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a set of double doors slowly swung open. Two Minbari, wearing garb identical to Turval's, appeared and bowed ceremoniously. Turval bowed his head as he passed but said nothing.

Vance was spellbound at the sight of the massive hall they entered. From the outside, the building had not seemed nearly as grandiose. He stopped in his tracks and simply admired his surroundings. Dark marble columns swept upward toward the shadowy ceiling, and multicoloured stained-glass windows loomed on every side. Vance even thought he could see birds roosting in the high beams.

'The welcoming ceremony has ended,' said Turval. Vance noticed the two Minbari who had opened the doors for them standing at his shoulders. 'We must enter the Crucible Chamber.'

Turval turned and headed off into the darkness. Vance glanced over both shoulders at the Minbari staring straight ahead. He gripped his kit bag tightly and followed Turval.

Darkness suddenly enveloped him, flooding Vance with a sudden panic. Maybe his premonition of this being a Minbari trick was true. Maybe this was no initiation but an exercise in brain washing. Maybe they meant only to kill him and use their Minbari science to create a doppelganger, infiltrating EarthForce with an exact copy of James Vance.

Turval opened a door up ahead, allowing a flickering yellow light to spill through onto Vance and the Minbari. Vance could see the light came from a fire, lit within a huge metal bowl, mounted on a short column of crystal. Vance entered the room, his face stung by the intensity of the heat from the raging flames. Turval stood next to it but seemed unaffected. The other two Minbari also entered, one closing the door behind him, and then they took up positions around the brazier.

The circular room's low oval roof contained
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