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Merrie was alive but couldn’t see. The world was too bright and it burned her eyes even though they were closed tightly. She whimpered and rolled over, plastering her face against the ground and breathed in the smells of rotting earth. The alcoholic scent teased the back of her throat from the rapidly dying plants. In a matter of days, it would be rotted and crumbling.

Her entire body burned. The concussion blast had scraped her thin skin raw, bringing her shadowy insides dangerously close to the burning light. Icy blood oozed out of deeper scratches, tickling her skin as it bubbled in the light. She had no doubt it would be pitch as night before the heat evaporated it from her body.

Cracking open one eye, she saw nothing but light. With a cry, she snapped it shut. She didn’t see anywhere to escape. Panting slowly, she dragged her legs up to her chest and curled them underneath her. The movement exposed her naked sex and ass to the light; it burned her like a torch. Crying out, she clamped her tail over her exposed holes and yanked her arms tight against her breasts, crushing them.

Gulping, she tried to cast out her senses to find some shelter. The calligraphy in her head burned away from the discomfort. She tried again, but the agony of her body in light made it impossible to concentrate long enough to cast the spell.

Her skin began to peel under the light. She could feel it crinkling and rippling, the first sensation of her shadowy insides beginning to melt under the brilliance.

Crying out, she tried to open her eyes against the blindness again. There was nothing but glare, a white that was too bright to be anything other than holy power raging around or above her. She couldn’t even identify the direction to avoid it, there was nothing to position herself except for the space of rotted grass underneath her naked body.

Merrie knew she had to move. She forced her arms out against the burning light. When the searing heat raced up her limbs, she bit her lip and drove them into the ground. The smooth ends of her wrists sank into the moist ground. Trembling, she kept her tail firmly against her pussy as she pushed forward and dragged herself a few decimeters.

To her right, she felt the holy energy gathering. It felt like standing next to a bonfire, a heat rippling along her side and ripping at her skin. It was getting stronger.

She peeked at it, just a flash of movement. The light was too bright for her and she felt it searing her eyes but she spotted a human staggering toward, limping with heavy movements. Their entire body was only a brilliant halo, visible only by the relative darkness that surrounded it. It was one of the paladins, she guessed it was Jace from his previous actions.

Unable to look into the light further, she closed her eyes and blinked away the tears. Fear surged through her body as she frantically tried to clear her vision. She imagined Jace was almost on her. He may have been injured by the explosion, but she had no doubt that he was capable of killing a naked woman cowering in the middle of the light.

“I… I…” His voice was hoarse and grating. The former confidence that boomed in it was gone, but she could still hear him straining to approach and the determination that vibrated in his chest. “I know of you. You’re the shadow woman, the so-called omega. The Shadow Hound.”

Fear surged through her body. She had to protect herself. She turned her head away from him, cringing at the terror that spiked inside her. Cracking open one eye, she tried to spot some shelter that gave her shadows.

The world was cast in sharp-edged lines of light. Some radiated from Jace, she could tell by how they swayed back and forth, but there were other ones that rippled along the ground. The shadows from the second light were shorter and she guessed it was a pillar of holy flames.

Sharp pain exploded from her right arm. She jerked away from it, terrified that Jace had caught her. Shielding her body from the light, she peeked at it and saw obsidian smoke rising from the burnt edges of her skin.

“I knew, I knew that I was right,” growled Jace. “They were all so confident that you weren’t there. That damn spy said… there were no… shadows in the house. She either lied…” Jace swallowed hard before he continued, “… or you were able to hide from her. Either way, they were all fools for trusting her.”

Merrie inched away from him. Every tiny crawl lengthened the time she was in the light. It would only be moments before more of her skin ripped open from the light.

She tried to summon her cloak but it was destroyed. There was only a dull ache where she had been mentally connected to it.

There was a thud and Jace grunted. “Go for the goddess, they said. If we save her, then she will defeat the traitor, they said.” He snorted between the heavy gasps.

A scraping noise filled the air. She cringed but no attack came. She started to peek but the light was too bright. She turned her head sharply away and looked around for shadow.

There was nothing in the valley that she had fallen. The only darkness was the boiling blood that came from either her or the shadow kin that had protected her. The black blood was painted thick against the grass, crumbling it clear down to the earth even as it boiling and misted away in the light. The choking smell of death burned in the back of her throat, tickling it with the fading taste of ether.

Jace grunted. “That was a pretty good trick, girl. You just about killed everyone with that sacrifice play. The problem is,” he snarled, “that was my sister you killed.”

Merrie tightened her grip. She looked up along the ridge of the valley she was in. If she could get on the other side, there would be darkness.

Gathering up her rapidly fading power, she drew her transformation spell across her mind. The familiar calligraphy needed little concentration and easily swirled across her thoughts, fueled by her fear and the energy that rippled inside her.

