Harry stood inside his mind with Merlin. It had been a week since the battle with the study group, and thankfully, his injuries healed without any complications.
He remembered the discussion he had with the others, and how long it went. They had a lot of questions, and he couldn’t blame them. He just wished he didn’t have to lie to them, but the truth would put them in even more danger than they were already in.
It still sent shivers down his spine when he thought about what the study group was up to, and worse yet, he still couldn’t think of anything to say to them that would convince them of the truth.
“We don’t need to convince them what they’re doing is wrong,” Merlin added. “A plan like this has a lot of moving parts. Now that we have some idea of what those plans are, we can counter them.”
“How?” Harry asked. “We’ve already established that I’m not strong enough to stop them if it comes down to a fight.”
“As I said before, you may not need to fight them directly,” Merlin explained. “The amount of magic they need is enormous. They will use their own magic to start the ritual, then they will use the magic they’ve collected to keep the portal open. If we can find where that magic is kept and release it, or stop them from performing anymore enhancement rituals, it could be enough to stop them.”
“We still don’t know when they’re going to perform the ritual,” Harry pointed out.
“Yes,” Merlin acknowledged. “But if we keep the pressure on them, they’re likely to make more mistakes, and we can find out more. Your plan to get your friends out from under their influence will do that in two ways, reducing the number of casters they believe they have for the ritual, and force them to find others to take their place.”
Harry sighed, remembering how Professor McGonagall had changed since they stole the test. She was still looking at everyone suspiciously and even questioning students in the hallways randomly. He couldn’t even blame her for it after what they did.
Hermione had on more than one occasion since brought up the idea of telling the professors what they did, arguing that it would be enough to get them in the kind of trouble they needed to break ties with the study group, but he knew they couldn’t leave this to chance.
If the Professor swept this under the rug to protect her career, the entire plan would fall apart. This needed this to be public, not hidden from the rest of the school.
Getting his thoughts together, he turned to Merlin, remembering what Nimue had told him about his occlumency.
“This is a double-edged sword Harry,” Merlin said, picking up on Harry’s thoughts. “Increasing the complexity of your mind will make it more difficult to defend from legilimency attacks. Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes,” Harry said, after a moment’s thought about Nimue’s concerns. “I can’t risk losing myself to my past incarnations. My mind needs to be clear to deal with Andre and his friends.”
“There’s no danger of that yet,” Merlin replied. “Your mind is surprisingly strong for someone your age, perhaps because of your upbringing or the friends you’ve made along the way, but if you’re certain, we’ll proceed.”
“I’m sure,” Harry replied decisively.
“Alright,” Merlin agreed. “The first step is to create the additional room in your mind. Place your hand on the wall and concentrate your magic there. Focus on creating a door.”
Harry placed his hand on the door as Merlin instructed, pushing a tendril of his magic into the wall, and imaging a door appearing, and leading into a hallway. He felt a pull on his magic, and when he opened his eyes, he saw a sturdy wooden door.
“Good,” Merlin praised. “You did that faster than I expected. Open the door, see where it leads.”
Harry nodded, opening the door and peering outside. What he saw was a narrow hallway that went off into the distance, and that was all. “Is it supposed to look like this?” He asked, turning back to look at Merlin.
“It is in the beginning,” Merlin explained. “Just like with this room you’ll have to create each additional one, then after that staircases, additional hallways, mental defenses, the list is extensive.”
“Alight, what now?” Harry asked.
“Nothing tonight,” Merlin replied. “You need to preserve your magic in case something else happens with the study group.”
“Alright,” Harry agreed, seeing Merlin’s point. “When I was fighting with the study group, you turned off my pain receptors,” he said, changing subjects. “How did you do that?”
“We’ll need to create a separate room in your mind to govern advanced physical abilities,” Merlin answered. “But to explain, many of the inner workings of your body are done automatically, with no direct input from you. With enough training, you can actively control those processes when you choose to, but it doesn’t come without risks.”
“What kind of risks?” Harry asked.
“Imagine griping something so hard you break fingers,” Merlin explained. “Or slowly bleeding to death without even knowing it. Without the ability to feel pain, you won’t be able to tell when you’re making your existing injuries worse.”
Harry nodded, seeing Merlin’s point. “Are there any other abilities I can develop?”
“When you’re ready,” Merlin answered. “With enough occlumency training, you can review past memories in more detail, picking out things you’ve missed the first time around. Provided you’ve seen an object from all angles, you can move through a memory, examining details from different angles.”
