The memories triggered by Madock wracked Merrie. She whimpered and twisted tighter into a ball, clutching her tail tight to her body as she sobbed into her arm.
The recollection was more detailed than anything she had experienced before, details that a mortal would have missed, a sense of being everywhere at the same time. It would have been overwhelming if it wasn’t for the emotions of watching her best friend and lover die in her mind once again.
She sobbed and let out a ragged breath. She couldn’t blame Madock for reminding her, he had honored her death in a way she couldn’t have imagined. Madock had twisted gods’ will and made deals just so he could give Merrie and himself closure. It was a small touch, more so from a god who heard millions praying to him, but one that eased some of her suffering.
After an eternity, she peeled her face from her shoulder and looked up through blurred vision. The reapers were still gathered but they said nothing. The shadows were still and she felt the barrier between the two realms had been sealed over; the Lord of Shadows must have returned back to the darkness while she was lost in her sorrow.
Parn knelt down next to her, one hand against Merrie’s shoulder. She looked sad and concerned and peaceful at the same time. It would have been an impossible to describe, more so with the shifting clouds in her eyes.
Parn shook her head and patted her.
(Did Madock and the Lord leave?)
She looked out at the slow-motion damage happening around her. The explosion had ripped out huge hunks of the courthouse. There was light coming from all directions, spearing through the clouds of shifting darkness. Turning around, she could see people dying as their bodies withered away into dust in less than a second. For her, the relative time would stretch it out for hours if not days with so many reapers present.
(What is going to happen to them?)
Autiur sat down next to her. “They’re going to die. That’s what happens now.”
(Isn’t there anything I can do? Please? Bring Madock back? Make a deal?)
The monochromatic man shook his head. “You are just a mortal.”
(I’m immortal. The collar keeps me alive?)
He sighed and nodded. “With that collar, you can’t die. But the collar can always be removed and you still have the mortal coil within you.”
There was a rustle of noise among the other reapers. They looked unhappy and disappointed.
(Then, why can’t I made a deal?)
Parn tapped her. “Why?”
(Why? Because millions are going to die. They don’t deserve it. They shouldn’t suffer because of me. I’m going to survive, why can’t they?) Merrie felt the frustration and anger rising. She knew she was talking to a goddess but the helplessness was overwhelming.
“But why? Do you want to save them because of the Royal Geas?”
The question halted Merrie for a second. She hadn’t felt either of the geasa since the explosion. She frowned as she let the forbidden thought of attacking the royal family. Nothing. She tore her thoughts away, she wouldn’t hurt Claston or the queen even if she was forced to do so. She would disobey that command, even if it meant her life.
Slowly, she shook her head. (No, I wouldn’t. There are friends out there: companions, lovers, and strangers. There are children who need to grow up, a city that needs to live.)
Merrie sniffed and looked at Parn. (Can’t I make a deal with you?)
Parn shook her head.
Autiur rested a hand on her shoulder. “You are past those now, Merrie.”
Tears burned in her eyes. (No! I can’t. I just saw Sama die again. She died pointlessly, choked to death on some asshole’s cock because he was upset at me. Now, I’m watching the city be killed because some asshole—) She gestured where Udin would have been if his body hadn’t been destroyed. (—was upset at me again. I can’t. I can’t let people suffer!)
She pushed herself up to her knees. She looked at the gathered reapers. (Please, I’m begging. You’ll do anything but don’t let these people die.) Her thoughts were filled with sorrow and despair, she couldn’t help but project it at the same time.
The reapers rustled uncomfortably, shifting from one side to the other.
Merrie sniffed and looked at the carnage beyond the gathered gods. The destroyed building continued to dissolve, revealing the courtyards surrounding the building.
When she saw Kirin in the front, hands drawing wine out of a dozen upturned bottles at her feet, Merrie’s heart stopped beating for a second. The guild mistress had all six of her infernal runes glowing, burning away her corset as she formed a defensive shield to protect against the explosion.
Monk, Scorch, and other of the Whore’s Guild protectors were there, spread out in a line as they were casting their own defense spells. None of them were trying to save themselves, they were trying to stop the explosion.
Tears ran down Merrie’s cheeks as she looked away. Her eyes caught more light from the other side of the building. It was the priests of Misyr doing the same thing, the crackling energies of their arcane shields building up to stop the explosion.
Another direction, another group: Loyal Alestri was leading a group of other guards, more priests that Udin berated for refusing to remove the collar were in a different direction, even the guardian guilds were there.
She sobbed and shook her head. (Why are they there?)
“They knew what was going to happen. You can’t see Udin’s hatred and not guess the outcome.” Autiur said sadly. “They talked and agreed to remain standing. They are going to try stopping the explosion even though all of them have accepted death to do so.”
(W-Will they succeed?)
“There is a reaper for each one.”
Merrie shook her head. (Why me? Why do I have to be this powerful? Why did I have to have the collar?)
Parn leaned forward. “You are needed,” she whispered. “Your power, your abilities, your submission. You are exactly where you need to be.”
(For what? To kill everyone? Is that what you wanted?) She shook her head. (No, I refuse. Can’t I? What can I do to stop it!?)
Autiur sighed. “Nothing—”
“Pick one who dies,” interrupted Parn.
