Merrie had six hours left.
She woke up with the state of blood, glass, and healing magic in the back of her throat. Her body still burned on the inside, the acid slowly working through her organs as the healing magic of her collar healed her with minute amounts that did nothing to relieve the pain. Even her throat still ached, though she could draw in a raspy breath of air.
She smiled and her tail wagged slowly as she let herself focus on her surroundings. While she was back inside her age, not pinned to the outside, there were fresh blankets underneath her. None of them had the scent of the Shadows but they did have ash and smoke clinging to the fibers. There was also perfume, the multiple layers of different types. Merrie guessed that she was nestled into Scorch's and Nir's bedclothes.
With a happy moan, she stretched and pressed the ends of her legs against the bars to push out over the blankets. When broken glass cut at her insides, she froze for a moment. She looked around at the blanket, then forced herself to crawl out with the glass cutting her insides until she was free of the blanket.
Pulling on her power, she let her body melt into shadows and extricated herself from the bottle. The shards of bloody glass rained down on the ground. She reformed near the door of the room, free of her loving domination.
The air was only slightly warmer outside than the blankets against her icy skin, but sent a thrill of pleasure as she cast her senses out.
There were people in her house, one of them was Kirin brimming with infernal power. She could also identify Monk, the second in command of the guild, with his divine magic wrapped around him and blurring his senses. It was his spell on the ribbon that let the others into her house.
Smiling, Merrie peered through the door. There was only a dim light in the great hall. It flickered back and forth with a yellow cast, a candle. Relieved, she sent out a pulse of greetings as she approached.
“Let me get the light,” said Kirin.
(No, the candle is okay.) Merrie came in and looked around.
There were four of them sitting on folding chairs or in blankets. A single candle flickered between them, it was bright but not painful. Kirin was on one of the chairs, her body crackling with power. She had a different corset on, a wine-colored one, and a dozen bottles of unopened wines surrounding her. She had another bottle in her hand.
Monk sat opposite to her. A gaunt man wearing red robes and a matching cloth over his eyes, he was blind but capable of seeing far more than anyone else. She could feel the sensory spells dance along her senses as he inspected her.
Nestled against him was his daughter, Dith. The young girl had black hair and brilliant eyes that bore directly into Merrie. Where her father's magic was a caress, Dith's attention stripped away the shadows away from Merrie's body and left her feeling exposed and vulnerable.
As a little girl, Dith was the only one Merrie had encountered that could pierce her shade no matter how much she tried. She walked in her father's footsteps but would exceed his abilities to see through illusions if she hadn't already.
The fourth was also a familiar face, Pristine. She was a slender woman with her dirty brown hair pulled up into a pony tale. She was beautiful though she had defensive spells humming around her. She was also a former Resolute—a royal guard.
Pristine jumped to her feet and rushed over to drop her knees and hug Merrie tightly. “I thought we lost you.”
Merrie radiated a pulse of affection and leaned into Pristine, enjoying the warmth and softness of the embrace.
“Listen, Bitch, no more dying on us, okay?” Pristine wiped tears from her eyes and kissed Merrie. “No more goddesses.”
As much as Merrie wanted to promise that, she was done fighting gods, she couldn't find the thoughts. With an artifact collar that made her nearly immortal and her upcoming treason trial, she couldn't promise anything.
Pristine smiled and got up. “Come here, Bitch.”
Shivering with pleasure from being commands, Merrie followed Pristine and sat next to the candle. The dim light burned her skin, but it was an easy discomfort to ignore.
Kirin shivered and pulled a blanket over her shoulder. “The problem with shadows is that they are always cold.”
“It is who you are. If you could handle the light, I'd bring you back to the guild house.”
Monk made a grunt.
“However Monk feels that it would put much of the guild at risk. In this case, I didn't want to argue.”
(I'm sorry. Violence follows me, doesn't it?)
Kirin shrugged. “There are only eight known Alphas in the world. Eight people in the world who have the power to magnify their master's lusts into nearly unlimited power. If it wasn't for your mistress, you'd still be the target for the millions of others who want to use you.”
Merrie ducked her head.
Dith said, “Which mistress, Kir?”
“Merrie became her own mistress, that is why she's the Omega.”
The little girl frowned but said nothing. It felt as if she wanted to argue or to ask questions. Merrie watched her for a moment, confused.
Monk cleared his throat. “I've started looking for this Fir but I haven't been able to find her.”
Merrie's confusion grew. “Who…” and then whatever the infernal did to make her forget Fir slipped away for a moment. “Fir!”
Even as she focused on the image of the young girl, she could feel the spell erasing her memories. She clenched and shook her head. Her mind was pulling away and the images crumbling. She had experienced it before, when Haviston made her forget. Now, she was losing someone who desperately needed her. (No, no, I can't forget!)
Kirin looked devastated. “I'm sorry.”
Merrie sniffed. (For what?)
“That you keep forgetting her.”
She frowned. (Forget who?)
Merrie didn't get an answer.
Kirin sighed and looked at Monk pointedly.
Monk held up his hand. “I have a request for Lady Anasome, but it might not happen in time. She and Rose are visiting delegates from Belkim.”
Kirin shook her head and reached out for Merrie.
Merrie crawled over and leaned against the woman's leg to enjoy being scratched. It felt good and peaceful, though the energies from brutal fucking still hummed deep inside both of them.
Monk gestured to a box of papers. “About your trial…”
“Monk,” snapped Pristine.
