Dave stood in the middle of Sato’s proving grounds, where sorcerers would frequently duel to test their limits against one another. Across from him stood his opponent, Dr. Ben Carson, a man Dave had just yesterday learned was one of the most powerful sorcerers in America. Each wore a standard karate training gi with a white belt. Standing in a square Zen garden about ten yards across, they prepared their minds as Sato explained the rules.
“Gentlemen, this Zen garden is our training arena. It is enchanted to prevent any injuries one might sustain in a duel, so have no fear of harming each other. I want to see your best; do not hold back. I expect an honorable duel. No invisibility, no throwing sand, and no attacking while your opponent’s back is turned. Now, begin!”
Don’t hold back? Yeah, right, Dave thought to himself. No way am I giving away my full strength to anyone. Still, let’s see how strong Dr. Carson is.
With all the fervor one would expect of a young sorcerer, Dave launched himself forward, flying at Ben with a full-force punch. To his surprise, his momentum came to a screeching halt, his fist caught one-handed by Ben.
“Very predictable,” Ben chuckled. “You’re not going to get anywhere like that.”
“Just testing the waters,” Dave smirked.
At that, Dave jerked his hand free and leapt back a few paces to give himself some breathing room. As he did so, Ben stood still, calmly awaiting Dave’s next move. He saw that out-muscling Ben wouldn’t work, so Dave decided to try a faster approach, attacking with a series of lightning-fast punches and kicks, all enhanced in strength by his aura. But it seemed as if his strikes were being cushioned and redirected somehow, resulting in not a single hit on Ben.
“What the hell?!” Dave muttered.
“Sorry, that won’t work, either,” said Ben.
“How… how are you doing that? I couldn’t even land a single hit?”
Ben said nothing, but it soon became obvious that a vortex of wind was swirling about his body. Moreover, the wind carried with it much of the sand from under his feet. He gathered more and more sand by the second, until he was surrounded by a translucent sphere of sand and wind. Dave at last understood what had happened.
“You… used the sand to protect yourself!”
“Exactly,” Ben grinned. “I call this technique the Sand Shield. Its effects are twofold. First, I can increase the volume and density of the sand in any particular area that you strike at, cushioning the blow and slowing your momentum. Second, the swirling wind takes that momentum and redirects it away. In this way, I can use the sand without breaking the rule of throwing sand in my opponent’s face. During your little assault there, I could probably have killed you three or four times with the openings I had.”
Seeing that a direct frontal assault would be useless, Dave summoned his aura and began to fire off a series of energy blasts at Ben. To his surprise, even these were partially deflected by the Sand Shield, which Ben now combined with his own aura. As Dave prepared to attack again, he then saw that his energy blasts had not dissipated but were instead swirling around Ben and gathering above his head in a single point of energy. At the last second, Dave realized what was happening and dove out of the way as Ben fired Dave’s own energy back at him.
“Still too predictable,” Ben said.
“All right, try this on for size!”
After shattering a nearby rock with a kick, Dave levitated the rubble and magnetized it to adhere to his body, forming the stone armor that Merlin had taught him to use. It was Dave’s hope that this would give him enough brute force to at last penetrate Ben’s seemingly perfect defense. Dave again drew on his aura energy to enhance his speed; he could not afford to allow the armor to hinder his maneuverability. He then began a series of lightning-fast martial arts strikes at Ben from every angle. This time, Ben had to engage him as an active participant, adjusting the thickness of his sand shield at the points Dave attacked. He managed to persevere, but it was difficult in the face of Dave’s enhanced speed and strength.
“Get back!” Ben shouted in frustration.
Needing a little breathing room, Ben drove Dave back by launching an intense stream of fire from his hand, heating the stones attached to Dave’s body in the process. At that moment, Dave remembered what Merlin had done in the exact same situation and began to fire off the stones one-by-one at Ben. The impact was minimal due to the Sand Shield, but the stones were a mere distraction at that point. Dave had been working on his next move for several weeks and felt that now was the perfect time to try it out.
During his apprenticeship to Merlin, Dave had learned about aura weapons, gaining proficiency in firing aura arrows from his bow. But now, he took things to the next level, summoning up a bow made up entirely of his aura energy. It took a great deal of concentration, but once the bow was fully formed, he found it rather easy to maintain its integrity. From there, he fired arrow after arrow at Ben, nocking the next as soon as the previous one had left his bow. This proved to be the change in momentum Dave needed; Ben’s Sand Shield couldn’t hold up to the sheer penetrating power of his arrows. Ben grunted in pain as an arrow winged him in the shoulder, forcing him to drop his defenses for the moment. Dave continued his offensive, but Ben managed to counter by summoning a large shield of aura energy, modeled after the ones once used by Spartan warriors.
“Now, we’re talkin’,” Dave grinned.
“You’re good, Mr. Brighton,” Ben said. “Not many can force me to change my strategy like that.”
