Seth woke an hour before dawn. During the night he had shifted part-way off his mat and onto a pile of Morgan's dirty clothes. Making a mental note to do Morgan's laundry, Seth quietly got up off the floor and retrieved a three foot weighted staff from his belongings. Still under orders not to leave the suite, Seth crept silently through the darkened house, using the map in his memory to dodge the tables stacked with artwork and edge deftly past strange displays of exotic stone knickknacks.

He made it out onto the terrace without incident and began his morning exercises. He was careful not to go so far along the terrace that he would be near the sleeping quarters. With the added room and equipment his workout went much faster than in the cell. He regretted that he still couldn't take a proper run, but twenty minutes of swinging the weighted Bo quickly through a ritual combat almost made up for the loss. He finished with his normal meditative dance that lasted just long enough for the sun to make itself known.

Seth washed up using the hot running water from the bath-sluice and then rinsed and filled the tub. He returned to Morgan's room and slipped into some linen shorts and was about to lift Morgan out of his bed when pang of loss struck him. He had slipped back into the pattern of Lady Korane's long illness. Something had torn open in him yesterday and for just a heartbeat the loss felt unbearable.

Morgan woke from being uncovered in his bed. Seth apologized and quickly explained.

“It's not so bad waking to the prospect of a ready, hot bath.” Morgan smirked, and headed off to the waiting tub, unintentionally mumbling “the only thing missing is breakfast.”

Seth padded silently out towards the kitchen tucked in just next to the front room. He was no chef, but a simple hearty breakfast was within his skills. He set flame to wood in the small stove, and went back to Morgan's room while the heat built. He selected and laid out a comfortable set of clean clothes for Morgan, pulled a jerkin over his own head, and then headed back to the kitchen.

Fishing through the small pantry, Seth wondered momentarily at the liberal use of magic when he discovered one of the cabinets had been ensorceled to keep its contents cold. A working like that could take the full attention of an aprentice to maintain, and probably an hour's effort by a master to establish. But this cold cupboard and the hot water on the bath and the sink here in the kitchen all worked while Morgan was asleep. Seth assumed it was Morgan's works since rich people paid good money for full-time staff of decent talents to get these sorts of conveniences.

Well, puzzles later and work now... Guessing that Liane would be up soon and, somewhat audaciously including himself since he was under orders, he set up a sizable quantity of ham, and cornmeal pan-bread. There were plenty of eggs, but he didn't want to break into any of those until he was sure the others were nearly ready. He was grating potatoes for hash when he heard someone working the latch at the front door.

With a quick thought to make sure that nothing was ready to burn, Seth moved quietly into the front room. As the front door was gently nudged open, Seth relaxed from an attack-ready stance that only a trained eye would have recognized. He knew that he could relax because few attackers would enter a room back-first carrying armloads of personal stuff. In quick summary Seth saw dust-caked riding clothes, an overstuffed pack of dirty clothes, a bound bundle of books and other scholarly gear, and a large tired black man of considerable height but little muscle or combat-inspired grace.

“Greetings lord Mieka let me take that.” Seth deftly deprived him of the pack and bundle. “Morgan is in the bath, and both lady Liane and Shiea are still in bed.”

Mieka easily spotted Seth's station but had no clue as to why the large man was there.

Seth continued easily, falling back on the rituals of formality. “If it please your lordship, I am Seth, a recent and somewhat unexpected acquisition of Lord Morgan's. Shall I take these to the study, and these to the laundry?” Seth indicated each bundle in turn.

Mieka nodded ascent and Seth turned away. He stopped before leaving the room, turned back, and said “I was just preparing breakfast. Ham, hash-browns, eggs, and corn bread. Would you care for any?”

“Sure, some of each.”

“Right away sir.”

Seth passed a yawning Liane in the hallway. “Mieka is here,” Seth showed the packs as evidence, “and breakfast will be ready in a few minutes.”

It all felt so freakishly normal, like he was replaying a memory he didn't actually have. Seth didn't want to look at it too hard. It all might fall apart if he did. He just put the books in the study, grabbed a clean towel from a closet and then took it into the bath room.

