Title: Sine Metu 1/4
Fandom: Merlin (BBC)
Character/Pairing(s): n/a, Arthur, Leon, Lancelot, Percival (this chapter)
Rating: R (for violence and horror)
Warning: Silent Hill inspired! And Amnesia, too.
Summary: After the execution of a young girl while Gwaine and Merlin are away on a quest, Camelot falls to darkness.
Happy Halloween, guys!
They were sounding the warning bells again.
All through the lower towns, people were scrambling indoors, boarding up their windows and huddling in corners, shushing children and murmuring breathless prayers. It happened nightly now, with the bells ringing out a candlemark before sunset to warn the townspeople that it was time to head inside.
That’s what the warning bells were for now because none dared to invade Camelot, not when the darkness plagued over the land and even the most horrible of sorcerers could not traverse outside in the night. Camelot was being punished far more than anything they could come up with, and it’s people trapped in a mire of fear and despair. None could leave the castle gates now unless they wanted to get swallowed up by the unnaturally dark forests that grew to surround the lands overnight.
It had been nearly two weeks since that night.
Arthur breathed out in frustration as he watched the servants hurry to close all blindings over windows, the glass reinforced with metals to prevent unwanted intruders.
...Not that it did much in preventing things from entering. There were very few places in all of Camelot that provided safe haven from the darkness anymore. And those places moved around each night- most of the time a large room in the castle that would be free of the tint, but no one knew which room until the sun would disappear from behind the branches of the overgrown forest.
It was a curse on Camelot- a curse the likes of nothing Arthur had ever seen or heard about before.
“Outer wall secure,” One of the guards reported to him, voice grim and tired. All the guards were called into the castle once the gates were down and the windows all securely shut. No one stayed outside to monitor the grounds anymore in case of invasion as there was no point in doing so. Even their enemies would die in the darkness. “We’re bringing in the east section of town tonight.”
“See to it that they find clean water and beds,” Arthur responded absent-mindedly. It was what they did now; bring as many of the town into the castle each night as possible while maintaining the space to fight. It had been reduced to a rotation system, because trying to fit everyone was impossible and they had tried that one terrible night when dozens died in the crossfire.
No one dared drink the water after nightfall, even the water that had already been taken from the well. It was just safer that way.
Spending another few minutes to ensure that all their nightly precautions were in place, Arthur made his rounds quickly around the castle until the warning bells stopped, signaling that everyone was to be inside now as the sun would be gone very soon and then no one opened their doors for the misfortunate few who might have been caught outside.
His strides brought him to the throne room the moment the warning bells stopped, the silence just as striking as the bells; everyone in the room watching with wide eyes and barely daring to breathe.
There had to be dozens of people, from nobility who dared not stay by themselves at night anymore to the peasants they had managed to filter into the castle today, huddled in corners with their families and turning their hopeful gazes toward him.
All of them innocent people who had done no harm but were pursued by this enchantment.
Arthur steeled his heart, gesturing to the knights who had stood upon his arrival. “I need one contingent to stay behind and guard the people. The rest of you will come with me.” His hand clenched tightly around the hilt of his sword, belaying his agitation. “We will search the castle. Tonight, we will find the king.”
It was the same thing he had said every night for over a week already, but still the people perked at the words, believing that perhaps this would be their last night under the siege of terror.
As the knights scrambled to assign themselves into different groups (who would stay behind? Who would risk themselves this night? He was reminded of the dragon attack when knights ran ragged trying to protect everyone and defeat their foe all in one), Arthur turned and walked away from his citizens and servants lighting candles for the night vigil. He couldn’t face them, not until he found the source of the enchantment and defeated it.
Be it tonight or the next hundred nights, he was prepared to do everything possible to ensure the safety of his people. That meant to find the king first and foremost.
Especially if there was a chance that it was the king who could be at the heart of this spell.
Listening to the murmurs of his knights as they tried to decide on who would lead the separate search groups, Arthur wondered whether he was glad or terribly disappointed that he managed to send Merlin away before all of this started.
“To the right,” Lancelot breathed out in the hushed silence, one hand on the sword hilt as he inched around the corner and tried to slow his racing heart. “Two of them. We can take them out before they notice us.”
He didn’t have to look back to sense Percival’s agreement, knowing that the bigger man was always willing to fight if it meant that they could make safe passage for the small group of people behind them. The rooms they had been guarding had been contaminated, and they were to usher their small group to the throne room if possible, and that meant they couldn’t just sneak around the creatures like they were now more prone to do.
There were just too many of those night creatures everywhere, and the knights had long since learned that it was easier to make a wide berth around the blind creatures, to stay silent and still as possible until the monsters stumbled past. As long as they didn’t get too close, didn’t breathe too loudly, and didn’t carry lights with them, it was easy to glide through the corridors of the castle, as the darkness mostly stayed outside... and in certain areas.
“They’re the ones who crawl on the ground,” Lancelot whispered over to Percival, unable to repress the disgust in his voice. He lifted his sword slowly, mentioning to the rest of the group with a hand to stay back. “Both of them next to the windows.”
Had it only been the two of them, it would have been easy to sneak around the creatures. But with the group, Lancelot dared not take the chance that someone would make a noise and draw the attentions of both creatures and then be attacked.
