Meanwhile Merlin had come across a particularly dark part of the passage. When I say dark I actually mean pitch black. He couldn’t see a thing. In fact it was probably more help if he closed his eyes. He stumbled along in the dark, his hand running down the wall so that he would not loose himself in the blackness. Suddenly a noise erupted from somewhere, causing him to jump and almost hit his head on the ceiling. It was a clacking sort of noise like a woodpecker, but much louder. There was something eerie about it.
As the noise continued he eventually came out of the tunnel to enter another cavern. This one was huge, darkish and had a thin bridge of stone crossing over a gaping hole that surrounded a platform. The platform was wrought with long thin pattern that all, in one way or another, led to the centre of the surface. In the centre of the platform was a thing. It looked vaguely familiar somehow. The thing was sitting on a small boulder, its shoulders hunched and its back turned to Merlin. It was making the clacking noise. Merlin emerged from the tunnel and stood a few feet from the bridge. There was no other way out of this cave apart from where he had just come from so he was at a loss on what to do next.
The thing on the platform seemed to not have noticed him and Merlin preferred it that way for he had realized that it was in fact the living replica of the statue he had climbed earlier. It was exactly the same, four arms, black/green feathers and a hooked beak. All that was different was its size. Instead of being a hundred foot tall it was only eight foot tall even though that wasn’t so short.
It was sitting rigidly facing the wall opposite and kept clacking its beak, the sound echoing of the walls. The noises it was making where inconsistent and in no particular order. Merlin wondered why the creature was doing it. It seemed pretty pointless.
He stood there for some time, too afraid to move in case his clumsiness showed him up again and it heard him. Suddenly he heard the faint patter of footsteps behind him, coming from the tunnel. The beast snapped it head around so quickly that Merlin was sure that if he had done it then his neck would have broken. It was even uglier in the flesh than the statue of it had been. Its eyes where jet black, shiny and soul piercing.
It was evil.
Merlin froze, his blood ice in his veins. He was petrified by its stare alone. He felt he was both alive and dead at the same time. He might have been to frightened to move but every single part of him was screaming for him to run. He was too caught up in it to notice someone enter the cavern via the shaft way. The person sailed past Merlin, crossing the bridge and went to stand by the loathsome monster. Benjamin, for that is who it was, seemed total undaunted by the vulgar creature. Merlin was too terror stricken to speak and he still had yet to acknowledged Benjamin’s presence.
“This is the shrine of Ae’rathma. This,” Benjamin indicated to the creature on his left, “is Ae’rathma himself. The lord of shadow.”
Merlin swallowed, his eyes watering because they were so wide.
“I…uh…uh…” Was all that escaped his mouth. The creature was deplorable.
“I sense that the young Pendragon is at the entrance to the temple. It is time.” Benjamin suddenly said, turning to Ae’rathma. Merlin did not like how Benjamin said, “It is time.” It made his spine shiver.
The dreadful creature raised all four of it arms threateningly towards Merlin who still could not move. It pointed twenty clawed fingers at him and cawed a like a crow but far more loud and a lot more like stones being grated. Suddenly Merlin felt dizzy, like he had been spinning at high speed for hours. He was so giddy he barely even noticed when he hit the floor.
“Go my lord. Take his life. Use it as your own.” Benjamin told the beast who loped across the bridge towards Merlin.
Meanwhile Arthur had finally climbed the huge steps to the top of the pyramid and was taking a breather. He told himself he had to get going, tightened the bandage around his arm and set off to the entrance of the pyramid. Thankfully it was an archway with no door so lock picking or knocking was not needed. Inside the temple there was a long hallway with several passageways going off in different directions on the walls, long vines and shrubs growing all over them, but it was clear that he should go down the hall. He drew his sword in case of anything attacking him as he felt like he was being watched.
Eventually he came to the end of the long hall to find a huge stone door blocking his pathway. He searched the walls around it for a lever or button that might open it and he found a long stone bar sticking out of the side. He tried pushing it down but only when he sat on it would it move. The huge doors swung slowly open, grating noises echoing about under the ground. When the doors had finally opened Arthur could see that the room it led to was large, rectangular and had a simply grotesque statue at one end. He apprehensively went in, wondering where Merlin was. Surely someone should have met him by now? This had to be right place!
As Arthur padded down the stone room he noticed that there was no way out other than the door he had come by. He searched the room as Merlin had done earlier and found no secret passageways or any other ways for that matter. At length it occurred to him that maybe there was something at the top of the statues head. And so it was that he discovered the hatchway that was still open from when Merlin had used it. He jumped down it and made his way along the shaft that he discovered. He passed through the cave of bats and the second darker tunnel and eventually, as Merlin had done, came to the cavernous shrine of Ae’rathma.
The place was empty save a familiar silhouette that was sitting, back turned, on a rock in the centre of the platform. Arthur squinted through the murky light. He’d know those skinny shoulders anywhere. It was Merlin!
“Merlin?” Arthur called.
“Arthur. Help me.” The figure said but did not move. It was Merlin’s voice but it was emotionless, completely different from his normal quirkiness.
What’s more Arthur was having doubts. This seemed too easy. It must be a trap. But there was no one else in the room and he couldn’t just leave Merlin when he needed help. He didn’t look like he needed it though. He looked fine. Plus the bridge looked very precarious. None the less Arthur crossed it and went up to Merlin.
Merlin sat rigidly and stared at the wall. He was barely even breathing. Arthur waved his hand in Merlin’s face and snapped his fingers. Still nothing. He put out a hand to his shoulder to shake his friend awake from this trance he seemed to be in. As soon as his hand touched Merlin the young mans head snapped up. Arthur jumped back at this sudden movement.
