“I've gone and done it now Seth. I swear if I survive my own stupidity it will be a miracle”

Seth grunted noncommittally. He hadn't felt the power, but the secondary incandescence and the near panic had been unmistakable.

“You do know I messed up in there.”

“Ugh Ha.”

“What was I thinking.”

Seth shrugged.

“How can it be that everything I do makes things a little worse?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Cut that out!”

They walked the rest of the way back to the feast in silence but Morgan felt Seth kind of mocking him the whole way anyway.

The feast had long since passed the point of no return. The children were all stashed in sleepy piles in the corners being overseen by some of the more conscientious guests. Morgan set in for a little food and drink with some intent. He all but forced Seth to sit and join him. He didn't dive into his cups but he indulged himself with a light fog which lifted his spirits.

Not long after, the family got itself together and they left for home.

They were laughing and talking as they went. Morgan was just coming into a clear spot along the path when something tickled its way into his awareness. Personal life energy propagating backwards through time. It took as long for him to realize what the feeling was, as it took the arrow make its flight. It sank into a tree just next to Mieka's shoulder. The shot was very poor; naturally wide of Morgan, it would have hit Mieka square in the chest if Morgan's protections hadn't been on the man. The spell nudged it wider still all along its arc until it seemed an unfelt wind had blown the projectile far off course. Morgan blinked back the fog behind his eyes to try to make everything register.

“Down!” Seth pushed Liane and Mieka in a way that sent them sprawling and then had Shiea flipped down off his shoulders and tucked between them in an instant. It looked like they practiced doing that all the time.

Morgan started to reach for power but found himself drowning in a fast pool of earth power. Earlier, when he'd closed his eye to the flows of earth it had continued to flow toward him. Earth power was great for leveling a building or an army, but for personal combat it would be a last resort. Unfortunately with that much around him finding any other power was like trying to read with the lamp between himself and the text. That is to say blinding and impossible. He closed his inner eye and drew his athame.

Morgan had barely stepped off the path when somebody reared up in front of him. Without any thought to skill or style Morgan swung his athame. It connected with the strangers blade, cut through it cleanly and continued on through armor, chest, and shield arm.

On the other side of the path Seth dispatched two would-be attackers in about the same time.

A fourth ran from Morgan but he didn't follow. Without the element of surprise any half decent swordsman should be able to take him even with the athame. It was good that the fleeing man didn't know that.

* * *

The assailants were armsmen, professional soldiers wearing a familiar livery.

“They're the same guard.” Seth was putting up his steel.

“Same as who?”

“From the woods.”

Morgan recognized the clothes then, the merchant who had fled the shack had been guarded by men in the same uniform.

“The first archer let fly too soon or we'd be dead.” Seth sounded like he was reporting on the weather.

“Let's get out of here before they come back.”

Liane popped up her head. “What in name of Kyphon was that about?”

“One of Seth's little friends from the woods had a few friends of his own.”

“How worried should I be?”

“Not very, I figure they are after him, or me, and we are both leaving for a little while.”

Seth raised an eyebrow at Morgan but remained silent.

“I thought we'd settled that running away thing a while back.” Mieka said while he brushed some of the dirt off of Shiea.

“This is a completely separate problem. I just reached for power and I've got a load of earth energy to unload before the Draw or all hell is going to break loose.”


“Mieka, can Seth use your horse?”

“Of course. Any idea how long you'll be gone for?”

“Crap! No time for horses.” and then Morgan was running.

“And,” Liane shouted “should we board up all the windows this time?” at his backside with some levity.

Seth was already following.

Morgan had several witty responses come to mind as he ran, but he didn't get away before the Draw she just might not find her own comment very funny at all.

The real question was where to go? The library was a bunker for just this sort of thing but it was dead center of the college. If the Draw came before he was inside then he was just running towards innocent people.

It'd have to be the basement. Undergroudnd wasn't the best place to fight earth power but it was deep underground. Seth could keep the family out of the house proper.

He turned towards the house.

They were no more than halfway there when the Draw started.

Morgan dived into the astral to search out a way to prevent an epic earthquake. There was no place to put the energy; no way to channel it safely away. Filled with a kind of despair Morgan stopped and waited for the disaster.

As the Draw built he cringed, but right before the moment he expected it to explode in cataclysm the whole pool of energy withered away. He just caught a fraction of a glimpse of the means. It was something in the fabric of the realm itself. As it came back to life it... corrected itself. That reset, he realized, is literally what Winterdark is for. The fabric of space opened like a million tiny mouths and the pieces of energy dropped away to somewhere he couldn't follow.

Then it was over.


