A Genius in King Arthur's Court - Ch. 11

A Genius in King Arthur's Court - Ch. 11

A Genius in King Arthur’s Court

 

Ch. 11 – History in the Balance

 

“What say ye, David?” Merlin asked.

“Mordred’s men are heavily fortified within the walls of Camelot; it will not be easy for Arthur’s forces to attack them.  And from most accounts I have read, the Battle of Camelot takes place in the surrounding fields rather than within the castle itself.”

“I see.  Then perhaps we ought to give history a nudge in the proper direction, yes?” Merlin grinned.

From their perch atop the highest tower in Camelot, Merlin watched as Mordred’s men continued to set fire to everything of no value to them.  At that point, the fires were largely self-contained and posed little threat to them, but Merlin had other ideas.  With a snap of his fingers, the fires suddenly grew in intensity, beginning to engulf everything around them.  Though Mordred’s men tried for a few moments to stop them, they soon realized it was futile.  On the orders of Mordred himself, they filed out of the burning castle to prepare for Arthur’s arrival.

“Impressive,” Dave said.

“Aye.  And look, as they are distracted, we have our chance to descend upon Morgan le Fay and take her from this place.”

“Not yet.”

“Not yet?  Why?” Merlin asked.

“She has a vital role to play in this final battle,” Dave explained.  “Morgan le Fay is the one who removes Excalibur’s scabbard from Arthur, bringing about the events that end the Arthurian Legend.  That has to happen before we intervene.”

“You are certain of this?”

“Positive.  It must happen in this way for history to remain undamaged.”

“Very well.  We wait.”

*****

“Sire!”

Arthur turned to the scout that had just arrived.  “What is it?”

“The fires within Camelot have grown!  It appears Mordred’s men can no longer manage them, forcing them outside the gates!”

“What good fortune… Sir Bedivere!”

“Sire?” he replied.

“Make ready the archers and have them open fire as soon as possible.  I do not wish to give Mordred even a moment of reprieve.”

“Understood.”

As Arthur gathered his infantry and cavalry, the archers stepped through the trees.  Looking at Mordred’s army, Bedivere could tell that their numbers were roughly even.  Any small advantage one could gain over the other would likely decide the outcome.  A moment later, the line of archers raised their weapons.

“FIRE!”

They let fly a volley of arrows, wreaking havoc on Mordred’s soldiers since Morgan le Fay was not protecting them this time.  Mordred picked up on this and ordered an immediate charge from his men.  As they advanced, the archers launched a second volley, though this one was far less effective thanks to the large shields many of Mordred’s soldiers carried.

“Sire, they are almost upon us!” Bedivere warned.

“CHARGE!  FOR CAMELOT!” came Arthur’s reply.

In an instant, the entirety of Camelot’s forces burst from the trees, rushing to meet the invaders that had taken their home.  The field soon became a warzone, deafened by the sounds of clanging swords and splattered with blood.  As the two sides clashed, their champions entered the fray, Arthur beginning to slaughter enemies by the dozen and Mordred laying waste to every man of Camelot he could reach.  Both knew it would only be a matter of time before they met face-to-face for a final duel.

Elsewhere, Morgan le Fay observed the battle from the edge of the drawbridge to Camelot.  Her son was already knee-deep in enemy soldiers, attacking every last one of them within reach.  Rather than leap into the fray herself, she kept her eyes peeled for any sign of her target.  At last, she saw Arthur laying waste to Mordred’s men on the other side of the battlefield.  After making herself invisible, she teleported behind his position to complete her assignment.

At first, she attempted to levitate Arthur’s scabbard off his belt, but this proved unsuccessful.  It seemed that the object was enchanted in such a way that made it resistant to other forms of magic.  As Morgan pondered what to do, she then realized that the belt holding the scabbard was not protected from such powers as the scabbard itself was.  With great concentration, she focused on the stretch of fabric holding up the scabbard, soon managing to make it intangible for a few seconds and causing the scabbard to fall to the ground without notice.  As Arthur continued his assault without pause, she knew she had succeeded.  Before she could claim her prize, Morgan felt a sudden burst of dizziness.  She attempted to stave off the sensation for a moment, but it was no use.  A few seconds later, she fell to the ground unconscious.

*****

“Impressive!  What kind of spell was that?” Dave asked.

“It is one that causes the target to faint,” Merlin replied.  “In essence, I used my power to restrict the flow of blood to her mind for a moment, bringing her into unconsciousness.  It is a difficult feat that can only be performed when the target is unaware of the spell-caster.”

