Everyone had mostly grown used to Seth's silent impassive presence and Shiea still hung all over him as if nothing had changed. He and Mieka had nearly finished a bookcase wall, cum secret door, to cover the opening to the new addition and Morgan turned out to be a natural at glazing windows. Now it was Liane who was walking through the house with a feeling of impending doom. Mieka insisted it was just her turn, but not when she was within earshot.

Morgan had finished exploring the old maintenance spell and determined that it didn't operate anything dangerous so he'd fully energized it. In one of his less impossible, impossible feats he'd grafted the old spell into the locked room controls without unlocking, and then losing, the original. One of the useful things it did was something akin to the attention avoidance thing he'd found back at the keep. It was a neat trick and one he'd never read about in the library. It also went a long way toward explaining why nobody had previously discovered and occupied the house. He was counting the seconds until his last geasairia wore off so that he could get into the books he'd found, and so maybe the purpose of the room.

One of the more immediate benefits to finding the secret room had been a small cache of money in the rectangular room. That money covered the considerable cost of the new glass, a commodity much in demand after the wreckage left all over by the night of freak storms. It also covered the cost of the “other renovations” and left a hundred or so to spare. They'd been careful to try to make sure that their sudden wealth hadn't drawn attention, and neither Morgan nor Seth had, as yet, left the house. This made Tor's arrival a complete surprise.

When the pounding had come at the door Morgan had set aside a pane of glass, gotten Seth, and went to hide in their room. Liane had answered the door and greeted Tor with her usual grace, and Tor had responded politely as a friend of the family. When she'd invited him to sit he declined, and then bellowed “Morgan, get out here, we have business” in a friendly but no-nonsense way.

Liane looked him in the eye and knew he knew Morgan was home. “I'll go get him.”

She went back to his room and, in quick whispers, told him that Tor already knew and he might as well go out. He faced up to it and went back into the front room with Liane while Seth went back to his work in the den.

“Hi Tor, what brings you by?”

“Official school business.”

Morgan looked askance at him for a moment, “What kind?”

Tor did not look at all pleased to be saying what he was about to. “As you know your old position as library curator is now being held by Garreith al'Eraian,” Morgan hadn't known. That noble-born brat couldn't classify his way out of a topiary. “which means that you hold no position at the school until you are reassigned by the Faculty Council. As such the payment agreements you hold with the school, bound by your stipend, are no longer valid. I have a Writ of Demand here that requires you to surrender all moneys owed, fifty six gold or equal value in the coin of the realm, or the slave Seth.”

Morgan looked at Liane, who went to plunder the household account for the needed sum. Liane delivered the money to Tor who refused it, looking pointedly at Morgan. Liane handed it to Morgan who in turn set it on the stack of papers Tor had laid on the table.

Tor said “Seal them please.” At which point Morgan lifted the small stack of coins in his fingers, five platinum ten-marks and six gold, and then dropped them one at a time, about an inch, back onto the papers, setting his seal along with a sense of the date and time in each coin as he did so.

“Now as to the matter of Thal.”

The name meant nothing to Morgan.

Tor sighed, “The man you sent to me for imprinting. I need to know whether you intend to pay for his imprinting and other costs to date and take delivery, or deed him to the school outright.”

That seemed like so long ago that Morgan had all but forgotten the highwayman. “I never really thought about it. Deed him to the school I guess, we've got no use for a slave, do we Liane?”

Tor raised an eyebrow at the contradiction. “I'll need your name on a few papers then.”

“Take it as done, but that'll have to wait a couple of hours.” Morgan didn't explain exactly why, but it was Tor, so his word was good.

“Then our business is concluded.” At those words Tor's whole aspect changed. “Now can you tell me what in the outer chaos is going on around here?”

