“Come on, you can do it, only ten more...”

Seth was standing at one end of the small shed holding Morgan's aotahe while Morgan stood shivering and naked at the other end. The exercise was simple, Morgan was trying to spend sixty seconds unshielded and outside the range of Seth's strange protective influence. Either could take one step forward and they would be close enough for Morgan to get a little protection. For three days they'd been trying to get his resistance up and they'd made little progress. Their current goal had been cut all the way down to one minute.

Morgan was sobbing under the raging bombardment of his asenses, over-amplified by his new pathways. His total duty in the exercise was to try not to vrec and prev at all while trying to ignore the way he could feel every slight movement of air as if the blade were back at him. All at once he couldn't stand it an instant longer. He sagged down onto his knees and forward just enough to feel some of the protection. Seth rushed forward and threw the aotahe over him.

“One minute six seconds. A full twelve seconds longer than last time. You're improving faster with each try.” Seth also noted he was recovering faster, but kept it to himself. It would be a good biscuit later if Morgan hit a wall in his recovery.

Morgan panted a bit, clutching at Seth's arm, then swallowed hard and managed to get out “At this rate I'll never make it.”

“At least the aotahe works.”

“But I can't go around wearing only my aotahe for the rest of my life.”

“Why not?”

“Because I can't. I have to ride and such, the thing is useful but limiting. Plus, you know, naked.”

Morgan had completely recovered in every other way; Seth didn't say a word about his other observations on Morgan's health, but the signs were more encouraging than he'd hoped.

“You could wear it under your normal clothes.”

“It won't fit under pants without exposing my legs.”

An idea started blooming in Seth's mind.

“Morgan, why does it have to be a cloak?”


“The garment you charge to protect yourself, does it have to be cut like a cloak?”

Morgan though about it a moment. “I supposed not, but that's the way its always been done.”

“Does it have to be silk?”

Thinking some more Morgan said “Yes, definitely.”


“Because of what silk is. Silk is a secretion of the silk worm. They make it into thread by unraveling the long fiber of four or five the cocoons and pressing them together into a single thread. The same sort of thing happens when the cloth is made, it all becomes one single thing. That's why silk is basically the primary fabric used in sorcery. It's almost the only cloth that can be cleared and enchanted as a single item.”

Seth hurmphed, “okay, so it has to be silk... Does it have to be the outermost thing you wear?”

Morgan looked at him sideways “No.”

Seth grinned. “I have our temporary solution. silk underwear. We make you a set of full length small clothes that you can keep charged like your aotahe. Then we can go back and work on this in a proper workroom.”

Morgan stood and slapped Seth heartily on the back when he rose. “Yes! That'll work!” Morgan looked hopeful for the first time in days, then paused “now all we need is to find a good length of silk and the money to buy it with.”

* * *

Finding the silk was a little tricky but the money turned out to be no problem. They'd forgotten the Writ of Acquisition the school had sent with Morgan. Since his predicament was directly related, it was a legitimate expense. Of course it would never be approved if the school found out that it was bought after the actual curative action. More, if they found out they'd want to know what it'd been bought for and why. It wouldn't do to have anybody find out how debilitated Morgan was. It was that whole hiding weakness from enemies thing again.

Morgan had appropriated the small shed as his workroom away from home. He'd been unable to properly protect it since he couldn't bring himself to do more than charge his aotahe, but they were assured mundane privacy by the guards.

Morgan was staying on site under false auspices, claiming to still be there to insure the wildings were going away. E'tsar had assured them they were diminishing daily, and there'd only been one disturbance large enough to require intervention since the sealing.

Seth possessed the necessary skills and tools to do the sewing. A good thing since Morgan had never been able to manage a decent stitch. His own aotahe showed signs of a seriously uneven hand even after fifteen years of charging and use. It wasn't a truly enchanted item so the perfecting effect had little hand on it. That wasn't the real point. The idea of anything, even silk, pressing against the scars unevenly was not one Morgan wanted much to entertain.

The whole procedure would depend on the already observed phenomena that Seth could touch something and still leave it suitable for enchantment. Morgan was to clear thread and the full length of silk before it was cut, so that he'd only have to cast the clearing twice. If he had to re-clear the constructed garment the plan might fail. Clearing was hard work. In his current condition it would be a question of restraint.

Morgan requisitioned the silk through Raiolal. Both he and Carteher had come to appreciate how harshly Morgan had used himself, and his near-certain lack of recognition or reward. The soldier in them both understood that better than anything. Both had come to him individually and pledged a kind of support. They'd both also said that they'd have taken the cutting first if they'd understood what it cost Morgan to cut himself.

