In order to understand the nature of dark magic, and why its presence is such a blight upon the natural world, one needs to understand the nature of life and death.
Every sapient creature on this plane of existence is, at their core, a being made up out of three elements: body, spirit and soul. All three are precious gifts that are bestowed upon us by the Watcher.
The body is a person’s vessel, holding both spirit and soul together and allowing mortals to exist.
Spirit is the origin of all magic, a power arising from the interplay of forces and cycles that rule over our reality.
At its core, spirit represents pure will, instinct, drive, as well as base emotion.
The will to survive. The drive to eat. The instinct to procreate, to connect, to love, to belong, to exist. Spirit flows in all natural things and, upon death, is returned to nature.
Souls are pieces of divine essence that are imbued in every sapient mortal. Possession of a soul is what elevates a person above a mere beast. A soul provides the ability to understand morality, to see right from wrong, to rise above base instincts and emotions. When a person dies, their soul is compelled to return to the Watcher, crossing the divide between life and death on its way back.
But every soul is marked by the mortal’s experiences in life. Their spirit is tainted and warped by bad memories, traumatic experiences and negative emotions.
This corruption is comparable to a layer of muck and grime – a vile darkness that gradually twists and taints the spirit that the soul shares a body with.
When a person dies, and their soul crosses the divide between life and death, that darkness crosses over with them. A soul in that tainted state needs to be cleansed before it can reach the Watcher. All of the soul’s past actions and secrets are laid bare as it confronts its own past, battling its personal demons and shedding the negative emotions, traumas, horrors and guilty memories. It leaves the muck of the natural world behind.
But all of that negativity coagulates and pools. It takes on a life of its own. Because of that, the divide between life and death is full of a twisted darkness – a demon – that feeds on dark memories, vile emotions, guilt, fear, pain and suffering. It festers in that divide, existing on the most wretched parts of humanity and wanting only to grow. But it is that same divide that traps it, and keeps it out of the mortal world.
When a mortal dies, the veil between life and death is thinned as their soul crosses that divide.
When a mortal dies in the throes of a particularly strong, negative emotion, their fear, rage, hatred and suffering becomes a beacon for the darkness that festers in the divide. This pain lingers, surrounding the physical remains even after death. And if their suffering is not eased through burial rites, that darkness – that tainted, corrupted spirit – will find a way to seep through.
The resulting demon is a product of the darkest of magic. A vile, twisted abomination that, if left alone, will corrupt everything it touches.
The King of Essetir gave Morgana a single nod.
Everything. And with strategy. Its intelligence is perhaps the most disturbing characteristic of all. I have seen this happen before. It will hide itself, close by but out of sight. It will wait for the right moment. And then it will go after the strongest creatures first.
Your champions. Everyone that would make it to the end of your tournament….
Followed by everyone else.
“Oh, Watcher,” Morgana whispered. “Elyan. Gawain.”
At that moment, the full gravity of the situation finally hit her. This wasn’t another chess game. This was not a matter of finding the right angle, or the right leverage. Because this thing was not going to stop. Not until every single one of them ended up like Bayard.
What Camelot was about to face was not a battle – it was a slaughter.
If she didn’t do something, if she didn’t act… Morgana would lose everyone.
“Cenred. Can you talk like that from a distance?”
The King of Essetir raised a single eyebrow.
I can, but-
”Then do so!”
“Wait! Morgana!” I need to locate the source!
But the budding witch was no longer listening to Cenred. An iron claw of fear had dug its way into her insides, her sense of dread rapidly turning into panic. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest. There was no time to lose. The pain in her head increased tenfold as she began to sprint around the castle walls as fast as her legs could carry her. Her head felt like it was going to burst – but she ignored the pain, forcibly pushing it down.
It didn’t matter.
She had to reach them. Warn them.
Before it was too late.
Cenred did not follow her. Instead, he focused his energy, letting out a sigh of frustration in the process. His time in Camelot had been less than satisfactory. Nothing was progressing as it should. Nothing was the same as what he remembered.
Well, almost nothing.
That bloody darkness.
A part of him could not help but appreciate the irony of it all. And a small part of him could not help but feel responsible.
He turned his gaze to the lake, looking down at the still water surface.
You must think this is funny.
But the Lady of the Lake gave no response.
The silence in the hospital was broken by the sound of a door opening. Gawain immediately jumped up, moving away from an unconscious Elyan as his head whipped around to the entrance. In a loud voice, he yelled:
“You have to hurry, Elyan is-”
But the rest of his sentence got stuck in his throat as the young redhead realized just who had walked into the building. Gawain froze, looking at the man in front of him in confusion.
“…You’re not Gaius.”
“A very astute observation,” the Jacoban priest sneered. “I see that your time in the dungeons has done wonders for your mental faculties.”
Gawain could feel his knees locking into place as his head was flooded with the memories of that day. His mind went blank. His throat closed up, forcing him into a stunned silence. That reaction was not lost on Agravaine. He frowned, his annoyance slowly turning into a suspicious glare.
