Having reached his peace, such as it was, Seth slunk off to find food. He'd been lurking after Morgan for hours. It was past dinner and the more custodial parts of his nature knew that just because Morgan could sustain himself through days of casting didn't mean he should. Seth decided to not just feed himself but to make sure Morgan ate as well.

It took forever. The initial adrenaline had worn off sometime that afternoon and by the time the evening meal had been laid it was clear that every single person working in town was no longer interested in anything but sleep.

Seth forced his way into the locked kitchens only to find them woefully depleted of anything cooked. Even the emergency-stew typically maintained by such outposts had been eaten away. The pantry finally gave up bread, cheese, some reasonable almost-jerked meat and light ale. Seth was mid-assembly on a couple of sandwiches when two thoughts wandering around in his head found each other. Morgan, the real Morgan, said they had to be at The Seed by Winterdark. Seth had lost track of the day but that couldn't be more than a month off, and they probably weren't even on the right continent.

Seth, ever practical, grabbed up the food and pointedly didn't run back to the tower proper.

* * *

Seth looked down at Morgan and as soon as he finished writing he said “Hey, you're out. Come eat.”

Morgan obediently put down his pen and got up to follow him. Seth picked a less occupied corner of the commons and set out the food.

“Why do we have to be at The Seed by Winterdark?”

Sandwich halfway to his mouth, Morgan stopped and looked puzzled. “What?”

“Yesterday at the wreck, you said we had to be get to The Seed by Winterdark. Why?”

Morgan took a bite. “I don't remember.”

“Which? Saying it? or why?” Seth realized he wasn't talking to all of Morgan, he was back to his less-than complete self.

Munching, having found his hunger, Morgan mumbled “I guess I said it, but I have no idea why. People aren't usually even allowed near The Seed, let alone at Winterdark. That's kind of access is too valuable. There are some magics that can only be performed there and then. The keepers wouldn't let us in.”

“Uh ha,” Seth grunted, “so we don't need to go there?”

“I don't think so.”

They ate for a while but Seth wasn't convinced at all. Morgan was less himself than he'd been before the wreck. His complete lack of curiosity and concern was totally out of character. Morgan was shoveling in the food and Seth finally stopped him.

“That's enough, you'll make yourself sick. Go get some sleep.”

Morgan was again obedient, which Seth marked down as “not good.”

It was late enough that Raiolal and Carteher were either having a cup, or had already hit the sack. Seth hoped for the former, this being the first real opportunity for Raiolal to indulge in a while. So he set out to find the closest thing to a pub available in the small outpost. There were several more choices than usual with the caravans huddling in the town in near-post-shock.

His luck was in and Seth found them in a the third well-lit and boisterous tent he checked. Raiolal was pretty deep in his cups but Carteher was just hanging about, waiting to haul him back to their quarters. Seth looked into Raiolal's eyes and they were vacant. Raiolal was a quiet and steady drunk and so Seth had no trouble getting Carteher to leave him for a bit.

“He's pretty far gone,” Seth said, nodding back toward Raiolal, “he get like that a lot?”

Carteher did the head-bob that was like a shrug. “Memory was hard on him tonight. It is rare but I have seen him worse. It is not often though. No more than once a month perhaps.”

“Oh.” Seth shrugged it off for later thought. “Something is wrong... no maybe `odd' with Morgan. Just after the wreck he told me we had to be at The Seed by Winterdark. Now he doesn't remember.”

“Are you bothered that he said it, or that he has no memory?”

“I would bet that we do have to be there, he was more himself then than now.”

“So it is a question of memory.”

“That, and getting there. I don't think we have a month left to make the trip and my guess is we are at least two continents out from the hub. There's no way to get there in time without magic.”

“So we need Morgan back to himself and at strength in short order. We need to speak to the lady Cyreste in the morning.”

Seth grimaced, “I don't think `we' should, I make her decidedly uncomfortable and I get the feeling she is less than honest when I'm around.”

“Perhaps then it would be wise that I don't name the concern as coming come from you. Raiolal will be himself in the morning and seems a fair judge of your people. In the morning you should probably start to see to our traveling needs while these traders are available.”

