“Eat!” Seth was bent down, fists planted on the table, and as menacing as he could manage under the circumstances.

“I'm not hungry, and when I eat I feel sick.” Morgan said firmly, as if that would matter. The latter was true but the former was an outright lie. Everyone in the house was suffering from sympathetic hunger, especially Seth, who had nearly eaten himself sick before he realized what was happening. Morgan had called it `broadcasting'. Seth called it damn annoying.

“If you don't start eating, I'll hold you down and cram it down your throat.” Seth's temper was nearly gone. It'd only been two days, but between having to stay within two feet of Morgan every moment of that time, not being able to exercise, and the continuous, unearthly, gnawing hunger he felt, he was on the edge of the edge.

“And we'll all swear before the throne it was brigands in the night that did it.” Liane quipped in from the kitchen.

Morgan weighed the threat and then lifted a spoon full of heavy stew into his mouth. The instant he swallowed his stomach started in. His body was beyond desperate for food, so much so that it attacked anything he ate so aggressively that he could barely eat at all. The flows leaking into him sustained him in his unnaturally depleted condition, but did nothing to replenish what was missing. He'd have needed a stronger affinity for creativity or summoning before his talent could automatically create or acquire what it needed to rebuild his body.

Seth leaned in.

Morgan went for the second spoonful.

The overcharged shield on the house was functioning superbly. The mages hunting them were completely blocked and had no idea why. The ancient imperative that Morgan had discovered which forced people `not to notice' was working so well that several people who knew exactly how to get to the house had gotten lost trying to get there. Literally arriving at the gate and being unable to find it right in front of themselves. None of those inside knew this since Morgan's body had shut down his ability to use his talent at will the same way it had on Razor Pass. They'd all been staying in the house in a act of blind faith.

Both the nausea and hunger faded some with each mouthful, and Seth resumed his seat. When he finished the bowl there would be a brief respite from the emanations while Morgan's biology reveled in the nutrition, then the cycle would repeat.

Seth marveled at the audacity of his own words and Morgan's taking them as if they came from an equal. Not even Lady Korane at her best would have accepted that from him. That credit did much to ease the inexplicable enmity Seth had been feeling toward Morgan all afternoon.

It didn't occur to either of them that a large portion of the prickly tension between them, and Seth's extreme reaction to Morgan's hunger, was a side effect of the linked collars. Seth just enjoyed the moment of not being hungry.

“Stop scratching. Eat.” Seth, his elbow on the table and his head resting face down in his open hand, wasn't even looking at Morgan.

Morgan, of course, hadn't been able to heal the tiny cracks and burns which suffused his scars. When the intensity of the hunger and nausea subsided, the itching commenced. Seth had gotten quite good at applying salve by blindly reaching under Morgan's protective clothing, but his supplies of herbs and such was nearly gone, and he was completely out of things to keep away the itching. If there'd been any way to make him eat while unconscious, Seth would have liked to use the last of his supplies, or the butt a sword for that matter, to knock him out while he healed.

Liane, Mieka and even Shiea were keeping their distance as much as possible. Venturing close to the pair only to give Morgan food. It kept their more mild but still substantial contact-hunger controllable and minimized the emotional spill-over of poorly chosen words coming from the pair. The last time Morgan had snapped at Liane she'd muttered something smug about `ugly spots' and `new relationships' that even Seth couldn't quite make out, smiled graciously, if a bit coldly, and glided out of the room with something Seth would have called satisfaction, if he didn't know better than to bring it up.

* * *

Nobody, including Morgan, was happier than Seth when the cycle finally broke that evening. Morgan ate and didn't get immediately ill. From that moment on he shoveled in the food with gusto. Never before had Seth been so content to stay awake all night following someone in and out of a pantry.

He felt even better when he woke up alone in Morgan's bed. It wasn't like him to sleep through anything, but somehow Morgan had managed to get out of bed and leave the room without waking him. The two foot limit was broken. Seth wasn't going to have to brain Morgan with a blunt object after all.

* * *

Seth rolled out of bed and picked out a few things to use in his belated “morning” workout. He was just about to open the patio door when something caught his eye and he froze. There was someone just beyond the edge of the patio. He looked at the haggard figure, and he could have sworn the man looked back, but there was no kind of recognition, for all that he seemed to be searching for something in an only-half interested, but nonetheless intense way. After a minute he moved on taking as much confusion with him as he left behind.