The creatures were not hard to defeat, but with the numbers and varieties, the knights were having a hard time keeping people safe. Each type had a different strength and a different weakness, and thus far there were several that seemed impossible to defeat.
It didn’t help matters that no matter how many were killed, more would appear the next night.
“And,” Lancelot braced himself, feeling his friend do the same next to him. “Now!”
There were no battle cries anymore. Each battle was to be fought as silently as possible as to not attract the attention of more creatures. A dash into the fray and several sword swipes saw the death of the two slimy creatures who sprawled over the ground like spiders, limbs humanesque but waxy as if drowned, heads twisted the wrong way and without faces. They had too many legs, too many feet, and ran much faster than any human could if they fixed their attentions on a target. The waxy grey skin stretched over bones and burst blood vessels to complete a truly hideous visage of an abomination. In place of faces, there was naught but teeth spread in a wide circle, like the mouth of a lamprey to clamp onto unsuspecting victims and rip them to shreds.
With the creatures’ blood spattered over the floors, Percival ushered their charges through the hallway, a small child gasping and nearly crying out with fear at the vision.
“I wonder who that was supposed to be,” a passing villager murmured before he was hushed by a person next to him.
Lancelot held his tongue at that, the same question in his mind. The day when one of the court ladies had confessed with shaking hands and pale lips that the face she had seen on one of the night creatures had been that of a friend who had died during the purge had been the day when more people realized that many of the creatures wandering around held similarities to those who had been convicted of sorcery.
Died by drowning.
Died by flames.
Died without their head.
Each case was similar, each creatures with burnt and bubbling skin or the waxy paleness of a watery death. Many more who were half-rotted and without heads, but all of them hideously monstrous in same way— none of them quite human. Too many limbs, too many bones, not enough eyes. All of them without eyes. Most without faces at all.
It was as if all the spirits of those murdered by King Uther had come back to haunt the castle and its surrounding town in a desperate plea for vengeance.
“Lancelot,” Percival breathed from where he had taken the lead, opening the door to one of the lesser known passageways that would lead them to the throne room faster. “Here.”
The aforementioned knight hurried his steps, leaving the group of people to shuffle along behind him. A glance through the door revealed darkness beyond what their eyes were currently used to, and he hesitated.
“That might not be a good idea,” He said softly to his friend.
“Camelot is not a good idea,” Percival responded, equally as serious.
Lancelot took a moment to stare his friend in the eyes, and then found himself nodding. The two of them would keep the people behind them safe, no matter what. That passageway was short, and they would take care of anything in their way.
“Fire?” He questioned.
Percival didn’t respond, but rather lifted one of the unlit torches on the walls, his hands brushing away the cobwebs and what seemed like blood running down the stones. The strike of a flint later, and the torch was set ablaze in such a light that had both knights blinking back tears as their eyes struggled to adjust from the near pitch black of the castle before.
“We’ll need to hurry,” Lancelot said tersely. “They’ll be attracted to the light.”
But it was the only way that they would be able to see where they were going, and not walk straight into one of those creatures by accident.
He turned his head toward the huddled group of terrified people, taking in their dirtied features and fearful expressions from the firelight, and tried to push more reassurance than he felt into his voice. “Stay here. The hall should be safe right now unless one of the doors is opened. Sir Percival and I will clear out this path and come back for you. If we do not come back through this door-”
He took a deep breath to calm his own nerves. “Do not come in after us.”
He turned away before he could see the frightened faces grow terrified. It was better to save his energy fighting what might be ahead rather than reassuring others with false promises. He had learned that lesson after a night where he failed to save a little boy from falling into a room covered with insects bigger than anything he had ever seen before.
Lancelot would never forget the screams.
The excursion down the narrow passageway was silent as the two knights walked, breathing a sigh of relief only after the reached the door on the other side.
“It’s empty,” Percival commented, but Lancelot could barely manage to contain his relief as he pushed the door open just a crack to peer into the next hallway. The area looked safe enough. It really was a good thing that the castle was mostly boarded up against the darkness.
“Let’s get everyone through, then,” He responded, even though the knots in his stomach refused to go away.
“It doesn’t feel right.”
No, nothing felt right anymore. But they were responsible for the lives of those people, and Lancelot didn’t want to leave them by themselves any longer than he had to. Not at night.
“The faster we get them to safety, the faster we can find Prince Arthur,” Lancelot said instead, turning his thoughts toward duty. It was easier that way, and he wouldn’t have to worry so much about the people he had been given charge of, or of Guinevere. Elyan stood with his sister at all times, but Lancelot couldn’t help but worry for her safety. There was nowhere in the castle that remained safe at all times, after all. “And find the king.”
But Percival remained unmoved by that. “No. It doesn’t feel right.”
At the repetition, Lancelot stilled. He had learned enough about the taller man to know that Percival wasted no words. He voiced his unease, but when he repeated something... that was when even his lightest concerns should bear the full scrutiny as to why he felt that way. The man had impeccable intuition and battle senses.
Suddenly, the ball of tension in his stomach seemed a lot more important than his thoughts about duty. He stilled, barely daring to flicker his eyes toward the serious knight.
Very slowly, the both of them shifted their sights higher as the sound of wings drew their attention in the silence.
The wings of a thousand oversized roaches flickered in the torch light.
