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Chapter 31:

 

The ground around us began to shift and suddenly there was an explosion of sand as it shifted, revealing an ancient stone temple with a bathing pool in front of it. I watched in amazement as the pool began to fill with water of its own accord. 

There was a boom and the temple doors flew open. There was a strong gust of wind and I stepped back. Merlin placed his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. "Do not worry, Penelope. I am right here," he announced, as if to comfort me. Hada took my hand in hers as if to reassure me as well. Out of the temple stepped a beautiful young woman. She was tall with long hair so blonde it was almost white. So this was Panacea? She was absolutely majestic. 

"Who dares disturb my temple?" She questioned. And then froze in recognition. "Dionysus. How did you find me?" Panacea asked curiously, slightly amused. 

"A little birdie told me," he replied pointing at the raven flying above us with her scroll held tightly in its talons. 

"Ah, have you come to return what you stole all those years ago?" She asked. 

"No. I've come to bathe in your fountain of youth," he admitted pointing at the pool now filled to the brim with sparkling clear water. 

"These waters...the panacea is not and will never be accessible to wizards and witches. You know that. I've made my rules clear, mortals only," she announced. 

"Please, I have searched for three hundred years---," he began. 

"It has taken you three hundred years to look for me? I never left. I have been right here in the exact same spot. I'm not sorry to say that my answer is still no. Why do you want it anyway? Are you sick? You do look pale. If you're dying then just go ahead and die already. No use in prolonging it. Oh...who is this? You've brought a dying mortal to my temple," she stated. 

"Dying?" I repeated, turning to look at Merlin. It was true that I'd been feeling terrible the last couple days, but I hadn't felt like I was dying. It was a fact I'd kept hidden from Merlin. I had assumed it was due to the soul spell we'd performed. Although it did make sense now. If Merlin was dying, then so was I.

"I will let the mortal enter, but this will be the last favor I ever grant for you, Merlin. Come child, tell me your name," she urged. 

I know that Merlin had told me to never tell another magical being my name, but she was the goddess of healing, sworn to protect humankind. "Penelope Adams," I stated, against Merlin's advice. 

"Penelope Adams, enter the waters and may you be healed from your ailments and live indefinitely," she directed, urging me towards the edge of water. 

I turned to look at Merlin and he nodded, indicating it was fine to enter the pool. 

I took the stairs slowly so as not to lose my balance and fall. I waded in until the water was up to my waist. Was something supposed to be happening? Then all at once the water began to glow and it rose out of the pool and encircled me. I was lifted into the air as the water encased me within. 

"You did not travel all this way just for the human girl. It is true that it has been centuries since we last met, but your nature cannot be changed. In fact I sense more darkness in you than before. Tell me your true intentions," Panacea commanded, turning to look at Merlin. 

"I need your help. Please, let me drink from the fountain of youth," he begged. 

"The Great Merlin begs? Come now, Dionysus, you know it is of no use," she stated. 

"Don't call me that! It's Merlin now," he informed.

"You may have changed your name, but you will never change who or what you are. There is darkness inside you, given complete immortal life there is no telling what you could do. You've never chosen a side, and yet have played on both. You have the potential to cause much destruction to the human world and yet you also possess the potential to be its salvation, but because I can not ascertain what you will choose to do, I cannot take the risk on you Merlin. My answer is no." She stated firmly. 

"I had hoped it would not come to this," he admitted, stepping away from her. 

"Think wisely, Merlin. Should you make a move against me, it will not end well for you," she warned. 

"I am thinking," he stated turning away from her to watch what was happening with Penelope. 

She was placed neatly on the ground and the water returned to the pool. 

 

"Penelope, how do you feel?" He inquired, taking hold of my shoulders.

"I feel good, Merlin," I admitted with a smile. 

He smiled in return, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. "This was the least that I could do for you after causing you such pain. I am sorry you ever met me," he lamented. 

"Merlin?" I questioned with uncertainty. 

Taking hold of my face he kissed me on the lips. It was quick and I got the feeling he was telling me goodbye. 

"Merlin?" I repeated. 

"Everything is going to be alright," he murmured before stepping away from me. 

"Merlin?!" I shouted as he took off at a sprint towards Panacea. 

"I see you finally came to your decision. You thought wrong!" She shouted as he leapt into the air, a dark mass erupting from his fingertips. It shot towards her so fast that it was impossible to dodge. 

There was thunder and smoke. When the smoke cleared I was able to see a pink aura surrounding Panacea. She was completely unharmed. 

He shot another ball of black mass at her, but it had no effect, simply dissipating as it hit her magical ward. 

"You cannot harm me, Merlin!" She shouted. 

"You're right. I can't, but I know of one thing that can harm a nephilim," he stated with a victorious smile. 

"Your magic... it wasn't meant to have any effect on me, it was a summoning spell," she realized. 

"Yes, you've been targeted and within moments a horde of demons will arrive to tear you to shreds," he informed with satisfaction. 

"You stupid fool! They will attack Penelope as well!" She shouted. 

"You're wrong," he contested. 

