It took Morgan two days of intensive concentration to figure out exactly how to close the rift and another one to figure out that he didn't have the raw strength to do it alone, at least not without doing something drastic. He'd barely spoken to any of the others during that time, though he had kept up the kind of consistent muttering conversation with himself that, in other circumstances, would have labeled him mad. By the end of that third day he knew what he'd have to do, and he didn't like it much. He'd have to take it up with the others over dinner.

“The news could be better.”

“How much better”

“Oh, a whole lot better.”

Raiolal didn't seem at all surprised. To his mind the whole mission had been going down hill for some time now.

Carteher gently hissed “Details?”

“That is a hole, straight down and out through the bottom of the realm. It's hard to decide whether something is leaking in or out but the whole area is getting kind of `soft'.”

“You went over this before.” Raiolal again there.

“I know. This hole is like a wound. You stick a triangular blade in a body and the wound doesn't want to close, same thing happens, only worse, if you stick someone with an apple corer. When you take out an odd shaped chunk like that the body doesn't know how to close the wound. This hole is like that.

“A doctor facing a wound like that re-cuts the wound to give it a chance to heal. That's what I have to do here. The thing is I am not strong enough to do it unaided and we don't have time to find a group of magi who are strong enough, trustworthy enough, and willing to take the risk. What that means is that we have to take care of this now with what we've got.”

“Why don't we have time?”

“I told you the area is getting `soft' right? The local structure of the realm is losing its shape and resiliency, like land turning to swamp, but more like rock turning to fog. In another couple of weeks this whole place may be gone. Odd as it sounds, normally that would be all right because then the area could heal naturally, but the magic holding the hole open would probably simply expand.”

“Right, that is out of the question. You sound like you have a solution though.”

“I do, but it wont be pleasant, in fact it could get downright ugly. I think I can use a variant of blood magic to gain the strength necessary to close the rift.”

At the mention of blood magic Raiolal and Carteher went pale and visibly thought about running away or trying to kill Morgan on the spot. Blood magic was the common name for truly foul and vile practices involving surprisingly less blod than one would imagine from the name. Everybody knew that a mage could torture power directly out of the flesh of living, sentient creatures. What most didn't know is that the practice is actually a perversion of valid medical and metaphysical techniques. It was, in essence, a misuse of the healing talents.

Carteher's voice was soft, sibilant, and threatening. “What EXACTLY do you have in mind?”

“First, you and Raiolal are going to hold me down, while Seth cuts me. That should be enough to give me what I'll need.”

“And if it's not?”

“Then one or both of you get to decide how much you would sacrifice yourself for the realm. I really don't think it will get that far though, I am not that short of the mark now. That I would need more than my own augment seems remote.”

“What about him?” They both looked at Seth accusingly.

“I have no doubt that he'd do it, but I've already checked. It wont work on him.”

Raiolal regained his voice. “So you are going to have us torture you and then, maybe, you are going to torture us.”

“It's torturous yes, but it's not necessarily torture...

“Certain kinds of scar tissue can amplify active and latent sensitivities if it is next to nerves capable of carrying power. The actual technique is to cut down to the intended nerve or nerves and then cause those useful scars to grow and close the wound. If it gets to that, and either of you will consent, it will be done with you unconscious and you wont feel a thing.”

“No. Blood Magic is evil and the people who do it are monsters. Everybody knows that.”

“What I intend isn't evil. What is evil is taking someone against their will. Cutting them, torturing them to weaken or break their wills, and then drawing power through their unwilling minds with remorseless intensity, burning them away and using them up. When the victim is driven into madness and the blood mage keeps using them, he has to take some of that madness into himself and the wicked become monstrous. That is Evil. Those are the monsters. What I am talking about is trading some discomfort for what may be the safety of the realm in a very controlled and limited way.”

They did not look at all convinced.

After a while Morgan went back in. “I am not asking you to submit to this, not yet anyway... will you at least help me do myself?”

“Do yourself? I thought you said this could be done unconscious?”