Morgan came back into himself and looked as Seth. “I don't have the faintest idea. It's just gone.”

Seth looked a question at Morgan.

“No point in running now I guess, let's wait for the family.”

* * *

Seth was busily transcribing a drawing from a book onto a huge sheet of velum while Morgan tried to puzzle out useful ways to describe N-dimensionally matrixed energy transfers to a bunch of pre-initiate teenagers. It would be the hairiest and most important lecture of his upcoming course. He was just trying to mix together a metaphor about solving a puzzle made of live eels when someone began insistently pounding on his office door.

His idea lost, he yelled “In!” at the door.

“Magus Morgan?” a young initiate in a dirty aotahe opened the door as he asked the question, his control over the garment wavering as he tried to juggle the enchantment and his words in his mind.

“Yes?” Morgan half pitied the kid, being sent on errands while still learning the protective disciplines, but his annoyance at the interruption showed through more.

“The chair summons you to his office.”

“What? Now?” He really didn't mean to bark at the kid.

“Um, yes sir,” the charge on his aotahe dipped perilously close to failure, “the matter is one of some urgency.”

“What matter is it?”

“I do not know sir, I was just sent to fetch you.”

“Damn... all right.” Morgan flipped his book closed and rose with a sigh.

Seth was silently and automatically behind them as they cleared the door.

When they reached the office of the chair Seth was allowed to accompany him in for a change. Morgan knew the chair to be a generally accessible man known for his frank manner. It is an odd truth that with all the infighting common between mages, the very highest seats of power at the school tended to be held by honest and forthright people. Even the schemers seem to need trustworthy people in the top-most positions.

“Greetings Morgan. Quite a performance at your drawing out.”

“Thank you sir, you sent for me?”

“Yes, are you aware of the rash of wildings in Raith`taria province?”

“Vaguely sir, they were discussing it at court when I went to swear fealty.”

“Well things are getting ugly up there and the crown has asked us to send someone.”

“I take it I've been chosen to go.”

“You clearly have the capacity to deal with some of their problems and, quite frankly, since you have not begun to teach your sections yet, you are the most expendable... That isn't the best word but you know what I mean.”

“I think I understand sir. What exactly am I supposed to do?”

The chair pushed a sheaf of papers across his desk. “There are writs of authority, acquisition and demand there. I've scheduled you a slot on the gate at second noon bell in three days. The school will cast you, your man, two horses, and whatever possessions you choose, to the kings garrison in Raith`taria. Once there you will do what you can. Your main duty is to discover why the wildings are happening and see what can be done to stop them. There are combat trained personnel and magi there to deal with the immediate threats.

“The death toll is rising out there so I am giving you a recaller and whatever else you want from the library. I want this solved but I want you back safe.”

Did he though? “I understand sir.”

“Good fortune to you Morgan. You're representing the institution.”

Morgan did not say “so no pressure then, right?” as the answer was implied.

The meeting was over.

Morgan turned and left for home. He handed Seth most of the sheaf of papers while he started on the first. The royal charge was exactly as the chair had said, a demand for assistance in discovering the cause of the wildings. The writs of acquisition were direct and complete, he could take anything he chose from the schools collection of books and equipment but if he survived he'd better bring it all back or have receipts. He was also entitled to whatever mundane items he wanted, and which would be subject to far more lax accounting. Not only that, they were providing access to the gate and he wouldn't have to charge it himself, the school would be providing mages to operate it. The situation was obviously very serious indeed.

Morgan's comings and goings were getting to be common and Seth was, as always, ready to see them off at a moments notice. The collection of magic materials was more problematic. The recaller was an obvious choice, but the single use device would not allow him to bring anything back apart from what he carried on his person. He'd have to take what he needed on the first try and only use the recaller to save his neck. The question was what would he need. He could take half the library if he chose but he couldn't possibly use half the library in any kind of timely way.

Garreith was a whole problem of it's own. He didn't want to even open the necessary doors, never mind cases, drawers, and vaults. Morgan couldn't fault the man for knowing he was out of his depth. Eventually Seth just gently lifted the keys out of his hand. Morgan already knew the artifacts he wanted and where to find them.

When they returned the keys Morgan gestured at the office in general and quietly said “When we get back I can help you out of all this if you like.” Then he though better of his attitude and quickly wrote a main library shelf reference and a few glyphs on a slip of paper and handed it to the man. “Start with this... and the ruddy-brown ledger” touching a document case as they left the room.

