“The following rulings are those of the crown.” The royal proxy, a man of middle years, spoke with the full authority of the king.

“First, for crimes against the King's Justice and the people of the realm, the person known as Lady Rienaegh Annaoral is declared outlaw and enemy of the crown. She is summoned to the King's Justice by any means and in whatever condition as can be accomplished. By the Tenets of Rule, any oath, debit, or allegiance here-to-fore held or owed her are abrogated and her rights of liberty and property are revoked.

“Kidrian Annaoral, hereditary holder of titles to house Annaoral and husband to Rienaegh is found to be incompetent by reason of sorcerous compulsion or effect, and shall be held in the King's custody until such time as those influences can be diagnosed and remedied, after which point his individual culpability in these and various matters shall be determined with specificity.

“Next, house Annaoral is disband, all entitlements and favors held by the house are revoked and repossessed. The holdings of said house to be first-used to recompense such real expenses as have been set out and approved during these proceedings with the remainder to be dispatched as follows. The culpability of those bound to that house will be determined at individual proceedings, held with the understanding that conditions of extreme duress existed within that house. Lady Jaesiaria al'Annaoral, the sole entitled survivor of House Annaoral is found to have acted without blame, having done what was within her power and knowledge, to protect and aid those persons who held allegiance to her and what ever others she could. The Lady is returned, her possessions and estate largely intact and her person exonerated, to the aegis of the house of her birth.

“Next, Mieka Korvin Escalia and Liane Idral Gilerwain, free persons and subjects of the King, are found to be without fault and within their rights with respect to the recovery of their daughter and all currently known actions and outcomes related there-to.

“Finally, Magus Morgan al'Whaelin, duly recognized Talent and sworn liege-man of this kingdom, and hereby recognized as guardian and parent of the abducted child, is found to have acted without fault and within his rights in this matter. Further the crown recognizes his actions as right and honorable, and demanded by his obligations as set forth by the King's Justice and the Tenets of Rule.

“Such are the rulings of the crown.

“This matter is closed.”

* * *

Morgan gave a great sigh of relief, inside anyway. There was a great chance that some kind of influence could have become his undoing in this trial and he was amazed that it hadn't happened. Careful analysis of the attempt to kidnap Shiea had convinced him that someone of Master rank at the school was involved. He'd taken the power signatures of both Rienaegh and the new blood-mage. Neither of them had energized the portal. He'd only been able to get a partial signature from that, but it had told him a lot. And hopefully it would be enough. With those signatures he would lay an enchantment that should finally leave his family safe, and then he would go on the offensive.

He'd been frightened, misused, and played out, but if he could match that partial signature to one of the Masters there would be a reckoning.

Those thoughts had been running around his head in pieces for the last several days. They were so familiar that this time they were fused into a single mental state. Even as it came to him it was interrupted by hugs from Liane and Mieka. He returned them and thought that it was going to be a good day. The verdicts were in and it was still early morning. He'd have the chance to take a tour of the school with certain intent. The thought was so compelling that not only was he not paying attention to the miniature celebration around him, he almost completely missed the insistent tugging at his sleeve.

He looked to his right and found an young apprentice trying to hand him a sealed note.

He took it, feeling his chance to search out his enemy slipping from his grip.

The seal was royal, from the king's proxy no doubt. There were no signs of enchantment or trap about it so he broke the seal.

It was a request, just shy of absolute royal compulsion, to meet immediately and privately with the proxy. There would be no hunting today. Whoever was doing the maneuvering, there had to be some kind of machination at work here, had saved their pull to produce whatever Morgan was about to step into. This whole thing stank of paranoia, and of exactly the kind of coincidence that had taken him away before.

Morgan made his excuses and headed away from his family.

Seth shadowed him like a faithful hound. At the moment that bothered Morgan as much as it pleased him. The tiny clink of the chain connecting Seth's manacles to the belt about his waist was a constant annoyance as they walked. That wasn't what was really bothering him about Seth's presence, it was the link. The healing web had finished its work several days past, but this time Seth had wanted answers. When he'd learned that without the link Morgan's power couldn't reach him he had refused to help take it down. He'd argued, quite compellingly, that it was unwise and eventually, potentially dangerous for Morgan, if he had no way to reach Seth should the need arise.

Morgan had already realized that. Seth could have died if they hadn't been able to remake the link. If Morgan had found him unconscious, or he hadn't made it back... But the hunger he felt for the link before; and the pleasure he felt whenever he let himself feel its presence now... It felt like he was taking advantage. It was a constant reminder of what their relationship simply could never be.

