2.33 – Stand Your Ground, Part I

Disclaimer: violence

For some reason, Bayard kept randomly losing his claws during picture taking, and I sorta forgot to actually give Arthur his claymore. He has a normal sword now. Forgive. ❤


Cenred of Essetir found himself alone in the dark, muttering a curse of frustration as he felt his connection to the priestess’s mind vanish. She was too far away. For a moment, he fought the urge to give chase. But there was no point. He knew that he could not stop her, and in her panic, she would not listen to him.

And Cenred could not tip his hand. Not yet. Not now. Not while so much was at stake.

Cenred sunk onto the ground, kneeling down as he placed his hand on the wet, mossy earth underneath him. The King of Essetir closed his eyes. He grounded himself, allowing the energy below to flow through him. As he exhaled, Cenred let his consciousness disconnect from his body. He could feel his senses fading away. One by one, they seeped into the earth below. Travelling away from him. Spreading out through the earth of Camelot.

Searching.

Hunting.

Until he found what he was looking for. A strand of corrupted spirit, festering where it did not belong and slowly tainting everything around it. Cenred chased it down, following its trail through the rain-soaked earth.

Down into the ground. Through the walls. Into the darkness below.

Deeper.

Further.

Found you.

It was close. Much closer than he had expected. The source was almost right below him, not even five hundred feet away.

They always were deceptively close.

There was no time to lose. Especially not now. Cenred rose to his feet, quickly marching over to the stone wall. They had not developed much in terms of structures in the time that he had been locked away. The stone wall was old, cracked and partly overgrown with ivy. Crudely built. The centuries had done a number on it.

It would still listen to him.


“…I can explain.”

“Save it,” Gaius sighed. “I do not want to know.”

The elderly physician shooed Gawain out of the way, making a beeline straight for the back area of the hospital. Elyan had not moved at all. His face was a deathly pale, the veins underneath his skin visible as beads of cold sweat dripped down his forehead.

Gaius only had to take one look at him to know how dire the situation was. A determined frown spread across his brow. The elderly physician sat back up, nodding to himself as he began to dole out instructions.
“We do not have much time,” he said. “And I must not leave his side with Elyan in this state. Miss Guinevere, I require your help.”

“Oh!” the maidservant stuttered. “Y-yes! Of course!”
Gaius nodded at her, his gaze remaining fixed on the man in front of him.
“Good. Go to the writing cabinet in the corner. There is a button on the underside that opens a hidden compartment. Take what is inside and give it to me.”

Guinevere looked visibly surprised at his words, but didn’t question the physician. She knew better. Gaius had always done what was best for his patients. The maidservant ran straight for the cabinet, hastily stepping over the body of a still-unconscious Agravaine on her way there.

“What should I do?” Gawain asked anxiously. “He’s hurt real bad. Does he need surgery? I can help hold him down, or- or-”

But Gaius shook his head at him.
“No. You need to find Arthur.”
“But… Elyan-”
“Will receive the care that he needs,” Gaius replied, cutting him off. “You have my word, Gawain. But I know what happened. Guinevere told me on the way here. If this is what I think it is, then we are all in danger. Do you understand? Right now, Arthur needs you more than Elyan does.”

That did it. Gawain’s hesitation faded away as a steely look of determination crossed his face. The young redhead nodded, turning towards the front door of the hospital.
“You’re right. Take care of him, Gaius.”

As Gawain dashed outside, kicking Agravaine’s elbow on the way, Guinevere cautiously inspected the piece of furniture in the corner. The maidservant gulped. She reached underneath the table, feeling around with her hand until her fingers hit something small. Guinevere could hear a soft click as she pressed it. To her right, a section of the cabinet suddenly came loose, revealing a small, hidden compartment.

The maidservant reached inside. She could feel her fingers locking around something cold and smooth. A vial of some sorts, filled with a transparent, blue-coloured liquid. Guinevere’s face pulled into a confused frown as she pulled it out. She did not recognise it. With a puzzled expression, she stepped back from the cabinet and carried the small vial over to where Gaius was.
“Is this… holy water?” she asked, holding the vial out for him. Gaius shook his head.

