Hi everyone!

I'm so sorry it took me so long to update. First of all, I spent a month without an internet connection and after that I've been working almost around the clock. I simply didn't have the time to sit down and write this.

I hope you are all patient enough to still read this. It's escalating towards the end, you know. ;) And if your head doesn't hurt after reading this chapter, I should give you some kind of award. :D But I hope you all like how complicated the plot is, it takes some time to plan out and write carefully down.

This chapter enlightens a lot of the background, so please be patient. Most of the action is starting in the next chapter, I promise. ;)

As I'm still rather busy, the reviews would mean the world to me. So, please give it a go.

Btw, did you see the new snippets of the trailer and the blooper reel? Made me so enthusiastic for the new season. :)

Story: Jetsam (Chapter nineteen)

by: Niphrehdil


Merlin felt sick. He felt absolutely sick and disoriented. The worst part was that if felt like he was waking up from deep sleep, but couldn't comprehend anything completely. There were whispers in his ears - some of them sounded smug, some panicked, some pleading. It took very long until Merlin realized those were the sounds of the spirits he had heard before - except now they were louder than before, more present.

Merlin could barely remember where he was. He could barely remember anything important really. His mind was an unorganized chaos of memories, thoughts, and a constant urge or panic, but Merlin couldn't put his finger on it. He couldn't remember why he should be afraid or panicked.

He felt vague. Like he would be somewhere in between sleep and reality. Slowly, very slowly, Merlin started to remember. It took everything - trying to form memories, words, sentences and events into the right order. The first memory was Larva. Then Lancelot, wounded. Elyan attacking him. His throat being sliced. Lemura's dead eyes. Bayard. Arthur bumping into him. Gaius looking sad. Arthur's voice. Arthur...Arthur?

Merlin wasn't sure whether he was confusing reality to a dream. It distantly sounded like the prince was there, but the voice was hollow and deep, like spoken with great distress. Arthur rarely ever sounded like that. He always wanted to mask his emotions...Alright, concentrate.

Everything felt like it was happening in slow motion. Sounds and lights swirled. Bit by bit, Merlin got a shaky grip of his own mind and logical thinking. The seriousness of the situation hit him. It was agonizing and urgent, almost making his thoughts a frantic mess again. His most important realization was that this was reality - his own, fading timeline. He was back in his own body - but it also seemed to mean that he was running out of time - and very fast.

It took effort to keep up. Merlin felt like he had to pull a heavy rope back all the time - in this case being his memories and logic. If he would lose concentration, that rope would slip out of his hands very easily, and Merlin feared if that happened... Would I lose it completely? I'm starting to forget...I'm starting to disappear. I'm starting to forget myself. If I let that happen, I'm no use to anyone. Then the game is lost.

With a burning agony at the back of his head, Merlin wondered if Gaius and Arthur would still remember him. Gaius...Hadn't Gaius been healing him? Yes. That's what they agreed. Gaius would heal him from the poison.

Merlin tried to concentrate on his surroundings. He felt both heavy and light at the same time. Like his limbs would weigh like lead, but he couldn't really feel it. Like he was numb. But then Merlin remembered that's how he was supposed to feel. The poison he had taken. Yes. Very cruel and painful one. Belladonna. The devil's cherry. He could faintly remember the time with the Witchfinder in town. The memory was shaky. Merlin realized he was holding on to certain memories. He knew he had forgotten years and years full of events and life. His magic probably had done it. Stubbornly holding on to the memories that he thought as important - including mostly Arthur, Gaius, his mother, Will, and Freya. Then some Lancelot and Gwaine, Gwen... But those were disappearing too.
Arthur and Gaius were at the center. Everything around them started to fade more violently. The thought seemed disgusting but inevitable.

Merlin's head was suddenly filling with noises - not from the spirits, though. More sharp, solid ones. Familiar ones. That sounded...angry? Merlin realized he was coming around. He started to feel his own body, and there were lights, sounds, scents. The soap.