* * *

Morgan was shown into a large meeting room just off the great hall.

Seth took up a spot near the door as always and Morgan slipped his staff into the circle of Seth's bound arms.

When the royal proxy came in he smiled and extended his hand. “Greetings, I am Aanthar Muall,” he said as they shook hands, “Please have a seat.” He indicated spot on a comfortable looking settee.

“Thank you My Lord.” Morgan stalled discretely to give the other man the opportunity to be seated first.

After a moments silence, “This is a screen to keep our conversation private, do you mind?” The proxy gestured at a small cube sitting next to a tea service on the low coffee table between them.

“Not at all.” Morgan smiled.

Muall touched the cube and Morgan immediately felt the ambiance of the room change. A quick vrec, no longer than the blink of an eye, revealed a screen, but it was nowhere as tight or effective as he expected.

“If I may...” Morgan didn't wait for permission, he immediately fed a modulated flow of mixed aspect into the cube. Only a sensitive would have noticed the faint blue corona that played momentarily across the staff from that distance, but the proxy did respond to the more intense isolation. What had been like standing behind a waterfall, was now like like the deepest cave. No emendations of any kind, out or in, could pass the walls of the room now. It was a silence that even the least sensitive of people could have felt.

The proxy looked at Morgan again, as if seeing him for the first time. “We are lead to believe that the warder is sufficient to ensure privacy.” His speech had shifted to the formal.

“Seek better council.” Morgan replied, “the device provides some protection, and its ability to alert to intrusion is even better, but there are probably as many as twenty talents at this school that could breach it with the operator none the wiser...

“Of course I can withdraw my additions if that is what you desire.”

He looked at the box as if it had become a snake. “No, of course not...” There was a long and hugely uncomfortable pause, “that information alone makes me glad I decided to call you to me.” He was still considering the box. “Could you improve this device?”

He looked into the thing for a while. What he'd done before had been quite effective, but reflexive. The task of making, or remaking, such a casting as a permanent enchantment would be something of a chore.

“I believe so, but it would take several days at the least.” He finally answered.

“Of course.” Was the reply.

“Eh, just a moment...” Morgan looked about for a second, seeking a suitable item, and finally picked up a small crystal salt shaker. He pressed several certain aspects of knowledge into the cut glass crystal, then wrapped it in a cloth napkin and set it prominently between them. “Give this, and that cube, to a mage that you trust and he should be able to divine the necessary modifications to make you a new, more effective screen... Nobody should touch the shaker directly until then.”

The royal proxy was a man of experience and second to a king, the matter of the privacy shield and Morgan's assessment, having been settled for the moment, instantly nestled itself into its proper place in his mind and he was ready to move on.

“I summoned you here to see if you might tell me what else you know of these recent events.”

Morgan tried to look innocent of any such knowledge for a moment and then dropped the pretense. The man across the table from him was a politician of the highest caliber. During the open proceedings he had stayed far away from the deeper questions of why each party had been involved. Morgan was completely unsure of how to answer.

The proxy nodded, “That serious a?” and then proceeded to pour the tea, by no coincidence giving Morgan a chance to consider his answers.

“I believe things are as serious as they can be.”

“How so?” he prompted as he handed Morgan a cup.

“There is this spell book, and what it contains could mess up the entire realm.”

The proxy relaxed considerably. In his experience people who thought the entire realm was at stake in some way were usually hysterical at the least, and totally cracked at worst. “More detail would be nice.”

Morgan launched into a detailed retelling of the key events of the last year, and the proxy replaced his politely interested disinterest with the more sincere sort of attention. The proxy asked the occasional concise question, and the story took surprisingly less time to tell than Morgan expected.

Muall did not look happy. “I have to agree with most of your assessments, except perhaps your belief that only one person at the school may be involved. It seems to me that the one key thing we do not know is what exactly is in the book.”

“Somehow I suspect I'd rather not know. Of late every major thing I've learned has cost more than I really wanted to pay. Besides the book has been stolen and it's too dangerous to even try to open again. I don't see how we can find out what's in it.”

Muall sighed and shook his head and muttered “Academics...” then louder, “just ask him.” he said gesturing towards Seth. “You told me he penned significant portions of the text for his previous owner.”

Morgan turned to look at Seth and then had to resist the urge to hide his face in his hands, chalking up one more stupid mistake.

“Come over here young man.” The proxy said to Seth.