“What are you doing here? Why are you not with the knights?”
“I… Elyan was hurt,” Gawain replied, trying to keep his feelings at bay. “I’m making sure that he’s okay. Bayard hurt him pretty badly and-”
But the Jacoban priest had stopped listening. The second that Gawain muttered the word “Bayard”, the Jacoban priest froze up. His head quickly whipped around to the back area of the hospital, where the beds were. The royal adviser moved past Gawain and made a beeline straight for Elyan’s cot.
“…Gaius… should be here soon,” Gawain mumbled. The young redhead suddenly felt deeply uncomfortable. He could feel a strange, ominous feeling of dread overcome him as Agravaine’s expression changed. A sense of unease that made all of the hairs in the back of his neck stand up.
A sense of danger.
And Gawain’s instincts were proven right. The young redhead watched as Agravaine stepped back.
“He’s been tainted by dark magic.”
“What? What does that mean?” Gawain replied, confused. Agravaine threw a quick glance over his shoulder. The dark, ominous look in his eyes made all of Gawain’s senses go on alert.
“It means that a very wretched sorcerer cast a spell that is destroying him on the inside. There is no time to lose. We must act immediately.”
“Can… can Gaius heal him?”
The Jacoban priest shook his head, his hands vanishing into the depths of his robes.
“We cannot wait for him. And there is only one solution for this kind of magic.”
In a fluent motion, Agravaine drew a long, sharp, nasty-looking dagger out of his robes. When he spoke, his voice was cold as stone.
“He needs to die.”
By the time that Morgana had made it through the wooded outskirts of town and reached the arena, the sky above her had turned dark. Flashes of lightning could be seen in the far distance as a cold rain began to pour down from above. Within moments, the budding witch was soaked to the bone.
Cenred’s voice had haunted her the entire way back.
Listen to me! You cannot be rash here or it will end in disaster. Defeating the prince will not be enough – we need to destroy the source, or that darkness will keep spreading!
“And how in Watcher’s name am I supposed to do that?!”
But there was no answer to her question. It dawned on Morgana that Cenred probably couldn’t hear her anymore. She was too far away. The budding witch let out a soft curse as she kept running – there was no time to double back. She had to keep going. She had to warn the others, before it was too late.
Stop! I just said that it goes after the strongest-
At that point, Cenred’s voice was suddenly and abruptly cut off. The presence in her mind faded, leaving behind a strange emptiness that she hadn’t been aware of before. Morgana shrugged it off, panting as she ran full-speed through the entrance. There was no time to lose. Elyan was already incapacitated. It could be too late for him already. And there was no telling who that thing would go after next. It could be any of them – Lancelot, ambushed on his way back from town. Arthur, surprised in a dark corner of the arena. Or Gawain, who was all alone looking after Elyan in the hospital. Or-
The next moment, the budding witch found herself stopped dead in her tracks. Her entire body froze up, coming to a skidding halt as-
“We have no other choice. He needs to die.”
Gawain acted on instinct. Before his mind could respond, his body had already moved, jumping to the left and blocking Agravaine from reaching Elyan.
“He is sick!” Gawain yelled, his voice desperate. “Not dangerous! He needs a doctor, not a knife! Don’t you dare!”
But his words fell upon deaf ears. Agravaine completely ignored his pleas, taking a step towards the young redhead.
“I take no pleasure in this. But we have no other choice. Move.”
“Step aside, Gawain. That is an order.”
“Step aside, Gawain. That is an order.”
“What is wrong with you?!”
“No… no, please! Don’t hurt me! I-it wasn’t me! I swear! Please-”
No. Not this time.
As Agravaine took another step towards the young redhead, Gawain could feel a strange sense of calm overcome him. His shoulders relaxed. His breathing slowed. Gawain turned sideways, assuming a fighting stance. His fear and hatred faded away. They were replaced by a focused sense of calm as a very different emotion welled up from within.
Sometimes, when it matters most… there is no one else.
“You’re not laying a single finger on him,” Gawain spoke, his voice calm and controlled. “Not this time.”
That was not what the Jacoban priest wanted to hear.
“This is in your best interest!” Agravaine snapped at him, actually losing his composure as Gawain refused to budge. Gawain had never seen him react like that before.
“Listen to me! You don’t know what you’re dealing with! You have no idea what kind of hell you’ll unleash if that darkness takes him over! I will not let that happen to my kingdom! Now move!”
“No. Over my cold, dead body.”
Gawain could see what little light there was in the priest’s eyes vanish. It made way for a hard, cold ruthlessness that Gawain had seen many times before. A look that was always, always followed by violence.
The look of a killer.
“That can be arranged.”
But this time, Gawain was not afraid. Even without a weapon. He knew that he could hold his own. He had done it before. And this time, Agravaine was not the untouchable Jacoban priest of the city, surrounded by guards and far out of Gawain’s reach.
