They hustled themselves across campus to make it to the lesser hall by the third bell. The Masters had very little to hold over Morgan at this point, but the forms had to be obeyed. Roarahbaugh and Utialai were a strange combination. They were generally found on opposing sides of virtually any issue. Some people said it was an abiding personal dislike of one another, Morgan would have laid his money on a more generic problem. They were both annoying in exactly the same ways.

The third afternoon bell found them waiting in the lesser hall for some indication where exactly they were to go. The `lesser hall' is actually a series of offices and such and being summoned there could mean virtually anything. Morgan was not having one of his clearer moments so a collateral scan of the complex was not a option. After checking a few of the more obvious possible destinations to no avail, Morgan and Seth settled in and waited.

A good twenty minutes after the third bell an apprentice finally showed up to lead them into a small meeting room. The setting was informal, there was only enough room for one common table, so the masters were trying to `out casual' one another. Morgan didn't let any disgust or annoyance show through as he took a seat he judged neutral. Seth took up his typical post by the door and Morgan enjoyed the uncomfortable moment it took the masters to mentally assess him and then try to dismiss him as furniture.

Master Roarahbaugh began leafing through his papers as if he couldn't quite remember why he was there, then spoke. “The search parties have found several more of these, what did you call them,” flipping papers, “'drones', along the southern wood, all fairly far east of where you found yours. They've all been dispatched. Nobody was able to determine what they were doing there nor who was controlling them.”

Utialai picked up where he left off. “We wanted to ask you again if you knew anything about why they might be here.”

The dynamic in the room seemed all wrong but something inside Morgan smelled an opportunity, “It's hard not to sound paranoid saying this... I think someone is after me.”

They were not ready for any part of the truth and it took them several seconds to really understand what Morgan had said.

Utialai looked at him like a new species of fungus, “Why would someone be after you?”

There was no way Morgan would ever tell anybody about the book, but a near-truth would do here. If one of them were his enemy they'd already know the truth and if they were not enemies then an outright lie would limit their usefulness. “I don't know. Maybe something I found in the library, or something someone thinks I know or heard. What I do know is that every now and again of late something really suspicious happens to, or near, me.” It really did sound paranoid, but that might be for the best.

Roarahbaugh peered over his glasses, “Like what?”

“Well, these drones. Before that the message that summoned me home.” Nobody could know that there had been no message. “When I entered the gate there was some kind of mage fire,” he looked at Utialai, “You didn't ask me about the pile of ash in the gate when you asked about my odd arrival. I think that if I'd come into the gate the normal way that ash would have been me. This goes as far back as Winterdark, someone attempted a Long Night privilege on me and my family.”

That last didn't sit well with the masters. Long Night was not something observed by civilized folk, and that happening near the school seemed to shock them far worse than the discovery of the drones. Perhaps it was because they themselves had been tempted to take a Long Night privilege or two sometime in their respective pasts. It made the transgression of propriety far more accessible to their minds. In the measure of all things base, it hit them where they lived. The meeting didn't last long after that.

Leaving the dumb-struck masters Morgan was touched on an intimate telepathic level but then received no message. He didn't have the mind-to-mind skills to trace the sending. It hadn't been a probe, he knew enough to be sure of that. Someone had started to send him a message and then stopped. It was almost certainly one of the two he'd just left, but there was no way to tell which.

“That was... odd,” Morgan said as he started down the hallway, “tell me again about the run in with the armsmen.”

Seth reran the dialog while they walked. There hadn't been time to cover it in detail before the meeting. Seth handed over the sealed parchment when he got to that part of the story. A quick vrec didn't reveal any kid of magical afterimages. The thought of more mundane detriments, like contact poison, passed through his head briefly, but he couldn't just surrender to living in fear. He popped the seal.

The hand was even but slightly trembling.

To Magus Morgan al'Whaelin,


It has come to me that there exists between our houses a matter of blood. I can make no promise of resolution in this matter but I feel that we may each benefit from a personal discussion of the matter. To that end I invite you to call upon me at your convenience and extend to you my word of assurance that our houses are at peace until sunset seven days hence.

By My Hand and Seal,

Jaesiaria al'Annaoral,

of House Annaoral.

Not much new there. Morgan handed the parchment back to Seth. “What do you think?”

“Not much more there than what I got from her men.”

“What `more' do you get?”

“The armsmen titled lady Jaesiaria `matron' but she does not title herself within her house. Combine that with the phrase `while she can' and `of House' instead of just `House' and I'd have to say that she is disadvantaged within her own house.”

“The truce is still valid though, right?”

“I would think so, it was offered under a proper seal of the house, whatever the circumstances the house is bound by honor to observe it.”

Morgan didn't grumble his thoughts about whether the house was honorable loud enough to be heard.

A few paces later Morgan said “We'd better dress for it.” Then a few more paces on “No, we'd better wait till tomorrow afternoon to call on her.”

The greater and lesser halls each have a small room where apprentices wait on duty for whatever small work the staff might have. Morgan stopped, wrote out and sealed a note, and ordered it delivered to House Annaoral.