“No. It can be done to you when you're unconscious. I have to be awake, I'm the only one here who knows how, or has the talent to make the scars come in right and right away. That's why you two will have to hold me down.”

* * *

There hadn't been much more to say and they all ate in silence and went to sleep, the three taking turns standing guard while Morgan was allowed to sleep straight through. He woke once when Seth was on watch and spoke to him briefly about what needed to be done. Morgan would have to use their collars to partly take over Seth and guide him in making the cuts. Seth agreed, as always, but he didn't like it one bit. He didn't say anything about it, but Morgan knew. For Seth the collar was the least of his objections. He'd put down several people who'd fallen victim to a Blood Mage. They'd been disfigured, savage, frightened, ruined animals beyond the reach of healing, care, or kindness.

In the morning Morgan set Seth to building a makeshift rack. For all that he didn't like doing it, he did it well. Having given Seth his orders Morgan set about other preparations, mostly digging through Seth's bag of medicinal goodies to make a disinfecting and hopefully numbing salve for later. He intended to do everything he could to make it go as easily as possible.

Carteher and Raiolal kept mostly to themselves at first but eventually joined Seth and helped him lash their few rigid items together into a reasonably rigid cross and brace made mostly of sheathed swords and pack frames.

Raiolal finally muttered “He's really is serious, isn't he?” to Seth.

“Yes, I believe he is.”

“And he is going to go first, and you are going to cut him?”

“More or less, actually he is going to use my body to cut himself. I wouldn't know where to cut. It has to be guided by talent to cut exactly as necessary.”

“Why are you taking this so calmly? Is it because you know you aren't on the list for this little toy.”

Seth barely paused while the thought of punching Raiolal crossed almost compulsively before him. “If he even hinted that I should, I would go first.”

“Do you know what this does to people?”

“Yes. Perhaps better than you. I've seen and dealt with what blood magic leaves behind. He knows what he's asking... That's why he's going first.

“I don't want to see him... changed.”

“Then why are we letting him do this?”

“Because he says it must be done and we know he's probably right. Because there is nothing else we can do, and because... I don't... know... why...” He said, yanking the lashing tighter with each trailing word.

* * *

The thing they'd made was an `X' with a staff across the top. There was a hole at the foot of each leg and at either end of the crossbar. Lashing above and below each hole would keep the wood from splintering under even horrific strain. It was laid out in a stretch of cleared earth. It didn't look all that sinister, but looking at it Seth felt more foreboding than he could explain.

After the rack was ready and set, Morgan inscribed a generously large protective circle around it, giving everybody plenty of room to maneuver without having to worry about crossing out of the ring. Once the wards and dampers were set on the circle Morgan could remove his aotahe without risking himself against the ambient chaos.

In ritual magic anything can be a ritual even if it has never been done before and will never be repeated. Morgan was focused to the extreme and he oozed patient ritual in his every move. Each part of everything he did seemed choreographed and timeless like each gesture had been taken from some prehistoric text.

Hands to collar of aotahe. First two fingers into the bottom of the hood. Flip it back off his head. Hands twist down and then snap apart to open the front. Pull it back past the shoulders. Straighten arms down to the sides and let it slide off his back. Catch the collar as it reached his hands. Hands together and apart behind the back and the aotahe is in the right hand. Pass it to front and again hold it by the edges of the collar. Fold once at the collar. And again. Raise it with one hand and sweep the free arm out, across, and in. Lower the raised hand and it was folded in thirds. Kneel. Lay it on the ground. Draw the athame. Lay it precisely on the silk bundle...

On and on it went. He was actually moving quite quickly. It took him less than five seconds to remove and fold his aotahe, but the silent intensity and economy of his motions demanded the full attention of them all. The mood was more than contagious, it was compulsory, and soon everybody was moving, or sitting still, with an equal intensity. Continuing in that fashion Morgan stripped to his shorts.