"Merlin, what have you done?" I asked in disbelief.

He refused to look at me. "This is the only way," he admitted as the ground began to shake. 

 I felt a tug on my hand and looked down to see Hada gripping it, clearly very frightened. “We need to take cover,” she hissed.

"So you've made a deal with your father, huh?" Panacea guessed. "What were the terms?" 

"Your head for immortality," Merlin admitted.

"You will regret this," Panacea informed as the ground began to split open. 

Hada and I scrambled out of the way to avoid falling into a fissure that separated us from Merlin and Panacea. We became separated as well, dodging cracks and holes.

Hada and I watched in horror as shadowy wisps began to crawl out from the earth: black, disfigured creatures. "Oh no. Merlin, why?" I whispered in horror. Throughout these last few months, I'd refused to give up on him. I had always tried to find the good in him and to bring it forward. I'd given him the benefit of the doubt on several occasions, but this time I could not ignore his actions. He was not the man I'd hoped he could be. I should have heeded the warnings from Morgan le Fay and Iphiane. I had been stupid, lost in my own emotions and it had cost dearly.

"So what happens now? These creatures kill me and then what?" Panacea questioned. 

"I drink from the waters and bring your head to my father as his reward for helping me to find you," Merlin replied simply. 

"You're a fool if you think your father would ever honor a bargain with you," Panacea stated. 

"Just wait and you'll see...well you won't because you'll be dead," he snickered. "Demon horde, I call you forth. Attack Panacea, the nephilim!" 

There was a cry of ungodly shrieks as the creatures lunged forward towards Panacea. They clawed and struck at her to no avail, her magical wall was still going strong. 

"I do hope you've come up with another plan, Merlin. Was this the best you could summon with your measly power?" She questioned. 

"You're right. Your magic is stronger than these demons, but what if it were to be divided?" He questioned. 

I watched as he slowly turned around and looked at me. "Merlin?" I questioned with uncertainty, not liking the look on his face at all. Surely he would not betray me? Not after we'd come this far together.

"Forgive me, Penelope, but even personal feelings will not stop me from obtaining my power. I can’t die," he declared. 

"You would dare to betray the one you love?" Panacea questioned. 

"I must," Merlin replied, extending his arm outwards with his palm held upright. "Forgive me, Penelope," he whispered as the black magic wisps began to encircle his hand. "It was never meant to come to this." He closed his eyes as he released the magic. 

I closed my eyes on instinct, bracing myself for a world of pain. But there was nothing. I opened my eyes after a few moments and was amazed to see there was the same pink aura now surrounding me that was also protecting Panacea, only hers was failing under the attacks of the demons. She could not protect us both and Merlin knew this. He had used me as bait, knowing that Panacea would protect a human at all costs.

He continued to hurl the magic towards the shield encircling me, refusing to give Panacea the break she needed to replenish her own shield. "Merlin, please I beg you. Stop before it's too late!" I cried. 

"It's already too late," he admitted and I watched as he wiped at a single tear on his cheek. He looked at his hand in surprise, as if he'd never once shed a tear before in his life. "I can't turn back now."

I heard Panacea cry out in pain as holes began to appear in her shield wall and the demons nipped and bit at her. 

"Panacea, forget me! You have to stop Merlin, please," I begged. 

"No! I have dedicated my life to protecting humans and I will do so until the very end. All I ask is that you do the same, Penelope," she answered. Then suddenly the aura around her changed from pink to purple.

"What is going on?" Merlin asked in confusion. 

"I, Panacea, bequeath my powers and life force to Penelope Adams," she announced. 

"What?!" Merlin and I exclaimed simultaneously as the purple aura surrounding her shot forward and passed through the shield wall encircling me. It hit me with such force that I was thrown into the air. 

"Avenge me!" Panacea shouted as the last bit of the shield wall dissipated from around her and the demons sprang on her, ripping her body to shreds. 

I landed to the ground with a thud, unable to move. Had she just given me her powers? 

"Penelope!" Merlin shouted with concern, running over to me. "Penelope?" He leaned over me, holding me in his arms. I couldn't move my body, couldn't speak. I felt as if I was made of stones. 

"Nephilim," I heard demonic voices whisper as they turned their attention from the now dead Panacea to me. 

"No! No, she's not! This wasn't part of the deal!" Merlin shouted. It was clear he was exhausted, having used what little magic remained for his little scheme to kill Panacea. If it came down to an attack, there was nothing he could do. 

"Nephilim, nephilim," the demons repeated, slowly advancing as if to corner their prey. It was clear they expected no resistance. 

"No, this is not Panacea! This is Penelope! Begone, demons!" He commanded, but to no avail. They continued to encircle us. "Oh Penelope. I'm so sorry. You were never supposed to get hurt. You were just the distraction," he admitted in anguish. I felt his weight on me as he climbed on top of me. Was this him protecting me at the last moment? He kissed my forehead gently. "It's alright, we'll go together then, shall we?" He murmured, embracing me tightly as the creatures pounced. I felt him tremble against me as they tore into his flesh, but he never cried out in pain, not even once. 