At the end of the corridor was a room. In that room, Arthur knew, was a little girl, burnt and disfigured. He had never opened that door, but he knew it with the certainty of knowing the skies of Camelot had once been blue. He could hear her screams each night when he walked past that door, and never dared to peer past the flimsy wood holding her pain back.
He remembered her screams, not a month ago when his father had ordered her execution on the grounds of conspiring against the crown with a sorceress (Morgana) due to evidence of her once being favoured by the former ward of the king, and because she had been reported by neighbours for harbouring magic. Her mother had cried and screamed and eventually died from a blow to head when she tried to forcibly take her child away from the guards before the king.
The little girl had been no older than six summers at most, and had cried through her accusation and when she had been thrown into a cell. Her mother had claimed she had been taught strange words, that her child didn’t know magic, but the allegation had been there.
She had been set to burn at the stake despite protests from Arthur (and his ears filled with the protests from Guinevere and Merlin, and having to deal with the horrified looks of his new knights), as his father would rather kill a child than risk the fact that she might have magic.
Against all odds, the girl survived her burning thanks to a sudden storm overtaking Camelot and putting out the flames.
Uther had been more convinced of her sorcery and had tried to reschedule the burning, except the girl had never woken from her injuries. Gaius and Merlin had tried to treat her burns with little success, and her unconscious whimpers of pain could be heard near the physicians quarters at all hours until Gaius had admitted to Arthur that it would have been more merciful to let her die in the fire instead.
After watching Gaius’s poultices of maggots over the girl’s already rotting flesh, so discoloured and peeling off her bones that it looked like a festering heap of week old meat, Arthur couldn’t help but agree.
He knew that Merlin had tried to stay by her side as long as possible, trying desperately not only to heal her but to ease her pain. But when Gwaine had been pulled on a trip out to the Forest of Ascetir, Merlin had gone with him on accounts of a letter that arrived for him the day prior.
Arthur had questioned it. He had wheedled and whinged and made it very clear that unless Merlin told him who the letter was from and what it was about, he would pile chore after chore until there was no way that Merlin could leave the castle at all (not that he would actually do such a thing, knowing that Merlin had a hard enough time leaving the little girl’s side). But in the end, it was Merlin’s stubborn silence and pointed avoidance that gave him the permission to go. A silent, brooding Merlin was just unnatural.
And he was glad for it, seeing as the very next day things had gone straight to hell.
It had started with a fog rolling in, thick enough that it was hard for people to see more than several feet in front of their own faces. And then the smell of ash and brimstone, of burning pyres and dragonfire. People complained of smoke, of fires that weren’t there and the chill that settled over the town despite it being summer still.
And then the forest had come overnight, and the word magic passed over everyone’s ears. After all, no forest could grow overnight without spells enforcing it. No forest could be as dangerous and thick as the one that stood tall against Camelot’s walls, not even the ones hundreds of years old and inhabited by dangerous beasts and bandits. No, this forest had been one no one returned from; that choked the air from one’s lungs the moment you entered it. This forest exuded danger like nothing else, and all those who had not turned and ran back into the lower town gasping for breath were never heard from again.
Some people wanted to think that it was because they escaped, and only a fool would come back to Camelot again while it was in such a state.
But no one truly believed that hope.
It was the day after the appearance of the forest that the sun had disappeared completely. There was light still, but nothing passed through the thick haze of fog that swept through people until many begged audience with the king to beseech him for safe haven inside the castle walls. Everyone was sure that a new sorcerer would attack soon and Uther had the guards search the town for who might be responsible for such a spell. He found no one new.
On the third day a great pyre was built to burn all those accused of sorcery at once so that the spell may be ended. Anyone with a relation to a magic-user, who might have encountered a magician in the past, or who possessed items that held reference to the Old Religion were rounded up and marched toward the courtyard. What they found on the pyre, though, were creatures of all shapes and sizes already shrieking despite there being no flame.
Everyone had ran then, screaming as the area descended into madness and the darkness had spread. Not from the sky and not from the shadows, but from the unlit pyre itself as each creature that took a step off the brittle wood spread the dark and rot with each footfall.
And from the darkness came all manners of cruelty and evil.
The grounds grew slick with gore while the walls would decay and drip with blood. Metals would rust over and wood would rot, until the entire world looked like a depraved parody of itself. Arthur had watched in shock then for several moments before screaming out orders to barricade houses, windows, doors, and any open surface against the rot and to kill those creatures at all costs before they could spread the infection further.
Except they couldn’t be killed.
One had stood up high and screeched, its voice piercing through the soul as the caricature of what looked like a woman shook her tattered red dress and screamed behind a curtain of black hair, her face never revealed although the bare skin of her arms and legs were mottley white. But it was Uther’s reaction that shocked the most as he paled dramatically and fell backward trying to get away from her, all the while muttering under his breath about madness and vengeance.
Arthur snapped back from his thoughts at Leon’s quiet admonition. The older knight knew him far too well to leave him muddled in his thoughts in such a dangerous environment.
“We’re getting too close to the dungeons.” Leon continued, voice soft as if he wasn’t chastising Arthur for his absent-mindedness. “Perhaps we should take another route?”
Arthur grimaced, not stopping in his cautious steps as he peered around another wall, unwilling take a familiar route when he was actively searching for his father, but at the same time understanding the dangers of venturing far too close to the dungeons. The last time the knights had gone there, they barely managed to escape with their lives. Despite the monsters usually being slow or not very powerful, there were overwhelming numbers of them in the dungeons, as if lying in wait for anyone to accidentally stumble across them.