Lady Jaesiaria al'Annaoral,

I am glad to hear that this matter concerns you as much as I, and welcome the opportunity to speak with you about it. If it suits your schedule, I shall endeavor to call upon your proffered hospitality at two tomorrow. Frankly I have been at a loss at how to address this situation and await your thoughts eagerly.

By My Hand,

Magus Morgan al'Whaelin

Morgan decided to stop by Tor's office to see if he was still in the habit of taking a late supper. They hadn't had a chance to speak in quite some time and the number and variety of tidbits of information passing through his hands was far greater than most people at the school imagined. Then he'd have to head home and find a way to let Liane and Mieka come and go from the house. They couldn't stay trapped in there much longer, and they still dare not leave for fear of not being able to return. If worse came to worse he would take the charge on the protections down to normal, but if he could find a way to keep the charge up, then well and good, continuing the near impenetrable safety the current situation would suit him just fine.

While studiously looking after the footpath in front of him Morgan said “Seth, do you think you can look into the gossip among the slaves tonight without anything happening?”

Seth knew Morgan was really asking him if he were superstitious. If there had been any pattern to their lives since meeting it was that disaster seemed to come calling whenever they were apart. “I think that'd work out okay.”

“Ugh... good.”


They didn't speak again for the rest of the walk across campus.

* * *

Tor was in his office working too hard, as usual. The burly ex-carpenter was occasionally known to break something in frustration, and he looked about ready to do that now. Morgan knew about his piles, and all of them were pretty high at the moment. He'd once told Morgan that he'd never have taken his job if he'd known what it'd do to his temper. He smiled as he looked up from his paperwork, a smile that wavered for a moment when he saw Seth, but which firmed back up almost immediately.

Morgan snatched a small ball off of Tor's desk and then flopped down in a char. “A-there Tor, what's got you today?” he asked as he began tossing the ball in the air.

“Same as always, these bloody students do nothing but screw up and blame the staff.” Tor stayed engrossed in the report he was reading, it was his way.

“Is that it?”

“No, the food budget is short almost four days worth of food this month.”


“And that little all-night all-day hunting trip has all the shift work messed up.”

“ more?”

“I have a room with three possible witnesses to a theft, who I can't get to say one unbiased word.”

Morgan looked over his shoulder at Seth, who raised an eyebrow and kind of shrugged. A tiny movement that said a lot.

“Where are they?”

“Downstairs waiting for me just off central livery.”

Morgan exchanged another set of signals with Seth, who subsequently slipped out the door.

Tor's head started shaking in disgust as he read, moving further and faster as he finished the page. Finally he put it down on his “let it age a while” pile and looked Morgan dead in the eye.

“Morgan, please kill me.”

“I'm not letting you off the hook that easily.”

“Nobody ever does.”

Their eyes locked, Morgan caught the ball out of the air, and then they both grinned.

“Seriously, how have you been? I've been hearing a few odd things lately.”

Morgan shrugged, “things are far more odd than you could have possibly heard.”

Tor `ugh, hua'ed him, and Morgan snickered inwardly at how much Tor resembled Seth when he did that.

“I haven't been able to contact you since you came riding out of the gate, what happened?”

Morgan screened the room and then told Tor everything significant that'd happened since his departure. He also shared his suspicions about a full master at the school being involved with blood magic. He also revisited the events surrounding the death of the young merchant lord and his bodyguards and the subsequent attack and note. He deliberately left out the part about the destruction and replacement of the collar.

“Well that last bit is interesting. I suspect that the lady is going to ask you to surrender Seth to her. You didn't take part in the slaying so the quarrel most likely only involves you while you are protecting him.”

“Well I'm not going to surrender him to anybody. Besides Seth was more a victim than that twisted little kayffe ever was.”

Several emotions chased each other across Tor's face while he thought. “I, um, notice you aren't wearing the control ring any more, I take it that you've got it better protected than before.”

Morgan actually hadn't even thought about the ring since he'd used it as one of the anchors of his casting outside the mist wall. He'd never reclaimed it from Commander Briene. He'd have to put a trace on it later and then fetch it back when he had the chance.

“I think it's covered.”

“So the collar wasn't necessary?” It was as much a statement as a question, and Tor seemed to age with his words.

“No, it wasn't, but you had no way of knowing. It was pretty harsh going there for a while, but I think we've got the whole issue behind us.”

“okay... I was thinking... I think that we can be sure that whatever is happening with blood magic around here, well, I don't think it can be happening on school grounds.”

“Why not?”

“It has to do with provisioning. I mean, there are the supplies, and then the space considerations. It just can't be happening on school grounds. If it were I'd know about it.”

“I don't see how.”

“Well, see, I asked myself what I would need to do the nastier parts of the business, and I just don't see it happening here. Let's say there were only the four of those people, the victims, and the mage. Well, he'd have to keep them somewhere, and then feed them, which he'd have to do himself or have a fifth, a trusted servant to do it. Even feeding them the worst, they'd eat a lot over time. Then there is the issue of supply. I mean, I understand that they don't live very long, so this mage would need to replace them regularly. That takes time and space, and it's pretty unpleasant, meaning noise and a mess. All that must take a good bit of room. Virtually everything happening in this place comes across my desk, one way or another, and there just aren't enough unaccounted for things and large abandoned spaces around here to support a secret that big.”

