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mages were already an hour late. Others of the townspeople waited down on the mak, staring skyward. Farmer Jae and Farmer Nee stood together, sharing a drink.

All around him, the planet lived and breathed. Magma circulated; volcanoes exhaled; water nourished; life grew. He could not imagine leaving Soom, walking without the soft carpet of moss beneath his feet, breathing without the smell of sea air. He could not imagine leaving the town and its people. He had sunk his bones deep into this planet. It was as much a part of him as his heart.

Yet how could he stay and defy the Circle?

Elric received a message from his computer demon. Attached was a file from the EarthForce New Technologies Division. The subject was Morden. Elric paused a moment to scan through it. The information seemed irrelevant at this point. He skipped to the end to see if the file contained any information about Morden's alleged death.

Morden had been on loan to Interplanetary Expeditions when he had been declared dead. While on the IPX-funded archaeological dig, his ship had exploded, leaving no survivors. Or so the file said. Explosions seemed to follow Morden like footprints. Had he arranged both the deaths of his colleagues and the deaths of his family? The file contained no details of the dig, only the location: Alpha Omega 3. It was a planet on the rim of known space-one among thousands on the rim, the legendary home of the Shadows.

Elric would continue his investigations later. For now, Morden's sins were not his concern. One of Morden's victims was.

As Elric left the tents, he saw Galen standing a few feet away, motionless in the night among the activity of others. Elric knew instinctively that Galen had been standing there since he'd been dismissed.

Elric stopped before him.
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