With his new weapon, Ben attempted to catch Dave off-guard by bum-rushing him, but Dave stayed on the move. Thanks to his mastery of wind, Dave leapt with ease from corner to corner of the Zen garden, firing off arrows from a distance. They continued to have little impact, but Ben knew that he would tire long before Dave did; Dave had the advantage of youth, after all. Needing to make a play, Ben began to predict where Dave would land next and fired an intense blast of fire so hot that the sand melted into glass in an instant. Dave saw this at the last minute and managed to cool the area before he landed on it, but the surface was still quite slick. While Dave struggled to maintain his footing, Ben leapt high into the air in an attempt to bring the full force of his shield down on Dave.
Dave summoned up a dome of aura energy, but Ben’s blow was so strong that he managed to break through. He landed on top of Dave with a thud, and their duel dissolved into a wrestling match from there, each trying to get the other’s weapon away from them. Eventually, they wound up face-to-face and attempted simultaneous blasts of aura energy at each other, which exploded in a cloud of smoke. When all had cleared, Sato had appeared between them.
“Yield. The match is a draw,” Sato said with a grin.
“How do you figure?” Dave asked. “I could’ve been about to finish him, for all you knew.”
“Ditto,” Ben agreed.
Sato merely chuckled. “In a real duel, that last blow would have knocked both of you unconscious. It is a draw. An impressive showing, gentlemen.”
Dave and Ben soon rose to their feet and shook hands.
“You certainly don’t disappoint, Mr. Brighton.”
Dave snorted. “Please. After everything we’ve gone through in the last two days, you can call me Dave.”
“Fair enough, but only if you call me Ben, or Mr. Secretary in official matters. What’s that old saying? ‘You don’t really know someone until you fight them’, right?”
“Did you seriously just quote The Matrix?” Dave laughed.
“I believe I quoted The Matrix: Reloaded,” Ben shot back, tapping the Channel in his ring. “When you get back to America, just contact me with that. I’ve created a link between our Channels so you can communicate with me anytime.”
“Sounds good. Thanks.”
As they shook hands, Ben whispered, “I was holding back a bit.”
“Really? Guess we’ll never know if I was holding back or not,” Dave replied with a grin.
“You smug SOB,” Ben chuckled.
“That was an amazing duel yesterday,” Riku said, working on a kata with Dave. “Your skills are incredible!”
“Thanks,” Dave blushed. “A lot of it comes from my time in Camelot. Having to fight for your life really changes your mindset.”
“Quite true. For all my training, I have never been placed in a life-or-death situation, so I do not know how I will react when it eventually happens.”
“You? You’ll be fine,” Dave assured him. “Your grandfather trained you well.”
Riku continued, “Speaking of Sensei, he and I were talking last night, and he believes you and Maddie have the skills and discipline to learn to wield the signature weapon of our dojo.”
“Signature weapon? What’s that?”
“This,” he said, handing an object to Dave.
Dave began to inspect what he now held in his hand. It appeared to be the hilt of a katana, but it held no blade. As he inspected the impeccable craftsmanship of the hilt, Dave wondered how this could be considered a weapon.
“I don’t understand, Riku. It looks like a katana hilt, but where’s the blade?”
Riku said nothing at this but took the hilt from Dave and held it overhead. After a moment, a blade made of pure fire ignited from the slit in the hilt, which Riku then used to slice a nearby rock clean in half. A moment later, the flaming blade disappeared and Riku handed the hilt back to a dumbfounded Dave.
Riku explained, “These sword hilts are designed to be perfect conduits for sorcery. The blade you just saw was actually a combination of my aura and my favored element of fire. The same can be done with any of the five elements, though I have yet to master the others.”
“Wow… how does it work?”
“Simple. Focus your chosen element into the hilt, then add your aura to give it shape.”
Dave followed Riku’s instructions, conjuring a small vortex of wind within the body of the hilt. As it grew in strength and began to seep out of the slit, he then began to infuse his aura with the wind. This caused the hilt to emit a faint white glow as it brimmed with power. After a few seconds, Dave could sense that the combination of energies was reaching critical mass and willed the energy to spring forth in the form of a blade. The result was a sword thirty inches in length with a glowing blade made of compacted swirling winds. Moreover, Dave found that he had to concentrate very little to maintain the shape and integrity of the weapon, far less than he had to work when using his aura to form a bow and arrows. Taking aim at a nearby rock, he did as Riku had done before and sliced the rock in two like a hot knife through butter.
“Impressive, my friend,” Riku said with a smile. “You truly are a natural talent.”
“This is incredible… does it have to be combined with an element, or can the same thing be done with pure aura energy?” Dave asked.
Riku shrugged. “It can be done with only your aura, but we have found that the addition of an element adds stability and strength to the weapon.”
“Damn… levitating spells, glowing swords… how the hell hasn’t George Lucas found out and sued your dojo?”
Both young men burst into laughter at this notion.