“You can also learn to enhance images, seeing more details, or give yourself the ability to see at night.”
“How would that work?” Harry asked, curiously.
“It’s very advanced,” Merlin explained. “But in your mind, you can overlay the images you see to enhance them. Each image adding more detail and light until you have a clearer picture.”
“For shorts bursts, you can also perceive the world at a faster rate, making it feel like everyone else is moving slower,” Merlin added.
“Can we start on any of those tonight?” Harry asked, excited to get any advantage he could over Andre.
“No,” Merlin shook his head. “It would tax your magical reserves too much to risk right now.”
“There must be something else we can do,” Harry said, not wanting to lose any more ground than he already had to the study group. “What about your memories? Is there anything else you can show me that would help?”
Merlin hesitated. “…There is,” he finally admitted.
“What is it?” Harry asked, noticing the hesitation in his voice.
“There’s a reason I haven’t shown you another set of my memories for some time, Harry,” Merlin explained. “This next set of memories is difficult for me, more so than anything I have shown you before… but perhaps necessary for you to see, given the circumstances,” he relented with a sigh.
Harry remembered where they left off, how uneasy Merlin was in the presence of Thulsa, and how much he wanted to leave the mountain. The room slowly faded away as Merlin’s next memory took shape.
The months dragged on as we continued to learn from Thulsa. Every day that passed, I thought about leaving, sneaking away in the dead of night, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave without Morgan.
We argued about it many times, but Morgan convinced me that the lessons were just a means to an end, that we just had to wait a little longer, that we weren’t ready to face Thulsa yet, and that we still had to find out what his plans were before we acted.
There was always an excuse, a reason to stay a little longer, but through it all I could see how Morgan had taken to Thulsa’s teachings, how she looked forward to each lesson, despite what she said to me in private.
Then one day it finally happened, what we had been waiting for. Thulsa began to tell us about the Darkhold.
“This is the most powerful spell book I have ever come across,” Thulsa said, caressing the leather-bound cover reverently.
“Where did it come from?” I asked, hiding how I truly felt about the book. “Do you know who made it?”
“That’s what I like about you, Merlin,” Thulsa smiled. “You’re always thinking. I hadn’t asked myself that question until many years after I discovered it. I wish I had. The story behind it is even more interesting than the book itself.”
“The Darkhold was created by a being called Chthon, an elder god,” Thulsa explained. “He lives in a place called the flickering realms that exist outside our own reality.”
“Outside our reality?” Morgan asked, already captivated by the idea. “What is it like there?”
“No one knows for certain,” Thulsa answered. “But it was there that he wrote the many volumes of spell books that were eventually brought together to form the Darkhold.”
“Is there a way we can talk to him?” Morgan asked in awe. “Imagine the kinds of things we could learn from him.”
“Perhaps one day,” Thulsa answered. “There is still much I don’t fully understand about the Darkhold. It takes a great amount of time and effort to unravel its secrets.”
“What have you learned from it so far?” Morgan asked.
“A great many things,” Thulsa continued. “Both the first vampire and werewolf can trace their origins back to this book. There are even spells to stop death itself buried within its pages.”
I felt a chill go down my spine as I considered the implications. Even in my time, there had been rumors of vampires and werewolves. “Is that how you’ve lived as long as you’ve had?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“Nothing so rudimentary,” Thulsa explained proudly. “Far too many drawbacks with werewolves and vampires. I believe they were created by people that did not truly understand the power of the Darkhold, and what can be accomplished with the right amount of foresight.”
“And you have,” Morgan deduced.
“Yes,” Thulsa replied simply. “Immortality, without an allergy to sunlight, or losing once’s mind.”
“How?” Morgan asked.
“It’s a ritual,” Thulsa explained. “To imbue an object with a piece of your soul. As long as that object exists, you can never be killed.”
“That will be the first of you many rewards,” Thulsa continued. “The Pharaoh, he lords over us, pretending to be a living god. We are going to take his kingdom from him,” he said, his anger bubbling to the surface as he thought of his many years as a slave. “When we succeed, I will grant you the secret of immortality. With time we will do the same to the other nations until we magicals take our rightful place as the rulers of all nations.”
Outwardly, I kept my face calm, but on the inside, I was panicking. I knew then, more than ever, that Thulsa needed to be stopped. The atrocities he would commit to achieve his goals were unimaginable.
