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would as well. A group might remain to fight the Shadows.

Galen followed a line of pain down his spine. It wasn't enough. He should have brought the fire down upon himself a third time. He squeezed his hand into a tight fist, his nails digging into the raw skin of his palm. No distraction could ever make him forget. He had made his decision. Now he must live with it.

Several followers of Blaylock were standing nearby, including Gowen. They had overheard Alwyn, and they gathered around him.

"You can't defy the Circle," Gowen said in disbelief. "We are all sworn to them. Wierden established it: 'Our five wisest will form the Circle, which will guide and rule the techno-mages.' "

Alwyn dismissed the comment with a wave of his hand. "Many times in our history the Circle has been defied, even overthrown. It's not my fault no one has had the guts to stand up to them in recent memory. It's about time someone shook things up."

But now was not the time, Galen thought. They needed to be focused, orderly, disciplined. Not shaken up. Calm. He forced his fist, finger by finger, to open, relax.

Gowen's round cheeks drew up in displeasure. "The Circle has been our salvation. They have held us together for a thousand years. They maintain our holy traditions and mysteries. They are the core of our order, the best of us. They stand between us and chaos."

Alwyn's jaw was tight. "More accurately, they cower between us and chaos."

Several mages, including Gowen, grunted disapproval, as Blaylock was known to do. Gowen's bare eyebrow ridges contracted. Galen had never seen him this angry before. But then, no one had ever declared his intention to defy the Circle before. Gowen and the other mages crowded more closely around Alwyn, looking ready for a fight.

Carvin came
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