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Something disturbed Merrie’s oblivion. One moment there was nothing and then in the next, she felt her thoughts began to coalesce into coherence. She couldn’t tell when it happened, only that in one sudden, terrifying moment, her consciousness woke up and she was aware. The memories of the event up to her oblivion were hazy—flashes of sex and violence—but then welcoming stillness.

She tried to move her fingers but nothing responded. She concentrated on them, remembering how her digits felt as they wrapped around the handle of a door or caressed across the sheets as her lover knelt between her legs. She remembered having hands, a long time ago.

More memories rose through her thoughts, coming into focus more than anything else. They were of a massive wolf biting down on her wrist, shearing it off with a single exciting bite. A name came with the image, Tabitha. Tabitha had ripped off Meris’ hands and feet, that was why she couldn’t move them.

A shudder of lust and fear ran through her body. It coursed along the limits of her limbs, mapping out where each one ended at her wrists and ankles. She was both elated and despaired when she thought about how the wolf had taken her limbs after a brutal chase through the woods. Then, as more memories poured in of the years after she was amputated, more shivers of desire rippled through her body. Flashes of violence, starvation, and tears flashed across her mind.

She focused on the sensations of her own body. She tried to move her shoulder, that part she still had left, but it responded sluggishly, painfully. The movement brought her fresh smells, rotting plants and the earthy smell of moss.

Taking a deep breath, she was surprised how much it hurt to move. She had to concentrated on the muscles drawing cold air into her lungs and then even more to exhale. It tasted of alcohol in the back of her throat and she remembered how her magic tasted like that when she was using it. She smiled at the memory, she had magic. Powers beyond anything she had ever expected when she was growing up.

A smile took almost all of her energy. More of her body was coming back. It felt like she was still pulling herself together, drawing her essence together with nothing more than her will and desire.

She tried to open her eyes but couldn’t. After a few more attempts, she gave up and focused on dragging her body through the leaves and along the ground. The cool earth felt good against her skin and she used the sensations to anchor herself away from oblivion and solidify her thoughts. The movements scraped against her skin, revealing sensitive breasts, hips, and nipples.

After an eternity of inching her limbs around, she focused on listening to her surroundings. A cool wind blew across her body, tickling her skin. It whistled through branches above her and rippled the leaves that surrounded her. The smell of moisture tickled her nose and she was thirsty.

She reached out for it, not knowing where it was, but all she felt was moist earth grinding against her breasts and branches scratching her outstretched limbs. She shivered at the sensations, enjoying the pain that mapped out the limits of her own physical form.

A heavy ring pressed against her throat. It took no effort to remember that: it was her collar. The adamantite ring was sealed to her very soul by terrible magics. She remembered someone telling her only a god could break it.

A god tried. A goddess actually, Merrie couldn’t forget Lemetri’s beautiful face as she shoved her hand into Merrie’s chest and wrapped around her heart. The goddess stole her breath away when her delicate fingers tightened around the beating organ.

Merrie froze, the pain bringing her consciousness further away from the oblivion. She strained her ears, listening for her heart.

Silence.

No heart beat in her chest, no thump coursed through her veins. She remembered listening to it, her fear should have caused it to beat rapidly against her ribs, but there was nothing. No beat, no rhythm, nothing besides terrifying silence.

Fear rose, this time it was unwelcomed and terrifying. She brought one of her severed arms to her chest and pressed it against her large breast. Raw muscles protested against her movement, but she ground down until she could feel the hardness of her ribs.

Her heart refused to beat.

Whimpering, she focused on opening her eyes again. Despite the ease that the rest of her body returned to life, her vision took longer. She used the smooth end of her arm to force the eyelid opened and then cried out at the brilliance around her. Everything was hazy and shades of darkness, but the light streaming through the leaves above her were painful.

She cried and pulled her arm away. The darkness of her eye closing was a welcomed relief, but the seal had been broken. This time, when she steeled herself and opened her eye again. The brilliance blinded her, but she forced herself to keep it open until the glare faded.

