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moving rapidly. The spikes pushed farther into the shield.

But Elizar was tiring. His yells were hoarse, the jerking of his body weak. He had begun fighting both Elric and Isabelle, and he had little energy left to sustain the contest with Isabelle. Elric had warned that some would test their strength against others, and Galen had seen many such contests at previous convocations. But Galen didn't understand why Elizar was doing this, or why the result seemed so important to him. Was he trying to prepare for the threat of which he'd spoken? He was still in the chrysalis; his power could never be as great as Elric's.

One of the spikes near Galen popped out of existence. Then another, then another. Elizar was losing his focus. Galen thought the contest might be over. Then Isabelle's shield began to vibrate. He glanced down and saw the sensor-pad still in his hand. The screen showed that the threads of energy were breaking, tiny holes opening up. The shield was unraveling.

Elizar gave one last, guttural shout, doubling over. The spikes vanished.

Isabelle made one final motion with her fingers, dissolving the shield, then laid her palms flat against her legs. With one great heaving breath, she straightened and fixed her gaze on Elizar.

The mages broke into applause.

"A contest well fought," Kell said. "Congratulations to you both."

Elizar ran the back of his hand over his face. He gave a short bow, extending a hand toward Isabelle. She nodded. As Elizar left the training area, his eyes met Isabelle's. Galen thought he might see anger in Elizar's gaze, or frustration, but he sensed instead an intense interest.

Elric stepped into the training area.

Galen stood, his dread returning full force. After everything that everyone had done thus far, was he to
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