In Rasfar, a city in northern Lairan, a cloaked figure banged harshly on the door. She was tall, taller then most at five feet ten inches. A withered old man with a tiny, puffy beard opened the door.

"I'm here to see Lord Iry Paintaker." Said a deep female voice.

"The Master isn't taking visitors right now." He tried to closed the thick ebony door, only to find a black booted foot in the way. The woman flung back her hood.

"You go up there and tell him Tosa Smokefingers is here to see him, and if he doesn't admit her right now, she will tell the world everything she knows about him from the time he was twenty-three." As the old man turned to race up the stairs, she called after him. "Including that thing with the chambermaid!" There was a long silence in the chilly morning air.

"Is this truly necessary, Lady Smokefingers?" Asked the tall, muscular man beside her. His dark skin, hair, and clothes made him almost in possible to see. He was almost a foot taller then she. "It's barely two."

"He'll be up, or I'll drag him out of bed." Growled the mage, shivering in a fresh breeze. "Gods blood, who knew it was so cold inland?" The man appeared at the door again.

"He will see you, Lady Smokefingers."

"Knew he would." Tosa mumbled. "Wait with the horses, Aki, this is mage stuff." Her friend nodded, and returned to their mounts. She climbed the black marble steps to the tiny room at the top. It was mostly open windows, and the floor might have been carpeted, but the papers that layered it showed no sign of cloth beneath.

"Tosa, my dear. You were far more charming the last time we saw each other." Drawled the man in the huge, mouse and mouth eaten chair. "Have you come just to poke fun at my disreputable early years." She folded her thin arms, glaring at her best.

"I have poked no fun from this whatsoever, Master Paintaker. As to the reason for my visit, if you do not know, I am very disappointed in your intelligence network." There was a moment of stiff silence.

"Okay, so I've disappointed you. Now sit down and tell me what it is!" She lifted a pile of books off a stool, stuck them on one of the completely unused shelves, and sat on it.

"It came up from the south. Beyond the Pebbled Sea, I'm certain." She took a sheaf of papers out of her cloak and put them on the table, tucking her gray streaked brown hair behind and ear. "They're calling it the Mage Eater, since only mage's are catching it. I think it eats their magic and then their life force, but it's impossible to get near enough to tell. Normal people can carry it, at least, though it's impossible to walk past someone in the street who has it and not catch it." She shoved the papers toward him. "So far, anyone who's come down with it has died. It drains and kills any healers who try to pursue it." He reached over, but instead of grabbing the papers, he took her hand.

"You're shaking." She flinched back.

"Look at the papers Iry." She growled, black eyes dangerous. He nodded, lifting them.

"I see... So it eliminates those who it believes have the power to stop it, and preys on those who don't." He pulled out a pair of gold rimmed spectacles. "What are the symptoms?"

"There aren't any, to start out. You can have it for a whole day with out knowing it, giving it to others. Then you collapse. The body temperature drops to near fatal levels, and the internal organs fail."

"Which organs?" She groaned and slammed her fist on the table.

"All of them, gods curse it!" Taking deep breaths, she continued in a much calmer tone. "There's shakes, and some peoples eyes dilate, but..."

"But what?" He leaned forward, interested now. Her answer came through gritted teeth.

"But those who're struck so badly from the start are dead within forty eight hours. No exceptions." He tilted his head to the side, something in her voice catching him off guard.

"Tosa... How many at Winding Circle have this?" She stared out his eastward window.

"I just received word that another dedicate came down with it yesterday."

"How many, then, and who?"

"... Frostpine first, you remember him. Grose was next, and then two novices from the Water Temple caught it and died in the same hour. There's been a Fire Temple Initiate, and Dedicate Initiate Crane is the newest."



"Isas fer Yorvan?"

"How many times must I repeat myself!" Iry Paintaker shook his head.

"Knew that boy from an egg. Mark you, he changed after that brush with Lightsbridge. The Bookkeeper credit you from getting yourself and your brother out of there. I'm just lucky I escaped when I did."

"Bookkeeper Oti is a Trader god, and if my aged memory serves me, you are no Trader."

"Sure, sure. But those are all dedicates."

"... You guessed."

"I have only just figured it out. Why come to me? He's that bad?"

"All of it. You're the best healer on the coast, maybe even the world, Iry! If you can't chase down this disease, no one can!" The look on his face was darker then she had ever seen it before.

"Won't you be sorry if I can't." He whispered. "Won't you be sorry."