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Merrie flowed along the ground, her body tracing every curve and bump of the rotted ground. Her shadow form didn’t need light inside the shadow land, only the power that rippled along her. Fragments of calligraphy raced along her head, unformed spells and possibilities dancing among the afterglow of her dark orgasm.

It only took seconds for her to reach the original limits of the shadow land. One moment there was nothing but crumbling trees and rotted leaves, the next she was racing along wilting grass and between trees just beginning to lose their leaves.

She slowed and stopped, reforming her body. For a second, she saw her shadowy limb in front of her and worry sparked along her senses. What if the darkness had stripped away the shell that Borias had created for her? Then, as she watched, her pale skin formed over the shadows and sealed it back into place. Even the small measure of protection gave her a respite of peace and a sense of safety.

Shaking her head to clear the shimmering hair from her face, she peered around. She was near the bottom of a rolling hill. To her right, she could see flashes of light bursting along the edge. Small explosions shook the ground and the air stank of expended magic, flames, and lightening. To her left, there was nothing but a solid light. Neither felt right in a land of shadows and darkness.

Her land.

She needed to go to the mill and help join them. With the shadows surrounding her, she knew she could survive battle even against holy power. However, when she looked at the solid light, she felt it pushing her away. Something was there, something powerful and terrifying for the darkness inside her.

Worrying her lip, she made a decision. She crawled up the hill toward the solid light, her naked body swaying with the movement as her tail remained pressed against her inner thigh. She kept her ears perked up as she listened for whatever was over the hill. When she heard loud chanting, a prickle ran along her skin.

She lowered her body to the ground as she reached the top of the hill. Grass scraped against her nipples and thighs, tickling her. If it wasn’t for the danger, she would have stopped and just enjoyed the play against her body. Instead, she lowered herself further until her breasts ground into the earth and she inched over the top and peered over.

In the midst of the darkness, the bell stood in a pool of liquid light. Twenty priests surrounded it, holding their hands up in supplication and chanting loudly. Holy energy poured through them and into the white glass artifact.

Surrounding the priests were paladins. None of them were Lemetri’s. They had the same symbol at the chanting priests. She thought for a moment, trying to remember through the thousand gods that every child was supposed to remember but came up blank. She gave up most of her memories when she bonded with Kine.

Around the circle of light were shadow creatures, the simple beings that were formed when a creature died among the darkness. Their shadows were imprinted on the realm of Shadows and sometimes their death would manifest as animated forces. Normally, the shadow creatures remained in the realm of Shadows, safe from mortal man, but with the portal and the newly expanded shadow land, the two realms had merged and now they surged forward against the light that burned the darkness.

The creatures were the first to respond. Thousands of animals who only thought of eating, fucking, and fighting. They threw themselves at the bell, a black wave of death. She saw squirrels and wolves, raccoons and moose. Each one charged against the circle of paladins and into the light.

Each one died. Either by glowing weapon or melting away in the light of the bell. She felt their spirits dissolving and the final screams of their second lives withering away in an instant.

Tears glittered on her cheeks as she watched them die. Individually, the shadow creatures weren’t capable of attacking the bell. She remembered that from the shadowed district. They swarmed against it, but they weren’t strong or organized enough to get through the ring of protectors much less the light. The danger came when too many came, when the swarm became a black river of death and it overwhelmed the forces protectin the artifact. Then the bell would crack.

Until then, more and more would come until the larger beasts came, like the reaper or the Lords of Shadows… no, they weren’t the Lords of Shadows. She cocked her head as new understanding flooded through it. They looked like the Lord of Shadows but as she concentrated on them, she could see differences. Feeling the Lord in her mind so long gave her a different way of viewing them, not by physical appearance but by the complexity of the shadows that made up their being. The new beings were barely sentient, dull creatures with some of the powers of the singular Lord. They were closer to her hounds than the sentience of the Lord.

Merrie gulped, she was being changed again. The touch of the alien being had altered her, twisted her thoughts and perceptions to be part of the Shadows more than ever. She shivered at the cost and wondered if it was just a side effect of something more terrible.

Trembling, she brought her attention back to the battle. She didn’t have a name for them, so she simply thought of them as her children, her shadow kin. It seemed to work when the Lord of Shadows called her “Shadow Maker.”

Thinking of them as her children made her worry. They would die when they threw themselves against the bell. Even she could feel the desire to eradicate it from the world, it was a threat to her very being, a twisting of something that she could only call evil.

She sent her cloak and perceptions ahead. It flew across the air and then snapped to the ground, tracing along it as it danced between the stomping feet of the charging creatures. Up close, she could see the stylized bell on the paladins. They were lightly armored, chain shirts and steel boots. Their weapons were too bright for her, glowing with holy magic as they slashed through the swarming creatures.

A weapon slammed into the ground next to her cloak. She dodged out of the way and surge away, only to barely miss another sword. The blades were too bright. They created brilliant glares that erased everything around them in a halo of holy magic and power.

