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rubbed a hand over his mouth, considering. Then the hand came away. "You're right. It's better she stay here with you. You'll watch over her?"

"Yes."

They stood silently, regarding each other. Alwyn, Elric knew, was thinking of what would happen to Carvin if he did not return from the rim. At the same time he was thinking of his long-ago friendship with Galen's father, which Elric had never understood, and the responsibility he felt toward Galen.

"I don't know how you'll manage without me," Alwyn said finally.

Relief flooded through Elric, and gratitude. If there was a way Galen could be saved, Alwyn would save him. "It will be difficult."

"No doubt. I'll have to tell Carvin where I'm going. She'll keep the secret."

"I know she will."

Alwyn clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll bring Galen back, safe."

"Thank you," Elric said. "I will do the same for Carvin."

Alwyn's hand lingered on him. "Bring yourself back too. You're a stubborn old bastard, like me, and God knows there aren't enough of us in the universe."

Elric embraced him, feeling an unaccustomed rush of emotion. "Leave immediately and travel as quickly as possible."

"I will."

Elric opened the door, and they headed in different directions. Alwyn was a good friend, he realized, the best friend he had. It was a shame he would never see his friend again.

The throbbing in his head was growing stronger, but he pushed himself forward. He must confirm that the next piece of his plan had fallen into place. He could observe from his room, but he had done too much of that already. He must mix with the others, to reassure them that all was well. So he returned to the observation room.

Fed approached him, a smile somehow visible under the mass of his unkempt beard. "They're
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