Disclaimer: very dark. Has elements of horror.
Right. Remember that abyss that I mentioned?
Yeah. We’re here. 😐
“…And that’s how I ended up in the broom closet all night.”
“Hogwash,” Gawain replied, highly amused. “You did not hide in a closet.”
“Oh, but he did,” Bayard said, sitting to Gawain’s left. “It took us almost three hours to find him, too. The saddle-goose left me to dance with ol’ Briarheart for three hours while he played cards with himself in a damn closet.”
“Serves you right for trapping us in the gardens with her,” Elyan quipped back.
“I’m lost,” Gawain said, looking from Bayard to Elyan and back with a questioning expression. “Ol’ Briarheart?”
“An old widow from Wessex,” Elyan explained. “She likes younger men and is ridiculously handsy in the ballroom. Half of our escape attempts are because of that woman.”
“She sounds… fun.”
“The ronyon is a complete nightmare,” his friend replied, shaking his head at Gawain as he let out a chuckle. “We used to saddle Lancelot with her, because he was too polite to say no. But that bastard is starting to get good at excusing himself and turning her back on us.”
The dark-haired nobleman shuddered in horror at the memory.
“I’m telling you, Gawain. You’re lucky to miss out on all of that. Be glad that you don’t have to worry about any of that political hogwash.”
Elyan suddenly piped up, a grin spreading across his lips as he looked at his friend.
“Oh, I know! Care to trade?”
“You’d really switch?” Gawain asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be a viscount?”
“Ha! They can’t title me if I don’t go home to be titled,” Elyan smirked. “One of my brothers can do it. Watcher knows there’s plenty of them to pick from. They’re the better choice, anyway.”
His voice trailed off as Elyan gazed into the flames of the campfire. Gawain could see the smirk on Elyan’s lips slowly fade away. For a moment, his friend seemed deeply lost in thought. Then that moment faded, and Elyan’s brow furrowed into a frown instead.
“This is what I choose. Consequences be damned. What title I was born into doesn’t matter. I’d rather be on the battlefield than anywhere else – especially a stuffy ballroom full of dishonest nobles.”
Next to them, Bayard let out a chuckle.
“You and me both, friend. You and me both.”
Around midnight, as the flames of the makeshift campfire finally began to die out, the Crown Prince of Mercia rose to his feet.
“Well, then. I suppose it’s time for me to leave. Not everyone can hide their ass in a broom closet all night, after all.”
“At least in a broom closet I don’t have to dance with ol’ Briarheart all night,” Elyan jeered, looking up at his friend. “She’s in the castle tonight, you know.”
The Crown Prince of Mercia let out a groan.
“… Crap. I’ll be taking the long way back.”
Shortly after midnight, Arthur Pendragon found himself making his way through the silent halls of castle Camelot. The Crown Prince was still dressed in his knight’s uniform, sandy and covered in dirt from spending an entire day in the arena.
The Crown Prince sighed. He was tired. Organising and managing a tournament like this was much more work than he had thought it would be. Or at least, everything surrounding the tournament was. The fights were fun, but all the political play proved to be much more trouble than it was worth. Sometimes Arthur wondered how his sister did it. It hadn’t even been a week yet, and yet the Crown Prince already found himself wishing that the event was over.
As he made his way into the music room, Arthur noticed some movement to his left. He turned his head to see a familiar figure standing by the fireplace. Guinevere was in the middle of lighting a neatly arranged pile of firewood. That alone wasn’t all that strange – were it not for the fact that it was the middle of the night, and the room was completely empty.
Arthur frowned as he looked at her back. The maidservant was staring into the flames, seemingly lost in thought.
What was she still doing here?
Curiosity ended up getting the better of him. Arthur walked up to Guinevere, careful not to startle the girl into the fire. With an expression that was somewhere between a frown and a half-grin, the Crown Prince called out to her.
“Guinevere. You’re up late.”
“A-ah, milord,” she stammered. “I… yes.”
“What are you doing here? Your shift should have ended hours ago.”
“I couldn’t sl… I-I mean,” Guinevere corrected, quickly backtracking, “I thought that some of our guests may want to wind down here a-after the ball. A-and it was cold in here, so I… lit a fire.”