Then the pain hit him. Slowly, it increased. Merlin whimpered, thinking quickly that maybe being unconcious wasn't that much of a bad idea. Everything stung him like knives and Merlin felt distantly nauseous - everything seemed to be spinning even if he knew he had to be lying down. Gaius had saved his life - revived him, yes, but he hadn't been able to take the pain away from him. Knowing that his body was growing more and more numb all the time as it was ceasing to exist, Merlin could only wonder how crushing the pain would have been normally. He probably wouldn't be able to keep concious. He didn't need to be reminded that his throat was still partly slit, his fingers aching from being displaced, wrist cracked and he had been kicked and punched around in the last few days quite a bit. Merlin might have mentally thanked Lemura for numbing his body if he hadn't been so scared of her.

-rln." a voice said. The letters slurred into a mess of incoherent murmur in Merlin's ear, but he knew that voice. It was Gaius'. It was warm and worried. But also uncertain. Merlin fought back to get his eyes open. It was only then when he realized they were already open. He just couldn't see much. He tried hard to sharpen his vision, but it went mercilessly in and out. Merlin squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. He felt so tired. The urge to stop fighting against the disappearing process was getting more and more inviting. It was hard. It was exhausting - not to mention he hadn't slept or eaten for who knows for how long. But then...he wasn't hungry or thirsty. He was losing his ability to feel and exist, so it shouldn't come to him as a surprise that he was becoming a shadow.

Merlin felt out of it all. It took some struggle to keep himself in the moment, it seemed his throughts wanted to scatter around pointlessly like leaves on a gust of wind. His throat was dry and his breathing sounded troubled. He felt irritated by how disoriented he was. Merlin instantly missed the sharpness of limbo - how he had been himself there, not this lost, weak mess. But then he remembered that limbo was exactly where he was going towards every second, and then the thought didn't seem so inviting anymore.

Merlin tried opening his eyes again, and this time it seemed to work, expect everything was twisting in odd angles and very blurry. It seemed to settle slowly. Then, out of the blue, suddenly everything started to spin again, violently. Merlin let out a gasp as he tried to fight against the sickening sensation but there wasn't any strength in his body.

It took a few moments before Merlin realized the reason for the disgusting movement - he had been shaken slightly. Someone was shaking him. And calling him - no shouting at him. The shake had probably been very small and quick, but in this state, it had almost knocked Merlin out, going through him like violent, nauseating waves.

It was then when Merlin was certain that this had to be Arthur. It just had to be - Gaius never shook him, he was a physician and very old, it would be out of character for him. But Arthur, however, had this odd habit of shaking him whenever the prince was worried. Like that one time when Merlin had received a hit to the head from some bandit - not hard enough to knock him out but hard enough to make him fall to the ground and stay there until the battle had ended. Arthur had rushed to him, first looking irritated and then more serious. Merlin remembered staring at the prince with glassy eyes, blood pouring from his forehead, lying on the grass. Arthur had called his name and Merlin hadn't been able to answer, just stare at him blankly. Arthur had seemed rather worried at this point, and grabbed Merlin by the shoulders and shook him.

In that case, it had worked and Merlin had been able to snap out of his semi-concious state. After that incident, Arthur's logic - which usually didn't seem very logical - was to shake Merlin every time he wanted his servant to concentrate, wake up or draw his attention. Merlin had complained several times about it, because he hated being shaked like a rag doll - Arthur might do it gently in his own opinion, but Merlin was quite a bit smaller than the prince. It was not pleasant.

Right now, Merlin didn't even need to see the prince before he knew Arthur was right there. He moaned, hoping Arthur would realize he was already waking up. No more shaking. Prince or not. Stop it.
For a moment, Merlin thanked that he could still remember Arthur properly. All his irritating habits. Even the history of this small gesture - it was thankfully still there. Arthur would never admit it, but his reaction for being worried was to become angry. He had probably inherited that from Uther. Every time Arthur was worried about something or someone, he became angry. That was the reason for the shouting. Merlin couldn't stand being knocked out when Arthur was the one to wake him up - he was always shaken and shouted at. Unfortunately, it seemed that every time something like that happened, he was with Arthur.

Merlin realized he was lost in his own memories, so after trying to memorize them firmly, he concentrated on his eyesight. He recognized the faint shape of blonde hair against the ceiling. Merlin blinked several times, and slowly he started to see properly. Arthur's face swam to focus. The prince looked both angry and worried. He was oddly pale.

