It took hours to fix everything he could find to fix. All the while the unbinding raged impotent against the living barrier of Seth's will. That would fail soon enough but not so soon that Morgan had to rush his work.

The wound looked a horrible mess, but his second check showed nothing left to be done, at least nothing he could find or sense.

To his asense the structure was sound enough to survive. He sewed in a healing web of sorts. Spells were alive after a fashion so a web across the domain of healing would help things knit and grow back.

There remained only one thing to do. “Here goes nothing” he said and released the twelve-dimensional knot that locked Winterdark on indefinite hold.

They stumbled again as the Seed began its stately rotation.

And they waited for a long time.

And finally the Draw came.

The great shifting and resumption of the realm's functioning almost took the unbinding with it. Almost. The wound subsided with a tiny shudder that ran through Morgan's every sense. As that bandaged rupture was energized it tugged at itself the way a man kneads fresh, sensitive scar tissue and it leaked away the way the great pool of earth power had disappeared a year ago. The sucking undertow of the wound's subsidence drew down on the gnashing, grinding thing that pushed in against Morgan's soul the way a sinking ship tries to pull under its own lifeboats. But it would exist for exactly as long as Morgan's soul survived so after a dimming and flickering it steadied and grew back to its full furry.

They sat there together silently for a while. Seth was looking terribly wan from the effort of holding the thing at bay and Morgan was trying to compose an argument to persuade the implacable man to leave.

“How long has it been?” Morgan asked.

“Hours, maybe a day” Seth replied, strain evident in his voice.

“I wonder how long its been out there?” Morgan mumbled to himself.

Seth made a grunting inarticulate noise of interested disinterest.

“Time differentials, nothing serious though.” Of course it was nothing serious, Morgan thought, he was never going to leave here and if he could get Seth to leave he'd make out fine even if a he'd experienced a day or two less subjective time than everyone else.

“So now what are we going to do?” Seth asked.

Morgan looked at him but his eyes were closed. “You are going to leave and I am going to face my fate before the anticipation makes me lose my mind.”

“Not going to happen. I'm not leaving.”

Morgan looked at Seth and, wondering if he were lying even as the words came out, said “I could make you go you know.”

“You try it and I'll follow you into death by my own hand.”

Morgan didn't explain that he'd have no soul left to follow anywhere, that would just make Seth set in his heels all the harder.

“Besides, you just fixed all that” he whispered “and now you have had a little rest. It's time to fix this.” As Seth's voice trembled the monster shivered ever so slightly closer.

Morgan thought about it. An unbinding was unstoppable, that was part of its essence, but was it really? Nobody had ever had this much time before to deal with one after it was created. Nor, probably, the kind of knowledge he now possessed. By all the frozen hells! He was standing on the very fountainhead of creation, he knew what it said, and he already had a line into it. It was worth a try.

He would, of course, have to be careful not to undo any of his own work. That was possible, he knew, because of the noble deconstruction of his originally fated self. He was unhooked from the fabric of destiny just now and that might give him some leeway. He'd sacrifice them both, of course, before he'd try to unmake the unbinding by messing with his own past, and thus re-endangering the realm. But what exactly were the options short of that?

* * *

Morgan went and stood over the prime codex and let himself drift down into it. He let its shape and essence soak into him for a while like he was boiling away his cares in an over-hot bath. His knack seemed to be some kind of inexpressible insight and he tried to call on that facility. It was like trying to force a dream and it wouldn't come. He gave up the effort.

For just a moment he saw the codex and Seed from a new perspective. The turning Seed was like a prayer wheel. Slowly turning while it's very existence projected the energies that forced the captured elementals to spin out the physical material of the earth and sky. The turning brought elements of the text on the Seed into alignment with different parts of the texts in and beyond the Chamber. These dynamic contexts and alignments provided an incremental cosmology, a celestial progression done entirely in inferences that made the realm habitable. This was the factor that made the realm more than the barren plane depicted in the galleries. It also allowed the realm to sidle up to the organic realities so that creatures could pass back and forth through the wildings.

The sense of layers and machinery and interlocking movements filled him.

And the insight came.

Morgan surfaced like a dolphin coming up for air.

“I think I have a compromise!”

