The Lady Rienaegh al'Annaoral, had been furious when she lost contact with her esteemed Mother-in-law just as she began talking with that young Magus. She was sure that it was that boy's doing, but she had gone to the considerable trouble of fetching the great oaf's control ring again, and she had no intention of letting this conversation go by unmonitored.

Of course she'd seen what happened to the last group who dared toy with the oaf, and she had no intention of ending up as they had. She was a good three hundred miles away from them at the moment, but there was no point in risking what need not be risked. That was, after all, why she'd gone to the trouble of bringing Niyla to this continent and setting him up with all his toys.

The fool had been besotted with her since their childhood, and was happy to be her concubine as long as she kept him wealthy and stocked with people on which to ply his trade. She'd never been tempted to get into the business of harvesting power herself, too messy and personal. She was content with her own, limited but unique talents. Besides, there was no point as long as she had access to Niyla. It was, after all, not important how much power one had, what was important was how much power one controlled. And Niyla was hers as surely as his small army of conquests were his.

“Take this,” she said, “and monitor the conversation this man's master is having with my Husband's mother.”

Rienaegh would not even sit circle with Niyla, finding his lust for his power unpalatable that close up. She preferred to wait in the comforts of the house salon over the `comforts' of the dungeon any day. Niyla always had someone new down there, and the yelling and weeping were just too annoying.

He took the ring eagerly. He'd heard all about the previous attempt to use the man on the other end of this leash, and he was eager to get a taste of his flesh through this novel means. He lacked any kind of formal education in the disciplines beyond what their tribal keth'esatra'sgung had been able to offer. He knew how to harvest the vanquished and how to use them to work many sorceries, but the ideas behind this collar were fascinating to him.

The old 'sgung had been adamant about using the circles, though Niyla had found that many things didn't actually call for all that effort. Still with each new thing, Niyla had found a better-safe-than-sorry attitude paid well. He was already as old as his 'sgung had been when he'd died in his own hut during a casting, and Niyla didn't yet have any power-related injuries or disruptions to his scars.

Rienaegh would be angry if he didn't hurry, but he carefully laid the circle, creating a special zobaelest just for the collar that supposedly was at the far end of this binding. He tapped his own tiny talent and wrought a direct link to several of his newest toys. He shivered with near orgasm as potent young lusts and terrors bound themselves up with his own, making his own scars burn in blessed sympathy. Long practice let him avoid losing time in reverie, remembering the joyous pleasure-pain of his training as the old 'sgung cut him and a warrior from a competing tribe, forever joining Niyla to the harvest. That pleasure was best saved for the harvest itself anyway.

* * *

It took almost forever to get anything through the ring. He knew that wasn't the way it was supposed to be, but there was no helping it. Not only was there something oddly alien to him in the binding itself, but Rienaegh was far to adept at shielding and her own wards around her house were getting in the way.

“What's wrong?” Rienaegh was calling him on the intimate mode.

“I'm not totally sure, your shields are scrambling everything, I lost my four best far-sensors looking for these two so I don't have all that I need to get through.”

“Isn't the key I gave you helping at all?”

“No, there is some kind of randomizing force at work, unless you can take the shield down I don't think I can get to them in there.”

“Well I can't get them down from here, I'd have to be there to do that.”

Shame, he thought to himself, if she'd ever learned the harvest she could easily be here and there at the same time.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Wait for them to come out, or the shields to stabilize, and then probe that oaf to see what he knows.”

Niyla waited patently for several hours, even taking the time to enjoy the pleasure that his conquests brought him. Finally, the man on the other end of the binding was out from under the shields and he could begin to probe.

It was oddly difficult to focus through the thing. Not at all the way he'd thought such a device should work, but the sheer vitality of the emanations was exciting. That inconsistency was the last straw. There was something fishy about this thing and Niyla decided that now was the time to figure out exactly what.

After a minute or two of trying to figure out how the thing was bonded to its target Niyla decided to take a step back. He'd been presuming that this device was exactly what Rienaegh claimed it was. Perhaps, he thought, it was time to give up that particular presumption and start from scratch...

When he discovered that the caster had mixed some of his own life energy with that of the target, he was repulsed. The vanquished were to be harvested. This was an abomination. This unclean blending of essence was beneath even an animal. It would be good to harvest this mage, it would be a purification. He surely deserved far worse for his debasement of the laws of essence.

Distastefully Niyla began trying to separate the two enmeshed life signatures. He'd been at if for a good ten minutes when he suddenly felt part of the binding go slack. He bent closer to figure out what he'd done to cause that. He saw the dangling threads of the binding unraveling and probed a little closer. It was then he saw the flower-like shape unfolding and his last thought was `how beautiful, this shape, I'd better try to contain it'.

When the tesahegram completed its first unfolding Niyla's mind was wiped clean of complex thought. Only the instinctual terror brought by the certain knowledge of his own obliteration survived that first blast. That held open all his bindings, which made all his drones perish with him. The secondary energies released by the sudden vaporization of the bodies caused the collapse of the dungeon and west wing of the house.

* * *

When Rienaegh regained consciousness, she found herself trapped under a fallen ceiling beam. It was little more than a matter of thought to send her talent out to lift the beam. Surveying the damage took a little longer. When she had determined that she alone had survived the holocaust under and in the main house, she quit the premises in disgust and headed back to the nearby inn where her escort waited.

She was angry now. The death of her son had been an annoyance, preventing her husband from having an heir of proper age to present to the Merasomma this spring, in turn denying him, and her, the right of cargo on the high seas; Annoying, and worth the Long Night attempt as a simple matter of form. This, however, cost her a substantial amount of personal power. She would have to find herself another 'sgung from the tribe lands and then bind him to her as she had bound Niyla, and then bring him across the distance. Expensive, and wasteful, and time consuming.

It was amazing. She had escaped the squalor of her her tribe. She had parlayed a small talent and a rare gift into money, a comfortable life, power and position. She had a plan to bring her people out of the dark oppression of tribal tradition. She had touched enough power to give her the longevity for her goals. Things had been progressing, machinery in motion, and then ruin. A simple proposition. Get a slave to open a book. How hard should that be? But this boy and his beast had somehow walked through her plans, trampling everything she had done back into the mud of her origins.

It was all... unacceptable...

Covering the distance to the inn on foot, she consoled herself with thoughts of her tribe's customary forms of retribution, embellishing them to suit her personal tastes. If they want to see her back in the old ways, they would get what they want.

First she was going to have a talk with Calhwin, then the mage would pay, and so would his slave, after he'd disgorged his secrets.