Tor was one of Morgan's oldest friends at the school. When he'd first arrived Tor was a master carpenter working in the dormitory where he'd been placed. Tor was common born and Morgan knew it right off because he didn't have a lot of extra vowels clogging up his name and he knew how to swear like a miner. Ten years Morgan's senior, Tor had instantly become a point of stability in Morgan's uprooted life. Morgan had followed him around like a lovesick puppy for weeks until he'd settled in and gave them a chance to become regular friends. Drawing on that old friendship, and his knowledge of the older man, Morgan looked at him and said “You go first.”

“First there's Thal coming down the mountain yammering that Seth is some kind of monster. A few days later I get called in front of the faculty council to get roasted for selling him to you. A few days after that half the school is either muttering your name or afraid to hear it and I get told to find you with a Writ of Demand. Then there was what people have been calling `the night of storms', the kind of mess you hear about in the old tails, and your horse arrived today without you.”

“By the way, how did you know I was back?”

“I didn't really, but with canvas and lumber and then more lumber and glass coming over here I had my suspicions. Mieka and Liane were cool customers getting all that but I know you all are just making it by and shouldn't be able to drop three hundred gold marks on glass and supplies in two days time. Besides that's almost all the glass this place'll take, and while everyone had some damage, nobody was hit that hard around here.”

“So do you think others know I'm back?”

“No, but they will when I leave. I have to turn this over to the school right away.” Tor nodded at the small pile of coin.

“And why'd I have to seal that?”

“The council chair didn't want me covering for you. He said it'd be from your hand or else. Now, can you tell me what's going on?”

Morgan thought about it for a while. He trusted Tor the way he trusted Liane and Mieka, but like them it could be unhealthy for him to know too much. “It's the books. Seth opened one of them and what's in there... I don't think anybody should know.”


“Let's say Third War of Desecration maybe? The first three words were more than I wish I'd seen.” It felt good to let this much out and with things moving at the school it was clearer than ever that he and Seth were in play. That said, letting Liane and Tor know this much was only fair.

“Since the council is getting their hands in on this, whoever has discovered what's in the books must be someone pretty high up in the ranks here.”

“Sounds like, so let's get into it.” Tor began to go over everything that seemed at all different over the last few weeks and then they all spent the rest of the evening building up a list of suppositions.

* * *

At first Seth thought he was having a nightmare, but then again everything had felt nightmarish since Queen's Landing. He still didn't feel like himself. Actually he didn't seem to feel much like anything at all. It was like being in a permanent daze. A big part of himself was missing.

Every now and again he'd reach down inside himself and try to feel something, anything. But all he felt then was horrible. It was like being trapped; clutched in the hand of something barely alive, or long dead. A wraith had a grip on his very center and it dragged at him, coloring everything, drawing away life's vital reality. Still he had nightmares, he knew the nightmare landscape intimately, and this wasn't one of his own making. He was awake.

He was jogging across the campus. It was somewhere between late night and early morning, and he was jogging up the main plaza toward the School of Disciplines. He didn't have the slightest idea why. He kept trying to stop himself or turn aside but he just kept jogging. The reason he first thought it was a nightmare was that he'd actually woken up halfway between the house and school. He knew he was really awake because in dreams it doesn't take a long time to get somewhere, and in a dream when you are only wearing a small clothes in the mountains late at night you don't get anywhere near as cold as he felt.

Without breaking his stride Seth bounded up the front stairs of the library and slipped in through the front doors. They were always unlocked because almost everything of value was under less mundane protections and nobody was generally stupid enough to think they could get away with anything on the premises. Bare feet padding across stone, wood and carpet he made his way up through the building to the workroom that held Lady Korane's books. He'd figured that was where he was headed.

Still unable to influence his actions at all, he selected the last book of the series and took it to the table and tried to open it.

It didn't work.

Seth was kind of surprised that the book hadn't opened, but what really set a shock to him was when his own voice sounded in the little room.

“Open it.” Sure enough, those words had come from his own mouth but he couldn't even find the place within himself that knew how to speak.