Merrie cringed and sent her cloak further along, moving with more agility than the other creatures were capable of doing. She knew where the bell was but all she could see was a wall of brilliance. It burned her, searing at her vision and smoldering her cloak’s body.

She managed to slip past the feet of a paladin and got into the inner circle but it was too much. The cloak ignited into flames.

Screaming, she yanked it back. Her vision blurred from the brilliance and she flailed around until it managed to fall back into the swarming creatures, shielded by their bodies away from the light. The stench of magic and death filled the air.

The cloak shook its head to clear Merrie’s vision. She looked back at the paladins, inspecting the nearest one as the creatures swarmed around her. They had gaps in their armor, she could send the cloak in through their orifices and tear them open from the inside. She had done it before many times, it was an effective attack.

Steeling herself, she surged forward. The cloak swirled around the swarming creatures and she caught on the nearest paladin’s leg. It was a man, but that didn’t matter for long as she flowed through the gaps of the chain armor and against his hot skin. Sweat soaked her as she crawled along his hairy leg.

His scream shook his body. He staggered back, beating his thighs. The impacts stung her body, almost dazing her, but she bore down and surged up into his crotch and into the tight sphincter of his ass. His scream grew shriller as she forced her way into the tight opening and then began to tear out his insides, ripping through intestines and stomach and lungs in a surge of death and brutality. Claws ripped out his lungs as she crawled up his throat. The heated pressure and darkness was a contrast against the brilliance outside but then she was out of his mouth and into the blinding light.

Merrie gasped, she had never imagined what it was like for her cloak to kill someone. It was brutal and terrifying. She felt sick using it and promised herself she wouldn’t ever do it again. At least while she was watching.

As the man collapsed to the ground, the nearest paladins attacks attacked her. Their glowing weapons slashed out, she was too distracted from her own disgust to dodge them. Burning blades sliced through her cloak and igniting it into flames. Her vision blurred with the flashes of light and the agony of her body on fire.

Dazed, Merrie tried to escape them and accidentally got closer to the bell. Her cloak shredded and burned away along with her vision. Desperate, she yanked back and the cloak fluttered out of the light and into the darkness. Only a few long strands of darkness survived the attack.

As soon as it was protected from the light, she pulled it back. It didn’t fly as fast as it used to. Instead, it limped and crawled to her before settling back on her skin.

Down in the battle, she heard one of the paladin’s yell out. “We just lost Rog! Something just ripped him out from the inside.”

“Personal wards, now!” came two other replies.

As one, the paladins suddenly slammed their fists together and exploded into light. Energy coursed along their bodies, bright and clean holy magic.

The shadow creatures pulled back, the light pushing at them.

The magic sank into the paladin’s bodies and each one began to glow from the inside.

It only took a second but then the creatures were able to overcome their aversion and they surged against the paladins again. Nothing changed other than they were glowing.

The one of the second speakers yelled loudly. “Get ready, there is a shadow mage coming!”

More defensive spells rose up as the various paladins braced themselves. Their blades slashed through the darkness but it was almost rote actions now. There was no need for anything graceful, only sweep through the creature to kill them.

“How much time, Mar?” asked the paladin who was speaking. He had mousy brown hair peeking out of a dark green bandanna with his holy symbol on it. Underneath his chain armor, she could see that he was slender but muscular, the lines of his pectorals strained against his chain armor.

A female priest stopped chanting long enough to yell back. “Three minutes! Now shut up, Jace!”

The paladin shook his head and grinned. “Time to purge this evil! Galladin!”

The others took up the cry. “Galladin!”

Merrie snarled, her body wavering as she looked down at the paladins. They were going to destroy her shadow land, her children, her promise. Delving into her thoughts, she found a spell to control the shadow creatures and drew it across her mind, the calligraphy coming easily as she pulled in the shadows around her. Energy flowed through her black veins and beat against her insides. She channeled it through her collar and let it build up, gathering in energy until she was surrounded by a black cloud of utter darkness.

Jame, the paladin who spoke, suddenly looked up. “By the gods, incoming!”

Merrie snarled and released her spell. Bursts of shadowy tendrils shot out of her body and swarmed over the gathered forces. The light from the bell erased it, but for for every tendril that was blasted by the light, twenty sank into the hearts of the creatures around her.

Their barely coherent thoughts flooded through her mind, but she shoved them aside and shielded herself from the din. Her spell caught more, twenty, fifty, a thousand. Thousands of tiny creatures, each one not capable of getting close enough to the bell to do any damage.

One of the tendrils caught a larger shadow creature, it was one of the shadow kin. Instantly, it became a thick tentacle as she felt a flood of power come through it. It was larger than a bear and she could picture its black wings spreading out as it came over the hill. Powerful claws dug into the ground as it approached.

She split the spell, pushing the horde into a corner of her mind and giving her attention to the kin with the bulk of her attention. She shifted her senses to the cloak and let it fly around her, taking in the battle. The kin was still over the hill but it was passing next to some large rocks.

