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shield Isabelle had conjured around both of them.

In the doorway to the tavern stood a dark shape, its head a distinctive outline, rising in the back into two craggy peaks, one above the other. Within its dark silhouette, a small spot flared repeatedly with brilliant yellow light as it fired at them. Across their chests, plasma blasts sank into the upper layer of the shield like a series of brilliant yellow stones thrown into a pond, radiating ripples over their bodies.

Frantic energy welled up in Galen, desperate to defend, to counter with deadly force. He grabbed his staff and with fierce focus forced his mind to be still, to be blank. He would not endanger Isabelle and everyone else in this settlement- everyone else everywhere-by unleashing some uncontrollable power. He would not violate the Code. He would not make the same mistake he had made before.

"You gave them every chance," a voice said from the back of the tavern. "They are fools." In the doorway to the kitchen stood Tilar, the chrysalis affixed to his head, a subtle blue glow around him, and a PPG in his hand. Behind him, Galen saw one, perhaps two more.

In the tube station, Tilar had known all about them, had known Galen's failure, Isabelle's dream, because Elizar had told him.

Tilar began to fire, and Elizar stumbled away, a shield shimmering around his own body. Plasma blasts now sprayed over Isabelle's shield from two directions. Her eyes had closed and her fingers were working rapidly.

The answer was escape, Galen realized. Too many to fight. Tilar edged farther into the room, and taking his place in the doorway was Razeel.

Galen took the staff in both hands. The shield made it feel slippery. Clenching it tightly, he visualized the equation, associated with it. He had to create an opening
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