“Attentive as always, I see,” Arthur replied, a smile spreading across his lips. He nodded to her in appreciation. His gaze fell on the unused tea set on the table next to him. A kettle with water was already placed next to the hearth, and he could see an unopened jar of what looked like biscuits on an end table in the corner.
Arthur’s smile widened. She really did think of everything.
Actually… I could go for some tea myself. Maybe… she’ll want to join me?
He took a step towards her, trying to catch Guinevere’s eye. But the maidservant refused to meet his gaze. She hastily looked towards one of the windows instead. In a small voice, Guinevere muttered:
“Um… C… congratulations with your… engagement.”
Guinevere’s words felt like an abrupt, stone cold shower, pouring over him without mercy and pulling him back to reality.
The Crown Prince let out a tired sigh.
An awkward silence fell between the two of them. Arthur didn’t know what to say. No, that wasn’t exactly true – the Crown Prince had a pretty good idea of what he actually wanted to say – but as he looked at the girl in front of him, he suddenly couldn’t find the words.
It… didn’t really matter what he said, did it?
Eventually, Guinevere spoke up.
“Milady will be leaving for Nemeth soon,” she muttered. The Crown Prince gave her a short nod.
“Ah. Yes. I suppose she will.”
“She will… be taking her servants with her,” the young redhead continued, glancing up at Arthur as she folded her hands in front of her.
The Crown Prince hadn’t even thought of that. But Guinevere was right. It wasn’t just Morgana that was leaving after the tournament. When she left, she would take Sarah and Guinevere with her.
And contrary to his sister, whom he’d meet at least a few times a year… Arthur would probably never see Sarah and Guinevere again.
That meant… that this moment could be their last. Arthur could feel a weird, hollow feeling spread through his chest at the realization. A dull pain, paired with a strange, cold sense of numbness. The more he thought about it, the worse it became. Arthur had never felt a pain like that before.
And he couldn’t stand it. He had to say something. Consequences be damned. Arthur couldn’t stay silent. The Crown Prince opened his mouth to speak his mind –
And abruptly shut it again as a single memory forced its way to the surface.
“I will disown and banish you before I see a weak man succeed me as King.”
“…I wish you all the best.”
“…Oh. Thank you.”
More than anything else in existence, the element of water was connected to the world around it. Cultures as old as time had worshipped its power, dedicating themselves to unravelling its mysteries. It flowed through every living creature. From the smallest ant to the largest bear. It connected every human, every plant, every Fae.
Every living soul.
No matter where they were, the strength of water connected them all.
The former priestess had not performed a ritual like this in a very long time. But she still remembered her lessons. She still recalled the sensation of opening herself up to the world around her. The witch brought her arm forward, closing her eyes as she reached out into the void. She could feel the magick flow through her, rising and falling like the tide with every breath she took. She could feel the creatures around her. The insects skidding across the water. The mouse dashing through the grass in the distance. The owl, swooping by high overhead.
The rapid, expectant breathing of the woman in front of her.
Show me Lincoln.
Her consciousness faded. For a moment, Glitonea was in complete harmony with the world around her, connected to every living creature in Albion.
For a moment, she felt completely at peace.
Then, that moment faded. The light from the motes around Glitonea vanished, shrouding the clearing in darkness. Morgause watched with an expression of rapidly increasing discomfort as her friend’s arms fell back to her body.
Her search had been fruitless.
“I’m sorry, Morgause. I cannot find him.”
“No. There has to be some trace of him,” Morgause replied, refusing to accept Glitonea’s words for what they were. “Have you checked the other sanctuaries? Or the river? What about the lake?”
But her friend shook her head, looking down at the dark water below.
“Morgause, I cannot sense him anywhere. He is either too far away, has been hidden by magick, or…”
“He is not dead,” Morgause interjected, cutting her off. “I know he isn’t. Nimueh wouldn’t kill him – there has to be some trace of him out there. Try asking the sprites for help. Or the nymphs. Or… or…”
“Just try one more time, Toni. Please.”
The witch let out a sigh at her friend’s expression.
