Seth moved, well flinched really, but it was enough to bring Morgan back. For the better part of an hour he had been holding Seth and talking to him. Seth was still rag-doll limp. To his asense Seth felt like little more than blood-soaked moss. That slightest touch made Seth groan a deep and distant animal sound. He'd been ground up and wadded back together. Until he'd moved Morgan thought his brain might have been totally gone.

He didn't dare use power to move Seth, the added forces might tear him apart. Nobody was within easy earshot and he didn't want to yell with his talent. Mind work wasn't his strong suit, he couldn't seek out some nearby stranger and nudge them into coming to him the way some of his peers might. He decided to try for Teila, he'd held her power just an hour or so ago, he ought to be able to touch her using a low enough power that it wouldn't backwash across Seth at all.

The thought was a picture, a sense of place that mapped to the secluded corner of the garden. He tacked on an imperative need and sealed it with his own power signature. He tied her power signature to the bundle of thought and slowly let it leak from him into the stone of the fortress. It could take hours to find its way through to her. He was counting on her being as sensitive to him as he had been aware of her. Gentile as it was, that thought sealed with his signature should hit her like a grating noise hits a hangover.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later Teila padded softly up the garden path. When she saw him lying there, protectively cradling Seth's head, she dropped the array of offensive and defensive power she had summoned.

“Please, can you help me? I need a litter and a quiet room away from everyone. He's... he may be...” Morgan couldn't bring himself to say anything.

She began to asense and Morgan could feel it coming. His aotahe was still charged and he gently pushed her away.

“Any touch could... please help.”

She nodded and drifted away. She came back a little while later with a litter and four strong men to carry it. They were incredibly gentle getting Seth onto the litter. Morgan kept his aotahe wrapped around Seth as best he could, worming his way out of it so it would cover him better.

Nobody spoke and the men moved as if they were handling explosives. Morgan didn't realize they were scared to death of him. He didn't seem to realize anything except what was happening to Seth. Morgan had an almost insanely protective aspect and whenever they made the slightest misstep the look they'd get from Morgan was indescribable. On one occasion one of the litter poles struck a balustrade as they were working a tricky turn, Seth groaned and Morgan snapped his head up growling. The only thing that kept the men from bolting outright was the fear of what fate might befall them if they dropped the litter.

They finally got Seth safely to a large, soft bed. The men took their litter and beat a hasty retreat. Morgan thanked Teila, barely, and lay down next to Seth to keep the protective charge in the aotahe. If he lost physical contact with the silken garment it would lose power and Seth's ground up essence would be left exposed. Morgan could even sleep and maintain the psychic bandage, the discipline of the aotahe had been drilled into him night and day for years at the school.

Morgan thought he was too wound up to sleep but he was too drained to stay awake in the warm and silent room.

* * *

Oblivion, without dreams and without torment, passed into wakefulness with a snap.

Seth was still all but dead. Morgan checked him as gently as he could. His heartbeat was stronger and his asenses showed some firming of the pulpy mass that represented what was left of Seth. He knew he had to release the aotahe to get out of bed and he had to get out of bed in order to take care of Seth so he took his best shot at a substitute psychic bandage. It was adequate but no kind of masterwork. The profound feeling of guilt was at least manageable so Morgan arose.

Sharp pain in his back and a persistent throbbing around his left wrist greeted him. His wrist was alternately blackened and blistered where the control ring had seared into his flesh. His back was a complete surprise. When he finally got the blood-caked shirt off his back he found a jagged tear in his skin. He'd been lying on something sharp in the garden and he hadn't even noticed.

Almost as soon as he was clear of the shirt Teila walked in carrying a tray of food. “So how long do you think I'll be feeling your every move?”

“No idea, I never held anybody 'yetal before.”

Teila put the tray down at a table and turned the low chair in front of it around. “Sit.”

Morgan sat backwards in the chair and began stuffing himself with food while Teila summoned hot water into a clean rag and began cleaning the cut in his back. He was far hungrier than he thought.