* * *

In his dreams Seth floated in the mist. There was nothing around him and no ground beneath him. The mist was thickening in his lungs and throat as if air and water were trying to become something else. The moisture in the air became tiny daggers of ice and the air began draining away into the void while darkness swallowed him. And he suddenly knew that everyone was dying. Out there, silently, every living thing was going away. Leaving him in a frozen emptiness, alone. He was falling forever deeper into the dead, endless emptiness.

Something brushed Seth's shoulder and he was shocked awake.

A house-fly buzzed lazily away from him. Seth tried to shake off the nightmare, but he still felt the endless void lurking just behind everything. Morgan had come and gone in the night without waking him. He could still smell him in the bedding. It was the only comforting thing Seth could find to hold onto. He let himself drift, imagining Morgan still snuggled in his arms, and after a while the sense of void and alien strangeness faded.

Taking a long last deep breath, pulling in the scent the way other men might take a hard pull from a bottle before setting it aside, Seth forced himself from bed.

It was still early, but not as early as he usually woke, and this morning he felt something he'd never really felt before. Old. It was as if the night had stolen something from him. He stretched and felt about himself and he was in perfect working order. No popping back, no crackling in the knees. His brief stint with death and rebirth not six months gone meant he'd been regenerated to a perfect, unnatural physical health. Still, despite his body's pliant response, somewhere in his essence he felt like a century had drained him of vitality. To his mind's ear his body was worn and hollow.

Unwilling to trade Morgan's warm musk for a tepid splash of water Seth just dressed and headed outside.

The clean air and tropical morning sun helped a bit, warming joints that were in no need of it, and generally rekindling the vitality Seth didn't feel.

Seth wasn't alone in his torpor. Everybody he saw was hang-dog and lack-luster, like the entire town had had a bad night and was hung over. Even the caravan guard dogs were restive and had their tails down, when they even bothered to stir from under cart or awning.

The very wrongness of things was briefly invigorating to Seth, and his eyes began to search hungrily for each new sign of malaise. Slowly Seth felt himself drifting into a pre-combat awareness. There would be bickering, strife and fist-fights before the day was out. He just knew it.

As much as he tried to focus on what they would need for travel, he kept finding himself thinking of his armor, the thin, shaped wyrsa hides that were the equal of steel and had seen him through so much. When he wasn't, shame that it was to admit, pining for his armor he was thinking of Morgan's aotahe and any number of other items that were, despite their need for them here, sitting unused at home.

It was several cycles through his head before he Seth realized that what he was trying to tell himself was that they needed to get back home. Once the thought formed fully, he was sure he was right. Morgan had twice previously found means to transport them back to the school. They'd been away for a long time and a nagging certainty said they needed to get back there and regroup.

Seth forgot his current errand, and turned to find his companions, he needed go get Carteher and Raiolal to find out how soon Morgan could be brought back to full.

Seth found them in their room. Raiolal was awake but slightly hung over, and Carteher, un-insulated in his sobriety for the ubiquitous troubled night, had only just managed to fall deeply asleep. Seth now got to go over with Raiolal everything he'd said with Carteher the night before. Raiolal's opinions on what should be done were a touch more cantankerous than Carteher's had been. And Seth decided Raiolal wasn't altogether wrong in his aggression when he told him there was only about two weeks to Winterdark.

In fairly short order Raiolal gathered himself together and stomped out looking for Cyreste, Seth trailing after him trying to get him toned down a bit. Raiolal was completely oblivious to the agitated state of everyone around, himself included, and by the time they reached the tower he was locked in a steadily rising meantal rant. He seemed ready to beat a confession out of Cyreste the moment he laid eyes on her.

Seth finally just shoved Raiolal up against the wall, grabbed two fist-fulls of his shirt, and pinned him there. A corner of his mind said `This is not right' but he did it anyway.

“You can't go charging in there like this. You're not thinking and you're not listening. She has some sort of keth on Morgan and that gives her leverage. These people don't take directions from your kind. You have to be politic.”

Raiolal was agog. “My kind? What do you know of `my kind'? You're just a ...” He stopped himself short, the single word `slave' unspoken. For perhaps the first time since they'd met, Raiolal was really aware of just how much bigger than he, and how much more dangerous, Seth actually was. He'd stopped because every nuance of body language and bit of nonverbal savvy he possessed was screaming danger. Seth might as well be carrying a sign: `Say that word, that way, and I will break you open, little man, and eat what parts I chose.'

