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Nemo threw himself into the titanic battle between Hyde and the Dante-beast, but the two mammoth combatants paid little attention to him. Dante knocked the captain aside with an offhanded smack, then began to pummel Hyde again. The two monsters had reduced the mezzanine to rubble. Rocks continued to fall from the unsupported ceiling.
Though battered and bloody, Nemo remained determined. He drew a deep breath, quelled the pain through direct mental effort, sprang to his feet, and dashed back into the fray. He had studied philosophy and mental discipline, as well as sophisticated fighting skills; he knew he was not as insignificant as the Dante-beast seemed to consider him.
With a mighty blow, the Fantom's horrific lieutenant slammed Hyde through another stone pillar. Nemo attacked Dante from behind, his scimitar flashing. Each slash with the curved blade drew a thin line of blood— little more than a shaving nick—but Nemo struck again and again. He scored the Dante-beast's tough hide.
Although each individual stroke caused only the slightest of injuries and pain, the captain knew it to be a subde technique, most often used for torture. The brutal ancient khans had called it the "death of a thousand cuts." Now it might be his only chance.
But before Nemo could wear down the enemy, Dante backhanded him. The beasts massive hand was like a battering ram, and the captain sailed through the air like no more than a leaf blown by a strong wind, his blue turban askew. Still grasping his scimitar, he tucked his head and arms, rolling as he struck the wall, and landed only partially stunned beside Hyde. They had both fallen into a cold, disused ash pit.
Hyde picked himself up and flexed his bulging arms, searching for something to hit. Grabbing a stone block that had fallen into the rubble around them, he hurled it at the near wall.
Nemo threw off his pain and groggy confusion, then made a rapid assessment of their situation. "We're trapped. He's too strong."
Dante continued to roar in his rampage. They could hear him crashing closer.
"Too much elixir. He's burning through the formula at an accelerated pace." Hyde shook blood and rock dust from his shaggy hair. "He'll soon change back."
"If we have that much time left," Nemo said.
Suddenly, the Dante-beast's huge claw burst through the debris and snatched Hyde's head and tried to crush his skull. Hyde roared and battered his opponent's arm, scraping and scratching.
Nemo thrust with his scimitar and stabbed Dante's swollen, hairy hand, plunging the point deep. The blade snapped in half.
Even so, the beasts unexpected pain gave Hyde the moment he needed. As Dante reacted by hurling himself forward at his enemy, Hyde grabbed him. He plunged ragged nails of both hands into Dante's flesh and used main strength to haul the whole beast over his head. Dante snarled and thrashed, until Hyde body-slammed him into the far edge of the pit with a sound like a cargo wagon crashing.
Knowing they could not fight Dante much longer, Nemo stumbled toward a low opening at the far end of the ash pit. He peered upward and saw bright daylight far overhead, illuminating thick layers of ice, frost, and long stalactites of icicles encrusted on the walls of an old, empty chimney.
Their only way out.
"Hyde, come on!"
His weakened, brutish ally staggered—and Nemo realized that the unsteady reaction was caused by more than his battle injuries.
Hyde winced, his face rippling, brow ridge convulsing, lips peeled back from crooked, squarish teeth. "I'm done. I've burned through… the… formula… too." He let out a yowl of pain and disappointment. His chest squirmed and spasmed in the sudden throes of transformation. "Damn!"
Behind him, the Dante-beast struggled to get to his feet. He shook his massive head and swatted shattered rock aside.
Nemo ran back and grabbed Hyde by the shoulders, helping him stumble to the chimney. "Come, we can hide. Maybe escape." They staggered along, while Hyde seemed to shrink in on himself, his body mass diminishing with each step. "Hurry!"
All too soon, he had reverted entirely to the small, shaking form of Henry Jekyll. He stood looking weak and forlorn, like a rain-soaked alley cat.
The Dante-beast charged at them.
Nemo pulled Jekyll with him through the fire hole into the ice-encrusted chimney, just as Dante hurtled into the wall. The beast slammed into the small fire doorway like a rampaging elephant, but only his monstrous head and straining neck passed through. His enormous arms and shoulders could not fit, though the force of the impact shook the chimney.
High above, a long, thick spear of ice snapped loose and fell, gaining speed, glinting in the reflected light from the sky.
"Look out!" Jekyll cried in a thin squeak. He shoved Nemo aside just before the icicle spike splintered into chips on the chimney floor.
"I thank you. I would have been killed."
Jekyll blinked, then smiled. "I'm glad that… I can be useful, too."
But the Dante-beast had also seen the thick ice spears on the chimney. He ground his shoulders into the opening and thrust himself through, breaking part of the doorway free. Inside, he reached up with one thickly muscled arm to grasp a gigantic ice spike from overhead and pull it down. The Fantoms' lieutenant loomed, filling most of the room, and shoved his long frozen lance forward, intending to impale both trapped men in the confines of the chimney.
Nemo and Jekyll had no place to go.
Just then, on the factory level, the timers of all of Skinner's bombs finally reached zero.
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