“Thank you for helping us last night.”

She chuckled a little, “Nonsense, it was the right thing to do, but don't expect any of those men to come running to your aid any time soon.”

“Hua? Why?”

“You don't remember?” She leaned around to look him in the face. “You were...” she paused to search for a word “insane... last night.”

An image of himself as they must have seen him rose in his mind. He dropped his head and then winced “Ugh. What an idiot, by now this place must be glowing with gossip. Apologize to them for me.”

“I already did. As to gossip, they're good men who can hold their tongues, for a while at least. You need to get out of here as soon, and as quietly, as possible.”

The other big news of the night came back to him and Morgan slunk lower, and then lower still. A big something happening and him being alone in it all made sense now. Seth was out of play and he was probably going to have to go on without him. Something he just wouldn't do.

“I won't leave him. I just wont.”

“I don't doubt that. I saw you last night. I wouldn't try to get between you and him for all the gold there is.”

“I'm going to have to though aren't I, your stars said so.”

She let out a heavy sigh.

“They didn't say any such thing.”

“Well he wasn't up there with me now was he?”

She went back to concentrating on his back for a while then said, “I see you still don't understand. It doesn't work that way. That planet could be an army, in fact it should be a kingdom given its significance. It seems to be you, but that could mean it's you and any number of others, it just doesn't say. If it is you alone, given how important he is to you, then one of the others could be him. They also just don't say.”

“If he is one of the others then we are on different paths.”

She harrumphed in an uncanny imitation of Morgan's mother. “Of course you are, If you were chained together for life you'd still be `on different paths', that's why it takes so long to learn Divination. If all that” she gestured upward vaguely “were just a game of connect the spots everybody'd be doing it. There you go.”

She patted Morgan's back and he realized the pain was gone. She'd healed it while they were talking. He looked askance at her and she said “you can't make a living on just astrology, too much bad news and not enough details to get the bills paid.”

They exchanged grins of a sort, Morgan's being too hag-ridden to count for much more than a good effort. “Uh, I don't suppose you could do anything for him.”

“I'm sorry, no. I vrec'd him first. He's got a good deal of muscle strain and so on. Some small scale physical trauma to every part of his body in fact, but nothing large and particular enough to heal. All the real harm is metaphysical. I've seen that kind of psychic damage in victims of rape or torture, but that's usually a few profound tears caused by the uncontainable emotional energy of the experience. He looks like something went into him and shredded him on purpose...”

She stopped when she realized that Morgan had begun trembling and made a mental note to beat herself up later for her bad sickroom manners. She vrec'd Morgan and saw that he'd suffered a couple of pretty serious tears himself. There was no comparison to Seth's psychic injuries, but if she'd seen just Morgan she would have been plenty concerned. Mind healing could let her take down the swellings of volatile emotional energy, but she didn't dare try to redact Morgan. She was still to sensitized to his power, and he was clearly at least an order of magnitude more powerful than she was. Trying to touch his mind would be begging disaster to visit.

She opted for the centuries-old cure for emotional trauma. She'd try to get him to talk. It didn't take much, he was more than ready to let the guilt out. She knew he was editing something important out of his story, but in short order he got through the entire story of the collar. The gaps in the story, like why he had bought the man, were huge and obvious omissions, but she knew better than to push another mage to reveal details. If she pushed him at all he'd likely clam up and be unreachable.

At least the important parts were opened up. The strangely suppressed collar spell. His thoughts on how to remove it. The damage the spell had seemed to suffer in the mountains. The shared experience of its sudden awakening. And finally Morgan's intense feelings of guilt. He blamed himself for not handling the collar correctly. Worse, he blamed himself for withdrawing from the link and allowing Seth to suffer alone.

The control-ring burn on Morgan's arm was most strange. Seth showed no signs of burning so it wasn't a normal side effect of the spell's awakening. When she tried to heal the burn she found it resistant to her touch. It'd have to heal naturally.

