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mages show promise, they are not nearly ready to take a place at this table. If we opened the Circle to them, they would simply obstruct our wisdom."

"That argument," Elric said, "has probably been made by some member of the Circle before every election."

"In this case, however, it is true. Who would you have sit beside us? Miostro? Tzakizak? Circe? None is fit."

Blaylock was right; any that Elric would have considered for the Circle were either dead or well on their way. They were less than four hundred now, and nearly a third of those very ill. Yet Elric would rather have even a callow initiate like Fed in the Circle than let their power fall to two. "They are all we have."

"I must agree with Blaylock," Herazade said. "Among the older mages, I don't believe any has the skill, the wisdom, and the stamina necessary to fulfill the duties of the Circle. Among those younger, I see great promise that, with our guidance and a few years' maturity, should find its fulfillment."

What she did not realize, apparently, was that they did not have a few years to wait. Perhaps she felt she could govern alone until others were ready. Yet who, once holding supreme power, would share that power with others?

Elric said the words he had not wanted to say. "The power of the Circle cannot be allowed to fall to only two, or one."

Blaylock's sharp gaze turned toward him.

But Herazade waved his comment away. "That will not happen. We three have done well in leading the mages through a difficult time. I see no reason we cannot continue to do so."

Blaylock gave him a short nod. Blaylock understood. "Elric is correct that the situation becomes dangerous when the Circle has less than three. But let us wait until that time comes before any election is held."

Elric gathered
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