Merlin’s stomach was somewhere around his ears as he fell through the air. Suddenly the floor came rushing up and he hit it shoulders first.
“Ok. That hurt.” Merlin got up and rubbed his bruised and bashed shoulders. At least he hadn’t broken something or died which could very easily have happened. It turned out that the hole had led to a drop of about ten meters or so. It had looked endless from the top.
The first thing he noticed about his surroundings was that there was a long passageway going away to his left. It looked like a huge gaping mouth of a very large creature. It was too dark to see how far it went or what it led to. He looked up. The sides of the tunnel he had fallen through were flat and smooth. There was no way he was going back up there. The sides were far too flat to climb. He would have to go down the tunnel.
There was something about it he didn’t like. It seemed like it was beckoning him to go in and then, when he had, it would snap him up like a frog would a fly. Merlin hesitated for a moment. He really didn’t want to go down that tunnel. Why did he have to jump?! Well there was no other option but to go down it.
Cautiously he began to walk down the passageway. It was light enough to be able to see but also dark enough to bump into things and Merlin stubbed his toes multiple times of a few of the smaller rocks.
For sometime the tunnel was small and narrow but at length it widened out and became a large cave. Suddenly there was a strange “splish” noise and Merlin felt something wet and sticky seeping through his shoes into his socks. Grimacing, he looked down and discovered that he had stood in something. He lent on the wall of the tunnel and inspected his shoe. There was a slimy substance pasted all over it. It looked like bat droppings. Wait…it was! Merlin looked up at the roof. Droppings plus cave equals bats and there were indeed hundreds of bats lining the ceiling of the cave.
Merlin stepped forward quietly, not wanting to wake them and cause them to panic. His foot squelched noisily in another pile of goo and he flinched. Another step caused a pebble to slide under his foot and roll away and the next he slipped on some moss. This sort of thing continued until the bats heard.
An eye, big, round and shiny, opened suddenly from above and blinked at Merlin. Merlin stared back at it, keeping as still as possible. Maybe it wouldn’t see him.
The bat unfolded its abnormally large wings and screeched loudly. Suddenly a million other eyes opened and blinked at the young man who had intruded on them. In a split second the uncountable number of black creatures were flying hectically about the air, obscuring all vision, which had already been very little at best.
Merlin, his arms thrown up around his head to protect his face, ran for his life, bats hitting him relentlessly. One especially large one crashed headlong into his stomach and winded, he dived for the exit. He fell headfirst into a puddle of something he didn’t want to know about and leapt up, scrabbling away down the tunnel. Suddenly he realized it was a different tunnel to the one he had come from. That had to be a bonus didn’t it? Well only if this wasn’t a dead end or something worse. Well there was only one way to find out so he began head off down the passageway.
“I made you breakfast.”
Arthur reluctantly opened his eyes to see Hunith with a bowl before him and the light of morning shining through the window.
“Oh, thanks.” Arthur took the bowl and Hunith busied herself with some sewing in a corner. Arthur eyed the bowl of pasty porridge warily. It was the same stuff as before but there was just more of it. He assumed that was because Ealdor’s crop yield had been better this year seeing as there wasn’t a thug around to pilfer them of it. He still remembered the awful taste of the stuff but this time there was no one to give it to so he gingerly began to eat the slop.
It turned out to not be as bad as he thought though it was of a weird textures that suck to the roof of your mouth like a sheet of wet paper.
“Well, you should be off…” Hunith piped up suddenly, “I’ve fed and watered your horse.”
“Thank you.” Arthur said, getting up and putting the empty bowl on a table. He gathered his things together and went out side, Hunith in tow.
He saddled his horse and hitched his rucksack on to the animals back.
“Good luck.” Hunith said.
Arthur noticed she wasn’t saying much but he couldn’t blame her for being scared. If he had a son who had been kidnapped he would be just the same.
“Thanks. When I return I shall bring Merlin with me.” Arthur said. He wanted to sound sure to her that he was able to rescues her son but the truth was that he wasn’t certain at all. If the writer of the letter was indeed Nimueh’s brother then chances are that he would also be a powerful sorcerer and that would make things only more difficult.
Saying his farewells Arthur shook the horse’s reins and galloped away leaving an anxious Hunith behind.
He rode on for hours before he came to the bowl on the map. There was a steep slope going up very suddenly on the flat landscape and if you were to walk around it you discover that it was roughly round. There were tall ferns with stems the width of Arthur’s arm going up the slope. It almost looked like a rainforest. On closer inspection the soil of the hill turned out to be spongy and peaty so Arthur would have to leave his horse behind on this one.