Merlin stared at him for a moment. He could hear the soft sounds of Gaius' chambers again - candles, the fireplace, the small wind from the windows. Then the scents - old books, potions, wood. He still wasn't fully aware of everything, and he was like a sleepwalker compared to his normal state and his senses - but he was concious and awake.

Arthur didn't seem to be sure whether Merlin was, in fact, awake or just staring at him with blank eyes. He looked something between confused and frustrated. Oddly enough, he looked colder than usual. More proud and arrogant. Merlin hated that look - it looked too familiar. It was the prat Arthur, the one he had met on that market place all those years ago. Even if there were just some traces of that arrogant and pompous version of Arthur, Merlin could instantly recognize it. It was there, taking more and more hold as the time went on. Because like everything else, Arthur was changing too.

-Merlin?" Arthur asked, still clearly trying to decide whether to shake Merlin again or not.
Merlin tried to say 'yes' but managed to let out a raspy muffle. He blinked heavily and searched for Gaius. For his surprise, the old physician was nowhere near.

Arthur seemed to be sitting on the bedside, blocking rest of his view. Merlin glanced slowly up to the prince, eyes blear. Arthur eyed him. -Are you with me?" he asked sharply, almost suspiciously. Merlin concluded he must've looked pretty much out of it if Arthur kept asking that.

The spirits murmured softly into his ears. Merlin took a deep breath, remembering why he had done this for in the first place. He forced himself to concentrate. Arthur seemed to notice that too, because his face filled with contained hatred.

-Are you alright?" he asked through his teeth. Merlin's eyes snapped open because he couldn't understand why Arthur was so angry all of a sudden. He just nodded slowly, confirming he was quite alright. Meaning not dead, and yes, concious.
Of course he wasn't alright. Merlin flinched a little. Arthur doesn't even know I'm dying. And soon, maybe a few hours from now - he wouldn't even care. Stop it now. Panicking won't help.

Arthur took a deep breath. -Fine. Good." Then he turned towards the door. It took a moment before Merlin's eyes managed to follow Arthur's gaze. But when it did, Merlin gasped. There were two guards there, holding Gaius between them.

Gaius' eyes were casted down to the ground. His shoulders were hunched, and he looked painfully tired and old. Merlin tried to call the physician's name, but the poison had made his throat thick and raspy. His voice came out as a sharp, whiny breath.

-Take him to the dungeons." Arthur hissed. -Two guards to the door. His trial will be held tomorrow. Prepare the pyre."

Merlin's heart skipped a beat and his eyes widened in horror. He had trouble believing his ears. A sudden cold sensation started to spread to his chest. He looked at Gaius, then back to Arthur. The prince looked venomous, despising almost, when he eyed the physician. Gaius looked calm but slightly devastated. For a moment, Merlin wondered if this was real or if he was still unconcious and having a bad dream, no - nightmare was more fitting. He tried to talk again, but nothing came out. Desperation growing, he tried to reach Gaius' eyes. The old physician didn't look up or say anything. Merlin felt a flash of anger towards him - why didn't he defend himself?

Merlin tried again and again to talk, but his voice just wasn't working. Finally, he grabbed shakily Arthur's wrist with frustration, drawing the prince's attention to him. Arthur looked at him, a flash of uncertainty and softness on his face - and also, hurt. Merlin just stared at him with wide, pleading eyes, shaking his head.

Arthur sighed. For a moment, he looked hesitant, but then his face hardened to a mask again. He turned towards the guards again.

-Then after that, get another physician from the lower town. He will take the duty of the court physician immediately. He needs to tend several people." Arthur said to the guards. Gaius stood quietly still. Arthur lifted his chin. The word 'pyre' formed a tightening knot to Merlin's chest, filling him with horror.

-Take him away. Dismissed."

Merlin just shook his head frantically, feeling irritated by his own helplessness. He tightened his grip on Arthur's wrist, shaking it a little. Arthur turned towards him, and he looked much colder than before.