Seth grunted, still distant with effort and still failing ever so slowly.

Morgan knew it was an inferior solution but he was really only trying to find a way to see to it that Seth didn't sacrifice himself. The meager solution he'd found would at least accomplish that.

“See, every permanent spell-work has a navel of sorts, the place where the caster was attached while he made the thing. It's usually a tiny, nearly undetectable seam in the thing. With a spell the size of the entire realm that seam is really big, like a crevice. If I take my essence and cram it into that space, when the unbinding takes my body it might not be able to find the rest of me.”

Seth thought about it “Unacceptable, you still end up dead.”

Morgan shrugged that off a little, he'd be mostly dead but he wouldn't be obliterated, besides... “not really, I would be alive just without a body. I'd be like a ghost, but a living one, heck our link would still even be there. Once the mess subsides a bit I should be able to find a body somewhere to inhabit.”

“That sounds awfully unfair to someone else.”

“You don't get it. Sometimes, not too often, but sometimes, a person's body and essence get separated by trauma. The body lives a while but with the essence gone and the body will soon die. Sometimes another essence inhabits the body after the first one is fled. It's usually some creepy thing from somewhere unpleasant because normal sentient essence virtually never stay in real space without a body. But by design that would be my state. Essence and soul both just waiting for a body to become available in the natural course of events. It shouldn't take even a year to find a suitable body.”

Seth wasn't sure he liked the whole idea and they tossed it around for a while but there didn't seem to be a better option available. Seth didn't have the energy to spare bickering and he was much closer to collapse than he let on. Finally he agreed. If they both died in the attempt then at least they had tried.

Morgan prepared himself and told Seth to stand away. Physical distance would be essential when Seth let go of the unbinding.

Seth stepped in and swept Morgan up in his arms “don't you go and get yourself dead pup, you are mine and I'm not losing you.”

Morgan kissed him and then said “I love you too, you big oaf, now get over there. Every second is another go at failure, and I don't care to lose you either.”

Seth did as he was told and Morgan gathered up every shred of his essence he could grip and began to project it at a certain spot.

Suddenly something grabbed him up and for just an instant he expected to feel the sting of his own soul being rent asunder, but it wasn't the unbinding swooping in to do its vile business. Something vast and ponderous had him and Morgan saw that the place where he'd sought to hide wasn't empty. Laying thin and endless in the crevice of this reality, like lubricating oil in a clockwork, was an ancient intelligence that was just rousing to his trespass.

Morgan had found The Emperor.

* * *

The way a tiny krill discovers it isn't the top of the food chain, Morgan discovered that he didn't know anywhere near as much about everything as he thought. And on another level he recognized the stony ponderances of the thing which swallowed him.

The Emperor had long ago forgotten what species he was born of, and about the day-to-day strife of living in the flesh, and yet the bright and potent urgency within this person he encountered re-awoke considerations of memories and stirred him to think again about fleeting time. The Emperor questioned him who, what, why, and when all in a single thought.

The imperative was surprisingly considerate if completely irresistible, it was like being spread out and tasted all at once by a giant, dry and sensitively probing tongue.

There was a moment of discovery and surprise, and then a gentle tug at the link and Seth was there being tasted as well.

Seth started to struggle mentally, being untrained and inexperienced at existing on any non-corporeal level. In response words and imperatives welled up to cradle and compel him. “CALMLY CHILD.”

“what are you?” Seth thought back at it, calmed beyond his ability to struggle.


“what will you do with us?” Morgan asked.


Unbidden, Calhwin's imprecations of despotism and entrapment bubbled up within their minds as a question, though neither Seth nor Morgan was sure which of them thought it.

A wellspring of amused understanding and remembrances rose up around them. Then they both simultaneously and separately experienced a set of thought forms as if they were the principle in someone else's memory.

They were with the last of their people. Their leaders were desperate in the knowledge of imminent and utter defeat. They were being hunted to extinction by an unreasonable and unstoppable enemy. They were out of places to run. The last thousand or two had withdrawn to the depths of a remote mountain to hide and await the end. All had hope only in tiniest flickers but one had a vision. They were that one.