“Okay, you've been soaking in there long enough, breakfast is nearly ready.”

Seth set the fresh towel on the rack next to the bath, and headed back. Seth heard Liane say “sush, he's coming” as he got to the kitchen. It wouldn't take two guesses to figure out what they were talking about.

“Liane, you want ham, eggs, hash-browns, corn-bread?” Seth made his voice carry from the kitchen to the front room.

A panel slid open in the wall joining the kitchen to the main room, and Liane leaned in. “Smells delicious, give me the works.”

With eggs quickly scrambled, breakfast was ready. Seth fished a jug of cider out of the cold box, and soon everything was laid out on the table. Seth went back to check on Morgan, partly as an excuse to make sure that he would not end up eating before Morgan himself, and more-so to give Mieka and Laine a chance to keep talking.

When everybody else was seated, Seth also sat down at the table, feeling awkward. Mieka, who had not yet had a chance to accommodate to Seth even being in the house, reacted with vague ambivalence to his seating himself. It was cut short by Liane's under-table footwork.

At least somebody else was feeling the false normalcy too.

Then everybody dug in, Seth managing to be last without being obvious or obsequious.

Breakfast was uneventful, with Seth occasionally getting up to serve the others, and a generally lively conversation mostly about Mieka's trip to re-survey a tricky turn in a new canal. Seth's sterling contribution was to ask why the plumbing was more primitive in the house than in the kennels, which in turn started the story of how the three had found the place abandoned, and simply moved in.

If the building had been abandoned then it had been theirs to take when they found it. That explained how they could afford the place. It did nothing to explain how such a place could become lost.

At some point the normalcy started to lose its facade, like a blind date that refused to fail.

When they were done Mieka went to bed and Liane cleared the table while Seth got dressed to accompany Morgan to work.

* * *

Crossing the campus, once again the people they encountered parted like magic under Seth's casually intense scrutiny. He was dressed unremarkably in shirt, pants, and boots, but the crowd saw his Blood-Cuffs and short swords in their well cared for, but obviously well used, scabbards. The only accent to his clothing was a carefully rolled cloth headband, colored a deep ruddy brown, which held his hair out of his face and `just happened' to perfectly cover his Black-Bar. When Morgan had asked him about it, Seth said that lady Korane had had him wear something like it for years because it `kept people with nothing better to do out of her business.' Morgan immediately saw the wisdom andsaid “Yeah, keep doing that.”

* * *

The school library was an old building that had seen many additions and renovations over hundreds of years. It was generally made of carefully set, deliberately massive stone blocks. The sturdy construction was to protect the rest of the school from any `research accidents' that might happen inside. The original portions of the structure were laid out with simple and elegant floor plans. Unfortunately for each batch of new students, who were constantly getting lost inside, the parts that were added on tended to be rather convoluted. Common gossip said that the nastier twisty bits had been put in to help speed the various forms of intrigue commonly found amongst magicians. Unfortunately for the magicians, the common gossips were correct.

Morgan led Seth unerringly through one of the twisting back ways to his office. By the time they arrived there were already several people waiting. The office of the Archivist of Antiquities had never been so crowded. The small clutch of strangers were mostly apprentices sent by their masters to find out what access they could have to lady Korane's books. Morgan told them all that nothing had changed. As yet none of the books had been successfully opened, and that as soon as one was opened a schedule of availability would be made up and posted.

None of the apprentices were happy, and several seemed to disbelieve him. None wanted to take that message back to whoever sent them. A few who held rank tried to position themselves or tug at Morgan's sleeve for a possibly more private word then quailed at the full intensity of Seth's expressionless but undivided attention.

When they were safely behind Morgan's closed door Morgan said “If you do nothing more than frighten off those pesky apprentices while I deal with these books, you're already worth your price.”

“You should see me with beggars and politicians.”

Morgan smiled and sat down behind his desk, he took a deep breath and asked the question he had been dreading all morning. “Seth, can you help me with Lady Korane's spell books?”

