot, continuing to advise King Arthur whilst also raising Galahad and Amara, preparing them for the lives they would lead as knights.​

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🌸 Chapter IV: Twilight 🌸

After the King completed the construction of the new citadel of Camelot, and the seats of the Round Table were filled, he gave welcome to Queen Guinevere. Even though she knew the truth about King Arthur, she gave her full support to the King and fulfilled all her roles as the Queen. It was around this time, in the Year 110, when the stories about the Round Table bloomed all over the country. No matter how dim Britain really was, the kingdom of Camelot was always filled with smiles and hope. While the people believed that it was due to King Arthur's prestige, the knights took pride in the fact that it was not solely due to their efforts, but also the people's. Even still, the King was the only one who saw the suffering that still went on through it all. There is no such thing as a flower that blooms for eternity. Even if Camelot appeared as though it were enjoying prosperity and peace, Britain was on its slow downward spiral towards its fall. It just hadn't fully begun yet. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that the moment Artoria drew the Sword of Selection, the fall had already begun. It would simply take place so gradually, over such a period of time, the cracks would not be visible until far later.

As the King's Court Magus, Merlin was naturally fulfilling the role of an advisor to the King. The two frequently conversed about policy and military strategy, which Merlin was surprisingly knowledgeable in. At least, for King Arthur, who saw him as a mischievous individual. And as much as he was so, his years of acting as an advisor to other village leaders over the years granted him much experience and knowledge on the matters.

"So... the reasons behind the drought and poverty were not just the invaders, you say?"

"Unfortunately, yes. This land is isolated from the mainland, just off the coast of the Tobusekai, so there is supply chain to consider. If our trading partners fall on hard times, then our ability to secure goods and resources is hampered. Also...

Even with the continued disappearance of Mystery in this land, the island is still layered with it. The supernatural still exists in this land, and they do not wish to relinquish it to humans. The foreigners coming to our land aren't the only 'invaders', shall we say. The bad harvest will continue until the people die of starvation and malnutrition."


"So then we should obtain and develop new means of living? Expand our network of trade, accept new blood, and change our way of existing on the island?"

"It's one of your options."

Either way, the King needed time. If there was to be more international trade undertaken, or new methods of organising agriculture and allocating resources, it would need to wait until after the foreign invaders had been repelled. Merlin inquired as to whether he King thought there was a chance of victory, to which he replied firmly; "Absolutely". The day after, Arthur would set out with his army to carry out the twelfth and final battle on his land's soil. The final phase was approaching. There was not a day that passed without a war council, and no night without camping. That she was on the frontlines on the days of battle was probably a way to show determination. In order to maximise the chances of victory, one must be prepared to discard the lives of people. Undertaking battle on such a scale was for the sole purpose of protecting the kingdom from its enemies. In order to do so, taking over a small village and forcefully relocating its people to prepare an ambush was common practice. There was no other knight on the battlefield that had slain more than the King, nor was there one who garnered more hatred than the King. Despite that, there was no hesitation in entering the battlefield. When she sat on the throne to repose, she closed her eyes that were filled with sorrow. You must discard your human emotions if you want to save everyone. That was an oath she protected with great rigor. Then, after uncountable victories...

"The King does not understand the hearts of men."

Those were Tristan's last words to the King and the Knights of the Round Table before he left Camelot. More knights went back to their homeland over the years, and Arthur accepted that, thinking that it was an obvious outcome, and gave them the rights to administration of their lands. If they stayed there, depending on the course of the battle against the invaders, they could be used as bait. It was due to this way of being as a King that she grew overwhelmingly isolated. But her heart did not change. In the year 109, she left Camelot with a great army, emerging victorious from a battle against the foreign forces that would decide the fate of her country. It was a natural result. The knights were all fighting in order to see the light of tomorrow, and she used all military tactics at her disposal in order to secure that. That is how a country, on the edge of destruction, obtained a brief period of true peace. In that same year, Arthur had come to learn of a mythical artifact known as the Holy Grail, which supposedly had the power to grant the wishes of those in possession of it. Many knights had gone searching for it, but all returned empty-handed. In the year 112, Sir Galahad would embark on the quest for the Holy Grail. He wouldn't return to Camelot until the fateful year of 118.

Gawain never doubted the power of the King. He was the personification of the ideal knight. By seeing him fight with the vanguard, when he accompanied him, he was assured that Britain would have a bright future. However...only once. Only once, there was a fight where he feared for the King's victory. Where he was only able to stay behind the King and watch them. The demonic dragon, Vortigern. That form was the one he had taken in order to destroy Camelot, in the year 114. His rebellion had finally come. With one fell swoop, Artoria's retinue had been evaporated, Vortigern's fire incinerating them. Gawain's own Holy Sword, Excalibur Galatine, had its brilliance completely stolen. The light of the King's Holy Sword, Excalibur, was as dim as a weak bonfire. The battle lasted for several hours, the roar of the black dragon ushering dark clouds which blocked out the sun, casting thunder which tore the land asunder. The King probably knew. Vortigern was the incarnation of the very country itself.

"King Arthur! The body of the enemy is Britain itself! We can't hope to win, even with our Holy Swords! We must retreat for now!"

"I will require your assistance for a little while longer, Sir Gawain."

"My King?!"

"You and I, here together. What are wielders of Holy Swords if they cannot quiet one or two fits of the island?"

"Y-yes!"

The dragon bellowed, casting more clouds into the sky which drained all the light from the world. King Arthur and Sir Gawain continued to fight with their Holy Swords, weakened as they were, with renewed vigour. Even in such a dire situation, the light of the King did not fade. Vortigern continued to try swatting and smashing the knights with his great arms, the two warriors nimbly weaving in and out of position in order to avoid the earth-shaking blows. When an opportunity presented itself, they slashed at the great hide of the dragon. Avoiding an overhead strike by Vortigern, Gawain managed to drive Excalibur Galatine through the dragon's paw, skewering it to the ground.

"My King! I trapped one of Vortigern's hands!"

"Well done, Sir Gawain! If I take the other side, no longer can he take to the skies!"

"But because of that, we'll be unarmed!"

This was true. In order to keep Vortigern confined to the ground, they had sacrificed their weapons. Both Excalibur and its sister sword, Galatine, were embedded in the hands of the demonic dragon. That was, until a great gust of wind was unleashed by the King. Shielding his face with an arm, Gawain was proven wrong. Concealed by the Invisible Air magecraft, courtesy of Merlin, was the Holy Lance that was Artoria's other signature weapon.

"Is that?!"

"The Lance that Shines to the Ends of the World. It shall split the heavens, and connect the land. Anchor of the Storm! RHONGOMYNIAD! "

The great blast of light that rippled forth from the Holy Lance, illuminated the planet. Tearing through the darkness cast by the demonic dragon, it rips apart the very air itself, eviscerating Vortigern. The Usurper had finally fallen, his destructive quest meeting an equally destructive end. His great body lay prone on the ground, bathed in puddles of water and blood.

"Vortigern..."

"Fools, all of you... to defeat one tyrant, you would bring about genocide. Oh my little brother Uther, you cannot save this country. Because...the Age of Mystery has already ended. From this moment forth, the time of civilisation, the Age of Man, has begun. The essence of your power is at odds with humans. As long as you exist, Britain has no future. Curse your fate, for the old Britain fell long ago."

When the King pulled his spear away from Vortigern, the dragon let out a laugh which shook the city. With the end of the war declared, the King's spirits were bright as ever. Anyone who gazed upon that shining figure of the King would certainly be left captivated by his power. A testament to the titanic proportions of that battle. The country was dry, torn asunder by Vortigern's conquest, but as long as King Arthur lived, there was nothing to fear.

After the fall of Vortigern, Artoria began the reconstruction of the ancient citadel that was destroyed in his rampage. Even still, Britain's future remained dim. The daily life of the population did not change, the disturbance and destruction caused by Vortigern creating serious shortages of basic resources and commodities, allowing resentment to build and flourish within the hearts of the people. "Wasn't King Arthur the king that would shine?", "The one that would lead us to a prosperous country if we follow his words?"

"The fact that I would be reprimanded was inevitable. Because of this year's plans moving forward, we were forced to buy agricultural products from neighbouring countries. I'm going to be in need of Sir Lancelot's help another time."

"This land has always been struggling with poverty. Everybody thought that when the Usurper was defeated, we would gain peace. The result was very different. Humans desire the truth, but hate things that are too truthful. As long as King Arthur remains the ideal king for these people, they will depend on him and degrade him at the same time. You will have to ignore or even crush what they say in order to rule. You're constantly faced with injustices and distortions of the truth. But the more of it, the more the population stabilises."

"So the more I suffer, the more the country will prosper. Is that what you say?"

"Yes. You knew that, didn't you? You knew it since you pulled the Sword of Selection from the stone."

"Yes. And for that I have the pride to say that we are doing well. Please watch me, Merlin. I won't say that it will be now, but I can say with certainty that this country will become a great one. It won't lose to the legendary Avalon, I'm sure."

It was in that moment, the magus realised his mistake. What was important for her was not actually being king. She pulled the Sword of Selection solely for the sake of the people. Since the very beginning, she held no pride for being king. The mistake of the magus and the old king Uther. As soon as he perceived the difference between what each party sought, the magus knew that only despair lay ahead. Either way, no matter would happened, she would come to regret her reign. When this happens, be a guide to her, is what Merlin had told himself. The magus was ashamed for having such overconfidence, to the point of arrogance. He tried now, thinking he could still change the course of things, but... it was already too late.​

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🌸 Chapter V: The Departure 🌸

It was a ceremonial dawn in the month of May, Year 118. The harbour was bustling with people, who were making preparations for Artoria and her great fleet to disembark on an expedition to Rome. The King and her Court Magus were far from that commotion in the dock, having their final conversation before Artoria left the country atop a grassy hill outside the port town. In the war between Britain and Rome which had lasted for decades, and saw the rule of two British kings transpire, this military venture was a long time coming, but Artoria spoke of it quite casually. Attack relentlessly, and then present terms of peace after suppressing the opposing army. Simple and straightforward. Merlin sighed in mild exasperation, remarking that the King truly hated to lose. Such a plan was indicative of this nature, a style of rule that emphasised simplicity and effectiveness. But it was this way of ruling, Artoria's way of being as a King, that allowed Britain to flourish since she had taken the Throne. However...

"Britain is a country that is fated to fall sooner or later. Or, rather, it is one that is already decaying."

The Magus of Flowers asked his King what she would do if he started saying things like that. She replied that she would reprimand him for making light of such a thing with his joking nature. Of course. She would only see it as something natural for him to do, and thus his punishment would be no more than a mere slap on the wrist. Artoria insisted that Britain would not fall, that everything she had done during her rule was to ensure that outcome. Merlin apologised to his King, stating that he forgot that he ought not to joke about humans. He sat in silence, reflecting on his time with Artoria. From the moment she was born, watching her grow under the care of Sir Ector and Kay, witnessing her draw the Sword of Selection from the stone, and all that had occurred from that time till now, it all seemed like an old story despite happening recently. Uther and he set out to raise an ideal King, and though they had achieved their goal, what happened thereafter was something which was unforeseen by either of them. Though Uther and Merlin sought the ideal King, Artoria sought to secure the happiness of the people. From the very beginning, what Merlin and Artoria saw were different. Artoria uttered her Court Magus' name, curious as to what he was doing. He only responded by assuring her that things would be alright. A lie.

The bells at the docks rung, signalling that the great ships were prepared to set sail. Merlin apologised, sheepishly stating that he had made a mistake and needed to hide, thus he would remain in Britain while Artoria would travel with her army to Rome. It was the King's turn to take playful jabs, reminding him of the countless times over the years that she had warned him not to get into trouble with women. Merlin defended himself, confessing that it was only because it was in his nature to do so, posing the question of life's worth without any flowers to liven it up. She chuckled at her Court Magus' response, both exhausted and amused by Merlin's shenanigans. After a brief moment of silence, she turned to the magus who spoke proudly, giving a warm smile. A smile which Merlin had seen countless times. A smile which was never for her own sake. When she saw people were happy, she always smiled.

"Thank you, Merlin. I'm grateful to you, for you've been a great mentor to me. I, unlike you, never got involved with someone of the opposite gender, so I don't really know how to put this feeling into words. For being here, for accompanying me all these years, I greatly appreciate you. It could be that I might have been in love with you."