“All right. I will try one more time. But I cannot find what is not there, Morgause.”
Glitonea kneeled, sinking back down into the water. Both of them knew that these rituals were not without cost. The witch could feel herself shaking. Her well of power was not limitless, and Glitonea was about to reach that limit.
But for the sake of her friend… she could try one more time.
Just one more time.
“Yes?” she asked, looking up from her ritual. Glitonea made eye contact with Morgause – and was startled by the very different expression that her friend now wore. Gone was the sorrow and worry. It had been cast out, and replaced by an emotion that was much more dangerous.
“Change of plans. I want you to find Nimueh.”
Determination met with disbelief. Glitonea slowly shook her head at her friend, barely believing the words she was hearing.
“Morgause, you can’t. She has closed off her lair. And you know that she never lets people in without an invitation.”
“I don’t care. I don’t need an invitation. She might have removed the door knocker, but I can still bang on the windows until they break.”
“You’ll get hurt,” the priestess muttered. But Morgause was not listening.
“She’ll still have to open her lair to cast magick out of it. That’s all I need to get in. If she’s still holding him, I’ll drag him back out of her lair myself.”
Her eyes glimmered with a reckless determination. Glitonea had seen that look before. The piercing gleam of conflict. Glitonea despised that look more than anything. But after spending so much time together, she knew better than to get in her friend’s way. Glitonea let out a tired, resigned sigh.
“Very well. I will try.”
“Thank you,” Morgause smiled, looking down on her friend with gratitude. Glitonea merely shook her head in response.
Why could things never just stay peaceful?
Glitonea raised her arms, closing her eyes for a second time as she slowly exhaled and focused on the swirling web of water. She could feel the magick taking hold of her once again. Guiding her. Empowering her. Showing her the way to the void.
Show me Nimueh.
Glitonea brought her arm forward, guided by the energy coursing through her veins-
But she couldn’t answer. Glitonea watched in stunned confusion as a thick, purple mist began to seep out from the water around her. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. The witch was paralyzed as it completely enveloped her, sinking into her body and burning her skin-
She could hear a faint splash of water as Morgause ran head into the pond. It sounded strangely far away.
“Toni! Get out of there!”
But the shock had completely immobilized her. She couldn’t feel her body anymore. When the witch spoke, her voice was reduced to nothing but a hoarse whisper.
“Some… thing… is… wrong.”
The Sidhe called Nimueh hovered over a black, festering pit of darkness that had once been marshland. The Lady of the Lake had been trying to contain it for hours, alarmed and teleporting in from the second she woke up. She was in pain. Her wounds had barely healed. Her face still bore the scars of claw marks.
But there was no time to lose. Not one second.
She had to keep it contained.
She had to keep it from spreading.
If she didn’t… that darkness would consume everything around it.
She felt its presence long before she saw it. A bright, blinding, painful source of energy, burning out everything else and rapidly closing in on her. Unyielding. Relentless. Destructive.
She knew that presence.
The Lady of the Lake hated them with every fibre of her being.
Nimueh growled, shifting into her true form as her body rapidly became covered in hard, blue scales. The injuries from her previous encounter were still there, visible and bleeding. The sight of them filled her with a cold rage. She lifted her head to look at the intruder, matching its movements with her own as it opened its gaping maw-
And unleashed a torrent of flames onto the festering darkness below. Within moments, the bog was completely buried within the inferno. Gallons of black water turned into clouds of thick, painful steam. But neither dragon let up. The flames swelled in size, vaporizing the water and everything underneath.
Burning it away. Relentlessly. Mercilessly.
Burning and cleansing it all.
Until nothing remained but embers.
Exhausted, Nimueh shifted back. She couldn’t retain her primary form any longer. Her second form was less damaged. She had not had a chance to heal her dragon form yet… and the horned Sidhe didn’t want to give her unexpected ally any excuse. She half expected the next burst of fire to be directed at her… like the last one had been.
But no attack came.
Nimueh stared up at the creature in front of her, her expression guarded and wary. It looked back without a word. The silence between them was filled with the heavy weight of centuries of history.
She would never thank them. Ever.