“Rexor will return tomorrow with new recruits. When they are trained we will finally have the numbers and the power to storm the palace and take our rightful place as the true rulers of Egypt.”
I was left shaken by what Thulsa revealed, and more importantly, how Morgan positively reacted to what he said. She hung on his every word, more interested in what he was offering to teach us and the rewards he promised than stopping him.
When we returned to our room, we discussed it long into the night. I wanted to leave, but Morgan wanted to stay and continue the lessons. She pointed out that we were no match for him on our own, and that we needed to continue learning from him to have the power to gain the power to defeat him.
As I thought about it, I realized she was right. We were no match for the entire order, especially with the new recruits Rexor would bring. “What’s your idea then?” I asked, feeling the full weight this decision would bring on my shoulders.
“We stay,” Morgan answered. “We learn what we need to defeat him, and we talk to the other acolytes, find out which ones are on our side, and recruiting the ones we can trust. We can’t be the only ones that feel this was about Thulsa and the order.”
I felt a glimmer of hope at Morgan’s suggestion. “Maybe we could turn the order into something better,” I thought out loud. “A refuge for people like us, where we won’t be hunted down and killed.”
“That’s a great idea Merlin,” Morgan beamed. “Just think of all the people we could help, the society we could build together!”
With a new focus, we paid even closer attention to our lessons, both with Rexor and Thulsa. We even took the time to teach some of the new recruits ourselves, taking them under our wing, as we slowly built alliances.
As the next few months passed, I waited eagerly for our new allies to prepare themselves to face Thulsa and Rexor so we could take control of the order. I even made friends amongst the acolytes, something I had always found difficult to do in the past.
“Merlin,” Morgan whispered as she pulled me aside after we finished the day’s training with the new recruits. “I have something important to tell you.”
“What is it?” I asked curiously.
“Rexor knows,” she replied gravely.
I felt my blood run cold as her words hit me. “Does Thulsa know?”
Morgan shook her head. “No, but Rexor said he wants to talk to us tonight, though.”
“How can you be sure? What if this is a trap?” I asked.
“He wouldn’t need to spring a trap on us,” Morgan replied. “And if he told Thulsa, he wouldn’t wait to kill us. He would just do it outright.”
I nodded in agreement, following her logic, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of dread either. “…Alright, we’ll hear what he has to say,” I agreed, knowing that aside from running we had no other choice.
The hours crawled by as we waiting for nightfall. I was nervous as we went about the day, jumping at every shadow as I waited for the Axe to drop. I had seen Rexor’s prowess in the training yards for myself, and could tell he was holding back. There was no telling what would happen if it came down to a fight.
As dusk fell, Morgan and I made our way outside, prepared as we were going to be to face Rexor and hear what he had to say.
We found him near the entrance of the compound, sitting on a dune, as he stared into the flames of his campfire. He had his back turned to us. A part of me wanted to attack, even before hearing what he had to say. ‘If we take him by surprise, we could win,’ I thought. But I saw the tension in his arms and legs, coiled and ready to fight. I knew he was prepared for that eventuality too.
“Good, you’re here,” Rexor said, turning to face us.
“We came as you asked,” I replied. “What did you want to talk to us about?”
“I know about your plans,” Rexor revealed, locking eyes with me.
I thought about denying it, but the way he held my gaze, I knew there was no point in denying the truth. There would be no convincing him otherwise.
“And you haven’t said anything to Thulsa about them either,” Morgan added.
“No, I haven’t,” Thulsa admitted.
“Why is that?” I demanded. “You’re his most loyal follower, aren’t you? Why would you keep something like this from him?”
Rexor let out a long sigh. “It wasn’t always like this. Believe it or not, Thulsa originally created the order to protect our kind, not to make war. He envisioned a society of magicals carefully hidden from the rest of the world, where we could thrive and live in peace.”
“What changed?” I asked.
“Thulsa changed,” Rexor explained. “He saw our kind slaughtered year after year until there was almost none of us left. This pushed him to study the Darkhold more and more, finding more dangerous spells to learn, and use against our enemies.”
“In the beginning, I was right there with him. How could I not after everything we’ve seen over the years? It was slow at first. I hardly even noticed it, but his interests shifted from finding and protecting our kind to amassing power and influence.”
“Suppose we beat him, then what?” I asked, my eyes narrowing. “Would you take his place as leader?”
“No, not by myself,” Rexor denied, surprising me. “That’s exactly what changed, Thulsa. It’s too much power. I suggest we lead together.”