They were alone among strangers. Everyone and everything they had ever known had been slaughtered and ruined before their very sight. They had fled from that loss to be with the last of their kind, strangers to them though they were. And they had preserved an ancient thing that they could enter communion with. It was not a thing of war and it would not allow itself to be turned to defeating the foe. They turned to it with their dream instead.

They dreamed of a new place. They dreamed of a place where all their people could go and be safe. A place apart where the foe could not follow. A place where all the people would recover and flourish. And the thing whispered back of great ships that could take them to safety, but the people had no means to build such ships and no chance to escape in them. So they tried again and again and the thing searched the corners of all the realities it could reach, and in the face of the unrelenting dream it found a way.

The thing whispered of strictures and knowings. The thing showed them ways that desire and willfulness could alter the very nature of what is and they knew this must be attempted. For a long time as the foe approached they treated with the thing about shape and rules and needs and compromises and the thing instilled in them the knowings. And the most frightening knowing was that the people could take nothing with them but body and soul, and even the thing would have to be left behind.

So they set the thing aside and crept out of the deep caves and found a high rock. And as the foe turned its baleful gaze on them and rushed to do its unspeakable harm on them, they spoke their will down into the stone. It was a long speaking but from the first words the foe was held off and frustrated in its ambitions. They spoke of the wild places where form was belied by intent and of a citadel surrounded by a vital earth untouched and ready to feed a multitude. And they were not selfish, they spoke of the welcoming of any people from any place in need of haven and respite. They spoke of safety and happiness and the remembering of all important things that refresh the soul, teach the young, and edify the elder.

They spoke until they had no throat to make sound and still they spoke. They spoke until they lost their shape and name amongst the people. They spoke until there was nothing to them but the vision and the dream and the will that it should be real. And when the last of their self existed only as their final word, they spoke that too, and the dream vision was manifest about them. They knew they would never stand on that fundament nor breathe the air of safety even though they would live within its blood.

And as the foe pounded finally into the great mountain the dream brushed close and the people faded from beneath the wondrous-foul effort of the enemy, who dug down to find an empty vault of discarded things. And even as the ancient thing that had whispered knowings to them was sundered, the people blinked the fog from their eyes and found themselves safe in a place they could understand and which would yield to their needs as it floated gently about the underside of all places, slowly probing for places where the people could also live and for other peoples in need of shelter.

* * *

Just as suddenly as it began the memory pictures were gone leaving Seth and Morgan to their selves.

“It's a lifeboat”, Morgan thought, “with lifeboat rules and imperatives but on a huge scale”.

Seth concurred and then thought at the vast musing entity “and you have waited here since then?”


“Well that explains the size then.” Seth thought at Morgan with judicious irreverence.

Morgan proffered recent events and his current pending doom then asked “how is it that this happened?”


Seth thought back “is there a way for him to live?”

“LOOK AT WHAT YOU EACH HAVE DONE”. And they were shown what particulars the Emperor had in mind. The alternate original pasts were laid out and compared to what was now true. Morgan had, in restructuring his life, tormented himself without mercy to become what he had to be to save the realm. Seth, in that instant exchange when the unbinding had almost had them, had tapped into Morgan's knowledge of manipulating the past as an act of unknowing will. Seth had reached back and engendered his own resistance, a natural talent, into an uncontrollable thing for the specific purpose of causing himself to be collared and caged by Tor. Morgan had arranged his own cutting. Seth had set himself up for the grinding bolt of the awakening of the collar spell. Amongst the acts of self brutalization were subtle considerations like a certain bag of powder and a certain sledge hammer. They had been manipulating themselves relentlessly and without mercy. Back and forth, a proximal seesaw of subtle touch and alternating self harm to toughen and prepare themselves to do one necessary thing. Save the realm from destruction.


* * *

“I don't understand.” Seth said from under the strain of holding back the now-quite-near grinding, ultimate death.

“It's frighteningly simple. I cut loose all that I am, as close to the ninety-ninth percentile as I can, and you subsume it into yourself. Then there is leftover some last little bit of me to be obliterated by the unbinding. When it consumes that body and spirit-remnant it will have completed its reason for existence, there won't be any me left and it will then pass away completed. Those are my sacrifices.

“You will, in subsuming me, be giving up your separate identity. And you will have to take some of my blood for the last part to work. Those will be your sacrifices.

