Merrie slowly came into consciousness between the waves of agony. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't pry her eyes open. She wondered if they were sealed shut, or at least held down. As the wave of pain faded, she bore down and tried to force herself to see.

The pain came back, a brief flash before it faded. It felt like sunlight being branded across her skin but it faded quickly. The smell of sake flooded the air around her, the scent of her skin being seared by brilliance was distinct.

She tried to project her senses but the pain made it too difficult to concentrate. She frowned, or at least tried to, as she switched her attention to her limbs. The memory of being decapitated still burned inside her head and she was terrified that she would recover as nothing but a skull.

(Mistress?) It was Zillia. The comforting thoughts still had the timbre of being altered by the collar but the thoughts didn't come as a mistress but as an alpha, a submissive. The cloak had her voice but it was altered, a timbre that didn't quite match. The sound of the voice and the thoughts were the same as the voice that came through her collar, similar and yet distinct.

Merrie sent out a pulse of confusion.

The presence of the cloak drew closer, caressing against her skin. When she felt it wrapping around her breasts and along the plane of her stomach to cup her pussy, she almost let out a cry. Her head was back on her neck otherwise she would have never been able to feel it.

(Yes, I've set your head back and the resurrection magic in the collar has sealed it back on.)

Merrie could taste the healing energy in the back of her throat. She worked her cracked lips for a moment. (Where are we?)

Zillia shifted slightly, sliding along her bare pussy to cup her buttocks and then up to wrap around her flanks, back, and up to her shoulders. (In a wagon heading up toward the top of the cliffs. There are four other bodies in the wagon and two men pulling.)

(Top of the…? Can you show me?)

(I'm sorry, Mistress, I cannot. It is too bright for me.) Sadness rippled along the connection.

Merrie frowned at the phrase. Zillia felt like a submissive, the faint hint of another alpha reaching out to her mind. The urge to send a command rose up, somehow she knew that Zillia would respond before she finished forming the thoughts. But that didn't make sense. She created a mistress, someone to order her. (Mistress? I thought you were my mistress.)

It was Zillia's turn to send a wave of confusion. (I am. I can be, but only when you need it.)

(Can be? You mean you aren't always a master?)

(No, I am…) The cloak seemed to gather words. (… I am a fragment of you, a manifestation of your subconsciousness that has been granted independence. I'm everything you are, just separate.)

Realization blossomed across Merrie's thoughts. She had succeeded, but not in the way she expected. She knew that the cloak was a fragment of her personality, but it was fragile and easily destroyed. Her last-minute spell made it more persistent and gave it a personality.

In the fight, the reason she didn't have to project a command was because Zillia had done it for her. It was still her mind, but now there was a distinct force on the other end of the collar.

Curious, Merrie reached out for the bond around her neck. She knew there were two places inside it, two connections, one that she used to funnel commands to act as her mistress and another. They were gone, merge together into a single connection through the collar to Zillia.

Merrie froze in shock. She vaguely remembered how she created the mental construct to switch between being a master or a slave. It was the connection that went through the shadow gem that altered the voice and thoughts. Somehow, the creation of Zillia made it obsolete and left her with a single, solid connection to her cloak. It felt wider, capable of handling far more energy than before. It also had a hint of being fluid, changing. It wasn't as stable as before but she discounted it as adjusting to the new mental patterns.

Reaching through it, she could feel the fluttering length of her cloak. It rippled against her skin and she smiled at the sensation of her own naked body being enveloped by the cloak's pitch material.

The wagon hit a rock and her senses jumped back into her mind with the distraction. Her limb caught on the corpse of another body and she rolled to the side. Her eyes finally opened and she found herself staring into the glare of bright light; fortunately it wasn't sunlight but a magical lantern hanging above her.

(Zillia, can you handle that light?)

(I have your weaknesses, magical light burns away my form as easily as yours.)

It was a cruel irony. Merrie sighed. (It figures that my mistress would be just like me.) She turned her focus back on Zillia. (How were you my mistress during the fight?)

Zillia's thoughts grew amused. (I am you. You are capable of being both a master and an alpha, therefore I am also. I'm just your mirror, your switch. When you are a slave, I must therefore be your mistress. When you are in dominance, I will become your submissive.)

A word caught her. (A switch? I like that.)

They shared a comforting connection, a closeness that didn't need words, physical or mental.

(Zillia? What are we going to do about the wagon?)

Merrie tilted her head to shield it from the light and opened her eyes. One of the other bodies in the wagon was facing her. It was Rat except there were two bloody holes where the eyes used to be. The half-naked bartender had the signs of the battle, but they were all injuries Merrie remembered inflicted.

(I do not know, Mistress.)

(They must think we're dead.) Merrie considered her options. (Do we let them throw my body into a pile? If it is getting light, I can burrow underneath the pile or crawl into darkness? If it is night, then I can get away to either escape or regroup. Regardless, it would be better not to use magic if we can, right?)

Zillia sent the mental version of agreement. It sounded like a good plan.

It also meant that it was doomed to failure.

Merrie didn't have any other choice.