“No. This is water from Avalon.”
Guinevere gasped. She knew exactly what those words meant. The maidservant physically took a step backwards, her eyes as round and large as gold coins as she stammered:
“A-Avalon?”
“Yes. And the only thing that will help here.”
“I… but… W-why do you have…?”
“I have had it for decades,” the elderly physician answered. For a fraction of a second, Guinevere could see his eyes soften.
“A friend gave it to me as a gift…”

“A very long time ago.”


Arthur shifted into a fighting stance, quickly lifting his sword as he saw Bayard’s body lunge for the weapon on the ground. Everything about the creature in front of him felt wrong. It had none of the grace that Arthur had come to expect of the Prince of Mercia. Its fingers had grown clawed. Its eyes were hollow and consumed by darkness. Its attacks were wild, uncoordinated, jerk-like bursts of movement, like a marionette that was carelessly being flung around a battlefield. It made all the hairs in Arthur’s neck stand upright.
It was wrong.
His feeling of discomfort grew even worse as he saw Bayard’s body begin to contort. His neck bent at a weird angle as he spun around, further than a neck was supposed to be able to bend-

And within a split second, Bayard’s body had crossed the distance between them. He struck, swinging his weapon down with a brutish strength that would have snapped a normal man’s wrist. A metallic clang rang out across the arena as Arthur blocked the blow. Barely. It was so violent and so forceful that his sword almost got yanked out of his grasp. Arthur grit his teeth, powering through it and barely holding on.

This was bad. They couldn’t drag this out for long.

“Lancelot!”
He didn’t have to say anything else. His second-in-command dashed forward, raising his weapon to hit Bayard in his exposed flank. Arthur could see him turning to deflect the blow-

And the Crown Prince immediately made use of it. He slashed down with his sword, cutting Bayard right across the chest. The steel went straight through his clothes, tearing into the exposed flesh underneath.

But no blood appeared. The gash vanished within moments. Arthur watched in horror as, before his eyes, Bayard’s wound closed by itself.

“Watcher’s mercy, it doesn’t bleed?!” Lancelot yelled. “How are we supposed to-”

But he never got to finish his sentence. Bayard’s upper body twisted again, bending contorting against the laws of nature. They could hear a crack – before a roundhouse kick caught the young noble on the side of his face. Hard. It knocked Lancelot right off his feet, sending him sprawling backwards. His sword fell to the ground with a loud clatter.

And the thing possessing Bayard immediately made use of it. His spine snapped back into place as he turned and lunged for Arthur a second time – but this time, the Crown Prince wasn’t prepared for it. It caught him off-guard. He wasn’t fast enough. Arthur’s sword slipped from his hands as his opponent slammed into him full-force, driving him into the nearest wall. The Crown Prince gasped for air as Bayard’s arm pressed down on his throat. He could feel his windpipe being crushed. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. Within moments, it felt like his head was going to explode-

Before the pressure on his throat was abruptly lifted. Arthur could feel Bayard’s hands being dragged off of him as someone tackled him from behind, ramming into him like a charging bull.

He could see a tuft of red hair flash by. Gawain. The young redhead had gone into a full body slam, losing his own balance in the process and sending both of them sprawling towards the ground.

But his friend recovered fast. And Gawain knew how to brawl. The young redhead fell into a barrel roll and almost immediately sprang back to his feet. He jumped away from Bayard’s body, moving back and positioning himself directly in front of Arthur.
“Are you hurt?!”
“No,” the Crown Prince growled, his voice hoarse and sore as he rubbed his throat. “I’m… cough fine.”

But the pain in his larynx told him otherwise. This wasn’t good. Bayard on his own was already a formidable opponent. And when he was like this – They would not last long. Even with all three of them. Especially if they could not even make him bleed. Arthur turned his gaze to Morgana, instinctively looking for answers.
“Morrie, how do we kill this?”

