Seth proved himself a master with needle and thread and laying the glamour had proved blessedly simple. For several days Morgan was finally able to move about without much in the way of pain or distraction. That, in turn, let him work on his power. He'd managed to throttle it back a little where it counted most, and had made several simple castings without overdrawing much. In short he was nearly in control of his talent. That control would last so long as he'd plenty of time to prepare before he cast anything he intended to control. His ability to work was greatly diminished by the overabundance of his strength. It would have to do. They had to get back.

Exactly how to get back was a pressing issue. It was a good two months ride back to the school. Morgan had the recaller but that would only take one person, not two and the horses.

Morgan's idea was simple. He'd trigger the recaller against something inanimate and when the gate was aligned to pick it up, he'd slip himself, Seth and the horses into the gate from outside. Then they could ride it back to the school as if they were the intended cargo. A simple cheat, for him anyway, but one that would work out nicely, if he could keep the power levels down.

In all probability they'd likely end up waiting all day for the gateway to show. The recaller wouldn't bring it until it was empty and unmanned. Still, it was a nice day and fairly warm for midwinter. The northern part of the continent was far milder than the south.

Seth and Morgan had staked out the horses in the middle of the parade ground where they'd first arrived and then hauled the table out of their work shed to use as the recaller target. They'd made their good-byes earlier in the day and now it was time to trigger the recaller and wait.

The brass tube was about seven inches long and just a hair too thick to be held comfortably in a closed fist. Morgan stuck it to the middle of the table with adhesive and used a stick to press the recessed trigger. Nothing happened to outward appearances. Morgan gave it a few seconds to associate itself with the table. He vrec'd it as gently as he could to get in sync with it. Once he'd adjusted to the flow, he pulled back, leaving a single thread of power connected to the device so he'd know when the gate arrived.

Seth watched Morgan fidget for a while and then said “Nervous?”

Morgan jumped like he'd been kicked. “Uh...`concerned'.”

“Not to worry, we'll find this guy, take him out someplace private, and solve our problems.”

“I'm more worried about folding us into the Gate.”


“I'm not going to have very long to hang the spell and I've never done anything like this.”

“How many times have you sealed a fissure in the realm?”




“Suspended horses in time.”

“Once, but...”

“And how much did you prepare for doing those things?”

“Not much at all but...”

“Don't you get it, that's your thing.”

“What's my thing?”

Seth stopped to find just the right words, “Your special skill is to face things down unprepared and find the right way to deal with them. Even your awakening was like that. You didn't roast the family pet in a fit of pique, or burp up a maelstrom to save your life, you cast and maintained a complex binding in stone. You improvise. You...'manage'. It's what you do.”

“But I didn't have this unnatural roaring hell in my head during any of that.”

Seth shrugged, “As I said, you'll manage.”

“And if I don't?”

“Then you, me, and/or somebody else will probably take that fireball.”

“That doesn't worry you?”

Seth looked him straight in the eye and said. “No.” Then after a pause. “There is nothing to be done about the possibility that isn't already being done. I appreciate it, and I respect it as a danger, but I don't worry about it.”

Morgan was flat footed for a second then muttered “Fatalist.” And turned away to forcibly occupy his attention elsewhere.

For two hours and change they didn't say a word to one another. Seth drew on a lifetime of slavery and soldiery to fuel a patience that dumbfounded Morgan at every level. Morgan went back and forth between looking askance at Seth and hanging test works based on his observations of the recaller.

The thread between Morgan and the recaller started to tug and ripple, telling him that the gate was arriving. Even with his protective suit on and fully charged the arriving gate made Morgan feel like he was standing down-hill of an avalanche. All of local space seemed to rumble with the movement of that ponderous ancient construct.

“It's here! Get ready!” Morgan yelled as if the rumbling he heard were a real noise that would block out his words. He actually wasn't sure whether it was real sound or not.

The volume of the gate room seemed to be huge around his asense, it was shrinking to its actual size as the gate focused more tightly on the table. The gate had flung them here, dropping them off without fully focusing on the spot, but it couldn't do the reverse. It would have to fully form in adjacent space to pick up the recaller and its target. Just one immeasurable nonce away. Morgam focused on detecting the instant when the gate was translating the table across the boundary into its private space. Morgan would amplify those ripples and extend them around himself, Seth and the horses.