Before any on the battlefield could notice, Merlin and Dave had vanished, whisking Morgan away to the secluded clearing by the lake.  Upon arrival, Dave erected a magical barrier around the clearing, ensuring they were not disturbed while performing the exorcism.  In the meantime, Merlin laid Morgan’s body out flat on the ground, beginning to focus on the mind of his former student.  In the meantime, Madeleine watched with interest from just outside Dave’s barrier.

Merlin said, “Now listen carefully, David.  I will attempt to use my power to penetrate Morgan’s mind and extract Igraine’s influence from her.  While I do that, you must endeavor to keep her unconscious, for if she wakes, Igriane will retaliate in force.”

“How?” Dave asked.

“Simply use your aura to form a connection with her body.  As she is asleep, you should not have a problem with this.  Once you have done so, you will be able to monitor every part of her body and keep them in a relaxed state of being.  This will ensure she does not awaken before the exorcism is complete.”  As Merlin began his work, he explained what he was doing.  “Exorcism is related in some ways to the mind merge, though it is done through force.  As she has not given permission, a full merge is impossible, but with Morgan being unconscious, it is possible for me to penetrate her mind far enough to find the invading entity and force it out.  Now, how does everything look from your side of things?”

“Vitals appear normal,” Dave replied.  “Breathing is steady, heartbeat is relaxed and consistent.”

“Good.  I am about to dive deeper; prepare yourself, David.”

With intense focus, Merlin began to delve further into Morgan’s subconscious.  At each turn, he could feel the emotions she had experienced over the last year, almost every one of them fear and pain at becoming a prisoner within her own mind.  At last, he detected the presence of something foreign.  It was almost as if a parasite had latched itself to her soul and was draining her strength for itself.

“Brain activity is increasing, Merlin.”

“As I expected.  You must keep her calm, David.  I am beginning the extraction.”

Dave worked to keep Morgan’s physical actions calm and relaxed, focusing on her breathing and heart rate.  As Merlin’s aura began to grow in intensity, Dave noticed that Morgan’s eyelids were beginning to shake, almost as if she had entered the REM state of sleep.  He worked to project calm, soothing thoughts and emotions into her mind in an attempt to quell this restlessness, but he could tell it was a losing battle.  In the midst of his efforts, Dave could now feel a force resisting him, as well as a voice entering his mind.

“Release me… RELEASE ME!!!”

“Merlin, I can’t hold it much longer!” Dave said in desperation.

“Only a moment more, David!” Merlin replied, obviously struggling himself.

As Merlin tried to pull the last of Igraine from Morgan’s mind, her eyes flew open, burning with rage.  Both Dave and Merlin lost their connections to Morgan and were flung back by a surge of immense power.  A moment later, she stood, summoning up as much power as she was able to.

“You insolent little pests!  HOW DARE YOU!” she screamed, her body now engulfed by Morgan’s black aura.

“We know it is you, Igraine,” Merlin said, trying to reason with her.  “You have suffered injustices, but it is not right what you have done to your daughter!”

“SILENCE!  I care for nothing but my vengeance, and none will stand in my way, old man!” Igraine shrieked, her voice becoming more animalistic by the second.

As Igraine’s rage grew, the aura surrounding her began to take the form of black, smokeless fire.  It was a struggle for Dave and Merlin just to remain on their feet, let alone fight back in any way.

“Good god!  Where did she get this power?!” Dave shouted.

“Her anger,” Merlin replied.  “She is fueled by it, and it looks to have combined with Morgan’s sorcery to increase her power far beyond what Morgan could normally attain.”

“What do we do now?”

“We fight.  Our only chance is to render Igraine unconscious once more and complete the exorcism.  History may well depend upon it.”

Leaping into the fray, Merlin charged for Igraine, spinning his aura whips around him as a defensive measure the entire time.  She retaliated by firing blast after blast of flame at him, but Merlin defended each time with ease.  As he drew near, Igraine attempted to drive him back by engulfing herself in a fiery tornado, preventing Merlin from getting close.  But as she thought she had the advantage, she was struck by something that had managed to pierce her defenses.

“AAH!” she cried in pain.

“Take that!” Dave cheered, having fired an aura arrow through her tornado.

Seeing Merlin advancing once more and Dave nocking another arrow, Igraine decided to even the odds a bit.  With a wave of her hand, Dave suddenly found himself surrounded by at least a dozen soldiers made of Igraine’s aura energy.  As Dave started to take them on, Merlin paused for a moment to consider if he should assist him.

“I got this!  Keep after her!” Dave shouted, understanding his hesitation.

“Aye!”

