Time was beating against them. Merrie frantically worked through the components of the spell, trying to get them to fit together that they wouldn't fall apart in a burst of energy that would trigger the trap. She used her own powers, the calligraphic swirling of shadows while Borias worked on his own version based on arcane patterns. They traded information in half-shaped words and concepts.

It was like working with a true master. They didn't need to finish sentences or even acknowledge each other. Their minds plucked knowledge from each other as they translated the foreign concepts into their own magical system and integrated the results into the spell.

Merrie alternated her senses from the cloak to her own body and back again. It quickly became second nature as they inspected the shard for details. They had to trust her shade from letting whoever was on the far side from detecting her attention. It was harder than she thought and the haze of exhaustion was fraying her concentration. More than once, she almost set off the bug and whatever spell was wrapped inside.

They had been at it all night and most of the day. They were expecting Bass and the others in early evening which meant they had only a few short hours before they walked into the traps.

(Do you have a plan?) asked Borias.

(Not really,) Merrie projected as she wove her spell together. It was almost coming into a stable pattern but she needed more time.

(I think these traps must mainly be in the house. It would be the best place to set them off. We need to get everyone as far away as possible.)

(Can't we just meet them out by the road? No, they would be waiting there for something unusual like that.)

(And I'm betting that if we act like we know, they'll set off just enough to take me out. That would give you a chance to leave and warn them but then—)

(No!) snapped Merrie.

Borias forced his thoughts from their suicidal spiral into something more cheerful. (And here I was hoping for a blow job for volunteering.)

Merrie grinned at him. (I'll blow you if we survive. In fact, I'll let you snuff me if we survive.)

A wave of desire slammed into her. He tore his thoughts away, a reflexive action after so many years of having a geas that would kill him. Slowly, he wrapped his hand around his cock. He pumped slowly with his mind distracted so Merrie sent a pulse of pleasure to get him dripping wet. That way, it looked like his thoughts were focused on some fantasy instead of trying to decipher a spell in his head.

(Thank you.)

Merrie sent a pulse of love back. (Why don't you and Tabitha go on a date? I remember when you sneaked out of the house to visit the pond.) She followed by her memories of watching them talking, it was five years ago and the memories were faded with disused but they brought a wave of affection coursing along the connection back to Merrie.

(That was a long time ago.)

(She'll remember. It will get her away and then you can talk.)

(What about Bass?)

Merrie thought for a moment, pausing as the components of her spell refused to mesh together. She frowned and wiped it clear from her mind before rebuilding it. (Maybe I can dominate Ass Licker and Fir? They don't have telepathy and I should do it if I can touch them with my cloak. There is the other pond, Ass Licker tried to run away from it one day.)

(She's called Cinthia now unless she's being naughty. Cute girl, she's really grown since you left.)

She remembered picking up the memory of that from a few years ago. The last time she saw Licker was the day that Rakin had almost bought her. Only a surprise purchase by Kine saved her from a lifetime of pleasure, submissions, and pain. She nodded to herself and let her tail wag. (I love you,) she said before the dread could fill her.

Borias sighed and stroked harder. (Be safe, Merrie. This is going to get nasty quickly. If we screw up, then whatever is in that trap is going to set off.)

(Let's hope there is only a few. Then we can stop them before whatever ambush is coming.)

(I think I have it. Hold on.) He gathered his power together, forming an invisible pattern between his fingers.

Merrie reached out and gave it a little power, enhancing his ability like all alphas could do.

The pattern snapped into place and then disappeared. His eyes began to glow with magic. Slowly, he looked around but then froze.

(Borias?) she asked.

(Fuck me piss hole with a broadsword.) Along with his swear, he sent an image through his own eyes.

His spell painted a rune over the glass shard. The faintly glowing image was hard to miss in the dark, though only he could see it. But there wasn't one of the, there were dozens. Dozens of glass shards scattered across the room, they were dropped between the parchments and on the ground. More had bounced under the casks while a few stuck to the door itself.

Merrie froze, her heart stopping for a long beat. Despair burned her thoughts, there were too many of them.

(Is there a chance that they only put that many down here?) Borias asked but he already knew the answer.

Merrie finished her own spell. It was a bit more complicated than Borias but it was designed to also disconnect from her and follow her cloak. The knot of magic rose up as the cloak swooped around and caught it along with her vision and hearing. Together, they flowed across the ground.