“I- I don’t know,” Morgana replied. “I don’t even know if it’s actually dead-“

As she spoke, the budding witch finally realized her mistake. The young sorceress had been so panicked and determined to get back to her brother, that she had left Cenred before she could get all the information she needed. Before he could tell her the most important part – how to defeat the thing in front of her.
And now she had nothing.

No. There had to be something. Morgana racked her brain, trying to remember Cenred’s final words before his presence vanished. She had barely listened back then. Now, the sorceress was dearly regretting that. It had been something… something about…

The source.

We need to destroy the source.

“The corpse! Lancelot, what did you do with the body?!”

“I put it down in the crypt,” the young knight answered. “Why?”

“My lady?”

Gawain looked down on the body in front of him, his expression turning to confusion and fear as he saw its limbs bend and contort.
“That’s… that’s really not Bayard, is it?”
“No,” Arthur said, shaking his head. “Be on your guard, Gawain.”
Arthur’s words did not seem to do much to calm his nerves. Gawain gulped, taking a single step backwards.
“We’re – we’re really fighting the Prince of Mercia?”

Arthur picked up his sword from the ground. He knew what Gawain meant. Even if they all survived this – no matter what happened, this was going to be a disaster.

So much for the alliance of the Five Kingdoms.

“Yes, Gawain. We’re fighting the Prince of bloody Mercia.”


It took Morgana less than minute to reach the crypt. None of the doors were locked. The budding witch was able to barrell right through, dashing all the way up to the knight’s crypt itself. Only when she was moments away from opening the door, did Morgana finally begin to have second thoughts.
She was alone. That decision had been entirely on purpose. The budding witch had left everyone behind so they could not see her cast any magic. But…

All I know how to do is cast a sleeping spell.

What are the chances that a demonic, spirit-infested corpse cannot be put to sleep?

Those odds were much higher than the budding witch wanted to admit. But she couldn’t turn back now. She had to do something. Anything. Anything that could help. And above ground, with the knights, she was next to useless. If she was going to be of help anywhere… it would be here. Morgana nodded to herself. She took a deep breath, stepped forward and grabbed hold of the door handle.

She opened the door to step into complete darkness. All of the candles in the underground crypt had gone out, leaving the place completely shrouded in shadows. It was almost impossible to see further than the entryway.

The sorceress couldn’t stand it. She quickly, instinctively, moved to light the nearest candle. Morgana had expected the fire to help – but the small flames barely made a difference. To the contrary. It made it worse. As soon as the first candle lit up, the shadows around her began to move. All the hairs in the back of her neck rose up at the sight. The darkness around her felt hostile, aggressive – almost alive. Morgana could see the purple mist at the end of the hallway. It was seeping out of the farthest room, coalescing around a single stone statue.

The budding witch shivered.
She had only been down here once.

“Cwypt?”

“It’s a special place. Only for the bravest of knights and our family. When I die, my body will rest here. Your grandparents lie here, too. And so will your brother. Our family is safe here, even after death.”
“Def?”
“Yes. Don’t worry, only the most noble people can rest here. Like you. And Arthur. And me.”

“… mama?”
“…Yes, Morrie.”

“Like mama.”

Morgana was abruptly yanked out of her thoughts and brought back to the present by a strangle, prickling sensation in the back of her mind. She could feel something. A presence, coming up behind her. Morgana’s heart started racing in her throat as she spun around, half-expecting to see sharp claws and swirling mist-

But it wasn’t the corpse.

It was Cenred, entering the crypt in a way that made Morgana stop and do a double-take. Because the King of Essetir did not come through the door. Morgana watched, dumbstruck, as the man phased in through the massive stone wall. Silently.  Effortlessly. Like gliding through solid stone was the most common thing in the world. Morgana’s mouth fell open at the sight.

Strangely enough, the surprise was mutual. The King of Essetir turned his head, stopping and freezing halfway through, his foot still partly inside of the wall. He raised a single eyebrow. For a moment, Cenred actually seemed surprised to see her.
…Morgana?