While Merlin turned his attention once more to Igraine, Dave prepared his bow and unleashed on the dozen soldiers now surrounding him.  He dispatched the first with an easy headshot, but the rest were closing fast, and Dave powered up his aura to stronger levels to counter.  As the mindless automatons swung clumsily at him with clubs and swords, Dave began to whittle down their numbers.  By combining his pinpoint archery skills with the natural mobility of his favored element of wind, he became nigh untouchable, downing another four soldiers in quick succession.

“Dave!  Behind you!” Madeleine called from the trees.

Turning at her warning, he saw three soldiers attempting to charge his position at once.  After getting an idea, he drew his bow horizontally and focused his aura, managing to nock three arrows in the bow at once.  The trio of arrows flew like missiles, each homing in on one of the soldiers and striking them between the eyes, or rather where their eyes would be if they had any.  By now, the last four soldiers had surrounded Dave, making sure to stay at such intervals that he would be unable to shoot them all before he was overrun.  In addition, one of the soldiers prepared a fiery crossbow, ready to shoot him down should he attempt an aerial escape.

Dave merely smirked at this and began to whip up a whirlwind around him, causing his enemies to lose their footing.  Though they tried to fight back, the soldiers soon found themselves swept up in the vortex, their weapons flying away from their hands.  As the four became clustered together in the air directly above Dave, he began to manipulate the element of earth, gathering a pile of rubble within a small pocket of compressed air.  Once the four soldiers were contained above him, he unleashed his improvised attack.

“SHOTGUN!”

With a mighty blast of air, Dave fired the pile of stones straight up and into the soldiers, causing massive amounts spread damage.  His attack was so strong that the soldiers looked like Swiss cheese for a moment before they disappeared in a puff of black smoke.  Taking a deep breath, Dave relaxed a moment to recover from the exertion of such an attack, smiling at Madeleine.

“Thanks for the warning,” he panted.

“Think nothing of it,” she giggled in reply.

Meanwhile, Merlin had his hands full with Igraine.  Though his natural talent would normally outweigh Morgan’s, the addition of Igraine’s rage was increasing the output of her attacks.  She bobbed and weaved through the air in erratic and unpredictable ways, launching fireballs at every opportunity.  While Merlin was able to defend with ease thanks to his stone armor, this also encumbered his movements enough that he could not easily retaliate.  Igraine picked up on this and decided to rid Merlin of his defenses in one swift stroke.

“I summon the fires from the heart of the dragon… I summon the fires from the heart of the dragon…”

Igraine chanted the phrase again and again, the stone on her choker shining more brilliantly with each repetition.  Soon, the stone itself appeared to catch fire, and she launched this fire onto the ground before her.  The flames grew at an astonishing rate, catching Merlin off-guard and forcing him to back up a few steps.  Soon, the fire seemed to work itself into a solid shape of some sort, forming four legs, a tail, a reptilian body, and a pair of wings.  At last, the head came into focus, and Merlin now stared down a dragon made entirely of flame.

“Damn you, Igraine,” he muttered under his breath.

“What do you say we take this thing down?” Dave asked, arriving to aid his teacher.

With a wry grin, Merlin shouted, “Have at thee, foul beast!”

*****

The soldiers of Camelot fought valiantly, but the tide was turning against them in short order.  In spite of their early losses to the archers, Mordred’s forces were determined and well armed.  As the battle wore on, they had managed to wear Arthur’s men down to only about two hundred, maintaining a two-to-one advantage over them.  This was in large part due to Mordred’s ruthless strategies, such as when he set a cart on fire and ordered two of his mounted troops to charge the enemy with it.  Still, there were heavy casualties on both sides, and Mordred’s men were committed to a fight to the death, having no escape route of their own.

“Sir Bedivere, what is our status?!” Arthur demanded, slicing through another opponent.

“We are close to being overrun, Sire!  Mordred’s men are moving to surround us!  Should we ask for quarter?”

“No!  We shall retake Camelot or die trying!”

“Aye!  I suppose it is doubtful Mordred would grant us quarter in any case,” Bedivere chuckled.

“Get ready to charge; I have an idea!” Arthur said.

Though Arthur himself possessed no magical ability, he did hold one trump card through Excalibur.  He only utilized this power in dire circumstances, but this battle certainly qualified as such in his mind.  After focusing for a few moments, he raised his sword above his head for all to see.

“Camelot, Excalibur shines forth!” Arthur screamed at the top of his lungs.

Arthur’s soldiers instinctively knew what that phrase meant, and shielded their eyes for a few seconds.  It was then that Excalibur unleashed a blinding flash of light, disorienting every one of Mordred’s men fool enough to look directly at it.  As they tried to shake it off, Bedivere led his men in their offensive, striking back hard against the invaders.  Arthur was poised to join them, but stopped short when he at last saw the distinctive black helmet of his son approaching.

“Father,” he sneered.