Morgan passed the small bowl of disinfectant salve to Seth and presented him with his back. Seth applied the salve deftly, making sure to cover his entire back and shoulders. Then Morgan began wrapping his wrists with lengths of cloth torn into strips. After his wrists he wrapped his ankles exactly the same way.

With his limbs cuffed for protection, he moved over the center of the frame, laid down, and extended his hands to each side. Seth and Raiolal quickly bound his arms tightly out along the cross member while Carteher got started on his legs. All the bonds were cinched until his whole body was stretched taut and then a few more bindings were added at the elbows, knees, and the top of the thighs. In seemingly no time Morgan was laid out for slaughter in the hazy morning light.

For the longest time nothing seemed to be happening and then suddenly Seth found himself folding a length of cloth and placing it in Morgan's mouth. Morgan was using Seth. The changeover had been so gentle that Seth had actually missed it even though he'd been watching for it. As for the gag, Morgan had realized it would be a good idea sometime after he'd been tied down. He didn't want to break his jaw or teeth.

For Seth it was a strange experience. There wasn't the same feeling of distance and pressure he'd felt from his first collar. His body simply acted without his violation. He could tell that the slightest resistance on his part would stop the effect. It was conspiracy, not compulsion.

For Morgan things were far different. He used the discipline called Many Minds. He cleaved his consciousness into two distinct pieces. Every person spends a large portion of their waking lives torn between different feelings and impulses. That fundamental trait, that schism, can even permanently tear someone into many personalities under sufficient duress. Most of his intelligence and all of his talent was in the self occupying Seth, leaving his more animal self behind to maintain his body and, coincidentally, experience the pain.

After the gag, Seth found himself looping a bit of rope through Morgan's collar and tying it to the cross-brace. The preliminaries exhausted, his left had slowly reached out for the athame.

The first two cuts were long and slow. They ran down the spine from atlas to coccyx, one to each side of the bony ridge and just inside the muscles running down the center of the back. The cuts angled in to form a “V” that didn't quite meet at the point, nearly freeing up a flap of skin. These would form the primary stalk of the new auxiliary conduit. From the moment the athame entered his flesh, a continuous muffled scream tore out of Morgan's throat.

For Morgan, or at least the part of Morgan that was doing the cutting, there was no conflict. When he'd torn himself in half he'd taken all of his skills, technical knowledge, and dispassion and lumped them into the part that would be doing the cutting. Seth and the others had no such luxury. While he considered and probed for the next cut, the rest of Morgan's self was trying to beg through the gag.

Seth was in a cold sweat and he had to struggle not to interfere with Morgan's work. Raiolal was kneeling on Morgan's upper arms and had his head held straight and vertical, nose to the earth, pinned between his hands and braced by his thighs. Carteher was laying bodily across Morgan's legs. Morgan was stronger than he looked and he'd started fighting when he'd started cutting. The other two men watched Seth, totally bewildered and unsure what to think. Hot tears were running down Seth's face. Everything had a cost and he was scared to think that Morgan hadn't really appreciated what this would do to his own mind.

Remorselessly, he proceeded. Using his power he fired each nerve he was interested in, and then poked his athame down into his flesh and traced the nerve from its tip to the point where it met his spine. In order to keep his active self from becoming impaired, he blocked all the endorphins and symptoms of shock in his own body. In so doing he also denied his other self the last respite of every tortured body. His technique was perfect but his approach was flawed. His operant self had too much of his reason, leaving too little understanding behind to support the suffering. That left only his animal instincts fully able to cope. He came closer to destroying his mind utterly than he would ever be able to comprehend. If not for some flake of self-preservation and self-awareness buried too deep to ever be seen by the conscious mind, the harm would have been beyond reconciliation.

For three and a half hours he cut. When he'd finished flaps of skin and strips of muscle were sagging or hanging free all over his back, arms, and legs. There was very little blood, as he'd stemmed the bleeding for practical purposes. Now the healing began. What had taken hours to open took only minutes to close. Most of the cuts even healed without visible scar, the necessary scar tissue being made deep in the flesh and not having to come too near the surface. What scars were visible were almost pretty, organic curves that followed unseen contours within the body. Looking at them made Seth secretly want to retch.

