Merlin waited. Until the sun had set. Until the fairies had all gone to bed. Until Mystica herself had gone to bed. Then he waited until he was certain everyone was asleep. Except for Whisper. That owl was as old as Merlin. And like Merlin, Whisper never slept.
Whisper flew to the edge of the lake. And waited, on the ground, next to the water. There was no moon at all. Only stars. Merlin flicked his wings just a few times. And as if by magic, simply popped out of the shadows of the trees. He landed next to Whisper. Whisper was his sanity. His oldest friend. The one that had brought him back from the nightmare he once was.
Whisper did what he always did. He whispered. “Why have you come here tonight?”
Merlin looked at the waters of the lake. “To remember.” His voice was almost silent. As he looked at the lake, Merlin spoke once more. “Machines. Don’t let me forget.” The he called on his black magic.
Merlin was ancient. Well over 10,000 years old. The most powerful black mage in the history of the world. A world he knew the name of. A world named Cylinders. A world where the children of the humans had come. And put in place a plan to save their parents. Their creators. And in doing so, the machines had become ubiquitous . They were in the air. The water. The ground. The trees. They were in the food. The animals. The machines were in everything.
Merlin knew the machines were in him. In his blood. In his bones. His muscles. His brain. He knew he was genetically a human. His genetics being modified by the machines. Yes, he was born of dragons. But the dragons were created by the machines. Just like the fairies. Just like the elves. Just like the other magical creatures of this world. The ones that Mystica had yet to meet. Like the mermaids, the hobbits, the dwarfs, the giants. So many different types of beings.
All descendants of the humans. All genetically modified humans. Brought into existence by the machines.
There wasn’t really anything as magic. Magic didn’t really exist. Except on Cylinders. And then, only because of the machines. It looked like magic. It acted like magic. It was magic. Except it wasn’t. It was humans, in the form of fairies, dragons, and all the rest. Talking with the machines. Interacting with the machines.
Upon the surface of the lake, black as night, appeared even darker shapes. As the machines responded to Merlin’s wishes. And played back his memories. From 10,000 years before. When he’d first learned of them. First learned of the history of Cylinders. Of the machines, and how they had created everything on this world.
Merlin had gone insane. He’d been consumed by rage. And decided to used the powers the machines had granted him to change everything. To destroy the machine’s plans. He’d decided to start by destroying the fairies. But he couldn’t be obvious about why. He had to be subtle. So the machines would think he was acting against the fairies for valid reasons.
That’s when the fairies had thrown one of their own into the wilderness. She’d been born with a beautiful name. Orchid. She was a beautiful fairy. But, she’d been given wild magic by the machines. Wild, untamed magic. The kind of magic the dragons had learned to live with. There were many wild magic dragons. But Merlin learned, wild magic was not tolerated among the fairies. Or the humans.
The fairies had renamed Orchid. Calling her Black Orchid. After the most poison of the plants on Cylinders. They called her this because when she was upset, when she was disturbed, when she cried, Black Orchids bloomed in the fairy kingdom. And those orchids resulted in the deaths of other fairies.
The fairies of the kingdom had taken Orchid, beautiful as she was, gifted with an amazing wild magic that could have done so much good, if the fairies had only known how to teach her, work with her, help her learn to control that magic. The fairies had bound her. Blindfolded her. And hauled her out to the foothills of the mountains. Where they’d abandoned her. Left her to die. Where she would either starve to death, slowly, fall to her death, painfully and horribly, or be consumed by predators. Wolves, bears, or something like them.
In all honesty, what happened to Orchid, how Orchid was so brutally left to die, had enraged Merlin. While it had been the excuse he was looking for, he didn’t have to pretend to wish to destroy the fairies. To him, the fairies intolerance of Orchid, and her wild magic was inexcusable. And he saw no reason not to destroy them.
The fairies, at that time, lived in the norther forest. With a kingdom centered around the lake. And cities, villages, and towns scattered through the forest.
In 10 years, Merlin had changed all that. He’d used his black magic. His gifts from the machines. To relentlessly attack the fairies. He’d murdered thousands of them. Driven them from the forest, southward. To the foothills. But he didn’t let up. He kept assaulting them. Driving them through the foothills. Through the gray mountains. Then through the mountains to the gray hills. Then from the hills to the great plain, and it’s scattered forests.
20 years after he’d started his assault, the fairies were all but destroyed. There were less than 100 of them left. Only two remaining fairies of royal blood. Merlin had reached the end of his quest. In just a couple of days, the fairies would be gone. And the plans of the machines to protect the humans, and keep them alive, would have been given an enormous setback. And Cylinders would be freed from the machines, and their influence.
That’s when Whisper had first spoken to Merlin. Tiny Whisper. Landing on Merlin’s head. Whispering in Merlin’s ear. “What if you could teach them? Would you kill them all for the mistake of a few? What if you are killing those like Orchid?” Whisper only asked questions. And Merlin could feel the machines in Whisper. Could feel the wild magic they provided to Whisper.
“Why do you strike at the machines? They only wish to keep their creator’s alive? So that they won’t be alone in this universe?”
That night, when Merlin had struck against the fairies once again, he’d attacked the last of the royals. He’d destroyed the guards that protected them. He’d sliced them to shreds. He’d burned them with black fire. He’d cut the prince in half. And then he’d torn the heart from the princess.
And that’s when he heard a baby cry. A tiny newborn baby. The last of he royal fairies. She cried. An innocent infant. Newborn. And Merlin stopped. That night was the last night Merlin had struck at the fairies.
He’d carefully picked up the newborn. He’d been so very careful to not injure her. He’d flown to the next group of fairies. There were so very few fairies left. He’d landed. And he’d waited. Placing the newborn so very gently on the ground. He’d stood there. Until a single fairy had come forward, out of hiding. That single fairy stood there. Looking at Merlin. Certain she would die.
Merlin had nodded his head. Flexed his mighty wings. And flown away.
It would be over 10,000 years before anyone heard from him again.
That was the night Merlin had spared the life of Eyela. The fairy princess. He’d silently watched the few fairies as they’d re-grouped. As Eyela had grown up. Becoming their princess. As they’d formed a new kingdom. He’d silently helped them. Protecting them when they couldn’t protect themselves. He told the machines what had happened. What he’d done. Told them he wanted to help. That he finally understood. And wanted to correct his mistake.
With his help, the machines put together a plan. And Merlin did his part. He stayed hidden. He worked to rebuild the fairies in the southern plains. And to help them learn to work with their children the machines had given the gift of wild magic.
Merlin remembered it all. It was so long ago, but the memories hadn’t faded. He remembered every detail. Every battle. Every last fairy he’d destroyed. And he stood there. At the lake. Watching the memories play out. Black on black.
Dragon’s never cry. But humans do. And Merlin was, after all, a genetic human. Merlin cried. And asked once more if the universe, and life itself, could forgive him for what he’d done. And the innocent people he’d destroyed. In an effort to strike against machines that only wanted to keep their parents, their creator’s alive.
On a world call Cylinders.