Merrie didn't bother with the patrols around the ruined house. She could easily slaughter them but she assumed that they were around the house for two reasons: a token watch to waste energy on or a way of detecting her presence when they ceased reporting. Either way, she wasn't sure if she could take on an army by herself but she had to find out who survived the battle.

It took little time to race along the ground. As a shadow, she easily swirled along the withering grasses and cooling corpses. It was night, probably from the next day, and there wasn't much light to dodge. Along the way, she didn't even get a hint of the infernal spiders; they must have been either destroyed in the fight or gathered up by the devil controlling them.

She made it up to the edge of the original shadow land in a matter of minutes. She spread out her senses looking for holy magic or submissive thoughts. When she spotted only a single patrol within a hundred meters, she relaxed. They were moving away from her so she had at least a few seconds of to look around.

Her body reformed back into the armored Bel Dark hound but she kept herself low against the rocks to hide herself. Her head against the rock, she peered around her.

The first thing she noticed was the camp set up where the army had originally been gathered for their attack. There were still signs of Tabitha's and Dixie's attack: tree trunks were shattered across the site, long gouges from their sprints that crossed through siege weapons and through ritual spaces. But, for all of the destruction, the survivors had repaired much of the camp and were going about their cleanup from the battle. She could see long tents with healers going in and out. There were also many with walking injuries gathering food and bringing it to the infirm.

Guessing from the numbers she saw before, it looked like about two-thirds of the army had been killed in the attack. Half of the survivors were unable to move on their own.

A grim thought filled her. If she opened up a portal to the Shadows and directed her own creatures toward the wounded, she could ensure that almost no one would survive the attack. It would be a slaughter.

A silent growl shook her body.

A flash of guilt slammed into her. Merrie pulled back her train of thoughts. She had already been responsible for the deaths of thousands, both humans in the Shadowed District and the creatures of the Shadows. The other slaughters had left their mark on her, she didn't need to add others.

Turning away, she vowed she wouldn't attack unless they attack her.

Focusing her attention on the shadow land, she could see the light near the center of it: the paladins of Lemetri. They were the threat to her children, her friends, and the Lord of Shadows. She guessed they were almost to the center where she killed their goddess.

Merrie took a deep breath and felt anger filling her.

Despite the urge to charge after them in a rage, she stopped and spread out her senses first. It wouldn't be good to race into a trap.

She started with the paladins but quickly encountered the holy cloud obscuring her senses. The prayers and shine pushed her back but she twisted her way through the shifting mist of the protection spells and steadily scanned those inside.

Merrie found Bass but his mind was focused directly on Sable. The intensity of his emotions leaked images of him holding her tight to his body despite the manacles that bound his wrists behind his back. Holy spells crisscrossed both of their bodies and minds, an overkill of overlapping magic to ensure that he would die if he tried to break free and attack.

She withdrew from his mind without alerting him to her presence. Moving around, she quickly found Tabitha and Dixie. Both were in agony but conscious. Their fury burned her mind despite being focused on someone else, she suspected the high priest Iolis.

Merrie brushed up against the shields of a dozen paladins and an equal number of priests. All of their shielding was well-developed which meant they had some experience fighting telepaths. It was also a sigh of highly skilled individuals. She also identified Iolis as the source of a cloud, a pillar of light that was too bright for her to even try to infiltrate.

After searching further, she realized she couldn't find Borias, Haviston, Fir, or Cinthia. She withdrew her senses and then cast them toward the camp. It was less protected than Iolis and she quickly caught Haviston's attention.

(Merrie, I had doubts you survived.) There was relief in his dead-panned thoughts. She could also tell he was in a lot of pain.

(I'm… alive. What can I do?)

(How combat ready are you?)

She projected the image of her in her armor.

To her surprise, he was shocked. His thoughts dissolved into static for only a second but it was one of the strongest emotions that he had ever presented. When he recovered, he projected, (Psionic symbiosis with an external extra-planar entity? I've heard of it being done but I never suspected you would be able to puzzle through the complexities.)

(I… didn't. He did, the shadow kin provided the spell.)

Silence for painful seconds. (I would like to know more, but this is not the time. Are you able to summon creatures from the Shadows again?)

