Morgan was raging, impotent, and used.

Then Seth laid his hand against the figure and it felt as if Seth's calloused fingers were caressing the bare nerves of his spine. With that touch Morgan found a single strand of sense briefly freed to explore and he cried a wordless “yes!” in the deeper reaches of his mind.

Then there was a punishing blow striking down on the arc of will pinning Morgan under Calhwin's control. Calhwin reeled under the blow and Morgan probably should have died. But punishment had become his middle name in the last year and the violent rush of sensation echoed in his mind harmlessly. So many things of late had been so much worse. What is a slap in the face compared to being cut? What is a stinging insult to one who has hosted within his flesh, a certain leafy monstrosity with delicate purple flowers?

With only the first chips taken out of Calhwin's control Morgan was reaching out to sense the damage he'd done to the realm.

Calhwin was too far embroiled in a different struggle to do anything about Morgan's questing. The cocoon of inner fragments of the realm had begun to shift and suffocate him seemingly ages ago. Calhwin had already slipped down the hierarchy of needs several steps. He'd stopped trying to change the way of things to his liking and was actively struggling to save his skin.

Halfway free of his enthrallment Morgan bellowed aloud “How fast can you read mage? If you don't find an answer soon...” The threat was implicit and didn't need to be elaborated.

As his bondage faded further Morgan realized that he had to maintain the things Calhwin had forced upon him. If he let go of the inner structures of the realm they'd furl out and break when they snapped taught. If he released the hold and let the Long Night end before repairs were made then the great buffering effect of the Draw would not be there to absorb the leftovers of what had to be done.

Three quarters free and with Calhwin concentrating elsewhere, Morgan leapt at the pedestal that held the Coda Prima and tried to make a connection with the thing. The answer could be as simple as diverting all the energy that was currently doing harm directly into the core structure of the codex.

He dropped a feeder into the core spell and then began strip-mining Calhwin of his knowledge. Morgan had been a party to his little experiments with creation, he had a good idea of what Calhwin had gotten from the book. He needed it all. So without interfering with the part of the man that was still caught up in the final genufashea, he consumed what the other man already knew.

“Read faster mage!”

Feeling his way into the core codex Morgan's mind was filled with something oddly familiar. This thing was like the greater unbindings. No it was like a mirror image reversal of the greater unbindings. An unspecific glomming together of unspecified things on a scale not to be believed.

There was a solution. A greater unbinding that was still lesser than the prime codex. Of course all twelve of the nullifications, the lesser and greater unbindings, were far less than the codex. The choice of which to use was somewhat obvious but too fearful a thing to be considered lightly.

The greatest was the Absolute Dissolution where the casting Talent was unmade so completely that living memory was affected. No living being would remember that the person existed because their essential soul was lifted from the timeline, every timeline, every lifetime, and obliterated. Two down from that was the Soul Reaving. The body would be cast to chaos and heat and the soul would be shredded and the little bits tossed back to wherever souls came from.

Of course Morgan would have to build the thing so that Calhwin would be included in its wrath. Morgan hadn't come here just to suicide. The unstoppable force of the unbinding would grind Calhwin and his hubris from the structure of the realm. Everything that Morgan would suffer Calhwin would suffer first. Then he'd have to hold the unbinding at bay long enough to repair what he could. There was no going back, no dispelling of the thing. When his strength finally failed it would come to term, payable in full, and consume him.

There was no other choice. Calhwin had snarled everything nearly beyond recognition and was probably unwilling make the sacrifices necessary to extract himself. But even if he were willing he was full of most-dangerous knowledge that he was sure to use again. He had to be destroyed. The effort it would take to remove him intact, hold him harmless, repair the damage, and then deal finally with him was simply too much. Morgan figured the best he could do was a passable patch job and only if he didn't have a living Calhwin to deal with.

Morgan was working up his resolve when something impinged on his awareness.

The keth was finally and completely gone and Seth's hurt and need was extreme. The instant he opened himself to his friend and love, all his doubts were banished. For perhaps no other reason than that there needed to be a realm so that Seth could live, Morgan committed himself to what he knew to be necessary.

He really didn't have anything to spare but he couldn't leave his love to suffer. After all, if you are going to jump into torrent, and you know you are going to drown before you reach the other side, what difference if you drown two hundred feet from shore instead of twenty. He diverted just enough of himself to cast out a protective bubble, do some repair, and some healing, and then say his goodbye.

As he reached to pinch off the link he found he couldn't close it at all. That was perhaps selfishness masquerading as technical difficulties, but what matter. As long as none of the unbinding went down the link things would be fine. When there was nothing left of Morgan to be linked too, Seth would be free.

