“Armor, Althem!” Rogan demanded as he holstered his handgun. The armor formed rapidly and he grabbed for the swords as soon as they materialized. Jack, who had tried to dash in under the beast’s chest while the flame was turned away from him, dodged aside as it batted at him with a monstrous paw.
“Retreat to the keep!” Rogan repeated, getting angry at the other two.
“We are cut off!” Nam yelled back, and he realized that in the struggle, the monster had successfully come between his two companions and the keep. It was using at least some of its intelligence in this fight, after all.
But Rogan had requested the armor in order to show himself as the strongest opponent. Althem sent a kinetic wave battering attack to get its attention, and the creature at last wheeled to face him and abandoned the other two, as he planned. He concentrated the armor’s power into his legs and leaped high into the air, taking a jet of red flame square in the chest just as he jumped. The heat didn’t surprise him, but the force with which it struck him did.
The power produced by his armor had multiplied the height of his leap many times higher than humanly possible, and he had planned to come down hard on the creature’s back. The force of the flame slightly shortened his trajectory, causing him to land straight down on its neck instead. He stabbed both swords downward, using the force of his landing to drive them in.
The thing reared like a horse, trying to throw him.
As more lightning flashed and the rain pelted down, his mind caught up with the facts of the preceding moments. That’s no natural fire it’s breathing! It carries real weight! The creature is wielding flux-flame!
War beasts were every bit as intelligent as humans. Gireidil law gave them equal citizenship despite their artificial nature, and each beast held membership in a clan, and received the same compensation that a human conscript would receive.
But no beast maker had ever solved the riddle of giving synthetic minds direct control of flux. They had senses, often equalling those of the best flux artists, and through those they could use ethen forms and patterns in the manner of a Keth-ethen. Such devices could produce many amazing things, but they could not provide unbuffered channeling of the primeval inter-level energies found between the worlds, the direct flux manipulation of the more primitive arts. Only direct mental control by a human mind could ever hope to control such.
The monster tossed its head hard to throw him. For a few shakes he held on, until the swords pulled free. They both came with him, but he lost his grip on one, sending the blade flying Jack’s direction while he and his other blade flew the other way.
He came back up to his feet in time to see the monster turning its flame on Mord, making the spectral hound cry in pain, although she still refused to back away. As Nam dashed forward, she unformed her dog to save it from destruction. Mord melted away as Nam thrust her dagger into the reptilian flesh, gouging a massive wound into its haunch with flux-flame projected through it. She skittered away as its head swiveled her direction. Jack grabbed up Rogan’s stray sword left-handed, still carrying his empty pistol in his right. He dashed forward and plunged the sword into the monster’s chest.
Useless! Rogan scolded silently, knowing that Jack would get far better effect attacking head or limb… and yet, in direct contradiction to that knowledge, red fire spurted like blood from where the sword struck. The monster staggered, sending Jack scrambling away from the flames and the giant’s shuddering bulk.
Rogan’s eyes bulged with astonishment as he watched the war beast totter and fall.
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