“And if my father is beyond the dungeons?” He questioned, deceptively calm. In reality, his eyes were straining to catch a glimpse of anything at all in the darkness of the castle halls away from the tiny spill of cloud-distilled moonbeams through boarded windows.
Leon was silent for only a moment, but Arthur could figure that he was exchanging concerned glances with the rest of the knights. “Then we’ll find him during the day, sire.”
“He may not be there during the day,” was Arthur’s muttered response, although it was soft enough that he wasn’t sure if Leon would have heard it. It wasn’t something that he meant for others to hear. The nights in Camelot were fraught with fear now, and no one would sleep until the bells sounded again to indicate the coming of day.
The uneasing shifting of knights behind him alerted Arthur to the fact that these men did not wish to throw their lives away in vain, without innocents to protect or a cause to really fight for. There wasn’t much of a cause when they have no knowledge of what had caused this in the first place and how they might dispel the curse.
“The dungeons are worse than going outside, sire,” a younger knight reminded him, sounding nervous and subdued. While his experience had been limited before this happened, now all the knights were willing to speak up when they felt something was wrong. Intuition was a very valuable thing nowadays.
“We’ve already explored the passageways on the upper floors,” Arthur mused. He tightened his grip on his sword, resisting the urge to wipe the sweat away from his brow. “All that’s left is the dungeons and the vaults.”
And outside, but he didn’t want to mention that.
“We’re knights of Camelot,” he tried to inject as much confidence as he could into his voice. “We have defeated creatures that were rumoured invulnerable. We have overcome a tyrant and an immortal army. We’ve beaten a dragon and so many enemies in the past several years that I can barely take count of them.”
A significant pause, and Arthur allowed himself to stare at the dirtied faces of his knights in the dim and unnatural lighting seeping in from between boarded windows. They were all quiet, all of them gripping their weapons hard and very still.
“This spell will not defeat us. Nothing will defeat us. Our knights have taken the castle with merely seven before. We have persevered through tyranny and sorcery both under Morgana’s reign. We have done too much to be stopped here. Creatures or monsters or whatever they are down in the dungeons, we will not be defeated by them.
“We will find the king, and then we will bring things to rights again. Do not let your fear overwhelm you as it must be the very thing that these creatures feed off of. We will face our fears and go to the dungeons; will make clear the area so that we might save anyone who so foolishly dared to seek shelter there.” Of course, no one would venture into the dungeons except the very idiotic, seeing the tales that had been told by those who had managed to escape it. “We will prove ourselves worthy of our kingdom once again, and however many times it takes before our stories go down into legend.”
There were murmurs of agreement now, the previous troubled atmosphere all but disappearing with Arthur’s words.
“Now.” Arthur swung his sword lightly, testing the weight and balance against his wrist. “Let us find my father.”
The bugs, so very large and sharp with wings that fluttered like a razor’s edge, scuttled away at the childish voice, panicked and teeming even as they attempted to squeeze themselves into whatever holes they could find. Lancelot found himself breathing a short sigh of relief at the idea that he wouldn’t be faced with them, each one too big and far too many. He had no love for bugs, especially the types who could easily kill a person and devour the carcass within minutes. Perhaps it was his imagination gone wild, but he would rather be faced with a human sized monster or larger than thousands of small ones in a confined space.
Percival swung the torch toward the voice, frowning. “Milady?”
And indeed, there was a woman there, one from the town who was barely recognizable. Lancelot felt as if he had seen her before, right before he registered the deep claw marks on her face, her clothing torn and her skin looking as if she had danced her way through rose bushes. When she raised her arms toward them, though, he understood that she had been the one to inflict the injuries upon herself, if the flesh under her fingernails was any indication.
“Mother?” She inquired again, sounding far too young for what she looked (and it was hard to tell her age under all the blood, except that he could see the greying at her temples signifying age), “Mother? Is that you? Where are you? Where have you been?”
“Do you know this woman?” Lancelot asked his companion, voice soft to not startle what was obviously a mad woman.
“No.” Percival stepped forward just a step, lowering his sword arm just slightly in an effort to placate her. “Milady? You are not well.”
“Mother,” she moaned in response, and Lancelot could feel the air on the back of his neck scream at him to stay away. If the bugs ran in fear of her, then they should not be there trying to help her no matter what his sense of honour would dictate. “You left me. They killed you.”
“This woman is alive,” Lancelot whispered, although he could not help but flinch back as she stared with sightless eyes at them. “But she is beyond our help.”
A sudden swipe of her arm, and she very nearly grabbed onto Lancelot had Percival not pulled him out of the way, dropping the torch in the process even as the woman before them shrieked in the pain of being denied what she wanted. Another second and Lancelot had recovered his senses enough to reach for the hidden door, pushing until they were outside and then shoving the door back in place, putting their weight against the bloodied wall and hoping it would hold against the frenzied shrieking of the crazed woman behind it.
A thump and another one, and even Percival was looking worried as the stone shook and groaned, because it was stone and they were not exactly lightweights and that woman should not have been able to hold such strength in her arms.
“She is not one of the creatures,” Percival said, sounding strange even as Lancelot found himself agreeing. “She is a citizen of Camelot. I have seen her before.”