Practicing his newly, and only partly learned ability to ignore pain, Morgan stood with his spell hung and shrugged it into action at just the right moment.

* * *

At the exact instant that the recaller translated the table into the center of the gate room two things happened. Morgan translated his party in, and the table vanished in a bright flare born of the house of fire. An instant later they were in the utter darkness of the sealed, translating gate room, and there was someone in there with them.

Morgan knew instantly that that someone was not there by choice. He'd felt the cold scream within the surge, now that he knew blood magic for what it was. The thing in there with them had been a man once but now it was something much less, and far more dangerous. What this creature saw, it saw for its controller and what it did, it did without volition. And no survival instinct would keep it from using itself up generating ponderous amounts of energy and directing it for its master.

Morgan didn't even take a second to think, he didn't have the time, he could feel it summoning a second blast. First, he opened himself fully to his new capacity. Second, he sent a blast of his own signature back at the creature, and hopefully back through to its master. If that hit its mark he'd have branded the mage at the other end. That would let him know that person at the slightest contact. And third, he grabbed the structure of the gate spell and snapped it like a wet towel, flinging the poor tortured soul somewhere out into the realm, as likely as not that would spell the end of its suffering. There were more oceans and ice-fields and volcanoes and populated places out there than there were places it would not be safe for such a creature to be. Finally he snapped shut the channels he'd opened so cavalierly to wait for the backlash.

Morgan was on his knees screaming in agony. He hadn't even noticed it happening. Seth had just finished drawing his steel. The entire thing had taken less than four seconds, and Morgan suspected, rightly, that there was as much blood as there was sweat on his back. For all that, there was no backlash rushing in to consume him in the fire he'd just avoided.

“Mount up.” He barked. This was no time to indulge himself. He'd surprised his opponent just now, he was sure of that, but if he let things alone the gate wouldn't arrive back at the school for another couple of hours. That'd be plenty of time for whomever was involved to recover and prepare another surprise. He'd have to rush the gate along.

Seth was ahorse almost instantly. The gate room was tall enough for that and far more. Morgan was slower. Seth didn't bother him with any questions like `what happened', this was not time for questions. If they lived there'd be time for questions later.

Once ahorse himself, Morgan summoned a small light so that they could orient themselves to the doors. In the brief moment he'd seized the gate spell he'd learned a surprising amount. The main reason the gate was so slow was the way it was powered. That would be “nicely”, “evenly”, and “safely”. In his current condition that was something Morgan could remedy with great ease.

He channeled.

There was a yawning, dropping, tingling sensation under his pain and then the room docked with its real location and the spell went quiet. Translation time? Seven and a half seconds. A school record. No danger of backlash here, the spell had been set and used for centuries, but the pain was roaring in at him from every side. With a last thought he nudged the doors which swung open out onto the staging area.

Praise be, there was nobody there waiting for them.

Gasping, Morgan got out, “Home. Now.” and then focused on riding and sensing for attack.

They thundered out into the courtyard staging area, and then through the sally port at the far side without challenge or hesitation. The trip across the grounds of the School of Disciplines was equally easy and they didn't slow at all until they'd crossed the better part of the college commons. After nearly riding down several small groups of people they slowed from a charge to a gallop in the name of prudence. Morgan had been expecting direct resistance. The move in the gate had been fairly bold. Perhaps his shot had gotten through to the blood mage and they had some time.

The questions laying hard on him were whether his family was safe and whether they should stay at the school or go away for a while. Firsts first, he'd have to find them safe before he could hide them away

* * *

They hit the front gate of the house at a run, having jumped off the horses without stopping them. Seth drew his steel while charging silently down the tunnel. Morgan was on his heels, barely able to track the real world with his asense covering everything for a mile round. Seth slammed the front door open and jumped in, ready to face down anything. Morgan tumbled in immediately behind him.

They'd thought they were prepared for anything. They were wrong. What they faced was one Liane, torn between shock, surprise, and anger at the way they'd come in. They were so intense and she was so herself that for a moment nobody moved. Then she burst out laughing and both Morgan and Seth started blushing for all they were worth. Still Morgan wasn't completely ready to relax.