One thing they did get was a horse for Seth, bought outright with the writ of demand. Seth picked the most unlikely specimen, a huge, slightly shaggy beast with something of an attitude. It wasn't quite ugly but it was close. They cut a deal on a used saddle and tack and Seth spent the better part of the day riding it `just to get the feel'.

That's how, three days later, they arrived in the gate chamber with two horses and less gear than they had taken to Queens Landing. Beyond two changes of clothes each and the tools of their respective trades they carried three books, the recaller, and a couple of the more obscure pieces of the schools collection of enchantments. One book was on geomancy, one on magical creatures, and the third was Morgan's personal log. As for the relics, they were of the lens-and-filter variety, used to juggle power in several different, almost generic ways. They were both expecting to rely on Morgan's wits and Seth's steel more than anything else.

The school's gate was one of largest and most powerful of its ilk. It was also the oldest known to still function. It wasn't a portal, the typical threshold gate people imagine, instead the contents of an entire room could be cast to a remote location. It was a slow thing to focus and it could be tricky to find a place where the space in the room could match free space at the remote end, but nothing else known could move the mass that the old gate would. Its slowness to focus was the main reason that the gate schedule was always so packed. That and its usefulness for shipping bulk goods. The school did a lucrative side business casting things all over the realm.

The fees were... extreme.

Morgan was a little unsettled at letting someone else fling him most of the way across the continent but he didn't have any choice. The room in the old school that was itself the gate had wide doors leading out to a small courtyard. It was through those doors that Morgan and Seth led their horses. When Seth closed the doors behind them Morgan could feel the unknown mages energizing the gate.

The room was gloomy and dark, and huge. The twenty minutes or so it took to focus the gate felt like forever. The warehouse sized room redefined the words echo and silence. They were free to move around the empty room but there was nothing whatsoever for them to do. They couldn't even really talk because those mages effort meant they were not really alone. With barely enough light to see by everything else was ruled out. Finally the walls of the room turned misty and the floor started to get kind of soft and insubstantial. Then in a snap the room was gone and they were in the middle of a small parade field. They'd been flung, sent to their destination without actually materializing the gate room at the far, now near, end. A full two way transport would have taken much longer.

“Whoa, that's annoying” Morgan blinked back tears and shaded his eyes from the sudden direct sunlight.

“Where are we supposed to go?”

“Over there, I think.” Morgan pointed to a low garrison building that was flying the king's colors.

Seth began walking his horse toward the building and Morgan followed. It was just close enough to be not worth mounting.

The parade field obviously hadn't seen much recent use, the same could not be said for the garrison. Mud from the last several rains was tracked in and throughout the front room. It was always a bad sign when dirt was left in place on a military post. The front room was deserted so Morgan followed some noise back into the building.

The noises led into a side hall and then into a barracks room that had been converted into an infirmary. A more torn up lot of men and women Morgan never hopped to see. These people had literally been through the wars recently. The creatures that show up at the margins and that come out of wildings can be really nasty, and clearly this region was suffering more than a little from those sorts of visitors.

“Can I help you?” A haggard mundane doctor approached them, clearly hoping the reverse would be true.

“I'm Morgan, a magus, just come from Queens College. My man Seth.” He gestured. “I'm looking for someone in charge.”

“You a healer?”

“Not much of one, but I'm good in concert if you have one here... I'm really here to try to find a way to stop the wildings.”

“Even better, if you can do it. You just missed them, the last of the healthy just rode out to stop a pack of Cheothera before it reaches Earn freehold. The commander is down in the next ward but Ithria sure ain't done with her.”

“Thank you, I'll try there.”

That more torn up lot that he'd just never hopped to see was waiting for him in the next room. The injured here made the other lot look like malingerers. Ithria was apparently a talent and healer of the first order if not the greatest power. There was a webbing of power stretched across the room binding all of the patients to one very tired woman. She clearly didn't have enough energy to completely heal any of her patients all at a go but she was keeping them all alive by using herself mercilessly. The bindings would slowly heal all the people if she could keep them up long enough. She was bent over a woman who had suffered a nearly complete disembowelment. For just a moment Morgan wondered what it took to end up in the morgue here, and instantly regretted the thought.

Ithria finished with the woman and she stood, the very picture of exhaustion.

“How goes it?” Morgan asked.

“As well as I can make it. They'll all live I think, but I haven't got the strength to do any more.”

Morgan ran a quick scan on her. “You need to rest your channels as soon as you finish with this lot. You're near systemic collapse.”

She sat down in a overstuffed chair near the center of the room. “I've had this same weave going for a month, every time I get one stable enough to release there are two more needing in. I'm just a local healer, this is the only way I can handle the load at all.”

