Alain Harper and his companions arrive as Keely the Cougar’s guests and face off against Aven the Eagle, while Nicholas finds and masters the Genesis Ring.

Halfway through the arc of his powerful jump, a white energy blast sent him flying. He bounced and skipped like a rock on water until he rested more than thirty feet away.

“Slate!” Alain drew his Starblade and lit it. Aven pointed to it and it vanished suddenly, to Alain’s and everyone else’s astonishment.

“No weapon can prosper before me,” mocked the eagle-man.

“You think so? Alpha Mode, Raphael and Amber – blades drawn!”

Both Sentries changed their forms immediately, for in such situations Autumn’s Sentry could be commanded by her husband and lord. “Be gone, machines,” Aven ordered and both Sentries vanished.

“What in the Realms?!” Amethyst generated her self-renewing diamond sabers from the carbon in the atmosphere and teleported within striking range. Only an equally quick transition by Aven to the ground saved him from being decapitated by Grandmaster Toa’s star Archon pupil. But her blades vanished with equal ease when her foe pointed at them.

Another quick transition put Aven dangerously close to Autumn, who drew her stiletto from its wrist sheath. Another point by Aven and that blade vanished as well. “You’re all slow learners, aren’t you? Let us see if your hand-to-hand skills are worth anything, Lightchild.”

“You’ll have to test mine first!” In an eyeblink, Alain had teleported in front of his wife, in battle stance, and he was wroth.

Control the distance and control the fight. Alan had more solutions to problems in a fight than any foe Aven had ever faced, even Edwin Tendertree. And he knew exactly what distance he needed to employ any one of them alone or in combination. At this close range, this arrogant Archon might never know what hit him.

The Dark Protector awakens, Autumn thought with a thrill. The Dark Protector was Alain’s nickname for his mostly-unconscious, Ni’fe-like Shadow side: the counterbalance to his mostly-conscious Ne’fi side illuminated by the Light. It was above all Alain’s mastery of both Light and Shadow within him that made him so very dangerous in all-out battle. No other created being could match that degree and kind of personal balance, or bring it all into conscious awareness simultaneously at need.

Aven gave a swift forward thrust with his own sword – only to have it knocked out of his grasp by Alain’s lit right hand before it could strike home. His sword shattered into sparks with the very blow, leaving him unarmed. Then he found himself flying backwards as if hit by a proverbial cannonball. The Undying Singer had hit him right in his center of gravity with the fastest and hardest blue-left-handed strike he could deliver, meaning to kill his foe instantly with the Gifts of Strength and Healing inverted and combined.

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