“This, my soul,” Morgan began the unbinding. “must be no more...”

He didn't pay much attention to the words and idea pictures after that. No point really. The words were set dressing. The exact stricture had been scored into his brain years ago as part of his training. It would play itself out flawlessly. Once begun it was a feat accomplished. His real effort was to take the hair-fine strand of obliteration he was spinning and push it away from himself so that it spun out as a spider spins out silk. He also opened the rest of himself to the simple task of adding strength to the prime codex.

Then a knowing came upon him.

“What did you do, you...” invective failed him.

Calhwin, some last extra bit of his mind freed from having to hold his artificial keth on Morgan, had finally understood that he was trapped inextricably. That newly available part of himself had thrown a withering dissolution at the strands to melt them away. Pure insanity! Those strands were key bits of the realm in every real sense.

A universal wilding rushed out through the fabric of created space.

Morgan called on a reserve he didn't know he possessed and launched himself down an atypical axis of time to give himself some extra subjective chance to study and deal with the next few critical minutes.

* * *

With part of his essential effort already committed to the unbinding, which was gathering up in real time, and the rest of him trying to reach an axis of exotic time he felt like gum stretched between hot pavement and boot-heel. There was a flossy spinning-out of essence that didn't feel right at all.

“Shame” he thought “to have come so close just to lose everything for everyone.”

The thought had a disquieting duality, as if there was another him thinking the same thought just slightly out of phase.

His mind caught at that and instantly he was another person. Still himself, but a very different self. He discarded and pushed away that other self instinctively then turned to look at it, still amazed that the titanic forces within him were still stretching him but hadn't quite broken him into pieces yet.

That self examination of this completely other self set alight within his mind a kind of shift of perspective. For a few dizzying moments his under-mind struggled to translate his circumstances into a set of symbols his consciousness could cope with. For one frighteningly trite instant the whole of creation and the people in it were like pieces on a game board. The symbolism was, thank the gods, woefully inadequate and it was discarded as useless. There was a quick rotation through the ideogram representation of destiny as a woven tapestry, which was also accessible but insufficient. The tapestry changed to something that didn't have a name but was like the cut face of a vast severed cable or rope.

He was standing on it, like a carpet of unknowable thickness, and by exerting the slightest of efforts he could chose a strand and follow it down fairly deep into the tangled mat. The current weave, the face, was the present, the very instant of time in which he existed, and each strand was the past of a thing, sentient, animal, or idea. Above and behind him, where he dare not turn to look, he could feel a great burning presence. A terrible baleful eye.

The well of souls, his mind whispered. The wellspring of time. The immutable future. Those things too terrible for the mortal mind to look upon and remain existent. The sun that hangs daunting and impassive in the sky above the lands where gods dwell. Only the primal instinct for survival was capable of dredging up such a fearful idea from the depths of his most primitive mind. A blind spot. A place where you must not see regardless of where ever you look.

And with those eyes Morgan looked again at the thing beneath him.

There was his own strand of continuity.

He touched it and the mass of the rope shifted to bring that whole strand to the edge of the rope so that he could look down along its path. Nothing changed about the strand nor the topology of the past, his perceptions in this place were simply and infinitely flexible so that to look upon the strand was to perceive it whole and without obstruction. It made him feel a god.

But his mind nudged him, `no god, you, there is this place you cannot look'.

And another part nudged, `no time to idle, look on down here where it matters'.

And he saw many things.

There were other ropes here. Great cables that dwarfed the one he stood simultaneously on and before. Organic realities of limitless space too numerous to count. And near each like pilings near a dock, the resting places of souls for those realities. Afterlives peopled with the beings of faith who's threads sometimes dipped again and again into their realities or parted with them forever or roved from cable to cable. Each of these faces was lit by that same terrible sun he could not let himself turn and see.

And his inner voice spoke again `just so, but still no time. Look to what you hold. See yourself.'

When he really looked he saw that the solid strand of his essence was not solid. To look at it end-on it was crinolined and folded and interwoven with fragments of ideas and experiences. It was a tiny cable with its own twistings and structure. When he let himself view it another way the long strand was a single tuft of tangled thread that looked like a sand painting floating above a fire. Still another way and he could feel the tensile binding of each event that had ever touched him binding his strand to its peers. The cascade of causality that had been his life.

Then he knew fear.

This thing he held was himself but it wasn't the life he'd lived. The events of this life were richly woven into the world but in a gentler weave then he remembered. The things he knew from his past were not here. He was, in some unexplainable way, not the person he thought and remembered himself to be.

For a flash he lost himself there in those last moments of this thread.