-Gaius is a sorcerer, Merlin. I saw it with my own eyes. He has been practising magic all these years..." He looked disbelieving. His voice was a bit thick. -He knows it's forbidden under the penalty of death, and he did it anyway. He is a traitor and danger to everyone around him. Including you." Arthur said strictly, even if looked slightly shocked.

Merlin shook his head. -h." he managed to squeak out. Arthur looked at him, furrowing his brows. Merlin fought the urge to shout at the prince and jump up from the stupid bed and just be able to think. But he couldn't, he was just so frustratingly helpless. Merlin clenched his teeth angrily together and forced his voice to work. -No." he said shakily but determined. His voice sounded odd.

Arthur sighed. He looked so much older when he had clear traces of exhaustion on his face - dark bags under his eyes, slightly blear eyes. It was unnerving to know that neither Arthur or Gaius - or pretty much anyone else in that matter - had slept properly in weeks. It showed.
-I know that you two are close, Merlin, but he...he used magic." the prince spat the last word angrily. -He could have gotten you killed."

Merlin froze. For a moment, he just stared at Arthur, things clicking together. Do you really think Gaius...that Gaius...that he tried to kill me? The thought was so ridiculous that Merlin would have laughed if the situation hadn't been so serious. When Merlin thought about it, it started to make sense.
Arthur must have came in to the room at some point. He had seen Gaius healing him - but mistaking it to something else - maybe the prince had thought that the effects of the poison had been all Gaius' doing. TAnd when Gaius had stopped, the symptoms had stopped. Merlin realized how it must've looked like. Just like Gaius had tried to kill him with magic. And very painfully.

-He served us so many years." Arthur mumbled angrily. -And out of all people, he attacked you? You? " the prince clenched his hand into a fist. -I would have thought he had some good left in him, but I guess he's just like Morgana."

Merlin felt increasingly angry at the prince. -No." he said groggily, his voice still weak. Merlin felt incredibly frustrated at the fact that his ability to talk was currently very limited. Arthur shook his head. -It's better to accept it, Merlin. I'm...I'm sorry for this. Fortunately I happened to be here in time."

Merlin just wanted to roll his eyes and knock some sense into the prince. He was angry and helpless and disoriented at the same time. He felt a bit bad for Arthur - after all, the prince thought he had barely managed to save Merlin's life, and he also thought Gaius' had betrayed him. In this situation, every new strike hit more harder than it would have normally. The situation was already bad, very bad - the last thing Merlin needed was Gaius to get arrested for using magic. Or...even sent to the pyre. The thought was grimm and and made Merlin shiver with disgust. He had never thought Arthur could go this far. Not anymore, not without thinking it through. It scared Merlin much more than he dared to admit to himself, because there simply wasn't time for this.

Merlin struggled to get up, but Arthur pushed him back down. -No. You're not going anywhere. Stay down."
Merlin glared at the prince. While he was touched by the concern, right now he was too worried about Lemura and the spirits murmuring constantly into his ears to concentrate on it. Their time was running out minute by minute - Merlin was already too numb to feel everything properly. He could physically see some of the spirits already. Some of them stood still on the room, some moved restlessly. They looked ghostly and it was hard not to stare at them, but Merlin tried to ignore them. Somehow they seemed to orbit him.

Suddenly Larva's words flashed in his mind. "-You have seen them, haven't you? They're echos at first. Then flashes, shadows. Then you start to feel them, their empty breathing on your neck. They all want you, they circle around you like blowflies. Ready to eat and tear when you drop down."

Merlin was sure the spirits lusted energy. That was the currency in limbo. Energy - strong emotions. That's why people who died with unfinished business usually got stuck. Anger, hatred, love - it wouldn't let them rest.

Merlin tried to brush the thoughts off. Just when Merlin opened his mouth to reply, a voice suddenly rang out.

-You need to find the knife." it said. Merlin startled - it was the same voice he had heard before - in Arthur's chambers, that had said he needed to find the wolf, that 'the wolf is the key'. Merlin had almost forgotten the whole thing. But this voice was so different than any others - it wasn't malicious or haunting - it sounded somehow familiar and like it was trying to give sincere advice.

-The knife. It's important." the voice added. It wasn't threatening, not at all. It was intense, but not harmful. Merlin looked around but saw no one that was talking directly to him. He could hear the voice more like inside his head than the outside world.

