Chapter 21 (part 1 of 2)

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Everynne backed away, feeling faint. Xim leapt into the air, landed before her at ten yards, and advanced with battle arms fully extended.

Everynne recalled dully that her gloves were weapons with metal inserts in the knuckles. She raised her hands and shouted.

Suddenly Gallen jumped in front of her, arms crossed at the wrists. He fell down on his knees and shouted, "Lord Xim, I beg you to show mercy to our Golden, as Lord Veriasse showed mercy to your queen. Do not kill her, but mar her only."

Everynne did not know if the dronon understood Gallen. He did not have a translator. Everynne repeated his words, shouting so that the microphone roared her plea.

Lord Xim leapt over Gallen, advanced on her. His mouthfingers tapped over his voice drum. "I will not spare a Tharrin. You have lost your right to live."

For one second, Everynne stared up into Xim's faceted clusters of eyes. Each eye reflected a small image of her, fists raised, defiant.

Xim lifted his battle arms for the killing blow, and she suddenly realized that he thought she would make it easy, he thought she would submit to his punishment as if she were a dronon queen.

She screamed and leapt, smashed his right eye cluster with a fist. Xim twisted, caught her with his sensor whips, and smashed her to the ground. There was a great rushing in her ears, and the world twisted violently. In the distance, she could hear Orick shouting her name.

Gallen leapt up from his kneeling position, spun. He had not understood Xim's reply to his plea for mercy, so he had remained kneeling.

Now Xim had Everynne on the ground. He raised a battle arm and clubbed her. The blow struck home with a sickening thud, and Orick roared in grief, jumped on the dronon and grabbed Xim's rear leg, biting into it and pulling back.

The dronon vanquisher leapt, trying to flee the unexpected attack, and part of his carapace came away in Orick's mouth. Gallen could suddenly see Everynne's body, crimson blood washing over her golden clothing. Her hand trembled violently.

Orick roared and charged in for a second attack, but Xim backed away, raised his battle arms and chopped a slicing blow that ripped through Orick's right shoulder.

Orick yelped in pain, spun away from the battle, and Xim buzzed his wings and jumped into the air. He flew a lazy pattern while Orick madly danced in circles, blood and hair spattering across the grass. The dronon's intent was clear. Orick was already mortally wounded. He did not need to engage in battle until the bear weakened further.

Maggie shouted at Gallen, "Do something! Save them!"

Gallen watched it all, and knew that by dronon law he could do nothing. If he tried to protect Everynne, he would only be destroyed, and he had promised Veriasse that he would clone Everynne, come at some time in the future and challenge the Lords of the Swarm again.

He shook his head at Maggie, shouted, "We can't," and saw the horror in her eyes. He recalled Primary Jagget's predictions. Now that the dronon had formed gate keys, they would march through the Maze of Worlds. The Lords of the Swarm would conquer every realm. There would be no future. He had to act.

Everynne twisted on the floor, struggled for something in her pocket. Gallen stood, amazed that with such a wound she could still be alive. He watched her pull out the small vial of Hope. It rolled from her hand.

If I were the greatest warrior in the world, what would I do? Gallen wondered. And he stood, closed his eyes, and tried to clear his mind. He waited, but nothing came.

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