He found himself cutting the bindings and then laying the aotahe across Morgan's back. Raiolal and Carteher backed away as Seth slipped Morgan's arms through the sleeves. Then Seth realized he was again alone in his body when Morgan suddenly convulsed. Seth helped him sit up, knowing that the wounds were completely healed so he couldn't do any more damage. As soon as he looked in Morgan's eyes every Blood mage in existence gained a mortal enemy.

There was struggle there as Morgan fought to reintegrate himself, but that paled next to the confusion and betrayal that shone out. The part of him that he'd left behind to suffer hadn't understood much about who or why. It was essentially a child who'd been wounded. It was an odd sort of suffering that was happening again as the memory had to be re-experienced by Morgan's whole self. If he couldn't reconcile it completely the artificial fissure he'd made could become a real organic part of his personality.

One or both of those personalities reached out and seized onto Seth, rolled up into a shivering knot, and stayed that way for a very long time.

After a while Raiolal and Carteher's concern and curiosity overcame them and they drew close. Not that they'd been able to get that far away within the tiny clear space.

Raiolal went first, “How is he?”

“I think he hurt himself far worse than he'd thought.”

“Will he recover?” Carteher asked.

“I think he will... I think this will have changed him, though I don't know how much.”

“I wonder what it's like in there.” Raiolal touched Morgan's head where he'd held it during the cuttings.

“He's two people, trying to become one again. The injured one knows full well what roles we each played in this.”

Carteher let out a huff of breath. “Then we must hope that the part which understands wins out over the part that holds a grudge, or when he comes to himself we will have one angry dangerous man to deal with.”

Seth had known that all along, even if he hadn't let himself think it consciously. If Morgan's sanity were broken he'd have to kill him before he did anyone great harm. Morgan had been explicit on the point. Seth wasn't sure his own feelings of guilt, let alone loyalty and everything else he felt, would allow it. If he did have to kill him, he didn't think he could live long with the deed.

Inside his own memories Morgan was learning the full horror of blood magic. There'd been nothing to cushion the experience. When he'd taken the sense of purpose away from the part that would suffer he'd stripped it of understanding and the mental armor that such understanding could provide. He'd suffered torture without cause or explanation and largely without intellect, the way an animal would suffer. It took him a long time to find any way through to that suffering animal. The chink in its in-drawn mental armor finally came to him. There'd been a backwash of regret and compassion coming from Seth through the link fully as long as the procedure had lasted. The link still had that flavor, mixed more strongly with guilt and concern now, and his animal self was open to that. It was difficult for his dispassionate, intellectual self to mold itself to that path, but eventually it did. To do it he had to all but destroy that part of his mind that could see without suffering the burden of empathy. A deceptively small-seeming sacrifice that would lay him open many times in his future.

There was no easy ending. Seth held Morgan as something between wild animal and invalid. Morgan would shift in a moment between near sentience and drooling emptiness. Seth rode it out with him for two days while Raiolal and Carteher saw to the camp and the food.

In the middle of the second night, tucked in the curve of Seth's body and covered by blankets to keep away shock, Morgan's guttural sounds resolved themselves into coherent crying. Seth felt the change and sighed in relief. There had been no sudden eruption of violence or sorcery. Finally assured, Seth held him tight, but in relief, as he finally let himself sleep. His soul-deep relief, and utter exhaustion, kept away his usual nightmares.

* * *

Neither Morgan nor Seth woke until early afternoon. Seth woke first and his slight stirring woke Morgan. They were slow to untangle themselves, both reluctant and fearful of what they would find. Morgan finally sat up, slowly, and looked around. In that instant he finally knew that he could, in actually, survive and even function with `that day' in his mind.

Seth sat up, and somewhat away, ready for things to fall apart but watching for a hopeful sign. Morgan finally turned to him and gave him a pathetically weak grin, followed by a shiver. Seth all but sagged in relief.