In some ways what was scarier was the real impulse that filled Raiolal, the desire to scream `take your best shot, we'll see who eats who.' But whatever the animal in his head had going for it, the survival instinct is hard to overrule and everything he was knew, with the certainty of the hare before the hounds, that Seth could take him.

In that frozen moment of that pointless and inexplicable exchange they both waited to see whether it would be blood or reason that would win out.

Then they were both shivering from some combination of adrenaline and the general queerness of the scene. Were it measured, Raiolal fell out first, but only by an eye-blink. Seth let go and backed off while Raiolal started huffing like he'd run a foot-race.

Raiolal took a second to find some composure then barked “What hell is this?”

“That is what I have been trying to tell you.” Seth was panting too “There is something wrong with everybody. Everybody. We have to act... have to handle... everyone with extraordinary care.”

“Nobody else is at each other's throats.”

“Maybe not yet... But it is coming.”

“Well what the hell were you thinking, pushing me up on the wall like that.” It sounded like fighting words again to Seth, but he did everything he could to take it as a real question.

“I was trying to tell you to calm down. Then it occurred to me that you were going to bone everything up and Morgan was at that woman's mercy. So I had to...” Seth paused for a moment and then muttered “now I'm doing it again.” and he started looking for the reservoir of calm he'd used to suppress Morgan's contagious madness just the week before.

Raiolal made it from “who do you think you are?” to “I could have you put down for laying hands on me.” inside his own head in just that flick of time but fortunately he hadn't been talking so his more rational mind squeezed the thought off with no harm done.

They were both marshaling their feelings by force of will when some random person came tromping through the entrance hallway like he owned the place. They both had the same thought and saw it pass on the others face. In a shared grimace that said “that would be very wrong” they re-found some common thread between them and that broke the tension.

“Mist madness.” Raiolal whispered.


“Ambassador four-feet.” Raiolal said, flipping his thumb back at the door. “He calls this `mist madness' but it's never been this bad before.”

“You've felt this before?”

“Yes, no... not this exactly... we both need a drink though. It'll help.”

Raiolal had a talent for finding strong drink, even at such an early morning hour, and once they'd each fought down several Seth realized that it did help, rather a lot. He never drank, so despite his size even a small amount hit him fairly hard, and in this case that was a good thing. He'd nearly gone for Raiolal several more times. They didn't get drunk, but with a light head full of liquor the itch that had been driving them to violence faded, and they could recognize it now by its absence.

Seth half snickered “Ambassador four-feet?” Maybe he was a little drunk.

Raiolal made a grunt of ascent. “He's really pretty smart, and something of a poet and such. We've talked about the mist. A lot. He says we lost our minds in there, er no, not quite that.” Then he did a fairly good impression of Carteher “When we went to sleep, we set our minds aside. The mind, the sense of self, is what holds back the mist and we let it come in to us and do its will. Make us go a-wilding inside ourselves.”

Seth replayed in his head several of the things Morgan had said about wildings and found an odd word. “You're saying it `softened' us like it did to the rocks and the ground?”

“That might be the right word. Whatever else it did, it let the monsters out of us a little. The only thing I remember about my time in that gray emptiness was feeling like a wild animal. That's the nightmare that comes back to me again and again.”

Seth gazed into his cup. “Nightmares. I have all sorts of those. Always have. Last night I dreamed about the mist too. That was new.”

Raiolal looked up at him and caught his eye. “You said Morgan said `everything is falling apart' right? What if he meant it literally?”

Seth looked back at him, not really getting his point. “Literally how?”

“If I said `everything is going to hell' you'd think I meant `in my life things are getting all confused and unpleasant.' People exaggerate all the time. But what if Morgan was being literal. What if literally everything is falling apart? That storm thing, it was everywhere. We've been in the mist, in the middle of a wilding. We're maybe sensitive to it so maybe it's getting to us first but soon it'll be getting to everybody everywhere.”

“That's just paranoid.” Seth said. But part of him was thinking about the book again. He considered it in it's entirety, perhaps really for the first time ever. Raiolal didn't even know about the book. There was, in as much as Seth understood what he'd read in there, the actual key to everything written out longhand, so Raiolal could be right. Morgan said they needed to get to The Seed. The one thing, the one place in the entire realm, that was not part of `creation'. This was not good at all.

“You know how you were ready to beat a few answers out of the old woman?”

Raiolal grunted “yea.”

“You might not have been wrong.”