That evening, Nimue sat alone in the courtyard pondering the many thoughts buzzing around in her head. Though the sunset was beautiful and soothing, her mind still would not quiet. The last few days had been a whirlwind for everyone, but especially for her. After a millennium, Dave Brighton had once again appeared on her lakeshore in need of her assistance. The last time, it was by her doing that he had come, but now, it was mere happenstance… or possibly fate.
Immortal as she was, this did not preclude Nimue from being susceptible to many of the same emotions as humans. Perhaps the strongest of all was loneliness. She had lived for so long, outliving almost every person she had ever become friends with. Though so many humans dreamed of immortality, Nimue knew this was its greatest curse. Some days, she felt she would give anything to be like Dave and Maddie. They were mortal and would pass on one day, but because of this, they lived each day with such purpose, loving each other without condition and doing all they could to better the world around them. Nimue sighed, her frustration beginning to grow.
“Cease your pining, you fool,” she muttered. “No matter how you may wish it, you can never again have what they possess. It is not meant for you…”
Nimue spun at hearing the voice, startled to see Maddie behind her.
“Oh! Maddie, I-”
“I apologize, I didn’t mean to surprise you,” Maddie said with a soft smile. “I just wanted to see if everything was all right. I saw you sitting out here alone…”
“Worry not, I am perfectly fine,” Nimue replied, managing a smile. “I sometimes enjoy some solitude.”
Maddie cocked an eyebrow at this. “I am pleased to see that some traits are shared amongst both humans and water nymphs.”
“What do you mean?”
“We both have our tells when we lie,” Maddie giggled. “Nimue, you needn’t deceive me. If something is troubling you, I hope you know that you can tell me anything. You saved my husband’s life, after all. Nothing I am capable of could ever repay such a kindness.” Seeing Nimue squirm on the bench, Maddie continued, “Of course, I would never pry. If you do wish to be alone, I will leave you in peace.”
“Wait,” Nimue said as Maddie turned to go. “I am sorry, I should not be so cold and distant with you. You are a friend, and I do trust you.”
Taking a seat next to Nimue, Maddie asked, “What’s wrong?”
Sighing, Nimue began, “I suppose I’m feeling… alone.” Maddie gave no reply, so she continued, “I am an immortal water nymph with great and incredible power, yet that also brings with it the curse of immortality. Every friend I make is destined to die while I live on. It is weighing on me…”
“I understand how that can burden the soul,” Maddie nodded. “Has this been troubling you a long time, or has it only popped up recently?”
Nimue shrugged. “It comes and goes. Some days are better than others.”
“Come now, surely something must have happened to trigger this sullen mood all of a sudden,” Maddie replied with a knowing grin.
“Yes… something did happen. You and Dave happened.”
“Oh dear, we certainly have burdened you with our presence…”
“No, nothing like that,” Nimue assured her. “It’s just that… well, seeing your marriage with Dave, the loving intimacy you share together, it has brought up… old memories.”
“Yes. Of my Merlin…”
Maddie gasped a bit. “You and Merlin?!”
“Yes,” Nimue giggled. “We were lovers, once upon a time.”
Scooting closer, Maddie said, “Now, I must hear all the details! Come on, spill it!”
“Oh, stop it,” Nimue replied, rolling her eyes.
“Now, now. I’m learning how to be a modern woman, and part of that is participating in ‘girl talk’ with one’s trusted friends, and our men are the most frequent topic of conversation. Now, spill.”
Cracking a grin, Nimue said, “Very well. Merlin was my student, first and foremost. As a young man, he was so brash and eager to take on the world. It is no wonder that it took the firm guiding hand of a water nymph to shape him into the greatest sorcerer of all time! In any case, by the time he grew to adulthood and neared the end of his training, it was impossible to ignore the growing attraction we shared for each other. He would have certainly jumped at the chance to bed me, but I would not allow it… not yet, anyway. It would have been most improper for a master and apprentice to engage in a sexual relationship.”
“Doesn’t stop me and Dave,” Maddie blushed.
“Be that as it may,” Nimue laughed, “it would have been counterproductive to his training to take advantage of his desires like that. But once he came into his own and began his transformation into the true master of sorcery I knew he could be, our emotions began to boil over. Still, he never pushed me; I think he took my previous rejection as an indication that I was not interested in him. For some reason, this only made me want him more. I came to him one night as he was meditating in a cave. I poured my heart out for him, allowed myself to become vulnerable for the first time in my very long life. Though I feared he would reject me as I had done to him, Merlin admitted his love for me. Oh, how we would make incredible love together… and such stamina! The man could go on for hours!”
“The best kind,” Maddie purred, thinking of Dave. “You must miss him, Nimue.”
“I do. More than you can imagine. Seeing him fight earlier, Dave reminds me so much of my Merlin…”
“Hands off. He’s mine,” Maddie shot back with a grin.
“Oh, fear not,” Nimue giggled. “I would never even dream of going after him. I am sorry if I gave you that impression the other day, taking his arm as I did.”
“No apology necessary,” Maddie assured her. “It was perfectly acceptable given the context of the situation. And if I ever had any real fear of you trying to take him from me, rest assured that I would slit your pretty throat before you got the chance.”
