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otherwise. And as powerful as we are, we have many vulnerabilities when it comes to the Shadows. They can see through our illusions. They can penetrate our shields. It's likely they can do even more. We don't know if Kell surrendered willingly to Elizar, or if he was overpowered."

"Kell was the most powerful of us. How could he be overpowered?"

"That is the..."

"Elric. What is it? Sit down." The folds of Alwyn's cape shifted as he moved. Galen struggled to catch a glimpse of Elric. He saw the flash of a chair, nothing more. "You aren't well," Alwyn said.

"You have not destroyed your place of power." Elric's words sounded as if they were forced through clenched teeth.

Galen grabbed the edge of the cot where he sat, staring anxiously at the tiny room strewn with Fed's possessions. Fear held him still. Elric was in pain. His condition was worsening. And they had no idea how serious it would become.

"Is that what this is?" Alwyn said. After a few moments, he continued, his tone subdued. "No. I won't abandon it. I had hoped the mages would change their minds and stay. But if I must, I'll stay alone. You could stay with me."

"I have made my decision." Elric's voice sounded stronger, the only remaining hint of pain a slight brittleness in his words. "I am no longer what I was. Over half of us are now so afflicted, including the oldest and most powerful."

If Elizar had not betrayed them, perhaps the Circle would not have decided to flee. Elric would not have had to destroy his place of power.

"Even weakened, we can still put up a fight. If we're to die, why not die fighting?"

"That would be my preference," Elric said. "But my personal wishes are irrelevant. It is my responsibility to hold the mages together, and that means following the will of the
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