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Merrie didn’t sleep well. Keeping the shade wrapped around her was exhausting. Back in the day, she had a house to anchor it to but in the basement room, she had to keep it flowing around her to avoid causing Borias to disappear suddenly. Neither were sure if the spells left being were watching them or traps, or if there were any, but it seemed better safe than sorry.

(Can’t sleep?) asked Borias as he curled up on the blankets. His toe touched her as she slept on the foot of the bed to avoid any behavior.

She sighed and closed her eyes. (No, I can’t tell if there is something here or not.)

(I know what that is like. In Abbinkey, I was sentence for life. I didn’t even have a chance to escape but I also knew that it was only matter of time before someone came for me. Mages were always wanted in the prison, usually as something to toy with or torture.)

The remembered horror and fear resonated along their telepathic connection. Merrie shivered as years were compressed into seconds, a montage of him jumping at every shadow and every opening door. (Why?)

(Because we couldn’t use our magic. Every mage in Abbinkey was geased to never use their source of power or have their insides liquefy and pour out of the nearest orifice. I saw it happen once, it was terrible since the spell also kept the poor bastard alive for hours while blood and gore spewed out.) The memories grew dark. (They laughed at him. All those fuckers just sat back and laughed. I heard the making bets on when he stopped screaming or if they could identify the organs that came out.)

Merrie closed her eyes tightly. The memories were raw inside Borias, a pointed remainder that he suffered a lot before Bass rescued him. (I’m sorry.)

(It is what it is.)

She projected nothing in return. Instead, she just basked in his affection and let his presence keep her company. Slowly, she started to drift to sleep again but her fear pricked her awake. She opened her eyes and stared out into the room. It looked just like it always did, but there was the threat. The darkness gave her no comfort because she couldn’t discern if she was safe or not.

Slowly, she pushed out her senses, spreading them along the shadows. Her world grew thin as she caressed the wood and floor, tracing every centimeter with her mind. Billowing with her mental command, her shadow cloak spread out across the ground and her senses attached to it. This time, she sank deeper into her spell until she lost connection with her body and felt everything through the cloak.

She was gliding. She could feel every bump alone the ground and every ridge in the bricks. To inspect each one would take forever but she didn’t know how to find something that wasn’t there. Frustration hummed inside her as she swept along the surface without a clue of how to find it.

Merrie didn’t know what to do if she found it. If it was watching her, why? Why did someone need information about the mill? The only thing she could think of was to wait for some admission of guilt or a weakness and then use it against them.

She also didn’t know if the intruder was aware of her presence. She hid the best she could, but there were far more powerful people than her when it came to creating and breaking repulsion spells. She worried her lip and switched her attention over to the kitchen area. Years ago, she had enjoyed the different spells that were embedded in the parchment. Borias used them since he couldn’t tap into his own power. They were spells that altered the nature of thing, usually to make healthy food look and taste like shit.

With a smile, Merrie remembered how Borias crafted each meal for maximum disgust. He was skilled in making something look like a bowl of diarrhea but be made only out of carrots and potatoes. He has other spells to prevent disease, sickness, and infestations. She had one of his runes on her inner thigh, or did before her body was completely destroyed.

Curious, she looked inward to herself. The plague rune, as it was known, was gone as was the rule of cleanliness. She also had a rune of sterility added by Kine. Before the goddess, they were small marks on her inner thighs but when she looked at her own magical aura, she saw nothing of those spell. Instead, there was only a shadowy darkness that boiled inside her, an inhuman core to her very human shell.

Somehow, she doubted she was capable of having children anymore. And the Shadows would corrode anything living, she suspected the same was for any disease that entered her body.

“Uh,” Borias said as he crawled out of bed. “I gotta pee.”

He didn’t look at her as he headed around the bed and then up the stairs. She listened to him, counting the steps as he headed out near the kitchen and then to the front door. Unlike Bass and the others, Borias preferred to pee outside and only use the bathroom on the floor above when he had to shit.

She closed her eyes again and tried not to think about being watched. It was hard enough keeping the shade on her, she didn’t want to—

Her thoughts froze and she lifted her head again. Turning, she looked toward the wall with the stairs. Counting. If there was a bug, it was probably being hidden by a repulsion spell. She needed a pattern she could count and maybe she would be able to find it.

Turning back, she looked at the room. Seeing the casks, she counted each one but it looked right. She tried counting off the cabinets but the number looked right.

Then she focused on the bricks. There were too many to count without walking along them. She smiled, she could. With a surge of power, she gathered up her cloak and sent her senses along it. As the black shadows flowed over each one, she tallied up the count to run a circuit of the room.

(… 215, 216, 217.)

Frowning, she tried again but went a row lower.

(… 218.)

Borias came down the stairs, his bare feet scuffing on the wood.

Merrie finished another row. (… 217.)

When he crawled into bed, he brushed against her just as she finished another row.

(… 218.)

(What are you doing, Merrie?)

(I’m seeing if there a repulsion on of the bricks. Do you know how many there are?)

(Either 217 or 218 bricks in 12 rows. From the bed, there are 81 or 82 visible bricks on the far wall.) The memories that came up of long hours watching over bitches crying themselves to sleep. The number had been burned into his memory.

(Can you also count?)

He started at the bottom, counting the bricks that were visible from his bed. She did the same from the top as they focused on the same wall.

(81.)

(82.)

(81.)

(82. Are you sure this will find it?)

(81. Yes,) she projected with little confidence.

(80. Same as usual.)

(81.)

(82.)

(Wait!) Merrie’s ears perked up. (Go back two.)

(80, so that’s the right number.)

She smiled to herself. She held her breath as she counted the same row. (… 78, 79, 80. Just as I… no, there is 81. There has to be.)

Surprise and elation rose inside Borias. (Really, it was that easy.)

(I haven’t found it yet.)

Merrie frowned and then began to inspect the wall. She started by counting the bricks, comparing multiple rows and stopping when the numbers were different. It took her minutes, maybe half an hour, before she isolated it down by a single brick. The only way she could look at it was to order herself to look at it at all costs; the power of her adamantite collar was far stronger than any domination from a repulsion.

Heart beating in her chest, a triple beat, she sent her cloak up along the wall and to the bricks. Concentrating, she focused all of her senses through it and kept her attention locked on the brick as she worked her way through the barely visible repulsion spell that tried to push her eyes away.