Her body began to shift, the skin rippling and peeling.

Agony exploded in her body as the light poured into her body. The spell snapped and the energy raced along her body, peeling her open further before she could throw herself into a fetal position and roll away from it.

“Yeah, yeah. You can’t escape the light, blah, blah. I’m tired of explaining it. You just keep whimpering there, I just need a few more moments to get over there and kill you properly.” He made sounds of pain and the light grew brighter as he approached. “I told them they should have prepared for you. All because everyone is so anxious to save the goddess and have her owe favors for the ass kissers.”

Merrie sobbed into the ground. Her entire body was on fire from her attempted shape-changing. It burned inside her, her shadowy insides were twisting and boiling inside her skin. It took all of her concentration to concentrate on her black heart and let the triple beat solidify her insides.

“After this, I’m going to spend a week healing myself,” Jace grumbled. His voice was growing rougher and hoarser. He coughed wetly.

Fighting the agony, Merrie tried to come up with something to save herself. He was closer, she could feel the ground shaking with his staggered footsteps. He was also limping badly, a rapid pair of footsteps before he paused for a second. She guessed that both of his legs were injured but not broken.

As he approached, she smelled fresh blood drifting over the wind. It mixed in with the searing taste of holy magic. It felt like liquid glass against her tongue.

Merrie mentally gauged the distance to the hill. It was only a handful of meters but it was further than the ocean with her pinned in the light. She could do it with her human body but turning into a hound was too much.

An idea darkened her thoughts. She screwed up her face and forced a command through her collar. (Present!)

There was an infinity as the command shot through the connection in her head. It rippled through her collar and became something more, an irresistible order form her mistress. The anticipation grew as her pussy heated up, a liquid gathering in her insides as the order came back changed.

What hit her was the thoughts of someone else, her own mind transformed by the collar into the orders of her mistress.

She obeyed, she couldn’t do anything else. Agony tore at her flesh as it peeled away. The pain coursed through her as she forced herself to obey, to slam her ankles into the ground and spread her legs wide. Her tail snapped up, removing all the protection as her bare pussy and ass was exposed to the light.

Everything inside her screamed to curl back up but she held herself. The surge of pain blossomed into pleasure as she fought to obey her mistress. Waves of holy energy seared her skin but it only drove more pleasure to fill her, gathering into an orgasm that pushed back her suffering.

It exploded almost instantly with the taste of blood in the back of her mouth and her entire body burning. Black energy exploded from her sex and raced along her black veins. Her insides solidified around it and pulsed.

“What are you… damn!” Jace raced forward, his foots thudding loudly against the ground.

Surging energy through the aching connection with her cloak, she cast the spell to create a new one. It pulled from her very being, sucking part of her life away, as the darkness blossomed into rippling fabric. Before he could attack, she cast protective spells through the link. She had done the same for her master, her mistress, and her own pack. Now, she gathered up the power and brought it surging across the lit ground toward her.

The holy light peeled away the flesh of her pussy, exposing her sex to the searing light of the sun.

Merrie screamed out as she held herself still.

Jace reached her and she felt the energy rise above her with the whistle of a sword.

(Dodge!)

She was obeying before even the command slammed into her. Throwing herself blindly in the light, she managed to slip past the blade as it plunged into the ground. Liquid glass splattered against her as the magical blade sheared through rotted earth.

Jace’s steel-tipped boot slammed into her sex. Her pelvis cracked from the impact as he drove almost half of his foot into her sex. The impact tore open her pussy, ripping skin and sending out a gouge of black blood to splatter against him.

Merrie’s cloak snapped between his legs and enveloped her. The icy darkness was a balm against the light as the supernatural cloth wrapped tightly around her body, sealing over her misting wounds and over her face. A knot jammed into her mouth, gagging her but also sending little waves of helplessness to fuel her magic.

She frantically cast the transformation spell. Her body twisted and ripped, her delicate flesh peeling apart like parchment. She felt her insides beating against her cloak and was thankful it shielded her. Moments later, her body reformed into her other form, a Bel Dark hound with a massive chest and a huge head.

A rush of excitement poured through her. She turned toward Jace as her cloak plastered itself over her eyes. The darkness shielded her from most of the light but it was still powerful enough to seep through the darkness. She couldn’t focus on him, but she could see his outline from the shadows around him.

Jace yanked his sword up. “Damn, damn, damn!” He swung.

Merrie almost missed the weapon coming at her, it was glowing too brightly. She dodged to the side. Her energy poured into the cloak, keeping it together with the force of her will. A painful throbbing in her head and the taste of her blood in her mouth told her that she only had a limited time to fight in the light.

Jace’s weapon left a glowing slash in the air.

She ducked underneath it as she stepped away. Her powerful muscles easily pushed her back.

“I will hunt down if you run,” said Jace.