“So have I, my friend,” Lancelot responded, breathless as he waited for the shrieking to diminish. “This is getting worse if we are starting to turn into those creatures as well.”
Because she looked it, in the brief moments he had seen her. Crazed and bloodied and she would not have been out of place amongst the monsters with too many limbs and dead skin.
Moments later (hours, days, eons), the thumping finally stopped and the noise from the other side disappeared, and the two of them relaxed just the smallest bit before Lancelot reminded them, “We’ll have to clear the long way for the people to pass through, then. This passageway is far too dangerous. We do not know if... if this is an illness or disease to be passed on. That woman should not come into contact with anyone.”
“The corridors would be safer,” Percival agreed. The darkness was still intimidating after their eyes having adjusted to the torch, but Lancelot knew it would take only a little while before they could see again. Until then, they would have to rely on their instincts.
Shuffling noises and the two knights looked at each other, horrified.
“We need the clear the corridors fast.” Lancelot said and Percival could only manage a nod before the two of them were off, not waiting for their eyesight to adjust. If that woman was heading the other way, then she may be able to open the door on the other side and get to the group of people they were supposed to protect. The two of them would have to lead the people away before she got there and made sure that she stayed well away from those they had sought to protect.
The dungeons were empty.
That was what set Arthur on edge more than anything else. He had heard such stories about the dungeons at night during the past week from terrified servants and knights alike, and seen the wounds on people who managed to escape the claws of that which resided there. But the dark halls were empty, empty and so dark that he could barely see the wall he was leaning against even as adjusted to the darkness as he had been since nightfall.
Empty, but flooded, the doors of the cells open all open slightly, the locks rusted away. He had never seen the dungeons flooded before, not like this. Not with blackened water that went past his knees, that soaked his trousers in icy coldness. It didn’t matter how quietly he tried to move, he could hear the splash of water with every step and with every flinch of his knights. It wasn’t hard to figure out that each and every one of them had a ‘bad feeling about this’ (as Merlin would have coined it, but Arthur didn’t exactly what to acknowledge the fact that he could already imagine his servant’s retorts in his head), yet none of them were backing out.
Arthur wasn’t sure whether that proved the bravery or idiocy of Camelot’s knights. Or perhaps, just his own since he was the one who insisted on coming down here.
But he had been putting it off for the past several days, and he could just hear Merlin’s taunts and admonishments in his head about getting into trouble all the time. He didn’t have his servant’s encouraging words this time, so he would just have to make do with his own.
Find his father, break the enchantment, make sure everything went back to normal.
Sounded simple enough.
Now, if it wasn’t for the blasted water creeping cold into his body...
“What was that?” one of the knights hissed, barely twitching a muscle but it made the rest of them tense and stop. “Something brushed past my leg!”
“Don’t say that,” another knight whispered, gulping audibly. “It’s just your imagination. The water’s not deep enough to hide anything.”
That wasn’t exactly true, considering the variable sizes of monsters that had turned up at night recently. Knee deep water could be enough to hide... Arthur wasn’t sure, but he suspected something along the lines of killer fish, which was ridiculous and he really hoped it wasn’t true. But the dungeons were empty when they were supposed to be full of creatures terrible things and he knew well enough that he didn’t have the best of luck.
The knights stood in silence for another moment, no one daring to move as Arthur made a cursory scan of the area with whatever eyesight he retained in such darkness. Nothing. No movement, no unusual shapes and nowhere for monsters and moaning ghosts to be hiding.
“Torches,” he insisted. “There’s nothing here so we can make do with some of the torches. Even if there are enemies here--” and enemies was pushing it, but it helped bring a stability to the idea that they were perhaps fighting just another army, just men, “--then we would do best to fight them where we can see them.”
A fumbling sound as one of the knights closer to the walls reached to do his bidding, and the strike of a flint later made everyone wince and cover their eyes in the light of the small fire produced. It took several tense seconds for Arthur to curse his own idea, sword at the ready knowing that anything could attack them in the time it took their eyes to adjust, because having light after being in the darkness for so long felt worse than being blind and straining to see. But nothing attacked them.
“There,” said the knight who had protested before (Sir Erec, Arthur notes once his vision is settled again), having been the one to grab the torch even as he elbowed his fellow knight shakily. “There’s nothing in the water, see? Clear enough to drink, and we’re the only ones here.”
Sir Girflet only nodded, although he didn’t look convinced. Arthur knew his knight well enough to know he was only holding his tongue only for the sake of honour rather than because he actually believed they were safe.
In fact, with the light, Arthur could finally make out the details that separated this otherworldly room from the dungeons he was used to. While the water was startlingly clear, the wall pulsed in time like heartbeats, thick veins of red tissue inter-spaced between stone to make it look as though they were walking within the flesh of a giant creature. It was a reminder that it didn’t matter how safe they thought they were because the rooms were empty, this place was not the Camelot they had known for so many years.
“Perhaps,” Sir Leon suggested, tone deceptively calm. “We should continue on. The sooner we find the king, the sooner we may get some rest.”
