He was not sure what it was, but something was drawing Arthur closer towards the cube. He slid down the opposite side of the slope and picked himself up, staring at Brun, who had not seemed to notice him, and the other three figures. He was sure they had become more solid, and held Excalibur up at them all, swallowing his fear.
Nimueh chuckled and stepped forwards, a cocky eyebrow raised.
“Good day, young prince. How long it had been…”
Arthur said nothing.
“Oh, how boring!” Koran spoke up, laughing. “The little Pendragon does not wish to speak to us. Maybe he thinks us too below him…”
Jethro spat on the ground.
“Indeed,” Nimueh agreed. “But come now, Arthur. Do you not wish to learn of the circumstances you are in? Are you not curious about why we are here?”
Arthur still did not speak.
“Very well, if you wish to tire me, then I ought not waste time,” Nimueh said, looking annoyed now. “We are the three greatest sorcerers who ever lived. I believe you know our names already…they are of importance for we are the ones who crafted the NightmareChild…” she waved her hand at the cube. “Its single function is very simple – it merely kept our souls safe after we died…it was a ‘plan B’, so that if we ever died, our souls would be kept safe until a willing volunteer released us…” Nimueh inclined her head towards Brun, who merely blinked, looking dazed. “Brun was not our original plan…we were to use you…but you resisted the nightmares remarkably well…and showed such diligence…we couldn’t take you…we had to find another. So here we are, back from the dead. Extraordinary, don’t you think?”
“You almost killed me…” Arthur spoke. “You killed Merlin…”
“Yet he still lives,” Nimueh said dismissively, as if it were not a matter worthy of her attention.
Merlin crossed the sea of bones just in time to see Arthur scrambling over the top of the slope. He quickly followed and ascended the slope. When he reached the top and peered over the edge, much like Arthur had done before him, he was not surprised to see the three figures standing like ghosts, not yet fully formed, in the rocky field. Arthur was also there, standing with an arm outstretched, sword in hand, towards Nimueh.
Merlin decided to let the events before him unfold, and then discern whether or not he should help the prince. There was no point in blowing cover without requirement.
As he watched, listening to what the sorcerers were saying, he did not notice the man creeping up behind him, a dagger, long and thin, glinting in his hand. After a moment, Merlin heard a few pebbles moving and whipped around. He blanched when he saw Sheridan, and immediately tried to scramble away, terrified, but Sheridan grabbed him by his collar, swinging him around to face him.
“You just don’t ever die, do you?” he hissed into Merlin’s face, baring his teeth. “Well, that’s about to change.”
Merlin was aware of nothing but the pain that penetrated deep into him. As his hands clutched at the wound, he could feel himself sliding down the rocks, adding fresh scrapes to his battered body. But they were nothing now, not compared to the wound that was allowing his life to leak away. Even as he desperately tried to push it back into the skin, he knew that he was dying. No one could be stabbed like that and survive. Gaius had always said that he had some sort of immunity to magical attacks, but normal ones like a knife blade sliding effortlessly through his flesh the way that it would through butter, he was just as vulnerable to as everyone else.
He was dimly aware of Arthur yelling his name and running over. But try as he might, Merlin found that he could not focus on the prince’s swimming face. It seemed so unfair that he had finally been reunited with his friend, only to leave him again so soon. But wait. He did not have to leave. There was something he could do to save himself. But even if it worked, it may be the very action that could get him killed. If he was dying anyway, then, Merlin figured, he had nothing to lose.
Locking eyes with Arthur one last time, Merlin pleaded silently for him to forgive what he was about to do, to forget the fact that he had been lying to him from the day they had first met. It all seemed so long ago now…
Arthur’s brow crumpled as he received the silent message, but was not sure what Merlin was about to do. His face had lost all colour as the blood drained away, yet his eyes seemed to have regained some of their light. In fact, they had regained so much of their light that they were beginning to change colour. Arthur blinked and glanced away, but when he looked back, he was certain that Merlin’s eyes were no longer blue.
They were gold.
Before he had time to say anything, Arthur jumped backwards in shock as strange words came pouring out of Merlin’s mouth. The air around him seemed to grow warmer and warmer, and even as Arthur watched, Merlin rose into the air. His head was tipped back, his arms spread wide, as if inviting the world in. With nothing to prevent it, the blood poured from the fatal wound in his chest, but Merlin seemed not to notice. He was spinning ever so slowly, his floating body looking eerie even as the strange words continued to flow unhindered from his mouth.
Gazing open mouthed at the suspended figure before him, Arthur noticed the change in the air. The warmth was almost unbearable, but something else was happening. Random bursts of colour were materialising and flowing through the air the way that a leaf would float down a stream. All of the light was drawn to Merlin, and wrapped its way around his body. Every part of him was aglow, making him look like some sort of angel. Despite what he knew that he was witnessing, Arthur desperately hoped that was not what he was becoming.
The light grew and grew in intensity until the prince was forced to look away. Even through his shut eyes, the whiteness of the light penetrated the lids, causing him to flinch. There was something unearthly good about the light, and Arthur knew in his heart that it was helping his friend. As the light began to slowly fade, the prince was aware of the silence that was somehow managing to echo mysteriously around him, bouncing off the rocks and increasing, until it was the most unnatural sound that Arthur had ever heard.
Opening his eyes, the prince looked back at the suspended figure. Merlin was still floating, but his head was lolling forwards and the words had stopped coming. The light may have calmed down, but Merlin was still glowing. Gracefully, the figure was lowered back to earth, his feet only just touching the tip of the rock. Worried that he might hurt himself, Arthur made to move forward, but was stopped suddenly when the figure looked at him. Blazing gold eyes, all azure blue consumed by the storm, stared back out of the pale face, burning with all the power that was held within him. Stepping forward, Merlin walked forward from the top of the rocks into thin air. Arthur blinked again, startled. Merlin was walking towards him, but he was walking on the air, still glowing mysteriously.
Coming to a stop just in front of the prince, Merlin stayed hovering. Arthur found that for the first time ever, he was properly looking up to someone. Tilting his head back, he craned his neck to get a better look at the being in front of him. An aura was being given off that betrayed the strength of the magic that was coursing through his friend’s veins, making Arthur shiver slightly.
Without saying another word, Merlin raised his hand. As he did so, Excalibur, which had fallen from Arthur’s hand in shock, rose gracefully into the air, rotating on the spot slightly. The golden eyes flashed once and the sword erupted into a burst of colour. Blue flames licked the sword from hilt to tip, dancing their way down the blade and back up again. Yet no heat was given off from the flames at all, just another sense of justice. With a flick of his wrist, Merlin sent the sword flying. Watching its progress with his eyes, Arthur saw it fly majestically in a curve before arching straight down. With another burst of light, the sword embedded itself in the cube.
Even as the prince stood there, open-mouthed, the magic around Merlin disappeared into nothing. The light seemed to almost fizzle away, and with a sigh, the warlock slumped back down onto the ground. His face was a deathly pale and his eyes were closed; yet Arthur could see no trace of the wound that had been tearing his life away. There was not even the smallest scratch remaining; the only evidence that it had ever happened was the blood still soaking Merlin’s shirt.