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The balls plummeted through the atmosphere, and far below, structures exploded in great waves of annihilation.

One of the fighter's beams passed across her underside, its touch a brief, startling caress. Anna's war shriek stilled. Her body, which she had almost forgotten, lay at the heart of the machine, cold, longing for touch. She wanted to turn back, to feel the beam's caress again.

The march of the machine's beat stumbled, and the machine seized her. It was so beautiful, so elegant. Perfect grace, perfect control, form and function integrated into the circuitry of the unbroken loop, the closed universe. All systems of the machine passed through her; she was its heart; she was its brain; she was the machine. She kept the neurons firing in harmony. She synchronized the cleansing and circulation in sublime synergy. She beat out a flawless march with the complex, multileveled systems. The skin of the machine was her skin; its bones and blood, her bones and blood. She and the machine were one: a great engine of chaos and destruction.

She spun to face the fighter, gathering energy in her throat.

Her shriek sliced it in two. More energy boiled up into her mouth, and she carved through the sensor array, slicing it into pieces. At last she felt satisfied.

She and her sister crisscrossed the outpost. The destruction was pure, absolute. Not a single structure stood, not a single Narn lived. They danced among the nighttime clouds, and Anna reveled in the ecstasy of victory. The battle was a complete triumph, and it was but the first of many.

For now the war had begun.



* * *



On the cliff's edge, against the fading light of the sunset, Isabelle burned. The blue, magical flames roiled with fierce intensity, roaring like a living beast, consuming all.
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