“You are no son of mine,” Arthur spat in reply.

“Clearly!  You would deny me the throne, even as I am your own flesh and blood!” Mordred said, angrily slashing at Arthur.

“You are not worthy of that sacred crown,” Arthur replied, parrying the attack and beginning one of his own.

As the two men dueled, their entire bodies became weapons.  They not only attacked with their swords, but also with every limb they had; each knew that the victor would likely lead his side to ultimate victory.  Deciding he had been lenient enough on Mordred already, Arthur suddenly launched into a furious assault, driving him back a few paces.  Still, Arthur left himself open to a counterattack, and Mordred struck back hard, stunning him with a punch to the face and slashing at his left shoulder.

“Gah!” Arthur seethed in pain.

“Too slow, old man.”

“It matters not…”

“Are you quite certain?  Look,” Mordred replied, pointing at the wound.

Arthur’s eyes went wide at seeing that the wound was not healing.  “What is this?”

“It seems you have lost your scabbard, and with it your invulnerability in battle!”

Arthur closed to counter Mordred’s incoming grapple, barely escaping an arm-lock from his son.  He knew not how he had lost his scabbard, but the point was moot; Mordred had to be defeated regardless.  Arthur now tried to end the fight as quickly as possible, lest he fall victim to Mordred’s youthful energy the longer it wore on.  Staring down his opponent, Arthur cursed himself for using Excalibur’s blinding capabilities a few minutes ago.  That power would not be available again for at least another hour or two.  As Arthur continued to counter Mordred’s attacks, his son began to grow angry and frustrated.

“Why will you not die, old man?!” he shouted, thrusting at Arthur again.

Arthur gave a sad sigh.  “I have failed you, Mordred.  I fathered your existence, yet knew not that you were born until you were already a man.  I never had the opportunity to raise you properly and teach you what makes a wise king.  For that failing, I am very sorry.”

“Wise?!” Mordred laughed.  “You speak of wisdom, but you know nothing!  You see yourself as this strong and noble king, yet you are blind to your greatest weakness of all: love.  You see your subjects as your children, seeking to love and protect them, but their only purpose is to serve their king!  It was love that blinded you to your wife’s betrayal, and your misguided notions of love have brought Camelot into my hands this day!”

“You know not of what you speak.”

At that moment, Mordred launched into another offensive, driving Arthur back with a flurry of power strikes.

“Oh?  Then I shall share some of my wisdom with you, Father.  Love is a trick played on us by the forces of nature.  Ultimately, there is only power.  There is of course power of the individual mind, your so-called ‘wisdom’, but the mind's power is not enough.  Power of the body decides everything, and in the end only might makes right!”  Locking swords with Arthur, Mordred began to drive him closer to his knees, seeking to end the fight then and there.  “And I have the power, Father, so I am right!”

Just as Mordred was about to overpower him, the sting of his words ignited a flame within Arthur’s soul.  He knew Mordred was wrong, not only in his conquest of Camelot, but also in his entire outlook on the world.  It all made sense at last; Mordred could never become a wise ruler because he found it impossible to fathom the concept of love.  That would be Arthur’s strength and Mordred’s final downfall.

“No… you are wrong, Mordred,” Arthur growled, pushing back with every fiber of his being.  “Might does not make right… RIGHT MAKES RIGHT!!!”

Summoning up a strength he had not felt in decades, Arthur lunged forward, throwing Mordred back onto his heels.  He tried to recover as best he could, but Arthur was now more determined than ever to end their duel.  Gripping Excalibur with both hands, Arthur proceeded to put on a clinic for his bastard son on the finer points of swordplay.  His movements were graceful and fluid, yet also deadly and efficient, never once breaking his momentum.  Every time Mordred thought he had an opening to strike, Arthur was ready with perfect timing to deflect and counterattack.  At last, as Mordred brought his sword in front of him to block, Arthur swung with every muscle in his body, cleaving Mordred’s blade in two and rendering it useless.  As Mordred’s eyes went wide in fear, Arthur executed a pair of precision slashes to his kneecaps, then to his forearms, and at last punching him in the jaw, knocking his helmet off in the process.  Mordred coughed and heaved blood, slowly coming up onto his knees.

“This is your fatal flaw, Mordred.  You think love useless?  It was love that gave me the strength you just experienced!  I love my people!  I love my knights!  And I will risk EVERYTHING for them!  Not because of might, but because it is right!”

“And who determines what is right?!” Mordred spat in defiance.

“Good men with honest hearts,” Arthur replied.  “I am not a perfect man.  I have sinned many times over in my years.  But even in the face of those failings, I will always strive to do what is good and just for all, not merely for myself.  Because I know love, I will always be able to find the path God wishes me to follow.”