It took Raiolal two weeks to make the round trip to the nearest trading post important enough to have a large enough single piece of raw silk.

In that two weeks Morgan got acclimated to the point that he could spend five minutes exposed before he'd cry out, and nearly another ten before collapse. It was nothing near normal function, but it held the promise that he'd eventually recover. In all that time he didn't use his talent once on anything besides his aotahe. It wasn't worth the risk.

* * *

With the silk on the table and the two of them locked safely in the shed, Morgan got ready to cast the clearing. Happily that kind of casting could be done with his aotahe fully charged.

Standing at one end of a small table, he reviewed the spell. It was a fairly simple brick-through-the-window type of thing. It was like rinsing something out. You poured a huge quantity of undifferentiated energy through the target until the waste energy ran clear. The only two difficult parts were keeping the energy unbiased and keeping it from burning the target away to nothing.

Seth sat calmly at the far end of the table waiting for Morgan's signal that he was done. If everything went well there'd be no outward indication that the spell was being cast.

Morgan prepared the stricture in his head. It was called `hanging a spell', a phrase he always found curious. When he realized that he was thinking about that instead of proceeding, he chided himself for ducking the immediate. With the spell hung, he reached into himself to spoon out the first dollop of energy.

It was a tiny opening into the astral. A simple channel to direct a trickle. What came down that channel was a torrent. The opening lasted just a fraction of a second but he was hugely overloaded with energy. It was like being surprised in your sleep by the taste of rising bile. A moment was all the time he had to figure out what to do.

Years of training kicked in and he did what's supposed to be done. The rule, mostly useful during combat, was if you have to dispose of an overload just keep on with what you were doing, but do it stronger. He activated the spell.

He extended both hands down toward the bolt of cloth and spoke the stricture once, but he directed the flow at more than just the silk. Struggling to keep the ratios correct for each phase, he blustered through the casting. Each time he opened himself to get the next piece he nearly drowned, but he just kept on in even measures moment by moment. In record time the clearing was over. He had no idea how long it took but the whole thing seemed to flash by in a blinding moment. In one pass he managed to clear the fabric, the thread, the table, and about half the shed including its contents.

For several heartbeats Morgan stood ready to try to fend off a fatal backlash, or perhaps burn away to nothing in an instant, but nothing like that happened. When he returned his senses to his body fully he cried out and nearly dropped to the floor, ending on hands and knees. The scars were alive with crawling, burning pain. The unused channels were flash-burned. Like running a race when you hadn't ever done more than walk a hallway in the past, the his body was complaining about the sudden strain. It often happened to new mages who spent too long between castings.

Morgan was going to have to use these channels, and pain be damned, or they would get so bound up that they'd kill him anyway. A classic case of having no good options.

The thoughts were still fighting with the sensations when Morgan realized Seth was over him and staring down in concern. He started laughing, perhaps a bit hysterically, then said “They're ready!” and kept right on laughing. It was not a wholesome sound,

Seth was unsure what to do, but eventually set on just plowing ahead with the job of making the suit. “You'll have to stand up.”

The abrupt laugh was over and Morgan got Seth to help him stand.

Seth used a bit of cord to measure Morgan. He stretched it over Morgan's aotahe this way and that, and made several notes. During that time neither said a word.

Morgan broke the silence, “I overdrew, bad.”

Seth grunted.

“And I need to do a lot more casting.”

Another grunt.

“I'm scared.”

“I know.”

Morgan grunted back.

“How did you feel when you first started out?”

“With magic?”

“Yes, not during awakening, you had other things in your head, I mean the first time you were told to open a pathway and channel your talent.”

“Afraid, I guess.”

“Of course you were afraid, everybody is afraid when something big happens to them, for good or ill. I suspect you're going to be more afraid than this, a lot more. I don't know when, but you will. Fear is like that.”

“Hua?” Morgan didn't quite understand his point. “Fear is like what?”

Seth stepped back from him, then moved around so the table was between them. He wasn't sure why he wanted it there, but he moved anyway.

“I told you, I think, that when I was nine I killed a combat mage ...” Seth looked down at his hands as if he expected to find them bloody. “It wasn't a whim; it wasn't even a choice. I knew that if I were going to survive the day that mage had to lose his fight. To lose, he had to die.”

Seth got that far away look that comes with strong memories. In his head he was reliving that day. “I was standing there, in a pen, with the pigs. I'd been sent out to slaughter one for the evening meal. That's when the village was attacked.

“Riders, seemed like hundreds of them, came galloping into the village, and began killing. They were there to take everything they could, and kill or burn what they couldn't take. The free, and even some of the slaves, began to meet them in force. I just hunkered down with the pigs. I was nearly nothing to the slavers and I was nothing to the people of the village so I didn't care who lived or died.