Rest. “Yes,” Arthur agreed, hoping the dryness of his throat didn’t transcribe onto his words. “It should take little time to scour the dungeons. Afterwards, we will enter the vaults and—”
The only warning they had was a splash of water before Sir Girflet cried out, falling into the shallow water even as the other knights started shouting, panicked by the sudden break of calm. Each had their swords out but could see nothing of what was attacking except for white foam of splashed water, quickly dyed red with blood. It took barely a second after Arthur saw the blood to shout, “Out of the water! Now!”
What followed was a quick scramble for benches and stools that barely topped the water level, with Arthur and Leon having climbed onto the table where guards had once sat around and played dice games on while on duty. Several others stepped on crates, their cloaks dragging heavily behind them, half soaked and dripping. Sir Erec splashed through the water, dragging their only source of light further away before he found a crate of his own, one old and rickety but able to hold the weight of himself and his armour.
By the time they were all out of the water, Sir Girflet had completely disappeared, leaving behind nothing but a dispersing pool of red that was spreading through the waters and the oddly dented mental of his mail. No flesh or bone could be seen through the slowly clearing liquid.
They were silent, all of them, breathing hard but silent at the same time, eyes wide to stare at the place where one of their fellow knights had been standing mere moments previous. It was like a betrayal, knowing that something was in the area with them, something that they had not been able to see or defend against. But with the blood dispersing, the water stilled once again and there was no other attack.
“What,” Arthur tried his best to sound calm as if he hadn’t just seen one of his trusted knights disappear into nothing more than a pool of blood and water, “was that?”
Frowning and with slightly shaking hands, Leon grabbed onto a rusted tankard (they were all rusted and not fit for drinking once the sun went down) and tossed it into the water far away from them and close to where Sir Girflet had been standing.
It splashed into the water and sank, and then there was another splash next to it, except with no boot to cause that.
“Spirits,” Sir Erec accused in a harsh whisper, gripping his sword hard with both hands. His eyes were wide enough that if Arthur looked, he’d be sure to see white all around the edges. “Ghosts.”
That wasn’t what Arthur had expected at all when he hardened his mind to step down into the dungeons. He had expected monsters, things to fight and to defend himself against, not something invisible that lurked in the water and could reduce a full knight in armour to nothing within seconds. How was he supposed to fight against something like that? How was he supposed to get his knights out of there?
“Sir Leon,” He commanded, retaining his calm even as his mind worked at a solution. “Whatever that is, it is in our way if we want back to the castle.”
Why wasn’t it coming after them now? The water hid nothing, after all, and they were barely above the surface of it. Either way, Arthur was grateful for the small reprieve, except when he realized that should they want to move at all, they would have to get back into the water. And that thing, whatever it was, was fast.
“There is the passage that leads to the courtyard,” Leon offered as a suggestion. “But— that would take us... outside.”
Outside. No one went outside at night anymore, just as no one ventured into the dungeons. It was filled with monsters and once you were outside, no place would open their doors to you. If they ventured out, they would have to find safe haven on their own. They would not be able to re-enter the castle until sunrise, since Arthur himself had ordered all the guards to seal the doors and allow no admittance in order to protect the people who were already safe. His people were not to break those orders, not even for him.
It was potentially easier to get past the invisible creature and back up the stairs, yet he wasn’t sure if there was only one creature or not. With how quickly it had eliminated Sir Girflet, they were in trouble either way.
Sir Girflet. The loss still had yet to hit him, but Arthur was distantly aware of the other knight, who had a knight as long as he had, and had missed the battle against the dragon due to a visit to his ill uncle. The other man may have been his age, but had barely half the battle experience due to his ailing family who constantly needed him back home to tend to them.
Now who would tend to them? Arthur wondered for a moment, feeling almost deranged. He was stuck in an otherworldly version of Camelot’s dungeons, standing atop a table and trying to outsmart an invisible water monster (or several) for the lives of his men, prepared to go outside into the very darkness of whatever curse that held the castle enthralled, and all he could worry about at that single moment was how Girflect’s uncle would be so disappointed in the prince his nephew had insisted on following.
He hadn’t even met Girflect’s uncle.
“We’ll need a distraction.” Because either way, whether they were charging toward the monster or toward the darkness, the invisible creature was fast and fast meant that the moment they stepped into the water, they were vulnerable. “And...”
The creature wasn’t attacking them. Was it because they were above the water? He wasn’t about to order one of his knights to test that theory.
He pulled off one of his gauntlets, seeing how Sir Girflect’s armour had done nothing to help him, and dropped it into the water before him.
Another splash, coming from where the tankard had last been dropped, and then another. Closer to Arthur. And another, and another, and another, until it finally stopped before the table he and Leon were standing on. Both knights had swords at the ready, pointed at the clear water as if waiting for some invisible presence to attack. But nothing did, and the gauntlet sunk to the bottom, untouched.
“Only one,” Arthur breathed. “I think.”
That would make things easier. One creature, and they had... four knights left, including himself.
“Sir Bors and Sir Erec,” He gestured vaguely with his free hand, his other still occupied just in case some monster jumps out of the water for him after all, “are to take the stairs back out of the dungeons. Sir Leon and I will take the passageway leading toward the courtyard.”
It didn’t matter where the protests came from, Arthur just waved them off. “This creature can only chase after one group, and perhaps we can divide it’s attentions to ensure that all of us escape from this place. We have already learned that they reappear the next night, so the endeavour to kill this thing in order to protect Camelot is fruitless. Leon.” He gestured to the unused torch on the wall, and the taller knight had to lean precariously over the edge of the table to retrieve it. Several strikes of the flint later, and they had another light source.