After a few seconds the crushing dead hand loosened its grip and he found himself in control of his body again. He tried to find within himself the will to speak, but found nothing inside to say. Instead he reached down and tried to open the catches of the book. They still refused to yield to his touch. It was as if they knew that something was wrong. Knowing his lady, that was altogether likely.

“I said open it!”

Seth tried to reply but was at a loss for how. There were no words in him to say, nor anything to write with, and worse, no feelings to spur the desire to find them.

Seth tried to open it once more, and when it didn't work he set it back on the table. He could all but feel the frustration coming through to him from wherever.

Finally his own voice said “go home” and he felt the dead weight over his soul loosen till it was the familiar sensation he'd been growing used to these last few days.

Running back to the house Seth tried to figure out how to tell Morgan what happened. No good ideas came to mind, and under the whitewash of his antipathy the importance of the evenings events didn't survive the trip home.

* * *

The next day was unremarkable. Seth continued work on the bookshelf wall. Knowing that there might be someone watching through his eyes, he was glad that they didn't have to open the secret panel to finish the rest of the shelves. He felt the faint stirrings of deep affection whenever Shiea was there and more profound but less identifiable feelings when Morgan was around. Those tiny flashes of feelings were what kept Seth sane. That minuscule stirring was all that kept him from believing himself permanently dead inside.

Almost for that reason alone, Seth was happy to follow Morgan when he went to the school to find out about what duties, if any, he was going to have. Walking through the central administration building, Seth started thinking again about the events of the previous night. He still couldn't find any way to communicate what he knew, but a touch of concern tainted with rage passed through him in a rush and then was gone.

Once again he was left outside while Morgan went into chambers to talk to the council. This time he came out in decent spirits. He told Seth he'd been granted a full time teaching position in his school and correctly surmised that that was because the council had members of all the schools, not just the School of Disciplines, and the masters of the mundane schools were essentially more familiar with ideas like loyalty and justice.

Getting his job at the library back was also just one incompetent mishap away. Garreith could only do nothing in the position for so long and he had no chance of doing the job right. The position would be vacant by Homecoming.

Seth and Morgan made their way to Morgan's new office. A small room deep in the school full of boxes and debris that needed to be cleared away.

Seth got started moving the boxes while Morgan started setting spells on the office. Once things were to Morgan's liking, or at least clean enough to occupy, they went back to the house where Morgan worked till bedtime on new lesson plans while Seth tried muster enough motivation to think.

He was not surprised to wake outside the house that night. He'd even slept fully clothed in expectation. Morgan hadn't said anything but Seth thought he'd noticed. This time the surprise was the apparent destination. He was headed into the wood on the north slope of school grounds.

He arrived at a small outbuilding the foresters used when tending this stretch of land. Inside he found a gathering of people waiting for him with a look of anticipation he knew he should find unsettling. There were seven of them, three women and four men, sitting around a small table in complete silence. Two more people hung back in shadows that seemed to swirl like murky swamp water. One stepped forward and the shadow moved forward too. Clearly sorcery. The book landed on the small table with a thud that no one seemed to notice.

“You have three choices,” the voice was female and had a almost musical lilt to it, “you can open the book yourself, tell us how to open it, or play with our associates.”

Seth stepped forward to open to book. It wasn't any kind of disloyalty, it was a cold act with a distant hint of just malice. Whoever these people were, he bet they deserved, one and all, to go a round with his lady's magic. He reached out to pop the catches the way he'd done countless times in his life, but the tiny mechanisms simply wouldn't respond. He lifted his hands from the book.

His second choice was no option. Not only was he without words, he didn't have the faintest idea how these people might open the book. He had no discipline and no knowledge of how those with discipline might go about unsealing the books. He'd never even encountered it in those very texts. That, logic told him, left the associates.

Seth quickly discovered that what those associates brought to the table was a taste for the perverse. The idea, as near as Seth could figure, was to humiliate him into surrendering the information. Counting on guilt or shame to move his tongue. Clearly whatever was happening to him, his complete emotional detachment was not something these people really understood. Several times in his life Seth had fallen to the hands of wealthy or powerful people while separated from his lady, people who had, in turn, used him for their pleasure. It was one of the hazards a slave traveling alone occasionally faced. There was probably even a noble brat or two out there who could call him father. The first thing he learned that night was, for all that he thought himself worldly wise, he'd really had no idea where the realms of depravity set their borders.