“Together?” Morgan asked with a raised eyebrow. “You’re hundreds of years older and more experienced than us. Why would you want to share leadership with us?”
“Because the two of you are the most powerful magicals I’ve seen over the past four hundred years,” Rexor explained. “We can accomplish far more together than on our own, and it will also keep us in check. We will be there to stop each other from going too far, and turning out like Thulsa.”
I looked at Morgan as I considered Rexor’s words. He was right. We couldn’t defeat Thulsa on our own, but together we had a chance. “Alright,” I agreed. “What’s the plan?”
“We attack tomorrow afternoon,” Rexor said. “Thulsa will be meditating. We can catch him off guard. With us, along with the other acolytes you’ve recruited, we should be able to keep the bloodshed to a minimum.“
I stared at Rexor across the flickering fire, studying his face carefully for any signs of deception, as he did the same for me. After a long moment I sighed, knowing that even though we couldn’t fully trust Rexor, we still needed his help to defeat Thulsa. “…Tomorrow then,” I agreed.
I stood outside the doors of the inner chamber with Rexor on my right and Morgan on my left. Behind us were the five acolytes I’d recruited, along with the fifteen Morgan recruited, and the ten Rexor recruited.
We made sure to keep the other acolytes out of the way, sending them to town to collect supplies earlier in the morning so they wouldn’t get caught up in the fighting and force them to choose sides.
“Ready?” Rexor asked, pulling his sword from its sheath.
“Ready,” I nodded grimly.
“Alright,” Rexor said, turning to face the acolytes. “Stay behind us and keep your distance from Thulsa. Our best chance is to catch him by surprise, and keep the pressure on him. Don’t let up on your spell casting. We need to do everything we can to limit his movement and keep him distracted.”
“We can do this, Merlin,” Morgan said, giving me a kiss for luck.
I nodded, pushing open the door as we stormed inside. The acolytes already casting spells over our shoulders as we stormed into the chamber.
I could see Thulsa as I ran forward. He was kneeling on the floor with his eyes closed, but quickly sprang to his feet, looking at us in shock. Taking the advantage, I sent out a blast of magic, intending to slam him into the stone wall, but he simply raised his hand, creating a wall of magic to catch the spells.
I came up short, wondering what to do as the spells of the other acolytes met a similar fate.
Both Rexor and Morgan sent out jets of fire from either side of me, keeping the pressure on. I dug deep, letting out a blast of lightning against his shield, hoping our combined spells would overpower it.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Thulsa demanded angrily, looking at each of us in turn, the look of betrayal clearly evident on his face.
“It over!” I said through gritted teeth as I maintained my spell. “We won’t go to war for your ambitions!”
“And you, Rexor?” Thulsa demanded, glaring at his former right-hand man. “After everything we’ve been through together? After all I’ve done for you? This is how you repay me?”
“You left me no choice!” Rexor shouted back. “I’ve seen you twist and turn the order into something it was never meant to be!”
“Then so be it!” Thulsa said, sending his shield wall careening forward. We had no time to react as it slammed into us, sending us crashing backward.
The acolytes quickly filled the gap, reigning down whatever spells they could muster to give us time to recover and rejoin the fight.
I sat up with a groan as I picked myself up from the floor. The acolytes were losing ground quickly as Thulsa batted away their spells with contemptuous ease, sending the occasional fire spell to burn a few of them alive. It was the first time I ever saw his true power on full display. He was just playing with the acolytes, not even considering them an actual threat.
I could hear Morgan groaning beside me as she sat up. “Come on, Morgan,” I said, helping her to her feet. “We have to keep fighting.”
“God,” Morgan groaned as she rubbed her head. “I didn’t even see the shield wall coming.”
I nodded grimly as Rexor picked himself up and lifted his sword, charging forward. “We need to help Rexor.”
As Rexor closed the gap, we each let out a blast of lightning, stopping Thulsa from retreating, and forcing him to take Rexor’s blade head on. We watched as he raised his forearm, full expecting Rexor to slice of his arm, only to stop and stare in shock as the blade stopped with a loud metallic clang.
Thulsa held tightly to Rexor’s wrist, kicking him hard in the stomach, and sending him flying high into the air before he crashed to the ground again.
Morgan and I stared at each other in alarm, not knowing what to do. Thulsa, even caught by surprise, was just too powerful. He moved through the chamber with impunity, picking up and tossing the acolytes around the room as if they weighed nothing.
