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to stand beside Alwyn. Galen pushed his back against the wall, adrenaline preparing him to meet any threat.

Gowen's voice was hard. "We carry a special blessing, bequeathed to us by the Taratimude in trust. The tech taps into the basic powers of the universe. It offers us connections: to devices, to one another, to planets, and ultimately to the universe. We cannot let it be corrupted."

"It is technology," Alwyn snapped, revealing he too was ready for a fight. "There's nothing inherently good about it."

"Our goal must be to attain a complete, spiritual union with the tech, and to gain the insight that enlightenment will provide. We are not meant to be soldiers."

Alwyn gave Gowen a hard stare. "You mean the mages don't want to be soldiers. But then who does?"

As the two glared at each other, Carvin broke the silence. "But the Shadows are targeting us. How effective can we be at fighting them if they're attacking us?"

She was asking the question backward, as Galen had been until earlier today. The true question was this: Why were the Shadows attacking the mages unless the mages could be effective at fighting them?

And if that was so, then why didn't they stay and fight? He realized he had returned to where he'd begun. He could not disobey the Circle; he could not obey. He was trapped, his thoughts caught in a loop, like the ouroboros, the snake that took its own tail in its mouth, consuming itself just as quickly as it regenerated. He would not go through it again. Yet he had no choice.

The doors to the meeting room swung open, and a rune of blue fire appeared in the doorway, the rune for solidarity.

Galen found he had a message. It was from Blaylock to them all, calling them to gather. The Circle had news.

"This is their last chance to get it
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