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Haradeth had seen Armin’s snap undo the cage around Bix. You couldn’t let me go, Armin? Haradeth wondered. Letting Bix go was the correct tactical decision, but how had Armin known it?
She was digging that saw into the side of an unlight cage when he walked up. Perhaps that was enough for Armin to draw the correct conclusion, or perhaps Lorathor had told him how dangerous Bix could be.
It didn’t matter. Armin had made his choice, and Bix was now digging her weaponry into Theognis’ gullet. “You…what are you?” Theognis choked out.
“Crazy,” Bix said, the moment before she headbutted Theognis. Haradeth could hear the crunch of bone. Theognis reeled back, out of the range of Bix’s weaponry. “Absolutely mad.”
She dashed forward and Theognis’s whole body began to darken the air around it like an unlight beam. The wounds in his stomach sealed and he leapt back from Bix’s attack. The movement sent his frail form into the air like a startled cat, and Theognis hit the ceiling above. His hands and feet stuck to the surface, and he snarled down at Bix.
“You are nothing!” He screamed, flecks of spittle spraying from his lips. Bix didn’t respond to the taunt, instead placing her tail against the floor and pushing herself upwards. One by one her extra arms retracted into her body and added their length to her tail, pushing her higher into the air. A pair of daggers sprung into her outstretched hands.
Theognis moved, skittering across the ceiling like some kind of spider, still surrounded by an aura of darkness. Bix whipped her hands and sent daggers flying towards Theognis. He took his hands off the ceiling and intercepted both of the blades, moving with inhuman speed.
He’s so fast! Haradeth thought, grinding his teeth together. He felt so helpless, completely trapped and unable to do anything to influence the battle.
Haradeth turned his head towards the sound and saw Lorathor. He’d survived the unlight wave and had sidled up to Haradeth’s unlight prison.
Above them, Theognis was dropping towards the ground, and Bix was lunging after him, her tail retracting and forming the extra arms again. Theognis let out a blast of unlight, and Bix had to twist to avoid a direct hit. It still glanced off her chassis and sent her spinning to the side, cursing as she fell.
“Help them,” Haradeth said towards Lorathor. “Shoot him, do something!”
Lorathor held up his arcwand. “Arcell’s empty. Unless you can give me a weapon, there’s not much I can do.”
Haradeth cast his eyes around the room. The woman who’d come with Armin was watching the fight with a concussed intensity, trying to follow what was happening. Ossman had passed out from his injuries. Synit was still nowhere to be seen. “Get her arcblade,” Haradeth said, pointing towards the woman.
“Oh, yes. I’m sure I’ll fair much better in melee against a mad lumcaster coursing with dark energy than a skilled swordswoman. I might as well…” Lorathor trailed off and his strangely shaped pupils contracted at sudden realization. “Actually, hold on.”
“I’m sure not going anywhere,” Haradeth said as Lorathor began to creep forwards.
His attention pulled back to the battle, Haradeth could see Bix was starting to struggle. Theognis was sending beams of unlight her direction in a steady barrage, and Bix had to keep twisting and flipping backwards to avoid taking a serious hit. Her eyes were as narrow as Haradeth had ever seen them, and if not for the extra four arms providing her multiple points of balance, she would have been cut down long ago. How long can she keep this up? Haradeth wondered. Then he noticed how Theognis’s knees were shaking. How long can he?
“No. No, no no. Whatever you are, you die here!” Theognis screamed. He began to pull in more unlight, plunging himself into pure darkness.
Beams of unlight streaked out of the shadow, moving in all directions. One scoured the ground just inches in front of Lorathor. One struck Haradeth’s cage, leaving it unfortunately unscarred.
Another caught Bix on the arm that had the needle. It shattered under the impact, throwing Bix off balance and sending her tumbling to the floor.
When the light returned to Theognis, his body had been warped by the unnatural energies coursing through him. He was covered with a patchy carapace that left huge swaths of his skin exposed, and that skin was raw and red, leaking a mixture of black and red fluids. One of his arms had become a massive claw like something found on some deep sea crustacean, and his left eye budged out of his head, huge and multisegmented.
In fact, the rational part of Haradeth’s mind thought while the rest of his brain screamed in silent terror, he looks a bit like one of the Alohym…
Theognis extended his claw and screamed, sending another beam of unlight towards Bix. She rolled along the floor, wrapping her three remaining arms and tail around her body to give her an almost spherical protection from the stone floor.
Lorathor reached his destination and gently plucked the woman’s arcblade from her hands. She gave him a confused look. “‘S my sword,” she slurred.
“I know. I’m only going to borrow it for a moment.”
“‘Kay,” she said, squinting at Lorathor. “You’re a Ssslyvani?”
“It’s the eyes. Always gives me away.”
The woman considered that statement and nodded. That appeared to be a mistake, and she pitched forward and clutched her head in her hands.
“Lorathor, stop bantering and do something!” Haradeth shouted in sheer frustration. Bix was still rolling from the continuous stream of unlight pouring from Theognis’ claws, and Theognis was continuing to mutate from extreme unlight exposure. Any moment now she was going to slow down too much or he was going to jerk his hand fast enough and that would be the end of it.
“Patience,” Lorathor said. He picked up the arcblade and flicked it on. He swung it experimentally, nodded, and turned it off. “This is a terrible idea,” Lorathor muttered.
Synit climbed on top of the gold pile she’d fallen behind, finally regaining her senses. Her antenna twitched in agitation as she saw the tableau in front of her – Bix spinning around the room but unable to advance on Theognis, Theognis chasing her with an unlight beam, and Lorathor pulling the arcell from the blade’s hilt. “How can I help?” she shouted.
“You!?” Theognis snarled, whipping his attention towards Synit. The unlight beam cut off and he surged towards her. His legs were different sizes and the left one split into two legs at the knee, making the movement an awkward shuffle. “You. Are. Coming. With. Me.”
“That helped,” Lorathor said, and he tossed the arcell towards Bix. “You know what to do!”
Bix caught the cell and nodded, shoving it against the open wires on her severed arm. The arcell began to glow brighter, going from dull red to yellow to blinding white. She smiled and waited for cracks to begin to form along the edge of its casing.
“Hey, ugly man, son of ugly!” Bix shouted.
Theognis whipped his head towards her.
Bix threw the arcell at Theognis, letting it clatter across the ground. Theognis eyes widened in horror, and he leapt towards the container, trying to get his protective hands around it. His movements were slow and uncoordinated. Lorathor threw the now powerless arcsword.
It tumbled through the air, and just before Theognis reached the arcell, the sword did. It struck the casing and broke off a chunk with a clink.
For a moment, the world went silent. Theognis stared at the overcharged cell, his eyes widening in horror.
Then the cave erupted with light and deafening sound.