Merrie woke up with a gasp. When her ribs scraped against her insides, she let out a cry and froze. Fresh tears glittered on her face as she blinked frantically, trying to clear the wavering world around her.

It took her a painful moment to realize she was staring up at the sky. Smoke and mist swirled above her, flashing with the light of combat spells in the distance. The stench of blood and ozone filled the air and she choked on it. Beneath her, among the rotted leaves that were already crumbling with her presence, she felt the vibrations of explosions, fighting, and war machines.

Terrified for the mill, she brought up her timekeeping spell. She had only blacked out for a minute but it was enough for her shaking body to slump on her back.

She tried to roll over but her injuries prevented her. Every movement caused her bones to grind and her skin to rip. A thousand agonies danced along her nerves. She could do nothing but let out a cry.

Ice pressed against her body. She flinched at it and looked up as one of the shadow kin settled down next to her, lining up its massive shifting body against her own. It was cold as death and just as silent, but the ice felt good against her senses. It matched the coldness that filled her, they were made of the same shadows.

The kin stopped moving for a heartbeat and then leaned into her, pressing its icy body against her own.

When her injuries scraped against its body, she winced. She started to project a command to it but then realized that the icy pressure felt good against her. It shielded her from the flashes of the combat, the reflections of the flames that still burned over the hill, and gave her something solid to rest against.

Merrie's cry faded in her throat. Hesitating, she pressed her face against it. The cool touch felt good and she let out a soft moan. The cold seeped into her body and filled her with darkness. She could feel her shifting insides solidify around her black veins once again. The weakness from her fight slowly faded.

Another shadow kin knelt down on the ground on the other side. She watched it silently as it settled into place and rolled against her, pinning her naked body between their two forms.

The icy touch of death and shadows perked her nipples. The tiny aureole crinkled up until the points stuck out with aching hardness. The confinement and her own helplessness sent little waves of icy pleasure along her skin, it caressed her body before sinking between her lips and along her clitoris.

It wasn't the intense pleasure of fucking or submission, just a moment of being pinned to set off the curls of pleasure rising inside her cunt. She closed her eyes and enjoyed them.

An explosion shook the ground.

She jerked out of the moment and looked up at the sky. There was a gout of magenta flames rising up. She thought of Haviston, his psionic magic frequently burned the bright purple-like color. Taking a deep breath, she reached out for him.

Her thoughts struck a mental shield that was unlike she had ever encountered. Instead of protecting one person's thoughts, it covered the entire battlefield in a cloud of glittering diamonds. Her project crumbled against it. She tried again but couldn't penetrate it. If she knew how to zero on Haviston, she knew she would be able, but without having the psion's thoughts in her mind, her aimless probing was futile.

Desperation rose up, choking her. She reached out to pull herself out from between the two shadowy kins but couldn't find purchase on their shifting, icy bodies. She projected a command for them to move apart but both creatures only looked away and pinned her tighter.

(Move away, I need to rescue them.)

One of the kin let out a silent growl, she felt it in her mind more than from the vibrations. The thoughts that came through were alien and twisted, they had no basis in her reality. It was like projecting into the mind of the Lord of Shadow but not as overwhelming.

(They need me.)

One of the tentacles sticking out of the shadow kin swirled down along her thigh. It was as thick as her wrist and the tip was cold enough to leave frost sparkling along her skin.

She batted it away but another took its place. She gathered up an order. When she looked down,t he command faded from her thoughts.

Darkness was seeping out of the shadow kin and rolling across her skin in streamers of obsidian mist. It moved unnaturally, like wind blowing snow across a road, but instead of falling off her almost white skin, it seemed into her wounds.

She stared in shock, her body trembling as she watched the shadow kin giving part of itself for her. It wasn't just the cold of their bodies, it was of their shadowy selves, the common darkness that shaped body of their bodies.

Merrie looked up at the nearest shadow kin.

It looked black, its shifting body twisting and boiling. It didn't have any strict form or shape but it looked canine and feline at the same time. The angular head had two black shimmering eyes. Tentacles rippled along its body, tracing its spine down to a spiked tail that had curled protectively around Merrie.

Alien thoughts scraped against her senses. It beat against her with only the slightest of commonalities of emotions. She felt them wash over her as she let her mind drift in the kin's thoughts, trying to find some way of asking it to release her.

She only got a strange sense of affection. There was more to it but she couldn't identify the emotions. It felt like awe and protectiveness and… love. She looked into its place eyes and felt the same feelings radiating from the two kin surrounding her. It felt strange but comforting despite the pressure to join into the fray, a sense of respite and quiet before the blood.

Merrie blinked and tried to escape again but it was a weak attempt, partially because her body could barely hold her own weight but also because she knew she couldn't escape. They were holding her down because she couldn't fight.

She reached out toward the combat one with blood-streaked, shaking arm. Black blood, her blood, dribbled down the bottom edge as a few streamers of obsidian slowly slide into the rents in her thin skin.

Helpless, she stared at her arm. How could she help in the fight? Any light would kill her. She looked at the mist and darkness seeping out of the shadow kin. It was helping her. As much as she desperately wanted to race to Borias and save him, she needed to survive the fight. The only way was to recover some of her energy and strength.

With a sigh and tears in her eyes, she slumped against the icy, shifting skin of the shadow kin. Black mist and cold seeped out of its body and into her own. She breathed in the thick scent and tried not to think about her loved ones dying in combat while she was helpless to stop them.

Merrie let her mind drift back through the surrounding area. She found her cloak. It was a manifestation of her will, but it was also independent. She could feel the rents and burns from their fight; it was the same injuries her own paper-thin skin suffered. She summoned the cloak to her and felt it fluttering across the ground, slithering like a snake until it rested against her thigh.

One of the other shadow kin pushed its head closer. It looked like it was sniffing from its angular head and sharp, black teeth.

The cloak reached out for it.

Black mist puffed out of the kin's mouth and across the cloak.

It fluttered and drew it in, taking the obsidian mist to repair some of its own damages. With a shudder, it slithered forward and spread out across the shadow kin, disappearing into the black-on-black of the animated cloak and the inhuman beast. A ripple of power and energy swirled around it as it began to heal just as Merrie was.

The ground shook from an explosion.

Merrie closed her eyes tightly and thought to herself, (Please live, please?)

She ground against the shadow kin and prayed that the shadows would fill her faster.