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are approaching our traditional time for elections," he said. "Over the last hundred years, whenever there has been an opening in the Circle, we have always filled it in December, according to the Earth calendar. Wierden established that the number of the Circle should be five, the number of balance. Last year, at this time, we rightfully postponed elections. We had not settled into our new home sufficiently to undergo any changes. Now we are settled. We have had time. We must not delay further, or the basis of our order may be lost."

Elric did not believe he would survive another year, or even another month. Last night, as the pounding pain built with each beat of his heart to astonishing, staggering agony, he'd felt certain that he would die. His end would come soon.

As for Blaylock, he was not sure. Although Elric had never seen Blaylock's energy fail, he had grown more gaunt than ever, his black skullcap loose on his head. His skin, scoured of all hair, had a pronounced waxy sheen. His hands had not healed well from the atrocity performed upon them by Tilar. They remained stiffly open, like two bookends on the table before him, the palms covered with thick, yellowish skin. He used them as little as possible.

While he and Elric weakened, Herazade's influence grew, which tipped the Circle out of balance. She clearly recognized her growing dominance and used it to advance her agenda. One person, though, could not rule the mages. That was too much power.

Blaylock's words were harsh and certain, as usual. "I agree in principle. But in practice what you propose would only weaken the Circle. Of the mages, none are fit to join us. The wisest, the most skilled, have died either in the attempt to bring us here, or in the time since we arrived. While some of the younger
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