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questions, or with falsified documentation."

Elric nodded. At least in her younger days, Burell had enjoyed the wild, anything-goes atmosphere of her adopted home. Perhaps now she sought something quieter.

"Only Kell can speak to the activity on Zafran 7, but what I've noticed is a dramatic increase in traffic through 8. We're now getting five times the number of ships passing through that we usually do. And it's not just the numbers. Ships are coming through with unfamiliar designs. Those they carry are of races that haven't been seen in a hundred years or more. Drakh, Streib, Wurt. Even poor records and falsified documents can't hide something of this scope: a mass migration of intelligent beings and resources toward the last jumpgate on our route, the one closest to the rim."

Elric and the Circle had been hearing rumors, seeing signs for the last two years. But the signs had been vague, unsubstantiated. Most of the Circle had dismissed them as unimportant. Elric had hoped his fears were unfounded, or if not unfounded, at least premature.

Burell put her palms flat against the arms of the lounge and pushed herself up straighter. "Where they go from there, I can't be sure. But my probes and my sources bring me talk, talk of a world on the rim known in legend as a dark place. Z'ha'dum.

"I know its existence has never been confirmed, but the writings of the ancients support the existence of Z'ha'dum, and of its inhabitants, the Shadows." Burell clasped his hand. Hers was cold. "Dark forces are at work on Zafran 8, Elric. And this can only be the beginning. History tells us what to expect-'a time of death and chaos.' We must gather information. We must be ready to fight."

Elric remembered his first day as a member of the Circle, the honor of serving as so
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