The ritual was almost complete. The surge of power that rushed through my spine and my skull, pulling me higher and more elated than any drug, was fading, leaving me with the sullen crash that was all too familiar. A new prickling on my wrist over the inky swirl of my new tattoo reminded me of its presence. The tingling sensation flowed inwards from my skin and into my bones, sucking back like the tide into my torso before settling inside my chest. It lingered for a second before withdrawing completely, and I couldn't help but feel a little empty. Shrugging it off, I opened my eyes.

Merciu's body was still on the floor before me. Her chest didn't rise and fall in the afflicted, stuttering motion it used to; instead, it was completely still. A section of dark hair pulled across her face lay flat, no breath disturbing it. Merciu's body was dead.

Smirking, I looked inwards, sending a little of my much-abused power towards the tattoo, letting the ink flare to life.

Merciu's power hit me like a fist to the stomach. I barely had time to brace myself before it flowed away, back into the tattoo's lines.

Merciu? Merciu? Can you hear me? I thought, pushing power towards the tattoo.

"You bitch! What have you done to me?" A familiar voice rang through my head. Merciu's lilting tones were smeared with anger and betrayal; I couldn't blame her. I had essentially killed her, after all. Still, it was for the best.

I have absorbed your being into my body.

"Why would you do that? Why now, and why me, of all people?" I winced at the increasing pitch, resisting the temptation to clap my hands over my ears.

Calm down. It's better this way. I can protect you more easily now.

"Who said I even wanted protecting? I'm not – I wasn't – defenceless! I could hold my own in any fight! Hell, without me you'd probably be dead," she paused. I could picture her dark eyes squinting in contemplation, scheming. She was the one person who could pull any response from me, no matter how buried. "But since I was dying anyway, I suppose you took matters into your own hands? Decided that it was best to kill me first, so you didn't have to deal with grieving when I died from disease? Are you that unwilling to feel?"

Yes, I am.