Nimue snorted a laugh at this. “I believe you would!”
With her curiosity roused, Maddie asked, “Did you and Merlin continue your relationship for a long time? I only wonder because he never made mention of you, which seems a bit odd to me.”
Nimue fell silent, her face twisting and a tear rolling down her cheek.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Maddie gasped. “I didn’t mean to-”
“No, it’s a perfectly logical question,” Nimue admitted. “In truth, even if Merlin were alive today… he would not know me.”
“What do you mean? Surely he would never have forgotten his teacher and lover!”
Sighing, Nimue decided to tell her the whole story.
Camelot, 885 A.D.
“Nimue? Nimue, are you there?” Merlin asked.
After a moment, the water began to churn and bubble just below the surface. Merlin smiled; this experience never got old for him. After a few moments, a figure leapt from the waters, her blonde locks blowing in the wind and her nude form as sublime as it had ever been. The figure soon tackled Merlin to the ground, attacking him with a flurry of kisses and caresses.
“Merlin, my beloved, it has been far too long since your last visit,” Nimue purred.
“Unfortunately, I come today on official-”
“Hush,” Nimue said, silencing him with a kiss.
Merlin had a fleeting thought to protest further, but Nimue was having none of it. In a flash, she had already undone his belt and impaled herself on his erect cock, riding him for all she was worth. Water nymphs were highly sensual creatures by nature, and this was only enhanced by the genuine love Nimue shared with Merlin. The sight of her perky breasts bouncing in front of his face quieted any final thoughts of resistance Merlin might have had. For over an hour, they had their fill of love, sometimes heated and passionate, other times sweet and romantic. Regardless, every moment they had together was a treasured memory. At last, as their final orgasms were unleashed, the lovers disentangled themselves from each other.
“I am sorry, I did interrupt you earlier. What were you about to say, my love?”
“Ah, yes… unfortunately, I am here today on official business for His Highness, King Arthur,” Merlin replied.
“Is something the matter?”
“Indeed. We have received reports of mysterious attacks in a forest not far from Camelot. Though we at first thought them to be nothing more than superstitious rumors, one of our trade caravans was recently attacked, leaving no survivors. Thus, I have been tasked with investigating to determine what happened to our men. As I suspect that there may be some manner of foul sorcery involved, I thought it prudent to enlist your assistance. If you are agreeable, we may depart at once.”
“Of course, my love! King Arthur is also a friend to me. I am happy to help keep his men safe on future journeys.”
“Dear God… I have never seen such devastation,” Merlin gasped, examining the remnants of Arthur’s caravan. “What do you make of it, Nimue?”
“I am unsure, but it is clear that your suspicions are well-founded: there has indeed been powerful sorcery here.”
“But what manner of sorcery could do this?” Merlin wondered, running his fingers through his blond hair. “It is not as though these men were attacked by fire. The damage is concentrated solely on the caravan itself, not the surrounding area. It seems that they were somehow ripped apart, limb from limb. I have a bad feeling about this…”
All of a sudden, the air grew cold and the wind began to whistle through the trees. As the leaves rustled and all manner of forest creatures ran in fear, Merlin and Nimue stood back-to-back in preparation for whatever was about to happen. Soon, a demented girlish voice began to echo within the wind.
Foolish intruders… bandits and thieves are not welcome in MY woods! Now, you shall reap the penalty… with your lives…
“We are not bandits! We come in peace!” Nimue protested.
In a flash, the trees around them came to life and began to attack, swiping at the pair with their powerful branches. Merlin fought back with his aura whips, slicing up any branches that got too close. Nimue joined in by forming several blades of water around her to beat the trees back, but they were outnumbered. Before long, the branches began to swarm them, knocking Merlin to the ground. At that point, roots sprang up from the dirt and started wrapping themselves around Merlin’s body.
“NO!” Nimue shouted.
In a last-ditch effort, she threw her body on top of Merlin’s and cast a spell of dual protection. It would ensure they would both remain unharmed for a time, though the amount of energy she had to expend was considerable. As the roots began to drag them underground, Nimue passed out from sheer exhaustion.
“Nimue? Nimue, wake up!”
Nimue awoke in a strange underground cave or hollow of some sort. It seemed they had been dragged below the forest, as they could see a multitude of tree roots growing in the walls around them. The only point of light was from a tiny illumination spell that Merlin had presumably cast. As Nimue came to her senses, Merlin helped her sit up.
“Where… where are we?” she asked.
“I know not. I just awakened myself,” Merlin replied.
Oh, my… how very intriguing…
Both were startled at hearing the same disembodied voice from before and stood to face whatever threat was to come.
“Show yourself!” Nimue demanded.
They heard only an incessant giggle in reply, but the owner of the voice soon appeared from the shadows. It was a young woman appearing about twenty, as naked as Nimue was. But unlike Nimue, she carried not an ounce of grace about her. The girl’s dark green hair was a tangled mess, covering one of her eyes and being matted with twigs and leaves. Her body was covered with dirt and soil, and her impish face bore a sinister grin. At last, Merlin saw her pale blue eyes, almost soulless in their appearance.