I looked down at the crumpled form of Rexor, and his sword laying beside him, and picked it up as a desperate plan formed in my mind. I channeled my magic into the sword, lighting it ablaze as I rushed forward.
Thulsa had his back turned to me as he snapped the neck of another acolyte, but somehow he knew I was there, turning quickly to confront me. I had the sword lifted over my head, planning on bringing it down on his skull, but he reached up and caught the sword in his palm.
It felt like I hit a piece of iron rather than flesh and blood as he stared back at me with murderous rage. Before I knew it, he’d hooked his shin behind my leg and shoved me hard, sending me tumbling to the floor.
“We could have been gods, Merlin!” Thulsa roared as he stared down at me. “I would have shown you magic you can’t hardly dream of, but you betrayed me, you betrayed your own kind!”
I was terrified as I looked up at him, his normally brown eyes a blazing red as he stood over me. He bent down, wrenching the sword from my grip before he pointed it at me, the tip hovering just over my right eye. “But, a normal death won’t due,” Thulsa continued with a glare. “You’ve earned a far worse fate than that.”
I’m not ashamed to admit I was shaking in fear as I stared up at him. I felt something wet dripping on my face, but I didn’t know what, and there was an acrid smell in the air. But all I could concentrate on was Thulsa staring down at me.
“I’m going to keep you alive for years, Merlin,” Thulsa promised venomously. “I’m going to cut you piece by piece until there’s nothing left. You’ll watch,” he said, slashing my chest with the sword as I screamed out. “As I kill your little girlfriend,” he said, slashing my chest again.
The cuts were shallow, not enough for me to bleed out, but more than enough to leave a scar behind. I could see out of the corner of my eye as Morgan and the remaining acolytes continued to cast spells against his back, only to be caught by another shield wall. Rexor was still on the ground, unmoving. I knew I couldn’t count on him for help any time soon.
Thulsa help the sword to my throat as he looked over his shoulder. “They’re not going to be able to save you, or themselves. There all going to die right here,” he promised, his voice taking on a maniacal tone.
“Why keep me alive?” I demanded, finding my voice again as I stalled for time. “Why not kill me like everyone else?”
“You know why,” Thulsa replied, an evil smirk on his face. “You’re the cause of all of this. Hundred of years of planning ruined because of you. It was you that turned them against me! I know it!” He accused with a snarl, his emotions quickly cycling from dark amusement to furious anger. “The humans will never accept you or your magic. You will always be an outsider to them, just like you have been your entire life!”
“You’re wrong!” I shouted back. “There are people that cared for me, that accepted me.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Merlin,” Thulsa laughed darkly, slashing my chest again.
Just before the blade hit I caught something out of the corner of my eye, but hid my reaction, rolling around on the ground clutching my chest as I screamed out, hoping to keep Thulsa distracted, but just like before Thulsa sensed it, whirling around, he caught Rexor’s flaming Axe on the flat of his blade.
I rolled away quickly and staggered to my feet as I watched as Rexor and Thulsa fought, sparks flying from their weapons with each powerful hit as they dodged and weaved around each other.
“Merlin!” Morgan shouted, grabbing my shoulder and pulling me away from the fighting. “Are you alright?!” she demanding, seeing the blood oozing from my chest.
“It looks worse than it is,” I said with a grimace as I got back on my feet, catching my breath.
Morgan and the remaining acolytes were still sending spells at Thulsa, but he was using the sword to bat away the spells, all while dogging Rexor’s attacks with practiced ease.
“You got him with the sword,” Morgan pointed out. “I didn’t know you could do that.”
“What?” I asked, not understanding what she meant.
“Look at Thulsa’s hand,” Morgan pointed. “He’s bleeding, and his fingers are burned.”
My eyes widened as I saw the blood dripping from his hand. Thulsa was still more than holding his own against us, but he had a weakness. “Go to the armory,” I shouted to one of the remaining acolytes. “I need another weapon.”
The acolyte quickly broke off his attack as he sprinted from the room. I could only hope he hadn’t taken the opportunity to run off. We stood no chance against Thulsa if he did.
“We have to keep him distracted,” I said through gritted teeth, hitting Thulsa with a bolt of lightning. Unfortunately, it was a poor choice of elements as the lightning traveled from Thulsa to Rexor as sword and Axe connected, sending Rexor sprawling to the ground.
We could only watch as Thulsa unaffected by the lightning sent a vicious kick to Rexor’s head, sending him sliding across the floor until he crashed against the wall, unmoving.