Her words left the Magus of Flowers speechless. The King did not blush, she showed no shame as a maiden. She only spoke honestly, from the heart. Of course, this alone was not love. She only tried to put into words her wandering thoughts, just wanting to show the highest level of gratitude. And with that, the conversation ended. Artoria boarded one of the many ships set to depart for Rome, her Court Magus watching from atop the hill where they both once sat, talking to himself as the vessels began to leave the dock. Though he was always empty in some sense, as he couldn't sympathise with the emotions of humans, that which he felt now was almost suffocating. His words were a release of frustration, directed towards only himself, and his failure to set Artoria on the correct path.

"I don't understand human love. Artoria... she does not know human love. Us, talking about love... is there a limit to the irony? Well... isn't that the result? Of two non-humans trying to imitate humans? It's doomed to fail."

The truth of the King of Magic’s words from years before were more apparent now than ever. Though Merlin knew beforehand what outcomes his actions could bring, would bring, he was sure that what he was doing was right. That he would be able to steer people and events on the right path, towards the correct conclusion. He had failed. And he lied to his King, the one whom he had placed all his faith in, more so than any other. Merlin lifted himself from his seated position on the hill, and made for the Reverse Side.

Very few knew of of the King's true identity. She cloaked it in iron and sealed it away for all her life. Of course, there were people that suspected it, but, the King, owner of the Sword of Selection, Caliburn, and later the Holy Sword, Excalibur, does not age or suffer wounds. That sword was blessed by the lake spirits, granting its wielder longevity and eternal youth. Indeed, the King was invincible. Consequently, nobody questioned the truth about the King. Lancelot was a knight from another country, held to a creed in which he will leave his own country in order to take the hand of a maiden he loves if they're in peril. For that reason, Lancelot as an outsider was able to watch the Round Table with clear eyes. "The King does not understand the hearts of men". The fatigue with the King had become remarkably apparent. Guinevere grew worried about Arthur, and so too did Lancelot. They each grew to rely on each other, conversing about the King. It was from Guinevere that Lancelot learned the truth, of the King's identity, of the Queen's loneliness, and of his own callowness. In that moment of clarity, the Knight of the Lake became filled with anger. A fury towards all things pure. An uncontrollable rage towards the island of Britain itself. It was under these circumstances that Guinevere and Lancelot began their affair.

Agravain, a knight who rose to the rank of secretary and secretly under the employ of Morgan le Fay, knew the secret of the King, and of the adulterous relationship between Guinevere and Lancelot. He used that knowledge to threaten Guinevere, and exposed it to the public. For her actions, she was to be executed. When knowledge of these events reached Lancelot, he made his final decision. He slashed through many knights, and stole the life of his friends, including the siblings of Gawain; Gaheris and Gareth. When Lancelot returned from the battle to his domain's castle and arrived in his chambers, sleep had overtaken the Queen . The marks of tear streaks were visible on her face. Betrayal. The maiden heart of the Queen was tainted by the infamy of infidelity. No doubt, she continued to apologise to the King, even in her dreams. Lancelot sat on the bed beside her, still in helm and armour. Knowing the situation the King was in, out of loyalty he was to remain in his armour until the return of the expedition from Rome. Until the Queen would awake, Lancelot reflected on what Guinevere told him of the King's life. He had become a traitor who committed adultery, a foul beast who lost the right to call himself a knight. And he accepted it. He shouted it within his own heart. It was all for the sake of the woman he loved. But even still... the King forgave him. She replied to his letter that he had sent in the wake of the civil unrest that erupted in Camelot, sending a written note personally to the former Knight of the Round Table.

"My friend, my pride, my ideal knight. If you had seen fit to commit such actions, then surely they must have good cause. I believe in their justness."

When Lancelot received that letter of pardon, he could feel his soul falling into madness. He foresaw a painful end. Impossible, he thought. But the truly kind do forgive. The King had given her blessing to him and Guinevere. If he were in the King's position, could he really forgive a man who wronged him in such a way? As he had wronged Arthur? No, it was a flawed question. The King was unlike everyone else to begin with. She was not human, nor was she raised as one. But even still, she tried to live as one. Despite not being able to experience human happiness, she loved the happiness of the people. She truly was inhuman. A monster. A greater one than Vortigern. That is why the others could not understand her, and thus feared her. Even still, in the midst of this reflection, Lancelot respected and admired the King. But he couldn't, he refused to, accept her way of being. If he called that way of living 'wonderful', he would be no better than Tristan. The fear born in Lancelot would one day become anger, then hate, and compel him to continue cursing the ideal king for all of eternity. It was a horrid future, but a fitting punishment for someone like him.​

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🌸 Chapter VI: The Sinless 🌸

Merlin arrived at the empty land where none would find him, not even Vivian, whom Merlin claimed was trying to murder him to Artoria. Encountering a gate that was built roughly with stones, resembling the stone circles found all over the continent, Merlin could make out an inscription etched into the gate;

"Only the sinless may pass."

The incubus shrugged his shoulders, and without deviating, passed through the gate. At that moment, the plane began to transform. Massive walls of stone emerged from the ground in front of the magus, seeming to vertically extend forever, effectively trapping him inside. Merlin inspected the tower that had risen around him, calling it a "botched job" by someone who seemed to be "quite bad with the detailed work". He tapped the ground with his staff, sighing to himself. All the entrances and exits were closed, with barred windows being the only source of light, or method of view outside the tower. The magus, here alone, chose to see the way of sin that brought him here when he was alive, without any particular motive. Merlin, knowing it was a trap, kept moving forward because those words hurt. For Merlin, who could see all possibilities, the world was nothing more than a painting, but one that he felt was more beautiful if it spelt a happy conclusion for humanity. However, in the painting, love for humans or even for a particular individual did not exist. Consequently, getting rid of the source of prosperity and happiness of a few was like killing bugs. A trivial act. Without even having to choose between good or bad, like or dislike. Thus, he himself was not even conscious of his own sin. In his own mind, he thought of himself as sinless. He lent a hand to humans, and so created kings. But he would take no responsibility, nor feel any guilt, for what transpired during the reigns of those kings. That was, until Artoria, who was not only the finest king he had ever created, but also the only person he ever loved. Love in the romantic, human sense. That love was the source of his guilt, and it was only for her that he felt true sorrow.

He sat down on a rock and looked towards the window, waiting. He peered outside the tower, gazing into the world beyond, and he saw her. Artoria. Merlin would watch the King as she returned from her expedition to Rome, bringing with her a victorious army and joyous spirits, only to be met with ruin.

When Artoria returned with her army, traveling up the hill that would lead back to Camelot, she was stopped by a messenger on horseback. One she had personally designated to be a liaison between her and the other royals who maintained charge of the kingdom in her absence. He delivered news of Mordred's rebellion, resulting in the deaths of seven of the eight princes. Camelot had fallen. That was the signal for her retribution of hatred. The burning fury of Mordred. Son of Morgan, a copy of King Arthur known as a homunculus. Naturally, as a copy of Artoria, she was truly female, but was recognised as a male by those around her. She prepared the elements for the rebellion and toppled the kingdom while Artoria was absent. She formed an army on the coastline border to eliminate her king, her father, on her return. The terrible conflict to follow would be immortalised in legend as the last battle of King Arthur. A battle where the flower atop the hill will lose its petals at sunset. A shining beacon of hope that would lose all of its light. The Battle of Camlann.

Mordred's army awaited Artoria's, tired from their expedition to Rome, for an ambush. Despite this, Artoria managed to properly disembark with her army and initiate a counterattack thanks to the efforts of Sir Gawain and Sir Kay, who remained in Camelot while their King was away. A war was waged that extended across the entire country, every territory being terribly scarred by the numerous battles. This battle, without retreat or surrender, the rebellion that ignited it, was one whose motive was known to Artoria. The knights that approved of Mordred's rebellion were all united in their hatred for the King. Uncountable wars. Dry lands. Starving children. The people who endured that were saying that they could no longer.

"These are the measures we must take for the current battle. I beseech you, lend me your aid!"

Artoria said this to her knights. She truly was the ideal King. If everyone could live righteously, without corruption, then surely the country would be most prosperous. But how long? How much longer would everyone need to endure to see that ideal become reality? The King was an ideal one. However, because she was ideal, she could not measure the weakness of the people. Anyone who could see her in that moment would understand. That her heart, in that moment, was broken. On the seventh day of fighting, the battle reached the hill of Camlann. The conflict between the two armies continued until sunset. Both armies extinguished each other until all that was left were mountains of corpses. In that hill soaked in blood, Artoria recalled the words of Tristan, who left Camelot behind.

"The King does not understand the hearts of men."

Certainly, now, after all that has happened, she admits it, while she holds together her broken heart and readies her spear. The Lance that Shines to the Ends of the World. Rhongomyniad. Even the Holy Sword, Excalibur, had lost its brilliance. When her heart broke, the star that inhabited the Earth froze. Only two knights remained on the battlefield. What stood in front of the King was an armour of strange form. A sword with boiling blood, Clarent, and the knight that wielded it in the shape of a ghost. The ghost, hungry for something that led her to steal the country and kill countless soldiers, spoke;

"Finally, King Arthur."

"Mordred."

"It took me a long time to arrive here. I scoured the entire battlefield. What do you think? With this, your country is over. Over. No matter who kills who today, it's all over.

...Why do you deny me the throne? Why do you not accept me as your son? Why was I born with this form?! Answer me! Why?!"

Mordred and Artoria charged at each other. No more words were exchanged between the two. Father and son would grant each other their killing blow. Artoria's Holy Spear pierced the entrails of the leader of the rebellion. The cursed sword of Mordred, before perishing, cut part of the King's head, taking with it her life expectancy and one of her eyes. Artoria used her Holy Sword as a flare for the rest of the living to see them in the hill. Her face was one nobody wanted to see. She bit her lips with all her strength to suppress her desire to cry. The sadness overcame her ragged breath. She saw the end of Camelot. She screamed...

"I fought many battles, and stole many lives. That's why I accepted having a death crueler than anybody else. That is why I resigned myself to die while being hated by everyone. Despite that...I was never going to be the only one? Someone other than the King would have the same death?! That's not fair...it shouldn't have been that! This wasn't the end that I sought! That Camelot would end, I knew that...but, I wanted to believe that it would be a more peaceful end, like in a slumber...

This is wrong. Absolutely wrong! I, who has accepted my own death, this...this I cannot accept!"

She, who was a whirlwind of frustration, heard a voice. It proposed an opportunity. To go back and fulfill that wish. It wanted her life after death. The meaning of these words, Artoria did not know. Even still, the King held to that, saying that to avoid this end, the price did not matter. The King, out of hatred for the fall of Camelot, denied her own salvation. She wanted the Holy Grail. The very artifact that Sir Galahad had been sent to retrieve. But on the brink of death, she could not wait for him to return as she had for all this time.

The battle had ended. The sunset was as the colour of the blood that stained the hills of Camlann. Soon, the darkness of nightfall would dominate the battlefield. The hills were filled with corpses, a breathless knight riding through the fields of those slain. His hands firm on the reins of his white horse, who continued to run earnestly. The only survivors of the battle were the rider of the horse, and his King, who lay on the horse's back.

"Please, stay awake! If we reach the forest, then certainly-"

The knight's words trailed off, ceased due to his own shortness of breath. He knew of the King's pseudo-immortality. Consequently, he knew that if the King could rest in a calm place, with the Holy Sword in hand, he would heal. He had no choice but to believe it would be so. He could not let his King die. He did not fight for the sake of the kingdom, but for the sake of his King. His life, his sword, were all dedicated to the King. The King that did not show her true face. The King that hides her feelings and acts impartially. If I stay close, maybe I'll be able to see the true face of the King, he thought. However, what happened completely defied his expectation. The King had never smiled for her own sake. That fact filled him with anger, and he wished for his King to be rewarded for such a thing someday. But the King remained alone. And so the knight would deny the King's death. When they arrived to the forest, the knight carried the King's body.

"My King, I will bring more troops immediately. So please, endure until then."

"Bedivere?"

"My King?! Have you regained consciousness...?"

"Yes...I was having a dream."

"A dream...?"

"Yes. I have not seen many dreams, so it was a valuable experience."

"That's... then, please be at ease, and rest. I shall go to get the troops in that time."