Autiur jumped and looked at her, his jaw dropping.
Merrie stared at the goddess. It took her a moment to register the words but she was still stunned. (What?)
“Pick one. A stranger, an enemy, a lover. Pick one that you would be willing to lose to save everyone else.”
Autiur paled, if that was possible.
Merrie looked across the gathered crowds. There were people screaming, caught in mid-motion as they started to panic. She considered the priests who she had only met for seconds but those weren’t right. She knew the answer before her eyes slid over.
It tore her heart as she focused on Kirin. (Kirin.)
“Why?” asked Parn.
Merrie felt like her heart would break but she thought Kirin would forgive her. (Because she took the oath. She swore loyalty to Franome and the crown. Of all the people there, she is one of the few I know who accepted the geas without question.)
As she finished, she choked on her sobs. Bowing her head, she coughed and let the droplets fall to the ground. (I also love her. She gave me a home when I needed it most, she was there to save the family when I bonded. There are only a few people I would trust to do that: Kirin, Bass, and Borias.)
“Not the Loyal Alestri?” asked the goddess.
(I don’t know her as well. She would do it, but I honestly can’t say if she accepted it or not. Kirin, I know.)
“She accepted her oath without question.”
(Kirin,) Merrie projected.
Parn said, “The reapers then brought her here.”
There was a soft presence.
“What is going… Bitch?” It was Kirin. Her voice cracked.
Merrie sobbed and shook her head. (Why?)
“Get out of the way,” grunted Kirin as she shoved a reaper to the side. She stepped forward and dropped to her knees to pull Merrie into a tight hug. “Oh, Bitch, what happened?”
Merrie looked up at the beautiful woman holding her. (I-I’m sorry.)
Kirin smelled beautiful, she was wearing her custom perfume, Blue-Gold Glory by the Stars. The guild mistress leaned down and kissed Kirin. “It doesn’t matter what you did, you know I would do anything for you.”
She held Merrie tighter. “Though, who are these people?”
Merrie sent an image of Parn. (The Goddess of Oaths.)
(The others are reapers, the gods of death.) Merrie’s thoughts were dark and shadowed, lost on the edge of despair.
Large breasts ground against Merrie as the infernal runes flickered along Kirin’s stomach. “Are you dying?”
(No. I can’t. If I do, then far more people will die.)
Kirin tensed for the briefest of moments. Then she sighed. “Will me dying save this city?”
Merrie peeked up over Kirin’s arm at Parn.
The goddess nodded.
Kirin relaxed and looked up. “Which one of you is taking me?”
Autiur raised an eyebrow. “Just like that?”
“I don’t care whoever you are—”
“I am. I’m truly—”
“Blow me,” snapped Kirin. “I’ve been in this job far too long to waste time listening to someone lie. I made a promise and I will honor it. I will save this city with my final breath.”
Parn held up her hand. “Your geas has no affect in here. You can choose—”
“You blow me twice,” snapped Kirin.
Merrie gasped. (That’s a goddess!)
The goddess only looked amused.
“I don’t need a geas to be a good person. I made my amends and set down the plans for succession. There is no debate.” She turned back to Merrie. “Thank you.”
Kirin answered with a kiss. Her lips were commanding as she pushed Merrie back. Her hands cupped Merrie from behind as she opened the kiss into a passionate embrace.
Merrie whimpered but embraced it.
The guild mistress broke it. “You are a very good girl, don’t you ever forget it.”
Merrie shivered with pleasure, it warred with the despair.
Kirin turned back. “Is there a reason to draw this out?”
Autiur shrugged and shook his head. He looked at the other reapers who shook their heads. “No, you have accepted with startling speed.”
“I’ve accepted my death ever since I fled the infernals who marked me. So, who is taking me?”
Autiur started to say something but Parn interrupted.
“The reapers took Kirin in exchange for the rest of the city. Those who died in the explosion will remain dead but there would be no more deaths in the city until the sun set on the World Tree.”
With a snap, all of the reapers and Kirin disappeared.
Reality snapped back to full speed. The explosion of darkness screamed in the air, ripping everything apart. It shuddered and jerked to the side, funneling the shifting darkness directly toward a single person in the crowd.
Kirin’s scream of agony rose up as the full force of Merrie’s gathered power poured into her body.
She resisted for only a heartbeat before her body began to wither away. Her hair dissolved first as did her magic shields. Wine splashed to the ground as the scream grew higher in pitch. Her infernal runes flared up, a brilliant and sickening red that shone through everyone. The light seared the ground and the bodies but Merrie knew no one would die from their wounds.
The black cloud continued to pour into her. The force of the howling winds pushed everyone back from Kirin.
Monk tried to reach her, fighting against the winds. Elf was pushing him, his butterfly wings beating as he strained against the force.
The last of the blackness poured into Kirin, her body darkening into the deepest black Merrie had ever seen. Only the flickering infernal runes glowed from the darkness.
Then everything stopped.
Kirin’s body blew away into black mists, disappearing in a second.
Everyone collapsed to the ground.
Then she was falling. The explosion had destroyed the floors behind her. Before she knew it, she slammed against the crater that was left of the Royal Courthouse.