“Then what chance did I ever have?!” Mordred wailed, tears streaming down his face.  “I never knew the love of my father!  The boy I once was knew nothing but struggle and strife, and so I had to fight for anything I needed!  No father was ever there to show me different!  And now, you will kill me for this?!  For something I had no control over?!  How can that be God’s intended path?!”

Just as Arthur prepared to strike, Mordred’s words hit home.  Pondering the situation they both found themselves in, Arthur wondered for only a moment if it could be the right thing to spare his son’s life.  But as he relaxed, Mordred suddenly drew a dagger from his belt, plunging it into Arthur’s side.

“GAH!”

“You really must love me to allow so easy a kill, Father!” Mordred sneered, a maniacal look on his face.

“SILENCE!  Perhaps your life has not been fair, but your choices were always your own, Mordred!” Arthur shouted, ignoring the pain in his side.  “And now, you shall reap what you have sown!”

Before Mordred could attack again, Arthur thrust Excalibur into his throat, spilling a fountain of his son’s blood.  Mordred’s eyes bulged, his hands weakly grasping at the blade in a vain effort to dislodge it, but soon he collapsed onto his back.  Death had at last come for him.  With a heavy sigh, Arthur wiped the blood from his sword on his son’s uniform and collapsed to one knee.  As he was about to keel over, he heard the sound of footsteps approaching.

“SIRE!” Bedivere gasped at seeing the shape Arthur was in.

“Sir… Bedivere,” Arthur smiled.

“Sire, you are injured.  We must find Merlin!”

“No.  Merlin is gone…”

“Then we must retrieve your scabbard!  Perhaps if I look-”

“There is no time, Bedivere!” Arthur reprimanded him.  “Tell me… of the battle.”

“I… Sire, the battle is done.”

“I see… and did we win?”

“The last of Mordred’s men are dead… but so are Camelot’s,” Bedivere admitted.

Everyone?!”

“Yes.  I am all that remains.”

“I see… then I require your services one final time, Sir Bedivere.”

“Of course!  Anything, Sire!”

“Help me stand… take me to the lakeside.”

*****

Working together, Dave and Merlin assailed the fiery dragon in any way they could think of, but the creature was quite formidable.  As Igraine had complete control over it, they at first attempted to find a way around the beast to attack her and disrupt her concentration.  They soon found that the dragon was too quick and powerful for that to work, and refocused their efforts on it.

“Take this!” Dave shouted, pelting its flaming hide with aura arrows.  “Dammit, no effect!”

“Remember, this is not a living creature,” Merlin said.  “It is a projection of Igraine’s magic, and thus is not so easily defeated.”

Discarding his stone armor for greater mobility, Merlin leapt at the dragon’s head and landed a powerful kick to the jaw.  The beast was stunned for a moment, but soon recovered and breathed a stream of fire at Merlin.  He managed to block the attack with his aura shield and began to drive the flame back towards the dragon’s mouth.  After several long seconds of struggling, the fires blew back in the dragon’s face, causing it to recoil.  While using his aura to protect himself from the heat, Merlin leapt onto the beast’s back and wrapped his twin aura whips around the dragon’s neck in an attempt to corral it.

“David, I have an idea!  You see the lake, yes?”

“Way ahead of you!” Dave replied.

After gathering a large globe of water from the lake, Dave added in the element of wind, spinning it into a liquid tornado.  It took several seconds of deep concentration, but he at last managed to build up enough speed to attain the desired results.  With determination in his eyes, he stared down the dragon Merlin now struggled with.

“Quickly, David!  I cannot hold it much longer!” Merlin shouted.

Dave first glanced behind the dragon at Igraine, worried she might try to interfere in some way, but she was still deep in a trance.  He surmised that she must have to devote her entire mind to controlling a beast this powerful.  With a wave of his hands, the watery tornado began to rise into the air above the dragon.  Dave at first released the water from it slowly, having much the same effect as a fire suppression sprinkler.  Soon, the dragon’s flaming body began to smoke, and the creature’s power was clearly dwindling.

“He is weakening!” Merlin confirmed.

“Ok, time for the kill-shot!  Get ready!” Dave replied.

The tornado of water now began to descend onto the dragon’s back like a drill, slowly engulfing more of the creature.  Merlin leapt off just in time to avoid the full force of the attack, but was still drenched in the process.  As soon as he was clear, Dave dropped the last of the tornado onto the beast, creating a massive cloud of steam as the dragon roared in pain.  After several seconds, the steam cleared and all was quiet; all that remained of the monster was a smoldering pile of ash.

“Well done, David…” Merlin heaved, still recovering from the exertion of wrangling the beast.