“Ooh, such fascinating intruders. None who have trespassed into my woods have ever seemed interesting enough for me to keep them alive,” the mystery girl giggled.
“Who are you?!” Merlin demanded.
“It is not who she is, but what she is,” Nimue said. “You… you are a wood nymph, are you not?”
“So astute, young water nymph. I am, indeed. You may call me Lady Viviane.”
“Why did you attack us? Why have you brought us here?” Nimue asked.
With a wild look in her eyes, Viviane crawled forward on all four limbs, inspecting the pair as a dog might.
“I have brought you here because you are so very interesting… oh, yes,” Viviane cooed in a demented voice. “Precious few who have passed through my woods are as skilled in sorcery as are you. As for why I attacked you, I attack all thieves and bandits who dare set foot into my domain, and all who enter my domain are indeed thieves and bandits, I assure you.”
“I assure you that we are neither,” Nimue replied. “Why do you labor under the assumption that all who pass this way are as such?”
“DO NOT SPEAK DOWN TO ME, SILLY WATER NYMPH!” Viviane shrieked. “Do not forget that I am just as immortal as you, and since you are in my domain, I possess great power over you… the power of life or death.”
“Is she telling the truth, Nimue?” Merlin whispered.
Nimue nodded slowly. “Only an immortal can kill another immortal.”
“Yes, and I am of a mind to do just that for your insolence,” Viviane giggled. “For you to make such a horrid assumption that I attack anyone without cause? How dare you! No, my actions are pure and justified.”
“Please enlighten us,” Merlin offered, trying to find a peaceful solution.
Crawling back over to Nimue, Viviane stopped her face merely an inch from Nimue’s nose, a maniacal grin on her face. “Once, not long ago, I was in love. Would you believe that? Me? In love? Oh, those were much simpler times. His name was Ulrich… ah, he was strong and kind… and what a lover! OH! The mere thought of him gets me all tingly!
“My Ulrich would travel into my woods every day to see me. He was the only one to enter my domain, and he brought me such joy in doing so! But then, one fateful day, he was set upon by bandits. They robbed him, beat him, and left him to die. By the time I found him, his injuries were too severe… I could not save him. All I could do was to turn his dying body into a strong tree, making him a part of my woods forever. But alas, I was not satisfied with that…
“When next the bandits entered my woods, I sought my revenge. My trees tore them apart slowly, giving them a most excruciating death. I had them begging for mercy before I at last ended their lives. I had foolishly thought that this act of retribution would bring me peace, but it only served to show me how evil and disgusting the world was, apart from my beloved Ulrich. On that day, I swore an oath that no bandits would ever again pass through my woods alive, and each that has entered my woods has died by my hand!”
Nimue’s eyes went wide as she realized the truth. Viviane had been driven mad with grief over her lover’s death, and now saw anyone and anything entering her woods as a threat. There was no reasoning with her, no matter how Nimue wished there could be.
“You are insane,” Nimue whispered.
“WRONG!” Viviane shouted. “That would imply either mental derangement or defect, and I suffer from neither!”
“No, you delight in them both,” Nimue spat. “I pity you.”
At that, Viviane gave a harsh slap to Nimue’s cheek. “So insolent! You have no right to lecture me, my perfect little water nymph!” Glancing at Merlin, she saw the anger rising in his eyes. “Oh… I see. You would like to kill me, yes? You wish to end me, do you, human? Why? Why, oh why would a human wish me dead so badly? Could it be? YES! He loves you, is that right, little water nymph?”
“Silence,” Nimue seethed through gritted teeth.
“Ah, and you love him. Oh, what a wonderful teaching moment this will be!” After binding Nimue with a bundle of tree roots, Viviane crawled over to Merlin. “Human, I offer you the choice of what happens next. You are handsome, and you remind me of my Ulrich. I admit my carnal desire for you. If you will live out the rest of your days here as my sexual servant, I will release your beloved and send her on her way. Refuse? And you shall watch as I end her life… ever so slowly.”
“Burn in Hell, foul creature,” Merlin growled.
“Ooh, so spirited! I like that…”
Try as she might, Nimue was unable to even loosen the roots holding her down. Seeing her struggle, Viviane only giggled and crawled back over to her.
“Do not waste your strength, girl.” Placing a hand on Nimue’s face, Viviane summoned a black dagger to her hand and began to draw it down Nimue’s throat and to her chest. “Now, what should I start with? Oh, I know! I will start by cutting off these perky breasts of hers! I am quite certain you have enjoyed them, human…”
In a fit of anger, Merlin leapt to his feet and lunged for Viviane, managing to swipe the dagger from her grip. He then wrapped her in a chokehold and wrestled her off Nimue’s body, but he couldn’t maintain his grip for long. Viviane soon began to twist and contort her body, allowing her to slip free of his arms. She lashed out at Merlin with a bevy of tree roots, but he managed to fend them off by summoning his stone armor. Viviane’s eyes grew more frenzied by the second, which translated into the wild attacks Merlin had to endure. At last, one of the tree roots snuck behind him and caught his ankles. In that moment of distraction, he found himself ensnared by the rest of the roots. They began to constrict around him, turning his stone armor to powder.