After a while he asked “are you all right?”

“I'll live.” It was a weak reply, but it would do.

Another long pause and then he asked “did it work?”

Morgan hadn't yet activated the new channels and he said as much. “Once I touch them to life there'll be no way to shut them off. I think I need a little time to get ready.”

Soldiers are good at waiting and making ready. Those are two of the primary skills in the military world. There was food ready and waiting for them at the small fire and the two other men kept their distances while Morgan rose and ate.

Seth followed tentatively. He might well be meeting a completely different person here, and for the first time in months his station hung like a weight before him. He wasn't sure whether he should act the same as before or as a proper slave. Hunger was gnawing at him and he moved to the fire like a dog ready to sneak food.

“I haven't changed that much.” Morgan said, the grin coming back a little stronger this time.

Still a little timid Seth took his newly accustomed place by the fire and started in on the food.

Sharing the simple activity in silence refreshed the personal bond between them. By the time their hunger was sated they were largely back onto familiar ground.

Morgan sat back restively and contemplated the walls of their tiny oasis while Seth contemplated even more formless things. Finally Morgan said “well, I better finish this before I lose my last nerve.”

He stood and moved a little ways away from the fire, flexing and stretching his neck for that last bit of relaxation. Morgan stood with his feet slightly spread, stretched his arms straight out to each side and sparked his new channels to life.

When a baby is first forming in the womb, something called the neural fold, a tiny crease down the length of the body, is the genesis of the spine and brain. The seam eventually closes along its length, and the tiny structure at that closure is a vital part of what makes magic possible. Those two rows of interlocked cells act, in those fortunate few, as a kind of capacitor, allowing the electromagnetically interactive nerves everyone possesses to function in the other levels of reality. Morgan's new scars would perform in much the same way, but in larger, redundant channels. That is, once they were properly structured.

Seth saw Morgan sink to his knees and start foaming at the mouth. Each of the scars needed the proper internal structure to do its job correctly. They were in the process of structuring themselves under the onslaught of the field of Morgan's talent. The physical restructuring, happening just next to the key nerves, re-ignited the pain even as his organic talent tried to deal with the new inflow of energy and information. When Morgan started into full convulsion Seth jumped on him, crossed his arms under Morgan's head protectively, and held him down to keep him from hurting himself too much.

The convulsions lasted little more than a minute.


“Are you okay?”


And the soft reply “It's so big...”

“What?... Morgan, open your eyes.”

He opened his eyes, but they didn't seem to focus at all.

“Can you see?”


“Can you see me Morgan?”

It took a second, but he finally brought his eyes to focus, and in so doing suppressed his heightened talent back into its proper place.

“Get off me you ox.”


“Get up... you weigh a ton.”

Seth grinned the way he really hadn't since Queens' Landing, and rolled off of Morgan, to lay on his back beside him.

“Everything's going to be okay then.” Seth said to the air.

“I do believe you're right.” Morgan added, shivering at the hollow sound of a half truth.

* * *

For two more days Morgan hobbled around the camp doing the arcane while Seth, Raiolal and Carteher saw to the business of keeping him content, safe and fed. That he never again mentioned cutting Raiolal or Carteher was much to their collective liking, no matter what he'd said before about it being a much more peaceable activity than what he'd suffered.

Seth also took up some of the duties he'd practiced for Lady Korane, assisting Morgan with measurements and, in this case, doing the bulk of the hammer and chisel work needed to inscribe the basalt. That Morgan was regularly overcome with dizziness and could barely tolerate the touch of anything against his back except perhaps his aotahe was cause for concern, but not yet alarm. A couple of times during the preparation Morgan had started in with that gurgling and foaming at the mouth again, but when Seth questioned him about it he'd mumbled something about finding new balances and then dismissed his concern.