Her final judgment was that both men were devastated. In a way the unconscious one was the luckier, he'd heal however well he could, but it would likely be a long time before Morgan stopped tearing himself open with guilty self recrimination. If he let it cut into him too deep or too long it might eat him away physically. If it breached any of his power centers... that would be a gruelingly slow and ugly death.

The two most immediate needs were to get the mage back onto his horse, so to speak, and to get both of them out of the city as soon as possible. They needed to be somewhere private and safe if they were going to heal. Neither of them were up to a long trip ahorse, so it would have to be magic. Nobody but Morgan was going to get any kind of power near Seth, at least not if Morgan was really anything like the man she had seen last night. It would have to be Morgan doing the apport or it wasn't going to happen.

Besides, in the name of rampant self preservation, it was best for her if they left. Strange circumstances were starting to coalesce around them and a little distance from them probably wouldn't do her anything but good.

“Morgan, do you have somewhere safe you can take him?”

“Just back home.”

“That's at the school I take it.” Not good, but better that than stay this close to the royals'. “Private suite?”

“House cut into a hillside.”

“You live alone?”

“No, with really good friends.”

“Even better, you have to get him home... today if you have the strength and means, otherwise things are going to get complicated.”

Teila took Morgan on a short tour of her reasoning, a not unconvincing list of reasons that it would be best if he got away from court as soon as possible. The centerpiece of her argument was their notoriety. Once it was out that Seth was injured there was no way half the kingdom wouldn't find out about it. Whatever was afoot, and she didn't want to know anything in the way of details, having a gaping public weakness wouldn't help his cause. Morgan's protests that he wasn't involved in anything fell on deaf ears, she knew people pretty well and she had appreciated his complete lack of surprise at some of her intimations in the observatory. Morgan surrendered to her inescapable logic.

“Is there a portal here in the city that I can use?”

“'Fraid not, besides if there were you wouldn't want to use it, it would stay focused where you went and make you too easy to follow.” She didn't want to injure his ego, given his fragile state, so she didn't say anything further on the subject. Part of her wanted to scream at the guy. Whatever his game, if he didn't learn to think things through a little better he was going to lose. Details unknown, she instinctively knew he was the right side to be backing.

“Without a portal I have no idea how to get him home.”


“I don't know how.”

“You did a pretty good imitation of it last night.”

“I was stone walking, and I don't even know how I did it, or if I can do it again.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. A mild response since only dwarves and gnomes were ever known to have that talent.

He shrugged, “Twelfth generation miner.”

* * *

After considerable conversation Morgan set bindings and wards around Seth and the room he occupied, and then let Teila lead him back to the garden where Seth had been struck down. The place stank of Morgan's power signature, and he spent some time clearing the worst of it. During the clearing he found the gnarled tree root that had gouged his back open; it didn't have any of his blood on it so he left it alone.

When he couldn't find any other way to avoid it, he finally addressed the flagstone he had used to get there the previous evening.

There wasn't anything peculiar about it but he knew it was the one. He could all but taste its mineral tang in the back of his throat. Paying more attention than he had last night, Morgan reached for the stone and hoped the instinct would return.

At first he felt nothing different in the stone than he had felt from any number of other material components he had used in the course of his training. It felt just so. It vibrated this way and that. It had temperature, mass, weight, color and any number of properties. In simplest terms it was nothing special, and yet he could feel some difference.

Then everything changed. It was like one of those tricky visual pictures where one moment you see one thing, and the next you see something totally different. A subtle change of mental landscape. Stone became like empty space and everything outside the stone became a solid something else. He was mentally inside a tiny space. From there he could feel the air above the flagstone and the dirt surrounding it on every other side.

Superior to, but more distant than the feelings of the stone's immediate environment, was a feeling of comradeship with its companion stone. Everywhere around him were stones, the larger the stone the easier it was to sense. Fortunately the sand, grit, and other tiny fragments caused by things like polishing and erosion were too small to sense. The golden question was `which way?' He'd expected a pathway like he kind of remembered from the night before. What he had was a three-dimensional space of stone that didn't even have anything to do with real world orientation.