He learned a few other things as well. Whatever hold these people had on him, it didn't give them access to his thoughts. The converse however, was not strictly true. At one point several people were trying to share his perspective at the same time. He could hear their conflicting thoughts as they strained the spell which held him. The thoughts he heard were completely consumed by the novel experience of seeing and experiencing the world through another body. Whoever these associates were they had no interest in the book themselves, they were there as tools of the pair in the shadows or just simple players of flesh.

* * *

The next night the story started out much the same. Seth still couldn't open the book or communicate this fact to his captors. The same seven were present. This time there was also a young man and woman there, certainly against their will. They had both already been sorely used and Seth's abusers used his body to act out their twisted wills on the two. He'd actually tried to resist his captors in this, and when they sensed that, it inflamed their darker passions in a way that did not bode well for the captives so he relented. The previous night had inspired nothing in Seth, but during this ordeal it came to Seth that these seven people were broken. Twisted inside in a way that probably called for their deaths. It wasn't quite resolve, more a detached understanding that these people needed to be undone. He marked their faces in his mind so that if he met any of them when he was free to act he'd be prepared.

* * *

The fourth night the pattern changed. Seth woke because he was pinching the tender skin high up on the inside of his left bicep. Clearly they wanted him awake inside the apartment. When everybody concerned realized he was awake, he found himself standing up.

He, or more correctly they, were staring down at Morgan has he slept. It took Seth a while to untangle the impressions he was receiving from the crowd in his head. Finally he realized they were there to choose a victim. For the first time in seeming forever, real feelings stirred in the depths of Seth's soul. He kind-of hoped they'd choose Morgan. Morgan would be best able to defend himself. These people might have Seth's body but they didn't have his skills and Seth would rather die than harm any member of this household.

The unseen seven, however, knew that Morgan was a mage, and so Seth found himself slipping quietly from the room. He stopped at Liane and Mieka's room and looked inside. Fully entrapped in the nightmare feeling, Seth felt them debating inside his head. In the end the seven were cowards, even though they were in no first-person danger. The cowards didn't like the idea of taking on one to capture the other. Seth felt himself moving on and a knot of tension formed in the pit of his being. There was only one other person in the house and Seth knew that she would perfectly fit their twisted plans.

As he opened Shiea's door he felt their approval and twisted intent foment inside his head. The knot twisted when he started forward and rose with each step until he reached her bed. The knot became a bubble of rage which instantly erupted up and out of Seth tearing out of him with a protracted bellow of the single word “No!”

His shout woke Shiea, Liane, and Mieka. Morgan, however, was already awake and standing behind him. Morgan had awoke the night before to find Seth gone, so this night he'd set bindings to let him know if and when Seth moved. He'd followed Seth, masking his moves with magic, so Seth had no idea Morgan was there when he turned around. Morgan came within half an heartbeat of loosing his head to Seth's steel, and he knew it.

Almost before Morgan's identity had registered in Seth's conscious mind, Seth was past him, down the hall and outside the house, moving toward a certain out-building at a dead run. Morgan was flatfooted in shock for several long heartbeats. He'd never been so frightened of anything as he was of what he'd seen in Seth's face. By the time he'd gathered enough of himself to send a line out searching for Seth he couldn't find him anywhere. Liane and Mieka burst into the room to check on the screaming Shiea, which stirred Morgan into action.

Morgan figured that if he couldn't find Seth directly, he could use the control band to find Seth through the collar. He bolted for the chest where he'd set the stone bubble in an envelope of protection. When he reached into the stone he was stunned to find it empty. It took a few measures to verify that his bindings had not been tampered with. The ring had been removed before he'd set them. Idiocy again! he hadn't checked the ring inside the stone before he'd set the protections. Instead of some elegant magic solution Morgan was going to have to go out and search for Seth. When he got outside he found his first break. A light snow had fallen and Seth's tracks were plain as daylight.