The King sighed, her knight wondering if he had been rude in his behaviour. Artoria replied, saying that she was just surprised at his words. She did not know that a dream could be seen after one had awoken. She asked Bedivere if she would see the same dream if she closed her eyes again. He hesitated momentarily, unsure of what he would give to the King. Comfort, or the truth. He chose the former.

"Yes. If you so strongly desire, you should be able to continue watching the same dream. I have that experience as well."

It was impossible. What happens only once, and is not everlasting, is what people call a dream. Even still, Bedivere lied. He apologises that this will be his first and last dishonesty towards the King.

"I see... you are knowledgeable, Bedivere...Bedivere, take my sword. Listen. Pass through this forest and go over that bloodstained hill. There is a deep lake beyond it. Throw my sword into that lake."

"Ah!? My King, that's...!"

"Go. Once you have accomplished my order, return here and tell me what you saw."

And so, Bedivere takes the sword, Excalibur, and goes over the bloodstained hill, his mind plagued by indecision and hesitation. He lamented so much for the King that he was unable to throw the sword. That is why he returned from the edge of the lake, back to the King. However, the King had already foreseen that. When Bedivere lies to Artoria that he had thrown the sword away, she replies only to say "follow my command". But that came to an end. As Bedivere realises he cannot change the King's decision, he returns to the lake, finally mustering the strength to throw away the sword on his third visit. The Holy Sword had returned to the lake. When he returned to the forest, crossing the mountain entrance, the forest was shining from the morning light. The distant battlefield, without any trace of the scenery of bloodshed. Embraced by a gentle and pure light. When Bedivere threw the sword into the lake, he saw the shimmering silhouette of a girl beneath its surface. The lady of the lake, certainly.

"I see. You should be proud. You have obeyed your King's command. ---I am sorry, Bedivere. This sleep will be... a... long---"

"Are you watching, King Arthur...? The continuation of your dream?"

The sky is high, clear and blue. The battle was now truly over. The words Bedivere murmured were carried away by the wind. Just as the sky sinks towards the infinite blue, the King slept, seeing a far away, distant dream. Bedivere looked upon the King, wishing still that Artoria had met the end that she deserved. That her life, and Camelot, had not ended in such a brutal fashion. The next few minutes felt like an eternity, as Bedivere mourned the loss of one who gave her people everything, and was given destruction in return. He wept for his King, and for himself, for not being able to do more. The sound of footsteps behind Artoria's most loyal knight caught his attention, to which he turned to look, and was met by the Magus of Flowers.

Merlin knelt beside Bedivere, inspecting the resting face of his King. The wounds inflicted by Mordred were fatal, and though Artoria would not have fully recovered from them with Excalibur in her possession, her survival would be ensured. But the Holy Sword was gone now, returned to the Lady of the Lake. She had accepted her end, and would die full of regret. Bloody and savaged. Far from the peaceful end that she desired. Nor was she the only one to die in such a way; while everything they fought to protect crumbled around them. Even for Merlin, who had seen such a thing happen numerous times throughout his life, the situation was far too tragic. Against his better judgement, out of a deep sense of crushing guilt, he reached out to the King of Knights. He would interfere one last time. Bedivere would become the fifth person to learn the truth about Artoria Pendragon with his actions. He wanted to chastise the Magus of Flowers for putting Artoria down this path which ended in destruction and misery, but the words remained stuck in his chest. Merlin knew what Artoria's most loyal knight wanted to do, deep down. Words were not needed to know such a thing. Merlin, before anybody, had accepted the truth around the nature of his actions, and what they led to. And so in this moment, in pursuit of some twisted idea of recompense, he turned Artoria into a man, and healed his body. The King of Knights was no longer Artoria Pendragon. Now, Arthur Pendragon. The man whom everybody believed the King of Britain to be. The person that Artoria was, until everything unraveled around them.

Merlin left Bedivere with the comatose Arthur near the lake, where the King first retrieved Excalibur and subsequently had Bedivere return it. Arthur's body was healed, but the extent of the damage ran far deeper. The wounds of the mind were the kind that Merlin could not fix. Nobody could. But even still, he resolved to try, sealing away the memories of the one he condemned to kingship. He wished to spare Arthur the pain of knowing everything that happened. When he emerged from the forest, Merlin's first steps were over the bodies of the fallen, the sky dyed red over the hills of Camlann. He walked through the battleground, laden with corpses and those on the brink of death. Eventually, he reached the foot of the hill where Arthur and Mordred exchanged their final blows. The great spear Rhongomyniad was still lodged within the stomach of the Knight of Treachery, her hand firmly gripping Clarent even in death. Merlin gazed at her body silently, his mind flashing back to several distinct memories of all the Knights of Round. Memories of all the times they shared before now. Solemnly, Merlin began to walk, all the way back to the Tower of Avalon.​

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🌸 Chapter VII: Last Stardust 🌸

Merlin spent centuries hidden away, watching over the world from his lonesome tower in Avalon. Unable to die, he would oversee the creation of the Radiant Order of Surgebinders by Galahad and Amara, their subsequent division and conflicts, and the development of the rest of the world as new factions and leaders rose up to take the place of Camelot after its destruction. From the tower of solitude, his eyes fell upon a young man. Emiya Shirou, a magus without any talent for magecraft. Son of the one known as the Magus Killer. He watched Shirou's life unfold, his attention captivated for the first time in centuries, in the wake of the great war between Galahad and Amara. In all his time of watching humanity from afar as a lone observer, he had not seen anyone quite like him. A Hero of Justice, some would call him. At first, Merlin couldn't quite place it, but as he watched the boy grow older, mastering his own magecraft, and fighting for his life to protect the ones he loved, becoming a Hero of Justice for those close to him, he realised who Shirou reminded him of. Artoria. They were opposites, but in that sense, they were also the same. Where Artoria discarded her humanity in order to protect everyone, Shirou discarded his in order to protect one person. It reignited the spark within Merlin's heart that had first awoken when he was a child, and died with Artoria Pendragon. Wishing to forge a new hero, Merlin emerged from Avalon for the first time in six hundred years. When Shirou found himself on the brink of oblivion against Angelica Ainsworth, Merlin intervened, saving the young Hero of Justice from the wrathful magus.

Shirou would awaken within the scenery of his Reality Marble, which appeared undamaged. As if the great blow from Angelica had never touched it. In his confusion, he didn't notice the presence of the Magus of Flowers.

"Greetings young man, with a body from swords forged, a mind from steel cast, and soul within ice encased."

Merlin introduced himself to the young Surgebinder, who was still in a mind of caution after the battle against Angelica. He assured Shirou that he meant no harm. He would tell Shirou what happened in the aftermath of his battle, as well as where he was. The two were not within Shirou's Reality Marble, which was a reflection of his internal space upon the Throne, but the very internal space of Unlimited Bladeworks itself. It was here that Merlin would teach the young Hero of Justice about the Surgebinders, the Holy Grail, and Prana. The story of Camelot and Artoria would be for another time. The Magus of Flowers took up the role of a mentor for Shirou, teaching him how to use his gifts, so that he may become a Hero of Justice for everybody one day. In the wake of Tiamat's resurrection, Merlin was called to action, and he has spent a great period of time tracking the whereabouts of the Necromancers, as well as monitoring the actions of other Prana wielders, including the Fallen Surgebinder, Ozymandias. The two briefly met during Ozymandias' own initiation into the ways of Prana, but they did not interact with each other at length until two years later. They learned of each other's history, mutually providing insight on personal griefs and insight into each other's guiding principles. At the end of their time together, Ozymandias relinquished possession of a mysterious, dark object which he had come across in the period of time leading up to the return of Tiamat. He entrusted it to the incubus, leaving the continent to return home.​

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🌸 Chapter VIII: The Chains of Heaven 🌸

The tides were beginning to change, and Merlin knew it. He could feel it, as if it were the clothes on his body, the wind kissing his skin. On his instruction, the new Order of Knights Radiant dispatched small cells of Prana-wielders to maintain stability throughout the region of Tobusekai, the Red Fever continuing to cause terrible damage to the livelihoods of its settlements and villages. For months, Merlin had been monitoring the progression of the virulent illness, observing its symptoms closely. Without a cure, there was little even he could do, so he maintained his distance from those infected. By now, it would have been months since last contact with the Hero of Justice, Emiya Shirou, who was afflicted with the virus. He would travel from the city of Avalon to the Last Bastion, where a supposed cure to the Red Fever was located according to rumours swirling throughout the land.

After a day of travel, Merlin arrived in the commercial hub known as Last Bastion. Walking through the great stone city, he spent hours searching for the young magus he rescued from death years ago. To his exasperation, Shirou was nowhere to be found. That was, until he entered an inn near the main markets in town. He would recognise that red hair anywhere. He would have waved, were it not for the stranger standing next to the young Surgebinder. Instead, Merlin quietly walked over, his staff in hand.

"We meet again, Shirou."

A horrific chill ran down the swordsmith's spine as the door to the Inn was thrown open with pomp and circumstance. He knew he was in for some harrowing experience as a familiar, venomous, softly spoken voice greeted him. Turning to face the Magus of Flowers, Muramasa, with a face more straight than the edge on his blade, definitively spoke.

"You must be mistaken. Name's Muramasa, and I've never met you before in my life."

With a cautious look over to the strange man who had not introduced himself, Muramasa knew things were about to get weird. They always were with this flowery wizard who tripped over his own tongue as often as he stumbled into trouble. Whatever he was up to these days, Shirou... Muramasa would play no part in it. With a swiftness akin to his Iaidō, Muramasa left the open area of the Inn, and retired to his room, locking, while seriously contemplating completely barricading the door, to keep that man at bay. Merlin rubbed his head sheepishly, unsure of what to make of what had just transpired.

"A-ah... M-my apologies. I'm Merlin. You are?"

"I am Lucifer, a pleasure to meet you Merlin."

Of course, the wings and horns piqued the curiosity of the Magus of Flowers. Though he was an incubus, he possessed no inhuman features, unlike Lucifer. Attuning his natural sensory abilities, he searched for characteristics that could not be identified by sight alone. Lucifer's internal energies were abnormally powerful. But the potency of the energy flowing through his body was not all that was irregular...it was its very nature. He recognised it within moments... the essence of the Goddess of the Primordial Sea. He made no physical reaction, but he was mildly alarmed at the revelation. Before he said anything else, his attention was drawn to the sound of a door opening, Shirou revealing himself, child in arms. As others went to interact with him, Merlin concentrated his sensory powers on the child, which was equally peculiar, if not more so, than Lucifer himself. Allowing the others to have their moment with Shirou, he allows the young magus to come to him when he was ready. When he did, however, his words befuddled the old Court Magus.

"Okay, you've got about an hour to say what you came here to say. I can't get into it right now, but I reckon I have around that long before the 'Messiah' here becomes Tobusekai's most influential person, and your window of opportunity to get a word in closes."

"Ah..."

At least, now he knew the source of Shirou's erratic behaviour. This child. Rather than address the Hero of Justice's demands, he inched closer, standing over the infant, silently inspecting it for a few moments. Raising his hand, he brushed his fingers gently across its forehead. It reminded him of those years ago, when he chose to release Cath Palug from the confines of the Tower of Avalon, a creature which had spent centuries in isolation. A creature which could become calamity one day. Merlin found himself in the presence of a similar being. At least, what he thought was similar. One so young, but held so much power. This development superseded any personal desire, and thus Merlin's next objective was decided. Before leaving abruptly, Merlin instructed Shirou to seek out the King of Magic, Solomon.

Arriving at the North-East side of the Kinai Island, Merlin overlooked the land that was tucked away in its own corner of the world, a remote fishing village near the mountains that promised tranquility to those who chose to live here. The Magus of Flowers walked through the bustling town, full of men and women hauling their catch around to take it home to cook, or to their stalls in the markets to sell. Towards the end of the dock, there seemed to be a small gathering of people, which prompted Merlin to come closer. If his hunch was correct, the one he needed to see was here. And sure enough, he was. The King of Magic, and holder of the title of Grand Caster, Solomon, was here. The King's back was turned to the incubus as he took care of the villagers huddling around him, so he wouldn't see the incubus coming.

"It's been a while, hasn't it, Solomon?"

For some period of time, Solomon had been tending to the ill under the alias of Romani Archaman. And his tasks were going perfectly fine, right up until he heard that scoundrel's voice. It was a voice he'd never forget; the first time he heard it was in his own dream, a personal memory of him and his wife Sheba many years ago. Since then he'd view Merlin, the Magus of Flowers, with contempt. He hadn't heard his voice in hundreds of years but it was unmistakable, and irked Solomon to his core. So once he heard it the Mage King froze in place, holding a rag against a young girl's fever afflicted forehead before he finally managed to turn around with an almost comically angry expression scrawled across his face.