After what felt like an age, Morgan realized that he could feel an echo of himself in the stone. That echo was the him he had been the night before. The overwhelming worry and need he'd felt for Seth was different than the basic concern and guilt he was feeling now. The strength of those feelings marked a path through the stony space. If he had felt any less intense the night before he wouldn't have been able to distinguish himself now from himself then, and he'd have become lost.

He mentally hopped to the first adjacent stone in the path, felt the exposed side of the stone, and pulled his body into that space, not exactly sure how he managed it. He repeated the process several times before he realized that he didn't have to move his body every time. Mentally hopping from stone to stone was much less tiring after that. He came to the stone containing the ring and found it cold and quiet. When he tried to touch it, it flared to life, so he drew himself away.

His mission had two parts, clear the stones of his influence and retrieve the ring. He set himself to the former task first. He completed the journey to the observatory roof and then began withdrawing stone by stone, clearing himself from each one as he went. When he got back to the stone containing the ring he looked out from the stone and found an empty patio tucked into a niche between two buildings in the older keep. At least he thought he was still in the keep. He pulled his body into that space, and then went about clearing the remaining stones.

Working from the garden pathway flagstone back to the niche he cleared each stone until the only stone with his signature was the one with the ring embedded in it.

Morgan stepped from the stone back into his own body. His head was full of stony echoes, memories of seasons gone past. Things that fit within him as a stone but were crushing and ponderous for a man. It took him some time to find a place for the mountain within his mind. It finally found its place in his head right next to that other mountain from his past.

Everything clicked together. That other mountain was what had introduced him to stone so intimately.

Why the control ring was rejecting him was another matter entirely. Not that he really had any interest in touching it now that it was working. Before, the violation represented by the collar was just that, a representation, it hadn't really been anything. Now the deepest essence of Seth would belong to whomever possessed the ring. It created an invasion of body and a suppression of mind unequaled in magic. With that ring he could put on Seth's body like a glove and listen in on his whole mind. When applied to a human it completely removed all the elements of the victim's privacy and self control at the absolute whim the owner.

The spell was vital for the use and control of the triphariad, a so the safety and livelihood of whole communities, but Morgan, staring down at the patio, fervently wished it had never been invented. Since it had been, he wished he could just leave it buried in the stone, but then anybody who found it could... he didn't even want to think of it. The only way Seth would be safe is if Morgan kept the ring safe.

Finding no way to directly touch the ring Morgan decided to leave it encased in stone. He blew a bubble in his mind and sent it into the stone. When it was deep in the heart of the stone he stretched it into a gracefully-smooth elliptical lozenge that surrounded the ring. Then he let the lozenge of stone rise to the surface while he pushed an identical shape of air into the stone.

When he was finished he had the ring, encased in a wrapper of native rock, leaving a flaw deep in the foundation stone that nobody was ever likely to find. He cleared the foundation of his signature, and slipped the smooth, extra dense slug of rock into his belt pouch.

* * *

Only when he broke discipline did he realize how spent he was. He hadn't overdrawn himself like the first day of the trip, but he had run a good bit of energy through his system. A good bit of the vital energies had now were from outside sources, making them slightly alien and unresponsive. It was like he was and was not tired at the same time. A few minutes rest would give his systems a chance to tune the foreign energies to his needs and make them his own.

He set himself down on a old stone bench on the patio. It had clearly been there for centuries, and its permanence felt soothing to his rock-filled mind. Unwilling to suffer under the burden of guilt, Morgan's deeper mind lulled him into the dream of stone. He sat in the courtyard for a while, feeling the sun warm him body and soul, when a tiny recognition soaked into him. He could feel echoes of his family in the bench. Not his parents, brothers, sisters and such; He could feel Mieka, Liane, and Shiea as if they were sitting right near him.