And her polar opposite knew that, too. The Lady of the Lake could see them lower their head, looking her in the eyes.
It is unlike you to wait this long, Nimueh.
I had no choice. I was distracted, the Sidhe responded, still feeling the sting of pain from the claw marks on her face. She could see the dragon cock its head slightly.
Distracted from this? What could possibly distract you that much?
When speaking directly to someone else’s soul, it was impossible to conceal your emotions. And the events of the last few weeks had left Nimueh exhausted and drained. Such a thing almost never happened. Nimueh carefully made sure of that. But this time, she had been caught by surprise.
And it showed. At the small hint of worry from the creature in front of her, the Lady of the Lake finally felt her mask crack. She let out a tired, defeated sigh.
He broke free.
Back in Castle Camelot, Arthur Pendragon struggled with himself as he watched Guinevere turn to leave. He didn’t want to end things like this. He couldn’t let things end like this. The Crown Prince suddenly remembered his promise, and his conversation with Agravaine. It had only been a few weeks since then. But it already seemed like a lifetime ago. He hadn’t even had a chance to talk to her about it yet.
Arthur knew that the information was not going to make her happy. But a promise was a promise. And if she was going to leave… then it was probably now or never.
She stopped walking, turning back to face him mid-step.
“Don’t leave yet. I mean- I need to tell you something before you leave. I made a promise to you back in Scarborough. I intend to honour that.”
The young maidservant blinked, immediately realizing what Arthur was talking about.
“Yes,” Arthur nodded. “I talked to my uncle. I asked Agravaine what we… where they go after they pass away.”
Arthur’s expression fell, turning to sadness as he shook his head at the girl in front of him.
“I’m sorry, Guinevere. They are not buried in the cemetery here, either. According to Agravaine, we… dispose of them.”
“Dispose?” Guinevere asked, cocking her head as her eyebrows pulled into a frown. Arthur gave her a small, uncomfortable nod.
“Yes. I’m sorry – there is no gentle way to say this. According to Agravaine… we dispose of them by leaving them in the marsh.”
Guinevere froze. When she spoke, her voice was so small that it was barely audible.
The expression on her face made that hollow feeling in his chest ten times worse. Arthur couldn’t bear to look at her like that. He averted his eyes to the ground, avoiding her gaze as he said:
“I’m sorry, Guinevere. I know you were looking for a way to say your goodbyes to your mother-”
But Guinevere interrupted him.
“No, that’s not- that’s n-not what… y-you can’t,” the maidservant stammered, her voice suddenly growing fearful. “Milord, they have to be buried!”
Her alarmed, frightened reaction startled him. Arthur frowned. He had not expected that.
“I know. If not for them, then for the family they leave behind. When I become King, I will-”
But the young maidservant cut him off again. Guinevere had never done that before. Especially not twice in a row. Her behaviour was so completely out of character that it shocked Arthur into silence.
“Sire, don’t you know the stories?! You can’t dispose of human beings like that! People need burial rites, even if they died horribly! Especially if they died horribly!”
“I-if you don’t…!”
The horned Sidhe let out a groan as, in a matter of seconds, their combined efforts were undone. The darkness came back. Within moments, that vile, purple fog began to seep out from the mire again, tainting its waters and spreading its rot and decay to everything it touched.
They couldn’t stop it. They couldn’t destroy it.
Because what they needed to destroy… was no longer there.
“Where is it?!”
“Where is the source?!”
For the second time that year, Nimueh could feel a strange emotion overcome her. One that the Sidhe had not felt in a very, very long time.
When a mortal dies, the veil between life and death is thinned as their soul crosses over.
When a mortal dies in the throes of a particularly strong, negative emotion, their pain tears at this divide.
Their fear, rage, hatred and suffering becomes a beacon for the darkness that festers on the other side.
This pain lingers, surrounding the physical remains even after death.
And if their suffering is not eased through burial rites…
That darkness can seep through.
The resulting creature is a product of the darkest of magic – a vile, tainted abomination that corrupts everything it touches.
It acts as the source of that festering darkness, and moves with but a single purpose.
To bring suffering upon the living.