(No, there isn't, is there?) Despair burned inside her, she wouldn't be able to escape with the duke's suggestion still driving her to show up in less than six hours.
“I've pulled some strings and got a copy of the initial case. The evidence is pretty solid and overwhelming. The easiest to refute would be the paladins of… that bitch and , both in things and the others of this Puppy Mill have said. Paladins of… that bitch and also some damming words from the priests of Galladin. There are probably, I don't know, twelve other groups that were involved with the attack on the Mill and they all claim you were the one who summoned the shadow lands.”
“Whatever you did, you pissed off the duke. He got some mages to teleport up there and link your magic of the shadow lands with the Shadowed District.” Monk sighed. “Some land at the edge of the country is one thing, but reminding people you were the one who brought the District into the city will turn them against you.”
He flipped through some papers. “I have admissions of guilt from you, confirmations from Bass and Borias.” The pages rustled together. “Artifacts destroyed, your powers described in detail. They even brought your former master's powers into it.”
Merrie ducked her head at the mention of Kine. She still missed her master and the aching hole would never be filled up, though it wasn't a raw wound anymore.
Setting them down, he gave her an apologetic look. “In the right circles, your reputation is going to doom you. Everyone knows the Lost Alpha has shadow and psionic powers. Without you having a master to blame, it will become your word against an ocean of evidence.”
Merrie's ears pressed against her head.
“I know that you have some loyalty to the prince, but the queen and duke have shut off our connection to it.” Monk glanced at Kirin and then back to Merrie. “It is obvious that you won't find a pardon from the royals in this.”
Kirin's hand tightened against Merrie. “What about the Guild's Final Plea?”
Pristine and Monk inhaled sharply.
“I can speak for her, they have to listen.”
Monk shook his head. “No, don't do that. You'd have to step down as guild mistress for that.”
“You're ready to take over, Monk.”
“No, but it won't matter. There are already four other guilds that are tied to the paladins working to be present. You'd have to counter all four before your sacrifice would mean anything.”
Kirin's eyes sparkled in the light. “Can't we find four others?”
“No, guild mistress,” Monk said.
“Well, fuck this.” Kirin stood up. “I won't give up. I can convince others.”
Dith suddenly spoke up. “No.”
Everyone jumped and stared at her in shock.
The little girl looked back. “You won't convince enough. Not this time.”
“Dith, love,” Monk said softly, “you can't just say these things.”
The little girl looked at her father. “I'm right.”
He seemed to fight himself for a moment, and then sighed.
Kirin sat down heavily. “Fuck, so I'm giving up because some girl says I won't make it.”
“Yes,” said Dith.
“Dith, please—” Kirin started.
“Mistress,” interrupted Pristine. “When has Dith ever been wrong?”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“Only thrice,” whispered the little girl.
No one asked her.
After another uncomfortable moment, Monk turned to Merrie. “Is there anything, anything at all that could help you?”
She wanted to mention the Royal Geas but her insides clenched in warning. She shook her head, tears in her eyes.
Pristine came around to sit on the ground and hug Merrie tightly. “I'm sorry, Bitch,” she whispered.
“You're screwed,” said Monk.
No one said anything.
Pristine finally broken the silence. “Should I get some food at least? Something hot?”
Dith stood up. “I'll go with you. Monk has to ask Kirin an uncomfortable question.”
Monk looked away sharply. “Dith.”
Pristine looked worried but then got up. “Come on, girl, let's go creep someone else.”
With a brilliant smile, Dith grinned and the two left.
As soon as the door shut, Kirin said, “No. I will not.”
“Kirin, we have to consider it.”
“No,” came the snapped reply.
“Having a guild member convicted of treason will hurt this guild far beyond Merrie and us. It's been sixty years since Edmun was convicted and the Stone Layers still haven't recovered. The man has been dead for twenty-two years and there are only five members of the guild left. No one under the age of fifty. Do you know what Bitch would do to us? Do you know what treason will do to us? It could take us a century to recover the stain on our reputation.”
Kirin's grip on Merrie tightened. “I may not be able to save her from this, but I won't abandon her. That isn't what we do! She's friend, she's family, she's our Bitch!”
“This is our guild. Three hundred twenty-five people people are counting on us to keep them warm and safe.” Monk held out his hand. “We have to think of them too.”
Merrie ducked her head. The idea of being convicted terrified her, but she also knew Monk was right. The guild would suffer when she was convicted. It would be a stain that would haunt them long after she was gone. Tears burned in her eyes. (He's right.)
“No!” yelled Kirin, surging to her feet. “Bitch is part of this guild. End of discussion.”
Monk stood up slower. “Kirin.”
Kirin stepped at him, tears in her eyes. “Bitch is ours, we can't abandon her.”
“We have to. Only a few know that she's here. She's already on the death register, if we never take her off, then some of this will blow past us. The guild must survive.”
“There is always a need for fucking.”
Monk held out both hands. “Please, Kirin, you have to consider it.”
(Kick me out.)
Kirin spun on Merrie. “What? No!”
(He's right. There is no way I can avoid this, no way I can escape.)
Tears rolled down the mistress' cheeks. “I can't abandon you. I can't.”
Merrie sent a wave of affection. (You won't. But, he's right. You must do this.)
She looked at Monk who was surprised. She gave him a sad smile. (Protect the guild, both of you. I don't know if I'll ever be back.)
Kirin swept her in a tight hug, sobbing.