"Wa- Hold...Hold it! M-M-Me-Merlin!? Why are you here, you absolute scoundrel!? Have you come here to interfere too? To leave your foul imprint on this village?"

Merlin missed the King of Magic so.

The two discussed recent events; the defeat of Tiamat, the onset of the Red Fever, and the emergence of a mysterious child from the Hokubu Ocean. The return of Mystery to the world. By now, the last time Merlin and Solomon had seen each other, it was before the fall of Camelot. Hundreds of years had passed. Their time to catch up was brief, but it was enough. Right on cue, Shirou arrived with the child in tow. When their discussion of the child was briefly interrupted by an onlooker, which Solomon moved to take care of swiftly, Merlin decided to inquire about Shirou's unusual behaviour.

"So, Emiya-kun... Why did you run away earlier? And pretend to not know me?"

Merlin's smile now had a mildly sinister nature as he stared down the young Hero of Justice, awaiting his answer. It was here that Shirou gave voice to what he had been keeping hidden from everyone.

"When you believe so strongly in something that it engulfs what it means to be 'you', when go back on that belief, that principle, ideal, concept, whatever, who are you? What do you do? What do you become?

Apparently, in my case, I run away. I ran, forgot everything I ever stood up for, or believed in, surrounded myself with people who needed me, and I didn't look back. The worst part? When I did finally remember, I didn't care. I was... Happy, there, with them."


"Emiya Shirou is still Emiya Shirou. Don't be disheartened. Believe it or not, I was in a similar position to yours, a long time ago. I spent centuries hidden away from the world, but it was by watching your exploits that I found myself again."

On Solomon's return, the three continued to discuss the child, one apparently of divine origin. There was a mutual understanding of the danger it posed simply by existing, and so Merlin would accompany Shirou on his travels, acting as a companion and a bodyguard of sorts. They would make their way to the Badlands of Earth, seeking the aid of an acquaintance Solomon made during his time wandering as Romani, to mass produce a cure to the Red Fever. Upon arrival, Merlin left Emiya and the child, named Enkidu, in the company of Tsumigakure shinobi and the acquaintance, Iskandrous, eager to explore the world now that he had some time to himself. He journeyed westward, in the direction of a great mountain that stood tall even in the Badlands. Traversing the makeshift pathways that wrapped around the looming structures of stone, he eventually made his way inside the tallest of them.

As he walked, a torch suddenly ignited next to him, a bright blue flame shining in the darkness. More torches burst to life further down the pathway, creating a line of blue lights that spiraled deeper into the chasm. Curious as to what might lay at the bottom of the chasm, Merlin continued along the pathway with an air of caution about him. Occasionally, he could see what appeared to be cages peering out of the walls, as if they had been buried there and overtime the erosion of the earth caused them to be laid bare. They were empty, as far as he could see. Aside from these cages, and the blue torches, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the chasm. That was, until the pathway widened into a slightly larger platform, complete with a small shrine and a symbol carved into the wall next to it. 'Yomi'. The deeper Merlin went, the more of these symbols he encountered; 'Duat', 'Hades', 'Xibalba'... all names to describe a single place, the land of the dead. Eventually, Merlin reached the end of the pathway, the ground flattening out at the bottom of the great chasm. As he walked to its center, the bottom of the chasm seeming to be no more than an empty opening surrounded by stone, the sound of his steps changed. Looking down to see what he had stumbled upon, more torches illuminated the darkness of the pit, showing one final symbol inscribed into the wall beneath the pathway; 'Kur'. The Sumerian underworld. The Magus of Flowers' eyes narrowed as he examined the inscriptions, looking to his feet again, realising that he stood atop a giant, circular metal plate. Though he knew not of its nature, it did not sit well with him. Whether it was coincidence that Enkidu had found his way to a place so nearby, he did not know either. A certain level of unease began to build within the incubus. If his hunch was correct, and this place was indeed more than it appeared to be, it meant that this land was far from safe. For both Shirou and Enkidu.

The incubus returned to the clinic swiftly, noting the appearance of a few new faces since his departure. One such, unbeknownst to himself and the others, was one of the Voidlords; Demetrias. Formerly Uchiha Sai, and the youngest of them. When he stumbled into the clinic, the Magus of Flowers dismissed him as nothing more than a drunken traveler. He would prove to be much more, to the dismay of everybody present, as both Emiya Shirou and Enkidu were taken right in front of them. Though the combined strength of the shinobi present made the prospect of challenging a Voidlord palatable, their powers were inconsequential if they didn't know where the two were taken. And so, Merlin led the others to Solomon, in a desperate attempt to save Shirou. Much to everybody's surprise, save for Merlin, the King of Magic requested that they don't interfere with the battle unfolding between Emiya and Demetrias. Despite protest from the Magus of Flowers, Solomon refused to acquiesce, insistent on allowing events to unfold on their own. Only at the battle's conclusion did Solomon disclose Emiya's location, to which Merlin and the others quickly went.​

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🌸 Chapter IX: Battle for the (Under)World 🌸

Eventually, Merlin returned to the Threshold on advice from the King of Magic, who anticipated an invasion from the Underworld led by Phetra, one of the four Voidlords. Joined by Lucifer and the Tsumikage, he fought to open the gates to Kur, intending to launch a surprise assault on Ganzir's forces and defeat Phetra before she could launch her attack. They would be joined by a number of other shinobi, whose skillsets, origins and skillsets all differed. Though they were interrupted by the arrival of a Jinchūriki and the emergence of its Bijū, it was easily suppressed and the assembled Champions of Humanity could enter the hallowed expanse that was Kur.

Their first challenge lay within the Necropolis, where the Twin Fates resided. They have gone by many names in the past: the Weaver and Unweaver, Nam'tar and Nym'tar, the Authors of Destiny, and the Overseers of the Necropolis. The pair has worked tirelessly and eternally watching over the strings of fate, toiling at them in both the grandest and minute of scales. For thousands of years they have said nothing except the chants and whispers of their Hymns, eerily filling the outermost sections of the massive Necropolis. Even as the nine Champions took their position the weavers seemed to to not take notice, continuing to hover with their heads held low toward their arms. But their whispers grew louder as they came closer, to the point where it almost seemed that the Hymns were ear piercingly loud even though they were still just whispers. But unbeknownst to the Champions of Humanity the Hymns of Unweaving and Weaving were well at work, and beneath the sounds of chanting and whispering the undead were stirring to the Twin Fates' call.

Beneath the first and second groups Unyielding Thrall would rupture the rocky ground below the Champions of Humanity, their rotting and fleshy arms grabbing at their ankles and legs from underneath as they struggled to climb through the earth. As the Thrall made their move the Hymn of Unweaving was already well at work to Unweave the Champions from reality; as each second passed the Unweaver was already plucking away at the strings of fate very carefully with her ontological prowess. If the Champions hoped to reach deeper into Irkalla triumphing over the Twin Fates was an absolute necessity; but they existed on a higher plane, rendered untouchable with their Divinity. Lucifer and Merlin had both fought the undead at the gates, thus allowing them to warn the others and respond accordingly. Activating the Barrier of Ascendant Light, one of many advanced technologies created by the Spider, the overwhelming darkness of the Necropolis was dispelled, allowing the Inuzuka known as Kotetsu to repel some of the encoraching Thrall with his Steel Release. The Aburame's bugs would group the others while the Nara used his clan's secret arts to keep them from approaching, with Lucifer using the Sea of Life to blast through them all.

In another language, entirely indecipherable by any of the Champions, the Fates cursed the humans' technology and wondered how they could have discovered a weakness in their Hymns. But they pressed on nonetheless, continuing their chants and arm motions as they stood stationary, guarding the depths of the Necropolis from the intruders. They had an ancient purpose that had been delegated to them by Nergal thousands of years ago. Nothing would change. Just as death remained unchanging itself. The tidal wave of the Sea of Life crashed down on each on the Weavers, its viscous waters rendered helpless against the Divinity of the Twin Fates; to those who held activated eye enhancements it would almost seem hydrophobic, just falling from their bodies as if it didn't influence them at all. Even the kinetic force of the wave seemed to fail to achieve any meaningful impact. It all fell to the ground beneath them, resting there.

The battle would continue, with the Champions struggling to mount an attack that could harm the Fates while defending against the the frenzy of the Thrall. That was, until the Hymn of the Fates had achieved a dreaded unison; the Chorus of Destiny. Recognising the moment of vulnerability, the Champions launched a concentrated assault at the Fates; Lucifer with his Vile Haze, Kotetsu with his Violent Mirror Severing, and Emiya with his Entropy and Renewal Taekwondo. The blow was enough to take them down, and the Champions had made it past their first trial. The first of four.

Their second would be against Falnir, the Burial King. A towering construct of bone, sinew, and flesh, he lay slumped in the fields, having not taken shape quite yet. The Burial King was aware of the Twin Fates' defeat at the hands of the Champions of Humanity; since then he had awoken, and prepared himself to continue to stand guard over the Realms of Paradise and Torment just as he had for thousands of years. And so once they arrived through the portal the behemoth Falnir began to stir, towering above the wheat and staring out into the distance at the Champions. He unsheathed a titanic blade from his back forged from nothing but bone.

Unlike the last battle, the Champions were forced to split their numbers, entering the Realms of Paradise and Torment. While there was a way to attack the enemy within each realm, the ability to defend each other was significantly reduced, and the slightest opening could be exploited easily by the Burial King.

And it would be so.

Kotetsu and Emiya both fell to the might of Falnir, who fought tooth and nail to prevent the Champions of Humanity from progressing through Kur. But little by little, they whittled away at Phetra's mighty champion, and with his defeat, the deaths of Kotetsu and Emiya were undone.

The Champions made their way to the third of the trials; the Seven Gates. Posed to the wary warriors were a series of riddles, testing their knowledge and their wit as they attempted to answer correctly while fending off the haunted spirits of the Underworld. Once overcoming this trial, the Palace of Ganzir lay beyond, and so too did Phetra. She greeted them directly, asking them their reasons for fighting. Merlin listened silently to each answer given by the warriors whom he had fought alongside through Irkalla. They were varied, where some spoke of their service to the greater good, and others their own self-interest. Though their reasons were diverse, there was one thing that united all those present on the journey to defeat Phetra, one commonality that persisted in their motivations; humanity. Humanity, not in the biological sense of the word, as some among them were not human themselves, Merlin included, but in terms of their nature. To be altruistic, to be selfish, to be principled, to be unscrupulous; to be all of these things is to be human. To exist in such a way is both the beauty and tragedy of mankind. It was because Merlin found that contradiction beautiful that he wished for a happy end for all mankind.

And so, the final battle for the (Under)World had begun.

The Ruler of the Underworld smiled, pleased with their answers. They varied, they were diverse. Some heroic, some selfish. Some meaningless, others misguided. But nonetheless the Champions of Humanity were unified in their purpose despite their differing reasons: they all sought to overthrow her, destroy her, and end her life. There was a certain irony in being confronted by those that carry Her gifts. But this was his design, his grand scheme. All serve a purpose, all serve a grand design. Imeroth's words, and those repeated by Nefarian, echoed in her mind as she stood high upon her platform. Phetra reached toward the heavens and ignited a small purple flame in her hand, still smiling down at them. The purple energy sparked and then suddenly flashed brightly, bursting outwards in a pulse of energy to encompass the entirety of Ganzir. The sphere of white light buckled at it, not harmed but disturbed by it. And as the purple light enveloped the Champions of Humanity suddenly the Soulstones they acquired from the Spider shattered like glass.

Phetra deployed the Ancient Keepers, Pazuzu and Lamashtu, as the first soldiers to face the battered and bruised of Humanity. She watched, unimpressed, as they struggled to maintain formation against the twin divinities, the exhaustion and strain from the previous trials taking their toll. Had the battle progressed to its natural conclusion, they would surely have lost there. The emergence of an entity long absent from the world would prove to turn the tide. Phetra knew this, and joined the battle herself.

On instruction from this mysterious entity, the Champions of Humanity attempted to heal the shining orb they carried with them, within which this being appeared to be trapped. As Phetra continued to summon more ancient creatures to snuff out the dying light of the Champions, the struggle to revive whatever lay within the orb became greater. Before they began to lose numbers, however, the task had been accomplished, the promise fulfilled.