Fortunately Arthur didn't really notice that Merlin was suddenly looking around, confused. The prince was clearly in deep thoughts, staring at the door.

Then it hit Merlin. Why wasn't Arthur panicked anymore? He had been on the verge of a breakdown earlier; he had panicked about the deal he had made with Lemura, and that Sir Leon couldn't remember his fellow knights. He had been about to arrest Bayard. Merlin knew that he hadn't been out for long, Arthur had been alone for something like an hour.

Merlin thought about arguing about arresting Gaius - but he knew it was no use. Convincing Arthur that Gaius had saved his life instead of the opposite would be a long process, and time was the last thing Merlin had. He could bail Gaius out from the dungeons if needed. Besides, Gaius had been caught - Arthur had seen him using magic. There was no going back from that now. For a fleeting moment, Merlin wondered coming clean. Telling Arthur about everything, about Lemura and Elyan and all the way to his own magic. But then he remembered that this wasn't Arthur anymore - not completely. He remembered seeing that cold rage on Arthur's face, so much like Uther's. He could hear the word 'pyre' fall from those lips, and it made Merlin want to curl into a ball and bury his face into his trembling hands.

This Arthur was something between the one he knew and the one he had been all those years ago. A cold fist closed around his heart and made him ache. Merlin bit his lip as he was cruelly reminded that in a few hours, Arthur wouldn't even remember who he was. Time is running out.

Merlin coughed a few times, forcing his voice to work. Then he struggled to get up again, this time pushing Arthur's hand out of the way. He had to do it very carefully, because he was using his wounded hand.

-You stubborn id-..." Arthur started, and grabbed Merlin's hand but insantly let go when Merlin flinched and growled in pain. Merlin bit his lip and quickly pushed himself up with his healthy hand. To his luck, he could barely feel pain anymore. Perks of ceasing to exist.

Arthur stared at Merlin's injured hand, brows furrowed. -When did you get that smashed like that?" he asked, warily.

Merlin froze for a moment. He wanted to answer "about two days ago, it was you who fixed my fingers, you were right there, Arthur." Instead, he swallowed hard and forced the dwelling anxiety back down. -Earlier this day." Merlin lied, voice finally working - it was harsh and weak, but audible.

Arthur eyed him oddly. -Why didn't you say anything?"

Agony started to get a grip on Merlin again. He had to look away, there was a faint burning sensation in his eyes. -It's not that much of a big deal, Arthur. Just...got clumsy." he said, and now he was glad that his voice was already unsteady.

He is already forgetting. This is why he is so calm. He can't remember things that happened hours ago - even days ago. He can't remember he made that deal with Lemura or that people are acting strangely, killing each other because of the deals. He is not panicked or worried. He can't probably even remember why he should have arrested Bayard or that he tried to kill me earlier. Not even mentioning Elyan or Sir Leon or Lancelot. It seems the memories don't fade in any particular order - the ones people consider important stay longer.

Merlin realized how bad the situation really was. It was bad. Gaius was arrested, Arthur couldn't remember anything important, and it was getting harder and harder for himself to think logically - he was sinking closer and closer to the borders of the spirit world. A small sparkle of panic started to settle in.

Merlin struggled to get up from the bed but fell bonelessly right back, nausea taking over. Angrily, he tried again. He sank back - his feet didn't seem to be obey him.

The knife. I need to find that knife. Arthur had that before...It didn't burn him. Why didn't it burn him? Merlin cursed silently. His head felt like it was filled with grey porridge - everything was a slow, messy blur. He felt like he was trying to run in a swamp, legs constantly sinking to sticky puddles, his strength growing thin withing every step.

Desperation was waiting right at the edge of his mind. I can't do this in time. I can't think...can't think clearly. Nothing makes sense. Not enough at least. What has the knife has to do with anything? Why doesn't it burn Arthur? Why is Bayard under Larva's control and how? Whose voice did I hear? How much time do I have before I forget all the details I found out? How can I reverse Arthur's deal?