Another oddity was the way Morgan was keeping close to Seth. Even in the restricted sixty or so feet they all shared, it seemed to Seth that Morgan was almost always within arms reach. He didn't so much mind it as worry about it. He didn't have anything to trace it back to beyond the general trauma and he knew that any kind of new emotional imbalance or dependency could prove disastrous. It might throw off his castings and make him fry in an unexpected backlash. He'd never had much use for religion, but every time he felt that whisper of dependency a near-prayer formed itself in his head.

Finally they finished the inscription. It was small, barely eight feet across, and quite simple. That was a blessing because the basalt was hard and the chiseling slow. If more of it had required etching, as opposed to chalk, it might have even taken too long to hear Morgan mumble over it. When Morgan called another evening summit Raiolal and Carteher were sweating visibly at the renewed prospect of the knife. They both watched him with unshielded trepidation.

“No, I don't need either of you.” Morgan started, much to their relief. “I have all the strength I need to close that now.” His right had was unconsciously tracing back and forth along a thin line of a scar running down his left forearm. “I just want you to be ready for what will happen tomorrow.”

“Just after dawn I am going to close the fissure. When I do the ground may heave violently and the gods only know what else will happen. They are going to feel this a long ways away, maybe even back home, but near here will be the worst.”

He paused to organize his thoughts and amend his plans a bit.

“I'll put up a few protections for you all but I won't have that much to spare so be ready for a rough span there.

“After the shaking is over it will still probably take several months for the mist to dissipate completely but the wildings will fall off fairly quick. Going back will be much the same as coming.

“When we get to the horses my athame will open the spell around them, and when we are back at the garrison it will cut loose and dispel these.” He tugged at the bit of string around his wrist.

“You'll be doing that though, wont you?” Raiolal asked.

“Probably not, this is going to take everything I've got and several of the things I brought with me. I may not be good for much for quite some time. You all need to know what to do.”

They did not look happy at hearing that.

“Just make sure you collect up everything, myself included, and get away from here quick. There may be... um... after effects... you don't want to be here if that happens.”

“How far do we have to get, and how fast?” Carteher asked.

“I really don't know. Best safe speed.” Another pause for mental amendment. “You'll be able to use the athame as a guide through the mist to the horses, from there you'll be out of the mist.”

Raiolal again, “Is that it?”

“I can't think of anything else right now. If I get any more ideas tonight I'll tell you in the morning.”

There wasn't much more to say from any other quarter and dinner progressed in silence.

When they'd bedded down for the night and everybody else was asleep, Morgan nudged Seth gently awake.

“Hnmm?” he grunted deep and soft, still drowsing, having already listened for threat and found none.

“I have a few more things for you.”

A pause to waken more fully, “go ahead...”

“I'm going to be leveraged to the hilt with geasairia

Seth hated himself for saying it... “Why don't you cut one of the others?”

“I can't. I don't think I could ever face that, even though it wouldn't harm them. Besides, my fine control is all but gone.”

“What!?” The exclamation half escaped before Seth could swallow it.

“I think I'll be able to get it back sooner or later, but right now I am flooded with sense and power nearly beyond my ability to focus.”

“Then you mustn't do the casting, it's suicide.”

“No, it's not that dangerous. I am grinding a mountain against a mountain, not lifting a porcelain cup with a flow of air. Fine control doesn't much enter in to this. Besides, if I don't do this now a whole chunk of the local landscape will fall away to nothing in another week.”

“I don't like it.”

“It has to be done.”

“Uh ha. But I still don't like it.”

“The thing is, well, after... I am going to be in sorry shape.”

A grunt from Seth.

“The link between us... its inverted now... you'll probably need it. When this is over we need to have a long talk, but till then I need you to promise me that you'll stay close to me.”

There was far too much `if' in the sound of that `when' for Seth's liking “Yea, I want to know about that...”

“I won't abandon you.”

“No. I mean thanks, but no, physically close. Like ten feet close.

“I don't have time for the long explanation, I don't even know if I even know why, but somehow physical proximity to you helps keep out the worst of the garble from the new pathways. If I'm out of it, you know, after... Uh, just stay close, and do what you have to do.”

That was it then, there was little else to say, “All right, of course I promise.”