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ran away between the stone houses into the mist.

Fa stared into the ring. "Gale," she whispered. "Gale." She stopped herself before saying his name a third time. She would not abuse the gift he had given her. "Don't be sad anymore. Do you remember our picnic with Is? Remember how she laughed? She would want you to be happy."

She rubbed a finger over the ring. "I will look up at the stars and think of you. I will hope that, wherever you are, you are laughing."

Galen broke the connection with the probe, dissolved the illusion.

He willed his heart to slow, his mind to go blank. He would not think. He would not feel. He would regain the transparency of a ghost.

He had done what he needed to do; he had said good-bye to the past. Now he could fade away.

He pushed himself to his feet and walked stiffly back toward home.



* * *



In his place of power, Elric sat in darkness. He dreaded what he had to do. He had given himself to Soom, sunk his bones deep into this planet. He was a part of it, and it was a part of him. He could not imagine splitting them asunder.

Soom lived and breathed. The planet's core generated the heat that gave it life. Driven by this heart, magma pumped to the surface, carrying the energy that moved continents, raised mountains, and built volcanoes. From the volcanoes magma and steam escaped, enriching the atmosphere and driving rains that spread precious water upon the surface. Sustained by this living planet, life flourished in many forms.

On the far side of Soom, the coarse-haired wild tak stood on a rocky mountainside, sleeping in the predawn darkness. The tiny krit, eyes closed, clung to thick stalks of grass as they blew in the breeze. Across the continent, shadows in the desert city of Drel shortened as the sun climbed
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