Merlin graved Gaius' help. Arthur wouldn't probably forget the fact that he had just seen the old physician perform magic too soon. What can I do? Is there anyone that can help me? Lancelot is wounded. The knights will soon be gone...if I never came to Camelot...then would have Lancelot, Elyan, Gwaine or Percival either?

The answer seemed to be no. If he had the time, Merlin would have stopped to wonder how much his presence had changed things in Camelot. It was astonishing.

-The knife. It burns almost everyone." the ghost voice suddenly rip through Merlin's head again, this time violently, desperately. Merlin gringed and his hand flew automatically to his forehead.

-The knife, Merlin." the voice almost shouted. Merlin let out a suffocated breath and pushed his knuckles against his brows. It felt like someone was poking the insides of his head with a burning torch. -Who doesn't it burn?" the voice demanded.
-Think, Merlin."

Merlin almost wanted to shout back at the voice that he couldn't possibly think while he was struggling to exist. Keeping concentration on awareness was getting harder and harder every minute.

-Good. Get angry. It prolongs the process." the voice said. Merlin let out a miserable whine when the voice continued talking to him. He could hear distantly Arthur asking something from him but Merlin just tried to keep his head together. His anger, frustration, desperation and fear blended all into a mess of dwelling anxiety. Maybe that's what keeps me going. Being so emotionally affected.

Of course. Just like he had thought before, strong emotions were the ones that made you powerful, especially in limbo. Merlin cursed once again - he had forgotten that already. And he had thought just mere minutes before. Merlin clenched his teeth together. He asked the same question that the voice had said: who doesn't the knife burn?

Arthur. Just Arthur. No one else had touched it...Wait. No. Bayard had held it. He had stabbed Arthur with it...and it hadn't burnt the king. But then again, it had burnt Gaius and him. It seemed it would burn only magical people.

-No." the ghost voice barked to Merlin. Merlin held his head between his hands to keep the dizzyness back.

What then? It doesn't make any sense. If it's not magical people, then what is it? What's the pattern?

Merlin knew he couldn't be sure whose voice it was that was talking to him. He couldn't be sure if it was just a malicious spirit or all Lemura's doing. It could be a trick. But somehow his magic didn't sense evil. Just something distantly familiar...It seemed that the voice tried to help.

Suddenly, an idea struck Merlin. What if the knife doesn't burn only magical people, but everyone else, too? Does the person need to be under Lemura's control so that the knife won't burn them? It would make sense, considering Arthur's deal and Bayard's blind loyalty to her.

-No." the voice rang out again, and Merlin bit his lip for the pain it caused. He felt like he was dreaming, unable to snap out and think clearly.

-What then?" Merlin shouted angrily back at the voice inside his own head. His anger was growing along his frustration. What can it possibly be then? Does it burn everyone that has made a deal? But Bayard doesn't seem like he has made a deal. He is like a slave. The knife doesn't burn him or Arthur. What do they have in common? Nothing important. They're just a king and a prince...

Click.

Suddenly Merlin's head was wiped of all the incoherent ideas. The realization just clicked like a switch in his head. Of course. Why didn't I think this before? It's not about who it does burn but who it doesn't. That's what important, isn't it? Arthur and Bayard - they're both royal. Maybe that's the link. It doesn't burn royal people.

The more Merlin thought about it, the more it made sense. Maybe that's why Larva needed Bayard. Maybe the knife burns her, too. Maybe she can't use it. She wanted to revenge to Bayard. This way she could enslave him and also use him in her plans.

Desperate hope grew in Merlin. Larva is just a shell. She shouldn't be able to do magic or use any spells. She is a shell, the mask, so she needs someone to do the dirty work. That's why she uses Bayard. What could be a better slave? A king, a powerful king - perfect passage to every land and every court. Someone who can use an ancient knife but doesn't seem to have a mind of his own anymore. A perfect weapon. She gets everything she wants - Larva acts on a memory and not on a real impulse. She is dead, a facade - it's all about Lemura. She is the spirit, the real power. This is what Lemura would have wanted. To make Bayard her slave like Bayard did to her.

