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of Tain, were finishing preparations for the welcoming feast.

All this he knew at once, and all this he watched at once. Yet one vision in particular held his heart and mind, and before it all others faded into the background. He terminated his connection to the various probes, allowing himself to focus on the beauty of the here and now.

Each ship, as it approached the landing site, was disguised in a different, beautiful illusion. A silver fish wound among the evening stars, singing a haunting aria. A golden dragon breathed bouquets of flowers. A sailing ship rode the air currents. A giant model of an atom made a stately descent. A pin-wheel of fire spiraled through the night. They were dreamers and shapers, singers and makers.

Once they had been greater in number. Yet in the past, more had been drawn to them for power than for understanding. Now they were five hundred, dedicated to learning, sharing the beauty of magic, doing good. For once no mage was in serious violation of the Code, and no feuds between mages seemed likely to erupt into violence. They were far from perfect, to be sure-eccentric, opinionated, intense, quick to anger-but Elric had never been more proud of them.

When he had been elected to the Circle nine years earlier, his feelings toward the mages had subtly changed. Before that, they had been his colleagues, his order, his clan, his family. Now they were also his responsibility. Joining the Circle had been a great honor, yet it was also a great burden, in ways he could never have anticipated. The mages' past, and their future, lay in his trust. It was his charge to keep them safe and whole and focused on the Code. He felt that responsibility keenly now.

The convocations were critical times of bonding and affirmation, and this one perhaps
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