Guilt rose inside her. She fought it back before taking another deep breath. Glancing around to make sure the patrols hadn't returned, she pulled her senses back and then pushed them across the barrier between the worlds and into the Shadows.

Darkness flooded her. She felt the swirl of power buffeting her, it was icy and calming. A craving to step across filled her, to just retreat into the darkness but she had to resist. After a few moments of basking in the comforting void, she spread out her senses to look for creatures and kin she could use as allies.

There were precious few. Only a few thousand woodland shadows remains in the area and a dozen shadow kin that were strong enough to survive on the other side. There were hundreds more but they were immature and weak, something she never realized until she started to interact more with her children.

Before they could respond to her mental presence, she withdrew and communicated the details to Haviston.

He thought for a moment.

While he did, she searched and found Borias' and Cinthia's thoughts. Borias was sleeping and in the middle of a nightmare. Cinthia's mind was locked tight with terror. Both were in separate tents from the others and heavily guarded by the few uninjured warriors.


She returned her mind to Haviston.

(I don't have a strategy for this without you giving up either us or Bassimar Sarmo and the others. I can't see where there are enough forces. Iolis is very powerful and she is prepared to take on someone like you. Around her, you have numbers that will overwhelm you. Unless you commit to saving or the other, you'll fail.)

(No,) she said, (I can't accept that. Not after this much pain.) Tears burned in her eyes.

(I'm drain and warded. My cousin is also. The girl is somewhere else.)

Her thoughts twisted for a moment but she couldn't figure out why. She dismissed it. (Then I will save you.)

(And they will alert Iolis who will slaughter Bassimar Sarmo. You would have to attack both at the same time and win. By yourself, you can't do that.)

The tears leaked out of the eyes of her helm and splashed down. He was right, she couldn't save them all. It took her a few minutes to let her own strategies filter through her mind.

He was right.

She refused to accept it though. She was the Omega, if there was anyone who could do it, it would be here. But, she knew that if she let him know that she was going to try saving both, he would stop her. Pulling on a guise of a heart-broken woman, she connected back to him. (I'll save you. Help me come up with a strategy?)

There was only a hint of relief and then he agreed. Together they came up with a plan. She would summon whatever creature she could. Sending the creatures through the medical tents in an attempt to distract everyone, she would send the kin to attack the three protected tents.

When they finished, she pulled back.

(Merrie.) Haviston projected. (I know you are going to try saving the others.)

She froze.

(It is folly but I understand the reasons. I have also taken that into account. We may suffer additional injuries but that is a choice you have to make.)

She closed her eyes tightly and melted into darkness. (I'm sorry. I have to try.)

(May you be successful and find surprising strength from unexpected places. Regardless of how this ends, you have been one of my greatest accomplishments and friends that a poor psion could ever have.) With it came a wave of love in an intense wave that washed over her.

Her spell faltered as she was bathed in it, she had never felt any emotion so strong from Haviston before. She crouched on the ground for a moment, panting for breath, before she could regain control of her emotions.

(Whenever you are ready.)

Merrie remained in her Bel Dark form as she began to cast the summoning spell. Part way through it, she realized she needed something more and began to weave the portal spell into the results. As the black calligraphy scrolled across her mind, she added spells of protection, strength, and speed into the summoning. It was a single spell, a fusion of many of her combat spells that was harder to cast but easier to keep in her mind without letting it slip.

When she started to feel her personal energies starting to leak into the spell, she twisted the source from herself and into the collar. She hoped it had stored the power of her orgasms, it was one of the functions of the collar.

Energy surged through the spells, an intense spark of power that burned across her mind. The spell ripped from her mind and her control as a black portal into the depths of Shadows burst into existence behind her. It grew into a flat circle of darkness that instantly corroded the rock, earth, and plants in an thirty meter circle.

The first shadow kin stepped out, swelling in size as the spells sank into its body. It grew to twice the height of a house. A boiling mass of tentacles and claws burst out as it launched itself into the air.

As it became nothing but a black spot above her, the second kin burst out followed by a swarm of woodland shadows. Each one burned with the intensity of her spells as they charged forward.

Merrie took one look at them and then raced toward Iolis and the paladins. She didn't bother melting her form, she needed to conserve her energy for the attack.