Merlin felt some hope spark again. Maybe there was still a way to figure this whole thing out. She wants revenge. Fine. He needed Bayard to use the knife on Arthur.. Bayard stabbed Arthur to get him to the limbo, so Lemura could torture him to make a deal. And that succeeded. Arthur made that deal, and she started destroying this timeline. Wait, so she couldn't do it without the deal? Maybe her powers are limited after all. Maybe she needs the deals. Elyan - he also made a deal.

Merlin's eyes widened as things rushed in his head and just clicked together. Of course! This is how she works - she tortures people as long as she needs to get them break and make a deal with her. But she can not do it without the consent. Everything is linked to the deals!

Merlin swallowed hard, blinking his eyes open and looking up. Some of the spirits in the room stared right at him. Merlin could increasingly feel their presence but he was too deep in his thoughts to pay attention to them.

If the knife can be used only by royal people, then Arthur can use it too. But how? Merlin forced the lingering nausea and dizzyness back, thinking hard. Merlin sensed that all of this hard thinking was burning up his ailing energy, but he had no other choice. Bayard used the knife on Arthur, and Arthur was sent straight to limbo. He got trapped there. And he got out when he had made the deal and the knife was removed. Arthur got stabbed through the heart, but he didn't die. He was completely unharmed afterwards.

Merlin's heart was thundering in his ears, making his blood rush loudly. Maybe that knife doesn't kill? Maybe it traps you in limbo?

It made horrifyingly a lot sense. It was a perfect weapon. Larva could use it to send people right at Lemura's hands. And Lemura could bend time so a very short time could feel like forever. That's how Arthur broke. Elyan and the others broke after being haunted in their dreams.

Larva needs the knife. Lemura needs the deals. What's the connection? What am I missing?

Merlin only distantly realized Arthur was shaking him again, shouting something at him. He probably seemed catatonic right now - maybe Arthur had been trying to talk to him for a some time now and got worried when he didn't pay any attention - but he couldn't concentrate on it right now. What's the logic? What's the missing piece? Lemura is able to erase timelines and countless people along with it. She draws her powers from anger, hatred, bitterness, vengeange. She said it herself - she has been in limbo for six thousand years. She wants revenge, and the normal rules don't oblige to her. Lemura wants Bayard to suffer. She hates him with the power of thousand burning suns. That's what makes her so powerful in limbo. That's why she was able to take over.

Merlin forced the spirits out of his head completely. He needed to concentrate completely. What is her goal? What does she gain from erasing this timeline?

Then the answer struck him a like a lightning. It was so incredibly easy, childishly obvious that it knocked air out of Merlin. The sensation was overwhelming, even in his semi-numb state. Of course. Of. Course! Stupid, stupid, why didn't I think of it before?

Merlin squeezed his eyes shut tighter. The odd voice kept quiet, and it encouraged Merlin to think further. Lemura wants to stop this from happening to her. That's the answer, the reason behind everything - she never wanted to die. She never wanted to leave her mother, that's exactly what she said to me. She said that she is proud how she was raised. She never wanted to become the mask, the muted sorceress.

Lemura wants to erase this timeline right back to the day Arthur was born. But not further. She only wants to bring Ygraine back. Then the Great Purge would have never happened. Uther would have never slaughtered hundreds of people. Larva's mother had been killed by the Druids. And Druids never killed anyone, they didn't believe in violence. What could make them go so far? Had they foreseen something so terrible that they couldn't let them live?

Merlin shook his head.

But Larva had escaped, that's what Lemura said to me. She had escaped from the Druids and the Shadow Breakers had raised her. What did she say then? She...she said that Larva had gotten lost into the woods. That...sounds odd. Why would she get lost in the woods? If the Shadow Breakers were truly raising her, she wouldn't get lost. Especially when her mother had been murdered in a forest. She would've been more careful. It just doesn't fit.

Merlin's breaths very shallow and quick now, and he was roughly shaking from the anxiety and pent-up fear. No, she must've lied to me. Larva was powerful, even when she was younger. She is some kind of a sorceress - Mercia's men shouldn't have been any match for her. Why didn't she use magic then? Why did she got captured?

Merlin's eyes snapped wide open now. There had to be a reason. She must have been weakened somehow to get caught.

There was a nagging feeling at the back of Merlin's head. There was something obvious he was missing, and he was so close to realizing it.

