Morgan opened his eyes to near total darkness and then “Illiaeia's sweet mercies” slipped out of his mouth.

Then he was scrabbling away from the figure leaning over him.

“What are you? You're dead! I saw you die! I...”, he what? he couldn't quite remember what exactly, but the pain and the grief were there, promising him he would know again later. Instinctively he wanted to reach out a questing thought, but too much of his mind was still gone.

“I'm not dead.” Seth mumbled, still kneeling over the place where Morgan had lain.

Morgan had backed up till his shoulder brushed against a tree. “Seth was dead, cold DEAD!” he yelled, bending forward like his words were an attack. “Whatever you are, you're NOT Seth! You can't be. His soul fled, you're not him!”

Seth slumped down even more, spreading his hands, palms up, on his knees. “I'm not dead.” This time it was a whisper.

“Necromancy? Did someone reanimate your body? To what end?” Morgan's intellectual curiosity was warring with the soup of other emotions. A mental defense against his confused emotional pain. “They can't think I'm stupid enough to think you are Seth when I saw him take his own life...”

There wasn't, it turns out, that much space between them. Seth was up and shoving in a blink. “I'm not dead. I'm supposed to be dead. I tried to be dead. But I am NOT DEAD.” And every time he said the word “dead” he shoved Morgan back emphatically. Not hard enough to knock him down but hard enough to express himself and keep Morgan stumbling backwards. At least not until the last, which sent Morgan back and down hard.

Morgan just looked up at him. That wasn't like Seth at all and he was instantly afraid what a new soul might make of everything Seth's body knew and was. And Morgan was afraid some dangerous transition had already begun. If it was some animal spirit he might become a were-creature, if it were something nastier...

Seth's head was bent down and his face was completely hidden behind his hair. Morgan just looked and waited as dawn began to gather itself in the east. As the first ripples of daylight began to roll through the sky Morgan began to be able to see Seth's body, and it was greatly changed.

Seth was awash with color and pattern. Morgan couldn't really see it clearly but as each wandering polychromatic wave passed across the sky, it pulled a different tone from his skin. By the time the sun caught fire in the eastern sky a suspicion had sunken its claws into his mind. That first clear light revealed a pattern too complex for the eye to follow, but which had a definite center. The circular glyph on Seth's chest was the center of the whole design, and it covered absolutely everything.

A snatch of memory floated up out of Morgan's beleaguered mind. He was standing at Tor's desk, pointing at a drawing, and he said “these are the ones that interest me”, or something very like that. And then an outlandish thought struck, but he didn't even want to touch it, lest it reawaken his grief.

“Turn around” Morgan whispered.

Seth did, and there it was, woven into the patterns that should obscure it, but which somehow accentuated it instead. A phoenix. It was so obvious it hurt. A painfully trite message he'd never even thought to consider left behind by a dead sorceress that he'd never met. There were questions left unanswered about the nature of the magic and perhaps even Seth's very nature, but whatever those were, one thing was nearly certain. Whatever this magic was, it had been part of Seth since before Morgan had ever met him, let alone before his death, so it likely preserved the whole, real Seth. Morgan wasn't sure how that was possible but he just knew it was true.

It clicked into place all at once and Morgan leapt up and grappled Seth in a hug so fierce that Seth almost took it for an attack and began to fight. Morgan happily bellowed “you aren't dead!” and managed to lift the huge man off the ground an inch or so for a moment or two. Seth hugged him back, but with some darker feelings about his own survival.

Then Morgan froze.

Then he took a step back.

Then he looked up at Seth and said “You knew...”

Then everything he'd felt became outrage and he punched Seth so strong and sudden that it laid Seth down hard.

A little stunned Seth said “What...?” holding his jaw and sitting up a little.

“You knew you wouldn't die when you fell on your sword!” Morgan barked accusingly. “You put me through that and you knew!”

Seth didn't answer immediately... “No.” and when he looked up tears were heavy in his eyes. “I didn't know. I should be dead... I don't know why I'm not...”

“Look at yourself! That,” Morgan said, pointing, “is why you're still alive.”

Seth stopped and looked at himself, and as shocked recognition gave way to something like resignation he clapped one hand up as if to smother his face, in a gesture that could only be described as comic.

One of those spontaneous moments of quiet that usually leads to introspection suddenly descended. While Seth considered his options, Morgan finally took note of his surroundings. The tree he'd brushed up against was barren of foliage, and for the most part branches, and was also the only one standing for fifteen yards around. Beyond that radius the forest resumed unscathed. There was very little left of the marauding drones, at least the ones that had been upright at the time of the blast. And Most important it was morning, again, so they'd been in this spot for a whole day. If the other portal hadn't been destroyed then they could have visitors at any time, presuming that there were any drones or fighters left in the enemy camp.

