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Merrie woke up crying. Hot tears ran down her shadowy cheeks as she stared up at the light. She felt her body still gathering for the night, the darkness around her pulling together to give her shape and form. It would be an hour before her ears worked again or she could feel anything. Until then, she had nothing to do but wait.

She missed Kine so much. She relived his death, dredging it up from her memories and playing it in her mind with a sick fascination. He crawled toward her as the Lord of Shadow pulled him back. He died next to his other love, Rimmy. Both spirits had escaped, she knew that, but the Lord of Shadows had not returned either spirits to Merrie.

The rawness of the events gnawed at her senses. She couldn’t do anything but listen to them as shadowed darkened and gathered into a solid shape. She listened to the silence and let the tears splash down.

Merrie thought about Kine’s rhythm, the triple beat that echoed in her life. If she couldn’t have the beat of her own heart, maybe she could replace If she couldn’t have a heart in her chest, maybe she could feel that instead. Focusing her attention on her being, she thought about the burnt-out wound where Lemetri had ripped out her heart. It was empty and aching, it only needed something to replace it. Even if it was just something beating inside her body, a clock.

Focusing on it, Merrie tried to gather the darkness into the hole in her chest. However, the image faltered and she felt the gaping wound once again. The goddess’ flames had burnt her heart. She had seared it from her mind and sense of being as much as her body. Like her missing limbs, the ripped-out heart had been torn out from her very spirit. No magic, short of a god’s, would ever restore it and even then, it might not be possible.

More tears splashed on her cheeks. She pressed both severed arms against her breast and held on to the silence. She wanted something there, something to beat three time and pause, just like Kine had done for her.

She took a deep breath and tried again, trying to form her thoughts into a spell to shape the shadows around her. But, as the calligraphy of a shadow spell began to swirl across her mind, she lost her concentration and it crumbled with a shiver of power.

After another hour of trying, she gave up. With a sob, she let her limbs grow slack and leaned against the pile of leaves. She knew she could burrow underneath them, that would shield her from the light, but the pointlessness of her torture stilled her body. Why was she trying to survive? Why was she trying to do anything? The sun would come and burn her away, there was nothing she could do about it.

Only a god could stop her agony.

She froze.

The Lord of Shadows was the Shadows Realm’s equivalent of a god. Maybe the being of utter darkness would be able to give her a heart.

Inspired, she reached out for it. Her mental probing pressed against the veil between her world and the darkness. It resisted her, though the veil was thin around her. She pushed harder, driving her will and fear into it.

The barrier between the worlds strained as she shoved through. Memories of stepping across rose inside her and she used them to remember the twist of sensation whenever she crossed over. She could feel the icy coldness of the Shadows seeping around her along with the ether taste in the back of her mouth.

Merrie pushed harder, ripping the veil with the force of her desire.

Darkness poured around her, instantly corroding the branches and leaves around her. She could feel the pile shuddering as it crumbled over her body.

Desperate, she reached through the darkness and called to the Lord. (Help me, please!)

The powerful intelligence responded almost immediately. Alien thoughts poured into her head with the force of a hammer, the overwhelming calligraphy and disturbing images. Both were filled with too much details than any mortal could ever comprehend: dimensions beyond height, width, and depth; calligraphy that extended beyond a flat page in a blossom of energy; and emotions that were born of a creature that had never had a flesh and blood body. The images and thoughts were spells and native to the Lord of Shadows, every thought manipulated the darkness around it.

Now it was inside her head. The Lord’s presence dragged her down and dredged up all the horrors of Kine’s death. Despair flooded through her as she struggled against the overwhelming force inside her mind. It was difficult to keep her own sanity with the dark powers inside her head.

Desperate, she reached out for her collar. The black metal felt icy against the smooth end of her wrist. Touching it brought a sense of calm as she managed to focus on it, squeezing her consciousness into a small part protected by the terrible magic of the collar.

(Desire?) The Lord of Shadow’s thoughts were powerful, a punch in her mind that threatened to rip her sanity apart. The blossom of complex calligraphy burned her thoughts, drawing her focus into it and threatened to consume her.

She mentally clutched to her collar. Her physical body responded by dragging through the branches, drawing the sharp twigs against her face and chest. She tried to image her heart again, the beating in her chest. She craved to feel a rhythm inside her.

The Lord of Darkness drew its attention on her mental picture. She felt it forcing her attention on it. Details that she had forgotten in the haze of the years that had passed and the oblivion of her resurrection. Each one was brought to her forethoughts, rolled around in the mental fingers of the Lord, and then shredded by the power of the Lord as it consumed them. As soon as it finished one, it pulled another related thought out and did the same.

When she realized how through and quickly the Lord was going through her memories, she panicked. She couldn’t afford to lose her life. She tried to pull her mind away, but the mental claws of the Lord has caught on her brain and held it in place.

She pawed at the ground, digging her limbs through the leaves and branches. A thin wail escaped her throat but she couldn’t escape the darkness that burned away her memories.

Just as the Lord pulled for the raw memory of her master’s death, it stopped. It pulled back for a moment, its aliens thoughts scraping across her consciousness.

Merrie whimpered, helpless to do anything.

The Lord’s thoughts slammed into her, spreading across her mind in an explosion of black calligraphy and inhuman images. (Shadow Bringer, light kills you.)

She whimpered, crouched on the ground from the onslaught in her mind.

