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"Let them go," the man said, evenly. "Let them go and walk away from here while you still can."

Cade watched Qwayg turn around, slowly, the satisfied grin already disappearing from his face. "And who's this? Granpappy?" The strange man took two steps forward, and Cade studied him in more detail. He was older than any of the Zeros and wore a tight-fitting tunic the color of rust. His tidy appearance and measured demeanor were, to say the least, oddities on Kyysring. Same for the weapon. Cade noticed that three immaculate blades studded the top of his staff, but it was still just a wooden stick with some sharp edges. While it was nice for this crazy person to intervene on his and Tristan's behalf, what Cade really hoped was that he could last long enough in a fight against the Zeros so they could escape.

"Those young men belong to me now, so I'll say this one more time," the man explained. "Leave them be and get out of here while I'm still willing to let you do so."

"You have any idea who we are?" Qwayg yelled. "We're emissaries of The Zero! We're—"

"Poor choice," the man said, and in that same instant, he twisted the center of his staff and it crackled to life. Cycling sparks of raw energy, dark blue and orange, crowned the top of the staff, contained by the protruding blades.

Capitalizing on the distraction his fiery staff provided, the man jumped on the offensive. He swung his weapon around, using the blunt end to knock the outpost pistol out of the hand of the nearest Zero. He then jabbed the same end of his staff into the Zero's torso, doubling her over. Cade was about to yell out a warning as the other pistol-armed Zero trained it on the man, but before a syllable could slip through Cade's lips, the man grabbed the doubled-over Zero and
used her as a shield against the incoming fire. He then charged forward, still using the woman for protection, and when he neared the Zero who was shooting at him, he plunged his staff forward—close enough so the energy could jump from the weapon onto the man, sending him into a fit of electrified convulsions. Unconscious, he fell to the ground, and Cade could see the smoke wafting off his body. The man dropped the woman and pointed his weapon ahead, waiting for the two remaining Zeros to make their move.

"This guy is awesome," Cade whispered to his brother. Tristan wasn't listening, though; he was staring at the scene in front of them in wonderment.

Qwayg tried pushing his last remaining ally forward, toward the man, but he wouldn't budge. "You know what?" he said as he dropped his baton. "This isn't even worth it. I'm out." He kept his arms raised in surrender as he crept by the strange man, who let the Zero pass.

"You'll have no such luck with me, Granpappy," Qwayg snarled as he held his batons forward, their ends pulsing with dull purple energy—nothing compared to his opponent's crackling weapon. "I've been trained by some of the nastiest fighters you'll ever know."

"That's very nice," the man said and launched into his attack. He wrapped his hands around the center of his staff, using both the charged and blunt ends to fight off Qwayg's baton strikes. Qwayg came at the man with fast and varied strikes, but the man, as far as Cade could tell, defended himself with ease. And the more attacks he defended, the more ferocious and frustrated Qwayg became; he started to grunt with each swing of his baton, while the man remained silent, his face a mask of impassivity.

Having tired of toying with Qwayg, the next time he came to attack, the man caught his batons on his staff; he spun his staff around, disarming Qwayg, and then, in a swift, fluid movement, he swept out Qwayg's legs and knocked him on his back, hard. Before Qwayg could so much as groan, the man had the charged end of his weapon pointed just above his face, daring him to move.

"Those boys are coming with me," the man said. "Do we have an understanding?"
"The Zeros don't surrender," Qwayg grunted. "We are the ruling pow—"

The man inched his weapon down the slightest bit, and the cycling energy leapt onto Qwayg's face, frying what few brain cells he possessed. By the time the man pulled his staff back, Qwayg was out cold.
The man then turned his attention to Cade and Tristan, neither of whom had moved while the Zeros were being dispatched. Tristan was still dumbstruck, and Cade was torn between satisfying his curiosity of finding out who this guy was and the urge to grab his brother and run.

"Don't be afraid," the man said. "I'm not here to hurt you, either of you."

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