Seth started to take a step forward, but with his wrists fixed parallel and held to his waist by the manacles, and with the staff through the crook of his arm, there was no good way to proceed.

“Hold on.” Morgan said, getting to his feet.

“And you may remove those.” Muall said.

Morgan made quick work of opening the manacles. In truth they were open before he got there. Opening and closing the screw bolt with his talent was no great feat, once he'd thought of it. The key was just for show.

Morgan carried his Staff back to his seat and laid it on the floor. Seth followed and stood at the end of the table.

“No, sit.”

His public manners were in force and Seth sat, but at attention. Morgan had not gone into any of the things that would reveal his unimprinted status.

The proxy invoked the Tenets by formula and rote. His phrasing would have freed any slave to speak his mind while leaving him compelled to the truth. Then Muall asked him to describe the nature of the information in the book.

Morgan could feel Seth hesitating. He raised an eyebrow at Seth and Seth began to speak.

“Well, it is mostly a scholarly work about the structure of the spell which creates and maintains the Realm. Lady Korane's founding principle is based around the idea that there are not 167 layers of gloss to the spell as most scholars believe, instead there is at least one more. The outermost layer of gloss is actually the entirety of the inorganic structure of the realm.”

“A moment,” Muall interjected, “what is `gloss'?”

Morgan, ever the teacher, stepped in there. “You're familiar with the concept of a glossary? Sorry, of course you are. The original form of amplifying a text was called `glossing'. A small section of base text, usually rather complex, is placed in the center of the page, then the author would surround that text on the page with a halo of supporting text. That text may, in turn, need support or definition, in which case another set of text surrounds the previous. Each layer of surrounding text is called a gloss. The technique is very old and no longer used for plain text, but it is an essential technique in spell-work because a complete spell formula may be quite short, but the nuances of one key word may literally take volumes to refine, or a complete casting might require spells wrapped one around another like layers of an onion.”

Muall made an appreciative noise and, unlike most of Morgan's teaching experiences, Muall seemed to have understood exactly.

“And there are thought to be 167 glosses...? Gloss...? layers set in the spell of the realm?”

“Arguably, yes, that is the current thought. It is argued though. The core spell, the Coda Prima Creataria, is inscribed on a pedestal about six feet across. That pedestal is really a protrusion of organic rock from the surface of the top of The Seed. There are seven clear and distinct layers of gloss in concentric rings on the floor around the pedestal. Those first certain seven are the last that everyone can agree on. They cover the top of the Seed edge to edge, say forty paces across. The Seed floats, suspended by means nobody has yet been able to identify, in the center of the octagonal Inner Chamber, which is some two thousand yards across.

“That's where things get dicey. All of the inner surfaces of The Chamber, from a distance, appear to be covered with charcoal murals of elementals in conflict, with four great doors depicted on the main walls. Close up the images are actually text. The visual effect is done entirely with changes in spacing and stroke weight. Where The Chamber has eight faces that curve in gently to meet at a point at both the apex and nadir of the space, there are seven more outer rooms, each encompassing the previous, perfectly cylindrical on the inner and outer walls with regular, level ceilings and floors. The depictions continue, mostly of barren landscapes, growing less demonic and elemental, and more mundane in each successive outer chamber.

“Of course it's all in Malhablamorung, which by it's nature must be written in the shape of a disk, ring, torus, or similar closed manifold, so you often have to make several circuits of a room to understand a single phrasing. Worse still the text follows the imagery more and more as you move outward. So for instance, a rocky outline in an inner chamber is formed by successive horizontal ranks of text. In the outer chambers it would more likely be a single series of ideograms following the contour, or even a single line that is part of one sub-symbol.

“People will be arguing about it forever.

“I hear it's quite... breathtaking...”

Muall was nodding his head, he knew all that in broad terms, but hadn't ever really thought about it technically.

“And this Lady Korane supposedly translated all this and put it down in one book?”

Morgan kind of winced but Seth stepped back in. “No sir. Lady Korane only translates the central portion, the Coda Prima, the first codex. That full translation goes on for more than half the text. It is quite interesting, even for all its references to other books.”

“This does not sound all that dangerous...” Muall observed.

Morgan replied “Knowledge is power and quite a few mages would fight over the mere possibility that exclusive access to that kind of knowledge would bring them greater power. The book doesn't have to even be right about anything. The rumor of the possibility, combined with the mystery of one damnedably difficult to open book, could well be enough to start a mage war.”

“I see your point completely of course. Perhaps if we made the exact nature of the contents completely public. It's an important, and interesting, but seemingly harmless text.”

