This is the fire.
He crouched by the campfire, forearms braced on his knees, hands folded together, and studied the flames. They were low, a curling dance of orange and red, and the smell of the woodsmoke was strong in his nose. This the life and the breath. If he were to unfold his hands, turn his wrists, the threads would come to him. Slowly though, reluctantly, for even those unwoven could taste the taint in his blood, could feel the cold that had sunk into his bones. The effort of weaving them together would be difficult, because his patterns were broken and had been for many years. Or, the mage could crouch here for hours, held still in the space between heart-beats, and listen for the hum of unmaking. For he could also pull his hands apart, and a ribbon of grey could stretch between them in a thin sliver that would gape, a maw hungry for what had been woven.
Like the woman who sat to his right and ten feet away, eating her stew and trying to pretend she was not uneasy. She was always uneasy, and not just because of the message they had picked up in Chade, or the thought of returning to Tarrish. Though she could not hear or see the threads (she was blind to half the world around her, like so many were), even she was left uneasy by the taint and the cold. As if she knew, could sense, had dreamed, that the grey ribbon hungered to open up around her and swallow her whole, that it whispered to him in a way the threads used to whisper to him, of what it wanted. Her name, weave her name. But he did not, would not even speak it. He thought of her only as the woman with scars, for that might keep her safe from the thing that left her uneasy.
The other man, though … He stood, quiet and contained within himself, looking outward from the camp, feet braced apart. That one could hear the threads, and even weave them some, and he knew what the woman did not recognize. The silver chains both men wore around their necks bound them together, and was, they both realized, all that held the mage on this side of of the maw. When the mage could not hold back against the whispers any longer, that bond would pull them both into the void.
He still retained enough of himself (though less and less every year) for the thought of it to pain him.
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