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the open plain and clean breezes on the mak.

Galen had visited cities before, and as they went, this one was particularly dirty and run-down. The lack of humidity made it seem colder, too, as if an extra layer of insulation had been taken away. He crossed his arms over his chest for warmth.

His senses felt as if they were under assault. He became aware again of the undercurrent of energy from the implants, the itchy agitation they generated. Perhaps that was why he felt so uncomfortable here. He determined to keep firm control of his tech at all times, to hold the restless energy in check, to cast a spell only with careful deliberation. He would not act on instinct. He would not fail the mages again.

Isabelle pointed out the crooked, glowing sign for the Strauss Hotel farther down the street. The hotel's seven-story facade was a grimy white, except immediately below the sign, where a row of whiter spots revealed where letters had once spelled out its old Wychad name. The entryway was modest, with a small black awning over the open doorway. "Quiet, Comfort, Convenience" was written in script across the awning in stained yellow.

They entered to loud, raucous chanting. The words-and the language itself-were lost in the sheer volume. Yet Galen recognized it immediately. He'd been up late into the night listening to it. The Narns were still at their drinking game. They seemed to have an endless capacity for alcohol.

The chanting came from the lounge, which was off the lobby to the right. Several Narns were packed in the doorway. Galen recognized two of the cargo techs from the Khatkhata.

They'd hoped that studying the Narns would give them some idea how to proceed, how to uncover what kind of passengers the ship was carrying, who was paying the bill, and where
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