Bursts of light seared across her mind as she raced past traps, the holy flames burned her skin but didn't permeated the armor that protected her body. Thankful for the chance, she raced to cover the distance as fast as possible.

She saw Iolis first. The tiny priestess stood in the center of the dead spot with her hands up in prayer. Her slender body was delicate and Merrie noticed she had slightly pointed ears, a Silvr silfae like Tabitha. Holy flames danced between her fingers as she summoned the power of the goddess only meters away from the physical location where Lemetri died.

Merrie snarled and bore down, trying to cover the distance.

The other paladins and priests were spaced around the priestess. The priests were chanting and adding their energy to Iolis while the paladins were guarding them. She could feel Tabitha and Dixie on opposite sides of the circle, both of them were bound tightly in place with silver spikes jammed into their joints. Bright blood poured down as both of them tried to shapeshift to heal their wounds but couldn't.

Bass and Sable were on the ground in front of Iolis. He had been stripped down to a simple shift and someone had put a shift over the normally naked bitch.

Sable cried out in the powerful arms of Bass who held her tight as he glared up at Iolis. Chains bound him tightly into place, he was helpless but furious.

One of the paladins cried out as she approached, “Shadows approach!”

Iolis lowered her hands and looked around. The energy still poured into her and the spell continued as she cried out her prayer, but she was casting a second spell at the same time.

Merrie felt a surge of frustration, she was hoping the priestess would be caught in her spell. The energy she was gathering would no doubt be a light spell.

(I will shield you, mother.)

Merrie sent a wave of thanks to her armor and child. Then she focused on the nearest paladin who stood between her and Iolis. With a silent growl, she jumped up and gathered up the darkness of her own being into her attack. Her teeth tore into his leg and she sent a surge of darkness into the wound, corroding it to ensure he would never walk again.

He screamed out shrilly as his body began to rot away.

Merrie landed in the circle and jumped for Iolis.

The priestess took one step and backhanded Merrie. The impact slammed into Merrie and cracked bones. The force threw her across the circle and into the chest of a paladin who fell back in a scream of his own.

Merrie took out his throat and surged forward. She had taken blows from a goddess, she could survive Iolis.

Iolis didn't seem bothered either. She lifted one foot and cried out. “Lemetri, give me strength!” She slammed it down into the ground.

The ground exploded out from underneath Merrie. She stumbled forward with her speed, only to catch Iolis' kick as the priestess slammed her immense book into her chest.

Merrie flew back in a splatter of black blood.

“Kill them!”

Rapidly losing her advantage, Merrie fought past the growing despair and surged forward again. She ripped the throat out of a paladin and two priests. She reached the paladin poised to kill Tabitha but before she could attack, Iolis was there with a roundhouse kick that knocked her out.

Merrie screamed out in agony as she landed on the ground. Her armor held and her bones were unbroken but she felt the impacts. She reached out for the armor and felt the shadow kin dying; Iolis used holy magic in her kicks and the armor was protecting Merrie from the light.

Tears burning in her eyes, she shook her head and staggered back to her feet. Blood dripped from her maw as she regarded the fight. Tabitha was safe for a few seconds but Dixie was poised for death. There were also paladins stalking after Bass who strained at his chains.

Iolis strolled to the center and turned to face Merrie, a smirk on her perfect fact. Energy continued to pour into her as she continued to chant the spell without breaking stride. Merrie could tell it was a portal spell, she was going to breach the gap between the worlds and pull Lemetri out herself.

Fear for her children and the Lord filled her. Merrie planted her feet and let her spells surge through her veins before she charge forward. She had too many targets but she knew if Iolis died, then the others would falter.

Iolis' silver eyes sparked as they approach. She skipped back and kicked out.

Merrie dodged underneath it and lashed out at the other foot.

The priestess jumped over her and then brought her foot down on Merrie's spine. There was a crack of her armor shattering and a burst of holy light that seared into Merrie's skin. She felt her insides dissolving under the intense energy.

Fighting blind from the pain, Merrie lashed out for Iolis' foot. She missed.

Iolis hopped off Merrie and then kicked hard. The impact crunched into Merrie's ribs, cracking them. A sharp pain of a shattered rib piercing her insides dangerous close to her crystal heart flashed through her as she hit the ground and scraped along the distance until she stopped a meter away from Dixie.

