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I'd really like to see drunk. Let his hair down, so to speak."

Elric smiled. "I think you may find this convocation lacking in controversy and excitement. I'm determined that no crises will erupt."

"And for your next act, Almighty One?"

Alwyn's apprentice, a Centauri named Carvin, ran up, breathless. Alwyn had given her the slip again. She gave a harried bow, her ponytail bouncing down over her face and back. The bags below Alwyn's eyes wrinkled as he suppressed a smile. Elric knew he took great pride in Carvin, and great joy in teasing her. As a child, she had caught his attention with her quick mind while Alwyn visited Centauri Prime. He had taken her from her home planet, where as a female, she would have had no status or opportunity. Now she was in chrysalis stage, like Galen.

"Going to join me in some rabble-rousing this time?" Alwyn asked Elric.

"I don't think you need any help." Elric wondered again why he and Alwyn were friends. Alwyn had been a friend of Galen's father and an eccentric uncle figure to Galen. Once Galen had come to live with Elric, Alwyn began to visit, he and Carvin adding a sense of family to their austere existence. Elric disagreed with Alwyn on most things, yet at the same time respected him. Alwyn had a great devotion to his adopted home of Regula 4, similar to Elric's attachment to Soom. Alwyn also had an unerring ability to sense any hypocrisy within the techno-mages or the Circle, and he cared enough to call them on it, repeatedly and publicly.

Alwyn turned back toward the field of ships. "Ah, the trouble begins apace." He rubbed his palms together.

A procession marched from between the ships toward Elric. They came in two columns of fifty each, Human males, muscular, oiled, and completely naked. Most of them carried
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