He was a Dur'eldat, a combat mage and leader of mundane fighters. His natural gifts for enchantment and high energy workings made him invaluable in the pursuit of the highly dangerous creatures from the margins. He'd gone off to quest on the margins, which had become his deepest passion since he'd broken up with Tor after nine years of happiness together. He'd been the fastest mage to work his way through the curriculum at Queens College in generations. He'd been a bold lad when he reached the school and had immediately acted on his attraction to the master carpenter. He'd awoken to his talent late in life while fighting to save his father and younger brother's lives after several creatures broke loose from a sealed shaft that had been deliberately wilded to refresh the mine.

Morgan pulled back a bit, feeling the other lifetime struggling to drain away his potency and resolve.

He tasted the strand again, just at the tip, and found his own self nearly dead, caught in a crushing gravity well within a wilding. That self was reaching to the long, atypical time dimensions in a desperate attempt to save his men.

This couldn't be right.

Morgan, now perhaps one-tenth this other self, sought out two other threads, Seth and Calhwin.

Calhwin was easy to find. His thread was bonded to and wrapped by Rienaegh, who still lived. She had convinced Calhwin that it was necessary to “fix” the Tenets of Rule and her blood mage with a small army of drones was helping him to make the changes she desired. He'd been unable to see that she wanted to gain several forms of proscribed control. She had dreams of empire and having her ability to control others amplified to ensnare a kingdom. It was revolting to touch the contaminated ocher continuance of her essence.

Seth's own thread had him dying in the collapse of an alchemical apparatus at the school. In his past he seemed to have been ordered to transcribe several sections of text for the school which had in turn allowed the school to breach the books more progressively over the course of the last year.

Looking back, Calhwin had been the person to open the last book. He'd done it several months ago and used his influence at the School of Disciplines to keep everybody else from finding out what the book contained. His better-studied but more influenced self had made a different number and type of mistakes. What was killing the realm in this history had to do with his attempt to make the realm a proper planetary sphere. A sphere of rock that had enough surface area to hold the ream had far too high a gravity for the beings on it to survive. There was also not enough energy available to create a proper stellar body. The realm would crush the life out of itself and then freeze in an absolutely empty spatial void.

Checking back on Seth's thread. After the sections were transcribed he'd been reduced to a drudge in the workrooms of the school. The building gravity had ruptured great vats of chemicals and the resultant toxic inferno was killing Seth and several other slaves he was trying to save.

Morgan wasn't sure what to do or what was happening. This wasn't what happened at all. This was the life he'd been destined for, the life he'd apparently lived according to his current perspective, but it was irreconcilable to his memories. He kept looking, a feeling of urgency upon him, because some self of his somewhere had started an unbinding and it was still building.

He stood back and pondered for a moment he could ill afford, and realized that there was something wrong with the way Calhwin's thread lay in the matrix. He also realized just how real his own alternate history, the new `real' one, the original one, the destined one, was starting to become to him. He had to move quickly in this non-time.

Looking close at the anomaly Morgan suddenly felt that he were falling. Then he had an intimate view of how Calhwin's interaction with prime codex had liberated him from the strict perspective of four-space conceptions about time and causality. To create, apparently, you may not participate in the creation. Or something like that anyway. It was an inspirational insight that he didn't have time to formalize.

He looked back at himself and saw that in trying to hold a rather large piece of the wilding away from his men he had somehow tapped into the codex. In desperation he'd been pleading with an ill-conceived perception of fate. Begging to be someone who could actually do something about the disaster around him.

In a very real way he'd created the possibility of an alternate self. The self he, standing here outside the simple ordered reality, remembered being. In the fabric of destiny the person he now only half remembered being had never existed. But the person he was, whoever that was, was not afraid of risk. He simply had to act before the golden moment of alternatives passed.

And then he understood. From where he stood now the past was a plastic thing. He heard the whisper of god-hood in his ears again. This past he looked upon, this `real history', was only as real as it was allowed to be. It could be rearranged. Prodded upon and stirred. No simple task but achievable. It would be like trying to sort a sock drawer using a five foot pole but he was warranted some success. He remembered a better but far harsher lifetime that could, no must, exist.

“We can be that other person”, he shouted at himself, “but you must cease what you do for the men around you and heave like so!”

“I would be mad to tamper with myself.” He thought. But he was dead here in this wilding and his men dead with him, so he yielded to the insane impulse within his mind and spoke a greater unbinding. One that would simply peel him from creation as if he'd never been born.

Then he was himself and yet his other self in fullness and in parallel.

“Who are we?”