The spell showed the shards as red spiders, it seemed to fit with the energy inside it.

Able to see them, she easily maneuvered her cloak around the tiny immobile creatures still in their eggs. The cloak flowed up through the ceiling and underneath the couch. She paused only a heartbeat and saw far more spiders markers laying in wait. There were hundreds of them poised to go off as soon as something triggered them.

Frantic, Merrie sent her cloak to the window and looked out.

There were far more surrounding the mill house. Thousands or even millions of glowing red spiders laying in wait. They had been spread out at least five hundred meters from the house. With her spell, wherever she could see past the moonlight, she saw nothing but spiders.

A wave of energy rose up, the first buffets of a storm about to strike.

Brilliance rose up along a hill and then ducked below it. In the afterimages of darkness, she spotted two wolves sprinting toward her at unnaturally speed. Their passing left a wake of leaves and dirt flying.

The light came back and she could see it was a wagon. The brilliance came from Bass and Sable who were crouched on top of it. Both had their tower shields up and they were armored.

A sick feeling slammed into Merrie. She yanked her cloak back and slammed her senses back into her body. As soon as she could, she projected as strongly as she could. (We have a problem.)

Borias jerked at the image she set. (This is too well planned. Time to change our own plans. New one, you get Tabitha and Dixie far away as possible.)

Merrie gathered energy for her shape-changing spell.

(No!) snapped Borias as he jerked.

Merrie held herself still.

(They can't know there is a shadow creature here. Everyone knows that the Omega came from here. We don't know if they are prepared for you or not. If you reveal yourself, then they will be prepared.)

Tears burned in her eyes. She pawed at the ground, anxious to lash out. Around her, the traps were quiet but that wouldn't last for long. (I can drag you out.)

(I would be looking for that. A creature bursting out of the basement that I already inspected? One that I couldn't see until it decided to be seen? What does that sound like to you?) His mind was already furiously working through other plans.

Merrie's ears flattened against her head. (What do I do?)

(This is too well planned. Even if we run out to stop them before the field, they are going to hit us with everything they have. I would have done that, contingency plans for contingencies. Anyone who spent this much energy to make that many shards must have planned for everything. We can only hope that you are an unknown and can disrupt that. But you need to get out of here.)

She shook her head. (No! I can't leave you.)

(Merrie, leave. Get Tabitha and Dixie away. Bass won't leave if they are running this way, don't even try. You and Dixie are both alphas, you can do a lot of damage but they can't know you are here. Please, it is the only thing that may ruin this ambush.)

Tears ran down her cheeks. (Are you really going to let them walk into a trap?)

Borias sniffed and buried his face into the pillow. He shook violently and she could feel the fear staining his thoughts. (Please, please do this. Get her to the place where you killed Lemetri.) An image came with it, of a dark plot on the land. They could see it from the porch but no one had been able to find it. It had a natural repulsion on it, like most things of the shadow. (There probably is no one there, even if there is, no one would enter a shadow land willingly.)

Above them, there was an explosion as the front door was knocked in. The impact shook everything, even the foundation. “Borias!” screamed Tabitha. “Get your fucking ass up! Fir is dying!”

Around them, the traps began to gather energy.

Borias sat up. He stretched out, his hand brushing against Merrie. (Be safe and I will give you as much time. Maybe whoever has set this trap will let me heal the girl before springing it.)

Desperately wishing there was another way, Merrie got to her knees and brought her cloak around her. It comforted her but also shielded her from observation. Drawing up another familiar spell, she let her body melt into the cloak and merged herself with the darkness. Her view shifted as she flowed off the bed and show along the ground. She reached the stairs and surged up it and out the back door as fast as she could. Less than a heartbeat, she was away from the house and slithering through the grass between the red spiders that were beginning to wake.

She could feel the energy inside the innermost shell now. It was the foul taste of otherworldly power. She had felt the same type before. It was in a little girl, Count Blood's daughter, Dith. The duke and other said she was an infernal, a devil.

Inside the house, there was another crash. “Damn the gods, Borias! Hurry the fuck up!”

Struggling with her fear, Merrie rushed around the house. She saw the wagon coming to halt.