“Ooh, so strong,” Viviane cooed, pinning him back against the wall. “You may be the strongest human I have ever encountered. Though I ought to kill you, that little display only made me desire you more,” she said, licking her lips.
“Silence,” he growled in defiance.
“Yes… you will be my new Ulrich… whether you want to or not,” Viviane continued, running a finger down his cheek. “The only question that remains is whether or not your little water nymph will live to tell the tale.”
Nimue continued to struggle against her own bindings, unable to do anything but watch in helpless agony.
“Now, where was I? Ah, yes! I was just about to give this one a slow… excruciating… painful death…” said Viviane, approaching Nimue with dagger in hand.
“No! STOP!” Merlin cried out. “I will do as you wish, just… please, do not harm her…”
“Do not do this, Merlin!” Nimue begged him.
“I must. I… I love you, Nimue.”
“How sweet,” Viviane giggled.
As the deranged nymph approached Merlin, a mass of branches began to grow from the ground around them. They began to bond together, soon forming the trunk of a mighty oak tree. Just before he was completely enveloped, Merlin stole one last glance at Nimue, giving her a sad smile.
“No,” Nimue whimpered, still bound by the tree roots. “No, no, NO! YOU MAY NOT HAVE HIM!!!”
All of a sudden, Nimue’s rage flew to the surface. Something awakened within her, a primal instinct that she had never felt before in all her long life. With more strength than she had ever known, she ripped through the roots as if they were twigs and approached the trunk. She battered it with all, soon forming a small crack in the bark. Nimue then slipped both her hands into the crack and began to pry the tree open, revealing Viviane and an unconscious Merlin, whom she was about to mount and take for herself.
“Oh, my… how rude!”
“RELEASE HIM!” Nimue bellowed.
“No,” she whispered with a sinister smile. “Now, your fate is sealed.”
In a flash, Viviane flew at Nimue, flipping and dancing all about the area like floppy rag doll. Her herky-jerky movements were wild and unpredictable, but Nimue couldn’t have cared less in those moments. She fired off blast after blast of ice at Viviane, her rage growing with every second that passed; all she could think of was saving Merlin. But after a few moments, another root appeared and ensnared Nimue by her ankles, allowing Viviane to pin her to the ground.
“Foolish girl,” she hissed. “You lover is mine, MINE, and there is NOTHING you can do about it! You are in my domain, where my power reigns supreme!”
As Viviane summoned her dagger once more and prepared to slit Nimue’s throat, the water nymph replied, “My love is greater… than your domain!”
Summoning all the power she had, Nimue altered her body to change it into pure water, freeing herself from Viviane’s clutches. The wave she had become swept around the room for several seconds, tossing Viviane every which way until she at last landed hard on her back. While Viviane recovered from having the wind knocked out of her, Nimue resumed her normal form and summoned a spear made of sharp jagged ice. She leapt high into the air, bringing the weapon down and impaling it in Viviane’s chest.
“GAH!” Viviane grunted in pain.
“You will do no more murder, foul wood nymph,” Nimue seethed.
“Heh… then I shall at least… do… this…”
Though her hand was weak and trembling, Viviane managed to reach forward and plunge her long fingernails into Nimue’s forearm. The water nymph recoiled in pain, but upon inspecting the wound, she did not see any lasting damage.
“What did you hope to accomplish by that?” she asked.
“Oh, so much,” Viviane replied with a weak laugh. “I may die today, but you shall now know the pain I have lived with. With my last breath, I curse you, Nimue. I sentence you to the same life of solitude and loneliness as I, unable to ever enjoy the touch of your lover again. For on the day that you next make love to any man… you shall surely die. We shall see if you can manage to avoid my insanity… but I doubt it…”
With that, Viviane breathed her last and died with the same unsettling smile on her face she had worn since Ulrich died. Still, tragic as her misfortune was, Nimue felt no remorse for her, not after all the pain she had wrought on those around her. She was gone, and the world was a better place for it. It was then that she took a second look at the marks on her arm, sending a pulse of aura energy through them.
“Curse me, will you? I find that notion laughable,” Nimue grinned.
Though she had her doubts, it became clear after a few seconds that something was not quite right. Her aura detected a lingering magical presence within the wounds which had already spread through her body, specifically down to her pelvic region. Nimue’s confidence soon turned to dread as she realized that Viviane spoke the truth: she had been cursed. Even the lightest touch to her clit triggered a feeling of horrible sickness, as if death itself was bearing down upon her.
“No… Viviane, what have you done?”