Merlin stood up and began walking slowly at Arthur, like his legs had not been used in years. For some reason Arthur instinctively stepped back, there was something wrong with Merlin and he could feel it.
“Merlin?” He said again, looking behind him at the edge of the platform that was coming ever closer.
“Don’t run away Arthur. Come back.” Merlin said, his eyes wide and unseeing, his head cocked to one side slightly.
“What’s wrong with you?!” Arthur swerved away from the edge and continued backing away.
“There’s nothing wrong with me.”
It was obvious this was a lie. It was like Merlin was possessed by something.
“Snap out of it Merlin!” Arthur warned him dangerously.
“He can not, as you say, snap out of it.” A voice suddenly said.
Arthur looked over the shoulder of the oncoming Merlin to see a boy, dark brown hair and about eleven or twelve, standing on the rock.
“Who are you?”
“My lord. Come to me.” Was all the boy said. Strangely Merlin turned around and positioned himself at the boy’s side.
“Who are you? What have you done to Merlin?” Arthur asked again.
“I am Benjamin. The writer of the letter.”
“You? You are Nimueh’s brother?” Arthur’s head was once again becoming filled.
“Yes. As for what I have done to Merlin here the answer is nothing. My lord Ae’rathma is the one who has.”
“What?! Who’s Ae’rathma?”
“I am.” Merlin said.
“Excuse me?!” Arthur said sarcastically.
“His lordship was weak. He had barely any life in him so he took Merlin’s as his own. To use as his own. To be his own. I deemed it a worthy way to die for my sisters murderer.”
“You’ve killed him?!” Arthur croaked, chocking on his words at the thought he might be to late.
“No.” Merlin (I’ll call him Ae’rathma from now on) said.
“What?” Benjamin whipped round confusion plastered on his face.
“There is something protecting him. He is alive but helpless and weak.” Ae’rathma said.
“You told me he would die!”
“And so he shall in time.”
“He’s not going to die if I’ve got a say in things!” Arthur spat viciously.
“And how are you going to stop it?” Ae’rathma came up and faced Arthur. Arthur felt sick at seeing his friend’s features twisted into an ugly mask that was so unlike Merlin yet still his face.
“You’re going to tell me.” He managed to muster up, trying to sound brave.
“Ha! I think not!”
“I have changed my mind.” Benjamin suddenly said from his perch on the rock.
“What?” Ae’rathma snapped his head around in the way that he did.
“If Merlin is not going to die now then I want you to release him. I shall kill them both personally.”
“You must obey me or you shall suffer the consequences!” Benjamin shouted angrily.
“You are nothing but a boy!” Ae’rathma scoffed.
“But you know what I can do. Release him or die.”
“You would not kill me.”
Ae’rathma snorted and turned back to Arthur.
“We go on with the plan.” He said.
“This is your last chance!” Benjamin warned viciously.
Ae’rathma continued to ignore Benjamin and began to advance on Arthur again.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hang on a second! Can I at least have a few last words?!” Arthur said backing away, trying to stall for time.
“No.” Came the reply.
“I just want some questions answering and then you can carry on with killing me.” Arthur said. He had more than enough thoughts whirling around his head and he wanted them answered. Of course he wasn’t going to let anyone kill him afterwards but he needed to humour the creature that had taken over Merlin’s body.
“What questions?” Benjamin demanded.
“I had no idea that Nimueh had been killed by anyone, let alone Merlin, until you sent me that letter. Plus Merlin couldn’t have killed her. He’s useless with a sword! And why did you call him a “great warlock” in the letter? You’ve got things mixed up by my reckoning!”
Benjamin and Ae’rathma both snorted in unison.
“I think it is you who have things mixed up. You must be blind not to have noticed!” Ae’rathma said in Merlin’s voice. It made Arthur angry that someone was using Merlin’s voice with out his consent but he ignored it.
“What do you mean?” Arthur said, sighing silently with relief that the subject of murdering had evaporated, for now at least.
“Merlin is a wizard! A sorcerer! A warlock! Whatever you prefer! I still can not belive that you have not noticed!” Benjamin almost laughed.
“Merlin, a sorcerer! You must be mad!” Arthur almost laughed to.
“It doesn’t matter what you think Pendragon. Its time for you to die.” Ae’rathma raised Merlin’s arms threateningly over his head, which was a strange sight but it was probable that the creature still had it’s own mannerisms not Merlin’s.
Arthur drew his sword and directed it at Ae’rathma yet he still came at him. If the creature had looked like anything else Arthur would, without a second thought, have struck a blow to it but this opponent looked like his best friend and he couldn’t bring himself to harm him. Fortunately he was saved by Benjamin.
“No! I told you I have changed my mind! I shall kill them myself!”
“You made me do this!” Benjamin cried, his voice reverberating of the walls of the cave.
Ae’rathma completely ignored this threat and continued at Arthur who once again backed away.
“Terana ferva holly vira esan!” Benjamin yelled, throwing his hand forward at Ae’rathma, strongly reminding Arthur of a spoilt brat who wasn’t getting his way.
What happened next was extremely strange. As soon as Benjamin had cast the spell Ae’rathma stood stock-still and began vibrating like somebody was shaking him. Suddenly a weird creature that was as ugly as ugly could get suddenly began to move out of Merlin. It was transparent and looked like a ghost being pulled away from poor Merlin who was slowly coming round and blinking dazedly. The ugly ghost thing was now becoming more and more solid by the second but also weaker as Merlin regained consciousness.
“What have you done!” The beast suddenly spoke for the first time in a horrible rasping caw very much like a crow.
“I warned you.” Was all Benjamin said as the monstrous thing fell to its knees and began to crumple up like a sheet of paper being scrunched by a fist. It folded and crunched and caved in until there was but a small heap of feathers, which blew away like they were made of dust.