An expression of violence

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He was alone. The sense of isolation and vulnerability corroded his abilities and confidence, stripping him of control and finesse, reducing his powers, each effort thwarted by his own incompetence. The others were far behind and far below, though hopefully safer than he was - luck and persistence were now the only factors keeping him alive. His reservoir was depleted, his breath ragged, his command over the active particulate matter that infused the aviary both erratic and without maintained force. He was a boy, a child, fighting in an adults' war, dropped into a conflict he didn't understand and fighting to save a people whom had imprisoned him his entire life.

Yet still Tarn fought.

He fought with every remaining fibre, every last thought, flashes of the faces of his friends giving him strength even when his powers refused to obey. There was a time when he'd had only one, simple motivation: to escape. That notion had driven him into the darkness of the pipework leading out of the machine rooms, crawling to a short-lived freedom. He'd had no concept of a destination; only a direction. Now he found himself with many reasons to want to live, to survive, and a clear destination - and no sense of how to get there.

Their fight was a broken, clumsy dance across the rooftops of the palace, from one tower to the next, across copper-stained metal panels and along stone walkways, sometimes spinning through the air, borne up by their combined manipulations of forces around them, at other times crashing to the roof's surface, tumbling over each other, raining blows and whipping great clouds of dust and debris into spiralling, localised storms.

During the worst of it, he would momentarily wish to change the path he'd stumbled along, to go back to the machine rooms, to be obedient and never leave. To exchange this pain and uncertainty and challenge for the repetitive surety of a worker's life. In those brief moments he would remember what Tranton had once told him: that the word he should be using was not 'worker', but 'slave'.

And so he fought, even as his muscles weakened and his mind grew fuzzy and the palace begean to crumble about them.

"Fight!" came Aera's voice in his head. She would shout instructions and warnings, alerting him to threats, identifying Kraisa's tactics before she was able to enact them. Even as he tired, she remained a vicious, loud interruption, pulling him back to be present and alert. "She's flagging as well," Aera said, "she's just better at hiding it. Neither of you can maintain this for much longer."

True or not, Tarn was acutely aware that Kraisa wore her interlocking, inky-black armour. Stripped of both their powers, she would still have the upper hand.

"For a moment," Kraisa shouted above the swirling winds and the crackle of the energy membrane high overhead, "this felt like the good old days. Back when we first arrived and were treated like gods. Before we turned on each other. Before we were reduced to hiding in the shadows."

Leaping to one side, Tarn dodged a shower of glass shards that she had shattered out of the frame of the aviary. As he landed he felt his knee buckle, though he countered it and retained his balance. Birds arced and wheeled in a panic, smashing themselves against the remaining glass in an effort to escape.

"I used to spend quiet hours in this aviary," she said, "dreaming of this moment, when I'd finally have everything ready. When i'd finaly go home, with the valley as capital." A corner of the metal frame of the aviary collapsed under the strain. She looked at the sad, ruined structure and shrugged. "I won't be needing it any longer. I'll be able to build as many aviaries as I want."

He wrenched a wooden bench out of the floor and propelled it towards her, accelerating its flight artificially and aiming for the open front of her helmet. Seeming almost not to notice, Kraisa pivoted on one leg, raised the other and kicked out, the bench exploding into fragments that fell harmlessly around her.

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