The sun had yet to coalesce in the east and the predawn light shimmering vaguely in the sky made the woods seem mystically peaceful, but Morgan missed it. He was busy in the secret workroom buried deep beneath his house. He was alone, not even Seth had woken up yet. Someone somewhere in the school was about to make a fatal mistake, or so he hoped. Morgan had a partial power signature and sometime this morning the someone it matched would likely use their talent. If he was watching when that happened he'd have his man, or woman as the case may be. Even if the first thing done was to raise a shield they'd radiate their signature for those precious instants it took to build the thing, and if he were looking in the right place in the the right way just then...

He wasn't really thinking what he'd do. All he wanted first was a name. A firm target for whatever would have to be done next.

He sent his senses out over the school. At first it was just like it had always been. He was born with a goodly range and strength. Then he began to let his outer channels leak through the staff and into his senses. It was hard to manage at first but whatever it was that he'd become of late seemed to force him to succeed.

He wanted to start looking, sifting through the school grounds room by room, but if he did that he'd almost certainly be looking in the wrong place when the moment happened. He forced himself to surrender to his under-mind. If there was any truth to his recent revelations, then that great filter in his subconscious would do the work. He filled his over-mind with the remembered signature and the true intent of finding the person until even the sense of waiting was blotted out.

With his over-mind dedicated to its task and his under-mind completely unfettered and active, a myriad of interesting or odd things began to bubble up into his consciousness. At first it was simple things. He spent some time sharing the first-person experience of Seth beginning his morning workout, carried to him through the link. Then along less direct channels he was part of Shiea's tiny sleeping essence and then her parents act of gentle morning love. Then there was a blur of the school's livery of slaves, for a moment he was a young man tending to the grounds, he'd left home because he hated farming and now here he was pulling weeds which he hated even more, and even as Morgan recognized the man as the would-be thief from Razor Pass, he moved on. For a while he was an exposed slab of stone feeling the first warming of the newly coherent sun, dozing lazily while the completed formula for an instant, but very dirty teleport danced just beyond his awareness. From there on things devolved into a free-form flow of images and impressions that felt like juvenile poetry, when it felt like anything at all.

Then, all at once he was the walls of a room, and that room was filling with the energy he sought. Jumping two directions at once, he strove to get the full pattern that matched the tattered fragment he'd been holding even as he pulled himself to wider focus so that he could put a location to that room.

He was successful on both counts. He still didn't have a name, but he had what he needed to find that name. More importantly he had what he needed to finish the protections on his family. At the very least, by the end of the day Mieka, Liane and Shiea would be safe from all but the most mundane of attacks, and at the most, someone's head just might end up on a pike if Seth got to him first. If Morgan got through first, there wouldn't be much more than a little voose left over.

Morgan decided to fix up his household defenses while he was still in this odd but optimal state. He made a tight little lozenge out of the new power signature and slipped it into the protective spells. He'd already done the prep work when he'd put in the specific wards against Rienaegh and her new blood mage. The living spells would line up the complete signature with the partial he already had and then sew the rest of the new into place. Once positioned Morgan only had to let the thing work itself out for a few minutes.

He pulled himself back together and floated gently to the floor.

* * *

The first wheezing shudder came while Morgan was just mounting the stair. He knew the source instantly. His household protections were trying to reject an already established spell. The still partial integration of the signature wasn't yet strong enough to really keep out an earnest casting. The work that Morgan had sensed starting was apparently an assault on the premises. The choice between going up to see what was happening and going back down to work from within the circle raged in him for a moment and going up one out.

Struggling to maneuver his staff in the tight twisting quarters Morgan took the stairs as fast as he could.

There was a portal in his living room.

It wasn't a very good portal and it was getting worse by the moment. The local reality was not fairing much better. The portal needed to be closed very soon. But before he let the portal close Morgan would need a few answers. The immediate need to keep the portal open was easy to address, he crammed his staff into it. That jammed the thing open and the staff began to spark.

The first question was “how?” Someone must have brought something into the house that let the portal be targeted there despite the protections. A quick scan and he spotted a small floral basket. Half a thought and it was vapor. In a few more moments any such object coming into the house would be cleared by the protections. Problem solved.