Thulsa turned to look at us, a bloodthirsty look in his eyes as he stalked towards us, sword still in hand. The Axe was still with Rexor, and the only way to get to it was to get past Thulsa. I looked at him wearily, then desperately at the entrance to the chamber, hoping for the acolyte to appear.
Morgan continued to send spells at Thulsa, but with our dwindling numbers, it made it even easier for him to evade our spells.
Thulsa raised his sword, preparing to cut me in half. I quickly pushed Morgan behind me, hoping to at least shield her from the attack, only for him to turn the blade at the last second and hit me in the side with the flat of the blade. I felt a couple of my ribs crack as I crumpled to the ground, clutching my side.
Thulsa walked past me, kicking me hard in the chest, and sending me sprawling as he advanced on Morgan. I could only watch helplessly from the ground as she fought him, casting spells as she quickly scrambled away.
Thulsa returned to playing with us, no longer seeing us as a threat anymore. “And you!” He shouted to Morgan. “I was going to give you more power than even you could ever dream of. All you had to do was stay loyal to me. Now you’ll have nothing! You’ll die forgotten, know one knowing your name, or your deeds!”
I could see Thulsa’s words cut deep into Morgan, playing on her insecurities as he pressed his attack.
In short order, Morgan had her back pressed against the wall, and I knew I had to act. I sprang to my feet, sprinting to the still unmoving form of Rexor, and scooped up his Axe. The weight of the weapon nearly made me drop it in surprise, but I held tightly to the handle as I raised it, sprinting back across the room, hoping that I could reach Morgan before it was too late.
I could see Morgan begging for her life as I ran towards them. He had both her wrists gripped in one hand as he held the sword with the other. I watched, almost in slow motion, as he raised his sword arm, preparing to strike her. I screamed out as I desperately tried to close the gap, but I was too far away, and we both knew it. I could only watch as he turned his head to face me, an evil smirk on his face as he pushed the sword forward.
Then it happened. I heard a loud crack, and I was suddenly on the other side of the room, catching both myself and Thulsa by surprise. I quickly raised my Axe, slashing at Thulsa’s arm. The combination of the fire magic and metal were able to tear through his defenses and leave a deep gash in his arm.
Thulsa grimaced in pain as the sword clattered from his grip, but he managed to land a vicious kick to my injured side at the same time, sending me stumbling to the floor. But it was enough for Morgan to escape and join my side.
We stared each other down, breathing heavily as we took stock of the situation. Thulsa was hurt, but so was I, and Rexor was still down.
“Merlin!” a voice shouted from behind us. I turned to see the acolyte returning with a spear in hand, throwing it to me.
I handed the spear off to Morgan, who lit up the spear with fire magic as we slowly circled Thulsa. He didn’t make a move to pickup the sword. By the look of his arm, I doubted he could even lift it at this point.
“That wasn’t bad, Merlin,” Thulsa conceded with a dark chuckle. “But it isn’t going to be enough to save you. I can outlast both of you magically. How many more spells do you have left in you? Another four, maybe five, before you’re out of the fight?”
I tried not to show it, but knew he was right. Even with the gash on his arms, Thulsa barely looked winded. The longer this fight went on, the more it would turn to his favor. I thought desperately, trying to think of a way out of this, but didn’t know what to do. That’s when I saw it. Rexor had moved. He looked up at me, holding a finger to his lips.
I moved forward to engage Thulsa with a roar, attacking with the Axe only for Thulsa to laugh, dodging and weaving around me at impossible angles, almost like a snake, coiling and bending around me.
Morgan quickly followed suit, using the added length of the spear to attack from a safer distance, but even with the two of us, he had no trouble staying ahead of our attacks.
I inched closer towards the sword, hoping that Thulsa wouldn’t recognize what I was up to. Taking some heavy punches and kicks I guided the fight towards the sword until the tip of my boot brushed against the pommel. I pretended to kick out at Thulsa, striking the sword as I followed through with the kick, aiming for Thulsa’s stomach next.
After telegraphing the kick as much as I did, Thulsa easily grabbed my leg before the kick landed, twisting his arm as he did, and sending me spinning to the floor in a heap.
I groaned as I landed painfully, but my plan had worked. The sword landed just beside Rexor’s outstretched hand. I got back to my feet in time to see Thulsa land a vicious backhand to Morgan, sending her sprawling to the floor.