Shiea charged Seth the way she always did, but Morgan couldn't find Mieka and he was not prepared to relax until he accounted for all of them. He stepped around Seth. “Where's Mieka?”

“What? He's back out at the canal project.” One edge of Morgan's mood had cut it's way through the moment into Liane.

“How long?”

“They called him back out day before yesterday. He should get there tonight. Why? What's wrong?”

“Ten minutes ago we were ambushed by blood magic in the school's gate...” Morgan pushed his way past her and went for the secret door in the den. In the hall just before stepping into the den he stopped himself by stiff-arming the door-frame. “Liane, bring Shiea. Seth, ride back to the school, get the books and bring them back here. Then see to the horses.” He started to move again, the paused again. “And Seth, make it official. Wear reds. Your best judgment... Watch your back.”

Morgan got the door open while Liane got Shiea separated from Seth. He didn't wait to see if they were doing what he said. He couldn't stop, damning the spiral staircase for slowing him down. He was largely ignoring his own problems via adrenaline and he knew it.

By the time Liane got Shiea down the stairs, Morgan had his next spell half hung, and was rummaging through his meager supplies for a bell or something that would produce a nice even tone when struck. Morgan waved Liane on into the workroom while he continued the his search. He finally came up with a metal bar chime that would fit his need.

“Please, sit there, and hold Shiea on your lap. That's a good girl Shiea, we're going to play magic now.” Morgan said the instructions and the soothing words in two completely different voices without much in the way of conscious intent.

“Liane, you said he left, what, yesterday morning, for the canal project.?”

She nodded. “Why is that so important?”

“It could just be a coincidence, but since the kind of power we tossed about in the gate could be noticeable back about two days ago, I suspect Mieka is in trouble.”

“What are you going to do?”

“WE are going to check on him from here, and if necessary bring him back.”

“I didn't know you could do that.”

“I don't know that I can, but It's important enough that I have to try.”

Morgan paced out a few measurements, trying to guess the general direction to Mieka. Geography, especially the local geography, wasn't one of his areas of study and there was a good chance that Mieka never got to go anywhere in the direction of the project. The intervening terrain and the paths the road took to go around the worst of it complicated the issue nicely. He intended to put out a very broad call, and hope that no portals were involved. Strong as he was, he didn't have the mind-work skills to search a continet let alone the entire realm.

“How's this going to work?”

“Shiea has half of Mieka's genes and half of yours. I'll use you to cancel out your half. From what's left I can make a wave that will react to Mieka's, and perhaps other members of his family. Add to that the emotional connections we all feel for him, and the fact that none of Mieka's family live anywhere within my likely range, and if he's anywhere around we'll be able to find him.”

“And if we don't?”

Morgan gave her a strong look, he didn't want to get into that in front of Shiea unless it was the case, maybe not even then. The image of Mieka laid out for cutting kept trying to impinge itself on Morgan's mental landscape.

Liane muttered “oh” and shifted a little. “What do we have to do.”

“Just concentrate on him and I'll do the rest.”

* * *

The tiny voice of sanity in the back of Morgan's head mentioned in passing that he was already in trouble and this might well do him more harm than he could take. Morgan ignored it furiously and finished hanging the spell. Right behind it he hung the barest framework of a gate. That was more dangerous territory, but he'd been inside the gate spell twice in the last few minutes, and he'd done that blind teleport, so he had some chance. If it came up, he wanted to be ready.

He struck the tiny chime, and began reinforcing its vibrations using his personal essence. Then, when it had a timbre he liked he opened himself to the flows of energy all around and released his spell. The energy rushed in towards the zobaelest surrounding Liane and Shiea. Morgan knew they were safe; he'd swallow the whole charge and burp charcoal before he'd let it harm them.

The energy coiled and flowed through them, learning their most intimate structure and then danced with itself, learning what was like and different about the two. Conditions that Morgan had set were fulfilled and another burst of energy traveled through his body. This one was like a stone dropping into water, it produced an expanding wave, tuned to the structure and intent built by the first energies.

It was agonizingly slow, that expanding wave. It seemed to wash through every living thing, one at a time, as it rolled away from him. Morgan thought he could actually smell his flesh searing under the heat of his open channels. The only reason he wasn't screaming his head off was that he didn't want to frighten Shiea. Part of him appreciated that, and marveled that such a small concern could hold back so much pain. Out and out he continued to ripple, in search of Mieka.