Ereshkigal, the true Goddess of the Underworld, had been reborn.

And so, the battle continued. Even with the Blessing of Kur, the tides had not fully turned in favour of mankind. Phetra and her own champions fought with vigour greatened, and a great clash tore the ground beneath them all asunder. It was here that the Champions of Humanity would face their end.

Until hope had arrived.

Enkidu, the Chains of Heaven, and Solomon, recently returned from a tumultuous journey, saved them all from extinction. Extinguishing Phetra and freeing Marzan from the hellish dungeons of the Ganzir, the ragtag band of those who had gathered to fight in mankind's defence were able to leave. But this victory was not without cost, or a foreboding warning:

Behold the might of the cosmos. I am known by many names: the Timeless One, the King of Confluence, the First and Final Shape, the Harrowed God, the Destroyer of Possibilities. If those here are the weavers that write upon the tapestry, then I am both it and its creator! I am Abzu, the Primordial God of the Fresh Water Sea. I am all there is, all there was, and all there will be. The Domain of Death has broken in this world, and I rise in its place.

Stepping through a portal, the Champions of Humanity returned to the Threshold. With the end of this battle, the next would begin. Though, none present would yet know of its commencement.​




Other Information


Mixed Blood: Due to his heritage, Merlin is capable of utilising Wood Release, an element formed through the combination of Earth and Water elemental natures. With it, his chakra becomes a source of life, creating wood from sources of either component element, or even his own body. It is particularly effective against Bijū, allowing him to counteract and even suppress their abilities. Additionally, Merlin is capable of utilising Wood Sage Mode, a unique Ninjutsu that channels Natural Energy, bolstering his Ninjutsu by thirty damage and increasing the strength of his Genjutsu by one rank. His physical faculties are also enhanced, granting his Taijutsu an increase of thirty damage and multiplying his speed by four. Through this mode, Merlin is also able to access unique techniques such as the Shinsusenju and the Myōjinmon. Merlin boasts great vitality, capable of utilising a potent regeneration ability that can heal all sorts of wounds at accelerated speed, and possesses a greater chakra pool than most others. When combined with his mastery over Yang, both his reserves and constitution are enhanced further, being able to reduce all physical damage taken by 30 points and recoil damage from Forbidden techniques to 0. This characteristic expresses itself in other forms, namely his physical agelessness and immense longevity, and a unique ability that enhances his mastery over Sage Mode.

Type: Supplementary
Rank: N/A
Range: N/A
Chakra: N/A
Damage: N/A
Description: Blood of the Incubus is not a conventional ability, but a trait carried by those flowing with vitality. Those such as Senju Hashirama, who was a descendent and the reincarnation of Ōtsutsuki Asura, possessed great life force, which granted potent regenerative abilities. It can be seen as an extension of these regenerative capabilities, having a direct effect on the process of aging. Through constant regeneration and repair of one’s cells, the body does not experience physical aging, and one’s lifespan is extended far beyond the limits of normal humans, granting the ability to live for centuries. In a similar manner to Birth of Nature, one’s overflowing vitality can affect the external environment, such as causing flowers to blossom from the ground with each step they take.

Type: Supplementary
Rank: A
Range: N/A
Chakra: 50
Damage: N/A
Description: Flesh of the Incubus is an ability which results from the combination of one's overflowing vitality, that is, an already powerful life force made greater by mastery over Yang Release, with their ability to utilise Wood Release at its highest form. Because of the latter condition, it is an ability unique to Merlin. It takes the form of a woodskin that perfectly mimics the user's appearance and anatomy, even replicating the feeling of normal skin, which is present on the body at all times, and is bolstered by Yang Release. The benefits granted by this are twofold; not only is the physical integrity of the wood greatly bolstered, allowing it to reduce incoming physical damage by 40 points, but the woodskin itself is granted sentience, allowing it to automatically balance the delicate ratio between Natural Energy and chakra on the user's behalf, meaning that the user no longer needs to remain still in order to generate Sage Chakra properly, nor are their abilities limited whilst generating Sage Chakra. The woodskin itself allows the user to convert more of their own chakra reserves into Sage Chakra per turn, an additional 5%, for a total of 10% per turn. This technique can be kept active to continue generating Sage Chakra at an increased rate beyond the minimum threshold, up to its maximum, though the Mode will not empower the user or their techniques, as per the normal method of meditation and usage. While Sage Mode is in proper use, the woodskin will no longer generate Sage Chakra, though its other properties will remain active. In order to utilise Flesh of the Incubus, the user requires the Yang Release specialty. Flesh of the Incubus can be used a total of three time per battle, lasting 5 turns per usage as well as a three turn cooldown in between usages.

Item Construction: As a magus, Merlin is adept in creating items which possesses unique properties and abilities. Though the items themselves are basic, typically taking the shape of conventional weaponry, they can boast great power. Among his greatest creations are the Sword of Selection, Caliburn, and his own weapon, the Staff of Selection. After returning to Avalon in the Reverse Side of the World, he has obtained a new weapon fashioned after his original staff, the Harrowed Staff of Selection.

Type: Artifact
Rank: S
Range: Short - Long
Chakra: N/A
Damage: 100
Description: The Staff of Selection, 選定 五線, is a harrowed variant of Merlin’s own staff anchored to reality by the Void Tree. It was retrieved at the end of Merlin’s expedition into Kamiyasumi where Merlin was pulled into the Void and trapped in the Reverse Side of the World. It is a large staff measuring at about two meters in length; it resembles a crook, the head of the staff being carved to create a crest resembling the sprawling roots of a tree. Unlike the original, this harrowed version closely resembles the Void Tree. Its wood is ashen and somewhat cracked with traces of red veins running up and down its length. The staff has a unique connection with the Void Tree and the Reverse Side of the World, acting as a conduit to bridge the outer plane with reality and allow Merlin to freely project himself from his prison into the world. Passively, the Staff of Selection’s harrowed energies permeate into Merlin’s Wood Release techniques causing them to gain an increase of 30 additional damage. Visually this transforms the appearance of his standard Wood Release to mimic that of the Void Tree and the Staff itself. The wood of the Void Tree also moves faster than regular Wood Release, causing all of Merlin’s Wood techniques to gain an additional two base speed levels.

Tandoku Kengen (lit. 単独顕現, “Independent Manifestation”): The Staff of Selection’s connection to the Reverse Side of the World grants its wielder the ability to independently manifest within reality. It allows Merlin to project himself outside of his prison and into the world, effectively existing within two planes simultaneously. Merlin is able to use Independent Manifestation to transport his projection back to the Reverse Side of the World and anywhere he pleases, following Ninja World spacetime rules. Merlin’s projection is a flesh and blood representation of himself; it can be killed and interacted with as any would be normally. Genetic material can be harvested from it should the user agree to death in the Ninja World. If the projection is knocked out then it needs to regenerate as a normal biography would as well. Teleportation with Independent Manifestation can be done twice per battle, once every seven turns.

Kūsōju Shīdo (lit. 空想樹, “Fantasy Tree Seed”): The Fantasy Tree Seed draws upon the Void Tree to launch up to two large seeds from the Staff that are roughly the size of a melon but with clearly defined geometric shapes. As a basic projectile attack these Seeds strike targets for 100 physical damage, following splitting rules, and, unlike basic Wood Release, are strong to all elemental natures with the exception of Anutu and its subcomponents. After four turns, if they are not destroyed, these seeds mature into small human-sized Fantasy Trees that can be used as a source to manipulate and control for other Wood Release techniques. This can be used five times per battle.

Eiyū Sakusei (lit. 英雄作成, “Hero Creation”): Centuries ago during the age of Camelot Merlin was regarded as a “Kingmaker.” Merlin is able to draw upon the Staff of Selection to temporarily crown another, just as he did with Arthur. This is not simply a technique that strengthens another target; it is in effect reaching across the cosmos through the Void Tree to other worlds and realities where that individual is far more important or powerful than in our own and combining their beings. Upon activation the user will boost two fields the target possesses causing them to gain an additional 30 damage and 10 Chakra. It lasts for three turns. The base speed of the techniques within that field is increased by an additional three levels. Targets influenced by Hero Creation gain a red aura around their body. Hero Creation can be used three times per battle, once every five turns.

Fūinjutsu: Merlin is well-versed in the sealing arts, granting him access to a number of unique techniques and abilities involving finer chakra control. One such ability is known as Mystic Fire, a unique element formed by a combination of Lightning and Fire Release, and controlled through Fūinjutsu. This element possesses universal neutrality to all other techniques and abilities, and is able to adopt the functions of Fūinjutsu. A seal with the kanji for 'Repository' is attached to his inner robe, allowing him to store and release chakra as he sees fit. Through the Pillars of Creation, Merlin's flames possess a sky blue color. Merlin also utilises an element known as Osmium, a unique mineral that boasts great physical integrity. He carries a small amount in a gourd at all times, allowing him to use it on demand. His staff is marked with the Oathbound Insignia seal, allowing him to manipulate it in a manner resembling telekinesis through the use of invisible barriers.

Type: Supplementary
Rank: B – S
Range: N/A
Chakra: N/A (+10/20/40 chakra cost to applied technique)
Damage: N/A
Description: Pillars of Creation is considered the ultimate infusion technique utilized in conjunction with energy-based elemental natures (Fire, Lightning, Explosion, etc) as well as barrier Fūinjutsu. As a technique based around the principles of infusion it occurs instantaneously and can be used within the same timeframe as the technique it is applied to. Typically techniques of this category involves an infusion of chakra, in many cases of the same nature, to change numerous aspects of the technique. These can range from a shift in strengths and weaknesses, additional strength, different states and forms, and new and unique effects. This could be compared to ratios and the effects that chakra can have on a technique; the more chakra utilized the greater the changes. As such Pillars of Creation utilizes three separate levels of infusion, each becoming progressively greater. Unique to this technique is that it can be stated in one’s biography to allow for the passive infusion of the user’s energy-based techniques, listed above, causing their coloration to shift in accordance to Mystic Fire’s unique colors. As a passive occurrence this application does not require any chakra and is simply a cosmetic ability of Pillars of Creation. The infusions are as followed:

The First Pillar: This is the B-Rank application of Pillars of Creation and utilizes an infusion of ten chakra. As the simplest infusion this technique causes the effected energy-based technique to gain Mystic Fire’s quality of absolute neutrality. For example, when used on a Fire technique, the applied technique will effectively shed its strengths and weaknesses becoming neutral to all elemental natures. Additionally, this infusion causes the applied technique to gain Mystic Fire’s specialized interactions with sealing/absorptive-based techniques. When an S-Rank Lightning technique is infused with the First Pillar, for example, it will, in addition to gaining the neutrality of Mystic Fire, will also only be able to be sealed or absorbed by a technique of equivalent rank (meaning the rank of the seal or absorbing technique itself, not the rank of what it can seal, must be equivalent). Additionally, the First Pillar cannot be infused on channeling-based energy techniques (e.g. streams of fire).

The Second Pillar: This is the A-Rank application of Pillars of Creation and utilizes an infusion of twenty chakra. The Second Pillar, unlike the first, employs the ability to not only infuse an energy-based technique with Mystic Fire chakra but to convert it to the nature entirely; this effectively converts any energy-based nature, or barrier Fūinjutsu, into Mystic Fire. Because the technique is effectively transformed it will change its inherent color into any color allowed by Mystic Fire Release, namely any color on the visible spectrum while being able to become absolute black, like the flames of Amaterasu. Techniques which radiate heat, like Fire Release, will lose those qualities due to their inherent sealing nature. Additionally, these techniques will gain an additional rank in strength, or twenty additional damage for techniques above S-Rank. The Second Pillar can be used on any number of A-Rank and below techniques but it can only be used four times per battle on S-Rank and above techniques. It also cannot be used in consecutive turns.