“I- what-“ Morgana stammered. “How did you… what are you doing?”
I tracked the source of the corruption, the King of Essetir explained, completely bypassing the obvious. It led me down here. It is hiding somewhere in-
“The crypt,” she replied. “I know. I was- Lancelot brought the body down here.”

Cenred raised a single eyebrow, but did not question her. He didn’t have to. As Morgana spoke that sentence out loud, her mind suddenly made a connection that she hadn’t thought of before.

The… body.

…How many bodies are in this crypt?

“Cenred,” Morgana whispered, her voice barely audible. “That… thing. The demon. It corrupts everything it touches, right?”
Correct, Cenred replied. Morgana cast an involuntary glance in the direction of the stone coffins.
“Did… are… are all of the bodies here about to get up and attack us?”

But the King of Essetir shook his head.
No. Those that have received proper rites cannot be corrupted.
“Oh. I see.”

Thank the Watcher, Morgana thought, breathing a mental sigh of relief. The last thing they needed was a horde of soldiers like Bayard. She shuddered at the idea.
But that wasn’t going to happen. Not here. Not with their knights The budding witch forced herself to take a few deep breaths, slowly bringing her heartbeat back to normal.

Her gaze was pulled back towards the swirling mist at the end of the room. She tilted her head, trying to look inside.
“Are you going to destroy it?” she asked. Cenred gave her a single nod.
I am.
“I want to help.”
Do you have any experience with cleansing corrupted spirit?
“…No,” Morgana replied, her eyes fixed on the doorway in front of her.  
Then you cannot help. You are eager but untrained, and I will not needlessly risk your life if-

But Morgana had stopped listening to him. Cenred’s words slowly vanished into the background, fading away as the budding witch began to sense something else. Something stronger. Something… oddly familiar. It pulled her gaze towards it like a magnet, drawing her focus to the entrance of the inner chamber.

Once again, Morgana couldn’t look away. She could feel a vile, tainted, malefic source of energy, its tendrils reaching out to everything in range. Ruthless, destructive, violent – and so bone-chillingly cold that it took her breath away. All the hairs in the back of her neck rose up as she could feel it creeping closer – and yet Morgana couldn’t look away. She couldn’t tear her eyes off the darkness in front of her.

Something about it was so… familiar.

She had felt this before.

And Morgana finally realized.

That horrible, familiar cold that was reaching out for her… it did not come from him.

There was not just one source.

There were two.

7 thoughts on “2.33 – Stand Your Ground, Part I

  1. This was so suspenseful! But actually far more hopeful on the whole than I anticipated, excuse my grim mind 😆

    Right, so the first scene with Cenred. He plunges ahead to save the day, because it’s in his interest, but I’m not entirely sure what his end goal is. You’ve somehow still made him ambiguous even though he goes into hero mode here. Very interesting… I’ll keep my eye on him. But, whatever his ultimate motivations are, we have no better hope but to root for him in this battle.

    Oh man, I wish Gwen didn’t know what the water of avalon was so that we could learn more about it 😆 So he got it years ago from a friend… Ygraine? Fake Ygraine? Hm. Still, by the looks of it there might be hope for Elyan yet. Not sure if his recovery is dependant on Morgana and Cenred tackling the source in time, or if it can be treated by the water alone. Fingers crossed it works out wither way.

    With zombie Bayard, though, clearly Arthur, Gawain and Lancelot have to hold him off indefinitely, well, until the source is tackled. Oof. That could get dangerous for our knights *bites nails* Cenred better be hiding some good tricks weaved into his braid.

    Aww, you crushed my hopes of zombie apocalypse. Very well.

    Hmm, second source. I don’t think they’re just talking Bayard and Big boy here, because Bayard is not technically a source. So bog boy and… somebody else in the crypt? That Morgana once felt in the crypt as a toddler (btw, how adorable is she when she says “cwypt” aww bless). So… I’m still gonna go with my two Ygraines theory on this one. Since if I remember rightly, when Uther had his chat with… Gorlois (had to go back to check. I so forgot what a wee wee measuring contest that “chat” was)… Might just be me, but the way they talk about Ygraine there almost suggests she may not be dead. Maybe. In which case, who is buried in her coffin?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your grim mind! Never apologise for it, haha. I’ll just give you another mark on the Grim tally 😄

      Yay, “mysterious Cenred” succeeded! Does he have an alternative end goal here? Is it all going according to plan? Or did his plans get interrupted? You’ll have at least some answers about him pretty soon, I promise.