“Hold!” said Iolis as she strolled toward Merrie. “The submissive might be down. Be prepared to kill the others.”

The paladins rushed to place blades at Tabitha's, Dixie's, and Bass's neck. Another aimed at Sable despite the growl from Bass.

Merrie gasped and looked around. The nearest ally was Dixie who looked at her in agony, his eyes blurred with pain and his tiny, frail body soaked in his blood. The silver spikes were embedded into his wrists, ankles, and hips. She could see how they pinned him in place and prevented him from healing himself.

Their eyes met, a moment where two warriors knew the end was coming.

Merrie opened her mouth to say something.

Iolis stomped down on her snot, shattering bone with her massive boot.

The flash of holy light blinded Merrie and stripped away the helm. She screamed as her transformation spell faltered and she withered away into a naked woman wearing nothing but a black collar. She blinked and found herself staring at Dixie again. She tried to find some way.

He looked at her, defeat burning in his eyes.

Then, a thought leaked into her mind. With a broke jaw, she croaked through her bloody mouth. “How… many… years?”

Dixie's eyes came into sharp focus. They were an intense blue as he stared at her. She could see the thoughts burning in his mind as she asked him to sacrifice his own life to cancer to save them. It was a foolish thing but even if they both died, then Tabitha and Bass and Sable would survive.

Iolis stepped back but didn't attack again.

A hard smile crossed Dixie's lips. “Enough.”

Iolis interrupted with a downward kick that shattered Merrie's leg.

Merrie sank into the pain. She felt it boiling inside her, an agony of failure but also a need to save others. She knew how to do it and began to reach out for him with her spirit, ready to connect as she did with Haviston. “Need… an alpha?”

“What are you talking about?” Iolis asked. “Submissives can't bond with—”

Red energy burst along Dixie's form. He yanked hard and snapped the chains around his wrist. Moving faster than Merrie had ever seen, he pulled the silver spike from his shoulder and twisted it free. Turning, he slammed it up into the groin of the paladin poised to kill him.

As he stood up, Merrie saw the mystical connection between him and Tabitha flare into view and then snap.

On the opposite side of the circle, Tabitha let out a scream of agony.

Dixie's thoughts darkened into a black hatred and despair.

Merrie's world slowed down, her triple heart beating faster as she reached out. She saw the spiritual leash burst out of her chest and race for him. It was black and crystal, her nature.

Dixie yanked the other spikes out of his body and slammed them into the other priests and paladins surrounding him. He snapped the wrist of one of them and pulled the sword free. Standing up, the naked silfae stood slightly over a meter. He looked directly at Merrie and she felt an intense wave of submissive race over her. “Get over here, bitch!”

It was a command and one that triggered her innate submission. The leash snapped forward and plunged into his heart into the shattered and gaping hole where he had just torn out his own bond with Tabitha. She sank into a world of despair and agony.

He was crouched on a tree branch as he looked at the village ahead of them. They were all filthy humans invading his land and cutting down his trees. He focused on the children and mothers first, they would die the first and that destroy the morale of the others.

Merrie inhaled as power surged through her. It was hard and cruel and powerful. Screams in some language, the forest tongue, flowed into her mind and spread out, reshaping her as she sank into the bond with him.

Years later, he was the Warlord of Blood River, The Slaughterer of Innocence, The Death of Humans. He was a hero standing on a pile of corpse as he cheered his men. They had taken on an army of ten thousand and survived. He lifted his bottle of wine to the others. “To the heart of this kingdom, we will kill every single human that invaded our ancestral lands!”

Hundreds of years slammed into Merrie, burning themselves into her memories as she relived all of her master's life in intricate details. She lived through thousands of days worth of sparring, fighting, learning how to cast magic while fighting, and spells designed to not only kill but terrorize his opponents. They were all woken in the druidic language, spells of plant and animals and nature.

Pain bent him in half. He knelt down and coughed, hiding his mouth from the others as he felt hot blood soak his palm. He was sick but it wasn't anything thing he had experienced before. It was gnawing at his body, tearing at his insides. It had be a curse, a spell from his enemies.

Agony flashed through her, years of cancer eating away at her body. She experienced every struggle as he tried to find a cure, a way of surviving. Every burning pain of his body being eaten away imprinted itself on her mind.