“Thanks.”

Just as they were about to turn and look for Igraine, a flash of lightning shot from somewhere and struck Merlin in the back.  His eyes bulged and his body flailed about for a few moments, still soaking wet from Dave’s attack.  Finally, a larger blast arrived, launching him through the air and landing Merlin on his back on the other side of the clearing.  Dave gasped in horror, seeing his teacher’s crumpled, smoking form on the ground; there was no way he could have survived.

“I told you… not to get in my way, old man,” Igraine seethed, her hand still smoking from launching the bolt of lightining.

“You bitch…”

Dave clenched his fists and gritted his teeth at seeing the smile on her face.  Any thought of saving Morgan flew from his mind in those moments; all he wanted was to pay Igraine back for such a cheap shot.

“You fucking BITCH!  I’LL KILL YOU!!!”

Summoning up as much power as he could muster, Dave flew through the air at the speed of sound and began to engage Igraine in fisticuffs.  His aura grew brighter and brighter by the second, yet she still only laughed in reply.  She knew how close he was to losing control.

On the other side of the clearing, Madeleine approached Merlin’s smoking form, finding that Dave’s protective field had disappeared when he attacked Igraine.  She knelt down beside the old man, gasping at discovering that he was still breathing, if only just.  Placing a hand on his, tears began to roll down her cheek.

“Madeleine…” Merlin croaked.

“I am here, Merlin.  I am here.”

“Ah… so pretty,” he managed to smile.  “A wonderful… sight… for my final… moments…”

“No!  No, you must not give up!  Fight back!  Breathe!”

As Madeleine pleaded with him to try and recover, she placed her hands on his chest and inadvertently touched Merlin’s pendant.  To her surprise, the green stone within began to shine with a brilliant light.  Madeleine was confused to no end, but Merlin knew exactly what this meant.

“Take it,” he said, lifting the pendant with a shaking hand.  “Help David.  Use it… well…”

With that, Merlin exhaled his final breath and dropped the pendant into Madeleine’s hand.  She sobbed at seeing the kindly man pass away before her very eyes, but soon gathered her mind enough to ponder the meaning of Merlin’s final words to her.

“Help David?  Use it well?  What does that mean, Merlin?”

Madeleine wracked her brain for any sort of answer, until she remembered that she could also search David’s memories for clues.  With a deep breath, she came across his memory from when he first became Merlin’s apprentice, hearing Merlin’s words in her mind once more.

“That stone is called a Channel.  It is what will allow you to focus your mind to the levels needed to bend the laws of nature through magic.  Guard it with your life, for without it, you are powerless.”

“Merlin, are you saying that I can use this power too?” Madeleine gasped in realization.

Looking up, she saw Dave still engaged with Igraine, attacking her with every ounce of power he had.  As powerful as he was, Madeleine could tell he lacked his usual focus and was making sloppy mistakes.  With every attack he threw, Igraine just smiled and evaded with ease, taunting and laughing at him all the while.  Before long, she would overpower him.

“He needs my help.  But how?”  Madeleine pondered for several seconds, trying to remember Dave’s explanations of how his magic worked.  “Let’s see… Igraine is using fire spells.  Dave mentioned that water is most effective against fire.  In order to use water against her… yes, that’s it!”

Turning her attention to the lake next to her, Madeleine began to focus on the water molecules that Dave had told her about.  Soon, she could feel a clear connection forming, and the water began to respond to her hand movements.  Her first attempt at floating a baseball-sized sphere of water was unsuccessful, as it splashed back into the lake after less than five seconds, but she soon found the concentration she needed.  Taking aim at Igraine, she focused her mind and willed the ball of water to fly into her at high speed.

“Gah!  What the devil?!” Igraine cursed, her preparations for a fireball attack having been interrupted.

Madeline took advantage of Igraine’s distraction and began to hurl one water ball after another at her.  After five or six of these, she managed to increase them to be the size of basketballs, though she had no idea how this happened.  Figuring it was the adrenaline rush of a life-or-death situation, Madeleine pushed those thoughts from her mind and continued pelting Igraine with water.  At that moment, Dave had recovered enough to join her, drenching Igraine with a massive wave and knocking her to the ground for the moment.

“Whoa… Maddie?!  You’re using sorcery?!” Dave asked.

“Um, I suppose I am,” she giggled.  “Merlin saw something just as he passed away and gave me his pendant.  He told me to use it to help you.”

“Perfect!”  Turning to face Igraine once more, Dave crowed, “Time to die, you fucking bitch!”

“David, hush!” Madeleine reprimanded him, slapping the back of his head.  “The man I love would never say such things, even in the face of Merlin’s death!  Our duty at this point is to free Morgan le Fay from Igraine’s control, nothing more or less!”