Next was a question of who was where. When he found that Liane and Shiea were not in the house he stepped halfway into the portal to scan the other side. They were there, already translated to the remote location. The portal had probably been opened around them and he'd have no way to get them back if he let the portal close without finding out where the other side of it was. Fast but slow, Morgan started to probe his way, looking for the far surface of the portal.

Morgan barely felt the nudge as Seth blew by him.

Seth was only wearing his small clothes and holding his blades when he passed the portal. Morgan knew that because the portal hadn't taken him anywhere. Seth turned, looking back at Morgan in wonder and Morgan saw him outlined in a fiery halo. The laws of the realm said he should be far away and his inherent resistance to sorcery was keeping him where he was. That was a very bad paradox, and Morgan could feel the fabric of the realm start to denature all around him. Within heartbeats Morgan's talents were the only reason their quarters hadn't blown themselves clean out of the side of the hill.

It didn't make sense at all. Seth had used the Gateway at the school, twice, and the second time Morgan had flung him into it using a fine bit of trickery. Then he knew. They'd been linked both times, and both times Morgan had had at least a passing connection to the gateway formation. Therefore if he didn't channel the portal energy through the link for Seth, Seth would remain where he was, and likely blow a hole in the realm big enough to take the school, and possibly the mountain, with him.

As quickly as possible Morgan integrated himself a bit with the portal. It wasn't a power issue, it was all complexity. He had to finagle his way around his own protections without disturbing them and fight against his concern for Liane and Shiea so he didn't blow anything out. Weaving thus and so, Morgan did what he could and then blew the link wide open with portal energy.

Seth's eyes went open for a moment in wonder, then he wavered like a mirage, and was gone. The portal itself was a mess and it was going to get worse before Morgan would be able to eject it safely. He moved forward a hair's breadth and found himself in the distant-end corona where he could see.

Morgan didn't dare step from the portal for fear of the whole thing going sour. Seth was in a ready crouch facing several people and Morgan, in one of those intense, distracting moments that happen to a person under stress, noticed smoke rising from Seth's hands. From inside the portal it was hard to tell exactly who was whom amongst the strangers, but he quickly found Liane and Shiea. Each was in the grip of an armsman, Liane with a dagger to her throat, and both being dragged up the trail to another portal.

That was something Morgan knew he must stop. He reached out to the armsman holding Shiea and snatched himself back in revulsion. The man had been taken by the blood mage. Well, kind of taken. He was nothing like the drones Morgan had encountered before. The original man was not gone. Not wiped away by madness. This man was half eaten away and half himself, desperate to escape his fate and likely to do anything. Morgan's repressed instincts for the flesh whispered in his ear that such a man could be made to do anything simply for the proffered promise of escape. There was no way that Morgan would be able to directly influence these men unless he were to first wrest their minds from the blood mage and make them his own drones, and that was something he simply would not do.

That only left the more difficult means. Morgan would have to protect and then bind Shiea and Liane. If he made it so the knives could not cut them and then he bound them in place, he and Seth would have the time needed to put down their captors.

Suspended between the near and far surfaces of the portal, Morgan was deprived of all sound. The silence struck him as odd, since he could feel the thing ripping apart around him. As his under-mind translated the impending disaster into something he could cope with, he found himself longing to hear the slow fibrous separation of its weave with his own ears. He let it keep tearing while he enveloped Shiea and then Liane. There were barely tatters left when he finally could snap the protections closed around his family.

Next came the gateway. He buried himself in the structure of the portal until there was little distinction between the fabric of his being and the mechanism and craft of the collapsing threshold. There were going to be geasairia to pay, he wasn't sure exactly what they would be, but he had no choice. Power he had, enough raw energy was at his disposal, moment to moment, to level a small city. This was about finesse and the over-mind can only divide itself so many ways before it has to call on the pathways that a only lifetime of learning create. It was like trying to reweave a rug, without a loom, while holding your breath at the bottom of a huge vat of congealing beef gravy.

There was a moment of epiphany, maybe more than one, but one in particular interrupted Morgan's recasting. It happened sometime after he'd recalled the teleport spell that had taunted his imagination several endless minutes ago in the basement, and after he'd folded it into the repairs twice, once each for the two women in his life. It was sometime after he'd rigged significant parts of the gateway to explode along several of the axis that would leave the material world untouched. It was sometime still further along than all of the things he had to do to make his home reality safe. It happened at the moment he turned his attention back to his own small self.