“Get back! Back I say, you foul demons!” I heard Hada cry as she shot bolts of bright colored light at the demons. They hissed as if in pain. They couldn’t stand the light. She continued to fight them, attempting to keep them at bay, but there were just to many of them.

Suddenly the feeling returned in my body and I knew what had to be done. I lifted my arm towards the sky, hoping this would work. The clouds separated and rays of sunlight shone brightly through. The creatures hissed and cried out in pain and immediately began to crawl back into the earth to escape. The fissures closed behind them and all was as it should be once more. 

Merlin slid off me and collapsed to the ground beside me, gasping and coughing up blood. His clothes were ripped to shreds and his skin was full of deep gashes. There was no way for him to recover from this, even with his abilities. He was physically unable to move. 

I sat straight up and looked at him, accessing his wounds. Reaching into my pocket, I took out the small vial of the panacea that I had sneaked while I was in the waters. My plan all along was to give this to Merlin in case Panacea had refused him, but that was before he used me as bait. Leaning over him I kissed him on the cheek, trembling with emotion I couldn't contain. His betrayal had cut me deep. "This is the last time I'll ever help you Merlin. The next time we meet will be as enemies," I whispered in his ear. 

Taking the potion in my mouth as I had once done with the paralytic potion, I delivered it to him through a kiss. Once he had swallowed, I quickly pulled away, rising to my feet. 

"Hada!" I called. 

She approached me, seemingly unharmed. It was nice to know she had remained safe through the battle. I knew in my heart there was no possible way she knew of his plans. "Take him and go," I commanded. She rushed over and helped Merlin to his feet. His wounds were visibly healing before my eyes.

 "Penelope, I didn't know," she tried to explain.

"I know, Hada. I don't blame you." I turned to Merlin. "Your problems are now solved Merlin, you got what you wanted. Your power is restored. You will leave Panacea's remains untouched so I may grant her a proper burial. Go out and gain more knowledge and power as you’ve desired all along, but just know that I will be doing the same. We will see who comes out on top, Merlin," I challenged. 

I waved my hand and the sand around us began to swirl, returning back to its original state. The water in the pool began to drain. Turning away from them, I took Panacea's remains into my arms and carried her towards the temple. 

"Penelope!" Merlin called out. "I'm sorry! You have to believe me! I never meant for it to come to this!"

I ignored him and kept going. "Penelope!" He cried out again in anguish. I kept going, ignoring the pain in my chest. He had taken advantage of my love. I had been betrayed just as Panacea had once upon a time. 

 

"Quick, Master Merlin, we must escape or we'll be buried alive," Hada warned, tugging on Merlin's arm to follow after her. 

"I've truly lost her, Hada," Merlin realized. 

"I told you that you would not like what happened when you came down this road," Hada stated. 

"It's all over for me," he murmured. 

"No Master, I feel this is just the beginning," Hada informed, staring as the temple doors closed behind Penelope. 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE:

 

The doors closed behind me with a bang and I felt all self control fly out the window. I sank to the floor, releasing Panacea's remains and began to sob. 

“Whatever is the matter, Milady?” I heard a soft, male voice ask. 

I quickly jerked my head up to see a handsome man kneeling in front of me. He reached out and wiped my tears away with his fingers.

“Who...are...you?” I sniffed, taking in his long jet black hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. He was tall, muscular and pale, with a pronounced jawline and a short beard. Overall he was a very handsome man. 

“My name is Ovinnik, I am...was...Panacea’s familiar. I take it as you carry her scent, that she is no longer a part of this world. You will be my new mistress,” he informed. 

“Ovinnik?” I questioned. "Yes, she is gone," I admitted, gesturing towards her remains. "We must bury her."

“Yes, milady. I shall see it done. Why are you crying? Is it over the loss of Panacea?” he questioned, offering his hand out to me. I took it and he pulled me to my feet. I noticed for the first time I was covered in Panacea's blood.

“No, although her sacrifice touched me. She gave up her life to save me. I was betrayed by someone I love very much and she lost her life because of it,” I informed. 

“Who is this mischievous, wicked man? Shall I punish him for you, Mistress?” he inquired with gleam, exposing a toothy grin. For a moment I thought I saw a black cat tail swish behind his back, but it quickly disappeared. 

“Are you a cat too?” I questioned with distaste. 

“Yes, milady. I am Ovinnik, a Polish demigod. I am worshiped as a protector of animals and their masters. I chase away mischievous evil-natured spirits and faeries. Shall I punish your offender?” he questioned, his yellow eyes flashing. 

“I appreciate the offer, but you are no match for Merlin,” I informed, wiping the tears away from my face. 

“Ahh, Dionysus, a worthy foe indeed. You are correct, he is far more powerful than I. But...you can take him on. I will teach you everything I know. You will have him begging at your feet for mercy. This I guarantee,” Ovinnik promised with a murderous gleam in his eye.

 

TO BE CONTINUED....

 

 


Submitted: November 24, 2022

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