* * *

The spell worked. Morgan found Mieka a day's ride out from the school. He had suffered some injury, and was apparently unconscious, but there was no trace of the telltale tragic agony that would indicate he'd been cut. He'd been attacked all right, but he was still his own man, not the mindless creature of a blood mage. Morgan could only feel Mieka, his state, his condition. There was no way to tell if he was alone, or surrounded, on a bed or in a cage. Morgan could only feel him, like he was an idea floating in a void.

Even before he'd thought the spell through, Morgan was converting the energy of the search spell wave into something to fetch Mieka home. It wasn't a gate, or a teleport exactly, it was more like a summoning. He had a connection to Mieka's essence and that was like the first phase of bringing an elemental into the realm. He let his seeming instinct for magical construction take over and do the rest. In truth that was simply how he justified it to himself. In point of fact he didn't know what he was doing. Like cooking from an unlabeled spice rack, he was just putting in a pinch of this and a daub of that and when it tasted kind of right, he baked it with power.

The air in the middle of the pentariad began shimmering and then there was Mieka, bound hand and foot, and out cold, but lying safely in the center of the circle.

Morgan immediately faced a bigger problem. There was still no backlash in the classic sense, but he could definitely smell his flesh cooking, around the edges at least. He spent the last of his conscious will shutting down the flows of energy through his body, and shunted the overdraw into the protections he'd set around the house. With that charge nothing would get in at them for a while.

With everything seen to, Morgan lapsed into a miserable red tinged hallucination. It was a nightmare. He was crawling across hot coals under a blood red sky and there was no place to escape to. Leaden with gurusome weight, he was exhausted. His bones creaking with the strain. His flesh trying to pool beneath him. Whenever he stopped crawling the burning got worse, so he kept going, inch after impossible inch...

* * *

Seth returned with a knapsack full of books, unfortunately the most important one had already been taken from the library. He'd encountered no resistance along the way, and that was starting to make him itchy. With so bold a move taken on the grounds of the school, he'd expected more mundane action on the part of the other mages. Nobody ever relied totally on magic when a good thug or two was cheap and often more effective.

On the way back into the house he carefully locked the outer gate and then made his way silently to the front door. The place was silent, not always a bad sign, especially since they'd been going down to the workroom when he'd left. He'd have to check the whole place out. It was a beautiful home, but totally indefensible with all that glass along one whole side. A quick circuit revealed no intruders or signs of entry or struggle, so he headed down into the workroom. He was annoyed to find the bookcase standing open, that was no way to keep a secret. When he entered the stairwell he was sure to pull it shut behind him.

The castings were still going on when Seth arrived. Weighing the need to keep them close, Seth decided pile the books in the corner of the supply area. They were too heavy to carry for a long time and still be able to fight well. He was going to go back up into the house and stand guard, but his second look into the workroom told him not to. Morgan was trembling more than he'd ever seen short of his convulsions at the well, and would be in great need as soon as the castings were complete. He was glad to see that both Shiea and Liane were calmly rapt in the spell and not suffering any kind of contact trauma.

Seth sat down at the entrance and waited.

* * *

Seth had never been particularly fascinated with magic. There were a lot of reasons for that. When he was young he resented it for giving him his bar. Later it made for a lot of hard, dangerous, or worst of all boring work. Most people seemed to be so in awe of it. But it seemed to do as much harm as good. And lastly he never seemed to see what others did when it was going on. On occasion, were it not for physical evidence it left behind, it almost seemed like a hoax. The one thing about it that did fascinate him was the trials that a mage would go through to touch that power. He was sure that there must be something wonderful about it that nobody had ever bothered to explain, That made him sometimes long for just a moment where he wasn't totally head-blind.

It was with a mixture of that fascination, and mortal concern for Morgan's health, that Seth watched Morgan expend himself. It didn't take any special ability to see that he was down to his last gasp, but somehow he kept going long after Seth figured he'd pass out. Mieka's sudden appearance in the middle of the chamber surprised him for a moment. An instant later Liane and Shiea started moving and Morgan collapsed from sitting to prone. Seth leapt up and at him.