“We are this” he said, thinking of the strand that was even now diminishing as it burned itself free of the pattern of creation. “We must become one, and with our combined power staple this wild strand of self into there at some key points, to make a different life have happened.”

The other self saw the new pattern and understood that it was no sure thing. “We do not survive?”

“No, see our new path.” Morgan shared his memories with his own alien self. “We are unbound there too, but not before we can act to save what can be saved.”

And his destined self saw.

As the strand of himself wriggled free under the complete unbinding Morgan affixed several points that were most needed. He also tied himself about the odd stranger Seth for reasons he understood less and less as each moment passed, and of whom he had now only passing memories. It just seemed the thing to do. Then with the combined strength of himself, his other self, and what reserve they might possess, they heaved on the line.

There was the ratcheting pop wholly like what happens when a garment begins tearing at the seams.

With each pop a bit of one of his selves began to disappear event by event. Nine happy years content with Tor as a mate... gone. The camaraderie of his command... gone. Each thing lost and then forgotten without even the memory of loss to mourn over. And for each pop Morgan found himself endowed with strength. There were no half-measures here. Like Malhablamorung there was no means to express an incomplete thought, each tiny change minted a new past that was complete and lasting and eternal, at least until the next incrementally different eternal past muscled it out of existence. Eventually he had pulled so hard that the entire second unbinding was gone because the person who had cast it had never really been. The real past was gone and in its place the other newly real past took its place. A past where he used himself without mercy or chance of respite to become something that could actually stand against the chaos that was eating everything.

The essence of destiny had just been foiled but another unbinding was still building and catastrophe of two sorts needed to be unmade. The destined disaster needed to be redressed, and then the alternate version that was like the first but separate had to be worked through. For those things he needed Seth.

Morgan touched the other man's thread and realized that it was a thicker and finer thing than his own. Maybe he'd damaged himself in the remaking, but no, Seth seemed thicker and finer than any other thread he could see. Then again he loved the man so maybe it was just his imagination.

Morgan tugged but Seth's thread was immovable.

Then he realized that he couldn't just move someone else like that. Still, having moved his own past he'd clearly shifted other people around. He had to have, otherwise was paradox.

It took him a moment of figuring but he realized that he could only manipulate this thing of fate using his own self as the tool. He could push things around but only so far as he was worth. To act was to exercise prerogative.

The prerogative of self determination.

Morgan wrapped himself, his soul strand, about Seth in various places and pulled and tugged until the pattern was good enough to be what it needed to be. He recognized some of the kinks he'd made, metaphorical hand holds on his own past, as some of the greatest mistakes of his life. He'd paid long and hard to do this revisionist bit of historical work. One particularly large slack space was his inability to enchant his book. Another had made him too shy to act on his desires for decades, his desire for Tor, his repressed longings and needs for any number of things.

It was almost laughable, he was his own enemy and manipulator.

He wondered if that were some eternal truth that had jumped up to taunt him during his work.

As he was putting the final touches on his revisions he was suffused by insight. This is the way and context that makes some magic move backwards through time. So why wasn't this conceptual place full of beings busily tweaking the past?

He didn't get the chance to work that out because he discovered he was somehow tangled in his perceptions of his self. He fought for a bit to get himself free, but to no avail. Then he just tugged himself a lot until something gave. He had the sickening knowledge that some of the slack came from the future like something had pulled loose there as well. That didn't sound too healthy.

Then again his future wasn't going to be that long so what harm could it have done?

He'd made a mess though.

Apparently it wasn't possible to make one's past perfect. However it was, happily, the way he remembered it. No perhaps happily was a wrong word.

In a final attempt to nudge a last little thing Morgan gripped his own strand along with Seth's and for an instant too short to be measured or even fully comprehended he felt like he were being crushed and trampled and stretched again. And the past was again the way he remembered it, but maybe not the way he'd remembered it a moment ago.

It was getting late and he realized how much incredible knowledge he'd gained just struggling with this mess of history and probabilities. It was time to go back and finish everything.

* * *

And then he was falling. Falling back into his little brain which seemed an awfully tight fit just now. Things and ideas and memories of alternate pasts, that feeling of god-hood or at least god-like awareness, was planed away as his essence was pared down some to fit within the meat of his reality.

Real Time.

He was back.

Before him the unbinding was just completing itself and he began to push it away. Began to cram it down Calhwin's throat. Then he thought better of himself and he paused. He pushed Calhwin a little way into atypical time so that he'd have a chance to finish the page. Then he strip-mined his brain for every last fact and inference he had gleaned from the text. He also made a few side-trips to garner what he could from the other man's lifetime of experience.

Then he crammed the unbinding down his throat.