Bass jumped out. He was holding a slender young woman in his armored hands. Her blood dripped off his white armor but left no stains. His massive body was barely contained in the plate armor. The only part visible was his gray skin and yellowed eyes. Even from a distance, she could see the pain his gaze as he rushed toward the house.

Behind him, Sable landed heavily on the ground. The armored dog was larger than a mastiff with the same armor covering every inch of her body. A massive tower shield hovered over her back as runes danced around it. The energy that coursed between her and Bass was brilliant, filled with holy energy as it ricocheted between the two as she enhanced the former paladin.

She thought about the beasts that she had read about but she couldn't easily picture any of them. But she had seen an alpha transform into something other than a dog. Lady Anasome's Alpha, Rose, could turn into a tiger and snake.

Merrie grinned and gathered her energy, combining her shadow and psionic powers together to shape her body. Fresh skin and flesh tore and reformed. She used her cloak to hold her insides together as she forced herself to take on a great cat's shape. Powerful claws and a barrel chest. She struggled to give it colors, the shadows leeched everything out of her, but she managed to force her fur to be white with black strips. A long, spiked tail came out from her rear. The end hovered above her head, ready to strike. She knew her large teeth were glowing with the faint divine power inside Lemetri.

In front of the house, she spotted Cinthia crawling out of the wagon. Years ago, she was a young teenager who fought against her collar. Someone prevented her from being sold at the auction and she remained at the mill with Fir as her mistress. Like Merrie, she was cropped but it was at her elbows and knees instead of ankles and wrists like Merrie. She crawled on the ground after them, her naked body shimmering in the moonlight that threatened to blind Merrie.

She was also terrified. Fear radiated away from her in waves. It sickened Merrie, but Merrie didn't think she could rescue her and still draw away the alpha.

The last person coming out was Haviston. The balding man struggled with one arm missing. He had a neat robe, but it was stained with blood. He started toward the house but then stopped, a frown on his face. Psionic energy gathered around him, the sharp logic palatable to her senses.

Seeing Haviston gave her an idea. Praying he would forgive her, Merrie fixed her form in her memory with a spell. Then, she accelerated toward him as fast as she could. Her body thudded against the ground, the energy of her cloak pulling her as much as she sprinted toward him.

As she ran, she gathered up everything she knew about the traps and her recovery. Forming them into a parcel of information, she compressed it down as far as she could.

Merrie burst into the light of the front porch with a snarl that shook the windows. The light burned but she was moving too fast to stop and let it burn.

Haviston turned around and his eyes grew wide. Psionic spells slammed into place, defensive spells that would protect him from physical harm.

With a surge of power, Merrie raced past him and slashed out. She tried to graze him but she needed to touch his body. As soon as she did, she punched the mental message through his shields and directly into his mind. Her claws snapped through bone and there was a burst of blood that sprayed after her.

Merrie cringed but she had to keep running. She used her magic to accelerate her body, racing directly to the grove where she died the first time. She knew that no matter how fast she was, Tabitha would catch up. It was only a matter of time if they could get past the spiders before they woke up.

Seconds later, the dual howls of the magical wolves rose up behind her. Energy rolled across the ground as Tabitha and Dixie charge after her. The power was palatable, a wave of terror before they struck.

Merrie had seen how both had removed heads with their sprints. She wasn't sure how she was going to defend herself. She kept racing as fast as she could. Thankful there were clouds in the air and she used the shadows along the ground to leap forward a hundred meters at a time.

There were still spiders along the ground. They were a lot fewer of them the further she went but she wasn't sure of their limits. She was surprised how far they were though; whoever had set them down had planned for someone moving quickly.

Even so, she could almost count the seconds before the druid and alpha struck.

Even thought she was already hitting her limits, she drew calligraphic spells ran across her mind and cast spells to enhance her strength, speed, and defenses. The drain on her resources sapped her strength and she stumbled before regaining her pace.

Panting, she used her cloak to glance over her shoulder to see how close Tabitha and Dixie were.

Tabitha was the easiest to see. She grew with every few steps, her tawny fur rippling as she charged forward with bared teeth and a blast of energy. She accelerated constantly and Merrie knew that she could break the sound barrier with enough time.

Dixie was far faster and raced ahead of her. His tiny, wolf-like body cut an arrow through the grass and left a wake of flattened grass and kicked up dust behind him. His eyes glowed brightly as he aimed straight for her.