“Yes. Well, probably yes. There is someone here at the school that should be able to open them. One Lord Aaron Eserates d'Arte. He was my lady's school mate and, I think, lover. He supposedly knows how to open at least one of her older books. My lady said he'd know what to do with the others once he opened the first one.”

“Excellent! We just have to go find...” Morgan stopped halfway out of his chair and settled back down into it. “Wait a minute.” He began to dig through a scattering of papers first on, and then in, his desk. Finally he found what he had been looking for and whispered a single word. “Dammit.”

Seth leaned over the desk. “What?”

Morgan handed Seth the paper and simultaneously said “He's dead.”

Seth looked at the papers, they were a month by month registry of the magi and apprentices working at, or connected to the school who had died. Working with magic was dangerous, collecting the more obscure material components could be more so, and occasionally a colleague could be the worst danger of all. Sorcerers gained considerable longevity as a side effect of their craft. In theory a magi might live many centuries. In practice it was extremely rare for one to finish his first. Seth found Aaron's name, next to it was `cause of death unknown', and a date Seth remembered all too well.

“This is the same day that my Lady died.”

Morgan snatched it back and frowned at it as if there might be more to the listing.

“Was there anything suspicious about her death?”

“No. It was suicide.” Seth got a far away look, lowering his head as he spoke. “My Lady was very ill for a long time. After she finished her life's work she had me prepare poisoned wine. I took her out to her at one of her favorite places, she drank, then I buried her there.”

Morgan stayed silent. Seth finally continued, “I would have drank too, but she still had too many things for me to do... She was all I ever had.”

A feeling of agonized loss and despair suddenly washed through Morgan. It was like nothing he had ever felt. He struggled for equilibrium, overwhelmed, and felt himself drowning. The feeling began flickering in and out, then it fizzled away altogether. He touched the band on his wrist and looked at Seth's collar. He gave Seth while he drifted in his pain; but it wasn't a moment that could last.

Morgan stood, “Let's go check on the books,” and headed out the door.

Seth followed.

On the way to the reinforced workspace that housed Korane's books, Morgan got to wondering if maybe it still might be possible to remove Seth's collar without killing him. Since the emotional and motivational links were supposed to form within a few minutes and a triphariad collar didn't typically become permanent for nearly a day, it was possible that the collar wasn't attached to Seth strongly enough to be life-threatening yet. Then again, he thought, the collar had been checked and validated. The possibility that Seth had somehow resisted, or voided, an enchantment as basic and brutal as the collar made Morgan dizzy. His promise to Tor, compounded by the question of who he might trust with the idea, made Morgan set the issue aside for now.

* * *

The first thing to strike Seth as he entered the room was the fading scent of scorched stone, followed immediately by the crunch of tiny particles. There was no apparent blood or gouges in the walls, none of the stonework looked seriously eaten by flame, and all of the stuff underfoot seemed well pulverized, so Seth figured that none of the participants had been killed. The number one and two causes of injury during sorcery-gone-awry were shrapnel and heat. Clearly a lot of sorcery had gone awry in this room quite recently.

Lady Korane's journals were on a shelf of an otherwise empty stone bookcase set into one wall. Along another was a fairly standard stock of ritual and material components. Insulating and filtering cloths of various colors and materials, unpurposed stones of various sizes and compositions, tallow candles, dried organics, the usual kind of thing.

Once inside Morgan sighed and said “I don't know where to start again...”

“How about we separate them.”

“Why? Separate how?”

“There are three sets of books and a forth single book. My lady kept a personal journal, a research journal, and an encyclopedia of observations, enchantments and conjurations. The last book is the culmination of her life's work.”

“How old was she anyway, like two centuries? She was awfully prolific even for that kind of life span.”

“No Morgan, my Lady died in her eighty-second year.”

Morgan looked hard at Seth. “There is no way she could have done all this in only, what, sixty or so years of study...”