The Third Pillar: This is the S-Rank application of Pillars of Creation and utilizes an infusion of forty chakra. Unlike the previous two pillars this Third Pillar only incorporates techniques which employ a partial or fullbody elemental transformation, much like the Hozuki, and must be energy-based in nature. This technique, through an enormous flooding of Mystic Fire chakra, converts any energy-based elemental transformation to become purely Mystic Fire based, while retaining its original abilities and qualities. For example, should a Bakuton based elemental transformation be converted to Mystic Fire it will retain its default explosive qualities while obtaining all qualities of Mystic Fire Release. Additionally, as long as the elemental transformation utilized allows for Fire and Lightning natures to be accessed, the user will still be able to mold chakra for techniques based on the original elemental transformation, even after conversion. The Third Pillar, like the Second, also enhances the applied transformation by an additional rank in strength, or twenty additional damage for techniques above S-Rank. The Third Pillar can be used twice per battle, requiring a two turn cooldown in between uses.

Type: Supplementary
Rank: A
Range: Short
Chakra: 30
Damage: N/A
Description: This technique employs a tag seal with the word ‘Repository’ inscribed on it and placed somewhere on the user’s body or on a weapon; in the case of a weapon the weapon must remain in contact with the user at all times. The seal can either be placed on the user’s biography and stated or placed during travel or battle, counting as a move. Cygnus Loop is a technique which utilizes Fūinjutsu’s ability to seal infinite quantities of various objects within a vessel, in this case the Cygnus seal. This acts as an effect chakra storage unit and can store infinite quantities of chakra absorbed and drained from another target through two methods. The first method passively allows the seal to link itself to the user’s absorptive techniques, such as the Multiple Infinite Embraces. Typically the Embraces will drain chakra and immediately deposit it in the user’s body; with the Cygnus seal this chakra is instead deposited in the seal itself. The second method is through the seal’s unique relationship with Mystic Fire Release and Fūinjutsu allowing the user to utilize Ultraviolet Radiance, a technique based on the Cygnus seal. Regardless of the application used when chakra is drained from an opponent or their techniques the chakra will be deposited within the seal. In essence Cygnus Loop acts as a bank and middleman. When chakra is stored in the seal the chakra is ‘purified’ within the seal. This effectively converts stolen chakra back into raw chakra. For example, should the user absorb Fire chakra and store it within the seal it will be converted into stored chakra and made readily available for the user to use for a future technique. Alternatively stored chakra can be freely absorbed into the user’s body to replenish their reserves. The Cygnus seal itself is an A-Rank seal and is fortified as such due to its relationship and infusion of Mystic Fire.

Type: Supplementary
Rank: N/A
Range: N/A (Short)
Chakra: N/A
Damage: N/A
Description: Unfinal Shapes is a basic, supplementary application of Osmium combined with Fūin, designed to enhance its utility to mimic the usage of Sand Ninjutsu by Gaara. By having the element itself pre-made, and kept stored in a gourd or container of some kind, it is carried on hand by the user. In order to perform Osmium techniques using this premade reserve of the element, the user only needs to flush the container with the necessary amount of chakra, and they can control the element as they see fit. This is considered an alternative method of using Osmium techniques, and thus they are not considered as passive unless stated in the original technique, and usages of Osmium techniques through Unfinal Shapes count towards usage limits. Should they choose, the user can use that same source of Osmium for another Osmium technique, and it will behave according to its new rank/power and any other properties described in the technique, simply requiring that the user expend the stated amount of chakra. Osmium techniques made from the reserves carried on the user that are neutralised in a clash with other techniques, or by other methods, will be resealed into the gourd, unable to be used for the remainder of the turn of neutralisation, as well as the subsequent turn. Use of Unfinal Shapes requires that it be posted in the user’s bio, or at the start of battle.

Type: Supplementary
Rank: C
Range: N/A (Short – Long)
Chakra: 15
Damage: N/A
Description: The Oathbound Insignia is a seal with supplementary purpose, and is designed to be utilised in tandem with one’s weapons or tools. The seal can be placed on any piece of equipment or item of the user’s, or even ones they do not own, provided they make physical contact with said object. Once placed, the seal creates an invisible, form-fitting barrier on the object which is able to exert directional force and pressure on it, similarly to that of Infinite Embraces. This allows for the weapon to be controlled in a manner visually similar to that of the Lightning Blades Levitation, but through manipulation of a barrier, rather than an infusion of elemental chakra. This method of control only requires the user's thought, and does not cost a move slot to utilise in any way. This saves the user the trouble of having to physically reach for their weapon, and makes retrieval from a holster or from afar much easier. The user possesses total control over the behaviour of movement through the barrier, able to freely manipulate a marked object as they see fit. The speed at which a marked object can move via the barrier is 1.5x the user’s base speed at maximum, and always moves at this speed unless otherwise stated, allowing for swift recovery of the object. The user is able to mark their weapons and tools, but it must be stated in the user’s biography, otherwise one must manually place the seals during battle or when the situation allows. Only three objects can be marked at any given time, living targets cannot have this seal applied to them.

Seal of the North: After Merlin's journey in the underworld, the mysterious relic given to him by Ozymandias awakened, manifesting a mysterious symbol on his abdomen. This symbol is, in truth, a seal that contains the Izanami's Curse, a potent weapon forged from the bones of Tiamat. It is unlike any bow in existence, for its arrows are forged from the user's own spiritual energy. In its current state, Merlin can only access a few of its most basic powers, but his prowess will grow with time.

Type: Relic Weapon
Rank: Forbidden
Range: Short – Long
Chakra: N/A
Damage: 20 – 80
Description: Izanami’s Curse is a compound bow crafted from the bones of Tiamat. At the recurve and the notch are two small crystalline orbs, each flickering with black and white energies within them representative of a fully powered weapon core. The bow is bound to the North Seal and can be summoned to the user or sealed passively at their discretion. Unique to Izanami’s Curse, the bow produces arrows through the user’s spiritual energies, siphoned passively, as they pull the drawstring back. Baseline, the bow can be used in two ways; the first is freeform firing of arrows. The second method, at the cost of a move, fires arrows with inherent damage which is a function of the distance to the bow’s target. In short range arrows inflict 20 damage, in mid-range they inflict 40, and at long-range they inflict 80 damage.

Intrinsic Traits:

Archer’s Tempo (I-III): Enhances the user’s ability to draw and release arrows from the bow with greater dexterity in short-range. Increases draw speed by 1.5x/2x/2.5x of the user’s base speed.
Tempered Fletching (I-III): Heat treated metal arrow tips formed from the user’s spiritual energy. Increases damage of the arrows fired based on the distance from the target. Bonus +10/20/30 damage when the user is in long-range from their target, half bonus when in mid-range.
High-Tension String (I-III): A tightly bound bowstring that allows the user to launch arrows with remarkable speed in close-quarters. Increases the speed of arrows by two times the speed of an A/S/F ranked Lightning technique.

Spirit-Tipped Arrows (A-Rank, passive): Izanami’s Curse arrow tips draw on the user’s spiritual energy when fletched and imbues them with a parasitic curse. The arrow tips feast on chakra and, when they strike an opponent or their techniques, release spiritual energy which will tether to the opponent. Breaking this tether naturally requires a surge of 30 chakra, minimum, and awareness of it in the first place. Intrinsically this achieves nothing until the wielder unlocks one of the three branches.

Predator’s Guile
The wind, the target, the arrow. Alters the appearance of Izanami’s Curse to that of a longbow.

Hunter’s Instinct (B-Rank, passive): The Spirit-Tipped Arrows of Izanami’s Curse are enhanced to create a spiritual binding between user and victim. The user becomes able to sense the spiritual position and status of their victim, even across dimensions. This form of awareness supersedes any sensory suppression or negation. Unlocked with Predator’s Guile.
Windflight Arrows (A-Rank, active): Actively augments the user’s arrows with their Wind chakra, allowing them to pass through the air with a greater level of control. Allows the user to control the movement of released arrows for the turn after they are released. Can be done simultaneously as other techniques. Can only be used once every four turns.
Bullseye (S-Rank, passive): The user’s arrows are augmented to inflict 100% additional critical damage.
Patience and Time (S-Rank, passive): Upon actively firing an arrow from Izanami’s Curse the user will erase their physical presence as a passive result from firing the arrow. This invisibility is the equivalent of Muu’s Hiding with Camouflage. Lasts for two turns or until broken by offensive or defensive action. Can only be activated once every three turns.
Cyclonic Burst (F-Rank, active): Actively allows the user to unleash devastation within short-range of their position when releasing an arrow. Once the drawstring is released a natural burst of wind rips outward from the user’s position at three times the user’s base speed, making this a potent defensive ability inflicting 100 damage. Can be used twice, once per three turns.

Elemental Archer
Tried and true. Alters the appearance of Izanami’s Curse to that of a short-bow with bladed ends suitable for melee weapon use, including for Bukijutsu based techniques within reason.

Lightning Strike (B-Rank, active): Activated for a period of three turns. Imbues the arrow tips with the user’s lightning chakra; one turn after impact, should an arrow tip remain on the battlefield after clashing with an opponent’s technique or striking a solid target, causes it to detonate in a torrential blast of lightning that echoes the damage of the original arrow.
Pathfinding (A-Rank, active and passive): Passively increases the user’s base speed by +2 levels. Stacks with other sources of base speed augmentations. This passive increase can be increased to a 3x speed enhancement for two turns after releasing Izanami’s drawstring, as well as granting the user the ability to use a type of Flicker Evasion for its duration. The speed increase remains deactivated for a period of five turns after this effect ends. Can be used twice per battle.
Elemental Fury (S-Rank, active): Elemental arrows. Arrow tips are augmented with an elemental nature of the user’s choosing. Detonates with the chosen elemental nature upon impact, up to mid-range in radius. Usable once every other turn.
Elemental Ensnarement (S-Rank, active): Active enhancement of the user’s Spirit-Tipped Arrows. When activated the user taps into the spiritual binding between them and their opponent, allowing them to cast an elemental illusion of their choosing requiring a surge of at least fifty chakra to escape from. Note that this surge does not allow the opponent to shatter the spiritual tether itself, only the illusion, unless it exceeds 80 chakra.
Marked Target (F-Rank, passive): Passively augments the user’s Spirit-Tipped Arrows and their tether to increase all elemental damage the target takes by 50%. Elemental Fury augmented arrows bind through the Spirit-Tip, causing the target to have the element applied to the arrow sealed from usage unless the Spirit-Tip is dispelled.

Spiritual Assassin
Chilling and silent. Alters the appearance of Izanami’s Curse to that of a smooth recurve bow.

Metaphysical Bleed (B-Rank, passive): Modifies the Spirit-Tipped Arrows to cause a metaphysical spiritual bleeding effect. While an enemy is under the effect of the arrows, they suffer -10 health per turn until cured.
Chilled Fletching (A-Rank, active): Enhances the Tempered Fletching of the arrows and Spirit-Tips for a single arrow, causing those effected by Spirit-Tips to have their current movement speed reduced by 40%. Can be used every two turns.
Doppelganger (S-Rank, active): After releasing Izanami’s drawstring, the user actively creates a spiritual doppleganger of themselves while rendering themselves spiritually intangible, in a sense becoming similar to that of a Limbo clone. In this state the user is unable to interact with anything considered ‘physical,’ anything within a state of not being spiritual. The user can be detected through means of spiritual detection, and can be interacted with through spiritual-based techniques. Can be used twice per battle, and lasts for two turns. While in a spiritual state the user is unable to use techniques unless they end use of Doppleganger.
Overwhelming Spirit (S-Rank, passive): Empowers the Spirit-Tipped Arrows, increasing the chakra surge requirement to break free from them from 30 to 40.
Spiritual Shattering (F-Rank, passive and active): Passively modifies Izanami’s Spiritual-Tipped Arrows to stack indefinitely with themselves. This does not allow Metaphysical Bleed to stack its damage. Upon reaching six established spiritual tethers, the user is able to actively achieve a Spiritual Shattering. Through a massive infusion of spiritual energy the user disrupts their victim’s balance; the victim suffers from 120 damage, -30 health per turn until cured, -75% of their current movement speed, and reduces the damage of all of their techniques by 50%.

Evil of Humanity: At Merlin's birth, he was baptised to seal away the malevolent spirit that is inherent to all members of his species. Due to his exposure to the cosmic seeds infesting his body, as well as the awakening of the Izanami's Curse, this aspect has been forcibly reawakened. As his darker self begins to emerge, a new power has revealed itself; Verg Avesta. Through it, Merlin is capable of creating black ribbons through Yin Release and Fūinjutsu that carry a curse known as All the World's Evils. Through it, he can corrupt others, turning them into destructive servants that carry out his will.