The spectral lead between the two wolves was thin and stretched out. Energy bounced back and forth, rippling slower than Sable's energy but still enough for Dixie to enhance Tabitha. It was only a matter of seconds before he struck first.

Merrie panted and glanced back at her destination. The withered black trees were too far away, she wouldn't make it in time. Cringing against the pain that was about to strike her, she prepared another shape-changing spell. Her cloak tightened around her form as she prepared for cast the spell while moving as full speed.

Just as he reached her, she released the transformation spell. Her body melted and reformed in the opposite direction. She was already swinging her paw and her magically enhanced strength caught Dixie on the side of his head and threw him to the side. The impact knocked her back meters as he flew across the grass in the opposite direction.

Transforming again to turn around, Merrie burst forward. She caught a shadow and jerked to the side just as Tabitha blasted past.

The wind following the magical wolf almost picked up Merrie's large fake body and pulled it along. Merrie inwardly screamed at the agony that her speed was stressing her body. She was being ripped apart, her new skin unable to handle even the opening blows of the fight. She jumped through the shadows, careful not to cross over, and landed a hundred meters closer to her destination.

There were still spiders around her, only a few but it only took one to reveal information.

With a whimper, she dug her paws into the ground and sprinted for the glade. It was only a kilometer away but the thousand meters felt like a million with a hell-bent druid and her alpha after her.

The second attack came from all directions. Dixie had multiplied himself and the eight tiny wolves launched themselves at her. Teeth dug into her spine and tail, snapping the fragile illusions. Their teeth snapped on each other and they fell back, no longer biting down on solid flesh.

Merrie cried out as her body hemorrhaged obsidian mist. Agony spread out across her body and her limbs grew heavy with a wave of weakness. She stumbled and tried to regain her momentum. She knew that it was only seconds before Tabitha struck and the druid wouldn't hestiate to take off her head.

(Move!) she snapped at herself.

Tabitha slammed into Merrie's side, shattering her fragile ribs. The impact yanked Merrie off the ground and threw her over a hundred meters on the ground. She landed hard, smashing her body against the ground. Her fragile shell rolled into a beam of moonlight and one of the open rents in her skin began to smolder.

Screaming, Merrie flung herself into a dark patch.

She wasn't ready when Dixie slammed into her, sheering through her back leg. It cut against her real skin, opening up another grievous wound in her delicate form. Black mist burst out of her injury and black blood hit the ground with a sizzle.

Merrie wanted to call out to them but she spotted one of the spiders the ground a few meters away. Swearing at whatever bastard had set them out so far, she scrambled to her feet and surged forward.

Tabitha caught her again, flipping her over with a powerful smack of her paw.

Before Merrie could respond, Tabitha jumped on top of her and bit down.

Terrified, Merrie lost control of her bladder but lashed out with her one good back claw. Powerful points dug into Tabitha's stomach, tearing open her abdomen. At the same time, Merrie threw all of her magical strength into a blow with her fore claw that cut across Tabitha's throat. Blood exploded around them.

Dixie jumped over Tabitha and came down on Merrie's forearm. The pain exploded across her senses as she felt bones snapping and her skin tearing. Black mist exploded from her wound, darkening the world around her.

Praying that no one was watching, Merrie used the darkness to melt and reform less than a meter away. Flipping over, she scrambled to her feet and sprinted toward the grove.

It only took a few seconds for both wolves to recover. Tabitha gained her power through the chase and the worst thing Merrie could do was attack while fleeing. The energy rolling from her body was a storm that beat against Merrie's heart, a wall of power that threatened to consume her. Every time Merrie resisted, the druid and alpha would gain more power to kill her.

The grove was in front of her. She could feel the shadows staining the trees inside. They were all dead now, the life sucked out of them by whatever force was inside. It called to her and she raced forward it, stretching out her senses for the darkness.

The shadows from the dead trees stretched out and became hard-edged. They raced along the grass, a thousand sharp claws that traced every millimeter of the ground as they reached for her.

Merrie whimpered and fought through the pain. Every moonbeam she passed burned and she felt her limbs beginning to fall apart. She needed darkness, she needed the shadows.

Tabitha slammed into her from behind, launching her forward.

Merrie flipped over helplessly, windmilling in the air as clouds of darkness traced her descent. She saw the ground coming up but there was no way her fragile form could handle the impact. She tried to curl up but her body refused to respond, it was broken and bleeding too much.