This was all very well but what was most strange was there was a sort of swirling mass of dark cloud twisted around the sky. Arthur was reminded of bedtime stories he had had read to him years ago about evil witches living in towers and ominous storm clouds whirling about in the sky. It was very unreal.
However Arthur tied his horse to a nearby tree and began to ascend the large slope. The ferns and plants were thickly planted and it was hard going. He eventually gave up trying to battle his way through them and began hacking at the plants with his sword. The peaty soil crumbled away every time he stepped on it and each step took him half a step back, which made progress slow.
Eventually, hot, sticky and sweaty (it was very humid among the bracken) he got to the top. The bowl was huge and with a greyness to it. Gnarled, spindly dead trees littered the clearing like fingers of ghosts reaching up to the sky. Tall thin rocks were also protruding from the ground like spears. Shadows were flitting around everywhere without anything to cast them and Arthur guessed that’s where the valley got its name.
In the centre of the basin was a pyramid that instead of being pointed had a flat top and huge steps on each of its faces. It was made of a blackish grey rock of the same colour as everything else. If Arthur had been asked to choose three words to describe the place he would have chosen austere, spectral and bone chilling.
He guessed that Merlin (and his kidnapper) were inside the pyramid but to get to the pyramid he would have to cross the awful landscape before him.
The shadows were defiantly not friendly. Arthur had an alarming feeling that those shadows could kill. He didn’t want to cross ways with them under any circumstances but if he was going to rescue Merlin then he would have to.
He shuffled his feet and looked back at the fields and woods behind him. It was strange. It was like this horrible basin like place had been plonked down in a completely random area.
“Come on Arthur. Be a man.” He told himself, under his breath.
Cautiously he began to descend the slope that was at first grassy like the other side but soon seemed to have died and it became a scree of rocks and pebbles that cascaded down as he tumbled by them. As he came closer to the bottom it seemed as though the trees and long sharp rocks had grown taller and more threatening. Shadows hovered past everywhere like dark sheets of cloth being pulled over the ground. They had no shape, nothing that you could distinguish as a person or animal. They were just blob shaped. There were quite a few of them to. So many that there was just as much light as shadow.
Tentatively he took a step forward, being careful not to pass through any of the shadows. As he went further in the more shadows there became. Soon there was more dark than light and eventually only a few patches of white were left. Arthur, hopping from clear spot to clear spot to avoid the shadows, accessed whether there was a pattern in the shadows movements.
After a while he noticed that there was a pattern forming. One shadow would flicker on and off every three or so second and then there was a long clear line that had shadows moving across it every ten. After that they stopped. He would have to be fast but it was possible. Waiting for an opportune moment he hopped from one spot to the other.
The shadow floated fleetingly over the spot and Arthur leapt for it. His aim was accurate but not as much as his balance. His feet landed on the tiny patch of light but it was so small that he wobbled and fell forward onto his face, into the waiting shadow. What happened next happened so quickly Arthur didn’t have time to react.
The shadow suddenly took shape of a wolf that was transparent and could have easily been mistaken for smoke apart from its blazing red eyes and drooling jaws. Arthur just had time to notice the glinting white teeth before the wolf flew at him. Instinctively he threw up his arms to protect himself but the shadowy smoke just went right through them. The creature latched onto his arm, its very real teeth sinking deep into his skin. Arthur yelled in pain and grabbed its muzzle with his good arm. His hand closed around it and didn’t pass through.
He grappled with the beast as it tried to bite him again. It yanked its self-free, taking a hunk out of Arthur’s arm in the process, and threw its head up, letting out a bone-chilling howl. Arthur jumped at its lapse of attention and tried to scramble away. He was but feet from the edge of the shadows when he felt it clamp its jaws over his foot. He snatched his foot away before its teeth could do any damage and rolled out of the shadows.
Jumping to his feet he whirled around to face the dog. It was pacing up and down the barrier of light and shadow snarling savagely. It looked absolutely livid but seeing that it could not get to Arthur it suddenly swished back to another of the drifting shadows. Arthur took a huge lungful of air and let it out slowly in relief. He suddenly noticed that his arm was pouring blood from where the wolf had bitten him. Looking down at it he saw it was nothing short of mangled. He ripped his tattered, blood soaked sleeve off and proceeded to wrap it around his arm to serve as a bandage until further notice. Despite his best efforts a steady dripping of blood was still drizzling onto the stony ground. The sudden blood loss was making him feel lightheaded but he had to ignore it. He had to get to the temple.