Seth watched Morgan, waiting for him to decide whether he would believe him or not. It was Seth's placidity that finally convinced Morgan that there was no duplicity here. Morgan had to remind himself that Seth probably had never gotten the habits of intrigue that the school of Disciplines instilled. Besides a habit of lying could get a slave killed real easy.

Morgan sat on a stool at the end of the table. “Okay, get started. Separate them and tell me what you can about them while you're at it.”

Seth started sorting the books with a casual certainty bred from familiarity. “The oldest of these come from my Lady's school days, but you know that, isn't there a requirement that each student here make and bind their first book in order to get their undergraduate degree? Anyway, if you vrec the books you can see a different progressive pattern on the spine of each set. That's the easiest way for you to order them.”

“Wait. You can vrec? Isn't that illegal? I thought slaves couldn't be talented or adept.”

“You've got it right, the talented may not be made slaves. I not only have no talent, I am totally head-blind. I can tell the order of the books because I have been with them nearly every day for twenty years. I even made some of them.”

“That's impossible! You're lying. Sorcerers have to personally make everything they enchant. Especially if they want the enchantment to survive their own death.”

Seth shrugged “I wouldn't know anything about that Morgan, but I did make these.” Seth touched the last several books of each set one at a time. “My Lady became too ill to be able to make the paper and bind the books by hand. That required more strength and stamina than she could spare. For the last ten years I have made all the blanks and prepared all the rituals for my Lady.”

Morgan closed his eyes to think. What Seth was saying went against everything he had ever learned about sorcery. Every living thing had energy to it, and that energy infused anything it touched. Intelligence gave convoluted patterns to those infusions. That is why magi must harvest, mine, and collect most of their material components themselves if they intend to channel more than a fraction of their power through it. `Clearing' an object handled by another sentient being is a long and laborious process that makes climbing a cliff to retrieve a single feather look inviting. Constructed objects have to be cleared one bit at a time, and since paper is a pressed mass of carefully separated fibers it could take a year for a mage to clear a single sheet. An entire spell book would take nearly a century what with all the pages, the stitching, glue, covers, hasps, buckles, and such.

The truly distressing part was that Morgan believed Seth was telling him the absolute truth. The number one cause of death in mages after sorcery gone-awry was death by misadventure trying to gather materials. Not to mention the cost of traveling all over the fifteen continents and the uncertainty of journeying out into the margins. If the secret of clearing objects cheaply, in human cost, was in those books, that alone would revolutionize sorcery.

Morgan opened his eyes, ready to ask his next question, and was struck dumb. There on the other end of the table was the largest of the books in the set, laying open. He sat up and tilted his head, trying to read the text upside down. Unconsciously he rose to his feet and began slowly walking along the table in a daze. He got close enough to start being able to read the text.

“Coda Prima Creataria: An in-depth study and translation of the litany of prime creation and its selective applications for the manipulation of ....”

Danger! Fear! Urgency! A body slammed into Morgan and carried him to the floor just as Seth's burst of emotion burned through the bracelet and into Morgan's head. Morgan was smothering, his head seized and trapped while the full weight of his assailant slowly crushed the breath out of him. Morgan instinctively brought them up, in, and down in a viscously augmented double blow to his opponent's kidneys. The person crushing him contorted but didn't loosen his grip.

In a single moment many things penetrated Morgan's mind. His attacker was Seth. Seth was doing his best to cover Morgan with his body, particularly wrapping both of his arms around Morgan's head and pressing his face implacably into his chest. All around them a massive magical maelstrom was forming. A fire elemental was materializing in the room with them. A very large one. Morgan could feel its sentience, and feel it searching for something. He clutched Seth in fear and did everything he could to pull his mind in on itself. He knew he was nowhere near ready to face down such a creature.

Seth freed one of his arms without compromising his coverage of Morgan and began groping at the edge of the table. He found the book and managed to flip it closed. Moments later Morgan felt the creature bolt away along a strange path. Morgan recognized the line of force it followed as the traces of a scrying. Someone had been watching them via sorcery and was about to get a most unwelcome visitor.