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Lost: None​




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🌸 Chapter X: The Fall 🌸

Unlike the rest of the champions, Merlin was sprawled out on the floor, unconscious at the time of his summoning back into the world of the living. Whether it was fatigue or stress, none could deny it was a comical sight. The incubus slowly roused from his inert state, rising to his feet and rubbing his temple. He looked around him, seeing the other shinobi assembled, alive and well, and sighed in relief. The ordeal was finally over. But his moment of silent celebration was cut short by a throbbing sensation from his abdomen, to which he looked down at his stomach in mild confusion. It was not painful, but strong enough to draw his attention. Patting himself down, he then searched inside the pockets and folds of his robe to find the obsidian core he had been holding, only to find nothing. The possibility that he had lost it, or someone had taken it, was more concerning to the incubus than the bizarre pulsation in his body. A matter that warranted investigation. As such, Merlin chose to make a speedy exit, bidding farewell to the champions with haste.

"Well, all's well that ends well! Good job everyone. Perhaps we shall all meet again one day."

Having said his goodbyes, Merlin moulds his chakra and creates a pillar of wood beneath his feet that rises into the air, taking him from the bottom of the decrepit cavern to its entrance. Stepping down onto the stone walkway, he would traverse the mountain's numerous passageways until he finally emerged from its dark depths. The sunlight washed over his skin and its warmth permeated his body, provoking a shiver from the incubus. Taking a moment to savour his long-awaited freedom, he turned right down the mountainous path, heading west.

Exhaustion racked the incubus' body. Though he was of athletic build, contrary to the stereotypical image of a spellcasting magus, the expedition extracted a great toll on him, physically and mentally. To make matters worse, he had walked from the Threshold to this place without break. His brief stint of unconsciousness did nothing to alleviate the fatigue which bore down on him like great stone weights. He would soon have to stop, and rest. But in unfamiliar territory, the floor of an open forest would leave him a target for predatory fauna, or worse. The incubus kept walking, his will keeping him moving, though he was conscious of the setting sun.

Eventually, the Magus of Flowers settled on a small clearing in the forest located near the great crater. Finding a secluded corner of the forest would mean searching for hours longer, and Merlin had not the energy or patience for such an endeavour. Walking to the center of the clearing, Merlin sat himself down, crossing his legs and placing the Staff of Selection beside him. Fashioning a small hut for himself, he would recuperate alone in the darkness slowly setting in as night fell over the western side of the ninja world.

With a secure camp established, the Magus of Flowers finally began to relax. His hands moved to the floor to keep himself from collapsing into a pile of exhaustion, leaving him in a slouched posture and sighing the fatigue out of his body. Were it not for the throbbing in his abdomen, which had not ceased since he emerged from the Underworld, Merlin would have allowed himself some proper rest. If it were an injury, which would not be out of sorts given the circumstances, then he needed to tend to it as soon as possible. Creating a butterfly of Mystic Flame, its wings shining with pink light which illuminated the hut, he took off his robe and left it on the ground where it fell. Through the black bodysuit he wore, he could see a faint red glow emanating from just below his chest. Doing away with the upper half of his body suit, the culprit of the throbbing revealed itself: a crimson tattoo bearing the shape of a feral beast.

He brushed his fingers over the mysterious marking, the throbbing slowly intensifying. As he drew his hand away from the mark, trails of black and white energy followed, to which the incubus' eyes widened in curiosity. He raised his hand to eye level, gazing at the swirling aura that orbited his palm. He felt the call of something deep within him. A whisper of promise. A vow of satiation. What Merlin felt was a step short of fear, for he knew something wasn't quite right. Unsettled as he was, his desire to ascertain the nature of the marking outweighed his anxiousness. The incubus' eyes narrowed in focus, concentrating on the black and white energy. He curled his fingers as if to grasp the ethereal essence, trying to elicit some kind of reaction from it. The voice spoke to him again, louder. It did not ask of him, it merely stated.

"We shall take from them their salvation, and instead give damnation."

The energy began to flow outwards from the marking, as if a torrent of water through an open floodgate. It filled the hut with light, piercing through its seams and dispelling the familiar of Mystic Fire. It blinded Merlin, who shielded his eyes with his other arm, his expression a grimace at the sudden outburst of energy. When it calmed, Merlin felt in his hands something strange. Lowering his arm, he gazed upon the mysterious object held in his hand. A modern bow, carved from the bones of the Great Mother Goddess. Attached to the weapon were glowing orbs, containing the same black and white energies that were flowing from his seal that created a slight glow within the otherwise pitch black room. Merlin eyed the weapon up and down keenly, inspecting it from every angle. Raising it above his head, he released his grip on the bow, allowing it to sit on his palm. Within moments, the weapon seemingly disintegrated, turning into countless particles of black and white matter which floated back towards the marking on his abdomen. He eyed them as they were absorbed into the mark, which had lost its colour and left only the outline of the mark itself while the bow was drawn, restoring its crimson pigment. The last thought to pass through the mind of Magus of Flowers was that the mark was a seal, before he finally collapsed due to exhaustion, falling into a deep sleep.

Merlin had finally awoken from his days-long rest, the lids of his eyes opening slowly, allowing the light of the midday sun to seep into his vision. He rose sluggishly from his prone position on the floor of his hut, rubbing his head to massage the soreness from a lack of cushioning. He could still feel the mental link between himself and his clones, who had been watching the surrounding forest diligently while he slept. Looking down to his stomach, he inspected the tattoo on his stomach once more, as if to confirm that he hadn't simply hallucinated his experience from a few days prior.

A gentle itch tickled the incubus, along the left side of his back near the shoulder, prompting him to reach over with his right arm to scratch it. As his fingers brushed over his skin, he felt a slight unevenness in the flesh, eliciting pause. Was it a lingering injury from the battle in the Underworld? If so, then it stood to reason that the peculiarity of the powers employed by his foes were capable of inflicting wounds that proved difficult to heal, even for himself. Channeling his chakra in an to expedite his natural healing processes, he removes his hand from the site of the pitting, allowing his regenerative powers to do their work. After half a minute, he ceases the technique and reaches over again, only to find that the pitting remained. Somewhat surprised, he opts to use the highest level of healing available to him. Concentrating a large quantity of chakra to his hand, he tips its internal balance to favour the physical, and pours it into the small area of skin. Maintaining the technique for several moments, he inspects the wound once again, and was met with the same result. Sighing in contemplation, Merlin withdrew his hand from the pitted skin, turning his gaze to the dense forest beyond the confines of his humble hut. The physical abnormality did not affect him in any meaningful way, so it was not a particularly pressing matter, but he would keep it tucked away in the back of his mind.

Putting his bodysuit and robe back on, and picking up the Staff of Selection from the ground, Merlin stood up and walked out of his hut. Looking to the sky, the winds blew to the East.

Arriving at Tenkaichi after a brief stint of travel, Merlin reconvenes with the King of Magic, who had only last seen each other in Kur.

"I didn't have much time to stay at the Threshold after the crisis ended. I imagine you're not doing too well."

"Well...as well as you could expect someone to be, after fighting tooth and nail in hell, haha."

Merlin replied in good spirit, but the truth was a little different than what his light-hearted answer would let on. As much as he might have liked to steer the conversation away from his condition, identifying and, hopefully, understanding it was the first step to remedying it. Raising his right arm, he loosened his robes and the black bodysuit around his left shoulder, laying bare the pitted skin that had itched since its emergence.

Solomon's Satorigan glowed, peering down at the pitting along Merlin's shoulder. Had it not been for the Divinity-augmented eyes he might not have been able to discern the true mystery behind Merlin's now transforming body. He was infected. In his eight century lifespan he had never seen something like this, and much of that was spent under the pseudonym Romani Archaman, nomadic doctor. Normally Solomon detested the Incubus, but here he couldn't help but feel some pity. He almost seemed like a broken man.

"It's an infection."

"Do you refer to what lies beneath the tainted waters of the Hokubu, or what festers in this body of mine?"

"Both. The tree has spread much further than only in the Hokubu. Its roots have emerged as far east as the Sun and Moon Shrines, and as far west as... As far as the Resting Place of the Gods...Kamiyasumi. But it's your health I'm more concerned for now... The Outer Lands."

Merlin's face sagged as his attempts at humour were left to the wayside, rubbing his head sheepishly. A guy could only try and lift the mood for so long.

"Ah...little old me, becoming a border point between two planes of existence. Quite the promotion. If the Outer Lands are my next stop, then I'll go when time permits."

"It's hard to say what will happen. The Void Tree we've seen grow deep in the sea has spread its roots throughout the world, just like how these seeds will grow through you. But what will happen I can't say for certain. You need to go investigate the tree. I'd recommend starting in the Hokubu...but it's not exactly the safest. You might find the greatest boon in the Port of Innovus."

On that note, the Magus of Flowers departed.

When he arrived at the Port, an eerie silence hung over the land. He took stock of his surroundings, noting the abundance of stone in what remained of the seaside town. Their age was difficult to guess, but they were likely far older than him, desperately trying to stand tall as proof of mankind's existence. His bittersweet smile soon faded as he refocused himself, grasping the Staff of Selection firmly and activating his Chakra Sensory ability. The first order of business was to locate the Void Tree's roots; something his sensory, much to his lack of surprise, couldn't do. At the very least, it would alert him to any approaching or otherwise nearby threats, of which the wildlife were likely among them.

Moving on from the wharf, the Magus of Flowers chose to move eastward along the coast of the port. The decision was entirely arbitrary, since he had no knowledge of the Void Tree which he sought, and no favours would be done trying to theorise or calculate on that which he knew nothing of. Before long, the port turned to forest, the crunching of fallen sticks and leaves beneath footsteps meeting the chirps of crickets and birds. Merlin eventually altered his trajectory to move further inland after no signs of anything beyond the ordinary following the coastline, conscious of the fading daylight. Surely, within the sea of green and brown, there were the roots of something ancient, something powerful, for him to find.

With the last dregs of the sun's light fading into the night, the search would only become more difficult. Nevertheless, Merlin continued to traverse the island.

"Ah...forget being exhausting, this place is a little too creepy for my taste..."

The incubus' groaning was met with no reply, only serving to exacerbate the foreboding atmosphere that had settled on the island. Were it not for soft white glow Merlin caught in the corner of his eye, he would have stopped his search and continued in the morning. He approached the light emanating from beneath the cover of great ferns, pushing them aside to reveal small growths of a mysterious plant, unlike any other within the island. Not knowing any better, he guessed that he had just found one of many roots of the Void Tree he sought out, sighing in relief that his search had finally bore fruit. Remembering that the tree itself had sprouted within the Hokubu, Merlin's curiosity deepened. Crouching to the ground, grasping his staff in one hand, he ran his index and middle fingers of the other over the heavenly white growths, fishing for any immediate peculiarities. Beside the colour, and their distinct aura, the tree to which these roots belonged seemed no different than that of an ordinary tree. Without needing to even experiment, Merlin knew that it was beyond his ability to control or manipulate with his Wood Release, as powerful as he was. Reaching over his shoulder, he briefly massaged his shoulder where the seeds had embedded themselves, only to be met without any reaction.

"Hmm."

Standing upright, Merlin raised his staff and prodded the root with it, somewhat at a loss for how to proceed. Although nobody was around to witness him, he rubbed his head sheepishly, a small frown forming on his face. Sitting back down, placing his staff on the ground beside him, he looked up to the star-filled sky, though it was only partially visible through the dense canopy above. Unbeknownst to him, the story that had begun with his discovery of the seeds, and the mysterious weapon, was well underway.

The clanging sound of armor materialized behind Merlin as a strange figure appeared out of literal nothingness. She took one step after another slowly and deliberately toward the Incubus. The seeds in Merlin’s shoulder reacted to her presence, a mixture of prickling and tingling radiated from the back of his upper shoulder blade with each step closer that she took.

“Merlin."

The clinks of plated armour in motion tore Merlin's attention and gaze from the starry sky, his eyes leaning to his left peripheral. His sensory ability detected no chakra, which was cause for alarm. That was, until the figure called his name. Its voice, her voice, utterly disarmed him as he turned around to see whether his ears had deceived him. What he saw standing behind him was a sight he had not seen in hundreds of years. The exquisite cloths of a blue battle dress, shielded by steel plates of the finest craft. Finely textured blonde hair, as if sprinkled with gold dust. A youthful face, normally fierce but softened by sorrow.

“Why did you leave, Merlin?”