“We better get out of here.” Morgan said to the still-stunned Seth.

“Why? They have to think I'm dead...” he looked up and around “you too from the look of this place.”

Morgan picked up one of Seth's swords and offered it down to Seth hilt first. “They are bound to check sooner or later. Sooner if they realize that my spell-works back home are not beginning to fade.”

Seth just sat there until Morgan half-nudged, half-kicked him in the thigh with the side of his foot. He looked up and visibly regained some of his composure. Then he shrugged his `this is just typical' shrug and took the proffered sword.

The exchange was careful but the blade, which Morgan was unwisely holding closed-handed, opened a shallow slit in his palm. He looked at his hand as if it had bit him. He even prodded the cut a little. There was no pain at all. That was when he finally paid himself a little attention.

Morgan found that he was cut, and burned, and generally pummeled and bruised all over. He touched a kind of loose fold of skin on his forearm in wonder. He could feel the touch but there was no pain at all. Then the abnormally slow wheels of his mind reached the core of the matter. His pain channels were held in geasairia.

“Um, Seth...?”


Morgan turned his back “Do I have any, um, life-threatening wounds?” It was a strange question.

He looked over. “Gods... I don't know... I...” Seth, finally having something to focus on, got himself up off the ground. “Gods! Doesn't that hurt?”

“Don't feel a thing, how bad is it?”

Seth got a closer look, peeling the scorched bits of dressing gown carefully away from Morgan's back. “No, nothing life threatening I guess, but you look like a tournament field after a rainy day. Cuts... bruises... some burns but nothing that bad. Ought to be cleaned as soon as possible though.”

“Good. Then we need to get moving.”

Seth retrieved his other blade and then looked it over as if puzzled. “Damn. ruined.”


“Oh, nothing, the flashing is shot.” Seth handed the blade to Morgan. The leather wrapping on the hilt had been burned near through in the shape of Seth's hand. Morgan picked at it and found that beneath the flashing the haft was the same metal as the blade. He picked at it a little more and discovered that the blade, guard, and haft were all of a piece. It was a crafted item, made by magic.

“Well at least you don't have to sharpen it.” Morgan said sarcastically, and handed it back, carefully this time. “Now let's get out of here.”

“You seen my scabbards and belt?”

Morgan was getting exasperated, “I don't think you brought them,” or maybe giddy. A near total emotional eclipse, and maybe a few geasairia, held shock, panic, and any number of other more appropriate responses to recent events much too far away. Surprisingly clear headed, Morgan was thinking maybe Seth really had changed, then something inside him told him what to do to get through to the man. Burying his worries that maybe this really wasn't the same Seth, He stopped being Seth's friend and started being his master.

* * *

Seth was not sure of anything. Since Shiea had been taken from the market he'd been thinking dark thoughts. No matter how he thought through it, he kept coming back to one inescapable conclusion. If Lady Korane's books were in any way involved then everything that was happening was really aimed at him. Shiea had about as much connection to the books as Liane had to a piece of produce she saw at market but didn't buy.

The drone had been raving but he'd said aloud what Seth had been thinking. As long as Seth lived nobody who touched him would be safe. When he'd said that they'd cut Shiea `nice and special' he'd known what needed to be done.

Falling on his sword had been the hardest thing he'd ever thought to do, and the pain was more than he could have ever imagined, and it had been seemingly endless. He wasn't sure he could ever kill anything again. He was still here, and if he couldn't die and he couldn't kill he was nothing but a danger. Morgan and his family didn't rate that. It was only a matter of time before they'd have to sell him to the enemy to save themselves. He'd have fallen on his sword again right then if he'd thought it would work.

He'd been lying on his back for half the night wallowing in despair. He'd only been stirred to life by Morgan's distant moaning. Then Morgan's questioning of his very existence hadn't gone down well. Now Morgan was ready to act like everything was just as it always had been. Didn't he understand that he needed to get rid of Seth as soon as he could?

Morgan began barking orders and Seth found himself following them. It was abnormal for his time with Morgan, but it put him in the familiar territory of the rest of his life, and it was just easier to go along with the present than to think about any future.

Under orders he picked the best direction to go to find some sort of town without being too easy to track from their starting place. There was a little preparation to do before they could actually leave. He'd used the tattered remnants of Morgan's dressing gown to tie his blades together and strap them onto his back. There wasn't enough left over to replace his missing clothes but that wouldn't be a problem until they actually got to a habitable place. Nobody would care about another naked slave, but with his tattoos he'd draw way too much attention. Morgan was only barely dressed and they were both barefoot, but there was no helping that. Morgan would be able to carry his staff and he was wearing his athame in its sheathe, which would provide them with some credibility.