* * *

Seven faces were frozen in Seth's mind. His journey was at once infinitely long and as brief as a gust of wind. He encountered the first of those faces before he reached the actual building. It wasn't an efficient kill, not graceful nor well marshaled, it was butchery, but there wasn't a cleric or necromancer in the realm that could bring that man back from the hell he'd sent him to.

Five more of the seven waited in the small building, trying in vain to regain control over Seth. As soon as he burst through the door one of them ordered the collar to terminate him. He immediately felt the collar begin to shrink around his neck, though he didn't know or care why. Seth didn't even connect the sensation to anything happening around him. He performed his grizzly work with a lust and abandon he didn't know he was capable of. By the time he finished, it would have taken a resolute man with a strong stomach to figure out for certain how many bodies the shed contained let alone who they were. But Seth still wasn't finished. There was one more.

Outside again, his pulse pounding in his head and virtually unable to breathe Seth looked at the ground and read the passage of the last enemy in the company of two others, moving quickly. He went after the last man. Seth realized the collar was killing him even as he chased his final prey. He pushed and willed against the collar while he ran. He was desperate for that little extra time it would take to finish his work.

Somehow he caught up with his man. He was a person of some position and the two men with him were his bodyguard. The two men came at him but Seth wasn't even aware of killing them. His business was with their lord and whatever it took to end that last vile life was exactly what Seth would do. The man tried to defend himself with his own considerable skill but Seth was unstoppable. The man's defense simply prolonged his suffering a few seconds as Seth shattered both of his arms while dispatching sword and dagger. When he'd finished his task he found he'd also long since finished his air and he sagged into darkness.

* * *

After the scene of the first killing Seth was much easier to track. Blood stands out on snow even at night and the after image of spent life force could be asensed easily. Morgan didn't even bother to open the door of the small building. He didn't need to. The aether was rank with carnage and the cabin all but glowed with horror. The final leg of his journey was short and again he found blood and ruin. What surprised Morgan was Seth's body sprawled face-down.

Morgan ran to him and flipped him over onto his back. His face was bright red and his eyes and tongue were bulging with blood. He was alive but just barely. The collar was tight about his neck but it no longer had the liquid-metal sheen of sorcerers steel. It was just a shattered ring of pig iron being held together by an intense magnetic field.

Morgan reached in to revitalize the spell in an attempt to restore the plasticity of the metal. There was nothing of the spell left. The iron itself was in fragments but the magnetic field was so strong that he couldn't make the pieces budge by hand. The shatter lines were quite sharp, Morgan cut his hand wide open when one piece slipped a little. Acting quickly he slipped into the band and demagnetized the iron. It was a little tricky because he had to do it evenly so that it wouldn't slip apart and cut Seth's throat.

He got it off in time and the bright purple-red color began to fade from Seth's face.

* * *

While Seth's body worked to recover, Morgan cleared away a patch of snow, sat down, and adjusted his personal protections. He hadn't had time to change out of his sleep clothes. As Seth came-to Morgan said “Now what are we going to do.”

Seth sat up and then started to sob quietly.

Morgan moved closer to Seth, pulled him in, and held him for quite a while.

“We have to get away from here Seth.” Morgan wasn't quite sure if he meant the scene of the crime or the continent just then, but being found with the bodies certainly wouldn't further their cause at any level.

Morgan got Seth moving and they backtracked. Before they left he gathered up the pieces of the shattered collar. At the shed he closed his mind as best he could and went in for the control ring. Finally, heading for home, when they reached the first body he began to summon wind to cover their tracks. There was no way he could do anything about the greater astral havoc without making things worse. On the way home, for the rest of the night, and well into the next day they talked things out.

Seth was whole again, though not healed, and they both really needed get things clear between them.