(The light burns, your body melts.)

(It hurts,) she managed to project, her thoughts only a ripple in the expanse of the alien creature. (I can’t keep my body together.)

(You living. Flesh. Bones. Blood. All missing in shadows.) Images came flooding through her mind, of her own naked body before she had died. Details came as the Lord of Shadows visualized stripping away her skin and muscle. Her blood blossomed in a cloud of crimson before it became black and pitched and evaporated. Her arteries and veins remained in an empty shell, melting away along with her blood. Even her skeleton, the wrists and ankles polished smooth from Tabitha’s cropping, remained for only a moment before they too evaporated into obsidian mist. Soon, the only thing left was a shifting cloud of darkness shaped like her body.

(You cannot remained together without.)

Tears ran down Merrie’s cheeks. She had seen it already, when the sun melted away her thin skin and evaporated the dark mist within.

The Lord of Shadows reached out for her, not with its mind but with its physical claws. The sharp points pierced the veil between the worlds and directly into her heart. It clamped down to cup the empty cavern where her heart used to be. Ice poured in from another dimension, another plane. It gathered inside her, spreading sharp agonies through her body.

Merrie cried out but no sound escape her throat. Her body shook violently as she pawed at her own fragile self, plunging her limbs into the shifting shadows and melting together before reforming into the cropped bitch that she had become.

(Shadow Bringer needs heart.)

An explosion of black calligraphy raced across her mind, burning away apart of her very being as it poured energy into the space. She felt it weighing her down, pulling her shadowy form around it as the energies solidified into something more solid than any other part of her body.

When the Lord of Shadows pulled its claws back through the barrier between worlds, the weight of whatever it had created suddenly bore down on her.

She cried out as she was pinned to the ground by the first solid thing connected to her shadowy body. The crushing pressure was nothing compared to branches and leaves that she had moved but it was somehow connected to her. The connection made it heavier, a pressure that was unlike anything else she had experience.

Thump.

Merrie froze as her body shook. The vibrations coursed along her body and her shadowy form responded by solidifying. A paper-thin shell formed along her body, draping it in the first hints of something resembling flesh.

With a new skin came a burning as her nerves brought waves of burning agony. She pulled back her head and screamed as loudly as she could but no noise came out of her unformed vocal cords. She cried out, the black tears that ran down her face suddenly splashing on skin. She could feel each black droplet as a brand against her raw and reformed sense of touch.

Thump.

The fresh tears froze on her face as the world grew icy and dark. More trees withered and peeled away, crumbling in an instance as the Lord of Shadows loomed over her, blotting out the sky with its form. Massive wings that would never fly in the sun spread out and more of the forest died around it.

Inside her body, tendrils of darkness snaked their way through her form. The second beat surged them forward as they plunged into all of her extremities. The rush of black blood sounded from deep inside as more veins and arteries were grown inside her.

Thump.

The suffocating ice of its presence bore down on her. It squeezed her chest as the calligraphy and alien thoughts scraped across her mind. Her body solidified with the raw presence of darkness, but it was misshapen and twisted, formed by her random thoughts instead of her identity.

Merrie forced her thoughts into place, imagining what her body looked like before she was killed. She didn’t have hands and feet anymore, but she didn’t remember a time when she did. Those memories were lost when she bonded the first time.

Her body shifted around her visualization. This time, the shadows were strong but sluggish, they felt like they were growing more solid than before. Her skin still felt paper-thin but it held the shape like drying claw.

Elated, Merrie shaped out her body just as she remembered: smooth limbs, long hair, and even her face that she saw countless times in a mirror. As she did, her body mimicked her imagination and solidified, maybe for the last time.

Inside her new shape, bones grew. The heavy weights felt like crystal as they stretched into each limb and between the network of veins and arteries. They sealed into place, dragging her down but also giving her rigidness that she didn’t think was possible.

The Lord of Shadow’s thoughts scraped across her mind one last time before it withdrew. It left behind darkness in her mind and a cobweb of intricate calligraphy that refused to fade. They were spells, she knew that, but they were far too powerful for her to understand while she struggled to keep her body safe.

(You are not done,) came the drifting thought as the Lord withdrew back to the Shadows.

Merrie sobbed as the veil between the worlds sealed up. There was fear and comfort with the Lord’s presence, but with it gone, she felt empty.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Merrie jerked. She knew that rhythm but she had never felt it deep in her chest. She held her breath for it to continue. It did after a second.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Silence.

Fresh tears dripped down her face. Her heart, or whatever was in her chest, had given her shape. She felt more solid with it, anchored. It was also icy, colder than anything else she had experience before in her life.

Gulping, Merrie wondered if she would be able to survive the sun. She doubted it, but this time she was inspired to roll over on the pile of rotted leaves that somehow survived the Lord of Shadows. Above her, there was nothing left to protect her; the alien being had focused its withering aura around her and stripped away all of her shelter from the killing light.

She used her severed limbs to dig into the pile, burrowing deep and rolling over until the rotted leaves and branches covered her completely.

The air around her quickly grew cold but she didn’t mind. The hoarfrost that formed on her body felt good against the heat from the rising sun. She could feel the sun rising. This time, the leaves and branches shielded her and she felt safe in the darkness.

The tears froze on her cheeks as she closed her eyes and let her world drift away until there was nothing but the triple best of her heart pulsing through her black veins and her blacker heart.