“I… oh my god, you’re right,” Dave sighed.  “I let my anger get the best of me…”

“Do not worry, my love, for you now realize this.  Now, let us finish this.”

“No, I’m going to finish this.  You are going to take cover and keep yourself safe.”

“I’ll not let you face her alone!” Madeleine protested.

“I appreciate the gesture, but you don’t have the training I have.  Please, do it for me, Maddie.”

Madeleine sighed, knowing he was right.  “Very well, I suppose I would only be in your way.  Please be safe.”

“I will.  I love you.”

“I love you too.”

After a quick kiss, Madeleine rushed back to Merlin’s body while Dave turned to face Igraine once more.  As she rose to her feet, his eyes now burned with an intense focus and determination.  Where a few minutes ago he had no real control over his power, Dave now felt more powerful and in-control than ever.  He knew what he had to do, and he knew the likely consequences if he failed.  There was more riding on this duel that just his life.  History itself hung in the balance.

“What happened to your little friend?  You do not intend to team up against me?” Igraine taunted him.

“She wanted to help, but I know she’s out of our league,” Dave smirked.  “Don’t worry; I’m more than enough for you to handle.”

“We shall see, boy.”

Dave drew his bow in preparation for an attack, but Igraine had anticipated this exact move.  Without warning, she fired off a precision blast of aura that knocked the bow from his hands and across the clearing.  Now faced with an onslaught of fireballs, Dave once again drew on the element of wind to evade Igraine’s attacks with ease.  But as he was about to launch another water attack in retaliation, she changed to lightning strikes, rendering the water useless.

“Shit, she’s switching things up.  Guess I’ll have to do the same,” Dave muttered.

Just as she unleashed a blast of lightning at him, Dave summoned up a slab of earth, grounding out the lightning before it could reach him.  He then launched the slab forward with a kick, forcing Igraine to disengage.  Deciding to give her a taste of her own medicine while she was distracted, Dave blasted her with a stream of fire, forcing Igraine to summon her aura shield to defend.  With incredible concentration, she managed to conjure a wall of water to negate Dave’s flamethrower.  This had the unintended side effect of creating a thick cloud of steam, obscuring the two sorcerers from each other.

“Perfect,” Dave smiled.

As Igraine strained to see her opponent, the misty air began to move, swirling around a point ahead of her.  Soon, she could see Dave’s shadow appear through the mist, the air swirling around him in a perfect sphere as he floated off the ground.  A pile of rubble was soon swept up by the wind, mixing in with his sphere to form another layer of protection.  Dave then ignited a stream of fire, which encircled him horizontally, followed by a stream of water, which encircled him vertically.  Finally, two points of light appeared in his hands, charging until they had reached critical mass and fired off a pair of lightning bolts at Igraine.  As she summoned her aura shield to defend, her eyes went wide with terror in realizing what was happening.

“Blast… is he really using all five elements at once?!”

Dave now began to rocket through the air at high speeds, forcing Igraine to take flight as well.  She at first sought to attack him with her signature fire attacks, but Dave expanded the ring of water encircling him to counter.  Igraine now realized that simply attacking him wasn’t going to work as long as he had all five elements at his disposal.  Rather, she would have to outlast him in the hopes that the exertion from using them would drain his strength completely.

As their duel moved over the lake, Igraine executed a series of high-speed aerial maneuvers.  Dave kept up with little effort, launching fireballs and chunks of stone at her whenever possible.  She replied by attacking him with repeated blasts of her aura energy, which Dave was forced to evade rather than block.  He remained unscathed, but could tell that such measures were quickly draining his strength.  As he prepared another attack, Igraine suddenly unleashed a new type of magic: the mirage spell.

Soon the air was filled with no less than two-dozen copies of Igraine, each of them an illusion save for the original.  As they surrounded him, Dave knew that attacking each individually would be a long, tiring effort that would drain most of his reserve energy.  Instead, he expanded upon his improvised shotgun attack from earlier by heating the stones encircling him to extreme temperatures.  Once they were smoking from the heat, Dave launched the stones in every direction at once.  The mirages of Igraine disappeared in a puff of smoke, while the original was forced to defend with a blast of water.

“Now I’ve got you!” Dave grinned.

Just as Dave was about to tackle her, Igraine teleported behind him and hit him with a blast of flame.  As his primary protection was his sphere of wind, the fire only grew more intense as it made contact, and Dave did not have enough time to summon up enough water to negate it.  He grunted in pain as the blast singed his back, landing facedown on the lakeshore with a thud.  Dave gasped for air, trying to find the strength to rise, but he was soon pinned by an unseen force.

