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"

Isabelle straightened with conviction, her eyebrows rising. "To penetrate the mysteries of magic, to see it whole and unadorned, and to reveal that the emperor need not wear magical clothes to inspire loyalty and devotion."

The questions passed, and each declared his reason for being a mage.

Carvin smiled. "To create joy and wonder, mystery and revelation."

Gowen brought his hands to his heart and bowed his head. "To be a keeper of the great blessing of the Taratimude. To revere their name and protect their benefaction."

Fed scanned the circle and shrugged. "To make the rest of you look good, obviously." Gowen grunted his displeasure, just as Galen had heard his teacher Blaylock do.

Razeel closed her eyes. "To assuage the needs of the tech."

Elizar wiped his mouth and stared deep into the fire. "To make a difference in the coming dark times. To reveal the true power of the techno-mages and help lead them to an age of greater acclaim."



* * *



Within the great stone circle marking Elric's place of power, the mages stood, five hundred of them, arranged in a spiral. Though there was no formal order, the most junior of them stood along the outer sections of the spiral, while the eldest stood near the center. Ring upon ring, working steadily inward, each affirmed his identity in a loud voice, the rest listening silently. Again they answered the questions they were constantly forced to confront, questions whose answers life constantly revised.

Standing near the center, Elric thought of Galen, in a similar circle, and his heart was filled with pride. In the morning, Galen would be a mage.

At last, Blaylock asked the questions of Elric, and he answered, looking out over the group that formed his extended family, his colleagues, his faith,
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