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Chapter Eighteen

Reforging of a Man

"Lore! No!" Hugh shouted.

The fiend lifted its hand with a stiff motion into the air, Lore impaled on its long bony fingers. The historian hung limply, head tilted back and eyes closed. Blood trickled from her open mouth and welled from the four punctures through her ribs. Her chest heaved ever so slightly as she drew a shuddering breath.

The lead imagio mage gestured and his forces withdrew far enough to give Hugh and Kain breathing room. The two men sensed the change in mood, but did not move from their places. Kain's fingertips touched the rim of his storm gear, ready to activate the gizan technique again the second the need for battle returned. Hugh pulled his mouth into a grim line and dropped his laconian mace in favor of his acidshot. The biologist raised the gun in his left hand tentatively.

Snarling and howling, the dark creatures never once turned the burning focus of their attention from the two men. They parted at another gesture from the lead imagio mage to allow him through, then guarded him fiercely from either side. The fiend holding Lore had not moved from its place near the army's head and now stood firm as its leader walked past.

The mage stopped at the head of his forces and pointed a gnarled hand at Hugh and Kain. "You have returned," he hissed in unearthly tones. "We know not why, but you desecrate our master's holy ground with your presence! We have sensed you long, thought we killed you when your ship fell to the icy planet. Yet you live, and we know it was you. Oh yes, we would know that accursed sword anywhere!" The mage turned his head casually from side to side. "But the agent is not here. Has he sent you? To mock our failure and witness the ragged shells we are?" He extended his hand gently towards them, palm turned upward. "Give us the sword. Its aura burns like none other. Your friend still lives for the moment. She does not have to die over such a petty thing."

Hugh lowered his gun, clenched his shield hand into a fist. He turned his gaze to the floor, not wanting to see the broken image of Lore any longer.

"Come now," wheeled the imagio mage. His eyes glowed behind his mask as he turned his attention solely to Hugh. "You don't want another death on Noah, do you? Another death you could have prevented had you been more careful; had you the heart to care... This one won't be so easy to ignore." The imagio mage glanced briefly back to Lore. "If I were you I wouldn't take your time either. Your friend doesn't have long."

Kain stepped up beside Hugh, laser shot pointed down but still grasped firmly in both hands. "It's your call," he said. "I'll stand by your word. Rolf gave you the Neisword, not me. But it's life or death. Sometimes you have to choose."

"I know. And I have," said Hugh. "I might not be the best of heroes, but I will not let Lore die!"

He lifted his gaze, fire in his eyes, as an aqua aura flared around him. Dozens of images flashed through his mind and he cataloged every one of them. Vital signs revealed themselves to him, alien weaknesses that could not be found by any other means. He almost smiled as the rush that came with technique filled him. This was too easy. He could strike all of them without retaliation. In the split second following his words, he did.

Savol. Spirals of aqua light flew from his body in all directions, each grasping a vile creature by its lifeblood and killing without remorse, without mercy. The power of his technique leaped from creature to creature, allowing none to escape its fury. Kain was right. Sometimes a choice must be made, and to hold to an ideal was foolish.

The imagio mage looked stupidly about him as his forces fell with unbelievable speed. Corpses convulsed in the remains of their death throes where they had stood living only seconds before. Though the mage's face was hidden by his mask, his expression of surprise was unmistakable.

"Get the computer, Kain!" shouted Hugh.

Kain hesitated only a moment, unaccustomed to the forcefulness in Hugh's voice. Then he smiled slightly. "Sure. Be careful, Hugh." He sprinted back to his portable.

Hugh inclined his head, eyes focused on his sole remaining opponent. His muscles tensed, senses still heightened by the rush of adrenalin. "And now the nightmare ends."

The biologist sheathed his acidshot as he charged towards the imagio mage. He flung the Neishield to one side and drew the Neisword from his back. No more monsters remained to challenge him; only one object of hate. He leaped at the mage with a strength born of love, fear, and anger. The mage recovered his senses only in time to see the sword burst through his heart.

The Neisword flashed a bright light, drawing Kain's attention then forcing him to squeeze his eyes shut and turn away. Heart pounding, he hoped Hugh was all right. Fingers poised over the keyboard, he entered his final command into the computer as soon as he could see again. The portable beeped an affirmation and Kain hurriedly scooped up his stuff, ready to move should the mage still live. He stood and turned to see the crumpled body of the imagio mage. Hugh knelt by Lore, having drawn her free from the talons of the dead fiend. He cradled her gently in his arms. The amber robe around him glowed softly, bringing her back from the brink of death with the power of gires.

"Let's get her back to the shuttle," said Hugh, placing the Neisword back in its sheath. He slung the Neishield over his shoulder as he picked up Lore. "Could you get my mace? I'll carry her."

Kain pulled the dynamite out of his backpack. "Sure. Just let me set up the explosives so the Council won't find anything worth retrieving once their mission gets here."