He realized he could hear.

And see.

Both surfaces of the portal were flooding him with sensory information, and both sides were unnaturally silent.

Back at his home it was the silence of the unoccupied morning punctuated by the ever-present distant drip of water from one source or another.

On the stranger side of the gate it was the magic silence of a moment of decision.

Morgan wasn't sure if he'd actually heard the half-mad, strident screaming of the leader of the armsmen. But he could tell he'd been screaming at the top of his harried lungs by the foaming spittle at the corners of his mouth and the freshly receding angry red throb of every blood vessel the man had from his shoulders to the top of his scalp.

The man who'd been screaming was far up the trail, clutching at Shiea, and something told Morgan it was desperately important he know what had been said, even though there was likely no power in the realm that could reach the girl right then without his consent.

Closer by far, Morgan could see his own body. He was barely outside the gate and one of those... things... was ready to cut him down. His mind wasn't in his body right then and he wasn't shielded per se, but he was holding far too much power to be in any danger from a sword. With every last channel in his body carrying a flow, his assailant would be voose the instant he cut the first cell of his flesh. The most mundane harm Morgan could suffer just then would be a nasty scratch.

Seth was halfway up the trail, facing the drone leader. He had no way to know that everybody on his side of the conflict was safe.

But that wasn't the issue. Morgan knew it, but his overburdened mind simply wouldn't produce the next thought.

Morgan forced himself into his body.

Seth was starting to slump... in resignation. Whatever he was thinking, it was bad. The remainder of the armsmen-drones were giving him his space. There was a wide wake of bodies leading from the portal to where Seth stood. Even the driven wouldn't risk that carnage when something else might do.

Head hanging down, his chin against his chest, Seth turned a quarter to his right. He turned his head up and lifted it a little, and made eye contact with Morgan through the tangled fall of his long black hair.

And Morgan suddenly knew, even before the deep wave of resignation, regret, and resolve thundered down the link... it was a goodbye.

With a twist of his wrist, like he'd practiced it every day of his life, he moved the point of his left sword from its place along his arm to a point just under his ribs, closest to his heart.

These people wanted Seth. Wanted what he knew. Wanted what he could do. And they'd never stop coming. They would do whatever it would take to get inside his head. They'd happily grind Morgan and his family away in excruciating cruelty to get it. No mater the effort. No matter the cost However long it took.

That's what the man had screamed. The words had been hugely less articulate, if there had even been words, but he'd made himself, or his master, quite clear.

Seth, being the solid thinker he was knew there was a caveat, They'd persue `as long as he lived.'

In an instant Morgan understood everything, and bellowed “NO!” at the top of his lungs, even as Seth began to relax his knees.

Morgan was literally powerless, every channel he had was dedicated to the portal.

But he had his staff.

He let go of the gate, ready to let it play havoc with this remote place wherever it was, plucked his staff out of mid-air, and swung at the drone nearest him.

He never got the chance to complete the swing. The far end of the gate closed first, and cleanly, as the staff cleared that surface. The chained spells did their work and Liane and Shiea were whisked back to home and safety. When the staff cleared the local surface the gateway the remaining mess of spell-work exploded outward.

* * *

Morgan regained consciousness some time later, and staggered over to Seth. His mind was hollowed near clean away by geasairia but grief and suffering drew him onward.

Seth's body was cold and lifeless and Morgan felt piercing agony as he turned the body face up. It was as if the sword were through his own heart. He found himself clutching a fist full of Seth's hair, weeping, and part of him wanted to pound his head against the ground in rage. He didn't have words for his grief and anger, and probably wouldn't have if he'd been in his whole mind.

Morgan found himself screaming himself hoarse, up at the sky.

Then he fixated on the sword. He wanted it out of his friend... as if that would make it all better.

His first tug showed it well set, caught in his spine behind his heart. In his animal mind it was some last thing he could do for his friend. He had to stand and use all his strength, even bracing one knee on his fallen friend's chest.

With the last of his strength and will, and yelling again, he pulled until his bones were creaking, ready to break.

It came free and out all at once, and Morgan fell back and away, clutching the sword to his chest in parody of sweet relief, and blacked out again.

He didn't even see the body start to burn.