Merrie was in a bowl of the earth, surrounded by rotted leaves and dead trees. A spring bubbled up from a pile of rocks about two or three meters away before bubbling away along a rocky stream. The water splashed off the rocks and splattered into the earth around her. She could feel splatters caressing her skin.

As she listened for her heart, she lifted one limb up to look at it. When she saw nothing more than coiled darkness and shifting shadows, she gasped. Her pale arm was no longer there, only the shape of it being held together by some force. It looked like her body or, more accurately, like the shadow of her body.

Merrie lifted and turned her arm slowly, staring at the dark, boiling form with wonder. The rest of her was the same, the shadow of her former self.

Seeing herself as nothing more than animated darkness made her uncomfortable. She let her arm drop out of sight and turned her head to stare at the stream. It was better than looking at the light above her or her own disturbing shape. The stream appeared to be like every other stream she had seen before, though she couldn’t remember much of her time before she was kidnapped, raped, and amputated by a massive thriban named Bass. He had done it at the Paladin Puppy Mill, where he and Tabitha and the others lived.

Then she noticed the plants on both sides of the water. They were wilted and sagging, as if the life had been leeched out of them by the water that streamed past. Even the trees were beginning to droop around it. Whatever was killing them was recent, maybe a day or three she guessed.

Merrie never really grew plants but she had flower gardens by her own house. She remembered how they died during a drought, when she couldn’t get enough water in their planters with her long days. The plants on both sides of the stream were doing the same thing, but there was water, they should have been thriving.

Blinking, she glanced up. The haze around the light was beginning to fade and she could make out burning points of light on a field of darkness. They were stars.

Merrie frowned in confusion. Stars were never that bright, they were never so painfully brilliant that it hurt her eyes. She blinked and focused on them, struggling as if she was staring into the sun itself. It took her a long time to focus on the field of sparkles above her, a familiar sight of stars on a moonless night.

She laughed to herself, though it hurt. She could see in the dark. She remembered how the shadow magic had seeped into her mind and body of over the years. She was able to see in the dark for a long time. Then, whenever that was, the stars were enough to see by but not to blind. She blinked past her tears and looked around.

Despite getting used to the starlight, it was getting brighter around her. She peeled her head from the moist ground and lifted it. Her aching muscles strained to keep it up as she inspected her surroundings. She found the new source of the brightness, light streaming through the trees and the underbrush. It was warm and brilliant, filled with colors besides shades of gray.

It also burned. Not only was it too bright for her eyes but she could feel the warmth against her skin like a brand. Heat beat against her and the light hadn’t even touched her skin. She whimpered and tried to move, but her body refused to slid fast enough as strands of morning light speared through the underbrush and began to paint the ground around her.

Merrie cried out as the light grew too much and it blinded her. There was no place she could look that didn’t hurt. As more sunlight speared through her little shelter, the world became a haze of brilliance and heat. She sobbed and ducked her head, smashing it against the earth and digging into it. It was too bright to do anything.

The heat continued to rise until it felt like it had set her on fire. She cried out into the mud, screaming through her raw throat as she fought to move against the light.

A searing pain cut through her senses, someone was tearing her arm off. She flailed it around, thumping it against the ground painfully but the burning only increased.

Sobbing, she lifted her head and peered through the blinding haze at her limb.

It wasn’t someone ripping her limb off again, it was sunlight. A beam of light had finally pierced through the canopy of the trees and came down across her shadowy limb. The black mist burned away in the light, boiling away into nothingness as the light easily pierced clear through her.

It only took a second, but the moment in time drew itself out until it was in slow motion, every searing iota of pain tearing through her senses as the sunlight burned away the end of her arm and continued up, igniting the black shadows of her form until it reached her shoulder.

Merrie screamed. She couldn’t help it, it was the only thing she could do against the agony that tore her apart.

More sunlight speared through the canopy, catching her thigh, stomach, and chest. Each time it burned away her shadowy body. More flames ignited across her skin, peeling back the darkness like mist burning away with the sun. Heat and black flames consumed her as she was immolated in the brilliance of the morning light.