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Dropping to his knees on the platform, arms covering his head, Galen conjured a shield and sped into the rockfall.

A few small stones bounced off him with just light impressions of pressure, as if he were padded with pillows. Then a larger rock slammed into his back, its sharp edge jamming into his spine. Two hard blows to his arms, and though he held the shield's equation firmly in his mind, he could feel the protection melting away, running down his sides.

He'd never been good at shields, as Elizar well knew. As the rocks rained down around him, Elizar would expect him to stop and retreat, but he would not.

His translations of the shield spells were complex, the results weak, perhaps because they drifted too far from the Shadows' original intent. If the Shadows meant the mages to have a protective skin, then it would arise from a simple incantation, one of the basic postulates. He knew the one; it had underlain a progression of spells involving many different types of shields.

A heavy strike to his shoulder, and he fell forward onto the platform, enveloped in a torrent of rock. He made the decision in a moment, visualized the spell.

It slipped around him like a warm, silky embrace. He was aware of the rocks still dropping onto him, but they seemed weightless, inconsequential. In a few seconds, he emerged from the rockfall. At a safe distance, he stilled the platform, climbed to his feet. He felt the Shadow skin only as a faint tingling. His vision was unimpeded by it, and though the tunnel was filled with dust, he breathed clean air. He looked back the way he'd come. Rocks filled the tunnel, separating him from Elizar. Elizar would no doubt cut his way quickly through them, but Galen had his chance.

Anna spoke. "The ones who live here... believe that
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