An idea hit her. She commanded it to pick up the largest rock and get ready to throw. With the rest of the creatures, she pulled back with all her mind.

The mindless horde suddenly stopped attacking, they pulled back into a black carpet of evil.

The fear and nervousness instantly rose from the paladins. A few swung their glowing weapons aimlessly until they realized no one was attacking. Many of them stood ready, staring at the mass of darkness that was only meters away from them.

Jace yelled out. “Get ready! Defensive up front, the mage take charge!”

The paladins began to swap positions, moving with practiced grace as they shifted the brighter glowing paladins toward the swarm and the darker ones near the back. Merrie cast her senses across them and saw that they all had different level of wards surrounding their bodies. The ones in front were the strongest and the ones in the back were wanting.

Merrie sent her cloak to slithered through the ground near the back. She didn’t send her senses along with it, but she could feel it in the back of her mind. As it flowed, she gathered the shadows around it to repair some of the damage don by the light.

And then she waited.

Seconds passed by as the priests continued to chant. Her skin crawled and her mind ached as she strained to keep the creatures at bay. She wanted to lash out, to kill, to swarm over them.

Energy continued to gather in the bell. The light burned at the creatures in the front, searing them away. She almost pulled them back but didn’t. Instead, she let the first ranks melt away in silence.

The fear continued to rise. They were all trained to fight against it, none of them would break ranks, but the long seconds were torture for them as long as the others.

“When are—”

Jace, at the point of the formation, shifted his weapon. “Pray.”

“How—”

“Pray if you have to say something. They will strike, be ready.”

Merrie focused her attention on the back two paladins. Both of their wards were beginning to falter. She saw the glow inside their bodies flickering and dimming.

She sent the horde forward a meter and then pulled them back.

The paladins brought up their weapons and held them ready.

The chanting continued to fill the air, the energy growing into brilliance.

Merrie feinted again, wishing that the weaker paladins would lose their wards faster.

Finally, she couldn’t risk it anymore. With a surge of power, she threw strength and protection spells down the thousand connections in her mind. They surged with the darkness as the cloud around her poured into their connections.

A thousand creatures grew darker as they surged forward. Each one only had a smallest measure of increased strength but against so many, the paladins would be struggling.

“Brace!” screamed Jace and then they were on him.

Holy energy burst out of the paladins and they attacked.

Merrie threw her cloak forward, bracing herself against the light. It burst out of the darkness and surged forward, slamming into the weakest paladin. The female paladin’s wards burned her cloak, searing it but it wasn’t enough to prevent her from forcing her way into the sweat-slicked sphincter into her organs.

The paladin dropped her weapon and screamed, clawing at her stomach as the cloak burrowed deeper into her body. Blood poured out of her mouth and nose.

Merrie concentrated on the cloak, driving its actions. She couldn’t feel the wetness of her body, but she had enough control to force it down one arm of the paladin and then the other.

Her scream grew shriller as the cloak tore through muscles of her legs, forcing an opening before it could wrap around her bones

The horde continued to die, surging against the light.

Suddenly Jace was sprinting toward the paladin Merrie was attacking. His weapon rose up and there was no question he was going to kill her.

Merrie drove her puppet yank back. At the same time, she had it clamp down on her weapon.

Raggedly, the female paladin staggered back.

Jace’s weapon barely missed her. He continued the swing but backhanded her toward the darkness.

Merrie’s strength wavered from the impact. Jace had enough holy magic that it burst through the meat shield she was using. It burned her cloak and frayed her control. She forced the woman to charge forward, not toward Jace but to swing her weapon at the bell.

Jace interrupted her, plunging his weapon into the woman’s chest.

Merrie switched her attention to the shadow kin. (Now.)

The boulder launched itself over the hill, directed by Merrie’s command. It sailed through the air, unseen by the paladins or the priests.

Pain ignited from her cloak. She felt the holy energy rippling back toward her, using the tendril of control as a path to burn her out. She severed it and felt a part of her life burn away as the female paladin’s body burst into brilliant, holy flames along with the cloak, an extension of Merrie’s being.

The boulder smashed into the bell. Both exploded in an explosion of light and shards of glass. The gathered energy radiated out in a rapidly growing sphere of the brightest light Merrie had ever seen. It moved too fast for her and she couldn’t dodge fast enough, though she scrambled back toward the top of the hill.

Her world grew white and blinding, the glare too much to see anything. All she could feel was the heat beating against her skin, burning away her flesh and searing at the obsidian underneath. She cried out, straining to keep her form together as she flailed helplessly toward the curve of the hill.

Darkness enveloped her, the icy pressure of inhuman wings wrapped around her as claws dug into her skin. She gasped and tried to open her eyes but she was blinded. She felt the energy of the shadow kin still in her thoughts as pain raged across its system. It had sacrificed itself to protect her and she felt its dying as the blast threw both of them away from the explosion.

They hit the ground with a crunch and the last thing Merrie remembered was her limbs cracking from their impact.

Then oblivion.