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right now. I need to talk to you, Londo. I have news, on a matter you were eager to pursue."

"What, now? I am in the middle of-" Londo studied him. "At last! You are as slow as a Narn ordered to fetch the whip."

"Hey!" another player said. "Are you playing or not?"

Londo looked longingly from the large stack of chips in the center of the table to Carvin, then back to the chips, then back to Carvin. "I must fold, dear lady. Affairs of state-the type that are rather less entertaining, I'm afraid. I hope that we may play again sometime."

"I would enjoy that," Carvin said.

Londo stood, took her hand, and kissed it. Vir's eyes widened as he saw the signet ring on her finger. It carried the rune for solidarity, the same rune that had been prominently displayed in the hallway Down Below. He had made the connection, as he was intended to do. Part of an idea had been planted. If the Shadows continued with the same strategy they had used in the past, they would provide the other part of the idea.

Vir pulled Londo anxiously away from the table. Within a few minutes, Londo would be forming a new scheme for obtaining the mages' blessing. Londo would raise the stakes, and Elric would have his excuse to retaliate.

Everything was going according to plan. Elric released a heavy breath and brought his hand to his temple. That cavity of darkness in his skull pushed outward, pressing at the backs of his eyes, at his forehead. The pain pounded stronger with each beat of his heart, as if a great darkness would burst fullblown from his skull.

He must monitor Londo closely. And very soon now he must arrange his meeting with John Sheridan. And then he and Morden must face each other.

But all that could wait a few minutes. Just a few. Until the pain passed.

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