A month, that was a feat of magical stamina. The magnitude of her strength might not be that great but its breadth was impressive and the weave itself was subtle and effective. “I'm no healer but maybe I can help. You do concert work?”

“Sorry, no, I've never had that kind of training.”

Morgan tossed Seth his pack and then fished one of the schools smaller artifacts out of his coat pocket. He sat cross legged in front of her and prepared himself. He wouldn't be able teach her concert work without her loosing her grip on the web, but he could do something a little more drastic. He offered her keth'pethod, a mind hold that would allow her to use his power via her talent. It wasn't the unbreakable submission of keth'yetal but it was a first cousin to it.

Ithria had no idea what he was doing or how to respond so Morgan touched her a little on a different mode and showed her. “This is my essence, grip like so and draw thus, it will respond as if it were your own. Do not worry I will slow you if we approach my limits.”

Morgan felt her struggling to master the new idea and technique. After a little playing he felt her awkwardness fade. Her healing talent made her understanding almost instinctive. He felt her question even though she obviously wasn't even up to his meager level of mind work. “I'm ready, go ahead.”

In truth Morgan wasn't ready for what came next. Where her skills at mind work and general magic were small, she really was an exquisite healer. He felt himself drawn out and spun around in a dizzying series of interlocking spirals. The amount of energy she took was greater than he'd thought healing would require and in no time he found himself drawing on the artifact. It was a hollow iron tube twisted in several loops then joined end to end with itself. The space inside was filled with the powdered remains of who-knew-what. True to his research the device let him draw power from all around him and turn it into whatever kind was needed. Exactly how it worked was beyond him but it did work and he found himself losing track of how long and how much he was drawing.

The patterns of power Ithria drew him out into were etched in his mind where they would stay until he puzzled them out. He'd felt fire used to speed cellular metabolism with air providing oxygen and drawing off carbon dioxide. Water and earth were used to wash and grind away dead tissues. Odd mixings of the various forms of spirit had been used to tell the cells how to grow to fill the gaps in hard and soft tissues and generally keep body and soul together while summoning provided elements that could not be found in place. Even though all the parts made sense in and of themselves the whole was hard to grasp. Through it all the stony awareness was grinding through his mind, and in the distance he could feel a wrongness that he finally recognized as the wildings themselves.

He was only vaguely aware of it when Ithria finished the weaving and released the 'pethod. She'd asked him if he was all right, which he was, and then Seth helped him into a cot for lack of any other placed to put him. This sorcery was very like weaving, where the sorcerer was weaver, loom, and thread. Healing at this level wasn't something that happened all at once.

The cloth was made but Morgan would have to be that cloth for a little while for it to finish its work. After Seth made as sure as he could that Morgan was indeed all right, he took a seat on the floor at the end of the bed and waited. Ithria herself fell asleep in her chair, free of leaching of her web for the first time in seeming ages.

Feelings of hunger, extreme hunger, began to impose themselves on Morgan's mind some time later and he realized that the healing was beginning to take hold of the patients.

“Seth, food! Find food! They need to eat and it's killing me.”

For the next couple of hours Seth and Ithria saw to the patients' mundane needs. Seth having to nearly restrain Morgan to keep him from eating himself to death in sympathy.

Once the last, most seriously injured patients woke and began eating, and the first of them dropped out of the healing net, Ithria was sure Morgan could and would hold the weave so she excused herself. Even just the rest she had taken in that time had done wonders for her. Morgan's eyes started itching when she did a few minor healings in the other room. Deft as she had been, Morgan had been shuttle, loom, fiber, and cloth to that hand and it had bruised his channels. He'd be a fool not to get out of there before the next round of wounded got in.

“Who are you?” It was the woman who'd been nearly disemboweled. She was talking to Seth who'd just brought her some food.

“My name is Seth ma'am.” When she was clearly not satisfied he added, “I was gated in yesterday with my master, Morgan,” he kind of nodded and pointed with the tray, “Magus of Queens College.”

The woman took the tray. Around her fourth or fifth mouthful of food she looked over at Morgan and said “What are you doing abed? Run into trouble already?”

“No, just recovering from the healing.”

“A healer? Blast!... Sorry, no offense intended, and personal gratitude and all, but what we need is someone to close up these wildings, and they sent a healer...”

“Um, trust that I'm no healer. I just helped yours out a little. I am here to see what I can do about the wildings.”

“Thank the gods... Its getting pretty rough here.”

“I take it you are the commander. I intend to ride out as soon as I can unless you have a better idea.”

“I think I may, if you can wait till morning.”

“Fair enough.”

It was more than fair as he didn't think he'd be ready till the following afternoon.