When he started to see to Morgan, Morgan croaked out “Mieka first.”

Seth didn't like it, but Morgan was right. Since the casting didn't kill him, he was unlikely to die now, but they knew nothing about Mieka's condition.

Seth pivoted around to Mieka and gently ran his hands over him looking for injury and telling Liane what he found as he went. He'd been beaten thoroughly but professionally to `soften him up'. There were plenty of bruises and blood but nothing more. It'd have hurt like hell but done no serious damage. A healthy knot was swollen behind the right ear telling where he'd finally been knocked unconscious, a treacherously dangerous thing to knock someone out, but this was also a fine example of using just enough force. Satisfied that nothing was broken and it would be safe, Seth cut away the ropes binding Mieka hand and foot, and carried him up the stairs to the tub room.

Liane got a chair and Seth set him down next to the sink where Liane could clean his wounds. Once he saw her safely started on Mieka, Seth kicked the drain on the big tub closed and started it filling with warm water for Morgan.

Back in the basement Seth found Morgan unmoved and whimpering like a wounded puppy. He wasn't coherent, and he smelled a little like fresh barbecue. When Seth lifted him he felt a knot form in his own gut. Morgan was easily down thirty or forty pounds. Seth wasn't sure whether it'd happened slowly over the last few weeks, or all at once during the last hour, but either way he'd been drawing from his essence far too heavily for his body to take.

Morgan felt fragile to Seth, and getting him up the spiral staircase was frighteningly easy because of the lost weight. In the tub room Seth walked himself into the tub fully dressed and eased Morgan down into the water slowly. He immediately set about stripping away all the outer layers of Morgan's clothes. Of course he knew to leave the protective body suit in place.

Seth stifled a yelp when he saw the first swirls of blood in the water and continued methodically stripping away the mundane fabric.

It was almost obscene the way the white silk fabric was so white while the water he coaxed into it would come back out so darkly red.

Morgan's eyes were open but unfocused, and Seth got no response when he tried to rouse him. There was no way he'd be able to heal himself until they got some food into him and that would have to wait until Seth could check and clean his wounds.

Seth removed his fur-lined coat and shirt only when he realized that they were totally soaked and their sluggish weight was hindering him.

Holding Morgan afloat in the crook of his left arm he used his right hand to sort through the cakes of soap on the shelf next to the bath. He could smell the scent of thorn-wood so he knew some of the soap was made from the astringent plant. It was a matter of fishing the right one out, which he finally did on his forth try.

Seth began washing Morgan's entire body. It was tricky work. He had unlaced the front of the jumpsuit, which gave him access to Morgan's torso, but the area needing to be cleaned was mostly his back, arms, and legs. He couldn't just remove the suit, and he didn't dare open it any more than strictly necessary. On top of that he couldn't actually see what he was doing he had to judge by feel and the color of the water he managed to flush through the suit.

When he was nearly done Morgan started to rouse.

“Morgan, can you heal yourself?” Seth asked gently.

Morgan rolled his head in against Seth's neck and slurred out “barely move.” And started to fall asleep.

Seth decided it was a good sign, and finished as fast as he could.

Realizing it would be easier to dry Morgan before trying to get him out of the tub, Seth hit the drain lever. That was when he finally noticed that Shiea, Liane, and Mieka were no longer in the room with them. His memory supplied the picture of Mieka being helped up and out by Liane after the cold water had roused him. Liane had all but carried him into the living room. She was stronger than she looked.

As the water drained away the heavy coldness of his pants and the still warm sloshing of water in his boots finally got him to strip the rest of the way down. The wet slap of the cloth against the floor, there was no place within reach to hang any of it, was an accusation against the well-trained core of his being. But what couldn't be helped had to be left alone. Besides everything he'd ever worn had eventually been through worse, some of those very items included.

Getting Morgan dry turned out to be no problem at all. He'd considered things like sweating, getting caught in the rain, and bathing when he'd laid the glamor. By the time Seth had drained the tub and gotten a towel the suit had drawn the water away from Morgan's skin and shed the excess. Seth dried his hair and wrapped the towel around Morgan to keep him warm and then dried himself with another.