Morgan hadn't thought about the purely mundane needs of Blood Magic before, but Tor's argument was persuasive. “You're sure?”

“Positive, I have been through it every way I can think of. It can't be happening on the grounds.”

“How do you know that it's not something the slaves know about but wouldn't tell?”

Tor blushed a little bit and then said “I spy on them.”

“You what?”

“I spy on the slaves. I've told you how frustrated I get trying to learn things from my stock sometimes... Well, I helped remodel this place some years back, and it's got some fairly odd little spaces in it. When I need to put my ear to a wall to find something out, I do exactly that.”

“and that works?”

“Better than you might think.”

The picture of Tor, squeezing into some nook planted itself into Morgan's mind and made him chuckle a little. They talked a little while longer about the lest consequential parts of their lives and then Seth slipped back into the room.

Morgan looked to the door and asked “What'd you get?”

Seth immediately answered, “The whole story. It was only a `theft' in the loosest sense of the word.”

Tor jumped in “What... what do you mean?”

Seth, unsure how casual or formal to be, went for an even split. “Well sir, it seems that the floor matron Kemma happened to witness the `theft' of a large disk of precious metals inset with gems and whatnot on purpose because she had been warned of it by the grounds' man Jerral. Jerral had overheard the would-be victim planning the crime with a good friend. The supposed victim, Journeyman Raisial Kappairaiov, arranged to have his friend Journeyman I'sairia Celeph find and send some thief unknown to Journeyman Raisial, to him. If the plan was followed completely, Journeyman Raisial then cleared the thief, apparently a girl from the village streets, and set his own aura about her so magical inquiry would not show anybody unusual entering the workroom. After the `theft' the thief would then deliver the object to Journeyman I'sairia for safe keeping, with the intent that it be eventually returned. This delivery apparently has been verified by other members of the livery, as the object was `encountered' by one of the staff amongst Journeyman I'sairia's belongings.”

Tor was somewhat taken aback, being unused to such an easy and complete report. Not one to let an opportunity slip, he quickly asked. “Any news as to why?”

Seth was again not sure about which part of the scheme Tor was questioning so he just started in. “It seems that the conspirators chose this complex means so that, if he were questioned under truth spell, Journeyman Raisial could answer questions about the identity of the thief, or more precisely `the person who took the object' with truthful negatives. The absence of an true and actual theft would allow any question with the word `theft' to be sidestepped with a little care. The trick with the aura was to pave the way for implicating the staff or possibly a student if it came to that. The grounds' man warned floor matron Kemma about what he overheard and she contrived to witness the theft so that when she was called to account for her crew she could, under writ and compulsion, completely clear her people. The motive was even simpler, Journeyman Raisial botched up whatever he was doing with the thing and `totally ruined it beyond any recovery' and didn't want a failing mark.”

Seth had extracted other tidbits, times places and whatnot, and Tor quickly scribbled out a set of notes. `For the first time in years', he mused to himself as he wrote, `I'll be able to turn one of these back quickly and still see justice done'. When he'd finished sketching out the report he said as much aloud.

“If you don't mind, sir,” Seth spoke up at the opening, “I think the three downstairs would appreciate being dismissed.”

“Oh, right, now that I don't have to try and pry this out of them... Andrew!” Tor bellowed the name and a few moments later a slave, no more than fourteen years old, entered. “Tell the three downstairs that I'm satisfied and they can go about their business... No, give them the day tomorrow.”

“Yes sir.”

“Oh and, that's all for tonight, see you tomorrow.” Tor was feeling pretty good and considered giving Andrew the day too, but he knew that running for him was generally considered easy duty and giving the boy the day would earn the boy grief from the others that he did not deserve.

In the pause that followed the boy's rapid departure the second evening bell rang. It was getting late and Morgan had some heavy casting to do. As used as he was to his new condition, the work was going to take all he had if he could even get what he wanted done. Morgan had no trouble getting out of the office, but getting away from Tor himself was a little trickier. Tor was in a very good mood and did his best to entice Morgan to the dining hall for dinner and several rounds of ale. It was tempting, Morgan always enjoyed a good carouse with Tor, but he really had work to do. He finally begged off and made it stick, and they parted company halfway across campus.

* * *

About halfway through the remaining halfway, Morgan stopped dead in his tracks while Seth snapped to his most dangerous alert, drawing one blade, and listening intently. Morgan knew there was nothing for him to find, it was something internal. It had come and gone all at once. It was something instinctive and peculiar. He'd never felt the like before. It'd been all cold and bristly for the barest of a moment but it wasn't really `like' anything he could bring to mind. All around him everything was absolutely normal. Even the aether around the school was the `typical' abnormal that one grew used to at a school full of young and stupid talents.

“It's okay, never mind. Whatever it was, it's gone now.” Morgan said.

Seth did not look convinced but he put up his blade and they kept walking.

They each thought the other was just responding to their own sudden alert, and so they totally missed the fact that, whatever it was, they'd both felt it simultaneously.