Even after the heat and disturbance had past, Seth remained covering Morgan. Morgan finally patted him on the back to tell him that everything was clear. Seth got off Morgan by doing a push-up and then kind of collapsing to one side. Morgan rolled up onto one elbow and checked Seth for obvious damage.The back of Seth's shirt had been burned away by the heat. There were no burns, there were a few scrapes, but the worst of it was two bruises beginning to form in the curves of his lower back. Morgan expected he'd be a little black and blue himself from the flying tackle, and he felt very bad about the punches.

“But...” Morgan muttered, easing back down to lay flat. “What the...”

Seth groaned out the word “protections.”

Morgan wasn't asking about the elemental, he was struggling with the implications of what he'd seen. The code of “prime creation”... translated. Of course there were protections on the book. The real issue now was the person or persons who were watching him, no them, and the fact that Seth had apparently opened even one of the books without talent or artifice. It was a lot. Morgan wanted to just lay there with the heels of his hands pressed into his eyes and think, but Seth hadn't moved much and was groaning when he did, which was unlike him, so he might be badly hurt. And someone or something might just come, or come back, and he wasn't ready to deal with who or what ever might appear.

“Seth... Seth are you all right?”

“I'll live,” a pained groan as he turned over, “Sir.”

“Can you walk? Like now?” Morgan was filled with a combination of concern and urgency. “We really need to get somewhere private.”

Seth opened his eyes, looked around and listened hard, “we're alone in a locked room, how much more private can we get?” somewhere in his past Seth had permanently linked coping with pain to sarcasm.

Morgan bit back a comment about dealing with mundanes and said “I'll tell you when we get there.”

They each took more time than they thought they'd need to stand, and then kind of limped out. Several steps out of the room and down the hall Seth winced and staggered against the wall. Morgan ducked under one of his arms to support him but discovered that he wasn't quite tall enough to be any real help. Seth appreciated the gesture and Morgan stayed there, which saved him from falling over during the next several spasms. Maybe Morgan couldn't hold Seth up, but as guidance and lateral stability he proved invaluable.

Several long minutes of slow progress got them to a different hallway and group of workrooms. Selecting an empty one at random, Morgan maneuvered Seth through the narrow door and into a chair. Morgan reached out with his mind, glad that once enchanted, most materials could be shared, and fed his essence into the small stones set in all six faces that made up the inside of the cubic room. In a few moments the enchantments in the stones keyed to him and flared to life creating a shield against magical flows, in or out, and therefore the only reliable kind of privacy in the building.

“First, are you really sure you're all right?” Morgan lifted the edge of Seth's shirt to find that the bruising was starting to spread.

“Yes sir, you misjudged my size and got me mostly in the lower ribs.” Seth bunched the front his shirt up to give Morgan a better view but felt the last of the scorched material come apart in his hands, so he yanked it off completely.

Nodding in regret for the ruined garment, Seth winced again, and got an idea. He began tearing up his ruined shirt to make a wrapping for his ribs.

“Seth, what happened in there?”

“I am very sorry. I left the book sitting open and I shouldn't have put you in danger that way.”

“But how did you open it? And once it was opened why would it be dangerous?”

“I just opened it. I've always been able to open my Lady's books. But I don't know why they are dangerous when I open them, they just are. My lady's last apprentice was killed some seven years ago when she came up behind me while I was working with one of my Lady's journals. I was concentrating so hard I never knew she was there. There was suddenly a burst of heat behind me. Her eyes had been burned out of her head.

“Lady Korane studied the accident for some time. My Lady told me her protections, while quite severe, were designed to be non-lethal unless profoundly provoked. Several weeks later I transcribed an entry where she surmised that one of her protections, designed to destroy any equipment used to scry the pages of the books while they are closed, misfired somehow and killed the girl. I asked my Lady about the incident and she said that when I open the books they don't know they're open, so when they feel a sentient being looking at them they lash out to destroy the means. Since there really is no tool, they go for the eyes. She made me swear to never open them for anybody, so nobody would get hurt. She also said that if anybody ever did see them like that again I should cover their eyes and head with my body, she figured that if the spells didn't mind me they might not be able to find the person's eyes if I were covering them.

