The arclight beams hit Theognis barriers. His hand moved impossibly fast, keeping up with each bolt. Armin could see strings of unlight around Theognis’s wrists – he wasn’t moving his hand with his muscles, but instead his mind. He could react at the speed of thought. There’s got to be a way we can use that. “Ossman, Aldredia, hit him from the sides. Lorathor, get behind him!” Armin shouted, keeping the pressure on Theognis. At least Armin’s limited lumcasting was keeping his arcell full – he didn’t need to worry about reloading.
Ossman and Aldredia charged in arcs, circling to hit Theognis from the left and right respectively. Theognis’s hands snapped to each side, catching Ossman’s unlight ax and Aldredia’s arcblade, then flicking forward to intercept the next two beams from Armin’s arcwand.
Sweat began to form on Theognis’s brow, and Armin felt hope surge again. They were getting through to him! As soon as Lorathor got into position and they had him surrounded, they could land a blow. Theognis was an old man – one solid hit should end the threat he posed.
Then why’s he smiling? Armin asked himself. It was true that even with the injury to his hand, even with the trap surrounding him, Theognis hadn’t waivered in his smug confidence since uncovering Armin’s ruse.
The moment Lorathor was parallel to Ossman, Theognis acted. He stepped forward, into Ossman’s axe range. The handle of the weapon clattered against his forearm and pushed Theognis to the side, taking him out of Aldredia’s strike and Armin’s blast. Theognis ducked down before Ossman could take advantage of the proximity and slapped his hand against the floor.
Unlight rolled out from the point of impact, a wave that sent the three of them tumbling backwards. Armin felt that strange pressure again and pushed. The attack parted before it struck him, but everyone else was thrown to the ground. Haradeth and Bix slammed into the back walls of their unlight cages, and Synit tumbled over and behind and pile of gold coins.
Armin fired as rapidly as the arcwand could stand. Its barrel began to glow with the heat. Yet with no one distracting him, Theognis could block Armin’s attacks easily. “How do you keep doing that?” Theognis snarled, his hands a blur. “How are you unweaving the unlight?”
We both wish I knew, Armin thought.
Theognis snarled at his nonanswer and sent a beam of unlight shooting out of his eyes. The pressure rose again, and Armin undid the beam as it streaked towards him.
It still almost killed him. There was a backlash that tore through his head, feeling like an icepick shoved into his tear duct. Armin screamed and dropped to one knee, the motion saving him from a follow-up blast from Theognis.
Theognis gave Armin a curious expression, raising his eyebrow. The look was so familiar. Where had Armin seen it before?
As the pain faded, clarity replaced it. He remembered a lesson, long ago, in Theognis’ class.
“Light comes from a lumwell in strands,” Theognis said. Armin fought to keep his head from nodding again. He’d get in trouble if he fell asleep in class. It was so hard though. The room was hot, the weather was beautiful outside, and Theognis spoke in a low drone that threatened to force him into sleep. “These are called Rays. A successful lumcaster is able to bind those rays to their soul, which serves as a prism. They can redirect that energy as they wish.”
Armin furrowed his forehead, and Theognis focused his gaze on him. “Ah, Armin. It appears that a thought has crossed your mind, as unlikely as that seems. Since that’s such a rare occurrence, perhaps you should share that with the class? I’d hate for everyone to miss such a beautiful moment.”
Armin flushed as the class tittered. “Uh. Yes. Sorry, Master Theognis. I was just wondering…if rays of Light come from the lumwells, what happens if something intercepted those rays?”
And that was when Theognis gave him the look. The sneer combined with a quirked eyebrow. “If fish can breathe water, why can’t you, Novice Armin? If you had the most basic grasp of what I was teaching, you’d know such questions were folly. I fear you’ve wasted the classes time-”
“Master Cordwein could do it!” Armin objected.
This got another round of laughter from the class, and a withering glare from Theognis. “Master Cordwein was a myth, Armin. Warriors cannot leap thirty leagues like Kornar the Mighty, Dragons cannot melt mountains like Sjarix, and Lumcasters cannot cut off light.”
Armin’s cheeks were so hot, they threatened to ignite. “I just…Master Cordwein is in the history books. Those other two are from children’s tales.”
“I’ll have to inform Master Olerian you aren’t paying attention in history either, Novice Armin. There was a Lumcaster in the Cardomethi Empire known as Master Cordwein, that is true. However, the tales attributed to him are greatly exaggerated. Unless,” and to make Armin’s humiliation complete, Theognis laughed along with the class at the last sentence, “you propose there is a way to drink a drop of the sun?”
Except there was, wasn’t there? Armin had done that. He was cutting Theognis’s Lumcasting off from the source of its power. Wherever unlight came from, Armin was blocking the rays before they could reach Theognis.
And now that he knew what he was doing, Armin was sure he could do it again. It had been a reflex before, but now…
…now it was too late. That last blow had almost knocked him out. Even though Theognis was tiring, he was readying to cut Armin down with the next unlight blast. As soon as he did, it wouldn’t matter that Theognis was too weak to create more unlight cages. Ossman was groaning on the floor, his arm bent at an awkward angle. Aldredia was rising to her feet, but her vision was unfocused, and she had to pause to throw up. He’d cut them down without even needing to manifest more unlight, and then Lorathor would be…
Why had Theognis trapped Haradeth? Or Bix, for that matter? Light and Shadow, Armin had seen the carnage – he must have trapped Bix before even starting the fight. Why?
“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me how you’re doing that before you die, Armin?” Theognis asked, his teeth gritted in pain.
“Yeah,” Armin said. It was hard to focus enough to talk. Yet he made himself do it as he felt for that pressure again – felt for it and found it. “In fact…I’ll even show you, Theognis.”
Theognis quirked his eyebrow yet again. “Oh?”
“Absolutely.” Armin held out his hand towards Theognis. “Watched closely.”
Armin snapped his fingers. The pain was even worse this time. Armin couldn’t hear himself scream over the pain that lanced through his brain. He lost vision. He collapsed forward, shaking.
As his vision cleared Theognis stared at him and sighed. “You’re wasting my time. Goodbye, Armin. I hope that it helps to know you died as you lived – a failure.”
Right before the beams fired from his eyes, something impacted Theognis’s back and sent him flying forwards. Unlight beams flew from his gaze and scored the ceiling of the cavern. Theognis whirled at impossible speeds to face his attacker.
A three span tall automaton grinned at Theognis, her metallic eyes alight with something akin to rage. “Heya. I’m Bix. You put me in a box. Eye-boy over there opened it. Guess what that means?” She surged forward, the arms on her back extending in unison.
Theognis only had two hands. They couldn’t be in four places at once. His barriers caught the saw blade and the needle, but the electrified fork and razor-thin blade dug into his gut.
Theognis’s body locked up in pain and shock as Bix leaned in close. “It’s means I’m gonna stab you lots.”
Armin had just enough energy to raise his middle finger towards Theognis before he passed out.