* * *

With just enough alcohol in them to prevent any accidents and not enough to cause any, they both tracked Cyreste down. She was cantankerous and more belligerent than usual but they did manage to get her to come clean without falling so low as to rough-up an old woman.

Yes, she had strengthened her hold on Morgan when he started to come to himself “too fast for his own good.”

Yes, if she released him he'd probably be five-eighths himself or better but no, not his whole healthy self.

And No, she would not release him.

They hustled her out into the tower courtyard and sat her down.

“What,” Raiolal said, pointing to a random man, “is that man feeling.”

“That's Joanus Breedwater, a normally wholesome and nice person who I know quite well, and his feelings are none of your business.” Cyreste said petulantly.

“I am not interested in who he normally is or, for that matter, his privacy. You don't have to tell me what you find, but you must look. We will sit you here until you do what we say.”

Instead of doing as she was told, Cyreste scanned him and was shocked to find the animal rumblings within him, even blunted by the alcohol. She reached out to a tower guard to summon help but recoiled when she touched the tattering edge of a muted animal there too. A quick check showed that even the suppressed assistants were fuming inside. She even did check Joanus just to be thorough.

“What is happening?” she asked.

“We don't really know. Morgan might. We need him back fast.”

“I can't give you all of him back, he's not fully healed, but I'll do what I can.”

* * *

There was nothing to see and nothing to do. They found Morgan and one second he was sitting there happy as a clam and the next he came over all brooding and puzzled. It was like dropping a rock into a well. Cyreste opened his mind a crack and tossed in the key-phrase and a good eight-tenths of Morgan just splashed back up out of the depths.

Morgan looked up at Seth, “Hey, Horsey, what's going on?”

`Horsey?' Seth didn't ask, as he could imagine... Instead he launched into an explanation of what they knew and suspected.

At one point Cyreste, who was watching and listening to everything, whispered to Raiolal “It seems that anger is not the only animalistic element that is being dredged up in people.”

“No kidding, that boy's in heat.”

It wasn't much of an overstatement. Seth heard them, and for just a second he wasn't sure which of them they were discussing. Morgan most likely, he was much worse off. Without even noticing it was happening, they'd moved steadily into a rather intimate mode, getting closer talking softer, locking onto one another's eyes. Seth had no idea how he'd managed to stay on topic. With the thought, for just one second, he wondered if maybe he had gone off topic until he stopped to review his last few sentences.

Still in safe territory... but he needed to get away from Morgan soon. Still there was the pressing issue.

“You told me `we have to get to The Seed by Winterdark', do you remember saying that?”

The question snuffed out Morgan's aura of lust and replaced it with a mossy curtain of dark concern. Where everybody was feeling a little charged, and Seth, Raiolal, and probably Carteher were looming at the edge, Morgan was a radiant beacon of unsettled thought and vibrant emotion. Perhaps it was his still-damaged personality, maybe he'd gotten a bigger dose of things way back when in the mist. Whatever the cause, even Seth could read the thoughts and feeling chasing their way across Morgan's affect. Morgan didn't remember saying it, but hearing said aloud he believed it was imperative they go.

A shadow passed in front of Seth's eyes. Raiolal had stepped between him and Morgan. Seth felt the blossom of anger welling up in him, and realized it was fueled by resentment that Raiolal was interrupting the rise of a violent lust to beat down and rape Morgan. Realization and understanding dawned and he mumbled “I have to go” as he bolted from the room.

“What was that?” Cyreste asked.

“I can only guess.” Raiolal responded. “He's really tuned to Morgan.”

“You,” she turned to Morgan, “are leaking like a sieve. You need to do this.” Cyreste pushed a wad of knowledge at Morgan, a composite of light mind work to use on himself, and a self-perpetuating state of light detachment. “It's an insulating pattern for doing redaction. It'll help you function without broadcasting.”

Morgan accepted the knowing and felt an immediate relief when he activated it though, before doing so, he would have denied suffering any effect.

“What the...?” he muttered.

Raiolal and Cyreste explained all their reasoning and suppositions. Raiolal being wise to the secrecy of the Talented judiciously left out the parts dealing with their previous exposure to the mist. The conversation was a little short. For his own part Morgan sidestepped every question about exactly why they needed to get to The Seed and exactly who constituted “they.”

