The mountains of Berwyn were huge, impossibly huge. Tall, jagged grey rocks climbed high into the sky of whirling clouds like fingers reaching for the heavens. During the ride to the mountains over a wide and dusty plain, everything Arthur had seen was dead. Rabbits, birds, fishes in the streams, everything. It was not a worldly place, but his quest drove the prince on.
Eventually, he reached the side of the great pillars of rock through which a thin path crept, winding narrowly left and right. Arthur’s horse had been agitated throughout the journey in the wake of the mountain, but now they were even closer it reared up on its hind legs fearfully. Arthur tumbled off its back and hit the dusty ground with a thump. The horse ran, seeming to take all sound with it.
Arthur picked himself up, cursing the horse under his breath, and turned to face the path. A stale breath of wind whispered through the passageway, muttering in his ear. He did not listen.
Painfully aware of how every footstep alternated into an almost deafening thud, Arthur began to sidle down the path. It was the only way he could see that led into the maze of giant rocks, yet as he went deeper in, other paths made their presence known. He followed one of them when the original ended, only to find a dead end. He retraced his steps and took another passage.
The air had grown cold. He shivered. Something beneath his foot cracked loudly, echoing over the stone, and he looked down. Lifting his foot, he realized what he had trodden on. A skull, its jaw offset and screaming, staring up at him through empty eye sockets. He swallowed and kept moving, only to find that the first was not the only skull. He came to a pit of bones. Staring over the sea of cracked, murky white skeletons, Arthur felt suddenly sick, but when he turned to go back, he could not find the exist to the path he had been following. Whether he had simply overlooked it, or magic had closed the way, he was not sure.
There was a small ledge running along the side of the pit, and it seemed to be his only way across the bones without wading through them, so he moved to the side and began to edge along the small lintel, trying not to look down at all the dead faces before him. He slipped a few times on the loose stones, but he made his way to the other side without falling.
The path he had now reached was wider, and in the distance he could see it lead up to a long slope. Above the slope, a long, thin bolt of lighting, emanating from the dark clouds above, shot down to earth every minute or so. As Arthur began to make his way down the path, he was sure he could hear voices of some kind.
Stones hurtled past him, upset by his feet, as the prince started to ascend the slope. When he was mere feet from the top, he drew Excalibur from the sheath. He could sense the magic. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He swallowed and took a deep breath before peering over the top of the slope.
He saw two things. The first was Brun, standing with his right arm outstretched over the second, the sight of which caused Arthur’s heart to give a great shudder inside his chest. The cube had caused so much trouble, so much hurt, so much pain. Arthur felt a range of emotions well up inside him, a majority of which he had to fight back down again. Fear would not help him now.
Even as he struggled with his feelings, Brun’s murmurings – the voice he had heard – became louder and more earnest in tone. Arthur briefly wondered if this was some kind of ceremony, but his thoughts were disrupted by shock, for figures began to emerge from the cube. Shadowy and vague, the first to appear was a young male, probably about Arthur’s age, who had dark hair, the fringe of which hung over his eyes, and whom wore a long, black, sweeping cloak, which hung around him like mist.
A loud voice spoke, not issued by either Brun or the ghost like figure.
“Jethro, great Necromancer of the dark realms.”
After the voice had died away, another figure began to rise up from the cube. He was older than the first, more muscular and world hardened, wearing a similar garb, but his was of a formless golden colour, small jewels lining the hems.
The voice spoke again.
“Koran, Magus, Sage and Devout of the black sea.”
Again, the voice ended, and one more figure was drawn out from the cube. As she took shape – for she was a woman, beautiful and with electrifying blue eyes – Arthur, with a jolt, recognized her immediately. She was the stranger he had met in the forest when he had been trying to find the Morteous flower that would save Merlin’s life. She had tried to kill him.
Arthur’s grip tightened around the hilt of his sword.
“Nimueh, high priestess of the Old Religion.”
Back in the inn, where he had been thumping his tired fist against the door of his room, Merlin suddenly felt a shiver go down his spine. He had felt a similar sensation before when the Avanc had poisoned Camelot’s water supply. It had woken him, frightened him. His magic was trying to tell him something. He knew almost immediately what to do.
He was exhausted, and although hampered greatly by his injuries, Merlin stumbled over to the window. Wiping the grimy glass with his sleeve, he saw below the place where the inhabitants of the inn left their horses. He knew he had to get to the mountains by any means necessary, even stealing. Moreover, he also knew that if he merely used his magic to open the door of his room, he would be caught. He knew Arthur well enough to know he would have paid someone to keep an eye on him. Escaping by the window was much easier.
A flash of gold, and the window opened. Slithering his body out, Merlin managed to catch hold of the ledge before he fell. As his weight began to pull on his arms, he could not help a whimper of pain escaping his lips. Arthur was right; he was too weak for this. Not that he would let it stop him.
Peering over his shoulder, trying to ignore the pain, Merlin sought for a safe place to land, and let go of the led. A blur of bricks and sky rushed in front of him, before he landed heavily on the ground. His legs buckled with the impact, and he fell over, disturbing a chicken, which scattered away, shrieking. Groaning, Merlin climbed stiffly to his feet. After checking hastily to see if anyone was watching, he made light work of the reins, which tied the nearest horse to a rail built into the side of the building. He climbed painfully onto the creature’s back, and rammed his heels into its ribs. The horse galloped out of the stable area and tore down the cobbled street, throwing people left and right in their haste to escape being trampled.
He followed the same route Arthur had taken, and found the path which led into the mountains, all the while worrying whether he was too late. Every instinct was screaming to him that Arthur was in danger. He could not ignore it.
“I hate him. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him,” Sheridan slammed his fourth pint of beer down on the table, and wiped the foam from his snarling lip. He had thought he had killed that annoying little runt for thwarting the mutiny, but his men had reported seeing him and that prince – Lord knows how he had turned up – in the forest, both quite alive and well. After all the trouble the runt-ish one had caused him on the ship, it was no wonder Sheridan now hated his guts.
He belched loudly and reached for another pint.
From what they had managed to pick out of the prince and servant’s conversation, his men had also told him that the pair of them were setting off to the mountains of Berwyn to destroy the cube. Sheridan wondered how they had come across it before, but the alcohol in his system did not allow him any rational thoughts. In addition, it was causing him to wonder whether or not he could get his revenge on the runt-ish one for all the trouble…maybe finish what he had started…maybe just find the kid and kill him…it wouldn’t be too difficult…he knew where he was…it wasn’t like his prince friend could help him…he was only a boy…no match for Sheridan…easy prey…a helpless creature…yes…yes…ridding the world of Merlin would be highly amusing…