Darkness swallowed her, a thousand claws of the shadow lands yanking on her body and pulling it deep into the darkness. They pierced her skin and tore open her cloak.

Merrie let out a cry of pain as the momentum slammed her into a tree. It snapped in half and she rolled over, scratching her face and chest along the ground before coming to a halt against a rotted stump.

Tabitha and Dixie came to a halt only meters away. The wolves were glowing with raw and wild power. It beat against the suffocating pressure of the shadows, pushing them back with the excitement of the hunt. Merrie could see a cropping spell dancing in Tabitha's teeth.

Merrie's pussy grew wet with her fear. She had lost her limbs in the same way, but it wasn't nearly as violent. Then, Tabitha had easily sheered through her limbs; the spell had ripped them from her spirit and she would never have them back.

Gaping for breath, Merrie backed away. Every part of her body screamed out in agony as her transformation melted away, leaving her a naked, injured woman backing away from the two approaching wolves.

Her collar thumped against her sweat-slicked chest. She could feel the slow regeneration taking place but there was no way it would heal her fast enough. She focused on it for a second, she had energy stored in it for a single spell but only a single one.

Both wolves growled even louder. Combat spells rippled along their fur as the rage took over. They were there to kill, not to talk. They stalked forward, Tabitha's huge paw crushing trees while Dixie slithered underneath branches.

Merrie gathered the darkness into her. It flowed into her injuries and filled her broken skin. The welcoming ice filled her body and stilled her rapid beat of her heart. She managed to gulp for air a few times. “T-Tabitha.”

The large wolf shook her head. hj

Merrie reached out but there was nothing but killing fury in their thoughts. No longer did either have coherent thoughts, not after being attacked twice. They were already imagining how they would rip her apart. The lust of their violence beat against her and her body warmed with anticipation of being their victim.

Merrie gulped. The shadows were calming her down and she was still backing further into the darkness.

The wolves followed, unaware of the pressure that surrounded them.

She glanced around, there were no spiders among her.

(Dixie,) she projected.

Dixie snarled and snapped his teeth. He either didn't hear or wouldn't listen.

(Please, Dixie, it's me, Merrie.) She force the thought into his head.

(You look like her,) came the sharp response. Dixie was a Copir silfae, a tiny man barely a meter tall. His voice was high-pitched and lilting, except that it through as a sharp growl. His voice was also overlaid with Tabitha's, the dual tone was the alpha and master blending together in thought and power.

(I am her. Please, I had to do that.)

(She's dead and we will not let you take her form!) They both lunged as one.

Desperate, Merrie tapped the energy of her collar and shoved it through a domination spell. She boosted her own power as an alpha and let it flow through the collar. It rebounded back into her, gathering up power until the air grew black around her. She projected it with both her mind and voice at them, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Sit!”

The spell pierced both of their shields, shattering them instantly as the domination spell plunged into their consciousnesses.

Instantly, both wolves sat down hard, snapping broken branches with their rush to obey.

Dixie's cock spurted, splattering the ground with cum. His aura surged with power from his submission.

Tabitha lost control of her bladder, a single squirt of urine painting the leaves underneath her.

A quizzical look crossed both of their faces.

Merrie panted and held herself still. Her body hummed with power but also screamed out in agony. Her shell was ripped and torn, black shadows clung to her wounds as the darkness around her slowly seeped back into her form.

There was a rippling of power and then there were two silfae in front of her. Tabitha was a Silvr, a slender woman with small breasts and a thick thatch of hair over her naked mound and underneath her armpits. She stared at Merrie with a look of disgust and fury. “Did you just fucking dominate me!?”

Cringing, Merrie nodded. (S-Sorry.)

Dixie snarled, his tiny hands dug into the ground. (Why?)

Merrie gasped for breath and then sent what she knew over to them. She included everything from the infernal spells, their ability to listen to conversations between alpha and master, and also what Borias and Merrie puzzled out about the spells. It took longer, neither were as good at telepathy as Borias or Haviston. Painful seconds later, both of them settled back.

“Fuck,” they said as one.

Tabitha looked around with narrowed eyes. “Dixie, check the wards.”

Energy rippled between them, bounding back and forth as it grew in power. Then, it shot out in all directions as it traced the various spells that warned the mill of intruders. It didn't take long for a response.