At that moment, Nimue caught a glimpse of Merlin out of the corner of her eye, and she now knew he was lost to her. She pondered what to do. Should she tell him the truth? He would still wish to be with her, yes? But if so, she wouldn’t be able to live with herself, robbing him of any chance for physical love and pleasure. No, any further time she spent with Merlin would only cause pain and heartache for them both. Kneeling down next to his sleeping form, she cast a spell to ensure he remained as such for the time being.
“Rest easy, my beloved. I will not let my affliction bring you pain…”
“I used my power to remove myself from his mind. Every memory he ever held of me was erased, save for his training. I took him home and left him on the outskirts of Camelot, where he was soon discovered by Arthur’s men. As for me, I retreated into my life of solitude… forever burdened by my burning love for Merlin, yet unable to do a thing about it.”
“Nimue… I am so sorry,” said Maddie, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.
“Thank you,” Nimue whispered through her tears.
“How have you managed to keep your wits through it all?”
Nimue replied, “I think seeing what Viviane had become was all the deterrent I needed. I refuse to become a monster like that.”
“Is there any way to break the curse?”
Wiping her eyes, she responded, “I have searched for centuries, but to no avail. I fear that I am cursed for eternity…”
As Nimue sat on the bench, watching the sun at last disappear below the horizon, she wept as she never had before. Unable to say a thing, Maddie held her hand as tightly as she could. It was all she knew to do…
That night, Dave lay in bed with his wife cradled in his arms. He couldn’t help but feel that something was off. Every time he made a move to arouse her, she seemed distant, as if her mind was preoccupied by some great burden. After his third failed attempt, he felt he had to say something.
“Hey, everything ok?”
“Hm? Why do you ask?” Maddie replied, snapping back to reality.
“Well, you seem distracted this evening. Did something happen today?”
She nodded with a sad sigh. “I spoke with Nimue earlier. She and I talked at length about things that she has never felt comfortable talking about. She told me things… about her past.”
Maddie began to recount for Dave the story of Nimue and Merlin. The fact that they were lovers didn’t surprise Dave one bit, though he did wonder why Merlin had never mentioned her to him. Once Maddie explained the rest of the tale, it all made sense.
“Damn… I had no idea she was carrying all that with her,” he muttered.
“She is so lonely,” Maddie agreed. “The poor girl has not even had an orgasm in over a millennium for fear of what the curse might do to her. Dave, we ought to find a way to help her, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know how much help we can be, but yeah, I agree. Still, I think we need to keep this just between us; nobody else can know about this curse of hers.”
“Think about it. Nimue trusted you, and by extension me, enough to share a secret that would result in her death should the information fall into the wrong hands. That’s an incredible amount of trust, and we owe it to her not to betray that trust by letting this information slip out.”
“Ah, that does make sense,” Maddie nodded.
“Maybe working with the Masons will provide some helpful resources. Who knows what sorts of possible aids they’ve discovered in the last few centuries?” Dave mused.
“I hope so.” Kissing her husband on the cheek, Maddie whispered, “I love you so much, Dave. You truly are the best of men.”
Mark Iger sat alone in his study, mulling over everything that had happened in the last few days. How could it have all gone so wrong? Sure, he went off the reservation, but it was all for the greater good. How could Ben not see that? Worse, he had not even been successful in his mission. Who was the mysterious woman that came to Dave’s rescue in England? There was something otherworldly about her, Mark could tell. But what to do about it all? For now, he could only hope that the Security Council would side with him, deeming his actions justified under the circumstances. Not that the chances of that were particularly high, as reluctant as Secretary Carson had been from the beginning to take action.
“Fools… allowing an outdated piece of paper like the Constitution to stand in the way of doing what must be done,” Mark growled to no one in particular. “We are superior to that scrap of paper!”
We couldn’t agree more, came a disembodied voice.
Mark sat up straight at this. “Who’s there? Show yourself!”
In due time, Dr. Iger. Suffice to say that we share a common ideal, it seems, and we have decided that we have need of your skills.
“What reason would I have to help someone I don’t even know? Who or what are you?”
We, like you, have become disillusioned with the arrogance of the current leadership of this country, both magical and otherwise. It is clear that we sorcerers are meant to rule this world, but the fools you mention continue to obstruct this end. This is why we need your help.
“That may be well and good, but you’ve still given me no reason as to why I should help you,” Mark shot back, trying to detect where the voice was coming from.
Because we can help you, Dr. Iger. Soon, the authorities will arrive at your home. They will arrest you for your actions in England. Do not resist them. We will take care of the rest.
“How can you know all this?” Iger asked.
We have our methods. But when it happens just as we have told you, remember our generous offer. We will expect fair compensation for our kindness…
Before Mark could inquire further, his wards alerted him to a visitor. His attentions diverted, he made his way to the entry and opened the front door, finding Secretary Carson waiting for him with a couple of heavies.
“I’ve sorted out the mess you made with David Brighton. As it turns out, your fears and assumptions were completely wrong. Your only saving grace is that he survived your attack. All the same, I think you know what happens next. Please, don’t resist, Mark. Gentlemen?”
