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.
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.
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.”
“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:
“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.
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…
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?”
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.
“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.”
“Yes. Don’t worry, only the most noble people can rest here. Like you. And Arthur. And me.”
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.
“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.
…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 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.