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Chapter 1

Arlen meant to be home before now.

With the Lorakan Mountains looming on the western skyline to remind him just how much land lay between here and Anfeald, he calculated the distance to the nearest travel booth versus the time before Jaime's next visit.

He wasn't going to make it.

From one world to another she would come, from Ohio on Earth to Anfeald in Camolen, and she'd find him . . . 


Not that anyone would be able to tell her why—not Carey, his close friend and head courier, who thought Arlen attended the special field calling of the Council of Wizards in Siccawei. Not his two apprentices, who thought the same. Not the Council itself, with a renewed emphasis on confidentiality after the events of the previous summer, the rogue wizards and their mage lure-enhanced powers run amok in Camolen with far too many people chatting about the particulars.

They'd overcome that trial—Arlen and Jaime, Carey and Jess, and Dayna, ever twiddling with her forbidden raw magic on the sly. It had been more the others than Arlen himself, who'd first been hampered by Council strictures and then by recovery from a long-distance blow dealt by an enhanced and vengeful wizard.

The thought of it made him wince. Without the mage lure, Willand would never have been able to touch him. And even knowing she'd had it . . . 

Well, he'd underestimated her.

But his friends—armed more with determination and wits than conventional magic—had taught the Council a lesson about acting instead of reacting. About shaking off the strictures of their endless debates to choose action—even to the point of taking to a trail in Siccawei without him.

So here Arlen stood, gazing at the moonrise over the mountains with three layers of heartland jackets over his Jaime-gifted silken long underwear and OSU sweatshirt, and a blanket from the road inn wrapped tightly around his shoulders on top of it, his breath frosting the air and riming his thick grey-shot mustache. A porch board creaked under his foot, reminding him of the need for quiet with an inn full of grouchy winter travelers at his back.

He could send Jaime a spell message through the Mage Dispatch service, but that would only reveal his location to the alert and nervous mage lure-runners he'd come here to thwart. They had reason for their nerves—the old border guard spells against them had worked once, and with the study he'd done this past week, the spells'd soon work again.

But not until he made it home. Back to warmer Anfeald in south-central Camolen, to the winter-burnt pastures and hills, the turned-over garden fields, the deep-honed respect for his wizard's power from Anfeald's landers and the casual irreverence from Carey in spite of it. And Jaime. Commuting between worlds, rearranging her life to spend nearly half her time here with him. In another day she'd be sitting in the rocker by the thick-silled open window of his personal rooms, one spell heating the room and another keeping the heat from escaping. She'd have the old black and white cat on her lap while the young calico male tried to impress her with his antics and headstands.

But she'd be waiting for him. Wondering, perhaps worrying, probably annoyed on top of it all.

Like most powerful wizards, Arlen rarely pulled himself up into a saddle. Town coaches, shoe leather, mage travel with transfer booths . . . they all came more easily. Even so . . . in the morning, he'd see about securing a horse, one to get him to the nearest transfer booth three townlets down the road in Amses.

Jaime would be waiting. And for once, Camolen rested quietly around him.

* * *

Branches warp and ooze, merging into one another. Winter-flattened ground cover of fall leaves compresses into a blanket over the earth and melts into the roots of the tree, swirling old golds and dulled crimsons into silvery bark to obscure the small den-hole there.

An uneasy ground squirrel bolts for that hole.

Half the squirrel makes it home. Rich brown fur merges into the red-gold-silver patch where its life ends, following twisted eddies of matter.

Hoofbeats sound in the cold winter air. Dun mare, deep buckskin with black points, a black line down her spine, and wiser eyes than most. Alone, unhindered save for the padded leather girth and chest band holding a courier's pouch over her withers, she prances to a stop, sampling the air with widened nostrils and the raised neck of a wary posture, alert for movement, for scent, for something on which to pin her attention. To define the wrongness she feels here.

After a moment, she snorts and moves on, her equine vision unable to perceive the frozen patch of distortion by the side of the trail. Too still, too close for her to see out of that eye at that angle.

With a flick of her tail, Dun Lady's Jess leaves the birth of death and destruction behind her, never knowing it's there at all.


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