      Avalon itself be come up in later chapters, but who Gaius got it from is hinted at in the flashback picture… it was definitely someone from my ridiculously huge cast of people 😙 I just realized that really doesn’t clarify anything. Lalalala.

      “Cenred better be hiding some good tricks weaved into his braid.”
      Bwahahaha 😂😂🤣

      Uther and Gorlois’s chat was so much fun to write *eyeroll* I remember doing facepalms and frustrated headdesks for most of those chapters. Who is in that coffin indeed? And why are they different than the rest of the bodies in that crypt? (Random lore fact for you. People are buried with rites to keep the darkness away, and they’re buried in sealed coffins so that if rites fail, what remains won’t be able to get out. Point on the Grim tally for me.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just realised those are legs on someone’s coffin. Ughhh. Creepy demon thingy is creepy!

    “It would still listen to him” I know he’s a sorcerer, but I’m really curious how ToC magic system works. He seems so much more powerful than Morgana or Merlin (I forgot his real name).
    On the subject of B2W ToC crossovers, there’s Arthur’s distant dimensional relative in b2w, then Rai and Elyan are in grave danger now. xDDD Rofl. I promise Yimi I wasn’t looking at your notes. Idk how this happened. Ok back to seriousness, I’m so glad Gawain held off Agra. Yay Gaius! And oooh Avalon. Who is this priestess? If Cenred calls Morgana a priestess, it makes me wonder if the coven are a priestess coven. How blurred are the lines between mages and priestess?

    I love your descriptions of the fight and of Bayard’s state. So creepy!!! Like a zombie apocalypse movie. Thankfully there are no pictures accompanying that description *shudders* Not sure I want to see it if the writing already makes it so icky! And that roundhouse kick coming into contact with Lancelot’s jaw is gonna hurt so BAD! His jaw isn’t even in the right place. UGH. The pain just looking at it. I’m a little worried for Lancelot there with the crack and how solid the kick is. Is his jaw broken? Aaaah! So much suspense!

    Actually I’m just going to say I love your descriptions. Period. Love the picture I have in my head from your writing. I read this on my phone first, so I couldn’t see the pics, but even without them it was such a mag read ❤ Random: Cenred’s guilty face is LOL. I’m so used to his schemy looks that he looks comical being caught by Morrie gliding through walls haha!

    Wait. It’s only a corrupted spirit? Cenred makes it sound like it’s a simple foe. It sounds like a demon with its abilities. But okay. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for what’s coming next.

    Oh… okay. That end there. Especially when it zoomed towards Ygraine’s coffin.

    Could it be that she was buried here, but not able to be given proper rites because of her status? Could it be linked to Morrie being a shapeshifter in someway? Like her origin? And is this what the corrupted spirit wanted? It’s goal is to find this other source? Or is it that the corrupted spirit managed to corrupt this source. But if Morrie felt it even before this corrupted spirit came, it means it has always been there, which suggests bog boy simply awakened it.
    Too much suspense. Want next chapter!!! xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Creepy demon thing is creepy” is a pretty good summary for the past 5 or so chapters 🤣

      He certainly does, doesn’t he? Maybe Cenred went to a proper magic school, and that’s why he’s all “mightier-than-thou” about it. Or maybe it’s something else…

      Haha, I know, right? I love the parallels we can draw between Arthur and his knights and your White Wraiths – maybe that’s why I instantly warmed up to Rai, lol. And maybe that’s why I’m biased towards your WW’s being better than Curtis & Co and Roidh and his blood circus, even though they’re labelled as terrorists and are actively hunting people with magic. Seeing them all scared in the hospital instantly made me warm up to all of them. 😅

      I’m hesitating over whether to put this in the story, but how we’ve seen them so far basically works like this: if you have magic, you’re a sorcerer. If you have magic and cast in a coven, you’re a witch. If you have magic and cast in a coven/group but can’t harm other people, you’re a druid. Priests/priestesses are new, so I won’t get into that one yet. ❤

      Yay, my icky descriptions worked! I wanted to show it in pictures too but couldn’t find poses that were disturbing enough, but now I’m glad that I stuck to words. Lil’ clarification – the crack came from Bayard’s spine twisting in ways it wasn’t supposed to be able to twist, before kicking Lance. Will still hurt like heck, though.