“Down,” Dixie said with a growl. “Every single one. I sense at least a thousand warriors gathered on this side.”

Tabitha sighed, “Same on this side. It's a fucking ambush.”

“Fir was just to trap us inside.”

With a growl that Dixie mimicked, Tabitha stood up. “Bitch, come with us. I don't want to get lost in here.”

She didn't wait for an answer but strode sideways around the perimeter of the shadow land.

Merrie followed, her strength rapidly returning as the shadows continued to pour into her. She remained on her wrists and knees, crunching the dead leaves and grass.

Dixie crawled in step with her. (I'm glad to see you are still alive. We all thought you were gone but we couldn't return here to look for you. You left a fucking shadow lands and we couldn't figure out how to get inside. Wait, how did we?)

(You were chasing me.)

(Yeah,) amusement and lust flooded through the connection, (that was a good fucking hunt.)

He glanced at her again. (Why are you bleeding black clouds?)

Merrie winced. (I'm having trouble keep this form. Borias' spell wasn't designed for abuse.)

(You are leaking shadows.)

(I can't be in the light, it burns me. I think sunlight can still kill me.) She lowered her ears to her skull. (Any bright light.)

Dixie though for a moment. (That will make things far more difficult.)

(I'm sorry.)

He grunted and patted her on the shoulder. (That was a good chase. There was blood and violence. I'm hard. You gave both of us a lot of energy to fight tonight.)

Merrie could feel it. It bounced back and forth between a intangible line between the two of them. The energy continued to build until scraped against Merrie's senses.

Tabitha crawled up on a rock and crouched down, her eyes narrowing as she looked in the distance. A low growl shook her slender form.

Merrie followed her gaze. When she saw thousands of men gathered, she inhaled sharply.

(That's their main forces,) said Dixie. (I always told you I'd gather them here if I was going to attack the mill.)

“Yes, and that is why we put more of the wards there.”

(Someone knew about them. I can't feel them,) came the low growl. As he did, images flashes through his telepathy as military plans laid themselves down and he started to break apart the various troops that were gathered. Merrie didn't even know there were uniforms but somehow Dixie could identify them even from a distance.

“Who's fucking us over, Dixie?”

(Lemetri, at least. I see a lot of their warriors ready to charge. There is also a couple clans of hunters from the Silver Lands. Druid-hunters. Shape-shifters. Heavy military, shield breakers. There are at least three backup troops including artillery and a nasty-looking druid who has a walking tree for a chair.)

Tabitha sighed. “Fuck, that's a lot of people to kill.”

Dixie smiled, a fierce joy rising up. (Yes, mistress.)

Merrie could barely see any of that, even with Dixie's identifying them for her. Her attention drew to the side, to one of the few groups that didn't look like they were preparing for war. Instead, they were chanting and preparing something that looked like a large white bell.

(What is that?) asked Dixie.

Merrie frowned for a moment. She had seen it before but it took her a moment to place it. (It's to break shadows. They used it a few times to clear the shadow district I created.)

(Did it work?)

(Yes, but it is fragile. The entire thing is glass.) She frowned as she recalled the details. (It also took a lot of energy to prepare. They would charge it and then carry it into the shadows as far as they could before setting it off. They needed a lot of guards to protect it because the shadows attacked them. Gillette….) The image of the man who betrayed her choked off her thoughts.

Tabitha sighed. “At least the priests of light are distracted. None of them are armored or wielding weapons, probably think they are safe. That will make the fight easier.”

Merrie perked up. (They will?)

“Yes, if don't think they are needed, they will trust the paladins to defend them. They also won't have as many defensive spells since that energy could go into powering that artifact. Some of them will still have power despite Lemetri being gone. I suspect they are getting latent powers from their pantheon or there is some small connection to the goddess.” Tabitha gestured behind her. “This shadow land has been here for a year, something is keeping it around. I'm betting it's fillet of goddess.”

Merrie thought about the sight of the shadow creatures feasting on the light. She shuddered at the memory. She wanted to reach through the shadows but didn't dare so close to the edge. She could feel the power of the lands, it was being kept in place by the feasting.

Dixie looked at her and nodded. For a moment, he looked old.

Merrie sighed and bowed her head. (What about the devil? Borias said that someone was creating those traps and it felt infernal.)