Seth backed away from the door as if it might bite him and then went to find Morgan.

Morgan was in the tub with his suit opened and his chest and back exposed, trying to get a look at the scars and burns. Seth walked in on him.

Morgan started and then said “I have to find out how you do that.”

“Do what?”

“Never mind, I'll explain later...”

“You must be doing a lot better.”

“I think I am. Letting it heal naturally seems to have made things way more manageable. Of course I've got this room shielded nine ways from Market Day.” He turned his back on Seth. “How does it look?”

The scars had changed, most turning ghost white or stained jet black by mechanisms Seth couldn't even guess about. The whole thing was actually kind of striking. What had been puckered pink lines now formed a kind of organic design that reminded him of a tree, or maybe wings, or a landscape. He could see hints of each but nothing complete or clearly any one of the above. Maybe he was just getting used to the idea of them but they didn't seem to have the ugliness they had exuded before.

“If I didn't know how you got them I'd say they were primitive but beautiful.”

“Hmm, I wish there was a mirror in here.”

“Go out and look at one.”

“I can't this is the only room small enough for me to shield myself in right now.”

“Your talent is back.”

“Some of it, I'm still mostly blocked, but I had enough in me to manage a tiny little shield.”

Seth advanced on him, not really angry but annoyed like he was a child that wouldn't learn. “You used your essence again. You don't have it to spare, you're nearly a skeleton now.”

“It's all right, I have enough.”

“No! You don't!” Seth thumped him on the chest just hard enough to make him aware how weak he was without doing him any harm.

Morgan coughed with the sudden stress, “Yes mother.” He wheezed out jokingly.

Seth glowered, “It's not funny. I just saw someone come up to the porch looking for something. There was something wrong with the man. You can't go wasting your strength or slowing your recovery. You are going to need your body and your talent at full strength all too soon, unless I miss my guess.”

Morgan started to pull himself back into his suit but Seth stopped him. “Wait, I want to check those since you have them exposed.”

He got very close to Morgan's back and looked carefully at how things were healing. “Can I touch?”

“Yea, if you're really careful.”

Seth pressed the on either side of one of the thicker lines and gently stretched it like he was trying to open the wound. The tissue held, but flexed nicely for such a thick scar. When he traced one finger gently along the line Morgan shivered.


“Yes... Well, ah, not really, It just felt like you were touching my entire arm. It was weird... intense.”

“Hmm, the scar goes right to the nerve. When something touches it, the nerve thinks that it's feeling a lot of things the old way.”

“Will it learn?”

“Certainly, but it could take months or years for your brain to learn how to make sense of that.”

Morgan made a Seth-grunt and then asked “All done?”

“For now, I'll want to check them again in a day or so.”

Morgan fed his arms back into the silk sleeves and shrugged the top of the suit back into place with a more intense version of the same shudder.

The cloth was magically dry as soon as Morgan stepped from the tub. Seth wished his own clothes had fared as well. He checked them where they hung. He'd be oiling and working the leathers for weeks to get them back into shape.

“So what about this man you saw...”

Seth herded Morgan into the kitchen while he scoured his mind and presented every detail he could find there.

After listening to everything Seth had to say about the brief encounter Morgan said “It was probably a drone.”

“Like from a bee hive?”

“That's where I got the word. I don't know if there is a name for those poor folk, I've never seen one. But `zombie' seems a little too far off the mark, `captive' isn't right, and while they are `victims' the word makes them sound too harmless. So I'm gonna call them `drones' until I know better.”

“So what is a `drone'?”

“It's like the guy in the gate. The mage tortures and cuts someone and they become a source of power for him. To use them he has to hold them and their power in some kind of keth, like 'yetal only worse. Somehow this mage has learned a way to control them at a distance, or charge them to certain tasks. They are like a bunch of pawns, but the mage can channel the power they generate when he's actively linked with them.”

“So they're not a army of wizards or something?”

“No, the blood mage is the only one who is using the power, so most likely he can only cast through one or two of them at a time; from a distance anyway. When we end up face to face with them I suspect they can draw from as many of them as are around.”