The two heavies approached and placed Mark in a pair of binders designed to disconnect his mind from his Channel, ensuring one cannot perform sorcery.
“Dr. Mark Iger,” Ben continued, “on behalf of the Masonic Brotherhood of American Sorcery, you are under arrest for the attempted murders of David and Madeleine Brighton. You have the right to remain silent…”
Daniel Masters, Attorney at Law, strode into the Nashville branch of the MBAS Law Enforcement Department. He wore a warm smile of confidence on his face and a suit so expensive most people wouldn’t be able to afford it with a year’s salary. This, of course, masked his true feelings of disdain and anxiety. He had no idea why his superiors were bothering with this Iger character, but whenever they give him a direct order to go somewhere and defend someone, he listened. Daniel knew damn well the consequences of refusing.
“Name?” a guard asked at the security desk.
“Attorney Daniel Masters. I’m here to meet with my client, Mark Iger.”
“One sec.” After a quick check with his boss, the guard said, “Go on in. Interrogation room six.”
After a quick stroll down a couple of hallways, Daniel arrived at interrogation room six, finding none other than Secretary Ben Carson waiting outside.
“Mr. Masters?” Ben asked in confusion.
“Dr. Carson, good to see you,” said Daniel in a southern accent almost as buttery smooth as was Dr. Iger’s.
“What are you doing here?”
“Why, I’m here to meet with my client, Mark Iger. I’m told he’s in here, is that right?”
Ben eyed Daniel warily; Mark Iger had yet to make a single phone call, making it most curious how a bigshot attorney like Daniel Masters would know to come here on such short notice.
“Is there a problem?” Daniel asked, seeing the expressions on Bens face.
“No, I just don’t recall Dr. Iger making any phone calls since we took him into custody. Did he contact you himself?”
Daniel chuckled his usual reassuring laugh. “It’s not really relevant how I came to be here, the point is I’m here. And now, I need a privileged conversation with my client.”
Ben grimaced a bit, but reluctantly unlocked the door and led Daniel into interrogation.
“Dr. Iger,” Ben said, “this man claims to be your attorney. Is this true?”
Mark said nothing for a moment, simply studying the tall man with slicked black hair standing next to Ben. Seeing they were awaiting him to answer and remembering the strange voice he had heard before his arrest, Mark replied, “Whatever do you mean, Mr. Secretary? Why wouldn’t you think he’s my attorney?”
“Dr. Iger, you have not contacted a single person since we took you into custody. I find it a bit odd that one of the most reputable attorneys in the country is waiting to meet you here not even an hour after your arrival. I remind you that you are under no obligation to accept his services, especially if you are not the one who contacted him.”
“Now, Dr. Carson,” Daniel interjected, “I know you’re not trying to convince this man to waive his constitutional right to legal counsel.”
“Of course not,” Ben smiled.
“You needn’t worry, Mr. Secretary,” said Mark. “He is an old friend of mine. After you made it clear that some sort of punishment could be coming down on me, I decided to give him a call. He’s been ready for this for a couple of days now.”
“Dr. Carson, if you please,” Daniel interrupted Ben. “I need a few minutes alone with my client. I expect all listening devices and spells to be deactivated upon your departure from the room.”
Flustered by this turn of events, Ben waved his hand to deactivate all security devices and left the room, securing the door behind him.
“Just what the hell is going on here?” Mark growled.
“My, my… that’s a fine way to greet the man who’s defending you.”
“You know what I mean. How did you know to come here?”
“My superiors sent me. I believe they’ve recently spoken with you,” Daniel grinned.
Mark blinked at this. “So… whoever it is that contacted me… sent you?”
“Beats me,” Daniel shrugged. “I don’t get why they’re bothering with a guy like you. Hell, you aren’t even connected to the government! But, I don’t call the shots. They say ‘jump’, I say ‘how high’, after all.”
“And who are ‘they’?”
“Not your concern at this time.”
“No, you listen! If you don’t want my help, just say the word and I’ll walk out of here. But if you do, remember that you’re on your own… and you’ve made an enemy of a powerful and influential group of sorcerers. Trust me, you want these people as your friends, not the other way around.”
“I don’t know…”
Daniel continued, “Dr. Iger, you and I both know this country’s government is becoming more and more corrupt by the day. Politicians stay in office for more than half their lives, losing sight of why they got their jobs in the first place. All the while, they get fat and comfortable, using an outdated scrap of paper as defense for their actions. Worse, our own governing body goes along with it! Dr. Iger, people think that ‘Divine Right’ is a dead concept, but it’s not. People just never knew what it really meant. We are the most intelligent and talented humans the world has ever seen. If we are not destined to rule, who is?”
“I have come to share in some of those frustrations,” Mark sighed.
“Well, it seems you share the ideals of my superiors. So, there’s just one question remaining. To paraphrase Louis Jordan, is you is or is you ain’t my client?”
After considering his options for several seconds, Mark replied, “I’m in.”