“My lady never tested her idea because she didn't believe in using people like that... I'm glad she was right.”

“So am I, believe me, I had no desire to deal with that elemental.”

“Elemental? All I felt was heat and wind.”

Morgan appraised Seth yet again. Even animals could feel the mind of an enraged elemental. Seth had to be the most head-blind person anybody ever even heard of to have missed that raging presence.

Whateve. “And so...?” Morgan prompted Seth.

“So while I was sorting the books I remembered that my Lady had been writing a letter in the days before she ended her life. I realized that I hadn't seen it in any of the things I sold or destroyed and I don't think she had a chance to send it anywhere by other means. That only left the books. That letter had to be important for her to have written it when she was preparing for her own death. I figured it had to be in either the first or the last of her books. I was holding the one you saw when I got the idea, so I opened it. In my excitement I just turned without thinking, to get her oldest journal. When I turned back I saw you looking at the book and jumped on you.”

“You didn't get a chance to open the other book?”

“No sir.”

Morgan thought for a moment. “Are you any good with those things?” he asked, and pointed at the swords Seth carried.

“I am one of the best swordsmen in the Southern Marches and have done battle with many creatures from the margins. I could probably defeat any man or woman trained on this over-civilized continent.” There were just the slightest touches of pride, and weariness, behind his statement. Seth finished tying his impromptu support around his chest, flexed a little to try it out, and found it satisfactory.

“Good, when I told you before that you should act as my bodyguard I was only partly serious, now I think I may be in great danger. You are to protect me and my family as best you can.

“Someone was watching us. The elemental took off after them. If they live, and if they saw even as much of the book as I saw, this school could be split by infighting for control of those texts.”

“Sir, whoever was watching us is still alive. The anti-scrying spell, and the elemental it summoned, would only attack the scrying device. The operator would be safe unless they tried to protect the device with epic measures. If they saw, they may already be acting.”

“We have to get back to the room and see if you can find that letter... I wish there was some way to protect the books themselves.”

“I assure you sir that they are safe from prying, if not theft. I'm ready to move, and fight, as necessary.”

“okay, let's go... and try not to look too suspicious. There are probably already enough rumors about the two of us; we don't need any more right now.” It was a ridiculous thing to say to a tattooed giant with his ribs bound up in a burnt rag.

The pair left the safety of the workroom, Morgan draining the shields as he went. They met nobody on the trip back to the room holding the books. Nothing had been touched and all the books were still there. Seth finished the sorting `so that the books would look normal,' whatever that meant. Morgan turned his back and reached out with his mind to search for prying powers.

“It's clear. Start looking.”

Morgan could hear the heavy book thump down on the table and the latches softly click open. Part of him longed to sneak a single peak but the memory of that elemental kept him from even focusing on any of the contents of the room.

“It's here Morgan.” Seth said as he closed the book.

Morgan turned back to face the table. A thick packet of paper was sitting on the table. Morgan motioned Seth to put the book back on the shelf and then focused his mind on the envelope and seal.

There was no enchantment on the papers of any kind but they had an arcane heft. That meant it was time to go. Morgan snatched up the papers and tucked them into his shirt. He raised a casual screen about himself. The kind that any adept might use to keep himself from being distracted while studying. Something strong enough to keep away most casual magic but not so strong as to raise suspicion in anybody he might encounter.

There was nothing to be done about the burnt strips of cloth Seth was wearing, nor anything ready at hand to replace the shirt.

Morgan had never been much for the intrigue that suffused the School of Disciplines. On the way back to his house he found himself wallowing in paranoia. The urge to scan every passer-by nearly overwhelmed his common sense. Only the profound calm that seemed to radiate from Seth kept his panic at bay. Seth seemed unconcerned with the world. Only tiny fragments of emotion coming to Morgan through the band let him know it was a well practiced act.

Despite his fears, they reached Morgan's house unmolested.