Artoria Pendragon. The last King of Camelot. The last time he saw her, she did not have this face. He had given her the form of the man she pretended to be for all of her life. He erased her memories of her life as King Arthur to spare her the pain of knowing what happened. He had tried to spare her at the very beginning of it all, on that day outside the town when he lodged the Sword of Selection into the stone. He warned her of the tragedy that would follow. He knew where, how, it would all end. In his own way, he pleaded with the would-be King to choose her own happiness over a life destined to end in misery. But that was his mistake, to think that Artoria's happiness was detached from the happiness of others. She was too good a person. And he hated himself for setting such a pure soul on the ruinous path. The whirlwind of emotion momentarily halted all logical thought, as he couldn't pause even to think whether this Artoria was even real. Their reunion was not one of solace, but wounds reopened. Despite Merlin's grief-stricken condolences, Artoria would not relent, driving the proverbial knife deeper instead, continuing to remind him of the doomed path he set her forth on. Before parting, she instructed him to find a place removed from reality but connected all the same. The Dark Tower.

Seek out the tower he did, and met by a phantom of a powerful of Uchiha he was. Pushed to the brink of his ability, his reward for victory was the wicked taunts of phantoms from his past. Of Artoria and Amara. Phantoms they were, until the Once and Future King sliced at his stomach with the greatest Holy Sword; Excalibur. Before vanishing, a voice whispered to him from within.

I feel it.

It is the heart in the eye.

Retrieve it.

Take its magentaic flesh in your hands,

Embrace me.

Embrace them.

Suddenly, the pain ceased. He slowly released his grip on his skull, looking back to where Artoria and Amara stood before disappearing, moving to his feet with newly found poise. Before the realm collapsed around him, he raised an arm and looked into an open hand, inspecting his pale skin littered with blood-red veins.

His search would eventually lead him to the Outer Lands, during which he would find a grotesque mass of flesh, a hideous heart. In an instant he found his hand pulled, forcefully, towards the heart, making direct contact with it, that pulling sensation intensifying to the point of causing extreme agony which overwrit the shock and surprise of the act itself. He found himself unable to pull away, yet unable to draw any closer to the Heart, his hand sinking into the flesh and yet it continued to tear at his form, pulling him, crushing him into a tight embrace. It had only been mere moments, and yet the pull of this force was tearing him apart. At the same time, he felt another force, one from within himself going in the same direction but composed a distinctly opposing force. The Heart was pulling, and an intense power, located on his left shoulder, was pushing, specifically against his form. Something was seeking to push itself out of him! Was the heart pulling it out? Was it the Void Trees roots? There was no time to think as waves of pain surged through his body, wreaking havoc on even the Incubi's sturdy biology. His flesh twisted asunder as grotesque sounds filled the otherwise peaceful corner of the cedar forest. There was no mistaking it, the seeds that had taken root within him were reacting. What this meant for him was a mystery that wouldn't remain for long as seconds later a bright, all-consuming light burst forth from his back, as he was forcefully ejected from the Heart, sent tumbling several meters away...

Shadows formed in spaces where originally there were none, even beneath the canopy of the cedar forest. They twisted and inverted as a sea of violet and scarlet energy violently swallowed what little remained of the sun's presence within this sacred space. Everything looked the same, was the same, but off ever so slightly. Flora retained their shape, but had the pale pallor of death clinging to their form. The ground was as sturdy as every, yet every crack and change in elevation was accentuated with heavily contrasted shadows. Even the air, despite being breathable, held a certain weight that forced Merlin to have to consciously focus on the act of breathing. Everything was the same, except for... A shadow, no, a person stood before the Heart where he was just moments ago. Clad in black and purple, wielding a sword of unfathomable power, there before him stood... An impossibility once more. Yet again in front of his very eyes stood Artoria, but like all things now, different. She held the same face, the same hair, the same eyes, but they were devoid of their life and vibrance Merlin was accustomed to. Everything was pale, or shared a ill-looking golden hue. But it was unmistakably Artoria. Her armor and famed blade that he'd looked upon with reverence many a time, the spitting image of the perfect King, corrupted and dyed a jet black. Her imposing form stood before the heart, hands rested atop her sable saber.

"Merlin...? Hmph. Tell me Mage, how does a traitor like you live with themselves? How do you dare to show your face, after all you've done?"

She raised her obsidian sword, as if preparing for battle, prompting Merlin to remain on guard. Unlike her prior manifestations, her disgust was plainly apparent. It practically oozed from her words, like the vile miasma emanating from her body. Merlin, however, could not help but voice amusement at the irony of the scenario.

"Hah... right now, you are the spitting image of Vortigern. To model yourself after none other than the Usurper, and condemn me as a traitor? It's too much, if you don't mind me saying."

"I suppose it is for the best. No words from that forked tongue of yours will never amount to more than hollow lies."

And she would bestow upon him yet another mercy. That of atonement for his original sin. Drawing her blade back in her right hand with the tip still pointed at him, her other hand palm open in front of herself aimed squarely at Merlin, the air itself began to whip and cry out in pain, yet there was no accompanying action. The grass beneath their feet, and the heavy canopy above their heads began to sway and buckle and bend, yet the cause wasn't visible. Perhaps he'd recognize it, perhaps not, but as Artoria thrust her sword in his direction, the same phenomena would occur in reverse, the grass whipping about in a frenzy, the trees trunks screaming in agony, but whatever action accompanied the thrust was entirely invisible. Perhaps it was a warning, or perhaps she meant to kill him with the strike outright. Regardless, she was indeed here to exchange more than passive aggressive words and thinly veiled threats, and no words from him could convince her otherwise. Though she had never displayed such hostility to the incubus in her lifetime, such vitriol was not unheard of when directed to her enemies, or those who earned her ire. This time, Merlin fell under the latter category. As the forest's stir turned to turbulence beneath the might of the King, Merlin rose to his feet, her stance all too familiar.

"Let us close the book on this tale."

Thus begun the battle between Magus and King. Father and daughter. The devil and the doomed. It would be brief, but no less tragic. As the King of Camelot brought down her mighty blade, once the hopes and dreams of the planet, a crystallization of Humanity's desire and will to survive, Merlin avoided direct confrontation with it, instead moving behind to strike her down in one fell swoop. Though his blade lodged itself into Artoria's neck, cleaving through both armour and flesh, it fell short of being a killing stroke. At this proximity, avoiding the blackened Excalibur was impossible, for he chose to complete the strike he had initially launched at her neck. The wound he sustained in doing so merely carved a fuller wound in her neck, causing the King of Knights to crumble to the ground, bested by the man who had tutored her in the ways of swordsmanship.

"Mer... lin...? No... You're not my... Merlin..."

Only two sounds permeated the Heart of the Titan after the battle's end: the soft-pitter patter of the rain coming from the hurricane, which seemed to have abated somewhat in the aftermath. The second was the rhythmic pulsations of the grotesque heart, pump after pump without failure. Artoria's blood diluted from the rain, seeping into the tainted ground. All seemed tranquil. Until suddenly, the heart expanded, pumping outwardly into a massive size before quick contracting. Blood burst from the purple veins that spread around it, flooding the immediate vicinity in a bright red iron-scented fluid. Blood splattered on Merlin's robes and face which would cause the seeds embedded in his body to instantly react. The Incubus's flesh would twist and contort where the seeds were buried, the blood from the Titan's Heart seeping into his flesh and they ravenously consumed its essence. While the process would be eerie, if not outright disgusting and horrifying to behold, there would be little to no pain involved. As if his body had adjusted to the growing seeds inside, now feasting on the blood. His skin would bounce up and down until finally the seeds burst outward of his flesh, his own blood bursting back while the seeds hovered in the air for a moment. They'd soon dart at the Heart of the Titan, leaving Merlin's body and embedding themselves in the Heart.

And then nothing. The heart would contract again, pulling into itself before the red and purple complexion of its flesh and blood would twist and transform into a dark green and black. The trees that formed an interwoven cage around it were suddenly blasted backwards and wilted. The Heart expanded again, but this time launching from it a series of tendrils that would wrap around Merlin's legs and arms, grabbing onto him and drawing him inside it, his body sinking into the flesh of the heart itself. He would reappear soon after...but this time somewhere else.

When Merlin awoke, he remembered little of what transpired in the moments following the battle's conclusion. Thrashing flesh and wilting life, the face of a girl he once knew, the seeds of another world... images fashioned from his own memory, feeling as if they were those of another. The space around him, however, was familiar. The Reverse Side of the World. Avalon.

His body would slowly but surely become acutely aware of a force pulling him westward, like a gentle tug at his waist encouraging him to explore. Five kilometers in that direction was a tranquil forest, glistening in the distance under beautiful starlight. Two rivers bisected it. But beyond the plains, over the horizon, was the very same Tower of Avalon hanging in the sky. After a brief journey from where he awoke, he arrived at the tower. No less majestic than it was the day he left. Underneath the base of the tower a staff hovered in place just half a meter above the ground. Around it once brilliant lilacs were wilted in a small one meter radius; though the stage of decay among the flowers varied. Nearest the staff they were black and white, wilted to the point of collapse. In fact, they were difficult to discern that it was originally a flower at all. But at the farthest reaches of the circle the flowers were only tilted slightly, discolored to a slightly paler purple, and their stems softer than normal. The staff hovered above, locked in position directly under the tower.

Something capable of withering life in a space dedicated to fostering it was dangerous, if nothing else. As for who placed it there... something so obvious was unlike Vivian. If he could even suspect her involvement, he would have turned back immediately. Alas, the Magus of Flowers stepped forth, slowly reaching towards the staff.

"Stop, don't touch it."

The voice emerged from behind Merlin, no more than seven meters. There stood Solomon, the King of Magic. Orbiting around his back in sigmoidal formation were six small black Truth-Seeking Orbs. His eyes were illuminated in a deep purple, reflecting his activated Satorigan. He had a soft and somber expression scrawled across his face as his eyes locked on Merlin. His warning came just moments before Merlin's palm would wrap around the harrowed staff. Was it real? Was this the true King Solomon? Or was it a dream? A spectral phantom in this strange cosmic anomaly. Merlin's hand hovered perilously close to the staff. Despite Solomon's warning, he did not withdraw his arm, fingers poised to clutch the mysterious object. There was something primal in his fixation on the weapon, in himself. His promise to tend to the Void Tree was half-hearted at best. The guilt of his sins followed him at every turn, and had now consumed him.

"If you touch that staff you will never come home. Leave it. Leave this place all together. Can't you see he has drawn you here? It is all part of his grand design, to encircle and divide humanity and leave us weak. The very seeds that were embedded in your flesh have drawn you to this very spot. And you shouldn't...you can't take that staff."

"What the world needs isn't who I was, but who I am now."

And with that, Merlin's fate was sealed. A thin smile, as if carved onto his face by a knife, curls on Merlin's face as he turns back to the staff. Without hesitation, his hand reaches for the staff and draws it from the air. In the moment that Merlin's hand grasped the staff the visage of Solomon burst into nothingness, a plume of shadows and black smoke caught in the wind that was thrust away. Perhaps the Mage King was never real at all here but only a byproduct of the "Ordered" portion of this unique reality that competed against the Void-dominant half. But it was clear who had won out in the end as Merlin stood alone under the Tower, grasping the Harrowed Staff of Selection. Yet there would be little respite. An unstoppable gravitational force latched onto Merlin's body, emitted by the Tower of Avalon itself. It pulled him inward, asserting whatever strength it had left.

YOU CANNOT GO FREE.

The words echoed through the Reverse Side of the World as Merlin was suddenly trapped inside the Tower of Avalon itself, left only with the staff that tempted him to such a degree. In the end, the Incubus had succumbed to the mystery that he set out to uncover and unravel. Or, perhaps phrased differently, he became that very mystery. Part of a cosmic metamorphosis that would soon take the world by storm. Maybe one day Solomon would see the old Incubus again...in one form or another.

Merlin stood caged in the Tower of Avalon once again. He looked around the empty room, which was as tall as the cosmos was vast, and sighed in resignation. Taking a seat on the raised part of the floor, his newly acquired staff in hand, his rested his head on his free hand.

"There and back again."

Raising his staff, he tapped the floor gently, commanding its otherworldly power. For as consumed as he was by guilt, his desire to remain involved in the world was stronger. Despite the very Isle's desire to seal him away in eternal damnation, he would render up his all to grant mankind salvation. In truth, however, they were one and the same.​


 
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