“No,” Tabitha said with a shake of her head. “I keep looking but I can't see it. I doubt I will but I'm hoping the bastard doesn't have attack powers. Probably a sneak and most likely a mercenary.”

(He stole my spell.) It hurt Merrie that her own magic, corrupted as it may be, was being used against her friends.

“Then he's patient and waited a year to do this. No, if this goes wrong, he'll probably slip away and try again. We don't have time or energy to deal with things we can't fight. Same goes for those light fuckers. While they are polishing their bell, we can ignore them.”

Merrie glanced at them, a dread filling her. (They are going to remove the shadow land.)

“Yeah, probably. Which means you are going to stay here in case we lose.”

With a jerk, Merrie shook her head. (No, I can fight.)

Tabitha looked at her, her green eyes almost burning. “You are vulnerable to light and injured. There are at least three different troops out there who are capable of creating enough light. If you are that fragile then you can be killed just by being near their magic. Fuck, you're another fucking Borias!”

Merrie shook her head. (I had to abandon Borias and Bass, I can't leave you too.)

Tabitha turned away, her pointed ear quivering with her movement. “Either you die quickly out there or have a chance here. I'll let you decide but if you get in our way, I will kill you myself.”

Sorrow clutching her throat, Merrie bowed her head.

“All right, old man, how much life do you have left before that cancer eats away at your body?”

Dixie shivered, a ripple of fear running through his body. He gulped and then steeled himself. (Fifty years at least.)

Merrie sobbed. The only thing keeping Dixie alive was his submission to Tabitha. If he walked as a human, his body would begin to eat itself at a rapid past. The last time he stopped acting like a bitch, he thought he lost years of his life.

Tabitha was struggling with her own emotions. The sorrow rippled away from her like wavers of heat on a black rock. Both of them knew what was going to happen but they didn't have the words.

(Why are you doing this?) Merrie asked, barely able to control her own sorrow.

The elf woman opened her mouth to say something but then closed with snap.

Dixie answered for her. (We've been companions for many years, us two and Bass and Sable. We've fought battles and wars, adventured and grew old together. Just as he will do everything he can to save us, we will do the same. It is the only way companions can treat each other.)

His eyes were shimmering as he looked at Merrie. (When it comes down to it, save Fir and Cinthia first. Borias. Then Bass and Sable. In that order. Fuck Haviston, he's a dick. The girls aren't warriors, they can't handle this. Borias… may not survive with his geas, but I know you are sweet on him.)

(It's—) The words froze in her throat. Something stopped her from saying he was pardoned. It was a compulsion, but she didn't know the source. The pressure relented as soon as she stopped trying. She opened her mouth to say something else.

Brilliance exploded straight up, a beam of the brightest white speared up from near the mill house and pierced the clouds. The darkness around it peeled back, melting away the clouds as it shot further than Merrie could see. It lit up the ground around them and Merrie's skin began to bubble.

With a cry, Merrie dove further into the darkness as the ground began to buckle.

Tabitha stood up. “Well, that's someone pissing off Bass. I hope it wasn't one of the girls. Dixie, where's your artifact cache?”

“Under the blond asshole scratching his ass by the stump.” Dixie's voice was scratched and strained. It came with a flash of pain. His body twisted and reformed into a wolf but there was a terrible intelligence in his eyes.

“Well, then he's about to have a new hole ripped through his chest. Dixie, kill.”

Dixie burst forward, his body blurring and splitting apart into multiple wolves. The many streaks of darkness charged directly for the front ranks.

Tabitha looked back Merrie. “I'm glad to see you. You were always a good girl.”

A rumble shook the ground. It began to buckle underneath Merrie's feet.

Before Merrie could regain her balance, Tabitha had transformed into a wolf and was charging. With every step, she grew larger and larger until she was taller than the house.

Wind howled around Merrie, expanding out from the mill house. She glanced over and then jerked back. The beam of light had gotten even brighter. It turned all the shadows into hard-edge points but the edges were beginning to fray underneath the onslaught of holy magic.

In the gathered troops, paladins and clerics began to glow as they prepared for battle.

Merrie sobbed. The light burned and blinded her. She couldn't survive against any of it but the knowledge didn't make the knife in her heart any duller. She turned and fled deeper into the darkness of the shadow land.