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to his place of power, and to Soom. That emptiness pushed outward, a tumor of desolation, pressing at the backs of his eyes, his forehead. The pain worsened with each passing day, leaving him indisposed for hours at a time, unable to rise or even to move. He concealed his weakness as much as he could, to retain his influence within the Circle and inspire confidence in the mages, but the signs were becoming ever more apparent. When he'd destroyed his place, with the great growth of chrysalis at its heart, he'd sensed that the loss would, eventually, kill him. That time was coming close. His body was failing.

He was thankful they no longer stood when making formal arguments. Blaylock, who had stood whenever he spoke before the Circle, had made no objection when Herazade suggested they make their meetings more informal. Elric knew that he, too, was weakened, though the signs of it were few.

The character of their meetings had changed in other ways as well. They now forwent the grand illusion of the amphitheater Ing-Radi had once generated. That illusion had simulated the ancient stone structure where Wierden and the original Circle had met, a reminder of their history and responsibility. Perhaps it was best they no longer used it. They had declined so, it no longer seemed appropriate.

They met at a simple round silver table, only three instead of the five Wierden had dictated, sitting in a half circle with Blaylock at their center. Herazade no longer wore a formal black robe, appearing instead in a sari, her straight black hair hanging free. They were losing their traditions, their discipline, their numbers, day by day. Elric feared where this trend might lead them.

He had not fought for anything in a long time. But now he must make this one, last fight.

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