The wrecker moved quickly, aware that Hugh was still functioning only because of adrenalin. He taped two sticks of dynamite to the inside of the mainframe where he had plugged in his connection and then laid the rest beneath them, certain that when the first two went off the explosion would ignite the rest. Then he packed Hugh's mace into his backpack along with his computer and cables. Kain hefted his backpack up and grabbed his laser shot.

"As soon as I ignite the dynamite we'll have about twenty minutes to get out of here, maybe a little less," said Kain. "I put these together with a slow burning fuse, so we should have plenty of time to get out of here and start flying away in the event of a hull breach."

Hugh nodded. "All right. I'll start moving then. You'll probably catch up to me soon enough."

Kain watched Hugh go, proudly surprised by his friend's actions. He grinned, knowing that under normal circumstances Hugh would have a tough time carrying Lore, let alone with her wearing full battle gear. "He's going to be feeling that in the morning," Kain chuckled.

He turned back to the maintenance panel, sighting the fuses of the dynamite he meant to light. A moderated foi ought to do it. Kain envisioned the oxygen by his hand compressing so greatly that it would spontaneously ignite. The warmth flickered and grew, and Kain raised his hand, casting the fire from his palm at the dynamite. The small flames caught the end of the two fuses precisely at their tips. Satisfied, he turned to go when he sighted Lore's sword still lying amid the corpses. She must have dropped it when the lung sword hit her.

Kain scrambled over the dead monsters and snatched the hilt of the laconian blade in his free hand. She would want such a fine sword returned when she woke up. He then turned towards the exit and hurried after Hugh.

He caught up with Hugh almost ten minutes later as they entered the final stretch of maze between them and the Dipwad . The biologist had made unusually good time and Kain doubted Hugh even stopped to rest.

"Hey, buddy, you holding up okay?" he asked as he came alongside him. "The charges still have a few more minutes until they blow if you want to take a rest."

"It's okay," Hugh breathed. "We're most there anyway."

Kain shrugged then looked at Lore, who seemed much healthier and peaceful. The gory wounds had mostly sealed, though scars and raw flesh could occasionally be seen through the tears in her shirt. She would likely have to see a doctor once they returned to Motavia. Hugh's amber robe still glittered with freshly used power, but the gires technique only could heal so much.

"I'm gonna hate the thought of doing atmospheric reentry with her in critical condition," Kain sighed as their shuttle's airlock came into view.

"I'll stay by her," said Hugh. "I can always use my own healing techniques if the amber robe is no longer enough."

"She'd better see a doctor when we get back, but not one in Paseo. We can't risk letting the Council investigate why she was there if they find out she was badly injured." Kain paused. "Do you think Amy will help?"

Hugh frowned slightly. "The fewer people who know about our journey the better. But since she's assigned to the Council's Noah mission we might as well let her know. She'll recognize the damage done to Mother Brain that wasn't there earlier; the same with Rudo and Anna."

Kain trotted into the airlock and set his backpack down on the floor with a loud exhalation. "Heh. Then Shir would be the only one of us who wouldn't know about it."

"She probably wouldn't care. The Council would never send her up here anyway." Hugh walked past Kain and leaned against the wall as the wrecker sealed the airlock shut and retracted the small compartment back against the Dipwad .

"Oops," said Kain suddenly.


"I just realized something. Now all the air's leaking out of Noah through that hole we made."

"Oops," Hugh repeated, smiling slightly. "The Council will just have to deal with it. I don't suppose they'll believe a meteor hit it, would they?"

Kain shrugged. "Maybe. We weren't here after all."

"True. A meteor busted the door and it came out in a perfect rectangle."

"It's not like they'll have another explanation."

"Of course. We weren't here."

"We're getting sloppy."


"Lore would nag us."


Kain opened the door leading back into the rest of the shuttle. The cool air from inside mingled with the differing pressure in the airlock. "I hope the dynamite goes before all the air does."

"It should. We were pretty far into the ship." Hugh set Lore on a sleeping pallet just outside of the pilot cabin. "Noah's got plenty of air. Even though that's a good sized hole, it's nothing compared to how big the ship is."

Kain stepped into the cabin and dropped himself confidently into the pilot's seat. He folded his arms above and behind his head as he leaned back as far as he could go. "Or how big those monsters' heads were. Guess those guys in there forgot the golden rule."

"What's that?"

"Never piss off a guy who can kill you in one breath."

"Oh." Hugh seemed about to say something else when he heard Lore stir. He turned back to her, letting his amber robe flare again and bring its comforting power to her ailing body.

"Hugh?" she murmured, opening her eyes and turning her head weakly from side to side as she looked for him.

He knelt by her pallet. "I'm here."

"Are you okay?"

Was he okay? She was the one lying wounded on the bed, the one who was dying only minutes before. But he understood what she meant. For a brief moment he felt undeserving. She should not have concerned herself so deeply with him, so soon after the pain she had felt. He was grateful nonetheless.

Hugh clasped her pale hand in his. It was as though all the blood had drained out of her. She felt so cold, so numb and fragile. He would be strong now, not just for himself, but for everyone who depended on him, and especially for Lore.

"I'm fine," he said, meeting her eyes. "I'm better now. But it shouldn't have nearly taken your life to show me that."

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