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* * *

Elric raced across the mak on a flying platform, late for the meeting of the Circle. He was not himself. He'd lost track of the time, sitting up all night, and had nearly forgotten to scour his head.

His place of power informed him of the various tasks it had performed and the latest data it had collected, as it did every morning. It alerted him to situations he had been monitoring; it summarized the images collected by the probes; it presented him with options he commonly accessed in the morning. Each morning-as each night-he liked to access probes across the planet, checking on this place of which he had made himself a part, to keep their bond strong, to help the planet and its inhabitants as needed.

This morning, though, he had to neglect that part of himself. He had no time for the beauty of the morning, for the sun, the mist, or the sea breeze. His mind refused to focus, save on one thing.

Elric flew into the tents and headed toward the chamber where the Circle was to meet. Unlike the vast chamber he originally had set aside for the Circle, this one was small, only twenty feet in diameter. About a third of the tents had been lost last night to the fire. The remainder he had reorganized after the fire had at last been stopped. They would be short on space. They would require replacements of supplies. He would make do.

He dissolved his platform outside the chamber, pulled aside the tent flap, entered. The other four members of the Circle were already there.

"My apologies for the delay," Elric said.

As usual, Ing-Radi had created the illusion of the great stone amphitheater at which, legend had it, Wierden and the original Circle had met. The mak on which he stood formed the floor of the amphitheater, and around it in a circle
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