Title: Hunt (part 2)
Character/s: Merlin, Arthur
Summary: Merlin and Arthur encounter a creature.
Warnings: mind control, canon-typical violence
Word Count: 1,256
Prompt: #384 Get Out (and some others)
Author's Notes: Get Out has a lot of opportunities for inspiration.
It isn't until they've been riding through the forest for a quarter of an hour without speaking that Merlin hears Arthur take a deep, calming breath. Releasing some of the tension leaves the set of his shoulders looking more natural.
Merlin finds himself wanting to massage more tension out of Arthur's shoulders with his own hands. He is nudging his horse closer to Arthur's to do just that before he even realizes what he's doing.
He pulls on his horse's reins to slow her back into an appropriate following distance, but finds his hands have not obeyed his mind. He is still getting closer to Arthur.
He speaks to warn Arthur that something is wrong, but his mouth never moves.
His right hand, though, has let go of half of the reins and is reaching out toward Arthur's neck.
Horrified and unable to gain control over his body, Merlin can only watch whatever is to come.
It is with relief that he sees Arthur turn a questioning look in Merlin's direction when Merlin's horse brushes against Arthur's leg. Arthur sees something in Merlin's face, and his quick thinking has them both off the horses and Merlin pinned and immobile beneath him on the forest floor in seconds.
"What's going on, Merlin?" Arthur asks.
Merlin speaks, but his mouth never moves to let out any sound. His eyes keep him staring into Arthur's eyes.
When Merlin's magic does finally sense something, he can't even look over Arthur's shoulder in warning.
Again, Arthur's reflexes earn their keep. In one swift movement, he rolls to the side and pulls out a knife.
Merlin sits up to help, and miraculously finds his body responding to him again.
Arthur stands a few feet away with his knife drawn. In front of him is something hulking and feathered. It's as tall as a bear and has the claws to match. Arthur's short knife won't allow him to keep his distance.
Merlin shifts slowly, so slowly, in the direction of the one bag of hunting gear that the horses managed to drop in their flight from this strange creature. Merlin sees that it's the bag with the quiver of arrows and the bow. He would have preferred Arthur's sword for the skill of its user and the size of the opponent, but bow and arrow will have to suffice.
Arthur clocks Merlin moving and deftly turns the creature so that he can see Merlin beyond it without looking away. This move is a tactical disadvantage if Merlin is still a threat because it allows Merlin to get closer to the weapons. Merlin makes a series of incomprehensible small hand gestures meant to indicate that he's in control of his own body again. Arthur looks satisfied that his bumbling manservant is once again himself, and Merlin continues to inch toward the bag as silently as possible.
The feathered creature must be done waiting: it lashes out at Arthur, and Merlin makes a dash for the bag while Arthur dodges the claws. He gets to the bow and knocks an arrow.
"Merlin!" Arthur warns.
How could he have been so foolish as to turn his back to the threat? He should have grabbed the bag and sought a more secure position. Merlin turns to look, and feels an entire leg crash against him. He goes flying back into some low bushes, which he quickly has to struggle out of to avoid the clawed paw aiming for his face.
But when he looks at the creature again, there is something wrong. It's blurry, and the image seems to be two images flickering between one another.
Merlin rolls away from another blow and finds slippery footing as he tries to stand and run to another position. He hears a roar of pain and looks to his left to see Arthur with an empty bow and the creature with an arrow sticking out of the back of its neck.
The creature falls face first to the ground. Arthur approaches with his knife ready to plunge.
"Wait!" Merlin shouts.
Arthur sizes him up for signs of further mind control.
"There's something wrong with it," Merlin explains. "It's not right. Do you see?" He points at the paws which are also wings and hands.
Arthur must see something, because he holds his position.
They wait the length of several speeding heartbeats, and the creature, while immobile on the ground, changes. First it is made of feathers and claws and size. Then come the wings, but there are no more claws. Then it has wings with scales, and Merlin's heart skips a beat while hoping for a dragon. Then the wings shrink down to arms and the scales smooth out into skin. Layers of creatures fade away, and a small human boy is left behind... with an arrow sticking out of his spine.
"Oh my–" Merlin starts as he rushes over to the boy.
"Merlin," Arthur warns, "he may still be dangerous. Remember caution."
Merlin heeds this advice and takes a physician's approach as he has been taught to do by Gaius. He gently inspects the boy's wound and vital signs. He also looks for clues to the boy's origins, including any signs of enchantment.
What he finds is a leaking wound, a slowing heart rate, somewhat dated clothing, and no response to Merlin's risky attempt to communicate mind to mind. The boy is dying, out of his own time, and either not magical or too close to his end to respond.
Merlin falls back from crouching to sitting and scrubs a hand down his face.
Arthur must see the defeat in this motion, because he puts a hand on Merlin's shoulder. "Merlin. He was attacking us. There was nothing else we could do."
Merlin sighs. "I don't understand," he says. "Where did he come from? Why did he do this? Was it even his choice?"
"What happened to you?" Arthur asks.
Merlin looks up at Arthur, and there's distress in his eyes. "I wasn't in control of my body. I was suddenly reaching for your neck, and I couldn't even speak to warn you." He looks back down at the boy. "Did this boy do that? Was the creature in charge? Is someone else pulling the strings from afar? This makes no sense." Merlin's hands push into his hair.
Arthur shakes Merlin's shoulder. "Don't work yourself up over this. There is nothing we can do for him now except watch over his body and bury him when it's over. If someone else was behind this, they will surely try again. If not, then we're safe."
"I never want to be a spectator in my own body again." Merlin shudders. "Good thing you've some skill as a fighter. Thanks for not killing me outright." Merlin smiles, but he's still looking at the dying boy and his eyes are watery.
"If you're cracking jokes at my expense, I'm not so worried about your mental state anymore," Arthur says. His hand leaves Merlin's shoulder. "We still have to go find the horses. We could... take the arrow out. Unplug the wound."
"Help him along," Merlin replies, though his tone is anything but unaffected. "I'll do it," he says.
"If you wish," Arthur allows.
Merlin kneels next to the boy's head. He puts his hand flat on the boy with the arrow between his outstretched thumb and pointer finger. A sense of the boy's life comes to him through the touch. His other hand grips the arrow. Without hesitation, he yanks the arrow free.