“Once you make it back up the stairs, you are to take another group of knights and go to the vaults. The key is—” he swallowed heavily, “In the darkness, I wouldn’t know where the key is. Perhaps you will not need one.” Because night was strange like that— doors that had been locked would open, and open doors would lock. Walls that had once been standing strong would be replaced by nothing but rubble.
He could feel Leon’s disapproval even though he wasn’t facing the other knight. “We will find safe haven. You are not to open the doors for anyone no matter what. Tell all the guards that. The night is half over already. We will find santuary and take refuge, and return in the morning after the bells.”
A gesture over the to unoccupied crates. “We’ll gather crates. If this creature only attacks living things in the water, then we will make sure to stay above the water level. If one group falls, the other provides a distraction and then all of us will get out alive.” Everyone except Sir Girflect.
“Sire,” Sir Bors protested. “By this plan, we can all reach the stairwell together.”
They could. They really could. But then what?
“No.” Arthur confirmed. “We will continue the search for my father. You will warn everyone of this creature, and for people to stay away from the water. It is easy enough to avoid, but lack of knowledge would cause needless deaths. The courtyard is not far outside, and should we be overwhelmed, we will come back in through this way.” He nodded toward Leon, and the other knight dipped his head in assent. “Under no circumstances is anyone to open any of the doors, even if the voices outside are ours. We will test how easy it is to slip past this creature first, and then we will know how to slip in and out of the castle when need be.”
Going outside was a terrible idea, he knew. Some places existed only at night and not during the day, though, and for all he knew, his father was in one of those places outside. The past two weeks had not been kind to Uther’s mentality, and every extra night was one where his people suffered and his father gone. Arthur had spent the past week learning to fight creatures that appeared from the darkest recesses of the mind, learning how to fight or avoid them instinctively in order to survive.
That was how he knew the method to deal with this... water creature. It was a learned response. Inside the castle were the same creatures. Each person saw the same thing, all of them crying out to those who had suffered and died within the walls. But outside, it was different. The creatures outside were different to each who encountered them, almost like a nightmare. And no matter how disapproving Leon looked right now, Arthur felt as if he had to continue his journey.
If anything, the others were too cowed to protest further, despite Leon’s blatant disapproval. But Arthur was used to getting his way all his life, and only his father had put a stop to his plans, or Merlin, and they were both currently gone.
“I expect to see all of you in the daylight.” Arthur said with a nod, doing his best to instill confidence in his men. The nights were dangerous, but his knights were well trained and they had taken down far too many things to be taken out by this. Lifting his sword in preparation and calming his breathing, he continued, “We move on a count of three... two...”
The counting was perhaps unfair, but it made sure they didn’t have time to question his orders. Arthur couldn’t afford anyone to question him right now, when he needed their full loyalty for him to remember he had to keep everyone alive. The knights tensed, and he could feel Leon’s tension behind him, but they were all ready. The creatures they were used to were slow, but this one was incredibly fast. They would have to confuse and distract it, and then find a way to be faster.
They were coordinated enough that it sounded like one large splash of water rather than several, and then the air wavered with a confused roar, the first sound they had heard from the creature with them in the rooms so far. For a second, it seemed too indecisive to act, and Arthur took advantage of that moment of respite to grab one of the smaller crates and dash quick as he could through the water straight ahead, not wasting his time waving the other two knights toward the stairs.
But that moment soon passed and the splashes charged toward Leon and Arthur, leaving the other two far behind as they approached the stairs, even as Sir Erec hesitated for a moment as he saw that.
“Sire! Watch out!”
Leon threw the crate he had been holding down before them and Arthur scrambled upon it, cloak heavy with water and grimacing as his boots squelched. He dropped his own crate just in time for Leon to scramble atop that one and the clear splashing that followed them stopped right before the crates.
It didn’t leave, even though Sir Erec was still in the water, much closer to the stairs and the exit.
“Go,” Arthur insisted to Erec and Bors, who were both hovering near the stairs. His eyes remained on the clear patch of water before himself, knowing that despite the clarity of the water trying to tell him there was nothing there, there was indeed some manner of creature in front of him that could taken down a fully grown knight within a moment’s notice. “There is no point in coming back and then all four of us not making it up.”
Another moment of hesitation before Sir Bors nodded his head. “We will bring back reinforcements.”
“You better not,” Arthur murmured as he listened to the sound of his knights’ footfalls up the stairs, eyes still watching the gentle wave of water in front of him. “Sir Leon. Any chance your crate would hold the weight of both of us?”
There was a moment of silence before the knight answered in a chastised tone. “I... don’t think so, sire.”
He hadn’t thought of weight capacity until they already got here, well out of range of other crates. What had been a good idea at the time (and so simple, just staying above the water) now felt extremely foolish. The idea had been to stand on one crate while they carried the other crate further to create stepping stones. But he had not anticipated the fact that they would need more than two crates to carry the weight of two knights.
“Well, it’s not going to let us past it.” That much was a given, and Arthur was more concerned about reaching the courtyard than the stairs at this point. “I don’t suppose you know any tricks concerning invisible beasts with an affinity to water, would you?”