      Oooh, some good theories there. I can’t answer this without giving you massive spoilers but you’ll get answers very soon. Half of the pictures for next chapter are already taken and edited (with your help with gimp thank you so muchhhhhh ❤ ). I’ll just need to take the ones aboveground now and work on those. And write, but that’s usually a breeze in comparison. With a bit of luck, you’ll have it by the end of the week. 😁

      Like

  3. ‘Not even five hundred feet away’ practically touching you, Cenred the Great. Unless, like most men, you overestimate lengths. OMG, he hasn’t even done anything, why am I ranting? 😆 I do appreciate the use of ‘feet’ rather than ‘metres’ – nicely immersing us into the backwards British ways of measuring stuff. So he can walk through walls? I bet that’s come in handy over the years. Probably finds doors rather primitive and unnecessary.

    I absolutely love that Aggro was left on the floor for the whole scene; it still cracks me up so much. And Gawain’s little ‘oops’ face just makes it. Ah, geez. And then even soft-hearted Guin just steps over Aggro’s body on her route to the cabinet. Ooh, the water from Avalon was a gift from… Toni? Interesting. I wonder what it does and why he has it and I hope it hasn’t passed it’s use-by date for effectiveness.

    Ugh, your description of how Bayard moves is eerie as hell. I love how Gawain just runs in without a sword like an aggressive little monkey after a coconut. Yeah, weird analogy, not sure where that came from. How do you kill it? Try chopping bits off, that’s what I’d do. Or fire, fire might work. Or make it watch cricket, bore it to death. Oh, yes the source. So, of course Morgana should run off to the crypt, alone, leaving these guys fighting something they can’t beat. I did appreciate all the lovely shots of Arthur, though. His sword is fine; he doesn’t need a huge one if he’s skilled with what he has.

    I’d say the chances of your sleeping spell not working are quite significant, Morrie. But no matter, you’re down here now. Is ‘mama’ really in that coffin? Of course Cenred didn’t use a door. How common that would have been of him. He’s just descended six hundred feet, don’t you know. OK, so we don’t get an army of the undead, unless they didn’t get proper burial rites… oh shit. I bet Morrie’s mum didn’t, did she?

    Nice to see that Cenred finally acknowledges that Morgana is untrained and her trying to help will likely be devastating for her. After all, he didn’t just travel seven hundred feet for her to screw up his attempt to save the day.

    Two sources! So one has lay dormant? This dude knows nothing about teenage girls, does he? Don’t facepalm, stop her walking into disaster! Get to work cleansing stuff! Did you just shimmy through a thousand feet of dirt and stone for nothing? Why am I like this.

    Like

  4. Cenred’s ability to essentially spread his life force and apparently conscience through the earth to look for stuff, is really cool. Also cool that he can just phase through walls like a video game glitch. Also your fight scenes are always A+++, especially loving the poses and the lighting in these. Gawain arrives to save the day again, I love him so much, he’s come so far and I am so proud of him. Ooh, things are getting tense ;o; I feel like Morgana will likely run headfirst into danger…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, it does look a lot like a video game glitch, doesn’t it? 😂 I might try to put cracks where he’s stepping through next arc, if I don’t end up forgetting. Cenred has some neat tricks up his sleeve (and Nimueh too, not that she has any sleeves 🤣)

      Thank you! It’s the final few chapters, so I worked hard on them. Headfirst into danger? Morrie? What gives you that idea? 🤭

      Like

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