The other man was screaming now. Morgan was pretty sure he didn't even see the unbinding heading his way. He was a man caught within a tangle of metaphysical piano wire that was slowly tightening about him, sectioning him like random cuts on a wheel of cheese.

`This', Morgan thought, `is an act of mercy'.

He was instantly disabused of the idea as the unbinding struck.

Where the hazy nothing touched flesh, flesh was flayed almost molecule by molecule, a man being reduced to voose before his eyes.

Where flesh was sundered it was bad, but Morgan had handled souls directly and he was aware of the unbinding at a level that no mortal had ever written of. He could perceive the unbinding working on that continuous thread of Calhwin's experiences and soul. Where there were loops within the structure, the unbinding slipped in and severed. Hard bits were crushed and shattered. Grinding and peeling were manifest at every level, the raw material freed to fall like bleeding motes back into the well of souls.

This was a Soul Reaving, and soon it would come for him.

Too late to do anything about it now he thought, shuddering, and pushed the mess of the Reaving and the remnants of Calhwin it was busily consuming, away from the structural damage so he could clear the area and see what he could fix.

But the Reaver wasn't done. Rienaegh it seemed, was dead but not gone. Her soul was there with Calhwin's. Unable or unwilling to free itself in death, her little trick of controlling others would cost her her entire existence. No graceful arc out to some heaven or hell followed by a return to some mortal reality. She would be as unmade as Calhwin was and, eventually Morgan himself, would be. Morgan steeled himself to the experience of her reaving as foul bits of her cancerous soul screamed, sang and spattered the local spiritual matrices. There were other souls there too. Three blood mages, she must have lost another one sometime in the past, along with several harder to identify desiccated things that looked like generally innocent victims.

Morgan wasn't sure if it was mercy or cruelty but he spent considerable time focusing the unbinding so that as Rienaegh was consumed the tattered remnants of the other souls were liberated instead of destroyed. It took valuable time but Morgan understood now. Even if the entire realm were lost physically, the souls would survive to migrate to the other realities.

Saving a soul was a victory.

Saving one particular reality for that soul to inhabit was only a goal.

* * *

Morgan stepped into the wound and began triage. Where things were severed he brought them together and held them until they began to knit. When they wouldn't knit he sewed them with energies he dredged up from who knew where. He was tempted to use his own essence but that would be obliterated when the unbinding did its job. The bandage had to survive his obliteration or what would be the point?

The unbinding... he studiously ignored the way it moved to surround him, pushing it away in all directions. It had nothing else to feed on and it was getting insistent.

There were faded channels in the realm that he urged back to life. He even found himself calling out from the dust around him a certain compound of oxides of mercury and this frightened him with the implications he couldn't quite grasp now that he lacked the higher perspective.

He stirred.

He summoned.

He plastered.

And when he felt his own weakness catching up with him and the encroaching terrible grinding destruction starting to impinge on his boundaries he prayed.

He didn't pray for himself, that was pointless since he was certain of his fate, he prayed that he would last longer, have more time, have more strength.

The repairs were wanting for much more and he was nearly out of time.

Then he felt Seth's arms around him and Seth's presence in his mind, and he wailed in despair even as he felt comforted, and even as he kept on working.

“YOU MUST NOT BE HERE!” Morgan's mind yelled down the link from one corner of itself.

“I will not leave you.” Seth said gently.

“I have done a thing... and if you stay it will consume you! You must live!” Morgan struggled to close the link with all he had to spare.

Seth somehow felt that closing away and didn't allow it. The link was a part of him as much as it was a part of Morgan, and what resistance he possessed resisted the severing.

“I will not live without you.”

Morgan knew the words were true. Were absolute. Seth, his love, had lost everything once before when Korane had died and then found so much more that he couldn't ever bare to lose. This was the truth Seth sent to him through the link.

Also through the link Morgan could feel the unbinding beginning to singe Seth. His resistance was huge but one bee-sting at a time it would be worn away. Seth heaved it out to a tiny tingling-safe distance, but it would be back. Prayers answered? Would that buy him enough time to finish what needed to be done.

“You pig-headed fool.” Morgan said, in a way that could only mean I love you. Then he reached out through the link to try to see what might be used there.

At the touch Morgan felt something walk through his soul. Morgan's mind went blank and Seth's resistance sagged, both for the briefest instant. Then Morgan staggered back into himself, it was like Seth had been away for the briefest moment and in going and coming back it had trampled him. As his essence returned Seth's resistance swelled until the unbinding was pushed far back.

Morgan realized that Seth had, through him, gone to that place of pliant history and used himself to gain strength. For the cost of cages, collars and loneliness and all the things Seth had lived, Morgan now had his time.