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more than any other. The signs were uncertain, yet he felt a growing sense that things were changing, quietly but irrevocably, not only here on Soom but everywhere. A darkness was growing. The mages had to be unified in purpose and spirit, prepared for any danger that might threaten.

And if no danger threatened, he would gladly laugh at the fool he had been.

As the various shapes landed they shed their illusions, revealing the sleek, triangular techno-mage ships beneath.

Using his sensors, Elric scanned the three ultraviolet frequencies in which mages hid signs. Signals sent on each of the three frequencies had to be correctly combined for a complete sign to be revealed. This allowed mages to mark various objects, such as their ships, with signs that no one else could see. Each ship was marked with the rune representing its owner.

The mages began to emerge from their ships, and they crossed the mak to greet him, walking beneath his globes of conjured light.

Elric greeted them each in turn. First came Kell, the greatest of them. Kell was of the line of Wierden. They shared no genetic connection, but Wierden had passed her wisdom to her apprentice, and those teachings had continued along a chain from mage to apprentice. That chain had led to Kell, and now to Kell's apprentices. Though each member of the Circle was meant to be equal, Kell's opinions were given the greatest weight; his plans were most often approved. He was the Circle's unofficial leader, the one who had guided them, during his nearly fifty years in the Circle, into this period of focus and relative equanimity.

Elric was dismayed to note that Kell had further weakened. In his prime, he had been strong of body and mind, a master techno-mage with a vibrant, charismatic personality, filled with
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