He jumped up like he had been burned.

When he looked at the bench he was sitting on he recognized it immediately. Not that he had seen the very bench he'd been sitting on before. He recognized the workmanship. He had four benches just like it sitting on his patio back at home, and he mistrusted the coincidence.

Pacing back and fourth in the tiny courtyard Morgan tried to think things through. Clearly Queens College and Queens Landing were connected by more than a collateral name. Some nine other places within the nearest several hundred miles had the appellation “Queens” in common. The argument about exactly which historical queen or queens were involved was legend. How likely was it that there would be something from his house that matched something from a keep eleven days distant?

That all depended on who's house they had found and moved into.

It had been cut into that hillside at considerable effort or expense. Its very uniqueness was probably why it hadn't been occupied for several centuries, nobody had even known it was there when Mieka had first found it. The private little valley with its otherwise inaccessible beauty spoke of a certain level of affluence on the part of the original owner. It did make some sense that a powerful person who'd had cause to be in both the college and the keep might have funded some commission to have the benches made and one set shipped the distance to the other location. The rich and the powerful were peculiar about that self-indulgent kind of waste.

The immediate threat seemed minimal, but the general good fortune of the convenience just couldn't be passed up no matter how odd and unlikely. The affinity between the stone benches would give him a perfect way to get Seth home.

Morgan was about to cast himself back into the paving stone when he realized that he'd erased his trail. He'd have to find his way back through the keep the old fashioned way.

One of the benches had cracked under the stress of repeated freezing every winter; he worked a wedge of rock loose from the bench and slipped it into another pouch.

* * *

The only doorway leading from the private patio would have been wedged permanently shut by debris if it hadn't long ago decayed away to nothing. The same could be said for everything else in the small suite of rooms. They seemed empty of any sign of humanity.

Morgan realized that wasn't quite true when he found three perfectly preserved, bound books. He recovered the books from their damp tomb and put them next to one of the stone benches so he wouldn't forget them. Then he re-assayed the room with his asenses, finding echoes of power deep in one pile of dust and leaves.

It was a body, or at least what was left of one that had lain exposed to weather for several centuries.

He pawed his way through the rest of the suite, looking for the door, only to realize that the chamber didn't have one. Turning his eyes skyward he found a subtle enchantment of disinterest lining the cornices of the buildings that closed in this patio. The gap between the roofs was probably seen often but quickly forgotten as insignificant by the viewers. Few ever probably got as far as looking down into the opening let alone wondering how to get into the space.

The story came clear to him. He was in the private quarters of some mage that had sealed his rooms against intrusion. Rooms that had been built with no door common to the rest of the castle. That same mage had died, no doubt peacefully, here in his room; the rest of the world believing him disappeared for some mysterious reason of his own. With his rooms sealed away as if they'd never existed, nobody had ever come to find the body.

The rooms were, no doubt, wedged between some parts of the keep that were never used together. That's how Morgan would have chosen them anyway. That way nobody would ever have cause to be on each side of them in close succession, and thereby led to wonder at the inaccessible space. If it weren't for the piecework nature of paving and roofing a large structure in stone, this sanctuary would have likely gone undiscovered until the keep had been leveled.

Listening through the stone Morgan found a small armory storage area on one side and some servant's quarters on another, he skipped the other two walls, choosing to drift through the wall into the armory.

It was small and not recently used, no doubt reserved for some noble purpose when the Queen's Writ was coming to ascendancy. Having had several kings in a row, and currently holding a male heir, the kingdom's many lands and deeds held exclusive to a hereditary queen were suffering from a lack of patronage. Queens College was a fortunate exception, there being no Kings College to steal its thunder. For Morgan the ascendancy of the male line was good fortune since it let him pass into the better used portions of the keep without being noticed.

Even with his line to Seth's psychic bandage as a guide, it took Morgan several hours to find his way through the twisting bowels of the castle without attracting unwanted attentions.