“Do you know how we should deal with them?”

Morgan looked down at his plate. “We don't do anything until the last possible moment, but before we take on the mage, we kill as many of them as we can... All at once, and then go in before he can make more.”

Seth looked sideways at Morgan. “Isn't there any other way? do we have to kill them?”

Morgan looked him in the eye. “They are already worse than dead. I got a glimpse into the mind of the one in the gate. All there was left of the man was a continuous loop of fear and agony. There was no sense of self left. He'd been wiped away by the pain, and something worse that I couldn't even name. There's nothing there left to heal.”

Seth remembered facing those eventualities before, but he still didn't have to like it.

Morgan didn't like it either, but even he couldn't see any clever way around the need to slaughter them, again.

* * *

“... so now nobody can even find the house?” Mieka only half believed what he was hearing.

“And it will stay that way until most of the energy I dumped into the household protections is depleted. That casting has no way to dump energy, it can only add power as needed. There was no point in putting in a sink, it wasn't worth the effort.”

“We're invisible?” Liane added in.

“Not quite, just nobody can pay attention to us, or to the fact that they can't pay attention to us for that matter. They're blind, they don't know it, and they don't know why.”

Mieka grinned, “But we can come and go as we please?”

“Go certainly, but I don't know about coming back. This is an inside/outside thing, I didn't think about tuning it to except us. I can feel my own castings, so I could get back in for sure. But all that the rest of you have is the knowledge it's happening, and your familiarity with the way home.”

“How would that help?”

“You could walk back in as long as you don't think too hard about it. If you just do it the way you usually would, without noticing, the block against noticing this place wouldn't make a difference cause you didn't notice, you just came. The harder they search the less likely they are to find us, but every time they are turned away a little power is expended that won't be replenished.”

“So do we just sit here and wait to be discovered?” Liane didn't think so for a moment, but sometimes, she knew, you had to push Morgan to hear his mind.

“No.” he said, as indignant as expected. “Later tonight Seth and I sneak out and grab one of them, take him a little ways away, and I try to use him to trace my way back to the mage controlling him.”

“That sounds dangerous, can you do it?”

“I'm fairly sure I can. I nearly did it from the gate. If I hadn't been caught off guard I'd have completed the trace instead of just blasting away. This time I'll be ready.”

* * *

Morgan was still a little weak, physically, but he had established a nice equilibrium in his talent. His newer scars, personal shields, and the pseudo-aotahe were letting him draw a reasonably small flow fairly evenly. His attentions would be split three ways, shields, garment, and casting so he couldn't yet get to better than forty percent of his pre-cutting strength without dropping the protections and losing most of his control. It'd do for now. He didn't have any other options.

Self check complete, he nodded to Seth to proceed.

Seth opened the outer gate of the tunnel and Morgan followed him out.

From inside the gate they'd watched one of the searchers pass by and Morgan had known instantly that it was a drone. He had felt the echo of a scream in his mind without even trying. Seth would track the creature a ways and then Morgan would try to lay a keth of some sort on him.

If that didn't work Seth would brain him.

Then it would just be a matter of dragging him off and learning what could be learned.

On his first try Morgan learned that there was nothing recognizable to keth. Touching that mind was like wading in to a turgid swamp. Oh, something had a hold on things in there but he couldn't find any spark inside it to match something inside himself. If he couldn't overlay himself, he couldn't hold any kind of keth on the thing. That meant that not only could he not seize its mind, whoever had seized it already had something inside of them that Morgan couldn't even fathom.

He was about to signal Seth to take it out, when an idea occurred. The thing wasn't very bright when it was this loosely controlled. He stayed with its mind as best he could and simply nudged its senses a bit. Soon it was walking in the direction Morgan wanted even while it thought it was searching its assigned area.

`If they are all this slow,' Morgan thought, `and there are no normal people looking, the charge on the shields could last well into summer.'

Seth and Morgan followed it quietly and from a distance so that nothing would alert it to their presence. The place Morgan led it was ideal for his purposes, the shed where Seth's previous misfortune had taken place. Already washed of most influences and someplace that was impregnated with the signature of the enemy instead of Morgan's own. It should take quite a while for that other mage to notice anything unexpected coming from this drone.