“The new being we will have become will then have my talent and my essence and that greater part of my soul along with the entirety of your own. We will be a single person and that single person will feed my living remnant to the unbinding.

“Once the unbinding passes one of two things will happen. The new us will choose to stay one creature, which has its appeal but has a serious downside in terms of appetite and longevity, or it will chose to sacrifice itself to become our two separate persons again.

“At each stage there will be some loss, but we, by definition, won't miss it.”

Seth looked at him and considered... “It sounds unholy.”

“It's not that... it's just extremely unpleasant.”

Unpleasant he could deal with. “No choice?”

Morgan looked at him with love and said “you could just leave me to my fate. That would be the best thing, really.”

Seth gave him his best `not going to happen' look and said “so, no choice then...”

* * *

It didn't take long to start. Two quick cuts and Morgan used a little talent to force a goodly part of his blood into Seth's system, making sure to get as many white and stem cells into the mix as possible. Then he began to cut and stitch on his own psyche.

Being careful to include the strictures on how to perform the re-separation in the block of his essence that would merge into Seth, Morgan cut a cruel path through his mind and soul. The only part that had to stay behind was the part that knew how to do the cut. He would lose all of his understanding of how to manipulate the past. That was all too dangerous to know anyway, so it was perhaps best lost to the unkind touch of obliteration.

Then there was the final tearing as Seth pulled and Morgan cut the last bit, and `they' at once became `he'.

He looked nostalgically on the animal form with the oddly knowing eyes that was left behind, and then let the gnawing nothing loose on the body they had enjoyed so variously.

He didn't stay to watch the grinding consumption. There were wonders to be reveled in. To be so huge and strong was both novel and familiar. A thought passed, and before him stood a shimmering disk which he stepped through.

“So that's what magic looks and feels like”. He thought, knowing he had known that for many years even though it was a new thing to him.

He stood on the great Fortress wall and wondered at himself. He was absolute and spectacular. It was unprecedented to be him. Yet he hungered to be more. He saw men below in the courtyard and wondered at who he might be if he were all of them together. The dark soul-stealing thing he would become, should he slake that hunger was repellent and yet compelling. He contemplated that hunger and wondered how long he could resist it if he stayed what he was. How long he would want to resist it?

And he found himself lonely.

The memory of the bonding with his otherness, finally found after decades of searching. Of companionship he could never find again. He remembered being distinct and the joy of joining in his distinction. To touch yes, and more to wonder and revel at the secrets behind the others eyes.

Within his body he could feel the cells of his separate self being destroyed. There was little time to waste. Take too long and the chance would be lost, there would be no othering.

He opened another portal to take him into the deep center of a pine forest on a mountain side. He stepped through and then dropped the portal and looked for a nice spot to sit amongst the rich needle litter. He willed certain cells to concentrate themselves in a certain spot and then cut himself to free them onto the rich organic soil. With the code of prime creation pulsing through him he spun out a silky cocoon of will and intent. His body was not set up to channel much power so it would take a long time. Days, months maybe. But he had time. The eternal tide of life and death touched him completely and he in turn touched the falling substance of his other self. The best cell was chosen and fed, supported, and compelled to divide even before it hit the ground.

As the cells came close to the raw organics he threw out another web to draw materials from the soil and began building in earnest, the new body that he would separate himself into. It would be smaller and darker than the body he possessed now as a whole. It would be marked with black and white scars because while knowledge was power, capacity was power two. It would differ slightly from the animal thing he had given to the nothing. A few tiny differences in structure and proportion to make it the perfect complement to his own current body.

There was, of course, impeccable logic and instinctual drive to tweak the new body a bit. During the sundering he had the perfect opportunity discard those parts, both within and without, that he would not ever need again. Might as well try for physical ideals while you have the chance. Once divided they would be seeing a lot of each other for a long time. It was what he most desired as one and what he would most enjoy as two.

A heavy midwinter snow began to fall unnoticed all around him but he, no they, were on a journey within, where such things didn't matter. There were things to be combined and others to be separated. But not completely though. Never completely separated. The cut would be made with excruciating care to ensure one thing more than any other, they would remain linked together forever as friends, lovers, and soul-mates.

Once made, some connections can never be broken.