Fire. The last time he had dealt with a beast like that, it had been the Afranc and had been destroyed by fire. But he had been able to see the creature last time as it had shape and substance, where this was was completely invisible. He waved the torch over the area where he knew the creature to be, just in case. There was no reaction.
Merlin would have known what to do. It was a crazy idea, but it made Arthur suddenly wish for Gaius’s advice, knowing the physician was usually the one plying Merlin with wisdom.
“Alright.” It felt simpler with just Leon there, knowing that the other knight was used to antics that he usually didn’t display to others. “So. Flooded area, invisible monster in the water faster than we can see.”
He gripped his sword harder in thought, a habit he had developed through the years making sure he never dropped his weapons, even while distracted.
“I don’t suppose we have a viable distraction?” He tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, eyes still fixed on every ripple of the water, barely illuminated by the torch.
“There are two of us, Sire. I could provide a distraction well enough.”
Arthur scoffed, knowing exactly what his knight intended. “I did not send Bors and Erec away for you to become bait, Sir Leon. I would not leave you behind with this... thing.”
“There are two routes to the courtyard.” Leon’s voice was deceptively calm, enough that even Arthur couldn’t find any fear in it. “It’s a simple enough matter, and perhaps enough to confuse it into giving us the extra time we’d need to both make it. Camelot’s dungeons are not that vast.”
He couldn’t dispute that.
“Find something to block it, if possible.” He advised, knowing it would be a terrible idea to separate, but at the same time, understanding that they needed those extra few seconds of confusion. Something to block its path. Tables, doors...” He hesitated. Cells would be a terrible idea, especially if it somehow managed to get in. “But find a way out into the courtyard no matter what.”
Leon wasn’t the type who would have grinned at him manically (no, that right was reserved for Gwaine and his insane ideas of what constituted as a good quest), and his nod was solemn. The both of them had experienced impossible situations before, after all, and come out alive if not battered for it.
It was years of fighting together that had them moving at the same time, both of them backed to the edge of their respective crates and flinging themselves into the water at the same time opposite of where the creature was, headed into different directions of the t-intersection. Arthur had faith that Leon would be able to make it through the dungeons-- they had fought too many years against too many threats to be stopped here.
There was a roar behind them, but he didn’t turn back to look, knowing that the creature was far too fast and the water was slowing him down— he didn’t like to think that he was running away from the thing. No, this was a strategic retreat (and he could almost hear Merlin laughing at his choice of words in his mind and he could barely spare the thought of being relieved the idiot wasn’t in Camelot right now, and maybe was kicking fruitlessly against the forests that surrounded the place), because he was still getting to his destination, after all. He meant to search the courtyards, of course he did.
Whatever his thoughts, it mattered little as the walls started shaking rhythmically.
The creature, it seemed, was furious.
And behind him.
For a minute, Arthur could barely differentiate the splashes of his own running with the splashes and shaking of the creature, his cloak dragging wet and heavy behind him. As Leon’s torchlight faded, Arthur closed his eyes and trusted his muscle memory to guide him through, knowing the darkness would serve to madden him otherwise.
It didn’t matter if it was pitch black because he knew every step and every turn, and exactly where to go. He had been down here enough— imprisoned, talking to a prisoner, breaking a prisoner out... it didn’t even matter. What mattered was his speed and getting to the other end of the room and up the stairs where the water wouldn’t--
He gasped as a force dragged him back, nearly making him lose his balance as a tightness appeared around his neck. No! He had seen how Sir Girflet died, and it hadn’t been because he was strangled—
A quick move and Arthur unclasped his cloak, feeling the pressure release immediately as he pitched forward to continue running, hearing the enraged screeching of whatever it was behind him.
A turn here.
A few more splashes of his footsteps as he ran straight into the stairs, losing his balance this time and falling forward, banging his elbow and chin hard against the stone steps. The impact knocked all the air out of his lungs, but Arthur had trained long enough to continue without air, even for a few more moments. And those moments were essential as he scrambled up the stairs (dry, he could feel) and reached with near numb fingers toward the wooden door he knew was there.
Reached-- reached and grabbed at the metal handle, pulling the door open to sweet flickering moonlight, brighter than he had thought it would be, stumbling through the doorway and then pulling the door shut behind him before he dared to breathe again, finally acknowledging the pains of his stumble.
Just for a moment, though. Just for the span of a breath before he tensed again, whirling around to make sure that he was alone and not in danger still.
Just a moment to realize that it hadn’t been the moonlight he had been seeing through the doorway, but a bonfire in the middle of the courtyard.
Arthur’s jaw slacked. A fire? Who would be outside at this hour—?
A scream broke out through the silence, the sounds of flames and pain finally filtering through his head, like it had previously been muted before he arrived.
The words were incoherent and tight with pain, voice high with distress (so very familiar) as someone begged to be let go, claimed they were innocent and please!
“No.” Arthur hadn’t even realized he dropped his sword before the clatter of it brought to him to his senses and he raced forward the middle of the courtyard and the light of the fires as it illuminated a figure of someone wrapped in flames.
Um. Hastily written, I'm sorry. I wanted to get at least the first part out by Halloween. Water monster, for people who aren't really into survival horror games, from Amnesia, which is one of my favourite games. Silent Hill is also one of the very top games for me, and the story should be more like it after this. Completely unbeta'd, 'cause I wanted this out before NaNo started.
Will continue writing this after NaNoWriMo.