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goatee scoured into the shape of the rune for knowledge. From there his gaze rose to Kell's face, which had fallen back, white teeth gleaming in a mouth fixed in a rigid grimace.

The sleeves of Kell's robe had been ripped open, and beneath, a single clean incision had been made down each of Kell's arms, the skin spread back like the petals of an alien flower, revealing a great mystery of darkness speckled with brilliant flecks of white. His hands were two great blossoms, the skin of palms, of thumbs, index and middle fingers peeled back, muscle elegantly split, delicate canyons of bone exposed.

Kell had been flayed.

In the early days of their history, rogue mages had been flayed for refusing to obey the Code. Removing all of the tech from a mage, unless it was done soon after initiation, was always fatal. The body and the tech quickly became intertwined. Although flaying remained the punishment for serious violations of the Code, it hadn't been administered for hundreds of years.

Elric approached Kell. Galen wanted to tell him not to move, not to speak, that perhaps the vision in the light was an illusion. If they did not move, if they did not touch it, perhaps they could come to believe it was not real.

Kell had not deserved this.

Elric laid one hand on the back of the chair and turned Kell away from them. Galen thought at first that Elric wanted to shield them from the image. But then Elric brought his hands to either side of Kell's head, lifted it. A shudder ran down Elric's body.

Galen could not see. He found himself moving forward.

The spotlights shone into the back of Kell's skull. A neat circle of bone had been cut away, revealing the emptiness within. Most of his brain had been removed. Elric's hands moved to Kell's shoulders. Galen wanted
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