Cyreste was no fool, she soon excused herself to go see to her larger pool of charges. Namely the whole town needed to be scanned for people ready to explode. That she was unlikely to find any cases as advanced as their small party was not made clear to her.

When she finally left, Raiolal begged for a little of the relief Morgan had found for himself. He wasn't generally the kind of person to ask to be ensorceled but even in a room with two artificially insulated people he was itching to smack someone moment to moment. Raiolal had to divest himself of the whole mist theory by way explaining why he, and probably Carteher and Seth were suffering the most.

The ideas folded together well enough and Morgan, not one to waste prior art, tried using the dimensional knot he'd used on him before in the mist.

Raiolal sighed immediate relief.

It took no time to find Carteher, still asleep, and the knot trick worked instantly, visibly banishing some ongoing nightmare.

Seth, on the other had proved impossible to find.

* * *

Seth was stalking them. Hunting them. But only sort of. And you can't “find” someone who is hunting you... if they are good.

Possessiveness. Protectiveness. Lust. Jealousy. Confusion. Anger. Dozens of emotions really, strobed through him punctuated with and delineated by moments of fear of introspection, and a certain knowledge that he was completely out of control. Whatever was possessing him, he could feel it tearing at his insides and that threatened to reopen all sorts of mental scar tissue.

Soon things were snowballing, as if they weren't already. Brief flashes of bright murderous rage were flickering to life between the other feelings. The last meaningful thought he possessed was to wonder at how fast everything was building within him. The less rational mind whispered that everything had started going sour when Morgan had come into his life. That wasn't true or fair, but the less rational mind doesn't bother with true or fair.

He wasn't even aware of drawing his blades.

* * *

Morgan had been casting about for Seth for several minutes. He'd discovered that the link to Seth was gone from him again, and the place where it lived had been burned away, perhaps irrevocably. Somewhat free of the capacity to regret or rebuke, those parts still lost somewhere inside him, he was free to consider what to do next without getting entangled in the greater imports. He just started looking for an empty place, a operant dead zone. While he was spiraling outward astrally he left behind a set of spacial knots. Invisibly radiant pools of sanity spaced like streetlights throughout the growing emotional night.

It was perhaps a lucky thing that Morgan didn't spot Seth coming for him until the door to the room slammed open.

One might guess Seth's rage had been blunted a bit by the calming radiance. Or perhaps Morgan's emotionally unencumbered state gave him clarity of thought. Or maybe some corner of Seth made him pause for a heartbeat. Perhaps the darkest paranoid part of Morgan, the part that each mage learned to foster in his soul if he wanted to survive dealing with his peers, had previously considered how to deal with the possibility that Seth would one day turn against him. The whole truth was that all of these had their parts in the outcome.

Morgan didn't shield himself, nor did he reach for or strike Seth with his power.

His talent snatched the chipped enamel washbasin off the chest of drawers and propelled it at Seth from behind. That alone Seth would have probably sensed and dodged but Morgan had it wrapped it in a cocoon of air that moved with it. It didn't whistle, sing, or flutter through through space since it was paced exactly with the flow. It was silent until the last instant when at once the protective case of air lost its shape and the hard crack against the back of Seth's skull made it ring like a poorly cast bell.

Swords drawn back for the kill, Seth fell on Morgan like a sack of potatoes dropped by a longshoreman.

* * *

When Seth woke he was completely immobilized. He was wrapped in a heavy blanket that had been bound rigid and tight against him with magic. About his neck he could feel the intimate, nauseating snuggle of a pliant sorcerous collar. Memory returned with jolt His eyes burned with tears and he began to weep. He'd ruined everything at the least, and he wasn't sure but he'd probably killed Morgan. He just couldn't remember for sure.

The desire to just die rose like bile within him, but was cut short by the rise of actual bile and a throbbing, blinding pain from the tiny accidental movement of his head.

He started to sputter and choke on his own vomit when, like a miracle Morgan was there helping him. That's all that happened for a while. He was crying, and shivering, and heaving his empty gut. All the while Morgan was there and eventually he actually heard the reassuring tone, and then the comforting words started to come through too.

Finally there was a moment when Morgan was looking him in the face and asking him if he were all right and somehow he managed to get it out that he was without falling back into paroxysms of bile. More miraculous Morgan crawled into the bed with him, wrapped his arms around him, and whispered “thank the gods, I thought I'd lost you.” as the bindings on the blankets slacked from imprisonment to protectiveness.