“The raiders were winning, even a nine year old could tell that. While the fighting was still at its peak, some of the raiders were beginning to pillage. When one of them killed an old slave woman because she would be a burden on the trail, I knew that I did have a side to take after all. I knew that was his reason because he said it to her outright. There was no reason a barred boy of nine could give to mark himself anywhere above that old woman.

“I was frozen in fear, and watched the whole thing unfold, knowing I was going to die as soon as I was noticed.

“Then the fighting turned. I didn't yet know why but whatever advantage the riders had seemed to slip away from them.

“The slave pens were near the center of the action, and the animal pens where I was hiding were kind of behind that, in terms of the raid anyway. There was raider there that was different. He wasn't armed like the rest and he didn't seem to be fighting, instead he was ahorse and just staring off into nothing. He was just a few feet outside the pen and I was afraid to breathe.

“All at once he started cursing and dismounted. I thought he'd seen me and was coming for me. Instead he drew a quick circle in the dust with his boot and then let loose a with a lot of chanting. A woman rode up, clearly not with the raiders, and all but leaped from her horse. She stood without moving and just stared at the man.

“All at once the pigs started screaming and climbing over one another to get to the back of the pen. I didn't have any idea why, nothing seemed to be happening between the two. Then everything came apart. The pen was flattened and I was thrown to the ground. There was heat and wind and stones everywhere, just roaring around, but the two were untouched by any of it.

“Then that stopped and I could see that they were both red in the face but again nothing seemed to happen.

“Slowly the woman began to falter. I knew she was loosing.

“I made my decision.

“Crawling through the mud on my belly, scared so bad I wanted to wretch but didn't dare, I made my way to the man. I knew that if he won so would the raiders, and I knew that I would die. I thought I knew a lot about death then, I'd slaughtered animals, and I knew I had a death sentence on my face, but I didn't want to die that day.

“Without making a sound I crawled up to him even as she sagged to the ground. With the big knife I'd been given to slaughter the pigs clutched in my hand I rose up. I was big for my age, but I'd have been no match for him in a fight, but he was so intent on the woman. I almost faltered, but I saw the woman looking right at me and was afraid he'd notice.

“I reached around him with the knife and drew it across the inside of his leg with all my strength, looking for the blood there. He bent down and grabbed at the unexpected wound. That brought him down close enough. I grabbed his head like he was a pig, and opened his throat.”

Seth was quiet for a long time, lost in the thought, then he looked up at Morgan. His eyes were bright with unshed tears.

“For the longest time, years, I thought that was the most afraid anybody could be. I was wrong. By fifteen I'd faced men in open combat. Been hunted by creatures from beyond the margins. And fallen into the hands of people who were lower than animals.

“No matter how afraid you get, there is always something waiting to frighten you worse. That is what fear is like.”

Something in the way Seth said that last convinced Morgan that a little pain, and perhaps some insanity, might just be a bargain compared to, say, Seth's worst nightmare, or even his least. Morgan walked around the table and set his hands on Seth's shoulders and said “Thank You.” There was more to it but he couldn't seem to find the words. He knew that this was probably the first time he'd really shared the story with anybody, and that was important, but what do you say to something like that.

Morgan gently kneaded Seth's shoulders while Seth spent some time finding his way back out of his memories. All at once Morgan realized that this was one of the first peaceful moments they'd had in recent days and found himself relaxing in the paradox of it all.

* * *

Seth kept busy cutting and sewing while Morgan vaporized sample after sample of silk. Imprinting the fabric was turning out to be annoyingly like cutting a one carat diamond with a rusty chisel and a forty pound sledge hammer. No matter how carefully he hung the spell it would be blasted apart when he opened himself to the forces of magic. To top it all off, something was nagging at him. It wasn't the insistent pressure of the power that had out-stepped him, nor the way his slightest movement would cause pain or itching seemingly at random. Some other thing was in the back of his mind nagging him. Whenever he'd try to chase down that other thing it would skitter away and keep taunting him from just outside his mental reach.

Staring down at a swatch, he'd stopped counting at fourteen but it was probably somewhere in the forties, a completely new approach occurred to him. Instead of opening himself to the powers he decided to draw directly from his organic reserves. His shielding was so marginal that what he took from his personal essence would, or at least should, be automatically replaced. Power should ooze back into him like water seeping into a leaky basement. Ignoring a goodly part of his training, Morgan hung a spell, set aside the outer world and drew from his life essences. It was dizzying, like being poured out of a bucket onto pavement, but it worked. The simple glamour took and he felt himself replenished almost against his will.