Merrie thought about Bass and the others fighting near the mill house. (I have no fight with you.)

Jace had powerful mental shields. They weren’t psionic but a cloud of prayers and guarded thoughts. She could feel him gathering energy for spells, flashes of symbols rising out of the boiling depths of his mind.

He grunted. “You have their goddess.”

(Lemetri is dead.) She projected memories of her death into Jace’s thoughts.

Moving with desperate strength that she didn’t know she had, Merrie surged forward. She slammed into Lemetri’s body, every shattered bone grinding into each other in a singularity of pain. She snarled and slammed her head down to bite down on Lemetri’s neck with all her might.

Canine teeth shattered against the soft, delicate neck of the goddess, but the shards cut through the divine flesh. Blood, brilliant and shimmering, flooded into her mouth and she felt burning its way across her tongue.

Lemetri screamed out and lost her concentration. With a sucking noise, the Lords of Shadows dug their claws into her beautiful flesh and pulled her into the darkness.

The world grew black as Merrie fell into the shadows. Claws of a thousand Lords of Shadows tore at her and she fell into them, no strength left in her silent body to resist.

He pulled back with a hiss. His thoughts grew more guarded, the cloud tightening into a mass of storm clouds and lighting. “No, they said the traitor killed her.”

Merrie sent images of the promise she made to the Lord of Shadows along with the images of the shadow kin feasting on the remains of the goddess. She let the details fill in as she pushed the thoughts to the side and wrapped them in a quick psionic spell to keep them flowing.

Jace let out a long breath, his thoughts growing angry. “Then you are the enemy, not that traitor. They were all fools, blinded by their own desires.”

She said nothing. Slowly, she backed away from him and prepared herself to run.

“No one is above the gods!” Jace charged, his blade becoming a holy brilliance. It burned her cloak, melting it away into obsidian mists as he charged the few meters to her.

Merrie let out a gasp and threw herself to the side, her body transforming briefly into shadows.

His sword slammed into her right leg, pinning it into place.

She screamed and yanked at it as her body reformed. The noise of it echoed against the valley sides, bouncing back in a shrill sound.

Jace released the sword and punched her, throwing his entire weight into slamming his fist into her chest. The impact cracked bone and she was thrown against the ground.

“By the holy light!” He slammed into her again and again, a brutal pummeling that drove her into the ground.

“You will not survive!”

He had steel gloves on his knuckles. Each impact exploded with tiny flashes of holy light as the blessed knuckles crushed her furry chest and tore away at the cloak. Black blood poured out of the impact as he punched her again and again.

Merrie tried to defend herself, her hound form melting away from the impact.

The fists didn’t slow as they crushed her naked breasts and slammed against her stomach, sides, and pubis. Each impact shook her body as he brutalized her without pausing or slowing.

She could see the insane fury in his eyes. It scared her to see the intensity burning in his gaze, the way he fought against the wound that left the bones of his arm exposed to the air and shredded his chain armor. One eye was swollen shut and his brown hair had plastered against it.

“Be vanquished, creature of darkness!” His fist caught her jaw, cracking it. The delicate shadow insides, desperately trying to reform into her bones, shattered and she felt it swelling from the impact.

Merrie fought to regain her senses. When she could, she managed to force a single command through her collar, a desperate need to get energy to escape her attacker. (Orgasm.)

It was weak but confident, she knew exactly what she needed. Her body grew liquid as she felt the order circling and coming back. It slammed into her.

Her entire body exploded into pleasure, turning Jace’s attacks into pleasure as she accepted it. It surged through her body as she came, thrusting her naked hips into his fists as he pummeled her sex. The wetness gathered along her pussy as the energy flowed through her, filling her body and holding it together.

It did nothing to shield her from his attacks, that was what kept her coming, but she gathered her pleasure and scraped a spell across her mind.

Her body melted into darkness.

It exploded into flames.

Unable to scream, she flowed out from underneath Jace and up along the hill. The pain and agony followed her, ripping her shadow form in the brilliance as she reached for the crest.

“No!” screamed Jace. He snatched up his sword and jumped after her, bringing the weapon in a brilliant arc over his head and down at her body.

She reached the crest but wouldn’t escape the attack.

On the far side, she spotted a shadow kin only meters away. The shadowy creature ducked under the light that streamed over the hill but it was waiting for her. Three others were arranged along the valley. Their claws and tentacles wavered just under the light, as if it was a glass ceiling above them.

Merrie silently sobbed with relief. She reached out for the nearest and sent an order through a hastily formed connection.

The nearest one attacked, lashing out with tentacles and claws.

An explosion of light burst underneath Jace and he slammed into it and then jumped back just as the claws slashed through the air right where he would have been. He landed heavily on the ground and sank to one knee.