“Such power, but your overconfidence is your downfall, boy,” Igraine sneered, keeping Dave immobile with a crushing increase of gravity.  “Still, I see why that old man placed so much faith in you.  Your potential is extraordinary.”  Flipping him over onto his back and slamming him down once more, she continued, “I suppose I must ensure that such potential is not wasted on a pathetic boy like you.”

“Go to hell,” Dave managed through gritted teeth.

“Not before you,” Igraine replied with a sinister grin.

“David!” Madeleine screamed, rushing to try and help him.

“Get back, foolish girl!” Igraine said, flinging her against a tree and wrapping the limbs around her.  “I shall deal with you soon enough.”

“Leave her alone, you bitch!” Dave cursed, struggling under the weight of her spell.

“Be still, this will all be over soon enough.  Surely you remember my leech spell, yes?  Here, let me remind you!”

Grabbing Dave’s right fist in her hand, Igraine began to draw power from Dave’s Channel, slowly draining his life force away.  He tried everything he could think of to fight back, but nothing was working; Igraine had him at her mercy.  Dave could feel the cold veil of death begin to approach him, and in those moments, his only thoughts were for Madeleine.  If there was a God, he prayed that she would at least be spared from a dark fate.  Just as Dave was sure he would die, he heard a strange voice.

Death comes for all men.  But for you… not yet.

All of a sudden, Dave’s strength returned to him, the crushing weight of Igraine’s spell lifted from his body.  Opening his eyes, he saw that an unknown force had knocked her off him and now she lay sprawled on her back.

Hurry, Dave Brighton!  Now is your chance!

Ignoring his burning questions as to what was happening or who had helped him, Dave sprang to his feet and straddled Morgan’s chest, placing both hands on her forehead.  As he summoned his aura and began to probe her mind, Dave could instantly see all the things Merlin had described in his previous exorcism attempt.  He surmised that Merlin’s spell had been nearly complete, leaving only a little left for Dave to do.  After a moment, he felt it: a parasitic entity in the center of Morgan’s mind.  Focusing all his power on that entity, he attempted to force it out of Morgan’s body in the opposite direction of a mind merge.  Igraine tried to resist, but her strenuous battles with Merlin and Dave had sapped much of her strength.  Soon, Morgan’s eyes and mouth shone with a brilliant white light, and the ethereal form of Igraine appeared in the air above her.

“NOOOOOOO!” Igraine wailed.

“I did it!” Dave laughed.  “Now, I’ve got to… trap her…”

Feeling the call of sleep as his exhaustion began to overtake him, Dave tried to fight it off and trap Igraine’s spirit within his aura as Merlin had described.  Still, he had expended too much energy in his fight with Igraine, and especially in completing the exorcism.  It was all he could do to summon his aura around himself, let alone enough to trap his target.

“You have certainly been an annoying little whelp,” Igraine’s spirit seethed.  “I suppose I could possess my daughter once more, but you have proved yourself superior in strength to her.  Of course, possessing you would result in a battle of wills that I have no guarantee to win.  On the other hand…”

Feeling her spirit beginning to lose strength, Igraine turned her attention to Madeleine.  The girl had been freed from the tree when the unknown force had knocked Igraine unconscious, but she was still struggling to regain her wits.  Knowing she had found a perfect target, Igraine’s spirit rocketed towards Madeleine; the poor girl would not be able to mount any sort of defense against her.  At the last moment Dave saw what was about to happen.

“Maddie!  Look out!”

Seeing no other alternative, Dave focused what little strength he had left on the spot directly in front of Madeleine.  A burst of power form his aura, and he teleported himself there, intercepting Igraine’s spirit at the last moment.  His eyes bulged as her glowing form disappeared and entered his body, and soon his mind was overwhelmed, knocking him unconscious.

“DAVID!!!” Madeleine shrieked, seeing her lover black out before her.  “Wake up, please wake up!”

“It is no use,” came a soft, calming voice.

Madeleine looked up, seeing that Morgan le Fay had knelt beside Dave’s body as well.

“Wha… what do you mean?” Madeleine stammered.

“This brave lad willingly took Igraine into his mind to spare you from her control.  Now, his spirit must do battle with hers, the winner gaining ultimate control of his body,” Morgan explained.

“Is there anything we can do?” Madeleine asked, tears beginning to roll down her cheek.  “Please tell me you can exorcise her spirit.”

“I cannot, for a spirit can only be exorcised when it has taken control over its host completely.  There is still a chance that he has the willpower to stave off her influence.  For now, all we can do is pray for him.  Whether it be success or failure, the outcome of this conflict now rests in his hands…”

0