The wolf was too big but he knew he had to submit. The problem was that he could never surrender. He had to fight. Gripping the rock tight in his palm, he ignored the cuts that bled between his fingers and lashed out. It caught the side of Tabitha's head and cracked the bone.

She snarled and slammed her head back, growing larger with the blow. The impact threw him across the rocks and dangerously close to edge of the cliff. Tabitha jumped after him and bit down on his chest, piercing the skin as the teeth slipped between his ribs and nearly impaled his heart.

In that moment, it wasn't a matter of surrender. He had lost. He had lost for the first time in his life and it was to the woman who could save him. He gave into the surrender and let it comsume his thoughts.

Merrie's body shivered as she transformed into a wolf and back again. Her body shimmered as she shifted again and again, healing her body as she alternated between the silver wolf of Dixie's bone and the black hound of her former master. Her body grew stronger with each transformation.

Every time she shapeshifted, the healing also rippled down the tri-colored leash between her and her new master. Dixie hadn't stopped moving through. He used his sword to cut through the paladins as he bounced around the circling, using speed magic to cover the distance in a flash.

As he did, strategies sank into Merrie's mind. She accepted them and obeyed, gathering power as she submitted to his will. She attacked and launched herself, transforming constantly to keep him alive.

Iolis attacked her, light blinding as she kicked with rapid speed.

To Merrie's surprise, the silfae's bond protected her from the light. His shapeshifting also allowed her to move her body in ways that she never imagined even as a shadow. Most of Iolis' attacked missed and Merrie got in repeated blows that soon left the priestess bleeding.

Even in the few seconds of their attack, Merrie could still feel the cancer eating away at her master. It was faster than anything she had seen, she could literally feel the seconds of his life racing away as he strained to slaughter every person before he died.

She fought back, hammering blows against Iolis and keeping her away from Dixie. Her mind flashed with the detailed strategies of the former warlord as she jostled and shoved anyone else around her in a way that left them exposed to her master's sword or knife.

In eight seconds, only Iolis remained standing.

Dixie only had three left.

Iolis jumped up. The power she had gathered for her ritual gathered into her feet and Merrie could see that it was directed to exploded. The power would kill everyone around her, including herself.

“No,” warlord and omega said at once. They both rushed forward. Merrie gathered up her powers, druidic and shadow and psionic. She let her body swell and grow as she chomp down, catching Iolis' hips sideways and crushing them.

Dixie's sword flashed between her lips, barely missing her skin as he pulled it up Iolis' spine, cutting her from tail bone to skull in a single slash.

The feet hit the ground with a loud thud and then fell apart. The severed ends of Iolis' legs were black and withered, cropped even in spirit. No magic sputtered in them, no killing spell exploded.

Dixie panted once, staring at Merrie.

Then he collapsed to the ground.

The connection between them flared brilliantly as she felt every part of his body burn away from the cancer. She felt it in her own soul, searing her insides. She screamed out in agony as she felt it corroding her own insides.

She fell back, pawing at her throat with her useless arms. She couldn't stop it. It felt like every organ inside her body was on fire, burning away as it withered.

Her bond with Dixie ripped from her soul. She froze as an intense blackness filled her being and the gaping wounds of losing her master were torn open once again. Despair and darkness poured into her as she felt her life force being sucked out through the spiritual wound.

She had lost another master. It was only for eleven seconds but the damage felt like a life time.

Sobbing and crying, she could feel the despair beginning to corrupt the world around her. Earth and dust dissolved into nothingness as she sank into a pit. It was swallowing her up, consuming her where she would go.

Her collar thumped against her chest.

Tears ran down her cheeks as she screamed out, crying out with all the agony of losing her master. She had nothing left, no reason for living, no reason for anything.

Merrie couldn't take it again. She tried to summon anything to end her life.

The collar thumped against her chest again.

Her wail rose up, ripping open her throat. Her body continued to burn away.

Darkness flooded through her and she clutched to it. It was her collar. The icy metal burned through her agony, an immutable token that she had survived once again.

Still screaming out in agony, Merrie clutched to the collar as an anchor. She sank her mind into it, trying to find some way to shield herself from the agony of losing a second master.

She just had to hold on.

She could make it.

She couldn't.

She had to.