Merrie sobbed as she finished flowing over the hill and into the blessed darkness. With a sob, her body reformed into her human shape and she curled up against the cool air.

“I will hunt down, girl. I will destroy you for daring to kill a god.” Jace snarled.

Merrie reached out and pressed her hand against the icy ankle of the shadow kin. Its energy flowed into her, filling her with sweet darkness and relief. With a sob, she let her senses drift and they sank into the creature, rolling for a moment before she was seeing out of its eyes.

Jace glared at her from the bright sight of the hill. His eyes were glowing points of white light. His sword burned at the ground at his feet.

Merrie projected the image of the shadow kin next to her.

“I’m aware of the dark creatures that protect you.”

She reached out for others. She felt them coming out of the copse of trees that formed the original shadow land. They were her children, her protectors, her guards. She sobbed and rolled to her body, her injuries throbbing.

Jace sighed and stood up. He brandished his sword as he took a limping step back. “This is a battle that neither of us will win.”

She panted as she looked up at the four shadow kin looming over her. They were powerful but also untrained. Jace was a warrior, no doubt spent many years hunting the creatures of the night. She wasn’t sure which one would win, not with her body screaming out in agony and her skin only seconds away from bursting open again.

Merrie transformed into hound and back again but it did little to heal her energies. She frowned and tried again, but her skin remained ragged and torn as before.

Through the shadow kin’s eyes, she saw Jace back away.

(Are you retreating?)

Jace stopped and tightened the grip on his sword. “Do you wish to fight?”

(I want to protect my children and my family. I want to call this place home and not worry about attack or invasion.) Careful not to think of Borias, she projected an image of the shadow kin and Bass, who she hadn’t seen since she recovered.

“No,” Jace said in a hard voice, “I’m not retreating. Your family is being slaughtered right now. An army rises against them and you may be their own hope.”

Unwillingly, fear and determination began to rise up inside her.

“Fighting me means that one of us will die. I don’t know which one, but I do know that your loved ones will die without your help. Defending them will leave you weaker. Then I’ll be back to kill you. What do you chose? To sacrifice yourself to save them or to defeat me and leave your loved ones to die?”

Merrie tightened her jaw. (And Lemetri?)

“The goddess is dead, as you said. There is no reason for you to lie, it fits with their desperation for a rescue, and also their weakened powers that have increased when they approach this place. They are all fools to attack like this and they blinded by their own desires. Let them die first, then you and I will finish what we started. And when I slaughter you, I will come back properly prepared for battle to destroy what you have let loose on this world.” The last few words were spat out.

She struggled to consider his words. Her entire ached but it was unlike the injuries she had acquired in the past. The pain came along her torn skin and the burn of light against her shadowy insides. Her bones ground together with each breath, she could feel the burning sparks along her ribs, pelvis, and thighs.

Merrie asked the shadow kin to look down at her. She saw herself, a naked woman with black-streaked body shaking violently. She looked like she was on the edge of collapse with her shimmering hair plastered against her shoulders and back. Long rents ran along her skin exposing the living shadow underneath and she could taste the black mist that seeped out of her wounds.

Turning, the shadow kin looked back to the lights flashing near the mill. The light was painful for even the spectral creature but she could sense that the battle steadily continued. Various energies rippled along the ground.

Merrie sighed and turned the kin’s attention back to Jace. He was also injured, but she couldn’t tell the extend with the pure energy rolling off him. It would be a hard battle, one that she would survive no matter what—her collar promised that—but death would take days if not months to recover. By then, she may find her loved ones dead.

Tears ran down her cheeks. Jace was the enemy but he was also offering to pull back. Or least appeared to be, she didn’t know if he would try to betray her later.

Behind her, she heard an explosion rock the ground near the mill house and the smell of burning wood wafted past her.

Shaking her head, she swayed. Ribs ground against each other and she tasted blood in the back of her throat. She couldn’t take on two battles. With a sigh and a sick feeling twisting her stomach, she projected a pulse of agreement.

Jace continued walking backward away from her and the kin. “We will fight again, girl. Galladin is patient and the light never fades.”

He backed away for a hundred meters before he disappeared into the glare of the bonfire that centered where the bell used to be. Through the shadow kin’s eyes, she saw hints of the bodies that were scattered from the center of the explosion. Their twisted bodies and gaping wounds would have scared her one day, now they were just victims of the senseless battle from the forced of Lemetri.

Once she was sure he wasn’t going to return, Merrie lifted one bare wrist and started toward the other battle. Every movement burned at her senses.

She swayed, a wave of dizziness rushing through her mind.

Merrie shook her head. She couldn’t stop, Borias and the others needed her. She reached out and planted one wrist against the ground.

Before she could crawl toward the fight, the dizziness swelled up and she crumpled to the ground. The last thing she felt before the darkness was her bones grinding together as her insides boiled from her injuries.

And then there was darkness.