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stood only when he had something of particular import to convey-yet Blaylock always stood, claiming the floor and discouraging interruptions, even if he had only a single word to say. "Isabelle spoke of a threat to the mages," Blaylock said, dependably resurrecting the topic Kell had tried to bury. "Elizar, what threat is this?"

Elizar's heart rate jumped, and his right hand curled closed, his thumb running nervously around his fingertips. He bowed, stalling for time. He couldn't lie without risking discovery, yet for the clever, there were ways around lying. "You may find my comments presumptuous, but I believe the techno-mages are threatened by decay. Our numbers have been declining, our accomplishments lessening, our reputation fading. I fear the galaxy is leaving us behind. Instead of putting our energy into clever magic tricks, we should use our power to its greatest extent, to influence peoples and planets, to make lives better, and to earn respect through our actions."

Blaylock nodded with narrowed eyes, the way he did when he had a victim in his sights. "And to fight this threat of decay, to make lives better, you need Galen's spell of destruction."

Another jump in heart rate, accompanied by a jump in respiration. "We need mastery of our tech. Galen's spell reveals potential previously untapped."

It was clear that Elizar was withholding something. A threat that required a weapon to fight it was a threat from without, not within.

Yet both Kell and Elizar were trying to suppress this information. If the threat truly was the Shadows, what reason could they have for hiding it? Did they believe someone within the Circle couldn't be trusted? The secrecy was too clumsy, in that case. In the past, Kell had proven himself extremely skilled at secrecy and misdirection.
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