There was nothing that could be reasonably done with the bodies that wouldn't take all day so they were left where they lay.

Seth took point as they left the new-made clearing. The small track that'd been there before the blast trailed into the forest to the north and south but Seth took them east a bit into the woods instead. East was also down hill. A deliberate choice made in hopes of finding some sort of water.

Seth set a hard pace through the woods. It wasn't deliberate. His thoughts were in an ever-tightening spiral. Part of him was keeping track of Morgan but he was largely gone for a long time. Trying not to let himself think about the eventualities Seth started going over their situation again and again in his head, like a mantra. Even as the words were passing through his fore brain again, Seth's consciousness suddenly seized on a tiny fact. Morgan couldn't feel pain. Seth stopped up short.

“What is it?” Morgan asked

Seth turned around. “Let me see your feet.”

“What?” Morgan lifted his left foot.

Seth drew in a gasp. “Gods I'm a fool...” Morgan's feet were a real mess. Without any ability to feel pain he'd been grinding his feet up without knowing it. “I better carry you.”

It took some rearranging but soon Morgan had his staff and Seth's blades strapped to his back and he was on Seth's back like he was Shiea playing horsey. This close Seth felt even less like talking and Morgan obliged with silence.

A long silence.

And then they arrived at a small creek. More a well established trickle, but it would do. Seth gently set Morgan down on a stump and then looked about the area.

“I don't suppose you're hungry?” Seth asked.

“No... not really.”

“Not good... By my guess you haven't eaten in almost two days. I'd say you're blocked there too.”

Morgan gulped, suddenly afraid of what else might be missing without him able to actually miss it.

“Don't move.” Seth said it altogether the way he might tell a puppy “stay” when he was fairly sure the puppy wouldn't.

Seth was most concerned with their resources. Between the two of them they were well armed but terribly short of everything else. Cloth was damn useful stuff and the only piece they had still serving its original purpose was Morgan's dressing shorts. Naked slaves were one thing but if they had any hope of credibility there was no way to touch that last piece of dignity. Seth would have too look elsewhere.

Scrounging around the immediate area, Seth finally found some tender moss that would serve as a sponge. He also came up with some edible tubers, fungi and even a few berries. Without hunger to motivate him, Seth didn't think Morgan would be ready to eat any bugs. Seth was far more practical, and had already munched down a few by the time he returned to Morgan, who had, surprisingly, stayed where he'd been put.

Seth rinsed off the fungi and tubers and then measured out a safe but small portion for Morgan. “Eat this. We'll have to watch exactly how much you eat until your sense of hunger, or at least pain, returns. You have to eat, but if you can't tell what you've eaten, you could rupture your stomach or something.”

Morgan took what Seth gave him and eyed it suspiciously.

Seth glowered at him. “Eat.”

Morgan took a tentative bite of a fungus. “Ugh, it doesn't taste like anything.”

“Count yourself lucky. It really tastes like moldy sawdust. And be careful of your tongue, you don't want to bite it.”

Morgan stopped chewing instantly and really thought about his mouth, then resumed chewing, very, very carefully.

Seth took the moss and gently rinsed it out, being careful to remove any of the rough or prickly parts. Then he soaked up as much clean water as he could and began to clean Morgan's feet.

“You probably shouldn't watch.” Seth said as he began to appreciate the damage. This immediately brought Morgan's attention to his feet. Seth just stared up at him until he went back to carefully eating.

It was a good thing he wasn't watching. Morgan had picked up several significant pieces of twig and whatnot in his short time on his feet. Seth had to coax and pull them from the tough flesh. He made sure to hunch over and block Morgan's view while he did it.

Once he'd finished with Morgan's feet he started to work his way up his legs. Trying to clean their scortched backsides without toppling Morgan off the stump. The feet had been really bad, but he was glad to see that the rest of Morgan's condition was more dirt than harm. There'd be risk of infection everywhere but if the last year had taught Seth anything it was that Morgan had a knack for bouncing back. The acids in the peat would help a little. He'd just have to find the makings of some sort of protective salve as soon as he could.

The protection only had to last long enough for Morgan to regain his powers.

Seth was part way up Morgan's second leg when Morgan said “Tell me about all that.” and touched him on the new markings.

“Not much to tell. It took a long time. It hurt.”

“No, really tell me, I need to know.”

“Let's see. It was the summer of my eighteenth year and Lady Korane summoned an artist to the keep where we were staying. I'd been preparing the inks for weeks when he'd arrived but I didn't know what they were. They spoke in private for a while and then I was summoned in and told to strip.

“You wouldn't know it to look at me today but I was growing up into one furry beast. The artist looked at me and the first thing he said was `all that hair will have to go.”' Seth looked up and shrugged. “I still didn't have any idea what was in store, but who was I to ask? He made some sketches and they talked while I stood there.”