Once Morgan had it there, he blocked its senses with the memory of its search. Blind to its outer world, Morgan and Seth could safely approach and take it inside.

Seth recognized the wretch. On his second night in this shed there'd been a pair of innocents there for the debauch. This was the young man. Seth felt a pang of something like guilt. Not for his participation, but for the confused feeling that he should have found a way to rescue the young man. Or maybe kill him, if he'd known about the blood mage then. Things might have been different for this poor sod. If only he'd known.

Morgan's fascination was different. He was stripping off the thing's clothes. His new instincts for the practices of blood magic told him that the more he knew about the cuts made, the better he'd be able to fold himself into the flows. The cutting was amazing, if grotesque. Where Morgan had curving organic cuts on his back and one surface of each limb, this... thing... had been covered with straighter cuts on every surface from neck to ankles. Many of the cuts didn't even follow nerve pathways.

It was much the way Morgan had pictured it, but still those extra cuts were compelling. He could feel purpose in them. They hadn't been laid just to increase the suffering of the victim, though they'd certainly done that, they served a purpose that Morgan's mind simply refused to register completely. Morgan was loath to know more and still necessity required it.

The drone stood stock still while Morgan ran his hands along the major lines. He didn't actually touch them, that would surely alert the mage and he wasn't quite ready.

Morgan was following a particularly odd zigzag patterned series down its chest when the purpose of the extra cuts became clear to him and he reared back in revulsion.

“I don't think I can do this Seth.” Morgan hissed.

“Why not?”

“What been done... it's not right... If I touch that I don't know... I'm not sure it wont change me.”

“Everything changes everyone, what's your second option?”

“I don't want to hear cheap philosophy, I'm not talking about learning something unpleasant, or doing something unpleasant that keeps you awake at night for years to come. That I could face... Do you know Bariolhan's tenants?”

Seth began reciting from memory without thinking “What is within, without. From mind, to body, to world. To affect a thing you must touch...”

Morgan cut him off. “Mind, body, world. Those cuts here, here, and there,” Morgan carefully pointed to some of the more pointless seeming of the scars, “they connect reflexes, senses, and primary motive pathways in `wrong' ways. They create a short pathway around the reasoning influence of the brain. Do that enough and soon any deliberate actions burn out of, or drain away from, the mind. This is how they cut the humanity out of this... beast. They turn thought into sensation strong enough to scald the brain. If I align my self with that I think I'll burn away at least some of my mind.”

Seth looked at the creature. What was there to say. Now that he knew the risk there was no way he'd support Morgan attempting it. He'd knock Morgan out and drag him back to the house before he'd let him try anything that stupid. He was in no mood to lose anybody else in his life. “Then we hunt them all down and see who comes calling after. That's how we'd settle this on the margins.”

Morgan thought about it, it wasn't all that bad an idea, except for one thing. “It would be hard to explain a bunch of bodies stacked outside the front gate like cordwood. Our enemy wouldn't even have to set me up to make me look guilty of something. We need help, and witnesses to our innocence. Something that can't be turned against us.”

Seth `hmmm'ed to himself. “There's nothing like a nice angry mob to keep a person safe from questions... Let's knock it out and take it to the garrison, get the garrison to take it to the school council, and then we have our help.”

Morgan turned to him, thumped him on the back and said “Seth, I love you.” He meant it as a joke, but felt an awkward twinge in himself at the words. To cover the gaffe, he turned and sent a pulse which snuffed out the last vestiges of consciousness in the drone all at once. There was little chance of the mage having noticed that unless he'd been watching for it.

Morgan set Seth to rolling the limp but living thing in a tarp. Morgan couldn't touch it, even unconscious, without sending warning to the Mage. He figured that if he couldn't feel a burst of essence when Seth touched his own Scars, their enemy wouldn't feel it when Seth touched the drone. He was right. Seth tossed the bundled body over his shoulders and followed Morgan all the way into town without incident.

Even though it was late at night the guard roused to their “discovery” quickly and thoroughly. Morgan kept it shielded and unconscious while he explained its significance, in suitably vague and impersonal terms. The garrison commander ordered up a wagon to transport the drone to the school, while runners were sent off to the school to similarly rouse the council.

Ready or not, things at the school this evening were about to get more complex.