“Yes!” He slapped the slightly shimmering square of fabric down to the table in his open hand.

Seth looked up, raised an eyebrow, and looked back to his work.

Morgan sprung up, went around behind him, grabbed the tops of his shoulders, and shook him playfully “Y-Y-y-y-e-e-e-e-e-s-s-s-s-s!”

Seth took it as intended and kind of snickered.

Before Morgan got to say more the odd thing nagging him reared up and made itself known. They'd been in the shed for a good three hours and Morgan hadn't come around the table in all that time. This side of the room was outside the area he'd cleared and still shone with years-worth of comings and goings as it should. From there Morgan vrec'd the clear half of the shed. Then he prev'd it, and felt a tiny wrongness.

There was no stigma, no taint to the place, just a chilling emptiness that tugged at his mind a little. He knew that feeling. Frozen to the spot, fishing through his memories he quickly came to his recent torment. That was clearly the prime element of what he felt, an echo of his own agony. The casting had been faintly colored by the source of power that fueled it. But knowing that didn't make the nagging feeling stop. There was something further, a more distant truth trying to find it's way out of his mind.

He went to the edge of the clearing and swayed back and forth across the near palpable boundary, digging through his memories for the missing piece. When random memories didn't bring it to focus he started working his way backward from the present. And there it was.

The woodcot in the woods just outside the school. When he'd went back to check on the scene of the killings. That was the time he'd felt that same cold, cavernous, empty feeling. That deep part of him that held on to things his conscious mind overlooked had noticed that just-noticeable difference and now it was trying to make it connect up in his head. Working hard to complete the connection Morgan began to feel it slipping from his grasp. It was something obvious, but he couldn't seem to bring himself to name it.

A scary tingle slithered up the scars on his back as he realized that the emptiness was like a protracted scream of terror and agony soaking into everything... and he had the answer.

There was a blood mage at the school.

It took a tremendous amount of energy to wipe that woodcot of the atrocities that had been done there. That energy had come from someone else's misery and its echoes had lasted. The shed hadn't been cleared for enchantment but it'd been wiped of all memory, of all feeling. Still that subliminal cold scream had remained.

That in turn meant that the person who knew about the books either had connections to, or was himself, a blood sorcerer. And unlike other such monsters, this person also had the formal training that a wild blood mage usually lacked. A well trained mage or two was a good match for an untrained blood sorcerer no matter how much power the blood mage had access to. But what would it take to deal with a fully trained talent wielding the energy drawn up from blood and torture?

Morgan quailed and seriously considered running away from the school, and perhaps the continent, and calling it quits completely. The thought sputtered out as soon as he though about Liane, Mieka, and Shiea being that close to someone who might snatch them up and cut them. Right behind their faces were the faces of students and teachers, merchants and laborers, and all manner of people he'd known or seen around the school for years.

Still, flight was an appealing fantasy, it made him feel better about the possibility of free will. Too bad he wasn't the kind of person who could run away.

* * *

Morgan lumped himself down on his bench and looked down the table at Seth.

“There's a blood mage at the college.” He said, all flat and lifeless.

Seth's hands stilled and he put his work on the table carefully as if he were suddenly afraid he'd ruin it. “Who?”

The quiet intensity of his response reminded Morgan of something he'd all but forgotten; just how dangerous a person Seth could be. That `who?' was clearly the first word of a much longer question; `who am I supposed to kill?' and perhaps `and how nasty would you like it done?' was in there somewhere too. Morgan would be glad to answer the short and long question if he'd had the slightest clue. Instead he was stuck with his least favorite three words.

“I don't know.”

Seth's movement, the twitch of one finger, clearly said `when you do know, get back to me and I'll take care of them.'

Calm in the knowledge that his intent was plain, Seth finally said “How do you know?”

Morgan sketched out his insights and reasoning while Seth returned his hand to the immediate job of making the garment.

When Morgan finished Seth asked “Do you think that you will be able to track this person's power now that you know what to look for?”

“Um, yes, kind of. I doubt that he is using the blood wrought power much at the school. It's too risky for just that reason. I would bet that the shed was a special occasion. If he is dumb enough to do it often, I think I'll know right away, but I don't think that the signature would touch his `normal' castings.”

“So we'll have to get him riled up enough to draw on the blood power.”

“That doesn't sound too healthy, but if we can't find some other way to draw him out, you're right. If it comes to that, hopefully we can do it away from anywhere populated. It's bound to get ugly real fast.”

Seth nodded agreement, his affect suffused with an odd mixture Morgan would have labeled eager fatalism.