“Anyhow Lady Korane saw to the hair several days later. The spell took exceedingly long, she burned out the hairs and the ability for them to grow back, leaving only the hair on top of my head and my eyebrows. Then the next day they started drawing on me and arguing. Then all sorts of other things started happening, real word distractions, and for several weeks I didn't see the artist.

“Finally, one day I was summoned, he shaved my head and got started.

“He went everywhere. They had to dose me and tie me down for some of it despite how hard I tried to sit still.” Seth lifted one arm. “Do you know how much it hurts to have your armpits, or the back of your knees tattooed. Don't even think about your fingertips and eyelids let alone...” Morgan looked at Seth's genitals and his eyes bugged out a bit. “I was dosed unconscious for the worst of it but it hurt for days.”

“He used the inks I'd made to make the drawings and designs in several layers. For weeks I'd go in for several hours a day. The rest of the day it seemed all I did was field questions and odd looks from everyone in the keep, none of which I could answer. I got no explanation. Not ever. But when he was done I was absolutely covered in ink, but most of it, like on my stomach and upper arms was just deep swirling clashes of color. Lady Korane called it all into these glyphs and script several days after the last of it had healed.

“I felt like...

“Anyway, about a year later I am in the Kett tribe-lands when most of it just fades away to how you've seen them. Nearly got me killed.” Then he grunted at the irony of his own statement.

Morgan carefully swallowed. “So you've had the same skill markings since you were eighteen?”

“No. Lady Korane brought some of them out later with spell work. The flames and animals are all original.”

When he finished working on Morgan's back Seth sat down and ate his share of what he'd collected. He wasn't hungry at all but he made himself eat anyway on the grounds that his lack of hunger was likely a lingering effect of the spell. When Morgan finished what he'd been given Seth felt and listened carefully to his stomach then made Morgan eat a small remainder portion he'd set aside.

Between the last few bites Morgan asked “Where do you think we are?”

Seth looked around, not that he really needed to at that point. “A mid-continental plane in some subtropical or arid region is all I've got. Sentient folk could be anything from human to dragon. Probably not actually reptile, or avian, and unless this is elfin land we are probably a good distance from anyone. The forest looks untouched.”

“So, essentially, we could be anywhere... remote anyway.”

“That's how I'd call it.”

Morgan thought, a feat that seemed to be getting easier, “What about the dirt tract?”

“Good point, not elves then, but not often used either. Probably a patrol road of some sort.”

Morgan was finished eating. “Best we get going again.”

Seth nodded his head in agreement and then helped Morgan re-sling their meager gear and climb onto his back.

This time he headed off down stream, walking in the tiny rill as often as beside it. This time Morgan did feel like talking and after considering his opening for a while he finally asked Seth why he'd tried to take his own life.

Seth didn't want to talk about it, but he did anyway. He needed to. This close, but unable to look Morgan in the eye, it was easier to do than he thought. He went through all the reasoning and a good bit of the feelings. All the while plodding along carefully and steadily.

When he finished Morgan said “Promise me you won't try that again.”

“What would be the point if I'm immortal.”


“All right, I promise.”

Morgan hesitated.

“You're not immortal.”

Seth stopped short as a wash of feelings came over him. Then he asked “how do you know?” and started walking again.

“Nothing is immortal. It's impossible. And in your case you aren't really even close. The spell you wear clearly kept body and spirit together, and even healed your wounds, but if it can ever do so again it won't until the marking fade. At the least it's recharging, or it could be spent all together. A one-shot.

“Even if it does recharge it's probably not close to certain. It must have some sort of spirit web to hold the soul in the body, like you're wrapped in a net. The spell is written in your skin and is complete only so long as you are. You were stuck like a pig, which really didn't damage the spell that much. Take off your head, or a limb, or cut you open, or burn you, or well, any number of other things and the spell will likely be too broken apart to work.

“It clearly gives, um gave, you an edge. Toughened and protected you, but it probably isn't doing anything right now but turning you colors.”

He grunted.

Then a while later he said “you tricked me.”


“To get my promise.”

“No, I didn't trick you, I... value... you.” A different word had almost snuck out. “As for your other thoughts. I will never deliver you to those people. Whatever else you are, you're my friend, and I'm not through with you.” And Morgan butted his head lightly against Seth's.

* * *

Much later Morgan could feel Seth starting to strain under his weight. He was ready to call a halt when Seth suddenly stopped. Morgan started to say something but Seth shushed him, his head swiveling alertly.

Seth started to shift Morgan down when there was a whooshing sound punctuated by a thunk, and Seth toppled. A whoosh took away Morgan's mind even before he had a chance to become pinned under Seth's bulk.