“That wouldn't work. Just the paranoid chance that we were holding something important back would be enough to start the fighting.”

“Yes, that is very sticky.”

Seth cleared his throat to get their attention.

When they both looked at him he nearly blushed, but having started he had to finish.

“I did not intend to mislead you sirs. The text is anything but harmless. It's not just a technical text, it is something of a... practical guide... I think. Where in some places it is about things like proving that Orhin's Paradox is not even an actual concern, in other parts it's... active. There are forty two illustriatia done entirely in antaliased genufashea.”

“What!” Morgan barked, “Forty two? Damn it all to... are you sure?”

Seth nodded.

Morgan was trembling as, in a kind of mental shock, he reached for his cup.

“I don't understand, what is aunt... ant...”

“Antaliased Genufashea.” Morgan finished for him. “Where to start...” His mind was sifting through years worth of curricula for a meaningful way to express what that phrase meant. “Its like a... verb tense...” he winced at the imprecision, “in Malhablamorung used to express... exactly express... a piece of information too dangerous to just come right out and say. No... it's more than that. It's a spell-work made entirely of information. A meta-spell. Um... I'm not sure how to explain it in less than a couple of days...”

Seth cut in, to Morgan he said “If I may” then to the proxy “this is how it was explained to me. Malhablamorung isn't really a language like common speech, it is a thing of degrees and relativity. The simple idea `to cut' is drawn as a line that becomes the center of a spiral for one turn around then breaks at a point to bisect the single loop, like writing a cursive lower case letter `e' but drawing the line straight back and up through the loop in a harsh change of direction. Okay, so that is the symbol for `to cut' right? Not so much. It's the symbol for `to cut' if it occurs in the midst of the symbol of something that can be severed and it has to be accompanied by an actual or inferred means of doing the severing. The sharpness of the angles, the thickness of the lines, the style of the curve, all of that goes to describe the cutting. It's so complex that it seems impractical, but the seeds of it can be found in the agitated scratchings of an angry child.

“So here we have a language which is as much about how you feel and who you are when you write a thing as what you want to say. And it is, in its way, completely compelling. That is why the language can be used to instruct and control spirit creatures. There is no such thing as an unfinished idea or imprecise statement in the whole language, there is only the poorly stated. And it's even worse when you are speaking aloud. What gets people killed is that, when they mess up, there is no do-over. No `I take it back' and so a misspoken directive is still a directive and the thing is complete and must be executed.

“So when a person with Talent learns enough to begin dealing with Malhablamorung they are actually manipulating themselves and their talent as they write, speak, and even when they are just reading silently to themselves. When you deal with Malhablamorung you are participating in the information.”

Seth cleared his throat and paused for a moment. “It gets uglier... In common speech I can say, or write, or read the phrase `destroy myself' with impunity. It's just a distant and vague fragment of a concept. In Malhablamorung however, if it were properly expressed it would be complete, with an actual or inferred time and means and everything. The act of expressing it in any form would be fatal, presuming of course I had both talent and understanding. The act of seeing or hearing it expressed, if it were only `mostly appreciated' for what it was, would be fatal too. But, say I expressed it fully and you appreciated it fully, only I would be so destroyed but you would be fine because you would fully understand that it was me being destroyed and also the manifold ways that I am not you, and you would know what I experienced in my destruction completely and exactly without you yourself directly experiencing any part of it.

“So that is Malhablamorung in a nutshell.

“Antaliased genufashea is a way of disassembling and expressing a concept far too volatile to be clearly stated. See, I could dissemble a little and falsely state something so close to `destroy myself' that the idea goes along, but no harm is wrought. I can do that because the concept of destroy is nicely vague when you put concepts like `of or pertaining to the possibility of' near it. You'd get the idea and all, but not well enough for spell casting. So if I wanted to teach you how to destroy yourself in the first person, I would invent `destroy myself — the spell' and then decompose it into a bunch of things and concepts related to the idea, and the creation of the idea, so that when you participate in those things fully you will be inescapably led to the `destroy myself' structure I originally envisioned. I, as author, compell the reader to know exactly what I know, with perfect fedelity.”

The proxy looked at Morgan. “And this can be done?”

“Sure, its like doing a mathematical proof and leaving off the last line and then talking about what the last line isn't and what the complete proof could be used for, and what wasn't being proved. Things like that, to a degree and intensity that makes what the actual last line must be unavoidably communicated to the reader.”

“It all sounds untenably complex.”

