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just happened, and he slowly turned his back, a last show of trust. When he turned back, Vance extended his arm. Merreck reached forward and grabbed it tightly. In Kelveer's description of the ritual, he hadn't described this part in detail, but Vance was sure that Merreck did not need to grip quite so hard. He grabbed Merreck's arm in return, and for several seconds they watched each other silently, waiting to see who would be the first to release the other. Vance knew that the protocol bade Merreck to let go first. Vance's heart beat faster, wondering if Merreck would stand here forever, forcing Vance to let go out of fatigue or dehydration.

When Merreck finally released the grip, a smile of relief spread over Vance's face. He knew the ritual had to be a success, for if it hadn't Merreck would have challenged him there and then. 'Allies?' asked Vance.

'Allies,' nodded Merreck. 'Until you break it asunder. I hope you know what that means, James Vance. You are now bound by the tenets of the Star Rider clan. Once you break one, we are no longer allies. Then I am no longer bound by the ritual we have just performed.'

'I understand.'

With that, Merreck turned and left. Vance felt relief wash over him. At last! At least for as long as he could uphold the tenets of the Star Riders, he needn't worry about any more beatings from Merreck. Quickly he headed back to the library. He felt compelled to remind himself of the traditions and conventions of the Star Riders.

* * *

Despite the fact that the bond of the Star Rider clan now joined him to Merreck, Vance still spent much of his spare time in the library. He never considered himself studious, but after a few weeks of forcing himself to pore over tome after tome, he quite enjoyed it. Reading dusty old texts was
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