This time, he was just a bad, evil man with a knife.
And Gawain knew exactly how to take those down.
As soon as Agravaine lunged forward, Gawain stepped out of the way. He grabbed hold of his arm, forcing it down and catching the Jacoban priest off-guard. His elbow hit Agravaine straight in the face in the process. It knocked off his hood and the priest yelped in pain as in a single motion, he was forced onto his knees. He struggled to break free – but Gawain didn’t let up, putting Agravaine in a headlock and squeezing his wrist until the Jacoban priest was forced to drop the knife. It fell to the floor with a dull, metallic clatter.
And Gawain let him go. Agravaine immediately got up, his voice full of rage as he yelled:
“How dare you lay a hand on me! I am the King’s royal-“
“And stay down.”
At that moment, the doors of the hospital opened for a second time. Two familiar figures came dashing in, panting, out of breath and completely soaked from the pouring rain.
Gaius and Guinevere.
“I’m here! I’m *huff* where is he?! Where is-“
“…I can explain.”
“Save it,” Gaius sighed. “I do not want to know.”
Morgana watched, paralyzed, as the creature in front of her sunk through its knees. She could feel that same bone-chilling cold that she had felt before. It seeped off of Bayard’s body in waves, its tendrils slowly reaching out for everything around it – no. That wasn’t right. It was reaching out for her. Focused on her, closing in from all directions. The force of it was overwhelming.
She had to run. She had to get away. Morgana tried to move, but the sheer pressure of the darkness in front of her kept her legs from working. They wouldn’t budge. Her body was locked into place. Morgana couldn’t look away. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the darkness, she couldn’t move-
The metallic sound of steel hitting steel reverberated through the arena as, as the last second, someone dashed out from the shadows. They jumped in front of Morgana, intercepting the blow and blocking it with their own blade. The attack was so forceful that it pushed the both of them back. Morgana could feel her feet dragging grooves in the muddy earth as the knight was knocked into her.
And the knight retaliated. With a growl, he lunged forward, throwing their own weight behind a wild sword swing. Another klang resounded through the rain-filled arena as the two locked weapons – and one of them slipped out of their grasp. It fell to the ground with a loud clatter.
That sound was quickly followed by the loud thud of Bayard’s body hitting mud. Lancelot had knocked him over. He fell down like a marionette whose strings had been cut, landing in a sprawled mess of limbs.
Lancelot had saved her life.
But the creature in front of them did not stay down for long.
“Are you all right?”
“I… yes,” Morgana muttered. “Thank you, Lancelot.”
The young knight her gave a single nod as he shifted back into a fighting stance. His eyes remained locked on Bayard’s body. Morgana could see Lancelot raise his weapon a little higher.
“Did we learn what that thing is?”
“I did,” the budding witch replied. “It’s a source of dark magic that is possessing Bayard’s body.”
“A demon?” Lancelot asked. He had always been quick of understanding. Morgana gave him a single nod.
“Do we know how to drive it out?” Lancelot growled.
“…No. Not yet. I couldn’t hear- I need more time.”
But Lancelot shook his head.
“My lady, you need to run. I’ll hold it off and cover your retreat.”
“What?! No!” Morgana protested. “I’m not leaving you behind!”
“Morgana, you are defenseless!” the young knight yelled, backing up towards her.
“I’m not! Lancelot, I… I can-”
But the next moment, her breath got stuck in her throat. Shock turned to horrified realization as Bayard made eye contact with her – and promptly sprinted away from them. He dashed in the opposite direction, into the darkness and towards the nearest gate.
The gate that led to the hospital.
“We can’t let it leave!” Morgana yelled. “If it gets away, it’ll corrupt everything it touches!”
That was all the information that Lancelot needed. The young knight took off like an arrow from a bow, sprinting after Bayard as fast as he could as the possessed Prince bolted through the open entryway. But they were too far away. They weren’t going to make it in time. Morgana instinctively lifted her arm, preparing to cast a sleeping spell-
No! If they see you, you will burn!
Morgana hesitated. It was only for a split second. But that split second of indecision ended up costing her. The budding witch watched in anguish as Bayard’s body dashed through the gate, vanishing from sight-
Before she suddenly heard a loud thud, followed by the sound of clanging metal. The next second, Bayard’s body came flying back through the gate as it was hurled back by something. Hard.
For the second time in a row, Bayard crashed down onto the muddy, rain-soaked ground. Bits of mud and dirt scattered everywhere from the impact. The blade tumbled away from him and fell into the sandy, rain-drenched arena.
Morgana watched as a dark figure emerged from the gate, completely soaked by the rain and dragging a very large weapon behind him. In the rapidly worsening storm, it took the budding witch a few seconds to recognize who it was. Then the figure spoke, and Morgana finally realized.
Finally realized stood before her.
“You’re ruining my tournament.”