-Shadow Breakers." the ghost voice suddenly added loudly and hot white pain soared through Merlin's skull. He realized he was swaying on his place. Merlin forced himself to think. He distantly realized his body was slumping without strength, that all of his remaining energy was fading quickly.

What about Shadow Breakers? I don't know much about them. Cailleah is the gatekeeper of the spirit world...But where are everyone else?

Once again, the connections kept on clicking violently fast. They're dead. The Shadow Breakers. Oh God, they are all dead. Of course. That's why I have never heard of them - Uther must have killed them all in the Great Purge. Uther's men must've attacked them - maybe that's why Larva got separated of them, of her family, maybe she got wounded. Maybe that's why she got "lost" in the woods, and Mercia's men were able to capture her?

The rush of the thinking progress was overwhelming and almost scaringly fitting now. Pieces of the puzzles were cliking seamlessly together, so seamlessly that Merlin feared that if he stopped for one moment, he would lose the train of thought.

That's it. Lemura doesn't care about the souls. She doesn't care about this timeline. All she wants is to reverse things right up till that day when the Shadow Breakers were killed, when her own life went to hell.
Lemura wants to stop the Great Purge from happening at all! If Ygraine never died, there wouldn't be any Great Purge. And without the Purge, all of the Shadow Breakers would still be alive. Without it all, she would be alive and well. And - she would be able to revenge Bayard. She would be able to get her hands on him - in the limbo she can't harm living people.

Merlin's whole world spun with the exhausting and terrifying logic behind it all. It all made sense now, finally sense. Now he understood. His ears rang and his head was on fire, and he could feel the dull throbbing pain in his whole body. Their time was soon up. His body was giving in.

Merlin gritted his teeth. Now it's time to stop her. This timeline can not cease to exist. Maybe the Druids foresaw this long ago - maybe that's why they took so drastic actions. They were terrified of Larva because they knew she could become powerful, far more powerful than Nimueh or any creature of the Old Religion that had set a foot on Earth.

-On this side of the border, Merlin Emrys, you are the most powerful. You are the only one who can stop her." the ghost voice said to Merlin, the sound of it tearing through Merlin's skull.

Merlin looked up, dizzy, and saw the spirits staring at him. They could clearly see him. Merlin blinked and looked around. They were all staring at him with their empty, dead eyes. Sharp sting of panic went through his heart. There was something deeply unnatural in the situation. Then, all of a sudden, the spirits started to walk towards Merlin. Merlin's breathing got stuck on his throat as fear made him shiver. Merlin blinked frantically and turned his head sharply back to Arthur.

Pain tearing through him, Merlin suddenly felt how his world spun violently. He felt how he lost control of his own body, slumping forward. He forced strength back, with angry determination. He blinked and coughed, wincing after every movement. Shakily, he managed to pull himself up and blink his eyesight back. He realized he was somehow tangled against Arthur once again, too disoriented to remember why.

Did I just...did I just slip to the other side? They coud all see me. All of them. The thought was horrifying. Merlin was really starting to fear for his life. He had just...practically died for a moment. Or fainted. Maybe those things didn't have any difference now?

In a quick, horrifying moment, Merlin realized his heart had just stopped. Just like that. Without a warning.

This was it then. It was starting. The countdown. It was real and terrifyingly fast, and inevitable. It seemed to become quicker every second.

Merlin managed to straighten up weakly, and looked slowly up to Arthur. The sight that greeted him made him instantly sick. There was a cold, hard mask on Arthur's face, something that Merlin knew all too well.

-This is the last time I will let something like this slip." a proud, cold voice said. It sounded painfully unfamiliar and familiar at the same time, because Merlin knew both versions of the prince - old and new. Arthur eyed him, chin lifted. His blue eyes were distant, like the prince was million miles away from Merlin. Icy sensation filled Merlin's chest.

-I don't need a servant that is this sick all of a sudden and start fainting like a girl, Merlin. You're just a useless idiot, why am I even wasting my time with you?" Arthur looked irritated. Then he let roughly go of his servant and stood up, looking down on him.

Merlin stared at the prince with helpless, gleaming eyes. This time, he almost hoped his heart would stop again.