“This was inevitable from the moment you betrayed me,” Thulsa said as he glared at me and Morgan in turn. “You never had any chance of defeating me, compared to me you’re nothing but children,” he said, his voice much more calm this time. “This was a setback, nothing more. I can replace you, all three of you in fact. All you’ve done is cut your own lives short and slow down the inevitable.”
“You talk like you’ve already won,” I spat out, goading him. “But we’ve ruined all your plans. How long will it take to replace us? A hundred years, maybe two? We’ve cost you at least a lifetime!”
Thulsa said nothing, his eyes flickering back to an angry red as he glared at me, stalking forward again.
I stepped back slowly, waiting for him to pass by Rexor. I schooled my features to not give away the plan as Rexor silently rose to his feet, picking up his sword. He lunged forward quickly, stabbing Thulsa through his back.
Thulsa stared down, a look of shock on his face as he stared down at the blade protruding from his stomach before he dropped to his knees, a gob of blood pouring out of his mouth.
Rexor, Morgan, and I stood over him, watching as the blood poured from his wounds as he gasped for breath. “You… think… you’ve won?” He ground out. “No,” he shook his head, coughing up blood.
I felt a tingle of fear crawl down my spine at his words. They weren’t the words of a dying man. They were the words of a man promising vengeance with the absolute certainty that he could carry it out.
We watched in shock as he shakily got to his feet. The blade protruding from his body slowly pushed its way out as his skin took on a noticeably green tinge. Scales formed all along his body as he grew in height, towering over us until he was ten feet tall. The lower half of his body fused together, forming the tail of a snake, and his head morphed into the shape of a python. His arms extended a foot longer, covered in bulging muscles, and ending in a set of razor-sharp claws.
To this day, it was the most terrifying sight I have ever witnessed. It let out an inhuman shriek as it surged forward, completing its transformation in an instant. It was so fast and powerful we had no time to react as it smashed into us, sending us and the remaining acolytes flying in all directions.
I could only watch from my place on the ground as the inhuman shrieks filled the air as the creature tore our fellow acolytes limb from limb. I watched as a few of them made a break for the exit, only for the beast to set its sights on them next. Whatever this thing was, I couldn’t sense any of the intelligence of Thulsa within it. It was a force of nature, destroying everything it came into contact with.
I staggered back to my feet, only for Thulsa to immediately turn his head in my direction. Before I knew it, he was standing in front of me with his big, meaty hand wrapped around my neck. I gasped for breath, clawing at his arm as I saw spots in my vision. My sword clattered to the floor as my body went limp. I was almost certain I was going to die until I heard its inhuman screech again and I tumbled to the floor.
I scrambled back, gasping for breath as I looked up at the towering figure of whatever Thulsa had turned himself into. His face was singed and burned, one of his eyes now missing.
I looked back to see Morgan and Rexor throwing fire spells at Thulsa, and realized what had happened. After Thulsa’s transformation, he could no longer use magic to protect himself, making him weak to elemental magic.
I raised my hand, joining them as we leveled as many fire spells as we could on him. There were only a handful of acolytes left still fighting, most now lying on the ground, unmoving.
We backed Thulsa into a corner, but he was still roaring and shielding his face with his arms, just waiting for an opportunity to strike at one of us again. I could feel my magic fading. After such a long and drawn out fight, I didn’t know how many spells I had left in me. One look at Morgan and Thulsa and I knew they were in the same boat. We had to end this fast.
As quick as lightning, Thulsa shot forward again, taking advantage of a lull in Rexor’s spell fire as he picked him up by the throat, slamming him into the wall repeatedly. I winced at the sound of each hit, knowing that Rexor would not get up easily from this.
I looked down at the sword at my feet and picked it up, a desperate plan forming in my mind. I channeled the last of my magic into the sword, lighting it up with fire. I could feel the heat radiating off of it as it went from a normal flame to a glowing white.
I ran forward, jumping high into the air, knowing that I had only one shot at this. Raising the sword high, I brought it down on his head, cleaving through his skull and burning him as the sword went through his skull and sunk into his neck.
I felt Thulsa go limp and fall heavily to the side as I rolled the other way to avoid him landing on me.
For a long moment, we all stood there staring at each other and gasping for breath, wondering if it was finally over.
When it was clear Thulsa wasn’t getting back up again, I got back to my feet shakily, pulling the still glowing sword from Thulsa’s skull.
“What are you doing, Merlin?” Morgan asked as she saw me walking towards the Darkhold.
