Merlin ran, ignoring the painful stitch in his left side. He could feel Arthur behind him, and he urged his legs faster still. Arthur hadn't seen him yet, didn't know it was he who had conjured the fire that was setting the village ablaze. Arthur must not catch him, must not find him, but…Merlin saw the glow of torchlight on the wall, heard Arthur's heavy breathing barely five feet behind him, and Merlin continued to race up the tight, winding staircase. He came to a door at the top; it burst into splinters before he touched it, like it had sensed Merlin's desperate need to escape. Yet, the room at the top was a small, dark store room. By the light of the moon through a tiny window he could see boxes, but no way out, nor any place to hide. He heard Arthur reach the landing. Merlin drew himself flat against the back wall. His blood pounded like war drums in his ears. The pain in his side had spread; it felt like needles pressing into his lungs every time he took a breath.
Arthur stepped into the tiny room, sword raised.

"Show yourself!" Arthur demanded. Merlin held out a hand in surrender. He tried to speak but his breathing was so staggered that he merely huffed incoherent sounds. He took a gulp of air, and tried to steady himself; he felt he might pass out. As Merlin opened his mouth to try speech again, a large man covered in dirty rags raised an axe behind Arthur's head. The incantation flew instinctively from Merlin's lips, and the man was sent flying into the opposite wall. There was a loud crack as he collided with the stone. Simultaneously, Merlin felt something long and smooth glide through his midsection. Then, there was no need for him to regain his breath; it had been taken from him. The cramp in his side had been nothing compared to this. He looked down to see shining metal protruding from his abdomen. Bright crimson was seeping through his blue shirt. He convulsed as if to wretch, and Arthur's sword sliced upwards an inch. Though his breath had stopped, his heart was working more furiously than it had his entire life, as though it knew it had limited time left. It beat viciously, and suddenly Merlin was aware of how it moved through his body, giving him life. Now, that life was seeping out. He watched as it spread further over his blue shirt, and he was terrified. He wanted someone with him, he wanted…

"A-Arth.." Merlin reached for his friend, whose head turned as the axe and man crashed on the floor behind him. Arthur walked toward the man, and his sword went with him. Merlin lurched forward. It felt as though the sword was trying to drag all his insides out with it. He was burning as sure as if he were on a pyre. Merlin wanted to scream, but he had no air. At last, the sword left him, and air shot back into him. He slumped on the tarp behind him, clutching his wound. He was struggling to breathe, taking short, shallow breaths. Merlin tasted iron in his mouth; something wet began to trickle out the corner of his mouth. He thought he saw more torches arrive, but he couldn't be sure; everything was getting blurry…

"By the gods, Arthur!" he heard Lancelot's voice.

"What have you done?" this voice belonged to Gwaine. Merlin saw the figure he knew to be Arthur turn.

"Merlin?" Arthur's voice sounded far away. There was a clattering of metal; Arthur had dropped his sword. Merlin felt a gloved hand on top of his.

"Merlin? Stay awake, come on!" A warm and sweaty palm touched his cheek. "Damn it, Merlin! Don't you close your eyes!" It was terror, uncontained, true terror that Merlin heard in his friend's voice. He wanted very much to obey Arthur, but his eyelids were terribly heavy…if this was dying then it wasn't so bad. He could feel the heat of his friends gathered around him; he wasn't alone. He could simply…go to sleep…

"Wake up! Merlin!" Merlin felt hot water drop on his cheeks.

Thanks for reading, more chapters to come!