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Hours had passed while she focused on the spell. The focus was innocuous, a single shard of glass wrapped in spider silk. It was light enough that it clung to the crack of the wall with the sticky web. Like the design, the spell was small but complicated. There were at least five layers to it, the outer being the repulsion spell that made it difficult to concentrate on.

It wasn’t shadow magic, she was sure of that, but it had a foul taste to the magic. It also matched the energies she picked up from the intruder; each of the layers had the same touch of magic. It meant that a single person created the spell and bound it to the glass.

The repulsion itself wasn’t powerful but it was precise. The larger the area, the more energy it took. A single splinter was easy to protect, it only took about the same amount of energy as maintaining a light spell.

It was the spells underneath that worried her. Each layer was bound into the others, creating a tightly woven pattern of magic that depended on the others to remain stable.

The next one was sensory, it passed information along a delicate-looking strand of power that traveled only a millimeter before it disappeared between the gap between dimensions. That scared Merrie because she only knew how to step across to the Shadows and this spell was using a similar technique to continually provide information. The connection went both ways, she could almost feel a sense of telepathy coursing along the trans-dimensional strand.

One of the final layers she could identify also had to do with telepathy, but it was patterned to only pick up telepathy. Judging from the energies, it was aimed for a very specific type of telepathy but she couldn’t identify which one. Must of the spell was designed to pick it out from other forms of mental communication. She thought about Haviston and how he communicated almost exclusively with telepathy. From what she could tell, the spell would ignore his projections along with her communication.

She had to be careful to explore the weave of magic to get to the inner layers. As far as she could tell, the first ones were holding the inner one in place. It was a trap of some sort, one that could be triggered by any of the other ones failing. Remove the repulsion and it would fall apart. Sense something specific, it would open. Even an outside command could drive it to fall apart.

The inner most layer was too protected by the others. She only got a taste of the power. The foulness clung to the tip of her tongue, staining it with something poisonous. She tasted it with a frown, trying to remember where she had felt that same type of energy before.

(Merrie?)

Merrie let her concentration drift back to Borias. (I’m back.)

(Do you have anything?) He was worried and nervous. His mind kept going through scenarios of running to Bass to tell him or calling Tabitha to help. Mixed into those scenarios was Merrie destroying everyone as a cloud of darkness.

She sent a comforting wave back to him. (I’m not going to destroy everything again.)

(Again?)

Guiltily, she gave him a brief image of the Shadowed District when she brought the shadows into Franome City during a bout of depression and suicidal thoughts. Thousands had died before she managed to clear it again.

Fear and sadness rose up from his thoughts. (I’m sorry. I wish I was there.)

She thought for a moment. (I’m glad you weren’t.)

Surprise. (Why?)

(When I was alone, I went to a dark place. I came back damaged and helpless. But I survived. I survived starvation, torture, and loss. The woman who joined the fight against Gillette and help defeat Lemetri—)

(You killed Lemetri.)

She remembered the boiling darkness as the Lords of Shadow burst out of the world and pulled her back. Careful not to let Borias see it, she shook her head. (I helped. But if I didn’t go through what I did, if I didn’t lose Kine, didn’t have Rakin rape and torture me, if I didn’t bind to myself, then I wouldn’t have been there to help you.)

(But you lost so much.)

Merrie sniffed at the memories of Fang and Tamin. (Yes,) was the only response she could give.

He stroked his foot against her side, sadness and love resonating along the connection of their bodies.

She basked in it for a moment. (I’m scared. I don’t know if I can win this.)

(What did you see?)

She gave him a compressed analysis of the spell, breaking down as much as she could. There were some things that couldn’t translate from either of her innate magics, alpha and shadow, to his crystalline and patterned wizardry, but there was enough for them to work together.

There were too many questions. She knew enough to dispel it but that would trigger the innermost layers which she couldn’t identify. She let part of her mind work on some way of detecting the spell without breaking the spell, that would at least let identify where the glass was.

(This telepathy sensor bothers me,) Borias said.

(Why?)

(Because there is only one person who uses telepathy here, Haviston. Everyone else speaks.)

Merrie frowned, pondering it. It came to her in a flash just as she felt the the same epiphany burst along her connection with Borias. (The alphas. It lets someone hear the alphas talking with their masters.)

(Fuck,) snapped Borias.

Dread filled her. The connection between alpha and master was intimate and powerful, more so than almost any other form of communication. She was told that it couldn’t be broken into but she had done that in the fight with the paladins. She had briefly bonded with the other alphas and turned them into a single gestalt fighting force, capable of coordinating instantly with the full experiences of all five members.

She brought her senses back to the cloak and stared at the pattern. Her heart pounded faster, the triple beat slamming against her chest. She already knew the answer but she had to see it for herself. After a few seconds, she confirmed her dread and pulled back.

Taking a shuddering breath, she closed her eyes. (Someone stole my spell.)

(What?)

(The gestalt. Part of my spell is in there, I can feel the pattern. It isn’t the whole thing, not enough to create a full bond, but they stole enough to partially connect. Just enough to listen on the connection between the alphas.)

(How?)

She sniffed as a tear ran down her cheek. (Someone was watching our battle. It’s been a year, I bet it took them that long to puzzle through it and to enchant that glass shard.)

(Does that mean it can hear us?)

Merrie pulled the spell apart in her head. (No, I have to touch you for this. This is an intimacy that would require one of those shards to be stuck between us. Between that and the shade, I can project to you but only if we are touching.)

Borias groaned and rested his arm over his face. (Someone has been planning on attacking this mill for over a year. They are prepared to take on two alphas, their masters, and no doubt me and Haviston. These are the plans of someone who understands strategy and no doubt has backup plans.)

(Like knowing there is a shadow being in the house?) Her mind rippled with fear and growing anger. It pulsed around her, swirling in a black cloud that teased her senses.

He projected darkly, his own emotions beginning to be colored by dread. (We have to assume that they are prepared to take you on. They may not know the limitations but even saying your weakness once, or letting the alphas know about it, could risk everything.)

Borias sighed. (Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I’m in prison again. There are traps all around us and they are waiting until the right moment to set them off.)

(When?) but Merrie already knew the answer.

(At the worst possible moment. I have a feeling we are going to find it soon.)

(What do we do, master?)

Borias’ attention drew into sharp focus. (First we find out how many there are and see if we can shield ourselves from them. Bass and the others are walking into a trap.)