“We have to end this,” I said without looking back. “The book… it’s too dangerous. It needs to be destroyed.”
“No! You can’t!” Morgan said in shock. “Think about what we can learn from it,” she implored, getting back to her feet as well.
“Morgan,” I said, turning to face her. “You can feel the evil coming off it just as easily as I can. Look what it turned Thulsa into. We need to destroy it before we end up just like him.”
“Merlin, please,” Morgan said as she moved to stand in front of me. “Be reasonable. We won’t make the same mistakes Thulsa did. We can build the kingdom we’ve always dreamed of.”
“No Morgan,” I said, even shocking even myself with how determined I was to see this through. “Nothing good can ever come from that book.”
“Hold on,” Rexor groaned as he sat up. “That isn’t just your call to make, Merlin. Remember our deal? We decide these things together.”
I looked at the determined faces of Rexor and Morgan in turn. This was the point where I normally gave in to Morgan’s pleas, and we both knew it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it this time. I knew, deep in my bones, that I was right, that if we used this book, we would end up just like Thulsa, or worse. It was inevitable.
“I don’t care,” I said as I moved past Morgan to stand in front of the Darkhold. “This book was buried for a reason, and I’m going to destroy it once and for all,” I said, raising the still glowing sword.
“No Merlin, you can’t!” Morgan shouted at me, but I didn’t care. I brought the sword down, only to stop suddenly as the sword clattered out of my hand. I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I shakily reached down, not believing what had happened. When I pulled my fingers back, I saw blood. I turned around, not understanding what had happened, only to be met with the angry face of Morgan.
“…Morgan, what?…” I trailed off, unable to process what was going on.
“You’re a fool Merlin. You always have been,” Morgan said as she glared hatefully at me. The look on her face was so alien to me. I had never seen her look at me that way before.
“What are you saying, Morgan?” I asked, shaking my head in disbelief as I started to feel lightheaded, slumping to the floor.
“There have been so many times where we could have overthrown the idiot rulers of the places we’ve traveled, and create our own kingdom, but you always ran away instead! I’m tired of not knowing where my next meal is coming from, or if I’ll have a roof over my head! I was meant to rule, not wander from town to town for the rest of my life, barely surviving!” Morgan continued.
“How could you do this?” I asked, my voice cracking. “I love you,” I said, fully realizing how pathetic I sounded in that moment, but not caring. “Don’t you see how wrong this is?”
“I loved you once,” Morgan said truthfully, “But that was a long time ago. You made me believe you were a powerful sorcerer, but you couldn’t hide the truth from me forever. I see the real you now,” she said, her voice laced with disgust. “You’re soft, never willing to take any risks to build something great. To think, all the time I wasted trying to turn you into something you’ll never be,” she finished cruelly.
“You’re wrong,” I said, finding my voice. “This path you’ve set yourself on. It’s only ever going to lead to death and destruction, and in the end, you’ll have nothing left. You have to stop before it destroys you.”
“I’m done listening to you!” Morgan shouted angrily. “You’re not my teacher anymore! You’re nothing to me!” she said, raising her arms, her fingers crackling with magical energy as she sent a wave of electricity at me.
I could feel from the power she put into her spell, and knew she meant to kill me. I felt my heart break again as the lightning rushed towards me. A part of me wanted it to end there. What was the point of continuing on by myself? To be alone again? But as much as I wanted my pain to stop, I knew I couldn’t just allow myself to die here.
Using the last of my strength, I lifted the sword, catching the lightning on the flat of the blade, and redirected it to the ceiling. The lightning struck the ceiling with a loud crack. I watched as chunks of rock fell down all around us, smashing through the floor, and rain down destruction across the chamber.
I felt the floor give way underneath me as everyone else rushed out of the chamber. All I could remember was falling, then blackness, before landing in a network of underground tunnels. By some miracle, I had somehow survived the fall, landing in an underground lake.
I puled myself out of the water and treated my injuries as best as I could with my remaining potions and my magic. I knew none of them would come looking for me here, most likely believing I died in the collapse.
After a great deal of searching, I found an opening to crawl out of some miles away from the mountain of power.
I was alone again, having lost everything, just as I had before. As I made my way away from this accursed place, I wondered if this would always be my fate, to forever be alone.
Hi! I hope you enjoyed the latest chapter. What did you think of the fight scene? I know that there’s not a huge interest in seeing Merlin’s backstory, but how did you think it played out?
thanks for reading and supporting me,