Seth looped his wet sword belt over one shoulder and then picked Morgan up out of the tub and carried him into the living room. He'd have put him to bed, but Seth couldn't guard them all if they were in their rooms. All those glass doors in the adult rooms meant too many grossly-separated ways in and he could only cover one at a time. Liane had taken Mieka into the living room earlier so that he could rest but couldn't lie flat, a dangerous position for anybody with a concussion. Having the whole family together in one large room simplified Seth's duty.

Seth got Morgan onto the couch, but every time he started to move away Morgan would start mewling. It took several tries before Seth realized it must have something to do with that `damping effect' and he wasn't going to be able to break physical contact for a while without causing Morgan serious distress. He ended up shucking his towel so he could dry his swords and tack with it, and sitting on the floor next to the couch so that his back was against Morgan's arm. That seemed to be enough contact to keep him quiet.

Seth finished drying his valuable steel and leather, and then sagged his head back onto Morgan's arm and closed his eyes. The knot of worry in his gut was finally coming untied. He knew things weren't over, but the immediate crisis was over and now it would be a matter of keeping watch and waiting for orders, or for others to act. Both things he was far more comfortable dealing with.

Seth contented himself to watch the house with his ears. Shiea was in the overstuffed chair with her father and Liane was in the kitchen preparing some food, his nose named it soup, but he couldn't bring himself to care what kind. The stone house didn't shake or settle like a freestanding structure so the only other noises were the sound of the cook-stove fire, the ever-present drip of distant water, and a gentle wind gusting against the windows or under the doors.

Seth popped his head up as Liane entered, “I thought I recognized you.” She had one of her amused inscrutable expressions on her face.

Seth thought, blushed, and pulled the towel into his lap for cover.

“We'll get you fit for company sooner or later.” She grinned as she set a tray on the low table next to the couch. There were two mugs of soup on the tray, one of which she handed to Seth, and a bowl of heavy broth for Morgan, which needed to cool before Seth could try to get it into him.

Liane sat on the love seat and curled her legs up under her. “All right, talk to me. What happened?” She said it gently, and had to work on Seth to get him to eat and talk instead of `report' what had happened to them. Seth skipped the embellishments and the good storytelling and covered the critical and informative parts, along with some of their speculations.

After he finished his soup, Seth went about forcing Morgan to eat. Hunger and exhaustion were warring inside Morgan and so Seth had to fight to keep him awake enough to keep eating. It made his conversation with Liane a little less smooth but she was a parent and had a lot of experience with trying to talk and feed a small child, so they got through it.

Liane was shocked and concerned over what Morgan had done to himself, but she was a practical person and she understood the need. She also agreed that they'd all stay out in the living room together until Morgan and Mieka had recovered. She took him at his word about not being able to move away from Morgan, and saw to everything else including bringing bowl after bowl of the broth for Seth to feed to Morgan. She hung up Seth's wet things even though her cleaning-up-after-the-men was strictly against house policy. She even stopped trying to make Seth keep himself covered. For now she was content that everybody was home and largely safe.

Mieka didn't wake for hours. Then there was a lot of throwing up and vague commentary. And much, much later, in the tiny hours of the night, Mieka nudged Liane. He was subtle, and careful, but Seth was on a knife edge and he woke silently at the tiny motion. Mieka had to nudge Liane several times to rouse her.

Mieka whispered, a tiny, half broken sound “whats happening?”

Liane whispered back “It's okay. You're okay. You were attacked, but you are okay.”

“No Liane, what's happening? The men who grabbed me were strange, mean... but scary-calm. I think they were talking about...”

“Shush... What do you mean?”

“They were paid. They were going trade me for him. Someone paid them to get hold of him.”

Seth had no doubt who `him' was. He shifted a little, and took one deeper breath to cover his momentarily shocked reaction. He'd watched people sleep, and he'd faked sleep often enough. They only paused in their conversation for about eighteen breaths.

“They said that?”

“Not to me, not on purpose, but I remember it all. They were all business... I don't think its safe for him to be here.”

“You're right. But I don't think its safe for him to be anywhere. Haven't you been paying attention?”

“I know... I do... but those people weren't... rational. What are we going to do about those people?”

Laine was a long time answering. “These aren't our choices. It's too late to back out now. It was too late ten years ago.”

The conversation just died.