“It is that. The language and its techniques are almost all acquired by the application practical talent. Antaliased genufashea itself is usually learned from a singular text written entirely in that self-same style.”

“And you have this skill?”

“To write a piece of a.g.? No, I am not that advanced in the language, but every graduate of the School of Disciplines needs must learn the twelve lesser and greater nullifications which are also gleaned from such a text. The concept of `annihilate' is too volatile to practice. It took me two weeks of exclusive study to comprehend the script, which is about typical. I assure you the technique is completely workable within the context of sorcery, even though it is impossibly impractical outside that scope.”

“Okay, so what would happen if someone participated in these, what was it, forty two, things?” He asked.

“Well, they would know exactly how... no, be absolutely forced to become able to do whatever was being presented. It would be complete and immediately functional knowledge.” Morgan said.

Muall looked back to Seth, “what was she sharing?”

“Not having any actual talent myself sir, I can really only guess, but some of it was big. Move a mountain or drain an ocean big. Lady Korane was an intellect to be reckoned with and she'd set her mind to, and conquered, the actual nature and structure of the reality we live in.”

Muall muttered “No small thing” to himself and sat back to digest what he'd learned.

Morgan and Muall sipped tea for a time.

“It sounds like this manuscript needs to be found and destroyed.”

Seth said, “I doubt the latter is possible, sir. My lady's intent was to share this knowledge with those who'd earned the privilege. The protections on the text are likely formidable.”

Morgan was right behind him. “Finding it will involve finding whoever else is involved with Rienaegh Annaoral and then expunging them and what they know about the text before it becomes common knowledge. What to do after that is anybody's guess. Fortunately it is a secret that the power-hungry would never even whisper of, so it wont be spread on purpose.”

Muall nodded, then began speaking almost as firmly as when he'd pronounced sentence. “There doesn't seem to be any way to bring any royal power to bear on this issue that would not make everything worse. We appreciate the discretion you have shown to date, and give you our officially, unofficial blessing. I am tempted to give you some writ to use in dire circumstances, but I think that I must not. You have been equal to your wolves thus far, and I fear I must throw you back to them.”

The conversation felt over and Morgan began to rise.

“I will keep you in mind. If I find any way to send you help without being too conspicuous I will do so.”

“I appreciate the thought sir.” Morgan bowed at the waist and simultaneously withdrew his augmentation to the privacy spell.

* * *

There were no leaking power signatures detectable across the entire school, so there was no point in doing a probe. The golden moments just after court were gone, and there was no lament about it in Morgan. He'd just have to make sure he was up and scanning early the next morning, so he started back for home.

About halfway there Seth suddenly spoke “So how does it work anyway?”

“How does what work?”

“Magic. The Talent. The lord proxy got me thinking... How do you deal with the complexity?”


An affirmative grunt.

“Nobody really knows. That's probably why it's called magic. We know a lot of the reasons things work, but most of those reasons have other, trickier, reasons of their own. We know about the outer nerves, and so things like my scars. We know that the more a person knows about the physical universe the better they can work with their talents. But as to why, when I reach for a flow of air, I see things just the way I do, is a mystery. Air is everywhere and yet if I look in one spot to do a certain thing I find the air rich with power and if I immediately look in the same spot to do a different thing the air is barren of the necessary forces, it just works that way. Even the five houses are just an idea, an arbitrary set of divisions that exist for mental convenience. I know chemestry, and I know there is no real difference between carbon in the air and carbon in the dirt, but somehow it matters when I need to work with air or earth. The best guess anyone has is that something in the under-mind is sorting everything out instinctively so that the upper mind can work with it.”

He paused for a few steps.

“Once you have the talent it's really just a matter of will and desire. All the formula and ceremony are... assistants... helpers that let you hold onto what is, and what you will, and the pushing of one into the other. You helped me really know and accept that when you helped me make my first book.”

“But if it's a matter of wills, how can some plants and animals do magic?”

Morgan shrugged, “That's just the next puzzle from here, and there are an endless set of questions after that. Philosophy and religion, they are as sure as magic, its all somehow wrapped into one package...”

“Oh,” this time Seth held the silence for a few steps, “the last place you look...”


“You know, the old saying, `why do you always find something in the last place you look?' The simple answer is, `because when you find the thing you stop looking.”'

“Oh, yea...” Morgan understood that simple truth, but he didn't understand it as an analogy, he tried to fit it into the rest of the conversation but it just didn't seem to go.

Seth was so strange to him sometimes.

He let it drop.