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to his other cheek, impaled him, ripped down through skin and muscle.

He collapsed to one side, his face on fire. He forced his mouth to move, the words to emerge. "I will not give you the key under any circumstance. You should know me better than that. But then, your manipulations were never terribly skillful."

Here was the moment for her to strike, to kill him. Her bloody hand was poised. She need only reach out, drive her finger into his heart. Instead she held back, her body rigid, trembling with rage.

There was no explosive.

Elric visualized a fireball coalescing in the air behind her, visualized it shooting at the protected machines. The tech echoed his commands, and fire streaked out from behind Circe.

The fireball splashed against the translucent screen, then with a strange reversal of movement drew itself back together and struck out, now not just a fireball, though, but a great gout of flame.

Elric wrapped a shield around himself as the fire blasted past. Though the attack centered on Circe, it encompassed them both. The blaze roared around him. * A faint echo came from the tech, an echo of his shield visualization, as if the tech was struggling to maintain the spell. The echo came again, again, growing fainter. Finally it died; the shield slipped away.

But it had lasted long enough. The fire had expended itself.

Circe dropped to the floor. The platform beneath him dissolved, and he fell beside her. They lay facing each other on the charred tiles, wrapped in hazy smoke and the sharp smell of burned pork.

Circe's head was bare, the hat ripped away by the fire. She barely looked Human. Her eyebrows and eyelashes were burned off, her skin scorched a bright red, except for the side that lay against the floor, the side that had taken the brunt
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